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Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: The Machine Politician Vs the Administrative State

Once upon a time, in the bad old days, American politics was dominated by the so-called “urban political machines.” These machines, composed of unelected, self-appointed elites, chose political candidates based on their own narrow interests and exploited uneducated and impoverished city-dwellers for their votes. By perpetuating a ruling elite based on cronyism rather than competence, they impeded good government and held back progress. Fortunately, around the turn of the twentieth century, a series of reforms broke the power of the urban bosses and ushered in a more enlightened ruling class who governed for the sake of the greater good.

That’s the popular narrative, anyway. Like many (most?) people here on the motte, I’m broadly skeptical of high modernity, progressivism, and Whig history. Accordingly, I’ve always been dubious about the knee-jerk “machine politics=bad” reaction. This skepticism has been intensified by the general failure of western efforts to transplant our own political institutions into the third world, where such clientalist arrangements are still pretty common. Clearly, they’re working for someone, or else everyone, presumably, would joyfully adopt US norms and institutions. I happened to come across a primary source from the hey-day of machine politics, “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall” (available on Project Gutenberg), in which a very successful machine politician described his business in his own words. It was brief but compelling read; I’ll be describing my impressions below, mixed in with some larger thoughts about machines as a form of political organization.

Most people have probably heard of Tammany Hall. From roughly 1789 to the 1930s, the organization exercised a dominating influence in New York city politics, occasionally verging on an outright monopoly. George Washington Plunkitt was a life-long New Yorker and proud “practical politician” associated with Tammany Hall throughout his career. “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall” is largely told in his voice, with occasional notes from his editor. And it’s a compelling voice. Plunkitt may or may not have been a criminal, and he was certainly not a responsible leader by modern lights. But he is a charming and often insightful raconteur. I’m not sure I’d loan him any money, but I’d definitely buy him a beer.

Much of that charm comes down to his frankness. Plunkitt is quite honest about having gotten rich off of politics, though he denies having broken any laws. He claims to practice what he calls “honest graft”, which seems nowadays equivalent to what we could call insider trading, using his knowledge of city politics to make favorable investments. So far as I can tell, this wasn’t actually considered a crime, though it certainly rubbed some people the wrong way. Likewise, Plunkitt is extremely frank about appointing friends and associates to government jobs as a reward for their political support. He expresses shock at the suggestion you would do it any other way. Nothing seems to excite his ire more than “the curse of Civil Service reform” a topic he harangues the reader on frequently, and to which we shall return in a moment. One of the first things that struck me in the text was Plunkitt’s de-emphasis on what we moderns would normally consider a key skill of a politician, public speaking. “The men who rule have practiced keepin’ their tongues still, not exercisin’ them. So you want to drop the orator idea unless you mean to go into politics just to perform the skyrocket act.” Nation-wide media was relatively new in Plunkitt’s time, the trans-continental telegraph only having been completed in 1861. Nation-wide broadcast media was not even a twinkle in Marconi’s eye yet. Presumably, in such an environment the kind of mass popular appeal that politicians today cultivate was much less of a requirement.

There are probably some readers who will point to the general mediocrity of most political speeches today and argue that no, party-elite connections are still what matters. I won’t say these people are entirely wrong, but I don’t think they’re entirely right either. It seems very unlikely to me that, for example, Barack Obama’s popularity within the college-educated demographic was entirely unrelated to his ability to performatively model PMCi-values on a national stage. For that matter, Trump is frequently cited as someone who enjoyed considerable success in spite of a general lack of party-elite connections. I suspect the increasing importance of nationwide broadcast media was a significant contributor to the eventual decline of the machines.

Closely related to this is the role of class dynamics. Plunkitt comes across as something I didn’t realize existed, an urban populist. Speaking of a hypothetical candidate who asserts “I took first prize in college at Aristotle; I can recite all of Shakespeare forwards and backwards; there ain’t nothin’ in science that ain’t as familiar to me as blockades on the elevated roads and I’m the real thing in the way of silver-tongued orators.”, he responds “I guess you are not to blame for your misfortunes, but we have no use for you here.” Its hard to imagine a blunter dismissal of PMC values. Like modern populists, he rails against elites, who he charges with hypocritical moralism and petty tyranny “We don’t own our streets or anything else…we’ve got to eat and drink what they tell us to eat and drink, and…choose our time for eating and drinking to suit them. If they don’t feel like taking a glass of beer on Sunday, we must abstain. If they have not got any amusements up in their backwoods, we must have none. We’ve got to regulate our whole lives to suit them. And then we must pay their taxes to boot.” These elites aren’t only tyrannical, they’re unpatriotic “Nobody pays any attention to the Fourth of July any longer except Tammany and the small boy. When the Fourth comes, the reformers, with revolutionary names parted in the middle, run off to Newport or the Adirondacks to get out of the way of the noise.”

This is striking because historically, cities have been recruiting pools for “progressive” movements, where “progressive” broadly means “someone who wants to replace the established order with something new.” There’s a danger in over-extrapolating from recent history, but this really does seem to be a pattern. Many of the most radical excesses of the French Revolution were driven by attempts to appeal to the sans-culottes of the Paris mob. Conversely, the revolutionaries imposed some of their most brutal repressive measures in the rural Vendee. A century later, orthodox Marxists famously thought that Russia was not yet ready for a revolution because the urban working class was still too small a percentage of the population. This pattern is embedded in our very language. The word “Pagan” derives from the Latin word for “rustic”. It’s modern usage originated in the period where Christianity had become an elite religion but had not yet been fully imposed on bitter-clingers in rural parts of the empire. The modern analogs would be the trumpenproletariat in flyover country.

How do we square this circle? I think part of it is that “populism” in common usage tends to be something intended to appeal to working class voters, who as a group are usually social conservative but economically liberal. In the modern world, populism is associated with rural areas because structural changes to the economy have skewed urban populations towards professionals rather than the working class. Per Wikipedia, in 1910 only 37, 200 Bachelors degrees were awarded across the whole country, in a population of just under 92 million. Of that 92 million, nearly 5 million (4,766,883)lived in New York. 4,766,883/37,200 = .008. In other words, even if every college graduate in the country had lived in New York City, they would have made up less than one percent of the population. By contrast, today 39.5% of NYC has a Bachelors or higher. And NYC isn’t even in the top five most educated cities in America! Likely in the eighteenth-through-early twentieth centuries – the heyday of the industrial revolution – urban populations were skewed in the opposite direction than they are now.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the other instances of urban progressivism cited above. I think we can chalk that up to these movements being an alliance between elite-aspirants and the working class, with the elite-aspirants providing the socially-liberal rhetoric of the movement, while the footsoldiers are largely motivated by pragmatic material concerns. This is as close as I have to working explanation, unless of course you think that the progressivism-urbanism association is all a mirage.

In lieu of ideological appeal, technically wonkery, or even a charismatic public persona, Plunkitt offers a vision of politics based on personal relationships and the rendering of services. He began in politics by getting his cousin to promise him his vote – not to Plunkitt personally but to whoever Plunkitt told him to vote for. Plunkitt offered this vote, along with his own, to the district leader. Then he recruited two of his old school-friends. “Before long, I had sixty men back of me and formed the George Washington Plunkitt association.”

In return for these votes, Plunkitt was offered positions in government. The exact position seems to have changed as the voting blocs he commanded grew in size. Its less clear from the text what exactly these individual voters received. Certainly as Plunkitt grew in power in the organization, he could offer jobs to some of his supporters. Judging by his repeated denunciations of civil service reform, this kind of patron-client relationship was key to the whole edifice. But of course, there couldn’t have been enough full time jobs to hand one out to every voter. The whole thing wouldn’t scale. Plunkitt’s access to the apparatus of government probably meant he could hand out contracting opportunities even when he didn’t have a full time job on hand. He says as much. But a lot of it also seems to come down to small acts of friendship and making people like you. “I know every man, woman, and child in the fifteenth district, except them that’s been born this summer – and I know some of them too…I reach them by approaching them at the right side…I hear of a young feller that’s proud of his voice, thinks he can sing fine. I ask him to come around to Washington Hall and join our Glee Club. He comes and sings and he’s a follower of Plunkitt for life. Another young feller gains a reputation as a baseball player in a vacant lot. I bring him into our baseball dub. That fixes him. You’ll find him working for my ticket at next election day. Then there’s the feller that likes rowin on the river, the young feller that makes a name as a waltzer on his block, the young feller that’s handy with his dukes. I rope them all in by givin them opportunities to show off.” Presumably the various public observances which Plunkitt alludes to were excellent opportunities for generating this kind of social capital.

These acts of friendship could also take a more practical form. “What tells in holdin’ your grip on your district is to go right down among the poor families and help them in the different ways they need help. I’ve got a regular system for this. If there’s a fire…any hour of the day or night, I’m usually there with some of my election district captains as soon as the fire engines. If a family is burned out I don’t ask whether they are Republicans or Democrats, and I don’t refer them to the Charity Organization Society, which would investigate their case in a month or two and decide they were worthy of help about the time they are dead from starvation. I just get quarters for them, buy clothes for them if their clothes were burned up, and fix them up till they get things running again.”

Obviously there’s no statistics provided. But my intuition tells me this sort of thing was probably pretty effective. I grew up comfortably middle class; I’ve never known what its like to be worried about where my next meal will come from or where I’ll sleep. I’ve never worried about whether my wife or my kid will have enough to eat. If I was worried about that – well I don’t think there’s much I wouldn’t do for someone who solved that problem for me. Leaving intuition aside this model – tangible benefits for friends and family in exchange for loyalty – is arguably what leadership looked like for most of human history. Reciprocal altruism is a bedrock of human behavior. The intimate nature of such exchanges elevates them beyond the merely transactional; emotional ties soon develop and invest these relationships with the aura of the sacred. I’ve little doubt Plunkitt’s methods were effective. For that matter, I have little doubt that from inside, most participants in the machine were perfectly satisfied with the arrangement.

What caused the decline of machine politicians? And were they as bad as modern opinion holds? The first question can be answered more or less satisfactorily. The second is mostly a matter of opinion. The most commonly cited factor in the decline of the machines is the introduction of the direct party primary. Nowadays, we take it for granted that party members come together in a sort of internal election to vote on who they’ll put forward as a candidate for. Since politics is our national sport, presidential primaries often get breathless coverage in the media. But in fact, this wasn’t common for much of our history. Direct primaries were fairly rare prior to the mid-nineteenth century and didn’t really pick up steam until around the turn of the century. Prior to that, it was common for local voters to select delegates to a nominating convention, who in turn would choose the candidate. In theory, the transition to direct primaries allowed candidates to “cut out the middleman” i.e. intra-party elites and “bosses” and appeal directly to voters. Plunkitt and his ilk, who relied on horse-trading rather than offering a coherent vision of the common good, were finished.

This triumphalist narrative remains common. Its not entirely wrong so much as it is incomplete. This study suggests that the introduction of direct primaries was correlated with a decrease in Congressional representatives (both Senate and House) voting in line with party leaders. Insofar as “party leaders” are a proxy for the old school bosses, we can say that that this represents a weakening of their power. But direct primaries are only part of the story.

Another major part is this: technological and demographic changes made interpersonal connections an inefficient way to mobilize voters. In 1793, the House of Representatives was only 105 members. Today, it has 435, a number set by law in 1929. In 1793, there were roughly 34,000 voters per representative. Today the ration is roughly 1: 761,000, an order of magnitude higher. While I don’t have data for state and municipal legislatures, its safe to assume the same trend holds.

“Dunbar’s Number” is the theoretical upper limit on the amount of close relationships anyone can have. Estimates vary between 150 and a little over 200, but the bottom line is this: for most of our existence as a species, humanity operated in relatively small bands of hunter-gatherers. We evolved to handle a certain number of point-to-point contacts. Past that limit, it becomes necessary to start sorting people into categories of one sort or another. A politician in a district with, say, 500 people can personally know a large chunk of them. In a district with 5000, he can know fewer, but his ward heeler subordinates might still know many on an individual level. But by the time you hit 500,000, this sort of personalized relationship is impossible. Even if you maintained a small army of volunteers to go around and engage with individual voters, said volunteers would soon themselves exceed Dunbar’s number, diluting the strength of their relationship to the politico.

Instead of cultivating relationships with individuals, you cultivate relationships with voting blocs. Farmers, lawyers, blue-collar workers, gun owners etc. Legions of specialists search for ever-more-subtle coalitions of interest to solicit. This is where broadcast media becomes important. Broadcast media is a way of efficiently marketing to large numbers of potential voters, far more efficient than simply going door-to-door.

Its not only the politicians who start sorting people into boxes based on professional, ethnic, or social status. The voters will do that themselves. At one time, people’s sense of identity was largely local – their town, their neighborhood, their block. But as the world flattens and the flow of information, goods, and services becomes ever-less constrained by geography, people start to think of themselves in larger terms: a Christian, a lawyer, a Republican, an X, Y, Z. These larger identities have always been present of course, but they make up an increasingly greater portion of any given individuals sense of themselves. Plunkitts’s methods relied on local ties that are increasingly less important.

Another major factor was Plunkitt’s great white whale “the curse of civil service reform.” While Plunkitt was presumably most concerned with New York’s Civil Service reform, these developments were merely reflective of larger trends in the country. For most of the nineteenth century, government administrative jobs had been distributed at the discretion of elected officials. But in 1883, Chester A. Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform act, which provided for certain federal jobs to awarded on the bases of competitive examinations rather than by administrative fiat. Those who had gotten their jobs through competitive examinations could not subsequently be removed for “political reasons”. At the time, the act covered only a small percentage of the executive. But, in a true stroke of genius, the act was written with a “ratchet provision” which allowed the president to add positions to those covered under the Pendleton act. So, if your side was likely to lose the election, you could add all your appointees to the rolls right before leaving office, and your successor couldn’t remove them. After enough iterations of this process, about 90% of the civil service was covered under the act. While the Pendleton act only covered federal civil service jobs, a similar process seems to have taken place within various states.

From the perspective of the twenty-first century, one is half-tempted to ask: do you want the deep state? Because this is how you get the deep state. In the process of enshrining their ideals in law, the professional-managerial class of the day created the legal basis for entrenched bureaucracies to pursue their collective interests even in the face of opposition from the nominal chief executive. Debates about the role of meritocracy aside, Civil Service reform went a long way towards eliminating the middle ranks of the machines, those on whom men like Plunkitt relied.

The bureaucratization of the civil service also contributed to the ballooning of the administrative law sector, which further eroded the ability of elected officials to actually make a difference in the lives of their constituents. Remember when Plunkitt said that local charities would get around to doing something just about the time that a family was starved to death? One of the services machine politicians provided their constituents was the ability to apply pressure on the machinery of the state. If, say, you felt that your property had been unfairly seized, or you had been denied something you were owed, or you had been inconvenienced in some way by The Man, you could turn to your ward heeler, who in turn could bring the matter to your local elected representative. Nowadays – you’d hire a lawyer.

America is almost unique in the extent to which the actions of executive agencies are dictated by lawsuits or the fear of lawsuits. The Equal Protection Clause means effectively, anyone can sue a government agency for virtually anything. The most well-known application of this on the Motte is probably the collection of legal decisions arising from civil rights law which has contributed to the institutionalization of progressive tendencies throughout the public and private sector. This is correlated with explosive growth in the legal profession. In 1960, there was roughly one lawyer for 627 people in the country. By 1987, there was one lawyer for every 354 people. Today, there is roughly one lawyer for every 250 people. Notably, some 30% of Representatives and 51% of Senators have law degrees. To a large extent, the politician as advocate has been replaced by the lawyer as advocate. Instead of being compensated by votes, today’s advocates are compensated in publicity and cash. Rule of law becomes rule of lawyers.

All that said, were the machine politicians so bad? I’ll admit that I am somewhat tempted to romanticize Plunkitt and all his spiritual kin, from Boss Tweed to Enoch L Johnson. Undoubtedly they were self-interested, but no more than any other politician. They made it their business to know their constituents and to provide something meaningful to them. Above all, they seemed to have been accessible. They gave their constituents a sense of agency, a feeling that there was something they could do and someone they could turn to when things went wrong or when they were being pushed around. How many of us can say the same? If, for example, my local police department confiscated my property in a civil forfeiture case, I would have no choice but to pursue a costly and time-consuming remedy through the courts. I’m fortunate enough that I could probably afford it; many others couldn’t.

At the same time, I’ve already discussed the major limitation of such political machines: they simply don’t scale. In the savage war of all against all, scale is everything. The big fish eat the little fish and organizations – political, economic, or social – which can more effectively mobilize greater resources usually out compete the smaller ones. Even if such an arrangement could survive, I expect that in time it would lose the qualities that make it appealing. A political machine would eventually become vulnerable to the same oligarchical dynamics as every other political system, and the machine politicians as detached and self-absorbed as every other elite.

Join me, then, in raising a glass to Plunkitt and all his tribe. Like Haast’s eagle, the woolly mammoth, or the horse nomads who conquered half the world, they were magnificent in their day. But their day has passed. The world has changed; I do not think we will see his kind again, for better or for worse.

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

As of late I've really lost any deep interest in any culture war issues. I still enjoy talking about them, but even the 'actually important' matters like Trump's trials and possible re-election or the latest Supreme Court cases or the roiling racial tensions of the current era seem to be sideshows at best compared to the two significant developments which stand to have greater impact than almost all other matters combined:

  1. Humanity is seemingly a hop, skip, and/or jump away from emergence of true AGI.

  2. Humanity is also locked into a demographic decline that will eventually disrupt the stable global order and world economy. No solutions tried so far have worked or even shown promise. It may be too late for such solutions to prevent the decline.

I do conserve some amount of interest for the chance that SpaceX is going to jump start industry in low earth orbit, and for longevity/anti-aging science which seems poised for some large leaps. Yet, the issues of declining human population and its downstream effect on globalization as well as the potential for human level machine intelligence seem to utterly overshadow almost any other issue we could discuss, short of World War III or the appearance of another pandemic.

And these topics are getting mainstream attention as well. There's finally space to discuss the topics of smarter-than-human AI and less-fertile-than-panda humans in less niche forums and actual news stories that start raising questions.

I recently read the Situational Awareness report by Leopold Aschenbrenner, which is a matter-of-fact update on where things absolutely seem to be heading if straight lines continue to be straight for the next few years. I find it convincing if not compelling, but the argument that we might hit AGI around 2027 (with large error bars) no longer appears absurd. This is the first time I've read a decent attempt at extrapolating out when we could actually expect to encounter the "oh shit" moment when a computer is clearly able to outperform humans not just in limited domains, but across the board.

As for the collapsed birthrates, Peter Zeihan has been the most 'level-headed' of the prognosticators here. Once again, I find it fairly convincing, but also compelling that as we end up with far too few working-age, productive citizens trying to hold up civilization as the older generations age into retirement and switch to full-time consumption. Once again you only have to believe that straight lines will keep going straight to believe that this outcome is approaching in the near future years. The full argument is more complex.

The one thing that tickles me, however, is how these two 'inevitable' results are intrinsically related! AI + robotics offers a handy method to boost productivity even as your population ages. On the negative side, only a highly wealthy, productive, educated, and globalized civilization can produce the high technology that enables current AI advances. The Aschenbrenner report up there unironically expects that 100's of millions of chips will be brought online and that global electricity production will increase by 10% before 2030ish. Anything that might interrupt chip production puts a kink in these AGI timelines. If demographic changes have as much of an impact as Zeihan suggests, it could push them back beyond the current century unless there's another route to producing all the compute and power the training runs will require.

So I find myself staring at the lines representing the increasing size of LLMs, the increasing amount of compute being deployed, the increasing funding being thrown at AI companies and chip manufacturers, and the increasing "performance" of the resultant models and then staring at the lines that represent plummeting birthrates in developed countries, and a decrease in the working age population, and thus the decrease in economic productivity that will likely result. Add on the difficulty of maintaining a peaceful, globalized economy under these constraints.

And it sure seems like the entire future of humanity hinges on which of these lines hits a particular inflection point first. And I sure as shit don't know which one it'll be.

I'd condense the premises of my position thusly:

Energy Production and High-end computer chip production are necessary inputs to achieving AGI on any timeline whatsoever. Both are extremely susceptible to demographic collapse and de-globalization. If significant deglobalization of trade occurs, there is no way any country will have the capacity to produce enough chips and energy to achieve AGI.

and

Human-level AGI that can perform any task that humans can will resolve almost any issues posed by demographic decline in terms of economic productivity and maintaining a globalized, civilized world.

Or more succinctly: If deglobalization arrives first, we won't achieve AGI. If AGI arrives first, deglobalization will be obviated.

Peter Zeihan argues that AI won't prevent the chaos. As for AGI prophets, I have rarely, in fact almost never, have seen decreasing population levels as a variable in their calculation of AI timelines.

The sense this gives me is that the AGI guys don't seem to include demographic collapse as an extant risk to AGI timelines in their model of the world. Yes they account for like interruption to chip manufacturing as a potential problem, but not accounting for this coming about due to not enough babies. And those worrying about demographic collapse discount the odds of AGI arriving in time to prevent the coming chaos.

So I find myself constantly waffling between the expectation that we'll see a new industrial revolution as AI tech creates a productivity boom (before it kills us all or whatever), and the expectation that the entire global economy will slowly tear apart at the seams and we see the return to lower tech levels out of necessity. How can I fine tune my prediction when the outcomes are so divergent in nature?

And more importantly, how can I arrange my financial bets so as to hedge against the major downsides of either outcome?


Also, yes, I'm discounting the arguments about Superintelligence altogether, and assuming that we'll have some period of time where the AI is useful and friendly before becoming far too intelligent to be controlled which lets us enjoy the benefits of the tech. I do not believe this assumption, but it is necessary for me to have any discourse about AGI at without falling on the issue of possible human extinction.

Just about every time there is a meta discussion there are people suggesting that upvotes/downvotes are just agree/disagree buttons, or that we should just get rid of them altogether.

It is less common to see a defense of voting, but I think it is desperately needed.

My main thesis is that votes are accurate at conveying information, but that many people do not like the information they convey. I believe most people treat the vote buttons as basically a like/dislike button. Users do not always enjoy learning that their posts are "disliked" or the posts of their own that they like the most aren't always "liked" as much by others. Hiding votes does not remove the underlying sentiment though, it just makes it harder to pick up on, or delays discovery for the writer.

Looking through my own "top" and "bottom" comments I am not surprised or offended by their placement. My "bottom" comments are often my controversial mod decisions, or times when I have decided to defend viewpoints that are unpopular here on TheMotte (like race blindness, or open borders). The most hated "controversial" comments also seem to be ones where I am closing off avenues of discussion rather than opening them up. My top comments are usually me sharing information/perspective on a culture war topic that others might not have. And a few times of me writing good pieces about culture war stuff. I often find it helpful to look at other user's top/bottom comments when I have to do mod related research. Top comments often provide many reasons for exoneration, and bottom comments can highlight patterns of bad behavior. An important thing to note here is that votes are great for comparing comments within a single user's history, but not between users.


The agree/disagree critique

One common critique that I linked to above is that people just use the buttons as shorthand for agree/disagree and that this signalling of agreement or disagreement would lead to favored views being rewarded too much, and unfavored views being chased off.

However, this is a problem with and without voting buttons. At best your are simply delaying this discovery for a few moments before they get flooded with comments that very clearly indicate people disagree with them. I did not need to wait 24 hours to find out that people disagreed with me on race blindness or open borders. It was very quickly obvious from the responses (and I was aware before hand that these views would be controversial).

I also think votes, and especially visible vote scores can be a bit of a pressure valve. There are sometimes people that just feel the need to express in some way "I don't like your post/views". One way for them to do this is to downvote. Another way for them to do this is to leave a short comment to the same effect. Sometimes the comment might even look like they are interested in a discussion. When I am in the position of getting dogpiled for a controversial view I would universally prefer the downvote to a go-no-where comment that basically says "i don't like your post/views". This is also one of the times when I most wish I could see other people's vote scores. I'd prefer responding to what other people consider the "best" version of the counterarguments.

Finally, what is so bad about signalling agreement or disagreement? People have views and opinions, we don't need to fool ourselves on this. I don't think we are tricking anyone by hiding the votes that these disagreements don't exist.


Ending notes:

  1. I am writing this as a user stating my preferences. There has not been internal mod discussion about changes to voting. Status quo is likely to remain in place.
  2. It is probably a little rude to go through other people's history for examples an counterexamples to voting. I'm fine with anyone doing that with my profile, but its probably best to not drag other users into this discussion unless someone gives explicit permission.
  3. The rdrama codebase that the site is based on had more features and granularity around voting, we mostly do not have those features turned on or fully working on this website.

Transnational Thursday is a thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or international relations history. Feel free as well to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the wars in Israel or Ukraine, or even just whatever you’re reading.

The phrase "defensive alliance" is ambiguous. The rival meanings are not inherently incompatible. But in practise they tend in opposite directions. When the ambiguity is resolved some-one feels cheated.

To see the problem picture four countries, Timidland, Moralland, Weakland, and Aggroland. Timidland is spending more on defence than it wants to because it fears being attacked by Aggroland. Moralland is also spending more than it wants to on defence because it too fears attack by Aggroland. But the internal politics of Moralland are complicated. The moral thing to do is to build a larger army, attack Aggroland and liberate the people of Aggroland from the tyranny of the Chief Aggro. Or is that the moral thing to do? Isn't war bad?

Timidland and Moralland form an alliance. It is a "defensive alliance" meaning that Timidland will come to Moralland's aid if Aggroland attacks Moralland. But the people of Timidland are aware of the complicated internal politics of Moralland and it is explicit that if Moralland attacks Aggroland, then Moralland is on its own. Even instigating voids the alliance.

The problem arises because history isn't that neat. The 1914-1918 war starts with the Austro-Hungarian Empire giving an ultimatum to Serbia, Russia comes to Serbia's aid, Germany comes to Austria's aid, France and Britain have alliances to honour and end up fighting. If we want political theory to relate to the real world, we need to think about Moralland extending guarantees to Weakland.

Aggroland invades Weakland. Moralland supplies weapons to Weakland. And advisers. Eventually troops. Moralland artillery is shelling Aggroland invaders on Weakland soil from positions in Moralland. Counter battery fire from Aggrotroops in Weakland is hitting positions in Moralland. Does this trigger the defensive alliance and suck Timidland into the war?

Some Timidians argue that they never agreed to give guarantees to Weakland. Given the complicated history of the region, they would have refused to get involved if they had been asked. Others are saying that Moralland are the good guys. Of course Timidland must join the war. What use is a defensive alliance is you don't defend your allies? Peaceful Timidians feel that they have been out manoeuvred, and are being forced to honour guarantees to Weakland that they never made.

If Timidland is pulled into the war by the chains of the alliance, we can be more specific than calling it a defensive alliance. It was a "chaining alliance".

But what should we call a non-chaining alliance? I've picked the word "isolating". That is clearly wrong in theory. The terms of the alliance don't forbid Moralland from extending security guarantees to Weakland, they merely classify that as instigating; Moralland cannot call upon Timidland to help honour the guarantee.

But theory and practice disagree. The internal politics of Moralland has its guns-before-butter faction. They saw the alliance as a matter of building military strength, with a view to regime change in Aggroland, to save the world from the danger presented by the Chief Aggro. Moralland also has a butter-before-guns faction, that see the alliance as an opportunity to economise on defence spending, freeing up money for schools, hospitals, road, pensions, police, industrial policy, the climate emergency, tax cuts,... The list is endless. We see the likely outcome in Europe. NATO agrees that all members should spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. Most don't. The other priorities take precedence. In practice the non-chaining alliance leads to Moralland cutting defence spending. They are after all moral and pensioners deserve higher pensions, etc. The guns-before-butter faction are aghast to find that they have been out manoeuvred. They nearly had the army that they needed to protect Weakland from Aggroland. The alliance with Timidland was supposed to add to the army. In practise it subtracted. Moralland's own army has shrunk and Timidland's army is not available. The isolating alliance has left them isolated, unable to offer security guarantees to Weakland.

Obviously my fine distinction has contemporary resonances, but after World War Three reduces Europe and America to radioactive rubble, the run up to World War Four will involve China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia. Will they continue the tradition of talking about defensive alliances? Or will they embrace the distinction between chaining alliances and isolating alliances? I locate this essay in the British tradition of analytic philosophy, looking at words and attempting to resolve their ambiguities. Not all ambiguities; just those with large consequences.

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

Transnational Thursday is a thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or international relations history. Feel free as well to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the wars in Israel or Ukraine, or even just whatever you’re reading.

This a post that started in response to the question posed by @Amadan in regards to what should be done about Hylnka, and my thoughts in regards to the parent post about the state of the Motte.

The state of the Motte

So I'm a relative newcomer to the space and only lurked on /r/themotte occasionally, so I don't have a strong opinion on Hlynka one way or the other. I don't like him, I don't hate him, because I don't really know him.

But if you believe banning Hlynka is a net negative, that goes to reason that maybe there are some aspects of the rules that need consideration taken into account. I'm going to give my naive take since I haven't seen anyone else really answer the question recently regarding what should be done.

Perhaps there is an optimal ratio of good posts to bad posts that get some leeway. Or put another way, you get a pass for every "x" amount of good posts. Let's start with an extreme example. If someone makes 100 AAQC contributions to 1 ban-worthy post, I personally would rather want them to be allowed to keep posting even if they make 50 ban-worthy posts. I think to a certain extent, the mods already do this by gut feeling, which is why they have been lenient with Hylnka for so long. But because the rules don't allow for this, they don't have a good enough justification to allow for it. In the end, they became a slave to the rules. That being said in my opinion, the rules are actually really lenient and flexible, and I have seen the mods be plenty lenient. A place like Reddit nowadays will just perma ban you, most bans here are for a day or a week.

The more often you post, the more likely it is that one of your posts will be inflammatory or say something that people don't like and report you for. It's not ideal for people to just post and then not respond to people's responses, otherwise it's not that different from posting an article from an outside source. The controversial ideas are the most exciting. It's why the culture war stuff is the most popular. But controversial ideas are the ones that generate the most heat. The person proposing or defending the controversial idea will have many, many people piling on them. It's not easy being on the defending on, even if you deserve it.

Conversations on forums and the internet are weird. Human beings don't engage in conversation like this in the real world. Expecting people to be civil 100% of the time is an unrealistic expectation, especially in a place where your ideas are constantly attacked and challenged. People argue politics with their own family all the time, and these discussions can get heated, but at the end of the day, they still get together to eat at the same table. If someone garners enough goodwill in the community and makes good contributions, does it not stand to reason that they should be given more leeway? Even in our courts, where no man is above the law, the punishment is often adjusted based on the circumstances of the crime. At the same time, a forum means you can take the time to formulate your thoughts before hitting "post". I've seen some posts where people say they wrote this long post, it somehow got deleted, and then they realized how angry/inappropriate/inflammatory they were being and thus were able to write something of higher quality instead.

Are man made for rules, or rules made for man? Do the rules today really serve both sides of the ideas proposed by this place? To optimize for light, and to minimize heat? The common sentiment I see is that currently the enforcing of the rules minimizes heat, but doesn't optimize for light.

How do the people who wanted Hylnka banned feel now that he's gone from space? Do they feel the motte better now or worse for it? Do you genuinely want to see all these long-time posters banned? Why? Is it because you think they are bad for the community? Why do you think that? Are you using the rules for a personal vendetta, or are you genuinely trying to help make the Motte a place where people with opposing viewpoints can come together to discuss ideas to seek the truth? If all the people with opposing viewpoints are banned, how can you achieve that?

You aren't obligated to respond to someone. If they attack you in the comments just block them so you don't have to read it. Should the average user really be concerned with how others might interpret someone's statement? If the concern is how other potential newcomers may feel about the community, is that a valid concern today? When @Armin asked about the state of the Motte, most people agreed it's stagnant or decaying. The newcomers are not really coming.

Where are the people with counterpoints?

For the time I have spent here, I don't think I got any serious challenge from someone across the political aisle from me. I have gotten a few people challenging my ideas which I am immensely grateful for since they helped find the flaws in my thinking, but if I look back on them those don't tackle my core set of beliefs and were over relatively minor things. The one person who I did challenge @guesswho never responded to my response to his ideas almost 4 months ago and he's been gone for a month now. In other words, I have yet to be challenged on my core fundamental beliefs. To be honest, part of me is scared to even have that debate. It's uncomfortable. I'm fairly certain I will take it personally. Maybe the rules make more sense in that kind of environment. But my feeling, and based on reading what a lot of other people have posted, is that environment is long gone. The rules were built for different populations.

Every once in a while you get people from the opposite side of the political aisle, call everyone here nazis/far-right in an inflammatory manner and they get banned. I think their general sentiment is correct, though - this place is currently filled with moderates and people on the right political, and very few on the left. When I make a low-effort comment that would align with the red-tribe, I get tons of upvotes. When I see someone from the opposite side make a high-effort comment, it gets many downvotes. Now upvotes and downvotes don't mean much regarding the truth or quality of the post, but they do reveal the general user sentiment response to it.

Every community is composed of several groups - the mods, the prolific posters, people who post occasionally, people who mostly just upvote/downvote, and the lurkers. Forget about the lurkers, their opinions don't matter. In my opinion, smaller communities like the Motte can exist mainly due to the relationship between the mods and the prolific posters. I don't mean to sound rude but the prolific posters are abnormal. Most users post only occasionally. Most of us only respond to top-level posts and rarely make any ourselves. But the prolific posters have an insane output rate. Many of them have an insane high-quality output rate. Because their output is so high, they tend to be able to dictate the general flow of ideas. In other words, they're the ones that form the core of the community. They're the ones that make most of the AAQC posts. They're the ones whose ideas people will recall and remember the most.

As many others have said, each time a prolific user is banned, you lose a small piece of the community. To maintain or grow a community, you need more such people to come in to fill in the gap. But these people, because they're so abnormal, are rare to come by. For the people who have been here a very, very long time, has the void been filled? As much as the vision and the rules help shape a place, it's ultimately the people that form a community.

Solutions - What should we do?

Having said all that, I do agree with the mod's vision that the rules are what have helped make the Motte into this unique space on the internet. I don't believe in making big sweeping changes to existing communities because once you make those big changes it's no longer the same community. I think people have mentioned how other offshoots from the culture war communities from the SSC days have failed to survive to the degree the Motte has. That indicates to me the rule does have value in them.

My proposal

Here's my modest proposal: Once a month (or longer, maybe twice a year) users on the forum are allowed to propose unbanning someone. Maybe limit who can make these proposals so not just anyone can propose and abuse the system. Then the community can vote to allow someone back in. If a certain threshold is met (for example 60%), then the user is unbanned. If for example, 90% of the community would rather want someone to keep posting even if they make the occasional inflammatory comment, should they deserve to be permanently banned? After all, they said were mean words, they didn't kill anyone, they didn't incite violence, they didn't harass people.

This is an extremely minor change that I think could be implemented. Maybe it's a dumb idea and won't result in anything. Maybe it'll make things worse. The person likely won't come back. But maybe it could be the start of stopping the motte from stagnating.

Of course, like I said, I'm naive in this. I don't really know the history, or the people who have come and gone. I can read and read about but I will never truly understand it. Some of you guys have been around this space for over a decade. Maybe all this has already been discussed and thought about and tried by people multiple times. But this community is still new and exciting stuff to me, and I wish I could get to experience even a little bit of that magic of the past. If I think this place is better than many other places online now, just how much better was the Motte in the past for people to lament the state it is in today?

Criticizing is easy. Pointing out problems is easy. Complaining is easy. Coming up with solutions is hard. Coming up with good solutions is almost impossible. I'm sure the mods have thought about this plenty, and people on the forum too, but I don't really see the full discussions. There's got to be at least 1 person in this place that would have a good idea.

Solutions from other people

Some other ideas I've seen other people propose:

  • Just don't ban long-time high-quality posters. They get a free pass for being here so long and continuing to contribute to the community.
  • Have a separate, no modding no rules thread.
  • Stop (or minimize) tone policing. If there is an argument, in line with the tone policing, then that gets a free pass.
My dumb solutions

To help generate more discussion, I'm just going to throw whatever comes to my head here in this list, whether they are good or bad or feasible or not:

  • If you get banned for inflammatory comments but have made good contributions before, you are limited to just posting top-level comments for a period of time, but you are not allowed to respond. If you break the rules to try to continue a previous conversation you get banned.
  • If a conversation gets inflammatory it gets pushed into a black-box so nobody else can see it, or it auto collapses and you have to opt in to see it
  • Allow users that would have been banned to keep communicating, but users must opt-in into an "I want to see everything" option and they no longer have the rights to request moderation once opted in. All conversations starting from these banned users and subsequent child posts get hidden unless you opt in.
  • If you are banned, you must steelman your opposition point of view to an acceptable level to the person you were being antagonist against in order to get unbanned ahead of the ban timer
  • Every 1 AAQC counters 1 bannable offense
  • A converse to the community unban option - a decision of whether or not to ban of a prolific high-value contributor gets pushed to the community.

Let's have a discussion.

What do you, fellow Mottizens, think? I see a lot of complaining and only a few people have provided some ideas for a solution. This discussion about the moderation and state of this site has been popping up across multiple threads every week. How about the community actually get together and discuss the merits of actual proposed solutions, as well as provide their own solutions, instead of having fights with the mods every time someone gets moderated? Worst case scenario, at least all the discussion is now centralized for a place to reference for the future.

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

9

This is the Quality Contributions Roundup. It showcases interesting and well-written comments and posts from the period covered. If you want to get an idea of what this community is about or how we want you to participate, look no further (except the rules maybe--those might be important too).

As a reminder, you can nominate Quality Contributions by hitting the report button and selecting the "Actually A Quality Contribution!" option. Additionally, links to all of the roundups can be found in the wiki of /r/theThread which can be found here. For a list of other great community content, see here.

These are mostly chronologically ordered, but I have in some cases tried to cluster comments by topic so if there is something you are looking for (or trying to avoid), this might be helpful.


Quality Contributions in the Main Motte

@gattsuru:

@BahRamYou:

@johnfabian:

@2D3D:

@urquan:

@FCfromSSC:

Contributions for the week of April 29, 2024

@FCfromSSC:

@NullHypothesis:

@Felagund:

@self_made_human:

@Tenaz:

Contributions for the week of May 6, 2024

@gattsuru:

@cjet79:

@SlowBoy:

@Ben___Garrison:

Contributions for the week of May 13, 2024

@gattsuru:

@OliveTapenade:

@NelsonRushton:

@Gaashk:

@ares:

@Folamh3:

@faceh:

@Dean:

@Amadan:

@flitter:

Contributions for the week of May 20, 2024

@Walterodim:

@MadMonzer:

@NelsonRushton:

@urquan:

@FCfromSSC:

@Throwaway05:

@coffee_enjoyer:

Contributions for the week of May 27, 2024

@jeroboam:

@blooblyblobl:

@Rov_Scam:

@FiveHourMarathon:

@satirizedoor:

@blooblyblobl:

@gorge:

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

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On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

It's an essay about the various flaws modern feminist sex positivity culture has for women, and that it's often a good idea to refrain from sex even if one isn't religious. The author is an Only Fans model for context. I thought it did a great job laying out the downsides of ubiquitous sex.(Reposted because I accidentally linked to reddit instead of the original essay earlier).

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

47

Let me tell you a tale, young private, of my time after the service. Back in civilian land, a stranger to my own people. I got drunk for the better part of a decade. You think you want this life, listen up, because there's a price to pay for those stories.

When you're a drunk, your social circle is mostly in bars. I had my local. It wasn't the nicest or the grubbiest, it wasn't a meat market. It was a quiet, steady bar with a slightly older clientele. Dark inside, even darker booths. Stamped copper ceiling, left over from a wealthier time. A bullet hole over the bar that the owner claims happened during Prohibition, but I heard was from a drive-by in 1996.

This is the Nasty, and it's right on the strip. Hamilton Street. Five blocks of bars, restaurants and coffee shops with assorted tattoo parlors, barbers, bike shops and bail offices. Just across the river, the East side. One of the worst square miles in the US. Perennial murder capital contender, desperately poor, the abandoned urban underclass in the wake of de-industrialization. There were once over a hundred factories in Saginaw. Now there's three.

That's one three hundred yard bridge away from Hamilton Street, and it's the meeting place for the three sides of town. To the south, the Mexican quarter, to the west, the Township. The business owners on Hamilton are young and old. Some old proprietors hanging on for dear life. Some new ones filled with vision and ambition. All of them with more hope than sense. The town is dying.

I'd only been in town about four years at the time, fresh out the service and living with my younger brother, also just back from Iraq. It was a rough town, but we'd come from rougher.

Down to the pub, I like to think I was an excellent patron. Quiet, polite, my tab got paid in full, the staff got tipped every time, and well. A good pub can take years to get “in” to, but it's faster if you don't stiff the staff. You join the community. Learn the rules. Follow the code. The regulars and the semi-regulars. You start to learn about people slowly, over time.

John, an ever-so-slightly aged queen holds magnificent court with his coterie of fag-hags. It's always a fun time when they're in. Dom is rich or something and is forever buying rounds. Regulars stalk him. Neil, the manager, is forty and dating a different twenty-year-old every week. Nan, the heroically ugly and cantankerous bartender. She once threatened to “slap the dipshit out of your [my] face” for calling her “ma'am”. I wasn't going to try her.

But this story is about another regular. Name of Cowboy. He only comes in early in the day or late at night. A bit shorter than average, rail thin, all corded muscle, bad ink and long scraggly goattee. Works second shift, and hustles afterward. He makes the rounds at the bars late at night, sells beef jerky. Looks sketchy as hell, comes in a ziplock bag, but it is excellent. Kind of like Cowboy.

Now, Cowboy likes a drink, and I like drinks and beef jerky and we can both smell blood on the other. He's wizened, old before his time. Hard living, no doubt. He has full dentures, teeth knocked out in a prison fight. He's been in three times, he rides for the Outlaws, has the badges, has the ink. He's on parole for another ten years. I still don't know the details.

We bond over telling scar stories, every old soldier's favorite game. The stories start funny and get dark. There's some things you can't discuss with someone who can't directly relate, and when you find someone like that, there's a context to it. You don't understand now, you may later. It takes a while. You don't kiss on the first date with a guy like that. You gotta feel it out, get comfortable. Here we were, relative nobodies to the rest of the world, a broke-dick soldier and a lifelong criminal. But within our respective tiny subcultures, we were powerful and respected elders. The reason you're listening to my stories, young private.

Three terms, three deployments, three war zones.

Let me tell you son, my stories got nothing on old Cowboy's! I mean, mine might be crazier, and happen in a more exotic location, but his were so much more traumatic. It's one thing to go into battle with the might and money of a world superpower at your back, and another to have nothing and no one but yourself, and no win but more prison time with your opponents at the other end. Dude was a hard, hard man.

Generally kept my nose clean, by infantry standards. A bit of jail here and there for fighting, public drunkenness, stealing the flags off a golf course once...nothing serious.

So anyway, back to the story. The bar. The community.

I've been drinking in this bar for four years. I'm on my third set of owners. I've been here before most of the bartenders started. Now, one of the benefits of being a trusted regular is the lock-in.

So the boys hold a lock-in without us one night, lo and behold the cash is all gone in the morning. The whole night's takings. And half the liquor. None of this is discovered until Neil opens in the afternoon, and my brother and I wander in not ten minutes later.

The place is a bit of a mess, we help clean up and start figuring out what happened. Neil checks the security footage, and there it is, plain as day. The night bartender left the keys with one of his friends to lock up, and the guy cleaned the place out. We know this guy. We know his address. Nobody can think of his name right off, but who gives a shit?

The cops are no help, they'll take a statement but don't have time to waste on a few thousand in loose cash. This is bad for the bar, but it's really bad for those of us who like lock-ins.

Cowboy turns up, we brief him on what happened and he has a suggestion. For ten percent of the lost cash, he'll go over to the kids house with a couple of his Outlaw boys, put a bit of a fright into him, get him to give back the stuff. Way faster and cheaper than the cops!

Neil calls the owner, he says handle it. Cowboy goes outside to clear it with his boss in the MC. Comes back with bad news, the club won't sanction its guys for debt collection, and apparently this counts. Plan B.

What are the odds this popped-collar fuckwit knows what a proper Outlaw cut looks like? Are we outsmarting ourselves? Dan rides, he has a cut from a veteran MC. I used to ride, but sold my bike in Cali. We get on the phone.

Raoul is sixty-four, single, alcoholic. Looks like hispanic Colonel Sanders. I think he's been drunk since the seventies. He had a tough tour in Vietnam, I met him at the Purple Heart meetings. Sweet guy, a quiet and melancholy drunk, but good humored when roused. An inveterate poon-hound. He's a good dude, and hooks us up with a bike and a convincing-looking vest.

Cowboy has to work, so Dan and I do a basic recce. Walk the street, check the alley, count the exits. Windows are small and mostly high up, he's not gonna crawl out through those most likely. Three doors, one to the garage.

Back to our apartment. We talk over the plan, the scope. We leave weapons at home, pepper spray only. We're in sketchy legal area here. We aren't committing a crime, but we're going to be on his property and not necessarily friendly. If things go sideways, we don't want to escalate any more than necessary to break contact. We can always come back with more hardware, or men.

Cowboy turns up at midnight, and we roll out into the damp, dark night. Loud. This isn't a sneak operation, this is about intimidation. The whole neighborhood is going to peek out at this little show.

Fuck, I nearly forgot how much fun motorcycles are. And how incredibly scary they are when you ride with maniacs. I'm a highway cruiser, Dan has a death wish, and Cowboy was born on a bike or something. We come down that quiet cul-de-sac like thunder, line all three bikes up with the headlights pointed at the front door. My adrenaline is off the charts, I am not that good on a bike.

Dan splits off to the back, the garage is to our right, but the external door is closed. Cowboy mounts the steps to the porch, I stay one step back and to his left. The cut is a bit loose, Raoul is a lot thicker. Three loud raps at the door. Just enough to bounce the hinges a bit, you know? Take note, young private. Your knock should loosen a screw or two. Makes a good first impression.

Fuckwit comes stumbling to the door, must have slept the day. Queasy looking. Comes out of the door! Ok, we got this, this dude is not going to be a problem. If he barricaded, we might have had a time. He's quite a bit bigger than any of us, but that won't matter now.

He's disoriented, blinded by the lights behind us. He looks for a long moment at Cowboy, then at me. He's outside, the door is behind him. He's wearing sweatpants and flip flops. We're both within four feet of him. He knows us, but not by name, and not with biker gear on. We're both holding our helmets. He turns to go back through the door, and he can see straight down the hallway through the back sliding glass door, to where Dan is standing on his patio.

Cowboy puts his hand softly on Fuckwit's shoulder.

“Put everything back in your car, and take it back to the pub. We'll follow you.”

Fuckwit looks back at me. I give him my best evil grin.

He packs his car. People are looking. It's nearly one AM now, and suddenly people are wandering up and down the sidewalks, cell phones in hand. Whatever, Nasty PD ain't crossing the river for a noise complaint. It takes an uncomfortable amount of time though. That was a lot of hooch.

The escort is a good excuse for me to fall back and tail Fuckwit's ancient Buick. Dan and Cowboy are blasting up and down the wet, empty streets, popping wheelies, Charlie Mike. We take the scenic route through the neighborhood. It's last call when we roll back into the pub.

Neil boots the stragglers, makes Fuckwit restock the liquor and bans him from the bar. The whole of Hamilton Street already knows. Cowboy gets his ten percent, Dan and I get what turns out to be quite a lot of free drinks, and a special reward. We call Raoul to come down to pick up his bike and join us for a lock-in.

And that, ladies and gentle privates, is how I got a seat at the bar.

They've torn the place down now, but somewhere there is a small brass plaque that used to be nailed in front of the back corner stool of the pub.

Excuse me, but that's my seat. Is my name on it? Yes, yes it is. Would you like to speak to the manager?

Coda:

Cowboy died last year. Mid fifties,god knows of what. My brother rode up from North Carolina for the funeral. Six hundred people joined his wake. I had to borrow a bike. Older now, softer and relatively sober. I gave up the seat for a wife and a quiet life in the Nasty burbs. Dan has two kids and travels for work. Raoul is dead, years ago. There were no women at his funeral. I still see Neil from time to time. He's still dating twenty-year-olds and managing a bar. I never saw Fuckwit again. Still don't know his name.

I sometimes go back to the old neighborhood and walk its mountainous sidewalks, check in on old neighbors. Maybe have a drink at Neil's new place. Remind the streets. We're only old, we ain't dead yet.

20

I'm sorry HighSpace, I love you, I really do, but something about this project has been calling my name.

It all started with an idea for a decentralized recommendation engine in the vein of stumbleupon.com (I posted about it, but I think it got sucked into the vacuum of that database stroke we suffered a while back), but it has since took on a life of it's own. Originally the idea was to collect all the content I'd normally click “like” on, across various platforms, and present it as a curated feed of cool stuff I saw. The decentralization would come later on, as other people would hopefully join in, and we'd aggregate the results, and present them to each user according to their preferences. I wasn't convinced it's that great of an idea, so it languished for a while, until I remembered an old setup I had with Miniflux and Nitter that I'd use for keeping up with some people I followed, without opening a Twitter account. I thought Miniflux would provide a nice scaffolding for what I wanted to make, and Nitter would be a good start for a source of recommended content.

Nitter's dead, long live Nitter!

As we've all heard Nitter is dead, or is it? At one point I saw someone here link to privacydev's instance and after the core Nitter team gave up, I was using it every once in a while. It sure got slow, and it sure got unreliable, but not unreliable enough for me to believe the core functionality is completely crippled. I suspected it's a question of them not having enough accounts to make all the requests to Twitter, to serve all the people using the instance. Lo and behold, turns out I'm right, even though guest accounts are gone, you can still use it with a regular account, and there's even a script for fetching the auth tokens necessary to make nitter run. So I set the whole thing up, at first mostly just to have a Twitter frontend that's not absolute garbage, and it works like a charm! It's probably a good idea to add a few more accounts to avoid rate-limiting, but I've been using it on a single login without really running into issues.

Nitter's fine and well, but one of it's annoying limitations is that you have to look up an account directly. Timeline support is on it's roadmap, but they never got around to it, and it looks like now they never will. But what they do have is an RSS view, so you can add all the accounts you're interested in, and put their tweets together into a single timeline. For this, as already mentioned, I've used Miniflux. This has a lot of advantages that I really like. First, the tweets are in chronological order, and you can use an “unread” feed to only check the stuff you haven't seen yet. I find it much better than Twitter's “slotmachine” feed that shuffles tweets, lies to you about new content being available, and promotes people you haven't even followed. Secondly the tweets are automatically archived. Some people delete their spiciest takes, and even on Elon's Twitter accounts get occasionally yeeted, but since you're storing the content locally, all their bangers are safe with you. Thirdly - searchability. Twitter's search isn't even that bad, but what's missing for me is the ability to search the stuff I followed or liked. My memory is decent, but vague - “I saw that in a tweet I liked around X time”, “someone I followed used a phrase Y”, etc. Limiting the search to only people I follow, or to bookmarked RSS entries helps a lot.

I also had some issues with the setup. Miniflux only renders the titles of tweets, not their content. On the other hand, for some reason, Nitter renders the whole Tweet in the RSS entry title, which you'd think is a solution to the previous problem, but if you add a feed from non-nitter source, you end up with inconsistent rendering - you can read the tweets without clicking on each entry, but you have to check every entry from other feed types manually. So I made some adjustments! Nitter only renders basic info in the title (tweet author, who they're replying to / retweeting) and Miniflux actually renders the entire content on it's feed pages. The commit also includes the script to get the auth tokens. You can now happily scroll through all your content.

But wait, there's more!

So as I was happily using this setup, it occurred to me that images are quite important in the Twitter ecosystem. Sometimes people post memes with very little comment, sometimes they post screenshots of articles, sometimes they post images of text to get around the character limit. That's not an issue, it all renders fine, but since archiving is an important feature for me, I thought I need to do something about the images in case of banger deletion / account yeeting. So I made further adjustments! When the RSS entries are downloaded, their content is scraped for image tags, and they're automatically saved to Miniflux' database.

But that's not all! Since search is also an important feature for me, I thought “what if someone posts one of those wall-of-text images containing something interesting, and I'll only remember a phrase in the image, but nothing about the text of the tweet or it's author?”. Don't fret, another adjustment I made was to use gosseract, a Golang (which Miniflux is written in) OCR package, to automatically scan and transcribe the images, and to extend the search feature to look up the transcriptions as well! No spicy screenshotted headline will be able to hide from you now!

We're quite far from the original “p2p recommendation engine” idea, but I'm quite happy with the result. Back during one of the dotcom booms there was a saying to the effect of “just make an app you'd want to use”, and by that criterion I feel like I struck gold, so I thought I'd share it. There's potential to develop it further, both Substack and Youtube (still) offer RSS views of their content, and both have relatively-easy-to-access transcriptions. Automatically downloading audio or video content might be a tall order storage-wise, but it definitely will help with my chronic “I know I heard this on one of the several 5-hour long podcasts I listen to daily, but don't know which one" problem.

Now, if you're thinking, "that all sounds nice in theory, but I fell asleep reading the README of the repositories you linked to, and there's now way I'll bother setting any of this up" - you're in luck! For my next performance, if anyone's interested, I might set up a demo server.

If you want to take a stab at setting it up for yourself, and need help, I'll be happy to assist.

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I thought the Origins of Woke was a great book personally, although I shared a few of Scott's criticisms. Namely I thought it was a little weird how focused Hanania was on making sure workplaces be more conducive to finding sexual partners, and how much he cared about funding women's sports received. But overall I thought the book was great and captured a major causative factor of how Woke is so incredibly strong.

When people aren't allowed to acknowledge the flaws of Wokeness in the workplace or their employees will get sued, it creates an immense chilling effect. That's probably not the sole cause of wokeness, there are other factors like supporting impoverished minorities being a very convenient luxury belief to signal how much of a good person you are, but Hanania convinced me it was a major factor.

Full text from Substack:

Nietzsche's Morality in Plain English

In 1924, Clarence Darrow’s eight-hour plea for Leopold and Loeb blamed the universities and scholars of Nietzsche (who died in 1900) for their influence on Leopold:

He became enamored of the philosophy of Nietzsche. Your honor, I have read almost everything that Nietzsche ever wrote. A man of wonderful intellect; the most original philosophy of the last century. A man who had made a deeper imprint on philosophy than any other man within a hundred years, whether right or wrong. More books have been written about him than probably all the rest of the philosophers in a hundred years. … Is there any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life on it?

Nietzsche is popularly associated with Nazism and even before this with “the superman … free from scruple” that Darrow describes, but he was also popular among the left-anarchists and the Left generally. Meanwhile, Tyler Cowen reports that “if you meet [an intellectual non-Leftist, increasingly they are Nietzschean” (whatever that means). Common sense demands that some of these people are misreading him.

Pinning down a moral theory that we can engage faces some initial hurdles:

  1. Nietzsche’s views changed over time. His works appear to make contradictory claims.
  2. His writing is notoriously poetic and obscure.
  3. Huge volumes of notes left behind after his 1889 mental collapse were compiled into The Will to Power and the Nachlass notes. It’s unclear how to consider these since he wanted his notes destroyed after his death.

I favor Brian Leiter’s approach and conclusions in Nietzsche on Morality. He offers practical solutions: identifying his works starting from Daybreak (1881) as “mature work,” working to extract philosophical content from even his esoteric output, and avoiding claims that depend on unpublished notes, in part just because they’re low-quality.

Nietzsche’s overarching project is the “revaluation of all values”: a critique of herd morality (which he typically just refers to as “morality”) on the grounds that it’s hostile to the flourishing of the best type of person.

First his broad outlook. Philosophically, he supports a methodological naturalism where philosophy aspires to be continuous with natural or social scientific inquiry. Metaethically he’s an anti-realist about value and would ultimately admit to defending his evaluative taste.

His psychological views can be strikingly modern. He argues that our beliefs are formed from the struggle of unconscious drives which compete in our mind so that our conscious life is merely epiphenomenal. He advances what Leiter calls a “doctrine of types” where everyone is some type of guy and the type of guy you are determines the kind of life you can lead, and that you’ll hold whatever philosophical or moral beliefs will favor your interests. He doesn’t hold any extreme “determinist” position but is broadly fatalistic about how your type-facts circumscribe and set limits on the kind of person you’ll be and the beliefs you’ll hold, within which you can be influenced by your environment and values.

From here we can proceed to herd morality, the general class of theories associated with normal morality. Nietzsche criticizes three of its descriptive claims (quoting exactly from Leiter):

  1. Free will: Human agents possess a will capable of free and autonomous choice.
  2. Transparency of the self: The self is sufficiently transparent that agents’ actions can be distinguished on the basis of their respective motives.
  3. Similarity: Human agents are sufficiently similar that one moral code is appropriate for all.

In line with Nietzsche’s theory of psychology, these empirical beliefs are held in support of herd morality’s normative beliefs: free will is needed to hold people accountable for their actions and transparency of the self is needed to hold people accountable for their motives. Without invoking any strict determinism, Nietzsche’s fatalistic view of human types contradicts (1). His beliefs about the epiphenomenalism of consciousness attack the transparency of the self. Against (3), Nietzsche holds that what is good for someone must depend of their interests, and therefore on the type of guy he is.

In particular, herd morality is harmful to the “higher type” of man in service of the lowest. This concern is more essential than the descriptive claims. A few points:

  1. Who are these higher men? They’re mostly creative geniuses exemplified by Goethe, the person mentioned most in Nietzsche’s writings—Beethoven, Napoleon, and Nietzsche himself also qualify. Besides their genius, they share attitudes: they’re solitary and self-interested, using others for their benefit while maintaining a dignified and superior bearing; they demand great responsibilities; they’re resilient, energetic, and not pessimistic. Importantly, they would support the “eternal recurrence,” the repetition of their life forever.
  2. How does herd morality hinder their flourishing? a. It tells them that suffering is bad, so that otherwise great men who might suffer and create pursue pleasure instead. b. It encourages altruism, while really the higher men should pursue their demanding obsessions instead. c. It advocates for equal regard and treatment, which removes the motivation to improve and create since even if you do you’ll be no better than you were.
  3. How does this benefit the lower men? People believe things that serve their interests, and so per Nietzsche, the “lowest order” makes these rhetorical moves (quoted from Leiter): a. their impotence becomes “goodness of heart”; b. their anxious lowliness becomes “humility”; c. their “inoffensiveness” and their “lingering at the door” becomes “patience”; d. their inability to achieve revenge becomes their unwillingness to seek revenge; e. their desire for retaliation becomes a desire for justice; f. their hatred of the enemy becomes a hatred of injustice.
  4. Why is the flourishing of higher men important? Life is hard to justify with all of its suffering and striving interspersed with brief respites of pointless satisfaction. Nietzsche rescues life only by appeal to the aesthetic spectacle of genius, which he elevates to the most important business, the only thing making life worthwhile.

This straightforward description of his thinking sheds light on some aspects of his work. Some notes:

  • Nietzsche’s pessimistic view of human rationality helps explain the poetic and rhetorical style of his writing.
  • His metaethical views support his esoterism. He sometimes says outright that he’s writing for a particular kind of person and not for everyone.
  • Nietzsche’s higher man is an archetype well-suited specifically for artistic and creative work (Leiter describes “a penchant for solitude, an absolute devotion to one’s tasks, an indifference to external opinion”). He may also be unhappy, though Nietzsche seems a bit unclear about this.
  • Nietzsche explains past philosophers’ views with their alleged psychology and self-interest, so it’s tempting to subject him to a similar analysis based on his disruptive health issues and unrequited love.

The initial puzzle of which supporters are misinterpreting Nietzsche seems answered. Allan Bloom’s 1987 The Closing of the American Mind argues that the kind of life that Nietzsche values is compelling enough to be absorbed by different ideologies.

But in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the latest models of modern democratic or egalitarian man find much that is attractive in Nietzsche's understanding of things. It is the sign of the strength of equality, and of the failure of Nietzsche's war against it, that he is now far better known and really influential on the Left than on the Right.

It's not just that my clients lie to me a lot, which will only hurt them --- it's that they're really, really bad at it.

[Originally posted on Singal-Minded]


My job as a public defender puts me in a weird place. I am my clients' zealous advocate, but I'm not their marionette. I don't just roll into court to parrot whatever my clients tell me --- I make sure I'm not re-shoveling bullshit. So for my sake and theirs, I do my homework. I corroborate. I investigate.

A significant portion of my job ironically mirrors that of a police detective. Every case I get requires me to deploy a microscope and retrace the cops' steps to see if they fucked up somehow (spoiler: they haven't). Sometimes I go beyond what the cops did to collect my own evidence and track down my own witnesses.

All this puts some of my clients of the guilty persuasion in a bind. Sure, they don't want me sitting on my ass doing nothing for their case, but they also can't have me snooping around on my own too much. . . because who knows what I might find? So they take steps to surreptitiously install guardrails around my scrutiny, hoping I won't notice.

You might wonder why any chicanery from my clients is warranted. After all, am I not professionally obligated to strictly maintain client confidentiality? It's true, a client can show me where they buried their dozen murder victims and I wouldn't be allowed to tell a soul, even if an innocent person is sitting in prison for their crimes. Part of my clients' clammed-up demeanors rests on a deluded notion that I won't fight as hard for their cases unless I am infatuated by their innocence. Perhaps they don't realize that representing the guilty is the overwhelmingly banal reality of my job.[1] More importantly, it's myopic to forget that judges, prosecutors, and jurors want to see proof, not just emphatic assurances on the matter.

But clients still lie to me --- exclusively to their own detriment.


Marcel was not allowed to possess a firearm. And yet mysteriously, when the police arrested him --- the details are way too complicated to explain, even by my standards --- in his sister's vehicle, they found a pistol under the passenger seat.

"The gun is not mine. I don't even like guns. I'm actually scared of guns." He told me this through the jail plexiglass as I flipped through his remarkable résumé of gun-related crimes. Marcel spent our entire first meeting proselytizing his innocence to me. Over the next half hour he went on a genealogy world tour, swearing up and down on the lives of various immediate and extended members of his family that he never ever ever touched guns.

I was confused why he perseverated so much, but I just nodded along as part of my standard early precarious effort to build rapport with a new (and likely volatile) client. What he was telling me wasn't completely implausible --- sometimes people are indeed caught with contraband that isn't theirs --- but there was nothing I could do with his information at that early stage. Maybe he thought if he could win me over as a convert, I'd then ask for the case to be dismissed on the "he says it's not his" precedent.

Weeks later, I got the first batch of discovery. I perused the photographs that documented the meticulous search of his sister's car. I saw the pistol glistening beneath the camera flash, nestled among some CDs and a layer of Cheetos crumbs. And on the pistol itself, a sight to behold: to this day the clearest, most legible, most unobstructed fingerprints I have ever seen in my legal life. If you looked closely enough, the whorls spelled out his name and Social Security number.

Public defenders are entitled to ask the court for money to pay for private investigators, digital forensic specialists, fingerprint examiners, or whatever else is needed to ensure a defendant in a criminal case is provided with his constitutionally guaranteed legal bulwark. The photographed prints here were so apparent that an examiner could easily rely on the photos alone to make a comparison.

Marcel had earned himself some trolling from me. I went back to see him at the jail, faked as much enthusiasm as I could muster, and declared, "Good news! They found fingerprints on the gun!" He stared at me stunned and confused, so I continued.

"Well, when we first met, you told me that you never touched the gun," I reminded him with an encouraging smile. "Obviously you wouldn't lie to your own lawyer, and so what I can do is get a fingerprint expert to come to the jail, take your prints, then do a comparison on the gun itself. Since you never touched the gun, the prints won't be a match! This whole case will get dismissed, and we can put all this behind you!"[2]

He was still reeling but realized I was waiting for a response. "You. . . don't need to do that," he muttered. I had the confirmation I was looking for, but I pressed him while maintaining the facade of earnest congeniality.

"But why not?" I sang in staccato, smile wide. "You told me. That. You. Never. Touch any guns."

Turned out Marcel might have accidentally touched the gun. So his prints could be on it. I had made my point, so I dropped the act. I explained to Marcel that the only thing lying to me accomplishes is to slow things down and worsen his own prospects --- how could I pursue any potentially helpful leads for his defense when I couldn't be sure I wasn't about to bumble into an incriminating revelation?

Marcel nodded sagely and claimed to understand, but he went on to lie to me many more times over the next two years that I remained his attorney. Marcel has and will spend the majority of his adult life in prison --- not necessarily because he lied to me but that certainly didn't help.


My first meeting with Kyle was useless. He insisted throughout that it wasn't him, that he wasn't even there. Now, personally speaking, if several witnesses claimed to have seen someone who looks like me, in my car, with my girlfriend in the front seat, commit a drive-by shooting in broad daylight, I would summon slightly more curiosity about who this apparent doppelganger might be. But Kyle gave me no leads, pantomiming an internal agony about not wanting to be a snitch, clutching at his stomach as if the mere thought was physically unbearable.

His tune eventually changed. "I need you to tell the prosecutor who was driving my car," he said."His name is Richie Bottoms." If the name hadn't given it away, I already knew where this was going,[3] and I was excited for the coming entertainment. I pretended to be enthused by his revelation, and let Kyle know that I had a "really great" investigator who's phenomenal at tracking "anyone" down --- even the elusive Dick Bottoms.

Based on his reaction, that wasn't the response Kyle expected; another illustration of a myopic theory of mind (not uncommon among the interpersonally inept) incapable of simulating anything but affirmation. He tensed up momentarily, but realized that he'd already committed himself to acting out a demeanor congruent with the "innocent client responds to helpful attorney" fantasy. Yet the only excuse he could muster up in the moment was that Richie wouldn't be found because he fled to Los Angeles.

I maintained what must have been an obnoxious level of optimism, explaining how "perfect" that was because my investigator "knew lots of people" there. My job affords me few if any moments of joy, and so forgive me if I overindulged in Kyle's vexation. I'll spare you a full accounting of the myriad reasons he gave why tracking down Sir Bottoms was a lost cause. Suffice to say that in addition to being out of state, Richie had maybe fled the country; also, Richie happens to look almost identical to Kyle, but also we might not even know his real name since he went by "Arby," and no one had his phone number, et cetera. . .

Even when we moved on to other topics, Kyle couldn't let it go, interrupting whatever we were talking about to repeat warnings about how tracking down Richie was going to be a total waste of time for my investigator and me. He was palpably angry, but had no viable outlet for his frustration, and so he just stewed, stuck with his lie. I kept my poker face. It's a stark contrast to my factually innocent clients, who cannot help but drown me with leads to pursue in the hopes that any are helpful.

The whole thing reminded me of Carl Sagan's parable of the dragon in his garage as a critique of certain unprovable religious beliefs. Can I see the dragon? No, it's invisible. Can I detect its fire's thermal image? No, the fire is heatless. Can I find Dick in Los Angeles? No, because now he fled the country.

There's always some excuse --- there's always some eject button allowing my defendants to evade specific evidence demands. No matter how ridiculous.


It's banal for my clients to deny the accusations, but a special breed takes denial to the next level by waging total jihad against their accusers. It's a sort of a reverse counterpart to the Narcissist's Prayer:

If they claim I was driving during the hit-and-run, they're lying. And if they're liars, then they exaggerated their injuries. And they're exaggerating because they're after an insurance payday. And we know they're after a payday because they sued their dry cleaners in 1993. And they're framing me to get money, which is how we know they're lying.

In these clients' telling, nothing is their fault. The random bystanders who randomly drew the unlucky witness card become a convenient scapegoat. Yet these clients are so myopically overwhelmed by the desire to bounce the rubble on a witness's credibility, they don't notice how implausible their story becomes with each new clause they tape onto their fabulist's scrapbook.[4]

Sometimes clients are self-aware enough to couch their denials in innuendo. Ivan, who was accused of [redacted], was waging the same Total War approach against Cindy, a social worker at the homeless shelter where Ivan regularly stayed. Cindy was a dangerous witness --- an uninvolved, respected professional who severely undercut Ivan's alibi defense about having never left the shelter to go on his [redacted] spree.

In yet another of our jail rendezvous, Ivan expounded at length about how Cindy's testimony was invalid because, as a social worker, she would be violating HIPAA.[5] The glaze over my eyes must have gotten too obvious for me to hide, so he switched tack, shuffled through his jail-sanctioned filing system (read: pile), and slid a flyer across the table about trash cleanup day at the shelter, with a smiling cartoon trash can picking up a baby garbage bag while announcing "Pick up a little trash, talk a little trash." It's cute, but what the fuck was I supposed to be looking at? Ivan stared at me grinning and expectant, but his demeanor quickly turned into disappointment at my ongoing silence. He snatched the flyer out of my hand and jammed his finger at the "talk a little trash" clause. "This!" he shouted, and then just stared at me again. I looked at the words that meant so much to him and nothing to me and just said, "Huh?"

His disappointment transmogrified into astonished anger. "Do I have to fucking spell it out for you?" he screamed. "I thought you were the lawyer here!" We had been ping-ponging across various aspects of his case for the last hour or so and I gave up on any posturing and reiterated my ignorance at the significance of the cartoon flyer. Ivan snapped, "Cindy is encouraging people to trash talk!" For, you see, she wrote the flyer. "I'm trying to show you that she's a fucking punk! And a liar!"

I immediately understood why Ivan was so attached to remaining within the realm of innuendo. Because as soon as he gave his claim some body ("We should infer lack of credibility from individuals when they author flyers that include garbage-related puns"), he knew how much of a dumbass he would sound like out loud.

Ivan moved on from the flyer, and instead asked how to disqualify a witness "for being a liar." I tell him that's not a thing,[6] which sent him into a further rage. "I need you to be on my side here but all I hear from you is 'NO.' Why are you working for the prosecutors?"


The manipulation attempts we just cataloged were comically inept, and fell apart with far less effort than it took to create them. Slightly more polished versions of these charades are regularly deployed within the Discourse™ but they're equally hollow and just as pathetic. So those are some of my clients --- individuals who cannot rise to the level of your average internet troll.


[1] There is a kernel of an exception that is almost not worth mentioning. The Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3 obligates me with the duty of candor. I am not allowed to present evidence that I "know" is false, which encompasses witness testimony. Some jurisdictions make exceptions to this rule for defendants testifying in their criminal trial (correctly, IMO) but not all. So assuming that a client truthfully confesses to me, assuming we go to trial, assuming they decide to testify, and assuming I "know" they're going to lie, then yes, this could indeed spawn a very awkward situation where I'm forced to withdraw in the middle of proceedings.

[2] I'm told I put on a good poker face.

[3] There was no Richie Bottoms.

[4] For example, Kyle asked if it was possible to present self-defense evidence on behalf of "Richie Bottoms," just in case.

[5] Does this sound familiar to anyone?

[6] During the editing process, Jesse was skeptical of this. "Wait," he asked me in a Google Doc comment, "there's NO way for one side to prove to a judge that a witness is so untrustworthy the jurors/judge shouldn't consider their testimony?" Correct. The closest rule is disqualifying a witness as incompetent, either for being too young, severely mentally ill or mentally retarded, or too intoxicated (on the witness stand!). Credibility is up to the judge/jury to decide, and if a witness has a history of lying, then it makes for a very easy credibility impeachment. Theoretically, in extremely rare circumstances, a judge could strike the testimony of a witness or find them in contempt, but they'd have to be seriously flagrant about their lying under oath. I have never heard of this happening.

26

I made this list not out of snark or spite, but because it has rained all day, rained, even, on me as I took my walk, which I cut short, and because I have been making notes for months, and now seemed as good a time as any.

I had a long intro for this, hearkening back to grad school and people using terms they thought others knew and probably others did know but maybe not, and argots, and random musings, but I'll spare you.

These are words or terms I've seen in my many months here that I didn't know, or did know but didn't put together with their meaning. I am linking specific posts to where they were used, though these I found by doing a hard-search and are not necessarily the posts where I first saw the word/term. Any mistakes or misrepresentations are my fault. I hope this is helpful to others among us who are sometimes as confused as I am. Probably many of you know all these and must imagine me very old to post this. So be it.

If you recognize yourself as the author, I am not intending to be snide, or criticize your post. You just got lucky.

Edit: Many of these are probably going to need to be updated and tweaked. Feel free to add comments.

Let's start with the biggie:

asabiyyah: a concept of social solidarity with an emphasis on unity, group consciousness, and a sense of shared purpose and social cohesion.

ex: “I don't think democracy, in itself, will help you maintain Asabiyyah any more than theocracy will, or vice versa.”

Bagdhad Bob: When war propaganda becomes so out of touch with reality it turns comedic and achieves the opposite of the desired effect. It is said such propaganda is "Baghdad Bobbed" exactly at the moment when this threshold is crossed. From Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Iraqi War Information Minister in 2003.

ex: "In such a scenario, this is a very strong way to build a reputation for accuracy, and counter what seems like an emerging narrative even in the West that the Ukrainian government may be Baghdad Bobbing (I've seen a lot of palpable irritation about Zelenskiy's recent implausibly low figure for Ukrainian casualties, and before that the stories like the Kramatorsk air defence accident already strained the relationship)."

Baumol’s Cost Disease: From the late William Baumol, NYU’s Stern School of Business. used to explain why prices for the services offered by people-dependent professions with low productivity growth—such as (arguably) education, health care, and the arts—keep going up, even though the amount of goods and services each worker in those industries generates hasn’t necessarily done the same.

"This is Baumol's cost disease in a nutshell."

Note: @jeroboam helpfully linked a Wiki page in this instance.

Chesterton’s fence: rule of thumb that suggests that you should never destroy a fence, change a rule, or do away with a tradition until you understand why it's there in the first place

"So if you really believe that reality is created by our beliefs then this is a massive Chesterton's Fence."

consent à outrance: From the French. Suggests an agreement or consent that is given fully and without reservation, sometimes to the point of being excessive or without consideration of the consequences.

“It brings to mind feminist consent-a-outrance ideas, where second-to-second affirmative consent in the presence of a notary is the current-year standard for wholesome sex.”

CRT: Critical Race Theory.

"…CRT, BLM, Gays and Abortion, which between them comprise the majority of Social Justice's most visible ideological commitments."

DRM: (I saw it used as a verb but have no link because I can no longer find it). Digital Righs Management. Presumably restricting the ways in which content (music, whatever) can be used, copied, or distributed.

Dunbar-limited world: Reference to Robin Dunbar, biological anthropologist. The “Dunbar Number” is the upper limit on the number of social relationships a human can effectively manage. (I believe it is supposed to be 150.)

"When it comes to physical goods, proprietary knowledge, or genuinely clandestine information in a Dunbar-limited world, these concerns basically make sense."

Einsatzgruppen: : From the German. Actually, a German word. These were “mobile killing units,” best known for their role in the murder of Jews in mass shooting operations during the Holocaust.

"Seems to me large parts of the military were involved in it, or otherwise 'pacifying' to allow the einsatzgruppen to do their work."

Euthyphro: : A “straight-thinker.” A combination of εὐθύς (euthys), which means straight or direct and φρονέω (phroneô) which means to think or to reason.

"We can Euthyphro this all day but even setting aside questions of the One True Good, the loss of that external nudge has been disastrous."

NB: Alternate definition here.

Frasurbane: portmanteau of the sitcom Frasier and urbane, is the wonderfully specific aesthetic of late '90s interiors of people who want to come across as sophisticated and worldly.

“As a Frasurbane adult, I take edibles with my wife and go to a nice dinner and La Boheme and I think that is a just-fine thing to do.”

HBD: If you do not know what this means, that’s weird, because it is almost a theme here. Human Biodiversity. Some here swear by its truth, others do not swear by it but expect it’s real, others think it’s dubious. Too many instances to choose from.

lolcow : A person whose eccentric or foolish behaviour can be exploited to amuse onlookers.

“I suspect that a trans movement capable of producing activists that leave kiwifarms alone also would not produce so many lolcows.”

idpol: abbreviation based on identity politics is politics based on a particular identity, such as race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social background, caste, etc.

"We’re barely or not even a year removed from when the race-card was (successfully) played to agitate for Embiid getting the MVP instead of Jokic, to essentially zero pushback on the idpol front."

If-by-whiskey: If-by-whiskey is a type of argument that supports both sides of a topic by employing terminology that is selectively emotionally sensitive. Originates from a speech given by Mississippi state representative Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr. in 1952.

"There's a lot of if-by-whiskey, where sometimes the alt-right was just the nutty white nationalists when defining their ideology, others where it was people who hadn't denounced them heavily enough, and then other times the alt-right was pretty much everyone to the right of Mitt Romney."

Kolmogorov Complicity: Originated with Scott Alexander from his blog. Reference to the Soviet mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov. The idea of navigating or conforming to oppressive orthodoxies while still trying to contribute to the growth of knowledge and truth discreetly.

“Like I've said the last 3 times we've had this conversation, Kolmogorov Complicity is just Complicity.”

libfem: Stands for liberal feminist, also known as intersectional feminism or third wave feminism. A societal ideology focused on power dynamics and microlabels. a main branch of feminism defined by its focus on achieving gender equality through political and legal reform within the framework of liberal democracy and informed by a human rights perspective.

“The far end of libfem, maybe.”

MGTOW: an acronym for Men Going Their Own Way, an online social movement and backlash to feminism where men renounce interactions with women and seek to define and live out their masculinity on their own terms.

“It’s largely an excuse to remain single into middle age and to reject marriage without adopting the most cringe (some would claim) aspects of MGTOW.”

Orbanization: : (maybe) the process of adopting political strategies and governance methods that are similar to those of Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary. Orbán's tenure has been characterized by a centralization of power, control over media, erosion of checks and balances within government structures, and a move towards what is sometimes called "illiberal democracy."

"There won’t be a civil war, though, a slow Orbanization is more feasible and the modern American ruling class is much more disunited than they were 30 years ago (the Israel question discussed above is one example)."

Overton window: an approach to identifying the ideas that define the spectrum of acceptability of governmental policies. It says politicians can act only within the acceptable range. Shifting the Overton window involves proponents of policies outside the window persuading the public to expand the window.

“Transgender politics wasn’t in the Overton window at this point.”

Pascal’s Wager: the argument that it is in one's rational self-interest to act as if God exists, since the infinite punishments of hell, provided they have a positive probability, however small, outweigh any countervailing advantage.

"Pascal's wager is terrible because infinite rewards break game theory."

Pill colors: Red, Blue, Black

  1. Red Pill: In the context of online communities, particularly those focused on gender and relationships, "Red Pill" refers to the belief that men have been socially disadvantaged and that conventional beliefs about gender, attraction, and social interaction are misleading or false. It often involves the idea that men need to become aware of and confront these supposed harsh realities to improve their own lives. The term is frequently used in men's rights and certain dating advice communities.
  2. lue Pill: The "Blue Pill" is often posited as the opposite of the "Red Pill." It represents adherence to conventional or mainstream beliefs about gender, relationships, and society. In communities that use these terms, taking the "Blue Pill" means accepting societal norms and beliefs without questioning them, often portrayed as living in blissful ignorance.
  3. lack Pill: The "Black Pill" takes a more fatalistic and often nihilistic viewpoint compared to the Red Pill. It's associated with a belief that certain unchangeable traits (like physical appearance, height, etc.) predominantly determine one's success in areas like dating and social interaction. Black Pill ideology is often linked with extreme pessimism, defeatism, and a belief that systemic changes or personal improvements are largely futile.

PMC : Professional/Managerial Class

“I’ve been to many wonderful small towns in the US, but they were all in New England or in the outer suburbs of wealthy cities and the residents all had some source of external wealth, either from commuting into highly-paid PMC jobs in the nearest major city or from tourism.”

purity spiral: a sociological theory which argues for the existence of a form of groupthink in which it becomes more beneficial to hold certain views than to not hold them, and more extreme views are rewarded while expressing doubt, nuance, or moderation is punished

"Once the ground shifted underneath them and their purity spiral was broken, leftists would just forget their causes in exactly the same way they forget e.g. their support for Stalin in the 50s, or all the crazy shit they said in 2020."

quant: short for quantitative analyst.

A hard search for this term provided too many instances of other words using these five letters, e.g. quantify, etc. and I didn’t have the patience to keep looking. But I’ve seen this term used and you will, too, if you keep reading this forum.

quokka: I have no idea what this means except a small marsupial. Help. Thank you @naraburns. The origin is here. From what I can gather a quokka is a kind of gentle-dispositioned person, innocent of nature, who is a bit of a nerd and wants to discuss things in good faith. Often applicable to certain autists. It is not a pejorative term. Edit: Maybe it is.

"Can you imagine a bunch of quokkas going about EA and Skynet every two days on the forum?"

Russell conjugation: a rhetorical technique used to create an intrinsic bias towards or against a piece of information.

“Let's work out the Russell conjugation: I offer good-faith criticisms of the United States, you disparage America as part of a project to prove how great Russia is.”

shape-rotator: Someone with high mathematical and technical skills, often portrayed as rivals to the wordcels (who have stronger language and verbal skills)

“I thought we were shape rotators?”

soyjak: (I still only vaguely understand this.) An online image of an emasculate man, often with an excited expression, with an art style based upon the original wojak.

"This looks more like an excuse to draw your enemies as the soyjak and yourself as the, uh, tiger." Edit: Despite repeated attempts, I cannot get this link to work.

stochastic: having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analysed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.

“All efforts to reconcile the stochastic distribution of boons and curses dished upon us with a belief in an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent Creator are, well, rather moot when you recognize that there's no reason (or grossly insufficient reason) to assume one exists.”

technocrat: an adherent to technocracy, or the government or control of society or industry by an elite of technical experts as opposed to professional politicians.

“The technocrats pretend to believe in that so that they can trick normies into hypersexual practices that obliterate communities.”

thot: From “That Ho Over There.” A woman who has (or is presumed to have, for whatever reason) many casual sexual encounters or relationships. Likewise, e-thot is a woman who makes money online from male (or predominantly male) audiences, by doing whatever for cash.

"I've seen sponsored ads (with the "ad" tag) for individual OnlyFans thots."

Third World-ism: a political concept and ideology that emerged in the late 1940s or early 1950s during the Cold War and tried to generate unity among the nations that did not want to take sides between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“Third worldism, or really socialism in general, had a uniquely compelling message to many leaders, and to many of the young, middle/upper middle class students who wielded or would eventually wield significant amounts of power over many developing countries in the latter half of the twentieth century.”

Noe: various users question the meaning and use of this term.

tradfem: a portmanteau of "traditional feminism" in reference to belief that adherence traditional feminine gender roles are better or more correct, especially those held by conservative Christian Americans, especially WASPs. Edit: Also a play on "radfem" or radical feminist. Thank you again, @naraburns.

“The Harrington and the other tradfems are hard to place on the left-right axis.”

Varg: I still don’t know what this means. I found various meanings of varg but none are satisfactory. Help.

Von Neumann: synonymous with “really big-brained person” as far as I can tell. Refers to John Von Neumann, a computer guy. Notably a “Von Neumann probe” would be a spacecraft capable of replicating itself. Edit: As I said above, misrepresentations are my fault.

"I've worked in QA for a couple years and I wouldn't touch whatever software would be used for digitization with a ten-foot pole even if it would've been written by fifty von Neumanns."

Westphalian: the concept of state sovereignty and the idea that each state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs, free from external interference. From a series of treaties in 1648. We also have a member with this as part of his username.

“Christian nationalism, which is hard to talk about because no one agrees what it means, is hardly guaranteed to impinge on Westphalian tolerance.”

Wignat "wigger nationalist" and was originally used to describe lower class, violent, and unattractive neo Nazis that were willing to engage in street violence and unabashed Nazism with the use of swastikas and other symbols.

"Hanania’s a gentile but he’s also Palestinian so most wignats would consider him nonwhite or an edge-case at best."

x

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.