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Any recommendations for informative and topical Discord servers other than the one this substack links to? I've given it a chance but it's become quite clear that Scott is hardly ever involved and the people actually administering the server do their best to come off as pompous losers.

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Here is an amusing article looking at the carbon footprint of buying something on Amazon.com -- along the same lines as AstralCodexTen's attempt to quantify carbon costs earlier this year. With math!

https://hwfo.substack.com/p/bezos-is-the-greenest-man-alive

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Is there a reason the comments in the classified thread are for paying subscribers only? I'd love to reply to someone requesting comments, but not so much I'm going to pay for the privilege... Perhaps shilling for comments should be done in open threads if not everyone can post in the classifieds.

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I came here with exactly the same question. Reading DinoNerd's response to you I strongly disagree. If (DinoNerd) you think the reason is because 'Scott likes money' I hope that's because you were half-awake etc. Has Scott given you any impression like that in the decade and a half he's been a public blogger? At all?

My guess is that it is a simple error. Annoying, for sure, but no more than that.

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I hope it's just an error too. I'm always at my grouchiest pre-coffee, and positive explanations may not even occur to me. (E.g. today.)

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Yeah, judging from both Scott's general preference for open (but respectful) commenting, and his uhh "inexperience" in digital matters, AND Substack's general weirdness, I'm guessing mistake as well. But what do I know? Perhaps he explained this in a pay-only post? (I'm only half-kidding with that last one. The cynicism is more directed at awkward monetization leaps, and not at Scott in particular.

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I presume the reason is that Scott likes money, and hopes people will pay for the privilege of classifieds, who wouldn't subscribe otherwise - rather than reacting as I currently am, by feeling extremely annoyed and considering dropping the blog entirely.

I'm also wondering how many things that should have been on a classifieds thread will appear on the next open thread, more-or-less thinly described.

Note to Scott, FWIW, I'm furious primarily because your intro to the thread, which I received by mail, did not tell me that I was excluded from posting, and only allowed to see the thread so I could be advertised to/at by your subscribers. I headed straight to the thread, barely awake, and tried to post something I've been wanting to ask for/about almost since the last/first such thread.

I will not, of course, read the subscribers-only classifieds thread, now that I know I'm excluded from posting. That would both make me even angrier, and reward this decision.

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s/thinly described/thinly disguised/

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After finishing Unsong recently and thinking about Greta Thunberg today, it occurred to me that she seems to have the "somebody has to and no one else will" mindset

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I don't think the mindset is pretty rare, although it's probably quite rare to be famous and have this mindset as a well known "quirk". Reporting bias strikes again!

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Hi Scott, I want to follow up on 2 things:

1) You answered a question on polyamory. There is a book I can recommend that makes a good case against it (IIRC in one of the last chapters). It is called "Cheap Sex" by Mark Regnerus.

https://www.amazon.de/Cheap-Sex-Transformation-Marriage-Monogamy/dp/0190673613

He argues with a market model: People differ a lot in how attractive they are to others (a fact similar to how people differ a lot in money-making ability).

If you allow them to acquire a lot of partners (or money), inequality arises, which can lead to different levels of power and/or self-esteem etc.

This is why we level out income inequality on the labour market (with different tax levels for poor and rich people). In that picture, "mandated" monogamy can be seen as levelling out inequality in attractiveness.

On the mating market, the effects of inequality are even worse than on the financial one, since potential partners are a finite resource, and money/wealth is not necessarily.

Here is a 10min clip that sums it up:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO1ifNaNABY

2) I was talking about the Yes/No debate framework. You asked for the

subreddit, here it is:

https://www.reddit.com/r/YesNoDebate/

I already ran a few debates, both in person and online, and here I

summarized the feedback:

https://yesnodebate.org/blog/insights/

And the debates's rules are here:

https://yesnodebate.org/

So far, I hope you will enjoy your trip to Berlin – hope you take the train, not the bus, see here why ;)

https://www.seat61.com/trains-and-routes/berlin-to-prague-by-train.htm

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Not Scott, but I don't quite understand the argument. If we start from the premise that the analogy is correct then:

The rising tide lifts all boats - If people have more satisfying relationships (or are richer) then is it really that much of a negative that some people have a lot more relationships/wealth than others?

Can't divide by zero - Right now you could say people have one relationship or zero. The difference between them seems much more important than the difference between 1 and 4.

And then there's the problem with the analogy. In a money situation if I have a dollar, you don't (ignoring the rising tide bit). But in a relationship situation, my relationship is with another person. I have increased the supply of relationships.

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The unspoken premise is that "polyamory" will in practice exhibit a gender imbalance, and be de facto polygamy, which will in turn leave a surplus of single men for whom there are *no* available women to date.

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Thank you for making the premise explicit. I would only add that it might not necessarily be restricted to single men, but also to (unattractive) single women.

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I'm not sure if I understand your question correctly. I will simply rephrase the argument: By nature, the distribution between men and women is (roughly) balanced: ~50% men, ~50% women.

So if we assume homosexuals are same in number of males & females, we further assume heterosexual men and women do want to stay single in equal rates, then eventually, for every partner-seeking male heterosexual, there is exactly one partner-seeking female heterosexual.

This is different when we allow polyamory(gamy/andry).

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Premises seem better spoken. And that seems like an empirical question.

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Yes, I very much agree this should be resolved empirical. "Cheap sex" comes with a lot of data, mostly from the US in the last 60 years. Although admittedly, the US hasn't become fully polyamorous by now, it has become much "more polyamorous" than around 1960: It turned from life-long or decades-long monogamy (in marriages) to serial monogamy for sometimes only weeks. Also, casual sex (thus, with multiple partners within a short-timeframe) is much more common.

This all correlates with the number of singles going up, with first marriages starting later than before etc.

Given this big picture, one can argue that "polyamorous factors" might lead to the things I described in the first post.

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Anyone know whether payments from youtube/patreon/substack are tracked as part of the economy?

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Well, we have some payment information from Twitch now, as part of the recent leak...

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/jony-ive-steve-jobs-memories-10th-anniversary-11633354769?

"Steve was preoccupied with the nature and quality of his own thinking. He expected so much of himself and worked hard to think with a rare vitality, elegance and discipline. His rigor and tenacity set a dizzyingly high bar. When he could not think satisfactorily he would complain in the same way I would complain about my knees.

As thoughts grew into ideas, however tentative, however fragile, he recognized that this was hallowed ground. He had such a deep understanding and reverence for the creative process. He understood creating should be afforded rare respect—not only when the ideas were good or the circumstances convenient.

Ideas are fragile. If they were resolved, they would not be ideas, they would be products. It takes determined effort not to be consumed by the problems of a new idea. Problems are easy to articulate and understand, and they take the oxygen. Steve focused on the actual ideas, however partial and unlikely."

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So I saw this youtube channel about car dependent suburbia vs how most European countries build things, and it really resonates with me. I can't help but wonder how much this contributes to America's problems, from income inequality, to obesity, to political polarization. :/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnKIVX968PQ

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I've written about this before (already plugged something else in this thread so find it yourself), but I think it's worthwhile to think about the downsides as well, and the walkability movement is very reluctant to a single real tradeoff so you sort of have to go looking for those yourself.

One of the first things I'd consider is that the US has an awful lot of walkable neighborhoods in which nobody wants to live - we don't call them ghettos anymore usually, but they line up in a lot of ways with what walkability asks for. The difference between them and walkable neighborhoods is sometimes just money; for nice shops, you have to have people who can shop at said nice shops; for nicely maintained and manicured surroundings, you need money. Ditto low crime.

The other thing I'd consider is why we wanted roads that let people go places quickly in the first place; being able to move goods faster is a plus. Being able to pick from more employers is a plus. Being able to have more choices between various kinds of vendors is a plus. You can massage that a little with public transit, but A. There's a lot of cities that doesn't work and B. You then have to actually use public transit; it's not like other things where you can shunt the costs off to other people, since walkability is necessarily inversely correlated with drivability.

Grain of salt, because there's people who very strongly disagree with me on all these points. But without actually considering the actual utility benefits of drivability, you are only going to get half the picture.

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This is a bit of a straw man argument. The more nuanced arguments from the "walkability" side are not that everything HAS to be walkable, just that current regulations, zone, government expenditures, etc prohibit or punish attempts at making walkable cities in the way they were prior to WW2.

The current development patterns are rather artificial because they are not just responses to consumer demand. They are the result of decades of decisions taken by non consumers. Yes, many people do want to live in the suburbs or a gated community, these people should have that opportunity and do. But if that's not what you want you either have to have lots of money (usually) or compromise (like the undesirable neighborhoods you mention).

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The issue with pure walkability is that people don't want to walk very far, so you need immense density & wealth to make it work. That pretty much excludes suburbia.

Research from The Netherlands shows that for trips up to 1 km, a lot of people walk (35% of trips), although cycling is a bit more popular (45%). Still, 1 in 5 trips of that distance are still done by car. Then from 1-5 km, willingness to walk is minimal, while 50% of trips are done by bike vs 40% by car.

Note that the relatively high car usage for short trips may in part be due to combined trips, like dropping off the kids at school/day care before going to work.

Also, these statistics are for the whole country, while urban regions obviously have less car use.

I think that cyclability is a much smarter goal. With cargo bikes, a bunch of people even make it work with kids & medium size shopping trips, although plenty of Dutch people prefer the convenience of a car for those things.

Of course, it does require making choices that most Americans may not be culturally OK with, like having more smaller shops, rather than fewer big shops. In The Netherlands, there are a lot of supermarkets that are small by American standards, but they tend to be much closer to people's homes.

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There's a lot of talk about Europe being poorer than the US, or about how things cost so much there. At least some of that comes from taxes, but could some of it come from the costs of walkability? Smaller shops so less economy of scale. Less freedom to choose a job so less productivity.

I have lived off of a major city street for a year and three blocks from the highway for two years in my city and loved it, so I can see why walkability has its fans, but my living situation also dictated my work and shopping situations. What if the pressure to switch to walkability ends up costing more than we expect?

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The density thing always stands out to me as a sort of cultural/SES litmus test. In the low SES life, density means people steal your stuff and you listen to people fighting all the time. Sometimes I look at pictures of walkable neighborhoods like the one at :15 in the video above and go "shit, that's a lot of people; I'd get murdered there". I'm academically aware these are all rich Europeans and that wouldn't happen really, but it just looks so miserable anyway.

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Is this a particularly good video you've seen, or are you just getting into the ideas? Your post makes it sound like this subject is somewhat new to you -- and if so, the exciting world of Transit Twitter awaits! You, too, can get furious about placard abuse in New York City even though you don't even live there!

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Oh this is all new to me. But I don't use twitter, so unless the same thing can be found on Mastodon, I'm going to have to pass. ;)

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The most liveable districts in European cities were built before cars were a thing.

I picked my apartment specifically because of how car-hostile the surroundings are, I can get everywhere I want to on foot or bike.

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there are many examples of urban areas in European cities that were designed for cars but have been turned back into bike and pedestrian first areas. I am talking 6 lane boulevards turned into bike and walking paths with a 2 land slow road. It can be done to developments after WW2, it just requires a lot more effort and buy in from whole cities.

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Probably a lot to obesity. New York City dwellers don't lack access to the same type of junk food and cheap processed food that most of America has, but their obesity rate is half that of the national average. A big part of that is likely that they spend much more time on their feet walking to places and standing in transit.

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Mmm. I've been about 20 pounds overweight, consistently, all of my life... Except for about two months when I worked part time at a bookstore and bicycled there and back twice a week. XD

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Cities in general have lower obesity rates, seemingly regardless of sprawl. LA is famous for everyone having to drive and it has about the same obesity rate as NYC. (Which is still an astounding 21% -- and I don't mean "astounding" as a judgment upon individuals, since I achieved BMI-qualified obesity during the pandemic.)

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Congratulations on your early vaccine!

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This all started in the forties and fifties though, well before those were huge issues. I'd argue the opposite, building everything for cars, and furthermore restricting affordable housing options makes all of those problems worse - it makes it much easier to slide into homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness, and much harder to escape from any of those things.

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I think you have to quantify how it made those things worse. The positioning of walkability in general is something like "everything, literally everything benefits from walkability", but as a for instance "can't drive as far from my house to work" means your choices are more restricted on the housing you can select, which makes prices higher, not lower, and makes your income relative to the housing lower, not higher. A person who can drive 30 miles to work has access to cheaper housing and better paying work, on average, than someone who can't.

Housing density is more intrinsically a part of the walkability plank than the drivability plank and solves some of these problems, but if you really wanted to optimize for "affordable housing" you'd want something like "freeways freaking everywhere, and also density".

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Housing affordability is largely a problem of legacy urban-planning.

Modern cities with beltways have a great remedy for the problem of affordable housing: Build one or two loops of highway around the city, and put all of your workplaces along that highway. Then everybody with a car can drive from way out in the suburbs to work pretty quickly; and you don't even need ultra-high-density skyscrapers. The main problem with the solution is that some people still live and work in the city's center, instead of leaving it to become a dead space where nobody goes on account of the difficulty of building highways through it. When it does become a dead space, e.g., in parts of Baltimore, government agencies can't resist the temptation to take advantage of that cheap dead space by putting subsidized housing projects there.

Solution #2 is, build a new city somewhere without any rivers or waterfronts. The only problem is that all old big cities were built on rivers and waterfronts.

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That doesn't make any sense from the perspective of Austin (the city-center issue). Is that the exception that makes the rule or is that city just not far enough along in its growth to see that issue?

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I have no idea. I've only been there once or twice.

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Had Einstein never been born, how long would it have been before someone else discovered the Theory of Relativity?

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My impression was that the ideas for both special and general relativity were "in the air" so to speak. Poincare or Lorentz or somebody else would have gotten special relativity. Electromagnetism kind of cries out for special relativity. I don't think that's just hindsight bias. I mean, Electromagnetism was Einstein's explicit motivation, after all. His paper describing special relativity is literally titled "On the electrodynamics of moving bodies."

As for general relativity, the story goes that Einstein had the physical insights for general relativity right away after understanding special relativity, but spent about a decade trying to get the correct formulation. The bottleneck was Einstein having to learn differential geometry. In this he was aided by contemporary mathematicians. David Hilbert famously convinced Einstein to resume his search for a generally covariant formulation, which Einstein had abandoned, and even wrote down the general relativity field equations himself around the same time as Einstein, probably independently, but the internet now tells me there is controversy on this. This is all to say that without Einstein the pieces would have all been there, if not all with one person.

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Special Relativity, 10-30 years, General Relativity 50 years on up to infinity, meaning relativity in an accelerated reference frame might eventually have been formulated completely differently than via a curved but classical spacetime.

Einstein was working at a time when it was still reasonably acceptable to formulate a theory of fundamental physics that wasn't quantum, I doubt anyone would've tried to do so for the rest of the 20th century had no one figured out GR before 1925. Also, while SR is required to understand any high energy physics which involves particle annihilation or creation (which is pretty much all of high-energy physics from 1930 onward), GR is required for hardly anything other than cosmology, exotic astrophysics, and perhaps very precise timekeeping, so the pressure to produce GR (or an equivalent) would've been far lower.

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That actually sounds pretty reasonable to me, though I'm not sure GR has a serious chance of not being figured out. Something akin to GR would have popped out of QFT when people got to spin 2 and looked at what qualities the classical (quantum->classical) limit would have to have - it would not have taken very long for people to realize by analogy to electromagnetism that *if* a spin 2 theory was workable it would be gravity in the classical limit, and once you realize that it's pretty straightforward to get to a weak field approximation of GR, etc. IIRC Feynman actually went through this whole exercise and with only a bit of hand-waving showed that Einstein's Lagrangian "pops out" as a pretty natural consequence of patching up a spin 2 quantum theory's classical limit.

Now, as to whether Feynman *actually* would have noticed this, it's really hard to say. Normal physicists wouldn't be familiar with curved spacetime math at all if it wasn't for GR, so it might have taken quite some time.

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Related question: are there any other theories/ laws that might never have been discovered without one individual?

We usually think of science as standing on the shoulders of giants, but GR seems a bit different in its dependence on rationalism (rather than empiricism) and creativity

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What about GPS, I was under the impression that the invention of GPS would have compelled General Relativity whether we wanted it or not.

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I agree; it's difficult for me to imagine a world where every GPS satellite has a rather extreme bias correction built into it and all the engineers and scientists in the world go "well that's weird", and never try to figure out why.

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That falls under "very precise timekeeping." But it's entirely possible that the corrections necessary would have been derived phenomenologically anyway. In fact, I'm not they aren't -- it's not clear to me that in the actual engineering they do GR calculations (which would be pretty damn hairy anyway), instead of just measuring stuff and fitting to some empirical curve.

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While for actual GPS they probably just use engineering rules of thumb, it would clearly be an anomaly to a society that didn't have GR, so GR would be investigated shortly afterwards and it or an analogous theory created.

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I'm doubtful. There's a ton of stuff where there's weird tiny anomalies in practical engineering use, and people mostly figure it's some real-world complication not present in the pristine theory, or some little exception corner that theory will eventually fill in, or the result of not doing your math to the 30th decimal point, or just a mistake somewhere or other. I think you really need something a lot bigger than the tiny corrections to Newton needed for GPS to light a fire under theorists.

I mean, how many people work on quantum gravity *today*? Even though we *know* it's got a major problem because it's classical?

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The clocks on board the GPS satellites tick faster by 45 microseconds every day. Light travels 14 km in 45 microseconds, so the GPS system would be inaccurate by 14 km after just one day. That's not a weird tiny anomaly. It's a gigantic, jaw dropping, absolutely absurd level of error in a system that should be accurate to within a meter.

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founding

Engineers are perfectly willing to use empirical rules of thumb for which no underlying theoretical basis is known, and scientists are perfectly willing to look at what engineers are doing and say "yeah, that clearly works but we're not touching it with a ten-foot pole in any reference frame".

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I agree. I mean, it wasn't exactly modern scientific theory, but look how long the Ptolemaic system was used to predict the movement of stars even though it had epicycles in it. The philosophers all believed the stars moved in perfect circles, but anyone having to actually track the stars threw in Ptolemy's epicycles because if you didn't you'd be off a bit. And all through those 2,000 years or so everybody was just like "Yeah, obviously epicycles aren't REAL, they're just something we have to do to make our fancy tables that predict star location accurate."

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Alternatively, what if Maxwell had lived 20 years longer?

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Hi everyone! I've written a piece on why I think it's very unlikely that voting-intention polls are intentionally biased by pollsters. Quite a bit of it is unique to the Australian context (in particular my analysis showing there is no overall skew in Australian polling), but much of it has fairly wide applicability (e.g. the incentives of everyone in the polls-pseph-media complex, and the difficulty of using biased polling to influence voting intention).

https://armariuminterreta.site/2021/09/27/poll-conspiracy-theories-dont-make-sense/

I'd be interested in hearing counterarguments for why a pollster might intentionally attempt to produce a skewed voting-intention poll, even taking into account the factors I mention in my piece.

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How much emphasis are you putting on "intentionally"? My rough assumption was that for each side there are a bunch of pollsters who consistently skew results towards that side, and are thus preferred by the people on that side, but the biases motivating any given pollster are probably unconscious.

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Hmmmmm. I'll admit I didn't adequately define pollster (I'm referring to reputable pollsters who conduct public, non-partisan polls) and I conflate two types of pollster bias in my piece mentioned above:

1. A pollster intentionally shifting their poll to fit a narrative or to serve a particular person/group's agenda. e.g. a pollster gets Labor +1, but either intentionally picks a weighting frame such that Labor +5.

2. A pollster knowing that a particular polling/modelling methodology will produce skewed results but continues using it. e.g. a pollster knows that face-to-face interviews tend to skew Labor +2 on average compared to other interview methods, but continues conducting face-to-face polls anyway.

I don't argue against unintentional bias or unconscious bias. I'm more taking aim at people like this:

https://twitter.com/the_LoungeFly/status/1444633703645265922

https://twitter.com/dragonsaerie/status/1444632108694081537

https://twitter.com/BobWithers4/status/1444613652322009094

https://twitter.com/allisonBeDemure/status/1444614740483842049

Basically I'm targeting the "(poll) is biased because it was conducted for (media company which I believe is biased)" hypothesis, which is quite in vogue among large segments of Australian social media.

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https://anjel.blog/?p=58

https://anjel.blog/?p=56

I would welcome any comment about these two short blog posts on mistakes I have made in the past.

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I can't actually find the original post on Kolmogorov complexity on your blog (even if I Google search "anjel blog kolmogorov complexity"!). It would be useful to link to the original post in your mistake post. Also useful would be to have an index of your posts. (I'm legitimately interested in reading the original post, btw).

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Unfortunately the original post is gone and was not crawled by search engines. This blog is brand new and I'm starting off by posting some mistakes I hope not to repeat in future!

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Is there some place on the internet where free (as in beer) substacks are collected and indexed by topic?

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Man, it’s killing me that you’re so ‘close’ to me (I’m in Belgium) but you’re not passing here. Is there a way to come say hi to your group house or something if I ever pass by SF?

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*passing through here

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Would it make economic sense for Libya to build a freight railroad network? Assume it costs $2 million per mile. How should any network be laid out?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Africa_railway_map_gauge.jpg

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If they can resolve the political stability issues, then yes.

I remember reading that the dirt in much of Libya's desert areas is so hard and compacted that you can drop rail tracks directly on to it, without the need for sleepers or subgrade.

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Libya was in civil war for most of the past decade. Civil war may return, for a short while or a long while. What are the chances of that? What are the operational costs for a railroad that passes through territory held by rival armed groups? How much lower are the railroad's benefits if usage falls sharply?

This is not going to be an easy cost-benefit analysis.

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Seeing all those railways in Egypt and Tunisia makes one thing that if they were connected via Libya then you'd have a way for people in those two economies to shuttle back and forth and, I dunno, do economic stuff?

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Yes, along the north shore between Egypt and Tunisia. Maybe with a side route down to Sabha. The vast majority of Libya is barren and occupied by nobody or almost nobody. Likewise its immediate borders in every direction are almost barren. There are two or three areas that are fertile centered (roughly) on Tripoli and Benghazi. (The debatable third is in the southwest.)

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For shipping freight along the shore, wouldn't actual ships be cheaper than railroad shipping?

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Railroads are faster, and a more convenient way for people to travel. because most of the population of Libya lives by the coast, a railway going along the coast would be suitable.

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The question was about a freight railroad network, not a passenger railroad network. There might conceivably be a niche for freight that's too heavy for air travel or eighteen-wheelers but too expensive or perishable for ships, but it's pretty marginal.

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Scott, is there anything one can do for you to make the meetup a more (likely) pleasant experience?

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Rare non-political article from me:

https://residentcontrarian.substack.com/p/on-unbeatable-video-games

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Nice point, which I'd put simply as "it feels good to be good at something". On a side note, I'm a big fan of gradually ascending difficulty systems like the 'madness' one you describe. Slay the Spire does this really well with its ascensions. These work really well for rougelike games where each run is short; I wonder how/if they'd work in other contexts.

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I think I go a step further, but it helps that I'm religious when doing so; I think there's something abstractly good about doing good things well.

There's an old Catholic story about a street busker/juggler who gets converted and becomes a monk, but he's not educated like the other monks and has a limited amount he can offer. This goes on for years, and at some point the main monk (abbot?) comes into the chapel and there's this guy, juggling for a statue of the virgin; he's about to stop the guy when he looks up and the virgin is crying.

I'm not Catholic, but that sort of gets at a little bit of what I'm talking about - I'm not sure that the world's best doorknob-polisher isn't doing something abstractly good in his pursuit of excellence, even if nobody notices and it doesn't matter in a practical sense.

As for slay the spire: I love that game. I haven't been able to beat ascension 20 because I'm lame, but I have a lot of hours logged on that game and I think it's a masterpiece.

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https://udayton.edu/blogs/marianlibrary/2019-01-14-the-juggler-of-our-lady.php

"Barnaby faints from exhaustion, and as he does, the statue of the Virgin comes to life! Glowing and radiant, she descends from her niche to wipe the sweat from his face and cradle him in her arms. The monks, stunned and speechless, immediately regret their ways and see Barnaby as a true saint and holy man of God.

The story of the juggler can teach us a valuable lesson about simplicity and the idea that everyone has something to share. Our talents and our gifts, whatever they may be, are important and worthy — especially the ones that may sometimes get overlooked! It seems that miracles tend to favor those who are humble and true to themselves, and the juggler is a testament to that."

I didn't know the story existed in many versions, or that it was old. The version I remembered just had the Virgin wiping the sweat off the juggler's face.

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I like Roguelikes a lot for this reason. Though there's another reason too: Roguelikes take variable investment really well. I can take it very seriously and probably have to in order to win. Or I can take it completely non-seriously and die in hilarious ways. Because the games are made to be disposable (you're going to die often so you restart a lot) it doesn't matter. I can even try switching between them if I want to.

Likewise the games don't feel a need to be fair which creates a sense verisimilitude. Most games feel the need to telegraph the game so you have a chance at winning. Roguelikes don't and that's much more true to life and survival situations imo.

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Yeah, in my life now, where I may not have a lot of time or mental energy *but* sometimes have hours and hours and a fire in my heart... a roguelike is the perfect style of game. Hop on for five minutes or feverishly mash buttons for the entire Saturday!

There's also a feeling of incremental progress that's really nice, although maybe this is more a feature of "roguelites". Hades is a great example of this, as well as my favorite game of all time: 60 hours in and every run still gets me a little more skilled, the protagonist a little more powerful or customized to my playstyle(s), the story a little closer to being revealed, bonus features a little closer to being unlocked...

(And it doesn't hurt that I love the story and characters in that game so much. Just... one... more... run... Must... seduce... Aphrodite...)

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There is something funny about a roguelike that starts you out with any amount of plot - "this is who you are and why you are important" and then immediately one-shots you with a skeleton mage or something.

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I enjoyed reading this.

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I've been trying my hand at some inflation analysis on the Australian side of the Pacific, attempting to understand where inflation is going to go and why. Much of it is applicable to the American experience, and I'd be interested in people's thoughts.

https://armariuminterreta.site/2021/10/01/pandemic-economics-ii/

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I wonder if some amount of inflation has transferred over to house prices. So inflation might be higher than official figures suggest, albeit not at alarming levels overall (in specific though house price inflation is alarming).

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It's possible. Inflation did account for rent (which has amusingly, gone backwards in our biggest cities thanks to lockdown), but actual house-buying prices, I'm not sure. It would be clouded by the fact that the government gave a housebuying subsidy, which was promptly followed by Melbourne house prices hitting an average of a million AUD. Not many people are buying houses on the regular, though, so it doesn't make its way into the CPI, and most people don't really feel it as an "inflation" effect so much as a "real estate bubble/issue". Soaring housing prices are a problem in most of Australia's big cities.

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Some of you may remember my Orwell review from the contest, which I'm still amazed got promoted up to 2nd by reader voting. For my follow up I've taken a look at a roughly Orwell-adjacent book: Ryszard Kapuscinski's 'The Emperor'. It's basically a collection of stories from courtiers who served in the royal court of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from 1930-1974.

I found it to be an incredible piece of journalism, mostly because Kapuscinski basically gets to act as a time traveler, a fly on the wall in a medieval court. The courtiers he speaks with are the last of a dying race, and they know it--the sense that it's deeply wrong for a bombastic, Kafkaesque royal court to go on existing into the 1970s is everywhere in the text, and creates a uniquely dramatic, and sometimes even comedic, tension. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, mainly because I see the royal court structure as something emerging everywhere that people are competing for status and resources without recourse to violence.

You can read my write-up here if you're interested: https://whimsi.substack.com/p/book-review-the-emperor

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I’m subbed to your stack, and really enjoyed this!

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Thanks!

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An entertaining and thought provoking review !

This seems to be an extreme case of courtly life: the courtiers are regularly explicitly ranked and there seems to be no other way of gaining status in the country except through the king. (This second point strikes me as probably false: surely the church had status, at least.)

I am a bit skeptical that the court life described here is representative of power for most of human history. What other non-court systems existed in pre-modern times? "Court" meaning a group of people whose power derives for their status, which is inherited and granted by a single individual. It is possible to have a technocratic/bureaucratic monarchy (Singapore today) or a monarchy with a powerless court and powerful bureaucracy (Louis XIV). Parliaments / Senates provide an alternative elite structure with different sources of power or status (England, Roman Empire). Republics are also more common than usually thought, at least in Europe (most Italian and German cities from about 1100-1800). Having non-political sources of power or status in society, most often religious or business, reduces the power of courts or at least creates competition between them. Stateless societies are also less likely to have courts.

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Good points. In the review, I try to distinguish between formally established courts and a 'courtly mode' that humans are inclined to slip into whenever there are status gaps and socially determined paths towards access to resources. So even if there is no actual 'court', the patterns of courtly life are still determining the bulk of the decision-making that the state does. That said, I wouldn't want to put a number on what percentage of pre-modern states could be said to have real 'courts'. I guess what's most interesting to me is how well Selassie's court mirrors what I know of the earliest states, such as the city of Ur, Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.

That said, I think you're right about the non-political sources of power reducing the strength of the court. That the incentive behind rulers like Selassie or Xi limiting or at least slowing the growth of the commercial classes is that competitiveness is pretty well established.

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Ryszard Kapuscinski was a Polish Communist who was known to fabricate facts. His book, 'The Emperor', was published four years after a Communist government backed by Moscow overthrew Haile Selassie. All his reporting was done by traveling to the country after the Communists took power. You should thus read "The Emperor" as a work of fiction meant to propagandize for Marxism-Leninism and to support a Communist regime that created mass famine and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

In other words, you've read propaganda that for some reason often goes reported as fact.

I don't intend any of this as a defense of Ethopia's Imperial regime. I have no idea if it was good or bad. From what I know it was mostly not great. But Kapuscinski is not an accurate source.

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Kapuściński was fired from his post because he supported Solidarność / Solidarity (the anticommunist resistance).

Commie-hunting is pretty much our national pastime for the last three decades, and Kapuściński was never considered one.

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That's what I gathered. Even though at certain times in his life he toed the party line to keep his rare position as a foreign correspondent for the Soviet State, he was anything but a propagandist.

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I looked into this interpretation of the book while writing the review, and I probably should've addressed it more directly.

From what I've read of the scholarship on Kapuscinski, he gets small factual details wrong, and there are issues in translation, but not nearly enough to declare the book an open and shut case of propagandism for the Soviet Union. Especially in light of the rest of his works, which similarly focus on the details of African political life in various countries. What's interesting is I actually never came upon your version of the argument against Kapuscinski; instead I've seen 'The Emperor' labeled as a veiled criticism against the Soviet Union.

I don't doubt that his and his patron's choices of subjects were motivated by a desire to cast communism in a positive light. But it doesn't follow that because of a few minor factual errors (the most often repeated being about the number of bookstores in Addis Ababa) the book shouldn't be treated as a valuable record of court life in Ethiopia. Unless you sincerely believe that Kapuscinski just made it all up. But I've not found evidence that would justify that, nor anything approaching consensus in the scholarship as to Kapuscinski's truthfulness.

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How do you interpret the fact that Kapuscinski never talked to a courtier who was not under arrest by a Communist dictatorship as an interpretation of Ethiopian court life? It seems to me you must go a long, long distance to see him as anything but a biased, propagandist source. But perhaps I am wrong on this.

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Can you send me your sources on this? I wasn't able to find detailed information on the exact writing and recording processes Kapuscinski used.

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One of the big problems with Kapuscinski is actually that he's too liberal and not Leninist enough.

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I'm aware of this criticism as well. Certainly Kapuscinski is a creature of the 1970's and 1980's (though pre-Gorbachev) consensus. I'm curious, though. Acknowledging he is not a good torchbearer for the original Leninist (or Stalinist) vision, do you think he accurately represents a Communist vision? Or is he too corrupted by political needs to portray an accurate vision?

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According to this article https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/lies-damned-lies-and-politics-20120816-249ku.html , by the early 80s he had serious misgivings and refused to write for solidarity publications.

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I enjoyed your review very much. Here's some of my thoughts:

On a the court being very much like high school: I've heard this sort of things before, but I really can't relate. I think the fault of understanding is in myself: I was just totally oblivious to my high school's social fabric. I had my friends, and sometimes we hung out. I didn't know who was popular and who wasn't, nor was I aware of any cliques or social status politicking. The fact is I was completely uninterested in making new friends or going to parties. The friends I did make were serendipitous, people of similar interests that I happened to become familiar with enough for a relationship to form. Mostly in high school I was focused on doing as little work as possible while still getting A's, and spending all my free time reading books.

You wrote:

>"What does seem clear, a bit shockingly, is that for all of Kapucinski’s courtier’s gushing about the Emperor’s genius and divine stateliness, the loyalty of any given courtier seems to have been bought rather expensively with riches, and opportunities for extracting riches from Ethiopia’s starving populous of mostly farmers.

>"...And it’s not as if Selassie is likely to have come up with the above philosophy himself…it strikes me as an expression of ideas of previous Emperors, who saw the art of rule as the art of exploitation, of optimizing for the most efficient extraction of value from a static amount of labor and resources.

This is political rule as an extreme sport, where the leader seeks to extract as much as possible for himself and his cronies through the vehicle of the state, carefully toeing the line that if crossed might push the general populous or military towards violent revolution. I guess we can think of Selassie as a relatively adept sportsman…he lasted forty-four years, accumulated hundreds of millions in offshore bank accounts, and is still regarded as a hero by many, and even a god by some. "

I don't think Selassie was particularly unique in this case: this is the nature of all authoritarian rulers. It comes down to the basic practical mechanics of being an ruler. No ruler can rule alone: he needs loyal men to extract wealth, run the army, administrate, etc. And those men's loyalty must be bought, either with money directly or positions that allow them to extract wealth. And if you don't buy off those men then you leave yourself open for someone else to outbid you, and to take control themselves. Think of it this way: imagine the extracted wealth of the country was $100. Successful Despots will take $20 for themselves, spend $70 buying the loyalty of generals, ministers, and aristocrats, and maybe spend the last $10 on the people. If a liberal reformer comes by wanting to improve the lot of the people, he might keep $5 for himself and spend an extra $15 on the people: but he doesn't dare reduce the $70 buying loyalty a single cent, or else someone will come along and outbid him. Indeed, the wise despot will be hesitant to reduce his own share of the cut: after all, he may need that money rather suddenly someday to head off a coup attempt. You might think that laying up $100s of millions while your people starve is a sign of abject greed, but those millions are security against sudden political shifts (and make it more likely you can escape with your life if worse comes to worse). That's the way ruling works, whether you're a dictator or an emperor. And remember, all those head men that the king is buying off can't rule alone either: they're buying off the smaller men below them, with money and promotions and positions where they can extract wealth themselves. That means you really need to squeeze the peasants if you want to keep yourself in a secure position.

The fine Youtuber CPG Grey lays it out well in this video:

https://youtu.be/rStL7niR7gs

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Interesting thoughts. I found myself agreeing with your thoughts and Grey's video as I read the book, but then there are quite a few examples of undemocratic authoritarian rule that actually did manage to effectively limit corruption and extract taxes without peasant-stomping so ruthless as to actually cause near constant famine and all-encompassing stagnation in the development of education, infrastructure, etc.

I guess I find that historical examples ranging from the Roman Empire to some medieval monarchies, even to modern Singapore stand as proof that authoritarian rule isn't merely a blind and inevitable march towards rampant corruption and state extractivism--that there are ways to retain legitimacy for long stretches beside the naked cronyism of Selassie, Qaddafi, Mugabe, etc.

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The Roman Empire had slavery. When you have slaves as a subzero stage of wealth-producing, you can just whip *them* a little harder without having to tax the (free) "poor peasants" to death.

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This doesn't really fit with the way the Roman Empire practiced slavery, the way it proceeded (e.g. the people often had *better* living standards in periods with *less* slavery), or the reasons usually given for its success under, say, Augustus or Trajan.

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Plenty of other countries and states had slavery, but few gained the comparatively high living standard of Rome.

If I had to point the finger at the main reason for Roman prosperity, it would be the enormous single market centered around the Mediterranean, a very navigable sea even with antique shipbuilding technology.

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IIRC, one important reason for Roman prosperity is that the empire was being built during an unprecedented warm climatic period in the Mediterranean area, which allowed for greater crop yields in many places.

Erusian will no doubt correct this if it is off-base. And he sees it.

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Possibly also that they had concrete. As I understand it, concrete normally takes a lot of heat to make an ingredient, but Rome had some handy geology.

Of course, no amount of handy geology is helpful unless you've got a social organization which can take advantage of it.

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The heat to which you may refer is preparing lime from limestone in a limekiln, but I don't think the Romans were exempt from that, as Roman concrete contains lime also. Supposedly the secret to the durability of Roman concrete (especially in seawater) is the admixture of volcanic ash, which in the neighborhood of Rome contains a certain mineral which over time reacts with seawater to add considerable tensile strength to concrete. The main reason it wasn't more widely duplicated later is probably just the relative rarity of handy volcanic ash.

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I'm not sure: I think if you have any kind of authoritarian rule at all it's going to be mostly cronyism. Perhaps the medieval monarchies and Roman empire were just better at it. (I think Singapore is different because it's wealth doesn't come from agriculture but from business and industry, which needs to be managed differently to keep the wealth coming). Do we have any reason to think Ehtiopia was any more famine prone or stagnant than, say, Medieval France?

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We do, but I haven't gone into it quite enough to say to what degree. But Ethiopia's geography does seem to isolate it and make agricultural improvements difficult to implement.

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I wish there was a non-intrusive way to find out more about my favorite ACX commenters. Some of you people are soooo fascinating.

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Presumably I am one of your favorite commenters. IRL I am getting better at chess.

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On the off chance you find me fascinating I'm currently trying to form an identity for a blog. If you let me know what you find fascinating about me that'll help me to decide what I focus on. Also happy to answer specific questions.

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many users have twitters or blogs or Reddits, with years back of personal content. Usernames aren’t always the same so it may take some digging

Some may find that a bit intrusive, but it’s invisible, and it’s very fun to go through random strangers’ lives on their Reddit histories for instance (never done that with anyone here tho)

Or just ask, lol, seems easier

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I am curious, is there some republicanism in Sweden?

Or perhaps more generally, how citizens of a country whose image is so intertwined with social democracy and social justice reconcile this with the fact Sweden is still a hereditary monarchy?

Also I am looking forward to Prague meetup.

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"Republikanska Föreningen" is an association for Swedish republicanism. It has about 8500 members and if you keep up with the news you'd expect to read an article or two from them a year. So the issue is part of the debate in the weakest sence.

The Left party also unexpectedly wants to abolish the monarchy.

In polls, about 60% of Swedes favor monarchy and about 20% disfavor it. Favor has been declining slowly for a long time. I personally expect that current Crown Princess Victoria will be the last monarch, and that monarchy will be abolished as her reign ends (unless singularity comes before that etc.).

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Not Swedish, but I live in a liberal constitutional monarchy with a similar situation. Monarchy, in it's constitutional form, is not antithetical to democracy and social justice - in fact, I would argue that (perhaps ironically) a democracy is enhanced by their presence as a component of a state. By being unelected and hereditary, you avoid tainting their position as the enabler of government by popular or corrupted choice. That is, nobody has ever had to run a campaign against them, or be upset their candidate was not chosen - consider in an elected head of state, where a significant portion of the population has vilified their guy's opponent. When people vote, they become invested in one candidate succeeding and another not succeeding. Monarchs exist as an impartial third party which legitimizes the government of the day - their role in enabling that has no need for representation (and adding representation here is constitutionally dangerous potentially!).

To your social justice point, the monarchy is able to champion or provide patronage to causes which are electorally unfeasible to complement the majority-rules government which can champion electorally popular causes. They also avoid getting caught up in tribal politicking which can sometimes be driven by more hateful agendas. The royal family don't belong to a group that is adversarial to other groups, they are secure in their position - even appointed heads of state struggle with that, let alone elected.

Selection being stable means they don't need to desire the job to the point of struggling, promising or buying their way to the top like their elected counterparts, which often selects for negative attitudes towards positions of hierarchy and breeds anxieties about their personal security when elected (after all, if you had to fight to get where you are, wouldn't you be wary of your opponents?).

The issue of merit comes up a lot in elected vs hereditary discussions, but I don't think the person of the monarch matters as much as the institution in a figurehead monarchy - it's okay if the King isn't some visionary if he doesn't hold any real power.

(Sorry for the unsolicited ramble! I just find a lot of people are quick to assume that because monarchy is an older and unelected institution it is somehow unhealthy, and wanted to be a voice of dissent on that point - I personally think that while far from perfect, they are underrated in the constitutional toolbox, and love talking about them!)

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"They also avoid getting caught up in tribal politicking"

Queen Elizabeth perhaps, but my impression of the second and third generation is that they get involved in fashionable tribal issues.

Henry VIII played a role in the tribal conflicts associated with religion. al-Mamun was a central figure in the Mutazilite/Ashirite controversy.

Of course, those were rulers with real power.

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Those are interesting points. But I think this is more about the head of state being different from the head of government. A lot of countries have this without being a monarchy.

In Germany, the head of state ("president") is also a purely representative office, and the elected candidate is usually someone who is well-respected from all political factions. Even though it's often an ex-politician, they interpret their office as transcending over political partisanship.

Since they are well-respected, they can sometimes bring political topics on the agenda. The speech from 1997 is quite famous, where the president Roman Herzog warned that Germany needs reforms, and that all political and social actors need to get going ("Durch Deutschland muss ein Ruck gehen"). Or after the 2017 elections, when parties did not find together for a coalition, the president expressed his opinion that the two biggest parties owe it to Germany to form a coalition, even if they are not happy about it. Which they did.

I am not so familiar with the nordic monarchies, but I think the monarchs play a similar role: they mostly stay out of daily business, but when they get heard, they act as a non-partisan voice. Also in the UK, the royals have played a similar role in the past (e.g., by staying in London during WW2), though at present the queen stays very much out of politics.

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The idea that Republics are necessarily more democratic, or more just, or happier, or more prosperous than Constitutional Monarchies is so obviously contradicted by observation that I find it hard to believe that sentient beings can hold it.

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author

Warning: this is the kind of comment (insulting to people with an idea without explaining why the idea is wrong) that is likely to get you banned if you continue.

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Noted.

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I am aware that Swedish kingship is largely ceremonial job, and he most definitely does not actually govern the country, of course. But still.

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There is almost no republicanism in Sweden. Instead there is a live and let live mentality. Some people like to read about the royal family in magazines and others like to ignore them. There are so many people in Sweden other than the royal family who get quite a lot of money from the state for doing nothing. Why would we be annoyed with the royals more than other social cases? The royals are just ordinary, rather incompetent people.

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While I don’t mind long comments that are interesting, and technically detailed and in depth and complex ones are some of my favorites on SSC (https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/links-for-september/comments#comment-2988501 I loved and probably didn’t get enough attention, and the less interesting but more inflammatory neighbors to the top on racism and to the bottom on obesity (my bad...) got many comments) (and if you like those do check out datasecretslox.com - a SSC adjacent forum with lots of in depth posts - and TheMotte also has lots of great in depth technical and historical stuff if you can wade through and ignore culture politics waves)

... a bit off track. Anyway, I find that substack doesn’t collapse the parent comment when you collapse children, and doesn’t have a way to, incredibly annoying for just browsing the comments. So I have to scroll over twenty paragraphs to get past it! Annoying. And while I’m complaining, the fact that when you click an email reply link it doesn’t take you to the right place 8 of 10 times is annoying too. As is the fact that if you accidentally minimize a parent comment while typing a reply, very easy because clicking on a side line minimizes and they’re omnipresent, your comment disappears! And edit button of course. And it should really handle deeply nested comment threads better. Smh.

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Well, your complaint worked! I opened up this thread today and was surprised to discover that parent comments can now be collapsed too!

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Did someone read this? There’s now an “expand full comments” thing that minimizes super long comments. Annoyingly though, 4/5 places I’ve seen it so far it was on a comment maybe two lines longer than the max length, lol. I’d still prefer being able to totally minimize but it’s maybe better (can’t tell tbh)

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Ironically I actually liked the default maximized thing, just with ability to minimize. UI UX stuff is just hard isn’t it

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Don’t want to all complain! Here’s a little thing that, if bookmarked, will jump to the right comment when you use it

javascript:(document.querySelector(decodeURIComponent('.comment.selected'))).scrollIntoView()

One probably could make an extension that does this for you

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I had to search what that image was, and of course (duh!) it's the Golem of Prague. I have to say, though, that for public art images on these posts, Barcelona still has Prague beaten 😀

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I don't think I made a post on Barcelona - which piece of art are you thinking of? Was it the Madrid one with the bear and the strawberry tree (that I thought looked like a bear causing a mushroom cloud)?

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No that's Zheleznogorsk-26 you're thinking of.

They're coming into flower now are the strawberry trees.

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The one where you were talking about visiting Barcelona - "Learn Spanish with ACX"?

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Fantastic article about retired greyhound racing dogs who become living blood donors. Is life as a living blood bag for dogs whose owners can afford expensive pet surgeries a life worth living?

https://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/67/bolman.php

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Your post caused me to look up YouTube videos of greyhounds running in slow motion, which was entertaining and interesting.

Good question regarding whether that is a life worth living. I assume it largely depends on how much blood is drawn... do they live as normal pets with the occasional draw, or are they kept on the edge of death to maximize product output?

In any case, given the state of factory farming, this doesn’t seem like the lowest hanging fruit for animal welfare. Dogs typically get more than their fair share of sympathy already.

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I believe the amount of blood drawn relative to size at any one time is similar to that for a human. Greyhounds have more blood for their body weight than other dogs, and that blood is richer in red blood cells and oxygen, so you can remove quite a bit without it becoming detrimental to the dog.

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There was a somewhat acerbic exchange about Guardians Against Pandemic on the 9/18 Open Thread 190, mainly having to do with "they say they're non-partisan, but they use ActBlue for funding, how the hell is this possible?!" This was a convincing enough argument to e.g. make me withdraw my donation to them (to their credit: they were prompt and polite about refunding it) until they explain themselves. Attempts to get them to explain themselves seem to run into the wall of "We will have a Q&A on October 12, please just ask us then," with a side of "yes we realize, but right now it makes the most sense to press Democrats because it's their Congress, but we expect to press Republicans e.g. next year and will use WinRed then."

Two questions:

1. Is it plausible for a single organization to use ActBlue and WinRed (simultaneously or alternating between them)? I'm known to be naive about this, to the point of believing ActBlue when it says it allows "progressive" but not "Democratic" organizations; I was mocked for believing this in the previous thread (perhaps deservedly, though I will point out that no actual counterexamples ever materialized).

2. Is anyone planning to attend their Q&A, and if so, could I ask them to report on what they hear? (I don't think I'll be able to make it, the time between when the toddler comes home from daycare and when the toddler goes to bed is pretty hectic for me.) If you don't want to report in public, I can give you my email -- I honestly just want to know what they have to say.

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"yes we realize, but right now it makes the most sense to press Democrats because it's their Congress"

Given the at-present kerfuffle in Congress between those of the Democratic Party who want a moderately progressive budget and those who want a very progressive budget,

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/us/democrats-delay-vote-on-infrastructure-plan-as-progressives-fail-to-agree-on-deal-1.4688625

do they really think that their little push will go anywhere if they alternate between "who's got the talking stick" like this? This is one of those things where you *need* cross-party buy-in because you *need* all hands at the pump, else it's going to sink unnoticed amongst all the other groups and causes and lobbies waving and jumping up and down for attention.

I don't think it's necessarily partisan bias at work here, I do think it's a lack of "maybe I don't have a 140 IQ but I've worked in the sausage factory and I know how the product is made" experienced types.

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I was just listening to a news story about the financial industry pushing hard for in person meetings to make deals. There's a belief that the deals are better in some sense when people have a more accurate idea of each other's emotional/physiological reactions.

We might have a chance to find out what difference personal presence makes to deals. Logically, it seems like it should be zero-sum. People push each other differently, but it seems unlikely that, say, lenders or borrowers would generally do better or worse in person rather than at a distance.

It's conceivable that some institutions might have accidentally selected for people who are better at zoom/phone/email and others have selected for people who are better in person.

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I think the main difference has little to do with actual quality of deal-making and much more to do with the personal preferences of the individuals involved. Certainly the financial industry has not slowed down during the pandemic; if anything, far more large and medium-sized financial deals have been signed by any measure in the 2020-2021 period than possibly any other period in recent financial history, except possibly 2006-2007; we're in a major boom here without face-to-face meetings. If the industry were genuinely unsure whether their transactions were "good" because of a lack of face-to-face meetings, it seems that we should see more hesitance to sign up and close deals and we'd see a dip in deal activity instead. What I think is going on instead is that finance has historically rewarded the most gregarious, extroverted personalities for decades if not centuries, and so of course people with those personalities lead the industry. Those people in turn are personally unhappy about not being able to do deals in person, and they either misinterpret this unhappiness with their personal situation to something that is wrong in the industry itself or they are eager to get back to the field where they have a personal advantage. Either way, we should take this perspective with a great deal of skepticism.

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I suggest this has very little to do with some kind of Glengarry Glen Ross style 'always be closing' attempt to gain advantage, and much more to do with the ability of all participants to be more certain there's a meeting of minds.

When parties to a contract leave the set-up with different ideas, even different emotional impressions, of the nature of the deal, it is often a prelude to very expensive business failures. "But I thought we meant....!" So it is really *really* important, the larger and more complex a deal you are making, that everyone leave the meeting with as close to an identical viewpoint as possible on what was agreed to (and what was not).

Of course this requires assessing the emotional temperature of people. Of course it requires being aware of nonverbal cue and tics, of smiles or frowns, fidgets or engagement, tone of voice (beyond the miserable bandwidith of VoIP), et cetera. So yes if it's a big big deal you want everyone in the room looking at each other directly. Not because one party is hoping to crush the other, but because it's very much in the interests of both parties to avoid any hint of misunderstanding.

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It's interesting to contrast your reply with KateDog's-- you've got mistake theory and she's got conflict theory.

As a habitual split-the-differencer, I wonder whether you both might be right, and it varies among organizations and industries.

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Surely. But my read on the difference is that it's probably just glass-half-full versus glass-half-empty perspective.

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In practice what happens is the principals and investment bank get together in person and hammer out the major deal points they can all feel good about. Then a 2 to 10 page letter of intent gets sent to the CPAs, financial analysts, and lawyers to work out all the details, which end up being hundreds of pages of terms and disclosures and analysis, and when that happens it turns out there's LOTS of terms the main guys didn't discuss or agree on, so it's an ongoing negotiation where the stronger party with more leverage asserts it and the weaker party makes concessions as they get more invested in the processed, so long as the stronger party doesn't push so hard that they walk away. It's not uncommon for there to be a few crisis points where the deal is about the fall apart because the parties don't agree some terms, and at that point the investment banker deal guys will swoop in and use all their social skills to try to save it. Once an LOI is signed, they only get paid if the deal closes, and if it closes, they get paid a lot, so their main role is to be the intermediary and smoother-over to get it to closing. I'm not saying there's no need for that personal touch, though honestly it depends on the personalities of the people involved...in some cases, I would say the least interaction, the better.

That said, as Llew mentioned, 2021 has seen more M&A deal flow that ever -- it's a tsunami, and the vast majority of them have been happening entirely electronically and frankly I think it's worked just fine. I've worked on some deals that have gone remarkably quickly, smoothly, and efficiently with literally no interactions other than email and a few phone calls, not even Zooms. The ones with more Zooms have taken longer, had more personality conflicts, and more time wasting. I also haven't seen a single deal fall through this year, which usually there's at least one per year. To my mind, you never truly know what people agree on til it's in writing, since in person conversations often have the more dominant personalities overpowering others and making them pretend to agree to things they don't really, once it's in writing, and people are more prone to gloss over details in person -- writing is so much more specific. So the more that is done in writing, the more efficient the process -- again, from my perspective. Obviously people whose skills lie in the interpersonal arena will prefer that method of doing business, and from their perspective, they're the ones making it all happen and nothing would even occur without them.

I will say, without question, I've worked in M&A for 15 years and a hundred deals, and the deals that have problems AFTER closing and where the parties end up in disputes a year or two later, are far are more likely to be the "in person" heavy deals with less nerds going through with a fine-tooth comb and more CEOs/bigwigs just getting together and deciding that they're all on the same page, they don't need to worry much about the paperwork because they "trust" each other, and just ramming the deal through quickly with little interest in what the documents say.

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When they are referring to "making deals", they are simply talking about multi million or billion dollar transactions where the parties at issue can choose among many different financial institutions, and the deal guys' entire job is to leverage their personal network, social skills, and glad-handing skills to be the ones chosen -- for a huge commission if they get the deal. Of course they want in-person because that's literally their whole skill set. Once they get that two-page LOI signed, they hand it off to the army of nerds behind computers who do the actual work of getting it done (I am one of those people so I know how this works). These people are basically just like real estate agents, just working on deals that involve the buying, selling, and financing of billion dollar companies, not buildings.

Also, don't forget that "the financial industry" has massive investments in commercial real estate and basically own all of the office towers in this country. Don't think for a second that they're not pushing in-person because they're trying to protect those investments. I have dealt with a few commercial landlords recently, and I assure you, they are all *terrified*, though they are doing their absolute best to hide and that pretend all is well and normal.

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I find that in person deals STRONGLY favor people with dominant personalities.

If you get someone in front of you, you can more effectively mislead them, or buffalo them into doing something dumb. These talents seem to be 90% of what makes one c-level dipshit more useful than another.

I'm you classic tech autist, so I've been in a couple of these meetings when I was younger just to stand behind whoever was listening to the sales person and repeat the same question 30 times until we get an answer, because I'm not socialized enough to be embarrassed about it.

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Yeah, face-to-face selling works on socialisation about being polite and not giving an outright refusal, and the salesperson/marketer being charming and hard-sell enough to first get you to agree "sure, this sounds like a great product/service" and secondly then push you on "well you already agreed it could be a benefit, why aren't you signing up for it?"

I'm another of the autism-spectrum types who *hates* the hard sell, won't buy something unless I've had time to think about it, and if you push me for "yes" answer right this minute, I'll walk out instead of buying 😀 And like you, in work I'm the one who does the "yeah, but - " part and will happily tell the guy who has just spent twenty minutes doing a presentation to sell sell sell the service to us, "That was great, but we need to think about it, we'll get back to you on this".

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If you buy a new car in the US they are going to try to sell you an ‘extended warranty’. I’ve made a practice of saying loudly and plainly up front that any attempt to sell me a service contract or extra special rust prevention undercoating will queer the deal. It’s worked for me so far.

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I went through a significant interaction with a financial institution several months ago. Most of the interaction was over phone, or by email... until the time came for finalization of signatures. Certain forms needed to be filled out in-person, with pen-on-paper, in a way that could be certified by a licensed notary. The bank contracted the services of a notary, who came to me and helped me through the process of signing the papers for the deal.

Is this a counter-example?

Possibly, or possibly not... the interaction was significant to me, in that it involved a mortgage on my house. It may not have been significant in the same way to any individual at the bank, but it did involve a large amount of money.

The procedure didn't involve any negotiation or deal-making. I submitted a request for a refinance, had a short chat with the mortgage broker, filled out forms, and waited for the underwriting process to finish. Once that was done, I decided that the new mortgage would be a good financial decision, and scheduled a date to sign the necessary papers.

What kind of financial negotiations did the news story give as examples?

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If we can more accurately understand how the other party feels about what is on offer, we can more accurately craft a deal that both sides can approve and at least be content with. I interview potential employees a lot, and find that in person is far superior to remote. You get a much better sense of how they feel and catch body language and other subtle cues. For instance, if you mention a benefit or pay rate, or a job requirement (start or end times, number of hours, overtime) you can get an intuitive sense of if they are happy, neutral, or upset pretty easily in person. On a video call you might catch something or you might not.

Interestingly, people who are more in tune with such a process (such as a person who routinely conducts interviews, supervises employees, and is comfortable with video calls) is able to present those cues better. Something about being remote seems to cause people to emote less in the first place, in addition to being harder to see when they do.

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That's a good point. I was assuming hostile bargaining.

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I think like Andrew says, I don't know why we'd expect this to be zero-sum. By having parties learn more about each other, deals that otherwise wouldn't have happened might, or vice versa.

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One additional possibility is that more and better deals get made because people are spending less time and personal energy on travel.

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Reminds me of Paul atreides saying he couldn't negotiate with someone he can't see. I didn't realize we had so many bene geseret trained bankers.

If all the same deals were done on different terms it would be zero sum, but if a different set of deals were done with more net surplus that would be a net gain. That would be the expected outcome if both sides learned more about each deal, by learning more about the counterparty of the deal

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The best negotiator I ever worked with was a guy who almost never spoke. He had a weird personality and was perfectly comfortable just sitting in silence, staring at you for minutes on end. It would completely unnerve people, no one ever knew what he was thinking, and people would just start babbling or negotiating against themselves just to break the silence. I worked on his team and people always thought I knew what he was thinking and could translate for him, but no, he was like that with everyone, on his "side" and the "other side" -- no one really knew him. He was great at what he did though, and got better terms for his clients than anyone else I ever saw, just by keeping his mouth shut and being mysterious.

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I'm concerned that my next-door neighbor is sliding into the grip of a paranoid/delusional disorder during the isolation of the pandemic. Their recent nearly-unprompted disclosures to me about their background and habits strongly suggest to me that what I'm seeing is the worsening of a mental disease that will likely proceed to derail their life.

Neighbor, as an immigrant to the US from another country, tells me that they are a publicly-unacknowledged child of a deceased political leader in a third country, whose heirs/assigns have been working, so far unsuccessfully, to achieve neighbor's desired repatriation to said third country, in association with various improbably-associated US federal agencies. This by itself, while far-fetched, did not strike me as conclusively out-of-touch -- stranger things have been known to happen, though why I in particular would be informed of them I can't begin to suppose.

However, neighbor then proceeded to explain/demonstrate how they have been undertaking, with increasing frequency, an admittedly dangerous and disfiguring self-treatment for a self-diagnosed disorder which would, if present, be acutely life-threatening -- but for which I was unable to persuade them to seek professional medical attention. I intend to provide them with resources about how they may still be able to get access to affordable medical care in our area, in combination with interpreter services if needed, despite their complex immigration situation.

Either of these things in isolation would be unusual, but presenting together, in someone who appears to have minimal social support, it seems indicative of some kind of mental break. I never knew this neighbor well enough before the pandemic to tell just how unusual the current beliefs and behavior are for them, but it's pretty damn unusual absolutely, especially for someone otherwise put-together enough to have obtained a graduate STEM degree in the not-to-distant past. If the stuff I'm hearing here is somehow the product of a sound mind, I'd at least expect a degree of self-awareness about how nuts it must *sound* to an uninitiated observer, but I'm not picking up any such self-awareness.

I don't really know how to proceed here, if it's even my place to do anything. I'm just getting the impression that all this bizarre stuff has been unloaded on me because neighbor has no one else to tell -- as far as I know, they're currently NEET (as am I for the time being, I'm not one to judge) and have no family in this country, and maybe no friends either.

I figure worst cases of inaction are that neighbor ends up deported to illiberal homeland when the "special arrangement" they believe has been worked out on their behalf to let them overstay their visa turns out to be a fantasy, or they die of self-diagnosed disease which they may actually have because they wouldn't seek treatment, or they die of complications of their dangerous and increasingly intense self-treatments. And the worst cases of action are that neighbor ends up entangled in some low-income social services labyrinth and involuntarily committed as a danger to themselves, while getting no real effective treatment, or neighbor decides that I am part of some conspiracy with agents from illiberal home country and cuts my brake lines or something. Knows where I live, you know?

I can't think of any really good best-case outcomes no matter what I might do, so I guess maybe I should just try to leave the situation alone. I may even be wrong about the implausible background, and foreign agents from third country really are lending them support, and will soon provide some new plan of action for the repatriation -- it's not like I have a better idea of how they've been paying their rent for the past couple of years. I've been in neighbor's residence, and it's a lot tidier than mine, and it's not like they're outright talking to themselves, AFAIK. "Taking care of things ourselves is just how we always did it back home" is sort of a reasonable explanation for the self-diagnosis and self-treatment, and it's possible they have good reasons to avoid contact with medical professionals. But on the whole, that feels like rationalizations for not sticking my neck out. My best guess is that this person is on a crash course with reality, and there may be nobody else to potentially help them off it. I'll at least try to see if there's anyone else they trust who they might be able to talk to about any of this with, but I have a sinking feeling that there isn't.

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Tentative advice: Are there other, less dangerous alternative treatments you could recommend? I don't think the odds of this being accepted are high, but it isn't likely to have much of a downside.

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You are in a tough place, as you seem to be the one person your neighbour trusts to tell you all this. But honestly, it sounds like schizophrenic off their meds (or maybe never on them in the first place). I think you are right about the mental problems, and that maybe the best you can do in this situation, if they won't approach medical services themselves, is try and inform social services about them, then leave it alone.

If they are going to crash, you can't stop them as you're not family, spouse, or otherwise have any authority over them to intervene more decisively and you are running the risk that they will see you as part of the conspiracy or whatever.

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I don’t think the US has a social services to notify. None that I’m aware of at any rate. The only thing I can think of in this country is talking to law enforcement. But if no crime has been committed there is really nothing they can do.

There was a fairly recent incident in an exurb of Minneapolis where a disturbed individual that the police were ‘aware of’ entered a clinic shooting a pistol killing one person.

Minneapolis itself has an upcoming referendum that would create a department of public safety.

Part of the idea is that there would be trained staff to handle mental health crises. Unfortunately the gist of what fits on a ballot looks like the goal is just to get rid of police.

In fact the referendum does actually call for replacing the police department with this proposed department of public safety.

This could be a worthwhile experiment with a carefully considered, nuanced plan. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be either carefully considered or nuanced.

As things stand now I expect most voters to see this as just crazy liberals trying to defund the police.

I live across the river I Saint Paul so I won’t be voting on this. If I were, the plan is so sketchy I would be a hard no.

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Maybe this depends on your location, and the reputation of the local "social services". I don't think it is bad advice, but I would be extremely uncomfortable initiating that process without being extremely familiar and comfortable with what that process is in my specific area, *and* being pretty certain that there were real psychological symptoms (as opposed to, say, a guy who was exaggerating his story to make it sound better or a guy who isn't real familiar with government branches and doesn't discern between Generic Bureaucracy X and the CIA).

I agree it sounds concerning, but I would be hesitant to meddle unless I had high confidence in the outcome of that meddling or I was going to be willing to remain involved as an advocate for the guy throughout any subsequent proceedings (as it sounds like he may not have anyone else to advocate for his best interests or explain anything about his situation, although maybe I misunderstood and he does have a friend/family network nearby).

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I think the local "social services" are reasonably good here (well-off college town in left-coast area) but I'm not intimately familiar with them.

I am pretty confident that what I'm seeing is not an attempt to exaggerate a story to sound better -- neighbor is otherwise about as humble and low-key as possible. It seems like a genuine confession of difficulties. I do get the sense that they're actively struggling to make sense of the rest of their life in light of this possibly-new delusional-seeming narrative about their origins. I also take it that any family links in the old country are considered unreliable now because they're not the neighbor's "real family" and are probably considered to have been complicit in taking them away from the "real family".

But yeah, by own situation is pretty precarious right now and I definitely don't have the bandwidth to spare on being this person's continued advocate (if I'm even going to be able to continue living here as their neighbor).

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Rereading this it maybe wasn't totally clear the way I phrased it, the person (potentially) doing the exaggerating is the neighbor, not the the OP of this thread.

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I don't have any particularly good advice, but just wanted to send some empathy and care. I'm in a not-entirely-dissimilar situation (although it's with someone very close to me rather than an acquaintance), and have struggled to figure out what to do. Right now I'm trying to just be a stable, easily-available resource for them if/when they want help. But ya it feels super shitty either way :/

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Also, afaik, self-burning like that is actually a common self-harm thing (akin to cutting). Not sure if that changes any calculus, but felt worth saying.

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Yeah, I suppose it could be self-harm with some more directly self-harming motive, but it's presented to me as serious (paranoid-seeming, to me) fear that failure to do painful operation diligently enough will result in death by disease.

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> However, neighbor then proceeded to explain/demonstrate how they have been undertaking, with increasing frequency, an admittedly dangerous and disfiguring self-treatment for a self-diagnosed disorder which would, if present, be acutely life-threatening -- but for which I was unable to persuade them to seek professional medical attention.

Were you being vague here to protect your neighbor's privacy?

I ask because it's difficult to help with a cost-benefit analysis of your potential intervention without knowing the exact circumstances. There could be a lot of cultural and/or medical stuff going on there that would make a big difference in the analysis and/or advice ACX readers might provide.

There might already be enough details here that your neighbor would recognize himself if he read your comment, so unless you have reason to believe he frequents the board, providing more information about him and the specific behavior you're seeing might elicit specific and useful responses.

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Trying to be as vague as possible for privacy though I have no reason to believe they read this board, but self-treatment involves repeated third-degree burns to fairly small areas at a time, possibly to significant depth. I've been shown some of the burns and they seem to heal well, but leave significant scars. Most recent treatment looks like it could have easily resulted in blindness if it had gone awry.

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Also, my apologies for assuming your neighbor's gender in my first reply! I guess my unconscious bias is STEM degree + immigrant from illiberal homeland + preoccupation with a powerful political parental figure = male.

But you didn't identify them as male, so I shouldn't have, either.

FWIW after rereading your comment, the "improbably associated U.S. agencies" your neighbor claims are working on their behalf is the detail that tips me, personally, out of an agnostic "stranger things have happened" stance into, "yeah, this person is becoming disconnected from reality."

I don't have any actionable suggestions for how to help them get reconnected, because it's virtually impossible to impose mental heathcare on someone in the U.S. unless they're ostentatiously posing a physical threat to themselves or others. Thousands of people with symptoms far more severe than your neighbor's are going untreated because our system says that even when a symptom of a disease is the inability to participate in medical and mental healthcare, sufferers should determine how much care they receive.

So if it helps with your peace of mind: there's nothing you actually *can* do to meaningfully help your neighbor unless their behavior becomes physically dangerous to a degree that law enforcement / professionals would be obligated to get involved.

And because there's literally nothing you can meaningfully do, I think you can ethically minimize your involvement in this and not be as available to your neighbor. That's not what you asked about, but I think it's important to bring up. You shouldn't feel obligated to invest a lot of time in attempting to improve a situation you can't possibly meaningfully influence.

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I agree that these improbable U.S. agencies are an especially solid ring on the crazy-bells.

What you say makes sense, I suppose there's not much I could realistically do beyond further suggesting that they seek medical attention for the supposed disease they're trying to self-treat.

Before these revelations, I was asking neighbor if they were interested in adopting a stray animal I found recently, and they are, but I think now the best I can do for the animal instead is to take it to a shelter where it might eventually find a stable home with stable people.

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Note that the self-harm behavior you describe is a *classic* case of a danger to themselves, and they probably are eligible for being involuntarily committed in most jurisdictions in the US.

I'm not at all sure that's morally better than letting them crash and burn; that's a hard call, and its your call to make. But if you go to your local social services, and tell them that your neighbor seems to be some sort of psychotic and is self-harming with 3rd degree burns, you probably can arrange for that to happen and for them to get some involuntary help.

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I'm with Christina on this.

You can express concern, you can offer leads to potential support/care, and you can take care of yourself by acknowledging how little you can do and sorting out how much of a support you yourself want to be in terms of listening.

It's really hard to witness people suffering close-up and day after day. That your neighbor's situation has affected you enough to share it here speaks to the depth of your own empathy.

If this person says to you at any point they are imminently about to kill themselves or harm someone else, you can call 911. Short of that, non-suicidal self-injury is pretty common and people living independently with serious delusions is also not so uncommon. Various social service agencies have no particular mandate relative to an adult that way.

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Thanks for replying too! You put it better than I did.

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Thanks for the details! For me, they were useful because they weren't what I first assumed, so it changes my thinking slightly, especially if it's the Black Salve Gerry Quinn mentioned below.

You mentioned your neighbor has a STEM degree, but also that they might need subsidized medical care or end up in a low-income medical care situation. Is your neighbor working? If not, do you have a sense of why not?

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I read of Black Salve ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_salve ) in another context recently. Is that it? It seems to be a relatively common alternative treatment for skin cancer, which was widely used in the past.

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https://www.sciphijournal.org/index.php/2021/09/30/read-only/

A bit of fun with a very hypothetical huge increase of intelligence.

Inspired by Lafferty's "Slow Tuesday Night".

https://www.baen.com/Chapters/9781618249203/9781618249203___2.htm

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I liked this a whole bunch while I was going through it, but right when Lafferty would’ve started introducing characters and complications, the writer just ended things. But that's a nitpick. More than anything I'm delighted to see someone getting the master's tools out. I grinned so hard at "But when time itself is the task, it is a defect to finish ahead of time." Felt like something he'd have written.

Do people know about R. A. Lafferty here? Is this something people talk about here? Man, maybe I started posting on the right day.

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Yes, I read stories of his years ago and fell for his unique style and madcap inventiveness.

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There's me, at least. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more Lafferty fans.

"Slow Tuesday Night" seemed delightfully whimsical when I read it in the 60s, and more more prescient since. Things definitely move faster.

There's a Lafferty facebook group on facebook, and it has a one-day gathering in June, with presentations. The gathering as been remote because of the pandemic, so getting to New Jersey isn't a requirement any more.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/eastoflaughter

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Big Lafferty fan here.

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Insofar as "rationalists" can be considered a kind of community one can speak of broadly (I think they can be, loosely, speaking as someone who does not consider themselves part of said community!), do they on the whole have better, or more correct, views on aesthetics?

There are a whole host of reasons I wouldn't identify as a rationalist, but one part of it, when examining my own internal sense of identity, does seem to be a *deep* discrepancy in how we approach aesthetics, and the areas where aesthetics bleeds into ethics & meaning more generally. I simply find the views of most rationalists totally lacking in these areas, and that makes being more genial to their whole project harder.

I also recognize this is a pretty vague question, and I'd have to think more to make it more precise, so I'm just tossing it out there, hoping it spurs discussion. (I'm also aware that to whatever questions re: aesthetics there are, a lot of rationalists will probably say that the positions on these questions aren't truth-apt, or they'll be error theorists, or whatever.)

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I don't think aesthetic views can be said to correct unless aesthetic objectivism is true. I think aesthetics are ultimately subjective, though philosophers are pretty evenly split on this matter (https://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl). Even if aesthetic objectivism is false, maybe some views can be *better* than others in some sense of the word "better". It's unsatisfying when someone can't justify at all why they find something beautiful -- probably rationalists are better at this. Aesthetic views can also be judged on the matter of 'good taste' -- do rationalists tend to have good taste?

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founding

A data point: It's been my experience that many software engineers, industrial designers, and other rational folk have job-threateningly strong opinions about the design of their project. They freely describe designs as "ugly". They may even defend their preferred designs as "beautiful", but beautiful for explicit reasons. Apple products are often considered beautiful but for good reasons. Moves in chess or Go can be considered beautiful and the height of rationalism.

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Isn't aestheics ineffable? That's probably the prerequisite answer to have. There was a striking story in Ellison's "Again, Dangerous Visions" anthology called "Eye of the Beholder" in which a nerdy type discovers a mathematical algorithm for aesthetic beauty, in this case of sculpture. It doesn't end well, of course, since it was written in the 70s, but if aesthetics were readily amenable to rationality then perhaps it could be programmed. That would certainly lead to a different world.

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As someone who's messed around a lot with CLIP+VQGAN notebooks, if you ask CLIP to make something "beautiful", it does sort of understand what you mean, and will generate images accordingly- and I'm sure DALL-E will have much better results in that regard.

I think the algorithm for aesthetic beauty may just be machine learning.

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On that point I think I disagree. Machine learning is just very fancy pattern recognition, so a machine learning algorithm, given enough training data, can learn to recognize what someone else labels "beautiful," and that can be handy, and even practical if you have some way of Monte-Carloing your way around the aesthetic space until your ML algorithm tells you to stop. (So it would probably wok for the very restrictive space of human face shapes, say.)

But if the space is high dimensional, which doesn't seem unlikely if we are talking about genuine art, architecture, music, and the like, that your ML algorithm can recognize your optimum (but tell you zip about how to get there, or even head in the right direction) doesn't seem super useful.

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top on artstation | rendered on Unreal Engine

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What's your view of aesthetics, and what do you think is the rationalist view on aesthetics? I haven't heard much discussion of aesthetics among rationalists (and the post by Scott about modern art didn't express strong opinions), so I honestly don't know.

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Can you give an example where your personal sense of aesthetics differes from the aesthetics of rational community?

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Honestly, aesthetics are one of the main reasons I like the rationalist community. There's something incredibly beautiful to me about a genuinely good-faith argument. The sort of argument where the person making it is really trying, as hard as they can, to get at the truth. Not the set of truths that support their position, or the truths that convey the social image they want to associated with, or those that are satisfying emotionally. Not the truth that's good enough for everyday practical purposes- but the real thing, as close as they can get to it.

It's hard to write like that- we're wired to use communication for social competition, and while an ordinary argument can be as simple as repeating a time-tested line, a genuinely good-faith one requires the hard work of honest contemplation. I think that sacrifice is part of what makes it beautiful to me.

It shows up when a writer includes points that weaken their central thesis- not to disprove them, but to show honest uncertainty. It can include points made by people who the writer is opposed to politically or morally- not to emphasize the difference between them and the writer, but because they might be right. It's the sort of argument where the writer will thank you for proving them wrong- not grudgingly, but with sincerity.

It's a generous, idealistic kind of argumentation, and there's a lot of beauty in that. Though I don't think you can ground morality in aesthetics, I do think there's a moral principle that underlies that beauty- and it's one I think our culture is too quick to ignore or dismiss.

I'm not always very good at representing that ideal myself, but at its best, the Rationalist community sometimes does, and that's a lot of why I find it attractive.

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Honestly, the only views on aesthetics I'd say are totally worthless are "They don't mater" because they clearly do, and "Stuff used to be better!" Because it clearly wasn't.

I will say that lots of rationalists I've met haven't really interrogated their sensibilities and influential they are to their judgment; but what are you gonna do. It's even wishy-washyer than rationality, which is already washy as fuck

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You’re probably right. But that’s more of a “crisis of meaning and will of the modern world, last man” issue than “rationalist”. The “aesthetic appreciators” or more accurately those who heavily lean into it on the internet generally the far right people. And they certainly are better at it! Old paintings and classic statues are awesome. And folk and classical are the only two great genres. And yes, that sort of thing has deep and strong connections to what sorts of things one believes and thinks and does.

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I.e. I can’t really say rationalists have worse views on aesthetics than any other group I can think of

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I'm considering getting LASIK in the near future. My myopia is quite mild, to the point that I don't bother wearing glasses at home or in the office, only while driving or while needing to look somewhere far away.

I've read a little too deeply into LASIK horror stories online though, and I'm a little worried that I could turn my "mild-myopia-barely-even-need-glasses" into something much worse.

My questions are thus:

Do the risks of LASIK scale to the severity of the myopia before the operation, or are they essentially flat per-surgery, no matter how intense the surgery is?

Are different clinics riskier than others, or is it usually a flat risk no matter which I go to?

Do you have any advice in evaluating clinics? (individual clinics certainly wouldn't advertise a high complication rate)

Any other advice or stories would be much appreciated too!

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The risks of LASIK are primarily based on the surgeon's competence and the quality of the aftercare. They do not scale significantly with the severity of the vision defects being corrected.

Serious risks come in two major categories. First is blatant error by the surgeon during the procedure, most commonly in the form of applying the wrong amount or pattern of correction to your cornea. This is very rare, as there are several layers of safeguard against this at any competent practice: repeatedly confirming your identity, surgeon cross-checking the planned correction with their assistants immediately before surgery while you're in the room, and I think modern laser equipment suites also includes sensors that sanity check the planned correction pattern.

Second category is flap complications. LASIK involves cutting a flap into the cornea and then using the laser to resurface the layer cornea under the flap, then reseating the flap over it. The purpose of the flap is to improve healing by minimizing damage to the exposed surface of the eye. The big risk, though, is if the flap is disturbed out of position before it heals enough to hold itself firmly in place barring major trauma. It's also possible for an incompetent surgeon to damage the flap during the procedure itself.

By far the best mitigation, apart from selecting an experienced and reputable surgeon, is to follow the aftercare instructions scrupulously. Especially the standard recommendation to sleep as soon as you can for as long as you can immediately following the procedure, or at least to spend most of the remainder of the day of the procedure lying down with your eyes closed (I recommend queuing up some audiobooks or podcasts to listen too): sleep facilitates healing in general, and lying down with your eyes closed maximally protects the flaps during the most vulnerable several hours of the recovery. You should also have a series of aftercare exams to screen for complications for prompt correction or mitigation, and you should have some medications prescribed for the recovery (numbing drops and prophylactic antibiotics).

Risk of flap complications is also mitigated by opting for "bladeless" or "all-laser" LASIK, where the flap is cut by a second laser instead of by a manually-operated microkeratome blade. This is a bit more expensive, but it removes an opportunity for human error, and the laser cut creates a slightly textured surface inside the flap that is thought to help hold the flap in place as it heals.

Another factor is flap orientation. There are two standards for where to put the "hinge" of the flap, with different risks for each. The more common last I checked was "superior" flaps, where the hinge is at the top of the eye. This helps keep the flap in place during early healing, since the action of blinking will push the flap back into place if it's slightly misaligned. The alternative is "nasal" falls, where the hinge is on the sides of the eyes facing the bridge of your nose. This does a worse job of keeping the flap in position, but reduces the much more common minor side effect of dry eyes following the procedure since it severs fewer of the nerves in the cornea.

You can eliminate the risk of flap complications entirely by opting for PRK instead of LASIK. This is an older variant of the procedure where there's no flap and the same laser as LASIK is used to recontuour the outer surface of the cornea instead. Other advantages are that PRK is cheaper (fewer steps to the procedure), doesn't have dry eye as a common complication (since cutting nerves during flap creation is what causes the dry eyes), and more people are good candidates for the procedure (people with very thin corneas can't/shouldn't get LASIK because there isn't enough material to work with for both the flap and the recontuouring). The big downside is a much slower recovery with more risk of infection, since the vision correction surgery is burned into the exposed surface of the eye and because the protective outer layer of the eye (the epithelium) needs to regrow. It usually takes a day or less to heal enough to get good vision after LASIK, but takes 5-7 after PRK. In both cases, your vision keeps improving for weeks or months after the procedure, but you're most of the way there a lot faster after LASIK.

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founding

I just got LASIK earlier this week!

- Everyone I've talked to who had it (n=3) said it's the best thing ever; they're all in my age group (20s) and had it done relatively recently. It's apparently less worthwhile the older you get, as you'll end up with presbyopia later anyways.

- I went with a clinic that a friend recommended (LaserVue in SF). Spent some time looking at Yelp ratings too. The clinic quoted me something like 60% chance of 20/15 vision, 90% 20/20, 98% 20/30. You can shop around too (I didn't bother because as a rule, I hate dealing with the medical industry; but this LASIK clinic provided a very customer-friendly experience)

- My clinic offered a free initial consultation, which is an hour of putting you through various machines and "can you read this line for me" tests; if you go through with it, it's a total of 5 visits to the clinic: Consultation, second check, operation, post-operation check, one week follow up.

- My options were LASIK and SMILE, a newer surgery method with some slight benefits. LASIK was quoted at $6200, SMILE at $7200, but they offered to price-match my friend's LASIK operation at $4770, which is what I went with.

- I was unconcerned about the procedure before signing up, got a little nervous/jittery on the operation day. But the operation itself was ridiculously fast (5 min), almost kind of anticlimactic. I suppose "anticlimactic" is exactly what you want out of surgeries, though.

- I spent the rest of the day after surgery with my eyes closed at home, listening to audiobooks and conversing with friends. The next day my vision was great and I went in to go to work; no pain, but still dryness, which I'm managing with eyedrops.

- My night vision has the "halos" problem, basically seeing all light sources as if they were streetlights in fog. I don't drive anyways and it's supposed to improve with time.

Overall, I'm quite happy I went through with it! More than complication risk, I was more concerned about getting my logistical ducks in a row (finding time to schedule these, not wearing contacts for the requisite months beforehand).

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