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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









Contributions for the week of August 28, 2023



Contributions for the week of September 4, 2023






All Moderators Are Bastards




The Aliens Have Landed Gentry





Contributions for the week of September 11, 2023





Will the Real America Please Stand Up?




Contributions for the week of September 18, 2023





The Best Offence is a Good Defense




Who's Cheating Whom?




Contributions for the week of September 25, 2023





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.

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Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Google Podcasts, Podcast Addict, and RSS.

In this episode, an authoritarian and some anarchist(s) have an unhinged conversation about policing.

Participants: Yassine, Kulak, & Hoffmeister25 [Note: the latter's voice has been modified to protect him from the progressive nanny state's enforcement agents.]


About the Daniel Penny Situation (Hoffmeister25)

Posse comitatus (Wikipedia)

Lifetime Likelihood of Going to State or Federal Prison (BJS 1997)

The Iron Rule (Anarchonomicon)

Eleven Magic Words (Yassine Meskhout)

Blackstone's ratio (Wikipedia)

Halfway To Prison Abolition (Yassine Meskhout)

Defunding My Mistake (Yassine Meskhout)

Recorded 2023-09-16 | Uploaded 2023-09-25

The goal of this thread is to coordinate development on our project codenamed HighSpace - a mod for Freespace 2 that will be a mashup between it and High Fleet. A description of how the mechanics of the two games could be combined is available in the first thread.

Who we have

I hope you don't mind I moved you to Consultants for now, @netstack. I'm always torn between keeping people in their originally declared roles as encouragement, and not wanting to harass them into contributing, when writing the contributor list. I'll be more than happy to re-add you as a dev if you're still on board.

Who we need

The more the merrier, you are free to join in any capacity you wish! I can already identify a few distinct tasks for each position that we could split the work into

  • developers: “mission” code, “strategic” system map code

  • artists: 2D (user interface), 3D (space ships, weapons explosions)

  • writers: worldbuilding/lore, quests, characters

A small note if you want to contribute:

Don't be afraid to ask questions however small, or silly you might find them. This is literally one of the primary functions this thread has. The Hard Light documentation is... there... but it's not great, and between that, the peculiarities of LUA, the FS2 scripting API, RocketLib, and other parts of FS2 modding, it really might not be obvious how to resolve issues you run into. I might not be able to answer all questions, but I've dabbled in all these things, so there's good chances I might be able to help.

What we have

  1. Capital ships

  2. Fighters

  3. A cruiser, loaded in-game

  4. Turntable render for a cruiser

  5. Turntable render for a destroyer

  • A proof of concenpt for “strategic” system map we jump into on start of the campaign. It contains a friendly ship and 2 enemy ships, you can chose where to move / which enemy ship to attack.

  • A “tactical” RTS-like in-mission view where you can give commands to your ships.

  • A somewhat actual-game-like workflow. Attacking a ship launches a mission where the two ships are pitted against each other. If you win, the current health of your ship is saved, and you can launch the second attack. If you clean up the map you are greeted with a “You Win” message, or “You Lose” if you lose your ship.


It was another slow month, but things are finally starting to move. Literally. I added a current time display (set to the very beginning of the universe for now), and time can be paused / started / fast-forwarded. I also added a side bar with some help text (I thought the controls were relatively obvious, only to realize that what seemed obvious depended on the game I was most recently playing). The planets are the only things that move on their own for now, but I should be able to extend that feature to ships pretty soon. I'm not sure if this idea will go anywhere, but I'm thinking of having ships be able to move through conventional and subspace drives, the former obviously only being useful for planet-moon type distances.

Other than that I spent a lot of time optimizing. Brute-forcing my way through "find me the ship under the mouse cursor" was fine for a proof-of-concept, but I was finding myself making more and more "get me the nearest X" queries, so it was time to shove everything into a spatial index. I'm quite happy with the result, but it's not really something you can show off visually (well, unless you really want to).

What's next

  • Getting the ships to move along an orbit.

  • Real-time ship movement (sub-space, and conventional)

  • Obstacle mechanics for the planets

The gap

This gap between the average male and female life expectancy of given population group is alternately labeled as Life Expectancy Gender Gap (LEGG) or Gender Gap in Life Expectancy (GGLE). Going forward I will be using the LEGG acronym.

The expectancy

There are basically two types of life expectancy. In historical context, we usually refer to the Cohort Life Expectancy. We track a group of people born in a particular year, many decades ago, and observe the exact date in which each one of them died. Then we can calculate this cohort’s life expectancy by simply calculating the average of the ages of all members when they died.

It is of course not possible to know this metric before all members of the cohort have died. That is why when talking about the present and the future we use Period Life Expectancy. This is an estimate of the average length of life for a hypothetical cohort assumed to be exposed, from birth through death, to the mortality rates observed at one particular period – commonly the previous year. Estimates of life expectancy of the current generation, which are also used in the calculations of indexes like the Human Development Index or Gender Development Index, are of this Period Life Expectancy type.

There is a corollary: because we are judging the existing generation based on mortality rates of the previous year only, whatever happened to that generation before that year is not taken into account. So let's say. if there was a recent deadly pandemic that affected one gender disproportionally, and this pandemic ended and is not affecting the mortality rates of the previous year, there will be little evidence of said gender disproportionally in the current life expectancy estimates.

The lost years

The first important thing to know about the LEGG is that its impact is, without an exaggeration, enormous. Let's take for example the US, with a LEGG of 5.8 years at the average predicted age for men and women 73.5 and 79.3 years respectively. Do you see the enormity? You don't, do you.

Ok, let's put things into perspective - how do you measure an impact of early death? With Years of Potential Life Lost (YPLL). This is an estimate of the average years a person would have lived if they had not died "prematurely". It is usually reported in years per 100,000 people and the reference, "mature" age should correspond roughly to the life expectancy of the population and is now usually given as 75 years.

Now, men and women in the US lose some 8,265 and 4,862 potential years per of life per 100,000. Given the population as 332 millions, men lose some 5,648,980 more years of potential life than women. Do you see the enormity now? Not yet?

During the roughly 3.5 years of WW2 the US lost 407,300 military and 12,100 civilian lives. With an average life expectancy back then 68 years, and a guestimated age at the time of death 21 years, every killed American lost some 47 years and the US as a whole lost some 5,640,000 potential years of life every year of the war. Do you see the enormity of the LEGG now? I think you do.

The causes

The second important think to know about the LEGG is that nobody seem to care. Biologists, statisticians, politicians, Wikipedians - not even men's rights activists - nobody seems to be franticly looking for the causes or proposing policies to stop this haemorrhage of men's lives. Let me paraphrase what Wikipedia has to says about it:

It is the life style, men drink more and smoke more and eat crap. And it is also the biology, men lack the double X chromosome, we see this across all mammalian species, plus male babies and boys dies of diseases much more than girls.

Speaking of Wikipedia, it has dedicated pages for many things, including the Orgasm gender gap, but it does not have a dedicated page for the LEGG.

To my surprise I have not been able to find any further information, neither on biology forums, nor on Google Scholar. Studies usually focus on one cause or divide the mechanisms into social and biological but there our knowledge seem to end.

At this point I was so intrigued that I decided to do some "research" myself. My first observation was that there is a great variance between developed countries with similar GDP and life expectancy, suggesting that a large part of the gap is not biological. Example:

  • 2021 Norway - LE: 83.16 years, LEGG: 3,0 years
  • 2021 France - LE: 82.32 years, LEGG: 6,2 years

Next, I knew where to find Eurostat data on causes of death - unfortunately only from 2010 - and I filtered out everything mechanical: suicides, assaults, accidents and drug and alcohol overdoses. The LEGG shrunk significantly:

  • 2010 Norway - all LEGG: 4.54 | non-mechanical LEGG: 3,51, decrease by 29.5%
  • 2010 France - all LEGG: 7.14 | non-mechanical LEGG: 6.19, decrease by 15.3%

Then I was curious how much of the LEGG is caused by mortality differences of infants and children so I calculated non-mechanical LEGG at 20 years, as opposed to LEGG at birth. The difference is negligible:

  • 2010 Norway - non-mechanical LEGG at birth: 3,51, non-mechanical LEGG at 20: 3.37, difference: 3.8%
  • 2010 France - non-mechanical LEGG at birth: 6.19, non-mechanical LEGG at 20: 6.07, difference: 1.7%

Next, I did one more napkin calculation. Assuming that smoking reduces the life expectancy on average by 10 yers and smoking rate among French men and women are 0.349 and 0.319 and smoking rate among Norwegian men and women are 0.17 and 0.154, I reduced the LEGG further:

  • 2010 Norway - all LEGG: 4.54 | non-mechanical, non-smoking LEGG: 3,35, decrease by 35.7%
  • 2010 France - all LEGG: 7.14 | non-mechanical, non-smoking LEGG: 5.89, decrease by 21.2%

Of course this does not mean the reminder is caused by biological factors. There are drugs and alcohol, there is a meat consumption and overall life style. Man also do more paid work so there is work related stress and exposure. It should not be a rocket science to isolate these factors, actually, it would amount to a very cool paper with plenty of citations. So where is this paper?

Actually, I found one piece of information: Causes of Male Excess Mortality: Insights from Cloistered Populations, the abstract talks about 11,000 Bavarian monks and nuns living in "very nearly identical behavioral and environmental conditions" with nuns having only a "slight advantage" in life expectancy - whatever that means, I can't access the paper itself. This of course only applies to men and women who already survived into their teens or twenties, but as we saw above the contribution of different child mortality to LEGG is negligible.

The bad and the ugly

FYI, about 80% of suicide victims are men and suicide is the second leading cause of death in middle aged men only after car accidents. Also, 90% of workplace accidents are men - constructions, mining, trucking, heavy industry, you know - and even though the total numbers are too small to meaningfully influence the LEGG it does not cover exposure to chemicals, hard labour or health impact of night shifts.

Some social and biological mechanisms out there are causing men to lose life equivalent to WW2 every year. We should be creating policies to reduce this loss but we don't. Why? We know that men are far less likely than women to visit a doctor. Where are the public health campaigns and safe driving campaign targeted at men specifically?

Could it be the case of "you grow what you measure"? UN's Gender Development Index that measures gender disparity in achievements between men and women very quietly removes 5 years from the LEGG in it's calculations, arguing that men living 5 years shorter is necessary biology. The Global Gender Gap Report published annually by the World Economic Forum does something similar, arguing that if women live at least 6% longer than men, parity is assumed - but if it is less than 6% it counts as a gender gap.

As a corollary, women is Norway living only 3 years longer than men is interpreted as oppression.


This is a weekly thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or IR history. I usually start off with coverage of some current events from a mix of countries I follow personally and countries I think the forum might be interested in. Feel free to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the Ukraine War, the Canada-India beef, or even just whatever you’re reading.


The Dominican Republic has closed its border with Haiti (tbh surprised this took so long) over the construction of a Haitian canal that:

Officials in the Dominican Republic say the project will divert water from the Massacre River, which runs in both countries, and violate the 1929 Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Arbitration.

Presumably the spillover of lawlessness was also a concern.

The details of a Kenyan led multinational intervention force for Haiti are finally being hammered out. Kenya will pledge 1000 troops; America will pledge $100 million to the operation, and has also now signed a defense agreement with Kenya to help them combat the Jihadi group Al Shabaab. This has taken a remarkably long time (it still hasn’t been finally approved by the UN) given that President Moïse was assassinated two years ago and the country has been in semi-anarchy since. It is definitely less than ideal to use a country whose soldiers don’t speak French and is currently dealing with charges of police brutality in the ICC, but it’s something I guess.


Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt held the second round of talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which would double Ethiopia’s electricity generation but Sudan and Egypt are both worried would imperil their water supply. Unfortunately the talks seemingly brought the countries no closer to an agreement. According to Ethiopian President Abiy, the dam is now fully ready to be brought into operation - hopefully they work something out soon! There is supposed to be one more round of talks, which so far all the parties are still willing to attend.

Fighting seems to have flared up again in the Amhara region, where the ethnic militia Fano has been in rebellion over Abiy’s attempt to integrate it into the national armed forces.


Poland will be holding elections on the 15th, along with a general referendum on migration on the same day. Don’t know much about it and would be interested to hear from others:

While in 2019 PiS won 43.6% of the vote, the party is now several percentage points below that level of success at 38% as of 9 September, according to the latest POLITICO poll. Trailing behind Pis is Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition party - Koalicja Obywatelska - with 30% of the vote and the far-right Confederation Freedom and Independence - Konfederacja Wolsność i Niepodległość - with 11% of the vote. The current polls suggest that PiS, which has been ruling Poland since 2015, might look for a coalition partner to form the next government as it fails to reach an overall majority, though it’s still unclear where it will find one.


Azerbaijan has fully reasserted control over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia has warned against harming Armenians, but the 2000 Russian peacekeepers who were put in place to end the 2020 conflict do not seem to have the capacity or interest in helping them (The Azeri President Aliyev apologized to Putin for killing some of them and it’s apparently chill). This is likely the culmination of the past three years - Russia didn’t do much to help Armenia in the 2020 conflict either, and since then Armenia withdrew from CSTO and have sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Recently the Armenian President said publicly that they cannot rely on Russia to defend them anymore and had begun conducting joint military drills with the US.

Iran has warned against “border changes,” which is interesting. Iran doesn’t want to derail the overland routes they've invested in to be built across Armenia, and has also historically been a weapons supplier for the country (in part because Azerbaijan receives weapons from Israel). But they have something of a delicate game to play when challenging Azerbaijan, due to their own ~16% Azeri minority on the border. Previous President Rouhani made it a major initiative to improve relations with Iranian Azeris (some of whom are very integrated and others of whom occasionally protest) by allowing Azeri to be taught in schools, recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijan territory, and staying out of the 2020 conflict. Still, however, Azerbaijan regularly accuses Iran of favoring Armenia and tensions have never really disappeared.

Meanwhile, a pretty big chunk of the population in Nagorno Karabakh seems to be reading the room and heading for Armenia now that the Lachlin corridor is open.

Some 28,000 people — about 23% of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh — have fled to Armenia since Azerbaijan’s swift military operation to reclaim the region after three decades of separatist rule. The mass exodus caused huge traffic jams. The 100-kilometer (60-mile) drive took as long as 20 hours.

Edit: Reports are saying it's up to almost 75% of the population that have now fled.


Speaking of breakaway republics and peacekeeping operations, a group of Serbians opened fire on Albanian policemen, who then returned the favor. The shootout left at least four dead and has further inflamed an increasingly tense situation:

Kurti accused the Serbian government on Sunday of logistically supporting “the terrorist, criminal, professional unit” that fired on Kosovo Police officers. Vucic denied the allegations, saying the gunmen were local Kosovo Serbs “who no longer want to withstand Kurti’s terror.”

President Vučić has demanded the UN deploy a peacekeeping force to take over the nation’s security. There is already a pretty large UN contingent in Kosovo, so I guess mainly he’s asking for a change in their scope of operations. The two countries are supposedly in the process of normalizing relations but it sure doesn’t look too likely at the moment.


Do you remember the coup in Bolivia? Long time socialist President Evo Morales was forced out of office after big protests against voting irregularities. A wacky lady named Jeanine Áñez took power in the wake and started promptly committing massacres. Áñez held off elections as long as possible until they ultimately resulted in Morales’ Movement for Socialism party re-winning the Presidency under his protege Luis Arce.

A lot of people at the time claimed it was a coup; further analysis of the voting records seems to indicate maybe they weren’t actually irregular, and there were suspicions that the west wasn’t wild about Bolivia closely guarding its nationalized lithium ion deposits - suspicions notable lithium-ion fan Elon Musk didn’t help by responding, for some reason, “We will coup whoever we want. Deal with it!” Ironically, Acre has just announced that he will open up Bolivia for lithium extraction from foreign companies.

Either way, things may be coming full circle with Morales returning to the palace after all - he just announced that he will be running in the 2025 election. Acre hasn’t actually formally announced that he himself will be running again, but it’s unlikely that he’ll step aside just because Morales wants him to - the two have experienced a rift over the past few years, with Morales accusing Acre of hounding him with bonus corruption charges. Acre’s justice department will certainly be challenging Morales’ candidacy, but probably deservedly so - he’s already exceeded the constitutional limits on the number of terms you can serve.


And speaking of leaders exceeding term limits, Egypt has announced new elections this December. Current President Abel Fattah Al-Sisi will be running again following amending the constitution to abolish term limits and increase terms to six years up from four. He won his last two elections with nearly 100% of the vote and jailed the last guy who was a serious challenge to him, so most likely he will win this one as well and govern till at least 2030.

The economy overall has been trending downwards. To make up for a lack of financing Egypt has been trying to coax a deal out of the IMF, who wants them to devalue their currency. They’ve now devalued three times in the past year but really the IMF wants them to switch to a floating rate regime that would accurately reflect their currency’s value.

Adding to economic bad news, to many Egyptians’ surprise they have now become embroiled in America’s latest political scandal around Senator Robert Menendez taking Egyptian bribes. This has led to increasing calls to withhold more aid from Egypt, which couldn’t really come at a worse time.


Uganda has been resuming its own role of staying real active in its neighbors’ affairs. Recently they conducted a series of airstrikes against the Islamic State in the DRC (killing approximately “a lot” of fighters). This is part of a multiple decades old conflict - the Allied Democratic Forces is a 90s era Islamist rebel group from Uganda that was eventually driven out into North Kivu and has been attacking Uganda from a distance ever since, allegedly with the support of previous president Joseph Kabila. Recently the AFD joined the broader ISIS umbrella of jihadis and the DRC and Uganda agreed in 2021 to jointly crack down upon them. Since the conflict resumed Uganda has claimed to have killed over 600 jihadis already and has asserted the movement is on its last legs.

President Mosevini also recently offered to help mediate unification talks with Somalia and Somaliland; Somaliland promptly told them to kick rocks.


The vote to see whether conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo could become Prime Minister was held Wednesday, and he failed to cross the threshold of 176 votes. This means socialist PM Pedro Sanchez most likely now gets his chance to form a government, but with the Catalan independence party making strict demands of amnesty Sanchez doesn’t honestly seem much closer to winning either. The most likely result right now seems like another election getting held.


I think that UN manipulating it's own index is not culture wars even if the index is related to gender. Let me know if I am wrong.

Human development

The Gender Development Index (GDI), along with its more famous sibling Human Development Index (HDI) is a an index published annually by UN's agency, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Whether an index is manipulated or not can be judged only against a precise definition of what the index claims to be measuring. So how do you measure human development? Whatever you do, you will never capture all nuances of the real world - you will have to simplify. The UNDP puts it this way:

The Human Development Index (HDI) was created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone.

So the UNDP defines the Human Development Index as a geometric mean of three dimensions represented by four indices:

Dimension Index
Long and healthy life Life expectancy at birth (years)
Knowledge Expected years of schooling (years)
Mean years of schooling (years)
Decent standard of living Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (2017 PPP$)


Gender Development

So far so good. Next, on it's website the Gender Development Index (GDI) is defined like this:

GDI measures gender inequalities in achievement in three basic dimensions of human development: health, measured by female and male life expectancy at birth; education, measured by female and male expected years of schooling for children and female and male mean years of schooling for adults ages 25 years and older; and command over economic resources, measured by female and male estimated earned income.


While in the actual report HDI it is simply defined as a ratio of female to male HDI values:

Definitions - Gender Development Index: Ratio of female to male HDI values.


Let's look, for instance, at the Gender Development Index of United Kingdom. The value 0.987 means that despite longer life and more education, in UK, females are less developed than males.

Dimension Index Female value Male value
Long and healthy life Life expectancy at birth (years) 82.2 78.7
Knowledge Expected years of schooling (years) 17.8 16.8
Mean years of schooling (years) 13.4 13.4
Decent standard of living Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (2017 PPP$) 37,374 53,265


Wait, what?? What does it mean that females in UK have command over economic resources of post Soviet Estonia (GNI Estonia=38,048) while males in UK have command over economic resources of EU leader Germany (GNI Germany=54,534)?

The manipulation

The UNDP calculates separate command over economic resources for females and males, as a product of the actual Gross National Income (GNI) and two indices: female and male shares of the economically active population (the non-adjusted employment gap) and the ratio of the female to male wage in all sectors (the non-adjusted wage gap).

The UNDP provides this simple example about Mauritania:

Gross National Income per capita of Mauritania (2017 PPP $) = 5,075

Indicator Female value Male value
Wage ratio (female/male) 0.8 0.8
Share of economically active population 0.307 0.693
Share of population 0.51016 0.48984
Gross national income per capita (2017 PPP $) 2,604 7,650

According to this index, males in Mauritania enjoy the command over economic resources of Viet Nam (GNI Viet Nam=7,867) while females in Mauritania suffer the command over economic resources of Haiti (GNI Haiti=2,847).

Let's be honest here: this is total bullshit. There are two reasons why you cannot use raw employment gap and raw wage gap for calculating the command over economic resources:

Argument 1

Bread winners share income with their families. This is a no brainer. All over the world, men are expected to fulfil their gender role as a bread winer. This does not mean that they keep the pay check for themselves while their wives and children starve to death. Imagine this scenario: a poor father from India travels to Qatar where he labours in deadly conditions, so that his family can live a slightly better life. According to UNDP, he just became more developed, while the standard of living his wife is exactly zero.

Argument 2

Governments redistribute wealth. This is a no brainer too. One's command over economic resources and standard of living is not equal to ones pay check. There are social programs, pensions, public infrastructure. Even if you have never earned a pay check yourself, you can take a public transport on a public road to the next public hospital. Judging by the Tax Freedom Day, states around the world redistribute 30% to 50% of all income. And while men pay most of the taxis (obviously, they have higher wages) women receive most of the subsidies (obviously, they have lover wages). But according the UNDP, women in India (female GNI 2,277) suffer in schools and hospitals of the war-torn Rwanda, while men in India (male GNI 10,633) enjoy the infrastructure and social security of the 5-times more prosperous Turkey.

Don't get me wrong, the employment gap and pay gap are not irrelevant for the standard of living and command over economic resources. Pensions and social security schemes mostly do not respect the shared family income and as a result the partner doing less paid work - usually a women - gets lower pension, unemployment benefit etc. What's worse, the non-working partner is severely disadvantaged in case of divorce or break up. But while this has an impact on each gender's standard of living it certainly does not define 100% of that value.

Argument 3

You may argue that the command over economic resources measured by estimated earned income is some kind of proxy for all other disadvantages women face in society. But do you remember what I said in the beginning?

Whether an index is manipulated or not can be judged only against a precise definition of what the index claims to be measuring.

The HDI measures "people and their capabilities" and the GDI is a ratio of these capabilities measured separately for men and women. The economic dimension of the GDI is supposed to be standard of living or command over economic resources - neither of which can be represented by earned income alone.

The taboo

Wikipedia says: "For most countries, the earned-income gap accounts for more than 90% of the gender penalty." (I have not verified this.) This is important, because when we look at the other two dimensions it becomes clear that while men have shorter and less health lives they also increasingly fall behind in mean and expected years of schooling. Without the misrepresentation of the command over economic resources value, the index would show something very uncomfortable: that according to UN's own definition of Human Development men are the less developed gender.

PS: Is there a way to give those tables some borders and padding?

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.


Contrary to well-established popular opinion, I'm not actually right about everything. I'm human and, sometimes, I make mistakes or otherwise fundamentally change my opinion on a topic. When I first sat down to write this list, one of the items was substantive enough to inflate into its own stand-alone post (Defunding My Mistake). Although unintentional, this does carry the misleading implication that the mistakes I make are exclusively of the rare and soul-searching variety. My original intent was to analyze errors in order to showcase how banal or even reasonable they can be. Part of my goal here is to nudge the act of acknowledging one's errors into the realm of the common & boring, and away from the tearful confession elicited only through torture. I hope to encourage others that it's OK and maybe even admirable to admit errors.

What follows is an incomplete listing, and my primary goal here isn't just to delineate what but to provide a detailed account for why. When picking examples to highlight, I wanted to cover a diverse palette of failure scenarios and so they're not intended to be a representative sample. Also, please note that if I offer an explanation for why I made a mistake, it shouldn't be interpreted as an excuse to shirk responsibility.

Paper Rips 4 Allah

I'll spare you the novel I could write about how and why I abandoned Islam and instead I'll focus on one particular incident. I must have been around 14 years old or so, wandering the stacks at the local library, when I encountered a Chick tract about Islam called Allah Had No Son. Chick tracts were widely distributed pocket-sized short comic book strips intended to impart evangelical Christian messages, typically through combative and antagonistic messaging.

The tract basically argues that Islam is a false religion because it was based on repurposed tribal moon deities. I have no idea how much of this is true and don't care, but my reaction at the time was livid anger. Here I was encountering some new information about a topic I was (fanatically) enthusiastic about but instead of "hmm that's interesting" I responded by making it my mission to scour the rest of the library and rip up any other Chick tracts I could find. I remember my heart racing and this distasteful feeling that I had somehow been mind-poisoned by a comic strip, and I did all I could to wipe my thoughts clean as if it was a radioactive waste clean-up mission.

That cleanliness desire is what I remember most, the notion that I couldn't even entertain the "noxious" ideas even just to mount a rebuttal because the risk of an incurable infection was too great. And so my only recourse was to suppress and bury. I see this burial reflex in full-grown adults today and all it reminds me of is a shaken 14 year-old thinking he's saving the world from damnation by ripping up paper.

Wrong About Wrong About

I was a big fan of Sarah Marshall & Michael Hobbes's You're Wrong About podcast, listened to dozens of their episodes, and heartily recommended it to others. My impression of the two is that they were unusually diligent reporters who devoted an incalculable amount of research behind each episode. I recall at one point they claimed each individual 1 hour-ish episode took 8 to 10 hours to record and was preceded by several weeks of research. This claim seemed and remains totally credible to me, because I can't imagine how else they would have been able to release sixteen hour-long episodes on the OJ Simpson case full of obscure minutiae without first having read several books on the topic.

The problem here is Hobbes specifically, his selective devotion to the truth, and why I didn't notice it before. Freddie deBoer's list reserved a scathing paragraph for Hobbes:

The quintessential 2022 liberal is someone who does not want to achieve anything, but rather to be something - an ally, a friend to the movement, one of the good ones. Achieving is beyond the point; the point is to occupy a space of existential goodness. For people like Hobbes, politics is not a thing you do but a thing you are. And what Hobbes is, naturally, is a guy who already knows the answer to every question.

As an illustrative example, see how credulous Hobbes is towards spurious claims which just happen to flatter his preconceived conclusion that Jesse Singal Bad. By far Hobbes's most telling confession comes from the 2018 You're Wrong About episode on the murder of Matthew Shepard. Amazingly, the transcript remains up (emphasis added):

My longtime obsession with this case and the debunking is about our use of symbols and our use of cases to illustrate larger phenomena. You saw this a lot with Michael Brown actually, and with Trayvon Martin. That those cases come out. It's horrible. That's used as a tag to talk about police killing African Americans at wildly disproportionate rates. And then everybody pops out of a trashcan and is like, actually Michael Brown, it looks like he fought back against the officer. Or maybe Trayvon Martin was shoplifting that day. And they try to complicate the narrative of this anecdote on which we've hung this larger trend. And frankly, who fucking cares? Maybe everything that the racists say about the Michael Brown case is true, and maybe everything they say about the Trayvon Martin case is true. That does not negate the fact that statistically speaking African Americans are more likely to be killed by police than white people. So, it really doesn't matter whether they are correct about their "debunking" of these cases. But to make a trend interesting, to make a trend important, you have to tie it to these events. And then we get into these events being more complicated than they seem at first, which fucking every event is more complicated than it seems at first. [...] And so then we start to complicate this narrative and then the entire edifice of the social problem falls apart. They say that cops are killing black people at disproportionate rates, but I read on Breitbart that like this Michael Brown kid was fighting with the officer, and the whole thing gets swept away. And I think it's just something human and a huge weakness of journalism that you have to tie bigger trends to these stories. And then once the story gets debunked, the trend gets debunked. [...] The thing that I think is really hard for people to incorporate is that even if all of the debunking about Matthew Shepard was true, or even more true, let's say he was trying to sell them meth and he was this huge meth kingpin, and he's just this terrible human being, it still doesn't stop the fact that he's gay and he got murdered. And it still doesn't stop the fact that homophobia in 1998 in America was a huge problem. And that many gay people were killed or beaten up or harassed or whatever due to their sexuality. So even if the debunking of the Matthew Shepard case was true, it doesn't negate the larger point.

Hobbes, an alleged journalist, admits it is acceptable to circulate factually false narratives if they happen to be in service towards a broader morally true mission. I hadn't listened to that episode but if that was admitted to in 2018, why didn't I notice the problem earlier? Partly it's because I assumed that diligence is completely incompatible with dishonesty. The other part is that Hobbes is not uniformly averse towards questioning sacred cows. In 2019 for example, during Pride month no less, he was willing to unambiguously reject the "A transwoman threw the first brick at Stonewall" canard, although admittedly not without some gratuitous and familiar excuse-making:

I think a lot of this putting Sylvia and Marsha back into the Stonewall narrative is completely understandable because they are much more representative of Stonewall, then the hot white 2% body fat people that have typically been celebrated for this kind of event.

So what now? By Hobbes' own admission, I can't trust his work on any subject since I can never know if he's relaying something factually true or just morally true. But did I go back and scrutinize everything else I picked up from listening to YWA? No. That kind of forensics is just not practical and also, Hobbes isn't just operating an opposite day machine where he reflexively relays the opposite of whatever his research says. I'm willing to wager that he's factually accurate the overwhelming amount of the time, but all you need to fully pulp your credibility is admit you're willing to bend the truth sometimes.

Legal Forecasting

I wrote about the bombshell revelation during the Proud Boys trial of an FBI agent caught lying in her testimony. I included a prediction of sorts: "My assumption is that the prosecutor will dismiss charges against Nordean in a feeble attempt to make this go away." Gattsuru righteously pointed out that this did not happen; the trial continued and all defendants were found guilty.

Obviously I cannot see the future so why should this failed prediction be on me? Well it's mostly a reminder that I should stay in my lane. One of the things I (hopefully) offer in my writing on legal topics as a criminal defense attorney is the background experience necessary to contextualize events, like how there's nothing at all remarkable about a defendant pleading not guilty at arraignment (dramatic headlines notwithstanding). I frame conversations with my real clients with similar qualifications, something like "While I can't predict the future, I have done hundreds of sentencings and I would be very surprised if X happened instead of Y." Neither my readers nor my real clients should have any business listening to what I have to say if I continue to fuck up my crystal ball.

It's possible for a prediction to be wrong but still be reasonable when offered at the time, and it remains possible that I would be vindicated by some future appeal decision. Even so, that would be an instance of being accidentally correct. I should not have made that prediction (no matter how weakly-worded it was) for a couple of reasons:

  1. My criminal defense experience is overwhelmingly in state court, not federal court. I lack the necessary context to confidently interpret events in the latter. Let's just say that it's much easier to catch a state prosecutor tripping with their pants down.

  2. My own bias as a defense attorney (and really, virtually the only time I get to do something useful at work) is to make hay out of the government's fuck-ups, only to thereafter be dispelled of the festivities once the prosecutor's reply brief comes in. In the Proud Boys case I relied entirely on just the defense motion as the prosecutor's response had not yet been filed.

Hopefully I can keep my limitations in mind...but who can predict the future?

Overestimated Immunity

In the same post above, I claimed that Qualified Immunity was "practically speaking, basically absolute immunity with a few extra steps". QI is definitely one of my hobby horses that I've written extensively about and yet, curiously, I never looked into how prevalent it is. Had I been asked at the time to predict how often QI is granted as a shield against §1983 civil lawsuits, I probably would have said around 80%. The real answer (thanks to Gdanning) is somewhere between 57% and 3.7%.

Regardless of what the real answer is, the fact that I never bothered to look it up was a big mistake on my end. All it took to answer the question was the same cursory research that I regularly excoriate others for not doing. I think this error was paradoxically the result of my enthusiastic interest on the topic. Once you're drowning within an issue it's much easier for the availability heuristic to take over. Something similar happened to Matt Walsh when he erroneously claimed on Rogan's show that "millions of kids" were on puberty blockers.


DoNotPay used to advertise itself as the World's First Robot Lawyer, now it's has rebranded into just Your AI Consumer Champion. The reason for the rebranding might have something to do with how DoNotPay's CEO, Joshua Browder, was exhaustively exposed as a flagrant fabulist by Kathryn Tewson, and he's the target of a lawsuit by the same.

When I first heard of DoNotPay, it was within the context of deploying a chatGPT-like agent on a company's customer support chat system in order to dispute bills and the like. That idea was and remains perfectly plausible (customer service reps are trained to follow a script after all) and so when Browder made news with his ridiculous $1 million SCOTUS offer I said that the stunt risked hurting DoNotPay's "promising product".

It was a tweet that barely got 100 views but I didn't have enough information to make that declaration. I also feel a bit sore about this one because I shelved my usual skepticism on a topic within my wheelhouse and got outscooped by Tewson on a major story. Darn.

"The Law That Created The Internet"

I already wrote about this a while ago. I used to be a §230 devotee but reading Gilad Edelman's article changed my mind about whether the federal law is as necessary to the existence of the internet as I thought it was. There's no shortage of arguments in favor of §230 but one errant thought I completely failed to follow up on is investigating how exactly the rest of the world handled the issue. Presumably not every country in the world copied §230 verbatim and yet the world-wide web still exists. I didn't dwell too long on that question and shelved it away with some glossed-over "maybe that's why all the tech companies are in the U.S.".

The other question I failed to pursue was if we were to assume that a world without §230 would be as cataclysmic as its proponents argue, why would it stay that way? The whole point of the internet was allowing people across the globe to communicate. It seems patently implausible that if §230 did not exist everyone would just shrug and stoically accept a world where everyone is too spooked by the threat of defamation lawsuits to allow any user-generated content. Admittedly this is on dodgy aspirational ground in the vein of "we'll figure something out" but it illustrates how helpful it can be to contemplate how exactly people (including legislators) will respond and not just assume they'll sit and helplessly awwshucks while the fire burns. I still think §230 is a good solution but it was a failure of the imagination to assume it was the only solution.

The other mistake I made on this subject was to reflexively reject §230 criticism, even in areas where I lacked the subject-matter familiarity. I did this in response to a claim that §230 overruled anti-discrimination law; a claim I confidently rejected as patently ludicrous but one which ended up being correct.

See? That wasn't that bad was it? I am still alive. Please call me out on any errors I haven't acknowledged! I am so grateful towards the people that do this. There's my entire Substack archive and here's also a spreadsheet with all my Motte posts from Reddit if that's easier to search. Never hesitate from flogging that whip, wah-pah!


I've been wrong, again, pooh-poohing another Eurasian autocracy. Or so it seems.

On 29 August 2023, to great jubilation of Chinese netizens («the light boat has passed through a thousand mountains!», they cry), Huawei has announced Mate 60 and 60 Pro; the formal launch is scheduled for September 25th, commemorating the second anniversary of return of Meng Wanzhou, CFO and daughter of Huawei's founder, from her detainment in Canada. Those are nice phones of course but, specs-wise, unimpressive, as far as flagships in late 2023 go (on benchmarks, score like 50-60% of the latest iPhone while burning peak 13W so 200% of power). Now they're joined by Mate X5.

The point, however, is that they utilize Huawei's own SoC, Hisilicon Kirin 9000S, not only designed but produced in the Mainland; it even uses custom cores that inherit simultaneous multithreading from their server line (I recommend this excellent video review, also this benchmarking). Their provenance is not advertised, in fact it's not admitted at all, but now all reasonable people are in agreement that it's SMIC-Shanghai made, using their N+2 (7nm) process, with actual minimum metal pitch around 42 nm, energy efficiency at low frequencies close to Samsung's 4nm and far worse at high (overall capability in the Snapdragon 888 range, so 2020), transistor density on par with first-gen TSMC N7, maybe N7P (I'm not sure though, might well be 10% higher)… so on the border of what has been achieved with DUV (deep ultraviolet) and early EUV runs (EUV technology having been denied to China. As a side note, Huawei is also accused of building its own secret fabs).

It's also worse on net than Kirin 9000, their all-time peak achievement taped out across the strait in 2020, but it's… competitive. They apparently use self-aligned quad patterning, a DUV variant that's as finicky as it sounds, an absurd attempt to cheat optics and etch features many times smaller than the etching photons' wavelength (certain madmen went as high as 6x patterning; that said, even basic single-patterning EUV is insane and finicky, «physics experiment, not a production process»; companies on the level of Nikon exited the market in exasperation rather than pursue it; and it'll get worse). This trick was pioneered by Intel (which has failed at adopting EUV, afaik it's a fascinating corporate mismanagement story with as much strategic error as simple asshole behavior of individual executives) and is still responsible for their latest chips, though will be made obsolete in the next generations (the current node used to be called Intel's 10 nm Enhanced SuperFin, and was recently rebranded to Intel 7; note, however, that Kirin 9000S is a low-power part and requirements there are a bit more lax than in desktop/server processors). Long story short: it's 1.5-2 generations, 3-4 years behind the frontier of available devices, 5-6 years behind frontier production runs, 7-8 years after the first machines to make such chips at scale came onto market; but things weren't that much worse back then. We are, after all, in the domain of diminishing returns.

Here are the highlights from the first serious investigation, here are some leaks from it, here's the nice Asianometry overview (esp 3:50+), and the exhilarating, if breathlessly hawkish perspective of Dylan Patel, complete with detailed restrictions-tightening advice. Summarizing:

  1. This is possible because sanctions against China have tons of loopholes, and because ASML and other suppliers are not interested in sacrificing their business to American ambition. *
  2. Yes, it qualifies for 7nm in terms of critical dimensions. Yes, it's not Potemkin tulou, they likely have passable yields, both catastrophic and parametric (maybe upwards of 50% for this SoC, because low variance in stress-testing means they didn't feel the need to approve barely-functional chips, meaning there weren't too many defects) and so it's economically sustainable (might be better in that sense than e.g. Samsung's "5nm" or "4nm", because Samsung rots alive due to systemic management fraud) [I admit I doubt this point, and Dylan is known to be a hawk with motivated reasoning]. Based on known capex, they will soon be able to produce 30K wafers per month, which means 10s of millions of such chips soon (corroborated by shipment targets; concretely it's like 300 Kirins *29700 wafers so 8.9M/month, but the cycle is>1 month). And yes, they will scale it up further, and indeed they will keep polishing this tech tree and plausibly get to commercially viable "5nm" next - «the total process cost would only be ≈20% higher versus a 5nm that utilizes EUV» (probably 50%+ though).
  3. But more importantly: «Even with 50% yields, 30,000 WPM could support over 10 million Nvidia H100 GPU ASIC dies a year […] Remember GPT-4 was trained on ≈24,000 A100’s and Open AI will still have less than 1 million advanced GPUs even by the end of next year». Of course, Huawei already had been producing competitive DL accelerators back when they had access to EUV 7nm; even now I stumble upon ML papers that mention using those.
  4. As if all that were not enough, China simply keeps splurging billions on pretty good ML-optimized hardware, like Nvidia A/H800s, which abide with the current (toothless, as Patel argues) restrictions.
  5. But once again: on a bright (for Westerners) side, this means it's not so much Chinese ingenuity and industriousness (for example, they still haven't delivered a single ≤28nm lithography machine, though it's not clear if the one they're working on won't be rapidly upgraded for 20, 14, 10 and ultimately 7nm processes – after all, SMIC is currently procuring tools for «28nm», complying with sanctions, yet here we are), as it's the unpicked low-hanging fruit of trade restrictions. In fact, some Chinese doomers argue it's a specific allowance by the US Department of Commerce and overall a nothingburger, ie doesn't suggest willingness to produce more consequential things than gadgets for patriotic consumers. The usual suspects (Zeihan and his flock) take another view and smugly claim that China has once again shot itself in the foot while showing off, paper tiger, wolf warriors, only steals and copies etc.; and, the stated objective of the USG being «as large of a lead as possible», new crippling sanctions are inevitable (maybe from Patel's list). There exists a body of scholarship on semiconductor supply chain chokepoints which confirms these folks are not delusional – something as «simple» as high-end photoresist is currently beyond Chinese grasp, so the US can make use of a hefty stick.

All that being said, China does advance in on-shoring the supply chain: EDA, 28nm scanners, wafers etc.

* Note: Patel plays fast and loose with how many lithography machines exactly, and of what capacity, are delivered/serviced/ordered/shipping/planned/allowed, and it's the murkiest part in the whole narrative; for example he describes ASML's race-traitorous plans stretching to 2025-2030, but the Dutch and also the Japanese seem to already have began limiting sales of tools he lists as unwisely left unbanned, and so the August surge or imports may have been the last, and certainly most 2024+ sales are off the table I think.

All of this is a retreading of a discussion from over a year ago, when a less mature version of SMIC N7 process was used - also surreptitiously – for a Bitcoin mining ASIC, a simple, obscenely high-margin part 19.3mm² in size, which presumably would have been profitable to make even at pathetic yields, like 10%; the process back then was near-idential to TSMC N7 circa 2018-2019. 9000S is 107 mm² and lower-margin. Nvidia GH100, the new workhorse of cutting edge ML, made with 4nm TSMC node, is 814 mm²; as GPU chips are a strategic resource, it'd be sensible to subsidize their production (as it happens, H100 with its 98 MTr/mm² must be equally or a bit less dense than 9000S; A100, a perfectly adequate 7nm downgrade option, is at 65 MTr/mm² so we can be sure they'll be capable of making those, eg resurrecting Biren BR100 GPUs or things like Ascend 910). Citing Patel again, «Just like Apple is the guinea pig for TSMC process nodes and helps them ramp and achieve high yield, Huawei will likewise help SMIC in the same way […] In two years, SMIC will likely be able to produce large monolithic dies for AI and networking applications.» (In an aside, Patel laments the relative lack of gusto in strangling Chinese radio/sensor capabilities, which are more formidable and immediately scary than all that compute. However, this makes sense if we look at the ongoing chip trade war through the historical lens, with the reasonable objective being Chinese obsolescence a la what happened to the Soviet Union and its microelectronics, and arguably even Japan in the 80s, which is why ASML/Samsung/TSMC are on the map at all; Choyna military threat per se, except to Taiwan, being a distant second thought, if not a total pretext. This r/LessCredibleDefense discussion may be of interest).

So. I have also pooh-poohed the Chinese result back then, assuming that tiny crypto ASICs are as good as they will get within the bounds assigned to them, «swan song of Chinese industry», and won't achieve meaningful yields. Just as gwern de facto did in October 2022, predicting the slow death of Chinese industry in view of «Export Controls on Advanced Computing and Semiconductor Manufacturing Items to the PRC» (even mentioning the yellow bear meme). Just as I did again 4 months ago, saying to @RandomRanger «China will maybe have 7nm in 2030 or something». I maintain that it's plausible they won't have a fully indigenized supply chain for any 7nm process until 2030 (and/or will likewise fail with securing chains for necessary components other than processors: HBM, interposers etc), they may well fall below the capacity they have right now (reminder that not only do scanners break down and need consumables, but they can be remotely disabled), especially if restrictions keep ramping up and they'll keep making stupid errors, e.g. actually starting and failing an attempt at annexing Taiwan, or going for Cultural Revolution Round II: Zero Covid Boogaloo, or provoking an insurgency by force-feeding all primary school students gutter oil breakfasts… with absolute power, the possibilities are endless! My dissmissal was informed not by prejudice but years upon years of promises by Chinese industry and academia representatives to get to 7nm in 2 more weeks, and consistent failure and high-profile fraud (and in fact I found persuasive this dude's argument that by some non-absurd measures the gap has widened since the Mao's era; and there was all the graphene/quantum computing "leapfrogging" nonsense, and so on). Their actors haven't become appreciably better now.

But I won't pooh-pooh any more, because their chips have become better. I also have said: «AGI can be completed with already available hardware, and the US-led bloc has like 95% of it, and total control over means of production». This is still technically true but apparently not in a decisive way. History is still likely to repeat – that is, like the Qing China during the Industrial Revolution, like the Soviet Union in the transistor era, the nation playing catch-up will once again run into trade restrictions, fail at the domestic fundamental innovation and miss out on the new technological stage; but it is not set in stone. Hell, they may even get to EUV through that asinine 160m synchrotron-based electron beam thing – I mean, they are trying, though it still looks like ever more academic grift… but…

I have underestimated China and overestimated the West. Mea culpa. Alphanumericsprawl and others were making good points.

Where does this leave us?

It leaves us in the uncomfortable situation where China as a rival superpower will plausibly have to be defeated for real, rather then just sanctioned away or allowed to bog itself down in imperialist adventurism and incompetence. They'll have enough suitable chips, they have passable software, enough talent for 1-3 frontier companies, reams of data and their characteristically awkward ruthlessness applied to refining it (and as we've learned recently, high-quality data can compensate for a great disparity in compute). They are already running a few serious almost-OpenAI-level projects – Baidu's ERNIE, Alibaba's Tongyi Qianwen (maybe I've mentioned it already, but their Qwen-7B/VL are really good; seems like all groups in the race were obligated to release a small model for testing purposes), maybe also Tsinghua's ChatGLM, SenseTime etc.'s InternLM and smaller ones. They – well, those groups, not the red boomer Xi – are well aware of their weaknesses and optimize around them (and borrowing from the open academic culture helps, as can be often seen in the training methods section – thanks to MIT&Meta, Microsoft, Princeton et al). They are preparing for the era of machine labor, which for now is sold as means to take care of the aging population and so on (I particularly like the Fourier Intelligence's trajectory, a near-perfect inversion of Iron Man's plot – start with the medical exoskeleton, proceed to make a full humanoid; but there are other humanoids developed in parallel, eg Unitree H1, and they seem competitive with their American equivalents like Tesla Optimus, X1 Neo and so on); in general, they are not being maximally stupid with their chances.

And this, in turn, means that the culture of the next years will be – as I've predicted in Viewpoint Focus 3 years ago – likely dominated by the standoff, leading up to much more bitter economic decoupling and kinetic war; promoting bipartisan jingoism and leaving less space for «culture war» as understood here; on the upside, it'll diminish the salience of progressive campaigns that demoralize the more traditionally minded population.

It'll also presumably mean less focus on «regulation of AI risks» than some would hope for, denying this topic the uncontested succession to the Current Thing №1.

That's about all from me, thoughts?

I think I found this more interesting than the original biography review by Scott. There is a lot of distilled wisdom in these posts.

However, there is one area that always rubs me the wrong way. It is smart people who don't know dumb people talking about intelligence.

Where I am now in life I interact almost exclusively with smart people. Not just high IQ wiz kids with no experience. But people that have both the raw brain power, and the life experience to be sharp and wicked smaht. I'm in a rich neighborhood, and wealth has a noticeable correlation with IQ. I currently work for an institution that employs academics who must explain their work to the media (so they can't just sit in an ivory tower and write illegible crap). I use to work at a tech company that for quite a few years basically gave people an IQ test before they could join, and they were willing to fire people who didn't work out (the selection effects weren't perfect but they were certainly noticeable). My college friends were mostly from an "honors" section that got scholarships and accolades for academic achievements.

This was not always the case.

I went to highschool in a nice-ish area. The highschool was pretty decent for where I lived, but it still had noticeable rates of teenage pregnancy, drunk driving fatalities, minor gang fights (no more than temporary hospitalizations), about a fifth of the school below the poverty line, and a racial mix that actually came pretty close to matching America's general racial mix.

This highschool had dumb-dumbs. Probably something close to an average amount of dumb-dumbs. But at the time it was painful how many of them there were. I am smart for the general population, but a bit of a dumb-dumb when I get into smart people circles. 95th percentile on SATs. 1 in 20 seems only ok, but in a random class of ~30 kids I was likely to be the smartest or 2nd smartest. And its not the academic under performance that ever bothered me. I wasn't in any position to judge, I did well on standardized tests, but I was solidly a B student at best. Most of the material seemed dumb and stupid. We were all often doing equally bad at it. It was the everything else that bothered me about interacting with chronically stupid people.

I often heard people brag growing up that they were "street smart" while some academic achiever was "book-smart". This gave me the false impression that there were two kinds of people out there and there was just a trade off between the two. That was badly wrong. Some people are just dumb. They can fail to learn how to read, and fail at not walking into oncoming traffic, and fail at not picking a fight with a group of kids that will kick their ass. There are people that just seem to make repeatedly bad decisions in all areas of their life. I grew to hate these people, because loving and caring about them was too painful. To watch them make terrible decisions again and again, no matter how you advise them, no matter how much you try its like they seem determined to make their own lives a living hell by refusing to understand the world around them.

Bringing this back around to Elon Musk:

Yes he is smart. He is very smart. If he doesn't seem that smart compared to the people around you, then congratulations you live in a smart person bubble. I live in one too, its great! No one is ever making terrible decisions that might casually endanger me. No one is starting physical fights, because words hurt their brain too much. They know all the latest social norms, and when to violate the silly ones to make a joke. I can have deep conversations with them about nearly any topic, they might not know the details, but if I make it interesting they will pick it up and participate. The people around me know how to manage their money, so they aren't ever begging me for handouts, or trying to nickle and dime me on shared expenses.

The phrase "check your privilege" comes to mind, but the tone that people normally use feels very wrong. Just imagine me saying it in the same way a surfer says "kowabunga dude!" while offering a high five.


This is a weekly thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or IR history. I usually start off with coverage of some current events from a mix of countries I follow personally and countries I think the forum might be interested in. Feel free to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the UN General Assembly, or even just whatever you’re reading.

Nagorno Karabakh

On Tuesday Azerbaijan launched a major offensive into Nagorno-Karabakh. They describe the operation as “anti-terrorist” and have accused the Armenian army of shelling them, which Armenia denies.

At least five people were killed, including a child, and 80 people were injured, amid artillery, missile and drone strikes by the Azerbaijan military, according to Armenian state news…

Tensions have been simmering around the region for months, after Azerbaijani troops blockaded the Lachin corridor in December, cutting off the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and preventing the import of food to its roughly 120,000 inhabitants.

Russian peacekeepers, who deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire, have been tasked with preventing a fresh conflict breaking out. But Moscow has been accused of being unable or unwilling to intervene to protect Armenia, its long-term ally, in the face of continuing aggression from Azerbaijan.

The conflict has now reached a ceasefire with Azerbaijan claiming complete military control of the territory.

(For background: a long time ago Nagorno-Karabakh (or Artsakh) was an autonomous oblast under the Soviet Union. The area was mixed ethnically between Armenians and Azeris and when the USSR fell both Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the future of Artsakh (with Armenia supporting its independence). Armenia won and pretty significant ethnic cleansing drove much of the local Azeri population out. The area remained officially Azeri but de facto independent until 2020 when Azerbaijan conquered much of it back. The area is now pretty solidly ethnically Armenian (post all the ethnic cleansing) and it was very much a hostile occupation so it was probably inevitable that conflict would bubble up again in one way or another.)


This was written right after things happened, see @self_made_human’s in depth comment in the main thread for more discussion.

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau has accused the Indian government of assassinating a Sikh community leader on Canadian soil. The man in question, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was a Canadian citizen residing in British Columbia, and a prominent advocate for “the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh nation carved out of areas including the Indian state of Punjab." These views have led the Indian government to label him as a “wanted terrorist”. India had a fraught relationship between Sikh dissidents and the government in the past, and the present day Indian government has criticized the behavior of the Canadian Sikh community, but this would be an unprecedented escalation. It’s entirely unclear what the evidence is though beyond confidential Canadian intelligence reports.

Canada has expelled an Indian diplomat “whom [Foreign Minister Joly] described as the head of India’s intelligence agency in Canada.” India has responded by expelling a Canadian diplomat in turn. India has also issued a travel advisory warning its citizens in Canada to “exercise caution” - pretty cheeky if you ask me.

Their ongoing trade deal negotiations now seem permanently dead as well; they were paused earlier, apparently because of suspicions surrounding the assassination. If the trade deal had gone through “Industry estimates show the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Canada and India could boost two-way trade by as much as $6.5 billion, yielding a GDP gain of $3.8 billion to $5.9 billion for Canada by 2035.”

As NYTimes notes, Indians are not only sizable minority population in India at around 4%, but the New Democratic Party, which currently props up Trudeau’s coalition, is led by a Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh himself. The current coalition has the NDP offering to support the liberals through 2025 as long as they work on NDP priorities. Significantly this forced Liberals to fund the NDP’s primary plank of federal dental care, despite the fact that it cost over double what it was projected. Needless to say, their support is important and will factor into Canada’s response in this situation.


Taiwan will be holding elections in January and it’s looking to be a fraught one in the context of increased Chinese belicosity. The incumbent Democratic Progressive Party will be facing stiffer challenges to their rule as party leader President Tsai Ing-wen is no longer eligible to run due to term limits. Instead they’ll be running Vice President Lai Ching-te, a historically pro-independence politician (which may make some voters nervous about more escalation with China).

The primary opposition candidate, Hou Yi-Hi running for the Kuomintang party (the traditional nationalist party of Chiang Kai-Shek, ironically less anti-China than the DPP) , published an op-ed in Foreign Affairs arguing for his candidacy. The tl;dr is greater dialogue with China while also increasing the military and deepening relationships with allies.

Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Foxconn, has also announced his second Presidential bid. In 2020 he ran (“declaring he was instructed by the sea goddess Mazu in a dream to contest the election”) in the KMT primary and lost, now he will be running as an independent, which may split KMT’s voters. Currently he is probably the most pro-Chinese candidate.

The Taiwanese People’s Party (actually a pretty centrist party) will also run their leader Ko Wen-je but they get like no votes.

CNN notes that if DPP were to win a third term this would be “unprecedented” in the history of Taiwanese democracy, but that only started in like 1987, so not actually that hard to beat previous records.


The Sudanese conflict continues to rage on with over 4 million displaced and 200,000 killed, but media coverage has mostly lost interest. Last month military officials spoke about a negotiated agreement to end the war, but as far as I can tell it hasn’t manifested (and there have been several ceasefires already established and violated). The army has also paid recent visits to Qatar and Eritrea to discuss the conflict.

The millions who remain in Khartoum and cities in the Darfur and Kordofan regions have faced rampant looting and long power, communications and water cuts.

Reports of sexual assaults have increased by 50 percent, said UN population fund official Laila Baker

Large swaths of the country have been suffering from an electricity blackout since Sunday, which has also taken mobile networks offline, according to a statement from the national electricity authority

Seasonal rains, which also increase the risk of waterborne diseases, have destroyed or damaged the homes of up to 13,500 people, the UN estimated.

Foreign Affairs writes a very good piece on the conflict updating (to the best of our ability to know what’s happening) on the present status quo in Darfur:

Darfur is without cellphone or Internet access, making it a black hole for information. But it appears that the RSF has also taken over Zalingei, the capital of central Darfur and the largest city of the Fur ethnic group. The militia commander has moved into the governor’s office. One by one, Darfur’s towns are falling to the RSF. The cattle-herding Arab tribes of eastern Darfur, which had tried to remain neutral in the earlier war, now find themselves with no option but to ally with the RSF. Rural aristocrats, whose writ once determined tribal policy, are now subject to the diktats of young militia commanders. Last month, nine senior chiefs declared support for the RSF.

So far, the most powerful of the former rebels—including Minni Minawi of the Sudan Liberation Movement—have stayed out of the fight. They fear the RSF, but they do not trust the intentions or the capacity of the army and have accused Burhan’s government of neglecting Darfur’s urgent humanitarian needs. Others have joined forces with the beleaguered army to defend key cities. How long the former rebels can stay neutral is uncertain, especially as the targeted communities need protection. Darfuri communities’ self-defense units urgently need international support to create safe zones in cities and displaced people’s camp.

The RSF has also swept across neighboring Northern Kordofan. Its conquest of the main city of al-Obeid was only thwarted by mass demonstrations by its residents. RSF paramilitaries are moving eastward to reinforce their fight for Khartoum, as trucks laden with the capital’s looted goods rumble in the opposite direction.

They also offer a retrospective tracking the present day conflict in Sudan through its roots in the 2003 Darfur genocide, and even farther back through the spillover effects of the Chadian civil war of the 60s and Libyan invasions of Chad in the 70s and 80.


During Kishida’s time in the US for the UN General Assembly he reportedly held a summit with Iran and intentionally avoided one with Ukraine. In more major diplomatic meetings, on September 26, Japan will meet with China and Korea to hold the first trilateral summit ever. Japan and Korea have only recently restored their diplomatic and trade ties, so they will likely be approaching the summit from a mostly united front on the one thing they really agree on: countering China.

A little over a year ago Shinzo Abe was assassinated by a guy with a homemade pipe gun and some schizophrenic accusations that Abe was in bed with the Korean "Moonies" cult. It turns out his accusations weren’t so schizophrenic after all and not only was Abe connected with the Moonies, like his father and his father’s father before him, half of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had some ties with them. This turned into a gigantic scandal; the Atlantic offers a great retrospective with some eye popping details about the extent of the Moonies’ influence within Japanese democracy.


Since underdog Bernardo Arévalo’s upset victory in the election, the establishment has pursued a series of pretty much everything they can do to overturn the results of the election. Most recently the Attorney General had federal agents raid the electoral tribunal office and seize all the ballot boxes. Arévalo won with a pretty commanding 60% and pretty much everyone has condemned the government’s moves to oppose it, from the Organization of American States to the European Parliament to the United States.

Thousands of protestors have been marching in Guatemala City, particularly from the indigenous community, in support of Arévalo and calling for judicial officials to resign.


I’ve covered several weeks of people reporting on Gustavo Petro’s failures on cartel violence, the drug trade, and getting his bills passed, so here’s a more positive take from Jacobin (obvious bias is obvious). His failures to pass his primary legislative goals through they chalk up to opposition stonewalling (which is 100% true). Even so, they argue, he’s achieved quite a bit and despite his overall popularity falling, this is reflected in some 90% of his coalition’s voters still supporting him.

On the economy, most conservative analysts predicting he would steer them into economic chaos and hyperinflation (in fairness, with more of a legislative mandate he certainly would have passed higher levels of spending). Instead, Petro inherited high unemployment and inflation rates and has overseen them come steadily down even as he continuously raised minimum wages, expanded housing subsidies for low income buyers, and passed land redistribution. This has decreased poverty and raised living standards, especially for the poorest Colombians. On the environment, he’s also passed ambition funding for the preservation of the Amazon where previously there was nothing allocated.

This is part 2 my series where I describe pet peeves of mine that make me distrust a piece of media. Part 1 can be found here. There are some patterns in media that I can’t help but see as red flags. These patterns trigger my instinct to distrust what I’m reading.

Pet Peeve #2: The Number Zero

You might have see the following infographic a few years ago, or something like it:,c_limit,f_webp,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/

This infographic lists the annual deaths associated with multiple drugs. Tobacco is at the very top with about 400,000 deaths annually, and Marijuana is at the bottom with 0 annual deaths. It even lists deaths from what we consider to be safe drugs, including 2000 deaths from caffeine, and 500 deaths from aspirin. At the very bottom of the list is Marijuana, which is listed at 0 deaths.

You might have heard that you can't die from an overdose on THC, which the active ingredient in marijuana. This is essentially true. There have been some rare reports of death from apparent THC overdose, but whether or not THC is to blame is almost always contested. One such example occurred when a coroner couldn't find any explanation other than THC for a woman's death.

St. John the Baptist Parish Coroner Christy Montegut said last week that toxicology results for a 39-year-old LaPlace woman who died in February showed that she was killed by an excess amount of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana.

“It looked like it was all THC because her autopsy showed no physical disease or afflictions that were the cause of death. There was nothing else identified in the toxicology — no other drugs, no alcohol,” Montegut said. “There was nothing else.”

The woman's name was not released.

Montegut, who has served as the St. John coroner since 1988, believes this could be an index case in medicine, perhaps the first death on record solely as a result of THC exposure.

Some drug researchers and experts are skeptical.

Keith Humphreys, a former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that with the vast amounts of marijuana consumed in the U.S. every year, it's hard to imagine that more overdose deaths wouldn't be occurring if THC was toxic at consumable levels.

“We know from really good survey data that Americans use cannabis products billions of times a year, collectively. Not millions of times, but billions of times a year,” said Humphreys. “So, that means that if the risk of death was one in a million, we would have a couple thousand cannabis overdose deaths a year.”

Humphreys also said it's not uncommon for coroners to see a drug in the system, with no other sign for what might have caused an event leading to death, and so conclude that the drug was the cause.

So while it’s a bit contested, it is at least fair to say that there are 0 deaths from marijuana overdose. However, this infographic is about more than just overdose deaths. Most of the 400,000 deaths from tobacco aren’t from literal nicotine overdose. Most deaths from tobacco come from breathing in tar and other chemicals, which lead to long-term health problems, which reduce lifespan. Marijuana smoke has many of the same chemicals as cigarette smoke, and it also has more tar. Most of the 100,000 alcohol deaths also are not overdose. Only about 2200 of those deaths are from overdose. The rest are from long-term health effects and from accidents. I’m not sure where the 2000 caffeine deaths come from. As far as I can tell, there are only 92 deaths from Caffeine, ever. If anyone knows where that 2000 figure might come from, leave a comment down below. I’d love to see it.

When I see this infographic, I get a strong sense that the creator took the fact that you can’t die from marijuana overdose, and assumed that the annual deaths from marijuana can't possibly be anything except 0. It makes me think that they didn’t bother to check, especially not for deaths related to the tar and chemicals in marijuana smoke.

This is what I usually think when I see the number zero where a zero is not obvious. I assume by default that the creator of the work didn’t actually check the figure, and just assumed that it must be zero. It’s especially suspicious when there’s a reason to expect a non-zero figure to be there. In this case you might expect at least a few deaths due to the lung problems that marijuana causes.

It’s even more suspicious when the creator is clearly biased in favor of listing a low number like 0. We can tell that the creator of this infographic is biased because there’s a marijuana plant in the background, and because the line for marijuana is listed, in a bigger, differently colored font. It is explicitly a pro-marijuana piece.

Now I’ve been in favor of marijuana legalization for a long time. I’ve believed in legalization ever since I was 14. However, I’m not a fan of this infographic. The figures it contains make me question whether the author did their homework. It doesn’t pass the sniff test, and because of that I can’t rely on it.

I figured I might as well check to see if my intuition was right. I was unable to find an organization that actually tracks annual deaths due to marijuana, but I did find some literature about it. To the infographic’s credit, there is some literature that says that studies usually fail to find an impact from marijuana on all-cause mortality. However, even that literature doesn’t conclude that marijuana can’t cause death. Instead, they say that there is a lack of research on the topic.

From The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids:

There is an overall dearth of cohort studies empirically assessing general population cannabis use and all-cause mortality. Although the available evidence suggests that cannabis use is not associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, the limited nature of that evidence makes it impossible to have confidence in these findings. These conclusions are not informed by the results of existing large-scale modeling studies that synthesized data from a variety of sources to estimate the burden of disease attributable to cannabis use (Degenhardt et al., 2013; Imtiaz et al., 2016). Although these studies were methodologically rigorous, their direct applicability to actual cannabis-related mortality rates in the United States is uncertain. Consequently, the committee chose not to include them in this review. Also excluded from review were studies of mortality among persons with known cannabis addiction or dependence, those who have been under medical treatment for these disorders, or those who were identified through a country's criminal justice system, due to presence in these populations of important and often inadequately controlled confounders such as concurrent mental illness and poly-substance abuse.

CONCLUSION 9-1 There is insufficient evidence to support or refute a statistical association between self-reported cannabis use and all-cause mortality.

So while they have something to point to in order to kinda sorta justify their “0” figure, it’s very weak, and the 0 figure still seems super suspect to me. I would bet that if they ever do track marijuana-related deaths like they do for tobacco, then they will find more deaths from marijuana smoke than was listed on the infographic for either caffeine or aspirin.

With this sort of media, when I see a low number other than 0, I’m usually less suspicious. Seeing a low non-zero number gives me a sense something was actually checked. If the figure actually is zero, then they might need to do a bit extra to convince me. Simply saying “yes, we checked” helps a little bit. At least it lets me know that they knew they were supposed to check. It’s even better when I can see what they checked, and where I can find it. At least that would let me know that they’re trying to be accurate.

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Don’t count the French out yet! President Macron has continued to call for the reinstatement of President Bazoum and has claims he will “back” (militarily?) ECOWAS if they intervene directly. Bloomberg has some choice words:

France’s stand is somewhat hypocritical.

For decades, Paris has been happy to sit back when coups were staged that suited its interests. Just two years ago, it effectively backed a bloodless putsch in Chad, one of the European nation’s most important military allies. It also continues to partner with strongmen across central Africa, including Paul Biya in Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, who’ve held power for decades.

Anti-French sentiment . . . contributed to a spate of coups across western and central Africa over the past three years, with eight of the nine power grabs occurring in territories Paris once controlled.

If anything, the hostile relations between France and Niger’s junta could play into the soldiers’ hands, helping increase support and entrench their rule.

Yesterday the military government of Niger actually arrested a French elected official, the Counselor for French Citizens Abroad (which doesn’t sound like an elected position). Apparently Counselor Jullien hadn’t left the country despite being ordered to by the junta, because he / the government of France doesn’t recognize their authority. Seems inadvisable.


Chile commemorated the 50th anniversary of the coup of Salvador Allende and the start of the military dictatorship last week in a spirit of surprising divisiveness. The brutal military dictator who replaced him, Augusto Pinochet, still retains a surprising amount of supporters, mostly for his role in restoring the Chilean economy (which has less to do with him being all that great and more to do with Allende being exceptionally comparatively bad). The issue has become so politicized that everyone just picks a side at this point, the Chilean right has refused to attend any commemorative events for the coup or to sign a joint commitment to democracy, even though many of them very likely disapprove of dictatorship as well.

Recent releases of declassified information have shed some more light on America’s role in the coup. There wasn’t that much more to really add, everyone knew America had messed around in Chilean elections, communicated with the military and approved of a coup even if they didn’t pull the trigger, and that they held close relations with the military dictatorship of Pinochet in the following years. AOC, a long time for advocate for declassifying the Chilean files, has called upon the Biden Administration to apologize for America’s role in the coup (Obama famously refused to do so during his own term).


I previously reported on Insight Crime’s assessment of President Boric’s Total Peace initiative on violent crime, which found that clashes between the government and the cartels had decreased, but intra-cartel conflict was worse than ever. They have now released a similarly damning follow-up report on trends in the drug industry under Petro, following the announcement on the new National Drug Policy:

The policy is based on two main principles, "oxygen" and "asphyxiation." The first aims to relieve the pressure on those who have borne the brunt of the so-called "war on drugs" -- small coca growers and consumers -- by encouraging them to voluntarily substitute their coca crops with legal alternatives and by promoting a public health approach to the consumption of psychoactive substances.

The second principle directs security forces to key flashpoints of the drug trade by boosting their ability to interdict drug shipments and destroy drug processing infrastructure. Additionally, the “asphyxiation” strategy aims to capture key members of drug trafficking gangs and increase investigations into related money laundering and corruption.

However, coca production has currently reached an all time high under the Petro Administration approach thus far, of which the National Drug Policy is mostly just an expansion. Combined with the Administration’s seeming inability or unwillingness to combat the cartels, who are only expanding their territory as well, it is difficult to see why this policy would arrest recent trends in coca production. Petro came to power on an upswell of revolutionary energy as the first ever left wing President of Colombia, but buffeted by scandals in his administration, failure to push initiatives through opposition stonewalling, and general record on crime and the drug trade, his popularity has plummeted to only 33%.

North Korea

Russia and North Korea recently held a summit where reportedly talks of North Korea endorsing Russia in the Ukrainian war would be exchanged for weapons transfers, likely ballistic missile technology or reconnaissance satellites. US officials have warned against proceeding with this.


Cambodia’s 38 year lasting dictator (#3 in the world!) Hun Sen, has officially stepped aside and his son Hun Manet has taken power. Manet recently laid out his vision to lift Cambodia up to high-income country status by 2050.

The vision involves developing human capital, the digital economy and inclusivity and sustainability, he said, referring to it as the "pentagon strategy".

In a country once riven by decades of war, Cambodia has now evolved to a lower-middle income nation with economic growth rates of 7%, he said.

Manet is now holding his first bilateral visit, to where else but China, where the two nations will be celebrating 65 years of (tumultuous) ties:

In August, Hun Manet met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Phnom Penh, where he pledged to promote agriculture, manufacturing, economic and trade investment and cooperation in practical areas such as tourism and education.

He also reaffirmed his government’s “unchanged position” on the one-China policy and non-interference in China’s internal affairs regarding Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong…

China is Cambodia’s biggest trading partner, with US$11.6 billion in trade between the two countries last year, according to Cambodia’s customs department.

It is also Cambodia’s largest lender, supplying loans to finance airports, roads and other infrastructure projects. Beijing owns 37 per cent of Phnom Penh’s US$10 billion in foreign loans, according to the latest figure by Cambodia’s Public Debt Statistical Bulletin.

China has also been helping Cambodia upgrade its Ream Naval Base, raising concerns in Washington that it could be used an overseas outpost by the Chinese military.

Both countries denied the claim, with Beijing saying the project was aimed at improving the Cambodian navy’s capability and was in line with the laws of both countries.

Southeast Asia

I’ve reported that the Biden Administration has been furthering/cementing diplomatic relations or security collaboration across Asia, including Japan, Korea, India, the Phillipines, Vietnam, and potentially Thailand.

Biden himself chose not to attend the ASEAN summit this year and sent VP Harris instead, continuing a pattern of handling Asian relations mostly on a bilateral basis (he met with the Thai government during the same timeslot; it’s also worth noting that next year ASEAN will be chaired by Laos, a close China ally). In other ASEAN news, Al Jazeera reports on the disharmony of the organization reaching a recent peak.

Thailand’s outgoing military-led government broke ranks with the bloc, which collectively had decided to suspend Myanmar’s generals from top meetings, and embraced the neighbouring country’s regime with support from China.

Then, last month, Myanmar’s coup leaders expelled East Timor’s top diplomat in Yangon after the Timorese joined a long list of countries in meeting with Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), set up by removed and elected lawmakers mostly associated with now jailed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi...

The bloc also faces continuing challenges over the disputed South China Sea where there has been scant progress on a much-talked-about code of conduct.

The Philippines last month accused China of using water cannons to attack resupply vessels off Second Thomas Shoal. China’s release of a new map depicting its expansive claims has also caused upset.

“ASEAN’s silence on key issues, particularly the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, calls the bloc’s relevance into question,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights co-chair, Charles Santiago, in a September 3 statement.

ASEAN is an economic block, not really a diplomatic / military coordinating framework, and it can’t pass anything without the unanimous consent of all its members, so it really may just not be suited for handling regional issues of this sort.



Turbo-libertarian Javier Milei has gotten into some trouble for his running mate Victoria Villarruel, who has been a long time apologist for Argentina’s Dirty War and as a lawyer defended officers accused of crimes against humanity. She claims the mass disappearances were understandable and necessary to defeat leftist terrorists (who had mostly been extinguished by the time Videla took power in 76 near the very beginning of this era of state terrorism). This has understandably drawn the ire of Argentina’s human rights organizations and isn’t just an issue of the past - if Milei wins she will be in charge of the police and armed forces.

Separately the Economist wrote a rather scathing article arguing that the IMF had been radically lowering its lending standards to put up with Argentina’s endless monetary mismanagement. At the rate they’re heading, no matter who wins the election it may be too late to save the currency crisis.

The United Kingdom

Politico reports on leadership difficulties in Britain. The Tories have been receiving a drubbing in the polls, recently lost two by elections, and apparently concluded a ministerial reshuffle without generating much excitement. All this is a challenge for PM Sunak and doesn’t reflect well on next year’s election:

Sunak’s supporters are keen to highlight that he’s chalked up some big wins since taking office less than a year ago. He produced a solution to the Northern Ireland trade deadlock, started to carve out a new image for Britain on the international stage, presided over slowing inflation, and passed a flagship bill aimed at cutting undocumented migration. But these limited successes just may not cut it for voters. Two-thirds of people think Sunak has achieved “only a slight amount” or nothing at all in his premiership so far, according to polling for POLITICO by PR firm Redfield and Wilton.

Speaking of leadership woes, following Nicola Sturgeon’s exit and SNP’s ongoing scandals, much of the oomph seems to have been taken out of the independence movement:

A recent Survation poll suggested the SNP could lose almost half the 48 seats it won at the 2019 Westminster election, with Labour picking up 24 — a dramatic improvement on opposition leader Keir Starmer’s current total of one, and a major boost to his hopes of entering Downing Street at next year’s general election.

I’m not really a Britain watcher and I know we have a fair amount of users who are so input would definitely be appreciated.


The left and right remain in deadlock in Spain’s never ending post election hangover. The conservatives were the frontrunner in votes and their leader Feijoo is currently attempting unsuccessfully to form a party. Feijoo actually proposed to the Socialist party that they collaborate on legislation if they allow him to come to power, which the socialists of course rejected.

Currently they still hold the top chance at winning a third party to their coalition because the third parties are mostly regional outright or quasi independence movements that are incompatible with a more nationalist coalition. However, the Catalan party Junts has now formally outlined their demands to support the left. They will require full amnesty for their leader Carles Puigdemon, who is in exile following the illegal Catalan independence referendum. Until now this has been a nonstarter for leftist PM Pedro Sanchez and Junts have already said they won’t accept an exchange of amnesty for police officers accused of brutality in the wake of the referendum, which has been thus far the only idea proposed to sweeten the hard-to-swallow demand.


To summarize the mess so far, two anti-military, anti-monarchy parties were big winners in the last election. One of them was more genuinely radical / progressive, the other was kind of the family party of the last two leaders that the military coup’d. For understandable reasons the latter party, Pheu Thai, were at first seen as a more serious enemy, and their incredibly popular shadow leader Thaksin Shinawatra has been exiled since the his 2014 coup.

However, the more radical (and popular) Move Forward party came to be seen as a more serious threat to the military-monarchy rule so the powers that be blocked them, and ended up coalitioning with Pheu Thai and let them pick a palatable, non-military PM in exchange for Thaksin being allowed to return. The King has now formally pardoned almost all of Thaskin’s sentence.

There are two ways to look at the conclusion to this saga. One is that populist forces have become so powerful that the military was forced on its back legs to sacrifice some power and even ally with their old enemy. The other is that the military has so skillfully entrenched their power that they have co-opted their historical enemy as an ally and handily crushed their only real threat. I tend to lean towards the latter explanation but you can differ.

Separately, I have previously used Thailand as an example arguing against people who think American foreign policy is guided by an urge to push progressivism everywhere. The Thai military basically just steamrolled a progressive democratic movement and we didn’t say anything, because what we really care about is whether they’ll lean towards us or China. At the time I argued it was very unlikely that Thailand made their move without letting the US know first, and that we should expect to see our countries grow closer, not farther apart following this arc. Early signs of this shift, the Thai PM has said he will also skip ASEAN and use that time to hold security talks with the United States.

I’ve been covering this election saga for a while and now that it’s basically concluded I probably won’t update on Thailand too often, unless they do something crazy (which they well might!) so thanks for following this with me.


After Gabon’s coup against the re-elected Ali Bongo, General Brice Oligui Nguema has risen to power as the new “interim” president. While on the surface this is the end of the 56 years of rule by the Bongo family, Nguema is actually cousins with President Bongo, leading the opposition leader to accuse the whole thing of being a sham to keep the family in power. Either way, the General has his work cut out for him:

The freeze on hiring since 2018 and the suspension of a salary before the civil servants are given a posting are just two issues that have made the job more precarious, unionist Sima Bertin says.

"Three major issues come immediately come to mind. First, the administrative situations of teachers must be regularized. The second is the regularization of their financial situation, including the payment of arrears. Last but not least, the pension should be indexed to the teachers' remuneration systems',' the Syndicat de l’éducation nationale member listed.

Nguema has promised to return the country to civilian control with free and fair elections but, uh, no timeline yet. Rwanda and Cameroon have responded to the coup by reshuffling their own defense forces and seem to be wary of more instability spreading.


Slovakia will have a parliamentary election on September 30th. This is earlier than normal because the last election was only in 2020, which saw the rise of the anti-corruption populist Igor Matovič, who proceeded to mismanage things so badly that he is apparently now the most distrusted politician in Slovakia with various polls showing 88% to 91% of the population rating him as distrustful. He was succeeded by Eduard Heger who struggled to maintain momentum through stillwater budget negotiations and ultimately lost a vote of no confidence in December, leading to a vote in January to reform the constitution to allow for early elections.

Right now the previous leader of the left wing coalition, SD, is in first place, trailed by a progressive party likely willing to coalition with them, and trailed comfortably by everyone else.


China’s second largest real estate giant after Evergrande, Country Garden, may default on their debts as well, turning a bad real estate -driven recession even worse.

This came as the crisis-hit company reported a record $6.7bn (£5.2bn) loss for the first six months of the year…

Country Garden also announced it had missed interest payments on bonds that were due this month. However, it added it was still within a 30-day grace period to make the payments.

It is also reportedly seeking to extend a deadline for the repayment of another bond…

Problems in China's property market - which includes everything from building homes to industries making the goods that go in them - is having a major impact as it accounts for around a third of the economy.

China's real estate industry was rocked when new rules to control the amount of money big real estate firms could borrow were introduced in 2020.

Evergrande, which was once China's top-selling developer, racked up debts of more than $300bn as it expanded aggressively to become one of the country's biggest companies.

Its financial problems have rippled through the country's property industry, with a series of other developers defaulting on their debts and leaving unfinished building projects across the country.

BBC adds more detail in a small retrospective:

The country's astonishing growth in the past 30 years was propelled by building: everything from roads, bridges and train lines to factories, airports and houses. It is the responsibility of local governments to carry this out.

However, some economists argue this approach is starting to run out of road, figuratively and literally.

One of the more bizarre examples of China's addiction to building can be found in Yunnan province, near the border with Myanmar. This year, officials there bafflingly confirmed they would go ahead with plans to build a new multi-million dollar Covid-19 quarantine facility.

Heavily indebted local governments are under so much pressure that this year some were reportedly found to be selling land to themselves to fund building programmes.

On the other hand, a series of articles seems to be praising Hauwei’s advances in the just released chip, in spite of sanctions:

Jefferies analysts said TechInsights' findings could trigger a probe from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, create more debate in the U.S. about the effectiveness of sanctions and prompt the Congress to include even harsher tech sanctions in a competition bill it is preparing against China.

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.

Scott Alexander’s review of a 2015 biography of Elon Musk. Elon Musk, to me, is one of the world’s most confusing people. He’s simultaneously both one of the smartest people in the world, creating billions of dollars of value in companies like Tesla and SpaceX, and one of the dumbest, in burning billions on Twitter. Scott’s review I think is a good explanation of what’s up with Musk.


Firstly, I wholeheartedly recommend that you watch the show. Both Yes Minister and the sequel, Yes Prime Minister are amongst the greatest sophisticated satires of all time. The wordplay is excellent. The acting is superlative. It is a very funny show. You can also get the books, they’re nearly as good as a faithful representation of everything that happened in the show and have their own little additions. The very first episode is a little more dull and the pixels are few - those are the only problems with quality. This is one of the BBC’s greatest achievements. I imagine many if not most here have seen Yes Minister but younger people probably haven’t.

Secondly, I think it’s interesting politically.

The premise is that of a fundamentally good-natured, albeit egotistical, indecisive and self-deceiving politician (Jim Hacker), leading the fictitious Department of Administrative Affairs facing constant suppression from the Civil Service (represented by Sir Humphrey Appleby). The bureaucrats nearly always win, assisted by Bernard, Hacker’s Private Secretary who must tread a fine line between serving the interests of the Civil Service and Hacker.

The Civil Service create a system where they get all the power to decide and total freedom from responsibility. They draft all the papers, select all the information that flows through to ministers, listen in on all the telephone calls, excel at creating media crises they can use to extract quid-pro-pro deals. Their goal is to housetrain their ministers, coax them into seeing the Department’s interests as their own interests and act as disposable political shields for any errors. When the Civil Service errs, they want Ministers to pay the price.

They’re characterized as unashamedly corrupt, firmly anti-democratic, anti-meritocratic, self-interested bunglers who appease every interest group at public expense in the name of ‘harmony’ and ‘stability’. Lovable, sympathetic bunglers but bunglers nonetheless. Government spending is, in their minds, symbolic. There is no need for a hospital to actually heal the sick, it is just a nexus where bureaucratic activities can take place. Military spending is to delude the British public into thinking Britain is defended. Education is a method used to keep unemployment statistics down and appease teacher’s unions…

This is all pretty relevant to today’s world IMO.

There’s one rather illuminating episode where Sir Humphrey has to go lay down the law on a local council run by a mad middle-class socialist white woman who threatens to refuse funding to the local police force until they’re 50% black (this episode aired on 7 January 1988). They are initially in total opposition – but there is no true ideological disagreement. Her desires are to ban ‘sexist calendars’ since it’s ‘colonialism against women’, encourage adoption of children by lesbian single mothers since ‘children should not be brought up in an atmosphere of irrational prejudice in favour of heterosexuality’, allow only free-range eggs in her borough for animal rights…

In fact, she’s prepared to allow the breakdown of law and order generally, yet draws the line at allowing true democracy (which is the other plot thread of the episode). Later in the episode she cooperates with Sir Humphrey to squelch a proposal that would make local council elections more democratic, a tactic that would weaken her power. This involved street representatives, voting communities of 200 households and selection of candidates by the whole electorate.

‘Of course they would want our policies if they could understand all the implications. But ordinary voters are simple people… The people don’t always understand what’s good for them.’ Neither she nor Humphrey believe in democracy, they seek to hollow out elections so they can implement their own chosen policies rather than let people decide things for themselves. The episode ends with them in heartfelt agreement, each decrying the other as a great loss for the militant revolution/civil service.

It’s rather prescient for them to characterize the radical left and the bureaucrats as two heads of the same anti-democratic coin, potential allies. I think it shows how little the political climate has changed in over 30 years. I was also reading P. J. O’Rourke’s writing from the late 80’s and 90’s, he identifies eerily contemporary aspects of what we’d now call wokeness, liberalism and so on.

Yes Minister is also a story of asabiyyah, where the superior coordination abilities of the Civil Service let them run rings around the politicians. They’re all of the same Oxbridge class, they can freely cooperate while poor Jim Hacker has no such ability to work with his Cabinet colleagues. Half of the Cabinet are ‘house-trained’ by the Civil Service, assimilated into their worldview. All of them are competing with Hacker for power. Hacker complains in the books that the Private Secretaries and Civil Servants generally have a great grapevine but the Minister’s network is hopeless.

Perhaps the most obsolete part of the show is that the Civil Service they portray is uniformly intelligent white male Oxford graduates who hobnob at the Opera and sneer at those who aren’t fluid in Latin or Greek. There’s one episode where Hacker tries to bring in more women, only to be successfully sabotaged by Sir Humphrey. The show gives the impression that efficient, effective women are much happier working in industry where they get things done as opposed to pushing paper around.

In terms of the writer’s political views, the show seems rather unusual. While seeking more women and less Oxford classicists in the bureaucracy, the writers also seem fairly keen on conscription and the build-up of Britain’s conventional forces, vaguely Euroskeptic. Meanwhile they seem to favour school choice, joke about the excesses of political correctness. The abiding theme is a distrust in the competence of politicians and the alignment of the bureaucracy with British interests.

The show highlights the national decline that took place in the Age of Bureaucracy. The show constantly references British decline. The pound is always plunging, there are issues with inflation and high unemployment. The state-owned national industries are failing, the economy is deteriorating from disastrous to catastrophic. The army is a joke. And yet, the Civil Servants constantly remind Bernard (who has vague leanings towards democracy) that he’s naïve:

“This is the system that made Britain what she is today!”

From their vantage point, Bureaucratic government is great. They get high salaries, inflation-proof pensions, knighthoods and honours, cushy Quango sinecures for when they retire and face no responsibility for their own errors. But for everyone else it’s disastrous – after all Britain is in gross decline throughout the period. That’s the joke they’re making.

In comparison to modern political comedies like The Thick of It or Veep, it’s much less crude. Standards for vulgarity are much lower today than they were. Yes Minister also feels more political, in that it presents actual perpetrators and conspirators behind government dysfunction. While a modern show might show government to be dysfunctional, careening from crisis to crisis, they don’t home in on a reason why things go so badly other than ‘these leaders are really terrible, stupid, malign people’. The plot threads in an episode are all cleaned up nicely by the end, there’s so sense of ‘how can these people possibly stay in government if there are all these endless disasters.’

Some clips of the best parts are here:

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.


This is a weekly thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or IR history. I usually start off with coverage of some current events from around the world. Feel free to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the BRICS expansion or the Prigozhin assassination, or even just whatever you’re reading.


Last week I reported that Gabon’s election would almost certainly result in a victory for Ali Bongo, current heir of the Bongo family that has dominated Gabon since 1967. He did win, but apparently the military had other ideas, because they have staged yet another African coup and declared themselves in power. This is a little different than the coups that have happened in democracies, because Gabon was basically a dictatorship with a thin veneer of fake elections, but represents another startling addition to the trend of coups.


Lula has been somewhat stymied so far in his agenda by his Worker’s Party’s minority in the legislature:

Despite progress on certain bills – including the passage of looser limits on public expenditure, and approval in the lower house of long-awaited tax reform – Lula has suffered a series of parliamentary defeats. Lawmakers thwarted plans to roll back privatisation of the water and sewerage sector, before stripping powers from the environment and newly created indigenous affairs ministries.

He seems to have now hammered out a larger coalition with two right wing parties that previously supported Bolsonaro, the Republican Party and the Progressive Party (I know, I swear it’s on the right). The details aren’t fully finalized yet but it seems that both parties will get cabinet positions, and possibly one of them the administration of Brazil’s state owned bank, Banco do Brasil. In exchange they will help support Lula’s spending packages and measures at environmental protection and worker’s and minority rights. It’s a pretty unique coalition and presumably these parties will still not give Lula a blank check, so it will be interesting to see how things go.


President Gustavo Petro was elected on a “Total Peace” platform to significantly reduce conflict with the country’s cartels and revolutionary groups through peace talks and by legalizing some drugs. There have been some big successes, including a ceasefire with the ELN and ongoing negotiations with the active remnants of FARC (Petro’s previous organization). However, Insight Crime has released a rather critical assessment of Total Peace overall, based off this (Spanish language) think tank report:

During its first year, the Petro government has overseen a significant reduction in confrontations between state security forces and armed groups…

Between July 2022 and August 2023, there were fewer than 100 clashes, while in 2021 there were more than 170…

But not everything is positive. The report's data show that disputes between the country's main armed groups have increased as they look to maintain and expand their territorial control. Clashes between armed groups have grown by 85% during Petro's first year in office, making it the highest figure in the last decade.

During this period, the ex-FARC mafia, ELN, and AGC have reinforced their ranks. Their combined total membership is now 7,620, according to the report. They are also supported by a network of at least 7,512 people, exceeding the figures reported in previous years, which averaged 6,000…

Although homicides have decreased by 1.5% in comparison to the last year under former president, Iván Duque (2018-2022), violence has continued unabated in the departments where armed groups have a strong presence.

The island of San Andrés and the departments of Sucre and Vaupes, where the AGC and the ex-FARC mafia have operations, have seen homicides increase by 72%, 59%, and 50% respectively. Bolivar and Putumayo also saw increases of between 10% and 20%.

At the national level, kidnapping have risen by 77% and extortion by almost 15%. In both cases, these are the highest figures in the last decade and contrast starkly against the goals of Total Peace


Things continue to look bleak in China. The government has stopped reporting youth unemployment numbers. Evergrande (the real estate giant from the fiasco in 2021) had their stock fall by another 80%, leaving them (if I read correctly) at under 1% of their value as of three years ago. China does appear to be taking a few scattered steps to address the situation:

Also on Monday, China halved a 0.1% tax on stock trading to "invigorate the capital market and boost investor confidence".

Major share indexes in Hong Kong and mainland China rose after the news. The move came days after the country's central bank cut one of its key interest rates for the second time in three months, in the face of falling exports and weak consumer spending.

Time writes on the global ripple effects, some negative:

Global investors have already pulled more than $10 billion from China’s stock markets, with most of the selling in blue chips. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley have cut their targets for Chinese equities, with the former also warning of spillover risks to the rest of the region.

Asian economies are taking the biggest hit to their trade so far, along with countries in Africa. Japan reported its first drop in exports in more than two years in July after China cut back on purchases of cars and chips. Central bankers from South Korea and Thailand last week cited China’s weak recovery for downgrades to their growth forecasts…

as the world’s second-largest economy, a prolonged slowdown in China will hurt, rather than help, the rest of the world. An analysis from the International Monetary Fund shows how much is at stake: when China’s growth rate rises by 1 percentage point, global expansion is boosted by about 0.3 percentage points…

Many countries, especially those in Asia, count China as their biggest export market for everything from electronic parts and food to metals and energy.

The value of Chinese imports has fallen for nine of the last 10 months as demand retreats from the record highs set during the pandemic. The value of shipments from Africa, Asia and North America were all lower in July than they were a year ago.

…and some positive:

It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though. China’s slowdown will drag down global oil prices, and deflation in the country means the prices of goods being shipped around the world are falling. That’s a benefit to countries like the U.S. and U.K. still battling high inflation.

Some emerging markets like India also see opportunities, hoping to attract the foreign investment that may be leaving China’s shores.


The Islamabad High Court (not the Supreme Court, but kind of like the equivalent of a circuit court for the Islamabad Capital Region) has suspended Imran Khan’s prison sentence and ordered that he be released. This is still evolving and the government is resistant for now, insisting he needs to remain in jail for now. It remains to be seen how things will progress.


Predictably, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won last week’s election, keeping their 43 year hold on power steady. Incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa AKA The Crocodile, who took power from Mugabe six years ago in a coup, will continue to govern. South Africa and the US have acknowledged criticisms of the election but have for now called for peace. Under the constitution this is Mnangagwa’s last legal term. Most people think he will try to run again anyway, though he’s currently 80 so it’s up in the air whether he will even be alive in 2028.


Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan met to negotiate over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GRED) across the Nile. Ethiopia put nearly $5 billion into GERD and would be able to generate vast amounts of electricity for its energy-deprived populace, but it would reduce the flow of water to Egypt and Sudan (the Nile is the only major river that actually runs south-to-north) which Sudan is wary about and Egypt considers an existential threat to the 85% of its water supply that comes from Ethiopia. The latter two nations are demanding a legally binding agreement as to how the dam will be operated, filled, and maintained. Ethiopia, uh, doesn't want to do that. Reportedly no progress was made; the next round of talks will happen in Addis Ababa with the hypothetical deadline for an agreement in October.

Also, updates on the Ethiopian conflict in the Amhara region, following President Abiy’s attempt to integrate the Amhara paramilitary Fano into the overall military (mirroring his political project to integrate the ethnic political parties into one coalition loyal to him):

"At least 183 people have been killed in clashes since July, according to information gathered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights", the OHCHR spokeswoman continued…

"We are very concerned about the deterioration of the human rights situation in certain regions of Ethiopia", said Marta Hurtado, stressing that the state of emergency gives the authorities wide powers.

In particular, it allows them to arrest suspects without a court order, impose curfews and ban public gatherings, she detailed."We have received reports that more than 1,000 people have been arrested throughout Ethiopia under this law.

Many of them are young people of Amhara ethnic origin suspected of being supporters of Fano", she said."Since the beginning of August, massive house-to-house searches have reportedly taken place", she added."We call on the authorities to put an end to the mass arrests, to ensure that any deprivation of liberty is subject to judicial review, and to release those arbitrarily detained", she said, calling on all those involved in the conflict "to put an end to the killings, other violations and abuses".

NPR also has a retrospective on the conflict of the past few years, “How did Ethiopia go from its leader winning the Nobel Peace Prize to war in a year?”, which I’m partially sharing because the guest is one incredibly named GEBREKIRSTOS GEBRESELASSIE GEBREMESKEL.

Take I wrote on increasing calls in Republican and bi-partisan spaces for a Military intervention into Mexico against the Cartels, and why this would inevitably lead to armed conflict within America itself, along with a possible death spiral of instability in the wider North American region.