Quick hits (part II)

1) Jamelle Bouie on Manchin from a couple weeks ago:

As I argued earlier this month, the West Virginia senator appears to be committed to a conservative producerism that treats the market as a crucible in which ordinary workers prove their moral worth. We are not an “entitlement society,” says Manchin; we are a “reward” society. To thrive, you must work. And if you do not work, then you forfeit whatever help the government might deign to give. To give help without work — to shield ordinary workers from the market in the name of security or dignity — is to undermine and weaken the very fiber of society.

There was an irony in Manchin’s decision to invoke Franklin Roosevelt, one worth examining as Manchin takes a stand against the effort to expand the social safety net without forcing ordinary Americans to “earn” the support they need to live their lives. Animating the New Deal, Mike Konczal writes in his book, “Freedom From the Market: America’s Fight to Liberate Itself from the Grip of the Invisible Hand,” was a “new idea of freedom that limited and constrained markets” and put limits on “market dependency.”

To be completely dependent on markets was to exist in a state of unfreedom, subject to the overbearing weight of property and capital. Konczal quotes a Roosevelt administration official, the great labor lawyer Donald Richberg, who made this point in explicit terms when he said that when workers are “compelled by necessity to live in one kind of place and to work for one kind of employer, with no choice except to pay the rent demanded and to accept the wages offered — or else to starve — then the liberty of the property owner contains the power to enslave the worker. And that sort of liberty is intolerable and cannot be preserved by a democratic government.”

Or, as Roosevelt himself declared in a 1932 speech not long before he was elected president, “Even Jefferson realized that the exercise of the property rights might interfere with the rights of the individual that the government, without whose assistance the property rights could not exist, must intervene, not to destroy individualism, but to protect it.”

The market, in other words, was made for man, not man for the market, and after a generation spent running away from this insight — which also helped animate Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” — Democrats are finally coming back to the idea that people are entitled to a basic standard of living, regardless of whether they work or not.

Manchin stands against this development. And he is not, of course, alone. Since Biden entered office, not a single Republican — not a “moderate” and not a “populist” — has shown any interest in actually passing policies that might give Americans some freedom from the pressures of the market. Even initial pandemic relief, passed under President Trump, was forced to overcome Republican opposition to anything that might free workers from total market dependence.

“The moment we go back to work, we cannot create an incentive for people to say, ‘I don’t need to go back to work because I can do better someplace else,’” Senator Rick Scott of Florida notoriously said, in opposition to a plan to expand unemployment assistance.

Compared with the recent past, Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill is a major shift from austerity and retrenchment. But relative to the challenges at hand, it is, at best, a modest change in pace. It is, as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has said, “a compromise.”

And yet this halting attempt to build a somewhat stronger safety net is too much for Manchin — and the forces of capital he represents — to countenance.

2) Linsey Marr on airborne Covid:

When Covid-19 first appeared, public health authorities worried mainly about the new coronavirus spreading through large fluid droplets — like from a cough or a sneeze. The guidance for individual behavior followed: Wash your hands, stay six feet apart and maybe even wipe down your groceries.

But a detailed understanding of flu transmission — developed over decades and recognized by precious few scientists until recently — laid the basis for scientists’ awakening to the reality of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Research has found that, as with SARS-CoV-2, flu virus is exhaled in small particles by infected people while breathing, talking and coughing; and the flu virus has been found in aerosols in indoor environments, including hospitalschildren’s day care centers and airplanes. As with the new coronavirus, people can spread the flu even when they don’t have symptoms, which is further indication that transmission can occur without coughing or sneezing and doesn’t require large, wet droplets.

If recommendations to combat the flu continue to rely heavily on hand washing and surface cleaning, without recognizing the role of aerosols in transmission, we are unlikely to make a dent in the 12,000 to 52,000 deaths in the United States per year caused by the flu. But if we take a page from the Covid-19 playbook, the United States could drive flu cases down and prevent missed days of school and work, as well as death…

I’ve long believed, based on years of research, that the role of aerosols in the spread of many respiratory viruses is underappreciated by the medical community. I hope that Covid-19 has catalyzed a shift in thinking about the air we breathe. You wouldn’t drink a glass of water full of pathogens, chemicals and dirt. Why should we put up with breathing contaminated air?…

It will be a challenge to rethink the design and operation of buildings to account for air quality, but it is not insurmountable. Around the turn of the 20th century, the proliferation and modernization of water and sewage treatment systems helped make common waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera a rarity in the United States and Europe. The results of investments in water infrastructure are considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Making air quality healthier as a way to cut down on disease should be a public health focus for this century.

3) Nicholas Kristoff is giving up his NYT column to run for governor of Oregon.  This is a fine farewell column with some of his key lessons:

Lesson No. 2: We largely know how to improve well-being at home and abroad. What we lack is the political will.

Good things are happening that we often don’t acknowledge, and they’re a result of a deeper understanding of what works to make a difference. That may seem surprising coming from the Gloom Columnist, who has covered starvation, atrocities and climate devastation. But just because journalists cover planes that crash, not those that land, doesn’t mean that all flights are crashing.

Consider this: Historically, almost half of humans died in childhood; now only 4 percent do. Every day in recent years, until the Covid-19 pandemic, another 170,000 people worldwide emerged from extreme poverty. Another 325,000 obtained electricity each day. Some 200,000 gained access to clean drinking water. The pandemic has been a major setback for the developing world, but the larger pattern of historic gains remains — if we apply lessons learned and redouble efforts while tackling climate policy.

Here in the United States, we have managed to raise high school graduation rates, slash veteran homelessness by half and cut teen pregnancy by more than 60 percent since the modern peak in 1991. These successes should inspire us to do more: If we know how to reduce veteran homelessness, then surely we can apply the same lessons to reduce child homelessness.

Lesson No. 3: Talent is universal, even if opportunity is not.

The world’s greatest untapped resource is the vast potential of people who are not fully nurtured or educated — a reminder of how much we stand to gain if we only make better investments in human capital.

The most remarkable doctor I ever met was not a Harvard Medical School graduate. Indeed, she had never been to medical school or any school. But Mamitu Gashe, an illiterate Ethiopian woman, suffered an obstetric fistula and underwent long treatments at a hospital. While there, she began to help out.

Overworked doctors realized she was immensely smart and capable, and they began to give her more responsibilities. Eventually she began to perform fistula repairs herself, and over time she became one of the world’s most distinguished fistula surgeons. When American professors of obstetrics went to the hospital to learn how to repair fistulas, their teacher was often Mamitu.

But, of course, there are so many other Mamitus, equally extraordinary and capable, who never get the chance.

4) Emily Oster, “School Quarantines Should End”

Relative to the past school year, the picture of school reopening this year is dramatically improved. Virtually all children in the U.S. have access to full-time, in-person school, and, while we’ve seen some closures, cases of entire schools closing have been fairly limited. 

However: we are still seeing significant and, in some cases, confusing quarantines. For example, last week a father wrote to me with the following story. His child had been in contact with another child, and the other child had a positive rapid test for COVID-19. His child was, therefore, home as a close contact. Shortly after, the other child had a negative PCR test, suggesting that, as can happen, the rapid test was a false positive. But his child still had to quarantine for the full period. There was no way to test out of it, and no way to adjust for the reality that the other child did not have COVID.

This is a particularly bizarre example, but the fact is, we are doing a huge amount of quarantining based on contact tracing in school. In L.A., over this current school year, more than 30,000 students and staff have been in quarantine. School-based quarantines are a problem for students, who miss school, and for their parents, who may have to miss work. There is speculation that some parents have been unwilling to re-enter the labor force as a result of the unpredictability of school. 

School-based quarantine is not a good idea. It is disruptive without having any public health benefit. We know this from data, from randomized studies. It simply does not make sense to continue to do it…

It’s worth digging into what these numbers mean. Let’s imagine that L.A. County hadn’t quarantined those 30,000 people and instead let them go to school as usual. And imagine that the 63 people had been in school with COVID-19. In the data from L.A., it appears that each person has an average of about 3 close contacts. So that means that those 63 people would have been expected to have about 190 total close contacts. Given the close-contact infection rate, we’d expect about 0.4 new infections. 

Bottom line: 30,000 people underwent a 10-day quarantine in order to prevent a half a person from being infected with COVID-19. This does not seem like a good trade-off.

5) The Supreme Court will not help on police reform:

Last week, in two unsigned opinions, the Supreme Court showed its disdain for police reform. The two cases, part of the court’s so-called shadow docket, were decided without public briefing or argument. Taken together, they create an almost insurmountable barrier to holding police officers responsible for violating people’s constitutional rights.

With this latest move, the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility to regulate police behavior. Now legislators must step up and do what the justices won’t.

The question in both cases was whether officers should get qualified immunity in cases in which they were said to have used excessive force. Qualified immunity protects officers from having to pay monetary damages when they violate people’s rights. Under the Supreme Court’s qualified immunity doctrine, it is not enough to show that an officer acted unlawfully to lose that protection. A court also must find that the right the officer violated was “clearly established” at the time. In both cases, the court ruled for the police officers.

Even before last week, “clearly established” was a high bar for victims to overcome because it required that there be a prior case, either from the Supreme Court or the appellate court in the same jurisdiction, involving an almost identical set of facts. Courts have routinely pointed to minor factual differences — for example, whether the victim was lying down or sitting upright — in holding that a prior case was too dissimilar to put the officers on notice that they were acting unconstitutionally.

But after last week’s rulings, without noted dissents, the bar to relief may be so high that virtually no one can clear it. The unsigned opinion in Rivas-Vellegas v. Cortesluna suggests that law enforcement officers will get a free ride until the Supreme Court itself weighs in to say which precise conduct is out of bounds.

Not once but twice the justices wrote that, “even assuming” that an appeals court case “can clearly establish law” for civil rights violations, the court failed to identify such a case. The clear implication is that an appellate court case on point may no longer suffice to hold officers responsible. To drive their position home, the justices concluded: “Neither Cortesluna nor the Court of Appeals identified any Supreme Court case that addresses facts like the ones at issue here.”

6) We’ve all gotten used to shrinkflation (e.g., instead of raising the price of ice cream, we know get 1.5 quarts per container where we used to get 2; or the damn measly 5.3 ounces of yogurt per container– 8 when I was a kid!).  Now we’re having the same issue happen, but with services… skimpflation.  Excellent Planet Money post on the issue:

7) Freddie deBoer on the paternalism of white liberals who claim to speak for what black people want, without actually representing what the majority of black people want:

common claim was that you can’t expect activists to have message discipline, which is bizarre – if you can’t ask that of activists, who can you ask it of? I think what people really meant was “you can’t ask Black people to have message discipline.” Which is pretty racist! And now here we are. It turns out that when you insist that respecting people’s rage means refusing to ask the most elementary questions about where it’s all going, they get… nothing. That is an unusual form of respect.

At this point I’m fairly convinced that Mr. Stancil here is some sort of conceptual art project or CIA op. Stancil is a white man, and he is in this very tweet attempting to steer the Democratic party. That’s not a problem; that is what politics is. White men get to participate in that process because everyone gets to; that is what democracy is. What Stancil thinks, but knows enough not to say, is that what he wants is what Black people want. He can’t say that because it isn’t true, as decades of polling figures and voting attest to the fact that the average Black American is far to his right. Which makes him just like the rest of us – just another person with a point of view about how the Democrats and left-of-center should behave, what they should want and how to get it. But like many white liberals he has weaponized “centering” Black people, fixating on optics and instrumentalizing their pain and anger for his own political and professional ends. That, too, is pretty racist.

We live in a country with a white majority and where white people have a dominant grasp on power. To change the latter you have to get real about the former. If your first instinct is to say that this isn’t fair then you’re not tough enough to change the world. The only political respect I know of lies in respecting people’s political goals so much that you demand ruthless discipline in their efforts to achieve them, even when that hurts their feelings. To get tangible progress we’ll have to grapple with the fact that all of those DEI statements and BLM signs were never a mark of respect but of a collective white liberal condescension of such depth and intensity I can hardly believe it. The goal is not to get white people to treat Black people like they’re made of glass. The goal is to get Black people money and power and then they don’t need to care how white people treat them.

8) I’m totally onboard with the (gas-powered) leaf blowers are evil position:

But the gasoline-powered leaf blower exists in a category of environmental hell all its own, spewing pollutants — carbon monoxide, smog-forming nitrous oxides, carcinogenic hydrocarbons — into the atmosphere at a literally breathtaking rate.

This particular environmental catastrophe is not news. A 2011 study by Edmunds found that a two-stroke gasoline-powered leaf blower spewed out more pollution than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup truck. Jason Kavanagh, the engineering editor at Edmunds at the time, noted that “hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor.”

The two-stroke engine found in most consumer gas-powered leaf blowers is an outmoded technology. Unlike larger, heavier engines, a two-stroke engine combines oil and gas in a single chamber, which gives the machine more power while remaining light enough to carry. That design also means that it is very loud, and that as much as a third of the fuel is spewed into the air as unburned aerosol.

How loud? “Some produce more than 100 decibels of low-frequency, wall-penetrating sound — or as much noise as a plane taking off — at levels that can cause tinnitus and hearing loss with long exposure,” Monica Cardoza wrote for Audubon Magazine this year.

In his Oct. 2 newsletter, the writer James Fallows summarized the emissions problem this way: “Using a two-stroke engine is like heating your house with an open pit fire in the living room — and chopping down your trees to keep it going, and trying to whoosh away the fetid black smoke before your children are poisoned by it.”

9) Unfortunately, our society just accepts that it’s okay for police to lie all the time.  So they do. That’s not okay.

10) This is a helluva story, “Where Facts Were No Match for Fear: Civic boosters in central Montana hoped for some federal money to promote tourism. A disinformation campaign got in the way.”

11) This is so wrong, “Florida Bars State Professors From Testifying in Voting Rights Case: After being hired as expert witnesses for groups opposing a restrictive voting law, three University of Florida academics were told they could not participate in the lawsuit against the state.”

Three University of Florida professors have been barred from assisting plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn the state’s new law restricting voting rights, lawyers said in a federal court filing on Friday. The ban is an extraordinary limit on speech that raises questions of academic freedom and First Amendment rights.

University officials told the three that because the school was a state institution, participating in a lawsuit against the state “is adverse to U.F.’s interests” and could not be permitted. In their filing, the lawyers sought to question Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, on whether he was involved in the decision.

Mr. DeSantis has resisted questioning, arguing that all of his communications about the law are protected from disclosure because discussions about legislation are privileged. In their filing on Friday, lawyers for the plaintiffs said the federal questions in the case — including whether the law discriminates against minority groups — override any state protections.

12) Jessica Grose is exactly right, “We Need to Talk About an Off-Ramp for Masking at School”

Some folks replying to Marr were adamant about the need for masks in schools as long as Covid is with us, especially to protect immunocompromised children and children under 5, who still won’t be able to get vaccinated. But that argument might assume that there are no downsides to children wearing masks all day, every day, indefinitely, which is something we can’t say with certainty…

Because the masking issue has been so divisive, I fear we haven’t been able to have a practical, nuanced and data-driven conversation about what a good masking policy would look like now that nearly all school-age kids can soon be vaccinated. In some big cities and blue states, kids are wearing masks constantly, including outdoors, even though, as The New York Times’s David Leonhardt reported in May, the science indicates that “masks make a huge difference indoors and rarely matter outdoors.” Some red states, meanwhile, prevent schools from requiring masks. None of this makes sense…

To get a feel for what an off-ramp for in-school masking could look like, I interviewed 11 experts over the past week, including pediatricians, infectious disease specialists and environmental scientists who specialize in indoor transmission. It became clear that this issue won’t get sorted out easily, because these experts weren’t always unanimous.

But it’s time to start a serious discussion about taking off masks since it will take time to institute policies after communities — hopefully — come to some degree of consensus. Maybe the carrot of mask-free schools will inspire some more hesitant families to get their children vaccinated.

The two basic takes are “set a date” and “rely on metrics.”  Put me in the metrics category, but, more than anything, have a clear off-ramp.

13) Good stuff recommended by DJC, “What We Did the Last Time We Broke America

As a curator of political history at the Smithsonian, I have attended protests and primaries, talked politics at Bernie Sanders rallies and with armed Ohio militiamen. Again and again, 21st-century Americans wonder at a democracy that looks nothing like the one they grew up with.

I’ve asked the 19th century the same question. Heading into the Smithsonian’s secure collections, past recently collected riot shields and tiki torches, I’ve dug into the evidence of a similar crisis in the late 1800s. Ballots from stolen elections. Paramilitary uniforms from midnight rallies. Diaries and letters, stored elsewhere, of senators and saloonkeepers and seamstresses, all asking: Is democracy a failure?

These artifacts suggest that we’re not posing the right question today. If we want to understand what happened to 20th-century politics, we need to stop considering it standard. We need to look deeper into our past and ask how we got normal politics to begin with.

The answer is that we had to fight for them. From the 1860s through 1900, America was embroiled in a generation-long, culturewide war over democracy, fought through the loudest, roughest, closest elections in our history. An age of acrimony when engaged, enraged participation came to seem less like a “perversion of traditional American institutions,” as one memoirist observed, and more like “their normal operation.”

The partisan combat of that era politicized race, class and religion but often came down to a fundamental debate about behavior. Howshould Americans participate in their democracy? What was out of bounds? Were fraud, violence and voter suppression the result of bad actors, or were there certain dangerous tendencies inherent in the very idea of self-government? Was reform even possible?

Ultimately, Americans decided to simmer down. After 1900, a movement of well-to-do reformers invented a style of politics, a Great Quieting aiming for what The Los Angeles Times called “more thinking and less shouting.” But “less shouting” also meant less turnout, less participation, less of a voice for working people. “Normal” politics was invented to calm our democracy the last time it broke.

Over a century of relative peace, politically speaking, this model came to seem standard, but our embattled norms are really the cease-fire terms of a forgotten war…

We’re not the first generation to worry about the death of our democracy. Grappling with this demanding system of government is, well, normal. It’s partly because we’re following the unusually calmed 20th century that we don’t feel up to the task today. Our deep history shows that reform is possible, that previous generations identified flaws in their politics and made deliberate changes to correct them. We’re not just helplessly hurtling toward inevitable civil war; we can be actors in this story. The first step is acknowledging the dangers inherent in democracy. To move forward, we should look backward and see that we’re struggling not with a collapse but with a relapse.

14) This is fascinating, “How the Demise of the Dinosaurs Prompted a Snakesplosion”

THE DOOM OF the dinosaurs was good news for snakes. According to new research, snake biodiversity began increasing shortly after the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction—you know, the one brought about by a huge asteroid impact 66 million years ago. The asteroid caused around 75 percent of all species, and all of the non-avian dinosaurs, to go extinct.

But the impact gave primordial snake species opportunity and space to flourish, and they did. Currently, there are around 4,000 species of the elongated, legless reptiles. To study this evolutionary change, a team of researchers examined the diets of existing snake species to get a glimpse into the past. “After the K–Pg extinction, [snakes] just underwent this massive ecological explosion,” Michael Grundler, one of the paper’s authors and a postdoc researcher at UCLA, told Ars…

According to the researchers’ model, the most likely common ancestor for all existing snake species was an insectivore. Prior to the mass extinction, there were probably snakes that ate rodents and other animals. After the asteroid hit, however, those beasts likely died off, although this is still uncertain, Grundler said. “What we get from the model is like a best guess,” he said.

Post-extinction, the remaining snakes flourished and diversified into many different species. This is likely because, in the wake of the impact, many niches were left open. Similarly, there were more small vertebrate critters, like birds, to prey on. But with snakes’ diversification came a growing diversity in terms of diet—sometimes they eat crazy big things like antelopes. “Modern snakes have a huge, astounding variety of diets,” Grundler said. “They all evolved that diversity from a single ancestor.”

15) It’s giant pumpkin season.  Really enjoyed learning how the massive multi-hundred pound pumpkins are grown and transported to the state fair.

16) I don’t know how I missed this two years ago, but I really appreciated Austin Frakt sharing his science-based approach to healthy feet. 

17) As a parent, this was a tough read.  Just a completely freak accident that changed everything. And parents uniquely suited to address the problem, but who still couldn’t really solve things. “James and Lindsay Sulzer have spent their careers developing technologies to help people recover from disease or injury. Their daughter’s freak accident changed their work—and lives—forever.”  Just read this one.

18) Drum, “A very brief summary of Donald Trump’s attempted coup d’etat”

Based on what we know now, it’s worth a very brief recap of the events following the 2020 presidential election:

  1. Between November 3 and January 6, every organ of the Republican Party was dedicated to the proposition that Democrats had stolen the presidential election.
  2. The president of the United States—Donald J. Trump—was the foremost champion of this conspiracy theory. His supporters filed dozens of court cases claiming fraud, losing every one of them.
  3. Trump then turned to Attorney General William Barr to support his claims of election fraud, but Barr refused.
  4. As he became ever more frantic, Trump consulted with an eminent lawyer who presented him with a plan to overturn the Electoral College results. Practically speaking, the plan boiled down to “The vice president has the ultimate authority to accept or throw out whatever results he wants.”
  5. Trump pressed vice president Mike Pence to accept this. Pence called around desperately trying to convince himself that he had this authority.
  6. A war room at the Willard hotel, filled with Trump’s closest advisors, was set up to put intense pressure on Pence to play ball. On January 5 Trump issued a statement that he and Pence were in “total agreement” about Pence’s authority.
  7. This was a lie. In the end, Pence couldn’t quite bring himself to follow Trump’s orders.
  8. On January 6, a huge mob descended on Washington DC to protest the reading of the Electoral College results. Trump was thrilled with this.
  9. The mob broke into the Capitol in hopes of stopping Pence from declaring a winner.
  10. At the time, nearly every Republican politician denounced the insurrection.
  11. Today, nearly every Republican politician refuses to denounce the insurrection.

19) This is very good from Eric Levitz, “Smearing Popularism Does Not Help Black Voters”

I am not normal. And, in all probability, neither are you.

People like me — city-dwelling college graduates who know what a “Senate parliamentarian” is — comprise an extremely small share of the American population. But we are damn near the only people who earn a living by writing about politics, or helping the Democratic Party win elections.

Meanwhile, people like you — who choose to read political commentary by people like me — are also (sadly) quite atypical. And in very similar respects. Odds are, you too are a college graduate who lives in a metropolitan area, spends an inordinate amount of time contemplating Kyrsten Sinema’s psyche, and subscribes to a more progressive worldview than the vast majority of the American public.

Over the past two weeks, weirdos like me (and perhaps, you) have been locked in a fierce debate about whether our mutual abnormality is a problem for the Democratic Party — and, if so, what should be done about it.

Shor attributes the Democrats’ plight to many structural factors outside their control. But he contends that failures of message discipline have exacerbated the party’s difficulties. Specifically, Shor argues that Democratic analysts and activists have not been sufficiently conscious of their milieu’s abnormality. Blue America’s professional core is better educated, more urban, and vastly more progressive (especially on social issues) than the voters whom Democrats must win to wield federal power. For this reason, Democratic operatives can’t afford to trust their instincts about which rhetorical modes and policy appeals will mobilize disaffected voters or persuade undecided ones. Rather, they must check their intuitions against high-quality opinion polling and unblinkered analysis of election results, and allow such data to inform the Democratic Party’s campaign messaging and policy prioritization. Shor and his fellow proponents of this not-so-novel operating procedure have christened it with the (hideous, constantly auto-corrected) name “popularism.”…

Unfortunately, one of the least productive interventions in the popularism discourse has also been one of its most widely read. In a column titled, “Democrats Are Ready to Abandon Black Voters, Again,” The Nation’s Elie Mystal misrepresents Shor’s arguments while baselessly indicting his motivations…

At no point in these developments did Shor advise Democrats to avoid taking Black voters or racial justice seriously. To the contrary, he argued that nonviolent protests in general — and the nonviolent George Floyd protests in particular — helped Democrats electorally. In an interview with Intelligencer in July 2020, Shor claimed that the racial justice protest in D.C.’s Lafayette Park had provided Biden with the biggest polling boost of his campaign.

Subsequently, Shor did argue that defunding the police was extremely unpopular and that Democrats would be well-advised to distance themselves from that demand. But he also argued that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was the Democrats’ most popular non-economic policy, and thus that the party would likely benefit from passing it.

So, Shor argued that (1) the Democrats should celebrate nonviolent protest and condemn riots, while (2) reforming the police without defunding them.

In taking this stance, Shor was effectively imploring the Democratic Party to listen to its Black constituents. By overwhelming margins, African American voters oppose defunding the police, even as they demand action to curb police violence. Meanwhile, Black elected officials of myriad ideological stripes condemned last year’s riots, in terms far stronger than Shor’s (which were, after all, merely empirical)…

One can argue that Black voters’ faith in the possibility of police reform is naïve, and that only abolition will end police violence. And one can insist on the utility of property destruction as a tactic. Regardless, it remains the case that Shor advised Democrats to adopt the typical Black voter’s views on policing, and tacitly endorsed that voter’s preference for nonviolent protest…

Shor and his fellow popularists do advise Democrats to avoid foregrounding immigration in campaign messaging, since there is a large bloc of predominantly working-class voters who lean left on social welfare but right on immigration. And popularists also discourage the party from framing race-neutral redistributive programs as racial justice initiatives, since a large body of political science suggests that such rhetoric reduces support for social welfare among white voters.

At the same time, popularists do not argue that Democrats should never enact policies that racist white voters oppose. Rather, their view is that when Democrats do things that could alienate swing voters — and thus increase the risk of Republican victory — the substantive payoff should be big. A pathway to citizenship for the undocumented would yield a transformative improvement in the lives of millions. Describing a race-neutral wealth redistribution policy as “reparations” delivers no immediate improvement to anyone’s living conditions. So, in the popularist view, using such rhetoric isn’t worth the risk of alienating voters. One can dispute this analysis on empirical or normative grounds. But it is not the case that popularists are advising Democrats to enact racist white voters’ policy preferences.

20) Forget liberal bias, this article (and Apoorva Mandivilli’s reporting in general), is just a great example of bringing in the reporter’s personal biases in subtle ways and in this case, Mandivilli is just so clearly anti-booster, “Are Vaccine Boosters Widely Needed? Some Federal Advisers Have Misgivings. “In our hearts, I think people don’t quite agree with this notion of a booster dose,” said one leading vaccine expert.”

Following a series of endorsements over the last month by scientific panels advising federal agencies, tens of millions of Americans are now eligible for booster shots of coronavirus vaccines.

But the recommendations — even those approved unanimously — mask significant dissent and disquiet among those advisers about the need for booster shots in the United States.

In interviews last week, several advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to the Food and Drug Administration said data show that, with the exception of adults over age 65, the vast majority of Americans are already well protected against severe illness and do not need booster shots.

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again.  But there’s a lot of reason to want to avoid non “severe” illness.  A “mild” illness is basically any Covid case that doesn’t put you in the hospital.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve had cases of influenza that left me miserable and hardly able to get off the sofa for a week.  It totally sucks.  And vaccine boosters can substantially help you avoid a “mild” Covid case like that  By framing the whole issue about preventing “severe” illness, Mandivilli is totally stacking the deck.  

21) This is an important point on climate change that we constantly elide.  Drum, “Not one single country on earth is willing to stop extracting fossil fuels”

From the brownest to the greenest, there is literally not a single country willing to leave fossil fuels in the ground if that requires even a minor economic sacrifice. Not one.

Put bluntly, this means that no country has any standing to criticize any other. Every single country on earth either (a) has no fossil fuel reserves, or (b) is committed to extracting every last dram of it. As long as this is the case, it’s hard to argue that anything else matters except at the margins.

In a nutshell, this is why I believe our only real hope is to spend huge amounts of money on R&D in the hope that we discover a genuinely cheaper alternative to fossil fuels. The odds may be long on that, but all the promises in the world are pretty much meaningless as long as drilling and pumping and fracking and mining continue apace because national economies depend on it. COP26 will, like its previous 25 iterations, do nothing to change this.

22) This from Jay Caspian King is really on-point and I strongly agree, “The Reductive Practice of Assigning Book Reviews by Identity”

Today’s instances of review segregation seem to me to be pretty reductive. Is an Asian American, for example, seen as fit to review another Asian American’s book with the full assumption that those very important “lived experiences” match up in some meaningful way? If so, I think that is nonsense. No people are a monolith.

There is certainly value in having reviewers who have gone through something that may inspire a deeper, more impassioned review, but in my experience, the rules of review segregation rarely ask any questions beyond “What box did you check on the census?” As the Kirkus example shows, the discourse around a book must be reflective of those symmetries. It seems not to take into account whether the reviewer, the author and the book object to such narrow classifications. When Kirkus writes that it wants the scoop from “cultural insiders,” what it’s really asking from reviewers is to represent their entire community, even if they’re just freelancers looking to apply their trade without such ridiculous expectations.


My friend and colleague Wesley Morris described the inevitable products of this process in an essay for The New York Times Magazine in 2018:

A disagreement over one piece of culture points to where our discourse has arrived when it comes to talking about all culture — at a roiling impasse. The conversations are exasperated, the verdicts swift, conclusive and seemingly absolute. The goal is to protect and condemn work, not for its quality, per se, but for its values. Is this art or artist, this character, this joke bad for women, gays, trans people, nonwhites? Are the casts diverse enough? Is this museum show inclusive of enough different kinds of artists? Does the race of the curators correspond with the subject of the show or collection? Increasingly, these questions stand in for a discussion of the art itself.

One of the first lessons a writer is taught is that the specific is the universal. We may not fully understand the filial dynamics of the 19th-century Russian households depicted in “The Brothers Karamazov,” but we do know something about bad fathers, irredeemably broken men and undying crises of faith. A good reader, then, is able to occupy two modes at the same time: We can engage with the form of the work while feeling those jolts of excitement that take place when we can identify the great truth that has been revealed and then apply it, however clumsily, to our own lives. This requires a good deal of rigor and curiosity, as well as quite a bit of generosity to ourselves: Maybe I haven’t lived through everything that’s going on in this book, but I feel what the author is saying.

Review segregation presumes the opposite because it says that only those who have lived through some approximation of the author’s life should have any license to comment on it publicly. But if we believe that the specific should be the universal and that we learn about ourselves not from broad edict but through other lives that reflect certain truths onto our own, the public conversation around books should be filled with possibility.

Happy Halloween!

Quick hits (part I)

1) Very few animal species actually demonstrate rhythm and for the first time we’ve got evidence in a non-human primate:

“We can infer things about when, and how, we acquired certain key aspects of musicality, like our ability to move to a beat or coordinate our pitch with others’,” said Aniruddh Patel, who was not involved in the study but whose research at Tufts University focuses on music cognition in humans and other species, like Snowball the cockatoo. You may have seen Snowball bopping to the beat of “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by the Backstreet Boys in a late-2000s YouTube video.

Following Snowball, there were rhythm findings in other organisms — like parakeets and a California sea lion named Ronan. But the rhythmic capabilities of our closer relatives, especially as they related to singing, remained more mysterious.

Only a few primate species sing, so they are precious resources in our search for the evolutionary origins of human musicality,” Dr. Patel said…

Researchers from Madagascar and the University of Turin recorded songs from 20 indri groups (39 animals total) for over 12 years and searched those songs for rhythmic features found in human music. They discovered two examples of humanlike rhythm in the lemur songs: a 1:1 rhythm, in which intervals between two sounds have the same duration, and a 1:2 rhythm, in which the second interval is twice as long as the first one. They also noticed a gradual decrease in tempo, a common feature in human music called a “ritardando.”

This is the first time these categorical rhythms have been identified in a nonhuman mammal. The findings suggest that the lemurs have a sense of the beat, the repeating pulse that allows us — OK, some of us — to move in time with music.

“When you’re listening to a musical piece and dancing to it, you’re basically processing this very complex stream of sounds, extracting some regularities from it, and then predicting what’s coming next,” Dr. Ravignani said. “If an indri had some sort of metronome in its head going ‘tac, tac, tac,’ then they would likely produce what we see. It’s so close to human music — it’s quite astonishing.”

Whether this musical overlap between humans and indris is a case of common ancestry or convergent evolution — where our rhythmic abilities evolved independently — remains unclear. The researchers suspect it’s a combination of the two.

2) I’m sorry, but this is wokeness amok, “The Webb Telescope’s Latest Stumbling Block: Its Name: The long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is scheduled to launch in December. But the NASA official for whom it is named has been accused of homophobia.”  Just so we’re clear, it’s basically an incredibly rare person who was alive in the 1950’s who was not guilty of gross homophobia by today’s standards.  Just stop it.  

3) Quantitative research methods are racist?  Who knew.  Well, Kamden Strunk:

Quantitative methods and the courses in which they are taught often present as if they are neutral, value-free and unbiased. However, the history of quantitative methods demonstrates an entanglement with eugenics, sexism, heterosexism, ableism and colonialism. Researchers have begun to grapple with those issues and propose ways forward in quantitative methods.

But what about the courses? How might quantitative methods courses and their instructors — possibly unintentionally — contribute to and reify oppressive ideologies? Too often, our taken-for-granted assumptions about the social world infiltrate the ways we teach quantitative methods. It is important for all of us who teach them to take seriously the idea of harm reduction in our teaching. We should do the work to understand how our classroom practices can reify and reinforce oppressive ideologies and narratives and look for opportunities to challenge and interrupt those ideologies and narratives. Continuing to use examples that perpetuate stereotypes about racial inferiority, that position women as subservient or objects of sexual desire, that treat trans and nonbinary individuals as disposable or imaginary, and that position ability differences as personal deficiencies inflicts ongoing harm on students, especially minoritized students.

For example, using gender as a pseudo-independent variable to illustrate methods of comparing two independent groups (like the independent samples t-test) can reinforce the false view that there are only two genders or that sex as assigned at birth and gender are interchangeable. There are also examples that compare outcomes like GRE scores by race, which can reinforce ideas of hierarchies of racial intelligence.

Hmmm.  I guess, among other things, the vast majority of my research publications are sexist because they use male/female as independent variables.  I’m also pretty curious about these research methods classes that are somehow teaching that whites are superior and that women should be objects of sexual desire.

4) Krugman is right about this:

Back in July, Kay Ivey, governor of Alabama, had some strong and sensible things to say about Covid-19 vaccines. “I want folks to get vaccinated,” she declared. “That’s the cure. That prevents everything.” She went on to say that the unvaccinated are “letting us down.”

Three months later Ivey directed state agencies not to cooperate with federal Covid-19 vaccination mandates.

Ivey’s swift journey from common sense and respect for science to destructive partisan nonsense — nonsense that is killing tens of thousands of Americans — wasn’t unique. On the contrary, it was a recapitulation of the journey the whole Republican Party has taken on issue after issue, from tax cuts to the Big Lie about the 2020 election.

When we talk about the G.O.P.’s moral descent, we tend to focus on the obvious extremists, like the conspiracy theorists who claim that climate change is a hoax and Jan. 6 was a false flag operation. But the crazies wouldn’t be driving the Republican agenda so completely if it weren’t for the cowards, Republicans who clearly know better but reliably swallow their misgivings and go along with the party line. And at this point crazies and cowards essentially make up the party’s entire elected wing.

5) Catherine Rampell, always good on taxes, “What cowards the Democrats have become on taxes”

Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have been blamed for killing some of the big-ticket revenue raisers. And they have opposed many of the hikes — often inconfusing and inconsistent ways. But they are hardly alone among Democratic politicians in their resistance to raising taxes, including taxes on the rich. Some of the examples cited above were actually jettisoned over the summer by House Democratic leadership.

Biden himself also foolishly constrained what kinds of measures could be used to raise revenue, because he promisedthat no one making under $400,000 (so, more than 95 percent of Americans) would pay a penny more.

That rules out, among other things, “good” taxes such as carbon taxes. Same with other potential broad-based sources of revenue, such as worker tax contributions to social insurance programs, which many developed countries rely on to help fund their paid-leave systems. Perhaps not coincidentally, paid leave got dropped from Democrats’ bill.

So why have Democrats gotten cold feet?

The problem is partly that the Democratic voter base has shiftedtoward the college-educated, professional class, therefore becominghigher-earning. It’s uncomfortable for Democrats to endorse taxes on their own constituents, particularly when those constituents don’t realize that they, too, are technically rich. (After all, those billionaires are just so much richer!)

Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), she of the famous “tax the rich” ballgown, said that when she talked about the “rich,” she didn’t mean people like “doctors.” However deserving physicians may be of high compensation, it’s hard to argue that they are not, objectively, among the top earners in this country. (Doctors are more likely than any other occupation to be in the top 1 percent.)

The other problem is that, during the 2020 presidential primary, some Democratic contenders advertised a Scandinavian-style welfare state without endorsing a Scandinavian-style tax base — that is, a system where pretty much everyone pays higher taxes, including the middle class. In fact, Democratic politicians explicitly rejected this model. Their rhetoric suggested that a major expansion of the safety net could be financed almost exclusively by soaking Elon Musk types.

Is it any wonder, then, that the few tax increases Democrats will tolerate are the very narrow, Elon-Musk-soaking variety? The White House’s framework may not roll back the Trump income tax cuts that benefited 80 percent of households — but it does levy special income “surtaxes” on just the wealthiest 0.02 percent.

The United States has among the lowest tax burdens of rich countries, but for years the GOP has been convincing Americans that they are overtaxed (even as the GOP simultaneously increased spending). Now, Democrats have given into the same false narrative. Dems could make the case that raising taxes is a worthwhile investment, so that Americans can permanently have the safety-net programs other countries’ citizenries enjoy.

Instead, Democrats have decided they also want to be known as the high-spend, low-tax party.

6) Lee Drutman and Meredith Conroy, “Democrats Worry A Lot About Policies That Win Elections. That’s Short-Sighted.”

In political science, there’s a large body of research that examines how policy shapes politics. The broad takeaway is that policy matters — a lot — but not in the ways that political pundits often think it does. Rather than helping parties win the next election, research suggests that major policies remake the political landscape in ways that reverberate far into the future — including changing expectations of government and creating new voter constituencies. This, in turn, can shape future elections. 

Although controversial when they were first enacted, social programs like Social Security and Medicare are classic examples of this phenomenon; they’ve become so popular and entrenched in our politics that parties perpetually campaign to protect and strengthen them. These programs have also essentially created a new political coalition of retired beneficiaries that actively mobilizes against any threats to them. The survival of those programs is further aided by the fact that retired seniors are largely viewed as a group “deserving” of social welfare benefits…

On this, the Affordable Care Act is instructive. As the most consequential expansion of the social safety net in the 21st century (thus far), it did reshape our politics, but its complicated design and highly partisan implementation mostly just reinforced existing political divides, making it harder for new voter constituencies to emerge. Moreover, the government’s role in providing health care benefits was obscured through its patchwork of insurance exchanges. As political scientist Suzanne Mettler has documented in “The Submerged State,” this is a major design flaw of many government programs: Indirect benefits are very commonplace, which can make it hard for voters to understand the role government plays in the benefits they receive. Policies that feel invisible don’t transform politics…

Democrats’ ambitions for social spending — though scaled back over the last several weeks — are still far larger than they have been since the 1960s, largely because they are now liberated from trying to find Republican support. And what’s key here is that many of these programs could create constituencies with beneficiaries, who will become mobilized to sustain the program. 

For example, if implemented, government-funded child care is a benefit that many working parents will come to depend on. It is unlikely to break through in time for the 2022 midterm elections, but over time, it is a benefit that Democrats may be able to campaign on protecting. This would also have been true of free college tuition for community college, another program Democrats contemplated but did not include in the latest round of negotiations. Policies like these — if designed to be clear, easy to access and visibly associated with government — stand a real chance of assembling durable, supportive coalitions…

But even adopting such programs doesn’t mean Democrats will win the messaging wars of 2022 — or even 2024. Midterm elections generally go against the party in power. And arguably, for at least the next two election cycles, the basic rules of who can vote and how votes are counted will be far, far more consequential. Social spending policy, by contrast, is unlikely to have a huge effect on 2022 — even if Democrats do pass popular programs. 

Some backlash is inevitable; even policies that eventually poll well take time to become popular because voters must experience them and actually value them. Partisanship is also sticky and slow to change. Most voters evaluate policy and programs through partisan media and judge programs by whether the programs are Democratic programs or Republican programs. But on the margins — and especially over time — policies shape both identities and party coalitions. Citizens recognize the policies they support or oppose as part of who they are, and the policies and issues that different parties “own” in the present can shape the terrain of future elections. 

7) Chait, “Republican Leaders Could Still Stop Trump. They Just Don’t Want To. Trump wants to take over. Republicans just want party unity.”

And faced with a choice between advancing normal Republican politics and prying their party loose from Trump’s grip, they are picking door No. 1 en masse.

This is the basic choice the Republican Establishment has been making for more than half a dozen years now. The last time Republicans made it was during Trump’s second impeachment. At first the insurrection so revolted them they briefly set out to make a permanent break that would prevent Trump from running again. Then they lost their nerve but told themselves they would isolate him from the party and eliminate his power without holding an impeachment vote. Then they simply gave up on that plan altogether.

The Republican Party is roughly split between those who share Trump’s belief that Democratic election wins are inherently fraudulent and those who just want to move on. A fight between a faction that primarily wants to win and a faction that primarily wants the fight to end can only go one way.

Trump has a talent — it is one of his few positive attributes — for sniffing out human weakness. He grasped early on that while many Republicans objected to his behavior, few of them cared about it more than they cared about winning. And so he keeps giving them the choice of splitting with him and his base and risking political defeat, or sticking with him and having a chance to win. They consistently choose the latter…

The primary lesson of How Democracies Die, the study by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky of democratic systems that turn authoritarian, is that the key decisions are those made by allies of potential authoritarian leaders. Those allies can choose either to help the authoritarian, and thus gain entry into a governing coalition, or side with the opposing party in order to preserve the system.

If Trump or his successors ever bring down American democracy, history will record that Republicans decided to cast their lot with him. Indeed, all the evidence we have is that they never even considered the alternative.

8) This is from 2017, but so good, “When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes: Years after research contradicts common practices, patients continue to demand them and doctors continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment.”

For all the truly wondrous developments of modern medicine — imaging technologies that enable precision surgery, routine organ transplants, care that transforms premature infants into perfectly healthy kids, and remarkable chemotherapy treatments, to name a few — it is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous. Sometimes doctors simply haven’t kept up with the science. Other times doctors know the state of play perfectly well but continue to deliver these treatments because it’s profitable — or even because they’re popular and patients demand them. Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.

Even if a drug you take was studied in thousands of people and shown truly to save lives, chances are it won’t do that for you. The good news is, it probably won’t harm you, either. Some of the most widely prescribed medications do little of anything meaningful, good or bad, for most people who take them.

In a 2013 study, a dozen doctors from around the country examined all 363 articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine over a decade — 2001 through 2010 — that tested a current clinical practice, from the use of antibiotics to treat people with persistent Lyme disease symptoms (didn’t help) to the use of specialized sponges for preventing infections in patients having colorectal surgery (caused more infections). Their results, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found 146 studies that proved or strongly suggested that a current standard practice either had no benefit at all or was inferior to the practice it replaced; 138 articles supported the efficacy of an existing practice, and the remaining 79 were deemed inconclusive. (There was, naturally, plenty of disagreement with the authors’ conclusions.) Some of the contradicted practices possibly affect millions of people daily: Intensive medication to keep blood pressure very low in diabetic patients caused more side effects and was no better at preventing heart attacks or death than more mild treatments that allowed for a somewhat higher blood pressure. Other practices challenged by the study are less common — like the use of a genetic test to determine if a popular blood thinner is right for a particular patient — but gaining in popularity despite mounting contrary evidence. Some examples defy intuition: CPR is no more effective with rescue breathing than if chest compressions are used alone; and breast-cancer survivors who are told not to lift weights with swollen limbs actually should lift weights, because it improves their symptoms.

9) From Zeynep a couple weeks ago and really good, “The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think”

There is a clear partisan divide over vaccination — Republicans are more likely to tell pollsters that they will not get vaccinated. Some Republican politicians and Fox News hosts have been pumping out anti-vaccine propaganda. The loud, ideological anti-vaxxers exist, and it’s not hard to understand the anger directed at them. All this may make it seem as if almost all the holdouts are conspiracy theorists and anti-science die-hards who think that Covid is a hoax, or that there is nothing we can do to reach more people.

Real-life evidence, what there is, demonstrates that there’s much more to it.

Almost 95 percent of those over 65 in the United States have received at least one dose. This is a remarkable number, given that polling has shown that this age group is prone to online misinformation, is heavily represented among Fox News viewers and is more likely to vote Republican. Clearly, misinformation is not destiny.

Second, reality has refuted dire predictions about how Americans would respond to vaccine mandates. In a poll in September, 72 percent of the unvaccinated said they would quit if forced to be vaccinated for work. There were news articles warning of mass resignations. When large employers, school districts, and hospital systems did finally mandate vaccines, people subject to mandates got vaccinated, overwhelmingly. After United Airlines mandated vaccines, there were only 232 holdouts among 67,000 employees. Among about 10,000 employees in state-operated health care facilities in North Carolina, only 16 were fired for noncompliance.

The remarkable success of vaccine mandates shows it is not firm ideological commitments that have kept everyone from getting vaccinated, and that the stubborn, unpersuadable holdouts may be much smaller than we imagine…

Some key research on the unvaccinated comes from the Covid States Project, an academic consortium that managed to scrape together resources for regular polling. It categorizes them as “vaccine-willing” and “vaccine-resistant,” and finds the groups almost equal in numbers among the remaining unvaccinated. (David Lazer, one of the principal investigators of the Covid States Project, told me that the research was done before the mandates, and that the consortium has limited funding, so they can poll only so often.)

Furthermore, its research finds that the unvaccinated, overall, don’t have much trust in institutions and authorities, and even those they trust, they trust less: 71 percent of the vaccinated trust hospitals and doctors “a lot,” for example, while only 39 percent of the unvaccinated do…

The Covid States team shared with me more than a thousand comments from unvaccinated people who were surveyed. Scrolling through them, I noticed a lot more fear than certainty. There was the very, very rare “it’s a hoax” and “it’s a gene therapy,” but most of it was a version of: I’m not sure it’s safe. Was it developed too fast? Do we know enough? There was also a lot of fear of side effects, worries about lack of Food and Drug Administration approval and about yet-undiscovered dangers.

Their surveys also show that only about 12 percent of the unvaccinated said they did not think they’d benefit from a vaccine: so, only about 4 percent of the national population.

10) This is really good on Ivermectin and what it shows us, “The Real Scandal About Ivermectin: Claims about the drug are based on shoddy science—but that science is entirely unremarkable in its shoddiness.”

So if you’re the sort of person who “follows the science,” it might seem perfectly rational to join the fervent supporters of ivermectin. It might even strike you as reasonable to suggest, as one physician and congressional witness did recently, that “people are dying because they don’t know about this medicine.”

The problem is, not all science is worth following.

I work on a small team of researchers who do what one might call “forensic peer review.” In the standard process for scientific publishing, peer reviewers take a manuscript mostly at face value: They ensure that the study makes sense as it’s described. We do something else: We check everything, and try to ferret out any potential biases in reported patterns of digits, statistical impossibilities, inconsistencies between what researchers said they’d do and what they actually did, and plagiarized sentences or paragraphs. And we often find fatal flaws hidden behind a veil of two-dollar words and statistical jargon.

The ivermectin literature has been no exception. Over the past six months, we’ve examined about 30 studies of the drug’s use for treating or preventing COVID-19, focusing on randomized studies, or nonrandomized ones that have been influential, with at least 100 participants. We’ve reached out directly to the authors of these studies to discuss our findings, sometimes engaging in lengthy back-and-forths; when appropriate, we’ve sent messages to the journals in which studies have been published. In our opinion, a bare minimum of five ivermectin papers are either misconceived, inaccurate, or otherwise based on studies that cannot exist as described. One study has already been withdrawn on the basis of our work; the other four very much should be…

Given all the care that goes into maintaining scientific literature, how did this house of cards acquire planning permission? The answer is that the pandemic has created a very difficult environment for scientific publishing. In early 2020, a hunger for high-quality information arose immediately. How scared of the coronavirus should we be, and how should we behave? How does the virus spread? How dangerous is it? What decisions should governments make? To answer those questions, scientific studies were produced at record pace, peer-reviewed almost immediately after they were submitted or else put into the public domain via preprint as soon as they had been completed. Publishing science is slow; highly contagious diseases are fast.

It’s not that, under such conditions, a few bad studies were bound to slip through the net. Rather, there is no net. Peer review, especially when conducted at pandemic speed, does not exert the rather boring scientific scrutiny needed to identify the problems described above. Forensic work like ours is not organized by scientific journals. We do not get paid. We are not employed by universities, hired by governments, or supported by private money to do this. We do it because we feel it should be done.

11) I love Dune and I love Denis Villeneuve so I was pretty sure I wanted to see it on the big screen, even thought it was just sitting there waiting for me on HBO Max.  I’m glad I did. I didn’t love the movie, but I really, really liked and am so glad I was able to see Villeneuve’s amazing vision for the film on the big screen.  

Size is everything to Denis Villeneuve, who’s spent the past decade making movies that seek to dwarf, devastate, and inspire awe. After breaking onto the international scene in 2010 with Incendies, the Canadian-born filmmaker has carved out a preeminent spot in Hollywood via genre efforts of oppressive menace, from the harrowing real-world thrillers PrisonersEnemy and Sicario, to the monumental science-fiction dramas Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Particularly in those last three efforts, Villeneuve has developed an aesthetic—marked by dark, imposing visual schemas and blaring audioscapes—that imparts a gnawing sense of existential dread and despair. Arguably the least humorous auteur in contemporary cinema, his work hits like a crushing nightmare of anxiety, regret and doom.

12) Succession is probably my favorite show that’s been made in the last 5 years.  My favorite part is that it is actually way funnier than most shows that are comedies.  And nothing is better on that front than Nicholas Braun as Cousin Greg.  Fun profile here.

13) I really think we have very legitimate concerns about the mental health of Gen Z and yes it’s how we’re raising our children.  Haidt and Lukianoff:

Gen Z’s Mental Health Decline

We showed in Chapter 7 that a sharp rise in teen anxiety and depression began around 2012. Unfortunately, the trends have continued unabated since 2018. Figure 14.1 is based on the same dataset as the book’s Figure 7.1 except that we have added in the three years of data that have since become available, shown to the right of the dotted line. Just in these three years of new data, the depression rate has risen by more than a third for boys (from 6.4% of all boys to 8.8%), and by nearly a fifth for girls (from 19.5% of all girls to 23%). We find similar trends in other datasets, including, tragically, data on self harm and suicide.[3]

Depression Rates, Ages 12 to 17Figure 141. Percent of U.S. adolescents ages 12-17 who had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2004-2019.

We have learned a lot more about why these trends are worsening. We were particularly enlightened by Kate Julian’s 2020 cover story in The Atlantic titled “What Happened to American Childhood?” Julian interviewed dozens of experts about the anxiety epidemic and found a surprising degree of agreement that much more therapy was needed. But it’s not just the kids who need therapy; many of the experts said it’s the parents who need to chill out. 

We devoted Chapter 8 to “paranoid parenting,” but Julian identifies a causal pathway that we had not considered: As childhood anxiety rates are rising, parents are increasingly “accommodating” their children’s anxiety, rather than helping them to overcome it. She cites the example of children who don’t like to be separated from their parents within their home. In one family, the parents call out to the child so that the child always knows where they are. These parents are catering to the children’s short term needs (to shut off the anxiety now), at the expense of their long term needs (to reduce the power of things to trigger irrational anxiety). That’s pretty much the definition of “coddling.” Just as we showed in our analysis of trigger warnings (Chapter 1), the way to overcome anxiety is through gradual exposure, not by removing “triggers” from the person’s life, which only increases the power of the trigger when it is eventually encountered. (Five new studies have confirmed our conclusion that trigger warnings don’t help and sometimes hurt. [4][5])

14) This is fascinating! And disturbing,  “Tuskless Elephants Escape Poachers, but May Evolve New Problems”

A deep enough wound will leave a scar, but a traumatic event in the history of an animal population may leave a mark on the genome itself. During the Mozambican Civil War from 1977 to 1992, humans killed so many elephants for their lucrative ivory that the animals seem to have evolved in the space of a generation. The result was that a large number are now naturally tuskless.

paper published Thursday in Science has revealed the tooth-building genes that are likely involved, and that in elephants, the mutation is lethal to males.

Although evolving to be tuskless might spare some surviving elephants from poachers, there will likely be long-term consequences for the population.

Normally, both male and female African elephants have tusks, which are really a pair of massive teeth. But a few are born without them. Under heavy poaching, those few elephants without ivory are more likely to pass on their genes. Researchers have seen this phenomenon in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, where tuskless elephants are now a common sight.

“We had an inkling,” said Shane Campbell-Staton, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University, that whatever genetic mutation took away these elephants’ tusks was also killing males.

To learn more, Dr. Campbell-Staton and his co-authors started with long-term data, including prewar video footage of Gorongosa’s elephants.

They calculated that even before the war, nearly one in five females were tuskless. This might reflect earlier conflict and poaching pressure, Dr. Campbell-Staton said. In well-protected elephant populations, tusklessness can be as low as 2 percent.

Today, half of Gorongosa’s females are tuskless. The females who survived the war are passing the trait to their daughters. Mathematical modeling showed this change was almost certainly because of natural selection, and not a random fluke. In the decades spanning the war, tuskless females had more than five times greater odds of survival.

And the pattern of tusklessness in families confirmed the scientists’ hunch: it seems to be a dominant trait, carried by females, that’s lethal to males. That means a female with one copy of the tuskless mutation has no tusks. Half of her daughters will have tusks, and half will be tuskless. Among her sons, though, half will have tusks and the other half will die, perhaps before birth.

15) Will Saletan is not wrong, “The Entire Republican Leadership Is Covering Up Trump’s Coup Attempt: Authoritarian corruption has permeated the GOP.”

On Jan. 6, two months after President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, his supporters attempted a coup to keep him in power. The attack shook congressional Republicans, and many spoke out against it. That resistance has since collapsed. In the past month, statements by the party’s most powerful lawmakers—culminating in their attempt last week to eviscerate the House investigation of the Jan. 6 attack—show that the entire Republican leadership has decided to accept Trump’s lies about the election and to shield the coup plotters from accountability.

Trump remains a grave threat. In polls, he holds a prohibitive lead over his rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and he’s running almost even with President Joe Biden in a hypothetical rematch. He continues to claim that the election was stolen and that Biden’s presidency is illegitimate, but he has added a new twist. The “real insurrection,” says Trump, was the election itself—and therefore, the attempt to overturn it on Jan. 6 was righteous. Trump claims that the people arrested in the assault on the Capitol are political prisoners, and he rejects the House inquiry into the assault as an “illegitimate investigation.”

In their statements about Trump and Bannon, GOP leaders abandoned democratic norms and the rule of law. On Oct. 21, as Republicans worked to sabotage the resolution against Bannon, a reporter asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, “Are you OK with people defying congressional subpoenas?” In response, McCarthy dismissed the subpoena as “invalid,” arguing that among Republicans, the committee was “not viewed as a committee” but as a cabal of Trump haters. McCarthy didn’t like the committee’s composition, so he deemed it illegitimate.

16) This is an amusing diversion, “B.J. Novak’s Face Is on Products Worldwide. He’s Not Sure Why.
An image of the actor appears on an eclectic mix of products from China to Uruguay. “I am too amused to do anything about it,” he said on Instagram.”



There’s been plenty of recent data that, although J&J is way better than not being vaccinated, it’s also clearly notably less effective than the two mRNA shots.  Thus, the recommendation for all J&J folks to get another shot.  Also, plenty of data that you get way stronger antibody response by boosting with mRNA, and the most with Moderna.  So, with this information and policy change out there, it was time for me to take action  I called the administrator of my J&J trial and they told me I could come on in and get J&J shot number 2 and stay in the trial.  Though I believe in doing my part for science, I had decided that the there’s so little knowledge to be gained from my ongoing participation that I was going to get Moderna even if that meant I had to leave the trial.  A little asking around and I ended up with a win-win.  As long as I got the Moderna (or Pfizer) on my own, I could stay in the trial.  Hooray!  So, went and boosted both me and my J&J firstborn today.  And my antibody levels and other effects will still be monitored in the trial.  

And as I type, 14 hours of administration, just very mild side effects so far.  J&J side effects hit pretty hard after about 10 hours.  Hopefully it stays like this.  

Your intrepid blogger and his firstborn with their Moderna shots.

The way to hold down medical costs it to hold down medical costs

I’m in the midst of grading public policy midterms.  So far, my students are totally nailing it on the 50-point health care policy question, which makes me feel great.  They’ve learned that all those countries that outperform the US on healthcare while spending way less money.  Every last one of them does this, in substantial part, by using the power of government to literally hold down costs by placing limits on what doctors, hospitals, etc., can charge.  In America, not so much.  A summary from a 2021 report:


  • Issue: No two countries are alike when it comes to organizing and delivering health care for their people, creating an opportunity to learn about alternative approaches.
  • Goal: To compare the performance of health care systems of 11 high-income countries.
  • Methods: Analysis of 71 performance measures across five domains — access to care, care process, administrative efficiency, equity, and health care outcomes — drawn from Commonwealth Fund international surveys conducted in each country and administrative data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Health Organization.
  • Key Findings: The top-performing countries overall are Norway, the Netherlands, and Australia. The United States ranks last overall, despite spending far more of its gross domestic product on health care. The U.S. ranks last on access to care, administrative efficiency, equity, and health care outcomes, but second on measures of care process.
  • Conclusion: Four features distinguish top performing countries from the United States: 1) they provide for universal coverage and remove cost barriers; 2) they invest in primary care systems to ensure that high-value services are equitably available in all communities to all people; 3) they reduce administrative burdens that divert time, efforts, and spending from health improvement efforts; and 4) they invest in social services, especially for children and working-age adults.

There’s nobody better writing about American health care than Elisabeth Rosenthal, and her latest shows us how Maryland has actually been successful holding down costs, European style– that is, hard price caps, “A $1,775 Doctor’s Visit Cost About $350 in Maryland. Here’s Why.”

Players in the health care world — from hospitals to pharmaceutical manufacturers to doctors’ groups — act as if the sky would fall if health care prices were regulated or spending capped. Instead, health care prices are determined by a dysfunctional market in which providers charge whatever they want and insurers or middlemen like pharmacy benefit managers negotiate them down to slightly less stratospheric levels.

But for decades, an independent state commission of health care experts in Maryland, appointed by the governor, has effectively told hospitals what each of them may charge, with a bit of leeway, requiring every insurer to reimburse a hospital at the same rate for a medical intervention in a system called “all-payer rate setting.” In 2014, Maryland also instituted a global cap and budget for each hospital in the state. Rather than being paid per test and procedure, hospitals would get a set amount of money for the entire year for patient care. The per capita hospital cost could rise only a small amount annually, forcing price increases to be circumspect.

If the care in the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine system ensured my recovery, Maryland’s financial guardrails for hospitals effectively protected my wallet.

During my months of treatment, I got a second opinion at a similarly prestigious hospital in New York, giving me the opportunity to see how medical centers without such financial constraints bill for similar kinds of services.

Visits at Johns Hopkins with a top neurologist were billed at $350 to $400, which was reasonable, and arguably a bargain. In New York, the same type of appointment was $1,775. My first spinal tap, at Johns Hopkins, was done in an exam room by a neurology fellow and billed as an office visit. The second hospital had spinal taps done in a procedure suite under ultrasound guidance by neuroradiologists. It was billed as “surgery,” for a price of $6,244.38. The physician charge was $3,782.

I got terrific care at both hospitals, and the doctors who provided my care did not set these prices. All of the charges were reduced after insurance negotiations, and I generally owed very little. But since the price charged is often the starting point, hospitals that charge a lot get a lot, adding to America’s sky-high health care costs and our rising insurance premiums to cover them.

It wasn’t easy for Maryland to enact its unique health care system. The state imposed rate setting in the mid-1970s because hospital charges per patient were rising fast, and the system was in financial trouble. Hospitals supported the deal — which required a federal waiver to experiment with the new system — because even though the hospitals could no longer bill high rates for patients with commercial insurance, the state guaranteed they would get a reasonable, consistent rate for all their services, regardless of insurer.

I don’t know how Maryland pulled this off, but, getting something like this done on a national level will be really, really hard.  You know who likes high prices?  Doctors, hospitals, medical device manufacturers, etc., and they will lobby like hell against anything that threatens American’s ongoing extreme overpayment.  That’s the sad reality of trying to reform American health care.  It’s not the insurance companies.  It’s a bunch of medical providers that get a lot of money that would rather not see a substantial dent in that.  But, then again, pretty much every other country has managed to pull it off to a greater or lesser degree.  We need to, too.  

Jerk offline = jerk online

I think it’s fair to say there’s a perception out there that the online world just turns some people into jerks.  The best evidence suggests, however, that these jerks have always been out there among us (you surely know some), but what social media does is just give them a much greater reach, so you’re more likely to come across them in your life.  Don’t be a jerk.  This is good in the Monkey Cage, “Actually, Facebook isn’t making people angrier. Some people are just jerks.”

Most people — even at Facebook — think that the big problem with social media is that it makes people angrier than they might otherwise be, and more likely to believe false things. But our research suggests that online hostility isn’t a product of social media and algorithms. People who are angry when they talk about politics online are angry in offline political discussions, too. And when they share misinformation, it’s generally not because they are making a sincere mistake. It’s because they want to stick it to the people they hate, whether or not the actual complaint is true…

If you’re a jerk online, you’re probably one offline

Ordinary people think the same thing. In a recent article, we show that most people in the United States and Denmark agree that online discussions are much more hostile than offline discussions. The results of our study, however, suggest that it’s not the Internet that transforms otherwise nice people into angry trolls. People who are jerks online are jerks offline, too. We do find that the kind of people who are obsessed with politics are often frustrated, angry and offensive. But they tend to rant about politics in offline interactions as well.

Who are these people? We find that the biggest factor associated with political hostility — online and offline — is status-seeking. Some people crave higher social status and try to intimidate others into recognizing them. Aggressive status-seeking is rooted in offline frustrations, which have been increasing since the 1980s, boosted in part by the 2008 global financial crisis and now the coronavirus pandemic.

Short version: stay away from angry trolls– in the real world and online.  You probably just have to work harder to stay away from them online.

Judge my parenting

As somebody who let my daughter watch all the Alien movies when she was 8 and recently watch Squid Game I quite enjoyed this NYT Parenting newsletter “In Defense of ‘Inappropriate’ Kids’ Movies”  I think Jessica Grose, who is taking a pretty cautious view of inappropriate (e.g., The Addams family recommended for 12 and up for younger kids), may still object to the Steve Greene approach (not to mention Rick and Morty), but, anyway, good stuff here:

During the darkest, coldest part of our 2020 quarantine, my husband and I turned to the movies of our youth for solace, and we shared them with our 7-year-old and 3-year-old. In a few short weeks we ran through “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Back to the Future,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and the 1991 version of “The Addams Family.”

These are all movies that Common Sense Media — a site that gives age-range suggestions for TV and movies — rates as inappropriate for children until they reach double digits…

As Halloween approaches and parents are probably thinking about whether they should let their children be terrified and thrilled by fantasy and horror classics, I’ve reflected on my daughter’s responses. I think she applies more critical thinking to older films because many of today’s movies are so polished, and so calibrated for safety, that it’s hard for a kid’s mind to grab onto any spiky edges. Why would a kid assign herself a mental book report on something that’s completely tidy?

Today’s fare often contains overtly saccharine and moralizing take-home messages, like the movie’s conclusion has been prechewed. As Katie Walsh put it in her Los Angeles Times review of the 2019 “Addams Family,” “The Addamses might look, talk and act darker and weirder than most, but what makes them the weirdest is they’re a loving, tight-knit family.” Compare that with Janet Maslin’s New York Times review of the 1991 version, which described “The Addams Family”’s humor as “dry, wicked and wholly self-contained,” but noted that the film lacked any real plot.

It’s not that I’m trying to warp my kid’s still-developing mind too much. But sometimes we might overlook that they’re up for a challenge.

The idea that it’s healthy for children to be unsettled by art isn’t new. Bruno Bettelheim, a psychologist, won a National Book Award in the ’70s for “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.” (He was later accused of plagiarism.) In that book, Bettelheim posits that the “softening” of classic fairy tales, as John Updike wrote for The Times, removed their value for children. The world is not a sunny place, Bettelheim argues, and art that reflects only sunny outcomes does not help children deal with their own dark and rude impulses, which are universal.

Since the ’70s, when Bettelheim was in vogue, children’s entertainment has absolutely exploded as a genre. As a child in the ’80s and early ’90s, before my family got cable, if I turned on the TV after school it meant reruns of the perhaps slightly too-mature “Three’s Company” or “Oprah,” “Donahue” and “Jerry Springer” — while cartoons of the Looney Tunes variety were reserved for Saturday mornings. My kids, on the other hand, have an ocean of streaming content explicitly designed and curated for them.

A.O. Scott, one of The Times’s chief film critics, told me that trends in technology and parenting dovetailed during my teen years to create this glut of glossy family entertainment. With the rise of VHS and DVD technology, movies moved into the home in a way they hadn’t before. At the same time, the ’90s saw a rise in what’s called “intensive parenting,” defined as “constantly teaching and monitoring children.”

Starting in the early 2000s, there was a market for movies that kids and parents would watch together, Scott said, which led to movies becoming more overtly moralistic. Parents wanted to think that what they let their kids watch was wholesome, maybe even edifying. He cited “Shrek” as a prime example of this kind of entertainment, with its obnoxious pop-cultural references sprinkled in just for parents, silly cartoon high jinks for the children and “a message about how everyone should love each other that’s often just pasted on. And I think that’s often to play to the anxieties of parents more than to the actual sensitivities of kids,” Scott said.

I’m not trying to be Andy Rooney-ish — insisting that movies were so much better in my day! And I recognize that the movies and TV of my youth were often more overtly racist and sexist than contemporary ones. (And I’d watch more recent movies, such as “Moana” and “Ratatouille,” on repeat, with or without my kids, because they are excellent films.)

But I do think something is gained by letting children enjoy a varied media diet, including entertainment that might challenge them emotionally, inspire them to think critically or leave them without an uplifting message. After all, I spend hours watching “Real Housewives” — why should my children be deprived of the pleasures of somewhat more kid-friendly televised naughtiness?

There you go… I’m actually just challenging my elementary-age daughter with art when she watches Alien and Terminator films (and to be honest, I just love that she loves these– and the first two in each series are both simply brilliant– watch this).  Anyway, if I’m making a mistake on this, I guess I’ll pay her future therapy bills.  Also, I actually love Shrek.

“Evangelical” = religious Republican

I’ve been following Ryan Burge on twitter for around a year and he’s a constant source of fascinating graphs/charts on American religion.  (If you follow me on twitter, you’ve definitely seen some re-tweets).  

This week he took to the NYT with a fascinating Op-Ed on the evolving meaning of “Evangelical.”

The conventional wisdom about religion in the United States is that the number of people who have no religious affiliation is rising rapidly. In the 1970s, secular Americans (often called the Nones) made up just 5 percent of the population; now, that number has climbed to at least 30 percent. The data suggest that religious groups must be suffering tremendous losses as the Nones continue to increase in size and influence each year.

That’s why a recent report from the Pew Research Center came as a huge surprise. Its most shocking revelation was that, between 2016 and 2020, there was no significant decline in the share of white Americans who identify as evangelical Christians. Instead, the report found the opposite: During Donald Trump’s presidency, the number of white Americans who started identifying as evangelical actually grew

What is drawing more people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is more likely that evangelicalism has been bound to the Republican Party. Instead of theological affinity for Jesus Christ, millions of Americans are being drawn to the evangelical label because of its association with the G.O.P.

This is happening in two different ways. The first is that many Americans who have begun to embrace the evangelical identity are people who hardly ever attend religious services. For instance, in 2008, just 16 percent of all self-identified evangelicals reported their church attendance as never or seldom. But in 2020, that number jumped to 27 percent. In 2008, about a third of evangelicals who never attended church said they were politically conservative. By 2019, that had risen to about 50 percent…

The data from the Pew Research Center reinforces that: Those who had warmer views of Mr. Trump were more likely to become evangelical between 2016 and 2020 than those who didn’t feel warmly toward him. The evidence points in one direction: For many Americans, to be a conservative Republican is to be an evangelical Christian, regardless of whether they ever attend a Sunday service.

The second factor bolstering evangelicalism on surveys is that more people are embracing the label who have no attachment to Protestant Christianity. For example, the share of Catholics who also identified as evangelicals (or born again) rose to 15 percent in 2018 from 9 percent in 2008. That same pattern appears with Muslims. In fact, there’s evidence that the share of Orthodox Christians, Hindus and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who identify as evangelical is larger today than it was just a decade ago.

Yet these non-Protestants are embracing the evangelical label for slightly different reasons. Protestants and non-Protestants have a strong affinity for the Republican Party and the policies of Donald Trump, but non-Protestant evangelicals are much more religiously devout. For instance, half of Muslims who attend services at a mosque more than once a week and align with the G.O.P. self-identify as evangelical. (Just 20 percent of Republican Muslims attend mosque once a year.) In essence, many Americans are coming to the understanding that to be very religiously engaged and very politically conservative means that they are evangelical, even if they don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

The rapid rise of the nonreligious and non-Protestant evangelical has meant that the tradition did not fade in any significant way over the last decade. But instead, what it means to be evangelical is being radically remade. It used to be that when many people thought about evangelicalism, they conjured up an image of a fiery preacher imploring them to accept Jesus. Now the data indicate that more and more Americans are conflating evangelicalism with Republicanism — and melding two forces to create a movement that is not entirely about politics or religion but power.

Really, really interesting stuff.  There’s not a survey I conduct or a regression model I run with other people’s surveys (mostly ANES and GSS) that I don’t use “do you consider yourself Evangelical?” or a very similar measure as a control.  Unsurprisingly, it almost always has a very substantial and statistically significant impact in the conservative direction.  But, now it seems as if its almost a tautology.  “Evangelicals” keep showing up as really conservative because the label has essentially come to mean “religiously engaged and politically conservative” for many, completely divorced from its original theological meaning.  I’m definitely going to be following this and thinking hard about how to best measure religious conservatism.

And beyond social science, but just ordinary politics, we clearly need to be careful how we use the term Evangelical and think about what it means and explains in American politics.

Taxes are how we function as a society

I wanted a less inflammatory title than that of of Binyin Applebaum’s Op-Ed, though he’s not wrong, “The Rotten Core of the Republican Party.”  Great stuff here:

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican, recently took to social media to warn that Democrats have hatched a dastardly plot. “Democrats,” he said, “want to track every penny you earn so they can then tax you and your family at the maximum possible amount.”

Well, yes. Democrats want Americans to pay the full amount they owe in taxes.

What doesn’t get enough attention is that many Republicans seem not to agree.

Resistance to taxation is the rotten core of the modern Republican Party. Republicans in recent decades have sharply reduced the federal income tax rates imposed on wealthy people and big companies, but their opposition to taxation goes beyond that. They are aiding and abetting tax evasion.

Republicans have hacked away at funding for the Internal Revenue Service over the past decade, enfeebling the agency. When the rich and powerful open loopholes in the tax code, Republicans reliably fight to keep the loopholes open. Indeed, they valorize Americans who find ways to pay less, a normalization of antisocial behavior that may be even more damaging than the efforts at bureaucratic sabotage…

Improving tax collection has another important benefit. Democracy — and capitalism — rests on a lacework of mutual obligation. People fulfill their own responsibilities because they are confident others will, too. Collecting taxes, especially from the rich and powerful, is an affirmation of that faith.

The Republican Party was reborn in the 1970s under the banner of resistance to taxation, led by anti-tax men like Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan. It remains the party’s fixation, the one major area of policy on which congressional Republicans were able to agree during the Trump administration.

By way of ideological justification, Republicans like to talk about liberty, by which they mean a narrow and negative kind of freedom from civic duty and mutual obligation…

Opposition to progressive income taxation also draws strength from an imagined democratic ideal in which the people who vote for taxation, pay the taxes and get the benefits are all one and the same.

History tells a different story. From the outset, taxation in the United States was designed as an antidote to inequality. The government initially chose to raise revenue through tariffs collected from wealthy merchants. The introduction of a federal income tax in the early 20th century was a different means to the same end. In a historical analysis published last year, a pair of German political scientists, Laura Seelkopf and Hanna Lierse, showed that progressive taxation is a hallmark of democratic governance.

Political philosophers have long fretted that democracy allows the poor to plunder the rich. The opposite has proved more nearly true. Progressive taxation is not a threat to the wealthy. It is a small price to pay for prosperity.

Cutting taxes to starve social programs is, by itself, a threat to the sustainability of the American experiment in multicultural democracy. In enabling resistance to lawful taxation, Republicans are engaged in an even more direct assault.

Having failed to constrain government spending through the democratic process, they are seeking to undermine government.

Mr. McCarthy is right to frame a fairly technical change in tax rules as an issue that goes to the heart of American democracy. Democracies impose higher taxes than other forms of government because democracies are communities of common purpose. We create and maintain our society through our contributions.

Or we don’t. And things fall apart.

I mean, it’s one thing to want lower taxes.  It’s another entirely– and sadly where the Republican Party is– to aid, abet, and even celebrate (i.e., Trump) tax evasion.  This is how society works.  

Dave Chappelle, the N word, and context

I was thinking about the Dave Chappelle schedule again this weekend and one thing that really struck me when watching it was Chappelle’s almost constant use of the n word.  Obviously the meaning and implications are very different when a black man like Chappelle uses the word, but it was interesting to realize that, in all the discussions about his Trans commentary, there’s been nary a peep about his language on race.  It seems we’re all perfectly fine listening to a black man use this “unspeakable” racial slur continually throughout his comedy act. 

Here’s the the thing, though.  It seems as if we’ve been told the word is so horrible that it should never be uttered.  Somehow, even just discussing in an entirely intellectual and abstract way if the word should ever be used is enough to get you removed from Slate.  There cannot be a moment of good faith belief that Mike Pesca meant any offense or harbored any racial animus… and yet it cost him his job.  And, presumably, because it is just so horrible to hear this word even uttered, irrespective of context.  (I do appreciate how McWhorter regularly argues that this type of supposedly anti-racist view seems to think very little of the discernment of black people).  And, yet, here’s Chappelle in a moment where he’s getting tons of media coverage for transgressing the woke consensus and nary a peep in the media about his use of the word.  It’s almost like, I don’t know… the context matters.  And, the context is that Chappelle is using the word not as a slur and not with racial animus.  Now, that context is different when a white person uses the word, but it should seem that the key point is not as a slur and not indicating any racial animus.  Now, I’m not advocating we go around saying the word in this way instead of “the n word” as has been adopted.  But when you consider that, until not long ago at all, it was considered quite okay to do so— when it was clear there was no racial animus involved— it strikes me as little more than performative wokeism to completely ignore Chappelle and argue that Mike Pesca or Donald McNeil should be out of their jobs.  And yet, here we are.

Gender and views on gender (and Donald Trump)

Really interesting Gallup report recently on views on gender (by gender).  This chartstrikes me as pretty amazing.

Basically, both women and men– but especially women– have come to recognize that women’s treatment in society needs to be better.  And, that’s obviously what’s going on because it’s pretty hard to argue that the treatment of women has actually gotten worse in the last five years.  Gallup gives most of the credit to the MeToo movement:

Over the past two decades, Americans’ satisfaction with the treatment of women in society has ranged from the current 53% low to a 72% high in 2002 and 2003. The sharpest decline in satisfaction — 10 percentage points, from 63% to 53% — occurred in 2018 in the wake of the #MeToo social movement in the U.S. that raised awareness about harassment and violence against women. Since then, satisfaction has remained steady at that level.

Women’s satisfaction dropped 15 points spanning the emergence of #MeToo, while men’s fell five points. The latest reading among women, 44%, is the lowest on record, although it is not statistically different from the 46% readings in 2018 and 2020. At the same time, men’s satisfaction with the treatment of women has remained flat at 61% to 62% since 2018.

Looking at that chart, though, there’s no measurement in 2017.  I can’t help but wonder how much of this is actually attributable to Trump’s presidency.  Alas, pretty hard to know as MeToo started in 2017, coinciding with Trump’s presidency.  But, the social scientist in me wants to find more data and try and tease this out.  Maybe, we at least can appreciate that Donald Trump helped shine light on gender inequality in society.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Shark attacks (great whites!) are way up at Cape Cod.  And it’s, kind of, a good thing as its a sign of a restored ecosystem (the sharks are following the seals, which have nicely recovered thanks to federal protection).  Pretty fascinating story.

2) Geoffrey Skelley analyzes Biden’s approval:

Recent polling suggests that Hispanic approval of Biden’s handling of the pandemic and the economy has fallen sharply. The latest poll from The Economist/YouGov found just 45 percent of Hispanics approved of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, compared with 65 percent in early June. And Politico/Morning Consult’s new survey found Hispanic approval of Biden’s handling of the economy has dropped to 42 percent, compared with 60 percent back in June. Hispanics are also frustrated with how Biden has dealt with immigration — long one of Biden’s weakest issues in the public’s eyes — and although it isn’t the most important issue for Hispanic voters, it is often a highly salient one. Earlier this month, Quinnipiac University found that only 23 percent of Hispanic Americans approved of Biden’s work on immigration, down from 49 percent in late May. Even if that might be on the low end for Biden, the new Politico/Morning Consult survey also found him performing more poorly on the issue among Hispanic voters, as just 40 percent approved, compared with 51 percent in June.

Biden has lost ground among almost every single demographic group over the past few months, but independents and Hispanics stick out as two key groups where Biden’s standing has especially faltered. For Democrats looking ahead to the 2022 midterms, Biden’s overall approval rating is concerning enough, but if Biden is struggling to win independents and Hispanics, that could snuff out any hope Democrats have of holding either chamber of Congress. After all, independents backed Democrats in the 2018 midterms and Biden last November, and even though Republicans made gains with Hispanics in places like Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Hispanics still largely backed Biden and helped him win in key swing states, like Arizona. But if Republicans can capitalize on Biden’s weakness among these groups, that could be their ticket back to controlling Congress next year.

3) Michele Goldberg on Angela Merkel and refugees:

The climax of Kati Marton’s captivating new biography of Angela Merkel, “The Chancellor,” comes in 2015, when the German leader refused to close her country’s borders to a tide of refugees fleeing civil war and state collapse in the Middle East and Africa.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” Merkel said, calling on the other members of the European Union to take in more people as well. “I don’t want to get into a competition in Europe of who can treat these people the worst.” For the usually stolid and cautious chancellor, it was a great political leap, a sudden act of moral heroism that would define her legacy.

By the end of the year, a million refugees had come. Many observers predicted disaster. According to Marton, Henry Kissinger, ever callous, told Merkel, “To shelter one refugee is a humanitarian act, but to allow one million strangers in is to endanger German civilization.” Marton quotes my colleague Ross Douthat writing that anyone who believes that Germany can “peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference” is a “fool.” She describes former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s fear that the refugees would be Merkel’s “political undoing.”

For a while, it seemed like some of this pessimism was warranted. Douthat’s column was inspired by a hideous outburst of violence in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, in which a mob of largely Middle Eastern and North African men sexually assaulted scores of women. The refugee influx fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD, which in 2017 won 94 seats to become the largest opposition party in Parliament. Some blamed Merkel’s policy for spooking Brits into supporting Brexit. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump seized on it. Though Merkel retained the chancellorship after the 2017 elections, her party, the Christian Democratic Union, lost 65 seats.

But six years later, the catastrophes predicted by Merkel’s critics haven’t come to pass.  [Funny how that never happens]

In the recent German election, refugees were barely an issue, and the AfD lost ground. “The sense is that there has been comparatively little Islamic extremism or extremist crime resulting from this immigration, and that on the whole, the largest number of these immigrants have been successfully integrated into the German work force and into German society overall,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, an expert on Germany and trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution.

“With the passage of time,” Marton told me, Merkel “turned out to have chosen the absolutely right course for not only Germany but for the world.”

4) I’m pretty persuaded the biggest problem with our ports is a huge influx of imported goods.  And this Cato report may well blame unions too much, but a pretty interesting look at long-standing, systematic policy explanations for the mess we’re in now. 

The Long‐​Term Problems at U.S. Ports
At the same time, however, many of the problems at U.S. ports today result from intentional decisions made years ago—decisions that have caused our port system to badly lag much of the world. According to the 2020 World Bank/​IHS Markit “Container Port Performance Index,” for example, not one U.S. port ranked in the top 50 global ports in terms of getting a ship in and out of a port (see flowchart below), using either a “statistical approach” measuring efficiency and finances or an “administrative approach” reflecting expert knowledge and judgment. The highest ranked U.S. port (statistically) was Philadelphia at 83, with Virginia close behind at 85 and NY/NJ at 89. Oakland came in at 332, while LA/LB ranked a dismal 328 and 333, respectively. (Things are even a little worse using the “administrative approach.”)…

Summing It All Up
On the surface, the pandemic is the main cause of the “shipping crisis” and the related pain to the U.S. economy. And given the wild swings in global supply and demand—and players’ inability to snap their fingers and add new ships, warehouses, trains, or maybe even workers—these pressures will continue for the next several months, if not a little longer. But dig a little deeper, and we see that much of the current mess in the United States was decades in the making, reflecting systemic labor and trade policies that decrease the efficiency and flexibility that U.S. ports — and the economy reliant on them—enjoy in the best of times and desperately need in the worst. Sure, these same policies undoubtedly enrich a handful of U.S. workers and companies, but the shipping crisis has revealed some of their much bigger, usually‐​unseen harms—and the necessity of reform.

Broader lessons abound.

5) Science! “Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in a lab”

Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever measured in a lab: They achieved the bone-chilling temperature of 38 trillionths of a degree above -273.15 Celsius by dropping magnetized gas 393 feet (120 meters) down a tower. 

The team of German researchers was investigating the quantum properties of a so-called fifth state of matter: Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a derivative of gas that exists only under ultra-cold conditions. While in the BEC phase, matter itself begins to behave like one large atom, making it an especially appealing subject for quantum physicists who are interested in the mechanics of subatomic particles…

Near absolute zero, some weird things start to happen. For example, light becomes a liquid that can literally be poured into a container, according to research published in 2017 in the journal Nature Physics. Supercooled helium stops experiencing friction at very low temperatures, according to a study published in 2017 in the journalNature Communications. And inNASA’s Cold Atom Lab, researchers have even witnessed  atoms existing in two places at once.

In this record-breaking experiment, scientists trapped a cloud of around 100,000 gaseous rubidium atoms in a magnetic field inside a vacuum chamber. Then, they cooled the chamber way down, to around 2 billionths of a degree Celsius above absolute zero, which would have been a world record in itself, according to NewAtlas

But this wasn’t quite frigid enough for the researchers, who wanted to push the limits of physics; to get even colder, they needed to mimic deep-space conditions. So the team took their setup to the European Space Agency’s Bremen drop tower, a microgravity research center at the University of Bremen in Germany. By dropping the vacuum chamber into a free fall while switching the magnetic field on and off rapidly, allowing the BEC to float uninhibited by gravity, they slowed the rubidium atoms’ molecular motion to almost nothing. The resulting BEC stayed at 38 picokelvins – 38 trillionths of a Kelvin – for about 2 seconds, setting “an absolute minus record”, the team reported Aug. 30 in the journal Physical Review Letters. The previous record of 36 millionths of a Kelvin, was achieved by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado with specialized lasers.

6) David Epstein takes a recent reversal on aspirin to revisit the medical statistic we should be more familiar with, Number Needed to Treat:

A whopping 29 million Americans — that’s the entire population of Texas — take aspirin every single day in order to prevent heart disease. Last week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued draft guidelines saying that most of those people should probably stop, because the potential harms outweigh the benefits.

That’s a big friggin’ deal. Medical recommendations change all the time, as knowledge is updated. But I think this case is a particularly teachable moment, highlighting the importance of comparing costs and benefits on the same scale. And there’s an important concept in medicine that can help with that — namely: NNT.

NNT is an abbreviation for “number needed to treat.” In other words: How many patients must be treated with the drug in order for a single patient to get the desired benefit?

When you read about drugs in the news — or even in most medical journals — you will almost never be explicitly given the NNT (which I will explain in more detail below). Instead, you’ll get relative risk reduction, a metric that a Michigan State med school dean once told me “is just another way of lying.” Why would he say that?

Relative Risk Reduction

Here’s a fictional example:

You read that a new drug reduces your chance of dying from Ryantastic syndrome by 40 percent. Here’s what that means in practice: if 10 in 100,000 people normally die from Ryantastic syndrome, and everyone takes the new drug, only 6 in 100,000 people will die from Ryantastic syndrome. Now let’s think about it from an NNT perspective.

For 100,000 patients who took the new drug, four deaths by Ryantastic syndrome were avoided, or one per 25,000 patients who took the drug. So the NNT is 25,000; that is, 25,000 patients must take the drug in order for one death-by-Ryantastic to be avoided. Ideally, you also want to know the NNH, or “number needed to harm.”

Let’s say that 1 in 1,000 patients who take the new drug suffer a particular grievous side effect. In that case, the NNH is 1,000, while the NNT is 25,000. Suddenly, the decision seems a lot more complicated than if you’re just told the drug will lower your chance of dying from Ryantastic syndrome by 40 percent.

Now let’s move to the real world: aspirin. Nearly five years ago, the NNT and NNH of aspirin caught my eye, so I included them in an article about medical evidence:

For elderly women who take it daily for a year to prevent a first heart attack, aspirin has an estimated NNT of 872 and an NNH of 436. That means if 1,000 elderly women take aspirin daily for a decade, 11 of them will avoid a heart attack; meanwhile, twice that many will suffer a major gastrointestinal bleeding event that would not have occurred if they hadn’t been taking aspirin.

And so why did the recent task force make the new recommendation? According to the New York times:

The U.S. task force wants to strongly discourage anyone 60 and older from starting a low-dose aspirin regimen, citing concerns about the age-related heightened risk for life-threatening bleeding.

They looked at the same kind of data that I did and saw that the tradeoff between the NNT and the NNH didn’t look so good. As a doctor I once interviewed on this topic told me: when a massive group of people who don’t have symptoms take a drug, the chances of harm will often outweigh the chances of help. That certainly is not to say that this is always the case, but as the old medical adage goes: it’s hard to make asymptomatic patients better.

Once I started looking at NNT and NNH data instead of relative risk, one of my main takeaways was that most drugs don’t do anything significantly good or bad for most people who take them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile, it’s just a different — and, I think, important — perspective. Here’s a graphic illustration of what I mean, from my 2017 ProPublica article:

WYSIATI: “What You See Is All There Is”

The larger point I really want to hammer home is that a statistic like relative risk reduction — which is far and away the most common one you’re getting — is not the statistic that you need in order to make an informed decision.

7) Michele Goldberg again, “When a Miscarriage Is Manslaughter”

Brittney Poolaw, then 19 years old, showed up at the Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Oklahoma last year after suffering a miscarriage at home. She had been about 17 weeks pregnant. According to an affidavit from a police detective who interviewed her, she admitted to hospital staff that she had recently used both methamphetamine and marijuana.

A medical examiner cited her drug use as one of several “conditions contributing” to the miscarriage, a list which also included congenital abnormality and placental abruption. Poolaw was arrested on a charge of manslaughter in the first degree, and because she couldn’t afford a $20,000 bond, jailed for a year and a half awaiting trial.

The trial finally took place this month and lasted one day. According to a local television station, an expert witness for the prosecution testified that methamphetamine use may not have been directly responsible for the death of Poolaw’s fetus. Nevertheless, after deliberating for less than three hours, a jury found her guilty, and she was sentenced to four years in prison.

From the detective’s affidavit, it seems possible Poolaw’s entire ordeal might have been avoided had she had access to decent reproductive health care. Poolaw, the detective wrote, “stated when she found out she was pregnant she didn’t know if she wanted the baby or not. She said she wasn’t familiar with how or where to get an abortion.”

Poolaw’s case is an injustice, but it is also a warning. This is what happens when the law treats embryos and fetuses as people with rights that supersede the rights of those who carry them. And it offers a glimpse of the sort of prosecutions that could become common in a world in which Roe v. Wade is overturned, one we could be living in as soon as next year.

Abortion opponents often insist they have no intention of imprisoning women who end their pregnancies. When, as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump said that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, he was widely denounced by mainstream anti-abortion activists: Peggy Nance, head of Concerned Women for America, called him “the caricature that the left tries to paint us to be.”

But for years now, the anti-abortion movement has been working to change state laws to define embryos and fetuses as “people” or “children.” This has resulted in women being punished for things they do, or don’t do, while pregnant. Often, these prosecutions target women who take drugs; ProPublica reported on a case in Alabama in which a woman was charged with “chemical endangerment of a child” because she twice took half a Valium when she was pregnant.

8) This “Do you know how to tip? Test your knowledge about tipping while traveling in America ” actually really annoyed me (even though I did really well) because it just took all this tipping as a given, instead of pointing out just how absurd it is on so many levels.  

9) Here’s the thing about this story, “A woman won a million-euro Spanish literary prize. It turned out that ‘she’ was actually three men.”

The work of one woman was, it turned out, the equivalent of the labors of three men.

That was at least the case for Spain’s top writer of crime thrillers, a professor and mother who wrote under the pseudonym Carmen Mola, supposedly to maintain her anonymity.

But on Friday night, at a ceremony to award the 1 million euro (about $1,160,000) Planeta literary prize to Mola for her historical thriller “The Beast,” three men ascended the podium and claimed the award instead.

Mola’s gripping, often-gory novels starring strong female protagonists have been likened to the work of Elena Ferrante, a pseudonym for a widely popular Italian writer.

Mola is best known for a trilogy starring a “peculiar and solitary” female police inspector “who loves grappa, karaoke, classic cars and sex in SUVs,” according to publisher Penguin Random House. That trilogy has been translated into 11 languages and is being adapted for television.

Good art speaks to the human condition and that knows no bounds of race, gender, geography, etc.  So, of course three men can write stories with strong and fully-realized female protagonists.  And women can write amazing male characters.  And white people can write rich, complex black people and vice versa.  So enough with the race and gender essentialism. 

10) I love online shopping.  I hate the massive waste this creates with returns.  Good stuff from Amanda Mull:

We can dispatch now with a common myth of modern shopping: The stuff you return probably isn’t restocked and sent back out to another hopeful owner. Many retailers don’t allow any opened product to be resold as new. Brick-and-mortar stores have sometimes skirted that policy; products that are returned directly to the place where they were sold can be deemed close enough to new and sold again. But even if mailed-in products come back in pristine, unused condition—say, because you ordered two sizes of the same bra and the first one you tried on fit fine—the odds that things returned to a sorting facility will simply be transferred to that business’s inventory aren’t great, and in some cases, they’re virtually zero. Getting an item back into a company’s new-product sales stream, which is sometimes in a whole different state, can be logistically prohibitive. Some things, such as beauty products, underwear, and bathing suits, are destroyed for sanitary reasons, even if they appear to be unopened or unused…

Perfectly good stuff gets thrown away in these facilities all the time, simply because the financial math of doing anything else doesn’t work out; they’re too inexpensive to be worth the effort, or too much time has passed since they were sold. Fast fashion—the extremely low-cost, quick-churn styles you can buy from brands such as Forever 21 and Fashion Nova—tends to tick both boxes, and the industry generates some of the highest return rates in all of consumer sales. Imagine a dress that sold for $25 and was sent back without its plastic packaging at the end of the typical 30-day return window. Add up the labor to pick, pack, and dispatch the item; the freight both coming and going; the labor to receive and sort the now-returned item; the cardboard and plastic for packaging; and the sorting facility’s overhead, and the seller has already lost money. By one estimate, an online return typically costs a retailer $10 to $20 before the cost of shipping. And in the space of a month, the people who might have paid full price for the dress have moved on to newer items on the seller’s website. At that point, one way or another, the dress has got to go…

Now is usually when people start wondering why more returns aren’t just donated. Don’t lots of people in the U.S. need winter coats and smartphones and other crucial tools of everyday life that they can’t afford? Wouldn’t providing those things be good PR for retailers? Wouldn’t it be a tax write-off, at the very least? Donation would be the morally sound move. But companies have little incentive to act morally, and many avoid large-scale domestic donations because of what is politely termed “brand dilution”: If paying customers catch you giving things to poor people for free, the logic goes, they’ll feel like the things you sell are no longer valuable.

Some of the largest retailers, such as Amazon and Target, have begun to quietly acknowledge that it doesn’t even make sense for them to eat the cost of reverse logistics to get back many of the things they sell. They’ll refund you for your itchy leggings or wonky throw pillows and suggest that you give them away, which feels like an act of generosity but, more likely, is really just farming out the task of product disposal.


Quick hits (Part I)

1) Using a nuclear weapon to stop an asteroid from hitting earth could actually be a thing!

One day, astronomers may spot an asteroid months away from a cataclysmic rendezvous with Earth. Our only chance of survival at such a late stage would be to try to use a nuclear explosive to obliterate it.

But would it work?

Unlike some melodramatic Hollywood blockbusters of the 1990s, real-life scientists are largely unconcerned by any planet-sterilizing behemoths. The orbits of almost every asteroid two-thirds of a mile across or larger have been precisely mapped out. “We know they’re not going to be a threat anytime soon,” said Megan Bruck Syal, a planetary defense researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Instead, their focus is on relatively small asteroids, those about the size of football stadiums, notable for their abundance as well as their ability to evade asteroid-hunting observatories. “Those are the ones that we tend to worry more about because they could come out of nowhere,” Dr. Bruck Syal said.

Such a diminutive asteroid may not sound like much of a danger compared to the 6.2-mile colossus that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago with apocalyptic results. But a meteor that exploded over Siberia back in 1908 was only about 200 feet across — and the blast’s shock wave leveled 800 square miles of forest. “That’s the size of the whole Washington D.C. metro area,” said Dr. Bruck Syal.

Using high-fidelity simulations, scientists reported in a study published earlier this month that a stealthy asteroid as long as 330 feet could be annihilated by a one-megaton nuclear device, with 99.9 percent of its mass being blasted out of Earth’s way, if the asteroid is attacked at least two months before impact.

Ideally, asteroids targeting our blue marble would be identified decades ahead of time. If so, the hope is that an uncrewed spacecraft could slam into them with sufficient momentum to nudge them out of Earth’s way. This strategy, known as deflection, is getting its first test next year with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) space mission.

But an asteroid even several years away from Earth may not be suitable for deflection. At that stage, it may be too late to sufficiently alter its trajectory with a nudge. And if any deflection attempt proves overzealous, the asteroid may break up into smaller but still portly pieces that could hit Earth in multiple spots.

Using a nuclear blast to obliterate an interplanetary interloper “will always be the last resort,” said Patrick Michel, an asteroid expert at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur who was not involved in the study. But if we are short on time, it may be our only hope.

2) Good to see the NBA doing away with some of the most ridiculous fouls.  Hopefully, they follow through on this properly.  Lots of great videos at 538.

3) This is a pretty amazing story, “In a First, Surgeons Attached a Pig Kidney to a Human, and It Worked: A kidney grown in a genetically altered pig functions normally, scientists reported. The procedure may open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.”

Surgeons in New York have successfully attached a kidney grown in a genetically altered pig to a human patient and found that the organ worked normally, a scientific breakthrough that one day may yield a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients.

Researchers have long sought to grow organs in pigs that are suitable for transplantation into humans. Technologies like cloning and genetic engineering have brought that vision closer to reality in recent years, but testing these experimental organs in humans has presented daunting ethical questions.

So surgeons at N.Y.U. Langone Health took an astonishing step: With the family’s consent, they attached the pig’s kidney to a brain-dead patient who was sustained on a ventilator, and then followed the body’s response while taking measures of the kidney’s function. It is the first operation of its kind.

The researchers tracked the results for just 54 hours, and many questions remained to be answered about the long-term consequences of such an operation. The procedure will not be available to patients any time soon, as there are significant medical and regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Still, experts in the field hailed the surgery as a milestone.

“This is a huge breakthrough,” said Dr. Dorry Segev, a professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. “It’s a big, big deal.”

A steady supply of organs from pigs — which could eventually include hearts, lungs and livers — would offer a lifeline to the more than 100,000 Americans currently on transplant waiting lists, including the 90,240 who need a kidney. Twelve people on the waiting lists die each day.

An even larger number of Americans with kidney failure — more than a half million — depend on grueling dialysis treatments to survive. In large part because of the scarcity of human organs, the vast majority of dialysis patients do not qualify for transplants, which are reserved for those most likely to thrive after the procedure.

4) Spencer Bokat-Lindell, “Why Is Raising a Child in the United States So Hard?”

If you’re active on social media there’s a decent chance you came across this chart this month from a Times article about how much less the U.S. government spends on young children’s care than other rich countries.

The infrastructure and family plan that President Biden proposed and that’s now being negotiated in Congress is an attempt to shrink the gap through four key policies: a federal paid family and medical leave program, an extension of the child tax credit (in the form of a monthly payment) that debuted this year, subsidized day care, and universal pre-K.

5) This has taken longer than it should of, but very encouraging for the millions and millions of Americans who suffer from hearing loss:

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration started the process — after a long wait — to create a new category of government-approved hearing aids that Americans will be able to buy without a prescription. Congress authorized over-the-counter hearing aids in 2017.

These over-the-counter hearing aids have the potential to prove that the best efforts of government and technology companies can improve Americans’ lives.

You can buy reading glasses at Walgreens without a prescription. Perhaps by this time next year, you’ll be able to do the same with an officially labeled hearing aid at a cost of a few hundred dollars.

Medical professionals, patient advocates and tech executives that I’ve spoken with are excited about the potential of over-the-counter hearing aids. They imagine the government’s blessing will spark new inventions from companies like Bose, Best Buy and Apple. And they believe that this could be the start of a golden age for hearing help.

“I’m crying reading this,” Nicholas Reed, the director of audiology at the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, said he wrote to his contacts on Tuesday after hearing the news.

When I wrote about this topic in April, I was surprised at the pernicious and widespread effects of hearing loss. Roughly 38 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, and only a minority of people who could benefit from hearing aids use them.

Prescription hearing aids work well for many Americans, if they have access to medical care and can afford to pay an average of about $5,000. (Hearing aids are not typically covered by traditional Medicare. Coverage by private health insurance plans and Medicaid is spotty.) Some people also feel embarrassed about losing their hearing or are put off by tests and fittings for hearing aids.

Untreated hearing loss can be serious. Struggling to understand what we hear stresses the brain and is associated with cognitive decline, dementia and social isolation.

Research by Dr. Reed and other academics found that some nonprescription hearing devices on the market for $350 or less — they can’t legally be called hearing aids at the moment — were almost as good as prescription hearing aids for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. But hearing helpers in this category can be excellent or garbage, and it has been difficult to tell the difference.

The best listening devices might win approval as official over-the-counter hearing aids under the new F.D.A. rules. Experts say that more companies are waiting in the wings to offer new hearing products.

Bose announced in May a hearing device for $850, and the company told me that it wants to sell the product as an over-the-counter hearing aid when the F.D.A. finalizes its rules. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple is studying ways to make its AirPods, which are wireless headphones, into a device to enhance hearing.

More gadgets don’t necessarily mean that more people will be helped by them. But the new market opportunity that the government created may open the door to ideas we can’t yet imagine, wholesale changes in public awareness of hearing loss and choices for treating it.

6) Sean Wilentz, “Why I Oppose Removing a Statue of Thomas Jefferson”

Efforts to repudiate Jefferson are, by now, familiar enough. The reassessment of historical figures traditionally celebrated for their contributions to American equality is nothing new, as in Lerone Bennett Jr.’s much-criticized but widely-read vilification of Abraham Lincoln as a white supremacist. Jefferson has become a particularly fraught case, due in large part to his slaveholding and his ugly remarks about Africans inhis bookNotes on the State of Virginia. Additionally, historians have affirmed longstanding speculations that he had sexual relations and conceived several children with one of his young slaves, Sally Hemings, who also happened to be, almost certainly, his late wife’s half-sister.

The most authoritative interpreter of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship, Annette Gordon-Reed, has described it as a fundamentally absurd and unequal but ultimately respectful long-term bond. Contrary to Gordon-Reed’s historical evidence, however, Jefferson gained a reputation as a rapist, a systematic abuser of black women, and a sadistic slave owner. Blend enough sensational falsehood into his biography and it’s easy enough to invent a Thomas Jefferson who was a perfect monster, unfit for celebration of any kind, let alone in New York’s City Hall.

One need not accept portrayals of Jefferson as a moral monster to see that he had flaws from which any fair-minded twenty first century observer recoils. But study him awhile and he appears to have been a man of contradictions. Notes on the State of Virginia indeed contains hair-raising comments about black people, closer than not to the common view among his fellow white Virginians. It also contains an indictment of racial slavery as an offense to heaven—an uncommon view in Virginia, especially among slaveholders. (“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” Jefferson wrote, a remark that impressed his antislavery Massachusetts friend John Adams as “worth diamonds.”) 

There is the early Jefferson who took firm antislavery stances, to the point of heading a committee of the Confederation Congress in 1784 that sought to ban the introduction of slavery into any American territory. About two decades later, as president, he completed the abolition of U.S. participation in the Atlantic slave trade. Then there is also the later Jefferson, who backed off from any public expressions of antislavery opinion, to the point, in 1820, of supporting the introduction of slavery into Missouri Territory over the intense objection of antislavery northerners.

Above all, there is Jefferson’s greatest contribution to America, indeed, to humankind, in the Declaration of Independence’s simple assertion that all men are created equal. The declaration’s universalist claim was a deeply radical statement then, and remains radical today. It expressed an idea that swept beyond Jefferson’s own time to inspire future abolitionists, women’s rights advocates, and every variety of champion for human rights. Although there were radical egalitarians before Jefferson, there had never been anything quite like the declaration, which became the basis of a democratic political order that rejected monarchs, hereditary aristocrats, and theocrats. Furthermore, had Jefferson prevailed over the objections of delegates from the Lower South, the declaration would have included a denunciation of slavery and the slave trade as violations of human nature’s “most sacred rights of life and liberty.”

Even when Jefferson lived, there were some who claimed that he didn’t really mean what he wrote in the declaration, that he really meant to say that only white men were created equal. Yet never, either in public or in private, did Jefferson seek to amend or modify the wording of his greatest contribution. His failure to do so made him and his declaration deeply suspicious to later generations of pro-slavery advocates and their allies, who denounced the declaration as a pack of “self-evident lies,” a farrago of “glittering generalities”—that is, as a standing rebuke to their barbaric cause. 

Indeed, it was Jefferson, more than any other American, who set the standard by which we find him so lacking, the universal standard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked when he quoted Jefferson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln, meanwhile, warned that those who would forsake Jefferson were “the vanguard—the miners and sappers—of returning despotism.”

7) Damn this is stupid… “‘Cancel Culture’ Isn’t the Problem. ‘OK Culture’ Is.”  Ummm, no.  Enough with stupid false binaries!  The behavior of John Gruden and his enablers in the NFL (i.e., OK Culture) is deplorable.  But, a repudiation of Gruden is not Cancel Culture (trying to get Chapelle’s special removed from Netflix and declaring Netflix a pariah company, however, is) and it does no favors to conflate the two, just because Gruden has some troglodytic supporters who would like to.

8) Totally worth it’s own post, bur for now, I tried not to spend all evening obsessively playing with the data here, “Is College Worth It? A Comprehensive Return on Investment Analysis”

Key Findings

Executive Summary

9) God this is so tiresome! “Mayim Bialik Wants the ‘Jeopardy!’ Job. Is She ‘Neutral’ Enough? Alex Trebek projected impartiality. Bialik has questioned vaccines, endorsed a disputed brain supplement and weighed in on hot-button issues.”  Mayim Bialik is undoubtedly a flawed person (unlike her detractors, apparently).  She’s very good at hosting Jeopardy and whatever her flaws, she’s clearly not an awful person.  Being good at it and not awful really should be enough.    

10) This is cool, “Fake news game confers psychological resistance against online misinformation”

The spread of online misinformation poses serious challenges to societies worldwide. In a novel attempt to address this issue, we designed a psychological intervention in the form of an online browser game. In the game, players take on the role of a fake news producer and learn to master six documented techniques commonly used in the production of misinformation: polarisation, invoking emotions, spreading conspiracy theories, trolling people online, deflecting blame, and impersonating fake accounts. The game draws on an inoculation metaphor, where preemptively exposing, warning, and familiarising people with the strategies used in the production of fake news helps confer cognitive immunity when exposed to real misinformation. We conducted a large-scale evaluation of the game with N = 15,000 participants in a pre-post gameplay design. We provide initial evidence that people’s ability to spot and resist misinformation improves after gameplay, irrespective of education, age, political ideology, and cognitive style.

11) Drum, “Voting legislation never had the slightest chance of passing”

The Democrats’ latest voting rights bill failed again last night and activists think President Biden isn’t pushing it hard enough:

So far, the Biden administration’s response to the GOP assault on voting rights hasn’t matched the president’s urgent rhetoric. This isn’t to say the president has done nothing, or that the attention he’s devoted to other matters—infrastructure, the climate crisis, the pandemic—is unwarranted. But has the administration acted like this is the existential threat to democracy that they say it is? “He’s made clear that he supports voting reform, but that is simply not enough,” Johnson told Politico“We need him to bring this over the finish line.”

This is nuts. What do they expect Biden to do? Wave a magic wand?

There is not, and never has been, the slightest chance of passing this legislation. It doesn’t have the 60 votes to pass under regular order and it doesn’t have the 50 votes it would take to end the filibuster and pass it with Democratic votes alone. Like it or not, this is the simple reality.

It is—or should be—obvious that the urgency of a problem has little or nothing to do with the chances of doing anything about it. Climate change is Exhibit A. The Black-white test gap among high school students is Exhibit B. National healthcare is Exhibit C. I could go on forever, but why bother?

The Republican Party’s decades-long war against Black people because they tend to vote for Democrats is shameful, vile, and disgusting. The lengths they’re now willing to go to in the wake of Donald Trump’s lunatic lies is almost beyond belief. Every single member of the Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a party that does this.

But they aren’t, and the plain reality is that there’s nothing Joe Biden can do about it. He’s got the bully pulpit, but that’s all. This legislation will never pass and never had any chance of passing.

12) David Brock, “I Was Wrong About Donald Trump”

Like most Democrats, I initially underestimated Donald Trump. In 2015, I founded a super PAC dedicated to electing Hillary Clinton. Through all the ups and downs of the campaign, I didn’t once imagine that Americans would vote Mr. Trump in.

He was an obvious pig (see the “Access Hollywood” tape), a fraud (multiple failed businesses and bankruptcies) and a cheat (stiffing mom-and-pop vendors). Not to mention the blatant racism and misogyny. About the outcome, I was spectacularly wrong.

Once he was in office, I misread Mr. Trump again. Having worked inside the conservative movement for many years, I found his policies familiar: same judges, same tax policy, same deregulation of big business, same pandering to the religious right, same denial of science. Of course, there were the loopy tweets, but still I regarded Mr. Trump as only a difference of degree from what I had seen from prior Republican presidents and candidates, not a difference of kind.

When a raft of books and articles appeared warning that the United States was headed toward autocracy, I dismissed them as hyperbolic. I just didn’t see it. Under Mr. Trump, the sky didn’t fall.

My view of him began to shift soon after the November election, when he falsely claimed the election was rigged and refused to concede. In doing so, Mr. Trump showed himself willing to undermine confidence in the democratic process, and in time he managed to convince nearly three-quarters of his supporters that the loser was actually the winner.

Then came the Capitol Hill insurrection, and, later, proof that Mr. Trump incited it, even hiring a lawyer, John Eastman, who wrote a detailed memo that can only be described as a road map for a coup. A recent Senate investigation documented frantic efforts by Mr. Trump to bully government officials to overturn the election. And yet I worry that many Americans are still blind, as I once was, to the authoritarian impulses that now grip Mr. Trump’s party. Democrats need to step up to thwart them.

Are Democrats up for such a tough (and expensive) fight? Many liberal voters have taken a step back from politics, convinced that Mr. Trump is no longer a threat. According to research conducted for our super PAC, almost half of women in battleground states are now paying less attention to the political news.

But in reality, the last election settled very little. Mr. Trump not only appears to be preparing for a presidential campaign in 2024; he is whipping up his supporters before the 2022 midterms. And if Democrats ignore the threat he and his allies pose to democracy, their candidates will suffer next fall, imperiling any chance of meaningful reform in Congress.

Going forward, we can expect bogus claims of voter fraud, and equally bogus challenges to legitimate vote counts, to become a permanent feature of Republican political strategy. Every election Republicans lose will be contested with lies, every Democratic win delegitimized. This is poison in a democracy.

13) Harry Enten,”Why neither party has a sustainable political majority”

Let me tell you a little story. Nine years ago, Barack Obama won a second term in office, and there was talk of an emerging Democratic majority in presidential elections. Then came Donald Trump, the least liked major party nominee of all time, who won the 2016 election — albeit without winning the popular vote. 

Now, there is talk of Democrats potentially being locked out of a Senate majority for a time to come because of trends in the electorate. 
I am skeptical of this — at least over the long term. History tells us that parties adjust messaging and tend to find the best pathway to a majority, leaving this to be a 50/50 country on average.  
Political scientist David Hopkins articulates the idea of this nation being a 50/50 one well. He notes that since the 1980 elections, Democrats and Republicans have won control of the House, Senate and presidency about the same number of times. They have controlled all three for about the same time, including for the Democrats at this point. 

14) My latest discovery from Pandora.  I love this song (especially the guitar part).  

15) Linsey Marr with an excellent thread on ventilation.

16) Great thread on value of different boosters to J&J.  I’m getting my heterologous Moderna boost next week


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