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Andreas Schou
Works at Snake Parliament
Attended Awesome Skeleton Hell College
Lives in Mountain View, California
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Andreas Schou

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On Moderation: An Ass-Backward Guide to Managing a Community Which Extends From Revolutionary Socialists to Anarcho-Capitalists

(1) When responding as editor, always assume that you are talking to a reasonable person making the most reasonable possible version of their argument. This is not always true in the real world, but this sort of bad-faith good-faith heads off any risk of escalating, tit-for-tat misinterpretation of the other person's argument.

(2) A new member of the community, especially a dissenting member, will often appear to be a troll. Dissenting members who have been socialized to dissent helpfully eventually become valuable members of the community.

(3) Use soft power until you have reached its limits. If the community has a disruptive member who disagrees with you, see if you can get someone who agrees with the disruptive person to intervene on your behalf. It will seem less like you're punishing dissent.

(4) There is no reason to be rude or cruel to someone whom you will not have a continuing relationship with. If you need to exercise hard power -- banning, reporting, excluding -- decide that that's what you need to do, do it, and don't comment on the subject.

(5) Try to be epistemically multilingual. If you can explain a position using only assumptions that you and the other person share, don't try to force a new set of assumptions down their throat. More than likely, they'll just reject your position outright, and you will no longer have anything interesting to talk about.

(6) The most difficult problem an ideological diverse community faces is not antisocial disagreement, but antisocial agreement. It is difficult to convince people that any such thing exists, but community punishment of people who operate outside the editorial consensus can stifle dissent and cause the community to go wildly awry.

(7) Hard apriorists are not a useful part of most conversations. If someone believes he can determine the appropriate federal funds rate from I Think, Therefore I Am, you will probably not have a productive conversation with him, and it is best to politely tell him that he is being ignored.

(8) Biographical details are important. They are anecdotal, but not peripheral. If someone believes they have insights into their own region, ethnicity, profession, gender, government, family, or life experiences, this is likely to be true. What's more, people demand more respect for their own lived experiences than for beliefs which they hold for other reasons.

It is fair to demand that people tread carefully around biographical details and lived experience.

(9) People overgeneralize from their own biographies. Anecdotal experience derived from lived experience is important. It is, however, still anecdotal. If you are inclined to make a strident point based on a biographical argument, it would help if you also went and found some data to support it rather than simply demanding concession from the person you're arguing with.

If you see someone genuinely trying to make a fair argument against your biographical details and lived experience, try to assume that it was made in good faith. 

(10) If you find yourself looking at a Wikipedia page to construct an argument against someone whom you believe to be better-informed on a subject than you, stop. At best, you are denying yourself the opportunity to learn something from a subject matter expert -- even one who turns out to be wrong. At worst, you are about to embarrass yourself. 

(11) Argument about rules of evidence, especially in the middle of another argument,  is seldom productive. If you are aware of the rules of evidence generally adhered to by the people you're arguing with, try to produce evidence which at least meets that standard, and table the argument about evidentiary rules until it can be addressed separately.

(Note: If you have seen this before, and you are seeing it again now, it's because I've pinned the rules for my space to the top of my profile.)
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"If the community has a disruptive member who disagrees with you, see if you can get someone who agrees with the disruptive person to intervene on your behalf. It will seem less like you're punishing dissent."
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A Couple of Biological Facts That Aren't Really Important Enough to Build a Post Around

Wildebeest are, in general, pretty unexceptional ruminants. Except that their nuclear DNA codes for a virus -- malignant catarrhal fever -- which is fatal to almost every other ungulate. When under metabolic stress (say, during a drought) or when calving, they start to shed virus, killing off the competition for grass.

A number of multicellular organisms have decided that multicellular life simply isn't for them and reverted to free-living unicellular forms. Apart from transmissible cancers like Devil Facial Tumor and Canine Venereal Tumor, this also includes myxozooans, which are unicellular, parasitic jellyfish. 

Of course, a number of unicellular animals have decided that they want to be large enough to compete with multicellular animals, but don't want to deal with the whole "multiple cells" issue. This creates some serious problems with volume : surface area ratios (see, e.g.,, but works out surprisingly well. Some foraminifera are about 10 inches across. 

Barnacles are arthropods. This is not a terribly novel fact, but if you cut a barnacle in half, you can really see the family resemblance: the animal's feathery legs extend from what looks like a blind, curled-up shrimp. 
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+John Bump Could you point me to definitions of episomic and proviral?
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Goose brined with Earl Gray, herbs, and citrus, served two ways: medium rare breast with gravy; confit quarters with poached grapes. 

Wild mushroom and polenta pie. 

Brussel sprouts with pancetta, goose fat, and mustard.

Salad of some sort with brie. 

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Damn that sounds tempting...
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A Short Review, Jessica Jones: Quite good, in general. Pleasingly, it's media which doesn't pass the reverse Bechdel test (for good reason), but which isn't about not passing the reverse Bechdel test.
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Also that's a beautiful illustration of gaslighting.
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I originally posted this in response to something else, but it's particularly relevant now that Pfizer is reverse-merging into an Ireland-based company. 

We more-or-less shouldn't bother with the sort of policy which made this happen. You cannot get any corporation to pay more taxes than the absolute minimum that it is legally permitted to pay, and you can only get that money after more argument than almost anyone in the world would consider reasonable. This is because while corporations are legal persons, they are not real persons, and can create all sorts of legally binding relationships which real people cannot.  They do this in the context of a multi-billion dollar industry devoted to rendering particular corporate tax optimization (or avoidance) schemes unquestionably licit. 

This means that any corporate tax scheme, however well-designed at first, will eventually leak like a sieve. Unless the government spends virtually all of its time trying to patch the new holes that tax lawyers are drilling, a body of law which is (in theory) unchanging will continue to spring leaks. This is why most places do not have a significant corporate tax, and -- instead -- tax the money when it gets to human beings who can be individually audited, jailed, or otherwise punished for failing to meet their obligation, and who would find it more inconvenient to argue ad infinitum for the propriety of their tax avoidance than an imaginary person who cannot be jailed under any circumstances, and can hire an infinite number of lawyers to pursue tax avoidance schemes until the entropic heat death of the entire universe.

Solutions include asking the government to patch the leaks in the corporate tax rate, which I consider basically futile; asking the government to implement a VAT, which is probably a good idea, but would require a much larger refactoring of government programs to compensate for reduced progressivity; asking the government to aggressively tax capital gains and revenues, which I consider the good idea which would require the least refactoring, and asking the government to implement a wealth tax, which I consider basically a kinda-bad idea.

The United States, where much of the world's corporate money eventually goes, is a particularly good chokepoint for collecting taxes in any of these ways, and without the inevitable tax chicanery involved in the modern US tax regime.
The Pfizer-Allergan deal has turned into a story of corporate tax avoidance.
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I want you to imagine that the US spent the 1930s in a series of crises, creating a decade-long civil war and leaving it with a working but fragile government. During that period, the Soviet Union defeated the Nazis pretty much single-handedly, its prestige and power giving it influence over much of the world. The Soviet empire, in this alternate universe, includes most of the Americas, including Canada, and much of Europe.

The US itself even has a communist government, at least nominally. But there are problems with the politburo and succession is questionable. Having just gone through a decade of strife, the US government begins abandoning sections of the communist platform in much the same way the Chinese government, in our universe, did. A lot of the forms are still there, but there's greater flexibility and the government has refounded legitimacy.

The US isn't original in this, either. Fed up with the excess of commissars, privileges of party elites, and the failure of communist governments to connect with ordinary citizens, reformist movements have been coming up everywhere. Relatively new media put wind in reformist sails and the Soviet empire started entering into uneasy standoffs with client states and even their own provinces.

The Soviets, however, are none too pleased with the US move. In 1956 the Soviets back a presidential candidate who takes power in a thinly-veiled coup. Losing a state the size of the US might be an incredible problem. They could, after all, begin backing reform movements elsewhere or spreading revolution. The new president uses their power to begin executing and repressing reformers, sowing civil strife and threatening worse. After eight years, however, there's a return to some normalcy in the US but the Soviets are still overly, and yet more forcefully, working to suppress "counter-revolutionary" ideas.

Then, in 1963, Canada, which had been communist for decades, ended its communist government entirely and declared independence from the Bloc. The Soviet reaction was brutal, total war. The Soviet Union dropped a nuclear weapon on Toronto in 1965. The Canadians fought valiantly on, largely driving the Soviets from Canada, and would leave them only Newfoundland.

Stinging from military failures in Canada but flush with men and materiel from their vast empire, the Soviets turn their attention back to the US. They gather a fleet in Vladivostok and make way toward California. The US responds by summoning every ship it can -- military vessels, fishing boats, freighters -- and outfitting them for war. A call goes out, coastal fortifications are manned by citizens with only their personal arms. Reports fly in of the Soviet fleet; soldiers and sailors and militiamen alike look nervously at the sea.

The US does manage to defeat the Soviet fleet off San Francisco in 1970. A combination of fog, poor planning, American knowledge of their own coast, and, some say, a unique esprit d'corps lend the US victory. But the Soviet fleet isn't destroyed and the American strategy required sacrificing ships, sailors packed them with explosives and set them toward the enemy before jumping overboard.

In 1976 the US is a weary republic. Wracked by civil strife, war, and political division. But it's intact, mostly. To save it from another constitutional crisis, a bargain has been struck unifying it with relatively stable Mexico. The new president has already evaded Soviet assassination attempts and the union is uneasy. To show support for the new government, the State of the Union address has become particularly large. Elected officials, prominent citizens, clergy, corporate heads, everyone who's anyone, really, turn out in Washington for it.

And then the report comes in: a communist agitator, a Soviet veteran from their campaign to reclaim Canada, has been found under the Capitol preparing a nuclear weapon. If it had gone off, it would have wiped out the government. The plan is discovered to be complex, to destroy the government and replace it with one waiting in the wings. Regardless of the outcome, it would have plunged the US into another long period of civil conflict.

It was happening here, again, recruiting from the communist dead-enders still in the country. Fearing Soviet involvement in this plot or a future one, the government orders all communists to turn in their weapons, disarming any fifth column before it can march.

That's the best I can do to modernize the events leading up to the Gunpowder Treason and a piece of fallout.
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Do you write fiction? Maybe you oughta. That was so vivid.
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The Arabian peninsula contains several historically stable state configurations. "Arabia on its own, without the Levant or South Arabia," is not one of them, primarily because the settled-peoples-to-nomads ratio is extremely unfavorable. 

Both the settled and Bedouin populations in the Arabian peninsula share a religion and a culture. But, sometimes, external trade and water dry up, which makes nomads restive. Normally, restive nomads raid or overthrow their settled neighbors.

The problem is that Muslims are prohibited from doing that. The solution is to define your settled neighbors as not really Muslim. Takfiri nomads have a huge political advantage.

The House of Saud's relationship with the most recent takfiri-nomad movement has always been tense: the arrangement which made Wahhabism the state religion of Saudi Arabia was essentially religious validation of the idea that the rich, settled parts of Arabia would pay protection money to the poor, nomadic parts of Arabia.

Then Saudi Arabia got rich. 

When you're paying a fraction of your small GDP to religious lunatics, that's one thing. They can't cause huge problems. When you're paying a fraction of a huge GDP to religious lunatics, they start spreading religious lunacy in places where you don't expect.

Which means that Saudi, by attempting to pay off an existential threat under one set of economic and political circumstances, ended up riding a tiger they can't climb off of. It's horrifying, but this may be the most stable noncolonial equilibrium in Saudi Arabia. 

Just pray that we get off of oil soon: as long as we still need the stuff that's buried under Saudi, they're going to keep exporting their lunacy. 
Saudi Arabia's harsh religious tradition is seen by many outsiders - and some Saudi liberals - as a root cause of the international jihadist threat that has inflamed the Middle East for years and struck in Paris last week.
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+Julian Bond Amazon, and China, are both working to become more energy efficient. I'm saying, use less oil, use more renewables. If you want to do something that will help end this war, you personally, that is something you can do. And the cheapest form of renewable energy remains efficiency. $40/barrel represents progress. What can we do, together, to create more of that kind of progress? 
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The U.S. National Security Agency will end its daily vacuuming of millions of Americans' phone records by Sunday and replace the practice with more tightly targeted surveillance methods, the Obama administration said on Friday.
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+Chuck Homsy​ Individually, they lack resources and knowledge/skills, with some exceptions such as Stingray.

Collectively, some national service industry might provide for it.
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Amazing stuff. It's a bad recording, but every new trailer I see for The Force Awakens makes it seem more awesome. This bit -- from a trailer which only aired in Turkey -- is absolutely incredible. 

So excited.

+Ahmet Aktay, please confirm.
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This looks like documentary footage of Putin on the KGB obstacle course.
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Wherein half of one of the worst years of my life, the one which made me decide to go to law school, becomes a front-page article on Jezebel. 
Doug Wilson is trying to save civilization. The pastor at Christ Church Moscow, a college town on Idaho’s border with Washington, doesn’t think things are going very well in America these days. He wouldn’t mind a return to Old Testament law, as he wrote in his book Fidelity: How to Be a One-Woman Man: “[W]hen we are dealing with young children who are abused by adults (pederasty, child porn, etc.) the penalty for those guilty of the crime should ...
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So, some pharmaceutical company has decided that it's probably a good idea to go ahead and vaccinate people against low-density cholesterol.

Epitope spreading makes this the worst idea I've ever heard.

It's easy to think of the human immune system as being essentially compartmentalized; a system where activation by one thing doesn't implicate anything else. But once your immune system detects that there's a problem, it'll continue to work on it until the problem is solved. That means reassorting its arsenal of antibodies until it's rooted out the infection which activated it to begin with.

Which is a problem, when the "infection" is actually a protein secreted by healthy human cells in the brain, liver, and intestines. As long as the protein continues to be secreted, the body will continue to react by binding and sweeping the protein (which is good), but also by tracking down and killing cells which are expressing that protein (which is terrible).

I don't see any way to use this mechanism to achieve that result: chronic autoimmunity tends to increase in scope (although not necessarily severity) over time -- and this is the precise intent of this treatment.

Awful. Just awful.
We have dueling PCSK9 antibodies on the market - Praluent (alirocumab) and Repatha (evolocumab) - and they're both out there lowering LDL levels as we speak.
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Topological Politics: Some Implementation Details

The problem of reaching a new, large-scale political order from an old one was, for longer than people expect, a generally, cross-culturally unsolved problem. Many of the earliest tolerable states were tolerable because they did not, and could not, make substantial changes to a deep underlying order. The king of Israel could not change the law. Germanic kings could not change the law. The Caliph could not change the law. The Pope could not change the law. This meant, in general, that systems, when they adapted, adapted by legitimizing new interpretations of old patterns, rather than by imposing new patterns themselves.

Systems for changing the political order are ancient, but -- for a very long time -- didn't scale. For bands, consensus was often enough; for tribes, direct democracy worked well. Beyond that scale threshold, mechanisms like markets, judges, ritual, and regional delegation expanded the scope of public consent, but -- in general -- all forms of large-scale organization have relied on the use of public force alongside consent.

Force is easy. It requires only the consent of men with guns, and the compliance of people on the wrong end of those guns. With enough of a force disparity, you can get precisely the outcome you want, precisely when you want it. In the lead-up to the use of force, it often seems like a useful tool to cross some unpleasant utility valley which couldn't be bridged by consent alone.

Unfortunately, even force requires consent. The more force you intend to apply, and the greater the risk to your gun-wielding elites, the deeper the consent you need from those elites. You could buy them off -- which requires paying them from spoils drawn from the people you're using force against -- or you could make them fanatically devoted to your ideals, which makes them dangerous when, inevitably, you have to change course. Over long timescales, levels of systemic force tend to degenerate into stationary banditry: because relaxation of force would result in the collapse of the system, politico-military elites tend to increase in importance as the amount of force required to sustain the system increases.

Which leaves mass consent.

Obtaining mass consent is more difficult. Mere democracy won't get you there: you need a family of non-interfering norms and laws which maintain consent even in the face of elites or majorities willing to expend that consent for short-term or personal goals. In particular, you need some mechanism to restrain public force, some mechanism to restrain private force, some mechanism to prevent elites from taking strongly consent-depleting actions, some mechanism for swapping elites without and some mechanism to implement decisions within the system more-or-less deterministically.

More or less, you need posse comitatus, legal procedure, meaningful enforcement of laws and norms against private parties, civil rights, an independent judiciary, democracy, and a bureaucracy. There may or may not better mechanisms than these -- but these are the ones most commonly used.

The structure of mass consent, especially mass consent in extremis, gives political elites a limited control surface: they can either respect the structures which allowed rotation of political elites to begin with, or they can attempt to supplement flagging consent with force or quasi-legitimate, unilateral action. This, again, is perfectly good (in a morally neutral sense) for chasing short-term goals, but both (a) renders the system of consent brittle, and (b) risks the development of counter-norms (and, in the American system, law) opposed to long-term objectives.

Which means, basically, that when people tell me, "WHY AREN'T YOU PULLING THIS POLICY LEVER SO HARD IT SNAPS OFF IN YOUR HAND?", it's not that I disagree that the problem is important. It's that I think the problem is either (a) not important enough to risk breaking a control surface to achieve it, or (b) requires sufficiently long-term action that attempting to act now would foreclose the possibility of acting in the future. 
"Were the people who believed in eugenics just fools? I think we have to try to stop them!" "You can't stop other people from pursuing their projects, their dreams. Even if they are crazy dreams, e...
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The trouble with improving the world through eugenics is that being a eugenecist is a low-fitness adaptation.
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  • Snake Parliament
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Mountain View, California
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Dilettante. Incapable of boredom. Diverse interests. If you'd like a distilled stream of my best posts, try here:
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