Leonard Susskind’s Open Letter on “The Lunatic”

In my own anti-Trump post two weeks ago, I started out by mentioning that Terry Tao and Stephen Hawking had recently denounced Trump, and jokingly wondered when we’d hear from Ed Witten.  Well, will Leonard Susskind of Stanford University—a creator of string theory, and one of the most legendarily original physicists and physics expositors of our time—do instead?

Over the last decade, it’s been a privilege for me to get to know Lenny, to learn from him, and recently, to collaborate with him on quantum circuit complexity and AdS/CFT.  Today, Lenny wrote to ask whether I’d share his open letter about the US election on this blog.  Of course I said yes.  Better yet, Lenny has agreed to my request to be available here to answer questions and comments.  Lenny’s views, even when close to mine (as they certainly are in this case), are still his, and I’d never want to speak on his behalf.  Better that you should hear it straight from the horse’s mouth—as you now will, without further ado.  –Scott A.

Letter to My Friends, by Leonard Susskind

I’m watching this thing that’s happening with disbelief, dismay, and disgust. There is a lunatic loose—I’m sure we all agree about that—but I keep hearing people say that they can’t vote for Hillary. I heard it at my daughter’s birthday party Sunday. Boy oh boy, will these people be sorry if the lunatic gets his way. Personally I do not find it an excuse that “I live in California, which will go Democrat whatever I do.”

I strongly believe in all things Bernie, but Hillary is not the Anti-Bernie. There is much less difference between Clinton and Sanders than the distortions of the nominating process might lead people to think. She’s for health care, he’s for health care; he’s for increased minimum wage, she’s for increased minimum wage; she’s for immigrant rights, he’s for immigrant rights; and on and on it goes.

The lunatic may be just that—a lunatic—but he is also a master of smear and innuendo.  He is a gigantic liar, and he knows that if you keep saying something over and over, it sticks in people’s minds. It’s called the Big Lie, and it works. Say it enough and it sows confusion and distrust, not only among the know-nothings, but even among those who know better.

The lunatic and his supporters are exceedingly dangerous. Tell your friends: don’t be fooled. The only thing between us and the lunatic is Hillary. Get off your ass and vote in Nov.

Leonard Susskind

Director, Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics,

Stanford University


246 Responses to “Leonard Susskind’s Open Letter on “The Lunatic””

  1. Daniel H Says:

    Lenny is a smart guy. FYI Edward also strongly opposes the lunatic, although that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who knows his (rather leftist) politics. In fact I don’t know any physicists who support him. Even my colleagues who usually vote Republican, who are few in number but some of whom are quite renowned, have said they will never vote for him.

  2. Flo Says:

    Thanks! Being a European and reading a lot of English media: These are frightening times. Tomorrow we may even see Britain leaving the EU etc…
    Now’s the time to speak up

  3. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Agree with Leonard!

  4. Shecky R Says:

    If that crappy orange hair-weave actually gets the nomination (and I remain doubtful that he will), I assume the line-up of heavy-hitters from STEM that will emerge loudly/vocally against him will be unlike anything ever seen in American electoral politics.

  5. Mogden Says:

    The name calling really doesn’t help much. I doubt Susskind thinks that Trump is literally a lunatic. True, he is a liar and a con man, but Hillary is just as big a liar and is as corrupt as they come.

    For me, much comes down to who is more likely to embroil the United States in warfare. I honestly have no idea on that score.

  6. Struwwelpeter Says:

    The smug Orwellian Hate campaign against Trump-Goldstein endorsed by American academics like Aaronson, Susskind and the rest of the Политбюро would have brought tears of joy to Stalin’s eyes (who would have them shot nonetheless: business as usual after a pleasant interlude).
    Who do you think you are convincing except your cronies ?
    Don’t you realize that your arrogant, know-it-all, insulting attitude is turning your political opponents into enemies?

  7. Scott Says:

    Stuwwelpeter #6: Lenny’s letter was pretty clearly addressed to Bernie supporters (who he regards as persuadable), not to Trump supporters.

    I don’t doubt that Stalin would have had me shot. Right now, though, I’m less worried about what Stalin would have done than about what Trump, with his own obvious dictatorial tendencies, will do.

    Is there any way that Lenny, or I, could have expressed our view that you wouldn’t have considered smug, arrogant, know-it-all, and insulting? In other words, is your opposition actually to the means of expression, or is it just to the view itself?

  8. Scott Says:

    Mogden #5: See here for Hillary’s PolitiFact file (rating the truthfulness of her statements) and here for Trump’s. The picture there matches my own impression: namely, Hillary is not above telling some bald-faced lies, but her rate of lying is within the normal range for a politician, which makes her a total novice in that field compared to Trump.

  9. Bill Says:

    I’m still highly disappointed that the best argument for Clinton (at least, in my opinion) is the argument that she is better than Trump. It is technically a valid one, but by no means inspiring. I find her actions in regard to the email server, speaking fees (mainly that no transcripts have been released), and questionably allowable (at best) donations to the Clinton Foundation while she was secretary of state to be highly troubling.

    I find Trump more objectionable, but am thoroughly depressed by my options for president: Trump, Clinton, or possibly allowing one of the former by voting for a third party.

  10. Larry G Says:

    I am pretty sure, that if some scientist had written similar letter about Obama before the last elections, he would have been fired, or at least witch-hunted and ostracized (there were tens of such stories in last few years, let’s name a few: Sir Tim Hunt, James Watson, Matt Taylor).

    But for bashing Trump, one is being endorsed… Trump and his supporters couldn’t have imagined a better proof for their words about double standards existing in Western public debate and heavy leftist bias of academia and media.

  11. James Miller Says:

    I’m a long time reader of your blog who voted for Rubio in the primary but I am considering voting for Trump in the general election. It does bother me that so many members of the intellectual elite oppose Trump. But when they use terms like “lunatic” and “disgust” I give less weight to their opinions because I think much of their opposition to Trump might arise from Trump’s triggering their sense of disgust by his violating upper class social norms and being political incorrect. I think disgust often corrupts decision making. Your criticisms of Trump, I admit, did not seem contaminated by disgust, although I wish you would have at least considered the possibility that Clinton is by character less suited to be President than Trump is.

  12. Orlick Says:

    Scott and Lenny: if you want to persuade Bernie supporters (like me) to vote Hillary you must first admit that she is corrupt, a liar, a war monger, and deeply conservative. She’s also not a nice person (ask Vince Foster). It’s by no means obvious that America would be better off in the long term with Hillary as president as opposed to Trump.

  13. Syzygy Says:

    I do not want Trump’s finger on the button.

  14. Itai Bar-Natan Says:

    Scott #8: Based those Politifact links, Trump becomes pretty reliable if you take the negations of all of statements.

  15. Alan Says:

    Bill #9: Although it is widely repeated that the only thing Hillary has going for her is that she’s better than Trump, that is very unfair to her. Here’s a defense of Hillary that’s worth reading, although perhaps a bit long: https://medium.com/@michaelarnovitz/thinking-about-hillary-a-plea-for-reason-308fce6d187c#.5mxazgzs8

  16. Struwwelpeter Says:

    What exactly do you fear dictator prone Trump will do to you?
    Torture you to death like Youssouf Fofana did with Ilan Halimi?
    Kill your daughter as Mohammed Merah killed an eight year old girl (as well as her father and others) ) in a Toulouse school?
    Shoot 49 people with an AR-15 like registered Democrat Omar Mateen?
    Engineer 11 september 2001-style atrocities in Austin?

    That you feel entitled to insult Trump and his milllions of followers while never daring to utter the least criticism of crimes committed in the name of Islam does not improve my opinion of your proclamations.
    And the same goes for Gil Kalai: that an Israeli should think that his biggest problem is Trump would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic.

    [And since you ask: my opposition is much more to your views than to the way you express them. At least you can be really funny, which is more than I can say about your lugubrious Trumpophobic comrades]

  17. John Sidles Says:

    Scott’s remarks (#7) are too-the-point in regard to Donald Trump’s abysmally low truth-rating.

    Two Republican candidates with respectably high Politifact truth-ratings (for a politician) are … (drum roll) … John Kasich and Jeb Bush. Were either Kasich or Bush the Republican Party’s candidate, then the USA’s STEM community would be no more roiled than usual at election time.

    Donald Trump is a special candidate — a specially offensive candidate — in that Donald Trump especially offends the STEM community’s fundamental respect for truth-telling.


    In further regard to Leonard Susskind, but now respecting Susskind’s scientific contributions, my BibTeX database has several observations queued-up in praise of Susskind’s seminal article (with John Kogut) “Hamiltonian formulation of Wilson’s lattice gauge theories” (1975).

    Forty-one years after it was written, the Kogut-Susskind 1975 article is still much-read, much-taught, and much-cited. Few articles are treated by history so kindly!

    In particular regard to an issue that Scott has mentioned recently here on SO, the Kogut-Susskind article concretely answers the question “How does gauge invariance (in particular, gauge-invariant momentum operators) work on finite-dimensional Hilbert spaces?”

    Three recent SO-relevant articles that apply the Kogut-Susskind formalism are “Real-time Dynamics in U(1) Lattice Gauge Theories with Tensor Networks” (arXiv:1505.04440) “Analog Quantum Simulation of (1 + 1)D Lattice QED with Trapped Ions” (arXiv:1604.03124), and “Lattice gauge theories simulations in the quantum information era” (arXiv:1602.03776, recommended especially to students).

    As for why these articles are relevant to Shtetl Optimized concerns, there is little doubt (in my mind) that future Shtetl Optimized posts will provide multiple occasions to cite this Susskind-derived research. 🙂

    History may or may not remember Lennie Susskind for opposing Donald Trump, but there is no room for doubt in anyone’s mind (including mine) that STEM history will long remember Susskind’s work in quantum field theory, which has inspired so many researchers in so many disciplines.

  18. CC Says:

    I think Susskind did not win any useful points with his language. Intemperate language will not win any converts and may even alienate some supporters.

  19. Z Says:

    I find it disappointing that people still feel the need to be in the closet about supporting Hillary. I support her openly, despite plenty of pushback from my friends, because of who she is: an advocate for children and women’s rights, someone who understands the dynamics of international politics and could do a lot of good, and who is among the toughest people I can think of. I love Bernie too, because he stands for many of those same things–but lets not pretend that electing Bernie would somehow change the makeup of Congress too. The real thing that would change the country is if all of those Bernie voters voted in every election, midterm or presidential. There’s a radical idea.

    According to OnTheIssues, I agree with Hillary 98% of the time and Bernie 97%. Lenny is correct. They are really not that different. A lot of the supposed gulf is pure theatrics.

    When it comes to the email server and the Clinton Foundation, the arguments don’t make a lot of sense to me. I don’t see why we should expect the president to be an expert on personal email security. That’s what the IT department is supposed to be for. And donations from foreigners to a charity organization doesn’t imply you are beholden to them for anything except the express purpose of the charity organization.

    But I also wish that she would release the Goldman Sachs speeches. I don’t understand why she doesn’t. I hope that this issue is resolved before the election.

  20. Z Says:

    Whoops, I mean ISideWith.com, not OnTheIssues. Two great sites, but distinct 🙂

  21. oddchecker Says:

    This comment is not about politics. According to the odds offered, Trump has a little more than 20% chance to win, about the same as the probability of Brexit (which is much less scary, but “hopefully” would make my life worse). Scientists in Europe also openly speak out against this, though much less harshly, as Brexit is a reasonable alternative. When they sign, I don’t think that they write their affiliation under their name. Is it OK in the US to give the impression that your institution supports a side? Would it be OK if Stanford was a public university?

  22. Scott Says:

    Struwwelpeter #16:

      That you feel entitled to insult Trump and his milllions of followers while never daring to utter the least criticism of crimes committed in the name of Islam does not improve my opinion of your proclamations.

    Dude, how long have you been reading this blog for? Do you have any idea how much flak I’ve taken for praising Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maryam Namazie, for expressing horror about Rotherham, for voicing strongly pro-Israel and anti-Hamas opinions, and for arguing (counter to Noam Chomsky) that the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden was, on balance, good, and that the US government is not in any particularly illuminating sense a greater terrorist than bin Laden was? If you don’t, please search the archives!

    The above might be perfectly mainstream views in the US (most of them shared, for example, by President Obama and by Hillary Clinton), but because of forces specific to academia and to certain parts of the Internet, the condemnation that I received for them was second only to the condemnation that I received for my even more heretical view that empathy should be extended for the problems of shy, nerdy straight males.

    In short, whatever else you accuse me of, “never daring to utter the least criticism of crimes committed in the name of Islam” is one charge of which I’m innocent!

  23. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Orlick #12:

    HaHaHa! That is funny, but a nasty cartoon of the way Bernie supporters are assumed to think.

  24. Scott Says:

    oddchecker #21:

      Is it OK in the US to give the impression that your institution supports a side?

    For whatever it’s worth, I didn’t think Lenny gave that impression—but maybe that’s because it’s just blindingly obvious to me that when academics express opinions, they do so on their own behalf, not on behalf of their institutions.

    You might be amused to know that, not only do I never list my affiliation on blog posts, but this blog is on a private domain that I pay for rather than a university domain, just to make it extra-super-duper-clear that the views I express here are my own. But it makes no difference: still, as soon as I say anything that anyone strongly disagrees with, it becomes “MIT professor claims…” “MIT ought to punish this guy for saying…” “this shows you the mindset at MIT…” (I wonder if I’ll experience the same phenomenon in my new job at UT Austin?)

  25. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Scott #22:

    Surely you don’t think Struwwelpeter is a regular reader of SO? Who knows how she/he stumbled onto this discussion.

    The topics typically considered in SO require considerable education and intellectual horsepower. Surely Republicans are well represented in this cohort. But Trump supporters? I think not. This leads to the Raoul Ohio challenge of 16 06 22:

    Is there ANY Trump supporter in the world who can solve the following problem off the top of their head (without looking anything up):

    Solve the 1 dimensional, 1 particle in an infinite potential well problem.

    Half credit if you can explain what this problem means.

  26. Scott Says:

    Raoul #25:

      Is there ANY Trump supporter in the world who can solve the following problem off the top of their head (without looking anything up):

      Solve the 1 dimensional, 1 particle in an infinite potential well problem.


    I’m sure there are several others.

    (Incidentally, do you mean a quantum or a classical particle, and which potential?)

  27. Chris Says:

    Scott #24:

    “Flaming misogynist professor leaves MIT and moves to Texas”

  28. thepenforests Says:

    The interesting thing about this election for me is, for once I don’t support the most far-left candidate. Susskind says that he believes in all things Bernie, but I don’t know if I agree with that anymore. I just can’t call myself a Sanders supporter. He seems too…out of touch with reality, I guess.

    Like, it’s strange. I’ve always called myself a liberal, and I still feel like I have the same values that I always did. I still want the best for everyone, including (especially!) the poor and downtrodden. But I don’t know if I think that Bernie Sanders’ policies are the best way to go about *helping* the poor and downtrodden. I don’t think that a $15 minimum wage is necessarily a good thing; I don’t know if “tearing down Wall Street” (whatever that would mean) would actually help the poor.

    Scott, I know you’ve read a lot of SSC over the past year or so, and you’ve alluded before to the fact that you’ve come to the realization that conservatives might have some reasonable points (“I once, for example, thought about the Religious Right as purely contemptible, deserving only unthinking snark, and I was completely wrong. Even when I was right on the underlying issues, I was wrong on the epistemology. In Texas, hopefully I’ll have a chance to do better.”) I wonder if you can empathize with what I’m feeling here.

    Anyway, this is mostly irrelevant because I think Trump is a terrible candidate and I’d gladly support Hilary over him. I’m just trying to deal with a shift in my own political compass, I guess.

  29. Rohan Sibelius Says:

    What Susskind says out loud is what most of us silently think about Donald Trump. It is all wrong. Lies, stupid ideas, prejudices, and innuendos, among other things. I do not know anything about Susskind’s politics. However, i do know about Trump’s politics and they are dangerous, incredibly ignorant, demagogic and plainly bad for the economy, among other things. He has downgraded the level of political discourse to underground levels. His continuous lies, hate preaching, insults to all and almost fascist nationalism makes most of us in the U.S. fearful, angry and ashamed. That is my point of view and it was so before I read Susskind’s letter. If it happens to coincide with his point of view is not because of his politics (which I do not know) or because he is a brilliant physicist, but because it is all true. And because it was time someone said it out loud too.

  30. leonard susskind Says:

    Scott is correct: my letter was not intended for Trump supporters. It was addressed to Bernie supporters, and other people, who feel that they can’t, in good conscience, bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton. I cannot hope to make you like her, but I ask that you think very hard about the damage that can result if enough like-minded people abstain from voting.

    To Mogden:
    Ordinarily I would not use the term lunatic to describe someone whose opinions I disagree with; as much as I disliked some of the other Republican candidates, I didn’t call them lunatics. But this is not an ordinary political season. The candidate of one of the two major parties has repeatedly made the absurd and racist claim that President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, and is not a U.S. citizen. Now he claims he will build a wall and force Mexico to pay for it. He has threatened to undo many years of nuclear non-proliferation negotiation by telling our Asian partners that they have to get their own weapons. He has supported waterboarding and says he would support much worse. He has advocated killing the families of terrorists. He called Hillary disgusting because she used the toilet during a break in a debate. What would you call this if not lunacy?

    To Bill:

    I have very close loved ones who, although they fear and detest the lunatic, out of conscience say that they cannot compromise and vote for Clinton. Like yourself, these are people of integrity and high principle. Their arguments go as follows: I hate and fear the lunatic, but

    1. I live in California and California will vote for Hillary, so I might as well use my vote to send a message telling her that support among liberals is not as strong as she might otherwise think.

    2. Hillary is a war hawk who never met a war she didn’t like.

    3. Things are so bad that they need to be seriously shaken up. A conventional politician like Hillary can’t or won’t do what’s necessary.

    As for 1, I would say it is completely upside down and represents a deep confusion about how politics works. Letting Hillary know that she has lost the liberal vote will send her a message alright. It will say, your base is further right than you thought. This is the wrong message; she will surely feel compelled to move rightward in order to cement in place the so-called moderate vote and replace the progressive vote. This is not Hillary; it’s politics.

    As for 2, she may be more hawkish than I would personally like, but she is not a lunatic. Please keep some perspective here. By the way, the W. Clinton administration was notably shy of military involvement.

    Finally 3. I don’t know what 3 could mean except that that a lunatic president might be a good thing. Perhaps the argument is that he would foul things up so badly, it would eventually lead to changes for the good. This is extremely dangerous and more than a little naive. On past occasions, madmen have come to power because people did not take the threat seriously enough. I’ll leave it to readers to choose their own examples.

    For those of you who still find that your progressive principles do not allow you to vote for Hillary, I would remind you of two things. The first is about the Supreme Court: another far-right court appointment would have effects that you won’t like, and they would outlast the next several presidencies.
    The other is even in the event of a Hillary victory, if enough people decide to sit this one out, and not go to the polls, the reactionary Republicans not only will hold congress, but will increase their grip on it.

    Bill, shake off your depression. It’s an indulgence we cannot afford.

  31. Struwwelpeter Says:

    @Scott: Indeed, I haven’t been reading your blog for long. I sincerely apologize for the unfair accusation I made and congratulate you on the courage you displayed by, among other stands, supporting Ayaan Hirsi Ali . I’m happy that I will be able to enjoy your intelligent and amusing blog without any reservation.

  32. Jack Says:

    I keep hearing the argument that Bernie Sanders supporters should obviously vote for Hillary over Trump, given that dismal choice, because Hillary’s stances are much closer to Bernie’s than Trump’s. What people—even brilliant people like Leonard Susskind—are missing, is that there are many different metrics that can be applied here. There are many of us who believe that corporate influence is the number one problem with American politics today. To us, raising the minimum wage and stuff like that is small potatoes, comparatively. Hillary has been given tens of millions of dollars by large corporate interests, plus the millions that Bill got. It’s not so much she’s unqualified to be president as disqualified. It’s too bad the Republicans put up such a loony candidate. But it’s also too bad that the Democratic party would be so foolish as to put up the likes of Hillary Clinton. By most standards, she is more hawkish than Trump, and it is where murder (I challenge you to define what we did to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as anything else) is concerned that lunacy becomes the most dangerous. The Iraq War and the Drug War are the two most immoral actions of the last several decades. Hillary and her judgment were and are on the wrong side of both of them. Either her judgment is abominable or she made these poor decisions because of outside influence.

    Trump is a wildcard. I’m not going to argue that he’s not a boorish egomaniac, because he is. But I think he is his own man, and that is worth something. He also doesn’t seem very hawkish. Or then again maybe he is; like I said, he’s a wildcard. Regarding truthfulness, I don’t think he’s as big a liar as Hillary. Citing Politifact, a organization owned by self-proclaimed Hillary supporters is understandably not going to hold much water for people like me who think she is the bigger liar. His lies are mostly puffery, akin to the constant drivel we hear all day in the form of advertising, and stretches of the truth that can’t be rigorously fact-checked. Here are some examples of Trump statements that Politifact rated pants-on-fire:
    * Donald Trump wrong that Hillary Clinton ‘doesn’t do very well with women’
    * “I don’t know anything about David Duke.”
    * Trump: Bernie Sanders wants to tax ‘you people’ at 90 percent
    things like that (BTW, Sanders has said he’d be fine with 90% top tax bracket like in the Eisenhower days).
    On the other hand, Hillary’s lies are about her (questionable) actions as a public official. When asked why she set up the private email server in her home, she actually said it was because she didn’t want to carry two devices. That’s not puffery, that’s not exaggeration, that’s a lie. It has to be. I think we all know she did it to avoid FOIA and other scrutiny. If Politifact weighed in on this, I can’t find it.

  33. Donald Trump's Teleprompter Says:

    The political minimum is common sense, but sadly, many men of scientific genius just don’t have it. It’s the price they pay for their genius.

    Leninist Lennie should remember the words of Einstein, who said “Politics is for the present, but an equation is for eternity”, and stick to what he does best.

  34. Joel Says:

    Meanwhile in Sweden, the parliament just passed one of the most restrictive and inhumane immigration laws in Europe. This would have been unthinkable just 2 years ago – Sweden has been an open, socialist, progressive society for decades. The far right has been spewing lies successfully the past years, and a combination of media coverage and increased incidents of terrorism has played right into their hands. Not that there is any real problem, but the general public has been convinced that “something has to be done”. I’m ashamed to be a Swede. When Trump wins the presidency (and I’m increasingly sure he will) you will be ashamed to be Americans. Sorry.

  35. EuroSpin Says:

    Dear United States of America,

    You are not a democracy: when the people who keep having a shot at being senators and presidents are always called Bush, Kennedy or Clinton, then the correct name for the system is “Aristocracy”. I know the letters are almost the same in both words but the ones that differ are important.

    ==> Please change your Wikipedia page accordingly.

    This being said, the planet would appreciate it if you could “elect” someone who is not a climate change denier:


    How can people like that even have a shot at occupying your throne?

  36. Struwwelpeter Says:

    @Raoul Ohio, Comment 25. You have discovered a fantastically honest criterion for dismissing a political opponent: just let them pass a technical exam.
    This leads to the Struwwelpeter challenge of 23 06 16. Is there any Democrat out there “who can solve the following problem off the top of their head (without looking anything up)”:

    Does there exist a codimension 2 smooth variety of six-dimensional projective space which is not a complete intersection?

    Half credit if you can say why this is a meaningful question.
    Just like you, we Trump supporters are only interested in people who can address problems which “require considerable education and intellectual horse power”.

    Und mehr Zusatzpunkte wenn Sie das in geschmackvoller Weise auf deutsch erklären können: das sollte für jemanden mit ihrer außergewöhnlichen Denkfähigkeit kinderleicht sein.
    Toute solution convenablement étayée en français serait également la bienvenue et vous rapporterait des points supplémentaires. Bref, c’est un plaisir rare d’avoir une joute courtoise avec un adversaire de votre haute volée intellectuelle, cher Raoul Ohio.

  37. Scott Says:

    Struwwelpeter #36:

      Is there any Democrat out there “who can solve the following problem off the top of their head (without looking anything up)”:

      Does there exist a codimension 2 smooth variety of six-dimensional projective space which is not a complete intersection?

    Since most American mathematicians, like most American academics, vote Democratic (and among the ones who don’t, many are still further to the left), I think we can safely say that either the answer is yes or else your question is too hard. 🙂

  38. Scott Says:

    Donald Trump’s Teleprompter #33:

      Leninist Lennie should remember the words of Einstein, who said “Politics is for the present, but an equation is for eternity”, and stick to what he does best.

    Except Einstein himself didn’t do that! As we discussed in the last thread, he spent a large fraction of his life (especially in his later years) trying to influence politics.

    The fact that something is “for the present” doesn’t make it unimportant.

  39. Michele Amoretti Says:

    Well done, Lenny!
    I printed the letter and hung it on my office wall.

  40. AdamT Says:

    Leonard #30,

    I noticed you didn’t mention Donald’s blatant racism and misogyny as well as his erratic temperament as distinguishing characteristics of this lunatic hypothesis.

    Other characteristics that seem concerning:

    * business model is fraud in at least some of his business
    * is on record exploiting tax loopholes for the rich
    * admits to bribing politicians
    * seems a raging narcissist

    Would you endorse these as further characteristics of the lunatic hypothesis?

  41. John SIdles Says:

    A reasonably safe answer to questions of the class that Struwwelpeter asks (in #37) is “The answer is given as an exercise in Robin Hartshorne’s Algebraic Geometry (1977).” And indeed it appears that the answer may be “no”, per my (inexpert) reading of Hartshorne’s exercise 5.1.

    However, mathematician Miles Reid sounds a cautionary note in his Translator’s Preface to Igor Shafarevich’s Basic Algebraic Geometry 1: Varieties in Projective Space (2007):

    “The student who wants to get through the technical material of algebraic geometry quickly and at full strength should perhaps turn to Hartshorne’s book; however, my experience is that some graduate students (by no means all) can work hard for a year or two on Chapters 2—3 of Hartshorne, and still know more-or-less nothing at the end of it.”

    Uhhh … that would be me, as one of the more-or-less clueless students that Reid is talking about. But perhaps I can receive 1/10 credit for at least knowing some of the books to start learning from? 🙂

    Still, the utility of a mathematical litmus test as a certificate of political competence seems pretty dubious (to me). A better-considered answer to the concerns that Struwwelpeter raises is to reflect upon Sanford L. Segal’s Mathematicians under the ***** (2014). For example, the renowned German algebraic number theorist Helmut Hesse writes to his British colleague Harold Davenport (in late 1933)

    “I quite agree with every word of it [the National Socialist Party rhetoric of the early 1930s]. … It is somehow tragical that this sort of foreign policy could not be brought about without the personal drawbacks for learned men in Germany. … One has to take them as a sacrifice and hope that reason will come back in due course.”

    A crucial lesson of this sorrowful episode in mathematical history (as I read it) is that reason, once abandoned, does not always “come back in due course.”

    So perhaps it is best not to abandon reason in the first place?

    These lessons from history are why it seems to many STEM-workers (including me) that we are well-advised to speak up early, speak up plainly, and speak up loudly, against the abandonment of reason that Trumpism presents.

  42. Anonymous Says:


    The mistake that we all make is to ignore the fact that Trump is not the main issue, he is just the effect. The problem is that most mart people (like you and Lenny) have a bit of a bias. Many people in the USA are hurting and the only solution they find is to demolish the existing status quo for everybody. Trump is the perfect tool for that. See what happened in Venezuela for example.

    We are still all monkeys at heart… and mind. So don’t expect a rational argument to work in this case.

    Yes, it is obvious that we can survive Hillary… but that is not what the majority is in the mood. There is a low probability that the worst will happen but it does not mean that it will not happen.

  43. Scott Says:

    EuroSpin #35:

      Dear United States of America,

      You are not a democracy: when the people who keep having a shot at being senators and presidents are always called Bush, Kennedy or Clinton, then the correct name for the system is “Aristocracy”.

    No, we’re a democracy, just a … sigh … imperfect one. Our record is worse than Europe’s in many respects, although better on the metric of “not, within living memory, having rounded up everyone like me and exterminated them.”

    Incidentally, unlike your other two examples, possibly having two presidents named Clinton is less an instance of “hereditary aristocracy” than simply of two of the most politically ambitious people of their generation happening to marry each other.

    When people say that, for one reason or another, democracy is a sham, I reply that it would be less of one if not for the self-satisfied quietism that their attitude encourages.

  44. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #42: I’m well aware of the “non-rational” factors at play in the rise of Trump, and also of the legitimate grievances that he exploits—I even wrote a whole post on those things two weeks ago. But that still leaves the question: supposing we agree about these things, what is it that you would have me (or Lenny) do to discharge what we see as our moral duty, other than what we’re doing? If your suggestion is good enough, I might take it!

    Incidentally, I’m Scott, not Aaron.

  45. Scott Says:

    thepenforests #28: Yes, I absolutely empathize with what you’re feeling. If the US had a serious, principled, libertarian/conservative/pro-STEM-and-Silicon-Valley party with real political power, I might even be tempted to vote for some of its candidates in some elections, depending on the candidates and the issues. It’s only the actual state of our Republican party that makes voting decisions in general elections so trivial for me.

  46. Scott Says:

    Larry G #10:

      I am pretty sure, that if some scientist had written similar letter about Obama before the last elections, he would have been fired, or at least witch-hunted and ostracized…

    As someone who was “witch-hunted” (not, thankfully, in my job, but online), I actually feel strongly about the freedom of conservatives, and other holders of unpopular views, to share their ideas on campus without being ostracized. For example, I strenuously oppose the efforts to redefine pro-Trump chalkings on campus sidewalks as “hate crimes,” or to ban Trump supporters from reddit threads—what could be more shortsighted or idiotic?

    But by the same token, Lenny is totally free to share his views, and I’m free to share mine.

  47. wolfgang Says:

    If I were a BernieBro (actually I am very far from it) then I would demand answers to these questions before voting for Hillary:

    i) Why are you not releasing those transcripts? We already know they will be embarrassing, but I want to know how deep one has to bow to get a 250k paycheck for one speech.

    ii) Can you please explain in some detail how the Clintons made their millions in the last ten years? We all can assume corruption, but how much were you willing to give away exactly for some donations.

    iii) Please tell us a human interest story we all can relate to, e.g. how frightened were you really when you landed in Bosnia under sniper fire?

    iv) Please explain from your feminist point of view the difference between Bill C. and Bill C. – one will face trial, the other probably go back to the White House.

    ps: I stated my opinion about The Donald previously and I am glad that I am not a US citizen who has to make a choice in this mess.

  48. David Says:

    The last person I would listen to about how the real world works is a string theorist.

  49. adamt Says:

    Anonymous #42,

    “So don’t expect a rational argument to work in this case.”

    This is a strawman piece of advice in that Scott and others are under no such illusion that rational arguments are perfectly efficacious. I would be surprised by anyone saying they believe rational argument to be perfectly efficacious in persuading others.

    Still, even though rational argument is not perfectly efficacious, it is somewhat efficacious it seems to me. So advice to stop giving rational argument for the reason that it is not perfectly efficacious is a form of the Dirty Ass Fallacy, “Why wipe your ass when it is just going to get dirty again?!”

  50. adamt Says:

    Rational anti-Trump arguer: “Here are several rational reasons you should not support Trump for the presidency…”

    Trump supporter: “Please, we are mad as hell and for good reason so don’t expect any of that rational argument stuff to work! We want to burn the status-quo to the ground!”

    Emotional plea anti-Trump arguer: “Please, Trump will be a DISASTER and think of all the PAIN he’ll inflict…”

    Trump supporter: “Please, the fact that you resort to name calling and irrational emotional pleading clearly demonstrates you’re just irrationally afraid of Trump for no good reason.”

  51. Enrico Dirac Says:

    I don’t like to be critical, but it seems a bit unseemly for someone of Leonard Susskind’s stature to call a major presidential candidate a “Lunatic” and sign it with his academic affiliation.

  52. Vadim P. Says:

    I’m usually swayed by the “enough of the lesser-of-two-evils” argument and mostly end up voting third party (despite not having much hope that the American political system can ever be anything but bipartisan), but Trump is an unprecedented threat in my lifetime and despite my disagreements with Hillary, I will enthusiastically vote for her this time. If next time we get another Trump, I might feel differently, but never have I been as afraid of a US President disregarding the rule of law as I am with Trump. As evil as Nixon was, when the Supreme Court ordered him to turn over the tapes, he turned over the tapes. George W. Bush, in a similar situation, would have turned over the tapes. Trump will not turn over the tapes.

  53. Vadim P. Says:

    Also, forgive me for this totally off-topic comment that will make me sound like a star-struck teenage girl running into Taylor Swift at the supermarket, but since this is probably the only chance I’ll have to say something to Leonard Susskind that he’ll read: thank you, Prof. Susskind for your physics popularization efforts. Specifically The Cosmic Landscape, The Theoretical Minimum, and your Stanford lectures were some of the most accessible and mind-expanding things I’ve ever read/watched.

  54. Jay Gischer Says:

    Well, there’s a sentiment in the letter I agree with, but I must demur on the idea that Trump is a lunatic. He isn’t crazy, and he isn’t dumb. What he is, is a huckster. This is a money-making enterprise from beginning to end. A Big Con. It’s just come out that at least 6 million dollars spent by his campaign has gone to companies controlled by him. And now the campaign is broke and he’s sending out emails to his supporters for more cash.

    The thing is, Trump isn’t that good at making money via investments. I do better at investing than he does, and that’s saying a lot. If he had just put his money in the S&P 500, he’d be a lot richer than 10 billion. But he might not even be worth as much as 1 billion.

    Finally, he’s a bully. The worst kind of bully. The president has to be tough, but bullies will just get us into all kinds of trouble.

  55. Raoul Ohio Says:

    A slight difference between the Raoul Problem and the Struwwelpeter Problem:

    The RP is intended to demonstrate basic understanding of QA (Quantum Anything). The 1D infinite potential is a reasonable guess at the simplest QM calculation that can be imagined.

    Probably the D=6, CD=2 smooth variety example is at least graduate level.

  56. adamt Says:

    Vadim P,

    I’ve never been swayed by the “enough of the lesser-of-two-evils” argument as it arises mostly from faulty assumptions. The faulty assumptions being:

    1) That in any winner-take-all-election that there is any such way where everyone will walk away happy and satisfied or at least come away with a good feeling that the election was conducted “right”
    2) That there is any ideal combination of two distinct candidates that will somehow satisfy everyone as the greater-of-two-goods and no one in this very large democracy will come away thinking, “nah, I don’t like either of them”
    3) That on the part of any individual voter that there is a perfect or ideal candidate that will somehow perfectly reflect the political will of the voter
    4) That refusing to participate or writing in lesser known candidate is actually is in anyway a solution to any perceived problem real or not

    Because people are very prone to cults of personality and projection many people succumb to the illusion of #3, but take the rosy/cult glasses off and you are just left with fallible humans.

    Would more parties help? Maybe, but in the end, only one will win and to the extent that we winnow down the election we’ll always see some proclaiming, “ah, this is the lesser-of-two-evils” and refuse to participate.

    And if we had more parties, I’m sure we’d see plenty of whining that the media does not pay enough attention to my party. And if we had instant-runoff voting, this might very well help somewhat, but in the end it is winner take all and the last two candidates standing might again be the “lesser-of-two-evils” to some sizeable portion of the electorate.

    Lots of people in this election will probably be motivated more by fear of the other candidate rather than genuine enthusiasm for their own, but it still isn’t like an ideal election exists where everyone is only motivated by the perfect genuine enthusiasm for their own candidate and not at all out of fear of the other. We can say the balance has gotten too far out of whack, but how is refusing to participate in this election or writing in a lesser known candidate going to change the situation? Maybe it will be some cathartic emotional response, but is it likely to fix anything or make the next election more ideal or balanced?? I fail to see how.

  57. John Blake Says:

    I’ve found that an individual wise in one field, is abysmal in another.

    Hillary is as corrupt as they come with endless ‘gates’ to her name. She’s as hawkish as they come with support for military intervention in Libya (colossal mess), the loss of half of Iraq to ISIS (premature withdrawal for PR gain), not to mention voting for the Iraqi invasion in the first place. Intervention in Syria. Afghanistan is losing ground to the Taliban and the worst Russian-US relations in many years.

    Additionally, she and her ilk, this includes much of academy (which I am a part of), happily throw their fundamental progressive principles under the bus with their appeasement of Islam. Poll after poll shows that Muslims are generally hateful towards the gay community, feminists, satirists and hold principles totally incompatible with Western liberal values. Yet, paradoxical, academia cries bigotry against those that point out the dangers of the dangerous ideology which has such an abysmal human rights record all over the world and is creeping into the West. I find this totally unacceptable.

    Trump is crude, unsophisticated, loathed by the establishment but hardly a lunatic. I’m willing to vote his way purely out of my exasperation of how lost the left has become.

  58. JimV Says:

    Re:” heavy leftist bias of academia and media”.

    As we all know, that should be “heavy reality bias of academia and the better sorts of media”. (But maybe I’m biased.)

    Seriously, assertion of bias is not an argument. First you have to show what is being said is wrong.

    As a sometime consultant, if somebody asked me to make my private, paid advice public I would be very hesitant. I doubt it would even be contractually legal. Presumably such things are paid for because they are not publicly available and because the company who pays for them does not want them shared with competitors.

    Tax returns, on the other hand, are not ethically or legally wrong to disclose. So far Trump has not disclosed his (nor transcripts of his many shoddy business deals).

  59. Vadim P. Says:

    adamt #56,

    When I say “lesser of two evils”, I mean entirely according to my subjective view. People, are free to (and do) disagree; I don’t claim any level of objectivity for my ranking of the candidates. Usually, though, there IS a third party candidate who I find more appealing than either major party candidate, and I would rather vote for them*, knowing that they have no chance of winning, than for one of the major parties, both of which I have major problems with. Will this accomplish anything? I seriously doubt it, but it helps me sleep at night. This time around, defeating Trump as soundly as possibly will be my Ambien.

    * – Of course part of what makes me willing to vote for my more ideal candidate over the more-tolerable of the two major party candidates is that I live on Massachusetts, which reliably votes for the Democratic candidate in every presidential election. If I lived in a state like Ohio, I’d probably let pragmatism win out over my wide-eyed idealism.

  60. JimV Says:

    Trump may or may not be a lunatic, but if not, if he doesn’t believe the loony things he says (see examples given in previous comments) then he is a liar and a con-man. Those who would vote for him in order to tear down an imperfect society rather than trying to leave things a little better than they found them could move to the Amazonian jungle and live a life of anarchy without dragging the rest of us down with them.

    Vince Foster was brought up in a previous comment. Three Republican Special Prosecutors as well as the police, the FBI, and “60 Minutes” all concluded he committed suicide, as his note stated, due to the vicious lies and insults heaped on him as member of the Clinton administration. Rev. Falwell’s organization put out a video cassette saying he was murdered by the Clinton’s, but when confronted by “60 Minutes” he backed down and disclaimed all responsibility for the tape. These are matters of public record.

    (Look who I’m trying to get to see the truth – people who believe Trump.)

    One of the problems with democratic republics is that you have to vote for the best one among the sort of people who want the job. I would rather vote for some people whom I can think of who don’t want the job (e.g., Scott Aaronson or Lenny Susskind) but you can’t force people to take a job they don’t want – in a democratic republic.

  61. Scott Says:

    John Blake #57: I actually agree with you that the appeasement of jihadists by a large segment of the left has been a moral disgrace. But to me, trying to “solve” that problem by electing Trump is like treating a cancer with a radiation dose that vaporizes the patient. Yes, parts of the left need to learn lessons, but not if the cost of the education is the destruction of democratic norms in the US, something that I see Trump (based on his statements) as entirely capable of.

    In short, if we like Enlightenment norms and ideals, it seems to me that our only option is to (1) keep in power the people who at least claim to uphold them, and then (2) once they’re in power, pressure them relentlessly to be consistent with their stated values. Advancing Enlightenment norms by voting in people who are openly contemptuous of them strikes me as an impossible path, whereas the alternative is merely hard.

  62. Scott Says:

    JimV #60:

      One of the problems with democratic republics is that you have to vote for the best one among the sort of people who want the job. I would rather vote for some people whom I can think of who don’t want the job (e.g., Scott Aaronson or Lenny Susskind) but you can’t force people to take a job they don’t want – in a democratic republic.


    Maybe I should clarify that, while it’s not at all where my skills or passions lie, my love for my country is such that I’d probably accept the Presidency if a majority of my fellow citizens decided I should have it. (And having just turned 35, I’m even eligible now…) 😉

  63. domenico Says:

    The people don’t listen to smart people, but it is highly ethical that intelligent people express political opinion to change the world; this does not shift votes (sometimes not), but it is the right thing to do.
    A president like Trump would be the worst for the world balance.
    Thank you for your efforts, from a european point of view.

  64. EuroSpin Says:

    Scott #43:

    Not everything relates to the Shoah, and I don’t think it’s very illuminating to play burden-of-guilt tennis between continents..

    I would rather stick to arguing on the simpler point I was making, which is that your elections are biased towards a small club of people, always the same. Sanders is right that big money and power play an inordinate role in your politics (cf. super pacs), and Clinton is also part of that problem as far as I can tell.

    Can you name another very developed country with a serious claim at democracy, where a father and his son were both elected president, while the other brother also held a seat at the senate? This usually only happens in third world banana republics.

    It’s not that your electoral system is imperfect -they all are, that would be completely fine- no, it is that it lacks the basic, simple fairness that a democratic country must enforce.

  65. Gil Kalai Says:

    It is certainly encouraging to see people who usually don’t express political views that this time express a clear rejection of Trump’s candidacy. It is also going to be crucial to hear voices of people who belong to the Republican party, or those who support its positions and values but who reject Donald Trump’s candidacy.

  66. leonard susskind Says:

    Dear Scott,

    I think that I am not constitutionally built to be a blogger. I hate it. I did promise to answer some of the comments, so I have chosen a few more by whim than by any logic. Here they are.


    Are you really waiting for me to admit that “she (Hillary) is corrupt, a liar, a war monger, and deeply conservative. She’s also not a nice person (ask Vince Foster).” before you will vote for Hillary? I don’t think you really mean that.
    In any case I think your characterization is overwrought. Take a few deep breaths.


    I had no intention of giving the impression that Stanford University takes sides. My intention was to state who I am, that’s all.


    The things you mention—fraud, tax evasion, bribery, narcissism, are extremely despicable but not altogether unusual among politicians. Trump and his views seem to me to go way beyond the usual in their reckless destructiveness.


    “Many people in the USA are hurting and the only solution they find is to demolish the existing status quo for everybody. Trump is the perfect tool for that. See what happened in Venezuela for example.”

    You, sir or madam, are a perfect example of what I referred to earlier as a number 3:

    3: “Things are so bad that they need to be seriously shaken up…….”

    Regarding #3 I also wrote:

    “Finally 3. I don’t know what 3 could mean except that that a lunatic president might be a good thing. Perhaps the argument is that he would foul things up so badly, it would eventually lead to changes for the good. This is extremely dangerous and more than a little naive. On past occasions, madmen have come to power because people did not take the threat seriously enough. I’ll leave it to readers to choose their own examples.”

    Enrico Dirac:

    Dear Enrico,
    It is nice to respond to someone who is willing to put his name alongside his opinion.

    Putting one’s affiliation at the end of an editorial comment is a journalistic tradition. It allows the reader to know who you are. That was my only intention. As for the use of the term lunatic, I have explained why I think it is appropriate.


    Thank you Vadim for the kind words.

    Jay Gischer:

    Dear Jay,

    Back to the term lunatic:
    To me the idea that someone would be enough of a huckster and con artist to put the entire welfare of the country in jeopardy, to call Hillary disgusting for using the bathroom, and to tell our allies to go get their own nuclear weapons,….. is lunacy, whether or not it is done for reasons of self profit.

    John Blake:

    You wrote:
    “Trump is crude, unsophisticated, loathed by the establishment but hardly a lunatic. I’m willing to vote his way purely out of my exasperation of how lost the left has become.”

    You are another classic number 3. Please see my earlier comments about 3.


    I’m going to sign off now; I’m starting to repeat myself. I want to get back to PSPACE and BQP/poly.


  67. amy Says:

    Jack #32, I’m also, to an unusual degree, “my own person”. My work is not tethered to any institution or community. I’m fond of many cities, but am tied only by a kid’s minority; when that’s gone, so am I. I work in a university, but I’ve never sought tenure, and I would not feel bad if I had to go do something else for work tomorrow, so long as it had equivalent pay and benefits; I’m sad but not deeply distressed that it’s turning into something not as good as it used to be. Things change, other things pop up elsewhere. I need money, but not much, and I have enough to fly free for years, if need be. It is specifically because I do not have (or want) a live-or-die stake in any institution outside a slowly shifting set of ideas and loves that I do not try to build or run, or even help to run, such institutions. Not only would I find it a drag, but it’d be irresponsible: I don’t have the necessary commitment.

    When you get a politician who hasn’t signed on somewhere, for something, and put on the lapel pin, and stood in company on the stage, that’s when you should worry. Because you have absolutely no idea what this person will do with the power you’re handing over. At that point all you can do is hope that the person is decent and humane and smart, and we already know that Trump is missing at least two of those.

    There’s a sort of cowboy fantasy of independence, an admiration of “own men”, widely held by people who are not, in fact, their own men, and don’t know any such people. I would bet that many of the people here, though, actually know some people rich enough to be independent, do what they want. If you know such people, you know that the best of them, the ones who’re really worth something, are anything but their own men. They recognize their obligations as extraordinarily fortunate members of society, and spend a great deal of time and thought in how they throw their words and their money around. They’re bound by not just the needs of others and their own position in society, but the processes and realities of the institutions that help or harm others, or both. Even the entrepreneurial philanthropists of the aughts found that they could not simply machete their way through the philanthropic jungle on what appeared to be the most rational path to doing good — they actually had to stop and pay attention to the ecosystem, and work with it. Make trades. Negotiate, sometimes capitulate. Be, here and there, beholden.

    It’s good for an artist, sometimes even an intellectual, to be his own man. He does his work, he makes what he makes, the rest of the world can find it powerful and important or not. But there aren’t many vocations in which people really work by themselves. “President of the United States” is not one of them.

    I think what you’re looking for is someone original enough to lead well and imaginatively when the time comes. I don’t think we have any of those on offer this time around.

  68. Scott Says:

    EuroSpin #64:

      I don’t think it’s very illuminating to play burden-of-guilt tennis between continents.

    Hey, I wasn’t playing! You’re the one who lobbed the ball over the pond at me, so I just hit it back… 🙂

  69. Scott Says:

    Lenny #66: Thanks so much for your participation here! I’m sorry that you hated being a blogger … but, well, at least you know now that you hate it, and you got a small taste of what I get to enjoy every day.

    If you want to feel more positive about blogging, check out Lubos Motl’s response to your letter on his blog! (Just kidding.)

    Anyway, you’ve more than discharged your duties here. Now, of course, it’s my turn to discharge my duties regarding BQP/poly and PSPACE.

    (Incidentally, sorry everyone for the delay in moderating comments! I just arrived at a high-school science camp in the woods of West Virginia, and we’re in the National Radio Quiet Zone. Just got back on the Internet.)

  70. Matt Says:

    Enrico Dirac: #51

    “I don’t like to be critical, but it seems a bit unseemly for someone of Leonard Susskind’s stature to call a major presidential candidate a “Lunatic” and sign it with his academic affiliation.”

    (1) It is quite seemly and salubrious to sign everything with one’s academic or whatever affiliation, once acquired.
    And it is the obligation of every mature US citizen to call out loud to help stopping dangerous child’s play once the child in billionaire suit has unexpectedly found enough other children (in rags).

  71. Viva Bernie! Says:

    Struwwelpeter #36:

    “Just like you, we Trump supporters are only interested in people who can address problems which ‘require considerable education and intellectual horse power’”.

    Goodness gracious then, you should probably check out this:


    Be certain to watch the video, it’s a deal closer!

    Vadim P. #52:

    “George W. Bush, in a similar situation, would have turned over the tapes.”

    Um, yeah, what ever happened to the transcripts of Dick’s meeting with the Oil and Gas Executives? If I recall correctly the issue went before SCOTUS and while the case was active, Antonin Scalia, a sorry scoundrel if ever one existed, went duck hunting with Dick; a short time later the conservative members of SCOTUS sided with Cheney and the transcripts were not released. When the media pointed out the conflict of interest to Scalia, what was his response? “Yeah, what are you going to do about it?” That, my friends, is one of the problems with this country! And these are the same people who passed the so-called Patriot Act countering opposition by saying, to the effect, “If you have nothing to hide, what are you worried about?”

    Scott, #62:

    “Maybe I should clarify that, while it’s not at all where my skills or passions lie, my love for my country is such that I’d probably accept the Presidency if a majority of my fellow citizens decided I should have it.”

    Why, then, do you keep going on about Lee Harvey Oswald killing JFK? You’re a smart guy so obviously you can follow the money like anyone else. Do you not find it extraordinary that: Kennedy’s vice, Lyndon Johnson, was from Texas; Johnson owed every bit of his political success to the Brown Brothers and their brother-in-law, Mr. Root; Kennedy was invited to Texas where he was shot and killed; Johnson assumed the Oval Office, exponentially escalated the conflict in Vietnam based on false pretenses, and insured that the Brown Brothers and their brother-in-law, Mr. Root, secured $$$$$ of no-bid contracts. I mean, have you never heard the term Kill, Burn, and Loot? Have you never heard of Candy Barr?


    I’m a former U.S. Marine Infantryman and as far as I’m concerned, Donald Trump disqualified himself for Commander -in-Chief when he talked trash on McCain and Bergdahl. I have no problem with those who evaded the Vietnam draft, it being a fix to make Kill, Burn, and Loot rich, but Trump’s history mirrors that of George Dumbya and Dick the Prick; we all know how that Administration handled things regarding Iraq. ” But I’m a war-time President . . . ” But hey, Kill, Burn, and Loot got rich all over again. Hmmmmm . . . seems a bit of a pattern.

    Trump ran through three school deferments and then the medical deferments just magically appeared; but maybe, like Dumbya, he’d make a great war-time President . . . for Kill, Burn, and Loot!

    I don’t much care much for Hilary but I’ll vote for her; hopefully she chooses Elizabeth Warren for a running mate . . . or The Bern, even better!

  72. Vadim P. Says:


    Since you asked for other examples, the current PM of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is the son of former PM Pierre Trudeau. No idea if he has a brother or how important that is to your point (incidentally, Jeb Bush was a governor, not a senator, but – and you’re really not going to like this, George H. W. Bush’s father Prescott Bush was a senator).

    In France, Jean-Louis Debré, former president speaker of the French National Assembly, is the son of former PM Michel Debré.

    In Japan, father and son Takeo and Yasuo Fukuda both served as PM, as did father and son Ichiro and Iichiro Hatoyama. Additionally, PM Shigeru Yoshida’s grandson Tarō Asō was also PM.

    Instead of me going on, why don’t you just look at the Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_families

    There has always been a ruling class, and it still exists. The US political system certainly has some unique (or at least non-universal) problems, but the illusion of real democracy being tempered by the reality that wealth and fame… help? That seems to happen, to some extent, almost everywhere.

  73. Vadim P. Says:

    Viva Bernie!,

    Hey, you don’t need to go any further than the Supreme Court deciding to halt the Florida recount and then writing in the majority opinion that the case shall not be construed as setting precedent. I get that, it’s a serious problem, but it’s not the same problem I’m talking about. Had things gotten bad enough to where the judicial branch had to assert itself against the Bush administration, I 100% believe that Bush would have obeyed a court order (of course after exhausting appeals and legal remedies). Lest you think I’m a Bush supporter, what I wrote above is probably the only nice thing I’ve ever said or will ever say about him. He set the bar very low. And I’m terrified that Trump won’t even clear that.

    This is someone who said that he’d appoint Supreme Court justices who would investigate Clinton. Justices! Conducting investigations!! This is someone who said that judges sign bills. This is someone who said, “(Jeff Bezos) owns Amazon. He wants political influence so Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

    Trump is someone who has no idea what the branches of government actually do, and he doesn’t seem to care, he knows he’s going to have a lot of power to wield and he’s actually doing the favor of telling us that he’ll use it against his personal enemies. When a madman tells you he’s a madman, by all means believe him!

  74. Daniel Seita Says:

    John Blake #57:

    Scott #61:

    I think you’re both right on the left and their treatment of (radical) Islam. You probably have already read a lot of his work, but just in case you haven’t, Sam Harris has written much on this work before, such as in his “Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue” book that I got around to reading in the wake of the Orlando massacre. Some interesting food for thought.

  75. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Vadim P. #73.

    You have come up with the title for this exchange:

    “When a madman tells you he’s a madman, by all means believe him!”.

    Totally agree that Bush would be highly likely to have obeyed a court order, although Chaney might have scammed out of it somehow. On the other hand, I would be astounded if Trump obeyed a court order. He has scammed the system and everything else his entire life.

    I don’t see Bush 2 as particularly evil, other than being a front man for the “steal from the poor, give to the rich” part of the Republican party. Too bad he did not have the smarts to disassociate himself from Cheney from day 1.

  76. Scott Says:

    Daniel #74: Yes, Sam Harris is one of my heroes (which doesn’t mean I agree with every single thing he says, just that he’s moral and eloquent and reasoned and clear).

  77. Nerd Says:

    It is not uncommon for bigots like Trump to get elected. It sets countries back for decades. But most people miss why it happens: yes, HRC and Sanders are close on the issues you mention but are they the primary drivers of voters?

    No, they are not. What people really care first is their and their families self-interest. Trump is riding on the protectionist anti-globalization tide for a middle and lower middle class who have not benefits from the globalization. They have lost jobs, their wages have stagnated for decades, and their political influence is eroding. Another tide that Trump is surfing on is the lost feeling of security and normal that people have enjoyed since the end of cold war. America the superpower which can dictate its will all over the world. Americans want security, they don’t understand why their government is waging wars all the time in distant places. And most importantly they don’t want to share their country with people who do not look like typical Americans whatever that means. They are angry that the politicians have allowed million of immigrants to come and stay in America illegally. The key here is illegally! These people are not against legal migrants, they are against millions of low skill illegal immigrants. They are held partly responsible for the deteriorating economic security of average American families even if there is not much evidence to support it. The wealth and influence inequality between the rich and the rest.

    The mainstream politicians like HRC are not going to address these issues. She is likely to get America involved in another war in middle east, she says she is now against TPP that she was involved with but she is prone to flip and Bill did flip about his opposition to NAFTA, she is not going to address the issue of financial institutions which every economist except the most radical neo-liberal free-marketists consider a big issue, and who in his right mind would think that America should give citizenship to people who have come illegally to America, it is their country and they have a right to decide who can immigrate to America if they want to, and many want to whether we like it or not.

    Unless these issues are seriously addressed the other issues are secondary. As one former presidential election strategist and pollster said recently there is a real anger in the middle of the political spectrum towards both parties.

    Among the GOP contenders Trump is actually the most moderate except on illegal immigration and TPP, and on those two issues he aligns better with the majority of Americans.


  78. Nerd Says:

    Fact: Bill Clinton deported 12 millions illegal immigrants, Barak Obama deported 10 million illegal immigrants. So those who say that it is impossible to deport the 10 million illegal immigrants who are currently inside the US don’t make sense. The reason for HRC’s position about illegal immigrants is to cast herself as sympathetic to Latinos, the fastest growing group of voters.

  79. OldSTudent Says:

    Hmm did the elites help in any way in preventing Brexit?

    I think what will be decided is already decided.

  80. Joseph Weiz. Says:

    Be aware!!! Trump is not only a lunatic, he’s a syndrome of our Zeitgeist. If you don’t recognize the causes of this syndrome: globalization (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NPC47qMJVg), people not being able to keep up with turbo-capitalism…

    Science slow down!, you’re the ones being in charge, because you’re the only ones being capable to do so!

    Fight the causes, not the syndromes!

  81. EuroSpin Says:

    Vadim #72:

    Thank you for the link, and I stand corrected on governor vs senator. Strictly speaking, I note that you haven’t found another developed country in which this terrible triangular configuration “a la Bush” had occured. I don’t think there is one.

    You’re right that political families also exist in other democracies (for France, you could have added François Hollande and Ségolène Royal..). But as you said yourself, this holds “to some extent”. The qualifier is crucial here. What you’ve done is only to set the level of “aristocratic bias” to non zero, in the control population to which the US should be compared.

    This was not always the case, but recent history shows pretty much unequivocally that political families in the US have become immensely powerful. I really don’t think this point is controversial? Such a situation is encouraged by the obvious flaws in the US electoral system, flaws which are well-identified, and should be easy to fix in theory, by preventing huge lobbies to weigh in on the elections for instance.

    It doesn’t look like voting Clinton is going to help make any change in this respect? I hope I’m wrong. But Trump has understood that the anti-statu quo is something he can capitalize on, and is playing this card every time he’s go an opportunity now (cf. calling Clinton “crooked Hillary”). It would be useful if Clinton could announce some major program to reform the US political system, in order to reclaim the crowd of rightly disillusioned voters, who at the moment would do anything to prevent statu-quo -even voting for Trump.

  82. amy Says:

    Nerd #77, you’re talking like it’s 1992. Globalization hasn’t been a dominant factor in working-class discontent since whole crowds of Trump supporters were in elementary school — that’s when the jobs went. I watched them go. And do you know what happened next? Some of them came back, because it turned out that culture mattered in marketing. As for manufacturing, we weren’t going to hold onto the post-WWII dominance. It couldn’t have happened. It existed only because the rest of the manufacturing world had bombed itself flat, and when it got back up, voila, competition. Sometimes better-educated and often more aggressive competition, which we absolutely refused, in our insistence on America Best everything, to recognize as competition. I was in Bethelehem, PA recently, where what was once a 3-mile-long steel mill is now squalor, weeds, and a casino perfect for picking whatever meat remains off the poor. That wasn’t because of “jobs shipped overseas”, that was because of drunk, golfing steel managers who were deeply committed to not seeing what was happening in the world and carrying on like it was 1963. America Best, America First, it’s all the same thing.

    What happened next was rape of the tax coffers by the American wealthy. Not globalization. Theft, domestic, aided and abetted by Jesus. I don’t know how much you actually know about being poor, how much time you’ve spent being poor, as an adult, as a parent, in America, but I can speak directly to that one. To the intentional dismantling of the fulltime salaried job and the push to make workers — domestic workers who did not in fact face competition from abroad — contingent, no salaries, no unemployment insurance, no health insurance. To the refusal to raise minumum wages with any reasonable regularity. To the defunding of higher education and the hanging of debt millstones around the necks of anyone under 35 or so, then around the necks of older people who couldn’t find work after 2008 and got suckered into going back to school, often at those for-profit mills that charge four times what a state university does. To the pushing of ruinous debt by American banks on Americans too dumb and innumerate or too desperate with healthcare and education costs to say no.

    So stop parroting those Ukip bastards who’ve helped break up a peace and, yes, prosperity that, unlikely though it seemed at the time, had actually managed to turn around and rejuvenate a Europe that had been in a very bad way, see it through the fall of the Soviet Union peacefully, put to bed regional violence that will now wake up again. No, this isn’t about globalization. Return Roger & Me to Blockbuster immediately and catch up.

  83. amy Says:

    Oh, and I suppose we can go on blaming the robot-makers. Happened long ago in manufacturing but they continue to erode jobs in the service industries. It’s why I refuse to use self-check-out stands unless I must, go through the parking-ramp exit lanes with humans in the booths, bother to do things inconveniently in ways that require human worky-people. But that’s minor compared to the rest. Defunding of childcare programs, housing programs, public schools, you name it.

  84. fred Says:

    Trump rejoicing over the Brexit vote while visiting Scotland, where people voted against it at 62%…

  85. George Says:

    Let’s for a moment suppose that Trump is a lunatic.

    The question then is not whether Trump is a lunatic or not, the question then is why people consider seriously a lunatic for president, taking into account that lunacy is a serious illness that almost everybody can diagnose it.

    The problem is that people want “change”, that’s what they wanted in the previous elections. If the “establishment” can’t deliver “change”, as that was proved by the Obama admin, people will search elsewhere.

    Hillary is the “establishment”, she does not want and will not make any “change”. Even if she manages to become president now the next “Trump” will be a real lunatic…

  86. mike Says:

    Never thought that I’d say this, but I agree wholeheartedly with Amy on this one.


  87. Scott Says:

    amy #83: Your comment seems to me like a strong argument for a Basic Minimum Income. As in, wouldn’t it be better for everyone if you could zoom through the EZ-Pass, and then just give some money to the person who’d otherwise be manning the toll booth, so that that person could stay home or pursue their hobbies instead?

    More broadly, it seems like consistently pursuing your policy of supporting “worky-people” would also suggest the following behaviors, a few of which I’m proud to say I’ve adopted myself:

    (1) Take taxis or Uber whenever you can, rather than walking, biking, or using public transportation.

    (2) Never cook your own meals. Go to restaurants whenever you can, order out, or even pay someone to come over and cook for you.

    (3) Hire people to do your laundry, clean, garden, etc. Never attempt any domestic chores yourself. (Indeed, rather than buying a washer, dryer, and vacuum cleaner, you could even pay someone extra to hand-wash your clothes and clean with a broom and dustpan only.)

    (4) Always use a travel agent—never use Expedia or Orbitz.

    (5) Rather than photographing a document with your camera-phone and emailing it, go to Kinko’s to pay someone to fax it for you, or to the post office so someone can mail it. Better still, ditch your camera-phone, and use an old-fashioned camera where someone needs to develop the film in a darkroom.

    (feel free to add other suggestions!)

  88. Sean Says:

    Surely Lenny and others are right about this. Trump must be stopped. Voting is merely an expression of preference and not necessarily an unconditional endorsement. Two tremendously over confident people are running for president. Both live in the hip pocket of corporate America-but only one of them would call out a judge based on their ethnicity. I’m not sure how unprecedented this is, Andrew Jackson comes to mind, but we simply can’t wait for the savior to come when evil is already here.
    Question: If we threw the Donald’s hair piece into a black hole could we reconstruct the size of his ego from the Hawking radiation?

  89. amy Says:

    I, uh, actually just bought some film the other day for my Pentax K1000. Which doesn’t come in all that horribly far behind the beautiful, beautiful Leica M Monochrom that was mine for a week a few years ago. I’d very happily pay someone to develop the film (I don’t want a darkroom anymore), but it’s actually pretty hard to find someone who’ll develop b/w film as b/w instead of with some weird color process that leaves you with that flat look and reddish tint.

    (I was shopping for Leica film cameras, too, for a while, but I can’t justify these things till the critter is through with school.)

    I pay the critter to be my cleaning lady, in fact. Teaches her a trade while training her to regard minimum wage as an insult. Also she saves half the money for college. Bonus.

    Take taxis, not Uber. The medallion business is totally corrupt but the regulation is meaningful and the cartel stops Uber’s race-to-the-bottom business.

    I do in fact do my taxes by hand and mail in paper. And if I could afford it, I’d very happily hire out my washing to be done by hand (cold water, pls) and hung out to dry. (Have you seen what kind of power washing machines and dryers suck up? It’s insane! I didn’t even replace my washing machine when it broke, seldom use the dryer and don’t plan to replace it. Have got a hand-crank tumble washer and electric spin-dryer for “must wear it tomorrow” clothes, dry them the rest of the way on the deck. I do go to the laudromat for the rest, though in summer I haul them home and dry outside rather than using the laundromat dryers.)

    Anyway. Inefficiencies turn out to be important in a lot of circumstances. Hang on, will get back to the basic income thing in a minute –

  90. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    To me Hilary Clinton will almost certainly maintain the status quo, and perhaps make it slightly worse by further coddling Wall Street and encouraging military action by the US in other countries. That’s a depressing scenario, but it also makes her far more predictable than Trump. Trump is his own man, yes, but that also makes him dangerously unpredictable. My biggest fear is not actually that he would suddenly plunge the US into another war, it’s that his wild conspiracy theorizing will gradually and insidiously erode trust and institutions in this country, and this is a development that will have serious long-term ramifications. In some ways I am also not as worried about him as I am about his supporters; my biggest fear is that he will turn a blind eye to the actions of the worst among them, even if he doesn’t actively support them. All said and done, as disappointed as I am in Hilary Clinton’s candidacy, I would rather have the corrupt politician that I know rather than the devil that I don’t. Even Chomsky has said that he will vote for Hilary simply because that’s the only way to vote against Trump.

  91. Yoni Says:

    Scott #8

    I looked at the links you provided, and can’t but help get the distinct impression that PolitiFact is pretty skewed against Trump n the way they categorise the statements. As a single example, the statement “We now have more jobs in solar than we do in oil.” by Hilary is rated as “False”, whereas the statement “Crime is rising.” by Trump is rated “Pants on fire”.

    I don’t think this point is just semantics; the way that the “left” (or whoever) rant and rave against Trump to the point where it is obviously rhetoric means that the majority end up just thinking they are being talked down at and go with whoever says things they like more rather than judging which is saying things that are more accurate / realistic.

    Here in the UK we just had a very similar thing. To anyone levelheaded it was clear that voting to remain was the only sensible thing to do. In fact there should never have been a referendum until the actual option for leaving had been explored to the point where anything coherent could be said about it. But by consistently talking down to the population, the remain camp lost the people’s trust and the vote went the other way.

    As an aside, when I woke up this morning to find we had voted out, I turned to my wife and asked her if we should move to the USA. Her answer… “and have Trump as president – no way!”

  92. Enochian Says:

    Our system is set up so that only one of the two major party candidates has any chance of winning a national election, so we going to get either Trump or Hillary as our next President.

    I’m leaning towards Trump, and here’s why.

    Our founding fathers designed our system of government with enough checks and balances that electing a doofus to public office doesn’t doom us. If Trump is as terrible as people say, he may not accomplish much during the next four years, but predictions of the country becoming a thermonuclear wasteland are vastly overblown.

    Trump is an agile negotiator who can quickly adapt his positions to evolving circumstances and make great deals. In this era of globalization, it would be an interesting experiment to see what happens when the country is run as a business instead of as a political fiefdom. It’s only for four years, and interesting and useful things might very well happen under a Trump administration.

    The 99% already fear the country is becoming an Oligarchy beholden to billionaires, and cringe at the thought of putting another Clinton or Bush into the White House.

    There isn’t enough room here to detail the sins of the previous Clinton administration, but they include being out of step with history on things like “the Defense of Marriage Act” and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, destroying welfare benefits for unemployable people and filling our streets with the homeless poor, and firing the Surgeon General for saying a word Bible Thumpers considered to be rude.

    Hillary is a hawk, and if President Obama hadn’t been holding her leash as Secretary of State, we’d have fully staffed wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Sudan sucking on the budget deficit.

    I think after this election is over, there needs to be a serious examination of how our primary process led to the nomination of the two most disliked candidates in the major parties, merely because they were entertaining.

    I’d vote for Bernie over Trump, but I’d vote for Trump over Hillary.

  93. amy Says:

    I’m ambivalent on the Basic Minimum Income thing. *I’d* use it to do actual work with, but I’m weird, and I have work of my own to do. I think most people do not, beyond taking care of other people. And I find that Normal People ™ get very itchy if they can’t go to work someplace and do some job, however unimportant, with other people, and make some money and feel useful. They also get really bored at home. The money is important, but it’s not really, in the end, about having the money.

    I think what people are really interested in is relief from constant worry about basic needs. Housing, food, medicine, someone to look after people who need looking after, enough education to get a non-crushing job. Safe housing. An old age that doesn’t leave you in the corner as a burden to someone else who can’t afford a burden. So I think that if it’s not realistic to expect people to haul these things out of the earth themselves, you might certainly do what social democracies do routinely: provide these particular things in some measure, particularly to those in need.

    Why not just hand people money? Because people are crap with money, mostly. We’re talking about a population that has trouble figuring a tip even though nearly all of them have in their pockets cell phones with calculators. (Also because you don’t get rid of inefficiency and theft when you do direct payments — if you’ve ever gone near those you’ve seen what the banks who’ve got the welfare/child-support/etc. contracts do in nickel-and-diming the recipients to death.) It’s in the end why I think we have to keep on doing some form of Social Security rather than raining tax benefits on people, even refundable tax benefits, for keeping IRAs and the like. There’s also experience from other welfare programs that don’t restrict the use of cash money that says “maybe not” — people who walk off and drink the money away, guys who’ll take the family stipend and go buy a motorcycle, ease of robbing recipients, that sort of thing. Much harder to steal a housing voucher.

  94. Vadim P. Says:


    It would be an interesting experiment if we weren’t stuck with his Supreme Court justices for maybe the next several decades. Also, for people on the margins of society, I’m not sure they have 4 years to conduct such an experiment. If Trump implements his policies, people will lose houses, they’ll lose healthcare, they’ll lose jobs.

    I also see no evidence that Trump is a masterful negotiator or brilliant business mind, that’s just what he constantly tells us. From my vantage point, Trump seems to personify the adage that if you have money, it’s easy to make money, especially if you’re willing to behave unscrupulously and do things like not pay for services rendered because you know you can drag out any lawsuit until your opponent runs out of money. Maybe America could be run as a business, but if that’s the case, Trump is still the wrong CEO for it.

  95. amy Says:

    George #85, Hillary just isn’t a good politician. She’s a natural senior administrator, the kind who takes care of business and knows all the rules and is smart and imaginative enough to works her way into a leadership role and do a reasonable job there. She’s done a hell of a job getting herself this far as a politician, but she’s just sort of crap at it in the end. There’s nothing exciting about her speeches. I don’t want to have a conversation with her. I don’t even want to go shake her hand in a backyard. No fun, not exciting, sounds like a pain in the ass.

    I wish that didn’t matter. I think it does matter, in this job, and that’s because people aren’t hiring on the basis of “can you do the work that has nothing to do with rallying the people and is in fact the real job most of the time.” We’re the worst hiring committee on earth. Hardly anybody even knows what a president’s supposed to do. All they’re hiring for is the rallying part, and that’s just not her bag, you know?

    But Trump hit his groove as an entertainer several years ago, and that’s where he is. Entertain and rally. So. That’s why, I’d say. People don’t care if their entertainers are batshit. Makes them more entertaining.

  96. Jon K. Says:

    I think Basic Minimum Income is a great idea and may be the catalyst that allows large portions of the society to ascend Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. I think that once we have a Basic Minimum Income that can cover food, shelter, healthcare, and (internet) education, more people will be able to turn their attention outwards, towards the needs of society, the environment, etc.

    Scott, maybe in some Hilbertian style, you should come up with a list of open problems for society to address in the 21st century? Maybe revisiting our goals is more helpful than getting distracted in the politics of the moment. We may be approaching a point in time where we can actually achieve these goals for the masses.

  97. Nerd Says:


    Your can go on and on but you don’t make much sense.

    Whether you like it or not many Americans do not like free trade agreements the force Americans to compete with low wage countries and lax regulations, do not want sending troops to another Middle East war, do not like the influence of lobbyists and superrich on politics, do not want to share their country with illegal immigrants, and do not want people who are likely to put their security in danger to come to the US.

    On the first three issues Trump and Sanders are on one side and HRC is on the other. On the the later two Trump is on one side and HRC and Sanders are on the other, but Trump’s position is the more popular one. These are the reasons people are voting for Trump and not for nuts like Cruz or Rubio. Now HRC can address the real issues as American voters see them or she can try to continue the politics as usual and risk Trump winning the next election.

    On globalization, the Obama administration is pushing TPP for ratification right after the US election during the lame duck period before the next administration takes over. This is done to prevent the election from effecting TPP. Both Trump and HRC have expressed opposition to it (though it is likely that HRC will flip on TPP after the election and find some way out). This is the kind of dirty tricks that gets ordinary Americans extremely angry about the political elite. Globalization and free trade agreements are among the major causes of the increased inequality in the US particularly between superrich and the rest of the population. The global trade rules are being written for the benefit of big multinational corporations and against the will and interests of the general public. Why they need TPP? Because what is in it is so unpopular that they have to make it an omnibus agreement and make public in the member countries cannot change those rules and if they do they can be sued by big multinationals. Even famous economists and Nobel prize winners have come out and said this is the worst trade agreement ever. It is not about removing tariffs, it is about imposing laws on countries and their citizens in a way that those countries cannot in practice change them in future even if that is the clear democratic will of the population.

  98. Raoul Ohio Says:

    The combination of basic minimum income and legal marijuana has some obvious potential problems.

  99. Stephen V Says:

    @Nerd #97
    I think she makes some pretty good points (I agree with #93 and #95 in particular); reality doesn’t always come with tl;dr versions.

  100. BPP = NEXP Says:

    How much longer do we have to wait before Lubos is allowed to comment again on your blog? From reading the archives I think your interactions increase entertainment and interest for your readers, and as a corollary will draw more eyeballs to posts such as this on important topics.

  101. Scott Says:

    BPP = NEXP #100: I said at the time that his ban would expire in 2017, so that’s what I’m sticking to.

  102. oddchecker Says:

    #101: First I thought that you mean that he’s banned until BPP=NEXP is proved…

    Anyhow, remember what I wrote two days ago, then the odds of Trump and Brexit were the same!

  103. John Sidles Says:

    Amy’s lukewarm pro-Hillary arguments broadly accord with Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man (1733):

    For forms of government
        let fools contest;
    Whate’er is best administer’d
        is best:

    Pope’s two lines that follow are election-relevant too:

    For modes of faith
        let graceless zealots fight;
    His can’t be wrong
        whose life is in the right.

    There’s not much in Pope’s moderately enlightened couplets to recommend a thrice-married casino-boss who is science-denying, oft-sued and oft-suing, compulsively boastful, and demagogically truth-scorning.

    Whereas a centrist Hillary administration, empowered by a Democratic Senate majority yet checked by a Republican House majority, would be an acceptable electoral outcome for voters who embrace Pope’s principles of moderate enlightenment.

    According to the polls, a respectably solid majority of likely US voters already feel this way.

    How can Trump respond, other than (implausibly) promise a personality transformation? Perhaps a wildly creative VP choice?

  104. George Says:

    amy #96: As long as the majority’s wallets are empty or half-empty and as long as the majority’s social networks are full of overborrowed losers, like themselves, batshit and lunatic politicians will appear.

  105. Daniel Seita Says:

    BPP = NEXP #100:

    More specifically, March 7, 2017.

    Here’s Professor Aaronson’s official blog post about that announcement:


    (Look near the end of his post)

  106. Vitruvius Says:

    For those who are interested in this sort of thing, and the ways in which it may relate to the United States of America returning to being the Union of States that functions as was envisioned (rather than a Supra-State suffering from stifling administritis and bureausclerosis), and specifically to the campaigns of Sanders and Trump thereto, the following links provide a proper perspective on what happened on Thursday, 2016-06-23, pursuant to the United Kingdom rejoining the Commonwealth of Nations.
    Boris Johnson [Video]
    Conrad Black
    Rex Murphy
    Terence Corcoran
    Peter Foster
    Colby Cosh
    Welcome back, I say!

  107. John Sidles Says:

    Vitruvius, your list of essayists reminds us that the “right” of Canada and England stands far to the “left” of US politicians. Universal single-payor healthcare? Restrictive gun-control? Strict church-state separation? Feel the Bern! 🙂

  108. AdamT Says:

    Scott, I for one am not at all enthused by the possibility of unbanning Lubos unless of course he has changed.

  109. Scott Says:

    AdamT #108:

      …unless of course he has changed


  110. AdamT Says:

    Scott #109, that was my attempt to be charitable to someone in whom I don’t perceive the slightest bit of charitability. I think you agree that such attempts are important and worthy even if they have very little hope of success.

  111. Scott Says:

    AdamT #110: Agreed! 🙂

  112. Anon. Says:

    In 1849, the U.S. marched into Mexico City and conquered the country. The president at the time proposed to annex the entire nation and make it part of the U.S.A. But the senator of North Carolina and his cronies rejected this proposal on the grounds that there were too many Mexicans (note: meaning, native american Mexicans), whereas the North of Mexico was scarcely populated: California, Texas, Colorad, Arizona, New Mexico. So he proposed that only that be kept. And so it was.

    The U.S. is still the U.S. And if so, I don’t think there will be “immigrants rights” close to what they might ought to be, anytime soon, regardless of who gets elected. And if there are, then the U.S. will very soon be very different than what it has been in a while. Just as Rome was circa 400 A.D., when 70% or more of the population were Goths and non-Romans, who then conveniently decided to sack Rome and put an end to it. And so, empires come and go, or … do they stay and evolve into something better? We will have to see. I think this time around, history will play itself out faster than back then…I will live long enough to see what really happens.

    Just an observer without preferences – a bit like a Rekhabite, whom legend has it, were told that all is in vain, just do nothing, and live a modest and loving life, and not partake in anything that goes on around us; their reward was return to paradise.

  113. amy Says:

    Anon #112, that does seem to be true, about things happening faster. (It’s almost like all you need are billions more people and a way of allowing them to communicate in a way that favors ranty argument and shouting.)

    But but but. I’ve been thinking about something that’s obvious, but true, mentioned in the OCW peaceful-cities/urban-planning course, about metropoles having more to do with each other than they do with the nonmetropolitan land around. I think it’s true to the point that people in A cities (New York, London, etc.) are more familiar with each other than with people in B cities (Chicago, Boston, Manchester, etc.), but even the A and B people are more familiar with each other and have more in common than they do with people 150 miles from their cities.

    There’s an apoplectic piece in the Guardian today about the nerve of people talking about London secession into a European city-state, and obviously there are real reasons why that can’t happen, but on the other hand the more I think about it the more sensible and Heinlein (not a phrase you usually hear) it seems. A European London zone, and other metropolitan EU zones, sounds like something that’s actually necessary to London (and other metropoles outside the EU). Consider: you’re a German national, you work as a freelancer or contractor or adjunct in London, and you and tens of thousands like you are actually vital and irreplaceable domestically but you no longer fit the old salaried way. An arrangement is worked out with the EU to allow EU nationals freedom to travel to, live in, and work in London; they can travel to the rest of Britain (or whatever remains of it) as tourists. And in order to preserve London from Norfolk Goths in Parliament, a degree of autonomy’s granted the city. Britain retains the economic and cultural benefits of London’s openness; other British cities are sad and either petition successfully for similar treatment or shrink as more of the action moves to London; and the whole business merely accelerates global urbanization, not to mention cosmopolitanism. (I wish Tom Lehrer would get out of my head.)

    I think something like it will probably have to happen. This doesn’t seem to be a world in which the hinterland can wag the dog and have things go in ways that make any sense.

  114. Former Liberal Says:

    I’ve had it with the academic Left’s arrogance. You’d think such intellectually superior people would be above petty ad hominems.

    This blog post, and Susskind’s letter, literally make me want to vote for Trump. I’ll do it. You need a lesson in humility.

  115. Vitruvius Says:

    I think the central (if you’ll pardon the pun) theme of the essays I referenced, John Sidles, is that it’s not about left and right, it’s about what works and what doesn’t, and about the latest incarnation of our species’ cyclical realization that a detached civic state controlled by unaccountable, unmeritocraic, elitist, fanatical, regulationist apparatchiki does not work well. As Boris Yeltsin noted regarding the failure of the Union of Soviet Socialist States, “Everything which was not permitted was forbidden. Whatever was permitted was mandatory.”

    That’s the reality that people on the left and people on the right haven’t figured out yet. Such people are extremely out of tune with the modern sense of Benthamite utility moderated by Millsian human rights, wallowing instead in irrelevant pseudo-spatial separation based on ancient French history. Thus it is so, John, that when you try to oversimplify it as a left v. right dichotomy you are revealing yourself to also be yet another extremist, in your case one of division, rather than a pragmatic builder of a better tomorrow, for your children, and your children’s children.

    I think that another important theme from the essays, John, is related to the way the relationship between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson is in many ways like the relationship between Danny Wilde and Lord Brett Sinclair, played by Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, in The Persuaders. As different as they were, in their inimitable American v. British ways, both fought against systems that were related to the form of behaviour we see arising from the overreach of the European Supra-State and the increasingly excessive federal intrusion into the matters of the American States (such as by your overapplication of Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of your constitution to more-or-less completely neuter your otherwise brilliant Tenth Amendment).

    I also think that the Commonwealth of Nations lead by a rejuvenated United Kingdom along with Canada, Australia, India, Singapore, and New Zealand forms a valuable additional leg upon which human global civilization can stand, helping to balance out attempts at domination from American, European, Russian, and Chinese empires. Once an empire itself, the Commonwealth is now the anti-empire. Maybe one day Africa will become another leg, but I eschew predictions, because as Niels Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially of the future”.

    We’re all in this together, John, yet we’re all individuals each one of whom separates the universe into two parts delimited by one’s epidermis (so no two pairs of parts are the same), therefore the way to get society to work is to try to accommodate as far as possible both the individual and the associative, rather than by trying to demand that the collective be supreme or non-existent, or by trying to enforce some sort of hyper-egalitarianism that denies the biological basis of human nature.

    As Frank Zappa noted, “In every language, the first word after ‘Mama!’ that every kid learns to say is ‘Mine!’ A system that doesn’t allow ownership, that doesn’t allow you to say ‘Mine!’ when you grow up, has–to put it mildly–a fatal design flaw”. It’s ok for Canada to be separate from the United States, it’s ok for Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom to be separate from the European Union, and it would be better for the American states to return to being more separate from each other.

    Lastly, don’t forget that although Vitruvius is renowned as the Father of Architecture and author of the classic De Architectura, he was in fact an engineer. I’ll never forget that our dean of engineering in my first undergraduate year used to harp on and on that a good engineer can’t be an ideologue. When one is building a bridge it doesn’t matter whether one prefers wood, stone, or steel, what matters is what the bridge prefers.

    That’s also true about the human species and the human genome. Yet as individual human beings, it’s each of our jobs to work to distill some personal good out of the overarching constraints imposed by the requirements of our species and our genome, to work in pursuit of one’s own personal happiness, as it were. Government must not just make sense, it must be seen to make sense, in order for we the people to not become unhappy.

  116. Mike Says:

    With the caliber of academics to be found here, why do I feel dumber for having read through the comments?
    Lenny… For shame. Shrill leftist rhetoric is beneath you.

    *plonk* on the threads that delve into petty political bitching.
    I have Facebook for that faeces.

  117. John Sidles Says:

    Anon (#110) identifies with the “Rekhabites, whom legend has it, were told that all is in vain …”

    A modern analysis that defends this proposition is David Benatar’s book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence (Oxford University Press, 2006).

    Drawing on relevant psychological literature, the author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence.

    Please don’t infer, however, that people who cite references (me for example) necessarily are in sympathy with those references.

    Closely-reasoned existential despair instead can motivate us to ask “What countervailing resources can the STEAM community supply?” One such resource was unveiled today: Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards’ great STEAM-work Self Reflected

    The 8-by-12-foot gold panel, depicting a sagittal slice of the human brain, blends hand drawing and multiple human brain datasets from several universities.

    The work was created by Greg Dunn, a neuroscientist-turned-artist, and Brian Edwards, a physicist at the University of Pennsylvania, and goes on display Saturday at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. […]

    To make the artwork resemble a real brain as closely as possible, the artists used actual MRI scans and human brain maps, but the datasets were not detailed enough.

    There were a lot of holes to fill in,” Dunn said.

    Emphasis added (by me), Dunn’s remark reflects a central concern of Shtetl Optimized (the way I read it), which is “fill in the neuroscientific holes” — holes that are variously quantum dynamical, quantum chemical, computational, informatic, algorithmic, instrumental, philosophical, theological, cultural, economic, anatomic, medical, and moral.

    To be sure, that’s a lot of holes … and a nearly unbounded set of competing interests.

    As the world’s STEAM community works to fill in those holes, perhaps despairing philosophics (like Benatar’s) will become less credible.

    It’s reasonable to hope so, isn’t it?

    And concomitantly, perhaps the nations of the world will concomitantly evolve to be less attracted to Trumpist ideologies — ideologies that, as several commenters have noted, are expressed as anger … anger that is rooted in fear … fear that is grounded in despair … despair that is grounded (as the STEAM community may aspire to help practically demonstrate) in nothing irretrievable at all.

  118. Scott Says:

    Former Liberal #114: Wait a minute. The academic left needs a lesson in humility, so therefore you’re going to vote for possibly the least humble man on the face of the planet—someone who was once mostly known for putting his name in giant gold letters on the sides of buildings, and who used a presidential debate to assure everyone there’s no problem with the size of his penis? Forget about politics for a moment: why is your desire for humility so weirdly asymmetric? Why does it apply to Lenny Susskind, who helped give birth to string theory and the holographic principle and who (to me, at least) might seem entitled to a bit of arrogance on that basis, but not to someone with orders-of-magnitude greater arrogance and no similarly-lasting contributions to the world?

  119. Anon. Says:

    Dear Amy #113

    Yes. When I was younger and attending an Ivy league school, I dreamt that we were close enough to having what is needed so that each little town could be totally self-sufficient and enjoying a good life, anywhere, everywhere. I believe this is possible now. In fact, modern Italy is very much like that…and it is the one EU country that seems to have flown above its recent troubles. Germany is more region oriented but it also had its Hansa league concept. And other European countries (Finland) are rearranging themselves into a collection of municipalities where most decision making and activity takes place. Don’t know about G.B.

    But the U.S. is so different. It is like a smooth continuum, with activities and services located “where opportunities are best”. It has the “American Way”, as opposed to little ways of their own, like in European countries and towns (except maybe for places like New England and Vermont)…it is a different model now…the question is, what kind of model will it become. I say that in the US, the trend is, rather than becoming San Francisco, Boston, etc., you will end up with Google, IBM, Apple, etc. as “entities”…still a different model. As I said, we will have to wait and see how it evolves, and it will evolve fast.

    Let’s hope for the best for not just us, but all…

  120. Ross Snider Says:

    Bernie’s healthcare plan is much closer to Trump’s than Hillary’s.

    Donald Trump’s minimum wage looks pretty much the same as Hillary Clinton’s. (Both far from Bernie.)

    Hillary Clinton is much closer (but still seriously, seriously far from) Bernie on immigration reform. Trump ran to the right during the primaries on a number of issues like his immigration reform (as Hillary did to the left). Provided her historical stance on immigration – this one is pretty weak.


    Susskind, as smart as he is, is making the same mistake a lot of talking heads and ‘media experts’ are making.

    This election is not about Democrats versus Republicans. They’ve dominated and subverted the political process, sure. But this election has been about Nationalism versus Populism – with people in poor, lower and middle classes feeling that Nationalist policies are and have too often benefited the upper crust of society but not its heart.

    Having to choose between Trump and Hillary, given the election has been until this point (presumably) about taking back the political process for the masses and the Middle of America – having to choose between a career politician known for war crimes and a multi-billionaire – is absurd on its face.

    There is no good major party candidate this election.

  121. Torbjörn Larsson Says:

    Goodbye Great Britain, welcome little England. how ironic that you of all people would become afraid of the world. And as Joel #34 notes, we swedes have joined the race to the bottom with a vengeance.

    I have no idea why people doesn’t want to throw up their arms, check for the nearest exit and run screaming when an unashamedly lying populist like Mein Trumpf – well, actually more like Mickey Mouselini – starts to beat the pulpit. At least I know I want to.

    Even discussing the absolute problems with Hillary against the relative, or in some cases the minor inconvenience of having to wait 4 years to head off the imminent catastrophe and return stronger for it …

  122. adamt Says:

    Former Liberal #114, So because you perceive ad hominems coming from a group you have decided to punish them by voting for the guy who could be rightfully described as the King of ad hominem attacks? Yeah, that makes a lick of sense.

  123. John Sidles Says:

    Ross Snider opines (#120)  “There is no good major party candidate this election.”

    Vitruvius (#115) speaks of a “reality that people on the left and people on the right haven’t figured out yet.”

    Let’s assume that Ross’ comment is correct, and assume too that Vitrivius’ comment explains why, namely, “there’s a reality that politicians on the left and right haven’t figured out yet.”

    What might Vitruvius’ non-left/non-right reality be? We can all appreciate that there are few better forums than Shtetl Optimized to seek for novel STEAM-grounded realities … while having fun doing so!

    Chauvinistically I will mention three Seattle authors whose works tackle STEAM-grounded post-left/post-right realities.

    Book One  Neil Stephensen’s The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995) reads naturally as an Edwardian society that is grappling with the advent of cognition-altering technologies and educational methods.

    Stephensen’s presentation is humorous but relatively shallow and unsystematic. It seems (to me) that Vitruvius would enjoy Stephensen’s book; plausibly (s)he already is familiar with it.

    Book Two  Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life (arriving this fall as the film The Arrival) tells a similar story as Stephenson’s, albeit more systematically worked-out (as it seems to me).

    The plot in a nutshell is pretty simple: aliens come to earth; their easy-to-learn language “Hexapod A” communicates rationalist cognition, while their hard-to-learn language “Hexapod B” communicates empathic cognition.

    An Aspergers-afflicted scientist (Dr. Louise Banks), in learning the alien language Hexapod B, acquires a capacity for empathic cognition. Dr. Banks’ new-found empathic capacities gift her with a joyful marriage and a beloved daughter, however at the eventual price of loss and grief.

    Do the gains of Dr. Banks’ newly acquired empathic cognition outweigh the costs? The Story of Your Life provides no simple answers. As Chiang has written:

    A lot of the history that we were taught, in elementary school, was distorted to paint a prettier picture, and make us feel better about ourselves.

    In the same way, that nations have myths about how they came to be founded, I would suggest that people have myths about how they came to be the way they are now.

    The relevance of Chiang’s Story of Your Life to Trumpism and Brexit arises as follows. Hexapod B forces upon Dr. Banks an Aspergers-dissolving empathy-centric myth-destroying appreciation of “how she comes to be”.

    Similarly and globally, the modern STEAM-enterprise is forcing empathy-centric myth-destroying self-appreciations upon billions of individuals, communities, disciplines, and nations.

    Thus Chiang’s story can be read as a horrifying alien-language embodiment of the far-right bogey-monster “You will be made to care” … by learning Hexapod B.

    So what the ideologues of the left and right fear is not so much elite power, but new modes of elite cognition. And perhaps they are right to fear these modes! 🙂

    Book Three  My own wife Connie Sidles is finishing a history Caring for Nature: 100 Years of the Seattle Audubon Society (2016), to appear this fall.

    By design, the title “Caring for Nature” conveys a double meaning: the meaning that associated to the externalities of nature preservation (analogous to Chiang’s “Hexapod A”), and the meaning that is associated to the biophilic/empathic motivations for valuing nature preservation (analogous to Chiang’s “Hexapod B”).

    Undiscovered realities  For many people (well, me at least), Vitruvius’ undiscovered non-left/non-right reality is all about the accelerating evolution of new languages for telling the “Story of Our Lives” … languages that naturally accommodate both Chiang’s ultra-rationalist Hexapod A language and Chiang’s ultra-empathic Hexapod B language … languages that respect both senses in which our 21st century is teaching itself to “care for human nature”.

    Unsafe futures  The 21st century’s journey of self-discovery won’t be easy and it won’t be safe either. Yet as Alfred North Whitehead has written

    We must expect that the future will disclose dangers. It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.

    Doesn’t Whitehead’s observation explain why the ideologies of the left and of the right equally are failing? Don’t leftists and rightists both promise (falsely) to deliver us safely to the future? Aren’t academics complicit in pretending that some combination of rationalism and political correctness will equip us to safely navigate these waters?

    Aren’t we lucky that at least some young STEAM-workers are eager to venture upon these dangerous waters, and to evolve new languages for describing how to navigate them, with a view to discovering marvelous new lands?

    Yes, our STEAM-generation is lucky. And we will need to be lucky, to safely navigate the dangers of our century.

  124. Nerd Says:

    @Stephen V,

    Those posts don’t address the real issues, she can go on and on but that will have no effect on my vote. They are the repetition of the official HRC propaganda and don’t address the five issues that are of concern not for some minority groups but for the majority of Americans.

    Back to TPP, the DNC just decided not to exclude the opposition to TPP from their election platform despite the fact that both Sanders and HRC has expressed opposition to it. This shows that HRC simply maneuvered around TPP by claiming that she is opposing it during the primary so Sanders cannot fight her over it.

    I may vote HRC but I will do so with utmost disgust. Or I may vote Trump and endure the pain to send a “FU message” to DNC may they learn a lesson. I will vote based on these 3 issues and how HRC positions herself during the election. I will vote Trump if she shows signs of 1) aggressive foreign policy, 2) support for TPP, 3) protecting big financial and pharmaceutical corporations and avoid dealing with the corrupting influence of money in our politics.
    (Illegal immigration I don’t care about much but I think DNC is on the wrong side. Security follows from our foreign policy, we are suffering because we have been involved in wars in Middle Eastern countries for over a decade. )

    I am not going to vote for HRC just because she is the democratic candidate and the alternative is Trump. She has to earn my vote to demonstrating that she deserves my vote. Trump can say the most nasty things, what he says doesn’t really change the facts on these issues.

    I know very well I will suffer individually if Trump gets elected, but it won’t be as bad as some are exaggerating, and it will worth it if it causes a serious reform in DNC.

  125. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    The United States faces an existential threat from a plan that is racist, criminally motivated and treasonous. The Democratic Party wants to give citizenship and the vote to millions of illegal immigrants with the selfish intended goal of capturing a block of votes and stealing elections for decades to come. It’s the same plan with convicted felons. Meanwhile vicious “progressive” bullies want to destroy free thought and free speech in universities and everywhere else. The Left has become overrun with racist sociopathic ideologies and will definitely destroy this country if it can.

    I have always regarded myself as solidly left of center, and always will, but for me it is a very easy decision to vote for an only mildly conservative centrist like Trump, (and to hold my nose and vote Republican down the entire ticket despite being vehemently opposed to many of their ideals) because if the Democrats capture the presidency and both houses then this country will be destroyed. By contrast, the absolute worst case I see in a Trump presidency is is mild inconvenience.

    By the way, I am a highly educated intelligent person, for the snobs keeping score.

  126. Chris Blake Says:

    FormerLiberal: An ad hominen attack is a logical fallacy. It is essentially of the form: “your argument is wrong because you are stupidhead.” It is a fallacy because the stupididheadedness of the arguer has no bearing on the validity or correctness of the argument.

    Susskind’s argument is not a fallacy of this form. It is of course a personal attack on Donald Trump, but the argument is still sound. The reason Trump should not become president is precisely because of his temperament. Figuring out whether a person we choose to give access to nuclear codes is a lunatic or not is exactly the right question to ask, and not an “ad hominen” fallacy.

    Now, if Susskind made the argument that “Donald Trump’s particular plan is wrong because he is racist bigot” that would be an ad hominen fallacy. The appropriate approach in this case would be to argue against the particular policy.

    If you think that Trump is not a lunatic a valid reply would be to give evidence to the contrary. If you think the lunacy of a candidate is not a relevant question as to whether they should be president is also a valid reply (one which I think most would strongly disagree with).

    But, stating that Susskind’s letter is an ad hominen attack misconstrues the meaning of what the “ad hominen” fallacy.

  127. Chris Blake Says:

    Former Liberal: Another possible objection you may have to the Susskind argument is that the term “lunatic” is ill-define and more an insult than an actual observation of the character of Donald Trump. Why use an outdated term when you can use terms from psychology?

    So, to advance the discussion along, I claim that evidence suggests that Donald Trump is a sociopathic megalomaniac. Both of these terms are well defined in pscyhology.

    What evidence do we have that he is a sociopath? Here are some:

    1. Proposing to assassinate the innocent family members of suspected terrorists.

    2. Refusing to pay contractors for work that they performed.

    3. Conning people into wasting their money on Trump University.

    4. One that does not seem to be getting a lot of attention but is very relevant in my opinion: Calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, and, crucially, not showing any signs of remorse or withdrawing his support for their execution when overwhelming evidence suggested that these kids were actually innocent of the accused crime, which resulted in their acquittal and release from prison.

    All four of these things (and in particular numbers 1 and 4) suggest to me that Donald Trump lacks basic standards of human decency. To me, I wouldn’t be able to live myself if I did any of these things. I believe this is true for most people of the world. Most of us agree: we don’t want to kill innocent people unnecessarily. But most people are not sociopaths.

    The evidence that Donald Trump is a megalomaniac is so obvious that I hope it does not need to be restated.

  128. amy Says:

    I really wonder how many people thumping on about the reveng! of the downtrodden have actually ever been downtrodden. Or just plain poor, like really poor, not student-poor. The kind where you’re benefits-eligible, you’re fucked all around by local do-good governments, that sort of thing. I suspect strongly that our local yellers know fuck-all about it.

    I do know that world, as a young single person, as a parent. I’m not uneducated, and I’ve had the privileges of working in halls of power and being given champagne by masters-of-the-universe types. But none of that means much when you’re effectively trapped in poverty and well-off people are telling you not to be so selfish, to throw whatever you’re still managing to live on down a rathole for some real live no-good’s benefit. I’m not talking about losing prizes and resumes and things like that; I’m talking about trying to hang onto housing, food, the ability to get a kid to school safely, the ability to pay any attention at all to that child while keeping the lights turned on.

    And yet I still understand how fantastically stupid Brexit is (actually I suspect there’s plenty more disastrous tectonic shifting I won’t have anticipated) and what kind of danger Trump is.

    I suspect that the Trump yellers on blogs like this are actually *using* the downtrodden because they themselves, though quite fortunate, still feel they’ve missed out on a world to which they’re entitled, and are projecting themselves into the lives of people who genuinely have been fucked over. Not by the “leftist elite”, who tend to live pretty damn shabbily (for real, have you seen the average lefty-professor house and finances? The average *artist or journalist* house and finances?), but by thieves in some really beautiful suits. Those sharp-dressed guys use an appealing language of machismo, which suckers a lot of people who can’t do the math. You get machismo on the other side, too, obscuring the issues. Someone posted something ranty about TPP the other day; I’ll get back to that one later.

    The reality throughout is that these things are complex, and that if you throw a tantrum about this and lose patience and decide all this deliberation’s just a way of trying to steal your nuts, you do damage. Not to those people you’re shaking your fist at, who are well set anyhow, but to people who can’t afford trouble.

    I note that Daily Mail readers, having recognized that oops, that red button might not have been such a good one to push after all, and that although they’re struggling now life can get harder, are now cooking up conspiracy theories about how the French and Germans were behind this all along, tricked them out of EU membership. Shoved the UK out the window so they could divvy up Europe more neatly for themselves.

  129. amy Says:

    Mike #116 – the math building’s usually pretty far from the government department…not to mention the little shack that houses sociology, and I don’t know who does political philosophy these days.

    I remember going to hear Ron Paul talk, just to hear what he’s like for real, and thinking, goddamn, this guy never got over being a doctor. He has the official Smart Guy badge, so he figures he’s smart about everything, and his talk is the closest thing I’ve heard to a verbal Osterizer than anything else I’ve heard outside real speech pathologies.

    Hayek’s actually good reading, as I recall. I don’t think Paul understood a damn thing he read in there, but I remember a good and interesting mind on the page.

  130. sf Says:

    Torbjörn Larsson Says:
    Comment #121
    ” the minor inconvenience of having to wait 4 years to head off the imminent catastrophe”.

    Nice comment otherwise, but that last line makes it sound like you’ve been following politics for a very short time.

  131. Lorraine Ford Says:

    If Donald Trump doesn’t actually have personal agency, the ability to freely act, i.e. the ability to create some small part of a physical outcome that is otherwise 100% determined by laws-of-nature, then logically, railing against Trump is like railing against a volcano for exploding or railing against the earth for circling the sun.
    If either agency itself, or the immediate physical outcome of agency, is 100% the result of laws-of-nature (representable as mathematical equations), then you should be railing against the laws-of-nature, or railing against the sea for producing tsunamis, just as much as you should be railing against Trump.
    Are Clinton and Trump (and you and me) actually able to act, or are they (and we) ragdolls 100% controlled by laws-of-nature? I say that reality is such that living things ARE able to create some small part of their own physical outcomes, outcomes that are otherwise 100% determined by laws-of-nature: in other words, there are aspects of reality that are not representable by mathematical equations.
    I’m not sure about Leonard Susskind’s precise ideas on the matter, but 100% deterministic theories of reality like string theory or the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis in effect say that Clinton and Trump are ragdolls 100% controlled by laws-of-nature. These 100% deterministic theories try get rid of the “weird” “inconvenient truth” of quantum mechanics that observers/living things actually seem to have an effect on reality.
    If anyone doesn’t believe in personal agency, then why would they do an about-face and rail against Trump, as though they suddenly changed their minds and started to believe that Trump actually does have personal agency?

  132. Nerd Says:

    @amy, Democratic policies have benefited the disenfranchised poor and minorities more than Republican policies. But that is again missing the issue.

    For decades the influence and economic situation of the middle class have deteriorated, the inequality have continued to increased both under Democrats and Republicans. Both parties have stuck it to the middle class policies that were supposed to benefit them but haven’t. If you don’t understand that frustration you don’t understand what is going on and you cannot understand how someone like Trump who is militarily isolationist, against TPP and pro-choice can easily outflank all republican candidates from the religious nuts like Cruz to establishment favorites like Bush and Rubio. Their policies benefited mostly the rich and sometimes the poor and minorities. We don’t have a party that really represents the interests of the middle class majority and many think it is time to stick it back to the parties and political elite to send a message. If you think GOP is happy with a former liberal like Trump winning their nomination you have missed a lot of what is going on.

  133. amy Says:

    Nerd #132, Ima go out on a limb here and bet that you haven’t read the TPP and don’t actually know what it says or can do. Neither have I. The last time I worked in international trade was in 1991, on Single Market issues. So while I don’t know anything about TPP, I do know enough to know that I don’t know anything about TPP, and that if I were going to know something about it, I wouldn’t get there by reading 8-minute reads on Medium or some piece of journalistic crap on Daily Kos. Or anything journalistic, because journalists cover trade about as well as they cover science. I’d have to start by reading an unpleasantly large stack of reports and white papers, and then actually read the unpleasantly large agreement, and then read knowledgeable commentary on the agreement sections. And I’d probably have to go read any non-jokers I could find in Foreign Affairs, and it’d be a project of some months. But if I were seriously interested, if I really cared and worried about TPP, I would do it, and I would have the trade background to understand, with some backfill, what I was reading. Because I troubled to get that education. Because I thought these sorts of things were important. Important enough that at one point I thought I might spend my life working on them.

    Which appears to be the difference between you and me. And which also appears to be the difference between a stack of Brexiteers currently going “oh shit” and me.

    Second, unless you’ve been responsible for raising children or caring for elderly or disabled people while not quite making enough to live on in the last few decades, I’m also guessing I know significantly more about that middle-class erosion than you do, and also more about what it means in very tangible ways. That is not an excuse for me to fail to educate myself past “stick it to the man by making a profoundly stupid and self-defeating gesture”. Nor is your experience and frustration an excuse.

    I was listening, uncharacteristically, to Chomsky talking about various plutocrat plots, and he said something about turning the populace against itself in a self-destructive fashion. And I thought: that’s right. What you used to see only in places like Watts — that’s white people, now. That’s Brexit. Brexit is a riot destroying your own neighborhood. It won’t hurt the people you’re yelling about. All it does is make your own situation that much more terrible, make it that much more difficult for you to change anything. Burn baby burn, eh? Except that’s your neighbor’s grandma burning up in there, not the landlord. Landlord just going to collect the insurance and move on, and now your neighborhood is gone, everyone has to find some new place to live, got to find new furniture, new neighbor to watch the kids, new everything, won’t even get the security deposit back.

    If you’re bright enough to have found this blog, you have no excuse for doing such a thing. You want to have a tantrum, you go punch a pillow. Or get some therapy. No good change comes from lighting the neighborhood on fire.

    I’m also guessing that you’re quite young. If that’s the case, the first ripoff artists you need to look at are the universities. I think you guys need to start exploring seriously how you’re going to renegotiate your college debt on sane terms, including a very large stack of debt forgiveness. Probably around a trillion dollars’ worth. Bernie does not have the answer. Trump is ridiculous on the score. But you’re going to have to refuse the indentured servitude one way or another, or you guys won’t get anything done at all. Once you guys have your time back, and your adulthood, you can get to work on other things.

  134. Raoul Ohio Says:

    #132: “time to stick it back to the parties and political elite to send a message”

    That is a lot like being on a bus on an interstate. You decide you don’t like the bus company, so you shoot the driver while going 70 mph.

    #131: An illustration of why I am not in favor of total legalization of pot.

  135. Richard Gaylord Says:

    “I’m watching this thing that’s happening with disbelief, dismay, and disgust. There is a lunatic loose”. i totally agree with this description of the quantum gravity, cosmology, multiverse and IIT physics communities which have severed the essential link between theory and experiment that defines science.

  136. sf Says:

    Raoul #134: “That is a lot like being on a bus…”
    Maybe this is closer to “a game in which two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the crash, but if one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved will be called a ‘chicken’ “.

    In fact if you’re playing against Goldman-Sachs or their like you have to be prepared to play a very tough version of hardball. In a less violent, repeatable version of chicken, if you give just an inch on every round, you’ll find yourself miles behind before you realize its too late to change strategies. I’m not sure what to do in such a situation, but the logic is not so obvious as some people are making it out to be.

  137. Nerd Says:

    @Raoul, That is another exaggeration and not an argument for anything.

  138. sf Says:

    amy #133: “Nerd #132, Ima go out on a limb here and bet that you haven’t read the TPP…”

    Sorry Amy, but despite your proclamation of ignorance, you haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet; the period between the publication of the TPP and deadlines for ratification doesn’t leave enough time for anyone (outsider) to thoroughly digest it – its written in an arcane hierarchical structure where some sections can overrule others and you don’t know which until you’ve gotten through the whole thing. Even worse, the hierarchy depends on references to equally incomprehensible external documents, and so on. The only ones with a chance of using these things are the drafters, and their negotiations, notes etc remain secret. It doesn’t take much to smell a rat here. There are decent places to get started on the subject;
    or blogs like slashdot or http://www.nakedcapitalism.com .

    amy #82: “Nerd #77, you’re talking like it’s 1992. Globalization hasn’t been a dominant factor in working-class discontent since whole crowds of Trump supporters were in elementary school…”
    Just off the top of my head, I get the feeling you’re missing a lot here; offshoring of services like call centers is a lot more recent, but also problems of IT workers getting displaced by visa holders have been getting worse if anything.
    Tax evasion/optimization is also part of globalization, as well as CEO salaries and the whole issue of inequality, insofar as national law loses regulatory control.

    I’m no expert, (on either of these 2 subjects) but I suspect you jump too quickly to dismiss the effects of globalization here.

  139. Nerd Says:


    I know enough about TPP to know that it is a bad deal for citizens. It is not just some journalists who consider it a very dangerous deal. Those opposing TPP include many reputable civil rights organizations, environmental organization, consumer protection organizations, relief organizations, unions, academics, lawyers, and winners of Nobel prize in economics, … All the tricks that they are pulling to ratify it despite its massive unpopularity shows that the supporters of it don’t think they can convince the voters it is a good deal, if it was HRC wouldn’t have come against it and would have defended it since she was involved with it. The fact that this was negotiated for over 5 years in secret from the public while corporate lobbyists had complete access to the text while even senators had extremely restricted access to it show what kind interests it is going to serve. Let me tell you what is the goal of the US in TPP: they view China as a strategic threat and fear that it will dominate the markets, so this is an attempt to set the global rules to benefit the American companies, particularly big media, big entertainment, and big pharma. It is going to enforce some of the stupidest laws in the US on the rest of the world. On the other hand, it is going to remove the ability of citizens to regulate, and if they do so they can be sued in ISDS courts. Just to give an example of how these things work, the tobacco company Philip Morris sued several countries because those countries passed regulations that would force tobacco companies to use plan packages with the goal of dropping the rate of smoking among their population. The laws that TPP will impose contains rules similar to PIPA and SOPA that MPAA and RIAA promoted, would restrict generic drugs that save the life of millions of people, threaten environmental regulations required to fight climate change, … This massive agreement is about imposing laws undemocraticly and irrevocably on people and has little to do with trade restriction between countries. The patent and copyright laws in the US are some of the stupids ones in the world and now they are going to be imposed globally. TPP is totally designed to benefit the big corporations at the expense of small business and consumers. The support for TPP is from big corporations, not people! This is going to increase inequality even further. If someone hates the corrupting influence of money and big corporate lobbyists TPP is the mother of all of them. This is what they couldn’t even pass in the US congress let alone other countries. Isn’t it again ironic that Obama fast tracked it despite the opposition from the democratic senators by the support of the republican senators while no one was paying attention?

    You still don’t get it and it doesn’t seem you are not going to get. You still avoid the issues and repeat yourself again and again. Since you are rather arrogant and feel comfortable making guesses about me (mostly wrong) let me return the favor. You are involved in HRC’s campaign, one of those people who would vote HRC just because she is a woman no matter what.

  140. AdamT Says:

    Lorraine Ford #131,

    “If Donald Trump doesn’t actually have personal agency, the ability to freely act, i.e. the ability to create some small part of a physical outcome that is otherwise 100% determined by laws-of-nature, then logically, railing against Trump is like railing against a volcano for exploding or railing against the earth for circling the sun.”

    Meh, the standard answer here is that in a universe lacking in personal agency, then those of us opposed to Trump don’t have a choice either and are acting in the only manner that the straight jacket of the universe without personal agency allows.

    Which is true insofar as if goes, but personally I think this whole line of inquiry betrays that deniers of personal agency don’t really believe what they say otherwise they’d never argue in the first place. In other words, if it is true that the universe lacks personal agency, then I have never met anyone, who in accordance with the laws of the universe, arose to actually embody this viewpoint rather than just paying it lip service.

  141. John Sidles Says:

    Richard Gaylord skeptically opines that “the quantum gravity, cosmology, multiverse and IIT physics communities […] have severed the essential link between theory and experiment that defines science.”

    This brand of skepticism can be allayed by constructing quantum field theory on the solid grounds that experimental condensed matter physics provides. Fortunately there are many recent textbooks that take this approach. Well-rated examples (by me) include in no particular order:

    • Tom Lancaster and Stephen Blundell, Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur (2014)
    • David Tong, Lectures on the Quantum Hall Effect (2016)
    • Alexander Altland and Ben Simons, Condensed Matter Field Theory (2010).
    • Tony Zee, Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell (2010).

    Particularly commended to impecunious students is David Tong’s on-line free-as-in-freedom series Lectures on Theoretical Physics, one of which is the above-cited Lectures on the Quantum Hall Effect.

    These texts survey the ground on which “The Battle for Quantum Supremacy” will be fought, and in particular, they motivate the modern-day quantum simulation research that descends from Lennie Susskind’s pioneering work with John Kogut in the 1970s (per comment #17).

    Local-to-global extensions in quantum field theory  Given the solid grounding of quantum field theory in local physics (laboratory space-time scales), it is natural to extend these ideas to global physics (cosmological space-time scales).

    As every student discovers, the local-to-global field theory extension is natural, but not easy! 🙂

    Local-to-global extensions in politics  The difficulty of local-to-global extension applies in politics too. Human interactions at the local, personal, familial level are dominated by empathic cognitive capacities, in the concrete sense that defects in empathic cognition generate far more human misery than defects in rational cognition (just ask any therapist).

    Politics and economics, then, are naturally regarded as the extension of local empathic practices to global scales. And just as in field theory, in politics the local-to-global empathic extension is natural, but not easy!

    Clinton versus Trump  As politicians go, Hillary Clinton is not notably gifted with charismatic empathy — she is more of a details-oriented public policy wonk (hence the rather tepid enthusiasm her campaign has excited to date). But contrasted with the anger-stoking saber-rattling demagoguery-spouting disability-belittling torture-loving Donald Trump, Clinton shines as an empathic genius! 🙂

    This is why, among the fifty or more practicing teachers, writers, and therapists of my acquaintance — my wife and I happen to know a lot of teachers, writers, and therapists — the number of votes that Donald Trump will receive is … zero.

    Trumps not doing well among younger military veterans either (Trump’s nuclear saber-rattling being dangerously dumb) but that’s a separate story.

  142. amy Says:

    sf: neh, it’s not that long. It’s long, but it’s certainly readable. The documents aren’t any more incomprehensible than scientific papers are. It does help if you go in understanding something about trade, if you have some language, same as if you’re reading papers. But if I were willing to give a few months to the project, which means starting very late and with no knowledge of specific trade issues, I’d be in reasonable condition.

    Nerd: wrong on all counts. I caucused for Bernie, I don’t involve myself in campaigns anymore, and you’ve got to be kidding about the vagina vote. You can stop flailing now.

    EFF is interested in its bit of TPP. Other organizations are interested in their bits of TPP. None of it means they’ve bothered with any of the rest of it, and you can’t look at individual pieces of trade agreements out of context because trade agreements come from wide-ranging negotiations. It’s not a chess match where they line up 400 players on one side and 400 on the other and each set of players hashes out a single issue. The question is: is it a good deal overall. And for that you have to look at the whole thing.

    In other words, if you want to understand it, you actually have to go do the work yourself. If I wanted to get started, I’d probably see if C-SPAN had any long programs with the US trade rep talking about it, just to get a sense of outlines and sticking points from our POV.

    You’re also yelling about truisms, not TPP. Of course major corporations, which used to be multinationals, and before that were transnationals, and in the mists of time were corporations in trusts and syndicates, work hand-in-glove with governments and run negotiations for their own benefit and not the people’s. You’re not Paul Revere, here. You want labor at the trade table on the US team, you’d better start domestically, by changing the labor-govt structure in ways that I can tell you the downtrodden will not accept: making trades unions an institution in government, as they are in Europe.

    The problem is that outside a few areas of this country with strong union histories, the downtrodden generally despise unions. Don’t want ’em. And you can’t reason with people on this score. Goes right against that rhetoric of machismo and bootstrappiness. I’ve had destitute students from destitute families tell me that the minimum wage is for lazy people. And in fairness, unions do with great regularly fuck over their rank and file. They’ve not been great friends of poor women, either, particularly working caregivers.

    So when you find you can’t do that, you have to start looking at redistribution inside your own country. Likewise: ability to regulate (see under pre-emption), standing to sue, ability to sue rather than arbitrate — these are domestic problems first. If we have no control over them domestically, they won’t matter at the negotiating table.

    All of your arguing, incidentally, is internet arguing. It’s really plain from the way you’re constructing your arguments and the things you’re concerned about that you do not know anything about how regional trade negotiations work and why. And the don’t work simply by throwing the internet at them and having a rally. The Leave voters are, unfortunately, finding this out now, and in their dismay are already building conspiracy theories about who duped them and why. It turns out that the structures that allow the negotiations to happen in the first place not only matter but constrain how negotiations can go. Also that there are reasons, often very good if not happy reasons, for why they are that way.

    And I think this, in the end, is the seed of the discontent. Large number of people who are angry, some justifiably so, some recreationally, and what angers them more than anything else is that *these things are in fact complex and have structures*. And that before you can do anything, you have to learn how the machine works, on its own terms. At which point you get millions of angry people resorting to “Hulk smash”, and it never does go well. Nor does Hulk really want to hear about how many vulnerable people are collateral damage for his moment of catharsis.

  143. struwwelpeter Says:

    So Trump is a lunatic (Susskind), a liar and a con man (#5), a bigot (#7), a sociopathic megalomaniac (#127) (nice one that, I’ll use it when I drive), Hitler and Mussolini rolled into one (#121 in an, oh how subtle, allusion). Etc., etc.
    Last, not least, let’s not forget our dear Scott’s (#118) calculation that Trump is ” possibly the least humble man on the face of the planet”.
    For its seven billion inhabitants endowed with their well-kown structure of a set totally ordered by humility, I suppose?
    Guys, do I discern some slight reservations in your enthusiasm for Trump?
    Talleyrand’s pithy aphorism comes to mind : “Tout ce qui est excessif est insignifiant”.

  144. struwwelpeter Says:

    @John Sidles: “Trump’s nuclear saber-rattling being dangerously dumb” Yeah, maybe he would send 30,000 Nato troops to Russia’s borders in a war game, in order to get Russia’s attention (http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/06/17/482432771/nato-war-games-in-poland-get-russias-attention).Or he would endorse Turkey, a NATO member, after it shoots down a Russian plane. Or he might even station B-61 nuclear warheads in Turkey, that stable, peace loving democratic ally.
    Actually it was Obama who endorsed Erdogan, organized the war games and left the warheads in Turkey. Do you remembe that speech where Clinton promised she would reverse that US war-mongering? Me neither. In contrast, Putin praised Trump as “bright and talented” and Trump’s reciprocated by calling Putin “a leader, unlike what we have in this country”.
    “Saber rattling”, really ?

  145. Lorraine Ford Says:

    AdamT #140,
    Looking at reality from the point of view of string theory (which Leonard Susskind subscribes to) or from the point of view of the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, a storm inside Leonard Susskind or a storm inside Donald Trump has the same status as a storm over the Pacific Ocean: none of them should be taken too seriously because all the storms are examples of reality going its inevitable way, 100% determined since the beginning of time.
    If on the other hand our intuition is correct, and reality is such that there is personal agency, the ability to freely act, the ability to personally create a tiny part of a physical outcome that is otherwise 100% determined by laws-of-nature, then what people say and do should be taken seriously because they have created a tiny, new bit of reality that will have an effect that is NOT 100% determined since the beginning of time. (One of the “weird” “inconvenient truths” about quantum mechanics is that observers/people/living things actually CAN have an effect on reality, an effect not 100% determined since the beginning of time.)

  146. John Sidles Says:

    struwwelpeter wonders whether “Trump’s nuclear saber-rattling [is] dangerously dumb.”

    There’s no shortage of folks who argue cogently that the answer is “yes” … including folks with considerable military expertise. See for example “Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders” (March 2, 2016; search engines find it). The letter has 121 signatories (so far), and concludes unambiguously:

    “We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.”

    The names of some these “neverTrump” signers were both familiar (to me anyway) and surprising. Max Boot? Michael Chertoff? Eric Edelman? Robert Kagan? These aren’t people who ordinarily make common cause with liberal Democrats, or stoop to garden-variety electioneering, are they?

    Their concerns are shared by many.

  147. amy Says:

    Oh, and sf, yeah, I agree, you’re right about the guest-worker visas. That’ll be a bigger and bigger deal, sometimes because it has to be. We have no way of providing nursing care for 70 million baby boomers while paying the nurses reasonably. It’s going to be min-wage imports or nothing, but you won’t see the nursing schools talking openly about that with the nursing students as they take out their loans.

    There are ways of having guestworker programs that do not aggressively undercut wages, but again, for this you need a strong domestic labor movement, and nobody has been successful in unionizing IT guys. Not for lack of trying, and not because management is cracking heads. In the end you’re going to have to convince them to put down the Atlas Shrugged or it just won’t go.

  148. Nerd Says:


    Let’s clarify things about TPP. You admit that these reputable organization and people have read TPP, at least the parts that is their specialty and have express VERY STRONG OPPOSITION to TPP. You accept that this is written for the interest of corporations not citizen. You agree that the negotiations were conducted with large involvement of big corporate lobbyists but kept completely secret from people, organizations that work for the benefit of people, and even their representatives. You have not made a single reason why it is going to benefit ordinary Americans. All you have said is that you watched C-SPAN and a person who has been responsible for it say it is a good deal. What a relief. I rest my case there.

    On the issue of suing, it is not a domestic issue. ISDS is one of the major points of opposition to TPP. It allows corporations to sue countries if their actions would deprive them of their potential profits. Phillip Morris was able to sue and force governments to change their policy regarding smoking because those countries had signed trade agreements with ISDS provisions. Another area that TPP is criticized heavily is that it forces governments to privatize sectors and limits their ability to fund organizations like public broadcasters. You can see I know quite a bit about TPP and I can go on and on. But I end this with a Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s statements on TPP:


    The policies that Democrats have implemented starting with Bill Clinton have not benefited the middle class relative to their claims. The middle class is hollowed out at the benefit of the capitalist 1% class. Upper middle class (professionals with university education, considered to make the next around 15% of the population) are OK, but the economic situation and political influence for lower middle class (making up the next around 30% of the population) and working class (making up the next 30% of the populations) have deteriorated. These two make 60% of the US population. You keep talking about working poor (13% ) and underclass (12%) which make the bottom 25%. Under democrats the situation of working poor have improved and it is nice, but when you are at the bottom it doesn’t need much to improve your situation, specially when they make a small group. This has come at the expense of 60% of the population which make the middle. And every time I have made this point so far you have gone back to say, well, they did some good things for the working poor. Nice for them. I am not one of them and I want politicians who represent MY interests as well. The American GDP has more than tripled since 1980, so has the wage of the capitalist 1% class. The wages of upper middle class have gone a little bit up. But for the rest of the people either their wages have stagnated or have gone down in real terms. This has happened both under Republicans and under Democrats like Bill Clinton. And we are supposed to believe this is as good as it can get? And you don’t understand why people are showing their middle finger to political elites.

    I am sure you are going to reply with another long posts with little content that tries to dilute, obscure, and conceal the facts. Your posts regularly contain personal attacks and belittle the other side even on issues that you have already admitted you know little and the other side is considerably more knowledgeable than you. I think the facts are clear for those who want to see, there is no way to awaken someone who insists on sleeping.

  149. sf Says:

    amy #142 “if I were willing to give a few months to the project…”

    Not a realistic way to run a democracy, how many people do you think would take this up? Would be safer just to work to reject it this time, and ask for a more transparent process in the next try.

    A big part of the problem of how things work now is that its too easy for well financed lobbies to game any stage of the process, and this is just playing into their hands. Regulators in the administration can’t even keep up with their games, how do you expect ordinary citizens to stand a chance. With such a loaded deck who do you think would end up shortchanged?

  150. Nerd Says:

    Joseph Stiglitz thinks the ISDS provision of TPP:

  151. John Sidles Says:

    Nerd (#148) wonders whether “We are supposed to believe this [current economic conditions] is as good as it can get?”

    Plenty of economic trends are presently adverse, and have been adverse for decades, in plenty of nations around the world.

    Yet it’s entirely plausible — isn’t it? — that no major political party (whether in the USA or around the world), and no major political leader (whether in the USA or around the world), and no major STEAM-discipline (whether economists, sociologists, scientists, engineers, physicians, etc.), and no any major ideological ‘ism’ (conservatism, progressivism, libertarianism, etc), presently has good ideas for reversing these trends.

    No quick-and-easy solutions  As long ago as 1955, John von Neumann articulated (posthumously) some of the no-easy-solution realities of global politics and economics:

    What safeguard remains [against global-scale challenges]? Apparently only day-to-day — or perhaps year-to-year — opportunistic measures, a long sequence of small, correct decisions. […]

    The most hopeful answer is that the human species has been subjected to similar tests before, and seems to have a congenital ability to come through, after varying amounts of trouble.

    For the STEAM community, Clintonian politics represents the near-term practice of von Neumann-style ‘small opportunistic measures’. Policies that are uninspiring but not crazy.

    Whereas Trumpism represents … well heck … no one knows what Trumpism represents … not even Donald Trump! 🙂

    Incremental Enlightenment  Are there reasonable avenues by which we may hope that the world’s STEAM communities will evolve to embrace policies that are more effective than Clintonism — policies that necessarily will be radical?

    For quite a few people (me included), such policies are implicit in the Enlightenment-centric historical worldview that is surveyed in (for exampled Jonathan Israel’s recent Benjamin Franklin lecture “Changing the World: Enlightenment and Basic Human Rights” (search engines find it):

    Conclusion “Here we have a very very big problem. The French revolutionaries were very clear: the whole idea of modern human rights comes from philosophy. But we don’t understand that. ‘What the hell does that mean? The whole idea of modern human rights comes from philosophy? Are you kidding?’ For most people, that is absurd and ridiculous.

    And most historians just don’t know what to do about this. ‘What are you talking about?’ If you read [any] French revoutionary journals from 1789, on almost every page it will say ‘The world is being totally transformed and the main agent of change is philosophy.’

    And [nowadays] we don’t know what that means, we don’t understand that, and we’ve redefined philosophy: ‘We want to be neutral on important social questions. We want to stay in our corner! We’re philosophers

    And so nowadays we think that’s what philosophy is. Of course, this isn’t the Socratic idea of philosophy; it’s the modern idea of philosophy, that way philosophy was made to be neutral, by governments and states and universities.

    So we absolutely can’t understand what they’re talking about, when they [the 18th century philosophes] say ‘A new world, modern democracy, basic human rights, comes from philosophy.’

    I think this is a complete mystery to a culture like ours. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.”

    STEAM faith and Enlightened practices  Concretely, Shtetl Optimized readers who seek to accelerate the world’s evolution toward a new, more modern, more democratic, more enlightened world, could do worse than apply all of the STEAM community’s tools toward the expansion of fundamental human rights, including (centrally and crucially in my view) healthcare rights.

    The point is that sustained Clinton-style / von Neumann-style ‘small opportunistic measures’ — particularly in healthcare as a crucial human right — already are acting irreversibly and cumulatively to generate what will be (in the long run) transformationally Enlightened changes in the human condition.

    This is good (as most folks think, including me). 🙂

    Advantageously, this Enlightened transformation does not require charismatic leadership by magical politicians.


    Q  What is the Trumpist / Republican platform regarding healthcare in general and ObamaCare in particular? Uhhh … there isn’t any sort of rational platform, is there?  Why not?

  152. adamt Says:

    Lorraine #145, I am not sure what you are getting at. I have no idea what Professor Susskind’s views are on physicalism or free will nor do I have any idea what he makes of Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis. Just because he is a noted creator of string theory and a physicist doesn’t really tell what he thinks of these subjects you are on about.

    My best guess is that you are saying that physical reductionists or free will deniers have no business arguing over Trump or really over anything since according to them it is all preordained and we have no efficacy to change anything according to this viewpoint. However, again, the standard response is that they have no free will NOT to argue over Trump and over all the other things they argue about. Which, so far as it goes, is not inconsistent.

    Regardless, to the extent that you are intending to rebut the criticism of Trump by equating those who present such criticism as proponents of physical reductionism or as free-will deniers… YOU HAVE NOT DEMONSTRATED that the interlocutors you oppose ARE said proponents of such views. There is nothing in string theory or physics in general that necessitates a physical reductionist/free-will-denying view of the world as can be amply demonstrated by the many scientists who do not subscribe to physical reductionism.

    In particular, I myself don’t subscribe to physical reductionism and yet I have many criticisms of Mr. Trump and his lunacy.

  153. Nerd Says:

    I think the lack of progress on addressing these issues can be attributed to the lack of serious attempts to address them. The status quo serves our politicians, both democrats and republicans, so why change it? Why restrict corporate donations and lobbying and superPACs when it serves them so well? Just check where our politicians end up after they retire.

    Do you any other country where its democratically elected members of legislature persistently get below 15% approval rating from their electorate for decades and still continue to get elected as if nothing is wrong?

  154. Nerd Says:

    Not only they are not trying to address these issues, they are after deals that would make things worse, increase inequality, severely reduce the influence of the ordinary citizens on policies, … blike TPP and TTIP.

    Obamacare is a progress. But ask yourself: what is its impact? How many people does it effect and how much does it improve access to healthcare for them? Who are the people who benefit from it? Ask yourself why America cannot have a decent universal healthcare coverage like every other developed nation? Why Americans spends way more than other countries and gets less than them in return on healthcare? Why is it that despite 80% of Americans supporting stricter background checks on gun purchases and so much publicity on the issue majority of members of congress can be against it? The political influence of average citizens is at historic lows that a single lobbying organization like NRA has more influence on the members of congress than 80% of Americans. This is not about this policy or that policy, this is about the feature of our democratic system. Do these policies address the underlying issues like increasing inequality, erosion of influence of ordinary citizens on policies, concentrations of power and wealth in the capitalist 1% class, …? That is the question. Now can you claim that there has been any progress over the past decades on these underlying issues?

    Minority rights, women’s rights, healthcare for working poor, etc. etc. … are important, and from time to time Democrats have made progress on these issues. But these are not of the same level for average Americans in the middle as the underlying issue of eroding political influence of average citizens and concentration of power and wealth at the capitalist 1% class.

    I will look at HRC’s positions during the campaign to see if she is going to support TPP, be aggressive on foreign policy, and fight to reduce inequality and the influence of money on our politics. These are the main issues that I care about and are of importance for me. If I don’t like what I see I may vote Trump despite the fact that he is a low-IQ ignorant bigot who cannot control even his own mouth. The amount of damage he can do internally in a system like ours where a president cannot implement reasonable policies even when he has the backing of 80% of the populations will be limited and he is less likely to start new wars than HRC.

  155. sf Says:

    John Sidles #151: I enjoy your posts and some of the links, but have a hard time seeing Clinton as an enlightenment reformer. Your excerpt is saying in effect that rights were acquired by power struggles, which were put in a changing philosophical context. It might be more pertinent to read Graeber’s ‘Debt, the first 5000 years’, despite its at times painful telling of human nature involving slavery and the like. (He’s an anthropologist.)

    I’m afraid that a large part of the current problem is that Obama turned his back on Main Street, and fell into the arms of the TBTF banks right after taking power. Almost no heads fell (speaking figuratively!) among those who brought us the financial crisis, when some kind of reboot was needed. Alot of this goes back to inflated expectations created during the galloping Dow Jones of the Clinton 90’s – (as extended by Bush/Greenspan) and the recovery is ultimately being held back by the difficulty of bringing expectations, or habits, back into line with some kind of economic reality.

    I don’t see any honesty from either candidate along these lines, its not what gets short-term electoral advantage of course. I suspect that Clinton’s failure to convince people that she wants to, or is able to, stand up to big money type interests is her weak point with the Sanders camp and with a big part of the middle class. But the new economic reality cannot hold much promise for these groups if the ‘big money’ isn’t held in check.

  156. amy Says:

    sf #149: a few months starting from zero, yeah. Like I said, I don’t know anything about the issues driving TPP, or indeed what issues are driving TPP, and I’ve paid no attention to these things for years, so I’d be coming in cold. Presumably if you’re interested in trade deals and immigration you’d have been paying attention for a while and keeping up, and it wouldn’t take so long.

    But what you say about the regulation is true. It really freaks people out when you say this, but lots of the federal govt is undersized for the job. 585 people can’t hope to legislate for 300 million; they don’t have time to read the bills, much less understand them, and they don’t have adequate staffs for the job, either. That’s why even somebody like me can walk in and write legislation and have it pass. Same on the regulatory side, except there the problem’s compounded by money and the government’s total inability to compete with the kind of money you can make in industry.

    I think that to a considerable extent we’re stuck with the problem, but also that the problem’s ameliorated by having a knowledgeable electorate. And when I say “knowledgeable”, I mean that they do have a working notion not just of the issue they’re interested in, but of how things in government actually work and why. That thing I was talking about upthread, or on the other thread, about leaving your house and finding out what else is up in the world — this is part of that.

    I’ll give you an example: back when I worked for a terrible congressman, we’d get little bands of demonstrators in the plaza below the office. (District office.) Not infrequently they demanded things not taken care of on the federal level. Every now and then a demonstrator or three would come upstairs and demand to see the congressman. We didn’t keep him in a closet, of course, so usually he wasn’t there, or even in the state, and the demonstrators (who sometimes insisted on sitting in the office waiting for him to come back) would go away triumphantly persuaded that he was trying to dodge them. This is not a helpful way of demonstrating and pressing an interest. Better: in the 1980s, when the Reagan admin was uninterested in funding AIDS research and pressing FDA to get trials running, a group of activists *knowledgeable about both media technique and regulatory processes* put on a big damn show and turned the plaza outside FDA into a circus. Which meant that when Anthony Fauci, who usually could be found there, finally came down to talk to them, they were not only in the right place talking to the right guy, but they spoke enough FDA language to begin to have a useful conversation. Was it rough on both sides, yes, but the AIDS activists were aggressively willing to learn and the FDA people were willing to work with people who were willing to work with them, even through recriminations. The result was, in unusually short order, effective drugs, also a large funded research community, despite continuing Republican administrations.

    As for TPP — wouldn’t it be safer to scrap it, you ask. Well, given that I don’t know what it is, and you probably don’t either, I don’t think either one of us can say. We have the narrow opinions of several organizations each interested in narrow aspects of TPP, but we cannot see whether TPP is, on balance, a good thing or not, because we haven’t spent the time. It could as easily be that saying “no” is more dangerous than saying “yes”.

    Doing the homework>trusting the knowledgeable rep>slicing blindly at things.

    (Europe’s had the same problem. The Common Agricultural Policy’s been a bugbear since the day it was born, and you’ll find plenty of people who look at CAP and that’s their only measure of the goodness or badness of the EU. Plenty were happy to scrap the EU on the basis of the CAP. Which is nuts — all you have to do to know that is listen to the anguish of the young people in Britain who look like they’ll be cut off from having lives as Europeans.)

    In the end, there aren’t all that many choices. You can have direct democracy and hope that everyone is responsible and educates themselves well enough to vote responsibly and has time to do all that work. You can have a representative democracy and fight knowledgeably and responsibly to preserve it from becoming corrupt to the point where it cannot do anything but enslave the nominal citizens. You can run around blowing things up, which is very exciting if you enjoy that kind of thing; it gives you a brief and bloody reprieve from whatever had existed, and it costs vulnerable people big even if they hadn’t wanted a revolution, but guarantees nothing. I think it’s obvious where my sympathies lie, and in the inevitable debate about whether a rep ought to act mechanically to represent the shifting will of his constituency, like a pass-through, or ought to act as a knowledgeable elite, I’ll lean readily toward knowledgeable elite — but an elite whose ears are open to his constituents, who themselves have some responsibility to self-education.

  157. amy Says:


    1. I’m thinking you have no experience with “poor”. There’s no way you’d be saying the situation for the working poor was nice if you did have. Holy crap. Turn off Fox, man, they’re just making things up.

    2. You’ve managed to misread most of what I wrote. tl;dr: Nope.

    You are sort of a fascinating avatar of the internet, though.

  158. anon Says:

    I feel bad for Nerd, so here’s my advice: don’t waste your time with Amy.

    For all her pontificating on Graves, MLK, the middle class, academia, and whatever else tickles her at the moment, she’s not nearly as thoughtful as she thinks or wishes.

    If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, you’ll have seen her exude arrogance, condescension, and sexism. Knowing nothing about a subject? Disregarding statistics? Ignoring the details of someone else’s argument? Not an issue for Amy. Armchair philosophizing and lazy thinking are her bread and butter.

    Best not to engage 🙂

  159. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Hang in there, Amy!

    I don’t always agree with you, but I love seeing you tick off the wacko!

  160. Sniffnoy Says:

    You can have direct democracy and hope that everyone is responsible and educates themselves well enough to vote responsibly and has time to do all that work. You can have a representative democracy and fight knowledgeably and responsibly to preserve it from becoming corrupt to the point where it cannot do anything but enslave the nominal citizens

    These are hardly the only choices aside from blowing things up! I mean OK obviously this leaves out all non-democratic solutions. 😛 But there are any number of forms of democracy that haven’t been tried, that are neither direct nor representative in the usual sense. Liquid democracy, for instance. Futarchy’s pretty democratic, too.

  161. sf Says:

    amy #156

    Thanks for the reply, still, I think you have no choice but to judge these trade deals by inferring the motives of the negotiators; check out the title of this recent article –
    The average guy has no chance of seeing through a text like the TPP, which unlike a scientific article is not written to be understandable. (Giving the scientific article the benefit of the doubt here, to say the least.) Maybe ok for a superficial understanding, but not what counts when it comes to actual effects.

    The secrecy of negotiating stands or strategies can be justified, up to a point, by the need to bluff, but its clear that the TPP was kept under wraps partly just to dissemble whose interests were being represented.

    The basic assumption used to defend this approach is that ‘what’s good for business is good for America’, but when you get to the point that what’s good for business is to make redundant a maximum of employees, this assumption looks pretty bad. The usual rejoinder based on creative destruction and miraculous appearance of new types of professions hasn’t really panned out since the recessions of the early 90’s, unless you want to count mcjobs and the gig economy as a satisfactory situation.

    By the way there is an interesting parallel to the debates on free-will; insofar as the power that science gives us over the environment turns back on us, and we see that power dictating our very choices. It may be useful to compare to the way that organizations could end up actually undermining the interests of their own members or founders. There’s a lot here that needs work though.

  162. sf Says:

    There’s a basic mathematical fact that is often overlooked in analyses of Brexit, the TPP, or Trump v Clinton. In decision theory its well known that taking the optimal choice at each step of a decision process (or tree) does not necessarily give the global optimal decision. A nice way to see this is to figure out your best bet on something like a March madness bracket (NCAA basketball tournament). The best bet is not simply the one that takes the most likely winner of each game; its easy to rig up simple counterexamples.
    Another way of saying this is that the Greedy strategy doesn’t optimize globally. I suspect that in the most general context you can’t do much better than simulation, something like MCMC, but if there are experts who can guide me on this I’d be grateful.

    So what’s obvious as a local choice may actually be a bad choice in some larger context. In particular if you leave it to an ill-intentioned demon to structure your choices, you’re sure to do badly even while making perfectly reasonable decisions at each step.

  163. another swede Says:

    @Amy 142, 156 (just saw replies above making similar points, but anyways..)

    for the case of understanding ttp/ttip as an ordinary citicen I would adjust your suggested inequalities:

    Doing the homework = trusting the knowledgeable rep >>> slicing blindly at things

    I must say that in the present context of the ttp negotiations, to get an basic overview and assessment of the core parts of the agreement, Nerd’s approach of listening to the opinions of independent experts seems much more sensible than the one you are suggesting. As someone else pointed out above there is simply no way that you can expect everybody to spend months of work digging through that pile of papers without pay just to get a basic understanding of what’s going on. That’s why we have professional lawyers and economists etc that do so. Given how many peoples lives will be directly effected by the trade agreements throughout society, it is simply an undemocratic process to make the facts that inaccessible to the general public.

    I have been reading this blog for a while now, and seen your many lengthy comments on issues like social justice and inequality (expressing many opinions that I would personally agree with), and in that light it is very remarkable that you seem to fail to see how significant and bad ttp would be for the overall equality in society (not to mention public health etc). I’m sure there are many more subtle details in the agreement that would be bad enough for most people to reject it, but which takes a more detailed analysis of the documents then most people can afford. But there is one such detail, which is now known due to leaked documents, that suffices for it to be rejected, namely the proposed privatisation of courts in order to enable large corps to sue for loss of profit.

    Also it is interesting to note that you appeal to the same kind of rhetorics as the corporate lobbyists use for justifying the secrecy of the negotiation process, arguing that it is so complicated that people couldn’t understand it anyway and will only disrupt the process unnecessarily etc. I’m sure that the whole agreement with all the legal framework is pretty complicated to wholly grasp and might take some sophisticated knowledge, but that does not mean that the reasons to be opposed of it are any difficult at all to see. Basically, It is a bad thing for the vast majority of people to allow the juridical system of civil society to be privatised and shaped as a tool for big corporations to maximise their profit, that should be easy enough to see if you care at all about social equality.

  164. Scott Says:

    Sorry, I’ve been traveling and haven’t had time for the important things in life like my comment section, but I did feel a need to respond to Lorraine Ford #145:

      Looking at reality from the point of view of string theory (which Leonard Susskind subscribes to) or from the point of view of the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, a storm inside Leonard Susskind or a storm inside Donald Trump has the same status as a storm over the Pacific Ocean: none of them should be taken too seriously because all the storms are examples of reality going its inevitable way, 100% determined since the beginning of time.

    This, I believe, marks the first time I’ve seen anyone explicitly argue that we needn’t worry about Donald Trump, if indeed he’s just one more manifestation of the mechanistic nature of the laws of physics and the unchangeable initial conditions at the Big Bang. (Though perhaps Matt Damon came close in his MIT commencement address, when he discussed the possibility that our universe is just one of many computer simulations, and wondered why we have to live in a simulation where Trump won the Republican nomination.)

    AdamT has already given the classic, obvious response: if everything is predetermined, then it’s also predetermined that we’d worry about Trump, so nothing to do about that either. Personally, I’d go even further, and say the idea that a lack of free will would have moral implications is a pure cognitive illusion, one of the most strangely persistent ones that human beings are subject to. It’s entirely the result of, in your imagination, switching off the free will of the criminal defendant, the voters, etc., and forgetting to switch off your own.

    Of course, I’m on record arguing that the currently-understood laws of physics might actually support a much more robust notion of personal identity and free will than is normally considered possible on a scientific worldview. But even if that turned out not to be the case, I think it would be forehead-bangingly absurd to draw the conclusions that all criminal defendants should go free or that we need not worry about Trump.

  165. John Sidles Says:

    another swede affirms (#163)  “It is a bad thing for the vast majority of people to allow the juridical system of civil society to be privatised and shaped as a tool for big corporations to maximise their profit, that should be easy enough to see if you care at all about social equality.”

    Supposing that we affirm Another Swede’s proposition in its negative sense, stating this same proposition in any reasonably comprehensive positive sense isn’t easy, is it?

    Just in the last two days:

    • Trump has given a major speech proposing economic reforms: the promised improvements are transformational; the details are entirely lacking.

    • Clinton has given a major speech proposing economic reforms; the promised improvements are incremental; the details are thoroughly worked out.

    For many folks (including me), the prudent course is to reject Trumpism’s foggy promises and (with a sigh) accept the Clintonian incremental improvements.

    The reason is grounded in history. Plenty of ‘isms’ have promised utopian social transformations (if your favorite ‘ism’ is missing, please accept my apologies):

    Transformation-isms  altruism, anarchism, Bayesianism, Buddhism, capitalism, Catholicism, communism, determinism, environmentalism, exceptionalism, fundamentalism, Islamism, Judaism, libertarianism, Maoism, nationalism, objectivism, populism, progressivism, Protestantism, racism, rationalism, sexism, socialism, Reaganism, Spinozism, Stalinism, Trumpism, and (last but not least) vegetarianism 🙂

    Needless to say, delivering the promised ‘ism’-transformations has proven to be problematic at best and catastrophic at worst.

    A notable positive-sense exception (as it seems to me) has been the 20th faith and practice of scientific medicine — which is not even an ‘ism’. Here the positive-sense ‘faith’ is that recent Moore-doubling improvements in medical capacities can be sustained for many future decades, and the positive-sense ‘practice’ is the equitable extension of first-class medical care to all the citizens of the world.

    A crucial positive-sense medical lesson from STEAM-history (the way that I read it anyway) is that we are at present sufficiently far from the fundamental limits to the domain and range of medicine’s STEAM-engine of social transformation, that the sustainment of progress is both feasible and desirable as a crucial central element of social policy.

    ObamaCare has been a good positive-sense start. So let’s keep going. Let’s push harder. In coming decades, the resulting capacities will be sufficiently transformational as to gratify humanity’s most ‘ism’-istic desires and fantasies. Hopefully! 🙂

  166. adamt Says:

    Scott #164,

    Not wanting to hijack the topic, but I am interested in fleshing this out a bit more if you are game.

    “Personally, I’d go even further, and say the idea that a lack of free will would have moral implications is a pure cognitive illusion, one of the most strangely persistent ones that human beings are subject to. It’s entirely the result of, in your imagination, switching off the free will of the criminal defendant, the voters, etc., and forgetting to switch off your own.”

    The second sentence seems pretty much equivalent to what I was going after, however I’m not sure if I’m onboard with the first sentence depending upon what you mean. I don’t think it is necessarily inconsistent for a free will denier to argue about, well, anything really, for precisely the reasons previously given.

    On the other hand, I would say the fact that every free will denialist that I’ve ever met felt compelled – by the very initial conditions and laws of the universe no less! – to argue their viewpoint betrays the fact they don’t truly embody the philosophy they espouse in those moments of arguing. In other words, the very act of arguing – about anything at all – means that in that moment when they are arguing, there minds are occupied with thoughts that have as basis the belief in the efficacy of free will.

    Subsequent thoughts that introspect on those previous thoughts can well conclude that those previous thoughts have as cause the ineluctable application of the laws of nature to the initial conditions and… there is no inconsistency in this. I think this is yet another way of saying the second sentence.

    So if free will is a pure fiction we are left with the observable that everyone walking around acting and arguing in our society are doing so with thoughts that betray belief in this pure fiction. In this sense, I can agree with your first sentence that the belief that the lack of free will could have moral implications is a cognitive illusion. On the other hand, in an alternative universe where free will is also a pure fiction and people truly embodied this fact… well society would be quite different wouldn’t it? To that extent I have to say that the lack of free will would have moral implications.

    Yet another way of saying it is… if tomorrow a free will denialist went out and started preaching and converted multitudes of people and they all started embodying this belief by no longer participating in society or just sat down and stopped arguing or no longer fed their kids, because what is the point after all, then this would have moral implications, no? Could you correctly say they were being inconsistent with their beliefs in a lack of free will? If they just responded and said that they have no choice, but to act the way they are after all and you might as well blame the initial conditions and the laws of the universe and not them … would that be inconsistent?

  167. amy Says:

    Raoul #159: oh, come on, it’s hardly sport. That said, though, I’d somehow missed this, from Nerd #154:

    “Minority rights, women’s rights, healthcare for working poor, etc. etc. … are important, and from time to time Democrats have made progress on these issues. But these are not of the same level for average Americans in the middle as the underlying issue of eroding political influence of average citizens and concentration of power and wealth at the capitalist 1% class.”

    I think it’s indicative of the mindset. Women are roughly half the population, and yet in Nerd’s mind women’s rights aren’t so important for “average citizens”. You put together women, minorities, and the poor, and while there’s considerable overlap in those groups, you’re now at well over half the population — and yet this still isn’t “average citizens” for Nerd.

    Nerd is concerned with Nerd and other Nerds, and really no one else, but in Nerd’s mind, he’s not a special-interest group, not a minority. He’s Everyman.

  168. amy Says:

    another swede #163 (and to some extent sf) – yes, I’m happy to go with your reformulation, because you’re right, most people won’t have time to wade through this stuff (although I don’t think that’s an excuse for not learning rudiments of how nations work out trade agreements and why). And I genuinely know nothing about TPP, which is why I’ve refused to say good or bad about it. But I really don’t think it’s that fantastically difficult to understand. I was writing trade reports that people were paying serious money for when I was all of 18 and not yet out of school, and sitting here next to me is an antique book from two LSE international-trade profs who credit me in acknowledgements for my “immense help in research”, and indeed I not only designed part of their study but wrote a section of the report they were working on at the time. During which time they took me out for my 21st birthday. While it’d be very nice to think of myself as some sort of former trade wunderkind, it wasn’t at all the case: it’s that these things are not all that difficult to grasp. The difficult part is in understanding the meanings of the specific things under negotiation, but again it doesn’t take massive intellect, just time to read.

    I don’t remember advocating for secrecy (though a current Atlantic piece does), and I don’t think generally that it’s a good idea…although there are deals, helpful ones, that won’t be done without it. If you’re referring to the 400 chess tables, all I was pointing out was that the issues aren’t hashed out individually and then pasted together, but are horsetraded all together. If you want to go through your own high-stakes version of that, try getting divorced sometime. (Don’t, it’s not worth it.)

    Your point does make me wonder about something I hadn’t thought about, though: what sort of press coverage goes on during the talks? When I think back to GATT, which had rounds that’d go on for years, I’m fairly certain they had reporters wandering around. I doubt they were allowed in any but plenary sessions, but as I recall negotiators would talk to them on-site. Of course, the media environment was totally different, so the only people likely to read the reports were already knowledgeable people. It wasn’t like now, where things show up on FrothFeed completely out of context and 40,000 people go berserk. But we’re back to the question of homework.

  169. amy Says:

    Oh. Should also be said, I guess – it’s important to be able to assess the qualifications and backgrounds of the people doing the negotiating/writing/etc. when it’s stuff you can’t or won’t follow yourself. Here’s the US Trade Rep:


    …and his bio says to me nothing unexpected at all. Top drawer in academia and govt, dunno how high in banking. You do wonder what happened to him at Citi and how his time there affects his thinking, but the migration between govt and banking is ordinary and not necessarily indicative of “hired gun for banksters”. I’d actually be a little concerned about a trade person who hadn’t done any time at a major bank, because it’s the only way you get any sense of how things actually work there. If I were going to poke around I’d look for articles he’d written and how long he’d been at Citi doing what.

  170. Alfred Says:

    It is amazing how ignorant are those commenting in support of TPP.

    There are many experts who have come against TPP, but probably no one is better suited to explain it than famous economist Joseph Stiglitz. Other than his general audience talks some of which are posted above, there are talks for more economically literate people. Anyone looking for a deeper look at TPP and understand the its economic implications should watch this:


  171. Anonymous Programmer Says:

    Lack of belief in libertarian free will lead you away from a belief in God and ultimately to hell (no communication with God). A honest belief in libertarian free will leads one to surmise that maybe the universe is very large soul with libertarian free will and complex emotions rather than a one inch math equation.

    If you decide that the universe is a being with libertarian free will (God) you might decide to try to have a good relationship with God and with such a powerful wise friend, long term prospects for happiness are much better!

    But even in a computer AI program with no libertarian free will, every belief you program in will affect its behavior whether the beliefs are true or not — how you program its belief in free will of people would likely have big impacts on how the AI interacts with people.

  172. amy Says:

    That #171 space, I tell you what….

  173. amy Says:

    Thanks, Alfred #170, that’s helpful. For those unfamiliar, Stiglitz is a Nobelist and a popular-ish economics writer, too; his big book several years back was Globalization and Its Discontents, which I liked. Moderate-lefty in outlook, trained I believe as a neoclassical guy (if you had the big Samuelson text in freshman econ, it’ll sound familiar), brow-knitting rather than ranty when it comes to the effects of globalization. Less yelly than Krugman.

    There’s also a piece in Foreign Affairs of Froman’s (I wonder what it’s like to be the US Trade Rep and still have people calling you the sausage king of Chicago) in which he lays out ideas about trade negotiations, will maybe read tonight: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/americas/strategic-logic-trade

  174. John Sidles Says:

    Nerd (#148 and #150) and Alfred (#170) having praised the works of the economist (and Nobel Laureate) Joseph Stiglitz, Shtetl Optimized readers may be interested to learn that in recent weeks Stiglitz has declared for Bernie and Hillary (albeit rather tepidly, as of April 28, 2016):

    The most problematic [primary] option is clear: Cruz.

    He’s an ideologue. Conservative Republicans like him because he’s true to the faith, that means getting rid of social security, making our tax system more regressive, cutting back on all the programs that lean against growing inequality.

    Of the major candidates remaining, he [Cruz] stands out as the person most likely to do the most harm.

    I think almost surely both Hillary and Bernie Sanders are very very committed to a pro-equality agenda, and the differences are more in details, more in one’s confidence in their ability to execute this in a political context.

    Subsequently Stiglitz has declared strongly against Donald Trump (as of June 2, 2016):

    Lurking beneath all the troubling questions about Donald Trump — would he really try to renegotiate the national debt? Would he really build a wall between Mexico and the United States? Would he really try to prevent Muslims from entering the country? Would he really encourage other countries to develop nuclear weapons? — lies an even more fundamental question: Can he possibly find the thousands of people he needs to perform the most basic task of government, which is, after all, to govern?

    A President Donald Trump would need to hire more than 3,000 people—“quality people,” as he would say—in a period of little more than two months. He does not know who these people will be. He has spent no part of his life making the acquaintance of likely candidates. He has virtually nowhere to go for help.

    And he [Trump] shows no sign that he is even aware of the problem, much less taken steps to deal with it.

    Thus Stiglitz reveals himself to be a common-sense disciple of Alexander Pope (per #103): “For forms of government, let fools contest. Whate’er is best administer’d is best.”

    Who knew? 🙂

  175. Alfred Says:

    amy #173 Your post is a clear attempt at character assassination. It demonstrates your ignorance about TPP that you feel you have to resort to character assassination to advance your position in place of pointing out any error in his assessment of TPP.

    John Sidles #174 he serves in Bill Clinton’s administration and is well known to be in general in support of democrats policies, but it is not without criticism. It would be really surprising if he did not support Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. However, independent of how you think about candidates, it is undeniable that TPP is a very dangerous agreement. I advise anyone who wants to learn about TPP to watch the videos of Stiglitz’s talks above, and then form your own opinion of TPP.

  176. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Above John Sidles quotes Stiglitz that touches on a key point: Cruz would likely be much worse than Trump.

    Trump is a loud mouth buffoon, whereas Cruz is a religious fanatic. Pick your poison.

  177. amy Says:

    Well, that Froman piece was worth reading. It’s a press release for policy types, with some nonsense about the primacy of trade over military power, but the stuff about positioning the US as center-of-the-spider’s-web for global trade…it sounds to me (with no real knowledge, mind) like idea is actually to try to drag that central spot away from its migration toward China. “We have historical relationships with access to sweet trade deals all over the world, and honestly nobody really wants to deal with the Chinese, you can count on us” sort of stuff. Sounds like that’s what all the “rebalancing” talk is about.

    Writing for publication is also not where this guy lives. He’s okay. But just okay. I’ll tell you what, I don’t think this rebalancing thing is his idea, either. Wonder whose it is.

    Well, let’s see what Stiglitz has to say about what Abe (sorry, he’s Abe Froman now) is willing to trade to get there.

  178. Lorraine Ford Says:

    Scott #164, adamt #152,

    (I’m not impressed by Donald Trump OR the “Bride of Frankenfood” Hilary Clinton, but I’m not American.)

    What I am getting at is the incongruity/contradictions of Leonard Susskind’s views:

    In a recent paper [1] he claims that every single one of the many possible physical outcomes predicted by quantum mechanics actually exist as part of a larger multiverse landscape containing all the possible outcomes: in effect saying that we don’t actually have free-will/choice because all the possible choices actually exist in separate universes. He is in effect saying that we think that we have freely chosen the blue shirt, but we are mistaken because we can’t see the universes where we chose a pink shirt, or the universes where we chose an orange shirt: he is in effect saying that there is no free will.

    So I wonder why Leonard Susskind bothers to rail against Trump, given that he says that all possibilities exist i.e. in many other possible worlds he is a Trump supporter. Why does he bother to say anything at all, given that (according to his view of reality) all the possible worlds in which he speaks out against Trump will still safely exist?

    I just can’t see how Susskind can take himself seriously; or how anyone who believes that all physical possibilities are implemented in at least one of the possible multiverse worlds can take themselves or anyone else seriously; or how anyone can take Susskind and other multiverse believers seriously. (!)

    I don’t agree with Susskind that all possibilities exist in different worlds. I think that choice is real. I consider that our intuition is correct, and reality is such that there IS personal agency, the ability to freely act, the ability to personally create a tiny part of a physical outcome that is otherwise 100% determined by laws-of-nature. I think that reality is not merely complex: I think that there are aspects of reality that are not representable by law-of-nature mathematical equations, or by any sort of equations. Have you considered THAT possibility? (Thanks, but I haven’t yet had time to read “The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine”)

    1. “We argue that the many-worlds of quantum mechanics and the many worlds of the multiverse are the same thing, and that the multiverse is necessary to give exact operational meaning to probabilistic predictions from quantum mechanics. Decoherence – the modern version of wave-function collapse – is subjective in that it depends on the choice of a set of unmonitored degrees of freedom, the “environment”. In fact decoherence is absent in the complete description of any region larger than the future light-cone of a measurement event”; The Multiverse Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Raphael Bousso and Leonard Susskind, http://arxiv.org/pdf/1105.3796v3.pdf

  179. amy Says:

    Alfred #175, up the voltage. Really, you’re reading things with your paranoiac knob turned way up high. Turn it back down and try again, keeping in mind that “has not savaged TPP” doesn’t equal “is in favor of TPP”.

    The Stiglitz video’s unwatchable, unfortunately — fully half of Stiglitz’s talk is “uh”. I can take a lot of uh, but not this much. I’ll find him on the page.

  180. amy Says:

    John #174, fogginess was a reason to choose HRC over Bernie. Fogginess isn’t the reason to choose HRC over Trump, though. You get much more immediate reasons with Trump.

  181. Jason Says:

    Well, in contrast to what some others have said, I’ve got to say I’m impressed (and a little flabbergasted!) by Amy’s breadth of knowledge.

    Being another academic on the TT, I barely have time to get my work done, let alone learn anything about trade agreements etc. I don’t understand where people get the time/stamina to do all this other stuff…

    On the other hand, I do see validity in some of the complaints. Helping the poor is commendable, and I donate not only a healthy part of my pay cheque every month, but also make contributions outside of that. However, I can understand why someone would want a representative for the middle class. I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive. Anyone who has multiple kids knows the associated costs, ugh.

  182. Wolf Says:

    I don’t think Trump will be elected. His hair style is just too weird.

  183. Alfred Says:

    @amy #177

    It is truly amazing how arrogant an ignorant person can be. If you had watched Stiglitz’s talk you would have known he has discussed those claims by Obama administration. People are not exaggerating when they say TPP is the most dangerous agreement that we have ever seen. It is a total subversion of the democratic process by corporations.

  184. Alfred Says:

    @John Sidles #174

    I am still hopeful that the pressure from Sanders and Warren on one side and Trump on the other side would force Hillary Clinton to continue with her opposition to TPP. This is going to come up in the presidential debates and Trump’s speech last week shows that he is going to strongly attack Clinton on TPP. If she fails to come on the right side of TPP she may get hit quite severely in the polls judging the mood. The real concern is that the Obama administration will try to ratify it through the Republican held congress during the lame duck period.

  185. Nerd Says:

    @John Sidles I don’t vote based on who endorses whom, neither I commit to vote for a candidate based on which party they are from. A commitment to vote for a candidate whatever reason other than their policies means losing my influence on politicians. No politician cares about voters who are going to vote for them no matter what. They care about voters who are not committed but can be persuaded to vote for them. I will vote based on the positions the candidates take on issues I care about. The issues I care about are TPP (opposed), foreign policy (no new wars), inequality (serious reduction of inequality between the middle class and the capitalist 1% class), and the influence of money in politics (only citizens should be able to donate to politicians and capped by an amount that average Americans can afford, no business/unions donations, no third party spending, no superPACs). It is up to HRC to show that she deserves my vote by committing to positions I want.

  186. sf Says:

    I’d like to grant that voting for Trump is insane, but leaving Clinton a blank check doesn’t strike me as particularly safe either, so I’ll just duck out of the debate for now by granting that the situation is insane. There are dangers to writing off Trump too quickly without a good understanding of the forces that brought him this far – certainly its taken by surprise all those who are fired up against him, and I doubt any great insight has arrived since, to wipe away the missing foresight. I’m struck by how polling (and bookmaking/forecasting) has messed up on alot of political storms lately, not only Brexit, but the preceding UK election, as well as the Spanish election last week. This means that we’re arguing in a vacuum; its likely enough that something important is lurking, but overlooked. I don’t know if its useful to talk about ‘unknown unknowns’ here, but possibly ‘irreversible unknowns’ in that once they hit, its too late to react.

  187. sf Says:

    adamt #166

    Nothing there that natural selection couldn’t take care of!

  188. John Sidles Says:

    Nerd says “The issues I care about [include] inequality (serious reduction of inequality between the middle class and the capitalist 1% class)”

    As a broad social objective, the “serious reduction of inequality” is a tough sell at the highest levels of academia.

    One reason is economic: in North America there are about 20,000 tenured faculty positions that are backed by an endowment greater than $2M per-position (this is on the order of 0.01% of the North American workforce).

    Needless to say, the competition for these well-endowed appointments is exceedingly keen, and in response academia has evolved to be “a profession where elitism is practiced without shame” (in sociobiologist Ed Wilson’s memorable phrase).

    Can less-elitist academic cultures be imagined?

    Yes, but this re-imagining isn’t easy. Against this radically transformational possibility we have (the molecular biologist and Nobel Laureate) Jim Watson’s observation:

    “In contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”


    For an extended meditation upon these topics, Yuri Lazebnik’s well-regarded article “Can a biologist fix a radio? — or, what I learned while studying apoptosis” (Cancer Cell, 2002) has the twin merits of being both funny and true.

    It’s natural to ask, where do academics get the chutzpah to require from politicians like Clinton and Trump, creative and practically viable answers to social questions that are so tough, that the academic community doesn’t unflinchingly ask these questions even of itself?

    Therefore, in an era in which creative social leadership is seen to be lacking, the academic community is well-advised (as it seems to many, including me) to criticize itself with similarly creative rigor and vigor to its criticism of politicians.

  189. adamt Says:

    sf #166,

    Hah! Probably, but it isn’t a sure thing. It could be that the genes coding for susceptibility to an argument from a charismatic free will denying preacher also confer other survival benefits although I’ll grant that this doesn’t seem likely at all given the dearth of such a movement in known history.

    Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that there *could* be a moral dimension to the question given such a scenario. If confronted with a real life free will denier who refuses to feed their baby because, “why bother” it would be hard to argue that they were being inconsistent with their belief in having lack of agency.

    In essence, wouldn’t we be saying, “Hey, I agree with you that you have a lack of agency, but damnit get up and employ this purely fictional agency anyway and feed your baby!”

    It is apparent that Lorraine Ford hasn’t grokked that their is an obvious and trivial fallacy that merely arguing – about anything at all – is not a refutation of the hypothesis that we lack free will.

    Again, Lorraine: free will deniers can say, with complete consistency, that they have *no choice*, but to argue about Trump or anything at all.

    However, at the same time, I don’t think it can be said that free will denialism is theoretically without any moral implications or that entertaining how it could have moral implications is a cognitive illusion. If free will denialists refuse to feed their babies – something I say would not be necessarily inconsistent with their beliefs – this obviously has moral implications, right?

  190. Jon K. Says:

    I see “free will” is now a part of this political discussion. Maybe it’s no surprise that many/all topics, including politics, lead to similar philosophical questions.

    I personally believe that if we were able to get some evidence that we didn’t have free will, instead of this leading to a worse society, it would actually lead to a better one. I don’t think being passive or malevolent is a consequence of people being (fairly) certain they didn’t have free will. I actually think we would treat people with more empathy if we came to this conclusion. We might see other people as a victim of of the human experience, a slave to their environment and genetics, neither of which they had any control over. In short, we might work better together if we have a feeling like we are all in this together. This actually seems like a more democratic take on the topic of “free will” than the stereotypical republican view that wants those that struggle in our society to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

    On the topic of jail/punishment that usually gets brought up when “free will” is discussed, even if we didn’t believe in free will, I still think we would want to segregate people from society if they posed a threat, but once these people truly understood the error of their ways, were rehabilitated, or had a spiritual awakening (not that this would be easy to determine), I don’t think we would want to be a vindictive society that makes humans suffer in the name of justice.

    Any thoughts on this?:


  191. Stephen V Says:

    Jon K #190:
    I suspect a linguistic issue here.
    There is a sense in which “free will” expands to roughly “whatever mental process it is by which sentient beings make decisions”; it seems reasonable to expect that someone believing that they themselves were not endowed with “free will” in this sense of the term would be passive compared to someone who believed otherwise.
    Likewise, it seems reasonable to expect that someone believing that other people were not so endowed could equally well be compassionate or contemptuous.

    I don’t think this is the sense you’re using “free will” in, however.

  192. Lorraine Ford Says:

    adamt #189 (and others),

    “Free will”: “The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate”, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/free-will

    For free will to occur, a person must already exist in a single-universe where the laws-of-nature allow more than one possible physical outcome. Because if laws-of-nature mandate that there is only one possible outcome for the person, then there is no scope for freedom: that single possible outcome is “necessity or fate”, the situation in that universe is such that an act of free-will could not occur.

    The multiverse is a special sort of super-universe in which laws-of-nature mandate that ALL possible physical outcomes for the person will be implemented: a person branches into many copies of him/herself each in a different universe, one universe for every possible physical outcome. Once again, there is no scope for freedom: every one of those multiple outcomes are “necessity or fate” – the person has no choice in the matter, the situation in the super-universe is such that an act of free-will could not occur.

    Quite apart from the issue of exactly what an act of free will is in a scientific sense, multiverse believers like Leonard Susskind are, in effect, free will deniers because the situation in their hypothesized super-universe is such that an act of free-will could not occur.

  193. sf Says:

    adamt #189

    I imagine that the quote from
    adamt #166 > Scott #164
    is saying that morality is founded in things like Darwinian evolution, whereas the free-will question involves fundamental physics, and whatever you derive from things at the level of Darwinian evolution are independent of your way of grounding them in fundamental physics. Your stories might be interpreted as saying maybe spandrels could provide some link between levels, but this would require fundamental physics to introduce a systematic bias in some moral issue, which seems very far-fetched.

    The types of stories you’re using to pry apart semantics of the notions involved is useful only if you can study something less clear by gaining leverage from something thats pretty solid – in your case “free-will” needs clarification, but in the stories, you’re stretching to the limit our understanding of some big mysteries involving the relation of “meaning” in relation to self-perpetuation of systems and I’m afraid it leads into a labyrinth where we risk getting lost.

    I’d interpret Scott’s approach to free-will as an attempt at an understanding based on notions of ‘symmetry’ that we understand very well; the basic point is that physics is based on the symmetry of matter – as in a Newtonian version where the elementary particles all satisfy the same laws. But free-will seems to introduce an asymmetry, which is a form of the subject-object asymmetry in consciousness; that some part of the physical system has a privileged status with respect to the rest. The free-bits are meant to give some physical grounds to this asymmetry.

    One question that isn’t mentioned here is what type of symmetry/asymmetry does Goedels theorem introduce? and if Penrose’s approach is couched in physics based on symmetry, then how can it handle the types of symmetry/asymmetry of Goedel as he claims?

  194. Daniel Seita Says:

    John Sidles 188:

    You make some very interesting points! You mention:

    As a broad social objective, the “serious reduction of inequality” is a tough sell at the highest levels of academia

    One reason is economic: in North America there are about 20,000 tenured faculty positions that are backed by an endowment greater than $2M per-position (this is on the order of 0.01% of the North American workforce).

    Needless to say, the competition for these well-endowed appointments is exceedingly keen, and in response academia has evolved to be “a profession where elitism is practiced without shame” (in sociobiologist Ed Wilson’s memorable phrase).

    Yes, academics (i.e., faculty) are among an elite group of people. This makes sense, because of the need to spend years to get a doctorate and the difficulty in publishing quality work.

    But it gets even worse. In recent years, the number of spots open for new graduate students to become faculty has gradually diminished, at least relatively. I don’t have statistics right now to back me up, but all the trends I’ve seen suggest this to be the case, possibly with the exception of computer science right now, but that won’t last.

    In fact, I would argue that going through the academic route is one of the worst things a low-income student could do (making the very reasonable assumption of course, that anyone who gets in an advanced doctorate program has other, higher-paying jobs available).

    What this causes is a cycle where faculty generally come from families whose income levels are not among, say, the bottom 25%. As anecdotal evidence, I know a substantial amount of graduate students and faculty who have had parents who were professors. (Unfortunately, I am also one of those people.)

    Conclusion. The route to academia exists, but it’s mostly something that should be avoided for lower-income people if possible. Academia is great for those who make it to the top, and they should (justifiably) use their positions to help fight inequality. I don’t think it’s a tough sell for us to say these things, but implementing something that would bring about “inequality fighting” forces is another matter all together.

    Note to Professor Aaronson: I mistakenly submitted an earlier draft of this post. Sorry to clutter up the moderation queue!

  195. Nick Nolan Says:

    This is first time in a long time when great academic minds speak against political lunacy, but I don’t think it is because Trump has crossed the line in lunacy. It’s something else.

    I claim that you are not rallying against Trump because he racist, sexist, war monger, .. etc. You are rallying against him because he is not using hints and innuendo as he is supposed to do. His presentation is vulgar.

    Trump is raw and delivers the message that GOP has been suggesting for decades. But unlike more subtle crazies in politics, he is not ideologically committed to any of them. He just wants to be a president. He is just voicing stuff that sounds good to some voters. At least he is not interested in war. John McCain still thinks that US should have continued Vietnam war, US should attack Iran, arm and escalate conflicts in Ukraine and South China Sea. In my mind his candidacy was the the great lunacy and danger to the world peace. For contrast: McCain TV Ad: “Complete The Danged Fence”

    Trump would be to the United States and the world what Silvio Berlusconi was to Italy. Rich Buffoon who takes democracy for a ride and insults everyone so badly that nobody cares anymore.

    I find it odd that it’s acceptable to push wars and play dangerous games if you can rationalize them with lunatic ideology, but relatively open narcissistic need to be “the president” is totally out of the line. Presidency is not single person. It includes staff and organization, it has legal restrictions. Trump would be relatively alone in the White House. His presidency would be period of weird statements and nothing happening.

  196. amy Says:

    Terry – you gotta be kidding.

    First, the whole “raw” business is a put-on. Yes, he’s a disgusting human being, and anyone within a 250-mile radius of New York’s been aware of that for decades. But he’s a rich prep-school NYC kid who got sent to fancy schools, and you better believe he knows the correct way to greet his hostess. He just likes pretending to be a mobster from Queens.

    Second, there’s a night-and-day difference between statecraft and simply massaging yourself. Trump’s about the latter.

    Third, the presidency is actually a job. Yes, there are staff, but this isn’t 1980s Yes Minister and we don’t have a permanent civil service in the White House. To a fair degree it also matters who he appoints to run the agencies, which are the most bureaucratic parts of our government. If the president’s no good, it’s very bad news for every branch of federal government. And there’s something about a Supreme Court, I don’t know….

    Would it be worse than having Paul Ryan run the place? I’ve actually been in a room with Paul Ryan and gotten some sense of how deep and powerfully a lying, sadistic, death-grippy, hypocritically-pious fucker he is. You don’t want to be in the same county as this guy. But yes, he’s preferable, because he’s an actual politician. He knows how Congress works. He knows a fair amount about what the agencies do and how they work. He knows people who are and are not capable of doing the jobs in these places. Would he choose people I find appalling, absolutely, and they’d commence steering the country to some weird 16th/21st-century mashup. But what he was doing would not be whimsical.

    Italy, you’ll excuse my saying, could afford to have a whimsical ego-tyrant. Italy had Germany to bail it out; Italy was already being governed partway from Brussels when it declined to govern itself; I believe Italy’s more decentralized than the US is; and frankly Italy isn’t very important. We cannot afford a Berlusconi.

    Every politician I have ever met is a monster of ego, including the good guys. Only a monster like that believes he or she is so smart that it’d be a good idea to decide how millions, hundreds of millions, of people should live. What rules they should live by, what’s available to them. You see the same things in committees: what kind of people are falling all over themselves to be in charge of the rules? Exactly the sort of people who should not be in charge of the rules. But even there, better and worse matter.

  197. Scott Says:

    Nick Nolan #195:

      This is first time in a long time when great academic minds speak against political lunacy, but I don’t think it is because Trump has crossed the line in lunacy. It’s something else.

    Were you, like, hibernating during the George W. Bush administration? Did you miss the thousands of academics who spoke out against him too? As I’ve said, I think Trump is more transparently unqualified and more dangerous than Bush was, but the difference is one of degree.

  198. Nick Nolan Says:

    I think that crazy people who have political establishment behind them are more dangerous than Trump. Trump has no consistent ideology. He is just saying things aloud. My best estimate of his real opinions is that he is little right of Hillary. Ted Cruz with his convictions would have been more dangerous apart from the fact that he is also beltway outcast.

    President Trump would be incompetent without competent handlers. He would be weak president and achieve very little.

    I’m not going to vote. Always voting for centrist democrat means that left has no power in the democratic party.

    ps. I think that there is at least 20% change that Trump is not going to be GOP candidate after all.

  199. amy Says:

    NN #198 Right. Because self-aggrandizing populist demagogues who come out of nowhere and appeal to poorly-educated angry people are usually no prob at all, just enjoy riding around in the staff cars. I mean Air Force One.

    Here’s why I really don’t like guys like Nick. The underlying philosophy is “Fuck it.” They’ll read a little Kos, a little Intercept, a little of that thing Cockburn writes for, and they consider themselves well up on the news. But when they’re faced with people who actually know what they’re talking about, the attitude very quickly becomes “fuck it.” It’s just gestural, the approach. They’re just going to do a stupid thing because they’re ready to make the gesture and there it is. Then they walk away, and when the vote goes bad and it turns out that people they’d ordinarily be, at least in theory, sympathetic to (or at least happy to use as talking points), they can’t really be arsed to care about it. Shrugs. You know, shit happens.

    (I’m guessing, incidentally, that Nick hasn’t actually worked with anyone where he lives to make the wonderful lefty change he seeks a reality. I live in a blue county in a sea-of-red state amongst people who actually do get up off their asses and make the wonderful lefty changes happen. Not with yelling and rallying but with developing local programs and making them go, and eventually attracting attention and funding, and devoting their lives to these things. Teaching kids about soil. Making co-housing safe and viable. Providing abortions and routine gynecological care. Providing healthcare and legal services. Building shelters. Developing jail alternative programs. Fighting for and winning increases in the local minimum wage. Showing up at city council meetings well-prepared to talk about zoning, community gardening, food pantries, IDs for people without papers, everyday barriers-to-living for the disabled, hospice, the whole shmear. I’d be very much interested to hear about the wonderful lefty program NN has been instrumental in making go.)

    “The left has no power in the democratic party,” Nick says. Which is why, I suppose, Democratic governments fund childcare, and healthcare, and community block grants that support housing, and women’s reproductive rights, and support labor rights, and the EITC, and small farming, and a lot of other things that Nick doesn’t know about because he can’t be bothered to read any further than Kos.

    I’m a poster child for the Left, Nick. As I’ve said many times before here, single mom. Worked freelance many years because that’s all that was available, no benefits. Frequent EITC recipient. New roof and a/c courtesy of a CDBG loan. When my ex-husband was disabled, county services, some of which no longer exist under a Republican governor. Kid goes to public schools, went for many years to city summer camps, learned to swim at a city rec center, has grown up in the company of people who run women’s clinics and women’s centers and under rainbow flags. Round about 2011 ACA changed my life because I no longer had to worry about being able to buy, somewhere, anywhere, health insurance — you get older, you know, and the insurers don’t want to touch you no matter what your health is like. Subsidized health insurance, yet. Did have several free/sliding-scale clinics, some of which are gone now, thanks again to Republican state-funding cuts. Got a bus stop and bike lane on the corner because the local lefty government just thinks it’s a good idea, even though you go five miles out of town and the obesity rates skyrocket because nobody gets anywhere under their own steam: buses and bikes are for commies. Local government also likes funding arts and community-enhancing businesses, including a landmark bookstore. Funds domestic-violence programs, at-risk youth programs, homeless programs, jail-alternative programs, crisis programs, rape-counseling programs, on and on. And indeed the same local lefty government is looking to force developers and landlords to serve poor people.

    We live in a little Democratic university-town enclave where I can — just happening to sit next to our mayor at a sidewalk cafe — have a conversation in which I, a small landlord, press him to look into rent control. (The usual university games have sent local rents skyrocketing, and as a landlord to mostly-students I would prefer not to crush them further with debt.) And until fairly recently, maybe ten years ago, I thought I might be able to send my daughter to the local university — it did just what it was supposed to do, was a good university, threadbare and thrifty and cheap, and it was right down the street. A model of progressive enlightenment.

    In the last decade or so it’s been hijacked by Republicans bent on mining it for money, just as other progressive-state university systems have been hijacked. Institutional debt has skyrocketed. Tuition has skyrocketed — in real terms, it’s nearly four times what it was in the late 1970s. Class sizes have skyrocketed, and all the usual games are going on. Graft is practically out in the open. The Obama admin has nothing to do with this: this is a state affair.

    What’s it mean for us? Debt. A lot of debt. And five or six years of thinking about college, and how to get through it without financial ruin, before the kid actually goes to college. Serious concern about whether we should regard the local university as a school for her at all. It means a kid freaking out about something as stupid as grades instead of doing interesting things, because grades are instrumental to scholarships, admissions, etc. I have to decide whether I let the kid try to struggle by with whatever debt she takes on or whether I torpedo whatever I’ve got that looks like a retirement.

    It’s beyond ignorance to say there’s no difference between what the Dems and Republicans do, in charge. But I notice it is, and has long been, the preferred stance of remarkably self-absorbed and petulant men who want a revolution, whose energies extend all the way to “fuck it”, and who are willing to help damage the lives of millions of people unless they get the fireworks they want.

    Which means we’re back again to what John was talking about: empathy, and anger in the face of being told to care about other, real people, rather than one’s own self or a set of attractive ideas.

    Here’s a novel idea, NN: Vote for the least bad alternative in the present while continuing to work for the thing you want. I know it really sucks in the nihilistic-gesture department, but believe it or not, there are people in the world other than you, and a couple-three hundred million of them could actually use that center-left government.

  200. Darrell Burgan Says:

    My $0.02 worth. What America really needs is intelligent, visionary, selfless, mature leadership. We have serious problems and need a steady hand at the tiller.

    Putting aside all matters of policy, leftism v. rightism, etc., to me this election comes down to a simple question: is Donald Trump an intelligent, visionary, selfless, mature leader? Or is Hilary Clinton? And if not, who is closer?

  201. John Sidles Says:

    Darrell Burgan observes “What America really needs is intelligent, visionary, selfless, mature leadership.”

    No small proporations Americans appreciate that the USA already is blessed with “intelligent, visionary, selfless, mature leadership”.

    Prominently among this president-appreciating number is Garrison Keillor, who retired yesterday from A Prairie Home Companion. For Garrison’s very last A Prairie Home Companion (of July 2, 2016), President Obama called-in live:

    Garrison  “We are going to miss you an awful lot. […] You are the coolest president of my lifetime, and I go back to Harry Truman. And when I say ‘cool’, I mean dignity and wit and humor. […] You just make us proud.

    You are a writer, you know that. Deep down, that’s who you [Obama] are.

    Obama  “That is something I’m looking forward to. I do belive that telling stories is still the thing that sets us apart from the rest of God’s Creation … and that is part of the reason why, I think we’ve all been so incredibly lucky, over these last forty-two years, to have you [Garrison Keillor] and the rest of the crew at A Prairie Home Companion.  … You’ve kept me company, for a lotta years.”

    The entire Keillor-Obama phone call, and the entirety of Keillor’s final show, are both well worth the listening.

    What lessons (if any) does The A Prairie Home Companion hold for the more technical readers of Shtetl Optimized? In 2010 interview, Keillor spoke to this point.

    “There are people for whom it is important not to like this particular show [The Prairie Home Companion], and I honor that. When I was their age [the young age of Keillor’s critics], it was important for me to look down on things that my father liked, and so I did. In looking down on things, however, we give up ever understanding them.”

    The recent “kinder gentler Shtetl Optimized” has been fostering rapprochement, in excellent Keillor/Obama style, politically between Amy-style progressives and Scott-style rationalists, and scientifically between Harrow-style quantum supremacists and Kalai-style quantum metamists (here ‘metamists’ is Harrow’s term, and it’s a good one).

    This ongoing Shtetl Optimized evolution is mighty good (as is seems to me); let’s all sustain our aspiration to a better understanding of one another, politically and scientifically.

    Then the political bottom-line is simple: elect those candidates who are most capable of governing in President Obama’s (Keillor-certified) ‘cool’ style. 🙂

  202. JustAnotherShitlordAnon Says:

    @ Amy

    I find your comment #199 unconvincing for several reasons:


    (1) You speak of hardships: your divorce, your disabled ex-husband, single-mom status, and the high tuition for your daughter’s university education. But there’s never any empathy for others who also likely face hardships — you just assume a poster (like Nick) is terrible and attack them.

    It’s the same bullying behavior that sparked a shaming campaign against Scott. You don’t seem to have learned anything from that episode. (and I wish that realization would shake Scott out his Stockholm-syndrome-like state in regards to you)


    (2) Your message (here and in previous posts of this thread) seems to be: If you’re not poor, your opinion is irrelevant. It’s the same tired argument about privilege.

    Here, you go further and state that if someone chooses not to vote, they’re responsible for a large part of the suffering felt by the poor. And of course, the voter must be a “self-absorbed and petulant” man.

    Look, there’s a degree of social assistance with which I think most of us on the Left are comfortable. Beyond that, I can understand why people (men AND women) would rather save what little money they have left over in their pay check for *their own family*, not yours.

    The entitlement is really breathtaking. Our tax dollars went to pay for your new roof and air conditioning, and we’re still being demonized. I can’t help but laugh 🙂


    (3) It’s bizarre that you complain about the financial burden of a university education. It conflicts with your general sentiment “how dare you want something for yourself when there are poor people out there!?”. And you seemed to pooh-pooh the whole academic system in previous posts. Plus, you stated previously:

    “I need money, but not much, and I have enough to fly free for years, if need be.”

    Also, see (2) for more apparent cognitive dissonance.


    (4) Finally, please consider that you might have a blind spot when it comes to men. Frequently, when you get angry in these posts, there is the accusation that men are the source of the problem — just reread your #199 (and I could point to several others if I took the time to dig up the posts).

    I don’t know why you hold this bias against males, but it’s not doing you any favors in the credibility department.


  203. John Sidles Says:

    It’s a good that at least some Shtetl Optimized readers “can’t help but laugh” (#202); still if it should happen that “JustAnother …” has lunch with Amy in the same generous spirit that Scott and Amy has lunch together, they might be well advised to order plenty of (what Garrison Keillor calls) “a condiment with natural mellowing agents … one that makes you feel more satisfied with where you are.”

    Here’s hoping the Trump-Clinton debates serve plenty of it. 🙂

  204. amy Says:

    John #201 – While Keillor’s not my speed, I dig. And I think he’s right about Obama, even though I’ve heard enough of Obama unscripted to believe that he probably isn’t much of a writer. He follows his teachers — the lawyer training, the Zbig training. But I bet if he could trade in one talent for another, he’d trade for that. I know it’s important to him.

    JA #202 – well, so I wrote out this whole long thing, and then I thought: neh. Here’s the thing: you figure that it’s important, in this back/forth, that I aim to get you to find what I’m saying compelling. Credible. Whatever. You’ve gone all Vogon about it. But I don’t care whether or not you read me at all. Up to you, man.

    I do actually think that men have a hell of a lot of work to do with themselves, as a group. And that probably the most helpful thing that men who don’t make a fulltime career of variously screwing over and using other people could do would be to stop playing the rankings game and refuse to offer it any sort of legitimacy. Because that, if you ask me, is the source of a great deal of the world’s misery: men fighting to be on top, men determined not to suffer humiliation in the eyes of other men. But the only reason it’s a thing is that guys actually do pay attention to whatever some bonehead has designated as importantly scorable. Walk away from it and it’s not important anymore.

    Can it work? Yeah, I think so. I mean I’ve spent most of 30 years floating in a box somewhere near, but not on, various org charts, and it seems to be well-enough tolerated. Never gone for honors or prizes in any field I’ve worked in, and yet people who do bother with those things seem happy enough to talk to me. ‘m not rude about people’s ranks, but it’s plain that I don’t have any special regard for them, so I’m just left out of conversations about them. Those conversations could shrink a lot more.

    There will, of course, be guys who argue really angrily that you have to keep the rankings or you haven’t any hope of “getting a girl” (because we are, after all, things to be got), but all I can say about this is that clearly they haven’t seen what’s abroad in the land in terms of men with girlfriends and wives. No Tesla necessary. There will also be guys who are volcanic because they threw everything at winning, and now here you are telling them that their lives have been meaningless and refusing to pay them what they figure they’ve earned and you owe. But there were also corporate wives who felt like the floor was falling apart underneath them when women’s lib came around, and women were out making their own lives and being proud of it, and all the wives’ self-abnegation and diet pills and worry about how things looked was turning out to be for nothing.

    Anyway. Once you’ve cut that out, that ranking baloney, you can actually deal with other people as people, and a lot of jealousies die. I think actually it’s the best hope for men’s happiness. Women have vastly broader choices when it comes to “how to be a woman” than we did 40 years ago, and I think most of us pay much less attention now than we used to these sorts of ranking games. There’s too much apples and oranges going on for that sort of thing. But I don’t think men have liberated themselves similarly, and I think that’s caused a lot of problems. Not least the fact that so many men are afraid to speak up when they do notice sexism, racism, cheating amongst the higher-ups. When they notice, for instance, that they’ve invited none of the women along for drinks, or that a joke wasn’t so much funny as degrading or disrespectful, that that dude actually wasn’t hired because he’s black, etc. And until they’ve freed themselves to speak up when that happens, nothing much will change. It does actually take buy-in, acquiescence, to keep it going.

  205. John Sidles Says:

    Amy (#204), there is a very considerable overlap of the points you raise (in regard to academic ranking) and the points that mathematician Oded Goldreich recently raised in his on-line weblog Essays and Opinions, in the essay Content-Oblivious Quality Measures and the Control of Academia ( July 2015).

    [This] essay presents several explanations for the popularity of content-oblivious quantitative measures: They fit the neo-liberal order and its preference for standardized regulation procedures; they carry a seductive promise of objectivity (which is extremely tempting to modern science); they serve opportunism (in the form of intellectual laziness and escaping responsibility); they empower the academic-managerial class by providing it with mechanisms for control of the academic works (by subjecting scientific knowledge to managerial knowledge); they facilitate diffusion of business attitudes to the academic world and the domination of scientific content by (bibliometric) technology.

    All these phenomena are related to the rise of a new political and scientific order in which a tighter control of academia plays an important role.

    “JustAnother…” (#202), there is a very considerable overlap of the points you raise (in regard to feminist shortfalls) and some of the points that the essayist/theorist/feminist Jessa Crispin recently raised in sadly announcing the closing of her weblog BookSl*t (a literary institution much-cherished by very many book-lovers, including me):

    Contemporary feminism is not only embarrassing but incredibly misguided to the point where I can’t associate myself with it.

    There’s outrage culture, safe spaces, the lean-in culture — but also the Gen-X-Baby-Boomer rah-rah capitalism, yay!

    And also a lot of misguided notions about gender. As if women are somehow more naturally empathetic than men, and all we need is full participation in public life and somehow the world gets better. Which is not the case.

    Satisfying solutions to the issues that Goldreich and Crispin raise will be (necessarily) so radically transformational, and therefore (history teaches) so very dangerous and uncertain, that (for the reasons set forth in #123 and #128) it is highly implausible that the elite realms of academia will have anything to do with embracing them.

    At the individual level, there are cognitive obstructions too. The Introduction to Igor V. Dolgachev’s Classical Algebraic Geometry: a Modern View (2012) reminds us:

    “How sad it is when one considers the impossibility of saving from oblivion so many names of researchers of the past who have contributed so much.”

    In sweeping cherished names into oblivion, our Enlightened 21st century is sweeping cherished founding myths and ideological ‘isms’ into oblivion too.

    Few human beings, and few human cultures, are so constituted as to contemplate this accelerating obliviating destruction with equanimity, and to perceive it as an opportunity to exercise high orders of creativity, as individuals and citizens.

    Reflecting upon Alfred North Whitehead’s comment (of #123)

    “It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.”

    leads us to ask “Does any candidate, or any party deserve our vote, whose platform amounts to ‘the Enlightenment sure is scary, so let’s reverse it'”?

    For almost all STEAM-engine workers (including me), and without regard to position along the left-right political spectrum, the plain answer is “no”, on the grounds that the STEAM-engine has in the past been an engine of radical transformation, and will continue to be one in the future.

    This is the grounds of STEAM-power’s united opposition to the Trumpism’s counter-Enlightenment.

  206. amy Says:

    John #205, no more Bookslut? Gosh, all kinds of things are vanishing.

    I cut the modern genderish movements a lot of slack when it comes to how they’re sorting things out, mainly because they’re (fairly rapidly) inventing language for talking about things we haven’t had a common language for before. And it’s going to be crude, and the experiments will look ridiculous to most for a long time. But so did lady [professional]s, not so long ago. Now here we’ve got a prime minister standing behind abolishing the importance of gender altogether in labeling human beings. That, to me, is an astonishment. (Also a good idea.)

    I’ve thought a lot about this “are women naturally more compassionate” thing, which is an unhappily Bostonian (sorry) sort of notion, and I think the answer is: we’ve never had a chance to find out. I think that to find out, we’d have to have the great experiment in which men are substantially responsible for children, their upbringing, their emotional wellbeing. Right now, that’s the great smoother of edges, the teacher of gentleness, thoughtfulness about others: not just about the children themselves, but about the many other people suddenly connected to a serious parent’s world and coaxing even a harsh or angry parent towards gentleness, for the child’s sake. I mean I really don’t think it was trivial, in the 1970s, that a boy with a doll became a feminist symbol.

    Here’s what I do notice: in my life, in the last 15 years, women have been infinitely more reliable and sturdy as back-havers than men have been. I find that it is women who go to bat for other women. Also, when my bosses have been women, there have almost never been work-scurries aimed at making the boss look good, and those bosses have tried to take care of me as a person and a mother, not just as a useful instrument. With one exception, only women offered to help during our hardest times.

    And a curious thing: despite the amount of punishment-and-violence-related talk I’ve heard from men on the subject of deadbeat dads, when I finally did have to go to court to force my ex to pay his child support, I found I was working with nothing but women. Up and down the line. Lawyer, judge, child-support clerks, assistant AG working for state child support. Routinely, the state committees involved in reviewing child support formulas and their rationales are also heavily female. There seemed to be few, maybe no, men actually interested in working with the law to make these other men they were so vocal about do the right thing.

    Those last two paragraphs aren’t about compassion, but they are about cooperativity and community. I am not especially surprised to find that the most able women I work with, regardless of field, are more interested in community-building, bringing people along, and doing good work than they are in points-collecting. Yes, they like being given prizes and are pleased, but that’s not why they do the work, and they’re apt to deflect credit to the many nameless people who worked with them even when they were, perfectly obviously, the drivers. We work together. On the other hand I’ve worked with men who, though just as engaging as people and quite as bright and able, were really very tightly focused on the next step up the ladder, this prize, that prize. And I’ve come to find their attitudes towards me deeply unpleasant: I’ve realized I’m there as, again, useful instrument and cheering section, and in private they’ll say how helpful I’ve been. But the prizes and honors, and in the end the projects, really are about themselves, and I’ll often get an urgent call or email about something I need to do to get a guy from A to B. I am working for them, not with them. But that, once again, is about chasing rank. I’ve had some fairly wrenching conversations with men who are pretending to be ambitious for rank — who actually don’t care about this shit, but are very good at what they do, and are expected and encouraged at every turn to chase the rabbit. Egged on, given helpy favors in that regard. And they don’t want to play, but are afraid not to. Afraid the other guys will turn their backs, view them as unserious, etc. The guys seem to put a lot of pressure on other guys to play the game, collect every point.

    I remember that, actually, from long ago, when women were first being allowed into professions in large numbers, and our training was sort of about being cute and plucky fake men: after college I realized that (a) I had no actual business, temperamentally, doing the thing I’d been trained to do; and (b) the things I did want to do didn’t rate as careers, where I’d come from. I went and did them anyway, and when I later met up with the guys, my classmates, who were all kitted out in lovely suits doing the things they’d been trained to do, they asked me what I was doing. So I told them. They tried very hard, and with increasing irritation, to make sense of it as a legit career move, and figure the angle, and when they realized there wasn’t one, you could actually see them move me off the board. Right there, standing there, in conversation, these people I’d grown up with for four years. I’ll never forget it. They just lost interest completely: I wasn’t really a person in their universe anymore, and you could sense their distaste at my having thrown it all away. I can imagine that if you’re a fragile sort of person, or if you’d been relying on such people as your close friends, that this could be devastating.

    I always thought of it as a failure of imagination, that inability to recognize anything but a very narrow path as legit, but I think it’s probably more than that.

  207. amy Says:

    Oh, and John, thank you for the link to Oded. Yes. I’m waiting, oh, a week or so to have a conversation with a young woman, a grad student, very sharp and articulate and engaged in a genuinely interesting and perhaps important set of experiments. And very much concerned about impact factors. I will try to unhook her from the rush to get a pile of words into a highish-IF journal and to help her focus on the fact that she’s doing and seeing interesting and perhaps consequential things, and that she has reasons to think carefully and communicate thoughtfully, with a specific group of people, about them.

    I have these bibliometrics conversations with friends in Britain, one of whom was earnestly engaged in report-and-recommendation writing about it last year, and it seemed to me then that the metrics are the devil’s price for the large money. But I’m thinking about the networks of rankings they’re tied up in — university rankings, ministerial contests, all sorts of pissing matches and fraudulent advertisements — and realizing that no, it’s not just about the money.

  208. John Sidles Says:

    The following cognitive exercise objectively illuminates (for me) the points that Amy raises in (#206), regarding the postulate “women are naturally more compassionate than men”.

    Namely, once each week visit the web-site “Out of the FOG” — motto: “Helping family members & loved-ones of people who suffer from personality disorders” — and as a concrete exercise in non-ideological non-cherrypicking objectivity, sample in succession the dozen most recent posts (note: the sites’ Glossary of Terminology and Acronyms is helpful to newbies).

    Moral apartheid?  Within this Out of the FOG dataset we find very little grounds for partitions in terms of gender, race, age, class, nationality, IQ, or sexuality.

    In particular we encounter, with comparable frequency, despairing references to BPHs, BPWs, and BPSOs (Borderline Personality [Husbands/Wives/Significant Others]). And conversely we find, with comparable prevalence, grateful references to DHs, DWs, DSs, and DSs (Dear [Husbands/Wives/Sons/Daughters]).

    Thus vice and virtue alike are pretty broadly distributed. This is a fortunate circumstance for humanity (as it seems to me), as otherwise there would be a great temptation to embrace the various repugnant forms of moral apartheid that are at the ugly hearts of so many ideological ‘isms’.

    How sad is it?  To adapt Igor Dolgachev’s phrase (from #205)

    “How sad it is when one considers the infeasibility of salving — with ratiocination or pharmaceuticals or any ideological ‘ism’ or any futuristic STEAM-capacity — so many families of the present who are suffering so much.”

    The sampling-of-suffering that Out of the FOG forum supplies, which accords so well with most people’s personal experience, inculcates in plenty of folks (well, me at least) a robustly even-handed skepticism in regard to the efficacy of the ideologies of the left and of the right.

    What is to be done?  There being presently no panacea for humanity’s cognitive ills, and none expected very soon, it’s not easy to do better than a wry prayer that I heard from a Friend:

    “May you fall into the hands of a loving creator who can deal with you better than I can.”

    Needless to say, however, the regressive tenets of Trumpism receive little or not support from folks who appreciate the circumstances and aspirations of this wryly friendly prayer! 🙂

  209. JustAnotherShitlordAnon Says:

    @ Amy, comment #204

    First, good on you for tucking in a Douglas Adams reference.

    Second, most what you say in #204 is just sexist nonsense. It doesn’t warrant much response. You’re literally identifying all men as the root of society’s problems.

    You often equivocate (beautifully, by the way) and so I’m relieved to see the essence of your philosophy lurch out into the open for once.

    I could describe experiences from my life, my wife’s life, my colleagues’ lives, etc. which definitely do not align with your narrow characterization of men. I could argue that your experiences should not be used to judge the entire male population. But I’m sure that’s been tried before to no avail.

    And besides, I get the impression from your many postings here that you’re strangely happy with the bitterness you exude. Men provide a convenient scapegoat for the chip you seem to be carrying on your shoulder.

    Anyway, it’s still a holiday, so enough of this for me.


  210. ThirteenthLetter Says:

    What does “he’s for health care” mean? Everyone’s “for” health care. If you mean socialized medicine, say so.

  211. Sniffnoy Says:

    I cut the modern genderish movements a lot of slack when it comes to how they’re sorting things out, mainly because they’re (fairly rapidly) inventing language for talking about things we haven’t had a common language for before. And it’s going to be crude, and the experiments will look ridiculous to most for a long time. But so did lady [professional]s, not so long ago. Now here we’ve got a prime minister standing behind abolishing the importance of gender altogether in labeling human beings. That, to me, is an astonishment. (Also a good idea.)

    Hold on here, let’s keep distinct things distinct. The “genderish movements”, and the idea of “abolishing the importance of gender altogether in labeling human beings”, are not really aligned with one another. Both, of course, are opposed to classical sexism. And both do have some goals in common at the moment. But ultimately it’s not going to be possible for both to get what they want.

    (Or so I claim. Ozy Frantz, e.g., would claim otherwise, and say that it’s possible to accomplish the latter by means of the former. But I’m going to skip over actually arguing that claim for now unless anyone really cares.)

  212. amy Says:

    JA – I’d have been delighted if the world had not kept sorting as it has. (Also if some men had offered to lend a hand now and then rather than wanting to use me as a free midlife-crisis therapist between, oh, 2008-2011.) At 25, I’d have found everything I wrote up there deeply offensive, though I would certainly not have interpreted it as “men are the root of all the world’s problems.”

    Comes a point, though, when you have to admit that the data you’re encountering do not accord with the hypothesis. So what, as a reasonable person, do you do? You say: Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. So you ask around; you do your research. You seek a wide variety of sources so as to remove bias as best you can. You ask friends, you look for stories from strangers online from people who aren’t very like you or your friends. You look for the stories that cut against what you’re seeing, and you look for actual studies. And after having done all that, I’m sorry to report that in this case, experimental error does not appear to be the problem. I’ve got, probably, another 30-40 years to go, and who knows what might turn up. Further research is etc. But at this point? Yeah, I think few men feel they are genuinely free not to compete for points, defined by some authority, and seek rank. And I think it’s the cause of a lot of grief — quite unnecessary grief — for both men and women. I also think that the definition of “reasonable way of being a man” is constrained in ways that “reasonable way of being a woman” is not, and that this is something that men will have to deal with before the anything can happen with the ranking problem.

    I am thinking suddenly of two friends, one a recent graduate with a BS, one nearer my age with a PhD, both in science disciplines. Both walked away from their fields; they loved the subjects, but didn’t love the fields — the benchwork, the cutthroat funding competition, the pressure to publish whether or not there was something worth saying, the self-importance, the model of grad-student exploitation, all sorts of things. Both had a very difficult time walking because of the stamp of failure their disciplines put on leavers. If you can succeed, the thinking goes, then naturally you’d stay. Therefore if you’re leaving it must be because you’re not much good, couldn’t hack it, couldn’t muster up the commitment. The question of whether or not you want the life, want to work in the business, doesn’t come up as a question.

    For my friend with the PhD, I think it helped that there really were no jobs paying a living wage in his field, given local costs of living. Instead he went off to do a thing he loves. Often it doesn’t pay very well either, but they get by. If there had been more jobs in his field paying serious bucks, though, I think he would have had to’ve dealt with multiple failure stigmas (stigmata?): leaving his field and walking away from being the big shot who makes big bucks for his family. Both of which are nuts, but they’re real and they’re powerful and I think that many men just acquiesce, rather than accept the stigma, and adopt the game’s rules as their own. And it warps everything from that point, even though once upon a time they knew better.

    John #208 – is this where the empathy talk’s been coming from?

    I’m a little leery of fora like that one, because when I was getting divorced I found them all kinds of attractive, even though they had an offputting flavor — and then as the craziness cooled I realized it was just that in divorce people aren’t so capable anymore of just saying “my ex is a jerk/nutcase/etc.” — there has to be a *reason* your ex is such a huge jerk. A whole backstory. The husband has to be a narcissist, the wife has to have borderline personality disorder, etc., and you get a whole ghost-stories atmosphere, only with tons of acronyms. The diagnoses proliferate, and the in-laws get dragged in as enablers and crazymakers and the new lovers are also diagnosed. So while I don’t deny there are genuinely mentally ill people out there wreaking havoc in their kids’ and exes’ lives, I think “jerk” probably covers the waterfront adequately for most. Anyway. The other thing about those fora is that the whole narrative/response construct pushes very hard to sentimentality. It’s bad form to hate on your jerky/crazy/diagnosable ex with whom you’ve spent all these years, particularly if you’re trying to save the marriage (this is where you get a lot of “dear”); it’s good form to vent therapeutically about the demon crazy ex who’s pushed you to explore higher doses of Ativan (this is where you get people labeled by diagnosis acronyms). So you do get this balance enforced socially.

  213. John Sidles Says:

    Amy wonders  “Is this [the OOTF website] where the empathy talk’s been coming from?”

    That’s one avenue, however the OOTF link is merely an on-line surrogate for my recent extended conversations with a Seattle healthcare intern; this intern being is severely challenged by an extraordinarily difficult empathy-deficient psychiatric patient population (for privacy reasons no details can be given).

    We all of us owe an immense debt — a seldom-acknowledged debt — to the healthcare professionals who care for these very difficult, and socially marginalized, patient populations.

    More broadly, the notion of “empathy” encompasses multiple traditional bastions of rationalism, such as all forms of mathematical cognition (save mechanizable proof-checking). The late Bill Thurston wrote a wonderful short essay upon this theme as a Preface to Daina Taimina’s Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes (2009, search engines find it):

    Many people have the impression, based upon years of schooling, that mathematics is an austere and formal subject concerned with complicated and ultimately confusing rules for the manipulation of numbers, symbols, and equations, rather like the preparation of a complicated income tax return, where there are myriad unexplained steps, rules, exceptions, and gotchas.

    Good mathematics is quite the opposite of this. Mathematics is an art of human understanding.

    (emphasis in Thurston’s original) As a natural corollary, doesn’t mathematical teaching then become the art of human empathic understanding? Certainly Thurston thinks so! 🙂

    The recent triumphs of AlphaGo similarly challenge the 20th century paradigm of cognition-as-ratiocination. It’s demonstrably true that AlphaGo makes good moves, but these good moves are not computed by any processes that can be distilled (in practice or even in principle) into processes of ratiocination. One consequence is AlphaGo closely resembles human Go-masters, in that neither machine nor human can explain (in practice or even in principle) why good go-moves are good — instead good go-moves just ‘feel’ good.

    As I mentioned in a previous SO thread, Ted Chiang’s novella Story of Your Life (1998) reads naturally as the evolution of a STEAM-worker’s cognition, from Louise Banks’ youthful pure ratiocination to her mature empathic cognition. Dr. Banks’ early ratiocination is well-described by rule-based Turing Machines; her later empathic modes of cognition are better-described (almost literally) as a tensor-network flow comparable to AlphaGo’s.

    To appreciate Chiang’s artistry in this regard, an illuminating exercise (for me) has been to inquire line-by-line of Story of Your Life “How does Dr. Banks know what she knows?”. See for example the phrases (which are selected from hundreds):

    • “Can I be made of honor?”
    • “He began pacing thoughtfully.”
    • “I’ll be all but mute with amazement.”
    • “Living with you will be like aiming for a moving target; you’ll always be further along than I expect.”
    • “I know that if I were to admit that, you’d lose respect for me completely.”
    • “If you already know how the story goes, why do you need me to read it to you?””
    • “Would you care to do the honors, or shall I?”

    Very commonly, when Chiang uses a word or phrase twice or more times, it is with the deliberate intent (hmmm … how is it that the reader knows this?) of broadly illuminating that phrase. E.g., the two separate appearances of “honor” in Story of Our Lives both illuminate the performative aspects of human language.

    As Chiang has said of his own writings (Locus, 2002)

    I wasn’t conscious of a recurring theme in my stories when I was writing them, but if I look for one, I suppose what comes to mind is the notion of an ideal language, the language in which thoughts can be articulated perfectly and things can be described perfectly. Umberto Eco wrote a book called The Search for a Perfect Language in which he talks about the many ways in which people have sought this, in one form or another. They’ve tried to reconstruct the original language before the Tower of Babel, or the language Adam spoke in the Garden of Eden; there have been attempts to discover the language spoken by angels, the language that perfectly names things.

    These considerations explain why “all roads lead to empathy” — across a broad range of STEAM-studies and a broad span of STEAM-capacities — provided that “empathy” is appreciated as an umbrella term for “cognitive capacities achieved by processes that are neither introspectively accessible in practice, nor formally describable in principle, as processes of ratiocination.”

    Needless to say, the decision “I’m gonna vote for Trump” is too-commonly the result of a cognitive process that is “neither introspectively accessible in practice, nor formally describable in principle, as a process of ratiocination.”

    So we’re well-advised to understand these processes better! 🙂

  214. amy Says:

    Well, you’ve persuaded me to try Chiang again, John.

    I will say, incidentally, that the people who write IRS tax forms and publications go unacknowledged as masters of clarity. It’s not their fault that the code is as convoluted as it is, but they’re responsible for giving the instructions clearly. I still do my taxes by hand, and they’re often complicated — freelancing, landlording (incl. the myriad depreciation schedules), child-related things, credits here and there — and there’s seldom ambiguity in the instructions; where there is, they’re usually careful to disambiguate with scenarios and explain the distinctions. The place where you get caught up is the chutes-and-ladders part — you needed the answer from form 73 before you could do the calculation in form 24, etc.

    The thing is, as you prepare the taxes, you begin to feel the policy and politics under them: we want to help these people, but only under these circumstances, and only this far; we have to count this as an expense, it wouldn’t be fair not to; we hope we’re encouraging this behavior; we took away with this hand, so we give back with that. The only thing missing is the essay ahead of the instructions, explaining why this bit of code works the way it does: you have to work that out yourself by considering the rules and their interrelations.

  215. John Sidles Says:

    Lol … yes, a marvelous aspect of reading Ted Chiang’s works in any given year, is that ten years later, and (soon) twenty years later, upon reading those same works again, one appreciates how much was missed in the initial reading. It takes a pretty fair amount of work, to read out of Chiang’s works even a small portion of the ideas that Chiang writes into them! 🙂

    Your true confession “I enjoy reading IRS tax documents” has at least one secret sharer: I enjoy reading them too. These tax-documents are conceived at the triple point of reason, history, and morality, and they beautifully reflect the intricate structure of that junction.

    Indeed, pretty much any well-written STEAM-book can be read the same way. Both nurture and nature assist me: my mother was a law-loving lawyer, and so too is one of my sons.

    Not everyone shares these positive feelings. Hour-long dinner table soliloquies on legal precedents in Washington state’s environmental laws? Yes, please! Give plenty of details! Hey, where’s everybody going? 🙂

    It helps to appreciate that from similar dinner-table conversations, arose the radical social initiatives that already have taken down the Upper and Lower Elwha dams, and now are taking down the Salmon River’s dams, and someday may undam even the mighty Columbia.

  216. Scott Says:

    amy #206: If it were actually true that women were naturally far more moral than men—i.e., if I believed that that’s what the evidence showed—then I’d probably agree with radfems like Mary Daly, that the human race ought to move toward becoming all-female (preferably, in a gradual and humane way 🙂 ). At the discretion of the women, maybe a small number of carefully-bred men could be kept around for sexual recreation, refilling the sperm banks, grimy manual labor, and opening pickle jars. Or maybe, depending on the state of technology at the time, men wouldn’t be needed even for any of those roles. At any rate, it would of course be up to the female government (or whatever more empathy-driven process they had in place of a government…) to decide.

    And if this is what the evidence showed, then I wouldn’t share your hopeful view of male nature—that maybe all it would take is for men to change more diapers, and they’d become as moral as women. I would instead say: a theoretical ability on men’s part to reach the same average morality level as women, but which has never manifested itself in any society for the past 10,000 years, might as well not exist.

    (Incidentally, you write, “I really don’t think it was trivial, in the 1970s, that a boy with a doll became a feminist symbol.” But you omitted the well-known coda to that story, about the boys who used their dolls as weapons, and the girls who played house with the toy trucks and guns that their egalitarian parents gave them. More generally, I’d say that we understand more about cognitive science now than we did then, and most of it hasn’t been kind to 1970s-style utopian blank-slatism.)

    So it’s extremely important that all my life experience, reading, and knowledge of the evidence leads me to a different view: that just like intelligence is distributed equally between the sexes, so too are “good” and “evil,” for any reasonable definitions of those terms. I.e., just like with many other variables one can measure, there might be more men at the extremes, but if there are any differences between the male and female averages, they’re too tiny to be of any practical consequence. This equalist view appears to be a rare point of agreement between me and John Sidles (#208)!

    It’s true, of course, that men are disproportionately represented among violent criminals and abusers, assholes who put their own career advancement above everything else (the people you seem most concerned with), and certain other common categories of vice. OK, but how many of the world’s asshole men, if you interrogated them in some celestial courtroom, would shrug and explain that being an asshole was the only thing that “worked” to gain them female affection—that like the peacock with his ridiculous tail, they just do whatever it is they find the peahens respond to? (Like the politician, the Fox News reporter, the director of shlock CGI action films, the corn-syrup soda distributor, etc., who says “don’t blame me, I just give the public what it wants”—and is at least 50% right?) Don’t the women who flood the serial killer’s jail cell with love letters share at least some of the killer’s moral monstrosity—since in a world where such love letters were unthinkable, serial killing might be as well?

    (When I was 14, and Ted Kacynski was arrested in Montana, I overheard a group of girls in my class giggling to each other: “omigod, the Unabomer is hot!” I remember that like it was yesterday, since it was the first time I’d encountered any indication that there could exist such a thing as female sexual desire for a male math nerd, a question that interested me greatly at the time. All the male math nerd needed to do, in this case, was to abandon math, retreat to the woods, and maim and murder some innocent people…)

    Amy, one thing that you and I share is a burning desire to decrease the amount of misogyny in the world. Now, I believe one of the main psychological pathways to misogyny is this: sensitive boys pick up from movies, their parents, and so forth a view of women as “naturally more compassionate” than men—and not only that, but as pure, almost angelic beings, who will unfailingly reward the good in men and punish the evil, like every Disney princess does. Then those boys become teenagers, and they gain life experiences that not only don’t fit the angel theory, but almost perfectly contradict it. And this stings more than anything else the boys have ever experienced, and there’s no one respectable they can even talk to about it. It’s as if the world itself has betrayed them—as if they’ve made this terrifying discovery that evil is not only triumphant on earth, but in a vicious twist, recruits as agents the very half of humanity that everyone loudly insists (and they themselves once believed) is the better and more compassionate.

    So if we’re serious about stamping out misogyny, it seems to me that we ought to get really good at intercepting this process early on and saying: boys, what you’ve discovered is simply that women are people, which of course has always been the central tenet of feminism—a philosophy to which we now welcome you! All you’ve learned is that women are no better than men are: that they’re your moral equals. As you know, there are many people—including, alas, some who call themselves “feminists”—who do insist that men are especially evil, never stopping to ask themselves whether women would behave differently than men do now if they faced the same pressures. In the same way, what makes you suppose that, had you been born a woman and faced all the pressures your female classmates face—pressures you barely even understand—you’d act as you imagine they “should” act, rather than as they do? The truth is that good and evil are both equal joint ventures between the male and female parts of the species. They’re both gender-crossing feedback loops that any individual can choose only to amplify or to diminish.

  217. adamt Says:

    Scott #216, can I please second, third, fourth and fifth that??!!

    Everyone else talking about empathy ^^^ that is what it looks like to me.

  218. Daniel Seita Says:

    Yes yes yes, adamt #217, I second that (or sixth-ed that…). This is one of the reasons why I read Shtetl-Optimized!

    I think that marks a good time to conclude the comments for this wonderfully-educational blog post.

    And it would also mean Scott’s co-worker, John Sidles, can’t write a rebuke to this statement:

    This equalist view appears to be a rare point of agreement between me and John Sidles (#208)!

    Or maybe he’s already written one and it’s in the moderation queue? 🙂

  219. amy Says:

    Scott #216, looks like you’ve got a number of misreadings in there.

    First, I nowhere mentioned morality, nor did I say anything about women’s being more moral than men (whatever that might mean). We started out talking about compassion, and in regard to whether women or men might be more compassionate (on the whole), I said I thought we didn’t know, and that I thought we hadn’t had the opportunity to run the experiment. I think the thing most likely to teach compassion is childrearing, not just because of what’s necessary in avoiding harming the children while bringing them up, but because of the communities that form around childrearing and the pressures they bring to bear. But women dominate childrearing still. When men have taken it up in equal numbers and intensity I think we’ll have a better idea.

    Then I talked about — again, not morality — but cooperation and community-building, both of which I see far more often among women than among men, across multiple contexts. And I said I thought that cooperativity amongst men was damaged by the obsession with rank-seeking, which in turn is…fomented, I guess, by a very narrow range of “allowable ways of being male”. Cooperation and bringing others along is energy spent not aggrandizing self, and can actually harm one if ladder-climbing’s the goal. (Yes, I’m aware that a climber’s aided by a good team, who will themselves go on to share credit backwards, but I think a better measure’s the treatment and credit-sharing amongst what are usually called, in professional settings anyway, “support staff”. The community-builders tend to blur the distinction and treat such staff as part of the team, sharing credit liberally and elevating staff, flattening ranks. I find it rare among men, not rare among women.)

    About rank: career’s only one instance. I mean social rank as well. For some there’s a lot of overlap.

    About attractive felons: I am pretty darn sure that those girls you mention weren’t talking about Mountain Man Kaczynski, but the police sketch with the aviators and hoodie or his teen pix. (Dude’s good-looking in those pictures. Got a CHiPs thing going on.) Also that it had nothing to do with either math or feloniousness. As for the love letters…yeah, I’ve seen it happen. Amorality is not what comes to mind there. “I can see the good in him” is generally the line, along with a mystical belief that the guy will treat them well because love, though Mailer’s take is pretty compelling, too. It’s not generally women who grew up nicely and well-treated who seek out such guys.

    I could talk about the rank=women thing, but I think it’d be better to say “is bullshit, we know this” and talk instead about the sale of the angelic girl to boys. The boys who have sisters know, of course, that this is total crap, though I think Faulkner gets a lot right here. This is from Light in August; a farmer has picked up a very pregnant young woman walking down the road alone, wearing a pair of men’s shoes:

    “Lucas Burch.” Armstid’s tone is almost identical with hers. They sit side by side on the sagging and broken-springed seat. He can see her hands upon her lap and her profile beneath the sunbonnet; from the corner of his eye he sees it. She seems to be watching the road as it unrolls between the limber ears of the mules. “And you come all the way here, afoot, by yourself, hunting for him?”
    She does not answer for a moment. Then she says, “Folks have been kind. They have been right kind.”
    “Womenfolks too?” From the corner of his eye he watches her profile, thinking I dont know what Martha’s going to say thinking, ‘I reckon I do know what Martha’s going to say. I reckon womenfolks are likely to be good without being very kind. Men, now, might. But it’s only a bad woman herself that is likely to be very kind to another woman that needs the kindness’ thinking Yes I do. I know exactly what Martha is going to say

    …which turns out to be:

    “You men,” she says. “You durn men.”

    and after Martha gives the girl what-for and a lot of carefully blunted sharp talk in the kitchen, because she knows the score:

    …Armstid is in bed, his head propped up a little, watching her across the foodboard as, still dressed, she stoops into the light of the lamp upon the dresser, hunting violently in a drawer. She produces a metal box and unlocks it with a key suspended about her neck and takes out a cloth sack which she opens and produces a small china effigy of a rooster with a slot in its back. It jingles with coins as she moves it and upends it and shakes it violently above the top of the dresser, shaking from the slots coins in a meagre dribbling. Armstid in the bed watches her.
    “What are you fixing to do with your eggmoney this time of night?” he says.
    “I reckon it’s mine to do with what I like.” She stoops into the lamp, her face harsh, bitter. “God knows it was me sweated over them and nursed them. You never lifted no hand.”
    “Sho,” he says. “I reckon it ain’t any human in this country is going to dispute them hens with you, lessen it’s the possums and the snakes. That rooster bank, neither,” he says. Because, stooping suddenly, she jerks off one shoe and strikes the china bank a single shattering blow. From the bed, reclining, Armstid watches her gather the remaining coins from among the china fragments and drop them with the others into the sack and knot it and reknot it three or four times with savage finality.
    “You give that to her,” she says. “And come sunup you hitch up the team and take her away from here. Take her all the way to Jefferson, if you want.”
    “I reckon she can get a ride in from Varner’s store,” he says.

    Anyway. What struck me in what you said is the thing about boys not noticing the crap till adolescence, and my question about that is: why so late? Why would it take so long? Girls seem to notice what the boys are like very early on. I used to get full analyses, punditry, practically, from very small girls at my kitchen table. “Remember when he” and mitigants and communal judgments along a scale of “nice” to “mean”, along with reports on who pushed whom around. And, by third grade, descriptions of boy social circles and their rankings, and re-evaluations on the nice-mean continuum, also the ways in which previously nice smart boys were trying to impress other boys by turning into sporty jerks who talked about nothing but football.

    And I guess I’ll expand a little, too, on that thing about “allowable ways of being men and women”. In the next post, though.

  220. Scott Says:

    amy #219: OK then, I’ll look forward to your next post!

    In the meantime: point taken, you didn’t assert that women are more moral than men. What you said was that, in your life experience, women have been consistently more compassionate, cooperative, communal, and back-having than men, who even when they seem OK on the surface, almost always turn out to be obsessed with that “this prize and that prize.” You allowed that this might cease to be the case in a hypothetical future, but not in the world as it exists today.

    So then I guess my question is: suppose someone tells you that, in their experience over several decades, Chinese people have been consistently more compassionate and helpful than Koreans, who almost always turn out to be status-seeking narcissists when you scratch the surface. The person then gives numerous examples involving Chinese virtue and Korean perfidy. They allow that these stunning failures of compassion might be due not to any genetic deformity in Koreans, but merely the brain-eroding effects of kimchi and innumerable other aspects of Korean culture continuing for centuries, so maybe this could cease to be the case in some remote future—no one has done the experiment to find out. But at any rate, it’s certainly not the case in the world today.

    Wouldn’t you reasonably infer that this person considers Chinese people to be currently “more moral” than Koreans, in whatever senses such a statement is meaningful? If not, then help me put some daylight between the concepts!

  221. John Sidles Says:

    Daniel Seita wonders “Maybe he’s [JAS] already written one [a rebuttal] and it’s in the moderation queue?”

    Lol … there are two comments in my personal “immoderation” queue (meaning, these are draft comments that I have as yet posted anywhere).

    Comment 1  A comparative review of Muller and Jerschow’s “Nuclear spin noise imaging” (PNAS, 2006) with last week’s preprint by Erik Aurell “A global view of quantum computation with noisy components” (arXiv:1606.09407v1, 2016), by way of Scott’s (really excellent) panel discussion with Daniel Harlow and Brian Swingle as posted last week on Shtetl Optimized under “Did Einstein Kill Schrödinger’s Cat?”

    One natural question, which is the focus of my still-unsent comment, is this: “Why focus narrowly on the informatic content of thermal radiation from black holes, when there’s wonderful experimental data, and cogent theoretical analyses, relating to the informatic content of thermal radiation from condensed matter?”

    Addressing this question turns out to provide a fertile context for a review of Erik Aurell’s anti-skeptical analysis, from the mathematical physics grounds that is provided by the extensive theoretical and experimental literature describing (what is variously called in the literature) “coil damping” and/or “superfluorescence” and/or “superradiance” and even “superdecoherence.”

    The gist of this diverse body of literature (the way I read it) is that its reasonable to appreciate our own physical QED-world as a well-posed mathematical model of Gil Kalai’s skeptical postulates, in which ever-larger numbers of ever-cleaner ever-faster qubits (yay!) are concomitantly ever-more-susceptible to quantum electrodynamical phenomena that are superfluorescent / superradiant / superdecoherent (ouch!).

    The main challenge in completing this immoderately superskeptical comment, is the challenge of keeping the comment sufficiently short. Not to mention, much of the “super-X dynamics” literature is pretty tough chewing.

    Comment 2  As for the second ‘immoderation’ comment, I’ll save it as a surprise, since it concerns a trendy body of recent research that I’m hoping Scott or Dick Lipton/Ken Regan or Gil Kalai will eventually post upon. When they do, I’ll be ready! 🙂

    As for Trumpism and its discontents, and the desirability of the broadest feasible foundations for empathic understanding in human relations generally and politics specifically, my own views are so entirely in accord with Scott’s — in particular Scott’s fine comment #216 — as to leave little room for invigorating exchanges between us.

  222. amy Says:

    So. When I was a little girl, the presumption was that a girl (if pretty and nice) would grow up and marry a man, and have children, and take care of a house. A large part of a girl’s education — part of Girl Scouts, too — was in home economics. I am sure that if pressed I could still iron and maybe even fold properly a fitted sheet, polish silver efficiently, set a table thoughtfully with placecards and the right settings, mend and patch, sew a practically invisible seam that looked as nice on the inside as on the outside, make party decorations from tissue paper, bake a creditable two-layer cake, and budget nutritious meals for a household that hadn’t a whisper of a credit card. A good and happy woman had a certain kind of house and a certain kind of husband with a certain kind of job; her waist measured not more than 28 inches. She was white, and so was the rest of her family. It went without saying that the children would be adorable. Even on Sesame Street, mothers were white ladies for a long time. My mother was friends with other similar mothers with similar houses. All the children played together, and now and then we took vacations together.

    That world was gone by the time I got to college, during which time my boyfriend’s mother expressed worry that my running would damage my “organs”. And that world disappeared too, maybe a decade later.

    The way in which I live would have been unrecognizable in 1970. None of my friends who are women live in ways that would have been recognizable to our mothers. None are housewives — well, one is, though she was a PhD-seeking bull dyke first, and now she’s married to a man 20 years older than she is and mother to too many children, and is studying to be a rabbi. Some are gay; some are single; most are fat; some have doctorates; few are mothers. Most are well-travelled on their own and have careers. They run marathons, skydive, are rich and poor, are disabled, are military officers, have married or lived with people vastly different from themselves in background, religion, race.

    When my daughter was little, a college roommate came to visit us from Brooklyn; she had a film in a local film festival. We caught up on each other’s lives — she made a lot of money (and had a lot of debt), she was still traveling all over. And I was a single mom struggling by, trying to take care of the house and the kid and, now and then, myself and what remained of my career. And I thought: I did it wrong; I was glad for her, but felt very stupid. And then later that evening she said something along those very lines: looking at my life, she realized she’d done it all wrong, and she felt very stupid. After all, what did she have? A crap apartment with the rent going into the stratosphere, nothing much to show, nothing underneath her, a career she’d gotten into as a day job. And look what I had: this beautiful child, a career I was building, a house with a yard and apple trees, a cute town….That was when we both realized we had really lost any central “good way for a woman to live”. So long as you had enough — did it matter whether you had a career or kids, what you looked like or wore, whether you were married, to whom you were married, to how many people you were married, whether or where you went to college, how much money you had, how sexual you were and with whom, what you had made that you could put your name to….the answer, increasingly, has been “no, it doesn’t matter, so long as you’re satisfied and treat other people well.”

    If there are a zillion ways of doing it right, it becomes very difficult to find a meaningful ranking scale, let alone obsess over it. It also makes cooperativity much easier, because you’re concerned much less with either credit or maintaining demarcations of rank. The answer to “why do you look so fabulous” is probably “because I like to” rather than “to make it plain that I’m one of the fabulous people and that this is how you should treat me”. And when a large proportion of women aren’t having children because they just don’t want to, how can childlessness mean inferiority? It has a hard time meaning that, I think.

    When I look at how men have liberated themselves, the massive standout, of course, is that it’s now quite acceptable to be gay. Once you’re out of high school. Assuming you live in a place that tends to vote blue. And that you work in some fields but not others.

    And beyond that I still don’t see much. There’s been some progress on the childrearing/home-care stuff — it’s okay now for men to do it — but despite some pretty public efforts in the aughts at at-home daddyhood, it’s plain that men are still largely scared to be seen committing thoroughly to taking care of their kids and homes. It still reads as “unemployable bum”, and not too many men are saying, publicly, “Fuck that, I’m doing it anyway.” Then there’s the desperate “Men Going Their Own Way” movement, which is built on the idea of liberating themselves from a caricature of women’s demands, and as far as I can make out, what reaction there’s been from women has been, “K then, have fun.” I see men in the arts striving with each other for primacy and prizes, or at the very least tenure. Metrics madness in science. Single adult men pitied or thought odd, sexuality questioned. I see boys being harried into athletic competitiveness. And I still see nailing women (more mature form: married, have lovely children) being equated with success as a man.

    What it means, I think, is that for a man to shrug at the rankings takes a great deal of courage, sense of self, and willingness to go alone. But for women, increasingly, there just aren’t rankings to shrug at, unless they’re working or living with men who’re bound to some and are setting the rules. The great remaining ranking system for women is racial, and increasingly it seems to me that it wasn’t women who drew up that system — but white women have not done a good job of kicking it apart. Not tried, either.

    All of this is, to some extent, an exaggeration. But I think it a reasonable description of trends.

  223. amy Says:

    Scott #220 – Morality seems to me to be a very large notion. When I think of someone who is moral, this person is not just someone who tries to be compassionate and cooperative, not just someone who has respect for others, but is clear-eyed and wise in a social sense, living in a way that considers not just others’ feelings and wellbeing but the long-term social meaning of his behavior. And who will sacrifice self, to some extent, to those ideals. It’s quite difficult, I think — quite difficult — to live a consistently moral life. Compromise and morality, it seems to me, go hand in hand.

    Cooperativity and compassion are, I think, much easier and much simpler.

    If someone told me your story, I would come out with: This person considers the Chinese to be much more compassionate and cooperative than the Koreans are. And that’s it.

  224. amy Says:

    Sniffnoy #211 – by “genderish movements” I just mean any/all movements to do with gender. Gender essentialism, genderfluidity, innate gender, gender meaninglessness, all the very busy people trying to define and redefine what gender is and means. So yeah, obviously if you say “gender, unimportant”, you incur the Wagnerian wrath of lots of former Michigan Music Festivalgoers, but this is part of the slack I’m talking about cutting. These people are talking about something real and important to them, the “gender wtf, I don’t want one” people are talking about something real and important to them, it’ll be a while before it all gets mostly-sorted.

  225. Sniffnoy Says:

    I always thought of it as a failure of imagination, that inability to recognize anything but a very narrow path as legit, but I think it’s probably more than that.

    Hm — what you seem to be attributing to gendered expectations, I’d instead attribute to failing to keep one’s identity small. This is what people do, isn’t it? They come up with identities for themselves and lock themselves into a path. Once you’ve taken that step, it’s easy to fail to notice alternatives, or, when you do notice them or they’re pointed out, to dismiss them on flimsy reasoning, or just to say “Oh, that sounds neat” and then never explore the idea further, or, if you do end up seriously looking into it, to ultimately back away and say “Oh, but that’s not what I do.”

  226. John Sidles Says:

    In strong quantitative support of Amy’s recent comments, and also addressing remarks, is the dismal trend of ever-rising age of biomedical researchers at the time of first independent research award.

    Are you a young woman contemplating a career biomedical research? Your child-bearing years will likely end before you achieve any real measure of research-independence.

    Who welcomes this dystopian trend? No one. Who decries it? Everyone. Who works effectively to reverse it? Not scientists. Nor academic institutions. Nor research administrations. Nor politicians and their parties. Nor the globalized private sector. Nor NGOs. Nor any ideological ‘ism’.

    Young scientists are immersed in an ever-heating pool of competition — so much so that they are suffering mass career-death by collective “boiling”.

    This STEAM-situation is sufficiently dire, and of sufficiently long standing, that for solutions to be transformational in effect, they perforce must be radical in means.

  227. Sniffnoy Says:

    Sniffnoy #211 – by “genderish movements” I just mean any/all movements to do with gender. Gender essentialism, genderfluidity, innate gender, gender meaninglessness, all the very busy people trying to define and redefine what gender is and means. So yeah, obviously if you say “gender, unimportant”, you incur the Wagnerian wrath of lots of former Michigan Music Festivalgoers, but this is part of the slack I’m talking about cutting. These people are talking about something real and important to them, the “gender wtf, I don’t want one” people are talking about something real and important to them, it’ll be a while before it all gets mostly-sorted.

    Hm perhaps I misunderstood what you meant by “modern”. I’m not as old as you, I may have read it more narrowly than you intended it! Like if you are including the 60s and 70s as modern then I guess what you say makes more sense.

    But it is worth noting that “gender wtf, I don’t want one” is still a response that acknowledges the legitimacy of gender, and shoudn’t be conflated with “gender is unimportant”. It’s the difference between “Oh, I don’t worship any gods” and “There are no gods, enough already!”

  228. AdamT Says:

    Amy #223, You think it is possible to be a moral person when lacking compassion? Is compassion at least necessary if not sufficient for describing a moral person? Are they linearly related so that having more or less compassion is usually correlated with higher or lesser morality? I would say yes, yes, and yes.

  229. amy Says:

    Sniffnoy #225 – what if those identities people come up with for themselves incorporate gendered expectations?

    And…well, I dunno. That Paul Graham piece had to do, in a sense, with tribalism. But tribalism is firmly bound up in rankings. The presumption is that your team is the best team because it’s your team, and someone will come around and remind you in case you forget.

    I keep going back to this, but I remember being asked, as a grad student, to write one of these stirring and useless letters in defense of federal arts funding. And I couldn’t do it. I mean I knew why arts were important to me, but I was also aware that millions of people get along perfectly happily without fine art, so why should they pay taxes to support my weird minority interest? (I’d be able to write the letter now because I understand more about how art functions in a society and how it’s used. But that still doesn’t mean that I think everyone should have some for breakfast.) The guy who asked me to do it was seriously confused — I’m Team Art, so what’s the problem?

    I suspect that as We Are #1 becomes less important, which is what happens when the ranking system falls apart, these sorts of team affiliations also become less important, and you get less bulgy-vein shoutiness. It really does seem to be a big deal, though. I mean team sports seems to show the whole thing: here are all these people who couldn’t walk half a mile without breathing hard, and they go roaring around about their teams and spending massive money on licensed whatever, and it’s really, really important to them. But the main thing seems to be that you have to have a team. Fraternities looked like the same thing: pure exercises in team-having. It’s why — to bring things back to the presidential race — when you listen to the seriously ranty people, it really is religious. Trump and Hillary and Bernie aren’t real people in their talk; they’re simply icons embodying some set of ideals, a set of badges they’ve sent away for, and the arguments are teleological. And I guess that in the end this is why you can’t have a reasonable political discourse. A big chunk of the electorate isn’t at all interested in it; they’re just proclaiming identities in ways that have little to do with the fact that we have a real government staffed by real (well, ish) humans and that they do jobs.

    I’m guessing that if you stopped people at the door and said look, this is a presidential election, it’s not about cheering for your team; go ahead in that door over there and pick up a giant foam pointy-finger if you want to play with those, but you can’t come in here and behave like that — I bet participation would be absolutely tiny.

  230. JustAnotherShitlordAnon Says:

    “If someone told me your story, I would come out with: This person considers the Chinese to be much more compassionate and cooperative than the Koreans are. And that’s it.”

    LOL! Let’s also assume that the same someone prefaced their story with the following statement (strangely similar to Amy #204):

    “I do actually think that the Koreans have a hell of a lot of work to do with themselves, as a group. And that probably the most helpful thing that Koreans who don’t make a fulltime career of variously screwing over and using other people could do would be to stop playing the rankings game and refuse to offer it any sort of legitimacy. Because that, if you ask me, is the source of a great deal of the world’s misery: Koreans fighting to be on top, Koreans determined not to suffer humiliation in the eyes of other Koreans. But the only reason it’s a thing is that Koreans actually do pay attention to whatever some bonehead has designated as importantly scorable.”

    Yes, sure, people would infer that the Chinese are more compassionate. And — here’s the part you’re so anxious to avoid — they would also conclude that the Koreans are “the source of a great deal of the world’s misery”.

    Just to make it clear: it not only says something good about the Chinese (women), it also says something pretty bad about the Koreans (men).

    But you know this. Unfortunately, to admit it would mean acknowledging that you’re taking your negative experiences with men and projecting them onto the whole male population. Again, this is why your views are sexist. Nothing insightful or illuminating going on there.

    And when this bias is pointed out, your response consists of listing still more vague anecdotes where men haven’t met your standards. As if quantity will somehow lend more weight to the whole rotten argument.

    It doesn’t.

  231. Tom Says:

    Proposition, proposition, proposition, proposition, & no proofs!—should we
    expect anything less from a string theorist?

  232. Scott Says:

    Amy: In your comments, which I appreciate, I think one can clearly see a place where you and I part ways. Namely, my utopia is not a place utterly bereft of competition, or even of people striving for awards and status at the expense of others. I see competition and status-seeking as essential parts of a healthy society, though extremely easy to overdo. They’re like salt, which you want neither too little nor too much of, rather than like garlic, which is good in arbitrarily large amounts (or, I dunno, arsenic, which is good in no amount).

    Like, I’m sure you and I both have experience with academic environments that are pure cutthroat dick-swinging status competitions, and those suck, for all the reasons you said. But I’m sure we also both have experience with academic environments where everyone is friendly and helpful, but no one ever tries to push themselves to achieve anything spectacular. And that’s not for me either.

    There’s also, of course, no small amount of hypocrisy in the generations-old tradition of distinguished old people giving speeches to young people telling them to forget completely about the pursuit of status and prizes, and just relax and smell the flowers—when the only reason those particular old people are on the podium giving the speeches at all, is because of the status and prizes that they themselves fought for and won when younger.

    By far the most important thing, to my mind, is not that the pursuit of status be eliminated, but rather that the routes to status be aligned with what actually creates value for the world. It’s only when social status becomes unmoored from actual competence at anything that matters, that you get the pathological situations (Manhattan socialites, American high schools…) that Paul Graham describes in his classic Why Nerds Are Unpopular.

    More generally, I can’t sign on to any version of feminism that says that stereotypically-male values are inherently evil, and that males themselves might be acceptable, but only after we ‘smash patriarchy,’ by which we mean that men need to adopt stereotypically-female values and abandon their stereotypically-male ones (like competition over status). Conversely, I also can’t sign onto any version of feminism that regards women as traitors to the cause unless they adopt stereotypically-male values. I want a world where people of both sexes are free to adopt either “competitive/individualistic” or “cooperative/empathetic” values (which I see as sort of the yin and yang of a successful society), or any mixture thereof. And if more men turn out to choose the stereotypically-male values while more women choose the stereotypically-female ones, I’m fine with that outcome as well (are you?).

  233. adamt Says:

    Compassion as merely product of child rearing prowess is seemingly a very feeble and impotent definition of the concept for my mind. I’d also note that the foremost practitioners of the art of compassion (Bodhisattva’s) do not conceive child rearing as a particularly effective means towards developing it. I’ll also note that the person who literally wrote the book on compassion -signifying literally nothing other happenstance – was male.

  234. adamt Says:

    Well, now that I wrote that I guess I should add that practicing to regard all beings as one’s mother *is* considered one of the most effective ways of generating great compassion. The other method being tonglen meditation.

    I think perhaps this emphasis of focus on modeling compassion on the child’s view rather than the mother’s view is because the mother’s view is so wound up with attachment that it can be hard to separate the truly altruistic aspect of a mother’s compassion from the base attachment that comes with it.

  235. Sniffnoy Says:

    Sniffnoy #225 – what if those identities people come up with for themselves incorporate gendered expectations?

    What if they do?

    I mean, they do, that’s for certain, but what’s the relevance? I mean, yeah, reducing that is a good project, I’m all for it. But it will not solve the underlying problem. You can bust people out of that particular cage, and it’s a good thing to do, but they’ll still make more ones for themselves (though presumably less stupid ones). Ultimately, it would seem to me, you need to give them a lockpicking kit. (That’s kind of a terrible analogy, but whatever.)

    The particular Paul Graham piece I linked deals largely with tribalism. I do not think that in any way means the problem is restricted to tribalism.

  236. amy Says:

    Scott #232 — okay, so have a look at what you’ve got connected in this post. You’re talking about competition, and status, and friendly colleagues encouraging each other into doing something spectacular. But I don’t think any of those three things need be connected to the others.

    Let me step back a minute and talk about competition amongst women, and why I keep discussing multitudinous “okay ways of being a woman” in the context of cooperativity and community-building. I talked about what the expected life path was for girls when I was little (mind, that’s middle-class white girls; at the time, “girls”), but I didn’t talk about the ferocious competition amongst girls in those days. The stated object of the competition was, of course, the husband, but it kind of wasn’t, really. Nearness to looking like Sophia Loren was probably the top competition; then there was “things you have”, meaning things your father or husband had bought for you; then there were trips the same men had bought for you, etc. For grown women there was the mink. (Really.) But it started in girlhood over things as meaningless as hair ribbons and perfection of summer tan (I’m peeling! Emergency!), and the advent of designer clothing for teens sent girls to therapy. What’s relieved the torment for, apparently, many girls, not to mention many women, is the fact that the range of “did well” is tremendously larger than it used to be, which is one result of a lot of the feminist banging on over the last few decades.

    So no, I’m not saying that competitiveness is foreign to women, in gender-related contexts or outside them. I am saying that when you have a very narrow range of “did good”, you set up widespread, selfishness-promoting, and often otherwise destructive competition for the prizes. And when you have a very broad range, it becomes difficult for that kind of competition to take hold.

    Let’s go back to the bit about the academic environment with the awesome and encouraging colleagues who want you to do something terrific. Suppose a kid in someone’s group does something terrific, but we’ve unhooked “do something terrific” from the status and prizes beyond, oh, applause and cake. Well, you might say, even if there are no official prizes, we all know that there’s a shift in rank, because ordinarykid has done something terrific, so is now damngoodkid. But suppose another kid wanders in one day a little late, and you’re a little put out, and then it turns out that she’s late because she’s working on some vlog that actually has nothing to do with what you do at work, but someone wanted to interview her about it.

    Is this also a damngoodkid? You mention something about value to society: well, according to whose lights?

    Also, how do you know that the five other kids in the group aren’t going to do rather spectacular things in various other contexts some years from now?

    Also, what about the kids who’re going to live very quiet lives, who’ll disappear?

    When you have not hung your whole identity, whole being, on rank in a particular context, it becomes very difficult to take the rank/status/prizes seriously. That doesn’t, of course, mean ceasing to take doing spectacular work seriously. One does that because of the goodness of the work by one’s own lights. But the idea that knocking one out of the park merits much beyond cake will then make you look around and say, well, that’s a bit silly, look at all the other people doing good and interesting things, many of them entirely undervalued, and there’s no reason for me to have special treatment.

    When the other people around you also recognize that people are doing good and interesting things all over, in contexts that may not be terribly important to you but are to other people, then there’s general agreement that celebration and cake are in order, but coronations are not, unless you’re going to have one every damn day of the week, and nobody has time for that.

    One of the problems with coronations, of course, is that the head does lie uneasy if it cares about the crown at all. Which isn’t so terrific for anyone in the vicinity. You see the same thing all over when people get big prizes and take them seriously: there’s fear of losing status, losing the Michelin star, the gigantic grant, the crowd’s ear. Not just because of the practical losses but because of the comedown it’d represent.

    Another problem: jealousy. I was remembering today a book I think’s underrated lately: A Separate Peace. No girls to compete over in that book — boys’ school, if you remember — but the narrator, who certainly does well enough, is absolutely consumed with jealousy of his roommate, Phineas, one of those carefree and talented souls who wanders around winning things *and not caring about them*, and not caring either about losing at the things he’s not good at. He’s actually gracious and happy for the narrator, Gene, when Gene grinds away like crazy and wins at something. Not because Phineas thinks the prize matters, but because Gene does. So Gene breaks him. The thing is, Gene sounds, throughout, like a perfectly reasonable person. Wound a little tight, maybe, a little on edge, a little competitive, but nothing out of the ordinary. But this is what he’s better than me can do when there is no other way of considering one’s own merits. Of being happy, or at least content.

    So that’s status out of the way. What about competition? Well, I don’t see any reason why it must be tied to status, which is about having other people recognize and promote you, rather than your working to a particular mark, or against someone else’s mark. The man I was competing against for a long time died some years ago, but that doesn’t matter; his books stay just as they are. I also know who I can’t beat because I’m not smart enough, haven’t that kind of fluidity. I can’t even see how they did their work. But there aren’t too many of them. I won’t beat any of them for volume, probably, but that doesn’t bother me too much; they had wives and mothers taking care of their lives and children for them, anyway.

    I’ve spent a lot of my life deliberately avoiding doing things that would result in prizes. Doing the work, but keeping it away from arenas where the slugging-out over the fancy stuff happens. When I was much younger I just had a feeling that those things — if I took them at all seriously — would be a tremendous distraction from actually doing the work. Also that it would be difficult, once involved with that sort of stuff, not to begin to take it seriously. (This is one reason why I’m not teaching so much anymore. You stand up there in front of a bunch of kids talking for four or five hours a week, and they treat you like you really know something, and you begin to believe it.) Also that wandering around with medals would take me to places I didn’t want to go, and into some seriously unpleasant company. Admittedly, I’ve taken it a little far. But when I look at where my classmates have gone, I see that at least some of this was on the money.

    And this is superlong, and I should do some work. 🙂 Bottom line: loosening/enlarging the definition of “success” goes a very long way towards getting rid of toxic rank-seeking without doing away with either competition (for those who enjoy it) or encouragement to do terrific work.

  237. amy Says:

    adamt #233/234 – the word “prowess” really has no place in what I was describing. It’s not to do with the mother’s (or father’s) rank or self-regard at all. It’s to do with the fact that children are small and new and fragile, and you must treat them gently if you want them to grow happily and well, which presumably you do. You have to calibrate to their scales, not your own. You have to recognize that they haven’t your stamina, your experience, your stride length. (You spend years taking very little steps if you have children.) You have to think about what things look like, feel like, from their point of view, and speak carefully, so you don’t hurt them and so they can understand. You can’t get upset with them or dismiss them for being frightened of things you know aren’t real, or won’t hurt them — to them, the danger seems real, and it’s very important to them that you’ll take care of them. (That’s why many parents keep “monster spray” on hand.)

    You teach toddlers not to hit or grab by going “no hit, gentle, gentle,” while showing them with their hands how to stroke instead, but you have to go gentle, gentle, too. And to do that you have to listen carefully to them and take their feelings seriously. It seems to me that when you do that, the children are likely to be compassionate themselves. Including — and this catches most of us by surprise, I think — towards their parents and other caregivers.

    Some years ago I had students go find an anti-vax community and talk to them — not lecture, talk — to find out what they were about, why they were doing this dangerous thing. These communities tend to be mom groups, and uniformly the students were surprised by how nice the moms were; they weren’t used to nice online communities. When you’re engaged in teaching nice and thoughtful, though, and bringing up little children and introducing them to the world, and you’re finding support amongst others doing the same hard and exhausting work, you’d better be modeling nice and thoughtful yourself.

  238. Elliott Says:

    I keep forgetting to mention this counter-argument to Trump’s lies being a bad thing.

    Remember when Politics was about Policies? Remember when the media talked about policies and their possible implications? Remember when people talked about policies and their possible implications?
    Last I heard anything of that nature from the media was about 15 years ago. Last I heard anything of that nature from average people was about 10 years ago.

    Here’s a thing that consistently happens when radical leftism (SJWs, Feminists, etc) “infects” a group or society: They create a system that forces “equalization”, and condemns all intelligent remarks. Look at the current Hugo Awards problem as an example. This is what happened to the media. This is what happened to politics. This is what happened to publishing companies. This is what happened to educational institutions. This is what is happening to science.

    There are two side effects of this consistent result. The first is that the society in question destroys itself. Infighting erupts, and everyone leaves. Customers stop buying the products these companies produce (because they stop making quality products). And People that wanted what these groups once offered look for another source to satisfy them (like how the Hugo Awards are now effectively useless).
    The second side effect is that these societies and groups always create a specific system that they use to determine who wins, or who gets “equalized” the most. This system is INSANELY EASY to game. It always happens. As an example, listen to Vox Day talk about how he gamed the Hugo Awards (https://youtu.be/vm-5kQRsfm0).

    So here’s what’s happening with Trump’s lies: he’s gaming the system that Hillary wants to continue to make easier to game. He’s gaming the system that Obama and Bush Jr spent a lot of their time creating.

    Sure, you can hate Trump for gaming the system that Hillary wants. Just as you can hate Vox Day for gaming the Hugo Awards. But in the end, that’s proof that Hillary is a problem just as the SJWs in the Hugo Awards are a problem.
    The reality behind this is that Hillary helped create the system because she wanted to game it (as she’s trying to do). Obama helped create the system because he wanted to game it (and he did, successfully). Bush Jr helped create the system because he wanted to game it (and he did, successfully).
    Trump wants to get rid of the system because it’s way too easy to game (as he is demonstrating).

    So this “Trump lies and that’s bad” argument is missing the forest for the trees. The fact that Trump’s lies are working is what’s bad. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

    America is going in the direction of the Hugo Awards. Let’s make the Hugo Awards great again.

  239. John Sidles Says:

    Elliott opines (#238) “Last I heard anything of that nature [civil informed responsible discourse] from the media was about 15 years ago. Last I heard anything of that nature from average people was about 10 years ago.”

    Well there’s your problem, right there! There’s plenty of civil informed responsible discourse out there … for folks who don’t insulate themselves from it.

    In regard to on-line forums, try posting a civil informed responsible citation of a substantial body of peer-reviewed scientific literature. If the response prominently features abuse and banning, then that community resides in the denial-o-sphere.

    As every STEAM-worker learns to appreciate, denialist cognition has little or no capacity to appreciate evidence of its own denialism. Quite the contrary! History shows plainly that even exceptionally rational persons — including celebrated mathematicians — have commonly evinced remarkable incapacities for appreciating their own denialist predilections.

    The reason is grounded in ordinary human nature: the multiple attractions of denialist cognition — including immediate peer-group membership, high ‘insider’ status, positive self-affirmation, and certitude in the face of uncertain futures — are too strong to easily give up.

    Against denialism stand the STEAM-institutions of collegiality, civility, discourse grounded in dispassionate rationality, and (especially) respect for peer review. That these traditions and institutions are imperfect, there is no doubt. That they are effective in remediating denialist cognition, especially when sustained over history’s long haul, there also is no doubt.

  240. Sniffnoy Says:

    Elliott: Your Hugo award analogy makes no sense. The fact that slate nomination can screw up the Hugos has absolutely nothing to do with recent leftism. It’s just a property of the nomination system, which, to my knowledge, has been the same for a long time now. Even if you want to claim that recent leftists screwed up the Hugos, it makes no sense to claim that Vox Day exploited a system they set up, because the system he exploited predates them.

  241. JustAnotherShitlordAnon Says:

    @ Amy, re comment #236

    “Bottom line: loosening/enlarging the definition of “success” goes a very long way towards getting rid of toxic rank-seeking without doing away with either competition (for those who enjoy it) or encouragement to do terrific work.”

    Ugh, sure, like that platitude was what provoked the last several postings.

    Amy, how’s the view up there on your motte?

  242. John Sidles Says:

    Amy concludes (#236):  “Bottom line: loosening/enlarging the definition of “success” goes a very long way towards getting rid of toxic rank-seeking without doing away with either competition (for those who enjoy it) or encouragement to do terrific work.”

    Similar sentiments are voiced in two essays that are well-regarded and much-cited by mathematicians (both essays are available free-as-in-freedom on-line):

    • William “Bill” Thurston’s “On proof and progress in mathematics” (1994, arXiv:math/9404236)

    • Terence “Terry” Tao’s “What is good mathematics?” (2007, arXiv:math/0702396)

    Aside  These two essays overlap considerably and compatibly; so much so, that Tao’s weblog “What’s New” features a permanent left-sidebar link to Thurston’s essay.

    Digging deeper into history, seeking similar mathematical sentiments, we find Hermann Weyl’s “Funeral oration for Emma Noether” (April 18, 1935, translation by Peter Roquette):

    You were a great woman mathematician — I have no reservations in calling you the greatest that history has known. […]

    When, at this hour, I think of what made you what you were, two things immediately come to mind . The first is the original, productive force of your mathematical thinking. Like a too ripe fruit, it seemed to burst through the shell of your humanness. You were at once instrument of and receptacle for the intellectual force that surged forth from within you. You were not of clay, harmoniously shaped by God’s artistic hand, but a piece of primordial human rock into which he breathed creative genius.[…]

    The second thing that springs to mind is that your heart knew no malice; you did not believe in evil, indeed it never occurred to you that it could play a role in the affairs of man.

    This was never brought home to me more clearly than in the last summer we spent together in G ̈ottingen, the stormy summer of 1933. In the midst of the terrible struggle, destruction and upheaval that was going on around us in all factions, in a sea of hate and violence, of fear and desperation and dejection – you went your own way, pondering the challenges of mathematics with the same industriousness as before. When you were not allowed to use the institute’s lecture halls you gathered your students in your own home.

    Even those in their brown shirts [JAS note: “those in their brown shirts” included Noether’s own student Ernst Witt] were welcome; never for a second did you doubt their integrity.

    Without regard for your own fate, openhearted and without fear, always conciliatory, you went your own way. Many of us believed that an enmity had been unleashed in which there could be no pardon; but you remained untouched by it all.[…]

    You were torn from us in your creative prime; your sudden departure, like the echo of a thunderclap, is still written on our faces. But your work and your disposition will long keep your memory alive, in science and amongst your students, friends and colleagues.

    Farewell then, Emmy Noether, great mathematician and great woman. Though decay take your mortal remains, we will always cherish the legacy you left us.

    The contrast of Emma Noether’s outstanding example of intellect, courage, and personal commitment, with on the other hand, the ignorant isolationism and abusive demagoguery that nowadays have become so regrettably prevalent in public discourse, could scarcely be greater or more inspiring … or more needed.

  243. quax Says:

    The name Struwwelpeter picked, as well as his impeccable German, indicate to me that the latter is his mother tongue.

    I find this profoundly depressing, given that two generations of German school teachers did their uttermost to instill skepticism against authoritarianism in their students.

    Then again maybe he hails from East Germany.

  244. The Cosmist Says:

    “Godel had taken the whole matter of American citizenship very seriously, studying thoroughly in preparation for his exam; so thoroughly, in fact, that he made, he believed, a disturbing discovery: there is an internal contradiction in the American Constitution that would allow its democracy to deteriorate into tyranny. […] Unfortunately, Morgenstern’s account, and so all the others that derive from it, omits mention of the precise constitutional flaw.”

    From, “Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel” by Rebecca Goldstein.

    I’m just saying, it’s something to think about . . .


  245. Michael Murden Says:


  246. Michael P Says:

    Many people detest Trump, but also dislike Clinton. There are also some people who detest Clinton, but also dislike Trump. These people feel compelled to vote for what they feel is the least of evil to prevent the rise of what they feel is the greater evil.

    Fortunately, there is now a way to avoid voting for the above candidates: the website balancedrebellion.com would match up a Trump-disliking-Clinton-hating republican with a Clinton-disliking-Trump-hating democrat so that they would both vote for Gary Johnson of Libertarian Party.

    I am not a Libertarian, but IMHO it may be a viable way out of having to vote for either of the major candidates. If my not-voting-for-Clinton wouldn’t enhance the chanced that Trump gets elected, then why not? Most of Johnson’s views don’t seem unreasonable to me.