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Small-Scale Question Sunday for September 11, 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.

Speaking of music, is there an app that does radio edits (muting naughty words) on the fly? Express Yourself by nwa is one of my favourite songs and I want to put it on my shop radio, but the thought of manually muting all the nsfw words is very off-putting. (I also have about 20 other songs I would like to play but for the swearing.)

Does anyone else have trouble truly enjoying music anymore?

Specifically, in a world where I can hear any song I want at any time on demand, and I can listen anywhere and everywhere I go, I've found that I get weary of the same ~1000 songs that end up cycling through my playlist, though they're all good songs, and even branching out to less-repeated songs I rarely find one that actually gets an emotional reaction or strikes me as a 'banger' as the kids say. Its just the Diegetic background music of my life.

Occasionally I find a new artist with some solid songs that I end up playing on loop for a couple weeks, then I add a couple good songs from them into my larger playlist, and go back to baseline.

Note, this is NOT a complaint that "all modern music sucks." More like I've saturated my brain with the music I like to the point that I can't properly enjoy it anymore?

Also, live concerts are still a blast, so I also don't think its a general sense of anhedonia.

Yes, absolutely. My experiential peak w.r.t music was 16-17 years old. I could lie in bed in the dark and have vivid visual hallucinations in-step with a song. These days, no matter how hard I try, I can't replicate that experience.

Part of me thinks this isn't just age -- it's also just overexposure to music in general. Most teenagers and young adults play music between 4-8 hours per day, every day, and that's definitely having an impact on our brains.

jumbled thoughts

  • Music is strongest for the young, as you get older its emotional strength reduces, just as other emotions reduce in potency.

  • Music is in some sense charged from everyday experience and auditory phenomena. Its patterns are an arrangement of real life phenomena. As you listen to more music without re-experiencing its charging antecedents, the music will refer to fewer emotionally charged experiences.

  • As you listen to a song more and more, it’s surprise reduces, and emotional potency is associated with surprise.

  • Your tastes may have just evolved. I find a lot of music to be garbage that I enjoyed in my teens, not because I can’t see its allure, but the allure is toward an emotional state that I no longer consider beneficial. At the same time, I experience intense emotions listening to religious music.

Good points, all.

This in particular, though:

Your tastes may have just evolved. I find a lot of music to be garbage that I enjoyed in my teens, not because I can’t see its allure, but the allure is toward an emotional state that I no longer consider beneficial. At the same time, I experience intense emotions listening to religious music.

My tastes have evolved some but also crystallized a lot around my early twenties, it feels like. Definitely got past my more angsty and awkward stage where music that spoke to outcasts was a lot of my go-to. Find hard rock to be kind of silly now but I embrace it nonetheless, and I'm more open to genres like country, once I saw past the boring pop schlock that actually gets radio play.

The last time I think I felt an intense emotional connection to a song was back during the pandemic when the internet suddenly got obsessed with Sea Shanties for a couple months, and This song was produced from one of the most popular ones. Not even sure exactly why but I was very taken with that version in particular and it became a personal anthem of mine for surviving lockdowns.

And, very similar to religious music (good choice by the way) I cannot help but feel a deep, almost primal sense of joy and frission when I hear a bunch of people singing a Sea Shanty together. There's some deep psychological programming at work there, I think. But I don't become obsessed with it like I might have when I was younger.

Few hypotheses (based on experience, wrapped in theory):

  1. Hedonic treadmill. Your rotation system might still have a low "essential" variation, so that brain can predict/remember the most salient patterns, after which new songs don't excite/surprise it. Intermittent silence helps

  2. Attention. When you listen as a background to other activities, it might feel much less exciting, as attention spreads among inputs. Concert, in contrast, grabs all your sensory inputs at once

I think both of those on are point. I've been thinking a LOT about the hedonic treadmill and how so many people probably burn themselves out unintentionally because they can binge literally any media they want constantly, and especially for TV shows and movies, there's really a very limited number of truly unique, top-quality works in a given genre. Once you've sampled those, you're pretty much left with nothing but increasingly inferior imitators. After you watch The Godfather, you can slide over to Goodfellas et. al., then maybe Scarface, and there's a handful of other contenders for 'classic' gangster flicks. Then maybe watch The Sopranos, maybe Boardwalk Empire and then I'd wager that nothing else will measure up.

So funny enough I try to avoid doing this to myself with, e.g. books, TV shows, and video games.

But music is so much more of an ambient, omnipresent factor one might not think about how much is consumed every day. People never really describe themselves as 'binging' music, right?

Also, in concert the artists can improvise or add new elements to existing songs so the combination of pleasant familiarity and intriguing novelty, on top of the full engagement of the senses, helps revive the musical experience. IMO.

So funny enough I try to avoid doing this to myself with, e.g. books, TV shows, and video games.

How do you avoid it? Watching different stuff, not watching anything/doing something else, or another way?


With video games, in particular, if there's a game that gets exceptional acclaim from critics and players alike and it seems like it'd be right up my alley, I make a conscious effort NOT to board the hype train and jump right into playing it at the earliest chance. Indeed, I'll usually wait until it has been out for several months before even purchasing it.

I did this for Red Dead Redemption 2, which was a REAL challenge since RDR1 is one of my top 10 faves of all time. The idea is to hold off on playing it until the mood strikes me 'naturally,' when I actually feel the urge to play that sort of game! And when I do play, I make a deliberate effort to finish the game in a timely fashion even if this means not going for 100% completion.

So I end up switching between genres and series and try to avoid crippling my ability to enjoy a new game by playing too many similar ones. I've found racing games are a useful "palatte cleanser" for me. It helps that recently so many extremely anticipated games have, upon release, ended up being massive disappointments. I think I've saved myself a lot of grief and wasted time.

Similar with books and movies. Don't read/watch stuff in the same series without taking a break. Switch between genres, switch from fiction to nonfiction.

On that note, the final book in one of my favorite series is releasing soon and I'm genuinely excited for it!

TV is the hardest to self-regulate since it is so easy to just veg out on the couch and watch 10 episodes in a sitting. But I've narrowed down the series that I actually follow to a bare handful, and I force myself to pace my watch speed a bit.

It sounds like a neat trick for tv shows and books, and I am going to try to apply it there (cheers!) but I already do that with games sort of. With most games I give myself a week to finish them, or hook me, otherwise I move on. And with exploratory platformers I try to do it the week they are released, so I can potentially find secrets no one else has (it's very satisfying).

But rdr2, I could never get sick of that game. If a game leans heavy into making shit diegetic I try and get lost in it, and often succeed. I got kind of addicted to it in far cry 2 (the best one) and then rdr (I actually appreciated how much of a pain in the ass it was to get the horseman horses in undead nightmare, because it gave me an excuse to cowboy it up) and now rdr2.

I got kind of addicted to it in far cry 2 (the best one)

You and I would probably get along really well. FC2 is one of my favorites as well despite admitting it has flaws; I truly appreciate almost all the game design decisions that went into it and wish that later entries has retained more of them. Far Cry 4, by comparison, is great fun, but it doesn't quite scratch the itch.

But rdr2, I could never get sick of that game. If a game leans heavy into making shit diegetic I try and get lost in it, and often succeed

Same thing happened to me. Basically I accepted the fact that I was mainly going to treat RDR2 as an old west simulator and all the plot shit was just background.

In fact, I tend to treat most open-world games that way. Assassin's Creed IV was a pirate simulator. Valheim for viking simulator (never tried AC: Valhalla). Arma if I want to feel like a front-lines grunt. I just wanna immerse myself in an alternate world for a while sometimes, right?

That's effectively how I determine what games I am actually in the mood to play. "What do I feel like being today? Pirate? Cowboy? Goat?" Then pick accordingly from the best option available.

I have the same problem.

The issue is largely compulsive listening, I think. The more you listen to music, the more it feels weird to go without it for any extended period of time, so you keep recycling the songs you like over and over again until they ultimately lose their lustre. For me, the problem also extends to songs I haven't listened to before. If I've already listened to songs of the same genre extensively I know roughly what to expect from them, and even on first listen the emotional impact is already diminished.

Granted, in my case it could be possible that anhedonia might be partly contributing to it, but I don't think that's fully the issue with me either. Fatigue-by-overexposure is a very annoying thing that I suspect is only really possible to overcome through abstaining.

If I've already listened to songs of the same genre extensively I know roughly what to expect from them, and even on first listen the emotional impact is already diminished.

This is similar to my feelings. Especially in the 'simpler' genres, it feels like most of the space of melodies and tunes has been explored. Even the lyrics get stale after a while. You can switch things up by mixing in new instruments or genre-swapping an existing song, but I'm pretty confident I'll never encounter a song that actually breaks the basic conventions of the genre in a new way. I guess that's the whole point of genres, though. To define a particular finite area of all possible music-space, for easier identification.

But I think I have entirely killed off the genre of "Alternative Rock" for myself (sans a select number of particularly good songs) simply because I've listened to the best the genre has to offer and there's almost no novelty left at all. I listened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers (among others) obsessively in college, now I just don't bother with their songs. And I do NOT think its because my 'tastes have changed' either!

Just to make the point, I've gotten myself listening to new age/Flamenco music similar to that by Govi because the melodies are complex and hard to predict (so far, I'm sure I'll learn them eventually) and just pleasing to the ear.

But still, I wouldn't say I'm having some rapturous response to the music.

Yep, the problem is very pronounced in the simpler genres for sure, which incidentally is the type of music that seems to have most widespread marketability. I think initial accessibility often comes with tradeoffs when it comes to how much you can listen to that type of music without getting bored.

I think I've fundamentally ruined most genres for myself, having learned the conventions of all the genres I like, and a lot of the artists and songs that have any staying power for me are fairly odd and veer towards being quite maximalist in style. Stuff that's initially more difficult to get used to. I think about 50% of what I hear would be considered unlistenable by most people I know, who don't seem to acclimatise to (and get bored of) genres as fast as I do.

What's the most fun way to play chess? I don't want to play to get better, I want to play for fun. Trying to get better strikes me as a waste of time, unless of course you have fun getting better.

I'm surprised there's no website that models itself after the coffeehouses of old. Pre-computer chess was deeply social, or so I imagine. Imagine chess with lobbies like you find in COD or Counterstrike. Would be a blast, maybe it exists and I can't find it.

Speed chess?

I have to imagine the answer to this is "in person with other people and probably alcohol on tap."

So find local chess club or maybe a local bar or hangout spot does chess nights or game nights?

If not, trying to start one is also an option.

I've noticed that every non-binary/agender/genderfluid person I can think of was assigned female at birth, with one exception (Grey Violet). Do I have a biased sample? Are there any prominent non-binary/etc AMABs?

Genesis P-Orridge comes to mind.

Yes, on both. I think non-binary/whatever AFAB people tend to be a little more newsogenic, and there's a lot of cultural stuff around AMABs getting anywhere near fem-adjacent without explicitly becoming not-men, but it does happen, and there's a some people that statistically show up as AMAB trans (because measures v metrics when a lot of them are dosing hormones anyway) and/but self-identify as non-binary.

Either as a result or a coincidence, a lot of the AMAB enby 'celebrities' tend to be comedians, youtube personalities, so on. Eddie Izzard is probably one of the ones better-known before they came out. Among furries, there's a decent number, with SonicFox being one of the better-known. In my personal sphere, the person running the Minecraft server I've been writing custom forks for is non-binary AMAB. It's hard to be absolutely certain in the Minecraft modding sphere, but I think there's a couple mod-writers that are AMAB and gender-fluid or in the 'not sure what's going on' Vazkii sector.

I do think it's genuinely less common, but that's mostly a gut feeling and I'll admit I still don't know (and may not be able to know) what the identity actually means.

Anyon have the link to that long article on how USA's healthcare spending is actually in line with the country's discretionary spending?

I vaguely remember this article from a blog with a name like "statistical social econ" or "analytical social sciences" or something similar. It says that actually, the US's healthcare expenditure is in line with the discretionary spending of its citizens. My vague memory of it is that basically, healthcare, at a certain point, becomes a "want" and not a "need". Though US does spend more per capita on healthcare vs other developed countries, it also spends a lot more than those countries in general - or so that's what I remember.

Does anyone know what I'm talking about and can share the link? I wanted to find it but google hasn't proved as useful so I'm turning to all the smarties on TheMotte.

Thanks in advance!

Thank you!

You are looking for “Random Critical Analysis”.

Thank you!

The blog you're thinking of is called "Random Critical Analysis," I think he's done a couple of different healthcare articles.

Thank you!

I recall, during an FDA sucks thread, someone mentioned that one pharma company spent $2 billion trying to bring a drug to market and then the FDA denied approval with no comment as to why.

I can't find this story. Does this sound familiar?

I've tried it up to halfway through episode 4, tried first games of thrones series through episode 1, tried first book halfway through 20 years ago. I think I'm always going to get this unshakeable feeling that this is made by perverts with a seething hatred of medieval/renaissance/early modern Europeans, and I don't want to give them my attention.

Interestingly, both shows have gone with ham-fisted diversity casting, but only Rings of Power is talking about the 'racist backlash'. I suspect that Amazon is using criticism of the casting as a shield against what is really just criticism of a bad show.

Having seen Rings of Power, I would say I dislike the diversity casting, but I dislike it much less than I dislike the clunky dialogue, wooden acting and characters that are hard to care about.

Seeing literally every culture of Middle Earth with at least one Black actor playing a speaking role is actually sort of hilarious. It implies that whatever Sauron did at Numenor ends up genociding ALL the Black people of each race.

On a more serious note, I wonder if there’s a clause in a union contract or a filmmakers guild handbook somewhere which requires a race or gender diversity hire, literally a token hire, on every show.

I suspect it was a decision by Amazon, but I would love to see the specifics if there is such a rule.

I doubt it's the unions. The Oscars brought in explicit diversity rules. I'm guessing other awards shows have followed with explicit or implicit rules.

Also Amazon is probably tracking the ESG rating for Prime Productions.

Game of thrones started extremely strong and then kept hitting a new low every season. Gonna wait a couple of years to see how this one goes

Yes, especially last episode. The degree to which the characters are purposefully kept morally gray -- like Rhaenyra pressuring Sir Criston into sex, for instance, yet she's also the main character and we're presumably rooting for her -- is extremely fascinating. I've been genuinely excited every week thus far.

Agreed. Until the last episode everything was a bit too simple, but that last episode was fantastic TV.

It's great! Some scenes are too slow and I fast forward through, but all the battle and dialogue scenes are amazing. Every character has

multifaceted motivations (sometimes internally conflicting).

You fast forward through scenes? Aren't you worried you will miss something? Especially in a show with characters with multifaceted motivations.

Generally when I find myself wanting to fast forward through a scene (to the point that I actually consider doing it) I take it as a sign I am not enjoying the show enough to continue investing my time in it.

I was terribly unimpressed with the Rings of Power pilot, even going in with fairly low expectations (I've heard the second episode is slightly more passable), so HoD probably wins any contest by default. GoT did have a fairly noticable decline once they had to juggle so many disparate plot threads after season 4-ish , so the Dragon series might end up losing some of its luster once they get into the meat of the show.

What superstitions do you have? What ordinary acts do you find vaguely supernaturally sacred/blasphemous?

For me, I don't really like most cakes, but if I'm at a Birthday Party or especially a Wedding and there's a cake for the event, I feel like not eating a little bit of it would be deeply disrespectful. Like saying "I hope your marriage fails."

Equally, out of some vague sense of karmic justice, if I'm late for something I self consciously avoid doing anything rude to try to hurry up. So no cutting people off in traffic, no letting the door slam in someone's face, etc. I just feel like if I cut courtesy corners like that, the next piece of luck will 100% go against me.

What superstitions do you have? What ordinary acts do you find vaguely supernaturally sacred/blasphemous?

None of them in the literal sense of the supernatural.

Believing in "karma" or the law of attraction or the sanctity of gifts, isn't believing in the supernatural, you can make mechanistic/statistical arguments for justifiably "believing" in all of those things. Or that you can believe in those behaviors and beliefs having utility without the need for belief in spirits and ghosts.

Sure you can, but are you in the moment? Or are you just rationalising it as that afterwards?

I ritually repeat words to myself under my breath in order to reassure myself when I'm stressed out/uncertain about stuff. As ridiculous as it is, it feels to my brain as if repeatedly verbally stamping out uncertainties makes it go away.

I don't see this as superstitious/magical. You are basically pressing the "purge all thoughts" button by spamming your brain with a single repeated concept.

The Law of Attraction. Not very seriously, and I don't bank on it at all, but sometimes I think about someone or something and then not long after they reach out and enter my life after being out of it for a year and I can't help but feel there's some cosmic connection there.

sometimes I think about someone or something and then not long after they reach out and enter my

this is clearly just random chance. (also, if it wasn't, you could just ... think about everyone. like, make a list of all people whose names you remember, then law of attraction them. now everyone loves you!!)

also if you really want more people to 'reach out' to you, you can just reach out to them first. that'd be much more effective! Not that generic 'friendship and connection' has any specific value - it'd vary a lot from person to person - but at least try something effective.

Probably a bit tangential, but I believe in a number of "pesudoscience" Parapsychological phenomena, such as remote viewing and micro psychokinesis - Particularly of random number generators.

I am not out to attack or debunk any one’s beliefs, but I just don’t see how one could go about justifying psychokinesis of a random number generator. If this where possible wouldn’t it be ludicrously easy for someone to demonstrate? Or do you think that such people have gotten filthy rich gambling and just want to appear as extremely unlikely but otherwise normal outliers? (The only thing I have ever heard of that seems to plausibly suggest such an ability is that mathematician who won the lottery four times but given her background there could have easily been some other type of advantaged play )

Not sure if it's a precise fit to the topic, but I have a bit of an obsession with the emotion of gratitude, I think.

Any object made with care or given as a heartfelt gift is sacred, and must be treasured. If it becomes necessary to dispose of it, then some form of ceremony to commemorate it is in order. If it is possible to keep it around, then kept it shall be as a reminder of the positive relations associated with it.

I have boxes full of happy memories, and go through them about once a decade each.

Many of my EDC items and clothes are worn and torn, but for as long as they still fulfill their function I continue to use them because being able to physically take good thoughts with me outweighs the inconvenience of any broken zipper, scratched screen or tattered lining.

Every night before going to bed I stand at the window, look out into the sky and wish well to anyone who ever did me a good turn.

It may all be immaterial to impractical, but it feels very right.

While this video is intended as comedy, I can assure you it's all true...

...the EMS gods are real and they are always listening.

Honestly, nothing, at least not that I can think of. I regularly break many of the taboos others have listed, such as saying "things can't get any worse" or setting thermostats and volume dials on random numbers, and am often taken by surprise when I get scolded by other people who are bothered by this stuff. I think I am missing the part of my brain that makes me care about symbolic or "sacred" things. I'm an atheist, I don't care about flags and similar symbols, I don't get offended by the utterance of taboo words, I don't care about particular dates on the calendar (e.g. I often take my wife out "for Valentines Day" on a day that is not actually Feb 14, since the restaurants are less crowded).

I often take my wife out "for Valentines Day" on a day that is not actually Feb 14, since the restaurants are less crowded

This is the way. I do the exact same thing, it's not generally worth it to go out on Feb 14.

  • The thermostat, TV volume, and radio volume must always be on even numbers. My wife also does this.

  • I avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks when I can

  • If I walk across a tiled or patterned floor I try to step on only tiles of a single color or walk along the shape of the pattern

  • All the cards have to be facing the same way before they get put back in the box

  • When I put away my daughter's pencils I always either organize them from tallest to shortest or into a single continuous color gradient

If I walk across a tiled or patterned floor I try to step on only tiles of a single color or walk along the shape of the pattern

xkcd 245 was when I knew I wasn't alone

All the cards have to be facing the same way before they get put back in the box

I think that's just convenience, not superstition.

It makes me slightly irritated if they're not facing the right direction just on principle.

I don’t think any sane person puts cards back in the box with some facing forwards and others facing backwards. I assume we’re talking about cards that have a proper direction up and down, it’s nice to have them lined up correctly.

Or maybe he’s talking about the suit direction? Like on a 7 of spades, the pip in the middle needs to be facing the right way?

In my little circle of math olympiad nerds, growing up, the tile-stepping stuff was maintained to be the single best correlate of "one-of-us"-ness, too.

It feels so good. Ironically I'm probably least gifted in math. I still did well in my math classes, but I found calculus and physics math pretty hard to grasp. Simpler math was a breeze though and I can do mental arithmetic faster than most people I know.

It's funny because this is OCD spectrum behaviour but there's no telling whether there's a hidden sixth point that goes "also, OCD is ruining my life" or if this is the full extent of your quirkiness

I think I have other little things like this, but if I can't do them they just annoy me slightly. They're not compulsive, fortunately.

The thermostat, TV volume, and radio volume must always be on even numbers. My wife also does this.

In any car with dual zone climate control where you set a temp, I always have them on different numbers. Just by a degree or two. I thought it was funny when my mom got her first car like that when I was 8, and I've stuck to it ever since.

Yep, same - why do we even have dual zone climate control if we're not going to use it?

It was even beneficial once - my girlfriend and I had rented a car for a trip and it had dzcc. Instantly she put her side on 26° and I put mine on 20°. After a couple of hours we switched seats, and she asked how I could stand it so cold? And I was just about to ask her how she could have it so hot, I was sweating after only a few minutes! And so when we got home we set the air conditioning to 23°, a temperature neither of us found uncomfortable.

Man I hate that, lol. I used to always make sure that both zones were on the same even number.

I try never to invoke karmic irony by saying 'well, things can't get any worse' or 'at least we're finished with that problem', or so on. I'm sure it's coincidence, but in so many places my life has seemingly run on movie logic it's at the point where I don't believe it, but I alieve it very strongly.

I intentionally tempt fate by saying things like that all the time.

Reminds me of Irritant's Law from the Practical Guide to Evil.

“Irritant’s Law: inevitable doom is a finite resource, and becomes mere doom when split between multiple heroic bands. Nemeses should never simultaneously engage a single villain.” – Extract from ‘The Axiom Appendix’, multiple contributors

If the world runs on drama and irony, flooding the field to undercut any particular instance and rob it of all power is a viable strategy.

...and well, here we are.

But fortunately, things can't possibly get any worse now.

Curiously, social norms and customs, however ornamental, do actually work because they are social equilibria everyone coordinates through. My private superstitions though emerge when I can't figure out how to deal with the problem. I inevitably start to consider any "noise" (random tiny factor) as potentially decisive (or as being a sacred seed to ensuing activity). Feels like a trivial coping mechanism, but it's quite influential.

I a not really comfortable being "in debt" to other people, even friends. So if somebody is a designated driver I always offer at least gas money, if somebody gives me a gift I feel the pressure to reciprocate ASAP, if somebody invites me for a dinner I need to plan dinner of my own to invite that person to and so forth.

Later in my life I found out that especially an unsolicited gift is one form of manipulation, it seems that a lot of people are hardwired to count it as a status game so I guess I want to return the favor on my own terms rather than waiting if this other person ever wants to "call in the favor" for something more. Interestingly from my observation there are loads of people who do not have this at all and they are comfortable to just receive without giving back. It is not that I have any issue if it is the other way around and my gifts/favors are not reciprocated, but it seems strange to me.

When I was a young teen a girl I had a crush on offered to bake my some cookies. I turned this offer down on the grounds that not causing her extra effort made me a more attractive partner. I now know that this was a foolish understanding of how gift giving and general reciprocity work. People like doing other people favors. It makes them feel good and useful, not because they expect an equal or greater reward in the future but because it satisfies their self conception as a good and resourceful friend. When you try to balance the scales constantly it makes relationships feel transactional and cheap, sudden the sacrifice I made to be your designated driver is cheapened to some gas money.

I live under the philosophy that I should look for and utilize opportunities to do large amounts of good for other people are low cost to me and just be genuinely grateful when others do likewise to my benefit.

Later in my life I found out that especially an unsolicited gift is one form of manipulation

People who do this are to be avoided.


People who give unsolicited gifts or people who use unsolicited gifts to manipulate?

unsolicited gifts to manipulate

it seems that a lot of people are hardwired to count it as a status game so I guess I want to return the favor on my own terms rather than waiting if this other person ever wants to "call in the favor" for something more.

I'm like you with regards to feeling uncomfortable being in debt, but I've learned that trying to return a debt on your own terms can for some odd reason cause friction, I guess you can still be the annoying demanding party insofar as you're asking them to show up so you can pay them back.

I try to stay away from creditor/debtor scenarios when it comes to personal relationships. If you're a close friend who really needs it I'll just give you the money.

My wife has always shared your sensibility on this sort of thing (not between us, outside our relationship) and I've always had trouble understanding it. It's not that I receive gifts without an expectation of reciprocity, it's that I'm perfectly fine with keeping some rough ledger in my head of what's owed and received and would regard any friend I can't do that with as someone that I don't much trust at all and probably not even really a friend. That extends from small monetary things like buying a round of drinks to non-monetary effort like helping someone move. I don't even really care if the ledger actually ever evens out, just that there's some rough approximation of equal effort and money.

Any favor is a blow to agency, to some extent. In the future it might easily be claimed to bear interest, moral if not financial. Cialdini in his book "Influence" has a section, devoted specifically to unprovoked gifts as a manipulation tool.

I have a parent with narcissistic traits who is also the breadwinner of the family who uses that form of manipulation. Gifts, vacations, and/or tuition money means forever debts that cannot be repaid and makes emotional, financial, and/or physical abuse beyond criticism (in their mind).

I've never liked gifts.

I don't care for borrowing/being borrowed from either. I've been on both sides of it when it created resentment. Good way to damage relationships.

I feel the same way unless something is very specifically denoted as a gift.

I feel no qualms about accepting a gift freely given, in the spirit it was intended. Similarly, I give gifts with the expectation that such won't necessarily be reciprocated, and that is more than okay. I might feel more affection for a person who gives me a gift, which noticeably makes me more pleasant towards them and more likely to give them a gift in the future, but it doesn't form any sort of obligation which might drive future behavior.

But if someone does a "favor" for me my brain basically forms an entry on a ledger that is even more indelible than the bitcoin blockchain, and I will carry that knowledge around with me until I somehow am able to wipe it clean by returning the favor or otherwise balance the books.

I don't like throwing away books, even though I know for sure that it doesn't matter; the world's not running out of paper and ink any time soon.

At the same time, some books are much less likely to see a reprint/new edition anytime soon.

Most books take up so little space I don't think there's much harm in keeping them around so long as you're not actively collecting and hoarding them.

I never put salt or pepper on my food. My mom once told me that it was rude to put salt on food before you tasted it, and then I thought about it as a child and was like, sounds just as rude to be like 'urgh, good heavens' after taking a bite and then salt it, like it just seems to me if the food needed more salt or pepper, the chef can add it.

It's honestly really stupid, but now it's kind of just what I do.

Another one - my dad told me when I was a kid that if I wore a belt to sleep, I would die. 20 years later he doesn't remember saying it but we both think it's hilarious because I didn't find out until I was on my LDS mission and told my companion that he needed to take his belt off before sleeping or else he would DIE. Anywho, he was like "excuse me, what are you talking about" and gently corrected me at the time, but I still dutifully take off my belt before a nap!

It's honestly really stupid, but now it's kind of just what I do.

There's a real good Russian proverb about this. "на вкус и цвет товарищей нет". Which basically means everyone has his own preference for color and taste.

What's a good way to get better at writing?

I kind of suck at it, and this is troubling me. I'm a working academic, and sitting on a growing cache of results that I can't get out because (outside of some unpredictable periods where the chemical stars in my brain align just right or something) I tend to stare down the same paragraph for two hours and finally squeeze out, word by painful word, something that sounds like the ramblings of a schizophrenic with aphasia, and then feel so drained that I will viscerally fear opening vim again for a week or two. "Professional issues" is an easy sell as far as evidence that something must be done goes, but even outside that, there are so many things - posts, stories, explanations - that I wish I could write but can't. The circumstance that every so often, this problem briefly just goes away and I can in fact vomit out several pages that do in fact hold up even if I look at them again later, just makes my problem all the more frustrating - it feels like it's not like there is something I just lack (and therefore could obtain, making the problem go away), but rather that the necessary circuitry is there but defective.

I tend to stare down the same paragraph for two hours and finally squeeze out, word by painful word, something that sounds like the ramblings of a schizophrenic with aphasia

The problem is that you are not writing fast enough. Think about text too slow and the words will blend together and lose all meaning. Put your brain into Word Salad Generation mode and just dump as you would into a Motte comment; you can edit for style/tone/content once you actually have something to edit.

I've shilled this before, but you should really try The Most Dangerous Writing App to knock out a first draft. As described by Alexey Guzey:

DO ACTUALLY TRY THIS DON’T FLINCH AWAY. This app might seem like the dumbest thing in the world but it DOES REALLY HELP. And if it doesn’t work, you will just lose 5 minutes.

That's a fantastic idea. I often find my first drafts are extremely cogent and powerful, but upon re-editing, a lot of the power/meaning gets lost. I wonder how much self-censorship contributes to this.

This is just a guess, but I think it sounds like you are struggling with perfectionism. Words enter your brain, and if they aren't "perfect" (or nearly so) on the first pass, you feel stress and discard them, which results in a feedback loop that leads to writer's block.

Conventional advice I've heard to address this is to just "word vomit" garbage onto the page. Once enough material flows through you, you'll be able to piece it back together into something that's okay.

In my personal experience, alcohol has helped, but I would recommend against that being a long term solution. In addition to being unhealthy, drugs can change the way you think enough to break feedback loops and mental traps.

It would be a fairly self-flattering explanation if this were the case, but while I can't quite rule out that the pattern you describe is accurate (and simply leads to the end result being as it is because of some sort of semantic saturation), it does seem like the results I wind up with if I force out the text in unproductive state really are that bad.

"Just because you are perfectionist doesn't mean that the thing isn't actually not good enough", or something?

Remind yourself that anything you do is just a first draft, so it's ok if it sucks.

it does seem like the results I wind up with if I force out the text in unproductive state really are that bad.

This is to be expected. There is a reason I called it "word vomit." Once its all down, you can come back and re-arrange the pieces the next day and it may be a lot easier to get somewhere with it. I've had middling luck with this approach.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I've heard that changing your text editor to Comic Sans helps a lot.

In retrospect, one of the biggest problems I had in school was that I would always write sequentially; I would start at the beginning of whatever I was writing and pound through it until I was finished. In the meantime, I had all these great ideas about what I wanted to write, I just never seemed to get to them, and when I did I had trouble phrasing them correctly because the preceding text didn't set things up the way I wanted. As a result, writing was like banging my head against the wall where I had 500 things I wanted to say but couldn't figure out how to say them because I was handcuffed by what I had already written. Then later I realized that if I just wrote out the substance of what I wanted to say and tacked on the intro, transitions, etc. in "post-production", so to speak, things went much smoother.

So my advice is to simply write down whatever is on your mind. You know what you want to say, the problem it stating things coherently so that other people will understand them. Don't stress out over whether what initially comes out sounds like a schizophrenic with aphasia; that's just the first step. Then you can edit what you've written so that it's actually coherent. I've never noticed any issues with your writing here so it's obvious that you have it in you, so I wouldn't worry about lack of ability. A big part of the problem is that pressure and stress can become overwhelming and prevent us from doing what we need to do. For example, I do a lot of mineral titles for work, and most people with my job complete their files in a certain sequence. At some stages in the sequence, complicated issues can arise, and these issues can make it difficult to meet deadlines. If I run into an issue that I can't resolve in a reasonable amount of time, I usually just skip it and move on to the next part of the sequence. That way, if I'm about to miss a deadline I can tell the client that everything's done except this one issue that I need to resolve, as opposed to having to tell the client that the file's nowhere near completion because I spent the past several days spinning my wheels on a difficult-to resolve issue. It gives the client at least some peace of mind that this isn't some money pit project that they're being charged billable hours for; after all, if I spend all that time on one issue there's no guarantee that other issues won't pop up later that will take even more time. And even if the deadline isn't an issue, it's still easier for me to know that I have 2 days at the end of a project to resolve a difficult issue than to spend all my time working on one thing and having 2 days to complete the rest of the file.

It sounds like you can write, you just find it very difficult and unpleasant. Which is not unusual, since I have heard this comment from many people.

The circumstance that every so often, this problem briefly just goes away and I can in fact vomit out several pages that do in fact hold up even if I look at them again later, just makes my problem all the more frustrating - it feels like it's not like there is something I just lack (and therefore could obtain, making the problem go away), but rather that the necessary circuitry is there but defective.

That sounds more like that your circuitry is functional, but you have problems with environment or mood that interfere. That's good because you can control your environment and your mood (to an extent). Think back to those times when you succeeded in writing and think about whether your situation was different, or maybe you did something immediately beforehand that put you in the right state. Having a pre-writing ritual can help deal with procrastination and also put you in the writing mood, even if it's as simple as taking a walk or talking to a particular person.

No particular pattern I see in environment. The one mood that seems to most frequently help is panic, as induced by a looming deadline that I can't houdini myself out of, but even that is sufficiently inconsistent that the usual tricks with commitment devices and bets and what-not have too much footbullet nature.

I find using GPT-3 as an "unblocker" works quite well. Insert the last few paragraphs you've written, and let it complete the text. The result isn't always very good, but you frequently get decent ideas on how to structure the next section.

That's an interesting idea. I'll try it next time my disgust level with my text editor drops below the threshold again.

"by keeping at it" is boring but true. longform, not short comments. longform develops your ear for your style. stronger ear, easier writing.

there is one quick fix. "that" often can be omitted, in this paragraph uses 1, 3, 6, 9.

if you want to pm me something longer i'd look it over.

t. wannabe author

Interesting observation about the "that"s. I do think there's a correlation between redundancy of this type creeping into my writing and it feeling forced.

Thanks for the offer! Would you mind if I ping you for nitpicks next time I make a longform post here?

omitting "that" can improve flow but it's not a critical mistake, i call it a quick fix because it applies to most writing. definitely not just yours.

feel free to ping, i'm sure i'll see it either way

My advice - just write a lot.

Well, to be more specific, just put yourself in a low stakes environment where you can just churn out writing at a breakneck speed.

If you're anything like me, when I am writing anything high-stakes or important, it tends to result in paralysis, particularly when I'm starting a project. Constantly second guessing your word choices and sentence structure, constantly evaluating your argument and paragraph ordering. Because you feel you have to get this right, get it perfect.

My solution is to put yourself in a situation where you don't have to care about those things, and can just spew out words without much thought and second guessing, to build a habit just putting something, anything onto the page. Go on to sports forums, or video game forums and talk shit (in lengthy but detailed posts). In writing environments where it doesn't really matter if your sentences are unclear, or you make grammar mistakes. Try stream of consciousness writing where you just think and write at the same time and don't worry about how it ends up. It's something I'm trying to do to improve my writing, or more specifically my productivity of writing. I think it does help to form a habit that you can transfer to important writing. It doesn't matter if your writing is perfect or not after, or you develop "bad" habits. That's what drafts are for. I have found it is substantially easier (as I've improved), to just spew out a ton of paragraphs and then edit them down in to something coherent if it's something that needs to be edited, than it is trying to write as perfectly as possible the whole way through.

put yourself in a situation where you don't have to care about those things, and can just spew out words without much thought and second guessing

So, participate more on this site?

Maybe, but personally I think there's a bit more pressure to write at a higher standard in theMotte than there is your average forum or subreddit.

You write beautifully on the motte, so I don't think writing ability is fundamentally your trouble. For me it was about my uncertainties about being in academia, but I imagine there are any number of types of baggage that would fit the bill. I also found it annoying how stilted the academic writing style is, and how lonely academia can be: I'm proud of myself for this result, but now I have to suck all the life out of it and wait months for anybody else to find out about it? That said, looking back on grad school, I'm proud of all the results I published, and I do envy my academic friends at least a little.

It can help to inject some humanity in the process, and I'd be happy to hop on a video call sometime and hear about your research while we transcribe it to a shared doc. I don't know if that would produce a finished paper but it could help get the bones in place.

Thanks for your kind words. I think writing on the Motte is not quite the same as writing an article; I've thought about why it is that I can fight internet arguments at near the WPM cap but struggle so much with anything closed-form, and came to the conclusion that it makes a big difference to me if I can model the process as talking statefully to a single concrete person. (You might notice that I have very few top-level posts on here, too.) However, the obvious trick of trying to imagine the hypothetical reader of the paper as a particular individual doesn't work; there is no actual individual person being targeted and whatever process enables me to talk to real people does not work with respect to a make-believe simulacrum.

Thank you also for the offer about a video call, but I have some opsec concerns about linking my Motte identity to the real world in that fashion. (Do I want to find out how compellingly I have to argue for immanentizing the wrong eschaton before the Mottizen who knows my real-life identity decides that stopping me takes moral precedence over other concerns?)

Well and on top of that I always prefer in person to video, so you'd probably be better off finding somebody local anyway. I feel like there's some potential in modeling your audience as a single person; half the thing that makes papers such a drag to write and read is how impersonal they are, and the really great academic writers seem less susceptible to that. Seems like if you managed to write an email to a friend describing all the stuff that'd go into the paper, the remaining task of putting it into stuffy academic style could be done almost mechanically. Heck, I bet you could just about get gpt3 to do that part for you.

Is there a Christian denomination that straddles the line between the structured and sacred (for lack of a better term - I’m talking chanting and incense) liturgies seen in Catholicism and Orthodoxy and the “fun,” hip, lively, rock concert-esque services seen in the “young” evangelical churches? I find that there’s a lot of extremes, and I wonder if there is a middle ground.


Below, someone mentioned American Episcopalians, but I'd add there are Methodists and American Anglican (split from American Episcopal to be more conservative mostly within the past 20 years). A larger American Anglican church or Methodist or Episcopal might have a more formal morning service and casual evening service that hits the middle you're looking for. If you find a particularly liberal Methodist or Episcopal church, liturgy usage might decline though.

Not exactly "hip" or "rock concert-esque", but when I was believer I liked going to Latin Catholic mass. The advantage was that instead of old grannies singing hymns in their broken voices they employed local choir with organ, so the musical parts were more tasteful in my eyes. Latin rites also captured the original feeling, and it is not as if I did not know all of them by the rote anyway. The readings and preaching was in local language for convenience. Overall I think this was the best balance for me, but I like choirs so there is that. But it was definitely more solemn and not lively.

Innovation begets innovation.

If you want solid liturgy, the order of the service and the saying of creeds, and can leave the incense and rock concerts, the Reformed denominations generally have very solid services if minimalist and you'll find enough engineers at an OPC to feel at home.

If you can solidify your differences between liturgy and what traditions you seek, we might be able to get closer (and probably point you to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.)

Thanks for the replies and feedback everyone!

It’s extremely tough, as I’ve found that in Protestantism, the more traditional the musical worship is, the more, uh, progressive and creative the theology gets.

If you can part with musical instruments, the Church of Christ denomination (not the United Church of Christ) sings hymns in parts, voices only. They’re strict on this. It’s still pretty “low church,” but taking away the drumset goes very far in mellowing the worship vibe.

I used to go to an evangelical church, and I dreaded going because the lyrics to the songs were empty and repetitive, and the rock band would drown out the congregation’s voices. I’d stand with my hands in my pockets kind of just doing my best to not be annoyed.

I’ve since found a Southern Baptist church that has a very traditional service (with singing from real hymnals!), and I don’t know how I could ever find another church home if we move away.

In the US, the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church does a good job of this. It probably depends on the particular church though.

I think you are going to have a hard time finding this. I have a fairly high amount of experience with different denominations in my country, mostly Protestant, but also a bit of Catholic and even a little bit of Orthodox and I've never really seen both elements in the same service. Typically people who like chanting and incense abhor rock concert-esque church services, and the people who enjoy rock concert-esque services think traditional liturgical elements make the church weird and boring and that it will scare away the youth.

I have encountered churches that have these two types of services, but as separate services. For example, I know about an Anglican church that has fairly traditional liturgies in the morning (they have a priest with some Anglo-Catholic leanings), and a 'youth service' in the evening which has more of a rock concert-esque vibe going on. But I've never seen both things happen in the same service.

Some of the Lutheran churches might fit the bill, but they range all over the spectrum, so you may have to try a few different ones.

Any baseball fans care to weigh in on the rule changes? Good? Bad? Too early to tell?

College baseball fan who dabbles in the pros (usually through Jomboy or Baseball Doesn't Exist videos) - the base size and pitch timer rules seem to be a net "good". If I read the timer rule right, the pitcher's ability to check a base runner looking to steal is limited to two tries? That's interesting. As a spectator, I do get pretty annoyed when the pitcher is throwing to first for the fifth time this at bat instead of working at getting the batter out. That's probably my least favorite moment of the sport, so limiting it would be nice. The infielder rule I'm really not sure about. I barely understand defensive baseball schemes, but this seems to really limit the defensive capabilities of the pitching team.

Idk, I'm not likely to become enough of a fan of the pros anytime soon for these rule changes to effect me. If they're successful enough to make their way down to the college level, then that'll a different story.

I didn't realise baseball was changing any rules. What's the sum-up?

The two big ones I'm seeing are - larger bases, and a pitch timer. I think there are more, but those are the ones I'm seeing most discussion about

The pitch timer took in-person minor league games for me from intolerable to fun. I understand the gamesmanship of long pitch cycles and how it would "ruin" the sport to remove them but.... so many other sports have timers as part of their rules.

I don’t like baseball, mainly because it’s too slow. Therefore I have to endorse the changes.

Baseball is a weird sport for me. It's painfully boring to watch on TV, I'd rather do almost anything else. But going to a baseball game in person? I'm there. It's just so much more fun to watch a game in person than on TV. It's weird cause it's still the same sport, but the atmosphere is different somehow.

Baseball is better on the radio while you're doing something else. Baseball announcers tend to be better at having a good conversation between play and radio doesn't normally need your full attention, anyway.

The trick to televised baseball is finding announcers you like to listen to, most teams have very different announcers and during the pauses you aren't going to have a very good time if you don't like listening to them. Some can be an acquired taste, too.

I feel like that's every sport.

Definitely not. Formula One is unwatchable in person. So is association football if you're not a fan. Multiple cameras, action replay and live commentary make both sports at least ten times better.

Not to start WWIII here in the comments, but I think it's debatable whether racing is even a sport at all. I'll grant you soccer though (that's what association football is, right?).

Are you one of those people who see athleticism as a fundamental part of sportsmanship? I don't really have a dog in this fight, but what would you call racing (and i assume you mean car racing, rather than all racing) instead? A game? A competition?

Yeah. This is 100% just my curmudgeonly opinion here, based off of nothing, but I define sports as being all of:

  1. A game (defined rules, etc.)

  2. A direct competition (you're competing directly, rather than essentially competing against each other's scores)

  3. Athleticism

Just having

a) 1 and 2 defines chess as a sport. Also racing.

b) Just 2 and 3 defines a drunken brawl as a sport. Also war.

c) Just 1 and 3 defines ballroom dance as a sport. Also bowling and golf.

I feel like we as a culture ascribe a lot of value to the word "sport", which to me should apply only to central examples like football, soccer, basketball, ultimate frisbee, etc.. Sports with teams and tactics and athleticism.

In other words I'm a total purist in the above chart. I'd just call car racing a competition, yeah.