Nuclear power public opinion

I gotta say, I found this latest Gallup report not encouraging, “Americans Divided on Nuclear Energy”

First, I’ll just stipulate that nuclear power is almost surely an important tool in our arsenal of reducing CO2 emissions.  So, you would think Democrats might be in favor, but alas, heading in the wrong direction:

And, given that, the following chart is not all that surprising, but still frustrating

The people most worried about climate are the least favorable towards nuclear.  Nooooo!  That’s not how this works. Smart environmentalists get this, but, overall, this pattern of beliefs has been a real failure of the environmental movement.  

Responsible gun ownership

I think a huge problem with this whole mess we have is that the gun rights types are always arguing that we will be punishing “responsible” gun owners by increasing gun restrictions.  But, here’s our fundamental problem– our laws allow irresponsible gun ownership.  No 18-year old should be able to own a highly-lethal weapon of war.  Civilians should be owning AR-15’s as much as they should be owning RPG’s.  They should not be allowed to own extra-lethal ammunition.  They should not be allowed to own body armor. The fact that you had 20 cops literally afraid to confront the shooter for the better part of an hour tells you everything you really need to know about whether we should allow civilians to own these weapons of war. 

There’s nothing responsible in allowing all this.  There’s nothing responsible in allowing a civilian to purchase thousands of rounds of extra-lethal ammo.  There’s nothing responsible in allowing civilians to own magazines that stack 30 or more of these rounds upon each other before they need to reload. There’s nothing responsible in allowing only the most cursory background check such that an individual literally regularly threatening others on the internet can buy a highly-lethal gun and ammunition. There’s nothing responsible about not holding parents accountable when they leave guns easily accessible to a child that then accidentally (or worse) shot someone?  

In short, our policy regime allows stunningly irresponsible gun ownership! Changing the policies on all of these things would not actually limit “responsible” gun owners. 

So, what actually should we do?  I’m a big fan of Canada’s policy regime, nicely outlined by German Lopez in Vox a while back:


Gun ownership rate (2007): 30.8 guns per 100 people

Gun homicide rate (2012): 5.1 per 1 million people

How gun control works: Canada keeps guns somewhat accessible to the general population, but maintains major restrictions on different types of guns, who can buy them, and how they’re purchased. The result is a system that looks like a stricter version of the US — so some sort of firearm ownership is still a possibility, but not something that’s done very easily.

Canada puts guns into three categories: prohibited (most handguns that have a short barrel or are .32 or .25 caliber, fully automatic weapons, guns with sawed-off barrels, and certain military rifles like the AK-47), restricted (some handguns, some semiautomatic rifles, and certain non-semiautomatic rifles), and non-restricted (regular and some military-style shotguns and rifles). The general idea is that more dangerous guns face much harsher regulations and restrictions on purchase, ownership, and storage.

Prohibited guns are, as their name implies, prohibited, but people who obtained and maintained a registration certificate before they were banned in December 1998 can keep those specific guns. All restricted and prohibited firearms must be registered, but non-restricted guns no longer have to be registered after April 2012.

In general, you must be 18 or older to buy a gun in Canada. Some exceptions are made for minors 12 to 17 owning a non-restricted firearm — but only if a licensed adult is responsible for the gun.

Canada requires a license to own a gun and ammunition, and buyers to pass safety course tests. Licenses must be renewed every five years.

Licensing requires fairly stringent background checks. An “applicant for a firearm license in Canada must pass background checks, which consider criminal, mental, addiction and domestic violence records,” according to the Library of Congress’s review of Canada’s laws. The background checks also consider whether an applicant has been treated for a mental illness, if the person was associated with violence, threats, or attempted violence, and whether the person has a history of any behavior “that includes violence or threatened or attempted violence on the part of the person against any person.” On top of traditional background checks, each license applicant needs to submit third-party character references.

In addition to licensing requirements, Canadians can only obtain a permit to carry firearms in public in very limited circumstances — typically with the requirement that “an individual needs restricted firearms or prohibited handguns for use in connection with his or her lawful profession or occupation” or to protect life. There are no such federal requirements in the US, although some states place certain restrictions or bans on concealed and open carry.

Unlike federal laws in the US, Canadian laws require safe gun storage — locked in a room, compartment, or container that’s difficult to break into, with a trigger or cable lock, or both, depending on the type of firearm. Guns must be unloaded when stored. And similar storage requirements apply to guns that are being transported, with laxer rules for non-restricted firearms compared to prohibited and restricted ones.

You want a gun in Canada?  You can absolutely get one.  Canada has lots of guns (and the homicide rate to show for it, though, still dramatically lower than America)  But there’s a burden to prove you will be a responsible gun owner.  You want to be a responsible gun owner in America? Fine.  But it is the height or irresponsibility to suggest that your responsible gun ownership depends upon laws that literally allow widespread irresponsible ownership.

Cars are deadly.  That’s why we have a pretty thorough regime to try and create safe drivers. And why we require insurance.  And it’s not perfect, but our laws on drivers and cars literally mean less people dying.  And people needlessly dying really sucks (though, it almost seems like the gun people don’t think so). From Scientific American, “Guns Now Kill More Children and Young Adults Than Car Crashes”

Guns Now Kill More Children and Young Adults Than Car Crashes

This is America, gun ownership is not going away.  But the gun rights crowd is so insanely focused on any restriction and effort towards responsibility as being somehow a violation of their rights that they have created a policy regime that literally allows irresponsible gun ownership.  And that’s insane.  And a recipe for mass death.  And we’re bearing the fruits of that.  


Quick hits (part II)

1) Episode bloat is such a problem on steaming series.  I will not be watching Stranger Things season 4. Sepinwall:

To accommodate all these people, places, and concepts, the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, have opted to supersize all of this season’s episodes. In its earlier years, Stranger Things was not exactly a breezy show, with each installment usually hovering close to a full hour. But it wasn’t until the Season Three finale that the Duffers went full Sons of Anarchy with a 78-minute conclusion. That’s the new normal for Season Four, where the shortest of these May episodes is 63 minutes, the longest is 98, and the rest are all in the 70s. Netflix has also taken the unusual step of announcing the run times for the two July episodes, and the first is an hour and 25 minutes, while the second is two and a half hours long. Without doing an exhaustive search, that appears like it will be the longest episode in American TV history — a half hour longer than the M*A*S*H finale that 105.9 million people watched, 45 minutes longer than the Lost finale, more than twice as long as the longest episode of The Sopranos. It is also between 30-60 minutes longer than pretty much every movie that has influenced the Duffers, and those movies did not arrive with 10 and a half hours of preceding material that year…

The Duffers are smart writers and directors. They know that all the films that inspired the show tend to be lean and mean. So why the increasing bloat? They definitely wouldn’t be the first showrunners to get self-indulgent in their hit series’ later seasons. (Game of Thrones also waves hello.) And as the creators of one of the streaming era’s biggest hits, there’s probably very little little in the way of “no” from their bosses at Netflix — and there could, in fact, be some encouragement. With a show where Netflix knows for sure that most viewers will watch in its entirety, the longer the episodes, the more the “minutes spent watching” metric rises, and the happier the great and powerful Netflix algorithm feels. In this perilous moment, Netflix needs all the good data it can get

Or maybe it’s something much less nefarious than that. Maybe the Duffers just fell too in love with all these people they created, and/or the actors playing them, and couldn’t let any of them go, even in situations where they no longer had a take on the character (Mike, Will) or where the story might hit harder without them (i.e., Hopper’s sacrifice under the mall being real). And because they couldn’t say goodbye to any of them, Stranger Things as a whole just kept getting bigger and bigger, growing beyond their control in the same way that Eleven and some of Dr. Brenner’s other subjects once did.

2) Some good social science on partisanship and Covid:

Does local partisan context influence the adoption of prosocial behavior? Using a nationwide survey of 60,000 adults and geographic data on over 180 million registered voters, we investigate whether neighborhood partisan composition affects a publicly observable and politicized behavior: wearing a mask. We find that Republicans are less likely to wear masks in public as the share of Republicans in their zip codes increases. Democratic mask wearing, however, is unaffected by local partisan context. Consequently, the partisan gap in mask wearing is largest in Republican neighborhoods, and less apparent in Democratic areas. These effects are distinct from other contextual effects such as variations in neighborhood race, income, or education. In contrast, partisan context has significantly reduced influence on unobservable public health recommendations like COVID-19 vaccination and no influence on nonpoliticized behaviors like flu vaccination, suggesting that differences in mask wearing reflect the publicly observable and politicized nature of the behavior instead of underlying differences in dispositions toward medical care.

3) This article on “American Gentry” is really good:

The reality of American wealth and power is more banal. The conspicuously consuming celebrities and jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of the local hierarchies that govern daily life for tens of millions of people. Donald Trump grasped this group’s existence and its importance, acting, as he often does, on unthinking but effective instinct. When he crowed about his “beautiful boaters,” lauding the flotillas of supporters trailing MAGA flags from their watercraft in his honor, or addressed his devoted followers among a rioting January 6 crowd that included people who had flown to the event on private jets, he knew what he was doing. Trump was courting the support of the American gentry, the salt-of-the-earth millionaires who see themselves as local leaders in business and politics, the unappreciated backbone of a once-great nation…

These elites’ wealth derives not from their salary—this is what separates them from even extremely prosperous members of the professional-managerial class, such as doctors and lawyers—but from their ownership of assets. Those assets vary depending on where in the country we’re talking about; they could be a bunch of McDonald’s franchises in Jackson, Mississippi; a beef-processing plant in Lubbock, Texas; a construction company in Billings, Montana; commercial properties in Portland, Maine; or a car dealership in western North Carolina. Even the less prosperous parts of the United States generate enough surplus to produce a class of wealthy people. Depending on the political culture and institutions of a locality or region, this elite class might wield more or less political power. In some places, it has an effective stranglehold over what gets done; in others, it’s important but not all-powerful.

4) Ed Kilgore, “Will the ‘School-Shooting Generation’ Change Politics?”

There are multiple indicators that younger millennials and members of Generation Z, who have grown up experiencing regular trauma from mass shootings, especially in schools, could make gun violence a bigger issue in the political discourse. A Harvard Institute of Politics survey in 2018 found that 70 percent of likely voters under 30 that year believed gun laws should be stricter, up from the 49 percent who favored that view in 2013 soon after the Sandy Hook massacre. As one young activist wrote in Seattle University’s student paper last year, fear and anger over school shootings has shaped an entire cohort of new and future voters:

I was never alive to see a time before active shooter drills were set in place. We were trained to hide from a gun before we even knew what the object was. My generation was exposed to the idea of death so early on because we needed to understand the true harm of a gun for our own safety. We had to learn quickly that at any moment someone could walk into our school, a place we were told was our “safe space” from home, and hurt any one of us because it was that easy for someone to get a gun. 

At a time when Democrats desperately need young voters to turn out in midterm elections, where the electorate typically skews old and white, this generation’s intense feelings on gun violence could make it a more salient campaign issue…

There was a time in living memory when progress on federal civil-rights legislation seemed as hopeless as a congressional gun-safety measure seems today. A historic breakthrough occurred with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which formally ended de jure segregation. But southern states resisted its implementation, and just as importantly, racist politicians protected themselves by refusing to extend voting rights to Black citizens. It appeared another long slog of activism would be necessary to produce federal voting-rights legislation … until suddenly public opinion was aroused by television coverage of peaceful voting-rights protesters being brutalized by armed police officers in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. Just eight days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a joint session of Congress to hear his call for voting-rights legislation. By May, the Senate filibuster was broken, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 soon followed.

It’s unlikely that the nightmare images from Uvalde will generate a similar galvanization of public opinion, much less dislodge congressional obstruction of measures against gun violence. It’s possible, however, that beneath the surface, an accumulation of nightmare images from schools and shopping malls and college campuses and movie theaters and churches will together produce a “Selma moment” — a paradigm shift in which the impossible suddenly becomes possible. But political leadership as well as public support will be necessary.

5) First-hand account of a surviving student from Uvalde (free link).  It is just unbelievable how the police waited so long to help these kids. 

6) It really is nuts that the US still requires a negative Covid test to enter.  As if there’s not tons of Covid here already.  Here’s how various travelers are getting around it. 

7) Really enjoyed this Alex Tabarrok review of a new book on parenting:

Nate Hilger’s has written a brave book. Almost everyone will find something to hate about The Parent Trap. Indeed, I hated parts of it. Yet Hilger is willing to say truths that are often not said and for that I would rather applaud than cancel.

Hilger argues that the problems of poverty, pathology and inequality that bedevil the United States are not primarily due to poor schools, discrimination, or low incomes per se. The primary cause is parents: parents who are unable to teach their children the skills that are necessary to succeed in the modern world. Since parents can’t teach the necessary skills, Hilger calls for the state to take their place with a dramatic expansion of not just child care but collective parenting…

Schools, Hilger writes are “actually the smallest and most equalizing part of a much larger skill-building system.” The real problem, says Hilger, are parents.

But what about discrimination? When it comes to wage discrimination, Hilger is brutally honest:

If we compare individuals with similar cognitive test scores, Black college graduates earn higher wages than white college graduates. Studies that don’t control for test score differences but examine earnings gaps within specific professions—lawyers, physicians, nurses, engineers, scientists—tend to find Black workers earn zero to 10 percent less than white workers. These gaps could reflect discrimination, unmeasured skill differences, or other factors such as geography. In any case, such gaps are small compared to the 50 percent overall Black-white earnings gap and reinforce the idea that closing skills gaps would go a long way toward closing income gaps.

Hilger argues that racism does play an important role in explaining Black-white wage differentials but it’s the historical racism that made black parents less skilled and less able to pass on skills to their children. In the twentieth century, Asians, Hilger argues, were discriminated against in the United States at least much as Black Americans. But the Asians that came to the United States had high skills while the legacy of slavery meant that Black Americans began with low skills. Asians, therefore, were better able to overcome discrimination. The success of Nigerians and Jamaican immigrants in the United States also speaks to this point.  (Long time readers may recall that in 2016 I dubbed Hilger’s paper on Asian Americans and Black Americans the Politically Incorrect Paper of the Year .)

Parental investment is surely important but Hilger overstates his case. He writes as if poorer parents have neither the abilities nor the time to teach their children while richer, better educated parents simply invest lots of hours and money imbuing their children with skills:

…the enormous variation in parents’ own academic skills has big implications for kids because we also demand that parents try to be tutors. During normal times, parents in America spend an average of six hours per week helping—or trying to help—their kids with school work. Six hours per week is more than K12 math and English teachers get with children…good tutoring by parents for six hours a week, every week, year after year of childhood could raise children’s future earnings by as much as $300,000.

The data on the effectiveness of SAT test-prep suggests that these efforts are not nearly so effective as Hilger argues. The parental investment story also doesn’t fit my experience. I didn’t spend six hours a week helping my kids with their homework. I doubt most parents do. I simply assumed my kids would do their work. I do recall that we signed my kids up for tutoring at Kumon, the Japanese math education center. My kids would complain bitterly when we took them for drill on the weekend. It was mostly filling out rote forms and my kids would hide or bury their drill sheets so we were always behind. Driving my kids to the Kumon center, monitoring them. and forcing them to do the work when they rebelled like longshoreman on work-to-rule was time consuming and it was ruining our weekends. I felt guilty, but after a while, my wife and I gave up. Today one of my sons is a civil engineer and the other is a math and economics major at UVA.

Hilger has an answer to this line of objection, or at least he says he does, but to my mind it’s a very odd answer. He argues, relying heavily on Sacerdote, that adoption studies show that more skilled parents result in more skilled kids. I find that answer odd because my reading of Sacerdote is that the effect of parents are small after you control for genetics—this is, as Hilger acknowledges, the conventional wisdom among psychologists. (See Caplan for an excellent review of the literature). It is true that Sacerdote plays up the effect of parents, but it looks small to me. Here is the effect of the adopted mother’s maternal education on the child’s education.

As you can see there is an effect but it is almost all from the mother going from having less than a high school education to graduating high school (11 to 12 years). In contrast, the mother can move from graduating high school to having a PhD and there is very little change in the education level of an adoptee. Note, however, that the effect on non-adoptees, i.e. biological children, is much larger throughout the entire range which suggests the influence of nature not nurture.

8) Kristoff on how to reduce shootings (free link for this one). 

9) One thing I really love about Noah Smith is that I see a post with a title like “Ideas to boost Japanese growth” and think “why would I want to read that?” But, since it’s Smith, I end up really enjoying it and learning a ton. 

The woes of the Japanese workplace are by now well-known. Workers spend long hours sitting around in open-plan offices trying to look busy for the boss, waiting for the boss to go home. Young workers are paid near-poverty wages even at good companies, with raises dependent entirely on seniority rather than performance or value-added. Promotions are also seniority-based, meaning management is stuffed with old guys who don’t understand the benefits of new technologies, new markets, and new business models. This model also stifles the contributions of women, immigrants, etc. And by preventing employees from moving from company to company, it keeps ideas and knowledge from flowing and recombining.

9) Yes, I will go on record as saying its nuts that Northern Arizona University now expects its undergrads to take four “diversity perspectives” courses.  And, yeah, I do have doubts on the intellectual rigor on some of them.

At Northern Arizona University, a course titled Intersectional Movements of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality promises to analyze “how intersectionality, and the matrix of inequality, have shaped the production of knowledge” and to provide “a critical lens through which intersectional epistemologies can be foregrounded.” Another, Introduction to Queer Studies, covers “queer theory and activism,” the “social and historical construction of gender and sexuality,” and the “role of allies and social change.” Trans Existence and Resilience, meantime, promises to “examine trans epistemologies as well as critiques of Eurocentric models of thinking about genders that explain peoples’ existence within Western frameworks and ontologies.”

Each of these courses counts toward one of NAU’s two “diversity requirements,” which students must satisfy to complete their degrees. Now, NAU plans to take the requirements even further, mandating that students take four of such courses—a policy that the university’s own diversity-curriculum committee describes as “unprecedented.”

10) Honestly, the reality of this Monkeypox spread is just some really bad luck when it comes to the behavior of some individuals who had been recently infected, “Expert: Monkeypox likely spread by sex at 2 raves in Europe”

11) Good stuff (free post) from Yglesias on energy costs:

Expensive energy is really bad

High gasoline prices are obviously a good talking point for Republicans.

But over and above being a talking point, expensive energy is a genuinely very grave problem that serious policymakers should be trying to address on the merits, not just for which they are seeking political solutions.

Why is it bad? While energy consumption scales with income to some extent, it’s not like millionaires drive three times as much as the median American. People sometimes say that inflation is regressive, which I think is probably not true, but expensive gasoline is absolutely regressive, which means the direct consequences for human welfare are pretty dire. Beyond that, though, people treat their gas and utility expenses as quasi-fixed because altering them is hard. In other words, they respond to expensive energy by economizing on things that aren’t energy: by canceling a Netflix subscription, by skipping date night to avoid babysitting expenses, by making do rather than replacing a broken microwave. Indeed, fresh research suggests that a $1 increase in gas prices generates essentially a $1 reduction in non-gas spending in the short term.

The upshot is that even someone like me, whose gasoline expenses are very low and whose home electricity expenses are essentially zero,3 ends up suffering some economic hardship because it’s more difficult to sell newsletter subscriptions when everyone is watching gas costs drain their bank account.

What makes things really punishing, though, is that it’s not only households that have quasi-fixed energy costs — so do businesses.

So imagine you own a dive bar. You’re annoyed personally about how much more you’re paying for gas, but you figure it doesn’t have much to do with the bar business. Except your customers are a bit more frugal with their drinking since their wallets are lighter due to the higher energy costs. Not by a huge amount, but they are buying cheaper drinks and fewer of them. They’re also tipping less generously, which is annoying your staff. You also realize that the cost of air conditioning the bar in the summer is going up. Your revenues are heading down while your expenses are heading up, so at a certain point, it makes financial sense to curtail your hours because the slowest times in the week no longer pencil out.

And that’s a fairly trivial example. Someone whose business involves using a lot of gasoline — like the guys who deliver the beer to the bar — really needs to raise prices because their costs are exploding. Since this is happening at the same time that people are drinking less beer, it’s really bad for business to increase prices, but you’d be losing money driving the truck if you don’t.

Stag whether or not you get “-flation”

Translating into economics-ese, from the standpoint of people running non-energy businesses, high energy prices are a negative supply shock.

If you open up an economics textbook, you’ll find a simplified chart like this showing that when an industry faces a negative supply shock, they sell less stuff and they sell it at higher prices.

High energy prices are a negative supply shock to almost every business you can think of. For some businesses, like smelting aluminum, it’s an incredibly bad negative shock; for others, it’s pretty mild. But while the economy can adjust from a supply shock to one sector, a supply shock hitting almost every sector simultaneously creates a really bad problem.

12) This is one way to get back at your neighbors:

Myrna Campbell, who lives in the neighborhood across from the sign said she doesn’t believe the proposed strip club is real.

“It’s just his way of striking back at the neighbor who questioned what his intent was for the property,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who serves as secretary of the Hunt Estates Homeowner’s Association called the sign an act of retaliation after neighbors brought up an issue of Smith storing cars on the lot.

“Our main concern is that regulations be followed, and it be done properly if he is going to use that as a place to store inoperable vehicles,” Campbell said. “It’s just unfortunate that he has chosen to behave in this manner because all that was done initially was when one of the homeowners saw the junk cars on the lot, all she did was call and ask what his intent was with the property and he got angry about that and this is his retribution, I guess.”

According to Campbell, she has written to the Haywood County manager citing concerns.

Hoochie Hut or not, Smith said he does plan to add privacy fencing around his property.

A business registration search for ‘Hoochie Hut’ on North Carolina’s Secretary of State website came up with zero results.

13) Imagine paying over $500 for tickets to see Paul McCartney and then missing the show after sitting in traffic for four hours because the city/venue did not actually have the infrastructure to deal with the show. 

14) This is a fascinating campus controversy (free link).  Princeton clearly went after this professor because he had attacked their embrace of DEI orthodoxy.  That’s not okay!  Also, not okay is his infraction.  Sex with an undergraduate over a decade ago.  Sorry, I don’t care how long ago or how consensual.  Not okay.  

15) So, whatever happened to fluvoxamine as a Covid treatment? FDA says no. “Why the FDA rejected fluvoxamine as a Covid-19 drug: The FDA made a reasonable decision — but one that still shows much of what’s wrong with our current system for emergency approvals.”

Last year, researchers who were testing cheap generic drugs in the hope that one or more of them might prove to work as a Covid-19 treatment stumbled across a promising candidate: the antidepressant fluvoxamine.

In a massive randomized controlled trial, called Together, researchers at McMaster University compared eight different repurposeddrugs, and foundmost of them — including ivermectin, the antiparasitic that many embraced as a Covid-19 miracle cure — failed to do much against the disease. But fluvoxamine appeared to reduce severe disease by about 30 percent. While fluvoxamine had already shown some promisein small-scale trials last year, small-scale trials can sometimes turn up spurious good results, so most people didn’t take fluvoxamine seriously until the impressive data from the Together trial.

“This already feels different from hydroxychloroquine and company given the high quality of the research,” Paul Sax argued in NEJM Journal Watch, which analyzes recent research. “We might finally be onto something.” Government regulators, though, remained more skeptical — in part because the regulatory system isn’t exactly designed for adding new indications for drugs that have already been approved by the FDA without a pharmaceutical company sponsoring them.

Another researcher who was convinced of the case for fluvoxamine, David Boulware, decided to take matters into his own hands. The FDA didn’t know how to deal with submissions for a drug to be approved for a new indication without someone responsible for the submission? Fine. He’d submit it himself. In December, he wrote and submitted an emergency use application for fluvoxamine as a treatment for Covid-19.

In a lot of ways, it was a heartwarming story about the power of citizen science. But that’s not how it turned out.

This week, the FDA rejected the application for an emergency use authorization of fluvoxamine. Regulators argued that the results from the Together trial were more ambiguous than they looked — most of the benefits came from a reduction in extended observation in the emergency room, an endpoint fairly specific to the study’s clinical setting in Brazil and not necessarily all that useful. They pointed out that since the Together trial, additional studies have attempted to find a record of fluvoxamine’s benefits, and mostly haven’t found results as large.

16) The circus is coming back without the animals acts.  Hooray!  I’ve always loved the amazing things humans do (give me five motorcycle riders in a 20-foot sphere!) so much more.

17) I just came across this SNL skit and damn do I love it.

18) Paul Waldman, “Gun sales have exploded. Funny, that didn’t make us all safer.”

19) This is wild! Watch a Giant Stingray’s Safe Return to Its River Home. (I’ve got a lot of free NYT articles still to go this month, so here you go for this one, too). 

20) So damn true from Jay Caspian Kang, “Touch Screens in Cars Solve a Problem We Didn’t Have”  Buttons, damnit, buttons!

Today I want to talk about the oversize touch screen in my Subaru Outback. All my car’s important functions, which once were controlled by perfectly serviceable buttons, have now been relegated to a matrix of little boxes on a glowing screen. And, of course, the screen does not even really comply with my commands. Instead, it randomly changes its brightness and then disconnects my phone at the exact moment I need to look at the navigation map.

To do something as simple as change the direction of the air-conditioning from blasting in my face to blasting at my feet or to listen to a podcast, I need to hunt for a tiny, sensitive square, wait for a second screen to load and then find the appropriate icon on that new screen. This generally takes me about 10 seconds of inattention to the road because, despite having owned this car for two years, I have zero intuitive sense of where these small shapes and pictures are.

This presents me with a decision, one that must be made while driving: I can jab blindly at the screen while swerving on the road; I can try to make Siri play the podcast or adjust the air, an option that has not once worked; or I can drive in silence with the air-conditioning blasting in my face. I almost always choose the option of least resistance, which means that I am essentially driving a car with no adjustable climate control and no radio.

The question of whether touch screens are good or bad was broached way back in 1986, when Buick put something called the Graphic Control Center in its Riviera line. What’s particularly striking about the Graphic Control Center, a nine-inch touch screen in the center of the dashboard, was that it wasn’t all that functionally different from today’s versions.

You could turn the fan up and down, you could set your car’s temperature, and you could change the radio station. There was a five-band sound equalizer that you could use to turn up the bass in your speakers. (The funniest, and perhaps most useful, feature was the Reminder function, which was like a to-do list for the driver. Here’s a video showing all the functions.)

But by 1990, Buick had abandoned the Graphic Control Center after drivers complained that every small adjustment to the car’s temperature or radio caused them to take their eyes off the road while they prodded a touch screen.

Thirty-two years later, touch screens are not only back but mostly standard. The complaints are the same: The screens are equally useless and enraging. Distracted, frustrated drivers, of course, are dangers to themselves and everyone else on the road.

The only difference now is that the evidence of the effects that glowing screens have on automotive safety is overwhelming.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Yglesias (free post) on effective altruism and consequentialism.  I didn’t know the term consequentialist before this, but I’m pretty sure I am one:

The most important part of all of this, the part that ties back into my more mainstream political commentary, is the importance of trying to do detached critical thinking about the consequences of our actions.

Max Weber, this blog’s namesake, talked about the “ethic of responsibility” as an important part of politics. You can’t just congratulate yourself on having taken a righteous stand — you need to take a stand that generates a righteous outcome. That means a position on abortion rights that wins elections and stops people from enacting draconian bans. It means crafting a politically sustainable approach to increasing immigration rather than just foot-dragging on enforcement. It means taking Black lives matter seriously in the 2020-present murder surge. And, yes, it means trying to drag our Covid-19 politics out of the domain of culture wars and into the world of pandemic prevention.

2) Relatedly, very much enjoyed a Sean Illing conversation with Cornell West on pragmatism.  Hell yeah am I a pragmatist.  Not clear, though, if I’m a consequential pragmatist or a pragmatic consequentialist

3) Noah Smith on Japanese productivity:

Even for those who manage to land a middle-class job, the lifestyle is often soul-crushing. Japan’s famous culture of overwork rewards employees who put in long hours at the office instead of those who accomplish tasks quickly and efficiently. This is mostly a result of the country’s notoriously low white-collar productivity rates —workers are working overtime to make up for broken corporate cultures. But it’s also likely that there’s a feedback loop involved; excessively long hours have been shown to make workers tired and ineffective.

4) Yglesias on conservatives in marriage.  I think he’s quite right:

Children who grow up in a home with one parent rather than two fare materially worse on almost every metric, which gives rise to the question of what the government could or should do about it.

Occasionally conservatives will assert — as Brad Wilcox and Chris Bullivant did in a recent USA Today piece — that this topic “cannot be uttered in our national conversation” and is “verboten” in elite circles. I don’t agree with that; I think progressives are simply skeptical that conservatives have any real ideas for promoting stable families and feel that the right typically brings this up to prevent the adoption of proven anti-poverty policies, like a child allowance

Discussions about the impact of family structure on life outcomes are tricky in the United States because most white kids grow up living with two biological parents and most Black kids do not.

This leaves almost everyone disinclined to discuss the issue. One camp doesn’t like to talk about family structure as a source of disadvantage because they believe it detracts from the idea that any racial gap in life outcomes shows the need to fight racism. And another camp consists of racists who don’t like to talk about family structure as a source of disadvantage because they believe it detracts from the idea that Black people are inferior…

Is this a causal relationship?

There are two basic problems with attempting causal inference about family structure.

One is that since married parents in America are richer, better educated, and more likely to be white, it’s not particularly surprising that their kids are better off. You could pick any attribute that is statistically associated with rich, well-educated white people and find that people like that have kids who end up with better life outcomes.

The second and larger problem is unobserved variables. You can apply statistical controls to obvious demographic characteristics, but even if you limit yourself to white, college-educated, 41-year-old dads, it’s probably the case that there are some differences on average between the WCE41YODs who are married to their children’s mother and those who are not. And it could be that those underlying personal differences are driving the differences in outcomes…

I think this research essentially confirms what common sense would tell you, which is that a second parent usually brings a lot to the table. Some of that is money. But some of it is that parenting, while delightful, is also difficult work, and kids benefit from parents’ ability to tag-team. The second adult generally also brings connections to a whole larger universe of adults whose acquaintance with the kid can be useful. The level of involvement of the second parent exists on a spectrum, but in practice, given the actual social conditions of the United States, dads are more involved with kids when they are married to their children’s mother and that brings benefits…

What can we actually do here?

The most obvious pro-marriage move would be to remove marriage penalties in the welfare state.

A lot of programs are means-tested in an effort to maximize the alleviation of material suffering while minimizing expense. But because marriage itself alleviates material suffering, programs are often structured such that a mom with two kids who earns $20,000 per year gets less help than a mom and a dad with two kids and combined earnings of $40,000 per year. There is a certain logic to that, but it discourages people from getting married. The most straightforward solution is to consolidate and simplify these social assistance programs while also making them more generous overall. Universal benefits do not create marriage penalties.

But conservatives dislike spending money in general and specifically dislike spending money on programs that benefit people who don’t or can’t work.

5) McWhorter:

In the late 1980s, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the term “African American” had more “cultural integrity,” and “Black” was, therefore, out of date. But I’d be hard-pressed to say that the Black community today has a greater measure of cultural integrity or is any prouder than it was then. And though a recent poll showed that a majority of Black Americans see being Black as central to their identity, the younger they are, the less central it is — suggesting less significance, as time goes on, about what we call ourselves.

I think also of Nina Simone’s musicalization of Lorraine Hansberry’s phrase “To be young, gifted and Black.” Watch Simone perform this song in Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary, “Summer of Soul,” with her vocal emphasis, full of conviction, on the word “Black.” Singing “African American” wouldn’t — couldn’t — ring with the same richness. Black America added meaning to and wrested pride out of a word that was supposed to have negative connotations by thinking of ourselves as beautiful and determined. I’m not sure “African American,” just as a term, has furthered that at all: “To be young, gifted and African American”?

Remember, too, the “euphemism treadmill” described by the Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker, who explained in a 1994 Times Opinion essay: “People invent new ‘polite’ words to refer to emotionally laden or distasteful things, but the euphemism becomes tainted by association and the new one that must be found acquires its own negative connotations.” For example, the pathway from “crippled” to “handicapped” to “disabled” to “differently abled.” New words ultimately don’t leave freighted ideas behind; they merely take them on…

Today’s predilection for newspeak neglects all of this. Frankly, I think it is partly because generating new labels offers instant gratification, especially with the internet handy. It’s easier to introduce new terms than to change the way different groups referred to by those terms are really perceived. In that way, never-ending calls to change the way people talk and write is less an advance than a cop-out.

Terminology will, of course, evolve over time for various reasons. But broadly speaking, thought leaders and activists of past eras put their emphasis on what people did and said — not on ever-finer gradations of how they might have said it.

Far better to teach people what you think they should think about something, and why, instead of classifying the way they express themselves about it as a form of disrespect or backwardness. After a while, if you teach well, they won’t be saying what you don’t want them to say. Mind you, you may not be around to see the fruits of the endeavor — a frustrating aspect of change is that it tends to happen slowly. But “Change words!” is no watchcry for a serious progressivism.

6) Fascinating interview about the Russian military:

Does this suggest that Putin has simply blamed the intelligence agencies for the war’s problems? Or is it that he has no option now, other than to turn even more to the military?

That’s the problem. He’s actually out of options. He’s quite limited. He got himself in a big war, and right now the military is finally quite convinced that they are fighting a really big war, not just some limited conflict. So what’s he going to do? He needs to vow to keep going in Ukraine. And he understands that he’s fighting a conventional army, not some group of Nazis. And the military thinking is that in this big war, the Russian Army is on the losing end, because the Ukrainian Army is a completely mobilized army that actually claims it can call on hundreds of thousands more in reserves. The Russian Army is still largely a peacetime army.

At the same time, the Ukrainian Army is given the best weaponry that the West can provide. And this weaponry is tested against the Russians and the Russians are not in position to inflict any damage on nato. They’re suffering heavy losses from the weaponry supplied by nato countries.For many years, the Russian military believed that they had a chance to win a conflict with the West, not because they have better technology—they knew that the West always would have better technology—but because the West, and specifically the United States, would never sustain heavy casualties like the Russian Army can sustain, because, to the leadership, the cost of life is different. But in this war, in Ukraine, all the casualties are not by nato or by the American Army but by the Ukrainian Army. So even this cannot be played by the Russian Army. And that is why they think that they picked up a fight with nato in the wrong place.

Yes, absolutely. But the weaponry supplied by nato

By nato countries, really.

Yes, exactly. So the Russians are taking these losses and they are taking a hit from the Ukrainian Army with the best weaponry in the world, supplied by the West. But we are not in position to inflict any damage back on nato.

7) Alex Yablon on guns and the GOP:

In the recent annals of American political rhetoric, there have been few more consequential statements of ideology than NRA chief Wayne LaPierre’s post–Sandy Hook truism that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The line has gone from crisis PR spin to Republican Party dogma. But while the “good guy with a gun” mantra has the ring of tough guy common sense, the empirical evidence suggests armed cops and civilians do less than nothing to deter mass shooters.

Look no further than Texas Republicans’ responses to this week’s mass shooting in the small town of Uvalde, the deadliest at an elementary school since Sandy Hook. Speaking to Newsmax, Attorney General Ken Paxton, the top law enforcement and public safety officer in the state, said: “We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things. … We can potentially arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly. That, in my opinion, is the best answer.”

In the recent annals of American political rhetoric, there have been few more consequential statements of ideology than NRA chief Wayne LaPierre’s post–Sandy Hook truism that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The line has gone from crisis PR spin to Republican Party dogma. But while the “good guy with a gun” mantra has the ring of tough guy common sense, the empirical evidence suggests armed cops and civilians do less than nothing to deter mass shooters.

Look no further than Texas Republicans’ responses to this week’s mass shooting in the small town of Uvalde, the deadliest at an elementary school since Sandy Hook. Speaking to Newsmax, Attorney General Ken Paxton, the top law enforcement and public safety officer in the state, said: “We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things. … We can potentially arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly. That, in my opinion, is the best answer.”


As Republicans like Abbott and Paxton double down on the same pro-gun proliferation response to every mass shooting, evidence accumulates that weapons are rarely effective means of deterring or stopping mass shootings.

Last year, a group of public health scholars published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association examining 133 school shootings from 1980 to 2019. An armed guard was present in about a quarter of the incidents in the study. Those schools actually suffered death rates nearly three times higher than schools without armed guards. Similarly, a 2020 review of gun policy research by the RAND Corporation think tank found no evidence that the presence of more guns had any effect on gun violence. Criminologists at Texas State University found that unarmed staff or the shooters themselves are far more likely to bring a school shooting to an end than someone with a gun returning fire.

8) deBoer in the Daily Beast on mental illness and mass shootings:

It’s quite correct to place the focus on gun control, as Murphy does, but it’s not entirely accurate to say that the United States is not an outlier in mental illness—we have some of the highest rates in the world in almost any identifiable disorder. More importantly, our relative rates of mental illness can say nothing about whether any individual was so afflicted.

With luck, information will come out about Ramos’s history that will help us understand his mental state. Either way, whether he was mentally disordered or not is a question of fact, and the answer cannot be found through appeal to first principles. I’m afraid that attitude has been consistently rejected in progressive spaces, though, typically expressed with a bromide that I hear more and more often these days—“mental illness can’t do that”—in response to any bad act committed by someone whose sanity might be questioned.

But I’m afraid mental illness can do that…

If progressive mores only dictate respect for those who struggle with their mental health when they are inert and unthreatening, then that “respect” is a farce. I have watched with increasing frustration as the narrative that those who become violent must therefore not be mentally ill has spread among progressives. It’s a cartoonishly childish stance, the most facile and shallow form of moral support, a caricature of liberal regard for the voiceless. It’s the schizophrenic who cannot stop hurting themselves and others who need your support the most.

What the insistence that mass shootings can never be the product of mental illness shows me, more than anything, is the contemporary addiction to moral simplicity. If Ramos did indeed suffer from a psychiatric disorder then that would not in any sense absolve him of responsibility for what he did. But it would complicate the moral dimensions of the act, compel us to consider mitigating circumstances, suggest that he was perhaps deserving of sympathy as well as condemnation. And in 2022, in a society that’s obviously broken and seemingly impervious to positive change, all people feel they can hold on to is their judgment, their searing and perfect moral righteousness—“mental illness doesn’t do that.”\

9) OMG new totally classic Onion, “The Pros And Cons Of Letting Children Die”

America is currently wrestling with the difficult and controversial question of whether it’s worth it to make an effort to keep children alive, not to mention safe, educated, or healthy. The Onion looks at the pros and cons of just letting children die.

10) And some more great gun satire:

11) And, while I’m at it with good tweets

12) 1,000,000 time this!

13) Arthur Brooks on mindfulness:

If mindfulness is so great, then, why aren’t all of us practicing it every day? Why are we still spending our time romanticizing or regretting the past and anticipating the future? I think the answer is that mindfulness is not very natural, and actually quite hard. Many psychologists believe that as a species, humans are not evolved to enjoy the here and now. Rather, we are wired to time-travel mentally, mostly into the future, to consider new scenarios and try out new ideas. The social psychologist Martin Seligman goes so far as to call our species Homo prospectus.

But avoiding mindfulness can also be an effective way to distract yourself from pain. In 2009, four researchers writing in the journal Emotion showed that people’s minds are significantly more likely to wander when they’re in a negative mood than when they’re in a positive mood. Some sources of unhappiness that lead to distraction and mind-wandering are: fearanxiety, neuroticism, and of course, boredom. Having a negative self-perception—feeling ashamed of oneself, for example—is also likely to lead to distraction from the here and now. Scholars writing in Europe’s Journal of Psychology showed in 2019 that people who suffered from a lot of shame tended to mind-wander considerably more than those who did not.

Neuroscience gives us clues as to why we escape to the future or past. A good deal of evidence shows that mind-wandering decreases activity in the brain regions that involve the processing of physical pain. Researchers have long known that social pain is processed by many of the same regions as physical pain; it stands to reason, then, that avoiding mindfulness is a self-defense strategy for those suffering mentally…

If you have struggled with mindfulness, two underlying problems might be to blame: You don’t know how to be at home in your head, or you do know and have concluded that home is no fun. If the former is what’s stopping you, then by all means, dig into the extensive and growing technology and literature on mindfulness. You might try formal meditation or simply paying attention more to your current surroundings.

But if your problem is the latter, you need to face the source head-on. Avoiding yourself won’t work in the long run; in fact, a lot of research shows that mind-wandering to avoid emotions makes things worse, not better. In a 2010 article in Science, the psychologist Matthew A. Killingsworth and my colleague Daniel T. Gilbert found that mind-wandering to positive topics didn’t improve mood, while wandering to neutral and negative topics made people unhappier.

14) Tim Miller on gun culture (from 2021 and on-point as ever):

As I understand it, there was a time when gun ownership and gun safety were paired with a pride in the craft. Maybe that was only in the movies and lost cause propaganda; I don’t know. But it is a concept I can appreciate. I recognize the sincerity of those who speak with a “do you want to have a catch” wistfulness when discussing shooting with their parents or grandparents.

But all of this is within the context of seeing guns as a right of passage, a privilege, and at times a necessary danger. That’s a frame that makes sense to me. 

Another way of putting it is, to borrow a phrase, that guns should be safe, legal, and rare.

But these days American “gun culture”—or put more precisely, the kinkification of deadly hand-penises—has spiraled out of control. From kids in our cities who are getting killed pretending to be hardcore, to the “hunters” collecting hand cannons, to the lonely boys importing their first-person-shooter video games to real life, to a member of Congress using a rifle cross for her backdrop like she’s fucking American ISIS.

It’s way, way too much.

Mass shootings, suicides, urban bloodshed, police violence—they all lead back to this fundamental issue. 

I’m sure that everyone reading this is familiar with the recent mass shootings at the massage parlors in Atlanta and at King Soopers in Colorado. These have shocked our consciences, again. 

But did you know that since those shootings, eight people were killed at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis? A former NFL player killed four people in South Carolina? Two brothers killed four family members and themselves in Texas? A gunman killed four people—including a 9-year-old boy—at a real estate office in California? A guy killed his parents, two others, and himself at a convenience store in Maryland? A man was shot to death at a “shot house”? Another in a drive-by shooting at a strip mall? Another in a drive-by at their home? Another during a domestic argument? A 19-year-old was shot and killed trying to break up a different domestic argument; another shot and killed on the sidewalk; another shot and killed in his car?

And those last seven all happened in a single small city—Birmingham, Alabama (population 210,000)—in the last 10 days.

How is this an acceptable state of affairs? 

Gun absolutism is one of the few dogmas still in place in conservatism. There are conservative politicians and pundits and voters who feel the way I do. I’ve met them. These are people who respect gun rights and individual freedoms but are deeply alarmed and horrified by the amount of carnage in our country and believe we need to rebalance the equation. 

But saying that out loud is akin to self-deporting from the conservative movement. 

This language is policed aggressively by the NRA, Dana Loesch, conservative politicians, and media personalities who immediately shoot down (intended) even minor restrictions or reasonable reforms that are proposed. 

Every proposal to try to rationalize gun laws fails one of the (many) litmus tests that have been set up by the gun fetishists. 

Want background checks at gun shows?

Well it’s ackshually only small-time unlicensed gun proprietors who don’t already do background checks

Let’s make them have background checks, too, then?

Okay, but what about inheritances, gifts, and the temporary borrowing of guns among family and friends

Fine. Let’s limit magazine capacities then?

There are so few shootings where limiting magazine capacities would make a difference. And frankly, most of the gun deaths in this country are suicides. 

But maybe we could at least curb some of the big mass shootings. Wouldn’t that in itself be good?

Most of these shooters aren’t following the law when they acquire their weapon anyway, and making them reload one more time isn’t going to make a material difference on the lives lost. 

Well let’s go back to the assault rifle ban then?

Can you even define an assault rifle? It’s a meaningless term. Do you know the difference between a suppressor and a silencer? I bet you don’t know AR stands for ARMALITE, dingus. 

Mass shooters do seem to like AR-15s though, no?

Millions of law-abiding varmint hunters use them too. And you never know when the gangs might hunt me down in my manse and I’ll need it for safety. 

In other words: Any proposed reform is useless unless it solves every problem. Any proposed reform that solves every problem can’t work. Any proposed reform that can work is an abridgment of God-given liberty. And anyone who can’t field strip a pistol with their eyes closed like Gene isn’t allowed to have an opinion.

And here’s the thing: It’s true that any one individual reform isn’t going to make a big dent in the problem—because the problem is:

  • We have way too many fucking guns in this country and too many people treat them like they’re cool toys.

  • Humans are fallible creatures who when given easy access to cool deadly weapons at scale will use them to kill themselves and others. 

That’s the problem. 

But saying this out loud on the right is verboten and politically toxic.

15) Pandemic learning loss:

I am part of a team from the American Institutes for Research, Dartmouth College, Harvard, and the educational-assessment nonprofit NWEA that has been investigating the impact of remote and hybrid instruction on student learning during the 2020–21 academic year. We have assembled testing results from 2.1 million elementary- and middle-school students in 10,000 schools in 49 states and Washington, D.C., and combined those with data on the number of weeks schools were in-person, remote, or hybrid during 2020–21. Our team compared student-achievement growth in the period before the pandemic, from fall 2017 to fall 2019, with the period from fall 2019 to fall 2021. For years, districts have regularly been using NWEA tests to measure how students’ performance in reading and math changes during a school year; in a typical week of in-person instruction before the pandemic, the average student improved 0.3 points in math (on the NWEA’s scale) and 0.2 points in reading.

During the spring semester of 2020, though, nearly all schools went remote. Distractions, technical glitches, and the many other pitfalls of online education made it far less effective than in-person school.

One-fifth of American students, by our calculations, were enrolled in districts that remained remote for the majority of the 2020–21 school year. For these students, the effects were severe. Growth in student achievement slowed to the point that, even in low-poverty schools, students in fall 2021 had fallen well behind what pre-pandemic patterns would have predicted; in effect, students at low-poverty schools that stayed remote had lost the equivalent of 13 weeks of in-person instruction. At high-poverty schools that stayed remote, students lost the equivalent of 22 weeks. Racial gaps widened too: In the districts that stayed remote for most of last year, the outcome was as if Black and Hispanic students had lost four to five more weeks of instruction than white students had.

By our calculations, about 50 percent of students nationally returned in person in the fall and spent less than a month remote during the 2020–21 school year. In these districts where classrooms reopened relatively quickly, student-achievement gaps by race and socioeconomic status widened a bit in reading but, fortunately, not in math. And overall student achievement fell only modestly. The average student in the quicker-to-reopen districts lost the equivalent of about seven to 10 weeks of in-person instruction. (That losing just a quarter of a typical school year’s academic progress is a relatively good outcome only underscores the dimension of the overall problem.)

What happened in spring 2020 was like flipping off a switch on a vital piece of our social infrastructure. Where schools stayed closed longer, gaps widened; where schools reopened sooner, they didn’t. Schools truly are, as Horace Mann famously argued, the “balance wheel of the social machinery.”

16) Evolution in action… cockroach style, “Cockroach Reproduction Has Taken a Strange Turn: In response to pesticides, many cockroach females have lost their taste for sweet stuff, which changes how they make the next generation of insects.”

When a male cockroach wants to mate with a female cockroach very much, he will scoot his butt toward her, open his wings and offer her a homemade meal — sugars and fats squished out of his tergal gland. As the lovely lady nibbles, the male locks onto her with one penis while another penis delivers a sperm package.

If everything goes smoothly, a roach’s romp can last around 90 minutes. But increasingly, cockroach coitus is going really, weirdly wrong, and is contributing to roach populations in some places that are more difficult to vanquish with conventional pesticides.

Back in 1993, scientists working at North Carolina State University discovered a trait in the German cockroach, a species that inhabits every continent except Antarctica. Specifically, these new cockroaches seemed to have no affection for a form of sugar called glucose, which was strange because — as anyone who has ever battled against a cockroach infestation knows — cockroaches normally cannot get enough of the sweet stuff.

So, where did these new, health-conscious cockroaches come from?

It seems we created them by accident, after decades of trying to kill their ancestors with sweet powders and liquids laced with poison. The cockroaches that craved sweets ate the poison and died, while cockroaches less keen on glucose avoided the death traps and survived long enough to breed, thus passing that trait down to the next cockroach generation.

“When we think of evolution, we usually imagine wild animals, but actually, it’s also happening with small animals living in our kitchens,” said Ayako Wada-Katsumata, an entomologist at North Carolina State University.

17) Krugman, “The G.O.P. War on Civil Virtue”

But if you ask me, the worst and also most chilling response came from Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas. What we need to do, declared Patrick, is “harden these targets so no one can get in, ever, except maybe through one entrance.”

That restriction would have interesting consequences in the event of a fire. But in any case, think about Patrick’s language: In a nation that’s supposedly at peace, we should treat schools as “targets” that need to be “hardened.” What would that do to public education, which has for many generations been one of the defining experiences of growing up in America? Don’t worry, says a writer for The Federalist: Families can keep their kids safe by resorting to home-schooling.

Actually, if you take the proposals by Cruz, Patrick and others literally, they amount to a call for turning the land of the free into a giant armed camp. There are around 130,000 K-12 schools in America; there are close to 40,000 supermarkets; there are many other venues that might offer prey for mass killers. So protecting all these public spaces Republican-style would require creating a heavily armed, effectively military domestic defense force — heavily armed because it would face attackers with body armor and semiautomatic weapons — that would be at least as big as the Marine Corps.

Why would such a thing be necessary? Mass shootings are very rare outside the United States. Why are they so common here? Not, according to the U.S. right, because we’re a nation where a disturbed 18-year-old can easily buy military-grade weapons and body armor. No, says Patrick, it’s because “We’re a coarse society.”

I know it’s a hopeless effort to say this, but imagine the reaction if a prominent liberal politician were to declare that the reason the United States has a severe social problem that doesn’t exist elsewhere is that Americans are bad people. We’d never hear the end of it. But when a Republican says it, it barely makes a ripple.

And I guess I should say for the record that I personally don’t believe that Americans, as individuals, are worse than anyone else. If anything, what has always struck me when returning from trips abroad is that Americans are (or were) on average exceptionally nice and pleasant to interact with.

What distinguishes us is that it’s so easy for people who aren’t nice to arm themselves to the teeth.

18) Loved Jeff Maurer’s take on stick figures and ideology.  Seriously, give this one a full read:


Now we’re in the era addressed by the original cartoon. And I agree: Something happened. Much has been written about this, including on the left. This panel is my attempt to capture the fact that I think what happened was a bit more complex than simply “the left moved left”.

A new ideology has invaded the left. Nobody quite knows what to call it; a lot of people say “woke”, Wesley Yang calls it the “successor ideology”, I say “religious left” because it reminds me of the religious conservativism I grew up with. In this drawing, I’ve depicted it as a zombie to convey that I think this is something coming from outside; this isn’t “what was there before, only moreso”. This is something foreign — more on that in a bit.

Why did things change when they did? I think it probably starts where the conservative story started: with geographic sorting. Blue parts of the country are bluer than they used to be, and economic stratification has overlapped with economic polarization. Depending on what circles you run in, you can go a long time without encountering someone who thinks differently than you. The world I was recently in — late night political comedy — was far enough left to make your typical Vermont art collective look like a Proud Boys meeting. And, of course, ideologically homogeneous environments lead to groupthink; they’re basically human growth hormone for bad ideas.

I also think the liberal media landscape now more closely resembles what conservatives built. Mainstream outlets have changed due to the exodus of their conservative audience and by the rise of engagement-based business models. MSNBC is neither as popular nor as terrible as Fox News (it would probably be more popular if it was more terrible), but it sucks a lot and is part of the landscape. To my eternal regret, I think that late night political comedy shows played a role in the change. And, of course, there’s Twitter; Twitter is much younger and farther left than the population, and it includes every journalist in America (it’s part of their job now!). Therefore, journalists are far more likely than other people to think that Twitter is real life. We’ve created a clique-y, performative environment that’s ten times worse than the viper pit of high school, and then required the country’s most influential people to spend large amounts of time there.

This is the environment in which a simplistic worldview that sees all things as a zero-sum conflict between oppressor and oppressed has bubbled up. I’m not sure if this view is actually more common than before or just more prominent; it might be that it exists in similar levels as it did in the past, but it gets more attention now. It’s certainly true that Twitter puts you in touch with colossal morons who used to be unable to reach you (what a fantastic service!). At any rate, this view is definitely more influential than it used to be; ideas that used to mostly exist in teach-ins at Antioch College and stage banter from all-female punk bands have gone mainstream.

I think the movement’s focus on race, gender, and other identity issues has made many on the left not quite know how to respond. Ending discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation is so central to liberals’ identity that we’ve become easy marks. Saying “this is anti-racist” to a liberal is like saying “this is anti-fire” to Frankenstein; we’re very likely to buy whatever you’re selling. The appeal to deeply-held values combined with the social penalty for appearing to betray those values has made us slow to call bullshit on spurious charges of racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia. And so, the zombie virus has spread.

Panel 4:

I think the left is very much in turmoil. 2020 seemed to be the high-water mark of the craziness, but things are still dicey. I’m far from ready to say that sanity has won out; after all, there was a moment in 2013 when it looked like Republicans were going to tack towards the center, and we all know how that went.

The main thing I want to communicate with this panel — the things I’ve been feeling most strongly recently — is that this ideology is NOT LIBERAL. Nor is it “progressive” or “left”, according to most definitions. I think that a closer look at this way of thinking reveals it to be completely antithetical to the American liberal/left tradition.

19) Katelyn Jetelina with strategies for reducing gun violence.

20) Meanwhile, the conservative attempts to ignore the gun aspect are just absurdly pathetic, e.g., “We must confront the cultural mess that gave us Uvalde”

21) Turns out, Scott Alexander wrote against the “autism is all good” crowd back in 2015. It’s very good.

Dylan Matthews says that autism “is not a disease”, joining writers from TIMEThe GuardianThe Irish Examinervarious blogs, et cetera. I would hate to contradict such an array of eminent voices.

So let’s taboo whether something is a “disease” or not. Let’s talk about suffering.

Autistic people suffer. They suffer because of their sensory sensitivities. They suffer because of self-injury. They suffer because they’re in institutions that restrain them or abuse them or just don’t let them have mp3 players. Even if none of those things happened at all, they would still suffer because of epilepsy and cerebral palsy and tuberous sclerosis. A worryingly high percent of the autistic people I encounter tend to be screaming, beating their heads against things, attacking nurses, or chewing off their own body parts. Once you’re trying to chew off your own body parts, I feel like the question “But is it really a disease or not?” sort of loses its oomph.

My moral philosophy doesn’t contain a term for “is this a disease or not?”, but it definitely contains a term for suffering. If you’re a good person, you try to alleviate or prevent suffering. Accomodating and supporting autistic people alleviates some amount of the suffering associated with autism. Curing it alleviates all of that suffering.

And remember – society is fixed but biology is mutable. Which do you think is more likely? That soon biologists will discover a molecular cure for autism? Or that soon politicians will discover a cure for the systemic issues that cause poor people who can’t stand up for themselves to be maltreated and abused? The biologists seem to have about a ten million times better track record for this sort of thing. And if you don’t expect the politicians to create a brave new world where no disability ever remains unaccomodated, then stopping the biologists just means that the status quo will go on forever.

Faced with the choice of seeing the flood of human misery that I have to deal with every day continue mostly unabated, or having a pill that provides a quick fix to said flood, I wish with all my heart for the latter. Sure, this should not be pursued at the cost of supplying what accomodations to existing autistic people we can, any more than blue sky cure-for-cancer research should be pursued at the cost of treating current cancer patients, but it’s right and proper to want it, to think it would immensely improve thousands of people’s lives.

22)  This is cool, “Surfing a record 86-foot wave took guts. Measuring it took 18 months.”

Sebastian Steudtner, a 37-year-old surfer from Germany, rode a giant wave in October 2020 in Nazaré, Portugal. After 18 months of detailed analysis, he learned the wave measured 86 feet, making it the largest ever surfed. (Jorge Leal/World Surf League)

23) Well, if you count a mouth as a limb.  Still cool, “”Scientists Found an Animal That Walks on Three Limbs. It’s a Parrot.”

24) Happy 28(!!) years of marriage to my wife and me.

It’s the guns, guns, guns

Two really good pieces to read today.  Tim Miller: “In Uvalde, the Most Enraging Press Conference in American History: We cannot count on flawed cops and school resource officers to protect kids from teenagers with assault rifles.”

hat might very well be the most enraging press conference in American history just ended in Uvalde, Texas.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw revealed that there were 19 officers in the school hallway for about an hour as small children used their deceased teacher’s phone to dial 911 and beg for their lives. He described local police officials preventing border patrol and other federal law enforcement who had arrived on the scene from entering the school and helping these terrorized kids, while their keening parents begged them to act. He acknowledged the school resource officer was not on the scene.

And after admitting this staggering level of incompetence in the face of unimaginable evil—a failure so immense that it will reverberate for generations—McCraw said dismissively, “If I thought it would help, I’d apologize.”

I want to throw my computer through a wall just transcribing these words.

McCraw followed that remark by making a rather revealing point. In defense of the officers on scene he said that there was “​​a barrage—hundreds of rounds were pumped in four minutes into those classrooms.”

Hundreds of rounds. Four minutes. When you cut away all the bullshit, and excuse making, and failure this is the crux of the matter.

In the coming days there will be a desire to obsess only over the unfathomable failures of those who were charged with keeping these kids safe. The poor teacher who left a door ajar. The MIA resource officer. The cops, excuse me—the SWAT Team—that posed on Facebook in tactical gear with weapons of war looking like they were prepared to head to the Donbas, but were apparently unequipped to take on a lone teenager who was slaughtering their town’s children.

But the main thing to take away from all of that is not that their failure can be reversed. It’s that in a nation with 130,000 schools there will always be some kind of human error when responding to an active shooter. God willing those errors won’t be as catastrophic as they were in Uvalde. But there will always be errors…

Can we develop better procedures for dealing with shooters in school? Probably. Schools have been wargaming these scenarios for years already, though. And yes, we can and should provide more funding for schools to help make them safer.

But when a child is able to access two assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of bullets—and are able to massacre a dozen innocents in the blink of an eye—then there is no level of door control or resource officer training that can reliably stop them…

But the important takeaway from Uvalde shouldn’t be that next time we just need perfect cops, and unimpeachable protocols, and more competent “good guys with guns.” Time after time we’ve seen that this isn’t possible in the real world. The military understands that plans rarely survive first-contact with the enemy. The fetishists insisting that “guns don’t kill people, doors do,” do not.

The only way to actually protect these kids is to make it harder for their peers to get the deadly weapons that have allowed so many shooters to evade so many cops and so many safety procedures.

And Paul Waldman, “Our gun laws were built on fantasy and terror”

Those who designed and built America’s horrifying status quo on guns are now begging us to talk about anything else. We must not “politicize” the latest mass shooting, they say, by exploring what made it possible and what policies we might change to make such massacres less likely in the future.

But to imagine something different, we have to understand the ideology that created our current legal regime. It was constructed on a foundation of fantasy and terror, one that elevates imaginary threats and decrees that our response to those threats can only be confronted by each of us alone, never through the institutions we create or the government that represents us.

No, only the isolated, heavily armed, perpetually terrified individual can hope to keep his family safe — so don’t even think about changing the laws, unless it’s to put more guns in more people’s hands.

What kind of fantasies are we talking about? The most important is that the U.S. government — the one designed by those sainted Framers whose genius conservatives praise so often — is always moments away from devolving into totalitarian oppression, and all that keeps it from happening is its fear of an armed populace ready to start killing soldiers and cops.

So after the killings in Uvalde, Tex., a Florida state representative tweeted an explicit threat to kill the president of the United States: “I have news for the embarrassment that claims to be our President — try to take our guns and you’ll learn why the Second Amendment was written in the first place.”

This idea is not unusual at all; gun advocates are forever claiming that their gun rights are the only thing that keeps America from turning into Nazi Germany. Or as Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters puts it in an ad, “Without gun rights, before long, you have no rights.”

Oddly, they never explain why countries such as England, France, Denmark, and every other liberal democracy haven’t devolved into brutal dictatorship despite their relatively unarmed populations.

The next fantasy, the one that guides so many of those deeply immersed in gun culture, is that of an impending assault that can only be met with sufficient firepower. Why do I need all these semiautomatic rifles, weapons designed to kill human beings in war? Because of the home invaders, the terrorists, the gangbangers coming to kill me and my family…

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If that turns out not to be true — as it wasn’t in Buffalo or Uvalde — then the answer must be more and more guns.

The political implication is obvious: It’s not worth even trying to craft any kind of policy solution to gun violence. As Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — allegedly the state’s top law enforcement official — said after the Uvalde massacre, laws are pointless.

“People that are shooting people, that are killing kids, they’re not following murder laws. They’re not going to follow gun laws,” he told Newsmax. Though in fact, the Uvalde shooter did follow gun laws: He waited until his 18th birthday to legally purchase the rifle he used to kill those children.

Or as Fox News’s Sean Hannity put it, anyone who wants gun restrictions should answer this question: “What are you going to do if somebody breaks into your home in the dark of night and wants to bring harm to you and your family?” The nightmare is coming, and no one but you and your gun can stop it.

I know the objection many people will have: “I’m a safe and responsible gun owner. I don’t think I’m going to confront a terrorist strike team at my local supermarket. I have no problem with reasonable gun regulations.” There are millions of people about whom that’s true. But they’re not the ones setting the agenda of the Republican Party, and they’re not the ones whose beliefs have guided our laws.

It’s their fantasy world of horror and fear that gave us the laws we have now. And they’ll do everything they can to keep it that way.

Time to politicize dead children

America has a huge gun violence problem that is simply a major outlier with the whole rest of the world.  Now, most of this violence is not mass shootings, but it is fair to say mass shootings– especially of school kids– have a uniquely negative effect on Americans and our lives.  And that matters.  We can’t solve gun violence and we can’t eliminate mass shootings, but we can sure do a hell of a lot better than we are now.  As many have written, for that to happen, the politics and culture of guns in our country needs to change. We know Republicans don’t want us to “politicize” and “exploit” tragedies like this, but it’s damn past time Democrats do so on a regular basis.  Call me crazy, but Democratic politicians need to talk about murdered school children on a regular basis and what they will do about it.  I assume the median voter will quickly recognizing that turning schools into armed camps or somehow solving this through a single doorway or praying more (seriously) is not the solution.  Can Democratic policies eliminate school shootings?  Of course not.  But, one less mass shooting is a tremendous benefit.  The cost/benefit on all this is just so crazy good when you look at the insanely high costs on individuals and their communities when a mass shooting happens. 

So, I really have no idea if it would help Democrats to get elected by running ads with panicked parents at the scenes of school shootings and saying “here’s what I’m going to do about it.”  “And here’s how much money my Republican opponent took from the NRA.”  [Of course, the NRA money is not actually a key causative factor at all, but people are very, very ready to believe that it is.]  Sure seems like something like this is worth a shot.  Anybody who does this will be accused of politicizing dead children, but, damnit, all those dead children in Ulvalde (and those dead shoppers in Buffalo) are political! 

Greg Sargent advocates for a less emotional appeal, but, likewise argues for Democrats running on this:

By now, the pattern has become distressing in part because of its crushing familiarity. After yet another mass shooting, Democrats call for gun-safety measures. Republicans signal willingness to do something extremely modest or denounce the idea of acting at all. It becomes clear there aren’t enough Senate votes to overcome a GOP filibuster.

Democrats rage at Republicans and the system for failing to act. Republicans attack Democrats for wanting to act merely for the sake of acting. Nothing happens — until the next shooting.

But what if Democrats laid out clearly what a specific pathway to action might look like, if voters will it to be so?

After 19 children were murdered by an 18-year-old gunman in a Texas school on Tuesday, President Biden raged at our paralysis, asking: “Why do we keep letting this happen?”

Yet again, anger at inaction has itself become part of the post-mass-shooting ritual. As they always do, Democrats are insisting public grief and rage might move Republicans this time. But they all know it won’t happen, and this further reinforces the sense of helplessness: Why would it be different this time? Democrats don’t say, because they can’t.

Another way forward would entail stating with crystal clarity what would happen if voters elected two or three more Democratic senators: They could vow to end the filibuster and pass gun-safety laws (among other things) immediately in the next Congress…

So for now, if Republicans can be induced into a productive debate over how to chip away at that bigger problem, let’s do it. Four GOP senators voted for a background check bill after the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 children in 2012, but it was filibustered. We shouldn’t give up on growing that number.

“Parents and kids are scared to death right now,” Murphy told me. “Part of their anxiety is because they don’t see Congress giving a crap.”

“To address the darkness that exists in this country, we have to show that we’re willing to move in the right direction,” Murphy continued.

Yet this public anxiety also underscores why Democrats should be clearer on what a specific path to success might look like if Republicans kill any compromise. Democrats should tell voters they have recourse…

So for now, if Republicans can be induced into a productive debate over how to chip away at that bigger problem, let’s do it. Four GOP senators voted for a background check bill after the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 children in 2012, but it was filibustered. We shouldn’t give up on growing that number.

“Parents and kids are scared to death right now,” Murphy told me. “Part of their anxiety is because they don’t see Congress giving a crap.”

“To address the darkness that exists in this country, we have to show that we’re willing to move in the right direction,” Murphy continued.

Yet this public anxiety also underscores why Democrats should be clearer on what a specific path to success might look like if Republicans kill any compromise. Democrats should tell voters they have recourse.


The blood of children on the hands of America

Make no mistake.  This is a policy choice.  This is a cultural choice (that shapes the policy choice.  Nowhere else in the world does this happen on a regular basis.  Nowhere.  America is not uniquely violent.  Not uniquely mentally il.  What we are is uniquely full of easy-to-access incredibly lethal guns and a toxic, pathological culture that celebrates their ownership as a sign of masculinity and freedom. 

From a public policy perspective, whatever the benefit of our present gun laws, the semi-regular slaughter of innocents is undoubtedly a cost.  What the hell benefits could justify that?  Whatever they are, I wish those who push so hard for them would at least admit it.  Would at least say, “yeah, it really sucks that innocent people, even little kids keep getting hideously murdered, but it’s worth it because the near-unfettered right to own a gun is truly that important.” They never will, but that is absolutely the implicit reality they endorse.  And since they have the political power on this, it so sucks for the rest of us.  Honestly, I cannot even stop to think about the actual human toll for more than a moment at a time because it’s too brutal.  To think about one of my own kids getting shot like this would be the most horrible thing in the world.  But many families are actually going through this tonight.  And that’s just unbearably awful.  But we do bear in the name of “gun rights.”  And that fact is unbearably awful.


We will learn more about the 18-year-old killer of elementary-school children: his personality, his ideology, whatever confection of hate and cruelty drove him to his horrible crime. But we already know the answer to one question: Who put the weapon of mass murder into his hand? The answer to that question is that the public policy of this country armed him.

Every other democracy makes some considerable effort to keep guns away from dangerous people, and dangerous people away from guns. For many years—and especially since the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School almost a decade ago—the United States has put more and more guns into more and more hands: 120 guns per 100 people in this country. The years of the pandemic have been the years of the greatest gun sales in U.S. history: almost 20 million guns sold in 2020; another 18.5 million sold in 2021. No surprise, those two years also witnessed a surge in gun violence: the spectacular human butchery of our recurring mass slaughters; the surge of one-on-one lethal criminality; the unceasing tragic toll of carelessness as American gun owners hurt and kill their loved ones and themselves.

Most of us are appalled. But not enough of us are sufficiently appalled to cast our votes to halt it. And those to whom Americans entrust political power, at the state and federal levels, seem determined to make things worse and bloodier. In the next few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver its opinion in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, a decision that could strike down concealed-carry bans even in the few states that still have them. More guns, more places, fewer checks, fewer protections: Since Sandy Hook, this country has plunged backward and downward toward barbarism…

In this magazine five years ago, I wrote a parable:

A village has been built in the deepest gully of a floodplain.

At regular intervals, flash floods wipe away houses, killing all inside. Less dramatic—but more lethal—is the steady toll as individual villagers slip and drown in the marshes around them.

After especially deadly events, the villagers solemnly discuss what they might do to protect themselves. Perhaps they might raise their homes on stilts? But a powerful faction among the villagers is always at hand to explain why these ideas won’t work. “No law can keep our village safe! The answer is that our people must learn to be better swimmers—and oh by the way, you said ‘stilts’ when the proper term is ‘piles,’ so why should anybody listen to you?”

So the argument rages, without result, year after year, decade after decade, fatalities mounting all the while. Nearby villages, built in the hills, marvel that the gully-dwellers persist in their seemingly reckless way of life. But the gully-dwellers counter that they are following the wishes of their Founders, whose decisions two centuries ago must always be upheld by their descendants.

Since then, of course, things have only gotten worse. Can it be different this time? Whether any particular killer proves to be a racist, a jihadist, a sexually frustrated incel, or a randomly malignant carrier of sorrow and grief, can Americans ever break the pattern of empty thoughts, meaningless prayers, and more and worse bloodshed to follow?

The lobbying groups and politicians who enable these killers will dominate the federal courts and state governments, as they do today, until the mighty forces of decency and kindness in American life say to the enablers:

“That’s enough! This must stop—and we will stop you.”

And now I’m just going to share some of the best tweets I saw on this yesterday.

If you support politicians who support this current regime of gun laws you are part of the problem. Until more Americans recognize this, there will be more dead children. 




Autism is not a good thing!

My regular readers here know I love Freddie deBoer, but, damn nothing he’s written has resonated with me quite like his takedown of the whole “it’s all good, it’s just neurodiversity” approach to autism.  Fair to say, autism basically ruined by older brother’s life.  As for my son, he’s definitely more impacted by his intellectual disabilities than his autism, but autism undoubtedly makes his life harder and more unpleasant than it would otherwise be.  That’s not a good thing.  That’s not just “neuordiversity”  So, with that prelude, onto deBoer:

When I was in my late 20s (early 2007 to mid 2009, maybe) I worked for the local public school district in my hometown. For the bulk of my time there I was in a special program for kids with severe emotional disturbance, which I’ve written about once or twice. But I worked in a number of capacities in those years, and for a little while I helped out in a conventional special ed classroom for the middle school. I guess you’d say I was a paraprofessional, just extra coverage when they needed it.

In that class there were two boys who had autism which resulted in severe academic and social and communicative impairments. One of them was completely nonverbal and had been his entire life. As I understood it, he had never been capable of speaking or reading, could not dress himself, wore sanitary garments, could not go to the bathroom without assistance. He would occasionally screech very loudly, without clear cause. I believe these days he would be referred to as having Level Three autism, as defined by the DSM. He needed a lot of help, and though he was unable to complete what might conventionally be called academic work the school provided him with structure, support, and time during which his mother didn’t have to care for him. I met her on several occasions when she came to pick him up after school. She would sometimes talk about the difficulties of raising a disabled child in language that would be frowned on today, but I admired how frank and honest she was.

She was really not a fan of the autism awareness community of the time. This was well before the “neurodiversity” movement and all of its habits. It was all about awareness, raising awareness, 5ks for awareness, bumper stickers for awareness. That was precisely what angered her the most. She said to me once, “What does awareness do for my kid? How does it help me?” Words to that effect. It was a good question, one I couldn’t answer. Today I don’t hear about awareness so much, but there’s still plenty of the basic disease of awareness thinking – the notion that what people who deal with a particular disability need is a vague positivity, that what every disabled person requires is the laurel of strangers condescendingly wishing them the best. Now, with the rise of neurodiversity and the notion that autism is only different, not worse, we are confronted with similar questions. When a mother struggles every day to care for someone who will likely never be able to care for himself, what value could it hold for her that his condition is called diversity, rather than disorder? What value can it have for him, who cannot speak to comment on the difference?

I thought of that mother when I read about the recent cancelation of an academic panel at Harvard. It seems a panel of experts was slated to speak on the subject of how best to help those with autism. But as they planned to speak about treatment, about treating autism as a hindrance to be managed, the event was decried as “violently ableist” by Harvard activists and swiftly shut down. It’s worth looking at the petition that was organized as part of this effort. One part reads

Autism is a neurodevelopmental and neurobiological disability that is not treatable or curable. It is not an illness or disease and most importantly, it is not inherently negative. Autistic people at Harvard and globally have advocated in the face of ableism to defend ourselves from such hateful, eugenicist logic.

This is, I think, nonsensical. It asserts that autism is a disability, a dis-ability, but also that it’s not an illness, a disease, or inherently negative. But the very concept of disability depends on the notion that disabilities are inherently negative. If they are not in some sense disabling, the term has no meaning. What’s more, the entire moral and legal logic that underpins the concept of reasonable accommodation – the affordances we make for people with disabilities, mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act – depends on the idea that these things are both unchosen and harmful. If they’re not, then there’s no communal obligation to accommodate them. What would they even need accommodation for?

More, though, I cannot comprehend the arrogance of the woman who led the charge against the panel at Harvard, Kris King, to sit on her perch at the most exclusive university in the world and declare for the entire autistic community what autism is and means. It’s unsurprising that she’s disdainful of the need for treatment, given that she’s so high-functioning that she’s flourishing at an Ivy League university. She will never live the life that mother I knew lived. She will likely never care for someone whose autism has devastated them, robbed them of their ability to have conventional human relationships, to have a career, to be in love. Such debilitated people and their families will never have the cultural influence of a self-promoting Harvard student and so they’re simply read out of the conversation. Meanwhile autism activists and advocates make sweeping pronouncements about the lives of people they don’t know and could never understand.

“Autistic people at Harvard and globally have advocated in the face of ableism to defend ourselves,” she writes. In fact, Ms. King, globally there are millions of people whose autism ensures they can’t advocate at all. Spare a thought for them, while you’re busy framing your diploma.

Yes, yes, yes!!  Among other things, I know a young adult who has indeed been “cured” of autism through some great therapy and the hard work of his parents. And his life is so clearly the better for fit!  If my own son could be “cured” of an unhealthy obsession with “The Cupid Shuffle” (let’s just say of the 74 million views at the link, Alex is responsible for more than his fair share) and be more flexible and understanding of life’s inevitable twists and turns, his life would be enriched.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my son and enjoy him immensely, but this is in spite of his autism, not because of it.  I have literally no doubt he would be a happier person and better share his charming personality with the world if he didn’t have autism.  A Harvard undergraduate sure does not speak for him or his needs.  And, I won’t even go into how profoundly negatively my brother’s life has been shaped by being born with autism in 1961 when the disorder was hardly understood and literally blamed on “refrigerator mothers” (that was not so great for my mom, either– a warm, generous woman).  

Anyway, for people like my son and my brother there is much to be learned about the condition and how best to treat and accommodate it.  And maybe that Harvard panel would’ve really helped some people.  But because other people gave into a mob crying “ableist!” we’ll never know.  To hell with them.  And shame on Harvard for giving in.  

The (not) secrets of happiness

Last month Arthur Brooks had a nice piece on practical ways to improve your happiness.  If you pay attention to this research at all, no surprised, but a nice succinct list and things you can actually do.  

1. Invest in family and friends. The research is clear that though our natural impulse may be to buy stuff, we should invest instead in improving our closest relationships by sharing experiences and freeing up time to spend together.

2. Join a club. The “social capital” you get from voluntarily and regularly associating with other people, whether or not you do so through a formal club, has long been known to foster a sense of belonging and protect against loneliness and isolation.

3. Be active both mentally and physically. You can make this advice as complicated and expensive as you want. But if you like to keep things simple, just try to walk for an hour and read for an hour (not for work!) each day.

4. Practice your religion. This might sound impractical if you don’t have a traditional faith or practice it traditionally. However, for the purposes of happiness, religion can be understood more broadly, as a spiritual or philosophical path in life. Search for transcendent truths beyond your narrow day-to-day life.

5. Get physical exercise. This is a slightly souped-up version of No. 3 above: Your daily walk should be supplemented with a purposive exercise plan. This is consistent with the research showing that regular exercise of all different types enhances mood and social functioning.

6. Act nicely. Agreeableness is consistently found to be highly and positively correlated with happiness, and it can be increased relatively easily.

7. Be generous. Behaving altruistically toward others rewards the brain with happiness-enhancing boosts of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.

8. Check your health. Of all health issues, those that create the greatest unhappiness are typically chronic pain and anxiety. Don’t neglect your visits to the doctor and the dentist, and seek mental-health assistance if your emotions are interfering with your work, relationships, or social activities.

9. Experience nature. Studies have shown that, compared with urban walking, walking in a woodland setting more dramatically lowers stressincreases positive mood, and enhances working memory.

10. Socialize with colleagues outside of work. Data have shown that work friendships increase employee engagement, which is associated with both happiness and productivity for workers. I believe that the move to remote work during the pandemic has inadvertently lowered the true compensation of work for millions, explaining in part the so-called Great Resignation. Bonding with your co-workers is a way to take it back.

This list is quite similar to the advice routinely dispensed by top academics writing for popular audiences, such as the UC Riverside psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky (who was also one of the 18 experts in the study), and by nonacademics who write about the science of happiness, such as Gretchen Rubin. “These ideas are terrific—and familiar,” Rubin told me recently. What impressed her wasn’t their originality (your grandmother might’ve told you most of them); rather, it was the fact that they were both effective and practical. “For many of us, the bigger challenge isn’t knowing what actions would make us happier, but actually doing those things,” she said.

I think the evidence is pretty clear that the most important thing is investing in quality relationships with other humans.  Meanwhile, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz had a nice piece on money and happiness in the NYT as part of the blitz for his new book (which I’ll definitely be reading):

The activities that make people happiest include sex, exercise and gardening. People get a big happiness boost from being with a romantic partner or friends but not from other people, like colleagues, children or acquaintances. Weather plays only a small role in happiness, except that people get a hearty mood boost on extraordinary days, such as those above 75 degrees and sunny. People are consistently happier when they are out in nature, particularly near a body of water, particularly when the scenery is beautiful.

The findings on the data of happiness are, to be honest, obvious. When I told my friends about these studies, the most common response was, “Did we need scientists to tell us this?”

But I would argue that there is profundity in the obviousness of the data on happiness.

Sometimes, big data reveals a shocking secret. At other times, big data tells us that there is no secret. And that’s the case with happiness.

This is crucial to keep in mind for the many of us who are not doing the obvious things that make people happy. We are falling for traps that the data says are unlikely to make us happy.

Many of us work far too hard at jobs with people we don’t like — not a likely path to happiness. Dr. MacKerron and the economist Alex Bryson found that work is the second-most-miserable activity; of 40 activities, only being sick in bed makes people less happy than working. The economist Steven Levitt found that when people are uncertain whether to quit a job, they can be nudged to quit. And when they quit, they report increased happiness months later.

Man, that part about work is sad!  Sure, I complain about meetings and various other bureaucratic stuff.  But I really like my work and and generally happy when doing it.

Many of us while away hours on social media — also not a path to happiness. The Mappiness project found that, of 27 leisure activities, social media ranks dead last in how much happiness it brings. A randomized controlled trial on the effects of social media found that when people were paid to stop using Facebook, they spent more time socializing and reported higher subjective well-being.

Ooof, well there’s my fail.  Though, I’d say most social media users are obviously just doing it wrong.  I love being connected to old friends and seeing their families, adventures, etc., and I honestly learn more from twitter (and I love to learn) than pretty much anywhere else.  

The summary:

Big data tells us there are very simple things that do make people happy, things that have been around for thousands of years. After reading all the studies on happiness, I concluded that modern happiness research could be summed up in one sentence, a sentence we might jokingly call the data-driven answer to life.

The data-driven answer to life is as follows: Be with your love, on an 80-degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.

I will say I sure do love being with loved ones at bodies of water and I actually should try and do that more.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Yes, more deBoer, but I really just love him even when I don’t agree with him.  But this is really thought-provoking about how discriminating based on physical attractiveness is just an accepted norm:

We have a new controversy of a kind that crops up more and more often. It’s the kind that seems incredibly tired right from the beginning, where the various players take their places and dutifully recite their parts. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which in defiance of all logic still exists, has chosen new cover models. One of them is Yumi Nu, a fuller-figured model, someone who once would not have been considered viable for that venue. Some conservatives, predictably, are big mad about it, including Jordan Peterson. Inevitably, and with a real sense of the eternal recurrence of modern political cycles, the body positivity crowd has rushed to Nu’s defense.

Personally, I think Nu is attractive, and there’s also going to be conventionally hot and thin models in that magazine, and Sports Illustrated is a fucking relic anyway and who cares. You’d think the Google Image search would have immediately mooted the swimsuit issue, but apparently not. Anyway, I can’t imagine occupying the headspace where I got mad about which unobtainable model is on the cover of a magazine, even if I didn’t think Nu was good-looking. (Then again, the people attacking Peterson are also playing right into his game.) What I do think this argument shows is a certain confused manner of thinking about attractiveness which has cropped up since we decided that literally every arena in human experience needs to be “socially just.”

Consider Ashley Graham, another full-figured model who has posed for the swimsuit issue. (Whether Graham qualifies as a plus-sized model or not is apparently a matter of controversy, and I’m staying away.) While Graham is heavier than most models traditionally have been, she’s also very beautiful. I love her body, but even aside from the elasticity of what’s attractive in a women’s body she has the face of… well, of an internationally-celebrated model, which she is. I’m certainly not the first to make this point, but that’s not any more “realistic” than a wafer-thin model is. It’s not any more approachable. It’s not any more achievable, for the average woman. And so the question is, what is the feminist value of this supposed embrace of different body types if you’re still highlighting women whose looks are unachievable for almost everyone? How is “you should judge yourself against Ashley Graham’s beautiful face and perfect skin and nice tits” any more humane than “you should be as thin as Kate Moss”? …

Germane to my point here, though… is the bone structure of your face chosen? Can you choose to have a perfect nose? Is your eye color somehow under your control in a way your weight isn’t? Sure, we can radically change our appearances with surgery and all manner of other techniques, but the self-acceptance philosophy that’s core to Instagram feminism suggests that we shouldn’t feel any pressure to do that stuff. And spotlighting the expectation to be skinny while ignoring all of the other difficult standards of conventional beauty seems very odd to me. The hallmarks of appearing attractive are not in any sense fairer than body fat standards, yet nobody is giving up on the idea of more or less attractive people.

2) How can you not love this in McSweeney’s, “A passenger’s one-star review off the trolley ride from the trolley problem”?

3) So much this from Yglesias, ‘Let’s use unspent Covid funds to make great next generation vaccines”

Eric Topol writes that the latest new variants seem to offer considerable capacity to evade immunity, meaning the coming winter wave may be similar in severity to the Omicron winter rather than the situation we hoped for where waves diminish in amplitude.

The sad reality is that as bad as Covid-19 is, it’s not really deadly enough to ever burn itself out. It’s also not mild enough to be “just the flu” and is additive to flu’s burden of disease rather than substituting for it. It’s also of course possible that new variants will emerge that are deadlier.

To get out of this cycle, we’re going to need to develop a more general vaccine. Ideally, that means one that targets the shared properties of the entire coronavirus family and gets out of playing whack-a-mole with variants. There are also important ongoing lines of research into vaccines you would take as a nasal spray rather than a shot. I suspect needlephobia plays a much larger role in vaccine refusal than anyone wants to squarely admit, but a bigger issue is that nasal vaccines could potentially be much more effective at blocking the transmission of the virus, which right now is often able to colonize people’s noses and create mild cases that keep bouncing around making it harder to achieve true sterilizing immunity. There are lots of different agencies and groups around the world with a role to play in doing that science and bringing the products to market. But BARDA has been America’s MVP for developing public health technology and deserves to be high on the funding priority list.

4) Been some really dramatic videos of this lately (including here), “Beach Houses on the Outer Banks Are Being Swallowed by the Sea”

5) Meanwhile, digging large holes in the beach (Outer Banks or elsewhere) can literally kill you

A pit the size of a grave was found on a popular Outer Banks beach, prompting warnings that passersby are at high risk of being seriously hurt or killed by falls and cave-ins.

The discovery in Kill Devil Hills was announced May 17, the same day two siblings were trapped when a hole caved in on a New Jersey beach. An 18-year-old died before rescuers could reach him, according to the Toms River Police Department.

Kill Devil Hills posted the warning with a photo showing the “massive hole” was big enough to hold the town’s ocean rescue supervisor.

6) NYT Editorial pulls no punches, “Student Debt Is Crushing. Canceling It for Everyone Is Still a Bad Idea.”

The Biden administration should spend its finite resources and political capital on fixing the higher education system to make it more affordable while helping those borrowers in the most distress. There are already ways to do this, although they have not gotten nearly enough attention or resources.

Canceling student debt across the board is not one of them. Trying to fix such a shattered system with the flick of a pen on an executive order could even make it worse. Canceling this debt, even in the limited amounts that the White House is considering, would set a bad precedent and do nothing to change the fact that future students will graduate with yet more debt — along with the blind hope of another, future amnesty. Such a move is legally dubiouseconomically unsoundpolitically fraught and educationally problematic.

7) Yascha Mounk with a great conversation with Adolph Reed on race and class.  Once again, I find myself loving the take of a Marxist:

Reed: Yeah. The other pole was—and here’s the sleight of hand—that people were poor because they lacked a sense of personal capacity. This was the foundation of the community mobilization approach to fighting poverty, the idea being that you organize the poor to act on their own behalf, and somehow, magically, that would turn into the end of poverty. Hardly anyone recognized that, at the time, in the terms in which I’m describing it now. But in effect, the psychologistic understanding of the roots of poverty was becoming part of the basis of the new left’s understanding of radicalism. 

And I can’t tell you how many frustrating meetings I attended when I was in college—people thinking the point of politics was to express themselves and to realize their deeper identities and aspirations. That’s one tributary that flowed into this great river that we’re talking about today. And then in the mid-to-late 80s, in the academy, in particular, the newer disciplines of Black Studies, feminist studies, etc, emerged with an aura of ersatz politics or extramural political meaning about them, just as they were becoming institutionalized as solidly respected fields of study in the elite academy. Scholars in those fields were under internal pressure themselves to combine what we might call their social service justifications for their existence with demonstrations of high intellectuality. So, at that moment of need, we get another infusion of French theory, and we also get a particular kind of American appropriation of cultural studies on the British model. And they come together in a way that reinforces identitarianism. Then my colleague and friend James Scott’s work on the “hidden transcripts” of the oppressed gets appropriated by people in those disciplines to make claims about how the truth of women, blacks, Hispanics, whatever, can never be known, unless you do the deep, almost Straussian, mystified understanding of hidden meanings that can only be reached through an elaborate and an esoteric hermeneutic, which also carries with it a race-reductionist and identitarian component in the sense that there’s at least a substantive argument that’s packed into that, that only the black woman can really get access to the esoteric interpretation of the state of the black woman. You can see how this also becomes a career imperative.

Mounk: Fascinating. I’d never thought that what some people call “situated knowledge,” what often today is called standpoint epistemology, has one of its roots in the work of James Scott, whom I also greatly admire.

You use the term “race reductionism,” which is one of the phrases that you’re well known for. What is race reductionism, and why should we be worried about it?

Reed: I give my son credit for the term. And on a rhetorical level, it’s obviously a reversal of the “class reductionism” charge that people levy at the likes of us. But there’s an organic foundation for the term. If you start out from the assumption that the black experience in North America has been uniformly defined by racism, white supremacy and even like a sort of demon theory of a transcendent anti-blackness that has animated the history of the entire world, what that means is that you’re reducing everything that has to do with black Americans’ experience to their racial classification. And we see that now for instance, shortly after the 2016 presidential campaign, an MSNBC host, who I describe as a tribune of neoliberal anti-racism, Joy-Ann Reid, in an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, declared that black people don’t have an interest in stuff like free public higher education, or Medicare for All, or a $15 an hour wage, or employment security, or access to a secure and dignified retirement. What black people actually want is a “reckoning,” as they call it, and to have the racial conversation. That can only work, first of all, if others are at all prepared to accept her as a ventriloquist of 46 million black people, but also, if people are prepared to accept (including her, by the way) the premise that every other feature of the lives of any black person is subordinate to their racial classification, and to an agenda that purportedly can be read out from the racial classification. That seems like a textbook explanation of racial reductionism to me. And I think that’s a mindset that dominates current identity politics.

8) George Packer on the new political book, This will not pass

The failures of the book’s Democrats do not threaten the republic. The rotten core around which our democracy has begun to collapse is the Republican Party. It remains Trump’s party as long as he keeps his grip on its voters and can defy the medical odds against an old man who eats badly and never exercises. Trump’s most fervent supporters in Congress, such as Representatives Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, don’t even exist in a category of responsibility and blame: Their behavior is the political equivalent of not guilty by reason of insanity. Burns and Martin reserve their sharpest criticism for Republicans who know better—moral vacuities motivated by opportunism and power lust. These include lesser-known members of Congress such as Jim Banks of Indiana and Elise Stefanik of New York; the erratic Senator Lindsey Graham, whose only constant seems to be an insatiable desire for attention; and McConnell himself, who flirted briefly with principle in his comments on Trump after January 6, before finding safety in a refusal to say much of anything.

But the embodiment of Trump’s Republican Party, and the object of the authors’ undisguised contempt, is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He is willing to betray any vestige of truth, courage, and self-respect to stay in Trump’s good graces and therefore remain the party’s top contender for speaker of the House. At one point, Burns and Martin inform us that Trump took to calling McCarthy a “pussy,” and they add: “McCarthy responded not by defying the former president but by more or less setting out to prove him right.” One of the biggest scoops—McCarthy’s brief, private criticism of Trump and his congressional fanatics immediately after January 6—endangered all of the work McCarthy had done afterward to secure the godfather’s blessing. When McCarthy declared the story a falsehood of the liberal media, the authors produced an audio recording to confirm its accuracy. But McCarthy and his party are so lost in a miasma of tribalism and lies that this humiliation didn’t matter. He retained the support of Trump, who might share Burns and Martin’s disdain for McCarthy but who knows a useful tool when he sees one.

This Will Not Pass raises a question that isn’t easy to answer: What is it about political power that leads people to desecrate themselves so nakedly in its pursuit? Speaker of the House is an important position, but what’s the overwhelming appeal of a career as a congressional backbencher, or as a committee chair gaveling endless meetings that achieve nothing in particular? The book’s Republicans hardly seem motivated by policy ideas, let alone by a desire to govern well in the public interest. They passed little substantive legislation when their party controlled Congress and the White House during Trump’s first two years. The most popular of them are nihilistic combatants in the culture wars whose chief skill is building personal brands. When the institutions of government hollow out, what’s left is the chase for these cheap gratifications, removing the last self-restraints from those in power.

Anyone who spends time in Washington encounters intelligent, capable, hardworking people who went into politics for relatively idealistic reasons and manage to resist its more corrupting temptations. The brighter lights in this book include some Democrats and a few Republicans who believe in self-government, understand the need for both principle and compromise, and are willing if necessary to take on their own side. None of them seems likely to ever get very far. Those picking up this book a few decades from now will have to confront the question of why a free people, in discarding their most promising leaders while elevating the likes of Kevin McCarthy, asked for their own destruction.

9) Brownstein on this week’s primaries:

That tilt reflects the fundamental shift in the GOP coalition that Brabender identified. In a process that predates Trump but has greatly accelerated since his emergence, the GOP has grown more reliant on non-college-educated, non-urban, and religiously conservative voters, many of whom express anxiety about demographic and cultural change in polls, while shedding support from college-educated and more moderate voters, especially those clustered in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

Pennsylvania crystallizes that change. In the early 1990s, about one-third of Republican primary votes in the state were cast across the southeast, in Philadelphia and its four surrounding suburban counties, according to calculations by Berwood Yost, the director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster. But by 2018, as residents of those suburbs continued a generation-long migration toward the Democratic Party, the Philadelphia region’s share of the state’s GOP primary vote had fallen to a little over one-fifth.

Simultaneously, the mostly blue-collar counties around Pittsburgh, in southwestern Pennsylvania, slightly increased their share of the GOP vote, while the less densely populated counties in the state’s center increased their share even more, Yost found. Results as of early Wednesday suggest that these patterns largely held in this primary, with Philadelphia and its suburbs again contributing only a little more than one-fifth of GOP primary votes, the southwest a little less than one-fifth, and the interior counties the remainder…

What does this mean for the future direction of the GOP? The challenge for the small remnant of Republican candidates who resist Trump—or even those who want to support his general direction without personally bending the knee to him—is that these changes have shrunk the audience for any alternative path. As voters who are uneasy with Trumpism—largely college-educated suburbanites in metropolitan areas—have drifted away from the party, the core left behind is more receptive to Trump-style arguments. And the more that GOP primaries produce Trump-style candidates, the less likely center-right voters will be to vote in such elections at all.

That leaves little hope in the near term for the dwindling band of conservatives and Republicans who want to see the party shift back away from Trumpism. “There was a time I thought you could remove him and save the party,” Sarah Longwell, the founder of the anti-Trump Republican Accountability Project, tweeted on Monday. “But looking at these GOP primaries—not to mention the last 18 months—it’s clear Trump has metastasized across the party. And it can’t be saved.”…

At minimum, it appears highly unlikely that November will produce the widespread repudiation of Trump-style candidates that critics such as Kristol consider the prerequisite to any GOP course correction. And if voters don’t decisively reject Trumpism in November, the odds increase that the GOP will embrace Trumpism again in 2024, either with Trump himself or another candidate who has embraced his agenda, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

That likelihood has huge implications not just for the competition between the two parties, but for American democracy. Republican primary voters so far have nominated multiple candidates who echo some version of Trump’s wild claims of 2020 election fraud, who promise to make it more difficult to vote, and who signal, as in Mastriano’s case, that they might seek to overturn any Democratic victory for president. The real price of Trumpism’s grip on the GOP might be a full-scale constitutional crisis in 2024.

10) Interesting academic research on polling:

Using the registration-based samples and disposition codes of state-level pre-election telephone polls conducted by the National Election Pool as part of the National Exit Poll in 12 states, we test whether likely Democrats were more likely to cooperate with the National Exit Poll than likely Republicans and independents. Using information about both respondents and nonrespondents, we find that Democrats are more likely to cooperate with telephone interviewers than Republicans and independents by 3 and 6 percentage points, respectively, even after controlling for individual and geographic features plausibly related to nonresponse (e.g., age, gender, race, urban/rural, community support for President Trump, and effects of COVID-19). Equalizing the partisan cooperation rate when post-stratifying to account for the partisan differences in cooperation decreases the average polling error on the margin of victory by 4 percentage points in the polls we examine, but sizable errors remain in critical swing states because of within-party differences in who responds and/or errors in the available partisanship measures in the voter file.

11) Can interventions can more women interested in running for office?  More social science:

The under-representation of women in American politics can likely be explained, at least in part, by women’s comparatively lower levels of political ambition. We analyze a co-ed, religious program for high school students in which participants lobby their Members of Congress and receive political skills training. By leveraging longitudinal survey data about the participants and a difference-in-differences design, we find that the program successfully increased the political ambition of its female participants. To the best of our knowledge, we offer the first quasi-experimental evidence demonstrating a possible means of increasing the political ambition of high school-aged American women. Our results demonstrate that female political ambition can be increased without relying on programs that explicitly focus on gender and ambition.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jesse Singal unlocked a 2019 post about liberals’ super-misguided attempts to pretend that biological sex is not actually a thing and it’s so, so good:

Anyway, in this case we’re being told by a scientific authority that it is not just wrong, but so wrong to say that having a penis indicates that someone is a man — that this idea is decades out of date. But the same numerical logic holds by either definition: The intersex rate and the trans rate are both around 1%. In either case, if someone has a penis, there is a 99% chance they are a man (in the biologically male, not-intersex sense), and a 99% chance they are a man (in the gender-identity sense). Does any of this mean that trans women shouldn’t have their pronouns respected, or shouldn’t be treated as women? No! But the claim here is much stronger than that — the claim is that it’s outdated and silly and so wrong to treat a penis as a sign of maleness. Again, I ask: Are there other areas in which, when X and Y are correlated at 99%, we are told that it is so wrong to understand X as implying Y, almost always? Is this clear and accurate science communication? …

More broadly though, I just can’t imagine a clearer example of progressive science denialism that won’t help anyone in the long run than the claim that people get to define whether, based on their own identity, they are biologically male or female. Imagine if someone really believed this: It could cause them to seek out the wrong health services, to not understand what biological, well, stuff, they can expect at different stages in their lifespan, and on and on. This also undermines the case for expanding access to hormones and surgery itself. If there aren’t biological sexes, why do trans people need either? What are some of them attempting to get to match up with their gender identity, as much as possible, if not their biological sex? The traditional argument for trans rights and healthcare, that some people just can’t live with their biological sex and will endure great harm if they aren’t allowed to alter it, is perfectly coherent, and is part of the reason there’s such a strong, clear moral imperative to treat trans people with dignity and afford them access to care. Important foundational arguments for not just women’s sports but for trans rights, too, go out the window if you start pretending there’s no such thing as biological sex…

The strategy so many activists and journalists are taking, either assuming anyone with any questions about this is a bigot or, as this post shows, pretending biological sex isn’t a thing or is too complicated to be useful, is, again, a dead end. It’s science denialism geared at attacking a claim — “There may be some settings where biological sex should be seen as mattering more than gender identity” — that many progressives view as deeply threatening to their view that trans people should not only be treated as members of their sex and gender, but are them in some essential way that brooks no exceptions. So they’re fighting back against this belief with science denialism. That’s what this is.

I’ll leave the last word to a good article in the New York Times about the debate over trans and intersex athletes: “Pretending that the female body doesn’t exist or that we can’t define the boundaries between men’s and women’s bodies is a bad idea for many reasons. Replacing traditional sex classifications with classifications based on gender identity certainly has steep costs in contexts like competitive sport, where the likelihood of success is precisely about sex-specific biology.”

In other words, none of this is going to be resolved through science denialism.

2) Jeff Maurer, “”Accept Cookies” Pop-Ups Aren’t the Worst Part of Europe’s Data Privacy Law”

In reality, much of what we do online is boring. Also, nobody gives a shit about our stupid lives; none of us should imagine that we’re Jason Bourne living some off-the-grid existence while powerful forces try to track our every move. I honestly think that the main bit of personal data that most people care about is porn. People hear “companies have your data” and think “If my browser history gets out, I will have to live at the South Pole to escape the shame.”…

The problem isn’t just that operating costs are higher: There are also fewer ways to make money. GDPR was a body blow to the online advertising industry because it restricts how data can be shared and sold. And you might think “Who cares? Online advertisers make street pimps look like paragons of business ethics.” And I understand that feeling; sympathy for online advertisers is not likely to provoke a charity benefit concert any time soon.

But advertising makes most of the internet go. We’ve all become used to getting stuff for free in exchange for looking at ads and sharing some basic data. Personally, I find it amazing that I can get driving directions, data storage, video conferencing, internet search, instant correspondence, and a million other things for exactly zero dollars in exchange for looking at an ad for a humidifier. And, yes, sometimes I don’t want to be tracked online, so I use “incognito mode” — which deletes cookies when you close the browser — when I’m searching for porn. But the other 30 percent of the time, I really don’t care.

GDPR seriously damaged companies that depend on advertising. This seems to be especially true for new companies, because few people will pay for something they’ve never heard of. Ironically, behemoths like Facebook and Google probably fare best under this system, and not just because their competition is being snuffed out: It’s also because they’re big enough to do advertising in-house. Corporate giants don’t need to share data with third parties who will line up advertisers; they can go straight to the advertisers. That’s possible because they’re huge, but a company like Milk the Cow — a real app that simulates milking a cow and does nothing else — might have a tougher time.

The report makes it clear that GDPR imposes big costs on producers and consumers. But the report only looks at one side of the cost/benefit ledger (which one of the report’s authors acknowledged). It’s worth wondering: Are the costs worth it? Maybe less innovation is worth the improved privacy; maybe most people are happy to make the tradeoff that GDPR imposes on the world. But the report also has some information in that area, and it looks like people don’t care all that much about privacy.

3) Very nice essay from David Brooks about moral values and politics.  You should read it (gift link).

First, will Democrats allow people to practice their faith even if some tenets of that faith conflict with progressive principles? For example, two bills in Congress demonstrate that clash. They both would amend federal civil rights law to require fair treatment of L.G.B.T.Q. people in housing, employment and other realms of life. One, the Fairness for All Act, would allow for substantial exceptions for religious institutions. A Catholic hospital, say, wouldn’t be compelled to offer gender transition surgeries. The other, the Equality Act, would override existing law that prevents the federal government from substantially burdening individuals’ exercise of religion without a compelling government interest.

Right now, Democrats generally support the latter bill and oppose the former. But supporting the Fairness for All Act, which seeks to fight discrimination while leaving space for religious freedom, would send a strong signal to millions of wavering believers, and it would be good for America.

Second, will Democrats stand up to the more radical cultural elements in their own coalition? Jonathan Rauch was an early champion of gay and lesbian rights. In an article in American Purpose, he notes that one wing of the movement saw gay rights as not a left-wing issue but a matter of human dignity. A more radical wing celebrated cultural transgression and disdained bourgeois morality. Ultimately, the gay rights movement triumphed in the court of public opinion when the nonradicals won and it became attached to the two essential bourgeois institutions — marriage and the military.

Rauch argues that, similarly, the transgender rights movement has become entangled with ideas that are extraneous to the cause of transgender rights. Ideas like: Both gender and sex are chosen identities and denying or disputing that belief amounts to violence. Democrats would make great strides if they could champion transgender rights while not insisting upon these extraneous moral assertions that many people reject.

The third question is, will Democrats realize that both moral traditions need each otherAs usual, politics is a competition between partial truths. The moral freedom ethos, like liberalism generally, is wonderful in many respects, but liberal societies need nonliberal institutions if they are to thrive.

America needs institutions built on the “you are not your own” ethos to create social bonds that are more permanent than individual choice. It needs that ethos to counter the me-centric, narcissistic tendencies in our culture. It needs that ethos to preserve a sense of the sacred, the idea that there are some truths so transcendentally right that they are absolutely true in all circumstances. It needs that ethos in order to pass along the sort of moral sensibilities that one finds in, say, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address — that people and nations have to pay for the wages of sin, that charity toward all is the right posture, that firmness in keeping with the right always has to be accompanied by humility about how much we can ever see of the right.

Finally, we need this ethos, because morality is not only an individual thing; it’s something between people that binds us together. Even individualistic progressives say it takes a village to raise a child, but the village needs to have a shared moral sense of how to raise it.

4) Maurer again on the politics of immigration:

Just as illegal immigration can be a tricky wedge issue for Democrats, legal immigration can be dodgy for Republicans. They know that some of their voters are Great Replacement lunatics and die-hard immigration opponents, but they also know that looking like a xenophobe turns off moderate voters. In 2013 — shortly after a failed election in which Republicans lost Hispanic voters 71-27 — 14 Senate Republicans joined 54 Democrats to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. But John Boehner killed the bill in the House, and two of the bill’s authors — Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham — spent the presidential primary being flayed for their participation in the effort. Rubio and Graham lost to the most virulently anti-immigrant major-party candidate in living memory, and the rest is history. Today, Republicans pay lip service to supporting legal immigration, but any serious Republican-authored effort to update or expand our immigration system is sitting next to the Republican alternative to Obamacare in a file cabinet labeled “Shit That Doesn’t Exist”.

Which all brings me here: I think when Democrats talk about legal immigration, we win. And when we talk about illegal immigration, I think we lose. Unfortunately, we’ve spent the last decade getting dragged into arcane and often unpopular policy fights that distract from the bigger picture. There aren’t really “good” solutions to illegal immigration; there are only ways to make the best of a suboptimal situation. When we’re talking about sanctuary cities, changing deportation policies, or handling sometimes-dodgy asylum claims, we’re fighting on ground that’s favorable to Republicans. Democrats should try keep the focus on the thing that most of us really want — more and more-orderly legal immigration — which happens to be the best way to reduce illegal immigration.

In a sense, I’m arguing that Democrats should steal Ted Cruz’s “legal good, illegal bad” talking point. I don’t often — or ever — advocate plagiarizing Ted Cruz, but here we are. Democrats could steal that talking point and mean it, and force Republicans to demonstrate that they don’t. That would put us on the side of popular opinion and get us out of the business of basically being public council for people who came in through the window because the door was slammed shut. I don’t know how to speak to Great Replacement nutjobs; I fear that their faculties may have left them. But looking at the data convinces me that immigration can be a good issue for Democrats if we learn to keep our eye on the ball.

5) Frank Bruni:

I keep flashing back to Ronald Reagan’s preternaturally smiley face.

That’s not because I yearn for his presidency. It’s because his signature expression — his glow — provides such a clear counterpoint to the Republican mien of the moment, equal parts scowl and sneer. Reagan’s disposition was fundamentally hopeful. The Republicans in the foreground today are foundationally resentful. Recrimination, rage: Those are the fuels they run on. Those are the emotions they till.

The Republican primaries on Tuesday were harvest time…

More and more Republicans are “Stop the Steal” politicians even if they never attended or endorsed a “Stop the Steal” rally, because that scowling, sneering phrase taps into and touches on more than vote counts. It encourages a rebellion against cultural dynamics that offend some traditionalists. It blesses a revolt against the sorts of demographic trends that have given the “great replacement” theory such traction. It validates the complaint that some elite cabal is making decisions and hoarding riches at the expense of other Americans. It’s about all these things that are being taken away, all these things that must be taken back.

It indulges fictions that abet that mind-set, which explains a good deal of the popularity of Fox News. A week ago, one of the network’s pugnacious nighttime hosts, Sean Hannity, railed about photographs that he said showed “pallets and pallets of baby formula for illegal immigrants and their families” even as “hardworking American families” went without this vital resource. But as Alex Koppelman of CNN later noted in the Reliable Sources newsletter, the photos were instead of powdered milk, intended for children over a year old. “Outrage Creation” was the headline on Koppelman’s report.

The Republican politicians who don’t specialize in outrage creation do too little to counter it. That’s the case with the two Pennsylvania candidates, Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick, who performed better than Barnette in the Senate race and are essentially locked in a tie, with a recount in the offing. Neither stood up forcefully to the “Stop the Steal” caucus because neither felt that he could afford to alienate it.

Both saw that indignation animates the Republican Party now. A candidate can choose not to stoke it, but he can’t buck it.

6) Given their extreme lethality and completely lack of legitimate purpose for the vast majority of citizens, I’m with Gail Collins:

It turns out that in many states, semiautomatic rifles are basically regarded as weapons of sport — the kind of thing you’d use to go hunting deer or target shooting.

“The industry has gone to an extreme effort to argue it’s a needed hunting gun. I think they doth protest too much,” said Ryan Busse, a former executive in the gun industry who’s now become a critic. (A memoir of his transformation, “Gunfight,” was published last year.)

Claiming that you need a semiautomatic rifle for hunting, Busse said, is like arguing that you need a Formula One racecar to go shopping. “There’s a lot of safer and more effective ways to get to the stores.”

Guns like the infamous semiautomatic AR-15 aren’t really needed for sport. (OK, we might permit an exemption for the folks down South who need to cut back on the herds of very speedy 300-pound wild pigs.)

In Connecticut, which has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, Murphy says tons of his constituents hunt and he never hears complaints about their inability to mow down deer without a rapid-fire rifle.

Get rid of assault rifles. All assault rifles. Ban them. Hunters can work on becoming better shots. The gun industry can diversify — and maybe start marketing swords and medieval knight costumes at its trade shows. I know swords can do a lot of damage, but we live in an age when one victim at a time would definitely be progress.

7) I’m definitely sympathetic to this argument, “When Words Lose Their Meanings”

The past decade has been a bad one for clear and specific language. Since around 2014, when the political left pivoted to emphasizing identity and systemic oppression, redefining words has become an increasingly fundamental tool in political activism. 

Take the term “white supremacy.” For most people, white supremacy refers to a) the belief that white people constitute a superior race; and b) political and societal arrangements predicated on this explicitly racist idea. But this straightforward definition has gone out of style. Activists have found that there is little political incentive to maintain such a tight definition when, by loosening it a little, you can shame and humiliate your adversaries. And so activists loosened it. Now, standardized testing is white supremacy; criticizing identity-based politics is white supremacy; “worship of the written word” is white supremacy…

A useful term for this phenomenon is “concept creep.” This idea was first explored by the social psychologist Nick Haslam, who defines it as “the gradual semantic expansion of harm-related concepts such as bullying, mental disorder, prejudice, and trauma.” Concept creep has been especially prominent in psychology. For example, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, was once a narrowly defined mental health problem that people experience after a life-threatening experience—usually war. But now, psychologists have expanded the category to include life experiences like childbirth, sexual harassment, and infidelity, that may be physically or emotionally painful, but are far afield from the traditional understanding of PTSD.

And the idea of concept creep also applies outside psychology. Consider a tweet posted by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley in January: “Cancelling student debt is racial justice. Abolishing the filibuster is racial justice. Expanding & protecting voting rights is racial justice. Paid leave is racial justice.” While it may be true that racial minorities would benefit from paid leave or loan forgiveness, these are economic policies. We can debate the merits of rebranding “racial justice” to mean “any policy that I believe will help racial minorities,” but such a definitional expansion is a clear example of concept creep. Many other political terms and ideas, from “eugenics,” “racist,” “colonize,” and “violence” on the left to “wokeness,” “communism,” and “Marxism” on the right, are often distorted in similar ways.

The unsurprising consequence is that words have come to mean different things to the left and the right. That is why, when a recent segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe featured a poll showing that over half of Republican voters would not find it a “major problem” if a “candidate is accused of” making anti-semitic, racist, or homophobic remarks, I was less alarmed than the host, who called these voters “fascist” (itself a fantastic example of a word that has been mangled by concept creep). To be sure, there will always be a small number of voters who will support bigoted politicians. But what I suspect is really going on in this poll is that many respondents have seen terms like “anti-Semitic” or “racist” stretched to include banal or thoughtless remarks. When they said that they would not be overly bothered by accusations that a political candidate made anti-semitic remarks, respondents were imagining a Whoopie Goldberg-level offense, not a Mel Gibson one.

8) Good stuff from deBoer, “The Politics of Pure Affiliation Has Driven Everyone Absolutely Insane”

You can find similar dynamics all over, albeit to a lesser extent. Matt Yglesias and Nate Silver come to mind. I bow to no one in my history of antagonizing prominent liberal technocrats. (Ezra Klein you offend; Yglesias you annoy.) But surely Yglesias shares far more politically with his many leftist detractors than with, say, the Breitbart crowd. I can understand thinking that time is better spent critiquing those who are more subject to the influence of your side, and ibviously, it would be profoundly hypocritical for me to act as though it’s not legitimate to criticize “your side.” My point is that, one, the level of personal antipathy towards dissidents now is far greater than towards those all the way in the other camp, and two, that these days diversity of opinion doesn’t prompt people to broaden their understanding of who the coalition can include. Just the opposite: perspectives that don’t fit easily into the established groups just result in further fracturing, of more outgroups. And so Nate Silver and Matt Yglesias are now representative of a new Kind of Guy. You might look at them and say, well, I think they’re dead wrong about A B and C, but we need a big tent. Or you can say “here is another way to be a loser that we all dunk on incessantly.” Which is politics?

As Scott Alexander once ably explained, the closer another tribe is to yours, the more you hate them. You may insert your favorite aphorism about how we only hate those who remind us of ourselves…

I’ve said this before, but when I have antagonistic interactions with leftists in real life I always challenge them to name actual issues on which we disagree. They rarely can; we usually agree on most everything of substance. Their antipathy towards me is fundamentally social in nature, not political. But they don’t understand that distinction, as the line between the social and the political has been completely obliterated. And when I do try to advance a particular perspective on issues of substance that have become controversial, like continuing to point out that civil liberties have been a core element of radical left politics for generations, they don’t bother to listen to my arguments because I have been preemptively sorted into the bad column by those who say I should not be invited to the party. Affiliation doesn’t just replace principle, it preempts the possibility of principle.

And everybody feels the squeeze. I’ll take a minor example, only because it’s a good microcosm of how this all works. On the dissident right, the online journal Quilette has recently found itself attracting heated criticism from former supporters due to their embrace of Covid-19 vaccines. Objectively, a small niche web-only magazine like that plays no role in the development of national Covid protocols like masking or lockdowns. But by standing against their closest analogs on an issue of immense emotional valence, they have become traitors, and a traitor is worse than the other side. Plus, the enemy of my enemy is rarely my friend in these scenarios; liberals who act as the natural antagonists to the anti-Covid restriction right are not about to race to Quilette’s defense. So they find themselves with few friends. And this is the trouble with opposing the politics of affiliation: doing so makes you a betrayer to whatever group you might most naturally belong to without attracting any new supporters. You quickly end up, well, like me, a political orphan. I’m a decently well-read and well-informed socialist and I’ve been organizing in some capacity or another for over 20 years, and perhaps you might think that would rule in terms of who sees me as a fellow traveler. But in the day-to-day prosecution of politics, who you’re personally cool with feels more visceral and more reliable than actual beliefs. Which is how you get so many people who contribute nothing to socialism but shitty jokes clogging the space, and how you have an attendant lack of direction for the socialist tendency.

The maniacal fixation on Greenwald, on Michael Tracey, on the Red Scare girls, on Silver and Yglesias, and for the right on Quilette or David French…. Enemies who sit comfortably in the other camp aren’t actually hated, as in doing so they bring order and balance to the world. Those who must be destroyed are those who trod the lines, who trouble the distinction between in and out. And so the politics of affiliation will rule, until one side loses hard and often enough to compete for the other voters again, or until the unexpected happens and chaos reigns, and we can perhaps again experience a political space of possibility. For a little while.

9) Generally useful, “7 persistent claims about abortion, fact-checked” And in keeping with NPR’s unfortunate woke-liberal bent of late, one of the claims is, “The only people getting abortions are straight, cisgender women.” Literally less than 1/10 of a percent are not cisgender, but, sure, let’s have than be one of our 7 persistent claims. 

10) This was pretty fascinating, “Ukraine’s booming surrogacy business has become a logistical and ethical mess — and hell for the women at the center”

11) It would be cool if we learn how common this actually is and even better if there’s some medically useful advances: “The lucky few to never get coronavirus could teach us more about it”

A majority of Americans have contracted the novel coronavirus since it began to spread in the United States in early 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts hope that studying people who have avoided infection may offer clues — perhaps hidden in their genes — that could prevent others from being infected or more effectively treat thosewho contract the virus.

“What we are looking for is potentially very rare genetic variants with a very big impact on the individual,” said András Spaan, a clinical microbiologist and fellow at the Rockefeller University in New York who is spearheading a search for genetic materialresponsible for coronavirus resistance.

12) Seems the “doodle” dogs are everywhere these days. I enjoyed this, “The Ubiquity of the ‘Pumpkin Spice of Dogs’”

A “doodle” is a dog that is part purebred poodle, part something else. Popular combos include the Labradoodle (Labrador retriever and poodle), the goldendoodle (golden retriever and poodle), the Bernedoodle (Bernese mountain dog and poodle), the sheepadoodle (sheepdog and poodle), the Cavapoo (Cavalier King Charles spaniel and poodle), and the Australian Labradoodle (Labrador retriever, poodle, and cocker spaniel). “There’s pretty much any combo you can think of these days,” says Shelby Semel, a New York City–based canine-behavior expert and trainer. “As we’ve seen dog ownership go up overall, we’ve also seen a huge increase in doodle dogs specifically.”

The first doodles were bred in the ’80s in Australia by a man named Wally Conron, who was hoping to create a guide dog for a blind woman whose husband was allergic to dogs. Conron wanted all the highly desirable traits of the poodle — who don’t shed and are therefore less likely to cause discomfort for those who are allergic, and who are also considered intelligent and athletic — while adding in some qualities of other breeds that people have come to adore: the easygoing, affable Lab; the sweet, faithful golden; the beautiful, mellow Bernese.

Even better, a doodle has none of the obvious “poodleness” like the froufrou “show dog” haircut or the perception that they’re high-strung and high-maintenance.

The trouble is some doodles do shed to some degree or another, and any breeder who tells you the puppy they’re selling 100 percent for sure won’t drop a hair isn’t being truthful, says Karen, a co-founder of the nationwide doodle organization Doodle Rescue Collective who requested we not include her last name, and who for the past decade and a half has helped rehome hundreds of doodle dogs in the Chicago area, many of whom come her way after owners found that their dogs shedded more than they wanted.

“There is not actually one specific gene for shedding, although there are a few other coat-related genes that breeders look at as sort of proxy markers,” she says. “So it’s always going to be a gamble. To me, saying a dog is ‘low shedding’ is kind of like ‘a little bit pregnant.’”

13) OMG the college sports world is just crazy with the transfer portal now.  Good stuff in the Athletic about all the craziness with college basketball. 

14) This would be so awesome, “Innovative new blood tests could detect cancers early. When will they be ready?”

Using advances in genetic sequencing and artificial intelligence, a dozen or more companies are working on blood tests, sometimes called liquid biopsies, that can pick up cancer signals circulating in minuscule concentrations in the bloodstream. The demand for these tests, if they end up being useful, is enormous. According to estimates by the nonprofit think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the potential market for this kind of cancer-detection technology is worth more than $6 billion and is expected to almost triple in value by 2025…

The only blood test for cancer-screening currently available outside of trials is the one that identified Ford’s cancer. Called Galleri, the company says the test can detect 50 types of cancer in a sample of blood. Created by the California-based healthcare company Grail, the test is now available by prescription in the U.S. for people with an elevated cancer risk. It will also available as part of a large study in England, which is currently recruiting participants.

The goal of these new blood tests is to save lives by catching cancers earlier, especially those that don’t currently have reliable screening tests. In the United States, there are now ways to screen people at high risk for five types of cancer: breast, colon, prostate, cervical, and lung—by blood or other types of tests, like mammograms. But of the roughly 600,000 cancer deaths that occur in the U.S. each year, more than two-thirds are caused by cancers that have no good screening options, studies show. They are usually not discovered until they have metastasized.

Already, doctors are using liquid biopsies to scan the blood of their cancer patients for information to help determine which treatments to use and whether cancers have returned after treatment. This new wave of blood tests attempts to detect cancer in people who have never been diagnosed before.

15) deBoer on Safetyism:

You’d never know it, in a lot of progressive circles. The trouble is that safetyism (or whatever you’d like to call it) is one of those changes that the left-of-center seems unwilling to even admit exists, in order to discuss its consequences. Because it’s never going to be cool to advocate for more safety at the expense of freedom, even if you think that’s the right thing to do. So there’s a resistance to even accepting those terms – the constant invocation of “you just want to be able to say the n-word,” when of course the consequences of this turn have been vastly larger than that. There’s a real allergy to calling politics politics, with this issue; it’s one of those things that progressives insist is just progress, just good people being good, just the moral arc of the universe. And you can see how safetyism becomes self-reinforcing: to speak of safetyism at all offends some people, and we must not offend anyone because… of safetyism. So it’s off the books.

But insisting that the psychic comfort of some should be the top priority of all is ideology at its purest, political by definition. And Carlin’s career is a good example of what’s lost when we so prioritize the implacable human demand to feel safe, respected, and valid: the world is permanently unsafe, and in order to navigate its treacherous complexity we must think and speak in ways that will inevitably offend some. No one ever promised you that you’d always feel safe, and anyway no force on earth could ever achieve such a thing for you. I guess I am arguing against safetyism, now. It’s my nature. But what’s more important is simply that people on the left admit that this has happened, acknowledge that they’ve chosen safety over freedom, and engage in debate about whether this is for the best, about what the right mixture and safety might be. We can’t do that until we mutually acknowledge what’s happened. The proof is there in the progressive voices of the past. And it proves again what I’ve been saying for 15 years: I’m just a leftist who never changed.

16) Who knew? “Lost your smell to COVID-19? Here’s how to retrain your brain. Millions of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 lose their sense of smell for months at a time. Hoping to speed up recovery, many are resorting to ‘smell training.'”

17) Rick Hasen on the PA primary:

First, this preliminary tally is yet another example already from this year’s primaries proving the utter irrationality of using the plurality-winner rule in primary elections. However this too-close-to-call race ends, it will be will be with less than one-third of the total votes cast. Both Oz and McCormick have about 31%, with approximately 95% of all votes counted. Neither one can claim to be the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s choice for its Senate nominee in any meaningful sense.

Whichever candidate ultimately wins, and without considering how messy or not the rest of the counting process may be, this kind of result–with the two leading candidates splitting less than a third of the vote and not using any method to identify a majority preference between the two–makes a mockery of the two-party system. One party’s candidate at least will be the clear majority choice of that party’s voters: Fetterman won the Democratic primary with 59%. The other party’s candidate will at best represent one faction within a highly fractured coalition that has split at least three ways, with no demonstration of being the candidate who most represents the preference of the party or its voters as a whole. Yet this factional primary winner could prevail in November, even though the general election voters (like a majority of the party’s own voters) would have preferred one of the other primary candidates. Indeed, if Oz does end up beating McCormick, and then Oz were to beat Fetterman in November, it’s hard not to think that Pennsylvania’s general election voters as a whole would have preferred the chance to choose McCormick over Fetterman, instead of Oz over Fetterman.

During the last couple of weeks, as we’ve watched this same sort of irrationality occur in Ohio and Nebraska, I’ve been asking political scientists why Duverger’s Law doesn’t hold up in primaries. As many readers of the Election Law Blog know, Durverger’s Law is the theoretical proposition that a plurality-winner rule will tend to produce two-candidate competition, as coalitions will need to form in an effort to win the median vote. Durverger’s Law is why when the plurality-winner rule is used in general elections, the result tends to be a two-party system as we have historically had in the United States. Since the mathematics and strategic incentives of the plurality-winner rule are the same in primaries as in general elections, one would think that primary elections also would need to come down to competitions between just two candidates, each representing coalitions within the party. Yet that is clearly not what we are observing this year. While I’d like to see more research on this specific topic, the preliminary answer I’m getting from the political scientists I ask is that one can’t expect Duverger’s Law to hold very well in primaries because intra-party electoral competition is not stable enough, in comparison to general elections, for the strategic incentives of the plurality-winner rule to control. But regardless of the reason that Duverger’s Law does not work for primaries, the simple fact that it doesn’t–and therefore one should routinely expect the kind of highly fractured plurality-winner results we are seeing this year–is reason enough to believe that it’s imperative to jettison the plurality-winner rule for primaries.

Simply put, if we want elections to have any semblance of being a rational choice, so that self-government makes sense, we must replace plurality-winner primaries with some sort of majority-choice system, so that it is at all reasonable to say that the winning candidate actually represents the will of the electorate.

18) Good stuff on Monkeypox from Jon Cohen.

The sudden appearance of monkeypox in 13 countries on four continents has jolted the public health community into action. A much milder cousin of smallpox that sporadically causes small outbreaks in Africa, monkeypox is thought to spread slowly and is unlikely to be a pandemic in the making. But scientists worry about the spread among men who have sex with men (MSM), who make up a disproportionate number of the cases so far. The outbreak is a strange and unsettling return to the spotlight for poxviruses, a largely forgotten threat since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox eradicated in 1980.

The current outbreak surfaced on 7 May in the United Kingdom, which so far has confirmed 20 cases. In the past 3 days, more than 100 suspected cases were reported in Spain, Portugal, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, and Israel. David Heymann, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who helped eradicate smallpox and first worked on a large monkeypox outbreak in Africa 25 years ago, expects “many more cases” to come to light in the days and weeks ahead.

Monkeypox virus typically spreads by close contact and respiratory droplets, but sexual transmission appears to be contributing to this outbreak. “This is not typical at all,” says epidemiologist Rosamund Lewis, WHO’s lead for poxvirus diseases. “We should definitely be concerned about this new situation, which has literally just come about in the last 5 days.” WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential, which Heymann heads, met today to develop recommendations covering everything from the need for more aggressive surveillance to the use of monkeypox vaccines.

19) And here’s a nice twitter thread from Angela Rasmussen.  For the record, scientists have already determined it’s not a more transmissible version.  

20) Damn I wish Congressional Democrats had Brian Beutler’s view of things:

Republicans are of course happy to tell all kinds of egregious lies about their opponents, particularly in the Trump era. But the idea isn’t to just turn the tables. It’s to make voters hear accurate warnings about the modern GOP at least as often as they hear GOP agitprop about socialism or “grooming” or whatever the latest slander is.

And this is why I think simple, forceful, resonant messages will serve Democrats much better than over-researched ones or excessively specific ones. Precision is important for getting tenure but it’s often the enemy of solidarity.

Liberals (because they’re liberals) like to parse the fascism question into dust. Perhaps it’s safer, to avoid the wrath of fact-checking gods, or to play it safe with more all-encompassing terms like authoritarianism, or more refined ones like Christian nationalism. But we are by no means playing a Price is Right-style game where the goal is to lay the GOP bare with as much nuance as possible, without going even $0.01 over the perfectly accurate description. For one thing, there is no perfectly accurate description; for another, pinpointing various shades of fasc-ish authoritarianism makes it hard to convey the critical fact, which is danger: racial supremacy, violence, Orwellian lies, dictatorship.

Christian nationalism is not a good thing, when you know what it is—but if you don’t know what it is, the words don’t convey the horrors Republicans would like to impose on the country. Which explains in part why the far-right is so fond of it: There are a lot of Christians in America, and most Americans don’t have uniformly negative associations with the word nationalism. “Since [Charlottesville], there has been a major shift among far-right groups, white nationalists, and militias toward espousing Christian nationalism, much like the Ku Klux Klan did,” Alexander Reid Ross, a scholar of radical-right movements, told the New Yorker last year. “The tactic has been to use Christian nationalism to cool down the idea of fascism without losing the fascism.”

To me the fair distinction to draw is that while the GOP has fused itself with a fascist movement, and will neither expel nor marginalize its members, not every Republican in Congress uses fascistic rhetoric or seeks fascistic power. 

But you don’t have to be particularly silver tongued to say both things. It’s easy to talk about non-ultra-MAGA Republicans without saying they’re all fascists. It’s perfectly fair to observe that almost every Republican in elected office has acted irresponsibly since Donald Trump took over their shop. Some of them, the ones who have gone from Trump-tolerant, to anti-Trump, have even admitted it. To take just one example I think about often, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) kept a foot in both camps until the insurrection, after which he felt free to admit that his vote against Trump’s first impeachment was a shameful error. There are still many Republicans who may feel caught in a collective-action problem, who nevertheless keep making individual choices they know to be immoral. It’s fair to say of them their irresponsibility—whether driven by fear or ambition or both—has included putting party over country.

Not all of them have fully embraced the ethos of fascist slime like Elise Stefanik and Donald Trump and his supplicants; but the time has come for them to take sides. Do they subscribe to the the same ideology as the Nazi who massacred the grocery store or not? Their colleagues are fascists—what are they going to do about it?

Toying around with terms like ultra-MAGA is a way of getting at this same distinction by speaking in code. But after everything we’ve been through, who honestly believes allusion is a more persuasive tactic, a better way to drive narratives, than just shouting screed from the rooftops. 

The good news for Democrats, who aren’t typically comfortable politicking outside the material realm, is breaking the F-ceiling wouldn’t entail confining their campaign rhetoric to the realm of naming and shaming. On the other side of abstraction and subjective criticism, they can note that Doug Mastriano will steal elections from voters, and Joshua Shapiro will not; Mastriano will sign a bill banning abortion; Shapiro will veto it. The Republican wants to crush our freedoms to govern ourselves, our bodies, our families. What does that sound like to you? 

In the spirit of not falling into the trap that swallowed Conor Lamb, Democrats should wage the election in fighting words, and save the clever tricks and sleights of hand for a better day, when we’re not staring collectively down the barrel of an assault rifle. 

Abortion messaging and abortion policy

Pro-choice Democrats put out some awful abortion messaging last week and Josh Barro was all over it:

Last Thursday, Politico congressional reporter Sarah Ferris reported on a memo circulated by staff from the House Pro-Choice Caucus, with guidance on “harmful” and “helpful” language to use when talking about abortion. One part of the Pro-Choice Caucus guidance was not to say “choice” — it’s harmful. (I assume they’re ordering new letterhead as we speak.) Instead, you’re supposed to say “decision.”

Here, according to Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, is the problem with saying “choice”:

“Choice” assumes that everyone can get an abortion, and someone just has to choose whether or not they want one. Not everyone can get an abortion when they want one. Black feminists and feminists of color have pointed out that this isn’t the case: the legal right to choose to have an abortion does not always mean someone can actually get an abortion. “Choice” ignores the lived realities of people, especially Black people and people of color, who face barriers that are often compounded by racist and classist policies that keep them from the care they need. 

There are several problems with this logic as applied by the Pro-Choice Caucus, the most obvious one being that this concern about “choice” applies equally to the new recommended term, “decision.” You can just paste it right in: “‘Decision’ assumes that everyone can get an abortion, and someone just has to decide whether or not they want one…”

Finally, this argument about all the Broader Oppression One Must Consider is a variant of the everything-is-everything framing that’s so popular with progressive activists: “We can’t fight climate change without dismantling capitalism,” “student debt cancellation is a racial justice issue,” and so on. x is y and y is z and we can never talk about one particular issue in isolation, it’s all just a huge morass of intersecting oppression, blah blah blah. When you say this, what voters hear is that no individual problems will be fixed, that revolutionary change is the only option — which is not coming because, remember, here on earth, left-wing revolutionary change is unpopular, Democrats have the barest majority in Congress (which they are very likely about to lose) and we need to talk about things that are actually on the menu.

This language is dumb when it comes from activist groups that are supposed to be pushing the envelope; it’s malpractice when it comes from an organ of the Democratic majority caucus of an actual legislative body trying to get laws enacted, precisely at the time that abortion is under the greatest legal threat it’s been under in decades…

Planned Parenthood’s own advice about eschewing the word “choice” is to simply call yourself “pro-abortion,” and to aver that abortion should be “affirmed, without social judgments.” To put it lightly, this is not where the median voter sits, and this is tantamount to advice to Democrats to adopt unpopular messaging and lose elections and legislative fights. If Republicans sent moles into the abortion rights movement to come up with messaging in response to the likely end of Roe, their actions would be indistinguishable from what the actual communications staffers there are doing.

And yet it’s all justified, by staffers who are mostly not black women, on the grounds that black women somehow asked for this…

It’s an example of the most cynical uses of “racial justice” language in progressive spaces — find one (1) black woman to use as a stand-in for your argument, and you get to use her like a shield, availing yourself of the deference norm that your colleagues must “listen to black women,” even if you’re a man. It’s a farce.

Who is any of this language supposed to be for? If it’s for attracting progressive activists of the sort who came up with these language changes, sure, abandoning “choice” is the right move, that’s what they want. Planned Parenthood’s advice to call yourself “pro-abortion” will surely appeal to professional abortion-rights activists. It’s all great within the circle-jerk that is The Groups. But I’m pretty sure all the people we’re talking about here were going to vote Democratic this November anyway.

If you want politicians protecting the legal right to abortion, you need Democrats to win elections.  Widespread use of language like this will not help Democrats win elections!

Of course, Yglesias isn’t having it either, and being Yglesias, there’s a rather extensive discussion of words in politics (free post– it’s good, you should read it).  But, I love that he gets to the fact that many Americans have very muddled views on abortions and we have to reach them electorally:

I don’t have extremely strong convictions about what word you should use for the political faction that believes abortion should remain legal. But I always thought the basic logic of “pro-choice” was pretty clear: you want people who believe that abortion is wrong as a matter of religious conviction to still vote for candidates who believe that abortion should be legal. That’s important. A lot of people have views that incorporate both the metaphysics of fetal personhood and also support for a woman’s right to choose, and Democrats are counting on the votes of many religiously observant Black and Hispanic voters.

My big complaint with Shenker-Osorio’s take isn’t that her ideas about language and framing are necessarily wrong — I’m open to the idea that there’s a better option than “choice” — it’s the way she evades talking about policy.

As her big positive case study in favor of her ideas, she cites the successful campaign to legalize abortion in Ireland. That is absolutely something that we should study and learn lessons from. But the necessary starting point for learning lessons from Ireland’s success is understanding what they succeeded in achieving.

Under the terms of the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Act of 2018, abortion is legal in the Republic of Ireland under the following conditions:

  • When the pregnancy is less than 12-weeks old.

  • When two doctors certify in good faith that the fetus is likely to die either before or within 28 days of birth.

  • When two doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy poses a serious risk to the life or health of the mother.

  • When one doctor certifies that there is an emergency threat to the life or health of the mother requiring immediate action.

Yglesias basically advocates for liberals pushing Ireland’s policy.  And I’m with him… its pretty much where the median voter sits.  And, again, we need Democrats to win elections if you are going to protect abortion at all.  

In “Winning After Roe,” I argued that progressives should push for essentially the Irish policy solution — legal abortion in the first trimester, an exemption for the health of the mother, and some effort to assure the public that the health exemption is not just a gigantic loophole. These are broadly popular, politically defensible positions that would preserve the legality of abortion in the vast majority of cases.

Democrats thus far have not taken up my advice, largely I think because pro-choice groups have made it clear they are not yet prepared to certify this stance as supportive of abortion rights.

Instead, the party and the movement are having this conversation about framing, language, and slogans. On one level it’s fine to talk about framing, language, and slogans because those things matter. But the semantic content of what you are saying matters more. I think it is fine and appropriate to say that political slogans developed in Ireland over the past five to 15 years may be more relevant than slogans developed in the United States 50-60 years ago. But you can’t just sweep under the rug the fact that Irish choice activists won their battle by advocating for a more popular, more moderate policy…

If the Supreme Court tosses Roe v. Wade, which seems very likely, many Republicans are going to push to enact draconian anti-abortion laws. Those laws will in many cases be unpopular and risk backlash. But to generate effective backlash, abortion rights activists need to counter-mobilize with a more popular position — the way they did in Ireland — not try to come up with a message that is optimized to try to defend an unpopular position. Compared to other western countries, the United States is more religious, which makes abortion rights harder to defend. But the United States is also more individualistic, which gives abortion rights a fighting chance. The most effective messages key into that, but effective messengers will also acknowledge that words aren’t magic and can’t substitute for aligning your views with things the public agrees with.

Now, Yglesias nor me are going to argue that issue positions are the end all and be all of politics, but of course they matter.  Let’s put it this way… do you think there would be a huge backlash against Republicans in states where they completely banned abortions?  Or prosecuted women who traveled out of state?  Then yes, issues matter.  And for Democrats, it sure can’t hurt for a position that accommodates the vast majority of abortions without alienating many voters in the middle on the issue my pushing for the maximalist position.  

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