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Culture War Roundup for the week of February 14, 2024

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Hizzoner Eric Adams, Mayor of New York, has filed a lawsuit in California court against TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook accusing them of "fueling a youth mental health crisis".

Among his particulars are

Using algorithms to generate feeds that keep users on the platforms longer and encourage compulsive use.

Using mechanics akin to gambling in the design of apps, which allow for anticipation and craving for "likes" and "hearts," and also provides continuous, personalized streams of content and advertisements.

Manipulating users through reciprocity – a social force, especially powerful among teenagers, that describes how people feel compelled to respond to one positive action with another positive action. These platforms take advantage of reciprocity by, for example, automatically telling the sender when their message was seen or sending notifications when a message was delivered, encouraging teens to return to the platform again and again and perpetuating online engagement and immediate responses.

I dislike social media as much as the next grouch, but this to me seems like it should be booted out of court for "Failure to state a claim, and if you did have a claim it would be precluded by the First Amendment, and also I fine you 1 million dollars for using out-of-state courts for political posturing."

It also strikes me as frivolous and far too general, and weirdly anachronistic. Even by politician standards, more grandstanding than substantive.

Might as well Cancel the Internet at that point. From search engines to the aforementioned sites to porn to online shopping to online gambling to vidya to The Motte. The Motte, as a sinister hive of scum and villainy, uses algorithms and likes, even if sometimes the algorithm is just sorting by new. Nefarious techniques such as meatbag-informed casual reinforcement learning is deployed via moderation and monthly “Quality Contribution”s.

Such a lawsuit, even assuming there’s sufficient standing or whatever among other issues, feels ten maybe even twenty years too late.

There's a bit of a motte and bailey with algorithms. People grandstanding against social media conflate algorithms intentionally tweaked to manipulate users with algorithms that simply give users what they want. TikTok, as far as I can tell, largely does the second. Google Search, on the other hand, extensively does the first. However, the sort of people who complain about 'algorithms' tend to approve of Google's goals in information curating.

To be clear, both types of 'algorithm' might be bad, in the same way cocaine might be bad whether a user snorts it on their own or an unsavory corporation slips it into their carbonated beverages. But banning the former is a harder sell given the moral justification for our current civilization is still technically supposed to be liberalism.

According to the articles about the enshittification of the net by Doctorow et al (on Wired and Substack), TikTok's algorithm no longer really gives users what they want anymore.

That's an interesting read, thanks. Though it sounds like TikTok is tweaking the algorithm to appeal to content creators rather than to manipulate users per se.

Cory Doctorow is an interesting cat. I remember him from the failed hamartiology of 'free culture' back in the day, so maybe I never had a good read of the man. So many of his hobby horses tag him as gray tribe, but when he talks normal politics he's as blue as lapis lazuli.

I think something of a grey tribe existed back in the day -- though I think it was really more of a self-selection of weird, intellectual men who used the internet rather than something that existed in person. But the more I really think about it, the more it seems obvious that this cohort has divided between blue-sympathetic people and red-sympathetic people, with those on each side finding more common ground with former enemies than with former friends.

So, you see grey tribe atheist types re-evaluating their views on Christianity (like you see often showing up in religious discussions on the motte) or even converting (as I did), because they started bumping up against the blue tribe in ways they didn't expect, or were directly repelled by the views of the blue tribe on cis-het-straight-white-men, who mostly made up the grey tribe. And you see the opposite too -- grey tribe people like Doctorow who have always been more into the "weird" side of the grey tribe (he's a science fiction author, after all) finding more common ground with the reformist blue tribe, or pushed that direction by a cultural, class, or regional dislike of Trumpism.

This doesn't mean these internet people go full red or full blue, but it does, I think, make people lean more in one direction or another.

IANAL but I also don't think much of the complaint. It does a good job avoiding the issue many social media lawsuits have where they sue based on the content third parties have posted. However the algorithmic delivery of content is, as far as I'm aware, protected first amendment activity. Nowhere does the complaint identify what first amendment exception the described conduct falls into, or even mention the fact that it may be protected.

Another oddity that strikes me as a laymen is the way the causes of action and prayer for relief are phrased. The causes of action are "NEW YORK PUBLIC NUISANCE", "NEW YORK NEGLIGENCE", and "NEW YORK GROSS NEGLIGENCE." The first paragraph in the prayer for relief also reads:

Entering an Order that the conduct alleged herein constitutes a public nuisance under New York law;

Are state courts often called upon to apply the standards of other states? Is this a totally normal thing I'm reading too much into? Seems odd. I would think the relevant standard in California court would be California public nuisance/negligence/gross negligence.

I wonder if there are any parallels between this case and lawsuits against tobacco companies where those companies had been covering up the health risks associated with smoking. I'm not very familiar with the cases. I'm thinking there is probably some precedent that if you have internal data showing something is dangerous/addictive and then you continue to present it as not dangerous/addictive then that opens you up to legal liability.

Since social media companies collect tons of data to optimize engagement on their platforms they probably have something that shows they know social media is addictive. If you have that internal data then you put out something that says, "Facebook builds its products to create value, not to be addictive" then I could see how this case has some legitimacy. It could also be strategically correct. They know social media companies will settle out of court to avoid a discovery process that would expose the internal documents showing that social media is addictive.

There isn't really a coherent definition of addiction here. Are people addicted because they use Facebook a lot? Can we distinguish that from people just enjoying using Facebook but not being addicted? Probably not.

That’s a good point, but I think the court can ultimately conclude if something is addictive. This would be similar to how the court can conclude if something qualifies as a religion. They use a list of characteristics common to established religions and say these things indicate something could be a religion, but at the same time realize that not every religion would meet all the criteria.

Furthermore, people can become addicted to video games, gambling, or porn and there are some established criteria for what those addictions look like. In the DSM-5-TR Internet Gaming Disorder is included in the section recommending conditions for further research:

  • Preoccupation with gaming

  • Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability)

  • Tolerance, the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge

  • Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming

  • Giving up other activities, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming

  • Continuing to game despite problems

  • Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming

  • The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness

  • Risk, having jeopardized or lost a job or relationship due to gaming

It's highly unlikely that Facebook has data indicating that users are experiencing these symptoms.

Target was algorithmically detecting pregnancy over a decade ago.

If Facebook doesn't have data regarding these symptoms, it's either because they haven't bothered or because they actively are trying to avoid it.

There's no external validation for someone being addicted to Facebook like there is for someone being pregnant.

In any case, as you suggested, there's no reason for Facebook to even gather this data. If it turns out there's no addiction (whatever that means), nobody will believe them anyway. If there turns out to be addiction, it's a liability.

For a long time, the trend was down. Things were getting safer, and the number of bodies dead on the streets declined nearly every year.

But during the pandemic something broke. In 2020, the rate suddenly spiked upwards. Many explanations were given, some more convincing than others. But most people expected things to return to the previous downward trend. The thing is... they haven't. The rate of people killed each year has remained at levels not seen for decades.

I'm talking, of course, about the rate of fatal auto accidents.

In 2019, the U.S. death rate per 100 million vehicles miles reached an all-time low of 1.10. But in 2020, it skyrocketed by over 20% to 1.34. This was by far the largest annual increase ever. In 2021, the rate increased slightly to 1.37 and then in 2022 it moderated to 1.35.

It's not just the rate that's increased either. The absolute number of deaths is up a lot. There are 6,000 excess deaths per year over the 2019 level.

The cope for the 2020 uptick was that, with highways empty, people built up greater speeds leading to more deaths. This might explain 2020 but certainly can't explain the 2022 data when highways had returned to parking lots speeds. Never mind that every year the rate should be going DOWN as older cars are replaced with newer, safer ones.

A decline in policing might be at least partially responsible. The overburdened police in my home city of Seattle no longer enforce traffic rules, for example. Predictably, Seattle's proposed solution to increased deaths is to install a bunch of cameras which will only punish those who choose to abide by the laws. For those who steal cars, or drive drunk, or refuse to get a license, or don't get insurance, or refuse to pay citations, the penalty will remain the same: nothing. The police isn't allowed to chase criminals even if it wants to.

Are these misguided rules the reason for the uptick in deaths? I'm not sure. I've heard that nearby conservative areas have also seen an increase in death rates. I think it's more likely that this is simply evidence of the U.S. becoming a more low-trust society. People in low-trust societies in Latin America and Africa drive like maniacs. People in high-trust societies in Europe drive safely. The U.S. is somewhere in the middle but slouching lower.

Here is a graph of both traffic and homicide deaths by race and time. Here are the black deaths by week, in which we see that both kinds of deaths spiked at the exact same time: immediately following the death of George Floyd. (Both graphs courtesy of Steve Sailer, the only person of note I've seen discuss the traffic component of the Floyd Effect.)

The simplest explanation is that it is still 100% the Floyd Effect. Police pull over black drivers less than they used to so dangerous drivers stay on the road until they kill themselves or others (as well as it possibly affecting deterrence and so on). The alternative explanation is that it was the Floyd effect originally but some other effect has taken over since then. I haven't looked at the most recent data, if you wanted you could check if it has become less racially skewed than the period covered by those graphs. But with the timing I'm not going to give credence to any explanation in which it was never the Floyd Effect and the spike just happened that week and primarily among black people by coincidence.

In many places the police have totally stopped enforcing traffic regulations period (e.g. SF). I wonder if the other lines on that graph have moved up in the past two years.

Assuming this data is accurate, then yes, I think we've solved the mystery. Case closed. In the end, it's less interesting than I thought.

Is the black rate jumping from 15 to 23 on the chart, given the proportion of drivers who are black, enough to have the statistical effect the OP discusses @sodiummuffin?

The OP discusses a 25% rise in overall fatalities. The post-Floyd jump on Sailer’s chart, assuming white and Hispanic levels stay the same, would have to be significant for 14% of the population to effect a 25% rise in the overall vehicular death rate.

Yes. If the black fatality rate went from 15->23 then the rate per mile driven would be more like 15->30. Keep in mind that the race-divided chart ends in December 2021.

So if a group responsible for 14% of deaths in 2019 becomes twice as dangerous in 2020 that could lead to a 14% increase of its own.

Note that the chart also shows a similar massive increase in the Hispanic fatality rate, and a smaller increase in the white fatality rate.

So, I do think Sailer's chart is consistent with the data showing a 20% increase in fatalities by mile driven in 2020.

I think people are just generally less empathetic and more angry than they were.

Covid was a fucked up society altering thing. At the same time large cohorts of the population were convinced that other large cohorts of the population were out there to kill them, and as a result we had a summer of violent, deadly riots all over the country.

I think people are basically just more cynical now, so they drive more aggressively, and don’t care that they’re putting people in danger. I see it in my city all the time. One specific demographic of people I have noticed have decided handicap parking stalls are free game. They also drag race everywhere, run red lights, pass like psychopaths, don’t look when they turn out of parking lots, etc.

I get it, honestly. Covid and the 2020 riots, and then the election fuckery, were massive blackpills for everyone. Couple that with the stress of the economy right now, the prospect of major wars breaking out all over the place, the cost of housing, the cost of groceries, the fact that nobody fucking each other anymore, and the totally disregard of immigration laws and it’s no wonder people don’t care.

How much of this is marijuana replacing alcohol as the recreational drug of choice?

Obviously, driving drunk is dangerous and anti-social behavior that some people do anyways. But aggressive DUI enforcement and education had massively curtailed these numbers, and a culture of how to have social drinking without drunk driving had taken root enough to curtail the worst effects. Designated drivers, uber rides, etc. In particular, some of these cultural changes could be pushed a bit more consistently than with pot because social drinking mostly takes place in bars, which can be held liable and can then encourage good behavior with things like free cokes for the designated driver and "we'll call an uber for you". With pot, this is not the case, there's no culture of avoiding driving high and nobody knows how you could push it. I also think pot stays in your system a bit longer than booze, but I'm not sure.

Weed is much less predictable, especially edibles.

Alcohol I can predict a reliable time period at which I will be safe to drive home. If I have two beers at the start of the night, eat a burger, and drink water, four hours later I'm fine. If I take an edible, there's no period of time until I sleep through the night where I'm comfortable.

I made a new account to post this - opsec and all.

When I was younger I was an everyday smoker. Stoned for years straight. Anyone who is an everyday smoker can function completely unimpaired. Physically and mentally. In fact people on MJ do tend to drive more cautiously perhaps for two reasons. 1) The effects of MJ don’t lend themselves to driving like an asshole. 2) Even today, I imagine people don’t want to be pulled over while stinking like pot. Most potheads will smoke while driving. Bake out a car. Hotbox. Music. It’s a whole part of the lifestyle.

I haven’t smoked in over 15 years. If I were to take one puff today and try to drive it would be extremely dangerous. Without a tolerance it can be severely impairing. I dislike Mj today and wouldn’t partake even if offered in a safe environment. I also think MJ is not safe and wouldn’t allow my family to use it casually.

It’s hard to disentangle how many permastoned drivers are out there today compared to 15 years or so. But if more people are casually smoking and driving. It could have an affect.

I think I recall a Louis CK bit where he said modern marijuana is much more potent than stuff back in the day. Does that ring true to you?

It's been a trend since the '70s via simple hybridisation and selective breeding but since the decrim/legalisation in America what I've seen on social media is people moving from the already strong weed to ever more potent extracts and concentrations, which they then use by eating them (which counter-intuitively gets you wrecked for hours because it's too easy to underestimate and eating it sounds more benign than smoking) or by vaporising them in elaborate "dab" rigs. I guess it's driven by the previously unavailable access to industrial tech like chemical analysis services and the removal of the need to be clandestine. Now you have people on Instagram posing for photos with their kilogram balls of lab refined 98.8% pure THC.

In the '90s you might see a variety of weed that was hyped up on claims of being analysed at ~25% THC (on an ideal sample a single time). Now, at least if you live in a decrim state and my impressions are correct, you can buy all manner of products that are regularly analysed by dedicated professional labs.

You also see more interest in the other cannibinoids now that the labs allow them to be distilled out and separated by people who know what they're doing rather than mad scientist stoners burning down their houses while playing with ether after reading a couple of articles in High Times.

With that said I think there is a separate phenomenon where people spend their youth smoking lots of weed, burning off all the neurochemical novelty and good times and being left with little more than the side effects that were probably always there but weren't very noticeable because they were having too much fun. They blame it on the weed being too strong but it's more like an alcoholic blaming the nausea and broken relationships on brewers putting diesel in their overproof rum. Yeah, the rum is too strong, but if you gave a couple of shots to a teetotaller they probably wouldn't shit their pants and start a fight with a policeman. They'd probably fall over, start laughing and tell you you're their best mate.

The stupid thing about illegal drug use is that people massively disregard dosage. There's a Scott article about Adderal vs street meth where he describes how the dose street meth users are taking is something like 100x more than the typical prescription dose. At that level it's no wonder that instead of studying harder they rip up their floorboards looking for listening devices. Instead people think that doing more = being hardcore, and people ignore that an overdose doesn't have to mean dying, it just means that you experience negative and unwanted effects from having taken too much.

70s weed had like 2-3% THC, modern US weed has 25-30%. (In Europe it’s more like 14-16%.) It is literally ten times as potent in terms of the psychoactive ingredient, yes.

The average in the early 2000s was probably 8-14%, so much of that growth is indeed in the last ten years. Unfortunately, states have adopted all or nothing approaches to a lot of weed regulation instead of just capping THC at moderate levels.

It would be interesting to see a weed regulatory scheme for THC (or CBD etc)% similar to how alcohol has a regulatory regime (beer/wine/liquor) that roughly tracks ABV.

Great idea, but I don't think it'll have legs until legitimate dispensaries become so normalised that imposing this regulatory scheme won't drive people back to their unregulated dealers. I know a guy who got a scrip to buy medical cannabis from a dispensary, 100% legal, but still bought cannabis from his dealer because it was cheaper. There are probably millions of people who live in states with legal weed with a dispensary selling quality-tested weed on every corner, but who still go to the same dealer they've gone to for years just because they have a business relationship with him. Until getting your weed from a dispensary rather than an unlicensed dealer is the rule for 80-90% of the people, there's no point imposing additional costs on the dispensary.

Yes, this is why I think a hard cap on production and sale at ~15% THC (high enough to satisfy most consumers, leaving little margin or value in illegal production of higher potency marijuana) would be best. Otherwise it’s an arms race.

I've never bought weed from a dispensary that didn't have that information.

It's just not particularly useful. Too many other factors.

The main difference is that many people enjoy the taste of alcohols of varying ABV, whereas outside of a very small niche of connoisseurs almost all stoners smoke to get stoned. Higher THC is always better for the weed user, since ingested dosage can be altered (although obviously it makes consuming huge amounts much easier) in a way that higher ABV is not always better for the alcohol drinker. I was in the US recently and except for a token 12% strain all flower was 26-30%. Meanwhile beer is always going to have a market over absinthe.

See this write-up. Anecdotal evidence, but I avoid weed nowadays as it seems far stronger than even seven years ago. The last time I used it was May and it was just unpleasant: full body shivering, anxiety, paranoia, unable to maintain a train of thought. It was like being on ket. I personally know four people who developed delusional/psychotic symptoms in the last ten years after smoking weed essentially every day for years.

I can echo this. I spent about a year in college smoking basically daily (and a couple years prior probably at least once a week). During this period my tolerance had become high enough gradually enough that it was usually at least a mildly pleasurable experience and only mildly disorienting.

A combination of turning 21 and becoming convinced that daily smoking was making me lazy caused me to pivot to alcohol (not a strict improvement in hindsight) and stop cannabis consumption completely.

I have tried it a handful of times in the years since and every time it has made me painfully anxious and disoriented. I attribute this to both a) me no longer having any tolerance and b) only being offered super high potency cannabis. The latter being because either everyone that presently consumes regularly has red-queen's-raced themselves to the point that they require it to feel anything, or the weaker stuff I started out on no longer exists in appreciable, widely distributed quantities.

I remember them claiming that in the 80s. Link. It's an evergreen drug-warrior claim.

It’s a fact, nobody disputes that potency has increased by an order of magnitude.

Which makes it about 112% THC now, right? If people really did usually smoke low-potency ditchweed, it was before most current smokers were born.

The link the other user posted suggests that even in the 90s potency had only reached around 5-7%. Almost all studies around limited risks to high weed consumption revolve around weed of less than 10% THC, a third of the current amount common in legal states. And a doubling in the last decade alone is also significant.

The link I posted claimed 6-14% in 1985. Like I said, this is evergreen drug warrior propaganda and I don't give it credence. I doubt they know the actual numbers and if they did they would lie about it.

Great question, I'd love to know.

In a broad sense, being stoned is less impairing than being drunk. Not categorically - one (standard) beer is less inebriating than several dabs (especially sans tolerance). But, for typical consumption, I think it's clearly the case. The asymptotic inebriation is much greater for booze - people can drive blackout drunk, incapable of telling your their name. Even a hardcore alcoholic is still very fucked up at a certain amount of alcohol. I'd much rather be driven by the typical pothead who hits the bong every ten minutes than by the typical drunk who polishes off a fifth (15 shots) a day, or even the average person after a few drinks.

This is a double edged sword: it's easy and reasonable to say "don't drink (preferably any, certainly more than ~2 units) and drive." But, since THC is generally less inebriating, people are more likely to be stoned frequently/all the time, and this almost requires driving to participate in society. Similarly, I think it's much less acceptable to show up drunk to work than stoned.

A further difficulty is the lack of THC tests for current level of inebriation. It's hard to enforce stoned driving laws when all you can tell is "this person has consumed THC in the last few weeks."

I don't have a policy proposal here - just observing how tricky the situation/comparison to alcohol is.

See also my comment about changes to the legal status of weed since 2019.

The explanation I like the best is that Corona broke the culture. There was a culture of how to behave on the road that produced such-and-such behaviors with such-and-such results. Corona disrupted the culture. Now road culture has settled in a new equilibrium, and it produces worse results.

I'm contrasting this theory to speculation I've heard about how Corona made people more aggressive or anti-social or stupid. Maybe that's true, but I find it hard to make a compelling etiology of individual actors. Everybody gets Corona, and that rewires everyone to be less risk-averse?

Policing is probably part of it, but only a lagging response. It takes a lot of work for the police to establish the culture of how to drive. It's much easier for them to observe whatever the culture is and penalize the most aggressive drivers. Imagine, for example, that one day everybody started driving 5MPH faster. Could extra policing really roll that back? Maybe they could, but it would be a lot of work to pull over every driver on that small change. It's much more plausible that they would continue to police the top offenders, which might become a slightly-larger category.

The explanation I like the best is that Corona broke the culture.

This is my explanation too and I hate it. My inner Vox journalist wants to find some numerical explanation, some demographic trend, some "one weird trick" that explains the data. But I can't. I really do think the cranky old man theory is right this time. Society got worse. End of story.

The question is, will it heal on its own over time, or is this just the new reality?

The question is, will it heal on its own over time, or is this just the new reality?

We're back to the dark days of.... 2006. I think we'll live. Most of us, anyway.

I think we'll live. Most of us, anyway.


We're back to the dark days of.... 2006

The cohort of cars on the road in 2022 were much, much safer than the cars in 2006. But driver quality in 2022 was so much lower that it has erased the entirety of that difference. Brutal numbers.

The cars on the road in 2024 are much, much safer compared to the cars in 2006.

Are they? What's so great about them? I'm fairly sure the big gains in car safety (crumple zones and such) came before then. Now we're on to "active safety" of questionable value (e.g. the car nagging you because it thinks you're crossing a lane line which is really just a tar patch)

Yes, crash test ratings are up a lot in that time.

Also keep in mind that the average car on the road is more than 10 years old. So, in 2006, the average car was from the 1990s.

Modern cars are at the point where you can literally drive your family off a 300 foot cliff to kill them and everyone survives.

It's not hard to find recent news stories of people driving off cliffs and dying. Either Teslas (a small portion of modern cars) are just exceptionally safe or that family was miraculously lucky.

I think teslas are pretty safe even among modern cars.

Simple answer: People driving bigger trucks and giving even fewer fucks.

Longer answer:

Pedestrian deaths are up by thousands and:

In 2016, cars hit and killed nearly 6,000 pedestrians. That’s a serious spike from the historic low—below 4,000—in 2009.

See: read://

Also statistically,

Key findings from 2019 to 2020:

• Fatalities increased and injured people decreased in most categories. • Speeding-related, alcohol-impaired-driving, and seat belt non-use fatalities increased. • Urban fatalities increased by 8.5 percent; rural fatalities increased by 2.3 percent. • Older drivers 65 and older involved in fatal crashes decreased by 9.8 percent; drivers under 65 involved increased. • There were fewer fatalities among people 9 and younger and people 65 and older from 2019 to 2020. Most fatality increases were people 10 to 64, with the 25-34 age group having the largest increase of 1,117 additional fatalities. • Male fatalities increased by 8.6 percent, and female fatalities increased by 1.9 percent. • Nighttime (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) fatalities increased by 12 percent; daytime (6 a.m. to 5:59 p.m.) traffic fatalities increased by 1.4 percent. • Forty-two States and the District of Columbia had increases in the number of fatalities.

Caused by:

38,824 people died on U.S. roads in 2020. Fatalities compared to 2019: ↑6.8% overall ↑21% rate per 100 million VMT ↑14% in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes ↑17% in speeding-related crashes ↑11% motorcyclists ↑3.9% pedestrians ↑14% unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants ↑21% ejected passenger vehicle occupants
↑9.4% in single-vehicle crashes ↑8.5% in urban areas ↑12% during nighttime ↑9.5% during weekend


Basically, people driving faster, more impaired and fewer people wearing seat belts.

I wonder if it has to do with increased marijuana use. My impression is that it has skyrocketed the past few years, and most people don't think driving stones is dangerous.

In my area things have definitely flown off the handle. I see people run red lights multiple times a day whereas before I practically never saw it. If you're lucky, it's a tightly grouped pack of cars where the tail just disregarded the yellow and the red. At least you're not going to drive into the intersection because you can see them and they just eat into your green.

If you're not lucky, it's one motherfucker who runs the red with no cars ahead of him. You'd be toast if you're too fast off the line when you get a green.

I also see a lot of cars with reflective license plate covers that are supposed to foil red light cameras. I know a lot of people who drive in the carpool lane with no one else in the car. I don't know if these rates are meaningfully different from before the pandemic, but it's bleak.

I have contact with states attorneys who deal almost exclusively with DUIs and other traffic matters. The fact is, minor offenses are down, major offenses are up. DUIs, going 40+ over the limit, way up. Going 10 over, almost non existent in court. So we have seen the enforcement bifurcation, at least in this area.

The other obvious problem I've seen is people did forget how to drive. The number of bad drivers has clearly increased. Maybe the DMV waiving in person testing for a while is a cause, maybe people just lost it after 12 months with no traffic, but the roads are clearly less safe.

Could DUI be a contributing factor? Looking at the rules on cannabis consumption by state, by my count 29 states have passed legislation to make legal cannabis more accessible in the past five years - either making medical cannabis legal, increasing possession limits for personal use, or outright decriminalisation or legalisation, among others. (I'm assuming driving while high is significantly more dangerous than driving sober, no idea on how dangerous it is relative to driving drunk.)

The truly maddening thing is that, due to a lack of centralized criminal enforcement data, as well as the ridiculous amount of lag of reported data, it's extremely hard to sanity-check your speculations.

a bunch of cameras which will only punish those who choose to abide by the laws

What does the more granular data about who is dying suggest?

More young male drivers dead by their own (drunk / high / speeding / stupid) hand might hint at a different cause to more pedestrians dead, or more people dead in vehicular collisions.

There are cultural differences, but one of the lowest rates of any major nation isn’t in an extremely homogenous country but in Britain (a third of the US rate per mile travelled). Homogenous Eastern European countries do worse, as do the Southern Europeans.

Speed limits are actually higher than the US, too, (70 vs 60) so I wonder why British drivers are so much safer.

Do British drivers actually abide by the speed limits? US drivers routinely drive at least ten MPH over.

Everyone everywhere seems to drive 10 over.

What? No they don't. Only a minority of drivers go that fast anywhere I've lived.

Really? People don’t routinely go at least ten over on highways and rural roads where you live? We have vastly different experiences then. In the city where I work, even the timed lights require you to go about five MPH over the speed limit to avoid hitting a red light.

No. Both where I live now (Denver) and where I lived previously (northeast Wisconsin), people going 10 mph over were in the minority. People routinely go 5 over, but not 10 (let alone more).

Where I am, 5 over is ubiquitious on city streets and 10 over is common on city freeways where the speed limit is 60, most drivers go 65, and 70 is common during rush hour or among people in the left lane.

Sometimes I think that's bad, then I go to Nearby Big City and drivers ubiquitously go 70 on freeways where the limit is 60, with 75 being somewhat common and 80 not at all unheard of.

Every state I have driven in, has had the exact same thing on the freeways, at least 10mph over being the norm. From PA to Kentucky to Florida to Louisiana to Minnesota.

Having said that I have never been to Colorado or Wisconsin so I can't say you are wrong there.

The average highway speed in light traffic seems likes it’s pretty consistently around 80, which is 5-15 over the speed limit.

Yes they do, in my American coastal experience.

I'm willing to accept "Americans on the coasts routinely speed a lot", but not "Americans routinely speed a lot". The latter isn't true.

I have driven as far west as Las Vegas and as far east as NYC, I don't even know how many multi-day road trips, etc. I have a family member who sets the cruise control to the speed limit and doesn't touch the gas. We can go hours getting passed non-stop while never once catching up to a car ahead of us. Either everyone who isn't speeding is also doing the cruise control at exactly the speed limit thing, or almost nobody is driving at or under the speed limit. I often complain about how dangerous it is because even the 18 wheelers all want to pass us and that shit is risky on a two lane country road.

That says that most Americans speed, which I agree with. What I disagree with is the claim that most Americans are going 10 mph over the speed limit (let alone more).

In my American lifetime of anecdata coastal Americans and Texans very far from any coast love to speed.

And given the distribution of population in the US, I think that's most people. But yes, I've seen reddit threads were posters bafflingly ask questions about why anyone would speed. So someone somewhere thinks the norm is to drive 60 miles per hour on the freeway. Midwest or deep South maybe? Someplace I don't go apparently.

Were those posters possibly people who don't do much interstate driving? My experience is that you're much more likely to find speeding on the interstate than on a non-interstate highway, and more likely to find it on a highway than on local roads. This also applies to the magnitude of the speeding: on a highway, you might be going the limit at 45 along with most of the other drivers, but there'll be a couple cars who go past you at 50, whereas on the interstate the posted limit will be 65 and the speed of traffic as a whole will be between 70 - 75.

Personally speaking, I follow speed limits fairly religiously on non-interstate roads, but am willing to go 5 or so over the speed limit on the interstate, or up to 10 over if the driving conditions are good, everybody else is going at that speed, and the speed limit isn't already something pretty high like 70. I seem to recall that this was a bit of an acquired behavior on my part: when I was younger and most of my driving was local, I would obey the speed limit pretty much everywhere, but then got less strict with my interstate speeds the more I drove on the interstate. So I could see somebody who mostly drives local not realizing how going faster than legal is more common on interstates.

Midwest or deep South maybe?

I've driven in various places in the Midwest, and I don't think I've ever encountered a place where everybody stuck to the speed limit on the interstate. I guess here it would depend on what percentage of people would have to be going faster before this would be considered "the norm". If 20% of drivers are going 5 over, is considered abnormal (because the vast majority of people are going the speed limit), or is it normal (because it's consistently present behavior)?

My guess would be that a much smaller percentage of brits are doing 2 hour commutes on highways every fucking day of their lives. At one point you just start driving in autopilot and doing shit like sneaking in a quick text in if that's an everyday thing.

Also hot take but I've driven in 15 different US states as a tourist. But I'm a car guy so I notice this shit. Not a single American who isn't from New Jersey knows how to drive to save their life. Most of them don't even hold the steering wheel right, they do this hunched over 2-10 position thing. Don't get me started on the left lane hogging or taking hours to switch lanes. All unsafe driving practices. New Jersey drivers are good though, average speed of 85 in the I95 around philly, and things just moving along smoothly, I love it.

Not a single American who isn't from New Jersey knows how to drive to save their life.

That's because in New Jersey, driving to save your life is the only way you make it to next week. If you do the sleepy Pennsylvania driver thing, you're going to get hit by someone running a red light. If you hog the left lane you're going to be VERY uncomfortable as the other drivers zoom around you with not much margin. If you take hours to switch lanes people will pass you in the partial lane on both sides. NJ has a reputation for aggressive drivers, and it is deserved. Only place I've driven where you can be sitting at a red light with traffic in front of you and the driver behind you will be on the horn, apparently expecting you to go through.

You are kind of proving my point. That most Americans drive like grandmas (that too ones that don't know basic highway etiquette). All these things you are saying are how it should be! There are things to do and places to be.

New Jersey drivers are "aggressive" but the traffic actually moves! No matter how much of a warzone navigating a full 3-lane highway where the average speed is 85 MPH is, it takes more skill to do that and make it to next week than do whatever the fuck PA or CT drivers are doing. I'm from Dubai where the drivers are 2-3x more aggressive and unpredictbile than NJ drivers, so I felt right at home in NJ and found any other state infuriating to drive in.

Forget about the aggression though, using the left lane for passing (or atleast moving when you see a car approaching you at 95 MPH from the back), not taking hours to switch lanes, not braking randomly in a fucking highway, are all things much less common in most of Europe than America.

Running red lights is bad, actually.

Never said it was a good thing. Not left lane hogging, not braking randomly, not taking eons to switch lanes, Not sleeping on the green light are all good things though

Well you did say "All these things you are saying are how it should be!"

Every region has its own driving culture. NJ may suit you, but I find driving there to be absolutely miserable.

Among regions with aggressive drivers, I much prefer Boston. They are aggressive, but in a precise, pointed way rather than what I perceived to be the raw hooliganism of New Jersey.

The fact that NJ has fewer traffic deaths than other areas is probably more due to the fact that they've eliminated unprotected left turns than any particular skill of their drivers.

Not a single American who isn't from New Jersey knows how to drive to save their life. Most of them don't even hold the steering wheel right, they do this hunched over 2-10 position thing.

In joisey do they have one hand at 12 and the other out the window?

The reputation of New Jersey drivers in Philly is absymal. My wife always checks if someone driving badly has Jersey plates and then will announce that Jersey srivers are the worst in the world.

Having said that Philly drivers are themselves pretty terrible from what I can see.

New Jersey drivers are not bad. They are some of the best in the US. They manage to drive much faster under much more hectic conditions than most of the country and still have some of the lowest road accident rates, that is by definition what better driving is.

Well, unless aggressive driving is part of why the conditions are so hectic in the first place.

One measure of better driving is certainly road traffic accident rate, but thats not the only measure. How quickly on average do you travel? If everyone was zipper merging more politely rather than forcing in at the last second would everyones drive be smoother/faster?

Philly drivers are aggressive, and I think the road situation would be better overall if they were less so. I don't drive too much in Jersey myself and I don't look out for Jersey plates either so I am certainly open to Jersey drivers not being as bad as claimed.

For my money there are a couple of things almost all American drivers seem to be terrible at, zipper merging and roundabouts. Near universally awful as far as I can tell.

The US drivers tests do seem to be significantly easier than the UK (though it does vary by state of course). Delaware's is so simple I am convinced a 10 yo could pass it.

What’s wrong with 2/10? When I went through drivers’ training, that was taught both in the class and in the state-issued handbook as the position least likely to lead to serious injury in the event of an accident due to the way the airbags deploy.

(Actually, the teacher said we should do something closer to 2:30/9:30, but that’s still pretty close.)

Significantly less control than 3/9. Look at any motorsport driver, you will see 3/9 9/10 times.

As for which is safer, I can't really find anything concrete on that.

You may notice that motorsports is very different than regular motoring. Race cars tend to lack airbags, for one.

I now live in a relatively rural county. It gets between 0-1 murders a year. Traffic fatalities are almost as rare.

Nearly every traffic fatality I read about (and murder for that matter) is someone from outside of the county causing trouble. High speed chases originating in the part of town, in the county where illegal immigrants have created a festering boil of gang crime and chaos for going on 20 years. These high speed chases get on the highway at 120 mph, and usually wreck in our county where the roads are bit less hospital to those sorts of shenanigans. Drops down to 2 lanes from 4, more sharp turns, more grandmas going 10 under on their way home from church, etc.

I have no idea how representative this is. But if anyone said to me that my county has just as many problems with traffic fatalities, per capita, as that neighboring county where all the ne'er-do-wells that technically die in my county come from, I'd call them a bold faced liar.

I suspect a lot of it has to do with the numbers of uninsured and unlicensed motorists. I can’t actually find good #s on this so could be wrong, but im sure that the # of unlicensed and uninsured motorists has exploded since we no longer enforce laws against this in most large cities.

That would surely manifest itself in a divergence between blue and red states or counties, then.

I'd be interested in better numbers on the number of licensed drivers. The absolute number of licenses per individual have been ticking up. But some of these statistics... Well, it's easy to count the absolute number of registered licenses, but people can technically drive without a valid license, and people can also have licenses in multiple states.

Now, according to the numbers I have, the number of licenses has been ticking up. And the number of licenses per capita has been ticking up. From .89 in 2020 to .91 in 2024...

Now naively, increasing the number of drivers shouldn't change that deaths/hundred thousand miles number- but when you already have 90% of people driving, 1 more percentage point probably doesn't represent the best drivers getting licenses. The more separated society is, the less public transit there is, the more people are forced to drive to work to survive, the worse the bottom of the bell curve of drivers on the streets is going to look. I can imagine quite a few ways in which Covid may have incited these factors.

This is all just a hypothesis though. Really I'd want a curated regional dataset of accidents with information about when those involved got their licenses. Without that it's hard to correlate. It's likely the accidents aren't uniformly increasing, but are localized to some areas more than others. All in all, a better dataset would let us make much better hypotheses.

Isn't this all pretty marginal stuff? How could it explain a > 20% increase in a single year? In recent decades, the rate decreased smoothly, and almost every year until 2020, and then bam:

Maybe, maybe not. I'm skeptical of my own hypothesis without more numbers. But if a bunch of high risk drivers started driving again circa Covid, who were previously getting around in other ways (because they know they're bad at driving), we would expect those people to get into a disproportionate number of accidents per mile driven.

These 1-2% licensing numbers are probably the wrong ones to look at for this hypothesis though. What we really want is the number of infrequent drivers that became more frequent drivers. Or better yet, miles driven sorted by driver insurance risk profile. These people may have largely already had licenses.

I can imagine quite a few ways in which Covid may have incited these factors.

I have sometimes wondered if there are people who have started driving instead of using public transit simply because they fear that they'll catch Covid on the train or the bus.

In the USA? Outside of New York and the Bay Area everyone already drove. Driving in New York is ridiculously impractical, and besides, everyone who was that worried about Covid just refused to leave the house.

Now some people driving instead of taking public transportation because public transportation imposed a bunch of extra bullshit around Covid policy seems at least mathematically possible, but I’d bet the ven diagram of ‘people bothered by useless Covid bullshit enough to change their habits’ and ‘people who took public transportation when parking at their destination cost less than $15’ is two circles.

Not only that, but the kind of person who is worried about covid enough to drive rather than use public transport is probably the kind of person who tends to be more cautious in general and not the kind of madman reckless driver who goes around causing fatalities. Some people argue that overly cautious drivers tend to cause more accidents compared to normal drivers due to an unpredictability borne out of timidness. I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is I'd suspect that the resulting collisions are more of the fender bender/rear ender type than the stuff that causes fatalities.

Tens of thousands rally against Hungary's Orban after sex abuse pardon scandal

In Hungary, the biggest political scandal in years has been unfolding over the last two weeks, and has included the resignation of the (ceremonial) president of the republic, Katalin Novák. The linked article is useful but I'll sum up what we know for now.

As you may know, the government under Viktor Orbán has used protecting children as a big political topic in the last few years, they changed the law to be stricter with pedophile crimes and also blurred the whole issue of LGBTQ materials aimed at children with the topic of pedophilia. Including TV ads, billboards, a national "child protection referendum", mandating wrapping books that discuss homosexuality in plastic foil in bookstores to protect kids etc.

In front of this backdrop, news got out two weeks ago that the president of the republic had pardoned a certain Endre K., who was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months for his involvement in a pedophilia case as an accomplice. Endre K was the deputy director of an orphanage in Bicske, a town not far from Budapest. For years, the director, János V. molested boys living there, for which he was sentenced to 8 years prison. Endre K. knew about it and helped the director, including forcing the kids to revoke their police testimonies (which resulted in the case being dropped for some time until more reports came in). According to court documents, he even drafted the statement for the kids stating that the director did not molest them.

One of the few real powers of the largely ceremonial president is to give pardons, with no need to provide any justification, and the decisions are not made public by default. This pardon was one of about two dozen that she issued on one day in April 2023 on the occasion of the papal visit to Hungary (back then she had cited the tradition to issue pardons broadly when the pope visits). Endre K was already in house arrest at the time of the pardon and had a mere 9 more months to go.

It's important to know that, while the role of the president is officially independent of the government, Katalin Novák used to be a minister in Viktor Orbán's cabinet and was put into her new position by Orbán (who controls a 2/3 supermajority in parliament).

The only reason that the pardon got public is that Endre K. had already appealed to the Curia (supreme court) before the pardon (not an actual appeal, but a complaint). And despite the pardon, the Curia legally had to make a decision. They upheld the lower court's ruling but noted that the defendant got pardoned in the meantime, and this court ruling became public in September 2023, but apparently nobody in the wider public or media noticed this. However there is a professional journal for Hungarian lawyers that every few months summarizes bigger rulings and cases that happened in Hungary, and this case got included in the January 2024 issue. A lawyer read this and notified a major left-wing news portal,, who published the story and asked the president's office for comment.

At first, the president simply repeated that "there is no pardon for pedophiles" including posting this sentence to social media, implicitly emphasizing that Endre K was not a pedo himself just an accomplice. The government aligned media did not know how to react at first. Some of them tried to defend the guy or said the president must have had her reasons etc., but most just remained quiet and likely kept monitoring the public sentiment.

It took several days until Viktor Orbán announced in a Facebook video that he is proposing a constitutional amendment that would prevent the president from pardoning crimes committed against children.

Three days later, the president resigned and admitted she made a mistake but did not share her prior reasoning.

But the story did not stop there because pardon requests are brought to president by the minister of justice and the president's decision has to be counter-signed by the minister to become effective. The then minister, Judit Varga, was now preparing for a new role, heading the party list of Orbán's Fidesz for this June's European Parliament elections. Simultaneous to the resignation of the president, Judit Varga announced she is resigning from all her political positions and will withdraw from public life. As her reason, she only said she followed a 25 year old practice of always counter signing presidential pardons, but she would take the political responsibility for this (it's is true that refusing to counter sign is extremely rare, but there was indeed such a case about 25 years ago). (Side story: after her resignation, Judit Varga's ex-husband who was also part of Fidesz circles and led state companies, has turned on the govt and started to talk about internal corruption cases, and is promising more spicy info to come.)

After days of public confusion and speculation as to why this pardon was actually granted, it started to emerge that the most likely reason is Endre K's good connections to the Reformed (Calvinist) Church in Hungary. Namely, president Katalin Novák has been a long-time protege of Zoltán Balog, the bishop presiding over the synod of the church (the main guy of the church), who by the way also happens to have been a minister in Orbán's cabinet previously. It turns out he was pushing the idea of pardoning Endre K, but once the initial news broke, Balog announced on social media he will take a few weeks to retreat to a monastery to pray (as it turns out, in Austria).

Balog couldn't pray for long though because after a few days the synod ordered him back to Budapest to explain himself. A vote of confidence affirmed his position, though this vote was a bit fishy as it didn't involve the bishops, just lower ranking people. His refusal to resign caused a big stir in the church, even the bishop leading the largest district publicly asked him to resign. Even notorious pro-government journalists urged him to resign.

Meanwhile several youtubers and media influences announced a big protest to today evening at 6 PM in Budapest, to which lots of other artists, and famous people joined.

Fresh news while typing this: Zoltán Balog has finally (4 days after the initial vote confirming him) resigned a few minutes before the start of the big protest. He says he made a big mistake but "I asked for mercy. I wanted mercy for someone" (Note that the Hungarian word kegyelem can be translated as any of pardon, mercy or clemency). He claims to have believed the person was innocent.

Now, it's also good to know that the Reformed Church is politically quite close to the government. All churches rely on state funding but Orbán himself, former president Novák and the speaker of the Parliament László Kövér are all members of the Reformed (Calvinist) Church. It is also the case that Bicske, where the orphanage is, is a neighbor town to Orbán's birthplace Felcsút, so Endre K might have used connections on that path too, though the government has denied that Orbán knew about the pardon before the news appeared publicly.

Orbán will hold his big annual ("year evaluation") speech tomorrow (planned a long time ago), and it will be the first time he speaks since Novák resigned.

Speculation time. It's all very strange. Some speculate that the case was not accidentally found by a lawyer but it may be some kind of orchestrated thing. Perhaps for delaying ratifying Sweden's NATO membership? For generally withholding military support from Ukraine? I'm skeptical and believe it can be a coincidence. Most likely Zoltán Balog felt powerful enough to push this without telling Orbán and thought it wouldn't be public so whatever. But it's a horrible picture, Orbán would have been crazy to approve this, it was 9 months house arrest! And for what? Now his own church is associated with a pedophilia case. It's Orbán's worst communication nightmare. He always claims that Christian illiberal democracy will defend Hungarian families and kids from woke LGBTQ pedophiles. Others say this is now bringing to surface internal cracks and factional fights within Orbán's party. The fact that the pardon was offocially issued on the occasion of the papal visit is the cherry on top.

So now Orbán has to find a new president, a new person to lead the list for the EU election and the elections for mayors and local governments will also happen in June, while they don't yet even have a candidate for Budapest's lord mayor. This is the most difficult situation they have been for many years.

Okay, this is obviously a very minor point, but a Calvinist church... with a monastery?

Also, bishops? I thought the Reformed had Elders, not bishops (which are a papist custom). I looked them up and the Reformed Calvinists in Hungary do have a Presbyterian polity.

I think this is a translation issue, as "bishop" and "elder" seem to be used interchangeably for the highest offices, but the English version of the website definitely says "elders" who seem to be the highest lay persons, as well as bishops who are the highest church ministers. I don't think it's the same as bishops within hierarchical churches, though, and may be a hold-over from Catholicism before the Reformation in Hungary?

And here's the guy himself, and he's certainly not dressing like a bishop (in fact, given that liturgical purple shirt, I'd have taken the guy on the right, the lay elder, to be the bishop): Zoltán Balog – Presiding Bishop, Ministerial President of the General Synod of the RCH.

As to the Austrian monastery, since Calvinists don't have similar institutions and he needed somewhere to lie low out of the public eye for a while, he may have had contacts that he used to get him there:

He was a caretaker at the Catholic Social Home of Hosszúhetény from 1979 to 1980.

Though I don't know enough about Hungarian history, there's an odd reference here:

He recalled that he was called to the Carmelite monastery, home of Orban’s office, when he was about to separate with Varga and was asked not to do "anything foolish".

Possibly this was a monastery taken over during the Reformation and the buildings repurposed. Anyway, for once it's not a Catholic sex scandal, interesting to see it happening in one of the Protestant churches with married clergy and lay people in positions of authority and all the rest of the things we are told the Church should adopt so as to stop sex abuse scandals!

I think you have to make a distinction here between the leaders of the Radical Reformation and those of the Magisterial Reformation. The radical reformers wanted to fundamentally reshape the church, shed the theological and aesthetic accoutrements of 1,500 years, and move back to a pure, primitive form of Christianity. The magisterial reformers saw themselves as still very much a continuation of the medieval church; their goal was to keep as much as possible while fixing only those things that were clearly broken. I suppose you could liken it to two people being given a shitty piece of code. One decides the best approach is to tweak it as necessary but otherwise to make as few changes as possible, while the other decides the best approach is to start from scratch.

You mentioned that the confessional Protestants in America take their confessions’ ideas on church order more seriously than their European counterparts. I won’t speak to the Reformed, but at least among Anglicans and Lutherans, that’s just not the case. Anglicans don’t have an agreed-upon set of confessions to draw on, but they universally have bishops, while the Lutheran confessions explicitly say that bishops are fine:

Concerning this subject we have frequently testified in this assembly that it is our greatest wish to maintain the old church regulations and the government of bishops, even though they have been made by human authority, provided the bishops allow our doctrine and receive our priests. For we know that church discipline was instituted by the Fathers, in the manner laid down in the ancient canons, with a good and useful intention. But the bishops either compel our priests to reject and condemn this kind of doctrine which we have confessed, or, by a new and unheard-of cruelty, they put to death the poor innocent men. These causes hinder our priests from acknowledging such bishops. Thus the cruelty of the bishops is the reason why the canonical government, which we greatly desired to maintain, is in some places dissolved.

In Germany, all but a couple of bishops opposed the Reformation, so the Lutherans changed their governance structure to eliminate bishops. In the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, the bishops were split, so those churches were able to continue on with the same structure as before.

From a Lutheran perspective (and all Finns are by culture at least a bit Lutheran) there's nothing strange about it. Luther did the correct amount of reforming; the reformers after him started doing weird stuff and all of that spun out of control and that resulted to 50,000 weird sects and also the United States of America.

It's probably best to think of the Nordic/English state churches less as having a strict confession and more like just the Church of [Country]. That's how they all were basically established, as far as I know - first you had the kings deciding to detach their national church from Rome (bishops and all) and then, in the Nordic countries, they (haltingly, with a bit of a back-and-forth movement like what I described here), they adopted Lutheranism as the formal confession of that church. Technically it wouldn't be impossible for them to de-Lutheranize - that's what Rome spent decades (centuries) trying to get them to do, still does in a way.

Luther was in a strange position, he was more like The Last Catholic than being The First Protestant. He had a very mystical bent to his theology, which is partly why he hated the (stultified version of) Thomism which was big at the time. A bit like Henry VIII, he didn't want much more than "The Pope should agree with me" and he'd have been happy enough to leave things much as he found them, if only that had gone his way 😁

The merry band of Reformers soon fell out, and had to do some desperate papering over the theological cracks, because all of the big names had their own views on everything, and backed that up with "I'm an expert theologian" (Luther liked using 'I have a doctorate' to smack down opposition). Often the only thing on which they all agreed was "the Pope is wrong and we're not Romans". So yes, bishops are Lutheran, it was the Reformed/Calvinists who went 'the only church office is pastor and then elder'.

The Low Church and Pietist movements which came later probably were influenced more in that direction, and of course the way things developed in America put their own spin on things.

He had a very mystical bent to his theology, which is partly why he hated the (stultified version of) Thomism which was big at the time.

Not exactly. There were major Thomists at the time (he interacted with some noteworthy ones, most importantly Cajetan, who was perhaps the most important Thomist in history), but I believe in northern Europe Aquinas wasn't terribly popular, and people more frequently made use of other authors, such as Scotus or Biel. The mystic part is fairly accurate. He republished Theologia Deutsch, a work written centuries earlier due to the influence of German Dominican mystics, in which work you can pretty clearly see the influence on Luther's thought, with its emphases on humility and the worthlessness of the self (probably not the best summary, but that's from memory).

A bit like Henry VIII, he didn't want much more than "The Pope should agree with me" and he'd have been happy enough to leave things much as he found them, if only that had gone his way 😁

True, and not true. Henry VIII did not solely want that the pope would agree with him, but did actually have committed religious beliefs. He was named Defensor Fidei by the pope for his writings against Luther, arguing that there are actually seven sacraments. Henry maintained his belief in the seven sacraments his entire life and tried to crack down on the Protestants at some points, even after he'd broken with Rome. I'm not extremely knowledgeable on it, but I'd believe that Henry's actions could have been sincere as to what he thought right, not merely a power grab.

Luther definitely did have a bunch of things he wanted corrected, though (far more than Henry). There's a sense in which he merely wanted the pope to agree with him, but what he wanted agreement on was far more extensive, and more about teaching (as well as the moral reform of the church). His thoughts on the pope changed fairly quickly at the beginning, going from that the pope was good etc. but not able to do quite as much as was claimed re:indulgences, to thinking that the pope was the antichrist. (but even at that later point, in 1520, when he thought that the papacy was the Antichrist, he still would have reconciled had the pope just fixed things—stop seizing power, clean out the corruption, and correct the problematic teachings and practices.)

The merry band of Reformers soon fell out, and had to do some desperate papering over the theological cracks, because all of the big names had their own views on everything, and backed that up with "I'm an expert theologian" (Luther liked using 'I have a doctorate' to smack down opposition).

This is overstated. Assuming you're not talking about the anabaptists, there was a general consensus on quite a lot, and a lot of the theologians were more conciliatory than Luther. Calvin wanted to be considered Lutheran and wanted to reconcile, and there were others pushing for unity and moderation (e.g. Melanchthon, Philp of Hesse, Bucer). But Luther and some others were prone to be scathing rather than charitable, and did not think Zwingli's view within the range of being acceptable on the Lord's Supper. (Though Luther did put up with some in-between stances like Melanchthon's or Bucer's, if I remember correctly).

So yes, bishops are Lutheran, it was the Reformed/Calvinists who went 'the only church office is pastor and then elder'.

Sort of true, as German Lutherans didn't really have bishops, because the existing bishops in Germany weren't convinced (not sure to what extent this was motivated by the power they'd lose if they did turn Lutheran). Swedish Lutherans do, as the turn to Lutheranism came from the king, allowing the bishops to be preserved.

I'm not sure to what extent presbyterianism was considered to be instituted jure divino. I know that belief was common in England when there were conflicts with the puritans, but I don't know whether that was something earlier, or whether it was merely something they recommended. I was under the impression that they got along pretty well with the Anglicans for a while. (e.g. Vermigli was in England for some time and worked with Cranmer)

Oh, Henry definitely thought he was a theologian; there's an account in MacCulloch's biography of Thomas Cromwell of Henry personally presiding over a heresy trial, all dressed in white, to argue theology with the accused. It wasn't simply about a power grab, I agree; that's why he was so upset when things did not go his way. He wanted this thing, he had convinced himself he was in the right on this thing, he had been promised this thing, why wasn't he getting this thing? That's why Wolsey fell, when his arrogance and power-grabbing weren't balanced out by being able to deliver the divorce for Henry, and why Henry got his pet scholars and theologians to scrabble up a decision that agreed with him on the rightness of the divorce. He couldn't see why the Pope just wouldn't agree with him, so the Pope must be in the wrong, and the genuine Reformers used that to get Henry to implement certain amount of reform in the new English Church.

That's also why Henry was so angry with the likes of Thomas More and the Carthusians; if people with good reputations at home and abroad were disagreeing with him, this was painting him as being wrong. And he was the King, and the King could never be wrong, so they had to pay for that. He was even-handed about burning as heretics both Catholics and Protestants who went too far from what he considered correct:

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Thomas Cromwell: A Life

This agenda had its problems, because the autumn of 1538 proved a switchback of religious extremes, always dangerous for what by now we can call a new evangelical establishment. ...The evangelical clergy were much more clear-cut in their views, more committed by vocation and hence more exposed, than the noblemen. Nevertheless, all were painfully aware of their vulnerability, particularly now that one of their most determined opponents, Stephen Gardiner, had returned from near three years of embassy in France, vigilant for any opportunity to arouse the King’s suspicions of evangelical proceedings. The evangelicals’ strategy to cover their backs was to show themselves as severe as possible to those on their more radical flank.

In any case they saw the persecution of Anabaptists as a necessary and congenial task to protect godly religion, as was apparent when the threat first appeared in 1535 ...Radical activity, it turned out, had extended to a printed English tract challenging orthodox views on the nature of Jesus Christ. Cromwell acted straight away, appointing vice-gerential commissioners from the areas around London where the threat was most acute; the commissioners were balanced between evangelicals and conservatives. Burnings of Anabaptists followed in the capital and in Colchester.

Alongside that campaign was an affair potentially far more dangerous to the evangelical cause, because it involved one of their own, a former don of Queens’ Cambridge called John Lambert alias Nicholson. In 1531, when the old Church leadership was still fighting its corner, Convocation singled Lambert out for prosecution alongside such figures of the future establishment as Hugh Latimer. By winter 1536 it was Cranmer and Latimer who found themselves constrained to get Lambert imprisoned by Chancellor Audley for sounding off about prayer to saints. Now, in autumn 1538, Lambert confronted a prominent London evangelical and royal chaplain, John Taylor, with outspoken scepticism about the bodily presence of Christ in eucharistic bread and wine. Taylor called on Robert Barnes to help him defend a real-presence theology which avoided papal error (Barnes was, after all, the most obvious and authentic Lutheran in all England), and he then brought in Cranmer. The Archbishop prudently put Lambert in confinement again – but all in vain: fatally convinced of his own rightness, Lambert appealed to the King to hear his case.

This was a disastrous misjudgement. Henry’s customary inclination to occupy himself with theology when lacking a wife made him take a particular interest in the case, and his mood was currently veering towards the conservative end of his volatile spectrum. That was apparent from a new royal proclamation on religion: a personal public intervention, sidelining his Vice-Gerent, who one might have thought had already produced enough regulation for the Church less than two months before. The proclamation followed up various of Cromwell’s orders, and repeated condemnations of Anabaptism and Becket, but it also imposed censorship on the printing press, including unauthorized versions of the Bible, and it expressly forbade clergy to marry – a reaction to the fact that in southern England a number of clergy were doing just that (not to mention the Archbishop of Canterbury’s wife Margarete, lurking obscurely in one of his palaces in Kent).

Even if we did not possess a draft of this proclamation emended in the King’s own hand, the general shapelessness and theological incoherence of the final version is redolent of brusque royal papering-over of disagreements among his bishops. Worse still for John Lambert, this document was issued on 16 November as part of the theatrics in the most high-profile heresy trial that early Tudor England had seen, with Lambert himself and King Henry as joint and opposed stars of the proceedings. The Supreme Head of the Church of England chose to preside himself over the event in Westminster Hall, symbolically clad in white, with his bishops merely as assistants to undertake the theological detail of prosecution. Cromwell’s only substantial part was to house the condemned prisoner, presumably at The Rolls, before Lambert was taken to the stake at Smithfield on 22 November: the same fate as Forest had suffered there six months before, but for polar-opposite beliefs.

The whole Lambert business hugely embarrassed John Foxe when he wrote it up in Acts and Monuments, given that it implicated some of his chief Protestant heroes in burning a man who looked in retrospect like a good Protestant. Cranmer in particular has come in for plenty of abuse for inconsistency among later writers. Yet the Archbishop’s own theology of the eucharist at the time was opposed to the views of Lambert, who may also have affirmed some real radicalism on infant baptism and the nature of Christ, and the Lutheran princes of Germany expressed no disapproval of the condemnation. Cromwell kept his counsel. Two days later, effectively in a continuation of the same theatre, Bishop Hilsey returned to Paul’s Cross to deliver a definitive exposure and mockery of the Holy Blood of Hailes, this time with the relic on hand as his visual aid – in careful pairing with this symbol of old error, new error was represented by four immigrant Anabaptist prisoners standing beside the pulpit bearing their heretics’ faggots, preparatory to burning at the stake. The occasion was a necessary act of damage limitation for the evangelical establishment in relation to King Henry.

My impression was that he was fine with it, but didn't think it necessary, and the reason that he didn't end up with bishops is that the Protestants generally failed to attract bishops to their cause. But in Sweden, which went Lutheran, it was done top-down enough (like England) that they managed to keep the bishops.

It's certainly political. The reformed church is seen as the "Hungarian national" religion, while German protestants living in Hungary were Lutheran. During the Ottoman occupation when Hungary was divided, the Hungarian ruling princes of Transylvania were Calvinist (or sometimes Unitarian) while the Habsburgs leading Royal Hungary werr Catholic. And some nationalities like Serbs and Romanians living in Hungary were orthodox. Nationality and denomination were and are strongly correlated. Most lay people have no idea about the denominational details, they just get born into whichever church their ethnic community belongs to.

There are curious cases like the Hungarian-speaking orthodox in Transylvania who used to be Greek Catholics (and still earlier they had been Eastern Orthodox) but Greek Catholicism was banned during communism and their churches were converted to Orthodoxy. After the fall of communism in Romania, religious freedom was introduced, so the Greek Catholics got legalized again, but now these Hungarian communities are reluctant to convert back to Greek Catholicism, because they care more about their priests than the denomination and the liturgy is similar anyway. And in these areas actually religious affiliation is often the primary identity. So being orthodox, some of these people think they are "Hungarian speaking Romanians", since Orthodoxy is equated with Romanian.

Note however that political and historic events are much stronger in determining where someone ends up than theological fine points. It's just weird to belong to a church of a different ethnicity in these areas.

Hungarian religious history is definitely something I know much less about than what happened further west, so I appreciate the outline. What familiarity I have with Hungarian religious history is really... messy. I do recall being very confused when I learned about the Hungarian Crown being a gift from the Byzantines to a monarch who remained in communion with the Pope and on good terms with Constantinople well after the communication between the two fell apart. It sounds from your description like that complex situation has continued into the present where Latin Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants are all significant in their own ways, which is rather a fascinating religious landscape reflecting the ethnic diversity of the country.

Most lay people have no idea about the denominational details, they just get born into whichever church their ethnic community belongs to

That's definitely everybody everywhere, people who study these things and seek something out are absolutely the minority. It's significant that the outcome of the Peace of Westphalia wasn't exactly "everyone gets to decide their own religion" but "every prince gets to decide the religion of his kingdom," though with toleration for dissenting subjects. And as kingdoms evolved into nation-states, this does seem to have developed into closely-knit national churches.

One reason for this diversity is the geographic location as the buffer zone between Western Catholicism / Habsburg / HRE, Byzantine Christianity as well as the Ottoman Muslim influence in the occupied area and the Ottoman-aligned Transylvania (the Hungarian princes of Transylvania rather oriented towards the Ottomans to oppose the Austrian Habsburg push for taking the country).

The Islamic influence was mainly that they simply didn't care which flavor of Christianity people followed as long as they paid the tax, so the counter-reformation didn't happen in Eastern Hungary and Transylvania and protestants could go to extremes in peace (like Unitarianism that outright denies the Trinity and Christ's divinity).

Today's landscape in Hungary (2022) is (note that 40% declined to answer) 28% Roman Catholic, 2% Greek Catholic, 10% Calvinist, 2% Lutheran. Orthodox practically nonexistent (0.16%).

I think, based on cursory reading, it's more a combination of post-Communism and Western secularisation; people weren't raised to go to church, the church didn't have too much influence, so there's a 'national' church now (the Reformed) but nobody much goes to church or gets involved past married/buried in church (if they even go for that). A bit like the Church of England, if I can be mildly snarky, which is the state church but has moved to position itself as 'the church of all the people of the nation', which means including Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and atheists as well because being a state church they represent the entire population (yeah, I know, that's pretty shaky but they have to maintain relevance somehow). Take these figures from 2022:

The Worshipping Community of a church is defined as those people who attend worship regularly, once a month or more (whether in-person or “at home”).
The total Worshipping Community was 1,113,000 people in 2019; 1,031,000 people in 2020; 966,000 people in 2021; and 984,000 people in 2022.
The Church of England’s Worshipping Community in 2022 was 1.7% of the population of England

For comparison purposes, the population of England (not Great Britain or the UK) is around 57 million.

I don't get the impression that Hungarian Calvinism is like American Episcopalianism, which was always a small church and did lean heavily towards 'the elite', hence its continuing pretensions to 'the National Cathedral' and so forth.

Not at all, actually it's more the religion of peasants (whose ancestors are from the east where the Austrians didn't manage to re-catholicize them). Orbán himself comes from a simple background. But also, as Hungary was ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs who led the counter reformation, being protestant was a kind of defiant national opposition against the Austrian rulers.

When I say they are a "national" church, I mean more that they tend to be more patriotic and nation-focused, they even sing the national anthem in their liturgy sometimes, they use the national flag more, etc. Since there is no pope above them outside the nation, nobody stops this type of thing, so as a Reformed Christian himself, nationalism and religion are strongly connected in Orbán's mind too.

I don't think the argument for married clergy etc. is that there's never going to be sex scandals - priests are human and as such sinners - after all - but rather that the Catholic tradition of nonmarried clergy means the position tends to attract a particular type of a person - ie. those who aren't attracted to adult women, pedos being in this category alongside homosexuals and asexuals - and that this in turn tends to eventually leave an increasing mark on the entire church hierarcy, its culture of silence, ways of shunting cases aside etc.

Anyway, for once it's not a Catholic sex scandal, interesting to see it happening in one of the Protestant churches with married clergy and lay people in positions of authority and all the rest of the things we are told the Church should adopt so as to stop sex abuse scandals!

Protestant sex scandals are if anything more common than catholic ones.

My impression of the "orthodox" Calvinist interpretation is that the words "elder", "bishop", and "pastor" in the New Testament all mean the exact same thing.

Does "pastor" show up in the New Testament? My understanding is only "presbyter" and "episkopos" show up, alongside references to deacons.

‘Presbyteros’ ‘diakonos’ and ‘episkopos’ show up in the Pauline epistles; the translations are literally ‘elder’ ‘servant’ and ‘overseer’ respectively but catholic and orthodox Christians think this refers to priests deacons and bishops(Protestants vary). Jesus in a few parables uses a word meaning ‘shepherd’ to refer to the general category of church leadership(and pastor is of course Latin for shepherd), but more as a metaphor for the role of church leaders than as a literal title.

The literal word is "shepherd", but there are some locations where it is clearly referring to some sort of church leader.

He went to pray in an orthodox monastery, called Maria Schutz. Don't ask why. Here's an fb post of the monastery where he's the guy on the right.

Uh, was his crime listed as ‘accomplice to pedophilia’ or was it listed as ‘hampering a police investigation’ or something similar?

Yeah, to me, it sounds more like "obstruction of justice" is what he is technically guilty of, it's what he did it in service of that understandably gets people's hackles up.

Pressuring victims of anything to retract their claims gets my hackles up. There are forms of "obstruction of justice" that don't outrage me, where people resist arrest, or destroy evidence when they get caught doing something illegal. Like, you shouldn't do that, but I get it. But witness tampering, threats, corruption? That's unacceptable, regardless of what it's in service of.

Coercion or duress, I'm not sure about the English term. Basically blackmail in plain words. He made the kids revoke their police testimony by threatening them with various things. Media reports he threatened that a pair of siblings who lived there would be separated and sent to different orphanages.

He wrote text for them to sign, which the court documents cite as (my translation) "I made it up that we had jerked off my genital together and that he had done that to other children. The truth is that he didn't pull my pants down and didnt touch it and didn't jerk it off."

One of the kids later committed suicide as well.

So it sounds like maybe she thought he had covered up eg embezzlement and was doing a political ally a dubiously legal favor.

The president obviously receives extensive documentation about the case, including the letter by the person requesting the pardon (it appears that this was the wife of the convict). It also includes a recommendation by the minister of justice. The government is currently refusing to confirm whether the minister recommended granting the pardon or not, but according to press sources the minister did not recommend the pardon, but she still counter signed it afterwards.

As one of Novák's advisors, it is rumored that Balog was very often in the presidential office to a degree that was already annoying the staff, and Novák was for long a "mentee" of Balog.

The pedophile director himself, who molested boys between 2004 and 2016, received a Hungarian Order of Merit (bronze) in 2016 from the previous president, on the recommendation of Balog. And apparently the pardoned man's father was a lay leader in the reformed church as well.

Based on currently available media reports by investigative journalists, it seems that Orbán was actually kept out of the loop here (one man can't manage every individual issue after all and must delegate). Probably the family lobbied the church leadership who lobbied Balog who told Novák to sign. Minister Judit Varga (if it's true that she did not support the pardon initially) may have also been left out of the loop and saw no reason to support this based on the documents, but all requests for pardon must be forwarded to the president by the minister. And upon seeing here recommendation overturned she may have assumed higher powers took care of this already so she didn't double check this with Orbán.

Orbán is a masterful Machiavellian and rotates the second line of leadership quite often, so nobody grows to be to autonomous. And he usually picks very trusted people to the president's position. The last one, Áder, for example was his college dorm friend. But he wanted a female president this time so couldnt choose one of the old friends as female politicians are quite rare. And it seems Novák was more loyal to Balog than Orbán himself.

Probably they all thought it's no big deal as it all remains secret anyway and everything routinely gets done through favors and corruption so whatever. And that's usually okay with the public if it's just about stealing public money. But people are very sensitive to pedophilia cases, not unrelated to the government's child protection rhetoric.

So to sum it up, I think it signals people in the second and third lines of power getting too cocky in offering and expecting favors, and Orban needs to cull some of them so they know who's the silverback here. And that he needs to manually control even more things because people even mess up such easy things.