Just sit down (and move around)

Really not a fan of standing up unless I’m occupied doing something.  But just standing there– I really don’t like, so you won’t see me in a standing desk anytime soon.  Now, just sitting there for a long time not doing anything is almost surely not good, but, personally, I’d much rather sit nice and relaxed and doing a quick burst of exercise every 20 or 30 minutes.  

And, as for the science of using a standing desk?  It’s looking not so great (so, yes, more than ever I’ll happily sit as I type these posts and, you know… work).  Nice summary of recent research from Health Nerd (who I’ve come to follow for good Covid takes):

But as well as measuring how much time people spent standing, the authors also measured health, wellbeing, and productivity outcomes in their participants. For example, they looked to see whether people lost weight, had better sleep, reported better workplace productivity, were in pain, etc. And across literally dozens of secondary outcomes, the study found that there were no appreciable differences between people who took part in the standing intervention and got the standing desks, and those who didn’t.

The study found a big benefit in the surrogate outcome of standing, but no noticeable benefits in any of the key health and other outcomes that we actually care about.

Now, the issue with this piece of research — and much of the standing desk literature more broadly — is that it wasn’t really geared to prove anything about health outcomes in the first place. If you look at the studies conducted to look at whether standing desks help, they are all fairly similar — very small samplesprimarily aimed at proving that standing desks make people stand more, and only rarely examining health or productivity outcomes anyway. Even trials that did specifically look at health outcomes were often very small and unable to detect an effect. Some studies found benefits, others didn’t, but all were insufficient to establish whether standing really improved health.

In other words, it’s not so much that we have proven that standing desks and standing interventions are a waste of time, but that so far we haven’t conducted studies that would show us if they are or not. To look at these vitally important health and productivity outcomes, we’d need much bigger studies incorporating very large groups of people, which we just haven’t really done yet.

That being said, as far as I can tell the new BMJ paper is by far the biggest trial of these interventions to date, and there was no major difference in any outcome of importance between the intervention and control groups. There were insignificant improvements in a handful of things, but mostly it looked like standing more, and standing desks, had no benefit on health or wellbeing.

What this means is that if we do find benefits in a future large trial, they are likely to be fairly small. We can’t exclude standing desks improving health — the confidence intervals are too wide for that — but we can say that spending a great deal of time and money getting people in a workplace to stand for 60 minutes more every day for a year probably doesn’t have much of a benefit for things we really care about. Yes, it’ll make people stand more, but the $500-odd per person for the desks plus the additional cost of staff trainings and rewards to incentivize employees may not result in the sort of health benefits that are used to sell the product in the first place.

If you want to stand while you work more power to you.  But, if you just like being one with the sofa (as I am while I type this), that’s probably just fine so long as you make sure to get up and move around a bit on a regular basis.  I would love to see a study that compares this approach to actually standing.  But lacking that study and loving the comfort of my sofa and my office chair and the way I feel when I take that quick exercise break, I’m definitely sticking with this system.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) I really wanted to give this one it’s own post, but, too damn busy lately.  Short version: yes, it sucks that politicians lie about each other all the time with impunity.  But, we allow this because it would actually be even worse if we tried to have our court system regularly determining when politicians attacks on each other went too far.  The law in question in NC is clearly unconstitutional for this reason and I don’t get why reporting isn’t just saying so: “A problematic law about political lies threatens to snag NC’s attorney general”

Politicians lie. It’s something voters have even come to expect on the campaign trail, in campaign ads and in office. But what constitutes a lie, and should those lies be punished? Those questions are at the center of a case involving North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and it threatens to throw his office and the 2024 race for governor into chaos.

A grand jury in Wake County decided Monday that the district attorney’s office could pursue charges against Stein and two of his top aides, based on a campaign ad from the 2020 election cycle that called out his opponent, Republican candidate Jim O’Neill. Wake DA Lorrin Freeman said her office will decide as early as next month whether to charge Stein with anything, but Stein did get a victory late Tuesday when the Fourth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction to stop the investigation from moving forward.

The offending advertisement from Stein featured a sexual assault survivor saying that there were more than 1,500 untested rape kits in Forsyth County, where O’Neill is the district attorney. O’Neill said that testing rape kits is the responsibility of Forsyth County’s police departments, not his, then filed a complaint based on a 1931 state law that makes it illegal to knowingly circulate false and “derogatory” reports about candidates.

2) Leanna Wen gets a ton of (mostly unfair) hate, but I think she’s pretty well on-target here, ‘I’m a doctor. Here’s why my kids won’t wear masks this school year.”

It became clear that the goal I’d hoped for — containment of covid-19 — was not reachable. This coronavirus is here to stay.

With this new, indefinite time frame, the benefit-risk calculus of mitigation measures shifted dramatically. I was willing to limit my children’s activities for a year or two but not for their entire childhood.

Given how careful we’d been, it wasn’t easy to change my mind-set to accept covid-19 as a recurring risk. But the high transmissibility of new variants meant that we would have to pay an increasingly high price if our goal was to keep avoiding the virus. I began trying to think of the coronavirus as I do other everyday risks, such as falls, car accidents or drowning. Of course I want to shield my children from injuries, and I take precautions, such as using car seats and teaching them how to swim. By the same logic, I vaccinated them against the coronavirus. But I won’t put their childhood on hold in an effort to eliminate all risk…

I accept the risk that my kids will probably contract covid-19 this school year, just as they could contract the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and other contagious diseases. As for most Americans, covid in our family will almost certainly be mild; and, like most Americans, we’ve made the decision that following precautions strict enough to prevent the highly contagious BA.5 will be very challenging. Masking has harmed our son’s language development, and limiting both kids’ extracurriculars and social interactions would negatively affect their childhood and hinder my and my husband’s ability to work.

3) Advice for parenting teens about social media:

THERE ARE AT least three critical paths to helping teens, and these build on the different types of agency outlined by psychologist Albert Bandura.

First, teach teens to build personal agency. Personal agency refers to the things an individual can do to exert influence over situations. Teens in our research described curating their social media feeds toward well-being by unfollowing or muting accounts that make them feel bad. They also work toward personal agency by setting their own screen time limits or intentionally putting their phones out of reach when they want to focus on studying. Others strategically segment their online audiences to empower more intentional sharing to particular groups.

Building teens’ personal agency means supporting skills and strategies they can deploy when digital stressors come up. This can mean moving beyond rules that simply impose arbitrary screen time limits. Of course, teens often need support developing healthy screen time habits and curbing unregulated binges. An important aim is helping teens recognize moments when tech use adds to or undercuts their well-being or personal goals. This requires focusing more on what a teen is doing during their screen time and to what end. By modeling intentional digital habits (e.g., “I need to turn off my notifications for a bit, I’m feeling so distracted by my phone today”), we can help teens do the same for themselves. In this spirit, Tom Harrison writes about the value of parents being “thick exemplars” who share with children times when we struggle with our own digital experiences, misstep, or puzzle over how to “do the right thing.” …

Collective agency is when people “provide mutual support and work together to secure what they cannot accomplish on their own.” A signature example: the ways teens form pacts to vet photos of each other before tagging and posting. Even amid dismay about a world in which privacy feels forsaken, some teens find ways to protect and respect each other’s privacy and online public image. Collective agency is also at play when teen girls share intel about guys known to leak girls’ nudes so that they can be on alert and avoid them. Yet another example came up in the descriptions of teens who create online study spaces over Discord or Zoom to help each other maintain focus while keeping other digital distractions in check. Because friends are often poised to make digital life more or less stressful, when teens work together to reshape burdensome norms, everyone stands to win.

Parents can validate efforts that support collective agency, like when friends decide to keep phones in an untouched stack during dinners together. Or when they use location-sharing as part of a group effort to keep friends safe during a night out. Such approaches reflect a “digital mentoring” approach to parental mediation, rather than simply limiting tech access or permitting unlimited access. While younger adolescents need more direct oversight, parents can support personal agency through a gradual release toward more age-appropriate independence and privacy as their children get older.

Proxy agency is where adults most often come in. This mode of agency acknowledges that on their own—and even when they collaborate with others—teens only have so much control over their circumstances. Proxy agents are typically those who hold more power and can wield it on others’ behalf to support their agency. Because adults usually create the rules, policies, and relevant laws (not to mention the very technologies teens use!), we are critical proxy agents in a context of digital opportunities and risks.


Parents are perhaps the most obvious figures here, as they make day-to-day decisions that grant and limit teens’ digital access. Those who hold gatekeeping roles make decisions about whether to consider digital artifacts in school admissions, scholarship awards, and hiring. Adults may be the recipients of online receipts with evidence of transgressions. Those who work in education are often tasked with handling cases that unfold among students—where a teen is a target of persistent cyberbullying or where a nude a teen shared with one person was circulated around the entire school. Those who work at tech companies, designers especially, have the power—and the responsibility—to raise questions about whether features will hook and pull teens in at the expense of their well-being. Recognizing our roles as proxy agents means acknowledging our complicity in creating conditions that can unintentionally undercut youth agency.

Whatever roles adults are in, it’s past time to consider: How do our decisions support or compromise young people’s agency and well-being? Where, when, and how should we intervene and disrupt existing devices, apps, norms, policies, and laws? How can we design for more agency? And how can we center considerations about differential susceptibility and equity when we do so?

4) Interesting research: “Why Don’t We Sleep Enough? A Field Experiment Among College Students”

This study investigates the mechanisms affecting sleep choice and explores whether commitment devices and monetary incentives can be used to promote healthier sleep habits. To this end, we conducted a field experiment with college students, providing them incentives to sleep and collecting data from wearable activity trackers, surveys, and time-use diaries. Monetary incentives were effective in increasing sleep duration with some evidence of persistence after the incentive was removed. We uncover evidence of demand for commitment. Our results are consistent with partially sophisticated time-inconsistent preferences and overconfidence, and have implications for the effectiveness of information interventions on sleep choice.

5)  A mother is being prosecuted for helping her teen daughter give herself a medical abortion at 30(!!) weeks.  Yes, the vast majority of 30 week abortions are for a good reason (birth defects, mother’s health, etc.), but, given that’s the case, maybe it is the right thing to prosecute the people in cases like this one.

6) Quinta Jurecic on Trump and the documents:

Now Trump’s apparent squirreling away of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and his outrage over the Justice Department’s investigation of that conduct, speaks once more to his vision of his own absolute authority—even after he has departed the presidency. It’s a vision that places Trump himself, rather than the Constitution and the rule of law, as the one true source of legitimate political power.

A great deal remains unclear about the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago—among other things, why and how the material arrived at the estate in the first place instead of remaining in the custody of the National Archives, where it belonged. Reporting, though, suggests that Trump may have understood those documents—material that, under the Presidential Records Act, belongs to the American people—to be his own, to do whatever he liked with. “It’s not theirs; it’s mine,” Trump reportedly told several advisers about the misplaced documents. One “Trump adviser” told The Washington Post that “the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term … are now his personal property.” Another adviser to the former president said to the Post, “He didn’t give them the documents because he didn’t want to.”

This childlike logic reflects Trump’s long-running inability to distinguish between the individual president and the institutional presidency, a structure that existed before him and that persists even after he unwillingly departed the White House. In his view, he is the presidency (which … is not what legal scholars typically mean when they talk about the “unitary executive.”) The same logic surfaces in the bizarre arguments made by Trump’s defenders that Trump somehow declassified all the sensitive documents held at Mar-a-Lago before he left office. Under the Constitution, the president does have broad authority over the classification system. But as experts have noted, it makes little sense to imagine a president declassifying information without communicating that decision across the executive branch so that everyone else would know to treat the material in question as no longer classified—unless, that is, you understand presidential power not as an institution of government, but as the projection of a single person’s all-powerful consciousness onto the world.

7) David Brooks on the value of talking to strangers.  Personally, I’m a huge fan, but I’ve become more hesitant to do so when on an airplane because it gets really awkward when you are thinking, but cannot say, “my book is just much more interesting than you.” Or, “you are great to talk to for 20 minutes, but this is a 2 hour flight.”  But, when escape is possible, yeah, I do enjoy it.

One day Nicholas Epley was commuting by train to his office at the University of Chicago. As a behavioral scientist he’s well aware that social connection makes us happier, healthier and more successful and generally contributes to the sweetness of life. Yet he looked around his train car and realized: Nobody is talking to anyone! It was just headphones and newspapers.

Questions popped into his head: What the hell are we all doing here? Why don’t people do the thing that makes them the most happy?

He discovered that one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk to strangers on a train or plane is they don’t think it will be enjoyable. They believe it will be awkward, dull and tiring. In an online survey only 7 percent of people said they would talk to a stranger in a waiting room. Only 24 percent said they would talk to a stranger on a train.

But are these expectations correct? Epley and his team have conducted years of research on this. They ask people to make predictions going into social encounters. Then, afterward, they ask them how it had gone.

They found that most of us are systematically mistaken about how much we will enjoy a social encounter. Commuters expected to have less pleasant rides if they tried to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But their actual experience was precisely the opposite. People randomly assigned to talk with a stranger enjoyed their trips consistently more than those instructed to keep to themselves. Introverts sometimes go into these situations with particularly low expectations, but both introverts and extroverts tended to enjoy conversations more than riding solo.

It turns out many of us wear ridiculously negative antisocial filters. Epley and his team found that people underestimate how positively others will respond when they reach out to express support. Research led by Stav Atir and Kristina Wald showed that most people underestimate how much they will learn from conversations with strangers.

In other research, people underestimated how much they would enjoy longer conversations with new acquaintances. People underestimated how much they’re going to enjoy deeper conversations compared to shallower conversations. They underestimated how much they would like the person. They underestimated how much better their conversation would be if they moved to a more intimate communications media — talking on the phone rather than texting. In settings ranging from public parks to online, people underestimated how positively giving a compliment to another person would make the recipient feel.

We’re an extremely social species, but many of us suffer from what Epley calls undersociality. We see the world in anxiety-drenched ways that cause us to avoid social situations that would be fun, educational and rewarding.

8) Pew with a notable chart:

Chart shows economy remains dominant midterm voting issue, but abortion grows in importance

9) Really enjoyed this Noah Smith, “On the wisdom of the historians: Just as in economics, beware untested theories.”

A lot of people are talking about the history profession this week. There was a kerfuffle when James Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association, wrote a rambling and somewhat opaque post criticizing what he felt was his profession’s excessive focus on the politics of the present, and singling out the 1619 Project for criticism. A subset of historians predictably flew into a rage at this, and forced Sweet to issue a stumbling apology.

I’m not particularly interested in the “woke vs. anti-woke” politics of this dispute. But I think a big part of the reason people care so much about the goings-on in history academia is that in recent years, history professors have become some of the most important voices that we look to in order to understand our current political and social troubles. Jay Caspian Kang explained it well in a New York Times column today:

Over the past decade or so, history has become the lingua franca of online political conversation. This is a relatively new phenomenon…[T]he shift has something to do with the centrality of Twitter over the past decade (historical documents and photos make for great screenshots) and, more important, the changes in the country itself. Once Donald Trump became president, it was harder to write about “Breaking Bad” and Taylor Swift in such self-serious tones…

Twitter has also allowed historians to assume a place in the public discourse that would’ve only been available to a select few before the advent of social media…As a result, history does seem to have an unusual amount of weight in the public discourse.

In the wake of the Great Recession, we talked a lot about whether economists and their theories were afforded too much credence, but as far as I can tell there has been no similarly critical public discourse about academic history. But there ought to be. Just as economists became a sort of priestly order that we relied upon to tell us how to achieve prosperity and distribute resources in society, historians have become a sort of priestly order that we rely on to tell us about where our politics are headed and how we should think about our sense of nationhood.

This is not a blanket criticism of the history profession (although some people on Twitter are certain to interpret it as such, and react accordingly). I am not saying that history needs to stay out of politics and go back to the ivory tower. Nor am I saying that our current crop of historians have bad takes on modern politics. All I am saying is that we ought to think about historians’ theories with the same empirically grounded skepticism with which we ought to regard the mathematized models of macroeconomics.

10) Good stuff from McWhorter, “Leveling the racism charge at something like a licensing exam is crude — it flies past issues more nuanced and complex”

The Association of Social Work Boards administers tests typically required for the licensure of social workers. Apparently, this amounts to a kind of racism that must be reckoned with.

There is a Change.org petition circulating saying just that, based on the claim that the association’s clinical exam is biased because from 2018 to 2021 84 percent of white test-takers passed it the first time while only 45 percent of Black test-takers and 65 percent of Latino test-takers did. “These numbers are grossly disproportionate and demonstrate a failure in the exam’s design,” the petition states, adding that an “assertion that the problem lies with test-takers only reinforces the racism inherent to the test.” The petitioners add that the exam is administered only in English and its questions are based on survey responses from a disproportionately white pool of social workers.

But the petition doesn’t sufficiently explain why that makes the test racist. We’re just supposed to accept that it is. The petitioners want states to eliminate requirements that social workers pass the association’s tests, leaving competence for licensure to be demonstrated through degree completion and a period of supervised work.

So: It’s wrong to use a test to evaluate someone’s qualifications to be a social worker? This begins to sound plausible only if you buy into the fashionable ideology of our moment, in which we’re encouraged to think it’s somehow antiracist to excuse Black and brown people from being measured by standardized testing. There have been comparable claims these days with regard to tests for math teachers in Ontario and state bar exams, and, in the past, on behalf of applicants to the New York City Fire Department

This will mean taking a deep breath and asking why it is that in various instances, Black and Latino test-takers disproportionately have trouble with standardized tests. The reason for the deep breath is the implication ever in the air on this subject: that if the test isn’t racist, then the results might suggest that they aren’t as smart as their white peers. That’s an artificially narrowed realm of choices, however. There is more to what shapes how people handle things like standardized tests.

11) I can’t say stories of our criminal justice system like this surprise me.  But they still infuriate me.  This is just not okay.  Seriously, read this twitter thread:

12) I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who don’t have ideas of friendship shaped by toxic masculinity. “Men have fewer friends than ever, and it’s harming their health”  This Vox piece is all images– I think this one is key:

13) Good stuff from Katherine Wu on the Omicron boosters.

The nation has latched on before to the idea that shots alone can see us through. When vaccines first rolled out, Americans were assured that they’d essentially stamp out transmission, and that the immunized could take off their masks. “I thought we learned our lesson,” says Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at George Mason University. Apparently we did not. America is still stuck on the notion of what Popescu calls “vaccine absolutism.” And it rests on two very shaky assumptions, perhaps both doomed to fail: that the shots can and should sustainably block infection, and that “people will actually go and get the vaccine,” says Deshira Wallace, a public-health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As fall looms, the U.S. is now poised to expose the fatal paradox in its vaccine-only plan. At a time when the country is more reliant than ever on the power of inoculation, we’re also doing less than ever to set the shots up for success.

14) I’ve long been fascinated by the ongoing technological warfare between car manufacturers and car thieves.  This, from Planet Money was the most enlightening thing I’ve ever read on it:

15) Lots and lots of people shared this article with me, “Pickleball, Sport of the Future Injury? It’s all fun and games till you strain your Achilles’ tendon, herniate a disc or do a face-plant in the Kitchen.”

16) This is wild… you will metabolize a pill much faster if you take it and lie on your right side than on your left.  Asymmetry, baby! 

17) Another really good post from Noah Smith, “The Elite Overproduction Hypothesis: Did America produce too many frustrated college graduates in the 2000s and 2010s?”

Ben Schmidt has many more interesting data points in his Twitter thread. To me the most striking was that there are now almost as many people majoring in computer science as in all of the humanities put together:

When you look at the data, it becomes very apparent why the shift is happening. College kids increasingly want majors that will lead them directly to secure and/or high-paying jobs. That’s why STEM and medical fields — and to a lesser degree, blue-collar job-focused fields like hospitality — have been on the rise.

But looking back at that big bump of humanities majors in the 2000s and early 2010s (the raw numbers are here), and thinking about the social unrest America has experienced over the last 8 years, makes me think about Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction. Basically, the idea here is that America produced a lot of highly educated people with great expectations for their place in American society, but that our economic and social system was unable to accommodate many of these expectations, causing them to turn to leftist politics and other disruptive actions out of frustration and disappointment.

18) I wrote a whole post on this a long time ago, but, short version, this research shows why being a college professor is the best job in the world.

19) Democrats can only hope our current Lieutenant Governor is the Republican’s gubernatorial nominee in 2024:

Third graders who attend public school in North Carolina learn about the solar system and volcanoes in science class. Fourth graders study fossils.

Social studies at the second grade level teaches students about democracy. In fifth grade, students discuss rights that are protected under the U.S. Constitution.

But according to Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, kids shouldn’t be learning about any of that…

“In those grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies,” he writes. “We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.”

20) This is fun– “most regretted baby names

Inspired by Mississippi-based journalist Sarah Fowler’s brilliant Washington Post story on the folks who changed their baby’s first name — 30,000 in the past five years alone — we asked the Social Security Administration for a list of the most-changed names. They ran the numbers back to 2017.

Apparently, it’s hard to spell after you or your partner have just gone through labor: The two most-changed names are “Issac” and “Chole,” and the two most-adopted names, as you might expect…

Beyond egregious misspellings, the third most-changed and third most-adopted names show another common pattern: People tend to abandon names that are falling rapidly in the ranks of most popular baby names — such as Aiden — and to adopt names that are on the rise, such as Sebastian.

21) This is something else, “The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment.”  Also, a Fresh Air interview

22) OMG the Mensa people are pathetic, “My Week With America’s Smartest* People”

The truth was, I couldn’t quite articulate why I wouldn’t want to join. I certainly had a nice time at the convention. (“I’ve never seen you do this much reporting,” my fiancé said after I informed him I had to spend yet another day there.) The environment reminded me that I take pleasure in a lot of the same nerdy shit Mensans live for: logic games, trivia, and other sorts of puzzles. It was fun learning Set and later, competing in the Wordle tournament.

But I didn’t quite feel like I had found my people. I have never in my life struggled to find smart friends who get my jokes, and my intelligence (or, per my haters, my lack thereof) isn’t something that makes me feel alienated from my peers. It’s not to say that being brainy isn’t important to me — I’m glad I’m engaged to someone who I think is brilliant and likes to play all the stupid little games that I do — but high IQ is not in the top ten or 20 or 100 qualities I look for in a friend or community. I want to be around part of a group of people who are empathetic and funny and intellectually curious and have weird interests. A lot of people I met fit that bill. And I’m happy for all the Mensans who have found a home in their exclusive club and that their IQ has provided them with a way to understand themselves and their place in the world.

But if my time at the Mensa Annual Gathering taught me anything, it’s that being “smart” and doing well on tests have virtually nothing to do with each other.

22) Gallup, “Americans and the Future of Cigarettes, Marijuana, Alcohol”

Gallup has been asking Americans about their attitudes toward cigarettes and alcohol since the 1930s and 1940s, and, in more recent decades, has added similar questions about marijuana. One purpose of these continuing surveys is to update estimates of these substances’ frequency of use.


  • Alcohol is by far the most used of the three. About 45% of Americans have had an alcoholic drink within the past week, while another 23% say they use it occasionally. A third are “total abstainers.”

    Alcohol use has remained relatively constant over the years. The average percentage of Americans who have said they are drinkers since 1939 is 63%, quite close to Gallup’s most recent reading of 67%.


  • Some 16% of Americans say they currently smoke marijuana, while a total of 48% say they have tried it at some point in their lifetime.

    Marijuana use (based on self-reports) has increased dramatically over the past half-century. Only 4% said they had ever tried marijuana in 1969, when the question was first asked. That’s now 48%. Seven percent of Americans said they currently smoke marijuana in 2013, compared with the 16% measured this summer.



  • Cigarette smoking incidence has dropped steadily over the decades, from a high of 45% in the mid-1950s.

    Today, a new low of 11% of American adults report being smokers. Roughly three in 10 nonsmokers say they used to smoke.

In sum, American adults are significantly more likely to use alcohol than either marijuana or cigarettes. And while alcohol consumption has remained relatively constant over the decades, cigarette use is now less than a fourth of what it was in the 1950s. Americans’ regular use of marijuana is modestly higher than cigarettes at this point, but the trend over recent decades in marijuana use is upward…

Bottom Line

Americans recognize the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes, and smoking has declined significantly over the past half-century and can be expected to continue on this trajectory.

Americans are more ambivalent about the effects of smoking marijuana, and its future use by Americans will depend partly on changes in recognition of its potential harms and partly on the continuing shifts in its legality in states across the union.

The majority of Americans recognize that alcohol consumption has negative effects on both the user and society more generally. But unlike the case with smoking, there are no signs that these attitudes have resulted in a decrease in alcohol use. Why people use alcohol and have continued to use it while recognizing its downsides are complex questions that have engendered a great deal of medical and psychological research over the years. Clearly the social and personal benefits alcohol provides, along with its historical entrenchment in American culture, tend to outweigh consideration of its social and personal costs.

What could change the pattern of alcohol use going forward? Americans are not likely to support any type of ban on alcohol (a 2014 CNN poll showed only 18% of Americans said alcohol should be made illegal in this country), so if alcohol use diminishes in the future, it will most likely result from factors like those that reduced the incidence of smoking. These include an increased emphasis on its personal and social costs, along with, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such steps as increasing taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of places where alcohol is sold, and reducing the hours of sale and general availability of alcohol.


Quick hits (Part I)

1) I hate public (reply all) congratulatory emails.  Yes, congratulate somebody on a job well done, but do we all have to see it (thank goodness I discovered Gmail’s “mute” feature).  Anyway, loved this from deBoer, “Congratulations, Like Condolences, Should Be Private” (emphases in original)

I hate to borrow overused internet lingo, but nothing to me is as cringe as watching people in media tweet overwrought congratulations at each other over professional news. It’s nails-on-a-chalkboard stuff, and yet it’s like 12% of all tweets. “Big, big congrats to @SnarkDad420 on taking over as Vice Managing Copy Editor at Dipshit.com!” And the responses, if anything, are worse. “Thanks so much, @GhostOfTomChoad! Buy me a beer at Do or Dive, haha!” Kill me. Strike me dead. Flay my bones.

Here’s my little bit of advice for all of you: send neither public congratulations nor public condolences. Text, email, or (gasp) say it in person. If you don’t know the person well enough to contact them privately, you don’t know them well enough to congratulate or console them. Right? Answer this for me: if you don’t commend them or send them condolences after an event, will they notice? Will it hurt them? If yes, it matters enough to say in private, where it will always mean more. If no, then you don’t have anything to say at all. What are you accomplishing by sending congratulations to a stranger? And why should anyone not think that you’re doing it for self-interested reasons of social position and patronage?

2) I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… the coming political fights over medical abortions are going to be huge.  The Post, “Most abortions are done at home. Antiabortion groups are taking aim.”

Two top antiabortion groups have crafted and successfully lobbied for state legislation to ban or further restrictthe predominant way pregnancies are ended in the United States — viadrugs taken at home, often facilitated by a network of abortion rights groups.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 14states now ban or partially ban the use of those drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in more than half of all abortions.

But the drugs remain widely available, with multiple groups working to help provide them even to women in states with abortion bans. Students for Life of America and National Right to Life Committee, which have played leading roles in crafting antiabortion laws, hope to change that with newlegislation.

The groups are pursuing a variety of tactics, from bills that would ban the abortion-inducing drugs altogether to others that would allow family members to sue medication providers or attempt to shut down the nonprofit groups that help women obtain and safely use the drugs…

National Right to Life, meanwhile, released a “model law,” a week before the overturn of Roe v. Wade that seeks to outlaw a coalition of nonprofit groups that assist women with self-managed abortions. Last month, Republican lawmakers in South Carolina became the first to introduce the legislation.

The efforts illustrate how the antiabortion battlefront now reaches beyond traditional bills seeking criminal penalties for doctors who provide surgical abortions in hospitals or clinics, instead targeting organizations that assist women with mail-order abortion prescriptions and safety protocols for self-managed abortions.

3) A “good enough” life sounds plenty good to me.

In 1953, the british pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott began writing about the idea of “good-enough” parenting—a term he coined, and one he’s still famous for today. According to Winnicott, after infancy, babies do not need tirelessly responsive or self-sacrificing parents. In fact, he wrote, it is developmentally key for parents to lessen their “active adaptation” to their children’s needs over time. In doing so, they teach their kids to “account for failure” and “tolerate the results of frustration”—both necessary skills at a very young age, as anyone who’s watched a baby learn to crawl knows.

In his recent book The Good-Enough Life, the scholar and writing lecturer Avram Alpert radically broadens Winnicott’s idea of good-enoughness, transforming it into a sweeping ideology. Alpert sees good-enoughness as a necessary alternative to “greatness thinking,” or the twin beliefs that everybody has the right to embark on “personal quests for greatness” and that the great few can uplift the mediocre many. Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capital is an example of greatness thinking; so is its latter-day analogue, trickle-down economics. So are many forms of ambition: wanting to win the National Book Award, to start a revolution that turns your divided and unequal country into a Marxist utopia, or to make a sex tape that catapults you to global fame.

Alpert does not ask his readers to abandon their goals completely, but he does ask us to acknowledge the unlikelihood of becoming the next Kim Kardashian or creating a workers’ paradise. He also argues that clinging too tightly to such dreams, at the expense of smaller or partial ones, sets us up for both practical and moral failure: To him, it’s selfish, especially on the political level, to strive exclusively for changes so large that they may be unattainable. Rather than aim for greatness, then, Alpert asks us to accept that frustration and limitation are inescapable—and sometimes beneficial or beautiful—parts of human life…

Many of alpert’s ideas about good-enough selves and good-enough relationships ask only that his readers be more patient and less selfish. Greatness thinking, he argues, teaches us to defend our own ideas, time, and convenience above all else; it suggests that anyone who wishes to excel must hoard their time and energy, ignoring all the little tasks, negotiations, and compromises that make up so much of daily life. (The writer Vladimir Nabokov, supposedly, didn’t even lick his own stamps.) On an interpersonal level, greatness thinking suggests that discord and friction are, like licking your own stamps and running your own errands, needless time sucks—or, worse, signs that a relationship is on the rocks. A great friendship, according to this line of thought, is one of unbroken companionship and total harmony, a lifelong version of Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana at their most intertwined. But even on Broad City, a show utterly devoted to the joys of friendship, Abbi and Ilana are at odds, if only briefly, on nearly every episode. Alpert would say that this is as it should be. Disagreement and compromise are crucial parts of friendship. They teach us openness, acceptance, and resilience. If we let them, they make us more whole.

4) Jamelle Bouie is right, “The Idea That Letting Trump Walk Will Heal America Is Ridiculous”

The main argument against prosecuting Donald Trump — or investigating him with an eye toward criminal prosecution — is that it will worsen an already volatile fracture in American society between Republicans and Democrats. If, before an indictment, we could contain the forces of political chaos and social dissolution, the argument goes, then in the aftermath of such a move, we would be at their mercy. American democracy might not survive the stress.

All of this might sound persuasive to a certain, risk-averse cast of mind. But it rests on two assumptions that can’t support the weight that’s been put on them.

The first is the idea that American politics has, with Trump’s departure from the White House, returned to a kind of normalcy. Under this view, a prosecution would be an extreme and irrevocable blow to social peace. But the absence of open conflict is not the same as peace. Voters may have put a relic of the 1990s into the Oval Office, but the status quo of American politics is far from where it was before Trump.

The most important of our new realities is the fact that much of the Republican Party has turned itself against electoral democracy. The Republican nominee for governor in Arizona — Kari Lake — is a 2020 presidential election denier. So, too, are the Republican nominees in Arizona for secretary of state, state attorney general and U.S. Senate. In Pennsylvania, Republican voters overwhelmingly chose the pro-insurrection Doug Mastriano to lead their party’s ticket in November. Overall, Republican voters have nominated election deniers in dozens of races across six swing states, including candidates for top offices in Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin…

All of this is to say that we are already in a place where a substantial portion of the country (although much less than half) has aligned itself against the basic principles of American democracy in favor of Trump. And these 2020 deniers aren’t sitting still, either; as these election results show, they are actively working to undermine democracy for the next time Trump is on the ballot.

This fact, alone, makes a mockery of the idea that the ultimate remedy for Trump is to beat him at the ballot box a second time, as if the same supporters who rejected the last election will change course in the face of another defeat. It also makes clear the other weight-bearing problem with the argument against holding Trump accountable, which is that it treats inaction as an apolitical and stability-enhancing move — something that preserves the status quo as opposed to action, which upends it.

5) My daughter wants a pet snake.  Not happening.  But she’d approve of this, “How Facebook Is Saving Snakes: Snake-identification groups on social media are turning serpent haters into appreciators”

What force could drive such a dramatic shift in perspective? Baker credits, of all things, a Facebook group, one whose mission it is to educate members about snakes. Although the social media giant has a bad reputation for doing everything wrong in public health and politics, it turns out to be a powerful tool for saving snake lives. It’s not just Facebook. Wildlife enthusiasts are co-opting various social media platforms to build communities that promote accurate snake information and slay viral myths. Through these efforts they are converting even the most committed snake haters into ardent snake appreciators whose newfound regard for these misunderstood creatures often spreads to family, friends and neighbors. One by one, the snakes are living to slither another day…

Whereas other social media ID groups encompass huge areas, from entire continents to the entire planet, Pyle went local, focusing on the snakes he’s most familiar with. That way, he reasoned, “I can actually help if someone has a snake in their backyard.” He hoped his regional approach would serve as a template for other local efforts.

Today Pyle’s group has more than 176,000 members eagerly exchanging information about the region’s venomous rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and coral snakes, as well as its nonvenomous rat snakes and water snakes, among other harmless species. “This group has been the first time in my life that I think I’m making a real difference,” he says. Other regional groups that have formed include a statewide Texas ID and Central Texas Snake ID, which has more than 43,000 members and is run by a snake-relocation service near San Antonio. Facebook features dozens of other groups, too, mostly in the southern and southwestern states where most snakes live, covering regions as niche as Southside Atlanta.

The premise of the groups is simple. A member uploads an image of a snake they want identified, and within minutes an expert administrator responds. One unbreakable rule of the pages is that users have to keep their guesses to themselves. Only IDs made with certainty are allowed. For Pyle, this rule is so crucial that he once muted his own daughter for guessing. It can be a matter of safety, especially if someone says a snake is nonvenomous when it isn’t.

6) Derek Thompson, “There Is No National Teacher Shortage: The narrative doesn’t match the numbers.”

For several weeks, I watched this Great American Teacher Shortage narrative bloom across the media landscape. Because of my reporting for my abundance-agenda series, I was predisposed to believe it was real. The U.S. is rife with shortages, including of infant formula and monkeypox vaccines. But I was also skeptical, because so many public-education controversies—see: the debates over remote schooling, the proper way to teach American history, and controversial laws regarding how teachers can discuss sex ed—are plastered with ideology.

When I spoke with education researchers and writers to figure out what was really going on, a more complex narrative emerged. In parts of the country, schools are struggling to hire staff. But they are mostly the same districts that have been struggling for years to fill the same positions, such as substitute and special-ed roles. In the big picture, the new and catastrophic national teacher shortage is neither newly catastrophic nor, in any meaningful sense, national. Under one interpretation of the murky data, the country might even have a teacher surplus on its hands, because so many parents have pulled their children out of public schools since the pandemic began…

American teachers and American schools absolutely do have real problems that deserve our attention.

Teacher vacancies exist, and they are concentrated in specific states, districts, and positions. Many rural areas and the Deep South are experiencing shortages. Some high-poverty districts have struggled for decades to hire enough teachers. High teacher turnover is especially a problem in child care and special education. A recent study in Louisiana found that one-third of the state’s child-care centers lose more than half of their teachers every year. A 2022 government survey found that the vacancy rate for special-ed teachers is more than four times higher than that for physical-education instructors.

Exhausted, underpaid, and stressed out, America’s teachers seem to be in a state of psychological and financial crisis. By some estimates, public-school teachers are the most “burned out” workers in America. The pandemic made things worse; some surveys show a big increase in the share of teachers who say they want to quit. Indeed, managing an elementary-school classroom via Zoom five days a week sounds to me like one of the lower rings of hell.

So, if the question is whether some districts are struggling to hire enough teachers, or whether some specific occupations have shortages, or even whether many teachers are feeling crummy about their work, the answer is clearly yes. These things are all happening. But most of these things have been happening for a long time.

“There has not been a mass exodus of teachers across the country,” Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, told me. Chad Aldeman, who writes about education finance at Edunomics Lab, agrees. “The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” he told me.

7) Jonathan Weiler with an excellent post on the value and limits of the “polarization” frame:

This Tweet, from Jeff Jarvis, a professor in CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism, has been making the rounds, as you can see.

Some thoughts….

Obviously, I’ve had some professional and, therefore, personal investment in the significance of the polarization frame. The books I’ve co-written on the subject document how the nature of America’s political divisions has changed over time, and argue that the changing nature of those divisions is highly consequential. One key facet of the argument is that a politics primarily anchored in deep-seated psychological and personality differences is a recipe for sustained, irreconcilable conflict. These deep-seated differences aren’t politically consequential in and of themselves, at least not according to our understanding. They become consequential when they map onto partisan conflict. That is, when people with basically different worldviews start sorting themselves out into two distinct partisan political camps, those different worldviews become the basic fault line of our politics. Once that happens, the stage is set for especially acrimonious and potentially violent politics. Others have built on that framework to argue such conditions have made the emergence of a Trump-like figure more likely, which reinforces and deepens the dangers of the politics we tried to map.

At a time of deepening polarization in the United States, the fallout in The Village points to troubling consequences on the cul-de-sac level: Not even old friends are immune to the forces pitting us against each other.

Polls reveal perceptions of major events — the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, the protests ignited by the death of George Floyd — vary widely along partisan lines. Less explored is the impact in our own backyards, the strains on bonds that are supposed to trump politics.

This is the kind of frame Jarvis is talking about. Much of the American right is becoming increasingly extreme, violent and enamored of political leaders who aren’t even making a pretense anymore of respecting such bedrocks of democracy as election outcomes that they don’t like. In the Graham story, it’s hard to fathom what context or insight readers gain from what feels almost like a polarization disclaimer. One of our two major parties is traveling far down the road of authoritarianism and is inspiring, all over the country, the kind of atmosphere that led to Graham’s resignation. Polarization, in the basic sense of describing a phenomenon in which two objects increasingly gravitate toward poles, is not what is at play here. Instead, one object, the Republican Party, is becoming increasingly and dangerously extreme in a way that simply does not characterize the other party.

I can’t believe I am about to do this, but here’s Bill Kristol (!!!!)1, explaining the differences in a Tweet this weekend:

8) This is cool, The Athletic with a way to think about elite soccer players through 18 different playing style categories. 

9) I know I shouldn’t waste quick hits on stuff I don’t like, but sometimes it amazes me what the NYT Op-Ed page lets get through.  Most of the commentators properly ripped this to shreds.  “Maternal Instinct Is a Myth That Men Created”  I mean, of course there’s some reality to that claim, so why completely undermine yourself by arguing with strawman after strawman.  

10) This is very fun from Randall Munroe (with good visuals, so gift link), “Shark or Orca: Which Should You Fear More?”

11) Nice NCSU news release, “Study of Ancient Skulls Sheds Light on Human Interbreeding With Neandertals

Research has established that there are traces of Neandertal DNA in the genome of modern humans. Now an exploratory study that assessed the facial structure of prehistoric skulls is offering new insights, and supports the hypothesis that much of this interbreeding took place in the Near East – the region ranging from North Africa to Iraq.

“Ancient DNA caused a revolution in how we think about human evolution,” says Steven Churchill, co-author of the study and a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “We often think of evolution as branches on a tree, and researchers have spent a lot of time trying to trace back the path that led to us, Homo sapiens. But we’re now beginning to understand that it isn’t a tree – it’s more like a series of streams that converge and diverge at multiple points.”

“Our work here gives us a deeper understanding of where those streams came together,” says Ann Ross, corresponding author of the study and a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University.

“The picture is really complicated,” Churchill says. “We know there was interbreeding. Modern Asian populations seem to have more Neandertal DNA than modern European populations, which is weird – because Neandertals lived in what is now Europe. That has suggested that Neandertals interbred with what are now modern humans as our prehistoric ancestors left Africa, but before spreading to Asia. Our goal with this study was to see what additional light we could shed on this by assessing the facial structure of prehistoric humans and Neandertals.”

“By evaluating facial morphology, we can trace how populations moved and interacted over time,” Ross explains. “And the evidence shows us that the Near East was an important crossroads, both geographically and in the context of human evolution.”

For this study, the researchers collected data on craniofacial morphology from the published literature. This ultimately resulted in a data set including 13 Neandertals, 233 prehistoric Homo sapiens, and 83 modern humans.


Covid meets DARE?

What am I talking about you ask?  Let’s start with Aaron Carrol’s recent excellent column:

You would think that vaccination sites would have been swamped with parents rushing to vaccinate their young children against Covid after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccines for the under-5 age group in June. But as of early August, around 5 percent of eligible children under 5 had received the first dose of the vaccine series. Worse, the number of them being immunized has been decreasing.

Some may argue that it’s harder to get their young children vaccinated because not all drugstores will give shots to babies and toddlers. But the fact that ‌uptake is still so low, even though pediatricians and family physicians‌ can provide them, suggests a lack of urgency. Moreover, only 30 percent of those ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, and vaccines for that group have been authorized since fall 2021 and ‌‌are available anywhere shots are given.

‌The best way to end the pandemic and keep everyone safe is vaccination. Immunization is the only intervention that gives the benefits of extended immunity without the dangers ‌of infection for all ages. It’s what we’ve done to combat — and even eradicate — a host of diseases that used to ravage humanity…

I fear that it’s indicative of Americans’ loss of trust in the public health system of the United States. Much of that is because of misinformation and disinformation spread about the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. But some of it is the result of inconsistent and often suboptimal science communication by public health experts.

Too many messages are still centered on trying to frighten people into compliance by arguing about worst-case scenarios and ‌‌convincing them that things are as dangerous as ever. They amplify every new variant and predict future worsening. They point to charts of the unvaccinated and vaccinated and marvel at the differences in deaths. [emphasis mine]

Such charts almost always, however, depict outcomes that don’t easily apply to young children. If the goal is to persuade parents to take action to prevent harm to their children, this won’t work.

The truth is that awful as Covid is, in a giant country, many, if not most of us, are going to personally know, few, if any, seriously affected. I do not personally know a single person who has died from Covid, much less been hospitalized much less been more seriously ill than a bad case of influenza.  And this is even more the case for kids.  And I know I’m not alone in this experience.  This is not at all to downplay Covid and the very real risks– regardless of my personal circumstances I, well… read.  But, most people make most decisions in their life based upon what they personally experience and the truth is, for many, many Americans, Covid just isn’t that scary.  And trying to tell them just how scare it is (especially in a post-vaccine world) feels like a lot of needless scaremongering when, perhaps, every single kid they know had a fairly mild case.  

So, where does the DARE anti-drug program come in?  Well, my best memories of DARE from middle school were police officers telling us just how awful and scary illegal drugs were.  One hit on a joint and you were on the path to cocaine, PCP, and your life being ruined.  But, most of us knew at least some older kids who used marijuana.  Sure, there were “stoners” and “burnouts” as we used to say back in the day (do they still?) but plenty of really successful kids who had got into elite universities while having part-time jobs, etc.  We saw with our own eyes that the whole DARE program was not a very accurate reflection of reality and just out to scare us.  That’s why I still use PCP :-).  Seriously, though, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned I’ve never been one for any drugs (beyond the very occasional alcohol), but it’s sure not because of DARE.  

Of course, if you want people to act out of irrational fear, just get on Fox news and scare them about immigrants at the border.  But, when it comes to public health– Covid or illegal drugs– just be honest.  


(Better than no) Quick Hits

Sorry I’ve let you all down with the limited posting this week.  Been pretty busy getting ready for classes to start this coming week.  Throw in a day off on Friday to visit Wet n Wild with my daughter (soooo fun) and many hours last evening to celebrate the wedding of one of my most loyal readers (who, presumably, will not be reading this Sunday morning), and, tough weekend for quick hits, too. But, I couldn’t give you nothing, so, we’ll see how much I can queue up Saturday post-nuptials…

1) Such a good post from Brian Beutler (he’s good at this!)

All of this raises the question of what Democrats can do as we drift into an information environment that responsible gatekeepers no longer shape, where huge swaths of the population can be made to think that wild conspiracy theories and bizarre nonsense (Colbert-sent reporters???) are the most important stories the Democrat-run media won’t tell you about. What do liberals who hope to persuade people with facts and reason do in a world where an astonishing percentage of young voters get their popular information from social media platforms like TikTok and, also (by pure coincidence, probably) an astonishing percentage of young voters disapprove of Biden. More even than disapproved of Trump.

The answer, I think (and to coin a bunch of tedious Trump apologists) is to take Dark Brandon seriously but not literally. More specifically, it’s to realize that Democrats are already figuring out how to win in this new world without embracing the genuinely dark forces of incitement and totalitarian lying that now define GOP politics. Obama did it in 2012. John Fetterman is doing it today, pairing a high-minded substantive campaign with a meme-driven one aimed at making a mockery of his opponent. He’s crushing Dr. Oz by a greater margin than the other statewide candidates in Pennsylvania are leading their races, or Senate candidates in other battlegrounds are leading theirs.

The January 6 committee has done it in its own way, rendering a substantive and complex investigation of a huge and important scandal into headline-grabbing moments with long shelf lives.  

But the Democratic strategic class remains excessively hidebound to the material school. When House Democrats were about to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who runs the House Democrats’ election committee, appeared on MSNBC and scolded his interviewers for asking him about the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago, and Donald Trump’s theft of highly classified information. “Look, it’s sad and it is serious that we would be in a place where we had a former president keeping classified information in the basement,” he said. “But can I tell you something? We are on the verge of historic legislation right here. So with all due respect, I think you guys are maybe overdoing the relative importance of these two stories. My constituents care a lot more about what’s in their paychecks than what’s in Donald Trump’s basement.”


Right, when has a candidate having classified information in her basement ever changed the course of an election?

There remain too many Democrats who don’t get that these stories about Trump are opportunities to influence social knowledge about him and the GOP. Republicans don’t miss those moments. They know each Trump scandal impels them to circle wagons and treat Trump like a victim, so that as many people as possible come to see him that way; they know that when their opponents are under criminal investigation, it’s good news for them. Meanwhile it’s been a week and a half since the raid and Democratic leaders have done nothing to influence how people perceive that development and, astonishingly, almost seem to wish it would disappear. 

These are moments candidates like Fetterman (and the January 6 committee and the 2012 Obama campaign and Dark Brandon) wouldn’t miss. Easy opportunities not just to go on the attack but to turn the subject matter underlying the attack into a multi-day earned-media bonanza. Like the one that would ensue if congressional Republicans had to vote on their demand to defund the FBI, or to insulate critical national-security investigations from political meddling. Fetterman has a maestro’s knack for creating online content that makes Oz look ridiculous. But his tweets don’t do the work directly. It’s that they’re funny, and people talk about them, and reporters glom on, and turn them into news stories. If Fetterman had inverted his formula and run an expensive TV ad about Dr. Oz calling vegetables “crudités,” while using his Twitter account to talk about the prescription-drug provisions of the IRA, it would’ve accomplished almost nothing. Instead Pennsylvania political media can’t get enough of how Oz appears to be from outer space

By the same token, Chuck Schumer could do the work of 100 paid ads by one day casually responding to a question about GOP Senate candidates with an arch line about whether the reporter was referring to the one who threatened to kill his wife, the one who actually lives in New Jersey, the one whose intellectual role models are Nazis, or the one who spent 4th of July with Putin and lies about vaccines. Republicans would get mad, and then we’d get a multi-day conversation about how insane the GOP candidates are (couched here and there as a Schumer fact check). And the fundamental vileness of the Republican field would become a piece of social knowledge people shared, irrespective of anyone’s plans to address inflation. 

But it’d require using a different skill set, a willingness to wield message after message in search of the dagger that draws blood. It’d require at least some recognition that materiality and data aren’t destiny. It’d require asking, What Would Dark Brandon Do? 

2) Still very unsure of what to make of this NC Supreme Court decision.  Just because a decision benefits liberals does not mean this is how I want a judicial system to operate.  But, Democrats should also not unilaterally disarm.  

North Carolina’s state legislature was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to the extent that lawmakers may have lacked the authority to claim to represent the people, when they passed new constitutional amendments in 2018, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled Friday.

“Today’s decision sends a watershed message in favor of accountability and North Carolina democracy,” said Deborah Maxwell, president of the North Carolina NAACP, which brought the lawsuit. “Rigging elections by trampling on the rights of Black voters has consequences.”

One of the state constitutional amendments in question required voters to show photo ID to cast a ballot. It has never been used, however, due to this and other lawsuits challenging it. The other banned future politicians from raising the state’s income tax rate above 7%.

Justice Anita Earls’ majority opinion states that “amendments that could change basic tenets of our constitutional system of government warrant heightened scrutiny,” especially when written by “legislators whose claim to represent the people’s will has been disputed.”

3) Yes, I have already messaged my doctor about getting some oral minoxidil.  But, it is kind of crazy to think that we’ve got a great drug for hair loss not being used in the most effective way because there’s not enough profit incentive:

But there is a cheap treatment, he and other dermatologists say, costing pennies a day, that restores hair in many patients. It is minoxidil, an old and well-known hair-loss treatment drug used in a very different way. Rather than being applied directly to the scalp, it is being prescribed in very low-dose pills.

Although a growing group of dermatologists is offering low-dose minoxidil pills, the treatment remains relatively unknown to most patients and many doctors. It has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this purpose and so is prescribed off-label — a common practice in dermatology.

Without a rigorous trial leading to F.D.A. approval, though, the use of minoxidil pills for hair loss remains off-label. And, dermatologists say, it is likely to remain so.

“Oral minoxidil costs pennies a day,” Dr. King said. “There is no incentive to spend tens of millions of dollars to test it in a clinical trial. That study truly is never, ever going to be done.”
Serious question, though, should Pfizer or somebody like that take minoxidil, add a useless molecule to it call it levominoxidil or something and market it as an amazing new baldness cure?  What am I missing?  

4) Great stuff from Chait:

After making the decision to stop challenging Trump’s election lies, it followed that the rest of the party needed to go along. Cheney stubbornly refused. As a result, Republicans stripped her of her leadership post and then began to abandon her as Trump backed a primary challenge.

The party Establishment decided to treat Trump’s coup as a minor detail they could put to the side. Confronting the insurrection would open a damaging schism within the party. They expected the party to work together in an authoritarian-led coalition.

Accordingly, the Establishment Republican view is that Cheney has nobody to blame for her defeat but herself. Cheney might be correct about the 2020 election result, but she should have kept quiet. “In Wyoming, Cheney lost because her constituents saw that she cared more about fighting Trump than fighting Biden. She was more concerned with waging a civil war within the Republican Party than the inflation that is forcing her voters to choose between staples such as gas and food,” argues Marc Thiessen. “Telling truths is important, but we rightly regard people who only ever tell the same one truth all the time as fanatics who have lost perspective,” explains the National Review’s Dan McLaughlin.

But of course one completely foreseeable consequence of the party’s decision to cede the argument over 2020 to Trump is that it has allowed Trump to retain his influence. Republicans complain over the personal aspect of Trump’s influence — he has interceded in primaries to endorse unqualified candidates — but his ideological influence is more profound.

If Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen, of course they are going to demand their party nominate candidates who will stop it. Why would they even consider “moving on” from a historical crime so profound? It makes perfect sense that their primary consideration in choosing nominees going forward is a willingness to fight against the future steals they believe will occur.

Yet the party Establishment has persisted in believing Trump’s influence is the result of choices other than their own refusal to confront him. This explains why the Democratic Party tactic of running ads highlighting the extremism of Trumpist primary candidates, and thus to help them win, has become an obsession of anti-anti-Trump Republicans. The tactic may be deplorable, but its effect on the outcome of Republicans primaries is marginal. The greatest determinate by far is the GOP backing off its brief determination to purge Trump. Once they decided they couldn’t win without him, they ceded all the leverage to Trump.

In a just world, the Republican Establishment would pay a dear price for its cowardice. In reality, the price is likely to be bearable. Very few Republicans have any moral compunction against electing extreme or even outright fascistic Republicans to office. Witness the near-total absence of any intraparty resistance to candidates like election denier Kari Lake or Christian nationalist and Nazi ally Doug Mastriano, both of whom have enjoyed full public endorsements from Ron DeSantis, the main hope of the GOP’s non-Trump wing.

5) Lara Bazelon, “The Death Penalty Case That Went Too Far Oklahoma is set to kill Richard Glossip, but he’s almost certainly innocent. Even Republicans are revolting.”

6) If there’s one thing Dall-e 2 is really good at, it is mimicking the style of a particular artist.  Wired on the implications for current artists:

David Oreilly, a digital artist who has been critical of DALL-E, says the idea of using these tools that feed on past work to create new works that make money feels wrong. “They don’t own any of the material they reconstitute,” he says. “It would be like Google Images charging money.”

Jonathan Løw, CEO of Jumpstory, a Danish stock image company, says he doesn’t understand how AI-generated images can be used commercially. “I’m fascinated by the technology but also deeply concerned and skeptical,” he says.

Hannah Wong, a spokesperson for OpenAI, provided a statement saying the company’s image-making service was used by many artists, and that the company had sought feedback from artists during the tool’s development. “Copyright law has adapted to new technology in the past and will need to do the same with AI-generated content,” the statement said. “We continue to seek artists’ perspectives and look forward to working with them and policymakers to help protect the rights of creators.”

Although Guadamuz believes it will be difficult to sue someone for using AI to copy their work, he expects there to be lawsuits. “There will absolutely be all sorts of litigation at some point—I’m sure of it,” he says. He says that infringing trademarks like a brand’s logo, or the image of a character such as Mickey Mouse, could prove more legally fraught.

Other legal experts are less sure that AI generated knock-offs are on solid legal ground. “I could see litigation arising from the artist who says ‘I didn’t give you permission to train your algorithm on my art,’” says Bradford Newman, a partner in the law firm Baker Mckenzie, who specializes in AI. “It is a completely open question as to who would win such a case.”

7) This is great from Don Moynihan, “Republican loyalty to Trump is fueling more radical positions about the role of the state”

8) I’ll admit, I didn’t read the whole thing.  But this is a helluva photo essay very much worth taking a look at (gift link), “Odesa Is Defiant. It’s Also Putin’s Ultimate Target.”

9) Of course, there’s just no political viability in this, but an interesting idea that liberals should stop looking to rehabilitate the Constitution because it’s beyond rehabilitation:

When liberals lose in the Supreme Court — as they increasingly have over the past half-century — they usually say that the justices got the Constitution wrong. But struggling over the Constitution has proved a dead end. The real need is not to reclaim the Constitution, as many would have it, but instead to reclaim America from constitutionalism.

The idea of constitutionalism is that there needs to be some higher law that is more difficult to change than the rest of the legal order. Having a constitution is about setting more sacrosanct rules than the ones the legislature can pass day to day. Our Constitution’s guarantee of two senators to each state is an example. And ever since the American founders were forced to add a Bill of Rights to get their handiwork passed, national constitutions have been associated with some set of basic freedoms and values that transient majorities might otherwise trample.

But constitutions — especially the broken one we have now — inevitably orient us to the past and misdirect the present into a dispute over what people agreed on once upon a time, not on what the present and future demand for and from those who live now. This aids the right, which insists on sticking with what it claims to be the original meaning of the past.

Arming for war over the Constitution concedes in advance that the left must translate its politics into something consistent with the past. But liberals have been attempting to reclaim the Constitution for 50 years — with agonizingly little to show for it. It’s time for them to radically alter the basic rules of the game.

In making calls to regain ownership of our founding charter, progressives have disagreed about strategy and tactics more than about this crucial goal. Proposals to increase the number of justices, strip the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to invalidate federal law or otherwise soften the blow of judicial review frequently come together with the assurance that the problem is not the Constitution; only the Supreme Court’s hijacking of it is. And even when progressives concede that the Constitution is at the root of our situation, typically the call is for some new constitutionalism…

No matter how openly political it may purport to be, reclaiming the Constitution remains a kind of antipolitics. It requires the substitution of claims about the best reading of some centuries-old text or about promises said to be already in our traditions for direct arguments about what fairness or justice demands.

It’s difficult to find a constitutional basis for abortion or labor unions in a document written by largely affluent men more than two centuries ago. It would be far better if liberal legislators could simply make a case for abortion and labor rights on their own merits without having to bother with the Constitution.

By leaving democracy hostage to constraints that are harder to change than the rest of the legal order, constitutionalism of any sort demands extraordinary consensus for meaningful progress. It conditions democracy in which majority rule always must matter most on surviving vetoes from powerful minorities that invoke the constitutional past to obstruct a new future.

After failing to get the Constitution interpreted in an egalitarian way for so long, the way to seek real freedom will be to use procedures consistent with popular rule. It will not be easy, but a new way of fighting within American democracy must start with a more open politics of altering our fundamental law, perhaps in the first place by making the Constitution more amendable than it is now.

10) Of course in a post-Roe world Louisiana is making a woman carry a fetus that will be born without a skull and die.

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health said that because of Ms. Davis’s case the department would add acrania to the preliminary list of two dozen fetal conditions explicitly named as examples of conditions that would make a pregnancy “medically futile” and allow for an abortion.

The final guidelines will go into effect 90 days after a public notice, which was expected to be published in the September edition of the state register, said Michelle McCalope, a spokeswoman for the agency, in an email.

Jenny Ma, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who has led arguments for plaintiffs challenging the Louisiana law, said that the group was “absolutely horrified” about Ms. Davis’s situation and that it was “absolutely one of the animating reasons for the lawsuit that we brought.” Ms. Ma noted that there was also a lack of clarity about what kind of physicians could sign off on the exemption, and that there was not a guarantee that two doctors would be available or nearby to quickly assess a case, particularly in rural areas.

She added that any list could not account for every situation that could emerge and that the problem was “exacerbated by the chilling effect” on doctors who were facing legal liability.

Sarah Zagorski, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Right to Life, who noted that the organization had fought against an amendment to the ban that allowed for an exception if a fetus had a fatal medical condition, said that in Ms. Davis’s case, the organization would recommend “support for families and perinatal palliative care from the moment of the diagnosis through the duration of the child’s natural life.”

My God these forced-birth-at-all-costs people are just insane.  Who does this to a mother/family?

11) If there’s one thing I didn’t need data to know, but, still, nice to have proof, “Buttons beat touchscreens in cars, and now there’s data to prove it”

I love the Carplay in my Jetta, but I also love that all the climate and basic radio functions are good old-fashioned buttons and knobs.

12) Study– Russians basically made up their efficacy data on the Sputnik vaccine.

13) Really interesting post from Scott Alexander on how and why our skills decay over time:

Why Do Skills Plateau?


Economist Philip Frances finds that creative artists, on average, do their best work in their late 30s. Isn’t this strange? However good a writer is at age 35, they should be even better at 55 with twenty more years of practice. Sure, middle age might bring some mild proto-cognitive-impairment, but surely nothing so dire that it cancels out twenty extra years!

A natural objection is that maybe they’ve maxed out their writing ability; further practice won’t help. But this can’t be true; most 35 year old writers aren’t Shakespeare or Dickens, so higher tiers of ability must be possible. But you can’t get there just by practicing more. If acheivement is a function of talent and practice, at some point returns on practice decrease near zero.

The same is true for doctors. Young doctors (under 40) have slightly better cure rates than older doctors (eg 40-49). The linked study doesn’t go any younger (eg under 35, under 30…). However, Goodwin et al find that only first-year doctors suffer from inexperience; by a doctor’s second year, she’s doing about as well as she ever will. Why? Wouldn’t you expect someone who’s practiced medicine for twenty years to be better than someone who’s only done it for two?

We find the same phenomenon in formal education; on a standardized test of book learning for student doctors, there’s a big increase the first year of training, a smaller increase the second year, and by year 4-5 the increase is basically indistinguishable from zero (even though some doctors remain better than others). And here I talk about a slightly different phenomenon: ADHD children given Ritalin study harder and better, but haven’t learned any more vocabulary words at the end of a course (even though they haven’t learned all the vocabulary).

After a lot of looking through the psychological literature, I’ve found two hypotheses which, combined, mostly satisfy my curiosity.

The Decay Hypothesis


The first explanation is a “dynamic equilibrium of forgetting”.

Suppose that you forget any fact you haven’t reviewed in X amount of time (X might be shorter or longer depending on your intelligence/memory/talent). And suppose that an average doctor sees 5 diseases ~weekly, another 5 diseases ~monthly, and another 5 diseases ~yearly. A bad doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a week, a mediocre doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a month, and a great doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a year. So the bad doctor will end up knowing about 5 diseases, the mediocre doctor 10, and the great doctor 15. They will master these diseases quickly, and no matter how long they continue practicing medicine, they will never get better…

The Interference Hypothesis


An acquaintance relates that, using flashcards, he can learn twenty words of some language (I forget which, let’s say Spanish) per day. If he studies more than twenty, too bad, he’ll only remember twenty.

But if he studies two language (let’s say Spanish and Chinese), he can learn twenty Spanish vocab words plus twenty Chinese vocab words. The cap is per language, not absolute!

This suggests an interference hypothesis: once there are too many similar things in memory, they all kind of blend together and it’s hard to learn new things in the same space. It might still be easy to learn some other topic, though. However fast you can comfortably learn Spanish, you can take a karate class at the same time and learn karate and that won’t interfere.

Something like this feels intuitively true to me. I find remembering the difference between gold and silver easier than remembering the difference between yttrium and ytterbium. In fact, I remember the basics of inorganic chemistry, and the basics of organic chemistry, but not the details of either. Why do I even remember the basics? Why not forget all of it? Why is getting an introductory understanding of twenty fields easier than getting a masterly understanding of one?

Wikipedia has a good summary of experiments showing that memory inteference is a real phenomenon, but I can’t tell if their page is treating it as a curiosity or as the fundamental explanation for why we can’t keep learning a field forever and eventually become as gods by the time we’re 50 or 60. But I think it’s a big part of that.

This feels more convincing after learning about neural nets. The ability of neural nets to consider finely-grained concepts depends on their parameter count; the more parameters, the more distinctions they can draw. A common problem is “catastrophic forgetting”, where too high a learning rate causes a net to overfit to “remember” the most recent example, making it less good at remembering previous examples. Human memory seems to lack this failure mode, but maybe its ordinary forgetting is a tamer subspecies of the same problem.

14) Alex Tabarrok, “Still under-policed and over-imprisoned”

A new paper, The Injustice of Under-Policing, makes a point that I have been emphasizing for many years, namely, relative to other developed countries the United States is under-policed and over-imprisoned.

…the American criminal legal system is characterized by an exceptional kind of under-policing, and a heavy reliance on long prison sentences, compared to other developed nations. In this country, roughly three people are incarcerated per police officer employed. The rest of the developed world strikes a diametrically opposite balance between these twin arms of the penal state, employing roughly three and a half times more police officers than the number of people they incarcerate. We argue that the United States has it backward. Justice and efficiency demand that we strike a balance between policing and incarceration more like that of the rest of the developed world. We call this the “First World Balance.”

First, as is well known, the US  has a very high rate of imprisonment compared to other countries but less well  known is that the US has a relatively low rate of police per capita.


If we focus on rates relative to crime then we get a slightly different but similar perspective. Namely, relative to the number of homicides we have a normal rate of imprisonment but are still surprisingly under-policed.


As a result, as I argued in What Was Gary Becker’s Biggest Mistake?, we have a low certainty of punishment (measured as arrests per homicide) and then try to make up for that with high punishment levels (prisoners per arrest). The low certainty, high punishment level is especially notably for black Americans.


Shifting to more police and less imprisonment could reduce crime and improve policing. More police and less imprisonment also has the advantage of being a feasible policy. Large majorities of blacks, hispanics and whites support hiring more police. “Tough on crime” can be interpreted as greater certainty of punishment and with greater certainty of punishment we can safely reduce punishment levels.

15) “All Hooting Aside: Did a Vocal Evolution Give Rise to Language? The loss of certain muscles in the human larynx may have helped give our species a voice, a new study suggests.”

Read this sentence aloud, if you’re able.

As you do, a cascade of motion begins, forcing air from your lungs through two muscles, which vibrate, sculpting sound waves that pass through your mouth and into the world. These muscles are called vocal cords, or vocal folds, and their vibrations form the foundations of the human voice.

They also speak to the emergence and evolution of human language.

For several years, a team of scientists based mainly in Japan used imaging technology to study the physiology of the throats of 43 species of primates, from baboons and orangutans to macaques and chimpanzees, as well as humans. All the species but one had a similar anatomical structure: an extra set of protruding muscles, called vocal membranes or vocal lips, just above the vocal cords. The exception was Homo sapiens.

The researchers also found that the presence of vocal lips destabilized the other primates’ voices, rendering their tone and timbre more chaotic and unpredictable. Animals with vocal lips have a more grating, less controlled baseline of communication, the study found; humans, lacking the extra membranes, can exchange softer, more stable sounds. The findings were published on Thursday in the journal Science.

16) Ecosystems are cool. “Death Valley’s Invasive Donkeys Have Become Cat Food: Feral burros wreck wetlands in the desert national park. But a study found that when mountain lions prey on them, the donkeys may help some terrain thrive.”

Early on a June morning in Death Valley National Park, a wild donkey brought her foal to one of the springs scattered throughout the desert. Two sets of eyes watched the foal pick its way through the brush. One set belonged to a mountain lion, the other to a trail camera.

Footage of the subsequent kill was published last month in the Journal of Animal Ecologyin a study that provided direct evidence of mountain lions hunting donkeys in the western deserts of North America. The attacks don’t just result in donkey scraps and full cougars, researchers argue: They suggest that native carnivores act as an important check on nonnative prey. The study also raises questions about how damaging donkeys are in the wild desert landscapes where they are found, although federal wildlife authorities maintain a goal of eliminating them entirely.

Donkeys originated in North Africa but were introduced to the United States through the mining industry in the late 1800s. Federal agencies were not pleased to see the hardy herbivores establish themselves in Death Valley. In the 1930s, wildlife managers began culling donkeys, arguing that herds of burros trampled vegetation, muddied springs and drove away native wildlife like bighorn sheep. But the donkeys have persisted, and decades later, an estimated 4,000 live in Death Valley, despite National Park Service goals of bringing the population to zero.

Erick Lundgren, a biologist at Aarhus University in Denmark took an interest in the donkeys’ effects on the desert’s wetlands. Initially, he focused on donkeys’ habit of digging wells — sometimes up to five feet deep — to reach water beneath dry stream beds. These wells have often been cited as evidence of ecological damage, Dr. Lundgren said. But he and colleagues found in a 2021 study that donkey wells served as nurseries and oases for native plants and animals.

He also found that donkeys congregating near Death Valley campsites could cause damage.

“They pretty much turn these wetlands into just a warren of trails and trampled ground,” Dr. Lundgren said. While some plant species actually benefit from this kind of grazing, he added, the donkeys wipe out other kinds of vegetation that attract birds and store carbon.

But in more remote spring-fed groves, Dr. Lundgren found, donkeys tended not to linger, and their impact on vegetation was much less drastic. At many of the sites, the researchers found mountain lion caches — the stashed carcasses that are hidden away behind boulders or thickets to prevent theft by scavengers and other cats. Many of the Death Valley caches contained donkey remains, suggesting that donkeys in parts of the park were serving an important ecological function: cat food…

“Our study shows that burros can denude wetlands but only when mountain lions are absent,” Dr. Lundgren said. “This is the case in the most visible springs in Death Valley, which occur at campsites, where mountain lions are fearful to go,” Dr. Lundgren said. He said that the places where wild donkeys do the most damage are “places that are artificially safe because of humans.”

The predators, in other words, were acting as a check on the donkeys, Dr. Lundgren said, moderating their impact on sensitive sites into something ecologically useful — well digging and opening up spring-fed thickets.

17) This is great, “11 Questions About the Dr. Oz Crudités Video”

18) Score this one for twitter.  Jesse Singal tweeted what overlooked movie should he watch on a streaming platform and someone suggested Oxygen on Netflix.  I don’t think Singal watched it, but I’m damn glad I did.  

I need more poor friends

This was two weeks ago, but in case you didn’t see it, super-important research coming out from Raj Chetty on social mobility.  The fascinating key insight– wealthier friends are a key engine of social mobility for poor Americans.  Nice summary in the Upshot (great graphics, too, you really should check it out, so… gift link)

Over the last four decades, the financial circumstances into which children have been born have increasingly determined where they have ended up as adults. But an expansive new study, based on billions of social media connections, has uncovered a powerful exception to that pattern that helps explain why certain places offer a path out of poverty.

For poor children, living in an area where people have more friendships that cut across class lines significantly increases how much they earn in adulthood, the new research found.

The study, published Monday in Nature, analyzed the Facebook friendships of 72 million people, amounting to 84 percent of U.S. adults aged 25 to 44.

Previously, it was clear that some neighborhoods were much better than others at removing barriers to climbing the income ladder, but it wasn’t clear why. The new analysis — the biggest of its kind — found the degree to which the rich and poor were connected explained why a neighborhood’s children did better later in life, more than any other factor.

The effect was profound. The study found that if poor children grew up in neighborhoods where 70 percent of their friends were wealthy — the typical rate of friendship for higher-income children — it would increase their future incomes by 20 percent, on average.

These cross-class friendships — what the researchers called economic connectedness — had a stronger impact than school quality, family structure, job availability or a community’s racial composition. The people you know, the study suggests, open up opportunities, and the growing class divide in the United States closes them off.

Also, David Brooks spoke with Chetty and has some nice thoughts on it all and the power of friendship, in general:

When I spoke with Chetty last week about the study, I asked him: What is it exactly about these friendships that is so powerful?

He said the data doesn’t enable us to answer that question. But we can easily speculate that some of it must be informational. Kids whose parents have already been to college can tell their poorer friends how to play the college admissions game, where to sign up for the SATs and so on. A lot of it, too, must be connections. Affluent people can connect you to the right people to help you get a plum job or into the best schools.

But there’s got to be more to it than that. Chetty mentioned there’s a dosage effect. Kids who move into these economically diverse neighborhoods at age 2 tend to do better than those who move in at 14. Nobody is thinking about SATs or job openings at 2.

I would point to the transformational power of friendship itself. That’s because your friends are not just by your side; they get inside you. If you want to help people change, help them change their friendships.

We already know from the work by Yale’s Nicholas Christakis and others that behavior change happens in friend networks. If people in your friend network quit smoking, then you’re more likely to quit smoking. If your friend gains weight, you are more likely to gain weight. Heck, if one of your friend’s friends — who lives far away and whom you have never met — gains weight, then you’re more likely to gain weight, too…

Our friends shape what we see as normal. If our friends decide that being 15 pounds heavier is normal and acceptable, then we’ll probably regard being 15 pounds heavier as normal, too.

This is the key point. Your friends strongly influence how you perceive reality. First, they strongly influence how you see yourself. It’s very hard to measure your own worth, your own competence, unless people you admire and respect see you as worthy, see you as competent. Plus, if your friends say, “We’re all smart, talented people,” you’ll begin to see yourself that way, too.

Second, your friends shape how you see the world. A few decades ago, a theorist named James J. Gibson pioneered the theory of “affordances.” The basic idea is that what you see in a situation is shaped by what you are capable of doing in a situation. Dennis Proffitt of the University of Virginia has demonstrated this theory in a bunch of ways: People who are less physically fit perceive hills to be steeper than people who are fit, because they find it harder to walk up them. People carrying heavy backpacks perceive steeper hills than people without them.

The phenomenon works socioeconomically, too. Kids who grew up with college-educated parents walk onto the Princeton campus and see a different campus than kids who have never been around a college at all. Without even thinking about it, more-affluent kids might communicate to their less-affluent friends ways of seeing that make such places look less alien, less imposing, more accessible.

Anyway, it was interesting to think of my own life in reference to all of this.  Honestly, virtually all my friends are college-professors or highly-successful, educated professionals.  I don’t have any friends that are truly economically struggling.  I can think of one friend who’s not a college graduate, but he, unsurprisingly, lives in my middle-class neighborhood, and has a successful flooring business. 

And, realistically, the title of this post aside, I’m unlike to add less-educated, financially struggling friends in the future.  The hope, though, is that, overall, my neighborhood really is quite socio-economically and racially diverse (here’s the demographics for the elementary my kids all attended) and that means that my kids are those wealthier friends that help serve as engines of social mobility.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Loved this from National Geographic on creativity and the default mode network.  I have come up with all my best ideas while in the shower or when running and I turn off podcasts:

If you’ve ever emerged from the shower or returned from walking your dog with a clever idea or a solution to a problem you’d been struggling with, it may not be a fluke.

Rather than constantly grinding away at a problem or desperately seeking a flash of inspiration, research from the last 15 years suggests that people may be more likely to have creative breakthroughs or epiphanies when they’re doing a habitual task that doesn’t require much thought—an activity in which you’re basically on autopilot. This lets your mind wander or engage in spontaneous cognition or “stream of consciousness” thinking, which experts believe helps retrieve unusual memories and generate new ideas.

“People always get surprised when they realize they get interesting, novel ideas at unexpected times because our cultural narrative tells us we should do it through hard work,” says Kalina Christoff, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “It’s a pretty universal human experience.”

Now we’re beginning to understand why these clever thoughts occur during more passive activities and what’s happening in the brain, says Christoff. The key, according to the latest research, is a pattern of brain activity—within what’s called the default mode network—that occurs while an individual is resting or performing habitual tasks that don’t require much attention.

Researchers have shown that the default mode network (DMN)—which connects more than a dozen regions of the brain—becomes more active during mind-wandering or passive tasks than when you’re doing something that demands focus. Simply put, the DMN is “the state the brain returns to when you’re not actively engaged,” explains Roger Beaty, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity Lab at Penn State University. By contrast, when you’re mired in a demanding task, the brain’s executive control systems keep your thinking focused, analytical, and logical…

Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and his colleagues serendipitously discovered the default mode network in 2001 when they were using positron emission tomography (PET) to see how the brains of volunteers were functioning as they performed novel, attention-demanding tasks. The team then compared those images to ones made while the brain was in a resting state and noticed that specific brain regions were more active during passive tasks than engaging ones.

However, because the function of each brain region isn’t well characterized and because a specific brain area can do different things under different circumstances, neuroscientists prefer to talk about “networks of brain areas,” such as the default mode network, which function together during certain activities, according to John Kounios, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Creativity Research Lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Raichle named this network the “default” mode network because of its heightened activity during idle periods, says Randy L. Buckner, a neuroscientist at Harvard University. But it’s something of a misnomer because the default mode network is also active in other mental tasks, such as remembering past events or engaging in self-reflective thought.

The network is also “involved in the early stages of idea generation, drawing from past experiences and knowledge about the world,” explains Beaty. “When you’re not actively working on a problem, the brain keeps spinning and you can get restructuring of elements of the problem, pieces get reshuffled, and something clicks.” The DMN, he adds, “helps you combine information in different ways and simulate possibilities.”

2) Good stuff on “Stop the Steal”

“‘Stop the Steal’ is a metaphor,” Skocpol said, “for the country being taken away from the people who think they should rightfully be setting the tone.” More than a decade later, evidence remains secondary when what you’re really doing is questioning whose vote counts—and who counts as an American.

Elaine Godfrey: Tell me what connection you see between the Tea Party movement that you studied and the Trump-inspired Stop the Steal effort.

Theda Skocpol: There’s a definite line. Opinion polls tell us that people who participated in or sympathized with the Tea Party—some groups are still meeting—were disproportionately angry about immigration and the loss of America as they know it. They became core supporters of Trump. I’m quite certain that some organizations that were Tea Party–labeled helped organize Stop the Steal stuff.

Trump has expanded the appeal of an angry, resentful ethno-nationalist politics to younger whites. But it’s the same outlook.

Godfrey: So how do you interpret the broader Stop the Steal movement?

Skocpol: I don’t think Stop the Steal is about ballots at all. I don’t believe a lot of people really think that the votes weren’t counted correctly in 2020. They believe that urban people, metropolitan people—disproportionately young and minorities, to be sure, but frankly liberal whites—are an illegitimate brew that’s changing America in unrecognizable ways and taking it away from them. Stop the Steal is a way of saying that. Stop the Steal is a metaphor. And remember, they declared voting fraud before the election.

3) Really enjoyed this interview of Mike Judge.  Never really got into Beavis and Butthead, but I’m a huge fan of Office Space, Idiocracy, and Silicon Valley.

4) I could be wrong :-), but I feel like I’ve actually become pretty good at admitting when I’m wrong.  It’s definitely an important part of maturity.  Jane Coaston:

We live in a world in which being right — or, at least, being seen as being right by as many people as possible — is important cultural currency. And while that makes sense for “Jeopardy!” contestants and neurosurgeons, it’s detrimental for politicians, pundits and the rest of us, who interact with our neighbors, friends and loved ones and the occasional grocery store attendant who might remind us that “12 items or fewer” actually means something.


Refusing to admit you’re wrong may be intended as self-protection but is really self-deception, which hurts you and your community. Like any untruth, it destroys trust and harms relationships on every level. I believe that in some ways, this stubborn dishonesty is at the root of our country’s polarization — millions of Americans seemingly incapable of admitting fault, focused instead on the faults of others. It’s driving us all into a moral and social ditch.

And yet we remain committed to this path. Rather than admit to being wrong, some people double down. (I’m sure that for dedicated conspiracy theorists like QAnon followers, Hillary Clinton’s arrest should be taking place any day now.) Others, particularly public figures and politicians, prefer to act as if the missteps never even happened. They merely glide past their mistakes, misunderstandings and outright falsehoods.

Some seem to find strength in dishonesty, able to construct entire worldviews out of lies because the truth would be far too humiliating. But admitting to being wrong — whether it’s about the rules of a card game or about the results of an election — isn’t a weakness. It’s a powerful statement of vulnerability. I know from my efforts to be honest about myself how much strength that takes.

5) This is encouraging, “Why Abortion Has Become a Centerpiece of Democratic TV Ads in 2022”

6) Book review that is a fascinating tale of the legal development of “rape” in the early US.

But the real assist came from the 17th-century lawyer Sir Matthew Hale, whose jurisprudence dominated the trial. Sir William Blackstone’s “Commentaries” on English criminal law supplied the Colonies and later new country with a basic understanding of many crimes, and Blackstone incorporated Hale’s ideas of what renders a rape prosecution plausible. According to Sweet, Hale, who was deeply anxious about malicious women bringing false accusations against innocent men, believed “the question was not simply whether a woman had been forced to have sex against her will but also whether her reputation was good enough, whether she had resisted vigorously enough, whether she had cried out loudly enough, whether she had sustained sufficiently conspicuous physical injuries and whether she had reported the crime soon enough.” Nearly every defense attorney funneled his questions through the Hale framework. And when it was the judge’s turn to instruct the jury in advance of their deliberations, he declared Hale’s ideas “just” and thus, as Sweet writes, completed “the transformation of Hale’s commentaries from suggestions written by a retired jurist into rigid rules that defined the nature of settled law and that were binding on the jurors.”

7) I had no idea that HBO had spent $30 million on a pilot for a Game of Thrones prequel and declared it unworthy before moving onto House of the Dragon.  Was also really interesting to see the role of George R.R. Martin in all this.

8) Big if true:

A new report from the Constructive Dialogue Institute, which was founded in 2017 by scholars Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl, finds that students who completed an online learning course on navigating difficult conversations showed significant improvements in affective polarization (or a tendency to distrust those with different political views), intellectual humility and conflict resolution skills. This is relative to a control group, as established via 755-student study that involved three colleges and universities.

The free online course, called Perspectives, was developed by the institute (formally known as OpenMind) and includes eight online lessons based on psychological concepts and interactive scenarios. A peer-to-peer conversation guide is optional. According to the institute, Perspectives students “develop a robust toolkit of evidence-based practices to challenge cognitive biases, engage in nuanced thinking and communicate more effectively with others about sensitive and divisive topics.”

The report says that the results “demonstrate that our deep divisions are not inevitable. There are scalable, evidence-based tools that can be used to break our toxic polarization and prepare students for democratic citizenship.”

9) As somebody who has had more than a few beach umbrellas blow away, this is scary, “A beachgoer was killed after being struck by an umbrella” That said, this year we switched over the highly wind-resistant cool cabana an it helped so much. 

10) Rather concerning rom David Wallace-Wells, “Europe’s Energy Crisis May Get a Lot Worse”

I don’t think many Americans appreciate just how tense and tenuous, how very touch and go the energy situation in Europe is right now.

For months, as news of the Ukraine war receded a bit, it was possible to follow the energy story unfolding across the Atlantic and still assume an uncomfortable but familiar-enough winter in Europe, characterized primarily by high prices.

In recent weeks, the prospects have begun to look darker. In early August the European Union approved a request that member states reduce gas consumption by 15 percent — quite a large request and one that several initially balked at. In Spain, facing record-breaking heat wave after record-breaking heat wave at the height of the country’s tourist season, the government announced restrictions on commercial air-conditioning, which may not be set below 27 degrees Celsius, or about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In France, an Associated Press article said, “urban guerrillas” are taking to the streets, shutting off storefront lights to reduce energy consumption. In the Netherlands a campaign called Flip the Switch is asking residents to limit showers to five minutes and to drop air-conditioning and clothes dryers entirely. Belgium has reversed plans to retire nuclear power plants, and Germany, having ruled out the possibility of such a turnabout in June, is now considering it as well…

Walk me through that worst case. How would we get to that kind of crisis?

I think you would see Russia continue to restrict gas exports and maybe cut them off completely to Europe — and a very cold winter. I think a combination of those two things would mean sky-high energy prices. But there’s a lot of other sources of uncertainty and risk. It’s not just high prices. There comes a certain point where there’s just not enough molecules to do all the work that gas needs to do. And governments will have to ration energy supplies and decide what’s important.

10) Pretty fascinating read on the schism within the United Methodist Church over homosexuality. 

11) OMG HOA’s are the worst!  I will never live somewhere with an HOA.  NC residents had to fight to the state supreme court to get solar panels installed over HOA objections. 

12) Greenhouse on Alito:

Barely a month after handing down the majority opinion that erased the right to abortion, Justice Samuel Alito traveled to Rome to give a keynote address at a “religious liberty summit” convened by the Religious Liberty Initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s law school. As the video that Notre Dame posted of the bearded justice delivering his remarks made clear, this was a victory lap.

The press coverage of that speech last month mainly focused on his snarky comments about world leaders who had the effrontery to criticize what the Supreme Court had done in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “One of these was former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he paid the price,” Justice Alito deadpanned as laughter filled the majestic Galleria Colonna.

One can debate the degree of bad taste displayed by such a remark, but that’s not my concern. What interests me about his talk was its substance: a call to arms on behalf of religion…

“The challenge for those who want to protect religious liberty in the United States, Europe and other similar places,” Justice Alito said, “is to convince people who are not religious that religious liberty is worth special protection.”


On one level, there is nothing surprising about such a declaration from Justice Alito. We know where he stands on religion. He is the author of a long string of opinions that have elevated the free exercise of religion above civil society’s other values, including the right not to be discriminated against and the right to enjoy benefits intended for all. He wrote a concurring opinion in June’s astonishing decision that permitted a high school football coach to commandeer the 50-yard line after games for his personal prayers over the public school district’s objection…

So yes, we know all that. But Justice Alito’s Notre Dame speech still merits close examination for what it reveals about the assumptions built into his worldview. What does it mean, for example, to assert that it is “people who are not religious” who need to be persuaded that religion is worthy of special treatment? Do all religiously observant people naturally believe that religion merits more protections than other values? There’s scant evidence for that; in any event, that has not been our law, at least not until recently. Still on the books is a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, which provides that the Constitution’s free exercise clause offers no special religious exemption from a “neutral” law that is “generally applicable.” That decision’s author was Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the more overtly religious people to sit on the Supreme Court in modern times…

In Rome, more clearly than in the past, Justice Alito provided his own definition of religious liberty, an expansive definition that mirrored the court’s holding in this summer’s praying coach case. In that case, the school district in Bremerton, Wash., had offered the coach an alternate place where he could pray after the games. But the coach insisted that he felt religiously compelled to pray in public in full view of the spectator stands. The court, which in the past was notably stingy when it came to the free speech rights of public employees, endorsed this expression of militant Christianity.

In his Rome speech, Justice Alito did not refer explicitly to that case, but his definition of religious liberty underscored and explained the court’s remarkable departure. Religious liberty must mean more than simply “freedom of worship,” he said. “Freedom of worship means freedom to do these things that you like to do in the privacy of your home, or in your church or your synagogue or your mosque or your temple. But when you step outside into the public square, in the light of day, you had better behave yourself like a good secular citizen.” And he added, “That’s the problem that we face.”

13) The real problem in the Breonna Taylor shooting was not mostly the cops who performed the raid, but the whole system that led to this misguided raid.  Glad to see the prosecutions reflecting this:

Former Louisville detective Kelly Goodlett intends to plead guilty this month to federal charges in connection to the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, in what would be the first conviction in a case that sparked months of racial justice protests in that city and across the country.

Goodlett and her attorney, Brandon Marshall, along with Mike Songer, an attorney representing the Justice Department, confirmed her plea agreement during an online court hearing Friday before Magistrate Judge Regina S. Edwards in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Kentucky. Edwards set an in-person hearing Aug. 22 to entertain that plea and released Goodlett on a $10,000 bond, ordering her to relinquish her passport and remove all firearms from her home…

The federal government is trying a different approach, charging current and former Louisville police in connection withwhat court filings allege as an overzealous and imperious narcotics investigations unit that used reckless tactics and knowingly put local residents in danger with no legal justification.

Hankison is charged with violating the civil rights of Taylor, her boyfriend and their neighbors when he allegedly fired several shots through a bedroom window and through a sliding-glass door — both of which were covered with blinds and a curtain.

14) Gallup, “Average American Remains OK With Higher Taxes on Rich”

This question was first asked by Fortune back in 1939 — at the tail end of the depression. At that point, there were record rates of unemployment and poverty. One might suppose that Americans would have been very happy to agree that the rich should be heavily taxed. But they actually weren’t. In that 1939 poll, despite the challenging economic conditions, just 35% of Americans approved of the idea, while 54% disapproved.

When Gallup asked the question again in 1998, a slim majority of 51% disapproved. In the nine times the question has been asked since then, positive reactions to this idea of “heavy taxes on the rich” have been generally higher, although variable. In 2008 and 2011, the public disapproved by slight margins. But in surveys conducted in 2013, 2015, 2016 and in July of this year, slim majorities approved of the idea of heavy taxes on the rich in order to redistribute wealth. The latest results are 52% approve, 47% disapprove.

In short, the question confirms the well-documented finding noted above. Americans tend to agree with the idea that those with more money should pay even more in taxes than they do now…

As is often the case, American public opinion on taxing the rich varies depending on how the policy is explained. And it is not constant across all population segments.

For one thing, not surprisingly, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to favor heavy taxes on the rich. This partisan gap has been significant and consistent over the years.

About seven in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have supported heavier taxes on the rich each time the classic Gallup question has been asked since October 2008. That compares to a consistent third or less of Republicans. In July’s update, 79% of Democrats support the idea of heavy taxes on the rich; 24% of Republicans agree. The partisan gap seen since October 2008 is slightly larger than it was in 2007 and April 2008…

Bottom Line

How valued resources are distributed across all members of a society is among the most important challenges a society faces. No social system distributes resources equally. This leaves the inevitable reality of “inequality” where some end up with more than others. Dealing with this inequality has been one of society’s most significant challenges throughout history. And it remains so today.

The people of the United States have addressed inequality in many ways throughout the nation’s history. In particular, the government has for over a century carried out a progressive tax system that extracts higher percentages of taxes from those with the most income.

The American public, taken as a whole, approves of this progressive system. The majority of the public would like to see taxes become even more progressive. But today’s political realities don’t appear conducive to an agreement on new taxes on the rich. Rank-and-file Republicans, and their leaders in Congress, remain strongly opposed to new taxes. And, as evidenced by the new Inflation Reduction Act about to become law, Democratic leadership has, in the end, decided to proceed without arguing or attempting to change the fundamentals of the individual tax system. What might happen in the future, of course, remains to be seen.

Democratic leaders need to stand up for the rule of law

This was too good from Brian Beutler to let it potentially go unseen in quick hits.  Just read it.

Consider the other huge story in the news this week: The FBI enforcement action at Mar-a-Lago. 

This was undeniably Good News for everyone who thinks Donald Trump’s season of accountability is long overdue, and a promising sign that Attorney General Merrick Garland, for all his Hamlet-like trepidation, won’t ultimately talk himself out of applying the law to Trump in at least some circumstances. 

It has not left me feeling very confident about the Democratic Party’s congressional leaders. I first became concerned in the hours after the news broke, when I watched Rachel Maddow interview Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and he adamantly refused to comment not just on the substance of the raid, but on the rapidly boiling Republican response—led by Kevin McCarthy—which has included threats to sabotage the DOJ investigation, impeach Garland, and one way or another destroy any person or institution that seeks to make Trump accountable to the nation’s laws. 

It didn’t bug me because I wanted Schumer to do a happy dance about Trump getting what’s coming to him. To the contrary, I think it was totally defensible, if not prudent, for him and other Dems to withhold comment on the particulars when they didn’t know which possible Trump crime the FBI had executed a search warrant to investigate. It bugged me because I knew, without robust Democratic pushback to the affected Republican shitstorm growing before our eyes, that their lies, smears, and threats would go uncontested and damage both the investigation and its political impact. 

Those fears have since been vindicated; in fact, that’s exactly what happened. Imagine being handed the gift of the leader of the opposition being subject to an FBI raid based on probable cause like “he stole classified documents” and refusing to capitalize on it in any way.

Let me be specific about what I mean by “pushback,” and how I think it would’ve worked. Democrats could not, on their own, stop Republicans from saying outlandish things, threatening Merrick Garland, undermining the justice system. Republicans will keep doing the abhorrent things they do until larger forces impel them to stop. But Democrats could have ensured that Republicans didn’t have an unrivaled platform to create a widespread impression that there was something scandalous about the investigation (as opposed to Trump’s conduct). And they could do it in a way that imposed a political cost on Republicans for lying and attacking bedrock American institutions to protect their criminal leader. 

Without needing to wait several days and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a poll, Schumer could have said right then and there that McCarthy’s threats were corrupt and thuggish, and that Democrats would insulate these investigations from improper Republican meddling. [emphases mine] If not right then and there, then the next day. The sooner the better. Thereon he and Nancy Pelosi could have prepared bills—one to force Republicans to vote on their outlandish vengeance schemes (DEFUND THE FBI!), another to assure that the FBI’s investigations are adequately resourced and protected from interference. With sustained, territorial determination to expose Republican corruption and stop their false story from taking hold in the public, news stories about the raid would have reflected the impropriety of the GOP’s response. Instead, Republicans had the field to themselves, and this is what we got. 

The void Democrats left allowed Republicans to skew context so badly that within a day the tenor of coverage began to make the whole thing—this huge problem for Donald Trump—look like a liability for his opponents.

Just weeks ago, the GOP bullied Dem leaders into expediting special security for Supreme Court justices to squelch peaceful protests of the Dobbs decision. Here Dem leaders cowered while Republican goons made clear that any future judges who subject Trump to rule of law may well be murdered. Which is to say, it’s much worse than a missed political opportunity. Republicans may well yet subvert this investigation; and even if they don’t, they’ve left an indelible impression on the DOJ, FBI, and judiciary: Republicans will threaten your jobs and lives if you dare apply the law to Trump, and the other party won’t be there to defend you.

As long as I’m catastrophizing here, I should say everything might work out OK anyhow. Trump, quite tellingly, has so far refused to publish either the warrant itself or the receipt listing the items the government seized from his residence. His loyalists have also reportedly advised congressional Republicans to dial back their attacks on DOJ because the truth may be embarrassing when it comes out. (Again, hi Democrats, political gift here!) 

On Thursday, DOJ asked the court to unseal both the warrant and the property receipt; shortly thereafter, we learned, chillingly, that Trump is under investigation for stealing classified information pertaining to nuclear weapons. If and when the paperwork becomes public, we may learn he’s suspected of violating the Espionage Act, that he made off with scores of documents so classified we’ll only ever know them as “Classified Document [X].” Under circumstances like those, Democratic leaders and their defenders will claim vindication.

But it isn’t vindication. Not any more than a deer frozen in headlights is “vindicated” when the approaching car swerves and crashes into a tree. It’s the same approach Dems took when a Trump administration lackey refused to let the transition process begin for weeks after the election, and when Greg Abbott subjected every truck crossing the Texas border to an unlawful search. Sitting back and letting events unfold doesn’t mean things will always work out in the worst possible way; but it does court risk and damage and needless anxiety. It invites bad actors to keep scheming and abusing power in pursuit of their goals, confident they won’t face consequences—the worst-case scenario for them is that their plans fail and they move on to new ones.  

And this is why, even with a brighter political outlook, I don’t think these leaders have a compelling claim on their offices. My firm belief is that anxious Democratic voters—particularly young voters—aren’t principally frustrated by the slow pace of the legislative process or the incremental approach to change the party prefers.

Quick hits (part I)

1) How your balance and mobility after 50 can predict your life expectancy.  I had never heard of the sitting-rising test before.  It’s hard! But, I just managed to get maximum points. 

“The idea here was just to come up with a really simple test that might be an indication of a person’s ability to balance,” said Dr. Jonathan Myers, a professor at Stanford University, researcher at the Palo Alto VA Health Care System and an author of the balance study. He said the inability to perform this task was powerfully predictive of mortality. In the study, one in five people could not manage it.

“With age, strength and balance tend to decrease and that can result in frailty. Frailty is a really big thing now that the population is aging,” Dr. Myers said.

Balance problems can be caused by a variety of factors, many of them age-related, said Dr. Lewis Lipsitz, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and the director of the Marcus Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife.

When your vision is affected by cataracts, or the nerve signals from your feet to your brain slow down, this makes it more difficult to balance. While it’s impossible to prevent all types of age-related decline, you can counteract the impact on your balance through specialized training and building strength.

“There’s a downward spiral of the people who don’t go out, who don’t walk, who don’t exercise, who don’t do balance training, and they become weaker and weaker. And muscle weakness is another important risk factor for falls,” he said.

Researchers have previously connected balance and strength with mortality, finding that the ability to rise from the floor to a standing position, balance on one leg for 30 seconds with one eye closed and even walk at a brisk pace are all tied to longevity.

2) Okay, my energy policy expert friend says this take is a little unfair to the left, but, I think there’s some really good points in here, “Why Internet Leftists Are So Pissed About Democrats’ Historic Climate Bill: The legislation is a win for the planet—and a loss for an entire philosophy of fighting climate change.”

In the end, there are essentially four main ways that a country can cut back on greenhouse gas emissions:

• It can put a price on carbon, using schemes like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.

• It can simply force businesses and utilities to emit less via regulations.

• It can try a supply-side approach by shutting down the development of new fossil fuels, in order to increase their costs.

• Or, it can just throw money at the problem by subsidizing cheap renewables so that they take over the market.

Climate groups have tended to advocate for some mix of all these approaches. But the most hardcore corners of the movement are deeply attached to supply-side solutions; they’ve spent years on efforts to keep fossil fuels buried and stop the construction of new oil and gas infrastructure, such as the lengthly battles against the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines as well as efforts to limit fracking.  In the process, “keep it in the ground” has become an international rallying cry…

Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have warned that these lease sales will effectively lock in oil production on federal land for years to come. Analysts have concluded that offering additional leases is unlikely to make a major difference in U.S. oil drilling, most of which happens on privately owned land, and is easily a worthwhile price to pay for the rest of the bill, which would amount to the biggest climate investment in American history. Multiple forecasts have concluded the legislation could roughly double the speed at which the U.S. is reducing its carbon emissions, bringing us reasonably close to the commitments the government made under the Paris climate accords. According to a preliminary study by the think tank Energy Innovation, for each ton of emissions added by its oil and gas provisions, the rest of the bill cuts 24.

For the most part, the bill achieves those reductions by subsidizing clean energy and transport—or, as I put before, throwing money at the problem. This, in the end, has turned out to be the core of Manchin’s approach to fighting climate change; rather than make fossil fuels more expensive, his philosophy has been to make zero-carbon power much, much cheaper, while allowing oil and gas to flow…

In some ways, this is as much a rebuke to Washington’s technocratic class as it is to climate activists; the biggest names in economics, for instance, have in recent years all rallied around carbon taxes as the most cost-effective and efficient ways to combat climate change, even as they’ve fallen out of public favor. It also has some obvious downsides of its own; subsidizing solar and wind costs money, whereas something like a carbon tax and dividend scheme—where revenue raised by the levy is sent back to taxpayers—is basically free.

But what Manchinism has going for it, perhaps above all else, is political palatability. The Inflation Reduction Act hasn’t aroused much opposition from industry, because it offers mostly carrots and few sticks. (Exxon’s CEO is perfectly happy with the legislation, as are most power companies.) And it’s been difficult for Republicans to attack, because the legislation doesn’t ask voters to make sacrifices. Instead, it does things like lower electricity costs by pouring money into renewables, giving Democrats a kitchen-table win to brag about at a moment of high inflation. For better or worse, it’s a lot easier to sell that sort of climate bill than it is to convince people that they should pay more to fill up their SUV.

3) I think I was bitten by a copperhead last year, but it was just a very mild bite reaction.  A snake expert friend/student, says that’s the best explanation and that many copperhead bites actually are pretty mild.  I’ve been trying to get some confirmation on this and finally have in the N&O:

Half of copperhead bites are dry or really mild. About 46% of the bites Poison Control was involved in treating received antivenom, Beuhler said, though the absolute treatment rate is unknown.

“You can get a tetanus shot from your pharmacy and clean the wound yourself — why take a trip to the ER and pay ER bills if you don’t have to? Let us help you make that decision and save you a potentially really expensive few hours,” he said.

Some disagreement on who/when to get antivenom.  There’s be more disagreement if it wasn’t insanely expensive:

Antivenom at WakeMed costs between $11,000 and $14,000 per vial, spokesperson Kristin Kelly said. For the typical initial dose of four to six vials, this costs at least $44,000.

UNC Health charges between $76,000 and $115,000 for the typical initial dose, The N&O previously reported. Duke Health declined to share current figures, but The N&O reported in 2020 that 12 vials cost $200,000.

4) And I really don’t quite understand why we still have to rely on horses making antibodies to actual snake venom to make this all happen.  I’m surprised our biotechnological abilities haven’t fully solved this by now. 

5) German Lopez with a good summary of the climate bill (aka IRA):

The bill’s climate provisions are mostly a collection of subsidies for energy that does not emit any carbon, like solar, wind and nuclear power. Without those subsidies, polluting fossil fuels are often still cheaper. The subsidies try to give cleaner energy an edge.

“I don’t mean this as an exaggeration: This really changes everything,” said Jesse Jenkins, a climate policy expert at Princeton University. “It is effectively going to shift the financial case away from dirty energy toward clean energy for everyone.”

For consumers, the subsidies will reduce the prices of electric vehicles, solar panels, heat pumps and other energy-efficient home improvements. You can claim the subsidies through tax filings; as a separate rebate if you don’t file taxes; or, in some cases, immediately when you make a purchase.

Let’s say you want to buy one of the cheaper, new electric vehicles on the market right now, priced around $40,000. To get the subsidy, you will first want to make sure the car qualifies; the bill requires, among other things, that the vehicles are assembled in North America. (Ask the car dealer or manufacturer to find out.) Then, make sure that you qualify; individual tax filers cannot make more than $150,000 a year, for example. And, given high demand, you might have to order a car well in advance.

If you meet the requirements, you can claim up to $7,500 in tax credits — effectively bringing the price of a $40,000 vehicle to $32,500.

That is the tax credit for new cars. For used cars, there will be a smaller tax credit of up to $4,000. The goal of both credits is to even the playing field: Cars that burn fossil fuels are still generally cheaper than electric vehicles. With the credits, electric cars will be much closer in price to, if not cheaper than, similar nonelectric vehicles.

For home improvements, the process will be different, but the basic idea is similar. For a typical $20,000 rooftop solar installation, tax credits will cut the price by up to $6,000. There are also subsidies for heat pumps, electric stoves and other energy-efficiency projects. The hope is to make all these changes much more affordable for everyday Americans, leading to less reliance on fossil fuels and expanding the market for cleaner energy…

The bill does include a compromise: It requires more leasing of federal lands and waters for oil and gas projects. Senator Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, demanded this provision.

But experts say that it will have only a modest impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, the bill will subtract at least 24 tons of carbon emissions for each ton of emissions that the oil and gas provision adds, according to Energy Innovation, a think tank.

“It’s a trade-off,” my colleague Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environmental policy, told me. “But in terms of emissions impact, it’s a good deal.”

The bottom line

The bill will make cleaner energy and electric vehicles much cheaper for many Americans. Over time, it will also likely make them more affordable for the rest of the world, as more competition and innovation in the U.S. lead to cheaper, better products that can be shipped worldwide.

And it will move America close to President Biden’s goal of cutting greenhouse emissions to half their peak by 2030, according to three independent analyses.

Modeling for the new climate bill is based on draft legislation from July 27, 2022. | Source: REPEAT Project, E.P.A. | By Nadja Popovich

The bill is also a sign that the U.S. is starting to take climate change seriously. That will give American diplomats more credibility as they ask other countries, such as China and India, to do the same.

Still, many scientists believe the U.S. will eventually need to do more to prevent severe damage from climate change. “This bill is really only the beginning,” said Leah Stokes, a climate policy expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


6) Two of my kids are unhealthily obsessed with the idea of “favorite children” in our family.  I did enjoy this Caroline Hax discussion of the issue:

Dear Carolyn: I have three kids. I love them all.

But one of them is my delight. I don’t admit this to anyone, not even my husband. I try so hard not to favor her in any way. There are big age gaps between all three kids, so it’s reasonably easy to hide. Plus, I’m seriously motivated.
In all my courtside, backstage, poolside, deck-chair conversations with other moms, no one EVER talks about this, no matter how many margaritas have been swirled. Is this the dirty little secret of parenting? Or are most people really fair in their affections?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I’m choosing against any answer that requires purity of “most people.”

I do think it’s common to feel and highly uncommon to express. Not because I have insight into a statistically significant sampling of parents, or specific firsthand knowledge (of course!), but because it makes too much sense.

Take the feelings people do express freely: We prefer one parent to another, one sibling to others, one grandparent, aunt, colleague, neighbor, dog, barista, TV character to others. Are you friends with a couple? Then you like one half better. The Earth is round, the sky is blue and some people fit better than others.

Follow the logic, and having equal feelings for multiple children would be the affront to nature, yet the reverse seems to earn that distinction.

It’s obvious why: Children are different. There are many reasons, but it’s mainly because there’s no greater power than a parent’s over a child. A good parent knows this, knows the weight of it, and wants to use it to uplift, not to crush. And how better to crush Sammie than to reveal her own mommy likes Pammie better?

So, you summon the same enthusiasm for their different strengths. Your kids will figure it out regardless, but it will matter that they never heard it from you.

7) The Greensboro News & Record used to be a really good paper.  Like most local papers… not so much any more.  The story of it’s decline and how the loss of local news is just so bad for democracy. 

8) A painted bunting hanging out in Raleigh.  Would’ve been so cool to see.

Birders converge on Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh to photograph a rare painted bunting in Raleigh, NC. BOB KARP ZUMA Press

9) Really cool NYT interactive feature on why restaurant meal prices have gone up so much.  You really should check this out– gift link

10) I’m not going to be watching Yellowstone anytime soon, but I did enjoy this discussion of tv shows and political views:

Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone”is a prime example. While liberal audiences mostly ignore it, this soapy conservative prestige television juggernaut is gobbling up audience share. An informal survey of my own filter bubble bears witness. When I asked my roughly 220,000 Twitter followers for television and movie recommendations, many offered up the usual award-winning and buzzy fare. Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy,” Amazon Prime’s “The Boys,” Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” and HBO’s “Hacks” were givens. Critical darlings “Stranger Things,” “The Bear” and “Only Murders in the Building” rounded out the list. I saw only one person suggest “Yellowstone,”and only in a private message. I dare say my bubble leans coastal elite.

These asymmetrical responses match findings from a working paper by two sociologists, Clayton Childress at the University of Toronto and Craig Rawlings at Duke University. The paper is titled “When Tastes Are Ideological: The Asymmetric Foundations of Cultural Polarization.” It is part of the subfield of sociology that studies how culture reflects and reproduces inequality. Childress and Rawlings draw out several asymmetries in how liberals and conservatives consume cultural objects like music and television…

“People on the left like more pop culture than people on the right,’’ Childress said. “And people on the left don’t dislike what people on the right dislike.” Liberals watch, read and listen to more stuff than conservatives do. They also do not necessarily reject a cultural object because conservatives like it. That is not because liberal audiences are more accepting. Anyone who has ever argued with a Grateful Dead or Phish fan can tell you otherwise.

But when it comes to identity and tastes, Childress said it is a “mark of social status for liberals to be culturally omnivorous.” In contrast, conservative audiences do not consider reading, watching or listening around a mark of status or identity. And they are more likely to dislike what liberals like than liberals are to dislike what conservatives like.

11) Speaking of which, BB says I really should be watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”  Three episodes in and… it’s pretty good, but I don’t love it.  I’ll watch more though.  That said, if you’ve got Amazon Prime, I thought the new Ron Howard movie about the Thai boys soccer team trapped in a flooded cave was terrific.  Really loved it. 

12) Interesting take from Yglesias on Trump and Republicans’ candidate quality problem:

Donald Trump is the GOP’s biggest candidate quality problem

That’s a dismal performance considering that it’s a midterm with an unpopular incumbent Democratic Party president. And that dismal polling reflects the fact that Republicans have fielded a ton of individual candidates who are underperforming expectations. Some of those underperforming candidates, like JD Vance in Ohio, are clearly favored to win anyway. But others, like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, stand a real chance of blowing clearly winnable races. And there are two common threads among the currently underperforming GOP Senate candidates:

  • The party nominated an “unconventional” candidate rather than a sitting House member or down-ballot state officeholder.

  • Donald Trump personally intervened to help the candidate win.

In most of these cases, there is no Meijer-like martyr figure. Nobody is totally sure why Trump favored Oz in the Pennsylvania race, but it wasn’t because there were no anti-impeachment, pro-insurrection Pennsylvania Republican politicians available. Trump just decided he wanted to support a Turkish dual citizen who lives in New Jersey.

Normally you expect party leaders to prioritize electability over ideological considerations. And to the extent that they do prioritize ideological considerations, you expect there to be some kind of logic to their actions.

But Oz doesn’t have any unusual policy views at all, as far as I can tell. He’s running as a standard-issue conservative Republican who just happens to live in New Jersey and lacks political experience. He’s a veteran, which is a good resume item for a non-politician, but he’s a veteran of the Turkish military — normally American political parties try to nominate people who served in the American military. It’s just a weird blunder of a choice. I’d say Trump is looking for sycophants and personal loyalists, but Vance once argued that Trump is like heroin, poisoning the communities he claims to represent. I thought it was an insightful article, but again, an odd choice when there are plenty of banal Republican politicians kicking around Ohio.

I’m inclined to believe that a lot of people in D.C. underestimate Trump’s smarts and that there’s some kind of angle he’s working that I just don’t quite see. But whatever the angle is, it’s not the best interests of the Republican party as conventionally defined. And that, much more than anything Democrats are doing, is the proximate problem facing the GOP.

13) This is good, too, from Yglesias, “What do Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis think about federal abortion policy?”

Abortion is a quintessential culture war issue. It’s not totally without technical nuance, but broadly speaking, some people want to ban abortion in all cases with no exceptions. Some favor narrow exceptions for rape or to save the life of the mother. Others favor a broader health exemption to allow for therapeutic abortion. Most voters seem to favor legal abortion for the first trimester (when the vast majority of abortions take place) and pretty strict restrictions after that. This is the kind of thing that’s relatively easy to discuss in plain language and doesn’t require a lot of math or technical models.

So it’s really weird that I have absolutely no idea what either Trump or DeSantis thinks about federal abortion policy.

The dog that caught the car


To some extent, this reflects the fact that the Republican Party had a bit of a “dog that caught the car” moment once the Dobbs opinion was handed down.

I don’t really follow the logic of anti-abortion theology, but one of its core tenets is that a fertilized embryo has rights that override any considerations of social consequences and of a pregnant woman’s bodily autonomy.1 This means that sentimental ideas like “you shouldn’t have to carry your rapist’s child to term” or “you shouldn’t have to continue a pregnancy that carries major risks to your health” are out. This is a view that very few Americans — but all of the intellectual leaders of the anti-abortion movement — adhere to…

Most conservatives I know think that it’s dirty pool for liberals to run around talking about rape victims because, in practice, rape victims constitute a very small share of abortions. By the same token, it would be trivially easy for Republicans to address that concern by allowing the exception. They don’t because the leading lights of the anti-abortion movement believe this is an important matter of principle.

But most Republicans also don’t want to lose elections by coming out and saying that they adhere to the FRC/USCCB position on this. Yes, every once in a while a state legislator will pop off about how pregnant women should be forced to carry non-viable fetuses to term. But in general, that’s considered amateur hour stuff, and savvy politicians don’t do it. They just also don’t come out and say, “okay, here are some situations in which I think abortion should be legal.”…

But that’s why it’s a little curious to me that very prominent and frequently discussed people like Trump and DeSantis haven’t been asked to clarify their views on federal abortion policy.

Now that Dobbs is the law of the land, what should the United States Congress do about abortion?

To an extent, I’m annoyed that none of the journalists who cover these guys have bothered to ask some pretty basic questions.

But more broadly, I think our ignorance on this point highlights an important asymmetry between the party conditions. I just don’t think you could run for president as a Democrat without articulating a public position on any issues that have dedicated advocacy groups. Planned Parenthood and NARAL ask candidates for office to publicly support the Women’s Health Protection Act, and they’d be very mad at someone who didn’t. And that’s not unique to abortion. Across a whole range of issues, advocacy groups have policy asks, and on the Democratic side, those asks tend to take the form of demands for public pledges of fealty.

Republicans are not generally like this.

I think it was understood during the 2020 primary that any Republican Party president would ease regulation of air and water pollution relative to the Obama administration’s policies. But industry groups never asked the candidates to publicly outline a specific agenda for increasing pollution. And the candidates didn’t get on stage at the debates and try to one-up each other with different specific agendas for allowing more air pollution. Marco Rubio said Trump had a small penis, and Trump dunked on Jeb Bush’s brother, but the test of one’s true commitment to conservatism was never a willingness to explicitly swear allegiance to unpopular and politically unrealistic activist demands.

The progressive side does things very differently, and we spent a lot of the 2020 primary engaging in a pointless debate over which candidates would and wouldn’t enact a ban on private health insurance.

It’s to the right’s credit that they don’t go that far overboard on this kind of thing. But the opposite extreme — no debate at all over the anti-abortion party’s abortion policy goals and platforms — is very odd. And I’m not sure how tenable it is.

14) Hard agree with this, “The F.D.A.’s Misguided War on Vaping: The government is putting stricter restrictions on vaping than on smoking. That’s bad for public health.”

People smoke primarily to experience the effects of nicotine—for stimulation and pleasure; to reduce stress and anxiety; and to improve concentration, reaction time, and cognitive performance. For some people, these effects improve their quality of life. But on the dark side, nicotine use can lead to dependence.

Crucially, however, it is smoke, not nicotine, that causes the overwhelming burden of disease and death.Inhaling the toxic particles and gases from the burning tip of a cigarette exposes the body to thousands of chemicals, of which hundreds are known to be hazardous. The result is widespread death and disease, with cigarettes killing 480,000 Americans annually and leaving around 16 million suffering from a smoking-induced disease. Without the harmful effects of smoking, nicotine use starts to look more like moderate alcohol consumption—a modest substance use that fits within the normal risk appetites of modern society.

With vaping, we have a solution to two related problems. First, millions of American smokers have the option of switching from smoking to vaping, greatly improving their health prospects. Second, people in the future who want to use nicotine will be able to do so with considerably reduced consequences.

In a liberal society, we should not prohibit or aim to eliminate drug use or pretend that it can be risk-free, but we should try to limit the risks to the extent possible. Vaping is the best opportunity we have to do that for nicotine.

15) Yes, I do think it is insane for a social science organization to require a DEI statement for you to get on their conference program.  This is bad. “Mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statements at SPSP”

A series of Orwellian emails recently appeared in my inbox. It all started sensibly enough. Much to my surprise, Jonathan Haidt, founder of Heterodox Academy and staunch defender of the type of liberal science advocated by JS Mill, Robert K. Merton, and Jonathan Rauch,1 had emailed a letter to Laura King, President of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP is a high-profile professional society for this group) protesting SPSP’s mandate that its members produce DEI statements if they wish to present at its prestigious and influential annual conference.2

No longer would acceptance of proposals be based exclusively on evaluations of scientific merit. Everyone had to state how their work advanced Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI); and this would be included in evaluations of which proposals SPSP would accept for presentation.

16) Similarly, Jeffrey Sachs and FIRE on misguided DEI ideological litmus tests at U of Oregon.

17) Investing in the IRS is another great feature of the IRA:

f the $80 billion total allotment to the tax agency, $45.6 billion will go to enforcement, marking a projected return-on-investment of $4.50 in revenue for every dollar spent on enforcement.

Experts say that figure — which is much lower than what the IRS typically brings in — has two potential explanations.

The first is that it could simply be a conservative estimate; with resources to hire hundreds, if not thousands, of employees, the agency could significantly exceed its revenue projections by both pursuing more tax cheats and by improving taxpayer services to make it easier for Americans to voluntarily comply with the tax code.

“If you are able to bring on a cadre of people who are really thinking forward … if they’re able to bring on the technology that allows them to bring on some of the data that they already have, that would have a compliance effect and help them going forward,” said Nina Olson, who served as national taxpayer advocate, the IRS’s internal consumer rights watchdog, from 2001 to 2019. “That would help, and I hope that’s what they’re planning to do.”

18) And a helluva photo essay on how incredibly outdated the IRS is as Republicans have quite intentionally starved their budget.  Apparently, law and order is good except for 1) Donald Trump and 2) rich people who want to cheat on their taxes.  Check it out— gift link

19) Jane Mayer, (Republican) “State Legislatures are Torching Democracy”

20) A (rare) conservative with some integrity on Trump: “Do We Believe Our Own Dogma?”

The FBI’s serving a search warrant on Donald Trump’s residence is not — in spite of everything being said about it — unprecedented. The FBI serves search warrants on homes all the time. Donald Trump is a former president, not a mystical sacrosanct being.

If we really believe, as we say we believe, that this is a republic, that nobody is above the law, that the presidency is just a temporary executive-branch office rather than a quasi-royal entitlement, then there is nothing all that remarkable about the FBI serving a warrant on a house in Florida. I myself do not find it especially difficult to believe that there exists reasonable cause for such a warrant. And if the feds have got it wrong, that wouldn’t be the first time. Those so-called conservatives who are publicly fantasizing about an FBI purge under the next Republican administration are engaged in a particularly stupid form of irresponsibility.

There are no fewer than five different congressional committees with FBI oversight powers. I’m not especially inclined to take federal agencies and their officers at their word in almost any circumstance, and so active and vigorous oversight seems to me appropriate here, as in most other cases. But if it turns out, in the least surprising political development of the decade, that Donald Trump is a criminal, then he should be treated like any other criminal.

21) It’s also insane that Republicans should be upset because Cracker Barrell is simply offering plant-based sausage to patrons who may want to eat it:

The blowback was immediate and intense. Comments, hundreds and hundreds of them, were split along ideological, generational and political lines.

The more conservative takes:

“All the more reason to stop eating at Cracker Barrel. This is not what Cracker Barrel was to be all about,” one person wrote.

“I just lost respect for a once great Tennessee company,” another injected.

“If I wanted a salad … I would in fact order a salad … stop with the plant based ‘meat’ crap,” wrote a third.

“Oh Noes … the Cracker Barrel has gone WOKE!!! It really is the end times …,” another commented.


22) And Never-Trumper Mona Charen, “Republicans Are Rooting for Civil War”

Executing a valid search warrant, FBI agents arrived in the morning to search the office. The word “unprecedented” was on everyone’s lips. They seized business records, computers, and other documents related to possible crimes. An enraged Donald Trump denounced the FBI and the Justice Department, saying not that they had abided by the warrant issued by a federal judge, but rather that agents had “broken into” the office.

The year was 2018, and Trump was livid about the FBI’s investigation into his longtime attorney/fixer, Michael Cohen.

At the time, many observers, including me, assumed that the investigation would yield bushels of incriminating documents about Trump. Cohen was his personal lawyer, after all, the guy who wrote the hush-money checks to porn stars and presumably had access to many of Trump’s dodgy or downright illegal acts. It didn’t turn out that way. Yes, Cohen was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to eight counts of criminal tax evasion, campaign finance violations (that was the Stormy Daniels piece), and other frauds. But Trump himself? Nothing. He skated while his faithful minion became a guest of the Bureau of Prisons in Otisville, New York. It was soon thereafter that we learned from Cohen that Trump keeps few records, shuns emails, and speaks not in commands but in Mafia-esque insinuations. Trump doesn’t give direct orders, Cohen testified, he “speaks in code and I understand that code.”

So, there may be less than meets the eye in those crates the FBI carted off from Mar-a-Lago on Monday. Or it could be a motherlode of incrimination. We don’t know, we can only speculate. But what is not open to doubt is that the Republican party, which seemed to be flirting with post-Trumpism just a few weeks ago, has now come roaring back as an authoritarian cult. Trump has not changed. But he has changed Republicans….

Now, as a substantive matter, McCarthy’s tweet is meaningless. The House of Representatives, along with the Senate, already exercises oversight authority over the Justice Department. The Judiciary Committee asks the attorney general to testify regularly. That’s how the system works. And if McCarthy is truly concerned about “following the facts,” Merrick Garland has nothing to fear. But the importance of the tweet is not its substance but its tone—the call for vengeance. McCarthy displays zero interest in whether Trump actually committed a crime. The clear message is “You’ve gone after our leader so we’re coming for you.” The merits of Garland’s actions are irrelevant. The facts are irrelevant. It’s war.

For some in the wooly precincts of the MAGA right, the call to arms was literal. As Vice reported, some Trumpists were explicit: “‘Civil War 2.0 just kicked off,’ one user wrote on Twitter, with another adding, ‘One step closer to a kinetic civil war.’ Others said they were ready to take part: ‘I already bought my ammo.’” Steve Bannon, who was pardoned for bilking Trump supporters who thought they were building a wall, declared that “This is war” and called the FBI the “Gestapo.”

Trump is a sick soul who cannot imagine a world in which people act on principle or think about the welfare of others. While in power, Trump wanted to use the FBI to punish his political opponents (“Lock her up”) and reward his friends (“Go easy on Michael Flynn”). He projects his own corrupt motives onto others and assumes that the FBI investigation is nothing but a Democratic power grab. It would be pathetic if he had not dragged an entire political party into the fever swamps with him.

This experiment in self-government requires a minimum amount of social trust to succeed. With every tweet that spreads cynicism and lies, with every call to arms that welcomes civil conflict, Trumpist Republicans are poisoning the nation they so ostentatiously claim to love.



What’s going on with adolescents and gender identity?

Given my natural interest in gender issues, plus the fact that I spend a lot of time with high school and middle-schoolers, I’m particularly intrigued by the controversy over today’s teenagers and gender identity.  Given what we all know about the social contagion and social dynamics among kids this age, it seems insane to suggest that there’s not at least some element of social contagion in the dramatic rise in non-traditional gender identity among American teens.  And, yet, apparently, the radical gender ideology folks argue that to make any such argument is downright transphobic (and, in many cases, go on to pull out the “you are going to make trans kids kill themselves!” card). 

But we’ve all been teenagers and thus, intuitively understand the powers of social influence as well as just how many teens are totally confused about themselves and their place in the world.  In modern America, might that manifest in rebellious and/or uncertain takes on one’s own gender identity? Sound plenty plausible to me.

I bring this all up now because there was an absolutely awful piece of research published in Pediatrics recently (really, just a complete embarrassment for this journal).  I would like to think the manifest problems in the research would have led to a rejection from a 2nd or 3rd tier political science journal, but it reaches an ideologically popular conclusion (there is no teen social contagion on gender identity) so the extremely problematic methods and conclusions were seemingly overlooked. 

Jesse Singal has a thorough rundown on why this is so bad. I skimmed the actual article myself, and, yes it is that bad on so many levels. 

But, what I really appreciated was Singal’s theory on what actually is going on, which comports with much of my own hypotheses in this regard:

This is a misunderstanding of… well, everything. Let’s use an example we know is driven by social contagion to make this point: goths. I am not aware of any high-quality polling on goths, let alone representative polling, but it seems safe to assume goths are bullied more often than non-goths. Imagine the argument “You’re claiming being a goth is socially transmitted, but that makes no sense, because why would someone choose to be a member of a group that is bullied?” This would be supremely silly, because the sort of kid who is entering gothdom is probably already facing some level of ostracization or bullying or other social issues. That’s why the goth identity appeals to them! Then, once they’re a goth, it can both be true that they’re a member of a group that is looked down on by other, more popular cliques in their school, but also that membership in the group gives them a sense of meaning and social belonging they previously lacked. 

The problem is failing to make the right comparison. The question isn’t whether goths are more popular than non-goth; it’s whether an already unpopular non-goth might become a bit more popular, or at the very least gain a modicum of belonging and community, by putting on those weird dark clothes and mascara. (Plus, there’s some legitimately awesome music.)

I am not directly comparing being a goth to being trans, of course — I’m using an example that we know is 100% driven by social contagion rather than latent biological factors to make the point.2 But to engage honestly with the ROGD [rapid onset gender dysphoria] hypothesis would be to acknowledge that Lisa Littman and others have never presented this as, like, a video game character selection screen: “Instead of choosing to be popular cisgender kids who captain the football team, our thesis is that kids choose to be bullied trans teens instead.” That would be ridiculous. The whole point of the ROGD hypothesis is that it is more likely to affect kids who are already lonely and disillusioned, and that for kids going through that sort of stuff, embracing a trans identity might bring with it the promise of some degree of social and psychological relief.

Maybe ROGD’s proponents are wrong about this! But if you want to argue in print that they’re wrong, you need to engage with the actual substance of what they’re saying, not a caricature of it. And if you go online it’s immediately obvious that yes, kids find community and support when they come out as trans, even as one component of that group membership often involves complaining about bullying, adults not understanding them, and so on. It should be neither complicated nor controversial to claim that a lot of teenage subcultures are structured in exactly this way, where part of the point is feeling like an insider among outsiders.

It’s not quite as silly, but I also think Turban and his team are also misunderstanding the homosexuality argument in a pretty willful way. My understanding has always been that the argument is two-pronged: First, in some youth settings it might be perceived as cooler or higher-status to be (say) a trans boy than a cisgender lesbian, which could nudge kids in that direction. (It is plainly true that in some progressive adult settings, trans guys are seen as “higher status” than cisgender lesbians, and trans women as “higher status” than cisgender gay men, so I don’t see why we should be skeptical this could be true among some youth as well.) Second, due to internalized homophobia (and misogyny), some females (especially) might interpret homosexual feelings as evidence they are trans. It’s not uncommon for youth gender clinicians to encounter 12- or 13-year-old natal female patients who say things like “When I picture myself kissing a girl, I see a boy kissing a girl.” 

These are kids with no real-world experience with sex or romance, and they’re immersed in a very complicated, ever-swirling vortex of hormone-addled ideas about sex, gender, identity, status. The ROGD hypothesis is that in some cases, to the extent anyone has a “true” or “latent” or “innate” identity, they’re really lesbians, but just don’t feel comfortable landing at that conclusion. Whether or not this theory is true — I think it is in some cases, in part because I’ve read and listened to firsthand accounts from kids who say it’s happened to them and trans-affirming clinicians who insist it’s a real phenomenon — Turban’s and his team’s approach of simply looking at zoomed-out bullying data doesn’t engage with any of its actual meat. It goes without saying that “some trans kids identify as gay or lesbian” is not a response to the argument that other kids adopt a trans identity as a result of internalized or external homophobia. 

So throughout their study, Turban and his colleagues are responding to strawman arguments that no one in the ROGD camp is really making.

And, of course, it should go without saying, but, in this arena that’s never safe, so… none of this is to remotely suggest that all gender dysphoria is social contagion or that we shouldn’t treat all trans/non-binary persons with kindness, compassion, and respect. 

But, what’s going with adolescence and gender identity is important and complicated and deserves nuanced, thoughtful responses and research, not knee-jerk condemnation of trans kids nor a blanket embrace that ignores the complexities.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Terrific essay on Bruce Willis‘ cognitive decline and his acting career.  I had almost forgotten what a delightful charmer he was in “Moonlighting” and how that got completely lost in action here Bruce Willis.

2) Brian Beutler:

If Democrats accept that there’s immense political power in the backlash to the Dobbs decision, they can begin thinking through how to harness it effectively and with a sense of urgency. Here I’ll return to an idea that had its first test run in Big Tent eight months ago, right after the Dobbs oral arguments made clear that the Supreme Court would abolish the right to abortion.

If you’re a regular reader, you know it by heart already. Democrats should make voters a simple promise: Give us two more Senate seats and the House and we’ll codify the right to abortion in January 2023. 

By now I think it’s fair to say both that the idea has taken on a life of its own (which is great!) and that the party’s leaders and top strategists have been pretty listless about making this straightforward promise the engine of the national midterm campaign (not as great…)…

The hope has to be that the Kansas results awaken more Democrats to the power of this formulation so that the stakes of the election are lost on nobody. The theory is that the clearer the promise, the more cleanly Democrats can reduce the election, in every state and district in the country, to the same basic question Kansas voters just answered overwhelmingly. 

And here I’d add one lonely note of caution: As tempting as it might be, Democrats should avoid extending the same formulation to the whole gamut of achievable progressive objectives. With two more senators and the House, Democrats could and should be willing to reach further than fulfilling one promise, particularly when that promise is simply to restore a status quo that had prevailed with the consent of the public for 50 years. But that doesn’t mean they should commit to those things ex ante, in the same contractual terms they apply to codifying Roe

Two more senators and the House for Roe makes the election a grand referendum on a single, critical question. Two more senators and the House for Roe and a higher minimum wage and universal background checks and an assault weapons ban and democracy reform and so on reminds voters that national elections are about many things, some of which make them feel cross pressured, and that perhaps their support for abortion access doesn’t outweigh their gun-rights absolutism. 

That doesn’t mean Democrats should abandon those issues, or codify Roe and call it a day. Their allies should expect them to govern and make the country a better, fairer place along many dimensions, irrespective of their defining campaign rhetoric. But ask yourself: If the Kansas referendum asked voters to decide not just whether abortion should remain protected by the state’s constitution, but also whether the state should simultaneously restrict gun access, ban gerrymandering, and increase the minimum wage to $12 or $15, would it have succeeded by a nearly 20 point margin? Or would it have gone down to demoralizing defeat? …

The bigger risk, though, isn’t that the party overpromises, but that it underreaches. 

Survey a few thousand voters across the country, present them with an abstract list of priorities, and ask them to rank them highest to lowest, you may find that the national hivemind thinks “inflation” is a higher priority than “abortion access”—whatever that means. 

Unfortunately, what it means to the hivemind of party strategists, is that Democrats should make “inflation” rather than abortion access the thematic center of their campaigns. Kansas is a proof point for how foolish that way of thinking is. Try to imagine any serious anti-inflation policy question on the ballot in Kansas’s midterm primary passing 60-40, with more votes than Joe Biden won in the state two years ago. Can you do it? Does the very idea strike you as obviously stupid? It should! Because it is. It’s this:

Democrats should instead endeavor to reduce themselves as completely as possible to the people who will restore access to abortion in every state. If they try to reduce themselves to “inflation fighters” instead, Republicans will happily remind voters that inflation spiked under Democratic rule, and they will lose. 

By the same token, the Democratic edge on the abortion issue stems from the fact that Republicans have created a simple dichotomy between bans and no bans. There will come a time when elected Democrats will have to navigate thorny questions about whether, when, and how to restrict the right to abortion. But those questions only become salient against a backdrop where abortion is a national right. Some Democrats will feel compelled to say they support certain restrictions; others like their allies in Kansas, will couch their support for abortion access in libertarian or anti-government terms. 

That’s all basically fine, so long as the party’s promise is to revive abortion access everywhere in the country that Republicans have eliminated it. The Dobbs decision was wrong and bad and so Democrats will neutralize it, restoring the prior balance where some states (and national-level Republicans) vie to curtail access knowing they can’t eliminate it outright. 




3) Joseph Allen on what schools should look like this year:

That leaves one hard question: What to do about a child who has Covid? The first part is obvious. Kids with symptoms should stay home. But the trickier part, of course, is determining when they can return.

People can remain infectious past five days, and some for 10 days and even beyond. The C.D.C.’s recommendation is to isolate for five days, and then mask for five more. That’s smart. It relies on masks because they work.

Ideally, we would have kids “test to return,” as a colleague and I recommended last year, where kids must have two negative rapid tests before returning to school. But I think the strict science here is running up against the reality of the moment — that the longer kids who test positive are required to be out of school, and the longer parents miss work, the stronger the incentive for parents not to test their children if they show symptoms.

Next best is the current C.D.C. “5 and 5” approach, where students who test positive must stay home for the first five days and then return to school masked for the next five. But that still means that the default is for kids who test positive to miss up to a week of school. If masks work on day five, they also work on day three, right? So it’s reasonable to have kids stay home while they have symptoms, return once their symptoms have passed and wear a mask until 10 days after symptoms began.

Most school districts dropped their mask mandates by the end of the 2021-22 school year. This is a good policy choice that should continue into the fall because the value of mandates drops over time, as people become less likely to comply. Still, anyone who wants to should be allowed to wear an N95 mask. One-way masking works, and those arguing that N95s work only if everyone is wearing one have brought their messaging dangerously close to that of anti-maskers…

Masks should be a go-to, quick implementation strategy if something changes in a dire way. For example, a variant that disproportionately affects kids, or that has severe immune escape and resets us back to March 2020, God forbid.

It’s also time to end the practices that were put in place early in the emergency response phase of the pandemic that have remained for no apparent reason other than inertia. No more barring parents from entering school buildings, making kids have “no talking” lunches or eating lunch in the classroom instead of the cafeteria, limiting extracurricular activities or canceling field trips. Certainly, these policies do not contribute to risk reduction at this point.

4) Interesting piece on English soccer teams that bounce between the Premier League and the Championship.  I was really intrigued to read about a striker who is a goal-scoring machine in the Championship, but hardly at all in the Premier League.

5) Really enjoyed this Yascha Mounk interview with Sarah Longwell about 2024:

Yascha Mounk: You’ve been speaking with many focus groups over the last weeks and months about Donald Trump and the January 6th Committee hearings. Do you think that the hearings are having an impact on how Americans view him? And more broadly, how do most Americans now feel about Donald Trump?

Sarah Longwell: It’s not that they’re breaking through so much as they’re seeping in. Changing minds is really hard, but giving people a little psychic permission to move on is something that can be done. I’ve done nine focus groups since the hearings began, all with Trump 2020 voters. And the most stunning thing that has happened is that in four of the groups, zero of the respondents wanted to see Trump run again in 2024. About 15% of the nine groups wanted to see him run again. 

That’s only significant because prior to the hearings, we had done dozens and dozens of focus groups with Trump voters since January 6th, and half or more of the group always wanted him to run again. It rarely fell below half of the group. But people are very worried that Donald Trump can’t win in 2024. They have real doubts about his electability, and this is where I think the hearings have really made a difference. Joe Biden was nominated and elected by the Democrats, not necessarily because he was everybody’s top choice, but because he was the one everybody thought other people would vote for and that he could win and beat Donald Trump. These Republicans are starting to doubt that Trump is the person who can win in 2024. They still like him, to be clear. But they think he might have too much baggage: “We really need to win in 2024 and I think there are better people.” 

One thing that sort of happened at the same time as the January 6th Committee was the Ron DeSantis boomlet. His name comes up all the time in the focus groups. They think Trump is great: “He did great things for the country. He was a great president. But I think maybe we need some new blood. We got a lot of stars. I really like Ron DeSantis. I like Kristi Noem, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz…” They have a bunch of people that they’re interested in that are fresh. But they’re all from the America First wing of the party. Nobody wants Mike Pence or Nikki Haley. 

The thing that I keep trying to impress upon people is that even if Trump wanes in the imaginations of people, they have decided that they love his particular combative style of politics. They crave it. They want it, which is why there’s no going back to the old guard. There’s a reason that all of the candidates in 2022 look like little mini-Trumps, running around talking about the election being stolen and critical race theory and a lot of vague gesturing at QAnon candidates—they’re gonna go “RINO hunting,” posing with guns. Trump has unleashed a force that has changed what the Republican Party looks like, and what the voters want out of their elected officials…

Longwell: I haven’t even heard her name, and I’m following who the good moderates are that could potentially be part of a future generation of moderate Democrats. I think it’s partly the Democratic-aligned media: the fact that Democratic moderates are a little less likely to go seeking the spotlight in part because they’re not out there fighting the big progressive fights that get you a lot of on Twitter, and Twitter’s where the media lives. There’s this constant false frame about who’s getting all the love in these races. 

When Trump was President, he built this Trump Cinematic Universe in which there were lots of little Avenger mini-Trumps who now are stars: Mike Pompeo, Tucker Carlson, Ron DeSantis. But there’s not a big group of Democrats who are out there trying to help Joe Biden advance his agenda. A couple months back, the big narrative was how bad Democrats’ messaging was, and I was one of the people really pounding on that, because I was listening to my focus group participants saying, “I never hear from Joe Biden, I never hear from Kamala Harris” when they talked about Build Back Better or any other legislation. They only knew the price tag; they didn’t know what was in it. If Joe Biden’s not a very good communicator, send out the troops. Build a bench of surrogates, have people on TV, identify breakout stars: who’s good at selling an agenda, who’s good at talking about policy, who’s good at arguing about the politics. But the Democratic Party hasn’t done that.

I think that Democrats are just different on the inside than Republicans. I don’t know quite how to formulate this, but I feel like they’re scared of their own shadows. They say, “Joe Biden’s policy is not popular, so I don’t want to go out and do it.” Donald Trump was passing nothing, and Republicans would go out there—Jim Jordan or any Trump acolyte—saying, “We moved the embassy to Jerusalem! We did an executive order on this or that!” They would tick through five things and they would all say the exact same things. Democrats cannot get that discipline. They seem unwilling to go out and be the person to carry the water. Republicans close ranks, they go out and push the message. The fear that’s in Democrats on messaging and communications is weird to me.

6) Cool prospect here on Monkeypox vaccine (thanks BB):

Amid a newly announced monkeypox national public emergency and shortage of vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration announced it is reviewing a new vaccine approach that could lead to a fivefold increase in the US’s supply of the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine.

“Please know we’ve been exploring all scientifically feasible options, and we believe this could be a promising approach,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, speaking during a Thursday press briefing.

The vaccine would be given in a smaller, shallower injection under the skin, a method Califf said would still be safe, effective, and would allow up to five doses to be pulled from one vial.

The new strategy will still need to be tested in clinical trials — a process that could take weeks or months. But experts say prior studies look promising, and if successful, this could be a safe way to stretch limited vaccine supply.

“This kind of research is exactly what FDA and NIH should be leading in this moment of public health emergency,” said Dr. Josh Sharfstein, a former FDA Commissioner and currently vice dean for public health practice and community engagement and director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

7) This is really good, “The War on Drugs Has a Warning for Post-Roe America”

With the fall of Roe v. Wade, physicians across the country are struggling to balance the conflicting imperatives of their calling to care with their institutional duty to avoid legal liability, all to the detriment of their patients.

Medicine is hard to govern with the blunt instrument of criminal law. Human biological processes, including pregnancy, are enormously variable. In many cases, determining the precise moment when someone’s life or health is so threatened that abortion would be legal under a particular law is not an ethically answerable scientific question. And so doctors turn to lawyers, often with no medical experience, to protect themselves from prison.

Under Roe, most obstetricians and gynecologists didn’t face this level of legal peril. But this isn’t the first time America has criminalized aspects of medicine. Physicians who prescribe controlled substances like opioids carry a similar burden. They can face decades in prison if prosecutors target them for overprescribing. Although there are cases of bad actors who prescribed opioids for profit, even legitimate physicians may fear being targeted by law enforcement, and research shows that the threat of legal action has a broad chilling effect on the way doctors provide care.The war on drugs shows that when medicine is criminalized and politicized, harm to patients and doctors increases, while the activities that the laws are intended to curb continue or even increase.

8) Cool rundown of best two-player board games.  I have a couple of these and need to play them more.  I really love the simple gameplay, but reasonably complex strategy of Hive.

9) Unsurprisingly, most drugs are still safe and effective long after their expiration dates:

In a small 2012 study, Dr. Cantrell and three colleagues tested eight drugs, containing 14 widely differing active ingredients, that had been sitting unopened in a pharmacy closet with expiration dates that had passed between 28 and 40 years earlier. They found that 86 percent of the drugs’ ingredients were still present in the concentrations they were supposed to be. The findings suggest that some medications, like acetaminophen and the opioid painkiller hydrocodone, retain their potency “for a long, long time,” he said.

Dr. Cantrell pointed out, though, that he and his colleagues did not actually test the drugs in people. “I can’t say that it’s OK to take expired medication,” he said. The F.D.A. also recommends against taking expired drugs. However, he has been working at the California Poison Control Center in San Diego for nearly 30 years, and said that people call the center regularly after realizing they have taken expired medicines, worried about what will happen. To his knowledge, nothing bad ever has, he said.

Dr. Cantrell’s study is one of just a few published studies that have evaluated the chemistry of expired medicines. In a study published in 2006, researchers with the F.D.A. and the pharmaceutical company Sandoz tested 122 different drug products and found that 88 percent were still safe to use an average of 5.5 years past their expiration date.

In fact, the F.D.A. sometimes tests expired drugs needed for public health emergencies and extends their expiration dates if they are found to work and be safe. You can check whether the expiration dates of any of the drugs you own have been extended by searching here.

10) My 20-year old son had his wisdom teeth extracted this summer and, fortunately, all went well, and he seemed to enjoy his two weeks of a soft diet.  I saw his x-rays and it sure seemed like he needed them out, but it did prompt a short search in which I came across this from 2011:

The association said that 80 percent of young adults who retained previously healthy wisdom teeth developed problems within seven years, and that retained wisdom teeth are extracted up to 70 percent of the time.


Yet when asked, the association was not able to produce the evidence for these figures. “We were not able to locate the reference for it, and subsequently deleted the statement from our Web site,” Janice Teplitz, the group’s associate executive director of communications, said last week.

As of Monday, however, the association’s Web site still said that “between 25 percent and almost 70 percent” of the time, retained, asymptomatic wisdom teeth “are eventually extracted.”

Many studies suggest that the actual number of people who have trouble with their wisdom teeth is far lower.

Oral surgeons warn that even when young people are not experiencing pain or discomfort, they may have infection or inflammation; numerous studies have found that adults who keep their wisdom teeth tend to have more such problems over time than those who have them removed. But there does not appear to be a single randomized clinical trial — the gold standard for scientific proof — comparing similar patients who have and have not undergone prophylactic wisdom teeth removal…

Our dentist warned us that cysts and tumors could grow around impacted wisdom teeth. But a new study of more than 6,000 patients in Greece found that only 2.7 percent of the teeth had a cyst or tumor. An older study, often cited by critics of routine extraction, found that only 12 percent of 1,756 middle-aged people who had not had impacted wisdom teeth removed experienced a complication.

11) I really don’t like the idea that you cannot make up for “sleep debt” as I’ve basically been a fan of sleeping in on weekends my whole life:

The sleep debt collectors are coming. They want you to know that there is no such thing as forgiveness, only a shifting expectation of how and when you’re going to pay them back. You think of them as you lie in bed at night. How much will they ask for? Are you solvent? You fall asleep, then wake up in a cold sweat an hour later. You fall asleep, then wake up, drifting in and out of consciousness until morning.

As most every human has discovered, a couple nights of bad sleep is often followed by grogginess, difficulty concentrating, irritability, mood swings and sleepiness. For years, it was thought that these effects, accompanied by cognitive impairments like lousy performances on short-term memory tests, could be primarily attributed to a chemical called adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits electrical impulses in the brain. Spikes of adenosine had been consistently observed in sleep-deprived rats and humans.

Adenosine levels can be quickly righted after a few nights of good sleep, however. This gave rise to a scientific consensus that sleep debt could be forgiven with a couple of quality snoozes — as reflected in casual statements like “I’ll catch up on sleep” or “I’ll be more awake tomorrow.”

But a review article published recently in the journal Trends in Neurosciences contends that the folk concept of sleep as something that can be saved up and paid off is bunk. The review, which canvassed the last couple of decades of research on long term neural effects of sleep deprivation in both animals and humans, points to mounting evidence that getting too little sleep most likely leads to long-lasting brain damage and increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is really, really important in setting the stage for what needs to be done in sleep health and sleep science,” said Mary Ellen Wells, a sleep scientist at the University of North Carolina, who did not contribute to the review.

12) Some interesting social science on guns, “More Guns, More Unintended Consequences: The Effects of Right-to-Carry on Criminal Behavior and Policing in US Cities”

We analyze a sample of 47 major US cities to illuminate the mechanisms that lead Right-to-Carry concealed handgun laws to increase crime. The altered behavior of permit holders, career criminals, and the police combine to generate 29 and 32 percent increases in firearm violent crime and firearm robbery respectively. The increasing firearm violence is facilitated by a massive 35 percent increase in gun theft (p=0.06), with further crime stimulus flowing from diminished police effectiveness, as reflected in a 13 percent decline in violent crime clearance rates (p=0.03). Any crime-inhibiting benefits from increased gun carrying are swamped by the crime-stimulating impacts.

13) I’m loving my access to the real Dall-E 2, but here’s a nice Wired story on Dall-e Mini

14) I love this  (whole thread is really good):

15) This, from Sarah Longwell:

16) And, as long as I’m sharing the tweets, this is just a terrific takedown of the Forward Party with so much good social science.  Read the whole thread:

I7) In general, I’m okay with my county making election day a teacher workday.  But to do so because all those voters are somehow a threat to students is just to give in to paranoid parents and over-cautious hysteria:

Wake County school leaders are considering not holding classes on Election Day in response to parents who say it’s a safety risk when so many schools serve as polling sites.

The school system is currently scheduled to have classes on Nov. 8, when potentially more than 100,000 voters will enter schools to cast their ballots. Parents have been lobbying Wake to hold a teacher workday on Election Day so that students won’t be exposed to safety risks from so many strangers walking onto school campuses.

“While there are many risks that we can’t predict, we do have the ability to mitigate this one,” Kirstin Morrison, a Wake parent, said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “We can align a teacher workday with Election Day so that our students can stay out of the buildings and safe with the extra visitors in those school buildings.”

Morrison, the Wake parent, said 38,785 voters entered Wake schools during the May 17 primary. She called that “an alarming security risk” as she talked about how voters crossed paths with students inside her son’s elementary school as they were getting lunch in the cafeteria.

“It concerned me that day, and a week later as I watched what unfolded at Robb Elementary School it was a crushing worry,” Morrison continued. “So today’s world is unpredictable and we have no ability to be immune to such a tragedy unfolding in our own community.”

Morrison’s concerns were echoed by several other parents who submitted written comments to Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“With recent events, safety at school is a top concern for me as a parent with a child in WCPSS,” wrote Kimberly Hatch. “I understand the importance of the civic duty to vote and understand that our schools provide a space that can be used as a polling place, however I have concerns with the students being on campus for election days.

18) I just love the problems Derek Thompson thinks about and the way he thinks about things.  Great discussion on “Is Old Music Killing New Music?”

Quick hits (part I)

1) I really expect more out of a story of a professor denied tenure at Harvard from the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  The default is not to get tenure at Harvard.  It’s ridiculously difficult.  The fact that you do a lot of service and your students love you is not enough– sorry.  And being a Black Latina scholar doesn’t change that. 

Two and a half years ago, many professors wondered just how broken the tenure system must be if Lorgia García Peña wasn’t considered worthy.

García Peña, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a child, was the only Black Latina scholar on the tenure track in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, or FAS. In 2019 her department committee unanimously recommended her for tenure, and the FAS-level appointments and promotions committee endorsed that decision. But once her case reached the administration, she was denied.

That move sparked outrage, with thousands of students and faculty members across the country signing letters to Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow. On campus, Harvard students held rallies to support her.

According to an article published last year in The New Yorker, some Harvard professors saw García Peña’s work as activism and not scholarship — a common challenge, according to ethnic-studies scholars. At one point, her assigned mentor suggested she withdraw an already-submitted manuscript and change the direction of her research, The New Yorker reported. But most of the tenure process went smoothly, and many students sang her praises.

After García Peña’s tenure denial, she filed a grievance. A panel of professors alleged that she’d faced discrimination and recommended that Harvard’s administration review the decision, according to The New Yorker, but that didn’t happen. A spokesperson for Harvard told The Chronicle this week that the university doesn’t comment on tenure cases. The dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences did agree to a review of the tenure process, and changes to increase transparency and reduce bias are being made now

You said you weren’t prepared for the silence of your colleagues after your tenure denial. What do you think was driving that?

Complicity. They didn’t feel responsible, if they weren’t the ones denying me tenure. But in structures of exclusion, people who are benefiting from the systems have to think about their role in it. How is it that you are able to obtain tenure and I’m not?

You never questioned the inequalities. You never questioned the fact that someone else is doing stuff that you don’t have to do. I was an affiliated faculty to five different units at Harvard, and I was in two departments, and I had 24 graduate students. The amount of labor that I was doing was much more than the average faculty member.

When you are someone who is benefiting from my labor directly, and you’re not questioning what your role is in that, and you’re silent after an injustice, you’re part of the problem. That’s always heartbreaking for me, because the only way that we can have actual change is if everyone recognizes their role, as small as it can be, in creating the problem, or at least in sustaining it…

[Also, apparently we’re all just a bunch or racists, sexists, etc., and only ethnic studies can change that]

Why do so many institutions, as you see it, not commit to ethnic studies?

Oh, that’s a very easy answer. The goal of ethnic studies is basically to dismantle and abolish the university as it is. We have all of these conversations about curriculum and hiring and retention and diversifying the faculty. But people still want to do things the way that they’re used to doing. And the way that we’re used to doing academia is Eurocentric, it’s anti-Black, it’s colonial, it’s misogynist, and it’s elitist, and it needs to change. Otherwise, we’re doomed. Ethnic studies is coming to save academia, if universities allow it.

People in higher ed talk about how “we are committed to becoming an antiracist institution.” What you’re saying is, They say that, and then …

It’s lip service. I call bullshit. So we have the murder of George Floyd. We have, the next day, all of these universities issuing statements about their support for Black faculty, including Harvard, at the same time that they’re firing me — the only Black Latina on the faculty. Their commitment to race and equity does not go beyond writing documents that nobody reads.

2) Brownstein, “Democrats Might Avoid a Midterm Wipeout: White-collar suburban voters will play an outsize role in upcoming elections.”

Polls indicate that many college-educated center-right voters have soured on the performance of Biden and the Democrats controlling both congressional chambers. Yet in Tudor Dixon, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in Michigan, and Blake Masters, the party’s Senate selection in Arizona, Republicans have chosen nominees suited less to recapturing socially moderate white-collar voters than to energizing Trump’s working-class and nonurban base through culture-war appeals like support of near-total abortion bans. With Trump-backed Kari Lake moving into the lead as counting continues in the Arizona Republican gubernatorial primary, the top GOP nominees both there and in Michigan will likely be composed entirely of candidates who embrace Trump’s lie that he won their state in 2020…

The more realistic route for Democrats in key races may be to defend, as much as possible, the inroads they made into the white-collar suburbs of virtually every major metropolitan area during the past three elections. Although, compared with 2020, the party will likely lose ground with all groups, Democrats are positioned to hold much more of their previous support among college-educated than noncollege voters, according to Ethan Winter, a Democratic pollster…

This strength among college-educated voters may be worth slightly more for Democrats in the midterms than in a general election. Voters without a degree cast a majority of ballots in both types of contests. But calculations by Catalist, a Democratic-voter-targeting firm, and Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who specializes in voter turnout, have found that voters with a college degree consistently make up about three to four percentage points more of the electorate in a midterm than in a presidential election. “When we see lower turnout elections,” like a midterm, “the gap between high-education and low-education voters increases,” McDonald told me. In close races, that gap could place a thumb on the scale for Democrats, partially offsetting the tendency of decreased turnout from younger and nonwhite voters in midterm elections…

Republican candidates this year have ceded virtually no ground to the pro-abortion-rights or pro-gun-control sentiments in those suburban areas. With the national protection for abortion revoked by the Supreme Court, almost all Republican-controlled states are on track to ban or restrict the practice. In swing states that have not yet done so, GOP gubernatorial candidates are promising to pursue tight limits. Dixon, the GOP’s Michigan nominee, said recently that she would push for an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother (while she would allow them only in cases that threaten the mother’s life). Asked during a recent interview about a hypothetical case of a 14-year-old who had been impregnated by an uncle, Dixon explicitly said the teenager should carry the baby to term because “a life is a life for me.”

3) David Hopkins on lessons from Kansas:

2. Neither party fully represents this view, but the Dobbs decision has abruptly shifted the terms of political debate from whether abortions should be made modestly harder to get (a somewhat popular position) to whether they should be banned almost entirely (much less popular). This puts Republicans in a riskier position than they were in before Dobbs.

3. Republicans could partially mitigate this risk by moderating their abortion positions. But the trend within the party has instead moved toward greater ideological purity. Not only are there fewer pro-choice Republican candidates than there used to be, but a growing number of pro-life Republicans now oppose carving out exceptions to legal prohibition (e.g. to protect the woman’s health) that were once considered standard doctrine within the party.

4. The abortion issue will almost certainly work to the net advantage of Democratic candidates this fall compared to an alternative timeline in which the Dobbs ruling did not occur. Dobbs forces Republicans to defend a less popular position than before, and it also provides an extra motivator for Democrats to turn out in a midterm election when they otherwise might have felt some ambivalence. How much of an advantage, however, is unclear; odds are still against it having a transformative effect on the overall outcome.

5. The overturning of Roe alsomakes abortion a much bigger issue in state and local politics than it ever was before. We will now start to find out what the effects of this change will be. They, too, are difficult to predict with confidence.

6. By increasing the electoral salience of abortion, an issue on which higher levels of education are associated with more liberal viewsDobbs will probably work to further increase the growing “diploma divide” separating Dem-trending college graduates from GOP-trending non-college whites. The best-educated county in Kansas is Johnson County (suburban Kansas City), where 56 percent of adults hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Johnson County voted for George W. Bush in 2004 by 23 points, for John McCain in 2008 by 9 points, and for Mitt Romney in 2012 by 17 points, but was carried by Joe Biden in 2020 with an 8-point margin over Donald Trump. It voted against the pro-life referendum on Tuesday by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent.

4) I will take this under advisement, “Just 2 Minutes of Walking After a Meal Is Surprisingly Good for You: A new paper suggests that it takes far less exercise than was previously thought to lower blood sugar after eating.”

Walking after a meal, conventional wisdom says, helps clear your mind and aids in digestion. Scientists have also found that going for a 15-minute walk after a meal can reduce blood sugar levels, which can help ward off complications such as Type 2 diabetes. But, as it turns out, even just a few minutes of walking can activate these benefits.

In a meta-analysis, recently published in the journalSports Medicine, researchers looked at the results of seven studies that compared the effects of sitting versus standing or walking on measures of heart health, including insulin and blood sugar levels. They found that light walking after a meal, in increments of as little as two to five minutes, had a significant impact in moderating blood sugar levels…

All seven studies showed that just a few minutes of light-intensity walking after a meal were enough to significantly improve blood sugar levels compared to, say, sitting at a desk or plopping down on the couch. When participants went for a short walk, their blood sugar levels rose and fell more gradually.

5) Everybody complains about the awful taste of the colonoscopy prep medication.  Not me– I got the new tasteless tablets to swallow, “At last, an easier way to prepare for a colonoscopy: The prep remains perhaps the biggest impediment to screening. That’s why the approval last year of a pill-based option is welcome news.”

6) This is cool.  I’ve not given up on small, modular nuclear powering our future, “US regulators will certify first small nuclear reactor design”

Small modular reactors have been promoted as avoiding many of the problems that have made large nuclear plants exceedingly expensive to build. They’re small enough that they can be assembled on a factory floor and then shipped to the site where they will operate, eliminating many of the challenges of custom on-site construction. In addition, they’re structured in a way to allow passive safety, where no operator actions are necessary to shut the reactor down if problems occur.

Many of the small modular designs involve different technology from traditional reactors, such as the use of molten uranium salts as the reactor fuel. NuScale has a much more traditional design, with fuel and control rods and energy transported through boiling water. Its operator-free safety features include setting the entire reactor in a large pool of water, control rods that are inserted into the reactor by gravity in the case of a power cut, and convection-driven cooling from an external water source.

7) I’m here all day for Yglesias taking on bad public health messaging and planning.  Monkey Pox edition:

As a bystander, one of the most disturbing aspects of this has been watching officialdom flail around on the issue of the relationship between monkeypox and men having sex with men.

The actual facts here do not appear to be particularly complicated or in dispute:

  1. There is nothing “gay” about the virus; experiencing same-sex attraction does not make you uniquely vulnerable to infection, nor does having sex with women offer any guarantee of protection.

  2. The virus spreads primarily through close physical contact, most of all direct skin-to-skin contact with someone else’s sores, but most people simply don’t touch very many other people in that way.

  3. The vast majority of the currently infected people are men who have sex with men. Because men are more sexually promiscuous on average than women, the gay social scene lends itself to a relatively rapid dissemination of sexually transmitted diseases.

  4. Because the virus can spread non-sexually and because some men who have sex with men also have sex with women, if enough gay men are infected, the virus will almost certainly spread to many women and straight men as well.

This is essentially the scenario the world went through with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s — a virus that is disproportionately a concern for gay men but certainly not one to which straight people are invulnerable or that is caused by being gay. Threading that needle seemed challenging, message-wise, in an era of relatively high homophobia, but a plain discussion of the facts should be much easier in the 2020s when there is a lot less stigma around homosexuality.

Instead, as Jerusalem Demsas recounts, the messaging has gotten tangled in a vortex of leftist thought about when it is and isn’t appropriate to draw attention to the fact that a problem disproportionately impacts a vulnerable minority group.

I tend to think the holdup here is solution aversion. A realistic late-May assessment of the situation carried the implication that public health types should have urged gay men to hold off on a summer of fun until vaccine supplies were ample. Indeed, given the very recent context of mandatory non-pharmaceutical interventions to curb SARS-CoV-2, you might have seen some suggestions that we ought to ban certain kinds of big parties. It’s a little strange that people who were relatively gung-ho about shutting down schools and bars and restaurants might shy away from that solution. But the gay angle raises the specter of discrimination and stigmatization, so instead many officials opted for obfuscation and a lack of clarity.

Meanwhile, unlike with Covid-19, we actually had the basic science of an effective monkeypox vaccine ahead of the outbreak — yet this has done us remarkably little good…

But most of all, the world invented a better vaccine and then just utterly failed to spend money on manufacturing and using the vaccine when it would have been timely. And this speaks to the fundamental political difficulty of pandemic prevention. The most egregious failure here was really by the Trump administration, which was in office at the time JYNNEOS was licensed and should have immediately mobilized to put it into the field. But at the time, nobody in the United States cared about this, and by the time it became a problem, it was Joe Biden’s problem. And then Team Biden itself was too slow for the exact same reason. The best time to act on building stockpiles and developing logistical plans is before anyone cares. We seem to be fortunate that this monkeypox outbreak is not that lethal. It’s important to understand, though, that this is somewhat surprising — based on previously available information, we would have expected to see more people die. There’s no good excuse for this level of lethargy…

there are some much more fundamental issues in play here.

One is that we are much too tightfisted with spending on this kind of thing. I sort of get why rich countries weren’t that interested in massively scaling-up JYNNEOS manufacturing back in 2019. The odds of an Orthopoxvirus outbreak occurring in any given year were low, so a slow and steady approach to production would probably let everyone get adequate stockpiles before it was needed. A big rush to increase production would have required large expenditures that would probably look unnecessary ex-post. But at the end of the day, the cost of “wasting” money on overproduction of useful vaccines and therapeutics is tiny compared to the cost of letting new pathogens become endemic.

The other is that ignoring public health problems in Africa is really short-sighted and bad. Even if monkeypox itself isn’t a particularly compelling African public health cause, in a purely self-interested sense we ought to be much more on the ball about dealing with emerging pathogens in the places where they emerge.

Last but not least, it seems to me that the public health community has a very harmful bias against voluntary action. We’ve let 100 million ACAM 2000 doses go unused because the risk profile of the vaccine is poorly suited to a mass vaccination campaign. That’s fine as far as it goes. But why not let the providers who want to administer it provide it to the patients who want to take it rather than waiting around for JYNNEOS? …

Would any of this have fixed the problem? Probably not. I think monkeypox is fundamentally just not scary enough to spur dramatic changes in behavior. But the nonchalance of the official response and the over-emphasis on telling people not to panic represents a real problem. We need to invest much more money in pandemic prevention, but also find a way to reform these institutions away from their inaction bias and hostility to simple provision of information and voluntary action. We actually should be panicking about the poor state of our preparedness and public health defenses.

8) Noah Smith with some very good myth debunking on public education, “The U.S. education system gets decent value for money”

But there’s a persistent belief among some Americans that our education system is low-quality. A lot of people seem to think that the U.S. spends a ton of money on public education and gets very little value in return. This belief is especially popular among conservatives, who tend to frown on public education as an institution…

But this common belief is wrong. The U.S. education system could use a lot of improvement, but as things stand it’s pretty decent. There are three basic facts that, taken together, demonstrate that we get pretty good value for our money:

  1. Our education system produces generally above-average results.

  2. Our education system doesn’t really cost a lot.

  3. Spending more on public schools pretty reliably improves outcomes.

Let’s go through the evidence for each of these facts…

U.S. education isn’t very expensive


Education quality is just one half of the cost-benefit calculation. A lot of people believe that the U.S. pours ridiculous amounts of money into K-12 education compared to other countries, but this just isn’t true. Looking at absolute spending on primary and secondary education (K-12), we see that while the U.S. spends a bit more than other rich countries, the numbers are actually quite similar:

Source: OECD

We spend about $13,000 per student (at purchasing power parity), while the average is around $10,000. Not a huge difference…

In other words, the best available data indicates that when the U.S. spends more money on public schools, academic performance improves. That implies that the money we’re already spending isn’t going to waste, on average.

So let’s review the facts here. The U.S. spends an average percent of its income on public school, and achieves above-average results. And when we force ourselves to spend more, student achievement tends to improve. That strongly suggests that the U.S. is getting good bang for its buck in terms of public education.

9) Meanwhile, deBoer, “Education Doesn’t Work 2.0: a comprehensive argument that education cannot close academic gap”

The brute reality is that most kids slot themselves into academic ability bands early in life and stay there throughout schooling. We have a certain natural level of performance, gravitate towards it early on, and are likely to remain in that band relative to peers until our education ends. There is some room for wiggle, and in large populations there are always outliers. But in thousands of years of education humanity has discovered no replicable and reliable means of taking kids from one educational percentile and raising them up into another. Mobility of individual students in quantitative academic metrics relative to their peers over time is far lower than popularly believed. The children identified as the smart kids early in elementary school will, with surprising regularity, maintain that position throughout schooling. Do some kids transcend (or fall from) their early positions? Sure. But the system as a whole is quite static. Most everybody stays in about the same place relative to peers over academic careers. The consequences of this are immense, as it is this relative position, not learning itself, which is rewarded economically and socially in our society.

10) So, so good from McSweeney’s, “I’m Stacy’s mom and here are all the things I’ve got goin’ on”

11) IRB’s are just the worst! And I’m here for anything making the case (this one under-reports just how bad they are).

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are ethics committees, ideally composed of scientific peers and lay community members, that review research before it can be conducted. Their ostensible purpose is to protect research subjects from research harms. But oftentimes, IRBs are costly, slow, and do more harm than good. They censor controversial research, invent harms where none exist, and by designating certain categories of subjects as “vulnerable,” cause a corresponding diminishment in research on those subjects. There is even a plausible legal argument that they violate researchers’ First Amendment rights. Because previous attempts to spur the responsible federal executive agencies into streamlining IRBs have been unsuccessful or only had limited success, a targeted legislative solution that does not depend on bureaucratic implementation is needed…

In response to highly publicized biomedical research scandals, most notably the Tuskegee Experiment, Congress passed the National Research Act of 1974. This created the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published the Belmont Report in 1976. As historian Zachary Schrag has amply documented in Ethical Imperialismthe commission was sorely lacking in social science expertise from the beginning. This was logical, since the most egregious research scandals, like the ones documented in this landmark 1966 Beecher article, were the work of biomedical researchers.2 

The federal government initially shied away from heavy-handed oversight of the social sciences, who had a powerful champion for academic freedom in Ithiel de Sola Pool. However, a gradual scope-creep, spearheaded by successive leadership of the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) in the Department of Health and Human Services, ensured that by the early 1990s practically all social science research involving human subjects had to undergo IRB review…

However unglamorous the origin of IRBs, the more damning fact is that IRBs are, mostly, a ham-fisted “solution” to a trumped-up problem. As Schneider argues at length in The Censor’s Hand:

[Being a subject] is not particularly hazardous…surveys both before and after the rise of the IRB system found few examples of serious risk3…people and institutions with incentives to discover and publicize risk locate little…studies repeatedly find that patients are not hurt and might be helped by being research subjects.

In the social sciences, the basis for IRB review is even weaker. Per Schrag’s Ethical Imperialism, Congress never intended to regulate social science. In fact, the studies cited as justification for research oversight in the Belmont Report are biomedical research. Decades later, in an interview with historian Zachary Schrag, two members (Jonsen and Beauchamp) of the original commission that wrote the report effectively admitted that the regulation of social science research by the same methods as biomedical research was a mistake.

As justification for their continued existence, IRBs have cited increasingly non-physical “harms” to subjects with little empirical support. For example, IRBs sometimes view speaking with trauma survivors about their trauma as a presumptively harmful act. This is likely incorrect, and avoiding those topics only delays squarely addressing them. A more concerning systemic problem with IRBs is their role as institutional censors. Some IRBs have explicitly stated that certain subjects, because of their controversy, face stricter scrutiny. IRBs also fear a media outcry, and limit local researchers as a result. Over several decades of social science research, it is not clear if any subject deaths have ever occurred as a result…

Some Reforms


The following are reforms that maintain IRBs in some form but fix their biggest problems. Ideally all of these reforms would be implemented, but each would be useful on its own. 

As professor Ryan Briggs has proposed, researchers who make small changes in a study protocol should be able to self-certify that their changes meet a de minimis standard, avoiding another round of IRB review and revision. Some IRBs only meet every few weeks or months, so an extra round of IRB review for small changes in a protocol means substantial delay, slowing scientific progress. If researchers abused this privilege and tried to smuggle in substantive changes to their protocol, they would forfeit this ability.

A similarly narrow reform is implementing an electronic checklist that would allow researchers to self-determine if their research was low-risk and did not require IRB review. A University of Chicago professor, Omri Ben-Shahar, has developed exactly such a tool, and OHRP has no objection, but clear federal guidance would assuage the worries of risk-averse university administrators, who often still require IRBs to approve exempted studies. If universities continued to delay the use of such a tool, Congress could make receipt of government funds conditional on developing and allowing such a tool. 

Holly Fernandez-Lynch, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that greater IRB transparency is sorely needed. In their current incarnation, IRB decisions are opaque to researchers and even other IRBs. In contrast to our legal system, which is built on precedent, every IRB decision is effectively made de-novo, which results in high heterogeneity between IRBs. Transparency would help every member of the research ecosystem: researchers would better understand which protocols would need modification, and IRBs would learn from each other’s best practices. Confidentiality would be reserved for commercially sensitive protocol sections and kept to a minimum.

12) Quidditch was a dumb enough sport in the Harry Potter books (seriously, one of the absolute weakest features of otherwise genius world-building), but it’s even dumber than muggles run around holding a broom between their legs.  Find other ways to love Harry Potter.  But, now that Rowling is gender-ideology persona non grata, the “sport” has been renamed “Quadball.” 

13) Some interesting social science:

Norton and Sommers (2011) assessed Black and White Americans’ perceptions of anti-Black and anti-White bias across the previous six decades—from the 1950s to the 2000s. They presented two key findings: White (but not Black) respondents perceived decreases in anti-Black bias to be associated with increases in anti-White bias, signaling the perception that racism is a zero-sum game; White respondents rated anti-White bias as more pronounced than anti-Black bias in the 2000s, signaling the perception that they were losing the zero-sum game. We collected new data to examine whether the key findings would be evident nearly a decade later, and whether political ideology would moderate perceptions. Liberal, moderate, and conservative White (but not Black) Americans alike believed that racism is a zero-sum game. Liberal White Americans saw racism as a zero-sum game they were winning by a lot, moderate White Americans saw it as a game they were winning by only a little, and conservative White Americans saw it as a game they were losing. This work has clear implications for public policy and behavioral science, and lays the groundwork for future research that examines to what extent racial differences in perceptions of racism by political ideology are changing over time.

14) Graeme Wood on al-Zawahiri:

Zawahiri’s replacement will be younger and more energetic than the old doctor. I wish that younger man a short and skittish life. But the truth is that Zawahiri’s killing probably will not have much effect on global terrorism, because the younger jihadist generation has already ceased to regard him as a leader, spiritual or otherwise. Zawahiri’s crowning achievement, the September 11 attacks, was ultimately a one-off, and its plotters spent most of the rest of their lives on the run, or bored senseless in Guantánamo Bay. The jihadist movement that achieved something new was the Islamic State—which ridiculed Zawahiri, called him a goofball and a geezer, and set out on a path of wanton destruction against his orders. It mocked him for his deference to the Taliban and for swearing allegiance to its founder, Mullah Omar, who turned out to have been dead for years. Many of the possible successors to Zawahiri have already split off into other jihadist groups, and have long been trying to bring about carnage and a terrestrial paradise without al-Qaeda’s consent. They certainly will not seek the consent of his successor.

More interesting, I suspect, will be the attitude of the Taliban. They thought they had a country of their own, and that they would be left alone to rebuild it. They want money, and they want food for their starving people. But their critics have said that they are little more than terrorists themselves, and that anyone who claims they have softened in the past 20 years has been taken in. The presence of Zawahiri in Kabul will be used as evidence that the Taliban deserve to be treated like terrorists in perpetuity. They could not resist turning their capital into an al-Qaeda clubhouse for even a few months. Unless it turns out that the Taliban ratted on Zawahiri themselves—I doubt it—his presence will instead make the group look incapable of change, and deserving of all the skepticism it got. And that will mean a long, hungry winter ahead for Afghanistan.

15) If you are flying you get a lot of value out of wearing your mask during boarding and unboarding:

Here’s the cheat code: Instead of masking up for your whole flight, just cover up at the start and end of it. Those crucial few minutes—first when you’re boarding the plane, and then after you’ve landed—account for only a sliver of your travel time, but they are by far the riskiest for breathing in viral particles.

Everyone already knows to switch off cellphone service when their flight is about to leave the gate, and then to turn it on the second they’ve landed. Something like the same principle could work for masking, too. Call it “airplane mode” for your face: Keep your mask in place until your plane is in the air, and then put it on again after you land. Otherwise, you’re free to breathe about the cabin…

That’s because planes are equipped with virus-zapping ventilation systems that put schools, restaurants, and other places to shame. About half of the stale, germ-laden air gets flushed out of the plane as the engines suck in more air from outside, and the other half gets recycled through HEPA filters. No other indoor spot that people typically frequent rivals that level of ventilation: In a home, the air gets refreshed every three hours. In a bank, it’s every 45 minutes. In a hospital operating room, it’s at least every five minutes. On airplanes, that cycle takes as little as two minutes.

But these primo ventilation systems aren’t always on, and they’re not always operating at full blast. To cut down on fuel costs and exhaust emissions—at least before the pandemic—pilots often shut off the ventilation system while planes are at the gate, Dan Freeman, a safety-management systems expert at Boeing, told me. A passenger can sometimes feel that difference in real time: Maybe it’s a bit hot and muggy when you first get on board; then the lights flicker for a second and you hear the engine come to life, followed by a rush of cool air from the AC vent above you. To make matters worse, passengers jam together in the aisles during the hot and muggy phase, huffing and puffing out aerosols as they strain to lift their bags into overhead bins…

So we shouldn’t think about airplane masking as an all-or-nothing binary, where you’re either sucking fabric for eight hours straight or giving up on masking altogether. Covering up for the minutes at the very start and very end of a flight makes a big, big difference. When the plane is stopped, definitely put that mask on; in the air, it’s okay to peel it off. “Wearing your mask during those critical periods is a way to drop the risk of flying,” Allen said, making it “lower than any other part of your trip.”

16) This story from Annie Lowry on her pregnancies is riveting and harrowing. And, related to abortion policy.  Just trust me and read it. So good. 



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