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Small-Scale Question Sunday for November 6, 2022

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.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Idea: all else equal, a terrorist group that believes in hierarchy being not bad (or even good) is more dangerous than one which does not support hierarchies.

A group that supports the idea of a hierarchy will naturally create one in the process of coming into being, and an organized group is more effective. In contrast, a group that does not support hierarchies will have a tougher time organizing until effective. Of course, both are dangerous once formed, but the former will learn the need/lessons of structure more easily.

If this is reasonable, it suggests that the former type should be monitored more closely and actively disrupted over the latter.

But this would also suggest that between a brewing Nazi group and a brewing Antifa group, the former is more dangerous and needs to be handled first and foremost.

Is there some idea I'm missing?

I was thinking about edutainment from when I was a kid. We had Treasure Mountain to help learn words, JumpStart for a whole bunch of interesting stuff each year, and so on. From age 5-12 it felt like there was a massive array of edutainment products, which disappeared as I hit high school. I remember trying to convince my teacher at age 9 that Escape Velocity was educational as it taught you to buy low and sell high.

So as a teenager, nothing. Makes sense - teenagers are less pliable and enjoy this stuff less and want to go off and do their own thing.

But I am genuinely surprised edutainment never really took off, or doesn't seem to have surpassed its 90s-early 00s peak. I would've assumed there was a lot of demand for this sort of product for adults, but instead we just reverted to video games sans education.

Am I wrong about this? Are there a bunch of super popular products I'm just not aware of? Or if not, why did it never take off? Entertaining yourself while learning is a big market, but maybe it's not entertaining enough so unless you're choosing it for someone else (like a child) you don't? I'm not sure, but feel free to chime in with thoughts or the like.

Edutainment games for teenagers aren't there because teenagers buy their own video games. As a child you play whatever games adults allow you to play: so if your parents (or teachers) provide you with an edutainment game, you'll play it. Once you're picking out your own games you pick what sounds fun or interesting, not what is "good for you." At that age if you want to learn something (say, playing piano or Spanish) there are a lot of computer programs that will help you learn those things, and if you want to have fun you pick out a game that looks fun.

Now there are still games that are fun and educational: I learned a lot of history from Paradox and Creative Assembly games, for instance. Factorio teaches you a lot about process engineering. The Cold War scenario from Rise of Nations helped me better understand why the Korean War ended in a truce without much land changing hands, and why the Bay of Pigs was a disaster, and why the USSR and USA kept building more and more nuclear weapons, all by putting me in a game situation where I faced the same incentives (the Korean War scenario was a slog after Chinese reinforcements show up, and when given the option to ceasefire with South Korea intact or hammer it out for the next couple hours I choose ceasefire; the Bay of Pigs scenario requires you to make a risky fast supporting attack with aircraft: if you hesitate to try to get better prepared then the rebels all die pretty quick and then you have nothing but regret; and the game incentives nuclear parity or supremacy enough that I spent a lot of resources on it). All educational, but none of those games are billed as educational. They're billed as interesting and fun, just as the educational computer programs are billed as educational. Nobody is trying to get adults to eat their peas by promising them dessert.

There's a whole bunch of edutainment on YouTube. Cooking shows, history shows, DIY shows, general knowledge shows. I haven't seen any edutainment fiction, though.

What was your good turn for the week? In the past seven days, what was the nicest/most interesting nice thing you did for someone else? The boy scouts taught me to do a good turn daily, but I'll give us a week to make it easy.

Helped a friend move? Helped an old lady carry her groceries? Gave money to a homeless man after walking home from the strip club? Pulled a drowning dog out of a pond? Tell me about it. Tell me what minor altruism you did this week.

For me, some jackass dumped a pile of old mattresses down a steep bank along a road at the old church near me. It was upsetting to see them sit there every day, and the church's waste hauler wanted extra to take them, so I scheduled bulk pick up at 3 of our rental houses nearby, drove over and dragged them up the hill and into my truck, bagged them and put them out for collection. Now the neighborhood is a little cleaner.

But really? Littering on church property? Homeboy is headed straight to hell. That's a tough one to justify in the end.

I'll put you down as a benevolent dealer.

Also I gave a beer away from my six pack to a homeless guy in front of Walmart. Nothing makes a beggar light up more than a cold one. Not even money.

Paid for a restaurant dinner with my family-in-law. They can't afford that kind of thing, and they kept trying to slip the money back to my wife because they felt they couldn't accept it, but in the end they were happy. But I also can't take full credit because it was originally my wife's idea, so instead: Told the bakery cashier she had forgotten to bill me for something.

Honest man twice over.

When I go out with my father in law he will fight over the check. One of his brothers famously stole another brother's credit card and called the company to cancel it before a dinner, just to make sure that brother couldn't try to pay. So I trick him.

Rather than wrestle over the check when it comes, I excuse myself to the bathroom just after entrees arrive and give the manager my credit card and tell her to put the check on my card before they even bring it to the table. The check gets there already paid, returning my card with it. Checkmate, Persian dad!

Also the best way to do it on a date for you single dudes, avoids the awkwardness over who is paying (she wants you to, but she doesn't want to say she wants you to), it's suave as fuck.

Maybe I've just been lucky, but every girl I've dated has been happy going Dutch. It would annoy me if I had to pay everytime, though that's a small price all said and done.

Sure, I've never had a girl get actively annoyed that we went Dutch; and if asked most girls I've dated would insist on it. But when I sneak it in without her having to agree to it, when she just gets it without having to take responsibility for loving it, I've never met a girl who didn't love it. Don't ask just do it.

... Those 2 sentences sound creepy out of context.

I can't imagine dealing with tarof every day.

I made a cheesecake for my family even though I hate cheesecake (I made brownies on the side for myself).

I can understand how cheesecake as it's typically made could be a bit rich and cloying, but have you tried Japanese cheesecake? I haven't seen someone who hates it yet and I'm genuinely struggling to see how someone could.

I'm just fundamentally grossed out by cream cheese in all forms. This one was a Basque cheesecake, so a little different from regular cheesecake, but still a base of cream cheese.

You're wrong about cheesecake, but that incorrect view just makes your ultimate altruism shine the brighter.

If it doesn't have chocolate, it doesn't count as a dessert. But yes, I am truly a hero.

A cat adopted us at our summer cabin, but we couldn't take him to the city with us. My wife arranged a feeding schedule with our neighbor (he has a dog, so the cat wouldn't enter his home) and I built a winterized shelter for him in our greenhouse out of a cat house and mineral wool batts.

That's so nice for that cat! He'll be cozy all winter until you get back.

What a lovely question. This week I tried to help my friend's kid with her social anxiety. Brought a co-worker a latte to spare her walking to the cafe on her recently-replaced knee. Talked a friend through a bad day.

I'm realizing now how little it was.

It's never enough, but at the same time if your friend gets the job you might just have changed their entire life.

I helped my mother fix PC issues related to her scanner. Does that count?

Why wouldn't it? I'm sure your mother was happy that her scanner works and happy you cared.

It's not altruism if I'm getting something in return (or have already gotten something in return and am therefore indebted).

Reciprocal altruism might not be the culmination of the evolution of virtue, but it's at least on the right path.

Sure but filial piety is a lost virtue, it's still a good thing to do even if it isn't altruism. It's positive to take care of people who took care of you.

It’s one of the prerequisites for Canonization.

Is there an element of truth to this idea that Roman history is partially an invention of Italian humanists? Have the originals discovered by early renaissance humanists ever been carbon dated?

I didn’t want to click through to unz, so I wrote up this whole thing about the Portland vase. It was the first thing in the British Museum’s Roman collection, but glass also can’t be carbon dated. Since I lost my draft, though, here’s the short version.

Even if the main critic was right and that vase is a fake, I don’t think much changes. We still have other historical records corroborating the existence of the alleged last Roman owner. We’ve got a few dozen other samples of glass using the same technique. And we have a broader picture of Roman history anchored by radiocarbon of charcoal and such from towns, military camps, and so on.

It’s pretty implausible that Gibbon et al. were writing massive shared-universe fan fiction.

What is wrong with Unz. Even if his politics suck, it's not like you are enriching him by clicking like you would the Wasingtonpost

I wasn’t sure of that ahead of time. I actually couldn’t remember the political lean, either, since that other response was playing the thesis up as anti-white. Yeah, I figured it out pretty quick.

But for me, it’s more about legitimacy. Somewhere, a view counter has ticked up, and an author gets to use me to convince others that he’s a worthy read. I’ll freely admit it’s not particularly rational.

What is wrong with Unz.

Nothing is wrong with Ron Unz, just like nothing is wrong with Alex Jones, both are doing their work.

Shitcoating 101 for Alex, 201-301 for Ron.

What is shitcoating? Recipe is simple.

Pick well researched and well documented truth that would shock normies to the core of their souls.

Add pile of unfounded speculation and wild fantasy.

Add bigger pile of delusionary nonsense.

Add really big pile of brown shit. Must be 100% authentic proud sieg heiling Nazi shit, accept no substitutes.

Stir vigorously, serve hot and steaming.

Works every time.

I get where you’re coming from with Unz being a Nazi, but how is Jones one? I mean, I’m sure he’s not exactly a philosemite- few conspiracy theorists are- but he seems like a libertarian with some culturally conservative ideas when he’s consistent.

I get where you’re coming from with Unz being a Nazi

It can happen. When you keep going how nothing happened to the Jews during WW2 and they deserved it all, how Hitler was a hero who saved European civilization, how Jews drink blood of Christian children etc..., some people might mistake you for Nazi.

But I do not believe that libertarian Californian Jew suddenly got a revelation that Hitler was the greatest man that ever lived and turned his life around. I believe that Ron Unz, just like Alex Jones (and Andrew Anglin, one of stars of his site) are professionals doing their job and doing it well.

but how is Jones one? I mean, I’m sure he’s not exactly a philosemite- few conspiracy theorists are- but he seems like a libertarian with some culturally conservative ideas when he’s consistent.

I described Unz's method, for Jones, replace Nazism with generic illuminati/lizardman gutter conspiracy content.

The same thing, only for sub 100 IQ audience. Ron's audience is higher grade, people who love to read 10,000 word articles and argue in 1000 comment threads.

Thanks. Not sure how I keep forgetting that exists.

At this point, most readers will have lost patience. With those whose curiosity surpasses their skepticism...

Someone's channeling his inner Moldbug.

we shall now argue that Imperial Rome is actually, for a large part, a fictitious mirror image of Constantinople, a fantasy that started emerging in the eleventh century in the context of the cultural war waged by the papacy against the Byzantine empire, and solidified in the fifteenth century, in the context of the plunder of Byzantine culture that is known as the Renaissance.


Overall, I was not terribly impressed with the article. The author is correct to note that historical sources are rife with opportunities for fakery or, at least, a game of telephone. He then fails to apply that skepticism to his own pet theory. Perhaps that is a moot point, since he prefers citing the absence of evidence rather than evidence of absence.

Smol brain: Romans were white

Big brain: Romans were black

Exploding brain: Romans never existed

Content like this is exactly what I would create and promote if I ran big worldwide conspiracy to destroy White race ;-)

A common trope is that spies gets tapes of some politician doing something immoral or illegal, which is then used for blackmail. Allegations of this is rife, e.g. Trump in Moscow, Epstein, etc. Do we have any clear example of this actually working? E.g. some politician pushes policy X. Years later it is revealed that this was because of blackmail from Y. An example of failed blackmail would also be interesting, e.g. some politician saying "Y has an embarrassing video of me which they are using for blackmail, but I won't give in!" followed by Y releasing the video.

(I guess most of the time the blackmail is more a way to generally pressure someone and keep them in line. I also know that most cases probably wouldn't become known to the public)

There's a famous story where the KGB had two agents who were stewardesses sleep with Indonesian President Achmed Sukarno. They recorded it.

The Russian ambassador got a meeting and told him they had it all on tape.

He immediately asked for a copy because none of his friends believed him.

In the US the structure is a little different. They don't seem to use explicit threats, instead they remove people for whatever reason.

Generally they seem to send someone to demand blackmail money, then use the blackmail payments to allow the FBI to open an investigation. It's a lot easier than trying to prove the charges.

An example in the US is Dennis Hastert. He was the US Speaker of the House (R). He was previously a high school teacher and was the coach of the wrestling team. He molested 14 yr old boys in that role.

Realistically a lot of people must have suspected. He was famous for dating 18-19 yr old men in DC. Combine that with "former gym coach" and people have questions.

Someone demanded money, he paid, the FBI investigated him under "structuring" laws. He had to resign.

The Matt Gaetz allegations follow the same pattern. Stephen Alford tried to shake him down for money, but Gaetz went to the FBI instead of paying. The agents out to get him haven't been able to make a case, and it looks like it'll fizzle out.

Someone demanded money, he paid, the FBI investigated him under "structuring" laws. He had to resign.

Your dates are a little off. He resigned in 2007 after Rs lost the majority in the house, he wasn't indicted until 2015 well into his retirement. If we're using Hastert as an example, it would be of someone (hypothetically) successfully keeping Hastert in line with the threat of revealing the truth.

Someone spread an embarrassing video of him, but it's not clear if any blackmail was involved.

And that, in conjunction with some other things, got him him unseated from government.

Do you really think whomever had the video in their possession didn't attempt to extract something from him first?

I think Cawthorn was drummed out for airing DC dirty laundry. I think the video was a combination of punishment and a way to discredit any future statements from him rather than an extortion attempt.

Also embarrassing him pour encourager Les autres.

Dan Savage has talked for years about the idea that eventually everyone's sexting will result in mutually assured destruction and cultural detente: if everyone has dark sex secrets no one can reveal anyone else's for fear of having their own revealed. Dan being a pervert (in tht nicest sense of the word) he views this as a positive thing.

But let's look at it the other way; Wheels had accused Congressional republicans of engaging in coke fueled orgies in Washington immediately before this. Not two weeks later some goofy bro video comes out of probably Cawthorn engaged in something possibly homoerotic.

This was sexting MAD in action: Madison threatened to spill the secrets of the temple in the streets, he got got. It sent a message to every other Freedom Caucus idealist: if you even think about revealing what Congressional leadership gets up to and you know that girl? Yeah, that one, you thought no one knew? She's in our pocket, we have the texts and the pics and the tapes. Talk shit, get hit.

It seems entirely plausible that whomever had the video released it just to ruin Crawthorn without attempting to do any blackmail. Or that they did a "traditional" blackmail for money, not the kind of political favors blackmail I'm discussing here. And if they did a blackmail, why wouldn't Crawthorn tell the details, or go to the police?

Yeah, it seems like the only political favor anyone wanted from Cawthorne was that he would go away.

And if they did a blackmail, why wouldn't Crawthorn tell the details, or go to the police?

Because there is more, even worse and possibly criminally actionable material in the offing?

Is that not how blackmail tends to work? This feels like a gimme question.

Is it? Blackmail works when the difference "what I'll release if you don't cave" minus "what I'll release if you do cave" hurts the target more than the cost of caving, so you want to maximize that difference. Releasing kompromat but not all-the-kompromat makes the difference smaller. It would be a good response to "I know you have material on me but I don't think you'll release any of it", but who wouldn't think that? Even bluffing blackmailers just pretend to have material they don't really have, they don't pretend to be willing to publish material they really wouldn't.

Or because there was no blackmail. I know that most cases of political blackmail is in shades of grey and veiled from the public, that's why I'm looking for clear-cut cases.

But as far as we know, this blackmail didn't work and the embarrassing tape was never released. So it doesn't match either scenario i present.

Several British MP's who wrote memoirs said that party whips blackmailing MP's not to vote against the leadership was common. This page is a rare on-the-record discussion of what was in whips' black books of kompromat on their own MPs.

I am not aware of any British MP publically saying "this named whip blackmailed me on this vote".

Interesting, thanks! Though that looks more like the whip keeping track of rumors. The whips are not setting up hidden cameras in hotel rooms (as far as we know at least).

for intro, see newly released "One Nation Under Blackmail" by Whitney Webb

I might need to look into it. Do you know how far down the conspiracy rabbit hole the author is?

Author is woke/tinfoil hatted enough to be published on Unz site, judge for yourself

If you prefer listening to reading, podcast is here

Is there something like Nukemap that tells you if your home is at risk of destruction or irradiation in the event of a nuclear war? I read something a while ago that said that, realistically, most nukes won't be Tsar Bomba-levels of powerful and not all places are at risk of getting hit with overpressure (e.g. cities won't be hit in the exact center), assuming the enemy isn't going for sheer casualty numbers.

Nukes would not be evenly spread; the majority would be targeted at the enemy's strike and counter-strike capabilities. So that means missile silos, airbases, naval yards, bomber-capable airstrips, etc. get first, second, and third priority. After that you start hitting other strategic sites: military bases, marshalling yards, road junctions, communication hubs, oil fields. Now because you're shooting 500kt+ nuclear warheads at these targets this ends up killing lots of civilians anyways. But ostensibly only then you go to "counter-value" targets of just aiming purely at killing people.

So that can give you a sense of your relative risk. Do you live near important military installations? Do you live near important communications/logistical/infrastructure hubs? Are you downwind (i.e., east) of the most relevant target near you? Those are the most important questions to take in mind considering your immediate survival. But most estimates see even at the height of the Cold War more than half of Americans surviving the initial exchange. The bigger survival questions are then: do you know first aid? Are you fit? Can you grow food? Can you sew/mend clothes? Do you have a supply of water/emergency rations? Do you have a firearm and know how to use it? etc. The irony of a lot of "preppers" is that their survival focus seems to be centered on acquiring gold bullion and guns and not on maybe dropping the 200 lbs of visceral fat they're carrying

Nothing like that seemed to exist when I looked, and in hindsight the reason seems obvious: for it to be accurate you'd basically need to know the targeting plans of your attackers, which are naturally going to be as secret as secrets can get, and which are pure data (as opposed to e.g. numbers of missiles whose silos/subs/etc can show up to satellite overflight) and thus easy to keep secret.

If you're worried about Putin you might make some inaccurate guesses, though. Russia has one currently-deployed warhead per 200k Americans. Divide that into your local population, deploy to maximize damage. See what happens if you place half as many warheads (assuming some will be targeted at US silos or reserved for subsequent deterrence), see what happens if you place twice as many (assuming many not-currently-deployed warheads are having that status upgraded right now).

My guesses were not reassuring. With a lowball estimate and low or reversed winds my house might remain liveable, but with a typical wind vector it's a fallout zone, and with a less optimistic warhead count it's rubble.

I don't know the current targetting doctrine of Russia and China, but the American one from 1956 was analysed in this blogpost, whose author is also the creator of NukeMap.

Having lived all my life in Moscow, I had no need for such a service. I would have zero chances of survival if Russia was nuked.

I've thought about this some. I don't think it can reasonably be done, since there's no way to know who might attack your country, how many nukes they actually have and intend to use against you, what they would be targeting in what priority, how many of what yield get aimed at any particular city/area, how effective any countermeasures are, and how well the missiles actually do at hitting their intended targets accurately.

If you're particularly worried, it's probably best to live as far as possible from any large cities and anything else that might make a good target like military bases or other critical facilities, and to build a fallout shelter.

Do you guys think that a preference for children's media over media targeted toward adults is a sign of emotional immaturity or psychological issues?

I'm in my late 20's and I still primarily consume media made for children, but I'm not likely to enjoy it unless the protagonists are adults or the situations are allegorical enough that I can relate to them regardless of the characters' canon ages.

I find children's media is often easier to enjoy, they're simple fun. But the best works, the ones that make me feel or think very deeply, are media targeted at adults. So I might consume 90% content for children, 10% for adults, but that 10% for adults are disproportionately my favourites.

Could you name some of your favorite things from that 10%?

Recently, Andor on Disney+ has been very good, it's a political thriller in the Star Wars universe about a petty criminal getting pulled into the Rebellion. Lots of "Good people doing the wrong things for the right reasons" which is a theme I love.

The Game of Thrones books are another favourite of mine.

Bojack Horseman is probably my favourite show, it's both hilarious and emotional, and consistently good through all 6 seasons.

Elizier Yudowsky's, Scott Alexander's, and qntm's short stories all often make me take a moment to think after reading them.

I'm in my late 20's and I still primarily consume media made for children, but I'm not likely to enjoy it unless the protagonists are adults or the situations are allegorical enough that I can relate to them regardless of the characters' canon ages.

Have you considered that you're not enjoying it because it's not relatable to you?

Oh, absolutely. That's what I explained in my long-form post. But I still generally go for media that's made for younger audiences.

If you’re watching it to relax and unwind, then it’s good. If you’re watching it to inform your worldview, or to regress, or to avoid responsibilities, it’s bad.

I am letting it inform my worldview. I think A Series of Unfortunate Events has good insight insight into human nature, as do a number of Pixar movies. But Breaking Bad does too, and I know that's for adults.

Whenever I consume media, I come to be entertained first and foremost, but I only fall in love with it if it says something.


I enjoy a lot of 'juvenile' comedy at times. I don't repeat the jokes in polite company, I don't pretend they're particularly insightful.

No. Adult or Grown Up has become increasingly code for "Grimdark" or "violent, profane, and depressing." Depth is equated with cynicism and obscenity. If those are your options, might as well stick with the kids stuff.

C.S. Lewis:

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

When I was 12, I'd watch a boring foreign film about Mexican politics and the homoeroticism underlying Latino machismo and not understand 90% of the message, because I'd heard there were tits somewhere in it and I could get the DVD. At 30, telling me a movie has tits in it does not make me want to watch it, I'm indifferent to it. I'm neither offended by a film using nudity and sex to useful effect to talk about the human psyche; nor impressed by a story that throws in an obligatory shot of tits to irrelevant scenes.

Strip out the adolescent delight that self-consciously "adult" fans take in over-the-top violence or obscenity, and a lot of the Adult-Targeted media is trash, with themes less interesting and philosophy shallower than the "kids stuff."

No, I do not. But I have extremely relevant issues, so that doesn't answer the question...

But I have to ask: whence the concept of children's fiction? Or, even, whence the concept of adult's fiction? Or better yet, how functional is the post-industrial idea of child Vs adult, compared to pre-industrial versions of these identities/roles?

Childhood and adulthood as we know them today are new. Yes, the two have been distinguished since time immemorial, but not in precisely this way. Decreased child mortality, child labor laws, compulsory education, the disappearance of jobs that children could traditionally participate in, all utterly transformed what it means, culturally, to be child/adult. "Culturally" being the key word.

Entertainment, though, has such a whacky history that I'm sure I'd miss something trying to summarize it. I think the big thing is that, at some point, the entertainment and toy industries realized how much of a cash-cow specifically targeting children can be, followed by realizing that getting an older audience to stick with it will also increase profits. Furthermore, if we're talking the past 40-50 years? Children's entertainment is wildly different from the nursery rhymes and fairytales of a century ago. At this point, I think culture hasn't really caught up with the fact that the entertainment industry is trying to get really good at selling fun stuff, and that they sometimes succeed beyond what a narrow view of demographics would suggest. Kids growing up with media made for children, these days, are growing up with the products that out-competed weaker products. Of course it's going to have sticking power.

More than all that, though, when entertainment became a mass industry, constantly pumping out new material, I think that left a huge impact on culture we haven't really figured out, yet. When producing new stories in masse was expensive, popular culture didn't have much to latch onto. Pop culture as a concept is spectacularly different following a relevant technological innovation, after all. References to the Bible and classical mythology were the norm, and it was all public domain so you didn't have to worry about getting demonitized for quoting a Psalm or two. Put a clip from Harry Potter in a video on Youtube, and so help you if it's more than five seconds long.

TLDR: this aspect of culture is changing, and fast, and has been for a good century and then some, at least. What do concepts like childish and immature actually mean, and how long have they meant that, and why? What even is the purpose of entertainment? I don't think the answers to any of these are sufficiently agreed upon for there to be a straightforward answer to the original question.

I still primarily consume media made for children, but I'm not likely to enjoy it

Why do you do it, and why don’t you enjoy it?

Until my late teens, I avoided live-action material entirely because I had trouble reading body language. The sitcoms that aired on children's networks were sufficiently over the top in direction that I could understand them, but they were also all terrible (except for Drake and Josh).

As I've aged, I've gotten better at reading body language, but I still have trouble making certain types of inferences. I did not pick up on the sexual tension between John Travolta's character and boss's wife in Pulp Fiction until he said outright that he needs to last until he can masturbate, and I was like "Where did that come from?" Apparently that was supposed to be obvious when they were dancing, but I was just bored by what appeared to be nothing happening.

My two favorite entertainment mediums are animation and musical theater. Most English-language animation is either made for kids or so stiff that it may as well not be animated at all. Musical theater is theoretically for all ages, but literal theater kids are the functional tastemakers. (Hamilton is about adults, but Dear Evan Hansen is about kids and Beetlejuice is Hot Topic kitsch.)

I got into the MCU when I was 17, and I do still enjoy some of it, but Endgame was a letdown for me, in large part because the characters rewrote the rules of reality to get out of the consequences of their actions, something they can now theoretically do at any point in the future. They could go back, get the stones, use them to revive Tony, and then return them. The only person they can't bring back is Black Widow. I mean.. people would say that these movies were made for kids because of all the toys, but I denied that because they were PG-13 and had references to sex and drugs. Now I understand why that doesn't prove anything.

Also, a post from a dead blogging site was recently sent my way, and while I don't agree with or even understand all of it, some passages hit close to home for me. (Ctrl+f "Deadpool.")

As for why I don't like media about kids doing kid things, there are two reasons. The first is that it makes me feel old, because I'm not a child anymore. The second is that I might be reminded about things I missed out on as a kid and will never get to experience.

I'm currently fixated on A Series of Unfortunate Events. The storyline does play off how kids have no real control of their lives, but beyond that, it's allegorical and people of any age could have comparable experiences. Evangelion is also one of my favorite works of fiction, and I relate to Shinji more than any other fictional character. Watching Gravity Falls has gotten harder for me, though, because I'm farther away from the ages of Dipper and Mabel than I was when it came out, and watching Ed, Edd, 'n' Eddy has become outright depressing, even though I love the slapstick. When I was a kid who never went outside and had no friends, I saw that show as aspirational, about something I wanted to have. Now it's about something I never had and never will. Even if I develop a completely functional social life, I'll never build a cardboard city that everyone in the neighborhood shows up to, our imaginations getting carried away as though it's real.

I kind of regret going all therapy mode here. I do have an actual therapist and could be talking about this with him. But this is CW-adjacent, right? It's about something that a lot of terminally online people relate to, so hopefully you guys can get something out of what I'm writing here.

(Final tangent: I never got around to reading Harry Potter as a kid because I didn't like reading, and I want to read it now, but I'm worried it'll remind me that I missed out on whatever cool high school stuff Harry does. Does he go to a wizard prom? Does he experience teenage wizard love?)

What would you say drives the preference?

Kids’ movies can be well-made and entertaining on their own terms. I cried over Klaus, and even on a third watch I still got a thrill out of the first flight scene in How to Train Your Dragon.

Kids’ movies tend to loudly announce, with musical cues or exaggerated expression and body language, what characters are feeling and what viewers are supposed to feel. Their conflicts and moral universe are usually simpler than adult fare, which can be a kind of comfort food.

I do want movies to "loudly announce, with musical cues or exaggerated expression and body language, what characters are feeling and what viewers are supposed to feel." I don't like simple conflicts or black and white morality, though. The former is useful for me. The latter is stale and unrepresentative of the real world, where people routinely commit atrocities while believing they're the good guy. (I want to CW so hard right now.)

The latter is a direct result of the former, unfortunately.

Zero Dark Thirty, for example, shows us one CIA agent’s years-long, single-minded hunt for Osama bin Laden. It opens with genuine phone calls from the Twin Towers on 9/11. It shows our protagonist and her colleagues torturing detainees, drone-striking suspects, and finally raiding their target’s compound and killing every man in it, several in front of their wives and children. The protagonist remarks at one point in the film that her preference was to bomb the whole place from the sky, presumably with the children inside.

Along the way, we see some evidence of a-Qaeda’s ruthlessness. They bomb civilians and kill one of the more likable CIA agents characters.

The film ends with the protagonist’s quest complete. She has sacrificed every other aspect of her life to kill this one evil man. Now that it’s done, when offered her reward, she doesn’t know what to ask for - doesn’t know what to want. She breaks down sobbing.

The film gives damn near zero cues how you are meant to feel about any of these things. No stirring music. Relatively understated performances. Most of the people onscreen are just doing their jobs. It’s not always clear how much they struggle with the ugly things they do, or how they justify it to themselves. The SEALs are presented as unambiguously cool, because they are, but also as perfectly willing to shoot screaming women and to traumatize children.

You are meant to ask yourself, “Is this acceptable? Is this worth it? Is this heroic? Is this winning?” I would not show this movie to children, because they aren’t likely to even realize these questions are being posed.

At the time, there was controversy over this portrayal of people doing unsavory things while believing themselves to be the good guys. Many critics were furious over the film’s refusal to give the usual cues and loudly condemn torture. That’s nuance for you.

This doesn’t make Zero Dark Thirty a better film than a kids’ movie. For sheer entertainment, rewatchability, and audiovisual beauty, The Prince of Egypt is far superior. But the things that make Zero Dark Thirty a little dry, off-putting, or hard to engage with - compared to a musical with stylized characters and emotions - are the things that make it adult.

I've never heard of Zero Dark Thirty, but based on your description of the film, the ambiguity of the characters' motivations would be impossible to achieve in a musical. Characters in a musical can be as morally complicated as characters in anything else (go watch Into the Woods if you don't believe me), but they are required to narrate (sing!) their thought process, by nature of the medium. The only alternative would be to have an omniscient third person narrator sing the entirety of the show, describing the actions taken by the characters in mostly literal terms. I guess that would be more of a concept album than a musical, actually. And then there's the issue that music inherently informs people's emotions, so you might not be able to include any music while giving the audience emotional ambiguity. If you play cool music during the action scenes, then sad music at the end, the message will be clear, but the audience would rightfully feel like the film was holding their hand. I'd still love it, though. There are few concepts that I don't think would make for an enjoyable musical.

So, I don't agree that moral ambiguity requires subtlety, but I see your point that there are some stories that are best told with a level of subtlety that would confuse kids.

Have you seen Synecdoche, New York? That's an adult film I enjoy, but even though the plot is deliberately confusing and, at times, nonsensical, the motivations and personality of the main character are always clear. This isn't true with Charlie Kaufman's most recent film, I'm Thinking of Ending Things. I was so bored and confused that I turned off that movie partway through and read a summary. The central concept is brilliant, but if you don't know what's going on, the behavior of the two leads makes no sense, making it impossible to empathize with them. The movie didn't drop nearly enough clues for me to figure out what was going on, hence my distaste. >!I thought the janitor stuff was an unrelated subplot going on at the same time. I didn't even notice he was played by the same actor as the male lead. I think the movie should have implied that the date scenes were a flashback to the janitor's youth, that he was mourning a failed relationship as he worked his menial job. Cut the fake out horror movie stuff, focus on the mundane conversations that gradually reveal his insecurity. The anachronisms in the story would make it possible for the audience audience to figure out that these scenes never actually happened to the janitor well before the reveal at the end. Would that make it a kids movie?!<

Characters in a musical can be as morally complicated as characters in anything else (go watch Into the Woods if you don't believe me)

Of course. But I wouldn't show Into the Woods to small children, either.

Cut the fake out horror movie stuff, focus on the mundane conversations that gradually reveal his insecurity. The anachronisms in the story would make it possible for the audience audience to figure out that these scenes never actually happened to the janitor well before the reveal at the end. Would that make it a kids movie?!

First I should admit I'm not familiar with Charlie Kaufman's work at all. I'm basing this on cursory googling.

Nuance and ambiguity aren't my sole criteria for adult. Nor are sex, violence, or mature themes. Make these changes to the movie, and you're still left with a story about an old man regretting the life he didn't live. There aren't many children who will connect with this story. Kids are little bundles of potential. They discount time at an even more ridiculous rate than most humans. They don't have the experience to understand the very adult grief of knowing it's already too late, and you'll never, ever become what you might have been. And we don't typically expose them to meditations on the banal suffering of mankind's hopelessness, you know?

Kids' movies share certain features. (In general, on average, there will be exceptions, standard disclaimer etc.) Simplified moral universe. Good guys and bad guys, often identifiable by their character design. Big emotions spelled out for you. Themes relevant to kids - proving yourself, making valued friends, finding your place in the world, achieving independence. Lessons about not judging books by their covers, which are most useful in the exploration of youth, but become less relevant as you train your pattern-matching software on more inputs and develop better judgment. And none of this is shallow or dumb! These themes are important and necessary, and often the subject of Great Art.

But I do feel that if that's all you watch, that might be a sign that you're craving emotional experiences or catharsis more commonly offered to children. Might be worth looking at why, since you were at least curious enough to ask this forum.

I can relate to those feelings, but I can't understand that the protagonist is feeling them unless he says so. That's why I watch stuff that is on the nose, usually stuff for kids.

Also, believe it or not, Disney made Into the Woods into a movie and it got a PG rating. They gave Rapunzel an implied happy ending, but otherwise the movie was as dark as the play. When I saw it in the theater, it was a full house, and most of the people there were families with kids. A noticable chunk of them had left by The Last Midnight. I didn't hear any crying, so I don't think they were even scared, just confused and bored. It'd be funny to think that they were scared by the giant threatening everyone, though.

So, what are you reading?

I'm going through Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, another one that has been on my shelf for far too long.

I'm in the process of reading Peter Watts' Sunflower Cycle series. I've finished The Island, Giants and Hitchhiker (what there currently is of Hitchhiker, anyway) and am currently reading The Freeze-Frame Revolution.

It's fantastic. Eriophora is such a tantalising setting, despite the inherent horror of the premise. I also think these stories are better written than his other work, perhaps due to the fact that it's less dense - there are some portions of the text that have sent cascades of chills running down my spine because of how incredibly evocative it is.

Just finished Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals, an astounding collection of prophetic essays from the early 90s that now ranks as one of the best books I’ve ever read. I anticipate I will re-read it frequently.

is there any chance you went through his basic economics? im in two chapters, doesn't feel like the best use of time

Galileo's Middle Finger by Alice Dreger. Parts of it read like a good mystery story, and I appreciate that it doesn't retread the usual culture war arguments. It's been a great read!

Rereading Heritics and Orthodoxy by Chesterton and having recently gotten my eldest into 40k have been reading the Gaunt's Ghosts series by Dan Abnett with him.

I am currently reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and The Cruel Prince by Holly Black.

Still Thunder Below, still excellent. The actual plot events are incredible, and I am continuously surprised by how much everyone hews to the stereotypes of mid-century Americana. I also didn’t realize the author won a Medal of Honor for one of the actions.

Over October, I did a night-by-night read of A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. The prose was delicious. I really want to get someone to read it completely blind, because the premise (horror fiction battle royale) is just so lovably bizarre. I would die for Snuff.

The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change. It's a good book for engineering leads. It matches with a lot of stuff I've learned myself, plus has some thoughts I've evidently been avoiding all these years, because that's what former engineers usually do.

I also picked up The Passenger and found it much more difficult to get into compared to earlier McCarthy's novels. I think I'll try again later.

So what is the Passenger even about? I've been trying to get a feel for what I'd be getting into without actually spoilering myself, but the blurbs I've read so far were unhelpful. Maybe what I especially would like to know is how it compares to other McCarthy novels, but without giving away any of the Passenger's details.

I have no idea myself what's going on there!

The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change. It's a good book for engineering leads. It matches with a lot of stuff I've learned myself, plus has some thoughts I've evidently been avoiding all these years, because that's what former engineers usually do.

That sounds useful. Added to my audible list!

Ha, I'm also reading The Manager's Path and a McCarthy book, The Road.

Very bleak - the Road, that is.

I loved The Road, but I'm never reading it again.

I think I've been shirking my duties as a McCarthy fanboy and The Road is just about due a re-read on my part. Haven't read it since long before becoming a dad. Maybe the book will read differently now.

Come to think of it, it feels like I remember most of The Road, even though I only read it once. Surely I'm mistaken here and I forgot much, but it doesn't feel incomplete in my memory. I read it entirely on train rides, where I had absolutely nothing to do and time to kill and no distractions whatsoever except for sometimes the landscape passing by the window. When recently I read, it's usually just while waiting for something, in between tasks, in doctor's offices or on parking lots. I'm also much older now, but I occurs to me that the setting in which I read seems to have a significant impact on how well I memorize. Or maybe the Road just was more memorable.

Is there a good starter guide for AI image generation in terms of how to use tags, and which? For example, if im trying to get an image of a nuthatch wearing a navy captain's hat, using Stable Diffusion (niche, I know, but I figured a niche example would be best). I seem to really be struggling in how to set up my tags.

The Stable Diffusion subreddit has a decent links post with lots of guides. However, at this point, the ability of the model to generate highly specific images like that is very limited, and it'd likely take less time to generate a picture of nuthatch and then use inpainting to generate a navy captain's hat on its head than to find the right prompt-setting combination to get the image you want.

Baen just recently published a book on the subject, though I haven't read it myself.

The best (only?) way I know of is to check and imitate the tagging of the training sources, like stock image sites and danbooru. There are amusing anecdotes about the ai having an odd understanding of "balls" due to conflicting tagging.

So, I'm thinking about writing an email to an academic on their work - I'm trying to pick their brain on a refutation they wrote of another academic's perspectives and want to ask them a few questions about their thoughts on some unaddressed aspects of the paper(s) they were critiquing. I am generally in agreement with the stance of the academic I am emailing (though there are a few points of divergence) and simply want to see what their ideas are.

I suppose my question is if this seems like an appropriate thing to do, especially as a layman not involved in the same field. If so, I'm also wondering how concise or how detailed I should ideally make my initial email.

Do it. Write concisely out of respect for your recipient's time, but the worst that can happen is you get no response.

I have a proposal for a new type of representative democracy, and I'm curious to know if there are existing proposals that are like this. Can somebody post a link if they know of one?

This proposal is based on the way senators in the United States used to be elected by the legislatures of state governments. Imagine a national legislature which has its members elected by state or provincial legislatures. The provincial legislatures, in turn, have their members elected by legislatures on the county or municipal level. These in turn have their members chosen by lottery. The general public therefore does not elect any representatives. Instead, they pledge support to representatives after the elections have taken place. Representatives with many supporters get increased voting power relative to their peers who have less supporters. This is therefore a type of liquid democracy. What makes it different is that citizens are given a limited selection of representatives to pledge their support to, whereas in a pure liquid democracy, citizens are able to pledge their support to anybody.

What is the benefit of a proposal like this, which combines features of liquid democracy and representative democracy? Does this fix any problems with pure liquid democracy? I think the potential problem with liquid democracy is that it requires a government-sponsored social media platform to host and continuously update a complex and ever-shifting tree of relationships between citizens. Young, intelligent, tech-savvy people will utilize the platform to its full potential, but average people will struggle to sign up on the app, to navigate the complex ever-shifting tree of relationships represented graphically on their computer (or phone!), and to understand what it signifies and how they are supposed to participate. Liquid democracy will fail if it requires a complex social media platform that intimidates average people.

The advantage of my proposal is that the number of choices is limited so the process can be done using existing voting machines. Rather than having an app where citizens change who they support as often as they like, what I am imagining is a simpler system where elections are held once a year and citizens go to polling stations and use ballot papers or electronic voting machines to pledge their support. How many choices will appear on the ballot? The typical size of a national legislature for a large country is 500 members. Does this mean citizens will have 500 choices on their ballot? I think it will be better if citizens are limited to supporting national representatives elected from their state or province. 500 choices is too much for citizens to research every representative. The likely result is that support will accumulate to a handful of politicians with name recognition. This is also a potential problem with pure liquid democracy. If a legislative majority is concentrated in the hands of three or four individual persons, bad things could result. And lastly, having 500 choices would make the ballot papers too long and slow down the voting process. Limiting citizens to supporting representatives from their state or province prevents the concentration of power behind a handful of politicians with name recognition, and it will result in a more reasonable number of options to choose from.

Provincial legislatures will need to elect multiple representatives to give citizens options to choose from, and the election process must be set up to ensure those representatives have a diversity of political loyalties. The provinces do not have to be equal in population, but they cannot be excessively large or small. For the United States, it would be necessary to redraw state boundaries. Currently, seven states elect a only single representative to the House, and five states elect only two. I think three representatives should be the bare minimum for this proposed system. The election process will work like this: the state legislatures nominate multiple candidates, and each nominee will have to gain the support of a fraction of the legislature in order to be elected. For example, if there are three seats to fill, each nominee will need to obtain the support of a third of the legislature, or to make it easier, from a fourth of the legislature. If there are five seats to fill, each nominee will need support from a sixth of the legislature. For nine seats, a tenth of the legislature, and so on. The idea is that the legislature will divide itself into a left wing and a right wing which will further subdivide into subfactions which must each elect their own representative. The idea is to ensure that citizens will always have at least one representative on the left and one on the right to support. A feature of this system is that it will fractionate political parties and make it difficult for a two-party duopoly to hold onto power. There may be ways to game this system, but so long as one half-decent nominee makes it through, citizens can throw their support behind that representative and ignore the rest.

So, to overview how this proposed system would play out: local governments have citizens' assemblies with maybe a thousand members each. A couple hundred new members are selected by lottery every year and serve terms lasting four or five years, which ensures continuity from one year to the next gives members time to establish themselves as budding politicians. The large size of the assemblies compensates for the randomness of the lottery and for the fact that many lottery winners will not fully participate in the governing process. (Participation will not be required and winners of the lottery will have the option to give away their seat or auction it off.) Citizens' assemblies convene in January and govern local affairs for the duration of the year. At the end of the year, around September, each assembly elects between three to ten representatives to the state government using the procedure described above. Elections are held every year, and since representatives have term limits of twenty years, it is likely many of the representatives will be incumbents. The results of the election take effect the next year. Meanwhile, the state legislature also convened in January and governed state affairs for the duration of the year. At the end of the year, around September, the state legislature elects between three to ten representatives to the national government using the procedure described above. The results of their election also take effect the next year.

After state and national elections have taken place, in the month of November, the general public has a Voting Day (a public holiday) where they converge at polling stations to pledge support to the representatives elected one month prior. Citizens will have around three to ten representatives to choose from at the state and national level. The state representatives will be from their county or municipality, while the national representatives will be from their state. Citizens can also pledge support to members of their local citizens' assembly. Lottery winners are announced prior to Voting Day so it is possible to pledge support for incoming members. The assembly has a thousand members to choose from, so this portion of the ballot will be write-in only. After Voting Day, the results are tallied and take effect the following year when the national, state and local governments convene. The voting power of representatives in each will be weighted based on how much support they received the previous year, and these weights remain in effect for the duration of the year. Weighting of voting power affects all actions taken by legislatures including the process of electing representatives. So, in the example I described above where a nominee to the national government needs the support of a fourth of their state legislature to be elected, that fourth must take into account the relative voting power of each member, as determined by the pledges of support given by the general public.

So anyway, my question is whether there are any preexisting proposals that are like this? I'm interested to know because I think this is a good proposal which has distinct advantages over other proposals for liquid democracy and representative democracy.

Very interesting! You write convincingly on the benefit of your proposal over "pure" liquid democracy, but what is the benefit of your proposal over representative democracy, specifically a proportional representation parliament?

After finishing my question, I realized I forgot to say what advantage my proposal has over representative democracy. The problem with our current system I'm seeking to address is "ballot access." Quoting from,

In order to get on the ballot, a candidate or party must meet a variety of state-specific filing requirements and deadlines. These regulations, known as ballot access laws, determine whether and how a candidate or party can appear on an election ballot. These laws are set at the state level and apply to state and congressional candidates. There are three basic methods by which an individual may become a candidate for office in a state.

1 An individual can seek the nomination of a state-recognized political party.

2 An individual can run as an independent. Independent candidates often must petition in order to have their names printed on the general election ballot.

3 An individual can run as a write-in candidate.

For an up-and-coming politician, getting your name on the ballot is the biggest hurdle to starting a career in politics. In my home state, you either have to submit a petition with 10,000 signatures or win the nomination of a political party. For this year's Senate race, two people actually did get the necessary 10,000 signatures to appear on the ballot as independent candidates, (they have both since withdrawn from the race,) but in both cases they are already established politicians who have previously held political office. For an up-and-comer without name recognition, the only way to get on the ballot is to enter a primary election for a political party. Primary elections in the US are well-known for being flawed. Searching around just now, I found what looks to be a good analysis of the topic, which I'll link here.

My proposal is an alternative system for determining whose name appears on the ballot during an election, which seeks to diminish the control political parties have over ballot access. It starts with the citizens' assembly. For somebody who might be interested in becoming a career politician, having the good fortune to win a seat in an assembly jumpstarts their career in politics without the need to join a political party. Alternatively, for an up-and-comer determined to run for office who wasn't lucky enough to win the lottery, they can start their career just by winning support from members of the assembly. Instead of needing 10,000 signatures to appear on the ballot and millions of votes to win an election, all they need is to convince 100 to 200 people to support them. And to run for national office, all they need is the support of 10 to 20 state legislators. In effect, the assembly and the state legislature replace the current primary election system and take on the role of nominating candidates for office. The method they use to nominate and elect candidates is intended to produce a diverse assortment of representatives from across the political spectrum, which will give the general public a wide range of options on the ballot whom they can pledge support to.

Now, you may be wondering, couldn't this system be tweaked slightly so that the assembly and the state legislature merely nominate candidates for the general public to vote on, rather than electing candidates which citizens must then choose to pledge their support to? Well, yes, that is a similar system that could also be proposed. The difference is, a system like that would work better if the states were smaller so that each state elected exactly one representative. My proposed system is intended to allow for larger states that vary in size and each elect multiple representatives. I like the voting system where the legislature nominates multiple candidates and each nominee competes for a fraction of the legislature, because I think it would produce greater diversity of political loyalties. If the legislature merely nominated candidates and let the general public vote on them, the result would be that all the representatives would occupy roughly the same position on the political spectrum, reflecting the average political leaning of their state. It would produce less diversity, unless you divided up the country into a bunch of tiny states. The state legislatures are supposed to govern affairs within their state borders, in addition to electing national representatives, and to that end it is probably better to let them be a bit larger instead of making each state the size of a congressional district.

Ballot access is a fake problem - most US states make it unnecessarily difficult because the rules are made by partisan-elected Secretaries of State and State legislatures, who all come from the two pre-existing big parties. But other countries have much easier ballot access for non-Presidential elections and it doesn't cause problems.

For example, in the UK, you need 10 signatures and £500 to stand as a candidate in Westminster elections, so you could run a full slate of candidates for about £350,000 (compared to a minimum budget of about £5 million to run a nationwide campaign). In Ireland you need 300 members (only 150 of whom need to be registered voters) to register a political party to stand in Dail elections, which then gives you automatic nationwide ballot access.

Thermodynamics question:

Is vapor injection on a refrigeration cycle equivalent to regeneration on a Rankine cycle?

They seem like they're doing the same basic thing, except you're subcooling refrigerant with gas that's then fed into the middle of the compression process, rather than preheating working fluid with gas taken from the middle of the turbine expansion process.

This whole heat pump business really forced me to brush up on stuff I forgot about years ago.