What does it mean to “benefit” from a booster?

It’s been really interesting the way that the NYT’s somewhat anti-booster Apoorva Mandavilli has let that subtly, but consistently, influence her coverage.  Take the latest on additional boosters for those over 50:

What do scientists think about second boosters?

Many scientists are dubious about today’s decision.

Whoa– that’s a helluva way to start this major part of the article.  Also, many scientists are not dubious.  And heck even just a few paragraphs later we get this:

“The Israeli study, in terms of mortality rate, is decisive,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

But, the whole thing begins with a “dubious” frame. And we conclude this section with Paul Offit, who has been kind of amazingly anti-booster through this whole thing:

But that study, while it offers the only evidence, is deeply flawed. The participants all volunteered to get a fourth shot — and are likely to be people who are naturally careful about their health, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an adviser to the F.D.A.

But, I’ve actually strayed from the point of my title, which inspired me to post this:

So who benefits from a second booster?

Probably only people who are immunocompromised or older than 65, according to the limited evidence available…

“There may be a short period of time — you know, one to three months — where you are getting increased protection from infection to some degree,” Dr. Wherry said. “That will of course then reduce transmission.”

The article doesn’t quite spell it out, but I’ve read plenty to suggest that there is a significant spike in antibodies that last for at least a few months that makes a person– at pretty much any age– less likely to contract Covid.  Not contracting Covid for a period of months is a benefit! It may not be one that Mandivilli approves of.  It may not be worth the costs.  But it’s a benefit!  It is awesome that the vaccines are so good at keeping people out of the hospital, but I get so tired of people acting that simply preventing an unpleasant (and on occasion, long-lasting) disease is not a benefit!

Anyway, I will take advantage of my now elderly status of 50-years old and get myself another shot. Michael Lin has been pretty zealous on the need for J&J’er to get a third shot.  

I might wait till it’s clear we’re having a surge again (just what happens with BA.2 remains unclear for now), but that 3rd shot is coming my way.


The least partisan issue ever?

OMG, check out this YouGov poll on Will Smith and Chris Rock:

Just wow.  How many issues of public attention/concern can you find where Democrats and Republicans are completely indistinguishable? 

So, where’s the differences?  Age.  Young people are (relatively speaking) for the slap:

Also, perhaps I’ll have a say in the updated results.  Here’s the questions I got from YouGov last night:

Putin and Ukraine

Damn this Yashca Mounk interview with Anne Applebaum is just so good.  Highlights:

What nobody really counted on was, first of all, the Ukrainian army having fought over the last eight years. There are a lot of veterans, there’s a lot of military experience. It’s not just one of those post-Soviet armies that has never done anything. Also that the ongoing eight-year war with Russia had changed Ukraine. Ukrainians understood both from the Russian occupation of Crimea and from the Russian occupation of Donetsk, that Russian occupation would be an end of their lives as they know it. They understood that this would be the end of not just Ukraine as a country, but also of democracy, of the more open lifestyle they’d enjoyed, the more free press they’d enjoyed, the more free conversation they’d enjoyed, and really have enjoyed, over the last decade, much more so than Russia. And so they know they’re fighting for something that’s existential, it matters to them. And it matters to them a lot more than it matters to the Russians who are coming over the border, especially some of the younger conscripts who, at least in the initial wave, didn’t understand why they were there at all. 

So it really is a war where what you’re fighting for, and whether or not you care about it, matters a lot. The fact that Kiev is still standing and the country is not conquered is a testament to that.

Mounk: So clearly, one of the real things that mattered in, at least so far, allowing Ukrainians to defend their country very effectively, is the will to fight; the leadership, which has been, I think, more courageous and inspirational than we might have imagined. But it has to go beyond that. So clearly, Ukraine’s army is a lot stronger and more professional than many had assumed, and Russia’s army also seems to be a lot weaker and more sclerotic than many assumed.

Applebaum: Yes, I think what we’re watching is the effect of corruption. We know how it affects the Russian economy, but it also affects Russian society and Russian bureaucracy. And it also affects the Russian military; it seems very likely that Russian generals were stealing. And they were lying about how many troops they really had, and how much stuff they really had and how well it was being maintained and cared for. Money was, no doubt, being spent. But some of it clearly disappeared, because things that they were supposed to have, they don’t have, including troops who were meant to be there. We thought that the 150,000 troops gathered around the borders of Ukraine in the run up to the war were all professional soldiers. It turns out that wasn’t true, but that was how they were listed in Russian documents. And so somebody was lying. This is a political system that is based on a really profound corruption, on the assumption that whoever you are, whatever your job is, you have the right to steal as much as you possibly can; to get it out of the country, to buy a house in the south of France or whatever you can afford. And everybody does it, including, clearly, some of the army leadership. I think that the failure of the Russian army is a reflection of the society more broadly…

Mounk: It feels to me that when you were at the Munich Security Conference, and this American official was saying, “Well, obviously Russia is going to be able to conquer most of Ukraine very quickly,” that obviously determined what the United States and Western countries’ aims of the war were: to inflict a little bit of damage on Russia, perhaps to make a war last a little bit longer. There didn’t seem to be a realistic prospect of actually allowing Ukraine to win the war. 

You’ve recently argued that it is now time to shed those assumptions and actually play for keeps, and actually empower Ukraine to win the war. What would it look like for Ukraine to win the war, and what kind of action does it take from Western nations and others to empower Ukraine to do so?

Applebaum: Yes, so that article was an argument for a shift in thinking. The Americans believed that it would be over quickly—you’ll remember that they even offered to help Zelensky escape the country. He refused, famously saying, “I don’t need a ride out. I need more ammunition.” We need not just the White House, but the rest of the West to shift their thinking away from, “How do we damage Russia and make this as painless as possible and end the war quickly?” to understanding that Ukrainians can win, and to begin to think about what winning looks like and to help them get there. I am not an expert in military strategy. I am told that there are more sophisticated weapons that we can get to the Ukrainians. I will stay away from the subject of whether we should intervene ourselves, because I don’t think that’s realistic at this point. There’s too much fear of Russian escalation, and the use of nuclear weapons, in Washington. We might regret that that fear exists, but it’s there…

Mounk: …What is the nature of the Putin regime today? It started off as just a kind of kleptocratic dictatorship. There’s an argument being made that Russia is quickly turning into a kind of totalitarian society, but one without a very strong ideology. It does not have the strength of ideology that the Third Reich or the Soviet Union had. What do you think Russian society is going to be like after the war if Putin stays in power? What would following the same Soviet playbook without its ideological foundation look like?

Applebaum: I have actually been arguing for about 15 years that there is a kind of ideology of Putinism: there is a theory of history, an economic theory, and a kind of politics. The theory of history is that Russia was robbed at the end of the Soviet Union when it broke up, the 1990s were a disaster (when the West sought to destroy Russia), and then Putin began to rebuild Russia. There’s a kind of resentment and nostalgia that work together. To explain everything that’s happened in the last 30 years, there’s a kind of fake democracy and fake capitalism. There are some of the forms of capitalism, but in fact, the economy is controlled from above by a group of oligarchs. There appear to be democratic elections, but in fact, the outcomes are predetermined. You have a managed economy and a managed democracy. And there is an elite behind it who controls things, like puppet masters.

This, of course, reflects very much a KGB way of thinking about the world, and it’s actually how Putin thinks. It’s the system he’s tried to create inside Russia.

Anyway, so much good stuff in here.  If you are interested in this topic at all, I strongly suggest you read the whole thing.

My soccer coaching super power

Back when I was coaching my oldest son’s soccer team the biggest reason we won the vast majority of our games was that we had better players than the other teams. I’m no tactical genius nor especially good at teaching kids to get better at playing soccer. I like to think I’m pretty good at figuring out where to put kids on the field in the position they can best succeed and that I lack some of the glaring strategic flaws I’ve seen from some other coaches (don’t put your worst players on defense; don’t have you defense play so deep and unconnected from the rest of the team). But, mostly, I’ve had better players.

But, the thing is having better players is not just random chance. I love coaching soccer and just being around the kids and I’d like to think that makes for a pretty fun environment to play soccer. When the more talented players have the option of choosing to play “challenge” soccer or play for my team in Rec, staying with my rec team is not random. The reason the Blasters won so many games is that I had several players who would’ve been good players at the challenge-level, but did not like the environment when they played there and came back to the Blasters. Of course I lost players to challenge over the years who stayed challenge, but the positive, fun environment with my team let me keep more than my fair share of really talented players.

And, now, I’m really seeing the same dynamic play out with my daughter’s soccer team. I got the most delightful email from a parent this past week that included the following, “Also, I wanted to thank you for the cheerful and kind spirit/atmosphere you’ve created in this girls’ team. This is the first time ever [name] never says she doesn’t want to go to practice/games. She got accepted to NCFC challenge level, but did not want to leave this team.” My new best player was on a different team in our division last season and switched to us because her previous team was such a negative environment. Maybe she’ll move to challenge some day, but, for now, she loves being part of the team.

Anyway, yes, of course, there’s still a fair amount of luck involved with the random assignment of players in rec soccer. And sure, knowing how to teach players and deploy them effectively in games matters, but, I think my greatest strength as a coach has been to create a fun, positive environment and that has, wonderfully, also resulted in more winning (which, by the way, is fun).

Quick hits (part II)

1) Freddie deBoer on last week’s dust-up over NYT and cancel culture:

Another week, another opportunity for our media class to freak out when it’s suggested that we are living in an age that’s not friendly to open debate. The absolute madness this anodyne NYT op-ed provoked among the NPR tote bag set should be listed in the DSM. Just an absolute shriek of anger from the privileged, overeducated Brooklynites (in spirit if not in geography) who have put our intellectual culture in such a stranglehold.

I could go through the usual litany, starting with the fact that free speech and the First Amendment are not coterminous, that democratic society requires not just legal protection of the right to express oneself but a culture of open exchange, a shared social understanding that the only way to solve our myriad problems with their irreducible complexity is through an actually-existing free discursive space. I could also point out that liberals and leftists who insist that free speech refers only to freedom from government interference are swallowing libertarian ideology hook, line, and sinker, simply rolling over to the idea that private forces like corporations can’t abridge rights, and all for momentary argumentative convenience. I could do that.

But it would all be for naught. You have to understand this to understand our media class: the number one priority in their entire lives, above and beyond literally any other, is to earn insider status with other people in media. That’s it. That is their lodestar, their true north. They want other people in media to see them as cool and smart and fuckable, and most of all they want to have the right opinions, the opinions that the group doesn’t laugh at. The mirror image of the desperation to be considered cool is the intense, all-consuming fear of being made fun of by cool people in media. Look at the way they write, report, communicate with each other; these people are absolutely terrified that someone’s going to take something they say and hold it up for mockery on Twitter. This seems to me to be pretty much exactly the opposite attitude you should want among writers and journalists, who literally can only perform their function when they are pissing most people off. But that’s the professional culture of media, a culture defined by the fear of being made fun of.

And that’s why, when these debates go down, they never, ever say “well this scenario wasn’t ideal, I agree, but….” They can’t admit exceptions. Demonstrating themselves to be good and upstanding members of the in-crowd to which they relentlessly aspire forces them to deny the very notion of an exception. But I have to believe there are free speech controversies so bad that even they could be forced to admit an exception. So I’m going to tell you about a little controversy over free expression that was not, in any sense, ambiguous.

[And, you should click through and read the whole thing]

2) A public Yglesias post worth your time, “American poverty is too high for all kinds of people
The case for universalism”

Randolph himself in his introduction writes that “the tragedy is that the workings of our economy so often pit the white poor and the black poor against each other at the bottom of society.”

These were not people who were unaware of racial discrimination or indifferent to specifically racial forms of injustice. They were not practicing “colorblind” politics in the sense of modern-day Republicans who insist we can never talk about race or racism or its impact on American history and society. But they not only believed in a politics of universalism; they believed one of the major sins of racism was to pit people against each other who should have been cooperating to solve common problems.

White poverty is a significant issue

White Americans experience poverty at a much lower rate than Black Americans, a legacy of racism over the course of American history. It’s also true that white Americans of all income levels enjoy certain racial privileges. But if you are yourself white and poor, it doesn’t really do you, personally, any good to know that a different set of white people has a lot of money or that white people on average are unlikely to be poor.

As King was at pains to point out, in his time, a large majority of the poor were white. That is less true today since the population as a whole has become less white. But it is still true that since non-Hispanic whites are such a large share of the overall population, they are a plurality of the poor despite the lower poverty rate.

I think it’s a bad political strategy but also bad ethics to sweep low-income white people under the rug. This is a group that voted for Barack Obama twice before flipping to Donald Trump, and they experience lots of very real problems of material deprivation. They deserve on the merits to have their problems taken seriously, and taking those problems seriously is a necessary ingredient to winning a political coalition that will tackle poverty. If activists sincerely can’t get themselves excited about a broad political push against poverty per se and see the moral force in that, then I think that just reflects poorly on them. But I also doubt anyone who says that really means it. Little kids growing up in trailers with parents who don’t earn any money aren’t to blame for structural racism, and everyone knows it.

do suspect that the wealthy donor class genuinely does find King-style rhetoric about class struggle off-putting and prefers to think of things in narrow racial terms. But that is precisely the virtue of going back to the great civil rights leaders’ original texts, because King and Randolph and Bayard Rustin and others all rightly saw that as a dead end.

3) Must-read thread on the Russian army through the ages.

4) Carl Bergstrom and evolutionary models to help us think about the misinformation problem:

An evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, Bergstrom has studied the evolution of cooperation and communication in animals, influenza pandemics, and the best ways to rank scientific journals. But over the past 5 years, he has become more and more interested in how “bullshit” spreads through our information ecosystem. He started fighting it before COVID-19 emerged—through a popular book, a course he gives at UW’s Center for an Informed Public, and, ironically, a vigorous presence on social media—but the pandemic underscored how persuasive and powerful misinformation is, he says.

“Misinformation has reached crisis proportions,” Bergstrom and his UW colleague Jevin West wrote in a 2021 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “It poses a risk to international peace, interferes with democratic decision-making, endangers the well-being of the planet, and threatens public health.” In another PNAS paper, Bergstrom and others issued a call to arms for researchers to study misinformation and learn how to stop it…

In his Ph.D. thesis, he tackled the question of how communication can stay useful when there is so much to be gained from misusing it.

In nature, he concluded the answer is often that lies are costly. Begging for food makes baby birds vulnerable, for example, so they have an incentive to do it only when necessary. “If you’re just a defenseless ball of meat sitting in a nest and can’t go anywhere, yelling at the top of your lungs is amazingly stupid,” Bergstrom says. “If they’re not really hungry, they’ll just shut up.” On social media, such repercussions barely exist, he says: Liars have little incentive to shut up…

BERGSTROM SEES SOCIAL MEDIA, like many other things in life, through an evolutionary lens. The popular platforms exploit humanity’s need for social validation and constant chatter, a product of our evolution, he says. He compares it to our craving for sugar, which was beneficial in an environment where sweetness was rare and signaled nutritious food, but can make us sick in a world where sugar is everywhere. Facebook exploits humans’ thirst for contact, in his view, like a Coca-Cola for the mind, allowing people to connect with others in larger numbers during a single day than they might have over a lifetime in humanity’s past.

And whereas Coca-Cola cannot tweak its formula on a weekly basis, social media platforms can constantly change their algorithms and test out new strategies to keep us engaged. “The social media companies are able to run the largest scale psychological experiments in history by many orders of magnitude, and they’re running them in real time on all of us,” Bergstrom says…

Online networks also undermine traditional rules of thumb about communication. Before the advent of the internet, for example, hearing the same information from multiple people made it more trustworthy. “In the physical world, it would be almost impossible to meet anyone else who thinks the world is flat,” Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Bristol, wrote in an email. “But online, I can connect with the other .000001% of people who hold that belief, and may gather the (false) impression that it is widely shared.”

Social media companies have little incentive to change their practices because they make money selling ads. “The network structures along which we share information have changed radically in the last 20 years, and they’ve changed without any kind of stewardship,” Bergstrom says. “They’ve changed basically just to help some tech startups sell ads.”

5) And Matt Taibbi on the NYT editorial controversy:

When I asked Froomkin if the idea was to keep cycling through Times opinion editors “until you get one who’s appropriately focused in the direction you like,” he replied: “Yes, I would like them replaced with people who stake out bold, defensible, not-brainless positions, while publishing a very wide range of perspectives from others.” He then linked to an essay of his arguing that publishing “wide perspectives” would essentially entail coating any articles with which the “bold” op-ed board disagreed all over with warnings pointing out where they’re wrong, arguing in bad faith, or are “morally abhorrent.” (This incidentally is how the Cotton piece looks online now, a 970-word op-ed preceded by a 300-word Editor’s Note explaining why it sucks and shouldn’t have been published).

This is the same terror of uncontextualized thought that’s spurred everything from the campaigns to place more controls on Joe Rogan to the mountains of flags and warning labels platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pile on all kinds of content now (“Are you sure you want to read this debunked wrongthinker? Click yes/no”) to the bizarre new “fact-checking” movement that takes factually true statements and objects to them at length for “missing context.”

The underlying premise of all these formats is the conviction that the ordinary schlub media consumer will make the wrong decision if the correct message isn’t hammered out everywhere for him or her in all caps by mental superiors. This idea isn’t just insulting but usually incorrect, like thinking Lord Haw Haw broadcasts would make English soldiers bayonet each other rather than laugh or fight harder. Even just on the level of commercial self-preservation, one would think media people would eventually realize there’s a limit to how many times you can tell people they’re too dumb to be trusted with controversial ideas, and still keep any audience. But they never do.

There may be plenty of reasons to roll eyes at the Times piece, but the poll numbers in there speak to this exhaustion, with what Chatterton Williams calls the “consensus enforcers who feverishly insist there’s no problem, and the fact that you disagree is evidence that you should resign your position.” It was crazy enough when jobs were lost over the Harper’s letter. But calling for firings over this? An editorial that drives two miles an hour down the middle of the middle of the middle of the road? If this is anybody’s idea of a taboo, we really have lost it.

6) EJ Dionne, “We say we love kids and families. Our policies prove the opposite.”

Our society claims to love children, admire parents and revere the family. But our public policies send the opposite message.

A June 2021 UNICEF report on where rich countries stand on child care found that the United States ranked 40th.

Yes, you read that right.

Unlike every other well-off democracy, the United States has “never adapted to the needs of families in today’s labor market and economy,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. “We’ve never responded to so many women with young children being in the workforce.”

It’s hard to think of work more important to a society’s long-term well-being and prosperity than raising children. Yet the market economy values work outside the home that produces goods, services and profits far more than the work of parenting. While parenting’s value is, well, infinite, it goes largely unmeasured in our gross domestic product…

No one can claim to be “pro-family” without being willing to deal with the stresses the modern economy places on family life. In Europe, effective child-care policies have been championed not only by Social Democrats, in keeping with their long history of egalitarianism, but also by Christian Democrats and other moderately conservative parties concerned with strengthening the family.

7) The case for financial incentives to get more Americans boosted:

The immunity boost of that third shot is something of a game changer: CDC data have shown that booster shots significantly ratchet up protection from Omicron hospitalization, compared with two vaccine doses. In some charts of COVID deaths and hospitalizations, the number of triple-jabbed patients is so low, you have to squint to find them in the graphs. And though it’s not clear how long this extra protection will last, what makes getting boosted now even more of a no-brainer is that the added protection starts to build in just a few days—far quicker than after the first shot—meaning that even this long into the Omicron wave, third shots can help stave off COVID’s worst outcomes, as well as immunologically arm us for whatever variant comes next.

And yet the rate of Americans who have received a booster shot is abysmally low. Although 87 percent of adults have received one vaccine dose, just 52 percent of eligible vaccinated adults are boosted—less than a third of the total adult population. One thing that could help is booster mandates—sticks over carrots. Mandates may be controversial, but they are effective. Even so, at least so far, we’ve seen astonishingly few companies or governments roll out booster mandates. Don’t expect many more: Last week, the Supreme Court batted down an effort by the Biden administration to mandate vaccines for large employers. Some companies, such as Starbucks, have responded by nixing the mandates they had voluntarily implemented.

8) Really, really good piece from David Wallace-Wells about what we can learn about Covid deaths from excess mortality statistics:

There is one data point that might serve as an exceptional interpretative tool, one that blinks bright through all that narrative fog: excess mortality. The idea is simple: You look at the recent past to find an average for how many people die in a given country in a typical year, count the number of people who died during the pandemic years, and subtract one from the other. The basic math yields some striking results, as shown by a recent paper in The Lancet finding that 18.2 million people may have died globally from COVID, three times the official total. As skeptical epidemiologists were quick to point out, the paper employed some strange methodology — modeling excess deaths even for countries that offered actual excess-death data and often distorting what we knew to be true as a result. A remarkable excess-mortality database maintained by The Economist does not have this problem, and, like the Lancet paper, the Economist database estimates global excess mortality; it puts the figure above 20 million.

As a measure of pandemic brutality, excess mortality has its limitations — but probably fewer than the conventional data we’ve used for the last two years. That’s because it isn’t biased by testing levels — in places like the U.S. and the U.K., a much higher percentage of COVID deaths were identified as such than in places like Belarus or Djibouti, making our pandemics appear considerably worse by comparison. By measuring against a baseline of expected death, excess mortality helps account for huge differences in the age structures of different countries, some of which may have many times more mortality risk than others because their populations are much older. And to the extent that the ultimate impact of the pandemic isn’t just a story about COVID-19 but also one about our responses to it — lockdowns and unemployment, suspended medical care and higher rates of alcoholism and automobile accidents — excess mortality accounts for all that, too. In some places, like the U.S., excess-mortality figures are close to the official COVID data — among other things, a tribute to our medical surveillance systems. In other places, the numbers are so different that accounting for them entirely changes the picture of not just the experience of individual nations but the whole world, scrambling everything we think we know about who did best and who did worst, which countries were hit hardest and which managed to evade catastrophe. If you had to pick a single metric by which to measure the ultimate impact of the pandemic, excess mortality is as good as we’re probably going to get…

So what does it say? A year ago, it seemed easy enough to divide pandemic outcomes into three groups — with Europe and the Americas performing far worse than East Asia, which appeared to have outmaneuvered the virus through public-health measures, and much of the Global South, especially sub-Saharan Africa, which looked to have been spared mostly by its relatively young population. Today, a crude count of official deaths, not excess mortality, suggests the same grouping: North America and Europe have almost identical death counts with official per capita totals eight times as high as Asia, as a whole, and 12 times as high as Africa. South America’s death toll is higher still — ten times as high as Asia and 15 times as high as Africa.

The excess-mortality data tells a different story. There is still a clear continent-by-continent pattern, but the gaps between them are much smaller, making the experiences of different parts of the world much less distinct and telling a more universal story about the devastation wrought by this once-in-a-century contagion. According to The EconomistEurope, Latin America, and North America have all registered excess deaths ranging from 270 to 370 per 100,000 inhabitants; excess mortality in Asia is estimated between 130 to 330; in Africa, the range is 79 to 220. These numbers are not identical, but, all things considered, they are remarkably close together. The highest of the low-end estimates is barely three times the lowest; the highest of the high-end estimates is not even twice as high as the lowest.

If you adjust for age, as the Economist database does separately, the differences among continents grow more dramatic — suggesting a reversal of outcomes, rather than a convergence. Outside of Oceania, Europe and North America were among the best in the world at preventing deaths among the old, and they were several times better at protecting their elderly, of whom they had many more, than Africa and South Asia. East Asia performed better, but only slightly: Canada is in line with China, Germany just marginally worse than South Korea, Iceland in the range of Japan. By almost any metric, Oceania remains an outlier: The Economist estimates zero excess deaths among the elderly in New Zealand, for instance, and gives the whole region an excess-mortality range of negative 31 to positive 37 per 100,000 residents, meaning it’s possible fewer people died there than would’ve had we never even heard of SARS-CoV-2.

In the country-by-country data, the divergences grow even bigger. Perhaps most striking, given both self-flagellating American narratives about the pandemic and current events elsewhere on the globe, is that the worst-hit large country in the world was not the U.S., which registered the most official deaths of any country but ranks 47th in per capita excess mortality, or Britain, which ranks 85th, or even India, which ranks 36th. It is Russia, which has lost, The Economist estimates, between 1.2 million and 1.3 million citizens over the course of the pandemic, a mortality rate more than twice as high as the American one.

Russia is not an outlier. While we have heard again and again in the U.S. about the experience of the pandemic in western Europe — sometimes in admiration, sometimes to mock — it has been eastern Europe that, of any region in the world, has the ugliest excess-mortality data. This, then, is where the pandemic hit hardest — in the countries of the old Warsaw Pact and formerly of the Soviet bloc. In fact, of the ten worst-performing countries, only one is outside eastern Europe.

9) More good free Yglesias, “Playing to win against the attacks on LGBTQ progress: Democrats should make smart decisions about when to fight and when to make a tactical retreat.”

One interesting thing about the conservative movement is how effective they’ve been at getting everyone to shut up about the marriage issue now that their position is unpopular. The Supreme Court has gotten a lot more conservative since it handed down a 5-4 decision in favor of marriage equality, but nobody in the U.S. Senate or the conservative legal movement talked about using the Kavanaugh or Barrett nominations to reverse that.

And yet even though marriage equality is very popular, it’s still quite divisive among rank-and-file Republicans. In theory this could be a troublesome wedge issue where safe seat Republicans are constantly talking about rolling it back, and more moderate or vulnerable Republicans need to argue with them. But instead, the movement has largely acted with message discipline and savvy to just stop talking about it.

If Ron DeSantis were running on a platform that explicitly restricted LGBTQ teaching in classrooms and also banned same-sex marriage, he would have a losing position. But he isn’t saying that explicitly. The Supreme Court took the marriage topic out of the legislative arena, and conservatives have mustered the discipline to instead fight on more ambiguous winning terrain. In contrast, Democrats seem to have pretty uniformly lined up behind an explicit and unpopular position and are largely engaging with arguments against it by denying the consequence of their position — often by butchering facts and science about athletic performance in a way that makes the left look silly even to people who aren’t invested in the particulars of the issue.

It is not obvious to me that there is a strong philosophical or conceptual basis for gender-segregated sports leagues, and someday we might come to a consensus that divisions by weight or size or some other factor make more sense for some sports. But that day has not yet arrived, and I don’t think it’s productive for activists to push Democratic candidates or elected officials to walk this plank before voters are convinced that it’s a good idea.

One prominent feminist told me that she hesitates to raise any doubts about the sports questions while trans people are under attack, but I don’t think politics really works that way. If progressives insist on hewing to a high-salience, unpopular position that trans advocacy groups concede they don’t have broadly persuasive arguments for, then school boards are going to end up dominated by bigots like Dennis Baxley and Ileana Garcia who try to craft legislation and policy that harasses and undermines LGBTQ students and teachers.

That would be a really bad outcome, and it’s worth fighting against it in a smart way — by arguing against morally indefensible policies without taking up electorally indefensible positions of our own.

10) This is a really, really cool explanation of how people figured out Pi.

11) It’s a mantra from the public health people on “global vaccine equity” and this idea that we’re just holding back these shots from Africa.  But the shots are there and the problem is much more complicated, “In Africa, a Mix of Shots Drives an Uncertain Covid Vaccination Push
Supplies are more plentiful now but they are unpredictable and often a jumble of brands. Many places can’t meet the W.H.O.’s recommended dosing schedules.”

12) Modern Republican politics– not wanting an electric truck factory in your state to own the libs.

13) Remembering “My Cousin Vinnie” 30 years later.  Marisa Tomei’s courtroom testimony at the end is simply one of my favorite movie scenes ever. 

14) A pretty compelling case that Law Schools have been taken over by excessive wokeness.

15) A really important thread on the Pandora’s box of finding a nurse criminally liable for making a fatal medication error.

16) My daughter scored a goal for the 2nd week in a row yesterday.  She told me she’s just going out there with a goal-scoring mindset now. It really is amazing how mental/psychological sports performance is (also, thinking about that as a Duke basketball fan considering where the team is now– final four bound– as compared to two weeks ago).

Quick hits (part I)

1) NYT discussion on the future of democracy.  This part really stood out to me.  How much is about just plain cowardice:

Homans: Ben, you worked for the Republican Party for decades as an election lawyer. Did the way in which the party metabolized Trump’s response to the 2020 election, and the Jan. 6 attack, surprise you?

Ginsberg: The whole thing, honestly, has shocked me. It’s not so much the elected officials who were giving the fist pumps on Jan. 6, because they were sort of predictable in doing that. It’s the many people within the party whom I know and have known for years who are good, decent, principled people, who are silent. It’s the silence of the Republican Party that is most surprising to me and most upsetting. We’ve described the problem in this conversation, but the much more difficult part is figuring out what to do about it. I think that’s what Sarah and I as Republicans have a particular obligation to do. But I don’t know how you bring the people within the Republican Party who should be speaking out to do exactly what you say, Steve, which is to make clear that this violence and election denial is not acceptable.

Homans: Steven, one clear takeaway from “How Democracies Die” is that the resolution to democratic crisis really has to come from within the party that is incubating the anti-democratic movement. This was what the center-right parties in Germany and Italy failed to do in the 1930s, which delivered Hitler and Mussolini to power. But other European center-right parties in Sweden and Belgium, for instance, succeeded in expelling fascist movements within their ranks in that same period.

Levitsky: But I think the Republicans will not reform themselves until they take a series of electoral defeats, major electoral defeats — and given the level of partisan identity that Lily describes, and given an electoral system that is biased toward the Republicans through no fault of their own, that’s not going to happen.

Also, totally agree with Lewitsky on this point:

Levitsky: Some of that is obviously true. I think what’s needed in the short term to preserve democracy, to get through the worst of this storm, is a much broader coalition than we’ve put together to date. Something on the lines of true fusion tickets that really brings in Republicans — maybe not a lot of the electorate, but enough to assure that the Trumpist party loses. That would mean bringing in a good chunk of that Bush-Cheney network that’s out there — that in private says the same things that I’ve said, but that has thus far been largely unwilling to speak out publicly — and having them in many cases on the same ticket.

And that means something that we have not seen enough of in the last couple of decades, which is real political sacrifice. It means that lifelong Republicans have to work to elect Democrats. And it means the progressives have to set aside a slew of policy issues that they care deeply about so that the ticket is comfortable to right-wing politicians. And we’re nowhere near that, neither in the Bush-Cheney network nor in the Democratic Party. Having talked to a number of Democratic elected politicians, I can tell you that we are nowhere near Democrats being willing to make those kinds of political sacrifice. But that is what is needed.

2) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer:

One of the main Republican lines of attack involves Judge Jackson’s work as a public defender. Both Mitch McConnell and the RNC suggested that her time as a defense attorney indicates sympathy for criminals, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. I find this logic phenomenally dumb; I think the principle that everyone deserves a defense has been basically settled since John Adams/Paul Giamatti defended British redcoats/the guy who played Pius Thickness in Harry Potterway back in 1770/2008.

And yet, I managed to hear the “how dare you defend that person” argument twice in one day. At roughly the same moment that Judge Jackson was being sworn in, Aaron Sibarium was publishing an article on Bari Weiss’ substack recounting numerous instances of defense attorneys getting flak from left-leaning law students. The law students were basically asking the same question as Congressional Republicans: How could you defend that person? And, of course, that question has an answer: You defend that person because if a right exists, then it exists universally, or it doesn’t exist at all. I think that’s easy to understand. But I’m struck by the number of people on the left these days who appear not to understand that, and how they also don’t seem to realize that continually carving out exceptions to liberal principles will almost surely come back to bite them in the ass.

Consider free speech. A common argument among those who feel that American doesn’t have a free speech problem is that the concern over eroding speech norms is mostly just white men who want freedom to be racist. There’s a mountain of evidence suggesting that that’s not true — the very New York Times editorial that ignited the most recent Twitter tribalism dunk-fest contains some of that evidence — but suppose that it was true. Suppose that this entire debate was about straight-up, no-doubt-about-it racism.

Probably the most famous free speech case in American history is the ACLU defense of Nazis’ right to march in Skokie, Illinois. We will surely never have a harder test case of the free speech principle because Nazis are — I’m sure we can all agree — the worst people. It’s actually incredible how near-universal that sentiment is. In a century that saw the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, the KKK, and the 1980s Oakland A’s, the Nazis still emerged as the all-but universally agreed uponworst people in the world. When it comes to undisputed GOATs, it’s basically just Hitler for evil and Michael Phelps for swimming, which I’m sure is a comparison that Michael Phelps loves.

The ACLU understood that if free speech could be curbed for Nazis, it could be curbed for other groups. In fact, they were explicitly trying to push back against tactics that had been used to shut down civil rights protesters in the south. Many backers of the free speech movement were socialists, which makes sense, because being a socialist in Cold War America was about as popular as being a nudist at bible camp. By defending a far-right group, the ACLU defended a principle that also gave left-wing groups freedom to operate…

The right will continue to use tactics being used by the left. This week, Josh Hawley achieved the incredible feat of lowering my opinion of Josh Hawley by accusing Ketanji Brown Jackson of being soft on child pornographers. The charge was utter bullshit — it was even denounced in the National ReviewBut Hawley’s tactic was a classic Twitter-era move: accuse someone of a charge so toxic that they lose by even addressing it. An unhealthy aspect of our culture is that people thrown around very serious charges — pedophilia, racism, sexism, etc. — the way Jackson Pollack tossed around paint. Judge Jackson will survive because people understand what Hawley’s doing, and also because Hawley is about as popular as a bee sting to the anus. But our habit of lobbing serious charges just to put our enemies on the defensive is not an appealing societal trait, and I think it’s ridiculous to pretend that it doesn’t have a chilling effect on speech.

3) The squat as the ultimate exercise:

What is the single best strength-building exercise many of us could be doing right this minute but almost certainly are not? Consult enough exercise scientists and the latest exercise research, and the answer would likely be a resounding: squats.

“For lower-body strength and flexibility, there is probably no better exercise,” said Bryan Christensen, a professor of biomechanics at North Dakota State University in Fargo, who studies resistance exercise.

The benefits are not confined to the lower body. “It is really a whole body exercise,” said Silvio Rene Lorenzetti, the director of the Performance Sports division of the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport in Magglingen. “It requires core stability and trains the back.”

Some people worry that squats can imperil the knees and hips, but the exercise can actually help protect and improve the workings of these and other joints, said Sasa Duric, an exercise scientist at the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait, who has studied squats. The movement “helps maintain the flexibility, stability and function” of hips, knees and ankles, he said.

But perhaps most fundamentally, squats are key to living and aging well. “When we clean the house or plant a vegetable garden, we need to squat,” Dr. Duric said. Ditto for easing into and out of chairs and lowering ourselves to toddler level for face-to-face playtime.

In essence, according to a 2014 scientific overview, squats are “one of the most primal and critical fundamental movements necessary to improve sport performance, to reduce injury risk and to support lifelong physical activity.”

When my timer on my office desktop goes off reminding me to move every 20 minutes, I actually usually do squats.

4) Because we’re not going to fix European soccer with financial rules doesn’t mean we can’t fix European soccer.  Rory Smith:

By now, it is abundantly clear that the way to manage the central problem in European soccer — the lack of competition engendered by financial imbalance — does not lie in a set of fiscal rules. They are too easily circumvented, too lightly enforced and invariably introduced several years too late.

Instead, the solution has to be sporting. The biggest teams will always make the most money — or at least say they make the most money — and will therefore have an advantage when spending is limited to a percentage of income. The more effective way to improve competition, both between clubs and between leagues, is to limit how they can spend it.

A hard salary cap, the sort often seen in North American sports, is clearly not something the clubs are prepared to accept. But there is nothing at all to stop UEFA from instituting policies that demand all teams have a significant proportion of homegrown players, or a certain number of squad members under age 23. There is no reason it cannot cap the number of players any team can send out on loan, or even introduce rules that grant effective free agency to players who have not made a specific number of appearances.

Any and all of those measures would discourage the hoarding of stars by a handful of teams. In turn, they would allow that talent to be spread more evenly around Europe’s various leagues. They would encourage teams to be more judicious in the market, to think more long-term. They would help to level the playing field not by suppressing some, but by lifting others.

5) Great stuff from Leonhardt on the insanity of Republicans at the KBJ hearings:

The debate over Jackson’s nomination has often had little to do with her. It has become an argument over a nominee who does not exist — one who does not respect America, is not truly religious, coddles child abusers and terrorists and has highly developed views about the importance of “woke” education. Yesterday, conservative activists used this portrayal to pressure moderate Democratic senators to vote against Jackson.

Conspiracy theories and unfair accusations have a long history in American politics, of course. But they have often remained on the margins. Today, distortions and falsehoods have moved to the center of politics.

While neither party is entirely innocent, there is a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats. False claims regularly flow from the leaders of the Republican Party — including its most recent president, several of its likely future presidential candidates and the most influential media figures aligned with the party.

Donald Trump began his political career by claiming that Barack Obama was born in Africa and ended his presidency with false accusations of voter fraud. Prominent Republicans regularly cast doubt on the fact that greenhouse gases are warming the planet and contributing to extreme weather. Disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines has been so widespread that almost 40 percent of Republican adults have not received a shot, sometimes with fatal consequences.

There is no comparable list of false information coming from senior members of the Democratic Party…

But in trying to make Jackson a stand-in for these views, Republican senators are distorting reality. They are creating a caricature of a liberal Democrat that bears little resemblance to Jackson herself.

“One thing that is striking about this hearing,” Lori Ringhand, a legal scholar, told The Times, “is how little effort we are seeing to engage the nominee on her views about actual legal issues.”

6) Good stuff from Chait, “Trump’s Greatest Triumph Is Convincing America Crime Pays The failure to prosecute is a defeat for the rule of law.”

We don’t need to rely on Pomerantz’s say-so to evaluate Trump’s culpability. The public evidence is very extensive. As a practical matter, these crimes turn out to be difficult to prosecute. Trump famously refuses to write things down, scolds his aides and lawyers from taking notes in his presence, and manically destroys documents. Some of the crimes that are documented, like his years of systematic tax fraud proven by the New York Times, occurred too long ago to be charged today.

That said, the correct observation that certain crimes are difficult to charge seems to be transmuting into a sense that stealing is more or less acceptable. Even complaining about the fact that a once and potentially future president of the United States can be a career criminal has become deeply unfashionable.

The modern history of Ukraine shows the deeply corrosive effects of allowing this assumption to exist unchallenged. When a country gives up on the idea that rich people have to follow the law, the entire legitimacy of the state comes into question. Both the supporters and the enemies of Ukrainian sovereignty have understood for more than a decade that its very existence hinged on eliminating, or at least suppressing, the legal impunity enjoyed by its business class.

That belief is why Vice-President Joe Biden, at the tail end of the Obama administration, was pushing Ukraine to fire its ineffective prosecutor and install one who would make rich Ukrainians follow the law. And it is also why Vladimir Putin has so relentlessly used Ukrainian corruption as a pretext to violate his neighbor’s sovereignty.

Trump has spread a similar idea here. He has, of course, promiscuously accused all his antagonists of being crooks. But he has also insinuated his own complicity in their crookedness, bragging that he bought off politicians. The prosecutors who have tried to bring him to heel all look like losers. Mueller is a punchline. The broad cynicism that has set in about the rule of law is a genuine triumph for Trump.

7) This is such a fantastic essay from Ross Douthat (gift link) on the decline of movies as we know them (especially all the great middlebrow movies for adults that barely exist anymore).

My favored theory is that the Oscars are declining because the movies they were made to showcase have been slowly disappearing. The ideal Oscar nominee is a high-middlebrow movie, aspiring to real artistry and sometimes achieving it, that’s made to be watched on the big screen, with famous stars, vivid cinematography and a memorable score. It’s neither a difficult film for the art-house crowd nor a comic-book blockbuster but a film for the largest possible audience of serious adults — the kind of movie that was commonplace in the not-so-distant days when Oscar races regularly threw up conflicts in which every moviegoer had a stake: “Titanic” against “L.A. Confidential,” “Saving Private Ryan” against “Shakespeare in Love,” “Braveheart”against “Sense and Sensibility”against “Apollo 13.”…

Within the larger arc of Hollywood history, though, this is the time to call it: We aren’t just watching the decline of the Oscars; we’re watching the End of the Movies…

No, what looks finished is The Movies — big-screen entertainment as the central American popular art form, the key engine of American celebrity, the main aspirational space of American actors and storytellers, a pop-culture church with its own icons and scriptures and rites of adult initiation.

This end has been a long time coming — foreshadowed in the spread of television, the invention of the VCR, the rise of cable TV and Hollywood’s constant “It’s the pictures that got small” mythologization of its own disappearing past…

The late 1990s were this cultural order’s years of twilight glow. Computer-generated effects were just maturing, creating intimations of a new age of cinematic wonder. Indie cinema nurtured a new generation of auteurs. Nineteen ninety-nine is a candidate for the best year in movies ever — the year of “Fight Club,” “The Sixth Sense,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Election,” “Three Kings” and “The Insider,” so on down a roster that justifies not just a Top 10 but a Top 50 list in hindsight.

8) And OMG was 1999 an amazing year for movies.  And that also led me to an oral history of one of my personal favorites from 1999, “Office Space.

9) I’m fully intending to write more about the incredibly problematic use of the precautionary principle, but for now, a snipped from Chait regarding a horrible misguided piece from a couple of public health authors:

10) I love reading about how Jon Bon Jovi thinks about his set lists:

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve released 17 albums in my career. That’s a lot of music. … You go, ‘Oh, this one would be nice to pull out again.’ And it’s not an easy task, because the audience wants hear Song X, Y and Z. … You gotta do all the obvious hits. … You’re not gonna not play ‘Livin’ On a Prayer,’ and ‘It’s My Life,’ and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name.’

“So it’s just how far into the ‘Bed of Roses,’ and ‘Always,’ and then ‘I’ll Be There for You.’ ‘Oh yeah, that’s three ballads. Gee, I can’t fit three. But they’re all hits!’ Believe me, it’s a good problem to have,” Bon Jovi says, with a laugh.

“But yeah, the hits take up 70%, and that leaves you with 30% for new material and obscure tracks. That’s the kind of breakdown. (So it leaves) you with X amount of slots for your artistic, you know, ‘listen-and-look-at-me’ moments, when it’s just about ‘I don’t care if you don’t wanna hear this song, I wanna play it. I’m allowed one or two of those,” he says, chuckling again.

“Then I have the benefit of changing it on a nightly basis. … If somebody hears ‘Always’ one night and ‘Bed of Roses’ the next night, it’s cool. It’s all acceptable.”

“Truly, it is like a very simple (process),” Bon Jovi adds, “but nonetheless a Rubik’s Cube.”

11) This is cool, “Is Geometry a Language That Only Humans Know? Neuroscientists are exploring whether shapes like squares and rectangles — and our ability to recognize them — are part of what makes our species special.”

The researchers called this the “geometric regularity effect” and they hypothesized — it’s a fragile hypothesis, they admit — that this might provide, as they noted in their paper, a “putative signature of human singularity.” (Experiments are ongoing and open to participants online.)

With the baboons, regularity made no difference, the team found. Twenty-six baboons — including Muse, Dream and Lips — participated in this aspect of the study, which was run by Joël Fagot, a cognitive psychologist at Aix-Marseille University.

The baboons live at a research facility in the South of France, beneath the Montagne Sainte-Victoire (a favorite of Cézanne’s), and they are fond of the testing booths and their 19-inch touch-screen devices. (Dr. Fagot noted that the baboons were free to enter the testing booth of their choice — there were 14 — and that they were “maintained in their social group during testing.”) They mastered the oddity test when training with nongeometric images — picking out an apple, say, among five slices of watermelon. But when presented with regular polygons, their performance collapsed.

Fruit, Flower, Geometry

Symbols used to test whether baboons can pick out a non-matching symbol within a group.


By The New York Times | Source: Mathias Sablé-Meyer, Stanislas Dehaene et al.

“The results are striking, and there seems indeed a difference between the perception of shapes by humans and baboons,” Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, said in an email. “Whether this difference in perception amounts to human ‘singularity’ would have to await research on our closest primate relatives, the apes,” Dr. de Waal said. “It is also possible, as the authors argue (and reject), that humans live in an environment where right angles matter, whereas baboons do not.”

12) As almost always, great stuff from deBoer: “Sometimes People Legitimately Disagree on Difficult Questions: it’s not in fact true that everyone who disagrees with you is secretly evil”

I choose this tweet merely because it’s an encapsulation of so much of the assumption of bad faith and avoidance of the social justice perspective. (That Adam Costco is one of the most nakedly self-aggrandizing Last Good White Men is merely a bonus.)

Here’s the deal. I am opposed to the “social justice movement,” while being very much in favor of social justice, for a few reasons. The first is that I think the social justice movement is legitimately wrong on a variety of core issues. For example, civil liberties – I think they’re good; the social justice movement thinks they’re a con on the part of bigots. That’s a genuine disagreement. There’s people in the social justice movement who are explicitly, unambiguously opposed to free speech as a principle. And that’s cool. They’re wrong, is all. You can find plenty of books written that define the reasons free speech is good. But that disagreement between me and them is real. It’s not code for “I think trans people are faking.” (I genuinely don’t have the slightest idea what that could mean.) Unlike many in the social justice movement, I believe that civil liberties are essential even while I understand the vital need to fight racism, sexism, and transphobia. I simply believe that those fights have to be balanced with the defense of civil liberties, and in fact think that waging those fights requires a respect for civil liberties. Costco is free to disagree. But he’s not free to tell me what I “really” think. Another disagreement is about the proportionality of social punishment. The social justice movement often seems to think that anyone guilty of even minor expressions of bigotry should be permanently socially outcast. I don’t agree. But that’s all it is. It’s just disagreement. Happens every day.

But here’s something that should perhaps concern even people like Costco: the social justice movement has coopted basic left goals and has completely failed to meet them. The social justice movement hates racism, sexism, homophobia, and assorted social ills, and yet has achieved nothing in fighting them.

Indeed, I criticize the social justice movement not because I oppose challenging our status quo power hierarchy, but precisely because I do want to challenge that hierarchy. The social justice movement absolutely sucks at challenging establishment power! …

This failure, by the way, is perfectly predictable when you observe the fact that the social justice movement actively disdains persuading others (“it’s not my job to educate you”) and relentlessly fixates on ideas that are vastly unpopular (“defund the police”). Those seem like valid, important observations.

13) Yes to this on how to make the NCAA games way better:

The sport shouldn’t get rid of replay, but it should, at the very least, adopt a couple of fixes. No one needs officials quietly whispering “Enhance” to the replay operator eight times to see if the ball nicked the offensive player’s hangnail after the defender knocked it out of his hands and out of bounds.

When I tune into the final minutes of an NCAA Tournament game, I want to see a moment that looks like a dynamic athlete is operating on bullet-time closely followed by a decision that looks like a team never has seen a full-court press before.

I want to see the best plays I’ve ever seen randomly interspersed with the worst plays I’ve ever seen. It’s the beauty of watching college players chase a dream. It’s tremendous television. You never know what can happen on the bracket, but you never know what can happen on the floor in a game, either. On Saturday, North Carolina coughed up a 25-point lead in less than a half and beat a No. 1 seed in overtime anyway. It was the kind of game with enough twists and turns that would be a farce if it was fiction. Instead, it was one of the craziest games I’d seen all year.

I want to see that.

I don’t want to see 12 replays of a block/charge call interspersed with a closeup of the back of two referees hunched over a tiny monitor at center court. I’d rather watch a marathon of the final season of “Lost” on repeat for a week.

This can be fixed.

One, install a permanent replay official with the power to overturn a call. There’s no reason the game needs to be stopped for a replay review of whether a shooter’s foot was on the line. Let a replay official, with no responsibilities on the court, examine it during play. If the call was correct, keep it moving. If a change is necessary, stop play at the next made basket or dead ball and announce it. Then keep it moving.

And most importantly, that “52 seconds” that can go well over on plenty of occasions and definitely did so during the season, has to drop. Let a permanent replay official, whether on-site or in a neutral location like the NBA does, begin the review immediately (maybe even before a review officially begins) and consult with on-court officials after they go to the monitor and work together to make a decision.

But there has to be a clock. No review needs to go longer than a minute or 90 seconds at most, barring a fix to the game clock to correct a missed call. If it’s not 100 percent clear by that brief deadline, let the call stand.

Replay has to be a net to catch egregious misses, not forensic science. The pursuit of getting calls right is a noble one, but when it becomes three minutes spent watching eight zoomed-in shots of four different angles and a couple of fan-shot videos from the crowd to learn that, actually, the ball didn’t graze the center’s leg hair and officials got the call right on the floor, that pursuit becomes a net negative on the sport.

The NCAA Tournament is the most fun event in sports, but replay is turning the most fun part of the game into an atrocious viewing experience.

14) Good stuff from Katelyn Jetelina on the possibilities we face for BA.2. 

15) Unless one of you convinces me otherwise, I’m done with “Severance” on Apple TV.  Mostly, I’ve decided the creative team has some interesting ideas that I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a big payoff at the end, but they have basically no idea how to construct a compelling episode of television.

It might as well be called the Maguffin Corporation, given that whatever their work might be revealed to affect, if indeed it affects anything at all, will be less important than the fact that none of them have any idea what it’s about and less interesting than the pokily building adventure that gets them to wherever this show is meant to end. Clues are dropped that something deeper is going on, but so much time elapses between them that you may have dropped one by the time you gather the next…

And because there is a mystery, if only in the sense that we are given very little information — even the characters, apart from Mark, have been severed from their backstories — one keeps watching, to discover what’s being held back, however many trips down a white corridor to jaunty tropical hold music that entails. You will have to wait a little; the season finale is genuinely exciting and suspenseful, but, really, even as an advocate of slow television, we might have got there in half the time with twice the effect. Rod Serling could have wrapped it up in half an hour.

16) Meanwhile, “The Other Two” is an absolute delight and so well-written.  Way more people should be watching and talking about this show. 

17) This Editorial from the UVA student newspaper calling for Mike Pence not to speak on campus is nuts. It really is “no platform for Republicans.”  

A student organization recently announced its plans to host former vice president Mike Pence this April to speak in Old Cabell Hall. For Pence, gay couples signify a “societal collapse,” Black lives do not matter, transgender individuals and immigrants do not deserve protection and the pandemic should not be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the University has accepted Pence’s visit as an “opportunity to hear from, and engage with, leaders and experts from a wide variety of fields and perspectives.” So-called “perspectives” should not be welcomed when they spread rhetoric that directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members. [emphasis mine] The LGBTQ+ individuals Pence has attacked, the Black lives he refuses to value and the successful stories of immigration he and the former president hope to prevent — these very people are our peers, our neighbors and our community members. We refuse to condone platforming Pence.

Oh, “the lives” threatened by Pence! Anyway, I got my first ever block on twitter as Jamelle Bouie (UVA alum) blocked me for tweeting derisively about this editorial. 

18) Mark Joseph Stern, “The Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings Show Marriage Equality Is the Next Target Once Roe Falls”

During Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearings this week, GOP senators have, predictably, condemned Roe—but not as much as might be expected. Instead, many senators have turned their attention to a different precedent that’s likely next on their hit list once Roe likely falls this summer: Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision recognizing same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry.

Loathing for Obergefell emerged early on Tuesday, when Republican Sen. John Cornyn launched a frontal assault on the ruling, then sought Jackson’s reaction. He began by criticizing “substantive due process,” which holds that the “liberty” protected by the due process clause protects substantive rights, not just procedural ones. The Supreme Court has used this theory to enforce “unenumerated rights” that it deems fundamental, including the right to marry, raise children, use contraception, and terminate a pregnancy. Along with equal protection, it served as the basis of Obergefell. According to Cornyn, however, this doctrine is “just another form of judicial policymaking” that can be used “to justify basically any result.”…

In case it wasn’t clear what these senators were up to, Cornyn made it explicit on Wednesday afternoon. “The Constitution doesn’t mention the word abortion,” he lectured Jackson, “just like it doesn’t mention the word marriage.” These senators appear confident that the Supreme Court will overrule the constitutional right to an abortionin Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which should come down by JuneThey are so confident, in fact, that they prodded Jackson to say whether she would abide by Dobbs once she joins the court, rather than fight to revive Roe. But on the whole, Republicans were noticeably less engaged over abortion than they were about same-sex marriage…

It’s easy to see why. The GOP, alongside the conservative legal movement, has built up a massive infrastructure to fight the culture wars. After Roe, it will need a new target, and marriage equality is the obvious choice. Republicans never really gave up on the issue, but rather staged a tactical retreat after Obergefell, pressing for sweeping exemptions from civil rights laws to legalize discrimination against same-sex couples. But after Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett replaced the gay-friendly Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this retreat slowed to a crawl, and Republicans sought to regain some ground. They pressed the Supreme Court to roll back protections for same-sex couples (to no avail—yet) and have now launched a campaign to mandate anti-LGBTQ discrimination in schools. A GOP legislator in Texas has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to declare that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage remains valid and enforceable.

As the architect of Texas’ vigilante abortion ban has candidly acknowledged, overturning Roe will leave Obergefell hanging by a thread. And the unraveling won’t stop there. A number of major decisions protecting reproductive rights, including access to contraception, will be imperiled if the court repudiates substantive due process. So will Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision legalizing interracial marriage, which—just like Obergefell—relied on both due process and equal protection. Republican Sen. Mike Braun claims to have misspoken when he said that Loving should be overturned on Tuesday. But he was only following his beliefs to their logical conclusion.

19) This is really good, “How Putin badly misjudged the West, as explained by a Russia expert”

Greg Sargent: What is it about Putin’s way of seeing the world, and his understanding of his own mythologies, that made it inevitable that he’d underestimate the Western response?

Timothy Snyder: For me the most revealing text here is the victory declaration, which the Russian press agency accidentally published on Feb. 26. What they say is that the West just basically needed one more push to fall into total disarray.

If you watch Jan. 6 clips over and over again, you can get that impression. The Russians really have been fixated on Jan. 6.

They thought a successful military operation in Ukraine would be that nudge: We’d feel helpless, we’d fall into conflict, it would help [Donald] Trump in the U.S., it would help populists around the world.
Sargent: When you say Russia has been making a lot of Jan. 6 — what do they read into it?

Snyder: Number one, they use it to mock us by saying, “These are just peaceful protesters.” Number two, they use it for one of their favorite arguments, which is that democracy is a joke everywhere.

But the deeper point is that Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election on Jan. 6 made the American system look fragile. They think, “One more Trump and the Americans are done.” In invading Ukraine, they think they’re putting huge pressure on the Biden administration. They’re going to make Biden look weak.

That probably was their deep fantasy about the West: Successful military occupation in Ukraine; the Biden administration is totally impotent; we humiliate them; Trump comes back; this is a big strategic victory for us.

20) This is old and funny as hell, “Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies”

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”

An excellent movie. The obviously unfit individuals are winnowed out through a series of entrepreneurial tests and, in the end, an enterprising young boy receives a factory. I believe more movies should be made about enterprising young boys who are given factories. —Three and a half stars. (Half a star off for the grandparents, who are sponging off the labor of Charlie and his mother. If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work.)…

“Charlotte’s Web”

A farmer allows sentimental drawings by a bug to prevail over economic necessity and refuses to value his prize pig, Wilbur, by processing and selling him on the open market. Presumably, the pig still dies eventually, only without profiting his owners. The farmer’s daughter, Fern, learns nothing except how to become an unsuccessful farmer. There is a rat in this movie. I quite liked the rat. He knew how to extract value from his environment. —Two stars.

21) Good free Yglesias post you should read, “Climate politics for the real world: What the Sunrise Movement and its boosters get wrong”

And it’s worth stepping back from the debate about specific tactical decisions and bad tweets to examine that underlying framing. This is the way I think the left sees the climate issue:

  • There is a latent desire among the mass public for sweeping change in general and for sweeping climate-related change in particular.

  • The main impediment to change is an elite cabal of special interests, most of all the fossil fuel companies, who wield power through campaign contributions and buying ads to distort the media agenda.

  • Due to the corrupting influence of fossil fuel money, not only do Republicans take bad stances on climate-related issues but so do Democrats, which means highlighting Joe Manchin’s personal financial relationship to the coal industry is crucial to communicating the legislative dynamics at work.

The upshot of this framework is that we need a broad grassroots movement that can push the political system (including corrupt and wayward moderate Democrats) into taking the drastic action the planet needs and the people demand.

And my view is that this is all wrong…

The vast majority of people believe that climate change is a real problem and would like to see politicians and elected officials do something about it.

But popular commitment is fairly shallow for a number of reasons:

  • Most people are somewhat selfish and somewhat short-sighted, and the worst impacts of climate change occur in the future and afflict other people.

  • Climate is a global problem and solutions require global coordination, which is inherently difficult and involves players who want to free-ride and also those who worry about others free-riding.

  • Humans are often arbitrarily averse to change. If you tell people “instead of X you can have Y,” they have a strong tendency to be suspicious that Y is worse than X.




We need to be making more progress on our vaccine future

As always, a terrific, accessible summary of an issue from Katelyn Jetelina, in this case, the value of a 4th shot of an mRNA vaccine.  Short version: for those under 65, clearly not much.  But, I especially appreciated that part at the end of her latest newsletter where she makes the case for what we need to be doing next:

But a fourth dose of the same thing would only be a short-term solution. It’s not practical or sustainable to roll-out mRNA vaccines every couple months given their reactogenicity (i.e., lots of side effects). Also, continuing more of the same may reach a threshold, like we saw in the Israel healthcare study. We really need to figure out our next move. There are a few options:

  • Get intranasal vaccines to work (the Iwasaki lab at Yale is working day and night on this);

  • Roll out a different mRNA formula, like an Alpha or Omicron specific vaccine;

  • Start purposefully integrating a different biotechnology vaccine into the series, like an adjuvanted subunit vaccine; or,

  • Push for more innovative second generation vaccines, like a pancoronavirus vaccine. [emphases mine]

Whatever the solution, we need government support. With decreased funding it’s clear that we don’t even have enough funds to purchase a fourth dose (regular formula) for everyone. Also, research, development, and innovation will soon fade without financial support. This happened with vaccine innovation after the SARS epidemic. We cannot repeat history and let this happen with SARS-CoV-2, too.

I know that progress is happening on these bullet points above, but, certainly seems there’s no sense of urgency on it.  And, damn it, we need that urgency because otherwise it’s just too easy for us to get caught flat-footed from a future Covid surprise.  A future variant could be a really unfortunate setback or it could be a situation where we say, “Thank God we did x,y,z on new vaccines with a sense or urgency!”  Alas, at this point I’m really fearing the former.  

Do confirmation hearings matter?

So according to this guy… not really, they’re just pure political theater:

N.C. State Professor of Political Science Steven Greene said the true purpose of these hearings is for the Senate to decide whether the president’s nominee, in this case Ketanji Brown Jackson, is worthy of being appointed to the Supreme Court. But the reality is, it ends up being more like political theater.

It’s why we hear a range of topics and questions that may seem irrelevant to the nominee’s potential role on the Supreme Court; for each party to put their agendas on display.

But at its core, Greene said the process is important to U.S. government…

“The truth is, if the Senate wasn’t serving as a check, if we didn’t’ have this political theater, then you know, the president really could nominate just anybody,” said Greene. “Maybe some of those would be inappropriate for the court. So, even though it is political theater, it’s kind of a worthy political theater.”

He said it seems like each hearing gets more heated and politically polarizing than the last, including the final vote on whether to appoint the nominee as a Supreme Court Justice.

“We’ve reached a vote where even just a handful of the other party can be seen as bipartisan,” said Greene.

(Also, you can actually see me in video at the link. Not impressed with the image quality for my first Zoom interview with my new office webcam.  Though, the Blasters trophy I’ve carefully placed in the background shows up nicely)

Of course, the first thing I did after finishing this interview yesterday was come across this excellent Matt Glassman post that does a much better job of explaining why this matters, theater or not.  Because, the truth is, a fair amount of politics is theater.  Glassman:

This is all done in order to affect future political action by others: to build your coalition of support, or maybe convince opponents to back down, or to try to put the issue onto the policy agenda of congressional leaders, force intervening action in the executive branch or private sphere, or setup issues for an election. Or all of the above. Ditto with an oversight or investigative hearing.

Even more importantly, you build a public record so that you shape the public understanding of what you are doing. Actions taken by public officials don’t occur in a vacuum: they occur in the public sphere. How the public comes to understand those actions has enormous political ramifications: for the parties, for individual members, and for public policy.

An action that would be controversial absent an explanation can become a good and reasonable thing to do; likewise, an action that would not be controversial can become a rash and dangerous thing. All depending on how the public comes to understand the action.

At it’s political core, the Judiciary committee confirmation hearing of Judge Brown Jackson isn’t about whether or not the Senate should confirm her to the Supreme Court. That’s pretty much been decided—the Senate will confirm her nomination.16 What is at stake in the hearing is the public understanding of what that confirmation means. You can’t think of a court confirmation as a black or white, confirm or reject. What is still up in the air is the ultimate public meaning of these events. That’s the fight.17

And it’s not meaningless theater. If the collective understanding of the confirmation swings from “partisans rammed through an extremist judge to bend the court” to “partisans tried to block a qualified nominee,” public policy going forward will be different. Whatever version of the confirmation becomes the public understanding, it could influence the midterm elections, swinging marginal seats in November and shaping citizen understanding of the parties and future policy disputes. [italics in original; bold is mine]

So, yeah, don’t listen to that guy on the news.  But, to be fair, what’s clear that they don’t actually matter for is determining what happens to the nominee.  

Too easy access to guns just makes things suck

Text message from my son yesterday, “Code red not a drill!!!!!!” Thank God for my sanity that I actually saw the follow-up message, sent 8 minutes later, first, “They just said false alarm.”  Everybody’s worst nightmare and damn I hate to think of all the kids (and parents who saw their texts) for those 8 minutes.  It sucks.  And the reality of why is because we all know it is just way too easy for a kid to get a gun and start shooting at his school.

What actually happened?  From the school later that day:

To keep you informed, I wanted to let you know about an incident that occurred at school today.

While dealing with a routine discipline situation in the school office, a student became non-compliant and decided to leave the office and walk through campus. Out of an abundance of caution, administrators moved the school into a code red lockdown until we could determine that the student did not pose a threat.

There was no weapon or threat associated with this event. I apologize for any stress or inconvenience this may have caused. 

Did the school overreact? Maybe? But, the reality is school shootings are an all-too-regular thing and they were unsure as to whether this student was a threat.  And, even if they did overreact (again, I’m agnostic on that question), the whole reason for such a strong reaction is that this type of response only makes sense in a society overrun by guns where we just accept that the occasional mass shooting will be a downside of our too-lenient gun policies.  And that really sucks.  

[p.s. I meant to post it yesterday, but it stayed in the draft.  I learned that the student in question fled while being searched for weapons– so, yeah, that’s not overreacting] 

Masks and social distancing do work, but we overestimate their efficacy

So, it’s been at least a few weeks now since, looking at the steep decline in Omicron, American basically said… masks off, do what you want, let it rip.  I saw a lot of people, many with serious public health credentials saying some variation of “watch out! this lack of precaution means Covid is going to surge again!”  Now, Covid may well surge again (so many interesting takes on whether we will or will not get a BA.2 surge (very smart people disagree– but all the smartest ones admit the high uncertainty), but it’s pretty clear by now that ending mask mandates and basically declaring a return to regular life has not led to any meaningful surge in cases (yeah, yeah, I know about potentially troubling portents in wastewater, but that’s not a surge). 

Part of the problem is that too many people imbue almost magical properties in masks to prevent Covid spread when the vast majority of individuals are not exactly wearing well-fitted (K)N95’s.  Yes, that helps, but if we’ve learned one thing, Covid’s gonna Covid and all of our measures can take the edge off the worst of it, but when a surge is going to happen, it’s going to happen.  And presumably, when it’s not, putting our masks aside is not going to create one where otherwise it was not going to happen.  

So, yeah, if you want to be extra careful right now even with Covid numbers very low, definitely wear that mask (but you really ought to wear one that will make the most difference if you’re going to go to the trouble– again 3m N95 Aura is terrific).  But, the reality is that if/when Covid comes surging back is almost surely not going to be because of the masking and social behavior of people right now. 

Yes, cancel culture is a real thing and liberals need to stop pretending otherwise

The NYT had an editorial last week declaiming America’s “free speech” problem.  It was not perfect and the term “free speech” was probably not ideal (led to a lot of bad faith counter-arguments that didn’t actually engage with the main argument), but, it was onto a genuine phenomenon:

For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.

This social silencing, this depluralizing of America, has been evident for years, but dealing with it stirs yet more fear. It feels like a third rail, dangerous. For a strong nation and open society, that is dangerous.

How has this happened? In large part, it’s because the political left and the right are caught in a destructive loop of condemnation and recrimination around cancel culture. Many on the left refuse to acknowledge that cancel culture exists at all, believing that those who complain about it are offering cover for bigots to peddle hate speech. Many on the right, for all their braying about cancel culture, have embraced an even more extreme version of censoriousness as a bulwark against a rapidly changing society, with laws that would ban books, stifle teachers and discourage open discussion in classrooms.

However you define cancel culture, Americans know it exists and feel its burden. In a new national poll commissioned by Times Opinion and Siena College, only 34 percent of Americans said they believed that all Americans enjoyed freedom of speech completely. The poll found that 84 percent of adults said it is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem that some Americans do not speak freely in everyday situations because of fear of retaliation or harsh criticism.

This poll and other recent surveys from the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation reveal a crisis of confidence around one of America’s most basic values. Freedom of speech and expression is vital to human beings’ search for truth and knowledge about our world. A society that values freedom of speech can benefit from the full diversity of its people and their ideas. At the individual level, human beings cannot flourish without the confidence to take risks, pursue ideas and express thoughts that others might reject.

Most important, freedom of speech is the bedrock of democratic self-government. If people feel free to express their views in their communities, the democratic process can respond to and resolve competing ideas. Ideas that go unchallenged by opposing views risk becoming weak and brittle rather than being strengthened by tough scrutiny. When speech is stifled or when dissenters are shut out of public discourse, a society also loses its ability to resolve conflict, and it faces the risk of political violence.

My goodness the number of responses I saw along the lines of “what do you mean?  Of course we shun and shame bigotry.”  There’s a willfully oblivious leftist counter-narrative out there that this is just a bunch of cranky white men who’ve been racist and sexist their whole lives and can no longer get away with it.  As if the problem is men who insist on calling their waitress “hon” or that there’s nothing wrong with expressing a little casual racism between friends.  No!  That’s not the problem and its disingenuous or naïve to suggest it is.  Adam Davidson (otherwise, someone I really respect) became the paragon of this viewpoint in arguing it is just a made-up conservative moral panic.  He asked for actual examples on twitter and boy did the masses let him have it (just check out the reply tweets).

Naturally, Jesse Singal is on the case, too.  My personal favorite is the professor who got disinvited from an invited lecture on science for his view that universities should not use race in admissionsa view held by the majority of the American public, mind you. 

Now, you can keep changing the bar– well, he wasn’t fired— or, “hey, that person got a new even better job”– but that doesn’t change the fundamental reality of the extreme censorious around race/gender issues on the left.  

I’ll give some personal examples.  I have taught Gender & Politics since 2000.  Routinely, a substantial minority of students would argue that women are naturally more-suited for care-giving than are men.  Students expressing that viewpoint would lead to interesting, productive discussion.  When I last taught the class in 2019, not a single student expressed that viewpoint openly.  Maybe you think that’s for the best.  I think it for the best that we actually discuss what people actually believe.  Or, here’s another example from class. When Ralph Northam of Virginia was engulfed in his blackface scandal, not a single students said anything along the lines of, “shouldn’t we evaluate him according to the standards of the time of the early 1980’s in Virginia?  Does this automatically make him unfit to serve? How does this fit into the larger context of his life, since?” That’s a great discussion to have.  And I’m pretty sure some students had opinions along these lines, but not a one felt they could express it, lest they be seen as defending “racism.”  Or, heck the nature of the history between racism and the political parties in this country is not pretty. But, we end up having a constricted discussion that far too easily becomes “Republican Party so racist” and actual Republicans in class unwilling to stand up and say otherwise lest they be declared racist.  And, again, my class is worse off for the loss of discussion.  It’s not about people just being afraid to being blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever.  That’s honestly just a liberal caricature and smart liberals should know better.  

I think one of my favorite responses to Davidson was that he should spend a week on twitter taking majority opinions from public opinion polls on issues of race/sex/gender that are unpopular on the left and see what he thinks of cancel culture then.  

From my perspective, a fair amount of the problem is liberals taking an inappropriately expansive view of racism/sexism/homophobia, etc.  When saying maybe we shouldn’t have affirmative action makes you a racist or maybe it’s better for children if their mothers spend more time with them as newborns makes you sexist it’s really hard to have the serious policy and political discussions that we need to.  And that’s a problem. 

Anyway, that’s my take.  Don’t cancel me.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting interview on Ukraine by Yasha Mounk with a Polish politician:

Sikorski: Ukraine has been attacked from three directions: from Belarus, trying to go for Kiev; from the east, at the city of Kharkiv and beyond; and in the south. Only one city in the south has been captured. And even where the Russians are present, they are really present only on the roads and where they have direct military bearing, because the Ukrainian population has turned out to be uniformly hostile. More than that for a number of days, the Russian offensive is not progressing. They are bogged down on the far outskirts of Kiev. They have not even taken the city of Mariupol or even Kharkiv, which is only 40 kilometers from Russia’s border. And Putin seems to have committed almost all his active professional army to this operation. He’s still bringing up some reinforcements from Chechnya, from Syria, and from some mercenaries. But it looks like he’s stuck. So the option is either to mobilize the population for total war or to negotiate. Negotiations seem to be progressing. And from what Russian officials are telling us, Russia has dramatically scaled down its level of ambition.

Instead of “de-Nazification”—which is absurd, given that Zelensky is a democratically-elected Jewish president of Ukraine—and “demilitarization”, which meant basically taking over Ukraine, they now say that they have nothing against Zelensky staying on. By demilitarization, they just mean a non-aligned status—which of course is also absurd, because Ukraine has been, and is, non-aligned. The fact that a measure of realism is coming into the Russian position would suggest that they realize that they’re not winning.

Mounk: So what would a settlement like that look like? Putin will need to justify a war domestically in some kind of way.

Sikorski: I wouldn’t worry about Putin’s credibility. He has destroyed all the remnants of an independent press. He can push any line he wishes. Whatever happens, he will explain it as his victory. 

I think Zelensky is preparing his country for changing the constitution and dropping the ambition to join NATO, which I think is a purely symbolic concession because NATO was not going to admit Ukraine anytime soon, anyway. The harder bits will be the territorial stuff. I don’t think it’s helpful of you and me to give advice on what’s reasonable, because it’s not our politics and it’s not our country. The third demand is for some cultural rights for Russian language broadcasting and Russian speakers in the southeast, which I understand Ukraine had already passed into legislation a long time ago. So that should be no problem.

Mounk: What would neutrality look like? Because it’s one thing to concede that Ukraine is not going to become a member of NATO. At the same time, Ukraine will obviously need some kind of realistic guarantee that Russia is not just going to restart the war at another point, or going to continue to lop off Ukrainian territory in the way it has over the last seven years. Is there some realistic set of arrangements that can guarantee those things?

Sikorski: Well, what guarantees of security are worth—both Russian and Western guarantees—Ukraine has just learned. 

The spokesman of the Kremlin says that they’ll be happy with Ukraine being like Austria or Sweden. Sweden has an army that can fight. Actually, it’s Swedish-made anti-tank missiles that are hitting Russian armor very effectively. I think that’s something that Ukraine could live with…

Sikorski: Look, Putin invaded Ukraine because he wants Ukraine as part of a new empire, but also because he wanted to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful, Europeanizing democracy. This he has done for an understandable reason: he correctly fears that if Ukraine becomes successful and increasingly integrated with the West, the people of Russia will eventually want the same. So my prediction is that if Ukraine succeeds—I define that by defending its democracy and keeping the great majority of its territory, and getting rid of Russian troops from its soil—then I think eventually Putinism will fail, and we will have some kind of new opening in Russia.

2) Fascinating thread from Michael Lin on pediatric Covid vaccine dosing.  Really seems like we actually were on the right track and then Omicron messed it up.  But, since it did, sure wish they’d revise the dosing for 5-11.

3) Good post from Conor Friedersdorf on what those most concerned about Covid should be doing:

These budgeting and health-policy decisions are of infinitely greater consequence for pandemic response than the behavioral lapses and policy heresies that get individuals COVID-shamed on social media. It is time to unite mask enthusiasts and mask skeptics who agree on funding public health.

2. Better ventilation everywhere. COVID-19 spreads much better indoors than outdoors. So do other communicable diseases, such as influenza. Thus a strong case exists for making our indoor environments more like the outdoors. Better ventilation is highly likely to reduce mortality and sickness on a significant scale far into the future. Yet there’s more scolding of individuals for failing to mask up properly than pressuring the people in charge of buildings, or building codes, to adopt best practices. My colleague Sarah Zhang has written at length about this underrated intervention.

3. Operation Warp Speed for a universal coronavirus vaccine. Scientists are already testing a vaccine that could work across variants, but there’s no telling whether it will succeed. Insufficient effort and resources are being spent on accelerating the testing process, developing alternative candidates, and if all else fails, increasing the speed at which we can tweak existing vaccines and roll them out at scale if a new variant demands it.

4) They sure don’t like to hear it, but David Leonhardt is right, that yes, the “very liberal” are simply more worried about Covid than they should be.  The fact that 48% of “very liberal” see Covid as a “great risk” to children’s health and well-being is pretty telling. Likewise, “More than 60 percent of very liberal Americans believe that mask mandates should continue for the foreseeable future. Most moderates and conservatives see mandates as a temporary strategy that should end this year.”

5) Well this is fascinating, “The controversial quest to make a ‘contagious’ vaccine: A new technology aims to stop wildlife from spreading Ebola, rabies, and other viruses. It could prevent the next pandemic by stopping pathogens from jumping from animals to people.”

Imagine a cure that’s as contagious as the disease it fights—a vaccine that could replicate in a host’s body and spread to others nearby, quickly and easily protecting a whole population from microbial attacks. That’s the goal of several teams around the world who are reviving controversial research to develop self-spreading vaccines.

Their hope is to reduce infectious disease transmission among wild animals, thereby lowering the risk that harmful viruses and bacteria can jump from wildlife to humans as many experts believe happened with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60 percent of all known infectious diseases and 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Scientists cannot predict why, when, or how new zoonotic diseases will emerge. But when they do, these diseases are often deadly and costly to control. What’s more, many researchers predict that climate change, biodiversity loss, and population growth will accelerate their spread.

Vaccines are a key tool for preventing diseases from spreading, but wild animals are difficult to vaccinate because each one must be located, captured, vaccinated, and released. Self-spreading vaccines offer a solution.

Advances in genomic technology and virology, and a better understanding of disease transmission, have accelerated work that began in the 1980s to make genetically engineered viruses that spread from one animal to another, imparting immunity to disease rather than infection.

Researchers are currently developing self-spreading vaccines for Ebola, bovine tuberculosis, and Lassa fever, a viral disease spread by rats that causes upward of 300,000 infections annually in parts of West Africa. The approach could be expanded to target other zoonotic diseases, including rabies, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and the plague.

Advocates for self-spreading vaccines say they could revolutionize public health by disrupting infectious disease spread among animals before a zoonotic spillover could occur—potentially preventing the next pandemic.

But others argue that the viruses used in these vaccines could themselves mutate, jump species, or set off a chain reaction with devastating effects across entire ecosystems.

6) As much as I would personally love permanent Daylight Savings Time, it’s actually quite right that the House take a longer, careful look at this.

The House is set to hit the snooze button on the Senate’s plan to permanently change the nation’s clocks.

“It could be weeks — or it could be months” before House Democratic leaders decide whether to tee up a vote on eliminating the biannual clock changes that have governed daily life in most states for decades, said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D.-N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees time change policies. While the Sunshine Protection Act, which unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday, would nationally shift clocks an hour later to maximize daylight, some doctors have argued that adopting permanent standard time would be a healthier option and better align with humans’ natural rhythms.

Pallone, who held a hearing last week on daylight saving time, said he shares the Senate’s goal to end the “spring forward” and “fall back” clock changes linked to more strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But he wants to collect more information, asking for a long-delayed federal analysis on how time changes might affect productivity, traffic and energy costs, among other issues.

7) Medical mystery in the Post:

Brooke Stroud was flummoxed and upset. How, the Washington clinical psychologist wondered, had her teenage houseguest gotten sick so quickly with the unidentified illness that had struck Stroud’s family of five at the end of 2020?

Stroud, her husband Stephane Carnot, and their daughter Olivia, then 17, had consulted primary care doctors in a fruitless attempt to identify the cause of their headaches, dizziness, vomiting and exhaustion. The pattern of their flu-like illness was perplexing: One or more of them would start to feel better, but within hours their symptoms would always return.

Ultimately it was the suggestion made by an infectious-disease expert more than 1,000 miles away that proved to be spot on, leading to a diagnosis and recovery.

I’m no MD, but I read this and thought, “uummmm, Carbon Monoxide poisoning?”  Yep.  Also, this went on for far longer than needed because the homeowners thought they had a CO detector but did not.  Seriously?!

8) For a photography lover like me who is honestly amazed at what the computer in the Iphone can accomplish photography-wise with a very limited lens and image sensor, I found this fascinating, “Have iPhone cameras become too smart?”

For a large portion of the population, “smartphone” has become synonymous with “camera,” but the truth is that iPhones are no longer cameras in the traditional sense. Instead, they are devices at the vanguard of “computational photography,” a term that describes imagery formed from digital data and processing as much as from optical information. Each picture registered by the lens is altered to bring it closer to a pre-programmed ideal. Gregory Gentert, a friend who is a fine-art photographer in Brooklyn, told me, “I’ve tried to photograph on the iPhone when light gets bluish around the end of the day, but the iPhone will try to correct that sort of thing.” A dusky purple gets edited, and in the process erased, because the hue is evaluated as undesirable, as a flaw instead of a feature. The device “sees the things I’m trying to photograph as a problem to solve,” he added. The image processing also eliminates digital noise, smoothing it into a soft blur, which might be the reason behind the smudginess that McCabe sees in photos of her daughter’s gymnastics. The “fix” ends up creating a distortion more noticeable than whatever perceived mistake was in the original.

Earlier this month, Apple’s iPhone team agreed to provide me information, on background, about the camera’s latest upgrades. A staff member explained that, when a user takes a photograph with the newest iPhones, the camera creates as many as nine frames with different levels of exposure. Then a “Deep Fusion” feature, which has existed in some form since 2019, merges the clearest parts of all those frames together, pixel by pixel, forming a single composite image. This process is an extreme version of high-dynamic range, or H.D.R., a technique that previously required some software savvy. (As a college student, I’d struggle to replicate H.D.R. on my traditional camera’s photos by using Photoshop to overlay various frames and then cut out their desirable parts.) The iPhone camera also analyzes each image semantically, with the help of a graphics-processing unit, which picks out specific elements of a frame—faces, landscapes, skies—and exposes each one differently. On both the 12 Pro and 13 Pro, I’ve found that the image processing makes clouds and contrails stand out with more clarity than the human eye can perceive, creating skies that resemble the supersaturated horizons of an anime film or a video game. Andy Adams, a longtime photo blogger, told me, “H.D.R. is a technique that, like salt, should be applied very judiciously.” Now every photo we take on our iPhones has had the salt applied generously, whether it is needed or not.

9) And here’s a really deep dive into photography on the Iphone 13 Pro.  Some amazing images, too.

10) True, “Josh Hawley’s latest attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson is genuinely nauseating”

On Wednesday evening, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) leveled a false and astonishing charge against Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Judge Jackson, Hawley untruthfully claimed, spent the last quarter decade advocating for — and later using her position as a judge to protect — child pornographers.

Hawley’s broad allegation is false. His most substantive claim against Jackson is that as a judge she frequently did not follow the federal sentencing guidelines when sentencing child pornography offenders. But, as Ohio State law professor and sentencing policy expert Douglas Berman writes, “the federal sentencing guidelines for” child pornography offenders “are widely recognized as dysfunctional and unduly severe.”

It’s also a stunningly inflammatory charge, reminiscent of conspiracy theories such as QAnon or Pizzagate, which posit that prominent liberals are part of a vast ring of pedophiles. Similarly incendiary claims have inspired violence in the past, such as when a man with an assault rifle opened fire in a DC pizza restaurant in 2016. The man was apparently motivated by his unfounded belief that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chair John Podesta ran a child sexual abuse ring in the basement of this pizzeria…

An honest look at Jackson’s record reveals that, as a law student, she wrote a nuanced analysis of a difficult constitutional question that vexed many judges — and that several judges relied upon in their own opinions. It reveals that, like any sentencing policymaker, Jackson had to draw distinctions among offenders who had all committed grave crimes. And it reveals that, as a judge, her sentencing practices were in line with those of other judges.

ButHawley’s attack on Jackson is not honest.

11) Honestly,  yeah, time for this, “The End of the Endless Final Set: Grand Slams Adopt Same Tiebreaker: The French Open was the last major tennis tournament that allowed an “advantage final set” without a tiebreaker. Once the maker of many classic, marathon matches, the system is no more.”

12) I absolutely think we need to be kind and supportive of children struggling with gender identity issues. That said, this post contains a lot of truth, “Trans exceptionalism and ordinary children”

Trans activists, ‘affirmative’ medical providers, and parents tend to see kids who identify as transgender as exceptional. To these children, none of the normal rules and nothing we know about child development seems to apply. 

But children who identify as transgender are just that: children. They hurt, like other children. They’re trying to figure out themselves and the strange world they live in, like other children. 

They’ll change over time, like other children, in unpredictable ways, like other children. 

And they will grow up, like all children. They will surprise themselves and us.

Children who identify as trans only have one body and one life, like all children. They are—as Ian McEwan put it—“easily torn and not easily mended.”

Children who identify as trans don’t have endocrine conditions or birth defects. They’re not the vanguard of some transhuman future. Rather, they’re made of the same stuff that children have always been made of, with the same needs for care and attention. 

What’s changed are the ideas and expectations that we’ve raised children on and the way we’ve turned them loose in an online world whose terrain no one has mapped. Many of these children have grown up with extended experiences of online disembodiment. They may not be free to run around outside with their friends but they’re free to roam the darkest corners of the Internet. Who knows what strangers and strange ideas they encounter there. 

These children have grown up hearing a very new and confusing set of fairytales about gendered souls that can end up in the ‘wrong bodies.’ Adults who should know better (and on some level do know better) have made them impossible promises. 

Children who identify as trans aren’t sages. They aren’t sacred. They haven’t been endowed with wisdom beyond their years. It’s not fair to treat them as exceptions to the safeguards we place around children, so that when they grow up and change their minds and ask why we let them do this, we say: You wanted it. You asked for it. You were so sure. What else could we have done? 

We need to remember that we are working with children. That children have one childhood, one body, one life, and endless ideas, pressures, pains, and theories about how the world works that they test against the grownups in their lives. 

There’s a way in which everything that touches trans must be exceptional—the children, the stakes, the feelings, the possibility of knowing anything for sure—because if these kids aren’t exceptional, then we threw everything we knew out the window. We didn’t ‘help’ exceptional children but harmed ordinary ones, struggling with ordinary challenges of development, sexual orientation, identity, meaning, and direction.

13) Being a long-haul truck driver also struck me as a nightmarish job.  And now it’s worse than ever, “How Life as a Trucker Devolved Into a Dystopian Nightmare”

Today, long-haul truckers are some of the most closely monitored workers in the world. Cameras and sensors dot their trucks, watching the road, the brakes and even the driver’s eye movements. Once, when his truck’s cabin heater broke, Mr. Knope was forced to sleep in freezing temperatures for several days while traveling across northern Ohio and New York because an automated system made sure his engine was turned off at night. The company told him there was no way to override the system.

Just imagine finishing 10 hours at a desk job, only to return to your apartment to find the heat didn’t work. That’d be quite frustrating. Then imagine your apartment was your office and most nights dinner was a microwaveable burrito or a bag of fast food. And then imagine your desk job required you regularly press a little pedal, you couldn’t stand up, you had essentially no face-to-face contact with co-workers, and if a bathroom didn’t easily present itself you were forced to use a plastic jug — all while a computer or a person at a desk hundreds of miles away monitors your every move…

For decades, truckers have quit at alarming rates, leading to a chronic shortage. The turnover rate was at a staggering 91 percent in 2019, which means that for every 100 people who signed up to drive, 91 walked out the door. Plenty of people have the commercial driver’s licenses needed to operate trucks, said Michael Belzer, a Wayne State University economist who has studied the industry for 30 years. “None of them will work for these wages,” he added. Studies even show that their pay, when adjusted for inflation, has declined markedly since the 1970s.

14) Here’s what I don’t quite get.  How come nobody has passed a law that simply demands transparency in ticket pricing.  If you want to charge me $120 to see Bon Jovi in Raleigh, just tell me that.  Don’t tell me it’s $94 plus fees.  I mean we have a perfect model– airline tickets are full of “fees” but when you shop online, they actually show you the full price.  John Oliver takes on Ticketmaster and fees.

15) How have I never come across this before?  “Pixar’s 22 rules for storytelling.”

16) I appreciate SAM recommending the film “About Time” in comments last week.  I quite enjoyed it. I will say, I did find it unusual and surprising in just how little conflict/challenges to the hero there were. But, very charming.  

17) Like it or not, on all sorts of metrics, Asian-Americans out-perform other minorities.  And, many don’t like that so, instead, they play games of how to lie with statistics.  But deBoer is on the case:

There’s been a long-running conversation about the “myth of the model minority,” the idea that Asian Americans somehow represent a symbol of social success. There’s a lot of those complaints out there. Here’s a new piece by Hua Hsu in the New Yorker. Here’s a recent piece in the Times. Here’s NPR. Here’s WaPo. Here’s Time. Here’s National Geographic. Here’s CNBC. Here’s NBC News. Here’s Harvard Business Review. Here’s Forbes. There are multiple books on the subject. I could go on. There’s plenty to critique there, but a lot of this conversation seems to deliberately obscure the origins of the idea.

The model minority construct is the product of referring to large groups in a way we do every day without controversy. Asian Americans have frequently been represented in social science and politics as a “model minority” because on average they have far higher incomes than the national average, perform best on all manner of educational metrics, and commit crimes at dramatically lower levels. If people think of the average Asian American as someone who is law-abiding, did well in school, and earns an enviable salary, they’re not wrong, any more than it would be wrong to say that the average American man’s height is 5’9. Obviously, it’s stupid to assume that any individual Asian you meet has a high income, just like it’s stupid to assume any individual man will be 5’9. But this constant weird troubling of the very notion of demographic metrics isn’t constructive. Of course “the average Asian American” is a construct, as all averages are, and many Asian Americans are not like the average. But I find it tiring, this pretense that people don’t understand what a demographic average is in this context and none other. [emphases mine]

If the complaint is that these statistics are somehow factually incorrect, that’s interesting, but would require a lot of proof. If instead the argument is that we shouldn’t pay attention to such averages because they obscure the diversity of outcomes within each group, I think that’s a valid point of view, but I don’t think the people who complain about the model minority construct are remotely consistent in this. We use averages for social justice purposes all the time – we know Black people face a lot of social inequality thanks to the compilation of averages, to pick an important example. Of course we should never prejudge any individual based on their broad demographic categories. But we need to apply these rules consistently across different contexts, and we don’t.

If you want to discourage projecting averages onto individuals, you should do that with all kinds of people. A lot of these pieces like to stress that some Asian people are poor, some Asian people do badly in school, and some Asian people commit crimes, so therefore referring to averages is illegitimate. This piece, for example, seems premised on the idea that the notion of spread within a sampled population is groundbreaking and undermines the very concept of a median or mean. Other issues aside, it immediately forces me to point out that every other group also has internal diversity too. To pick an obvious group, white people! Many white people are poor. Many white people struggle in school. Many white people commit crimes or are the victims of crime. Many white people lack political or social power. And yet often the same exact people who complain about the myth of the model minority turn around and talk about white people as a unified bloc of wealth and privilege. There are some profoundly wealthy Black people in this country; should we therefore not refer to how low the average Black net worth is? If nothing else, there’s a profound lack of consistency in this regard.

If the idea is that we should pay a lot less attention to demographic identity because these groupings always distort who we are as individuals, I say, yeah! I’m on board. But that attitude usually offends the social justice set. The trouble is that the people who complain about the model minority thing tend to be very enthusiastic practitioners of political philosophies that stress group identity above all other things.

18) My daughter does not score a lot of goals.  And last time she did, it was in a game where I was out of town.  And, I also miss seeing a fair number of goals while trying to figure out substitution patterns.  So, I was so delighted to see Sarah just pop one right over the defense and the goalkeeper’s head, into the back of the net yesterday.  

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