Quick hits (part I)

1) I really wish I knew more of the science of weather.  Loved this on the “heat dome” effect impacting much of the U.S. right now.

A heat dome “is really just sort of a colloquial term for a persistent and/or strong high-pressure system that occurs during the warm season, with the end result being a lot of heat,” says climate scientist Daniel Swain of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

That high-pressure air descends from above and gets compressed as it nears the ground. Think about how much more pressure you experience at sea level than at the top of a mountain—what you’re feeling is the weight of the atmosphere on your shoulders. As the air descends and gets compressed, it heats up. “So the same air that’s maybe 80 degrees a few thousand feet up, you bring that same air—without adding any extra energy to it—down to the surface in a high-pressure system and it could be 90, 95, 100 degrees,” says Swain.

At the same time, a high-pressure system keeps clouds from forming by inhibiting upward vertical motion in the atmosphere. Oddly enough, it’s this same phenomenon that produces extremely cold temperatures in the winter. “If you don’t have that upward vertical motion, you don’t get clouds or storms,” Swain says. “So when it’s already cold and dark, that means the temperatures can get really cold because of clear skies, as things radiate out at night. In the warm season, that lack of clouds and lack of upward motion in the atmosphere means it can get really hot because you have a lot of sunlight.”

That heat can accumulate over days or weeks, turning the heat dome into a kind of self-perpetuating atmospheric cap over the landscape. On a normal day, some of the sun’s energy evaporates water from the soil, meaning that solar energy isn’t put toward further warming the air. But as the heat dome persists, it blasts away the soil’s moisture, and that solar energy now goes full-tilt into heating the air.

“So after a certain point, once it’s been hot enough for long enough, it becomes even easier to get even hotter,” says Swain. “And so that’s why these things can often be really persistent, because once they’ve been around for a little while, they start to feed off of themselves.”

2) Great stuff on American opinion and diseases from John Sides and Cindy Kam:

Key Findings

  • Compared to the 2014–2016 Ebola virus outbreak and the 2016 Zika virus outbreak, Americans are more concerned about the coronavirus outbreak, more dissatisfied with the government’s response, and more willing to close the country’s borders — especially to foreign citizens.
  • Americans’ attitudes toward these three outbreaks are tied to basic biological predispositions, particularly their sensitivity to the threat of contamination, also known as disgust sensitivity. Disgust appears to create more concern about the outbreaks and a greater willingness to take protective steps, such as social distancing.
  • Democrats and Republicans have reacted differently to these outbreaks. Republicans were more concerned about Ebola than were Democrats, and as much if not more concerned about Ebola than the coronavirus.
  • Partisan polarization on social distancing restrictions is growing larger, driven by growing skepticism among the Republicans most attuned to political messages from party leaders. Support for restrictions on large gatherings has dropped 35 percentage points among these Republicans.
  • But partisan divisions are smallest among those who are more sensitive to threat of contamination. This interaction of politics and biology is crucial for understanding public attitudes.

3) Interactive map of mask use rates around the US.  Very, very cool.  Happy to live in an area with high use.

4) Government basically using secret federal police to sweep protesters off the streets in the name of “law and order” is three-alarm fire for democracy type stuff.  Democrats cannot let this go.

Something terrible, something dangerous — and, yes, something unconstitutional — is happening in Portland, Ore. It must be stopped.

“Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14,” reports Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.”

The report continues: “The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to ‘quell’ nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks.” …

This is not America because of the First Amendment, quoted above. It is not America because we are a federal system, something you would think Republicans, who supposedly believe in states’ rights, understand and respect. So we are a country in which governors can summon federal help, are authorized to call out the National Guard — not a country in which unbadged federal police are loosed upon innocent citizens of a state over the objections of its governor. In this case, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, joined by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who have beseeched the feds to leave.

5) I’m all for doing some educating safely outdoors instead of the reality that’s about to happen– my children homebound and learning a tiny fraction:

Distressingly, little of this sort of ingenuity has greeted the effort to reopen schools amid the current public-health crisis. The Trump administration has insisted that schools fully open this fall, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposing no plan for how to do that safely.

In New York, the nation’s largest school system, students will attend live classes only a few days a week, a policy that has angered both exhausted parents, who feel that it is not nearly enough, and many teachers, who fear it as way too much.

At the same time, one of the few things we know about the coronavirus with any degree of certainty is that the risk of contracting it diminishes outside — a review of 7,000 cases in China recorded only one instance of fresh-air transmission. While this ought to have activated a war-room focus toward the goal of moving as much teaching as possible outdoors, nothing like that has happened.

“What I’m hearing instead is that people are looking at plastic shields going up around desks,’’ Sarah Milligan-Toffler, the executive director of an organization called the Children & Nature Network, told me. “That’s our creative solution?”

Bureaucracy, it hardly needs to be said, is not inherently creative. And despite its self-image as an engine of innovation, the education-reform movement backed by Wall Street tends to recoil at anything that reeks of bohemianism. No hedge-funder, obsessed with metrics, achievement gaps and free Apple products has ever sat down and asked himself, “Hey, I wonder how they do it in Norway?”

Outdoor learning, though, is not a wood nymph fantasy; the body of evidence suggesting the ways it benefits students, younger ones in particular, is ever growing.

6) John McWhorter finally read White Fragility and eviscerates it:

I am not convinced. Rather, I have learned that one of America’s favorite advice books of the moment is actually a racist tract. Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us. This is unintentional, of course, like the racism DiAngelo sees in all whites. Still, the book is pernicious because of the authority that its author has been granted over the way innocent readers think…

When writers who are this sure of their convictions turn out to make a compelling case, it is genuinely exciting. This is sadly not one of those times, even though white guilt and politesse have apparently distracted many readers from the book’s numerous obvious flaws.

For one, DiAngelo’s book is replete with claims that are either plain wrong or bizarrely disconnected from reality. Exactly who comes away from the saga of Jackie Robinson thinking he was the first Black baseball player good enough to compete with whites? “Imagine if instead the story,” DiAngelo writes, “went something like this: ‘Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.’” But no one need imagine this scenario, as others have pointed out, because it is something every baseball fan already knows. Later in the book, DiAngelo insinuates that, when white women cry upon being called racists, Black people are reminded of white women crying as they lied about being raped by Black men eons ago. But how would she know? Where is the evidence for this presumptuous claim?

An especially weird passage is where DiAngelo breezily decries the American higher-education system, in which, she says, no one ever talks about racism. “I can get through graduate school without ever discussing racism,” she writes. “I can graduate from law school without ever discussing racism. I can get through a teacher-education program without ever discussing racism.” I am mystified that DiAngelo thinks this laughably antique depiction reflects any period after roughly 1985. For example, an education-school curriculum neglecting racism in our times would be about as common as a home unwired for electricity…

The problem is that White Fragility is the prayer book for what can only be described as a cult.

We must consider what is required to pass muster as a non-fragile white person. Refer to a “bad neighborhood,” and you’re using code for Black; call it a “Black neighborhood,” and you’re a racist; by DiAngelo’s logic, you are not to describe such neighborhoods at all, even in your own head. You must not ask Black people about their experiences and feelings, because it isn’t their responsibility to educate you. Instead, you must consult books and websites. Never mind that upon doing this you will be accused of holding actual Black people at a remove, reading the wrong sources, or drawing the wrong lessons from them. You must never cry in Black people’s presence as you explore racism, not even in sympathy, because then all the attention goes to you instead of Black people. If you object to any of the “feedback” that DiAngelo offers you about your racism, you are engaging in a type of bullying “whose function is to obscure racism, protect white dominance, and regain white equilibrium.”…

In 2020—as opposed to 1920—I neither need nor want anyone to muse on how whiteness privileges them over me. Nor do I need wider society to undergo teachings in how to be exquisitely sensitive about my feelings. I see no connection between DiAngelo’s brand of reeducation and vigorous, constructive activism in the real world on issues of import to the Black community. And I cannot imagine that any Black readers could willingly submit themselves to DiAngelo’s ideas while considering themselves adults of ordinary self-regard and strength. Few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome…

White Fragility is, in the end, a book about how to make certain educated white readers feel better about themselves. DiAngelo’s outlook rests upon a depiction of Black people as endlessly delicate poster children within this self-gratifying fantasy about how white America needs to think—or, better, stop thinking. Her answer to white fragility, in other words, entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. The sad truth is that anyone falling under the sway of this blinkered, self-satisfied, punitive stunt of a primer has been taught, by a well-intentioned but tragically misguided pastor, how to be racist in a whole new way.

7) Letter-signer Michele Goldberg takes on the illiberal left:

In her scathing rejoinder to the Letter in The Atlantic, Hannah Giorgis wrote, “Facing widespread criticism on Twitter, undergoing an internal workplace review, or having one’s book panned does not, in fact, erode one’s constitutional rights or endanger a liberal society.”

This sentence brought me up short; one of these things is not like the others. Anyone venturing ideas in public should be prepared to endure negative reviews and pushback on social media. Internal workplace reviews are something else. If people fear for their livelihoods for relatively minor ideological transgressions, it may not violate the Constitution — the workplace is not the state — but it does create a climate of self-censorship and grudging conformity…

This is true; as Zaid Jilani wrote recently, “If it were harder for employers to fire people for frivolous reasons, Americans would have less reason to fear that expressing their views might cost them their livelihoods.” But it seems strange to me to argue that in the absence of better labor law, the left is justified in taking advantage of precarity to punish people for political disagreements.

None of this is an argument for a totally laissez-faire approach to speech; some ideas should be stigmatized…

Writing in the 1990s, at a time when feminists like Catharine MacKinnon sought to curtail free speech in the name of equality, the great left-libertarian Ellen Willis described how progressive movements sow the seeds of their own destruction when they become censorious. It’s impossible, Willis wrote, “to censor the speech of the dominant without stifling debate among all social groups and reinforcing orthodoxy within left movements. Under such conditions a movement can neither integrate new ideas nor build support based on genuine transformations of consciousness rather than guilt or fear of ostracism.”…

Because Trump poisons everything he touches, his movement’s hypocritical embrace of the mantle of free speech threatens to devalue it, turning it into the rhetorical equivalent of “All Lives Matter.”

But to let this occur is to surrender what has historically been a sacred left-wing value. One reason many on the right want to be seen as free speech defenders is that they understand that the power to break taboos can be even more potent than the power to create them. Even sympathetic people will come to resent a left that refuses to make distinctions between deliberate slurs, awkward mistakes and legitimate disagreements. Cowing people is not the same as converting them.

8) Great stuff on “re-fund the police” from a Black police officer:

Police academies must change, too. Police are taught that the enemy is “out there.” When they arrive at work with that mind-set, they don’t know who wants them in the community, and who wants to kill them. It’s no different than troops in Afghanistan or Iraq. We are patrolling the streets of our own cities as an occupying force.

Our training also focuses on worst-case scenarios: how to arrest someone, how to fight, how to use a weapon. Instead, it should emphasize preventing escalation. Once you get to the point where you are having to fight, you’ve already lost. The question after a shooting by the police should not be “Was it legal?” but rather “Was it necessary?”

The length of police academy varies, but here in Virginia, it’s about six months, then around three months with a training officer on the job. Nine months is not sufficient preparation to give you the authority to take someone’s life or deprive them of their liberty.

The probationary period for police officers should also be increased to a minimum of three years. Currently, once an officer has completed his probationary period, it is almost impossible to fire him. Performance evaluations must focus on more than the number of arrests made or traffic tickets written. They should include the officer’s conviction rate, a thorough review of the types of arrests made and the number of complaints received.

We must also address the racism of police departments from the inside. I don’t mean through “cultural diversity training.” When my department did that training, most showed up because they had to and cracked jokes through the whole thing. Instead, we should hire officers who reflect the communities they serve, by race and gender. About 15 percent of the police officers on my force are Black in a city that is about 43 percent Black. This imbalance is reflective of most police departments in America.

I’ve worked with hundreds of people as a trainer and patrol officer, investigator, administrator and assessor. When I hear calls to defund the police, I cringe. Not because I am a cop, but because the adage is true: You get what you pay for.

Police salaries are low, making it hard to consistently attract the kind of folks we need on the force. This is not said to demean my fellow police officers. But when you make the job attractive to people who have a college degree and aspire for something more — to create social change, to understand human psychology, to make a difference in people’s lives for the better — you get the kind of police force any community would welcome.

So yes, defund the police. But then re-fund them, better. Hire people with a college degree. Pay them more. Reform police academies to include education on psychology, cultural sensitivity, communication skills and de-escalation of conflict. Hold people to account.

It’s not up to the officers to bring about change. We have to take drastic action to create that change for them. Those who want things to stay the same will have no choice but to go elsewhere, because the world has changed. Policing needs to catch up.

9) How much should we worry about AC spreading Covid?  Some.

To start, let’s consider one very high-profile COVID-19 study connected to air conditioning.
Researchers in Guangzhou, China, found that a restaurant air conditioning system blew droplets from an infected diner at one table to diners at two neighboring tables. This study has been used as evidence that air conditioning can spread COVID. That is, on its face, true, but it’s not the air conditioning itself that caused the problem—it’s more the otherwise stagnant air in the restaurant, says William Bahnfleth, a professor of architectural engineering at Pennsylvania State University who studies indoor air quality. Analysis of that case found that the restaurant had virtually no fresh airflow from the outside to diffuse any droplets in the space. “If there had just been a fan in that space blowing air around to keep people cool by convection, it would be doing the same thing” in spreading the virus, says Bahnfleth.

That reiterates what we’ve known since the beginning of the pandemic: Good ventilation is important, and being in close contact with someone indoors, where there’s little air circulation, is a major COVID-19 risk factor. (This is why being outside is a lower risk than being inside.) The risk factors for air conditioning spreading COVID-19 seem to be less about air conditioning itself than the conditions it often creates indoors. Air conditioning systems are typically not great for ventilation, as they bring in little outside air and rely primarily on recycling indoor air…

So that might make you think that air conditioning, as the Arkansas news station said, is a terrible idea right now. But it still depends on the specific conditions of a space. In some cases it can be useful, because some airflow with air conditioning could still be better than no airflow without. “If your small enclosed room is very poorly ventilated and air just sits there for hours, air conditioning could help because you’re at least getting in that 20 percent of outdoor air and running things through some kind of filtration system,” says Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who studies airborne transmission of viruses. But if that enclosed room also has lots of people, including one who is infected, that air conditioning could create more air currents to push around COVID droplets. That could carry droplets “very far from the infected person, and increases the radius of close-contact risk,” says Bahnfleth; in that case, your safe “social distance” might increase from, say, 6 feet to 12 feet.

Also, in response to her tweeting out this article, I was excited that Linsey Marr responded to my question about indoor air safety and college teaching.

10) I found this amusing… A friend/colleague who is the rare politically conservative political scientist wrote about reparations as a “thorny” issue, but, shockingly, decided that our current approach (let people who want to give to organizations that help Black people) was the right one.

11) So far, Yashca Mounk’s “Persuasion” newsletter is proving really good.  This piece by Ruy Teixera on how Democrats mis-used the “Emerging Democratic Majority” is an absolute must-read if you have any interest at all in demographics and politics (e.g., all the Brownstein stuff I share).  Seriously, just read it.  “Demography Is Not Destiny: John Judis and I came up with the idea of an emerging Democratic majority. A dangerous misinterpretation of it helped elect Donald Trump.”

12) Michael Tesler in 538 on the supposed enthusiasm gap:

First, while Biden voters may not be all that excited about voting for Biden, they’re very enthusiastic about voting against Trump. And that gives Biden a pretty strong edge, because Trump supporters don’t despise Biden the way they despised Hillary Clinton in 2016. In fact, according to survey data from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project, the share of Trump voters who rate Biden unfavorably is consistently much lower than the share of Biden voters who rate Trump negatively — nearly 30 percentage points lower as of the last survey conducted at the end of June.

Second, because Trump voters don’t dislike Biden as much as Biden voters dislike Trump, Biden actually has an advantage in net enthusiasm (calculated as the difference between a candidate’s “very favorable” and “very unfavorable” rating). The gap on this metric has widened between the two in the past month, too.

13) Please, please, please let this new form of Covid-19 testing actually be sufficiently accurate (and, if we test like hell and quickly, accuracy actually matters less) and come on-line soon!

Simple at-home tests for the coronavirus, some that involve spitting into a small tube of solution, could be the key to expanding testing and impeding the spread of the pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration should encourage their development and then fast track approval.

One variety, paper-strip tests, are inexpensive and easy enough to make that Americans could test themselves every day. You would simply spit into a tube of saline solution and insert a small piece of paper embedded with a strip of protein. If you are infected with enough of the virus, the strip will change color within 15 minutes.

Your next step would be to self-quarantine, notify your doctor and confirm the result with a standard swab test — the polymerase chain reaction nasal swab. Confirmation would give public health officials key information on the virus’s spread and confirm that you should remain in quarantine until your daily test turned negative.

E25BioSherlock BiosciencesMammoth Biosciences, and an increasing number of academic research laboratories are in the late stages of developing paper-strip and other simple, daily Covid-19 tests. Some of the daily tests are in trials and proving highly effective.

The strips could be mass produced in a matter of weeks and freely supplied by the government to everyone in the country. The price per person would be from $1 to $5 a day, a considerable sum for the entire population, but remarkably cost effective.

Screening the population for infection, however, is different from determining whether someone is infected…

Would everyone take a paper-strip test every day? Here market incentives will surely help. Once they are provided to all, employers would likely require their workers to take time-dated pictures of their negative test results before coming to work. Colleges would require students to do the same before coming to class. Restaurants could accept reservations only if accompanied by negative-test pictures. In short, everyone will have an incentive to test themselves daily to participate fully in the economy and return to normal life.

Once paper strips’ efficacy is definitively proved and they are cleared by the F.D.A., Congress can quickly authorize the production and distribution, for free, of a year’s supply to all Americans. Then we’ll have not only a true day-to-day sense of Covid-19’s path. We’ll also have a far better means to quickly contain and end this terrible plague.

14) And here’s the kind of headline I love, too, “Need some good news about covid-19? Here are six reasons for optimism.”

Rapid, low-cost saliva tests are also coming, and, as my colleague Michael Mina and Laurence J. Kotlikoff recently pointed out, they are a game-changer. Why? These are like home pregnancy tests but for covid-19. Imagine a test you could take at home every day, that gives you an answer in a few minutes after spitting into a vial and costs only $1 to $5. Such a test would change our ability to slow outbreaks where early detection is everything. It would also help consumer confidence and slow down this economic crisis. Want to go to school or work or a Broadway show? Show your rapid test was negative. These tests are not perfectly accurate, but the counterintuitive part is that they don’t have to be. More important than accuracy are speed and frequency of testing.

The other 5 are good, too.  And, of course, my old mantra, monoclonal antibodies is included.

15) Solid ideas on re-opening schools safely.  Of course, #1 is not here– limit community spread, damnit!

16) I’m a life-long Redskins fan, but I get it, the name is overdue for a change.  But the Texas Rangers?  Sorry.  Especially when that is still the official name of a Texas law enforcement organization.

17) I usually try and aim for more like 8-10 feet when I can.  On the 6-foot rule:

  • The 2-metre social distancing rule assumes that the dominant routes of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are via respiratory large droplets falling on others or surfaces.
  • A one-size-fits-all 2-metre social distancing rule is not consistent with the underlying science of exhalations and indoor air. Such rules are based on an over-simplistic picture of viral transfer, which assume a clear dichotomy between large droplets and small airborne droplets emitted in isolation without accounting for the exhaled air. The reality involves a continuum of droplet sizes and an important role of the exhaled air that carries them.
  • Smaller airborne droplets laden with SARS-CoV-2 may spread up to 8 metres concentrated in exhaled air from infected individuals, even without background ventilation or airflow. Whilst there is limited direct evidence that live SARS-CoV-2 is significantly spread via this route, there is no direct evidence that it is not spread this way.
  • The risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission falls as physical distance between people increases, so relaxing the distancing rules, particularly for indoor settings, might therefore risk an increase in infection rates. In some settings, even 2 metres may be too close.
  • Safe transmission mitigation measures depend on multiple factors related to both the individual and the environment, including viral load, duration of exposure, number of individuals, indoor versus outdoor settings, level of ventilation and whether face coverings are worn.
  • Social distancing should be adapted and used alongside other strategies to reduce transmission, such as air hygiene, involving in part maximizing and adapting ventilation  to specific indoor spaces, effective hand washing, regular surface cleaning, face coverings where appropriate and prompt isolation of affected individuals.

18) Great stuff on herd immunity from James Hamblin:

Now, based on the U.S. response since February, Lipsitch believes that we’re still likely to see the virus spread to the point of becoming endemic. That would mean it is with us indefinitely, and the current pandemic would end when we reach levels of “herd immunity,” traditionally defined as the threshold at which enough people in a group have immune protection so the virus can no longer cause huge spikes in disease.

The concept of herd immunity comes from vaccination policy, in which it’s used to calculate the number of people who need to be vaccinated in order to ensure the safety of the population. But a coronavirus vaccine is still far off, and last month, Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that, because of a “general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling,” the U.S. is “unlikely” to achieve herd immunity even after a vaccine is available.

Back in February, Lipsitch gave a very rough estimate that, absent intervention, herd immunity might happen after 40 to 70 percent of the population had been infected. The idea of hitting this level of infection implied grim forecasts about disease and death. The case-fatality rate for COVID-19 is now very roughly 1 percent overall. In the absolute simplest, linear model, if 70 percent of the world were to get infected, that would mean more than 54 million deaths.

But the effects of the coronavirus are not linear. The virus affects individuals and populations in very different ways. The case-fatality rate varies drastically between adults under 40 and the elderly. This same characteristic variability of the virus—what makes it so dangerous in early stages of outbreaks—also gives a clue as to why those outbreaks could burn out earlier than initially expected. In countries with uncontained spread of the virus, such as the U.S., exactly what the herd-immunity threshold turns out to be could make a dramatic difference in how many people fall ill and die. Without a better plan, this threshold—the percentage of people who have been infected that would constitute herd immunity—seems to have become central to our fates.

Some mathematicians believe that it’s much lower than initially imagined. At least, it could be, if we choose the right future…

In normal times, herd immunity is calculated based on a standardized intervention with predictable results: vaccination. Everyone is exposed to the same (or very similar) immune-generating viral components. We are able to calculate what percentage of people need that exposure in order to develop meaningful immunity across the population.

This is not the case when a virus is spreading in the real world. Instead, the complexities of real life create what modelers refer to as heterogeneity. People are exposed to different amounts of the virus, in different contexts, via different routes. A virus that is new to the species creates more variety in immune responses. Some of us are more susceptible to being infected, and some are more likely to transmit the virus once infected. Even small differences in individual susceptibility and transmission can, as with any chaos phenomenon, lead to very different outcomes as the effects compound over time, on the scale of a pandemic. As Gomes explains, “There doesn’t need to be a lot of variation in a population for epidemics to slow down quite drastically.”…

Even if the two populations start out with the same average susceptibility to infection, you don’t get the same epidemics. “The outbreaks look similar at the beginning. But in the heterogeneous population, individuals are not infected at random,” she told me. “The highly susceptible people are more likely to get infected first. As a result, the average susceptibility gets lower and lower over time.”

Effects like this—“selective depletion” of people who are more susceptible—can quickly decelerate a virus’s spread. When Gomes uses this sort of pattern to model the coronavirus’s spread, the compounding effects of heterogeneity seem to show that the onslaught of cases and deaths seen in initial spikes around the world are unlikely to happen a second time. Based on data from several countries in Europe, she said, her results show a herd-immunity threshold much lower than that of other models.

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