(Abbreviated and late) Quick hits (part II)

1) Spent all of Saturday being a marching band dad, which put me way behind, but a few things you should try and find some time to read.

1) This Yascha Mounk conversation with Sam Harris is really, really good.  If you are the type of person who finds the same things interesting that I do (and, if not, why are you here?) you should just read it. 

2) Loved this NYT Magazine interview with Bono.  They covered a lot of interesting ground, but I especially enjoyed the parts about contemporary pop music and about songwriting:

It’s more about where your music fits into the culture. Is the pop-culture world still a place where U2 can realistically compete for attention? I know now that with youth culture I am kind of tolerated hanging out at the back of the birthday party but the magic show’s going on down here for the kids. I wished to connect with the pop charts over the last two albums and failed. But the songwriting got really good. “Songs of Experience” is great songwriting even if you don’t like the sound of it. Or “Every Breaking Wave” or “The Troubles” on “Songs of Innocence.” I would have loved to have a pop song on the radio. Probably we’ve run a road on that. So right now I want to write the most unforgiving, obnoxious, defiant, [expletive]-off-to-the-pop-charts rock ’n’ roll song that we’ve ever made. I spoke to about it this week. He’s going, “Is it that call again?” “What call?” “The one about we’re going to write the big [expletive]-off rock song?” And I say, “Yeah, it’s our job!” We can make songs famous now, but I don’t think U2 can make them hits…

Not exactly your highest moment. You’ve never heard us doing those songs. [Expletive] you. “The Boy Falls From the Sky” is an amazing song; so is “Turn Off the Dark.” 

 But why did we end up working on Broadway? The American songbook! If I could impart one thing to you in this exchange it’s that I’m a student, and so is my friend Edge. We’re students of songwriting. We don’t mind if we’re humiliated to find a great song. These  we worked with on our last albums know a lot about songs. You say, “But you’re U2 — you don’t need that.” What’s interesting is that we want that.

3) Paul Waldman, “We’ve been told a lie about rural America”

There’s a story Republicans tell about the politics of rural America, one aimed at both rural people and the rest of us. It goes like this: Those coastal urban elitist Democrats look down their noses at you, but the GOP has got your back. They hate you; we love you. They ignore you; we’re working for you. Whatever you do, don’t even think about voting for a Democrat.

That story pervades our discussion of the rural-urban divide in U.S. politics. But it’s fundamentally false. The reality is complex, but one thing you absolutely cannot say is that Democrats don’t try to help rural America. In fact, they probably work harder at it than Republicans do.

Let’s talk about just one area that has been of particular interest to Democrats, and to rural people themselves: high-speed internet access, a problem that’s addressed by hundreds of millions of dollars in funding that the Biden administration announced this week.

The problem is straightforward: The less dense an area is, the harder it is for private companies to make a profit providing internet service. Laying a mile of fiber-optic cable to reach a hundred apartment buildings is a lot more efficient than laying a mile of cable to reach one family farm.

So you need government to fill the gaps. That’s because the lack of high-speed service makes it harder to start and sustain many kinds of businesses, have schools access the information students need, and allow people many of the basic pleasures of modern life, like rewatching all six seasons of “Peaky Blinders.”

The Biden administration has now rolled out $759 million in new grants and loans for building rural broadband. This money comes from the infrastructure bill, but the other big spending bills President Biden signed, the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, also had a wealth of money and programs specifically targeted to rural areas.

While those programs cover a variety of needs, broadband is particularly visible. The administration is using the money to fund rural broadband projects from Alaska to Michigan to Minnesota to Oregon. And of course, when that federal money provided by Democrats over the objection of Republicans comes to red states, Republican officials rush to take credit for it.

This isn’t new or unusual. Every Democratic presidential campaign puts out a plan for rural America. The Biden administration created the Rural Partners Network to coordinate executive branch initiatives affecting rural Americans. Every big spending bill Democrats write makes sure to direct money to address the needs of rural areas…

Liberals sometimes say rural dwellers have been fooled into voting Republican — and therefore against their economic interests — based on social issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights. That’s not the argument I’m making here. It’s legitimate to put those issues first if they’re what you care about the most. If you live in rural Kansas and your opposition to abortion is profoundly important to you, it would be unreasonable to expect you to support the pro-abortion-rights party, even if it brought broadband to your town.

But it would be wrong to ignore the extremely hard work Democrats do to improve the lives of rural Americans, even as they won’t win most of their votes. We could argue about the value of different programs or economic policies in such areas, but you can’t say Democrats aren’t trying.

4) Before he became a public intellectual on race and wokism, John McWhorter was just a great linguist.  I loved this column on the oddity of English having the exact same word for singular and plural 2nd person, ie., you.

Fish don’t know they’re wet, and we English speakers don’t know we’re weird. Have you ever thought about how odd it is that English uses the same word for “you” in the singular and the plural?

Possibly not, because to speak English lifelong is to sense this as normal. But try to think of another language where there is only one word for “you.” Imagine if in Spanish one used “usted” to mean both one person and several, or if in French there were no “tu” and “vous” was the only word ever used to mean “you.” As often as not, languages do even more than just distinguish the singular and plural in the second person, marking distinctions of politeness as well. In Hindi there is the informal singular “tū,” the more formal “tum” and then “āp” for addressing elders and others to whom one is meant to show respect.

And in cases where English serves as the foundation for brand-new languages, one of the first things people do is fill in the “you” hole. When the British first arrived in Australia, one of the ways they initially communicated with Indigenous people was through a pidgin English with a limited vocabulary. That pidgin was later used throughout the South Seas area, and ultimately flowered into actual languages. One of them is now the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. In that language, Tok Pisin, no one puts up with this business of using “you” for all numbers of people. Rather, they get even more fine-grained than most others: They address two people as “yutupela” — you two fellows — and three as “yutripela.” …

What happened with English?

It’s something we may never have a complete answer to. Certainly, in the Middle Ages across Europe, a fashion arose in various languages of addressing individuals with the plural pronoun as a mark of respect. The idea was that using a singular form was too direct; the plural form suggested a kind of polite distance, rather like Queen Victoria’s reputed fondness for saying about herself that “we are not amused,” the premise being that to refer to herself in the singular would suggest that she was on the same level as ordinary people.

At first, this usage of “you” was between people of higher status, with the expectation then developing that people lower on the social scale would address their betters as “you” while addressing one another as “thou.” But the “you” fashion spread down the scale, with even middle-class couples alternating between calling each other “thou” and “you” depending on factors of formality, affection and subject matter. In Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Benedick, likely wanting to connote intimacy to Beatrice, tells her, “Come, bid me do anything for thee.” But a bit later, when he is addressing a more formal and even menacing matter, he switches to “you”: “Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?”

This stage was paralleled in many European countries, but the odd thing about English is that “you” then edged out “thou” completely in the 17th century. Why English took it this far is difficult to know. At a time when “thou” was still a recent memory, Quakers found the “you” takeover elitist, with its overtone of saluting and bowing creating conflict with their egalitarian ideology. I attended a Quaker school for a while in the late 1970s and at least one teacher was still using “thou” in this way — I will never forget him reminding me before an exam, “Be sure to put thy name on thy paper.” However, in the 17th century, Quakers’ insistence on using “thou” even with people of high status felt to many like an insult, and some were even physically assaulted for their refusal to get on the “you” bandwagon.

The Quakers’ beef was with matters of hierarchy, but they were also onto something in the linguistic sense. Normal languages have separate singular and plural second-person pronouns, period.

5) The US Constitution is way too hard to amend and that’s bad for our country.  Jill Lepore with a cool interactive feature on it in the New Yorker. 

6) Eric Levitz, “The Media Did Not Trick Voters Into Disliking Inflation”

As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight’s forecast gives Republicans an 81 percent chance of taking the House. Democrats’ prospects for keeping the Senate, meanwhile, are surprisingly favorable: Despite widespread disapproval of Joe Biden and the economy, Democrats are narrowly favored to retain a majority in the upper chamber.

This suggests that the GOP might be paying a penalty for its flirtations with authoritarian rule. But if so, the penalty is small. In polls, voters consistently name inflation as their top concern. And support for Democrats appears to rise and fall with the price of gasoline; when pain at the pump goes up, Democratic vote-share goes down…

The open conspiracy against democratic government in the U.S. troubles voters much less than the cost of living.  When Gallup asked voters to name America’s most important problem in September, only 4 percent mentioned threats to its democracy.

This has inspired an understandable yet ironic genre of commentary: The denunciation of the voting public, in the name of democracy…

There is something to this critique. All news media has a negativity bias. And mainstream outlets have not devoted much attention to the merits of the Biden economy. Two and a half years after the 2008 crash, unemployment remained well above 8 percent; two and a half years after the COVID crash, unemployment is at 3.5 percent. More basically, the press has done a poor job of contextualizing today’s inflation. The cause of contemporary economic dysfunction is not primarily Biden’s economic mismanagement, even if one stipulates, for the sake of argument, that the American Rescue Plan was excessively large. Rather, the cause of our economic difficulties is a prolonged pandemic that killed more than 1 million Americans, disabled many others, forced factory closures, bankrupted many small businesses, and triggered a sudden shift in the structure of consumer demand. We could have been paid for those costs through high unemployment. Instead, we are paying them through elevated prices. One can debate whether the Biden administration struck the right balance between full employment and price stability. But they were dealt a difficult hand, and were likely to preside over economic discontent no matter how they chose to play it. At the same time, cable news has done far more to spotlight the Democrats’ failure to reduce inflation than to inform the public of the GOP’s (heinously unpopular) plans for restoring price stability.

Separately, mainstream news outlets aim to reach the broadest possible audience. And in a country closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, this often compels such outlets to elide the reality that only one of America’s major parties is committed to the basic tenets of liberal democracy.

But none of this means that CNN and the New York Times boast primary responsibility for the electorate’s frustration with the economy or its complacency about the threat to U.S. democracy.

7) No you don’t actually need to read past the headline of “Climate Protester Glues His Head to ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ Painting.”  OMG these people are absolutely moronic!  Could ExxonMobil even come up with a better strategy for undermining climate goals?!

8) And, damn, no better take on skewering these morons than Jeff Maurer.  I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this, “If You’re Not Hot-Gluing Your Scrotum to the Venus de Milo, Then I Don’t Believe You Really Care About Climate Justice”

Let’s not mince words: These protesters are idiots. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that you won’t solve climate change by gluing your face to “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”. For starters: It’s not even Vermeer’s best work. This list ranks it as his eighth-best; “View of Delft” is clearly superior in both composition and theme. And frankly, I’m skeptical that the challenge of finding alternate energy sources will be solved by gluing ourselves to anything less than classical masterpieces. I’m talking ancient works — the pediments of the Parthenon, or Tutankhamun’s burial mask, for example. Only when I open the paper and see some brave climate warrior permanently attached to “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” will I start to believe that solutions might be nigh.

Also: Only an amateur glues his face to something. Once you’ve been around for a while, you know that a more sensitive body part = more justice. That’s why we need to use our brains and get our ball sacks involved. At the risk of being gender-exclusive, nothing generates political capital quite like a glued nutsack — it’s a benefit that stems from the organ’s unique sensitivity. In a pinch, a labia will do, as will a clitoris (despite the obvious logistical challenges), and I applaud women who use these organs to their advantage. But at the end of the day, nothing wins people over quite like gluing your balls to something — it’s how Lincoln passed the 13th Amendment! …

Shame on these milquetoast protesters! Let’s see some fucking commitment, assholes. Are you dodging the Louvre — where the Venus de Milo is kept — just because it’s a high-profile museum with advanced security? Well then I guess we’ll all burn alive because you can’t figure out how to get 8 ounces of Loctite Ultra Gel and a thermos of clam chowder past a security guard! Did these protesters think that solving climate change will be easy? It won’t be. As Max Weber said: “Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” Phrased another way: “If you’re not prepared to permanently attach your sack to a classical masterpiece, then you might as well stay home.”

National parks were established when John Muir stapled his dick to a Terracotta soldier. Erin Brockovich brought Pacific Gas & Electric to heel by epoxying both buttcheeks to Nefertiti’s burial mask. Acid rain was solved when an international coalition of leaders came together to rubber cement their taints to The Stele of Hammurabi. The recipe is clear: firm attachment + sensitive body part + classical work of art = environmental progress. That’s what it takes — that’s where solutions are found. We need brave climate warriors who are ready to make that commitment. If these protesters aren’t prepared to stand tall, drop trou, and firmly attach their fuzzy bean bag to a two thousand year-old Greek masterpiece, then I’m afraid I just can’t take them seriously.

9) So fascinating, “How the ‘Black Death’ Left Its Genetic Mark on Future Generations”

Many Europeans carry genetic mutations that protected their ancestors from the bubonic plague, scientists reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

When the Black Death struck Europe in 1348, the bacterial infection killed large swaths of people across the continent, driving the strongest pulse of natural selection yet measured in humans, the new study found.

It turns out that certain genetic variants made people far more likely to survive the plague. But this protection came with a price: People who inherit the plague-resistant mutations run a higher risk of immune disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

“These are the unfortunate side effects of long-term selection for protection,” said Hendrik Poinar, a geneticist at McMaster University in Canada and an author of the new study…

The idea makes basic evolutionary sense: When a lot of organisms die off, the survivors will pass down mutations that protected them from death. During the Industrial Revolution, for example, peppered moths changed from a light speckled coloring to dark. That shift was driven by the coal smoke that blackened the trees where the moths rested. Dark moths were better able to hide from birds and survived to pass on their genes.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Eric Levitz on Republican hostage-taking on the debt:

Unfortunately, the debt ceiling provides the GOP with a hostage. This means the second half of Biden’s first term may look a lot like a throwback to the Obama era, when a Republican-controlled Congress would repeatedly torment the Democratic administration with threats to blow up the global economy in exchange for austerity. Alarmingly, Biden appears to have learned little from those manufactured crises. On October 21, the president ruled out the one tool that Democrats could use to preempt Republican brinksmanship.

In most developed countries, the budgetary process goes roughly like this: The legislature passes laws that authorize spending and taxation and then the government borrows money to cover the gap between the two. The U.S. follows a similar procedure except it includes an additional step. After Congress has approved deficit-increasing budgets, it must vote on whether it will allow the Treasury to borrow the necessary funds. This is because there is a statutory limit on how much debt the government is allowed to hold. Congress must raise this “debt ceiling” whenever the budgets it has already authorized generate debt in excess of the limit.

Raising the debt ceiling does not increase the amount of money the government owes its bondholders. It just prevents the government from having to default on either its debt or its obligations to U.S. service members, Social Security recipients, Medicaid enrollees, and the myriad other beneficiaries of federal spending.

In other words, the debt ceiling is an insane institution. Failing to raise it to a level consistent with Congress’s fiscal demands presents the executive branch with an impossible order: It is simultaneously instructed by Congress to borrow more and forbidden from doing so…

In light of all this, Democrats should do two things.

First, the party should inform voters that the GOP’s plan for lowering inflation is to cut America’s most popular government programs or else engineer a global depression. Attacking the GOP’s plan to reduce inflation at the expense of America’s seniors allows Democrats to increase the relevance of an issue on which it enjoys an advantage (protecting Medicare and Social Security) while addressing voters’ top concern.

Second, and most important, Democrats must effectively abolish the debt ceiling. Assuming Republicans win the House in November, the new majority won’t take the reins until January 2023. Between Election Day and then, Democrats will have the opportunity to use the reconciliation process to pass a budget bill without needing to overcome a Senate filibuster (and thus without needing Republican votes). Due to Senate rules, such a bill couldn’t technically abolish the debt limit, but it could effectively do so by raising the debt ceiling to, say, a googolplex of dollars. Better to kill the debt ceiling before Republicans can use it to take the world hostage.

But no such bill can pass without Biden’s support, and he told reporters that abolishing the debt limit would be “irresponsible.” In so doing, he affirmed the GOP’s fiction about what raising the debt ceiling actually means, while leaving the economy at its mercy. If the Republican Party’s commitment to brinksmanship threatens to upend the global financial system, the president’s nostalgic attachment to congressional conventions threatens to do the same.

I’d like to think Biden isn’t really this dumb and just didn’t want to give the Republicans another economic talking point before the election.  Because, if Democrats don’t actually essentially eliminate the debt ceiling, that’s just profound political malpractice.

2) Couldn’t agree more with this Melinda Wenner Moyer post, “Why I Won’t Teach My Son Chivalry”

I know this post is going to ruffle some feathers. So first, I want to point out that I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our kids to be generous or helpful. It’s great to teach kids to hold the door for others! It’s important to teach kids to offer a helping hand when someone is struggling! But I firmly believe we should not be teaching boys to do this specifically for girls,and especially not to be doing it because they are girls. We should teach kids to come to the aid of others who need and want help, regardless of their gender — and not to make blanket assumptions about the kinds of people who need assistance and don’t. The notion that boys should go out of their way to help or protect girls promotes dangerous ideas, and, ultimately, dangerous behavior. (But if you have been teaching your kids chivalry, don’t fret! Just a slight tweak in framing turns chivalry into kindness towards all.)

Although chivalry is insidious — more on why in a minute — it’s very attractive. Among other things, it provides a simple code of conduct for young, typically heterosexual, people to follow when dealing with the opposite sex. “People are pretty desperate for a rulebook — ‘Okay, you want to get in a relationship, here’s how you do it,’” said Matt Hammond, a social psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand who studies prejudice and intimate relationships. Chivalry provides “hard and fast rules, which are super restrictive [but] are also very freeing in their restrictiveness, because they present a solution to complex problems.” (Speaking of restrictive rules: This post focuses on people who identify as either men or women and who are in heterosexual relationships, but of course, the world is much more complex than that. Still, chivalry does tend to thrive within these particular spheres.)…

But if you sit with the concept for a few minutes, and take a look at the research, you discover that chivalry is patronizing and based on misogynistic ideas. (In the research literature, chivalry is referred to as “benevolent sexism.”) The notion that men should care for and protect women inherently implies that women are weaker and less competent. It’s as if chivalrous guys think, “‘We love women. We love girls. But they’re also so helpless that we need to like make sure that they don’t hurt themselves while opening the door,’” said Andrei Cimpian, a psychologist at NYU who studies cognitive development, including how biases develop. “Sending the signal that girls need additional protection — while in the moment, it might be a nice thing for girls and they might feel good about it — it is ultimately undermining because the message is that you need extra help.”

Consciously, of course, many women and girls don’t interpret chivalry as sexist — and as I said, years ago, neither did I. This is another reason it’s become such a staple of our culture: It serves, at least initially, to keep women happy in their subordinate roles. If men were overtly misogynistic, many women wouldn’t tolerate them (I mean, one would hope?). Chivalry makes the existing gender power structure more palatable — it is what researchers have described as “the carrot dangled in front of women to motivate them to accept inequality” (whereas overt, hostile sexism is “the stick by which they are beaten when they do not”).

I’m not saying that chivalrous men are pretending to adore women in order to get females to tolerate them. Chivalry isn’t an act of willful manipulation. Many chivalrous men truly believe that what they’re doing is helpful and loving — I know lots of these guys and they mean well! — and many may be extremely offended by the argument that chivalry is rooted in sexism. (I can’t wait for all the hate mail I get in response to this post.) But we know from the research that men who support or engage in chivalrous behavior also tend to hold more overtly sexist beliefs deep down, even if they’re not consciously aware that they do. The two kinds of sexism — benevolent and hostile — typically go hand in hand. We also know that chivalry has negative consequences, even when men mean well.

3) OMG, Scott Alexander’s review of the Malleus Malificarum is soooo good:

I myself read the Malleus in search of a different type of wisdom. We think of witch hunts as a byword for irrationality, joking about strategies like “if she floats, she’s a witch; if she drowns, we’ll exonerate the corpse.” But this sort of snide superiority to the past has led us wrong before. We used to make fun of phlogiston, of “dormitive potencies”, of geocentric theory. All these are indeed false, but more sober historians have explained why each made sense at the time, replacing our caricatures of absurd irrationality with a picture of smart people genuinely trying their best in epistemically treacherous situations. Were the witch-hunters as bad as everyone says? Or are they in line for a similar exoneration? …

Question IX: Whether Witches May Work Some Prestidigitory Illusion So That The Male Organ Appears To Be Entirely Removed And Separate From The Body.

IE: can witches steal your penis?

It would seem that witches can steal your penis. After all, many people claim to have had their penis stolen by witches. The fifteenth-century peasants among whom Kramer went witch-hunting claimed this. And modern people claim it even today. Frank Bures’ The Geography Of Madness is a great book about recent penis-stealing-witch-related panics, which happened until the mid-20th century in Asia and still happen in Africa. For some reason, this is a classic concern across cultures and centuries.

But on the contrary side, God created the human body, and charged Man to be fruitful and multiply. So if the Devil could steal people’s penises it would seem that he must be more powerful than God, which is blasphemous.

Kramer answers that witches cannot steal men’s penises, but they can cast an illusion that causes it to look and feel like the penis has been stolen. Classic namby-pamby liberal centrist compromise! …

So what’s going on? Theory 1, Kramer made everything up. I don’t want to completely discount this. There must be at least one pathological liar in 15th century Europe, and surely that would be the kind of person who would write the world’s most shocking book on witches and start a centuries-long panic. Against this proposal, he sometimes names specific sources who a fact-checker could presumably go talk to, or specific court cases that living people must remember. I’ll stop here before we start retreading the usual arguments around the Gospels, etc.

Theory 2, Kramer is faithfully reporting a weird mass hallucination that had been going on long before he entered the picture. You can imagine a modern journalist interviewing UFO abductees or something. Some consistent rules might emerge – the spacecraft are always saucer-shaped, the aliens always have big eyes – but only because pre-existing legends have shaped the form of the hallucinations and lies. Then, unless he’s really careful, he unconsciously massages the data and adds an extra layer of consistency, until it everything makes total sense and seems incontrovertible.

I think 2 is basically right – again, I refer interested readers to Frank Boles’ study of penis-stealing-witch traditions around the world. Wherever there are superstitious people, there will be stories about witches, which will cohere into a consistent mythos. Add a legal system centered around getting people to confess under torture, and lots of people will confess. And since confessed witches were judged more repentant if they explained to the judge exactly what they did and maybe incriminated others, they’ll make up detailed stories about entire covens, and these stories will always match what their interlocutors expect to hear – ie the contours of the witch myth as it existed at the time…

So I think of Henry Kramer as basically a reasonable guy, a guy who expected the world to make sense, marooned in a century that hadn’t developed enough psychological sophistication for him to do anything other than shoot himself in the foot again and again.

This is how I think of myself too. As a psychiatrist, people are constantly asking me questions about schizophrenia, depression, chronic fatigue, chronic Lyme, chronic pain, gender dysphoria, trauma, brain fog, anorexia, and all the other things that the shiny diploma on my wall claims that I’m an expert in. In five hundred years, I think we’ll be a lot wiser and maybe have the concepts we need to deal with all of this. For now, I do my best with what I have. But I can’t shake the feeling that sometimes I’m doing harm (and doing nothing when I should do something is a kind of harm!)

They say the oldest and strongest fear is the fear of the unknown. I am not afraid of witches. But I am afraid of what they represent about the unknowability of the world. Somewhere out there, there still lurk pitfalls in our common-sensical and well-intentioned thought processes, maybe just as dark and dangerous as the ones that made Henry Kramer devote his life to eradicating a scourge that didn’t exist.

Happy Halloween!

4) I’ve been sleeping with variations of white noise for almost as long as I’ve been a parent.  It proved to be a godsend when our children were infants, and since we were in the same room with them we all got used to it and never stopped.  We have white noise machines in all the bedrooms.  I did know there were different “colors” of noise till a few years ago when I downloaded the Simply Noise app to use for white noise on my phone when I’m on the road (as my PS conference roommates can attest).  I was intrigued to discover the other colors, and “brown” noise is definitely the bomb.  And now here it is in the NYT (complete with interactive sounds).  Haven’t done a gift link in a while. “Can Brown Noise Turn Off Your Brain?”

5) I don’t know why The New Yorker would have a pretty scientific explainer on how metabolism works, but it’s pretty cool.  

6) Good stuff from Pew, “Parents Differ Sharply by Party Over What Their K-12 Children Should Learn in School”

Bar chart showing Republican and Democratic parents have widely different views of what their K-12 children should learn about certain topics in school

And check out the huge racial differences among Democrats on this graph below.  This matters.

Bar chart showing views on what children should learn about gender identity in school differ by gender among Republicans and by race and ethnicity among Democrats

7) It really is amazing how many fewer bugs are on my windshield on road trips these days.  It’s hardly an issue at all anymore and it used to be a big messy deal.  And this is probably not good. “Wait, why are there so few dead bugs on my windshield these days?”

Before we address possible causes of the “windshield phenomenon,” such as more aerodynamic cars, we should make one thing clear: It’s not a mass delusion or faulty collective memory. Windshield splats are valid ecological data, and they don’t bear good news…

From 1996 to 2017, insect splatters fell by 80 percent on one of the routes Moller regularly travels. On the other, longer stretch, they plunged 97 percent. Conventional measures show similar trends, and more recent observations have seen even sharper declines, Moller told us.

Experts say the lack of insect innards on our summer windshields is just one symptom of a broader decline in insect populations worldwide. But how much are insects declining? We’re not sure…

Many smart people we spoke with, including entomologists and wheat farmers, speculated that maybe the cars have changed, not the bugs. As vehicles become more aerodynamic, the thinking goes, their increasingly efficient airflow whisks the bugs away from the windshield instead of creating head-on splatters.

But when we called experts in the arcane art of computational fluid dynamics, they sounded skeptical. Yes, today’s sleek sedans can have half the drag of the land boats that ruled the road just a generation or two ago. But that improved airflow won’t do much for a bug.

8) Among my many concerns about the midterm elections is this, ‘Why Putin hopes for a GOP victory, as explained by a top Russia expert”

Greg Sargent: The guy likely to become House speaker is openly declaring that Republicans might not continue U.S. military aid to Ukraine. A number of House GOP and Senate candidates are also hostile to such aid. How seriously do you take this threat?

Timothy Snyder:I take it very seriously, because democracy around the world depends on Ukrainians winning this war. I also find it puzzling, because the Ukrainians are doing more for declared bipartisan American national security interests than any American foreign policy has done for decades.

By pinning down the Russian army and substantially weakening it, they are weakening China’s cat’s paw, which is Russia. By showing how difficult it is to carry out this kind of invasion, Ukraine is making the scenario for war with China — a Chinese invasion of Taiwan — much less likely.

A lot of Republicans genuinely support the Ukrainian cause and want the United States to help Ukraine prevail. But now we might see a genuine power struggle inside the GOP over whether the party will retreat from backing Ukraine.

I talk to quite a few Republicans who say and do exactly the right things regarding Ukraine. But an underlying source of the [power struggle] you mention is media. The guidelines for state-sponsored Russian propaganda television predict very well what Tucker Carlson says about Russia and Ukraine. Then Russian propagandists play clips of Tucker Carlson for their viewers.

So an awful lot of Americans and Republican voters are imbibing Russian propaganda tropes without knowing it.

It seems to me that the alignment of nontrivial swaths of the Republican Party with Vladimir Putin — we should try to understand this as potentially a serious geopolitical development.

We are actually on the verge of winning in Ukraine. We’re also on the verge of a tipping point back toward democratic institutions, and I don’t mean just in the West; I mean around the world. An awful lot hinges on Russia losing and Ukraine winning.

The tipping point can also go the other way. If the Ukrainians hadn’t fought — or if they had already lost — we would have already seen a tipping point where authoritarianism and Putin-style nihilism would be much more popular.

Right now, we have an opportunity for a positive tipping point. We could throw it all away if we do the wrong thing after November. Things could go either extremely well or extremely poorly.

9) Good (and free) stuff from Yglesias, ‘Getting back on track with the Latino vote: A decade of bad analysis built on a flawed analogy”

If you want some good takes on where things stand, I’d recommend this Pablo Manríquez article, as well as Miriam Jordan’s piece on racism in Latin America and in Latin-derived communities in the United States. I’d recommend Jay Caspian Kang on the difference between ethnic politics grounded in community solidarity and ideological anti-racism. And I really recommend “Reversion to the Mean, or Their Version of the Dream: An Analysis of the Latino Voting in 2020” by Bernard Fraga, Yamil Velez, and Emily West which concludes the rightward shift in the Hispanic vote may be permanent. I also recommend Ruy Teixeira’s article “Hispanic Voters are Normie Voters.”

This new conventional wisdom is, I think, completely correct — Americans of Latin American ancestry are a very diverse group with a range of ethnic backgrounds, issue positions, interests, etc.

This has always been personally salient because my grandfather was a Cuban-American leftist whose family came to the United States before the Cuban Revolution. He had very little in common politically with the mainstream Cuban-American community in the United States, which was dominated by anti-Castro emigrés. Which is just to say that even though everyone always knew the Cuban-American case was somewhat “special” in political terms, I knew that amongst Cuban-Americans, there were a lot of differences based on specific family experiences and, ultimately, the individual ideas of individual people.

And I think it’s important to remember the extent to which this was not the conventional wisdom in the recent past.

Teixeira, famously, was the author of “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” a book whose actual thesis was more complicated than the caricature, but that a lot of people read as “the growing Hispanic population will deliver victory to the Democrats.” Fraga wrote the more recent book, “The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethnicity, and Political Inequality in a Diversifying America.”His newer work doesn’t contradict anything the older work on turnout says. But it does reflect an important shift in emphasis from a mobilization frame to a persuasive one.

I’ve written about this a couple of times, but understanding the depth and persistence of the belief that Democrats could win elections through mobilization alone is critical to understanding what’s happened over the past decade of American politics. A lot of progressives were very disappointed by Barack Obama’s eight years in office. As far back as 2011, Jonathan Chait was writing pieces about how progressives are disappointed by every president and should maybe alter their expectations. But most progressives didn’t agree with that and wanted to construct a theory of how it would be possible to run and win campaigns with a much more progressive agenda.

If you want to understand why Democrats moved left on almost every issue since 2012, this misread of the Hispanic vote is a key piece of the picture. The idea was that if the party went left on criminal justice issues, Black turnout would remain high. Then the party could go left on immigration to maintain high Hispanic turnout, and count on the rising Hispanic share of the population to loft Democrats to victory as they moved left on climate and economics. The belated recognition that there are lots of moderate and conservative Hispanic voters, that the conservative ones will probably vote Republican, and that you need to court the moderate ones by paying attention to what they actually think and care about is welcome. But I think assimilating the significance of those facts requires revisiting some earlier debates.

10) And the Teixeira piece, “Hispanic Voters Are Normie Voters: Time for Woke Democrats to Wake Up”

It therefore follows that, if Hispanic voting trends continue to move steadily against the Democrats, the pro-Democratic effect of nonwhite population growth will be blunted, if not cancelled out entirely. Exactly that happened in 2020. This radically undermines the Democrats’ rising American electorate theory of the case.

Digging deeper reveals even more problems for the Democrats. Their slippage among Hispanic voters in 2020 was all over the country and among all the different ethnicities lumped under the Hispanic label. The biggest damage was among Cuban Hispanics (a 26 point decline in Democratic margin) and in Florida (down 28 points), but the damage went far beyond that. The Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters declined 18 points in Texas and Wisconsin, 16 points in Nevada, 12 points in Pennsylvania and 10 points in Arizona. And among Hispanic ethnicities, the Democratic margin was down 18 points among Puerto Ricans, 16 points among Dominicans, 12 points among Mexicans and 18 points among other Hispanic ethnicities…

But it’s not that simple, as the election results from 2020 demonstrate. In retrospect, it seems clear that Democrats, in fact, seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with “people of color” and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. In reality, Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly an upwardly mobile, patriotic population with practical and down to earth concerns focused on jobs, the economy, health care, effective schools and public safety.

In short, they are normie voters, not at all a liberal voting bloc, especially on social issues, that just needs to be mobilized. This is not true about Hispanics in general and is very far from the truth among working class Hispanics, three-quarters or more of Hispanic voters. In Pew’s post-election validated voter survey, just 20 percent of these voters described themselves as liberal, while 45 percent said they were moderate and 35 percent said they were conservative.

Just how normie and not super-progressive Hispanics are as a group is well-illustrated by recent data from Echelon Insights. Take the issue of structural racism. Echelon asked respondents to choose between two statements: Racism is built into our society, including into its policies and institutions vs. Racism comes from individuals who hold racist views, not from our society and institutions.

Of course in progressive sectors of the Democratic party, which do so much to define the party’s national brand, it is an article of faith that the first statement is the correct one. Indeed, in Echelon’s “strong progressive” group—roughly 10 percent of voters—they are so very, very sure of America’s systemic racism that they endorse the first statement by an amazing 94-6 margin. But Hispanic voters disagree, endorsing the second statement that racism comes from individuals by 58-36.

That’s quite a difference. Clearly, this constituency, unlike Democratic progressives, does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy. 

Or consider patriotism. The Echelon survey posed this choice to respondents: America is not the greatest country in the world vs. America is the greatest country in the world. By 66 percent to 28 percent, strong progressives say America is not the greatest country in the world. By 70-23, Hispanic voters say the reverse…

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Democrats’ emphasis on social and democracy issues, while catnip to some socially liberal, educated voters, leaves many Hispanic voters cold. Their concerns are more mundane and economically-driven. This is despite the fact that many of these voters are in favor of moderate abortion rights and gun control and disapprove of the January 6th events. But these issues are just not salient for them in the way they are for the Democrats’ educated and most fervent supporters.

In short, they are normie voters.

11) Seems like harnessing the power of the tides for energy would be really cool.  At least for now, it’s hard to make cost-effective, but, that could potentially change with the right investments.  Almost surely worth a shot.

13) I don’t think we should have the death penalty.  But, since we actually do, this seems like a legitimate question, ‘If Not the Parkland Shooter, Who Is the Death Penalty For?”

Society embraces four major justifications for punishment: deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation and retribution. Retribution has often been scorned by academics and judges, but ultimately, it provides capital punishment with its only truly moral foundation. Critics of the theory, including Mr. Cruz’s lawyers, commonly equate retribution with revenge — disparaging “an eye for an eye” as barbaric.

But retribution is not simply revenge. Revenge may be limitless and misdirected at the undeserving, as with collective punishment. Retribution, on the other hand, can help restore a moral balance. It demands that punishment must be limited and proportional. Retributivists like myself just as strongly oppose excessive punishment as we urge adequate punishment: as much, but no more than what’s deserved. Thus I endorse capital punishment only for the worst of the worst criminals.

Notice what retributivists don’t count: punishment’s future costs or benefits. Although Mr. Cruz’s execution might deter future mass murderers, especially school shooters, we don’t subtract its costs and add its benefits. We refuse to make an example of convicted killers, to treat them as means to other ends.

Can Mr. Cruz be rehabilitated? Will he ever acquire the skills and values to function as a productive member of society? It’s morally irrelevant. Nor can his future dangerousness — that he might kill again — justify permanently incapacitating him by executing him. Surely it’s possible to construct and operate prisons that keep us safe.

So we retributivists reject deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation. Instead we insist that Mr. Cruz’s human dignity requires his just punishment as an end in itself. By rejecting as morally insufficient the defense’s plea that Mr. Cruz’s life should be spared because he suffered fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, by holding him fully responsible and executing him, we acknowledge him as fully human, condemning the free will that produced his monstrous crimes.

For Nikolas Cruz, adequate, proportional punishment means death. His crime was coldblooded and calculated. At 13 or 14, he first thought about shooting up a school. He studied how mass murderers had committed their crimes. He told a psychiatrist that he thought, “If I do go onto the school campus, the police are not going to do anything, and I would have a small opportunity to shoot people for maybe 20 minutes.”

14) Yes, Newsweek ain’t exactly Newsweek any more, but it’s still cool to be in there:

Steven Greene, professor of political science at North Carolina State University, told Newsweek that given the pattern of national polls, it seems consistent that Budd would “have a reasonable but certainly not safe lead” in what he described as a purple state “with the slightest red tinge.” …

Greene said he would be surprised if independents broke at more than 60-40 once results conclude on Election Day.

“That’s not to say it can’t happen but kind of looking at the whole larger political context, I don’t necessarily see the scenario where voters break strongly for Beasley to put her over the top….Regardless of the history, when you have a race polling this close, it would be insane for Democrats not to invest in this race and give a go at it,” he said.

15) Derek Thompson, “How the U.K. Became One of the Poorest Countries in Western Europe: Britain chose finance over industry, austerity over investment, and a closed economy over openness to the world.”

This calamity was decades in the making. After World War II, Britain’s economy grew slower than those of much of continental Europe. By the 1970s, the Brits were having a national debate about why they were falling behind and how the former empire had become a relatively insular and sleepy economy. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, markets were deregulated, unions were smashed, and the financial sector emerged as a jewel of the British economy. Thatcher’s injection of neoliberalism had many complicated knock-on effects, but from the 1990s into the 2000s, the British economy roared ahead, with London’s financial boom leading the way. Britain, which got rich as the world’s factory in the 19th century, had become the world’s banker by the 21st.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it hit hard, smashing the engine of Britain’s economic ascent. Wary of rising deficits, the British government pursued a policy of austerity, fretting about debt rather than productivity or aggregate demand. The results were disastrous. Real wages fell for six straight years. Facing what the writer Fintan O’Toole called “the dull anxiety of declining living standards,” conservative pols sniffed out a bogeyman to blame for this slow-motion catastrophe. They served up to anxious voters a menu of scary outsiders: bureaucrats in Brussels, immigrants, asylum seekers—anybody but the actual decision makers who had kneecapped British competitiveness. A cohort of older, middle-class, grievously nostalgic voters demanded Brexit, and they got it.

The past few months have been rough for the United Kingdom. Energy prices are soaring. National inflation has breached double digits. The longest-serving British monarch has died. The shortest-serving prime minister has quit.

You probably knew all of that already. British news is covered amply (some might say too amply) in American media. Behind the lurid headlines, however, is a deeper story of decades-long economic dysfunction that holds lessons for the future.

In the American imagination, the U.K. is not only our political parent but also our cultural co-partner, a wealthy nation that gave us modern capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. But strictly by the numbers, Britain is pretty poor for a rich place. U.K. living standards and wages have fallen significantly behind those of Western Europe. By some measures, in fact, real wages in the U.K. are lower than they were 15 years ago, and will likely be even lower next year.

This calamity was decades in the making. After World War II, Britain’s economy grew slower than those of much of continental Europe. By the 1970s, the Brits were having a national debate about why they were falling behind and how the former empire had become a relatively insular and sleepy economy. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, markets were deregulated, unions were smashed, and the financial sector emerged as a jewel of the British economy. Thatcher’s injection of neoliberalism had many complicated knock-on effects, but from the 1990s into the 2000s, the British economy roared ahead, with London’s financial boom leading the way. Britain, which got rich as the world’s factory in the 19th century, had become the world’s banker by the 21st.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it hit hard, smashing the engine of Britain’s economic ascent. Wary of rising deficits, the British government pursued a policy of austerity, fretting about debt rather than productivity or aggregate demand. The results were disastrous. Real wages fell for six straight years. Facing what the writer Fintan O’Toole called “the dull anxiety of declining living standards,” conservative pols sniffed out a bogeyman to blame for this slow-motion catastrophe. They served up to anxious voters a menu of scary outsiders: bureaucrats in Brussels, immigrants, asylum seekers—anybody but the actual decision makers who had kneecapped British competitiveness. A cohort of older, middle-class, grievously nostalgic voters demanded Brexit, and they got it.

In the past 30 years, the British economy chose finance over industry, Britain’s government chose austerity over investment, and British voters chose a closed and poorer economy over an open and richer one. The predictable results are falling wages and stunningly low productivity growth. Although British media worry about robots taking everybody’s jobs, the reality is closer to the opposite. “Between 2003 and 2018, the number of automatic-roller car washes (that is, robots washing your car) declined by 50 percent, while the number of hand car washes (that is, men with buckets) increased by 50 percent,” the economist commentator Duncan Weldon told me in an interview for my podcast, Plain English. “It’s more like the people are taking the robots’ jobs.”

16) And, while we’re on the subject, “What Liz Truss Proved: Dismantling guardrails to cater to the grassroots is a dangerous experiment.”

Until 1998, Conservative members of parliament (MPs) had the job of choosing their party leader. That leader would become head of government if the party could command a majority in the House of Commons. After 1998, however, the rules changed: henceforth Conservative MPs would “thin the herd” of leadership hopefuls through successive rounds of balloting, then leave the choice between the final two to the members.

What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, it turns out. Political scientists know that weakening party officials can introduce all kinds of dysfunction into a democracy. Britain’s recent history bears that out in great detail.

The first hint of trouble came from the opposition benches. The Labour Party moved decisively to let ordinary members choose their party leader in 2014. In 2015, the rank-and-file, which skews far to the left, overruled the party’s MPs and picked the hardliner Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party. Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader is now widely understood to have been a catastrophe. Constant Labour infighting left Britain without a credible opposition for five crucial years.

Seven years later, following the fall of Boris Johnson, it was the Conservative rank-and-file’s turn to overrule their MPs’ preferences by choosing a new ideologically rigid and fundamentally unserious leader. Only, as the party in power, the stakes were far higher: their choice would move directly into Downing Street.

Liz Truss’s leadership bid was exquisitely in tune with the 142,000 or so people who voted in the Conservative Party leadership vote. But they amount to about a third of one percent of the 47.6 million people registered to vote in Britain. Conservative members are older, whiter, wealthier and more right wing than Britain’s electorate. To win power, she convinced them she would pursue an aggressive tax cutting agenda that most of the public reject

Was the danger of a Truss premiership unknowable ahead of time? Not at all: her colleagues knew it. Most Conservative MPs understood very well that trying to introduce massive tax-cuts amid a surge in inflation would be madness—both politically and economically. That’s why more of them voted for her moderate opponent for leadership, Rishi Sunak (who was today announced as her successor), than voted for her. It didn’t matter. Their judgment was overruled by the grassroots.

A prodigious body of literature in political science deals with the role of parties within democracy. A leading hypothesis appeared inResponsible Parties, Saving Democracy from Itselfby Yale’s Frances McCall Rosenbluth and Ian Shapiro, published in 2018. In exhaustive detail, Rosenbluth and Shapiro chronicle how reforms that weaken parties in the name of grassroots involvement fail. Such reforms, they argue, “feed political dysfunction and produce policies that are self-defeating for most voters, even those who advocate the decentralizing reforms.” They end up leaving voters more dissatisfied with the political system, and less able to hold their leaders to account.

17) The worst part about 2022 may be how it sets us up for a democracy-crushing 2024.

“My hair is on fire” to an even greater degree than it was in 2020, said Hasen, who published a prescient book that year called “Election Meltdown.”

18) My neighborhood has acorns like you wouldn’t believe (I should take a photo), thus I was intrigued to see this in the NYT, “Why We Should All Be Chasing Acorns

As Douglas W. Tallamy explains in his splendid 2021 book, “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees,” oaks are keystone plants, the central life form upon which so many other species in the ecosystem depend. Hundreds of insects and caterpillars feed on oak leaves, and those insects in turn feed birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even other insects. In fall and winter, acorns feed many of them all over again. Because so many predators eat the creatures that eat the acorns, a good year for oaks is a good year for everybody. “No other tree genus supports so much life,” Dr. Tallamy notes.

It probably goes without saying that oaks are commercially valuable, too, used in making everything from furniture and flooring to cabinets and whiskey barrels. Those utilitarian purposes go a long way toward explaining why the vast oak forests once found in the United States have been destroyed in many places and are too often fragmented where they remain.

One of my dogs has taking to eating some acorns.  Alas, the other day he was having a lot of trouble finishing the job of clearing his bowels while we were on a walk and it was most unpleasant. When all was finally done, I discovered the culprit– acorns!

19) I won’t be reading American Midnight, but I certainly enjoyed this review:

At a time when professional doom-mongering about democracy has become one of the more inflationary sectors of the American economy, it is tonic to be reminded by Adam Hochschild’s masterly new book, “American Midnight,” that there are other contenders than the period beginning in 2016 for the distinction of Darkest Years of the Republic. By some measures — and certainly in many quarters of the American left — the years 1917-21 have a special place in infamy. The United States during that time saw a swell of patriotic frenzy and political repression rarely rivaled in its history. President Woodrow Wilson’s terror campaign against American radicals, dissidents, immigrants and workers makes the McCarthyism of the 1950s look almost subtle by comparison.

As Hochschild vividly details, the Wilson administration and its allies pioneered the police raids, surveillance operations, internment camps, strikebreaking and legal chicanery that would become part of the repertoire of the American state for decades to come. It may be recalled how, when Donald Trump was a presidential candidate in 2016, his followers ignited a media storm when they threatened to lock up his challenger. But only Wilson went the distance: He jailed his charismatic Socialist opponent, the 63-year-old Eugene Debs, for opposing America’s descent into the carnage of the First World War, with the liberal press in lock step. “He is where he belongs,” Hochschild quotes The New York Times declaring of the imprisoned Debs. “He should stay there.” …

Aided by the news of German war atrocities, the Wilson administration whipped up anti-German hysteria. Wilson produced a great deal of cant about making the world “safe for democracy,” though by “democracy” he had in mind something like an international clinic for political delinquents with America as supervisor. Internal enemies ultimately proved more reliable than high ideals in sustaining the country’s war fever. German-speaking Americans and other immigrant groups made for obvious targets. “I want to say — I cannot say it too often,” Wilson declared in 1919, “any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic.” But the grander enemy was American socialists, who publicly opposed entering a war in which they would kill fellow workingmen at the behest of their ruling classes.

20) Among the more unusual features (including interactive video game!) I’ve seen in the Post, “D.C.’s great rat migration — and how they survived during the pandemic.” Definitely worth the gift link. 

21) I hope JPP is reading this so he can appreciate the Quick Hits birthday wishes.

How Fox tries to absolve it’s viewers of being “racist”

I went over to FoxNews.com to check out how they were covering the Pelosi issue (nothing worth mentioning in the previous post), but the stories they did highlight, were, of course, very revealing.  This one grabbed my attention, “‘Very racist’: ‘De facto’ Senate candidate Gisele Fetterman makes bizarre claim about swimming”

Gisele Fetterman, the wife of Pennsylvania Senate candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, claimed that “swimming in America is very racist,” weeks after being called the “de facto candidate” in her husband’s Senate race following his stroke.

Gisele began speaking about the lieutenant governor’s mansion in Pennsylvania and how the couple wanted to open up the pool to the public in an effort to “right some of the wrongs” of “racist” swimming.

“While we did not want the mansion, that mansion came with a pool I wanted. And the dream was to make this a public pool and turn it into the people’s pool and ensure that young people across Pennsylvania could learn how to swim and water safety and kind of work to right some of the wrongs,” Gisele stated during her segment with the “iGen Politics” podcast.

“Historically, swimming in America is very racist, and usually when you look at drowning statistics, it usually affects children of color because of lack of access,” she claimed.

This bizarre claim could hardly be more true!  If you google “closing black swimming pools” you get tons of stories like…

“Public pools used to be everywhere in America. Then racism shut them down.”

“Kansas City closed this public pool for two years instead of letting Black people in.”

“Public swimming pools are still haunted by segregation’s legacy”

Needless to say, I could go on.  Also, needless to say, the writer of the Fox story could have spent 20 seconds on google before declaring this a “bizarre” claim.  All to further convince Fox’s white readers/viewers that liberals are just how there throwing “racist” around at everything (even swimming pools!!), so no, they’re not really racist. 



This is political violence

Is the person who attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband (while looking for Nancy Pelosi herself) “nuts”?  Of course!  Normal, mentally healthy people do not go looking to attack the Speaker of the House.  But, what mentally unstable, violent people do with these tendencies exists with a political context.  And Republicans have absolutely shaped a nasty and violent political context over recent years.  Drum: “We live in the age of MAGA violence”

Let’s take stock of the past two years. First a mob attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, hoping to hang Mike Pence so that he couldn’t announce that Donald Trump had lost the 2020 election.

Then six men tried to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.

A couple of months ago a guy assaulted an FBI office with an AR-15 rifle because he was mad about the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago.

Today a man broke into Nancy Pelosi’s house, but couldn’t find her so instead attacked her husband with a hammer.

Election workers have been quitting in droves thanks to threats on their lives from MAGA fans convinced they’re stealing votes.

Ditto for MAGA threats against school board officials, librarians, and even the grand marshal of a July 4th parade.

An executive at Dominion Voting Systems was forced into hiding after furious Trump supporters put a million-dollar bounty on his head for allegedly switching votes from Trump to Joe Biden.

All of this is against the background of Trump’s infamous campaign chant “Lock her up”; his continuing assistance that the 2020 election was stolen and Democrats need to be punished for it; and the increase of serious threats on right-wing social media.

Am I missing anything?

On the other side, one deluded guy wandered by Brett Kavanaugh’s house this summer with vague thoughts of killing him. But he never did anything and shortly afterward called 911 on himself.

Again, am I missing anything?

This is so, so not good.  And I’m sure “normal” Republicans will go out there and “tut-tut” and say bland platitudes about political violence, and take a day off, but then back to feeding the MAGA beast.


At least Democrats and Republicans can agree on fast food

I don’t know why YouGov sent this to me, but I enjoyed it.  Fast food, beer, and wine brands that Americans agree upon across the partisan divide.  The winner? My favorite fast food– Wendy’s:

Also, I’m curious about the presumed partisan division keeping McDonald’s and Burger King off this list.  

Cheri Beasley is a good person, but I’d vote for her for US Senate if she were awful and incompetent

I went on a bit of a rant in my Campaigns & Elections class earlier this week that we are basically lying to ourselves that we are voting for the person, when we are voting for the party.  I think Herschel Walker is a deplorable human being who should be nowhere near any elected political office.  Yet, the reality is, in the end, he will vote at least 95% the same as any other Republican who would represent Georgia in the Senate.  If you are a Georgia Republican who believes that Joe Biden is ruining America, abortion is a great moral evil, and rich people are taxed too much, are you really supposed to vote for Raphael Warnock?

To make a rhetorical point (when I though just a little too provocative for the title of this post), I told my class I would vote for an unrepentant child molester over Ted Budd for NC Senate (of course, according to Budd’s ads, Beasley is not all that far from this).  I’m glad Beasley is decent and competent, but, the reality is that virtually any Democratic Senator from NC would vote the same as any other 95%+ of the time.  In many democracies, voters basically vote for the party and the actual candidates are almost entirely irrelevant.  Now, there’s the rare politician where the individual really matters for both good and ill (e.g., Bernie Sanders, Marjorie Taylor Greene), but, can you even name a Senator from one of the Great Plains states?  

After a conversation on Fetterman’s health that I wish could have been a little better, Yglesias and Laura McGann’s “Bad Takes” podcast moved on to this very issue of candidate quality in a system which is based almost entirely on party.  Yglesias said it really would be better to have fewer horrible, incompetent people in office and the only way that’s going to happen is if voters punish them for being horrible and incompetent.  Good point!  So, here’s what I decided… voting for the unrepentant child molester (or voting for Walker as a Republican in Georgia, not that they are equivalent), when the literal balance of the US Senate (and all that implies) is on the line?  Definitely.  If the Senate were clearly going to be a majority of one or the other party, then, yeah, time to vote against the awful person.  

So, I guess, in the end it goes back to my general principle– context matters!  And when the context is the given (potentially awful) candidate determines which party has the majority or not (which is huge at all levels of American politics), vote for the party and all that entails.  Otherwise, yes, best not to have awful people representing us (someone tell that to MTG’s constituents!) 

Educational polarization is big deal and Democrat need to figure out what to do about it

Really, really good stuff from Eric Levitz on the increasing importance of educational polarization in American politics and its universality in modern democracies:

In political-science parlance, the collapse of the New Deal–era alignment — in which voters’ income levels strongly predicted their partisan preference — is often referred to as “class dealignment.” The increasing tendency for politics to divide voters along educational lines, meanwhile, is known as “education polarization.”

There are worse things for a political coalition to be than affluent or educated. Professionals vote and donate at higher rates than blue-collar workers. But college graduates also comprise a minority of the electorate — and an underrepresented minority at that. America’s electoral institutions all give disproportionate influence to parts of the country with low levels of educational attainment. And this is especially true of the Senate. Therefore, if the coalitional trends of the past half-century continue unabated — and Democrats keep gaining college-educated votes at the expense of working-class ones — the party will find itself locked out of federal power. Put differently, such a development would put an increasingly authoritarian GOP on the glide path to political dominance. [emphases mine]

And unless education polarization is substantially reversed, progressives are likely to continue seeing their reform ambitions pared back sharply by Congress’s upper chamber, even when Democrats manage to control it…

What’s more, since blue America’s journalists, politicians, and activists are overwhelmingly college graduates, highly educated liberals exert disproportionate influence over their party’s actions and identity. Therefore, as the Democrats’ well-credentialed wing has swelled, the party’s image and ideological positioning have grown more reflective of the professional class’s distinct tastes — and thus less appealing to the electorate’s working-class majority.

This theory does not sit well with all Democratic journalists, politicians, and activists. Some deny the existence of a diploma divide on cultural values, while others insist on its limited political salience. Many progressives attribute class dealignment to America’s pathological racial politics and/or the Democrats’ failures of economic governance. In this account, the New Deal coalition was unmade by a combination of a backlash to Black Americans’ growing prominence in Democratic politics and the Democratic Party’s failures to prevent its former working-class base from suffering decades of stagnant living standards and declining life expectancy.

An appreciation of these developments is surely indispensable for understanding class dealignment in the United States. But they don’t tell the whole story. Education polarization is not merely an American phenomenon; it is a defining feature of contemporary politics in nearly every western democracy. It is therefore unlikely that our nation’s white-supremacist history can fully explain the development. And though center-left parties throughout the West have shared some common failings, these inadequacies cannot tell us why many working-class voters have not merely dropped out of politics but rather begun voting for parties even more indifferent to their material interests…

In my view, education polarization cannot be understood without a recognition of the values divide between educated professionals and working people in the aggregate. That divide is rooted in each class’s disparate ways of life, economic imperatives, socialization experiences, and levels of material security. By itself, the emergence of this gap might not have been sufficient to trigger class dealignment, but its adverse political implications have been greatly exacerbated by the past half-century of inequitable growth, civic decline, and media fragmentation.

Educated professionals tend to be more socially liberal than the general public. In fact, the correlation between high levels of educational attainment and social liberalism is among the most robust in political science. As early as the 1950s, researchers documented the tendency of college graduates to espouse more progressive views than the general public on civil liberties and gender roles. In the decades since, as the political scientist Elizabeth Simon writes, this correlation has held up with “remarkable geographical and temporal consistency.” Across national boundaries and generations, voters with college degrees have been more likely than those without to support legal abortion, LGBTQ+ causes, the rights of racial minorities, and expansive immigration. They are also more likely to hold “post-material” policy priorities — which is to say, to prioritize issues concerning individual autonomy, cultural values, and big-picture social goals above those concerning one’s immediate material and physical security. This penchant is perhaps best illustrated by the highly educated’s distinctively strong support for environmental causes, even in cases when ecological preservation comes at a cost to economic growth…

As with most big-picture models of political development, Inglehart’s theory is reductive and vulnerable to myriad objections. But his core premise — that, all else being equal, material abundance favors social liberalism while scarcity favors the opposite — has much to recommend it. As the World Values Survey has demonstrated, a nation’s degree of social liberalism (a.k.a. “self-expression values”) tightly correlates with its per-capita income. Meanwhile, as nations become wealthier, each successive generation tends to become more socially liberal than the previous one.

Lots and lots more good stuff in here (it’s a long article, but so worth it), but in the end, the issue is the problem highlighted in that first paragraph I bolded.  Democrats need to win elections and this makes it harder.  What to do?  You will probably be unsurprised that Levitz views are pretty concordant with mine here– messaging matters:

Education polarization can be self-reinforcing. As left-wing civic life has drifted away from mass-membership institutions and toward the ideologically self-selecting circles of academia, nonprofits, and the media, the left’s sensitivity to the imperatives of majoritarian politics has dulled. In some respects, the incentives for gaining status and esteem within left-wing subcultures are diametrically opposed to the requirements of coalition building. In the realm of social media, it can be advantageous to make one’s policy ideas sound more radical and/or threatening to popular values than they actually are. Thus, proposals for drastically reforming flawed yet popular institutions are marketed as plans for their “abolition,” while some advocates for reproductive rights insist that they are not merely “pro-choice” but “pro-abortion” (as though their objective were not to maximize bodily autonomy but rather the incidence of abortion itself, a cause that would seemingly require limiting access to contraception).

Meanwhile, the rhetoric necessary for cogently theorizing social problems within academia — and that fit for effectively selling policy reforms to a mass audience — is quite different. Political-science research indicates that theoretical abstractions tend to leave most voters cold. Even an abstraction as accessible as “inequality” resonates less with ordinary people than simply saying that the rich have too much money. Yet Democratic politicians have nevertheless taken to peppering their speeches with abstract academic terms such as structural racism.

Relatedly, in the world of nonprofits, policy wonks are often encouraged to foreground the racial implications of race-neutral redistributive policies that disproportionately benefit nonwhite constituencies. Although it is important for policy design to account for any latent racial biases in universal programs, there is reason to believe that, in a democracy with a 70 percent white electorate and widespread racial resentment, it is unwise for Democratic politicians to suggest that broadly beneficial programs primarily aid minority groups.

On the level of priority setting, it seems important for college-educated liberals to be conscious of the fact that “post-material” concerns resonate more with us than with the general public. This is especially relevant for climate strategy. Poll results and election outcomes both indicate that working-class voters are far more sensitive to the threat of rising energy prices than to that of climate change. Given that reality, the most politically viable approach to reducing emissions is likely to expedite the development and deployment of clean-energy technologies rather than deterring energy consumption through higher prices. In practice, this means prioritizing the build-out of green infrastructure over the obstruction of fossil-fuel extraction…

Our understanding of education polarization remains provisional. And all proposals for addressing it remain open to debate. The laws of political science are more conjectural than those of physics, and even perfect insight into political reality cannot settle disputes rooted in ideology.

But effective political engagement requires unblinkered vision. The Democratic Party’s declining support among working-class voters is a serious problem. If Democrats consider only ideologically convenient explanations for that problem, our intellectual comfort may come at the price of political power.

If you read the whole thing, the conclusion is that this is big and multi-faceted problem and it takes a lot more than more thoughtful messaging on twitter to fix this.  But, the most important part is that Democrats must absolutely, honestly, confront the electoral challenges faced by this current electoral coalition.  

Photo of the day

Wow, so many amazing photos here from the Atlantic, “Winners of the 2022 Nature Conservancy Photo Contest”

A mother seal opens its mouth to chase away a bird of prey above its calf.

Stalking. Honorable Mention, Wildlife. A mother elephant seal chases a bird of prey away from its calf, photographed in the Falkland Islands. 

Fabio Saltarelli / TNC Photo Contest 2022

The pessimistic case for the midterms

Not mine, but Yglesias‘, but, that said, I do find it a pretty compelling case.  I hope he’s wrong, but I fear he’s right.  You can read the whole thing, but here’s the highlights:

My big picture expectation is that polls and poll-based forecasts are overestimating Democrats’ odds, so a result that is actually pretty good by the normal standards of midterms is going to play as a crushing disappointment.

According to 538, Republicans have a 72 percent chance of taking the House, while Democrats have a 64 percent chance of holding the Senate. Those forecasts seem D-skewed to me. I will be genuinely shocked if Democrats hold the House. The only precedents for that happening in remotely recent history are the 9/11 election and the 1962 midterms held right after the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I’m not saying it’s impossible — we do have those two examples — but it’s difficult to understand why that would happen this fall. By contrast, Republicans picking up a net of one Senate seat would be a completely banal outcome. The fact that polling is giving it only a 1-in-3 chance of happening is, I believe, a consequence of the polling being skewed.

And I think that this continued skewed polling is a problem…

I really do think 538 is the best modeling team in the business, so I don’t want to diverge my predictions from theirs too much.

But I note that while their 2016, 2018, and 2020 Senate forecasts were all pretty good, the GOP did overperform in all three cases. I’m writing this on Monday evening, and right now 538 says that both Marco Rubio and Michael Bennet are heavy favorites to win, but that Bennet is slightly safer than Rubio. But that sounds absurd to me. I really like Val Demings and congratulate her for taking on this race, but it would be wild for an incumbent Republican to lose in a Trump state with a Democrat in the White House. By contrast, while it would be surprising for Bennet to lose, he is up against an opponent who has made meaningful efforts to distinguish himself from the national GOP, which is exactly the kind of situation in which Bennet might conceivably lose.

And the whole 538 forecast is shot through with this kind of “believe it or not” weirdness. They say Mark Kelly is safer than Ron Johnson. That Tim Ryan is more likely to upset JD Vance in Ohio than Don Bolduc is to upset Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire.

I agree, broadly speaking, with the 538 forecast that all of these are unlikely events. But in all these cases, the Democrat-friendly outcomes would be history-defying events that cry out for special explanation, while the GOP-friendly outcomes would be explained pretty easily as “the incumbent president was unpopular because of inflation, so these things happen.”

And this is important not because I think Bennet and Hassan are likely to lose, but because the history-defying outlier forecasts are a giveaway that the polling in general is skewed. Another tell is that according to polling, Democrats’ worst state among the real battlegrounds is Nevada, which happens to be the one battleground state where polling has been reliable in recent cycles…

And John Sides, with a great twitter thread on what to expect by historical standards:

That said, most of these models rely on many years of data that I think may not be as telling for our current era of extreme polarization, but, definitely useful context. 

When it comes to elections, I am a betting man and I will say I’m not exactly doing a lot of betting on Democrats.  It would be nice if democracy as we know it wasn’t potentially at stake. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting profile of Ron DeSantis:

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He’s really good at ‘othering’ people,” said Mac Stipanovich, a veteran Florida Republican activist who was involved in the 2000 recount that handed the presidency to George W Bush, but has grown disgusted with the party under Trump. Perhaps one-third of the party was always composed of extremists and oddballs who were generally beyond the pale, Stipanovich estimated. Trump coaxed another silent third to come out of the closet. “This is the business model for today’s Republican party: stoking outrage, creating fear and then exploiting that fear,” he said.

2) Nate Silver on the growing pessimism for Democrats in the midterms.

From a modeling standpoint, another challenge is that Democrats were defying political gravity. The president’s party typically performs poorly in the midterms. There have been some exceptions and there is some reason to think this year may be one of them. But the model has been trying to balance polls showing Democrats having a pretty good year against its prior expectation that the electoral environment should be poor for Democrats.

As the election nears, the model relies on its priors less and trusts the polls more, so it was initially skeptical of buying into a post-Dobbs surge for Democrats. Right about the time the model had fully priced in Democrats’ improved polling, though, the news cycle shifted toward a set of stories that were more favorable for Republicans, such as immigration and renewed concerns about inflation.

It’s also possible to overstate the case for Republican momentum. Midterm elections tend not to turn on a dime in the way that presidential elections sometimes do. And there haven’t been any self-evidently important developments in the news cycle in the past week or so. If you’re one of those people who thinks gas prices are all-determining of election outcomes, they’ve even started to come down again slightly.

Rather, this is more a case of now having more evidence to confirm that the Democrats’ summer polling surge wasn’t sustainable.

That doesn’t mean it was fake: In fact, Democrats had a string of excellent special election and ballot referendum results in which they met or exceeded their polling. If you’d held the midterms in late August, I’d have bet heavily on Democrats to win the Senate. It sure would be nice to have another special election or two now, and to see how these polling shifts translate into real results. Polls can sometimes change for reasons that don’t reflect the underlying reality of the race, such as because of partisan nonresponse bias or pollster herding.

And certainly, Democrats have plenty of paths to retain the Senate. Republicans don’t have any sure-fire pickups; Nevada is the most likely, and even there, GOP chances are only 53 percent, according to our forecast. Meanwhile, Democrat John Fetterman is still ahead in polls of Pennsylvania, although his margin over Republican Mehmet Oz has narrowed. The model is likely to be quite sensitive to new polling in Pennsylvania going forward. If Democrats gain a seat there, meaning that the GOP would need to flip two Democratic-held seats to take the chamber, that starts to become a tall order. Nevada, sure, but I’m not sure Republicans would want to count on Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona.

But the bottom line is this: If you’d asked me a month ago — or really even a week ago — which party’s position I’d rather be in, I would have said the Democrats. Now, I honestly don’t know.

3) To be fair, there’s some data in here, but, honestly, wasn’t the whole point of 538 to not have articles like this, “How 5 Asian American Voters Are Thinking About The Midterms.” (And, yes, it’s by the same author who wrote that it’s ableist to consider cognitive impairments when voting).

4) I didn’t realize the new Ebola outbreak is a new variant that’s not susceptible to the great new Ebola vaccine. That sucks.  Though, hopefully a new vaccine should be coming soon.

And this outbreak is different. Ebola is a disease of multitudes. For the most common species of the virus, successful vaccines have already been developed. But for others, no vaccine exists. To the dismay of health officials in Uganda, the version of the virus found in the body at Mubende was from the Sudan species, for which there is no vaccine.

Ebola has flared up intermittently in Africa for more than 40 years, most notably during an outbreak between 2013 and 2016 that infected 28,000 people and took more than 11,000 lives. During that outbreak, experimental vaccines against the most common form of the virus—the Zaire species—could be tested. They worked well, and have since been approved and used to protect people. But developing vaccines for rare viruses like Ebola is always a game of cat and mouse. The Sudan virus behind the current outbreak has caused only a handful of human cases over the past two decades. Work to develop vaccines to target this virus is underway, but none have been fully tested, let alone finished.

Using a Zaire vaccine against the Sudan virus isn’t an option, says Pontiano Kaleebu, director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute. “This has already been proven in the laboratory. The neutralizing antibodies do not respond,” he says. This means two things: that surveillance and physical control measures are currently the only tools available for limiting the virus’s spread, and that a working vaccine needs to be found as quickly as possible.

The candidate that’s farthest along is the single-dose ChAd3 Ebola Sudan vaccine, which is being developed by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC. By working with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and other organizations, the institute is planning to run a clinical trial in the current outbreak to see how well the vaccine works.

But there are only 100 doses available. With limited supply, health officials plan to give doses of the vaccine to immediate contacts of confirmed Ebola cases. Scientists then hope to use these contacts as potential candidates in the vaccine’s clinical trial—though the exact testing protocol they will use is still being worked out.

Kaleebu says they are hoping for accelerated production from the Sabin Vaccine Institute now that more doses are needed. But even if the number of vaccines used in the trial is small, they will still provide useful data, says Bruce Kirenga, a senior respiratory physician at Makerere University College of Health Sciences on the outskirts of Kampala.

5) Nice Yashca Mounk interview with Lis Smith on Democratic messaging:

Yascha Mounk: What are the main things political candidates should be doing, but aren’t? And what are the main things that they shouldn’t be doing, but are?

Lis Smith: The number one piece of advice that I give to candidates—and it shouldn’t be this complicated—is to just be normal: talk like a normal person, communicate in simple ways and with simple concepts. That’s a lot harder for a lot of political candidates than it should be. I worked for Pete Buttigieg, a Rhodes Scholar, but he was someone who, like Bill Clinton, another Rhodes Scholar, had a gift for taking really complex ideas and reducing them to points that everyone could understand—whether he was on CNN, at a think tank, or in front of a crowd in rural Iowa. It’s really important to act and speak like a normal person, and it’s something politicians don’t do enough. We get into a sort of wonky speak, or as James Carville says, “faculty lounge” speak. Speaking in front of a camera, or to a crowd, is really daunting to a lot of people. If they were just talking to friends around a dinner table, or at a bar, they would speak one way; but the second a camera turns on, they feel the need to speak in this stilted way. Or they’re just terrified of making a gaffe, so they end up speaking in this political gobbledygook.

You have a lot of political candidates who maybe watched too much of The West Wing or had advisors who watched too much of it. But unless you’re a poet, you should not engage in any poetry. If you’re not John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama, don’t try to speak like them. Look: like a lot of Democratic operatives, I went to an Ivy League college. I grew up in Bronxville, New York. But the difference between me and a lot of other Democratic operatives is that I cut my teeth in red states, places like South Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, and Kentucky. And so I understand how to speak to voters in a way that is not rooted in SAT words or advocacy group language.  

I wrote an Op-Ed for The Washington Post about this recently, because I was seeing these special interest groups put out things saying that “pro-choice” is harmful language; you need to say “pro-decision.” But no-one has ever heard anyone describe themselves as “pro-decision.” And so, you do see staffers who come out of this advocacy world, who have surrounded themselves with people who only share their worldviews—who think like them, talk like them, and live in bubbles where they don’t communicate with normal people. I think that distorts how politicians talk. 

Mounk: What are some of the big mistakes that candidates make?

Smith: Candidates should really limit how much time they spend on social media. It’s a good thing that younger candidates are more fluent in social media and modern technology. But there are some downsides. There is a distortionary effect that happens on social media, including really toxic group-think: e.g. the idea that unless you embrace the position that is popular online (which is oftentimes the most far-left position), you’re a Republican in disguise and you can’t be trusted. And if you take your cues from the online group, you’re going to be extremely out of touch with voters. 

We saw that when some prominent Democrats and Democratic groups embraced absolutely toxic, nonsensical slogans like “defund the police.” There was a time when, if you went online and said, “defund the police is a really bad slogan and it’s going to backfire on Democrats,” you would have gotten absolutely piled on. Now, I think people have come to realize this. After seeing the millions and millions of dollars that were spent against Democrats—even ones who had never even embraced that, just because certain Democrats had gone out there and embraced it—they understand that it was stupid. 

But that’s a problem that every campaign is gonna have to deal with. And it’s not just the candidates, it’s also the staff. A twenty-something year old staffer is not going to have the wherewithal to understand that just because some Twitter accounts are saying these things, it doesn’t mean that those views are held by the majority of voters. What’s really important is to get out and talk to the voters you’re trying to appeal to. If winning Twitter is your goal, you’re probably not going to win an election.

6) Relatedly, “Tim Ryan Is Winning the War for the Soul of the Democratic Party”

After years of being overlooked, Tim Ryan is pointing his party toward a path to recovery in the Midwest. On the campaign trail, he has embraced a unifying tone that stands out from the crassness and divisiveness that Mr. Trump and his imitators have wrought. A significant number of what he calls the “exhausted majority” of voters have responded gratefully.

And his core message — a demand for more aggressive government intervention to arrest regional decline — is not only resonating with voters but, crucially, breaking through with the Democratic leaders who presided over that decline for years. The Democrats have passed a burst of legislation that will pave the way for two new Intel chip plants in the Columbus exurbs, spur investment in new electric vehicle ventures in Mr. Ryan’s district, and benefit solar-panel factories around Toledo, giving him, at long last, concrete examples to cite of his party rebuilding the manufacturing base in which the region took such pride.

In short, the party is doing much more of what Mr. Ryan has long said would save its political fortunes in the Midwest. The problem for him — and also for them — is that it may have come too late.

7) You know I’m always fascinated by AI-generated art, ‘A.I.-Generated Art Is Already Transforming Creative Work”

For years, the conventional wisdom among Silicon Valley futurists was that artificial intelligence and automation spelled doom for blue-collar workers whose jobs involved repetitive manual labor. Truck drivers, retail cashiers and warehouse workers would all lose their jobs to robots, they said, while workers in creative fields like art, entertainment and media would be safe.

Well, an unexpected thing happened recently: A.I. entered the creative class.

In the past few months, A.I.-based image generators like DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion have made it possible for anyone to create unique, hyper-realistic images just by typing a few words into a text box.

These apps, though new, are already astoundingly popular. DALL-E 2, for example, has more than 1.5 million users generating more than two million images every day, while Midjourney’s official Discord server has more than three million members.

These programs use what’s known as “generative A.I.,” a type of A.I. that was popularized several years ago with the release of text-generating tools like GPT-3 but has since expanded into images, audio and video.

It’s still too early to tell whether this new wave of apps will end up costing artists and illustrators their jobs. What seems clear, though, is that these tools are already being put to use in creative industries.

Recently, I spoke to five creative-class professionals about how they’re using A.I.-generated art in their jobs.

8) Alas, the N&O makes it super hard to cut and paste and this is subsciber only, but it’s a really important point, “As more people carry guns, thieves steal with ease — adding weapons to NC streets”

9) And this, “Durham had a tool for tracking stolen guns. North Carolina lawmakers killed it.” Because even though this is effective for fighting crime, heaven forbid gun owners should have to register their guns. 

10) I especially enjoyed the part of this about the NYT firing Opinion editor James Bennett as that was really peak wokism amok, “Inside the identity crisis at The New York Times”

Times management has clawed back its ability to run conservative points of view without facing a newsroom revolt. But has anyone noticed?  It’s hard to walk back high-profile grand gestures, like Bennet’s firing and the marketing of the 1619 Project, with quiet bureaucratic changes, columns and beat reporting.

One skeptic that the Times has an easy path back is Bennet himself. The former Opinion Editor and onetime heir apparent to run the Times spoke to me Saturday in his first on-the-record interview about the episode.

Bennet believes that Sulzberger, the publisher, “blew the opportunity to make clear that the New York Times doesn’t exist just to tell progressives how progressives should view reality. That was a huge mistake and a missed opportunity for him to show real strength,” he said. “He still could have fired me.”

Bennet, who now writes the Lexington column for The Economist, signed off on an editor’s note amid the controversy that the column “fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”

“My regret is that editor’s note. My mistake there was trying to mollify people,” he said.

The Times and its publisher, Bennet said, “want to have it both ways.” Sulzberger is “old school” in his belief in a neutral, heterodox publication. But “they want to have the applause and the welcome of the left, and now there’s the problem on top of that that they’ve signed up so many new subscribers in the last few years and the expectation of those subscribers is that the Times will be Mother Jones on steroids.”

Bennet, who spent 19 years of his career at the Times, said he remains wounded by Mr. Sulzberger’s lack of loyalty.

“I actually knew what it meant to have a target on your back when you’re reporting for the New York Times,” he said, referring to incidents in the West Bank and Gaza.

“None of that mattered, and none of it mattered to AG. When push came to shove at the end, he set me on fire and threw me in the garbage and used my reverence for the institution against me,” Bennet said. “This is why I was so bewildered for so long after I had what felt like all my colleagues treating me like an incompetent fascist.”

The Times declined to comment on Bennet’s words. The publisher told colleagues at the time that he was most upset that the Times seemed to have been blindsided by a series of controversies coming out of Bennet’s section. One thing that is clear in retrospect: while The Times sought to cast the firing into a question of performance, process, and Bennet’s ability to lead after the controversy, the move was widely perceived as a political gesture.

After we got off the phone, Bennet texted me a final note: “One more thing that sometimes gets misreported: I never apologized for publishing the piece and still don’t.”

11) You think any adult will face accountability for this?  I don’t.  Should they? Hell yeah! “2-year-old boy fatally shot was playing with loaded handgun, NC sheriff’s office says”

12) Do not call your physician by their first name unless they specifically ask you to! “‘Kind of Awkward’: Doctors Find Themselves on a First-Name Basis”

13) I found this a really interesting piece on creative writing programs and cancel culture.  Your mileage may vary.

14) This is really good, “I Did Not Steal Two Piglets. I Saved Them. A Jury Agreed.”

A jury in southern Utah let me walk free earlier this month after I took two injured piglets from a farm in the middle of the night that I had no permission to be on. The verdict, on felony burglary and misdemeanor theft charges that could have sent me and my co-defendant, Paul Darwin Picklesimer, to jail for more than five years, was a shock. After all, we had admitted to what we had done.

We’re animal rights activists. We believe the decision underscores an increasing unease among the public over the raising and killings of billions of animals on factory farms. Our rescue of the piglets took place during a clandestine three-month undercover operation I led into the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods. We focused on Smithfield’s Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah, which raises over a million pigs for slaughter every year.

We sneaked into the farm one night in March 2017. Inside, we found and documented sick and underweight piglets. One of them could not walk properly or reach food because of an infected wound to her foot, according to a veterinarian who testified on our behalf. The other piglet’s face was covered in lesions and blood, and she struggled to nurse from a mother whose teats showed gruesome reproductive injuries, the veterinarian, who reviewed video of the piglets and spoke to caretakers, said in a report. Given their conditions, both piglets were likely to be killed and potentially tossed into a landfill outside of Circle Four Farms, in which millions of pounds of dead pigs and other waste are discarded every year. Nationally, an estimated 14 percent of piglets die before they’re weaned.

But that would not be the fate of these two. After removing the piglets, our team nursed them back to health. We named them Lily and Lizzie. Some four months later, we shared a video of our actions with The Times. (Smithfield claimed that the video appeared staged. It was not.) In August, F.B.I. agents descended on animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado with search warrants for the two pigs. At the Colorado shelter, government veterinarians cut off part of Lizzie’s ear for DNA testing. Not long after, my four co-defendants and I were indicted in Utah…

The juror I spoke to also mentioned a third major factor that went beyond the legal issues: our appeal to conscience. During the closing statements in the trial, in which I represented myself, I told the jurors that a not-guilty verdict would encourage corporations to treat animals under their care with more compassion and make governments more open to animal cruelty complaints.

15) Very good stuff from Jake Tapper, “This is not Justice: A Philadelphia teenager and the empty promise of the Sixth Amendment”

16) David Graham, “What to Cheer About in the Sentencing of Steve Bannon”

The sentence is a landmark because no one has been sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress in decades. The term is shy of the six months that prosecutors sought, but well more than the 30-day mandatory minimum, as well as the probation that Bannon’s lawyers sought. He probably won’t see the inside of a cell for some time, if ever, as he is free while he appeals.

Bannon’s sentence is a victory for the rule of law—but not an unmitigated one. It is a message to those in the Trump orbit that you cannot simply ignore laws, and that Trump’s umbrella of protection has big holes. It also demonstrates that the ability to defy Congress is large, but not infinite. Yet even the most ardent Trump critics should not be too jubilant. The committee whose inquiry led to Bannon’s sentence seems to be steaming toward an abrupt end, a Trump-friendly Congress is likely, Bannon’s most nefarious activities are probably not going to be seriously harmed, and Trump himself has still evaded consequences in court.

17) Noah Smith is no fan of Xi Jinping,”China has shackled itself to…this one mediocre guy.”

But last year I do think I managed to catch something important that a lot of people seem to have missed: Xi Jinping is not as competent of a helmsman as he’s made out to be…

Already, the mistakes have begun piling up. Growth, especially all-important productivity growth, slowed a lot even before Covid and has now basically halted. The crash is due largely to Xi Jinping’s personal choices — his stubborn insistence on Zero Covid (which also has a dimension of social control), his willingness to let the vast real estate sector crash, and his crackdown on tech companies and other entrepreneurs. Overseas, Xi’s signature Belt and Road project has left a trail of uneconomical infrastructure, debt, and bad feelings around the world. His aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy, combined with his crackdown on Hong Kong and his use of concentration camps and totalitarian surveillance in Xinjiang, has soured much of the world on the prospect of Chinese leadership. And his promise of a “no limits” partnership with Russia blew up in his face when Putin bungled the invasion of Ukraine. Even Xi’s nationalized industrial policy — the Made in China 2025 initiative and the more recent push for semiconductor dominance — has not done much to accelerate growth, and has prompted the U.S. and other countries to switch from engagement to outright economic warfare.

18) It’s kind of amazing that there’s almost no experts in such an important part of the female anatomy.  Really interesting piece, “Half the World Has a Clitoris. Why Don’t Doctors Study It?
The organ is “completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” medical experts say, and that omission can be devastating to women’s sexual health.”

Some urologists compare the vulva to “a small town in the Midwest,” said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist and pioneer in the field of sexual medicine. Doctors tend to pass through it, barely looking up, on their way to their destination, the cervix and uterus. That’s where the real medical action happens: ultrasounds, Pap smears, IUD insertion, childbirth.

If the vulva as a whole is an underappreciated city, the clitoris is a local roadside bar: little known, seldom considered, probably best avoided. “It’s completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, a urologist and sexual health specialist outside Washington, D.C. “There is no medical community that has taken ownership in the research, in the management, in the diagnosis of vulva-related conditions.”

Asked what she learned in medical school about the clitoris, Dr. Rubin replied, “Nothing that sticks out to my memory. If it got any mention, it would be a side note at best.”

Only years later, on a sexual-medicine fellowship with Dr. Goldstein, did she learn how to examine the vulva and the visible part of the clitoris, also known as the glans clitoris. The full clitoris, she learned, is a deep structure, made up largely of erectile tissue, that reaches into the pelvis and encircles the vagina.

Today, Dr. Rubin has appointed herself Washington’s premier “clitorologist.” The joke, of course, is that few are vying for the title — out of embarrassment, a lack of knowledge or fear of breaching propriety with patients. “Doctors love to focus on what we know,” she said. “And we don’t like to show weakness, that we don’t know something.”

19) Nice follow-up on the Beagle story, ‘Profit, pain and puppies: Inside the rescue of nearly 4,000 beagles”

20) Paul Waldman’s twitter thread needs to be an article I can assign to all my classes.


Quick hits (part I)

1) Jennifer Rubin on the GOP and antisemitism:

It’s routine for Republicans “who surely know better,” as the Atlantic’s Peter Wehner aptly described them, to claim that they don’t subscribe to these views or that those reacting to antisemitic statements are simply being “politically correct.” Let’s get real. To subscribe to a party that tolerates antisemitism and is headed by a figure who regularly spouts racist, antisemitic and misogynistic rhetoric is to condone and endorse the same.

Moreover, hatred toward minorities is no sideline for the GOP these days. White grievance, xenophobia, the “great replacement theory” and Confederate idolatry have taken center stage. They are the emotional levers by which Republicans incite their base and draw attention away from their rotten governance. Sure, Republicans might not deliver drinkable water. And yes, they have no plan to solve inflation. But by gosh, they are going to “own the libs” by demonizing minorities and consigning women to motherhood.

2) $40/kg is a lot for a steak, but, pretty cool for a 3D printed, meat-free steak.  This will only get better at economies of scale.  I look forward to our meatless future. 

3) Good stuff in a WP Editorial, “California made prison phone calls free. Others should follow.”

Imagine having to go into debt to stay in touch with a loved one — all while fearing for their safety and well-being. That is the grim reality facing 1 in 3 families of incarcerated people in the United States, thanks to the sky-high costs of phone calls from prison. So it is welcome news that California has moved against this cruel situation. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law to make all phone calls from state prisons free. Now it’s time for other states, and Congress, to act.

This represents a clear market failure. The prison phone industry is a near-duopoly: Two companies control between 74 and 83 percent of the market. That, coupled with the fact that many facilities select which companies to use based on kickbacks rather than service, has permitted rapacious corporations to charge exorbitant rates without consequence. The industry earns more than $1.4 billion annually, largely profiting off low-income, incarcerated people of color.

Allowing inmates to affordably speak to relatives and friends would be a more humane approach — and a more effective one. Studies have shown that frequent and consistent family phone calls reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation after release. In the long run, lowering phone costs could save taxpayers money and improve public safety.

4) I just had my students read this for class this past week and it’s about the best thing I’ve seen for understanding modern presidential primary campaigns.  Definitely worth your time, “Voters need help: How party insiders can make presidential primaries safer, fairer, and more democratic”

More specifically, we argue that:

  • Professional input makes the process more representative. Copious theory and evidence, dating back to the time of America’s Founders, show that nomination by plebiscite (popular vote) can collapse into randomness or minority capture, and it does not dependably aggregate and reflect the preferences of Democrats and Republicans. When many candidates are in the field, professionals help majorities and coalitions to form, and they help prevent minorities and factions from capturing the process.
  • Professional input strengthens quality control. Primary elections place insufficient emphasis on evaluating nominees with an eye toward competence at governing: that is, selecting individuals with traits such as coalition-building skill, connections to varied constituencies, ability to work with others, and IOUs to and from other politicians. Only professionals can fill that gap.
  • Professional input deters renegades. Combined with the party ballot’s accessibility to all comers, the plebiscitary nomination process opens the field to demagogues and charlatans. Party leaders have strong incentives to keep candidates off the party ballot who are dangerous to both the party and democracy.
  • Professional input checks the power of billionaires and media elites. Influence in nominations has shifted dramatically toward actors who bear no responsibility for governing. Billionaires can bankroll themselves or favored candidates, while media elites propel those who break norms and generate conflict. Party professionals tend to favor candidates who are responsible to broad voter constituencies and other members of the governing party.
  • Professional input is widely acceptable to Americans. There is nothing undemocratic or un-American about professional vetting of nominees. To the contrary, even as the nation became more democratic and inclusive since its founding, formal and informal vetting of candidates by parties and professionals remained standard practice until just a decade or so ago. Even today, survey results indicate that most Americans support giving parties and professionals a voice in the process.
  • Restoring professional input is mechanically easy, but politically hard. Methods might include superdelegates, early votes of confidence, ratings or signoffs by party stalwarts, use of influence on debate participation, unbinding convention delegates, routing more campaign money through the party organizations, and many more possibilities. The harder challenge is pushing back against democracy fundamentalism, the idea that more democratization is always good for democracy—something which the Founders knew is not true.

We do not claim that primary elections have no place or serve no purpose. To the contrary: They test candidates’ abilities to excite voters, raise money, and campaign effectively; they provide points of entry for fresh faces, ideas, and constituencies; they force candidates to refine their messages and prove their stamina. What we do claim is that primaries are insufficient. By themselves, they are only half of a functional nominating system.[1] Without professional input, the nominating process is fraught with risks that turn filling the country’s highest office into game of chance. If Democrats don’t think it can happen to them, they are deluding themselves.

5) Perry Bacon Jr on the case for the Democratic Party:

The Democratic Party’s voters (not necessarily its leaders) are what we want America to be. They are diverse on a number of dimensions, unified around laudable goals such as reducing economic and racial inequality, and actively trying to make the United States the best nation it can be.

Because the news media tries to cover both parties equally critically, the story of U.S. politics today is often depicted as an extreme Republican Party facing an almost-as-extreme Democratic Party dominated by over-educated elites who are hostile to the values of average Americans and leave them little choice but to vote Republican. But that’s an attempt to turn a one-sided problem into a two-sided one.

Being a consistent, stalwart Democratic voter today should not be dismissed as being overly partisan or unthinking. It’s common sense.

What unifies Democrats isn’t education or race but policy stances and values. Around 80 percent of Democrats support the Black Lives Matter movementraising the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hourstricter gun lawsfree public collegethe right to an abortionhigher taxes on the wealthy to redistribute income, and say that increased attention on America’s history of slavery and racism in recent years is a positive development.

Those are not out-there views. The majority of Americans agree with Democrats on nearly all of those positions.

More important, these are the morally correct stands. We tend to think the issues of our day are more nuanced than the issues of past eras. But being deeply committed to ending slavery was a controversial position in the 1850s, as was being deeply committed to ending racial segregation 100 years later. Today, describing the United States as having racial practices and systems that end up maintaining disparities between White and Black people even if individual people are not being explicitly racist (this is what critical race theory essentially argues) is so controversial that it’s being banned from being taught in public schools in conservative areas. But 50 or 100 years from now, I suspect people studying this period of U.S. history will conclude fairly easily that critical race theory was correct and that the bans on teaching it were just an assertion of White power over Black people.

And it’s not just that Democratic voters are on the right side of a host of issues, in a way that is obvious now and will be even clearer in a few decades. It’s also that the Democratic Party is very representative of the broader nation. The Republican Party is way more White (the GOP is about 85 percent White) than the country is (59 percent). About 60 percent of people who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 are White. About 60 percent of Democrats are Christian, Jewish or part of another major religion tradition, compared with around 70 percent of Americans nationally. About half of Democrats have a four-year college degree, as do about 40 percent adults overall.

6) You will not be surprised to learn I loved this in Persuasion, “Talking About John Fetterman’s Stroke Is Not Ableism”

But no matter how much journalists, activists, and the campaign might disagree, it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the health of a candidate running for one of the highest elected offices in the nation. Being a politician, especially a senator, is hard work. It requires long days negotiating with colleagues, listening to and giving speeches, sitting through hours of committee meetings, and the like. Physical and cognitive stamina are necessary to be effective. It’s valid for voters to ask whether or not Fetterman’s stroke would impact his job performance, and therefore his ability to effectively represent the people of Pennsylvania.

As recently as a few years ago, most people wouldn’t have denied that a stroke’s aftereffects are reasonable to consider when evaluating a Senate candidate. There is even a test case from 2016, when the Chicago Tribune explicitly cited Republican Senator Mark Kirk’s stroke as grounds for endorsing his Democratic challenger:

While a stroke by no means disqualifies anyone from public office, we cannot tiptoe around the issue of Kirk’s recovery and readiness. His health is a fundamental component of this race — a hotly contested matchup that could return control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. We aren’t physicians; Kirk’s doctor attests to his good cognitive health. But we are voters. And our reluctant judgment is that, due to forces beyond his control, Kirk no longer can perform to the fullest the job of a U.S. senator.

When this was published, there wasn’t any pushback of the sort that is coming now from the people and groups so aggressively defending Fetterman. The lack of outrage is likely because Kirk was a Republican and, more importantly, people recognized the validity of the Tribune’s concern. The unfortunate truth is that strokes can be life-changing events with aftereffects that never fully go away, and so asking questions about Fetterman’s health shouldn’t be out of bounds. The media and the Fetterman campaign should be addressing the issue head-on…

Reasonable people can, of course, disagree about the point at which honest concern veers into genuinely offensive prejudice. Unfortunately, Fetterman’s challenger Mehmet Oz, and some right-wing media figures, are guilty of the latter. Oz’s campaign joked that “if John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.” Fox News’s Tucker Carlson made comments that were even more off-color when discussing the closed captioning that Fetterman used in the NBC interview: “Here you have one of the most famous politicians in the country merging with a computer … where exactly does the software end and John Fetterman’s consciousness begin?” 

It’s a shame that Fetterman’s allies have refused to differentiate between these types of attacks and earnest concern about Fetterman’s health. Though they might not realize it, those who fail to make this distinction are hurting their own cause; their public frustration has brought more attention to the issue of Fetterman’s health than the NBC interview alone ever would have. Likewise, a great number of Pennsylvanians are probably seeing charges of ableism and just rolling their eyes at yet another instance of tone policing from the left.  

7) I love Yglesias‘ distillation of politics here in his weekly Q&A:

Mark: Right wing activists on abortion and other issues are much more disciplined and strategic than left wing activists, whose theory of change is basically 1) throw soup on painting, 2) ???, 3) profit. But the voting bases are basically the opposite, where the GOP primary consistently elects insane people to lose winnable races, while Democratic primaries mostly nominate widely acceptable candidates. How do you explain this contrast?

If you go back to the origins of electoral democracy 200-300 years ago, you see a basic issue that emerges quickly — the median voter is always poorer than the national mean, so there is a potential electoral majority for redistribution.

There is a set of political forces — the right — that wants to resist that redistribution. And there is a contrary set of forces — the left — that wants to encourage it. The left’s strategy is to make this dynamic explicit and transparent — we the people can seize the levers of power and make ourselves better off. And the right’s strategy is to obfuscate — the left will denigrate God, endanger public safety, weaken our national defenses, and so forth. That’s politics boiled down to its essence.

But this in turn gives rise to the characteristic flaws of the left and the right.

On the left, that’s a kind of romanticism about politics that holds that every issue comes down to the masses versus narrow moneyed elites. It denies that the people themselves may just be wrong or short-sighted, so it believes that the answer to every problem is to raise the temperature with more dramatic stunts and “calling out.”

On the right, it’s a fondness for conmen and grifters. Because right-wing politics is organized as a conspiracy to mislead people into not voting to give themselves more money, it creates structures that elevate and reward hucksters and flim-flam artists. GOP politicians and conservative media figures elevated Donald Trump as a political spokesman in the Obama years not despite the fact that he’s a fraud and a liar but because he’s a fraud and a liar. They know it would be toxic to put a professor up there to tell people about the Chamley-Judd theorem and why we should cut capital gains taxes. You need someone who’s going to talk about Mexican rapists and how Obama is secretly Kenyan.

8) Unsurprisingly, I really enjoyed this NatGeo take on plant-based meat:

A single hamburger is by all measures an unsustainable product, requiring 660 gallons of water to produce, including lettuce, tomato, and a bun. And yet we’ve come to expect this subsidized luxury, the result of tens of billions of dollars in annual U.S. reimbursements to the meat and dairy industries over the past decade (versus a fraction of that subsidizing fruits and veggies). None of meat’s true cost—ethical, environmental, or nutritional—really matters to most people, an Arby’s restaurant executive told me in 2019. He also vowed that his company would never sell plant meat, because, as he declared, “people are not going to pay more for something that tastes worse.”…

My biggest shock recently was a chicken breast made with mycelium, the subterranean heart of a mushroom. It looked like a giant breaded guitar pick but flavorwise was so indistinguishable from breaded baked chicken that I wondered, from a practical standpoint, why we still bother raising chickens (or portobellos for that matter). Yet no company is good at making everything. When I tried the same vendor’s steak, made from the same mycelium, it had the texture of an aged fillet but the odor of a subway pole.

I watch the plant-based meat industry like I watch the Chicago Bears—with marvel, skepticism, and frequent disappointment.

But truth be told, much of the world solved its meat addiction millennia ago. Examine cuisines across the world, and you’ll see that cultures have evolved to harvest protein without meat.

I am not simply referring to the original plant meats: tofu, commonly thought to have been invented during the Han dynasty circa 150 B.C., or seitan, thought to have been developed in the area even earlier. In Mexico, corn tortillas and beans marry the essential amino acids to create a complete protein. Across South America, it’s beans and rice. In Ethiopia, it’s lentils and the ancient grain teff. And in India, ground rice and black gram, a relative of the mung bean, ferment together into a batter used to make steamed idli cakes and crisp dosas.

It’s difficult to imagine the human sacrifices that brought our culture this incredible knowledge. How many poisonous things did we eat before we learned that rice was worth cultivating? How many generations were malnourished until a tribe realized that one family—stronger and healthier than the rest—always ate certain plants in combination?

The first amino acid wasn’t discovered until 1806 (from asparagus, by the way). The last wasn’t discovered for another 120 or 130 years. By the time scientists found the 20 amino acids inside a complete protein, cultures had been reverse-engineering them into their diets for thousands of years.

Through this historical lens, I will admit that I begin to see plant meat differently—and for what it really is.

Consider that when we talk of the pea protein inside any popular plant burger, it’s not made from garden-fresh green peas but from an ingredient many Americans ignore in the grocery’s ethnic foods aisle: the split yellow peas cooked into popular Indian dals. Here, the cutting-edge combination of pea protein and rice in a plant-based burger is not particularly novel or unique. Rather, it is what the West does best: We have reconstituted tradition into a logo.

Repackaging these staple proteins as “meat” is more than a hot business trend; it is the colonialization of the global diet. We’re Americanizing and corporatizing the very components behind historical, meatless world cuisines that have successfully and satisfyingly fed countless generations.

9) The Clearer Thinking “World’s Biggest Problems” quiz was so much fun!  I did pretty well, I think.

10) Here’s a fun graph from it:

Deadliest animals 01

11) And a cool video about nuclear winter:

12) Are Republican Senators better at politics than Democrats?  Maybe.  When pro-life interests pushed hard for a legislative push on banning abortion, they basically said, forget it, we have elections to win:

On September 19, Republican senators received a letter from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America warning them in no uncertain terms that they needed to publicly back a proposed national ban on abortion within days — or risk taking a hit on their prized candidate scores.

Few budged. [all bold in original] The pressure campaign angered Republicans, who are still wary of the politics around the bill, authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Within weeks, the same group had sent a follow-up letter toning down their demands and extending their deadline.

In the initial letter to lawmakers, obtained by Semafor, senators were given a deadline of September 30 — the date bolded, underlined, italicized and highlighted for emphasis — to sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor.

At the point the letter was sent, Graham’s bill was co-sponsored by only three more senators, according to Congress.gov: Steve Daines, Marco Rubio and Kevin Cramer. That number ticked up to nine after SBA’s warning.

But Graham’s bill proved divisive within the party. Publicly, prominent Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they prefer to leave the issue to the states. Privately, there was frustration with the outside push from anti-abortion groups to back a national ban just as candidates were trying to find their footing in must-win races.

“We should be able to reasonably disagree on the best pro-life legislative strategy at this exact moment,” a Republican staffer familiar with the conversation around the SBA letter told Semafor. “Threatening pro-life senators with a reduced score unless they adopt a policy only previously discussed by SBA and Graham is divisive, and it’s going to make their scorecard look silly. SBA is overplaying their hand, and offices will remember this attempt to strong-arm us.”

The backlash seemed to have had an impact. In a follow-up letter on October 4, after the bill’s support had stalled, SBA made an apparent concession and told members they would “continue to add cosponsorship recognition” up to election day. They also noted they had “received questions” about how the bill would affect member scores, and that while “votes weighed most heavily” in their evaluations, they would also consider “the totality of each member’s pro-life activity.”

13) Nice interview with the always interesting David Hopkins on what a Republican Congress would do:

Graham Vyse: How do you understand the key aspects of the agenda U.S. Republicans will pursue if they win back power in Congress?

David A. Hopkins: Their agenda will have two parts: The first is about legislation and policy; the second, investigations. The Republicans’ legislative ambitions mostly relate to standard conservative policies, as they laid out in their Commitment to America policy platform introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives—though there’s more of an emphasis there than there has been in the past on cultural issues. Of course, Republicans won’t be able to achieve any of their legislative ambitions on their own, given President Joe Biden’s ability to veto legislation. But they will be able to use the subpoena power of congressional committees—and the public attention you can get from that power in conducting oversight hearings—to investigate their political opponents, including the Biden administration, Biden’s family, and the technology companies they accuse of discriminating against conservative users.

The last time there was both a Democratic House and a Republican president in the United States, the president was impeached twice. The last time there was a Republican House and a Democratic president, the Republican speaker got run out of town by his own party. So if you’re the presumptive speaker in the next Congress, Kevin McCarthy, one lesson you’re likely to take from recent American history is that there will be tremendous pressure from within your party to attack major Democratic and liberal targets. Now, that might not mean impeaching President Biden, but it certainly might mean investigating his family—or trying to impeach a cabinet official or some other senior member of the administration. Another lesson you’re likely to absorb is that if you don’t satisfy your party’s quests for political retribution, you could easily end up on the firing line yourself..

Vyse: Would you say they’re facing more pressure from their base—and from conservative media—than they would have faced in the past?

Hopkins: Conservative media keeps growing more powerful within the Republican Party in America. It was stronger during Donald Trump’s presidency than it was during George W. Bush’s presidency. The Fox News host Sean Hannity essentially recruited Herschel Walker to run for the Senate in Georgia this year. [Walker, a former American football star and emphatically right-wing politician, is now the Republican nominee.] There’s less and less of a distinction between the Republican Party and the American conservative media universe. The conservative media is now functionally a part of the party in a lot of ways.

Republican members of Congress are going to need to show their base that they’re doing something. Actually passing legislation is going to be really tough, and a lot of what their base is demanding isn’t about passing legislation; it’s about waging a broad symbolic war against the left.

Vyse: Why is that?

Hopkins: Conservative voters have come to understand politics as largely a symbolic, cultural battle. They don’t necessarily want a lot of policy changes; that’s not necessarily what they’re asking for. A lot of what they’re asking for—and what conservative media encourages them to ask for—are gestures of superiority over Democrats and the left.

Similarly, a lot of what people liked about Trump didn’t have to do with his policies, and his lack of many legislative accomplishments in office didn’t reduce his appeal with his base. Much of Trump’s appeal came from his daily combativeness against liberals, the media, celebrities, and anyone who opposed him. That’s what his bond with his supporters was largely based on. [emphasis mine]

This dynamic wouldn’t have held true for a Democratic president. Contemporary Democratic voters have a different set of expectations for their leaders, which are much more centered on legislative accomplishments and policy achievements.

Now, I do think that the average Republican member of Congress has policy goals, even if those goals won’t necessarily get a lot of attention in conservative media. They want to try to cut taxes and regulations and to oppose liberal expansions of the government—and they may have some points of leverage, including around the U.S. debt limit.

14) Drum on the Republicans improvement in the polls:

Democrats seemed to be doing well this summer as their approval level surged following the Dobbs decision. But now Republicans are surging back. This is partly because the out party always does well in midterm elections, but David Brooks thinks there’s more to it:

The Trumpified G.O.P. deserves to be a marginalized and disgraced force in American life. But I’ve been watching the campaign speeches by people like Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona. G.O.P. candidates are telling a very clear class/culture/status war narrative in which common-sense Americans are being assaulted by elite progressives who let the homeless take over the streets, teach sex ed to 5-year-olds, manufacture fake news, run woke corporations, open the border and refuse to do anything about fentanyl deaths and the sorts of things that affect regular people.

Sure, I guess. But this is the farthest thing imaginable from something new. The details change from election to election, but this narrative began with Richard Nixon and became fully weaponized by Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s. It’s been part of the core Republican message for 50 years, and it’s been their nearly exclusive message for the past 20.

The most discouraging part of this is not that Republicans do it. What do you expect an opposition party to do? The discouraging part is that after 50 years Democrats still have no idea how to fight it.

It’s not that we lose every culture war battle. In fact, we win quite a few. But when Republicans sense weakness, they circle the wagons and beat the class war drums loudly and in unison. That’s what we don’t know how to fight.

Practically all the evidence suggests the United States is fundamentally a strong country right now. Probably the strongest in the world, and with the brightest future. It’s extraordinary to think of just how good a place it could be if only we could figure out a way to overcome the debilitating fear that so many people still have of progress and change.

15) I really enjoyed Katherine Wu on the bivalent boosters, especially about the under-studies randomness of side effect responses. I too have a spouse that is significantly annoyed by my minimal comparative side effects:

“Why don’t you feel anything?” my spouse howled at me from the bedroom, where his sweat was soaking through the sheets. “Sorry,” I yelled back from the kitchen, where I was prepping four days’ worth of meals between work calls after returning from an eight-mile run…

On average, then, mRNA-vaxxed people can probably expect to have an annual experience that’s pretty similar to the one they had with their first COVID booster. As studies have shown, that one was actually better for most people than dose No. 2, the most unpleasant of the injections so far. (The math, of course, becomes tougher for people getting another vaccine, such as the flu shot, at the same time.) There are probably two main reasons why side effects have lessened overall, experts told me. First, the spacing: Most people received the second dose in their Pfizer or Moderna primary series just three or four weeks after the first. That’s an efficient way to get a lot of people “fully vaccinated” in a short period of time, but it means that many of the immune system’s defensive cells and molecules will still be on high alert. The second shot could end up fanning a blaze of inflammation that was never quite put out. In line with that, researchers have found that spacing out the primary-series doses to eight weeks, 12 weeks, or even longer can prune some side effects.

Dose matters a lot too: Vaccines are, in a way, stimulants meant to goad the immune system into reacting; bigger servings should induce bigger jolts. When vaccine makers were tinkering with their recipes in early trials, higher doses—including ones that were deemed too large for further testing—produced more side effects. Each injection in Moderna’s primary series contains more than three times the mRNA packaged into Pfizer’s, and Moderna has, on average, caused more intense side effects. But Moderna’s booster and bivalent doses contain a smaller scoop of the stimulating material: People 12 and older, for instance, get 50 micrograms instead of the 100 micrograms in each primary dose; kids 6 to 11 years old get 25 micrograms instead of 50. (All of Pfizer’s doses stay the same size across primaries and boosters, as long as people stay in the same age group.) People who switch between brands, then, may also notice a difference in symptoms…

The fact that I get fewer side effects than my spouse does not imply that I’m any less protected. A ton of factors—genetics, hormone levels, age, diet, sleep, stress, pain tolerance, and more—could potentially influence how someone experiences a shot. Women tend to have more reactive bodies, as do younger people. But there are exceptions to those trends: I’m one of them. The whole topic is understudied, Locci told me.

16) Vox with a nice feature on the NC Senate race (even if they didn’t talk to me).

DURHAM, North Carolina — Before locals packed inside Beyú Caffè in downtown Durham on a Tuesday evening in October, Rheba Heggs arrived early to save her seat. A retired attorney, she had come to see Democrat Cheri Beasley, who could become the first Black person to represent North Carolina in the US Senate.

A Black woman herself, Heggs visited North Carolina as a girl, decades before she relocated to the state to be closer to her grandchildren, and well before desegregation was complete. In the front row at Beyú Caffè, she was giddy with caffeine, and hopeful about witnessing history.

“I listened to … [Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown] Jackson the last few days. That is something I never expected to see in my lifetime. … This is the result of all the women who have come before, not just Black women, pushing,” Heggs said. “If [Cheri Beasley] wins — when she wins, it means so much. But it also means that the Senate becomes a working institution.”

North Carolina hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in more than a decade, and most thought this year, with its tough climate for Democrats, would go the same way. But the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr is actually competitive, with FiveThirtyEight’s tracking poll showing Republican Rep. Ted Budd with a less than 2 percentage point lead over Beasley, former chief justice of the state supreme court. Both are now attracting big spending from their parties and outside groups, with the Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC announcing an additional $4 million investment Thursday.

Even with polls close, Beasley has a tougher task ahead than Budd in the closing weeks of the campaign. There’s the recent history of close federal races slipping away from the state’s Democrats and the long history of parties in power struggling during the midterms. She has to thread a needle to assemble a coalition of enthusiastic urban, suburban, and Black voters while mitigating losses in increasingly red rural areas. But Beasley may be close to doing that, and defying history despite initially tepid investment from national Democrats.

That said, the two polls out since this article (though, only two polls) aren’t great.

17) Monkey Cage, “Why resentful rural Americans vote Republican”

As the midterms approach, political observers are once again talking about the widening divide between urban and rural voters. Over the past 25 years, rural areas have increasingly voted Republican while cities have increasingly voted Democratic — a dividing line that has replaced the North/South divide as the nation’s biggest source of political friction. That divide will influence which party takes control of Congress in January.

But why are rural and urban voters so sharply divided? Some scholars and pundits argue that it comes down to who lives where: that the disproportionately White, older, more religious, less affluent and less highly educated voters who live in rural areas are more likely to hold socially conservative views generally championed by Republicans. Meanwhile, urban areas are filled with younger, more racially diverse, more highly educated and more affluent people who hold the more socially liberal views generally championed by Democrats.

While all that matters, our new research shows that place itself also matters. Unlike Republican voters in suburbs and the cities, rural voters care about what we might call “geographic inequity” — the idea that rural areas receive less than their fair share from the government, are ignored by politicians, and are mocked and derided in popular culture. Without these beliefs, the urban-rural political divide would not be as vast as it is today…

Political scientist Katherine Cramer defines rural resentment as focused on three things. First concerns redistribution, or the belief that rural areas don’t receive their fair share of government resources and benefits. Second is representation, or the perception that most politicians ignore rural residents. And third, a sense of being culturally overlooked, that rural lifestyles and cultures don’t get the same respect as those of urban and suburban communities…

18) Big thanks to BB for sharing this twitter thread on how hard it is to actually have a playoff series be a reasonably reliable indicator of who the better team is.  And this related post.

19) Remember the missing crabs.  Excellent thread on the interaction between climate and overfishing.

20) Interesting study on just how much YouTube actually sends people down rabbit holes.

Contrary to popular concern, we do not find evidence that YouTube is leading many users down rabbit holes or into (significant) ideological echo chambers via its recommendation algorithm. While we do not find compelling evidence that these rabbit holes exist at scale, this does not mean that some that the experiences of the small number of individuals who encounter extremist content due to algorithmic recommendations are not consequential, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t be worried about the possibility for users to find harmful content online if they go searching for it. However, as we consider ways to make our online information ecosystem safer, it’s critical to understand the various facets of the problem.

While our study was designed to test whether the algorithm leads users down rabbit holes, into echo chambers, or in a particular ideological direction, these outcomes could still emerge from user choice (recall that the recommendations in our study were collected without user choice). So, for example, a well known article by Baskhy et al. shows that Facebook recommended an ideologically diverse array of content but users consistently clicked on ideologically congruent content. In another study of YouTube, Chen et al. found that other platform features—subscriptions and channel features—were the primary path by which users encountered anti-social content.

Furthermore, other platforms, like 4chan, are hotbeds for extremist content. Indeed, if an individual is bound and determined to jump down a rabbit hole online, they can do so fairly easily. What we explore in our work is incidental exposure: that is, users who are perusing content and encounter harmful content by accident, subsequently leading them down a rabbit hole. While recommendation systems may play a small role in this type of incidental exposure, we do not find significant evidence that they drive consumption of harmful content (at least on YouTube). Other studies have found that harmful content is often encountered off-platform via link sharing, driving users to extreme places on YouTube via the internet at large rather than the recommendation algorithm. That’s what makes this problem tricky. If it’s not just the recommendation engine and instead it’s the entire online ecosystem, then how do we fix it?

Our findings are consistent with—and add additional evidence to—a growing body of research showing that YouTube is not consistently pushing harmful or polarizing content to their users but rather that users self-select into viewing the content when offered. Collectively, the research suggests that there is unlikely to be one technological panacea to reducing the consumption of harmful content on YouTube. Instead, we need to be sure we focus both on the amount of harmful content online as well as the (many) paths which users might take to this content. Focusing solely on the role of YouTube’s algorithm in advertently luring people to extremist content may make for great headlines, but our research suggests that this alone is not going to get us at the crux of the problem.

21) Important new research on the insidious impact of Fox:

COVID-19 vaccines have reduced infections and hospitalizations across the globe, yet resistance to vaccination remains strong. This paper investigates the role of cable television news in vaccine hesitancy and associated local vaccination rates in the United States. We find that, in the earlier stages of the vaccine roll-out (starting May 2021), higher local viewership of Fox News Channel has been associated with lower local vaccination rates. We can verify that this association is causal using exogenous geographical variation in the channel lineup. The effect is driven by younger individuals (under 65 years of age), for whom COVID-19 has a low mortality risk. Consistent with changes in beliefs about the effectiveness of the vaccine as a mechanism, we find that Fox News increased reported vaccine hesitancy in local survey responses. We can rule out that the effect is due to differences in partisanship, to local health policies, or to local COVID-19 infections or death rates. The other two major television networks, CNN and MSNBC, have no effect. That, in turn, indicates that more differentiated characteristics, like the networks’ messaging or tendency for controversy, matter and that the effect of Fox News on COVID-19 vaccine uptake is not due to the general consumption of cable news. We also show that there is no historical effect of Fox News on flu vaccination rates, suggesting that the effect is COVID-19-specific and not driven by general skepticism toward vaccines.

22) Really cool post from Jeremy Faust on how ER docs think about treating their patients, “Two questions about headaches that ER doctors always ask—and the one they don’t, but should.”

And in general, an ER physicians’ job is sorting out which patients have “dangerous headaches” including subarachnoids, and which ones have bothersome headaches which need symptom control, but no further action. Again, most headaches (even extremely painful ones) are benign. But headaches that are different from anything a patient has previously experienced should be checked out.

Fewer than 1% of patients who come to the ER with a headache have a subarachnoid hemorrhage. If we ordered CT scans or MRIs on everyone with a headache, the system would break down and patients wouldn’t benefit. There aren’t enough scanners and not enough radiologists to interpret them. The system would grind to a halt, causing delays in diagnosing other time-sensitive conditions. Plus, we’d be harming patients by scanning all comers with headaches. Yes, the scans are low risk (though they add hours to an ER visit), but there’s radiation to consider, and the harms stemming from false positives (i.e., findings which look like disease, but are not). False positives often lead to further tests, leading to “medical misadventures.” Occasionally, a rare but significant complication occurs, which is particularly tragic when the procedure that caused it was unnecessary in the first place.

The goal is to only scan perhaps 10% of ER patients with headaches, and yet never miss a single dangerous condition. Doing this is a huge aspect of emergency medicine as a cognitive discipline.

23) Very good post from Yglesias, “Elon Musk’s business ties deserve more scrutiny”

Dozens of different controversies are swirling around Elon Musk at any given time, most of them related to people being angry and/or thrilled by the idea of a rich businessman vocalizing right-of-center political opinions.

What has gotten lost in this discourse is a more boring — but, I think, more significant — concern about his possible takeover of Twitter. This is because Musk, like most global manufacturing executives these days, has extensive business dealings with China. And while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it means Musk has to watch what he says regarding the PRC, not just in his personal capacity as a business executive but potentially in his institutional role as well. And he’s not alone; Apple TV+, for example, has a rule that none of its content can portray China negatively.

That’s an unfortunate but straightforward consequence of Apple TV+ being so small compared to Apple’s core business of making and selling smartphones: they compromise the content business for the sake of the manufacturing business. The good news for the world is that Apple TV+ is a very small share of western cultural output. They’re doing well with niche content (I love “For All Mankind”), and they won an Oscar for “Coda.” But it’s a small service in the scheme of things.

The problem for the world is that Twitter would be the Apple TV+ of Elon Musk’s enterprises, much smaller and less important than Tesla, so its interests will always be sacrificed to advance Tesla’s interests. And Tesla, like Apple’s hardware business, is deeply enmeshed in China. But Twitter is much more important to global politics and culture than Apple TV+. That’s the whole reason the Musk/Twitter saga has been such a subject of fascination. Twitter is one of a handful of other influential media properties — The New York Times, the three cable networks, AM talk radio stations — that exert a cultural and political influence that far exceeds their modest financial footprints. Apple executives are much less polarizing and controversial than Musk. But pretty much everyone on both the left and right knows they’re a bit squirrelly about China for business reasons. And if they bought the New York Times, that would have dire implications for the integrity of their China coverage.

Musk is mercurial and I won’t pretend to be able to predict what he will do. But I think his business relationships with China and tendency to take pro-PRC positions in his public statements raise some disturbing questions about the future of Twitter that deserve much more scrutiny relative to the concern that he won’t be strict enough in policing hate speech.

24) Our current federal marijuana policy is just stupid.  Marijuana should be legal.  But that does not mean its an unalloyed good and we should take its potential harms to youth seriously.  Leanna Wen:

The dominant narrative about marijuana seems to be that it is harmless. Indeed, 19 states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, and young people are increasingly nonchalant about using it. One study shows nearly half of college students said they consumed marijuana. Eight percent reported they used it daily or nearly every day. One in 5 high school students used marijuana in the preceding 30 days.

But there are real dangers associated with the substance, as a 2020 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showsAbundant research demonstrates how exposure to marijuana during childhood impacts later cognitive ability, including memory, attention, motivation and learning. Studies have linked regular cannabis use in adolescents with lower IQs in adulthood and higher propensity to drop out of high school. This association persists in college-age students. One large study followed college students and found frequency of marijuana use to correlate with skipping classes, lower grade-point average and longer time to graduation.

Some studies have also linked frequent cannabis use in youths to increased rates of schizophreniadepression and anxiety. One Lancet article reported that smoking high-potency marijuana every day increased the chance of developing psychosis by nearly five times.

More research is needed on whether the causality could be the other way around — perhaps those predisposed to mental health diagnoses are more likely to seek out marijuana. But as Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist and the director of NIDA, told me, “Based on the data we already have, we can clearly say that marijuana is not a benign drug, especially for children and adolescents.”

25) Talk about overdue! “The US Is Finally Considering Protections Against Salmonella

Last week, responding to pressure from these groups, the US Department of Agriculture announced that it is considering reforms to the way it regulates the processing and sale of raw poultry, the largest single source of salmonella infections. If the changes go through, they will give that agency the power to monitor salmonella contamination in live birds and slaughterhouses, and the power to force producers to recall contaminated meat from the marketplace.

The agency doesn’t have those powers now, even though salmonella causes more serious illnesses than any other foodborne pathogen. It sickens about 1.35 million people in the US each year; about 26,500 of them end up in the hospital, and 420 die. At its mildest, it causes fever and diarrhea that can last up to a week. But because it can migrate to the bloodstream and invade bones, joints, and the nervous system, it often leaves victims with arthritis and circulatory problems.

Today, the USDA can only ask meat producers to voluntarily recall their products, and companies don’t always move as rapidly as the agency would wish. That leaves consumers vulnerable to threats they do not know exist…

It might come as a surprise that the USDA didn’t already have this authority. But that agency (which regulates meat, poultry, and eggs; the US Food and Drug Administration oversees everything else) can force recalls only for contamination with one specific, small group of organisms: E. coli O157:H7 and a few related strains, which make toxins that destroy red blood cells. It got that power during the shocked national reaction to a 1993 outbreak that sickened 732 kids who ate hamburgers from the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. That outbreak killed four and left 178 with kidney and brain damage.


Voter fraud fraud in Florida

When the state tells you can vote and gives you a voter ID card and lets you vote, they really shouldn’t be able to arrest you for voting, potentially subject to 5 years in prison.  Alas, welcome to Ron Desantis’ Florida.  That man is evil.  Details:

TALLAHASSEE — A Florida voting rights group is calling on state officials to fix what it says is a “broken” Florida voting system after videos of felons being arrested on charges related to voting illegally in 2020 went viral this week.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which led the 2018 effort to allow Floridians with felony convictions to vote, is also urging people to sign a petition for state and local prosecutors to “immediately stop arrests” of people with felonies on their records for voting…

Videos of Floridians arrested by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new elections security force, first published by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald on Tuesday, revealed a personal glimpse of the effects ofthe governor’s efforts to root out perceived voter fraud.

The videos, in which the people being arrested appeared confused about the voter fraud charges, sparked immediate outrage and garnered millions of views on Twitter.

The 19 people charged with voting illegally all have sex offenses or murder charges on their records and are not allowed to vote. Yet they were all given voter ID cards after initial checks by the Department of State and they voted in the 2020 election… [emphases mine]

When someone registers, Florida’s Division of Elections conducts basic checks to verify that the person is real. The division will later flag people for follow-up investigations, but those investigations have become far more complicated since Florida started allowing some felons — but not all — to vote in 2018.

The 2018 amendment and subsequent rule that felons must pay off all fines and fees to register to vote have caused debate and confusion among officials and would-be voters alike.

During a federal trial in 2020, Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews testified that her “understaffed” office was “struggling” to come up with a process for identifying ineligible felons.

She testified the office had a backlog of 85,000 registration applications that had been flagged, and her team of 20 was able to process only 57 per day.

The Division of Elections has roughly the same number of employees today as it did in 2005, although the number of registered voters in Florida has increased by roughly 50% since then.

This year, state lawmakers signed off on $1 million to hire 15 new positions to help speed the process. At DeSantis’ request, they invested another $2.6 million to hire 10 new state police and hire 15 people for the newly-created Office of Election Crimes and Security.

Murder is bad. Sex offenses are bad. But that doesn’t change the fact that setting up a system where it is extremely difficult to know whether voting rights are restored, literally issuing voter ID cards to non-eligible voters, and then arresting them for voting is… bad! And, of course, millions of dollars for basically a non-problem when they should be spending the money on basic administration of voter registration and eligibility.  Just so wrong.

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