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Anyone know whether Ashley Hodgon is connected to the rationalist community?

She's got sensible videos--summary of Turchin's __End Times_: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHoqcGqnAUY...&ab_channel=TheNewEnlightenmentwithAshley

and Hollywood as pyramid scheme--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHoqcGqnAUY...&ab_channel=TheNewEnlightenmentwithAshley , with the implication that the same applies to academia.

She's with the Heterodox Academy.

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Note the Change in location for this week:

ACXLW meetup in University Hills, Irvine sat 8/26/23

https://docs.google.com/document/d/11NXee4-Yafu4nhJ0nkf1C-JbU9RUtARCQ1apawlsVrM/edit?usp=sharing

Hello Folks!

We are excited to announce the 40th Orange County ACX/LW meetup, happening this Saturday and most Saturdays thereafter.

Host: Michael Michalchik

Email: michaelmichalchik@gmail.com (For questions or requests)

Location: Contact me for the exact address.

(949) 375-2045

Date: Saturday, Aug 26, 2023

Time: 2 PM

Conversation Starters :

The Last Psychiatrist: The Most Important Article On Psychiatry You Will Ever Read

https://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2007/07/the_most_important_article_on.html

Narrative Creativity Training: A New Method for Increasing Resilience in Elementary Students - ScienceDirect

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2713374523000201?via%3Dihub

Walk & Talk: We usually have an hour-long walk and talk after the meeting starts. Two mini-malls with hot takeout food are easily accessible nearby. Search for Gelson's or Pavilions in the zip code 92660.

Share a Surprise: Tell the group about something unexpected that changed your perspective on the universe.

Future Direction Ideas: Contribute ideas for the group's future direction, including topics, meeting types, activities, etc.

A summary and questions are forthcoming:

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Ukraine live briefing: Plane believed to be carrying Wagner chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin crashes in Russia, according to Russian state media

I guess nobody fucks with “The Putin” either.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8xTqP58o1iw

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Published by Reuters 30 minutes ago:

====

MOSCOW, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to the family of Yevgeny Prigozhin on Thursday, breaking his silence after the mercenary leader's plane crashed with no survivors two months after he led a mutiny against army chiefs.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters that Washington believed a surface-to-air missile originating from inside Russia likely shot down the plane, though they said the information was preliminary and under review. They spoke on condition of anonymity and offered no evidence.

Russian investigators opened a criminal probe but there has been no official word from Moscow on what may have caused Wednesday evening's crash. Until Putin's comments there had been no official confirmation of Prigozhin's death beyond a statement from the aviation authority saying he was on board....

A Reuters reporter at the crash site on Thursday morning saw men carrying away black body bags on stretchers. Part of the plane's tail and other fragments lay on the ground near a wooded area where forensic investigators had erected a tent.

The Baza news outlet, which has good sources among law enforcement agencies, reported that investigators were focusing on a theory that one or two bombs may have been planted on board.....

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Being on the aircraft passenger list is not the same thing as being on the aircraft.

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I've seen people celebrating his death, which bothers me because there were other people on the plane.

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Yeah, I was really wondering, why on earth did he back down? Did he really think Putin would let him live? In Belarus of all places? He bought himself a lousy extra two months of life--at that point you might as well go down in history as the first man who marched on Moscow after Napoleon.

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I actually think that if Prigozhin had never left Belarus and busied himself with sending up giant flares about his willingness to play ball (such as voluntary dissolution/transfer of the PMC) he might have lived. Uncle Sasha did broker the deal, Belarus is his domain, and Putin wouldn't have humiliated him so overtly.

But late-stage grandeur-deluded Prigozhin was quite incapable of such contrition. Quelle tristesse.

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I don't know... Sergey Skripal was living a quiet life in the UK after an exchange. And yet.

But definitely going back - repeatedly - into the monster's lair was reckless to say the least.

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Why wouldn't Putin have just made an example of Prigozhin straight up instead of doing this?

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It's also possible that Wagner had to be thoroughly declawed first. As well as having both Prigozhin and Utkin together as a convenient target. There's chatter about Wagner fighters being pissed and wowing revenge. We'll see.

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Dying in an ‘accident’ so soon after a big risk that went south says enough I think. It’s like when Tony Soprano tells you the new TV ‘fell off a truck’. People get the message.

Not saying it couldn’t possibly be coincidence but the pebble has been removed from Putin’s shoe one way or the other.

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No matter how Prigozhin dies, everyone's going to assume Putin did it. So it doesn't make much difference how he does it.

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"What's the penalty for compromising and going into exile?"

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Useful hint for going into exile: don't go back to the country you're exiled from

(Ideally try not to hang out in one of their neighbouring client states either)

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founding

Also, if you murder a couple dozen Russian air force officers, maybe don't go flying your private plane through Russian airspace two months later. Karma's a Mach 3 radar-guided bitch.

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As always with that basket case of a failed state, we just don't know what happened. Everyone assumes Putin's revenge, but I would not be surprised if this was a mistake by the air defense. There's been an increasing number of drone attacks in Russia, and mistaking a small private plane for a large drone is not out of the question.

Also remember that Wagner shot down several Russian planes during that one-day rebellion. With apparently 0 consequences for anyone responsible.

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“But let me say this. I am a superstitious man, a ridiculous failing but I must confess it here. And so if some unlucky accident should befall my youngest son, if some police officer should accidentally shoot him, if he should hang himself while in his jail cell, if new witnesses appear to testify to his guilt, my superstition will make me feel that it was the result of the ill will still borne me by some people here. Let me go further. If my son is struck by a bolt of lightning I will blame some of the people here. If his plane show fall into the sea or his ship sink beneath the waves of the ocean, if he should catch a mortal fever, if his automobile should be struck by a train, such is my superstition that I would blame the ill will felt by people here. Gentlemen, that ill will, that bad luck, I could never forgive. But aside from that let me swear by the souls of my grandchildren that I will never break the peace we have made. After all, are we or are we not better men than those pezzonovanti who have killed countless millions of men in our lifetimes?”

--Mario Puzo, The Godfather

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On humanitarian principle, I'd rather he'd been imprisoned, but Prigozhin is not exactly a man to be mourned.

The chances of his being the first private jet (of very many; wealthy Russians zip off to the Gulf States, Turkiye, Cyprus, etc., all the time) to be erroneously shot down by AD are... well, low enough to shake an atheist's faith.

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With you on the first point. I oppose death penalty for many reasons.

On the second… yeah would be quite a coincidence but maybe in 10%-ish category. Given the recent sharp increase in drone attacks, and the direction of the flight, and the fact that it only turned its transponder mid flight, the error hypothesis becomes a bit more plausible. Still low, but not near-0 low.

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Why do Youtube thumbnails of people with their mouths open looking surprised/stupid do better than basically any other thumbnail? Is this an algorithm thing or a human psychology thing?

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The algorithm thing IS a human psychology thing

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I guess the question is whether the algorithm deliberately promotes giant faces with dumb open mouths, or whether it's just common knowledge at this point among creators that this is what gets the most clicks.

(It used to be sexy chicks, but apparently some doofus standing with his mouth open is even more eye-catching than a sexy chick.)

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There are two things guaranteed to get people to stop and watch a TV programme while channel flicking.

Men: something exploding.

Women: someone crying.

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I am assuming it's Youtube capitalizing on human psychology as they are highly incentivized to find whatever keeps people watching. They have research teams trying to figure out what to promote in their algorithm, and I don't doubt they include psychologists.

They also have the benefit of knowing what people clicked on in the past. I'd assume they'd adapt the algorithm to emphasize what was organically clicked on most, so one should reflect the other, even without the explicit inclusion of psych theory.

The default starting algorithm you get when making a fresh youtube account or use it unlogged in seems to start with mouth-open videos by default before adapting to your preferences, so maybe it is the most widely-palatable starting guess? I suppose you're asking more why that is the case than anything. I'd guess it's because some of the largest groups of youtube viewers are children and people looking for completely mindless diversion, both of which shocked people and bright colors seems fitting for.

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I kept procrastinating on putting my book review contest entry somewhere -- it didn't make it, obviously -- but finally I put it somewhere. Ta-da.

https://lettersfromtrekronor.substack.com/p/book-review-the-life-of-johnny-reb

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I guess I can only blame myself for watching stupid sci-fi movies, but sometimes the "facepalms per minute" metric is so high I need to tell someone.

Spoilers for Aeon Flux (2005) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0402022/

Setting: a deadly virus killed 99% of Earth population and made the surviving 1% infertile. The extinction of humanity was only prevented by a scientist creating a fertility cure. Four centuries later, all surviving humans live in one city (which has the monopoly on the cure) surrounded by huge walls, with a totalitarian government. No one is allowed to leave the city, probably not even to look beyond the walls.

It later turns out that the "fertility cure" is actually cloning. As a consequence of surviving the virus, humans lost the ability to reproduce naturally. So when someone dies, the government takes their DNA and creates a clone, which is then secretly implanted to a woman trying to conceive (she thinks they are just giving her some fertility medicine). One clone per one dead human keeps the population and the genetic pool constant. The story happens 400 years after the virus.

As a background, not bad. But if you think for a minute about the logistic necessary to make this work, it just doesn't work. Imagine: 99% of population dead, the infrastructure has probably fallen apart. You need to collect millions of people across the planet into one city (where do you get the fuel?) and start administering the "fertility cure" relatively quickly on a relatively large scale (about thousand a day, but you need to keep the details of the "cure" secret for centuries, so all doctors involved need to be a part of the conspiracy). Also, if no one is allowed to leave the city walls, where the you get the raw materials to build your futuristic technology? Where do you get food?

That said, I can imagine some plausible excuses. The people were probably not collected from the entire planet, only from the nearby areas (which would also explain why so many of them are white). And maybe the collection of raw materials and food is done by special government agents, or robots. So far, still kinda plausible.

The cloned citizens remember fragments of their previous lives in their dreams. (It seems like the authors believe that cloning is just a scientific jargon for reincarnation. That would also explain why they are only making *one* clone for each dead person, instead of trying to expand.) Apparently, during those four centuries, they do not discuss the dreams, so they do not figure this out. Also, when the protagonist meets her opponent for the first time, both of them have a strong "I know this person and I actually love them" feeling, because they were married in a previous life. The guy even remembers her name! And then she remembers that she used to be called like that. Apparently, during four centuries (~seven generations) of everyone living literally in the same city, this has never happened to anyone else. (The math does not work out. Population 5 millions, you had ~5 spouses in previous reincarnations; if you only meet 1000 people during your entire life, that is still 1:1000 chance. For each of those 5 million people.)

Then it turns out that after those four centuries, humans finally *can* reproduce sexually again. The bad guys are trying to keep it secret (and murder the women who conceive naturally), to preserve the system. But at the end of the movie, the good guys win, and decide to destroy the cloning system, so that humans do no longer depend on the city. The important part here is that the "good guys" at this moment include the very dictator of the city, who is in love with the protagonist, and whose position in power is safe again; so they are in absolutely no hurry. (And there is absolutely no need to blow up the system using bombs; they could simply turn off the machines and lock the doors. Especially when the cloning facility is literally flying in the sky, so when you blow it up, it crashes on the city.)

Again, this makes no sense logistically. It is not explained whether suddenly all women got the ability to conceive, or only a small subset of them. If only a small subset, then destroying the cloning system can doom humanity. But if all women became fertile overnight, how could the bad guys keep it under control by murdering the pregnant women? (Practically all sexually active women would be pregnant, because if it a common knowledge that you can only conceive when you get the cure, there is no point using contraception. So the bad guys would have to murder them all.) Why not simply let the people reproduce naturally *and* also clone the ones who die? I mean, the entire idea is that you want the humanity expand beyond the city, and the entire planet is literally empty at the moment, so in short term you don't have to worry about overpopulation. A smart person would instead be cautious about the newly appeared fertility -- what if it disappears just as quickly as it appeared; or what if it turns out that the kids are somehow defective (until now all naturally pregnant women were murdered, so they have no data)?

As a cherry on top, it turns out that the doctor in charge of the cloning facility is actually 400 years old. What? Five minutes before the end of the movie you learn that literal immortality is technically possible... but they only ever used it for one guy (not even the dictator is immortal, he keeps dying and being cloned/reincarnated just like everyone else). The protagonist feels bad about the old doctor, because destroying the cloning facility will kill him; but he says he doesn't mind because he is too tired of living. This doesn't make sense at all. Why would destroying the cloning facility kill him? He is the only person who is *not* being cloned. Or he is living in the facility, so he will die when they blow it up? So, why not let him walk away first, and then blow it up? Or, again, why blow up the facility at all, instead of just turning it off?

I also disliked the casual deathism. "We're meant to die. It's what makes anything about us matter." Only a bad guy would think there might be something bad about death. They have immortality technology -- actually two of them: the literal immortality they only used on one person, and the "cloning" that preserves the memories and personality (and probably could work even better if they stopped being in denial about it) -- and they just throw them away. Yet, for some reason, murdering people is considered bad; even murdering people who were already being cloned/reincarnated for 400 years; but giving them one more reincarnation would also be bad. Also, the protagonist is happy to find out that her previously murdered sister was reincarnated as a baby. But a few minutes later she denies the same opportunity to other murdered women. And it's just a happy accident that the cloning facility doesn't kill anyone when it crashes on the city.

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"If you're wondering how he eats and breathes, and other science facts---just repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax..."

-MST3K

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founding

Also, why is a clone of somebody who was infected by the infertility virus, themselves infertile?

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Why does the city need a wall, or restrictions on leaving? I would think that the city being the only place where people can have babies would keep almost everyone nearby anyway.

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Never mind the shared memories, has the knowledge been lost that children used to look a bit (not very) like one or both their putative parents, and not identical to some random person who died a bit before the child's birth?

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Oh yeah, totally forgot that. Presumably the doctors are choosing parents who look somewhat similar, but still.

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Since it's still Dorothy Parker's birthday somewhere:

"When I was young and bold and strong,

The right was right, the wrong was wrong.

With plume on high and flag unfurled,

I rode away to right the world.

But now I'm old - and good and bad,

Are woven in a crazy plaid.

I sit and say the world is so,

And wise is s/he who lets it go."

― Dorothy Parker

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In Praise of Nihilism

Is anyone really a nihilist? *Can* someone be a nihilist? The term instantly reminds me of five things. The first is that Nietzsche called Schopenhauer a nihilist. The second is that when my mother caught me reading Nietzsche she grew concerned and informed me that Nietzsche was a nihilist. The third time I encountered nihilism was reading Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, but I have been made to understand that the nihilist in Father’s and Son’s is really an anarchist and Turgenev used the term “nihilist” to evade the czar’s censors. The fourth time was The Big Lebowski in the scene where Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays a German nihilist punk who motivates the famous ”...at least they had an ethos...” line from John Goodman’s character, supposedly channeling screenwriter John Milius.

The fifth time -- and I found this time more interesting than the others -- was watching economist Karl Smith on Blogging Heads talk about monetary policy during the Great Recession. Karl was for aggressive expansionary policy. Among other things, he said something to the effect of: “This is what’s great about being a nihilist. You don’t have to worry about future generations. Yeah, everything might collapse at some point, but who cares? You care about your kids and your grandchildren and after that... I don’t care. If we can kick the can down the road three generations we should.”

Other than Karl Smith I’ve never heard anyone in real life claim to be a nihilist. But I think Karl Smith was on to something. We can only see into the future so far. We live in an era in which change happens fast. Is it not reasonable to let tomorrow worry about tomorrow at some point?

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Nihilism is more of a mood than a coherent philosophical position.

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Aug 23, 2023·edited Aug 23, 2023

Interesting aside from the Bible related to Karl Smith and your question:

Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Or put another way, you don't have to be a nihilist to not worry too far into the future.

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C. S. Lewis wrote a bit about what he called "Heroic Nihilism" in his allegory "The Pilgrim's Regress". Note that this was written in 1933. Lewis represented Heroic Nihilism as a huge man named Mr. Savage, who was the leader of an army of dwarves.

"He sat on a high chair at the end of his barn—a very big man, almost a giant. When I say that I don’t mean his height: I had the same feeling about him that I had about the dwarfs. That doubt about the species. He was dressed in skins and had an iron helmet on his head with horns stuck in it.

‘As soon as the dwarfs brought me in, Savage rapped on the table and bellowed out, “Lay the board for us men,” and she set about laying it. He didn’t say anything to me for a long time. He just sat and looked and sang. He had only one song and he was singing it off and on all the time I was there. I remember bits of it.

‘Wind age, wolf age,

Ere the world crumbles:

Shard age, spear age,

Shields are broken. . . .

‘Then there was another bit began;

‘East sits the Old ’Un

In Iron-forest;

Feeds amidst it

Fenris’ children. . . .

I sat down after a bit, for I did not want him to think I was afraid of him. When the food was on the table he asked me to have some, so I had it. He offered me a sweet drink, very strong, in a horn, so I drank it. Then he shouted and drank himself and said that mead in a horn was all he could offer me at present: “But soon,” he said, “I shall drink the blood of men from skulls.” There was a lot of this sort of stuff. We ate roast pork, with our fingers. He kept on singing his song and shouting. It was only after dinner that he began to talk connectedly. I wish I could remember it all.

‘It is hard to understand it without being a biologist. These dwarfs are a different species and an older species than ours. But, then, the specific variation is always liable to reappear in human children. They revert to the dwarf. Consequently, they are multiplying very fast; they are being increased both by ordinary breeding among themselves and also from without by those hardbacks or changelings. He spoke of lots of sub-species besides the Marxomanni—Mussolimini, Swastici, Gangomanni. ... I can’t remember them all. For a long time I couldn’t see where he himself came in.

‘At last he told me. He is breeding and training them for a descent on this country. When I tried to find out why, for a long time he would only stare at me and sing his song. Finally—as near as I could get it—his theory seemed to be that fighting was an end in itself.

‘Mind you, he was not drunk. He said that he could understand old-fashioned people who believed in the Landlord and kept the rules and hoped to go up and live in the Landlord’s castle when they had to leave this country. “They have something to live for,” he said. “And if their belief was true, their behaviour would be perfectly sensible. But as their belief is not true, there remains only one way of life fit for a man.” This other way of life was something he called Heroism, or Master-Morality, or Violence. “All the other people in between,” he said, “are ploughing the sand.” He went on railing at the people in Claptrap for ages, and also at Mr. Sensible. “These are the dregs of man,” he said. “They are always thinking of happiness. They are scraping together and storing up and trying to build. Can they not see that the law of the world is against them?

Where will any of them be a hundred years hence?” I said they might be building for posterity. “And who will posterity build for?” he asked. “Can’t you see that it is all bound to come to nothing in the end? And the end may come to-morrow: and however late it comes, to those who look back all their ‘happiness’ will seem but a moment that has slipped away and left nothing behind. You can’t gather happiness. Do you go to bed with any more in hand on the day you have had a thousand pleasures?” I asked if his “Heroism” left anything behind it either: but he said it did. “The excellent deed,” he said, “is eternal. The hero alone has this privilege, that death for him is not defeat, and the lamenting over him and the memory is part of the good he aimed for; and the moment of battle fears nothing from the future because it has already cast security away.”

...

‘The rot in the world is too deep and the leak in the world is too wide. They may patch and tinker as they please, they will not save it. Better give in. Better cut the wood with the grain. If I am to live in a world of destruction let me be its agent and not its patient.'"

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Can one not be a nihilist, absent religious belief? Earth gets eaten by the sun which then dies and then so does everything, and the way things used to be on planet earth and what humans did to each other will have made no ultimate difference to anything. What else is an atheist meant to think?

And of course it is perfectly possible to think that without also adopting a GK Chesterton caricature belief, that therefore it is OK or praiseworthy to set fire to orphanages. There's an extraordinary novel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_It_Was_Dark which I can't bring myself to read, published 1903, where an inscription is forged to show that Jesus never actually rose from the dead, and everybody thinks they are absolved from any sort of morality. In fact the likes of Plato and Aristotle and Confucius, and various enlightenment philosophers, suggest at least the possibility of a secular set of ethics.

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>a GK Chesterton caricature belief, that therefore it is OK or praiseworthy to set fire to orphanages

How is that a "GK Chesterton caricature"?

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Sorry, my ambiguity. I am saying a belief held by GKC (not by a caricature version of him) consists of a caricature version of nihilism, according to which etc. See the Man Who Was thursday etc.

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Nothing matters in the end, but some things matter quite a bit in the beginning and middle.

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exactly

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Nihilist (official definition) -- a person who believes (or rather, expressed the belief) that life is meaningless, human values don't matter, and knowledge is impossible.

Nihilist (popular usage) -- a person who disagrees with me about importance of something (that I consider important, and the person does not).

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I've always been confused if the most devout hedonism counts as nihilism. If your mentality is "I'll do anything with any consequences if it personally brings me pleasure because nothing matters", are you a nihilist, or does pleasure have too much meaning to you?

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Just as you can derive any proposition from a contradiction, I think you can probably give any value you like to x in "I am going to do x, because nothing matters."

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Is it just me, or do y’all also associate political valences to specific years?

(Eg 2023 feels like a leftier year than usual, whereas 2021 feels like a rightier year.)

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Only with election year, and only via the result of the elections.

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The left became more powerful with the election of Trump

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No, only specific decades.

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You are valid.

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I thought 2023 was *leftier*?

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Every time I'm out in public and see someone folded up over their phone, I wonder if it woulda been smart to be a chiropractor or back pain specialist or something. I'd imagine that widespread extra spinal strain from reading has been with us ever since the printing press or so...but people don't regularly read newspapers or whatever with their torso at a perpendicular angle to the ground. "Isn't that position painful?", I feel like asking, despite knowing that'd be rude.

Sometimes I wonder if it's less that phones are actually engaging in and of themselves, and more that meatspace reality just sucks a lot for most people. If it wasn't a black rectangle, it'd be some other cope...

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The 'smart phone' is the perfect weapon: it obsesses the target so much, he has no clue of the robbery when his wallet is removed; when he blindly walks into the path of a commuter bus while scrolling thumbnails on his Dick Tracy phone, they identify him through his gym membership ID on the clever machine.

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I'm afraid this isn't particularly responsive to the main thrust of your post, but I try to have good posture while using my phone. :-) In particular, I like to push the C1 vertebrae up and back as much as possible, which often takes the rest of my spine with it. Cobra position is also nice, if I'm flopped on the ground.

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I combination of both, I guess. Life of a peasant living 500 years ago also sucked, but he didn't have the phone.

> If it wasn't a black rectangle, it'd be some other cope...

It must be something with certain qualities. Otherwise everyone in countries that suck would be reading books all the time.

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So if someone has immunity to media like phones and TV, by finding them mostly dreadfully boring, do they have a dopamine problem? Would we expect to find noticeably different levels of media consumption among those with, say, ADHD?

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TV is boring, I have no idea how it ever got as popular as it is.

If you find your phone boring, it's because you either have another piece of technology that is more capable but just as accessible, or you haven't spent enough tine exploring the internet. There is something engaging on the internet for everyone, at least for short periods of time. There are plenty of people who can't spend too much time on their phone because it burns them out. I know that because I'm a too-online nerd since the early 2000s, and even I get really burnt out on my phone after a short while. My PC, though...

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Sure, I'm sympathetic to that argument. At the same time, whether or not there's actually a construct called "ADHD", there seems to be enough signal that certain groups of people have reduced dopamine activity in general + share XYZ traits. One of those traits seems to be even greater phone usage than the norm, which is what I was getting at. More broadly, boosting dopamine saving throws among the populace might be a more fruitful avenue than tinkering with the media itself to be "less addictive". Not necessarily in a medicalized way either - I'm sure it's a teachable skill one way or another. (And as an upside, perhaps we'd get fewer alcoholics and such...)

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Suppose I'm a government interested in urban development in a currently somewhat crappy area (but not the absolute ghetto, we need people to feel safe). I acquire a few hundred cheap apartments in the area. Then I announce some kind of fellowship -- free rent for two years (and maybe a modest stipend) for young people who want to work on a startup or art project or other worthwhile project. Ideally I manage to rustle up enough applications to make this fellowship somewhat selective and prestigious.

Lots of creative young people moving into the area makes it cool, and cool businesses spring up to service them. Now lots of other people want to move in too, and pretty soon I've turned a blighted area into a hotbed of economic activity. Ideally, I can now sell off those cheap apartments I bought at a massive profit, offsetting the cost of the entire program.

At least, that's how it could work in theory. Has this kind of thing ever been tried in practice?

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"Suppose I'm a government"

L'etat, c'est toi?

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What you need to do is forget the superficial application of Richard Florida, and re-read Jane Jacobs instead. You have to match the businesses you are subsidizing to the needs and available infrastructure of the local neighborhood. Creative start-ups might work in an area that already has a legacy of attracting the artsy demographic, but otherwise business development has to be carefully customized. You might do better with restaurants, or small grocery stores, or DIY/hardware, or whatever, but it has to grow organically on top of the local economy. And you also impose costs on the locality (like rising rents) so nothing beats an up to date impact assessment.

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It's happened naturally in practice, eg Shoreditch/Hoxton , London, Jordaan Amsterdam.

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Sure, of course. I want to know how to make it happen deliberately.

It's one of those things that really ought to happen. We've got areas needing economic development, and we've got loads of young people complaining that they can't afford to pay rent in the cool areas that they want to live. If you can make an obvious Schelling point and say "Fine, South-East Cleveland is the new hip area, it's a veritable full-time Burning Man with art projects and orgies and decent coffee" then you can solve both problems at once.

(I know nothing about Cleveland, that was a random example)

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If only it were that easy. I think that local economies are complex nonlinear dynamic systems such that small changes can have unpredictably large outcomes. What to invest in will be sensitively dependent on what types of businesses already exist there, customer preferences, and interpersonal connections (two small business owners who know and trust each other can share expertise and resource opportunities, resulting in higher performance for both of them). Complicating all this is the probability that economic systems below a certain size are probably internally unsustainable, especially in "edgy" areas: their development relies in infusions of outside money and expertise. The "Sixty Minute Market" of any street intersections is uniquely different from that of every other. Internet sales add further complications.

I would classify economic development as a "Hard Problem." I don't think there is a standard formulaic solution. I am basing all this on anecdotal experience (I used to work for the City of Detroit, including the economic development folks). So far as I know, no one has done the systematic research.

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I occasionally here individual young people doing something like in Detroit.

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It's worth looking into the Vegas Downtown Project, which was as good an attempt at this as anything I've ever seen, and even did it in what seemed like a favorable location (the one walkable and underdeveloped part of a fast-growing city, not far from California). But somehow it never came together.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/28/us/tony-hsieh-las-vegas.html

https://www.vegaslegalmagazine.com/the-downtown-project-story/

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

State-sponsored gentrification? Yeah, that's gonna fly.

Forgive my cynicism, but a bunch of hipster baristas and singer-songwriters in subsidised housing may work as "promoting and supporting the arts" but they'll never be self-sufficient, and if you want tech entrepreneurs they're going to move to Silicon Valley because they'll never get their Automated Vegetable Peeler And Combination Picture Frame Duster startup off the ground in Nowheresville, PA.

"pretty soon I've turned a blighted area into a hotbed of economic activity"

Governments try this all the time, with varying levels of success. 'Blighted areas' in big(gish) cities will work, because you'll already have a critical mass of organic vegans and the restaurants which cater to them living there. Small rust-belt town? Not so much.

EDIT: This is called "urban renewal" and how it's done is also as important as where and for whom. The council in our local big city has been doing this, and the changes are - if you will pardon my vehemence - fucking awful. They've fucked up the streets and traffic flow, the 'public art' they've put up is godawful trash that looks cheap and nasty, and replacing tarmacdam roads with 'walkable' cobbles is a dreadful idea if you want pedestrianisation. They haven't a clue about aesthetics or maintaining the built heritage, they're plainly operating off wishful thinking of "if we just do some cosmetic alterations, out of thin air cool businesses will appear" and I'm here to say no, that's not going to happen.

"Repaving and Resurfacing

The repaving and resurfacing of the street surfaces as well as the provision of new street lighting, street furniture and in some cases, public art pieces. Changes to traffic layout in the city centre, including the provision of measures to improve pedestrian, cycle and public transport access and to minimise unnecessary 'through' traffic The full nature and extent of these works is set out in the attached proposals and the description below."

Sounds lovely, doesn't it? In practice, they've fucked up the remaining cityscape and don't even get me started on the traffic layout.

EDIT EDIT: They tried this in Dublin with Temple Bar which was going to be a home-grown version of the Latin Quarter in Paris 🙄 Again, in practice, it devolved into a bunch of tourist-trap bars and cheap stag nights for UK visitors.

The worst of it was in the 90s/early 00s and it has been somewhat improved since, but the notion of "artsy trendy cool creative area that will attract cool creative people, the cool businesses to service them, and engine of economic activity" idea never panned out like that. I think the impression most native Dubliners have of the area is "overpriced, touristy" but I could be wrong.

"In 1991, the government set up a not-for-profit company called Temple Bar Properties, managed by Laura Magahy, to oversee the regeneration of the area as Dublin's cultural quarter.

In 1999, stag parties and hen nights were supposedly banned (or discouraged) from Temple Bar, mainly due to drunken, loutish behaviour, although this seems to have lapsed. However, noise and anti-social behaviour remain a problem at night."

Here's one of the culture vulture types rah-rahing it in 2011 but it's still mainly economically active by dependence on tourism, not on "hotbed of economic activity due to cool businesses following cool creatives":

https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/temple-bar-as-place-and-concept-is-real-success-story-1.603499

"It is fair to say that many things never happened according to the original plans. However, we should acclaim the many great things in the area today that were never imagined in those plans.

Our company and its predecessor led development here until 2001 through innovative urban renewal, local governance, building design, and arts and cultural development and presentation.

Bringing culture closer to people in Temple Bar has been our focus since 2006. Managing a property portfolio allows us operational independence to organise and support hundreds of events and provide about €1.7 million in subsidises annually to cultural organisations. The exchequer receives €450,000 of our €2 million turnover.

The most recent economic impact assessment, an Amárach Consulting report in 2009, said Temple Bar generates over €680 million annually. If Temple Bar was listed in this year's Irish Times Top 1,000 Companies List, this figure would rank us 68th. Dairygold, for example, was 66th.

The area is an established, significant residential community of more than 2,500 people. It is also a high-profile tourism destination attracting about 3.5 million visits a year."

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We want the startups for the economic development, but we want the singer-songwriters to make the place cool. What we desperately need is hot chicks, but we can't just go round paying hot chicks to live there... can we?

Temple Bar is the only part of Dublin that I remember, I had no idea it was ever supposed to be anything other than a strip of seedy pubs.

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It was meant to be the Cultural Quarter, what nobody contemplated was that maybe the culture of Dublin *was* seedy pubs 😀

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>, and if you want tech entrepreneurs they're going to move to Silicon Valley because they'll never get their Automated Vegetable Peeler And Combination Picture Frame Duster startup off the ground in Nowheresville, PA.

Silicon Roundabout kind of worked liked tat.

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Not because they're black. Because they're poor.

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Race predicts neighborhood quality more than economic measures.

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How do you ensure people are actually working on those things, as opposed to people who just want free rent for two years?

I don't think cool businesses automatically spring up here. You've selected for people without money, they can't sustain the cool businesses.

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Why are you a government and not just an individual/corporation looking to make a profit?

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Yeah I thought of that version of the plan too. The government version might be more realistic because they don't _need_ to make a profit off the apartments, that's just a bonus.

But the private version would probably be a lot better at making decisions about whom to admit, they can afford to be rational rather than appeasing various groups. What you'd really want is some kind of private organisation with a track record of picking winners -- Ycombinator city maybe?

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Blockbusting seems to have been successful in the US, so I guess there's kinda precedent, though usually it's easier to destroy value than to create it. I'd think that attracting the right employer to the neighbourhood would be a lot more efficient than attracting the right individual tenants, though – obviously a residential building next to a Google office or whatever is going to skyrocket in value.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

The idea of selling off the cheap apartments at a profit once the area has been regenerated may or may not work; if the creatives are still struggling along on arts bursaries and foundation grants, they may not be able to pay the high prices to purchase their apartment.

And if the apartments are cheap, people who can pay for them may not find them good enough quality. Your best bet is probably to sell them all on as a property portfolio to a development company which will charge higher rents (and may or may not drive out the impoverished creatives to be replaced with the tech bros who work elsewhere and can afford the higher prices). The vegan restaurants and seventy small coffee houses will probably keep going, though; even office drones instead of conceptual musician performance artists need their caffeine fix and ethically sourced lunches.

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"1: ACX Grantees Will Jarvis and Lars Doucet (the Georgism guy!) report "tremendous progress" on their company ValueBase, which helps governments implement Georgist land value taxes. They describe partnerships with a major US city and a foreign country (they're not ready to say which ones just yet) and an upcoming research paper. They got their pre-seed funding from Sam Altman, but are now raising a seed round to scale up operations (looking for seven-figure amounts). Please email will@valuebase.co if you're interested."

This is horrifying. LVT is demonic. Forces people out of their homes that they've fully paid for, for the sake of muh efficiency.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

The main problem is that people are not able to distinguish between economics from 150 years ago vs. now. This policy USED to be progressive, now it is pure stupidity.

150 years ago in America, there was not the huge concentrations of wealth that we see today. And most of the vast wealth being made was made from land speculation. So the classic route to vast riches was: buy up a bunch of cheap farm land, and then lobby the government to build a rail road near by, then make vast amounts of money. American was developing SO fast that billions and billions of dollars were made in this capacity: just owning the right land at the right time, which tends to benefit people with connections, power, and insider information. Basically: there was a financial private externality to America developing that was reflected in the price of land-- this was going into the hands of a few rich people-- George wanted to make this externality public.

These days however, wealth is made in a drastically different way. Land speculation is not at all what it was back then. These days, speculation is much more discrete (like buying up defense stocks right before a war). A modern "Georgeism" equivalent would be only letting companies keep the "value" they create-- taxing away all circumstantial/speculative profits. But, of course this is way too complicated to actually work (companies would just move spread sheets around until they don't have to pay anything anymore).

Thus LVT in no means serves its original purpose, rather Wendigo is right, these taxes serve to benefit wealthy people and those who want to develop communities. Here are some effects of a modern LVT.

1) People who are rich and have good tax lawyers would record every tree they plant, renovation they make, and mowing of the lawn. Like always, the people with good tax lawyers, would pay nothing. While, average people, like always when the tax code gets more confusing, would lose a ton of money.

2) Gentrifying neighborhoods would gentrify faster, and large companies would get massive tax breaks.

A LVT upon the SALE of a house would make more sense: that way people who just want to live in a neighborhood would be exempt, while speculators would get hit hard. But, that will not happen, because the whole reason why "modern Georgeism" is popular is to convince middle class people to sell their homes to rich people, who will develop them, mess around with the tax returns, and make tons of money.

Henry George was a progressive, and would NEVER support this.

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"1) People who are rich and have good tax lawyers would record every tree they plant, renovation they make, and mowing of the lawn. Like always, the people with good tax lawyers, would pay nothing. While, average people, like always when the tax code gets more confusing, would lose a ton of money."

You seem to misunderstand what a LVT is. The whole point is that unlike standard property tax only the unimproved land is taxed. So a parcel will be taxed the same no matter what is built atop it.

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> You seem to misunderstand what a LVT is. The whole point is that unlike standard property tax only the unimproved land is taxed. So a parcel will be taxed the same no matter what is built atop it.

I think a lot of the confusion is due to the motte-and-bailey that goes on around LVTs.

Motte: let's replace existing property taxes with an LVT

Bailey: let's replace _all_ existing taxes with an LVT. In fact, let's raise even more money using an LVT! Let's set the LVT so high that the value of property goes to zero!

LVT advocates seem to slip between these two positions with disturbing ease, so you never know what you're dealing with.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Yeah, I see why that comment would have been confusing.

But what I meant was this: as I am sure you know, currently, property taxes are determined by appraisals, which mostly go off of what similar houses have sold for. With LVT, determining what cost increase is due to land appreciation and what is due to improvements is really hard, and even less based in "facts" and comparisons than the current mechanisms. In the current tax system, people "encourage" appraisals to artificially undervalue the house price. And in a LVT system (as taxes get more complicated) there would be all kinds of other loop holes that open up: is your land value inflating? Or is that tree you planted just a great improvement to the property? Or maybe your land value is less than anticipated because it has some kind of defect (like marsh-land)? As I understand it, since LVT taxes the value of the LAND (not the structures on it), these would all be fair game for tax deductions.

Basically: the more complicated the tax code, the more the wealthy benefit. The is is pretty well documented... and LVT is pretty complex. https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/economy-budget/343645-the-more-complex-the-tax-code-the-more-the-rich-benefit/

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You *will* live in the multi-storey blocks of pods while we slap up smoke-belching factories on all the formerly residential land, because that was the vision of the past!

Of course, now the economy is working on different models than smoke-belching factories producing physical goods, so, uh, we're taking the formerly residential land to put up starchitect vanity buildings for extremely rich megacorporations that may remain mostly empty, but still: think of the density! think of the value released instead of you having your own house and garden!

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"we're taking the formerly residential land to put up starchitect vanity buildings for extremely rich megacorporations that may remain mostly empty"

An extremely rich megacorporation that bought up land and didn't sell or rent it to anyone would eventually run out of money.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Which is why there's a lot of "formerly owned by..." vanity buildings that were/are intended to be investment vehicles (or maybe money laundering for wealthy foreign nationals who need to get their fortunes out of their home country and the grasp of their governments):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gherkin

"The Gherkin, formally 30 St Mary Axe and previously known as the Swiss Re Building, is a commercial skyscraper in London's primary financial district, the City of London.

In September 2006, the building was put up for sale with a price tag of £600 million. ...On 21 February 2007, IVG Immobilien AG and UK investment firm Evans Randall completed their joint purchase of the building for £630 million, making it Britain's most expensive office building. ...The new owners are seeking compensation from four of their former managers on the deal, in which about £620 million was paid for a building with a build cost of about £200 million, giving the previous owners a clear £300 million profit.

Deloitte announced in April 2014 that the building was again being put up for sale, with an expected price of £550 million. The current owners could not afford to make loan repayments, citing differences in the value of the multi-currency loan and the British pound, high interest rates and general financing structure. In November 2014, the Gherkin was purchased for £700 million by the Safra Group, controlled by the Brazilian billionaire Joseph Safra."

He seemed to be considering selling it on again in 2017, but he did manage to boost the rent received:

https://www.egi.co.uk/news/safra-considers-1bn-gherkin-sale/

"Since Safra bought the building, the building’s rental performance has increased. At the time of purchase, some tenants were paying as little as £40 per sq ft. New leases are now being signed at more than £90 per sq ft. Tenants in the multi-let building include pension fund Standard Life and law firm Kirkland & Ellis."

But there was no sale and his family inherited it as part of the portfolio after he died in 2020. And immediately got into a row over the will which seems to be still going:

https://www.familywealthreport.com/article.php?id=196949

As for starchitect vanity project:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mandrake/8598889/Architect-behind-the-Gherkin-says-he-has-finished-designing-strangely-shaped-edifices.html

"An associate of Lord Foster of Thames Bank for nearly 30 years, Mr Shuttleworth declares that the days of designing buildings with "crazy shapes, silly profiles, and double curves" are over.

He says he regrets his design of 30 St Mary Axe, the 40-floor City office block known as "the Gherkin", which won the Stirling Prize in 2004.

"I was in there the other day," he said. "I was looking at the glass all the way around thinking, 'Why on earth did we do that?' Now, we would do things differently. Even if it was still a funny shape, it probably wouldn't have glass all the way around and, as it went further up the building, the facade would be more solid."

The Birmingham-born Mr Shuttleworth, who is known as "Ken the Pen" because of his draftsmanship, attributes the fad for unconventional shapes to the self-obsession of his colleagues. "I think a lot of architects are really egotistical, almost like artists who see themselves as a one-man show," he said."

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I can't tell what the problem is here. Would it be better if soulless bureaucrats got a veto over architectural designs?

As to London, its main problem is that it has been prevented from expanding by a "green belt."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_belt#/media/File:The_Metropolitan_Green_Belt_among_the_green_belts_of_England.svg

In Paris, a capital city of a similarly-sized country that was not prevented from expanding, housing is much cheaper.

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No, London's problem is too many people. We don't need to keep cramming more and more people into megacities, we need to send them out to develop smaller cities instead.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Hmmm... it is almost like people in cities like having some green area around them, not just blocks and blocks of concrete. Like perhaps there are certain functions of land beyond just maximal profit. Perhaps green space around a city and local agriculture have positive externalities for everyone. Sometimes bureaucrats are needed-- not everything can be solved by large sweeping generalized legislation.

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People who live in cities who live having some green area around them can always move out of said cities.

What are the "positive externalities" of "local agriculture?" Sounds like mindless sentimentalism.

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What would you think about applying LVT only to commercial and industrial zones?

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There shouldn't be commercial and industrial zones.

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I agree. But where the zones already exist, this might be a politically convenient solution.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

You'd have been happy so, Hank, about forty years ago living in my town where the leather factory was located besides terraced houses and the water in the harbour regularly turned blue as they flushed their waste water out 😁

So what if there were funny smells and odd-coloured water, at least there was no separated commecial from residential zone! Just like God and Henry George intended!

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There are a lot of problems with Houston, but approximately none of them are due to its lack of zoning.

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What changed and why?

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First, the local council finally listened to the complaints and stopped them dumping untreated chemical waste into the harbour.

Second, the company eventually went bust and the premises were left derelict until bought, demolished, and turned into blocks of flats during the late 90s.

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Sounds like the problem was their getting away with dumping the untreated chemical waste into the harbour, not a lack of zoning.

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This would provide a perverse political incentive to prevent these areas from being converted to residential.

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The problem is not residential in industrial, it is industrial in residential.

Zoning is public health imperative. Some times it is badly done, but you can not just get rid of all legislation and expect every thing to be fine.

Example of what happens in poorer communities when authorities dont bother to zone at all: https://www.manufacturingdive.com/news/graphic-packaging-lawsuit-michigan-kalamazooo-odors/652871/#:~:text=A%20federal%20lawsuit%20filed%20last,neighboring%20municipal%20wastewater%20treatment%20plant.

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Still bad. Efficiency is not God and stability and ownership have value in themselves.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

If it got vacant derelict buildings either demolished or replaced for use, and/or prevented landbank hoarding, I'd be for it.

But given the way the world works, it will be Granny Smith being forced out of her family home because she's not using the land to the utmost theoretical value that she could do if she instead built a factory turning out Model Ts, while Vulture Fund Inc. can pay accountants, lawyers, and consultants megabucks to find loopholes and ways round the laws in order to demonstrate why it shouldn't be forced to make use of the empty three acre plot in the prime rental district that it's waiting to sell for the maximum price.

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How is that different from property tax, which also makes you lose your home if you can't pay it?

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 23, 2023

The main issue with LVT is that it has a lot of consequences, and the initial reasoning for implementing it (to stop land speculators and get people to actually develop the land) is really not as large of an issue now days as it was 150 years ago. Our land is pretty well developed, and most improvements to efficiency are not through developing land these days anyways (so this wont really help boost the US economy as intended).

Taxes are a 0-sum game-- towns need to make back their budget, so if the apartment complex beside you pays less, you pay more. Towns are not allowed to fund functions with income tax (and this is not changing any time soon), so the de facto effects are 1) a significantly more regressive tax system. 2) more loop holes, due to more complicated tax laws. 3) uprooting of communities and faster gentrification (leading to a more aggressive boom and bust cycle in cities). 4) Issues with green space and public health (esp. if this is taken to the extreme and replaces all zoning policy and regulation, like many proponents advocate).

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Wait, how is a land-value tax more regressive than a property tax? I would think that the land-value take should be more *progressive* because the three residents of a triplex *together* pay as much tax as the person in the single-family mansion next door, while under a property tax, they *each* pay (nearly) as much tax as the person in the single-family mansion next door.

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Aug 23, 2023·edited Aug 23, 2023

Well property taxes are not perfect, but if you own a more expensive house, generally make more money, and then you pay more in taxes. This system kind of messes that up. So someone owning a high rise of luxury apartments would pay way less with LVT. Someone living in the "slums" in a 4-story apartment would pay more. Similarly, in most big cities large complexes are owned by large companies and rented out-- so the renters will not really get the tax deduction. . Although I do think that this would change depending on the area and city that this was set up in (this would be interesting to look at). I was thinking a "big city" environment, where newer and larger generally mean luxury and there are more renters than owners.

Edit: And one more thing-- most of the "single family homes" are present due to zoning restrictions... not financial incentives. Developers are trying to get their hands on them all the time. The lands value is pretty directly tied to the zoning restrictions. I am actually not sure how LVT-proponents plan to handle this, but I would think that might have a massive effect too.

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If a high-rise pays less property tax per unit than the 4-story apartment, that incentivizes tearing down the 4-story and building a high-rise in its place, thus increasing the housing supply and lowering rents.

Also, this is assuming the high-rise and the 4-story are paying equal LVT, but that's only true if the land they're built on is equally valuable. But land in the slums is not very valuable (kind of by definition), which means they'll pay a lower LVT.

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Your property taxes don't go up when a developer builds apartments down the street. It basically voids the whole concept of land ownership and makes it so you only get to have a piece of land for yourself if you are using it the most "efficient" way possible. Efficiency is properly an instrumental value, not an intrinsic one. When taken to this extreme it destroys much that is right and good in life for the sake of number go up on chart.

Let's also be real here: the *explicit* goal of an LVT us to force people out of single family homes. As someone who *likes* SFHs and thinks this weird new density cult is bad, of course I oppose such a thing. Lots of YIMBYs like to insist that *of course* they don't want to force anyone out of their SFHs and they just want people to be able to do what they want with their property and have the right to build things other than SFHs if they want. Then they turn around and advocate for LVTs, which make it so you *can't* do what you want with your property, if what you want is a single family home.

But to be clear, I also think property taxes are bad! Just much less so.

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>Your property taxes don't go up when a developer builds apartments down the street.

Sure they do if that causes the land value in the area to increase. (Perhaps things work differently outside the USA. Oh, and obviously they do in California.)

The explicit goal of an LVT is to force landowners to do something with valuable, unused land. Shit or get off the pot.

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Should we also do that with human bodies?

Hey retired guy, our algorithm has assessed that you have a body that could be being used to do $100K per year of work at least. We're just going to tax you for the work you could be doing instead of the work you are, okay?

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We all pay a tax for having a body, it's called "food, clothing, and shelter." It's a pretty solid incentive to find ways to make it productive. (And to save enough money to continue paying for it when it's no longer capable.)

Land, on the other hand, collects money without doing anything productive, simply because more people need it as the population grows.

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If said retired guy is occupying the corner office at a busy business, yes.

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What if he's not, but he's still composed of atoms which could be used to do something more efficient?

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

The explicit goal of a high LVT is forcing single family homeowners to sell, in order for a developer to repurpose their lot for its highest-and-best usage- denser housing. Whenever you hear Georgists say that an LVT would enable 'more efficient' land usage, that efficiency comes from the essentially forced sale. It's a central feature and not a bug. Property taxes are not meant to be punitively high and force homeowners out of their homes- a high LVT is.

When you spell this out to Georgists, they usually hem and haw and say that the LVT will be phased in over a very long period of time. Or that it won't be an 80-100% LVT, so no one will be forced to sell. Which is certainly fine- but then you lose the supposed efficiency gains. The efficiency is from the forced sale!

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Most single-family homes aren't in areas where the land value tax would pressure people out. Only the old single-family homes that are full of charismatic rich people are.

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Property tax is also demonic. Inheritance tax, same thing: it mostly strikes regular people who might have had a hope of inheriting a chip of land or a home, but can't afford to keep it due to the greed of res publica.

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Is there any tax that isn't "demonic" in this sense?

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Sales tax. Import taxes. Window taxes that can be easily circumvented by bricking up your windows, wait, no, that gives you rickets which are probably an element of those dark satanic mills we keep hearing about.

No, but jokes aside any moderate tax on consumption of elective goods is pretty defensible. The instincts of the state incline by its nature toward vampirically extractive legal plunder, of course, and one always has to remain vigilant against it.

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In the US there is no inheritance tax (paid by the person who inherits something). There is an estate tax (paid out of the value of the estate). It doesn't apply to the spouse of the deceased, nor to the first ~$13M of an individual's estate or the first ~$26M of a married couple's estate (thresholds which are indexed for inflation). Starting above one of those thresholds, the marginal estate tax rate begins at 18% rising to a max rate of 40%.

A "chip of land" or a middle-class home is therefore not going to be subject to any estate tax at all. A family farm won't trigger any estate tax unless it is at least 1,000 acres or so and won't trigger a meaningful estate tax bill unless it is two or three times that size. Etc.

Sizeable family-owned private businesses can trigger significant estate taxes if the principal owner isn't leaving it to a spouse _and_ s/he dies unexpectedly (meaning hadn't yet begun transferring equity in the business to children while still living).

All of the above is why only about 2 out of every 1,000 estates in the US incur any estate taxes. Or put the other way, 99.8 percent of estates pay no estate tax.

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Yes, and...? Does not (currently) existing in the US automatically make a tax not-evil? Georgist land tax is presently also entirely hypothetical.

Let me, belatedly, restate the position for maximum clarity: IF any form of broad-based inheritance tax is imposed, on the populace OF ANY NATION, in any part of the world, THEN such a tax is the work of Satan, who is the devil.

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I strongly agree. A 100% LVT is forcing people out of their single family homes *by design*- that's where the efficiency gains come from! It's a classic product of extremely online thinking- reasonably clever in the abstract and completely detached from reality at the same time.

On the flip side, I wouldn't worry in the slightest that strong LVTs are going to be implemented anywhere- forcing *all of the people who vote* out of their homes with ruinously high taxes is literally the least politically realistic idea I've ever heard. The evening news every night would be "Meet Mr. and Mrs. Jones, forced to sell their homes to EvilDeveloperCorp due to crushing new taxes. Economists call it efficient- we call it a crime." It might actually be good for the US, to bring the left and the right together to oppose it

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The efficiency gains of a LVT come from reducing taxes in other areas.

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Which would never, ever happen in reality, for obvious reasons.

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Regardless, the effect is to force people out of SFHs they own and into apartments, which is *specifically* why YIMBYs like it so much.

So much for "property rights", if what you want to do with your property is live in a SFH.

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You only have an increase in taxes if your land-to-property ratio is higher than that of people around you. If your land-to-property ratio is lower than the people around you (say, you live in an apartment or condo) then your taxes go down. People in SFHs in far-out suburbia would not be hit by this, because their land-to-property ratio is basically the same as all their neighbors.

It's only the minority of SFH-owners in high-demand neighborhoods that would see a tax increase that forces them out.

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>which is *specifically* why YIMBYs like it so much.

Nah. YIMBYs like it so much because YIMBYs tend to be smart people and smart people are better at spotting illogical arguments, particularly when they don't have a lot of "tribal" valence. Such smart people are also likely to see the advantages of a LVT, which does not create the disincentive to work or invest the way income and corporate taxes do.

As for converting SFHs into apartments, the main problem is that it's illegal to do so, not that people who live in SFHs refuse. Living in a SFH will always (in the near-term) be possible because single family houses are the most economically efficient use of land in an area where land prices are low, which will always exist.(they're called rural areas)

Basically, what the NIMBYs want is not low density. They want to live in a low-density bubble right next to a large, high-density urban area they can benefit from but also prevent from expanding. Of course, many of them, when a developer offers 200K above what they paid for the house, will eagerly take it and leave, thus NIMBYs must coordinate using the law to make sure nobody "defects."

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Thank you. It's not that LVTs have no bad effects, but that they seem to be the least bad form of tax. (That and "sin taxes" like a carbon tax.)

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Yeah, whenever I stumble upon one of these ludicrous terminally-efficiency-brained proposals, even when it has some serious corporate/thinktank/governmental backing (whether it be this, banning cash, the thing I just stumbled on where a bunch of big cities are signed on to an initiative among whose goals is to get car ownership, meat consumption, and dairy consumption to zero by 2040; or whatever else), after I rage at it for awhile, the one thing that gives me comfort is that these are the sort of things where if they seriously try to do it, the wrath of God they unleash will (hopefully) quickly teach them a lesson.

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Georgism is not a bad idea, but it is stuck in the past: the days of "this empty lot could be a meat-packing plant giving employment and growing the economy instead of lying waste!"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism#/media/File:Everybody_works_but_the_vacant_lot_(cropped).jpg

Nowadays we don't build meat-packing plants in the middle of cities, and if the anti-factory farming lot have their way, we won't be building meat-packing plants at all. Profiteering has even been defended on here before, see the discussions about the man dying of thirst in the desert being sold water if he gives over everything he possesses, on the grounds that "you can charge as much as the market will bear and that's how capitalism works and that's your right".

Georgism is making a moral appeal (you should not take advantage of others) that unfortunately won't win against "I have no obligation not to extort the thirsty man" and will end up hurting the people it's supposed to help.

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There are still plenty of empty lots in the middle of cities which could be developed in some form or fashion -- maybe just to put a single family home on it -- but corporations, often overseas ones, are sitting on the land with no plans to sell for several decades. It does seem to me that those vacant lots are undertaxed.

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I feel like this is a US-specific problem somehow. I look at US cities and I see giant single-level parking lots in downtown on blocks that must be worth tens of millions... with not even an attempt to turn it into a multi-level parking lot. I don't really see that in other (large, non-poor) cities around the world.

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I think there's more bureaucracy and politics involved slowing done development than lack of financial incentives. I've seen notices for hearings going back 10 years on closed store for redeveloping it into apartments.

A San Francisco supervisor actually thought it was acceptable for a public bathroom to take 3 years and 1.7 million dollars to build.

httphttps://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/oct/24/san-francisco-1-million-public-toilets://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/oct/24/san-francisco-1-million-public-toilet

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That is probably true in some places, but my experience is in the sunbelt where there isn't much bureaucracy. See my response to Alexander Turok below.

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If LVT could force something to be done about those, I think people would have no objections, but precisely because it's deep-pocketed corporations sitting on the land, they are the ones who can afford to tie things up in legal battles for years.

Or come along and tell existing tenants "you have to leave, we're knocking this building and replacing it with an office block, not our fault - the LVT is forcing us to maximise productive use" when that's only an excuse for "we can't squeeze more money out of you in rent so we'd rather sell this for $$$$$".

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Are you sure the issue is that the corporations don't want to develop, vs that they are prevented by law from doing so?

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I can confirm two of the following happen regularly:

-Property is seized from an owner who has abandoned it. The municipality then refuses to sell it because they cannot find a buyer with a sufficiently adequate plan to develop it to the municipality's liking.

-Property is sold for well below market value to a developer who does promise an amazing plan to benefit the community. Said plan does not materialize, and after a few years, the developer sells of the property at a massive profit, giving the municipality that previously owned it a kickback, er, breach of contract penalty.

Sometimes there will be a celebratory news article about how some homeless people burned down decades-vacant blighted building owned by the city which enables them to develop it from scratch now. There was an abandoned prison on top of a small mountain that was sold for $250k. The buyer had to be approved by the council of course, they wouldn't let me buy it and just move in, no matter how much I'd enjoy owning a fortified mountain top compound with its own generators, industrial laundry and kitchen, indoor shooting range, security system and hundreds of bedrooms with ensuite half baths.

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Yes, I've investigated a few properties myself. My experience is in sunbelt cities where zoning isn't a big issue. The real estate value has increased rapidly for decades so the investment strategy is simply to buy and hold. My anecdotal experience has been it's mostly Indian companies who own such land. They won't sell at anything close to the market price.

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I don't think such an initiative will work out the way the proposers think it will; see New York City declaring itself a sancturary city, which was fine as long as all the people crossing borders were landing in Texas. When they landed in NYC, suddenly it's a crisis and they're all being herded into camps:

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/18/nyregion/migrant-tents-randalls-island.html

As a conservative, am I laughing at the left-wing virtue signalling blowing up in their faces? Yes, I am. It's very hard luck on the migrants, but NYC was donning the halo of "we're not like those nasty Republican bigots and racists in the south who refuse the needy and desperate", so now they can handle the needy and desperate themselves and show us all the right way to do it.

Which apparently is "imitate the Australian detention island idea in minature" rather than making room for yet more contributions to the vibrant culture of the city of immigrants.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

I’ve been visiting the Bay Area recently and felt quite puzzled by what I felt was a change in what I’m tempted to call the “tipping culture”. I thought that tips were meant to incentivize the waiters (who weren’t otherwise paid much) to do good work, and that tips were typically in the 10-15 percent range.

But I don’t understand how all this applies to the general custom of requiring tips any time when food is involved, including sometimes

1) before any service is made [which reverses the incentive]

2) when there’s little or no service [for instance, when everything the waiter does is literally bring food – not take the order, not bring the check, and the customers are expected to lay the table themselves]

The acceptable percentage for a tip has also seemingly skyrocketed: “suggested” tips are in the 18-22 percent range.

The above is all the more baffling to me since California has a fairly high minimum wage (in nominal terms – perhaps not so much when compared to Bay Area prices).

I have a lot of questions about this, but the main ones are:

How typical is this experience? How do Californians view (or react to) this? Am I misremembering how it used to be?

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founding

Californian here. COVID changed the tipping game quite a bit, and it hasn't entirely reverted to pre-COVID norms. Back when every face-to-face contact was a potential deadly risk, yeah, the guy behind the counter handing you your McBurger felt he could ask you for a tip and you'd maybe give him one just for showing up at all. And once you know you can get away with that, why not keep trying and see if it keeps working?

I'm very slightly annoyed by tip-at-the-register requests, and just politely ignore or decline them. Nobody has ever given me any grief about this, nor have I heard stories of such from others.

Tipping is only socially obligatory, in the food-service context, if the server takes your order at the table or bar and later delivers your food/drink to same. Anything in the 15-20% range is normal and acceptable. Again, COVID pushed that up to 25-30% in some places, and not everybody has come back down, but you don't have to follow their lead. Anything significantly less than 15% can in principle be used to signal discontent with bad service, but really will just be interpreted as your being a cheapskate. Not tipping at all, definitely marks you as a cheapskate.

And it's a nasty thing to do to someone, because as others have noted, food service workers in roles where tipping is the norm are exempt from minimum wage and the tips probably make up most of their income. If everybody adheres to the social contract, the servers generally take home well over minimum wage, and more than any salary they are likely to negotiate absent tipping, and they give good service and everybody wins. Don't be the jerk who breaks the social contract.

There are other personal-service jobs where tipping is also the norm, e.g. taxi drivers, barbers & hair stylists, etc; the same 15-20% applies. Food delivery also calls for tipping the delivery person, maybe a bit less and e.g. rounding the price up to the nearest ten dollars usually works. If you stay at a hotel, leave 1-5 dollars per night stayed on the table or whatever when you leave. Hotel bellhops who carry your luggage, parking valets, etc, should probably get a couple bucks each as well.

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Tipped wage is not a thing in California. In most states with tipped minimum wage the tip is credited towards wages and total pay per hour cannot be less than minimum wage.

It's usually tipped employees who push back hardest on attempts to remove the tipped minimum wage: https://www.wmtw.com/article/portland-restaurant-workers-push-back-on-proposed-minimum-wage-hike/40859411

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Over the last 20ish years in a non-Californian American West Coast city, I've seen the "standard" tip go from 15% to 18% to 20% to sometimes 22% or 25%. Part I blame on the apps, especially the spread to non-service areas. And part I blame on inflation, as it allows restaurants to keep prices lower while still charging more.

Also, what everyone else said about certain very specific classes of job being able to legally pay less than the minimum wage.

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Bartender for a decade plus here.

Tips originated as a reward/incentive for good service (I wrote that with confidence but haven’t actually looked it up), but in the US they have long served as a way to force labor costs onto the customers. I thought everybody knew this, but the vast majority of tip-based folks make far less than minimum wage. $2.13 an hour where im from. This may vary by state, and there are definitely jobs that pay a living wage and tips are a plus, but that is definitely not the norm.

Point being, I’ve bartended in three states, and basically everyone knew that 20% was the standard expectation for normal service. Tipping less than that is harmful to your server or bartender - they spent time serving you that could have been spent serving someone else who would tip normally. Moreover, a lot of places have barbacks or other assistants that are given a cut of the server/bartenders tips at the end of the night. Meaning, if you stiff them or tip for shit, they will lose money after serving you.

So, 10-15 percent is not the norm in most of the east coast, and it is definitely not a reward for a job well done. It is the expectation, and essentially everyone I’ve ever met (from the US) understands this.

As for why the number of places asking for tips (and the amounts) have increased, I agree with the other people here that it is most likely the prevalence of tablets/apps for payment. All of them have an option to set up tipping - even if you are a gas station or some other non-service location, why would you turn down free money? Set it up, give customers the prompts, and some percentage of people will give you money. Some is more than none.

Interestingly, I live in Mexico now, and most places I’ve seen require you to tell the server what tip you want to give them, which they then enter into the credit card machine. I think this is genius, as it adds some pressure to anybody who wants to lowball.

All of that said: As a lifelong member of the service industry, I feel zero guilt at not tipping a place that does not provide any service. You shouldn’t either. Tip if you want, don’t if you don’t feel like they did anything.

But also - you need to recognize which professions rely on your tips to pay their bills and tip accordingly. Your meal and your drinks are cheaper because our entire country has decided that it’s okay for server/bartender wages to be optional. Even if they were kinda shit, even if they forgot something... please tip 20%. I’ve tipped less than 20% about 4-5 times in my life, and in all cases it was so egregious that there was no possible justification. And I still tipped, just not 20%. And if the person serving you is excellent, tip more than that.

Bonus tips: if you feel like you will be a regular at a place, tip very well your first time and every once in a after. Tip at least 25% always. That extra 5% will buy you great service and enthusiasm, and in many places (especially bars) you will free stuff or other perks that make up for the extra money. Plus it just feels good that people are excited to serve you.

Same thing applies to a busy spot - tip fantastic the first time. Rest of the night, the bartender will spot you in the crowd and take care of you.

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"I think this is genius, as it adds some pressure to anybody who wants to lowball."

What are your thoughts on the ethics of this kind of stress-manipulation purely for economic extraction? You call it genius, so you seem to approve; is it morally acceptable at the expense of the customer, or is it just another ethically-blind tactic available to capitalists?

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Id say the latter. It would possibly be unethical if the server was doing more to ramp up pressure (making faces, tone of voice, etc). But simply asking politely is not unethical, imo. If anything I would say the ethical dilemma is the other way around. If there is a significant difference in how you tip in the two methods, the problem is probably on that end, no? Barring any negative/hostile behavior from the server, of course.

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It's not a California thing, it's a USA thing. At least in big cities.

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Couldn't say exactly when the norm switch happened, but my family had a "always tip at least 15%" rule since before I was born. This used to put us ahead of the tipping curve wrt most patrons; now it's considered stingy, at least in SF. There was definitely a period during covid when tipping extra high (like 30%) was considered a sort of Civic Duty, to help support social distancing and send restaurants extra money when they were struggling without in-person dining. Things have bounced back since then, but I think people who really enjoy eating out and do it frequently kinda got used to paying the higher price. That is, sticker shock slowly turns into the new normal for such normative discretionary spending.

While the added costs are certainly annoying, I feel bad welching on a tip as a sort of class solidarity thing...being one of those Essential Workers(tm) during the pandemic and all that. And because of my family always tipping, it never really occurred to me until much later in life that many people simply don't tip / tip small / see it as this yuge burden. Tips to me are kinda like the euro VAT - I factor it into the base price. If that's too high, then I must not want the service that badly in the first place. It's less about the To Insure Proper Service function, and more about forming a strong habit of treating service employees well in general. (But like you say, when there's no/little actual "service" involved, then things can get kinda awkward. I'll tip at a food court restaurant, but not always at McDonald's, even though they're functionally pretty similar...why? Not sure!)

The "tip for all kinds of nontraditional things" is definitely a newer phenomenon though, I'm not sure what the deal is with that. Follow-up post: https://passingtime.substack.com/p/tipping-is-spreading-and-it-sucks

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The change has come through automatic payment systems, which `suggest' tips in the 20%+ range for just about everything. I presume this is by way of a bribe from the manufacturers of said machines to the employees of establishments that use them, to encourage the purchase of said machines.

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Such systems are purchased by the management, not the employees, and changing to a "service charge" instead of tipping directly has been queried along the lines of the business holding on to such charges instead of distributing them amongst the workers.

But can you really be surprised by this, when tipping as supplementing wages was established as a matter of course? "I'll pay you half the cost of the labour because you'll make it up in tips" being the understood way things are done, now that retention of labour is harder, wage increases necessarly, and the business model being "we don't show the real cost of the service in the meal prices because that would frighten customers away", the money has to come from somewhere, and that means bigger tips/new set point of what should be given as a percentage for a tip.

The Irish rules, don't know what legislation if any the US has:

https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/employment/employment-rights-and-conditions/pay-and-employment/tips-gratuities-service-charges/

As you can see, some employers probably were holding on to "service charges":

"Restrictions on the use of ‘service charges’

Voluntary service charges are the same as a tip or a gratuity. Mandatory service charges are charges that must be paid by the customer, on top of the cost of the product or service.

Employers are banned from describing a mandatory service charge applied to a customer’s bill as a 'service charge' unless the payment is treated by the employer in the same way as electronic tips or gratuities.

This means that mandatory service charges can only be added to a bill if the money goes to employees."

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So, do typical customers pay that kind of tip, or did they keep to the “original” 10-15 range?

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I will hit `custom' tip and then input what I think the right amount *should* be, but I am unusually willing to tolerate stink eye from the cashier. I think the net effect of these nudges (more of a buffet really) genuinely is to push tipping norms greatly upward.

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From a lecture by Oppenheimer in 1947:

"Even in these postwar years where the pattern of civilized life in Europe has been worn so very thin, of the two or three important experimental discoveries of the last two years, two at least come from Europe. One was carried out long before its publication in the cellar of an old house in Rome by three Italians who were under sentence of death from the Germans, because they belonged to the Italian Resistance. They were rescued by the uncle of one of the men from a labor squad at Cassino, and smuggled into a cellar in Rome. They got bored there, and they started to do experiments. These experiments were published last spring; and in the field of fundamental physics they created a real revolution in our thinking."

Does anyone know what experiments he was talking about here?

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It appears to be the one here: http://centropontecorvo.df.unipi.it/Articles/On_the_Disintegration_of_Negative_Mesons_PhysRev-1946.pdf, titled "On the Disintegration of Negative Mesons".

I could not find details to support all of Oppenheimer's story, but the experiment was certainly carried out under difficult conditions during the war. Some versions say that it was done in the cellar of a school.

This story (in Italian) gives some details of the background: https://ilbolive.unipd.it/it/news/guerra-ettore-pancini-fisico-comandante-partigiano. Here too are some details (in a mixture of Italian and English): https://static.sif.it/SIF/resources/public/files/congr13/ip/Battimelli.pdf

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Thank you for tracking all of that down. I appreciate it.

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I rewatched Age of Ultron recently, the Marvel movie whith a runaway AI. God they made it so boring. The first thing the AI does is make itself a body so that it can get punched by the heroes. It then makes a bunch of robot copies of itself that all need to be destroyed, but that doesn't turn out to be that hard because they all cluster in the same city and throw themselves at the heroes. There's a vague mention of "trying to hack the nuclear codes" at some point, but that doesn't lead to anything. For something that could have been near impossible to beat, the danger felt so low.

It got me wondering, what would a good version of that movie be - where Ultron is genuinely scary in a uniquely AI way, while still being watchable as a superhero movie?

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The fight with Dragon in Worm comes to mind. She exists in hundreds of robot bodies which can be controlled simultaneously, some humanoid, most not, many that can fly and have long range attacks. She also exists on multiple hidden datacentres and satellites. When her "main" body is killed she near-instantly reboots from backup in another body. Can also fairly effortlessly hijack other computer systems. Might be challenging to adapt to screen as both combatants had a simultaneous viewpoint in multiple points across the earth.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Make him a perverse instantiator - if he isn't one, he isn't distinctively AI vs just mad/evil (this was a thing the first Terminator got brilliantly right: Skynet is much scarier because it isn't against humanity because it's Really Evil, but because it is over-interpreting instructions about ensuring its own security. )

Edit: also brilliant, Ex Machina. She kills him* not out of malice but because she wants to study human interaction at interchanges.

* If she does. Can't believe there aren't service tunnels/back doors by which to escape the building, and we are meant to think there are. But critical consensus is, he's a goner.

Then have a LOTR type plot where hero must make his way between the paperclip factories to Mordor and load an amended, safe version of the over-interpreted instruction into the mainframe.

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The most accurate AI movie I have seen isn't a movie -- it's Person of Interest.

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Fully agreed, I'm a Marvel fan but Age of Ultron was a huge disappointment. (The "age" lasted what, 24 hours?).

The typical way this is handled in the source material is the standard Terminator plot; start in the future, show the terrible outcome, then the heroes go back in time to stop it. It's used a LOT in the comics, not just for AI but for any & all threats. At the time of release, Time Travel hadn't been introduced to MCU yet, and also Fox had just done Days of Future Past the year before. Actually, maybe "trying not to be Days of Future Past" explains everything wrong with Age of Ultron, including the dumbest moment of all (Pietro...)

Have you seen "What If..."?. It has a great treatment of Ultron, it's not a movie though and wouldn't work as one.

Best I can come up with, sticking with the "no timetravel" limitation: make it an Ant Man movie.

- Ultron is a Hank Pym creation, like in the comics.

- Maybe Ultron originated as a scout robot that Pym sent into the quantum realm & started self-improving, and we get a version of Quantumania that makes slightly more sense.

- Maybe Ultron first appears to be a force for good, but Ant Man discovers he's secretly making nanobots to take over the world.

- Ant Man can punch nanobots in the face.

- Can be introduced with lower stakes and build. Maybe the extra copies are only revealed in an end credits scene. Leave Age of Ultron for Phase 4.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

System Shock.

EDIT: Possibly 9? The dialogue in 9 is really first-drafty but the monsters are legitimately creepy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qApXdc1WPY

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He could take over the Internet, like the Virus from the TTRPG "Traveller: The New Era". Sticking tiny bits of himself into all computers, all core hardware, all storage devices, all manufacturing chains. Hacking all our network protocols so that the tiny bits infect other devices when connected. Everything with wireless capability can turn itself on and infect any other active wireless device. And any time when enough computing power is networked together, Ultron rises again. He'll never be eliminated unless humanity rebuilds its computing system from scratch, with all-new hardware and software. And all it takes is one person finding a way to plug the old stuff into the new stuff, and boom, he's back.

Anyway, the movie. The world rapidly divides between people and governments who unplug their devices and disconnect from the Internet, and those who don't. Enough don't, that there needs to be major ass-kicking. At the end, the world has reverted to the tech level of the early 90s: no Internet, no social media, no cell phones, no tiny networked computers in everything. We all live happily ever after.

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I liked Ultron as a character. "Coldly logical AI decides that humanity needs to be exterminated for [logical reason]" has been done to death. Ultron is clearly batshit crazy from the get-go, more driven by his need to be free of Stark's control than by any careful reasoning about how best to protect Earth.

Like, I wish he had something more interesting than a swarm of humanoid robots because fighting a swarm of human opponents is bottom-of-the-barrel for a creative fight scene, but as an antagonist he was fun to watch.

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What if he built a bunch of different weird robots instead - some designed to fight the Avengers specifically, some designed to tear down human infrastructure, some designed to fight wars against human armies.

A big anti-hulk mech made of swarms of smaller robots moving in and out of formation to absorb hits. Anti-ironman flying drones that speedily weld dense weights to his suit. Giant spidery robots dismantling skyscrapers. Acid spewing steamroller tanks melting the roads. There's a lot you could do with robots and comic book magic.

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Do note that Ultron was opposed by Jarvis, another AI, and Jarvis did most of the work offscreen, reference in a couple of throwaway lines.

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War Games.

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Aug 21, 2023·edited Aug 21, 2023

If a punch-up is involved, then this has nothing to do with AI as we understand it. Might as well enjoy the movie for what it is, which is mindless entertainment.

Having said that, in one of the early Borg episodes on Star Trek, one of the ways they highlighted the alien nature of these minds was by having the main characters walk freely through the Borg ship, with the said Borg taking no notice of them. I think it was Q who pointed out that this was because the away team hadn't actually done anything yet. This at once made them more sinister and strange.

I've always thought that was one of the most interesting depictions of nonhuman intelligence that Hollywood has ever put out. Of course, it couldn't last. They ended up introducing a "Borg Queen", because I guess people don't like having a decentralized process for a villain.

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I thought the Queen was a fix to the problem posed by Locutus: Why did the Borg suddenly need a named drone speaking for them, when they never needed one before or since? First Contact's answer was that Locutus was essentially an experiment by the Queen. Without the Queen, Locutus makes no sense with how the Borg usually operate.

There's also the problem posed by Hugh, the independent drone who started "infecting" the Borg with free will. Why is this not a risk with every new assimilated mind? Again the Queen provides an answer; serving as an overriding will to keep the majority of the Borg on track.

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Completely agreed about the Borg.

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2001: A Space Odyssey?

I don't think a runaway AI scenario is really all that compatible with a superhero movie. A runaway AI is either very weak (you pull the plug and it's dead) or very strong (you become grey goo without noticing), and inventing a scenario where it's just powerful enough to be fought and defeated by a bunch of super-strong guys in leotards, in a visually satisfying way, is difficult. You pretty much need it to build itself a body specifically for the purposes of getting punched.

That said, if I were writing the movie I'd probably just make the climax a "get into the building to unplug the AI" type scenario. The AI would still use robot bodies to protect itself, along with a bunch of other interesting tricks, maybe causing disasters nearby to distract some of our heroes and give them stuff to do. It all comes down to a big robot punch-up in a server room. Ultimately it all sounds a bit dull and derivative, but a lot better than the "lol floating city" scenario.

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My initial thoughts:

Give Ultron a motive that people could plausibly be convinced by, and have him sway some of the heroes. Instead of "humanity is a plague that needs to be wiped out", make it "humanity needs protection from itself, and I should be put in charge" or something. Then reveal the sinister implications of that at some dramatic point. Before the reveal, this motive could be convincing to some heroes and form the beginning of the Civil War schism. This could give them some human enemies with human motivations, which makes for a more interesting conflict than "evil robot punching bags".

He should have been a global threat. He should have been everywhere at once, hacking into electronic system worldwide, including all of the Avengers equipment - their plane, laboratory, iron man's suit, etc - it all should have gradually gone offline/been turned against them. Make it so Ultron is everywhere and the heroes have nothing left and no clear target to destroy.

I'm not sure how they could realistically beat this Ultron, but my lazy answer is that it's a superhero movie so just give them some McGuffin to chase. They have to find the mind stone to combine with Jarvis and make a rival AI to counter-hack everything. They then need to defend the computer from waves of Ultrons while the upload is happening, something like that. Then leave it an open question as to whether Ultron still exists in some pocket of the internet somewhere.

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That's pretty much the Hollywood version of I, Robot. Will Smith even has an Iron Man arm.

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Yeah that did cross my mind. There's broad-stroke similarities, but I don't think that things like the motivation of the AI villain was the bad part of I, Robot anyway.

I do think there's fundamentally an upper limit to how good an AI action movie can be though.

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I watched the movie recently too and had the same reaction. For Ultron to be genuinely scary, he would have to become infrastructure the world relied on, something that targeted and accelerated our willingness to give up our autonomy in exchange for convenience. Something that would remove our humanity, our agency, our sources of meaning, and turn the world gray in order to prevent catastrophe. Maybe he'd be scary in the same way a mirror or totalitarian government is scary. From that point, either the Avenger's attempt to destroy him to recover their self-importance, or he turns rogue and flattens the planet.

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Yeah, I was thinking along similar lines. Make Ultron appear friendly and useful for the first half of the movie - gaining global power and trust. Have the good-AI vision that Stark and Banner had in mind play out for a bit. Let Cap and a few of the others continue to be sceptical and sound the alarm, and be proven right as things take a sinister turn after humans have become reliant.

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deletedAug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023
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Conservation of Ninjutsu. The total amount of ninjutsu remains constant so the more ninjas you divide it up between, the less effective each is.

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I was going to link the old Dr. McNinja story where the villain used it against him, but apparently the whole series is gone from the internet.

The point is it was the Inverse Law of Ninja Effectiveness (/Strength) before it was Conservation of Ninjitsu and changing the name did damage to the internet.

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What do you think new races of humans could look like? The difference between them must be at least as great as, say, the difference between a Norwegian and a Cameroonian.

A few ideas of mine:

A race that has something like vitiligo, but their "spots" don't keep growing and don't simply lack pigment--they have different pigmentation from the other parts of the body. For example, a person might have mostly black skin, but with light brown patches. The patterning of the spots could be random or bilaterally symmetric, kind of like a tiger's stripes. Skin and hair color would both be affected.

The dwarves from the Lord of the Rings films. Their short height and exaggerated facial features make them different enough from Caucasians to count as a different race, IMO.

https://lotr.fandom.com/wiki/Dwarves

Neanderthals

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I did once make an attempt to draw a human that didn't belong to any currently existing ethnic group for a far-future setting: https://www.deviantart.com/concavenator/art/Man-of-Yksin-778586715 Not sure how successful I was.

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I once visited an agri-world in which the labourers had a curious adaptation: the skin of their faces, hands and forearms was black, but their bodies were pale. We hypothesised that this was due to their working in the sun, clothed, for countless generations. Their arms and fingers were long and strong which helped them fix and unblock their machinery. Their hair can be various colours, but grows slowly; they do not grow beards but may grow moustaches.

The hive-pygmies of the undercity, on the other hand, have a tiny stature which lets them live at a level of poverty that would kill other Terrans. Their skin is pale as the sun rarely reaches down into their skyscraper-canyons. Their hair is white and grows long. Males and females are physically similar, as attractiveness is determined by the labels of their clothing.

The forest-men of a jungle world also had an intriguing complexion: their skin was striped black and pale, rendering them almost invisible in the shadows of their forest home. They exhibit a curiously reversed male pattern baldness, their hair receeding from the sides but staying strong in the middle.

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

The way I like to think about this is to think about random habitats that people may live in, and then think about the adaptations.

Hot, but living in wet underground caves: no pigment in skin, no hair, large dark eyes to catch light, smaller and hunched backs due to limited area and food supply, thick very pronounced jaw (maybe they need to bite to break open rock sometimes).

The desert but freezing cold and no sun: thick eyelashes, curly kinky hair, thin lips, wide nose, dark black hair but little pigment in skin.

Some jungle paradise: wide large far apart eyes (maybe due to not needing to hunt-- like a vegan society), small stature (no heat regulation or hunting needed), thin light hair, olive skin, weak jaw, and lets throw in a recessive violet eyes trait (because why not).

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Neal Stephenson has a book called “Seveneves” where this is a (the?) major plot point. It’s second-tier Stephenson, but that still makes it better than most contemporary SF.

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I liked the first 2/3rds of that book very very much. I think it was meant to be a kind of narrative backstory of an MMORPG setting, which certainly fits with how the back third plays out

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When I read the article https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/ , I realized something about myself: I don't derive any pleasure from observing things that most people consider beautiful, such as artworks or landscapes. This only happens to me with visual things, as I'm perfectly capable of appreciating music. I recently read that people with depression literally see the world with duller colors. I believe I've had dysthymia for most of my life, so could that be the reason?

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Hmm.... can you just not derive pleasure from visual art? Or does visual art not solicit any emotion at all?

Here is a quick test: Do the later works of Goya make you feel disturbed? (1). Do the German romantics give you a sense of wonder or awe? (2). If you were to stumble upon this gate on a foggy day, would you feel slightly uncanny? Perhaps slightly magical? (3). Would your mind begin to weave stories around these visual stimuli?

If you think that those photos would truly not have any effect on you-- then yeah you are kind of peculiar (and, in my opinion, missing out on a lot... sorry :).

But it is also possible that you are perhaps confusing the colloquial use of "enjoy" with the literal meaning. I think most people do not find pleasure in landscapes or art in the same way they would food or even music-- it is not really euphoric in the same way music is. Rather, when I say that I really enjoy art or landscapes it is because I feel emerged in a story-- because I feel *something*-- and this is what I enjoy. Is this the same for others?

1: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/saturn/18110a75-b0e7-430c-bc73-2a4d55893bd6 or https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/two-old-men-eating/67eecb35-18d3-4377-9482-739713680b42

2: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/438417 or https://theobjectivestandard.com/2008/02/friedrich-visual-romanticism/

3: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/enchanted-irish-forest-fergal-gleeson.html

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(1) Goya is grotesque but an undoubted genius, so less "disturbed" and more "in awe of talent".

(2) German Romantics leave me cold, I'm afraid; there's a tinge of sentimentality which just tips them over into chocolate box territory.

(3) Living around "enchanted Irish forests", if I started feeling uncanny or magical, I'd go "Whoops, it's the Good People, time to get out of here" rather than standing there dreaming 😁

All that being said, I do love foggy days, the moon, the sea, and visual beauty in art.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallas_and_the_Centaur#/media/File:Pallade_col_Centauro,_Sandro_Botticelli_(1482).jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Baleful_Head_-_Edward_Burne-Jones.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Netherlandish_painting#/media/File:Portrait_of_a_Man_by_Jan_van_Eyck-small.jpg

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Interesting how your paintings all have people in them, and most are from around the 15th century. I do like them-- esp "The Baleful Head," which I actually haven't seen before. But I think I will always prefer paintings in perspective with minimal faces (1)... perhaps I am an introvert even in art :).

I do suppose enchanted Irish forests are slightly less enchanted, after you figure out that those creepy sounds in the woods are drunk teenagers, not mystical creatures. But still: how will find the fairies if you keep running away? ;).

(1) Here is a fun one, from the same wiki page you linked https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Netherlandish_painting#/media/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Hunters_in_the_Snow_(Winter)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Now that you've pointed it out, yes! 12th-16th century is about my range, with excursions before and after that 😁

And yes, the Romantic era nature paintings (like the Caspar Friedrich one) don't interest me greatly because they tend (to my eye) just be an undifferentiated mass of greenery with some showing off about 'look how I can paint a grey stormy sky'. For landscapes, I like more colour and more detail:

https://blog.artsper.com/en/a-closer-look/a-brief-history-of-landscape-art-and-painting/

In this article, I'd be more inclined towards the Eastern landscape painting than the Western pastoral/sublime school, I think partly because that philosophy of painting has a particular stylised quality that is reminiscent of icons and mediaeval religious art, with symbols and iconography and gold background.

Or the Wilton Diptych, another painting I love for the delicacy and stylisation of the gestures:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilton_Diptych

*Always* run away from the fairies unless you want bad luck or to come back to your family years later thinking only one night has passed! 😁

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Aug 22, 2023·edited Aug 22, 2023

Maybe some other interesting (possibly related) questions are:

Do you read fantasy or non fiction? Do you like authors that give long descriptions of landscapes (like Tolkien)? Do you have visual images in your head when you read or recount stories?

It is hard for me to imagine that the answer to these question is "yes" and you don't have some emotional connection to some visual art and landscapes.

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Visual art really does evoke emotions in me. Of the examples you've given me:

1 - Goya's paintings disturb me.

2 - The painting "Two Men Contemplating the Moon" makes me want to be there and explore that area. "Wanderer above a Sea of Mist" leaves me quite indifferent, probably because I've seen it many times.

3 - This photograph conveys a sense of intrigue and mystery, although not too much.

As for books, I usually read fiction and I quite enjoy the fantasy genre, but long descriptions bore me a lot. If a book has too many lengthy descriptions, I usually end up not finishing it. I can form mental images of the places being described in the text (I don't have aphantasia), but I tend to read through descriptive parts quickly, just to get a general idea of where the scene will take place.

I suppose the most accurate description of what happens to me is that visual art doesn't bring me pleasure, or at least not very often. Although with the painting "Two Men Contemplating the Moon," I have felt a bit "inside a story" while looking at it, although it's not something that usually happens to me.

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