Quick hits (Part II)

1) Are skittles toxic?  I doubt it, but I’m eating them anyway.

2) I took Vitamin D supplements for about a year. But, barring some dramatic new evidence, I’m done with it. “Study Finds Another Condition That Vitamin D Pills Do Not Help: The vitamin pills do not prevent bone fractures in most people or protect against many other diseases, adding to questions about medical guidance many now take for granted.”

3) I always aim to have my aerobic exercise be at least 20 minutes, but rarely go much over 30.  Good to know that’s pretty efficient.  NYT Well Newsletter:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week from activities like biking or swimming. That corresponds to just over 20 minutes a day. Still, you can benefit from doing less, said Dr. I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist who studies exercise at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The first 20 minutes of physical activity per session confer the most health perks, at least in terms of longevity, Dr. Lee said. As you continue working out, “the bang for your buck starts to decrease” in terms of tangible health rewards, she added.

4) Greg Sargent, “Rising GOP anger at Mitch McConnell offers a lesson for Democrats”

Republicans have staged a carnival of fake outrage ever since Sen. Joe Manchin III announced support for a massive climate and health-care package. Their claim: The West Virginia Democrat and his party double-crossed them by announcing a deal just after Senate Republicans helped pass industrial policy making us competitive with China.

There’s a lesson in this for Democrats: Procedural hardball works.

You can see this in rising GOP anger at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican, angry lawmakers say, has been too willing to agree to bipartisan deals on legislation — which allowed that alleged double-cross to happen, catching him flat-footed.

CNN reports on new “internal tensions” in the party, with House Republicans faulting McConnell for negligently letting bipartisanship break out on infrastructuregun control and the Chips and Science Act. That bill invests $280 billion in shoring up the semiconductor industry and in science and technology development, and just passed both houses

Regardless, there’s a moral in this story for Democrats: There is often no serious penalty for political hardball, no matter how far it pushes the procedural envelope.

Republicans have strained vigorously to gin up outrage over the Democrats’ procedural handling of all this. House Republicans raged that the Manchin deal required them to sink the chips bill. Senate Republicans held up a measure to provide health care to veterans suffering from burn pit exposure, though there’s some dispute about the motive. And Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) declared the Democrats’ perfidy would make it harder to win GOP support for a bill codifying same-sex marriage.

That’s absurdly revealing: The explicit admission is that the merits of the same-sex marriage bill (and possibly the burn pit bill) are beside the point. If Republicans do sink that measure, it will be because Democrats used their authority under the simple-majority reconciliation process to pass something entirely unrelated to it!

But that aside, here’s the thing: None of that fake outrage will matter in the least.

5) Nice summary of evidence on food and weight loss from Eric Barker:

Here’s the neuroscience of eating less and staying fit:

  • Beware “Food Reward”But blander foods aren’t fun! (Which is why you’ll eat less of them.)
  • Reduce Food Variety: Say you ate steak for dinner. If dessert was more steak, you’d be a lot less likely to eat it.
  • Control Your Environment: Discipline at the grocery store. And put all your tasty snacks in a jar. On a high shelf. In another country.
  • “High Satiety” Foods: Eat meat, fish, oatmeal, vegetables… Okay, I’m just typing that and I already feel full.
  • Exercise To Maintain Weight Loss: It may not help you lose fat but it will help keep it off — as long as you can tolerate the music at the gym.

The food variety party really hits home and makes so much intuitive sense and is something I personally really need to work on.  When I’m feeling full from my dinner, I switch foods and pack on more calories.

Reduce Your Variety

In 2010 Chris Voight ate nothing but 20 plain potatoes a day for 60 days. Yes, your mind cannot process that degree of horror. He lost 21 pounds. Frankly, he had trouble eating enough because he just wasn’t all that hungry.

Yes, this brief tableau of gastronomic desolation is anecdotal, but the scientists are nodding. Food variety is a very big deal. What six words have the mystical ability to increase space in your stomach? “Do you have room for dessert?

Even within a meal we go back and forth between steak and potatoes or chips and soda. Why? Keeps the variety high. When variety is low, we get tired of whatever we’re eating faster. Researchers have even coined the term “the buffet effect” because the endless options resist any habituation and people eat until they’re ready to explode. (Example: Thanksgiving.)

More options mean more eating. Less variety is an easy way to feel full on fewer calories.

6) The extra cool part of this is that a friend of mine from high school, who is a complete space buff, had a contract to write the descriptions of the items for Sotheby’s, “Buzz Aldrin’s Space Memorabilia Sells for More Than $8 Million”

7) I really doubt we’ll ever have the sense to do it, but, oh my should we just clean up the spelling in the English language. McWhorter:

I hope it would help people to unbend somewhat to more intuitive (if odd-looking) spellings if those new spellings were seen as social justice of a kind. Children whose first language is English have to labor longer to learn to read than their counterparts. This crowds out school time that could be used for learning other things. Dyslexia appears to be less prevalent in many other languages because mapping the sounds we utter to the chaos of how they are represented on the page (“cough,” “bough,” “enough”) is so complex and often arbitrary. Anglophone kids are twice as likely to show signs of dyslexia as Italian ones, for example.

Plus, English is notoriously hard to master for the legions of people worldwide required to learn it as a second or third language. However, as languages go, English isn’t especially tough — if you want difficult, try Polish, Lithuanian or Navajo. A good deal of what frustrates English learners is the spellings. To think beyond our time is to imagine English as an international language that welcomes learners with spellings that actually make sense. Finnish spellings do — the sounds you make correspond neatly with the letters on the page. But let’s face it, the likelihood of Finnish as a lingua franca is slim. So why can’t English tidy itself up a bit?

Busy people leading busy lives shouldn’t have to put up with spelling seemingly designed to be difficult, random and frustrating. Think, for example, of just that word, “busy.” Why is its “u” pronounced “ih”? And why is the “y” in that word and at the end of adverbs pronounced “ee”?

I could go awn. We Anglophones wallow in orthographical muck. Attention must be paid.

8) Good stuff from Ron Brownstein, “Red states are building a nation within a nation”

9) This is excellent.  You should read it (free link), “Alabama Takes From the Poor and Gives to the Rich”

In states like Alabama, almost every interaction a person has with the criminal justice system comes with a financial cost. If you’re assigned to a pretrial program to reduce your sentence, each class attended incurs a fee. If you’re on probation, you’ll pay a fee to take your mandatory urine test. If you appear in drug court, you will face more fees, sometimes dozens of times a year. Often, you don’t even have to break the law; you’ll pay fees to pull a public record or apply for a permit. For poor people, this system is a trap, sucking them into a cycle of sometimes unpayable debt that constrains their lives and almost guarantees financial hardship.

While almost every state in the country, both red and blue, levies fines and fees that fall disproportionately on the bottom rung of the income ladder, the situation in Alabama is far more dramatic, thanks to the peculiarities of its Constitution. Over a century ago, wealthy landowners and businessmen rewrote the Constitution to cap taxes permanently. As a result, today, Alabama has one of the cruelest tax systems in the country.

Taxes on most property, for example, are exceptionally low. In 2019, property taxes accounted for just 7 percent of state and local revenue, the lowest among the states. (Even Mississippi, which also has low property taxes, got roughly 12 percent from property taxes. New Jersey, by contrast, got 29 percent.) Strapped for cash, all levels of government look for money anywhere they can get it. And often, that means creating revenue from fines and fees. A 2016 study showed that the median assessment for a felony in Alabama doubled between 1995 and 2005, to $2,000…

To understand how Alabama came to be so underdeveloped, you need only look to the Black Belt, a large region originally named for its rich black dirt that sweeps across the lower midsection of the state. The earth is full of crushed limestone left behind by the sea that once covered the land. Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, is in the heart of the region. It’s an agriculturally rich area that was once blanketed by cotton plantations worked by enslaved people. Much of the area is still rural and agricultural, but the product isn’t cotton; it is, among other things, timber. Drive just a few minutes outside Montgomery and you’re flanked by forest. Rows of loblolly pine stand sentinel along the roads, waiting to be turned into America’s paper. Much of the land is owned by multinational corporations, international investors, hedge funds, some families that live outside the Black Belt and some whose ancestors cultivated the land before the Civil War.

Many of those families’ agricultural interests were top of mind when state lawmakers rewrote Alabama’s Constitution. In 1874, less than a decade into Reconstruction, the Democratic Party, representing the landowning, formerly slave-owning class, took over the state government in a rigged election and quickly passed a new Constitution that mandated taxes on property would remain permanently low.

In the next couple of decades, as cotton prices crashed, poor sharecroppers, both white and Black, banded together in a populist movement to unseat the elites who controlled the state. In response, in another set of contested elections, the elites called another constitutional convention to further consolidate their power over the state. “What is it that we want to do?” the convention president, John B. Knox, asked. “Establish white supremacy in this state.” But this time, he said, they wanted to “establish it by law — not by force or fraud.”

10) Chait, “Without Media Accountability, Republicans Will Govern Like a One-Party State”

Last week, the Florida Republican Party held its annual Sunshine Summit, which was marked by a new policy: The mainstream media was not permitted to cover the event. Instead, the only “news” would be transmitted through conservative-approved sources. “We in the state of Florida are not going to allow legacy media outlets to be involved in our primaries,” Florida governor Ron DeSantis said. “I’m not going to have a bunch of left-wing media people asking our candidates gotcha questions.”

The next day, the Washington Post published a detailed reported story on the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank whose scholars have supported the Trump administration’s efforts to secure an unelected second term. The Institute’s president, Ryan Williams, replied on the record that he saw no need to explain any of this. “The Claremont Institute,” he wrote, “is not interested in participating in the fiction that the Washington Post is a legitimate media outlet, or that its chronically discredited journalists are dispassionate fact-finders intent on bringing their readers objective news.”

As long as it has existed, the right has loathed the news media. Figures like Joe McCarthy and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler used the tactic of pointing to alleged media bias to discredit reporting that challenged their lies. But, as David Freedlander noted, the right’s war on independent media is reaching a new stage of blanket refusal to acknowledge its legitimacy…

The only point I need to make is that the mainstream media does routinely report critically on the Democratic Party. If you are watching CNN or reading the New York Times, you have encountered a steady stream of articles questioning whether Joe Biden is too old for the job, noting high inflation, pummeling the Afghanistan withdrawal, and so on. Whether you believe this level of criticism is excessive or insufficient is a matter of perspective, but the clear fact is that it exists.

Nothing like this exists within the conservative media. The communications apparatus of the conservative movement was established with the goal of advancing the right’s political interests. Its organs often borrow superficial conventions, like bylines and the inverted-pyramid structure, to create the simulacrum of a traditional news medium. But the people working in these institutions understand they are working for the conservative movement, not on behalf of the public’s right to know. Their approach to malfeasance by their side is to ignore, distort, or change the subject to some agreed-upon sin by the enemy (a practice called “whataboutism”).

The rise of Donald Trump intensified the bubble effect in the conservative media. His famous boast that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing any support reflected his grasp of the conservative base’s imperviousness to facts. Trump understood that he could maintain his base without engaging with external reality at any rational level; reporting that made him look bad was simply “fake news” by definition.

11) I love that Biden’s drug czar is all about “harm reduction.” That’s so the way to go on drug issues.

12) From early June, before the Dobbs decision, “‘Pro-Choice’ Identification Rises to Near Record High in U.S.”

A Gallup poll conducted mostly after the draft of a Supreme Court decision addressing abortion rights was leaked finds a marked shift in public attitudes over the past year. After a decade in which Americans’ identification as “pro-choice” varied narrowly between 45% and 50%, the percentage has jumped six points to 55% in the latest poll, compared with the prior measure a year ago.

Pro-choice sentiment is now the highest Gallup has measured since 1995 when it was 56% — the only other time it has been at the current level or higher — while the 39% identifying as “pro-life” is the lowest since 1996.

13) David French on Tim Miller’s new book:

The genius of Tim’s book (and I highly recommend reading it) is that it cuts through the rationalizations—and the rationalizations are endless—and gets ultimately to a heart-level question: Who are you, really? Or, put another way, What is your core identity?

I don’t think those who live outside the American right understand the extent to which the upheaval of the Trump years impacted multiple, intersecting aspects of personal identity and exposed the true hierarchy of personal values.

Let’s take the example of Lindsey Graham. Yesterday in The Atlantic Mark Leibovich published a scorching profile of Graham, Kevin McCarthy, and other politicians who’ve been particularly sycophantic to Donald Trump. Leibovich highlights this revealing exchange:

Once, early in 2019, I asked Graham a version of the question that so many of his judgy old Washington friends had been asking him. How could he swing from being one of Trump’s most merciless critics in 2016 to such a sycophant thereafter? I didn’t use those exact words, but Graham got the idea. “Well, okay, from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he told me. “‘This,’” Graham specified, “is to try to be relevant.” Relevance: It casts one hell of a spell.

Ask any person to describe themselves, and they’ll likely respond with a mix of characteristics and virtues. They’ll describe their profession (lawyer, banker, plumber), their relationships (husband, father, grandfather), and their politics (Republican, Democrat), and if asked they might even describe their perceived virtues (honesty, fidelity, fortitude).

But what if the virtues conflict with other core parts of a person’s identity? Prior to the Trump years, Graham was joined at the hip with the maverick John McCain. During the 2016 campaign, he called out Trump’s flaws early and often.

So how would one describe Lindsey Graham, before Trump? He was a senator. He was powerful. And while all politicians are flawed, I’d say he was generally perceived to be both honest and independent.

But then, during the Trump years, honesty and independence directly and starkly clashed with status. Time and again, men and women in America’s political class found that they couldn’t possess both virtue and power. They had to make a choice.

The writer and Christian theologian C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Another way of putting it is that we don’t really know if we possess a virtue until it is tested.

We might think of ourselves as honest, but we don’t really know if we are until honesty carries a cost. Or we might think of ourselves as physically brave, but we don’t know if we are until we face a mortal threat. We might be sure that we’re faithful, right until the moment when temptation is at its peak.

During the Trump years, the collision between status and virtue was constant and relentless. Trump never gave anyone a breather. He was never chagrined or mollified by scandal. He never apologized. He never turned over a new leaf. He just charged from one lie to another, and his demands for absolute loyalty left his defenders and followers with little ability to separate themselves from his worst moments while still remaining in the Republican tent.

As we’ve seen from days of courageous testimony before the January 6 House Select Committee, it is quite possible to say “I’m a Republican, and I’m honest.” But with each passing week—and with each new revelation—it grows more difficult to say “I’m a Trump Republican, and I’m honest.” Status conflicts with virtue, and status wins.

14) What’s not to love about a Janeane Garofalo profile? “Janeane Garofalo Never Sold Out. What a Relief. That concept might be the reason her trailblazing stand-up career has been overshadowed; it may also be the reason she’s still so sharp, our critic argues.”

15) Relatively new NC resident Frank Bruni give his take on the state (and the Congressional district that I’m about a mile outside of):

I visited the 13th District because it’s the site of the only House race in North Carolina that’s considered a tossup, an emblematic contest between a 46-year-old Democrat, Wiley Nickel, with decades of public service under his belt, and a 26-year-old Republican, Bo Hines, who was endorsed by Trump and crows about that whenever, wherever and however he can. On his Twitter profile, his Facebook page and his campaign website, the headshot of Trump is bigger than his own headshot.

But I also toured the district as part of my acclimation to North Carolina, to continue testing my belief that this state — my new home — is as accurate, illuminating and alarming a political mirror of the country as any other. A year after moving here from the People’s Republic of the Upper West Side, I realize that I didn’t so much turn my back on New York City as turn my gaze toward a broader, truer portrait of America right now…

And it’s a tense state whose residents are, as Bitzer said, “sorting themselves more and more into like-minded communities.” That was driven home to me when I looked for a house here. I had the vague idea of finding, within a roughly 25-minute drive of Duke’s campus in Durham, some kind of political mix that reflected the state’s reputed political color. I like purple.

But I learned how inexact the “purple” label is. It implies some real blending of red and blue, some halfway point. But North Carolina is purple only if you step far back, the way you do to make sense of a Seurat painting, so that you no longer see the individual dabs and blotches of red and blue.

A blotch of deep blue is where I ended up, 20 minutes from Duke, on the border of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Front yards near mine showcase “Black Lives Matter” and “We Believe” signs. Several neighbors’ first conversations with me were about how to follow the county’s recycling rules correctly.

These days, “the red is redder and the blue is bluer,” said Steve Schewelwho was on Durham’s school board and then its City Council before serving as the city’s mayor from December 2017 to December 2021.

And, oh, yeah, how nice to unexpectedly find a friend and blog fan quoted in the NYT:

Damon Circosta, the chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, told me, “This is a state that’s most comfortable — more comfortable — forging a middle path.” North Carolina swung sharply right during the first half of the last decade, but then voters denied the incumbent Republican governor, Pat McCrory, a second term and elected Cooper. Two years later, Republicans lost their supermajorities in the state legislature. Cooper, meanwhile, has combined a mild manner and practical approach to remain popular enough that he’s mentioned as a possible presidential contender if Joe Biden doesn’t run again.

16) And speaking of NC, how cool to see a former student of mine in Slate, “State Judge Elections Are About to Become Decisive for Abortion Rights”

17) It really does not speak well for left organizations in DC these days that Ruy Teixeira feels he has no home at the Center for American Progress any more.

Ruy Teixeira is one of Washington’s most prominent left-leaning think-tank scholars, a fixture at the Center for American Progress since the liberal organization’s founding in 2003. But as of August 1, he’ll have a new professional home: The American Enterprise Institute, the longtime conservative redoubt that over the years has employed the likes of Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D’Souza, and Robert Bork.

Teixeira, whose role in the Beltway scrum often involved arguing against calls to move right on economic issues, insists his own policy views haven’t changed — but says the current cultural milieu of progressive organizations “sends me running screaming from the left.”

“My perspective is, the single most important thing to focus on in the social system is the economic system,” he tells me. “It’s class.” We’re sitting in AEI’s elegantly furnished library. Down the hall, there’s a boisterous event celebrating the conservative intellectual Harvey Mansfield. William Kristol, clad in a suit, has just left the room. Teixeira’s untucked shirt and sneakers aren’t the only thing that seems out of place. “I’m just a social democrat, man. Trying to make the world a better place.”

To hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

“I would say that anybody who has a fundamentally class-oriented perspective, who thinks that’s a more important lens and doesn’t assume that any disparity is automatically a lens of racism or sexism or what have you … I think that perspective is not congenial in most left institutions,” he says.

To hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

“I would say that anybody who has a fundamentally class-oriented perspective, who thinks that’s a more important lens and doesn’t assume that any disparity is automatically a lens of racism or sexism or what have you … I think that perspective is not congenial in most left institutions,” he says.

“I’d say they have been affected by the nature and inclination and preferences of their junior staff,” he says. “It’s just the case that at CAP, like almost any other left think tank you can think of, it’s become very hard to have a conversation about race and gender and trans issues, even crime and immigration. You know, ‘How should the left handle these?’ There’s a default assumption about how you’re supposed to talk about these things, even the language. There’s a real chilling effect on all of these organizations, and I think it’s had an effect on CAP as well.”

18) Interesting stuff on fatherhood from Melinda Wenner Moyer:

Have you ever noticed that men love to hear — and tell — stories about deadbeat dads? The husband who cheats on his wife; the father who doesn’t know how to use a washing machine; the guy who gets mad at his wife if the house isn’t spotless. Their reaction is rarely horror or disgust or “God, what a dick!” — but rather, something along the lines of:

“See, I’m not so bad, right?”

“Look! I’m an angel in comparison.”

“Aren’t you glad you married me?”

I know, I know; #notallmen. But if I had a dime for every time I heard a friend laugh/vent about their husband comparing himself to a bad apple to make himself look good, well, I wouldn’t need any paid subscribers…

First, let’s start with who mothers tend to compare themselves to. Although we might not like to admit it, moms often compare themselves to other moms they know. Who’s got a cleaner house? Does my friend read to her kids more often than I do to mine? Mothers are also frequently comparing themselves to ideal versions of mothers on social media, and this is a problem. When we compare our lives to the aspirational, tightly curated and totally unrealistic depiction of life we see on Instagram — mom looks beautiful, the house is spotless, the kids are rosy-cheeked and smiling — we are constantly taking in data that says: You aren’t doing as good of a job as they are. No wonder we all feel like failures.

Research suggests this is exactly what happens. A study published in February found that mothers who tend to make social comparisons are more negatively affected by parenting-related Instagram accounts than moms who don’t make a lot of social comparisons. Social media, the researchers found, gives social-comparison-oriented mothers a “decreased sense of parenting competence.” More than one-third of the moms in the study “mentioned the idealistic picture of parenting presented by InstaParents as something that was affecting them negatively, e.g. “Some people on Instagram make it all seem a little too perfect – then you start doubting yourself.” Sound familiar?

On the other side of the comparison spectrum are dads. In general, there’s much less research on dads than on moms (that’s slowly changing, thank god!), but wow, the research we do have on how dads make social comparisons is …. fascinating. As you might guess, compared with moms, dads aren’t spending as much time on Instagram and Facebook, comparing themselves to ideal parents. Sometimes dads compare themselves to other dads they know, but because dads don’t tend to talk about parenting and household tasks with their guy friends as much as moms do with their mom friends, they often don’t have the data they need to make these comparisons. So what do they do instead? When dads make social comparisons, they often choose to compare themselves to fictional deadbeat dads. And this has big implications… [emphasis in original]

What happens when a dad compares himself to a fictional terrible dad? He feels pretty good about himself and his contributions to the family. He certainly doesn’t feel like he’s not doing enough. There is no incentive to change his ways, to do more. As Gaber explained, fathers who compared themselves to do-nothing dads “believed that they were doing more than this mythical dad who left all child care and housework responsibilities to their wives… They wanted to believe the division of labor was fair, even though their wives were doing more housework. By utilizing this manufactured referent, they could argue that their household contributions were greater than the average.”

19) I loved Jeff Maurer’s take on WV vs. EPA:

I’m going to do something weird here: I’m going to focus on the law, not the policy outcome. Articles about Supreme Court rulings almost never discuss the relevant law. They focus on policy outcomes, and people cheer or decry rulings based on those outcomes. Everyone in America seems to believe that the objective answer to any legal question — in an amazing coincidence — just so happens to align with the policy outcome they prefer. We treat this fact as so obvious that any disagreement must be the work of devious activist judges. Conservatives sang this song for decades while liberals denounced them as sore losers, and now the roles have exactly reversed, but few people seem to appreciate the irony. So, before I start, I insist that we all:

A federal agency can’t do anything without Congressional authority. The bureaucracy might be thought of as Congresses’ contractors; they do jobs that Congress can’t do themselves. It’s a logical system; if the government needs to, say, break up a drug ring, that should probably be farmed out to highly trained DEA agents instead of having Chuck Grassley and Elizabeth Warren kick down doors themselves.

Congress often uses vague language to authorize various actions. They have to; it’s impossible to anticipate every nuance that an agency might encounter in the course of doing the thing Congress wants them to do. Broad language also provides longevity; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has the authority to regulate alcohol, generally, not a list of spirits that would be rendered obsolete every time the sick fucks at Budweiser add a new sin against liquor to their product line of the damned…

So: Congress gives authority to federal agencies, but the parameters of that authority are vague pretty much by definition. The question in West Virginia v. EPA is whether EPA overstepped its authority in 2015 when it tried to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants. EPA claims that its authority comes from section 111(d) of the 1970 Clean Air Act, which is too long to cite in full, but I’ll link to it here in case you’re trying to commit suicide by boredom.1 Luckily, understanding the key question in this case doesn’t require reading the full law — you just need to channel your inner stoned freshman and ponder this question: What, like…really is a SYSTEM, man?

The definition of the word “system” is at the center of this case. That’s because the law requires EPA to regulate air pollution according to “…the best system of emission reduction…that has been adequately demonstrated.” So: EPA can’t just say “cut your emissions in half”; they have to have a method for cutting emissions — a system, if you will — that actually exists on Earth. Traditionally, these systems have usually been technology such as “scrubbers” added to coal-fired power plants, though they could also be processes such as changes to how the plant operates…

Justice Roberts and the five justices who joined his opinion think that EPA’s cap-and-trade plan is absolutely not a “system”. Roberts writes:

“The word “system” shorn of all context, however, is an empty vessel. Such a vague statutory grant is not close to the sort of clear authorization required.”

I have to say: I’m sympathetic to Justice Roberts’ concern here. You can’t have federal agencies seizing authority that nobody gave them by distorting the English language beyond all recognition. The dumbest articles and Twitter threads responding to this ruling have basically argued that the ruling is wrong because climate change is an EMERGENCY!!! I happen to believe that climate change is an emergency, but more importantly: So fucking what? You can’t chuck the rule of law out the window and say “It’s okay because: Emergency.” Most power grabs in history use emergency as pretext; the very concept of a dictator arose in ancient Rome as a temporary post in response to an emergency. Of course, the “emergency” never ended, and the post became the opposite of temporary, and Rome was unable to stab their way back to being a Republic.

20) And, as long as we’re on Maurer’s legal takes, this is excellent, “The Court’s Conservatives are Lying About Gay Marriage: But it’s not clear which part of their story is a lie”

In Obergefell, three of the four justices seem to believe that “liberty” does not include the freedom to marry. Thomas and Alito each wrote dissents in which they forcefully defend a narrow conception of the word “liberty”.2 Justice Scalia — who has assumed a role in conservative jurisprudence that I would describe as “Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque” — calls the expansive reading of the Due Process Clause by liberals a “threat to American democracy”. All four conservative justices who ruled on that case took the opportunity to write a dissent; they were like a rap group recording a diss track, each trying to one-up the others as they took turns spitting fire at the object of their disdain.

My uncharitable reading of Roberts’ argument after that point is that it’s basically gibberish. I feel that it essentially amounts to an internally-conflicted Roberts gasping “but come on!” In the course of searching for an explanation as to why marriage is a right, but not a right possessed by everyone, Roberts sings the praises of opposite-sex marriage as “…a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs.” Well — if the Aztecs did it, then I’m convinced! It’s good to know that if I ever engage in human sacrifice like the Aztecs, or child abandonment like the Carthaginians, John Roberts will have my back…

It seems clear that Roberts, Alito, and Thomas would give gay marriage the thumbs-down if the question was litigated again. To not nix it would be to basically say: “We totally blew it way back in 2015.” It’s hard to imagine what event might change their minds short of a Christmas Eve visit from Gay Jacob Marley and his husband, Ghost Scrooge. (Side note: Would you watch a Netflix series called The Adventures of Gay Jacob Marley and Ghost Scrooge? I’ve got a pitch meeting next week.)

The big question, then, is where Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett stand. Justices’ opinions on not-yet-litigated cases are always a coquettish fan dance, but by backing Dobbs, the three Trump-appointed justices endorsed the same skepticism of Due Process Clause-derived rights that animates the Obergefell dissents. Dobbs repudiates the logic of Roe and Obergefell; in his opinion, Alito speaks of the abortion right that the Court derived from the Fourteenth Amendment with the same disdainful tone that I’ve used on this blog to talk about George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky.

21) I found this really interesting, “Why Netflix’s most expensive movies keep getting worse.”  That said, I’ve watched most of Netflix’s “The Hustle” and I think it’s really good.

22) I hope this pans out! “UK scientists take ‘promising’ step towards single Covid and cold vaccine”

Scientists have made a “promising” advance towards developing a universal coronavirus vaccine to tackle Covid-19 and the common cold.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London have discovered that a specific area of the spike protein of Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – is a good target for a pan-coronavirus jab that could offer protection against all the Covid-19 variants and common colds.

Developing a vaccine that protects against a number of different coronaviruses is a huge challenge, they said, because this family of viruses have many key differences, frequently mutate and generally induce incomplete protection against reinfection. That is why people can repeatedly catch common colds, and why it is possible to be infected multiple times with different variants of Sars-CoV-2.

A universal coronavirus vaccine would need to trigger antibodies that recognise and neutralise a range of coronaviruses, scientists said, stopping the virus from entering hosts cells and replicating.

In the new study, the researchers investigated whether antibodies targeting the “S2 subunit” of Sars-CoV-2’s spike protein also neutralise other coronaviruses. The researchers found that after vaccinating mice with Sars-CoV-2 S2, the mice created antibodies able to neutralise a number of other animal and human coronaviruses.

They included the common cold coronavirus HCoV-OC43, the original strain of Sars-CoV-2, the D614G mutant that dominated in the first wave, Alpha, Beta, Delta, the original Omicron and two bat coronaviruses. The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“The S2 area of the spike protein is a promising target for a potential pan-coronavirus vaccine because this area is much more similar across different coronaviruses than the S1 area,” said the study’s co-first author, Kevin Ng, of the Francis Crick Institute. “It is less subject to mutations, and so a vaccine targeted at this area should be more robust.”

23) This really is kind of wild, from David Wallace-Wells, “Hardly Anyone Talks About How Fracking Was an Extraordinary Boondoggle”

Perhaps the most striking fact about the American hydraulic-fracturing boom, though, is unknown to all but the most discriminating consumers of energy news: Fracking has been, for nearly all of its history, a money-losing boondoggle, profitable only recently, after being propped up by so much investment from Wall Street and private equity that it resembled less an efficient-markets no-brainer and more a speculative empire of bubbles like Uber and WeWork. The American shale revolution did bring the country “energy independence,” whatever that has been worth, and more abundant oil and gas. It has indeed reshaped the entire geopolitical landscape for fuel, though not enough to strip leverage from Vladimir Putin. But the revolution wasn’t primarily a result of some market-busting breakthrough or an engineering innovation that allowed the industry to print cash. From the start, the cash moved in the other direction; the revolution happened only because enormous sums of money were poured into the project of making it happen.

Today, with profits aided by the energy price spikes of the last year, the fracking industry is finally, at least for the time being, profitable. But from 2010 to 2020, U.S. shale lost $300 billion. Previously, from 2002 to 2012, Chesapeake, the industry leader, didn’t report positive cash flow once, ending that period with total losses of some $30 billion, as Bethany McLean documents in her 2018 book, “Saudi America,” the single best and most thorough account of the fracking boom up to that point. Between mid-2012 and mid-2017, the 60 biggest fracking companies were losing an average of $9 billion each quarter. From 2006 to 2014, fracking companies lost $80 billion; in 2014, with oil at $100 a barrel, a level that seemed to promise a great cash-out, they lost $20 billion. These losses were mammoth and consistent, adding up to a total that “dwarfs anything in tech/V.C. in that time frame,” as the Bloomberg writer Joe Weisenthal pointed out recently. “There were all these stories written about how V.C.s were subsidizing millennial lifestyles,” he noted on Twitter. “The real story to be written is about the massive subsidy to consumers from everyone who financed Chesapeake and all the companies that lost money fracking last decade.”

24) Lots of gas and bloating for many early humans! “Early Europeans Could Not Tolerate Milk but Drank It Anyway, Study Finds: For thousands of years, Europeans consumed milk products despite lacking an enzyme needed to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort, according to a new study.”

The oldest evidence of milk came from Turkey, which was home to some of the world’s first agrarians. Those farmers then moved across Europe, taking their cattle and other livestock with them. By 6,000 years ago, they had arrived with their milk in England and Ireland.

Dr. Evershed and his colleagues found that some societies took up milk while neighboring ones did not. They also found that milk production went through boom-and-bust cycles over the centuries.

Mark Thomas, a geneticist at University College London, led the team’s analysis of lactase persistence. He and his colleagues analyzed DNA harvested from 1,786 ancient skeletons found across Europe and neighboring regions. They looked for a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on during adulthood.

The oldest mutation they found dated back about 6,600 years ago. But in their collection of ancient remains, it stayed rare until 4,000 years ago. For those 2,600 years, in other words, Europeans were consuming milk despite almost none of them being able to make lactase as adults.

To see how this mutation affected people today, the researchers joined forces with George Davey Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Bristol. Dr. Davey Smith has carried out a number of studies on the health of living British people by analyzing a large database called UK Biobank. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have submitted their DNA to the effort, along with their electronic health records and answers to questionnaires.

Dr. Davey Smith sifted through the UK Biobank for information about milk and lactase, comparing 312,781 volunteers who carried the lactase mutation to 20,250 who did not.

The analysis delivered some surprising results: People without the lactase mutation consume about as much milk as people who carry it. Yet people who cannot make the enzyme do not suffer any significant health problems. They do not die at a higher rate, they do not have weaker bones and they have just as many children as people with the mutation do…

Together, these parallel lines of evidence suggest that early Europeans made milk a part of their diet, even without lactase. It is possible that some of them occasionally suffered some uncomfortable cramps and gas, but it was not enough to affect their health.

Early Europeans may have also lessened the painful effects of milk sugar by fermenting milk into cheese or turning it into butter. (In Ireland, people who harvest peat from bogs have occasionally found massive containers of “bog butter” dating back thousands of years.)

Consuming milk without lactase became riskier later, in times of crisis, Dr. Evershed and his colleagues argued. Starvation has been shown to shift mild symptoms, such as gas and cramps, to more dangerous ones, like diarrhea.

25) Lots of good social science here from Edsall, “How You Feel About Gender Roles Can Tell Us How You’ll Vote”

competing ideas about the roles of men and women, at home and at work, shape our political life. They do not set men against women as much as produce two opposing coalitions, each made up of both men and women.

It almost goes without saying, but men and women who support traditional gender roles for men and women lean strongly toward the Republican Party; men and women who question traditional gender roles and who are sympathetic to women’s rights lean strongly toward the Democratic Party…

While there are modest gender gaps in partisanship, voting and policy views, Winter wrote, “these pale compared with the differences among men and among women in views on gender roles and feminism. And gender roles and feminism have increasingly structured elite partisan debate.”

In an email expanding on the points he made in his book chapter, Winter wrote that “a voter’s personal masculinity/femininity (and views on same)” interacts with partisanship such that “people (men or women) who support traditional gender roles tend to favor the Republican Party and people who either reject or at least do not valorize traditional gender roles (men and women both) favor the Democratic Party.” The focus “is on the voter’s views about how gender should be organized (i.e., the belief that men should be masculine, act masculine and hold masculine roles; women should be feminine, act feminine, hold feminine roles).”

The gap between the attitudes of Democrats and Republicans toward the women’s rights movement has widened in recent years, Winter notes:

From 1970 through 2016, Democrats rated feminists and the women’s movement higher than did Republicans. This difference was modest — between 5 and 10 degrees — through the 1970s, then increased steadily from 10 degrees in 1980 to almost 20 degrees in the mid-1990s. After closing slightly, partisan polarization in ratings of feminists reached their most polarized level yet in 2016. That year, Democrats rated feminists at 67 degrees, compared with 43 degrees among Republicans, a difference of about a quarter of the 101-degree rating scale.”

The same pattern Winter describes can be found on a wide range of politically salient issues. The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers issued a report, “Gender Gap Public Opinion,” based on poll data from the 2016 and 2020 American National Election Study, the 2018 General Social Survey, the 2020 Cooperative Election Study and the June 2020 AP-NORC Center Poll.

 

Photo of the day

I do love a good dog on a stand up paddleboard photo, but found this particularly irresistible when I learned it was from Bournemouth, UK (where my recent English Channel crossing friend moved to prepare for her crossing).  From Atlantic’s photos of the week:A woman kneels on a floating surfboard with her dog, which leans in and licks her face.

Marina White and her dog, Coco, share a kiss during warm-up before a race in Bournemouth, England, on July 23, 2022. The U.K. Dog Surfing Championship is being held for its fourth year at Branksome Dene Chine Beach. 

Finnbarr Webster / Getty

Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting take from Brian Beutler:

This difference filters into how the parties wield power. 

Since the New Deal, through eras of ascendency and retreat, Democrats have sought political power almost exclusively as a means of modifying and expanding the terms of a social contract for Americans. They are driven by the pursuit of ideological goals and interest group demands, nearly all of which entail passing significant pieces of legislation. Their presidents view their own legacies as synonymous with how much they can get done on that front, and how well it stacks up to what FDR managed to achieve. If not FDR, then LBJ; if not LBJ, then Barack Obama. Be like them, and not only will history remember you fondly, but your party will thrive as the public rallies to the side of solidary leaders.

They have also, rightly and wrongly, projected mirror-image ambitions on to their opponents, imagining the great pendulum swings of politics as a tit-for-tat between common-good liberals and libertarian-minded conservatives; a world where the Republican ideal of political greatness runs through the Reaganesque devolution of the welfare state and other institutions of collective power. 

It’s a pleasingly symmetrical model, and there have been times when it resembled reality, but I think it’s mostly wrong, and completely outmoded today…

Generally speaking, though, that’s what the “Democratic establishment” has done. And not just the leaders, as Bacon defined it, but the whole network of party actors and aligned advocacy groups.

The broad left has effectively redoubled its conviction that the best way to deal with the right’s politics of rule or ruin is to pull the policy lever ever harder. Different Democrats have different intuitions about how the policy lever is supposed to work. Progressives imagine transformational, redistributive policies will generate working-class solidarity and an unbeatable rainbow coalition. Moderates believe competent management, along with popular but incremental new reforms will capture the political center, without which Republicans can’t win.

But both believe that good policy, and good execution, are destiny, and that consensus is visible in the party’s vast technocratic class, the army of Mr. Fix-its who ride to the rescue after Republicans leave everything in a smoldering heap.

And yet, Republicans still win half of all elections. The progressive writer David Dayen coined the term “deliverism” to reconcile Democratic policy essentialism with the party’s middling electoral performance. It isn’t enough, under his theory, for the planks of the Democratic agenda to be popular, they also have to become law, and be well implemented. It isn’t enough, and may even be counterproductive, to run campaign after campaign on promises to reduce insurance premiums and prescription-drug prices, if you never actually pass the bills that bring those dollar figures down mechanically, without muss or fuss. 

There’s real appeal to deliverism, especially if you’re a high-minded liberal or lefty, and (not for nothing) it describes a beau ideal of ethical conduct in public life. It’d be nice to imagine things working that way, it makes policy ambition the gravitational center of Democratic politics, and, in recent years at least, it’s been unfalsifiable: For all they’ve done in the new century, Democrats haven’t delivered many lasting, tangible benefits to the broad public. The ACA is something like the exception that proves the rule, because its universal benefit—the coverage guarantee—is abstract; the main material benefits—the coverage expansion—by design didn’t touch the existing arrangements of the vast majority of insured people. Biden delivered the temporary provisions of the American Rescue Plan, and they were popular, but they weren’t lasting, so can’t by definition be a basis for electoral domination.

I think the sad truth is, the evidence for deliverism is scant, and the only thing that will save Democrats and the country is a resolve to prioritize things we don’t really think of as policy objectives per se. What will work is adding states to the union, disempowering the Senate, abolishing the filibuster, expanding the courts, summarily reversing its most corrupt precedents, proportional representation, prison for Donald Trump.

2) David Leonhardt on our abortion pill future:

Today’s newsletter looks at three different realms where this issue is likely to play out.

1. Aid Access

In 2018, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch physician, founded a group called Aid Access to help women in countries where abortion is illegal order pills through the mail. With many American states now outlawing abortion, Aid Access has a new relevance in the U.S.: After Texas enacted a strict abortion law last year, for example, Aid Access experienced a surge of requests from Texas.

To receive pills, women contact a European doctor through Aid Access’s website. Then, a doctor will often fill the prescription using a pharmacy in India, which will send the pills by mail. They typically arrive in one to three weeks and can be taken safely up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Ordering the pills through Aid Access costs about $110, with discounts available to poorer women.

Gomperts told us that she believes Aid Access was not in legal jeopardy because it follows the laws in Austria, where it is based. “I practice according to the law and to all the medical ethical guidelines,” she said.

 

Both pro-choice and pro-life advocates agree that cracking down on the mailing of abortion pills is difficult. “This is a tough problem,” James Bopp, the top lawyer for the National Right to Life Committee, said. Elisabeth Smith of the Center for Reproductive Rights said, “Even the federal government does not have enforcement power against an entity that is wholly outside of the U.S.”

But Smith added that the situation might be different for women who take the pills: They could be in legal jeopardy in some states. Texas, for example, requires a woman seeking an abortion to visit a clinic twice — partly to restrict the use of pills. A woman who took abortion pills in Texas would be violating that law, and Smith and some other experts believe that prosecutors might bring such a case, especially in the rare instances when women had complications that required a doctor’s care.

One question is how law enforcement officials will try to stop the delivery of pills in a majority of cases. Pharmacies, of course, do not label their packages as containing abortion pills…

 

2. Overseas pharmacies

Some overseas pharmacies also ship abortion pills even without a prescription from a doctor. They typically sell generic versions of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol that have been produced in India.

Plan C, a group that helps women looking to obtain pills by mail, has published lists of pharmacies whose pills the group considers reliable. “We had them analyzed in the lab and they were the real thing,” Elisa Wells, Plan C’s co-founder, told us. The pills typically cost $200 to $500.

Taking a medication without help from a nurse or a doctor is obviously not an ideal situation, but some women may decide that they have no other option. Plan C also publishes medical and legal information about the pills, and a group called M+A operates a telephone hotline for questions about self-managed abortions or miscarriages.

As with pills obtained through Aid Access, women in some states may face legal risks from using an overseas pharmacy. Three states — Oklahoma, Nevada and South Carolina — have laws against self-managed abortion, Wells noted.

3. Mail forwarding

A third option involves getting a mailbox in a state where abortion is legal and working online with a medical provider in that state. The provider can send the pills to the mailbox, and the company that operates the mailbox can then forward them to a woman’s home in a state where abortion is banned.

This process involves multiple steps. Still, Wells said, it is among the cheapest, most convenient option for many women. It also involves some of the same legal vulnerabilities as the other options here.

Bopp, the anti-abortion advocate, said that he hoped the federal government would ultimately find ways to crack down on the mailing of abortion pills from one state to another. But it will not happen so long as President Biden is in office, he added.

(This Times Opinion video explains how a Texas woman used the mailbox approach. It meant that she did not have to take time off work, and she could induce the abortion in the privacy of her home.)

The bottom line

More than half of legal abortions in the U.S. are already conducted using pills, up from virtually none in 2000. The share is almost certain to keep rising, and a substantial number of illegal pill-based abortions also seem likely in Republican-run states. Increasingly, the future of abortion — and the political struggle over it — will revolve around medication abortion.

3) This is definitely going into the Public Opinion syllabus, “How much are polls misrepresenting Americans?”

Declining response rates for polls mean we must rely on the shrinking minority of Americans that agree to be interviewed to represent the broader public. Josh Clinton finds that Democrats were more likely to agree to be interviewed than Republicans or Independents in 2020. Common corrections could not compensate, as the partisans who do respond aren’t representative of those who don’t. Amnon Cavari finds that the people who refuse to participate in polls are less educated and less interested in politics. This means our measures of polarization overestimate partisan differences by speaking only to the highly engaged. We rely on public opinion surveys, but small response biases can paint a misleading picture.

4) Jamelle Bouie, “Why Andrew Yang’s New Third Party Is Bound to Fail”

The Forward Party, they say, will “reflect the moderate, common-sense majority.” If, they argue, most third parties in U.S. history failed to take off because they were “ideologically too narrow,” then theirs is primed to reach deep into the disgruntled masses, especially since, they say, “voters are calling for a new party now more than ever.”…

It is not clear that we can make a conclusion about the public’s appetite for a specific third party on the basis of its general appetite for a third party. But that’s a minor issue. The bigger problem for Yang, Whitman and Jolly is their assessment of the history of American third parties. It’s wrong.

The most successful third parties in American history have been precisely those that galvanized a narrow slice of the public over a specific set of issues. They further polarized the electorate, changed the political landscape and forced the established parties to reckon with their influence.

This also gets to the meaning of success in the American system. The two-party system in the United States is a natural result of the rules of the game. The combination of single-member districts and single-ballot, “first past the post” elections means that in any election with more than two candidates, there’s a chance the winner won’t have a majority. There might be four or five or six (or even nine) distinct factions in an electorate, but the drive to prevent a plurality winner will very likely lead to the creation of two parties that take the shape of loose coalitions, each capable of winning that majority outright…

The biggest problem with the Forward Party, however, is that its leaders — like so many failed reformers — seem to think that you can take the conflict out of politics. “On every issue facing this nation,” they write, “we can find a reasonable approach most Americans agree on.”

No, we can’t. When an issue becomes live — when it becomes salient, as political scientists put it — people disagree. The question is how to handle and structure that disagreement within the political system. Will it fuel the process of government or will it paralyze it? Something tells me that neither Yang nor his allies have the answer.

5) This is quite good, “Cancel Culture: It’s real and on the rise, on the left and the right”

The first myth is what we might call the Chappelle fallacy. It’s summed up nicely in this tweet: “Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Kanye, DaBaby and Marilyn Manson all nominated for Grammys today. Still waiting for ‘Cancel Culture’ to be real.”

“The notion that cancel culture exists at all is bullshit,” Daily Beast entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon says. “If anything, whenever a person being criticized claims ‘cancel culture,’ their career and financial situation improves.”

The same dozen or so names are trotted out whenever people make the claim that “canceled” people just get handed a loudermegaphone. Chappelle, Louis C.K.; writers and journalists like Andrew Sullivan, Bari Weiss and Glenn Greenwald who are thriving on Substack. 

The Chappelle Fallacy is a quintessential example of “survival bias.” The fact that some rich and famous people continue to maintain their platforms and followings after being “canceled” is NOT evidence that cancel culture is BS. For every Chappelle, there are dozens whose cancellations only register as a blip on our cultural radar, if they even register at all. 

Do you recognize this individual?

That’s Nashville composer Daniel Elder. Post George Floyd, several white protestors attempted to set Nasvhille’s Metro Courthouse on fire. Concerned by the destruction he was witnessing, which he thought was being fueled by a dangerous “mob mentality,” Elder posted this message on Instagram:

Elder was inundated with messages accusing him of being a racist—a “white supremacist piece of garbage,” as one social media comment put it. Others said they had appreciated his “beautiful” music but could no longer listen to or recommend it. Elder’s music publisher condemned his allegedly “incendiary” post and said they would be suspending future publishing with him. Local choir directors effectively blacklisted him. These career losses were, in Elder’s words, “devastating blows.” 

The impact of cancellations is far reaching. Documentary filmmaker Ted Balaker puts it best: “we shouldn’t judge cancel culture simply by what happens to a celebrity in the crosshairs.” The big stars capture all of the attention while ordinary people pay the biggest price…

So what, then, distinguishes cancel culture from criticism? 

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jonathan Rauch explains: “Criticism marshals evidence and arguments in a rational effort to persuade. Canceling, by contrast, seeks to organize and manipulate the social or media environment in order to isolate, deplatform or intimidate ideological opponents.”

Working from Rauch’s insightful “Cancel Culture Checklist,” here are what we see as the hallmarks of cancel culture:

  • moral grandstanding; that is,the display of moral outrage to impress one’s peer group, dominate others or both

  • caricatures and false accusations, especially quotes and information taken out of context

  • an emphasis on punishment 

  • guilt-by-association boycotts that target people who support the person under fire 

Here is Journalist Nick Gillespie, throwing the distinction between criticism and cancellation into sharp relief: “Somebody calling you a jackass on Twitter is criticism. Somebody organizing a mob to get you kicked off of Twitter…is cancel culture.”…

In the face of severe censorship challenges, we can continue to debate “cancel culture” from a partisan point-of-view. But we’ll end up like squabbling siblings, with endless debates about who started it and which party is most guilty.  

The urge to censor—an impetus common to governments, corporations, organizations, communities and individuals—is always there as a kind of default setting. But it seems clear to us that attempts to censor ideas, political viewpoints and individuals are on the rise in the United States. Some attempts will succeed. Others won’t. But all of them will help contribute to a polarized country where people increasingly turn to censorship in order to advance their agendas and vanquish their ideological opponents.     

No matter your political leanings, you should be troubled by the spread of cancel culture. It speaks to a nation that has lost faith in the capacity of its people to discuss, debate and deliberate. And reveals a society that revels in raw power over the power of persuasion. 

6) Nice interview with Eric Topol on BA5.

Why aren’t these better boosters in the pipeline instead?
Well, it’s pretty clear that Congress is unwilling to fund a dollar more for COVID. And that’s, of course, the Republicans blocking any COVID bill. But there are even people in the Biden administration who aren’t sure how much these next-generation vaccines — including variantproof, universal, and nasal — are going to help us. That’s just, I think, being out of touch with the science. And any COVID bill dedicated to getting ahead of the virus would need to include better drugs, more drugs. Because we have to plan for Paxlovid’s obsolescence, and we don’t have anything to replace it yet — but there are many good candidates in the pipeline…

And at the same time, we’ve collectively done virtually nothing to prepare for whatever evolves next.
Right. From day one of this pandemic, we have never tried to get ahead of the virus. Labs have come up with all sorts of broad neutralizing antibodies that would be variantproof. Nasal vaccines, to block transmission, to achieve mucosal immunity — there are 12 in clinical trials. There are all these drugs in the hopper. Pan-coronavirus vaccines. These are all academic pursuits or largely from small companies. There hasn’t been a national or a much larger international initiative to get ahead of the virus.

By initiative, you mean money.
Money and an Operation Warp Speed 2, with collaborations and private-public industry partnerships. And not necessarily just the U.S., it should be global. But you don’t see that, and it’s so stupid because look how successful we were. Operation Warp Speed showed how good we could be at this. But we haven’t done anything. We keep reacting and chasing instead of doing the things we know would get ahead of it.

I look at the data, and it says we can do better than this. I know we can; the science is there. It’s just waiting in the hopper to be activated, but we’re just not taking it seriously enough. And I want to get out of this thing. I thought we were out of it as we came down with Delta in June 2021. Who would’ve thought we would get to now, a year-plus later, and there’s still no light ahead of us? That’s why I want to take the aggressive get-ahead stance.

It seems like political will for that stance is nonexistent in the U.S. right now.
It’s also internationally. You don’t see the U.K. — which has been a model for science in the pandemic — or many places around the world that are capable of it talking about going after pan-coronavirus vaccines. Why aren’t we making this a global priority?

I’m optimistic that we can seize and achieve containment of the virus once and for all. I’ve been optimistic like that for many months, but I feel like I’m a Lone Ranger — not a single voice, but one of a minority.

To be clear, you mean a pharmacological way to contain the virus. Because we’re never going back to nonpharmaceutical interventions like we saw in the first few years of the pandemic, or at least unless there’s an enormous rise in hospitalizations and deaths.
Yeah. In January 2021, my colleague Dennis Burton and I wrote in Nature that we need a variantproof vaccine. This virus is ideally suited, as compared to flu or HIV, for a variantproof vaccine. The initial success of Pfizer’s vaccine was 95 percent against symptomatic COVID. There’s never been a flu vaccine like that. Look at the success of Paxlovid: a 90 percent reduction in hospitalizations and deaths. This virus is vulnerable. We’ve proven that. We’re just not building on our successes. It’s incredible. This is a less challenging, less hypermutating virus than the flu. Our COVID vaccines make flu vaccines look like a joke, or at least they did.

So we already have COVID on the ropes and can finish it off — if we try.
That’s why I’m so optimistic. We can do this. But we’re not doing it.

7) The lack of a center stand and instead these absurdly widely-spaced legs on modern TV’s is so annoying!

But even I have to admit that there’s one major hurdle to buying a new TV, and no, it’s not the weird, misplaced emotional attachment you may have to your 15-year-old Panasonic. I’m the proud owner of an 850-square-foot house in Portland, Oregon, and it’s literally my job to mount and watch TVs. But I still have a pathological fear of drilling into walls, and I don’t want to borrow my wife to lift and mount a new TV every few weeks.

I would much rather watch TVs on their own stands. You know, the ones that come in the box with them. But I can’t, for the dumbest possible reason—they don’t fit on my media console. I need to call out TV manufacturers, big and small, for a serious and common error in design: For the love of God, stop making TVs with legs so far apart.

We have been using media consoles to contain players and discs and hold screens since Monica and Chandler were first courting in prime time. The consoles haven’t changed much, but TV sizes sure have.

Over the past decade, we’ve settled on model standards of 55, 65, and 75+ inches, which is significantly bigger than all but the wealthiest of us were rocking in the ’90s. Back then, a large TV was around 40 inches. You can barely find TVs in that size now, much to the chagrin of my father and his built-in cabinets.

But companies are still placing angled legs at the edge of the TV, as though media consoles have gone through a similar growth spurt. It has to stop. When I built myself a TV reviewing space, I had to purchase a very expensive (yet somehow still poorly made) stand to fit this very real 75-inch TCL on top of.

8) Wired, “The New Climate Bill’s Secret Weapon? Tax Credits: The Inflation Reduction Act would provide billions for Americans to modernize their homes. It’s a way to encourage mass climate action.”

9) I love this idea, “The case for mandatory gun-liability insurance: You have to buy insurance to drive a car. Why not if you own a gun?”

Gun insurance would accomplish two goals: First, it would raise the cost of gun ownership for people whose firearms are deemed relatively more likely to be used in crimes (by themselves or others), based on an assessment of risk factors made by insurance companies. That would make those people less likely to obtain guns in the first place. Second, it would provide a strong financial incentive for gun owners to keep these weapons out of the hands of people who might commit crimes with them. Granted, mass shooters won’t be concerned about their future premiums — but many owners would take steps to ensure their weapons are well secured. And a 21-year-old with a history of violent behavior might find it much harder to obtain a gun if insurers insist that they pay premiums equal to several times the purchase price of a weapon. (Insurance would be a condition of ownership.)

The logic is analogous to that underpinning car insurance. If you drive a car, you may seriously damage another person’s property or even kill them. To discourage reckless driving, the law makes you legally liable should this happen. For most people, the potential liability exceeds their savings, which is why all 50 states require car owners to buy car insurance so payments can be made in the event of an accident.

In the case of guns, insurance would work similarly: If a gun you own were used in a crime (by you or someone else), you would be liable for the cost of that crime. The liability could be tens of thousands of dollars in the case of a robbery or tens of millions of dollars in the case of a mass shooting. To minimize legal costs, these liability amounts could be set by a regulatory agency, paralleling the workers’ compensation program. Gun owners would need insurance to guarantee their ability to pay, and insurers would set the premiums. They would set those rates based on obvious factors like age or past offenses as well as less obvious ones that they discover. (Perhaps Rotary Club members are 80 percent less likely to commit crimes.) Premiums would still be subject to anti-discrimination laws, so they could not vary systematically with race.

Liability insurance is not a substitute for other gun regulations, but it would supplement them nicely. 

10) Excellent stuff from Michele Goldberg, “The Anti-Abortion Movement Is in Denial”

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned last month, there’s been a steady barrage of horror stories, including several of women refused abortions for life-threatening pregnancy emergencies. Rakhi Dimino, a doctor in Texas, where most abortions have been illegal since last year, told PBS that more patients are coming to her with sepsis or hemorrhaging “than I’ve ever seen before.”

Some foes of abortion appear unbothered by such suffering; Idaho’s Republican Party recently rejected language from its party platform that would allow for abortions when a pregnant woman’s life is at stake. Others, however, seem to be struggling to reconcile their conviction that abortion bans are good for women with these evidently not-good outcomes. The result is frantic and sometimes paranoid deflection.

In National Review, Alexandra DeSanctis, who has written for Times Opinion calling for a fetal personhood amendment to the Constitution, suggested that pro-choice activists are the ones sowing confusion about how abortion bans affect miscarriage treatment. “Abortion supporters are muddying the waters on purpose, with the sole aim of undermining pro-life laws,” she wrote. The influential anti-abortion strategist Richard M. Doerflinger accused his opponents of “revving up a public relations apparatus to spread false and exaggerated claims in order to ‘paralyze’ physicians and discredit the laws.” LifeNews.com tweeted that doctors are “willing to put women’s lives at risk to create viral stories making abortion bans look culpable.”

To believe this, you have to believe that not just doctors, but also hospital attorneys and ethics boards, are collaborating to withhold care from anguished women in order to generate political propaganda.

Recently NPR reported on the ordeal of Elizabeth Weller, a Houston woman whose water broke at 18 weeks. With little amniotic fluid left, her fetus had almost no chance of survival. Continuing the pregnancy put Weller at risk of infection and hemorrhage. She decided to terminate, but when her doctor arrived at the hospital to perform the procedure, she wasn’t allowed to because of Texas’s abortion ban. The fetus still had a heartbeat, and Weller didn’t yet show signs of severe medical distress. She waited for days, getting sicker, until a hospital ethics board ruled that she could be induced.

Weller’s story is at once shocking and, to anyone who has followed the issue closely, predictable.

11) Jay Kaspian Kang on homework:

To help combat the myth of meritocracy, the authors suggest that teachers not assign overly challenging homework and stop rewarding or punishing students based on the quality of the homework they produce. They also suggest that some teachers, if so inclined, could go “a step further in attempting to reduce homework’s harm” and just get rid of it altogether. They write:

More research is needed to understand the consequences of these more “progressive” homework policies. Yet, we suspect that while optional and ungraded homework may reduce inequalities in homework-related rewards and punishments, it may not prevent teachers from judging those students (and their parents) who do not complete the optional or ungraded work. No-homework policies have greater potential for alleviating the kinds of unequal practices we observed in the schools in our study.

In short, teachers can’t even be trusted to give out optional homework because they’re too meritocracy-brained and will still judge the students based on the results. The easiest solution is to just stop giving homework altogether, so the wrong-thinking teachers don’t have as much of a platform upon which to prop up their meritocratic myths.

I want to be fair to the authors and acknowledge that even if I’m a bit skeptical about how their prescriptions could operate in a classroom, there might be other good reasons for doing away with homework.

Evidence about the effectiveness of homework is pretty scattered. There are studies and articles saying that homework helps students learn and that kids aren’t overly burdened with it. There are also studies and articles that say excessive homework shows diminishing returns and can be harmful to students’ mental health. Having read some of these studies, I think the fairest assessment right now would be to say that the evidence about the benefits of homework is pretty inconclusive because of the inherent difficulties in isolating one part of a student’s academic life and drawing huge conclusions about how it affects everything else.

From a theoretical standpoint, I mostly agree with Calarco, Horn and Chen’s diagnosis of the American educational system. It does largely function as a way to sort and stratify children into different socioeconomic bands, which, again, in theory, means that it would be helpful for teachers to approach their work with that in mind. Many richer kids go to private schools that feed into elite colleges that will more or less ensure their alumni will be on the glide path to staying rich. Many poorer kids go to poorer schools that provide them, in many cases, with fewer opportunities that might help them advance socioeconomically. Some portion of middle-class and working-class people, including a lot of immigrants and children of immigrants, pragmatically use the school system to achieve class mobility…

But there’s a defense of homework that doesn’t really have much to do with class mobility, equality or any sense of reinforcing the notion of meritocracy. It’s one that became quite clear to me when I was a teacher: Kids need to learn how to practice things. Homework, in many cases, is the only ritualized thing they have to do every day. Even if we could perfectly equalize opportunity in school and empower all students not to be encumbered by the weight of their socioeconomic status or ethnicity, I’m not sure what good it would do if the kids didn’t know how to do something relentlessly, over and over again, until they perfected it. Most teachers know that type of progress is very difficult to achieve inside the classroom, regardless of a student’s background, which is why, I imagine, Calarco, Horn and Chen found that most teachers weren’t thinking in a structural inequalities frame. Holistic ideas of education, in which learning is emphasized and students can explore concepts and ideas, are largely for the types of kids who don’t need to worry about class mobility.

12) Interesting, “The inside story of how John Roberts failed to save abortion rights”

13) Great stuff in the Atlantic, “The Gun Industry Created a New Consumer. Now It’s Killing Us.”

The gun industry’s modern marketing effort did not just arm these shooters; in a very real sense, it created them.

This is something I know a bit about, as someone who spent a quarter century in the business. Over my years as a rising executive with a successful gun manufacturer, I became more and more disturbed by the sort of firearms the industry was selling, how it was selling them, and to whom. Next week, I am testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at a hearing that, in the words of its chair, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, “will examine the role of gun manufacturers in flooding our communities with weapons of war and fueling America’s gun violence crisis.”

When I got my first job in the gun industry, in 1995, the marketing centered on hunting, target shooting, and responsible self-defense. Many advertisements evoked a love of craftsmanship and the outdoors, and some, like this 1995 Ruger ad, even directly addressed its customers as “responsible citizens”—a tagline the company dropped from its advertising in 2007.

A Ruger rifle ad
(Sturm, Ruger & Co.)

Companies such as the European American Armory, an importer of cheap, mostly Eastern European guns, that used cheesy ads—like this one from 2008—to sell imported guns were a rarity. Little did I realize that those tacky exceptions were the gun industry’s future.

A European American Armory ad featuring a female model
(European American Armory)

Those ads, designed to appeal to young men who knew no better, were the starting point for marketing that would create a new customer base and change our country forever.

This transformation received its first boost in the mid-aughts when President George W. Bush allowed the assault-weapons ban to sunset and then signed a bill that gave broad protection from liability to gunmakers. Combined, those moves reduced the social stigma and potential legal penalties for edgy marketing of military-style rifles. Over time, larger, more mainstream gunmakers began to experiment with marketing messages previously relegated to the disfavored fringe of the business.

Young men were the target. They had disposable income, a long customer life, and a readily exploited fascination with guns. The push to access these new customers took off in 2010 when the AR-15 maker Bushmaster launched its “Man Card” advertising campaign.

A Bushmaster ad with a picture of a rifle and the words, "Consider your man card reissued."
(Bushmaster Firearms International)

The ads, which ran in several gun-industry publications, on websites, and in Maxim magazine, were controversial and gained national attention. More important, they showed the rest of the industry the power of an appeal based on masculinity to the 18–35 male demographic, at a time when images from America’s foreign wars were airing constantly on the evening news.

“The Bushmaster Man Card declares and confirms that you are a Man’s Man, the last of a dying breed, with all the rights and privileges duly afforded,” the ad copy read. If you’re hearing there, in “dying breed,” an anticipatory echo of the “Great Replacement” theory that inspired the alleged killer in May’s mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, you’re not mistaken: The conclusion that this type of marketing has contributed to creating today’s radical violent extremists is inescapable.

14) I’m probably never going to watch the obviously bloated Season 4 of Stranger Things, but damn did I love deBoer’s take:

  • I have already written about my great annoyance at the tendency (found in far more places than just Stranger Things) to references that exist only for the sake of referencing. For example, in the last episode of this past season, Dustin is dressed in the costume of a character from Red Dawn. This is absolutely classic for this show: there is no meaning whatsoever to this reference other than that Red Dawn is a product of the 1980s and some small portion of the show’s audience will see it and say “hey, it’s Thing! I remember Thing!” That’s it. There’s nothing deeper or more meaningful there. Symbolism only has value if there is some deeper dramatic reason for that symbol to be invoked. Otherwise it’s just “remember Thing?!?” As a bonus, there isn’t even any in-narrative reason why Dustin would be wearing camouflage (a fucking ghillie suit) at all…

    • And the problem there is that the Stranger Things crew clearly pays much, much too much attention to the internet. This is a widespread plague in our present culture, this obsession with catering to the “hardcore fans.” The best art you’ve ever enjoyed was made with a studied indifference to its audience. One of the things I hate most about modern TV and movies is recognizing the moments where the creators said “oh, people are definitely gonna gif this part!” It’s bad form for shows to constantly put out their lips to be kissed.

  • This show is so thirsty for credit for its gay characters. How many times are they going to tease that Will is gay without just coming out and saying it? Ah, but the more you tease, the more sad obsessives can create gifs to share on Tumblr! If a character is gay, let them be gay without so much ceremony. It’s 2022. Just having LGBTQ characters should not get you an Emmy anymore. You’re making nostalgia porn for people who spend the rent money on FunkoPop, not throwing bricks at Stonewall.

15) I still need to see “Moonlight.” I will not be seeing “The Avengers” “The 10 Most Influential Films of the Decade (and 20 Other Favorites)”

16) I loved this essay so much, “I Would Have Been a ‘Trans Kid’—Stop Medicalizing Gender Non-Conformity: There is nothing wrong with not conforming to sex stereotypes.”

According to the DSM-5, children can receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if they have at least six of the following symptoms, one of which must be the first, for at least six months (as listed on psychiatry.org):

  1. A strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)

  2. In boys (assigned gender), a strong preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong preference for wearing only typical masculine clothing and a strong resistance to the wearing of typical feminine clothing

  3. A strong preference for cross-gender roles in make-believe play or fantasy play

  4. A strong preference for the toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender

  5. A strong preference for playmates of the other gender

  6. In boys (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically masculine toys, games, and activities and a strong avoidance of rough-and-tumble play; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically feminine toys, games, and activities

  7. A strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy

  8. A strong desire for the physical sex characteristics that match one’s experienced gender

I would have effortlessly met the first six criteria throughout my childhood, and the seventh as soon as puberty hit (I am sure many other women would say the same about point seven as well).

The fact that the first symptom must be included seems to be a mere formality, because what child could possibly exhibit such gender non-conforming behavior and not feel like life would be easier if they were the other sex? Even though my family and peers fully accepted my gender nonconformity, I still often wished that I was a boy so that I wasn’t such a different girl. I can only imagine how strong that desire would be in children whose friends and family are less accepting or even hostile.

Another major issue with these DSM-5 criteria is how most of these “symptoms” are based on stereotypes, which they readily admit: point four quite literally talks about “preference for the toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender” (my emphasis). This is damning for activists who argue that gender identity has absolutely nothing to do with stereotypes or the diagnosing of “transgender” children.

And how can they even pretend to believe this when story after story told so glowingly in the media features parents talking about how their child’s stereotypically gender-nonconforming behavior made them realize that their child was actually the opposite sex? …

“We let them be themselves,” says a pediatrician in this NBC News story about a 5-year-old girl who was being socially transitioned. “So, they cut their hair and they wear their clothes and they wear their shoes they want. And they wear jewelry or they play with the kids they want to play with and they do the activities they want to do. We call that social transition.”

Funny, I was also allowed to cut my hair the way I wanted, wear the clothes and shoes I wanted, play with the kids I wanted, and do the activities I wanted. But instead of calling this a “social transition,” the adults around me thankfully just called it “letting a child be a child.”

To believe that a child is “transitioning” just by being themselves and existing in the way they prefer is a dangerous and regressive idea. These stories and the widespread belief that there is such a thing as a “trans child” instills the notion that there is a “wrong” way to be a little boy or a little girl. It makes kids, teens, and even adults feel like there is something wrong with not conforming to sex stereotypes. [emphasis mine]

17) I really enjoyed this discussion of eliminating offside in hockey.  I think the last part is the key:

Man, the “get rid of the offside rule” movement is growing these days. And I’m not sure it’s wrong.

Let’s start with your first question. Offside exists because way back in the day, the idea was to encourage station-to-station hockey, and discourage teams from just having guys loiter in the offensive zone waiting for long passes. From an entertainment purpose, you can kind of see it. Nobody wants to watch a 200-foot game of tennis, so forcing teams to attack as a unit made some sense.

But that was a long time ago. As Jeff Marek has often asked, if you were designing hockey from scratch today, would this be a rule you’d want? Would you insist on a special line on the ice, somewhat arbitrarily placed, that held a unique power to negate an offensive play? Of course you wouldn’t.

The argument for just scrapping the rule altogether is that strategy and tactics have evolved enough over a century that we no longer need to force teams to work together. We know for sure that today’s defense-obsessed coaches wouldn’t let their forwards hang back waiting for breakaway passes. And what if they did? Wouldn’t that just stretch out the defense, and really test the guys making those long breakout passes? It might be fun to find out, and at the very least we’d get a faster-flowing game without awful replay reviews.

Here’s my one hesitation. I wouldn’t miss offside on zone entries at all. But I think I would miss the blue line battles to keep the puck in, and the sense of relief that comes when a team that’s under attack in their own zone finally gets the puck out over the line. Those moments can be good ones, and I’d miss them if we lost them completely. So while you could sign me up for some sort of floating blue line proposal (where once you lose the zone the whole team has to tag up to re-enter), I’m not sure I’m on board with completely scrapping the concept altogether. But I might be getting there.

18) Totally want to do this with my friends, “Therapy as a Party Game? Yes, With Fewer Fights Than Monopoly: If you want to hear about your guests’ daddy issues — without irony — break out the late ’60s board game Group Therapy.”

“Pick the member of the group who likes you the least and tell him how it is his problem.”

It sounds like a directive from a reality-show producer, but in fact, it is a challenge from the greatest board game of all time: Group Therapy.

In the three years since I stumbled upon Group Therapy at the Paula Rubenstein antique shop in New York, it has become one of my most cherished possessions. The game has strengthened existing friendships, formed the basis for new ones, and earned me more dinner-party invitations than my personality alone could account for. Other guests are kindly asked to bring desserts, wine or sides. My assignment: Bring Group Therapy.

Steve Greene– setting the record straight since 2022 (abortion edition)

Well, I made my first ever “Fact Check” yesterday at the one-and-only “factcheck.org.”  I’ll just paste the highlights below…

Republican Rep. Larry Pittman introduced a bill in the North Carolina House of Representatives in February 2021 — long before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June — that said “human life begins at the moment of fertilization” and that “new human life is recognized by the State as an individual person, entitled to the protection under the State’s laws from the moment of fertilization until natural death.”

The bill called for anyone “willfully seeking to destroy the life of another person, by any means, at any stage of life, or succeeds in doing so, to be held accountable for attempted murder or for first degree murder, respectively.” Murder in the first degree is punishable by life in prison or the death penalty. 

The bill also said that the state “has an interest and a duty to defend innocent persons from willful destruction of their lives and to punish those who take the lives of persons, born or unborn, who have not committed any crime punishable by death.”

The bill failed to advance. The North Carolina General Assembly website lists only five sponsors. Pittman, the main sponsor, is not running for reelection this year, according to the state House Principal Clerk’s Office.

But comedian Amanda Seales misleadingly claimed in an Instagram video posted July 20 that North Carolina is considering a bill that would make it legal to “murder a pregnant woman who intends to get an abortion.”

Seales, with an image of North Carolina House Bill 158 in the background, urged North Carolinians to vote. “If the Republicans win a supermajority, this is the type of shit that is happening, that’s going to be happening in your state, and the blood will be on your hands,” she said.

Another Instagram post with more than 1,000 likes was posted by comedian TK Kirkland making a similar claim: “North Carolina Bill Proposes Women Who Get Abortions Should Face Death Penalty.” …

“The fact that this happened in February 2021 and the first time we’re hearing about it is July 2022 tells us all we really need to know about the fact that this was never legislation that had any chance at all of becoming law,” Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, told us.

The bill “goes well beyond even the most extreme pro-life legislation being passed anywhere, and I have a hard time imagining this could get majority support among even a very conservative group of Republican state legislators,” Greene said.

If the bill had gotten traction, it “goes so far that I’d have to imagine it would be enjoined by courts before ever going into effect,” Greene said. However, he added, “this is a brave new world we are in now where we are still very much learning just how far Republican legislators will go and how far courts will let them.”

And since this was an email interview, I also have the answers that didn’t make it into the story, so here they are too, from our email correspondence:

—What effect would HB 158 have had if it had gone into effect? Would the result be different now that Roe v. Wade is gone?
This bill goes so far that I’d have to imagine it would be enjoined by courts before ever going into effect, but, this is a brave new world we are now in where we are still very much learning just how far Republican legislators will go and how far courts will let them.  
 
—Are there plans to introduce abortion-related legislation in North Carolina in the wake of Roe’s repeal? 
NC’s Republican legislative leaders are savvy.  They know any legislation they put forward now would be vetoed by our Democratic governor.  And presumably they think that it would help Democrats in the November election and therefore have not brought forward any legislation after the Dobbs decision.  Clearly they are awaiting the results of the election and next year’s legislative session before trying to change any laws on abortion.
 

Honestly, I think even your typical Republican legislator is embarrassed by this bill and realizes its nuts.  Or it least realizes that it’s politically toxic.  That said, if elected Republican legislators are going to submit bills like this, then, hell yeah, Progressive activists should actually publicize it and run against it.  They should probably just try and be a bit more honest when doing so.  The truth is bad enough.  

Where are we with Covid anyway?

David Wallace-Wells with the best piece I’ve read on Covid in quite a while (this one gets the gift link):

Nationally, the BA.5 wave does not appear to have crested yet, but so far deaths, while rising, are doing so relatively slowly. Pull far enough back in looking at the graphs and it’s hard to even see the increase. Hospitalizations have doubled roughly since May but are still only a quarter as high as they were at the peak of the initial Omicron wave and well below any of the pandemic’s previous peaks. I.C.U. admissions have barely budged.

 

How can you characterize this dynamic, or make sense of it? Wave after wave of infection passing through, but almost in the background; hospitalizations and deaths bumping up and down, but mostly within a relatively narrow range, and much lower, relative to caseloads, than we remember even from the first Omicron wave, let alone Delta before that and the waves of 2020 still earlier.

One word for it is “endemic,” says Trevor Bedford, a computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle and among the most careful and dependable soothsayers of the past two years.

Bedford is reluctant to dwell on semantic debates about what constitutes a “pandemic phase” rather than an “endemic phase” for Covid-19, for instance. But if we insist that the country is still in a pandemic phase, he says, we’re not going to be able to downshift from that anytime soon, since conditions aren’t likely to look very different for years — and the country’s accumulating immunological protection, if imperfect, is still a categorical break from those earlier phases in which we first calibrated our fears. “If we’re saying that we’re still in a pandemic right now, it’s still going to be a pandemic in year seven — we’ll still be in a pandemic then,” Bedford says. “So I think it’s better to acknowledge that we’re at 98 percent of the population having immunity of some form — certainly over 95 percent. There’s not much more that could change in that regard.”

There are technical reasons other epidemiologists would dispute the term “endemic.” With respiratory diseases, it can refer to diseases where the average sick person infects fewer than one new person, and each of this year’s variants is more infectious than that. And while many use “endemic” to imply viral stability, there remains the possibility of a “surprise” in viral evolution, of course; no one I spoke to for this article was comfortable ruling it out…

But in a vernacular sense, the term fits: A large majority of the country has gotten infected with the coronavirus, probably most of us with a strain of Omicron, and 67 percent of us are vaccinated as well (though only 32 percent boosted). And for all the variant-after-variant turbulence of the past few months, from another perspective, the Covid experience in America has been for months in something like a steady state…

This year has been considerably worse than that, largely because it includes the initial arrival of Omicron — which, though often described as “mild,” killed more than 100,000 Americans in the first six weeks of the year. And so although the country’s current trajectory is following an annualized pace of 100,000 deaths, more than 200,000 Americans have died already this year, which implies over 250,000 deaths by the end of 2022.

Michael Mina, an epidemiologist who left Harvard to become the chief scientist at the online medical portal eMed in 2021 after spending most of the pandemic as the country’s leading rapid-testing evangelist, believes it could get worse. With a combination of seasonality and waning immunity among older people, he said, there’s potential for a fall wave of perhaps 1,000 a day. That would bring the number of American deaths, this year, to potentially 300,000 or more…

That toll, 10 times that of recent flu seasons, is smaller, to be sure, than those of the first two years of the pandemic, when just over 400,000 Americans died during both President Donald Trump’s last year in office and in President Biden’s first. But it isn’t that much smaller. Nationally, the infection fatality rate is a fraction of what it once was, but the disease is spreading much more prolifically now and has been all year, which means all told the disease is still generating a quite devastating death toll — particularly among the elderly, who have been accumulating immunity more slowly than the rest of the population and shedding it more quickly.

The way I see it endemic probably is the best description because we do 1) seem to be at a new normal, and 2) this isn’t going away anytime soon.  The basic fact seems to me that, within somewhat of a range, we are at a new normal that is simply worse than our old normal.  But this is where we are for a while yet until we get those better vaccines we just don’t have enough urgency for. Status quo ante is just not an option.  So, yeah, with some modest ups and downs, this is basically just life now.

Also a good take on things from Eric Topol

But let me emphasize: the culprit in all of this isn’t our vaccines, which are now providing little to no protection against infections and transmission. They are damn leaky, which only arose from the emergence of Omicron and has gotten progressively worse as we moved to BA.5 . It’s the virus. That’s why we’ve started to see a crack in protection vs. severe disease from vaccines with boosters, as I previously reviewed (boiling frog metaphor). It’s that we have not gotten ahead of the immune escape properties of virus with a bolstered mucosal immunity strategy—local IgA, neutralizing antibodies in the upper airway—via nasal or oral vaccines to solidify our 2nd layer of defense. Or inhaled interferons to jack up our first line of defense. Or developing a variant-proof vaccine…

As Akiko Iwasaki and I wrote last week, it is imperative that we launch a new, major initiative, as we called it Operation Nasal Vaccine, to get ahead of the virus and promote respiratory mucosal immunity.

To summarize a few key points:

  1. There is little to no respiratory mucosal immunity from mRNA vaccines in people vs Omicron

  2. Nasal vaccines in animal models induce very high levels of neutralizing antibodies vs Omicron

     

  3. There are 12 nasal vaccines in clinical trials and 4 are late-stage, Phase 3 but there is no government plan for manufacturing, distribution or regulatory review as there was for the original vaccines.

  4. While only 1 nasal spray vaccine is currently available (FluMist for influenza) we have already had marked success on a comparative basis against SAR-CoV-2 for vaccine efficacy and an oral antiviral pill (Paxlovid vs Tamiflu). Furthermore, the biology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus makes it a more favorable target than influenza

Next week the White House is having a next-generation summit meeting to ponder plans for a nasal and universal, variant-proof vaccines. We’ve had enough of pondering……we need action. Let’s hope we finally get the vital support we need to build on our early and momentous success against the virus. It’s still evolving and we are getting further and further behind. We can do this.

I do think, hopefully, we’ll have a new normal that looks like the old normal.  But not until we really put the effort into these new vaccines.  But, for now, our new normal is a lot better than it was not all that long ago, but alas, it’s going to be a while before we are back to early 2020.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This was really interesting from Rory Smith on whether we are seeing the beginning of the end of headers in soccer and how that would change the game:

It would be futile to predict when, precisely, it will come. It is not possible, from the vantage point of now, of here, to identify a specific point, or an exact date, or even a broad time frame. All that can be said is that it will come, sooner or later. The days of heading, in soccer, are numbered…

This is not an attempt to introduce an absolute prohibition of heading, of course. It is simply an application to banish deliberate heading — presumably as opposed to accidental heading — from children’s soccer.

Once players hit their teens, heading would still be gradually introduced to their repertoire of skills, albeit in a limited way: Since 2020, the F.A.’s guidelines have recommended that all players, including professionals, should be exposed to a maximum of 10 high-force headers a week in training. Heading would not be abolished, not officially.

And yet that would, inevitably, be the effect. Young players nurtured without any exposure to or expertise in heading would be unlikely to place much emphasis on it, overnight, once it was permitted. They would have learned the game without it; there would be no real incentive to favor it. The skill would gradually fall into obsolescence, and then drift inexorably toward extinction.

From a health perspective, that would not be a bad thing. In public, the F.A.’s line is that it wants to impose the moratorium while further research is done into links between heading and both Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.) and dementia. In private, it must surely recognize that it is not difficult to discern the general direction of travel…

The same would be true of a soccer devoid of heading. It is not just that the way corners and free kicks are defended would be changed beyond recognition — no more crowding as many bodies as possible in or near the box — but the way that fullbacks deal with wide players, the positions that defensive lines take on the field, the whole structure of the game.

Those changes, in the sense of soccer as a sporting spectacle, are unlikely to be positive. Players may not head the ball as much as they used to, now, but they know they might have to head the ball just as much as their predecessors from a less civilized era. They cannot discount it, so they have to behave in such a way as to counteract it. The threat itself has value. Soccer is defined, still, by all the crosses that do not come.

Removing that — either by edict or by lost habit — would have the effect of removing possibility from the game. It would reduce the theoretical options available to an attacking team, and in doing so it would make the sport more predictable, more one-dimensional. It would tilt the balance in favor of those who seeks to destroy, rather than those who try to create. Clough did not quite have it right. Soccer has always been a sport of air, just as much as earth.

If heading is found — as seems likely — to endanger the long-term health of the players, of course, then that will have to change, and it would only be right to do so. No spectacle is worth such a terrible cost to those who provide it. The gains would outweigh the losses, a millionfold. But that is not the same as saying that nothing would be lost.

 

2) Catherine Rampell, “Texan politicians won’t say this, but solar is saving their tushies right now”

The heat waves searing the United States and Europe have generated huge demand for energy, as air conditioners work overtime. Texas, for instance, has busted records for energy demand at least 11times this summer. Europe is simultaneously attempting to wean itself off Russian-produced natural gas, increasing demand for other fuel sources.

Solar power, meanwhile, has been heroically filling in the gaps.

That’s because there has been an enormous ramp-up in solar investment in recent years. This has been driven by multiple factors, including government incentives, customer demand and especially technological advancements that have made solar astonishingly cheap. Sun-drenched Texas — not exactly known for its bleeding-heart liberals — has nearly triple the solar capacity this summer than it had last summer.

3) Jessica Grose, “Calendar management is a frustratingly difficult task to equalize”

Sonya Bonczek wanted to make sure she was inviting all of her son’s favorite kids to his 4th birthday party, which is in August. But she quickly realized she didn’t have all of their parents’ email addresses, and her son’s preschool doesn’t give them out. When she saw one of these parents at pickup, she flagged him down and asked for his contact info for an Evite. “Let me give you my wife’s,” he said.

“I didn’t even think about it,” Bonczek told me. Until the next day, when the same thing happened again. She saw a dad at the local pool in their Chapel Hill, N.C., neighborhood, and asked for his email — he gave out his wife’s instead. When this happened a third time in a single week, Bonczek, who works at the University of North Carolina Press, tweeted, “Been running into dads of my 3yo’s classmates and asking for their emails for his birthday party and so far 3 out of 3 dads have proceeded to give me their wives’ emails instead. This is now a social experiment.”

The tweet went viral, and the replies to it are like answers to a wild Rorschach test, revealing all kinds of intimate and specific interactions among parents. Some dads responded that their wives are just better at scheduling kid activities, and many people pushed back that moms are better at it because dads aren’t really trying and women have been socialized to manage their children’s schedules. Others responded that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a “strange” woman their email, because they’d be concerned it was inappropriate. Dads in families without moms expressed that they’re often left out of kid socializing because it takes place in female social circles…

What these varying responses tell me is that, despite all of the progress American dads have made in the past several decades in terms of active involvement with their children, scheduling remains one of the frustratingly difficult aspects to equalize in heterosexual couples. Even in couples where both parents work full time, 54 percent of parents say the mother does more managing of children’s schedules and activities, according to a 2015 Pew Research survey.

Interestingly, Pew notes that mothers are more likely to say they do more of every activity, while fathers are more likely to say that many activities are shared equally. “For example, 64 percent of mothers in two-parent households say that they do more than their spouse or partner when it comes to managing their children’s schedule and activities. And while many fathers (53 percent) concede that the mom in their household does more of this than they do, dads are much more likely than moms to say this responsibility is shared equally (41 percent vs. 31 percent of moms).” This reminds me of an epic Claire Cain Miller headline from early in the pandemic: “Nearly Half of Men Say They Do Most of the Home Schooling. 3 Percent of Women Agree.

4) Who knew the Opossum was so interesting:

First, let’s get a few things straight. Opossums do, in fact, play dead when threatened; they do not hang upside down by their tails. Dozens of different opossum species can be found in the Western Hemisphere, but only one lives here in America. This is Didelphis virginiana—given name, Virginia opossum. Possums, sans O, do exist; furrier and slightly more squirrel-like than opossums, they live in Australia and were once thought to be the same as our Virginia opossum. They are not—but they are both marsupials. Experts believe that early relatives of the Virginia opossum waltzed over to Australia way back when the continents were joined, millions of years ago.

Today, the Virginia opossum can be found basically all over North America: in cities and suburbs, fields and forests. One interloping opossum was recently tossed out of a Brooklyn bar. She thrives alongside humans, and she thrives without them, too. In his 2016 essay titled “Everything What’s Wrong of Possums,” the writer Daniel M. Lavery wondered what, exactly, an opossum eats: “IS IT FRUIT? IS IT … NIGHT DIRT? IS IT OTHER RATS?” The answer is yes. The opossum shovels up all of those things like the Dyson of the natural world. She savors carrion, cockroaches, earthworms, and insect exoskeletons. She feasts on small mice, and ticks that attach themselves to her hide. In cities she gobbles down rotten vegetables, bones, and greasy paper from your garbage. She scavenges—she cleans the streets! Opossums “have their own job,” Donna Holmes Parks, a biology professor at the University of Idaho, told me. And for all that hard work, she added, “they deserve to be admired.”

The Virginia opossum alone is known for all sorts of fascinating behaviors. Baby opossums, which are born the size of an ant, somehow manage to travel from the birth canal into their mother’s pouch. Those that survive the journey stay there for months, latching on to the mother’s teat with their tough palates. Grown, these opossums may not hang by their tails—but they do use them to carry around leaves in the winter. They make smacking sounds with their lips to communicate. Sometimes, they shuffle their back feet in a dance that Parks described to me as “a lot like the mashed potato.” Opossums are also immune to most snake venom. They literally eat pit vipers such as rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads for lunch. “They’re just so astounding!” Mason Fidino, who studies opossums at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute, told me. “I’ve got mad respect for them and their little bare toes.” Opossums “get a bum rap as being ugly, overgrown, ratlike things that have no brains,” Steven Austad, a biology professor at the University of Alabama, told me. Their brains are pretty small. But what they lack in brain size they make up for in olfactory power and memory. “If they eat something that’s bad, they remember that better than dogs or cats or pigs,” Austad said.

5) So much this “The Covid Virus Keeps Evolving. Why Haven’t Vaccines?”

6) Thought this was a really interesting take in the N&O, “As college football evolves, lessons can be learned from NASCAR’s rapid growth, decline”

In the crumbling speedways and long-faded echoes of the roars that once gave rise to a national sporting phenomenon, there are now lessons and quiet whispers that a different regional pastime would be wise to heed: There’s a mighty cost in abandoning one’s roots.

There was a time, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, when NASCAR was considered America’s fastest-growing sport. The likes of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon became household names in those days, and those in charge might’ve thought the future to be boundless.

And so the businesspeople believed it wise to expand, to take races from places that had given birth to stock car racing, and from people and communities that had nurtured it to civilization from its moonshine-running roots, and move them somewhere else.

Phoenix. New Hampshire. Texas. California. NASCAR, suddenly too big and too corporate for places like North Wilkesboro and Rockingham and Darlington, South Carolina, went national.

It made more money, for a while. More people watched, for a while. The sport grew, for a while. Now, more than 15 years after the most-watched Daytona 500 ever, NASCAR’s premier race comes and goes with much less interest than it used to. More than 19.3 million people tuned into Fox to watch it in 2006, according to sportsmediawatch.com. Fewer than half that many watched it earlier this year.

7) Harrowing account, “Inside a Uvalde Classroom: A Taunting Gunman and 78 Minutes of Terror”

8) Really appreciated Jesse Singal taking on this awful form of argumentation that’s become all too common among many liberals, “On Rashida Tlaib And Chase Strangio’s Ridiculous, Bad-Faith Attack On The New York Times (Updated): “Bad people could use your words to do bad things” is, in most cases, a nonsensical argument”

9) This is long overdue, especially know in light of Dobbs, “F.D.A. to Weigh Over-the-Counter Sale of Contraceptive Pills”

10) Good stuff from David French, “The Constitution Isn’t Working” 

What does any of this have to do with the Founders? How do these cases reflect a challenge to American democracy? The problem is simply this: Congress was intended to be the most potent branch of government. It is now the most dysfunctional. And it’s dysfunctional in part because the Founders did not properly predict the power of partisanship over institutional responsibility.

Even worse, Congress’s dysfunction radiates to other branches of government. Both the presidency and the judiciary assume more power than they should, escalating the stakes of presidential elections and the intensity of judicial confirmations.

Describing the branches of government as “co-equal,” as many people do, is simply wrong. Read the Constitution and you’ll quickly see that Congress has more theoretical power than any other branch. It can fire the president. It can fire any member of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. It can define the jurisdiction of federal courts and the numbers of judges and justices. Its powers are enumerated in the first article of the Constitution for a reason. It’s not equal. It’s preeminent.

Only Congress can declare war. Only Congress can authorize public spending. And for all the talk of the Founders’ suspicion of democracy, they gave these significant powers to the most democratic branch of government.

In reality, however, this independent congressional power depends a great deal on its willingness to uphold its institutional responsibility, to see itself as a separate branch of government that is jealous of its own power and prerogatives. The constitutional theory isn’t that, say, Democrats will check Republicans but that Congress will check the presidency.

Substitute an overriding partisan purpose for institutional responsibility, and the system starts to falter. We see this most plainly in the impeachment context. Congress has quite clearly tended to view impeachment primarily through a partisan lens. When Mitt Romney voted to convict Donald Trump during Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2019, he was the first senator in American history to cross partisan lines to vote to convict a president.

Congress is now less an independent branch of government and much more a collection of partisan foot soldiers supporting or opposing the sitting president’s agenda. Combine this partisan purpose with a closely divided country and you have a formula for deadlock, and worse.

Politics abhors a power vacuum, and Congress’s absence has been filled by the presidency. As Congress shrinks, the presidency grows. On a bipartisan basis, presidents now choose to act whenever Congress “fails.”

So now it is presidents who, in effect, declare war. Time and again, they initiate military hostilities without congressional approval. Their administrative agencies write laws of great consequence. They draft executive orders that are even designed to redirect funds appropriated by Congress to new presidential priorities. And the quirks of the Electoral College mean we now face a system where most Americans (who live in safe red or blue states) don’t cast truly meaningful votes for the one person who holds all this power. This reality breeds instability, and that instability is amplified each time a president is elected in spite of losing the popular vote.

And this brings us back to the Supreme Court. An emerging Court majority is now highly skeptical of presidential power. Through a series of technical rulings grounded in both the Administrative Procedure Act and in the Constitution itself, the Court is imposing intense scrutiny on executive actions—such as the Trump administration’s attempt to repeal DACA and add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Biden administration’s OSHA vaccine mandate, and the Obama-era clean-power rule.

On a pragmatic basis, a dangerous game is afoot. The Supreme Court is telling Congress, “If you want something done, you’ll have to do it yourself.” But what if Congress simply doesn’t do anything? What if it continues to place partisan imperatives over its institutional responsibilities? The Supreme Court can deny the president additional power, but it cannot force Congress to do its work.

11) Nice summary of key public opinion from 538, “How Americans Feel About Abortion And Contraception”

12) As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I do an oral daily gratitude journal with my kids.  This is some great guidelines for gratitude from Eric Barker, who’s book, Plays well with others, I’ve really been enjoying:

Here’s how to be more grateful:

  1. The Right Way To Keep A Gratitude Journal: Vary what you write about. It’s the searching for ideas that matters in the end. Don’t say, “I can’t think of anything.” Did you just get back from a chemotherapy appointment? No? Then you have something to be grateful for.
  2. Remember The Bad: Reflecting on how much worse life was reminds you how much better it is now.
  3. Get A Gratitude Buddy: People nag you at work. People might nag you to do things around the house. Do yourself the favor of getting someone to nag you to live a happy life.
  4. Hey! Watch Your Language!: Your Inner Critic does not get the last word. Change how you talk to yourself and you’ll change how you feel. “But does that really work, Eric?” Yes, Inner Critic, it does.

13) Jonathan Weiler, “Depraved Indifference: The senseless cruelty of rejecting Medicaid expansion”

Every individual who holds significant political office has the power and burden of making life or death decisions (so, you’re off the hook if you’re the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska :)). Politics involves tradeoffs. When you allocate resources here, you draw them from there. In favoring some groups, policies and priorities, you are disfavoring others. If you agreed to a certain level of health funding, the difference between what you settled for and the higher amount you might have fought for can be statistically inferred to result in increased mortality. While having inescapable real world consequences, these choices typically exist in a moral gray zone. Maybe you wanted to do more, but were blocked from doing so. Maybe other urgent priorities required your attention. And you have to make these choices in the face of the ultimately finite resources available to you. In any event, there is no such thing as a perfectly crafted policy that can enhance and optimize the well-being of every single potentially affected person. We are fallen.

In some cases, though, the tradeoffs are so lopsided in favor of basic well-being that choosing otherwise isn’t just the normal, inescapable to and fro of politics. Choosing otherwise amounts instead to calloused, pointless cruelty that deserves to be called senseless killing.

This is how we ought to be thinking about the ongoing obstruction of Republican leaders in a dozen states to accepting Medicaid expansion.

14) Business Insider, “The only demographic in America that reliably opposes abortion access is older men”

15) James Fallows, “How to Rein in an Out-of-Control Judiciary”

Yesterday a group called Fix the Court released proposed legislation with a Plan A / Plan B structure.

—The main effect of the law, Plan A, would be to enact 18-year fixed terms for Supreme Court Justices, as many groups (including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and several U.S. Representatives) have proposed, and is long overdue.

—The innovation of the law is its “contingency” provision. The Constitutional validity of any term-limit rules might ultimately be appealed to the same Supreme Court whose members would be affected. And suppose they ruled against it? To keep themselves in their seats?

If that happened, according to this provision, Plan B would kick in: the Court would automatically be expanded, from nine members to 13. The logic of this approach was laid out by G. Michael Parsons, of NYU’s law school, in a detailed law-review article and an op-ed last year.

Parsons summed up the argument this way:

Popular plans [to reform the Court] get watered down to preempt legal concerns, while controversial policies dominate the debate based on their constitutional pedigree. For example, Fix The Court’s plan would require justices to take senior status after 18 years (a widely popular approach), but the plan exempts sitting justices to avoid potential legal issues. Take Back the Court, meanwhile, argues that packing the court is the only viable option because anything else might be invalidated.

But what if this choice between popularity and predictability is a false one? Rather than settling on one plan, Congress instead should use a rare legislative tool known as “backup law” to layer its policy preferences from most politically desirable to most constitutionally secure. If the court holds the first preference unconstitutional, the second will automatically take its place. 

16) Unsurprisingly, I really enjoyed this, “The coaching and parenting lessons I learned coaching my son’s pee-wee football team”

17) I’m here all day long for taking right-wing Christians to task for consistently ignoring Jesus’ core message of concern for the poor:

Let’s talk about the culture war we should be fighting. When we think of what’s important to the “religious right” or to “white evangelicals,” the focus tends to be on social issues: abortion, the role of religion in public life, conflicts around sexual orientation and gender identity, and lately, controversy over critical race theory.

Social issues determine which corporations conservative Christians deem moral or immoral, good or bad. There have been calls to boycott Disney for its seemingly pro-L.G.B.T. stance. Disney also angered conservatives by pledging to help employees travel to other states to obtain abortions. On the other hand, Hobby Lobby is viewed as a “Christian” company because of its stance on contraception, its “Jesus Saves, Bro” coffee mugs and its commitment to print “full-page ads celebrating the real meaning of Christmas, Easter and Independence Day.” One Christian legal nonprofit puts corporations on a “nice” or “naughty” list each year based on their use of the term “Christmas” versus the more general “holiday” celebration. There was even a minor dust-up in a niche corner of Christian Twitter about “Whole Foods Christians” versus “Cracker Barrel Christians.” This is the stuff that the culture wars feed on. It’s the fodder for trending hashtags, outrage and denunciations.

But the people who debate the morality (or lack thereof) of Disney or Hobby Lobby rarely discuss how much paid time off these companies provide employees or whether they pay a living wage or what the wealth disparity is between their top and bottom earners or whether they have adequate maternity leave policies or how much a corporation financially gives back to a community.

Meanwhile, economic disparity continues to widen. In 2020, Pew reported that the middle class has been shrinking since the early 1970s. Since the 1980s the biggest spike in income has occurred for the top 5 percent of earners in America. The report concludes that over the past five decades — the whole course of our lives for many of us — there’s been a “long and steady rise in income inequality.” Still, despite the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic primary, a Pew report from the same year said that while a majority of Americans think there is “too much economic inequality” in the nation, fewer than half view this as a top political priority. The report also said that Republicans are likely to blame individuals rather than systemic forces for economic inequality, citing lifestyle choices or that “some people work harder than others.”

 

But how would our contemporary understanding of politics change if economic justice is in fact a “traditional value”? The indifference Christians on the right often show about wealth disparity flies in the face of thousands of years of Christian teachings. While Christians throughout church history cared deeply about sexual and personal morality, the linchpin of a Christian vision of the social order was the flourishing of the economically disadvantaged. When church leaders across the ages cited evidence of social disorder, they consistently pointed to vast economic inequality.

It’s not news that Christianity, like many other religions, values care for the poor. Throw a dart at the Bible and you are likely to hit a verse about the need to aid the vulnerable, to care for orphans and widows, to love the “least of these.” And most conservative Christians today would affirm the value of individual charity. But what strikes me as I listen to voices across history is not just that Christian leaders called for charity toward the poor but that they also emphasized economic justice. The poor were not simply those masses that we must patronizingly remember in our Christmas giving; they were entitled to material well-being. The rich were denounced as being in grave spiritual danger. Beyond that, the church proclaimed that society — including the government — had a responsibility to rein in greed and to ensure just distribution of wealth.

18) This is wild. 

An explanation here.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Ezra on the affordability crisis:

The numbers are startling. The median home price in 1950 was 2.2 times the average annual income; by 2020, it was six times average annual income. Child care costs grew by about 2,000 percent — yes, you read that right — between 1972 and 2007. Family premiums for employer-based health insurance jumped by 47 percent between 2011 and 2021, and deductibles and out-of-pocket costs shot up by almost 70 percent. The average price for brand-name drugs on Medicare Part D rose by 236 percent between 2009 and 2018. Between 1980 and 2018, the average cost of an undergraduate education rose by 169 percent. I could keep going.

We papered over the affordability crisis with low prices for consumer goods, soaring asset values that kept richer Americans happy, subsidies for some Americans at certain times and mountains of debt: housing debt and student-loan debt and medical debt that kept the working class semi-afloat. But none of this addressed the core problem. For far too long, the prices of the things we need most have been growing far faster than inflation.

And so a weird economy emerged, in which a secure, middle-class lifestyle receded for many, but the material trappings of middle-class success became affordable to most. In the 1960s, it was possible to attend a four-year college debt-free, but impossible to purchase a flat-screen television. By the 2020s, the reality was close to the reverse.,,

There’s a famous video where you’re told to keep your eye on a basketball being passed around and, as you do, you miss an actor in a gorilla suit ambling across the scene. But once you’ve seen the gorilla, you never miss it again. Politics works like that, too. It’s not just about the problems we have. It’s about the problems we learn to see. The prices problem has been lurking for years, but it’s never been the core of our politics. Now it is. It’s on gas station signs and at the supermarket. It’s in rental contracts and tuition checks. Even if headline inflation falls, I don’t think we’re going to unsee the high price of a middle-class life anytime soon. The political party that dominates this next era will be the one that shares the public’s fury and puts prices at the center of its agenda.

There are some early glimmers of what that might look like. The New Democrat Coalition, which is made up of 99 moderate-ish House Democrats, recently released a package of policy proposals meant to address inflation. But much of it is aimed at the affordability crisis that predates the rise in inflation. It includes legislation that would use federal transportation dollars to push cities and states to make it easier to build housing, that would ease worker shortages by raising legal immigration and that would cap insulin costs and allow Medicare to negotiate more drug prices.

If liberals look, they’ll find no end of ideas for bringing down prices across the economy. “I’ve been pulling my hair out about this stuff for years,” Dean Baker, one of the founders of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, told me. “We can’t just accept markets as structured and then use tax and subsidy policy to make it less bad. A real big problem with progressives is we treat the market problems as givens rather than restructure those markets.”

Baker’s long-running argument is that the division between market and government is now, and always has been, false. “The idea of a free market is nonsense,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of fun with libertarians who say they want the government out of markets. And I say, ‘Oh, you don’t want to have corporations anymore?’ Those are legal entities.”

2) Good stuff from Perry Bacon on media coverage of Biden:

Reporters tend to view their role as a check on politicians. This means presidents are always covered skeptically — but when one party dominates Washington, the political media often scrutinizes that party’s president even more. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump got very negative coverage at times when their parties also controlled Congress…

Also, the media’s “equally positive and negative to both sides” approach has been challenged by the increasingly radical and antidemocratic Republican Party. Honest coverage of political news often seems anti-GOP. The mainstream media covered Trump very harshly, particularly in the final months of his presidency as he worked to overturn election results. Some journalists, consciously or unconsciously, were poised to “balance” that negative Trump coverage with criticism of Biden, even if his actions weren’t nearly as deserving of condemnation. In the post-Trump era, leaders at CNN, the New York Times and other major outlets have emphasized that they don’t want to be perceived as more aligned with the Democrats….

Now, Biden is polling worse than Trump was in July 2020, when thousands of people were dying each week of covid, a situation much worse than the real and serious problem of high inflation in the Biden era. You can’t credibly argue that Trump, with his constant inflammatory statements and incompetent management, was a better president than Biden. These poll numbers reflect something gone wrong.

And in my view, media coverage is a big factor in those warped polling results. Media commitment to “equal” coverage of both parties has resulted in a year and a half of coverage since Biden entered office that implies both parties are similarly bad, as if the surge of inflation and some of Biden’s policy mistakes rival a Republican Party that is actively undermining democracy in numerous ways, such as continuing to voice baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, passing measures making it harder to vote, and gerrymandering so aggressively in states such as Wisconsin that elections are effectively meaningless.

Yes, I am calling for the media to cover Biden more positively. Not in the sense of declaring Biden a better man than Trump (though that is obviously true). Instead, political coverage should be grounded in highlighting the wide range of our problems and assessing whether politicians and parties are working toward credible solutions. Such a model would still produce a lot of stories about surging inflation, Afghanistan and other issues where Biden’s policies haven’t worked. But there would also be more stories about other issues important to Americans, even if they were going well under Biden (like the huge job growth during his tenure). Ideally, on every issue, the media would compare the Republican and Democratic solutions. You can see how this model might help Biden — but the bigger benefit would be to readers.

3) Republicans movement against democracy predates Trump. From Leonhardt’s newsletter:

On Feb. 24, 2016 — during Donald Trump’s Republican primary campaign and more than four years before he would falsely accuse Joe Biden of election fraud — somebody registered the website http://www.stopthesteal.org. It may have been Roger Stone, the Republican operative who was advising Trump’s 2016 campaign and appears to have coined the phrase “Stop the Steal.”

At the time, the target of the phrase was not a Democrat. It was Ted Cruz, Trump’s closest competition for the Republican nomination. After Cruz won the Colorado caucuses in April 2016, hundreds of Trump supporters gathered at the State Capitol in Denver and chanted, “Stop the steal!” During this same period, the website posted baseless allegations claiming fraud in other states.

This bit of history comes from Charles Homans’s latest revelatory story — which The Times Magazine has just published — about the anti-democracy movement within the Republican Party. The story’s central point is that this movement to create doubt about election results is older than many people realize and larger than Trump himself.

“What is striking about the movement around the supposed theft of the 2020 election,” Charles writes, “is how much of it — the ideas, and rhetoric, and even the people involved in it — predated Trump’s presidency, and in some cases even his candidacy.” And as that movement continues today, it is based less on the narrow goal of restoring Trump to power and more on a missionary zeal to put right-wing candidates into office.

4) Love this on new research on how woodpeckers don’t damage their brains with all that pounding:

Watching a woodpecker repeatedly smash its face into a tree, it’s hard not to wonder how its brain stays intact.

For years, the prevailing theory has been that structures in and around a woodpecker’s skull absorb the shocks created during pecking. “Blogs and information panels at zoos all present this as fact — that shock absorption is occurring in woodpeckers,” said Sam Van Wassenbergh, a biologist at the University of Antwerp. Woodpeckers have even inspired the engineering of shock-absorbing materials and gear, like football helmets.

But now, after analyzing high-speed footage of woodpeckers in action, Dr. Van Wassenbergh and colleagues are challenging this long-held belief. They discovered that woodpeckers are not absorbing shocks during pecking and they likely aren’t being concussed by using their heads like hammers. Their work was published in Current Biology on Thursday.

When a woodpecker slams its beak into a tree, it generates a shock. If something in a woodpecker’s skull were absorbing these shocks before they reached the brain — the way a car’s airbag absorbs shocks in an accident before they reach a passenger — then, on impact, a woodpecker’s head would decelerate more slowly compared with its beak.

With this in mind, the researchers analyzed high-speed videos of six woodpeckers (three species, two birds each) hammering away into a tree. They tracked two points on each bird’s beak and one point on its eye to mark its brain’s location. They found that the eye decelerated at the same rate as the beak and, in a couple of cases, even more quickly, which meant that — at the very least — the woodpecker was not absorbing any shock during pecking.

Dr. Van Wassenbergh said that if woodpeckers were absorbing some of the shock they were trying to deliver to the tree, “it would be a waste of precious energy for the birds. Woodpeckers have undergone millions of years of evolution to minimize shock absorption.” Maja Mielke, a biologist at the University of Antwerp and a co-author of the study, added that like a hammer, a woodpecker’s skull is “really optimized for pecking performance.”

But with one mystery solved emerged another: How do woodpecker brains withstand that repeated shock?

To calculate pressure in the birds’ skulls, the researchers created a computational model based on pecking movement and skull shape and size, and they found that the pressure created was far below what would cause a concussion in a primate. In fact, the birds would have to hit a tree at twice their current speed — or hit wood four times as stiff — to sustain a concussion. “We forget that woodpeckers are considerably smaller than humans,” Dr. Van Wassenbergh said. “Smaller animals can withstand higher decelerations. Think about a fly that hits a window and then just flies back again.”

5) Good take on the changing college football landscape (which totally bums me out, by the way):

There seems to be two things about conference realignment that everyone agrees with: It’s bad for the sport, and it’s all about the money. Long term, don’t these two things contradict each other? What’s going on? — Eric A.

That’s a truly fascinating thesis. On the surface, how could those two realities not be mutually exclusive, right? Wouldn’t the ability to make more money allow the powers that be to make the sport better, not worse? Or, if all this realignment is in fact bad for the sport, then isn’t all that money going to eventually evaporate?

My two cents: Two conferences separating themselves so far from the others that all but 32 fan bases feel they’re playing in the minor leagues is unquestionably bad for the sport of college football the way we’ve always known itUSC and UCLA ditching their 100-year-old conference and jeopardizing their West Coast peers’ future is frankly a big fat F.U. to the sport of college football the way we’ve always known it.

But college football has been veering farther and farther from its roots for several decades now, and the USC/UCLA news mostly feels like the moment everyone stopped pretending otherwise. The execs at Fox and ESPN don’t have any sort of civic responsibility toward Iowa State or Oregon State fans; their only obligation is to their shareholders. They are making a multi-billion dollar bet that while loyal, local college football fans may be alienated by the changing tides, they are going to draw in millions and millions of new fans with more NFL-esque version of the sport where every Saturday is Ohio State vs. Penn State, followed by Texas vs. Alabama, followed by Georgia vs. Oklahoma, followed by Michigan at USC.

Less charm, more blockbusters.

Fox Sports analyst Joel Klatt, whose opinions I respect tremendously but whose paycheck comes from one of the aforementioned companies, gave a pretty telling summation of this reality in a tweet shortly after the USC-UCLA news broke. “I think it is important to consider the potential CFB has as the clear #2 (sports) product in our country … Maximizing its potential hinges on the consumption from a national market rather than a regional one.”

6) And I guess if college athletes are just going to be paid employees, at least it’s not coming out of state funds?  Here’s the Texas Tech approach:

One week after Texas Tech announced a $200 million football facilities project, a group of Red Raider boosters announced Monday they’re taking their support to another level with a NIL program that will offer $25,000 deals to more than 100 Red Raider football players.

The Matador Club, a local nonprofit collective, is signing all 85 scholarship Texas Tech players and 20 walk-ons to one-year, $25,000 NIL contracts. In exchange, players will perform community service, serve as ambassadors for local and West Texas charities and appear at Matador Club events.

The contracts are payable monthly beginning in August and are renewable. Unlike NIL collectives at other schools, the contracts are also nonexclusive. The Matador Club is not acquiring players’ NIL rights and is encouraging them to continue pursuing other deals on their own.

“This serves as sort of a base salary for the whole locker room,” Cody Campbell, a founding member of the Matador Club and Texas Tech regent, told The Athletic, “and that should add a lot of stability and continuity to the program.”

Campbell, the co-CEO of DoublePoint Energy and co-founder of Double Eagle Energy Holdings, said $25,000 is a rate that is both sustainable and highly competitive with what other collectives are putting together. While the Matador Club raised enough funding through private donations to support more than 100 players, Campbell believes they can raise “two or three times more” if needed. They’re planning to sign men’s basketball and baseball players soon with the hopes of eventually also supporting non-revenue sports.

7) Good stuff from Jelani Cobb on Herschel Walker:

During three seasons with the University of Georgia Bulldogs, Walker, who is now sixty, recorded more than five thousand rushing yards. In 1982, he won the Heisman Trophy. These are his primary qualifications for representing Georgia in the Senate. He has also cited his work in law enforcement, his graduation from U.G.A. in the top percentile of his class, and his success in running businesses, including one of the largest minority-owned food-service companies in the country. These claims would be impressive, if they were accurate. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that he had never worked in law enforcement, that he did not graduate from college, and that he has exaggerated the size of his various business ventures.) The state G.O.P. had a long list of potential candidates to challenge Warnock. Walker, however, had effusively praised and diligently defended Trump during the 2020 election and after it. Trump looked at the unqualified newcomer, who was prone to rambling disquisitions on subjects he knew little about, and saw in him a winner. Game recognizes game.

Trump’s endorsement helped Walker become the nominee despite a devastating ad from a primary opponent pointing to Walker’s alleged history of domestic violence, including an incident years ago in which he is said to have pointed a firearm at his now ex-wife. (He has said that he does not remember that episode, citing a struggle with dissociative-identity disorder, and has denied accusations from other women.) His personal life has continued to prove complicated. A frequent commentator on the perils of “fatherless” households in Black communities, he has highlighted the role he has played in the life of his twenty-two-year-old son, Christian. In June, though, the Daily Beast reported that Walker was also the father of a ten-year-old son, whom he had not publicly acknowledged, and that the boy’s mother had sued him for child support. Walker then admitted that he had fathered a daughter during his college years, and also that he had another child, a thirteen-year-old son. Hypocrisy has seldom been less of a political liability than it is now, so it’s not particularly shocking that a candidate for high office would rail against men shirking their paternal responsibilities while evidently evading his own. Yet Walker also appears not to have told his campaign staff the truth when he was asked directly how many children he has; an unnamed adviser told the Daily Beast that Walker lies “like he’s breathing.”…

We have learned the hard way that, in American politics, integrity is optional. We’ve seen the wreckage that unqualified leadership yields. Yet Walker’s deficits are not the only cause for concern here. Warnock and Ossoff were elected on January 5, 2021. The next day, a Trumpist mob laid siege to the United States Capitol. We are not yet beyond that moment. Trump will reportedly announce a 2024 run for the Presidency ahead of this year’s election, when a Walker victory could return control of the Senate to the Republicans. A number of state legislatures have made their systems less amenable to fair elections, and next year the Supreme Court may assist those efforts. No one in the G.O.P. leadership can possibly believe that Walker is fit to hold a Senate seat, but the hope—as dangerous as it is cynical—is that he may be able to win one. And that joke would most certainly be on us.

8) This is just so absurdly unconstitutional, but, at this point who can be confident courts will make the obvious right calls on legislation like this, “South Carolina bill outlaws websites that tell how to get an abortion”

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling that overturned the right to abortion in June, South Carolina state senators introduced legislation that would make it illegal to “aid, abet or conspire with someone” to obtain an abortion.

The bill aims to block more than abortion: Provisions would outlaw providing information over the internet or phone about how to obtain an abortion. It would also make it illegal to host a website or “[provide] an internet service” with information that is “reasonably likely to be used for an abortion” and directed at pregnant people in the state.

Legal scholars say the proposal is likely a harbinger of other state measures, which may restrict communication and speech as they seek to curtail abortion. The June proposal, S. 1373, is modeled off a blueprint created by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), an antiabortion group, and designed to be replicated by lawmakers across the country.

As the fall of Roe v. Wade triggers a flood of new legislation, an adjacent battleground is emerging over the future of internet freedoms and privacy in states across the country — one, experts say, that could have a chilling impact on First Amendment-protected speech.

“These are not going to be one-offs,” said Michele Goodwin, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California at Irvine Law School. “These are going to be laws that spread like wildfire through states that have shown hostility to abortion.”

Goodwin called the South Carolina bill “unconstitutional.” But she warned it’s unclear how courts might respond after “turning a blind eye” to antiabortion laws even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

9) Some of you may recall that back when I tore my Achilles, it was my second attempt at playing Pickleball.  Never thought I’d see Pickleball in the New Yorker, “Can Pickleball save the world?”

10) Some really good political science here, “Survey Nonresponse and Mass Polarization: The Consequences of Declining Contact and Cooperation Rates”

Recent studies question whether declining response rates in survey data overstate the level of polarization of Americans. At issue are the sources of declining response rates—declining contact rates, associated mostly with random polling mechanisms, or declining cooperation rates, associated with personal preferences, knowledge, and interest in politics—and their differing effects on measures of polarization. Assessing 158 surveys (2004–2018), we show that declining cooperation is the primary source of declining response rates and that it leads to survey overrepresentation of people who are more engaged in politics. Analyzing individual responses to 1,223 policy questions in those surveys, we further show that, conditional on the policy area, this survey bias overestimates or underestimates the partisan divide among Americans. Our findings question the perceived strength of mass polarization and move forward the discussion about the effect of declining survey response on generalizations from survey data.

11) Jeremy Kamil is someone I’ve really learned a lot from on twitter.  Good stuff from him in NYT, “I’m a Virologist, and I’m Setting the Record Straight on Variants and Reinfections”

The blitz of Omicron variants has felt like one long wave. And many questions have arisen amid the tumult. Are we seeing the emergence of entirely new coronavirus variants that are impervious to immunity from vaccines and previous infections? If we keep getting reinfected, is it inevitable that most of us will end up developing long Covid?

In short, the answer is no.

As a virologist, it’s important to me that people understand Covid-19 remains a great concern. But this does not excuse or license a misdiagnosis of the current situation.

Let’s start with what is true. BA.5, one of the most recent Omicron variants to emerge, is everywhere. It unquestionably has an advantage in terms of transmissibility over previous Omicron lineages, most likely because it’s better at evading our existing repertoire of antibodies…

Thankfully, reinfection a few weeks after recovery is not the norm. Scientists have shownthat people who previously contracted Covid-19 are less likely to get infected withthe variant du jour than people who had never seen the virus, and this trend holds true for Omicron. Early research from Qatar that has not yet been peer-reviewed showed that people who had a BA.1 infection in, say, January were significantly less likely to experience a BA.4 or BA.5 breakthrough infection months later. While more research on this is welcome, these findings are consistent with how immunity, played out at the population level, helps explain the rise, fall and magnitude of epidemic waves.

Antibodies remain a powerful defense against this coronavirus. They do many things to protect us, while also flagging the virus for destruction by other elements of the immune system. Even though some studies have found that Omicron variants may induce weaker antibody responses than earlier variants, this is most likely because Omicron causes less severe disease, thanks to immunity from vaccines and prior infections.

Our immune system works much like a wise yet frugal investor, calibrating responses according to the magnitude and extent of the various danger signals sensed during infection. Generally speaking, the greater the symptoms and disease from infections like Covid or the flu, the stronger the antibody response. When existing antibodies are good enough to keep disease to a minimum (because fewer virus particles succeed in replicating in the body), we tend to see much lower amounts of antibodies than when someone ends up hospitalized from the coronavirus. Vaccines are a great way around that problem: They stimulate our immune systems to make antibodies, and other tailored defenses, even when there is no disease…

Most immunologists I know are cautiously optimistic about our long-term prospects. We don’t know exactly what this virus will do next, and we should never be dismissive of those who have a high risk profile or are dealing with long Covid. Nonetheless, most of us can have faith in our immune systems, especially when we make use of vaccines and boosters. Recorded history may hold little precedent for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But this is not our immune systems’ first rodeo.

12) Whether in this case or not, we absolutely need to hold parents responsible for what their kids do with guns, “A Handgun for Christmas Will a jury find James and Jennifer Crumbley criminally responsible for their son’s mass shooting”

13) This is really good, “Justice Neil Gorsuch’s Radical Reinterpretation of the First Amendment.” 

he decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, holds that a public-high-school football coach has a constitutional right to publicly pray at the fifty-yard line after games. Using the words “quiet” or “quietly” ten times to describe the coach’s prayers, Gorsuch dismisses any concerns that students may feel coerced to join him, as long as they are not expressly compelled to do so. The coach’s conduct, Gorsuch finds, in an opinion joined by Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, is fully protected by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, of course, states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The establishment clause, which was cited by the school district, has traditionally been interpreted to prohibit government action that compels religious conduct, favors one religion over another, or endorses religion over non-religion. But Justice Gorsuch makes the astonishing claim that, because prayer is protected by both the “speech” and the “free exercise” references, it is “doubly protected.” This “double protection” means that the School District’s concern that the coach’s prayers run afoul of the establishment clause is outgunned, two clauses against one. Does this mean that if I (1) petition the government to (2) hold a rally supporting the (3) printing of a pamphlet about my (4) new religion, I’d be quadruply protected and could thereby trump other constitutional provisions, such as the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment? The math quickly becomes absurd.

Burt Neuborne, a professor at New York University’s School of Law, makes the compelling argument that the structure of the First Amendment is no accident. It is not a mere list of protected activities to be added to and subtracted from one another; rather, its language tracks how political ideas move from internal thought and belief to external conduct. First comes personal conviction, then public discussion and dissemination, and, finally, political action. The goal is the free expression of political will, which is essential to a functioning democracy. Neuborne’s analysis confirms what many media and First Amendment lawyers consider a truism: political speech is at the core of the First Amendment’s protections.

Protecting political speech, including speech that criticizes government officials, was the primary justification in the Supreme Court’s unanimous landmark 1964 decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which holds that government officials need to meet a very high burden of proof to succeed in defamation claims. In that decision, Justice William Brennan reasoned that, because political speech is central to democracy, “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open.” According to Justice Gorsuch’s opinion, however, that long-held understanding of the central purpose of the First Amendment is wrong. In his view, it is government suppression of religious speech that is the core concern of the First Amendment, and what it was designed to protect against. Further, Gorsuch’s finding that religious speech is “doubly protected” implies that political speech—say, about voting rights or women’s rights—is only single protected.

14) I know one of the people in this headline!  And, yeah, it’s been a mess, “China’s ‘zero covid’ policy has been a nightmare for U.S. diplomats”

15) Yes, this is anecdotes but from one school teacher.  But, oh my, what anecdotes (and from a self-described “leftist”) “Yes, Things Are Really As Bad As You’ve Heard: A Leftist Schoolteacher Struggles To Say Aloud the Things He Regularly Witnesses That Are So Outlandish They Sound Made Up By Right-Wing Provocateurs”

To most people, this sort of policy is absolutely inexplicable. How could it possibly benefit racial justice or equity to keep classrooms half-empty, excluding students who want to attend in deference to those who don’t? The whole thing sounds like the sort of outrageous Kafkaesque fantasy a conservative would invent to satirize the ultra-woke and their bigotry of low expectations. But that’s precisely the problem. After all, what options do you have when so many of the people in charge of our schools have priorities so disordered that merely describing them, no matter how dispassionately, will earn you accusations of strawmanning?

I’ve had liberal friends of mine dispute (to my face!) straightforward accounts of what my colleagues have said. They’ll tell me school districts could never embrace such obviously unworkable policies; what else can I do except shrug my shoulders and say, “I’m sorry, but yes, they can?” They’ll tell me I sound like one of those right-wing grifter types; what else can I do except sigh and tell them the grifters have a point?

This is where I have to stop and make one thing very clear: I’m a leftist. Like, a big one. I hate capitalism, I support abortion on demand, and I unironically use phrases like “systems of oppression” and “the dominant culture.” The last big paper I put together for my undergraduate degree was on critical race theory, for the love of God! I’m not the sort of person who can be easily dismissed as a conservative crank. But plenty of my fellow leftists are still willing to try, on the grounds that anyone who thinks there might be any problem with DEI policies must necessarily be a slack-jawed MAGA troll.

In my short career as an educator, I’ve had countless experiences like this – encounters with colleagues and administrators so surreal that even close friends chided me for exaggerating or “playing into right-wing tropes” when I repeat them. And there’s a sense in which I don’t blame them, because things really are that crazy out here. Let me rattle off two quick examples for now, in case the summer program wasn’t bizarre enough:

1) I once attended a meeting where we brainstormed strategies to increase AP enrollment. When we moved to discuss the gap in enrollment between Black and white students, a senior teacher said that trying to register more children of color for AP classes is inherently racist and that putting greater value on AP classes at all is an expression of white supremacy. To clarify: I don’t mean that a senior teacher expressed a complex set of ideas regarding racial justice that could be uncharitably reduced to those claims. I mean I sat in a room where a senior teacher literally spoke the words Trying to register more students of color for AP classes is inherently racist and Putting greater value on AP classes at all is an expression of white supremacy, to an audience of other teachers who nodded along or otherwise kept quiet.

Why we can’t have nice things– racism edition

Terrific guest essay in NYT from Bryce Covert, “There’s a Reason We Can’t Have Nice Things”

Why is it so much harder — right now, seemingly impossible — for our country to enact new programs that are customary in much of the rest of the world? It’s easy to blame one or two senators, but the problem runs much deeper. More or less, it comes down to our long history of racism and how it’s wormed its way into every debate over government benefits.

In a seminal 2001 paper, the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote tried to answer this very question: Why doesn’t this country have a welfare system that looks like the ones in European countries, progressively taxing those with the most wealth to redistribute resources to those with the least? Economic differences, they concluded, don’t explain it. But they did find that “racial fragmentation” has played a “major role” in keeping us from these policies in a way it hasn’t elsewhere. [emphases mine] They also find that while Europeans see the poor as members of their own group who are merely unfortunate, Americans see them as lazy “others.” American voters are less likely to demand that their leaders pass policies that help the least well off. “Racial animosity in the U.S. makes redistribution to the poor, who are disproportionately Black, unappealing to many voters,” they conclude

The United States is not the only country that has racists and racism, of course. But our history is deeply intertwined with race, tracing back to slavery and its role in building the country. It was “often more grotesque” and more “salient” here than in other countries that had slavery, noted Zach Parolin, a senior fellow at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. Other countries certainly have their divisions, but “in the U.S. it appears that the most salient dividing line is race,” Dr. Alesina, Dr. Glaeser and Dr. Sacerdote write.

Race has played an outsized role in nearly every debate over the American social safety net. Cutting out agricultural and domestic workers, who were majority Black, made it easier to win the support of Southern Democrats for Social Security legislation. Racism has long stood in the way of universal health care. Before welfare was reformed in the 1990s, Dr. Alesina, Dr. Glaeser and Dr. Sacerdote found, states with higher shares of Black people offered less generous benefits. Then President Ronald Reagan used the “welfare queen” trope to gin up racial resentment against people on cash assistance, and President Bill Clinton signed a welfare-reform bill into law that was deeply shaped by Mr. Reagan’s politics and gave states broad authority over their programs.

Dr. Parolin has found that ever since, states with larger proportions of Black residents allocate fewer of the resources to direct cash assistance. Hana Brown, an associate professor of sociology at Wake Forest University, has found that state lawmakers are more likely to push through restrictive welfare policies when racial tension is high, in order to appease white voters. States with higher Black populations also have the strictest rules for unemployment insurance…

The United States has a far higher child poverty rate than most peer countries: Out of 40 countries, we rank at number 38. The main difference is that most other countries spend far more on children, often through a child allowance, but the United States didn’t have one until expanded child tax credit payments were sent out to most parents in the second half of last year. And the reason we don’t, Dr. Parolin said, is “inseparable from the racialized perceptions of who receives social assistance benefits in the U.S.” Americans believe programs like public housing, food stamps and welfare primarily serve Black people, even though whites make up the largest or an equal percentage of recipients.

Do liberals and the woke go too far with an “everything is racism” approach sometimes?  Absolutely.  But, damn it, when you look at the politics of our country and the enduring public policies around social welfare, no, not everything is racism, but it sure explains too damn much.  I don’t think focusing on microaggressions, or language policing, or battles over CRT are going to bring about the changes we need, but we damn sure do need some change here.  

Dobbs is already making miscarriage dangerous (and possibly deadly)

Good (and scary/disturbing) stuff from Michele Goldberg yesterday.  We are already getting some horror stories and there’s only going to be more and more and more.  

It’s getting hard to keep track of all the stories of women being denied care for miscarriages and otherwise having their lives endangered because of state abortion bans.

The Washington Post reported on a woman who had to travel to Michigan after a doctor in her home state refused to end an ectopic pregnancy because of the presence of fetal cardiac activity. (Ectopic pregnancies, in which an embryo implants outside the uterus, never lead to a live birth and are the leading cause of first-trimester maternal death.)

In an interview with The Associated Press, a doctor described a patient who was miscarrying in Texas and had developed a uterine infection. She couldn’t get the necessary treatment — an immediate abortion — as long as the fetus displayed signs of life. “The patient developed complications, required surgery, lost multiple liters of blood and had to be put on a breathing machine,” The A.P. reported, all because, as the doctor said, “we were essentially 24 hours behind.”

The worst part, though, is in their attempt to show that they are the most “pro-life” the most “lib-owning” or whatever there really is just shockingly callous disregard for women’s lives:

Some in the anti-abortion movement insist that the doctors refusing to treat these women are mistaken about what the laws in their states say. “To the extent that doctors or attorneys are confused about whether necessary women’s health care is forbidden under pro-life laws, the fault lies in large part with pro-abortion activists, who have been intentionally muddying the waters,” tweeted Alexandra DeSanctis Marr, a writer for National Review and the co-author of “Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing.”

If that was the case, one might think abortion opponents would be eager to see their laws clarified. After all, the suffering caused by mismanaged miscarriages doesn’t serve the cause of fetal life. Ultimately, it will likely be detrimental to the anti-abortion movement. In Ireland, it was the death of Savita Halappanavar, who developed septicemia after being refused a termination while she was miscarrying, that spurred the successful campaign for legalized abortion there. Preventing such deaths should be as urgent a priority for those opposed to legal abortion as for those who champion it.

But it isn’t. Last week, the Biden administration released guidance that under federal law, hospitals must provide abortions when they’re necessary to stabilize patients suffering medical emergencies, or transfer them to a hospital that will. Texas is suing to prevent that policy from going into effect, saying it would “transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic.”

Idaho’s Republican Party recently changed its platform to call for the criminalization of all abortions without exception. According to a blog post by Idaho Reports, a public policy television program, some delegates shared concerns about ectopic pregnancies and proposed an exemption in the platform when a woman’s life is in “lethal danger.” The exemption proposal was voted down, 412-164.

In The Times, the president of Texas Right to Life, John Seago, acknowledged that abortion bans could delay intervention during miscarriages. Doctors, he said, cannot decide that “I want to cause the death of the child today because I believe that they’re going to pass away eventually.”

I thought I was sufficiently cynical about the anti-abortion movement, but I admit to being taken aback by this blithe, public disregard for the lives of women, including women suffering the loss of wanted pregnancies.

This is just insane fetal fetishization over the lives of living, breathing women.  Wives, mother, sisters, daughters.  This is so egregiously misguided!

That said, as long as this is the case, what I want Democrats to do is… use this!

I want ads with these women.  I want every potential voter in America to hear these stories.  And to hear about how Republican policies are so endangering the lives of pregnant women.  

The pandemic, courts, and rising crime

Important read from Alec MacGillis, “Two Cities Took Different Approaches to Pandemic Court Closures. They Got Different Results. Did closing courts contribute to the resurgence in violent crime that began in 2020? What happened in Albuquerque and Wichita may provide clues.”

One of the great under-appreciated facts about criminal justice is that swiftness of punishment is actually a more effective deterrent than severity of punishment (certainty is most important).  That’s a key theme in Mark Kleiman’s When Brute Force Fails which I have been assigning to my Criminal Justice Policy class for as long as I’ve been teaching it.  As MacGillis points out here the pandemic substantially undermined the swiftness of punishment and that the subsequent impact on deterrence may be, in part, responsible for the rise in crime.  It also seems to me, quite likely, that not just swiftness, but certainty of punishment may have taken a pandemic hit as well as prosecutors and courthouses have become completely overwhelmed by pandemic backlogs.  I don’t know what the “right” answer is for how the criminal justice system should respond to a pandemic, but, I think there’s some decent evidence here that there are very real costs to just trying to put the system on pause.  Crime does not take a break and the need for justice (for victims and the accused) does not take a break– these really are essential services. 

Criminologists have offered several explanations for the increase, including the rise in gun sales early in the pandemic, changes in police behavior following the protests over the murder of George Floyd, and the social disruptions caused by closures of schools and interruptions in social services. But many people who work in criminal justice are zeroing in on another possible factor: the extended shutdown of so much of the court system, the institution at the heart of public order.

This could have led to more violence in a number of ways. Prosecutors confronted with a growing volume of cases decided not to take action against certain suspects, who went on to commit other crimes. Victims or witnesses became less willing to testify as time passed and their memories of events grew foggy, weakening cases against perpetrators. Suspects were denied substance-abuse treatment or other services that they would normally have accessed through the criminal justice system, with dangerous consequences.

Above all, experts say, the shutdowns undermined the promise that crimes would be promptly punished. The theory that “swift, certain and fair” consequences deter crimes is credited to the late criminologist Mark Kleiman. The idea is that it’s the speed of repercussions, rather than their severity, that matters most. By putting the justice system on hold for so long, many jurisdictions weakened that effect. In some cases, people were left to seek street justice in the absence of institutional justice. As Reygan Cunningham, a senior partner at the California Partnership for Safe Communities, put it, closing courts sent “a message that there are no consequences, and there is no help.” …

Over the past few months, I’ve visited a few cities where the courts underwent some of the country’s longest suspensions, and I found a very different scene. In Oakland, California, where jury trials started resuming only in the spring of 2021, the Alameda County Superior Courthouse still seemed frozen at the peak of the pandemic, with signs ordering visitors to take staircases only in certain directions and jurors and courtroom personnel still in mandatory masks.

In an interview in late April, the district attorney, Nancy O’Malley, told me that the county had about 4,700 felony cases and 6,000 misdemeanor cases pending with a future court date, up by a third from before the pandemic began. “The court is still not fully operational,” she said. She wasn’t sure if the county could have done differently, given California’s strict edicts on social distancing. “With rules for 6 feet apart, there was no way you could have people sitting in a box made for 12 people,” she said. “I don’t know how you do it while keeping people healthy.”

But she had little doubt that the court constraints had played a role in the rise in crime in Oakland, which last year saw homicides jump to 134, its highest tally since 2006. The absence or delay of consequences for many offenders created the perception of a “lawless society,” she told me.

 

Is this stupid post ableist?

For whatever reason, of all the wokism amok, it is “ableism” that really drives me crazy in it’s quixotic focus on esoteric linguistic etymology and complete lack of concern for intent and how people think and behave in the real world.  This NYT op-ed on the matter was so ridiculous as to border on parody (gift link so you can read the whole sordid thing):

Usually I touch-type on my laptop with the comforting electronic voice of my text-to-speech software echoing my words as I go. One gets used to the audio feedback, just as sighted writers are used to seeing their words appear on their computer screens. I was making lots of mistakes and backspacing, which was slowing me down, when I blurted out: “I feel dumb!”

“That’s ableist,” Caitlin said.

I had to think about that.

The word “ableism” is relatively new — it’s been in use for the past three or four decades — though what it describes is not. It is a broad term that covers behaviors, social norms or laws that demean or devalue disabled people — and ableist language is one of the more persistent and ingrained versions of it. And it’s not just nondisabled people who use it; disabled people, evidently including me, can be ableist in their speech, too.

Caitlin had a point. The word “dumb” derives its pejorative connotation from its historical associations with people with intellectual disabilities as well as those who are nonverbal, including some deaf people.

“But what can I say instead?” I typed and spoke my question aloud.

“Say ‘I’m struggling,’” she suggested. “That’s what I tell my students.”

“I’m struggling,” I said, handing the keyboard back to her. “But that sounds worse.”

I began to sense a generational divide. The word “ableist” was definitely not one I heard as a kid. And while today I have as much disability pride and blind pride as anyone I know, I get stuck sometimes on the ableist language — and humor — that I grew up with as a Gen Xer.

For example, I still giggle when I recall in my mind’s eye the poor creature in “Young Frankenstein” crying out in agony as the old blind man pours boiling soup all over him, even as I now recognize the scene as offensive (I saw the film decades ago, before I had completely lost my vision). Not only does it make fun of the blind man who unwittingly causes the nonverbal creature pain, but it is an entirely visual gag…

“I still feel stupid,” I said.

“That’s ableist!” Caitlin said and typed.

“Is it?” I asked.

“It denigrates people with intellectual disabilities,” Haben affirmed.

“Hmm,” I said, feeling uncertain. “Stupid” originates in the Latin verb “stupere”: “to be stunned, amazed, confounded.” So the word doesn’t have a root connection to disability. That said, the sting of calling someone stupid has everything to do with disparaging those who are perceived to be less able intellectually…

Although my sense of what is ableist is sometimes shaky, I’ve thought long and hard about its effects on blind people. The word “blind,” for instance, is almost always used negatively outside its main, literal function — to describe the condition of blindness. A quick Google News search of some common phrases will illustrate what I mean — blind spot, blind faith, blind rage, blind drunk — all suggest ignorance or a loss of reason. This makes it hard to muster any kind of blind pride…

As I recalibrated my language at lunch, I found myself growing skittish. “She’s so weird,” I said about a mutual friend. I immediately stopped and asked: “Is that ableist?”

“I don’t think so,” said Caitlin. ”Haben, what do you think?”

“I don’t think it’s tied to any disability,” answered Haben. “But it’s good to ask the question.”

Being unafraid to ask the question — “Is that ableist?” — is a crucial step in unraveling our society’s entrenched biases and discrimination against disabled people, who make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population. Of course, nobody likes being shamed for using the “wrong” words. I was lucky to be with friends who were able to gently tease and instruct me, instead of scold me.

OMG– the insanity!!!  It is all so unbelievably stupid.  And I say this as the parent and brother of substantially intellectually disabled persons.  Saying “I feel stupid” when making some careless error does literally nothing to harm or stigmatize my son or brother and their intellectual disabilities.  Nothing!  This language policing is so dumb.  Go out there and fight for policies that make the world better for the intellectually disabled, but not using the words “stupid” or “dumb” does absolutely nothing to help my loved ones. 

And you know what else?  It sucks to be intellectually disabled.  Those of you who know my son Alex know what an incredibly sweet young man he is.  I love him and enjoy him so much.  But how much the better it would be if he had normal intelligence and all the opportunities in life that come with that.  Likewise, if I refer to a “blind curve” in a road it does literally nothing to actually harm blind people.  And you know what?  It sucks to be blind.  It’s great that blind people can succeed in so many ways and society should do what it reasonably can do accommodate them, but it absolutely sucks to be missing such a key part of the human experience and how we relate to the world.  I’m quite sure there’s all sorts of policies we might enact that would help make the world better for blind people.  But calling them “people with blindness” or not referring to having a “blind spot” is not the answer.  

I’m sure the language police are quite convinced of the righteousness of their cause and how fighting these linguistic battles will really help disabled people.  As for me, I’m pretty damn sure that they are wrong and just being stupid. When you are busy alienating people who actually want to help (I think most of us what a better world for the disabled) and even an activist, like the author of the essay, lives in fear of the wrong word choice, you are doing it so, so wrong. Dare I say, stupidly.  

(Return of) Quick Hits

1) Great week at the beach.  No blogging, obviously, and I tried to cut my daily consumption of reading down by more than 50% and read some more novels and just relax.  Still, a ton of great stuff to share that I’ll be working through for a while.  Here’s our annual self-timer photo from Topsail Island Sound:

2) Among the novels… I was so happy to have a new Dan Chaon novel to read at the beach.  Sleepwalk did not disappoint. 

3) And, I finished reading the supposedly “transphobic” The Men.  It was really good (not great, but very thought-provoking and entertaining).  And the thought that this novel is, any way, “transphobic” just shows how unhinged the gender radicals and their allies are.

4) This! “How Are We Possibly Still Disinfecting Things? America can’t quit hygiene theater.”

A related reason might be that some people who do understand how the virus spreads see no harm in erring overwhelmingly on the side of caution. Though it’s irrational, they feel more secure knowing—or better yet, seeing—that their surroundings have recently been cleaned or that attempted safety protocols are in place. As customers have come to expect a higher level of visible hygiene, some businesses might feel as though they have no choice but to supply the theatrics. They’re left with an inflated standard that they don’t dare to burst…

A related and more nefarious reason hygiene theater persists is that good ventilation and filtration, great measures at cutting back infection, are invisible. For companies aiming to demonstrate their concern about COVID, these practices can have less payoff because they’re harder to flaunt (or at least, they’ll seem to have less payoff until the staff has a COVID outbreak and business stalls out). Instead of a wrapped and sanitized remote control in his hotel, Allen told me, “what I would have loved to have seen was a note on my bed that said they’ve upgraded the filters and increased the ventilation rate. The other stuff is just silly.” Maybe so, but plastic-wrapping a remote is a lot easier and cheaper than installing a suite of HEPA filters and convincing people that they’re there.

And thus, the theater continues. 

5) As mentioned previously, loved Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel.” Here’s a great interview with him.

6) I got off the waitlist and have access to Dall-e.  Here’s a twitter thread of my AI image creations.

7) Here’s a fascinating idea, “Could Your Old Poop Cure You of Future Diseases? Fecal transplants can fix gut diseases, but finding the right donor stool is tricky. The solution, some scientists believe, is to keep a store of your own.” 

But what if patients just used their own poop—or rather, healthy poop from their past? If harvested at a time when the patient was in good health, the bacteria in the sample would likely be well-balanced, perhaps removing the need to test and assure the quality of the donor’s stool.

In June of this year, after numerous requests from families, Amili announced that it would set up a separate bank for people who want to store their own samples for future treatments. Ong explains that individuals can freeze and preserve the “perfect version of their gut microbiome” when they are young and healthy, similar to storing eggs or stem cells, and then have them transplanted back when their health falters. “It removes a little bit of the yuck factor, as well, because you’re receiving something from yourself rather than from someone else,” he says.

Ong is not the only one who’s enthusiastic about the prospect of rejuvenating the gut microbiome using personal stool samples. Last week, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital argued in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine that the concept is worth exploring. They point to the mild temporary adverse effects observed after transplants with donated samples, and also to the potential for disease transmission between donor and recipient, and the fact that the long-term safety of donating fecal matter remains to be studied.

Emerging research and clinical trial data suggest that all of these concerns could be avoided by patients providing their own samples. “We don’t know a lot about why this works, to be truthful, but it does appear that using your own stool is better and safer than using a random donor,” says Scott Weiss, a professor of medicine at Harvard.

But Sarah McGill, an associate professor of medicine who studies the use of fecal transplants at the University of North Carolina, foresees logistical challenges. “Stool banks, which now exist mainly to treat people with C. diff infection, typically hold stool for weeks or months. Holding samples for years or decades would be more expensive,” she says.

8) My son asked me what Democrats should do to find back for democracy.  My short version was: “everything Brian Beutler says to do!”  His summary points (plus an excerpt) from this week (really– read it!)

① Even if Merrick Garland were a relentless insurrection fighter, existing norms governing our criminal-law system would still be a bad match for protecting Americans from a killshot aimed directly at the constitution

② Creating new processes and institutions for rare cases of coup attempts could take a life time, but within the existing ones, we can and should expect our leaders to be creative

③ Unfortunately, they tend to act is if Donald Trump’s relentless depravity can only be met with an equal and opposite demonstration of rectitude…

The central problem is this: In the course of trying to overthrow the Constitution, one might violate any number of criminal statutes. But criminal law doesn’t generally exist as an impenetrable shield against wrongdoing. Our laws against speeding don’t exist to guarantee that nobody ever drives over 70 miles per hour. Our laws against public corruption likewise exist (or existed before John Roberts defanged them, thanks John Roberts) not to make politics free from sin, but to make abuse of office come at a high potential cost, so that most leaders in most instances will act in the public’s interest rather than their own. 

Contrary to what Republicans say in utter bad faith about the futility of gun control, criminal laws haven’t failed in their purposes just because determined individuals nevertheless violate them. They mustn’t work perfectly in order to be said to have real value. That is, with one critical exception: When the crime is a killshot aimed at the republic itself. 

Our institutions of accountability need to foil traitors to the Constitution every time because by definition the legitimate government can’t survive a single successful attempt to overthrow it. 

And yet our Constitution doesn’t make any special distinction between the due process rights of workaday criminals and those of the rare criminals whose singular goal is the illegal seizure of the presidency. It does create special political processes for severing such people’s access to government power, such that threats to the government can be neutralized. People can be barred by the Constitution and the law from seeking federal office. If they have already obtained high office, they can be expelled in various ways. 

But these separate processes of political accountability also create the potential and even a regular incentive for something analogous to jury nullification on behalf of such offenders. America has never impeached and removed a president; it’s impeached and removed, or otherwise expelled, vanishingly few other federal officials leaving many, many clear offenders untouched. It took a civil war for the government to create a process for systematically banning enemies of the union from federal service, but the bar for banning duly nominated major-party candidates, or their official or unofficial leaders, in modern times remains insurmountably high. 

Criminal law might in theory create a failsafe against this kind of political immunity, but in practice that would require neutral prosecutors to aggressively target people like Trump who pose unacceptable danger to the constitutional order, and for normal judicial processes to work in all such cases. In reality, we will seldom have both of these things. Replace Garland with Batman and we’d still have to contend with the fact that someone so well situated to overthrow the government from within will also likely have a cultish sway over enough of the public to nullify actual criminal juries. 

The Way We Do Things leaves us in this perverse predicament where the only practicable forms of redress to a violent coup are coinflip prosecutions, and the hope that public exposure (through congressional oversight or trial evidence) will cause enough political damage to make the culprit too toxic to win back power, even through our minoritarian institutions. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

9) Headlines like this should not exist.  This should not be remotely legal. “4,000 Beagles Are Being Rescued From a Virginia Facility. Now They Need New Homes.”

10) A very good friend of mine– and yes, a reader of this very blog!– swam the English Channel last week.  I loved following along online.  And, I’m going to take .000000001% of the credit since she knew that her cars and house where well taken care of back in Cary, NC with the Greene family in charge :-). 

11) Important on abortion from Jamelle Bouie, “Republicans Are Already Threatening the Right to Travel”

There is nothing in the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that would explicitly threaten the right to travel between states. In his concurrence with the majority’s ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh even says that in his view a state may not “bar a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion.”

But that’s exactly where some Republican-led states want to take the law.

Missouri lawmakers have introduced a “bounty” bill similar to the one now in operation in Texas, which would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident obtain an abortion out of state. Another bill would apply Missouri’s laws to abortions that occur in other states.

Speaking of Texas, a group of State House lawmakers who call themselves the Texas Freedom Caucus hope to “impose additional civil and criminal sanctions on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion travel,” regardless of where the abortion occurs.

According to The Washington Post, an anti-abortion organization led by Republican state lawmakers has been exploring “model legislation that would restrict people from crossing state lines for abortions.”

“Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction,” Peter Breen, vice president of the Thomas More Society, told The Post. “It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.”

And in Washington, congressional Republicans have rejected an effort to affirm the right to travel. “Does the child in the womb have the right to travel in their future?” asked Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, objecting to a Democratic bill that would bar restrictions on women traveling to another state to get a legal abortion.

There are few, if any, modern precedents for laws that limit the right of Americans to travel between states. To the extent that there is a history here, it lies in the legal conflicts over both fugitive slaves and free Black individuals in the decades before the Civil War.

12) And, OMG, these laws really are insane.  We are absolutely going to start seeing miscarrying women, etc., start dying soon.

My colleagues and I have watched all this in horror. We are worried that this could happen to us, too. A law that recently went into effect in Indiana mandates that doctors, hospitals and abortion clinics report to the state when a patient who has previously had an abortion presents any of dozens of physical or psychological conditions — including anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders and uterine perforation — because they could be complications of the previous abortion. Not doing so within 30 days can result in a misdemeanor for the physician who treated the patient, punishable with up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

The law is written so broadly that a primary care provider who sees a patient with depression, an anesthesiologist whose patient has an allergic reaction to a medication or a radiologist who notes a patient has free fluid in the abdomen could be punished with a fine and jail time if they don’t report these things as possible complications of that person’s prior abortion. Any health care provider so charged could easily become a target of national attention, with attacks against them professionally and personally.

While clinicians are generally required to have malpractice insurance, such coverage does not typically cover expenses related to criminal charges. And while malpractice insurance often covers legal counsel during a malpractice claim, the same is not true for criminal charges. In addition to those tangible repercussions of such charges, physicians are at professional and financial risk that could end their careers and affect their families. Health care systems must not abandon their physicians when they are most at risk, in order to avoid bad press.

Laws like these are too often written by politicians without medical expertise, and too often use medically inaccurate definitions. Lawmakers can claim that the laws aren’t intended to hurt patients, but they instill fear in providers that will have implications for patients nonetheless.

13) On some level, I really just don’t get Joe Manchin.  What’s his game?! He’s better than any Republican (he’s been good on judges, among other things), but he just seems like such a bad actor!

14) Really interesting ideas about therapeutic use of hallucinogens:

That study and several others have found that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin are remarkably good at alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety — even in many people who do not respond to currently prescribed medications. They need to be taken only a few times (most clinical trials consist of two or three psychedelic sessions) instead of daily for months or years. Some experts say the therapy could be thought of as a surgery that solves a problem with a single procedure instead of a continuing treatment to manage a chronic condition.

Whether hallucinations like the ones Mr. Fernandez experienced are key to psychedelics’ effectiveness is now a question of great debate among researchers. The answer could determine whether millions of people receive much-needed treatment, and it could provide new insight into how mental health disorders are treated going forward.

Psilocybin is expected to receive approvalfor depression from the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the decade, possibly in the next few years. But in its current form, psychedelic therapy will only ever be available for a select few. For one thing, it is not an easy, convenient treatment to undergo. It involves several therapy sessions in addition to the full-day intensive trips, which can be physically and emotionally taxing, not to mention expensive. More concerning, recent reports have emerged of clinicians taking advantage of patients during sessions, when they are in an incredibly vulnerable state. People with a personal or family history of schizophrenia are also currently ineligible for the treatment because of concerns that tripping may exacerbate an underlying risk for psychosis.

In response to these obstacles, some scientists are working to develop molecules based on psychedelics that provide the therapeutic benefits of the drugs but without the hallucinations.

“When you consider the fact that one in five people will suffer from a neuropsychiatric disease at some point in their lifetime, we’re talking a billion people worldwide,” said David Olson, an associate professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of California, Davis. “We need scalable treatments, and for that, I think we really need medicines that are easily administered.”

Dr. Olson and others think that psychedelics’ effects on the brain are what give them their therapeutic properties, not the trip they take people on, and that the subjective experience of the drugs can be removed while their impact on depression remains. Research conducted in rodents and petri dishes over the past few years suggests this may be possible. Several studies published by Dr. Olson and others have identified new molecules that act like psychedelics in the brain and maintain their antidepressant properties without causing rodents to hallucinate.

Other researchers are skeptical that these new compounds will work in humans. To them, the powerful emotional and mystical experiences caused by psychedelics are what lead to people’s therapeutic breakthroughs.

14) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf:

When Semantics Dominate Civics

Every so often, C-SPAN captures the shortcomings of American civic discourse particularly clearly. On Tuesday, during a televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on abortion access and the law, Senator Josh Hawley, a social conservative from Missouri, sparred with the UC Berkeley law professor Khiara M. Bridges, who studies race, class, and reproductive rights. If you follow left-of-center media, you may have heard about the exchange via headlines like these:

HuffPost: “Professor Schools Sen. Josh Hawley for His Transphobic Questions in Abortion Hearing”

Above the Law: “You *Have* to Watch This Law Professor SHUT DOWN Senator Josh Hawley”

New York magazine: “Josh Hawley Called Out as Transphobic in Senate Hearing”

Jezebel: “Berkeley Law Professor Eviscerates Sen. Josh Hawley at Post-Roe Hearing”

Inside a “blue” bubble, it would be easy to assume that Senator Hawley had had a bad day. Yet Hawley, for his part, did his utmost to make sure that same exchange reached as many people as possible. He appeared on the Fox News Channel in prime time to discuss the viral moment, amplified the efforts of numerous right-leaning media figures to publicize it, and tweeted out a video clip to his 894,000 Twitter followers. “The Democrats say what they really think: men can get pregnant and if you disagree, you are ‘transphobic’ and responsible for violence,” he wrote. “For today’s left, disagreement with them = violence. So you must not disagree.” Inside a “red” bubble, it would be easy to assume C-SPAN caught “woke insanity,” as The Daily Wire put it…

Both participants conducted that exchange in ways that were likely to earn praise from their ideological allies and contempt from their opponents while generating far more heat than light. Bridges shifted into attack mode and characterized Hawley as a dangerous bigot, generating praise from media leftists while guaranteeing that Hawley would be seen by many as a victim of an unfair attack. After all, neither evidence nor common sense suggests that questions like Hawley’s––questions attempting to bait a progressive into publicly saying that abortion isn’t a women’s issue––contribute to trans suicides. (What’s more, no research that I’m aware of connects suicides among any group to discourse of this sort, which is to say, general legislative debate as opposed to bullying an individual. If the journalists at HuffPost and beyond who endorsed Bridges’s claims truly believed Hawley’s words here would contribute to suicides, would they really have helped turn them into a viral video clip, taking something that aired on C-SPAN and deliberately exposing it to a much larger audience?) And for all of Hawley’s wrongheaded antagonism to LGBTQ rights, the locution that he is “denying that trans people exist” doesn’t capture his actual position.

I expect both know that Americans have long failed to disentangle sex and gender, and that many people use words like man and womanboy and girl inconsistently, sometimes referring to sex and other times to gender and still other times to a mix, often without thinking the matter through. If you asked me, “Do you think a man can be pregnant?” I’d answer, “If you define a man as someone with a penis, testicles, and a Y chromosome, no. If you define man as an identity that corresponds to an internal sense of felt gender, then yes. Before I can answer in a way that allows us to actually understand one another, I need you to know how you define man.”

Instead of modeling a constructive exchange by clarifying their own terminology, Hawley and Bridges talk past each other––mutually aware all the while that they are talking past each other––portraying each other as bigoted and crazy, respectively, for failing to mirror the other’s statements about men and women, when in large part the disconnect boils down to different definitions. To find agreements, all they have to do is use more words. Can a person with a beard, ovaries, and a uterus get pregnant? Maybe! Can a person with no uterus and one Y chromosome get pregnant? Never. Hawley and Bridges likely agree on all that and more. Their important disagreements on LGBTQ issues concern rights and liberties, not semantics. As for the ostensible subject of the hearing, “abortion access and the law”? Nothing about that went viral.

15) Really good free Yglesias post– just read it, “How Hillary Clinton unleashed the Great Awokening”

16) Katherine Wu on Monkeypox vaccines:

And the vaccines available to combat monkeypox have real drawbacks that many other shots do not. Because ACAM2000 contains an active virus, it may be especially risky for infants or people who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or living with HIV. The shot also comes with a small but notable risk of heart inflammation, or myocarditis, and its documentation warns of other serious side effects, including blindness, spreading the vaccine virus to others, and even death. (Still, the jab is a big improvement over its direct predecessorDryvax—an inoculation that many Americans over the age of 50 have—which Slifka describes as pus “ladled out of a cow.”) “You would really have to make a compelling argument,” Titanji told me, “to convince me to use ACAM as the primary tool.”

A newer alternative, known as MVA (or Jynneos in the United States), built around a weaker version of the vaccine virus, is much safer. But the globe’s MVA stock is low, with most refills months away, and the vaccine has yet to be approved in Europe for use against monkeypox. Experts also lack solid intel on just how well both ACAM2000 and MVA actually work against monkeypox, because the virus—and the vaccinations that fight it—remains rare for most of the world.

17) Scott Alexander, “Nobody Knows How Well Homework Works”

Are there any real randomized studies? Cooper finds six for his review article (page 17), none of which are published or peer-reviewed. Only one is randomized by students, and it contradicts itself about how random it actually was; the other five are cluster-randomized by classroom (which means they have very low effective sample size). Several are bungled in confusing ways. Still, these pretty consistently show a positive effect of homework with medium-to-high effect size. The one that might have been randomized by students (and so might possibly be okay) had an effect size of 0.39. Some of the cluster randomized ones that weren’t bungled too badly had effect sizes in the 0.9 range; the cluster randomization makes it hard to call this significant, but unofficially it seems impressive.

Since Cooper wrote his 2006 review, I was able to find one actually good, individually randomized study of homework, Nawaz and Welbourne. They took 368 students taking algebra classes using a digital platform, and randomly assigned them either 0%, 50%, 100%, or 150% of the ordinary homework load (corresponding to 0, 15, 30, or 45 minutes/night). Results:

The students with more homework did better, p < 0.0001. Looks solid. Probably 9th grade algebra homework is useful. But everyone already expected high school homework to be more useful than elementary school, and math homework to be more useful than other subjects. So it’s unclear if eg 4th grade reading homework would follow the same pattern.

Still, this is the one firm fact about homework which we have managed to produce in several million child-years of assigning it. For everything else, just go with your priors, I guess.

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