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Friday, March 2nd, 2012
2:37 pm - Precursor to the ultimate $15 coin?
One third of the way there, Canada.

From General interwebs

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Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
8:30 am - Better Living Through Technology
Y'all know I'm not a great fan of regulatory agencies in general, particularly at the federal level. Nitpicking and line-drawing issues aside, I think most reasonable people can at least agree that our current system, in which regulatory agencies generate libraries of micromanaging rules for every conceivable industry, creates costs that are undesirable.

That doesn't mean all reasonable people dislike the system, of course, because a goodly chunk of the citizenry believes those costs buy a worthwhile return. In particular, even people who believe in free market capitalism very often have concerns that a fundamental imbalance of information between merchant and consumer can undermine the ability of the market to remove bad products. In theory if Harry's Veeblefetzer Works produces shoddy veeblefetzers, traditional economic theory says Sally can drive him from the market with her superior veeblefetzers. The concern is that a customer in the shop trying to decide between a Harry's Old Time Veeblefetzer and a Sally's Home Style Veeblefetzer may be unable to assess their relative quality, and be taken in by the inferior product. Thus, we need government to step in with a Federal Bureau of Veeblefetzers, Widgets, and Gewgaws to set minimum veeblefetzer quality and safety standards, veeblefetzer labeling requirements, and mandatory pre-market veeblefetzer testing.

I disagree with this, as you'd probably expect, but it can't be glibly dismissed as irrational. While my libertarian attitude is that people can do a bit of research and take their own responsibility for knowing what they're buying, people need lots of things, and not everybody's good at dodging SEO and finding useful product information. There are certainly people for whom researching products would be a pain, and I can understand how a fan of the regulatory system could rationally come to the conclusion that the costs of our hyperregulatory system are worthwhile if they spare those people that pain.

But after all that, here's my point: Will they feel the same way when most people are walking around with a HUD that automatically displays a community consensus of every logo they see?

Technology can be oppressive, but free technology is the best thing there is for freedom. Flying cars are probably not especially useful for normal purposes, but they'd be worth it just to kill the old "I'll bet you drove on an interstate to get to your libertarian rally" fallacy.

[Thanks to Ian Argent for the link.]

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Thursday, February 16th, 2012
5:51 pm - Love and guns
On Valentine's day, I went to a Starbucks in Manhattan. If there were no anti-gun protesters there, it's hard to believe there were any elsewhere.

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Friday, February 3rd, 2012
8:57 am - If I were a Deep One...
I'm (mostly) pleased that scientists are going to actually reach Lake Vostok.

And pissed off that Glenn Reynolds got to the Charles Stross joke before I did.

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Wednesday, February 1st, 2012
9:07 am - In for a penny
Once again, a US Congressman wants to talk about making pennies cheaper. His proposal is to make them from copper-plated steel. If we assume the much more sensible option of abolishing the one-cent piece entirely is off the table--as it almost certainly is*--this is a sensible option. Our northern neighbors have been striking their pennies this way since 2000.

Not news. I bring the topic up specifically because of the comical rationale used to sell a bill that doesn't need rationalizing:

[Bill sponsor Steve] Stivers** and co-sponsors of the bill hail from a steel-producing state.

"At a time when too many of our products are being manufactured in other countries, we should at least be able to buy those products with money produced using materials made in America," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, a co-sponsor, said in a statement. Stivers said that much of the copper, zinc and nickel used in coins comes from Canada.


Swarthy Canadians are stealing our jobs! Secure the border! Learn the language, you milk-bagging Cuban-smokers!


[* - It would be easier if Lincoln hadn't landed there. But his adorers want to maintain his place of "honor" on the world's most valueless coin, and our benevolent governors presumably enjoy having a Caesar on a coin, to remind us who to render unto.]
[** - "Fun" fact: the name Stivers derives from a variant of "stuiver," a nickname for several silver and copper coins of northern Europe and colonial states influenced by trade with the Dutch East India Company. This is the kind of thing coin nerds think is hysterical.]

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Tuesday, January 31st, 2012
1:28 pm - And if wishes were horses...
There's a meme going around, and I picked it up over at Tam's:

"What would you get if you could get any five guns, cost and practicality be hanged?

Cost be hanged? I'll rule out fixed and crew-served guns here, to keep the decision making process manageable.

1 - A registered, transferable Thompson submachine gun. I could never possibly afford one at closed-registry prices, and even when we get the machine gun registry reopened, I could never afford to feed the damned thing. But if it was free, I'd put the purchase price into ammo.

2 - A Savage Arms US Army Test Pistol.* It could never beat John Moses Browning's pistol, but if it had, this would have been the issue pistol of the US military for the better part of a century. Losing the 1911 would be a tragedy, but having our soldiers look more like Buck Rogers characters would give me a lot of solace. The closest I'll ever get IRL is the much smaller Model 1907 pocket pistol, after which the .45 Test Pistol was designed.

3 - A Nazi K98 rifle, with the swastika overstamped with Hebrew arsenal marks. I would make a point of taking it out to the range every April 19th, which is of course the anniversary of both the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

4 - A Winchester model 1892 with a 16" barrel, in .357 magnum. Takedown model. The Winchester name cranks the price above comparable models in the first place, and you pay half again more for the takedown mechanism. But it's gloriously slim, and would be useful when travelling in those bleak backwater states (like New York and Massachusetts) that restrict handgun possession. I'd get a fitted leather shoulder bag made to hold both halves and a couple dozen rounds.

5 - A full-auto Mauser C96. With original detachable shoulder stock holster. It's on Tam's list, too, but frankly this should be on everybody's.

[* - Many thanks to The Weasel King for the correct link.]

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10:06 am - Starbucks Appreciation Day update
So. Gun control advocates announced a Valentine's Day boycott of Starbucks because that company won't abuse its gun-carrying customers. As discussed last week, gun owners called for an informal buycott to balance the scales.

Before they hid the number of attendees out of embarrassment, their Facebook page showed 137 participants, most of whom, according to the comments, already don't patronize Starbucks.

As of right now, the opposing pro-gun Support Starbucks Facebook page shows just a hair over ten thousand attendees.

It's nice to have something going right with my country.

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Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
8:41 am - Starbucks Appreciation Day
On February 14, the ladies and I will be spending a romantic evening at Sleep No More for Hecate's Valentine. Because we are weak, weak people.

We'll also be dropping by Starbucks before the show to get ourselves all high on stimulants, and to thank them for refusing to cave to anti-gun activists. The dickbags at the Brady Campaign went after Starbucks a couple years ago*, figuring a chain that branded itself in such an urban liberal way would be an easy win. Starbucks told them to pound sand. Now, because all their talented people have abandoned the sinking ship and their "advocacy" has degenerated into Internet trolling, the frantically rebranding US gun control groups are trying the same failed tactic again, calling for a Starbucks boycott to start on February 14. It makes little difference, since the five people left in this country who believe in gun control can't buy that many lattes, but it would be nice if the Starbucks brass saw a little bump in business that day, just to drive the point home. If you like a froofy coffee now and then, kindly consider dropping into a Starbucks on Valentine's day.

[* - Context not included in that article: At the time, California allowed local police chiefs to issue and refuse concealed carry permits on a whim, but open carry of unloaded firearms was legal without a permit. Most of the people OCing at the time were doing so because they were prohibited by law from carrying more discreetly.]

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8:09 am
Unexpected consequence of being simultaneously obsessed with Skyrim and Sleep No More:
I'm extremely reluctant to take a quest to kill witches and their mistress.

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Thursday, January 12th, 2012
1:50 pm - Bear gun
When it comes to dealing with dangerous bears on the trail, there are two and a half schools of thought:

The first is that you should practice avoidance, and know how to back down from a bear without making it feel challenged.

The second is that you should pack a powerful, deeply penetrating handgun. .44 magnums are generally assumed, but I've seen videos of park rangers dropping grizzlies with (a full cylinder of) "mere" .357 rounds.

The point-five, and where I stand, is that in bear country I'm most definitely going to practice avoidance and know my proper bear safety procedures, but I'd rather have a powerful revolver in my hand while backing away than not.

Brigid agrees, but takes a controversial stand:

She argues convincingly that a .22 is plenty of gun for grizzly.

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
9:44 am - Occupy Roma
If you're already depressed about the current state of the world, it may not be a great idea to read Livy's history of Rome.

From the Loeb Classical Library edition of Book II, translated by B.O. Foster (paragraph breaks added):

But not only was war with the Volsci imminent; the citizens were at loggerheads among themselves, and internal dissension between the Fathers and the plebs had burst into a blaze of hatred, chiefly on account of those ["nexos"] who had been bound over to service for their debts. [Foster's note: "The word nexus was used (1) of one who had borrowed money by 'binding' himself to work out the debt as a virtual slave of his creditor, if unable to repay the money; (2) of one so 'bound' and actually serving."] These men complained loudly that while they were abroad fighting for liberty and dominion they had been enslaved and oppressed at home by fellow-citizens, and that the freedom of the plebians was made more secure in war than in peace, amongst enemies than amongst citizens. This bitter feeling, which was growing spontaneously, the notable calamity of one man fanned into a flame.

Old, and bearing the marks of all his misfortunes, the man rushed into the Forum. His dress was covered with filth, and the condition of his body was even worse, for he was pale and half dead with emaciation. Besides this, his straggling beard and hair had given a savage look to his countenance. He was recognized nevertheless, despite the hideousness of his appearance, and the word went round that he had commanded companies; yet other military honors were openly ascribed to him by the compassionate bystanders, and the man himself displayed the scars on his breast which bore testimony to his honorable service in various battles. When they had asked him the reason of his condition and his squalor, he replied, while the crowd gathered about him much as though it were an assembly, that during his service in the Sabine war not only had the enemy's depredations deprived him of his crops, but his cottage had been burnt, all his belongings plundered, and his flocks driven off. Then the taxes had been levied, in an untoward moment for him, and he had contracted debts. When these had been swelled by usury, they had first stripped him of his farm that had been his father's and his grandfather's, then of the remnants of his property, and finally like an infection they had attacked his person, and he had been carried off by his creditor, not to slavery, but to the prison and the torture-chamber. He then showed them his back, disfigured with the wales of recent scourging.

The sight of these things and the man's recital produced a mighty uproar. The disturbance was no longer confined to the Forum, but spread in all directions though the entire City. Those who had been bound over, whether in chains or not, broke out into the streets from every side, and implored the Quirites to protect them. At no point was there any lack of volunteers to join the rising; everywhere the crowds were streaming through the different streets and shouting as they hurried to the Forum. Great was the peril of those senators who happened to be in the Forum and fell in with the mob...


And then, as the Senate and the Consuls are trying desperately to assemble a quorum and figure out how to calm the mob, scouts arrive with word that the Volscian army is on the march toward Rome.

As usual the Eternal Analogy will probably confirm whatever you already believed: "watch out, privileged classes, because the people will only take so much of your crap," or "call me when your creditors are literally chaining and scourging you, ya pussies."

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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
12:34 pm - Dura-Europos at NYU
On Saturday, the ladies and I went to see the exhibit of artifacts from Dura-Europos at NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. It was a small exhibit by NUC museum standards, but holy hell, what a collection.

The usual assortment of inscriptions and reliefs are either your thing or they're not. They happen to be my thing, but I expect anybody could be impressed with the state of preservation of some of them. Up close, the "Relief of the Goddess Atargatis, or Tyche, with Doves" looks like it was carved last year. There was also a selection of organic artifacts (wooden signs and textiles, mostly, but also a child's shoe), which always impresses the heck out of me in collections from antiquity. They had a little collection of coins--a handful of drachmae and a sestertius--which were recovered from the remains of a Roman soldier killed in the fight for the mine under the city's walls; I believe these were the coins that helped date the fall of the city. There was a Sator square, which I've never before seen in person, and a long-gone bride's engagement ring.

The most individually significant objects--one given particular pride of place in the exhibit and one not--were a brilliantly painted iconic Roman body shield (the only one known to have survived from antiquity), and the earliest verifiable image of Jesus.

Fantastic exhibit. Absolutely worth the trip into the City.

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8:32 am - Congratulations, everyone!
The US national debt is now greater than the entire annual production of our economy! So if our government were to seize all production from all Americans for a whole year, it still wouldn't pay off what we owe.

Well done, everybody! We could never have done it without commitment from both sides of the aisle. It's good to know that when it comes to the most important things, our elected leaders are willing to put their differences aside, roll up their sleeves, and work together.

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Thursday, January 5th, 2012
5:28 pm - We did not make a proper use of last winter
Via the Blunt Object, Classically Liberal unpacks the tragic--and sometimes despicable--missteps Ron Paul has taken in attempting to deploy the paleolibertarian strategy of attracting votes by pandering to the worst impulses of social conservatives:

So, how did this strategy work out in Iowa?

It didn’t. Ron’s support, according to entrance polls came from the voters LEAST likely to find the bigoted views of Rockwell and Rothbard appealing.

First, the most socially liberal age group in the Republican Party is those under the age of 29. Ron Paul won an overwhelming plurality of young voters. He had 48% support in that age group, more than double the closest rival. Santorum won the age groups of 30 to 64, those Republicans most likely to have come to the GOP during the take-over of the party by evangelicals. The oldest voters, those most likely to be old line Republicans, went for Romney...
...
Voters who self identified as “very conservative” rejected Paul; only 15% of them supported him, about the same percentage as went to Romney...Voters who identified as moderates or liberals went to Paul. Forty percent of them supported [him.]
...
The very kind of voters that Rockwell would dismiss as "hippies"—the young, independents, liberals and moderates—were the people who made up the majority of Ron Paul's supporters. The people that Rockwell tried to appeal to were far more likely to vote for Santorum.

The flaw in the paleolibertarian strategy was that the people they tried to win over like big government. They are not libertarians. The very kind of people that Rockwell and Rothbard attacked in those newsletters, and in other places, were the ones willing to vote for Ron Paul.

If Ron Paul had sounded more like Gary Johnson, I suggest he would have done better, perhaps enough to win. The publicity about his hateful newsletters lost him a lot of support. He was polling better a few days ago. By trying to appeal to the bigoted vote that Rockwell cherished, Ron Paul lost votes in Iowa.


I'm put in the mind of Thomas Paine:

"We did not make a proper use of last winter...
...
"The present winter is worth an age, if rightly employed; but, if lost or neglected, the whole continent will partake of the evil; and there is no punishment that man does not deserve, be he who, or what, or where he will, that may be the means of sacrificing a season so precious and useful."

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11:56 am - Libertarian Iowa
LabRat, on the Iowa Republican caucus:

Dear media at large: Paul coming in a close third is not a sign there is something wrong with Iowa, it is a sign there is something, perhaps many things, wrong in general. The gentlefolk of Iowa were not particularly inclined to the Wookie vote before, but they have to choose from among what they are offered. Mitt Romney does not appear to believe in anything beyond his own suitability, Rick Santorum appears to believe very strongly in enclosing America with a sweaty clinch of right-thinking government, and Paul at least appears to consistently and verifiably believe nine sane things for every tenth barking mad one.

Hear, hear. Paul has serious policy issues,* and serious personal issues,** so that as a libertarian I dearly wish we had a better representative, but look at the alternatives. He strikes me as by far the least-bad of a field of much more terrible options, and for some precise reasons I think he may be the best thing that could happen to the US at this moment in time, though many of his positions may be harmful individually. I'd vote for him over the others without a doubt.

But the United States, though traditionally a nation of crotchety and disagreeable individualists, has emphatically never been a libertarian nation. At every point in our history we've embraced at least some laws aimed at making society harmonious that fail the libertarian test hard. We don't go for social planning or redistribution of wealth anywhere near as enthusiastically as our international peers, but we've never, as a nation, been willing to crusade against the very idea of forcibly seizing Martha's property to help Harry as a matter of principle.

If Americans are voting in non-trivial numbers for a fairly hardcore libertarian candidate, that should tell you quite a bit about how disgusted they are with the other options they're being offered.

[* - Not least of which is a lack of answers for some serious foreign policy questions.]
[** - I don't think the racist newsletter thing compels me to vote against him any more than the President's association with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers compelled his supporters to vote against him, but neither should it be glibly dismissed.]

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9:31 am - Gunning for New York City
I've said before that NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg is the greatest current threat to our Second Amendment rights because he's much smarter than the increasingly sophomoric internet trolls who now run the Brady Campaign and VPC, and because he's seemed to know how to choose his battles.

I may need to amend that position.

At the moment, the greatest threat to his little gun control enclave is the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act, which would finally make carry licenses universal, just like driver's licenses and marriage licenses.* Since the City has ignored the right to carry for just over a century, granting permits only as political favors, this would force Bloomberg for the first time to respect a right he hates, right in his back yard. Fighting it seems to be his highest priority.

Which is why it's so bizarre that he's throwing respect-mah-authoritah tantrums over three recent cases that so vividly illustrate how draconian the City's carry laws are, and how badly we need the RTCRA. Meredith Graves and Ryan Jerome both made the mistake of assuming they could exercise a Constitutional right in His Honor's fiefdom, and were arrested when they tried to comply "no guns" signs at tourist attractions, asking security where they could check their weapons. As fellow blogger Ian Argent points out, this is exceedingly poor victim selection on his part. One is a pretty young white nursing student, and the other is a Marine Corps veteran, both with squeaky-clean records. You want the perfect pair that the average American will sympathize with and trust? There they are.

The third, Mark Meckler, is easier for Bloomberg's allies to dismiss: jumping up and down shouting "teabagger!" is pretty much all it seems to take. But that case is still just about the best possible illustration of the tyrannous excesses of NYC's gun laws. Meckler was charged with carrying a "concealed" weapon in an airport because he had an unloaded pistol locked in a case while checking it according to the rules of every airport in the country.

None of these people harmed or threatened anyone. It's impossible to prosecute them without spotlighting the very worst of the City's Second Amendment civil rights abuses. And Bloomberg is doubling down on this stupidity at the very moment that he's trying to drum up opposition to a federal law that would prevent this kind of travesty in the future.

I'd given him credit for being able to put his ego and obsession with authority aside when it was strategically necessary to do so. It's looking like I was dead wrong. He's willing to give the good guys three poster children at the most advantageous moment, rather than allow some proles to defy him.

When the smart tyrants show that they're not able to suppress the self-destructive impulses of tyranny, it gives me a tiny glimmer of hope.


[* - Those not covered in icky gay cooties, anyway.]

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Wednesday, January 4th, 2012
10:18 am - On American politics
There is no sense in which a "Santorum surge" is a good thing.

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8:57 am - Gold, silver and gold, all you can hold...
Market watch: Gold bugs’ unmerry Christmas

Santa brought the gold bugs quite a present last week. It was very big and extremely nasty...

From the previous Friday’s close to the low on Thursday, the CME February gold contract...plunged $82.10 or 5.1%...


The article, apart from comments about "radical gold bugs" is even in tone, but the commenterwebs are clogged with the usual gang of gold detractors yelling "I told you so!" at "gold bugs."

Look, I don't hoard gold, for a variety of reasons. And for some of the same reasons I'm not convinced that buying gold now is a good idea if you're looking to make money. But every single time the price backs off, anti-gold analysts and dilettantes come out of the woodwork to crow about how the bubble has burst, proving the gold bugs wrong, just like they predicted. And it's a kind of stupid that's hard to fathom.

First, it's totally out of proportion to the actual price situation. Anti-gold commentators have been insisting that precious metals are at the peak of a bubble ever since it started climbing at the start of the 21st century, since when the prices have climbed from $256 an ounce to a high of just under nineteen hundred dollars, with detractors yelling their tol'jya-sos at every pullback along the way. This "plunge" to the high fifteen hundreds may reasonably frighten recent investors who bought in the seventeen hundreds, but it still represents huge gains to the long term gold bugs at whom the taunting is usually aimed.

Second, these commentators fundamentally misunderstand the people they're taunting. An investor hoping to make money on gold is dismayed by a price drop. A hardcore gold bug is hedging against future economic catastrophe, in which gold will definitely be worth more than it is today. Even if that's three more depression-and-recovery cycles away, the gold bug will still win, because you never take a loss until you sell. Taunting a gold bug about a price decrease shows that you know nothing about the person you're mocking: to them, a price decrease isn't a disastrous loss of investment value; it's an opportunity to buy at a lower price.

This isn't a lump of coal in the gold bug's stocking. It's a post-Christmas clearance sale.

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Thursday, December 29th, 2011
10:54 am - "Item 2: After it's on, don't touch it."
[h/t to DooT.]

Gun fires from girl's purse in Cheyenne Starbucks

Police in Wyoming say nobody was hurt when a small [derringer] that was inside a girl's purse fired while she was in a Cheyenne Starbucks.
The bullet went through a chair and into a wall and narrowly missed several customers.
...
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported that the girl's father had given her the gun and encouraged her to carry it for her protection. According to police records, she hasn't had any formal firearms training.


Anybody who's read my blog knows I think it's a great idea for young women to carry guns for protection. And while I think "formal firearms training" is great, it's really not the necessity many people assume it is. There's only a tiny bit of knowledge involved, and the controlling factor in using guns safely is overwhelmingly individual temperament, something unlikely to be changed by a classroom course. You could fit everything a person needs to know to carry safely on a three by five card, in large print, with room for a flashy logo up top.

This woman and her dad obviously needed such a card. The first bullet point would be "use a damned holster," and somewhere down the list would be "never carry a traditional derringer."

I know folks who love derringers, and obviously "I want one" is the only reason a body needs to own one. But they're terribly inferior to the alternatives for self defense, and the common Remington style dealies aren't drop safe. Leave the derringer at home, and carry a proper, safe handgun with more than two rounds.

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Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
4:35 pm - Calibrating Expectations
Philmo shares an article by Justin Alexander from 2007 that shows me I've been thinking about D&D all wrong for a very long time:

D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations

There’s a common fallacy when it comes to D&D, and it goes something like: Einstein was a 20th level physicist. So, in D&D, Einstein – that little old man – has something like a bajillion hit points and you’d need to stab him dozens of times if you wanted to kill him. That’s ridiculous!

The problem with this argument is that Einstein wasn’t a 20th level physicist. A 20th level physicist is one step removed from being the God of Physicists. Einstein was probably something more like a 4th or 5th level expert. [Emphasis mine]

This can be a little bit difficult for some people to accept, so let’s run the math. At 5th level an exceptional specialist like Einstein will have:

+8 skill ranks
+4 ability score bonus
+3 Skill Focus

In the case of our 5th level Einstein, that gives him a +15 bonus to Knowledge (physics) checks. He can casually answer physics-related questions (by taking 10) with a DC of 25. Such questions, according to the PHB description of the Knowledge skill, are among the hardest physics questions known to man. He’ll know the answers to the very hardest questions (DC 30) about 75% of the time.

And when he’s doing research he’ll be able to add the benefits of being able to reference scientific journals (+2 circumstance bonus), gain insight from fellow colleagues (+2 bonus from aid another), use top-of-the-line equipment (+2 circumstance bonus), and similar resources to gain understanding of a problem so intractable that no one has ever understood it before (DC 40+).

(This 5th level Einstein can also be modeled with as few as 5 hit points – 1 per hit die...)


Alexander goes on to run numbers on a variety of performance benchmarks that back up his thesis:

5th level is right at the dividing line between legendary real world performances and the impossible realms of the superhuman.
...
Almost everyone you have ever met is a 1st level character. The few exceptional people you’ve met are probably 2nd or 3rd level – they’re canny and experienced and can accomplish things that others find difficult or impossible.

If you know someone who’s 4th level, then you’re privileged to know one of the most talented people around: They’re a professional sports player. Or a brain surgeon. Or a rocket scientist.

If you know someone who’s 5th level, then you have the honor of knowing someone that will probably be written about in history books. Walter Payton. Michael Jordan. Albert Einstein. Isaac Newton. Miyamoto Musashi. William Shakespeare.

So when your D&D character hits 6th level, it means they’re literally superhuman: They are capable of achieving things that no human being has ever been capable of achieving. They have transcended the mortal plane and become a mythic hero.


I've been guilty of level inflation myself, and this is a serious gear shift for me. I'm going to have to reassess how my players fit into Alexandrian society.

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