(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]

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