One Coronavirus vaccine to rule them all?

Normally I don’t like to exactly copy the title of an article I cite, but, I couldn’t resist as I’m just such a fan of the “One ____ to rule them all” line.  Anyway, really interesting stuff from James Hamblin on the potential for a universal coronavirus vaccine.  No, we’re not they’re yet, but, damn our biotechnology and advances in this area are just so damn impressive and, truly, a great cause for optimism.  Some details:

Tracing and reacting to individual variants is such an enormous challenge that some experts believe we need a more comprehensive approach, and soon. “Rather than playing whack-a-mole with each new problematic variant,” Anthony Fauci told me last week, “it just makes sense to me to use all of our capabilities to really go for a universal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.” That is, one that can protect us no matter which direction this virus goes, setting up at least partial immunity to any variant that may arise. “If we don’t, we’re going to be constantly chasing things, as opposed to getting it off the table.”

Dozens of research teams have already taken up the challenge, and meeting it is within their reach. But doing so would be just the beginning. “A universal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is step one,” Fauci said. Step two would be a universal coronavirus vaccine, capable of protecting us not only from SARS-CoV-2 in all its forms, but also from the inevitable emergence of new and different coronaviruses that might cause future pandemics. The race to create such a vaccine may prove one of the great feats of a generation.

The basic problem is that our cells think a coronavirus is their friend. Each viral particle is coated in proteins, referred to as its “spike” proteins (though they more closely resemble scepters or moldy ice-cream cones). The tip of each one looks deceptively like a normal, human signaling molecule, so a healthy cell binds to the tip as usual. That’s its last mistake. The virus then snaps the top off its spike, plunges the remainder through the surface of the cell, and injects its RNA. Now it can use the cell to make millions of copies of itself, which eventually burst out, leaving the cell for dead.

All the ways the SARS-CoV-2 virus has brought the world to its knees—and all the doom that its mutations may bring—begin with one submicroscopic protein. As devious as the spike may be, it’s also an excellent target for vaccines. The current vaccines teach immune cells to recognize the spike protein, so that it can be bound and neutralized before it impales our cells.

But the spike is slightly different in each variant. “The current vaccines are based on the genetic code of the original strain found in Wuhan,” Pamela Bjorkman, a bioengineering professor at Caltech, explains. This exact strain is no longer in circulation, so the vaccines are already slightly imperfect fits for the variants many of us may encounter. At this point, the changes to the spike protein are not so dramatic as to render first-generation vaccines ineffective, Bjorkman says, “but that won’t necessarily hold as the virus continues to mutate.”

The challenge, then, is to create a vaccine that will anticipate such changes—teaching the immune system to recognize and fight off variants that may not even exist yet. One potentially powerful approach would be to target a part of the spike protein that doesn’t evolve as quickly as the others. At the University of Texas at Austin, Jason McLellan’s lab has focused on the stem of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which doesn’t mutate as often as the tip. In theory, a vaccine that teaches the immune system to recognize the stem would induce protection against many or even all the variants at once—as long as they continue to share this similar stem. In practice, though, antibodies against the spike stem may have trouble recognizing and binding to their target if it’s tucked away in the protein structure.

Bjorkman’s lab has been working on another solution, one that’s guaranteed to generate an immune response: a vaccine that carries several different versions of the part of the spike that binds to human cells. This assortment can be arrayed on tiny synthetic skeletons, constituting “mosaic nanoparticles.” When Bjorkman’s team injected mice with a prototype multi-strain vaccine last year, they found that it produced antibodies against every form of spike protein that was in the mosaic.

A related approach is to start with mRNA, just as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do. But instead of including the code for only one strain, you could tie together mRNA that codes for many different spike-protein binding sites—including the common mutations seen in dangerous variants. David Martinez, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his colleagues recently reported promising mouse experiments (their work is under review) with mRNA from different coronaviruses, welded into a “chimeric spike” mRNA vaccine. When given to mice, the hybrid vaccine effectively generated antibodies against multiple spike proteins, including the one associated with a key variant of concern in the U.S.

To make a universal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that provides long-term protection, we may need to think beyond the spike, Baozhong Wang, a biologist at Georgia State University, says. “Broad, neutralizing antibodies to conserved areas in spike protein are important, but not the whole” solution, Wang says. T-cell responses in the lungs will be crucial, too, because they catalog memories of past respiratory viral pathogens. These responses are predominantly induced by proteins inside the virus, Wang explains, such as the nucleoproteins and enzymes that help it reproduce, rather than its spike. His approach is to load a nanoparticle with parts of different spike proteins…

The technology already exists to create a vaccine that protects humans from many coronaviruses at once. Vaccinating against all of them is a more elaborate challenge than taking on one or a few, but hypothetically possible. The broadest vaccine, though, isn’t likely to come from discovering a single, conserved region of the spike protein that all coronaviruses share, and that also reliably stimulates our immune system. This would be something like finding one spot that will blow up the entire Death Star—a little too easy.  [Now that’s how you do an analogy damn it!] But we could find an array of frequently conserved regions that turn up in many coronaviruses.

The act of loading multiple targets into one vaccine is not difficult, according to Bjorkman. The postdocs in her lab can quickly create the proteins at the head of the spike and attach them to nanoparticles. “They’re really easy to make,” she says modestly. The central challenge is in knowing which targets to include and making sure that they stimulate the immune system effectively

The project to create a truly universal coronavirus vaccine would encapsulate a variety of disciplines: cellular and systems biology, immunology, genetics, artificial intelligence, and structural modeling, to name a few. So the coalition to accomplish this would need to be broad, Koff says. The U.S. investment in tracking viral genomes could create a small piece of the infrastructure necessary for tracking many other viruses. Similar efforts will be needed around the world, in order to keep abreast of constantly changing viral maps. Koff estimates that the governments of the G7 nations would have to come together with the private sector, the World Health Organization, and nonprofits such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in order to make the system work. “It might cost billions, but this pandemic alone has cost trillions,” Koff says. “We didn’t learn after SARS, MERS, HIV, swine flu—but maybe this time we will.”

So, yeah, lots of hard work ahead, but there’s clearly brilliant people working on this and meaningful advances being made.  No, this is not going to protect us from all future pandemics, but there really is a decent chance that we end up at least being protected from future coronavirus pandemics and that’s sure not nothing.  

America needs (more) people

Good stuff from Leonhardt with the new census data coming out.  He briefly summarizes the costs and benefits of our relatively slow population growth.  Short version– there’s some benefits, but we need more people!  Seriously.  I read Yglesias’ book on this a while back, and unsurprisingly, I was persuaded.  Leonhardt hits a few of the key points in yesterday’s newsletter:

The biggest cause of the population slowdown is the declining birthrate. Today, the average American adult of child-rearing age has 17 percent fewer children than in 1990 — and about 50 percent fewer than in 1960. The U.S. still has a higher fertility rate than Japan and Germany, but it is in the same range as Britain and Sweden and below France and Ireland. There are now more Americans 80 and older than 2 or younger.

The second factor behind the slow population growth is a decline in legal immigration during Donald Trump’s presidency. (Illegal immigration does not appear to have changed significantly.)

The upsides of less growth

There are some advantages to slower population growth. A lower birthrate can expand the economic opportunities for women, especially because the U.S. has relatively flimsy child care programs. Historically, birthrates have declined as societies become more educated and wealthier.

Lower levels of immigration can also have upsides. The big wage gains for American workers during the mid-20th century had many causes, including strong labor unions, rising educational attainment and high tax rates on top incomes. But the tight immigration restrictions of that period also played a role.

“Immigration restriction, by making unskilled labor more scarce, tended to shore up wage rates,” the labor historian Irving Bernstein wrote in a 1960 book. The economists Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson have noted that economic inequality declined more during the mid-20th century in countries with slower labor force growth.

And the big downsides

Over all, though, the slowdown in population growth is probably a net negative for the U.S. — as both conservatives (like Ross Douthat) and liberals (like Michelle Goldberg) have argued.

For one thing, polls show that many Americans want more children than they are having, as The Times’s Claire Cain Miller has noted. But the slow-growing incomes and a shortage of good child care options have led some people to decide that they cannot afford to have as many children as they would like. The decline in the birthrate, in other words, is partly a reflection of American society’s failure to support families.

(President Biden wants to address these problems by expanding child care and pre-K programs and extending a child tax credit in the recent Covid-19 relief bill. Those proposals will be part of his speech to Congress tomorrow night.)

A second problem with slow population growth involves global affairs. The U.S. now faces the most serious challenge to its supremacy since the Cold War — from China. The future path of the two countries’ economic growth will help determine their relative strength. And population growth, in turn, helps determine economic growth, especially in an advanced economy. To have any hope of keeping up with China and its vastly larger population, the U.S. will probably need bigger population increases than it has recently had.

Viewed in these terms, the population slowdown is a threat to national security. “I don’t know of a precedent for a dynamic country that has basically stopped growing,” The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson has written.

In Matthew Yglesias’s recent book “One Billion Americans,” he argues that the U.S. should rapidly increase legal immigration to lift economic output. “America should aspire to be the greatest nation on earth,” Yglesias, the author of a Substack newsletter, writes. The only realistic alternative for that role is China, an authoritarian country that is jailing critics and committing egregious human rights abuses.

Higher levels of immigration also have a direct benefit: More of the millions of people around the world who want to move to the U.S. get the chance to do so.

Anyway, like, most everything, this really is about policy choices and we should absolutely encourage policies that 1) make it more doable for families to have more children among the people who want to have more children, but are not doing so, and, 2) make the xenophobes unhappy and let more immigrants in. 

Vaccine passports and the GOP

With news that Americans who have been vaccinated will be able to travel to the EU this summer, I’ve been thinking about vaccine “passports” a couple of really good takes on just how stunningly intellectually bankrupt Republicans are on this issue that I read a few weeks ago.  First, Will Wilkinson

Conservatives have been freaking out about the mere possibility of vaccine passports, government-issued documents certifying the bearer’s Covid jabs.

The idea isn’t that the government will require proof of vaccination for anything. The idea is that the ability to credibly prove vaccination status will speed the restoration of normal social and economic life. This works by allowing businesses, schools, sports leagues, etc. to discriminate against those who haven’t been vaccinated. Now, because a lot of wealthier white folks have been butting in line and members of some less privileged groups are less likely to have gotten their shots, there are real, legitimate worries about discrimination on the basis of vaccine status. It could conceivably exacerbate invidious inequalities based on race, class, and so forth.

But these obviously aren’t the concerns that have conservatives exercised. Indeed, one of the bright lines dividing American liberals and conservatives concerns the limits of freedom of association. Conservatives, and especially those with a libertarian streak, are far more likely to be absolutists about the right to exclude anyone from your property, business, or private club or association for any reason. Rand Paul, who infamously opposes the part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits private businesses from discrimination on race, is a good example. Remember when Rachel Maddow asked him about the integration of lunch counters and he said, “Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?” 

If the Civil Rights Act is problematic because it infringes on freedom of association, the permissibility of discriminating against customers who might carry a fatal infection is a total no-brainer. Right? Ha!

Jesse Kelly, an eleventh-rate Limbaugh wannabe who bills himself as “the greatest mind of the 21st century,” has beautifully encapsulated the Orwellian doublethink inherent in the ersatz “libertarianism” of the authoritarian right.

The second bit is a truly incredible expression of the right-populist’s authoritarian Id. I’m certainly not the greatest mind of the 21st century, but let’s just reformulate Kelly’s thought in the language of political theory:

Freedom, understood as an absence of state coercion, is the political ideal. But we libertarians will never achieve our ideal society unless we use the state to codify our values into law and force our political rivals to do what we prefer. Of course, this is the opposite of freedom, as we libertarians understand it, and the state would have no legitimate authority to do it. But our political rivals are communists, who have no compunction against state coercion. If we refuse to preemptively deploy raw, unprovoked violence in an effort to control others, they’ll do the same or worse to us. We’ll never achieve freedom if we let this happen.

Again, according to libertarianism, freedom of association is sacrosanct. If a household, business, or any other private association wants to require proof of immunization to enter, do business or take part in its activities, it is their absolute right to do so. Kelly’s notion seems to be that if the right people strategically restrict freedom of association, eventually they’ll be able to ease up and restore it. But how does that work? At what point do you stop using the state to bigfoot all over “communists” (i.e., non-Republicans)? …

Ron DeSantis, the Governor of Florida, agrees with Kelly that vaccine passports should be banned. “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis said.

But why is this “completely unacceptable”? Kids can’t go to school or camp without submitting vaccination records. I had to prove my vaccination status to go to college and grad school. This is all “normal society.” It’s pretty maddening that the direct experience of a monumentally fatal infectious disease has somehow left Americans less clear about the rationale for standard vaccination requirements. But here we are with the governor of Florida casually giving voice to the position of an entitled anti-vax extremist who ardently believes that it is the height of tyranny to discriminate in any way against unvaccinated individuals, even if they pose a risk to the health of the entire community…

It’s really dead simple. Republicans favor freedom of association and strong property rights when it allows them to discriminate against people they don’t like. They oppose freedom of association and strong property rights when it allows others to discriminate against them. There’s nothing more to it. It’s blatantly self-serving tribalism. That’s the GOP’s one foundational principle. That’s it.

And David Frum (also cited by Wilkinson):

In 2002, the Weyerhaeuser paper mill in Valliant, Oklahoma, faced a drug problem. Managers at the mill in the small town, just north of the Texas line, brought contraband-sniffing dogs into the parking lot to identify suspect cars. The dogs pointed out a number of vehicles. When the cars were opened, the contraband inside was not drugs. It was guns. A dozen employees lost their job.

The firing triggered an uproar in Oklahoma. Weyerhaeuser had banned guns from its facilities; everybody understood that. The employees had obeyed that rule when they left their guns in their cars. If Weyerhaeuser now insisted that the ban applied to the parking lot, too, what were the employees supposed to do? Leave their guns at home and travel defenseless?

The Oklahoma legislature intervened. By unanimous vote in the state assembly—and a vote of 92–4 in the state senate—Oklahoma revised its firearms law to forbid businesses from policing their parking lots as Weyerhaeuser had done. The next year, the state amended the law again, this time to pound home the point even more emphatically:

No person, property owner, tenant, employer, or business entity shall maintain, establish, or enforce any policy or rule that has the effect of prohibiting any person, except a convicted felon, from transporting and storing firearms in a locked motor vehicle, or from transporting and storing firearms locked in or locked to a motor vehicle on any property set aside for any motor vehicle.

Every parking lot in the state of Oklahoma must now open itself to firearms, no matter the wishes of the property owner.

Over the next half decade, versions of the Oklahoma law would spread. Today, 12 other states allow virtually anyone to carry their weapon in their vehicle onto other people’s property. The property owner is forbidden to object or forbid. Eleven more states override the property rights of parking-lot owners a little less drastically. In those states, only concealed-carry permit holders may take their guns into parking lots. Altogether, in almost half the states in the country, gun rights now trump property rights to a greater or lesser degree.

I tell this story as background to the sudden eruption of conservative outrage about the prospect of “vaccine passports”: the idea that businesses might demand proof of COVID-19 vaccination from potential customers…

With COVID-19, too, it’s doubtful how hard DeSantis truly intends to fight business interests. The Miami Heat NBA franchise announced that beginning April 1, special sections of American Airlines Arena will be open only to fully vaccinated attendees. Social-distancing rules will be relaxed in these sections. DeSantis is not stopping that. And if DeSantis will not force the Heat to drop its rules, how much less likely is he to battle mighty Disney if it decides that a vaccination policy will speed the recovery of its business?

But the point is not to win the fight, or even really to fight the fight. The point is to announce the fight, and to keep raging about it, even if you do not in fact fight it very hard. DeSantis surely does not agree with those Republicans who dismiss COVID-19 as a hoax, the COVID-19 vaccines as a menace, and vaccine certificates as the mark of the anti-Christ. He has repeatedly said that he will take the vaccine when it’s his turn. But he must reckon with a party in which anti-vaccination has joined pro-gun as an indispensable cultural marker—and as a potential veto bloc for anyone aspiring to a future Republican presidential nomination.

To appease those cultural blocs, Republican politicians must be willing to sacrifice everything, including what used to be the party’s foundational principles. To protect the gun, or to avoid contradicting the delusions of anti-vaccine paranoiacs, property rights must give way, freedom to operate a business must yield. The QAnon-curious Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed the new mentality when she took to Facebook to denounce vaccine passports as “corporate communism.” It sounded crazy. But if you understand that she interprets communism to mean “any interference in the right of people like me to do whatever we want, regardless of the rights of others”—then, yeah, the property rights of corporations will indeed look to her like a force of communism.

A sizable minority of Americans want to use airplanes belonging to others, theme parks belonging to others, sports stadiums belonging to others—without concession to the health of others or the property rights of owners. With guns, with COVID-19, with tech, the new post-Trump message from the post-Trump GOP is: Private property is socialism; state expropriation is freedom. It’s a strange doctrine for a party supposedly committed to liberty and the Constitution, but here we are.

Photo of the day

Something you don’t see every day.  From Atlantic’s photos of the week:A horse is lifted into the air, hanging from a sling beneath a helicopter.

A picture taken in Saignelegier, Switzerland, shows a horse being airlifted by a helicopter during a test by Swiss army forces on April 9, 2021. The exercise was part of a project carried out by the Vetsuisse faculty of veterinary medicine and the Swiss army veterinary service, examining the rapid evacuation and transport of injured horses to a medical veterinary facility. 

Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty

When social science perfectly captures your marriage

Wow– this NYT Parenting column from Jessica Grose could not have more perfectly captured my marriage, “Why Women Do the Household Worrying
And how to get men to do more of it.”

I have been writing about the gender gap in housework and child care among heterosexual couples for almost a decade, and while more and more men are stepping up to do their fair share, there’s one thing that remains frustratingly uneven: the mental load, which is a mostly invisible combination of anxiety and planning that is part of parenting.

The way I usually describe it in my own life is: I can’t make my husband start thinking about summer camp in January, or when we’re running out of refills for the soap dispensers (apparently, a common gripe!). In other words, I can’t export my brain to him. In most aspects of domestic work, we are fairly equal — I probably do more housework and he does more child care, but we feel good about our balance. And yet, the mental load is more on me…

Because of the perniciousness of this issue, I was excited to read the work of Allison Daminger, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University. She published a paper in the American Sociological Review that breaks down the mental load — “cognitive labor,” in sociological terms — into four parts: anticipate, identify, decide, monitor.

If we’re using the summer camp example, “anticipate” is realizing we need to start thinking about options for the summer before they fill up; “identify” is looking into the types of camps that will suit our family’s needs; “decide” is choosing the camp; and “monitor” is making sure the kids are signed up and their medical forms are sent in.

For this paper, Daminger conducted in-depth discussions with 35 couples, and found that the two parts of the process that are most heavily imbalanced are “anticipate” and “monitor” — women do the vast majority of those steps. “Identify” and “decide” tend to be done by men and women jointly. I talked to Daminger about her study and how parents can try to equalize their cognitive labor; a condensed and edited version of our conversation is below.

Jessica Grose: I loved the way you categorized the mental load into four discrete categories, and I was intrigued that the biggest gender disparity is in “anticipation” and “monitoring.” Can you tell me a little more about that?

A.D.: One of the things that my advisers were a little bit worried about when I started this project was they thought: You’re just going to find that women do more of this. How is that interesting? We know that instinctively.

And that’s why I really wanted to break down not just “women do more,” but what exactly is it that they’re doing more of? And are there aspects of it that are more and less gendered?

But the act of putting the item on the agenda seemed to be overwhelmingly something that women were doing, as well as on the back end, following up once the decisions had been made. And that was true, even in domains of life like household maintenance, where it was pretty clear to both parties that the man was ultimately responsible for clearing the gutters.

Women’s antenna seemed to be constantly up and looking for these things. Whereas men were often very happy to help once their partner had alerted them to the issue and they might’ve gotten to it eventually on their own, but women were consistently getting there first and either doing it themselves or saying: “Hey, this is the thing you need to handle. Are you thinking about it?”

And then the $1 million question is what to do about that…

J.G.: Is it because we have culturally defined good mothering as worrying and doing this sort of mental labor, whereas we don’t define good fathering in quite the same way?

A.D.: I think that’s exactly true. One of the things that I hear often from my respondents is, “She’s anxious, she’s uptight.” And I think part of that is if something goes wrong, like if the kid is not prepared with the materials they need for school that day, the mom is going to be the one who is held to account.

I don’t think that’s necessarily something that is at the top of people’s minds as they’re making decisions, but part of the worry comes from fear of something bad happening. And part of that is: I will be judged as a bad mother. I think notions of good fatherhood are changing. We expect men to help with changing diapers and to do a lot of the physical care work. And yet, we don’t see them as ultimately responsible for the child’s development and happiness in the same way.

Damn did all of this ring so true in my marriage.  And I really am a good husband and father (oh, wait, maybe not).  What’s interesting to me is that, as I’ve often discussed, I really am one of the least anxious people I know,  And my wife, though not anxiety-ridden, would likely consider herself more anxious than average.  So, I’ve just been blaming the unequal distribution of this on our different psychological temperaments, but, honestly, I think that’s hiding the pervasive, gendered approaches to parenting identified here.  Honestly, it probably just makes things worse in our marriage because of my default “what, me worry?” approach to most things.  

Anyway, lots of really good food for thought in here.  I am going to talk to my wife about stepping up and doing more of the monitoring.

More and better policing– it’s complicated!

First of all, a great piece from Planet Money:

Williams and his colleagues, Aaron Chalfin, Benjamin Hansen, and Emily Weisburst, got motivated to answer questions like: What is the measurable value of adding a new police officer to patrol a city? Do additional officers prevent homicides? How many people do these officers arrest and for what? And how do bigger police forces affect Black communities?

They gathered data from the FBI and other public data sources for 242 cities between the years 1981 and 2018. They obtained figures on police employment, homicide rates, reported crimes, arrests, and more. And they used technically-savvy statistical techniques to estimate the effects of expanding the size of police forces on things like preventing homicides and increasing arrests (read their working paper for more depth, and, also spend a few hours reading about “instrumental variable” regression, which is pretty freaking genius).

The Impact Of One More Officer

Williams and his colleagues find adding a new police officer to a city prevents between 0.06 and 0.1 homicides, which means that the average city would need to hire between 10 and 17 new police officers to save one life a year. They estimate that costs taxpayers annually between $1.3 and $2.2 million. The federal government puts the value of a statistical life at around $10 million (Planet Money did a whole episode on how that number was chosen). So, Williams says, from that perspective, investing in more police officers to save lives provides a pretty good bang for the buck. Adding more police, they find, also reduces other serious crimes, like robbery, rape, and aggravated assault.

Very good stuff.  So, implemented correctly, more policing saves lives and reduces crimes– disproportionately benefiting Black Americans.  It also leads to more low-level arrests, disproportionately hurting Black Americans.

So, what we really need is more policing, done better.  And how to we get policing done better?  Taking training way more seriously would be a great place to start.  Olga Khazan with a nice piece in this in the Atlantic:

Police in the United States receive less initial training than their counterparts in other rich countries—about five months in a classroom and another three or so months in the field, on average. Many European nations, meanwhile, have something more akin to police universities, which can take three or four years to complete. European countries also have national standards for various elements of a police officer’s job—such as how to search a car and when to use a baton. The U.S. does not.

The 18,000 police departments in the U.S. each have their own rules and requirements. But although police reform is a contentious subject, the inadequacy of the current training provides a rare point of relative consensus: “Police officers, police chiefs, and everyone agree that we do not get enough training in a myriad of fields,” Dennis Slocumb, the legislative director of the International Union of Police Associations, told me…

The mix of instruction given in police academies speaks volumes about their priorities. The median police recruit receives eight hours of de-escalation training, compared with 58 hours of training in firearms, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank for police executives…

American police training resembles military training—“polish your boots, do push-ups, speak when you’re spoken to,” Brooks told me. In an article for The Atlantic last year, she described practicing drills and standing at attention when senior officers entered the room. “I don’t think I’ve been yelled at as much since high-school gym class more than three decades ago,” she wrote. Reformers worry that this type of training teaches recruits that the world runs on strict power hierarchies, and that anything short of perfect compliance should be met with force and anger.

Though he generally agrees with the push toward less militaristic police academies, Slocumb thinks the stress of military-style drills can be a useful proving ground for new officers. “You don’t want the first time that you have to make a decision while people are screaming in your face to be out in someone’s living room,” he told me. “It needs to be something you’ve been accustomed to during training.” …

Police should be trained “to be sympathetic, to be guardians, rather than warriors,” Wexler says.

That might mean adding new subjects to the curriculum. Few American officers receive much education about the history of policing or the role of police in a democratic society. “The officer coming out of one of the European training programs, he’s much more likely to have a much broader perspective on what the job is, what your role is, what your society is like, how do you fit into it,” says David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “Those things are just not really part of what’s going on in most American police-training programs.”

American police academies are also light on training in “soft skills,” such as how to communicate or use emotional intelligence to see a situation clearly. “We didn’t talk about any of what you might call the big issues in policing: race and policing, policing and excessive force, what is good policing?” Brooks said. (The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s curriculum has been updated since Brooks’s 2016 training and “now includes these areas,” according to a police spokesperson.)

American cops are poorly prepared for trauma on the job, too: They get just six hours of training in stress management, compared with 25 hours in report-writing, according to a 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Justice.

And after officers graduate from police academies, such deficits in their training are difficult to make up.

And Leonhardt on some needed political/policy changes:

The two big changes

The recent policy changes fit into two main categories. The first is a set of limits on the use of force. Sixteen states have restricted the use of so-called neck restraints, like Derek Chauvin’s use of his knee on Floyd’s neck. And 21 additional cities now require officers to intervene when they think another officer is using excessive force.
The changes have mostly been in Democratic-leaning states, but not entirely: Kentucky has limited no-knock warrants, which played a role in Breonna Taylor’s death, while Indiana, Iowa and Utah have restricted neck restraints. (Republican legislators in some states are pushing bills that go in the other direction, by strengthening penalties for people who injure officers, for instance, or by preventing cities from cutting police budgets.)
The second category involves police accountability. Several states have mandated the use of body cameras. Colorado, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Connecticut have made it easier for citizens to sue police officers, as has New York City.
In Maryland, David Moon, a state legislator, said that the recent changes were “just light-years beyond” those enacted after Freddie Gray died in the custody of Baltimore police six years ago. The new laws “basically blew up the old system and tried to create a new structure for discipline,” Moon told The Washington Post.
One significant part of the policy changes: States are enacting them, forcing local police departments to abide by them. “States had given great leeway to local jurisdictions to decide how to police themselves,” The Times’s Michael Keller told us. “Now, states are starting to take more control.”

I’m a glass half-full guy and, personally, I’m pleased that we are really taking the problems with policing (and especially race and policing) seriously for the first time ever.  And I think the evidence is that his is already leading to needed improvement.  There’s a long way to go and the path surely will be bumpy, but I really think we’re moving in the right direction.  As I teach in my policy courses, the very first step in policy change is “problem definition” and now, really, for the first time we are pretty accurately defining the problems and what we can do about them.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is very true, “A Vaccine Can Be Bad for a Person but Awesome for All People: The safety pause in giving the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is up for debate again—a battle in a Secret War of Denominators and risk-benefit philosophies.”

2) Have I mentioned how much I love, love, love Zeynep’s (free) substack.  So many posts are basically just a clear breakdown of how to be a better thinker applied to examples with Covid.  In these week’s it’s about an outbreak at a nursing home that led many to say “oh, no, vaccines don’t work” but was really a great demonstration of vaccine efficacy.

What are we looking at here? A nursing home outbreak, 46 infections, three deaths, a variant with concerning mutations.

Here’s one way to headline an article about the study:

The article describes the outbreak:

An unvaccinated health care worker set off a Covid-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky where the vast majority of residents had been vaccinated, leading to dozens of infections, including 22 cases among residents and employees who were already fully vaccinated, a new study reported Wednesday.

Most of those who were infected with the coronavirus despite being vaccinated did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, but one vaccinated individual, who was a resident of the nursing home, died, according to the study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Altogether, 26 facility residents were infected, including 18 who had been vaccinated, and 20 health care personnel were infected, including four who had been vaccinated. Two unvaccinated residents also died.

The article isn’t inaccurate. It relays what indeed happened. The headline is descriptive. The article states up top that most of the infected did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, while noting the one death. It highlights the importance of vaccinating nursing home staff (which is how it came into the facility), and explains that this was a variant that shared a key mutation, E484K, with variants that were suspected of partial immune escape, like  B.1.351 (South Africa) and P.1. (Brazil). I’m not picking on the article at all, it is usually how such studies are represented in responsible outlets: the descriptive facts, in order. This is our accepted practice.

The CDC study also notes an efficacy calculation: “Vaccine was 86.5% protective against symptomatic illness among residents and 87.1% protective among HCP.” I saw multiple attempts on social media to compare this number to the one efficacy number from the trials, usually around 95%:…

A cluster differs greatly from what we measured in trials where the participants did not live together or share exposure especially because we know this pathogen is very overdispersed. It oscillates between being aggressively contagious—probably a combination of a person who emits a lot of aerosols and is at the most contagious stage of their infection plus an enclosed space, or repeated exposure in a congregate living facility like this one—and not transmitting onward at all. Various studies find that 80 to 90 percent of people never transmit onward—they are the end of the chain.

Hence, if your exposure takes place while you are a member of a potential cluster, your odds of being infected are much greater than in comparison with exposure that doesn’t occur as part of a cluster. For a pathogen like this, finding transmission events, not infected people, are key because transmission events are near each other. If you find one, you are likely to find more. But that also means that being in a cluster is a worse case scenario, compared with the independent measurements from the trials: one would expect higher attack rates.  In fact, this is very useful information for mitigation: focusing on finding such clusters and “backward-tracing them” to find the source, and then trying to look at other people that might have been exposed within that cluster, rather than trying to trace every infected person’s onward contacts (most of which were going to be dead end anyway) was key to Japan’s comparatively very successful strategy (something I wrote about while explaining overdispersion and its implications). 

When you put this together, what is the information you get from the above study?

You get very, very good, reassuring news about the vaccines.

3) This is really good from political scientists Frances Lee and James Curry: “What’s Really Holding the Democrats Back: It’s not the filibuster.”

Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s Democratic senator, has put everyone on notice: Under no circumstances will he vote to eliminate the Senate filibuster. If the support of at least 10 Republicans is needed to pass legislation, progressives have little hope for their agenda. At least that’s what many seem to think. But eliminating the filibuster probably wouldn’t matter as much as they believe it would. The bigger obstacle to any party’s agenda is its members’ inability to agree among themselves.

We compiled the stated policy goals of every congressional majority party from 1985 through 2018. We identified the parties’ agendas by looking to the bills designated as leadership priorities and the issues flagged by the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader in their opening speech to Congress, yielding a list on average of 15 top priorities per congressional term. Tracking each proposal, 265 in total, we found that the parties failed outright on their agenda priorities about half the time, meaning that no legislation on the issue was enacted.  

We then analyzed when, how, and why each failed, and also whether the majority party faced a unified or divided government when it did. Naturally, when a party controlled the House, Senate, and presidency, it fared somewhat better in enacting its agenda than when it didn’t, but not markedly so. Parties failed on 43 percent of their agenda priorities in unified government as compared with 49 percent in divided government. This failure rate varies from Congress to Congress, but has remained fairly consistent even in recent years. When Democrats most recently held all three branches of government (in 2009–10), they failed on 50 percent of their agenda items. When Republicans most recently held all three (in 2017–18), they failed on 36 percent.

When a party has unified control of government, the filibuster provides the Senate’s minority party (if it has at least 41 senators) with the ability to stop the majority’s legislative efforts. This is why partisans focus so much on the filibuster, and why progressive activists are so concerned over it right now. But the filibuster accounted for only about one-third of the majority party’s failures during the periods of unified government we studied. In the two most recent instances of unified government—the Democrats in 2009–10 and the Republicans in 2017–18—agenda failures caused by the filibuster were even less common. The Democrats had just one of their priorities, immigration reform, fail because of the filibuster. The Republicans had none. Filibuster reform, then, may enable Democrats to achieve particular policy goals opposed by Republicans, and those would certainly be victories. But most failures, about two-thirds overall during years of unified government and 90 percent during the past two instances of unified government, stemmed from disagreements within the majority party rather than the minority party’s ability to block legislation via the filibuster.

4) Kevin Drum with his “megatrends” of American politics.  I agree with most, especially these:

1. US politics will stay toxic as long as Fox News is around. Rupert Murdoch has discovered that spreading fear and outrage is the most reliable way of making money, so that’s what he does. It’s all but impossible to sustain a traditional political system when half the population is scared senseless of the other half, and that will remain the case until Fox New is somehow reined in…

6.  We are entering a biotech golden age. I know, I know: we’ve been entering a biotech golden age for the past four decades. But after years of prologue, I think we really are finally on the verge of huge change. Cheap genome sequencing, CRISPR, and mRNA vaccines are harbingers of the near future.

5) David Frum with an interesting take on the rise of Ron DeSantis.

6) Jack Shafer on the rise of Substack:

The rise of Substack—and of platforms of its competitors—signals a new juncture in journalism, one that combines the power and mystique of the byline with the editorial independence afforded by the blog. After being lectured forever about how information wants to be free, Substack is teaching us that not only will readers pay for top-drawer copy, but that the work of some writers was actually undervalued in the market before readers were given the opportunity to purchase journalism a la carte instead of from a prix fixe menu.

Substack has stampeded some elite media types into a panic. “Is Substack the Media Future We Want?” worried a New Yorker feature recently. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith analyzed the upheaval in his column, “Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack.” Yes, Substack looks like a revolution and smells like a revolution, but as many have noted, it’s really a throwback to the origins of journalism in the Middle Ages, and the emphasis on who is writing the copy as opposed to what is being written can be traced to the late 19th century. Substack may be educating the industry about who adds the high value in journalism, writers or editors.

7) This is cool, “This Map Lets You Plug in Your Address to See How It’s Changed Over the Past 750 Million Years”

8) Pretty sure I wrote a post a while back about how the soccer penalty kick is the dumbest thing in sports.  I stand by that.  Apparently, Premier League teams are now working extra hard to draw fouls in the corner of the penalty box where the likelihood of your next few actions actually scoring a goal is super-low anyway.  Soccer is such a great sport with some really stupid rules.  

Indeed, it hasn’t merely gone, but it’s flipped the other way. Aside from serious foul play, VAR only looks at incidents in the box — so now, fouls that are less obvious inside the box are penalised more than those outside.

This new era hasn’t simply changed the decision-making of officials, but also the approach of forwards, which probably explains the increase in the award of penalties between the first VAR season and the second (as well as some particularly harsh handball decisions at the start of this campaign). It has become increasingly obvious that in certain situations, more than ever, attackers are playing for penalties by attempting to engineer contact. Strategically, it makes complete sense, particularly when an attacker is in the corner of the box.

The word “box” is key here, because the concept of a penalty box doesn’t reflect the true value of the football pitch. In other comparable sports — hockey, for example — this type of area is denoted by a semi-circle rather than a rectangle, forming a consistent distance from the goal. Everyone knows the penalty box in football is 18 yards long, but they might not know it is 44 yards wide — because that ensures it also stretches 18 yards away from the two posts, which are eight yards apart.

So although 18 yards was considered the key distance from goal, this became a box rather than a semi-circle. Clearly, there’s a zone in the corners of the penalty box that are within 18 yards of the byline, but considerably further from the goal. These are poor positions in terms of creating a goal from open play, and are therefore disproportionately valuable in terms of winning a foul.

You’ll probably be familiar with the concept of expected goals, aka xG, which outlines the probability of a shot finding the net when struck from a particular position. Shooting from the corner of the box will result in a goal around one or two per cent of the time, depending upon the xG model and the precise position.

Of course, that doesn’t entirely explain the situation. A player with the ball in that position probably won’t shoot. He’ll attempt to pass or dribble into a better position.

But we can also account for that through analytics. Karun Singh, a football analytics writer with a computer science degree from Cornell University, has developed the concept of “expected threat” — xT. This is explained at length on his blog, and largely follows the concept of xG, but takes the process forward a few stages. In other words, it’s not simply about judging the probability of a goal stemming directly from a particular zone, but about judging the probability of a goal arising from the next two, three, four or five “actions” (passes, crosses, dribbles, shots etc) from a particular zone.

Singh’s analysis is worth reading — his methodology is beyond most of us, but it features excellent interactive graphics to explain the concept. For the purposes of this article, the zone highlighted below is relevant. If a player has the ball in this position, his team will score from the next five “actions” 9 per cent of the time (on average — it varies for different teams).

Furthermore, the heatmap demonstrates how the probability of a goal arising in the next five moves varies across the pitch — the darker the zone, the more dangerous it is. And the most interesting here is the very obvious visual proof that not only is the corner of the box less dangerous than a central position, as you would expect, but it’s also slightly less dangerous than a wider position — the same distance from the byline, but outside the box. The danger increases further when a player reaches the zone near the byline, still outside the box.

In other words, having the ball in the corner of the box is not particularly valuable in terms of creating a goal from open play. And therefore the more logical thing to do is attempt to win a penalty, which will bring a 78 per cent chance of a goal (slightly more if, like in Singh’s model, you include subsequent actions, to account for rebounds).

9) This is very good for the Covid-inclined, “We know a lot about Covid-19. Experts have many more questions”

10) Civil Asset Forfeiture is just the worst! “The Government Seized This Innocent Man’s Car Without Due Process. SCOTUS Won’t Hear the Case.
“How can an ordinary person afford to wait years after the government takes their car?””

11) I don’t post a lot on foreign policy, but if this wasn’t just the clearest case of “sunk cost trap” imaginable when it comes to Afghanistan:

At a recent National Security Council Principal’s Committee meeting, Cabinet-level officials including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and others gathered as part of the administration’s weekslong review of US policy in Afghanistan.

The officials are debating which of three broad options for the 20-year war in Afghanistan Biden should pursue. The first is to adhere to former President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban, which would require Biden to withdraw all remaining 2,500 US troops by May 1. The second is to negotiate an extension with the insurgent group, allowing American forces to remain in the country beyond early May. And third is to defy the Trump-Taliban pact altogether and keep fighting in Afghanistan with no stated end date.

During the meeting, according to four sources from the White House, Pentagon, and elsewhere familiar with what happened, Milley made an impassioned — and at times “emotional,” according to some — case to consider keeping US troops in the country.

Milley, who was the deputy commanding general of US forces in Afghanistan and served three tours in the country, essentially argued that if American forces fully withdraw by May 1, it would open the door for the Taliban to overtake the country, making life worse for millions of Afghans and imperiling US national security goals.

Women’s rights “will go back to the Stone Age,” Milley said, according to two of the sources. He argued that it wasn’t worth leaving the country after “all the blood and treasure spent” there over the last two decades. [emphasis mine] He also added that, in his view, the lack of 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan would make it harder to stem threats from a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

12) Damn I love science! “This Ultra-White Paint May Someday Replace Air Conditioning: Developed by researchers at Purdue University, the paint reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight”

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new ultra-white paint that reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight and can keep surfaces up to 19 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than their ambient surroundings. This new paint, which may become available for purchase in the next year or two, could someday help combat global warming and reduce our reliance on air conditioners.

The team of scientists in Purdue’s mechanical engineering department recently published the findings of their paint research, funded by the university’s cooling technologies research center and the Air Force’s scientific research office, in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

“Our paint only absorbs 1.9 percent of the sunlight, whereas commercial paint absorbs 10 to 20 percent of sunlight,” says Xiulin Ruan, a Purdue mechanical engineering professor and one of the study’s co-authors.

The paint is a marked improvement from current heat-rejecting paints on the market. When struck by the sun’s rays, surfaces covered in today’s available white paints get warmer, not cooler. At best, these heat-combatting paints can reflect 80 to 90 percent of sunlight, says Ruan.

The new ultra-white paint, which the researchers say is the coolest on record, reflects nearly all of the sun’s rays and sends infrared heat away from the surface, providing an average cooling power of 113 watts per square meter. If painted onto the roof of a 1,000-square-foot home, that translates to a cooling power of 10 kilowatts, which is more powerful than most residential central air conditioners, Ruan says.

In tests conducted during sunny, midday hours on the roof of a campus building in West Lafayette, Indiana, the paint kept outdoor surfaces 8 degrees cooler than the ambient surrounding temperatures. At night, the paint kept surfaces 19 degrees cooler than their surroundings.

“Our paint can lose heat by its own emission—it emits heat to deep space,” Ruan says. “With such little absorption from the sun, our paint loses more heat than it absorbs. This is really exciting for us. Under the sun, it cools below the ambient temperature and that’s hard to achieve.”

13) Apparently the NHL told its players that after vaccination life could go back to normal, but, then… not so much.  Also, I had no idea how restrictive they were being to make this all work:

Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner sparked discussion and controversy Wednesday when he spoke out against the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols and overall approach to mental health during the pandemic.

Lehner sat at the press conference table inside the Vegas practice facility and delivered an emotional message, claiming that the NHL promised players a more relaxed version of the current protocols once players were vaccinated. He said that even though the majority of Golden Knights players have received their shots, the league hasn’t followed through.

“To be promised something’s going to change, to take a vaccine,” Lehner said. “Where some people, some players were even on the verge of taking it, and I was one of them. I wasn’t sure, but I took it for my mental health. When we did it, now they said it’s not happening. I think that’s wrong.”

The NHL and deputy commissioner Bill Daly quickly disputed Lehner’s claim, stating the league never made such promises. Shortly after Lehner spoke publicly, he talked again with The Athletic over the phone to clarify some of his statements and provided details for the exact rule relaxations he was expecting.

He didn’t back down from his initial statements but doubled down on his belief that the league must do better in its handling of players’ mental health issues.

“We were presented with, ‘Listen, if we can get 85 percent of our travel party vaccinated, these rules are going to change,” Lehner told The Athletic. “They showed us the NBA protocols for all the stages, and that’s what made me take the vaccine.

“Being lied to about things changing, to kind of force us to take the vaccine, is unacceptable. And now that we’ve taken the vaccine, to say ‘Nah, we aren’t changing because of competitive advantage,’ is outrageous.”

NHL players are following stricter isolation rules than most of the general public, essentially only traveling from the rink to their house and back for an entire calendar year. They aren’t allowed to leave their house for something as simple as grocery shopping. No visitors are allowed into their homes, including their own teammates. On the road they often can’t even dine as a team, forced to grab a meal and take it to their room to eat. Even players’ family members are encouraged not to go out for any reason. To the rink, and back home. That’s it.

14) Of course there’s fraud in the vaccination cards.

15) Leonhardt on our inability to properly assess the risks of Covid:

Guido Calabresi, a federal judge and Yale law professor, invented a little fable that he has been telling law students for more than three decades.

He tells the students to imagine a god coming forth to offer society a wondrous invention that would improve everyday life in almost every way. It would allow people to spend more time with friends and family, see new places and do jobs they otherwise could not do. But it would also come with a high cost. In exchange for bestowing this invention on society, the god would choose 1,000 young men and women and strike them dead.

Calabresi then asks: Would you take the deal? Almost invariably, the students say no. The professor then delivers the fable’s lesson: “What’s the difference between this and the automobile?”

In truth, automobiles kill many more than 1,000 young Americans each year; the total U.S. death toll hovers at about 40,000 annually. We accept this toll, almost unthinkingly, because vehicle crashes have always been part of our lives. We can’t fathom a world without them.

It’s a classic example of human irrationality about risk. We often underestimate large, chronic dangers, like car crashes or chemical pollution, and fixate on tiny but salient risks, like plane crashes or shark attacks.

One way for a risk to become salient is for it to be new. That’s a core idea behind Calabresi’s fable. He asks students to consider whether they would accept the cost of vehicle travel if it did not already exist. That they say no underscores the very different ways we treat new risks and enduring ones.

I have been thinking about the fable recently because of Covid-19. Covid certainly presents a salient risk: It’s a global pandemic that has upended daily life for more than a year. It has changed how we live, where we work, even what we wear on our faces. Covid feels ubiquitous.

Fortunately, it is also curable. The vaccines have nearly eliminated death, hospitalization and other serious Covid illness among people who have received shots. The vaccines have also radically reduced the chances that people contract even a mild version of Covid or can pass it on to others.

Yet many vaccinated people continue to obsess over the risks from Covid — because they are so new and salient.

Visitors riding the swings at Adventureland, in Farmingdale, N.Y., yesterday.Johnny Milano for The New York Times

‘Psychologically hard’

To take just one example, major media outlets trumpeted new government data last week showing that 5,800 fully vaccinated Americans had contracted Covid. That may sound like a big number, but it indicates that a vaccinated person’s chances of getting Covid are about one in 11,000. The chances of a getting a version any worse than a common cold are even more remote.

But they are not zero. And they will not be zero anytime in the foreseeable future. Victory over Covid will not involve its elimination. Victory will instead mean turning it into the sort of danger that plane crashes or shark attacks present — too small to be worth reordering our lives.

That is what the vaccines do. If you’re vaccinated, Covid presents a minuscule risk to you, and you present a minuscule Covid risk to anyone else. A car trip is a bigger threat, to you and others. About 100 Americans are likely to die in car crashes today. The new federal data suggests that either zero or one vaccinated person will die today from Covid.

It’s true that experts believe vaccinated people should still sometimes wear a mask, partly because it’s a modest inconvenience that further reduces a tiny risk — and mostly because it contributes to a culture of mask wearing. It is the decent thing to do when most people still aren’t vaccinated. If you’re vaccinated, a mask is more of a symbol of solidarity than anything else.

Coming to grips with the comforting realities of post-vaccination life is going to take some time for most of us. It’s only natural that so many vaccinated people continue to harbor irrational fears. Yet slowly recognizing that irrationality will be a vital part of overcoming Covid.

15) Discovered the Raccoon Whisperer videos this weekend.  Ummm… wow.  Who knew raccoons could get so fat!

16) I love McDonald’s ice cream cones.  The fact that they are so constantly broken drives me crazy and feels like some bizarre failure of capitalism (I mean, there’s money at stake here– invent a more reliable ice cream machine!!)  And OMG this amazing Wired story explains it all and so much more.  It’s your must-read for the weekend.  And it also introduced me to this awesome website which I will now be checking before heading to McDonald’s for cones with the kids after Sunday afternoon nature walks.

The rapid tests are finally  here!

Finally, finally, finally affordable, rapid Covid-tests ($20 for a pair).

As of this week, you can buy relatively low-priced COVID-19 rapid tests to take at home. The tests are available through pharmacies and do not require a prescription to buy one.

This bit of good news comes the same week that all people ages 16 and up in the U.S. are eligible to get a vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration authorized Abbott’s BinaxNOW and Quidel’s QuickVue at-home tests in late March. Both are antigen tests. The BinaxNOW test is currently available and Quidel says it expects to start shipping the QuickVue tests next week.

“They are very reliable, if the question that you’re asking and the reason that you’re taking the test is, am I infectious right now and a risk of transmitting the virus to other people?” says Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist who has advocated for at-home testing.

I literally needed these to be available 3 days sooner than they were as we had a Covid scare with my 10-year old daughter this week and it would’ve been great to have that rapid response instead of waiting 40 hours for the PCR.  Sarah had a fever and fatigue starting Monday night and got a test Tuesday morning.  The rapid tests are very accurate for someone early in a symptomatic case, so we could have had confidence in it and saved roughly 40 hours of a ton of stress– especially for Sarah’s unvaccinated brother, who was especially freaked out.

Yes, not quite as effective as the PCR, but still pretty damn accurate and they tell you the most important thing– am I likely to spread Covid-19 to another person.  I strongly suspect we will be using these on our unvaccinated children when visiting vaccinated family members in coming months.  But, damn, we should’ve been able to do this months and months and months ago.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Yglesias on Housing policy as a case study in how liberals make arguments to each other versus what is the best way to actually accomplish the goals of liberal arguments.  

What’s interesting about the housing case is that we just recently had a really good collaboration between Vox and Data for Progress (written up by Jerusalem Demsas) on the question of whether a race-forward framing of the housing issue is a good idea. The answer was: No, land use reform is more popular if you describe it as an economic growth initiative than as a racial justice initiative.

This is not a very surprising result if you take a second to think about it. Most voters like to hear that politicians care about people like them and their problems, and most voters are white. Meanwhile, non-white people benefit from economic growth. The presumption of Kahlenberg’s framing is that the audience is fully bought-in on the need to prioritize racial justice, and just needs to be told how to do that. But this, to me, is the central paradox of contemporary liberalism, which simultaneously holds that racism pervades American society and also that a good way to do politics is to constantly frame things in racial terms…

Aside from land use, the other big cause I’ve been very involved with is trying to get more political focus on expansionary monetary policy and full employment. In his memoir, “Eyes to the Wind: A Memoir of Love and Death, Hope and Resistance,” Ady Barkan very generously credits me with inspiring him to launch Fed Up, the first activist campaign focused on these issues. The articles that he says got him wanting to do this don’t say much of anything about race, but he explains that centering race was critical to securing momentum for his project in the progressive non-profit world:

I had laid out a good argument for why the Fed should pursue full employment, but I still needed to tell a comprehensible story about how the Fed should do that and how we could plausibly get the Fed to do it. Over my first months at CPD, Amy and I talked through those questions, and quite soon she had identified the crucial element that was missing from my analysis and my proposal: race.

And later.

So my framing would matter. A campaign pitch about the Federal Reserve and creative expansionary monetary policy would be met by glazed-over eyes and silence. A campaign about jobs and wages would be met by nodding heads and smiles. But a campaign about combatting racial and economic equality by delivering full employment to all communities? That might actually get some people excited.

Barkan’s frankness about this was really helpful and enlightening to me because the monetary policy campaign has been very successful but also very deliberately focused on elite persuasion. The basic question was how could a white activist convince a group of funders to give him money to convince a group of highly educated monetary policy officials to care more about working-class people and the answer was … talk a lot about race.

But that’s not the advice you would give someone trying to win a US Senate seat in Iowa…

Here at Slow Boring, everything ultimately comes back to Max Weber and politics as a vocation.

And what I would really like is for funders to think harder about these issues and try to adopt more of an ethic of responsibility and less of an ethic of moral conviction. What does that mean? Well in the ethics of conviction what matters are your feelings and intentions. Your job on this view is to wage the righteous struggle, and a struggle against white supremacy sounds a lot more righteous than a struggle against inefficient regulation.

But to use the social justice jargon of our time, intentions aren’t what matters. And relatively privileged people ought to be self-reflective about our privileges. If there are urgent problems, your obligation is to act like a responsible person and actually try to make them better. Does turning zoning reform into a highly polarized issue of racial conflict make it more or less likely to happen? And in particular, does setting up your grantmaking in such a way that any progressive cause’s advocates are strongly incentivized to turn it into a highly polarized issue of racial conflict make those causes more or less likely to prevail?

If the answer is “less likely,” then you have to not do it. That does not mean that you can’t address issues of race and racism. An issue that’s gotten attention in recent years is that a lack of racial diversity in clinical trials is compromising the quality of the health care that non-white patients receive. There is very strong evidence of racial bias in police stops. These are racial issues and they deserve to be addressed.

At the end of the day, though, there’s a big difference between saying “I want to fund various kinds of work, including some work on issues where race-neutral solutions won’t work” and saying “I want to create financial incentives for everyone to frame their race-neutral policy ideas as racial justice initiatives.” These days there is a lot of the latter happening and a lot of people are responding to it. If you’re in a position to make those kinds of decisions, you have to ask yourself whether that’s actually helping anyone.

2) The shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant the day of the Chauvin really blew up.  But 48 hours later, when it was clear she was basically shot while just about to stab an unarmed person, it’s largely dropped away.  This is not a good case to make arguments about racist policing and police reform.  I like Drum’s take:

Just as the verdict in the Derek Chauvin case was coming down on Tuesday, another high-profile police shooting of a Black person was taking place in Columbus, Ohio. But this case resolved very differently than the Chauvin case. Police had been called to a house where a fight was taking place and body cam video of the incident was released almost immediately. Here’s what it showed:

The girl wearing black, identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, has a knife out and is obviously about to stab the girl wearing pink. A police officer on the scene shot Bryant four times before she could do any harm.

By American standards this was a righteous shooting. The police officer did the right thing and will certainly not be in any trouble over it.

But looking at this a little more broadly suggests that maybe American standards aren’t very good. Police are trained to react to situations like this with direct firepower, and you can make an argument that this is the right thing to do. But was it? Would rushing the two girls have been adequate? A warning shot? A taser? In countries like Norway and the UK it would have been handled differently simply because cops in those countries don’t routinely carry guns.

Shooting Bryant was, in some sense, the lowest-risk response. It was 100% guaranteed to save the girl in pink from any injury whatsoever. But would a different response have been better, even if it ran some small risk of the girl in pink suffering some (probably non-fatal) injury?

I think so.

3) Good stuff from Susan Glasser, “Many Republicans are acting like the Capitol insurrection never happened, and much of Washington is fine with it.”

Next Wednesday, President Joe Biden is set to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress, on the eve of his hundredth day in office. Outside the Capitol, newly erected fences and a heavy National Guard presence attest to the lingering scars of our own January 6th. But January 6th denialism has taken hold in Trump and many of his supporters—even some inside Congress. They now claim the horrific events of that day were merely a peaceful protest, and they continue to refuse to accept the legitimacy of Biden’s win. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been unable to reach a deal with Republicans to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol.

And never mind the old bipartisan ritual of applauding the President, no matter which Party he comes from; a number of Republican members of Congress told Punchbowl News that they won’t even bother to show up for the President’s speech. “No,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a former member of the House Republican leadership. “No,” said Representative Nancy Mace, a highly regarded Republican freshman from South Carolina. “I am not,” said Representative Greg Pence, the brother of Trump’s Vice-President, Mike Pence. Just hours after rioters sought to stop the Vice-President from banging down the gavel on the Trump Presidency, Greg Pence was one of the hundred and forty-seven Republicans who voted against certifying the election results—a total so large that it represents not some small lunatic fringe but the vast majority of the House Republican Conference.

Three months later, no price has been paid by the Republicans who took that vote. In the immediate aftermath of January 6th, this outcome was not entirely clear. Some Republican politicians initially disavowed Trump and seemed to believe that his hold on the Party would dissipate—Nikki Haley, I’m thinking of you—but have since proved eager to run away from their own words. Many companies even announced that they would suspend political donations to those who had voted against certifying the election results, suggesting there might actually be consequences. Instead, the inevitable walk-back has already started.

In recent days, as new campaign-finance reports have come in, the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (crew) has found numerous examples of corporate political-action committees resuming contributions to Republicans who voted to overturn the election results. They include the pacs run by A.T. & T., the American Bankers Association, JetBlue, and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. Toyota’s pac has given at least forty-eight thousand dollars to thirty-one Republican members who voted against certification, according to Noah Bookbinder, the president of crew, who told me it was the largest amount that his group has found so far—a “full-on embrace of not caring that members of Congress encouraged an insurrection.”

This is hardly surprising. Washington is a calculating place, and these companies have calculated, accurately, where the vast majority of Republican officials in Congress still stand. Papering over a scandal, assuming that the public is not paying enough attention to care about a few donations which really matter only to the politicians who receive them—that’s what this town is all about. “There was an opportunity for the Republican Party to differentiate itself from Donald Trump and his anti-democratic actions and tendencies, to say he’s gone too far,” Bookbinder told me. “They didn’t do that.”

4) Damn, I loved this from Katherine Wu, “Show Your Immune System Some Love: Antibodies are great and all, but macrophages, B cells, and helper T cells deserve some attention too.”  You know I am all about showing the T-cells some love:

If the immune system ran its own version of The Bachelor, antibodies would, hands down, get this season’s final rose.

These Y-shaped molecules have acquired some star-caliber celebrity in the past year, due in no small part to COVID-19. For months, their potentially protective powers have made headlines around the globe; we test for them with abandon, and anxiously await the results. Many people have come to equate antibodies, perhaps not entirely accurately, with near imperviousness to the coronavirus and its effects. Antibodies are, in many ways, the heartthrobs of the immune system—and some 15 months deep into immunological infatuation, the world is still swooning hard.

Don’t get me wrong: Antibodies have served me well, and thanks to my recent dalliance with the Pfizer vaccine, the anti-coronavirus variety will be receiving an extra dose of my admiration for a good while yet. I am, above all else, eager for the rest of the global population to nab the safeguards they offer, ideally for keeps.

But antibodies are simply not the only immune-system singles worthy of our love. A multitude of cells and molecules are crucial to building a protective immune response against this virus and many others. It’s time we took a break from antibodies, and embarked on a brief Rumspringa with the rest of the body’s great defenders…

T cells play a far more subtle game. Their career choices range from demolishing virus-killed cells to corralling and coordinating other immune cells. As several researchers have pointed out, T cells might be some of the most underappreciated cells in the war against COVID-19, especially when it comes to vaccines. Some evidence even suggests that, in the absence of decent antibodies, T cells can clean up the coronavirus mostly on their own.

Then there are the helpers—the benign Jekyll to the killers’ bellicose Hyde. Helper Ts are some of the most loyal partners you’ll find in the immune system, nurturing almost to a fault and versatile to boot. They coax B cells into maturing into antibody factories. They cheer killers along their murderous paths. They even goad innate immune cells into becoming the most ferocious fighters (and feeders) they can be. Effectively, helpers are “badass multitaskers that coordinate every level of immunity,” Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, told me. They’re about as supportive as they come—as long as you don’t mind being micromanaged from time to time.

5) As a parent who has let all his kids play with nerf guns and water guns, the idea of an NYT advice columnist saying even water pistols desensitize gun violence, all I can say is… give me a break.  

6) Great stuff from Brian Beutler in this week’s newsletter:

I’ll admit to mostly sidestepping the question of whether the Waters and Biden statements were appropriate; I have mixed feelings about them, and only one read-it-in-10-minutes-or-less email to write. (Unless….subscribe to my Substack, The Watersgate Investigation.) The norm that elected officials, particularly the president, shouldn’t opine on the guilt or innocence of criminal defendants before juries do is a strong one. The fact that Trump trampled it heedlessly was awful and corrosive. At the same time, Waters’s prerogatives in her dual-hatted roles as congresswoman and civil-rights activists are in tension here; as are Biden’s obligations to uphold the rights of the accused, respect separation of powers, and play social peacemaker. It’s a thorny debate, but it’s playing out all on its own, in good faith, without Republican input, on the broad left. 

Tabling the censure resolution, as Democrats did, was a way of saying Republicans should be excluded from that debate, and rightly so—but not because Republicans have their own “mess” to clean up. They’re unwelcome because they don’t see themselves as bound by the principles they’re pretending to be mad that Waters violated. Republicans love interfering in judicial processes to help their allies and punish their enemies; they love inciting violence against their political opposition. Donald Trump did these things with abandon and they cheered it for years; after he lost, they forged ahead in his image, most recently in the form of legislation offering their supporters immunity from civil liability for running over Black Lives Matter protesters with their cars

This isn’t the hypocrisy of a politician who preaches conservative family values by day then hits the Appalachian Trail at night. It’s shit-eating revelry in the fascistic notion that they and only they are allowed to violate the rules. They may use and abuse power all they want while their opponents must never run afoul of norms of decorum or fair play. The catch is that they understand it would be politically untenable to assert or attempt to justify this double standard explicitly. They get around that impediment by resorting to deception, to trying to convince the wider public that they view principles other than raw self-interest as sacrosanct. They preen about higher values they do not hold, knowing that neither the press nor the opposition party is likely to stipulate to the plain truth: That they are liars, keen on sanctioning their enemies for behavior that they revel in by feigning offense. 

7) Interesting, “What Facebook Did for Chauvin’s Trial Should Happen All the Time: If the social-media giant can discourage hate speech and incitements to violence on a special occasion, it can do so all the time.”

On Monday, Facebook vowed that its staff was “working around the clock” to identify and restrict posts that could lead to unrest or violence after a verdict was announced in the murder trial of the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In a blog post, the company promised to remove “content that praises, celebrates or mocks” the death of George Floyd. Most of the company’s statement amounted to pinky-swearing to really, really enforce its existing community standards, which have long prohibited bullying, hate speech, and incitements to violence.

8) Linda Greenhouse on guns and the Supreme Court:

Once again, the country is awash in gun violence. And once again, the justices have to decide whether to inject the Supreme Court into the middle of the gun debate. Will the first of those two sentences inform the second?

That’s really the question now, it seems to me. There is little doubt that the necessary four votes exist to add a Second Amendment case to the docket for decision, and there are plenty of candidates to choose from. One case under active consideration challenges New York State’s restriction on carrying a concealed gun outside the home. The justices have taken it up at their private conference twice this month and are scheduled to do so again on Friday.

case from New Jersey raising the same challenge to a similar constraint was filed at the court on April 2. There are other Second Amendment cases in the pipeline, propelled toward the court in the expectation that Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s arrival has finally tipped the balance toward action on the gun rights agenda…

Thirteen years post-Heller, the decision itself has become more of a symbol and talking point than a legal opinion that people actually take the trouble to read.

If they did, they would see Heller as the limited decision that it was. Yes, it took the unprecedented step of interpreting the Second Amendment as conferring an individual right to own a gun, but the court applied that new right to the unusual circumstance of a District of Columbia law that prohibited private gun ownership. Only the District and Chicago had such a strict law. The court held only that individuals have a constitutional right to own a gun and to keep it at home for self-defense. For the vast majority of people in the country, Heller changed nothing as a practical matter; it constitutionalized a right that gun owners already enjoyed under state and local laws.

Whether the Second Amendment also protects a right to walk down the street, or onto a college campus, or into a supermarket, a warehouse, a State Capitol, or a 12-year-old’s birthday party carrying a gun are questions that Heller did not answer. The current court can answer those questions in the affirmative if it so chooses. It has the votes. We will soon see whether it has the discipline and common sense to stay its hand.

9) Richard Hasen, “Republicans Aren’t Done Messing With Elections: Not content with limiting voting rights, they are threatening the integrity of vote counting itself.”

A new, more dangerous front has opened in the voting wars, and it’s going to be much harder to counteract than the now-familiar fight over voting rules. At stake is something I never expected to worry about in the United States: the integrity of the vote count. The danger of manipulated election results looms.

We already know the contours of the battle over voter suppression. The public has been inundated with stories about Georgia’s new voting law, from Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta to criticism of new restrictions that prevent giving water to people waiting in long lines to vote. With lawsuits already filed against restrictive aspects of that law and with American companies and elite law firms lined up against Republican state efforts to make it harder to register and vote, there’s at least a fighting chance that the worst of these measures will be defeated or weakened.

The new threat of election subversion is even more concerning. These efforts target both personnel and policy; it is not clear if they are coordinated. They nonetheless represent a huge threat to American democracy itself.

Some of these efforts involve removing from power those who stood up to President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The Georgia law removes the secretary of state from decision-making power on the state election board. This seems aimed clearly at Georgia’s current Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, punishing him for rejecting Mr. Trump’s entreaties to “find” 11,780 votes to flip Joe Biden’s lead in the state.

Even those who have not been stripped of power have been censured by Republican Party organizations, including not just Mr. Raffensperger and Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, but also Barbara Cegavske, the Republican secretary of state of Nevada who ran a fair election and rejected spurious arguments that the election was stolen. The message that these actions send to politicians is that if you want a future in state Republican politics, you had better be willing to manipulate election results or lie about election fraud.

Republican state legislatures have also passed or are considering laws aimed at stripping Democratic counties of the power to run fair elections. The new Georgia law gives the legislature the power to handpick an election official who could vote on the state election board for a temporary takeover of up to four county election boards during the crucial period of administering an election and counting votes. That provision appears to be aimed at Democratic counties like Fulton County that have increased voter access. A new Iowa law threatens criminal penalties against local election officials who enact emergency election rules and bars them from sending voters unsolicited absentee ballot applications.

10) Loved this, “Can We Learn to Live With Germs Again? The health of our bodies and microbiomes may depend on society’s return to lifestyles that expose us to bacteria, despite the risks.”

In January, a global consortium of health researchers published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in which they raise the alarm about the microbial fallout that may follow in the pandemic’s wake. “We’re starting to realize that there’s collateral damage when we get rid of good microbes, and that has major consequences for our health,” says B. Brett Finlay, first author of the PNAS paper and a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of British Columbia.

Almost everything we know about the microbiome is uncertain, including how our activities and environments influence its makeup. But Dr. Finlay and others argue that our collective health may depend on our willingness to holster our sanitizers and cleansers, moderate our use of bacteria-slaying drugs, and resume old habits that nourish our microbial communities. In other words, we’re going to have to live with germs again…

The world and just about everything in it, including people, are awash in microbes. Bacteria blanket our surfaces, suffuse the air we breathe and saturate certain areas of our bodies, especially the gut. While some microbes and other microscopic particles are a threat to us, a vast majority are benign. And there’s mounting evidence that our health relies on our early and ongoing interactions with them.

Dr. Graham Rook, an emeritus professor of medical microbiology at University College London, likens the immune system to a computer. He says that the microbes we encounter in daily life — on other people and in our spaces — are the data that the immune system relies on to program and regulate its operations.

Deprived of these exposures, especially at the start of life, the immune system is prone to malfunction. The result can be allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic medical conditions.

The “hygiene hypothesis,” introduced in 1989 by the epidemiologist David Strachan, first made the case that bodies deprived of contact with microbes could be at risk for health problems. The hygiene hypothesis has evolved over time, and experts continue to debate many of its finer points. But it’s now clear that exposure to “good” bacteria is necessary for a person’s health, and that living in too-sterile environments may threaten us in ways scientists are only just beginning to grasp.

Before the pandemic, there was growing recognition among both doctors and the public that aspects of modern life may be upsetting our balance of healthy microbes, perhaps especially in our guts, and hurting our health as a result. This idea is not so much controversial as simply too new to be fully appreciated; roughly 95 percent of the published microbiome scholarship has come in just the last decade, and two-thirds of it only in the last five years. But already, research has revealed that, apart from training the immune system, our bacteria produce molecules that affect the workings of our every cell and organ.

“The microbes we carry in our gut could affect the function of the brain, the spinal cord, the joints or things far from where those microbes live,” says Dr. Eran Elinav, another of the PNAS paper’s authors and a principal investigator at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

There’s some conjecture that the imbalance or loss of good microbes may heighten a person’s susceptibility to infection — including, perhaps, to the coronavirus. Late last year, researchers based in Hong Kong observed a link between certain microbiome characteristics and severe Covid-19. Experts have hypothesized that unwell gut microbiomes may partly explain why older adults and adults with conditions such as obesity or Type 2 diabetes seem to be at greater risk of serious Covid-19 illness. There’s even some speculation that microbiome factors play a part in so-called long Covid — the brain fog, fatigue and other persistent symptoms that afflict many in the aftermath of the infection.

“There’s a wealth of evidence to suggest the microbiome has an influential role in our response to viral infections,” says Brent Williams, an assistant professor in the department of clinical pathology and cell biology at Columbia University. This raises intriguing questions about how the microbiome might influence disease outcomes for Covid, he says, “or how it might be altered by Covid, and whether those alterations persist.”

Love the human body as ecosystem rather than organism analogy– I use that one all the time.

11) Interesting! “Vietnam defied the experts and sealed its border to keep Covid-19 out. It worked.: How the country has kept coronavirus deaths to just 35, and grew its economy in 2020.”

12) People really need to stop using flushable wipes that aren’t actually flushable.  “A nasty pandemic problem: More flushed wipes are clogging pipes, sending sewage into homes.”  Actually, even better, I really don’t understand why government cannot come up with enforceable standards for flushable wipes that actually are flushable.  What we have know is disgusting and expensive.  

13) “Normal” temperature is about to get warmer.

As soon as the 2021 New Year’s celebrations were over, the calls and questions started coming in from weather watchers: When will NOAA release the new U.S. Climate Normals? The Normals are 30-year averages of key climate observations made at weather stations and corrected for bad or missing values and station changes over time. From the daily weather report to seasonal forecasts, the Normals are the basis for judging how temperature, rainfall, and other climate conditions compare to what’s normal for a given location in today’s climate.

For the past decade, the Normals have been based on weather observations from 1981 to 2010. In early May, climate experts at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information will be releasing an updated collection—hourly, daily, monthly, and annual Normals for thousands of U.S. locations, states, regions—based on the weather experienced from 1991 to 2020.

But what about global warming?

Alongside the questions about when the new Normals will be released (first week of May), we’ve gotten a lot of questions about the Normals and global warming. Is global warming affecting the Normals? (Yes). Are the Normals adjusted to “subtract out” global warming? (No.)  So the new normal reflects our changing climate? (Yes). Then how do we keep track of what used to be normal? (Different analyses.)

The last update of the Normals took place in 2011, when the baseline shifted from 1971-2000 to 1981-2010. Among the highlights of the rollout was the creation of a map showing how climate-related planting zones across the contiguous United States had shifted northward in latitude and upward in elevation. It was a clear signal that normal overnight low temperatures across the country were warmer than they used to be.  

Changes in US plant zones between 1971-2000 Normals and 1981-2010 Normals

14) Possibly the biggest vaccine news this year.  “‘Game-changing’ malaria vaccine is 77% effective at stopping infection”

15) This Zeynep Tufekci analysis (older, but recently re-shared) on why the final Game of Thrones season is so bad is just fantastic.  Such a great way of thinking about storytelling.  But only read it if you’ve watched all the show or are confident you never will. 

16) Great stuff from Ron Brownstein, “The racist “replacement theory” that more in GOP are pushing has it exactly backwards. The real risk to older Whites is that immigrants won’t replace them in the workforce & tax base.”

Parent less; socialize more

Really enjoyed this in the Atlantic because the reality is that most middle-class and above parents simply try too hard.  “Parents Are Sacrificing Their Social Lives on the Altar of Intensive Parenting.” One of the fundamental features of middle-class parenting is that so many parents believe they make more impact in their kids’ lives than they actually do.  Live in a safe middle-class neighborhood, value education reasonably, love your kids, and avoid the worst impacts on kids (ACES) and your kids will probably do fine.  So don’t obsess over it.  Here’s something I wrote about this a long time ago (time flies when you’re parenting).  Anyway, onto the latest:

Over the past few decades, American parents have been pressured into making a costly wager: If they sacrifice their hobbies, interests, and friendships to devote as much time and as many resources as possible to parenting, they might be able to launch their children into a stable adulthood. While this gamble sometimes pays off, parents who give themselves over to this intensive form of child-rearing may find themselves at a loss when their children are grown and don’t need them as much.

Guns– Canada style

Great stuff from Francis Wilkinson on Canada’s approach to guns.  TL;DR we can regulate way more and way more effectively and still preserve rights to gun ownership for responsible citizens. 

Licensing is extensive and mandatory. [all emphases mine] Without a license issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, you can’t legally possess or purchase a firearm in Canada. And without completing an authorized training course in firearm safety like this one, and then waiting a minimum of 28 business days for your application to be processed, you won’t get a license.

At the head of today’s class is Brock Edwards, a self-described “gun nut from Alberta.” A middle-aged White man with glasses, a greying goatee and a belly he uses as a prop, Edwards might actually look the part. Over the course of the morning, he demonstrates how to load, unload and discharge a range of firearms, from muzzle-loaded antiques to semi-automatics. All the pistols and rifles arrayed before him have been de-activated, and the ammunition is inert. The guns here click, but they don’t shoot. For live-fire training, you need to take a different course…

Edwards tells the class that they can make as many as 20 “little mistakes” and he will still sign their applications tomorrow, allowing them to move to the next stage in the gun-license process. But he also tells them something else: “If you’re terrible at life, I won’t sign your paperwork. Not everyone can do everything. For some people, guns are that thing. Not everyone can do guns. If it were up to me there would be fewer gun owners in Canada.”

The idea is that perhaps not everyone who wants a gun, especially those who want one right now, should get one. This is a novel and repugnant notion to many Americans. Compared with just about anywhere but the U.S., Canada has a lot of guns — an estimated 35 per 100 residents. But in Canada gun policies are based in part on the realities of human behavior, and how they might influence the trajectory of a bullet into a body. For example, some people are mentally unbalanced or prone to steep depressions. Others are nasty drunks or binge drinkers. Still others are reckless, impulsive and easily enraged. If such people are Canadians, they are less likely to get hold of a gun than if they are Americans.

Mike Glas, a retired RCMP staff sergeant who does firearms training at a different company, told me that on occasion he has acted to derail a Possession and Acquisition License application — sometimes before it ever reaches the government. “It’s not that I get an inkling they’re going to do criminal activity,” he said. But he sometimes asks himself, “Would I want them hunting with me?” He once had a chat with a student in a course in British Columbia, Glas said, and afterward “he agreed to have us give his money back.”…


Canada’s four-page firearm application is designed to root out those who might be a risk to others or themselves: “During the past two (2) years have you experienced a divorce, a separation, a breakdown of a significant relationship, job loss or bankruptcy?” The application requires the name and birthdate of your conjugal partner, and it requires the name, birthdate and contact information of your former conjugal partner as well. It includes a line for your partner to sign the application, and another line for your former partner or ex-spouse to sign. If your ex-spouse doesn’t want to sign, or if you don’t want to ask her to, you can leave it blank, in which case they will be notified of your application.

Above both signature lines for current and former partners, there is an 800 number listed, in bold text, to call “if you have any safety concerns about this application.” Those who know you best can call to register their thoughts on your fitness to possess a firearm. So can anyone else.

“Under the Firearms Act,” said Corporal Caroline Duval, a spokeswoman for the RCMP, via email, “Chief Firearms Officers (CFO) have the authority to issue or revoke a firearms license, or to refuse an application for a license based on their assessment of an individual’s risk to themselves or others.”

Canada began requiring registration of all handguns in 1934, but much of the current regulatory regime dates to the 1970s and ’90s. New regulations were passed in the wake of a 1989 massacre in Montreal, where 14 people died at the Ecole Polytechnique. In addition to restricting certain types of firearms, requiring training and a waiting period, Canada also banned large-capacity magazines.

“Often Americans look at Canada and say, ‘Oh, it’s so strict there,’” said Wendy Cukier, a business professor at Ryerson University in Toronto and president of the Coalition for Gun Control. “What is really important for Americans to understand is that Canada’s kind of middle of the pack compared to the rest of the world.”…

Support for current and proposed gun regulations is not universal, of course. Canada has a gun lobby, though it’s puny compared with the U.S. version. And it has gun-friendly conservatives. Andrew Scheer, the Conservative Party leader at the time Trudeau made his proposal, responded in a way that Americans might find familiar: He accused Trudeau of exploiting tragedy. “Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally,” Scheer said in a statement.

Canada, with a population of 37 million, had 249 homicides by firearm in 2018. The U.S., with a population of 327 million, had 13,958. Louisiana alone, with a population of 4.7 million, had 497. That is, with about one-eighth of Canada’s population, Louisiana, which has some of the laxest gun laws in the U.S., managed to double Canada’s firearm homicides.

Gun violence, like all violence, is complicated. As in the U.S., suicides far outnumber homicides in Canada. But, contrary to Scheer’s statement, fewer guns in the hands of fewer citizens, with more restrictions on what they can do with them, does seem to correlate to fewer guns firing fewer bullets into fewer people…

In Canada, there is both less armed self-defense and less armed offense. The question is whether the former is partly responsible for the latter. In the U.S. states with lax gun laws tend to have high rates of firearm homicide, and vice versa. What Canadian society does in addition to government regulation, however — and what may be as significant — is treat guns like serious instruments of violence instead of as toys or symbolic expressions of manhood.

You want a gun? Then you will have to undergo training to learn to handle it safely. And the government will want some references to feel confident that it’s not arming a time-bomb. Oh, and you’ll have to wait for both of those processes to be completed. Then you’ll have to abide by rules on storage and transportation and apply to renew your license every five years.

What I’ve just described is the National Rifle Association’s definition of “tyranny.” But Canada’s government is not tyrannical. The nation’s civil liberties are broad. Its streets and homes are safer than those in the U.S. Scenes of horror occur. But they are rarer. And they might be rarer still if not for the ease of buying guns in the U.S. and sneaking them, as the mass murderer in Nova Scotia appears to have done, across the border.

For all its safety codes, Canada still has plenty of room to maneuver, firearms-wise, for a “gun nut” like Brock Edwards, who has built his career around guns and says he owns a dozen of them. Provided you don’t mistake guns for your religion or your identity, it turns out that a gun enthusiast can get along just fine in Canada. “Our gun laws are good,” Edwards told the class. “They’re intelligent. They work.”

Would this solve all of our gun violence problems?  Not even close.  Would it almost assuredly save thousands of lives a year (lives with parents, siblings, children, friends, futures)?  Yep.  Would it still allow law-abiding Americans to own guns entirely consistent with the current Supreme Court interpretation of the 2nd amendment?  Yep.  Politically, we’re nowhere near something like this happen, but certainly strikes me as the path we should be aiming for.  

A few thoughts on the Chauvin verdict

1) Phew, we needed that.  It’s not some great victory that the most obvious and heinous act of police brutality and malfeasance is punished, but it is necessary if we are to have any hope of improving policing in this country.  And it is necessary if we expect Black people in this country to have any confidence whatsoever in the ability of the criminal justice system to have justice.

2) I think it is a very good thing that we actually had this trial rather than Chauvin taking any kind of deal.  Even if he had plead guilty to his ultimate toughest charge, 2nd degree murder, the country needed to see that we could put a white police officer on trial for killing a black man and find him guilty.  

3) It would have been really, really bad for the country if Chauvin was somehow acquitted, but his conviction, was a really low bar.  Unlike a lot of cases, law enforcement (quite rightly, obviously) completely threw him under the bus.  That’s often not the case.  Good stuff from David Graham: “Chauvin’s Conviction Is the Exception That Proves the Rule: The former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty on all three counts he faced—but his trial was a demonstration of how difficult efforts at accountability remain.”

Assuming the guilty verdict stands, Chauvin’s conviction is an important instance of accountability, and will come as a relief to the millions of people outraged by Floyd’s death, but it doesn’t make for much of a model. Police leaders don’t usually feel such a need to make an example of an officer, and they don’t typically testify so bluntly against a former officer. There isn’t always video evidence so clear and compelling. Despite all of these factors, prosecutors still felt the need to portray their case as pro–law enforcement. If all of this is necessary to convict a former officer, convictions will remain rare—and reform will have to take place outside the courts.

4) This was right and just that we had this verdict.  Will be interesting to see next time when it’s a much less clear-cut case.  Still, slowly, and definitely not in a straight line, but I really do believe we, as a country and a society, are moving in the right direction on this.  


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