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17 Oct 10:47

#1259; Let’s Be Deadly Serious Here

by David Malki

Shoving spiders at children is an important October tradition.

14 Oct 09:34

if you don't have a time machine, eventually steal one from someone who does then go back in time and give it to yourself in this very moment. come on. you should KNOW this by now.

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October 10th, 2016: NYCC was great and I met a lot of terrific Dinosaur Comics fans and thank you all for coming out! I gave you STICKERS. :0

– Ryan

13 Oct 08:42

Somewhat Against Psychiatric Conditions As Domestication Failure

by Scott Alexander

[Epistemic status: Not sure if I’m arguing against a straw man here and my conclusion is what the researchers meant all along.]

I.

Benitez-Burraco and Lattanzi theorize that autism and schizophrenia are anomalies in the human self-domestication process. I’ll try to explain, but for a much better explanation than I can give read Dr. Chris Badcock here.

Still here? Fine. BBL’s theory goes like this. When Russian scientist Dmitry Belyaev tried to domesticate foxes by breeding them for tame behavior, he found that changes in a lot of other traits went along for the ride. In short, the foxes started looking kind of dog-like: smaller heads, shorter snouts, spotted fur, floppy ears, more youthful characteristics. Some further experiments confirmed that similar changes happen in any species bred for tameness. Probably this has to do with changes in the neural crest, an embryonic structure which goes on to form a bunch of things including the adrenal medulla. Since the adrenal medulla produces some of the hormones involved in fear and stress, animals with hypoactive medullae will probably be tamer. But since the neural crest also goes on to form lots of other stuff, or produce hormones that influence the formation of lots of other stuff, these tamer animals will be different in other ways too.

BBL continues: we went from being wild apes to tame humans, a process that could be analogized to “self-domestication”. Some of the same changes the Russians saw in the transition from wild to domesticated foxes can be seen in the transition from early hominid skulls to modern human skulls.

Autistic people, say BBL, are “undomesticated humans” – people in whom for some reason the neural crest changes that result in domesticated features have reversed. They find that some of the changes of domestication syndrome are the reverse of some of the symptoms of autism:

Smaller heads = autistic people have larger heads
More trusting and social = autistic people are less trusting and social
Spotted fur = the depigmenting disease “hypomelanosis of Ito” is sometimes associated with autistic symptoms
Floppy ears = studies find autistic people are more likely to have abnormally shaped ears (really!)
Change in adrenal response = autistic people have abnormal function in the HPA axis, the system including the adrenal gland

Or in the form of their cutesy picture:

Schizophrenics, say BBL, are “hyperdomesticated humans”. Once again, they match up the symptoms:

I originally thought this theory was dumb. After looking into it more, I think it has some serious issues, but that there might be a core of truth.

II.

I’ll get to that core, but first, the argument against: all of this is coincidences, pareidolia, and finessing things to fit into a system where they don’t really belong.

Going down the list:

Smaller heads = autistic people have larger heads

Some studies find this is true. Others find that it isn’t. In any case, note a discrepancy between this claim and the schizophrenia version. BBL note smaller brains in schizophrenics (true) and shorter skull (true), but not smaller heads, which we would expect if autism were the “reverse” of schizophrenia. In fact, schizophrenics may have larger heads than healthy people. This sort of moving the goal-posts, where autistics are judged on their larger heads but schizophrenics on their smaller brains, is a red flag for fake pattern-matching.

More trusting and social = autistic people are less trusting and social

True! But schizophrenics are way less trusting and social! Paranoia – pathological inability to trust – is a classic symptom of schizophrenia; indeed, if you made people choose between schizophrenia and autism and asked which one was associated with lack of trust, I think most people would choose schizophrenia. This brings an important point into relief: the whole point of domestication is that the domesticated animal is supposed to be friendlier and less aggressive. But nobody would describe schizophrenics as friendlier and less aggressive.

Spotted fur = the depigmenting disease “hypomelanosis of Ito” is sometimes associated with autistic symptoms

True! But hypomelanosis of Ito is a really rare disease (1/10,000 births) that has nothing to do with most autism. Also, it causes eye problems, kidney cysts, weirdly-shaped chests, short stature, seizures, mental retardation, etc. To me this looks more like “a super-rare disease that can cause pretty much anything can sometimes also cause autistic symptoms”, which is not very interesting. Also, domestication causing “pigmentation changes” (usually spotted fur) versus autism being (very rarely) associated with a depigmenting disease and schizophrenia being (very rarely) associated with albinism is more goalpost-shifting.

Floppy ears = studies find autistic people are more likely to have abnormally shaped ears (really!)

I looked at this study – Manouilenko et al – and what it actually finds is that autistic people are more likely to have asymmetrical ears. In fact, nonsignificantly more likely to have asymmetrical ears; their significant finding is that autistic people have more “minor physical abnormalities”, and the asymmetrical ears were one of many pieces of evidence combined to get the significant finding. But asymmetrical features are common in lots of genetic/embryological diseases and seem like a general sign of high mutational load. It seems sketchy to combine autists’ asymmetrical ears and wild foxes’ pointy ears and say “Look, they both have ear abnormalities, this is the same thing!” Some other studies suggest that autistic people have low-set ears, which sounds more promising, but schizophrenic people also have low-set ears, so whatever. The other schizophrenia ear findings are exactly as unconvincing as the autistic ones.

Change in adrenal response = autistic people have abnormal function in the HPA axis, the system including the adrenal gland

Wikipedia’s page on the HPA axis has a section on its possible role in disease, which states that dysfunction of the axis is involved in various conditions “including anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, insomnia, posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, ADHD, major depressive disorder, burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and alcoholism”. In other words, in a list of the HPA axis’ twelve greatest hits, neither autism nor schizophrenia qualify for inclusion.

I’m not saying that there isn’t an HPA axis component to these diseases. I’m just saying HPA axis is a nonspecific finding. I’m agnostic whether the HPA axis causes everything or our HPA axis study methods are so bad that they invariably turn up false positives. The point is that we shouldn’t get too excited when we see the HPA axis involved in both domestication and autism. This is like saying “Cancer causes you to feel bad, and AIDS causes you to feel bad, therefore cancer causes AIDS.” No, it’s just that everything makes you feel bad.

When we look beyond the general claim of “abnormal function”, things get less clear. BBL say that domesticated animals have “reduced levels of stress hormones including adrenocorticoids, adrenocorticotropic hormone, cortisol, and corticosterone”. So their theory should predict that autistic people have increased stress hormones, and schizophrenics decreased, relative to typical people. Actually, it’s a mess; autistic people seem to have higher ACTH but lower cortisol; schizophrenia studies are conflicting but tend towards higher levels of both. Once again, they can support a general claim of “these conditions affect the same system”, but they can’t predict the direction of the effect. Also, every condition affects this system.

(if you’re wondering why we’re talking about cortisol levels in a theory about the adrenal medulla, well, so am I. Whatever.)

Finally, if by “undomesticated human” we mean something like an ape or Neanderthal, well, neither apes nor Neanderthals (as far as we know) display the symptoms of autism. They seem to be pretty social. They seem to be able to eat all kinds of stuff without trouble. They don’t seem bothered by sensory processing problems. For that matter, dogs and cattle and nth generation silver foxes, the most domesticated animals we’ve got, don’t seem very schizophrenic. I guess cows could just be hallucinating all the time and how would we know, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that they are.

So this is why I originally was not too big on this theory.

III.

But what about Williams Syndrome?

Benitez-Burraco and Lattanzi don’t mention Williams Syndrome (also called Williams-Beuren Syndrome) at all, which is crazy, because it sounds a thousand times more like a syndrome of hyperdomestication than either of the two conditions they examine (h/t Nicholas Wade and a random Reddit comment). Williams Syndrome is a rare condition (1/10,000 births) caused by the deletion of some genes on chromosome 7. There are three very interesting things about people with Williams Syndrome. Number one, they are really nice. Like if you meet someone with Williams Syndrome, you will think “This person clearly has a rare genetic disease that causes pathological levels of niceness as a symptom.” Number two, they are really trusting. An Atlantic article profiling the condition, What Happens When You Trust Too Much? describes special therapy for Williams Syndrome children where the therapist has to teach them, painfully and laboriously, how to distrust people. NPR calls it “essentially biologically impossible for kids [with Williams Syndrome] to distrust [people].” Number three, they talk all the time; the informal name for the condition is “cocktail personality syndrome”.

People with Williams Syndromes actually legitimately have short noses (compare to the short snout on domesticated foxes), smaller teeth (compare to smaller teeth in dogs vs. wolves), smaller brains, and “unusually shaped ears” (I can’t find anything more specific; I guess it’s too much to hope for that researchers actually describe the ears as “floppy”).

Also, somebody checked which gene was most different in dogs versus wolves, and they found it was WBSCR17. The WBS in the name stands for “Williams-Beuren Syndrome” because it’s been linked to the disorder. So there’s that.

So as far as I can tell there’s an amazingly good case for Williams Syndrome being linked to domestication. Williams Syndrome tends to cause severe mental retardation and death at an early age, but that’s probably because there are twenty-five totally different genes missing. Maybe a version that only deleted WBSCR17 would keep the behavioral and physiologic changes but not much else.

A lot of people suggest Williams’ Syndrome is “the opposite of autism”. I can only find three pieces of evidence for this. Number one, the obvious contrast with the love of social situations and high verbal skills. Number two, Williams Syndrome kids seem to be really good at face recognition, whereas autistic people are often worse at this. Number three, Williams’ Syndrome kids seem to be unusually bad at the puzzles and interlocking-mechanical-part type problems on which autistic people excel.

On the other hand, there are some reasons to think these conditions are not exact opposites. For one thing, autism is caused by a hideously complex interplay of thousands of genes and various environmental factors, but Williams Syndrome is a drop-dead simple “oops, we forgot part of this chromosome over here”. Williams Syndrome kids seem to have some of the same sensory sensitivities as autistic kids. And both groups usually suffer from mental retardation.

I think that Williams Syndrome establishes the possibility of a physiological social/trust system linked to domestication, the neural crest, and various other parts of embroygenesis. Once you admit the existence of such a system, it seems like autism probably involves some kind of damage to it – probably along with damage to a lot of other systems too. Schizophrenia is more of a stretch, but the overwhelming presence of distrust as a symptom makes the existence of a physiological social/trust system at least kind of interesting and relevant.

So maybe instead of saying that “autistic people are undomesticated humans” and “schizophrenics are hyperdomesticated humans”, we should say something like “there is a very subtle and hard-to-notice biological system that determines level of trust and sociability and which seems weirdly linked to ear and nose shape; autism, schizophrenia, and Williams Syndrome all affect that system in different ways.” Note that this doesn’t mean they’re “the same disease” or “opposite diseases”; the connection might be no deeper than the “connection” where heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, and getting stabbed in the chest all affect the heart. But they all hit the same system.

My take-home message from looking into all of this is that I was very silly for trying to learn about autism and schizophrenia without thinking about embryology. These are highly genetically-loaded diseases that present early in life and seem linked to teratogens and prenatal infections; of course they’re embryological! I had to take some embryology classes in medical school, and like everyone else I tuned them out because they seemed totally irrelevant to real clinical practice and mostly involved memorizing pointless trivia like “on day thirty-six and a half, the developing shmendroblast has transformed into a blexomere”. But if you want to know what causes secret connections between ear shape and level of social trust, embryology seems like the way to go. Autism and schizophrenia are hard to study because they seem to affect everything, yet nothing specifically enough to localize the condition. Maybe going back and thinking more embryologically could help pinpoint the particular systems involved.

12 Oct 13:12

Trump, the GOP, and the Fall

by John Scalzi
Original photo by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons license. Click on photo to see original.

At this point there is no doubt that Donald Trump is the single worst major party presidential candidate in living memory, almost certainly the worst since the Civil War, and arguably the worst in the history of this nation. He is boastful and ignorant and petty, disdainful of the Constitution, a racist and a sexist, the enabler of the worst elements of society, either the willing tool of, or the useful idiot for, Vladimir Putin, an admirer of despots, an insecure braggart, a sexual assaulter, a man who refuses to honor contracts, and a bore.

He is, in sum, just about the biggest asshole in all of the United States of America. He’s lucky that Syrian dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad is out there keeping him from taking the global title, not that he wouldn’t try for that, too, should he become president. It’s appalling that he is the standard bearer for one of the two major political parties in the United States. It’s appalling that he is a candidate for the presidency at all.

But note well: Donald Trump is not a black swan, an unforeseen event erupting upon an unsuspecting Republican Party. He is the end result of conscious and deliberate choices by the GOP, going back decades, to demonize its opponents, to polarize and obstruct, to pursue policies that enfeeble the political weal and to yoke the bigot and the ignorant to their wagon and to drive them by dangling carrots that they only ever intended to feed to the rich. Trump’s road to the candidacy was laid down and paved by the Southern Strategy, by Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove, by Fox News and the Tea Party, and by the smirking cynicism of three generations of GOP operatives, who have been fracking the white middle and working classes for years, crushing their fortunes with their social and economic policies, never imagining it would cause an earthquake.

Well, surprise! Here’s Donald Trump. He is the actual and physical embodiment of every single thing the GOP has trained its base to want and to be over the last forty years — ignorant, bigoted and money-grubbing, disdainful of facts and frightened of everything because of it, an angry drunk buzzed off of wood-grain patriotism, threatening brown people and leering at women. He was planned. He was intended. He was expected. He was wanted.

But not, I think, in the exact form of Donald Trump. The GOP were busily genetically engineering the perfect host for their message, someone smooth and telegenic and possibly just ethnic enough to make people hesitant to point out the latent but real racism inherent in its social policies, while making the GOP’s white base feel like they were making a progressive choice, and with that person installed, further pursuing its agenda of slouching toward oligarchy, with just enough anti-abortion and pro-gun glitter tossed into the sky to distract the religious and the paranoid. Someone the GOP made. Someone they could control.

But they don’t control Trump, which they are currently learning to their great misery. And the reason the GOP doesn’t control Trump is that they no longer control their base. The GOP trained their base election cycle after election cycle to be disdainful of government and to mistrust authority, which ultimately is an odd thing for a political party whose very rationale for existence is rooted in the concept of governmental authority to do. The GOP created a monster, but the monster isn’t Trump. The monster is the GOP’s base. Trump is the guy who stole their monster from them, for his own purposes.

And this is why the GOP deserves the chaos that’s happening to it now, with its appalling and parasitic standard bearer, who will never be president, driving his GOP host body toward the cliff. If it accepts the parasite, it will be driven off the cliff. If it resists, the parasite Trump will rip himself from it, leaving bloody marks as it does so, and then shove the dazed and wounded GOP from the precipice. That there is a fall in the GOP’s future is inevitable; all that is left is which plunge to take.

I feel sorry for many of my individual friends who are Republicans and/or conservatives, who have to deal with the damage Trump is doing to their party and to their movement, even if I belong to neither. But I don’t feel sorry for the GOP at all. It deserves Trump. It fostered an environment of ignorance and fear and bigotry, assumed it could control the mob those elements created, and was utterly stunned when a huckster from outside claimed the mob as his own and forced the party along for the ride. It was hubris, plain and simple, and Trump is the GOP’s vulgar, orange nemesis.

Trump will do the GOP long and lasting damage, and moreover, Trump doesn’t care that he will do the GOP long and lasting damage. Trump was never about being a Republican; he was just looking to expand his brand. As it turns out, like apparently so many things Trump does, he’s done an awful job of it — the name Trump, formerly merely associated with garish ostentation and bankruptcy, is now synonymous with white nationalism, sexual battery and failure — but the point is on November 9th Trump is going to move on and leave the wreckage of the GOP in his wake, off to his next thing (everyone assumes “Trump TV,” in which Trump combines with Breitbart to make white pride propaganda for the kind of millennial racist who thinks a Pepe the Frog Twitter icon is the height of wit — and I hope he does, because the Trump touch will drive that enterprise into the ground, and little would warm my heart more than a bankrupt Breitbart).

Trump is the party guest who sets fire to your house, gropes your spouse and drives over your neighbor’s cat when he leaves; the GOP is left to deal with the police and the angry neighbors. It’s almost piteous, except when you scrub back to five hours earlier to hear the GOP say “What, Trump wants to come to the party? Well, he’s an asshole who drove Fred Jones’ car into the pool the other weekend, but he’s always good for a laugh, isn’t he? Surely it will be fine,” and then tells him to bring his bad boy self right on over.

There is no good way for the GOP or its members to extricate itself from this mess. Trump has doomed them for this election cycle. But there is a moral way, and they should take it. When a grifter and a con man has suckered you into a shitshow, you have two options: bail out early and admit you got shit all over yourself, or stick with the con and affirmatively choose to drown in the shit. No GOP politician should ever have endorsed him; the moral hazard he presented was obvious and clear and became clearer the further he went along. But if they were foolish enough to have endorsed him, it’s not too late to bail out. He’s going to lose either way and drag the GOP down with him; these politicians might as well come out of it with their souls, besmirched but still their own.

And obviously to me, no one with sense should cast a vote for Trump. He’s not just a candidate, he is an active repudiation of what we should expect from the United States and those who lead it. A candidate who can’t open his mouth without a lie falling out — a lie that everyone including him knows is a lie — doesn’t deserve to be president. A candidate who threatens millions because of their religion does not deserve to be president. A candidate who promises to extralegally throw his political opponent into jail does not deserve to be president. A candidate who fosters white nationalism, racism and anti-semitism does not deserve to be president. A candidate who brags about sexual assault and then tries to dismiss it as mere talk does not deserve to be president.

These are not merely Democratic or Republican issues. These are American issues, human issues and moral issues. You can’t vote for Donald Trump and say you don’t know what you’re voting for. You’re voting for hate, and chaos, and the deluge. Anything else that you think you get from voting for him will be washed away in the flood.

Trump is the single worst major party presidential candidate in living memory, but he’s there because the GOP spent decades making him possible, and its base, trained for decades to look for someone like him, made him its standard bearer. He needs to lose and the GOP needs to be punished for him. Conservatism and classical Republican ideas won’t go away, nor should they. But if the GOP can’t break itself from its addiction to the bigoted and the ignorant, then it certainly deserves to die. It’s brought the country to the edge. Shame is only the beginning of what it should feel for it.

Update, 3:00pm 10/12/16: I’ve made my official presidential endorsement. It’s, uh, not for Donald Trump.


12 Oct 13:07

#81 Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur and the Software Update

by Dinah

Software update.jpg


Tagged: phone
11 Oct 18:41

[pols, womenslib, Patreon] Trump's Sexual Inkblot

[Read in black and white]

[Content advisory: raw discussion of the attitudes that validate the subjugation of women, sexually and otherwise, and legitimize rape and sexual assault.]

The Right has been plunged into turmoil by the discovery and release of a video that captures Trump, 10 years ago, bragging about his sexual behavior. This video has prompted a number of prominent Republicans to repudiate their support of Trump.

On the Left (e.g. Metafilter and Twitter), many expressed surprise that this, appalling as it may be, is the bridge too far for the Right, and are spinning hypotheses as to why this, and not any of the other reprehensible things he's been recorded saying, is what provoked the Right's rejection.

First and foremost, plenty of Republicans are not repudiating Trump. A lot of the people on this list of "defectors" were never Trump supporters to begin with. It is unclear to me that this "revelation" actually is having as much effect on the Right as the media are making it out to have.

Which is not to say it has none.

But I think some people on the Right are hearing that video very, very differently than people on the Left do. And I think it important for the Left that they understand the various ways the Right is taking this. It is a crash course in feminist history, and an orientation to something important that is going on right now.

How one hears what is in that audio recording depends on at least two things. One of them is what one believes constitutes unacceptable sexual behavior.

1.

Most people on the Left believe that sexually touching a woman without her permission is sexual assault. Most people on the Left also believe that pressuring a woman psychologically to have sex, say badgering her after she has already refused an overture, is unacceptable behavior, though not usually a prosecutable crime.

Frankly, one of the things that has characterized the Right is simply not believing that unwanted sexual attention, including physical contact, is all that bad. (Full props to the many prominent Republican women who have made it clear in the last day that they found Trump's remarks reprehensible on those grounds, but they have not been characteristic of the Right.) Many, if not most, on the Right simply do not grant women's claims that it is harmful to them (and they remain unconfronted by any men's claims of the same), and do not consider the imposition of unwanted sexual attention or contact a wrong done the person it is done to. To them, criminalizing the imposition of unwanted sexual attention or contact for being unwanted is perversion of the law, because it criminalizes something that isn't wrong.

This is a face of patriarchy: women's suffering having little-to-no particular moral or legal significance. Individual men of such a mindset might feel sentimental towards specific women they know, and concerned for their specific well-being, but that is merely directly analogous to a pet owner who loves their pets but doesn't feel their pet should have any legal rights and bridles at the suggestion that the law "interferes" with how they treat their animals.

This was the legal and social status of women in the West for thousands of years, and remains the situation of women in many places to this day. It's somewhat charming to me, as well as alarming, that so many Western liberal women (and men!) today are demonstrating that they clearly don't recognize or understand what they're hearing, because the last 100 years of fighting for women's rights has been so successful in our society that this entirely common and historically prevalent mindset is literally alien to them.

For most of human history men were people and women were either the property of people or unclaimed property, like a lost $100 lying on the ground. Here in the US, we inherited English common law, under which the doctrine of coverture a wife was legally a "chattel" of her husband. "Chattel" is a confusing word for moderns. It's a technical legal term meaning "property that's not real estate", and has passed into discussions of history as a euphemism. Since most people don't know the technical definition of "chattel" the term serves well to allow people to discuss the historical legal status of women without actually confronting the ugly truth that word indicates: women were property.

In societies in which women legally are (or socially are regarded as) property, their value is reckoned in terms of their value as livestock: the labor they can perform, the obedience they demonstrate, and, above all, the offspring they can produce. Since the value of those offspring to their owners in such patriarchal societies is mediated by the certainty of those offsprings' paternity, men in such societies or otherwise of that mindset understand themselves, both individually and as a demographic, to have enormous interest – financial interest – in controlling women's sexual contacts. This results, obviously, in various attempts to control women's sexual behavior, and curtailing women's liberty in general. But – and I think this is much less obvious to modern liberal Westerner – it also shaped legal and moral policy around men's conduct: Thou, presumed male audience, shalt not covet thy (also presumed male) neighbor's wife, neither shalt thou covet his house, his male slave, nor his female slave, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.

Rape has approximately always been illegal. But it has only recently in the West become regarded as a crime of violence against the person, usually female, it is done to. Historically, it was primarily a property crime, against the person who owned the person it was done to. To put it crudely, rape was the crime of unlawful breeding of someone else's livestock. Rape was a crime because it spoiled the incontestability of paternity of any subsequent offspring – it ruined, for the owner, the carefully cultivated sexual containment of their breeding stock.

This is why the very idea of marital rape was long scoffed at, and only recently got legal standing: when rape is a crime of violating a woman's owner's consent, well, how can a woman's owner commit rape against himself? Likewise, the notion of "loose women". You, gentle readers, probably think "loose" in this sense is a vulgar description of the presumed effect on a woman's genitals of having much sex, or a slang description of having low standards for sexual partners. It can definitely mean those things. It also means "loose" in the same sense as "loose change" and "on the loose": detached, not in anyone's possession, having escaped confinement. A "loose" woman is a woman to whom the doctrine of "finders keepers" applies. In societies where a woman does not own herself, if no man owns her, any man may.

(The feminist slogan "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people" isn't a quip. It's simply literally true.)

Which brings us back to Republican repugnance (and lack thereof) at the Trump Tape.

A lot of women (and a lot of men) seem surprised to see Republicans object to women being treated as Trump describes treating them in that recording. That seems to be way more consideration for women than they ever expected to see on the Right. Don't worry: in many cases, it is not consideration for women at all.

Many – not all, but Mitt Romney, I'm looking right at you – men on the Right who are recoiling in righteous indignation aren't doing it because Trump did something to a woman, or even (as some observed) a white woman.

Oh, you sweet summer children. He did it to a married woman.

The line too far is that he macked on some other bro's bitch.

I wrote that the mindset that women were property was in the past, but, clearly, not everybody in our society is down with how we do things here in the future. If you know the history of male supremicism, some otherwise mysterious reactions from the Right suddenly become transparent.

None of those men care about how Trump treats "loose" women – women who presume to own themselves, unmarried and carrying on their own adult lives unregulated by a father or other male relative. None of them cared how he treated Alicia Machado.

No, the intolerable part for some – many? – on the Right was his disrespecting the rights of the husband.

This is why this revelation will not shake the support of many of those on the religious Right who already committed to support him. From their perspective, the wrong he does in this recording isn't new and it isn't news: they knew from the get-go when they pinched their noses and endorsed him that he was a gluttonous greedy bastard who doesn't respect others' rights, including their property rights, and is proud of it. They knew he was a thief and a cattle rustler and a conman. He doesn't respect other men's claims to their own women? Quel surprise.

2.

I think a lot of people – those who are not conversant with the sort of toxic masculinity performance Trump is engaging in, at least – have trouble understanding what his point in telling about "moving on" the married woman is. After all, he's telling a story of how he didn't nail the chick. But he seems to be bragging. Why would someone brag about not getting laid?

He's not. He's bragging on his own daring for disrespecting that she was married. He's bragging on what a rascal he is for moving in on another man's woman, and thereby disrespecting him. He was saying, "Look at me, not giving a shit that she was some other dude's girl." He was saying, "What a bad-ass am I! I am unconstrained by petty considerations like respect for my fellow men!" When he talks about "failing", he's saying, "Look, the only reason I didn't score with her is that she turned me down. It's not like I held back out of respect for her man."

Trump's chief virtue as Trump sees it is his transgressiveness. There's nothing he is prouder of in himself than his refusal to be cowed into respecting other people's boundaries, rights, and dignity. Trump sees his eager willingness to do things other people won't scruple do as a sign of his superiority to them.

It's his most endearing trait to his followers. It's the trait in which they find the promise of the Final Solutions they crave. He's willing to do what others aren't, and call it right.

3.

In the recording, after the story about "moving on" a married woman, there's a change in topic. There's a bunch of other people saying things to Trump and exclaiming. They are apparently reacting to some woman's looks, a woman who is described as "your" by someone speaking, apparently to Trump: one says "Sheesh, your girl's hot as shit. [pause] In the purple." "Yes!" exclaims one, "The Donald has scored!" It would seem – I am surmising here – they are looking at some picture or video of a woman (it seems safe to say she's not present, because she is not addressed and I do not think those men would speak such of her in her presence, aeb the shift in speech when they leave the bus and are in the presence of a woman). This woman is regarded as "Trump's", possibly displayed by him, because he, himself, isn't commenting, and the other men express admiration of him and congratulations to him for his fortune to have sexual access/possession of that woman.

Now, this is a pretty gross way to discuss women. This would be that them there "objectification" feminists object to. But it is also a salaciousness found unbecoming to those on the culturally conservative Right, for a couple of other reasons.

If Trump is showing the other men a sexy picture of his own wife or other woman who is "sexually his", while he is reinforcing the subjugation of women, he is doing so in a way that violates the sanctity of the principle of male ownership. He's inviting other men to ogle – to covet – his own woman; he's encouraging other men in their sinfulness. You know that thing about how rape jokes perpetuate rape culture because it suggests to the rapily inclined that it's socially acceptable? The culturally conservative Right – some of it – has an analogous thing about some of their own sins. Here, by inviting other men (if that's what he's doing) to leer at his woman, he's cultivating the notion that coveting other men's women is okay.

Which, note, is exactly of a piece with what he was just saying: this follows hard on the heels of him bragging about disrespecting another man's marriage.

From the culturally conservative viewpoint, what's so awful here is not (just) "disrespecting women". It's that not only does he put the moves on another man's woman, he brags about it, he brags to men about not respecting other men's turf, and encourages other men to do likewise. He is attacking men's supposed rights to own their women without interference.

For men who are very fucking serious about their ownership rights in women, this is infuriating, an outrage, a violation of decency. His lack of propriety in parading his woman before those men for their lascivious delectation undermines the fundamental societal pact that allows men to live in harmony and not wind up all getting sucked into some stupid war over some dumb broad.

Also, bragging on owning a nicer woman that other men own is no different than bragging on having a nicer car, or a nicer house, or any other superior possession. In the eyes of some that see women as possessions, bragging on having a nice one lacks, shall we say, humility and decorum. But that just makes him an arrogant oaf.

4.

I said there are two things on which one's understanding of the video hinges, and one is what one believes constitutes unacceptable sexual behavior.

The other thing one's understanding of that recording hinges on is grammatical.

Trump has defended himself by calling his speech in that recording "locker-room banter". This has been taken by many on the Left as him claiming that what he said isn't bad because other men do it too. I don't think that's what he meant, at all. I think he meant "locker-room banter" to mean "empty bragging".

The Left hears what he said and widely has been characterizing it as him describing having committed sexual assault. Many women on the Right hear it likewise.

But many on the Right do not. Not because they (as explained above) do not consider those actions to constitute sexual assault (which they often don't). But because they don't consider him to have said he did them.

Before proceeding, let's, for reference, break the tape down into four sections. First there's the part where he describes himself pursuing a sexual relationship with a married woman. Second is the part where mostly people not him are speaking, and they seem to be regarding the image of a woman and are congratulating him about it. Third there's the part where he talks about himself "not waiting" to "kiss" women and says that thing about "grab[ing]" women "by the pussy". Fourth there's the part where he emerges from the bus.

Here, I want to talk about the first and third parts.

In the first part, we may read between the lines to surmise that he pressured that married woman to have sex she did not want. We may suppose that he got "handsy". We may suspect that he tried to physically intimidate her. But he didn't say he did any of that. What he said was that he "moved on" her. That's an idiom. It means he made a pass at her. He propositioned her. He tried to convince her to have sex with him.

And here's the thing. With help from the captioning from the WaPo:
UNKNOWN: She used to be great. She's still very beautiful.

TRUMP: I moved on her actually. You know she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her and I failed. I'll admit it.

UNKNOWN: [appreciative] Whoa!

TRUMP: I did try and fuck her. She was married.

UNKNOWN: That's huge news there [laughter]

TRUMP: No, no... Nancy- No this was- And I moved on her very heavily. In fact I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said I'll show you where they have some nice furniture.

UNKNOWN: [laughter]

TRUMP: I took her out furniture– I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn't get there.

UNKNOWN: [gasp, laughter]

TRUMP: And she was married!

Note how Trump is relating that he failed to get this woman to have sex with him. He is describing, at some point, accepting her "no". He is describing how he didn't force himself on her but accepted her refusal of his bid for her sexual favor.

As per above, I think that some of the Right is looking at the Left's umbrage at this in incredulity: like, "He hit on her, she said no, he backed off; what the hell is you people's problem? That's what you liberals say you want. He met your standard of conduct. It's our standard he violated, by shamelessly hitting on some other man's woman."

While people on the Left might read between the lines to construe him having pursued this married woman in an aggressive, unwanted, physically intimidating way – and let me be clear here: I, personally, think it about 87% likely, because that does seem to be exactly the sort of ass he is – but that's not what he admits to here.

Likewise, in the third part. More transcript:
BUSH: It better not be the publicist. No, it's her. It's her.

TRUMP: Yeah, that's her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. [rattle, presumably of Tic Tacs] You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful– I just start kissing them.

UNKNOWN: [laughter]

TRUMP: It's like a magnet.

UNKNOWN: [laughter]

TRUMP: Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BUSH: Whatever you want!

TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy.

UNKNOWN: [laughter]

TRUMP: You can do anything.
This is being described (e.g.) as Trump "saying he grabbed a woman's pussy".

No. He said "you can".

Strictly read, all he said that he had actually done was kiss women without their permission. And even there, he did not admit to forcing his attentions on any particular women, or that he had done so in the past. He just claimed that it is something he does. He's bragging about his transgressiveness again, as a trait he possesses, but he's not offering up any substantiating evidence or specifics. He's frontin'.

When he discusses grabbing women by the genitals – asserting how a star can get away with anything – he isn't saying that he did this. He's asserting it's something he could have done.

Now, I want to be clear here. I'm not saying Trump has not done these things. I am given to understand there are women coming forward to say he has done exactly these things, and the measure of my non-surprise knows no bounds. I am well aware – as apparently many reacting to this recording are not? – that Trump is an actual rapist [TW: explicit description of a rape]. The only thing that would surprise me about emerging evidence that he actually was going around mauling women's privates is that it doesn't seem his MO.

No, I'm not saying Trump has not done these things, I'm saying that Trump has not here said he has done these things. And his supporters are incredulous and outraged that he's being construed as having said he has. That would be why they're saying things like "Bill Clinton actually raped women, but Trump only said some things...!?!"

Which brings us back to "locker-room banter": what makes it "locker-room banter" is not that it was crude vulgarity, but that it was all in the hypothetical and subjunctive, empty boasts and claims about what one could do.

As far as Trump's supporters are concerned, Trump just ran his mouth in a way which was vulgar, but not actually an admission of any wrongdoing. They don't agree with cultural conservatives that hitting on a married woman is all that bad (if they even think it bad at all) and they don't agree with liberals that kissing women without consent is all that bad (if they even think it bad at all), either; and they don't think he's confessed to anything else.

5.

One interesting thing that's happened that might not be about owning women is the withdrawal (apparently) of (unnamed) top donors' support of Trump. It may be that these funders are people of principle – including people of the principle that women should be owned by men – who are withdrawing out of personal conscience.

But it could also be pure realpolitik: I'm sure it must have crossed a few male Republican minds that you can't – you really just can't – antagonize fifty-one percent of the electorate and still get elected.

The fascinating thing about this recording is that it's a political hat trick of an own goal: Trump managed to do something that offends women pretty much across the entire political spectrum. Whether one is a culturally conservative woman who endorsed male ownership of women – and believes marriage should be a shield against the sexual attention of other men – or whether one is simply a traditionalist woman who disapproves of men discussing women like cuts of meat, or whether one is a liberal woman who thinks that, no, honey, you really can't grab women by the genitals, there is something here for you object to.

And regardless of where a woman falls on the political spectrum, she's likely to notice just how rapey Trump is. Rapey is not a good look. At least, it doesn't play well to the majority sex.

6.

One of the hopeful little signs – I think of them as rhetorical flowers growing from cracks in the sidewalks – are the Republican men who issued denunciations of Trump that, despite sometimes initially, awkwardly taking the form of traditionalist denunciations (i.e. disrespecting another man's claim to a woman) wound up steering bow into the wave, following a feminist star.

Take Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who starts out, "These comments are repugnant, and unacceptable in any circumstance. As the father of three daughters, I–" and that doesn't lead one to feel confident, but he pulls hard to port, and manages "– strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape." Okay, he doesn't quite get why "respect for women" doesn't cover it, but, hey, he thinks the people owed the apology are "women and girls everywhere", which is totally heading in the right direction.

Likewise, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), alludes to his own fatherhood, but then instead of saying the traditionalist thing about how he wouldn't want his chattels degraded, flips the power relation and casts his 15 year old daughter as the moral authority to whom he must answer: "You think I can look her in the eye and tell her that I endorse Donald Trump for president when he acts like this?"

7.

I regret that I shall have to be grateful to Donald Trump, but I suspect that in addition to sabotaging his own election – and quite regardless of whether or not he does – he has accidentally made The Handmaid's Tale impossible in the US.

I have this sense, watching the media, that for the first time in US political history, women just woke up to their power as a voting demographic.

It took about 100 years, but by gum, I think we're finally seeing the ultimate natural consequence of suffrage.

I would make the jest that in uniting womankind and rousing them as a political force in the US, Trump personally did single-handedly what more than a century of feminist activists could not do, but that would be unfair. It took more than a century of activism to teach Americans that rape is a wrong done the person raped – even when that person is a woman. It took more than a century to teach Americans that rape, and more broadly sexual assault, harms the victim – even when that victim is a woman. It took more than a century to teach Americans that marital rape is rape and date rape is rape and rape by means of deception or intoxication is still rape. It took more than a century to teach Americans that nobody is entitled to make free with another's body without their consent – even if that body is a woman's. It took more than a century to teach Americans to listen to women as people, to consider women to be people.

It took more than a century of feminist activism to teach Americans what they needed to understand to be ready for the moment they heard Donald Trump talking about how the best part of being a media celebrity is that you can molest women and get away with it.

And we're not done, of course. Not everyone has mastered these lessons, not by a long shot. But so much has been accomplished, which we are now witnessing the fruit of. If that century of work hadn't been done, we would not be seeing the public outrage at this that we're seeing now. Indeed, I think this video would never have been aired – historically, when men dominated newsrooms and women's opinions on rape were widely minimized, politicians' sexual indiscretions typically were covered up as not politically relevant. Today, a man brought that recording to the public attention, knowing full well it was politically relevant, and knowing why.

I'm pretty sure that wouldn't have happened forty years ago. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have happened twenty years ago. (Reference point: Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings were 25 years ago.) I'm not sure it would have happened ten years ago.

I think we are entering a very interesting era in American politics. Very interesting indeed.




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11 Oct 18:40

[pols, womenslib, Patreon] When Men Brag About Sexual Assault

[Read in black and white]

Okay, the debate is over, back to work.

Having had a chance to sleep on it, I have had a further realization from my own staring at the Trump Sexual Inkblot, and it is this. Please forgive my use of binary gender below in an attempt at expeditiousness, and the lack of nuance in the favor of concision.

Very many women – myself included – hear Trump's boasts about being able to grope women as not an admission that he has groped women, but evidence of him being a groper. Not conclusive evidence; circumstantial evidence to be sure. But still evidence.

Imagine you knew a guy that was always bragging that he "could" break into any place he wanted – pick any lock, card any door, jimmy any window, elude any security guard – to steal anything he desired. You might chalk him up for a braggart who exaggerated his claims. But you would probably assume it likely he did, in fact, practice breaking and entering on occasion. Or at least attempt to do so. If you later heard that he'd been busted for burglary, you probably wouldn't be saying something like, "Oh, gee, he talked about that stuff, but I didn't think he meant it." No, you'd be like, "Yeah, he was always going on about breaking into places."

Imagine you knew a guy that was always bragging that he "could" kill anybody he got in a fight with – "you know, if you can't take 'em face on, you can always wait around the corner from the bar with a broken bottle". You might figure he was mostly boasting, but you wouldn't doubt his sincere enthusiasm for violence. If you heard some day that he'd been sent up for murder, your reaction probably wouldn't be, "But he was such a nice guy! I can't believe he actually wound up in a physical altercation!" No, you'd be like, "Yeah, I guess the trouble he was always looking for found him."

Imagine you knew a guy that was always bragging that you "could" make a killing in the stock market by various illegal schemes, "but nobody'd ever catch you". You might figure he was mostly running his mouth to try to impress people. But given that he parades his fancy cars and watches, you wouldn't assume he was above doing what he described. If you then heard that he caught time for securities fraud, your reaction probably wouldn't be, "Gosh, I didn't think he'd actually do any of those things." No, you'd be like, "Yeah, that was only a matter of time."

Women are asked to treat men talking about rape and other sexual assault differently, epistemologically speaking, than men are asked to treat men talking about other violent crimes or crimes of property. When women encounter men bragging on how they "could" rape or sexually assault women, our society demands that women regard it as "empty talk" – which is to say, we are not to credit it as indicative of criminality the same way we could boasts of other criminal opportunity.

The "locker-room banter" excuse is an outrage because it contends that women (and men) should not consider men's bragging about the ability to commit sexual violence to be evidentiary in precisely the same way it is ordinary for all people to consider bragging about the ability to commit other crimes to be evidentiary.

Don't believe me? Go into a bar in a working class neighborhood around 9pm. Say in a loud voice to one person, "That guy? The one–" Describe clearly a man standing across the room from you, but within earshot. "– Yeah, a guy like that, you can total kick his ass. You can do anything you want to him. He won't put up a fight." See what happens.

The "locker-room banter" excuse says to women (and others), "you don't get to make the same natural surmises that men get to make about the very same speech acts applied to other crimes". It's a double standard: when the crime being boasted about is sexual in nature, women (and others) are supposed to give it a pass. "He's just saying that. It doesn't mean he does it."

When it comes to sexual crimes and torts, women (and others) are told they are supposed to suspend operation of their common sense. What men say when bragging about sexual misconduct is to be held in a little epistemological bubble, where none of it means, signifies, or counts in any way outside the bubble. Within the bubble – the rhetorical "locker-room" – those speech acts are to be understood and evaluated only by a special set of rules, which insist such utterances are not of relevance to the (presumed female) parties spoken of, only to the (presumed male) parties spoken to. Those utterances are not to be taken outside of the bubble; they are not to be exposed to reasoned contemplation in the light of anything outside the bubble whatsoever. We are to pretend under all circumstances not to have heard that which we have heard that men arrogate to the bubble; we are to pretend not to know anything the knowing of which men arrogate to the bubble. It is, Orwellianly, knowledge that, if we know it, we are forbidden to know.

It is a male privilege, historically jealously protected, to be able to brag on one's opportunities to commit sexual crimes against women while demanding that no one, especially not women, regard doing so as significant of anything. It is the entitlement to brag about sexual misconduct to posture and jockey for status in male social groups, without having to experience the usual negative consequences which typically attend one's bragging of all the opportunities one finds or enjoys to commit crimes.

What is going on, right now, is that women are standing up, across the political spectrum, to say, "Nah.... we really do get to come to the conclusions of our reason about this."

You hear that sound? That was the sound of the women of this country just revoking men's passes to joke about committing sexual assault and not be considered a presumed rapist. That was the sound of even Republican women going, "You know what? We know he didn't say that he committed sexual assault. We're saying he's committed sexual assault, and the fact he reveled in the opportunities afforded him by his celebrity to commit sexual assault is our evidence he commits sexual assault. We may not know whom he's assaulted. We may not know on what occasions. But we know it's somebody – probably lots of somebodies. It ain't enough to send him to jail for, but damned if it's not enough to judge him for."

From here on out, if you joke, brag, hypothesize about opportunities for committing sexual assault, you will be taken to be endorsing sexual assault. You will have come out, if you will, as being in favor of sexual assault. Not just in the hypothetical, but as a personal practice.

If you do that, everybody is just gonna figure your money must be where your mouth is. If you talk that talk, you'll be assumed to walk that walk.

Welcome to equality.




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04 Oct 10:29

Today's Video Link

by evanier

As we've mentioned here, a special BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award was presented last night to Monty Python's Terry Jones for him work in film and television. It was a bittersweet event as Mr. Jones is suffering from dementia…but as you'll see in the video he obviously understood what the event was all about and was very touched. The presentation was made to him by his longtime friend and collaborator, Michael Palin.

I have embedded below the video of the entire ceremony but I have configured a bookmark which in most browsers will cause the video to commence at the presentation to Jones, which was the final event of a long evening. If it starts at the beginning, you'll need to move the slider to 2:05:35 to get to it. You can also probably figure out how to watch the whole video if you are so inclined. But do watch the presentation as it is very touching…

The post Today's Video Link appeared first on News From ME.

03 Oct 20:52

Amazing Spider-Man #9

by Andrew Rilstone


A Man Called Electro


Villain:
Matt Dillon (Electro)


Named Characters:
Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, Aunt May, Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson


Observations:

“Although we know so little about Spider-Man, he’s always been on the side of the law”. The idea that there was a federal warrant for his arrest has been completely forgotten.

”I know it’s bad manners to drop in without an invitation, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me this once”. Spider-Man’s banter is notably less irritating this time around.

Spider-Man's red socks are separate from his blue tights. (And they are light enough to slip rubber shoes over!)

If Betty left high school "last year" then she must be around 17. Editorial comments on the letters page suggest that she is slightly younger than Peter.

Aunt May’s first illness! Up to this point, she has been represented as elderly, but not especially sick or infirm.

Guess Aunt May’s Illness! 1: It’s only symptom is fatigue. 2: It is rare  3: It requires medication, and the slightest delay in administering medication might be fatal. 5: It requires a major blood transfusion 6: Surgery returns the patient to full health in a matter of days.

Peter Parker’s Financial Position: Parker sells fake pictures of Spider-Man for $1,000: Jameson says they are really worth $20,000. The $1,000 pays for the specialist surgeon. No other medical fees are mentioned.





He can climb up walls; he has a spider-insignia on his costume; he'll soon have little spider-shaped tracking devices. But there is nothing particularly spidery about Spider-Man. He can indeed spin a web (any size) but real spiders mostly use their webs for trapping flies rather than making swamp shoes and canoes. Spiders aren't know for being strong and agile, and certainly not for having a telepathic radar sense.  If Stan Lee had chosen a different name, most of the stories would have panned out very similarly. Fly-Man or Cockroach-Man might still have spotted that if you are going to touch a villain called Electro, some heavy duty rubber gloves are probably in order.

But at a deeper, thematic level, "spiders" pull these comics together in a way that flies or cockroaches could not have.

We’ve already noted one example. In almost every episode, Spider-Man is defeated in his first confrontation with the bad guy, but comes back and beats the baddie on the second attempt (usually by thinking the situation through more carefully). Sometimes, it's a huge defeat; sometimes, a mere tactical withdrawal: but it always happens. So this month, Spider-Man is knocked out the first time he touches Electro's. The cover screams "the defeat of Spider-Man" but it isn’t that big a deal — he gets a bad shock from the electrically powered bad guy, but he recovers, and before the next battle he nips into a hardware store for some insulation. The moral — the one that the Human Torch hammered home in that school assembly — is "if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again." 

British school kids, at any rate, would instantly associate this maxim with the story of Robert the Bruce who is said to have been hiding out in a dour Scottish cave after having lost a couple of battles. According to the tale, he sees a spider trying to spin a web across the cave. The little arachnid fails twice, but succeeds on the third attempt, inspiring the Scottish King to have one last go at sending proud Edward's army homeward tae think again. 



The splash page of Amazing Spider-Man #9 is more or less the best thing that Steve Ditko has contributed to date, which is to say, more or less as good as comic-book artwork gets. Some Ditko splashes are simply the first frame of the story; some are teasers – showing you a scene that will come later in the story. But what he does best is symbolic splash pages like this; abstract visualizations of the entire episode.

At the center of the picture are Peter Parker and Spider-Man: another full-body Gemini-split. This was how we left our hero at the end of issue #8, walking home after his mighty pleasant day. But here he looks panicked, scared. He’s definitely not whistling. He's surrounded by 20 or so faces: like one of those crowd reaction scenes which Ditko was so fond of. But there are not everyman faces but people we recognize: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Betty Brant.

And (although I think I missed this fact for thirty five years) some of them appear twice

That’s the genius of the scene. The faces on the left are looking at the Peter Parker side of the equation: Jameson looking indifferent; Betty smiling; Aunt May reaching out to him; the school kids looking hostile. The faces on the right are looking at the Spider-Man half: J.J.J. angrily denouncing him and (very sad and subtle this) Betty turning her back. There is a rather ambivalent collection of Ditko "men in the street": a woman in a ridiculous hat, obviously disapproving; a kid, obviously excited and an absolutely delightful cop who is stroking his chin, not quite able to make up his mind. In the bottom left (opposite poor Aunt May) shadowy figures representing the underworld are shooting at him. It would be over-egging the pudding to say that the fellow in the hat, who seems to be about 100 year old, more like a goblin than criminal, looks a lot like the Burglar, transformed into a bogeyman in Spider-Man’s imagination.

This isn't merely a symbolic representation of issue nine: it's a visual manifesto for the next dozen episodes of Amazing Spider-Man. Up until now, the Gemini Face has represented an internally divided self: the fact that one guy has somehow to be both shy Peter and arrogant Spider-Man. But Peter has chucked his glasses away and unified the two sides of the face; the stories, from now on, will be less about Parker's state of mind and more about the social world he inhabits; how presenting as two different people affects his human relationships.

I should be inclined to call Amazing Spider-Man #1 - #7 "the celebrity arc"; nearly every story is concerned, to some degree, with fame or notoriety. Amazing Spider-Man #8 - #19 might equally be labelled "the secret identity arc". Virtually every story has double-identities and disguises as a major theme.

Spider-Man now has a fixed supporting cast of five characters: J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Betty Brant, Liz Allan and Flash Thompson. These five characters are increasingly going to form the matrix of the stories — a sophisticated plot-generating engine. Although I don’t think that Ditko ever went quite this far, you could easily imagine the splash from Spider-Man #9 redrawn, with each of the quintet having a different reaction to Parker and Spider-Man. 

J. JONAH JAMESON: Provides meal tickets for Peter. Prints editorials denouncing Spider-Man

AUNT MAY: Coddles Peter. Recoils from Spider-Man

BETTY: Loves Peter. Fears Spider-Man.

LIZ: Looks down on Peter. Has crush on Spider-Man.

FLASH: Despises Peter. Worships Spider-Man. 


"Very probably, Andrew" I can hear you saying "But what does any of this have to with spiders." 

Simply this. If the first moral lesson that school children learn from spiders is perseverance – "if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again", the second is certainly honesty. "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." 

Which also comes from a story about Scotsmen, oddly enough. 

Image result for spider-man electro ditko

Matt Dillon is struck by lightening while fixing electrical cables and finds that the two charges have canceled each other out. As you do. He discovers that he can throw sparks when he puts his hand through a wire coat hanger (what?) and makes himself a mesh suit which he wears under his costume (shades of 50 Shades of Grey!) His body is now a "living electrical generator" but he also seems to use some kind of electrical generator to charge himself up. The Science of all this is more than usually confused.

Despite making himself a natty little yellow and green costume, and imaginatively calling himself "Electro" hes doesn't engage in any electricity themed naughtiness. He robs a bank, and then decides (for no reason at all) to free some criminals from what is quaintly described as the House of Correction in order to "get them to be my flunkies". Stan Lee just takes it for granted that if you get superpowers, then naturally, what you will do is rob banks. Unless you are one of those ones who think it’s your duty to stop other people robbing banks. 

But Electro is really only a sub-plot to this issue. Or, more accurately: Electro is one of three plot threads running side-by-side. Aunt May’s illness is one plot; Peter’s relationship with Betty is another; Electro’s attack on the house of correction is a third. The threads get tangled up, of course — Betty kindly supports Peter during May’s operation; Peter has to go and fight Electro to raise money for May’s operation; Betty is angry that Peter went to photograph the prison riot after she'd asked him not to. But there is no big unifying moment. Electro entirely refrains from causing any power-cuts while Aunt May is plugged into life-support.

I think more than anything else this is what made me fall in love with Spider-Man. There is a six panel sequence (pages 5 - 6) in which Spider-Man goes out looking for criminals (to photograph). He gets caught in the rain; rinses out his wet costume in the sink; and nearly gets spotted by his neighbors when he hangs it out to dry. Nothing comes of this scene: it doesn't lead anywhere – it's just there. I suppose you could summarize the plot if you really wanted to: "Jameson is convinced that Spider-Man is Electro. Peter fakes incriminating pictures to pay for Aunt May’s surgery. Jameson is angry, but forgives him when he supplies better, genuine pictures, but now Betty is angry that he went on such a dangerous assignment." But that doesn’t really convey the tone of the episode at all. It just feels like a mesh or network of events. 

What’s another word for a mesh or a network? Ah yes. A web. 


"Life sure is funny!" say Spider-Man, after spraying Electro with a fire hose because, quote, electricty and water don't mix. "One of the most powerful criminals of all time! And what finally beat him! Just a dousing from a plain, ordinary, water hose.” In the very next panel, he unmasks Electro and complains “If this were a movie, I’d gasp in shock and then I’d say 'good heavens! The butler!'  But this guy I never saw before.” It's never clear whether moments like this should be seen as Stan Lee congratulating himself for being so clever, or Stan Lee ticking off Steve Ditko for being so boring; but it's certainly true that A Man Called Electro doesn't have a big pay-off. 

The question of whether Amazing Spider-Man should be more like a movie ("good heavens! My best friend’s father!") or more like real life ("this guy I never saw before!") is one that Writer Guy and Artist Guy were never going to agree on. But for the next year or so, to read Amazing Spider-Man is to fall into the flow of Peter Parker's life and stay there for a few hours.

Not stories. Life. One thing after another.



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03 Oct 20:36

David Laws should have burnt Liam Byrne's letter

by Jonathan Calder


The infamous letter which Liam Byrne left for his successor as chief secretary to the Treasury is in the news. (You can read it in the photograph above.)

David Laws, who made it public after coming to office in 2010, is receiving demands that he hand it over from both the Treasury and the National Archives.

I am all for preserving our national heritage, but I can't help feeling it would have been better if Laws had burnt it when he first saw it.

First, there is an established tradition of ministers leaving joking notes for their successors. For instance, in 1964 Reginald Maudling left a note for Jim Callaghan (his replacement as chancellor) saying "Good luck, old cock.... Sorry to leave it in such a mess."

In the light of this, the decision to publish Liam Byrne's note is not an easy one to support.

Second, the publicity given to the note encouraged Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to hammer away with the message that Labour had maxed out the nation's credit card, Once Danny Alexander had replaced Laws, we seemed to have little more to say on economic policy.

This helped produce a political climate that was favourable to the Conservative message and made it harder to suggest an alternative approach.

Third, it came back to haunt us - and David Laws in particular.

Hover over the photograph and you will see that Byrne's letter is being waved by David Cameron and he is doing so in an election meeting at Norton Sub Hamdon - a village in Laws' Yeovil constituency.

There were plenty of seats we lost in 2015 where the splintering of the Lib Dem vote was more a factor than any swing to the Conservatives, but in Yeovil the Tories gained more than 5000 votes between 2010 and 2015.

So there are three good reasons why David Laws should have burnt that blasted letter.
03 Oct 19:58

CodeValley is a new low in sucker VC bafflegab. Fucking Magic™, but on Blockchain™.

CodeValley is the latest from the world of Blockchain™.

The "idea" is that you have a problem, so you put up a contract to fully-automated Vendors to supply the libs for a program to solve your problem. At no point does a coder have to write actual code apparently, it's all done by the machines ... somehow. All of this is paid for in penny shavings.

"This isn’t open source, and it isn’t closed source. It’s no source." (well, that's bracingly honest of them.)

Even Hacker News doesn't buy this shit. "the whitepaper reads something like what I'd imagine somebody trying to troll the software industry would write"

Here's the "whitepaper". It reads like a example of the CodeValley concept applied to marketing, or perhaps Hacker News fed to a Markov chain. (And be sure to "View Source" on that page.)

To be fair, it's reviving an old hype: "this will end programming! All you need to do is fill in a form and define the problem." This was first said about COBOL. I think the last time anyone said it quite that bluntly was The Last One in 1981.

Putting it on Blockchain™ is of course the obvious next step, and suggests a network of autonomous software vendor programs seeking out old sucker scams to put on Blockchain™.

So, what is CodeValley? It is literally code from thin air. Here is the lead CodeValleyer explaining it. Now it sounds saneish up to a point — you work out what lib-like things you need, those are contracted out to a Vendor. That's the bit where you'd expect a human would be doing the job. But no:

I just wanted to stress one last time that that trickling down goes all the way to the hardware. There is no more writing of code, as we have outsourced (and outsourced and outsourced) the design of the program until it is so detailed that only bytes need to be placed (or binary CPU instructions). Pretty cool huh?

So cool it's literally fucking magic.

Looking at how it's supposed to work, the lead proponent says:

A developer's IP — the decisions they automate their Vendor to make and the supplier that Vendor is automated to contracted — stays protected inside their Vendor program. We are not privy to how you designed your Vendor any more than any other user in the network is.

You fill in a form, and define the problem. (This is assumed to constitute a creative work you have a defensible copyright in.) Then you send this to a multilayered compiler chain that puts it together at byte level. You might think that THIS IS LITERALLY WHAT PROGRAMMERS DO, and that "do what I mean" is the entire hard bit of programming no matter how many layers it's on top of, but obviously you need enlightening as to the magic of Blockchain™.

There's a whole advertising subreddit: /r/codevalley

I'm wondering who the target market is. Sucker VCs? Developers themselves?

This sort of sci-fi (not SF, but bug-eyed monsters and special effects) approach was the sort of thing people were talking about before open source became popular, a fractal micropayments nightmare world where everything contracted to everything else for penny shavings. "Imagine if we had micropayments in open source for every lib that every lib you use uses, how much better it would all work." Except now they've automated it on Blockchain™. Left-pad on Blockchain™.



comment count unavailable comments
01 Oct 11:21

[pshrinkery/healthcare, Patreon] Why You Can't Find A Therapist, No, Really, Part 3

[Read in black and white]

To recap Part 1 and Part 2: therapists have quite limited numbers of high-desirability schedule slots, and have to either charge huge amounts for those few slots or build a schedule around getting patients to accept less convenient times; therapists necessarily book fewer sessions than they can offer; therapists necessarily can only see fewer patients than they can book. Therapists can only bill for patients they see. The industry standard assumption of a "full time" therapist is one that books 40 hours a week, possibly of a 50 or 60 hour-per-week schedule, and sees 26 sessions, and loses one and a half of them to shrinkage.

Therapists who take insurance work in three roles – employee, independent contractor, and private practice – but it doesn't make all that much difference. Employees seem to make about 40% of revenues, contractors 45% (but knock 7.45% of that 45% off for SSM Tax), and private practitioners 50%. Therapists get no PTO, including no holidays and no vacations, so assume a 50 week year. Upshot: with insurance reimbursals at $60-to-$80 per session and working full-time (50hrs/wk), employee therapists can expect to make $30k to $40/yr, contractors can expect to make $32k to $41k/yr, and private practitioners can expect to make $37k to $50k/yr.

This raises the question: is that so bad, then? There are plenty of people who would love to see the far side of $32,000/yr, right?

Right?

11.

I have a rule of thumb I like to use. I got it from my mother who got it from Fannie Mae, who subsequently abandoned it, helping to precipitate the Mortgage Crisis.

It used to be that Fannie Mae – the Federal National Mortgage Association – had a rule for whom to give mortgages to. Based, I understand, on the work of actuaries studying how likely it was for a mortgage borrower to default on their mortgage, they figured out that an acceptable risk level to Fannie Mae was when a borrower earned a bit above four times their monthly mortgage payment (gross pay), or more. Any less than that, and the borrower was too likely to be wiped out by some sudden financial catastrophe – a hospitalization, a layoff. I'm not sure what the actual numbers were, but from Fannie Mae's perspective, someone making at least 4+ times the mortgage payment for their requested mortgage was someone who was a good risk. They were likely to be able to continue paying their mortgage, even when the inevitable vicissitudes of life rocked their financial boat. Any less than that, and they weren't a safe enough risk to entrust with a mortgage. A mortgage payment more than a quarter of their gross income pushed them too close to the financial edge. They might get swamped by the same waves of fate; it was too likely, and Fannie Mae would decline to lend such borrowers such a mortgage.

(Until, I gather, they changed the rules to loosen them, and started extending mortgages to people that they knew were at elevated risk of defaulting, and subsequently defaulted in great numbers.)

I figure that Fannie Mae's actuaries knew what they were about: they maybe knew better what people could actually afford, in the face of the uncertainty of life, than any of us winging it without actual data.

And what they knew, back in the day, was that if your housing cost you more than a quarter of your gross income, you were living your life on a financial flood plain.

One week's pay is one month's rent: that's the rule of thumb as I learned it from my mother, to answer the question, "what can I afford to spend on housing."

(As an aside, a lot of people don't like this guideline, because it makes them feel bad, because they're paying more than a quarter of their gross income on rent. Hey, I'm right there in that same boat with you; my rent is something like 75% of my income. If you're paying more than a quarter of your income to your housing costs, and you don't need to, then, yeah, maybe feeling guilty that you're being irresponsible is a sensible response, and maybe you should rethink your choices. But if you're paying more than a quarter of your income to your housing costs because you don't have a meaningful choice – your pay is what your pay is, and rents are what rents there are – maybe anger is a more sensible response than shame, and the proper target is not the rule of thumb that reveals your economic precariousness to you, but the deplorable economic conditions that put you in this precarious situation to begin with.)

If the maximally fiscally safe amount of one's monthly income to dedicate to housing is a week's pay, then with the above weekly gross income numbers, we can now go shopping for apartments for our hypothetical 50hrs/week therapists.

What do you think a rent budget of $600 to $800 per month will get our employee therapist in the Boston area? How about San Francisco, where Dembosky got those numbers in the first place? What sort of housing will our contractor therapist get with $625 to $825 a month, or will our private practice therapist get with the comparatively luxurious $750 to $1,000 per month?

Boston Rental Heatmap, 2013
Boston Rental Heatmap, 2013, by Jeff Kaufman, mashed up with a T map for reference. Responding to the criticism that combining different size apartments was deceptive, he created This one of just two-bedroom apartments, in 2013. For more maps see his site.

When a therapist Dembosky interviews tells her, "the reimbursement rates don’t provide a living wage; you can’t own a home and drive a car and survive on what in-network providers pay you," he's not joking. You can make rent work, maybe, if you are willing to accept the risk – what choice do you have? – and go up to sinking half your monthly income or more into your rent, but aint nobody going to lend you a mortgage.

I think that working full time as a therapist should pay enough to qualify one for a mortgage. I mean that in at least two senses of "should".

Certainly, in the moral sense: I think a highly-skilled medical professional with an advanced degree who is responsible for making life-or-death decisions, bears considerable legal liabilities, accepts enormous ethical constraints, and provides a valuable service not just to their patients but the greater community deserves to be compensated well enough to enjoy a modest gentry-class lifestyle, which includes ownership of a home adequate to house them, a spouse, and at least one child or parent. Also I understand car ownership is nice, and so is being able to pay your college loans and for your child to go to college in their turn, and maybe retire* some day.

But beyond prescriptive moral positions: if a profession like that doesn't provide what used to be considered a basic middle-class lifestyle... who's going to do it?

But I get ahead of myself.

12.

I've assumed, in the previous calculations, that private therapy practices have the same default overhead rate that businesses usually have, of 50%. That may actually be high for the scenario we're discussing, of a 50hr/week therapist managing to book 40 patients a week to see 26. That is to say, the one little glimmer of hopeful news in all this for therapists who take insurance is that if you're in private practice, you might beat that overhead rate at least a little, and pocket the difference. Maybe.

The big expense for therapists is rent. I'm not going to spell out the numbers here – I may post them separately – but I figured that rent can probably be had for about 12% to 20% of revenues (that is to say, 24% to 40% of a 50% overhead budget) at $60-to-$80/session. In my experience, rent dwarfs all the other expenses put together, so I figure if your rent is less than 25% of revenues, you have a reasonable chance to come in under 50% overhead.

But maybe don't take my word on it, because I'm not doing it, I'm just hypothesizing about it. Remember, my private practice is part time, so I'm renting office space by the hour or by the multi-hour block, and that's more expensive on an hourly basis than renting a whole office for yourself. Private practice therapists accepting insurance who work part time – say because they're starting out – are looking at rent being about $20/session, which is 25% to 33.4% of revenues – which is half to two-thirds of a 50% overhead budget.

13.

This brings us to to the next issue: is a therapist going to get to work full time? Just because a therapist is willing to attempt to book a 50hr/wk schedule full doesn't mean they get the 40 patients we're assuming that represents.

This is the answer to the question you might have been asking when you saw the 40%, 45%, and 50% numbers: why would any therapist accept working for 40% or 45% at a clinic when they could have 50% instead (or better, if they're good at beating overhead) by going into private practice?

There's a bunch of answers to that, including, "not everybody is temperamentally up to being a small business owner" and "not all therapists can because they aren't all licensed for independent practice".

But one of the big important answers is, "Well, where do the patients come from?"

The hardest part of private practice is getting patient referrals. Indeed, it is one of the prime motivations to take insurance: then that insurance company will route patients to you, by listing you as an approved provider.

When a therapist works for a clinic, the clinic provides the patients. If it's a well-established clinic that's been around for a while, they'll have more patients than they know what to do with. They will have a literal waiting list of patients that you can take patients from. Other therapists – the ones quitting because they're starting their own private practice, or going back to web development, or becoming monks, or whatever – will literally wander into your office and offer you patients. Which you will mostly have to regretfully decline, because your schedule is full up with the patients you already got.

For a lot of real-world private practice therapists, booking a 50hr/week schedule with 40 patients is an aspiration, not a present reality. They're not there yet. They're still building their practices, cultivating their referral sources.

When your practice is young and small, your overhead is larger because you have fixed expenses – your license costs the same regardless of how many patients you see – and also you have expenses that vary with the number of patients you see/bill, where there are effectively bulk discounts you can't yet take advantage of. Rent is an example of that. Hereabouts, in four-hour-minimum blocks, you're probably paying $10/hr; at 8+hr blocks (whole days), you might get down to $8 or $6/hr.

14.

I want to remind you of something I mentioned at the very start of Part 1, which may have been lost in all my hypnotic repetitions of "$60-to-$80 per session". Whether a therapist gets $60 for a session or $80 for a session session or something in-between is not dependent on the therapist. That's not like a salary range, where more junior employees get the lower pay and the more senior, more expert employees get the higher pay. It's not like better therapists are getting paid more money. How much a therapist gets paid by an insurance company is entirely based on the insurance company.

I am not contracted, myself, with any insurance companies – the clinics I have worked with have been – so I don't know for certain how this works. But I'm given to understand that insurance companies set the terms, and they don't tell you what terms they're offering until you apply and unless and until they decide to accept you. It's like a box of red-tape flavored chocolates; it's like a bureaucratic game show where you earn the right to open a random door and are stuck with whatever's behind it. You apply to an insurance company, and if they accept you – a decision that can take them months or years to come to – they tell you how much they're willing to pay. And you can accept it or walk away.

I gather that large clinical organizations can negotiate rates – Partners Health, a massive chain of hospitals here, has earned insurers' undying spleen for having the temerity to throw its weight around and demand higher reimbursement rates. But I don't know that individual therapists in private practice can do that. I don't even know that 100+ therapist multi-site social service agencies can do that.

Like I said, Neighborhood Health Plan pays my clinic about $55 per session for my time and MBHP pays about $86, and other insurance companies pay their rates in between, and as far as I know, that's what they're paying almost everyone.

Whether you are a private practice therapist making closer to $50k/year or a private practice therapist making closer to $37.5k/year is not dependent on how good a therapist you are or how mature your practice is. It's dependent on which insurance companies you do business with.

There's no way to work your way up from $60 to $80. Your only choice is to preferentially take patients with $80-paying-insurance over patients with $60-paying-insurance. That is to say, the only way for a therapist who takes insurance to move their compensation rate up is to discriminate against patients with insurance that pays less well.

(Do you, gentle reader, even know how well your insurance pays therapists? Comparatively? How would you?)

Well, there is one other thing a therapist can do to increase their compensation rate.

They can stop taking insurance.

15.

For a therapist to work as a therapist in our society one of these things must be true:

• The therapist can earn a living by providing therapy for money; or

• The therapist must have some other means on which to live: the income of a spouse; a pension; independent wealth; some other better paying line of work which subsidizes providing therapy – that is to say, a day job, same as actors and musicians.

I have written all this in response to April Dembosky's "Sorry, The Therapist Can't See You — Not Now, Not Anytime Soon", of which one segment is titled, "How Therapy Became A Hobby of the Wealthy – Rather Than A Necessity for the Mentally Ill". Of course, she's talking about therapy being a "hobby" of wealthy patients, and misses entirely the accidental truth she uttered. Therapy is becoming a hobby of wealthy – or retired, or part-timer, or just plain hobbyist – therapists, and the reason why is that insurance payment is so poor, it's increasingly only the wealthy or otherwise financially-able who can offer therapy to patients who need insurance to pay for it.

Years ago, another therapist at a clinic I worked pointed out to me what all the additional sources of income were for every therapist at the clinic. He was independently wealthy. I was working part time as a programmer. Two of the other therapists were retired – one a twenty-year military veteran. One taught night school. One was a real estate agent. One got married – to a claim reviewer at a health insurance company, no less. Etc. And this, at what is, to my knowledge, at the best-paying clinic in the Boston area (I, at least, was getting more than 40% as an employee).

Let's just take a moment to reflect on the intersectional consequences of this situation. This is the unpaid internship problem gone metastatic. Only people wealthy – financially privileged – enough to afford the ridiculous economics of unpaid internships get to access the subsequent privileges of having had an unpaid internship, thereby putting those opportunities and advantages beyond the reach of students from impoverished, or just not so wealthy, backgrounds. This is the same thing, only it's not just for the span of an internship. You don't get through it and it's over. It's for the entire career of a therapist.

And, of course, the people on whom this filter disproportionately works are those who are disproportionately not wealthy, because of generations of impecuniation by white supremacy. When the profession of psychotherapy is not economically self-sufficient, the consequences fall the hardest on therapists of color, especially Black, Latinx, and Native American therapists, who statistically are least likely to have the additional financial wherewithal to subsidize a therapy career.

Further, those are the populations of therapists who, it may be surmised, are most motivated to deliver services to patients of color – to give back to their own communities. But those patients are, for the very same reason, even more dependent on insurance to pay for psychotherapy: they are statistically much less likely to be able to afford paying for therapy out of pocket – and those therapists who want to help uplift their oppressed communities may very much want to focus on those least able to pay out of pocket. Therapists of color, insofar as they want to provide services to the most underserved of their own peoples, are even less in a position to walk away from insurance companies' immiserating take-it-or-leave-it offers.** Not and provide therapy.

Which, of course, brings us to the other alternative.

Throughout this whole post, both parts, I've been addressing the issue Dembosky brought up: therapists choosing not to take insurance, electing to have private-pay-only practices. That's one of two paths therapists can take in response to inadequate insurance compensation.

The other is to give up being a therapist altogether.

And that's the other thing that's happening on a broad scale.

Just from the experiences of my friends and colleagues, I know the attrition rate among therapists is terrible. Talented, committed, insightful therapists leave the profession at horrible rates, to go get real jobs: ones in other industries that pay enough to service their student loans, and maybe even let them qualify for a mortgage some day.

In addition to leaving healthcare all together, there are jobs that pay real-ish (at least comparatively) money for licensed clinicians - but they don't involve treating patients. For instance, large agencies (have to) hire independently licensed therapists as administrators and supervisors. The owner of one of the clinics I've worked for was a therapist there before she bought it; I gather only duly licensed therapists can own clinics. For a third, insurance companies hire therapists to be claims reviewers. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I guess.

It's not just individual therapists who are quitting the field, either. Whole clinics are, as the techbros put it, "pivoting" to other services. The clinic I quit working at last month had been the original line of business that the corporation was founded to offer, but had, during the time I was there, become entirely vestigial to other, more lucrative, human service lines of business, that had nothing to do with psychotherapy. It was down to (including me) six part time therapists; when I started asking other therapists there to refer my last few patients when I gave notice, two of them confided they couldn't take new patients because they, too, were planning on leaving. There were no ads being run to hire replacements.

Other clinics are simply going out of business. From a recent Boston Globe article:
“My son is dead,” the man said, distraught over the heroin overdose that took his 30-year-old child. He’d feared this might happen, and yet he couldn’t stop it. Now he needed help for himself.

It was an autumn afternoon last year. The father, a 65-year-old retired construction worker, sat in the Lowell office of Ken Powers, a counselor he’d been seeing for more than a year. The man pulled out a tribute he’d written to his son and began to sob. Powers started crying, too.

Then came a knock on the door — highly unusual in the middle of a private counseling session. It was the program director at Powers’s agency, Comprehensive Outpatient Services Inc. The for-profit behavioral health company had just filed for bankruptcy, they were told. The building was being seized. Powers had less than an hour to get out.

His counseling session cut short, the father instead helped Powers pack up his office, filling his own car with Powers’s musical instruments and books. It was an abrupt, unsettling end to a much-needed moment of connection.

“It was like a slap across the face,” said the man, who asked not to be identified.
It was one of four clinics COS had, per the Lowell Sun:
The abrupt closure of four counseling centers in Massachusetts due to bankruptcy has left 2,000 patients without services, leading to a "mental-health emergency," according to documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The state Department of Mental Health has been asked to "intervene to facilitate an expeditious transfer of the care" of patients of Comprehensive Outpatient Services, Inc., to other qualified mental-health professionals after the Newton-based company was granted authorization to close its four counseling centers in Lowell, Chelmsford, Fitchburg and Newton on Sept. 30 [2015].
It's not the only one. As the Globe story goes on to say:
Nearly a third of community mental health providers in Massachusetts reported closing clinics from 2013 to 2015, according to one study, a trend that has continued this year.
What happens when insurance companies pay too little for providing psychotherapy? Well, when it's really too little, people, and clinics, that depend on insurance payments stop providing psychotherapy. Which is one of the things that's happening.

For kicks and giggles, I just put "mental health clinic abruptly closed" into Bing. Results include:

Minnesota, 2014: Mental health centers abruptly shut in east central Minn.; officials scramble to aid clients:
State and county officials are rushing to find care for more than 1,000 people with mental illness in east central Minnesota after a major mental health care provider abruptly shut its doors Monday.

Riverwood Centers closed its clinics and mobile crisis services. The nonprofit was the designated mental health provider for Chisago, Isanti and Pine counties and also provided crisis services to Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties.

The operation simply ran out of money, said Kevin Wojahn, Riverwood's now former executive director.
Maine, 2016: Brunswick mental health care provider abruptly closes Friday:
Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Associates, which had initially notified town officials on March 28 that it would shutter its Pleasant Street facilities on April 22, has apparently closed its doors early, according to a report from Portland’s WCSH 6.

Merrymeeting employees were told the agency would be closing April 8 due to changes in MaineCare [Maine's Medicaid - S] that would result in a loss of coverage for 80 percent of the community-based services the organization provides. Instead, employees told WCSH that they were notified by phone late Friday that not only was the agency closing early, but they would not be paid for their anticipated final week of work. The decision by Merrymeeting will put approximately 170 people out of work.
Illinois, 2015: Report: Mental health care in crisis in Illinois:
Since 2009, the state has closed two inpatient facilities (including the Tinley Park Mental Health Center), six Chicago mental health clinics and several community mental health agencies throughout the state. [Note these were not even for-profit nor NGO non-profit, but state-run.]
Florida, 2015: Clewiston, Labelle mental health clinics close down unexpectedly:
Hundreds of Southwest Florida mental health patients are without treatment after two clinics closed their doors.

The Hendry-Glades Behavioral Health Center ended its contract with the state Wednesday. The center operated two clinics, one in Clewiston and another in Labelle.

After the clinics abruptly shut down, people were left desperate for their medical records.
Connecticut, 2016: Rally planned in West Haven to protest mental health service cuts:
After decades of serving the city, the West Haven Mental Health Clinic abruptly shut down its adult services last month due to state budget cuts, leaving 210 people who had been receiving mental health services to find them elsewhere.

[...]

The clinic’s adult program was closed because “there was a reduction in the funding for our department,” effective July 1, she said. As a result, “There was a nurse and some support staff that were redeployed to CMHC and there were four clinical positions that were eliminated.”
Minnesota, 2015: Another Clinic, Another Unmet Payroll, Another Set of Patients Abruptly Informed of a Closing:
The story has now become all too familiar: A healthcare agency finds itself unable to meet payroll after a long slide into financial insolvency. It closes abruptly and patients are precipitously required to seek other services. In this case, a nonprofit in Austin, Minnesota that had been providing mental health services to 120 low-income people closed on Friday.
Connecticut, 2015: Stress clinic closure leaves fewer mental health options:
Nearly two months after the Yale Stress Center closed its doors to patients, members of the Yale community who are ineligible for many of Yale’s on-campus mental health resources are still struggling to find a replacement.

The clinical side of the Stress Center, an interdisciplinary research center that had been run by the Yale Medical Group and department of psychiatry, was shut down because it was running at a significant financial loss each year, said University spokeswoman Karen Peart. The research side of the center is still operative.
Presumably there is a greater list of clinic closures which were less precipitous – not described by "abruptly" – though probably for their patients no less calamitous, for all that they had more warning.

This is what "$60-to-$80 per session" actually means. It doesn't just mean "therapists don't make as much money as they would like". It means "not enough money to keep doing it." Whether that means therapists recoursing to private pay private practices so that they can keep being therapists, or therapists – and clinics – packing it in and going to do something more lucrative, what "$60-to-$80 per session" means to you, gentle readers, is patients – maybe you, maybe your loved ones – go without treatment.

16.

This is the point where people start making "suggestions", of the form: "Why can't..." I'll tackle some of them now.

"Why can't you make ends meet by [plan for {reducing expenses | reducing non-attendance}]?"

We do that already. I promise: whatever it is you're thinking of, we've tried it and if it worked, we adopted it. That is how we got so deep into this mess.

There's another harrowing way to describe the problem: therapists are being paid in 1980s dollars. Therapists are literally being paid the same nominal amounts for therapy sessions, today, as they were paid in the mid-1980s.

Geoff Gray at Carepaths.com reminisced in 2013:
In 1985 I worked for a small health plan setting up a mental health provider network in western Massachusetts. We contracted with psychologists for $58 for 90806 [now 90834], the most commonly reimbursed procedure code. This was a deeply discounted rate that led to some grumbling from providers who were used to a higher rates from Blue Cross Blue Shield and other payers. No surprise that some providers refused to join for that reason.

I mention this because I read today that Humana and its wholly owned subsidiary LifeSynch have lowered reimbursement rates for 90806 to $58 for its Illinois providers. Between 1985 and 2012 the cost of living has increased 78.2%! So if the 1985 rate had kept pace with inflation, providers today would receive about $103 for 90806.
Actually, USInflationCalculator.com returns that $58 in 1985 dollars would be $125.57 in 2013 dollars – and $129.83 in 2016 dollars. According to USInflationCalculator, the difference between 1985 dollars and 2010 dollars is just over 100%.

Which means that just to keep pace with inflation, insurance rates for therapy would have to be twice what they were in 1985 – which is to say twice what they are now.

Because, in any event, I can attest that here in 2016 I'm getting less than $59 from an insurer for the equivalent code.

We don't have to accept mere anecdote, at least back to the mid-90s. Psychotherapy Finances, a newsletter concerned with what it said in the masthead, conducted studies. Ten years ago, in January 2006, it published an article that reported that their data showed that the median HMO payment for a therapy session by social workers, counselors, and MFTs was $60 in 1997, 2000, and 2006 (except it was $63 in 2006 for counselors), and for psychologists it was $75 in 1997, $70 in 2000, and $75 in 2006.

Think of it: psychotherapists haven't seen a cost-of-living increase in insurance reimbursals in thirty years and counting.

The way the industry continued to function for thirty years of pay stagnation? Cutting every corner, pinching every penny. If there was a way to do without it, it was dispensed with. If there was something that improved revenues, it was done. Yes, we already thought of that. If it was doable, we did it.

The next time you find yourself thinking, "Why is this clinic so shabby looking?" or "Why does this office smell funny?", now you know.

"Why don't you continue to take insurance, but just charge the patients more, above what the insurance pays?"

That's called "balance billing" and, depending just who you try it on, it falls somewhere on the "loophole"-to-"tortious"-to-"felonious" spectrum.

"Why don't you therapist go on strike for better payment from insurance companies?"

Ah, because that would be massively illegal.

Therapists, from time to time, do go on strike. In Washington state in 2014, therapists employed by Behavioral Health Resource went on strike. In California in 2013, mental health care workers at Telecare La Casa Mental Health Rehabilitation Center went on strike. And in California in 2014, therapists employed by Kaiser Permanente's Oakland Medical Center went on strike.

You know what the therapists had in common in each of cases? They were employees striking against their employers.

Remember what I said about the difference in legal protections between employers and independent contractors? One of those legal protections for employees, hard won, was the right of organizing and collective bargaining. Strikes are mostly legal, for employees.

But an independent contractor isn't an employee. They're a business, which is selling a service to another business. And when businesses band together to force a customer – in this case insurers – to pay more for something? That's called price fixing and is a flagrant, unambiguous violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.

It is illegal for therapists working as contractors or in private practice to organize any sort of strike or boycott against the insurance companies that pay so little. [PDF]

Which is a pity, because if private practice and contractor therapists had been able to strike for higher insurance reimbursals, we might not be in this fix. Insurance payment stagnated – and according to Geoff Gray's article above, even reduced – because, bluntly, it could. The vendors – therapists – had absolutely no leverage with which to negotiate rates, because each sole proprietor had to go up against a vast, well-funded corporation, alone. Even large multi-city agencies were no match for multi-state, and even nation-wide insurers.

Ironic, isn't it, that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which is meant to protect the public from the price-gouging and restricted choice in the marketplace that can result when businesses collude, has had the effect of making psychotherapy simultaneously increasingly unaffordable and scarce to patients, and increasingly unviable as a profession for therapists.

In the triangular relationship between patient, insurer, and therapist, there are two customers: the patient is the customer of the insurer, and the insurer is the customer of the therapist. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act protects the interests of customers, but refracted through the prism of this three-sided relationship, it is the insurer as customer of the therapist who enjoys the benefits of the law's protections. The law works as intended and forces down the "prices" – the fees that therapists get paid by insurance companies for their services – to the insurance companies' delight. That the consequence is that insurance companies have depressed "prices" so low vendors are abandoning the market, to the detriment of the insurance companies' customers, the patients... well, not their problem.

Unsurprisingly, the law better protects the interests of large corporations that are customers than the interests of private individuals who are customers. So we have a society in which patients have precious little actual choice of therapists, but insurance companies have had their pick of which therapists they will contract with. We have a society in which insurers can set the terms to both their vendors and their own customers. We have a society in which insurers can effectively forbid their customers from retaining any but their selected therapists, literally contractually agreeing to eschew doing business with all but the designated providers, and this isn't an illegal restraint of trade, but two sole-proprietorship therapists discussing what is a reasonable reimbursement rate over lunch is an illegal restraint of trade – to say nothing of a dozen therapists (or a hundred, or a thousand) approaching an insurer asking to engage in collective negotiation.

If therapists had been able to engage in collective negotiation in the last 30 years, then reimbursement rates might be more tenable now. Instead, what we have is insurance companies who, unfettered by any constraint, have written a deal with therapists so "great" for themselves that... increasingly therapists won't even take it.

It's illegal for self-employed therapists to collude in boycotting insurers, because the Sherman Anti-Trust Act requires businesses to compete with one another and not cooperate in raising prices. But it's perfectly legal for a self-employed therapist, sitting alone in their office, looking at their books and their insurance panel contractual agreements, to come to the considered conclusion, bugger this for a lark.

There comes a point where it becomes inevitable.

So that's what's happening. We're not allowed to talk to one another about it, we're not allowed to coordinate it. But thousands upon thousands of therapists, having been left with literally no other recourse than to decline to take insurance companies' unilateral ruinous deals, have so declined. Told "take it or leave it", they've left. Having found themselves with no voice at the negotiating table, they have walked away. Some have walked away from insurance companies. Some have walked away from seeing patients. Some have walked away from being therapists entirely.

Strike? That's precisely what we've been talking about: not being able to find therapists who take insurance. This is what Dembosky was unwittingly writing about. It's not an organized strike. It's not a strike like anybody ordinarily means the term. It was not lead, called, organized, voted on or agreed to in any way. It is not collective action. It's tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals all individually looking at the same math and individually coming to the same conclusions. It's an emergent "strike". It's the inexorable result of inarguable arithmetic, multiplied across a nation of increasingly desperate individuals, each of whom had to confront the ill news of their balance sheets for themselves in the solitude of their practices.

This isn't a flock of starlings all wheeling in the sky together by watching one another's wings. It's the creatures of the woods all fleeing in the same direction before the front of a forest fire.

It's the marketplace voting with their feet.

And that is why you can't find a therapist, no, really.




Loose change thoughts:

• I would humbly submit there is something wrong with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. I'm not certain I know what, yet, though. I see it's value, and don't think it should be done away with. I would tentatively propose that the problem is that businesses have radically different scales, and treating a national corporation as equal in power with a sole-proprietorship is one of those "Law in it's majestic equality" situations.

It seems to me at first blush that a reasonable remedy would be to punch a hole in it, where if a business hires a hundred (100) or more sole-proprietorships to do the same or substantially the same job function, in the same rolling 5 year period, that those vendors may legally collectively bargain with that customer. So if you contract with 100 therapists, or 100 web designers or 100 livery car drivers, those therapists/designers/drivers can form a union of sorts to negotiate collectively with you.

By opening this loophole, we close another: the end-run around the rights of employees to organize that is achieved by hiring independent contractors instead. I parameterized the loophole – 100 people doing the same job – to describe a situation that's directly analogous to employment, and labors, if you will, under the same problematic power differential. If you contract with 100 seamstresses, yeah, you're employing seamstresses, even if you can convince the IRS they all belong on 1099s.

I am willing to negotiate on the 100 thing.

• I expect that the fact that this "strike", such as it is, is emergent, is a really bad thing. I mean... I don't see any way it could be called off. It will probably be radically less successful that an organized strike would be. There's no way for cooler heads to argue hotter heads into capitulating to reasonable compromises. My intuition says that this sort of structurelessness and lack of coordination leads to Bad Things.

It's a mighty cool social phenomenon though.

• Since our society has decided that therapists should provide their services regardless of the cost to the therapist, I figure it's just a matter of time before some jurisdiction decides the solution to not enough therapists taking insurance – especially not enough therapists taking Medicaid – will be to make it illegal for therapists not to.

I can't tell if this [PDF] is the first step along that road or not. I welcome edification. I have no idea what an "enrolled non-billing provider" could actually be, and I don't know what the ACA actually says about this.




Part 1Part 2 – Part 3





* j/k ha ha therapists don't retire. Haven't you seen "The Sixth Sense"?

** Notice how this filter on who gets to become a therapist also strongly reinforces the phenomenon of white, economically privileged, college-educated, gentry-class, able-identified, usually female professional treating non-white, impoverished, non-college attending, blue-collar or no-collar working-class, disability-identified, patients of color.




Navigational note: I made all section heads in-page self-links, so that people can link to specific sections, if they want. To get the link for a section, click on the section number and the new URL will be in the URL bar of your browser; or just context click on a number and select "copy link location" or equivalent to copy it for pasting.




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01 Oct 08:30

The big trend: CON and LAB are still failing to win voters from each other

by David Herdson

Big Ben

The two big parties are left scrapping over the also rans

One of the more remarkable features of the polling in the last parliament was the almost complete inability of both Labour and Conservatives to win voters from each other. Vote shares may have gone up and down but it was gains from and losses to the Lib Dems, UKIP, the Greens and SNP (and non-voters) that was responsible; the direct swing between the big two was negligible.

As then, so now. All three polls released this last week tell the same story. ICM record 3% of the Labour vote from 2015 going to the Conservatives, with 3% of the Tories’ general election vote going back the other way; BMG’s figures are almost identical; YouGov have the Tories doing a little better, gaining 6% of Labour’s former vote while losing only 2% of their own but even there, that amounts to a swing of only a half per cent. We’re talking tiny numbers.

The current very comfortable Conservative leads are instead based on two different aspects. Firstly, the Tories are doing better at holding on to their own vote. ICM and YouGov record the Blues as keeping between 72-75% of their 2015 voters, against Labour’s 60-67% (this includes those who say they don’t know or would not vote). And secondly, the Conservatives have done better in the net swings from the lesser parties and in particular, from UKIP.

In fact, the notion that many Corbyn supporters have that the increase in the Conservative lead over the summer can be put down to the leadership challenge is at best only partly true. Labour’s introspection no doubt caused it to miss opportunities but the Labour share has drifted down only very slightly.

    Of far more significance since June has been what looks like a direct UKIP-Con swing, presumably off the back of both the end of the EURef campaign and the change in Conservative leader.

What looks to be the case is that Britain is a very divided country with the concept of the traditional swing Lab/Con voter close to extinct and instead, three distinct broad groups (with subdivisions but let’s keep this simple): those who would vote Conservative, those who would vote Labour and those who would vote neither (who, outside of Scotland, we can more-or-less ignore).

So while there’s barely any defecting between the Tory tribe and the Labour lot, they do potentially meet when they go walkabout elsewhere, to UKIP, the Lib Dems or (most frequently) to none of the above.

What that suggests is that the big boys, but especially Labour, need the also-rans to be performing fairly strongly. Without those parties being attractive enough to their rival’s supporters, the negative campaigning of old will be far less effective as voters might be disillusioned but find no real alternative home.

Interestingly, the Lib Dems have been performing fairly strongly against the Conservatives in local by-elections recently but this hasn’t made its way across into the national polls. All the same, that the party seems capable of big swings across the country suggests at least a willingness by Conservative voters to consider them again; a willingness that might translate into Westminster voting given the opportunity.

The Lib Dems will no doubt hope that the opportunity will come in Witney. That might be a little too early but with Con and Lab unable to take support from each other, with a far-left Labour and a Tory government engaged in debates about Europe, if they can’t take advantage in the next two years, they never will.

David Herdson

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01 Oct 07:07

He Kept Us Out Of War?

by Scott Alexander

I.

Some of the best pushback I got on my election post yesterday was from people who thought Trump was a safer choice than Clinton because of the former’s isolationism and the latter’s interventionism. Since I glossed over that point yesterday, I want to explain why I don’t agree.

Trump has earned a reputation as an isolationist by criticizing the Iraq War. I don’t think that reputation is deserved. He’s said a lot of things which suggest he would go to war at the drop of a hat.

— He says he will “bomb the s#!t out of ISIS” and calls for sending 30,000 troops to destroy them. His campaign website says he will “pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS”.

— He is ambiguous about whether Obama should have intervened in Syria to depose dictator Bashar Assad. He complained “there is something missing from our president. Had he crossed the line and really gone in with force, done something to Assad – if he had gone in with tremendous force, you wouldn’t have millions of people displaced all over the world. ”

— Back during the rebellion in Libya, Trump seems to have been in favor of even more dramatic intervention than Obama eventually allowed. He said on his video blog “I can’t believe what our country is doing. Qaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around we have soldiers all have the Middle East, and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage and that’s what it is: It’s a carnage. You talk about things that have happened in history; this could be one of the worst. Now we should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives. This is absolutely nuts. We don’t want to get involved and you’re gonna end up with something like you’ve never seen before. But we have go in to save these lives; these people are being slaughtered like animals. It’s horrible what’s going on; it has to be stopped. We should do on a humanitarian basis, immediately go into Libya, knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively, and save the lives.”

— He thinks we should have “kept” Iraq’s oil. When pressed on how exactly one keeps billions of barrels of petroleum buried underneath a foreign country, he said he would get US troops to circle and defend the areas with the oil. The “areas with the oil” are about half of the country. This sounds a lot like he wants US troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely.

— He also wants to to keep Libya’s oil. As per National Review: “I would go in and take the oil — I would just go in and take the oil. We don’t know who the rebels are, we hear they come from Iran, we hear they’re influenced by Iran or al-Qaeda, and, frankly I would go in, I would take the oil — and stop this baby stuff.”

— He suggests declaring war on Iran as a response to them harassing US ships. During the debate, he said he would “shoot their ships out of the water.”

— In 2007, he he suggested “knocking the hell out of [Iran] and keeping their oil”, though in his (sort of) defense he might have been confusing them with ISIS at the time.

— In his 2000 book The America We Deserve he suggested a preemptive strike on North Korea: “[If I were President], North Korea would suddenly discover that its worthless promises of civilized behavior would cut no ice. I would let Pyongyang know in no uncertain terms that it can either get out of the nuclear arms race or expect a rebuke similar to the one Ronald Reagan delivered to Ghadhafi in 1986. [Reagan bombed Libya]. I don’t think anybody is going to accuse me of tiptoeing through the issues or tap-dancing around them either. Who else in public life has called for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea?”

— During a town hall meeting, when host Chris Matthews asked Trump when he would use nuclear weapons, he answered “Somebody hits us within ISIS — you wouldn`t fight back with a nuke?” When Matthews reminded him that most people try to avoid ever using nuclear weapons, he answered “Then why are we making them? Why do we make them?”

II.

Some writers have called the period since World War II the “Pax Americana”. Although there have been some deadly local wars, there’s been relative peace between great powers. A big part of this is America’s promise to defend its allies. This both prevents other countries from attacking America’s allies and prevents America’s allies from building big militaries and launching attacks of their own. The whole system is cemented by America-centric trade organizations which make war unprofitable and incentivize countries to stay in America’s orbit.

Trump wants to destroy this system because it costs money, even though it doesn’t really cost that much money compared to anything else we do and Trump intends to increase the defense budget anyway. It’s possible a post-Trump world might find some other way to maintain peace. It’s also possible that it wouldn’t, or that the process of finding that alternative way would be really bloody.

— In March, Trump said “I think NATO may be obsolete. NATO was set up a long time ago — many, many years ago when things were different. Things are different now. We were a rich nation then. We had nothing but money. We had nothing but power. And you know, far more than we have today, in a true sense. And I think NATO — you have to really examine NATO. And it doesn’t really help us, it’s helping other countries. And I don’t think those other countries appreciate what we’re doing.” Although this isn’t the worst opinion, most foreign policy scholars think that our policy of defending our allies is necessary to prevent global arms races and random regional wars.

— In July, he publicly admitted he wasn’t sure he would protect the Baltic states if Russia attacked, something we’re currently obligated to do. The Atlantic calls this “a marked departure from the security policy of every presidential nominee from either of the two major parties since NATO’s founding in 1949”. It’s especially worrying because even if you’re not going to protect the Baltic states from Russia, you shouldn’t openly say so where Russians can hear you!

— And throughout the race, Trump has campaigned on a platform that would effectively end American participation in the World Trade Organization. Trump understands that this would probably start a global trade war, but asks “who the hell cares if there’s a trade war?” I care for two reasons. First, because free trade has produced decades of sustained economic growth and the most successful poverty alleviation in human history. Second, this would probably crash the world economy, creating exactly the sort of depression that tends to produce instability (most famously Hitler’s rise during Germany’s interwar stagnation) or which drives countries toward regional hegemons willing to trade with them or just plain bribe them.

III.

Hillary’s foreign policy isn’t great either, but it doesn’t seem as bad as some people are making it out to be.

— Hillary will probably continue US intervention in Syria; here she is more interventionist than Obama. But her intervention would probably be smaller-scale than Trump’s. She wants to arm “friendly” rebel groups and enforce a no-fly zone, but she has ruled out sending ground troops into Iraq or Syria, something Trump has promised to do. Likely she would focus on keeping enough of Syria safe to protect some civilians and prevent more refugees, then use indirect methods to make life miserable for Assad. This seems like as good a plan as any other.

— The main concern I’ve heard is that the no-fly zone might lead to conflict (war?) with Russia. Declaring a no-fly zone would mean a commitment to shoot down any plane that flies through the zone. Russia is currently flying planes through Syria, and if they tried to call Hillary’s bluff she would have to shoot down Russian planes or lose credibility; shooting down a foreign plane could obviously lead to war. Many different news sources make this point (1, 2, 3, etc). But the clearest description she’s given of what she wants suggests a no-fly zone with Russian cooperation and support. Last October, she said of her no-fly zone proposal that “I think it’s complicated and the Russians would have to be part of it, or it wouldn’t work.” There’s some good discussion of this on Reddit (see especially this comment) where most people end up agreeing that this is the heart of her plan – something like the US agreeing it won’t bomb Russian allies if Russia doesn’t bomb our allies.

— Hillary has said she will “treat cyberattacks just like any other attack”, which could mean that if Russia launches a cyberattack on the US (for example hacking the DNC’s emails) Hillary would treat it as an act of war. I think this requires a stretch. She did mention the possibility of a military response, but only in the context of possible “serious political, economic, and military responses”. My guess is we should interpret this in a non-crazy way – if Russia hacks our emails, we condemn them and maybe hack some of their stuff. If Iran hacks a dam and causes it to fail, then maybe we start thinking airstrikes. Shooting down an airliner is an act of war, but countries have shot down other countries’ airliners a bunch of times and usually people posture a bit and then let it slide. I don’t think it makes sense to think Hillary will treat cyber-attacks more seriously than that.

IV.

A lot of this has a lot of room for interpretation. I’m totally ready to believe that when Trump said he would shoot any Iranian ship that annoyed US vessels, he just meant generic macho posturing and expected everyone to hear it that way. He might even be cunningly pursuing a North Korean – style “mad dog” strategy where he tries to sound so dangerous and unpredictable that nobody dares call his bluff, and so his enemies never mess with him in any way.

Or he might mean everything he says. After all, a lot of it has been pretty consistent since long before he was running for president. There’s no point in saying things to send a game theoretic signal to Iran if you’re a random New York real estate developer and Iran isn’t listening. If he understood the theory behind sounding trigger-happy to intimidate our enemies, he probably wouldn’t have openly admitted he wouldn’t respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. And he does seem kind of 100% like a loose cannon in every way, to the point where trying to explain away loose-cannon-like statements as part of a deeper plan seems overly complex.

(Actually, I have a theory which I think explains a lot about Trump’s foreign policy positions: he doesn’t like losers. He supported the Iraq War and the Libya intervention when it looked like we would probably win. Then we lost, and he said they were stupid and bungled. He supports counterfactual invasions of Iraq and Libya where we “kept the oil” because that would have counted as winning. He supports invading ISIS because he expects to be in charge of the invasion and he expects to win. Under this theory, Trump’s retrospective non-support for failed wars doesn’t predict that he won’t start new ones.)

In the end it all comes back to the argument from variance. Maybe Trump is secretly a principled isolationist, and he’s only saying he’ll shoot at Iran and invade Libya and first-strike North Korea and steal oil from Iraq and send troops against ISIS and remove Assad in order to scare people into cooperating with him. Or maybe he’ll actually shoot at Iran and invade Libya and first-strike North Korea and steal oil from Iraq and send troops against ISIS and try to remove Assad. Who knows? He’s said a thousand times now that he’s totally different from the usual politicians, and I believe him. He could do pretty much anything.

(I’d like to think his advisors would rein him in before that point, but when asked which advisors he would consult before a major foreign policy decision, Trump could only think of one person, and he does not exactly inspire confidence.)

I am not qualified to judge Hillary’s work as Secretary of State, but I expect her to play by the book. I’m not sure if Hillary will be more aggressive or more peaceful than the last few presidents, but I don’t expect her to be a wild outlier totally beyond comparison to any previous president. I expect her to consult the foreign policy community on anything important she does, and take some advice relatively within their Overton Window. If she comes to the brink of nuclear war with Russia, I expect her to de-escalate for the same reason I expect Putin to de-escalate; they’re both rationally self-interested people who want to continue being alive and ruling their respective countries, and they value that more than any particular principle or any opportunity to prove their machismo.

I think she remains the low-variance choice for president.

30 Sep 20:14

The New Statesman on the Liberal Democrat revival

by Jonathan Calder
Stephen Bush has noticed that last night local by-elections victories were the latest in a growing line for the Liberal Democrats:
Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. 
What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing. 
Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. 
All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect.
30 Sep 16:37

CON might have enjoyed double digit leads in the polls but has had a terribe month in local by-elections

by Mike Smithson

Seats changing hands in September 2016

Liberal Democrats GAIN Four Lanes on Cornwall from United Kingdom Independence Party

Conservatives GAIN Grangefield on Stockton on Tees from Labour

Liberal Democrats GAIN Mosborough on Sheffield from Labour

Liberal Democrats GAIN Tupton on North East Derbyshire from Labour

Liberal Democrats GAIN Plasnewydd on Cardiff from Labour

Labour GAIN Christchurch on Allerdale from Conservative

Plaid Cymru GAIN Cilycwm on Carmarthenshire from Independent

Labour GAIN Coatbridge North and Glenboig on North Lanarkshire from Scottish National Party

Labour GAIN Arley and Whitacre on North Warwickshire from Conservative

Liberal Democrats GAIN Hadleigh on Suffolk from Conservative

Liberal Democrats GAIN Teignmouth Central on Teignbridge from Conservative

Liberal Democrats GAIN Stow on Cotswold from Conservative

Liberal Democrats GAIN Adeyfield West on Dacorum from Conservative

Data compiled by Harry Hayfield

30 Sep 14:55

time for your kale mail

archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - search - about
← previous September 30th, 2016 next

September 30th, 2016: Unlike the Batman comic a few days ago, yes I did absolutely have to google every single one of these kale facts!! Sorry ladies, I'm spoken for

– Ryan

29 Sep 17:20

Dilbert - 1992-09-29

29 Sep 12:58

SSC Endorses Clinton, Johnson, Or Stein

by Scott Alexander
Andrew Hickey

As always, some utter stupidity here, but Aaronson does a good job of presenting the moderate conservative case for Clinton against Trump.

I.

If you are American, SSC endorses voting in this presidential election.

Andrew Gelman, Nate Silver, and Aaron Edlin calculate the chance that a single vote will determine the election (ie break a tie in a state that breaks an Electoral College tie). It ranges from about one in ten million (if you live in a swing state) to one in a billion (if you live in a very safe state). The average American has a one in sixty million chance of determining the election results. The paper was from the 2008 election, which was a pro-Obama landslide; since this election is closer the chance of determining it may be even higher.

The size of the US budget is about $4 trillion, but Presidents can only affect a tiny bit of that – most of the money funds the same programs no matter who’s in charge. But Presidents do shift budgetary priorities a lot. GW Bush started a war in Iraq which probably cost $2 trillion; the CBO estimates Obamacare may cost about $1.2 trillion. Neither of these are pure costs – Obamacare buys us more health care, and military presence in Iraq buys us [mumble] – but if you think these are less (or more) efficient ways to spend money than other possible uses, then they represent ways that having one President might be better than another. If we suppose a good president would use these trillions of dollars at least 33% more efficiently than a bad president, then this is still $300 billion in value.

So order of magnitude, having a good President rather than a bad one can be worth $300 billion. A 1/60 million chance to create $300 billion in value is worth $5,000; even the 1/1 billion chance afforded someone in a safe state is worth $300.

We don’t know for sure that we’re right about politics. In order to add signal rather than noise to the election results, we have to be better than the average voter. The Inside View is useless here; probably every voter thinks they’re better than average. I recommend the Outside View – looking for measurable indicators correlated with ability to make good choices. Education’s probably a good one. IQ might be another. But overall, my suggestion is that if you’re seriously uncertain about whether or not you think more clearly than the average voter, by that fact alone you almost certainly do.

Suppose you live in a swing state. If you think (in a well-calibrated way) that it’s 10% more likely that your candidate will use $1 trillion well than that the other candidate will, your vote is worth $500. If you live in a safe state, it’s more like $30. If you value the amount of time it takes to vote at less than that, voting is conceivably a good use of your time.

II.

SSC endorses voting for Hillary Clinton if you live in a swing state. If you live in a safe state, I endorse voting for Clinton, Johnson, or (if you insist) Stein. If you want, you can use a vote-swapping site to make this easier or more impactful.

You might notice who’s missing from this endorsement. I think Donald Trump would be a bad president.

Partly this is because of his policies, insofar as he has them. I’m not going to talk much about these because I don’t think I can change anyone’s mind here – either you agree with me (and disagree with Trump) on things like abortion, global warming, free trade, et cetera, or you don’t. A two sentence argument in a blog post won’t change your mind either way.

In fact, I’m not sure any of this ever changes anyone’s mind, and I didn’t really want to write this post. But the latest news says:

This is going to be close. And since the lesson of Brexit is that polls underestimate support for politically incorrect choices, this is going to be really close.

And I don’t know if I’d go so far as Scott Aaronson, who worries that he will one day live in a nuclear hellscape where his children ask him “Daddy, why didn’t you blog about Trump?”. But if some of my blogging on conservative issues has given me any political capital with potential Trump voters, then I this is where I want to spend it.

So here are some reasons why I would be afraid to have Trump as president even if I agreed with him about the issues.

Many conservatives make the argument against utopianism. The millenarian longing for a world where all systems are destroyed, all problems are solved, and everything is permissible – that’s dangerous whether it comes from Puritans or Communists. These same conservatives have traced this longing through leftist history from Lenin through social justice.

Which of the candidates in this election are millennarian? If Sanders were still in, I’d say fine, he qualifies. If Stein were in, same, no contest. But Hillary? The left and right both critique Hillary the same way. She’s too in bed with the system. Corporations love her. Politicians love her. All she wants to do is make little tweaks – a better tax policy here, a new foreign policy doctrine there. The critiques are right. Hillary represents complete safety from millennialism.

Trump’s policy ideas are mostly silly, but no one cares, because he’s not really running on policy. He’s running on making America great again, fighting the special interests, and defying the mainstream media. Nobody cares what policies he’ll implement after he does this, because his campaign is more an expression of rage at these things than anything else.

In my review of Singer on Marx, I wrote that:

I’d always heard that Marx was long on condemnations of capitalism and short on blueprints for communism, and the couple of Marx’s works I read in college confirmed he really didn’t talk about that very much. It seemed like a pretty big gap. I figured…he’d probably made a few vague plans, like “Oh, decisions will be made by a committee of workers,” and “Property will be held in common and consensus democracy will choose who gets what,” and felt like the rest was just details. That’s the sort of error I could at least sympathize with, despite its horrendous consequences.

But in fact Marx was philosophically opposed, as a matter of principle, to any planning about the structure of communist governments or economies. He would come out and say “It is irresponsible to talk about how communist governments and economies will work.” He believed it was a scientific law, analogous to the laws of physics, that once capitalism was removed, a perfect communist government would form of its own accord. There might be some very light planning, a couple of discussions, but these would just be epiphenomena of the governing historical laws working themselves out. Just as, a dam having been removed, a river will eventually reach the sea somehow, so capitalism having been removed society will eventually reach a perfect state of freedom and cooperation.

Singer blames Hegel. Hegel viewed all human history as the World-Spirit trying to recognize and incarnate itself. As it overcomes its various confusions and false dichotomies, it advances into forms that more completely incarnate the World-Spirit and then moves onto the next problem. Finally, it ends with the World-Spirit completely incarnated – possibly in the form of early 19th century Prussia – and everything is great forever.

Marx famously exports Hegel’s mysticism into a materialistic version where the World-Spirit operates upon class relations rather than the interconnectedness of all things, and where you don’t come out and call it the World-Spirit – but he basically keeps the system intact. So once the World-Spirit resolves the dichotomy between Capitalist and Proletariat, then it can more completely incarnate itself and move on to the next problem. Except that this is the final problem (the proof of this is trivial and is left as exercise for the reader) so the World-Spirit becomes fully incarnate and everything is great forever. And you want to plan for how that should happen? Are you saying you know better than the World-Spirit, Comrade?

I am starting to think I was previously a little too charitable toward Marx. My objections were of the sort “You didn’t really consider the idea of welfare capitalism with a social safety net” or “communist society is very difficult to implement in principle,” whereas they should have looked more like “You are basically just telling us to destroy all of the institutions that sustain human civilization and trust that what is baaaasically a giant planet-sized ghost will make sure everything works out.”

And since then, one of the central principles behind my philosophy has been “Don’t destroy all existing systems and hope a planet-sized ghost makes everything work out”. Systems are hard. Institutions are hard. If your goal is to replace the current systems with better ones, then destroying the current system is 1% of the work, and building the better ones is 99% of it. Throughout history, dozens of movements have doomed entire civilizations by focusing on the “destroying the current system” step and expecting the “build a better one” step to happen on its own. That never works. The best parts of conservativism are the ones that guard this insight and shout it at a world too prone to taking shortcuts.

Donald Trump does not represent those best parts of conservativism. To transform his movement into Marxism, just replace “the bourgeoisie” with “the coastal elites” and “false consciousness” with “PC speech”. Just replace the assumption that everything will work itself out once power is in the hands of the workers, with the assumption that everything will work itself out once power is in the hands of “real Americans”. Just replace the hand-waving lack of plans with what to do after the Revolution with a hand-waving lack of plans what to do after the election. In both cases, the sheer virtue of the movement, and the apocalyptic purification of the rich people keeping everyone else down, is supposed to mean everything will just turn out okay on its own. That never works.

A commenter on here the other day quoted an Atlantic article complaining that “The press takes [Trump] literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally”. Well, count me in that second group. I don’t think he’s literal. I think when he talks about building a wall and keeping out Muslims, he’s metaphorically saying “I’m going to fight for you, the real Americans”. When he talks about tariffs and trade deals, he’s metaphorically saying “I’m going to fight for you, the real Americans”. Fine. But neither of those two things are a plan. The problem with getting every American a job isn’t that nobody has been fighting for them, the problem with getting every American a job is that getting 100% employment in a modern economy is a really hard problem.

Donald Trump not only has no solution to that problem, he doesn’t even understand the question. He lives in a world where there is no such thing as intelligence, only loyalty. If we haven’t solved all of our problems yet, it’s because the Department of Problem-Solving was insufficiently loyal, and didn’t try hard enough. His only promise is to fill that department with loyal people who really want the problem solved.

I’ve never been fully comfortable with the Left because I feel like they often make the same error – the only reason there’s still poverty is because the corporate-run government is full of traitors who refuse to make the completely great, no-downsides policy of raising the minimum wage. One of the right’s great redeeming feature has been an awareness of these kinds of tradeoffs. But this election, it’s Hillary who sounds restrained and realistic, and Trump who wants the moon on a silver platter (“It will be the best moon you’ve ever seen. And the silver platter is going to be yuuuuuge!”)

III.

But I guess you’ve got to balance someone’s ability to pursue goals effectively with whether you like the goals they’ll be pursuing. I can imagine someone admitting that Clinton will probably be better at governing than Trump, but preferring Trump’s position on the issues so much that it still gives him an edge. In that case, I beg you to consider not only the mean but the variance.

I think even people who expect Trump to be a better President on average will admit he’s a high-variance choice. Hillary is an overwhelmingly known quantity at this point. A Hillary presidency will probably be a lot like Obama’s presidency. There might be a Libya-style military action; probably not an Iraq-style one. If something terrible happens like China tries to invade Taiwan, she will probably make some sort of vaguely reasonable decision after consulting her advisors. She might do a bad job, but it’s hard to imagine a course where a Hillary presidency leads directly to the apocalypse, the fall of American democracy, et cetera.

Trump isn’t a known quantity. Maybe he’ll kind of dodder around and be kind of funny while not changing much. Or maybe there will be some crisis and Trump will take what could have been a quickly-defused diplomatic incident and turn it into World War III. Remember also that it’s more likely the House and Senate both stay Republican than that they both switch to being Democrat. So if Hillary is elected, she’ll probably spend four years smashing her head against Congress; if Trump is elected, he will probably get a lot of what he wants.

Some people like high variance. I don’t. The world has seen history’s greatest alleviation of poverty over the past few decades, and this shows every sign of continuing as long as we don’t do something incredibly stupid that blows up the current world order. I’m less sanguine about the state of America in particular but I think that its generally First World problems probably can’t be solved by politics. They will probably require either genetic engineering or artificial intelligence; the job of our generation is keep the world functional enough to do the research that will create those technologies, and to alleviate as much suffering as we can in the meantime. I don’t see a Clinton presidency as making the world non-functional, whatever that means. I don’t know what I see a Trump presidency doing because, Trump is inherently unpredictable, but some major blow to world functionality is definitely on the list of possibilities.

The one place where Clinton is higher-variance than Trump is immigration. Clinton does not explicitly support open borders, but given her election on a pro-immigration platform and the massive anti-Trump immigration backlash that seems to be materializing, it’s easy to see her moving in that direction. If you believe that immigrants can import the less-effective institutions of their home countries, lower the intelligence of the national hive mind, or cause ethnic fractionalization that replaces sustainable democratic politics with ethnic coalition-building (unlike the totally-not-ethnic-coalition-based politics of today, apparently?), that could potentially make the world less functional and prevent useful technologies from being deployed.

I consider this one of the strongest pro-Trump arguments, but I think it exaggerates the scale of the problem. Hillary will have a Republican Congress to contend with; she probably won’t be able to increase immigration very much. Immigration rates are currently too low to cause massive demographic change before the point at which useful technologies can be deployed, and most immigrants are Asian and come from countries with pretty good institutions themselves. More important, Trump’s anti-immigration policies would prevent foreign researchers from attending top American universities, and probably slow the deployment of future technologies directly, far more than any indirect effect from Hillary would.

There’s another argument here – how exactly are we visualizing a world where immigrants damage American institutions? I envision it as America becoming more like Third World countries – constant ethnic tension, government by strongmen, rampant corruption, lack of respect for checks and balances, and overregulation of industry. But Trump is promising us all of that already, without even admitting any immigrants! If we’re going to become a Third World country, let’s at least help some people while we’re doing it!

IV.

US conservatism is in crisis, and I think that crisis might end better if Trump loses than if he wins.

Since a country with thriving conservative and liberal parties is lower-variance than one with lots of liberals but no effective conservatism, I would like conservatism to get out of crisis as soon as possible and reach the point where it could form an effective opposition. It would also be neat if whatever form conservatism ended out taking had some slight contact with reality and what would help the country (this is not meant as a dig at conservatives – I’m not sure the Democrats have much contact with reality or helps the country either; I’m wishing for the moon and stars here).

Nobody expects Republicans to win blacks and Hispanics. The interesting thing about this election is that college-educated whites are also moving into the Democratic column. If the latest polls are to be believed, the demographic – which favored Romney by 14 points last election – favors Clinton by 8 points now. The nightmare scenario is that Trump wins, his style of anti-intellectual populism is cemented as Official New Republican Ideology, and every educated person switches to the Democrats.

I’m not 100% this would be bad – maybe educated people who are temperamentally conservative would pull the Democratic Party a little to the right, turning them into a broad moderate coalition which has no problem winning elections and combines the smartest elements of liberal and conservative thought. But more likely, there’s a vicious cycle where the lack of intelligent conservatives guts the system of think tanks that produce the sort of studies and analyses which convince smart people to become conservative, which in turn makes there even fewer intelligent conservatives, and so on. In the end, intellectuals won’t just vote Democrat; they’ll shift their personal views further to the left to fit in. We already have a problem with a glut of leftist researchers and journalists producing evidence why leftists are right about everything, and a shortage of conservative researchers and journalists to fact-check them and present the opposite case. As intelligent people desert the Republican Party, this situation gets worse and we lose access to any knowledge that Vox doesn’t want to write an explainer on. In the worst case scenario, everybody develops a hard-coded association between “conservative” and “stupid people”, even more than they have already, the academies purge the hell out of everyone even slightly to the right of the loudest activist, and the only alternative is The Donald Trump Institute Of Research That Is Going To Be Absolutely Yuuuuuuge, which busies itself putting out white papers to a coalition of illiterates.

If Trump fails, then the situation is – much the same, really, but conservatives can at least get started right now picking up the pieces instead of having to wait four years. There’s a fundamental problem, which is that about 30% of the US population is religious poor southern whites who are generally not very educated, mostly not involved in US intellectual life, but form the biggest and most solid voting bloc in the country. If you try to form two parties with 50% of the vote each, then whichever party gets the religious poor southern whites is going to be dominated by them and end up vulnerable to populism. Since the religious poor southern whites are conservative, that’s always going to be the conservative party’s cross to bear and conservatism is always going to be less intellectual than liberalism in this country. I don’t know how to solve this. But there have been previous incarnations of American conservatism that have been better at dealing with the problem than this one, and maybe if Trumpism gets decisively defeated it will encourage people to work on the problem.

V.

I said I wouldn’t try to convince people about the big hot-button issues, but I’ve been told now thatthe guardrails of democracy have been broken lying is okay. So let’s talk about global warming.

Most hot-button issues are less President-influenced than most people think. No Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe v. Wade at this point, so the president’s impact on abortion is limited to whatever edge cases come before the justices they appoint. I have no idea whether there was more or less capital punishment during Obama’s administration than Bush’s, but I doubt that the president’s opinion of the issue had much impact one way or the other. But it looks like the Obama administration made really impressive progress on global warming; needless to say Donald Trump feels differently.

I don’t want to argue climate science here. I want to say that, as usual, I support the low-variance position that’s not going to make the world vastly less functional before we can invent genetic engineering or AI. Even if you doubt modern climate science, are you so sure it’s wrong that it’s worth the risk? What chance of global warming being a real problem would it take before you agreed that we should probably reduce CO2 emissions just in case? How could that chance possibly be lower than the chance of something that 90-something percent of the relevant scientists believe to be true is true? Yes, we know here that science is not always as authoritative as it would like to be, but it’s not completely anticorrelated with truth either!

(also, if the research about high CO2 levels decreasing cognitive ability is true – and my guess is no, but I’m far from sure – that could be even more disastrous than the traditional global warming effects – remember that even tiny IQ decreases have horrible consequences on a society-wide scale.)

VI.

Okay, but what about the real reason Trump is so popular?

When I talk to Trump supporters, it’s not usually about doubting climate change, or thinking Trump will take the conservative movement in the right direction, or even immigration. It’s about the feeling that a group of arrogant, intolerant, sanctimonious elites have seized control of a lot of national culture and are using it mostly to spread falsehood and belittle anybody different than them. And Trump is both uniquely separate from these elites and uniquely repugnant to them – which makes him look pretty good to everyone else.

This is definitely true. Please vote Hillary anyway.

Aside from the fact that getting back at annoying people isn’t worth eroding the foundations of civil society – do you really think a Trump election is going to hurt these people at all? Make them question anything? “Oh, 51% of the American people disagree with me, I guess that means I’ve got a lot of self-reflecting to do.” Of course not. A Trump election would just confirm for them exactly what they already believe – that the average American is a stupid racist who needs to be kept as far away from public life as possible. If Trump gets elected, sure, the editorial pages will be full of howls of despair the next day, but underneath the howls will be quiet satisfaction that the world is exactly the way they believed it to be.

The right sometimes argues that modern leftism is analogous to early millenarian Christianity. They argue this, and then they say “You know what would stop these people in their tracks? A strong imperial figure who persecutes them. That’s definitely going to make them fade away quietly. There is no way this can possibly go wrong.”

Leftism has never been about controlling the government, and really the government is one of the areas it controls least effectively – even now both houses of Congress, most state legislatures, most governors, etc, are Republican. When people say that the Left is in control, they’re talking about academia, the media, the arts, and national culture writ large. But all of these things have a tendency to define themselves in opposition to the government. When the left controls the government, this is awkward and tends to involve a lot of infighting. When the right controls the government, it gets easy. If Trump controls the government, it gets ridiculously easy.

This has real-world effects. Millennials are more conservative than previous generations. Andrew Gelman, who is usually right about everything, says:

If you look at the cohort of young voters who came of age during George W. Bush’s presidency, they’re mostly Democrats, which makes sense as Bush was a highly unpopular Republican. The young voters who came of age during Obama’s presidency are more split, which makes sense because Obama is neither popular nor unpopular; he has an approval of about 50%

I would prefer the next generation end up leaning more to the right, because that will cancel out younger people’s natural tendency to lean left and make them pretty moderate and so low-variance. I definitely don’t want an unpopular far-right presidency, because then they’re going to lean left, which will combined with the natural leftiness of the young and make them super left. And this is the sort of thing that affects the culture!

VII.

One more warning for conservatives who still aren’t convinced. If the next generation is radicalized by Trump being a bad president, they’re not just going to lean left. They’re going to lean regressive, totalitarian, super-social-justice left.

Everyone has already constructed the narrative: Trump is the anti-PC, anti-social-justice candidate. If he wins, he’s going to be the anti-PC, anti-social-justice President. And he will fail. First of all, because he doesn’t really show much sign of knowing what he’s doing. Second of all, because all presidents fail in a sense – 80% of Americans consistently believe the country is headed the wrong direction and the president is the natural fall guy for this trend. And third of all, because even if by some miracle Trump avoids the first two failure modes, the media will say he failed and people will believe them. And when the anti-PC, anti-social-justice President fails, the reaction will be a giant “we told you so” from the social justice movement, and a giant shift of all the disillusioned young people right into their fold.

Trump is all set to be the biggest gift to the social justice movement in history. They thrive on claims of persecution, claims that they’re the ones fighting a stupid hateful regressive culture that controls everything. And people think that bringing their straw man to life and putting him in the Oval Office is going to help?

If you’re a Jew fighting anti-Semitism, the absolute minimum you can do is not actually kill Christian children and use their blood to make matzah. Likewise, if you are a principled classical liberal fighting the social justice movement’s attempt to smear anyone who disagrees with them as an overprivileged clueless hateful Neanderthal, the absolute minimum you can do is not actually be an overprivileged clueless hateful Neanderthal. Opinions on Trump range all the way from “he is definitely an overprivileged clueless hateful Neanderthal” to “he is remarkably and uniquely bad at not appearing to be an overprivileged clueless hateful Neanderthal”. In any case, having him as the public face of anti-social-justice for the next four years would be a godsend for them and a disaster for everyone else.

VIII.

There’s one more thought I wanted to mention which is vaguely in this space.

The enemy isn’t leftism or social justice. The enemy is epistemic vice.

When the Left errs, it’s through using shouting and shaming to cut through the long and painful process of having to justify its beliefs. It’s through confusing disagreement with evil, a dissenter who needs convincing with a thought-criminal who needs neutralizing.

Sometimes it might be strategically necessary to whack particular ideologies to make examples of them. But in the longer-term, replacing left with right just puts a new group of people in position to shame their opponents and silence dissent. The long range plan has to combine a short-term need to neutralize immediate would-be tyrants with a long-term need to slowly encourage epistemic virtue so that we don’t have to keep putting out fires.

Now, watch this video:

Trump’s not in that crowd. But does anyone think he disagrees with it? Can anyone honestly say that Trump or his movement promote epistemic virtue? That in the long-term, we’ll be glad that we encouraged this sort of thing, that we gave it power and attention and all the nutrients it needed to grow? That the road to whatever vision of a just and rational society we imagine, something quiet and austere with a lot of old-growth trees and Greek-looking columns, runs through LOCK HER UP?

I don’t like having to vote for the lesser of two evils. But at least I feel like I know who it is.

RELATED: Eliezer, The Unit Of Caring, Scott Aaronson

27 Sep 11:58

#1255; Oh, to Be Hard-Headed

by David Malki

Technically concrete is a mix of paste and aggregates such as sand, but let's not get lost in the cementics

27 Sep 11:57

YES "UNFATHOMABLE" IS A PUN, OF COURSE IT IS

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September 26th, 2016: This is real science facts!! We HAVE revised our species estimate downwards lately, because we've seen less biodiversity there than we expected. ALMOST AS IF SOMETHING IS KEEPING THE LIFE THERE IN CHECK, PERHAPS THROUGH DARK MEANS??? SCIENCE LITERALLY CANNOT SAY

– Ryan

26 Sep 18:14

Alan Turing and Emlyn Hooson

by Jonathan Calder

On Friday BBC News reported that court files recording details of Alan Turing's convictions for homosexual acts have been put on display at Chester Town Hall.

As Helen Pickin-Jones, chair of Chester Pride, says in the BBC report:
"Just a few simple lines of text reveal the appalling treatment of one of our national heroes."
One of the documents displayed in Chester shows the mathematician admitted "acts of gross indecency" at a trial there in 1952.

Turing was working at the University of Manchester when he was arrested for having a relationship with 19-year-old Arnold Murray at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the UK.

The version of it on the BBC site has been cropped, but if you look at the full version on the Alan Turing: The Enigma website an interesting fact emerges.

Arnold Murray's defence counsel was E. Hooson. That was Emlyn Hooson, who went on to be Liberal MP for Montgomery between 1962 and 1979.

He appears to have defended his man by trying to place the blame on Turing. Dark days.
26 Sep 14:14

Evening, Squire!

by evanier

terryjones01

We are all, of course, saddened by what we've heard about the health of Monty Python member Terry Jones. His colleague and writing partner Michael Palin posted a touching message about it to Facebook, complete with a recent photo taken by our pal Howard Johnson, whose own thoughts about the situation I linked to here. In case that link goes away, I'm going to quote part of what he wrote here…

Terry J has been my close friend and workmate for over fifty years. The progress of his dementia has been painful to watch and the news announced yesterday that he has a type of aphasia which is gradually depriving him of the ability to speak is about the cruellest thing that could befall someone to whom words, ideas, arguments, jokes and stories were once the stuff of life.

I've known people who went through approximately this…and for some whose value to the world and society lies in their ability to communicate, it can be even more painful than death. And I mean not just for them but for all those who care about them.

In the meantime, my pal Bob Claster has a lovely thought. Jones has written a several fine books for younger readers including the first two parts of a medieval adventure trilogy. They're not expensive and you might want to go order a copy of The Knight and the Squire or The Lady and the Squire…or better still, both. They're both out of print so those links take you to an Amazon page where you can find a good used copy of each for about four bucks.

terryjones02

But that's two out of three parts. What about the last one?

Turns out its publication is now being crowd-funded. As Bob wrote me, "They've still got a ways to go. It's a good opportunity to get a nice book, and perhaps give Terry the chance to see the publication of his trilogy completed." That would be a nice gift to a man who gave us all a lot of happy moments on the TV and movie screen. You can find out about it in the video below or go straight to the funding page here.

By the way: Bob Claster used to have a great radio show on which he interviewed just about everyone who ever mattered in comedy and was able to talk at the time. His website, which I've mentioned here before, is full of recordings from that show, including a fine one with Terry Jones.

WARNING: If you go over there, you're going to find a lot that you want to listen to and he's recently come across more recordings from his show and has been putting them up there…with more to come. You could spend an awful lot of time there, as I have.

The post Evening, Squire! appeared first on News From ME.

24 Sep 10:37

‘We must love one another or die’

by Fred Clark
Moral obligation -- love, solidarity -- is boundless and universal. It is also, always, particular and differentiated. Those two things are not in conflict. Those two things have never been in conflict. Pretending that they are in conflict always leaves a trail of bodies.
22 Sep 13:25

why does our town named "blüdhaven" have so much violent crime compared to "peacetopia", a nearby town of comparable population, it is a mystery

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September 21st, 2016: I hope you enjoyed this comic about fictional character "Batman" who I must legally tell you is NOT owned by DC (Dinosaur Comics).

– Ryan

22 Sep 12:57

Business Musings: Good Things

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

canstockphoto23528055

While I was digging deep into the ugliness that traditional publishing contracts have devolved into, the indie publishing world has grown and changed and become even more positive. More than a light at the end of the tunnel, the indie world has become a haven to those of us willing to work hard and to understand that real achievement takes time.

It amazes me how far we have come in the publishing industry since the Kindle revolutionized the ebook in 2009. While indie publishing hasn’t exactly stabilized yet, it has become both easier and harder in the past few years.

Easier, because there are a lot more tools, and there’s more data that shows what works and what doesn’t. Harder, because so many fad-chasers who got rich quick off their fad have left in discouragement as their fad-based income decreased.

Here’s the truth of indie publishing, folks: It’s a business. It takes five to ten years for a business to become solid. So if you started your indie publishing business in 2010, you might (if you managed it well) be seeing some predictable patterns and very real growth. If you started last year, you’re still in the early years yet, and you have some tough times ahead.

Those of you new to this blog will note that I say “indie publishing” when so many others say “self-publishing.” The reason is simple: it now takes several people to produce a book. Yes, you can do most of it yourself (self-publishing) but to do it well, you need copy editors and maybe a cover designer, beta readers and some classes in marketing (or someone to teach you how to write ad copy). There are a lot of things worth hiring out, and some things you should keep close at hand, and those things all vary according to the author.

But very few authors go it 100% alone. Those authors are self-publishing. The rest of us, those who hire out a few (or all) of the jobs? We’re indie publishers.

So what has changed while I climbed into the muck and stared horrid contracts in the face?

A lot, much of which I did not make note of. I had to ask Allyson Longueira, publisher of WMG Publishing, for her list because I know she has one. Mostly, it’s a “we’ll get to that when we get to it” list, but it’s more organized than my “oh, cool!” list.

Thank you, Allyson! I couldn’t have written this blog post without you.

Top on her list of changes this year are innovations by Draft 2 Digital. A few years ago, D2D was the upstart rival of Smashwords, a way to publish ebooks DRM-free and to get them to hard-to-reach platforms overseas (or in some cases, in the U.S.—places like iBooks).

Nowadays, Smashwords looks like a twenty-year-old website, and creaks like one too. D2D is constantly improving, constantly innovating, and constantly adding new things. And, a plus for those who use D2D to disseminate their ebooks worldwide, D2D pays monthly. Smashwords pays quarterly. I hate that Smashwords sits on the money that long, and have slowly migrated a lot of product out of Smashwords because of the money and the creaky website and a whole bunch of other reasons.

Also, D2D gives writers a lot of incentive to go there. One incentive that you might have noticed on my blog in the last few weeks?

D2D has started something on its Books 2 Read site that D2D calls “universal links.”  D2D calls it “one link for every reader everywhere.” And while it doesn’t quite cover everywhere, it does take the time out of list linking.

Frankly, I gave up listing all of the places my ebooks were available two years ago. It took me 20 minutes on every post to list all the links. I finally decided the readers could figure out where the book was on their own. I didn’t like that solution, but it was better than wasting countless hours over the year copying and pasting links.

D2D now lists all the ebook links it can find on one page for your book. An indie friend of mine refuses to use this service because it takes the reader off his website to another landing page, but I don’t mind that at all. (I also know how to click that little place on my WordPress site that says, “open link in new window.” <vbg>)

As a reader, I love having all the choices in one spot. I’ve used that option on other websites for traditionally published books. As a writer, I love the time savings.

And did I mention this service is free? Plus, D2D links to your affiliate accounts if you input them into the D2D system.

They call this Books 2 Read, which I’m just fine with. Books 2 Read provides another service for readers. It notifies them when their favorite authors release new titles.

Amazon does that—which I love, because that way, my regular readers often find my books before I announce them. Now, D2D has made that easier as well.

So has BookBub, which we will get to in a moment.

But let me finish with D2D. D2D provides free ebook conversion from Word documents. I hear that the conversion is a very good one. So if converting from word to ebook has been one of the daunting steps in your process, here’s a solution for you.

Now, BookBub. Just like Amazon and D2D, BookBub will notify your followers on their site of any new releases you have—even if those new releases are not part of a BookBub ad.

For those of you who don’t know, BookBub is a highly successful newsletter advertising service that informs readers who sign up and personalize their account of discounted ebooks in their areas of interest. The slots in the newsletter are paid, but BookBub advertising is effective.

For example, the daily email newsletter that goes out to crime fiction readers has (at the time of this writing) 3.8 million subscribers. If you advertise a free crime novel through that newsletter, BookBub will charge you $500 and estimate that you’ll get about 60,000 downloads. I personally don’t believe in paying something to give something away, so when I do a BookBub ad, I sell the books at a discount.

It costs anywhere from $1000 to $2500 to place a BookBub crime fiction ad for a discounted book, depending on the discount (the lower the book’s price, the cheaper the ad price). In these cases, BookBub says that the average number of books sold in this category will be about 4,000.

I’ve found that BookBub’s sales averages are on the low side. And, let me point out that every BookBub ad I’ve placed has made me a profit—because I do not pay to advertise my book for free. So if I discounted my crime novel to $2.99, it would cost me $2500 to advertise that discounted book on BookBub. At that price, I would make roughly $2.25 per book sold. And if BookBub’s averages are correct (and they usually are), I would make a gross profit of $9000. Subtract the cost of the ad, and I would net $6500.

This is why every indie author competes for the limited BookBub advertising slots. And these indie authors are competing with some traditional publishing houses now, as well.

If you run an ad campaign on BookBub, then they will collect followers for you and your titles. And once BookBub does that, they will advertise, for free, your newly released works.

We’ve talked for years about discoverability here. I’ve just told you three ways that are pretty hands-off to get your books discovered: Amazon does it for you automatically (for free); Books 2 Read will do it for you for free if you but sign up; and BookBub will do it once you’ve advertised with them.

It’s all about informing readers, folks.

Other places do this as well in a variety of ways, most of which I’m unfamiliar with. Goodreads does, for example, but I’ve been too busy to investigate it closely.

As I mentioned last week, the most precious commodity an indie writer has is time. There just isn’t enough of it, and no real way to do everything well. I’m writing this through bleary eyes, as I also prep for a week-long writers workshop. (If I don’t respond quickly to emails or comments this week, the workshop is why.) I’ve actually doubled my workload this week to compensate for losing next week—and what’s suffering is my hours of sleep.

Indies know what I’m talking about. So when services like D2D’s ebook conversion service comes along or the Books 2 Read universal links develop, they manage to do the one thing indies need the most: they save time.

We’ve investigated a couple of other time-savers, but haven’t used them yet. For example, if you want to give away free copies of a short story to your newsletter, you can upload all the files on your favorite newsletter service or make a private page on your website. Some plug-ins, like Enhanced Media Library, will make uploading the files on WordPress sites easier.

Or you can use BookFunnel.  BookFunnel charges for the service (again, paying for free), but the costs appear to be minimal, and sometimes paying $20 annually is well worth it for the time that you save by not doing the thing yourself. Again, I haven’t tried this one, but I plan to at some point Real Soon Now.

Another service that caught my eye during this contracts-writing period was an audio distribution company that promised to distribute audiobooks all over the world through a variety of services. I waited long enough on this one to decide not to recommend right now. Initially, I wanted to use it, but the distribution agreement is onerous. A friend is trying to negotiate it right now, and if he’s successful, you’ll see more here.

Normally, I wouldn’t bring it up because we’re not going to use it right now. But I am mentioning it, because these new businesses are cropping up all over the place. Some are wonderful and help with the time-sink aspect of indie publishing. Others sound wonderful until you dig into their Terms of Service and realize that, like traditional publishers, these new companies are trying to make a rights grab to make their service worthwhile.

My point is this: as indie publishing becomes big business, these sorts of new things will crop up over and over again. We indies will have more opportunities, not less.

I’ve blogged about that before—about the way that my indie books (in English) are most countries around the world now, and my traditionally published books are not. Opportunities expand for indies, which is one of the coolest part of this new world in which we find ourselves.

The old world is starting to pay attention. Two statistics caught my attention this past month.

The first comes from Quartz titled “Amazon has cornered the future of Book Publishing” (as if Amazon is the only ebook service in the world), has this little nugget right after the lede:

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of ISBNs from self-published books grew by 375%. From 2014 and 2015 alone, the number grew by 21%.

Quartz cites Bowker, the company that issues ISBNs as the source of those statistics, but Quartz misses half the story. Many ebooks on Amazon (and other services) don’t use traditional ISBNs at all. Amazon doesn’t require them for Amazon-only ebook publishing. So even though the growth in ISBNs has been astronomical, that growth doesn’t begin to measure the actual number of indie ebook titles published.

Traditional publishers—after all their mergers these last ten years—have drastically scaled back the number of titles they publish. The money isn’t in traditionally published titles any more. It’s in indie, and that money has dispersed through individual authors and small publishers, rather than gathering in a few large companies.

That’s what these services are going after—they’re following the money.

Don’t believe me?

Then look at the second statistic, this one from The Guardian about Kickstarter. Kickstarter has become one of the major players in getting books published. Here’s the quote:

Of course, Kickstarter doesn’t get involved in the messy business of producing books – it’s a platform that puts people who want to produce books in touch with others all over the world who want to support their projects. But if you put the 1,973 publishing pitches that were successfully funded in 2015 together with the 994 successful comic and graphic novel projects, then last year’s tally of 2,967 literary projects puts the crowdfunding site up among publishing’s “Big Four.”

The Guardian goes on to quote Publishers Weekly statistics on one of the Big Four, Simon & Schuster. Apparently, S&S only published 2,000 titles last year. Heh. More books, more readers.

Full disclosure here. We just finished our third Kickstarter, and it was by far our most successful. If you contributed, thank you! I greatly appreciate it.

I think one of the reasons for the success is the broadening use of Kickstarter among the general population. People love to fund publishing projects on the site, and there are more people funding those projects than ever before.

I also think we know how to run a Kickstarter now, and it shows. We’ll be doing a few more as time goes on.

Kickstarter and other crowd-funding websites make starting projects—and continuing projects easier. There are also more ways to sell books, as I mentioned last week, in discussing Storybundle (and all the other bundles). Really successful Storybundle sales numbers can rival those that put books on The New York Times bestseller list in a given week. I’ve had bundles that have outperformed the ebook bestsellers on the Times list. (Of course, I have been in bundles that haven’t done as well either.)

Opportunities abound now. And everything is changing so fast that taking time away to write a blog series, like I just did, puts me far behind the curve in what’s growing and changing in the new side of the industry.

Frankly, I love the changes, and I love the growing opportunities.

This new world of publishing has not only kept my career alive, it has revived me as well. I’m now doing things I could only dream of a few years ago.

And that’s completely cool.

I’m teaching a class this week so am pressed for time. When you comment, be aware that I might not be able to put the comment through in a timely fashion. But I will put it through.

Thanks to all of you for the support through the contract series and beyond. You folks are just great!

And, as always, if this post has been valuable to you, please leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks!

Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.

“Business Musings: Good Things,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/sjenner13.

 




 

22 Sep 12:20

The discredited PACE trial: bad science misled millions with ME / chronic fatigue syndrome.

The discredited PACE trial: bad science misled millions with ME / chronic fatigue syndrome.
22 Sep 12:20

Terence Bayler, R.I.P.

by evanier

The prominent British actor Terence Bayler has died at the age of 86. This obit will tell you more about him, including the fact that he played The Bloody Baron in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

We are interested in his work with Monty Python and in the individual works of the gents who made up Monty Python. We especially note that he thought of and delivered what I think is the funniest single line in all of the Monty Python works. I wrote about it here.

The post Terence Bayler, R.I.P. appeared first on News From ME.

21 Sep 11:31

What I would have said in the Europe debate at Conference

by Nick

My view during the Europe debate.

My view during the Europe debate.

Although I did get to make my first speech at a Federal party conference this year (you can see it here, amidst the other interventions, at around 1:55 into the broadcast) I’d also put in a speaker’s card for the debate on Europe, for which I wasn’t selected, along with many other people. However, just because I can’t make it to the stage at Conference, I can still share with the literally tens of people who read this blog what I would have said. And here it is:

Conference, I’ve been a member of this party for over twenty years and this is the first time I’ve been moved to speak at a Federal conference. On the same day that the Fabians are telling Labour they need to turn their back on Europe and abandon support for freedom of movement, we as a party are stating clearly that we will not do that.

Conference, in the referendum the Leave side took an argument that should have been ours and twisted it.

They told the people that voting Leave would somehow take back control. And that worked because people feel they’ve lost control. They see governments – national and local – they feel they have no control over, they see massive corporations riding roughshod over people’s wishes, they see a climate spiralling out of control.

So when someone told them they could fix all this and give them back control, of course they listened. When Farage and Johnson and Gove and Stuart and all the others told them they had a remedy to cure all ills, that Brexit was the modern snake oil which could give them back control, they listened.

Conference, they listened because we weren’t talking to them about power and control. We didn’t talk about how being part of the EU made us part of the largest and most powerful economic bloc on the planet, we didn’t talk about how the EU reins in the power of business – like we’ve seen with Apple just recently – and we didn’t convince them that we needed the power of working together to tackle climate change.

As a party we need to lead the fight against Brexit in Parliament and in a future referendum. But we need to do more. Conference, we need to talk about power. We need to show how being in the EU gives us all the power to do more, and the control people are seeking wasn’t being taken away from them by the EU but by our own system here in the UK. We’ve had decade after decade of governments elected by a minority of the people in this country and then ignoring the rest of the voters. We’ve seen power stripped away from local governments, with people feeling they’ve got no say in what happens to their town with everything decided by faceless bureaucrats. But these bureaucrats aren’t in Brussels, they’re in Whitehall and voting to leave the EU will only give them more power, not less.

Conference, I support this motion because, just as I did on June 23rd, I think the best future for this country is a member of the EU. But if and when we get the chance to make that case to the country again, be it in a general election or a referendum we need to talk about power and not only how the EU can give more power to people, but how we also need to change the way the UK works so never again do people feel so powerless that they’ll listen to the snake oil promises of the Leave campaign. Only liberalism can give them back real power and real control, and we have to make that case.

20 Sep 18:07

Edgy humour isn't funny any more? Don't blame political correctness, bame Poe's law.

Edgy humour isn't funny any more? Don't blame political correctness, bame Poe's law.