A Federal Judge on Biases in the Criminal Justice System. 2015-07-03T03:17:50.658Z
This is why we can't have social science 2014-07-13T21:04:41.700Z
Stupid Questions Open Thread 2011-12-29T23:23:21.412Z
Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011 2011-12-16T22:05:16.117Z
Rationalist Lord of the Rings fanfiction, newly translated from Russian 2011-03-14T02:38:38.736Z


Comment by Costanza on Experiments 1: Learning trivia · 2014-07-20T19:51:44.825Z · LW · GW

There's an app for that, at least on the IT Crowd.

Comment by Costanza on [LINK] Another "LessWrongers are crazy" article - this time on Slate · 2014-07-18T22:25:07.422Z · LW · GW

Let's check featured articles on the main page on 19 July 2014....and...there we go.

Comment by Costanza on This is why we can't have social science · 2014-07-14T00:14:35.335Z · LW · GW

What is the purpose of an experiment in science? For instance, in the field of social psychology? For instance,what is the current value of the Milgram experiment? A few people in Connecticut did something in a room at Yale in 1961. Who cares? Maybe it's just gossip from half a century ago.

However, some people would have us believe that this experiment has broader significance, beyond the strict parameters of the original experiment, and has implications for (for example) the military in Texas and corporations in California.

Maybe these people are wrong. Maybe the Milgram experiment was a one-off fluke. If so, then let's stop mentioning it in every intro to psych textbook. While we're at it, why the hell was that experiment funded, anyway? Why should we bother funding any further social psychology experiments?

I would have thought, though, that most social psychologists would believe that the Milgram experiment has predictive significance for the real world. A Bayesian who knows about the results of the Milgram experiment should better be able to anticipate what happens in the real world. This is what an experiment is for. It changes your expectations.

However, if a supposedly scientific experiment does nothing at all to alter your expectations, it has told you nothing. You are just as ignorant as you were before the experiment. It was a waste.

Social psychology purports to predict what will happen in the real world. This is what would qualify it as a science. Jason Mitchell is saying it cannot even predict what will happen in a replicated experiment. In so doing, he is proclaiming to the world that he personally has learned nothing from the experiments of social psychology. He is ignorant of what will happen if the experiment is replicated. I am not being uncharitable to Mitchell. He is rejecting the foundations of his own field. He is not a scientist.

Comment by Costanza on This is why we can't have social science · 2014-07-13T21:51:40.012Z · LW · GW

I'd think that "famous experiments where the original result was clearly correct" are exactly those whose results have already been replicated repeatedly. If they haven't been replicated they may well be famous -- Stanford prison experiment, I'm looking at you -- but they aren't clearly correct.

Comment by Costanza on Less Wrong’s political bias · 2013-10-25T21:10:52.131Z · LW · GW

I would like to be able to talk about politics with rational people ...[but]...the problem is that crazy views get too much credence here, due to an unwillingness to criticize by more rational people.

Right. It's those damn greens. Damn those greens, with their votes for... crazy green things! Not like us blues, who want nothing but good and rational blueness!

[ETA] My mind has been killed. This is why I don't want party politics -- as opposed to policy -- on LessWrong.

Comment by Costanza on Less Wrong’s political bias · 2013-10-25T19:29:42.652Z · LW · GW

1) I would like to be able to talk about politics with rational people

I'd suggest a distinction between "politics" and "policy", at least in the American English prevalent on LessWrong. "Politics" implies party politics, blue versus green, horse races (by which I mean election horse races), and tribalism. I think your post suggested an interest in this. Personally, I don't want this here.

If, however, you want to talk about policy, using the analytical language of policy, then I say go for it. However, your original post, with its reference to parties, made me doubtful.

Comment by Costanza on Less Wrong’s political bias · 2013-10-25T18:58:34.675Z · LW · GW

I think it's a bit silly to call it "courageous" to criticize an online forum. At worst it makes me feel slightly bad when my posts get downvoted as a result.

Well said! Well said indeed! And for that I will award you...a karma point!

Comment by Costanza on Less Wrong’s political bias · 2013-10-25T18:31:22.888Z · LW · GW

Downvoted because the original post didn't so much ask a question as make an assertion which I personally didn't find so valuable. As you point out, why would anyone come here for political discussion in the first place? So I downvoted it, because that's what the karma system is for. In the end, a karma point is just a karma point. Nothing personal in it.

Comment by Costanza on Is it immoral to have children? · 2013-10-22T23:04:30.614Z · LW · GW

What about targeted vaccinations and other health interventions for smart kids? I don't think thiis is a good idea, partly because it's going to be so much less efficient than just helping everyone, but you may.

Not at all, that sounds great, if it were possible. Certainly generally effective health interventions sound even far more likely. But if there were a health intervention that only benefited smart kids, I would definitely consider that a net plus as to not having it exist at all.

[ETA] If it imposed some extrinsic cost on everyone else, that would be a different matter, but that's not how vaccines work, is it?

Comment by Costanza on Is it immoral to have children? · 2013-10-22T19:50:36.800Z · LW · GW

you probably do better to find existing kids with the potential to be net-positive and help them reach their potential.

I have my doubts, or rather, I think it depends on a lot of things. I take it Steve Jobs' parents were decent average people who went out of their way to raise their brilliant adoptive son as best they could, with great success. But, of course, this involved for them almost exactly the same expense of time or money as it would to raise a biological child of their own, which nullifies a good chunk of the original argument, as I understood it. Maybe "finding existing kids with the potential to be net-positive and helping them reach their potential" is as expensive as raising children in the ordinary way.

Comment by Costanza on Is it immoral to have children? · 2013-10-22T19:18:32.293Z · LW · GW

Having kids is a special case of spending your time and money in ways that make you happy.

I don't know, maybe a very special case. I'd say rather it's a way of creating new people with their own utility [I see now Lumifer made this point before me], and ideally their own contributions to overall utility. Alternatively, some new people may represent losses to overall utility overall.

If you think you can produce net-positive children...parents of Isaac Newton, I'm looking at's worthwhile to spend all the time and effort and money to raise them. It may be immoral not to have kids. If your children are likely to be sociopaths, or merely net drains on society, then maybe you should just get a cat or something.

But how do you tell in advance whether a child is going to be extraordinarily good or bad in advance? Probably you can't, but I'd bet you can take a good Bayesian guess in advance as to whether the product of a given union is going to be above or below some given point for contributions to society.

Comment by Costanza on Rationality Quotes October 2013 · 2013-10-08T20:51:23.155Z · LW · GW

"The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots. If you're not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one." -Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny

Comment by Costanza on A Muggle Studies course · 2013-10-03T00:09:53.305Z · LW · GW

I think I'm seconding this when I say that one of the most rational of Muggle studies has been magic, in the sense of stage illusionism. There's a long history of stage magicians -- beginning at least with Houdini -- debunking self-declared spiritualists and psychics and so on. James Randi, Penn and Teller, and even Johnny Carson spring to mind.

Comment by Costanza on Rationality, competitiveness and akrasia · 2013-10-02T20:49:34.141Z · LW · GW

"A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon" -- Napoleon Bonaparte

Comment by Costanza on Predicting Organizational Behavior · 2013-09-22T02:48:11.415Z · LW · GW

You could check out Wikipedia on public choice theory and organizational theory .

For a more humorous approach, you could read The Peter Principle . You could also check out Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy .

Comment by Costanza on College courses versus LessWrong · 2013-09-15T01:37:52.701Z · LW · GW

It may be that the benefit of LessWrong skews towards autodidacts -- after all, EY himself famously is self-taught. With that said, I'd say hell yeah a studious reading of LessWrong can teach you more than a "typical core college class." Sorry to say a typical core college class is far less than it should be. There are a few excellent teachers of core classes out there, but the academic system just is not set up to provide proper incentives for introductory undergraduate teaching.

I'd agree with your exception for technical classes such as general chemistry, not closely related to the core mission of LessWrong. However, if you choose to get involved in computer science related discussions on this forum, you had better punch your weight.

A second related question is whether there's a possibility of building a college course -- or college-like course, perhaps a MOOC -- specifically revolving around mastery of the content in LessWrong (perhaps starting with the Sequences).

Aha, mastery is the question, isn't it? I have no full answer for that. I hope some other LessWrongers will have.

With that said, the stupid questions forum is potentially better for specific questions than you could get from most graduate student tutors.

Comment by Costanza on Notes on Brainwashing & 'Cults' · 2013-09-14T20:48:23.880Z · LW · GW

I'm at least mildly creeped out by occasional cultish behavior on LessWrong. But every cause wants to be a cult

Eliezer said so, so therefore it is Truth.

Comment by Costanza on Military Rationalities and Irrationalities · 2013-09-13T02:30:38.431Z · LW · GW

Not sure if it involves supply of executive function , but I'm reminded of Kaj_Solata's own post to like each other, sing and dance in synchrony . He specifically mentioned military drill as an example.

I suspect that "executive function" as an individual is very different from executive function in the context of a highly collective institution like a military unit.

Comment by Costanza on Open Thread, March 1-15, 2013 · 2013-03-04T17:35:40.357Z · LW · GW

Personally, I'm desperately hoping for a near-term Gattaca solution, by which ordinary or defective parents can, by genetic engineering, cheaply optimize their children's tendencies towards all good things, at least as determined by genotype, including ethical behavior and competence, in one generation. Screw this grossly inefficient and natural selection nonsense.

I know the movie presented this as a dystopia, in which the elite were apparently chosen mostly to be tall and good-looking. Ethan Hawke's character, born naturally, was short and was supposedly ugly. Only in the movies, Ethan. But he had gumption and grit and character, which (in the movie) had no genetic component, enabling him to beat out all his supposed superiors. I call shenanigans on that philosophy. I suspect that gumption and grit and character do have a genetic component, which I would wish my own descendants to have.

Comment by Costanza on Open Thread, March 1-15, 2013 · 2013-03-04T17:11:22.387Z · LW · GW

The infamous Steve Sailer has written a lot about cousin marriage , which, in practice, seems to be correlated with arranged marriage in many cultures (including the European royals in past centuries). Perhaps a lot of arranged marriages in practice may lead to inbreeding, with the genetic dangers that follow.

I'm also wondering about the effects of anonymous sperm banks, where relatively well-off women may pay to choose a biological father on the basis of -- whatever available information they may choose to consider. What factors, in a man they will never meet, do they choose for their offspring?

Comment by Costanza on New Year's Prediction Thread (2012) · 2013-01-03T22:18:17.538Z · LW · GW

Very nearly right about me forgetting, but it's a year to the day. Happy new year!

Comment by Costanza on Should a judge do it's job or maximize overall happiness · 2012-12-31T19:25:35.551Z · LW · GW

With regard to the general question described in the title, there's actually a huge literature. Just for example, Richard Posner's Economic Analysis of Law (and pretty much most of what he's written), and Philip Hamburger's *Law and Judicial Duty."

For what it's worth, in America at least, there is no "state without juries," but there are bench trials, for example when a criminal defendant waives a jury. In that case one -- and only one -- judge acts as both the arbiter of law and the finder of fact.

You only get a panel of judges at the appellate level. This hypothetical suggests that the facts have been addressed by more than one "previous court." But appellate courts essentially never review findings of fact, whether by juries or by judges of bench trials. Neither do they take new evidence.

Comment by Costanza on Is felt preference a useful indicator? (A ramble) · 2012-09-01T07:03:47.984Z · LW · GW

Long-distance runners and hikers and soldiers on road marches are often told not to change their strides when they get blisters, because when you have 15 or 20 miles left to go, a lopsided hobble can seriously damage your knees and hip and back.

However, based on your comment, that advice is not meant for you. Since you were able to post this, I assume you're not hopelessly lost in the woods. More importantly you've broken your toe. That is not a blister. For god's sake, get off the damn thing, and get some damn crutches if you haven't already done so and use them. If you're not living on a fishing boat or something, you should be able to find some crutches somewhere. In the meantime, limp or hop or crawl to the bathroom or whatever when you need to, but take care of your foot.

Comment by Costanza on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-08-28T23:51:25.836Z · LW · GW

I'd quibble about "clearly," even in context. Wars are just too damn random.

Nothing against cost-benefit analysis in the abstract, but, in practice, invading a country seems like one of those very complicated choices that may inherently risk some major, major unintended consequences. I'm mostly thinking negative, but I suppose this would go both ways -- unexpected ultimate positive consequences might be possible as well, but still hard to calculate at all.

Comment by Costanza on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-08-27T17:09:20.566Z · LW · GW

X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features.

I don't always judge X. But when I do, I judge X as if it also had those features. Stay thirsty, my friends.

--The Worst Argument in the World

Comment by Costanza on Enjoy solving "impossible" problems? Group project! · 2012-08-19T22:09:03.952Z · LW · GW

I think you misunderstand me. Jared Diamond is a serious academic in good standing. I did not say he was an ideologue. Apparently, Professor Diamond has a doctorate in physiology, but is currently described as a professor of geography. He is not a professional historian. In any case, the discipline of History is noble, but it is not always described as a social science at all.

But both Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse are pop sci, not that there's anything wrong with that. They were marketed to an audience of intelligent nonexperts. They were never intended to be serious peer-reviewed academic studies.

So that's three strikes against these works as bringing rigor to social science.

Again, this is not an attack on Professor Diamond at all. Carl Sagan's Cosmos was pop sci, and was wonderful. Richard Dawkins has written some great pop sci. So have E.O. Wilson, and Stephen Hawking etc. etc. But their serious academic work is much more dense and technical, and was addressed to a far more narrow and critical audience. Rigourous works never, ever make it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Iif you want a criticism of pop sci in general, it is that it might be used as an end-run to avoid peer review. An unscrupulous academic might use his or her credentials to dazzle the public into metaphorically buying snake oil, maybe for the sake of celebrity and money. Beware of Stephen Jay Gould .

Comment by Costanza on Enjoy solving "impossible" problems? Group project! · 2012-08-19T00:53:16.021Z · LW · GW

language has very narrow bandwidth compared to the world, which means that laws can never cover all the situations that the laws are intended to cover.

This is the story of human law.

Comment by Costanza on Enjoy solving "impossible" problems? Group project! · 2012-08-18T22:32:20.503Z · LW · GW

The Social Sciences are often very unscientific. I want to do to economics and foreign policy analysis what Jared Diamond and other similar authors have done with history.

These two sentences may contradict each other. I'd suggest that Jared Diamond is famous as a multidisciplinarian pop-sci author. I don't mean that as an insult to him at all. He has sold a lot of books, and has interested the public in ideas, which is great as far as it goes. But if you want to bring more rigor to social science, I don't think Jared Diamond's writings on history of all subjects should be your model.

Maybe you should redefine your goal to popularizing science. That wouldn't be bad if you can do it well. Even so, if you want to popularize real science, you've got to get a taste for real rigor. One place to start would be diving deep into the mathematics of statistics.

Beyond that, when reading popular social science of any kind, especially any big theories which explain all of history, set your bullshit detector on high. Just assume that Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman, and Paul Krugman are just wrong. A fortiori, Jared DIamond.

Comment by Costanza on Enjoy solving "impossible" problems? Group project! · 2012-08-18T19:18:24.220Z · LW · GW

There's probably a bit of money in distilling legalese into simpler language. Nolo Press, for instance, is in that field.

The real money in lawyering, however, is in applying the law to the available evidence in a very specific case. This is why some BigLaw firms charge hourly fees measured by the boatload. A brilliant entrepreneur able to develop an artificial intelligence application which could apply the facts to the law as effectively as a BigLaw firm should eventually be able to cut into some BigLaw action. That's a lot of money.

This is a hard problem. My personal favorite Aesop's fable about applying the facts to the law is Isaac Asimov's short story Runaround . Worth reading all the way through, but for our purposes, the law is very clear and simple: the three laws of robotics. The fact situation is that the human master has casually and lightly ordered the robot to do something which was unexpectedly very dangerous to the robot. The robot then goes nuts, spinning around in a circle. Asimov says it better of course:

Powell's radio voice was tense in Donovan's car: "Now, look, let's start with the three fundamental Rules of Robotics - the three rules that are built most deeply into a robot's positronic brain." In the darkness, his gloved fingers ticked off each point.

"We have: One, a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."


"Two," continued Powell, "a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law."


"And three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does Dot conflict with the First or Second Laws."

"Right! Now where are we?"

"Exactly at the explanation. The conflict between the various rules is ironed out by the different positronic potentials in the brain. We'll say that a robot is walking into danger and knows it. The automatic potential that Rule 3 sets up turns him back. But suppose you order him to walk into that danger. In that case, Rule 2 sets up a counterpotential higher than the previous one and the robot follows orders at the risk of existence."

"Well, I know that. What about it?"

"Let's take Speedy's case. Speedy is one of the latest models, extremely specialized, and as expensive as a battleship. It's not a thing to be lightly destroyed."


"So Rule 3 has been strengthened-that was specifically mentioned, by the way, in the advance notices on the SPD models-so that his allergy to danger is unusually high. At the same time, when you sent him out after the selenium, you gave him his order casually and without special emphasis, so that the Rule 2 potential set-up was rather weak. Now, hold on; I'm just stating facts."

"All right, go ahead. I think I get it."

"You see how it works, don't you? There's some sort of danger centering at the selenium pool. It increases as he approaches, and at a certain distance from it the Rule 3 potential, unusually high to start with, exactly balances the Rule 2 potential, unusually low to start with."

Donovan rose to his feet in excitement. "And it strikes an equilibrium. I see. Rule 3 drives him back and Rule 2 drives him forward - "

"So he follows a circle around the selenium pool, staying on the locus of all points of potential equilibrium. And unless we do something about it, he'll stay on that circle forever, giving us the good old runaround."

In the real world, courts hardly ever decide that the law is indecipherable, and so the plaintiff should run around in a circle singing nonsense songs (but see, Ashford v Thornton [(1818) 106 ER 149].) The moral of the story, however, is that there is ambiguity in the application of the simplest and clearest of laws.

Comment by Costanza on Enjoy solving "impossible" problems? Group project! · 2012-08-18T18:03:36.989Z · LW · GW

I'd say that legal language, at least in America, is absolutely well within the bounds of natural language, with all the ambiguity that implies. Certainly lawyers have their own jargon and "terms of art" that sound unfamiliar to the uninitiated, but so do airplane pilots and sailors and auto mechanics. It's still not mathematics.

There are a lot of legislators and judges, and they don't all use words in exactly the same ways. Over time, the processes of binding precedent and legal authority are supposed to resolve the inconsistencies within the law, but the change is slow. In the meantime, statutes keep on changing, and human beings keep on presenting courts with new and unexpected problems. And judges and legislatures are only people within a society and culture which itself changes. Our ideas about "moral turpitude" and "public policy" and what a "reasonable man" (or person) would do are subject to change over time. In this way, the language of the law is like a leaky boat that is being bailed out by the crew. It's not a closed system.

Comment by Costanza on Enjoy solving "impossible" problems? Group project! · 2012-08-18T12:43:38.645Z · LW · GW

I'm a lawyer. I'm also an enthusiast about applying computing technology to legal work generally, but not tech-savvy by the standards of LessWrong. But if I could help to define the problems a bit, I'd be happy to respond to PMs.

For example, the text of the U.S. Constitution is not long. Here's just one part of it:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

As you know, this small bit of text has been the subject of a lot of debate over the years. But here's another portion of the Constitution, not much shorter:

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

There's arguably a lot of room for debate over these words as well, but as a practical matter, the subject almost never comes up. I'd suggest that doesn't mean that the ambiguity isn't potentially present in the text, and could be revealed if for some reason the government had a strong urge to quarter troops in private homes.

I think the text of the Motor Vehicles Code of Wyoming is much longer than the whole U.S. Constitution with all its amendments, but since Wyoming is not a populous state, and the code mostly deals with relatively mundane matters, there hasn't been a huge amount of published litigation over the precise meanings of the words and phrases in that text. It doesn't mean that there isn't just as much potential ambiguity within any given section of the Wyoming Motor Vehicles Code as there is in the First Amendment.

ETA: Law is made of words, and even at its best it is written in a language far, far less precise than the language of mathematics. Law is (among other things) a set of rules designed to govern the behavior of large numbers of people. But people are tricky, and keep on coming up with new and unexpected behaviors.

Also, it's important to note that there are hierarchies of law in the U.S. I mentioned the U.S. Constitution to illustrate the potential complexity of law -- libraries have been written on the Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court hasn't resolved every conflict just yet. If this seems daunting, it's because it is. But in some ways, the U.S. Constitution is the simplest and easiest place to start syntactic analysis. The text is only a few thousand words long, and it is far less subject to change than almost all other laws. More importantly, it trumps all other law. All other U.S. laws are subject to the Constitution. By the same token, state laws are subject to federal law, and so on down to local regulations.

A county or municipality may enact a nice, well-drafted set of ordinances regulating billboards or street signs. These ordinances may be, in themselves, elegant and internally consistent and unambiguous. But all the other higher-level laws are still in place...if the local laws violate state or federal laws, or restrict free speech unconstitutionally, there is a problem. So, in a way, every local law implicitly incorporates a huge amount of jurisprudence simply from its context within the state and national governments.

Comment by Costanza on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-08-16T21:34:59.356Z · LW · GW

Thinking about Eliezer's post about Doublethink Speaking of deliberate, conscious self-deception he opines: "Leaving the morality aside, I doubt such a lunatic dislocation in the mind could really happen."

This seems odd for a site devoted to the principle that most of the time, most human minds are very biased. Don't we have the brains of one species of apes that has evolved to be particularly sensitive to politics? Why wouldn't doublethink be the evolutionarily adaptive norm?

My intuition, based on my own private experience, is the opposite of Eliezer's -- I'd assume that most industrialized people practice some degree of doublethink routinely. I'd further suspect that this talent can be cultivated, and I'd think that (say) most North Koreans might be extremely skilled at deliberate self-deception, in a manner that would have been very familiar to George Orwell himself.

This seems like an empirical question. What's the evidence out there?

Comment by Costanza on A Marriage Ceremony for Aspiring Rationalists · 2012-07-25T20:41:01.395Z · LW · GW

Generally, he wouldn't have the power to officiate a marriage in California. See California Family Code section 400 and so on. Basically, only religious clergy and state officials can do that. That's the culture and law that applies in Berkeley, California.

There seems to be an exception under which someone can become a temporary "deputy commissioner of marriages" for the purpose of one ceremony. If you don't believe in religion, and (like me) you fear that the government has its own PHYGish tendencies, this doesn't seem like a bad alternative.

Comment by Costanza on A Marriage Ceremony for Aspiring Rationalists · 2012-07-25T20:30:25.706Z · LW · GW

First, best wishes to the newly-married couple!

From a purely aesthetic point of view, I liked the relatively respectful and traditional mood effected by the Wagner wedding march, the adherence to the customs of bridesmaids and groomsmen and the giving away of the bride. I also liked the subtle subversive effect achieved by the bare feet. I read it as acknowledging established tradition, taking advantage of its strong momentum, while firmly taking charge of it and adapting it as required. Nicely done.

Comment by Costanza on What Is Signaling, Really? · 2012-07-10T15:27:58.714Z · LW · GW

I would not dare to summarize Fussell's guide here, but it shattered my illusion that I mostly avoid thinking about class signals, and instead convinced me that pretty much everything I do from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night is a class signal.

This is a very readable and interesting guide, and it may have been dead-on accurate in 1983 when it was written. But the kind of class system he describes, one defined by social signals and not by (say) brute force or even money, can only exist in a unified culture, in which everybody speaks the same "language" of signals. To use the example from the gude, Mr. Blue [collar] and Mr. White [collar], who make about the same income, both have to acknowledge on some level that Mr. White socially outranks Mr. Blue. Furthermore, Mr. Blue and Mr. White both would both have agreed that the Rockefellers, Pews, DuPonts, Mellons, Fords, and Vanderbilts constituted the top out-of-sight class.

I'd guess that America today has a much more fragmented class system now than it did when Fussel wrote, at least in some ways.


it may have been dead-on accurate in 1983 when it was written...

On second thought, the 60's counterculture had already undermined at a lot of the old WASP culture he describes, replacing it with -- sure enough -- a counterculture.

Comment by Costanza on Less Wrong Product & Service Recommendations · 2012-07-02T18:10:27.103Z · LW · GW

I understand some enthusiasts get very emphatic about this issue, but I can only speak to my own very limited experience. The tool immediately to my hand now is a Leatherman PST, easily about ten years old or more and still not showing many signs of age. As I understand it, it's the very basic original Leatherman model. It's paid for itself many times over in simple ready convenience and utility. I see there are some very fancy and complicated multitools around. I have no comment about those, as I've never used them. I would say that my comment was based only on my experience of often needing quick access to a variety of screwdrivers, or pliers, or a bottlecap opener, or wire cutters, or the knife. (I personally haven't used the file very much if at all.)

I don't have any knowledge of UK knife laws, but the thought of them saddens me, because a knife as a basic tool is useful in so many, many ways. The number of times in which I've been imminently inclined to use my knife as a stabbing weapon in real life has been exactly nil (it wouldn't have been practical in any case -- the Leatherman is hardly a switchblade. For legal defensive purposes, you might be just as well off carrying a sharpened wooden pencil) but I've been happy to have the power to cut inanimate objects uncountable times.

Comment by Costanza on Less Wrong Product & Service Recommendations · 2012-07-02T16:22:25.788Z · LW · GW

I suspect that this recommendation will be redundant for many or most of LessWrong, but let it be repeated: buy a good basic multitool and keep it where you can easily find it. Better, buy a couple of them and keep them (say) in your car, in your desk at work, and at home.

Sometimes you need exactly the right tool for the job. However, for many simple tasks, and for any emergency, the simple tool immediately at hand is much more useful than the ideal tool which would take time and effort to retrieve.

Comment by Costanza on Less Wrong Product & Service Recommendations · 2012-07-02T16:05:43.424Z · LW · GW

My family and I recently moved homes. We used the Pods company service, and were satisfied. Basically, they deliver a shipping container to your driveway, you load it, they put it on one of their trucks and deliver it to your new place, whereupon you unload it. For us, it was just the right balance between doing-it-yourself (cheaply) and paying someone else with a competitive advantage to do a service. Anyway, they showed up on time and did what they said they would do.

Comment by Costanza on Meetup : Garden Grove CA: Less wrong and more tasty. · 2012-06-06T00:18:14.788Z · LW · GW

I would love to attend this, and, for once, I actually can (I think). Enormous gratitude to the organizer, whom I presume is cloudlicker. It's always the people who take the trouble to make good things happen who make good things happen.

Comment by Costanza on Logical fallacy poster · 2012-04-20T16:26:02.355Z · LW · GW

I like it. Are their definitions all perfect and complete? Certainly not. But, at least in my own experience, the sanity waterline of (say) an undergraduate dorm is typically so low that hanging something like this on the wall for communal reference might tend to improve the level of conversation. Anyway, it looks like it's under a creative commons license which allows remixing.

Come to think of it, it could be reformatted to make a series of cards to play Newspaper Editorial Page Logical Fallacy Bingo.

Comment by Costanza on Nonmindkilling open questions · 2012-03-24T04:08:24.424Z · LW · GW

I tentatively suggest there's a pattern here.

By default, and in practice for the great majority, no factual question can be regarded as popular or important unless it provides an opportunity for status signaling or mind killing.

However, if there is something like a prediction market, a tiny minority will adapt to become specialists in making accurate and profitable predictions.

This applies to sports and stock trades. Most people will be happy to be a [LOCAL SPORTS TEAM] fan, and will happily remained biased for signaling purposes, maybe making penny-ante bets to show loyalty. Professional bookmakers in Vegas and professional coaches of sports teams have to look at reality, or else find another job. Similarly, people in finance may have strong political opinions on their own time, but if they don't make money, they'll be out of a job.

This doesn't necessarily help if you're trying to "explain to people how beliefs should be expressed in probabilities" to the vast majority of people who don't have skin in the game. But you could appeal to their imagination.

Comment by Costanza on Nonmindkilling open questions · 2012-03-23T19:13:02.543Z · LW · GW

Greenpeace and the Heritage Foundation both have strong (and opposed) opinions on the matter.

Comment by Costanza on Nonmindkilling open questions · 2012-03-23T19:04:06.417Z · LW · GW

I'd think that, especially (but not only) in a presidential election year, this question would be corrupted by politics. If the current administration represents My Team, then it is certainly handling the economy well, and therefore, the stock market will rise and unemployment will fall.

Comment by Costanza on Nonmindkilling open questions · 2012-03-23T18:59:15.952Z · LW · GW

I was thinking along the same lines, then saw your comment. I suspect an issue can't really become "popular" without some some signaling or wishful thinking involved.

Probability of a major earthquake in California this year? High, if you hope those damnfool leftcoasters are finally going to get what's coming to them. Low, if you have a lot of money tied up in property in California.

Comment by Costanza on Simple but important ideas · 2012-03-21T18:53:37.866Z · LW · GW

Somewhat related:

The Center for Communicating Science, together with Alan Alda, is sponsoring what they call the Flame Challenge: Answer the question – “What is a flame?” – in a way that an 11-year-old would find intelligible "and maybe even fun."

As a curious 11-year-old, Alan Alda asked his teacher, “What is a flame?” She replied: “It’s oxidation.” Alda went on to win fame as an actor and writer, became an advocate for clear communication of science, and helped found the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. He never stopped being curious, and he never forgot how disappointing that non-answer answer was.

The answer "oxidation" has the virtues of being both short and strictly correct, but, given the audience, missed the point entirely. I assume the answer that the sponsors of this contest are looking for will also be rather short and strictly correct as well, although longer than a one-word label.

Comment by Costanza on Simple but important ideas · 2012-03-21T15:34:24.119Z · LW · GW

I'm reminded of the story of the gentile asking the rabbi Hillel that the whole Torah be explained to him while he stood on one foot. Hillel replied "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn."

An article in the Jewish Daily Forward observes that it is a mistake to equate "the rest is commentary" with "the rest is unimportant."

It is interesting to see how “the rest is commentary” has taken on an English meaning of its own that is subtly different from Hillel’s and sometimes even opposed to it. In the Aramaic of the Talmud, “The rest is commentary – go study” (ve’idakh perusha hu, zil g’mor) is a single statement whose first half cannot be separated from its second half. Calling the rest of the Torah “commentary” has nothing dismissive about it. On the contrary, Hillel is clearly saying that commentary is crucial and that ultimate wisdom lies in it.

Comment by Costanza on Send me your photos of LessWrongers having fun! · 2012-03-21T09:31:11.878Z · LW · GW

It was the Herbert Kornfeld trash talk that had me literally laughing out loud. Keep it real, L-Dog.

Comment by Costanza on A singularity scenario · 2012-03-18T14:44:33.914Z · LW · GW

So the scenario would be, not that the elders of the LDS church are secretly running the American intelligence community...

In fact, there are a lot of Mormons in the U.S. intelligence services. This isn't because of any sinister conspiracy,* but simply because of their institution of going off as missionaries to foreign countries. Most Americans, if raised speaking English in the home, have little motivation to properly learn another language, and don't. Mormons do -- they learn most of the languages of the globe and practice them under very trying conditions. Better yet, from the point of view of a government official concerned about security clearances, they do this without any family connections to the nations in question. BYU knows this.

  • Of course, in your novel, you could say this is totally the result of a sinister conspiracy going back to Bringham Young. Dan Brown would approve.
Comment by Costanza on Please advise the Singularity Institute with your domain-specific expertise! · 2012-03-15T23:58:05.249Z · LW · GW

In all seriousness, I once took it for granted that, assuming perfect good faith and honesty on the part of the filer, and assuming perfectly complete and accurate records, there would automatically be one precise and correct figure for the amount of (say) income tax to be filed, at least in theory. Since that time, I have learned that, while arithmetic may be straightforward, within the tax code and even within generally accepted accounting principles, there are always huge areas of ambiguity, even for the average person filing a 1040EZ.

Comment by Costanza on Please advise the Singularity Institute with your domain-specific expertise! · 2012-03-15T21:34:04.258Z · LW · GW

Given that there's always more to learn about pretty much everything, this list didn't bother me at all. I would have been much more alarmed if they asked for expert advice on:

  • Money laundering
  • Disposing of corpses in ways undetectable by law enforcement
  • Justin Bieber trivia
  • Obtaining visas or (better) passports to nations with no U.S. extradition treaty