Quick hits (part II)

1) Something tells me if the impact from the wildfires out west were happening on the East coast there’d be way more media coverage.  Something about this article and it’s images really got through to me.  Just… damn.

Smoke from the Caldor fire shrouded Emerald Bay, near South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Wednesday.

2) I don’t love the “puppy” description for a 14-month old pit bull mix, but if you watch the video (and read the context) there’s just no way this police officer should be on the force.  And rules that allow police to shoot any dog that comes towards them under any circumstances lead to an ongoing dogmaggedon.  If you’ve spent 5 minutes with dogs, you clearly recognize this is a dog coming to play, not attack.  “Body-cam footage shows police shoot a ‘playful’ puppy: ‘He was curious and excited to greet this officer’”

3) Yes, of course the energy we spend on air conditioning makes climate change worse, but, come on, articles telling people to not use air conditioning are not the way to save the planet.  Not to mention, this one goes full woke Vox with a whole section on how air conditioning is “racist.”  

4) Ezra’s take on Afghanistan this week was so, so good.  But, I’ve already given you a lot of NYT links, so here’s an extensive excerpt:

To state the obvious: There was no good way to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban. A better withdrawal was possible — and our stingy, chaotic visa process was unforgivable — but so was a worse one. Either way, there was no hope of an end to the war that didn’t reveal our decades of folly, no matter how deeply America’s belief in its own enduring innocence demanded one. That is the reckoning that lies beneath events that are still unfolding, and much of the cable news conversation is a frenzied, bipartisan effort to avoid it.

Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure. It’s also obscuring the true alternative to withdrawal: endless occupation. But what our ignominious exit really reflects is the failure of America’s foreign policy establishment at both prediction and policymaking in Afghanistan.

“The pro-war crowd sees this as a mechanism by which they can absolve themselves of an accounting for the last 20 years,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told me. “Just think about the epic size of this policy failure. Twenty years of training. More than $2 trillion worth of expenditure. For almost nothing. It is heartbreaking to watch these images, but it is equally heartbreaking to think about all of the effort, of lives and money we wasted in pursuit of a goal that was illusory.” …

It is worth considering some counterfactuals for how our occupation could have ended. Imagine that the Biden administration, believing the Afghan government hollow, ignored President Ashraf Ghani’s pleas and began rapidly withdrawing personnel and power months ago. The vote of no-confidence ripples through Afghan politics, demoralizing the existing government and emboldening the Taliban. Those who didn’t know which side to choose, who were waiting for a signal of who held power, quickly cut deals with the Taliban. As the last U.S. troops leave, the Taliban overwhelms the country, and the Biden administration is blamed, reasonably, for speeding their victory.

Another possible scenario was suggested to me by Grant Gordon, a political scientist who works on conflict and refugee crises (and is, I should say, an old friend): If the Biden administration had pulled our allies and personnel out more efficiently, that might have unleashed the Taliban to massacre their opposition, as America and the world would have been insulated and perhaps uninterested in the aftermath. There have been revenge killings, but it has not devolved, at least as of yet, into all-out slaughter, and that may be because the American withdrawal has been messy and partial and the Taliban fears re-engagement. “What is clearly a debacle from one angle may actually have generated restraint,” Gordon told me. “Having spent time in places like this, I think people lack a real imagination for how bad these conflicts can get.”

Let me offer one more: Even though few believed Ghani’s government would prevail in our absence, and the Trump administration cut them out of its deal with the Taliban, there’s widespread disappointment that the government we supported collapsed so quickly. Biden has been particularly unsparing in his descriptions of the Afghan Army’s abdication, and I agree with those who say he’s been unfair, underestimating the courage and sacrifice shown by Afghan troops throughout the war. But put that aside: Americans might have felt better seeing our allies in Afghanistan put up a longer fight, even if the Taliban emerged victorious. But would a multiyear civil war have been better for the Afghans caught in the crossfire?

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, put it simply: “I think there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance, and smart people are struggling with how to rationalize defeat. Because that’s what we have here in Afghanistan — a defeat.” …

The tragedy of humanitarian intervention as a foreign policy philosophy is that it binds our compassion to our delusions of military mastery. We awaken to the suffering of others when we fear those who rule them or hide among them, and in this way our desire for security finds union with our desire for decency. Or we awaken to the suffering of others when they face a massacre of such immediacy that we are forced to confront our passivity and to ask what inaction would mean for our souls and self-image. In both cases, we awaken with a gun in our hands, or perhaps we awaken because we have a gun in our hands.

To many, America’s pretensions of humanitarian motivation were always suspect. There are vicious regimes America does nothing to stop. There are vicious regimes America finances directly. It is callous to suggest that the only suffering we bear responsibility for is the suffering inflicted by our withdrawal. Our wars and drone strikes and tactical raids and the resulting geopolitical chaos directly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis.

This is the deep lacuna in America’s foreign policy conversation: The American foreign policy establishment obsesses over the harms caused by our absence or withdrawal. But there’s no similar culpability for the harms we commit or that our presence creates. We are much quicker to blame ourselves for what we don’t do than what we do.

My heart breaks for the suffering we will leave behind in Afghanistan. But we do not know how to fix Afghanistan. We failed in that effort so completely that we ended up strengthening the Taliban. We should do all we can to bring American citizens and allies home. But if we truly care about educating girls worldwide, we know how to build schools and finance education. If we truly care about protecting those who fear tyranny, we know how to issue visas and admit refugees. If we truly care about the suffering of others, there is so much we could do. Only 1 percent of the residents of poor countries are vaccinated against the coronavirus. We could change that. More than 400,000 people die from malaria each year. We could change that, too.

“I want America more forward-deployed, but I want it through a massive international financing arm and a massive renewable energy arm,” Senator Murphy told me. “That’s the United States I want to see spread across the world — not the face of America today that’s by and large arms sales, military trainers and brigades.”

The choice we face is not between isolationism and militarism. We are not powerful enough to achieve the unachievable. But we are powerful enough to do far more good, and far less harm, than we do now.

5) I had never really thought about how much it sucks to be a tennis great of declining skills getting whipped by no-names in the 1st and 2nd round as opposed to a star from a team sport who manages to have a farewell tour while competing far below peak ablity:

There are many reasons that tennis does not lend itself to perfect endings. The modern game imposes immense physical demands and a relentless schedule. Its ranking system rewards consistent, elite play and punishes those whose aging bodies only allow them to dabble with lower seeds and more difficult early-round matches. The knockout format prevents anyone, regardless of past performance, from being guaranteed a grand setting for a final match, which can easily occur on a random Tuesday in a half-empty stadium.

The result is a stark choice for even the best tennis players: Go out on top while most likely leaving some championships on the table, or meander through a frustrating descent into being OK at best, which can be less than fun in a sport that shines its brightest lights on the top two or four players and lumps nearly everyone else into something of an also-ran category.

A star on a team sport can flicker then fade amid the protection of teammates. There’s an unforgiving loneliness to stardom in tennis.

The tennis equivalent of Derek Jeter’s gift-collecting farewell tour as the Yankees’ shortstop — an unproductive .256 batting average over 145 games coupled with not good but not embarrassing defense — is a lot of early-round losses to journeymen.

6) Just came across this study from March that just a good solid surgical mask (type II) does a good job with protecting aerosols while hardly impacting the difficulty in breathing.  And, just use a hack or two to make it fit better and you are in quite good shape. 

7) I so want to say “yes” to this even though I recognize the inherent problems, “Would It Be Fair to Treat Vaccinated Covid Patients First?” 

8) David Zweig with a solid piece in New York, “The Science of Masking Kids at School Remains Uncertain.”  I’m entirely okay with accepting “uncertain,” but with “nonetheless plenty of suggestive evidence that indicates this really is a good idea, and one who’s potential benefits almost surely outweigh the costs.” 

9) Among the various diet trends I’ve been interested in, I was pretty intrigued by this high/low glycemic index thing for a while.  Now, I just simply try and focus on more healthy food and calorie counting when I really want to lose weight.  Interestingly, some solid research suggests it doesn’t actually matter all that much.  

High-glycemic index (high-GI) foods (so-called fast carbs) have been hypothesized to promote fat storage and increase risk of obesity. To clarify whether dietary GI impacts body weight, we searched PubMed and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews for observational studies reporting associations between BMI and dietary GI, and for meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing low-GI and high-GI diets for weight loss. Data on 43 cohorts from 34 publications, totaling 1,940,968 adults, revealed no consistent differences in BMI when comparing the highest with the lowest dietary GI groups. In the 27 cohort studies that reported results of statistical comparisons, 70% showed that BMI was either not different between the highest and lowest dietary GI groups (12 of 27 cohorts) or that BMI was lower in the highest dietary GI group (7 of 27 cohorts). Results of 30 meta-analyses of RCTs from 8 publications demonstrated that low-GI diets were generally no better than high-GI diets for reducing body weight or body fat. One notable exception is that low-GI diets with a dietary GI at least 20 units lower than the comparison diet resulted in greater weight loss in adults with normal glucose tolerance but not in adults with impaired glucose tolerance. While carbohydrate quality, including GI, impacts many health outcomes, GI as a measure of carbohydrate quality appears to be relatively unimportant as a determinant of BMI or diet-induced weight loss. Based on results from observational cohort studies and meta-analyses of RCTs, we conclude that there is scant scientific evidence that low-GI diets are superior to high-GI diets for weight loss and obesity prevention.

10) Of course Democrats’ plans to make Medicare a lot better are going to come under zealous assault from those who may stand to lose, such as dentists and insurers.  Money before better health for more Americans, of course.  

11) I really need to write another post about boosters, especially in regard to J&J.  For now:

As vaccine makers set their sights on boosters, new studies unveiled on Wednesday from Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech demonstrated that extra shots can dramatically raise antibodies against the coronavirus.

The companies said they were submitting the new data to the Food and Drug Administration for evaluation, and Pfizer has formally asked the agency to authorize a booster shot. The Biden administration said last week that it wants to provide booster shots for all Americans eight months after vaccination.

The Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine was absent from the government’s booster plan announced last week. But with the new data, the company hopes to be part of the initial distribution of additional shots, which could happen as early as September…

In its new study, Johnson & Johnson tracked 17 volunteers from last year’s clinical trial. When given a booster shot at six months, their antibodies against the coronavirus jumped nine times as high as after the first dose. The data has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

Small studies of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots have found comparable jumps in antibody levels, as the companies reported on recent earnings calls.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech released new data from 306 people showing that a third dose given five to eight months after the second caused a strong immune response. The level of antibodies against the coronavirus in the volunteers more than tripled, the companies reported.

The side effects of a third injection were about the same as after the initial two doses, the companies said. The underlying data was not included in the news release, nor were the dates or location of the study specified. The companies said they were preparing a scientific publication describing the research.

12) I didn’t even realize today that an open tab from an old (i.e., 2020) article was actually about epistemic trespassing.  “Which Experts Should You Listen to during the Pandemic?
It should be a no-brainer: your best bet is to follow those who have actual expertise.”  Turns out Ballantyne’s twitter thread was better because I had a bunch of issues with this.  Basically, using a bunch of anecdotes of “epistemic trespassing” to say, “see, and they were wrong.”

Trespassers lack that well-tailored expertise. What they actually do know does not always transfer to new and different topics. Worse, they often lack the awareness that such tailored expertise exists. Their gaps in knowledge remain invisible to them.

Meanwhile, let’s ignore the fact that all sorts of people with “tailored expertise” kept on insisting on “droplet” transmission and denying airborne for months and months after many without this “tailored expertise” had correctly concluded otherwise.  Sure, ceteris paribus, go with those with the real expertise.  But, quite often, not else is equal.  I’ll take my ivermectin now :-).

13) Interesting take from Frum, “The One Thing That Could’ve Changed the War in Afghanistan: Had Osama bin Laden been killed or captured in December 2001, justice would have been served in the way Americans like: fast, hard, and cheap.”

Had the United States caught and killed Osama bin Laden in December 2001, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would have faded away almost immediately afterward. I cannot prove that. It’s only an opinion from my vantage point as one of President George W. Bush’s speechwriters in 2001 and 2002.

Had U.S. forces succeeded against bin Laden in 2001, justice would have been served in the way Americans like: fast, hard, and cheap. Republicans could have campaigned in the elections of 2002 as the winners of a completed war—and pivoted then to domestic concerns. Remember, if George W. Bush learned one single lesson from his father’s presidency, it was that even the most overwhelming military success does not translate into reelection. In November 1992, the elder Bush won 37 percent of the vote against a Democratic nominee who had opposed the triumphant Gulf War.

Bin Laden’s survival doomed any idea of pivoting back to domestic concerns. Without a kill or capture of bin Laden to show, the swift overthrow of the Taliban government seemed very much a consolation prize.

The road opened to the Iraq War.

Again, this is only one man’s opinion, but I don’t believe Bush was yet committed to a ground war against Saddam Hussein when he delivered his “Axis of Evil” speech in January 2002. That speech identified Iraq’s weapons potential as a deadly serious security threat. It said the same of Iran’s and North Korea’s weapons potential, and Bush had no intention of fighting either of them. There were and are many ways to address weapons potential short of a ground war, whether sanctions or sabotage or air strikes.

Yet in the year after that speech, the decision for war coalesced. Something had to be done against Islamic terrorism that was not Afghanistan; the Iraq War became that something. A strange dichotomy split the U.S. foreign-policy elite. Prominent figures in the Bush administration—Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—wished fiercely to escape Afghanistan. This wish was partly because of their determination to finish off Saddam Hussein, but it was also a policy preference in its own right. (For what little it’s worth, that’s how I personally felt at the time: However steep the odds against a stable future for Iraq, that urbanized and literate country was a more promising terrain for U.S. strategic goals than hopeless Afghanistan.)

14) Good stuff from Pew, “How Americans feel about ‘cancel culture’ and offensive speech in 6 charts”

In the September 2020 survey, Americans said they believed calling out others on social media is more likely to hold people accountable than punish people who don’t deserve it. Overall, 58% of adults said that in general, when people publicly call others out on social media for posting content that might be considered offensive, they are more likely to hold people accountable. In comparison, 38% said this kind of action is more likely to punish people who don’t deserve it.

A chart showing that partisans differ over whether calling out others on social media for potentially offensive content represents accountability or punishment

Views on this question differed sharply by political party. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to say that this type of action holds people accountable (75% vs. 39%). In contrast, 56% of Republicans – but just 22% of Democrats – said this generally punishes people who don’t deserve it.

In a separate report using data from the same September 2020 survey, 55% of Americans said many people take offensive content they see online too seriously, while a smaller share (42%) said offensive content online is too often excused as not a big deal.

A chart showing that Democrats, Republicans are increasingly divided on whether offensive content online is taken too seriously, as well as the balance between free speech, feeling safe online

Americans’ attitudes again differed widely by political party. Roughly six-in-ten Democrats (59%) said offensive content online is too often excused as not a big deal, while just a quarter of Republicans agreed – a 34 percentage point gap. And while 72% of Republicans said many people take offensive content they see online too seriously, about four-in-ten Democrats (39%) said the same.

15) What could be better?  Matt Grossman interviews Ezra Klein about how political science informs our understandings of politics in the modern world.

16) Really, really interesting analysis from Chait: “Why the Media Is Worse for Biden Than Trump”

And they’re right: Conservative media really does command enormous audiences that frequently dwarf its mainstream-news counterparts. But this merely underscores the fact that what we think of as “the media” only accounts for a portion of the American news-media diet. The other half of the media is simply a vehicle for partisan propaganda. And whatever its failings, the last week has amply demonstrated once again that the nonconservative mainstream media is not that.

This is not necessarily to deny that the mainstream media has some kinds of liberal bias. It’s certainly true that, as the electorate has grown more polarized by education, the mainstream media’s near-total reliance on college graduates has made it much more socially liberal than the overall country. (One stark example of this bias was the stampede last year to dismiss the COVID-19 lab-leak hypothesis as a “racist conspiracy theory.”) For the sake of argument, I am willing to concede that this liberal bias outweighs other cross-cutting biases. I would simply maintain that liberal bias is not the only determinant of media coverage.

Above all else, it treats bad news as more important than good news. And so, while mainstream media often covers Republican presidents critically, it metes out the same treatment to Democratic presidents. For instance, the American media’s coverage of COVID — which a study found to be more relentlessly negative than coverage in almost any other country — probably hurt Trump, but now it’s hurting Biden. Even many situations that a Democratic president handles almost perfectly — think of President Obama’s innovative response to the BP oil spill or the Ebola outbreak — will produce little reward, just scary headlines disappearing and the subject being dropped in favor of the next looming disaster.

Traditional journalistic norms may have weakened, especially in subjects like culture and sports, but they remain intact in most newsrooms, and especially in political coverage. Those norms enshrine a certain definition of objectivity that implicitly favors, in addition to social liberalism, hawkish foreign policy, deficit reduction, and bipartisanship.

Putting aside the ethics of the media’s approach, the political effect seems clear enough. Most Democratic voters will experience Democratic administrations as a mixed bag, at best. Republican voters, who mostly absorb the news through party-aligned media, will experience Republican administrations as an unmitigated triumph. The four-year experiment in Trump proved conclusively just how low the conservative media’s standards of truthfulness and competence are for a Republican president. If nothing else, Trump proved conservative media will support anything its party’s leader does.

Even the most dishonest, incompetent, and scandal-ridden Republican presidency imaginable — which more or less describes the one we just had — will still have a media environment divided almost equally between scorching criticism and obsequious fawning. On Trump’s worst days, the Fox News chyrons depicted him as a triumphal leader. On Biden’s best days, the conservative media was still giving him hell. In recent days, CNN and MSNBC looked a lot like Fox News, all hyping chaos in Afghanistan 24/7. That is the kind of comprehensive media hostility Trump never had to worry about.

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

One Response to Quick hits (part II)

  1. BlythBros. says:

    So, on the air-conditioning article, I couldn’t get past this one: “Some experts have hailed heat pump technology as a more efficient option.”

    In the summer a “heat pump” is an air-conditioner. In winter a “heat pump” is an air-conditioner run backwards. The heat pump system uses a switching valve to reverse flow once it exists the compressor, and then the indoor and outdoor heat exchangers can operate either as a condenser or as an evaporator.

    I’m not a home HVAC expert but I do believe that the heat pump systems are spec’d in such a way as to increase efficiency over typical A/C systems when the temp delta is higher than 20F indoor to outdoor. An A/C system spec’d identically to a heat pump will have the same efficiency.

    I wonder if the March 2020 Tesla Model Y (with heat pump) release had any influence: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?cat=47&date=all&q=heat%20pump

    All of this said, yes, heat pump systems are great!…but for heating in mild climates. Not really better for cooling

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