The Covid things we are not doing

One of my great frustrations is all the things regarding Covid that science is getting increasingly clear on (or was already clear) and we’re just not doing.

0) All the stuff I’m not going to talk about because there’s already been plenty of talk about how our government has already failed so egregiously at testing and contact-tracing.  So, yeah, I’m talking about stuff somewhat off the radar that should be flashing brightly on the radar.

1) Get rapid, cheap tests up to massive scale and do it now!  Do it yesterday.  No, these tests are not nearly as sensitive as a PCR, but a whole bunch of widely available, widely used (and quickly reported!) tests is much better at slowing a pandemic than the gold standard tests that are expensive and are currently creating huge backups at labs.

2) Relatedly, enough with the nasopharyngeal swabs already!  Yes, they are a probably a little better than a saliva sample, but not much (and the plain old nasal swab that doesn’t feel like someone is rubbing your brain is pretty good, too).  And, they are basically a profligate use of PPE and trained medical personnel.

3) UVC light is a great disinfectant.  You’ve got to keep it off human skin, but there’s already systems that use it to kill germs through controlled ventilation (e.g., ceiling fans can pull it up to lights, etc.).  We should be massively investing in this.  And we should have been massively testing Far-UVC, which is seemingly safe for humans, yesterday, to make sure it actually is safe for humans.  It’s potentially a massive game-changer.

4) Indoor air quality in general.  Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation.  And better filters.  It’s not even close to a panacea, but combine good ventilation with good filtration with masks and we can live a lot safer.

5) As my increasingly good friend, BB, has pointed out– smell tests!  Yes, seriously.  Enough with the temperature taking– loss of smell is actually a more common symptom.  And, as one of the earliest symptoms more likely to notify of an infection when a person is in the major viral shedding stage.  Or at least, combine this with temperature taking, but, again, we should already have been doing this.  Adapt, people!

6) Other stuff.  I dunno, but there’s only so much I can pick up by spending too much time following epidemiology people on twitter.  There’s probably some other good ideas out there, too.

7) Months ago, KS and I dreamed about how much better things would be if Bill Gates were a Covid Czar.  Clearly, we’d not be in this current mess if he were.  But, I feel like if we had a remotely competent federal government, that appointed Gates or somebody like him today, we could get all this stuff– and other good things I probably don’t even know about– happening.  But, alas, we are still stuck in Trump’s America and life sucks and people are dying.

Don’t give in to the morons

Oh my this made me mad:

Citing safety concerns, Lowe’s Home Improvement said Tuesday it will not allow its workers to enforce the company’s new mandate that all shoppers wear face masks or facial coverings to combat COVID-19.

“Safety has been and continues to be our priority,” the company said in a statement to The Charlotte Observer. A handful of shoppers complained to the Observer and on the Lowe’s website about the lack of enforcement of the new mandate.

“We will not ask our associates to put their safety at risk by confronting customers about wearing masks, so we are consistently requesting that customers wear masks for the safety of everyone in our stores,” according to the company statement.

What about the fact that these maskless morons are what’s really putting their associates at risk?!  If I walk into Lowe’s barefoot and am just an angry jerk about it, I get to stay?  Is the point here that you get your way by being a belligerent asshole?  Obviously, it’s not great for Lowe’s associates to have to deal with these people, but giving in sure ain’t the answer.  It’s like buying all the candy in the grocery store for a tantruming toddler (which is what many of these maskless folks essentially are).

America has a risk budget and we’re spending it all wrong

Yglesias has started his own newsletter in support of his book coming out and he’s got a great post up on how we’re failing America’s children.  My school system (Wake County, NC) just decided we’re starting on-line only, so, hell yeah, we’re failing America’s children.  And parents!

Love the way he uses the idea of a risk budget and how we’re horribly mis-allocating it:

A lot of The Discourse on the school reopening question has focused on questions like “is it safe to operate schools?” or “how can schools be operated safely?”

But of course there’s no such thing as a safe/unsafe binary. You and a friend sitting outside in your back-yard seven feet apart while sharing some drinks is pretty safe. But it would be safer if you were 10 feet apart and wearing masks. It exists on a spectrum.

And it also exists in a social context. I’m in Maine right now where there are very few Covid cases and in particular I’m in Hancock County where 19 people have tested positive for Covid ever of whom one is dead and 16 have recovered. Under the circumstances, your odds with the back-yard drink are extremely good because not only is transmission fairly unlikely under those circumstances the baseline probability that there will be any virus to transmit is extremely low.

This means that as a society we should be thinking not so much about safe vs unsafe as about a risk budget. If the virus is under control, then letting a bit of moderately risky stuff happen is still pretty safe. But allowing a dozen different forms of moderately risky stuff happen ends up creating a large amount of risk. And the basic issue with schools is that however you slice it, school is definitely riskier than not-school. Mask compliance is likely to be imperfect. Students and staff need to eat and drink over the course of the day. The school day itself goes on for hours and hours. And while there’s plenty of steps you can and should take to maximize safety (in particular by shifting stuff to outdoors whenever possible), the basic reality is that in-person instruction is inherently risky.

But to me that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. What it means instead is that we should be allocating a very large share of our risk budget to schools. And we’re not...

t’s not a huge secret why cities and states have gone in this direction — bars and restaurants generate tax revenue. States and cities don’t want to go without it.

But of course the fiscal “saving” from prioritizing restaurants over schools is just a way of (a) pushing uncompensated labor onto parents, and (b) compromising children’s long-term future. That seems like a bad choice to me. But it’s one that elected officials from both parties are making all across the country.

Needless to say, the federal government could have made the whole situation a lot better by using its own fiscal powers more responsibly. A big targeted bailout of the food service sector conditional on states barring unmasked indoor activity + provision of financial aid to state and local government would have made everything better. But Republicans don’t like spending money on domestic programs even when doing so would advance the conservative movement’s nominal interests in childbearing and family life. That’s something you see over and over and over again in American public policy — market capitalism is very hostile to human beings who want to raise children, and when push comes to shove the Republican Party never wants to do much of anything about that.

Democrats are much more open to spending money on stuff, including on kids, but they don’t prioritize it.

Great points and a great way to think about these issues.  And so, so frustrating.

How Biden’s laying low strategy is the right strategy

Ezra Klein’s great post is headlined, “How Biden is winning,” but that’s simple… he’s facing a very unpopular incumbent in a bad economy.  Bernie Sanders would likely also be winning handily right now.

But, the reality is also that Biden is almost surely winning by a larger margin than most any other Democrat would be right now.  Part of that is his old white dude-ness.  Part of it is that he’s seen as more moderate than other Democrats.  But, as Ezra points out, he’s also got exactly the right strategy for the times we are in:

After the 2016 election, panicked, wounded Democrats settled on a diagnosis. Trump, for all his mania, bigotry, and chaos, had given angry Americans something to vote for. To stop him, Democrats would need to match force with counter-force, polarization with mobilization. They would need to show as much anger, as much populism, as much wrecking ball energy as he did.

Biden is running — and, for now, winning — by defying that diagnosis. He is executing a careful, quiet campaign focused less on thrilling his partisans than denying Trump the boogeyman he needs to reenergize his base. It’s a campaign that frustrates liberal activists and pundits because it repeatedly, routinely denies them the excitement and collisions that structure modern politics. It’s also, for that reason, a campaign that is frustrating Trump and Fox News, which is why they keep trying to run against Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar instead

The key to Biden’s success is simple: He’s slicing into Trump’s coalition, pulling back the older, whiter voters Democrats lost in 2016. The Biden campaign’s insight is that mobilization is often the flip side of polarization: When party activists are sharply divided by ideology and demography, what excites your side will be the very thing that unnerves the other side. Studies of House elections show this dynamic in action: Ideologically extreme candidates perform worse than moderates because they drive up turnout on the other side.

Biden’s theory of wavering Trump voters is the same as his theory of wavering Republican senators: He thinks they want to vote with him but need help getting over their political hang-ups about voting for a Democrat. And so he is trying to give them that help. He praises the old Republican Party, refuses to pick a side in American politics’ hottest fights. Biden has resisted calls to abolish private insurance, ban fracking, decriminalize immigration, and defund the police. It’s cost him enthusiasm on the left, but it has denied Trump the clear foil he needs. That’s left Trump confused, pathetically insisting Biden holds positions Biden doesn’t hold and getting fact-checked live on Fox…

Biden’s ability to neutralize negative polarization is grimly intertwined with his identity. Biden is an older, white man from Pennsylvania, and that is helping him with the older, whiter voters who make up Trump’s base. And he knows it. In a comment both depressing and true, Biden said, “I think there’s a lot of sexism in the way they went after Hillary. I think it was unfair. An awful lot of it. Well, that’s not gonna happen with me.” …

“On the big issues — the stuff voters will notice — he doesn’t want to be seen as particularly polarizing or divisive,” says political scientist Seth Masket, who is completing a book on the lessons Democrats learned from 2016. “But while your average voter won’t pay much attention to the more technical policy concessions, they turn out to have a lot of meaning behind them, and the Democratic activists you want working for your campaign and staffing your organization notice them.”

All this has given Biden the opportunity to run the campaign he’s most comfortable with, and most suited to run. A campaign that’s more about giving people who don’t agree with him on everything permission to vote for him, rather than a campaign about mobilizing his own base. It might not work in every year, against every opponent, but it’s working this year, against this one.

Personally, nothing in politics excites me more than the prospect of defeating Trump and thereby restoring actual democracy.  So, consider me excited for Biden and glad he’s the nominee.

How to understand, race, education, (and everything) in American politics

This Eric Levitz interview with (recently fired/canceled) David Shor is so, so, so good.  It’s long, but so worth reading as Shor has so much good (and so much research-based) stuff to say on contemporary American politics.

This parts about racial attitudes and education struck me as particularly good:

What is the definition of racist in this context?

Ah, right. People yell at me on Twitter about this. So working-class white people have an enormous amount of political power and they’re trending towards the Republican Party. It would be really ideologically convenient if the reason they’re doing that was because Democrats embraced neoliberalism. But it’s pretty clear that that isn’t true.

I think that winning back these voters is important. So if I was running for office, I would definitely say that the reason these voters turned against us is because Democrats failed to embrace economic populism. I think that’s sound political messaging. But in terms of what actually drove it, the numbers are pretty clear. It’s like theoretically possible to imagine a voter who voted for Democrats their whole life and then voted for Trump out of frustration with Obamacare or trade or whatever. And I’m sure that tons of those voters exist, but they’re not representative.

When you take the results of the 2012 and 2016 elections, and model changes in Democratic vote share, you see the biggest individual-level predictor for vote switching was education; college-educated people swung toward Democrats and non-college-educated people swung toward Republicans. But, if you ask a battery of “racial resentment” questions — stuff like, “Do you think that there are a lot of white people who are having trouble finding a job because nonwhite people are getting them instead?” or, “Do you think that white people don’t have enough influence in how this country is run?” — and then control for the propensity to answer those questions in a racially resentful way, education ceases to be the relevant variable: Non-college-educated white people with low levels of racial resentment trended towards us in 2016, and college-educated white people with high levels of racial resentments turned against us. [emphases mine]

You can say, “Oh, you know, the way that political scientists measure racial resentment is a class marker because college-educated people know that they’re not supposed to say politically incorrect things.” But when you look at Trump’s support in the Republican primary, it correlated pretty highly with, uh … racially charged … Google search words. So you had this politician who campaigned on an anti-immigrant and anti–political correctness platform. And then he won the votes of a large group of swing voters, and vote switching was highly correlated with various individual level measures of racial resentment — and, on a geographic level, was correlated with racist search terms. At some point, you have to be like, oh, actually, these people were motivated by racism. It’s just an important fact of the world.

I think people take the wrong conclusions from it. The fight I saw on Twitter after the 2016 election was one group of people saying the Obama-to-Trump voters are racist and irredeemable, and that’s why we need to focus on the suburbs. And then you had leftists saying, “Actually these working-class white people were betrayed by decades of neoliberalism and we just need to embrace socialism and win them back, we can’t trust people in the suburbs.” And I think the real synthesis of these views is that Obama-to-Trump voters are motivated by racism. But they’re really electorally important, and so we have to figure out some way to get them to vote for us.

How should Democrats do that?

So there’s a big constellation of issues. The single biggest way that highly educated people who follow politics closely are different from everyone else is that we have much more ideological coherence in our views.

If you decided to create a survey scorecard, where on every single issue — choice, guns, unions, health care, etc. — you gave people one point for choosing the more liberal of two policy options, and then had 1,000 Americans fill it out, you would find that Democratic elected officials are to the left of 90 to 95 percent of people.

And the reason is that while voters may have more left-wing views than Joe Biden on a few issues, they don’t have the same consistency across their views. There are like tons of pro-life people who want higher taxes, etc. There’s a paper by the political scientist David Broockman that made this point really famous — that “moderate” voters don’t have moderate views, just ideologically inconsistent ones. Some people responded to media coverage of that paper by saying, “Oh, people are just answering these surveys randomly, issues don’t matter.” But that’s not actually what the paper showed. In a separate section, they tested the relevance of issues by presenting voters with hypothetical candidate matchups — here’s a politician running on this position, and another politician running on the opposite — and they found that issue congruence was actually very important for predicting who people voted for.

So this suggests there’s a big mass of voters who agree with us on some issues, and disagree with us on others. And whenever we talk about a given issue, that increases the extent to which voters will cast their ballots on the basis of that issue.

Mitt Romney and Donald Trump agreed on basically every issue, as did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And yet, a bunch of people changed their votes. And the reason that happened was because the salience of various issues changed. Both sides talked a lot more about immigration, and because of that, correlation between preferences on immigration and which candidate people voted for went up. In 2012, both sides talked about health care. In 2016, they didn’t. And so the correlation between views on health care and which candidate people voted for went down.

So this means that every time you open your mouth, you have this complex optimization problem where what you say gains you some voters and loses you other voters. But this is actually cool because campaigns have a lot of control over what issues they talk about.

Non-college-educated whites, on average, have very conservative views on immigration, and generally conservative racial attitudes. But they have center-left views on economics; they support universal health care and minimum-wage increases. So I think Democrats need to talk about the issues they are with us on, and try really hard not to talk about the issues where we disagree. Which, in practice, means not talking about immigration…

In describing the Democrats’ troubles with non-college-educated white voters earlier, you put a lot of emphasis on discrete decisions that the Hillary Clinton campaign made. But, in my understanding, the 2016 election just accelerated a preexisting trend: In both the United States and Western Europe, non-college-educated voters have been drifting right for decades. Doesn’t that suggest that something larger than any given campaign’s messaging choices is at work here?  

That’s a great point. I used to spend a lot of time trying to figure out, you know, “Where did things go wrong?” You see Matt Stoller and Ryan Grim do this, where you try to pinpoint the moment in time when Democratic elites decided to turn their backs on the working class and embrace neoliberalism. Maybe it was the Watergate babies. Maybe it was the failure to repeal Taft-Hartley. Maybe it was Bill Clinton in 1992.

But then you read about other countries and you see that the same story is happening everywhere. It happened in England with Tony Blair. It happened in Germany with Gerhard Schröder. The thing that really got me was reading about the history of PASOK, the Social Democratic Party in Greece. And you’re reading about an election in the 1990s where it’s like, “the right-wing New Democracy party made gains with working-class voters,” and you realize there are broader forces at work here.

So why is this happening? The story that makes the most sense to me goes like this: In the postwar era, college-educated professionals were maybe 4 percent of the electorate. Which meant that basically no voters had remotely cosmopolitan values. But the flip side of this is that this educated 4 percent still ran the world. Both parties at this point were run by this highly educated, cosmopolitan minority that held a bunch of values that undergirded the postwar consensus, around democracy and rule of law, and all these things.

Obviously, these people were more right wing on a bunch of social issues than their contemporary counterparts, but during that era, both parties were run by just about the most cosmopolitan segments of society. And there were also really strong gatekeepers. This small group of highly educated people not only controlled the commanding heights of both the left and the right, but also controlled the media. There were only a small number of TV stations — in other countries, those stations were even run by the government. And both sides knew it wasn’t electorally advantageous to campaign on cosmopolitan values.

So, as a result, campaigns centered around this cosmopolitan elite’s internal disagreements over economic issues. But over the past 60 years, college graduates have gone from being 4 percent of the electorate to being more like 35. Now, it’s actually possible — for the first time ever in human history — for political parties to openly embrace cosmopolitan values and win elections; certainly primary and municipal elections, maybe even national elections if you don’t push things too far or if you have a recession at your back. And so Democratic elites started campaigning on the things they’d always wanted to, but which had previously been too toxic. And so did center-left parties internationally.

What is your understanding of why there’s such a profound divide between college-educated and non-college-educated people on these so-called cosmopolitan issues?

Education is highly correlated with openness to new experiences; basically, there’s this divide where some people react positively to novel things and others react less positively. And there’s evidence that this relationship is causal. In Europe, when countries raised their mandatory schooling age from 16 to 18, the first generation of students who remained in school longer had substantially more liberal views on immigration than their immediate predecessors. And then, college-educated people are also more willing to try strange foods or travel abroad. So it really seems like education makes people more open to new experiences.

But politically, this manifests on immigration. And it’s ironclad. You can look at polling from the 1940s on whether America should take in Jewish refugees, and college-educated people wanted to and non-college-educated people didn’t. It’s true cross-nationally — like, working-class South Africans oppose taking in refugees from Zimbabwe, while college-educated South Africans support taking them in.

Other research has shown that messaging centered around the potential for cooperation and positive-sum change really appeals to educated people, while messaging that emphasizes zero-sum conflict resonates much more with non-college-educated people. Arguably, this is because college-educated professionals live really blessed lives filled with mutually beneficial exchange, while negative-sum conflicts play a very big part of working-class people’s lives, in ways that richer people are sheltered from. But it manifests in a lot of ways and leads to divergent political attitudes.

When tribal/polarized politics leads to awful governance

So, I was reading with dismay last night about the incredibly stupid Republican plans at economic stimulus.  Hello– payroll tax cut?  People who don’t have jobs don’t have payroll taxes.  Meanwhile, get the virus down and give schools the money they need to adapt, don’t try and blackmail schools!  Meanwhile, we are potentially on the verge of an economic cliff. 

It’s not just Trump (but, clearly he’s the driver of much of the worst of this), but how can the whole damn entirety of Republicans in Congress be this stupid.  Don’t they want to get re-elected?  But, ahhhh, there’s the rub.  So many voters will vote for Republican no matter what, even if they watch them drive the American economy into the ground.  Give the people the cultural grievance they crave (other people who don’t really belong here or who aren’t “real” Americans like you are taking what you deserve!!) and they’ll keep voting for you even as you immiserate them.  

Now, there actually really will be some very real political impacts from this awful governance– Trump will likely lose and Republicans are on track to lose the Senate– but in a remotely just world, Republicans would just be wiped out in November.  And they should be working like hell (and trying to fix things!) to keep that from happening.  But since most of them are still in relatively safe seats and get by with the cultural grievance squirrel(!!) we’re stuck with awful, awful governance.  

squirrel!!! - Distracted Dug | Meme Generator

Fascism, cancel culture, and perspective

Been meaning to write a post on cancel culture– haven’t gotten around to it.  Been meaning to write a post on the horror that is the fascistic use of unidentified federal agents in American cities against the will of local/state authorities– haven’t gotten around to it.  Let’s be clear, the latter is exponentially worse.  We’re talking absolutely basic rule of law type stuff here.  We’re talking true authoritarianism.  We’re talking every decent American needs to rise up against this.

And you know what, I can say that and when cancel culture comes up, still say that too many leftists go too far in circumscribing public discourse and calling whatever opinions they may disagree with “ists” and “isms” and implying that those holding those opinions are bad people.  Some of the time they are, but not nearly as much as the overly-woke would have you believe.

I’m just really tired of all the, “how can you can complain about cancel culture given the horror show from Trump?!”  Also… watch me walk and chew gum.  I’m also perfectly capable of complaining about the horror that is Trumpism and my daily quibbles with various functions of Zoom or my 9-year refusing to read enough.  Trump and his Republican enablers are an absolute horror show and a scary-as-hell threat to American democracy as we know it.  That’s far and away my foremost concern right now as a political scientist and as a citizen.  That doesn’t mean I cannot also be concerned that some on the left are too-ready to attribute bad faith and shut down discussion.  Perspective, please!

[And, while I’m at it, Matt Taibbi on cancel culture is great.  That said, for Taibbi to be complaining about a lack of nuance– even though he’s very right– is more than a little bit rich]

I’m mad as hell, but I’ve got no choice but to take it

Because I live in America, which is basically a failed state right now.  We were so lucky that nothing really bad happened with Trump for 3 years, but damn has his bottomless awfulness and incompetence blown up in our faces with this pandemic.  Paul Waldman is exactly right, “If you aren’t filled with rage at Trump, you aren’t paying attention”

Let me take you for a moment to a fantasy land. In this place, the coronavirus pandemic was bad for a couple of months but now it is largely under control. If you lived there you’d still be a little uncertain about going to a concert or a movie, but your life would have largely returned to normal.

You wouldn’t have lost your job; the government would have had a comprehensive support program that kept unemployment low. You’d be able to see your family and friends without fear. Your children would be returning to school in September. There would be some precautions to take for a while longer, but there would be no doubt that the pandemic was on its way to being defeated.

To us here in the United States, this picture seems magical, like a dispatch from the far future. But it isn’t. It’s the situation that exists right now in many of our peer countries around the world. And the fact that our situation is so different? That shouldn’t just make you feel disappointed, or anxious, or upset.

It should make you enraged. That is the proper response to where we find ourselves today.

Let’s begin with the situation in other countries. Here are new case totals from Monday for a few of our peer countries:

  • France: 580
  • UK: 564
  • Spain: 546
  • Germany: 365
  • Canada: 299
  • Japan: 259
  • Italy: 200
  • Australia: 158
  • South Korea: 52

And the United States? 55,300.

Some of these countries were in extremely bad shape for a time, but with sane leadership and a population willing to work together, they’re in the process of defeating the pandemic. But not us.

There are many reasons we have experienced this catastrophe (and it quickly became two catastrophes, an economic crisis added to the public health crisis), but one stands above all others: President Trump.

Is there a single aspect of his response to this pandemic that has not been a miserable failure? For weeks he ignored warnings and denied that the pandemic would be a problem. He didn’t prepare the equipment and systems we’d need to respond.

And he demanded that everyone around him echo his insane claims that everything is under control and the pandemic is being vanquished. It was a month ago that Vice President Pence pathetically proclaimed that “we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,” and the administration’s great success was “cause for celebration.”

And now, rather than working harder to contain the pandemic, the White House has begun a furious campaign to discredit the federal government’s chief infectious-disease specialist, Anthony S. Fauci, who has had the temerity to admit that things aren’t going well. Trump himself has clearly decided that he’s bored of worrying about the pandemic, so he’ll stop trying to do anything about it. With over 135,000 Americans dead and counting.

So, yeah, I’m mad as hell.  And I’m madder than hell at his Republican enablers who have allowed his uniquely awful administration to continue to be uniquely awful. I think Ted Cruz, for example, is a horrible human being, but I strongly suspect he would’ve done way better against Covid.  Honestly, it’s almost hard to imagine any American politician remotely close to the presidency who could have done this bad.  To paraphrase a tweet the other day (forgot who) “imagine if Trump were on the virus’ payroll– would he even be doing anything any differently?”  Ummm, no?

It’s all so depressing.  Our politics have completely failed us.  Our society has failed us as it has been so poisoned by our toxic politics that somehow not wearing a mask is taken as a sign of “freedom!!” instead of the selfish and threatening to others act it really is.

January 20 cannot come soon enough.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Dahlia Lithwick on Mary Trump’s book:

The book is thus actually styled as an indictment not of Donald Trump but of Trump’s enablers. The epigraph is from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and it’s emphatically not about Donald John Trump at all: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.” Mary Trump blames Fred Trump for Donald Trump’s pathology, although she doesn’t claim that her uncle is a tragic victim of abuse. She blames his family that propped him up (also her family, it should be noted), and then in concentric and expanding circles, the media that failed to scrutinize him, the banks that pretended he was the financial genius he was not, the Republican Party, and the “claque of loyalists” in the White House who continue to lie for him and to him in order to feed his insatiable ego and self-delusion. Even the phrase “too much and never enough” is perhaps deliberately borrowed from the language of addiction, and what Mary Trump describes here is not just her uncle’s addiction to adulation, fame, money, and success, but a nation’s—or some part of a nation’s—unfathomable addiction to him…

The bulk of the book focuses on the tale of Mary and her brother Fritz’s abandonment by the rest of the Trump clan. Her father, Freddy, the scion and namesake, failed to be the storybook heir to her grandfather’s real estate empire, instead collapsing into a tragic black hole of alcoholism, illness, and despair. Donald Trump, Freddy’s younger brother, not only helped push Freddy down but also stepped on his sinking shoulders on his way into the empty, Freddy-shaped space to become his father’s successor. And as Freddy’s parents and three other siblings altered their lives and priorities in order to orbit around Donald, Mary and her brother were eventually written out of the wills, the empire, and the family story, as payback for their father’s perceived weakness and failures. This is all tragic in its own right, but it also makes Mary, who has been let down by the so-called adults in the room almost since her infancy, perfectly positioned to explain and translate what happens to otherwise high-functioning adults—her aunt Maryanne, a competent federal judge; the lawyers and accountants tasked with fulfilling Donald’s whims and hiding his failings; the sycophants and Republicans and evangelical Christians who support his campaign unquestioningly; and the officials who now populate the Senate, the Cabinet, and the Oval Office. All of them appear to be reasonably mentally sound. Yet they all cover for Donald, at the expense of real suffering and genuine human loss, just as the Trump clan ignored Freddy’s disintegration and death. Mary Trump’s childhood trauma has become America’s trauma, and she really wants to know how that came to be. Again…

Mary Trump’s words there could just as easily be true for John Kelly, Kellyanne Conway, John Bolton, Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, or Melania Trump. And as Mary Trump is quick to observe, the sheer stuck-ness of his enablers means that Trump never, ever learns his lesson. Being cosseted, lied to, defended, and puffed up means that Donald Trump knows that, “no matter what happens, no matter how much damage he leaves in his wake, he will be OK.” He fails up, in other words, because everyone around him, psychologically normal beings all, ends up so enmeshed with his delusions that they must do anything necessary to protect them. Trump’s superpower isn’t great vision or great leadership but rather that he is so tiny. Taking him on for transactional purposes may seem like not that big a deal at first, but the moment you put him in your pocket, you become his slave. It is impossible to escape his orbit without having to admit a spectacular failure in moral and strategic judgment, which almost no one can stomach. Donald Trump’s emptiness is simply a mirror of the emptiness of everyone who propped him up. It’s that reflection that becomes unendurable. This pattern, as Mary writes, “guaranteed a cascade of increasingly consequential failures that would ultimately render all of us collateral damage.” Nobody, not even Mary, who signed on briefly to ghostwrite one of his books, ends up just a little bit beholden to Donald Trump and that includes his rapturous supporters who still queue up, maskless, to look upon his greatness. As she concludes, his sociopathy “reminds me that Donald isn’t really the problem at all.” That makes hers something other than the 15th book about the fathoms-deep pathologies of Donald Trump: It is the first real reckoning with all those who “caused the darkness.”

2) Reason on Steven Pinker and cancel culture.

3) Still think cancel culture isn’t real?  Read the sad story about how Glenn Greenwald has been thwarted in trying to make a Martina Navratilova movie because Navratilova had the awfulness and bigotry to suggest that, just maybe, it should take more than saying “I identify as a woman now” for a person to compete in female athletics.

4) German study on low Covid transmission in schools.

5) South Korean study finds that kids under 10 really do transmit at very low rates, but kids over 10 are as bad as adults (seems to me to be a real mistake, though, to leave a single 10-19 category).

6) I’m not a poker guy at all, but Maria Konnikova’s new book sounds pretty good.  Wired, “Poker and the Psychology of Uncertainty: The game has plenty to teach about making decisions with the cards we’ve been dealt—on and off the table.”

7) David Hopkins on how, it really does look like Joe Biden was simply the most electable Democrat competing for the nomination (and why, in retrospect, I’m quite glad he’s the nominee):

From one perspective, the electability argument for Biden has been completely vindicated. Biden has opened up a bigger lead over Trump in the national popular vote than any candidate has enjoyed at this stage since Bill Clinton coasted to re-election in 1996, and he is so well-positioned in the electoral college that the battleground map has expanded into the traditional red territory of Arizona, Georgia, and even Texas. The Trump campaign has proven unable as of yet to land a damaging punch on Biden, and has even struggled to find a promising line of attack.

Biden hasn’t been as invisible a candidate as some critics claim, but his campaign activities during the pandemic have not generated much sustained attention. Because journalists do not find the very familiar Biden to be a particularly fruitful source of interesting stories, the national media has been focusing instead almost entirely on Trump, and Trump’s spiraling political problems, since the Democratic nomination wrapped up after Super Tuesday. The relative novelty of nearly every other major potential nominee—Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg—would have attracted more coverage from the media and pulled the spotlight away from Trump much more frequently…

Because we lack access to the parallel universes in which other nominees were chosen, it’s impossible to completely settle the electability debate. However, enough evidence now exists to shed light on two claims made by some advocates of non-Biden candidates in the 2020 Democratic primaries. One is that there are so few remaining swing voters in our current age of rampant polarization that mobilization of the party base is more productive than trying to achieve a broader appeal, and the other is that a Biden nomination would not excite enough voters on the left to stimulate this necessary mobilization.

Both of these claims have already been contradicted by the polls. Biden wouldn’t have pulled into the strong lead he now holds if he weren’t drawing significant support from previous Republican voters. (According to recent surveys by the New York Times, 14 percent of battleground state residents who supported Trump in 2016 are not supporting him in 2020.) After years of media stories about Trump’s skill in stoking the passionate devotion of his own party, the last few months have forced a widespread journalistic rediscovery of the importance of swing voters and the danger of Trump’s declining popularity among this still-pivotal bloc. And while Biden himself doesn’t inspire as much personal enthusiasm among Democrats as Trump does among many Republicans, overall levels of interest in the election are equal across party lines: Democratic voters are as motivated to vote against the president as Republicans are to vote for him.

8) If you pay attention to policing reform issues, you’ve surely heard a lot of the success of Camden, NJ.  Nice NYT article takes a look at how they’ve gotten it done.

9) Sarah Longwell on women and Joe Biden:

One of the great mysteries of 2016 was why so many women voted for Donald Trump.

Despite being caught on a hot mic talking about grabbing women “by the pu**y,” nearly 20 sexual assault allegations, and well known accounts of treating his multiple wives horribly, Trump still received the votes of 44 percent of white college-educated women and 61 percent of non-college-educated white women.

Many observers were doubly confused because they had expected Hillary Clinton, as the first major party female nominee, to be especially strong with women. And she wasn’t. Trump did poorly with African-American and Hispanic women, because he did poorly with all African-Americans and Hispanics. But he managed to actually win a narrow plurality among white women.

But that mystery has been easy to solve. Over the last three years I conducted dozens of focus groups with both college-educated and non-college-educated female Trump voters. And the answer given most commonly for why they voted for Donald Trump is “I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I voted against Hillary Clinton.”

In 2016, Democrats understood that Hillary Clinton was a deeply polarizing candidate. But even they didn’t grasp the full magnitude of it. Right-leaning and Republican female voters had spent more than a decade hating both Clintons, and they didn’t stop just because Hillary’s opponent was an unrepentant misogynist…

After nearly three years of conducting focus groups with women who held their nose and voted for Trump in 2016, this decline hasn’t surprised me. He was holding on to many of those voters with a wing and a prayer and strong economy. When everything began to fall apart, these female Trump leaners went running for the exits.

From the beginning of his presidency these women gave Trump low marks for his tweeting and divisiveness—but they also gave him credit for the strong economy and relative prosperity of the last few years.

His perceived business acumen was one of the top reasons many of these women were willing to take a flyer on him in the first place. Never forget that for many Americans, their impressions of Trump were formed less by his presidential campaign than by his role on The Apprentice where he was, through the wonders of editing and reality TV storytelling, presented as a decisive, successful businessman.

In late 2019 and early 2020 with a roaring economy and a bunch of abstract foreign policy scandals consuming the media and the elites whom these voters generally despise and distrust, even Trump-voting-women who rated the president’s performance as “very bad” weren’t entirely sure what they would do in 2020. There was still a crowded field of Democratic candidates—many of whom were living, breathing representations of the far-left caricature that Republicans paint of Democrats.

But by March of 2020, everything had changed.

First, Joe Biden blew out Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic field.

In my focus groups, Biden had consistently outperformed all other Democrats among the female Trump voters who were souring on the president. In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, almost none of the women would take Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren over Trump, but a handful would typically (if not enthusiastically) pick Biden over Trump.

It cannot be overstated how much better of a candidate Joe Biden is for attracting disaffected Republican voters—especially women—than any of the other Democrats who ran this cycle.

10) Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes on the true awfulness of the Stone commutation:

President Trump’s commutation of the prison sentence of his longtime confidante Roger Stone is wholly unsurprising. Indeed, given Trump’s repeated teasing of the matter over the life of the case against Stone, it would have been something of a surprise had he not intervened so that his felonious friend was spared time behind bars.

But the predictable nature of Trump’s action should not obscure its rank corruption. In fact, the predictability makes the commutation all the more corrupt, the capstone of an all-but-open attempt on the president’s part to obstruct justice in a self-protective fashion over a protracted period of time. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s actually not. Trump publicly encouraged Stone not to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation, he publicly dangled clemency as a reward for silence, and he has now delivered. The act is predictable precisely because the corrupt action is so naked.

In a normal world, this pattern of conduct would constitute an almost prototypical impeachable offense. But this is not a normal world. Congress is unlikely to bestir itself to do anything about what Trump has done—just as it has previously done nothing about the obstruction allegations detailed in the Mueller report. Indeed, in the midst of a presidential campaign, a second impeachment would surely be ill advised. The only remedy for this behavior, at least while Trump remains in office, has to lie in accountability in the context of Trump’s campaign for reelection.

That is why it is so important to understand the history that led to the Stone commutation, just how corrupt it is, and why the predictability of the president’s action actually inflames public outrage—not inures the public to what Trump has done here.

Roger Stone isn’t just Trump’s confidante or friend. According to newly unsealed material in the Mueller report, he’s also a person who had the power to reveal to investigators that Trump likely lied to Mueller—and to whom Trump publicly dangled rewards if Stone refused to provide Mueller with that information. Now, it seems, the president is making good on that promise.

11) Colin Wright on science, sex, evolution and the politics of transgender:

The formula for each of these articles is straightforward. First, they list a multitude of intersex conditions. Second, they detail the genes, hormones, and complex developmental processes leading to these conditions. And, third and finally, they throw their hands up and insist this complexity means scientists have no clue what sex really is. This is all highly misleading and deceiving (self-deceiving?), since the developmental processes involved in creating any organ are enormously complex, yet almost always produce fully functional end products. Making a hand is complicated too, but the vast majority of us end up with the functional, five-fingered variety.

What these articles leave out is the fact that the final result of sex development in humans are unambiguously male or female over 99.98 percent of the time. Thus, the claim that “2 sexes is overly simplistic” is misleading, because intersex conditions correspond to less than 0.02 percent of all births, and intersex people are not a third sex. Intersex is simply a catch-all category for sex ambiguity and/or a mismatch between sex genotype and phenotype, regardless of its etiology. Furthermore, the claim that “sex is a spectrum” is also misleading, as a spectrum implies a continuous distribution, and maybe even an amodal one (one in which no specific outcome is more likely than others). Biological sex in humans, however, is clear-cut over 99.98 percent of the time. Lastly, the claim that classifying people’s sex based on anatomy and genetics “has no basis in science” has itself no basis in reality, as any method exhibiting a predictive accuracy of over 99.98 percent would place it among the most precise methods in all the life sciences. We revise medical care practices and change world economic plans on far lower confidence than that.

Despite the unquestionable reality of biological sex in humans, social justice and trans activists continue to push this belief, and respond with outrage when challenged. Pointing out any of the above facts is now considered synonymous with transphobia. The massive social media website Twitter—the central hub for cultural discourse and debate—is now actively banning users for stating true facts about basic human biology. And biologists like myself often sit quietly, afraid to defend our own field out of fear that our decade of education followed by continued research, job searches, and the quest for tenure might be made obsolete overnight if the mob decides to target one of us for speaking up. Because of this, our objections take place almost entirely between one another in private whisper networks, despite the fact that a majority of biologists are extremely troubled by these attacks to our field by social justice activists. This is an untenable situation.

It is undoubtedly true that trans people lead very difficult lives, which are only made more difficult by the bigotry of others. But social justice activists appear completely unwilling or unable to distinguish between people who criticize their ideology and people who criticize their humanity. Their social immune system appears so sensitive that it consumes itself. We need to acknowledge that trans issues and ideology are complex, and concern one of the most marginalized communities in the world. Because of this, we must give these issues the respect they deserve by approaching them with nuance and compassion instead of crudeness and cruelty. But we must not jettison truth in this process. If social justice activists require scientists to reject evolution and the reality of biological sex to be considered good allies, then we can never be good allies.

My short take… treat trans people with all the respect, kindness, and dignity that all humans deserve!  Really!  Please!  But, don’t pretend like we need to distort science to say things that it doesn’t in order to do so.  Or, say people are anti-trans bigots if they believe it is important to stick to these scientific fundamentals.

12) Krugman, “America Drank Away Its Children’s Future”

None of this had to happen. Other countries stuck with their lockdowns long enough to reduce infections to rates much lower than those prevailing here; Covid-19 death rates per capita in the European Union are only a 10th those in the United States — and falling — while ours are rising fast. As a result, they’re in a position to reopen schools fairly safely.

Would a longer lockdown have been economically sustainable? Yes.

It’s true that strong social distancing requirements led to high unemployment and hurt many businesses. But even America, with its ramshackle social safety net, was able to provide enough disaster relief — don’t call it stimulus! — to protect most of its citizens from severe hardship.

Thanks largely to expanded unemployment benefits, poverty didn’t soar during the lockdown. By some measures it may even have gone down.

True, there were holes in that safety net, and many people did suffer. But we could have patched those holes. Yes, emergency relief costs a lot of money, but we can afford it: The federal government has been borrowing huge sums, but interest rates have remained near historical lows.

Put it this way: At its most severe, the lockdown seems to have reduced G.D.P. by a little over 10 percent. During World War II, America spent more than 30 percent of G.D.P. on defense, for more than three years. Why couldn’t we absorb a much smaller cost for a few months?

But that was the road not taken. Instead, many states not only rushed to reopen, they reopened stupidly. Instead of being treated as a cheap, effective way to fight contagion, face masks became a front in the culture war. Activities that posed an obvious risk of feeding the pandemic went unchecked: Large gatherings were permitted, bars reopened.

And the cost of those parties and open bars extends beyond the thousands of Americans who will be killed or suffer permanent health damage as a result of Covid-19’s resurgence. The botched reopening has also endangered something that, unlike drinking in groups, can’t be suspended without doing long-run damage: in-person education.

13) This is so true, “Trump Promotes Caricature of What Conservatives Want”

14) David Graham, “How Trump Closed Down the Schools: The president is demanding that classes resume this fall—but his own failures are forcing districts to shut their doors.”

Few things have captured Donald Trump’s fickle attention for long during the pandemic, but for the past 10 days, the president has been highly focused on one issue. He has insisted on the need for America’s schools to reopen in August with students in classrooms five days a week, hoping that this might revive the economy, and with it his reelection chances in November. It ought to be an easy sell, because polling shows that parents want their children in class and teachers want to be there too. But there’s a catch: They want to know it’s safe, and the federal government’s failure to manage the pandemic means many districts don’t think it is.

After months of mishandling the coronavirus, from initial indifference to hasty declarations of victory, Trump has now tried to bully schools into reopening. He has denounced guidelines established by his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as overly strict, and sought to take funding away from districts. But it isn’t working. New York City, the nation’s largest school district, will reopen classrooms only on a limited basis. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest district, announced together with the San Diego Unified School District that they would not reopen classrooms at the start of the school year.

“There’s a consensus even across political divides: The best place for students to learn is in school,” Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, told me. But, he said, given the rate of community spread in the L.A. area, “it’s not practical, it’s not safe, and it’s not appropriate for the health of all in the school community to be at school.”

The country’s inability to reopen schools is the yardstick by which to measure all of the accumulated failures of the American response to COVID-19. Instead of uniting Americans behind the project of reopening schools, restoring the most important service that has not returned since the start of the pandemic, the Trump administration has politicized the debate. It is asking districts to solve problems—testing, tracing, community spread—that every other level of government has thus far failed to solve, but not providing funding to do so. In fact, Trump is threatening to cut funding to school districts that do not reopen.

15) Good stuff from the government of Canada on the relative prevalence of Covid symptoms.  Love the idea of my friend BB who suggested that screening people by smell might well be more useful than screening for fever.  Or better yet, use both.

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.



Yes Covid is airborne; no don’t freak out

Kind of like everything about Covid.  The evidence seems pretty clear that some non-trivial portion of the time, Covid spreads through the air not just by droplets (which typically quickly fall to the ground in 6 feet or less), but by tiny, tiny aerosols that can hang around for a while.  Here’s one recent estimate of the relative frequency of proportion of transmission:

There’s still a fair amount of controversy, but it does, nonethless, seem pretty clear that there’s indoor situations where just wearing a mask six feet apart (droplets) and washing your hands & not touching your face (fomites) are not enough and aerosols may well get you.  And, “airborne” transmission is inherently scary because it is harder to protect yourself and airborne diseases (like measles and chickenpox) tend to be highly contagious.  But, it’s clear that Covid-19 is, at least some of the time airborne, and not highly contagious.  (Really, remember the modal person with Covid spreads it to 0 other people).  Based on my amateur epidemiology I was thinking that there must just be a high dose of aerosols necessary to infect a person (which would explain why low ventilation, indoor spaces would be so key).  But, looks like it’s even more than that and for whatever reason, people with Covid-19 just don’t emit that much infectious particles compared to what it actually takes to infect another person.  This is now my favorite article on transmission I’ve read, in large part for basically saying, “yes, airborne, but, no, don’t freak out.”

Notwithstanding the experimental data suggesting the possibility of aerosol-based transmission, the data on infection rates and transmissions in populations during normal daily life are difficult to reconcile with long-range aerosol-based transmission. [emphases mine] First, the reproduction number for COVID-19 before measures were taken to mitigate its spread was estimated to be about 2.5, meaning that each person with COVID-19 infected an average of 2 to 3 other people. This reproduction number is similar to influenza and quite different from that of viruses that are well known to spread via aerosols such as measles, which has a reproduction number closer to 18. Considering that most people with COVID-19 are contagious for about 1 week, a reproduction number of 2 to 3 is quite small given the large number of interactions, crowds, and personal contacts that most people have under normal circumstances within a 7-day period. Either the amount of SARS-CoV-2 required to cause infection is much larger than measles or aerosols are not the dominant mode of transmission.

Similarly, the secondary attack rate for SARS-CoV-2 is low. Case series that have evaluated close contacts of patients with confirmed COVID-19 have reported that only about 5% of contacts become infected. However, even this low attack rate is not spread evenly among close contacts but varies depending on the duration and intensity of contact. The risk is highest among household members, in whom transmission rates range between 10% and 40%.24 Close but less sustained contact such as sharing a meal is associated with a secondary attack rate of about 7%, whereas passing interactions among people shopping is associated with a secondary attack rate of 0.6%.4

All told, current understanding about SARS-CoV-2 transmission is still limited. There are no perfect experimental data proving or disproving droplet vs aerosol-based transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The balance of evidence, however, seems inconsistent with aerosol-based transmission of SARS-CoV-2 particularly in well-ventilated spaces. What this means in practice is that keeping 6-feet apart from other people and wearing medical masks, high-quality cloth masks, or face shields when it is not possible to be 6-feet apart (for both source control and respiratory protection) should be adequate to minimize the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (in addition to frequent hand hygiene, environmental cleaning, and optimizing indoor ventilation).

To be sure, there are rarely absolutes in biological systems, people produce both droplets and aerosols, transmission may take place along a spectrum, and even medical masks likely provide some protection against aerosols.6,10 It is impossible to conclude that aerosol-based transmission never occurs and it is perfectly understandable that many prefer to err on the side of caution, particularly in health care settings when caring for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. However, the balance of currently available evidence suggests that long-range aerosol-based transmission is not the dominant mode of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

So, in the end, it’s Japanese 3C’s as much as ever regardless of the aerosol vs. droplet debate.  Wear a mask.  Avoid close contact and close spaces.  And don’t freak out because you hear it’s “airborne” and could be anywhere. And there you go.



Trump is not even doing his job

He’s so bad at being president, we hardly even notice, but loved this from David Plotz:

In the way you stop smelling the stench of garbage when you live next to the dump, we’ve stopped noticing a disturbing fact about the Trump presidency. 

The nation is beset by the worst crisis in at least 75 years. The pandemic rages because we failed to control its initial spread. The economy is grinding to a halt. Unemployment is stuck at depression levels. Mass protests demanding policing reform have transfixed the nation. An economic war with China is deepening into a Cold War.

The president isn’t doing anything about any of it, and more disturbingly: Americans don’t even expect him to do anything about any of it.

Is he chairing daily meetings of a pandemic task force? Is he meeting with school superintendents to find out what resources they need to open safely?  Is he negotiating into the wee hours with Nancy Pelosi over the shape of the next emergency relief bill? Is he calling BLM leaders to discuss law enforcement reform? Of course he’s not.

All reports indicate that he’s singularly focused on his reelection. Yet the purpose of his reelection is for him to serve the nation as president, which is the very thing he is not doing.

He spends his time watching TV, hurling random attacks at Joe Biden, and shaking up his presidential campaign. We have come to see that as perfectly normal. But it’s not normal!

And I love that Plotz started with the acclimation to a bad smell, as I’ve been using that metaphor for Trump for as long he’s been at it.

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