Quick hits (part II)

1) Adam Serwer on the Supreme Court’s vaccination decision:

If you read the legal language in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which authorizes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to act in an emergency capacity when workers face “grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards,” and when “such emergency standard is necessary to protect employees from such danger,” you might think that the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate stood a good chance of surviving the Supreme Court’s review.

But if you watched Fox News at all over the past year, you would have guessed that it was doomed.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s mandate, which compelled companies with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested regularly. (The Court narrowly allowed a similar requirement for health-care workers to remain in place.) The majority’s reasoning is that because the hazard of COVID-19 is present outside the workplace, OSHA exceeded the authority it has to regulate workplace safety.

“COVID-19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather,” the unsigned opinion reads. “That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases.”

This is laughable logic. OSHA regulates many, many hazards that are also present outside the workplace. The fact that you can die in a fire in your apartment is not an argument against regulating fire hazards in factories or offices. The mandate applied to firms whose employees have to work indoors, because that’s how the virus spreads. Moreover, unlike attending a sporting event as a spectator, people have to go to work, unless they’re lucky enough to be, say, a Supreme Court justice, in which case you can work remotely.

The majority’s answer to this obvious rebuttal, which gets closer to the motivation behind the decision, is that a vaccine “cannot be undone at the end of the workday.” Similarly, a concurring opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch portrays vaccination as “a medical procedure that affects [people’s] lives outside the workplace.” In their dissent from the decision upholding the mandate for health-care workers, Justices Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, and Samuel Alito insisted that “these cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID-19 vaccines,” while describing the vaccine-or-test requirement as forcing health-care workers to “undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo”—as though having to get a shot is a greater imposition on people who have chosen to work in health care than the imposition of not getting a shot would be on the patients who would be exposed to a potentially fatal infection they do not want and cannot undo. (Never mind that the OSHA rule allowed for those who didn’t want to get vaccinated to simply get tested regularly.)…

It is to be expected that a conservative-dominated Court would be hostile to federal regulation of business. And it makes sense that the justices would also express their opposition in federalist terms, arguing that the states can do what the federal government can’t. But the decision in the employer-mandate case, and the dissent from the four conservative justices in the health-care case, hinges on a new and alarming embrace of the right-wing culture war against vaccination, a deeply regrettable cost of conservative political strategy and political-identity formation…

The political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels write in Democracy for Realists that when voters with strong political identities “consider new issues or circumstances, they often do so not in order to challenge and revise their fundamental commitments, but in order to bolster those commitments by constructing preferences or beliefs consistent with them. They sound like they are thinking, and they feel like they are thinking. We all do.”

Surely the sophisticated legal minds who make up the Supreme Court are resistant to this sort of crude rationalization. The truth is the reverse. As Achen and Bartels write, “political rationalization is often most powerful among people who are well-informed and politically engaged, since their fundamental political commitments tend to be most consistent and strongly held.” (In fairness, this is probably as true of opinion journalists as it is of Supreme Court justices.)

2) And good stuff from Leonhardt on the Court.  Liberals are not entirely innocent of what Serwer describes:

When the Supreme Court justices emerged from the red drapes at the front of the courtroom last Friday and took their seats — to hear arguments about President Biden’s vaccine mandate — all but one of the justices there were wearing masks. The exception was Neil Gorsuch.

That Gorsuch would resist mask wearing is no surprise. He is a conservative judge with a libertarian streak who has spent his life around Republican politics. In conservative circles, masks have become a symbol of big-government subjugation.

But his decision not to wear one — while the other Republican appointees on the court all were — still felt surprising. The justices usually make an effort to treat one another respectfully. They disagree on the law, sometimes harshly, while maintaining productive and even warm relationships, like the famous friendship between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“When you’re charged with working together for most of the remainder of your life, you have to create a relationship,” Sonia Sotomayor said a few years ago, describing her welcoming of Brett Kavanaugh. “This is our work family.”

Gorsuch had to know that his masklessness could make other justices uncomfortable, including the 83-year-old Stephen Breyer and the 67-year-old Sotomayor, who has diabetes, a Covid risk factor. Sotomayor sits next to Gorsuch on the bench and, notably, chose not to attend Friday’s argument in person. She participated remotely, from her chambers…

During the first hour of last Friday’s two-hour argument, Sotomayor listed the evidence of Covid’s continuing threat, to illustrate the benefits of a vaccine mandate. (Yesterday, the court ruled in the case, blocking Biden’s vaccine mandate for large employers, while allowing a narrower one for health care providers. Gorsuch opposed both mandates, while Sotomayor favored both.)

In making the case for mandates last week, Sotomayor first noted that Covid cases were surging and hospitals were near capacity. She then turned her attention to children: “We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition and many on ventilators.”

That last sentence is simply untrue.

PolitiFact called it “way off.” Khaya Himmelman of The Dispatch described it as false and misleading. Daniel Dale of CNN wrote that Sotomayor had made “a significant false claim.” Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post’s fact checker, called it “wildly incorrect.”

Fewer than 5,000 U.S. children were in the hospital with Covid last week, and many fewer were in “serious condition” or on ventilators. Some of the hospitalized children probably had incidental cases of the virus, meaning they had been hospitalized for other reasons and tested positive while there.

Covid, as regular Morning readers have heard before, is overwhelmingly mild in children, even those who are unvaccinated. The risks are not zero, and they have risen during the current wave of infections, especially for children with major underlying health problems. But the risks remain extremely low.

Consider these numbers: Over the past week, about 870 children were admitted to hospitals with Covid, according to the C.D.C. By comparison, more than 5,000 children visit emergency rooms each week for sports injuries. More than 1,000 are hospitalized for bronchiolitis during a typical January week.

Similarly, the risk of Covid hospitalization for children — even in recent weeks — has been much lower than the risk from the respiratory virus known as R.S.V., as the epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina has shown.

Or consider this: Vaccinated elderly people are at much more risk of severe Covid illness than unvaccinated children.

Sotomayor’s statement may not have been central to the case. But it was not a random error, either. Many other Americans on the left half of the political spectrum have also been exaggerating Covid’s risks to children. As the authors of a Gallup poll last year wrote, “Republicans consistently underestimate risks, while Democrats consistently overestimate them.”

I understand that these exaggerations often stem from an admirable desire to protect children from harm. But the result has been the opposite: The pandemic’s disruptions have led to lost learning, social isolation and widespread mental-health problems for children. Many American children are in crisis — as a result of pandemic restrictions rather than the virus itself.

Last week’s Supreme Court session was striking because it highlighted both halves of the country’s partisan-based self-deceptions.

3) Interesting new research on the potential impact of a virus almost all of us get at some point:

For decades, researchers have suspected that people infected with an exceedingly common virus, Epstein-Barr, might be more likely to develop multiple sclerosis, a neurological illness that affects a million people in the United States. Now, a team of researchers reports what some say is the most compelling evidence yet of a strong link between the two diseases.

The virus infects nearly everyone in their teen or young adult years, and very few go on to develop multiple sclerosis. The researchers also note that it is not the only known risk factor for people who develop the illness. But they say their data points to it being the clearest of them all. While it remains to be seen whether the finding will result in treatments or cures for multiple sclerosis, the study may further motivate research into therapies and vaccines for the condition.

In their study, published Thursday in Science, the group examined data from 10 million people on active duty in the United States Armed Forces over two decades. The strength of their study, said its principal investigator, Dr. Alberto Ascherio, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is that they were able to follow people for years and ask whether infections with Epstein-Barr preceded multiple sclerosis.

Among the service members in the study, 801 developed multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease that occurs when the immune system attacks the fatty insulation that protects nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Most who develop the disease are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. The disease is rare, though — an individual’s chance of getting multiple sclerosis is half of one percent…

To ask how much the virus increases risk, the investigators studied the small proportion of people who were not infected with the virus early in their service careers but subsequently became infected. They detected infections by the presence of antibodies to the virus.

Among the multiple sclerosis patients, 32 out of 33 got infected with Epstein-Barr before they developed M.S.

As a control group for their study, the scientists tracked 90 individuals who were not initially infected with Epstein-Barr and who also did not get multiple sclerosis. Of them, just 51 subsequently became infected with Epstein-Barr.


4) NYT, “Democrats Face a Dilemma on Voting: Compromise or Keep Pressing?”  Seriously, how is this a dilemma?!  Keep banging your head against the wall or try and find another way around the wall?

5) I have no idea why I never thought to read one of 2014’s most acclaimed novelsAll the Light we Cannot See till 2022.  But I’m damn glad I finally did.  So good.  

6) Interesting take shared by Alex Tarbarrok:

nice, well-reasoned piece from Harold Lee pushing back on the idea that we should buy experiences not goods:

While I appreciate the Stoic-style appraisal of what really brings happiness, economically, this analysis seems precisely backward. It amounts to saying that in an age of industrialization and globalism, when material goods are cheaper than ever, we should avoid partaking of this abundance. Instead, we should consume services afflicted by Baumol’s cost disease, taking long vacations and getting expensive haircuts which are just as hard to produce as ever.

Put that way, the focus on minimalism sounds like a new form of conspicuous consumption. Now that even the poor can afford material goods, let’s denigrate goods while highlighting the remaining luxuries that only the affluent can enjoy and show off to their friends.

[The distinction is too tightly drawn]…tools and possessions enable new experiences. A well-appointed kitchen allows you to cook healthy meals for yourself rather than ordering delivery night after night. A toolbox lets you fix things around the house and in the process learn to appreciate how our modern world was made. A spacious living room makes it easy for your friends to come over and catch up on one another’s lives. A hunting rifle can produce not only meat, but also camaraderie and a sense of connection with the natural world of our forefathers. In truth, there is no real boundary between things and experiences. There are experience-like things; like a basement carpentry workshop or a fine collection of loose-leaf tea. And there are thing-like experiences, like an Instagrammable vacation that collects a bunch of likes but soon fades from memory.

Indeed, much of what is wrong with our modern lifestyles is, in a sense, a matter of overconsuming experiences. The sectors of the economy that are becoming more expensive every year – which are preventing people from building durable wealth – include real estate and education, both items that are sold by the promise of irreplaceable “experiences.” Healthcare, too, is a modern experience that is best avoided. As a percent of GDP, these are the growing expenditures that are eating up people’s wallets, not durable goods. If we really want to live a minimalist life, then forget about throwing away boxes of stuff, and focus on downsizing education, real estate, and healthcare.

Also, buy things that you give you new/better experiences!!  I swear, 5 1/2 years later I’m still happy almost every day that I finally replaced my 1998 Corolla with a 2016 Jetta.  My experience of driving is so much more enjoyable because I purchased this particular good.

7) Good stuff from Yglesias on centrism.  A free post, so you should read it. 

So the bad news for people who want a centrist coalition to run the country is that American institutional design makes that impossible.

The good news for people who want a centrist coalition to run the country is that centrist legislators run the show anyway.

Our institutions are just worse. In Germany, the leaders of the three parties had weeks of meetings in order to hammer out a coalition agreement before the new government could be inaugurated. In America, we instead have this endless procession of drama in which the Biden-Manchin relationship is constantly renegotiated on the fly and neither party really knows what the other’s bottom line is. This makes American politics a lot more entertaining as a sport. But in terms of people’s psychological well-being, it just leads to everyone being mad all the time.

When America defeats a foreign country in a war and creates a new government, we normally set them up with a parliamentary system and proportional elections, as in Germany, Austria, Italy, Japan, and Iraq.2

Unfortunately, we’re not going to suddenly scrap 200+ years of our own Madisonian government just because all the comparative government scholars think it’s bad.

What we — the take-slingers of American — can do, though, is play national therapist to an extent and try to help everyone be less angry and depressed. If, as a progressive, you think of Joe Manchin as “negotiating the terms of a centrist coalition government” rather than “blocking the Biden agenda” and as “junior partner in the coalition” rather than “the real president,” you’ll be a lot less mad. And if, as a moderate, you think of the country as being governed by a centrist coalition government thanks to the pivotal role of Joe Manchin (and Kyrsten Sinema, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, etc.), you’ll also be a lot less mad.

8) I love reading to kids and have read a ton (and still read) to my kids.  But little kids should be getting Boynton and Dr Seuss, not “The Anti-Racist Baby.”  Jay Caspian Kang:

Like most parents, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about the books my daughter, who just turned 5, will encounter and how they may shape the way she thinks about the world, particularly when it comes to race and inequality. I want her to be an enlightened citizen, and given that we are minorities, I want her to have a healthier understanding of self and culture than I had at her age. And although I, like most parents, want her to read the books I loved as a child, I am also happy that the books she likes to read are far more diverse and honest about race than they were back in my day.

The past decade has brought a suite of children’s books that deliver overt progressive messaging on this front, including Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s “Antiracist Baby”; “A Is for Activist,” by Innosanto Nagara; and “A Kids Book About …,” a series by various authors with titles including “A Kids Book About Racism,” “A Kids Book About Systemic Racism” and “A Kids Book About Anti-Asian Hate.” At the same time, several school districts across the country have begun removing hundreds of children’s books from school libraries. These de facto book bans, many of which have arisen from the anti-Critical Race Theory movement, often target Black authors who have written books that deal with race and racism. They should be called out for what they are: censorious and bigoted attempts to cancel an entire people out of the education process.

I oppose these bans, but I admit I find myself a bit repelled by some of the more inelegantly antiracist books, which, at least in coastal cities, have become a main draw in the children’s sections of bookstores. What does it mean, really, to have an antiracist baby? Are these books actually written for kids, who, as far as I can tell, mostly like stories about dinosaurs and cats? Or are they a commodity for white parents who want to prove their progressive bona fides? Or should I embrace the very real possibility that I, at the age of 42, am acting like a cranky old man who just wants his kid to read what I read as a child?

9) Julia Galef’s twitter feed brought my attention to this horrible measure of being a climate change denier in a widely-cited publication.  According this, I’m a climate change denier:

10) Speaking of Galef, deBoer reviewed The Scout Mindset  this week.  What I liked about the review is that even though he didn’t like the book all that much, he was straightforward about how much this is about his own stylistic preferences, rather than any genuine flaws in the book.  I loved it, of course.  

11) Good stuff on the ethical issues of a pig to human heart transplant:

This dramatic bid to save Bennett’s life came after he had been in the hospital for more than a month, being kept alive by an artificial breathing machine, and his medical care team determined that he was too sick to be a candidate for either a human heart or an artificial ventricular assist device. Without either, he wouldn’t live long. “This was the only option available for an existing inpatient, already within UMMC hospital, who was facing near certain death from heart failure,” Griffith told STAT.

In December, Griffith contacted the FDA to obtain an emergency authorization through the agency’s expanded access, or compassionate use, pathway to use Revivicor’s pig heart. On New Year’s Eve, the FDA said yes. It also OK’d the use of an experimental anti-rejection drug manufactured by Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals, and the perfusion device.

The medical team then notified the hospital’s institutional review board, which must sign off on all experimental treatments, which it did in this case. An informed consent was obtained from the patient after a thorough ethics review and psychiatric evaluation, Griffith said in written answers to STAT’s questions.

Caplan said that those would be the minimum conditions under which it might be ethically permissible to try something as new as putting an unapproved genetically engineered animal organ into a patient. But there are other things to consider. For example, what will the hospital team do if the patient’s immune system rejects the heart in the coming days and weeks? “You need to think hard about what you’re going to do if the patient is not succeeding and lay those options out during the consent process,” Caplan said…

Caplan has argued that before clinical trials of engineered animal parts can proceed, researchers need more information. At his home institution, New York University, which is also in the race to xenotransplant, he proposed testing these types of organs first in newly deceased humans — to gain preliminary insights about how to safely proceed. Beginning late last year, NYU Langone has done two experiments testing genetically modified pig kidneys in the donated bodies of people who had recently died and were being maintained on a ventilator. That research showed that organ rejection of a xenotransplant can be prevented during the first few days.

Griffith said that work gave his team more confidence in proceeding. But he acknowledged that the longer-term outcomes are unknown. “Rejection of the organ can occur any time after transplant,” he wrote. The surgeon added that while organ rejection, which can be life-threatening, is the greatest risk Bennett faces, there are also risks from the drugs used to suppress the immune system to prevent rejection. “The intensity of immune system suppression required is higher with a xenotransplant than with a traditional transplant from a human donor,” he said.

It’s still unclear when a formal test of engineered pig organs might move forward. When asked about the company’s plans to test its pigs organs in a clinical trial, Dewey Steadman, a Revivicor spokesperson, declined to share any details. “We are continuing to work with the FDA on a clinical and regulatory path forward,” he said via email.

12) Later this week, it came out that the transplant recipient nearly stabbed somebody to death decades ago, which raises a different set of provocative ethical questions.  On the bright side, I now know about “milkshake duck.” 

13) Great Planet Money feature (largely reported from Raleigh!) on what happens to all those internet returns. 

14) This is handy, “A Layman’s Guide to Separating Causation from Correlation … and Noticing When Claims of Causality are Invalid”

15) I feel like this should become a cool new trend in middle school, “How European Royals Once Shared Their Most Important Secrets: Recent research highlights the use of letterlocking techniques by Queen Elizabeth, Catherine de’ Medici and Mary Queen of Scots.”

To safeguard the most important royal correspondence against snoops and spies in the 16th century, writers employed a complicated means of security. They’d fold the letter, then cut a dangling strip, using that as an improvised thread to sew stitches that locked the letter and turned the flat writing paper into its own envelope. To get inside, a spy would have to snip the lock open, an act impossible to go undetected.

Catherine de’ Medici used the method in 1570 — a time she governed France while her ill son, King Charles IX, sat on its throne. Queen Elizabeth did so in 1573 as the sovereign ruler of England and Ireland. And Mary Queen of Scots used it in 1587 just hours before her long effort to unite Britain ended in her beheading.

“These people knew more than one way to send a letter and they chose this one,” said Jana Dambrogio, lead author of a study that details Renaissance-era politicians’ use of the technique, and a conservator at the M.I.T. Libraries. “You had to be highly confident to make a spiral lock. If you made a mistake, you’d have to start all over, which could take hours of rewriting and restitching. It’s fascinating. They took great pains to build up their security.”

Disclosure of the method’s wide use among European royalty is the latest venture of a group of scholars, centered at M.I.T., into a vanished art they call letterlocking — an early form of communications security that they’re busy resurrecting. Early last year, they reported their development of a virtual-reality technique that let them peer into locked letters without tearing them apart and damaging the historical record.

16) Love Katelyn Jetelina with numerator versus denominator thinking on Covid:

This is a deep dive into the epidemiology of COVID19 indicators among kids in the wake of Omicron.

In this post, I frame the data a little differently to address “numerator thinking” vs. “denominator thinking.” Dr. Lindsey Leininger (a Dartmouth-based policy expert and co-founder of Dear Pandemic) recently introduced this perspective to me, and it was incredibly eye-opening. In fact, I think explains why there is substantial disagreement throughout the pandemic on almost everything. This is particularly the case in regards to the perception of the threat SARS-CoV-2 has on children. Numerator people don’t agree with denominator people and vice versa. Here is the difference between the two:

  • Numerator thinking: A heavier lens on the absolute numbers—How many children are hospitalized? Is this number increasing? How many children have died?

  • Denominator thinking: A heavier lens on the population in which the numerator arises—How many children have died compared to adults? How many myocarditis cases per 1,000,000 doses?

One puts weight on each differently based on history, background, culture, employment, and context. For example, clinicians care for these patients every day, and the numerator is top of mind. As a parent, having my kid in the numerator is not comforting even if the probability of that happening was small. Policymakers, on the other hand, need a more denominator-oriented perspective. But, everyone needs to consider both elements. 

17) Relatedly, Jessica Grose, “I See Signs of Despair From Parents of Kids Under 5”

I’ve been talking to parents about pandemic stress for nearly two years, and I haven’t heard the level of despair that I’ve heard over the past week since the spring of 2020. Some of the words parents used to describe their January 2022: “devastating,” “disgusting” and “at a breaking point.” The difference with the Omicron surge is that the upset is more concentrated among parents of children under the age of 5.

Most American children 5 and older are going to class in person, and Covid vaccines are available to them. The vaccines remain unavailable to kids under 5, and it’s still unclear when vaccines will be approved for them. To perhaps point out the obvious, if they’re quarantining, many children under 5 can’t just hang out independently or remain quietly occupied for any useful length of time by TV or sustained silent reading. Which means remote learning for preschoolers winds up either as sort of a joke or requires intense parental involvement.

At the same time, more workplaces are open now than in earlier Covid waves. Most Americans aren’t working remotely, and even for the parents who are, being at home all day, trying to keep a toddler alive, fed and entertained makes it just about impossible to get anything else done. I spoke to a dozen parents across the country last week (and heard from dozens more in my DMs), and here are the themes I saw emerging from these conversations.

“This is the scariest time of the pandemic for sending my kids to day care,” said Margot Zarin-Pass, a pediatrician and internist in Minneapolis. Her two children are 3½ years old and 10 months old. She’s seen the rise in pediatric hospitalizations during the Omicron wave. Because she lives in freezing-cold Minnesota, spending a ton of time outside right now isn’t really feasible; she also doesn’t feel that it’s safe to bring her kids to libraries or children’s museums because of how easily Omicron spreads, so they’re frequently stuck inside for days at a time. “It feels like we’re more alone and abandoned than we previously have been, because our kids haven’t had a chance to get vaccinated,” she said, even though a lot of the rest of society seems to be trying to move on from Covid to live more normal lives.

I really feel for these parents.  But too many of them are using only numerator thinking.

18) I loved learning about “spotters” in NFL broadcasting booths. 

19) Planet Money newsletter on creating a market for carbon removal.  All the more reason we should aim for a renewable and nuclear-based energy-abundant future:

In order to jolt innovation and encourage progress in developing carbon removal technologies, this team of economists argues we should create such a market. It may sound like another far-fetched pipedream in an area of perpetual political inaction, but leaders have created artificial markets that have changed the world before.

Creating A Market Where There Is None

In building their case for an artificial market for carbon removal, Athey, Glennerster, Ransohoff, and Snyder point to the recent success in building a market for pneumococcal vaccines in low-income countries. In the early 2000s, pneumococcal disease — which causes illnesses like pneumonia and meningitis — killed around 1.1 million people every year, most of them kids under age five.

While pharmaceutical companies possessed the know-how to develop a vaccine to save these lives, they were reluctant to sink millions of dollars into R&D for it because the financial rewards were too small and uncertain. As it is now with carbon removal, there was basically no market for a pneumococcal vaccine in the developing world.

In 2007,  five countries — Canada, Italy, Norway, Russia, and the United Kingdom — and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to try and change this. They donated $1.5 billion to create an “Advance Market Commitment,” which pledged to buy vaccines from pharmaceutical companies at a set price. In doing so, they created a market where there wasn’t one.

It worked. Not only did the Advance Market Commitment convince one pharmaceutical company to create such a vaccine; it convinced three of them to do it (GSK, Pfizer, and the Serum Institute of India). In the years since, more than 150 million kids have been immunized against pneumococcal disease, saving an estimated 700,000 lives

Athey, Glennerster, Ransohoff, and Snyder now want governments and NGOs to create an Advance Market Commitment for carbon removal. “If you look at the numbers, you’ll realize we’ve got to figure this out,” says Athey, a technology-focused economist at Stanford University. “We’ve just got to do it. Most models show that just reducing emissions won’t work.” 

In the sort of dream version of this plan, Athey envisions a world where — in addition to drastically cutting emissions and funding basic climate R&D through traditional government grants — governments or NGOs set a price on carbon removal. They commit billions of dollars to the cause, specifying how much they are willing to pay to private companies for a given amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere. 

Athey says she imagines funders setting different prices for carbon removal. At first, the price could be set high, since many startups are still at the expensive prototyping stage and need all the help they can get. Funders, she says, could also commit to buying greater amounts of carbon removal at lower prices. In this way, innovators can get some guarantees that once they get costs down and are able to scale up, there will be buyers eagerly waiting. Such a system would create a viable business model for entrepreneurs experimenting with embryonic carbon-removal technologies. 

“Our planet depends on solving this problem,” Athey says. “But, currently, if you’re an entrepreneur with an idea that could be extremely important if it succeeds — but has a low probability of success — you can’t go to the bank and get a loan to fund it.”

Unlike a prize, Athey says, an Advance Market Commitment creates a real market, with all of the benefits that come with it. “Winning a prize is not a business model,” she says. Not only would an Advance Market Commitment create economic incentives for carbon removal, it could allow companies to get private financing from banks and investors, allowing them to fund teams of engineers and new machines. These companies would then compete and the best technologies and methods would rise to prominence.

20) Somehow, I never knew about Elmo’s rants against a pet rock.  This was a fun rabbit hole to go down.

21) Uganda just now re-opening schools.  Wow.

22) Meanwhile, in America, this is definitely an interesting and not unreasonable take: “Why I Soured on the Democrats: COVID school policies set me adrift from my tribe.”

Until recently, I was a loyal, left-leaning Democrat, and I had been my entire adult life. I was the kind of partisan who registered voters before midterm elections and went to protests. I hated Donald Trump so much that I struggled to be civil to relatives on the other side of the aisle. But because of what my family has gone through during the pandemic, I can’t muster the same enthusiasm. I feel adrift from my tribe and, to a certain degree, disgusted with both parties.

I can’t imagine that I would have arrived here—not a Republican, but questioning my place in the Democratic Party—had my son not been enrolled in public kindergarten in 2020.

Late that summer, the Cleveland school system announced that it would not open for in-person learning the first 9 weeks of the semester. I was distraught. My family relies on my income, and I knew that I would not be able to work full-time with my then-5-year-old son and then-3-year-old daughter at home.

Still, I was accepting of short-term school closures. My faith in the system deteriorated only as the weeks and months of remote-learning dragged on long past the initial timeline, and my son began refusing to log on for lessons. I couldn’t blame him. Despite his wonderful teacher’s best efforts, online kindergarten is about as ridiculous as it sounds, in my experience. I remember logging on to a “gym” class where my son was the only student present. The teacher, I could tell, felt embarrassed. We both knew how absurd the situation was.

Children who had been present every day the year before in preschool, whose parents I had seen drop them off every morning, just vanished. The daily gantlet of passwords and programs was a challenge for even me and my husband, both professionals who work on computers all day. About 30 percent of Cleveland families didn’t even have internet in their home prior to the pandemic.

I kept hoping that someone in our all-Democratic political leadership would take a stand on behalf of Cleveland’s 37,000 public-school children or seem to care about what was happening. Weren’t Democrats supposed to stick up for low-income kids? Instead, our veteran Democratic mayor avoided remarking on the crisis facing the city’s public-school families. Our all-Democratic city council was similarly disengaged. The same thing was happening in other blue cities and blue states across the country, as the needs of children were simply swept aside. Cleveland went so far as to close playgrounds for an entire year. That felt almost mean-spirited, given the research suggesting the negligible risk of outdoor transmission—an additional slap in the face…

By the spring semester, the data showed quite clearly that schools were not big coronavirus spreaders and that, conversely, the costs of closures to children, both academically and emotionally, were very high. The American Academy of Pediatrics first urged a return to school in June 2020. In February 2021, when The New York Times surveyed 175 pediatric-disease experts, 86 percent recommended in-person school even if no one had been vaccinated.

But when the Cleveland schools finally reopened, in March 2021—under pressure from Republican Governor Mike DeWine—they chose a hybrid model that meant my son could enter the building only two days a week.

My husband and I had had enough: With about two months left in the academic year, we found a charter school that was open for full-time in-person instruction. It was difficult to give up on our public school. We were invested. But our trust was broken.

Compounding my fury was a complete lack of sympathy or outright hostility from my own “team.” Throughout the pandemic, Democrats have been eager to style themselves as the ones that “take the virus seriously,” which is shorthand, at least in the bluest states and cities, for endorsing the most extreme interventions. By questioning the wisdom of school closures—and taking our child out of public school—I found myself going against the party line. And when I tried to speak out on social media, I was shouted down and abused, accused of being a Trumper who didn’t care if teachers died. On Twitter, mothers who had been enlisted as unpaid essential workers were mocked, often in highly misogynistic terms. I saw multiple versions of “they’re just mad they’re missing yoga and brunch.”

23) For my fellow political scientist readers, this is something I will definitely think about in designing my own surveys, “Online Respondents Struggle with Longer Pages. Pollsters Should Take Note.”

In sum, respondent perceptions about length appear to pose problems. If respondents believe that a question or page will take longer because of the presence of a correlate with time — grids, for example — then they are more likely to respond illogically due to satisficing. Pollsters should take note. Complex or compound questions raise concerns because of fears respondents will get confused or lost in the question. But for online surveys, regardless of complexity, the number of questions on a single page might pose their own problems. 

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

One Response to Quick hits (part II)

  1. Roi Bailey says:

    The Pass away from the 2022

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