Monthly Roundup #18: May 2024

Link post

As I note in the third section, I will be attending LessOnline at month’s end at Lighthaven in Berkeley. If that is your kind of event, then consider going, and buy your ticket today before prices go up.

This month’s edition was an opportunity to finish off some things that got left out of previous editions or where events have left many of the issues behind, including the question of TikTok.

Oh No

All of this has happened before. And all of this shall happen again.

Alex Tabarrok: I regret to inform you that the CDC is at it again.

Marc Johnson: We developed an assay for testing for H5N1 from wastewater over a year ago. (I wasn’t expecting it in milk, but I figured it was going to poke up somewhere.)

However, I was just on a call with the CDC and they are advising us NOT to use it.

I need a drink.

They say it will only add to the confusion because we won’t know where it is coming from. I’m part of a team. I don’t get to make those decisions myself.

Ben Hardisty: The usual institute, or did they have a good reason?


Marc Johnson: They say it would only add to the confusion since we don’t know precisely where it is coming from. But then they said 2 minutes later that they aren’t sure this isn’t just regular influenza appearing late. We can answer that, so why don’t we??? I don’t get it.

Alex: Are your team members considering bucking the CDC advice or has the decision been made to acquiesce? I understand them not wanting panic but man if that’s not self serving advice I don’t know what is.

Marc Johnson: The CDC will come around.

ZzippyCorgi11: Marc, can private entities ask you to test wastewater around their locations? Is the CDC effectively shutting down any and all testing of wastewater for H5N1?

Marc Johnson: No, if people want to send me wastewater I can test them with other funding. I just can’t test the samples I get from state surveillance.

JH: This is ridiculous. Do it anyway!

Marc Johnson: It’s not my call. I got burned once for finding Polio somewhere I wasn’t supposed to find it. It fizzled, fortunately.

Ross Rheingans-Yoo: It’s a societal mistake that we’re not always monitoring for outbreaks of the dozen greatest threats, given how cheap wastewater testing can get.

Active intervention by the CDC to stop new testing for a new strain of influenza circulating in mammals on farms is unconscionable.

I strongly agree with Ross here. Of all the lessons to not have learned from Covid, this seems like the dumbest one to not have learned. How hard is ‘tests help you identify what is going on even when they are imperfect, so use them’?

I am not so worried, yet, that something too terrible is that likely to happen. But we are doing our best to change that.

We have a pattern of failing to prepare for such easily foreseeable disasters. Another potential example I saw today would be the high-voltage transformers, where we do not make them, we not have backups available and if we lost the ones we have our grid plausibly collapses. The worry in the thread is primarily storms but also what about sabotage?

Oh No: Betting on Elections

I am proud to live in an information environment where 100% of the people, no matter their other differences, understand that ‘ban all prediction markets on elections’ is a deeply evil and counterproductive act of epistemic sabotage.

And yet that is exactly what the CFTC is planning to do, with about a 60% chance they will manage to make this stick.

Maxim Lott: This afternoon, the government bureaucrats at the CFTC announced that they plan to ban all election betting (aka “prediction markets on elections”, aka “event contracts”) in the United States. They will also ban trading on events in general — for example, on who will win an Oscar.

The decision was 3-2, with the Democrats voting to do this to protect the ‘sanctity of elections’ against ‘threats to election integrity,’ and worrying that this would force the CFTC to become an ‘election cop’ determining the rightful outcomes. They claim to do this under the provision banning ‘gaming.’

All of that is Obvious Nonsense.

  1. Prediction markets actively protect election integrity.

  2. Prediction markets actively protect election sanctity.

  3. No one is forcing the CFTC to ‘play cop’ other than the CFTC.

  4. This is not gaming.

In case you wondered if they had shame: The ban on ‘event betting’ includes bans on prediction markets in sports, while leaving FanDuel and DraftKings in place.

The good news is that this ultimately matters less than people think. Overseas prediction markets will not be shutting down. We will still have BetFair and Polymarket no matter what happens, even if we lose PredictIt and Kalshi. I do not know what would happen to Manifold Markets, they are trying a unique legal strategy.

This will hurt accuracy, but we would still get most (80%-90%?) of the epistemic benefits, especially on major events. To the extent that this is motivated by Democrats who want to make dumb decisions saying ‘never tell me the odds,’ it won’t work.

Oh Yeah: LessOnline

At the end of the month (May 31 – June 2) I will be attending LessOnline, at Lighthaven in Berkeley, California.

The lineup is pretty exciting to me. In addition to myself, it includes Scott Alexander, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Patrick McKenzie, Agnes Callard, Kevin Simler, Cremieux Recueil, Aella, Sarah Constantin, Katja Grace and many more.

Prices will go up at the end of the day, so act fast.

Here is their description of LessOnline, which I expect to be accurate:

LessOnline is a festival celebrating truth-seeking, optimization, and blogging. It’s an opportunity to meet people you’ve only ever known by their LessWrong username or Substack handle.

The goal is to bring together a “mostly-online subculture of people trying to work together to figure out how to distinguish truth from falsehood using insights from probability theory, cognitive science, and AI.”

A week after that is Manifest, so a bunch of people plan to stay for a ‘summer camp’ during the interim. Alas, I cannot be away that long in one stretch, so I had to choose one or the other and will be missing Manifest this year. I get to stick around on Monday, but then I head back.

People at these events are often (but not always) remarkably approachable, myself included, even if you don’t know us. If this sounds like fun I’d encourage you to come.

Brief Explanations

The Europeans are not poor. They are vastly rich compared to almost everyone in history and also everyone today. But yes, vastly less rich than they could be.

Matthew Yglesias: Every European country has various laws on the books that are just like “productivity is illegal now” and then people wonder why they are poor.

[Points to examples that French supermarkets can no longer offer discounts of more than 34% on various personal and household products, and German supermarket chain Tegut being forced to close on Sundays even though it requires no workers to stay open.]

Generalize this.

Rob Henderson: 35% of American elites (people with postgraduate degrees, earn $150K+ per year, and live in large cities) say they would rather cheat than lose an election compared with only 7% of ordinary voters.

Robin Hanson: Successful people are selected for a willingness to break rules when they can get away with it undetected.

Patrick McKenzie Monthly

In long form, he gives us The Business of Wallets.

Patrick McKenzie explains the incentives behind stupid compliance requirements, which are exactly what you would expect.

Patrick McKenzie also explains, without at the time knowing the details of what happened, Google falling on its sword to take all the blame for the outage of UniSuper services on May 7. The incident was so bad that people were in danger of being fired for buying Google. No one gets fired for buying Google, and this must be common knowledge, so marketing got the statement it needed no matter the objections elsewhere.

Then we learned a little more about what did happen. UniSuper is a company managing about $125 billion. Google Cloud deleted their entire account for no apparent reason. And they also deleted Unisuper’s backup account in another region, due to ‘unprecedented misconfiguration.’ But look at this detail, it ‘ultimately resulted in the deletion of UniSuper’s Private Cloud subscription.’ That then caused deletion of the account without warning. The good news is that there was another backup with a distinct provider, and this allowed them to restore everything.

Michael Nielsen rightfully wonders, maybe doing stuff in-house is good after all?

Here he explains that airlines are one of many large organizations whose rules are often things that many employees have the power to waive, so you should ask them to do so when it would be a reasonable thing to do. The central example here is asking for an earlier flight while at the airport on travel day, and for the airline to waive the change fee. Ja3k says this has a 40% success rate.

I used to have a very high success rate when I was travelling for Magic, to the point where I expected this to work unless the flight was full. Then it stopped working. Then Covid got all the change fees waived for a while, so it worked again, but now people report it is once again getting harder. As Patrick notes, a key strategy is making it clear you are not ‘travelling on business’ and cannot stick your employer with the bill.

He also notes the immense economic value of transforming face-to-face meetings at outside locations into zoom meetings, especially for parents and for ‘I have to say I met you’ styles of meetings.

How much is playing Factorio (which I haven’t done) like starting a company? Yes, it is a lot of work that could have been directed towards producing real world value. But I am confident that a lot of what makes Factorio such a great game is never having to talk to customers, investors, human resources or the legal department, plus as Patrick says the ability to quit and resume at will.

Enemies of the People

Greenpeace commits a crime against humanity. No, seriously, and this is not counting their efforts to stop nuclear power and otherwise cripple in the climate. They contain multitudes, and are blocking the adaptation of Golden Rice. J’accuse.

When people tell you who they are, believe them.

Mark Lynas (Spectator UK): First, a word of warning. If you donate money to Greenpeace, you might think you’re helping save the whales or the rainforests. But in reality, you may be complicit in a crime against humanity. Last week, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and several other NGOs managed to stop the cultivation and use of vitamin A-enhanced rice in the Philippines, after the country’s court of appeal ruled in their favour.

In doing so, Greenpeace have blocked a multi-year, international, publicly-funded effort to save the lives and the eyesight of millions of children in some of the world’s poorest countries.

German vandals assault a Tesla factory producing electric vehicles, saying they are ‘bad for the environment’ in various ways. Having successfully killed Germany’s nuclear plants, they need a new way to try to bolster fossil fuel use, boil the planet and also make people otherwise poorer, I suppose. I wonder who could be behind this.

Oh Canada

For those who haven’t seen it, potential new Canadian law reminds us why we have our first, second and in a surprise appearance seventh amendments.

Mert: This new Canadian law is the craziest thing I have ever seen in the west

According to this, they can:

– accuse, fine, and jail you for PAST speech (before the law went live)

– put you on house arrest AND take away all communication rights if they even suspect you MIGHT say something they don’t like (I.e you haven’t done literally anything).

– anyone can accuse you and it’s on a committee of bureaucrats called the Digital Safety Commission to solely determine truth .

If you are an immigrant or young person thinking of coming to Canada — I strongly recommend reconsidering.

Toby Young (The Spectator): To those worrywarts who are anxious about the risk that this new law might be weaponized by woke activists, the government has said that ‘detestation’ and ‘vilification’ are not the same as ‘disdain’ or ‘dislike’, which would still be permitted (thank you, Mr Trudeau), or speech that ‘discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends.’

Although, that won’t protect you from another clause in the bill – and this is where it trips over into as yet unimagined dystopian territory. If the courts believe you are likely to commit a ‘hate crime’ or disseminate ‘hate propaganda’ (not defined), you can be placed under house arrest and your ability to communicate with others restricted. That is, a court can force you to wear an ankle bracelet, prevent you from using any of your communication devices and then instruct you not to leave the house.

Even the practical implications boggle.

If you are arrested by the precogs, you cannot use communication devices and you cannot leave the house. How can you work? How are you going to acquire food?

The craziest part is this is retroactive. So they can go after you, now, as a criminal, for speech that at the time was not only not illegal but considered broadly acceptable.

All that matters is that someone now decided it is retroactively hate speech.

Freedom seems a lot more endangered in Canada than the United States. I would not be comfortable writing a blog like this, or even speaking my mind, in Canada.

Canada also is looking to impose a $25k penalty and double its ‘exit fee’ for citizens who leave the country, to ‘curb the emigration crisis.’

It warms my heart that I have not seen a single post, not one, that defended what Canada is attempting to do here. But that also means I have not seen anyone claim that these characterizations of the proposed new law are inaccurate.

This is NPR

After Uri Berliner published his story in The Free Press last month about how NPR has lost its way, NPR suspended him for it, as per their own report.

David Folkenflik (NPR): In presenting Berliner’s suspension Thursday afternoon, the organization told the editor he had failed to secure its approval for outside work for other news outlets, as is required of NPR journalists. It called the letter a “final warning,” saying Berliner would be fired if he violated NPR’s policy again.

On Friday, CEO Maher stood up for the network’s mission and the journalism, taking issue with Berliner’s critique, though never mentioning him by name. Among her chief issues, she said Berliner’s essay offered “a criticism of our people on the basis of who we are.”

Yes. Berliner criticized who you are. Because he criticized who you chose to be.

Which is most definitely not a spy.

What else is there to criticize?

The New York Times reports that the person she replaced as CEO was formally accused of racism and investigated by an outside firm because he asked employees to be ‘mindful of civility.

Rural Capital: I remember on All Things Considered they did a story about how calls for civility had roots in racism. I guess the employees took that to heart!

Uri Berliner then resigned.

There has been ongoing discussion about the new NPR CEO Katherine Maher.

Lex Fridman: NPR CEO needs to step down.

Get political bias out of NPR.

We need great, balanced journalism now more than ever.

Marc Andreessen: Respectfully disagree. These leaders are exact matches for the institutions they run. Replacing them does nothing, the replacement will be the same or more so. These institutions are locked in, they’re not going to change, they’re going to just get more like they are now.

There certainly are a bunch of Tweets and also video clips of the new CEO Maher saying some things I do not want the CEO of NPR to say or believe.

What I kept noticing was that, when there was a timestamp on any of it, it was consistently between 2019 and 2021.

The second thing I noticed was that there was no one defending her or her statements. That could simply be that such folks finally realized this time that there is no need to defend her. NPR can do whatever it wants to do. Let people complain.

Or it could be that everyone wants to memory hole such statements as much as possible.

Daniel Friedman: I’ve been following the drama around NPR CEO Katherine Maher, and, while lots of conservatives are dunking on her tweets and statements, I don’t see a lot of liberals circling the wagons around her. But a lot of them were just like her between 2017 and 2020.

If Maher is forced to step down over her “in this house” tweet history, a lot of other people who advanced their careers a few years ago by being performatively woke could also be in trouble. I guess their plan is to just delete their old tweets and try to keep their heads down.

These people went completely fucking insane. They destroyed the lives and businesses of a lot of people who didn’t deserve it. And now they’re going to try to pretend that none of it ever happened.

Katherine Maher espoused exactly the opinions that were expected of her to be promoted as a white female nonprofit executive in the 2010s. She is not an unusual figure. There are people like her in c-suite positions in every company right now.

Marc Andreessen: She is the precise median of the leadership teams of Big Tech.

Daniel’s model seems highly plausible to me. In the period from 2017-2021, the dynamics in many places rewarded saying things that are, objectively speaking, nuts.

The world today and also history are full of people who saw people around them getting ahead by saying (and often doing) nuts or terrible things or being punished for not saying or doing those nuts or terrible things. Often those who notice this then protect and advance themselves by also saying or doing those nuts or terrible things, perpetuating and compounding the problem.

This seems like a clear case where if someone wants to go back to acting sanely and pretend that all of this never happened, because that would be totally nuts, then we should be happy to accept that peace offering. Are they up for their side of that deal?

Technology Advances

Timothy Lee attempts to diagnose what is wrong with tech journalism. His diagnosis is that readers lack background, the industry is struggling, nuanced and positive stories don’t sell when covering established big companies, and the readers are getting what they want.

I buy all that. If you want nuanced journalism about technology, you need to find niche publications, and annoyingly you will often have to pay, it is the only business model that makes sense.

But also the New York Times has an explicit narrative and agenda to attack the technology industry, and many other mainstream outlets are also very much Out to Get You on that front to varying degrees.

James Meigs writes in City Journal about Scientific American’s transformation from a science publication to what is now primarily a social justice publication with a secondary focus on science, alongside similar trends at several rival publications.

Who said Apple Vision Pro wouldn’t have a price drop? Ebay of course tells another story, where it looks to be available at $2500 or less.

TikTok on the Clock

Now that a bill requiring divestiture has passed, I got to cut out a lot of my notes here as no long relevant. But not all of them. What is left to notice?

The obvious place to start is that ByteDance is reaffirming that they will shut down rather than divest.

Why yes, it is weird that a business worth billions would consider shutting down rather than selling its product to willing buyers at the current fair market price.

Whatever could be going on?

Reuters: BREAKING: Reuters reports that TikTok’s owner ByteDance would prefer to ‘shut down’ its app in the US rather than sell it if all legal options are exhausted

Eigenrobot: Why would you say this?

It’s odd that a profit maximizing firm would actually pursue this strategy.

The obvious explanation is “lol TikTok is an op” which seems plausible sure. But if so why would they say this and come off looking like an op.

Is there another explanation?

Indif4ent: yeah op is really looking likely. if they divest, whoever takes over is likely to take a hard look at the code. at minimum, id expect to find some backdoors for the CCP.

Hopeful Abandon: there’s not actually much to sell — they can’t give up the recommendation algo without government approval, which is unlikely. stripping it of all the internals that are export-controlled and trying to auction off the husk is possibly more costly than just ending service.

From PoliMath:


TikTok is not purely an op. TikTok is a legitimate highly predatory business, and also TikTok is an op.

Why are they threatening to shut TikTok down in response rather than sell, even now that the law is passed? Many possible reasons suggest themselves. Here are some.

  1. Public pressure. Rile up voters and hope that the decision gets reversed.

  2. Help Trump. Trump opposed the TikTok ban, so get supporters angry at Biden.

  3. Negotiating tactic. You need to bid higher if ByteDance is willing to burn it all.

  4. Damning evidence. Suggested above. If you can’t show the books you can’t sell.

  5. CCP veto. If the CCP tells you that you are not selling, guess what?

  6. Algorithm. It could be necessary and something they can’t afford to give out.

  7. Decision theory. In order to fight the sale they needed to be people who would rather burn the place to the ground. This is the consequence.

  8. Vindictiveness. F*** you. That’s why.

There is obvious overlap, many considerations touch on several of these at once.

It is often assumed that people will ‘be rational,’ and go along with your plan after you screw them over because it is obviously in their best interest to do so. Well, even if you are right about what is best for them, humans do not work that way. Because that way does not work.

Alternatively, ‘they’ could reveal the answer, and make it easy. It’s #5.

Michael Sobolik:

@TikTokPolicy literally says it cannot comply with the divestment requirement because “the Chinese government has made clear that it would not permit a divestment” of ByteDance’s algorithm.

They’re literally making the national security case for the U.S. government.

Okay, then. We have established what you are. Now we’re talking price. Or not.

Meanwhile, China continues to argue, on this issue as it does on so many others, that there should be rules for thee but not for me.

The other clear argument is that China has made it clear some of the ways it intends to use this power.

Zac Hill: This is what I don’t understand about the “Tik Tok is fine, actually” position: we know and can see exactly how China puts its finger on the scales, and why.

Noah Smith: Apparently the Chinese government is encouraging an explosion of antisemitism on Chinese domestic social media. It’s obvious they’re trying the same thing here in the U.S.

JS Tribune: Racist cartoons, Hitler memes, swastikas, and quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are now ubiquitous in comments sections. In an ironic twist, Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the CCP mouthpiece Global Times, cautioned his followers on Weibo, “Some of us should not be influenced by public opinion dominated by Jews and Americans.” Two weeks later, Hu claimed that “there is no such thing as antisemitism in China,” adding Holocaust inversions comparing Israel to modern-day Nazis.

Portraying a symbiotic relationship between America and the Jewish people is a recurring theme in the propaganda campaign.

It is hard to pretend that TikTok is not involved in this. And when the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Hitler memes are ubiquitous, it is very clear what is going on.

The other problem is that when you pass a law now, that would ban TikTok next year, but that might be reversed if Trump wins the election, what do you think TikTok does?

Tara Palmeri: Since November, according to two TikTok officials, there’s been twice as much pro-Trump content as pro-Biden content on the platform—specifically, 1.29 million positive Trump videos or images, with 9.1 billion views, compared to 651,000 positive Biden posts, with 6.15 billion views, they told me. According to an internal TikTok analysis, from January 2023 into May 2024, videos tagged #Trump2024 have generated 472.8 million likes and 6.5 billion views, compared with 50.9 million likes and 558 million views for videos tagged #Biden2024. This may not be the most precise survey of the landscape, but that’s still a nearly 10 to 1 ratio of Trump likes to Biden likes, and 12 to 1 in views.

This does not require Trump to have been bought. The result is the same. It is amazing how poor the planning was on this.

Who are the contenders to buy, if ByteDance is ultimately bluffing? Manifold is here for you. Note that this is all conditional on TikTok being actually bought, and there are lots of other names on the list that don’t count under ‘Other.’

With Manifold’s new loan rules and this being a conditional market that likely does not pay, the primary conclusion here is that Oracle, Microsoft and Amazon are live, but that you should be ready to be surprised.

I am bullish on Amazon here, and bullish on Alphabet at only 2%. They both have very deep pockets. The tie-ins to Amazon shopping seem great, also you have Amazon music. Microsoft and Alphabet would both also surely love to have it, and might plausibly be allowed to buy.

Meanwhile, anyone remember back in 2020 when Grindr was sold by its Chinese owner after the US expressed security concerns? I remember hearing that and thinking, ‘yes, well, obviously, you do not want a foreign adversary knowing who is secretly on a gay dating app’ and wondering how no one had previously realized this. Was that also a threat to free speech? We really shouldn’t need to pass a bill for TikTok either, but I suppose here we are.

I touched on this in the older post, but here are others picking up on the important concept that many TikTok users would actively prefer if everyone were to quit, so much so that the average cost for this outcome among students was less than zero. Students would pay to have TikTok vanish.

Robert Wiblin: The consumer surplus of banning TikTok:

David Zweig: A remarkable study. Most young people would prefer for themselves and their peers to not be on social media. In fact, they hate it so much that they’d be willing to pay to make this happen. But they are stuck on TikTok and Insta because everyone is on it.

From Article: A recent study led by the University of Chicago economist Leonardo Bursztyn captured the dynamics of the social-media trap precisely. The researchers recruited more than 1,000 college students and asked them how much they’d need to be paid to deactivate their accounts on either Instagram or Tik Tok for four weeks. That’s a standard economist’s question to try to compute the net value of a product to society.

On average, students said they’d need to be paid roughly $50 ($59 for TikTok, $47 for Instagram) to deactivate whichever platform they were asked about.

Then the experimenters told the students that they were going to try to get most of the others in their school to deactivate that same platform, offering to pay them to do so as well, and asked, Now how much would you have to be paid to deactivate, if most others did so? The answer, on average, was less than zero. In each case, most students were willing to pay to have that happen.

The collective action problem is real. And that is the views from the students themselves.

From the perspective of the parents? Good f***ing luck.

Reason: “You, as a parent, can tell your child not to be on TikTok,” says Reason Editor in Chief @kmanguward on The Reason Roundtable podcast, but “we should not try to beat the Chinese by being more like the Chinese.”

Matthew Yglesias: I think this is a pretty naive view of the collective action issues involved in parenting. Nobody wants their kid to be the first one in school to get a smartphone but it’s hard to ask your kid to be the only one who doesn’t have one.

At a minimum, you are spending a large number of points with your child, on a continuous basis, and make your relationship more adversarial. One must pick one’s battles. And even if they go along with it and we ignore that issue, your child will then be substantially worse off than if TikTok did not exist. Their peers will be using it, they will be left out and pressured and mocked. It is not good.

Am I going to let my kids have TikTok any time soon? Oh, hell to the no. But I know how much worse my life is going to be, and theirs, if they decided they did want it.

Also, in case TikTok wants to claim it has not been sharing data, a TikTok scientist says they were absolutely sharing data.

Alexandra Sternlicht: SCOOP: A TikTok data scientist says he was assigned a Seattle-based manager on paper, while actually reporting to a Beijing-based ByteDance executive, who ordered him to regularly email U.S. data in spreadsheets to ByteDance workers in China during 2022.

This occurred after TikTok launched Project Texas to Separate U.S. user data from ByteDance.

Shoshana Weissmann: okay but i respect that this was done in spreadsheets.

Antisocial Media

Now here’s an idea.

Luke Hosey: Ten thousand Twitter accounts just sat bolt upright in bed, drenched in cold terror-sweat.

keshav: instagram will now recommend original content when it detects duplicates


Bravo. All social media platforms should do this for content that is produced from a recommendation algorithm rather than those you follow. AI can help check for duplicative content, in case people think they can make a minor tweak.

As Rob notes here, people like to complain about Twitter but have you seen Facebook?

Rob Bensinger: All the dramatic claims have been about Twitter, but I feel like Facebook has already quietly become basically-not-a-functional-website. It is no longer a place with core functionality like ‘in a discussion, there’s a way for each person to get notified when the other responds’.

Why did we used to have television that was often remarkably high brow? Theory here is that people didn’t know how good stupid content would do, the available technology was less friendly to stupid rapid fire content, and the presence of only so many networks kept out competition from stupid alternatives and allowed cooperation to keep things from getting too stupid.

Yes, there has been a big change towards stupid. But there has, I believe, been an even bigger change against slow. And I am on the This Is Good, Actually team on that one. Older television and movies are remarkably slow. Sometimes this allows them to use slow burns, set scenes and accomplish important things. Sure. But most of the time, it is not a good tradeoff. Things are better now. Yes, in some ways we are now too impatient, and a lot of that is the phones, but the improvement is mostly real.

Prosocial Media

Disney and Warner Bros. will team up for a new streaming bundle containing Hulu, Disney+ and Max. Good. Marginal cost is close to zero, there is no reason people should need to choose and rotate between packages. I am so done with the unbundling and ready for the rebundling. Viewing data lets them still compete for division of the revenue.

Zeng Yuli reports that ‘loveable losers’ took over China’s screens. These ‘economic men’ are called ‘wonangfei,’ askin to ‘timid loser,’ they put their woman first and have a certain sex appeal and a willingness to sacrifice under tough working conditions. So, not losers, then? Those are winners. It used to be that this was what winning looked like. Then we created a worldwide culture with bizarrely unrealistic expectations and warped priorities, where devoted long-suffering family man who gets the job done was looked upon negatively. The worry is that the Chinese are reversing this due to a form of despair, but actually yeah, this is usually what winning feels like. Finally some Truth in Television.

At the Movies

I put my movie reviews on Letterboxd. I have been logging all movies I see including the bad ones, but mostly (one exception so far) not going back. This shows me starkly what happens when I use various selection methods.

This month had two excellent movies: Challengers and especially The Fall Guy.

One movie I am actively avoiding is Civil War. Not since Don’t Look Up have I wanted this much to not see a movie. Is it (minor spoilers) about how war is about nothing except pointless suffering, destruction and death, and things can fall apart without a reason? Is it about how a nation under too much strain from immigration cannot hold together or maintain its democratic norms? Is it a Spanish Civil War style scenario, or purely that only those two states could credibly form a force to threaten a President? Or is it as the director says about how fascism is bad actually and journalism is our lifeblood? Is the scenario well thought out or complete nonsense?

I do not know. I found the discussions interesting, and I appreciated Ex Machina, but ultimately realized my life would not be better having seen Civil War, and likely the world is not better for having made it, even if it turns out to be in the Scott Sumner sense a Good Movie. Perhaps I finally learned my lesson with The Zone of Interest.

Media Trustworthiness Rankings

From early this year, here’s a fascinating chart of how various sources are viewed.

John Burn-Murdoch: It always blows my mind how much wider the partisan trust gap is for US media compared to the UK


Most British media is trusted (or distrusted) about equally by supporters of both major parties. That’s true of virtually no US media org.

Deeply corrosive for US society.


This seems like an excellent time to play overrated versus underrated.

Bloomberg is my pick for the most underrated. I have them at or near the top of my list. They do not always get it right, but I feel I can relax when reading there in a way I can’t in most other places, and also they tend to be better at focusing on things that matter. They are not cheap, but I am happy that I subscribe. Whereas with my other subscriptions, I feel kind of obligated as part of the job. The Economist is substantially higher, so this can’t be a pure subscribers-only effect.

Bloomberg is also strong evidence that the baseline Republican mistrust of media has remarkably little to do with the content in a given media platform. Yes, they trust explicitly red sources (Fox News, Newsmax, even Breitbart) and also they have a special distrust for sources that are being actively hostile to them, especially CNN and MSNBC but also the broadcast networks, NYT and WaPo.

The broadcast networks remaining high trust for Democrats is likely a legacy effect. In terms of their value as news sources they are overrated here for sure. As a matter of trust, however, I do find that CBS, NBC and ABC are all still relatively careful and worthy of trust. I don’t know if PBS is still trustworthy, because I can’t remember the last time I used or even saw it as news source, it never comes up. The BBC is properly rated near the top.

Forbes is doing an especially good job, it seems, earning trust across the aisle. I am not happy about certain recent choices of theirs, I think they are overrated here, but on that front they are doing something right.

C-SPAN seems clearly underrated in terms of trust. They are not terribly useful, but I certainly feel like I can trust them?

The Atlantic seems underrated. It is not a hard news source, but for what it is I find it to be relatively more trustworthy than this.

You have to adjust for partisanship, but I do find both Fox News and CNN to be overall underrated here. Washington Post seems overrated on trust, they push the envelope on bounded distrust reasonably often and also can be rather clueless.

The AP is definitely overrated, based on having been caught in quite a few whoppers over the last year or so, some of them clearly intentional.

Politico has established recently with its AI coverage that it cannot be trusted, I presume it is overrated in general.

InfoWars seems highly overrated, even as the lowest rated. I presume the lack of distrust, especially among Democrats, is largely not knowing who they are.

The New York Times seems properly rated here overall. It does worse in tech. It is very much not living up to its status, or especially what it used to claim to be, but it still often breaks important or useful information and plays by rules better than the lower half of the list.

Paul Graham offers a very good note:

Paul Graham: One thing people selling expensive things often don’t grasp is that the people who can afford them are often too busy to deal with the work involved in buying them. So if you’re selling expensive consumer goods, make them really easy to buy.

Some responses point out there are luxury brands that actively make buying difficult, which Graham notes is quite rare. This is a special case where the value is largely in the exclusivity, so they sacrifice volume and lose most potential marginal sales to maintain that.

Government Working

The missile defense systems we built? They work. One should update the general world model accordingly, the government was capable of building such a thing for real. This is relevant both for missile defense and for other capabilities.

Tyler Cowen clarifies that he prefers current airport security entirely because of the deterrence and prevention effects on terrorism. I think this is his worst take, especially for someone who thinks travel and tourism are so important. We have run natural experiments, and also I can think about physical reality and we know the failure rates. Most of the procedures have almost zero deterrent or prevention effect, while being very expensive in time lost and in travel prevented.

Here we go again: California is the latest jurisdiction to move far enough with a proposed ‘link tax’ on news that Google has removed links to California news websites for a small percentage of users, as a ‘test.’ If California thinks they are bluffing, I am confident that they are not. California called it intimidation and outrageous that Google would respond to an increase in price by decreasing quantity purchased.

Here is another analysis on California’s $20 minimum wage for fast food workers, by Richard McKenzie of EconLib. It explains why this will lower, rather than raise, wages for those not subject to the minimum, as lower employment at covered locations enlarges the labor supply. And that this 25% jump all at once is very different from most minimum wage increases, which are typically smaller and phased in over time, which explains their relatively small impacts on employment.

The weird part is the later sections, where Richard points out that workers who keep their jobs and hours likely lost a lot of value in benefits, and when he notes that many restaurants were already paying over $16 an hour in California, some more than $20. This would suggest that the increase should indeed have a small impact on employment, if paying $20/​hour was already a superior option for some restaurants, or real compensation does not need to increase much to meet the new law.

It would be a good idea to make Manifold markets or Metaculus questions about the impact of the law, but I was unable to come up with resolution criteria that were clean enough to justify the time investment I was willing to make. Anyone want to step up?

In news of a minimum wage hike escalating quickly even beyond my expectations, Seattle attempts to reverse course on delivery driver compensation four months after the new laws took effect, to try and get companies to reverse their new fees. I really do not know what they were expecting, look at the prices we are talking about:

Her proposal, pieced together over weeks of negotiations with the companies and an industry-backed drivers’ group, Drive Forward, would cut the hourly rate to roughly 33 cents per minute and 35 cents per mile, below the IRS’s per-mile reimbursement rate for vehicle wear and tear of 67 cents. In place of the $5 per trip minimum, companies would calculate hourly pay on a weekly basis, topping up drivers who earned less than $19.97 for each hour worked. The bill would also make it so drivers would not be paid for trips canceled by the customer.

Andi Honer, who’s been delivering for six years, says no. When the law took effect in January, she saw her earnings drop in half. Though she was making more per trip, she was getting fewer orders and smaller tips.

Since then, her earnings have rebounded slightly, but are still below what she made the year before.

“Before, I was making $3 on an order, and now I’m making $8 on an order, but after 40 hours of work I’m making half the amount I was making before,” she said.

Tips, in particular, have disappeared: They once accounted for more than half of her earnings, but now customers are plowing that money into service charges.

So that’s a minimum wage of $20 an hour after cutting the rules back. Before that was a minimum of $5 per delivery and an average of $8, so guess what deliveries are going to cost more than? And guess what that does to demand and willingness to tip?

The government’s demand for records knows no bounds.

Austen Allred: It’s interesting that document retention has evolved from, “OK don’t destroy all your documents now” to, “We demand to have record of every conversation anybody has from here on out.”

“But Austen document retention has always made it so that everything is captured in perpetuity.”

No, 30 years ago 99% would be be voice conversations and phone calls.

Accidentally having “documentation” of everything that ever happens is a new/​accidental phenomenon.

Contrast this with Sam Altman’s recent speculations about potentially needing 5th Amendment protections for your AI assistant that will know everything about you. That is not how government typically responds to new records being kept.

Japan doubles its intake of skilled workers to 160k/​year, versus our H-1B limit of 85k. It remains completely bonkers that we cap the number of H-1B visas at all.

Florida Man Bans Lab-Grown Meat

As expected, Florida also bans lab-grown meat.

A lot of people genuinely do not understand how anyone could support such a ban, unless they were in the pocket of Big Meat.

I do not support it. But allow me to once again attempt to explain.

As I mentioned last time, this is in large part happening because, no matter what anyone says now, these types of worse alternatives seen by some as morally superior will always, always then be used as justifications to attempt to socially shame, destroy and ultimately ban the original product.

This will happen even if the new offering is more expensive, lower quality than even the cheapest versions of the old product, and at best a poor substitute for even those cheaper versions, or in this case that a switch could be greatly damaging to your health as well in a wide variety of ways.

This will happen even when the ban will predictably backfire on its own merits.

Indeed, this was the comment I got last month when I pointed all this out:

Zvi Mowshowitz: In this case, it is obvious, many are not bothering to hide their intentions. Many of the people I know who are vegans absolutely want to come for your meat, and even your dairy. They are building alternatives in order to do this. They bide their time only because they do not have the power to pull it off, but they will absolutely impose first expensive mandates and then outright bans if permitted to do so, and would do so even with no good alternatives.

They certainly would do so if they could point to ‘meat alternatives,’ even if we all knew they were expensive and not the same. They would gaslight you about that, as other movements continuously gaslight us about other cultural trends via the full four-step clown makeup. And they think they are morally right or even obligated to do this.

Is it still perverse to ban lab-grown meat? Very much so, and I would not be banning it. That is not how I roll.

Derek Heady: Read through the [above] quote, replacing “vegan” with “abolitionist” and “meat” with “slave,” and you’ll be seeing the issue from the p.o.v. of animal ethicists. My guess is that history will not be kind to arguments of this sort.

Thank you, Derek. I appreciate the honesty and removal of the mask.

I continue to oppose this ban. But if you cannot see why some people react with ‘oh then we definitely need to ban lab grown meat before it is too late’ then that is on you. If you keep saying ‘eat what you want, but leave me alone’ and do not understand why so many do not believe you or take that argument seriously?

This is why. For many of you it is very much a ‘oh look, if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions’ or ‘me reaping’ situation.

For those who are instead principled libertarians who genuinely wouldn’t turn this around on a moment’s notice, well, I am sorry that others have ruined this and so many other principled stands.

Also, I think this Tweet below might explain more than half the objections and warnings around California’s proposed SB 1047 and why they so often don’t correspond to anything written in the bill?

Instead of saying ‘I do not like this on its merits and suggest we not do it,’ they instead say: I don’t care that [lab grown meat, putting safety requirements on state of the art non-derivative AI models above 10^26 flops] has exactly zero to do with almost every [startup, AI company]. What matters is: The vibes are off. You don’t like what we like. You gestured disapprovingly in our philosophy’s general direction, and might at some point pass other rules against other things. This cannot be tolerated. So that’s that. It’s all over, nothing else matters, we’re done here, we’re totes going to abandon the whole place in droves.

Or remember when a bunch of VCs signed an extremely milquetoast content-free statement to the effect of ‘it would be better if AI companies tried to do things safety’ and for a week we got lots of founders saying ‘looks like we have a list of VCs we never will take a meeting with again! Cancelled!’ Yeah, okay. You do that.

I think that if you did that, you would miss your nose. But it’s your face.

Crime and Punishment

Homicide rates rose during the pandemic. Now they are falling again.

Dan Frosch (WSJ): Nationwide, homicides dropped around 20% in 133 cities from the beginning of the year through the end of March compared with the same period in 2023, according to crime-data analyst Jeff Asher, who tabulated statistics from police departments across the country.

If the trend continues, the U.S. could be on pace for a year like 2014, which saw the lowest homicide rate since the 1960s.


The CCJ report says that homicide was 18% higher in 2023 than 2019, so this would be more than a full reversal.

Florida charges you $50 per day to stay in their prisons, and has extended this to time not served, charging a woman $127,000 for her 7 year sentence despite only serving ten months. This is unsurprisingly wrecking havoc with her life and many others.

Needless to say this is insane. If you want to fine people and confiscate their existing assets, fine, but debt here is deeply destructive. Saddling ex-convicts with this is not how you get good outcomes. Then again, who says Florida wants good outcomes? One person suggested this was a response to felons being given the vote, with the debt designed to deny them that vote until they pay, which they often cannot do.

Fox News covers the squatter issue how you would expect, with a great shoutout to the need to build more housing. As Mark Miller points out here, adverse possession letting you claim ownership of an abandoned property after 5-7 years makes sense, and most squatting has zero to do with that and is simply theft, fraud and extortion. When that happens it should be dealt with accordingly. I want jail time.

Meanwhile things like this in Oakland will keep happening, where it seems squatters terrorized the neighborhood for five years, constantly chopping stolen cars, no one felt they could do anything about it, and the fifth time they set a fire it finally burned down several houses. I am boggled how we reached a point where doing normal business or building anything is illegal, but living completely illegally and destructively is protected.

The Toussaint Cartier necklace, valued at over $150 million and worn at the recent Met Gala by Daphne Kluger, was reportedly stolen. Love it. I am strongly against theft but if you tempt fate this precisely then that is on you.

El Salvador

El Salvador continues to be a fascinating experiment and Rorschach test. So here is the latest exchange, focusing in on how strong is the evidence from a gang tattoo.

Law & Liberty: The American right should be ashamed of their admiration of @nayibbukele, writes @plynch1966.

The fact that he has ended El Salvador’s violent crime epidemic does not justify his betrayal of liberal ideals and principles.

[The last section of the post is entitled ‘Not a Solution to Anything,’ in which it admits that this was indeed a solution to vital things, and without suggesting a viable alternative.]

Shylock Holmes: El Salvador is a legal philosophy hypothetical come to life.

“Okay, but what if all the guilty people… tattooed their faces. And literally nobody else did. And there’s like 100,000 of them. Would you still really need trials for all of them?”

“Yes, because, um, er…”

The commitment to due process as a kind of romantic attachment and end in itself, rather than as an engineering hack for somewhat Bayesian justice, is quite jarring. Especially given that this had been tried, for decades, and the result was a homicide rate north of 100 per 100k.

Another useful intuition is “if you don’t immediately understand what ‘a homicide rate above 100 per 100k’ means in practical terms, nor know that this is what El Salvador had, perhaps you aren’t a serious authority on the country.

“But this sets a terrible precedent for other cases”.

Okay, but imagine there’s no evidence of any desire to apply this standard to anyone other than obvious gangbangers.

“But it’s a slippery slope.”

So is a homicide rate of 100 per 100k.

Seriously, @plynch1966, what do you expect the wrongful imprisonment rate to be if you were to lock up everyone with an MS-13 face tattoo? Would you say, 10^-5? 10^-6? Either ES or the US, the answer is the same.

It is hard to overstate how relevant this is to the question.

I want to see the movie where the protagonist goes to sleep, then wakes up with an MS-13 face tattoo and has to go on the run from the police and also both gangs.

I also would assume that the false positive rate for current offenders is higher than 10^-5, likely at least 10^-2 (1%), even if everyone with such a tattoo got it on purpose. Presumably some people quit the gangs. And it would be quite bad to tell gang members that you will lock them up even if they decide to be too legit and thus quit.

It still does seem like the tattoo is super strong Bayesian evidence of gang activity. It is certainly much stronger Bayesian evidence than ‘was found guilty of murder in America’ or what I would require to convict a defendant ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’

Given the circumstances El Salvador was facing, I do not see a reasonable argument that it was wrong, during the acute crisis period, to make arrests based on this evidence alone.

That does not make the concerns about strongman activity illegitimate. Arresting criminals does not require changing the constitution to give more executive power or getting the courts to let you have consecutive terms that were previously illegal. It is very easy to see this lack of due process being extended to political enemies and for democracy to be endangered. It is difficult to do this kind of policy in an isolated and careful way that preserves everyone’s rights otherwise even when that is the goal.

And that very clearly was not the goal. The goals seem to be a mix of popularity, power, profit and prosperity. If you do not want the people to take that deal, you need to give them an alternative. Those issuing dire warnings have not done so.

Variously Effective Altruism

A study found that paying off people’s medical debt does not help them much.

Patrick McKenzie: “We pay off the debt and then credit score improves” is not a good theory of change, because paying off delinquent debts just doesn’t improve credit score, point blank.

Once someone is in a state of being overwhelmed by debt, the medical trade lines on a credit report are a social fiction. (Even more than medical bills generally.)

Donors may have been one of few actors who believed that fiction had strong impact on material world.

This seems like an obvious flaw in the system, if it is true in general? If it does not improve your credit score to pay off a delinquent debt, then you have even more reason not to pay. Obviously it should not get you a full credit score refund, but a partial one seems appropriate. On the other hand, if you are drowning in debt, it makes sense that it changes very little.

I think this is spot on:

Patrick McKenzie: 16 of U.S. economy is medical spending, and medical spending is observable on credit reports in a way which food spending is not. If you get to the point where you’re defaulting, via any mechanism, you will default on both medical and food-based expenditures if you have them.

And then scholars suggest you were brought to this circumstance by the medical debt, but not the food debt, because scholars can’t see food debt.

Anyhow, in the case where medical issues are proximate cause of downward financial spiral, whackamoling the bills doesn’t redress.

In terms of interpreting the study’s results, however, we have this big caveat.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: “We tried forgiving $169M in debt [that was already in arrears and deemed uncollectible, bought for pennies on the dollar] and found little effect” is the econ equivalent of IN MICE. Please lead with that part next time.

I’m not objecting to the research, people, I am objecting to its initial representation online and in media headlines.

The debt was cheap for a reason. It was bought for pennies, and mostly written off, the damage otherwise already done.

Still, yes, this could have been a situation in which that debt did damage vastly in excess of its economic value. A collection agency buys the debt for pennies, then harasses the debtors, threatens them, potentially goes after them legally if opportunity arises. What is still left is all but worthless. Yet the debtor cannot purchase their own debt anywhere close to market price, for obvious reasons.

So gains from trade would have made sense. It would have made sense if it was good value to settle those debts at market price.

Alas, we now know that this was not the case. Or, alternatively, we know that the debt collectors were not doing that much additional damage.

What could be tried next?

If I had the budget for it, I would attempt to repeat the experiment, except that instead of buying the debt from collectors, you try buying it instead of the initial debt collector, at a competitive price for that point in time.

Then you divide into various experimental groups. Perhaps something like:

  1. For a control group, you have the debt serviced normally, or you never buy it in the first place but track the debtors. This hopefully is a close to free action.

  2. For the first experimental group, you have the debt serviced normally, except without any further negative reports to the credit agencies. So they still try to get paid, and still harass the debtor, but they don’t make their credit any worse than it already is.

  3. For the second experimental group, you service the debt nicely. You not only don’t ding their credit, you also don’t harass coworkers or family members, you don’t call constantly at all hours, you don’t make idle threats and you’re not abusive. You accept reasonable settlement offers and set up payment plans. But you do remind them of the debt, and if they can clearly pay you attempt to collect.

  4. For the third experimental group, you forgive the debt.

Or something like that. Doubtless the IRB will invoke the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics, and blame you for helping but not doing more, so you do the best you can there or you don’t ask permission since there is no law against doing any of this. Then you see the results, and where intervention provides marginal help.

While I Cannot Condone This

Jeff Lawson buys The Onion, demands $1 or it will disappear forever.

Ben Collins: NEWS: My friends and I now own and run The Onion. I’ll be the CEO.

We’re keeping the entire staff, bringing back The Onion News Network, and share the wealth with staff.

Basically, we’re going to let them do whatever they want. Get excited.

It is too early to know if this will work out well. I used to get a lot out of The Onion, but then slowly stopped checking it. Revealed preference. Occasionally they still nail something, and I am eager to see what happens with ‘do whatever you want.’

Consider the context of Twitter, and also other places like The Washington Post.

Paul Graham: It’s weird how consistently people who attack Twitter point out that ad revenue has decreased. They don’t seem the sort of people who care about companies’ revenues, and now they’re suddenly amateur stock analysts. I suppose it’s because usage hasn’t decreased.

Ravi Parikh: Buying & running a media company at a loss to better adhere to your personal values, rather than purely profit-maximizing, seems like a reasonable thing for a rich person to do.

Indeed, ‘purchase and operate at a loss a media company or other company you want to exist’ is a highly standard thing to do.

It can be a very high impact strategy.

Media production has cultural impact vastly in excess of what can be captured in revenues. Attempts to capture more revenue cripple the reach and quality of the product, both compromising integrity and artistic choices and also saturating customers with ads and stopping them from consuming zero marginal cost products.

Buying Twitter or The Onion or The Washington Post, if you can afford to do so and can run one of them wisely, is a fantastic bargain. So is supporting individuals. This blog runs on the patron model as well. And this extends beyond media to many other businesses.

This is also one of the few socially acceptable, and thus likely to actually happen, ways to deploy that level of capital at scale for anything other than profit maximization.

Matt Yglesias implores us to ask how to solve problems, not why they happened.

But even though I enjoy this sort of thing, it’s also pretty plainly irrelevant to the question at hand, which is “what, if anything, can we or should we do about absenteeism right now?”

Well, maybe. There are times when all we care about is the how and it is unrelated to the why. But most of the time:

  1. The why is a key component of figuring out the how.

  2. The why is a key component of figuring out how to stop it happening again.

  3. The why is necessary for both perception of and actual justice or fairness.

  4. Asking why is necessary in general, or people notice you not asking.

  5. Learning about the world is an important secondary goal.

Or: Knowing why a problem happened is usually a key part of solving it.

Yglesias’s example is school absenteeism.

  1. If you don’t know why children aren’t coming, you might not get them to.

  2. If you don’t know why children stopped coming, they might stop again.

  3. It is terrible for various reasons not to settle accounts for our Covid decisions.

  4. If people think they can get away with such decisions again, they will try again.

  5. These seem like things worth knowing for anyone trying to model the world.

I think I’ve heard it before, but there is a theory that agriculture happened in so many places at similar times because the Earth’s climate got more seasonal so people had to shift into more reliable and consistent food supplies.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

New theory says only if you know where to shop.

Noah Smith: Bad news: If you’re happy with $80k, higher income will tend to make you even happier, but if you’re still miserable at $80k, further increases in income won’t do much.

Abstract: We discovered in a joint reanalysis of the experience sampling data that the flattening pattern exists but is restricted to the least happy 20% of the population, and that complementary nonlinearities contribute to the overall linear-log relationship between happiness and income.

Main Paper: Approximately 15 to 20% of people frequently experience negative affect, and the relationship between happiness and income is different in that group and in the happier majority. The suffering of the unhappy group diminishes as income increases up to 100k but very little beyond that.


The story or assumption that these are the same people at each income level seems suspect. Suppose 20% of the population is chronically unhappy due to mental issues. Would they tend to distribute normally over the income distribution? Presumably not. A lot of them would have this interfere with their work. Which then raises the worry that income is selection. The flip side would be if some people are satisficing on income, and others are working very hard because they know how bad it would be for them to make less money, both of which are doubtless the case. People are responding to their situations.

Good News, Everyone

A day in the life of a Walmart manager (WSJ). The job is all about sweating the small stuff, day in and day out.

Nate Silver will be doing his election forecasts in 2024.

A fun thread on statistics, and what it means to get a given p-value with samples of different sizes.

We are so spoiled with so much free music we recoil at the idea of paying $10 a month for full unlimited access to all of music. I worry that now no one appreciates it, and thus the utility we get from music is actually way down. I keep getting reminded I radically under-consume music, largely because there are so many podcasts. It needs to be something I focus on, when I put music on while working I don’t appreciate it and it distracts me.

Can’t Sleep Clowns Will Eat Me

You need talent, but Taylor Swift shows us the value of also being prolific, having a formula and schedule and relentlessly shipping, argues Katherine Boyle. She correctly points out Taylor is vastly more prolific than any other famous musical artist. Which is true, but that also means that everyone else who made it did so without shipping anywhere near as much as she did.

I think whether to always be shipping depends largely on the patterns of selection and consumption, and how you get evaluated.

In the before times, you would buy or sample an album. Then based on its quality, you might keep going. And every time you got stung by low-quality offerings, that hurt. In the physical media era, reliable quality was a huge deal.

In the download and especially streaming eras, as long as you are fine with people mostly streaming singles, not so much? If Taylor Swift puts out 28 new songs and 3 of them are bangers, and others can inform me which 3 are bangers. That’s almost as good as going 3 for 3. It’s potentially better if I want to sample a long tail. I can configure my own playlist. There is still the exploration cost issue at the limit, but you have a lot more slack there.

As a writer I think of this the same way. How do I want people finding, evaluating and consuming my content?

If people follow links and see what is viral or recommended, or people like to pick and choose by subject matter, then it is ship ship ship.

If it is people randomly sampling, or deciding whether to be in or out overall based on average quality, especially if they say ‘oh that is too much,’ then flooding the zone is unwise.

How Great are Great People?

Here are some claims that the great people really are that great, you should get exposed to them and be in awe, and those who haven’t seen it pretend such people do not exist, whereas instead you should strive to be worthy of their time. I think this is in some ways very true and in other ways totally false.

Roon: Twitter often accuses me of hero worship on here when I say that someone is a singular individual or uniquely capable. This is a consequence of not living at the edge of history and observing exactly how outlier the outliers are.

Anton: unless you’ve experienced it, you probably don’t know how great ‘great’ can be. one of the best things that you can do is get exposed to really great people, doing really great work, as early in your life as possible.

you cannot absorb this from books or television documentaries. You need the object lesson. all media occupies the same part of your brain as fiction – you need the life lesson.

By seeing with your own eyes what is possible you can better understand what you are really capable of. you become a better judge of yourself for having a better yardstick to measure by.

It is true in the sense that yes, there are people who are vastly more effective than most. It is a joy and inspiration to behold. I have definitely experienced it on several occasions. Peter Thiel was a rather blatant example. Jon Finkel in Magic: the Gathering is another. There have been many others, some of which I mention here periodically and some of which I don’t.

It is false in the sense that part of it is being sharp in a certain kind of special way, having certain mental capabilities and a willingness to push them and power through hard things, but at core they’re all still just (smart) regular people doing regular things except they have some sort of ambition. It does not take miracles to work miracles. They have many of the usual flaws and biases and weaknesses. A lot of what makes a great person is purely stepping up and doing the thing, while focusing on figuring out how best to do it, day in and day out.

There are minimum requirements, but great people are primarily made, not born.

That is a lot of why you need to see it. If you see it, at first you are in awe, then you realize you could do that same thing, and you might get the same results.

Gamers Gonna Game Game Game Game Game

Kickstarter for the direct sequel to Star Control 2, from its creators. Was already well past its goal, but there are stretch goals and also: Shut up and take my money. Between this and Slay the Spire 2, a lot of future gaming hours are happily spoken for.

I played the Tier 2 game Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor. Warning that I am generally high on vampire survivors-likes, but this has some very cool innovations that made it genuinely different. It is still in early access, I’ll come back to it as it improves.

I played through Tier 3 game Unicorn Overlord. It is a tactical RPG of sorts, with no strict grid, and where you battle in units of 3-5 characters each, according to tactical rules you code in beforehand. It is a fun game, with a lot of different things to play with and optimize, and the story and characters are fine. I especially appreciate the preview of how battles will go, and the ability to respond accordingly.

The core problem is that, as one poster put it, the game is ‘not going to be busting anyone’s balls.’ If you are paying attention at all, and trying to get stronger at all, you will win. If you find yourself underpowered, there are repeatable battles you can quickly grind to fix that, especially to let your secondary teams catch up on levels.

Similarly, the game offers all these one-use items you can find and buy. You get a lot of them automatically. They are useful. But the stores do not restock, and you don’t ever have to use them, so they end up Too Awesome To Use until the last few battles, where the end is in sight and munching stamina and healing items becomes a ‘sure, why not?’ proposition.

So you end up with a game that has a lot of complexity in it, which you can engage with to the extent you like, but the game doesn’t pressure you to do that much, or punish you for not doing so. It is so much easier to simply overpower everything.

I played on the fourth difficulty level out of five. I died a few times when I was moving fast and didn’t realize I had to protect my command post, but you can always restart any stage, so no worries. My guess is that max difficulty would have been more annoying, but still not a real challenge so much as requiring (more) grinding.

I gave a shot to Dragon’s Dogma 2 after Playstation Network spontaneously bought it for me without asking. I would have complained about that, but it had good reviews modulo some DLC issues that seemed easy to ignore, so I figured sure, why not f*** around.

I found out.

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is obsessed with its ‘pawns,’ the other three members of your party, two of which you constantly swap in and out.

Then it gives you only one save slot you cannot involve for long periods plus an autosave that triggers when battles start, and makes the pawns not smart enough to not get knocked off ledges, where if you pursue them you can get autosaved into a location where you definitely die, and if you don’t you lose them. And it sends you on deeply generic quests, and the battles are largely a blur since you have little control over the other party members. So it felt like it sucked, and was actually full Tier 5 (We Don’t Talk About Bruno)? But others seem to like it, so I presume I am missing something. Should I give this another shot?

I am now taking up Disgaea 7, which means (because D2) that I am doing this thing for the 8th time. It is very early, but I worry that this is too many times going back to the well. I also worry that they are not iterating over the right things and the flaws are amplifying, although there are clear improvements from Disgaea 6.

In particular, the game should make you care about various things and try to maximize in lots of directions at once, while ensuring all of them matter and giving you interesting choices. Instead, it kind of doesn’t.

Early on, instead of rewarding keeping things balanced or making it reasonable to level up via the story stages and fighting close battles, there is more of a mad dash to the item world, even more than in past editions. The game does not want you to ‘play fair’ in a way that keeps things interesting, and story progression seems like what you do to unlock various game features. Yes, obviously power leveling will be faster, but things do not need to be this stark.

Then later on, from what I have read, similar problems emerge, where you are not making choices on emphasis or picking strategies so much as checking off boxes.

The game also just gives you tons of stuff that does not matter. Why this giant barrage of quests and scrolls? We need some addition by subtraction.

The big change is the switch from the bonus gauge, where you were rewarded for gigantic combos where you sometimes cared very deeply about a particular level, to having five chests you can earn with different missions, but the chests are mysteries.

I like the idea, since filling the bonus gauge can be fun but ultimately got boring. The problem is that the missions they picked give you are even more encouragement to go curb stomp, as they consistently reward ‘no one died’ and ‘won quickly.’ So you are encouraged to not make things interesting or close. It also devalues the cool stuff that did reward you on the bonus gauge, such as setting up Geo blocks.

Also, the chests being random (outside the item world) or always levels (inside it) means there is no tension. You never see that legendary or emblem or big EXP bonus or what not and think ‘I have got to get me one of these.’ If you miss, meh. Then in the item world, the bonuses are all item levels, and not very many, which is even more meh.

I’d love to be a designer on Disgaea 8. We need to make a lot of cuts, to focus on a few things and make them really matter but give you meaningful choices which of them to emphasize, and find ways to not as brazenly reward charging head first into power leveling your top character. No one said it was going to be easy.

One place I would consider starting is to make stats on equipment multiplicative rather than additive. As in, your attack is your equipment’s ATK multiplied by your character ATK, not the sum.

If you are new to the series, I continue to suggest starting with Disgaea 1: Afternoon of Darkness. It has a purity and simplicity that makes up for a lot.

Then in mid-June, Shin Megami Tensei V: Revenge comes out, so that is where my gaming time will go for a few months after that.

I am definitely opening the floor to ‘what should I be playing right now,’ both in rogue deckbuilders and otherwise. I do want to get away from RPGs.

Update to the Philosophy of Commander document for Magic’s most popular format.

I understand why this document contains the principles it contains. I also am sure those who created it understand why this does not make me want to play Commander.

Brian Kowal’s followers prefer two-year Standard format over three. I strongly agree. Three years is far too many cards and too little rotation.

Reid Duke on Standard’s best decks. My reading of this having not seen the cards was a lot of ‘huh?’ with intermittent ‘oh’ and also periodic exclamations of ‘WHAT?’

Here is an example of why I keep saying ‘WHAT.’

PVDDR: I think this is my favorite MTG art since Esika’s Chariot (and the card seems kinda broken too)


The economics of magical item crafting in D&D make no sense, failing to stand up to even a minute of scrutiny. This is mostly not a direct problem unless a third level Wizard starts creating lots of trivial Magic items, everyone can still have their fun, but it indicates the level of economic and market understanding running around.

Sports Go Sports

A reminder that this is The Way.

Kevin O’Connor: The top playoff seeds should be rewarded with the ability to choose their 1st round opponent.

Intentional losing to drop a spot for a matchup isn’t as exciting as teams competing to win for homecourt AND their choice of an opponent.

It should matter the Knicks just beat the Bulls while the Bucks lost and the Cavs had no interest in winning to get the 2nd seed. Instead many Knicks fans are disappointed they will end up with the Heat or Sixers from the play-in.

This makes no sense. It doesn’t have to be this way. Winning should be all that matters.

The NBA used to allow G League teams to choose their playoff opponent. Clearly, there’s interest.

Nate Duncan: I would love it, but GMs and coaches on the competition committee will never vote for having to make another decision (picking your opponent) that could possibly get them fired if it goes wrong.

Nate Silver: Have season ticket holders vote.

Should you be allowed to bet on yourself?

Say Cheese: Ryan Garcia cashed out a $12M winning ticket from a gambling company this morning, after he bet $2M on himself to win last night. “He was a huge underdog because Vegas thought he was going crazy”

Tautologer: I like this honestly, and I think if we’re going to allow sports gambling (ehhh…) this should be allowed more broadly. eg NFL players should be allowed to bet moneyline on their own team to win (and nothing else obviously). betting on yourself is pretty based.

In boxing, as in life, strong yes. Indeed, in any individual sport including tennis or golf I think it is fine to bet on yourself to win the game (and no other wagers of any kind).

In team sports, the answer should often be no. Pete Rose is banned from baseball for a reason. Betting on the team to win is the least bad wager and is indeed based, but can still be distortionary. It places pressure on you to win today, at the expense of tomorrow and the health and development of the other players. Such tradeoffs are common.

Then again, contracts often create similar incentives, including for many things that are not winning the game. We allow that to happen. This mostly seems not worse than that, especially if the bet is by a player not a coach? The coach should still definitely not be allowed to wager on individual games.

Hero Max Scherzer proposes relegation for umpires as a substitute for outright robot umpires, the bottom 10% as ranked by the machines get relegated to the minors each year. I heartily endorse this service or product. The human element is good for the game up to a point, but also Angel Hernandez exists.

The price of youth baseball keeps going up. Leagues that cost money and involve travel and tryouts and attempts to play well are on the rise. Little league and other open-to-all baseball is on the decline. Those who want a cheaper game, or one that is easier to play casually, are presumably playing basketball or soccer instead.

That seems fine for the kids. All the worry about declines in youth physical activity here do not consider substitution effects, or that baseball is a relatively poor source of physical activity when played at the free level. Standing in right field and sitting on the bench with an occasional strikeout is a good excuse to go outside, but not accomplishing much else. Baseball that is official with uniforms and teams but not taking it super serious, like little league, is in a weird spot.

For the sport of baseball, it would be good to get more kids playing. So yes, I would like to see more low-cost opportunities. Otherwise, I don’t get the worrying.

I Was Promised Flying Self-Driving Cars

Matt Yglesias declares self-driving to now be underhyped. This kind of technology is mostly useless until it is suddenly transformational, and we are rapidly approaching the threshold.

Waymo is a real thing available now, and is steadily expanding its reach and scale, and are on the verge of having useful geographic footprints.

I strongly agree. The self-driving business model depends on reaching critical mass of scale and geographic coverage. In San Francisco, you can already cover the central area, and they are planning to extend this south as far as Sunnyvale, which would include the airport. The East Bay is still missing, which will make this less exciting for my standard trips into town, but this is already a big game.

As with all such schemas, once you establish base then expansions become more attractive, and things escalate quickly.

Self-driving trucks will be a distinct huge deal. Things are taking their sweet time, and there are still legal hurdles, but at this point self-driving is severely underhyped.

California of course now is seeing efforts to ban this before it can take off. No idea how serious that threat is, but if you can please help head it off.

News You Can Use

This checks out, if you add a ‘more than usual.’

Austen Allred: A random thing someone told me once that I now think about constantly:

If you feel like you hate everyone, eat.

If you feel like everyone hates you, sleep.

If you feel like you hate yourself, shower.

If you feel like everyone hates everyone, go outside.

Claim that applying to focus groups can be a good source of extra cash. They pay well per hour, although you have to spend time applying. They seem like fun. I’ve watched a few when I was investigating politics, and I’ve done one taste test interview. The best part is you get to influence things to be more like what you prefer, and have your voice heard. Seems great.

Airlines will be required to give automatic refunds on flights much more aggressively, in particular for ‘Departure or arrival time that moves by more than three hours domestically or six hours for international flights.’ Three hours is not a lot of time. Ideally, this would be even stronger, where you would both get the refund and also keep the flight. Yes, that would raise fares to compensate, but it would also provide the right incentives.

The Lighter Side

These labels are highly non-exclusive.