Open Thread 154.25

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1,062 Responses to Open Thread 154.25

  1. proyas says:

    You can now play as Robocop or Terminator in the latest Mortal Kombat game.

    I think if kids in the mid-90s could have seen this, their heads would have exploded with excitement.

    https://youtu.be/KvEfcUrHR40

  2. Lemon_Fantastic says:

    I’m looking for someone who would be willing to answer questions about group homes in SF/The Bay Area. Articles/blogs also appreciated, but please no facebook.

    • yodelyak says:

      Not SF/bay specific, but “intentional communities” as a search handle and IC.org might be good things to try out for finding more routes to ask this question.

  3. dndnrsn says:

    Hello and welcome to the twenty-eighth installment of my biblical scholarship effortpost series. Last time, we briefly introduced the subject of the next several posts, Paul. This time, we’re looking at the first letter of his that we possess, First Thessalonians. This fairly short and simple letter will allow us to touch upon Paul’s biography and the difference between Paul’s evangelism in Thessalonica as presented in his letter and as presented in Acts (where, as noted, Paul is a major character).

    The boilerplate: the focus here is more on secular scholarship than on theology, although we’ll of course touch on theology. I studied this in university, though I’m not an expert; I’m trying to provide a 100/200 level summary. If anyone has further questions, I’ll go to my library and see what I can pull out.

    First Thessalonians is generally considered by scholars to be Paul’s earliest letter, and authentic to Paul. While this is therefore where we start reading Paul’s letters, by the time he wrote this, he was already a Christian evangelist with experience under his belt.

    What do we know about Paul’s biography? There is a version in Acts. Throughout Paul’s letters, he drops bits and pieces of his biography. Sometimes it coincides with Acts, at other times there are clashes; we will discuss Paul’s biographical material in his letters as we read them.

    Acts also has some material about Paul’s life that does not appear in his letters. For example, it is according to Acts that Paul was born in Tarsus, a Greek city in modern-day Turkey, and educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, a famous rabbi who earlier in Acts defends leaving this new sect alone. Scholars argue over these points: those who are dubious point out that identifying Paul with Tarsus and Gamaliel serves to paint him as one of the educational elite both in Greek and in Jewish terms: Tarsus was the site of a prestigious school of rhetoric, and Gamaliel was one of the highest-status teachers in Judaism at the time. It is a bit too convenient, perhaps.

    Conversely, those who think Acts is reliable in these details might argue that while someone with a high-level education in two separate spheres is exceptional, it’s not implausible: it would not be unbelievable to hear of someone with degrees in different subjects from different prestigious schools. Further, Paul clearly was a member of the intellectual elite in broad terms. In a world where only something like ten or fifteen percent of the population could read, Paul wrote in Greek of a quality and in a fashion indicating some amount of formal rhetorical education; his writing similarly shows a considerable knowledge of and engagement with the Jewish scriptures (in Greek translation). At a minimum, Paul is a well-educated diaspora Jew.

    Having briefly considered Paul’s biography, let’s move on to First Thessalonians. Generally, it’s dated to somewhere in the range 49-51; the dating seems to me to vary based on a scholar’s reconstruction of Paul’s missionary journeys (some scholars argue for a significantly different dating of Paul’s activities, but they’re solidly the alternative to the more traditional reconstructions, which vary from each other only slightly on dates). Earlier in the journey, Paul and his companions had been in Thessalonica, in Greece, and their evangelical activity had produced a church community there. Some time after leaving Thessalonica, Timothy, one of Paul’s companions, took a trip back there to follow up on the Thessalonian church. After Timothy returned and updated Paul, Paul wrote the letter (nominally, it is also by Silvanus and Timothy) to Thessalonica.

    Thessalonians is a short letter, and a lot of it is taken up with what might be considered formalities, although they seem genuinely emotional. Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonian congregation and their faith, praising them and their behaviour, and recites the history of his relationship with the Thessalonian church, along with what can be read as a refresher on what Paul has taught them (after all, these people have not been Christians for long).

    After that, and some moral instruction, the major theological points of the letter arrive. In 4:13-18, he discusses the issue of those who are alive at “the coming of the Lord” who “will by no means precede those who have died.” (4:15). The following seems to be the situation: Paul’s teaching, as one can see here, maintains that the apocalyptic event will occur during the lifetimes of at least some of him and his audience. During Timothy’s visit, he finds out that there is worry in the community over what will happen to those who have died prior to “the coming of the Lord” (will they miss it?), and over the questions of future reunion. Paul’s message here is intended to reassure them that “the dead in Christ” (4:16) will receive eternal life, just as those still alive at that point in time will.

    Following that, and continuing on the apocalyptic theme, Paul spends the first half of the fifth and last chapter of the letter urging his readers to be vigilant for the coming of “the day of the Lord” in order to obtain salvation. The letter ends with some more exhortations to positive behaviour, prayers and a request for prayer, and a farewell.

    One very interesting point raised by Thessalonians is the difference between how it and Acts present Paul’s method of evangelism. As we’ve noted, Acts features public preaching as an evangelical method. In Acts 17, it’s established that Thessalonica had a synagogue, and Paul’s method of evangelism was to go to the synagogue on the sabbath and argue over scripture, seeking to convince listeners that Christ as messiah was a correct interpretation. As a result, as 17:4 has it, “[s]ome of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” – the reference to “devout Greeks” refers to gentile “God-fearers” who adopted some elements of Judaism but did not convert. In response, Jews of the city “become jealous” and form a mob that brings believers before the authorities of the city, claiming that Jesus is being presented as another king, “contrary to the decrees of the emperor” (17:5-7).

    In comparison, in First Thessalonians, Paul’s evangelism seems rather different. Paul tells the Thessalonians, by way of praise, that it has become known that the Thessalonian church had “turned to God from idols” (1:9), which indicates that his converts were previously pagans. Later, in 2:14-16, Paul tells his audience that they “suffered the same things from your own compatriots as [the churches in Judea] did from the Jews”, “Jews” here presumably indicating Jews in Judea persecuting (one way or another) believers in Christ (as well as those Jews in generations past who didn’t accept the prophets). The language here, again, strongly indicates that his audience is made up of gentiles, not Jews.

    While the “who” of Paul’s evangelism is established, the “how” is not really addressed. Did he give speeches? He doesn’t say, though many scholars think that early in its history Christianity, including before it could really be defined as a discrete religion, travelled more by “word of mouth” than by dramatic public speeches. They take Paul’s statement in 2:9 that “[y]ou remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” as indicating that he and his companions worked to support themselves, rather than seeking support from those they evangelized, and conjecture that Paul might have spread his evangelical message in the course of going about his daily business (Acts indicates that he was a leatherworker of some sort).

    As mentioned earlier, there is no serious scholarly doubt today that Paul wrote First Thessalonians. Further, most scholars think that the letter is more or less in its original form. A number of serious scholars propose that First Thessalonians is actually a combination of two letters, but this is a minority view. There are questions over whether 2:13-16, where Paul makes aggressive general statements about “Jews”, is original to the letter. Those who argue that it is a later insertion say it does not make sense in the structure of the letter, includes phrasing that supposedly resembles pagan anti-Jewish polemic, and contradicts Pauline theology elsewhere. Those that see it as original find places elsewhere in Paul’s letters that are similar or that support its inclusion.

    So, that’s First Thessalonians. It’s a short letter that provides an interesting look at Paul’s evangelism, and gives an example of the sort of difference we’ll continue to see between Acts and Paul’s own letters. It’s not heavy theological territory, however – for that, we’ll wait until next time, when we look at First and Second Corinthians.

    • theredsheep says:

      Is Paul generally considered eloquent by the prevailing rhetorical standards of his day, then? I just went through the Pauline epistles, then got to Hebrews, and it was like night and day; Hebrews strikes me as much better writing, whoever wrote it.

      • dndnrsn says:

        His Greek is both complicated and technically correct, which is an impressive combination – there’s a wide variety of both level of complicatedness and correctness. I don’t know if he’d be considered a good writer by the standards of the time, but he definitely wrote like someone with a solid education. Hebrews might be an unfair standard of comparison – scholars seem to have a very high opinion of the quality of its Greek, rhetoric, etc.

      • SamChevre says:

        Hebrews is spectacular to read. The one piece of Paul’s epistles I’d put in the same class is 1 Corinthinians 15.

    • Aron Wall says:

      How is being born in Tarsus, automatically the same thing as having received a second high-level education there, in addition to his rabbinic training? That seems like a very strange transition to me. (Although there is no question that Paul had some exposure to Greek classics since he quotes from them in both Acts and 1 Corinthians).

      I have an education in both great books (BA) and in physics (PhD), so it’s good to know that future scholars will be able to find a “contradiction” there.

      I also don’t see how Acts 17 version (Paul goes to the synogogue to preach, finds that the message is received by “some” Jews but a “large number” of Gentiles, then some other Jews whip up a mob to try to hunt them down so they flee from the city) is in very much tension with the 1 Thess version (Paul is writing to instruct a mostly Gentile church and are experiencing persecution from Jews). Obviously Paul is not trying to say all Jews are bad, he’s a Jew himself!

      The idea that Paul might successfully found dozens of churches, entirely by word-of-mouth preaching during his day job, without making any effort to engage public audiences in any setting, also seems rather far fetched. (After people have become interested in learning about Jesus, that’s when you start following up with them on an individual basis.) That method would also take a very long time and wouldn’t be compatible with travelling from city to city starting multiple congregations. When Paul talks about working a day job (and he mentions it quite often, actually) he always presents it as a way of financially supporting his evangelism, not as his strategy for engaging people in conversation.

      • dndnrsn says:

        How is being born in Tarsus, automatically the same thing as having received a second high-level education there, in addition to his rabbinic training? That seems like a very strange transition to me. (Although there is no question that Paul had some exposure to Greek classics since he quotes from them in both Acts and 1 Corinthians).

        I have an education in both great books (BA) and in physics (PhD), so it’s good to know that future scholars will be able to find a “contradiction” there.

        The idea is, the scholars who are dubious about Tarsus think that it’s meant to associate Paul with a centre of Hellenistic learning in the same way that saying someone was born in Princeton would associate them with the Ivy.

        As for Acts 17 – it refers to the gentiles converted by Paul’s synagogue preaching using a word which gets translated as “devout” or “God-fearing” and is sometimes used to mark proselytes and converts to Judaism. In 17, it refers to the sorts of gentiles who might be hanging around a synagogue – those who have adopted the veneration of the Jewish God, but who have not converted to Judaism. There’s nothing in the language of Thessalonians which suggests that the process went “abandon idols – worship Jewish God – find out about Christ”; what’s there suggests that the Thessalonian converts were pagan gentiles prior to conversion. The Thessalonian church is gentiles being persecuted by other gentiles – “For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews” (2:14).

        (It’s outside the scope of what I’m writing, but anti-Christian persecution is very interesting; the current scholarly position tends to be that they weren’t persecuted for adopting a religion, but for abandoning paganism and thereby undermining legitimate authority, not to mention displeasing the pagan gods whose worship they’ve abandoned)

        If you gave someone 1 Thessalonians without anything else, I don’t think many people would come to the conclusion that Paul is writing to a church put together from Jews and God-fearing gentiles. On the other hand, if you were given Acts 17 and nothing else, you would think that. Both Paul and the author of Acts have agendas: Paul to insist that his message is directly from God, not dependent on other people, independent, and Acts to show how everything is in continuity. This is going to get more treatment in Galatians. Personally, I think Thessalonians is the better source for this: it’s written to one specific group at a specific time, instead of being a more general message (thus perhaps more likely to be “sculpted”), it was written earlier, etc.

        We do indeed know very little about how Paul proselytized. The theories by which Christianity was a word-of-mouth thing tend to look at the mystery religions, which existed around the same time, and which seem to have spread by word of mouth rather than by public preaching. There’s some more sociology-of-religion-influenced approaches which look at the number of Christians in the empire at whatever time, and try to figure out how fast it grew, and based on how fast, consider how. The last thing I read on the topic had Christianity in the Roman empire growing explosively for a very short time (which might back up some of the big conversions in Acts) and then after that increasing in a slow-and-steady, compound-interest way (which might back up word-of-mouth theories). Word-of-mouth isn’t just Paul and crew talking to people, either – it’s converts going and telling other people, it’s the head of a family converting and others in the household following them, etc. I personally think Paul probably did public or semi-public preaching, since it’s an obvious way to attract people – but person-to-person word-of-mouth contract may have been the major driver after a certain point.

        • Randy M says:

          This is probably heretical and/or ahistorical, but if I were Paul, the answer would be that I had mentally mixed up Thessalonica with another place I’d been preaching when writing to them.

        • MPG says:

          (It’s outside the scope of what I’m writing, but anti-Christian persecution is very interesting; the current scholarly position tends to be that they weren’t persecuted for adopting a religion, but for abandoning paganism and thereby undermining legitimate authority, not to mention displeasing the pagan gods whose worship they’ve abandoned)

          That phrasing doesn’t seem to me to cast the situation in the right terms. Saying that Christians were not “persecuted for adopting a religion” makes it sound like the Roman authorities did not care that they people they were prosecuting were Christians. The evidence for the mid-first century is quite limited, but Tertullian seems pretty sure, at the end of the second, that the charge is the nomen christianum, in other words, being a Christian. That matches what Pliny and Trajan say in their letters about ninety years earlier. (G.E.M. de Ste Croix’s work on the matter is, though old, still excellent).

          There’s little indication the Roman authorities ever cared much whether someone worshipped Christ as well as the traditional gods. But as early as Pliny’s day, a Roman governor could take it for granted that proper Christians would not worship other gods–and that restoring the worship of the gods is the result to be brought about by forcing Christians to renounce Christ and worship the gods’ images. That suggests that the basic contours of Christian belief, including monotheism and a rejection of sacrificing, were already well known well before then.

          So, both at once? The problem really lies with the word “religion,” which doesn’t quite map on to any ancient concept. Pliny calls Christianity superstitio, which in his day does take on a fairly concrete sense as “other people’s disreputable worship.” But it wasn’t for being superstitious that the Christians were punished; it was for offending the gods and so bringing disaster on the Roman Empire.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yeah, all correct – I put it in a clumsy way.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Pliny calls Christianity superstitio, which in his day does take on a fairly concrete sense as “other people’s disreputable worship.”

            Superstitio seems to have a connotation somewhere between “wrong” and “scrupulosity”. Like in the Hellenic worldview (also Roman), it might be true that Cybele is a real goddess it’s good to worship, but cutting off your penis because you’re in her cult is a mentally and socially unhealthy, even creepy, excess.

          • MPG says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Yes. “Scrupulosity” would be a good rendering of its usage by Balbus in book 2 of Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods, and maybe even in Seneca’s De superstitione. I was specifically thinking, however, of Denise Grodzynski’s arguments about the shift in its meaning during the early to middle Empire (made in an article, aptly titled “Superstitio,” in Revue des Études Anciennes 76 (1974), 36-60). As I recollect the argument, she holds that it takes on a more concrete meaning–something like what I suggested–in Tacitus.

            Of course, Christian authors use it to mean “idolatry,” basically, and that’s probably the sense in which it appears in the legislation of Constantine and sons.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          In 17, it refers to the sorts of gentiles who might be hanging around a synagogue – those who have adopted the veneration of the Jewish God, but who have not converted to Judaism. There’s nothing in the language of Thessalonians which suggests that the process went “abandon idols – worship Jewish God – find out about Christ”;

          Are you aware of the spells in the Greek Magical Papyri (Hellenistic Egypt) that show they were written by idolaters who believed that the God of the Jews was powerful and (more ambiguously) to be invoked only verbally?

          Both Paul and the author of Acts have agendas: Paul to insist that his message is directly from God, not dependent on other people, independent, and Acts to show how everything is in continuity. This is going to get more treatment in Galatians. Personally, I think Thessalonians is the better source for this: it’s written to one specific group at a specific time, instead of being a more general message (thus perhaps more likely to be “sculpted”), it was written earlier, etc.

          I don’t think this should be used as ammunition that Acts is in any way false, though. I can believe that Luke was an honest historian in the Greek tradition and also that he sculpted his facts (everyone does).

          • dndnrsn says:

            1. Yeah. I also seem to recall something about inscriptions in parts of the eastern Mediterranean that seem to show gentiles, without any reference to them being God-fearers, providing financial support for synagogues, in the same way that they’d provide financial support for public works in general.

            2. Oh, I’m not saying Acts is false; you’re right that he met the Greek standard (which was pretty open to things like inventing speeches) and everybody does sculpt the facts. It’s got too much stuff in there that can be verified one way or another to be falsified.

          • MPG says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Not just in the papyri, either. Origen mentions spells in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob somewhere in Contra Celsum.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Further, Paul clearly was a member of the intellectual elite in broad terms. In a world where only something like ten or fifteen percent of the population could read, Paul wrote in Greek of a quality and in a fashion indicating some amount of formal rhetorical education; his writing similarly shows a considerable knowledge of and engagement with the Jewish scriptures (in Greek translation). At a minimum, Paul is a well-educated diaspora Jew.

      There’s a tendency to forget the sheer size and cultural character of diaspora Judaism in the Roman Empire. We know that Jews who spoke Greek and probably knew no Hebrew were very large minorities in Syria and Egypt: the Pagan Greek historian Appian recounts avoiding an assumed-fatal encounter with the Jewish faction on the Nile in the 116-117 war in Egypt, in a context of assuming his audience knows enough about these people: he gives no details about them but does fill in ethnographic information about his Arab guide.
      (I suppose the interesting question here would be the size of Rome’s Jewish community and whether they were Greek-speaking immigrants who relied on the Septuagint.)

      As a result, as 17:4 has it, “[s]ome of them [Jews] were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women”

      This is an interesting list of groups. It can be read as “Jews heard Paul, as did a great many God-fearers and some of the leading women.” If the first two nouns aren’t masculine in Greek, high-status women who had no association with Judaism are suddenly joining Paul because there’s something in the Gospel as he presents it that appeals to them qua women without needing Judaism as an “in”.
      (Makes me recall Thecla.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        Yeah, that is reminiscent of the Thecla story – I’m thinking that I might cover the Didache and Acts of Paul and Thecla at the end, just out of interest.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Sure, I’d be interested in Acts of Paul and Mary Sue Thecla, and much more so in the Didache.

        • Anaxagoras says:

          Acts of Paul and Thecla is hilarious; I really hope you decide to cover chastity porn.

  4. theredsheep says:

    How useful do you feel the concept of “gaslighting” is? I can see how it could happen–sometimes people are malicious, manipulative, abusive, what-have-you–but it seems like the kind of thing that would create a lot of false positives, because

    A. It is extremely common for people to have different perceptions and memories of significant events,
    B. It is totally normal for people to try and bring others around to their own point of view, and
    C. Most people are not malevolent to the extent that they are consciously trying to deceive others.

    Overall, I feel that the concept of gaslighting is too readily used to paint someone as having sinister motives or acting in bad faith when they’re arguing for their own POV. Use of the term implies a deeper degree of insight into someone else’s psychology than most of us commonly have, and it seems to get thrown around a lot. Thoughts?

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      A spouse has a lot of power to make their partner think that they’re going crazy by moving keys and other objects. Media sites have the power to delete or change old articles without notifying anyone. Newer editions of books often quietly correct mistakes without ever acknowledging them.

      None of these are matters of opinions, they’re retroactively attempting to change the past for their own benefit. All of these are manufacturing evidence or destroying evidence, which is more than just having two people’s memories disagree.

      How common is it? News sites quietly take down stories all the time, or drop ongoing story lines when the facts start going against the narrative. How common is it among romantic partners? Probably very rare.

      • Matt M says:

        IMO “gaslighting” also implies motive. Specifically, the motive behind it is to make the other person feel like they’re going crazy.

        CNN doesn’t change articles because they want me to think I’m going crazy. They do it for much simpler, self-interested reasons. They don’t care about my mental state, one way or another… Therefore, even if it’s sinister and should be opposed for other reasons, it’s not really “gaslighting” as such.

        And by this logic, I think some 99% of uses of the term “gaslighting” are incorrect. It’s usually just regular self-interested lying.

        • Dragor says:

          So you would reject a consequentialist problematization of gaslighting then? That is, if someone has an instinctual desire to propagate their worldview and insidiously, but not systematically, undermines other worldviews[1], that would not be gaslighting?

          [1] Say because they are deluded and malevolent.

          • 10240 says:

            It’s a problem, but different terms should be used for it than for trying to make the listener think they’re going crazy. We should also distinguish whether the reason is delusion or malevolence.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with 10240. Intentionally lying and deceiving people to propagate your ideology is bad, but it’s not gaslighting.

            That said, given how everyone uses gaslighting to include that sort of thing, I’m probably fighting a battle I’m doomed to lose, and I should just throw in the towel like the dictionary did with “literally.”

          • 10240 says:

            @Matt M It may be futile to try to return the term to its original meaning, but the ambiguity is a good reason to avoid using it in either meaning. We use a lot of ambiguous words, but it’s worse than usual when the ambiguity is between actions of significantly different levels of (im)morality. There are less ambiguous words to say that someone is lying, or that what they are saying is incorrect.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think “gaslighting” is only useful when you’re talking about a specific type of (alleged) misrepresentation, specifically of the past in order to justify the present (or intentions for the future). But even then, “historical revisionism” does just as well.

          • Dragor says:

            @10240, I agree with both your point that it’s worthwhile to use precise language, and that it’s often difficult or futile.A good case study would be be use of the word “rape”. Rape can embody a wide range of events and contexts that vary in the amount of harm done from a crushing event that derails your life to something that probably had ripple effects but didn’t seem that bad. It’s similar with sexual assault; at least for me my baseline presumption is that sexual assault is quite bad and typically worse than physical assault, but I know someone who was sexually assaulted and reported not being bothered at all. Clarifying degree and manner of harm seems useful, but in practice would be very hard to do in the manner it is very hard to bracket any harmful event without running the risk of appearing to trivialize it.

            On the note of lying, my father told me a while back that mendacious meant something along the lines of “careless with the truth” and thus was distinct from lying by lacking explicit intent. I have since found that “lying” is listed as one of its definitions, but I use it only to indicate untruthfulness as distinct from deceit because that’s too wonderful a delineation to give up.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Dragor

            at least for me my baseline presumption is that sexual assault is quite bad and typically worse than physical assault, but I know someone who was sexually assaulted and reported not being bothered at all.

            This reminds me of a Henry Rollins interview where he mentioned as a young kid going out on the streets looking for a fight.

            I know, you can’t physically assault a willing punk.

            Some people would feel invigorated by being jumped.

          • Dragor says:

            I actually did that in my pajamas once when I was 17, but I didn’t want to instigate anything because I saw myself as not a bad actor. Luckily a car almost killed me while I was not jaywalking, so I felt morally justified in bouncing the car up and down by kicking the bumper yelling the guy starting to exit back into his car.

        • ana53294 says:

          IMO “gaslighting” also implies motive. Specifically, the motive behind it is to make the other person feel like they’re going crazy.

          Is that the motive?

          From what I gather, in cases when the children of alcoholics, say, confront their parents about being starved or locked for days or whatever, the parents deny it because they don’t want the feeling of guilt. They don’t want to assume responsibility for their actions, they don’t want to ask for forgiveness, so they’d rather pretend none of that happened.

          Isn’t that also a thing in romantic relationships where somebody screwed up? Rather than say “I’m sorry”, they’d rather pretend nothing happened, and try to convince their partners.

          The thing with gaslighting is, sometimes people gaslight themselves, too, so they can successfully gaslight others.

          • 10240 says:

            Part of the discussion in this thread is about whether it’s appropriate to call that gaslighting. Originally at least, it referred to making the other person think they’re crazy.

          • 205guy says:

            The alcoholics and relationship examples given would be considered gaslighting, from my understanding. The term was coined from the movie title, but I think the coining recognized that while what happens in the movie is a conscious act, this is very rare, while the thing being named is a more common unconscious behavior.

            In my mind, gaslighting is still not a common behavior, and it is fairly specific to unhealthy relationships involving people with narcissism or borderline personality disorder. And in that context I don’t think the gaslighting behavior is so much intentional and voluntary as instinctual and subconscious.

            But it is also becoming more mainstream and being applied to analogous online behavior that may be seen in conflict-prone forums or news media.

      • 10240 says:

        they’re retroactively attempting to change the past for their own benefit

        Only if there is an (implicit or explicit) claim or promise that the old articles are not changed or deleted, or that all changes in the new edition of the book are explicitly mentioned. I don’t think there is such an expectation with regards to new editions of a book. An author is not a permanent defendant; the new edition is supposed to summarize the author’s best knowledge at the time of its publication, it’s not supposed to be a piece of evidence about the author’s earlier mistakes. No evidence is destroyed either, as long as earlier editions are available. Regarding a media site, there is a stronger claim that it purports to represent older articles as they were originally published, but if this doesn’t actually usually hold, it may make sense to just acknowledge that it shouldn’t be assumed to hold unless explicitly asserted by the site.

      • Tarpitz says:

        A spouse has a lot of power to make their partner think that they’re going crazy by moving keys and other objects.

        Joke’s on my hypothetical spouse: to whatever extent rarely being able to remember where I put anything constitutes being crazy, I have long since accepted I am that much crazy.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Useful as a way to describe abusive behaviour in which someone is intentionally led to question their own perceptions, sanity, etc, as a way of undermining and controlling them. But that’s a lot more than remembering something differently. It’s unsurprising that its use has expanded enough to make it a lot less useful; this often happens to terminology.

    • Randy M says:

      I think it’s useful to posit a strong form and a weak form. The strong form is where someone is trolling or scamming someone. Hard to prove, but clearly sinister. Also rare, though you can probably find examples mainly constituting on-line trolls bragging on other forums or something. [edit: forgot the instance as dndnrsn points out, of someone trying to protect their reputation. “I didn’t say that” being a very common form. With good liars, they probably first convince themselves, or do it out of habit.]

      A weak form is where someone is entirely sure and admits no possibility of error in their own memory. Probably fairly common, not malicious, but somewhat, say, intellectually negligent.

      Realizing your own mind is fallible is a key, but not universal, step towards maturity.

      • Dragor says:

        Yeah, the weak intellectually negligent form is pervasive and obnoxious, but not that harmful. I have a few people whom I differ periodically in my recollection of the past with–and I particularly notice that it happens with those people and much less with other people. There is also a characteristic inflexibility in their recollection that makes me not trust their recall.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Classic Motte and Bailey.

    • 10240 says:

      One problem is that (as far as I perceive it, as a non-native speaker with a small sample size) the term seems to be used with a variety of senses:
      – Lying a lot
      – Lying and getting caught
      – Lying in an easily discoverable way
      – Intentionally lying in an easily discoverable way with the specific purpose of making the listener doubt their sanity.
      As far as I understand, it’s originally supposed to mean the last one, but it is sometimes also used for the former ones, which are not quite as nefarious.

      As far as your points go, I agree with A. and B., but I think plenty of people (probably most) are willing to lie if they don’t think they will get caught, especially when they don’t think the deception is going to cause significant harm to anyone.

    • Dragor says:

      I think it can definitely get conflated with “disagreement”, but I think it is useful to describe aggressive attempts to undermine someone’s confidence in their views and/or change their perceptions. I’ve always thought of social relations as partly collaborative attempts to create share institutions/culture/reality-view. My concept of gaslighting I think centralizes around intense, skullduggerous attempts to de-democratize that process. Usage of noncentral examples weakens the central concept example of fucking with someone’s head so that they no longer believe they can trust themselves to generate evidence or beliefs, but I would argue they are sometimes useful.

    • Loriot says:

      I think it was originally a specific term whose definition has sadly been stretched beyond usefulness.

      • Beans says:

        This, whenever I’ve seen the word uses in the last several years it could have just been replaced with “lying”, but “lying” wasn’t chosen because it doesn’t have the same oompf.

      • keaswaran says:

        Yes. There are very specific cases where it’s a really useful concept. It’s also useful for understanding a lot of unintentional behavior (every time someone comes for reassurance and you make them wonder whether they’re interpreting the situation wrong raises the potential for it, even if you’re right). But now people use it way too often.

    • Well... says:

      How about this: gaslighting is a type of trolling in which the motivation is to cause a specific reaction in the victim, which the troll sees as a means to some end (rather than more common trolling in which the trolling is only or primarily for the amusement of the troll).

      • Lambert says:

        Isn’t that just ‘abuse’?

      • yodelyak says:

        No, that’s not it. That just throws out a useful term. “Gaslighting” is not “a specific reaction that is means to an end” it’s “lying / acting falsely specifically to undermine their competence and make them controllable.”

        There’s always problems of overuse, and the failure of maturity problem noted above is probably the most common source of accusations of gaslighting, but the specific behavior of deliberately coaching a person to believe themselves unreliable and incompetent, in order to achieve unaccountable control, is extremely common in long-term relationships that have become abusive.

        Sometimes when a person lies or acts falsely, it’s a self-interested effort to prevent the truth from being known. (E.g. a person who said Obama was born in Kenya later tries to say they never said that, because they want to avoid being perceived as a liar. Plain self-interested lying. Bill Clinton denying the thing with Monica is a great example.)
        Sometimes a person lies or acts falsely, and it’s a self-interested effort to coach one or more other people into epistemic or general helplessness and mistrust. (E.g. an abusive spouse inserts implication that cops are violent, can’t be trusted, to nudge partner away from calling police later. Also moves items like keys and wallets and phones to make partner feel incompetent. Also leaves true information (e.g. dates for appointments posted on the fridge) places partner will trust, then changes them, and calls and reschedules the date, so partner will miss appointment and feel helpless/useless. This is what gas-lighting is, and it’s so extremely toxic that it’s about as clear a sign that a relationship is toxic as physical violence that leaves bruises–gtfo. I do know people who’ve been in relationships like that, and at least one whose worldview has been so damaged by relationships like that where she now can’t be truly friends with anyone, and has succeeded in driving away all her real friends by being unable to trust them, leaving her feeling desperate for protection and vulnerable to exactly the kind of manipulative deception that causes this crap.

        • Dragor says:

          Yeah, I guess the central example is so purely evil that a) everyone is going to want to borrow its power through allusion and b) It would be a travesty to lose the strength of reference that would come from the moniker purely referring to the central example. Bummer.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Here’s a real world example. I’ve only got her version of it.

      She found that her husband had been putting her stationery supplies in his desk, after years of her thinking she was forgetfully losing them.

      When she confronted him (I don’t know how forcefully), he told her off for invading his privacy.

      Definitely asshole behavior. Is it gaslighting?

      • Derannimer says:

        I think much depends on why he was stealing her stationery. Was it in order to make her think she was going nuts, or did he just want to use it himself? Also, did he actually tell her she must have lost it? It’s not clear from your story whether he told her that or she just assumed it.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’ve given you all the detail I’ve got. She’s dead, and I certainly don’t know the man well enough to bring this up.

          It did sound as though he took her stationery supplies more than once. I’ll also note that she was a serious notebook person, so it probably wasn’t just the cheap generic stuff.

          My assumption is that she talked about not being able to find her stationery, but that’s only because it’s the kind of thing I would mention, so I don’t know whether she did.

          If I took some of my partner’s stuff and put it away and they were talking about not being able to find it, I think common decency requires telling them where it is.

          If he was taking it because he felt like household stuff in community property, I think the humane response would have been to apologize.

          • Aapje says:

            If he wanted her to stop writing letters or such, then it is manipulative, but not gaslighting.

          • Dragor says:

            On the side of “intention doesn’t matter people moving your shit makes you feel crazy”, I used to never know where stuff was as a kid. When I was an adult I realized I could quite often know where stuff was. I used to know that my mom moving stuff when she was cleaning and forgetting where she had moved it to made it hard for me to find my stuff, but the profundity didn’t sink in until years of nobody moving my stuff but me had passed.

      • yodelyak says:

        CW: domestic violence.

        I am the male pair of big shoulders that has been recruited twice, two different women, in the 34 years I’ve been alive to stand between them and the man who recently bruised their face with his hands. The more recent time was in the last calendar year, by a next door neighbor, whose long-time boyfriend had returned without permission after being told to leave (and who had been physically violent previously). With me standing physically between them, he kept up a running battery of accusations on her sanity, lasting 15 minutes plus, about how she can’t do anything right and if she calls the cops they’ll certainly take his side, just like they ended up having to last time even though of course they would like to be on the woman’s side usually, and and and–everything from calling her a drunk and a whore to telling her he was sorry she was doing this to herself and really wanted to help her.

        It was appalling how disconnected he could be from reality, and even more appalling how obvious to me it was that he’d only built this ability to behave the way he was over the course of a long habit, which means for a while, it was working.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I am pretty confident that cases in which one or both parties to a disagreement believe themselves to be being gaslit as a result of one or both of their memories being faulty (usually both) outnumber instances of genuine gaslighting by several orders of magnitude. Most people would benefit from a better understanding of how unreliable their memory is, not increased confidence in it.

    • albatross11 says:

      Gaslighting in a relationship seems like a real thing. Gaslighting in the political realm just seems like a word with little meaning but a lot of negative emotional associations.

    • a real dog says:

      Arguing for your position is gaslighting because meat is murder, taxation is theft and your culture is rape culture.

      Expanding originally well-defined concepts to the point of uselessness seems to be the favorite pastime of activists and twitterati.

      • Dragor says:

        To be fair, if you have ever been rapidly convinced of something by a highly persuasive person it is really weird. My family members are a persuasive bunch, and maybe a year ago I left a conversation with my sister convinced I should be a life coach. The next day was weird.

    • Wrong Species says:

      A good rule of thumb is to just ignore anyone who accuses people of gaslighting. They almost certainly don’t care about having a serious debate.

  5. Bobobob says:

    Stressed, need fun. Best singer/songwriters of all time!

    The criteria are that the person a) has had an outstanding and productive career over at least 10 years, and b) is likely to be remembered, admired, and played 10, 50, or 100 years from now.

    My top 3 picks:

    1) Van Morrison. First 10 years (mid ‘60’s to mid ‘70’s) were brilliant. Fell off a cliff for five years, then returned to (vaguely Christian) form starting in 1980. (I’m only familiar with his work up until about 1992, life is too short to assimilate a new release every single year)

    2) Neil Young. I’m guessing he will generate the most love/hate reactions on this forum, but who else could come up with a song like “Rocking in the Free World” so relatively late in his career?

    3) Leonard Cohen. I came to Leonard Cohen very recently, only about three years ago, and I really regret not picking up on him earlier. If I were a singer-songwriter, he is the kind of singer-songwriter I would choose to be.

    Runners-up/no-gos:

    Richard Thompson. He’s a great songwriter and guitarist, but his voice wears thin over the long run, and I don’t like his taste in producers. He really needed Linda.

    Joni Mitchell. I’m not sure she meets the 10-year standard, and the more I read about her, the less I like her. (Though, to be fair, I’ve heard stuff 10X worse about Van Morrison)

    Bob Dylan. I know he would make most peoples’ top 3 lists, and he has written some great songs. But he’s just not entirely to my taste, and I don’t like his whole changing-my-religion schtick.

    Ray Davies—too indistinguishable from The Kinks

    Bryan Ferry—too indistinguishable from Roxy Music

    Walter Becker and Donald Fagan—two indistinguishable from Steely Dan

    Maybe this will inspire other people here to some new listening, and maybe I can expand my horizons with suggestions from comments. I really need some new Spotify playlists to while away the day.

    • Matt M says:

      Ray Davies—too indistinguishable from The Kinks

      How does this work exactly?

      Because it seems to me that in a lot of cases, whether or not a solo artist + backing band is packaged as “solo singer/songwriter” or “band” is a matter of marketing preference, almost random chance.

      Like, I understand that say, Jim Morrison and John Fogerty aren’t really seen as “singer-songwriters” as such… but in terms of people who wrote good music and performed it well, they’d reach the top of my list…

      In some ways I feel like “singer/songwriter” is actually a genre label that describes a certain type of music that emphasizes the solo vocalist at the expense of the backing band, and goes well beyond just “someone who writes and sings music well and packages it under their own name rather than as part of a band.”

      • Bobobob says:

        I will admit, it can be a hard distinction to make. Technically, most of Neil Young’s output is “Neil Young and Crazy Horse.”

        I’m curious, did Jim Morrison actually write/compose The Doors’ songs?
        I always thought of him as more of a front man, but I could be wrong.

        • Matt M says:

          Just randomly checked “LA Woman” on Wikipedia, which says “All songs written by Jim Morrison, except where noted.” Only 2 of the 10 songs don’t include Morrison as a writer.

          • Matt M says:

            And what about stuff like “Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band” or “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers”

            Do they count?

          • Bobobob says:

            I think Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty both qualify, but neither would make my personal list.

            Maybe the general rule should be, if a person is singled out as the leader of a band, he merits the singer/songwriter label. So no for Robbie Robertson, yes for Sly Stone.

          • Matt M says:

            Also – is country specifically excluded from this sort of thing?

            Johnny Cash? Willie Nelson? Dare I even say… Garth Brooks?

          • Bobobob says:

            Not excluded. I enjoy all meats in the musical stew. I just don’t know all that much about country–I’d be interested in hearing any recommendations that jibe with my already expressed preferences.

          • Matt M says:

            If you like Neil Young I think you’d probably like Willie Nelson well enough… although I’m less confident that he personally wrote all/most of his songs. (Edit: Merle Haggard comes to mind as someone you might like as well)

            I think in country it’s much more common for the good writers to just write and sell their singers to good singers. Country has more “famous writers” that aren’t famous performers like Townes Van Zandt or Billy Joe Shaver.

            Kris Kristofferson is maybe the most well known and successful example of a “good writer” managing to ascend and do well enough as a singer to become famous in that right. Probably the closest thing country has to a Bob Dylan sort of figure…

          • JonathanD says:

            @Matt M,

            A good friend once described Kris Kristofferson as very talented writer and generally very talented human who could probably do almost anything, other than not being able to sing or act.

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      Neil Young, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), and Gordon Lightfoot (Canadian Railroad Trilogy).

      • Bobobob says:

        Early Cat Stevens is great, if overly earnest, and Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is a terrific song. Neither one reaches the consistent high-output 10-year mark, though.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), and Gordon Lightfoot (Canadian Railroad Trilogy).

        So Cat Stevens converted to Islam and Gordon Lightfoot converted to a Canadian locomotive?

    • salvorhardin says:

      Paul Simon would certainly be on my top 3 list (Cohen and Dylan would probably though not certainly the two others). Carole King and Billy Joel would be on the runners-up list.

      This is of course an English language centric list and I’d be fascinated to hear nominations from those with other native languages (Edith Piaf? Bulat Okudzhava?)

    • C_B says:

      John Darnielle deserves to be in this thread, even if he usually refers to himself in the plural.

    • Tarpitz says:

      The person not already mentioned who I really like is Brendan Benson.

      This view may, I appreciate, result in my permanent exclusion from polite society.

    • Jitters says:

      I’m not really interested in “best”, but I do think there’s something to the idea that a singer-songwriter is a different category from a band. Most notably, singer-songwriters reasonably often have long and interesting careers with highs and lows. While bands sometimes put out albums that are hailed as a “return to form”, but those never actually measure up to their classic material.

      I know there must be exceptions, but off the top of my head it’s really hard to think of any bands that stayed with the same lineup and managed to get good again after they ran out of inspiration the first time. Black Sabbath returned to form after they got together with Dio, but their reunion album with Ozzy (13) still sounds like they’re going through the motions.

      I’d definitely add Warren Zevon to a list of great singer-songwriters. He had a lot of ups and downs, but he kept coming up with interesting music almost thirty years after he’d started. I’ll admit he doesn’t have a lot of albums I think are good all the way through, but almost all have songs that I’m glad exist.

      David Bowie definitely qualifies as a great singer-songwriter for me. Even though he worked with a lot of other people, it all comes out as something only Bowie could have done.

      As to Joni Mitchell, I’m not sure she ever got good again. But I haven’t listened to any of her full albums after Hejira, so I guess I won’t be able to make up my mind for a while.

      • Uribe says:

        To me singer/songwriter implies someone who not infrequently performs alone with an acoustic guitar.

        Jimi Hendrix wrote most of his material but he is not in the column “singer/songwriter”.

        Dylan, Simon, Young, Cohen, Prine, Nelson… All played with bands but also performed and recorded a lot with just an acoustic guitar.

        So Stevie Wonder, Beck, Billie Eilish are solo artists not singer/ songwriters.

        • Well... says:

          Chris Cornell? I mean, he’s a better singer than anyone else I’ve seen mentioned, and he’s a great songwriter, and he did (I think) a whole tour with just him on an acoustic.

          Buzz Osbourne did both an album and a tour with just him on an acoustic and it was pretty great too.

    • SamChevre says:

      What about hymn writers? I would bet on both Charles Wesley and Ira Sankey.

      We obviously have no recordings of either, but I’ve sung songs by both many times. (Try “Cleansing Fountain”/”There is a fountain filled with blood” for Sankey, and “Lo He Comes” for Wesley.)

    • I am very much not into music, very much interested in poetry. Leonard Cohen struck me years ago as the one modern singer/songwriter I had come across who was a real poet.

      • Matt M says:

        Have you listened to much/any rap? Rap is basically poetry set to a relatively simple beat. While the stuff you hear on the radio isn’t particularly complex or elegant poetry, the more underground stuff can get quite complex and interesting.

          • Matt M says:

            Maybe give it a go. Since you’re a distinguished professor, I might recommend someone like MC Paul Barman, who was an English major at Brown before deciding to become a rapper…

          • Why does he speak too fast for the listener to fully follow the words? Is that part of the genre?

          • Matt M says:

            Why does he speak too fast for the listener to fully follow the words? Is that part of the genre?

            Typically yes. I’d say this particular song is a little faster than average, but not much.

            For a slower example, here’s one of my favorites from Atmosphere, and the video even includes the lyrics which should help you follow along!

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Matt M, that was worth hearing, and the printed lyrics helped but probably weren’t necessary.

            It made me realize that in the highly unlikely event that someone handed me a gun, I wouldn’t know how to put the safety on.

          • @Matt M:

            Thanks.
            Not bad, but not great poetry.

        • Well... says:

          Rap is basically poetry set to a relatively simple beat.

          Sometimes some of it could qualify as poetry in the sense I think most people think of when they see the word poetry, but mostly I would say rap is not poetry.

          Somewhere once there was an infographic showing which rappers use the longest words, or rap at the highest reading level or something…Aesop Rock, I believe, was way out on the right tail of that curve. If I was going to recommend a rapper to a distinguished professor based on that I guess it’d be Aesop Rock. But really I just want to tell David Friedman to listen to “40 Glock” by Donkey and soak it in.

          • A little easier to follow, but only a little.

            Is “AK machine gun” a pun between “AK47” and “Also Known As?”

            A Glock 40 is a semi-automatic handgun, so probably not.

          • Matt M says:

            If David is looking for one song, this is probably my favorite from Aesop Rock.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Matt M, I listened to that song and read the lyrics. Could you explain to me what the song’s about?

          • Randy M says:

            If DavidFriedman has not seen both econ stories “Kaynes vs Hayek” rap battles he should rectify that post haste, but I can’t imagine this is the case.

          • Matt M says:

            Could you explain to me what the song’s about?

            Not really, but I’m super bad at that sort of thing in general. I couldn’t explain to you what “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Come Together” are about either…

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I couldn’t explain to you what “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Come Together” are about either…

            Wasn’t that last one supposed to be a “Tim Leary for POTUS” jingle?

          • I listened to the beginning of a Keynes v Hayek video, didn’t find it very interesting.

            They were actually friends. One edition of The Road to Serfdom has a glowing endorsement on the back by Keynes.

          • Randy M says:

            Shrug. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But lines like these, from the sequel, are an example of rap being poetry:

            [Hayek]Creating employment’s a straightforward craft
            When the nation’s at war and there’s a draft
            If every worker were staffed in the army and fleet
            We’d have full employment… and nothin’ to eat
            Jobs are a means, not the ends in themselves
            People work to live better, to put food on the shelves
            Real growth means production of what people demand
            That’s entrepreneurship, not your central plan

            [Keynes]
            You get on your high horse, and you’re off to the races
            I look at the world on a case-by-case basis
            When people are suffering I roll up my sleeve
            And do what I can do to cure our disease
            The future’s uncertain, our outlooks are frail
            That’s why free markets are so prone to fail
            In a volatile world, we need more discretion
            So state intervention can counter depression

          • Well... says:

            Matt M has correctly identified the best Aesop Rock song.

            @Conrad Honcho: I’m usually pretty good at figuring out what songs are about (so long as they’re not pumped full of references and euphemisms and idioms way outside my knowledge) but I still think really good lyrics should have a cryptic quality. Like, I’d much rather have a songwriter obscure a song that’s about X behind a bunch of disjointed metaphors phrased in odd, clever ways than have him just write about X in a straightforward way.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It’s one thing to be cryptic, but it’s something else when I literally have no idea what the song is about. And given that no one else here seems to be able to figure it out, either, I think it’s not just me.

          • Nick says:

            Has anyone tried checking Genius? Most lines have been annotated.

    • gettin_schwifty says:

      1. Leonard Cohen
      2. Van Morrison
      3. Bob Dylan

      I’ve nothing to add beyond your reasons on Cohen and Morrison, and ol’ Bobby D has had enough words written about him.

      He can’t be included because of his short career (and life), but Nick Drake is one of my favorites. Pink Moon is a masterpiece of an album. If he’d lived longer, he’d probably edge out Bob Dylan on my list, although “It’s Alright Ma” is my favorite solo guitar/voice song.

      • Bobobob says:

        I appreciate the Rick and Morty username tribute. Which song would you choose if Earth was in a win-or-be-destroyed intergalactic music reality show?

    • Dack says:

      Best singer/songwriters of all time!

      The criteria are that the person a) has had an outstanding and productive career over at least 10 years, and b) is likely to be remembered, admired, and played 10, 50, or 100 years from now.

      I think Michael Jackson wins by a mile. From wikipedia:

      Jackson is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with estimated sales of over 350 million records worldwide.[nb 1] His albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), and HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I (1995), rank among the best-selling of all time. Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, with estimated sales of 66 million copies worldwide. Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix (1997) is the best-selling remix album of all time. Bad was the first album to produce five Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles.[nb 2] Jackson had 13 Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles, more than any other male artist in the Hot 100 era, and was also the first artist to have a top ten single in the Billboard Hot 100 in five different decades. He won more awards than any other artist in the history of popular music, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, and is the only recording artist to have been inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame. His other achievements include 39 Guinness World Records, including the Most Successful Entertainer of All Time, 26 American Music Awards, 16 World Music Awards, 13 Grammy Awards, as well as the Grammy Legend and Lifetime Achievement awards, 11 MTV Video Music Awards, 6 Brit Awards, and a Golden Globe Award. In 2016, his estate earned $825 million, the highest yearly amount for a celebrity ever recorded by Forbes.

      • Bobobob says:

        “Most popular” does not equal “best.” Otherwise we’d all be singing the virtues of Billy Joel and Barry Manilow (sorry, Bill and Barry fans).

        Also, I think Jackson is more in the pop category…I’ve certainly never thought of him as a singer-songwriter, more like an incredibly popular corporate trademark.

        • Dack says:

          He is definitely credited as writing his music, though perhaps he used non-traditional methods:

          Jackson had no formal music training and could not read or write music notation; he is credited for playing guitar, keyboard and drums, but was not proficient in them.[411] When composing, he recorded ideas by beatboxing and imitating instruments vocally.[411] Describing the process, he said: “I’ll just sing the bass part into the tape recorder. I’ll take that bass lick and put the chords of the melody over the bass lick and that’s what inspires the melody.” Engineer Robert Hoffman recalled Jackson dictating a guitar chord note by note and singing string arrangements part by part into a cassette recorder.[411]

          • AG says:

            This seems to support the thread above that “singer/songwriter” is a bit of a euphemism for a specific genre. Would Otis Redding, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, or Prince not count?

          • Bobobob says:

            Good question. Are there any major black singer-songwriters? I think the answer is no, unless you include the soul/R&B category, but curious to hear if I’m wrong.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Are there any major black singer-songwriters?

            Immediately Lionel Richie comes to mind.

          • Dino says:

            Richie Havens

          • Uribe says:

            Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Son House, Bukka White…

          • mtl1882 says:

            I think the people in this list all wrote at least much of their own stuff and played instruments: Prince, Little Richard, James Brown, possibly Otis Redding, Sly (Family Stone), Marvin Gaye, Hendrix, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Chuck Berry.

            Singer-songwriter tends to evoke guitars, but Prince definitely fits that, and I think Marvin Gay and Stevie Wonder come close. Lionel Richie also, as has been mentioned.

            Probably not major enough, but certainly respectable, and not hip hop:

            Darius Rucker (The first Hootie album was an absolutely huge seller)
            Tracy Chapman

            As for my overall favorites who meet the criteria, both Elton John and Billie Joel come to mind (I know some don’t rate Joel too highly, but his music has stuck around.) Lennon-McCartney music will stick around. Probably Queen. It’s hard to predict which others will live on a long time. I tend to think music with fundamental themes will last, because it is easier to replace other types of music with newer, more relevant stuff. Not sure if Madonna will have staying power.

            Many of my favorites are 90s rock bands who’ve certainly done decently for more than 10 years, but I have no idea if any will last or which ones.

          • 205guy says:

            I agree that singer-songwriter is a specific genre that is arbitrarily distinct from others, even though the performer may write and sing his/her own songs.

            One excellent African-American singer-songwriter I can think of is Tracy Chapman. I swear when I first heard Fast Car, I thought she was a white country-folk singer.

    • Beck says:

      Guy Clarke
      Maybe Billy Joe Shaver. (Maybe not. He never made it very big performing.)

      Someone mentioned Gordon Lightfoot and Cat Stevens; I might add Jim Croce in the same vein, although I’m not sure he was around long enough to count.

    • Dino says:

      Want to mention Robert Hunter (lyricist/collaborator with Jerry Garcia). I saw him perform as a solo act so he counts as singer/songwriter. He did a talking blues that was jaw-dropping awesome word play. I think his poetry is as good as Dylan, Cohen, Mitchell.

    • Uribe says:

      1. Dylan
      2. Prine
      3. Cohen

    • 205guy says:

      In the Anglosphere, I think the most memorable (not necessarily my favorite) are in order:

      1. Bob Dylan
      2. Paul Simon
      3. Leonard Cohen

      I like the early Dylan Greatest hits but never got into his later stuff. I loved Paul Simon for many years, but now when I listen it sounds like catchy tunes with meaningless pop lyrics. Leonard Cohen is my favorite of the 3, but his More complex melodies and backing vocals are at the edge of singer-songwriter.

      To list 3 of my enduring favorites true singer-songwriters:

      – Don McLean
      – Tracy Chapman
      – Dave Carter (not well-known and technically a duet, but just have a listen)

      3 other of my favorite song-writers who perform their own songs, but not strictly the singer-songwriter genre:

      – Enya
      – Chris De Burgh
      – Peter Gabriel

      And As if that weren’t enough, 3 top singer-songwriters from the francosphere (where the genre was very common):

      – Jacques Brel
      – Georges Brassens
      – Léo Ferré (arguably better, but my preference is Maxime le Forestier)
      – bonus modern one: Damien Saez

      Sorry, I don’t have time to link a song for each, though I do love when people do that.

  6. rocoulm says:

    Some have speculated that the presence of the Wuhan virology lab is “too convenient” to be coincidental, and inferred that it must have had something to do with the outbreak. This has been dismissed out of hand by most mainstream reports (and probably with good reason), but and angle that I’ve never heard addressed is, how much of a coincidence is this? i.e., how many virology labs of this type are there? One in every province in China? Only a handful in the world?

    • Randy M says:

      I brought this up in a previous thread. A good response was that Wuhan is a large region, like NYC and surroundings, that has several universities and is the kind of place you’d expect a virology lab.

      It’s still a tad eye-brow raising, to be honest, but not exactly unexpected. Looking carefully at a map would probably be informative.

    • bean says:

      Extremely quick calibration from a non-expert:

      The Wuhan Virology lab is one of two Biosafetly Level 4 facilities (the highest level, certified to work with basically anything) in China. It opened in 2015, the other one, which focuses on animal diseases, in 2018. The US has 15, the UK has 9, and most developed countries have 1-4. Now assuming that BSL-4 correlates with being in the top tier of virology research (I am an aerospace engineer, and do not know if this is true) then this is a pretty big coincidence.

      • MilesM says:

        Given the risks involved when working with some of the agents requiring BSL-4, you’d hope they would be extremely stringent when certifying people.

        My personal experience only goes up to BSL-3, and it’s not entirely reassuring. While there were tons of paperwork involved, and training was required, a couple of the people granted access were fucking morons I would have been reluctant to trust with my dry cleaning.

        (On the other hand, this was a low-risk BSL-3 facility as far as these things go, they were working with tuberculosis which is dangerous but not likely to cause an outbreak.)

      • Loriot says:

        On the other hand, it makes sense to locate virology labs in places where said viruses are most likely to arise.

    • FLWAB says:

      It’s also important to remember that this particular lab was involved in ongoing research on bat diseases, specifically on diseases that might transfer from bats to humans, including coronavirus:

      Dozens of routine studies required extracting viruses from bat feces and growing them in batches for use in a wide array of experiments. For some projects the researchers spliced genetic material from different coronaviruses to create chimeras that could more easily infect human cells for laboratory experiments.

      The research filled in critical gaps in scientists’ knowledge about deadly viruses and prompted Chinese scientists to issue repeated warnings about the possibility of a new SARS-like disease making the leap from bats to humans. But with each experiment came opportunities for an accidental exposure to dangerous pathogens, experts say. Indeed, such accidents occur dozens of times each year in high-security laboratories around the world, including in the United States.

      • Kaitian says:

        To be fair, it makes sense to place a lab dealing with dangerous bat diseases in an area with access to bats with dangerous diseases. The reason the lab was researching these things, after all, was the exact kind of scenario that gave us Covid-19.

        It’s not impossible that the disease escaped the lab, but there are plenty of other options. I expect that, in the future, plenty of people will believe that it was the lab (if the Chinese government is overthrown in the next 50 years, that might even become the official story). But we’ll probably never know for sure. I don’t see any scenario where evidence beyond reasonable doubt comes out for one scenario over the other.

    • broblawsky says:

      Believers in the theory that the Wuhan Virology Lab is the source of the outbreak: what evidence would it take to falsify your belief?

      • GearRatio says:

        I’m kind-of on board with this belief, and I’d need a political revolution in China that completely upends their power structure and examination of all records by a hostile(read: credibly believes this was/could have been leaked by the lab) party who determines it wasn’t or was unlikely. That’s the minimum to lessen my belief.

        That’s not because the belief is strongly held(it isn’t) or because it’s uber-important to me(it’s not, I think China is shitty in this way and will continue pumping out a new potential pandemic every 2-4 years no matter what). It’s because China is fully motivated to control the PR on this, and fully capable of covering something like this up in pursuit of that goal. There’s no way to know the truth here unless somebody takes the filing cabinets from them.

        • broblawsky says:

          Thank you for responding. Would you say that your belief in this theory has lead you to substantially change your behavior?

          • GearRatio says:

            No, not really. I’ve always thought being as reliant on China as we were/are is bad for us. Some of the reason why is that they aren’t very careful and they have no problem “controlling the truth” in situations where things go wrong.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Yeah, it’s funny how the Wuhan lab theory is treated like some kind of crazy conspiracy theory on par with lizard people when it’s extremely plausible and maybe equally as likely as the alternative. Tarring anyone who believes the “wrong” thing as a conspiracy theorist is going to cause backlash. It makes the Alex Jones’ of the world look more reasonable.

          • Nick says:

            When I first heard the theory I put it at like a 1-5% chance of being true. The later stuff I heard from experts had me lower my odds, but, like, it’s still quite possible, right? 1% is 1%. I always suspected the very confident denials were just bluster.

          • DarkTigger says:

            Well I think there are several Levels of the lab theory:
            – Corona-Sars2 is a strain the lab found in tested bats and it escaped by accident.
            – Corona-Sars2 is a strain the lab created for an experiment (testing Corona Virus strains that could make the jump to people is part of the job of this lab, and yes geneticaly changing strains is part of that) and it escaped by accident.
            – Corona-Sars2 is part of an bio-weapon program, and it escaped by accident.
            – Corona-Sars2 is part of an bio-weapon program, and it was released on purpose.

            I think those 4 levels go from, “not complitealy implausible”, to at least “the moon landing was fake”-level tinfoil head crazy.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Darktigger

            Sure, but the people going on about conspiracy theorists aren’t making that distinction.

          • matthewravery says:

            @Nick-

            Most people (to my constant chagrin) round 1% down to “Completely impossible and if you disagree you’re a moron.” Which is similar to bluster, I suppose. 🙂

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Interesting. I think that theory “epidemic originated from unsanitary food market pracitces which Chinese government failed to crack down on after it already caused deadly outbreak of a similar virus” shows them in far worse light than “epidemic originated in a laboratory accident”.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            You can always crack down on unsanitary practices later (and I believe China just has), but that lab you’ll probably want to hang on to.

            If I understand the whole Biosafety Level thing correctly, the Wuhan lab is the last place anything should get out of, because they’re probably working with stuff that’s a hell of a lot more dangerous than COVID-19. Saying, “whoops, we done goofed and had the virus escape” is equivalent to saying “I’ve been down to the silos the other day and I can’t seem to find some warheads”.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @Faza (TCM)

            I mean, nuclear safety breaches roughly equivalent in severity to “I’ve been down to the silos the other day and I can’t seem to find some warheads” happened in various countries… It is unreasonable to expect no accidents when working with dangerous stuff, and yet normal Western countries have more lab facilities similar to that in Wuhan that China.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @AlesZiegler:

            Sure, but I can’t recall any situation where one of the missing warheads was subsequently detonated in a city – and that’s what you’d need to get a nuclear equivalent of COVID-19 escaping from a lab.

            The wet market hypothesis, while not particularly flattering to China, is something that can, with a bit of work, be spun as an unfortunate accident stemming from local culture. “Top-tier virology lab accidentally releases pathogen that shuts down the entire world” is a level of national embarrassment that no country can live down, much less one as image-conscious as China. Even in a single-party dictatorship, that’s the sort of thing that topples governments.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @Faza (TCM)

            What about Chernobyl? I am aware that casualties of it are much lower than those of this disaster, but it sure looks like a breach of nuclear security comparable with lost warheads. And it resulted in massive damages. Anyway I still think that in case food market hypothesis is true, it is in fact worse national embarrassment for Chinese government than Chernobyl was for the USSR.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      It is not a coincidence. The lab is there because the goddamn bats are there.

      This is like theorizing that an earthquake study center caused an earthquake, with the “evidence” being that the earthquake happened near the center.. which had, of course, been deliberately placed in a seismic hotspot.

      • Matt M says:

        But what if it’s the Nikolai Tesla center for earthquake studies 🙂

        • Statismagician says:

          Then it’s already been renamed the Thomas Edison Center for Earthquake Studies thanks to a sneaky backroom deal.

      • Lambert says:

        I thought the bats tended to be in big caves in Yunnan.
        (Notwithstanding that the real factor is people, and people are definitely in Hubei. 58 million of them)

        Relvant Shitpost

      • MilesM says:

        What’s the source for the claim that the lab was built there because of the bats?

        I don’t recall seeing anything like that – in fact, the only mentions I saw seemed to indicate those bat researchers traveled far and wide to get their specimens. “Climbing caves all over China and other Asian countries”, etc.

        You also don’t choose the location of something like a major BSL-4 facility (especially when it’s going to be one of only a handful such facilities in a country the size of China) based on whether some bats happen to live conveniently close.

        • DarkTigger says:

          It’s not because “some bats” are conveniently close. But because this bat’s are the reserve population for for virus strains that already made the jump to humans once.

          • MilesM says:

            The horseshoe bats that were famously identified as a SARS reservoir were in a different province, a 3rd of the way across China.

            You don’t even need this level of containment if what you’re primarily interested are bat coronaviruses. BSL-3 is enough.

            And in a 2018 paper, the very researchers at the center of this mention the Wuhan area as a place where there is a lower risk of bat-human transmission. (enough so they use sera from local people as a negative control to compare against those of people living near the SARS-bat caves.)

            “The labs were there because the bats were there” makes no sense.

            It is, one might say, a batshit (ba-dum-tss) explanation.

            (I also don’t really believe in this conspiracy theory, especially none of the most out-there versions. I do think the “accidental escape” idea is possible, but completely unproven right now.)

  7. Dragor says:

    Has anyone worked with a lawschool application agency before, either as an employee or customer? My wife is interested in either or both of us procuring professional assistance in applying to lawschool, and I am not sure how to get good information as to the value typical professional agencies add and how specific agencies deviate from the mean. I myself work for a college prep tutoring company, and I definitely observe that a) we definitely can help students get to a better school than they would have otherwise gone to and b) how much value we add varies quite a bit from student to student. Any other lawschool or legal profession advice/horror stories/anecdata that might be helpful to calibrating my plan to pursue a career in law would also be appreciated.

    • qwints says:

      Based on prior economic downturns, I would expect you to be coming out with a major surplus of attorneys. Assuming your goal is to boost future income, I would not go to law school at all unless you go to a T14. Lawyer income follows a bimodal distribution, and even if you don’t go Big Law long term, your earning potential will be permanently limited by your law school and your first position.

      • Loriot says:

        I remember after 2009, there were a lot of stories about how law didn’t pay like it used to due to A) companies cutting costs in the recession and B) a surplus of graduates. It’s hard to imagine that things have gotten better.

        • From the law school point of view, the situation appeared to be getting better prior to the pandemic. The school I am retired from had started hiring again.

          But that’s after having scaled back its size substantially.

      • Dragor says:

        Thanks! This is exactly the sort of disconfirming information I was looking for! I am honestly not sure I could get into a T14 because although I think from my practice test so far that I could score above the median for a T14, I lack relevant internships and my college GPA is mediocre.

        What field do you recommend at the moment?

    • Matt M says:

      When I was applying for business school I had maybe a 30 minute chat with a professional applications consultant.

      The only real useful thing I remember from it was having them take a look at my test scores, resume, etc. and give me a sense of what sort of schools I should be applying for. They actually told me to aim higher. I didn’t take their advice, but I probably should have, as I ended up getting in easily to every school I applied for.

      So maybe worth it if you don’t have a good sense of your potential. But if you do, I’d just focus on test prep instead…

      • yodelyak says:

        Law schools are extremely number-conscious. Get the best LSAT score you can, and figure a top 40 school is a 1 in 10 shot at “big law” and anything not top 40 is a 1 in a 100 shot at ‘big law’ and anything else, your earnings ceiling is probably in the $80k or $100k range, not the big money that big law makes. See “bi-modal distribution”.

        Read as much as you like about this at abovethelaw. Also recommend joining the yahoogroup https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/transferapps/info, where you can see lots of 1L law students asking for advice about how to think about trying to transfer to a better school. You see a fair amount of that sort of thing–people doing their first year at a T14, but after getting grades in the top 10%, trying to transfer to a top 4 school.

        If you have an existing law practice you already know you are going to join, none of this matters, but for most people the school you attend and the first job you get afterward are extremely important.

        • Dragor says:

          How reliable would a 80-100k income upon graduation be?

          • mtl1882 says:

            Hard to say. On the low end, certainly plausible for many in the class. GPA will matter a lot, or at least it did when I was in school a few years ago. If you’re in the top quarter, it is likely that you could start in that range. It was rough at the time I graduated—definitely too many of us, and I didn’t know nearly as much as I should have about post-2008 prospects. Not sure if the surplus has gone down enough to make a significant difference.

            In my experience, there were many government law jobs in certain fields that will get you at least close or on your way to 80k, but I’m not sure how many hire right out of graduation. It seemed easy enough to get a 65k job on graduation if you had good internships, but some of that was in quasi-legal government stuff.

            Apparently, many recent graduates at the school I went to, which is well into T40, have had their offers for next year rescinded due to COVID-19. Same with many summer internships for 1Ls and 2Ls. These are probably positions at firms, not in government. And this was before people were thinking longterm lockdown, I think. It was financial. They’re worried. I think it is really hard to predict what the effects of the pandemic will be in this situation. It may be a blip, but right now they’re not in hiring mode. On the other hand, the big urban firms were some of the fastest in quietly calling employees back into the office, some in defiance of stay at home orders. At that level, they want to talk face-to-face. So it’s not like they’ll be unable or unwilling to function, like some other companies, if social distancing continues. But their clients may have fewer resources.

    • aristides says:

      I’m a T14 law school grad that never practiced law or even taken the bar, so here are my two cents. First, I only recommend going to law school if it is your passion to practice law, or you want a prestigious career and don’t think you’d cut it in one of the harder prestigious jobs, like doctor. The total compensation looks high, but the hourly rate is pretty comparable to any management job that a person of similar skills could get with an MBA, just with the expectation of working hellish hours. MBA also takes less time and costs less.

      I did not hire a professional agency to help me, and I don’t think it was necessary, but I put 100s of hours into self study of the LSAT, another 100 into researching law schools, and maybe 40 hours on the applications. If you do not want to or have the time for that, then the services of those agencies is very helpful, I assume.

      • Dragor says:

        I’m planning on working on this for the next ten months while I am very part time due to covid-19. I don’t think I need help studying for the LSAT or writing applications, but am confused on how/why I would spend 100 hours researching lawschools…which I’m imagine shows my ignorance.

        What have you wound up doing? What do you wish you had done? What would you be doing now if you had gotten an MBA?

        • One thing you would like to know is how good a school is for students like you. The output measures U.S. News uses to rank schools don’t distinguish between a school that gets a large fraction of its students to pass the bar or get law related employment because it does a good job of teaching them and one that has the same results because it only accepts smart students. Stanford does very well on those measures, but it doesn’t follow that it is better for a student near the bottom of its distribution than a slightly less elite school would be.

        • aristides says:

          I probably over researched law school and under researched other options. If all you want is to work for a Big Law firm, then just get in the highest ranking school you can on US News and world report. If you want to practice a specific type of law, want scholarship money, do not have enough money to travel for summer internships, want to live in a certain area, want a judicial clerkship, want to learn under a specific professor, you might want to consider other Factors.

          I’m now working HR for the government, and I could have easily gotten to the same place with an MBA for the fraction of the cost. I love HR, and am very happy, but $200,000 of debt does hurt.

    • ECD says:

      You’ll get plenty of horror stories, but those depend on what you’re aiming for. If you want Biglaw and riches, you’re in for a very rough ride, which is where most of the horror stories come from.

      If you want a nice professional career with a state/federal agency, you can build for that. Choose law schools which are feeders and do your internships in the areas that interest you.

      Despite all the horror stories, I went into federal service and spent another couple of years after living like a grad student (easier for me than for a family, admittedly) and have essentially paid off my student loans (actually letting the last bit be paid off over a couple of years for credit reasons) and have good benefits, reasonable income and reasonable hours.

      • Dragor says:

        Your life seems desirable! I distinctly don’t think I want Biglaw. I was inspired to pursue law because I went to a settlement conference for a family lawsuit, and my wife began studying for the LSAT and the LSAT looked fun; additionally, I read that lawschools weighted the LSAT higher than other grad schools weighter other tests which is a boon for me because I had mental health issues in college, but I’m good at tests.

        In terms of my goals, nice professional career with a state/federal agency sounds nice. I’d basically like to earn enough to be able to afford to pay for conveniences that entails purchasing unskilled labor from employers (i.e. eating out, Uber), then continue not to pay for those conveniences and save money. I also like the idea of being able to transition into other careers, which I have heard is possible with law.

        How do you find out what lawschools are feeders for federal agencies? Google?

        • ECD says:

          Google may help. I got lucky, frankly. Otherwise, look at agencies in the areas you’re interested in. Some will have resumes posted, others will have intern/extern opportunities which can give you a foot in the door.

          Depending on your area, some of this should be common knowledge in the legal community, though you may have to get to know some people (networking, argh, I avoided it by luck).

          Other stuff is fairly straightforward. So, the University of Idaho is a major feeder to the Idaho State government by virtue of being the only major state law school.

          I’m not sure how helpful I can be, because like I said, I was quite lucky. My agency asked you to list the offices you were interested in. One of the main ones I listed is quite rural, but also about two hours from my (also rural) hometown. They’ve had a lot of turnover from new employees who want to get in the agency, then go somewhere bigger. Half the reason I have my job is I was able to convincingly (and honestly) say, ‘Nope, I’m sticking around, unless the federal government decides to literally open an office in my home town.’

  8. Loriot says:

    One thing I’ve been struck by is just how readily some posters here are to jump to genetics whenever there is any story even tangentially race related. I remember back in the early days of the outbreak when it was mostly confined to China, people were speculating about whether the Chinese were genetically extra susceptible to the coronavirus. Then later when the course of the pandemic turned, people kept making the same speculations, just with the signs reversed.

    IMO, some people here have incredibly warped priors. But I suppose it’s best that they do have a place to talk, just in case one turns out to be right against all odds some day.

    • Well... says:

      One thing I’ve been struck by is just how readily some posters here are to jump to genetics whenever there is any story even tangentially race related.

      Can an you give some examples? I don’t disbelieve you, I just haven’t seen it here, at least not in a long time.

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        I’ve seen UK data that shows Africans and Asians being affected twice as severely as whites. One would assume that in the UK there is less of an economic disparity between these groups, and the fact that both are severely affected could rule out cultural explanations as well. What is left but race?

        I would consider that to mean that the burden of proof is on those claiming that race isn’t a factor regarding the virus. We already know that, for example, AIDS has a heterogeneous effect on different racial groups.

        (Although I haven’t been posting this here before right now.)

        • Lambert says:

          BAME people live dispropotionately in cities.

          And it’s not like there’s no income disparity by ethnicity.

        • keaswaran says:

          This seems like a perfect example. You say “there is less of an economic disparity between these groups” and the fact that two different races are affected “could rule out cultural explanations” and then say that race is an explanation. Doesn’t the fact that Africans and Asians are both affected twice as severely as whites rule out race even more than it rules out cultural or economic explanations?

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      Is it really a warped prior to believe that genetics impact the effects of COVID-19? I’m no expert but I wouldn’t be that surprised if most disease had a genetic/”race” component. Am I wrong here? At least there’s a couple of famous examples (sickle-cell in Africans, old world diseases in the new world populations, HIV resistance in Europeans, etc.).

      Given “genetics/race plays a roll in most diseases”, it seems relevant to speculate what role it play in COVID-19.

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        A hypothetical for the other side might be that COVID disproportionately affects MEN, and most of the BAME in the UK are male instead of female.

      • Loriot says:

        It’s more plausible in this case than for many of the cases where people trot it out, but I still think it’s highly unlikely.

        Among other things, the issues I see are that 1) race is a highly imperfect proxy for genetics, especially when you start counting stuff like “hispanic” which is barely even a race. 2) There are a lot of much more significant factors than any remotely plausible biological differences, such as whether you work in a meat packing plant or live in prison, to the point that minor differences in lifestyle and location and luck will obviously trump all else. and 3) It is impossible to adequately control for such factors.

      • Brassfjord says:

        Since the virus jumped from bats to humans and from humans to cats, it doesn’t seem that picky about genetics.

      • keaswaran says:

        Genetics could. But there is very little genetics that correlates nicely with race.

  9. salvorhardin says:

    So this is extremely CW but fascinating, and doesn’t really leave anyone involved looking very good. One must apply salt to deathbed confessions, but this appears at least somewhat corroborated: Norma McCorvey, the famous “Jane Roe” from Roe v. Wade who later became a born-again evangelical anti-abortion activist, appears to have been a paid fraudster in her activist role and never believed in the religion she presented herself as having converted to.

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/jane-roe-confesses-anti-abortion-conversion-all-an-act-paid-for-by-the-christian-right?ref=home

    • FLWAB says:

      A conservative perspective on the situation.

      It should be noted that it would be a bit strange if, as a public activist for a cause for multiple decades, she hadn’t been paid for her services. And her conversion to Catholicism certainly didn’t seem to be a fraud: she spoke with a priest on the day she died, and elected to have a Catholic funeral.

      Documentaries can be highly misleading. We don’t know whether she was asked leading questions, or what answers she might have given that were cut from the final edit. In any case I do believe that she was given specific talking points to say and that she was paid. She wasn’t exactly an expert by any means, so the only reason anyone would care about what she had to say is because she happened to be the warm body that the lawyers needed for their abortion case. So her comments that she was a “trophy” for the pro-life cause is accurate: what else could she have been?

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        I have no idea what the deal was with Roe. (Nor does it actually have any bearing at all on the morality of abortion or whether it’s good policy to ban it.) But I am massively skeptical of a deathbed confession provided by a documentary with an ideological axe to grind. I think it’s quite likely that the original, unedited footage might tell a very different story than the footage that was eventually produced.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I am very close to fully generalised scepticism about documentaries; that counts double for partisan documentaries about politically charged subjects, but honestly, anyone out there who thinks they have any good idea whether Carole Baskin fed her first husband to the tigers, well…

    • GearRatio says:

      Disclosure of bias: Anti-Abortion

      I haven’t seen the documentary, but the article seems to be trying to implicate the Christian right of a kind of fraud I’m not sure they have any evidence it’s guilty of. She appears to have made something like $450k they can track down working as a public figure and speaker; that doesn’t seem crazy to me for a year’s worth of work, considering her fame. And she seems to have done this for significantly longer than a year – if she was her “anti-abortion” character for a decade, that’s $50k a year, which would seem insanely low to me, if anything. Wikipedia seems to indicate she was involved in some capacity as a protestor/public figure/speaker from at least 1995 to 2014, for instance – is $25k a year a ton for this work? It seems like pulling “paid” out, in isolation, as a fraudulent thing might be an isolated demand for vigor.

      Moving on to the fraudulent bit, as aimed at the organizations working with her and judging by the article: There’s no indication from her that they knew, and no indication from the people quoted that they knew, either. Even the once-anti-abortion guy who worked with her and is now pro-abortion and thinks his work against abortion was a mistake will only go as far as to say he sometimes suspected.

      As apparent evidence of fraud, they also include the fact that she had a speechwriter as if it’s unusual or immoral.

      So at this point we have a famous person who made at least $25k a year as a notable figure in a popular social and political movement. According to the claims of everyone involved, nobody besides her knew she was insincere, although one person who is now pro-abortion claims retroactively that he had suspicions. But she knew she was lying, right? She was at least sincerely insincere, yeah?

      Even this isn’t clear. From the article:

      Unfortunately, AKA Jane Roe never explains why, if McCorvey’s born-again anti-abortion stance was all for the money, she would’ve ended her romantic relationship with Connie while continuing their domestic one. And if, on the contrary, the relationship wasn’t really over, then what could explain Connie’s anguished interviews—surely, the act of a conservatory-trained actor if they, too, were a ruse?

      So even that’s muddy.

      This seems like the equivalent of someone like Bill Maher declaring on his deathbed that he was a tea party guy the entire time, and me then accusing the Liberal Media of paying out dirty money to fool the world. Or maybe not! But so long as there’s space for daylight between “Our paid public figure turned out to be insincere, neither she nor us claims we knew” and “We intentionally deceived the whole world through dishonest use of money”, this article is probably trying to prove a little too much.

    • Deiseach says:

      So which religion is she not believing in? Evangelical Protestantism, Catholicism, both?

      As you say, nobody comes out of this looking good. She was a convenient case for the pro-abortion side and once the judgement was made, they dropped her because her use was finished. That she ended up on the pro-life side, paid or not, is not that surprising given that (a) cynically, she would be a feather in their cap and (b) if there was money/fame/utility out of being the poster child for one side, why not the other? As a decision about how to earn a crust by a woman with little education and a troubled life, it may be self-serving but it’s not particularly strange.

      That is, if I am willing to believe the breathless media reports about this and I’m tending towards “God alone knows what was in her heart”.

  10. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I recently found out that there’s more mental illness in my family than I thought– my sister has a better memory and more contact with my family than I do.

    The reason I’m mentioning this here is that I’ve answered ssc questionnaires assuming that there wasn’t mental illness in my family. This wouldn’t be important for the statistics if it were just me, but now I wonder how much people generally underestimate it. And if it might not be random– my lack of knowledge might have something to do with my being kind of spectrumish.

    The other thing is that we’re only in touch with my father’s relatives, and I don’t think the survey had anything about how likely people are to have information about their families.

  11. Jitters says:

    Are there a lot of people who, though not diagnosably prosopagnosic in the Oliver Sacks sense, are significantly worse than the average in terms of recognizing faces? And is this more common with people somewhere on or close to the autism spectrum?

    I know I’m not alone, at least, in struggling sometimes to tell TV characters apart or recognize the same actor in different clothing and hairstyle. But I remember seeing a high school classmate fooled for a long amount of time by a hairstyle change and a fake accent (a disguise that was pretty see-through to the rest of us).

    • Jake R says:

      I’m bad enough with faces that I know what “prosopagnosic” means, although I doubt I’m in any way diagnosable. In college I would meet people at a party or club meeting, then see them in class or in some other context and I was never sure if they were the same person or not.

      I don’t usually have trouble telling TV and movie characters apart within the same show or movie, but I often mistake an actor for a different actor. I’ll be watching something and think, oh that character is played by the same guy who played a different character in a different show. I am almost always wrong about this and when I mention it to people they usually surprised and point out that the characters look nothing alike.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Maybe related: I don’t know if I’m worse with faces than the norm, but I’m awful at describing faces. I don’t really think of a face in terms of its features, I just link it to the person. If you asked me what my family members look like, I don’t think I’d be able to describe them in a way that someone making a sketch or whatever would come up with someone recognizable.

      • Randy M says:

        Maybe everyone you know is average?/s
        I agree it’s kind of hard to put into words subtle distinctions in faces. Basically, I’d probably just mention whatever the most striking feature was, large brow or nose or jaw or lips; maybe eye color. Amount of hair. I don’t think I’d help a sketch artist much unless the person was quite unusual.

      • Matt M says:

        This is definitely true of me. I can pretty much never answer the “what does he/she look like” question. I really just… don’t know.

    • It’s not exactly the same thing, but 23andMe had a test for the ability to recognize emotions on faces. They show you a picture of part of a face and you are supposed to choose among possible emotions.

      I think I ranked somewhere around the fifteenth percentile, which was interesting.

    • James Miller says:

      I’m a college professor and am horrible at recognizing faces. With great effort I can match names to the photos of students my college provides me, but somehow this doesn’t well translate to my being able to match names to the students’ real faces. But this semester, before the lockdown when Zoom teaching made it irrelevant, I succeeded, with a lot of effort, at actually being able to quickly recall and use the name of any of my seminar students I happen to be talking to. Class size was five. A huge benefit to me of teaching large classes (my other one this past semester was 74) is that the students don’t expect me to learn their names.

      • I was very impressed to observe a colleague teaching a large class, probably fifty to a hundred, who pretty clearly knew every student by name.

        • cassander says:

          When I lived in Mexico I taught one class of 14 year old girls. There were 30 of them, all with brown hair, brown eyes, wearing the same blue uniform. I spent most of the semester keeping up the pretense that I could tell them apart, but I did eventually get it.

        • Nick says:

          A lady at a bookstore I’ve visited a few times (generally about 3 months in between visits) recognized me. Couldn’t recall the whole conversation, though.

          I remember hearing about studies that say a certain part of the brain in taxi drivers grows all out of proportion the longer they do it, because they’re remembering all those routes and stuff. I wonder if the same happens to the face-recognizing or personal details–recalling parts of the brain when you’re a clerk interacting with people all day like that. It’s such a central human social skill you’d think our brains would already be pretty well optimized for it, but maybe not?

          (And of course, a disclaimer that those studies, like 90% of studies I have ever heard about, maybe didn’t replicate.)

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      Yes.

      I don’t watch TV, but I have that problem with webcomics – they keep expecting me to be able to tell characters apart by appearance only, and unless they have very different designs, I can’t.

      Anecdotally it’s linked to being somewhere on or close to the autism spectrum, but all I have for that is anecdote.

      (Probably the most striking example for me: I was at a renaissance ball, and I needed to talk to someone at the ball about an important bit of business. Problem: She wasn’t someone I knew really well, and she was one of two people around the same height, with dark hair done the same way, and wearing the same style of clothing. By a few dances in I could tell them apart – it was the same style of clothing, not the exact same dress – but I could not tell which of them was the person I needed to talk to to save my life.

      Eventually I guessed and got lucky.)

      I feel as if I did at one point take a lengthy online test for this, and scored maybe 56, where 50 or 45 was the cutoff for “if you score below this point, please contact us because we’d be very interested in your participation in our study of faceblindness.”

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      Face blindness (prosopagnosia) is a real thing.

      Here’s a test you can take to see your ability to remember faces. It looks like it is based on Real Science.

      • Jake R says:

        I scored above average on that test, 60th percentile. This surprises me a lot. I think part of it is they often used the exact same picture, or pictures with the same hair style or clothing.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I scored on the 91st percentile. Lived experience leads me to believe that I am much worse than the average person at recognising people in real world contexts (though certainly not diagnosable as prosopagnosic). I conclude that the test is testing something other than what practically governs this effect for me – perhaps I am bad at transferring faces (or visual data generally?) from short to long term memory?

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        I got:

        You got 64 of 75 questions correct. The average score is 63.7. Your score is higher than 42.61% of other people who take this test.

        At first I thought that indicated a weird asymmetrical distribution, but actually it probably means that a lot of people get exactly 64 right, and the standard deviation is fairly low.

      • Vitor says:

        I had a similar experience to Jake R and Tarpitz. Did average on the test, but I think I’m much worse than average at this in real life. The situation that most often gets me is when a person I’ve always met in the same context suddenly pops up in a different one.

      • DinoNerd says:

        At some point I took one of those tests, and found I’m very prospognastic. If you take away the hair, and clues I get from people’s build, and their pattern of movement, and heavens knows what all else, I get the same results I’d get if I simply guessed.

        But I can recognize people. It takes longer for me to learn a new person than it does for most folks, and people I confuse with each other don’t look similar to other people.

        And unsurprisingly, putting a mask on doesn’t have much impact on my ability to recognize you, as has been tested rather a lot recently. Mask or no mask, you still have the same physique, posture, movement pattern, and voice.

        [OTOH, any competent actor routinely fools me – I can’t generally associate “Actor A playing character B” with “Actor A playing playing character C”.]

      • Aftagley says:

        I took that test and scored well below average, which fit my expectation.

        I also felt like I kind of cheated. For the people I was reliably getting I wasn’t looking at faces, per se, just focusing in on single, highly noticeable features (IE, he’s the one with acne, he’s the guy with the nose-ring, she’s the one with crazy hair, he’s the Asian one, she’s got weird earnings, he’s the one with terrible lighting.)

        Now, this is also how I get through real life, but I feel like being able to memorize one highly noticeable feature is a different skill set than being able to recognize faces.

        • keaswaran says:

          Exactly what I felt while going through this.

          You got 57 of 75 questions correct. The average score is 63.7. Your score is higher than 7.57% of other people who take this test.

          All the white people that didn’t have a specific feature blended together.

      • Betty Cook says:

        That test is seeing if you can recognize pictures of faces, not faces–that you remember a picture with a red shirt or a single large hoop earring or fluffy hair isn’t face recognition. As it happens, I got about 16th percentile, which doesn’t surprise me, and I expect it would have been worse if not for noticing the accidental things.

        • Aftagley says:

          Ok, but how do you separate that knowledge? That’s literally how I recognize faces of strangers in real life.

          • keaswaran says:

            The issue isn’t recognizing faces of strangers – it’s recognizing faces of acquaintances that you met once last week and are supposed to meet again, or faces of friends that you haven’t seen in five years.

      • Plumber says:

        @Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit,
        FWLIW I got: “…You got 60 of 75 questions correct. The average score is 63.7. Your score is higher than 16.33% of other people who take this test….”

        So very slightly above average…

        …WOO HOO!!!!

    • Deiseach says:

      I have the opposite problem, I’m good with faces but awful with names. As in “can be working with you for three years, then six months after I leave the job it’s ‘oh yeah that’s Susan – I think, unless it was Kate or maybe Annie?'”. Unless I’m hearing and using your name every day, it goes “whoosh” out of the memory but I can still remember the faces in a class photo from forty years ago.

      It took me a year in one job to reliably learn everyone’s name, not helped by the fact that three people had the same first name so I was reduced to writing little notes to myself that “A.B. is the blonde, A.C. is the skinny one, and A.D. is the other one left after those two” 🙂

      • Jake R says:

        My face issues is accompanied by an excellent memory for names, but you’d be surprised how useless one is without the other. “Okay I’m certain the person I chatted with last night was named Taylor, but I don’t know if that’s Taylor or a complete stranger.”

        • keaswaran says:

          My partner and I work together on this at cocktail party type events. He recognizes the face, and reminds me something about the person, and then I tell him the name.

          • Plumber says:

            @keaswaran,
            I find your description of you and your partner’s teamwork charming.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      I’m autistic and mildly to moderately prosopagnosic. I sometimes have to ask my husband which character is which if one of them changes clothes between scenes. I can tell major things apart, such as gender, skin color, and light vs dark hair… but have a hard time distinguishing more subtle facial features (cheekbones, nose shape, exact hair style, etc) unless two people are standing right next to each other.

      I don’t know offhand of any studies linking this to ASD, but I’ve heard a number of anecdotes.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I can tell major things apart, such as gender, skin color, and light vs dark hair… but have a hard time distinguishing more subtle facial features (cheekbones, nose shape, exact hair style, etc) unless two people are standing right next to each other.

        I could swear that SSC has had this conversation before and I floated the suggestion that lots of neurotypical people can only tell major things apart and that’s why animation in Japan, where everyone had similar skin color and black hair, invented a rainbow of hair colors.
        That doesn’t preclude a weak correlation to ASD, of course.

    • BBA says:

      I have lots of trouble with names and faces, to the extent that I’ll sometimes feel unsure about the name of someone I’ve known for years.

      I may or may not be on the spectrum, but I consider myself a low-functioning neurotypical.

    • two-star says:

      I might be your high school classmate. I had a teacher who posed as a guest speaker who was a Boer putting forward a pro-apartheid position. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the class who didn’t recognize her as our teacher. Some of my classmates became borderline verbally abusive toward her persona, and I was practically in tears because of how they were treating her.

      Edit
      : On the spectrum, and diagnosed as such.

    • ana53294 says:

      I’m not sure how much further from the average I am, since everybody’s so bad at cross-racial facial recognition that it’s an argument in court, but I’m bad at telling non-white people apart. I love to watch Korean soap operas, and sometimes I think I recognize the actor from a previous show, check him out, and no, it’s a different actor that, looks quite similar. Koreans getting surgery doesn’t help, since they all get surgery to adapt to the same standard of beauty.

      But what is the average ability in cross-racial facial recognition? I genuinely have no idea whether I’m better or worse than other people. One thing I do notice is that people sometimes tell me that white people are the same, and you can’t tell the French from the Italians, and I definitely can.

      • Loriot says:

        One thing I do notice is that people sometimes tell me that white people are the same, and you can’t tell the French from the Italians, and I definitely can.

        I’m white, and I definitely couldn’t. Although in the US, everyone tends to just be a generic European mixture anyway.

        When it comes to live action* shows, I tend to find it much easier to tell apart the characters in modern American shows than European ones, due to the diversity of the former. When the entire cast is identical looking white dudes, it often takes me several episodes before I can really tell them apart.

        * This doesn’t apply to animated series because they are incredibly stylized, and diversity of character appearance is entirely at the whims of the creators, even when they are nominally the same “race”. Cartoon characters are usually *designed* to be recognizable, and are given iconic outfits which they never change, etc.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m not great at remembering faces or names, and movies where people are in uniform are especially challenging.

  12. Just a reminder that I am holding an online meetup on Mozilla Hubs this Saturday, starting at noon, and hope to continue it every Saturday. No planned theme, just an opportunity for talk and socializing. Location:

    https://hubs.mozilla.com/q7PLxgT/pristine-miniature-congregation

    And I again urge Scott to put back the “upcoming meetups” link, now for online meetups.

  13. johan_larson says:

    Hey, Sam. I have a question for you about Plain society.

    How much scope for ambition is there among the Plain? If a Plain man or woman really wants to make a mark on the world, what can he or she respectably aspire to?

    • SamChevre says:

      Impact on which world? I’ll give examples from three categories:
      Just straightforward business success – probably not anything world-changing, but a substantial business would be a reasonable and fairly common aspiration. (Think business values in the single-digit millions.) It’s in the news because it failed, but Trickling Springs Dairy would be an example.

      Impact on the non-Plain world, though, would more often be sought explicitly as a missionary. For an close-to-Plain (non-Plain Russian Mennonite) example, look at Scott Martens story of his grandfather. I’ve linked the whole series–the specific post “To Congo” is about the mission work.

      But the most common sort of major impact is within the church – that’s the central thing. The leader (“bishop”) of the congregation I grew up in ahd moved to the middle of nowhere Tennessee in his early 20’s, with his new wife and three other young families. They built a church and farms–including building the roads–and there are several thousand people who have spent time in the churches that grew from that.

  14. Reasoner says:

    I’ve lately been annoyed by hyperbolic doom-and-gloom headlines like this recent one from The Atlantic: We Are Living in a Failed State. I agree America has problems and the recent trend is downwards, but reversion to the mean seems plausible. I think national psychology is important, and a mentality of “We can fix this ” seems way better for, you know, fixing things than a mentality of “We are fucked”. And once your national mentality shifts to “every person for themselves”, I suspect it’s an uphill battle to shift it back.

    So just to get some historical perspective on how bad things are right now, I’d be interested to hear what people think actual historical low points are. The first thing that’s coming to mind is WWI, for being incredibly dumb and incredibly destructive, way beyond the stupidity and destructiveness of anything that’s happened in my lifetime.

    • Bobobob says:

      The Atlantic is suicide reading. It’s like watching a magazine slash its wrists in real time, as shrill on the extreme left as [no specific title comes to mind, perhaps someone can supply] is on the right.

      I know it doesn’t measure up to WW1, but the late 1970’s were particularly awful, the tanking economy perfectly matching the downbeat mood. And the music was terrible, too.

      • FLWAB says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed. I used to read The Atlantic every day, but over the last few years it has slowly replaced most of it’s interesting long-reads with daily screeds against Trump and dystopian thinkpieces. Today for instance: “Trump is Brazenly Interfering With the 2020 Election”, “Trump’s Favorite TV Network is Post-parody”, “Crises Are No time for Political Unity”, and “Trump is Now Doing to Himself What He’s Done to the Country”. It’s not the only content, but every day there’s a new batch.

        • Reasoner says:

          Hm, I actually saw the anti-Trump stuff from The Atlantic as relatively level-headed in a way that I thought might actually be persuasive to Trumpers. I mean, I found some of it persuasive in a way that I don’t typically find anti-Trump writings.

          BTW, note that George Packer, who wrote the article with the headline that annoyed me, also wrote this piece skeptical of critical race theory applied to classrooms last October:

          https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/10/when-the-culture-war-comes-for-the-kids/596668/

          Looks like they haven’t fired Caitlin Flanagan yet, btw

      • GearRatio says:

        I’m kinda-sorta friends with a former atlantic editor who quit his (arguably great) job there because they were not-so-slowly getting rid of all dissenting viewpoints – comments and reader feedback were castrated or removed entirely, conservative voices who quit or were fired weren’t replaced, etc.

        I think the farthest-right person there is Friedersdorf, who is only significantly conservative on free speech as far as I can tell. If your environment is that uniform in viewpoint, it’s pretty easy for a group of people to work itself into a froth.

        A good example of this is that one time they were performatively hiring someone from the right to write for them. He was fired(or just not hired after all, it was quick) for suggesting that abortion, being murder in his view, should be made illegal and subject to the same penalties as murder.

        If you have significant voices on both sides of that issue on staff or just know more-than-a-few republicans, this doesn’t probably strike you as such a settled issue in the American mind that you should immediately fire the guy, but they don’t; he was fired and Conor wrote a freedom-of-speech protest letter that criticized the Atlantic only in saying that he disagreed with the firing and that they weren’t particularly generous. They proceeded to not hire another conservative to replace him.

        So yeah. I’m actually really mad about this because 10-15 years ago, The Atlantic was pretty good in my opinion; I used to read it a lot. I tried to continue reading it for years after that, and I’ve fallen out of the habit only because there’s just not a lot of value there – I can get straight-blue takes on things anywhere, whereas the legit both-sides-to-at-least-some-extent discussion they used to have was pretty unique to them in their format. I’m expecting them not to last much longer in any form, which at this point doesn’t matter to me much one way or the other.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’m actually really mad about this because 10-15 years ago, The Atlantic was pretty good in my opinion;

          Agreed. I used to read the Atlantic cover-to-cover, even though I disagreed with a lot of what they wrote, but I thought it was insightful and charitable. Now it’s just Orange Man Bad.

        • Ouroborobot says:

          The Kevin Williamson debacle was actually what drove me to pull the ejection handle on my readership. Williamson is one of the voices on the right I look forward to reading, and the way he was treated was the last straw for me. I used to respect The Atlantic, but now it’s just another Salon.

        • Garrett says:

          > conservative on free speech

          What is this supposed to mean? To my ears it implies wanting to bring back laws against blasphemy. Which would be entertaining, at least.

          • GearRatio says:

            conservative on free speech

            What is this supposed to mean? To my ears it implies wanting to bring back laws against blasphemy. Which would be entertaining, at least.

            He tracks the better conservative arguments on free speech – he thinks cancel culture is generally bad, that internet dragging is generally bad, and that it’s generally bad to use social pressure to coerce third parties into denying speakers venue. Basically a more-discussion-is-better stance.

            Of course there’s plenty on the left who believe these things too. But over time period when he’s been doing this, when you found someone who was OK with cancelling someone over a tweet or shouting down a college campus speaker more likely to be left than right, which is plain by who was actually kept from speaking.

            It might be that this “more discussion is good, stop shouting people down and using isolated statements to destroy them with internet mobs” stance is as common on the left as the right, in which case my stance is more like “The Atlantic doesn’t have any significant conservative voices, including Conor”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Friedersdorf is basically a moderate libertarian, as far as I can tell. So he’s in favor of free speech (both as a matter of law and of norms), opposed to the war on drugs and police impunity, against most of our dumb wars, opposed to most occupational licensing, against NIMBY laws, etc.

        • Reasoner says:

          quit his (arguably great) job there because they were not-so-slowly getting rid of all dissenting viewpoints

          Sounds to me like your sorta-friend may be part of the problem.

      • dndnrsn says:

        How is the Atlantic “extreme left”? It’s a pretty solidly left-of-centre publication (liberal in the American sense). I doubt many who write for the Atlantic want to get rid of capitalism or whatever, and I doubt that actual leftists would employ David Frum.

        Mainstream American left-of-centre types are really incensed about Trump, those who think they are leftists/radicals but who fit neatly into mainstream politics/academia are really incensed about Trump… actual leftists seem less so?

        • Randy M says:

          Is there a proper term for a zealous moderate?

          Somewhat reciprocally, it doesn’t seem to me that Trump is extremely conservative. He’s just right of center and a boor.

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, I’m always annoyed by claims that Trump is “far right.” He is nothing like an actual Red Tribe person, even politicians who previously signaled Red Tribe pretty well like Bush the Younger. He has some major policy breaks with establishment Republicans, but in ways that aren’t especially rightwing. For God’s sake, his big economic policy change has been tariffs. It’s just lazy thinking.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, Trump is 1992 Bill Clinton except he doesn’t like Free Trade. Also, supports gay marriage. This is not the Hitler you’re looking for.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Some of the most vociferously anti-Trump people are well-off, educated, centre left (vote Democrat in the US, flip-flop between Liberal and NDP up here, etc) people. This is where you’ll find people who are really invested in the idea that Trump is some kind of foreign imposition on the US. To a radical leftist, however, there’s not much difference between someone with a nice stock portfolio who votes D and someone with a nice stock portfolio who votes R. all of the words I could use to describe this group have a political cast: “liberal” has been used as a pejorative by both the centre-right and leftists, for example. This is the sort of group I think of as the Atlantic’s target audience: just about any Bush-era Republican can be redeemed in their eyes if they write an article about how awful Trump is, regardless of, say, said Bush-era Republican’s role in foreign policy screwups which helped get Trump elected. The cruel generalization of this group is that they know which wines go with which cheeses and think it’s outrageous someone with that much money and, now, power, probably doesn’t.

            The second group could be cruelly generalized as crowding into the university chancellor’s office demanding jobs for themselves. I think of them as “pseudo-leftists” or “pseudo-radicals”; they’ll talk about the horrors of capitalism and so on, but they are never entirely clear on what capitalism is or when/how it came about, class interests usually aren’t top on their list of priorities, and when you look at what they actually want, it’s something that fits in fairly neatly with the left-of-centre program. Their most radical stance is anti-free speech, but most people aren’t really that attached to free speech in general.

          • Deiseach says:

            The cruel generalization of this group is that they know which wines go with which cheeses and think it’s outrageous someone with that much money and, now, power, probably doesn’t.

            When I remember some of the snotty media pieces about Trump liking his steak well-done and eating it with ketchup (WHICH I DO MYSELF), one opinon piece laughing about how “well we (you and me, dear readers!) all know he’s not the type of person we’d invite to a meal in a nice restaurant”, I think your read of the situation is more correct than we’d like it to be.

            (If they ever wanted to know ‘why people vote/support/excuse Trump? why???’ things like “well you are not the type of person we’d ask out to a nice restaurant, you boor” towards ordinary people who might like ketchup or well-done steak is part of it, especially when you’re also trying to present yourselves as ‘just ordinary people’ too and anguish over your support and empathy for the undocumented, minorities and the likes: it’s pretty plain you are not going to be inviting Pablo who just came in over the border to work in the fields to a meal in a nice restaurant, either).

          • Jaskologist says:

            The cruel generalization of this group is that they know which wines go with which cheeses and think it’s outrageous someone with that much money and, now, power, probably doesn’t.

            This is one of your best zingers yet.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Deiseach, Jaskologist

            The steelmanned version is that Trump offends because his boorishness and disregard for established norms do actual damage to American political culture. Toothpaste can’t be put back in the tube, so just as Obama built on bad precedents Bush set in warring against terror, future politicians will behave more like Trump, and some of them will not be as self-defeating in their attempts to exert control as Trump seems to be.

          • Fahundo says:

            towards ordinary people who might like ketchup or well-done steak is part of it

            Speaking as someone who comes from a family full of people who eat their steak well done:

            This is not a trait of ordinary people.

          • Matt M says:

            future politicians will behave more like Trump

            I think this is already happening. Not that opposing party politicians didn’t insult each other before, but Nancy Pelosi going straight “Trump is fat and he smells bad” in recent weeks seems to be a pretty dramatic ratchet downwards, which I can only assume is an attempt to beat Trump at his own game…

        • I don’t read the Atlantic, so am going only on this thread.

          Surely it’s possible to be narrow and intolerant while holding moderate views. Suppose the question is how much the federal government should spend. Someone moderately left on that issue could publish a magazine which claimed that government expenditure should be increased by ten percent, that anyone who wanted five percent or less was obviously an economically illiterate right wing extremist while the commies who wanted twenty percent were not worth listening to.

          You could have a magazine much farther to the left which mostly argued for a twenty to forty percent increase, but also published an occasional article suggesting that there were serious arguments for fifty and another arguing that the real problem was how the money was spent, and the right solution was to fix that while keeping the level of expenditure where it was.

          I occasionally see things from the Huffington Post, and it feels a little like this. I am not sure whether they publish centrist or conservative articles, but they seem to be somewhat more careful about not overstating the case for their position than most.

      • Deiseach says:

        And the music was terrible, too.

        You disrespect the decade of ABBA (which seems to be the international language of love, even if the Chinese government “the commercial wing of the Ministry of Culture” rewrote the lyrics*, I am telling you they got it spot-on with the fashion choices), Mud, Bobby Goldsboro, and other timeless classics? 😀

        *For those of you deprived of living through that glorious Golden Age, the original lyrics are “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)” where a female protagonist laments her lonely life and hopes for a lover to come help lift her up; the revised lyrics here are about “The Annoying Autumn Wind” which has blown away the male protagonist’s fickle girlfriend whom he hopes will return to him. They kept the original bangin’ choon though, including the zippy keyboards at the end 🙂

      • Matt M says:

        Perhaps related to the concerns expressed here…

        The Atlantic is laying off about 20% of its staff — 68 people across divisions — per a memo from David Bradley, after collapse of events business.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I agree with a wider claim that there’s a strong habit of pessimism on the left. I don’t know how or when it happened.

      • Erusian says:

        It’s really weird. Aren’t the leftists supposed to be the ones who believe they can fundamentally transform the nature of society to make it better? And aren’t conservatives supposed to be the ones who believe in eternal human nature and the inability to solve of certain problems?

        It’s really weird, “Yeah, life sucks. I mean, we’re going to radically transform everything and make it better but god damn I hate everything.” vs, “Oh yes, war, death, poverty, hunger, these are all a part of life that we can’t do anything about. We just have to live with it. Tea and cookies?”

        It doesn’t appear to have been a thing through at least the 1960s… but then again, I wasn’t there.

        • FLWAB says:

          Aren’t the leftists supposed to be the ones who believe they can fundamentally transform the nature of society to make it better? And aren’t conservatives supposed to be the ones who believe in eternal human nature and the inability to solve of certain problems?

          Leftists think they are living in an apartment in Manhattan, and are furious that there is DIRT EVERYWHERE! WE LIVE IN A HOUSE PEOPLE! HOW DID ALL THIS DIRT GET IN HERE? HOW HAVE WE FAILED TO CLEAN UP THIS MESS!

          Conservatives think we are living in a hovel in a swamp, and are frustrated that the leftists are trying to keep the floor clean when when there are HOLES FORMING IN ROOF, AND THE DRAINAGE DITCHES ARE FILLING WITH STICKS, AND SOMEBODY NEEDS TO REPAIR THE FENCE OR THE ALLIGATORS WILL GET IN! STOP FREAKING OUT OVER THE MUD ON THE FLOOR ALREADY!

          Difference in expectations make a world of difference in your outlook.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Conservatives think we are living in a hovel in a swamp,

            Doesn’t match modern politics, but you have me thinking of the philosophy expressed in Man of La Mancha:

            Aldonza: The house [orig. “world”] is a dung heap, and we are maggots that crawl on it!
            Don Quixote: My lady knows better in her heart…

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          The American left includes millions of people and has been around for well over a century, so no simple description will be adequate.

          I *think* something happened to shift from a left with well-defined goals (better conditions of labor, equal rights) where success was possible to a left where no change could be good enough (environmentalism, Social Justice) and it was good form to despair of the human race.

          • cassander says:

            “workers of the world unite” isn’t exactly a cohesive policy goal. I don’t think that the old left was any more satisfiable than the modern, it just had different targets.

        • Deiseach says:

          Aren’t the leftists supposed to be the ones who believe they can fundamentally transform the nature of society to make it better?

          If you are going to fundamentally transform the nature of society, rather than make some running repairs or minor adjustments, then by the very nature of the condition you have to think that “this is the worst ever, it is inhuman, everything is bad and hurts” rather than “oh well worse things happen at sea, a fresh coat of paint and cleaning out the guttering will see us right”.

      • AG says:

        Perhaps growing up with superstimulus has warped people’s perceptions on what is an acceptable rate of change.

      • GearRatio says:

        I think it’s natural to an extent, and I get it. Remember how hard the left was winning during Obama? ACA, gay marriage, the daily show, all of that. And even at that time it naturally seemed that things weren’t perfect – ACA got altered, there was still a lot to do on LGBT acceptance, ect. So there was this great-for-them world where it was still easy to think of it as fundamentally imperfect in a lot of ways, still pretty bad, and still needing a lot of work.

        And then they started losing pretty hard. Trump is president. Wokeness is much less profitable and liked than before. Progress on LGBT stuff slowed down a lot, people being much less on board with trans than they were with gay. The authority of the media, generally an ally, is much lessened. The authority of soft science, generally an ally, is also much lessened.

        And some things that were bad or bad to them never got fixed – school shootings, private gun ownership, etc.

        I think it makes sense that it seems catastrophic to some in that sense – if you were really very happy within the Obama years, this must seem hellish.

        • cassander says:

          >Wokeness is much less profitable and liked than before.

          Is it?

          Progress on LGBT stuff slowed down a lot, people being much less on board with trans than they were with gay

          this is to define not conquering new territory as losing. that seems like a stretch.

          The authority of the media, generally an ally, is much lessened. The authority of soft science, generally an ally, is also much lessened.

          It doesn’t seem that way to me.

          I think it makes sense that it seems catastrophic to some in that sense – if you were really very happy within the Obama years, this must seem hellish.

          The left loves to imagine both that they are a tiny light barely holding back the dark tide of reaction, and also that they are on the inevitable side of history. A neat trick to be both.

          • Garrett says:

            > Is it?

            I mean – I got rid of my Amazon Prime membership over the whole thing, so that’s, like $119/year lost to wokeness.

      • Tenacious D says:

        Can we adapt an idea from Turchin and ascribe it to elite overproduction? If not in society at large, at least among the target readership of The Atlantic. There are far more PhDs being minted than there are tenure track professorship openings, for example; I assume there is similar competition for high-status positions in media, politics, etc.

    • Erusian says:

      There’s this narrative of the Great Depression that we had boom times for a decade and then a sudden huge crash that led to a decade of depression. This makes for a great narrative but it simply isn’t true. 1914-1948 were a time of incredible death, destruction, and economic instability throughout. The Roaring Twenties saw new technology and a birth of culture (the “roaring” part) but it also saw a hugely unstable economy and gigantic disasters like the Spanish flu or various civil wars. From 1918-1929 there was a recession bigger than 2008 roughly every two years, including the first and second worst depressions in US history. And the third by some measures.

      There was the American Civil War and the disturbances around it which lasted from roughly 1850 to 1880. We had armed militias running around and a fair amount of political assassinations, not to mention a civil war.

      And of course we had the Revolution before that. And before the Revolution, there was the period from 1640-1690. In terms of percentage of people and wealth destroyed, that time period is still the worst in American history.

      I agree we’re not exactly at a high point right now. But if you were to ask me to trade this for living during the early 20th century, or the mid 19th, or the late 18th or 17th…. even setting aside the fact I like plumbing and the internet, no.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Looking at number of recessions can be misleading. The US had three recessions in the fifties. There were zero last decade. Which one had the better economy?

        • Erusian says:

          The other statistics aren’t better. And these aren’t mild depressions like the 1950s: each one was at least as bad as 2008 and it has the number one, number two, and arguably number three spot for the entirety of US history. This is a large part of why people thought capitalism and liberal democracy was going to fall to Fascism/Communism, so it was alarming even at the time.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The 1920 one was bad and obviously so was the Great Depression. What’s number three?

          • Erusian says:

            The 1923 recession, which is very arguable. It’s number three in some ways but in sum total it probably is less significant than (eg) 1882 or 1907. (And the 1918 recession is probably very high up as well.) At any rate, both dwarf anything in the postwar era. You also have 1926, which was only slightly worse than 2008 and so relatively mild by the standards of the decade.

        • Garrett says:

          > Which one had the better economy?

          The last one. Because in the 50s I couldn’t buy a smartphone at *any* price.

      • zzzzort says:

        I agree that all of those times were more dire than the current political situation. But, they were all accompanied by a very large rewriting of the social contract: the new deal in the 30’s, the constitutional amendments of the 1860’s, and the constitution in the 1780’s (not sure about the 1690’s). I wouldn’t use the term failed state to describe the preceding periods (except the articles of confederation in the most literal sense), but I think the form of the state was untenable during those times. Are there any periods more dysfunctional than the present that didn’t lead to a bid change in the role of the state?

        • Erusian says:

          (not sure about the 1690’s)

          Well, to pick one example, slavery as a legal institution actually dates to the 1660s (so right in the middle of 1640-1690). I think that gives it claim to saying it had a long term effect on the American social contract.

          Are there any periods more dysfunctional than the present that didn’t lead to a bid change in the role of the state?

          Well, that depends on how broadly you define change. Of course, the classic example is the early 19th century when there was a huge push to rewrite the Constitution. You could also argue the late 20th century liberal attempts, from the 70s to 80s, basically fizzled and they flew the white flag and shifted right. It’s also debatable how much some of them really changed the role of state in society in a day to day sense.

          But what really complicates this is that society is always changing and it’s difficult to say when is more or less. Like, the big expansion of the state in the Progressive Era happened in a fairly stable time as far as generalized political crises went. (Built on some evil foundations, but stable.)

          • zzzzort says:

            I would have said the 60’s got more social change than the unrest that engendered it, though maybe more concentrated to the south. But I was more interested in the converse; has there ever been a time that shitty where the rules didn’t get changed?

    • BBA says:

      The 2020s look particularly bad for the news media and academia. Both are facing extinction-level events: in the media, advertising revenue has plummeted and nobody is going to pay to subscribe to rumors they can read on Facebook for free. Meanwhile universities, well, we’ve discussed in great detail what’s wrong with them, but now the foreign students paying full freight are gone (possibly for good) which could be enough to trigger a death spiral.

      So most writers are facing terrible conditions on the ground. Add to that how many of them were hard-core Warren supporters and now they’re stuck defending creepy old Joe Biden for the next few months, and yeah I can see how their future is looking pretty bleak. I mean, uh, not 1930s levels of bleak, but down there.

      • cassander says:

        I mean, we are looking at 1930s levels of GDP decline and unemployment. And yet somehow the stock market is within 10% of record highs.

        • m.alex.matt says:

          The stock market makes predictions about the future revenues of the companies that make it up. The stock market is doing well now because it is happy about the measures taken by the government and the Fed to counter-act the pandemic and expects things to be better over the next several years.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      WWI is probably a global historical low, but I’m not sure necessarily for the US. We got in rather late and didn’t suffer even the social displacement of the Brits, let alone the French, Germans, or Russians.

      Our low points have got to be the Civil War and 1933-1942. The country is getting hammered and there’s serious doubt as to whether we are going to pull out of it. You can throw in 1777-1778 as well.

  15. I kept hearing about this “Obamagate” thing on the news without ever getting a clear idea of what it was about. Even googling it brought up about 3 pages of links that mockingly dismissed it out of hand without giving me much of an indication of what they were dismissing. And of course, Trump’s vague comments have been no help either.

    Finally I found this Fox News article that gives me the best chance of steelmanning the Obamagate allegations and figuring out whether they have any merit to them.

    The first thing I noticed is that this article uses words like “improper” and “abuse” and “astounding” but never the word “criminal.” So this is already walking-back the claim that Trump made in the recent press briefing where he said that this was the “crime of the century.” The Fox News article seems to be arguing that these were actions that ought to be illegal, but which happened to be within the letter of the current law, even if they were not prudent or within the spirit of the laws. Perhaps this partially explains why even William Barr has expressed doubt that this “scandal” will result in any criminal indictments being filed.

    Some of the actions that were improper according to the Fox News article are old allegations having to do with the argument that the FISA warrants that legally allowed spying on members of Trump’s campaign did not have sufficient corroborated non-partisan evidence behind them, and thus should not have been granted. Like I said, this is an old allegation, and even if it were true, I don’t see how this would amount to criminal wrongdoing; instead, it would call into question the judgment of the judge who approved the FISA warrants on such a basis, but nobody would dispute that that judge had the legal right to approve the FISA warrants on whatever basis in the world that struck that judge’s fancy. Short of impeaching the judge, them’s the cards you are dealt in our current system of “checks and balances.”

    So anyways, let’s get to the new allegations that Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak were “unmasked,” and that this was “improper.” By “unmasked,” here’s what they mean: the NSA had already been surveying Sergey Kislyak. Thus, whenever Kislyak communicated with someone, the NSA would naturally end up recording not just Kislyak’s end of the conversation, but also the other person on the call/visit. If that other person happens to be an American citizen, by law that person’s identity must be “redacted” (i.e. temporarily erased or obscured) by default when shown to people outside of those NSA working with the primary documents/recordings. However, by law certain individuals with sufficient security clearance (such as the President, Vice-President, etc.) may request to have that information un-redacted or “unmasked.”

    Throughout the years there have been varying levels of statutory guidance as to the conditions that must be fulfilled for the NSA to “unmask” this information. According to the Fox News article, these conditions were relaxed by the Obama administration (presumably via executive orders, although the article doesn’t specify; or it might have been legislation passed during the Obama Administration…I don’t know). Fair enough, that’s a concern that any civil libertarian can get on board with.

    The article also talks about how this “unmasking” procedure often encounters isolated demands for rigor depending on who is asking and who is the target. No surprise there for anyone who is cynical about how politics works. Still, strictly-speaking, I don’t see that such a concern would amount to a criminal matter. If an administration is using powers plainly (if unwisely) delegated to it by Congress, albeit in a partisan manner, to me that either calls for further legislation to make the conditions for applying those powers more specific so as to forestall that abuse (i.e. Congress should explicitly rein in those powers and specify more clearly when they can be used), and/or impeachment proceedings.

    In any case, partially thanks to the more relaxed standards for unmasking the identities of Americans encountered in foreign spying, Obama, Biden, and others in the Obama Administration were able to learn that Michael Flynn was on the other end of these calls, and some of the things they heard apparently sounded problematic enough to warrant further investigation of Flynn, albeit still “by the book” (i.e. no extraordinary measures to be taken, such as presumably trying to entrap Flynn in perjury in a targeted manner), according to Susan Rice.

    Apparently these problematic conversations were to the effect of Flynn reassuring Kislyak, “Don’t have the Russian government retaliate just yet against the latest Obama Administration’s sanctions on Russia. Trump aims to have friendlier relations with Russia [for whatever reason—we don’t have to speculate here whether those reasons are primarily in Trump’s perception of Trump’s interests or Trump’s perception of America’s national interest], so once he gets into office [Trump was already president-elect by this point], we can undo the sanctions and patch things up between our countries.” Apparently the Obama Administration found this troublesome because, let’s face it, the impact of their sanctions were thus being undermined.

    Now here’s where I become very bewildered and frustrated with our current media environment because the prime point of contention seems to me whether it is lawful for Flynn to have such conversations with foreign diplomats when he is still only part of a President-Elect’s administration. This should be a simple question to resolve. The Fox News article says that this is done “all the time,” which may be true. However, it may still be illegal, and the only reason it isn’t investigated and prosecuted in other instances is that there aren’t such starkly different agendas being pursued by an outgoing administration and an incoming administration.

    If such communications are unlawful, then it seems to me that the subsequent FBI interviews with Flynn were “material” to a potential crime and thus not entrapment, and any lies should be prosecuted. If such communications were not unlawful, then I could see the reasoning behind dismissing the charges, even after Flynn admitted to lying and pled guilty to lying. Flynn should not have been interviewed in the first place, and the only reason to do so would have been to entrap him. (Of course, if such communications were lawful, then Flynn should have simply told the truth with nothing to fear instead of lying like a dummy about a conversation he had to have known was recorded by some security agency somewhere.)

    All the media stories get caught up in the horse-race angle of all of this, about whether this will be bad for Trump’s campaign, or how crazy Trump supporters are, or how partisan Obama’s administration was…but they can’t address a simple question that happens to be the primary bone of contention in the whole saga. (Perhaps because they want the confusion and clamor on social media to continue so that they get more clicks).

    So, can anyone walk me through all of this?

    Edit: AAAAND, I just found this very helpful primer on the Logan Act from Lawfare blog which suggests that Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak could have very likely been criminal in nature…in which case, why isn’t Flynn being prosecuted for breaking the Logan Act, rather than merely perjury?

    • FLWAB says:

      why isn’t Flynn being prosecuted for breaking the Logan Act, rather than merely perjury?

      Flynn was not prosecuted for perjury. He was never placed under oath to tell the truth, and thus could not have perjured himself. He was prosecuted for lying to the FBI which is a separate crime from perjury.

      My understanding of the case is that the FBI had planned on closing the case against Flynn without charges before the notorious interview occured. Agent Peter Strzok (infamous for the highly partisan anti-Trump messages he sent to his adulterous lover, Lisa Page) discovered that the case had not been closed in a timely fashion folowing FBI procedures and ordered agents to keep the case open. It was only afterwards that they interviewed Flynn, which is why many see it as a fishing operation put into place by a partison FBI agent. This view is helped by the fact that in one of Strzok’s messages to Page he wrote that the fact the case had not been closed when it should have been was “serendipitous good” and that “our utter incompetence actually helps us.” He also sent page the defintion of the Logan Act and commented that it “does not involve incoming administrations.” Which, again, makes you wonder why he ordered agents to keep the case open.

      There are also allegations that are being investigated that Joe Biden himself called for Flynn to be unmasked, despite the fact that Biden has denied that he had any involvement with the Flynn investigation.

      It has also come out that Obama and Biden definitely knew about the investigation, something that had not been shown conclusively before.

      Not to say any of this is criminal, but it is scandalous. The investigation may have been technically legal, but the argument is that the legal reason for investigating was a fig leaf to cover the real purpose of spying on the Trump campaign and leaking embarrassing information to the press.

    • Erusian says:

      Edit: AAAAND, I just found this very helpful primer on the Logan Act from Lawfare blog which suggests that Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak could have very likely been criminal in nature…in which case, why isn’t Flynn being prosecuted for breaking the Logan Act, rather than merely perjury?

      The Logan Act has been invoked exactly once, back when slavery was legal iirc, and the charge was ultimately dropped. It has never, not once, been used to prosecute anyone. Further, it’s a dubious case to make since it basically relies on saying that Flynn was not empowered by the President to talk to the Russians… because he was empowered by Trump, the President Elect, to do so. That doesn’t seem like a real standard, or at least not one that’s been enforced. If it was, virtually every president would be guilty of such violations in the period leading up to them assuming office.

      And Flynn wasn’t charged with perjury, he was charged with lying to the FBI. The issue is that “lying to the FBI” is a very complicated case to prove and can be almost impossible to prosecute if there was no underlying crime. And Flynn’s confession never led to other proven charges so there wasn’t one legally. Note that it is not enough that you think there’s a crime: if you’re wrong and you’ve just charged someone with lying over a crime that doesn’t exist the case gets very hard to prove. This leaves the Logan Act, which has almost no precedent for use.

      Documents have emerged from the FBI that they were looking to prosecute Flynn because he was someone they didn’t like or trust and they repeatedly changed the crime to get him. They also specifically designed the necessary disclaimers to try and get him to pay as little attention as possible. This all looks like targeting, targeting Obama seems to have been aware of. Worse, it looks like political targeting because it was of a political opponent of Obama’s and someone Obama specifically had a great deal of antipathy for. Ultimately they drummed up a charge (lying to the FBI) and he confessed only after they threatened him with drumming up similar charges against his family. Further, those documents point to some pretty clear fudging on Rice, Biden, Obama, and a few other people’s parts to gloss over things that make them look less innocent.

      Obamagate looks like the Obama administration leaned on the FBI to investigate Obama’s political opponents using all those delightful things the Federal government technically can do but which offends common decency. That’s the scandal, such as it is. Or at least that’s the Republican narrative. The Democrats seem to just be pretending there’s nothing there, which worked out for them pretty well with previous incidents of supposed political targeting so we’ll see.

      But yeah, basically the question comes down to whether or not you believe using perfect legal methods to target your political opponents is a cause for concern. And then whether or not you believe the Democrats saying the Republicans just happened to get targeted disproportionately under a Democratic administration because Republicans really are that suspicious or whether you believe the Republican narrative it was partisan abuse. In this sense it’s a replay of the IRS scandal.

      This all comes down to a sort of original sin in Trump’s election. There can be no serious debate at this point that US intelligence at the behest of the Obama White House were spying on Trump’s campaign, though they denied it at the time. The question is whether you believe the Democrat’s new story that this investigation was all normal and proper or the Republicans who have been screeching abuse of power for three years.

      • Large parts of our judicial branch operate on an adversarial principle. In other words, instead of both sides striving to find some non-partisan truth in a case, the prosecution and defense both attempt to get away with as much as the judge or the other side will allow, and then the dust settles where it may.

        I don’t know the founders of the Constitution intended the executive branch to function in this way, but it seems like that’s the way things are headed, for better or worse. In other words, we may start to take it as a given that the executive branch will attempt to get away with exactly as much as the other two branches allow it to get away with (including using executive powers to tarnish political opponents), and it is up to Congress to explicitly narrow the scope of the executive branch’s powers to forestall this, and it is up to the judicial branch to punish this. I have little doubt that this is the system we will have whether Biden or Trump get elected.

        • Erusian says:

          I agree and I don’t fully buy the Republican case, definitely not as a non-partisan disinterested type thing. Of course, this does make turnabout fair play.

    • Another Throw says:

      why isn’t Flynn being prosecuted for breaking the Logan Act

      Because the Logan Act is as dead as it is possible for a law to be without being about how to pay your dowry in ducks.

      Also, he isn’t being prosecuted for perjury. He is being prosecuted under section 1001, which covers misstatements to federal officials, mumble mumble, material, mumble.

      The only moral of this story is never even talk to a federal official. If you tell them the time is 12:00 when it is actually 12:01 they can charge you under section 1001 and bankrupt you into pleading guilty. Never ever ever talk to federal officials.

      • I’m not a big fan of just everyone tacitly agreeing not to enforce a law that’s on the books. Because everyone assumes that the tacit agreement exists…until it suddenly doesn’t (because politics and context changes, such as in this case)…and some poor schmuck who was operating under the consensus that existed 5 minutes ago, like Flynn, gets ripped to shreds.

        If we think the Logan Act needs to be narrowed or eliminated, let’s have Congress do that! The Republicans had two years in charge of both wings of Congress from 2017 to 2019. You’d think they would have seen Flynn, a member of a Republican administration, going down due to this arguably outdated law and would have seen some reason to clarify the issue legislatively, no? It baffles me.

        Besides, after reading the Lawfare blog post on the Logan Act, the motivation behind the law doesn’t actually seem particularly archaic. Although it hasn’t led to a conviction yet, there are a surprising number of examples of border-cases that have come up in U.S. history that might have made sense to prosecute, such as President-Elect Nixon trying to make sure negotiations with North Vietnam remained stalled until he came into office so he could claim credit. Whether the Logan Act itself is an ideal fit for our modern times, most of Congress would probably prefer that it exist, or some law like it.

        Likewise, I hold the same view towards immigration. I think we should drastically increase the immigration quotas, but also drastically step-up enforcement of the quotas and conditions on immigration. But that would mean having Congress take responsibility for our immigration policies out in the open, and not being able to have their cake (immigration to please libertarians and business owners and certain leftists) and eat it too (have laws on the books heavily restricting immigration so it seems like they are being tough on immigration to please cultural conservatives).

        • mtl1882 says:

          I’m not a big fan of just everyone tacitly agreeing not to enforce a law that’s on the books. Because everyone assumes that the tacit agreement exists…until it suddenly doesn’t (because politics and context changes, such as in this case)…and some poor schmuck who was operating under the consensus that existed 5 minutes ago, like Flynn, gets ripped to shreds.

          Very much agree with this.

          If we think the Logan Act needs to be narrowed or eliminated, let’s have Congress do that! The Republicans had two years in charge of both wings of Congress from 2017 to 2019. You’d think they would have seen Flynn, a member of a Republican administration, going down due to this arguably outdated law and would have seen some reason to clarify the issue legislatively, no? It baffles me

          While it seems like Congress is just disinterested because they see strategic value in having the Logan Act on the books, as you said, it is worth pointing out that establishment Republicans may not feel much concern for Flynn. Trump is already sort of an outsider, and Flynn has been a proud Democrat his whole life. Not sure if that has changed, but I believe he was still one when he gave the RNC Convention speech! He’s clearly not a fan of some recent establishment Democrats, but he doesn’t seem to actually identify very much with Republicans, and they’ve known him a long time as a Democrat. He identifies with Trump because they share certain traits that make them anomalous in either party.

          Related to these traits, Flynn occasionally tweets really bizarre and inappropriate things that are hard to explain. Having held the positions he’s held, he must be fairly functional and trustworthy in the patriotic sense. Either he just has moments of impulsive weirdness, or it is strategic provocation. I do think he is somewhat odd and erratic in a way that can’t be easily brushed aside, but I think a lot of people in Washington are disingenuously using this to portray him as sinister or reckless. They know him well enough to know that’s just how he is. But he probably rubbed enough people the wrong way that few feel compelled to defend him, especially when he’s affiliated with two parties at once.

          Although it hasn’t led to a conviction yet, there are a surprising number of examples of border-cases that have come up in U.S. history that might have made sense to prosecute, such as President-Elect Nixon trying to make sure negotiations with North Vietnam remained stalled until he came into office so he could claim credit.

          I think prosecuting this stuff would be a disaster. A lot of it doesn’t even bother me, because it seems inevitable on some level for presidents to be influenced by these things. I’m sure there are some egregious cases, but even then, going after a president or president-elect and basically undoing the election does a lot of damage to a country. And such incidents are much more likely to be attempts to improve the U.S. position (as well as the new president’s), not undermine it. Candidates tend to think if they can just get in there, they’ll develop a rapport and fix it (Trump and Kim Jong Un). This may be wishful thinking, but it is reasonable to decide to develop a relationship, and I don’t think the country’s best interest or position should be solely and indefinitely defined by the Washington establishment’s consensus. And Flynn wasn’t by any means over his head, jumping in where he had no information. He was super familiar with U.S. foreign policy issues and strategies, and had well known opinions that diverged from the Obama administration’s as to what best served U.S. interests.

          Letting Vietnam go on unnecessarily, if there’s fighting going on, does bother me, but we’d have to get into questions like whether or not Nixon wanted them delayed mostly because he wanted to be involved in those negotiations, which would be entirely understandable and appropriate. It would be a good idea for the new president to have the best possible understanding of what exactly was discussed and agreed upon, and to have a say in the negotiations. This would naturally be coupled with getting credit, and I have no doubt that would occur to him, but it would be easy to spin it as all about the credit.

          Not sure of the exact circumstances, but it is very easy to spin allegations about normal, even desirable, actions by president-elects or incumbents. Too complicated to separate these things out, and too easily weaponized. We should assume the person elected by the people isn’t trying to undermine the government. Maybe that assumption will be wrong, but then we have bigger problems.

          • Another example of a putative Logan Act violation.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Another example of a putative Logan Act violation.

            Thanks. That seems like a non-issue to me. Spin.

            A friend of Kennedy’s chatted with this guy (possibly if I knew more about his background and why Kennedy reached out to him specifically I’d feel a bit differently, but I’m assuming he wasn’t some monster, and they may just have had mutual friends/cronies who knew of their desire to exercise political influence in each other’s countries and thought they’d be compatible.)

            My version of the conversation: “Hey, Senator Kennedy is looking to build some relationships with Russian politicians, and asked me to talk with you. He’d like to work on ending some of the tensions between us and getting to know the situation better. If you’re interested, which I’ve heard you are, he’s willing to give you some tips on how to present yourself to Americans and argue in a way persuasive to them–he knows how the Washington crowd thinks, and can tell you about Reagan. He can also talk to you about making some American TV appearances and how to handle that. He thinks it will go a long way to improve relations. He’s great with all the TV and PR stuff—there’s a good chance he’ll get a presidential nomination within the next few years, as a Democrat. Russian relations are going to be a big issue coming up in the next election, so he wants to really understand how things stand and how he might handle them. Should I have him call you?”

            There is no quid pro quo—it’s totally unclear what would have been asked for, and it certainly couldn’t be binding. It could be as simple as wanting to show he had Russian expertise when squaring off against Reagan. Nothing he’s offering to help with is likely to compromise anyone, unless the plan is to advise him to say the totally wrong thing to Reagan and ruin negotiations to spite Reagan. The article is very heavy-handed—making it look like honest journalism! Like he’s never heard of PR, if it was even unduly flattering. I doubt he was going to advise him to do things that truly endangered the country, like give classified information, and I don’t think that undermining Reagan automatically counts, if he did anything like that. He was offering to open a few doors — none of this seems out of the ordinary to me.

            No doubt the subtext is, “Kennedy might be very powerful in the future, and it would be good to get on his good side and state your case. And maybe you’ll come be able to give us a little help in a year or five.” You can spin it into something terrible, as the article did. But it would be foolish to make these things Logan Acts–this stuff is so common. There are situations in which it could be clearly harmful to the U.S., but there are probably other ways to handle that, and most of these things do not pose clear harm for the benefit of a foreign enemy in any real sense. You’re allowed to give tips and chat with foreign politicians as a U.S. Senator. You’re allowed to campaign and criticize your rival and do stunts related to that. All normal, even unobjectionable.

            The issue would be if he gave classified info relating to the negotiations out or something. From what we have here, it’s honestly not very clear that he was fishing for help targeting Reagan. The writer insinuates it. Maybe if I knew more about the guy it would be clear how he could damage Reagan and that inference would be more reasonable. This would probably read to most people as mildly sleazy, but I don’t see how one can characterize it as rising even to the level of scandal, and I can’t bring myself to find it even sleazy. (Again, if the guy was really bad, or was promoting bad things with Kennedy’s help, it would be different.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, how about John Kerry talking to the Iranians about the nuclear deal? Pretty sure he was not doing that in support of Trump’s position on that deal. And that’s one where we’re not talking about the incoming administration making plans a little too early, but the previous administration undermining the current one.

            Yes, the problem with the Logan Act is that everybody’s breaking it all the time. This is a sign it’s a bad law. I’m fine with repealing it, but the whole “prosecute it everyone, it’s the law” idea is that I have 0 faith that everyone will be prosecuted. It will almost certainly wind up with selective prosecution, where we nail Flynn but let Kerry skate or vice-versa. Selective enforcement is the worst possible outcome, so I prefer no enforcement.

          • One important thing about the Logan Act, which the Lawfare blog post makes clear, is that any reasonable interpretation of it does not prohibit public statements or criticism of current U.S. policy or one-way public communication. So, Nixon is entirely free to publicly announce that he will be a better negotiator with North Vietnam *wink* *wink*. It would have been perfectly legal for Michael Flynn to publicly announce that Trump’s campaign intended to revisit or even revoke some anti-Russia sanctions in the interest of cultivating friendlier strategic ties between the U.S. and Russia (this was already common knowledge, and in fact was part of the appeal of Trump’s platform to some people including my parents in particular—the thought that Trump would be much less likely to get the U.S. into WW3 with Russia over Syria, Ukraine, and other issues). What’s NOT allowed under the Logan Act is an unauthorized individual having two-way communication with a foreign diplomat in a way that attempts to undermine some foreign policy objective of the current U.S. administration. To me, it seems like a logical extension of the fact that the Constitution doesn’t let individual states conduct diplomacy with foreign powers, so why would it allow individuals the same powers?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            To me, it seems like a logical extension of the fact that the Constitution doesn’t let individual states conduct diplomacy with foreign powers, so why would it allow individuals the same powers?

            Because states have political authority and individuals don’t?

          • Certain individuals have immense authority. Top-ranking generals, senators, billionaires, etc. Some arguably have more authority, resources, things of value that they could offer, etc. than individual states do. The U.S. govt. is understandably not too upset if someone like Dennis Rodman goes to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-Un on a quixotic quest to bring “peace and love” between the two countries…but if a top-ranking general were to do the same secretly with a promise that his military forces would be told to stand-down in the event of a conflict with North Korea, if North Korea did X, Y, and Z…

          • Matt M says:

            But a general doesn’t actually have authority to stand-down his force in the event that his superiors (assuming the very top general, this would mean the President or his cabinet) are ordering him to engage the enemy.

            A general who promises North Korean leadership that his forces will stand down is acting very much outside of his authority…

          • Aftagley says:

            But a general doesn’t actually have authority to stand-down his force in the event that his superiors (assuming the very top general, this would mean the President or his cabinet) are ordering him to engage the enemy.

            Authority =/= ability here. That hypothetical general who’s made the secret compact with North Korea can and almost certainly would be able to deteriorate our defenses in case of an invasion.

            I mean, let’s say the general knows that the attach will happen on Saturday. He orders extra drills far into the night Tuesday through Thursday then surprises the troops on Friday with liberal weekend leave. He even eases travel restrictions for the weekend. Almost everyone, expect the poor schmucks on duty, will be gone over the weekend and those that remain are likely still tired from a hard week’s work. North Korea attacks on Friday and overruns the base with ease.

            Sure, that example is likely overly simplistic, and I’m sure there are controls to prevent things from getting this bad, but it still relies on the idea that everyone, especially everyone in positions of authority, are acting with a unified set of interests. Our general here has acted entirely within the limits of his authority, yet still managed to implement policy change.

          • The issue would be if he gave classified info relating to the negotiations out or something.

            The Logan Act:

            Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

            This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

            Nothing said about a quid pro quo or classified information. Kennedy was indirectly carrying on a correspondence with a foreign government in relation to disputes and controversies with the U.S., specifically nuclear disarmament, more generally U.S. Soviet relations.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @DavidFriedman Thank you – I should have pulled up the full text and looked at the original wording. That can be read to cover an extremely broad range of conduct! I can see how it was at least plausibly appropriate in its time, but to enforce it now, or in the 80s, would be silly. The wording basically prohibits any American from talking to anyone connected with another government about about foreign policy, even to encourage that they cooperate fully with the U.S. It’s not clear that what Kennedy was doing threatened any interest of the U.S.–the memo is vague. The Logan Act appears to prohibit even encouraging or assisting someone connected with the Soviet government to make peace with the U.S. government on terms favorable to the U.S. I thought it only prohibited things that would undermine the U.S. position, which is why I was saying releasing classified information would be different.

            I also think the modern understanding of “influence” usually goes too far, with merely verbally suggesting something being seen as unpardonable interference–there is almost an assumption that most people do whatever they are told, even powerful people, so that a suggestion is equivalent to making something reality.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @citizencokane

            To me, it seems like a logical extension of the fact that the Constitution doesn’t let individual states conduct diplomacy with foreign powers, so why would it allow individuals the same powers?

            I don’t think this is what the Logan Act was getting at—yes, states lack the authority to make agreements, as do most people. There would be little need to criminalize this–any negotiations would be non-binding. I think they’re talking about people who indirectly influence negotiations, probably for their own benefit, probably through things like bribery or intimidation. (As opposed to exerting influence one-way, like the public statements of Nixon, as you point out—this is the modern sense in which we tend to use it, where words are automatically assumed to have an effect.)

            I doubt even the Logan Act was intended to prevent people from building friendships with people connected with foreign governments and discussing foreign affairs—that stuff would be valuable to a new nation at that time, when so much was done through international relationship networks and mail distributed via consular networks. It’s just not well-worded, and I suspect some connotations have changed. ETA: After reading about it on Wikipedia, it looks like it wasn’t intended to do much more than to express the anger of some humiliated politicians. The guy involved didn’t seem to actually play much of a role in the decision, and he wasn’t doing anything bad, nor did he pose as having authority. Maybe it was intended as a warning. But I’m sure tons of Americans kept hanging out with the great Talleyrand and talking to him about American affairs, and they never bothered to use it. It seems they wanted it as a backup for if any citizen tried to urge opposition to the U.S. government’s foreign affairs. The 1803 Kentucky case, which didn’t go forward, is pretty ridiculous, because it was a newspaper article, not sent to any official. But, like the later Mexico one, it involved a citizen expressing the opinion that another government should not do what the U.S. government wanted.

            Today, we allow virtually everyone to engage in non-binding diplomatic efforts, or to talk to foreign governments about opposing the U.S. on things. As long as you aren’t getting into treason, terrorism, espionage, violating security clearance rules, or releasing classified information, you’re generally good. Quite a lot of lobbying, consulting for and palling around with foreign governments goes on by ex-government and military people, which appears to be uncontroversial until there is an occasional need for a political scapegoat.

        • Another Throw says:

          I’m not a big fan of just everyone tacitly agreeing not to enforce a law that’s on the books. Because everyone assumes that the tacit agreement exists…until it suddenly doesn’t (because politics and context changes, such as in this case)…and some poor schmuck who was operating under the consensus that existed 5 minutes ago, like Flynn, gets ripped to shreds.

          The problem that we are trying to solve is to prevent arbitrary and unjust enforcement. The solution that seems to work the best is to promulgate a law code while prohibiting ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. But developing and maintaining a law code is freaking hard. If tens of thousands of the best programmers in the world working around the clock can’t maintain a measly few hundred thousands lines of code without crippling bugs cropping up periodically, what hope do 538 senile old codgers working on the problem quarter time without any particular domain expertise have at maintaining millions of lines of code without crippling bugs cropping up occasionally? Especially when those 538 senile old codgers really fucking love the idea of arbitrary enforcement against the people they don’t like?

          At its core, the entire enterprise of statutory law is fundamentally flawed. Irreconcilable with the physical world, even. Any theory of government that relies, explicitly or otherwise, on the premise that we can just make the code bug free is going to fail. Any even half-way functioning society requires a way to deal with the fact that the code is going to have unpatched bugs hanging around for centuries.

          We’ll take the quintessential absurdity as instructive for this failure. Every few years, some jackass asserts their ancient right to trial by combat. The problem is that by any reading of the relevant law over the last thousand or so years, it is definitely still a thing! The only proper response to this is to say “ARE YOU INSANE! THAT ISN’T HOW THINGS WORK ANYMORE!” Resurrecting the long abandoned practice of letting litigants wack at each other with broadswords because some jackass is pissed that his neighbor’s dog shits in his yard is exactly the arbitrary and unjust outcome that the law is intended to prevent. Because there was no way of knowing, despite being promulgated in the relevant law for centuries, that it would be resurrected now. Moreover, this particular absurdity keeps cropping up every few years but the 538 senile codgers are not particularly interested in fixing it. It should be the most uncontroversial law ever passed, but it isn’t going to happen.

          I will grant you that historically common law jurisdictions have generally avoided invoking desuetude explicitly, preferring instead maddening circumlocution around the issue.

        • Controls Freak says:

          If we think the Logan Act needs to be narrowed or eliminated, let’s have Congress do that!

          This is more of a Supreme Court thing. What’s amazing to me is that nowhere in this comment thread (or the Lawfare article) are the words “First Amendment”. The Logan Act almost certainly violates the First Amendment. Facially, not just as-applied (having basically never been applied). Profs Hemel and Posner do their best to invent the word “secret” in the text of the Logan Act, but it’s not there.

          What this boils down to is a question of whether investigators can use a law that is almost certainly unconstitutional, not to actually bring charges against a person (which could then be a vehicle by which the Judiciary could actually state that said law is unconstitutional), but instead as a vehicle for other investigation. Think back to cases like when the government asserted that they could ban books. But instead of actually bringing any cases anywhere close to that effect, they simply used that as a justification for investigations of authors and journalists. And if they didn’t find anything else during those investigations, instead of bringing the case which they based their investigation on, they always just dropped the investigation. (And in the cases where they found something else, they just dropped the original book-related charge and charged the other thing.)

          Doing this would allow them to constantly engage in investigations that are antithetical to our Constitutional and democratic principles, yet which could not possibly be reviewed by any court and declared as such. The courts may even still manage to avoid opining on this issue in this particular case. I almost want to extend the principle of “capable of repetition, yet evading review” to appeals on this issue, just so we can finally get some guidance from SCOTUS on whether they think any construction of the Logan Act is at all plausible. (It may come out the other way; I kind of doubt it; I understand the frustration and need for them to say something.)

          most of Congress would probably prefer that it exist, or some law like it.

          Then let them pass that version. Look, I argue (even in this thread) about surveillance law, where some folks think that various iterations are unconstitutional. I can also point to how subsequent Congresses have explicitly authorized various tweaks to the programs… in public votes. There, I see a strong argument for, “Congress actually thinks that at least this tweaked version is Constitutional and good.” If you can get Congress to pass a modified, modern day Logan Act (maybe even with the word “secret” in there somewhere), then this argument would be significantly stronger. Without any sort of affirmative action taking place, it’s just sort of irrelevant musing.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          If we think the Logan Act needs to be narrowed or eliminated, let’s have Congress do that!

          “Did you really think we want those laws observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it… There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Reardon, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

    • instead, it would call into question the judgment of the judge who approved the FISA warrants on such a basis, but nobody would dispute that that judge had the legal right to approve the FISA warrants on whatever basis in the world that struck that judge’s fancy.

      If he approved the warrants on the basis of false information — if, for example, the FBI agents submitting the application were required to provide all relevant evidence and deliberately omitted evidence that would lead to the application being rejected — the judge had the legal right to approve but the FBI agents were guilty of perjury.

      • Thank you for that clarification. In that case, this strong possibility of perjury by FBI agents seems like kind of a big deal that someone at the justice department should follow up on, no?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          this strong possibility of perjury by FBI agents seems like kind of a big deal that someone at the justice department should follow up on, no?

          Should such a thing happen, do you think this will be reported in the mainstream media as “DOJ goes after rogue FBI bad actors” or as “Trump’s attack dogs target faithful civil servants for just doing their jobs?”

          • Good point. It would be interesting if Trump were to get re-elected and felt emboldened to have the justice dept. go after this case. Boy would that ignite charges of “tyranny!”

        • I’m a retired law professor but not a lawyer. Perhaps someone here can tell us whether my assumption that an application for a warrant is made under oath and includes, explicitly or implicitly, the claim that the application contains all relevant information, is correct.

          • mtl1882 says:

            It was weirdly hard to find information on this. It seems that there are designated people authorized to sign off on FISAs, which some publications refer to as “under oath” but most do not. I believe they actually certify that the factual info inside is true and correct in accordance with a specific regulation, which I haven’t looked up. It doesn’t look like there’s a “under pains and penalty of perjury” explicitly included.

            However, the FBI admitted after a recent review that the applications were generally shoddy…suspiciously shoddy in some cases. It would probably be possible to make a case for intentional omission, even if hard to prove, if what they signed off on was a stronger certification. But basically, the person just checks to see that there is supporting documents to back up the included facts (which didn’t always happen, but probably mostly due to laziness). He or she does not certify the file is complete or that the whole file has been examined for omissions. Many don’t check to see if older applications cited are actually backed up by the required documentation, so it is easy for secondary information to go unchecked. I think the FBI’s own report advised perhaps requiring a more extensive certification.

            In summary, it seems unlikely that they swear under pains and penalties of perjury—they probably at best can violate a statute. And it seems like the people signing these files often don’t put them together, so the intentional violation wouldn’t necessarily lie with them. If they were attorneys filing affidavits or briefs, final responsibility would lie with them, but I don’t think that’s the case. Probably intentionally.

          • albatross11 says:

            I doubt the “unusually shabby” part. If they do this stuff in extremely high-profile politically sensitive cases, what do you imagine they do when the target is some nobody with no connections or power?

    • zzzzort says:

      Separate but related question: I have heard the claim that the obama administration (or Obama personally) are at fault for selectively unmasking Flynn. But I thought the whole point of masking is that the identity of the person masked is… masked. Obviously someone is doing the redacting and is aware of their identity, but presumably this person is not a political appointee. Is the claim that the obama administration pressured all security agencies to dig up dirt in general, and the unmasking is what resulted? Or that they knew Flynn’s identity before it was unmasked?

      • Erusian says:

        The Republican claim is that the Obama administration unmasked Flynn (normal), with some desire to find Flynn specifically (borderline illegal). Then someone in the administration leaked it (very illegal) for partisan reasons (no more or less illegal but a bigger norms violation).

        • zzzzort says:

          I guess “leaking intelligence obtained after unmasking” doesn’t have the same ring to it. And the public has never really gotten behind prosecution of leakers, so I guess a smart political move.

          And, this is 80% trolling, but if the leak was authorized by Obama (as contended by the Trump camp), what would that still be illegal? In the same vein as Trump sharing classified Israeli intelligence with the Russians always being clearly legal.

          • Erusian says:

            And, this is 80% trolling, but if the leak was authorized by Obama (as contended by the Trump camp), what would that still be illegal? In the same vein as Trump sharing classified Israeli intelligence with the Russians always being clearly legal.

            Yes, because the masking process is not meant to protect intelligence secrets but the rights of an American citizen. Classification flows from the President, so he can change classification at will. Rights flow from the Constitution and override the President.

      • mtl1882 says:

        But I thought the whole point of masking is that the identity of the person masked is… masked.

        This is a question that seems to be mostly ignored. The National Review recently called this out. “To summarize, the list provided by Grenell indicates no unmasking of Flynn between December 28 (the day before the call) and January 5, even though news of Flynn’s identification was already circulating on January 3 (when McCabe briefed McCord about it)….It is more likely, then, that the Flynn–Kislyak call was captured by intelligence operations that are not governed by FISA.” He suspects the CIA, which is not governed by FISA, ended up with it and passed it on, as the intelligence community was watching Flynn.

        I’m pretty sure the driving force here is that the Obama administration had bad blood with Flynn, didn’t want him appointed by Trump (I believe more due to reasons of personal pride than concern about the effects of sanctions or any other specific political issue), and was keeping an eye out for dirt to use against him in one way or another. What they found happened to coincide with their need to cover the FISA abuse with regard to recent political snooping–I would generally characterize this (the FISA stuff) as neither criminal nor surprising, but sleazy and asking for a spiral into bigger problems and scandals. An unhealthy culture that undermined trust in the political process and the authorities, probably driven more by technology and post-9/11 privileges than the party or president in power.

        There are ways this could be prosecuted, but I doubt it will happen and it probably shouldn’t, as the NR explains. There are ways you could respond to it like Flynn’s conduct: prosecuting him for lying to the FBI or violating the Logan Act. Based on what we know, I consider doing that (and having done that, in the latter case) to Flynn highly inappropriate and corrosive to the justice system. The standard should be “material fact,” if he even lied. Retaliation with similar methods should not be encouraged, and probably won’t limit the behavior, although there is a point where counter-examples have to be made to get the message across. Tough issue. But not worthwhile right now, probably. I’d prefer the media just acknowledge the lack of credibility and dishonorable behavior of those involved. Personally, I’m mainly annoyed by the playing dumb, egregiously and badly so, demonstrated by Obama, Rice, and Biden. Maybe Obama and Rice know something about Flynn that we don’t, but come on. Rice with her absurd remarks about being shocked by an utterly benign remark by Flynn–almost literally, “I’m not worried about Russia. It’s a shadow of its former self. I’m more concerned about the threat posed by China.” Obama, a lawyer, with his Logan act and “perjury charges” and concern for the rule of law. It’s not criminal or a new low or anything, but it’s not to their credit. Same with the FBI using Flynn’s son as leverage.

        I think it’s important to understand that a lot of this was “intramural bullshit,” to use a phrase one Matt Taibbi did for something else. The driving forces were small personal or factional issues. Some people in the NSA naturally indulge their curiosity and snoop on others, and everyone lets it pass, because it is a statute that was never take seriously and the tech makes it so easy. In 2015, their snooping turns to the prominent political figures, and most of the people lean toward Clinton. Some have speculated that in the spring of 2015, the loophole that allowed NSA people to search the FBI database got located and plugged. Disappointed at lost access, just as things are getting interesting, some higher level snoopers use some shoddy FISAs to justify access—July 2015 is where the Flynn investigation begins, allegedly based on fears of his Russia interactions. I personally doubt they were concerned Flynn was an agent. They all knew Flynn and his eccentric ways well, but he’d recently been going out of his way to provoke the ire of the Obama administration—on his side, I think this was less personal animosity than strategic political warfare, something Flynn apparently enjoys. I think he was really aggravated by Obama’s foreign policy choices (conflict over which led to his removal) and public rationalizations of them, and wished to spotlight his opposition to them and get back into the game with the Trump administration. I think the enthusiastic “betrayal” made Obama and those around him furious—most of the really sketchy behavior by him and his circle is Flynn-related much more than Trump or Russia related. I think Flynn is more than willing to be disliked and perhaps misjudged how ticked off they were and what that might result in—presumably part of the reason he’s held the positions he has is because he was known as someone not to mess around with, but also not someone who engages in treason. This would explain his apparent lack of suspicion when talked to by the FBI, if what they say is true.

        The surprise Trump win means questions might be asked, especially given the partisan bent of the snooping, and some awkward attempts to paper this over occur, then spiral out of control when they become part of the political narratives surrounding Trump’s polarizing presidency, mainly Russiagate. This wasn’t originally a grand scheme like “let’s get the election in the bag for Hillary,” or “better start looking into Trump to take him out,” or related to some ideological or policy goal. It was shady but much less interesting stuff that “escaped” and became part of bigger strategies or “bureaucratically tenable” justifications.

        An interview from October briefly touches on this.

        The interviewer mentions how no one seems interested in the unmasking stuff. He says that stuff is routine, but he was surprised that Powers claimed it wasn’t her–that this was bored lower-ranking staff members doing stuff in her name. Not sure if that is just an excuse but it is plausible, and could be plausible for the Biden request and others. But he concludes, “Yet that has became normative reality, right?”

        Codevilla, who worked in intelligence and helped draft the FISA legislation, responds that of course a lot of this sort of thing is done by lower-ranking staff in the boss’s name. He doesn’t seem to find that scandalous, or any of it really, but thinks the situation is ridiculous–that it’s that easy and clearly not what we want going on. Too much power.

        The interviewer asks later:

        Do you have the sense that a[n]…attempt to manufacture reality was at play in what at this point are the still-unknown interactions between the CIA, the FBI, and the Obama White House with regard to the surveillance of Donald Trump’s associates, and the attempt to suggest some vast Putin-Trump conspiracy to game American elections, and whatnot?

        (Note how he separates the surveillance and the Russia stuff–they were separate things that eventually blurred together.) The response was “I don’t think that it went that far. Or I should say, I don’t think the people involved thought about it that deeply.” The interviewer agreed. Codevilla continued:

        I think what you had was a small pooling of resources to tweak the news cycle with regard to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, which then turned into something very major [after the election] . . . It was, like Watergate, a minor attempt to gain marginal advantage. Which then, unintended by the people involved at the time, became something very big, which escaped everyone’s control . . . Who did what when to whom? Where are the quids and where are the quos? What’s going on here? . . . What is not clear is just how much of the reality will come into the public’s consciousness.

        He was asked whose fault this was, and given his background, knows how one could hit back. What he suggests is basically the equivalent of lying to the FBI. These kinds of charges basically function to pressure the associates of the powerful, who are hard to get directly, to become witnesses for the state.

        The fault here is not of Democrats on the left. The fault here is of Donald Trump and his friends who have refused to enforce the most basic laws here. The most obvious one is Section 798, (18 U.S. Code), the simple comment statute. Now anybody in the intelligence business knows that this is the live wire of security law. It is a strict liability statute. It states that any revelation, regardless of circumstance or intent, any revelation period, of anything having to do with U.S. communications intelligence is punishable by the 10 and 10. Ten years in the slammer, and $10,000 fine. Per count.
        Now the folks who went to The Washington Post and The New York Times in November and December of 2016 and peddled this story of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Trump and the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia, these people ipso facto violated §798.
        Considering these matters are highly classified, and that the number of the people involved is necessarily very small, identifying them is child’s play. But no effort to do that has been made.

        Interviewer:

        But doesn’t that failure in turn point to what is, to some extent, the root of this entire drama, which is that Donald Trump seems unfamiliar with and temperamentally at odds with the executive function that he has now assumed?

        (We all know how well it would go over if Trump decided to play this game and threaten to prosecute media sources.)

        That’s certainly true. But you have to go beyond Donald Trump, to Republican power holders in general. These people far more than Donald Trump would be inclined to forbear for the sake of comity with the ruling class. And what kind of comity are we talking about? We’re talking about social comity. Because if you follow the law in this case, you end up putting former directors of CIA, FBI etcetera behind bars. They, and a whole bunch of their subordinates. Maybe a dozen people here would end up behind bars.

        The interview ended with both agreeing that some people are evidently above the law (presumably, establishment elites regardless of party, and those working in intelligence agencies).

      • zzzzort says:

        To answer my own question, (but admittedly with new info). This seems to confirm part of the NR story, though it seems it was the FBI not the CIA.

        • Aftagley says:

          But… the FBI has no duty to mask, correct? NSA is focused on foreign intelligence, which is why they mask US persons, but FBI is law enforcement and focused on CI. Their job is to go after us persons, so they wouldn’t have masked the intercept.

          • Controls Freak says:

            FBI has both domestic law enforcement and counterintelligence missions. The CI mission sort of has one foot in domestic law and one foot in foreign intelligence. This results in some tricky rules.

            On top of that, a lot depends on what the underlying legal authority is. A lot of controversy has focused on Section 702, including a recent controversy about the associated targeting/querying/minimization procedures (which include masking). You can find the legal results of the controversy here, including relevant rules for FBI.

            EDIT: I want to emphasize that we don’t yet know what legal authority was used to collect the conversation. The WaPo article says it was FBI, not NSA (which does cull some options). We know that Flynn wasn’t in the US at the time, and Kislyak probably wasn’t, either. This might open up some options. It’s reasonable that they got the call via Traditional FISA, 702, or something else. I believe Traditional FISA has similar masking requirements as 702, but there are exceptions for if “their identity is needed to understand the foreign intelligence value,” which I think is what WaPo’s source is gesturing toward.

    • WoollyAI says:

      So, can anyone walk me through all of this?

      No.

      That’s about 20% snide but 80% serious. Your interpretation of the Flynn investigation, and Obamagate in general, depends on your interpretation of a lot of other facts. Trying to avoid too much CW:
      It’s unclear what Flynn actually said to the FBI, as far as I can tell there’s no recording of their conversation and the report was modified by other actors later on.
      It’s unclear who tried to unmask Flynn and whether that was illegal or even improper.
      It’s unclear what happens in legally rare/weird situations like a prosecution being withdrawn after a guilty plea or a prosecution under the Logan Act.
      It’s unclear whether the original investigation or the current dismissal were politically motivated, and if so by who and how much.

      It’s irresponsible to try to draw clear conclusions when we have a guilty plea under duress, with conflicting evidence on whether a crime was committed in at least two meanings of the phrase, and a legally unprecedented act with unknown political influence from the two most politically powerful men alive. You’re confused and I sympathize, I’m confused. Massive parts of this whole thing still make no sense and it’s almost four years old. But there’s just not enough information out there; you or I might be 80% confident in every element, but 80%^4 is pretty bad odds. We don’t know, almost four years after the fact it’s unlikely we’ll ever really know, that sucks, but it’s the way it is. Everyone else is just pretending.

      CW
      -Removed to avoid the banhammer during politics season.
      /CW

    • mtl1882 says:

      While I don’t agree with every point made in this National Review article, I think it provides a good characterization of some of the issues involved. The fact that the lines aren’t exactly clear, and how we acknowledge and respond to that, is key.

  16. Aapje says:

    The Dutch Ministry of Financy reported their own tax agency (the Dutch equivalent to the IRS) to the police for ‘knevelarij’ and discrimination (etnic profiling). ‘Knevelarij’ doesn’t have a good English translation. It’s abuse of power by a civil servant by demanding or accepting money that isn’t owed. This is not the same as corruption, since it doesn’t have to benefit the civil servant personally.

    The Dutch government has been seesawing between making it easier to get various benefits and clamping down on fraud. In this case, the benefit was childcare subsidies. The tax agency was so determined to go after fraud that they resorted to terrorizing owners of childcare facilities as well as parents that used these facilities, to disrupt suspected fraud networks. However, the evidence was often minimal, where the bureaucrats seemed to suffer from tunnel vision. Minor administrative mistakes were seen as strong evidence for fraud. The parents that got investigated/punished were selected if they matched two or more risk categories, where one of those was often their ethnic background.

    When citizens filed a complaint against punitive decisions, civil servants broke the law by misclassifying these complaints as requests for information, so they didn’t have to process them, which they were obliged to, according to the law. A civil servant whistleblower who complained all over the tax agency, got the following answer from a government lawyer: “We will start following the law again in the future.” Another damning statement by a spokesperson was that the tax agency “continuously strives” to follow the law.

    In court cases, exculpatory evidence was systematically withheld from the court. A civil servant that did put exculpatory evidence in the dossiers was targeted for dismissal, although the exposure of the scandal saved him.

    Initially, the government did what it always does: protect itself. However, there were so many sympathetic victims and so much evidence of law-breaking behavior, that too many politicians didn’t want to accept the reputation loss. Still, it is unprecedented for charged to be filed against civil servants that follow or make illegal policy.

    • 205guy says:

      Since I see no other reply, let me just say I found this bit of news interesting and worth reading. Thanks for taking the time to write it up. I wish there were a news service that summarized the top 10 news stories like this from every state and country, say maybe refreshing one per day, it would be so much better than the regular news. I would call it slow news.

  17. Aapje says:

    Dutch fixed expressions get subsidized, which is why there are so many (not really)

    ‘De boog kan niet altijd gespannen zijn’ = The bow can’t always be drawn

    People need time to relax.

    ‘Een boom opzetten’ = Setting up a tree

    Talking a lot. May have come from a trick-based card game, where the winner of each trick would be tallied with short marks, in a way that resulted in something looking like a tree, if you had enough marks. Presumably, players talked a lot during the game.

    ‘Boontje komt om zijn loontje’ = Little bean will get his pay

    Someone got their just deserts. This comes from a 1662 Dutch fable where a small bean, straw and burning piece of coal go on a journey and come across a water-filled ditch. The straw lies down so the others can cross, which the bean does. However, as the coal crosses, the straw catches fire and burns up, causing the burning coal to fall into the water and be extinguished. The bean then laughs so hard at their misfortune, that he rips his belly open. Fortunely, he finds a tailor who can sew him up, resulting in the characteristic black seam on certain beans. So this is not just a morality lesson, but also an origin story of Batman beans.

    This story was slightly adapted and published by the Grimm brothers in their first collection of fables from 1812, which is probably how any modern person knows the story (the meta-fable here is how being original counts for less than being good at marketing and/or distribution).

    ‘Oude koeien uit de sloot halen’ = Get old cows out of the ditch

    Raking up the past or let bygones be bygones (depending on how it’s used).

    ‘Een bord voor je kop hebben’ = Having a plate/board in front of your head

    Doing what you want without concern for the impact on others. Unclear origins, first known use in the 17th century.

    • Bobobob says:

      I’m curious, what do you mean by “fixed” expressions? Are there unfixed expressions? (serious question)

      • Aapje says:

        It’s an expression where the combination of words means something more specific or different than just the words themselves.

        For example, “blood is thicker than water” would normally not be interpreted as a factual statement about the properties of blood and water. However, if you were to say “molasses is thicker than water,” it would be interpreted as a factual statement about material properties, even though these sentences are grammatically the same. The difference is that in the English language, there is an agreement that the former combination of words has a meaning different from the literal.

      • Nick says:

        I think fixed expression means the same here as idiom.

      • Erusian says:

        Yes, there are. Fixed expression (or nonfunctional expressions) are specific turns of phrases that have effectively turned into words by ossifying such that it uses language in a way it wouldn’t otherwise be used. For example, when I say, “A cat has nine lives,” or “Seize the day,” I am using functional language. I could construct those sayings out of normal language rules. I use words like “seize” to mean “go out and do something” and I say “the day” normally.

        In contrast, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee” is much less functional. It’s a preserved phrase from an earlier version of the language. We don’t use thee or toll very often and the grammatical construction is a little different. A pithier example, “For the love of God.” We still use if this phrase but only this phrase. We no longer say (as people did in the Middle Ages) “for the love of me,” or “for the love of your mother.” Even the general grammatical rule is rarely used. When was the last time you heard someone construct a sentence using “for” to mean “because of”? It’s not unheard of but it’s rare and often in relatively rote phrases.

  18. Nick says:

    @Evan Þ recently asked for a distributism thread, and there were many requests last thread to discuss socialism. Well, I said I didn’t want to be the one to make the thread, and distributism isn’t even socialist, but it still seems like an opportunity best not wasted. So here’s my brief 101.

    Distributism was conceived by GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc in the early 20th century. It was first developed in their writings on economics and politics such as The Servile State and The Outline of Sanity, inspired by papal encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum and Quadrigesimo Anno. The key goal of distributism is wide distribution of capital. The reason for this is to avoid the concentration of power and wealth which tends to occur in both socialist and capitalist economies—in the former, concentration in the hands of the state, and in the latter, in the hands of relatively few capitalists. In a socialist economy, the state tend to subsume everything, starting with ownership of capital, while in a capitalist economy monopolies form and expand. The point of distributism is to avoid these twin evils by maintaining a wide distribution of capital.

    This could mean a wide distribution of land, which was practical when most people farmed, but less practical today. This could mean a wide distribution of small businesses. This could even mean collective ownership of capital which is not easily divided, such as all the workers and managers in a factory owning shares. It certainly does not mean the government expropriating land or factories or something to give to other people, though the name, and some of the rhetoric, frustratingly gives that impression. Belloc’s practical suggestion to prevent Big Business (TM) was progressive taxation.

    Distributism has been adapted many times since then. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, identified as distributists, though they tended toward anarchism, while Chesterton and Belloc did not. Some Americans have taken distributism in a more explicitly agrarian and anti-industrial direction, though it needn’t go that way; think Wendell Berry. Still others have paired it with guilds and even corporatism—the organization of society into distinct and overlapping bodies such as labor unions, religious orders, or sodalities and governance according to their representation. I think the last is more of a European thing, since it has no real history in the United States.

    In all cases distributism has been strongly influenced by its Catholic roots, particularly the social teaching of the popes starting with Rerum Novarum. There were definitely fellow travelers outside Catholicism, though—Anglicans, Protestants on the continent and in America, Orthodox. (I suppose there are atheist distributists, but I’ve never met one.*) Anyway, one tends to see as a result an emphasis on the continuity of this philosophy with socially conservative views on the family. One also sees particular emphasis on subsidiarity—governance at the lowest competent level of authority, favoring the family over the city, the city over the state, etc. (It is for this reason that distributists have found natural allies on the American right among those who want to devolve federal power or to protect liberties of families and communities in area like education.) One sees it finally in solidarity, the principle of our common humanity. It is most easily and properly seen in a subsidiary way: the sort of free mutual help naturally given to family and friends, which is often expressed in many overlapping societies such as a family, parish, fraternity, and workplace. To be embedded in these is to be able to give and receive support at a level that is completely local yet very robust and reliable, but it needn’t end there. The brotherhood of man, after all, is universal—you share a human dignity with everybody on Earth.

    Okay, so that’s a very quick introduction to distributist thought. I’m happy to answer questions, but remember I am not an expert!

    *There is a chapter of James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism, actually, which might contradict that. In “Two Cheers for the Petty Bourgeouisie,” Scott defends the “petty” bourgeoisie—let’s call them smallholders—who are frequently maligned by Marxists. This despite often being poor, and despite being plausibly the majority of people today, and the very great majority of Homo sapiens ever. As well, smallholders are frequently the one targeted by states in the ways discussed in Seeing Like a State, because a business of one is a lot harder to track and measure and tax than a megacorp. Where smallholders are recognized by the state, deigning to be tracked and measured and taxed, they are conferred status and rights thereby. Scott traces that back to a pre-eighteenth century distinction between the formally unfree, such as slaves and serfs, and the formally free smallholder.

    The desire to own one’s own plot of land or one’s own shop, meanwhile, is widespread. Scott speculates,

    the tremendous desire one can find [for smallholding] owes a great deal not only to the real margin of independent action, autonomy, and security it confers but also to the dignity, standing, and honor associated with small property in the eyes of the state and of one’s neighbors.

    He finds people clinging to the smallest scrap of land, even when the calculus would recommend going to town and renting a bit of land. And he finds meanwhile even the reddest of red revolutionaries dreaming of owning a plot of their own land. There’s a lot more to the chapter, including the valuable non-economic functions of the smallholder, with references to Jane Jacobs and Jefferson, but as this post and indeed this sentence is running long, I want to close by quoting the end of his chapter:

    A society dominated by smallholders and shopkeepers comes closer to equality and to popular ownership of the means of production than any economic system yet devised.

    • FLWAB says:

      This could mean a wide distribution of land, which was practical when most people farmed, but less practical today. This could mean a wide distribution of small businesses. This could even mean collective ownership of capital which is not easily divided, such as all the workers and managers in a factory owning shares. It certainly does not mean the government expropriating land or factories or something to give to other people, though the name, and some of the rhetoric, frustratingly gives that impression.

      How can the former be accomplished without the latter? That’s my big obstacle whenever I try to understand distributism. Is it just meant to describe how we might prefer society to be? What are it’s policy prescriptions? If I own all the land, how can it be divided without taking it from me?

      • Nick says:

        Come on, I give a practical suggestion one sentence later:

        Belloc’s practical suggestion to prevent Big Business (TM) was progressive taxation.

        Chesterton and Belloc had others, but many of them were for the England of their time. For instance, they revived the political slogan Three Acres and a Cow, urging local authorities to purchase available land and rent it a few acres at a time at really reasonable prices. No need for eminent domain when there is land to buy!

        We can discuss what policy prescriptions might work better today, but you’ll need to give me something more specific. Just to throw out a few ideas, occupational licensing tends to make it harder to enter a field like cutting hair (cutting hair, for God’s sake!); remove or reduce regulations like this and you will see more barbers. NIMBYism in cities is a disaster; for small shops to exist the small business owner has to, ya know, be able to live there. Distributists have always been big on antitrust legislation, too.

        • Randy M says:

          In the other thread, Lambert mentioned:

          What about those of use who want a mixed economy but a completely different set of markets to be private/public vs the status quo?

          With your recommendations to cut regulations on occupations while being in favor of anti-trust, they do seem to be a distinct mix of preferences for intervention that don’t map neatly to currently discussed ideologies.

        • FLWAB says:

          Come on, I give a practical suggestion one sentence later:

          Belloc’s practical suggestion to prevent Big Business (TM) was progressive taxation.

          I don’t see how that solves the problem?

          It sounds to me like you’re saying that we should heavily tax the rich, and then use that money to buy capital for people who don’t own capital. Presumably then, if I did own all the land (practically) around a village a distributist would suggest taxing me heavily, which means I will need to sell some of my land to meet the tax burden (otherwise, what’s the point?) which the village can then buy with the money it took from me. This is just expropriating land from me with extra steps.

          We can discuss what policy prescriptions might work better today, but you’ll need to give me something more specific.

          I’ll try to lay this out more clearly: Chesterton was mad that certain capitalists and aristocrats owned most of the capital. So lets say I’m one of those people, I own the majority of land around a pleasant English village. Not just the land, but also most of the factories. Let’s dial it up: I also own most of the homes. I am the exact kind of person distributism doesn’t want to exist. Now: what policies would change that situation without expropriating my property to give to other people?

          • Nick says:

            Now: what policies would change that situation without expropriating my property to give to other people?

            As you’ve framed it, this is a question without an answer: obviously nobody has a clever scheme for distributing your land without distributing your land. There is still a difference between taxing your land and selling land to poor people, and some jumped-up bureaucrat or elected official taking your land on tenuous eminent domain grounds and giving it to his friends, which is the usual nightmare scenario we are accused of wanting to perpetrate.

          • FLWAB says:

            @Nick

            With all due respect, that sounds like when you said that distributionism “certainly does not mean the government expropriating land or factories or something to give to other people” you really meant that it does mean exactly that, but done the right way.

          • Nick says:

            @FLWAB
            If you don’t want to sell it to the government, sell it to someone else, or find another way to pay. You could for instance sell it directly to whomever you like, like your brother, Count BAWLF. And while I suggested them in tandem, it’s not as though these policies need to come bundled together; either can occur in one place without the other, and even together you can’t read off the intent “let’s confiscate Lord FLWAB’s beautiful country estate!” from their both being on the books. Taxation, anyway, often has the effect of redistributing in general; I don’t see how your issue doesn’t apply to any tax with redistributive effects.

          • This Distributism stuff just sounds like what the “narodniks” and “Socialist Revolutionary Party” (not to be confused with the RSDLP or Bolsheviks) wanted…minus the use of assassinations and insurrections to get there. It also kind of sounds like anarcho-syndicalism, without the anarcho- part.

            Whatever you call it, yeah, I don’t see how it wouldn’t tread on some existing capitalists interests in a big way.

            Note that at the dawn of European colonization something like a Distributist society would have been very much possible in the Americas without major upheaval (aside from pushing out the Native Americans). That’s really the one chance that human society had for every family to own their own farm or workshop, or their own equal share of a larger enterprise. Why didn’t it happen? Conquistadors and plantation owners didn’t like it. They preferred to have a captive labor force that would be forced to work for them rather than run off to settle their own land on the frontier. In other words, in the one historical circumstance where a propertyless proletariat did not necessarily have to exist, and where instead humanity could have lived a more “Distributist” existence without upheaval to get there, the wealthy created a captive proletariat by artificial means…via encomiendas, slavery, indentures, and the exhaustion of the open frontier…either via natural population of it, or via legal efforts to restrict free land settlement, as with E.G. Wakefield’s plan for “Systematic Colonization.” This is the topic of Chapter 33 in Vol 1 of Marx’s “Capital.”

            British colonial administrator E.G. Wakefield: “In ancient civilised countries the labourer, though free, is by a law of Nature dependent on capitalists; in colonies this dependence must be created by artificial means.”

          • FLWAB says:

            @Nick

            Taxation, anyway, often has the effect of redistributing in general; I don’t see how your issue doesn’t apply to any tax with redistributive effects.

            Personally I think a tax that has the purpose of redistributing wealth is probably immoral. I think the only legitimate reason for a progressive tax is that the state needs money and rich people are theoretically hurt less by higher tax rates than poor people so given the fact that we need to have a tax at all, we should try to minimize the pain the tax causes.

            But that’s just me personally, and I’m not here to argue that point. I just wanted to understand distributionism because every time I have tried to learn more about it I run into people saying “Distributism says that capital should be distributed more evenly” while also saying “Distributism is not about taking capital and giving it to others.” These two seemingly paradoxical ideas led me to the conclusion that I don’t really understand distributism at all. Now I’m starting to think that maybe the apparent paradox is only caused because many distributists don’t want to be compared to communists and so they are not candid about what they plan on doing. If you want to take capital from those who have it with the purpose of redistributing it, please be candid about it! If not, please help me understand what it is I’m missing about distributism.

          • Now: what policies would change that situation without expropriating my property to give to other people?

            I’m not a distributist, although I’m a GKC fan and have some sympathies with the movement. But one answer might be that the situation being described is a result of existing government interventions, and abolishing those interventions would eventually change it.

            For a real example, one reason why rental housing in London is so expensive is the existence of a green belt, a sizable area around London where construction is greatly restricted. Abolish that and house prices fall, yard sizes increase, and it becomes more practical for the worker to own his own house. Multiply that example by fifty or a hundred, and you might have changes all of which consist of reducing government interference with individual freedom but whose ultimate effect is a less uneven distribution of capital ownership.

            Think about distributism as a description of what the end state should look like, leaving open differing views of how to get there.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            Think about distributism as a description of what the end state should look like, leaving open differing views of how to get there.

            This is the key part, I think. People hear the name “distributism” and ask “Distributed by whom?” REdistributism could already be the name for the ideology of the modern state, which is capitalist but far bigger than any state that existed in 1914.*
            So let’s jump in time to November 1917. The world has been shaken and people see two options for the future: a command economy and the status quo. But wait! What if we take a third option? What if the state allows people to own private property but taxes them much more, especially the rich, and redistributes the tax revenue to other people?
            If you’re part of the government, the command economy option sounds awfully tempting: it means the group you’re part of gets unlimited power. Except by 1978 and definitively by 1991, it was obvious this was inefficient and states running a command economy would always be weaker than those that remained capitalist. Even though a state with nuclear weapons is invincible against invasion due to Mutually Assured Destruction, the USSR still lost a quasi-war with the United States and ceased to exist.
            Now, given that empirical evidence, what do you do if you’re a government official? Going back to the way things were before the Great War and Russian Revolution would vastly shrink the power of the group you belong to. So you take that third option of redistributing a significant percentage of the wealth generated in the market to clients.
            GKC’s distributism was a dream of changing things so there wouldn’t be poor clients (or poor losers, under the 1914 status quo). There ain’t no incentive structure for that.

            *This is the sort of thing that led to my childhood confusion watching programs about WWI on The History Channel. They’d say things like “Russia lost because it was still an autocracy” and I’d think that meant it was a small government where the Czar ruled by himself, while modernization includes a large army of elected officials and bureaucrats.

          • Lambert says:

            @DavidFriedman

            The commons round here are really nice and it’d be tragic if they got covered with suburbia.

            Though maybe if I had a time machine I’d have told them to go the ‘green wedge’ route.

          • Nick says:

            @FLWAB
            Well, first, you missed two of the points I made: 1), a property tax isn’t expropriation, because you can simply pay it anyway, or sell or give the land to whomever you like; 2), you’re treating two different policies like they’re one package.

            But I also really erred in my last post by not clarifying immediately that Belloc was talking about a tax on the sale of land, not a property tax. I’m sorry about that. You can read his essay suggesting it here; this policy would make it harder to accumulate land over time, but would not break up anybody’s estate.

            Distributists have besides that differed on property taxes, so don’t take from my suggesting that a property tax isn’t expropriation that I speak for everyone. You can find for instance David Cooney arguing here they are unjust, at least as done in the US—he outright calls them feudal.

          • Ketil says:

            Personally I think a tax that has the purpose of redistributing wealth is probably immoral. I think the only legitimate reason for a progressive tax is that the state needs money

            Isn’t this a distinction without a difference? The reason the state needs money is to provide services to the people – services that typically benefit the poor as much as the rich. So it is still redistributing wealth, even if the actual redistribution is in kind, not cash.

          • FLWAB says:

            @Ketil

            It’s kind of a principle of double effect type thing. If we need to maintain an army, or pay for meat packing plant inspectors, or other things meant for the common good that we vote to happen then we’re going to need money. If we decide the best way to get that money is a progressive income tax, well, that seems reasonable. But if you put a progressive income tax in place not because you need the money but because you deliberately want to take money from rich people, then that seems immoral to me. It’s kind of like making a tax that only is on black people because you think there are too many rich black people. The purpose of a tax should be to fund a program that voters want, and as such are a necessary evil to accomplish that task. If the whole point of the tax is to hurt some people then it’s no longer a necessary evil, just an evil.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s always rankled me that the state of California collects its income taxes through a “board of equalization”.

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          Just to throw out a few ideas, occupational licensing tends to make it harder to enter a field like cutting hair (cutting hair, for God’s sake!); remove or reduce regulations like this and you will see more barbers.

          I think this is true, but I also think the consequences would be the opposite of distributist: significantly more barbers competing to give the same number of, or only slightly more, haircuts would mean lower prices, and if – as I suspect – the average haircutter is poorer than the average citizen, that will mean less transfer of wealth from rich to poor. There may be an opposite effect if people who teach haircutting are richer, but I wouldn’t bet on it being as large.

          If your goal is wider distribution of capital, I’d suggest exactly the opposite – more artificial inflation of salaries for low-skilled jobs, not less. But I’d rather do that through minimum wages than through barriers to entry.

          • Lambert says:

            You’re assuming the supply of hairdressers is fixed.
            What the regulation is doing is making the number of hairdressers smaller.
            This forces people who want to cut hair to do something else (which is worse).
            This makes poor people worse off.

          • John Schilling says:

            It makes poor people without hairdressing licenses somewhat worse off, in that they don’t have the ability to work low-paying hairdressing jobs. It makes poor people with hairdressing licenses somewhat better off, in that their pay as hairdressers is artificially elevated from low to medium-low. And it makes everyone else somewhat worse off, in that their hair care costs more than it otherwise would (but probably not noticeable to the rich).

            So, opening up occupational licensing requirements transfers wealth from a subset of the working class to the poor and the middle class?

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            So, opening up occupational licensing requirements transfers wealth from a subset of the working class to the poor and the middle class?

            That’s looks like a reformulation of what I believe, yes, although in my mental venn diagram “the working class”, “the poor” and “the middle class” are all overlapping circles, so I’d phrase it as “It transfers money to everyone else from a significantly-less-than-averagely-rich group”. And I suspect the net effect of that will be anti-distributist, especially if the poorest people are probably disproportionately unlikely to spend money on haircuts (they many not be, but again, that strikes me as a plausible guess).

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            You’re assuming the supply of hairdressers is fixed.
            What the regulation is doing is making the number of hairdressers smaller.
            This forces people who want to cut hair to do something else (which is worse).
            This makes poor people worse off.

            No, I’m assuming that demand for hairdressers is… not quite fixed, because if haircuts get cheaper then a few more people who couldn’t previously afford them will want haircuts, but close enough to fixed that if the price of a haircut falls then the number of extra haircuts will not increase by enough to prevent the total amount of money spent on haircuts falling.

            And I’m also assuming that, while some of the money spent on haircuts is being transferred upwards or sideways, more of it is being transferred downwards, because the average haircutter is poorer than the average haircuttee.

            Removing licensing restrictions may have other good effects – presumably cutting hair creates value, and so the few extra haircuts will create more value – but in terms of distribution of capital I think the effect will be to concentrate it more, not less.

          • Lambert says:

            > the average haircutter

            The set of haircutters is different depending on whether regulation exists.You can’t compare then like that.

            The set of people who would become haircutters, sans regulation, is divided into two groups: People who still cut hair and are made better off, and those who don’t and become worse off.
            There’s reason to believe the negative impact to the second group outweighs the positive to the first.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Thoughts on Henry George’s response to Rerum Novarum? A truly shocking twist where the man who thought free trade and land value tax would solve everything suggests free trade and land value tax would solve everything.

      Not the last example of Georgist-Distributist dialogue. It seems.

      I’m fairly certain Hilarious Bellicose had a plan involving taxing the sale of land TO landowners, to make your first Ever piece of land cheap and your second expensive, growing towards prohibitively expensive. Land Value Tax forcing land speculators to divest themselves of idle land seems more efficacious to me, but of course I defer to Henry George only on Spiritual matters and get my economics from Jacob Frank.

      • Nick says:

        I first heard about George and Georgism from the distributists, years ago, though I can’t find the piece now; The Distributist Review has crippled their main website with the latest makeover, removing all the old comments and, bizarrely, all the paragraph breaks. Whatever. But doing a little research, it seems that:
        1) a lot of distributists and Georgists agree the two are compatible, indeed complementary; and
        2) wow, Henry George is cool, and criminally underrated today.

        I’m probably going to have to read Progress and Poverty and Protection or Free Trade now.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      A more thorough opposition to concentrated power would include only wanting small religious organizations, but somehow distributiivism didn’t go there.

      • Nick says:

        That’s because Catholicism is true.

      • Nick says:

        More seriously: the modern Church, especially in the councils, Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, have had the effect of centralizing things, both the governance of the diocese and the larger Church, sometimes to everyone’s detriment. I don’t have the time to go into this, since I’m about to run a campaign, but a world where priests weren’t plucked from their parish every six years or all the focus in the world weren’t constantly on the pope would arguably be a good thing. See e.g. Bronwen McShea here.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          You’re overestimating my knowledge of Catholicism. From my point of view, Catholicism has always been centralized, what with having a Pope and a hierarchy.

          • SamChevre says:

            Quick overview from a non-expert: Catholicism has always been more centralized than most other religious bodies, but in practice it used to have a huge amount of built-in checks and balances. Bishops used to be appointed by the Pope and some local civil or ecclesial body–exactly how that worked was very contested, but in practice the Pope’s discretion was fairly limited. (I can’t find the source quickly, but of the ~700 bishops at the First Vatican Council (1869) over 400 were appointments not in the sole jurisdiction of the Pope.) The Holy Roman Emperor still had the right to veto potential popes until Pius X (who owed his election to the exercise of that veto) banned the exercise of that veto in 1904. Parish priests typically required the consent of some body representing the parish to be appointed pastor (this was never the case in the US), and once appointed as pastor could not be removed by the bishop (this remained the case until the 1983 revision to Canon Law.)

          • Aftagley says:

            It looks like the Austro-Hungarian Emperor claimed the right after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Emperor. The veto was asserted by Franz Joseph.

        • Deiseach says:

          a world where priests weren’t plucked from their parish every six years

          On the other hand, there are certainly examples of parish priests creating and running their own little fiefdoms and the bishop can go to heck if he wants to try reining them in, both on the very conservative and very liberal side of things.

          I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to move priests around as curates so they’ll get experience of a decent range of parishes before handing them the keys to one, and as above for breaking up any little cults of personality. And it’s no harm for parishioners either to get jolted out of the comfortable familiar rut of “we always do things this way” and badgering the priest into ‘what the richest/most influential families in the parish want done’.

          I think the vocations shortage is rattling things a very great deal, as well. A lot of elderly retired priests are being called back into service and a lot of priests are having to cover several parishes, and this is happening in Protestant denominations in Ireland as well.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve read a while ago that the priest shortage is a self-amplifying problem.

            Most people find it difficult to be natural around (Catholic?) priests, so priests need the company of other priests. Fewer priests means more loneliness, which leads to even fewer priests.

    • Oldio says:

      It’s important to note that certain other economic theories from around the same time- solidarism and certain variants of corporatism, for example- have strong similarities and can be thought of as part of the same family. Distributism has the advantage for American audiences of having originally been written in English, but attempting to understand it outside the context of these same theories is missing things.

    • Garrett says:

      How do we handle the following circumstances:

      1) I have my equitable share of distributed capital (somehow, not important). I decide to sell that share and spend the proceeds on hookers and blackjack. I now have much less capital than the person I sold my original share to. What should happen? Should I be re-issued more capital? If so, what prohibits me from doing the same thing over again? Alternatively, should shares in capital be forbidden from being sold? If so, can I trade them? Either way, I see problems. I could end up stuck with a chunk of capital I may have no interest in: I’d rather have ownership in a tech company than a plot of land to farm, though others would prefer the opposite. Alternatively, you allow trade but not sale which likely results in people gaining wealth without the price signals to be able to readily quantify it.

      2) Someone has children. At which point, and through which mechanism do they get their share of capital? Upon birth? Upon adulthood/highschool diploma?

      • Nick says:

        1) I have my equitable share of distributed capital (somehow, not important). I decide to sell that share and spend the proceeds on hookers and blackjack. I now have much less capital than the person I sold my original share to. What should happen? Should I be re-issued more capital? If so, what prohibits me from doing the same thing over again? Alternatively, should shares in capital be forbidden from being sold? If so, can I trade them? Either way, I see problems. I could end up stuck with a chunk of capital I may have no interest in: I’d rather have ownership in a tech company than a plot of land to farm, though others would prefer the opposite. Alternatively, you allow trade but not sale which likely results in people gaining wealth without the price signals to be able to readily quantify it.

        For the most part, I’d say if you mismanage things and lose your capital, too bad for you.

        There ought to be ways to get out from the bottom, but I agree it can’t be too easy. It’s a hard problem. Chesterton for instance wanted farmland that could be cheaply rented; in those cases you don’t have capital to lose, but it’s an imperfect or at-best-temporary solution because you don’t own it in the first place.

        2) Someone has children. At which point, and through which mechanism do they get their share of capital? Upon birth? Upon adulthood/highschool diploma?

        Well, the eldest child might inherit the family farm, or the family shop, or whatever. A second son might become a priest or join a monastery or go into the military; likewise a daughter. I suppose people today won’t like that answer, but it was common enough historically.

        A lot of families in America already put away a bunch of money for each kid, namely, for college. It’s an investment, since the point is typically to have a kid who can hold down a job at the end of it. We can imagine Mom and Dad instead putting money away so Junior can buy a plot of land or open a store of his own, or he could buy into a cooperatively owned business. In general I don’t love the idea of the government handing out capital directly.

        • John Schilling says:

          For the most part, I’d say if you mismanage things and lose your capital, too bad for you.

          As would I. But I expect that too many of the people who would push for this sort of redistribution, would assume that if someone has wound up capital-free it is probably because they were robbed or defrauded by the greedy capitalists. Who we can recognize by the fact that they have more than the usual amount of capital. Then we’d get the push for re-redistribution to rectify this injustice…

          • Nick says:

            Belloc wrote an account of the dissolution of the monasteries in which he argued that a vast amount of land in England was owned by the monasteries and used as common land by the people, but Henry took it and distributed it to loyal nobles, and it wound up gated and turned into estates. So yes, if you follow Belloc, the people were robbed, though not by greedy capitalists, and it had been generations ago, and they had weaker titles than ownership to the land in the first place.

            Belloc at least in his “The Differential Tax” piece believed the greater fear was not the government doing more actually redistribution, but the government allocating nominally redistributive tax income to its own purposes. Setting aside the precise reason, I’ll agree fear of a slippery slope in this area is not unreasonable, at least if we compare taxes in the US with taxes in parts of Europe, or even other parts of the US….

  19. I am currently annoyed at delivery drivers who have forgotten how to ring a doorbell. Does this make me a “coot” or a “curmudgeon?”

    • Matt M says:

      I think this is part of the push for “no contact” deliveries due to COVID-hysteria. I’m not sure if the companies have specifically given drivers guidance about this, but I get deliveries pretty often and literally never had this happen before COVID, and now it happens like half the time.

      • yodelyak says:

        Speaking as a someone who finds driving for e.g. grubhub to be kinda a fun way to explore my neighborhood while getting paid for it, this is correct. I don’t ring the door bell (or touch the door with my hand!) if someone requests contactless delivery. I still touched the bag holding their food, several times, between picking it up to put it in my insulated bag, and then taking it back out of that bag after arriving, and carrying it to set on their porch. But yeah, I don’t touch the door or doorbell. Then I text or call to say the food is arrived, and wait for a confirm text or to see the door opened and the food taken (usually from 30′ away or more, often already back inside my car). It’s just doing the best I can. If someone doesn’t answer or show up after a minute, and where their phone is going direct to voicemail, I have once gotten back out of my car and knocked the door with my elbow. I suppose my next step after that might include ringing a doorbell if one is present, but would quickly mean texting driver support to indicate the person ordering the food isn’t answering and decide what to do next.

        • We, on the receiving side, take it one step further. Anything non-perishable sits in a wooden box on our porch for three days before we take it in. Perishables are brought in and washed with soapy water.

          And I would certainly prefer that the delivery person not touch the door handle.

        • Matt M says:

          Personally, we have a ring doorbell that sends us an alert when someone is at the door, so “ringing” the doorbell is basically unnecessary and obsolete at this point. It’s also possible drivers can see/notice that and realize they don’t have to actually ring. It’s a decent investment if you get a lot of deliveries or other traffic at your door.

    • neciampater says:

      After very few interactions with mothers with napping babies, it can swear you off ever ringing a doorbell ever again…

      • yodelyak says:

        Working on one political campaign, we once dreamed of having a standard letter in the office. If you got a parent with a napping newborn, and they told you off, we’d mail them the letter. The letter is an apology, a note about the candidate’s belief that elections can bring us together as a community, and a little printed sign they could post on their door, saying “Please do not knock or ring bell, infant may be sleeping. Instead, please text or call ____.” Would not be surprised if other political campaigns have actually made that dream a reality, but definitely this is one of the worst fears of door-to-door campaigners.

        • JonathanD says:

          When we had napping babies, we had one of those doorknob signs telling people the baby was napping. We used it and it worked. Don’t know why this isn’t more of a thing.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I must be blessed. My child sleeps through the smoke alarm, the neighbor running his lawnmower, and dropping cast iron skillets on the floor.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      The default delivery setting for a lot of online services is now “Contact-less Delivery” or some variant, where it specifically says they’ll leave it at your door and text you when the food arrives, at least for the services I sometimes use. There was a notice about how this new hotness is the greatest thing and ensures both convenience and safety for all parties in this time of COVID-19, etc, etc.

      I’ve noticed that in practice a lot of drivers still meet people at their doors, at least around here, so make of that what you will.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Makes you normal, IMO. Maybe you could at least knock, or shout loud, or anything besides leave my dinner on the stoop and never tell me it is there?

    • Cheese says:

      Very common thing here pre-COVID. Actually less common I think post given everyone is now doing delivery and there’s kind of an established ‘ring the doorbell clause’

      Most delivery drivers are contractors paid via delivery numbers where I live. Waiting for someone to answer the door, sign for, potentially chat or even complain to them is time wasted on not getting paid. It’s annoying but what can you do. Complain, but there’s multiple layers between who you can complain to and who is actually responsible.

  20. LadyJane says:

    Hot take of the day: Socialism killed the Bernie Sanders campaign.

    Contrary to popular belief, Bernie Sanders is not an actual socialist, at least not by any internally consistent definition of socialism. In terms of actual policy, he’s a European-style welfare capitalist. His ideas are standard practice in the Scandinavian countries, and only slightly further to the left than what you’d see in France or Germany or even in the US during the FDR/LBJ era. Virtually all political scientists and economists agree that he’s not a socialist. (See: here, here, here, here, here, and here.) For that matter, most actual socialists likewise agree that he’s not a socialist.

    And as a political scientist, I’m sure Bernie himself knows he’s not a real socialist. His use of the term is more of a rhetorical tactic than anything else. Back in the 80s, Reaganite propaganda dismissed virtually all forms of welfare and progressive taxation as “socialism,” and Bernie was basically saying “if that makes me a socialist in your eyes, then so be it.” (Yes, Bernie supported actual socialist policies like nationalization of industries back in the 60s and 70s, when he was a young activist, but to act like he still espouses those policies is disingenuous. Even his former acquaintances have admitted that he’s renounced actual socialism.)

    Back in 2016, this wasn’t too big a deal. Bernie was the only notable person in American calling himself a socialist, so he could use it to mean whatever he wanted it to mean, at least as far as the general public was concerned. I was mildly annoyed by the fact that he labeled himself a socialist, but that’s mostly just because I’m a cranky political scientist and I can be a stickler for proper terminology. His policies were still a bit too far to the economic left for my tastes, but I still supported him in the Democratic primary, because 1.) I really do believe we need much better social services in this country, even if I disagreed with him on the particulars, 2.) I’m a civil libertarian and he had the best record on foreign policy and civil liberties, by a long shot, and 3.) it was refreshing to have someone who was generally anti-establishment, but also wasn’t a total crackpot and had actual political experience. Also, to a lesser extent, 4.) Hillary was a uniquely bad candidate and I couldn’t bring myself to support her.

    But at some point between then and now, something happened. A genuine, bona fide socialist movement sprung up in the US as a result of Bernie’s campaign. Groups like the Democratic Socialists of America, which had previously been relegated to the furthest fringes of American political discourse, suddenly found themselves back in the spotlight. Membership in the DSA and similar organizations surged. Socialist publications like Jacobin, which had formerly been known only to far-leftists and political wonks, started popping up on the Facebook feeds of everyday Americans. Polls showed that between 30% to 40% of millennials had favorable views of socialism, and a full 70% of millennials said they would vote for a socialist candidate.

    Granted, many of these “socialists” weren’t any further left than Bernie. (I recently got into a debate with a self-proclaimed “socialist” and found out halfway into the discussion that he actually supports Keynesian economics rather than any kind of actual socialist economic structure.) But there was still a significant and far-too-vocal minority of them who were actual far-leftists: They talked about nationalizing major corporations and industries, abolishing rent and profit altogether or sometimes even abolishing money altogether, and other extremist policies that were far to the left of anything that you’d see in Europe or anywhere else outside of Communist Party dictatorships. And a small but vocal minority of those people were radical leftists – typically either anarchists or Marxist-Leninists – who frequently endorsed violent revolution, talked about executing billionaires and CEOs and politicians and cops, fantasized about sending centrist liberals off to concentration camps, idolized and defended Communist dictators like Stalin and Mao, and flew the Soviet/Chinese flag everywhere.

    Bernie himself didn’t support any of this madness. But it became associated with his campaign nonetheless, both because his 2016 campaign was responsible for sparking the millennial socialist movement in the first place, and because he continued to call himself a socialist even when there were actual socialists in the news using the term to mean something entirely different. The average Rust Belt labor leftist might’ve been happy to support a “socialist” when socialism simply meant “opposed to the Reagan-Clinton neoliberal consensus that he blamed for ruining his life.” But if that Rust Belt laborer goes online and sees “socialism” being used to describe the DSA/Jacobin types, or Marxist-Leninists defending Stalin and Mao, or red-black anarchists making jokes about sending everyone they disagree with to the guillotine, he’s going to think “oh shit, Bernie means actual USSR-style socialism, fuck that!” Especially when 2020 offered alternatives like Elizabeth Warren (a European-style progressive welfare capitalist who admits to being a progressive welfare capitalist) and Andrew Yang (whose idea of “human capitalism” – with a Universal Basic Income and less economic regulations than the current system – matches my own views a lot more closely than Bernie’s).

    What’s worse is that Bernie would occasionally throw a bone to those people. Perhaps it was driven by a need to distinguish himself from other progressive candidates like Warren and anti-establishment candidates like Yang, but in any case, it was a huge strategic mistake. The worst example was when he defended Fidel Castro, on the basis that “he did a lot to improve Cuba’s literacy rate,” just a few weeks before the Florida election. Florida has plenty of Cuban residents who experienced the draconian brutality of the Castro regime firsthand, or had parents who did, not to mention all of the residents who knew those Cubans and were sympathetic to them. The Castro comment also turned off a lot of Bernie’s civil libertarian supporters, as well as plenty of social justice progressives who were appalled by his defense of a homophobic dictator responsible for sending LGBT people to forced labor camps. It even turned off some of the far-left anarchists who remembered how Castro violently purged their ilk in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution.

    If Bernie had done more to distinguish himself as a social democrat rather than a socialist, and to distance himself from the actual socialists on the far-left, would he have won? Maybe not, there were a lot of other factors involved and he had a lot stacked against them. But I do think he would’ve had a much better chance, and likely performed a lot better than he did, especially in places like South Carolina, Florida, and Wisconsin.

    • LadyJane says:

      I read an article a few months back that sums up the entire problem perfectly: There was a Social Democrat politician from Sweden who endorsed Sanders, and attended a Bernie rally during a trip to the United States. The Swedish politician had more or less the same views on policy as Bernie himself, so he assumed that he’d fit in. Instead, he was shocked and horrified to find that most people at the rally were extreme far-leftists talking about how capitalism as a whole needs to be abolished, and how billionaires and stockholders and landlords shouldn’t exist at all. According to him, you would never see people like that in Sweden outside of fringe Marxist or anarchist groups – certainly not at a mainstream political rally for one of the country’s most popular politicians!

      • TimG says:

        …how capitalism as a whole needs to be abolished, and how billionaires and stockholders and landlords shouldn’t exist at all.

        My memory may be off, but I think I remember Bernie saying:

        Billionaires shouldn’t exist.

        Rent controls should be nationwide.

        Employees should be guaranteed (some) ownership of the companies they work for.

        Certainly not quite as extreme as what you are saying. But definitely in the ballpark.

        • gbdub says:

          Yeah. Personally I’m less sure that Bernie has given up on true socialism in his heart of hearts so much as he’s bowed to the reality of American politics and moderated his stated policy goals to be more palatable. But maybe it doesn’t matter.

          Either way, I think his rhetoric has remained “true socialist friendly” even as his policies are comparatively moderate.

          I recall in 2016 he ran one radio ad in my area, and it was basically all about how bankers are evil and deserve to go to jail. Red meat for socialists.

      • nkurz says:

        @LadyJane:
        > I read an article a few months back…

        Probably this was Johan Hassel? Here’s one of the articles about his impressions:

        Johan Hassel, the international secretary for Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, visited Iowa before the caucuses, and he wasn’t impressed with America’s standard bearer for democratic socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “We were at a Sanders event, and it was like being at a Left Party meeting,” he told Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, according to one translation. “It was a mixture of very young people and old Marxists, who think they were right all along. There were no ordinary people there, simply.”

        https://theweek.com/speedreads/896948/democratic-socialist-bernie-sanders-far-left-swedens-ruling-social-democrats-official-says.

    • cassander says:

      Sanders’ spending plans called for the federal government to spend almost 40% of GDP. That’s on top of 15% of GDP being spent by the states and around 8% spent as tax expenditures. that’s a figure well above any european government, and more philosophically, if the government dictating 2/3s of economic activity isn’t socialism, what is?

    • Erusian says:

      Contrary to popular belief, Bernie Sanders is not an actual socialist, at least not by any internally consistent definition of socialism. In terms of actual policy, he’s a European-style welfare capitalist. His ideas are standard practice in the Scandinavian countries, and only slightly further to the left than what you’d see in France or Germany or even in the US during the FDR/LBJ era. Virtually all political scientists agree that he’s not a socialist.

      This simply isn’t true. I generally find people who say that Sanders’ proposals would be normal in Scandinavia or Europe are woefully underinformed about the actual economic policies of those countries. Sanders is not a “normal” European leftist in a relatively right wing country. He’s a far left populist, part of a general rise we’ve seen in the western world of populism and relatively extreme ideologies. Indeed, his fortunes are quite typical in this regard: the far left wave in Europe receded as he lost his second chance at becoming President.

      To take one example, his plan to make companies set aside part ownership for workers is novel. What Europe has is a system of collective bargaining and governance monitoring in which workers have a healthy reservation of automatic seats. They are not owners of the company. Likewise, his health plan was far more extreme than things like the NHS. His wealth tax is also very uncommon: only Norway has one among Scandinavia, it’s much lower than the one he proposed, and the government in power has pledged to abolish it.

      You mention how a European socialist found Bernie supports to the far left: but this is true of his policies as well.

      Otherwise, I broadly agree. Sanders was either more radical and moderating to win or he was moderate version of far left populism from the start. Either way, he was not as far left as left goes. And these elements are still broadly unpopular and going to remain despite a lot of socialist posing on the left. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a shocking swerve from outright revolutionary rhetoric into some mundane small expansion of the welfare state. Talking about killing all the billionaires swerving into an argument about expanding Obamacare.

      But I do think he would’ve had a much better chance, and likely performed a lot better than he did, especially in places like South Carolina, Florida, and Wisconsin.

      I can tell you that at least in Florida Sanders had two problems: Democratic minorities tend to be extremely unified as a group and Biden was better able to court them. This also appears to have been a huge issue in the Carolinas. Secondly, those who were more independent minded were unusually likely to have experience with actual Social Democrats in Latin America or Europe. Since they left, they tend to be fairly pro-capitalist even where they otherwise agree with Democrats on things like the treatment of immigrants or welfare. There’s a joke that no one really likes Biden but I’ve met a lot of left-leaning Latinos and African Americans who appear to genuinely like him. And a fair number of trade-unionists. I suspect the real people he doesn’t excite is the highly mobilized very left activist wing of the party, which is not the Democratic Party’s main voter base.

      • Nick says:

        I can tell you that at least in Florida Sanders had two problems: Democratic minorities tend to be extremely unified as a group and Biden was better able to court them.

        One more: Bernie’s comments about Cuba were also going to cause him trouble.

      • zzzzort says:

        The comparison of campaign promises to enacted european policies is somewhat suspect though; everything gets compromised. Even comparing campaign promises with europe is hard because, since the US doesn’t have a parliamentary democracy, political promises are viewed even less literally. I don’t think Sanders’ politics would be outside the norm of portugal’s socialist party, spain’s podemos, or corbyn’s labor party.

        • Erusian says:

          Just to be clear, your argument is that Sanders is advocating policies to the left of what far leftists in Europe advocate but that we should ignore that because the practical result will be to the right of where Europe’s policies have gotten?

          • Lambert says:

            Given that those policies are more within the realm of the legislature than the executive, that’s not unreasonable.

          • Erusian says:

            It’s not an unreasonable prediction but’s a poor positive argument for why to vote for Sanders. It’s also an argument that seems motivated. After all, you could (and people did) make the same argument for Trump.

          • Lambert says:

            Yes, that’s more or less what’s happened with Trump.

            What’s he done beyond ‘generic republican’ stuff apart from some restrictions on immigration?

          • zzzzort says:

            It’s not an argument to vote for Sanders (not least because he’s not running for anything at the moment), just an observation. If political platforms were the same as enacted law the world would be a very different place, and probably much more ideologically extreme. Also the deficit would have been eliminated every 4 years. And there would be a border wall, which mexico paid for. And the UK would have been out of the EU for years.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @zzzzort:

            If political platforms were the same as enacted law the world would be a very different place, and probably much more ideologically extreme. Also the deficit would have been eliminated every 4 years. And there would be a border wall, which mexico paid for.

            Would have been entertaining to watch the world not violate the law of non-contradiction when federal elections in Mexico brought to power a Party with “open border with the USA” and “a Constitutional amendment against paying for walls” in their platform.

    • m.alex.matt says:

      Contrary to popular belief, Bernie Sanders is not an actual socialist, at least not by any internally consistent definition of socialism. In terms of actual policy, he’s a European-style welfare capitalist. His ideas are standard practice in the Scandinavian countries, and only slightly further to the left than what you’d see in France or Germany or even in the US during the FDR/LBJ era. Virtually all political scientists and economists agree that he’s not a socialist. (See: here, here, here, here, here, and here.) For that matter, most actual socialists likewise agree that he’s not a socialist.

      Bernie’s platform included policies aimed at handing control over all publicly traded corporations and all businesses with revenue over $100,000,000 to their workers. He was a god damned socialist.

      Saying ‘he just wants what Europe has’ is some mixture of ignorance and gas-lighting.

      • Lambert says:

        *some mixture of ignorance and lying.

        Yes, this is the hill I will die on.

      • zzzzort says:

        This is neither true nor civil; please post more responsibly.

        • Jake R says:

          I’m not a fan of Sanders but now that he’s out of the race I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I was curious though to what extent these claims were accurate.

          Newsweek article

          Some relevant quotes:

          Under the proposal, all publicly traded companies, corporations with $100 million in annual revenue or with a $100 million balance sheet would be required to provide 2 percent or more of company stock to workers each year, until 20 percent of the company is employee-owned.

          Another major component of the Corporate Accountability and Democracy Plan would see workers at the same large corporations elect 45 percent of board seats. Under certain conditions, employees could take full ownership over their companies, with a guarantee of “a right of first refusal,” should a company go up for sale, propose to close or if a factory is moved overseas.

          Now 20% of a company’s shares isn’t “control” in the absolute sense. But it seems to me that between 20% of the shares and 45% of the board plus government loans to bridge the gap, absolute control isn’t far away. I don’t know enough about corporate governance to say exactly how close this is. Regardless these policy proposals are much more extreme than what I would have guessed before looking into this.

          • zzzzort says:

            I think the best comparison for the board seats is german codetermination, where worker control is 1/3 of seats for 500+ employees, and 50% for 2000+ employees (with ceo required to be a shareholder appointee in a way I don’t understand).

      • baconbits9 says:

        Saying ‘he just wants what Europe has’ is some mixture of ignorance and gas-lighting.

        I would say it is close to true in the sense that if you take all of his proposals they have some European analog or close enough to it, what he doesn’t have is many (any?) single countries that do all of them. Its ala carte socialism.

    • sharper13 says:

      Apparently it wasn’t that difficult to find more radical left-wingers inside the Bernie campaign staff, either. So while he may have moderated some of his opinions for the public over his recent campaigns, his campaign itself also tended to attract and tolerate at least some of the Russian-communist-style socialists as well.

      For a point of comparison, imagine that someone published videos of similar Trump campaign staffers who wore swastika tattoos, declared their support for Hitler, and for the “final solution” to the Jews. How would that be received on the left-wing and what would they conclude it meant about Trump, despite his more moderate views in public?

    • Aftagley says:

      Bernie himself didn’t support any of this madness. But it became associated with his campaign nonetheless, both because his 2016 campaign was responsible for sparking the millennial socialist movement in the first place, and because he continued to call himself a socialist even when there were actual socialists in the news using the term to mean something entirely different.

      I disagree, at least mostly. Bernie was sending surrogates out to appear on Chapo Trap House, Bernie-employed staffers were trolling “centrists” on twitter, and he was pretty unambiguous about his desire for a revolution (although, yeah, he probably didn’t explicitly want a violent one).

      His campaign set itself up to be the grease trap of the far left, the face that he ended up with undesirables wasn’t an accident, it was a feature. His thought process would be that he could be controversial enough to activate enough of the youth that he could squeak by in the primary and then count on unified opposition to Trump in the general.

  21. Elena Yudovina says:

    Recently a number of people who are generally in favor of aggressive anti-covid measures have spoken out about how stay-at-home orders may not be / have been worth it. There are a few flavors of this that I’ve seen, but the version I’m interested in goes something like “everyone responsible was already staying at home before orders, everyone irresponsible is ignoring them anyway, why are we adding insult to injury”. (Stylized, but I don’t think strawmanned out of recognition.)

    Both me and my husband have math-on-the-computer type jobs (data scientist and 3D computer vision). Before the stay-at-home guidance, both our groups’ managers had been adamant that we Cannot Work Effectively From Home because of the need for a lot of interaction between group members. (Both groups are now working from home unless it’s absolutely necessary to come into the office, both expect to continue the pattern for the foreseeable future, and in both cases it seems to be tolerably effective, although it’s probably too soon to tell if it’ll stay effective long-term.) There was maybe a week or two when working from home was “allowed if you’re not comfortable coming into the office”, but the official position at our offices didn’t switch to “you should not be in the office” until our state declared a stay-at-home order.

    So, my question: what does it take to get a manager who is gung-ho about face-to-face interaction to accept that, yes, we need to work from home whenever possible — that working from home should be the new norm, and coming into the office should be the exception? Does having a “stay-at-home order” help shift the cultural balance there, or is a “public health guideline” enough? (I’m not sure we had a gap between those, other than a generic impending feeling of doom for guidance.) I’m especially interested from anyone in a managerial position here who might have first-hand insight into how these things work.

    • cassander says:

      I’m a manager who believes in face to face interaction.

      What it took for me was the CEO telling us that the official policy was that anyone who wanted to work from home was allowed to do so on monday, and then on friday that everyone was working from home indefinitely and the cleaning crews wouldn’t be coming to the office. Had it not been for the second order, I’d have kept going into work a few days a week, and insisting that my team do so on occasion. I’d have done this because I’ve got deadlines to meet, and I know they work better when they’re in the same place.

      • DarkTigger says:

        This took several steps in the company I worked for.
        Sometimes in late February or early march the board send a mail: “A global pandemic would be really bad for our industry. To do our part in slowing the spread we stop using air planes for any company related travel activities, and ask the employees to do the same privatly.”

        Next day came a mail: “Everyone who was in Italy in the last 14 days is here by ordered to work from home for at least two weeks, and we ask you to self-isolate in that time.”

        Some days later: “Everyone who was in the following countries is here by ordered to work from home for the next two weeks: Italy, Spain, Southern France, Austria.”
        another day later: “The stay at home order is extended to people who went to Northrhine-Westphalia.”

        Wednesday the next week: “As an exercies for an posible lockdown, we ask all personal who’s presence is not absolutly necessary to stay home on friyday.”
        Wednesday evening the lockdown order by the goverment came, and so the “exercise” got extended indefenetly.

        And yes I agree, I’m a lot less productive from home. And my team has decided to take one office day a week by ourselfs. But on the other hand our management feared that in a situation like this, our customers, wouldn’t need us anyway, because they are closed as well. That’s the reason for the early measures.

      • matthewravery says:

        I know they work better when they’re in the same place.

        I mean, this was my management’s position as of 3 months ago. After seeing their employees work from home and still act like adults and do their jobs, we’ll almost certainly have looser work from home restriction moving forward. I guess YMMV.

        • Garrett says:

          How much of this is because:
          1) Indefinite work-from-home means setting up an effective solution? Eg. I took my monitors and docking station home from work when normally I’d just use my laptop.
          2) When working from the office is the norm, “work from home” is a way of not-quite taking a vacation day while not having to actually burn a PTO day?

          • matthewravery says:

            I think (1) matters a lot, but it’s as much from the corporate side (providing basic tools to enable distance working) than the home side. I will say that one of the first things I did (months ago, unrelated to COVID) when I know I would be teleworking was set myself up with a KVM switch so that I could use my home PC set-up for working. Trying to code (or really do anything that requires a lot of focus and multiple applications) off a laptop is a HUGE pain, in my experience.

            But this is a one-time thing and doesn’t cost much (<$100 for me).

            (2) wasn't a large concern, I think. We have a pretty high-trust work environment, and folks are treated as adults. And I've always thought that it's just as easy to fart around in the office as it is at home.

            The bigger issue (my guess) was the expectation that daily face-to-face interaction was critical for things like collaboration and espirit de corp. Regular video meetings between teams and chat tools have largely (IMO) put this to rest.* Or at least established that folks can be just as effective from home.

            I don’t think we’ll move to a model where most folks are working from home in the future, but I do think it’ll be more common on both ad hoc and scheduled bases moving forward.

            Part of me wonders how generational this is. I grew up with things like AIM from middle school onwards. I’ve had online friends that I didn’t meet in person for years. Voice chat, text chat, etc. are all native to me. Instead of “walk down the hall and knock on the door”, you just send someone a gchat or equivalent. I just don’t get the notion that physical proximity is necessary for building relationships with people. (Which isn’t to say it can’t be useful…)

          • DinoNerd says:

            Setup matters, but that’s one reason I like working from home. If you sit in an open office, you do most of your work anywhere except your desk, and because of that you do it on a laptop, without external monitors.

            Add cheap employers, who mandate a maximum of one external monitor per person, and that not very large – or tiny desks, to the same effect – and the home setup I created for my own convenience, with a KVM and two large monitors, looks really really good.

            OTOH, my brother-in-law started the lockdown by discovering that while his IT department had claimed they’d done as ordered and created an effective work from home environment for days when the office was closed due to bad weather (blizzard-prone location), when the lockdown forced them to test their setup, he discovered that the software he’d been told to install on his laptop didn’t actually work with what they had on their servers.

            Of course this was made more exciting by my sister (his wife) coming down with what in retrospect was a bad cold, right at the same time.

            He’s successfully working from home now, but from a very rocky start.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @matthewravery

            Part of me wonders how generational this is. I grew up with things like AIM from middle school onwards. I’ve had online friends that I didn’t meet in person for years.

            I’m 62, so a bit of a counter-example – but OTOH I’ve been in tech for most of those years, and first worked from home briefly (without net connectivity) in 1985, so maybe not much of a counter-example.

            The next(?) year we got onto Usenet, and could exchange messages with academics in Israel with only a 24-hour turnaround. We started collaborating up a storm ;-()

            And I’m not a manager, having successfully dodged that bullet except for a very brief period in the early 80s.

          • Part of me wonders how generational this is. I grew up with things like AIM from middle school onwards. I’ve had online friends that I didn’t meet in person for years.

            You don’t specify your generation. I was born in 1945 and I had and have online friends I didn’t meet in person for years, or still haven’t met.

        • DisconcertedLoganberry says:

          Upper management in our area have said that they’re pleased the productivity measures they use haven’t fallen in the almost 3 months we’ve been working from home, however they’ve highlighted a few things they’re concerned about.

          – People might be working longer hours without tracking them. Part of this is willingness from not having a commute, but part of this might be not being able to go out at all.
          – Almost no one is taking PTO. They’re expecting it to cause issues when people are able to go places and all want to take PTO at once. They’ve warned that they’re likely to actually use the clause in our contracts saying they can deny requests to use PTO which hitherto has been pretty unheard of (for engineers at least) to the point where almost none of us know how to use the official system to get time off approved. Anyone near the accrual limit is being asked to take time off now.

          • Aftagley says:

            People might be working longer hours without tracking them. Part of this is willingness from not having a commute, but part of this might be not being able to go out at all.

            I am probably working at least 1-2 hours extra each day because of these factors, as well as kind of a reinforcing bias. If everyone else is still working at 5, that means I might get new taskers/emails at 5, which means I’m going to be working until 6.

        • cassander says:

          First, temporary work from home for people used to the office is different from full time work from home being the norm.

          Second, it’s not just individual productivity, it’s the benefits of being in a shared space and interacting with people there. We have another team that does similar work to mine that is scattered around the world and all remote. I see the connections that fly on the rare occasions you them in the same room and how much gets done that wouldn’t be otherwise, because A has a problem/solution that B doesn’t know about and wouldn’t think to ask about.

          We definitely will have loser work from home rules going forward, but I’m not a fan.

          • matthewravery says:

            IDK what kind of work you do, but one thing that’s been an obvious productivity booster to me is greater control of when I switch contexts of my work. In the office, I’m subject to the whims of everyone walking by my office. If they want to chat, they knock. It may be important, it may not be important, but regardless, I’ve got to take my head up out of my keyboard and have an interaction. This can be a major pain and slow my work substantially.

            Having someone talk to me in person makes it more likely that I’ll address whatever their concern is immediately rather than wait until I’m at a natural stopping point. This add cognitive load and decreases productivity.

            The extent to which this occurs probably depends a lot on the type of work environment and type of work you’re doing, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

          • AG says:

            In contrast, the person who talked to you that got their concern addressed immediately had their productivity increased.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Couple things:
      1. I may be a manager, but that means I have to play politics with other managers. Some managers are not allowed to have their people work from home and become quite jealous.
      2. If you miss a deliverable or otherwise become difficult to work with for any reason, many of which may be no fault of your own, it is very easy for other managers to point at your lack of office presence as the key driver. It is an easy scapegoat, and many managers like easy scapegoats, just like anyone else.
      3. Other managers and other teams have preferred methods of working, and many of them want face-to-face contact. I still have people that call me, even knowing that I need to share a screen with them (Which requires Zoom, which our company pays for us to use). But 90% of their communication IS calling, so they don’t want to adjust their 10%.
      4. A lot of comradery is built up with in-person interactions. This is important social capital. It is as important as anything else you do. The company cannot function without social capital. Most people don’t function well as a team if they all dislike or distrust each other.
      5. Some things are just easier to discuss face-to-face. Actually it’s a lot easier to explain math stuff face-to-face, at least to non-numbers people. I can see when people’s eyes are glazing over, I can see when they are getting frustrated, I can see when they “get it.” I cannot do this as easily over the phone and I definitely cannot do it over email. You can be the smartest person in the room and it does not matter if no one understands you.
      6. I don’t want you to just understand what you do, I need you to understand what other people do and how you fit into a team. A very smart person got a bit sassy with me today because I blocked a whole bunch of new products: the new products were coming in at such a high cost that a flagship company capital investment was about to have its margin slashed quite significantly. Apparently I violated some sort of sacred protocol because certain costs were supposed to be questioned earlier (long before I ever saw them). Yeah, that guy doesn’t “get it,” I am the Veto Point, and I get to exercise Veto above any other established procedure or process because I am the Veto Point that makes sure we don’t roll a cost that bankrupts us.

      That being said, there’s a lot more support for WFH now. I don’t know what the New Normal will be. I am hoping 2-3 days WFH becomes standard. That will open up a LOT more jobs for me. I cannot take jobs in downtown Chicago because the daily commute is between 2.5 and 3 hours: that’s not as bad if I only have to make it twice a week.

      • I cannot do this as easily over the phone and I definitely cannot do it over email.

        Why can’t you do it with Skype or one of its competitors?

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          For most, limited screen space. I typically have to show numbers to multiple people and multiple people do not display on a screen very well while I am also screen-sharing. And I work on a big screen TV.

          Also, most people do not want to use the webcam. It feels invasive. They don’t engage as well with a screen as they do a person anyways.

    • DinoNerd says:

      what does it take to get a manager who is gung-ho about face-to-face interaction to accept that, yes, we need to work from home whenever possible

      Damned if I know. Before the covid-19 epidemic, my management had drunk the open office Koolaid – the best possible setting for effective software engineering is a crowded room with glass walls (providing both total lack of visual privacy and lots of echoes).

      Or they’d drunk the save-money-by-packing-engineers-into-sardine-cans, but-tell-them-it’s-to-improve-productivity-and-they’ll-feel-good-about-it Koolaid, like my immediately previous employer. (That employer was caught saying one thing to managers and something else to engineers; I choose to believe what they told the managers.)

      Realistically, I do better when I’m not isolated, and when I can get help fast – less well when I can’t think straight for the noise – but unless you are a manager, your chance of getting a workspace where you can hear yourself think is negligible. (Managers often have large, empty private offices they visit once or twice a day between meetings ;-()

      Forced to chose between sitting in a 1960s typing pool layout, and having next to no contact with coworkers, guess which I pick? I’m loving the increased use of Slack and video meetings brought on by the lockdown.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s hard to imagine that there’s any savings available from economizing on office space at the cost of decreasing your software engineers’ productivity.

        • Lambert says:

          Makes you wonder what area of office space costs as much as each employee’s salary.

          • johan_larson says:

            It’s odd that the question of how much space and privacy white-collar workers need to be productive is even up for debate. There are a lot of white-collar workers, they do valuable work, and many of them work for large, sophisticated organizations that can afford to spend some money on research. You’d think this would be one of the most carefully studied issues in all of management literature.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            You have to give up a lot of office space to just squeeze in one more employee.
            Our staff makes around $70k. Plus the fringes, and using Google’s estimate of $40/sq ft, an employee’s annual wage is equivalent to about 2400 sq ft. That’s a big suburban house.

            A better comparison is that a 6×6 cubicle costs you $1400, and 10×10 office costs you $4800. And it’s actually worse than that, because you can shove cubicles right on top of each other, which you can’t with offices, and offices probably require more support work with walls, electricity, hvac, etc.

            An extra few thousand per employee isn’t anything to sneeze at. If you asked an employee “would you rather increase your cubicle size from 6×6 to 10×10 or get an extra 5% in your 401k,” most people are probably going to take the 401k option.

            However, for managers and above, probably an attractive perk worth considering.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            It’s odd that the question of how much space and privacy white-collar workers need to be productive is even up for debate. There are a lot of white-collar workers, they do valuable work, and many of them work for large, sophisticated organizations that can afford to spend some money on research. You’d think this would be one of the most carefully studied issues in all of management literature.

            My suspicion is that the amount of space per employee you need before you stop seeing measurable changes in productivity is less than the amount you need before your employees stop complaining that lack of space is effecting their productivity.

            C.F. teaching/learning styles, where a lot of people insist that they learn better if taught in a particular way, but my understanding is that the evidence suggests that this is not actually the case.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Most employees would prefer better working conditions (friendlier, better gear or offices) to a higher salary, and it is a common mistake to think otherwise. So if you invest $4k per worker getting them an office, some if not all counts as compensation that will keep them working for you. And if you get more productivity that’s even better.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Ehhhh.
            I don’t think that’s accurate, but I guess it varies by industry. I don’t work FAANG. I’ve worked corporate accounting and I’ve worked plant accounting. The kinds of people stuck in ever-shrinking cubicles are making $50k-$80k/year. Putting them in a bigger cubicle is a big chunk of their compensation. Putting them in an office is mind-boggling.

            Just imagine going to an interview and being told that your salary is gonna by $5k lower…..BUT, your cubicle is 10×10 instead of 6×6! Isn’t that a sweet deal?

            Also, there’s wayyyyyyy better things to spend money if you want to retain workers. Parties, gifts, etc. This company and our my last company had full coffee bars, with baristas, fresh fruit and snacks, and beer taps in the employee cafeteria. Hell, if you’re throwing around thousands, you might as well send all of your employees to Disney World at a subsidized rate or something. You can probably get a discounted rate if you’re sending out everyone.

            Should also add that major companies are NOT afraid of spending more money if they think it will attract them talent. A lot of companies are shifting corporate HQs to much higher-priced urban offices in part to attract employees who want to work in the city.

            And, finally….again, disclaimer, not a FAANG employee: Most staff analysts can work just fine in a freaking open office. It’s annoying as hell, but successful staff will continue to perform well, because successful staff have talents that usually exceed staff responsibilities. These people are identified and promoted. Regular staff are going to make a crap ton of errors even if you give them an office because they are error-prone. They also are only going to work productively 4-5 hours a day anyways.

          • Deiseach says:

            Also, there’s wayyyyyyy better things to spend money if you want to retain workers. Parties, gifts, etc. This company and our my last company had full coffee bars, with baristas, fresh fruit and snacks, and beer taps in the employee cafeteria. Hell, if you’re throwing around thousands, you might as well send all of your employees to Disney World at a subsidized rate or something. You can probably get a discounted rate if you’re sending out everyone.

            Oh yeah, because when I get my next electricity bill I can pay it in barter with the free fruit from the office canteen 🙂

            Stuff like this only works at a certain level of remuneration when you’re not concerned with how much of your pay packet is going on living expenses, and I rather imagine any employees who make too free use of the beer taps while at work will find themselves becoming ex-employees.

            If it’s a choice between “slightly more money”, “same money but can work in a reasonable space” or “same money, noisy crowded space but hey we’ll give you all the free coffee you can drink”, free coffee is going to be way down on my list of priorities when job-seeking.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The actual trade-off for the people we are trying to recruit is:
            A. 5% less pay to commute an hour every single day into the suburbs so work with the cast of the Office, but, hey, your cubicle is 10×10!
            B. Straight pay, take public transit 20 minutes to work in a city location with lots of restaurants and bars around you, lots of fun young people to work with…and you have to work in an open office, but we have free beer.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            Good point. If the people you want to attract are young singles who like living in crowded urban areas and can afford to, they won’t want to commute to the suburbs where rents are cheaper and parking is free, and you can give everyone more space.

            We see that a lot in the Bay Area. Some companies place themselves in San Francisco. Older potential employees probably live in the suburbs, and are faced with a horrific commute, expensive parking, and a tiny workspace. My bridge partner had to take such a job recently, and he’s absolutely loving the covid-19 lockdown, because working from home gives him 2 free hours every workday, as well as free parking and less expensive lunches – on top of not sitting in a sardine can.

            Most suburban-resident employees select themselves out of the applicant pool for such positions, unless they have no equivalent opportunities in better locations. Given age-related correlations, you can load your staff with youngsters without a hint of age discrimination.

            Other companies have two sites, one in the city and one in the south bay, and allow employees to pick their work location.

            Still others (Apple, Google) have their main buildings in suburbia, and run plush wifi and table equipped commuter busses down from the city, on which many employees accomplish a fair amount of work.

            And still others base themselves in the suburbs, and their applicant pool selects for older, stodgier, and more likely to have children.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Given a choice between productivity and even just the mere appearance of control – not actual control, just the illusion of it – a heck of a lot of managers pick b. This is a known bug in human wetware.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Well, my previous employer was more of a sales company than an engineering company, in spite of what they sold being highly technical. So the senior executive team understood (and identified with) sales and salespeople, but didn’t really understand engineers.

          Perhaps more importantly, the facilities budget would not be impacted by lost engineering productivity unless/until the company got itself into serious financial trouble; that would probably take long enough that the senior facilities decision makers would already have new employers.

          Finally, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. If the whole industry is doing it, your productivity is no worse than that of your competitors. And you (management) get the pleasure of micromanaging your peons, and having obviously better working conditions to emphasize your status.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            I think a whole lot of big decisions are made for cargo-cult/following the herd reasons, with rational justifications being spun up after the fact. Open offices seem likely to be one of those, but the world is full of them. Fads are extra-visible in management and education, but I think they’re everywhere.

          • Matt M says:

            Nobody will ever convince me that the reason every corporation has open offices now is anything other than “Because Google did it and Google is pretty cool so if we do it too people will think we’re cool like Google is”

          • cassander says:

            @Matt M

            You also get more workers per square foot, so it saves money.

          • Matt M says:

            Right but I think that’s a tangential point. As in, I think even if it somehow cost more money, everyone would be doing it anyway, just to copy the cool kids.

          • cassander says:

            @matt M

            I think both points are essential. If google had announced that their internal studies proved everyone should have an office and built that instead of open offices, you wouldn’t get as many copycats because everyone would look at their facilities budget and say “this is going to cost us a fortune, I’d rather spend the money on other things. Google can keep their fancy offices and free sandwiches.” But when google does something that also saves money, then you have two good reasons to pitch it. It’s the confluence of trendy and cheap that leads to mass imitation, not just trendy.

        • cassander says:

          the savings from less office space are highly visible. the loss in efficiency is a lot harder to detect.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I do think the orders make a pretty big difference in the sense that a decent chunk of companies would expect their employees to come in after it was lifted. Some might allow exceptions, but that’s likely to be held against the people using them and become a problem.

      ADBG below explains some of the dynamics that would drive this—regardless of whether it is working ok enough and supported by the employees, some places will absolutely not be okay with extending work at home if they don’t have to. Or there will be enough fighting over it to cause issues. I don’t think guidelines do much. There are definitely companies committed to allowing WHF long term no matter what, but I’m guessing they’re a real minority and concentrated in specific industries. I imagine most companies will allow flexibility for some employees to work from home, but not others.

      Of course, if the stay at home orders last long enough, enough bosses and even workers may decide they’ve had enough that they get the orders rescinded. Especially when we get better data on risks and time frame.

      I think it is true that behavior patterns are not mainly driven by the orders themselves at this point, but by personal preference. Workplaces have people of different preferences, and also incentives, which is the problem. If the boss prefers workers come in, then they don’t have much of a choice without an order. I do believe some businesses will suffer without the employees coming in and if it persists, the employee may be out of a job altogether, so I wouldn’t be too quick to assume leaving the the orders in place is clearly the best way to protect the interest of all workers. It may be more reasonable to let them make the choice whether to resign and look for a job that will let them work from home, or take the risk of going in to avoid losing their job.

      Also, plenty of young people would go into work if called back by bosses—some are quite concerned about this, but many more are probably worried about job security and getting out of the house, especially if they live alone. I think the lockdown is all that keeps them at home. Bottom line is that it absolutely makes a difference to have lockdowns, but I’m not sure how long it remains workable. Of course, when they are lifted, I can see a frenzy of lawsuits or just media controversies over this issue of employees being pressured to come in. Also over respecting social distancing in the office–some people are going to be way more into that than others. It certainly makes a difference as to the spread of the virus, but I don’t think trying to contain it in this manner is worthwhile.

      • keaswaran says:

        > a decent chunk of companies would expect their employees to come in after it was lifted.

        It depends a lot on their work location. If they’re in a skyscraper building downtown where everyone needs to file through a single series of elevators to get to the office, then they probably will continue work-from-home until a vaccine or herd immunity is achieved, regardless of the orders.

        • mtl1882 says:

          While that would make logical sense and will probably make some small difference, I think most bosses at big firms, of the type most commonly found in skyscrapers, won’t think much of the elevator risk. Most of those places aren’t going to be amenable to WFH unless legally required. Relative risk just isn’t the determining factor. I would bet many employees would be willing, but would expect some pushback. Apparently the elevators aren’t necessarily that risky compared to simple office interaction. Close talking is the problem, and those firms aren’t going to be able to avoid it. Any office will struggle to avoid it, I think. For most people, it’s too hard to resist close talking when you’re in a familiar place with people you know well.

    • John Schilling says:

      So, my question: what does it take to get a manager who is gung-ho about face-to-face interaction to accept that, yes, we need to work from home whenever possible — that working from home should be the new norm, and coming into the office should be the exception?

      Are you willing to accept the possibility that the “gung-ho” manager will never ever accept this because they are not wrong? Or, what does it take to convince the work-from-home absolutist to accept that, yes, we need to be working in the office whenever possible, that working from home should be a rare exception?

      The real test, the one that will convince just about everyone, is when the firms that follow one strategy start collapsing into bankruptcy and ruin because they are outcompeted by the firms that follow the other. Or because the one strategy is so badly flawed that it will fail even with no competition. But sorting out winning from losing strategies is one thing markets are unambiguously good at.

      Until they sort it out, don’t expect everyone to start agreeing with you just because the state issued an “order” or a “guideline” that says to do things the way you prefer. If it’s an order, they’ll probably go along with it because they A: have to and B: can at least hope their competitors will be under the same order. But to convince them your way is better, you’ll have to show them that your way is better. And it’s going to be hard to do that without allowing the competition to take place.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Or, what does it take to convince the work-from-home absolutist to accept that, yes, we need to be working in the office whenever possible, that working from home should be a rare exception?

        Evidence. Real data comparing different working conditions along with measures of results.

        I’m not a WFH absolutist. I am an enough-space-and-enough-quiet absolutist, and there is research showing the effects on software developer productivity, at least in the narrower sense of code quantity and quality.

        FWIW, the decision makers at my previous company were confronted with this evidence. They insisted it didn’t matter and we needed to do the same experiment all over again. They eventually ended up with staff who cared least about the 3 linked issues: lying, agressively ignoring research, and degrading their engineers’ working conditions. (Yay SF Bay area – there are always software engineering jobs available; voting with one’s feet is workable.)

        I actually don’t believe I’m doing my best work here from home – but better work than I’d be doing in the panopticon at the main office. (Normally, I spend 1-2 days a week there, and the rest of my time at a small, under-populated peripheral building where I can generally hear myself think.)

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          @DinoNerd: you are obviously correct that engineering work is better done in a locked room by yourself. Your job, at most companies, is not engineering work: it’s to maximize your social capital, and thereby the amount of money they pay you. Doing good engineering work is one way to achieve that. Other ways are more effective, such as “making sure your boss remembers you exist” or “being in the room where decisions happen.” People don’t have emotional object permanence; if you’re far away, you simply will not matter to them compared to the people they see everyday. Similarly, you’ll have no real voice in how things get done, which means you’ll get no credit for it either.

          In a less sociopathic framing, other activities that don’t work remotely that are still of high value:
          * Brainstorming together
          * Training new people
          * Building social rapport with your coworkers…

          • DinoNerd says:

            To the extent that management succumbs to the tendency to reward people for their social skills, and nothing much else, they will wind up with staff who are good at social skills, and nothing much else.

            If they farther succumb to the tendency to reward people who use their social skills in [soft] sociopathic ways (office politics), without either occassionally cracking down on those who overdo it, or frequently also rewarding other things, they will wind up with a company culture consisting primarily of vicious political fights. Such a company will only prosper while they have a cash cow left over from better days, or if they can make money by similar interpersonal activities.

            I’ve seen those companies, and interviewed some of those they eventually lay off. I’m always a bit concerned that they might bring their company culture with them into a new environment.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Again, not FAANG, but I don’t see how you don’t reward social skills, which inevitably results in rewarding political skill to some level. Organizations are full of people and you need to know how to work with people effectively in order to actually be effective. At the very least, you need communication skills, because other people cannot help you if they cannot understand you, even if all parties are well-intentioned.

            I’ll give an example: 2/3 of our supervisors are out on first shift. The employees are taking advantage in predictable ways: showing up late, long lunches, punching out late, blah blah blah. Finance (IE ADBG) still audits that shit.
            The way you communicate this is something like: “Hey Production Manager. We typically see X number of Y issue in a day. Since your supervisors are out, we see 20X. This requires all of your supervisors to audit and fix punch cards, and will reflect in the month-end report to the Factory Manager if it does not improve. How can we recommunicate our time policy to all shifts while complying with social distancing?”
            It says:
            1. People are time stealing like crazy
            2. It’s quickly getting out of control, and as word spreads, EVERYONE is going to do it.
            3. This creates MORE work for you team, because they still have to fix it.
            4. If you don’t fix it, I’m escalating it. ***
            5. This is fixable by simply telling your employees that we are not stupid and we know when you are stealing time. Do that, write up a few people, and this whollllleeeeee problem goes away.

            What a direct report of mine did was send a long-winded email with attached spreadsheets, talking about findings and blah blah I couldn’t even read it. This direct report used to work in audit, and is used to everyone reading her emails in exacting detail, because you don’t ignore an auditor.

            But she’s not an auditor anymore. If she communicates poorly, people delete her emails. And that’s on her, not the people deleting her emails.

            ***A lot of people think “come on, it’s not that big a deal,” but we are assigned Go Finds/Go Gets that are only a few percent of the total budget. An aggravation like this on a systemic basis can easily increase our conversion budget by .5%, which is enough to materially damage overall performance metrics. In low margin industries, it can be fatal, and certainly very damaging. We struggle A LOT just to find projects worth, like, .05% of our conversion, and we generally tack a little things together with a few major projects to hit our metrics.
            COVID is already aggravating our numbers, so any additional spend is just another kick to the nuts.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Dino, I didn’t say they only reward social skills, I said that you have to have them. More generally, you have to be in their society, and the guy locked in a room 500 miles away isn’t.

            You may not believe in office politics but they believe in you. Saying that companies that get taken over by politics fail is true but not really relevant; you have to make the ones you do have work.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @Andrew Hunter

            Dino, I didn’t say they only reward social skills, I said that you have to have them. More generally, you have to be in their society, and the guy locked in a room 500 miles away isn’t.

            While I was very cranky this morning, I will say in my own defense that I thought I had earlier made clear that the problem I had was with the tendency for some people to over-reward social skills at the expense of everything else – as well as also implying that that when that happens, they often also overreward specifically those social skills that are most harmful to the community, company, or other organization.

            To the extent that management succumbs to the tendency to reward people for their social skills, and nothing much else, they will wind up with staff who are good at social skills, and nothing much else.

            When I have to, I consciously manipulate people into having positive feelings about me. The more I have to do this (consciously), the worse feelings I tend to have about them, but it’s pretty much a matter of self defence. Often I can take on the social role of “that braniac geek without whom this place would cease to function”, “absent-minded professor,” or “trusted advisor to up-and-coming manager” – and I seek out those roles, and organizations which make them available, as they allow me to focus primarily on what I’m good at and enjoy.

            For the record, I’ve met two or three people in management who had, IMO, really good social skills, as I’d use the term if it it didn’t already have another meaning. Also one management-bound engineer of the same type. These people could work with – and get good work from – just about anyone, rather than having either a “one-size-fits-all” motivation/communication skill, or a belief that their staff were programmable robots who would simply do whatever they were ordered to – including correctly guessing that part that was ambiguous, unstated, or not intended to be obeyed. And that’s in more than 40 years in the workforce.

          • SamChevre says:

            Seconding DinoNerd about the genuine importance and rarity of “good social skills” in the “manages many different people and relationships effectively” sense. I’ve been in the professional workforce for 20 years; I’ve worked for exactly one person who was genuinely good at getting the best possible work from the team.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Sam: Agree. Actually great people skills are rare, and management is a difficult and valuable skill.

            All I’m claiming is that with any of these people–the good managers or the bad, and the same for IC coworkers–you need to be in their presence. A lot. We’re just not wired to treat that random guy on VC the same way.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @Andrew Hunter

            We’re just not wired to treat that random guy on VC the same way.

            You’re not. A lot of autistic people are. Some of us don’t even need video chat – we’ll treat the random guy on email or Slack the same way, or the only difference will be whether we’ve encountered them before, and, if so, what the encounter was like.

      • Elena Yudovina says:

        Are you willing to accept the possibility that the “gung-ho” manager will never ever accept this because they are not wrong?

        It sounds like I wasn’t clear about the intent of the question. I actually prefer working in the office, and am definitely less effective right now for not being able to do that. (I started a new job the day my state closed down.) I might even, on balance, prefer an open floor plan over the academic everyone-has-an-office system, although both have advantages and drawbacks.

        What I was trying to understand, though, was whether the stay-at-home orders were useful for advancing the goal of “everyone stays at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus”, and it sounds like the answer is a resounding “yes” — more people are working from home because there’s an order to do so, than would be if it were just guidance.

      • keaswaran says:

        I think there are two separate questions here. Now that the orders have been issued and everyone has started it for a few weeks, are the orders necessary in order to keep businesses in work-from-home mode until the existence of a vaccine? Will this example be enough to keep allowing work-from-home after a vaccine? My guess is that the answer to the first is yes and the second is no. If anything, once we have a vaccine, many companies will be much stricter about working in the office, after seeing the muddle we’ve done during this period.

  22. TimG says:

    I’m looking for science book recommendations. I want to say “popular science” — because I’m not looking for text books or those that expect significant expertise in the subject — but I am fairly scientifically literate so a lot of “popular science” books I find too basic.

    In terms of subjects, I’m open to anything — but I think I gravitate toward life sciences. Lately I’ve been really interested in what we’ve learned about the world through our recent ability to (genetically) sequence everything. I would also say that I prefer books that spend more time on the science and less on the history of the scientists that discovered it (this may just be a way to pad a subject to book-length.)

    The most recent book I read was Some Assembly Required. I loved the subject matter. But the science didn’t go very deep. I didn’t learn a whole lot — other than the history of the science around genetics. As I said above, I find the history part way less interesting.

    So if you’ve read something recently that you really recommend, I’d love to hear it!

    • Bobobob says:

      The Vital Question, about the role of mitochondria in the evolution of life, has previously been name-checked here. It’s an excellent book.

      Also recommended:

      Richard Dawkins, The Concestor’s Tale
      Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
      Christian de Duve, Vital Dust

      There’s also Lynn Margulis’ Five Kingdoms, which is kind of a cross between a popular science book and a textbook.

      I know there are more, they will come to me eventually.

      • Lambert says:

        +1 for Dawkins’ biology books.

      • TimG says:

        Right up my alley! I’ve read the Vital Question a couple years ago. Really enjoyed it.

        I had read The Selfish Gene many years ago and found it mind-altering. Then I got turned off from Dawkins after he got on his atheism kick (this coming from an atheist.). Maybe I’ll give him another try.

        I’d read some Dennett long ago. Is Darwin’s Dangerous Idea more science or more philosophy. I feel lame saying it, by philosophy bores me.

        Thanks for the suggestions!

        • keaswaran says:

          The Ancestor’s Tale is a great book – probably the best he wrote since The Selfish Gene.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich. An introduction to recent advances in population genetics by one of the most prominent scientists in the field. It functions like a history of different peoples.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Mathematics – the new Golden Age by Keith Devlin is an excellent pop maths book.

      • TimG says:

        Hadn’t heard of that. Adding it to my list.

        Just curious: how much of the book is Math and how much is History of Math?

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          It’s a long while since I read it, but from what I recall it’s almost all talking about ideas, not people, with some of those ideas presented in chronological succession so you can see how the steps a problem was solved in.

    • Dragor says:

      You have probably already been recommended Superforecasting, The Righteous Mind, Thinking Fast and Slow, The Secret of Our Success et cetera.

      Good books you maybe haven’t been recommended: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, The Dictator’s Handbook, and Make it Stick.

      • TimG says:

        I almost picked up Superforecasting some time back. For some reason I got the impression is was more “popular” than “science.” What was your experience?

        • Dragor says:

          It’s good science, and it’s quite respected in its field, but it makes you want to pick up a hobby you probably don’t have the time to learn sooooooo if you’re inclined to scrupulosity induced insecurity, I guess it could be harmful. If you actually are in the mood for developing a new characteristic, it’s great. In either case, it gives some useful lenses to view the world.

    • For more-advanced-than-usual popular science books related to life sciences, I strongly recommend everything by Steven Vogel — essentially biomechanics, about how the machinery of living things work. Fascinating and charmingly written. “Life in Moving Fluids” is a classic; I particularly like “Life’s Devices.”

      Somewhat similar: “On Size and Life” by Thomas McMahon & John Tyler Bonner.

      Philip Ball and Nick Lane are other authors I’d recommend.

      Though it’s at the usual technical level of popular science books, “The Gene: An Intimate History”
      by Siddhartha Mukherjee is excellent (especially the first two-thirds).

      At the risk of being self-serving, I’ll note that I’m writing a popular science book that will cover, among other things, the DNA sequencing revolution. It’s described here, and there’s a link to a Google Form near the bottom of the post if you’d like an email when it’s complete.

      • TimG says:

        Oh, wow. I hadn’t heard of Steven Vogel. Looks like my kind of writer. I’m about to give The Life of a Leaf a try!

        BTW, your book looks like the kind of thing I’d really enjoy. How far away is the publishing date?

        • Thanks! I think the publication date is some time in 2021, though this is to be determined. I’m under contract to finish writing late this summer, and there is typically a few months of review. I’m not actually sure what determines the timeline after that.

      • keaswaran says:

        I was going to recommend Bright Earth by Philip Ball – it’s about the history of paint pigment, which sounds weird and niche, but is a book I’ve kept referring back to in many conversations over the past decade! It also helped me understand so much more about the history of art, and how some movements were driven by the invention of new pigments (like the differences between Raphael and Caravaggio, and the colors of the impressionists).

      • zzzzort says:

        Holy crap, I hadn’t read your user name. I didn’t realize you were writing a book; super excited to read it!

    • zzzzort says:

      Shroedinger’s ‘What is life’ is surprisingly readable, if more philosophical than biological.

      I’ve heard good things about Yong’s ‘I contain multitudes’, but I haven’t read it yet.

      And lastly, I really liked ‘Life as a matter of fat’, but it’s very close to my own research interests probably too much of a text book. I had to mention it though.

      • TimG says:

        I feel bad that I didn’t know about What is Life. I generally shy away from philosophy. But I think the author sells that one. Added to the list!

        I Contain Multitudes is going to the top of the list 😉

        Thanks!

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I recently read an old book, Life Ascending, by Nick Lane, a biochemist who talks about the biochemical basis for some major evolutionary innovations in life’s history. He has some newer, and presumably more up to date books that I haven’t read, but I really enjoyed it.

      I am not qualified to judge how accurately he presented the material, but it was pretty science-y

  23. FLWAB says:

    New Trump executive order commands federal agencies to cut or waive regulations on business in order to help the economy recover from Coronavirus.

    Agencies should address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery, consistent with applicable law and with protection of the public health and safety, with national and homeland security, and with budgetary priorities and operational feasibility.

    Notably it also requires that all federal agencies should “bear the burden of proving an alleged violation of law; the subject of enforcement should not bear the burden of proving compliance.” Which I think is a big deal: as far as I understand it, if the EPA slaps you with a fine you generally have to prove that the fine was unwarranted. This EO shifts that burden of proof.

    I have heard some commentators saying that this EO is unique in American history because it is the only time that a President has reacted to a state of emergency by giving up power instead of grabbing more. Can anyone think of a counterexample?

    • sharper13 says:

      So you’re saying Trump isn’t a fascist dictator who wants to control everything just like Hitler?

      More seriously, this does seem like a positive twist on the “never let a crisis go to waste” theory of government. Unfortunately, it follows a wee bit of what might be considered excessive spending, of which the jury is still out on how temporary or permanent that spending is going to end up being, sucking resources toward government re-allocation.

      • Garrett says:

        What one President can do with a phone and a pen another can do with the same.
        Really improving things would require a change in Federal law. I’d like to see the EEOC eliminated, for example.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      by giving up power instead of grabbing more

      Federal agencies are created by Congress, and ultimately Congress has both oversight of them and the ability to modify their regulations (the President runs them). So is this the president giving up power, or favoring the balance of power toward the presidency versus congress?

      • FLWAB says:

        The agencies are created by Congress, but they give more power to the Executive Branch. While Congress could force an agency to modify their regulations by passing a bill, the President can force them to add or change regulations with a memo. Agencies like the EPA are given a mandate by Congress, but they generally determine how that mandate will be carried out which gives them significant power. That power ultimately belongs to the President, which is why he can order all agencies to stop enforcing bothersome regulations with a stroke of his pen and without Congress’s input.

  24. hash872 says:

    Fun ways to change the US political system for the better (inspired by a couple of poly sci books I’ve read recently). Only the first one is an Actually Serious Idea, so don’t give me too hard of a time- just floating these out there for fun:

    1. The One I’m Kinda Serious About. Seeing as US states can allocate their electors to the Electoral College however they like as far as I can tell (Nebraska & Maine already have their own funky system): the other 48 states start to allocate proportionally, vs. winner take all. (This argument assumes basic familiarity with the US electoral system, I don’t feel like explaining it from scratch). I.e. right now Missouri gets 10 electors, and they’re on a winner take all basis- candidate A wins Missouri by 50.5% of the vote, he gets all 10. In this system, candidate A would get 5-6 electoral votes, and his opponent the remaining ones. (There would undoubtedly have to be rounding up rules).

    Argument why: with most states as winner take all now, vast vast swathes of Americans are literally disenfranchised- their votes are (literally) not counted. We’d still preserve the existing Electoral College system, but now Everyone’s Vote Counts, whether Republicans in California or Democrats in I dunno Utah. Seems like this would preserve the social compact a bit, without the radicalism of the Popular Vote system Democrats are pushing now. No Constitutional changes required.

    I am half serious about-

    2. The US (stealing a pretty good idea from China, I think?) forms councils or boards for specific long-term policy planning around key parts of the economy (I think we already have this for national security stuff). So we’d have a Tech Board, a Finance Board, a Higher Education Board, maybe a Manufacturing Board, and so on. Members would be appointed and serve terms like Federal Reserve members, and they’d be picked for expertise- academics, ex-CEOs, etc. Perhaps we’d have strict anti-lobbying rules (they’re not allowed to join their industry after their term is up) to prevent corruption.

    This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning. Subject matter experts could be free to take the long view, to advance the interests of the US within their field without having to run for election every x number of years. Maybe their one ‘power’ could be that they can introduce 1 bill per year into the House, which of course is free to vote it down, but gives them a bit more heft than mere advisors. Just a thought.

    I understanding this will literally never happen, but-

    3. Establish a minimum size to be a US ‘state’, and if your population is below that, you’re legally a territory a la Puerto Rico, Guam, etc. I think we’ve all heard the complaint ‘Wyoming gets as many Senators as California’ (the left never says that about Hawaii or Vermont, which are not *that* much bigger). Shooting from the hip I think 1 million should be the bare minimum size, though really 1.5 would be better (this would disenfranchise 10 states). The absurd political power waged by tiny states is a bit much, and there’s nothing legally new about the ‘territory’ designation. Everyone knows that even the smallest state gets 2 Senators and so on- but who’s to say what a ‘state’ is? ‘Territory’ is a concept that already exists, has for hundreds of years, and there’s no real reason why Wyoming is a ‘state’ but Puerto Rico is a ‘territory’.

    While this will essentially never happen, one thing that could make it slightly more palatable is that US citizens who are residents of a territory don’t pay federal income tax. You could let current small states vote on this in a referendum- lose political power in exchange for no federal income tax. With anti-tax feeling in the US high, it might be a closer bet than you’d think (I think the Treasury could afford to lose Wyoming’s tax receipts).

    Edit to include: Yes, disenfranchising 5-10 states against their will is of course politically impossible. But if you just passed a bill that said ‘well if you’d like to reduce your taxes, you can pass this via referendum….’. If Wyoming voluntarily disenfranchises itself- who’s to argue?

    • cassander says:

      with most states as winner take all now, vast vast swathes of Americans are literally disenfranchised- their votes are (literally) not counted

      if your 3 friends want to go to lunch at mcdonalds and you don’t bother to argue for going to burger king, you’re not being disenfranchised, you’re just losing the vote.

      This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning. Subject matter experts could be free to take the long view, to advance the interests of the US within their field without having to run for election every x number of years.

      ah, unaccountable power. What’s not to love? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s great work if you can get it, but we won’t all get it, will we?

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        if your 3 friends want to go to lunch at mcdonalds and you don’t bother to argue for going to burger king, you’re not being disenfranchised, you’re just losing the vote.

        This has absolutely nothing to do with hash872’s argument. What you’re describing is a simple popular vote, i.e. what we would have in the US if we abolished the electoral college entirely.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Hash is saying my vote as a Republican doesn’t count in Illinois because Illinois always goes Democratic. This is wrong. I am just outvoted.

          If my 3 friends always vote to go to McDonald’s, I am not being disenfranchised when we always go to McDonald’s. I am just outvoted.

          • hash872 says:

            Voting in the US federal system, with the electors in the middle between the voters & the candidates, can’t be reduced to the McDonald’s analogy, sorry. The sum of all the losing voters in all the winner-take-all states is absolutely enormous and, expressed as a proportional number of electors, could be enough to swing an election. If we’d had proportional elector representation for the past 200+ years, several presidential elections would’ve gone differently, including the most recent one.

            The number of disenfranchised Republicans in California alone is probably larger than several US states

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            It’s counted (and outvoted) in Illinois. It’s not counted in the national total that actually determines the outcome of the election. If it were, you could combine your minority Republican vote with Californian Republican’s minority votes so they actually had an effect proportional to the number of voters.

            We’re talking about a situation where, nationally, the minority “outvoted” side sometimes wins, so the McDonald’s scenario is clearly not analogous.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            “This system seems unfair” is quite a stretch from “people are actually disenfranchised.” Votes are cast and counted according to the rules set-up under the Constitution and which Illinois agreed to when it joined the union.

            Disenfranchised would be if Illinois State Police sat outside the polling station and wouldn’t let me vote unless I signed a loyalty oath to vote for Joe Biden.

            Also, if I have a group of 10 friends, and 4 want to go to McDonald’s, it’s not obvious to me why we should all go to McDonald’s just because they got 4 and Burger King/Wendy’s both got 3. However, if that’s the rule system we set up more than 2 centuries ago, I could go with it. However, if you’re trying to toss out a rule that we all agreed on more than 2 centuries ago while arguing for blatant partisan advantage, I’m going to be pretty damn suspicious.

          • hash872 says:

            I’m not sure if you caught the original comment, but the Constitution allows states to allocate electors as they see fit, and Nebraska and Maine already use a non-winner take all system. No radical change is taking place here, and it’s not partisan as the EC does not favor one party or another over a long enough time horizon (fun fact, John Kerry came quite close to winning the EC & losing the popular vote in 2004). I’m not even going to address the McDonald’s analogy.

            I’m afraid that even discussing the EC has activated everyone’s Preset Partisan Views, so people read half the comment and then run DefaultPartisanView script. My aim was a good faith attempt to have everyone’s vote in every state to be counted, not to favor one party or another

          • cassander says:

            @hash872

            I’m afraid that even discussing the EC has activated everyone’s Preset Partisan Views, so people read half the comment and then run DefaultPartisanView script. My aim was a good faith attempt to have everyone’s vote in every state to be counted, not to favor one party or another

            But that’s the thing, by casting the debate as “the EC means literally not counting people’s votes” when it doesn’t actually do that, you’ve made the argument more partisan, not less, and makes it feel like you’re not arguing in good faith. I don’t think that was your intent, and I do think you are arguing in good faith, but the current system does count everyone’s vote. 50 state elections vs. 1 national election might or might not be bad policy, but it’s not disenfranchising anyone.

          • hash872 says:

            @cassander

            Hmm, OK, let me think about how to rephrase it. And again, as of last year around a quarter of California voters are Republicans.

            State residents’ votes for president are only counted now at the state level, for the purpose of allocating electors to one side or another. They’re effectively not counted (in 48 states) at the federal level. To tack right a bit- the 1 in 4 California Republicans and almost 4 in 10 Illinois Republicans do not have an *effective* vote for President. We can still have 50 state elections without winner-take-all. (Imagine you were designing a new Electoral College from scratch. What would be the argument *for* winner take all electors?)

            Democracies are supposed to function by reaching a consensus- not that we reach the optimal outcome, but the one that the majority of voters can be kinda satisfied with. Giving voters effective votes at the federal level for the most important office is a mild, non-dramatic and but pro-democracy step in that direction. It’s also non-partisan. It can help reduce polarization (a bit) by preventing the US from deteriorating into Balkanized provinces that are 100% red or 100% blue, with zero in-between. Some of consensus kumbaya stuff is a bit symbolic and wooey, but I think emotional pro-unity symbolism stuff helps at the margins.

            Deteriorating into a failed state Is Bad, and the US should take minor non-partisan steps to make everyone feel included and that their vote counts, even if it’s a bit handwavey. California Republicans & Texas Democrats intuitively understand that their vote doesn’t ‘count’, even if you have technical or pedantic arguments that it does. Tens of millions of people feeling that way = bad

          • cassander says:

            @hash872 says:

            State residents’ votes for president are only counted now at the state level, for the purpose of allocating electors to one side or another. They’re effectively not counted (in 48 states) at the federal level.

            No votes are counted at the federal level. the US does not have a federal election for president, it has 50 state elections.

            (Imagine you were designing a new Electoral College from scratch. What would be the argument *for* winner take all electors?)

            State government more accountable than the federal, so I want to vest as much political identity at the state level as possible. I want one senator per state who serves at the pleasure of the state’s governor. I want the presidential eligibility limited to former governors and cabinet officers. Hell, I’d even be fine with the governors electing a president college of cardinals style.

            Fundamentally, I don’t think the current EC setup matters that much. If you abolished it you’d replace one quirky set of election outcomes with a different set that was equally quirky, just in different ways. For example, one of the benefits of the EC is making it harder to cheat by running up vote totals. doing so only matters in places where the statewide vote is close, and those are the places where there’s likely to be the most scrutiny.

            Democracies are supposed to function by reaching a consensus- not that we reach the optimal outcome, but the one that the majority of voters can be kinda satisfied with. Giving voters effective votes at the federal level for the most important office is a mild, non-dramatic and but pro-democracy step in that direction.

            I don’t think that the EC has a meaningful impact on the perceived legitimacy of american elections.

            It can help reduce polarization (a bit) by preventing the US from deteriorating into Balkanized provinces that are 100% red or 100% blue, with zero in-between.

            a national popular vote will have zero effect on that, even in theory. How could it? To take a ridiculously extreme example, imagine a California ballot measure to exile all the republicans. Under the EC, that is a bad idea for partisan democrats because it will move those republicans to a different state where they might tip the balance, and even if they don’t it will reduce CA’s EC count. Under the NPV, though, it’s a great idea that makes California more democratic.

            California Republicans & Texas Democrats intuitively understand that their vote doesn’t ‘count’, even if you have technical or pedantic arguments that it does. Tens of millions of people feeling that way = bad

            this is your best argument, but I don’t think it holds up. there’s an way to test it though! graph the voter participation rate against the partisan slide. I suspect there’s not a strong correlation, and if people are voting at the same level in texas as iowa, I think we can safely say that people don’t feel that way. Of course, there are a huge number of confounding factors, but it’s a good first step.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Selecting the EC as a major improvement to America’s democracy is a partisan position to take, particularly when the form of attack is to totally delegitimatize the EC and run alternate histories. Also, if we are opening up the can of worms to change the Presidential election system, why not change the rules further? If “none of the above” has a plurality, INCLUDING NON-VOTERS, no legitimate government can be formed and the election must be re-ran. How about a veto, since you mention consensus? If a quarter of the population votes “HELL NO!” on you, you automatically are ruled out of becoming President, even if you get 75% of the remaining vote.

            Why not alter the powers of the office, specifically with regard to majority or minority vote shares? Presidents without a majority vote share are limited in the number of Justices they are permitted to appoint and their confirmations must pass with super-majority, since they lack mandate.

          • What would be the argument *for* winner take all electors?

            The one argument I can think of is that it reduces the opportunity for electoral fraud.

            Electoral fraud is easiest if one party has solid control over the state government. With winner take all, there is no payoff to fraud in such a state in the presidential vote. With a proportional system, if you actually have 60% of the vote it’s worth pushing the count to 70% to get a few more electoral votes for your side.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            +1 to David Friedman. Cheaters in Texas or California could turn up 5% more votes in a bunch of reliably red/blue districts, and just claim turnout was unusually good this time.

            While I have criticized vote-by-mail for allowing some kinds of fraud (vote intimidation or vote-selling), it can resist this kind of fraud. You have the physical ballots wrapped in an envelope and could, in theory, verify the legitimacy of the voter before you count their vote. (But this requires a secretary-of-state that wants to detect that kind of potential fraud, and if we assume they are trying to cheat, they’ll come up with excuses not to bother.)

        • cassander says:

          A Definite Beta Guy got it exactly.

      • fibio says:

        if your 3 friends want to go to lunch at mcdonalds

        I feel like this is the set up to a two wolves and a lamb joke.

        Four students want to get lunch. One wants to go to MacDonalds, one wants to go to Burger King, one wants a cheeseburger, one is just after some deep fried chicken, two of them can’t stand Sprite, one is late on his term paper, three of them are drunk, one is hung over, none of them have showered this week and only one of them can drive. He goes to Denny’s.

    • drunkfish says:

      states start to allocate proportionally

      I agree this would be better for the US as a whole, but there’s no incentive for individual states to do it. If you figure states are controlled by their majority party, then the group controlling the state would have to voluntarily give up votes for their party, for essentially no benefit.

      I think the national popular vote interstate compact is a much better approach to this general idea, because it solves the coordination problem with a compact: You commit to follow the rules conditioned on the fact that other states follow too.

      • Jitters says:

        Couldn’t we do this with a compact too?

        As I can see it right now, red states aren’t interested in joining the NPVIC and swing states would be giving up their own power by doing so. Just the blue states isn’t enough to get to 270.

        A Proportional Representation Compact could conceivably get both red and blue states to agree.

      • mitv150 says:

        Oddly, given the context of this discussion, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact requires the actual disenfranchisement of each participant state’s voters.

        It makes their vote within their particular voting system subject to the say-so of outside legal entities.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      A notion I’ve seen. I have no idea what the effects would be, but it’s not obviously wrong.

      Congress no longer meets in DC. All the official business is done remotely.

      • johan_larson says:

        I suspect that would change very little. As I understand it, the official meetings of congress are a very minor part of the work of congressmen. The actual work of congress is figuring out what legislation to write. That’s a very complicated matter that requires extensive consultation and negotiation with other congressmen and other interested parties. That sort of interpersonal behavior really truly benefits from direct contact, meaning those who are willing to show up in person wherever there is a critical mass of other decision-makers have a real advantage over those who just dial in remotely.

        If the US did allow remote participation in the work of congress, I expect everyone who expected to have any real influence to continue to work in Washington. Doing anything else would advertising (at best) semi-pro status.

    • This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning.

      The issue isn’t ability, it’s incentive.

      On the private market, long term planning depends on secure property rights — in order to bear costs now for benefits well into the future I have to be reasonable sure that I am the one who will get those benefits. On the political market, actors don’t have secure property rights. A politician who does politically costly things today in order to get benefits a decade or two later knows that he is unlikely to still be in office when the benefits become visible.

      He could still do it if the voters had a long time horizon and so rewarded him well before the benefits appeared. But knowing whether future benefits are real or make believe requires a good deal of effort, and voters are rationally ignorant. So politicians claim long term policies but act in terms of benefits at the next election, or possibly the one after that.

      • hash872 says:

        The boards/councils could plan & make recommendations, both public and private, and hopefully have the President, Congress, and the national security state’s ear. Plus my tentatively proposed ‘they can introduce 1 bill a year in the House’ rule, which would be more for publicity and influence- ‘the Tech board says x policy is good so now some politicians are supporting it’, etc. I’m not overstating how effective this would be, just that it’d be a step in the general right direction. (My priors are pro-elites and anti-populism).

        I basically agree with what you’re saying, but the unelected Federal Reserve- made of up of sober subject matter experts- looks to me to be one of the most functional parts of the US government right now. I’m looking for a quasi-democratic way to incorporate more expertise into our system

    • ana53294 says:

      In the previous discussion of changing the electoral college allocation, I learnt it was basically a problem of the commons.

      No single state has an incentive to do it. Sure, if Republican’s votes in California counted for something, Alabama could agree to also proportionally assign votes. But can Alabama trust California to do it? Since this deal would result in more Republican than Democrat EC votes, would California agree to this?

      The thing is, this is a position that is argued by one side while they keep winning the popular vote. The time when this will get tested is when assigning electoral votes proportionally will result in your political opponent.

      I assert that California will never, in a million years, allow the winning electoral college vote go to Trump, even if the signed an agreement on a meaningless compact that’s absolutely unenforcable. So why would other states give their votes to their political opponents?

      • keaswaran says:

        > I assert that California will never, in a million years, allow the winning electoral college vote go to Trump, even if the signed an agreement on a meaningless compact that’s absolutely unenforcable.

        I’m not exactly sure how this would work. If the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact goes into effect, then everyone says all year that their electoral votes will go to the winner of the popular vote nationwide. Say that at the election, some Republican wins the popular vote nationwide. How is California going to stop their electoral votes from going to that candidate? Will the legislature call a special emergency lame-duck session in between the election and the meeting of the electoral college to overturn their accession to the NPVIC? This isn’t like an individual signing a contract promising to do something, where the impetus for actually doing the thing still comes at the end from a single mind deciding to do it, but rather needs a massive organization to move quickly to change its mind.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          then everyone says all year that their electoral votes will go to the winner of the popular vote nationwide

          That’s nice.

          Then, the day after Election Day, a Federal Judge decides “no, screw you, and screw the carefully negotiated plan that you got all relevant parties to agree ahead of tine was fair to all parties. I decide now that this is disenfranchising Billy Bob. Toss it out.”

    • Garrett says:

      Additional possible change: Change voting system for individual directly-elected offices. Eg. Representatives are now elected via instant-runoff elections or something. I believe this can be done on a per-State basis without requiring changes to the Constitution or Federal law.

      • keaswaran says:

        California already works with the jungle primary that Louisiana used to (that is, everyone runs in a single primary, and the top two finishers go on to a “runoff” at the general election) and Maine has started using instant-runoff. So yes, this can be done on a per-state basis.

    • Jaskologist says:

      This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning. Subject matter experts could be free to take the long view, to advance the interests of the US within their field without having to run for election every x number of years.

      This already exists in the form of the US Bureaucracy. It’s why the CDC was so famously effective in its anti-COVID efforts.

    • Nick says:

      2. The US (stealing a pretty good idea from China, I think?) forms councils or boards for specific long-term policy planning around key parts of the economy (I think we already have this for national security stuff). So we’d have a Tech Board, a Finance Board, a Higher Education Board, maybe a Manufacturing Board, and so on. Members would be appointed and serve terms like Federal Reserve members, and they’d be picked for expertise- academics, ex-CEOs, etc. Perhaps we’d have strict anti-lobbying rules (they’re not allowed to join their industry after their term is up) to prevent corruption.

      This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning. Subject matter experts could be free to take the long view, to advance the interests of the US within their field without having to run for election every x number of years. Maybe their one ‘power’ could be that they can introduce 1 bill per year into the House, which of course is free to vote it down, but gives them a bit more heft than mere advisors. Just a thought.

      I don’t really have an opinion on the approach, but I would point out we’ve had an industrial policy before, which it sounds to me is what you really want. American Affairs has been harping on this point since its inception, e.g. here.

    • Two McMillion says:

      As far as “Changes that would help and could actually happen”, one possibility is electing Senators by approval voting. Approval voting tends to elect middle of the road, agreeable candidates, which is what you need for the Senate to work well. Both Republicans and Democrats would like this plan because it would increase their party’s influence in electing Senators in places where they currently have little influence.

      Increasing the size of the House to 1000 members would improve local representation (an important issue to conservatives) and reduce malapportionment (an important issue to democrats).

      Having everybody do their primary elections on the same day would help everyone except Iowa and New Hampshire.

    • FLWAB says:

      The absurd political power waged by tiny states is a bit much

      Are you kidding me?

      Have you ever lived in a tiny state? I have. I’ve lived in several. And while a mathmatical breakdown might say that my vote counts more than a vote in California, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When you only have 1 representative in the House, it certainly doesn’t feel like you have power. In fact, it feels quite the opposite: it feels like the federal government can do whatever it wants to your state, and there isn’t much you can do about it. It feels like nobody cares about your vote: no presidential candidates ever stop and campaign, no political commentators ever wonder which way your state will turn. Nobody cares about what Wyoming wants.

      And this is a bigger deal than it seems because many of these tiny states have huge amounts of their land owned by the federal government. Do you know how long Alaskans have wanted to drill in the ANWR? It would have really helped the state, and they could have done it without wrecking the environment. But no can do, that’s federal land and the big states, the ones thousands of miles away with no skin in the game, have decided it’s too risky. Or maybe you want to build a road from your small town to the closest town with a hospital. Surely we can handle that at a local level? But no, it goes through federal land and the Secretary of the Interior who has never even set foot in your state, much less your town, has decided the road might be too dangerous to birds. Birds she will never see, and whose existence will not effect her one way or another.

      Look, I get it. Mathmatically an Alaskan’s vote is “worth more” than a New Yorkers. But when people go around saying things like “tiny states have absurd power, lets take that power away” it reads the same as the biggest, strongest, and richest bully on the playground taking the youngest and smallest kid’s lunch money. Wyoming has nothing. It doesn’t decide elections. Nobody cares about Wyoming’s so called absurd power when it comes to actual federal elections. But apparently even that small, tiny, measly scrap of political power is more than small states deserve.

      It gets my dander up, it does.

      • Randy M says:

        Now that you describe it, it seems a bit of a slight of hand.
        Yes, a single North Dakotan vote is more weighty than a single Californian, in terms of EC. But single voters are laughably irrelevant on a national scale anyways. What matters is the size of your coalition. If you share enough commonalities with the typical voter in your state, you are going to have an advantage.

      • Nick says:

        I’m not sure it’s even true in aggregate. Take a look at this page, which has estimated population per electoral vote: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_and_territories_of_the_United_States_by_population

        If you sort by that column, you’ll see that the state with the worst ratio is Texas. Then Florida, then California. The states with the best ratio meanwhile are Wyoming, Vermont, DC, Alaska, North Dakota, Rhode Island; three red, three blue. Small states are advantaged, but it doesn’t follow that Republicans are advantaged.

        It feels like nobody cares about your vote: no presidential candidates ever stop and campaign, no political commentators ever wonder which way your state will turn. Nobody cares about what Wyoming wants.

        You’ve touched tangentially, actually, on one of the advantages of the EC. Presidential candidates campaign in the places where they believe they can affect the most votes. This has been true under the EC, and it would be true under the NPVIC. But the dynamic would change. Under the EC, candidates at least have reason to appeal to relatively more rural states and regions; there’s not a New York City in every state. But by bypassing it, they have no reason to anymore: those votes are just too expensive to try to swing to their side. So the race becomes focused even more on cities and suburbs with relatively large populations of swing voters. Because of the nature of campaigning, you’re effectively locking huge swathes of the population, and the country, out of the race.

        • Matt M says:

          I also suspect that a national popular vote would further exacerbate the perceived (I’m still uncertain whether this is actually true) notion that candidates are better served “getting out the vote” (by appealing to the extreme fringes of their own party) than by trying to win-over independents or undecideds.

          In a national popular vote world, Hillary Clinton is probably best served spending pretty much all of her time in New York and California, trying to drive turnout among those places that overwhelmingly support her. Not only would she still not go to Wisconsin, she wouldn’t go to Virginia or Florida or Pennsylvania either…

      • Jon S says:

        Nobody campaigns in winner-take-all states that aren’t competitive. They do campaign a lot in the few small states that are competitive. NH has 4 electoral votes, but presidential candidates campaign a lot there (even in the general election). Nobody campaigns in CA (though they do fundraise there). All else equal, rational candidates should campaign more in the small states relative to those states’ populations.

      • Controls Freak says:

        Look, I get it. Mathmatically an Alaskan’s vote is “worth more” than a New Yorkers.

        According to what metric? I can think of a bunch of them. I can probably guess the metric you’re using, but I can guess others that don’t rank things the same. For example, 538’s “voter power index” does give the same pairwise Alaska v. NY ranking, but it gives many others that are quite different from your metric. And I’m pretty sure if our metric is, “Is worth more for determining New York’s electors,” an Alaskan’s vote is decidedly worth less.

        There are a whole lot of metrics you could use here; you can’t just appeal to “math”; you need to argue why any one particular metric should be privileged over all the other possible metrics.

      • JPNunez says:

        When you only have 1 representative in the House, it certainly doesn’t feel like you have power.

        You still get two senators in the senate, tho.

        So it’s both the EC and the Senate that gets you overrepresented and the House gets you less represented, but even just on the house, probably still more represented than voters of many more populous states.

        • FLWAB says:

          Like I said, I know that mathmatically a state like Alaska has more representation per person. But on an absolute level, big states still have way more power. So wanting to take away representation from small states is still analogous to the richest, biggest, strongest kids on the playground deciding to take the smaller kids lunch money.

          Or to put it another way: Alaska decided in 1975 to rename Mt. McKinley to Denali, and changed all state resources to match that name. They also requested that the federal government recognize the name change as well. Even with “overrepresentation” in the Senate and House it took forty years before the federal government recognized the name change, all because a single senator from Ohio kept blocking it. And the name only got changed because Obama himself went to Alaska for some global warming photo-ops and as a presidential gift signed an EO officially changing the name.

          Now remember that 60% of Alaska is federal land, and you might realize that if changing the name of a mountain took 40 years, doing anything of substance (like mining or logging) is an even bigger boondoggle. And you wold argue that even the small amount of power Alaska has is too much?

    • keaswaran says:

      Doing the electoral college proportionally raises some really weird issues for smallish states. There are a few natural ways to do the cutoffs for proportional elections. If you have 3 electors to select, then you could either say that a candidate gets 0 electors with 0-25% of the vote, 1 with 25-50%, 2 with 50-75%, and 3 with 75-100%; or you could say that a candidate gets 0 electors with 0-16.66% of the vote, 1 with 16.66-50%, 2 with 50-83.333%, and 3 with 83.333-100%. (The latter is what you get if you multiply the fraction of the vote by 3 and round to the nearest integer, while the former divides into equal bands.) I think out of the currently existing 3 vote states, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, and both Dakotas would be perpetually 2-1 for Republicans, DC would be perpetually 0-3, and Vermont might be a swing between 1-2 and 0-3 under the first system. Out of the states with 4 electoral votes, I think Idaho would be perpetually 3-1, New Hampshire would be perpetually 2-2, and I think Rhode Island and Hawaii would be perpetually 1-3 (though perhaps Rhode Island would be a swing from 2-2 to 1-3).

      Meanwhile, California, Texas, New York, and Florida would always have several swing votes.

      So you wouldn’t be able to get votes everywhere. You’d still have swing states and perpetually fixed states, but the swing states would be the largest ones. So you’d get the worst of the accusations each side lodges at the other – a distinction between swing and fixed states that the popular vote supporters hate, and a greater emphasis on the large states that the electoral vote supporters hate.

  25. Uribe says:

    On the theme of whether we are more partisan now than in previous decades…. I think the difference is qualitative. I’m thinking about popular music as an example. In the late 60s through early 80s American music became more culturally integrated in various ways. Whether rock, r&b or country, they all became hippies. This is more obvious in retrospect than it was at the time. Willie Nelson and Neil Young don’t seem that far apart culturally, yet I remember in the 80s how Willie Nelson fans were considered rednecks by typical Neil Young fans. There was a huge cultural/political divide between the two, seemingly, in a red state blue state sense. Merle Haggard wrote songs from the “conservative” point of view, but he himself was another drug addict hippie, and Gen X fans of him are more likely to be on tie left than the right. (Because eclectic musical tastes correlate with openness.)

    In ’69 Miles Davis made hippie music. Sly Stone was a hippie. Black and white audiences, perhaps superficially, were out to accept each other more. Rock bands were openly stealing from the blues, which drew white fans toward older black music.

    So in white American culture circa 1980, there’s was a hard line drawn between what was conservative vs. liberal (Country vs. Rock). Even though musically the difference between Waylon Jennings and Bob Seger wasn’t so vast.

    Johnny Cash performed Bob Dylan songs.

    Today’s Country Music seems unambiguously conservative. Not just in terms of lyrical content but in the aesthetics of the sound and look. It sounds and looks like an advertisement for the Republican Party.

    Now there’s less popular country music, called alt- country, which is as left wing as pop country is right wing.

    I’m drinking gin and rambling. The main. difference I want to highlight is how conservative (Republican) pop country music is now compared to the hey days of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The main. difference I want to highlight is how conservative (Republican) pop country music is now compared to the hey days of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

      Hrm. Didn’t Hollywood go through a Hillbilly or “Dixploitation” phase, like Blaxploitation films or ’90s black-targeted TV but for poor country-music whites? Think The Dukes of Hazzard with its Waylon Jennings theme song in the early ’80s or cheap movies like Hillbillies in a Haunted House (1967), where some poor Southerners trying to get rich in country music stumble into John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone (!) trying to pull off a Scooby-Doo scam.

    • ltowel says:

      What do you think about Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt or other “Bro Country” artists which are pretty unambiguously stealing concepts from rap music and redefining mainstream country?

      • Uribe says:

        I’m not familiar with them. Would you say they have less of a Republican vibe than other mainstream country?

        • ltowel says:

          I’d be interested if you listened to the songs “Cruise” or “Cruise Remix”, “Body Like a Backroad” or “House Party” before reading the rest of this post – they were all big country hits in the past few years (although I am only aware of them because they were the songs that crossed over into pop charts)

          Generally it seems to me like the sound is pretty obviously hip-hop influenced – using a lot of 808 drums/other sampled sounds and referencing rap songs. I was interested to hear what you thought about them – I think they mix white, country, what is traditionally republican appearance with openly stealing from black music. What this ends up being is music to be played at a college frat tailgate.

        • Matt M says:

          If anything, the country-rap subgenre can be more explicitly Republican than mainstream country.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I’ve never heard country rap. Do they say “yo-all” instead of just “yo”?

          • Matt M says:

            Ack, just realized I linked the wrong video above. It was intended to go to an example of very explicitly Republican country rap. And past edit window…

            Correct link is here.

          • Aftagley says:

            Correct link is here.

            ugh

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It’s still going to the same rather non-political rap.

    • Matt M says:

      I think modern country has a lot of different subgenres, but at the highest level, it feels to me like there are two main ones – one of which is basically pop with country themes, and the other that relies heavily on rock or rap influences. At the risk of getting CW here, I might even call it “country for women” and “country for men.”

      Like, my fiance and I both listen to things that could be described as “modern country” but she listens to stuff like this whereas I listen to stuff like this and there’s really not a ton of crossover between what we like, aside from the fact that if we watch the Country Music Awards, some of both of our favorites will be in attendance.

      • Aftagley says:

        she listens to stuff like this

        First time hearing that song, and I’m legitimately confused how that qualifies as country. I get that he has that not-quite-southern country music accent that everyone in the genre affects, but it sounds poppy, has a pop beat, doesn’t have much in the way of traditional instrumentals and has that cliche pop message of “girl you’re beautiful and don’t even know it.”

        Focusing on the video, the singer is a traditional pop-esque pretty boy and the video even has background dancers. I don’t like trying to define what genres can and can’t be, but why is that country?

        • Jake R says:

          It’s got a steel guitar. Near as I can tell this is the dividing line for pop country.

        • Matt M says:

          Well not all of his songs are that poppy. This is one of his more country-sounding songs.

          And FWIW, his father was a reasonably famous country musician, and having been dragged along to one of his concerts, I can personally attest he’s capable of playing a pretty decent guitar.

          But there’s a lot of stuff nearly exactly like this that is called “country” and there has been for some time. They’re often referred to as “country ballads” and nearly every mainstream country artist since 1980 has had a couple on their albums.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Honestly, I think those songs are about equally country: one is country flavoured pop, and the other is country flavoured rock, or possibly Southern rock, that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Lynyrd Skynyrd album.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Apropos of nothing but the vfx in the Rhett video are quite good. Quite pointless–I’m not sure that film trick has any actual artistic meaning–but really well done and a cool effect.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I agree. Got tired of the song in pretty short order but the visuals kept me watching for a minute or two.

    • By-Ends says:

      Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were both members of the “outlaw country” movement. OK, the fact that Willie and Waylon were extremely popular by 1980 supports your point. But I don’t know if they should be taken as representative of country music in general at the time, any more than “alt-country” represents country music today.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outlaw_country

      Why not mention Kenny Rogers, who sold far more records than either of them? I’m not sure what his politics were back then but recently he was one of the first celebrities to support Donald Trump as a candidate.

      • Matt M says:

        Indeed. Even after attaining immense popularity, those guys were still seen as part of a unique subgenre that presented itself as an alternative to the mainstream country establishment.

        • Nornagest says:

          In a sense, but it’s roughly the same as how folk-influenced rock and the British Invasion positioned themselves as alternatives to old-school Elvis-flavored rock and roll in the early Sixties, but were rock and roll by the late Sixties. The transition happened a bit later for outlaw country, but by the early to mid-70s it was mainstream in the country world.

      • keaswaran says:

        I was gonna say – if the examples of old country musicians are members of the Highwaymen, then you might as well take the example of new country musicians to be the Highwomen. They’ve definitely got a red-state cultural milieu, but it’s self-consciously feminist, gay-friendly, and multicultural.

      • Uribe says:

        But Kenny Rogers was a psychedelic rocker in the 60s.He wrote “What Condition my Condition Was in” the song that plays in the trippy Big Lebowski dream sequence when Jeff Bridges goes down the lane like a bowling ball. He became country later.

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/05/08/hot-humid-extremes-unsurvivable-global-warming/

    Assuming some very highly populated areas are going to become intolerably hot and humid, what are the best feasible solutions?

    The best solution would probably to just let people move away from the hottest areas, but I’m not expecting that to be politically possible.

    • Why not? That is unlikely to require international migration, and migration within a country is usually unrestricted.

      • Well... says:

        How normal is it for countries to have the kind of range of biomes we have in the US? For example in countries like Panama or Ecuador, are there really some parts that are hot and humid and other parts that aren’t — and are likely to still not be even assuming the scenario in the OP comes true?

        • Buttle says:

          There is a huge range of climate in Ecuador, from coastal jungle to chilly Andean highlands. Not so much in Panama. The most difficult cases I can think of are the small countries on the Persian gulf, eg Dubai, which are extremely hot and humid now. On the other hand, they were difficult to live in for those not born to the climate until affordable air conditioning, so how much would change?

        • SamChevre says:

          Even in Panama, it gets cold enough to frost at high elevations.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Offtopic: I find myself with a recurring reaction to paywalls. I click the link, find the paywall, think of buying, and realize the article is trying to sell me something in itself. It’s (in a vast majority of cases) more the interest of the article/author/newspaper that I read it, than in mine. So I don’t pay, close the window, and feel like I won twice. It’s offtopic because this particular case is borderline – usually it’s much worse.

      Comparing this with non-paywalled articles, where I click on a link from facebook to some fluff article and go through an advertisement-filled page that seems to be written on purpose to drag me over as many display ads as possible.

      Not sure where I’m going with this, other than I refuse to pay to be indoctrinated. Last subscription I had was for the Economist, which I stopped mostly because a disagreement with the small printed version (I’ve been paying for it for two years and apparently there’s a postman somewhere that was enjoying it in my stead). So I don’t mind paying per se. I’ll probably get back to printed Economist once I settle into one city. And I’m tempted by Foreign Affairs. But other than that, I think the ratio of agenda-information is a bit high to pay for.

    • Aftagley says:

      Assuming some very highly populated areas are going to become intolerably hot and humid

      Does this kind of thing hold true in a world with nigh-on-omnipresent AC? My gut assumption is just that people in these cities would just stop going outside from May-October.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        People who are living on under $2/day presumably don’t have AC. And what about farming?

        • Lambert says:

          Also heat pumps require a lot of energy and the refrigerants used are incredibly powerful greenhouse gasses. Which is how we got into this problem in the first place.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve wondered about going underground. High initial cost, but much less ongoing cost than AC.

          • Buttle says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz, underground seems to work in Coober Pedy
            https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/unearthing-coober-pedy-australias-hidden-city-180958162/

            On the other hand, people managed to live in the area for thousands of years before the digging started.

          • Nick says:

            @WrathOfGnon on Twitter writes constantly about sustainable ways to cool interiors. See here for a recent example, but there are many better ones written earlier.

          • Lambert says:

            I’d really like to see a form of urbanism that understands the city as a whole as its own microclimate. That zones by building height to funnel the wind and uses lakes as thermal reservoirs and trees as humidifers.

          • 10240 says:

            Also heat pumps require a lot of energy

            We may save more energy by less heating in the winter in cold areas than we lose by more AC in the summer.

          • Lambert says:

            Heating’s more efficient than cooling. (you get to use the work you put in, as well as the heat)

          • tg56 says:

            Heating isn’t more efficient then cooling. Almost all extent installed heating isn’t using heat pumps but rather directly burning something or electric resistance heating. Cooling is going to use a lot less energy then that.

            Even heat pump based heating has to contend with a typically much bigger difference in desired vs. outside temperature (very few places are going to be cooling more then say 10 deg C averaged over 24 hours while there are many places that heat 20+ deg C avg over 24 hours), though you do get to keep the wasted energy that’s only a unit factor (good heat pumps are already ~4 times more heat moved then energy expended, dependent on many factors).

            Cooling also tends to align really well with solar power relative to heating.

          • keaswaran says:

            The energy involved in maintaining a temperature gradient is approximately proportional to the size of the temperature gradient, though whether it’s a heat pump or some other source is also relevant. But heating is usually more energy than cooling because in temperate climates, the winter temperature is usually quite a bit farther from comfortable room temperature than the summer temperature is. Here in Texas, the extremes are almost equal – in Fahrenheit, it’s rare to have to move the temperature by more than 30 degrees in either direction, though we usually spend more time below 40 F at night in the winter than we do above 100 F in the summer (and we certainly spend more time below 30 in the winter than above 110 in the summer – I don’t think it’s ever actually reached 110, while we’ve even gotten down to 20 F a couple times in the past five years).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            As a whole, the US spends a lot more (in both energy and dollars) heating than it does cooling.

        • Aftagley says:

          Ah, good point. I was focusing in on my particular country.

          Outside of the first world, I expect to see significant pole-ward migration.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          The number of people living on under $2/day is declining dramatically, no?

          How does Nigeria in 2040 compare to US 1960?

        • The claim is about effects near the end of the century. Over the past forty years, the number of people living in extreme poverty, currently defined (I think) as under $1.90/day, fell from over forty percent of the world population to under twenty percent. If the trend is linear, it will be down to zero in another forty. If it is exponential, down to about five percent by the end of the century.

          According to a different source for what appears to be the same information (the source linked to is paywalled), they are talking mostly about China and India, so large countries with a considerable climate range.

          The story doesn’t make it clear what the carbon emission assumptions are. A lot of such stories are based on RCP8.5, originally introduced as a possible but improbably high level of emissions.

  27. johan_larson says:

    Those meddling fools the aliens with spaceships the size of small moons just won’t stop. Now they’ve taken all our paper. That includes both unused sheets of paper and paper that has already been used for writing or printing, whether left loose or bound into books. They left us all the pulp and paper plants, and their feedstocks. They also left all the parchment and vellum documents, and some really modern paper-like substances that are basically sheets of plastic. But all the paper-paper is gone.

    How screwed are we?

    • Lambert says:

      Heavy short-term disruption but information with a longer half-life is more likely to have got digitised or microfiched or something.

      • johan_larson says:

        I guess the problem has two aspects. On the one hand we use paper transactionally, for forms and receipts and stuff. A lot of that is purely digital today, but not all of it. On the other hand we use paper archivally, for storing information long-term. Again, a lot of that has been converted to other media or digitized, but not all of it.

        On the archival side, what are the most important documents that only exist in paper form?

        • baconbits9 says:

          Are birth and death records digitized?

        • Lambert says:

          For the most important individual documents, possibly stuff that’s too secret to even put on an air-gapped computer?

          But I expect much more disruption to come from a vast number of certificates and written contracts being lost. Also old people, who have accumulated a lot of paper gilts and share certificates and wills etc.
          And I expect people acting in bad faith to take advantage of the fact that a bunch of things are now not in writing. And a load of value to be spent on lawyers litigating over written contracts that no longer exist.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not very. Google Books has us covered:

      Google estimated in 2010 that there were about 130 million distinct titles in the world,[12][13] and stated that it intended to scan all of them.[12] As of October 2019, Google celebrated 15 years of Google Books and provided the number of scanned books as more than 40 million titles.[14]

      Pretty much everything after 2010 should be ready to publish as ebook. So between that, Google Books and Gutemberg, I think most things would be covered.

      It might actually be a step forward, with immediate switch to ebooks and presumably drastic decreases in their price. You’ll probably get a chinese kindle clone with about the price of a normal book. Just did a quick search on aliexpress, and currently they’re around $50.

    • John Schilling says:

      Those meddling fools the aliens with spaceships the size of small moons just won’t stop.

      These guys are way too much trouble. From now on, the answer is always going to be to invest in more small, one-man fighters.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Those meddling fools the aliens with spaceships the size of small moons have just taken all our small, one-man fighters.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Nevermind books, what about money? Estimates place the amount of hard cash in the world in the trillions of dollars (the figure includes coins, but I’ll assume it’s dominated by bills). Australia switched to plastic bills in the 90s and Canada in 2001, but the US dollar, the Euro, and most of the other currencies are still printed on paper: the aliens just pulled off the largest bank heist possible. I’d need an economist to explain exactly what would happen, but it’d be really bad.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Do US bills count as paper? They are 75% cotten and 25% linen.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I suppose that depends on the aliens’ opinion of linguistic descriptivism, because people will definitely call them paper, and not just in the casual “paper money” sense but explicit sentences like “A polymer note costs 19 cents to produce, compared to 9 cents for a typical cotton-paper note.”

        • keaswaran says:

          Are books and printer paper usually 100% cellulose from wood products or do they usually have some amount of cotton and/or linen cellulose as well?

    • Nick says:

      I’m going to be sad losing all my books—I paid a lot of money for these, and I am attached to some of them!—but what I’m really going to miss are all the paper notes, drawings, and the like that I’ve never digitized. Damn aliens.

      That raises the question, too: are there any works of art we’ll lose? Da Vinci’s notebooks–type things.

    • Matt says:

      My Garbage Pail Kids Card Collection!

      Seriously, though. I will miss my books, but my primary regret is that they didn’t do this 2 months ago, before I helped my mother-in-law move out of the house she’s lived in for 40 years and into an apartment. So much paper to sort/trash/save/shred etc.

      Based on what is gone now, did the aliens steal some original masterworks of art?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Even the toilet paper?

      I think we’re pretty screwed, but also, this is personal. I have a large collection of books. A lot of them aren’t digitized. This is war.

  28. baconbits9 says:

    Following up on a post a made ~10 days ago on CPI:

    Recap: I think there is a larger than generally acknowledged chance that we get a positive or even high CPI reading in the next month or two after going through the individual breakdown of price shifts.

    Update: I am increasing my estimate of the odds for higher CPI readings in the near future because

    1. Oil prices continued their rebound. Gasoline prices fell 20.6% in April, but google results are giving me ~8.5% rise since April 30th, and the RBOB index is up >50% since April 30th. Natural gas prices were up in early May from the end of April but have dipped to below end of April prices.

    2. Air travel has slowly picked up and price increases are expected in the near future while price declines seem to have slowed or completely stopped.

    3. Food showed a 1.5% increases in April but grocery store food (+2.6%) was much higher than restaurant food (+0.1%). Recent stories of restaurants adding covid surcharges to bills make it plausible that we see higher restaurant prices with continuing increases in grocery store prices.

    4. As I expected falling home inventory is more than offsetting falling home purchases. I don’t know if this will actually cause a push higher in rental rates and OER but it seems unlikely that we will see the housing component of CPI fall in the near term unless lodging continues to crash. Evictions and foreclosures are dropping to all time lows which is keeping supply depressed and ‘demand’ elevated relatively speaking.

    There is a lot still missing from this picture and a surprise drop in any category could prove this hypothesis wildly incorrect (as well as a large number of patterns that could emerge in the last week of May). However there is enough here for me to place a levered bet on a higher than expected CPI reading when the May data comes out due mainly to constricted supply and month to month prices coming off lows.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      It certainly looks like steps have been taken to increase inflation. About a 15% increase in M2 over the span of February to May. Bigger than any prior jumps in the FRED dataset.

      • Cliff says:

        More like to prevent deflation. Look at NGDP expectations. They have dropped. It would be better if inflation actually did rise during recessions, which would keep NGDP (wages) stable.

  29. Conrad Honcho says:

    2020 Battle for the White House Chess Set Parody Commercial. From Auralnauts, the people who did the Jedi Party saga. I chortled heartily.

    • Nick says:

      2020 Battle for the White House Chess Set Parody Commercial

      My God, man, I’ve seen light novels with shorter titles than this.

    • Lambert says:

      The funniest part was when I realised it was a parody advert of an actual product that you will be able to buy.

      • Matt M says:

        My guess is that this gets a lot funnier if you’ve actually seen the regular ad a few times (as I have, but I suspect most SSC readers have not).

      • broblawsky says:

        There has to be a term for that, right? Something that isn’t funny if you don’t realize it’s a parody?

        • Aftagley says:

          “The Weird Al Effect”?

          • gbdub says:

            More like the “Scary Movie 3 Effect”.

            Weird Al parody songs often don’t really reference the songs they spoof. I mean, they are parodies, but the humor doesn’t strictly depend on being all that familiar with the source material.

          • Matt M says:

            And, as all true Weird Al fans recognize, his best work is predominately his songs that aren’t parodies at all!

          • FLWAB says:

            And, as all true Weird Al fans recognize, his best work is predominately his songs that aren’t parodies at all!

            In Aaaaaa-aaaaa-aaaaa-aaaaaal-buquerque!

          • Matt M says:

            Why yes, that is the exact song I was thinking of, thanks!

          • Hoopdawg says:

            One of the main sources of Weird Al’s humor is taking entire phrases from the original lyrics and putting them in a new context. Some songs do depend on it pretty much entirely. (Headline News!)

            And his original compositions do the same to other artists’ music. (And while the feeling of “ohh, I know what he’s doing” cannot properly be described as humor, it is a large part of their appeal.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The one Weird Al song where he most makes fun of the original is “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long,” which “Smells Like Teen Spirit” being in second place.

    • Business Analyst says:

      That’s really funny. I think the original ad is pretty unintentionally funny too though (pols riding elephants and donkeys, Biden likely to be on the board twice, the justices, the really nice set shown in comparison etc).

  30. Edward Scizorhands says:

    https://twitter.com/K_G_Andersen/status/1263246859054641152

    Sweden’s seropositive rate (people who’ve had coronavirus) is only 5%, not ~30% like some thought a few weeks ago.

    This means they are still at the very start of their quest for herd immunity, as opposed to more than halfway there, like many (including me) thought.

    I can’t read Swedish but here’s the primary source.
    https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/nyheter-och-press/nyhetsarkiv/2020/maj/forsta-resultaten-fran-pagaende-undersokning-av-antikroppar-for-covid-19-virus/

    According to Google Translate of the abstract the samples were collected “in the spring of 2020.” The specific dates matter a lot.

    • I think the claim of approaching herd immunity I saw was specifically for Stockholm, or the Stockholm region, not Sweden as a whole.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I was going to link this Lancet article as a rebuttal, which claims that 20-25% of Stockholm has antibodies:
      https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31035-7/fulltext#%20

      The source of that 20-25% though is ‘personal correspondence’ with some guy. And the supporting evidence below that is a seroprevalance study done on hospital workers that showed 20%. Pretty lame.

      The primary source you linked has 7.3% for Stockholm in ‘early april’ which would translate to maybe 13% today since PCR testing indicates that around 2-3% have it at a given time.

      So you’re right, this might mean that herd immunity is impractical. But, Sweden’s infections and daily deaths peaked a month ago and have been decreasing since. So herd immunity is impractical but only because the infection spreads so slowly with voluntary social distancing that your hospitals will never be overwhelmed and you’ll probably get a vaccine before you even get a chance at herd immunity.

      This means that ‘flatten the curve is a deadly delusion’ guy (and Neil Ferguson) was wrong: flattening the curve is totally practical and probably the best strategy. I think a lot of the assumptions around here about strategy were based on that guy being right (mine were).

    • Chalid says:

      Sweden population: 10M
      Seropositive rate: 5% -> 500k infections as of a few weeks ago (exact dates matter a lot here)
      IFR is ~1% so that would predict 5k deaths; google says a bit under 4k.

      So that’s a broadly consistent story (depending on the dates, reporting issues about death classification, the average age of infection and the like). 30% would be very surprising.

  31. Edward Scizorhands says:

    What is modern Catholicism’s take on Jesus healing people by banishing demons out of them? Were they literal demons, and if so do they exist and plague people today? Can it all be logically interpreted as Jesus getting rid of a mental disease?

    • Nick says:

      What is modern Catholicism’s take on Jesus healing people by banishing demons out of them? Were they literal demons, and if so do they exist and plague people today?

      Yeah. You’re not obliged to believe any particular casting out of demons today, just as you’re not obliged to believe any particular reporting of a miracle (and you’re sometimes warned it’s probably false), but these things can very well still happen today. I don’t see, anyway, what is more logical about Jesus casting out mental illness, given he was not a psychiatrist.

      Incidentally, in the past five years there has been a huge resurgence in requests for exorcisms. The Vatican has been training a lot of new exorcists, and news and stories about them have gotten more common. See e.g. this Atlantic piece which made the rounds a few years ago. I’m not sure why.

      • FLWAB says:

        I don’t see, anyway, what is more logical about Jesus casting out mental illness, given he was not a psychiatrist.

        Well he also cured many physical ailments without being a doctor. You could argue that the demon possessed were not actually demon possessed but did have some physical disorder of the brain that was cured miraculously. I mean, I wouldn’t argue it (if I believe in miracles, and I believe in the gospel accounts of those miracles, why draw the line at demons?) but you could. Maybe Jesus cured their serotonin receptors or whathaveyou.

        • Fahundo says:

          if I believe in miracles, and I believe in the gospel accounts of those miracles, why draw the line at demons?

          Physical and mental illnesses are known to exist. Believing that Jesus could heal the sick requires belief in a mundane malady and a supernatural cure. Believing that he could exorcise demons requires you to believe in a supernatural malady and a supernatural cure.

          It’s not clear to me that this is necessarily where the line between reasonable and ridiculous belongs, but it is clear to me that an account that purports to be real and requires me to simultaneously believe in two supernatural events is asking more of me than something that only requires me to believe one.

          • FLWAB says:

            I get it. But at the same time, I don’t really?

            For instance, lets say there was a parallel universe that existed in two dimensions, and some two dimensional intelligent being started telling others that three dimensional intelligent beings exist. He says “There are many types of higher dimensional being of varying intelligence that go by different names: humans, and dogs, and snakes, for instance.” Wouldn’t it be a little silly if the reply was “Whoa whoa whoa, I can maybe believe in one higher dimensional being, but believing in two or three is just ridiculous!”

            So if you’re willing to entertain that the supernatural at all, why would it ask significantly more of you to contemplate the existence of two supernatural beings rather than one?

          • Fahundo says:

            Imagine there are a bunch of three-dimensional beings. At some point they consider the existence of a four-dimensional being, and they decide to call the thing a demon. And they maybe also consider the existence of a being who can perform various miracles, including healing the sick. This guy could be another example of a 4-dimensional being, or he could be five or six-dimensional or something. How can anyone even tell?

          • FLWAB says:

            Imagine there are a bunch of three dimensional beings. Some of them believe their are four-dimensional beings, and they have a long tradition of believing in them and outlining their nature. And they have a very old book which has an account of a four-dimensional being taking on a three-dimensional form. And in this account at various times he uses his four-dimensional power to heal people, and to control nature, and to transform matter. And sometimes he uses his power to affect other 4-dimensional beings called demons. Why would you, at this point, say “Hold the phone! I’m willing to entertain that the account might have been accurate in describing a four-dimensional being taking three-dimensional form and healing the sick with his four-dimensional power, but the same account and tradition holding that other four-dimensional creatures exist and affect us is much harder to swallow!”

          • Lambert says:

            This, but the whole hypothetical is also a metaphor for the class structure of Victorian England.

          • Nick says:

            Man, having four-dimensional powers would be so cool. You could go poking around in someone’s innards without even having to open them up!

          • Fahundo says:

            How are you determining that all the beings described are 4-dimensional?

          • FLWAB says:

            How are you determining that all the beings described are 4-dimensional?

            Because the tradition and the book both say so. That’s my point: if you believe both of those things enough to believe (or entertain) the idea of one, why not the other? Where exactly is the stumbling point from “I can believe in a supernatural healing, but not in supernatural beings” given that the source for the supernatural healing claims also claim that supernatural beings exist?

          • Fahundo says:

            I dunno man, someone can be wrong about one thing and right about another thing pretty easily. If I make two predictions, we can evaluate each on its own merits rather than assuming I’m either right about both or wrong about both.

          • Randy M says:

            If one believes Jesus was just this guy who used the power of placebo and exaggerations of his biographers to become noteworthy, or some other similar explanation for the rise of Christianity, then of course Demons are pretty implausible.

            If you believe Jesus was actually divine or in some other way supernatural, then you’ve opened the door to extra-material forces and you’re 99% of the way to accepting the possibility of others, especially when he claims such himself.

          • Fahundo says:

            If you believe Jesus was actually divine or in some other way supernatural, then you’ve opened the door to extra-material forces and you’re 99% of the way to accepting the possibility of others, especially when he claims such himself.

            I don’t think this is necessarily true and it is in fact the very thing that I am disputing.

          • broblawsky says:

            I’d argue that postulating the existence of demons and Hell, particularly in combination with these entities having the ability to influence human behavior, creates fundamental issues of theodicy, which some people might not want to deal with.

            Note: not a Christian.

          • Randy M says:

            I’d argue that postulating the existence of demons and Hell, particularly in combination with these entities having the ability to influence human behavior, creates fundamental issues of theodicy, which some people might not want to deal with.

            Sure, but so does the existence of a supposedly inspired account which does attribute some agency to such forces, or at least returns to the metaphor often enough for the confusion to be understandable.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          You could also argue that the demon possessed weren’t demon possessed because God would not have given any demon permission to possess a person (‘So the LORD says to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.”‘).

          That what Jesus actually did is bring the light of god to those who, as you say had an ailment, or who were themselves away from god. That this light of God cured them.

          (I write all of this as an atheist.)