Quick Hits (part II)

1) Andrew Sullivan on the taboo of discussing the fact that some transgender people actually de-transition.  Alas, among many, even discussing this fact gets labeled “transphobic.”  Once again, why can’t we just believe that we need to be sympathetic to and support trans persons and yet admit, maybe some teens actually rush into the process.

A Brown University professor, Lisa Littman, published a paper earlier this year citing parents’ reports on their transgender kids. She discovered a pattern: Most (83 percent) were girls in their teens with no previous history of gender dysphoria, who spent a lot of time online, and “more than one-third [of whom] had friendship groups in which 50 percent or more of the youths began to identify as transgender in a similar time frame.” Littman was not the first person to use this term, but she described this phenomenon as “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” and worried that it could be caused by social contagion, or connected to other issues such as the rejection of parents, depression, autism, and bipolar disease. Littman was concerned that these kids were not getting the full range of mental health help they needed. (Earlier this year, a governor of the Tavistock Centre resigned after submitting a report that argued that teens were being fast-tracked to transition in the center, without sufficient exploration of other comorbid factors. He felt the place had so lost its way in a thicket of ideology that he had to quit.)

The Littman paper was assailed by trans activists and their allies, denounced as transphobic, and had to have its framing language changed before it was republished. But the research and the findings, while very limited in their scope, held up under peer review, and were the same in the republished version as in the original. This is a real enough phenomenon to merit much more research to confirm it. But the pressure to stop this research remains enormous: Littman herself lost her consulting job over the paper, after a campaign to get her fired for transphobia.

2) Republican Senators’ latest plan to excuse Trump?  Throw out a bunch of legal language that maybe they don’t even understand and presume that it’s enough to convince their Fox News base:

“To me, this entire issue is gonna come down to, why did the president ask for an investigation,” Kennedy, who worked as a lawyer, said in an interview. “To me, it all turns on intent, motive. … Did the president have a culpable state of mind? … Based on the evidence that I see, that I’ve been allowed to see, the president does not have a culpable state of mind.”

Maybe the Fox viewership will be thrown by “culplable state of mind,” but, ummm… yes!

3) Of course Trump made up the “whimpering” death of Al-Baghdadi.  But, it’s Trump, so who cares?

That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. Mr. Trump’s flexibility with fact has become such an established feature of his presidency that polls show most Americans, including even many of his own supporters, do not, as a rule, take him at his word.

What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received. In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage. In the era of Trumpian truth, misstatements and lies are washed away by the next story, prompting Pinocchios from fact checkers and scolding from Democrats and Never Trumpers while Republicans dismiss them with that’s-just-Trump-being-Trump weariness.

“Donald Trump is not simply a serial liar; he is attempting to murder the very idea of truth, which is even worse,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Because without truth, a free society cannot operate.”

4) I enjoyed George Packer’s essay on trying to do right by his kids in NYC public schools.  But, even though he’s a really thoughtful liberal, in the end, it did seem a little too hard for him to realize what an utterly insane liberal-elitist-NYC bubble he lives in.  Safe to say, Packer’s kids will be fine at any non-horrible schools.

5) Yes, the photos here are great, but really love the title, “30 Pics Of Finnish Cats Living Their Best Winter Life.”

Norwegian-Forest-Cats-Sampy-Hiskias

6) Totally with Brett Stephens on this one.  We really should judge art on it’s own merit, not the political/ideological views of it’s creators.  Stephens talks about finding out Roald Dahl was quite an anti-semite.  Definitely disappointing to learn this.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still an all-time amazing book that I will enjoy again.  And, yes, I also still enjoy Michael Jackson’s music, while I’m at it.

7) This was really good from Matt Stoller, “Corporate America’s Second War With the Rule of Law
Opinion: Uber, Facebook, and Google are increasingly behaving like the law-flouting financial empires of the 1920s. We know how that turned out.”

8) Was looking to buy some tickets the other day and the fees, my God, the fees.  So totally absurd that we cannot find a way to require transparency in ticket pricing for sports/entertainment events.

9) This is great news, “Long-awaited cystic fibrosis drug could turn deadly disease into a manageable condition.”

The therapy is a combination of three drugs that wouldn’t have been possible if scientists working in academic laboratories hadn’t unraveled the basic biology of the disease. Finding the gene was a needle-in-a-haystack-type problem, Collins said, and it led scientists to a malfunctioning protein that normally keeps the right balance of salt and water in the lungs. There are more than 1,700 gene mutations that can cause the protein to malfunction, but in the most common mutation, the protein is misfolded and can’t reach the right spot in the cell — and even if it does reach that spot, it doesn’t work properly. The new combination therapy includes one drug that corrects the misfolded protein and two that activate the correctly folded protein when it reaches the right spot in the cell.

In the largest trial, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, 403 patients who had at least one copy of the most common gene mutation underlying cystic fibrosis received either Trikafta or a placebo. There were improvements in objective tests of lung function, decreases in lung problems and hospitalizations and an increase in people’s quality of life.

Many physicians see the most transformative potential impact of the drug in the hope that it will be eventually approved for younger children, as Vertex’s other drugs have been over time. The drug can help older patients, but it can’t erase years of lung damage; if it works and is safe in younger children, it could prevent damage in the first place.

10) It’s sad that the hierarchy of the Catholic church will, apparently, at least consider pretty much anything to address the shortage of priests.  But women.

The modern Catholic Church is beset with serious problems. Among them is that not enough men want to be priests. Over the past three weeks, 184 bishops gathered at a Vatican summit to seek solutions for the Amazon region in particular, singled out because of myriad crises it is facing, including environmental devastation, violence and a shortage of priests to serve the needs of the faithful there.

The bishops’ solution: Do anything other than ordaining women as priests.

On Oct. 26, in a “revolutionary” decision, the bishops gathered at the Vatican voted 128 to 41 to allow an exception to what has essentially been a 1,000-year ban on the ordination of married men as priests. They recommended this change for only certain parts of the Amazon and for only married men already made deacons, meaning men already allowed to perform marriages and baptisms, but not to officiate at mass, which only priests can do. It is now for Pope Francis to decide whether the decision goes forward.

It is surprising in many ways that the bishops made this decision. Allowing a married man to be a priest violates several longstanding rules. They voted as they did despite the tremendous importance of chastity for the Catholic Church and the old idea that sexual activity is a pollutant that cannot be allowed near the holy ritual of the mass. They voted in favor of married priests despite a longstanding fear that for a priest to have a wife and a family would lead to serious conflicts of interest. There is a legend that the word “nepotism” was invented in honor of the grasping nephews of popes who sought and obtained more than they deserved thanks to their powerful uncles (and “nephews” we can sometimes see as a euphemism for “sons”).

These potential conflicts of interest and other dangers that family influence and obligations bring, therefore, are something Catholic authorities have long recognized and have eagerly sought to prevent. They voted as they did despite the symbolic importance, too, of the idea that a priest be united to only one spouse, the Church, just as Jesus Christ was united in an exclusive bond with the Church…

Pope Francis himself has acknowledged that there could be what the theology professor Gary Macy has called a “hidden history” in which women had a larger role in ministry than the Catholic Church currently accepts, for which scholars such as Dr. Macy have found ample and intriguing evidence. While rejecting much of this evidence, conservative Catholic authorities do, however, recognize that for several centuries, their predecessors, like the leaders of the Eastern Churches then and now, allowed married men to serve as priests or as bishops, though sometimes they required celibacy and that their wives enter religious life.

11) Stuff like this makes me a techno-optimist in general.  CRISPR may actually solve our problem with antibiotic resistance:

Crispr-based antibiotic pills aren’t yet anywhere near pharmacy shelves. But developing such treatments could allow scientists to harness the power of the human body’s own resident microbes in preventing disease.

“Scientists are starting to figure out that microbiota can also be extremely beneficial for our health,” said Luciano Marraffini, a microbiologist at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Conventional antibiotics do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria, eradicating everything indiscriminately and occasionally creating problems for people with weakened immune systems.

“A major benefit of Crispr is that we can program it to kill only specific pathogenic bacteria and leave alone the rest of our healthy microbes,” Dr. Marraffini said.

A few companies have started to pursue Crispr-based antibiotics that can be delivered through viruses that have been engineered so that they cannot reproduce or cause infections themselves, as well as other methods. Dr. Marraffini is a co-founder of one such start-up, Eligo Bioscience.

The specificity of Crispr is equally enticing to researchers looking to target pathogenic viruses. Instead of having Crispr kill viruses that infect bacteria, as it does in nature, scientists are programming it to chop up viruses that infect humans.

12) Eat your fiber!  “Fiber and Yogurt Tied to Lower Lung Cancer Risk: By promoting a healthy gut microbiome, a high-fiber diet and foods like yogurt may lower lung cancer risk, even among smokers.”  And “Fiber in Fruits and Grains Protects Against Diverticulitis”

13) Dahlia Lithwick on “the judges Republicans are doing it all for.”

It’s not news that Trump has made packing the federal courts with the youngest, most radical, least qualified jurists ever seen a priority. Nor is it news that this project has been singularly successful because it was contracted out to effective outside groups, and because Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell now cares about no other. Last week, the Senate advanced the nomination for a lifetime tenured position of a 37-year-old associate professor, who had been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Justin Walker, the prospective judge in question, has never tried a case. He’s never been co-counsel in a case. His principal qualification for a federal district court judgeship seems to be his important legal work spent “conducting over 70 interviews in which he challenged the account of Christine Blasey Ford.” He’s a TV judge whom Mitch McConnell somehow touted as “unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to Presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky.” Despite his lack of any judicial qualifications and the once-rare not-qualified ABA rating, every Republican on the Judiciary Committee voted to advance his nomination while Democrats broke against him. As Jennifer Bendery noted here, “in his entire eight years in the White House, President Barack Obama didn’t nominate anyone to be a lifetime federal judge who earned a ‘not qualified’ ABA rating.” Walker was Trump’s fourth. And on Thursday, the Senate is poised to vote on the fifth, Sarah Pitlyk, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

14) Americans trust local news.  Brendan Nyhan on how that belief is being exploited by bad actors:

The nature of the news misinformation problem may be changing. As consumers become more skeptical about the national news they encounter online, impostor local sites that promote ideological agendas are becoming more common. These sites exploit the relatively high trust Americans express in local news outlets — a potential vulnerability in Americans’ defenses against untrustworthy information.

Some misinformation in local news comes from foreign governments seeking to meddle in American domestic politics. Most notably, numerous Twitter accounts operated by the Russian Internet Research Agency were found to have impersonated local news aggregators during the 2016 election campaign.

A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report found that 54 such accounts published more than 500,000 tweets. According to researchers at N.Y.U., the fake local news accounts frequently directed readers to genuine local news articles about polarizing political and cultural topics.

Domestically grown dubious outlets are also proliferating. Last week, The Lansing State Journal reported the existence of a network of more than 35 faux-local websites across Michigan with names like Battle Creek Times, Detroit City Wire, Lansing Sun and Grand Rapids Reporter…

Over all, we found that people preferred to consume local news most. Holding other factors constant, Americans were 11 percentage points more likely to choose articles from local news sources than ones from online-only national outlets — precisely why dubious websites might impersonate local news sources. This differential was largest among Republican identifiers and people with a negative view of the news media.

The prevalence of these impostors is likely to increase as the 2020 election approaches, threatening to mislead more voters and to promote greater skepticism toward all news media, including the local outlets that so many Americans rely on and trust.

15) “Tales from the teenage cancel culture.”  Personally, I’m ready to cancel cancel culture.  Perhaps the response from my younger readers… “Okay Gen-Xer”

16) Sad, hilarious, and amazing how dumb Trump and friends are about what a “witch hunt” means.

17) OMG I hate Britt Hume so much.  What a hack!  Now, I’m far from an expert on American foreign policy (as you’ve noticed, very much a domestic policy guy).  But for Hume to claim that American foreign policy is nothing more than what the president wants foreign policy to be is insane:

What’s also insane is all the commenters in this threat totally on this absurd “l’etat c’est moi” bandwagon where whatever Donald Trump wants is policy (even if it is to subvert America’s national security to his own personal interests).

Just for the record, Congress plays a role in foreign policy, too.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: