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?

Advertisement

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: