Make more friends– and do stuff with them!

Two very much talked-about articles on adult friendship the past week.  First Bryce Ward uses time-use data to show just how much less time Americans are spending with friends (this trend pre-dates the pandemic).  You should read this, so, gift link.  

And now for the scarier news: Our social lives were withering dramatically before covid-19. Between 2014 and 2019, time spent with friends went down (and time spent alone went up) by more than it did during the pandemic.

According to the Census Bureau’s American Time Use Survey, the amount of time the average American spent with friends was stable, at 6½ hours per week, between 2010 and 2013. Then, in 2014, time spent with friends began to decline.

By 2019, the average American was spending only four hours per week with friends (a sharp, 37 percent decline from five years before). Social media, political polarization and new technologies all played a role in the drop. (It is notable that market penetration for smartphones crossed 50 percent in 2014.)…

Similar declines can be seen even when the definition of “friends” is expanded to include neighbors, co-workers and clients. The average American spent 15 hours per week with this broader group of friends a decade ago, 12 hours per week in 2019 and only 10 hours a week in 2021.

On average, Americans did not transfer that lost time to spouses, partners or children. Instead, they chose to be alone…
 
It is too soon to know the long-term consequences of this shift, but it seems safe to assume that the decline of our social lives is a worrisome development. Spending less time with friends is not a best practice by most standards, and it might contribute to other troubling social trends — isolation, worsening mental health (particularly among adolescents), rising aggressive behavior and violent crime. Americans rate activities as more meaningful and joyful when friends are present. Friends and social connections build on themselves and produce memories and fellowship. They also boost health and lead to better economic outcomes…

The potential harms of these trends are sufficient to demand that Americans devote some resources to understanding and reversing them.

You can help reverse these trends today without waiting for the researchers and policymakers to figure it all out. It’s the holidays: Don’t skip Thanksgiving with your family. Go to that holiday party (or throw one yourself). Go hang out with friends for coffee, or a hike, or in a museum, or a concert — whatever. You will feel better, create memories, boost your health, stumble across valuable information — and so will your companions.

Put effort into building relationships that you can count on in good times and bad because, as the song goes, that’s what friends are for. Besides, you just might have a good time.

Genuinely being at 99th percentile on the extraversion scale (yes, seriously) I’m always looking to do more stuff with friends.  If you know me, I can pretty much guarantee I’d like us to hang out more: than we actually do. And it won’t just feed my extraversion, the social science says it’s good for you– I’m looking at you, introverts :-).  

Quite relatedly, an interesting story on adult male friendships.  Men are just bad at this (I’ll make this another gift link)

Mr. Ritter’s close crew notwithstanding, American men appear to be stuck in a “friendship recession” — a trend that predates the Covid-19 pandemic but that seems to have accelerated over the past several years as loneliness levels have crept up worldwide. In a 2021 survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States, less than half of the men said they were truly satisfied with how many friends they had, while 15 percent said they had no close friends at all — a fivefold increase since 1990. That same survey found that men were less likely than women to rely on their friends for emotional support or to share their personal feelings with them…

The four strategies below won’t eliminate all of the obstacles that can stand in the way of deep male friendship, but they are a start.

Though Mr. Fager is mindful of speaking in generalities, he believes the challenges some men face in developing meaningful, platonic bonds boil down to how they’ve been socialized to equate masculinity with strength, competitiveness and stoicism, even as traditional gender norms have shifted. Those qualities can make close friendship tricky.

“If you look at little boys, they’re pretty open and affectionate with each other — and then something happens,” said Fred Rabinowitz, the chair of the psychology department at the University of Redlands and the author of “Deepening Group Psychotherapy With Men: Stories and Insights for the Journey.” Societal messages teach them that openness and emotional vulnerability are “taboo,” he said…

One simple way to practice being emotionally unguarded is to “tell your friends how you feel about them,” Mr. Fager said. “It’s just so important for your friends to know that you value the relationship — that you admire the person or you respect the person or you love the person.” He acknowledged that it might feel quite uncomfortable to call someone out of the blue and tell them that you love them; instead, consider sharing your appreciation after spending time together or on the heels of an emotional exchange.

“If you’ve already been there for your friend in some way, on the tail end of that, there is often an opening for some sort of acknowledgment of how much you value the relationship,” he said. If you feel discomfort, that is something to “be aware of and question where it is coming from,” Mr. Fager added…

Putting yourself out there and making it clear that you are looking for friends sounds fairly obvious, but Dr. Franco said she had been continually surprised by how many believed that adult friendships tend to form organically, as they do in childhood.

“Making friends as an adult requires initiative,” she said.

Dr. Franco advises people to put themselves in recurring social situations, by, for example, joining a club or a class, so that there is opportunity for getting to know new friends over time.

And she is an evangelist for going into those opportunities — and into any social situation — with the mind-set that the people you meet will enjoy your company, noting that research suggests people are usually better liked by strangers than they assume.

Plenty more good stuff.  Honestly, I feel that, to some degree, friendship is a numbers game.  I regularly “put myself out there” as they say and even if most of the time it doesn’t work, the reward is some great friends because I was willing to get past an initial awkward conversation or two.  But it is hard.  And something you need to work at.  And worth doing.  

I feel pretty fortunate in that it’s not that hard for me to make myself emotionally vulnerable.  But, it’s also true that this has undoubtedly always been easier with my female friends than most of my male friends.  But, my very best friends, sure we talk about sports and TV and stuff, but I also know how they feel and they know how I feel, and that’s a good thing.  

Derek Thompson is, of course, all over this, and already had a great podcast episode with Bryce Ward that is well worth a listen.  

Mass death is a policy trade-off that we just keep making

Overwhelmingly due to Republicans, of course, but, the point is that it is absolutely a policy choice. Great stuff from Tim Miller:

That reality is: This mass murder could have been prevented, but political leaders in Colorado Springs let it happen. They made a conscious choice that the lives of unarmed victims are less important than a lunatics’ right to acquire firearms. 

This is not hyperbole. I do not mean it in the esoteric “we all share responsibility” sense or as a broad critique of gun culture. I’m not even talking about the uptick in hateful rhetoric targeting the LGBT community which we’ve seen over the last few years and the impact it may have had on an attack on a drag show. 

I’m talking specifically about the existing laws in Colorado that were ignored by local officials.

In January 2020, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill instituting Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), which are commonly known as “red flag” laws. The ERPOs allow for temporary removal of firearms from people who are considered at risk of committing a violent act against themselves or others. Per the law, they can be initiated either by a family member or local police who then petition the court for review.  

In November, 2018 a poll showed that Coloradoans backed “red flag” laws overwhelmingly with 81 percent in favor and just 14 percent opposed. Polis, the guy who signed the law, was just reelected in a landslide, holding his opponent to under 40 percent of the vote. 

Yet despite the law’s widespread popularity and the fact that it does not in any way threaten the rights of law-abiding gun owners, 37 of the state’s 64 counties declared some form of “2nd Amendment Sanctuary” wherein the local police have refused to enforce the law. Among those “sanctuary” jurisdictions is El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, and site of the Club Q massacre…

That 0-fer is how we find ourselves in a situation where the perpetrator of a mass murder was able to legally purchase firearms (and keep them) despite being arrested just last year after he made a bomb threat thatled to a standoff at his mother’s home…

And here, from the Colorado Springs Gazette, is video of that encounter that he live streamed to Facebook. You can see him wearing tactical gear and calling cops “fucking shitheads.” He goes on to say  “If they breach, I’mma fucking blow it to holy hell. So, uh, go ahead and come on in, boys, lets fucking see it.” 

That’s right, this motherfucker had a standoff with local police where he threatened to blow them to bits.1

As a result of this incident, neighbors were evacuated from their homes. His mother, who was scared enough to call the cops, moved out of the house where she had been renting a room. And the perpetrator was charged with several crimes including kidnapping. 

But then, earlier this year, the charges were dropped, and the case file was sealed by the (Republican) district attorney’s office. Poof. 

What we have here is the most obvious case for an Extreme Risk Protection Order imaginable. His mom was afraid of him! He threatened violence against the police! 

Even if this is all a big misunderstanding, any reasonable police department would, as a  precautionary matter, want a judge to at least review whether a dude cosplaying as a cop killer in full tactical gear should have access to semi-autos. After all, Blue Lives Matter.

Not in El Paso County. 

Instead, Republican elected officials and the sheriff’s office decided that they wouldn’t even consider petitioning for such a protection. Because of their “principles.” These ideologues decided that a deranged murderer’s right to an AR-15 had primacy over state law and the interests of the people they serve and the lives of the victims whose bodies now lie cold.

The fact that this man could legally buy a gun is just beyond insane.  America’s gun laws (and enforcement are so broken.  Day after day Americans die and countless lives are shattered on this unholy alter of “2nd amendment!” and “responsible” gun ownership.  

Quick hits

1) I’ve got 3 free two-month subscriptions to Yglesias’ substack.  Let me know if you want one.

2) When the 2nd amendment impedes on the 1st amendment, that’s not great:

Across the country, openly carrying a gun in public is no longer just an exercise in self-defense — increasingly it is a soapbox for elevating one’s voice and, just as often, quieting someone else’s.

This month, armed protesters appeared outside an elections center in Phoenix, hurling baseless accusations that the election for governor had been stolen from the Republican, Kari Lake. In October, Proud Boys with guns joined a rally in Nashville where conservative lawmakers spoke against transgender medical treatments for minors.

In June, armed demonstrations around the United States amounted to nearly one a day. A group led by a former Republican state legislator protested a gay pride event in a public park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Men with guns interrupted a Juneteenth festival in Franklin, Tenn., handing out fliers claiming that white people were being replaced. Among the others were rallies in support of gun rights in Delaware and abortion rights in Georgia.

Whether at the local library, in a park or on Main Street, most of these incidents happen where Republicans have fought to expand the ability to bear arms in public, a movement bolstered by a recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to carry firearms outside the home. The loosening of limits has occurred as violent political rhetoric rises and the police in some places fear bloodshed among an armed populace on a hair trigger.

3) I did not realize the typical elite soccer game often has less than 50 minutes of the ball in play.  One possible solution, a 60 minute clock that stops (gasp!) 

4) I’m sure part 2 of this will be great, but I love the aviation only part from James Fallows, “Learning from Disasters: If aviators can do so, why won’t the press? Part 1.”

This post is about aviation. But really it’s about institutional self-correction. I intend it as a Part 1 setup to a Part 2 post coming up, about media and politics…

The connecting theme is how to learn from mistakes — as individuals, as companies and organizations, as a larger culture. Today I’ll discuss what happens what individuals and institutions do learn. Next, what happens when they don’t.

Summary version: Modern aviation is so incredibly safe because aviation has been so thorough and unsparing about facing and learning from its errors…

An under-appreciated miracle of modern society is how safe and reliable developed-country airlines have become. On a statistical basis, being aboard a North American or Western European airliner is about the safest thing you can do with your time, compared even with taking a walk or sitting in a chair1.

A big-picture illustration: Over the past 13-plus years, U.S. airlines have conducted well over ten billion “passenger journeys” — one person making one trip. And in those years, a total of two people, of the ten billion, have died in U.S. airline accidents. For comparison: on average two people in the U.S. die of gunshot wounds every 25 minutes around the clock. And two more die in car crashes every half hour. (Around 45,000 Americans died last year of gunshots, and around 42,000 in car crashes.)

How could the aviation system possibly have managed this? Airplanes weighing close to one million pounds hurtle into the sky, carrying hundreds of passengers who are separated by sheets of aluminum and plastic from air so cold and thin it would kill them quickly on exposure. Passengers gaze out at engines each up to 1/10th as powerful as those that sent Apollo 13 toward the moon. At the end of the journey the pilots bring the plane down on a precise strip of pavement—perhaps 60 seconds after the plane ahead of them in the queue, 60 seconds before the next one. And we take it all for granted—grumbling about the crowds and the hassle and the pretzels and the leg room, but safe.

The origins of this ongoing safety revolution is well chronicled; I spent several chapters on it in my book China Airborne. My point for now involves the aviation world’s relentless, unsparing, de-personalized, and highly systematized insistence on learning from whatever makes the system fail.

—On an informal level, this involves aviation magazines, newsletters, websites, and seminars—90% of which have titles like “What went wrong?” or “Breaking the accident chain.” It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you love flying and being in the air, much of your avocational reading will be articles in the “Anatomy of Disaster” category.2

5) I’ve had a really annoying cough (finally gone) the last couple of weeks.  Inspired my latest dive into the research on cough medicine.  And, as before, the reality is… suck it up, there’s not much you can do, but honey at least works somewhat. 

6) I’m only about half-way through Andor, but really enjoying it and especially liked this take:

It wasn’t until the sixth episode of the shape-shifting and genre-curious new “Star Wars” series “Andor” that I figured out what had been nagging at me. The episode, titled “The Eye,” centers on rebel fighters as they plan to infiltrate an imperial base. At the outset of this risky operation, the group splits into two teams. “Safe travels,” the leader of one team says to the other. Safe travels? I thought. What am I watching? Surely that was the moment to drop a “May the Force be with you.” But neither the Force nor the Jedi had been mentioned during the previous episodes. Indeed, the mystical mumbo-jumbo that saturates much of “Star Wars” is entirely absent from this series. There has been no discussion of the Dark Side or the Sith. Thus far, a single lightsabre has been waved.

I made a quick list of other “Star Wars” staples that the creators of “Andor” have eschewed. There are hardly any cute comic-relief characters speaking in bleeps, grunts, or cringey patois. Despite one quirky, lovable robot, the series is notably short on aliens and droids. All the major characters are human, and none hide their face behind a mask à la Darth Vader. (As if to emphasize this human-centeredness, Andy Serkis, who built his career playing the likes of Gollum and King Kong—as well as the ghoulish Supreme Leader Snoke in the most recent “Star Wars” trilogy—gives a striking performance as a prison-inmate leader, without any apparent aid from a bodysuit or C.G.I.) The plot of “Andor,” mercifully, doesn’t hinge on a love story—the only real romance is low-key and lesbian. And there is a decided lack of interest in paternity, which is as essential to much of “Star Wars” as it is to daytime talk shows. I began to wonder whether “Andor” was prestige TV masquerading as a “Star Wars” story.

7) We should’ve done better by our children during Covid:

Academic progress for American children plunged during the coronavirus pandemic. Now a growing body of research shows who was hurt the most, both confirming worst fears and adding some new ones.

Students who learned from home fared worse than those in classrooms, offering substantial evidence for one side of a hot political debate. High-poverty schools did worse than those filled with middle class and affluent kids, as many worried. And in a more surprising finding, older students, who have the least amount of time to make up losses, are recovering much more slowly from setbacks than younger children.

Most school districts saw declines, but the magnitude varied.
 
Those are the findings from more than a half-dozen studies published in recent months examining the pandemic’s toll on academic achievement. Across-the-board, they find big drops between spring 2019, before the pandemic hit, and spring 2021, one year in.

“The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes, leaving devastating learning losses in some districts and leaving many other districts untouched,” said Tom Kane, faculty director for the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.

Students made more progress last year, but it was nowhere near enough to make up for the losses already sustained.

“People were hoping, ‘Oh gosh, there’s going to be a lot of natural bounce back that occurs,’ and we did not see it last year,” Kane said. “Maybe it will happen this year, but I’m not sure there’s much evidence underlying that hope.”

The high price of distance learning

One of the fiercest debates during the pandemic’s first year was how quickly schools should reopen and how significant the ramifications would be of keeping them closed. We now have some answers…

A pile of evidence charts setbacks that were more severe the longer students stayed in virtual school. These studies examined the impact of in-person vs. remote education during the 2020-21school year, when policies varied widely. In Texas and Florida, Republican governors ordered schools to operate in person starting in fall 2020. Elsewhere, and often in big cities, resistance and fear of the virus among teachers and parents kept schools virtual for a year or longer.

Different studies rely on different data sets and describe the magnitude of the impact to varying degrees, but they all point in the same direction:

· A study using data from the testing company NWEA found modest academic declines for students who quickly returned to in-person classes in fall 2020. But achievement losses were far higher for those who learned from home, and they were most pronounced for students in high-poverty, mostly remote schools, widening long-standing racial and economic achievement gaps.

Students who were in person full-time during 2020-21 lost an average of 7.7 weeks of learning in math. But those who were in virtual class for more than half the year lost more than double that — an average of 19.8 weeks.

This research was based on NWEA assessments of 2.1 million students in 10,000 districts and analyzed by researchers at NWEA, Harvard and the American Institutes for Research.

8) There’s been a lot of speculation on a Trump 3rd party run if he doesn’t get the nomination.  Chait makes a strong case for otherwise:

But I think this idea misunderstands both Trump and the incentive structure of the Republican Party.

It is true that a world in which Trump has lost a primary to DeSantis is a world in which Trump feels very angry with DeSantis. But DeSantis is not the only person Trump feels angry with. Trump has spent the past several years simmering with anger at Joe Biden. And while a contested primary would make Trump resent DeSantis more than he does now, it’s hardly certain that it would make him hate DeSantis more than he hates Biden.

More important, it would be uncharacteristic for Trump to allow his grudges to get in the way of his clear self-interest. Trump does lash out wildly at anybody who disrespects him, but he also turns on a dime and makes friends with his former enemies. You can see this pattern in the way he lashed out at the likes of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio before reconciling on the basis of mutual interest.

What interests would Trump have in common with DeSantis? For one thing, DeSantis could offer Trump legal protection — either pardons or immunity from additional prosecution. Second, DeSantis already commands a massive fundraising network, and as the Republican nominee, he would hold enormous power over various revenue streams around the party, ranging from its scam PACs to its media outlets. DeSantis would be in a position to make sure Trump is very well compensated in return for an endorsement.

9) If you know what you want to buy, Amazon is great.  If you want to shop and see what’s available (for, I dunno, a step-in dog harness for a GSP) Amazon has turned into a complete joke.  This Washington Post piece shows how (free link so you can check it out). 

10) David Frum on guns in 2017. More relevant than ever, “The Rules of the Gun Debate”

A parable:

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

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

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

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

The deadliest mass shooting in American history has restarted the long debate whether something can be done to impede these recurring slaughters. That debate is conducted pursuant to rigid rules.

Rule 1. The measures to be debated must bear some relationship to the massacre that triggered the debate. If the killer acquired his weapons illegally, it’s out of bounds to point out how lethally easy it is to buy weapons legally. If the killer lacked a criminal record, it’s out of bounds to talk about the inadequacy of federal background checks. The topic for debate is not, “Why do so many Americans die from gunfire?” but “What one legal change would have prevented this most recent atrocity?”…

Rule 3. The debate must always honor the “responsible gun owners” who buy weapons for reasonable self-defense. Under Rule 1, these responsible persons are presumed to constitute the great majority of gun owners. It’s out of bounds to ask for some proof of this claimed responsibility, some form of training for example. It’s far out of bounds to propose measures that might impinge on owners: the alcohol or drug tests for example that are so often recommended for food stamp recipients or teen drivers.

11) Binyamin Applebaum, “Overconfident Regulators Caused the Ticketmaster Mess”

Before the federal government let Live Nation merge with Ticketmaster in 2010, it obtained some very solemn promises that the company would not use its newly acquired dominance in the business of selling tickets to take advantage of customers.

Ask a Taylor Swift fan how well that has worked out.

Ticketmaster’s website was overwhelmed last week by people seeking tickets for Ms. Swift’s upcoming concert tour. It was inevitable that most people who wanted tickets wouldn’t be able to buy them. There aren’t enough to go around. But crashes, bugs and error messages left many people feeling they never really had a chance.

Monopolies raise prices, but that’s not the only reason Americans should be worried about the rise of corporate concentration. Companies with market power also tend to get lazy. They stop trying to deliver the best possible product. Jonathan Skrmetti, the Republican attorney general of Tennessee, told The Washington Post that Ticketmaster’s customer service problems raised the question of whether “because they have such a dominant market position, they felt like they didn’t have to worry about that.”

That’s an important question, and it raises another one: Why do antitrust regulators keep getting tricked by companies that don’t keep their promises?

The federal government in recent decades has blessed the vast majority of proposed corporate mergers. And even when regulators have concluded that a merger is not in the public interest, they have often sought to address concerns by imposing conditions rather than blocking the deal. In effect, the government has adopted the strategy of asking companies to refrain from taking full advantage of their power.

12) Science! “Turns Out Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes Actually Works: New evidence indicates that an effort to stamp out disease-carrying insects is working. The key? Mosquitoes genetically engineered to kill off their own kind.”

HE Aedes aegypti mosquito is not just a nuisance—it’s a known carrier of dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, and Zika viruses. Distinguished by the black and white stripes on its legs, the species is one of the most dangerous to humans.

In the Brazilian city of Indaiatuba, an effort is underway to eliminate these pests before they have a chance to spread illness. The weapon: more Aedes aegypti mosquitoes—but ones genetically engineered to kill their own kind. Made by British biotechnology firm Oxitec, the mosquitoes seem to be working. 

The modified mosquitoes carry a synthetic self-limiting gene that prevents female offspring from surviving. This is important, because only the females bite and transmit disease. In a new study, scientists at the company showed that their engineered insects were able to slash the local population of Aedes aegypti by up to 96 percent over 11 months in the neighborhoods where they were released. 

13) German Lopez on the stark disjunction between American public opinion on marijuana and our actual laws.

14) The story of the hero in the Club Q shooting is just amazing.  It’s like a action movie script, but real life.  And the here was not a good guy with a gun.  It was a good guy with combat experience in Iraq, which is clearly worth a helluva lot more.

15) Encouraging biotechnology, “F.D.A. Approves a Drug That Can Delay Type 1 Diabetes

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first treatment that can delay — possibly for years — the onset of Type 1 diabetes, a disease that often emerges in teenagers.

The new drug, teplizumab, is made by Provention Bio, which will partner with Sanofi to market the drug in the United States under the brand name Tzield. In an investor call on Friday, Provention said the drug would cost $13,850 a vial or $193,900 for the 14-day treatment. The company said teplizumab should be available by the end of the year.

The drug, which the F.D.A. approved on Thursday, does not cure or prevent Type 1 diabetes. Instead, it postpones its onset by an average of two years and, for some lucky patients, much longer — the longest so far is 11 years, said Dr. Kevan Herold of Yale, a principal investigator in trials of the drug.

The only other treatment for the disease — insulin — was discovered 100 years ago and does not affect the course of the disease. It just replaces what is missing.

16) We have vaccines and some excellent treatments now, but the latest editions of the virus have outsmarted all our existing monoclonal antibodies.  

17) Experts on aging on a Biden second term.  He would be really old to be president.

18) I am enjoying the World Cup, but it is such a damn shame that the world’s greatest sporting event is run my literally one of the most corrupt organizations on the planet.

Qatar hosting the soccer World Cup is like Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. It should not have happened, but the very fact that it has only exposes how bad things have become. Once this famous old tournament kicks off in Doha tomorrow, the fact that it did can never be unwound: Qatar will forever have been the host of the 22nd FIFA World Cup, the greatest absurdity in the history of the sport.

Even to recite the details of the backstory feels darkly grim. In 2010, soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, awarded the right to host the world’s most popular and prestigious sporting event to a tiny Middle Eastern autocracy with a population of barely 3 million. Qatar had never even played in a World Cup before, let alone hosted one, and it made a singularly unsuitable venue: In summer, when the tournament has always been held, the temperatures are so hot, soccer cannot safely be played at all. To hold 90-minute matches in the desert at the height of an Arabian summer is self-evidently ludicrous.

This is why, for the first time ever, the tournament is taking place in November and December, which is midway through the European soccer season. This is as preposterous as running the World Series over Christmas week—in Jeddah. They might as well have handed Dubai the rights to the Winter Olympics.

But this idiocy glosses over the true ignominy. Qatar might now be home to about 3 million people, but the proportion of actual Qatari citizens who live there is little more than 10 percent. The rest comprise some very rich expatriates of other nations and a huge army of poor migrants who do most of the work. When Qatar won the tournament, it did not have the infrastructure, weather, or fan base to justify being awarded the World Cup. But it was very, very rich.

The whole saga is rather like Dave Chappelle’s cynical take on Trump. Just as the former president acted as the “honest liar” who revealed something important about American politics in Chappelle’s view, Qatar seems to me to have done something similar for soccer. Until now, the sport’s world governing body was able to at least partially hide its sheer awfulness because everyone had a stake in the charade. If handing the tournament to Russia in 2018 might have looked bad on a democracy and human-rights index, it was at least a big country with a proud soccer history. But Qatar?

Not even FIFA’s disgraced former boss Sepp Blatter now feels able to defend the decision—a “mistake,” he recently admitted. That Qatar was able to beat rival bids from the United States, Australia, Japan, and South Korea to win the right to host the event was so indefensible, so in-your-face ridiculous, that it is impossible not to conclude that the whole system is rigged. Which, in essence, it is.

19) Ethan Mollick on what research says on how to make other people happier:

So, there is no need to belabor the point further. You can make people (including yourself!) happier, and the reason you aren’t doing it is because you are stuck in your own head. So the research suggests a few small things you can do this Thanksgiving (or World Cup) week, to make the world a little bit better:

  • Express gratitude more

  • Give more genuine compliments to people you know

  • Don’t feel awkward about offering to help, even if you can’t solve the problem

  • Reach out to some old contacts and say “hi”

Science says it is okay, and not nearly as awkward as you think.

20) Interesting research on academic credentials:  I think it’s kind of wild that even after the PhD, undergraduate institution still matters.  Most of my professor friends that I have who are way more accomplished than me did not go to an “Ivy Plus” institution as I did (Duke).  Or, maybe I’m just an under-achiever.  

We introduce a model of the admissions process based upon standard agency theory and explore its implications with economics PhD admissions data from 2013-2019. We show that a subjective score that aggregates subjective ratings and recommendation letter features plays a more important role in determining admissions than an objective score based upon graduate record exam (GRE) scores. Subjective evaluations by references who write multiple letters are not only more influential than those of references who write one letter, but they are also more informative. Since multiple-letter references are also more highly ranked economists, this implies that there is a constraint on the supply of high-quality references. Moreover, we find that both the subjective and objective scores are correlated with job placement at a top economics department after the completion of the PhD. These indicators of individual achievement have a smaller effect than an undergraduate degree from an Ivy Plus school (i.e., Ivy League + Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago). In the self-selected pool of applicants, Ivy Plus graduates are twice as likely to be admitted to a top 10 graduate program and are much more likely to obtain an assistant professor position at a top 10 program upon PhD completion. Given that Ivy Plus students must pass a stringent selection process to gain admission to their undergraduate program, we cannot reject the hypothesis that admission committees use information efficiently and fairly. However, this also implies that there may be a return to attending a selective undergraduate program in order to be pooled with highly skilled individuals.

21) I had really been looking forward to seeing Nope.  But, OMG, the pacing and plot… just plain old boring.  One of the few reviews willing to call out the film’s failures.

22) With a Republican majority in the House, we’ll surely be hearing a lot more about Hunter Biden’s laptop next year.  Drum:

It’s still 43 days until the new Congress starts up, but it’s never too early to take a deep dive into some the important issues Republicans will be addressing when January 3rd rolls around. And anyway, there’s only one, so it’s not like you have a ton of homework to do. The subject, of course, is Hunter Biden and his laptop. Here’s a detailed rundown of this sordid affair:

  • Back in the day, Hunter did a lot of drugs and got himself enmeshed in a bunch of sleazy deals. Apparently he routinely promised people that his ties to “Dad” would be a big help to their cause.
  • There is no evidence that Joe Biden knew about Hunter’s dealings or was ever involved in any of them.

Also, come on. Even if you’re a total partisan hack, this doesn’t really sound like Joe’s style, does it?

I guess that wasn’t so hard after all. Just try to keep these bullet points in mind during the 672 days of Fox News hits; strategic leaking to friendly reporters; invocations of “there’s no other explanation for ______” (there always is); New York Times excerpts from the inevitable Peter Schweizer book; 3,000-word thumbsuckers on the Ukrainian judicial system circa 2017; and, of course, chants of “Lock him up” because MAGAnauts are nothing if not predictable.

23) Apparently, many bands now eschew the encore.  Given that the encore is really almost always just completely planned after a short break, I’m good with that.  

24) Can hunter-gatherers teach us lessons for dealing with the modern workplace?

Penalty kicks are the dumbest rule in all of major sports!

Yes, Gareth Bale deserved a PK yesterday under the rules of soccer and how it is typically called.  But those rules are absolutely ridiculous!  Is there another rule in all of major sports (we’ll leave Quidditch aside) that is more dumb and has more of an impact on the outcome of games?  I hate how everbody is talking about how smart and savvy Bale was to jump in front of Zimmerman at the last moment and earn that PK without questioning at all that such an action should be worth 80% of a goal when goals are so rare.  I wrote a few years ago about just how dumb this all is and it holds up well. 

Good lord soccer drives me crazy.  Such a great game with abysmal organizations in charge and some really, really dumb rules.  Lots of appropriate controversy with the Women’s World Cup about the insane new handball rule.  The new rule say it’s a handball if the defender’s arms are out of the silhouette of the torso, unless preventing a fall.  This is insane!  Short version: defenders are apparently supposed to run at all times with hands behind their back.  Try running in a meaningfully athletic way and see where your arms are.  That’s right– out from your body.  I hate that soccer’s rulemakers see that as something to penalize.

But, even worse, is the gigantically outsized role of the penalty kick in a game with so little scoring.  I’ve long been making family and friends listen to my rant on this.  How nice to discover that a Yahoo sportswriter, Henry Bushnell, has basically the same take and proposed solution.  I love this:

The real problem here isn’t specific to handballs. It’s that when they occur in the area, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

That cross that Kirby hit on Sunday? Had it not been blocked, its expected value was still a tiny fraction of a goal. Because it happened to strike a Scottish arm, its worth multiplied exponentially, to roughly 0.75 goals – or whatever Nikita Parris’ penalty conversion rate is.

That, when you think about it, is completely absurd. It’s mind-bogglingly stupid. Illogical. Backwards.

The incentives are so perverse that players in Kirby’s position, or Sadio Mane’s eight days earlier, will soon come to realize: Aiming for an opponent’s arm is a more effective strategy than trying to pick out a teammate at the back post. Mane probably didn’t do that last Saturday, but he might as well have.

Is this how we want the beautiful game to be played?

A similar incentive already compels forwards to hurl themselves to the ground under minimal contact rather than have an off-balance shot at goal. It’s an awful trend – but, from a player’s perspective, a rational one.

The onus, therefore, isn’t on them to reform their ways. It’s on soccer’s lawmakers to rethink a rule that is only in place because, well, it has been since the 1890s. And because this sport is so senselessly resistant to change.

How the penalty rule should be overhauled

The penalty box is an extremely arbitrary thing. Why, for example, should a foul occurring here be a free kick from this exact position …

 

 

View photos

… but a foul occurring here be an unobstructed one, 12 yards out from the center of the goal?

 

View photos
 

The 18-yard box itself can remain for goalkeeper handling purposes. But any foul, handball or otherwise, that does not deny a clear goalscoring opportunity should simply be a direct free kick from the spot of the foul.

The only other tweak required would be an expansion of the definition of “denying a clear goalscoring opportunity,” enough to discourage pervasive tactical fouling. This would make punishments proportional to crimes.

Yes!!!  I couldn’t agree more.  In a game where one team scoring 3 goals is a lot, the idea that you give a .75-.8 chance at a goal for any foul in the penalty box, regardless of it’s likelihood of impacting a goal-scoring opportunity is beyond preposterous.  Just because something has been around since 1890 is soooo not a good reason to keep it.

The one thing I think I might add is that I think it’s also worth considering moving the spot of the penalty kick further back.  Penalty kicks are just too easy.  

When is the pandemic over?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In a epidemiological sense, with over 300 people still dying a day, clearly not yet.  But, in how virtually everybody I know is living their lives… oh, yeah.  You know I’ve been a person to generally take things pretty safe, but when I saw the articles about keeping your Thanksgiving safe with Covid my initial reaction was, “we’re still doing that?”  

Katelyn Jetelina and Jeremy Faust have been two of my favorite voices on these issues, so it was a real treat to have them come together in one of Faust’s posts.  After a nice discussion of assessing Covid through excess mortality, I especially liked this part:

Jetelina: I mean, it makes sense to me. But I think the other really interesting discussion we need to have on a national level regarding excess death is that we have a new disease now. What is acceptable excess death? Because we are going to see death. Is it truly zero? Should we strive to what was pre-pandemic? What is it now?

Faust: What’s our new sea level?

Jetelina: Yeah, and that’s a discussion; it’s a tough one to have. I think that’s also what we’re trying to really decide as a nation right now is where is that new sea level and what do we find acceptable, right? We do that with flu. We prevented, what, 60,000 deaths from the flu or whatever because of a lockdown. We can prevent that many deaths, but that’s not what we, as a culture, accept.

So I don’t know, I think it’ll be really interesting and I don’t think anyone has the right answer, but this is what is basically happening in real time as we’re all discussing and deciding as a culture where this lays.

In short, whenever Covid is “over” we are simply going to have more mortality than before because there’s a new deadly disease out there in the world (just like influenza is out there and not going away) and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.  Obviously, we can mitigate extensively with vaccines and treatments, but it seems safe to say that, at least till some genuinely new bio-technological developments, excess mortality is going to remain permanently about pre-Covid levels.  That’s just our world now.  Is 300/day too high?  I think so, probably.  But, if we wait for this to get down to 0, this pandemic may never be over, and that’s not realistic.  

Meanwhile, David Wallace-Wells had a really nice piece on the state of Covid a few weeks ago that I had meant to write about.  And, these days, a 3-week old Covid piece is actually still relevant:

The Covid pandemic still isn’t over, but it has gone remarkably flat.

It’s been nearly a year since Omicron was discovered in South Africa and Botswana, and no new variant of concern has been declared since then by the World Health Organization. That’s a notable interlude, since five were declared in the previous year.

There have been plenty of new variants of Omicron, of course — so many lineages that all but the most conscientious or neurotic Americans have probably lost track of them. And each new subvariant (XBB, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, to name three recent ones of note) has produced a small flurry of worried coverage about immune evasion and transmissibility, with some producing small surges in infection as well.

But all of them are part of the same family, and though some are quite distant relatives of the original Omicron subvariant, none have meaningfully changed the big-picture story of the disease. The third anniversary of the pandemic is around the corner, and we remain in the quasi-endemic steady state that has characterized things since the early spring: Infections are very common, and deaths are distressingly high, but without another Omicron, new subvariants really don’t seem to matter all that much.

Even just a few weeks ago, there was some worry about what these new Scrabble variants might mean, and some alarms flashed abroad…

But pretty quickly, the tide turned, making the ultimate impact of the new subvariants hard to see unless you were squinting…

The Economist’s excess mortality data, which uses a slightly different methodology, tells the same story: relatively steady, comparatively little excess mortality since April.

Compared with what, though? Four hundred deaths a day add up to almost 150,000 deaths a year. If we avoid a major surge in the next two months, the Covid death toll for the full year will stay below 300,000. That isn’t quite as horrific as the 350,000 deaths the country registered in 2020 or the 475,000 it registered last year. But it’s still tragic. It’s just normal now, too.

And there you have it, I think.  It is tragic that we have a disease that’s going to likely be killing 6-figures of Americans a year for the foreseeable future, but, Covid is simply with us now, and yes, it is and will be “normal.”

And, oh, yeah, have we massively dropped the ball in not having a Warp Speed 2.0 for next generation vaccines and treatments.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) I don’t know that I’ve ever watched the Raleigh Christmas Parade, but I had it on today since my son’s marching band was set to march in it.  And, damn, if a truck pulling a float didn’t have a brake failure and run over an 11-year old girl (I have one of those!), killing her.  Just awful. 

2) There was a lot about the value, or lack thereof, of SAT scores in college admissions these days, but I was disappointed in that I felt like the article never answered the headline, “What Does an SAT Score Mean Anymore?”

3) Matt Grossman interviews David Shor, “Does the 2022 election show how Democratic campaigns win?”

4) One of the interesting stories I have not seen addressed at all in national midterm coverage is how damn well Republicans did in NC, “Amidst a Red Ripple, North Carolina Republicans Swept to Victory”

5) Really nice graphical interactive from the Post on where the votes shifted most from 2020.  Worth the gift link for you to check out.

6) This is so good from Brian Beutler:

① The reason they midterms came as a big surprise is that Democrats outperformed “fundamentals”

② But what Democrats and data scientists think of as “the fundamentals” were defined before we passed through the looking glass of Donald Trump

③ If Trump swamps those fundamentals, Dems need to readjust to a political landscape where he looms large, at least until he and his political methods are vanquished..

But I think you can make a pretty good case in hindsight that, of every midterm since 2002, the one where the incumbent party had the best opportunity to defy “fundamentals” was 2018, not 2022. 

Unlike today, the economy of 2018 was perceived to be very good. Unlike today, the incumbent party in 2018 hadn’t made dramatic policy change. Yes, Republicans passed an unpopular corporate tax cut, and yes they tried to pass toxically unpopular legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and throw millions of people off of health insurance. But that effort failed, and—crucially—it failed a year and a half before the election. And yet Republicans lost their sizable majority in dramatic fashion, and lost the national popular vote for the House by an earthshaking margin.

Again, why did Trump Republicans in 2018, when unemployment was 3.8 percent, perform as badly as Barack Obama Democrats did in 2010, when unemployment was almost 10 percent? Many, many Democrats told themselves it was because they’d stopped the health-care repeal and then run health-care-centered campaigns in frontline districts. But that isn’t as tidy an explanation as it appears at a glance. It doesn’t account for why the swing to Dems was fairly uniform nationwide, even in places where the campaigns were not particularly health-care focused or competitive. It doesn’t account for the year-and-a-half lag between the failure of the repeal effort and the midterm. 

My personal sense has always been that voters mobilized to address a multifaceted emergency; the danger that Republicans would retain their trifecta and take another run at health care was part of the emergency, but all elements of it fit under a huge umbrella embroidered gaudily with the last name TRUMP.  

Which is to say, Trump, through malice and degeneracy, cost Republicans an opportunity to overperform the fundamentals in 2018, and provided Democrats an opportunity to do so last week. He overwhelms the fundamentals, or is a fundamental unto himself.

7) Greg Sargent, “How Marjorie Taylor Greene’s MAGA House will boost Trump”

But there’s a less obvious way that Republicans can wield House probes to political advantage. If they can confuse voters — and seduce the news media — into treating any and all congressional oversight as inevitably politically motivated, they will succeed in a whole different fashion.

This goal — which entails obfuscating the basic distinction between oversight conducted in good faith and in bad — will be within reach for Republicans, due to a peculiar situation. The House select committee examining Donald Trump’s coup attempt will release its report before the end of this year, and might make criminal referrals. Those findings will be debated well into next year, while Trump is running for president.

Which means that for House Republicans, the goal of next year’s investigations will not just be to let a thousand Hunter Biden probes bloom. It will also be to discredit revelations produced by Democrats about Trump…

Congressional oversight of the department serves a critical public function. We want law enforcement to feel constrained by oversight, which Republicans could theoretically do in good faith, in a valuable and revelatory way.

But Republicans have signaled something different. Greene describes Jan. 6 defendants as “political prisoners.” She and others have demanded the defunding of the FBI simply because it executed a lawfully approved search, which they describe as unchecked jackbooted lawlessness, of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Their position, then, is essentially that all investigative activity involving Jan. 6 and Trump is inherently illegitimate. So their oversight is likely to metastasize into an industrial-strength bad-faith effort to discredit all such activity, expressly to protect Trump from accountability, and to bury the Jan. 6 committee’s final report in a blizzard of propaganda. Republicans could even try to defund continuing law enforcement investigations and prosecutions.

8) These four scenarios for 2024 primaries strike me as about right.

Scenario 1: Trump Clears the Field

Scenario 2: A Crowded Field Splits the Anti-Trump Vote

Scenario 3: The DeSantis Hype Is Real

Scenario 4: A Moderate Candidate Threads the Needle

9) So tired of insane stories like this, “Suburban Mom Handcuffed, Jailed for Making 8-Year-Old Son Walk Half a Mile Home: Heather Wallace plead guilty to child endangerment and can no longer work with kids.”  Worst part?  Sounds like the cop who made this awful call is a Q Anon adherent:

As they stood on her porch, the officers told Wallace that her son could have been kidnapped and sex trafficked. “‘You don’t see much sex trafficking where you are, but where I patrol in downtown Waco, we do,'” said one of the cops, according to Wallace.

This statement struck her as odd.

“They were basically admitting that this is a safe neighborhood,” she says.

The officer then asked Wallace whether she would let her son walk home again, now that she knew about the sex trafficking.

“I still didn’t know it was illegal and I said, ‘I don’t know,'” says Wallace. “That’s when the cop replied, ‘Okay, I’m going to have to arrest you.'”

10) This is good. “Mark Kelly’s (Likely) Win Is an Indictment of Sinema’s Politics”  No way Sinema makes it out of a Democratic primary in two years. 

11) An interesting take on Trump’s announcement speech, “At long last, Trump gives his concession speech”

It was rambling. It was vain. At times, it was weird. What’s with that tale he keeps telling about giving Chancellor Angela Merkel a “white flag” to symbolize German surrender to dependence on Russian energy? There was a scary — if possibly unintended — evocation of Jan. 6, 2021: “The corridors of power” in Washington, he warned, “are our corridors and we are coming to take our corridors back.”

Still, Donald Trump’s hour-long speech Tuesday night should be remembered not just for the things he said, including his announcement that he will seek another presidential term in 2024. What mattered most was what he did not say: that Joe Biden and the Democrats thwarted his reelection in 2020 by fraud.

Trump has been repeating that outlandish lie endlessly for the past two years, including as he barnstormed the country on behalf of Republican candidates in the midterm elections.

And yet on Tuesday, with all eyes upon him and his political future on the line, he omitted it. Yes, there were allusions to the supposed need for an election revamp based on hand-counted paper ballots, which Trump called a “very personal job for me.” He floated innuendo about “a very active role” by China against him in our 2020 election.

At no time, however, did he repeat his false claim of massive cheating in 2020, nor did Trump say Biden holds office illegitimately; by repeatedly criticizing the current president’s record, he backhandedly implied the opposite. He even indirectly acknowledged the reality of the 2022 results by boasting that “by 2024,” when he intends to head the ticket, “the voting will be much different.”

12) Good thread from G. Elliott Morris on the good year for the polls.

13) This was quite interesting, “The Fading Art of Preserving the Dead: A dwindling group of professionals is tasked with navigating the often fraught passage from life to death.”

But the world he belongs to, the world of embalming, is increasingly losing its sway over the American way of death.

Data gathered by the National Funeral Directors Association shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans in 2021 were cremated after death, an increase from around 25 percent in 1999. More than 60 percent of people surveyed were interested in having so-called green burials, which are cheaper than traditional funerals and limit the chemicals allowed into the body for preservation. Embalmers are becoming more difficult to find; most funeral homes rely on contractors like Mr. Harvell, who may be the sole embalmers for a dozen funeral-home clients.

According to people in the industry, things have been trending away from embalming for decades. “Absolutely there’s a shift going on,” said Tim Collison, the chief operating officer of The Dodge Company, the largest embalming fluid manufacturer in the country. “There’s less demand — it’s not an expanding market.” Dr. Basil Eldadah, a physician with the National Institute on Aging, said, “We’re just in this place in our society where we’re questioning the way that things have always been done.”

14) You know I love me some first amendment and don’t like the heightened attacks from both right and left, “How America turned against the First Amendment: Moderation laws. Book bans. Courts that keep getting played. America’s politicians are tired of the First Amendment getting in their way, and no one seems to care.”

15) Almost done watching “All Quiet on the Western Front” on Netflix.  I think it’s terrific. 

(Return of) quick hits

1) This is feeling dated (and I meant to give it it’s own post), but Jeff Maurer’s take on Democrats and inflation is literally the best I’ve read:

The thing Democrats did that actually matters — that’s influencing inflation more than a microscopic amount — is the American Rescue Plan. This was the third round of Covid stimulus, passed shortly after Biden took office; it was the $1.9 trillion bill that included $1,400 checks to Americans who make less than $75,000. Hilariously, one of the political benefits of the bill was supposed to be that Democrats could brag about those checks when election season rolled around. And now election season is here, and the checks are featured as prominently in Democratic rhetoric as Song of the South is in Disney’s promotional materials.

But it’s important to remember what the economy looked like when the American Rescue Plan passed. Covid slammed the American economy in a way that’s unprecedented in our lifetime (unless you’re really, really old). 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since the Great Depression; unemployment spiked at about 150% of what it was at the peak of the Great Recession. The term of art economists us for this type of economy is “shitty as all fuck”. Here’s how things looked in context:…

In early 2021, the economy was shrinking, unemployment was high…this is very bad stuff. And, in a way, it’s not too surprising that an attempt to drive down unemployment led to inflation.

Broadly speaking, there’s an inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation. It’s a bit like being good at magic and having friends; if one metric is high, then the other will almost certainly be low. That’s is why the Federal Reserve — and to a lesser extent Congress — is constantly trying to strike a balance between unemployment and inflation. When one metric gets too high, the government makes changes to (hopefully) bring that number down. And that often works, but usually at the cost of giving us more of the other thing. This is just more evidence that everything is complex and that simple solutions don’t exist on Planet Earth, which is one of my most firmly held beliefs.

Personally, I fear unemployment more than inflation. Both are very bad; I just think that unemployment is typically worse. Unemployment throws families into crisis; it can lead to crushing debt and/or uprooted lives (I’ve lived this and it blows). Inflation also sucks — it hits everyone in the economy, including those on a tight budget — but in many cases it amounts to an annoyance more than a catastrophe. The exception to this rule would hyperinflation, but nothing the US is experiencing is anything close to hyperinflation. Hyperinflation gets insane; in Hungary after World War II, prices doubled every 15 hours. Run the numbers on that: At that rate, it takes about nine days for a can of soup to cost as much as a brand new Tesla (that’s not a joke!)…

What did we get in exchange for those two percentage points of inflation? Well, as you might expect, we got faster economic growth and lower unemployment. Contrary to stereotypes about European governments throwing money from helicopters while American capitalists cackle at poor people starving in the streets, virtually no European governments passed a stimulus as aggressive as the American Rescue Plan. So, just as it shouldn’t be surprising that we have slightly higher demand-side inflation than our rich-country peers, it also shouldn’t be surprising that we have relatively low unemployment and high economic growth.

2) Good stuff from Ruy Teixeira, “Democrats’ Long Goodbye to the Working Class”

3) Will Saletan, “The Data Have Spoken: Abortion Was a Decisive Issue in the 2022 Midterms”

Like the exit poll, VoteCast found that about 60 percent of the electorate—63 percent, in the VoteCast sample—said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. But unlike the exit poll, it directly measured the effect of Dobbs. In the VoteCast survey, pro-choice voters (those who said abortion should be legal in all or most cases) were far more likely than pro-life voters (those who said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases) to say that the overturn of Roe had a “major impact” on which candidates they voted for. The gap was more than 20 points: 55 percent of pro-choicers said Dobbs was a major factor, compared to 32 percent of pro-lifers. When analyzed by party, the gap was more than 30 points: 65 percent of Democrats said Dobbs was a major factor, compared to 32 percent of Republicans…

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Dobbs didn’t just influence which candidates people voted for. It also influenced whether they showed up at the polls at all—and this provided a crucial boost to pro-choice candidates. In the VoteCast survey, pro-choice voters were twice as likely as pro-life voters (48 percent to 23 percent) to say Dobbs had a major impact on their “decision whether to vote” in the election. In partisan terms, the gap was even bigger: 57 percent of Democrats, compared to 23 percent of Republicans, said Dobbs had a major impact on their decision about whether to vote.

4) And Jonathan Weiler, “

It’s only one cut at thinking about the issue, but whatever ambivalence exists in American public opinion broadly about abortion, the anti-abortion extremism that the end of Roe has unleashed is far removed from the mainstream of American public opinion. As an aside, I’ve written before about the difference between operational and symbolic ideology – people’s preferences on specific issues versus their party loyalties, roughly speaking. Consistently, in red, purple and blue states, when given the opportunity to vote directly on policy in ballot measures, majorities favor raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and, clearly now, protecting abortion rights. This has not, so far, translated clearly into greater support for Democratic officeholders among up-for-grabs voters.

5) The leap second’s time has come to an end!  Nice explanation in the NYT:

If the resolution passes [it passed], it would sever the timekeeping of atoms from the timekeeping of the heavens, probably for generations to come. The change would be indiscernible for most of us, in practical terms. (It would take a few thousand years for atomic time to diverge as much as an hour from Earth time.)

But the second is a huge amount of time in the technology of the internet. Cellphone transmissions, power grids and computer networks are synchronized to minuscule fractions of a second. High-frequency traders in financial markets execute orders in thousandths and even billionths of a second. By international law, data packages related to these financial transactions must be time-stamped to that fine level of precision, recorded and made traceable back to Coordinated Universal Time, the universally agreed-upon standard managed by the timekeepers at the B.I.P.M.

Every additional leap second introduces the risk of confusion: that some digital networks won’t implement the change correctly, won’t know precisely what time it is with regard to the other systems, and will fail to synchronize properly. The leap second is a dollop of potential chaos in a soufflé that demands precision.

For that reason, discarding the leap second has wide support from nations across the world, including the United States. The result of the vote is not a foregone conclusion, however. The fate of the leap second has long been the stuff of high diplomatic drama, designated one of just four “hot topics” at the B.I.P.M. Getting Resolution D on the agenda has involved more than two decades of study, negotiation and compromise to resolve the issue.

“It should have happened 20 years ago, and if not for political maneuvering, it probably would have happened 20 years ago,” said Judah Levine, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Boulder, Colo. He is co-chair with Dr. Tavella of the B.I.P.M. committee that discusses hot topics, and he helped draft the resolution.

6) Maybe trees aren’t talking to each other so much after all?

But as the wood-wide web has gained fame, it has also inspired a backlash among scientists. In a recent review of published research, Dr. Karst, Dr. Hoeksema and Melanie Jones, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, found little evidence that shared fungal networks help trees to communicate, swap resources or thrive. Indeed, the trio said, scientists have yet to show that these webs are widespread or ecologically significant in forests.

7) Always good to read Sean Trende’s post-election takes.  Though I think he tries too hard to underplay the role of abortion.

So what does work? There are three parts to the explanation, none of which are mutually exclusive. 

1) The first is simply that candidates do matter. In the past decade, and especially after Trump’s win in 2016, it has become fashionable among pundits (including myself) to wave away candidate issues. This cycle, though, candidate quality seems to have made a comeback. This fits the data nicely: Vance running behind DeWine (who was seen as governing in a more bipartisan manner than perhaps he deserved); Walker running behind Kemp; Masters running behind Lake. In the House there were scores of candidates who lost in swing districts that they probably should have won, and as you list the names you start to see why: Joe Kent, J.R. Majewski, Karoline Leavitt, Vega, and so forth. Even Lauren Boebert came remarkably close to losing.  

That many of these candidates were concentrated in swing seats didn’t help the Republicans’ cause, while better Republican candidates in bluer seats didn’t quite get the push they needed. You can see this in Virginia, where 10th District Republican Hung Cao – an outstanding candidate – lost by just six points in a district Biden won by almost 20 points, while Vega lost by a similar margin in a district Biden won by half that margin…

The other issue is that Republicans may be suffering a representational penalty in rural areas similar to the penalty Democrats have suffered in urban districts. That is to say, the GOP puts up stunning vote percentages in rural America, margins that would not have been deemed possible a decade ago, to say nothing of three decades ago. But this means that a large number of those votes are effectively wasted. As the suburbs become more competitive for Democrats and the cities become somewhat less competitive (but not enough to lose seats) as minority vote percentage moves, Democrats lose the penalty they’ve suffered for running up overwhelming vote shares in urban districts in the past. 

8) And Tom Edsall with a whole bunch of political science takes.

9) Great stuff from Nate Cohn, “Trump’s Drag on Republicans Quantified: A Five-Point Penalty”

Donald J. Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he would run for president in 2024 came at an especially awkward time for Republicans. They were supposed to dominate the midterm elections — but fell well short.

Mr. Trump appears to be a significant reason for that showing, based on an analysis of the results by House district.

His preferred candidates underperformed last week, helping Democrats hold the Senate and helping keep the race for House control close. (Republicans, who had been heavy favorites, are expected to prevail narrowly as mail ballots continue to be counted in California.)

Overall, his preferred primary candidates underperformed other G.O.P. candidates by about five percentage points…

With the benefit of the final results, we can gauge how well the MAGA candidates fared compared with other Republicans. The five-point penalty measure controls for how the district voted in 2020 and whether the district was an open seat or held by a Democratic or Republican incumbent.

Here’s another way to think about it: Non-MAGA Republicans in 2022 ran six points better than Mr. Trump did in 2020; the MAGA Republicans barely fared better than him at all.

10) Ed Luce on the midterms:

Mounk: When you look at election deniers running in the midterms, a lot of them got elected, right? When they ran in safe districts in deep red states, many of them did win elections. But when they were in purple states, they often lost. It feels like one of the lessons of this election is that Trump has superfans—he always had, and he will for a long time—but that even among traditional Republican voters, there are a lot of people who feel, “This is enough.”

Luce: Independents swung very much in that direction. They were very discriminating between the types of Republican candidates. Tim Michels, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for Wisconsin, notoriously said two weeks ago that if he won the governorship of Wisconsin, Republicans would never lose an election there again. And it was very clear what he meant by that: there will be a supermajority in the Wisconsin legislature, and he would change the election rules to such a degree that Democrats would be made into a minority party. But he lost very comprehensively. Meanwhile, Don Bolduc, a former army guy in the mold of Mike Flynn, and very Trumpian—he lost very, very convincingly to Senator Hassan in New Hampshire. Pennsylvania, where Trump invested most of his time in terms of the rallies that he attended, was a wipeout for Trumpian candidates: Dr. Oz for the Senate, Doug Mastriano for the governorship. And it’s looking more likely than not that Kari Lake, the Arizona gubernatorial candidate, will probably lose for similar reasons. 

11) And, of course, always read David Shor’s post-election takes.

What’s your nutshell summary of what happened in this midterm and why?
I want to preface by noting that it’s extremely early. But I’d say that the No. 1 most salient fact about this election is that Republican turnout was very strong relative to Democratic turnout. You can see this in a host of different data sources. Whether you’re looking at administrative data on early voting, or the AP VoteCast exit poll, or ecological regressions off of the county level results, it’s just really clear. It’s hard to get an exact number. But, back of the envelope, it looks like the electorate was about 2 percent more Republican than it was in 2020. Republicans literally outnumbered Democrats, according to the AP’s VoteCast. And yet Democrats still won.

And they won for a few reasons. First, Democrats won independent voters, which may be the first time that a party that controlled the presidency has won independents in a midterm since 2002. Second, they got a lot of self-identified Republicans to vote for them. And third, they did those things especially well in close races. The party’s overall share of the national vote is actually going to look fairly bad. It looks like we got roughly 48 percent of the vote. But that’s because Democratic incumbents in safe seats did much worse than those in close races.

In districts that the Cook Political Report rated as “likely” or “solid” or “safe” for the Democratic incumbent, Democrats’ share of the vote declined by 2.5 percent relative to 2020. In districts that were rated as “toss ups” or “lean Democratic,” however, our party’s vote share went down by only 0.4 percent compared to 2020.

I think that tells us a couple of things. It suggests that Democrats did a good job with resource allocation; we spent in the right races. But it also illustrates the power of message discipline. Democrats in competitive districts aired more ads than Democrats in safe ones. And they also were much more careful about which messages they amplified with those ads and which issues they chose to embrace.

12) Encouraging for cat people, “Your Cat Might Not Be Ignoring You When You Speak: Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but a new study has found that their relationships with their owners may be stronger than we thought.”

A study by French researchers that was published last month in the journal Animal Cognition found that not only do cats react to what scientists call cat-directed speech — a high-pitched voice similar to how we talk to babies — they react to who is doing the talking.

“We found that when cats heard their owners using a high-pitched voice, they reacted more than when they heard their owner speaking normally to another human adult,” said Charlotte de Mouzon, an author of the study and cat behavior expert at the Université Paris Nanterre. “But what was very surprising in our results was that it actually didn’t work when it came from a stranger’s voice.”

Unlike with dogs, cat behavior is difficult to study, which is part of why humans understand them less. Cats are often so stressed by being in a lab that meaningful behavioral observations become impossible. And forget about trying to get a cat to sit still for an M.R.I. scan to study its brain function.

13) This “God chose Rick DeSantis” ad is insane.  You have to see it to believe it.

14) The tide is turning.  NYT with a balanced, well-reasoned dive into puberty blockers and their potential harms.  This does not mean they should never be used, but it’s past time for mainstream media to run stories like this rather than be cowed by the twitter zealots who will yell “you’re literally killing trans kids!” every time a story like this runs.  This is an important story, so gift link it is. 

15) John McWhorter makes a compelling case that we should be more judicious with the use of “racism

“Systemic bigotry.”

“Institutional prejudice.”

Notice how those terms don’t really work? They challenge our mental processing, in part because systems can’t be bigots and institutions can’t be prejudiced.

And so I offer a modest proposal, but an earnest one. How about revising our terms for “systemic racism,” “structural racism” and “institutional racism”?

The problem with these phrases is that systems, structures and institutions cannot be racist any more than they can be happy or sad. They can be made up of individuals who share these traits, or even have procedures that may engender them. But systems, structures and institutions do not themselves have feelings or prejudices.

Yes, of course, we use these terms in a more abstract way: The idea is that the inequities between races that systems can harbor are themselves racist. They are a different form of racism than personal bias.

But we must learn this usage of racism in the same way that we learn we aren’t supposed to say “Tom and me talked”as opposed to “Tom and I talked.” It is a hallmark of the modern enlightened American to understand that systems can “be racist.” But deep down I suspect many cannot help but ask, if only in flashlight-under-the-pillow style: Isn’t bias different from inequality, and why are we using one word to refer to both?

Calling for people to stop saying this or that almost never has any real effect, and overall, linguists like me delight in the changes we hear around us. Plus, things people decry as confusing in language usually are not. Context is key: You probably have no problem with the fact that a rabbit can run “fast,” but that in the idiom “stuck fast” the word suddenly means the opposite.

But the terms “systemic racism,” “structural racism” and “institutional racism” can be seen as different in that they sow a kind of confusion — just as “sanction” meaning both to approve and to penalize does, especially among lawyers, from what I am told. We are to understand a pathway running through, first, racism as bias, then bias causing inequalities and thus leaving in its wake a different rendition of “racism.” But in actuality, using this word enables an attitude that can be less than constructive.

I once had a conversation with a Black woman who lived near a school in a mostly Black, low-income neighborhood whose students were almost all kids of other races from other neighborhoods. The school required a certain test score for admission. The woman referred to the school as “straight-up racist” in that almost no kids from the neighborhood attended it.

But this is a highly stretched usage of the word. The low number of Black kids in that school is something we need to fix. But it is probably safe to say that no one in the school would disagree — the reason for the low numbers is not anyone’s bigotry. Now, the reason is indeed legacies of what bigotry created in the past: poverty and its effects, parents who work too hard to have as much time to help their kids with schoolwork as others do, lack of inherited wealth to allay that problem, and so on.

16) David French, “The Hidden Way That Election Denial Hurt Republicans”

But that’s not the whole story. There’s an additional cost to Republican election denial—if the party doesn’t believe it lost, it won’t change its message or its messengers. Or, as I said on Twitter yesterday, “One of the consequences of election denial was MAGA’s simple refusal to understand the will of the voters.”

To understand the psychology of the GOP, one has to understand the core narrative of Trumpism. Before Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, MAGA says, the GOP was a party of losers. It lost to Obama in 2008, it lost again in 2012, and it would have lost to Clinton in 2016 but for Trump. Establishment conservatives, according to this narrative, hadn’t “conserved” anything. Only Trump could save the republic.

The narrative never made sense. The Republican Party won control of the House and the Senate in the Obama era. It gained hundreds of state House seats. It controlled a majority of state governments. Yes, Trump won in 2016, but by the narrowest of margins. He beat an unpopular Democrat, but with a lower percentage of the popular vote than Mitt Romney’s.

Trump claimed a majority. He claimed a mandate. He had neither…

The 2020 election, however, was a different story entirely. Biden won more electoral votes than Trump won in 2016. He beat Trump by more than 7 million popular votes.

That should have been the Republican wake-up call. Trump lost the White House, Republicans lost the Senate, and even the reliably red Arizona and Georgia turned blue. There it was, the worst electoral performance by either party since Hoover’s decisive loss in 1932.

But no. It’s not a true defeat if the election was stolen. If the election was stolen, the MAGA movement doesn’t have to abandon its triumphalism. If the election was stolen, the MAGA movement doesn’t have to alter its ethos. The answer to stolen elections is electoral reform, not different kinds of candidates. So the Trumpist faction of the Republican Party felt free to cling to Trump, double down on Trump endorsements, and ride the Trump Train once again.

17) Okay, now I’m back on I will take Paxlovid when I finally get Covid, “Paxlovid May Reduce Risk of Long Covid in Eligible Patients, Study Finds”

18) Went to the Duke basketball game last night with my son (fun!) and spent some time trying to explain the new NIL rules in college athletics and thought immediately of this, “New Endorsements for College Athletes Resurface an Old Concern: Sex Sells: Female college athletes are making millions thanks to their large social media followings. But some who have fought for equity in women’s sports worry that their brand building is regressive.”

I support college athletes reaping the financial benefits of their NIL.  But, I really don’t love to see female athletes being rewarded for being sex objects rather than great athletes. 

19) Joshua March with a guest post for Noah Smith on the promise of cultivated meat.  I think he undersells just how good Beyond and Impossible can be, but I would love it if this technology could really take off and become cost competitive.  

Why Do Meat Alternatives Even Matter?

 

Conventional meat has a dirty little secret: it is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. According to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, emissions from livestock account for a startling 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (compared to just 3.5% for aviation). And while energy production is rapidly making a transition to renewables, conventional meat consumption is only increasing (as the world’s population gets wealthier, people eat more meat)—and with it, the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Even if all energy production switched to 100% renewable power today the emissions from animal agriculture alone would still push us past the 2 degree celsius warming threshold.

Beef is by far the worst culprit, with cattle responsible for a whopping 65% of all livestock emissions. That’s because beef is the least efficient of all meats in terms of calories in to calories out (as low as 3% according to some recent studies). Beef is also responsible for a staggering amount of methane emissions (a greenhouse gas 30x more potent than CO2) and for a huge amount of land use change as trees are cut down to make way for either pasture land or to grow crops for animal feed—in fact, 80% of all rainforest deforestation is related to the cattle industry in some way. 

This information isn’t news—we’ve known about the impact of beef for decades. But unfortunately trying to reason people into eating less meat just hasn’t been working. If you want proof, look no further than the fact that the percentage of vegans and vegetarians in the US population hasn’t really changed  since the 1970’s (it’s around 5%). The bottom line is that people like eating meat. Even if they philosophically agree that eating less meat is better, when it comes down to it they still reach for that conventional beef burger.

Meat alternatives offer a more effective strategy than reason alone. Instead of arguing for an end to conventional meat consumption, why not figure out a way to make meat without the problems? Any wide-scale decrease in conventional beef consumption we can accomplish is worth it because of the major impact on climate change, and our ability to prevent the most catastrophic outcomes. And that’s even before you consider all the other problems with intensive factory farming. 

20) Sorry for the lack of quick hits last week, by the way.  Was having a super-fun time in Charleston, SC with some of my kids and my sister (and brother-in-law) who live there.

[Bonus points if you can identify the origins of the logo on my older son’s shirt]

Trump’s election lie

I really liked this from Thomas Friedman as it really makes the case on how much election lies are about Trump’s election, and not Republicans just questioning election legitimacy in general (with a few exceptions).  It’s so good.

But wait — where was Trump last week?

Did you hear allegations by him or his lackeys that these midterm elections were stolen from his handpicked candidates? Other than some baseless claims by Trump here and there, including that the failed Arizona candidate for governor Kari Lake (a clownish Trump impersonator) was being cheated, there wasn’t much. Trump instead spent most of his energy denigrating some of his anointed candidates and blaming his wife and others for persuading him to endorse the bizarre collection of election-denying sycophants who became Team Trump in this election and lost almost every big race.

The fact that Trump is not today filing lawsuits on behalf of each one to try to prove election fraud speaks volumes. It’s Trump basically telling them all:

“Sorry, this lie about stolen elections only pertains to me. There is only room for one martyr in this party. You don’t get to use my lie in your state elections. I only backed unprincipled, ambitious people — like you, J.D. Vance and Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano and Adam Laxalt — to amplify my lie in order to prove I’m not a loser. I can never be seen as a loser. If you’re losers, it’s your fault.” [emphasis mine]

That also explains why most of the election deniers who lost, like Oz, simply conceded and did not claim fraud. Why not raise a ruckus, Mehmet? Hey, J.D., why aren’t you alleging that your Republican colleagues lost because their elections were “rigged,” the way you did for Trump? What about you, Doug? What was it you said on Sunday when you conceded losing the governor’s race in Pennsylvania: “Difficult to accept as the results are, there is no right course but to concede, which I do.”

What? Why is that the right course today, but it wasn’t the right course for Trump two years ago?

Because none of you ever believed Trump’s lie to begin with, so you never dared deploy it in your own elections!

You were just renting Trump’s lie on the belief that it was your golden ticket, your easy shortcut, to victory. You thought you could echo Trump’s lie, get elected with the votes of his supporters and then just drop it. Now that most of you have failed to get elected on election denialism, you want us to forget how you shamefully tried to exploit that lie to gain power, while you slink away.

No, no, a thousand times no.

Trump is just in it for Trump and his use of other politicians is entirely towards that end, not in their interests or the interests of the Republican Party.

Who is still dying from Covid?

Yet another great newsletter from Katelyn Jetelina.  I found this chart particularly interesting:

Lots more good stuff in there, too, but I found the decline in deaths of those under 65 particularly interesting.  Presumably, this plays a meaningful role in the pandemic being “over” for most of society.  

Would Jesus have hated marijuana?

Enjoyed Gallup’s latest on public opinion on marijuana.  At this point it seems that most everybody is on-board except really religious people.

Specifically, subgroups whose support for legalization exceeds the national average by 10 or more percentage points include those with no religious preference (89%), self-identified liberals (84%), Democrats (81%), young adults (79%) and those who seldom or never attend religious services (78%).

Groups whose support is at least 10 points below the national average include those who attend church weekly (46%), conservatives (49%), Republicans (51%), older adults (53%) and Hispanic adults (56%).

Also, old people:

Given the importance of ideology and age in predicting individuals’ support for marijuana legalization, ideological subgroups of different ages show some of the largest intergroup differences in attitudes.

At every age level, conservatives are less likely than moderates or liberals to support making marijuana legal. However, majorities of younger conservatives (those under age 50) favor legalization, compared with 32% of older conservatives.

With public views like this, it really is only a matter of time till national policy fundamentally changes.  Until then, Democrats should absolutely work harder to make this a wedge issue.  I honestly think part of the problem is that national Democratic leadership is just so old and it’s hard to get over that “reefer madness” stuff.  

American politics in one paragraph

My Campaigns & Elections class has been assigned John Sides and Lynn Vavreck’s latest, The Bitter End, and like their previous post presidential election books, it’s excellent.  Ezra had them both on to discuss the book on his podcast recently and it was a terrific discussion.  His column on the midterms is very much influenced by their take.  Great summary here:

If you were looking for a three-sentence summary of American politics in recent years, I think you could do worse than this: The parties are so different that even seismic events don’t change many Americans’ minds. The parties are so closely matched that even minuscule shifts in the electoral winds can blow the country onto a wildly different course. And even in a time of profound economic dislocation, American politics has become less about which party is good for your wallet and more about whether the cultural changes of the past 50 years delight or dismay you.

I’m very much looking forward to the discussions in my next three class sessions.  

Denying Trump’s election versus denying one’s own

Kari Lake aside, the really great news from the midterms is that full-on election denialism has not taken over the Republican Party.  Rather, ambitious Republican politicians knew they had to lie about Trump’s election in order to win their nomination, so they did.  Most of them were not remotely true believers in this Democrats are stealing elections nuttiness.  They were just ambitious cowards who knew what they had to say to have any chance of winning their Republican primary in many cases.  Virtually all of these soft deniers that have lost, e.g., Dr. Oz, Bo Hines, numerous others, have simply conceded their loss as you expect normal politicians to do.  This is normal and this is good.  Yet more evidence that Trump truly is a unique cancer on the GOP.  One that has definitely spread and still represents a significant threat to our democracy, but things are far, far much better than they could have been.  The reality is that most Republican politicians who explicitly or implicitly endorsed the Big Lie are not election deniers at heart.  Just ambitious politicans who used election denialism to get Trumpist support.  That’s not great at all, but sure lots better than the former.

Also, it’s hard not to conclude that in competitive swing state elections, being an election denier is an electoral drag.  That’s a great lesson for politicians to have.  Election denying should not be disincentivized, not incentivized, among ambitious Republicans and that’s a damn good thing. 

 

As Rick Hasen puts it, ““I’ve Been Way More Worried About American Democracy Than I Am Right Now”

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