Quick hits (part II)

1) It’s a long essay, but, really nobody anybody on the politics and policy of criminal justice than John Pfaff, “Can Criminal Justice Reform Survive a Wave of Violent Crime? An uptick in homicides across the country is getting blamed on reforms. That argument gets the data all wrong.”

The uptick in murders is not unique to New York, nor is the attempt to exploit it to undermine reforms. Even as the pandemic lockdown helped push down many crimes, last year saw an unprecedented spike in homicides nationwide, likely more than twice the largest previous one-year rise. And given the retaliatory nature of lethal violence and the ongoing disruption from the pandemic, we should expect homicides to remain high in 2021 as well. One study in Chicago, for example, found evidence that cycles of retaliation and counterretaliation meant that a single shooting was often the root cause of three, or sometimes 60, or once almost 500 subsequent shootings over the next few years.

How to stop this wave of violence is thus one of the most important policy questions for 2021, but asking it has rarely felt more fraught. The surge in homicide comes at a moment when conventional responses to crime face more intense criticism than any time since the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Reformers and activists across the country have spent the past decade campaigning to reduce our reliance on prisons, jail, probation, and even the police. The changes we’ve seen may be less dramatic than what many advocates have hoped for, and certainly less dramatic than how many of their detractors describe them, but they both reflect and have nurtured a growing shift in popular views on crime control. Just observe how quickly calls to “defund” the police entered mainstream debates in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Considering this trend, it’s unsurprising that those who favor the status quo are trying to use the rise in homicides as grist for rolling back policies they dislike. Some residents in San Francisco, for example, are urging the recall of the city’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, even though the city’s homicide rate barely budged and remains lower than that of almost any year but 2019. And the police union in Philadelphia had invoked the rise in homicides to try to unseat that city’s progressive prosecutor, Larry Krasner—although that effort fell flat, as Krasner easily won the Democratic primary in May (a victory that all but ensures his reelection in solidly Democratic Philadelphia).

To be clear, the defenders of the status quo are mistaken. Not only have reforms been less extreme than they often claim, but the rise in homicides has occurred more or less equally in places that adopted reforms and those that rejected them. And given how few places have significantly altered their approach to crime, the homicide spike by and large took place on the status quo’s watch. Those who want policy to remain more punitive are thus arguing for more of what has mostly failed us this past year, and they are trying to blame reforms that appear to be uncorrelated with the surge.

What’s more, to argue in favor of the status quo is to ignore that the prescribed cure—more of what we have been doing for decades now—is almost certainly not the best cure, and is quite likely not even a good cure. Our criminal legal system produces tremendous harm and immiseration, even death, not just for defendants but for their families and communities. In a damning indictment of our fundamental indifference to the lives of the millions who come in contact with this system, we have no idea what the criminal legal system’s actual humanitarian costs are, but they are surely staggering. Reinforcing the status quo will provide less safety than its proponents hope, while perpetuating if not magnifying the harms the throngs of protesters are protesting against.

Nonetheless, the spike in homicides will surely alter the politics of reform, now and in the years ahead. In an increasingly hostile political environment, how can reformers preserve and even still build on the gains that have been made? And how should they strategically retreat at the times it becomes politically inevitable?

2) I was optimistic on molnupiravir (formerly EIDD 2801) for a long time.  Looks like the optimism has paid off, just much later than I thought it would.

An investigational antiviral pill reduced the chances that patients newly diagnosed with Covid-19 would be hospitalized by about 50%, a finding that could give doctors a desperately needed new way to treat the sick, the drug maker Merck announced Friday.

A five-day course of molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, reduced both hospitalization and death compared to a placebo. In the placebo group, 53 patients, or 14.1%, were hospitalized or died. For those who received the drug, 28, or 7.3%, were hospitalized or died.

A simple oral medication to help treat Covid-19 has been an elusive goal since the start of the pandemic. Other drugs, including Gilead’s remdesivir, have also been shown to reduce hospitalizations if given early in the course of disease, but must be given intravenously.

“If this pans out, it will change the landscape,” said Andy Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah. “There’s still a lot we need to know. What does the side effect profile look like? Do we know how to dose it in populations that are different such as children and the obese? But as a top-line result, this is definitely exciting.”

If approved, molnupiravir could have a dramatic impact on efforts to fight the pandemic. Merck and Ridgeback said they would seek an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration “as soon as possible” and would submit it to regulatory agencies worldwide.

3) This is great from indoor air quality expert, Joseph Allen, “Employers Have Been Offering the Wrong Office Amenities: Workplaces need fresh air, not foosball tables and coffee bars.”  

Before you read any further, take a long, slow, deep breath. Congratulations! If you’re sitting in a typical American home, office building, or school, about 3 percent of the air you breathed in recently came out of the lungs of the people in the room with you right now.

Breathing in one another’s air is kind of nasty when you think about it. We would never drink from the same cup of water that every one of our co-workers had just sipped out of. But something very similar happens all day long in our offices, schools, homes, buses, and even airplanes. All day, every day, we sit around breathing in what other people expel from their lungs. It’s the respiratory equivalent of drinking everyone else’s backwash.

The gross-out factor notwithstanding, inhaling someone else’s breath is not a big deal if they’re not sick. But if they’re actively infectious, they’re constantly releasing viruses packaged in small respiratory aerosols that form deep in the lungs…

Throughout the 21st century, employers and commercial-real-estate developers have tried to make workplaces more attractive by adding showy amenities, such as gyms, coffee bars, and beanbag chairs, that supposedly foster creativity and cooperation and keep younger workers happy. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the interior designers and HR professionals who decide how offices look paid little attention to ventilation—an invisible variable that determines whether people can think well at their desk and whether coughs, colds, and other respiratory ills will circulate within a company.

But as companies and their employees ponder what the post-pandemic office will be like, the cool new amenity won’t be a foosball table. It’ll be something we should have had all along—clean air…

Our lack of attention to the air we breathe indoors looks reckless in hindsight. Humanity is now an indoor species. Americans spend 90 percent of our lives indoors. You take 6,000 breaths in your workplace on an average day. Over the past 100 years, humans have made astonishing gains in public health by focusing on the basics of clean water, food safety, and sanitation. But as dozens of my scientific colleagues around the world and I argued recently in the journal Science, governments have not similarly prioritized cleaning up the air that most people breathe most of the time. “In the 21st century,” the article urged, “we need to establish the foundations to ensure the air in our buildings is clean … just as we expect for the water coming out of our taps.”

As a basic toxicology rule asserts, the dose makes the poison. By reducing the dose of coronavirus that people inhaled, higher levels of ventilation and filtration could have kept a lot of indoor spread of COVID-19 at bay. Yet with the exception of hospitals, most buildings were not designed to limit the spread of infectious diseases. Instead, architects in recent decades have designed buildings, and their owners have operated them, with the goal of making them airtight. This mindset has helped with energy efficiency, but it has the distinct downside of concentrating indoor pollutants—not only those from our lungs but also the chemicals emanating from chairs, carpets, cleaning agents, and personal-care products. As a result, we were living and working in a sick-building era even before the coronavirus arrived.

Alas, based on evidence from the past year, I’m far from confident that many workplaces will actually take this seriously.

4) Ruy Teixeira, “The Democrats’ Hispanic Voter Problem: More Evidence from the 2020 Pew Validated Voter Survey”

 Here are some of the things I found from looking at the Hispanic validated voter data.

1. Trump’s support was higher among Hispanic working class (noncollege) voters than among the college-educated. Biden carried Hispanic college voters by a whopping 39 points (69-30) compared to just 14 points (55-41) among the Hispanic working class.

2. Hispanic Trump voters were 81 percent working class and just 19 percent college-educated.

3. Within the working class, the less education Hispanic voters had, the more they supported Trump. Those with some college gave Trump 39 percent of their vote, high school graduates gave him 42 percent and high school dropouts gave him 53 percent.

4. Pew breaks income into three broad groups: lower income, middle income and upper income. Trump’s worst group by far here was upper income Hispanics where he received just 28 percent of the vote. But he got 41 percent support among middle income Hispanics and 40 percent support among lower income Hispanics.

5. Just under a third of Hispanic voters described themselves as conservative. These voters supported Trump by a lopsided 73-26.

6. Over half of Hispanic voters (53 percent) were very or somewhat confident in Trump’s ability to make good decisions about economic policy. Those who were very confident supported Trump 77-18; those who were somewhat confident supported him 56-40.

7. Trump support was highest among young Hispanic voters. Those under 30 gave him 41 percent support, those in the 30-49 year old age group gave him 38 percent; those 50-64 gave him 37 percent and those 65 and over the least at 35 percent.

What lies behind these unsatisfying results for the Democrats? One possibility, as I have previously argued, is that Democrats fundamentally misunderstood the nature of this voter group and what they really care about. Hispanics were lumped in with “people of color” and were assumed to embrace the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. The reality of the Hispanic population is that they are, broadly speaking, an overwhelmingly working class, economically progressive, socially moderate constituency that cares above all, about jobs, the economy and health care…

An important thing to remember about the Hispanic population is that they are heavily oriented toward upward mobility and see themselves as being able to benefit from available opportunities to attain that. Three-fifths of Latinos in the national exit poll said they believed life would be better for the next generation of Americans. In the VSG data, these voters agreed, by 9 points, that racial minorities have mostly fair opportunities to advance in America, by 11 points agreed that America is a fair society where everyone has a chance to get ahead and by 20 points agreed that “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

They are also patriotic. By well over 3:1, Hispanics in the VSG survey said they would rather be a citizen of the United States than any other country in the world and by 35 points said they were proud of the way American democracy works. Clearly, this constituency does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy.

It is probable that Democrats will continue to have problems with this voter group until they base their appeals to this group on what these voters care about the most rather than what Democrats believe they should care about.

5) Enjoyed this essay on two new books about America’s founding:

There was nothing inevitable about the creation of the United States — the United States, singular, that is, a continental nation-state with a central government, rather than these United States, plural, a collection of small, quarrelsome quasi republics connected by a weak treaty of friendship. In fact, the path to the nation as we know it, with a powerful executive, a representative legislature and an independent judiciary, was highly implausible. For the 13 states at the time of the Revolution — mini-nations that had their own currencies, their own foreign policies, their own navies — the quest for independence was not just freedom from an imperial Britain, but independence from one another. America could have very easily looked like a bigger, more dysfunctional European Union.

In these two masterly works, the great historians of America’s Revolutionary era, Gordon S. Wood and Joseph J. Ellis, show how this experiment in republican self-government almost didn’t happen. As Ellis writes in “The Cause,” there was always far more emphasis on pluribus than unum, on the many rather than the one. The original demand of The Cause (the historical term for the Revolutionary War) was actually conservative: Give us our due rights under British law. Nationhood was not the goal. People saw themselves as Virginians, Rhode Islanders, New Yorkers — not Americans. How the many became a fractious one is the story these two books tell. They both suggest that it was only the creation of the Constitution in 1787 that made these disparate citizens into Americans.

But Ellis and Wood are not triumphalist about the Constitution. They each underscore that the signers failed to deal with some awfully big problems. They both assert that the deepest flaw was the failure to purge the new nation of the evil of slavery, and that error, more than any other, betrayed the values on which America was founded. Each of them writes that many of the same difficult questions that almost prevented the Union from coming into being 234 years ago — bondage versus emancipation, big government versus small, city versus country, individualism versus communitarianism — still divide us today. Back then, the anti-Federalists protested that creating a strong national government was just substituting one form of tyranny for another. Whether they know it or not, the governors who now reject federal mask mandates are echoing the anti-Federalists of the 1780s.

6) A J&J 2nd dose months later has a major impact on efficacy.  FDA is discussing J&J boosters next week.  I see one in my future.

7) Oh man this essay drove me nuts.  Shame on white scholars for wanting to study and have opinions on health disparities. “‘Health equity tourists’: How white scholars are colonizing research on health disparities.”  One can also imagine a world in which white scholars are criticized for devoting insufficient attention to health disparities.  And damn do I hate this use of “colonizing.”

8) So, this is nuts, the governor of WV is totally committed to coaching a HS basketball team and insists it doesn’t impact his ability to do his actual job.  

LEWISBURG, W.Va. — The governor was livid.

“Other than GOD above and my family, I place my duties as Governor above all else,” he thundered in a statement sent out on Tuesday evening. “All I do is work, and I love my work, and I love the people of West Virginia, especially the kids.”

But there were some, he went on, who had recently committed a “vile action,” one that was “manifestly arbitrary and capricious,” even forbidden by law.

His antagonists were three retirees who sit on the school board in Greenbrier County, 110 miles southeast of the state capital. In August, they had voted not to hire Gov. Jim Justice to coach the boys’ varsity basketball team at Greenbrier East High School.

“Does the hate of these Board members hurt?” the governor wrote. “Of course, it does.”

This blast of dudgeon over his authority to coach the boys’ basketball team in his spare time — he already coaches the girls’ team — was par for the course in Mr. Justice’s tenure as governor of West Virginia. A coal mining tycoon and the state’s richest person, Mr. Justice, whose two terms in office have been richly marbled with conflicts of interest, has generally bulldozed past various rules and obligations. He has been hounded by private companies, federal agencies and county governments for hundreds of millions in unpaid bills, and he was sued, successfully, for preferring to spend his nights at his home in Greenbrier rather than in the state capital, as the State Constitution mandates.

9) This strategy memo sounds about right, “Democrats: Let’s Face Reality: The Term ‘People of Color’ Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.”

10) Just life in America, “Their Baby Died in the Hospital. Then Came the $257,000 Bill.: A New York family had good health insurance. But the bills for their daughter’s care started showing up and kept coming.”

Last summer, Ms. Lane started receiving debt collection notices. The letters, sent by the health plan Cigna, said she owed the insurer over $257,000 for the bills it accidentally covered for Alexandra’s care after Ms. Lane switched health insurers.

Ms. Lane was flummoxed: It was Cigna that had received the initial bill for care and had paid Mount Sinai West. Now, Cigna was seeking the money it had overpaid the hospital by turning to the patient.

“For them, it’s just business, but for us it means constantly going through the trauma of reliving our daughter’s death,” said Clayton Lane, Alexandra’s father and Ms. Lane’s husband. “It means facing threats of financial ruin. It’s so unjust and infuriating.”

11) Enjoyed this sharply critical review of IDW favorites Weinstein and Heying, “
A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century review – self-help laced with pseudoscience”

till, if everything is an adaptation, there is a lot of advice to give. Some of it – offered in bullet points closing each chapter – is boilerplate (get more exercise; get more sleep); some is oddly specific (go barefoot more often); some is plain weird (don’t let markets get involved in music or comedy). Little of it appears to be based on actual research; the science is really, as the kids these days say, just a vibe.

Not that the authors do much better when they engage with studies. They make alarming pronouncements based on flimsy data, such as when they say that water fluoridation is “neurotoxic” to children based on one reference to a “pilot study”. They lazily repeat false information from other pop-science books, such as the “fact” that all known species sleep (some, including certain amphibians, don’t!). The final chapter, in which they embrace the bonkers “degrowth” movement, contains what might be the single stupidest paragraph on economics ever written (claiming, bizarrely, that the invention of more efficient versions of products such as fridges would bring the economy to its knees).

Above all, Heying and Weinstein are really annoying. Their seen-it-all, know-it-all attitude is grating from around page five, and becomes increasingly irksome as they pontificate their way through each chapter. If only you knew as much about evolution as they do, you would know how to organise society. You would know to “steer clear” of genetically modified food (the millions of lives saved by such food apparently don’t warrant a mention). You’d know not to have casual sex. You’d know not to look at your smartphone so much. And so on.

And they haven’t merely solved the central questions of biology. They are also, apparently, the best teachers imaginable. Without embarrassment, they quote a student describing their classroom as “an ancestral mode for which I was primed, but didn’t even know existed”. Their towering self-regard gives them the false belief that all their arguments – including the book’s premise, which is just a repackaging of 18th-century Burkean conservatism with a faux-Darwinian paint job – are staggeringly innovative.

12) Krugman, “Are Centrists in the Thrall of Right-Wing Propaganda?”

More surprising, at least to me, has been the self-destructive behavior of Democratic centrists — a term I prefer to “moderates,” because it’s hard to see what’s moderate about demanding that Biden abandon highly popular policies like taxing corporations and reducing drug prices. At this point it seems all too possible that a handful of recalcitrant Democrats will blow up the whole Biden agenda — and yes, it’s the centrists who are throwing a tantrum, while the party’s progressives are acting like adults.

So what’s motivating the sabotage squad? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that they have internalized decades of right-wing economic propaganda, that their gut reaction to any proposal to improve Americans’ lives is that it must be unworkable and unaffordable…

The point is that as far as I can tell, those troublesome Democratic centrists are blinded by an economic narrative that was deliberately created to block progress and justify vast inequality. So they imagine that the Biden agenda — which is a fairly modest effort to address our nation’s very real problems — is somehow irresponsible and a threat to the nation’s future.

I would urge them to reconsider their premises. Biden’s proposed spending isn’t irresponsible and wouldn’t hurt growth. On the contrary, it would be deeply irresponsible not to invest in people as well as concrete, and if you look at the evidence, rather than repeating right-wing dogma, you realize that Biden’s agenda is actually pro-growth.

13) Melina Wenner Moyer, “Is homework helpful or harmful?”

Plus, overall, the research suggests that homework in elementary school doesn’t do much good.

In middle school and high school, research does generally find a positive association between homework and achievement (though the effects can be hard to tease out; kids who do more homework might fare better because they might come from higher-income families, attend better schools, or are simply more motivated). But that is not the case in elementary school.

In what is by far the most comprehensive analysis of the research on homework, published in 2006, Harris Cooper, a neuroscientist and social psychologist at Duke, and his colleagues found no relationship between the amount of homework elementary school students did and their overall academic achievement. In 2019, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, average mathematics test scores were actually lower among fourth graders whose teachers assigned more than 30 minutes of math homework a day.

“There is a misconception that the more homework you give, the more rigorous the education,” said Cathy Vatterott, a professor of education at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and a former middle school teacher and principal…

Even if homework does teach kids to be conscientious, other activities achieve the same goal. “Washing the dishes will teach discipline,” says Barbara Stengel, an education professor emerita at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. “Making your bed in the morning will teach discipline.” My son developed resilience playing soccer (especially since his team usually lost); my daughter has learned self-control helping her dad make pancakes…

But maybe, after such a trying year, schools will recognize that the emotional health of their students should be priority — and that homework doesn’t provide much of a benefit. My second grader has had upwards of 40 minutes of homework some nights this fall — one afternoon walking home from the school bus, she burst into tears over how much she had — but I was relieved to hear her teacher tell us during their virtual Curriculum Night earlier this week that if homework causes our kids stress or frustration, we should skip it. We will absolutely do this when it feels warranted — and given what I know from the research, I will not second-guess my decision.

14) I used my first ever rapid test on Friday due to a sore throat (I’ve got a really modest cold, my first illness at all since the pandemic).  Feeling pretty confident in my negative (especially as I clearly got the cold from my PCR-negative son).  Good stuff on what rapid tests do and do not tell us.

15) Part of the evolution of cancer treatment is less reliance on chemotherapy, which sounds pretty great.  

16) Important interview with Rick Hasen.  Open this one in a new tab and read it. “What If 2020 Was Just a Rehearsal? American democracy is in the midst of a waking nightmare, says Rick Hasen. And Democrats aren’t taking it seriously enough.”

When we spoke 17 months ago, you outlined a “nightmare scenario” for the 2020 election: That the pandemic would disenfranchise huge numbers of Americans, voting processes would be overwhelmed by absentee ballots, Trump would declare victory based on early returns and then once the absentees were counted and Biden was the victor, he’d claim fraud. I get the sense that the nightmare now is much worse. How did 2020 alter the way that you think through all of this?

In Sept. 2020, I wrote a piece for Slate titled, “I’ve never been more scared about American democracy than I am right now.” A month ago, I was on CNN and said I was “scared shitless” — the anchor badgered me into saying those words on cable TV. But I’m even more frightened now than in those past months because of the revelations that continue to come to light about the concerted effort of Trump to try to alter the election outcome: Over 30 contacts with governors, state legislative officials, those who canvass the votes; pressuring governors, pressuring secretaries of state; having his lawyer pass out talking points to have Mike Pence declare Trump the winner even though he lost the election. I mean, this is not what we expect in a democracy.

In 2020, there was a massive shift to absentee balloting; Donald Trump did denigrate absentee balloting despite using it himself and despite having his own ballot harvested for the primary; he lost the election but claimed he actually won; he made hundreds of false statements calling the election results into question; he’s convinced millions of people that the election has been stolen from him, and he is continuing to not only push the lie that the election was stolen, but also to cause changes in both elected officials and election officials that will make it easier for him to potentially manipulate an election outcome unfairly next time. This is the danger of election subversion.
The reason I’m so scared is because you could look at 2020 as the nadir of American democratic processes, or you could look at it as a dress rehearsal. And I’m afraid that with all of these people being put in place… when you’ve got Josh Mandel in the Senate [from Ohio] and not Rob Portman, I’m really worried.

17) This from Rory Smith on the worship of money in soccer was so good.

The P.I.F. has not bought Newcastle because it loves soccer, or England’s northeast, or the beach at Tynemouth or the leafy streets of Gosforth or the grand Georgian facades of Gray Street.

It has bought Newcastle to diversify its economy, to enmesh strategic allegiances in sport and culture, to rehabilitate its image, to make people think of Saudi Arabia and soccer before they think of Saudi Arabia and starving children in Yemen. The fact that it gets a free vanguard of vitriolic advocates on social media — just as Abu Dhabi has managed at Manchester City — is a bonus.

Newcastle United, and those fans, are being used, just as City is being used and just as P.S.G. is being used and Chelsea is being used, just as soccer as a whole is being used and, in the process, corrupted. And yes, those fans are complicit in it. But they are not the only ones to blame.

So, too, are the authorities that have allowed this to happen, time and time again: the Premier League, with the “ownership neutral” stance that it wears with such pride, and the Football Association and UEFA and FIFA and all the rest of them, the bodies that are supposed to protect and cherish the sport but have instead sold it off to the highest bidder.

And so, too, are the rest of us: the journalists and the commentators and the observers and the fans, everyone who has reveled in the conspicuous consumption of transfer deadline day, anyone who has ever taken the Deloitte Money League as a sign of the sport’s health, rather than a damning indictment of its venality, its naked, unashamed worship of money…

It is money that has distorted soccer to such an extent that all dreams but one are now dead. There is no hope of a team’s breaking through thanks to a particularly gifted crop of youngsters who emerge from its academy. There is precious little belief that an inspirational manager, with a keen eye for talent, will be enough to challenge the petroclubs for league titles and European trophies.

The only thing that can do that, the only dream that survives, is that your club will, somehow, one day wake up with more money than everyone else. That, in effect, is what happened to Newcastle on Thursday: the sudden, jolting realization that its wildest fantasy had come true; not just that its purgatory was over, but that its paradise had arrived.

It is easy to point at those fans and say that they are the problem — that it is their willingness to pay any price for success that means that yet another club that prides itself as a community institution is now in the hands of an owner who is willing to use it for selfish ends; that they are apparently ready to service the needs of the murderous regime that is seeking to deploy soccer to launder its image.

But they are not the problem; they are the consequence of the problem. They are the end point of an era and a culture obsessed with acquisition, that believes ambition can be measured only in millions of dollars, that cherishes those who spend and castigates those who do not, that has welcomed money, whatever its provenance, as an objective good, and never questioned, not once, what that money might want to do, what its purpose might be.

This is the answer. This is where that path leads — to a place where the only hope that fans have is money, where dreams are built on money, and where there is no such thing as a price too high to pay.

18) Can’t say I watch much NBA, but I’m sympathetic to this take, “How the 3-point line is breaking basketball”  Too much of a good thing is a not good thing.

19) Great NYT feature on the poll tax in Florida.  It really is unconscionable what’s going on there.  

Ms. Bolden is one of more than 700,000 people in Florida who are barred from voting because they can’t afford the financial obligations stemming from a prior felony conviction. “It’s like I’m not a citizen,” she said. “That’s what they’re saying.”

Earlier this year we asked Floridians whose voting rights had been denied because of a criminal conviction to sit for photographs, wearing a name tag that lists not their name but their outstanding debt — to the extent they can determine it. This number, which many people attempt to tackle in installments as low as $30 a month, represents how much it costs them to win back a fundamental constitutional right, and how little it costs the state to withhold that right and silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of its citizens. The number also echoes the inmate identification number that they were required to wear while behind bars — another mark of the loss of rights and freedoms that are not restored upon release.

This is the way it’s been in Florida for a century and a half, ever since the state’s Constitution was amended shortly after the Civil War to bar those convicted of a felony from voting. That ban, like similar ones in many other states, was the work of white politicians intent on keeping ballots, and thus political power, out of the hands of millions of Black people who had just been freed from slavery and made full citizens.

Even as other states began reversing their own bans in recent years, Florida remained a holdout — until 2018, when Floridians overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to nearly everyone with a criminal record, upon the completion of their sentence. (Those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense were excluded.)

Democratic and Republican voters alike approved the measure, which passed with nearly two-thirds support. Immediately, as many as 1.4 million people in the state became eligible to vote. It was the biggest expansion of voting rights in decades, anywhere in the country.

That should have been the end of it. But within a year, Florida’s Republican-led Legislature gutted the reform by passing a law defining a criminal sentence as complete only after the person sentenced has paid all legal financial obligations connected to it.

The state adds insult to injury by making it difficult, if not impossible, for many of these people, like Ms. Bolden, to figure out what they owe. There is no central database with those numbers, and counties vary in their record-keeping diligence. Some convictions are so old that there are no records to be located.

20) Great stuff from Dear Pandemic on Delta specific booster shots:

A: Variant specific boosters are currently being tested, but it’s not clear whether we need them just yet.

Here is a run-down of ongoing trials:

Pfizer/BioNTech has two Phase 2/3 trials ongoing, one with a booster designed to target the Beta variant (the one that emerged in South Africa in late 2020) and one that is designed to target the Delta variant (the now dominant variant).

Moderna is also testing boosters targeted against just Beta, just Delta, BOTH Beta and Delta, and one that targets the original SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as the Beta variant in Phase 2/3 trials. Interim findings showed that ALL boosters increased neutralizing antibodies against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as the Beta and Delta variants to levels that were equal to or greater than that observed 1 month after the original vaccine series. This trial is ongoing.

AstraZeneca is also carrying out Phase 2/3 trials testing a Beta variant-specific booster in those who were previously vaccinated (with the AstraZeneca vaccine or a mRNA vaccine) as well as unvaccinated adults. Unvaccinated adults will receive 2 doses of the Beta variant specific vaccine either 4 or 12 weeks apart or one dose of the original AstraZeneca vaccine and a second dose of the Beta variant specific vaccine 4 weeks later.

Results from all these trials are expected later this year.

But are variant specific boosters even necessary?

Across the board, antibody responses triggered by additional doses of the *original* vaccine formulations for currently approved COVID-19 vaccines have been reported to be very robust-including against the Delta variant. For this reason, booster doses of the original vaccines may be sufficient and variant specific boosters may not be needed.

Indeed, a booster dose of the original Pfizer vaccine was already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. for certain groups (see our post on this here.).

21) From the BBC, “Ivermectin: How false science created a Covid ‘miracle’ drug”

22) Damn, just the daily awfulness that continues to happen in our country is sometimes so depressing.  And for all my frustration with wokeness, lets not forget that ongoing, appalling racism is still a thing.  “Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge.”

23) Love this story, “The World’s Deadliest Bird Was Raised by People 18,000 Years Ago: Researchers studying ancient cassowary egg shells in New Guinea found signs that the sharp-taloned bird was being domesticated.”

The southern cassowary is often called the world’s most dangerous bird.

While shy and secretive in the forests of its native New Guinea and Northern Australia, it can be aggressive in captivity. In 2019, kicks from a captive cassowary mortally wounded a Florida man. They don’t take kindly to attempts to hunt them, either: In 1926, a cassowary attacked by an Australian teenager kicked him in the neck with its four-inch, velociraptor-like talons, slitting his throat.

Not a bird it’s advisable to spend too much time in close quarters with, in other words. But as early as 18,000 years ago, people in New Guinea may have reared cassowary chicks to near-adulthood — potentially the earliest known example of humans managing avian breeding.

“This is thousands of years before domestication of the chicken,” said Kristina Douglass, an archaeologist at Penn State University and lead author on the study, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The first people arrived on New Guinea at least 42,000 years ago. Those settlers found rain forests stalked by large, irritable, razor-footed cassowaries — and eventually worked out how to put them to use. During excavations of rock shelter sites in the island’s eastern highlands, Susan Bulmer, an archaeologist from New Zealand, collected artifacts and bird remains that ended up at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea. Among those remains were 1,019 fragments of cassowary eggshell, likely plucked from wild cassowary nests.

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