Quick hits (part I)

1) Edsall on conservative calls for avowedly Christian nationalism:

On June 22, 75 supporters of the National Conservatism project issued a 10-part statement of principles. The signatories include Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative; Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina and a former president of the Heritage Foundation; Mark Meadows, a former chief of staff to President Trump; Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute and the venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

The principles include a strong commitment to the infusion of religion into the operation of government: “No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition.” Thus the “Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and nonbelievers alike.”

Perhaps most strikingly, the principles declare that:

Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes.

2) Some interesting stuff here and also some personality “science” that I’m not quite convinced is science, “Why do you like the music you like? Science weighs in.”

Many people tend to form their musical identity in adolescence, around the same time that they explore their social identity. Preferences may change over time, but research shows that people tend to be especially fond of music from their adolescent years and recall music from a specific age period — 10 to 30 years with a peak at 14 — more easily.

Musical taste is often identified by preferred genres, but a more accurate way of understanding preferences is by musical attributes, researchers say. One model outlines three dimensions of musical attributes: arousal, valence and depth.
“Arousal is linked to the amount of energy and intensity in the music,” says David M. Greenberg, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge. Punk and heavy metal songs such as “White Knuckles” by Five Finger Death Punch were high on arousal, a study conducted by Greenberg and other researchers found…

“Valence is a spectrum,” from negative to positive emotions, he says. Lively rock and pop songs such as “Razzle Dazzle” by Bill Haley & His Comets were high on valence.

Depth indicates “both a level of emotional and intellectual complexity,” Greenberg says. “We found that rapper Pitbull’s music would be low on depth, [and] classical and jazz music could be high on depth.”

Also, musical attributes have interesting relationships with one another. “High depth is often correlated with lower valence, so sadness in music is also evoking a depth in it,” he says.

We prefer music from artists whose personalities we identify with. “When people listen to music, they’re being driven by how similar that artist is to themselves,” Greenberg says.

In his 2021 study, participants rated the personality traits of artists using the Big 5 model: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN). To the respondents, David Bowie displayed high Openness and Neuroticism; while Marvin Gaye displayed high Agreeableness.

“The match between the [personality of the] listener and the artist was predictive of the musical preferences for the artist beyond just the attributes from the music,” Greenberg says.

Personality traits may predict people’s musical taste, researchers say. In a 2022 study, Greenberg and his colleagues found that despite sociocultural differences, participants around the world displayed personality traits that were consistently correlated with their preference for certain genres of Western music. Extraversion, for example, was linked to a preference for upbeat contemporary music, and Openness was linked to a preference for sophisticated or cerebral styles.

Look at me with my upbeat, cerebral music preferences 🙂

3) Good stuff from Yglesias on policing:

Once you get past the fantasy that we can wish policing away or “reimagine” public safety in a way that doesn’t involve guys with uniforms and guns, you’re left with the fact that the policing status quo is bad and also hard to change.

Officers should be held accountable for misconduct — not just the most extreme forms of misconduct, but relatively minor kinds as well. Yet we see chiefs reluctant to fire officers, and officers who do get dismissed bouncing from department to department. And this is at least in part because in many cases it is genuinely not easy to fill vacancies. Meanwhile, many if not most departments seem to have a deeply ingrained warrior mentality that emphasizes dominance rather than service. Policing has become so politicized that the overwhelming majority of officers, even in very liberal areas, are right-wing and often seem to have barely disguised disdain for the citizens they nominally serve, and not-at-all disguised disdain for the politicians elected to run their cities. Over the course of 2020-21, we saw a massive national wave of shootings and murder that seems to have been caused at least in part by a de facto police strike, tacitly organized to (successfully) push back on momentum for reform.

That’s bad on its own terms, and it’s also a ticking time bomb for democracy more broadly…

Right now, very few people with progressive values or any qualms about the status quo in the criminal justice system are willing to consider a career in policing. But that dynamic is only going to make everything people worry about in policing even worse. We’re both exacerbating ideological selection into and out of policing, and also making general staffing problems harder. This only makes chiefs more reluctant to dismiss bad cops and more likely to accept retreats who’ve washed out for misconduct elsewhere.

If we accept that policing is important and that high-poverty, high-crime communities want to see policing improved rather than defunded, it would be more constructive to create a program that challenges people who believe policing can be done better to actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

There’s a good amount of evidence (most recently summed up in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing) that better-educated police officers are better across a variety of dimensions — they use force less and engage in more “problem-oriented” policing. This is sometimes taken as a reason to encourage departments to require college degrees or create financial incentives for getting them. Realistically, though, creating a degree requirement is only going to make personnel shortages worse, and a crude financial incentive is going to lead to people enrolling in low-value programs just to get a raise.

Police for America would address the same issue from the opposite direction, creating a centralized mechanism for increasing the supply of educated officers available to work in high-poverty communities. I think it’s safe to assume that PFA cops, like TFA teachers, would have above-average rates of medium-term attrition. But the ones who don’t leave policing would be disproportionately likely to secure promotion. And many of the ones who do leave policing would still work in adjacent fields and would bring practical police experience to bear on careers in law, policy, journalism, and politics. You’d get cultural change inside police departments via the entry of different kinds of people, and also a criminal justice reform community that was operating across less of a conceptual void from the people doing police work…

I have some criticisms of PP trends (the inclination you see in some places to treat illegal gun possession as a non-violent crime unworthy of serious punishment seems like a big mistake to me), but the basic idea that reformers should actually take on criminal justice work and try to do it better is correct. The idea came to prosecutors first because lawyering is more of a high-prestige occupation than policing. But that’s why TFA seems like a promising model — you can really create prestige out of thin air with a little money, savvy, and media hype.

4) Paul Waldman on the awful Trump judge and the broader undermining of the rule of law:

The Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis as its ongoing legal revolution becomes more and more alarming to a public unhappy about its recent rulings on abortion and gun rights. But there’s another legitimacy crisis brewing, one that can be seen vividly in Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s extraordinary rulings in the case involving Donald Trump’s hoarding of documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump despite her thin experience, has been almost comically eager to help the former president. Her appointment of a special master to review documents seized in the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago was greeted with shock and ridicule on substantive grounds and was widely seen as a means of delaying the case as long as possible.

But Cannon’s latest intervention on Trump’s behalf is particularly disturbing. I want to focus on one part of the order she gave Thursday, because it speaks to how we believe courts are supposed to work and how those foundations of the justice system are being warped.

Trump, true to form, has been making fantastical claims about how victimized he has been at the hands of law enforcement. Among other things, he has said the FBI may have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago to incriminate him.

So special master Raymond J. Dearie — who was suggested by Trump’s attorneys and agreed to by the government — essentially told the Trump team to put up or shut up. He instructed them to clarify whether they’re challenging the government’s inventory of documents collected at Mar-a-Lago. Would they make an official statement alleging documents were planted, or would they accept that the inventory is accurate?

This put them in an awkward position — the same awkward position Trump attorneys have been in before. Their client is the most notorious liar in the history of American politics. But in court, the rules are different than on Fox News or Truth Social.

In case after case after the 2020 election, Trump attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell rolled into court with rumors, speculation and hearsay about widespread election fraud. Again and again, they were shot down by judges telling them it wasn’t enough to say they heard about a guy whose cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbor said he saw a van with a Joe Biden bumper sticker idling behind the board of elections building. Without evidence, they lost.

But Cannon swooped in to save Trump’s lawyers from the embarrassment of contradicting their boss. She overruled Dearie, allowing the lawyers to avoid taking a position on whether the inventory is accurate. Given the chance to draw a bright line marking the integrity of what goes on in court, she did the opposite.

This may seem like a small thing. But it’s a direct assault on the idea that the courts are a venue where fairness prevails precisely because there are strict rules everyone has to follow, rules designed to get to the truth.

Almost two years after Trump left office, the poison he injected into the courts with the appointment of a long list of hack judges is becoming more clear. It’s increasingly difficult to look at important court cases of recent days and believe that whether you like the outcome, the procedures have been fair, the judges have worked to be objective and the integrity of the courts is intact.

Judges such as Cannon undermine a cornerstone of the legitimacy of the court system: the idea of “procedural fairness.” This topic has long been of interest to judges and lawyers, and research has found that people’s perceptions of whether they were treated fairly is often just as important as the outcome in determining their feelings about the process.

5) Really, really liked this from Jesse Singal, “It Isn’t Journalism’s Job To Hand-Hold People To The Correct Moral Conclusions”

One of the silliest ideas to infect mainstream journalism in recent years is the notion that when journalists produce work about a bad person, they must signpost that work, seemingly every moment, with explicit indicators that that person is bad. You need to hold readers’ hands tightly, because they are moral idiots, and the moment your grip slips, they’ll race off and return in a Klansman’s hood or something.

This is now a thoroughly mainstream view in journalism, and it is applied to coverage not just to actual fascists, but to an ever-growing variety of right-wing (or otherwise disfavored) figures…

When a journalist gets dragged on Twitter the way Harkinson did, it gets noticed by other journalists. One of Twitter’s main functions, after all, is to publiclydish out discipline to those deemed to have violated a given group’s norms, whether or not the accusation is valid.

Things have gotten a lot worse in mainstream journalism since Harkinson’s piece. I’m not the first to have ranted and written about the culture of stifling conformity, of jumping down the throats of anyone who argues for nuanced takes on hot-button issues, or who publicly disagrees with sacralized narratives. These tendencies have contributed to botched coverage of national news events over and over and over and over.

But there’s a more fundamental principle at stake here: respect for readers (and listeners). The ideas that readers will scurry off to fascism unless we keep them tightly leashed, that they can’t handle a little bit of uncertainty or nuance or a couple of unanswered questions — it’s all deeply condescending. Certain prescriptions for how journalism should be conducted — such as the idea that we should be awash in headlines like “Racist President Drones Racistly As Racist Group Howls With Racist Glee” — seem motivated by genuine contempt for readers.

When Damon Kiesow argues that an article about Chris Rufo was a terrible act because it included a prominent photo of Rufo as well as a somewhat in-depth interview with him, that’s because he doesn’t respect Times readers. “The path to not amplifying hate is to lead with a portait [sic] of the director of a local anti-hate group and have them describe the issue – and then dig into the details of the people pushing anti-civil rights legislation.” This is an utterly impoverished, impossibly bland concept of journalism in which we slap helmets on readers and then lead them by hand, via velvet ropes and padded walls, to their final, safe destination: On your left you’ll see a local civil rights leader. He is a hero. What a good man! In our next room you’ll meet today’s baddy, an eeeeeeeevil man named Chris Rufo. Do not listen to what he says, for he is a Deceiver.

I can’t write like this because I don’t hate my readers. And most journalists, to be fair, don’t hate their readers either — they want to produce interesting work. But the hysterical, moralizing view of journalism is winning, largely because of the social media shitstorm that engulfs anyone who insists on treating readers as compos mentis adults rather than kids in the under-10 section of a theme park. If you’re skeptical of my argument that views like Kiesow’s stem from contempt for readers, reflect, for a minute, on the claim that launched this whole article: that describing a hardened racist as “dapper” will cause people to be drawn to that racist and to embrace his ideas. The hypothetical seductee in this scenario is, full-stop, an idiot.

Any competent critique of 2022 needs to mention class, and this is indeed partly a class issue. Journalists are increasingly from privileged, liberal backgrounds like mine, and privileged, liberal people tend to have very strong, very set feelings about politics — feelings that only grew more intense during the Trump years. For the most part, journalists in my milieu are cut off, at least as far as close social and familial ties go, from the sorts of people who might be fans of Chris Rufo. That makes it harder to cover Rufo accurately, which is something you should want even if — especially if — you dislike Rufo and his project.

Journalism needs more Josh Harkinsons, is what it comes down to. There are all sorts of structural reasons why it’s harder than ever before to produce long, careful, rigorous works of magazine reporting — that such works are now shouted down and slandered by other journalists is an exceptionally foreboding development for an already teetering industry.

6) This Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest TV shows got dunked on all over twitter.  But it’s really good!  Sopranos is #1 and Wired, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld are all top 10.  That’s a good list!

7) Heck, more Jesse Singal on a singularly (okay, it’s not, but couldn’t resist) Vox article.

8) Cathy Young with one of the best pieces I’ve read on Diversity training:

Let’s grant that DeSantis’s Trump-lite culture-warmongering is cynical and noxious, and the “Stop WOKE” law—which should be taken out and shot for its moniker alone—is a very real speech infringement, especially given the broad scope and the vagueness of its prohibitions. (For example, the law prohibits training or teaching that individuals “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions . . . committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” Does this apply only to instructing trainees that such reactions are required, or could any material that inspires employees to feel “psychological distress” or shame over racial inequities fall under suspicion?)

And let’s further grant that Rufo is a political hack who is upfront about his end-justifies-the-means approach to stopping “wokeness.”

But DEI training is also one of those issues on which the right and the left tend to get trapped in a mutual cycle of escalating culture-war follies. The right seizes on a real problem, blows it up into an imminent threat to Civilization As We Know It, and demands ham-handed—and often unconstitutional—action to root it out. The left circles the wagons and ferociously argues that whatever the right is complaining about is either nonexistent or actually a good thing. The right attacks even more forcefully. Rinse and repeat.

While Rufo’s dispatches from the culture-war front definitely need to be taken with a grain, or maybe a shaker-full, of salt—as I noted last year, he’s prone, at the very least, to exaggeration and cherry-picking—some of the corporate documents he has collected should give cause for concern.

For instance, the “Listen. Understand. Act.” program launched at AT&T in April 2021 describes “21-Day Racial Equity Habit Challenge” which invites the employee to “do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity” every day for 21 days. These actions include reading, watching, or listening to material on antiracism, gender issues and/or social justice from an ideologically uniform list that features Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Nikole Hannah-Jones. No alternative or critical point of view is listed—not, say, Kelefa Sanneh’s trenchant 2019 critique of Kendi and DiAngelo for the New Yorker, or the podcast discussions by Brown University economist Glenn Loury and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter, two black academics critical of the Kendi brand of antiracism.

Other recommended material includes a blog post arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has been good for anti-racism because living in the constant shadow of death allows white Americans to understand how black Americans feel all the time; a column that bluntly states, “White people, you are the problem”; a video titled “Not Everyone Is Your Friend,” in which a spoken-word poet warns that old friends who don’t support you on your social justice journey may not really be true friends; and a conversation with the author of a book arguing that the United States owes its economic power to slavery, with no mention of other work challenging his thesis. Participants are also encouraged to become involved in social and racial justice activism and to scrutinize their circle of friends, their reading and film- or TV-viewing habits, and even the artwork in their homes for racial balance…

Moreover, one need not endorse conspiracy theories about “woke” corporations and the left to be troubled by a trend of major employers expecting employees to declare allegiance to a particular political viewpoint. Nor does one need to endorse Trump-style white identity politics to believe that the DiAngelo-style identity politics of many DEI programs are, in fact, very bad. It’s everything from the messages decrying “whiteness” and badgering white employees to confess their “complicity” in racism to the fixation on seeing all interpersonal problems through the lens of identity, privilege, and oppression to the constant sleuthing for “microaggressions” and “harm.” It doesn’t help that for all the talk of “diversity,” many DEI programs are focused on the dynamics of black and white Americans while giving short shrift to other groups. The “Listen. Understand. Act.” materials include more than forty items that focus on the black American experience, but just two focused on Hispanics and one dealing with Asian Americans…

Another alternative DEI program is offered by Brooklyn-based African-American entrepreneur and writer Chloé Simone Valdary under the name “Theory of Enchantment.” (It’s based on the 2011 book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, who defines “enchantment” as winning people over by “delighting” them with a product or idea.) On the Theory of Enchantment website, Valdary describes her program, launched four years ago, as “a framework for compassionate antiracism that combines social-emotional learning (SEL), character development, and interpersonal growth,” based on three principles: “treat people like human beings, not political abstractions”; “criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down or destroy”; “root everything you do in love and compassion.” Clients include the online food-delivery company GrubHub and the Hadassah Jewish women’s organization. The company currently has six part-time employees; Valdary told me that at least for now, she’s looking not to expand but to build sustainable systems. She also stresses that she approaches the issue “from an entrepreneurial perspective, not a culture-war perspective.”

Like Manji, Valdary is highly critical of the conventional DEI model, which her site describes as leading to “individuals being unfairly singled out, ostracized, and humiliated” and “animosity developing among coworkers.” But she also believes that the anti-woke crusaders—whether activists or politicians—end up becoming the very things they wage war against, and she thinks HB 7, with its focus on banning “harmful” concepts in workplace training, is a perfect example. “They’re imitating critical race theory, which also wants to ban certain uses of words,” she says. “It’s like, to a T, an imitation of their opponents.”

9) The story that dominated twitter for a day earlier this week, “More Trans Teens Are Choosing ‘Top Surgery’” Can we at least agree that doctors advertising for teenage patients for this on TikTok is bad?

10) Relatedly, semi-recent report on changes on all this in Europe, “The Beginning of the End of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’? Britain is closing the infamous Tavistock Centre. Finland and Sweden have radically revised their treatment guidelines. But American doctors are advertising surgeries to children on TikTok.”

The question is how Americans will react.

In a sign that they may be rethinking the “puberty blockers are safe and reversible” dogma, the Food and Drug Administration, also on Thursday, announced that it was slapping a new warning on puberty blockers. It turns out they may cause brain swelling and vision loss. But for now, the move among American medical associations, health officials and dozens of gender clinics is to double down on the affirmative approach, with the Biden administration recently asserting gender affirmation is “trauma-informed care.”

The American stance is at odds with a growing consensus in the West to exercise extreme caution when it comes to transitioning young people. Uber-progressive countries like Sweden and Finland have pushed back—firmly and unapologetically—against the affirmative approach of encouraging youth transition advocated by some transgender activists and gender clinicians.

Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare released new guidelines for treating young people with gender dysphoria earlier this year. The new guidelines state that the risks of these “gender-affirming” medical interventions “currently outweigh the possible benefits, and that the treatments should be offered only in exceptional cases.”

Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care (COHERE) came to a similar conclusion a year earlier, noting: “The first-line intervention for gender variance during childhood and adolescent years is psychosocial support and, as necessary, gender-explorative therapy and treatment for comorbid psychiatric disorders.” And: “In light of available evidence, gender reassignment of minors is an experimental practice.” Gender reassignment medical interventions “must be done with a great deal of caution, and no irreversible treatment should be initiated.”

Both guidelines starkly contrast with those proffered by the Illinois-based World Professional Association of Transgender Health, an advocacy group made up of activists, academics, lawyers, and healthcare providers, which has set the standard when it comes to transgender care in the United States. WPATH will soon issue new standards that lower recommended ages for blockers, hormones and surgeries. (WPATH did not respond to a request for comment.)

WPATH’s position is in keeping with an array of U.S. medical associations and activist groups across the country that insist gender-affirming care is “life-saving.” Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who is herself a transgender woman, recently asserted that there is a medical consensus as to its benefits. Some activists and gender clinicians in the U.S. feel that WPATH doesn’t go far enough, asserting that any child who wants puberty blockers should get them, for instance, or claiming that a teenager who later regrets having her breasts removed can just get new ones.

In Sweden and Finland, this issue has been primarily a question of health and medicine. Here in the U.S. it is a political football.

11) Paul Waldman, “Those GOP ‘tough on crime’ ads? They’re based on a very big lie.”

But the idea that crime rates in America will depend on which party controls Congress is ridiculous on its face. The truth — which in a better world would play some role in campaign debates — is that almost nothing Congress does will have any more than the smallest effect on crime.

As The Post reports, in the past month or so Republicans have made crime the primary focus of their campaigns. Apparently, inflation just didn’t provide the appropriate dose of fear and rage:

During the first three weeks of September, the Republican candidates and allies aired about 53,000 commercials on crime, according to AdImpact, which tracks political spots on network TV. That’s up from the 29,000 crime ads they aired in all of August. Nearly 50 percent of all Republican online ads in battleground states have focused on policing and safety since the start of the month, according to data from Priorities USA, a group focused on electing Democrats.

As Republicans know well — because they’ve run on this issue for decades — crime is both a real problem and a symbolic one. It can affect people’s lives in profound ways. But bringing it up can also activate fear, tribalistic distrust and oftentimes outright bigotry, emotions that override any rational assessment of problems and solutions.

But there is a truth in the general vicinity, which is that Republicans do in fact want to spend more on police than we do now; the essence of their position is that police budgets must always rise. In some states, they’ve even passed laws that would punish cities that cut their police budgets, no matter the reason. There is a real policy difference here: Republicans generally favor whatever sounds “tough” — more cops, longer sentences, less accountability for police misconduct — while Democrats tend to have a broader view of what government could do to reduce crime, while also often supporting more spending on police.

12) Always enjoy reading about research on apples, but so many of the new cultivars are just sweet with now balancing tartness– so frustrating.  Meanwhile, Braeburn is one of the best apples ever (and if you like Jazz, it’s Braeburn crossed with Gala) and you can’t even find it anywhere anymore.  “How About Them Apples? Research Orchards Chart a Fruit’s Future. Scientists working in research groves, like one in Nova Scotia, are developing your favorite new apple variety.”

13) Jessica Grose on kids’ sports, “‘The more parents spend on their kids’ sports, the less the kid enjoys it and the more pressure they feel’”

My daughters love to swim, and we’d exhausted the lessons at our local Y, so I thought I’d try to find them a swim team. They’re only 6 and 9, so what I was looking for was a local rec situation that offered a bit of low-stakes camaraderie and regular exercise. They’re strong swimmers but probably not future Olympians, and besides, I want a life: I have zero interest in shuttling them up and down the Eastern Seaboard every weekend to compete, as the parents whose children are on travel teams seem to do.
The kind of chill athletic experience I wanted for my kids barely seems to exist anymore. There wasn’t anything like the delightfully bumbling soccer league of my youth. All I could find were intense teams that had practices several times a week. The only other regular swimming option for my children is lessons, which are expensive, and you need to sign up on the first day of registration or you’re out of luck.
I thought it might be just a New York City thing — often there are wait lists for all kinds of kid activities because there is so much demand and not enough supply. But it seems to be a cross-country problem: When I tweeted in frustration, lots of folks replied describing similar experiences — including a woman who wryly suggested that one might have to sacrifice a baby goat to get kids into swimming lessons in Portland, Ore.
This saddens me for so many reasons. A big one is that sports were such an important part of my tween and teen years. I wasn’t good enough to play in college, but I played soccer and field hockey through my senior year of high school. It always felt like a respite from adolescent drama, and it provided structure and solace on even the worst days. Being part of a team taught me a lot of lessons, not least of which that showing up on time and ready to play has tangible benefits, no matter what happens in the game.
But as Linda Flanagan explains in her new book, “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports — and Why It Matters,” the problem is systemic. At its base, over the past several decades, “kids’ sports stopped being for kids.” There are fewer low-cost options, the time parents are spending on sports has ratcheted up and kids from lower-income families have less access to play. Instead, youth sports are about making adults money and fueling what some economists call the “rug rat race” — middle-class and upper-middle-class competition to get kids into colleges and secure their futures.

That sucks.  Too bad these parents don’t have access to NCFC Youth Rec soccer, where we totally get this right.

14) Did you hear about the “academic” paper last month which was some guy describing his diary of masturbating to pseudo-child porn?  Academics should not be defending this stuff– not all subjects are worthy of study and not all study expands are knowledge– but they do.

15) I saw an ad for Xyzal the other day, which is basically warmed over Zyrtec, but, of course, does not have a generic.  And, how does the efficacy compare?  Zyrtec is actually better.

16) More frustrating culture war battles.  This documentary sounds great and thoughtful.  But, alas, how dare a white woman make a documentary about Muslim men? “Sundance Liked Her Documentary on Terrorism, Until Muslim Critics Didn’t”

17) Loved this take from “History Boomer

“Stay in your lane” is one of the stupider phrases to emerge from lefty identity politics. It’s the crazy idea that certain topics should only be discussed or portrayed by people with the appropriate characteristics. It’s a smothering approach that would set limits on art based on skin color and background when the only limit to art should be the artist’s imagination.

Michael Powell over at the New York Times penned an important article on a film that has been unfairly attacked because it has the “wrong” views and its director the wrong cultural heritage. Meg Smaker directed Jihad Rehab, a documentary investigating the lives of four men who joined jihadist groups, were imprisoned and tortured at Guantanamo Bay, and finally began a move towards a different view of the world during a stay at a Saudi Arabian rehabilitation center. The film was widely praised (read this positive review at The Guardian) until it caught the eye and ire of activists who complained that Ms. Smaker was demonizing Muslims as terrorists and should not, as a white woman, be making such a film at all. Ms. Smaker had film festivals pull her documentary because of the controversy and she is facing career ruin.

For all the details, read Powell’s article, the Guardian’s review, an open letter from filmmakers (who mostly hadn’t seen it) condemning the film, and an open letter from the film’s executive director Abigail Disney, who had originally called the film “freaking brilliant,” but now condemned it because it “has landed like a truckload of hate on people whom I sincerely love and respect.”

For me, one quote jumped out:

“When I, a practicing Muslim woman, say that this film is problematic,” wrote Jude Chehab, a Lebanese American documentarian, “my voice should be stronger than a white woman saying that it isn’t. Point blank.”

Jude Chehab thinks she should be listened to because she is a Muslim Arab while Meg Smaker, as a white American, has a less valid point of view. This way of thinking stems from what is called “standpoint theory,”1 which argues we need to grant special authority to views expressed by those whose identity makes them more trustworthy narrators. (Smaker spent years living in Yemen, learning Arabic, and studying Muslim cultures.)

It’s darkly funny that this same emphasis on identity and authenticity has also been used to justify attacking the casting of non-white characters in Amazon’s The Rings of Power and a black mermaid in the live-action The Little Mermaid. Ms. Chehab wants only Muslim filmmakers to make films about Muslims and conservative critics want only white people to portray mermaids and elves…

The article has some nuance—Farah Fleurima says that sometimes fat suits can work, as with Christian Bale in the film Vice—but mostly pushes for the idea that actors should closely resemble the people they are portraying.

Who can forget the caramel-hued actress Zoe Saldaña playing the singer Nina Simone in a much-maligned biopic of the proudly dark-coffee-skinned performer?

“Caramel-hued,” “dark-coffee-skinned”? While the right complains about dark-skinned elves and black mermaids, the left thinks that Zoe Saldaña—who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage—isn’t dark enough? Should casting calls include Pantone color swatches to make sure each actor properly fits the role? Of course, we also need to examine your sex life to make sure only straight actors play straight characters, ditto your physical abilities if you want to play wheel-chair bound Stephen Hawking.

This way lies madness. Taken to its logical conclusion, “stay in your lane” thinking will result in filmmakers only making films about themselves and only Barack Obama will be acceptable to portray Barack Obama. We must fight the purity police on all sides who want to resegregate our culture. Meg Smaker has as much right to make a film about four Muslim men (assuming she approaches the subject with care and integrity) as a black filmmaker has to create her own vision of Romeo and Juliet. We are all citizens of this world, hungry students learning from her intertwined cultures.

18) Yglesias is right, “Beating climate change absolutely requires new technology: We have what we need to drastically cut emissions — but we’re going to need much more”

So how much does this cost? Well, not very much. Because the key thing about this scenario is that all my kilowatts of electricity get used. When I’m in surplus, that extra electricity goes “to the grid” where it substitutes for other sources of power, and I earn credits that offset my electricity usage during deficit periods. If I had to throw away my surplus kilowatts instead of selling them to the grid, my per-kilowatt cost would soar.

And if everyone had solar power, that’s the problem we would face. Who would we export the extra electricity to during surplus periods? At a small margin, we have the technology for this: instead of exporting power during the day and importing it at night, I could get a home battery and store daytime excess for use at night. That would raise my per-kilowatt cost, but only modestly since batteries aren’t that expensive. And you can add wind as well as solar to your grid so you have some resiliency against seasonal variations in sunlight.

The problem is that without fossil fuels for resilience, the cost per megawatt of renewables soars because redundancy is expensive.

Wasting electricity is costly

Seasonal variation is a big problem here, for example.

Let’s say you have enough solar panels to cover 100 percent of your electricity needs on an average December day. That means you’re going to have way more panels than you need on an average June day when the sun is shining for a much longer period of time. On a pure engineering basis, that’s fine — there are just some panels that in practice are only generating power for a few days per year in the dead of winter. But the cost per megawatt of those panels is going to be astronomical because a solar panel is almost 100 percent fixed costs.

The same is true of random fluctuations in weather. If you’re like Texas and rely on a mix of gas and wind, then wind is cheap — you add some turbines and that means you burn less gas. If there’s some freak day when there’s very little wind, then you burn an unusually large amount of gas. As long as you’re using almost all the wind power you generate, the cost per megawatt of your turbines is low. But if you try to build enough turbines to keep the lights on during low-wind days, you’re wasting wind on high-wind days. This means your cost per megawatt rises.

Because massively overbuilding renewables would not only cost a lot of money but wastefully consume vast tracts of land, it seems like a better idea would be to use long-term batteries. If you had really big batteries that stored electricity for a long time, you could simply store surplus power in the high season and unleash it in the low season.

In fact, if you are lucky enough to have large hydroelectric dams at your disposal, you can probably use them as a seasonal storage vehicle. You can let the water pile up when renewables are at maximum capacity and then run it through the dam when you need it. Not coincidentally, politicians from the Pacific Northwest — where there’s tons of hydro — tend to be huge climate hawks.

But for the rest of us, it’s Hypothetical Storage Technology to the rescue.

I’m not saying anything here that renewables proponents aren’t aware of. They write articles about seasonal electricity storage all the time. There are plenty of ideas here that could work, ranging from ideas on the technological cutting edge to brute force engineering concepts like using pumps to create extra hydro capacity. Another idea is that maybe you could replace a lot of current fossil fuel use with burning hydrogen, and then you could manufacture hydrogen using renewable electricity while accepting seasonal variation in the level of hydrogen output. It might work!

19) Relatedly, “What Many Progressives Misunderstand About Fighting Climate Change”

But this may not be enough for some environmentalists. Jamie Henn, an environmental activist and the director of Fossil Free Media, recently told Rolling Stone, “Look, I want to get carbon out of the atmosphere, but this is such an opportunity to remake our society. But if we just perpetuate the same harms in a clean-energy economy, and it’s just a world of Exxons and Elon Musks—oh, man, what a nightmare.” Many progressive commentators similarly believe that countering climate change requires a fundamental reordering of the West’s political and economic systems. “The level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below ‘absolutely catastrophic’ is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo,” the writer Phil McDuff has argued. The climate crisis, the Green New Deal advocate Naomi Klein has insisted, “could be the best argument progressives have ever had” to roll back corporate influence, tear up free-trade deals, and reinvest in public services and infrastructure.

Such comments raise a question: What is the real goal here—stopping climate change or abolishing capitalism? Taking climate change seriously as a global emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck attitude and a recognition that technological solutions (yes, often built and deployed by private firms) can deliver real progress on decarbonization before the proletariat has seized the means of production. A massive infusion of private investment, made not for charity but in the anticipation of future profits, is precisely what’s needed to accelerate the clean-energy transition—which, like all revolutions, will yield unpredictable results.

The belief that top-down decision makers can choreograph precisely how the clean-energy revolution will proceed runs deep in progressive circles. In the manifesto describing his version of the Green New Deal, Bernie Sanders declared, “To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.” Many environmental groups share the Vermont senator’s aversion to these technologies. But the climate emergency demands we take a closer look at some of them before writing them off completely. In the face of uncertainty about the best path to decarbonization, policy makers should think like a venture capitalist—placing lots of bets in the expectation that some technologies will fail but the investment portfolio will succeed as a whole. The “false solutions” that Sanders decries may indeed prove unworkable. Nuclear energy might never be cost-competitive, and geoengineering may prove technically infeasible. But we can’t know in advance…

In a variety of other ways, Americans will have to choose between the perfect and the good. Some environmentalists are skeptical of geothermal energy, which requires extensive drilling. Yet it has high potential as a source of clean baseload power with a small geographical footprint that can, in theory, be deployed anywhere in the world (if you drill deep enough). One way to accelerate investment in geothermal energy would be to give this clean technology the same expedited permitting that oil and gas companies already receive for leases on federal land.

20) I cannot recall how I came across this, but, among other things, it’s got a nice replication of the Milgram experiment and it’s damn entertaining, Derren Brown’s, “The Heist

21) Special K for the win, “Nothing seemed to treat their depression. Then they tried ketamine.”

22) This is good, “How to Change Minds? A Study Makes the Case for Talking It Out. Researchers found that meaty conversations among several people can align beliefs and brain patterns — so long as the group is free of blowhards.” (Haven’t done a free NYT article in a while, so, here you go)

A few years ago, Dr. Sievers devised a study to improve understanding of how exactly a group of people achieves a consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. The results, recently published online but not yet peer-reviewed, showed that a robust conversation that results in consensus synchronizes the talkers’ brains — not only when thinking about the topic that was explicitly discussed, but related situations that were not.

The study also revealed at least one factor that makes it harder to reach accord: a group member whose strident opinions drown out everyone else.

“Conversation is our greatest tool to align minds,” said Thalia Wheatley, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who advises Dr. Sievers. “We don’t think in a vacuum, but with other people.”

23) One of the most interesting things about Covid to me is how much it has brought attention to general features of disease that have long been ignored, “It’s Not Just Long COVID: Society has been underestimating the long-term consequences of viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites for ages.”

Despite the initial disbelief and remaining questions, the phenomenon behind long COVID isn’t entirely new. We’ve always lived with post-infection illnesses and underappreciated their consequences. A recent article in Nature Medicine lists 15 infectious agents—many of which are well-known viruses, bacteria, and parasites—that can cause these “post-acute infection syndromes.” Long COVID is unprecedented in terms of its scale—it has affected many millions of people in the U.S. alone—but we should try to understand and study it in the context of other long illnesses, not as something that emerged out of nowhere with no comparison or antecedents.

One of us—Hank Balfour—has spent decades studying the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can have strikingly similar long-term patterns. EBV, named for two of the researchers who discovered it, is millions of years older than SARS-CoV-2, but its prolonged effects are only just beginning to be well understood. They’re elusive in part because the virus is so common. It infects at least 90 percent of adults, which makes establishing a clear control group and proving that EBV was the cause of a long illness very difficult.

Yet, new research is revealing more and more about the connection between EBV and chronic diseases. New studies suggest that multiple sclerosis is the result of an EBV infection, and we know for sure that EBV is the principal cause of infectious mononucleosis (mono). Most patients recover from mono in a few weeks, but some continue to have mono-like symptoms for years—or get over the initial illness only to suffer recurring bouts of sickness later on. This condition could be called “long mono/EBV” or “chronic mono.” Two prominent symptoms it shares with long COVID are brain fog and fatigue. And just as doctors didn’t believe long-COVID patients at first, chronic mono isn’t a widely accepted diagnosis among health-care professionals. That’s a shame. The similarities between long COVID and long mono/EBV, and the purported interactions between the two viruses during acute COVID or after COVID vaccination, demand further investigation…

Persistent postinfection symptoms are also found in influenza. Long influenza—which most people have never thought about, even though influenza is quite common—and its similarities to long COVID can teach us how both diseases cause brain fog. In the aftermath of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic, scientists noticed that the infection can come with complications, including neurological disorders, that last longer than the acute respiratory illness. There is growing evidence that influenza viruses, much like SARS-CoV-2 and reactivated EBV, can trigger neuroinflammation by infecting white blood cells that then breach the blood-brain barrier and release proinflammatory small proteins called cytokines. Studies suggest that microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, can also secrete these pro-inflammatory agents following viral assault and thus may be factors in the brain fog experienced as a delayed effect of both influenza and COVID. Animal studies and human-brain postmortems bolster this theory. Investigators recently found that both SARS-CoV-2 and H1N1 activate neuroinflammation through microglia, and they noted the similarity of what they observed to the “chemo fog” that patients experience following cancer chemotherapy.

The boy problem

So, I gave a quick hit this weekend to Richard Reeves new book on our boy problem, but as I said, it deserves it’s own post.  I cannot recommend highly enough the conversation between Reeves and Derek Thompson (and seriously, if you listen to podcasts, you’ve got to subscribe to Plain English). Here’s from the transcript:

Thompson: And so give me some specific examples, where are boys struggling? Where is the data that you’re pointing to?

Reeves: Well, the three main areas I look at are education—I know that’s something that you’ve written a lot about Derek, and you’ve written a couple of very good pieces, one in particular on the growing gap in college and college campuses where we’re seeing like 60 percent of the students on college campuses and rising being female. And so we’re seeing very big gender gaps in education. And in fact, the gender gap in getting a four-year college degree in the U.S. now is wider than it was in 1972 when Title IX was passed to help girls and women. In 1972, it was about 13 percentage points more likely that a guy would be getting a degree than a woman. Now it’s flipped to 15 percentage points more likely that a woman is going to get it. So, bluntly put, gender inequality in higher education in the U.S. is wider today than when Title IX was passed, but the other way around. And then we’re seeing it among the top-scoring-GPA high school students, two thirds of them are girls, big differences in high school graduation rates and so on.

Then on the work front, and it’s important I think here, this is going to be true generally, but to add kind of nuances to who we’re talking about. Most men in the U.S. today earn less than most men did in 1979…

And then in the family, what we’re seeing is a really big increase in the number of fathers who are not in a close relationship with their children. For all kinds of complicated reasons around family instability and so on, too. But at heart I think because of the incredibly positive challenge that’s been made to the role of men as breadwinner, protector, provider by the successes of the women’s movement. But the result of that has been to leave particularly the least powerful men somewhat adrift and disconnected very much from their own children. And that’s bad for them, it’s bad for the moms, and it’s bad for the kids…

Thompson: Overall as I was reading your book and trying to find some way to synthesize what I saw as these struggles of some boys and men in America, it seemed to me that there’s this idea, somewhat controversial, of a success sequence. And if you go across a success sequence, men seem less likely to succeed in high school. Then less likely to take advanced classes in high school, then less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to drop out of high school. Then less likely to go to college. If they go to college, more likely to drop out, less likely to graduate from school. And then over the last 50 years, as you’re pointing out in the labor force, this is partly cashing out in the fact that they’re more likely to drop out of the job search entirely. The activity rate or participation rate of prime-age men has gone down consistently with every single decade. So that’s sort of how I conceive of the problems that we’re talking about. Is this happening in the U.S. only, or are you touching on global themes here?

 

Reeves: Far and large, I think this is an international trend. That’s one of the reasons I think we have to pay close attention to it, because if it was just a peculiarity of the U.S., you might say, “Oh, what’s weird about our education system? Can we go and learn? Maybe let’s go and see what they’re doing in France or Finland or South Africa or Australia.” But the basic trends are pretty similar everywhere. The U.S. does stand out a little bit for the extent to which men have lost ground economically. It’s not like men have done amazingly well in those other countries, but they’ve at least made some ground. We haven’t seen this sort of backsliding quite the same way elsewhere, but the basic pattern you’ve just described or this pipeline basically of just like a—it’s like a domino all the way through. Right from the beginning actually from pre-K or even like 2 years old all the way through to the 20s.

And you say that’s why young men are more likely to be living at home with their parents in their late 20s than women are, et cetera. And so I do think there’s this kind of sense of a causal chain running all the way through, but there’s also deep cultural questions as to why that should be the case. I think the question as to why it’s happening is a different one. But the fact that it’s happening in pretty much the same way, in pretty much every advanced economy. Again, big caveat, this is only a conversation you can be having really in pretty advanced economies. In most of the rest of the world, the statements we made earlier about gender equality really being about girls and women is still true. If I’m in Afghanistan, I’m not making this argument. But in advanced economies, the conversation has changed.

In the Atlantic, Reeves makes a compelling case that we should literally start boys in school one year after the girls.  Yes, sounds crazy, but there’s lots of good data and logic behind this:

The reason little boys wear almost all of the red shirts is not mysterious; the fact that boys mature later than girls is one known to every parent, and certainly to every teacher. According to a Rand survey, teachers are three times more likely to delay entry for their own sons than their own daughters. The maturity gap is now demonstrated conclusively by neuroscience: Brain development follows a different trajectory for boys than it does for girls. But this fact is entirely ignored in broader education policy, even as boys fall further behind girls in the classroom.

On almost every measure of educational success from pre-K to postgrad, boys and young men now lag well behind their female classmates. The trend is so pronounced that it can result only from structural problems. [emphases mine] Affluent parents and elite schools are tackling the issue by giving boys more time. But in fact it is boys from poorer backgrounds who struggle the most in the classroom, and these boys, who could benefit most from the gift of time, are the ones least likely to receive it. Public schools usually follow an industrial model, enrolling children automatically based on their birth date. Administrators in the public system rarely have the luxury of conversations with parents about school readiness…

A proposal to give a boost to boys may sound odd to some, given the inequities that many girls and women still face. But I am betting on our ability to think two thoughts at once. There is much still to be done to promote female representation in politics and corporate leadership, for example. But as to education, boys and men are the ones who need the most help. And it’s not an issue only for them. When schools fail boys, those boys grow into men lacking the skills to flourish in the workplace, to be strong partners, or to be good providers for their children. Giving boys the gift of time will help create a better society not just for men, but for women and children too…

Once boys begin school, they almost immediately start falling behind girls. A 6-percentage-point gender gap in reading proficiency in fourth grade widens to an 11-percentage-point gap by the end of eighth grade. In a study drawing on scores across the country, Sean Reardon, a sociologist and education professor at Stanford, found no overall gender difference in math in grades three through eight, but a big one in English. “In virtually every school district in the U.S., female students outperformed male students on ELA [English Language Arts] tests,” he writes. “In the average district, the gap is … roughly two-thirds of a grade level.”

By high school, the female advantage has become entrenched. The most common high-school grade for girls is now an A; for boys, it is a B. Twice as many girls as boys are in the top 10 percent of students ranked by GPA, and twice as many boys as girls are among those with the lowest grades. It’s an international pattern: Across economically advanced nations, boys are 50 percent more likely than girls to fail at all three key school subjects: math, reading, and science. In the U.S., almost one in five boys does not graduate high school on time, compared with one in 10 girls—the rate for boys is about the same as that for students from low-income families.

The basic trend is clear—at every age, on almost every educational metric, across the world, girls are leaving boys in the dust. Among many of the parents I know, a shorthand explanation has developed to explain the struggles of an adolescent child to stay on track, especially academically: “He’s a boy.”…

But I believe the biggest reason for boys’ classroom struggles is simply that male brains develop more slowly than female brains—or at least those parts of the brain that enable success in the classroom. The gaps in brain development are clearly visible around the age of 5, and they persist through elementary and middle school. (As Margaret Mead wrote of a classroom of middle schoolers: “You’d think you were in a group of very young women and little boys.”)

The brain-development trajectories of boys and girls diverge further, and most dramatically, as adolescence progresses—with the widest gaps around the age of 16 or 17. I hardly need to say that these are crucial years for educational achievement.

Really thought-provoking stuff.  Working closely with the NCSU Park Scholars– the very highest achievers at NC State– it’s definitely notable that our incoming classes are around 2-1 girls.  And it’s because at the far end of the tail of high school achievement– like everywhere else– girls are way out-performing boys.

Obviously, the redshirt all the boys approach is a very dramatic solution, but, regardless, these are important conversations we need to be having that do not detract from the fact that on a society level we also need to be deeply concerned about true equality for women.  (Life is complex and nuanced, despite what you might believe from twitter).  

Quick hits (part II)

1) I do some strength training, but, I suspect not enough for optimal benefit.  I need some study to tell me the minimum 🙂 “People Who Do Strength Training Live Longer — and Better
A consensus is building among experts that both strength training and cardio‌ are important for longevity.”

Regular physical activity has many known health benefits, one of which is that it might help you live longer. But what’s still being determined are the types and duration of exercise that offer the most protection.

In a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that while doing either aerobic exercise or strength training was associated with a lower risk of dying during the study’s time frame, regularly doing both — one to three hours a week of aerobic exercise and one to two weekly strength training sessions — was associated with an even lower mortality risk.

Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to a workout schedule is comparable to “smoking versus not smoking,” said Carver Coleman, a data scientist and one of the authors of the study.

 

The paper is the latest evidence in a trend showing the importance of strength training in longevity and overall health…

After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, income, education, marital status and whether they had chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, researchers found that people who engaged in one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week had a 15 percent lower mortality risk. Mortality risk was 27 percent lower for those who did three hours a week.

But those who also took part in one to two strength-training sessions per week had an even lower mortality risk — a full 40 percent lower than those who didn’t exercise at all. This was roughly the difference between a nonsmoker and someone with a half-a-pack-a-day habit.

2) This is really good.  More to come on this topic, “Richard Reeves on Why Men are Struggling
Yascha Mounk and Richard Reeves discuss the cultural and economic challenges facing boys and men and how to fix them.”

Mounk: It’s striking just how much of a gender gap there now is in American politics, and not always on the topics where people assume there is one. In broader questions like, “Do you prefer Democrats or Republicans,” and “how do you feel about Donald Trump?” and so on, there’s now a very strong gender divide, which I believe is actually stronger among young people. A few years ago, everyone was debating about Jordan Peterson, which some listeners may have strong feelings about. I always thought that he said some things that were sort of straightforwardly true, along with many things that I disagreed with. But there was a visceral moment of media panic about his rise. And that really was the fault of everybody on the center left, because we were not able to speak in clear and orienting ways to young people who may be trying to look for a path. It would have felt very strange for anybody in my sort of social milieu to say, “I’m going to write a book that tries to appeal not exclusively, but in some ways primarily, to young men who are a little bit lost in life, and tell them: here are some basic rules for how you should go about conceiving of a meaningful life.” If we’re not filling that space, it is unsurprising that somebody with whom I have some robust political disagreements, would end up becoming a star by moving into that empty space.

Reeves: It’s a vacuum. Anybody that doesn’t take seriously the appeal of people like Jordan Peterson, especially to young men, just isn’t paying attention. I treat some of his work in my book and have many criticisms of what he’s done, but I also have a great deal of admiration in some ways for the fact that he does make a lot of these young men feel listened to. He clearly has genuine compassion for them. I don’t like where his ideology goes, and he thinks out loud, so he’s bound to say something stupid or crazy. Every ten sentences are going to contain three horrific ones. But there is this reservoir of unmet questions and a sense of dislocation and disequilibrium which he has been able to exploit as a public intellectual, but which successful populists are also able to exploit. 

We have a Gender Policy Council now in the White House. They just put out a report, and there isn’t a single gender inequality it treats that goes the other way, not a single one. For me, that’s just a huge missed opportunity. Let’s say 90% of the things discussed were still about women, but it also talked a bit about deaths of despair, incarceration, how boys have fallen behind in education—just two or three issues. I think that would have paid massive political dividends. I don’t think that’s quite permissible on the left right now, and so it is leaving this gap, and I really do fear that it could get worse before it gets better. As we approach the midterms, I feel that the Democrats are doubling down in some ways on their current agenda, which I think may have the effect of worsening the gender divide even more than we’ve seen it in recent years.

3) It really seems amazing what psychedelic drugs are capable of when used therapeutically, “Psilocybin Therapy Sharply Reduces Excessive Drinking, Small Study Shows”

4) Really good piece from Jesse Singal on affirmative action in higher ed.  Its supporters need to 1) stop eliding how deeply unpopular it is with the American public, and 2) stop acting as if everyone who opposes it is “racist.”  And 3) come up with actual solutions.

I would question the utility of this framework in this particular setting. Yes, race-based affirmative action (let’s just call it RBAA so I don’t have to keep typing that) is likely to be dealt a crippling blow by a conservative-dominated Supreme Court set to hear a pivotal case on the subject this autumn, and yes, white people who feel racial resentment, and/or who are outright racists, are vehemently opposed to RBAA.

But these aren’t the only people who dislike RBAA. The fact is, it’s an unpopular policy, full stop. The racial group that most favors RBAA is black Americans, and even there, 59% say race should not be a factor in college admissions at allaccording to Pew polling from earlier this year:

Among all other racial groups, the numbers are significantly worse. This is a policy that enjoys no broad support among anyone, and that includes the groups most likely to benefit from it…

So even if RBAA didn’t face constitutional challenges, there’d still be the fact that, rightly or wrongly, people don’t like it. You’d think a column by two scholars very concerned about the potential extinction of this policy would make some reference to its durable unpopularity, and perhaps offer a strategy or two for convincing voters to feel more warmly toward it. They do neither: They present a flattened account in which supporting RBAA is supporting racial justice and opposing it is opposing racial justice. Never mind the fact that opponents of RBAA range from far-right white racists to… the average black voter…

There’s an ingrained breezy entitlement in some liberal intellectual spaces that mucks everything up. If people don’t agree with our preferred racial justice policies, it’s because they’re racist. Okay, whatever, they’re racist — what are you going to do about it? Ummmm, more ethnic studies? Wait, so your argument is that affirmative action is on its deathbed because society is too racist, but you think ethnic studies is part of the answer instead? Or what about if, like, rich universities gave money to poor kids? Okay, but isn’t that already a thing and don’t you worry that — Also: Let them catch up.

I don’t think this represents a very serious effort to address what is, in fact, a very serious problem.

5) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer, “What’s a “Progressive”, Anyway?

Progressivism makes sense to me as a continuation of the constant project of improving society. Liberalism arose mostly in response to government tyranny, which was a problem from the beginning of human history until…actually, it’s still a problem. It will likely be a problem forever — this is why I consider the negative rights at the core of liberalism to be fundamental. Progressives probably should have extolled those rights as essential instead of trashing them as insufficient. But even so, the creation of a new movement that responded to new problems was a good thing, and progressives got more right than they got wrong.

Bottom line: Gaining a better understanding of progressivism did not cause me to think that progressivism is, itself, a problem. I found progressivism to be completely compatible with liberalism. Authoritarian is not compatible with liberalism; it’s pretty much liberalism’s polar opposite. Same with Marxism; liberals balk at that level of government control, not to mention the monochromatic color scheme. But I see nothing inconsistent about a person calling themselves a “liberal progressive”. In fact, I think that would be a somewhat-accurate descriptor of what I am.

The problem — to the extent that there is a problem — is the absence liberal principles. I think that much intra-left tension these days is between progressives who don’t hold liberal principles and progressives who do. Those who don’t hold liberal principles are fine with things like steamrolling due process in the prosecution of sexual assault claims and the extreme narrowing of the bounds of acceptable speech. Those who do hold liberal principles are bothered by these things and have written many biting Twitter threads saying so. It may be true that the righteous tenor of progressive rhetoric attracts zealots, but as far as I’m concerned, the progressive label is a red herring. To me, the great political divide continues to be between liberals and everyone else, and the specific flavor of a person’s illiberalism doesn’t matter much.

6) Really good essay on how our blood plasma “donations” exploit the poor.  

7) Rod Graham on wokeness and post-materialism:

So what does the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map tell us about wokeness?

Countries composed of people that reject traditional life patterns and value self-expression, countries towards the upper right corner of the map, are more likely to develop ideas and movements that we see as woke. This is because people in those countries care about the quality of life (symbolic aspects) as opposed to the quantities of life (material aspects).

I’ll give three examples:

  1. The emphasis on language. The intolerance that is often levied at woke people is essentially an attempt to protect people from the negative impact of words. In woke nations, movements can arise to abolish words like “midget” because it is seen as a slur. The material benefits to using a different word are little to none, but there are symbolic benefits of restricting the use of that word. The word can be disrespectful or hurtful to the person it is directed at.

  2. The emphasis on diversity. Generally, all groups that have not been traditionally the focus – meaning not white, heterosexual, Christian, and male – are celebrated and platformed. The 1619 Project is about platforming the experiences related to black people in the United States. This emphasis on diversity also extends to nontraditional lifestyles like polyamory or jobs that have been stigmatized like sex work.

  3. The emphasis on thought patterns. Concepts like heteronormativity, toxic masculinity, and implicit bias are all about thinking differently. Sure, recognizing that hypermasculine behaviors can be damaging can lead to policy changes. But at its core, the idea is about changing how we think about masculinity. The same goes for ideas like white fragility, where white people are asked to think differently about how they engage in conversations about race…

So why is the West woke?

Well, it is not because of a few critical theorists in academia producing ideas about transphobia or systemic racism. Nor is it because white liberals have taken over our institutions.

Wokeness is likely a result of living in a wealthy, modern country. When people do not need tradition, are not religious, and have their material needs taken care of, they will focus on the quality of their lives. The West has had two generations of people who have lived in a world of relative comfort. We have had no major wars. With the end of the Cold War, we didn’t even have an enemy. Elections have been, for the most part, peaceful. Crime and violence are still a problem but have been steadily declining. Even with downturns and recessions, the standard of living in Western countries has been steadily improving.

In these conditions, people can focus on the quality of life. This is what has caused wokeness, and it is a good thing. Wokeness is an indicator of success.

8) David Brooks on the awfulness of open plan offices.

9) An electric car with a 600 mile range sounds great. “A New Approach to Car Batteries Is About to Transform EVs: Auto companies are designing ways to build a car’s fuel cells into its frame, making electric rides cheaper, roomier, and able to hit ranges of 620 miles.”

If you want to build an EV with better range, slapping in a larger battery to provide that range is not necessarily the solution. You would then have to increase the size of the brakes to make them capable of stopping the heavier car, and because of the bigger brakes you now need bigger wheels, and the weight of all those items would require a stronger structure. This is what car designers call the “weight spiral,” and the problem with batteries is that they require you to lug around dead weight just to power the vehicle.

But what if you could integrate the battery into the structure of the car so that the cells could serve the dual purpose of powering the vehicle and serving as its skeleton? That is exactly what Tesla and Chinese companies such as BYD and CATL are working on. The new structural designs coming out of these companies stand to not only change the way EVs are produced but increase vehicle ranges while decreasing manufacturing costs.

According to Euan McTurk, a consultant battery electrochemist at Plug Life Consulting, since technologies such as cell-to-pack, cell-to-body, and cell-to-chassis battery construction allow batteries to be more efficiently distributed inside the car, they get us much closer to a hypothetical perfect EV battery. “The ultimate battery pack would be one that consists of 100 percent active material. That is, every part of the battery pack stores and releases energy,” he says.

Traditionally, EV batteries have used cell modules that are then interconnected into packs. BYD pioneered cell-to-pack technology, which does away with the intermediate module stage and puts the cells directly into the pack. According to Richie Frost, the founder and CEO of Sprint Power, “standard modules may fit well within one pack but leave large areas of ‘wasted’ space in another pack. By removing the constraints of a module, the number of cells can be maximized within any enclosure.”

10) Humanities degrees are in freefall:

But something different has been happening with the humanities since the 2008 financial crisis. Five years ago, I argued that the humanities were still near long-term norms in their number of majors. But since then, I’ve been watching the numbers from the Department of Education, and every year, things look worse. Almost every humanities field has seen a rapid drop in majors: History is down about 45 percent from its 2007 peak, while the number of English majors has fallen by nearly half since the late 1990s. Student majors have dropped, rapidly, at a variety of types of institutions. Declines have hit almost every field in the humanities (with one interesting exception) and related social sciences, they have not stabilized with the economic recovery, and they appear to reflect a new set of student priorities, which are being formed even before they see the inside of a college classroom…

The most reliable indicators about the humanities in American colleges are reports that all colleges and universities make to the Department of Education. These run back to about 1950. Since then, the humanities have seen three eras. The first ran from 1955 to 1985. As normal schools around the country, set up to educate teachers, transformed into comprehensive universities, men and women alike poured into English and history majors; then, when the economy soured and the growth of higher education slowed in the 1970s, the boom turned to bust, and humanities majors collapsed nationwide. The second phase began around 1985 and ran to 2008. This was a long period of stability; majors in the four largest (and easiest to track over the long term) humanities majors held steady, with modest fluctuations. Since 2008, the crisis of the humanities has resumed, with percentage drops that are beginning to approach those of 40 years ago. Unlike the drops of the ’70s, though, there’s no preexisting bubble to deflate. And there’s no compelling demographic explanation. Five years ago, it was reasonable to look at these numbers and conclude that the long-term story is all about gender. Men majored in humanities fields at the same rate in the 1990s as they had in the 1950s, while women, seeing more options in the workforce, increasingly turned to majors in business fields. But the drops since the financial crisis can be seen among men and women, across racial groups, and in a wide variety of universities.

11) Good free Yglesias piece from a month ago, “We should expect more — and worse — pandemics to come”

People who like to follow Covid news have started paying attention to wastewater monitoring because it’s a great way to get broad-spectrum information in close to real time.

What we ought to be doing is setting more communities up with routine wastewater monitoring and building systems that don’t just check for a particular virus but all unusual DNA. That way you could find a virus you’re not already looking for. We should be investing in ventilation (which everyone says) but also basic testing of commercially available air purifiers. You should be able to find out easily which one is really the best at clearing out viruses, and that should become a basis for commercial competition.

Recent research indicates that far-ultraviolet light can kill viruses and make indoor space as safe as outdoor space. I’d want to run three or four more rigorous studies on that before I put far-UVC lights everywhere, but we should do that research and, if it pans out, put the lights everywhere. And we should be paying people lots of money to design new kinds of masks that are as effective as KN95s but more comfortable, or equally comfortable but more effective, or ideally both. There ought to be huge prizes for inventing masks like that and advanced purchase commitments to get them from manufacturers.

We also ought to have spacesuit-type supersuits lying around so that we can keep basic social infrastructure up and running in the event of a huge catastrophe.

And finally, we need to put the pedal to the metal on the universal coronavirus vaccine project and then work with equal alacrity on universal vaccines for the other families. Part of the power of the family-wide vaccine concept is it will offer protection against pathogens that don’t yet exist, which is far and away the best hope for getting ahead of engineered pathogens.

None of this — ventilation, special light, better PPE, better vaccines — is exactly existing science and technology. But it’s close, visibly within grasp, just as the possibility of simultaneously releasing dozens of separately engineered viruses is visibly within reach. In the race between the two, the bad actors’ advantage is they don’t need to follow the rules and protocols that slow things down. The good actors’ advantage is that developed world governments have at their disposal enormous financial resources. They just need to be persuaded to actually use them.

12) My teenage son and I have taken to watching pro wrestling as father-son bonding many evenings.  Entirely ironically, of course.  (I sometimes joke with him that his enjoyment sometimes seems to be lacking suitable levels of irony).  Anyway, I was interested to learn more about the new start-up AEW.  It really is just way more entertaining.  

13) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf, “What to Teach Young Kids About Gender: Schools should tell children to be themselves. But some districts say too much—and mistake progressive dogma for established fact.”

To better understand what is actually being taught—or what bans are prohibiting—I turned to Evanston/Skokie School District 65, a public-school system in the Chicago suburbs that is is laudably transparent about posting instructional material online. Last year, I reported on its Black Lives Matter at School curriculum. Its educators also post the lessons that they teach, starting in pre-kindergarten, during the district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month. Gender identity is a major focus of the curriculum—which, I should note, is similar to curricula I’ve seen elsewhere from progressive educators.

The District 65 instructional materials reveal a basic problem. Although American society’s approach to matters of gender identity is clearly still in flux, and reasonable people disagree on how best to engage students on the subject, some educators are writing progressive activists’ views into detailed lessons for young children. An alternative approach might promote inclusion in the broadest, plainest possible terms and reassure children: There’s no wrong way to be you. Instead, District 65 and other systems err on the side of saying too much and mistaking dogma for established fact…

Other lessons in the curriculum stray from affirming the dignity of nonbinary and trans people to teaching contested and in some cases contradictory claims about the nature of gender. One kindergarten lesson calls for teachers to read I Am JazzMy Princess Boy; and Jack (Not Jackie)—all books about trans or genderqueer kids. The following day’s lesson introduces “another important flag that has just 3 colors: light blue, pink and white.” The ensuing script reads, “People who identify as TRANSGENDER have their own ways of dressing, playing & acting that might not be what you expect. They might look to you like a boy, but dress and act like a girl.”

But wait: How does a girl dress and act? By day five of the school district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month, the kindergarteners have been taught that there are no such thing as boys’ toys and girls’ toys, or boys’ clothes and girls’ clothes—any boy can wear a dress and any girl can play with toy trucks. But then, when introducing terms such as trans and nonbinary, the curriculum relies on and arguably reaffirms gender stereotypes. For example, kindergarten students are shown a slide meant to represent a boy, a girl, and a nonbinary person. Its symbols are silhouettes of stereotypical male dress, stereotypical female dress, and a mash-up of the two:..

If you tell 5-year-olds that boys can wear dresses and play with dolls just as much as girls, but also that Michael feels like a girl, so from now on he’s going to wear dresses and play with dolls—act like a girl?—you’ve undercut the message that normative gender stereotypes are bogus.

14) I don’t doubt that these are very good ideas for parenting.  I’ve definitely come up short:

This is how to use ancient traditions to raise awesome kids:

  • To Raise Helpful Kids: Don’t shoo them away to the world of self-indulgent child distraction. Make them valued members of the team with communal activities that benefit the family.
  • To Teach Kids Emotional Regulation: Yes, you feel like you need to shout until your soul starts dribbling out your ears but all they’ll learn is that anger is the solution to life’s problems. Change your narrative, model calm behavior, trigger thought with questions, and touch them to let them know they’re loved.

Let’s step away from the ancient traditions and modern science for a second. I’ve read more books on parenting than any childless guy ever. What have I learned? It’s simple:

Almost all good parenting advice is good people advice.

Or, to put it bluntly: There are no grown-ups. None. Nowhere. Ever. We’re all muddling through. Sometimes we’re all selfish, emotional and out of control. It happens. And it’s okay.

If you apply parenting advice to all your relationships, you’ll be better off. Don’t try to control people. Treat them like adults – especially if they’re not acting like one. Bribes and punishments are not as effective as encouraging cooperation and making people feel like part of a team.

Anger usually just makes things worse with people. If they’re angry, you getting angry just escalates things. To stop being angry change the story in your head: they’re usually not evil, they’re just having a bad day. Encourage their thinky brain to take charge again and focus on a warm, positive connection where they feel supported.

When you stop trying to control or win with others you can focus on getting to that thing which is worth more than anything else is the universe…

Yes, printer ink.

Okay, maybe we should focus on the second most valuable thing in the universe: love. It’s not printer ink but it’s still pretty good.

15) I forget why I came across this, but the illusion of explanatory depth is such a great concept:

What is illusion of explanatory depth?

The illusion of explanatory depth (IOED) describes our belief that we understand more about the world than we actually do. It is often not until we are asked to actually explain a concept that we come face to face with our limited understanding of it.

Where this bias occurs

And yet, as the alien takes a seat to listen, you realize you can tell him what a house is, but you can’t explain much about them. How are they built? How did we as civilians come to live in houses? How are their prices determined? What are the laws surrounding them? How long have people lived in houses, and what did they live in before? Perhaps you can answer one or two of these specific questions, but surely the alien will have even more questions you can’t answer. To think that housing is such a simple concept, and that you actually know much less than you’d predicted puzzles you greatly. This is because of the illusion of explanatory depth: having to explain your knowledge brings you to the realization that you actually know much less than you thought you did.

16) Unless it’s going to kill me, I am not giving up my aspartame, damnit. “Personalized microbiome-driven effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on human glucose tolerance”

Summary

Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are commonly integrated into human diet and presumed to be inert; however, animal studies suggest that they may impact the microbiome and downstream glycemic responses. We causally assessed NNS impacts in humans and their microbiomes in a randomized-controlled trial encompassing 120 healthy adults, administered saccharinsucraloseaspartame, and stevia sachets for 2 weeks in doses lower than the acceptable daily intake, compared with controls receiving sachet-contained vehicle glucose or no supplement. As groups, each administered NNS distinctly altered stool and oral microbiome and plasma metabolome, whereas saccharin and sucralose significantly impaired glycemic responses. Importantly, gnotobiotic mice conventionalized with microbiomes from multiple top and bottom responders of each of the four NNS-supplemented groups featured glycemic responses largely reflecting those noted in respective human donors, which were preempted by distinct microbial signals, as exemplified by sucralose. Collectively, human NNS consumption may induce person-specific, microbiome-dependent glycemic alterations, necessitating future assessment of clinical implications.

17) Good stuff from Sean Illing and Zac Gershberg, “The Greatest Threat to Democracy Is a Feature of Democracy”

Far more than a bundle of laws, norms and institutions, democracy is an open culture of communication that affords people the right to think, speak and act and allows every possible means of persuasion. That makes every democratic society uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of communication. We may not like it, but something like Jan. 6 is always potentially in the offing.

We ought to avoid the naïveté of liberal fantasy, which imagines we can impose reliable guardrails against dangerous or deceptive speech. Indeed, there’s a whole genre of articles and books arguing that social media is destroying democracy. Because of changes to online platforms around a decade ago, wrote Jonathan Haidt recently, “People could spread rumors and half-truths more quickly, and they could more readily sort themselves into homogeneous tribes.”

But this is precisely what an unwieldy democratic culture looks like. Depending on the communications environment, a democracy can foster reliable, respectful norms, or it can devolve into outrageous propaganda, widespread cynicism and vitriolic partisanship.

And when communications devolve into propaganda and partisanship, a democracy can either end with breathtaking speed, as it did in Myanmar last year, when the military overthrew the democratically elected government, or descend more gradually into chaos and authoritarianism, as Russia did under Vladimir Putin.

Nothing forbids voters in a democracy to support an authoritarian or vote itself out of existence (as the ancient Athenian assembly famously did). The history of democracy is full of demagogues exploiting the openness of democratic cultures to turn people against the very system on which their freedom depends. In France, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte leveraged a celebrity name to run for president on a campaign of restoring order in 1848, only to end the Second Republic with a self-coup to become emperor when his term was up…

The paradox at the heart of this debate — the idea that democracy contains the ingredients for its own destruction — tells us that free expression and its sometimes troubling consequences are a feature, not a bug. What sometimes changes are novel forms of media, which come along and clear democratic space for all manner of persuasion. Patterns of bias and distortion and propaganda accompany each evolution.

Quick hits (are back!) part I

1) Ed Yong with easily the best piece on “brain fog” and Covid that I’ve read:

Although SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID, can enter and infect the central nervous system, it doesn’t do so efficiently, persistently, or frequently, Michelle Monje, a neuro-oncologist at Stanford, told me. Instead, she thinks that in most cases the virus harms the brain without directly infecting it. She and her colleagues recently showed that when mice experience mild bouts of COVID, inflammatory chemicals can travel from the lungs to the brain, where they disrupt cells called microglia. Normally, microglia act as groundskeepers, supporting neurons by pruning unnecessary connections and cleaning unwanted debris. When inflamed, their efforts become overenthusiastic and destructive. In their presence, the hippocampus—a region crucial for memory—produces fewer fresh neurons, while many existing neurons lose their insulating coats, so electric signals now course along these cells more slowly. These are the same changes that Monje sees in cancer patients with “chemo fog.” And although she and her team did their COVID experiments in mice, they found high levels of the same inflammatory chemicals in long-haulers with brain fog.

Monje suspects that neuro-inflammation is “probably the most common way” that COVID results in brain fog, but that there are likely many such routes. COVID could possibly trigger autoimmune problems in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the nervous system, or reactivate dormant viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus, which has been linked to conditions including ME/CFS and multiple sclerosis. By damaging blood vessels and filling them with small clots, COVID also throttles the brain’s blood supply, depriving this most energetically demanding of organs of oxygen and fuel. This oxygen shortfall isn’t stark enough to kill neurons or send people to an ICU, but “the brain isn’t getting what it needs to fire on all cylinders,” Putrino told me. (The severe oxygen deprivation that forces some people with COVID into critical care causes different cognitive problems than what most long-haulers experience.)

2) This has been covered pretty well in places like Wired and the write-up of my twitter friend Jeremy Chrysler, but Jose-Luis Jimenez, Lindsey Marr, and others bring the academic credentials to the question: “What were the historical reasons for the resistance to recognizing airborne transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

The question of whether SARS-CoV-2 is mainly transmitted by droplets or aerosols has been highly controversial. We sought to explain this controversy through a historical analysis of transmission research in other diseases. For most of human history, the dominant paradigm was that many diseases were carried by the air, often over long distances and in a phantasmagorical way. This miasmatic paradigm was challenged in the mid to late 19th century with the rise of germ theory, and as diseases such as cholera, puerperal fever, and malaria were found to actually transmit in other ways. Motivated by his views on the importance of contact/droplet infection, and the resistance he encountered from the remaining influence of miasma theory, prominent public health official Charles Chapin in 1910 helped initiate a successful paradigm shift, deeming airborne transmission most unlikely. This new paradigm became dominant. However, the lack of understanding of aerosols led to systematic errors in the interpretation of research evidence on transmission pathways. For the next five decades, airborne transmission was considered of negligible or minor importance for all major respiratory diseases, until a demonstration of airborne transmission of tuberculosis (which had been mistakenly thought to be transmitted by droplets) in 1962. The contact/droplet paradigm remained dominant, and only a few diseases were widely accepted as airborne before COVID-19: those that were clearly transmitted to people not in the same room. The acceleration of interdisciplinary research inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that airborne transmission is a major mode of transmission for this disease, and is likely to be significant for many respiratory infectious diseases.

3) Can you exercise your way out of Covid?

For decades, scientists have observed that people who are fit and physically active seem to have lower rates of several respiratory tract infections. And when people who work out do get sick, they tend to have less severe disease, said David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, who was not involved in the recent Covid-19 review.

“The risk of severe outcomes and mortality from the common cold, influenza, pneumonia — they’re all knocked down quite a bit,” Dr. Nieman said. “I call it the vaccine-like effect.”

The new meta-analysis, which looked at studies between November 2019 and March 2022, found that this effect extends to Covid-19. People from across the globe who worked out regularly had a 36 percent lower risk of hospitalization and a 43 percent lower risk of death from Covid compared with those who were not active. They also had a lower likelihood of getting Covid at all.

People who followed guidelines recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week seemed to get the most benefit. But even those who exercised less than that were more protected against illness than those who did not work out at all.

I recently spent two hours in a car with someone I am 99% sure was infectious with Covid at the time and I did not get it.  All that exercise?

4) Ezra with a terrific interview on the Ukraine War.  So much fascinating analysis:

What did we get wrong about Russian might?

Andrea Kendall-Taylor

I think we first and foremost got this wrong because we didn’t know that Putin would concoct such a terrible plan. And for me, that’s largely a product of the type of political system that Putin built. This is a highly personalized, authoritarian regime. And I’ve studied a lot of autocracies. My lens on Russia is very much through an authoritarian, kind of comparative politics lens. And the Putin regime ahead of this invasion was by far one of the most centralized autocracies that I have seen.

And in that kind of system, good information does not float to the top, right? They’re based on loyalty, and it’s not in anyone’s career interest to tell the boss bad news. So Putin, for one, was operating with terribly flawed assumptions. And so I think that’s number one for me of why we got it wrong. These personalist dictators make mistakes. So first of all, Putin and Russia misunderstood Ukraine entirely. They hold these very derogatory views of Ukrainians.

And I think the Russians have entirely missed what’s been happening in Ukraine since 2014 — that Ukraine has built up a stronger national identity, that they have had this commitment to moving to the West. You know, Putin believed that they could get to Kyiv, decapitate the regime, and that the whole country would fall like a house of cards. So they fundamentally misunderstood Ukraine. We talked about them — along with the United States, the Russians also obviously underestimated and misunderstood Ukraine’s willingness to fight.

So again, for me, I think we got it wrong because we failed to consider the weaknesses that begin to accumulate in these longtime, personalist autocracies. These countries, they’re inclined to make mistakes, these personalist dictators. And over time, these guys, they run their countries into the ground. And so the plan was bad, and the plan was bad because it was the product of Putin’s personal system. And I think we just didn’t factor that in.

We were wrong about all sorts of things on the Russian military front too. And just quickly, I’ll say corruption was a really big issue. I think we failed to see the rot in the Russian military. We didn’t see just how pervasive it was. So yeah, we overestimated Russian capabilities, but I also think a lot of it was just misunderstanding how terribly wrong and disastrous the decisions that these personalist, authoritarian regimes can make.

5) People should get vaccinated.  And boosted.  This chart from Katelyn Jetelina:

6) Leonhardt on Democrats and Hispanic voters:

In Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, he won the Hispanic vote over Mitt Romney by 40 percentage points — 70 percent to 30 percent, according to Catalist, a political research firm. Four years later, Hillary Clinton did even better, beating Donald Trump by 42 percentage points among Hispanic voters.

But then something changed.

The economy became even stronger at the start of Trump’s presidency than it had been during Obama’s. The Democratic Party moved further to the left than it had been under Obama. Trump turned out to have a macho appeal, especially to some Hispanic men. And some Hispanic voters became frustrated with the long Covid shutdowns.

 

Whatever the full explanation, Hispanic voters have moved to the right over the past several years. As a group, they still prefer Democrats, but the margin has narrowed significantly. In 2020, Joe Biden won the group by only 26 percentage points. And in this year’s midterms, the Democratic lead is nearly identical to Biden’s 2020 margin, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll — a sign that the shift was not just a one-election blip…

The problem for Democrats is that winning the Hispanic vote by only 26 points may not be enough for the party to accomplish its main goals.

“Let’s not forget that 2020 levels of Hispanic support were nearly catastrophic for Democrats,” Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, told me. It helped cost the party House seats in California, Florida and Texas and allowed Republicans to win statewide races comfortably in Florida and Texas. It nearly helped Trump win re-election.

Democrats need to do better with Hispanic voters (or reverse some of their recent losses with white voters) to build solid congressional majorities. The party currently controls the Senate by only a single vote, and Republicans are favored to take control of the House in this year’s midterms.

“The whole theory of Democrats really benefiting from demographic change rests on them winning the Hispanic vote by a wide margin,” Nate says. Without a better showing, Democrats probably cannot flip Florida or Texas, even as they face a growing Republican threat in the Midwest because of the continuing drift of white voters away from Democrats.

7) Great stuff from Nate Cohn on “The Emerging Democratic Majority” at 20:

Today we wish a belated and maybe not-so-Happy 20th Birthday to “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” the book that famously argued Democrats would gain an enduring advantage in a multiracial, postindustrial America.

There are countless explanations for the rise of Donald Trump and the growing dysfunction of American political life. This book does not necessarily rank at the top of that list. But when historians look back on this era, the book’s effect on American politics might be worth a mention.

The thesis that Democrats were on the cusp of a lasting advantage in national politics helped shape the hopes, fears and, ultimately, the conduct of the two major parties — especially once the Obama presidency appeared to confirm the book’s prophecy.

It transformed modest Democratic wins into harbingers of perpetual liberal rule. It fueled conservative anxiety about America’s growing racial diversity, even as it encouraged the Republican establishment to reach out to Hispanic voters and pursue immigration reform. The increasingly popular notion that “demographics are destiny” made it easier for the progressive base to argue against moderation and in favor of mobilizing a new coalition of young and nonwhite voters. All of this helped set the stage for the rise of Mr. Trump…

While the book correctly anticipated Democratic strength in postindustrial metropolitan areas, it failed to appreciate the challenge of holding on to blue-collar white voters at the same time.

The authors said the “key” for Democrats would be in “discovering a strategy that retains support among the white working class, but also builds support among college-educated professionals and others.” But the book did not contain a road map to pulling it off. It said, “They can do both.” The optimism was rooted in the assumption that Clinton-Gore had already solved the problem.

The authors dismiss the Bush victory in 2000, arguing that Al Gore failed “largely because of factors that had nothing to do with the appeal of his politics.”

While the book acknowledged that Mr. Bush was assisted by Mr. Gore’s stances on the environment, coal, abortion and gun control in white working-class areas, it didn’t appear to take these cultural issues as a serious problem for Democrats. At the very least, they weren’t considered serious enough to move West Virginia out of the Democratic column.

Instead, the authors advanced the argument that the strong economy in 2000 was actually part of Mr. Gore’s problem, by allowing working-class whites to vote on cultural issues rather than their economic interest. The Clinton sex scandals were also considered a necessary condition for Republican strength; without Bill Clinton dragging them down, Democrats would rebound. Whatever the merits of these arguments, it isn’t especially credible to argue that the 2000 election — held at a time of peace and prosperity — was anything like a worst-case scenario for Democrats.

In retrospect, gun control and environmental issues were harbingers of one of the major themes of postindustrial politics: White working-class voters were slowly repelled by the policy demands of the secular, diverse, postindustrial voters who were supposed to power a new Democratic majority.

 

8) Fascinating stuff (with lots of super-cool figures) here, “Quantifying hierarchy and dynamics in US faculty hiring and retention”

Faculty hiring and retention determine the composition of the US academic workforce and directly shape educational outcomes1, careers2, the development and spread of ideas3 and research priorities4,5. However, hiring and retention are dynamic, reflecting societal and academic priorities, generational turnover and efforts to diversify the professoriate along gender6,7,8, racial9 and socioeconomic10 lines. A comprehensive study of the structure and dynamics of the US professoriate would elucidate the effects of these efforts and the processes that shape scholarship more broadly. Here we analyse the academic employment and doctoral education of tenure-track faculty at all PhD-granting US universities over the decade 2011–2020, quantifying stark inequalities in faculty production, prestige, retention and gender. Our analyses show universal inequalities in which a small minority of universities supply a large majority of faculty across fields, exacerbated by patterns of attrition and reflecting steep hierarchies of prestige. We identify markedly higher attrition rates among faculty trained outside the United States or employed by their doctoral university. Our results indicate that gains in women’s representation over this decade result from demographic turnover and earlier changes made to hiring, and are unlikely to lead to long-term gender parity in most fields. These analyses quantify the dynamics of US faculty hiring and retention, and will support efforts to improve the organization, composition and scholarship of the US academic workforce.

9) Don’t just walk for exercise… walk faster, apparently:

In a new study, which looks at activity tracker data from 78,500 people, walking at a brisk pace for about 30 minutes a day led to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia and death, compared with walking a similar number of steps but at a slower pace. These results were recently published in two papers in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology

Researchers found that every 2,000 additional steps a day lowered the risk of premature death, heart disease and cancer by about 10 percent, up to about 10,000 steps per day. When it came to developing dementia, 9,800 steps per day was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk, with a risk reduction of 25 percent starting at about 3,800 steps per day. Above 10,000 steps a day, there just weren’t enough participants with that level of activity to determine whether there were additional benefits…

But then the researchers of this study did something new. When they looked at the step rate, per minute, of the highest 30 minutes of activity a day, they found that participants whose average highest pace was a brisk walk (between 80 and 100 steps per minute) had better health outcomes compared with those who walked a similar amount each day but at a slower pace.

Brisk walkers had a 35 percent lower risk of dying, a 25 percent lower chance of developing heart disease or cancer and a 30 percent lower risk of developing dementia, compared with those whose average pace was slower.

10) On EMDR:

Trauma shoves a mind into overdrive. The brain tries to block out fragments of disaster: the spray of shattered glass as one car slammed into another, the smell of smoke. People with post-traumatic stress disorder sometimes constrict their lives, avoiding streets or smells or songs that make them think about what they’ve experienced. But memories make themselves known — in nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts.

Since PTSD was first included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980, clinicians have identified a handful of therapies that help people cope with traumatic memories. Over the past decade, a seemingly unconventional treatment has wedged its way into mainstream therapy.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, better known as E.M.D.R., might look bizarre to an observer. The practice involves coaxing people to process traumatic memories while simultaneously interacting with images, sounds or sensations that activate both sides of the brain. Patients might flit their eyes back and forth, following a therapist’s finger or stare at bursts of light on alternating sides of a screen. The idea is to anchor the brain in the current moment as a patient recalls the past.

11) Yglesias (free post) with a really good take on racism:

Until the relatively recent past, the United States of America had a de jure racial caste system, and there remain, decades after officially ending that system, significant and obvious racial gaps in material resources and other outcomes. This, Bright argues, creates an inevitable tension: there’s a big gap between the country’s official status as a non-racist society and what everyone can see in practice.

He says this creates a battle between two dueling factions of white people, the Repenters and the Repressers.

  • The Repenters feel very guilty and want to do things to expiate that guilt, “and their form of repentance involves trying to change their interpersonal habits and consumer choices so as to minimize their contribution to the broader social issue, and help the particular black people they interact with. In this way, by doing that sort of self-work, they hope to be able to live in a world that is admittedly unjust while making it that little bit better, and through such efforts be able to honestly maintain a positive self image.”

  • On the other side are the Repressers, who just want to be told that racism ended when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act or Barack Obama was elected president. They acknowledge the country’s history of racism as well as our huge racial disparities in outcomes, but they maintain that this is just an odd coincidence. These are the folks who lost their shit when Obama said “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” because it betrayed the idea that Obama’s mere presence in the White House ended the need to ever discuss such matters.

Of course not everyone is white, and Bright has this rather funny take on how non-white people get sucked into and exploit the white psychodrama:

Of course, the rest of us do not simply sit by and watch the whites duke it out amongst themselves. If nothing else they still have ownership of the stuff and a democratic majority, so most of us are dependent on them for making a living. How then have the PoC intelligensia — people of colour sufficiently engaged in politics to be tapped into the white culture war and the historical narrative underpinning it — responded to the opportunities and challenges presented thereby?

With a dextrous entrepreneurial spirit! Which is to say, by cashing in. In institutions like academia more dominated by the Repenter type there has been the opportunity for mediocre of sharp eyed young PoC intelligentsia to present themselves as bearers of black thinkers’ insight (e.g. Bright 2018). It is considerably harder to pull this off from within academia as an advocate for Represser views. But where there is demand there will be supply. And there is a large audience keen for a black thinker to give voice to an intelligent version of the Represser narrative. Sufficiently talented black thinkers have been happy to oblige (e.g. Loury 2009). Various media organisations and political groups likey provide opportunity for similar pseudo-spokespeople PoC intelligentsia catering to both Repressers and Repenters.

The most-correct move, however, according to Bright, is not to hop on either of these bandwagons but instead to be a Non-Aligned person who focuses on directly addressing the underlying material inequalities:

Hence as long as the material inequalities exist they will keep making racial hierarchy salient whatever the Repressers want, and keep generating reasons for guilt whatever the Repenters want. All of the institutions designed to respond to this culture war — which is essentially all of the epistemic institutions controlled by the white bourgeois, which is to say all of them — are thus fundamentally addressing the wrong questions from the point of view of the Non Aligned person. They are concerned with managing the results of a tension they can never resolve, which the nature of the Repenter and Repressor conflict will not allow them to resolve. They are not arranged to produce information, or set an agenda, that will aid in resolving material in- equality, and in fact will forever be supplied with more culture war flashpoints on which to focus and with which to distract.

This is basically what I think, which is why I’m always trying to remind people that Martin Luther King Jr. was very focused on kitchen-table economic issues and, perhaps even more importantly, that he saw the path forward as forging a political alliance with self-interested low-income white peoplenot cultivating a class of guilt-ridden high-status Repenters.

But I want to emphasize the practical aspects of this and the dilemmas it entails.

Increasing the salience of race is bad

 

In a new paper from Jesper Akesson, Robert Hahn, Robert Metcalfe, and Itzhak Rasooly, the authors share the results of their randomized experiments on race and welfare:

First, 86% of respondents greatly overestimate the share of welfare recipients who are Black, with the average respondent overestimating this by almost a factor of two.

Second, White support for welfare is inversely related to the proportion of welfare recipients who are Black — a causal claim that we establish using treatment assignment as an instrument for beliefs about the racial composition of welfare recipients.

Third, just making White participants think about the racial composition of welfare recipients reduces their support for welfare.

Fourth, providing White respondents with accurate information about the racial composition of welfare recipients (relative to not receiving any information) does not significantly influence their support for welfare

This is new research in the sense that the experiment is novel, but the broad conclusions are recognizable across multiple economic literatures. Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote find, using international comparative data, that “racial animosity in the US makes redistribution to the poor, who are disproportionately black, unappealing to many voters.” And in their excellent book “Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion,” Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam find that among white people, possession of ethnocentric views correlates with hostility to means-tested public assistance programs.

A deep body of scholarship across history, political science, and economics all broadly point toward the conclusion that increasing the salience of race can have harmful results.

12) Jesse Singal, “The University of Washington Is Putting Trans Kids At Risk By Distorting Suicide Research” OMG talk about politicized science.  This stuff is just horrible.  Any half-decent first-year grad student would see the grave methodological flaws.  But, when it fits a popular ideological agenda…

13) Exciting progress on RSV vaccines.  I actually qualified for a trial, but, in the end they wouldn’t let me because I am still technically in the J&J Covid vaccine trial until November (I have a phone call then– that’s it). 

In February 2020, just as a new coronavirus was triggering the global COVID-19 pandemic, structural biologist Jason McLellan and his team published the structure of the key protein it uses to invade human cells1. Immediately, scientists began using that protein’s structure to develop COVID-19 vaccines.

But that wasn’t the first time McLellan, now at the University of Texas at Austin, had solved a structure and spurred on a new wave of vaccines. In 2013, he was focusing on a different killer — respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV2.

RSV causes a respiratory tract infection that affects 64 million people per year worldwide. It hospitalizes 3 million children under 5 years old and approximately 336,000 older adults annually (see ‘Common scourge’). The global health-care costs of RSV-associated infections in young children in 2017 were estimated to be US$5.45 billion3.

Researchers have been trying for decades to develop a vaccine, and have had some particularly devastating failures — including the deaths of two participants in a trial in the 1960s.

Solving the protein structure revived the RSV field. McLellan, then a postdoctoral researcher at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, and his colleagues looked at a protein that the virus uses to fuse with cells and infect them, called the F protein, and found a way to stabilize it in its prefusion form — the shape it adopts when ready to grab on to cells. The structure of the prefusion F protein unveiled the best target for making vaccine-induced antibodies that could prevent the virus from entering human cells.

Now, an effective RSV vaccine is nearly within reach: four candidates and one monoclonal antibody treatment are in late-stage clinical trials.

14) You know I’m a sucker for AI art, “AI Art Is Here and the World Is Already Different How we work — even think — changes when we can instantly command convincing images into existence.”

15) Loved learning that Bill Gates, too, is a wordle addict. 

16) Holy Affective polarization Batman! “A new political divide: Nearly half of college students wouldn’t room with someone who votes differently”

17) Actually, pretty interesting stuff here, “The Sordid Saga of Hunter Biden’s Laptop

Imagine the entirety of your digital existence plotted out before you: your accounts and passwords; your avatars; your contacts; every exchange of written dialogue; the full history of your logged interests, banal and forgettable and closely held; the note where you scrawled once-urgent word fragments that now make zero sense to you; the rabbit holes you fell down or the minor obsession or the thing that connected to the thing that led you to decide to do another thing that became a part of a part of a part of who you are, or a part of who you are to some people, or a part of who you are only to yourself, barely recognizable in the light of day. Your selfies. Your sexts. Your emails. Your calendar. Your to-do list. Your playlists. Your tabs.

Now imagine that you are both the son of a man running for president and a lawyer and lobbyist accustomed to mixing with powerful people and doing business overseas premised on your proximity to those powerful people, and that you are in the throes of a divorce and a midlife catastrophe brought on by the early death of your older brother and that, in your distortion field of grief, on a hell-bent drug-and-alcohol binge, you have been making even more horrible choices, taking up with your brother’s widow and, while in considerable financial debt, hiring prostitutes and zoning out with camgirls and staying awake for days at a time on crack cocaine and generally hurting everyone in your life who is trying to help you with your cruel and idiotic behavior.

And imagine that, in the middle of all of this, you lose control of 217 gigabytes of your personal data: videos in which you have sex; videos in which you smoke crack; bleary-eyed selfies; selfies that document your in-progress dental work; your bank statements; your Venmo transactions; your business emails; your toxic rants at family members; analysis from your psychiatrist; your porn searches; your Social Security number; explicit photos of the many women passing through your bedrooms, photos of your kids, of your father, of life and death, despair and boredom.

Imagine revealing this kaleidoscopic archive of all your different selves to anyone else. Now imagine it’s not just anyone but the same political opposition that has already sought to destroy your father’s candidacy by improperly pressuring a foreign leader to offer up dirt about your (sketchy, for sure) business dealings. Imagine, in a country with toxic and broken politics, how explosive this collection of data might appear to your enemies in the days leading up to a presidential election, and how valuable it might become after their defeat, as they seek to overturn and then undermine the results. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this nebulous cloud of data a “laptop.”

18) Another excellent free Yglesias post, “Russia’s military and economic strategy is failing”

The misunderstood sanctions regime

 

Sanctions are often understood as an effort to deny the sanctioned country export earnings by refusing to buy its products.

And since Russia is such a major energy exporter, there was a lot of skepticism that this was feasible or politically workable. Initial coverage of the sanctions regime often emphasized the fact that Russia had stockpiled large foreign exchange reserves to weather the loss of exports and the fact that the West wasn’t willing to block Russia’s energy exports. Pro-Russian western media often noted that even with sanctions in place Russia’s trade balance was positive, and the official exchange rate of the ruble recovered rapidly from an initial speculative crash.

This all misunderstood the intention of the policy, which was not to block Russian exports but to block Russian imports.

The idea was that the West could keep spending money to give equipment to Ukraine while preventing Russia from spending money on acquiring new equipment for itself, steadily shifting the correlation of forces in Ukraine’s favor. The growing Russian trade surplus was not a failure of the sanctions policy, but the condition of its success. The basic calculation is that the allies collectively have a lot more money than Russia. In terms of pre-war GDP calculated at market exchange rates, Italy had a larger GDP than Russia. So did Canada. And France. And Germany’s GDP is more than twice as big, and Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal combine to be about as big as Russia. So the allies could afford to send a bunch of money to Russia to sit around in a treasury somewhere while Russia loses irreplaceable military equipment.

Now to be fair, it is understandable that people were confused about this because there was a big mania in both the U.S. and Europe at the start of the war to ban imports of Russian oil.

This had very little effect on anything, but oil is a fungible global commodity. I think western officials initially didn’t want to do it because it’s a little bit pointless and a little bit contrary to the main thrust of their strategy. But there was a lot of political enthusiasm for it and, again, it doesn’t have particularly large actual effects, so why not go along with it? But all the attention the oil embargo got made it seem like the allies were trying to deny Russia export earnings, which then made the fact that they kept having high export earnings by selling oil to neutral countries and gas to Europe seem like a big failure.

But the oil saga was a virtue-signaling sideshow. The point of the sanctions was to make Russia’s money useless (which is why a tourist visa ban makes sense), not to prevent Russia from getting money. The hope was that Russian energy exports would keep powering the world economy.

19) Nate Cohn, “Yes, the Polling Warning Signs Are Flashing Again: Democrats are polling well in exactly the places where surveys missed most in 2020.”

That warning sign is flashing again: Democratic Senate candidates are outrunning expectations in the same places where the polls overestimated Mr. Biden in 2020 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016.

Wisconsin is a good example. On paper, the Republican senator Ron Johnson ought to be favored to win re-election. The FiveThirtyEight fundamentals index, for instance, makes him a two-point favorite. Instead, the polls have exceeded the wildest expectations of Democrats. The state’s gold-standard Marquette Law School survey even showed the Democrat Mandela Barnes leading Mr. Johnson by seven percentage points.

But in this case, good for Wisconsin Democrats might be too good to be true. The state was ground zero for survey error in 2020, when pre-election polls proved to be too good to be true for Mr. Biden. In the end, the polls overestimated Mr. Biden by about eight percentage points. Eerily enough, Mr. Barnes is faring better than expected by a similar margin.

The Wisconsin data is just one example of a broader pattern across the battlegrounds: The more the polls overestimated Mr. Biden last time, the better Democrats seem to be doing relative to expectations. And conversely, Democrats are posting less impressive numbers in some of the states where the polls were fairly accurate two years ago, like Georgia.

20) This was a good, but tough, read, “Does My Son Know You? Fatherhood, cancer, and what matters most”

21) “What Makes Your Brain Different From a Neanderthal’s?”

Scientists have discovered a glitch in our DNA that may have helped set the minds of our ancestors apart from those of Neanderthals and other extinct relatives.

The mutation, which arose in the past few hundred thousand years, spurs the development of more neurons in the part of the brain that we use for our most complex forms of thought, according to a new study published in Science on Thursday.

“What we found is one gene that certainly contributes to making us human,” said Wieland Huttner, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and one of the authors of the study.

 

The human brain allows us to do things that other living species cannot, such as using full-blown language and making complicated plans for the future. For decades, scientists have been comparing the anatomy of our brain to that of other mammals to understand how those sophisticated faculties evolved.

22) I have no doubt that SEAL training should be rigorous and weed out all but the most-qualified candidates.  That said, I have significant doubt as to the extreme nature of the current process is actually the way to get the best SEALs. “Navy Orders High-Level Outside Investigation of SEAL Course: The punishing selection course for the Navy’s most elite force has come under new scrutiny after a sailor’s death exposed illicit drug use and other problems.”

23) And this is terrific, “Death in Navy SEAL Training Exposes a Culture of Brutality, Cheating and Drugs: The elite force’s selection course is so punishing that few make it through, and many of those who do resort to illicit tactics.”

The Navy has made hundreds of changes over the years meant to improve safety and increase graduation rates. At the same time, the SEALs who run the course have quietly resisted anything they see as lowering standards. So no matter how much the Navy has tried to make BUD/S easier, it seems to only get harder.

In the 1980s, about 40 percent of candidates graduated. Over the past 25 years, the average has dropped to 26 percent. In 2021, it was just 14 percent, and in Seaman Mullen’s class this year, less than 10 percent.

When Seaman Mullen started BUD/S in January, it was his second attempt. His first try was in August 2021, and he had spent more than a year running, swimming and lifting weights to prepare. He lasted less than a day.

Instructors call the first three weeks of BUD/S the attrition phase, a maw of punishing exercise, frigid water and harassment meant to wash out anyone lacking strength, endurance and mental fortitude — individuals the instructors derisively call “turds.”

That first day, the instructors put candidates through a gantlet of running, crawling, situps and push-ups on the hot sand with no breaks, Seaman Mullen’s mother said. Late in the afternoon, the men were racing in teams, carrying 170-pound inflatable boats over their heads, when Seaman Mullen passed out…

Heatstroke, concussions, fractures, muscle tears and lung issues are common at BUD/S, one Navy medical employee at the SEAL training base in Coronado said, but the injuries are often dealt with internally, which avoids scrutiny from outside the SEALs. Often, the employee said, injured candidates are encouraged to quit the course voluntarily, instead of being pulled out by medical staff, and their injuries are never formally reported to the Navy command that oversees workplace accidents…

In any other job, pushing people to exhaustion while fluid floods their lungs would seem reckless, but it has been happening in Hell Week for so long that the practice has come to seem somewhat normal, according to Mr. Milligan, the historian. He went through Hell Week in 2001 and said a man in his class who had fluid in his lungs was given medication through a nebulizer, a practice Mr. Milligan said was “not uncommon.” A few hours later, while the class was swimming in a human chain in a pool, the man slipped from Mr. Milligan’s grasp, sank to the bottom and died.

24) This seems… not great, “A Dad Took Photos of His Naked Toddler for the Doctor. Google Flagged Him as a Criminal.”

Mark noticed something amiss with his toddler. His son’s penis looked swollen and was hurting him. Mark, a stay-at-home dad in San Francisco, grabbed his Android smartphone and took photos to document the problem so he could track its progression.

It was a Friday night in February 2021. His wife called an advice nurse at their health care provider to schedule an emergency consultation for the next morning, by video because it was a Saturday and there was a pandemic going on. The nurse said to send photos so the doctor could review them in advance.

 

Mark’s wife grabbed her husband’s phone and texted a few high-quality close-ups of their son’s groin area to her iPhone so she could upload them to the health care provider’s messaging system. In one, Mark’s hand was visible, helping to better display the swelling. Mark and his wife gave no thought to the tech giants that made this quick capture and exchange of digital data possible, or what those giants might think of the images.

With help from the photos, the doctor diagnosed the issue and prescribed antibiotics, which quickly cleared it up. But the episode left Mark with a much larger problem, one that would cost him more than a decade of contacts, emails and photos, and make him the target of a police investigation. Mark, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of potential reputational harm, had been caught in an algorithmic net designed to snare people exchanging child sexual abuse material.

Because technology companies routinely capture so much data, they have been pressured to act as sentinels, examining what passes through their servers to detect and prevent criminal behavior. Child advocates say the companies’ cooperation is essential to combat the rampant online spread of sexual abuse imagery. But it can entail peering into private archives, such as digital photo albums — an intrusion users may not expect — that has cast innocent behavior in a sinister light in at least two cases The Times has unearthed…

After setting up a Gmail account in the mid-aughts, Mark, who is in his 40s, came to rely heavily on Google. He synced appointments with his wife on Google Calendar. His Android smartphone camera backed up his photos and videos to the Google cloud. He even had a phone plan with Google Fi.

Two days after taking the photos of his son, Mark’s phone made a blooping notification noise: His account had been disabled because of “harmful content” that was “a severe violation of Google’s policies and might be illegal.” A “learn more” link led to a list of possible reasons, including “child sexual abuse & exploitation.”

Mark was confused at first but then remembered his son’s infection. “Oh, God, Google probably thinks that was child porn,” he thought.

In an unusual twist, Mark had worked as a software engineer on a large technology company’s automated tool for taking down video content flagged by users as problematic. He knew such systems often have a human in the loop to ensure that computers don’t make a mistake, and he assumed his case would be cleared up as soon as it reached that person…

In a statement, Google said, “Child sexual abuse material is abhorrent and we’re committed to preventing the spread of it on our platforms.”

 
A few days after Mark filed the appeal, Google responded that it would not reinstate the account, with no further explanation.

25) We’ll end with a fun one, “His emotional support animal is an alligator. They sleep in the same bed.”

Is the pandemic over?

Joe Biden declared it so in a recent 60 Minutes interview and damn has that gotten a ton of pushback.

So, is it over?  To be only partially glib, it depends on what “pandemic” means and what “over” means.  Seriously.  Is American life very close to back to 2019 normal?  In many, many key indicators… yes.  I don’t know about you, but I’m living life pretty damn close to 2019 and so are the vast majority of people around me.  Importantly, hospitals and medical care are largely proceeding as normal.  That sounds like “over” to me.  On the other hand, roughly 400 people a day (that’s almost 150K a year!) are still dying of Covid.  Whoa… not over!  

But there’s also not exactly a clear definition and/or criteria of when a pandemic becomes “endemic.”  Covid is still clearly a worldwide disease of significant concern– pandemic! But, given that it’s almost certainly not going away anytime soon, and we’re not in any type of emergency/crisis phase, it really does seem more endemic than pandemic.

Here’s what I will say and what actually pisses me off.  It is perfectly reasonable to declare the pandemic “over.”  It is also perfectly reasonable to declare the pandemic “not over.”  There’s plenty of evidence and sufficient ambiguity about the key terms to make the case either way.  So, what bothers me is all the “God no it’s not over– how could Biden say that!  Here’s all the reasons it’s not over” takes.  Give me a little nuance.  Give me some, “well, actually, there are appropriate reasons to think the pandemic is over, but, I find these reasons more compelling to argue it’s still a pandemic.”  But, damn, I’ve seen none of that.  Just a bunch of “how dare Biden prematurely declare the pandemic over.

If given the choice between “over” and “not over” I’m personally going with “over” but in doing so fully recognizing that there’s a very good case for “not over” and that somebody who thinks “not over” is likely acting in good faith.  Is it too much to ask that we approach issues like this?  (Yes). 

What does your gut microbiome want anyway?

I saw this headline, “The best foods to feed your gut microbiome” and thought… let me guess, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains :-).  And this answer is… yes, of course!  But, the interesting wrinkle is that there seems to be some really benefit from mixing up the diversity of those health foods, e.g., the fact that I have two apples, a banana, mixed frozen berries, a carrot, romaine lettuce, and fresh strawberries pretty much every single day is actually not ideal.  More mangoes and green leaf lettuce, here I come– I guess.  Anyway, pretty interesting:

In general, scientists have found that the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your gut microbiome. Studies show that a high level of microbiome diversity correlates with good health and that low diversity is linked to higher rates of weight gain and obesity, diabetesrheumatoid arthritis and other chronic diseases.

Eating a wide variety of fiber-rich plants and nutrient-dense foods seems to be especially beneficial, said Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and the founder of the British Gut Project, a crowdsourced effort to map thousands of individual microbiomes.

Even if you already eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, Spector advises increasing the variety of plant foods you eat each week. One fast way to do this is to start using more herbs and spices. You can use a variety of leafy greens rather than one type of lettuce for your salads. Adding a variety of fruits to your breakfast, adding several different vegetables to your stir fry and eating more nuts, seeds, beans and grains is good for your microbiome…

Once you start increasing the variety of plant foods you eat every day, set a goal of trying to eat around 30 different plant foods a week, says Spector. That might sound like a lot, but you’re probably already eating a lot of these foods already…

Another way to nourish your gut microbiota is by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir. The microbes in fermented foods, known as probiotics, produce vitamins, hormones and other nutrients. When you consume them, they can increase your gut microbiome diversity and boost your immune health, said Maria Marco, a professor of food science and technology who studies microbes and gut health at the University of California, Davis.

In a study published last year in the journal Cell, researchers at Stanford found that when they assigned people to eat fermented foods every day over a 10-week period, it increased their gut microbial diversity and lowered their levels of inflammation.

“We’re increasingly developing a very rich understanding of why microbes are so good for us,” said Marco.

I definitely need to up my fermented food intake.  

Unsurprisingly, of course, this also provides more data on how “junk” food is not good for you:

Another important measure of gut health is a person’s ratio of beneficial microbes to potentially harmful ones. In a study of 1,1oo people in the United States and Britain published last year in Nature Medicine, Spector and a team of scientists at Harvard, Stanford and other universities identified clusters of “good” gut microbes that protected people against cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. They also identified clusters of “bad” microbes that promoted inflammation, heart disease and poor metabolic health.

While it’s clear that eating lots of fiber is good for your microbiome, research shows that eating the wrong foods can tip the balance in your gut in favor of disease-promoting microbes.

The Nature study found that “bad” microbes were more common in people who ate a lot of highly processed foods that are low in fiber and high in additives such as sugar, salt and artificial ingredients. This includes soft drinks, white bread and white pasta, processed meats, and packaged snacks like cookies, candy bars and potato chips.

So, mostly reaffirms what we know about eating healthy, but I do find this a very interesting additional wrinkle about the value of diversity in one’s healthy foods.  

Spot the logical fallacy– sex and sports edition

Hmmm, apparently my media consumption has pushed me into center-left culture warrior mode as I get back into blogging.  But, my goodness that has to be literally one of the worst piece I’ve ever read in the Atlantic.  It should be taught in philosophy or critical thinking classes for “spot the logical fallacy” (and, no, I won’t point out many because any reader with good critical thinking skills will catch them). “Separating Sports by Sex Doesn’t Make Sense”

This quote has led to a lot of attention on twitter (Yglesias’ take):

Like, hello, boys are, on average, inherently bigger, faster, and stronger and what complete sophistry and intellectual dishonesty to pretend that all the science on this isn’t “on average.” This is a terrific thread on this fact.  Basically, elite women’s sports simply would not exist (and HS sports teams would only have a few extraordinary females) if we didn’t have sex division.  

Rather than admitting this, much of the author’s contentions are shaped by this:

Sari van Anders, the research chair in social neuroendocrinology at Queen’s University, in Ontario, told me by email. She said that this complexity means it doesn’t make sense to separate sports by sex in order to protect women athletes from getting hurt. 

I don’t want a separate girls soccer and basketball team at my local high school so that girls don’t get hurt.  I want separate teams so that girls can play HS basketball and soccer.  Girls and women’s sports are great and I’m a fan, but to pretend that males don’t (on average!) have huge biological advantages in most sports, or that the science isn’t settled on this, is just pure anti-science.  I also can’t let this line go:

And though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential. 

This tweet is the appropriate response (though, I wouldn’t blame “journalists”)

Anyway, I’m actually entirely open to fair-minded discussion of how we think about the role of sex in sports– and youth sports in particular.  There’s surely room for improvement.  For one, we should let girls play football and wrestle, etc., if they are good enough and not worry about them “getting hurt.”  But any discussion that starts from a gender-ideology, anti-science premise that there’s no meaningful biological sex differences in athletics and that all such sex differences are just socially constructed is not a discussion that gets us to actual improvements.  

When woke knows best

I feel kind of lame taking this long time off and then coming back just to complain about wokeness, but, alas that’s how the spirit moves me today.  Mostly, because of the NCSU email I got today with a link to this story, “Latinx Heritage Month: What Is It and How Can You Get Involved?”

I’ve been please to see the move away from “Latinx” as more and more liberals have recognized the problematic nature of insisting on a term for a group of people who clearly do not have much desire to be referred to by that term (4% of Latinos prefer the term Latinx). 

So, interestingly, the NCSU “Latinx” folks (folx?) are aware of this pushback so they take the time to explain their use of the term:

Why does NC State call it “Latinx” Heritage Month?

“Latinx” is a new, gender-neutral term for people who share Latin American heritage. While the term’s exact origin is unclear, its earliest use was likely by LGBTQ activists of that same heritage. By inserting an “x” into “Latina” and “Latino,” they sought to disrupt the gender binary inherent in Spanish — and raise awareness of marginalized identities within their community.

Not every person of Latin American heritage feels “Latinx” represents them, but languages change to meet the needs of speakers. Many familiar words or phrases were once viewed as clunky, unnecessary or even provocative. Today, “Latinx” appears in every English dictionary and is accepted by the AP Stylebook, which NC State follows.

More importantly, we follow our students and alumni. [emphasis mine]

Many people may still prefer to call themselves Latina, Latino or something else that specifies their heritage or national origin, such as Mexican American or Venezuelan. Others may use “Hispanic” to signify they are from a Spanish-speaking country or background. We stick to the AP Stylebook by respecting an individual’s preference — while still honoring our community’s use of the general term they feel is most inclusive.

Honestly, this just comes down to “it doesn’t really matter what Hispanic/Latino people want; we (the enlightened) know best).  Some really nice elision here too with “accepted” by the AP Stylebook. In fact, I just wen to the AP Stylebook and this is actually intentionally misleading from NCSU:

Latinx, which should be confined to quotations, names of organizations or descriptions of individuals who request it and should be accompanied by a short explanation.

Meanwhile, I don’t doubt that there’s a substantial number of very vocal NCSU students and alumni arguing for “Latinx” but as twitter teaches us every day, very vocal is not necessarily a good reflection of real life.  The Gallup poll, however is.  

Of course, this is actually pretty small potatoes with all that’s going on in the world, but I do find it compelling in that I think it really does capture that “but we know best!” element that is so off-putting about woke ideology.  And damn it, I’m put-off. Mostly because I think we still need to make a lot of progress towards equality and this does not get us there. 

I’m back!

I really should have given an update for just dropping off the face of the blogging world.  I’ve been busy, but never that busy.  I don’t do a whole lot of traveling, but a 5 day trip and 4 day trip within three weeks and all the attendant busy-ness that goes with that meant I just felt too guilty to take any time to write here– as much as I still wanted to say so much.  Anyway, I went to Rocky Mountain National park with the NCSU Park Scholars and had the most amazing time.  Here’s one of my favorite places ever– Bear Lake

Got back and had to work hard to finish up a paper for the American Political Science Association conference in Montreal the past few days and then went to Montreal.  Here’s a shot of the Old City where I had an amazing three-hour walking tour:

And here I am doing some actual political science 🙂

 

Anyway, I’m back and hope to resume regular blogging this week and I promise you’ll have your quick hits next weekend.  

Just sit down (and move around)

Really not a fan of standing up unless I’m occupied doing something.  But just standing there– I really don’t like, so you won’t see me in a standing desk anytime soon.  Now, just sitting there for a long time not doing anything is almost surely not good, but, personally, I’d much rather sit nice and relaxed and doing a quick burst of exercise every 20 or 30 minutes.  

And, as for the science of using a standing desk?  It’s looking not so great (so, yes, more than ever I’ll happily sit as I type these posts and, you know… work).  Nice summary of recent research from Health Nerd (who I’ve come to follow for good Covid takes):

But as well as measuring how much time people spent standing, the authors also measured health, wellbeing, and productivity outcomes in their participants. For example, they looked to see whether people lost weight, had better sleep, reported better workplace productivity, were in pain, etc. And across literally dozens of secondary outcomes, the study found that there were no appreciable differences between people who took part in the standing intervention and got the standing desks, and those who didn’t.

The study found a big benefit in the surrogate outcome of standing, but no noticeable benefits in any of the key health and other outcomes that we actually care about.

Now, the issue with this piece of research — and much of the standing desk literature more broadly — is that it wasn’t really geared to prove anything about health outcomes in the first place. If you look at the studies conducted to look at whether standing desks help, they are all fairly similar — very small samplesprimarily aimed at proving that standing desks make people stand more, and only rarely examining health or productivity outcomes anyway. Even trials that did specifically look at health outcomes were often very small and unable to detect an effect. Some studies found benefits, others didn’t, but all were insufficient to establish whether standing really improved health.

In other words, it’s not so much that we have proven that standing desks and standing interventions are a waste of time, but that so far we haven’t conducted studies that would show us if they are or not. To look at these vitally important health and productivity outcomes, we’d need much bigger studies incorporating very large groups of people, which we just haven’t really done yet.

That being said, as far as I can tell the new BMJ paper is by far the biggest trial of these interventions to date, and there was no major difference in any outcome of importance between the intervention and control groups. There were insignificant improvements in a handful of things, but mostly it looked like standing more, and standing desks, had no benefit on health or wellbeing.

What this means is that if we do find benefits in a future large trial, they are likely to be fairly small. We can’t exclude standing desks improving health — the confidence intervals are too wide for that — but we can say that spending a great deal of time and money getting people in a workplace to stand for 60 minutes more every day for a year probably doesn’t have much of a benefit for things we really care about. Yes, it’ll make people stand more, but the $500-odd per person for the desks plus the additional cost of staff trainings and rewards to incentivize employees may not result in the sort of health benefits that are used to sell the product in the first place.

If you want to stand while you work more power to you.  But, if you just like being one with the sofa (as I am while I type this), that’s probably just fine so long as you make sure to get up and move around a bit on a regular basis.  I would love to see a study that compares this approach to actually standing.  But lacking that study and loving the comfort of my sofa and my office chair and the way I feel when I take that quick exercise break, I’m definitely sticking with this system.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) I really wanted to give this one it’s own post, but, too damn busy lately.  Short version: yes, it sucks that politicians lie about each other all the time with impunity.  But, we allow this because it would actually be even worse if we tried to have our court system regularly determining when politicians attacks on each other went too far.  The law in question in NC is clearly unconstitutional for this reason and I don’t get why reporting isn’t just saying so: “A problematic law about political lies threatens to snag NC’s attorney general”

Politicians lie. It’s something voters have even come to expect on the campaign trail, in campaign ads and in office. But what constitutes a lie, and should those lies be punished? Those questions are at the center of a case involving North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and it threatens to throw his office and the 2024 race for governor into chaos.

A grand jury in Wake County decided Monday that the district attorney’s office could pursue charges against Stein and two of his top aides, based on a campaign ad from the 2020 election cycle that called out his opponent, Republican candidate Jim O’Neill. Wake DA Lorrin Freeman said her office will decide as early as next month whether to charge Stein with anything, but Stein did get a victory late Tuesday when the Fourth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction to stop the investigation from moving forward.

The offending advertisement from Stein featured a sexual assault survivor saying that there were more than 1,500 untested rape kits in Forsyth County, where O’Neill is the district attorney. O’Neill said that testing rape kits is the responsibility of Forsyth County’s police departments, not his, then filed a complaint based on a 1931 state law that makes it illegal to knowingly circulate false and “derogatory” reports about candidates.

2) Leanna Wen gets a ton of (mostly unfair) hate, but I think she’s pretty well on-target here, ‘I’m a doctor. Here’s why my kids won’t wear masks this school year.”

It became clear that the goal I’d hoped for — containment of covid-19 — was not reachable. This coronavirus is here to stay.

With this new, indefinite time frame, the benefit-risk calculus of mitigation measures shifted dramatically. I was willing to limit my children’s activities for a year or two but not for their entire childhood.

Given how careful we’d been, it wasn’t easy to change my mind-set to accept covid-19 as a recurring risk. But the high transmissibility of new variants meant that we would have to pay an increasingly high price if our goal was to keep avoiding the virus. I began trying to think of the coronavirus as I do other everyday risks, such as falls, car accidents or drowning. Of course I want to shield my children from injuries, and I take precautions, such as using car seats and teaching them how to swim. By the same logic, I vaccinated them against the coronavirus. But I won’t put their childhood on hold in an effort to eliminate all risk…

I accept the risk that my kids will probably contract covid-19 this school year, just as they could contract the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and other contagious diseases. As for most Americans, covid in our family will almost certainly be mild; and, like most Americans, we’ve made the decision that following precautions strict enough to prevent the highly contagious BA.5 will be very challenging. Masking has harmed our son’s language development, and limiting both kids’ extracurriculars and social interactions would negatively affect their childhood and hinder my and my husband’s ability to work.

3) Advice for parenting teens about social media:

THERE ARE AT least three critical paths to helping teens, and these build on the different types of agency outlined by psychologist Albert Bandura.

First, teach teens to build personal agency. Personal agency refers to the things an individual can do to exert influence over situations. Teens in our research described curating their social media feeds toward well-being by unfollowing or muting accounts that make them feel bad. They also work toward personal agency by setting their own screen time limits or intentionally putting their phones out of reach when they want to focus on studying. Others strategically segment their online audiences to empower more intentional sharing to particular groups.

Building teens’ personal agency means supporting skills and strategies they can deploy when digital stressors come up. This can mean moving beyond rules that simply impose arbitrary screen time limits. Of course, teens often need support developing healthy screen time habits and curbing unregulated binges. An important aim is helping teens recognize moments when tech use adds to or undercuts their well-being or personal goals. This requires focusing more on what a teen is doing during their screen time and to what end. By modeling intentional digital habits (e.g., “I need to turn off my notifications for a bit, I’m feeling so distracted by my phone today”), we can help teens do the same for themselves. In this spirit, Tom Harrison writes about the value of parents being “thick exemplars” who share with children times when we struggle with our own digital experiences, misstep, or puzzle over how to “do the right thing.” …

Collective agency is when people “provide mutual support and work together to secure what they cannot accomplish on their own.” A signature example: the ways teens form pacts to vet photos of each other before tagging and posting. Even amid dismay about a world in which privacy feels forsaken, some teens find ways to protect and respect each other’s privacy and online public image. Collective agency is also at play when teen girls share intel about guys known to leak girls’ nudes so that they can be on alert and avoid them. Yet another example came up in the descriptions of teens who create online study spaces over Discord or Zoom to help each other maintain focus while keeping other digital distractions in check. Because friends are often poised to make digital life more or less stressful, when teens work together to reshape burdensome norms, everyone stands to win.

Parents can validate efforts that support collective agency, like when friends decide to keep phones in an untouched stack during dinners together. Or when they use location-sharing as part of a group effort to keep friends safe during a night out. Such approaches reflect a “digital mentoring” approach to parental mediation, rather than simply limiting tech access or permitting unlimited access. While younger adolescents need more direct oversight, parents can support personal agency through a gradual release toward more age-appropriate independence and privacy as their children get older.

Proxy agency is where adults most often come in. This mode of agency acknowledges that on their own—and even when they collaborate with others—teens only have so much control over their circumstances. Proxy agents are typically those who hold more power and can wield it on others’ behalf to support their agency. Because adults usually create the rules, policies, and relevant laws (not to mention the very technologies teens use!), we are critical proxy agents in a context of digital opportunities and risks.

 

Parents are perhaps the most obvious figures here, as they make day-to-day decisions that grant and limit teens’ digital access. Those who hold gatekeeping roles make decisions about whether to consider digital artifacts in school admissions, scholarship awards, and hiring. Adults may be the recipients of online receipts with evidence of transgressions. Those who work in education are often tasked with handling cases that unfold among students—where a teen is a target of persistent cyberbullying or where a nude a teen shared with one person was circulated around the entire school. Those who work at tech companies, designers especially, have the power—and the responsibility—to raise questions about whether features will hook and pull teens in at the expense of their well-being. Recognizing our roles as proxy agents means acknowledging our complicity in creating conditions that can unintentionally undercut youth agency.

Whatever roles adults are in, it’s past time to consider: How do our decisions support or compromise young people’s agency and well-being? Where, when, and how should we intervene and disrupt existing devices, apps, norms, policies, and laws? How can we design for more agency? And how can we center considerations about differential susceptibility and equity when we do so?

4) Interesting research: “Why Don’t We Sleep Enough? A Field Experiment Among College Students”

This study investigates the mechanisms affecting sleep choice and explores whether commitment devices and monetary incentives can be used to promote healthier sleep habits. To this end, we conducted a field experiment with college students, providing them incentives to sleep and collecting data from wearable activity trackers, surveys, and time-use diaries. Monetary incentives were effective in increasing sleep duration with some evidence of persistence after the incentive was removed. We uncover evidence of demand for commitment. Our results are consistent with partially sophisticated time-inconsistent preferences and overconfidence, and have implications for the effectiveness of information interventions on sleep choice.

5)  A mother is being prosecuted for helping her teen daughter give herself a medical abortion at 30(!!) weeks.  Yes, the vast majority of 30 week abortions are for a good reason (birth defects, mother’s health, etc.), but, given that’s the case, maybe it is the right thing to prosecute the people in cases like this one.

6) Quinta Jurecic on Trump and the documents:

Now Trump’s apparent squirreling away of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and his outrage over the Justice Department’s investigation of that conduct, speaks once more to his vision of his own absolute authority—even after he has departed the presidency. It’s a vision that places Trump himself, rather than the Constitution and the rule of law, as the one true source of legitimate political power.

A great deal remains unclear about the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago—among other things, why and how the material arrived at the estate in the first place instead of remaining in the custody of the National Archives, where it belonged. Reporting, though, suggests that Trump may have understood those documents—material that, under the Presidential Records Act, belongs to the American people—to be his own, to do whatever he liked with. “It’s not theirs; it’s mine,” Trump reportedly told several advisers about the misplaced documents. One “Trump adviser” told The Washington Post that “the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term … are now his personal property.” Another adviser to the former president said to the Post, “He didn’t give them the documents because he didn’t want to.”

This childlike logic reflects Trump’s long-running inability to distinguish between the individual president and the institutional presidency, a structure that existed before him and that persists even after he unwillingly departed the White House. In his view, he is the presidency (which … is not what legal scholars typically mean when they talk about the “unitary executive.”) The same logic surfaces in the bizarre arguments made by Trump’s defenders that Trump somehow declassified all the sensitive documents held at Mar-a-Lago before he left office. Under the Constitution, the president does have broad authority over the classification system. But as experts have noted, it makes little sense to imagine a president declassifying information without communicating that decision across the executive branch so that everyone else would know to treat the material in question as no longer classified—unless, that is, you understand presidential power not as an institution of government, but as the projection of a single person’s all-powerful consciousness onto the world.

7) David Brooks on the value of talking to strangers.  Personally, I’m a huge fan, but I’ve become more hesitant to do so when on an airplane because it gets really awkward when you are thinking, but cannot say, “my book is just much more interesting than you.” Or, “you are great to talk to for 20 minutes, but this is a 2 hour flight.”  But, when escape is possible, yeah, I do enjoy it.

One day Nicholas Epley was commuting by train to his office at the University of Chicago. As a behavioral scientist he’s well aware that social connection makes us happier, healthier and more successful and generally contributes to the sweetness of life. Yet he looked around his train car and realized: Nobody is talking to anyone! It was just headphones and newspapers.

Questions popped into his head: What the hell are we all doing here? Why don’t people do the thing that makes them the most happy?

He discovered that one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk to strangers on a train or plane is they don’t think it will be enjoyable. They believe it will be awkward, dull and tiring. In an online survey only 7 percent of people said they would talk to a stranger in a waiting room. Only 24 percent said they would talk to a stranger on a train.

But are these expectations correct? Epley and his team have conducted years of research on this. They ask people to make predictions going into social encounters. Then, afterward, they ask them how it had gone.

They found that most of us are systematically mistaken about how much we will enjoy a social encounter. Commuters expected to have less pleasant rides if they tried to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But their actual experience was precisely the opposite. People randomly assigned to talk with a stranger enjoyed their trips consistently more than those instructed to keep to themselves. Introverts sometimes go into these situations with particularly low expectations, but both introverts and extroverts tended to enjoy conversations more than riding solo.

It turns out many of us wear ridiculously negative antisocial filters. Epley and his team found that people underestimate how positively others will respond when they reach out to express support. Research led by Stav Atir and Kristina Wald showed that most people underestimate how much they will learn from conversations with strangers.

In other research, people underestimated how much they would enjoy longer conversations with new acquaintances. People underestimated how much they’re going to enjoy deeper conversations compared to shallower conversations. They underestimated how much they would like the person. They underestimated how much better their conversation would be if they moved to a more intimate communications media — talking on the phone rather than texting. In settings ranging from public parks to online, people underestimated how positively giving a compliment to another person would make the recipient feel.

We’re an extremely social species, but many of us suffer from what Epley calls undersociality. We see the world in anxiety-drenched ways that cause us to avoid social situations that would be fun, educational and rewarding.

8) Pew with a notable chart:

Chart shows economy remains dominant midterm voting issue, but abortion grows in importance

9) Really enjoyed this Noah Smith, “On the wisdom of the historians: Just as in economics, beware untested theories.”

A lot of people are talking about the history profession this week. There was a kerfuffle when James Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association, wrote a rambling and somewhat opaque post criticizing what he felt was his profession’s excessive focus on the politics of the present, and singling out the 1619 Project for criticism. A subset of historians predictably flew into a rage at this, and forced Sweet to issue a stumbling apology.

I’m not particularly interested in the “woke vs. anti-woke” politics of this dispute. But I think a big part of the reason people care so much about the goings-on in history academia is that in recent years, history professors have become some of the most important voices that we look to in order to understand our current political and social troubles. Jay Caspian Kang explained it well in a New York Times column today:

Over the past decade or so, history has become the lingua franca of online political conversation. This is a relatively new phenomenon…[T]he shift has something to do with the centrality of Twitter over the past decade (historical documents and photos make for great screenshots) and, more important, the changes in the country itself. Once Donald Trump became president, it was harder to write about “Breaking Bad” and Taylor Swift in such self-serious tones…

Twitter has also allowed historians to assume a place in the public discourse that would’ve only been available to a select few before the advent of social media…As a result, history does seem to have an unusual amount of weight in the public discourse.

In the wake of the Great Recession, we talked a lot about whether economists and their theories were afforded too much credence, but as far as I can tell there has been no similarly critical public discourse about academic history. But there ought to be. Just as economists became a sort of priestly order that we relied upon to tell us how to achieve prosperity and distribute resources in society, historians have become a sort of priestly order that we rely on to tell us about where our politics are headed and how we should think about our sense of nationhood.

This is not a blanket criticism of the history profession (although some people on Twitter are certain to interpret it as such, and react accordingly). I am not saying that history needs to stay out of politics and go back to the ivory tower. Nor am I saying that our current crop of historians have bad takes on modern politics. All I am saying is that we ought to think about historians’ theories with the same empirically grounded skepticism with which we ought to regard the mathematized models of macroeconomics.

10) Good stuff from McWhorter, “Leveling the racism charge at something like a licensing exam is crude — it flies past issues more nuanced and complex”

The Association of Social Work Boards administers tests typically required for the licensure of social workers. Apparently, this amounts to a kind of racism that must be reckoned with.

There is a Change.org petition circulating saying just that, based on the claim that the association’s clinical exam is biased because from 2018 to 2021 84 percent of white test-takers passed it the first time while only 45 percent of Black test-takers and 65 percent of Latino test-takers did. “These numbers are grossly disproportionate and demonstrate a failure in the exam’s design,” the petition states, adding that an “assertion that the problem lies with test-takers only reinforces the racism inherent to the test.” The petitioners add that the exam is administered only in English and its questions are based on survey responses from a disproportionately white pool of social workers.

But the petition doesn’t sufficiently explain why that makes the test racist. We’re just supposed to accept that it is. The petitioners want states to eliminate requirements that social workers pass the association’s tests, leaving competence for licensure to be demonstrated through degree completion and a period of supervised work.

So: It’s wrong to use a test to evaluate someone’s qualifications to be a social worker? This begins to sound plausible only if you buy into the fashionable ideology of our moment, in which we’re encouraged to think it’s somehow antiracist to excuse Black and brown people from being measured by standardized testing. There have been comparable claims these days with regard to tests for math teachers in Ontario and state bar exams, and, in the past, on behalf of applicants to the New York City Fire Department

This will mean taking a deep breath and asking why it is that in various instances, Black and Latino test-takers disproportionately have trouble with standardized tests. The reason for the deep breath is the implication ever in the air on this subject: that if the test isn’t racist, then the results might suggest that they aren’t as smart as their white peers. That’s an artificially narrowed realm of choices, however. There is more to what shapes how people handle things like standardized tests.

11) I can’t say stories of our criminal justice system like this surprise me.  But they still infuriate me.  This is just not okay.  Seriously, read this twitter thread:

12) I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who don’t have ideas of friendship shaped by toxic masculinity. “Men have fewer friends than ever, and it’s harming their health”  This Vox piece is all images– I think this one is key:

13) Good stuff from Katherine Wu on the Omicron boosters.

The nation has latched on before to the idea that shots alone can see us through. When vaccines first rolled out, Americans were assured that they’d essentially stamp out transmission, and that the immunized could take off their masks. “I thought we learned our lesson,” says Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at George Mason University. Apparently we did not. America is still stuck on the notion of what Popescu calls “vaccine absolutism.” And it rests on two very shaky assumptions, perhaps both doomed to fail: that the shots can and should sustainably block infection, and that “people will actually go and get the vaccine,” says Deshira Wallace, a public-health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As fall looms, the U.S. is now poised to expose the fatal paradox in its vaccine-only plan. At a time when the country is more reliant than ever on the power of inoculation, we’re also doing less than ever to set the shots up for success.

14) I’ve long been fascinated by the ongoing technological warfare between car manufacturers and car thieves.  This, from Planet Money was the most enlightening thing I’ve ever read on it:

15) Lots and lots of people shared this article with me, “Pickleball, Sport of the Future Injury? It’s all fun and games till you strain your Achilles’ tendon, herniate a disc or do a face-plant in the Kitchen.”

16) This is wild… you will metabolize a pill much faster if you take it and lie on your right side than on your left.  Asymmetry, baby! 

17) Another really good post from Noah Smith, “The Elite Overproduction Hypothesis: Did America produce too many frustrated college graduates in the 2000s and 2010s?”

Ben Schmidt has many more interesting data points in his Twitter thread. To me the most striking was that there are now almost as many people majoring in computer science as in all of the humanities put together:

When you look at the data, it becomes very apparent why the shift is happening. College kids increasingly want majors that will lead them directly to secure and/or high-paying jobs. That’s why STEM and medical fields — and to a lesser degree, blue-collar job-focused fields like hospitality — have been on the rise.

But looking back at that big bump of humanities majors in the 2000s and early 2010s (the raw numbers are here), and thinking about the social unrest America has experienced over the last 8 years, makes me think about Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction. Basically, the idea here is that America produced a lot of highly educated people with great expectations for their place in American society, but that our economic and social system was unable to accommodate many of these expectations, causing them to turn to leftist politics and other disruptive actions out of frustration and disappointment.

18) I wrote a whole post on this a long time ago, but, short version, this research shows why being a college professor is the best job in the world.

19) Democrats can only hope our current Lieutenant Governor is the Republican’s gubernatorial nominee in 2024:

Third graders who attend public school in North Carolina learn about the solar system and volcanoes in science class. Fourth graders study fossils.

Social studies at the second grade level teaches students about democracy. In fifth grade, students discuss rights that are protected under the U.S. Constitution.

But according to Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, kids shouldn’t be learning about any of that…

“In those grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies,” he writes. “We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.”

20) This is fun– “most regretted baby names

Inspired by Mississippi-based journalist Sarah Fowler’s brilliant Washington Post story on the folks who changed their baby’s first name — 30,000 in the past five years alone — we asked the Social Security Administration for a list of the most-changed names. They ran the numbers back to 2017.

Apparently, it’s hard to spell after you or your partner have just gone through labor: The two most-changed names are “Issac” and “Chole,” and the two most-adopted names, as you might expect…

Beyond egregious misspellings, the third most-changed and third most-adopted names show another common pattern: People tend to abandon names that are falling rapidly in the ranks of most popular baby names — such as Aiden — and to adopt names that are on the rise, such as Sebastian.

21) This is something else, “The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment.”  Also, a Fresh Air interview

22) OMG the Mensa people are pathetic, “My Week With America’s Smartest* People”

The truth was, I couldn’t quite articulate why I wouldn’t want to join. I certainly had a nice time at the convention. (“I’ve never seen you do this much reporting,” my fiancé said after I informed him I had to spend yet another day there.) The environment reminded me that I take pleasure in a lot of the same nerdy shit Mensans live for: logic games, trivia, and other sorts of puzzles. It was fun learning Set and later, competing in the Wordle tournament.

But I didn’t quite feel like I had found my people. I have never in my life struggled to find smart friends who get my jokes, and my intelligence (or, per my haters, my lack thereof) isn’t something that makes me feel alienated from my peers. It’s not to say that being brainy isn’t important to me — I’m glad I’m engaged to someone who I think is brilliant and likes to play all the stupid little games that I do — but high IQ is not in the top ten or 20 or 100 qualities I look for in a friend or community. I want to be around part of a group of people who are empathetic and funny and intellectually curious and have weird interests. A lot of people I met fit that bill. And I’m happy for all the Mensans who have found a home in their exclusive club and that their IQ has provided them with a way to understand themselves and their place in the world.

But if my time at the Mensa Annual Gathering taught me anything, it’s that being “smart” and doing well on tests have virtually nothing to do with each other.

22) Gallup, “Americans and the Future of Cigarettes, Marijuana, Alcohol”

Gallup has been asking Americans about their attitudes toward cigarettes and alcohol since the 1930s and 1940s, and, in more recent decades, has added similar questions about marijuana. One purpose of these continuing surveys is to update estimates of these substances’ frequency of use.

 

  • Alcohol is by far the most used of the three. About 45% of Americans have had an alcoholic drink within the past week, while another 23% say they use it occasionally. A third are “total abstainers.”

    Alcohol use has remained relatively constant over the years. The average percentage of Americans who have said they are drinkers since 1939 is 63%, quite close to Gallup’s most recent reading of 67%.

 

  • Some 16% of Americans say they currently smoke marijuana, while a total of 48% say they have tried it at some point in their lifetime.

    Marijuana use (based on self-reports) has increased dramatically over the past half-century. Only 4% said they had ever tried marijuana in 1969, when the question was first asked. That’s now 48%. Seven percent of Americans said they currently smoke marijuana in 2013, compared with the 16% measured this summer.

 

 

  • Cigarette smoking incidence has dropped steadily over the decades, from a high of 45% in the mid-1950s.

    Today, a new low of 11% of American adults report being smokers. Roughly three in 10 nonsmokers say they used to smoke.

In sum, American adults are significantly more likely to use alcohol than either marijuana or cigarettes. And while alcohol consumption has remained relatively constant over the decades, cigarette use is now less than a fourth of what it was in the 1950s. Americans’ regular use of marijuana is modestly higher than cigarettes at this point, but the trend over recent decades in marijuana use is upward…

Bottom Line

Americans recognize the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes, and smoking has declined significantly over the past half-century and can be expected to continue on this trajectory.

Americans are more ambivalent about the effects of smoking marijuana, and its future use by Americans will depend partly on changes in recognition of its potential harms and partly on the continuing shifts in its legality in states across the union.

The majority of Americans recognize that alcohol consumption has negative effects on both the user and society more generally. But unlike the case with smoking, there are no signs that these attitudes have resulted in a decrease in alcohol use. Why people use alcohol and have continued to use it while recognizing its downsides are complex questions that have engendered a great deal of medical and psychological research over the years. Clearly the social and personal benefits alcohol provides, along with its historical entrenchment in American culture, tend to outweigh consideration of its social and personal costs.

What could change the pattern of alcohol use going forward? Americans are not likely to support any type of ban on alcohol (a 2014 CNN poll showed only 18% of Americans said alcohol should be made illegal in this country), so if alcohol use diminishes in the future, it will most likely result from factors like those that reduced the incidence of smoking. These include an increased emphasis on its personal and social costs, along with, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such steps as increasing taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of places where alcohol is sold, and reducing the hours of sale and general availability of alcohol.

 

Quick hits (Part I)

1) I hate public (reply all) congratulatory emails.  Yes, congratulate somebody on a job well done, but do we all have to see it (thank goodness I discovered Gmail’s “mute” feature).  Anyway, loved this from deBoer, “Congratulations, Like Condolences, Should Be Private” (emphases in original)

I hate to borrow overused internet lingo, but nothing to me is as cringe as watching people in media tweet overwrought congratulations at each other over professional news. It’s nails-on-a-chalkboard stuff, and yet it’s like 12% of all tweets. “Big, big congrats to @SnarkDad420 on taking over as Vice Managing Copy Editor at Dipshit.com!” And the responses, if anything, are worse. “Thanks so much, @GhostOfTomChoad! Buy me a beer at Do or Dive, haha!” Kill me. Strike me dead. Flay my bones.

Here’s my little bit of advice for all of you: send neither public congratulations nor public condolences. Text, email, or (gasp) say it in person. If you don’t know the person well enough to contact them privately, you don’t know them well enough to congratulate or console them. Right? Answer this for me: if you don’t commend them or send them condolences after an event, will they notice? Will it hurt them? If yes, it matters enough to say in private, where it will always mean more. If no, then you don’t have anything to say at all. What are you accomplishing by sending congratulations to a stranger? And why should anyone not think that you’re doing it for self-interested reasons of social position and patronage?

2) I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… the coming political fights over medical abortions are going to be huge.  The Post, “Most abortions are done at home. Antiabortion groups are taking aim.”

Two top antiabortion groups have crafted and successfully lobbied for state legislation to ban or further restrictthe predominant way pregnancies are ended in the United States — viadrugs taken at home, often facilitated by a network of abortion rights groups.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 14states now ban or partially ban the use of those drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in more than half of all abortions.

But the drugs remain widely available, with multiple groups working to help provide them even to women in states with abortion bans. Students for Life of America and National Right to Life Committee, which have played leading roles in crafting antiabortion laws, hope to change that with newlegislation.

The groups are pursuing a variety of tactics, from bills that would ban the abortion-inducing drugs altogether to others that would allow family members to sue medication providers or attempt to shut down the nonprofit groups that help women obtain and safely use the drugs…

National Right to Life, meanwhile, released a “model law,” a week before the overturn of Roe v. Wade that seeks to outlaw a coalition of nonprofit groups that assist women with self-managed abortions. Last month, Republican lawmakers in South Carolina became the first to introduce the legislation.

The efforts illustrate how the antiabortion battlefront now reaches beyond traditional bills seeking criminal penalties for doctors who provide surgical abortions in hospitals or clinics, instead targeting organizations that assist women with mail-order abortion prescriptions and safety protocols for self-managed abortions.

3) A “good enough” life sounds plenty good to me.

In 1953, the british pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott began writing about the idea of “good-enough” parenting—a term he coined, and one he’s still famous for today. According to Winnicott, after infancy, babies do not need tirelessly responsive or self-sacrificing parents. In fact, he wrote, it is developmentally key for parents to lessen their “active adaptation” to their children’s needs over time. In doing so, they teach their kids to “account for failure” and “tolerate the results of frustration”—both necessary skills at a very young age, as anyone who’s watched a baby learn to crawl knows.

In his recent book The Good-Enough Life, the scholar and writing lecturer Avram Alpert radically broadens Winnicott’s idea of good-enoughness, transforming it into a sweeping ideology. Alpert sees good-enoughness as a necessary alternative to “greatness thinking,” or the twin beliefs that everybody has the right to embark on “personal quests for greatness” and that the great few can uplift the mediocre many. Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capital is an example of greatness thinking; so is its latter-day analogue, trickle-down economics. So are many forms of ambition: wanting to win the National Book Award, to start a revolution that turns your divided and unequal country into a Marxist utopia, or to make a sex tape that catapults you to global fame.

Alpert does not ask his readers to abandon their goals completely, but he does ask us to acknowledge the unlikelihood of becoming the next Kim Kardashian or creating a workers’ paradise. He also argues that clinging too tightly to such dreams, at the expense of smaller or partial ones, sets us up for both practical and moral failure: To him, it’s selfish, especially on the political level, to strive exclusively for changes so large that they may be unattainable. Rather than aim for greatness, then, Alpert asks us to accept that frustration and limitation are inescapable—and sometimes beneficial or beautiful—parts of human life…

Many of alpert’s ideas about good-enough selves and good-enough relationships ask only that his readers be more patient and less selfish. Greatness thinking, he argues, teaches us to defend our own ideas, time, and convenience above all else; it suggests that anyone who wishes to excel must hoard their time and energy, ignoring all the little tasks, negotiations, and compromises that make up so much of daily life. (The writer Vladimir Nabokov, supposedly, didn’t even lick his own stamps.) On an interpersonal level, greatness thinking suggests that discord and friction are, like licking your own stamps and running your own errands, needless time sucks—or, worse, signs that a relationship is on the rocks. A great friendship, according to this line of thought, is one of unbroken companionship and total harmony, a lifelong version of Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana at their most intertwined. But even on Broad City, a show utterly devoted to the joys of friendship, Abbi and Ilana are at odds, if only briefly, on nearly every episode. Alpert would say that this is as it should be. Disagreement and compromise are crucial parts of friendship. They teach us openness, acceptance, and resilience. If we let them, they make us more whole.

4) Jamelle Bouie is right, “The Idea That Letting Trump Walk Will Heal America Is Ridiculous”

The main argument against prosecuting Donald Trump — or investigating him with an eye toward criminal prosecution — is that it will worsen an already volatile fracture in American society between Republicans and Democrats. If, before an indictment, we could contain the forces of political chaos and social dissolution, the argument goes, then in the aftermath of such a move, we would be at their mercy. American democracy might not survive the stress.

All of this might sound persuasive to a certain, risk-averse cast of mind. But it rests on two assumptions that can’t support the weight that’s been put on them.

The first is the idea that American politics has, with Trump’s departure from the White House, returned to a kind of normalcy. Under this view, a prosecution would be an extreme and irrevocable blow to social peace. But the absence of open conflict is not the same as peace. Voters may have put a relic of the 1990s into the Oval Office, but the status quo of American politics is far from where it was before Trump.

The most important of our new realities is the fact that much of the Republican Party has turned itself against electoral democracy. The Republican nominee for governor in Arizona — Kari Lake — is a 2020 presidential election denier. So, too, are the Republican nominees in Arizona for secretary of state, state attorney general and U.S. Senate. In Pennsylvania, Republican voters overwhelmingly chose the pro-insurrection Doug Mastriano to lead their party’s ticket in November. Overall, Republican voters have nominated election deniers in dozens of races across six swing states, including candidates for top offices in Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin…

All of this is to say that we are already in a place where a substantial portion of the country (although much less than half) has aligned itself against the basic principles of American democracy in favor of Trump. And these 2020 deniers aren’t sitting still, either; as these election results show, they are actively working to undermine democracy for the next time Trump is on the ballot.

This fact, alone, makes a mockery of the idea that the ultimate remedy for Trump is to beat him at the ballot box a second time, as if the same supporters who rejected the last election will change course in the face of another defeat. It also makes clear the other weight-bearing problem with the argument against holding Trump accountable, which is that it treats inaction as an apolitical and stability-enhancing move — something that preserves the status quo as opposed to action, which upends it.

5) My daughter wants a pet snake.  Not happening.  But she’d approve of this, “How Facebook Is Saving Snakes: Snake-identification groups on social media are turning serpent haters into appreciators”

What force could drive such a dramatic shift in perspective? Baker credits, of all things, a Facebook group, one whose mission it is to educate members about snakes. Although the social media giant has a bad reputation for doing everything wrong in public health and politics, it turns out to be a powerful tool for saving snake lives. It’s not just Facebook. Wildlife enthusiasts are co-opting various social media platforms to build communities that promote accurate snake information and slay viral myths. Through these efforts they are converting even the most committed snake haters into ardent snake appreciators whose newfound regard for these misunderstood creatures often spreads to family, friends and neighbors. One by one, the snakes are living to slither another day…

Whereas other social media ID groups encompass huge areas, from entire continents to the entire planet, Pyle went local, focusing on the snakes he’s most familiar with. That way, he reasoned, “I can actually help if someone has a snake in their backyard.” He hoped his regional approach would serve as a template for other local efforts.

Today Pyle’s group has more than 176,000 members eagerly exchanging information about the region’s venomous rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and coral snakes, as well as its nonvenomous rat snakes and water snakes, among other harmless species. “This group has been the first time in my life that I think I’m making a real difference,” he says. Other regional groups that have formed include a statewide Texas ID and Central Texas Snake ID, which has more than 43,000 members and is run by a snake-relocation service near San Antonio. Facebook features dozens of other groups, too, mostly in the southern and southwestern states where most snakes live, covering regions as niche as Southside Atlanta.

The premise of the groups is simple. A member uploads an image of a snake they want identified, and within minutes an expert administrator responds. One unbreakable rule of the pages is that users have to keep their guesses to themselves. Only IDs made with certainty are allowed. For Pyle, this rule is so crucial that he once muted his own daughter for guessing. It can be a matter of safety, especially if someone says a snake is nonvenomous when it isn’t.

6) Derek Thompson, “There Is No National Teacher Shortage: The narrative doesn’t match the numbers.”

For several weeks, I watched this Great American Teacher Shortage narrative bloom across the media landscape. Because of my reporting for my abundance-agenda series, I was predisposed to believe it was real. The U.S. is rife with shortages, including of infant formula and monkeypox vaccines. But I was also skeptical, because so many public-education controversies—see: the debates over remote schooling, the proper way to teach American history, and controversial laws regarding how teachers can discuss sex ed—are plastered with ideology.

When I spoke with education researchers and writers to figure out what was really going on, a more complex narrative emerged. In parts of the country, schools are struggling to hire staff. But they are mostly the same districts that have been struggling for years to fill the same positions, such as substitute and special-ed roles. In the big picture, the new and catastrophic national teacher shortage is neither newly catastrophic nor, in any meaningful sense, national. Under one interpretation of the murky data, the country might even have a teacher surplus on its hands, because so many parents have pulled their children out of public schools since the pandemic began…

American teachers and American schools absolutely do have real problems that deserve our attention.

Teacher vacancies exist, and they are concentrated in specific states, districts, and positions. Many rural areas and the Deep South are experiencing shortages. Some high-poverty districts have struggled for decades to hire enough teachers. High teacher turnover is especially a problem in child care and special education. A recent study in Louisiana found that one-third of the state’s child-care centers lose more than half of their teachers every year. A 2022 government survey found that the vacancy rate for special-ed teachers is more than four times higher than that for physical-education instructors.

Exhausted, underpaid, and stressed out, America’s teachers seem to be in a state of psychological and financial crisis. By some estimates, public-school teachers are the most “burned out” workers in America. The pandemic made things worse; some surveys show a big increase in the share of teachers who say they want to quit. Indeed, managing an elementary-school classroom via Zoom five days a week sounds to me like one of the lower rings of hell.

So, if the question is whether some districts are struggling to hire enough teachers, or whether some specific occupations have shortages, or even whether many teachers are feeling crummy about their work, the answer is clearly yes. These things are all happening. But most of these things have been happening for a long time.

“There has not been a mass exodus of teachers across the country,” Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, told me. Chad Aldeman, who writes about education finance at Edunomics Lab, agrees. “The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” he told me.

7) Jonathan Weiler with an excellent post on the value and limits of the “polarization” frame:

This Tweet, from Jeff Jarvis, a professor in CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism, has been making the rounds, as you can see.

Some thoughts….

Obviously, I’ve had some professional and, therefore, personal investment in the significance of the polarization frame. The books I’ve co-written on the subject document how the nature of America’s political divisions has changed over time, and argue that the changing nature of those divisions is highly consequential. One key facet of the argument is that a politics primarily anchored in deep-seated psychological and personality differences is a recipe for sustained, irreconcilable conflict. These deep-seated differences aren’t politically consequential in and of themselves, at least not according to our understanding. They become consequential when they map onto partisan conflict. That is, when people with basically different worldviews start sorting themselves out into two distinct partisan political camps, those different worldviews become the basic fault line of our politics. Once that happens, the stage is set for especially acrimonious and potentially violent politics. Others have built on that framework to argue such conditions have made the emergence of a Trump-like figure more likely, which reinforces and deepens the dangers of the politics we tried to map.

At a time of deepening polarization in the United States, the fallout in The Village points to troubling consequences on the cul-de-sac level: Not even old friends are immune to the forces pitting us against each other.

Polls reveal perceptions of major events — the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, the protests ignited by the death of George Floyd — vary widely along partisan lines. Less explored is the impact in our own backyards, the strains on bonds that are supposed to trump politics.

This is the kind of frame Jarvis is talking about. Much of the American right is becoming increasingly extreme, violent and enamored of political leaders who aren’t even making a pretense anymore of respecting such bedrocks of democracy as election outcomes that they don’t like. In the Graham story, it’s hard to fathom what context or insight readers gain from what feels almost like a polarization disclaimer. One of our two major parties is traveling far down the road of authoritarianism and is inspiring, all over the country, the kind of atmosphere that led to Graham’s resignation. Polarization, in the basic sense of describing a phenomenon in which two objects increasingly gravitate toward poles, is not what is at play here. Instead, one object, the Republican Party, is becoming increasingly and dangerously extreme in a way that simply does not characterize the other party.

I can’t believe I am about to do this, but here’s Bill Kristol (!!!!)1, explaining the differences in a Tweet this weekend:

8) This is cool, The Athletic with a way to think about elite soccer players through 18 different playing style categories. 

9) I know I shouldn’t waste quick hits on stuff I don’t like, but sometimes it amazes me what the NYT Op-Ed page lets get through.  Most of the commentators properly ripped this to shreds.  “Maternal Instinct Is a Myth That Men Created”  I mean, of course there’s some reality to that claim, so why completely undermine yourself by arguing with strawman after strawman.  

10) This is very fun from Randall Munroe (with good visuals, so gift link), “Shark or Orca: Which Should You Fear More?”

11) Nice NCSU news release, “Study of Ancient Skulls Sheds Light on Human Interbreeding With Neandertals

Research has established that there are traces of Neandertal DNA in the genome of modern humans. Now an exploratory study that assessed the facial structure of prehistoric skulls is offering new insights, and supports the hypothesis that much of this interbreeding took place in the Near East – the region ranging from North Africa to Iraq.

“Ancient DNA caused a revolution in how we think about human evolution,” says Steven Churchill, co-author of the study and a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “We often think of evolution as branches on a tree, and researchers have spent a lot of time trying to trace back the path that led to us, Homo sapiens. But we’re now beginning to understand that it isn’t a tree – it’s more like a series of streams that converge and diverge at multiple points.”

“Our work here gives us a deeper understanding of where those streams came together,” says Ann Ross, corresponding author of the study and a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University.

“The picture is really complicated,” Churchill says. “We know there was interbreeding. Modern Asian populations seem to have more Neandertal DNA than modern European populations, which is weird – because Neandertals lived in what is now Europe. That has suggested that Neandertals interbred with what are now modern humans as our prehistoric ancestors left Africa, but before spreading to Asia. Our goal with this study was to see what additional light we could shed on this by assessing the facial structure of prehistoric humans and Neandertals.”

“By evaluating facial morphology, we can trace how populations moved and interacted over time,” Ross explains. “And the evidence shows us that the Near East was an important crossroads, both geographically and in the context of human evolution.”

For this study, the researchers collected data on craniofacial morphology from the published literature. This ultimately resulted in a data set including 13 Neandertals, 233 prehistoric Homo sapiens, and 83 modern humans.

 

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