How perverse incentives broke the Republican Party

Really good stuff from Bernstein on Republican responses to Omicron.  Short version… they’re insane!

Is anyone surprised that it took only a couple of days for Republicans to spread obviously nonsensical conspiracy theories about the omicron coronavirus variant? U.S. Representative Ronny Jackson, a Texas Republican and former White House physician, took to Twitter on Sunday to claim: “Here comes the MEV — the Midterm Election Variant! They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election — but we’re not going to let them!”

I suppose I should point out how unlikely it is, to put it mildly, that Democrats would be capable of getting the entire world to pretend there’s a new, potentially dangerous variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, which would then serve as a pretext for absentee voting, which somehow Democrats would supposedly be able to use to cheat, even though no such cheating was detected by a series of Republican states in 2020 — and even though those all-powerful, devious Democrats also, for this to make sense, wouldn’t be able to find any other way of cheating. Oh, and that’s not to mention that the timing is all wrong. And that surely more devastation from the pandemic would be, you know, actually really bad for the incumbent party…

First, we should be careful. Over the long run, there doesn’t seem to be any difference in either production of or belief in misinformation and conspiracy theories by ideology or party. What’s different now is that numerous highly visible figures in one party — the Republican Party — are repeating or even inventing this kind of garbage. [emphases mine]

But is that hard to understand? I don’t think so. In fact, I think conventional wisdom among scholars of U.S. political institutions is sufficient for seeing what’s happening. All we need to know is that incentives matter to politicians, political parties structure incentives for political actors, and, right now, the Republican Party has built in a series of perverse incentives that dissuade serious people from running for office and reward cranks and people willing to pretend to be cranks.

Normal political parties are dominated by the electoral incentive. Politicians want to win and then retain office; campaign professionals want to win to improve their reputations and, perhaps, to reap financial rewards; governing professionals want to win so that they can govern; activists and donors want to win so that they can influence policy, and in some cases because they, too, want jobs when their party is in office. With almost all individual incentives running that way, the party collectively comes to place a high priority on winning.

But party-aligned media do not necessarily share that incentive. Being out of office is good for business because negative partisanship means more viewers and more clicks when there’s an opposite-party president to dislike…

However, as we’ve seen lately with the Republican Party, the more central party-aligned media become within the overall party, the less important winning becomes. And then second-order problems kick in. As Fox News and conservative talk radio become more popular and more profitable, Republican politicians and other party actors are more likely to think of them as a viable career goal — and therefore replace their own electoral incentives with reasons to act as outrageous as possible. And by now we’re at a point where many Republicans seem to have convinced themselves that elections are simply about which party is best at rigging rules and administration.

Democrats are not immune from these perverse incentives. But they don’t dominate the party the way that they increasingly have in the Republican Party over the last 20 years. And I should also be clear that, in an era of strong party polarization among voters, having less interest in winning elections probably doesn’t hurt the chances of out-parties, whose success has always depended more on what happens to the incumbents. It does, probably, make it harder for Republicans to govern successfully when they’re in office.

I mean, for example, I presume Rony Jackson is not actually an idiot (though he does a damn good impression).  But, rather, he’s a deeply cynical, unprincipled man who simply recognizes that his political power benefits by saying utterly outrageous things and undermining citizen confidence in public health and science.  That’s awful!  But, that’s also literally what he is clearly incentivized to do in the present environment.  And, clearly there’s no shortage of deeply cynical, unprincipled people in today’s Republican party.  And our democracy suffers greatly for it.  

Boost, boost, boost!

Omicron is definitely worrisome.  Best thing we can do is probably get 3 doses of vaccine in as many people as possible (honestly, even if Omicron turns out not to be so bad– best case, it’s actually out-competed by Delta– we need to get doses in people).  So many vaccinations require 3 doses for lasting immunity and, thus far, the best evidence suggests that if we want lasting immunity (and we still don’t know how long) against symptomatic Covid, we should consider this a 3 dose vaccination.  On the bright side, the CDC today finally said all adults should get the vaccine (previously, it was “may” for those 18-49).  Eric Topol had a great Op-Ed last week on the case for getting these thirds shots in everybody:

Public health officials have always expected that mRNA coronavirus vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech) to be a three-shot regimen. The only question was when the third shot would be necessary. Originally, the hope was that it would be after one or two years. It turns out, it is necessary at about six months.

More than 10 large reports have shown that the reduced protection from infections, including symptomatic infections, across all age groups, wanes from 90 to 95 percent at two months down to about 60 percent for Pfizer and 70 percent for Moderna after five to six months. There is further substantial waning after six months.

The good news is that a booster dose can restore that initial efficacy, as data makes abundantly clear. One randomized trial of Pfizer’s vaccine involving more than 10,000 participants — half receiving a third shot and the other half receiving a placebo booster — showed a remarkably high 95-percent efficacy. In that trial, people aged 18 to 55 benefited just as much as those older than 55. There were no safety issues raised, such as myocarditis.

It is important to underscore that for all coronavirus vaccine trials, symptomatic infection has been the primary endpoint, and has tracked well with hospitalizations and deaths. Large, randomized trials are rightly considered the gold standard form of evidence. There are no other randomized trials of booster shots underway.

Israel offers more evidence of the booster’s benefits. Its largest health system tracked more than 700,000 people who had received a booster shot and found that the third shot had a striking 91 percent effectiveness against symptomatic infection. It also had a 93 percent effectiveness against hospitalization and 81 percent effectiveness against covid-related deaths.

But the CDC’s advisory committee didn’t review this important observational study and many other relevant data sources. If it had, perhaps it would have more forcefully advocated boosters for all adults. Our recommendation is fully consistent with messaging from the White House and President Biden that all vaccinated adults should get boosters.

Its failure to do so has substantial implications. Only 59 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, meaning the United States ranks below the top 50 most-vaccinated countries. Countries throughout Europe, such as Denmark and Belgium, have vaccination rates of around 75 percent, and even they are experiencing record-setting surges in cases.

Like Britain and Israel, the United States was a first mover with early vaccination campaigns, so it has a much higher proportion of people with waning immunity. Forty percent of Americans (more than 120 million people) were fully vaccinated by June 1 and have diminished protection. Each day in the United States, the number of people with waning immunity greatly exceeds those who are getting newly vaccinated. Accordingly, rather than building our wall of population immunity, the United States is suffering attrition.

It has been estimated that more than 90 percent of Americans need to be fully vaccinated to contain the hyper-contagious delta variant. Not only are we far from that goal, but also we are moving in the wrong direction. While we continue to press ahead to reach unvaccinated Americans, we must concurrently maintain protection for those who have received the shot.

Yes, we need to ramp up all we can and get as many shots around the world as we can, but pretending that there’s not now strong need for Americans to have 3rd doses ignores the clear evidence.  

In fact, the Post ran an Op-Ed today with the case for no boosters.  It was so poorly argued I suspect my 10th grader could’ve knocked it down (to be fair, he’s really smart).

The data does not show that every healthy adult should get a booster. Indeed, the push for boosters for all could actually prolong the pandemic. First, such a campaign diverts focus away from the goal of persuading the unvaccinated to get their shots (and persuading parents to get their eligible children shots). Second, and relatedly, exaggerated descriptions of the waning efficacy of the vaccines undermine public confidence in them, and some people may be less likely to accept vaccines that they regard as less effective than originally advertised.

These are prestigious public health officials making this case and they are so wrong.  At this point there’s not a shred of evidence that getting boosters in arms has prevented any of the unvaccinated from getting a first shot.  Really we just haven’t had enough “focus” on the unvaccinated?  Give me a break!!  We’re trying all we can.  It’s hard.  And people getting their boosts is not stopping people like my neighbor (“I’m just not putting anything artificial in my body. I trust my immune system”) from deciding to get vaccinated after all.  And, OMG, enough with the completely awful mass psychology!  There’s just no evidence that there’s people out there on the vaccine fence who are now thinking, “hmm, maybe I was going to get a vaccine, but, I guess they don’t work because all these people need boosters.”  Now, sure, are there some people who think that way?  Yes, just like many people believe in alien abductions, but there’s just no evidence at all that this is a widespread feature of vaccine skepticism/hesitancy that can be overcome.

Or this:

Our views aren’t changed by the data available so far about the potentially dangerous new omicron variant. To the contrary, the possible need for a booster shot targeting a potentially vaccine-resistant variant is a reason to hold off on a booster targeting the original variant.

Virtually every other vaccine expert I’ve read has strongly suggested that 3 doses almost surely offers additional protection against omicron.  Or this:

What’s wrong with continual boosting? For one thing, a variant may emerge that requires a new vaccine formulation. (Boosting with a Moderna beta variant vaccine yielded higher neutralizing titers against the beta variant than did boosting with Moderna’s original mRNA-1273 vaccine.) We don’t know yet if omicron will require a new formulation, although public health officials are worried it might. In that case, “training” the immune system repeatedly on the original variant — as the current boosters do — may prove to be counterproductive. It could, for instance, diminish the effectiveness of a reformulated booster. In other words, for those not in immediate need of a boost, there may be an advantage to waiting until a booster more closely aligned with circulating variants becomes available.

I have seen literally zero other people make this assertion (and I follow at least a dozen people on twitter who are genuine vaccine/virus experts) and my own in-house vaccine expert said this is “possible” but a bs “fear tactic.”  

Anyway, if you are more than 6 months out and haven’t been boosted (and I bet the vast majority of my readers are), do it!  And don’t feel like you are taking a dose away from some poor African, but, rather than you are getting a needed third dose of a three dose vaccine.  [Of course, who knows what the story is for us J&Jer’s on just two doses]

Quick hits (part II)

1) Some impressive science and some real hope for those with Type I diabetes, “A Cure for Type 1 Diabetes? For One Man, It Seems to Have Worked. A new treatment using stem cells that produce insulin has surprised experts and given them hope for the 1.5 million Americans living with the disease.”

Mr. Shelton, now 64, may be the first person cured of the disease with a new treatment that has experts daring to hope that help may be coming for many of the 1.5 million Americans suffering from Type 1 diabetes.

“It’s a whole new life,” Mr. Shelton said. “It’s like a miracle.”

Diabetes experts were astonished but urged caution. The study is continuing and will take five years, involving 17 people with severe cases of Type 1 diabetes. It is not intended as a treatment for the more common Type 2 diabetes.

“We’ve been looking for something like this to happen literally for decades,” said Dr. Irl Hirsch, a diabetes expert at the University of Washington who was not involved in the research. He wants to see the result, not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, replicated in many more people. He also wants to know if there will be unanticipated adverse effects and if the cells will last for a lifetime or if the treatment would have to be repeated.

But, he said, “bottom line, it is an amazing result.”

Dr. Peter Butler, a diabetes expert at U.C.L.A. who also was not involved with the research, agreed while offering the same caveats.

“It is a remarkable result,” Dr. Butler said. “To be able to reverse diabetes by giving them back the cells they are missing is comparable to the miracle when insulin was first available 100 years ago.”

2) Interesting story on how a single NC Republican legislator, Danny Britt, has been instrumental in bringing needed criminal justice reform to NC’s laws.  It’s also more than a little sad to realize that there’s no way Republicans would have agreed to these changes if not for the efforts of Britt (a prosecutor turned defense attorney). Better CJ policy for the state should not have to depend on the arbitrariness of one good man being a Republican legislator.  

Legislators on both sides of the aisle agree that while activists, advocates and some lawmakers have worked for years to reform the state’s criminal justice system, some bills Britt has sponsored would not have passed under the Republican-controlled legislature without him.

3) Focus group report on Virginia elections that may or may not be worth your time.  I found it interesting.

4) Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana is just a complete fraud.  What’s so sad about his completely affected, cornpone style (the man is Vanderbilt, UVA, and Oxford educated) is that this is what works for the Republican base.

The 70-year-old Kennedy is so committed to this persona that a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune challenged readers in 2019 to guess the author of a series of eccentric statements: Foghorn Leghorn or Kennedy? It was a difficult quiz.

Whenever Kennedy appears on Fox News or launches an attention-getting stunt, those of us in Louisiana who know him well roll our eyes and reflect on the Kennedy we knew before his Senate election.
We recall the brainy graduate of Vanderbilt University, the University of Virginia Law School and Oxford University’s Magdalen College; the relatively progressive Democrat who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004; the man who, despite his 2007 party switch, served capably as state treasurer from 2000 to 2017; the official who, although in the same Republican Party as then-Gov. Bobby Jindal, was a fierce critic of Jindal’s reckless fiscal policies…
But what stood out in that 2004 interview was the absence of the homey sayings, abusive zingers and character assassinations that have become Kennedy trademarks. He was nothing like the man you see these days insulting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — “It must suck to be that dumb” — or vilifying then-Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland as “a neo-socialist, left-of-Lenin whack job.”…
What troubles me about Kennedy’s latest stunt is not just what it revealed about a politician doing what some unprincipled, opportunistic politicians have always done. What bothers me more is what it says about Louisiana politics, and today’s Republican Party, that Kennedy could expose himself as a xenophobic demagogue and pay no price for it.

5) This NYT “where should you live” quiz is really fun.  Looks like Irvine, California is the place for me (I like a nice climate and political and racial diversity).

6) From Stat, “Covid antivirals could be pandemic game-changers. But Americans might struggle to access them”

Antiviral drugs for treating Covid-19 have been hailed as a pandemic “game-changer” — a tool that could, perhaps, finally help life return to normal. But basic gaps in the U.S. health system could mean that two new treatments from Pfizer and Merck won’t make much of a difference after all.

The companies’ treatments, which haven’t yet received emergency authorization, could make a Covid diagnosis dramatically less threatening. But in practice, before receiving the pills, patients may need to jump through a series of hoops that often prevent Americans from accessing care: Recognizing their symptoms, taking a test, getting a prescription from a clinician, and filling the prescription at a pharmacy.

“Our routine medical systems are not really set up for this,” said Céline Gounder, a physician and NYU professor who served on President Biden’s Covid advisory board in the months before his inauguration. “These are medications that need to be started within three days of developing symptoms. It can take you longer than three days to get an appointment.”…

But it might be difficult to get the drugs outside a clinical trial setting. Depending on the particular patient, it could involve four individual steps: recognizing symptoms, receiving a positive Covid-19 test result, being prescribed an antiviral by a doctor, and picking up the pills at a nearby pharmacy.

Each step could prove difficult, Gaffney said, beginning with the challenge of recognizing symptoms during winter, when early signs of Covid-19 might be easily written off as a cold, flu, or allergies. Even if patients do quickly suspect they have Covid, diagnostic tests are still sometimes hard to come by. Many of the patients who test positive won’t have primary care physicians. And perhaps worst: The antivirals are ideally taken just three days after symptom onset, meaning the four-step process can’t face any setbacks.

7) “Are scientists less prone to motivated reasoning?” Yes.

A new study lays out a bit of a conundrum in its opening paragraphs. It notes that scientific progress depends on the ability to update what ideas are considered acceptable in light of new evidence. But science itself has produced no shortage of evidence that people are terrible at updating their beliefs and suffer from issues like confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. Since scientists are, in fact, people, the problems with updating beliefs should severely limit science’s ability to progress.

And there’s some indication that it does. Max Planck, for example, wrote that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up.”

But a new study suggests it may not be much of a problem after all. Taking advantage of a planned replication study, some scientists polled their peers before and after the results of the replication study came out. And most scientists seemed to update their beliefs without much trouble.

8) More roundabouts, please! And good for the climate, too.

But there’s also a climate benefit.

Because modern roundabouts don’t have red lights where cars sit and idle, they don’t burn as much gasoline. While there are few studies, the former city engineer for Carmel, Mike McBride, estimates that each roundabout saves about 20,000 gallons of fuel annually, which means the cars of Carmel emit many fewer tons of planet-heating carbon emissions each year. And U.S. highway officials broadly agree that roundabouts reduce tailpipe emissions.

They also don’t need electricity, and, unlike stoplights, keep functioning after bad storms — a bonus in these meteorologically turbulent times.

“Modern roundabouts are the most sustainable and resilient intersections around,” said Ken Sides, chairman of the roundabout committee at the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

9) If Omicron is bad as some of the worst fears, we’ll really need the new antivirals ASAP.  FDA-skeptic Scott Alexander writing before the Omicron news, “When Will The FDA Approve Paxlovid?”

For context: a recent study by Pfizer, the pharma company backing the drug, found Paxlovid decreased hospitalizations and deaths from COVID by a factor of ten, with no detectable side effects. It was so good that Pfizer, “in consultation with” the FDA, stopped the trial early because it would be unethical to continue denying Paxlovid to the control group. And on November 16, Pfizer officially submitted an approval request to the FDA, which the FDA is still considering.

As many people including ZviAlex, and Kelsey have noted, it’s pretty weird that the FDA agrees Paxlovid is so great that it’s unethical to study it further because it would be unconscionable to design a study with a no-Paxlovid control group – but also, the FDA has not approved Paxlovid, it remains illegal, and nobody is allowed to use it.

One would hope this is because the FDA plans to approve Paxlovid immediately. But the prediction market expects it to take six weeks – during which time we expect about 50,000 more Americans to die of COVID.

Perhaps there’s not enough evidence for the FDA to be sure Paxlovid works yet? But then why did they agree to stop the trial that was gathering the evidence? Or perhaps there’s enough evidence, but it takes a long time to process it? But then how come the prediction markets are already 90% sure what decision they’ll make?

Perhaps that 10% chance of it not getting approved is very important, because that’s a world in which it’s discovered to have terrible side effects? But discovered how? There was one trial, it found no side effects at all, and Pfizer stopped it early. And it’s hard to imagine what rare side effect could turn up in poring over the trial data again and again that’s serious enough to mean we should reject a drug with a 90% COVID cure rate.

Perhaps it doesn’t have any sufficiently serious side effects, but that 10% chance is important because it might not work? Come on, just legalize the drug! If it doesn’t work, then you can report that it didn’t work in January or March or whenever you figure it out, and un-approve it. Nobody will have been hurt except your pride, and in the 90% of cases where it does work, you’d be saving thousands of lives.

Let’s give the FDA its due: this time they’re probably only going to wait a few weeks or months. Much better than their usual MO, when they can delay drugs for months arguing about the wording of the warning label. I honestly believe they’re operating on Fast Mode, well aware that the entire country is watching them and yelling at them to move faster.

Still, move faster.

10) This is so important and under-appreciated, “Most state lawmakers earn low salaries. It impacts who can afford to be one.”

A report released Monday by New American Leaders on low salaries in statehouses highlights the financial realities for policymakers such as Joiner, and the ways that pay impacts who is able to run and stay in office. But the political backlash in raising salaries for lawmakers also carries pitfalls.

The report analyzed salaries in several legislatures around the country and concluded that most lawmakers are paid wages that do not allow them to focus solely on the job of legislating. Many work in legislatures that are considered hybrid or part-time. They meet for shorter periods of time, often at the beginning of the year and into the spring. But it’s a role that has morphed in recent years into one with increasing year-round demands and expectations from constituents, many of whom may not realize their lawmakers are being paid little to no money to be that accessible…

The low pay effectively creates barriers to more diverse representation and trickles down to what kind of policy is created, said Ghida Dagher, president of New American Leaders, which recruits and trains first- and second-generation Americans to run for office. It estimates that just 3.5 percent of America’s 7,383 state legislative seats are held by new Americans. Women make up just 31 percent of statehouse seats, and 26.6 percent of that figure are women of color.

“State legislators have this enormous power to decide the future of immigrants, BIPOC communities and just constituents at large,” said Dagher. “But due to low legislative salaries, many people who are most impacted by the policies that legislators make are shut out of positions of power.”

In Georgia, where lawmakers this year debated restrictive voting bills, lawmakers are paid a little over $17,000 a year plus a per diem. Republicans in control of the legislature led an effort last year to cut that pay due to a reduced budget tied to the pandemic, arguing that the public had also faced hardship

Dagher said the potential political blowback to increasing pay does not offset the reality, which is that as long as statehouses are financially out of reach as jobs for everyday people, they will not reflect the needs of a demographically diverse population.

“Any time there is discussion of tax dollars and people’s dollars being used toward a salary, there is some frustration,” Dagher said. “But the reality is, this is a full-time job. Community and constituent needs are year-round, they’re not part-time. So our legislatures should be set up at a full-time basis to really serve the needs of their communities.”

The New American Leaders’ report has several recommendations, including that lawmakers switch their statehouses to full time. While several have fixed end dates during session, lawmakers sometimes go weeks or months over those allotted times. Some rely on special sessions to meet later into the year. The report highlights research that shows statehouses that meet longer and pay higher salaries pass more bills, including per legislative day.

11) Yascha Mounk interviews Michael Powell on free speech:

Yascha Mounk: Every time we get a story about an attack on liberalism, in part from the right but also from the left, it is dismissed by partisans as just some crazy story, an extreme example — “this really isn’t a broad phenomenon going on in the country”, etc. Do you think all of the stories that you’ve been writing about add up to a bigger picture?

Michael Powell: I think the answer is almost certainly yes. About seven months ago, I did a story on a particular racial incident at Smith College, an elite liberal arts school in Massachusetts. I spoke to at least 15 faculty members, all of them tenured. As I recall, three of them went on the record. With perhaps one exception, none disputed that there was an illiberal stream running through liberal higher education these days, and specifically at their school. Almost all had particular tales to tell—not all hair-curling. But it was quite striking that I’m talking to—in almost all cases—senior tenured faculty, and none were willing to go on the record. Untenured people, I very much understood. I thought to myself, “This is a fine liberal institution, an elite liberal institution, and this isn’t good.” After the piece appeared, the president, as I expected might happen, denounced the piece, denounced me, and went to the faculty meeting. One of the faculty members called me a few hours afterwards, and she was chuckling. She named a number of people who stood up and denounced the piece and several of those were people who had given me chapter and verse on the problems that the university was running into on these very issues. I took that as a bad sign on the state of many of these institutions.

Mounk: Being back in Europe for a few months, I haven’t had anybody say to me, “But of course, I would never say this publicly.” And I suddenly realized that this is a phrase that I would hear more or less every day in the United States, often from people who are very much on the left, who are very progressive, who supported Bernie Sanders, who are deeply engaged in the fight against discrimination and so on. Their position is perfectly reasonable, but they would be afraid to speak publicly. When did you first sense that cultural transition?

Powell: I’ve only really started writing on this in the last year and a half. I was writing a sports column, actually, for about four or five years before this. I bounced all over the place. The Times being the Times, it’s sports column in which you can write about all sorts of social issues as well. And I started to come across this when I was looking at Title IX abuses which were, frankly, in some cases quite problematic from a civil liberties point of view. And doing that reporting—this is casting back four or five years—I was running into the same problem: that lawyers handling the cases were perfectly willing to talk to me, but when I would try to talk with professors and others on college campuses, people were wary of it. Feminists were leery of it—with, I should say, some spectacular exceptions. There are people who’ve been very forthright on this question from the liberal feminist community. But it just feels to me this is a stream that runs quite strong through our culture right now. And not simply universities and colleges.

12) A year old, but… interesting! “Serial killings are waning, leading to speculation about the cause”

The number of serial killings surged in the 1980s and has been dropping ever since.

In 1987, there were 198 separate serial killers active in the United States, compared to only 43 in 2015 and two in 2019, according to a database run by the Radford University and the Florida Gulf Coast University. The database defines a serial killing as the “unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.”

When a serial killing is defined as the killing of three or more victims, the number drops to 138 serial killers operating in 1987 and 26 in 2015. The number remains at two for 2019.

Discover magazine noted the downward trend and talked to experts about reasons for the possible decline.

The uptick can partly be explained by improved police work and data collection that made it possible to link murders more effectively, leading to an increased count. But other factors are also likely at play, experts told Discover.

One factor: DNA evidence is making it possible to track and find the offenders.

“Serial murder has become a more dangerous pursuit,” said Thomas Hargrove, founder of the Murder Accountability Project, in an interview with Discover.

James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at the Northeastern University, pointed to another factor: People are less vulnerable than in the past.

“People don’t hitchhike anymore,” he told Discover. “They have means of reaching out in an emergency situation using cellphones. There are cameras everywhere.”

13) This is a good story.  Racial desegregation in schools is… complicated.  “In Minneapolis Schools, White Families Are Asked to Help Do the Integrating
In a citywide overhaul, a beloved Black high school was rezoned to include white students from a richer neighborhood. It has been hard for everyone.”

14) So, this kind of annoyed me, “Hanukkah isn’t ‘Jewish Christmas.’ Stop treating it that way” because, Christmas (the religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus) is not Christmas (the completely secular holiday of gift-giving demarcated by elves, Santa, reindeer, etc.).  

15) That famous study you’ve probably heard about where hungry judges hand out harsher sentences is based on unrealistically large effect sizes that this post (from 4 years ago, but, new to me) nicely contextualizes.  

16) One thing I really like about Scott Alexander is that after writing a post on the need to more rapidly approve Covid antivirals, he publishes another post with the strongest pushback against his case.

17) Criminal Justice is tough.  Yes, we incarcerate too many people for too long.  And give too many people too high bail.  But the maniac who ran over a bunch of innocent people in a Wisconsin parade should never have been on the streets, 

18) I love that Drum refuses to just accept the consensus, digs into data, and pushes back.  Plus, I can worry less about my daughter using Instagram.

A while ago I asked if there were any academic types who had written a good summary of all the research about the impact of social media on teenage users. At least, I think I did. Maybe I only thought about doing it, because I can’t find it now. [Ah, here it is.]

In any case, it turns out that Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge have been compiling a list of research papers on this subject for the past couple of years. This prompted Haidt to write a piece for the Atlantic titled “The Dangerous Experiment on Teen Girls.” This article is very specifically about Instagram, not social media in general, and his argument goes approximately like this:

  1. Gen Z teen girls have been reporting increasingly high rates of anxiety and depression.
  2. This started happening between 2010-14, exactly the time that Instagram use became nearly universal among teens.
  3. In a 2017 survey by British researchers, teens rated Instagram as the most harmful of all social media platforms on measures of anxiety, loneliness, body image, and sleep.
  4. No other explanation for the rise in teen mental health problems makes sense.

By itself, this is not the most persuasive argument I’ve ever read. However, we can learn more by looking at the Haidt/Twenge list of research papers.

First off, they found 29 studies that showed an association between social media use and teen mental problems. They also found 11 studies showing no association.

This is moderately persuasive, though a 72% hit rate isn’t conclusive. A bigger problem is that the studies almost all found that effects kicked in only among teens who used social media a lot (4-5 hours per day or more). This immediately raises the question of whether (a) social media causes mental health problems or (b) teens with mental health problems seek out social media more obsessively.

This is an obvious question, and in a separate section Haidt and Twenge highlight studies designed to test causality. Most of them are experiments where teens are asked to eliminate (or cut back) social media use for a few weeks. At the end of the experiment their mood was compared with that of a control group that made no changes. Of the 13 “true experiments” they found, eight showed a causal effect and five showed no causal effect. This is suggestive, but even less conclusive than the association studies.

Overall, I’d call this moderately weak evidence…

My other problem was Haidt’s reference to the recently leaked Facebook documents as support for his thesis. But as I’ve pointed out before, there’s no there there:

Among teen girls, Instagram has a net negative effect on one thing (body image) and a net positive effect on everything else. This simply doesn’t support the argument that Instagram is an overall problem for teen girls.

All this said, there’s enough evidence here that it certainly suggests some caution is probably in order. And as it turns out, Haidt makes three proposals that are suitably cautious in turn. First, he wants social media companies to allow academic researchers access to their data. Second, he wants the age of “internet adulthood” to be raised from 13 to 16. Finally, he wants to encourage a norm among parents and schools of delaying use of social media until high school. None of these strike me as objectionable given the suggestive evidence we have.

Obviously research on social media and mental health is difficult to do well. Nevertheless, if we’re going to act responsibly instead of moving straight to our usual panic phase, we need something better than what we have now. In particular, we need a more thorough explanation of what happened in the 24 months between 2011 and 2013. Beyond that, we need higher quality studies of how social media affects teens, ideally using something better than self-reported hours of internet use (which is highly unreliable) and self-reported survey questions of mental health (also not terribly reliable). Let’s get cracking, researchers!

19) A nice take on Rittenhouse and guns from Michael Cohen:

In short, the usual political lines have been drawn. However, what’s missing from the post-trial coverage is what is seemingly always missing from the debates about gun violence in America — the gun…

Chekhov’s Gun

The weapon pictured above is a Smith & Wesson M&P 15. It’s the gun that Rittenhouse strapped on his body and displayed in public as he sought to “protect” local Kenosha businesses from demonstrators. It’s the sole reason why what happened that August night turned deadly.

Without a gun, Rittenhouse likely never travels to Wisconsin.

Without a gun, he doesn’t shoot his first victim, Joseph Rosenbaum.

Without a gun, Rittenhouse might have fled the scene once Rosenbaum, a man with a history of mental illness just released from the hospital following a suicide attempt, threatened his life.

Without a gun, he wouldn’t have needed to escape the scene and then been attacked by Joseph Huber, who hit him with a skateboard before Rittenhouse killed him.

Without a gun, Rittenhouse doesn’t shoot Gaige Grosskreutz, permanently maiming him.

Without a gun in his hand, Gaige Grosskreutz likely doesn’t get shot at all.

Without the proverbial Chekhov’s gun, would Rittenhouse — at the age of 17 — have been emboldened to walk the streets of Kenosha at night amidst a violent and tense situation?

If Rittenhouse hadn’t been carrying a semi-automatic rifle that night, there would be no murder, trial, and national debate. The presence of a gun — introduced, if you will, in the first act — is what led to tragedy.

Even if Rittenhouse still traveled to Kenosha, even if he still participated in the demonstrations that night, and even if Joseph Rosenbaum still threatened him, no one would have been shot — if not for the presence of a gun.

Rittenhouse would still have had the right to defend himself. But when individuals are permitted to carry guns and protect themselves with deadly force, people will die needlessly. And that’s precisely what happened in Kenosha. Even if one believes that the actions of Rosenbaum, Huber, and Grosskreutz were dangerous and provocative, none of them deserved to die.

Every act of gun violence; every mass shooting; every accidental discharge of a weapon; every suicide attempt that is a cry for help but turns deadly; every racially-tinged murder has its roots in the fact that we, as a society, have made the choice that ordinary Americans should be allowed near-unfettered access to guns.

Even police shootings, like the one of Jacob Blake, which sparked the demonstrations in Kenosha, have their roots in American gun laws. Why do American police officers kill so many Americans? They are trained to believe that every interaction with the public could become deadly, and for good reason: America is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world. Do police need better training and less permissive rules of engagement? Absolutely. But as long as guns are ubiquitous in our society, police will continue to kill innocent civilians they believe might have a gun. [emphasis mine]

20) Just discovered the new Showtime series “Yellowjackets” and really liked the first two episodes.

Quick hits (part I)

1) This is really good from deBoer, “The Failure of Occupy is Almost Complete”

The moneyed and the powerful have the money and the power. All the left has is people power, the potential of great masses to come together and, despite their demographic and cultural and lifestyle differences, recognize their shared self-interest and demand change.

And, well… how’s that going now? All contemporary liberals and leftists want to do is to chop that 99% up into smaller and smaller chunks, insisting to many of them that their problems aren’t really problems, setting up a hierarchy of suffering that is as inhospitable to real solidarity as I can imagine. There’s almost zero interest in a politics oriented around opposition to the kleptocracy that runs our system and steadily takes from those with too little and gives to those with too much. Yet that’s the biggest source of real human suffering in this country, need, unnecessary economic need that could be ameliorated by more equitably spreading the wealth. This is deeply related to the identity-based injustices that liberals are now fixated on seemingly to the exclusion of all others. I promise you, as desperately as we need policing and criminal justice reform in this country, poverty hurts more Black people more deeply every day than police do, by a country mile. And yet even the racial justice conversation has little time for questioning the basic distribution of money and power in our society. It’s far more invested in what I’ve called the Rainbow Oligarchy, diversifying our autocratic elite rather than tearing it down.

2) Emily Oster, “Should We Be Counting COVID Cases?”

Pulling this together

  • If our goal is to reduce serious outcomes, we should prioritize three things: vaccinations (lowers conversion from case to serious outcomes; lowers case rates); approving therapeutics and making them widely available (lowers conversion); and making rapid testing widely available and easy, and providing guidance about use (lowers case rates). 

    Together, these have the potential to somewhat impact case rates and to hugely impact conversion rates, and as a result dramatically limit serious outcomes. Prioritizing these things doesn’t mean ignoring the others. It doesn’t mean saying masks do not matter at all. But it’s about where we put our resources and what we emphasize in public messaging.

  • If our goal is to seriously target lower case rates, we need to move on effectively all of our case-reduction policy levers. We will need more continued and enforced mask mandates, more vaccines (and more boosters), probably more lockdowns or movement restrictions, and also better testing access. Even with more restrictions, we may be unable to shift case rates very much, although it seems likely it could have some impact.

These are statements about what is possible. Where does it leave us on how we might think about crafting policy?

Most importantly, it should make clear that the first step in making policy is to say what our goal is. Our current policy discussion is muddled because we haven’t said what we are aiming for. For public-health officials, municipalities, states, and even the federal government, the first step is to state what you are trying to do.

If the goal is to lower serious illness and death, we should pivot our focus away from marginally effective policies that target case rates and focus all in on the smaller set of highly effective policies that can achieve the goal. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t count case rates (data is good!), but it would mean that we shouldn’t make policy based on these rates. The focus should be on hospitalization, on tracking breakthrough hospitalizations in particular, on targeting therapeutics to areas with less vaccination, etc. The booster shot focus in this case should be on older adults or those who are immune compromised.

3) David Frum on what we might call the Russia Hoax hoax…

The usual suspects in the pro-Trump media ecosystem will of course endorse and repeat everything Trump says, no matter how outlandish. But it’s not pro-Trumpers who are leading the latest round of Trump-Russia denialism. This newest round of excuse-making is being sounded from more respectable quarters, in many cases by people distinguished as Trump critics. With Trump out of office—at least for the time being—they now feel free to subordinate their past concerns about him to other private quarrels with the FBI or mainstream media institutions. On high-subscription Substacks, on popular podcasts, even from within prestige media institutions, people with scant illusions about Trump the man and president are nonetheless volunteering to help him execute one of his Big Lies…

The Steele dossier undertook to answer the question “What the hell is going on with Trump and Russia?” The Senate Intelligence Committee found that the FBI investigation gave the Steele dossier “unjustified credence.” But the disintegration of the dossier’s answers has not silenced the power of its question.

It was to silence that question that the outgoing Trump administration appointed a special counsel of its own to investigate its investigators. John Durham has now issued three indictments, all for lying to the FBI about various aspects of the Steele dossier. None of these indictments vindicate Trump’s claims in any way. It remains fact that Russian hackers and spies helped his campaign. It remains fact that the Trump campaign welcomed the help. It remains fact that Trump’s campaign chairman sought to share proprietary campaign information with a person whom the Senate report identified as a “Russian intelligence officer.” It remains fact that Trump hoped to score a huge payday in Russia even as he ran for president. It remains fact that Trump and those around him lied, and lied, and lied again about their connections to Russia…

Anti-anti-Trump journalists want to use the Steele controversy to score points off politicians and media institutions that they dislike. But as media malpractice goes, credulous reliance upon the Steele dossier is just a speck compared with—for example—the willingness of the top-rated shows on Fox News to promote the fantasy that the Democratic Party hacked itself, then murdered a staffer named Seth Rich to cover up the self-hack. (Some versions of this false claim include suggesting that Rich himself committed the crime.) Fox News ultimately settled with Rich’s family for an undisclosed sum even as the Fox host who had done most to promote the false story insisted on his radio show that he had retracted nothing. The story was crazy and cruel. But the story protected Trump, and that was proof enough for a media organization much more powerful than any of those that accepted the Steele dossier…

So by all means, follow the trail on Steele. But be mindful that much of that trail was prepared by people who want to misdirect and mislead. Take care how far you step along that trail. Be alert to how the twists of the trail block your view of the surrounding landscape. Otherwise, you may discover too late that you have also been misdirected and misled, and that in setting out to explore a small truth, you have become a participant in the selling of a greater lie.

4) A big deal that got very little attention and good on Biden. Dylan Matthews, “Biden made one of the best decisions of his presidency this week: America is still 6 million jobs short compared to before Covid-19. Reappointing Jerome Powell as Fed chair could help with that.”

5) It was almost more fun reading the comments to this than the book summaries as the NYT asks readers to vote for the best book of the past 125 years from among 25 finalists.  Of course, I could not resist voting.  I went with 1984, Lolita, and the Great Gatsby.  

6) I spent a few hours yesterday watching most of the first episode of Peter Jackson’s new Beatles documentary.  Edit already!  A good documentary tells a compelling story.  There were super-compelling moments in here, but almost buried in so much unnecessary footage.  Loved the Guardian review.  I’ll watch the whole thing, but probably while writing blog posts and grading at the same time.

But the moments of inspiration and interest are marooned amid acres of desultory chit-chat (“aimless rambling”, as Lennon rightly puts it) and repetition. There is a point, about five hours in, when the prospect of hearing another ramshackle version of Don’t Let Me Down becomes an active threat to the viewer’s sanity. That is doubtless what recording an album is like, but for an onlooker it is – to use the language of 1969 – a real drag. Much opprobrium has been cast at Yoko Ono for her constant presence at Beatles’ recording sessions, but, after this, you marvel at her fortitude for sitting through them.

Also, seriously… John and Yoko?!  You’ve got four guys in a band sitting there working out songs and Yoko just sitting there next to John the whole damn time.  So weird.

7) This is really good. “How a Prosecutor Addressed a Mostly White Jury and Won a Conviction in the Arbery Case: Linda Dunikoski, a prosecutor brought in from the Atlanta area, struck a careful tone in a case that many saw as an obvious act of racial violence.”  As much as liberal id may have wanted a prosecutor to go all-in on the racism angle, the prosecutor just stuck with the damning facts to persuade an almost all white, south Georgia jury.  Smart!

8) When it comes to sports, the question that may just fascinate me most is “how much difference does coaching make?” from kids rec soccer to elite professional sports.  Rory Smith addresses this with regards to the Premier League:

The news media’s apparently insatiable obsession with condiments does, though, hint at a greater truth, one that generally goes unspoken, one that flirts with breaking the fourth wall: that managers, as a rule, do not matter as much as we think they do. For the most part, they are tinkering around the edges, their decisions and their choices and their approaches largely irrelevant to how their tenures will play out, their power limited not to their own destiny but to what players can have with their main courses.

That, certainly, is what almost every academic study on the influence of soccer managers has concluded. Some have entered popular discourse: the research in “Soccernomics” that estimated that a manager is responsible for only 8 percent of a team’s results; the work in “The Numbers Game” that placed the figure at around double that.

Some have remained adrift in academia — one, in 2013, found that interim managers tended to have more direct impact on results than permanent ones — but reached the same broad conclusion.

Only the true greats, people like Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, had a tangible, discernible impact. Everyone else was at the mercy of factors not entirely within their control: a club’s financial potency, the quality of player on the books, the strength of their opponents. It is only necessary to glance at Paris St.-Germain to know that, even with a high-caliber manager and a high-quality squad, sometimes the mix is not right; something has to spark, something between chemistry and alchemy, to make things work.

That conclusion, though, is not quite as straightforward as it appears. Eight percent, to use the lowest available estimate, may not sound like a lot, but in the context of elite soccer, in particular, it is a huge and unwieldy variable.

This is a sport, after all, of fine margins: a brief loss of concentration, a slight tactical distinction, a single decision made instinctively by a brilliant player can all decide a game. That the identity of a single staff member can be directly responsible for almost a tenth of the outcome is proof not of a manager’s irrelevance, but of the opposite.

9) Good stuff from David Brooks, “The Terrifying Future of the American Right: What I saw at the National Conservatism Conference”

My old friend Rod Dreher of The American Conservative argued that because the left controls the commanding heights of the culture and the economy, the only institution the right has a shot at influencing is the state. In these circumstances the right has to use state power to promote its values. “We need to quit being satisfied with owning the libs, and save our country,” Dreher said. “We need to unapologetically embrace the use of state power.”

This is where Viktor Orbán comes in. It was Dreher who prompted Carlson’s controversial trip to Hungary last summer, and Hungarians were a strong presence at the National Conservatism Conference. Orbán, in Dreher’s view, understands the civilizational stakes of the culture war; he has, for instance, used the power of the state to limit how much transgenderism can be taught to children in schools. “Our team talks incessantly about how horrible wokeness is,” Dreher said at the conference. “Orbán actually does something about it.”…

The NatCons are wrong to think there is a unified thing called “the left” that hates America. This is just the apocalyptic menace many of them had to invent in order to justify their decision to vote for Donald Trump.

They are wrong, too, to think there is a wokeist Anschluss taking over all the institutions of American life. For people who spend so much time railing about the evils of social media, they sure seem to spend an awful lot of their lives on Twitter. Ninety percent of their discourse is about the discourse. Anecdotalism was also rampant at the conference—generalizing from three anecdotes about people who got canceled to conclude that all of American life is a woke hellscape. They need to get out more…

Finally, there is something extremely off-putting about the NatCon public pose. In person, as I say, I find many of them charming, warm, and friendly. But their public posture is dominated by the psychology of threat and menace. If there was one expression of sympathy, kindness, or grace uttered from the podium in Orlando, I did not hear it. But I did hear callousness, invocations of combat, and whiffs of brutality.

10) Apparently at home, 1-hour, PCR test are on the horizon.  Cool! But… expensive.

11) Missed this from Scott Alexander this summer.  Really, really interesting book review on How Asia Works

What was the best thing that ever happened? From a very zoomed-out, by-the-numbers perspective, it has to be China’s sudden lurch from Third World basketcase to dynamic modern economy. A billion people went from starving peasants to the middle class. In the 1960s, sixty million people died of famine in the Chinese countryside; by the 2010s, that same countryside was criss-crossed with the world’s most advanced high-speed rail network, and dotted with high-tech factories.

And the best thing that ever happened kept happening, again and again. First it was Japan during the Meiji Restoration. Then it was Korea and Taiwan in the 1960s. Then China in the 90s. Now Vietnam and others seem poised to follow.

(fun trivia question: ignoring sudden oil windfalls, what country has had the highest percent GDP growth over the past 30 years? Answer, as far as I can tell: the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos.)

There was nothing predetermined about this. These countries started with nothing. In 1950, South Korea and Taiwan were poorer than Honduras or the Congo. But they managed to break into the ranks of the First World even while dozens of similar countries stayed poor. Why?

Joe Studwell claims this isn’t mysterious at all. You don’t have to bring in culture, genetics, or anything complicated like that. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, etc, just practiced good economic policy. Any country that tries the same economic policy will get equally rich, as China and Vietnam are discovering. Unfortunately, most countries practice bad economic policy, partly because the IMF / World Bank / rich country economic advisors got things really wrong. They recommended free markets and open borders, which are good for rich countries, but bad for developing ones. Developing countries need to start with planned economies, then phase in free market policies gradually and in the right order. Since rich country economists kept leading everyone astray, the only countries that developed properly were weird nationalist dictatorships and communist states that ignored the Western establishment out of spite. But now the economic establishment is starting to admit its mistakes, giving other countries a chance to catch up.

How Asia Works is Studwell’s guide to good economic policy. He gives a three-part plan for national development. First, land reform. Second, industrial subsidies plus export discipline. Third, financial policy in service of the first two goals.

12) This article is a depressing reminder that while the online discourse may be about microagressions and cultural appropriation, real-live, disgusting, blatant racism still happens– and in a county and high schools not that far from me.

13) Also depressing here in NC, “31 NC, SC lawmakers join in letter laying out a path to overturn 2020 election, reinstate Trump”  The Republican party is so damn broken!

14) Good stuff from Waldman, “Biden does not have a messaging problem. And there’s no messaging solution.”

The pundits are in agreement: President Biden and his party have a messaging problem, which is why Biden’s approval ratings have sagged and Democrats look to be headed for defeat in the 2022 midterms.

Somewhere out there, this story goes, there is a powerful set of words that when uttered will alter this political trajectory and revive Biden’s fortunes, convincing Americans to appreciate the complicated legislation Democrats have passed and give Biden credit for what is, despite the presence of inflation, an incredibly successful economic recovery.

It’s nonsense. Yet smart and experienced people continue to believe it.

Biden needs to be reminded “how to use the bully pulpit,” says veteran reporter Joe Klein. “The Democratic Party’s entire brand was a wreck,” says Politico breathlessly, reporting on focus groups revealing that many voters can’t say exactly what the party stands for or what they’ve accomplished in Washington…

Here’s the truth: Biden isn’t getting credit for passing legislation because presidents almost never get credit for passing legislation. It just doesn’t register with the average person, whose understanding of Congress seldom goes beyond “Folks are fussing and fighting up there.”

Furthermore, the idea that Democrats suddenly have a brand identity problem is bizarre, since they haven’t had a crisply defined identity for the past 70 years or so. And that has been the case through both success and failure.

I once wrote a book arguing that Democrats should emulate the GOP’s success at distilling their ideology down to simple ideas that they repeat so everyone understands them, and that this was something Democrats had been unable to do. That book came out fifteen years ago.

15) This is not great (also, fascinating), “Humans Have Broken a Fundamental Law of the Ocean: The size of undersea creatures seemed to follow a strange but stable pattern—until industrial fishing came along.”

Life in the ocean, they discovered, followed a simple mathematical rule: The abundance of an organism is closely linked to its body size. To put it another way, the smaller the organism, the more of them you find in the ocean. Krill are a billion times smaller than tuna, for example, but they are also a billion times more abundant.

What was more surprising was how precisely this rule seemed to play out. When Sheldon and his colleagues organized their plankton samples by orders of magnitude, they found that each size bracket contained exactly the same mass of creatures. In a bucket of seawater, one third of the mass of plankton would be between 1 and 10 micrometers, another third would be between 10 and 100 micrometers, and the final third would be between 100 micrometers and 1 millimeter. Each time they would move up a size group, the number of individuals in that group dropped by a factor of 10. The total mass stayed the same, while the size of the populations changed.

Sheldon thought this rule might govern all life in the ocean, from the smallest bacterium to the largest whales. This hunch turned out to be true. The Sheldon spectrum, as it became known, has been observed in plankton, fish, and in freshwater ecosystems, too. (In fact, a Russian zoologist had observed the same pattern in soil three decades before Sheldon, but his discovery went mostly unnoticed). “It kind of suggests that no size is better than any other size,” says Eric Galbraith, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at McGill University in Montreal. “Everybody has the same size cells. And basically, for a cell, it doesn’t really matter what body size you’re in, you just kind of tend to do the same thing.”

16) The latest in the McDonald’s ice cream machine saga.  Personally, I’m just so glad I learned about McBroken from this. 

17) Also fascinating and disturbing in Wired, “It’s Time to Fear the Fungi: Humans have long been protected from fungal infections, thanks to our nice, warm blood. Climate change could ruin that.”

HUMANS SHOULD CONSIDER ourselves lucky that they don’t have to constantly worry about fungal infections. “If you were a tree, you’d be terrified of fungi,” says Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins university who studies fungal diseases. And if you happened to be a fish, a reptile, or an amphibian, fungus would also be quite high on your list of fears, were you able to enumerate them. (Fungal infections are known to wipe out snakes, fish, corals, insects, and more.) In recent years, a fungal infection called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (chytrid) has decimated amphibian populations around the world, with some scientists estimating that chytrid is responsible for population decline in over 500 amphibian species. To put that into context, that’s around one out of every 16 amphibian species known to science.

One of the reasons fungal infections are so common in so many creatures is that fungi themselves are ubiquitous. “This is dating myself, but you know the Sting song “Every Breath You Take”? Well, every breath you take you inhale somewhere between 100 and 700,000 spores,” says Andrej Spec, a medical mycologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “They’ve made it to the space station. They are absolutely everywhere.”

A few Omicron thoughts…

1) Be concerned.  Don’t be anywhere near panic and pay attention to who is treating this in a measured versus hyperbolic fashion.

2) Sooooo tired of the moralizing from the vaccine equity folks.  It’s hard to vaccinate the world and, short of living in your global Marxist utopia government, yes, wealthier countries are going to prioritize the well-being of their own citizens– as they do in virtually every single policy.  Also this.

3) Noah Smith summarizes Topol’s take:

The optimistic take, here…

As for me, a lot of scientists who are not hyperbolic and really understand viruses are really concerned and that has me quite concerned.  But we are so not back to square one.  And these vaccines really will continue to work– maybe not as well as we hope, but this isn’t like some totally different strain of the flu.  But, yeah, I could do without these damn variants.

Oh, lastly, very good thing not to go with “Nu”– too confusing.  But Omicron sure does not roll off the tongue like Delta.  Come on Greek alphabet… do better.  



The science behind why I (and maybe you) ate too much for Thanksgiving

So, you know how all sorts of products we use are always trying to manipulate us by recording out “streaks,” etc.  Well, I really should not care at all, but, I am, apparently on a 49 day streak of posting here.  So damnit, I’m going to keep my streak going.  I was about to set this aside for quick hits this weekend as I spent the day just really enjoying Thanksgiving with family (so great to hang with my sister-in-law’s family all day), but, the streak!  And, it’s pretty damn interesting. And, I still feel full!  (In complete keeping with the article, I could not resist the pecan pie even though I was already full)  So, science via the NYT health newsletter:

One of the more curious phenomena of the Thanksgiving meal is how we can feel completely full, yet somehow always find room for dessert.

Our ability to eat a ridiculous amount of food on Thanksgiving Day is related to the sheer variety of foods typically offered on a holiday table. Variety excites the appetite.

This “variety effect” is an evolutionary adaptation that served us well during pre-buffet times. Imagine if your ancestors binged on buffalo meat and then stumbled across a patch of ripe berries — but everyone was too full to eat them. Skipping dessert in that scenario would mean missing out on a stash of important nutrients. (And if that had happened, you probably wouldn’t be reading this now.)

The mechanism that allows us to make room for dessert is called sensory specific satiety, which means that the body has different limits for different foods as a way to help ensure a balanced intake of nutrients. Barbara Rolls, a professor and the director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Pennsylvania State University, has been studying sensory specific satiety since the early 1980s.

“It’s the reason most of us manage to eat a balanced diet even if we don’t have nutritional knowledge,” Dr. Rolls said. “Variety is our friend in terms of nutritional balance.”

Over the years, Dr. Rolls has asked countless adults and children to fill up on savory foods like chicken or sausages. When offered a second serving, study subjects were often too full to eat much more. But when they were then presented with cookies, bananas or raisins, they always had room for another bite.

“It’s a change in your hedonic response to the food you’ve just eaten,” said Dr. Rolls, referring to the pleasure we get from eating. “If you’ve had a lot of salty and savory foods, the sweet foods might get more pleasant.”

Fast-forward to the modern Thanksgiving table, and you begin to understand why, on the fourth Thursday of November, so many of us become eating machines. After filling up on a few rounds of turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, chances are you’ll feel quite full. But when the pumpkin pie with whipped cream comes around, your brain will sense an entirely different kind of food, and suddenly, you’ll find yourself reaching for pie.

But don’t worry. While sensory specific satiety allows you to keep eating new foods, eventually your body will tell you to stop eating. After about 1,500 calories in one sitting, the gut releases a hormone that causes nausea.

Notably, the satiety signal is particularly strong in children and diminishes with age. In studies by Dr. Rolls, children were allowed to eat unlimited quantities of M&Ms. But once they were full, they had a strong response to being offered more. “These little kids said, ‘These taste yucky — I don’t like them anymore,.’” Dr. Rolls said. “We’d never seen as strong a response in adult subjects.”

The reason for the pronounced difference in response by age isn’t clear, Dr. Rolls said. It may have to do with a natural decline in sense of smell and appetite as we get older. Or it could be that a lifetime of eating highly processed foods interferes with our natural satiety signals.

Pretty fascinating, honestly.  I suspect I’ll be using that 1500 calories factoid in the future.  Not to mention the phrase, sensory specific satiety.  

Hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving!

In praise of Democratic Socialists

I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for a while now, but listening to Sean Illing’s really good interview with former Bernie Sanders press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, got me doing a lot of thinking.  I love most of Illing’s interviews, but I was probably going to skip this one because I remember not being all that impressed with Gray back when she was working for Bernie.  But Sam B. told me I should listen and I’m glad I did.  I certainly did not agree with Gray on everything, but I found her thoughtful, knowledgeable, and when it comes to diagnosing the issues facing the left-side of American politics, pretty spot-on

It really reaffirmed much of what I’ve been thinking.  Gray is an avowed Socialist. David Shor is a Socialist. Freddie deBoer is an outright Marxist.  And I really like what they all have to say, despite myself being an Capitalist and clearly to the right of all of them.  To perhaps oversimplify, I think we all share a common diagnosis/focus.  We need to focus on materially improving the lives of Americans.  Whether that’s more affordable housing, less poverty, truly affordable health care for all citizens, ending the war on drugs, substantially raising the minimum wage, etc., it’s largely about improving the economic conditions– and thus the daily living experience– of millions and millions of Americans.  Now, we disagree on just how much of a role markets should play in this.  Just how much of a villain “big business” is.  And just how much redistribution there should be.  But, I think I can safely say our top political priority is economically improving the lives of Americans at the bottom of the income distribution.  Insofar as focusing on gender pronouns, or land acknowledgements or corporate DEI training or demonizing everybody who doesn’t agree with you politically as “racist” actually does nothing to improve economic conditions for the masses– or leads to a political backlash that makes it even harder to so– it’s taking us in the wrong direction.  There is a finite amount of political oxygen. We should be using it to make people’s lives better for all Americans at the bottom of the income spectrum.  And on that, count me in with the Socialists.  

How to actually be anti-racist

It sure as heck isn’t your typical DEI training.  The best evidence remains the good old-fashioned contact hypothesis.  So, do things that get people of different races living and working together.  Yglesias looks at the research (free post): “How to be an anti-racist: Diversity training doesn’t work — here’s some stuff that does”

Unfortunately for people who don’t like the advice that politicians should pander more, as best I can tell, none of the literature seems to support the idea that in-your-face calling-out tactics are effective. What seems to work best are fairly gentle suasion tactics plus efforts to get more people into casual integrated interactions…

“Diversity training” is pretty bad

The question of whether corporate diversity training initiatives work has been pretty extensively studied.

Business executives believe that doing these programs has genuine value to the bottom line in terms of protecting them in the face of lawsuits, so they are fairly widespread. Critically, however, the lawsuit-protecting attributes of training do not require the trainings to be effective, and they generally are not. Indeed, as this summary from Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in Harvard Business Review hints, the main question in this literature is whether the trainings backfire by annoying people:..

This suggests to me that a very underrated step toward progress would be to eliminate the judicial and legal standards that suggest diversity training has litigation-protective effects. That could have three benefits:

  • Denying companies’ legal protections on the basis of having diversity training programs could help plaintiffs in discrimination cases obtain justice.

  • Doing fewer diversity trainings would, based on the evidence, likely somewhat reduce racism.

  • Companies that don’t want to get sued would have an incentive to invest money in designing and identifying effective programs because a program that actually reduced bias incidents would still be valuable.

One important finding that runs through this literature is that mandatory trainings have a higher risk of backlash. I think that’s a general pattern here, which is that more forceful anti-racism measures tend to be less effective…

The United States is not like that, but freshman dorms at American colleges sort of are — central planners dictate where people will live and force racial integration. And that lets us ask, “what if you are assigned a Black roommate?” The answer is that students assigned to a Black roommate end up with more Black friends, even if you exclude the roommate from the count. A somewhat similar survey looked at peer group assignments in the Air Force Academy, with broadly similar results.

This general phenomenon is the Contact Hypothesis — that actual interaction with members of diverse groups will lead to less prejudice. And while Contact Hypothesis doesn’t hold up in all cases, meta-analyses tend to strongly support it overall. A really interesting study by Xuechunzi Bai, Miguel R. Ramos, and Susan T. Fiske finds that “at national, state, and individual levels,” places with more diversity feature less stereotyping. Detailed research from Census records suggests that white kids who grew up living next door to a Black family are more likely to grow up to be Democrats. There is a similar outcome based on the rise and fall of integration-promoting busing in North Carolina.

We’ve obviously not going to go Full Singapore, but we should absolutely reform zoning laws to promote more integrated neighborhoods and (as D.C. does) draw school boundaries to err on the side of integration rather than doing the reverse the way most localities do.

I couldn’t help but think about this when my daughter had a few friends over for her 11th birthday this weekend. One from Guatemala, one Black, one white, and two invited friends who did not come are also Hispanic. I’m going to confidently state there’s no way my daughter grows up to be racist.

This is not some intentional effort for my daughter or our family to “be anti-racist” this is just the natural outcome of living in a integrated neighborhood with very integrated schools.  Part of this is surely zoning laws; part is efforts of the school system; and part is lots of people who choose to live in more integrated neighborhoods and areas.  

Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is to make this happen more at scale. But I do know this country looks a lot better in the future not from CYA DEI trainings but from a lot more Kingswood Elementary’s.  

A deep dive on the 2020 election

A few weeks ago Catalist published this “What happened in 2020?” report.  It’s really, really good.  If you are an elections nerd, you’ll want to check it out. If not, here’s some of their key take-aways:


Along with massive increases in turnout, Latino vote share as a whole swung towards Trump by 8 points in two-way vote share compared to 2016, though Biden-Harris still enjoyed solid majority (61%) support among this group. Some of the shift from 2016 appears to be a result of changing voting preferences among people who voted in both elections, and some may come from new voters who were more evenly split in their vote choice than previous Latino voters. This question presents particularly challenging data analysis problems, which we discuss more in a dedicated section below…


Black voter turnout increased substantially, while overall Black vote share swung towards Trump by 3 percentage points compared to 2016. This dynamic – many more voters turning out but at a slightly lower Democratic margin – resulted in more net Democratic votes from Black voters in 2020 than in 2016, particularly in several key battleground states. For both Black and Latino voters, we discuss how an expanding electorate might bring marginal voters into the electorate at slightly lower support levels…


The relationship between urbanity and voting is essentially as strong as ever, though it did not grow wider in 2020 than in recent years. Rural areas continued to vote strongly for Trump, while Biden continued to enjoy dominant support levels in cities. There were slight changes in both, however, as Biden’s vote share increased by 1 percentage point in rural areas and dropped by 3 points in urban areas. The Biden-Harris ticket maintained gains in the suburbs that began earlier in the Trump presidency. These gains are not all about white suburban voters, as is sometimes misunderstood. Suburbs are increasingly racially diverse, which accounts for part of the change in voting patterns.

I also really liked these two charts on electoral demographics:


What happens Thanksgiving 2021 will not determine 2022 elections results!

NYT just now.

Oh come on already!!

I absolutely guarantee that if inflation is still a problem next Fall it will benefit Republicans in the elections.  But, I also absolutely guarantee that if inflation is not a problem in the Fall (and that’s a long way off!) what people paid for gas and Turkeys in November 2021 will not be affecting anyone’s votes.  This is just so stupid.  

Sure, write an article that if the present economic conditions persist through next Fall it will definitely be good for Republicans, but to even suggest today’s economic conditions have a direct bearing, regardless of the economic conditions next Fall, is preposterous. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) This was a surprise.  Maybe in a few years they’ll make it a little further to where my in-laws live, “The North Carolina Town Besieged by Armadillos: Thanks to climate change, the armored animals are making their way up north. And there’s no sign of them stopping their relentless march.”

2) Good stuff here, “Dr. Becky Doesn’t Think the Goal of Parenting Is to Make Your Kid Happy”

Is happiness the goal of parenting? No. Anybody who had a childhood in which happiness was the goal would be predestined for a lifetime of anxiety — life is full of distress! What’s something that’s distressing as a kid? It could be, “My tower fell down.” If happiness were the goal then my behavior would be, “Look, we fixed your tower, it’s fine.” What would I be wiring into my child by doing that? The more we focus on becoming happy, the less tolerance we have for distress and the more we search to feel any other way than how we’re feeling — which is the experience of anxiety. So what’s an alternative response to “My tower fell down”? It wouldn’t be me saying, “Tough, things happen.” It’s the accumulation of feeling alone in our feelings as kids that gives us adult struggles. So how would I not do aloneness? Through presence. My kid’s tower falls down? I would try to say: “I’m not going to rebuild it. I’m going to stay here with you”; and maybe it’s [sings] “Towers fall down and that really stinks.” Through my presence, what I’m doing is teaching my kid that when their distress light goes on, we want it to operate on a dimmer. If you think about all the worst adult coping mechanisms, they are an attempt to turn a feeling off, not an attempt to dim. I used to see adults in my private practice who came to me with eating disorders or bulimia. I would say to those with bulimia that the way that vomiting makes you feel as if, wow, you’ve cleaned out everything bad in your body — not just the food but the accumulation of experience — that’s something I can’t offer to you. I can offer you something different: It’s dimming your distress — not to a zero, but from a 10 to a nine and then a nine to a eight and so on. Then you can learn how to operate in the world…

It’s probably safe to say that parents who are regular consumers of parenting advice are a relatively affluent bunch. What should well-off parents know about how money can screw up kids? I have a private practice in Manhattan, see a lot of affluent clients. People say to me, “How do I not have an entitled kid?” But entitlement, what does that mean? It’s the entitlement to not feel frustrated. Because when a kid is like, “You didn’t get me a first-class ticket,” it’s not that they expect “first class” so much as they feel that they shouldn’t have to be frustrated.It’s so easy to look at kids like that and think, What a [expletive] kid. But I would take the other side: That kid must be having a terrifying experience in their body to feel something that they’ve learned they should never feel. Using money to always avoid disappointment can lead to that. This is not, like, Families with money, poor you. But those parents almost have to think, Where is frustration built into my kid’s life? So that when those frustrating moments come, the kid’s body says, “Oh, this is part of living; I know how to do this” instead of, “This should not be happening; I have no skills to deal with it.” Which is actually very sad.

3) Great twitter thread from James Surowiecki.  Such a good point!

4) Freddie deBoer in the NYT on the self-delusion of Democratic Socialists:

This attitude toward Ms. Walton’s defeat specifically and toward the political landscape more broadly is part and parcel of a problem that has deepened in the past five years: So many on the radical left whom I know have convinced themselves that their politics and policies are in fact quite popular on a national level, despite the mounting evidence otherwise.

As New York magazine’s Sarah Jones put it over the summer, “Should Democrats mount a cohesive critique of capitalism, they’ll meet many Americans where they are.” We are held back, the thinking frequently goes, not by the popularity of our ideas but by the forces of reaction marshaled against us.

But the only way for the left to overcome our institutional disadvantages is to compel more voters to vote for us…

Whatever else we may want to say about the system, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the voters of the liberal party in American politics twice had the opportunity to nominate Mr. Sanders as their candidate for president and twice declined to do so. If we don’t allow this to inform our understanding of the popularity of our politics, we’ll never move forward and start winning elections to gain more power in our system.

This may be seen as a betrayal of the socialist principles I stand for, which are at heart an insistence on the absolute moral equality of every person and a fierce commitment to fighting for the worst-off with whatever social and governmental means are necessary. But I am writing this precisely because I believe so deeply in those principles. I want socialism to win, and to do that, socialists must be ruthless with ourselves.

The idea that most Americans quietly agree with our positions is dangerous, because it leads to the kind of complacency that has dogged Democrats since the “emerging Democratic majority” myth became mainstream. Socialists can take some heart in public polling that shows Americans warming to the abstract idea of socialism. But “socialism” is an abstraction that means little without a winning candidate. And too much of this energy seems to stem from the echo-chamber quality of social media, as young socialists look at the world through Twitter and TikTok and see only the smiling faces of their own beliefs reflected back at them.

Socialist victory will require taking a long, hard road to spread our message, to convince a skeptical public that socialist policies and values are good for them and the country. Which is to say, it will take decades.

5) Planet Money newsletter on the complicated reality of plastic bag bans.

New York recently became the second U.S. state to ban them. But these bans may be hurting the environment more than helping it…

2011 study by the U.K. government found a person would have to reuse a cotton tote bag 131 times before it was better for climate change than using a plastic grocery bag once. The Danish government recently conducted a study that took into account environmental impacts beyond greenhouse gas emissions, including water use, damage to ecosystems and air pollution. These factors make cloth bags even worse. They estimate you would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 times more than a plastic grocery bag to make using it better for the environment.

The Greene family reusable bags are not organic cotton (I think they’re recycled plastic, actually), but I think we actually do pull off 131 or more used for them. 20,000– not so much.

6) One of the cool benefits of following so many epidemiologists on twitter now is that I’m more likely to come across good stuff like this, “Moderate Drinking Still Probably Won’t Save Your Life”


My take: drink moderately if it makes you happy (it doesn’t me), but, don’t pretend you are doing it for your health.

7) NYT, “Must This Swab Go That Far Up Your Nose to Test for Covid?” Yes, at the margins, the nasopharyngeal swab does detect more Covid cases than a far more pleasant anterior nares or mid-turbinate swab, but I hate that this piece does not really address the full cost/benefit.  Most notably that beyond the physical discomfort, the nasopharyngeal swab requires a trained medical person, fully decked out in protective gear, to do the test.  That’s massively inefficient for a few percentage point increase in test sensitivity. 

8) What really amazes me about Scott Alexander is how he reads and writes so damn much.  While still being a practicing Psychiatrist?  Like this piece on Ivermectin had to have been a stunning amount of work.  Also, the conclusion is just totally one of those a-ha moments.  It’s the worms!!

Hopefully you learned something interesting about yourself there. But my answer is: worms!


As several doctors and researchers have pointed out (h/t especially Avi Bitterman and David Boulware), the most impressive studies come from places that are teeming with worms. Mahmud from Bangladesh, Ravakirti from East India, Lopez-Medina from Colombia, etc.

Here’s the prevalence of roundworm infections by country (source). But alongside roundworms, there are threadworms, hookworms, blood flukes, liver flukes, nematodes, trematodes, all sorts of worms. Add them all up and somewhere between half and a quarter of people in the developing world have at least one parasitic worm in their body.

Being full of worms may impact your ability to fight coronavirus. Gluchowska et al write:

Helminth [ie worm] infections are among the most common infectious diseases. Bradbury et al. highlight the possible negative interactions between helminth infection and COVID-19 severity in helminth-endemic regions and note that alterations in the gut microbiome associated with helminth infection appear to have systemic immunomodulatory effects. It has also been proposed that helminth co-infection may increase the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19, because the immune system cannot efficiently respond to the virus; in addition, vaccines will be less effective for these patients, but treatment and prevention of helminth infections might reduce the negative effect of COVID-19. During millennia of parasite-host coevolution helminths evolved mechanisms suppressing the host immune responses, which may mitigate vaccine efficacy and increase severity of other infectious diseases.

Treatment of worm infections might reduce the negative effect of COVID-19! And ivermectin is a deworming drug! You can see where this is going…

9) As an apple lover, I really enjoyed this. Would love to try some of these varieties. “Meet the Appalachian Apple Hunter Who Rescued 1,000 ‘Lost’ Varieties”

10) Yglesias (free post) on the need to expand legal immigration:

It’s not hard for me to understand why people with other options are suddenly reluctant to fill job openings in the meatpacking industry. As tough as Amazon warehouse work sounds, it’s nothing compared to meatpacking, which combines a brutal pace of work with a terrifyingly high rate of on-the-job injuries (this is improving somewhat, but it’s still bad). Strong demand means that workers exit meatpacking, and now the companies are offering bonuses as they try and fail to recruit more workers.

The problem is that when meat production goes down, grocery prices go up, and real living standards go down.

Realistically, this is also something that’s always been one of the fabled “jobs Americans won’t do” with a labor force that’s majority foreign-born. Of course, there is some wage rate at which native-born Americans will, in fact, work in meatpacking plants. But that’s a wage that involves much higher grocery prices, lower total output, and lower living standards. There’s also a cap on how high wages can get before this work is simply outsourced to foreign countries.

So what’s up with immigration? Well, in 2017-19, the Trump administration drastically reduced legal immigration. But then starting in March 2020, immigration further tumbled for pandemic-related reasons and has only very partially recovered since Joe Biden took office. All told, David Bier calculates that we are 1.2 million immigrants short of our early-Trump pace, which was a reduction from the Obama pace, which itself was a reduction from the Bush pace.

Issuing “make-up visas” to compensate for past undershooting on immigration would greatly expand the country’s productive capacity and help alleviate some of today’s problems.

Of course we’re talking about meat here, and one response is that it’s good for climate change or animal welfare if people can’t eat as much meat. That’s an argument for another day. For now, suffice to say that vegetarians are also feeling the pain of an inadequate workforce.

11) Fascinating look at the psychological aspects of Long Covid from Jeremy Faust, “Does Long Covid depend on our beliefs? Researchers found that testing positive for Covid-19 is less predictive of Long Covid symptoms than what a patient believes about having been infected.”

Recently, a group of French scientists conducted a bold experiment regarding Long Covid. The researchers studied nearly 27,000 participants, asking them in late 2020 and early 2021 whether they believed they had contracted Covid-19 during the first 9 months of the pandemic and about 18 categories of new persistent symptoms commonly reported by Long Covid patients. The novel achievement here, though, was that the survey results were then correlated to SARS-CoV-2 antibody test results, which indicated whether each participant had been infected during the study period. (The volunteers had already submitted blood tests andwere sent the results before they took the surveys.) Synthesizing the data allowed the investigators to tease out whether Long Covid symptoms were associated with a belief in having contracted Covid-19 (via a previous positive test or a physician’s diagnosis, or in the absence of either) or with actually having antibodies that reflected a prior infection.

The results of this study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, are remarkable on several fronts. The top-line finding is that a belief in having had Covid-19 was statistically associated with a variety of Long Covid symptoms, ranging from difficulty breathing to poor concentration to fatigue, regardless of whether there was laboratory evidence of a prior infection. In other words, belief in prior infection mattered more than actual prior infection, as determined by the confirmatory antibody testing results.

This matters for two reasons. First, it’s possible that some people have misattributed new symptoms to Long Covid, when another disease is to blame. In rare cases, those diseases could even be serious ones. For example, imagine someone with persistent nausea or fatigue convincing themselves (and even their physicians, who are indeed “suggestible”) that they have Long Covid, when the real culprit is an undiagnosed auto-immune disease or cancer which that person had already begun to develop? Second, the findings imply that among those with asymptomatic or mild infections, Long Covid may be less common than we feared. That suggests that the extent of the psychiatric trauma of the pandemic remains incompletely understood, let alone treated. The data from this new study remind us that we have to investigate all symptoms carefully, even in the midst of a pandemic.

12) Five episodes in and I’m quite enjoying Babylon Berlin on Netflix.

Rittenhouse– bad policy, not bad verdict

Here’s the thing– under Wisconsin law, it doesn’t matter that you brought an assault rifle to a protest. It doesn’t matter if you were incorrect in thinking you were in imminent danger of harm.  It doesn’t matter if you “crossed state lines” (this is now a red flag for me on who to take seriously– it’s like complaining about people in northern South Carolina crossing state lines to go to Charlotte– it’s the closest big city).  If you didn’t start the incident– and openly carrying an AR-15 and being a jerk is not legal provocation– then you are allowed to use lethal force to protect yourself if you think you are under threat at the moment. Even if you are objectively wrong about that. And the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this was not your state of mind.

Was Rittenhouse unbelievably stupid and using what should be criminally bad judgement and way to quick to shoot people?  Hell, yeah!  All that said, there’s quite a good case to be made he’s not guilty under Wisconsin law (here’s a very good thread on it, if you want to get into the weeds).  And that’s a policy problem, not a verdict problem and not a white supremacy problem.  

Anyway, I haven’t seen anybody write about all this nearly as well as Eric Levitz:

In Wisconsin, as in most U.S. states, the prosecution bears the burden of disproving self-defense claims beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, at his trial, Rittenhouse did not need to prove that each shooting in Kenosha was an act of self-defense; the prosecution needed to prove that this was not the case.

Under Wisconsin law, you can kill people in self-defense if you reasonably believe that doing so is necessary to spare yourself or others from imminent bodily harm or death. This belief need not be accurate. Nor must it be reasonable from an objective perspective. It only needs to be reasonable from the subjective point of view of the shooter in the moment he or she pulls the trigger…

None of this evidence necessarily proves the validity of Rittenhouse’s self-defense claims. But it didn’t need to. All that Rittenhouse’s attorneys had to do was establish reasonable doubt about whether his invocations of self-defense were legally sound. It is hard to fault the jury for concluding that this burden was met…

Rittenhouse’s self-defense claims boast legal plausibility. But they also illustrate the difficulty of reconciling mass gun ownership and expansive rights to self-defense with the rule of law.

Rittenhouse’s killing of Rosenbaum may have been lawful. But that was scarcely self-evident to the bystanders who heard gunshots and then saw a killer holding an AR-15. The group of protesters who proceeded to chase and attack Rittenhouse could have reasonably believed that killing the armed teenager was necessary to save others from imminent bodily harm. If Rittenhouse had a right to shoot Huber and Grosskreutz in self-defense, the latter had a similarly legitimate basis for shooting Rittenhouse dead.

Put differently: Once Rittenhouse fired his first shots, he and his attackers plausibly entered a context in which neither could be held legally liable for killing the other. Whether one emerged from this confrontation legally innocent or lawfully executed hinged on little more than one’s relative capacity for rapidly deploying lethal violence. Rittenhouse had a more powerful weapon and a quicker trigger finger than Huber or Grosskreutz. Thus, he walks free, in full health, while Huber lies in a grave and Grosskreutz gets by without the bulk of his right bicep.

This outbreak of “Wild West” rule isn’t as anomalous as one might hope. America’s culture of vigilantism, high rate of gun ownership, and increasingly permissive self-defense laws have conspired to turn “kill or be killed” scenarios into a regular occurrence.

I especially appreciate that Levitz also brings in Breonna Taylor here, because, again, it was about bad policy, not a bad verdict:

In the firefight that led to Breonna Taylor’s death, authorities found that neither Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who shot into a group of plainclothes officers as they forced their way into her apartment, nor the police officers who fired 32 shots in response, killing Taylor, provably violated the law. Taylor had a plausible basis for believing that the police officers were actually intruders, and the cops a plausible basis for believing they were being deliberately targeted as officers of the law.

As Shaila Dewan notes in the New York Times, “legally kill or legally be killed” scenarios are just one of several pathological consequences of America’s lax gun regulations, and permissive police use of force and/or self-defense laws. In much of the country, Americans have a legal right to openly carry weapons of mass murder. And yet all it takes is one suspicious bystander, a phone call to the police, and the arrival of a trigger-happy cop for the legal act of carrying an AR-15 — or a toy gun — to become a legal basis for one’s summary execution.

There’s lot more really good stuff there and I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing to understand what happened here, but legally and policy-wise.  And, the short version is, unless we want a lot more Rittenhouses in the future we really need to re-think our policies on both guns and self defense.  Alas, good luck with that.  

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