Gay rights in 2005 = trans rights in 2023?

Really stuff from Jeff Maurer making the case that the answer is “no” but that the current problem is that most everybody on the left thinks the answer is “yes.” I think Maurer is really onto something here and this is the first place I’ve seen this particular theory:

Arguments over transgender issues are heating up. This month, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) organized two open letters to the New York Times criticizing the paper’s coverage of trans issues. One letter accused the Times of “[following] the lead of far-right hate groups”, which is like accusing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of promoting a toxic culture of jock masculinity. The Times — to its credit — stood firm, offering the charmingly retro explanation that journalism and activism are two different things. GLAAD responded by politely and respectfully calling the Times an ignorant bunch of bigots who are putting children at risk.

If you printed out the vile and/or deeply stupid tweets about this episode, they would stretch from here to Saturn. I’ve learned to ignore those tweets, much like I’ve learned to ignore the fact that if an asteroid targets Earth, our current plan is to shake our fists at it while it destroys us — you just have to mentally wave some stuff away. But one tweet from a generally sane account caught my attention.

I normally see eye-to-eye with the Neoliberal account; they usually tweet the revolution-through-congestion-pricing type content that butters my muffin. But here, the account

 was saying that the liberal journalists in this kerfuffle — which include Emily BazelonJon Chait, and Jesse Singal — were repeating a mistake from the 2000s. By which I assume they mean the mistake of trying to carve out an in-between position on gay marriage instead of just supporting gay marriage.

I’ve been thinking about how we arrived at this moment in the transgender debate. I think the 2000s have a lot to do with it; I think the gay rights side was so decisively victorious in those fights that people assume that pattern will repeat itself with any and all transgender issues. Personally, I’m not so sure. I think the 2000s have tricked a lot of well-meaning people into taking maximalist positions on transgender issues that might not age well…

In 2012, President O’Blammo’s position on gay marriage “evolved”. It was the least-surprising twist since the reveal that the little girl in George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky wasn’t actually there (no “spoiler alert” necessary because it’s completely fucking obvious). In an amazing coincidence, the president’s evolution occurred at the exact moment when support for gay marriage was becoming a majority opinion.

You can debate the ethics of the liberal obfuscation of the time. The case for hewing a middle line on gay marriage is that it helped Democrats win elections, and those Democrats appointed and confirmed two Supreme Court Justices who cast the votes that legalized gay marriage. The case against it is that you should say what you believe, and if no-one has the courage to voice unpopular opinions, then progress will grind to a halt.

People who voiced the unpopular opinion in the 2000s took a position that aged well. If you spent the 2000s saying “I support gay marriage, no ifs, ands, or buts,” then you were on the right side of history. And I think the lesson many people took from that era is: “The maximalist position is the correct one.” Because in that situation, it certainly was. If you signed onto GLAAD and Human Rights Campaign’s top-line agenda circa 2004 — which would have been all about gay marriage — then today, you look like a visionary. It was the right bet back then, and I think some of the people who still back everything GLAAD and HRC do have basically left their chips on the same spot on the roulette wheel and said “let it ride”.

Maybe history will prove them right. Or maybe things are different this time.

At least one thing is different. I know that I speak for myself and many other liberals of that era when I say: When I hemmed and hawed about gay marriage and tried to steer the conversation towards civil unions, I was bullshitting. I supported gay marriage, but I knew that the word “marriage” was toxic, so I spouted some claptrap about civil unions, a tactic whose main asset was that nobody knew what the fuck I was talking about.

This time, my discomfort with some of what activists are calling for is principled, not strategic…

The issue that led to the Times uproar is treatment of minors with gender dysphoria. Two things are unquestionably true: 1) Some teens lead happier, more fulfilled lives after transitioning genders; and 2) Some teens are misdiagnosed by hack clinicians and rushed into transitions that they later regret. The entire debate among fair-minded people is how we can ensure that more young people make the decision that’s right for them.

GLAAD parked a billboard in front of the New York Times’ office with a sentence highlighted in red: “The science is settled.” That is objectively false. Reviews of care for gender dysphoric youth in Sweden, Finland, and the UK led to shifts away from the type of care that is common in the US. Two of the Times articles that were the subject of GLAAD’s ire were about contentious debates within the medical community; for all of GLAAD’s quibbles with the articles, they didn’t — couldn’t — say that the disagreements simply didn’t happen. Evidence for some of the treatments given to gender dysphoric youth remains thin. Just last week, BMJ published an account of the decidedly unsettled state of the science. I’ll concede that science can, in a practical sense, be basically settled; we are, for example, pretty damned sure that rocks exist. But best practices in the relatively new field of youth gender medicine are still being hammered out, and to argue otherwise is a lie.

Attempts by GLAAD and other activists to call anyone who points this out a TERF and a transphobe make me more apprehensive than I would otherwise be. This is a “what is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?” situation — declaring any inquest into this area of medicine verboten makes me wonder what a closer look might find. If trans youth medicine is a well-oiled machine, then wouldn’t an inquest from Emily Bazelon — nobody’s idea of a conservative hack — be welcome? And when did the American left develop such abiding faith in the for-profit medical system? The joke in the Last Week Tonight writers’ room was that every piece ended with “we need more regulation and oversight” — you can find that opinion in relation to medicine, specifically in this piecethis piecethis piecethis piecethis piecethis piecethis piecethis piecethis piece, and this piece. But apparently, youth gender medicine is the one corner of American medicine where everything is absolutely peachy-keen. And to even wonder if that might not be true makes you a bigot…

Acceptance of gender non-conformity has undergone a revolution. Support for gay marriage now stands at 71 percent and growing. 64 percent of Americans say that transgender people should be protected from discrimination, and great news: They are, indeed, protected by the law. These realities were as unthinkable in the 2000s as Donald Trump becoming president or a moody reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

In my opinion, these gains are some of the most important progress society has made in my lifetime. And more progress remains to be made. But it doesn’t follow that anything that any transgender activist calls for is part of a righteous crusade that will be embraced by history. There is — there logically must be — something activists could ask for that is a bad idea. Personally, I think that an embargo on coverage of youth gender medicine that strays from GLAAD talking points is in that category. I might be wrong (TM), but I do genuinely believe that. So, if I’m making a mistake, then I’m making an entirely different mistake than the one I made in the 2000s.

Abortion attitudes after Roe

So much good stuff in this latest PRRI report on abortion attitudes after Roe (there’s also a nice set of just the key images in this powerpoint).  Some highlights:

Would like to see the “always” legal in contrast to never, but no pretty chart for that.  Anyway, the absolutist pro-life position clearly on the decline.

The age distribution is notable:

Younger Americans notably more pro-choice.  And it would be really surprising to see this particular attitude shift rightward.  I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think we’ve typically seen age gaps like this on abortion.

I don’t like to put too much stock in public opinion questions like the following, but, is nonetheless telling of the changing salience of abortion for Democrats (and here’s an extended analysis of that in the Post):

And the last cool chart… this political “litmus test” broken down by demographics:

Women and younger Americans are more inclined to vote based upon their abortion views.  I’m actually doing some very much related research on this using 2022 American National Election Studies data.  I shall report back.


Quick hits (part I)

1) Great Adam Serwer piece on Fox News:

The Dominion filing drives home a few points. One is that there is a Fox News propaganda feedback loop: The network inflames right-wing conspiracism, but it also bows to it out of partisan commitment and commercial incentive. Another is that despite the long-standing right-wing argument that conservatives distrust mainstream media outlets because they do not tell the truth, Fox News executives and personalities understand that their own network loses traction with its audience when it fails to tell the lies that the audience wishes to hear. There are infinite examples of the mainstream press making errors of omission, fact, or framing. But as the private communications in the Dominion filing show, the mainstream media’s unforgivable sin with this constituency is not lying, but failing to consistently lie the way conservative audiences want them to.

Looking at these internal messages however, the confident, implacable cynicism on the right about how mainstream media outlets work is easier to understand. It is a reflection of how some of their own media institutions function, combined with an assumption that everyone else operates in a similarly amoral way.

Internally, Carlson referred to Sidney Powell, the attorney who was spreading the false fraud allegations, as a “complete nut,” while the Fox News host Sean Hannity said in a deposition that the “whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second.” But Carlson and Hannity also demanded that the Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich be fired after she fact-checked one of Trump’s tweets spreading the false election-fraud claims about Dominion, with one Fox executive fretting that viewers would be “disgusted.” The offending tweet was deleted. In another email, a different Fox executive feared that what he called “conspiratorial reporting” at Newsmax “might be exactly what the disgruntled FNC viewer is looking for,” later warning, “Do not ever give viewers a reason to turn us off. Every topic and guest must perform.”

2) A bunch of good tweets I’ve bookmarked in the past few weeks and forgot to share in previous quick hits.  Starting with Joseph Allen’s policy on ChatGPT use by students.

3) This was great from Tim Urban.

4) I get a ton of my podcast listening in during exercise, but when I really need a pick-me-up, yeah… music.

5) This is wild.  You’d never know that the median American has barely any alcohol in a given week.

6) Some really cool new political science research:

7) This is an amazing use of ChatGPT.  Especially impressed with how it captures Sagan’s voice:

8) The worst part about this is that the police are basically Q-Anon believers, “Connecticut Parents Arrested for Letting Kids, Ages 7 and 9, Walk to Dunkin’ Donuts: “I have never felt threatened by a single person in this town until meeting those officers and the social worker.””

This was in Killingly, Connecticut, a suburban town in the northeast part of the state. The Rivers’ lived near an elementary school, library, state police barracks, sidewalks, crosswalks, many Victorian-style homes, and the aforementioned donut shop. The kids gathered $7, and off they went.

A few minutes later, the River parents heard a knock at the door. It was the police.

The first cop to show up “said he didn’t think it was safe for the kids to walk by themselves,” Rivers tells Reason. “We told him that while we did feel it was safe, we agreed to not allow them to walk around town unsupervised.”

“We thought that would have been the end of it,” Rivers added, “until three more officers showed up.”

The first cop sent Rivers’ husband to retrieve the kids, who had only made it about two blocks. Then mom, dad, and the kids faced a barrage of questions.

“They told us that it wasn’t safe for kids to walk down the street, that there are registered sex offenders all over town that could take them, that drug dealers were going to give them drugs, and that it was ‘a different world now,'” says Rivers.

She tried to dispute what the police were saying, and one of them asked if she watched the news.

The police report, which was reviewed by Reason, makes clear that the police were obsessed with the possibility of sex offenders harming the children. Indeed, they pressed the Rivers to search the sex offender registry to learn which of their neighbors were on it.

The officers also claimed that they had received a dozen 911 calls about the kids during the short time they were gone. Rivers thought this was unlikely, as they had only made it past four other homes. But whatever the rationale, the officers proceeded to charge Rivers’ husband with risk of injury to a minor. They charged Rivers separately for the same thing. Then they arrested her husband and took him away.

9) Paul Poast, “The U.S. Has No Good Options for How to Approach China”

10) On subjective age:

Yet we seem to have an awfully rough go of locating ourselves in time. A friend, nearing 60, recently told me that whenever he looks in the mirror, he’s not so much unhappy with his appearance as startled by it—“as if there’s been some sort of error” were his exact words. (High-school reunions can have this same confusing effect. You look around at your lined and thickened classmates, wondering how they could have so violently capitulated to age; then you see photographs of yourself from that same event and realize: Oh.) The gulf between how old we are and how old we believe ourselves to be can often be measured in light-years—or at least a goodly number of old-fashioned Earth ones…

But “How old do you feel?” is an altogether different question from “How old are you in your head?” The most inspired paper I read about subjective age, from 2006, asked this of its 1,470 participants—in a Danish population (Denmark being the kind of place where studies like these would happen)—and what the two authors discovered is that adults over 40 perceive themselves to be, on average, about 20 percent younger than their actual age. “We ran this thing, and the data were gorgeous,” says David C. Rubin (75 in real life, 60 in his head), one of the paper’s authors and a psychology and neuroscience professor at Duke University. “It was just all these beautiful, smooth curves.”

This is weird to me!  I’m 51.  I don’t know what it would mean to feel 41 or 35 or whatever. What does 41 “feel like”?  I’m I constantly amazed at how old I am?  Yes, actually, but it doesn’t mean I don’t “feel” 51.

11) I had not heard of the S2 Cognition Test, but was totally fascinated by learning of it and this article.  I’ve always talked about great team sport athletes intuitively understanding what I call “the geometry of the game” and I think that’s exactly what’s being measured here.  

The S2 isn’t an intelligence test like the 50-question Wonderlic exam but rather measures how quickly and accurately athletes process information. It’s like the 40-yard dash for the brain.

”The game will never be too fast for Brock, I’ll say that,” said Brandon Ally, a neuroscientist and cofounder of Nashville-based S2 Cognition. “I don’t think he’ll ever have trouble adjusting.”

Ally and his partner, Scott Wylie, have tested more than 40,000 athletes, from big-league batsmen to pro golfers, and the company has contracts with 14 NFL teams. The group already has been testing players at college all-star games during the current draft cycle and will do more testing at next week’s combine in Indianapolis. By the time the draft begins in April, S2 will have scores for more than 800 prospects.

“The GMs have become so interested in the data that we start testing as soon as these kids declare,” Ally said.

The exam lasts 40 to 45 minutes. It’s performed on a specially designed gaming laptop and response pad that can record reactions in two milliseconds. To put that in perspective, an eye blink lasts 100 to 150 milliseconds.

In one section of the exam, a series of diamonds flash on the screen for 16 milliseconds each. Every diamond is missing a point, and the test taker must determine — using left, right, up or down keys — which part is missing.

In another, the test seeks to find out how many objects an athlete can keep track of at the same time. In another, there are 22 figures on the screen and the athlete must locate a specific one as quickly as possible. The object might be a red triangle embedded in other shapes that are also red.

“We’re talking about things they have to perceive on the screen within 16/1,000th of a second, which is essentially subliminal and which scientific literature says you shouldn’t be able to process,” Ally said. “And I’ll be honest with you, we’re seeing pro baseball players see something way faster than 16 milliseconds, which has never been reported in literature, all the way to some athletes who may take 150 milliseconds. So our eyes may see the same thing. But for some, it takes longer to process than others.” …

The battery of tests they had patients perform then are similar to the ones the athletes take now, only they’re modified to record the differences between brains that are merely healthy and ones that work on another level.

Ally says the results are predictive.

He couldn’t give out Purdy’s exact score because it’s privileged information but said it was in the “mid 90s.” That’s about where Brees, the former Saints quarterback famous for lightning-fast decision-making, scored and where two of the top passers in the league now, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen, also landed. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow took the test while at LSU and agreed to allow S2 to disclose the information.

Of course he did — he scored in the 97th percentile.

“We consider anything above the 80th percentile to be elite,” Ally said…

Top-tier quarterbacks have the highest average scores, followed closely by safeties. That makes sense considering safeties are known as the “quarterback of the defense” and must keep an eye on multiple moving opponents.

“The average human being can keep track of about three and a half objects at a time,” Alley said. “The average safety in the NFL, it’s closer to six.”

The positions with the third-highest scores: linebacker and cornerback.

The traditional thinking about cornerback was that it was all about physical skills — being fast and mimicking the movements of a wide receiver. As it turns out, the ability to make rapid decisions and to control impulses are paramount. One of the S2 tests looks at impulse control. Ally said low scores predict substandard play as well as holding and pass-interference penalties.

“If you’re impulsive, you fall prey to that double move,” Ally said. “You make a step in the wrong direction. And second, they just can’t control that impulse to grab a jersey when (the receiver) gets by them. You saw that call in the Super Bowl? We could argue all day long whether that was (a penalty) or not. But you saw him start to get burned and he just couldn’t control that impulse to grab the jersey. That’s very typical of someone with low impulse control.”

12) This is great from Jerusalem Demsas, “Permission-Slip Culture Is Hurting America”

In louisiana, it takes $1,485 and roughly 2,190 days to become an interior designer. In Washington, it takes $319 and 373 days to become a cosmetologist. The District of Columbia requires $740 to become an auctioneer, and a college degree to watch children for someone else. (Having and watching your own children continues to be an unlicensed affair.) In Kansas, you have to cough up $200 to work as a funeral attendant. And Maine requires $235 and 1,095 days to become a travel guide. Want to move states? That could mean you have to relicense, as if, say, cutting hair is materially different in Massachusetts than it is in New York.

This is absurd, and not just to me. Last week, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu announced that he would seek to “fully remove 34 different outdated licenses from state government” and eliminate “14 underutilized regulatory boards.” He also said that he would seek to make New Hampshire the next state to adopt universal recognition: “If you have a substantially similar license and are in good standing in another state, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a license on Day One in New Hampshire.” He joins a number of governors in embracing universal recognition but is going one step further by pushing to fully delicense certain professions.

The usual argument in favor of strict and pervasive licensing is that the system helps ensure high standards for consumer welfare. Of course we can all think of several professions where some form of licensing makes sense: doctors and nurses, operators of dangerous machinery, handlers of hazardous materials. But the assumption that barriers to entry, no matter their form, will necessarily increase the quality of services provided is flawed.

The Institute for Justice looked at state licensing requirements for 102 low-income occupations across the country and found that 88 percent of those professions were unlicensed in at least one state, suggesting that the system is fairly arbitrary. It also found that a high licensing burden does not mean a high-risk occupation: “Workers in 71 occupations, including all the barbering and beauty occupations we study, face greater average burdens than entry-level emergency medical technicians.”

Nor does licensing necessarily translate to high standards for health and safety. A report by the Obama White House in 2015 concluded that “most research does not find that licensing improves quality or public health and safety” and that “stricter licensing was associated with quality improvements in only 2 out of the 12 studies reviewed.”

So the benefits of excessive licensing are unsubstantiated, theoretical, or minimal. But the drawbacks? Those are very real for workers and consumers alike…

Occupational licensing springs from a permission-slip mentality that has infected American political institutions of all sorts. Permission slips to braid hair, permission slips to build affordable housing, permission slips to put solar panels on your roof … a country full of adults raising our hands waiting for someone to let us use the bathroom!

Although pro-licensing forces would have you believe that we must choose between permission-slip governance and peril, this is a false choice. The question is not whether a particular industry poses risks but what kind and how they can best be reduced. Our current licensing regime has not rid American society of risk; heavily licensed industries continue to present safety issues. Instead it has exacerbated labor shortages in crucial industries, encouraged artificially high prices, and created unreasonable barriers to employment and mobility.

I don’t need government workers to ensure that a restaurant is aesthetically pleasing by licensing interior designers; I need them to certify that the food is safe by regularly inspecting establishments. I don’t need the government to decide who’s qualified to work as a locksmith; I can ask my neighbors or check Yelp for advice. And although a test may be appropriate to guarantee that someone can operate a forklift, a college degree most certainly isn’t.

13) Good stuff about libel law and the legal case against Fox News:

If so, the messages could amount to powerful body of evidence against Fox, according to First Amendment experts, because they meet a critical and difficult-to-meet standard in such cases.

“You just don’t often get smoking-gun evidence of a news organization saying internally, ‘We know this is patently false, but let’s forge ahead with it,’” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a University of Utah professor who specializes in media law.

Under New York Times v. Sullivan, a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that has guided libel and defamation claims for nearly 60 years, a plaintiff like Dominion must show that a defendant like Fox published false statements with “actual malice” — meaning that it was done “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

Based on the messages revealed last week, “I think that Dominion both will and should prevail,” said Laurence Tribe, a former Harvard law professor. “If anything, the landmark this case is likely to establish will help show that New York Times v. Sullivan” is not an impossible legal hurdle to clear, as some critics have claimed.

“While it’s true that the Supreme Court [in Sullivan] has set a high bar for plaintiffs, a high bar doesn’t mean no bar,” said Sonja R. West, a First Amendment scholar at the University of Georgia law school. “What we’re seeing in this case looks an awful lot like the exception that proves the rule. The First Amendment often protects speakers who make innocent or even negligent mistakes, but this does not mean they can knowingly tell lies that damage the reputation of others.”

14) I’ll admit to not reading all of this, but for my fellow ChatGPT lovers, this is the ultimate explanation for how it works. 

15) A nice little essay on three lessons from the Ukraine war

The three lessons of the past year—war is never straightforward; power is not based on weapons; national identity has military value—should come as a relief to supporters of democracy. The great tragedy is that they had to be relearned in the first place.

16) Lots of good stuff in Chait’s newsletter this week.  I liked this part about standardized tests:

17) I also liked this take on the measures taken by the “there’s a scientific consensus on ‘gender-affirming care’ for teens and if you say otherwise you are a transphobe!” crowd:

18) Paul Waldman, “Republican elites fear the monster they created”

On screen, Fox News personalities paint a world of clear heroes and villains, where conservatives are always strong and right and liberals are weak and wrong. But the extraordinary private communications revealed in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox show who they really are. Panicked over Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, those same hosts, and the executives who run the network, cowered in abject terror.

They feared the same monster that keeps House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) up at night, the monster that conservative media and Republican politicians created: base voters who are deluded, angry and vengeful.

McCarthy has sought to appease the beast by granting exclusive access to 44,000 hours of surveillance footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to Fox News host Tucker Carlson. But with each capitulation, McCarthy and Fox News only make the monster stronger…

These documents make clear not only that Fox News stars and executives think their audience is a bunch of half-wits but also that they live in fear that the audience will turn on them unless they tell viewers exactly what they want to hear regardless of the facts.

Who taught that audience to believe conspiracy theories and to assume that any unwelcome information must be a sinister lie? Fox News, of course.

Now consider Jan. 6. McCarthy knows the facts. The Capitol insurrection wasn’t a false-flag operation by antifa or the FBI. Indeed, McCarthy initially blasted Trump for his role in stirring the rioters and dismissed conspiracy theories. So why has he given exclusive access to surveillance footage to Carlson, the constant purveyor of conspiracy theories?

There’s no mystery. Carlson’s producers will comb through endless pixels to find images with which to mislead viewers: to convince them that the riot wasn’t so bad or that Trump’s supporters weren’t to blame or that the whole thing was a setup…

Like the trembling dissemblers of Fox News, McCarthy must feel that he has no choice: Feed the beast or be eaten by it. Winning the future is an idea they cannot latch on to because they are so frantic to survive one more day.

Republican elites are not powerless. They helped make this mess and could nudge their base back toward reality if they chose. But they’re too afraid to try.

19) It really is ridiculous what a stigma we place on herpes when you consider how damn common it is and how easily it spreads.  It’s one damn tricky virus. 

Brittany, 29, who asked that her last name be withheld in order to discuss her personal health, only thinks about her HSV-2 when she scrolls through a dating app. In the two years since she was diagnosed, she’s only had one outbreak. Still, when she looks at each profile, she wonders how the man would respond to learning about her diagnosis. “I just worry so much that people are going to judge me,” she said. “That no matter how I present it to them, I’ll still face rejection. That weighs heavily on me.”

Some men have told her, flat-out, that they would never date someone with herpes, but what bothers her, too, are the ones who say, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” she said. “I wake up every day and I’m fine.”

Scientists have worked on herpes vaccines in fits and starts since the 1970s, said Dr. Harvey Friedman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine who has studied the disease for over 40 years. But past attempts have failed, for reasons researchers are still trying to uncover.

Because herpes has been around for so long, the viruses have evolved alongside us, making them more difficult to eradicate, said Christine Johnston, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine who has studied herpes.

There are new vaccines under development. Dr. Friedman is working with BioNTech on an HSV-2 vaccine candidate that was given to the first human subject in December. But none are in late-stage clinical trials, said Dr. Ina Park, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of S.T.D.s.” “There’s nothing anywhere close to prime time,” she said.

20) My 23-year old son has no desire for a driver’s license.  I thought his brother would get his right when he turned 16 (as I did on my 16th birthday), but he’s 17 and seemingly no rush (though, I think in the next few months).  But, this is really common these days. “Why aren’t teenagers driving anymore?”

When Dawn Johnson was a teenager growing up in Northern Virginia in the 1990s, she remembers counting down the days until she could start driving. The freedom to see her friends whenever she wanted was tantalizing, she says: “I wanted to get out of my house.”

So when her son, Derek, turned 15 nearly 10 months ago, she and her husband thought he might feel the same. “We were like, Derek, don’t you want to do this?” she says. “And he was like, ‘Nah. I’m good.’ And we just — we did not understand it.”

Driving a car was once a widely coveted rite of passage, but a rising number of kids no longer see it that way: 60 percent of American 18-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2021, down from 80 percent in 1983, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. In that same period, the number of 16-year-olds with licenses dropped from 46 percent to 25 percent. Today’s driving-age teens are navigating a very different world, filled with new complexities and anxieties.

21) Excellent NYT Editorial on what our drug policy should be, “America Has Lost the War on Drugs. Here’s What Needs to Happen Next.”

But there’s still much work for the nation’s leaders to do.

Amend outdated policies. Criminal justice still has a role to play in tackling addiction and overdose. The harm done by drugs extends far beyond the people who use them, and addictive substances — including legal ones like alcohol — have always contributed to crime. There is a better balance to strike, nonetheless, between public health and law enforcement.

One example is the so-called “crack house statute.” This federal law subjects anyone to steep penalties, including decades in prison, if they maintain a building for the purpose of using illicit drugs. It was enacted at the height of the crack epidemic but is currently being used to stymie supervised consumption sites, which are fundamentally different from crack houses.

At supervised consumption programs, people bring their own drugs, including heroin, and use them under the supervision of a staff that has been trained to reverse overdoses, promote safer drug use and in some cases help people access treatment. With several states now considering planning or starting supervised consumption programs, federal officials should make it clear that the people operating them will not face prosecution.

The federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine should finally be eliminated. The “Len Bias Law,” which enables courts to send anyone involved in an overdose death to prison, should also be amended, so that family members or fellow drug users aren’t criminalized for calling 911 in a crisis.

Invest in treatment. There are not enough programs or trained medical professionals to treat substance-use disorders.

As a result, it is too often left to the criminal justice system to decide who gets care. When wait lists for programs run long, people whose treatment is court-ordered jump to the front of the line. The outcomes have not been great. Judges and probation officers tend to have a paltry understanding of addiction medicine, producing treatment that tends to be punitive instead of therapeutic. For example, people placed on parole or probation for drug-related crimes are often incarcerated when they relapse, instead of getting additional care. (Relapses are a common feature of substance-use disorder and a normal part of the recovery process.)

One way to shift this calculus is to create incentives for more doctors and medical professionals to treat addiction. Lifting the special waiver that doctors need to prescribe buprenorphine — as federal lawmakers recently did — will help.

Other policy tweaks are needed as well: Parity laws, which require health insurers to cover addiction and mental health services as extensively as they cover treatments for other medical conditions, should be expanded to include Medicare. There are a lot of people aging into that program with substance-use disorders. Elected officials should also make basic training in addiction treatment a requirement for medical schools that receive state and federal funding.

Address root causes. People cannot heal from, or live stably with, substance-use disorders if they lack proper housing or suffer from untreated trauma or mental illness. For harm reduction — or any honest attempt to address the nation’s drug use and overdose epidemic — to succeed, communities will need to create more housing options. They will also need to provide clear pathways for people struggling with addiction to achieve food security and to have access to basic medical care. Policies that make it easier for people convicted of drug felonies to get benefits from social safety-net programs — including food stamps and supportive housing programs — would help. So would the Medicaid Re-entry Act, a bill that would reactivate Medicaid for inmates before their release.

Build an actual system. In other advanced nations, harm reduction and treatment for addiction are core public health services funded and protected by the national government. In the United States, syringe service programs and would-be supervised consumption sites have largely been left on their own, forced to design vital public health programs from scratch, then operate them in a legal morass, with little guidance or support.

22) I know nothing about Politics in Peru.  But as a political parties scholar, I loved this, “Peru is a Warning
Democracy doesn’t work without strong political parties.”

23) Jared Diamond, “Like Finland, Imagine Everything That Could Go Wrong”

Finland offers a model of preparing politically for any disaster. During World War II, Finns suffered greatly as a result of being cut off from imports. Finns responded after the war by setting up a government commission that meets once a month, imagines everything that could go wrong and each month plans and prepares for one such disaster. (A Finnish friend of mine is on that commission.) Finns are now prepared for chemical shortages, fuel shortages, medical supply shortages, an electric net failure and other eventualities.

One of those Finnish commission meetings several years ago recognized the likelihood of a respiratory disease pandemic. The commission advised the government to buy and store lots of face masks, which were cheap at the time. The result: Finland was ready for Covid, as well as for all of those other disasters.

Similar thinking is useful in our personal lives. In my field work as a biologist in New Guinea’s jungles, almost everything that could go wrong has at some time gone wrong for me. Whenever I’ve had an accident in Los Angeles, my wife has driven me to the hospital emergency room. But I don’t have that option in New Guinea’s jungles. After some close calls, I eventually learned to think constantly about what could next go wrong, and to prepare for it. I’ve found that habit useful even in my daily life in Los Angeles.

Psychiatrists use the term “paranoia” to mean constant exaggerated fear of something going wrong. Many non-Finns, and many of my Los Angeles friends, consider Finns’ and my outlook on life as an absurd vice, verging on paranoia. I consider our outlook as a healthy virtue that I call constructive paranoia. In other words, be ready for lots of bad luck.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Michelle Goldberg on Fox News and the Dominion lawsuit:

As the Dominion filing lays out, there was panic at Fox News over viewer backlash to the network correctly calling Arizona for Joe Biden on election night. Despite its accuracy, the call was viewed, internally, as a catastrophe.

“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson texted his producer. He added, “An alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.” Sean Hannity, in an exchange with fellow hosts Carlson and Laura Ingraham, fretted about the “incalculable” damage the Arizona projection did to the Fox News brand and worried about a competitor emerging: “Serious $$ with serious distribution could be a real problem.”

Hyping false claims about election fraud was a way for Fox to win its audience back. While the Arizona call was “damaging,” Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott wrote in a text to Fox executive Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son, “We will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them.”

When Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked Trump’s wild claims about Dominion on Twitter, Carlson was enraged and tried to get her fired. “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight,” he texted Hannity. “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” (Heinrich kept her job but deleted the tweet.)

The network knew, of course, that Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell, a chief promoter of Dominion conspiracy theories, was a delusional fantasist. The legal brief reveals that some of her claims about Dominion were based on an email Powell had received from someone who claimed to be capable of “time travel in a semiconscious state.” On Nov. 18, 2020, Carlson told Ingraham: “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. Caught her. It’s insane.” Ingraham wrote back that Powell was a “complete nut.”

But according to the Dominion brief, an analysis by Ron Mitchell, the senior vice president for prime-time programming and analytics, found that “Fox viewers were switching the channel specifically to watch Sidney Powell as a guest” on Newsmax. A few days after this analysis, Powell was a guest on Hannity’s show.

At one point, Carlson did express skepticism of Powell on-air, noting on Nov. 19 that she had never produced evidence for her claims. “Maybe Sidney Powell will come forward soon with details on exactly how this happened, and precisely who did it,” he said, adding, “We are certainly hopeful that she will.”

Even this gentle note of doubt produced viewer pushback, though most of a message about it from Fox executive Raj Shah is redacted. Afterward, Carlson seems to have given up trying to steer his audience away from total credulity about Trump’s stolen election claims, even though he privately called Trump a “demonic force.” On Jan. 26, Carlson hosted MyPillow founder Mike Lindell on his show and let him sound off about Dominion without resistance. In fairness, Carlson may have had a motive for indulging Lindell besides grubbing for ratings. As Media Matters for America pointed out, MyPillow at the time was Carlson’s single biggest advertiser.

2) Andrew Prokop, “A juicy new legal filing reveals who really controls Fox News”

Who really runs Fox News?

Some liberals have a mental model in which the network lies to and misleads its audience, propagandizing them to support Republicans and the right. But an ongoing defamation lawsuit from the voting machine company Dominion against Fox News tells a more complex story — one in which the network’s key players feel compelled to supply the conspiratorial content the audience is demanding.

new filing by Dominion’s attorneys released Thursday cited a trove of Fox emails and texts they had obtained in the discovery phase of the lawsuit, as well as testimony from top executives and hosts, to lay out a narrative about what happened in the tense weeks after Election Day 2020, when then-President Donald Trump was spreading lies about the election.

As they discussed coverage of Trump’s falsehoods, Fox’s top executives and primetime personalities were explicitly terrified of alienating pro-Trump viewers, panicked about losing the “trust” of the audience, and anxious about competition from the further right and more conspiratorial Newsmax.

Almost everyone at the network, it seems, understood Trump’s allegations about a stolen election, and particularly his attorney Sidney Powell’s wacky tales of malfeasance from Dominion, were nonsense.

But an intense culture of what one might call “political correctness” took hold — in which challenging Trump and Powell’s claims could only happen with the utmost care and sensitivity, for fear of offending the tender feelings of Fox viewers.

More broadly, in understanding how lies and conspiracies spread on the right, it’s important to reckon not just with the suppliers of this coverage, but also the demand. There’s an intense desire for it among viewers that organizations like Fox calculate they have to satisfy in some way. And if Fox doesn’t provide it, those audiences will just seek it out elsewhere.

3) I didn’t know all that much about Ruben Gallego (he’ll hopefully knock-off Sinema and be Arizona’s next Democratic Senator), but I consider myself a huge fan after this interview.  

4) The fact that DeSantis thinks it is good politics to take on not just AP African-American studies, but all of the College Board and AP classes suggests that his political instincts are not always so great.  Talk about alienating suburban voters!

5) Good stuff from Chait, “Fight the Anti-Trans Backlash With Accountability, Not Silence.”  Relatedly, the hysterical, hyper-aggressive, completely non-rational response to pieces like this from Chait by the trans-activists on twitter just completely undermine their position.  

On Wednesday, a large collection of progressive journalists launched a public campaign, including a letter and a coordinated in-person demonstration by GLAAD, to protest the New York Times’s coverage of youth gender care. The letter claims the Times’s coverage is excessive, and it raises a couple attribution complaints about sources in a few of the stories to suggest the overall tenor is biased toward criticism.

The letter’s key premise is that the Times is whipping up public concern over a nonexistent phenomenon. “Puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and gender⁠-⁠affirming surgeries have been standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades,” explains the letter. Since nothing especially new is occurring medically (“This is not a cultural emergency”), it follows that reporters have no reason to give the matter any new attention.

But this is simply not true. Reporting in theTimes, and in the other publications noted above, all show clearly that the field has undergone dramatic changes in the last decade or so. The old practice asked medical providers to diagnose gender dysphoria only in children who expressed persistent belief that they had the wrong gender identity. Many medical providers have adopted the view advocated by activists that children’s professed identity needs to be taken at face value almost immediately, with significantly less medical gatekeeping.

“I think what we’ve seen historically in trans care is an overfocus on assessing identity,” Colt St. Amand, a family-medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic told theTimes. “People are who they say they are, and they may develop and change, and all are normal and okay. So I am less concerned with certainty around identity, and more concerned with hearing the person’s embodiment goals.” This is a candid description of the new theory sweeping through clinics across the country: Stop the “overfocus” on assessing the gender identity of kids, and instead take their statement at face value and proceed to helping them actualize what they say they want.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) last year dropped its age guidelines for hormone use and surgeries. Some clinicians have expressed concern over the new practices. “It went so quickly that not even centers but individual clinicians, people who were not knowledgeable, were just giving this kind of treatment,” said Dr. Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, a Dutch psychologist who worked at the clinic that pioneered treatment for transgender youth, in another story in the Times. Many American gender clinics, Reuters found, prescribe puberty blockers “on the first visit, depending on the age of the child.”

At the same time as providers have sped up their protocols for transitioning children, the number of children requesting gender reassignment has risen dramatically. Within a few years, the number of young people identifying as transgender “nearly doubled,” and the number of pediatric gender clinics exploded from “a handful” to more than 60.

Unlike in past years, when “those assigned male at birth accounted for the majority,” a large majority of children questioning their gender now were assigned female at birth, reported Reuters. “Adolescents assigned female at birth initiate transgender care 2.5 to 7.1 times more frequently than those assigned male at birth,” according to WPATH. This is taking place in the context of a mental health crisis that is disproportionately affecting girls and LGBTQ+ teens. Properly assessing kids who question their gender is much more challenging when they are afflicted with serious mental health challenges. And so medical providers are diagnosing and treating kids much faster than before at a time when the patient population has become much harder to diagnose.

Whatever parallels the letter writers see to past practices — the letter cites episodes going back as far as 1394 — phenomena like a surgeon on TikTok telling teens to “Come to Miami to see me and the rest of the De Titty Committee,” as Reuters found, are new. One can defend the new practices, but it is preposterous to maintain that the field has merely continued “standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades,” rather than having implemented a very sharp change.

But proceeding from the false assumption that nothing significant has changed in the field of youth-gender care, it is easy to see why progressive critics would believe the only explanation for the Times devoting significant reporting resources to the issue would be to foment a panic. And what other motives would the Times have to foment a panic besides fear and bias?…

The primary harm cited by the protesters is one that arises regularly any time a reporter or commentator suggests there are problems with the new treatment practices for gender-questioning youth: They are blamed for a wave of Republican-driven laws. It doesn’t matter if the reporter or critic opposes these laws. The presumption is that anything that discredits the left automatically benefits the right. The anti-Times letter makes a great deal of the fact that Times reporting has been cited by sources like Arkansas’s attorney general, and that a conservative activist “approvingly cited the Times’ reporting and relied on its reputation as the ‘paper of record’ to justify criminalizing gender⁠-⁠affirming care.”

It is true that Republicans are passing a wave of harmful, restrictive laws on trans medical access. The blame for laws like this does not rest with the medical providers who demanded evidence for the rapidly changing protocols in their field, nor with the reporters who brought these doubts to light. It lies first with politicians and the party that pass them. But blame will rest as well with activists who were so certain they stood on the side of justice that they sought to silence all doubt until it was too late.

Of course, the whole reason leftists try to associate reporters at the Times with Republican-backed laws is precisely that their targets do not agree with the conservative position on transgender care. If they did agree with it, there would be no shame in associating them with Republican-sponsored legislation. The point is to discredit any middle position, forcing a binary choice between extremes.

The idea that reporting on failures and abuses in the system feeds a backlash strikes me as completely backward. Of course, the right is going to push for harmful laws restricting trans youth regardless of the evidence. But the degree to which those bans win support in the middle of the political spectrum depends heavily on whether there is any real abuse in the system to correct. Conservative “bathroom” bills have died out because they combatted an imaginary problem with no real or sympathetic victims. Measures that target a real problem — even if they go too far — stand a better chance of success if they can point to actual, not imagined, harm.

The official line of pro-trans activists and their allies has maintained a dogmatic insistence that such victims of the newer, faster, and more aggressive treatment of gender-questioning kids are vanishingly rare. But that insistence has often extended to reflexively denying or ridiculing trans people who come to regret their transition (as two trans researchers, Leo Valdes and Kinnon MacKinnon, explained in The Atlantic).

6) This is cool– some polling on ChatGPT:

One-third (35%) of the public reports hearing a lot about recent artificial intelligence developments regarding the ability of computers and machines to carry out decision-making thought processes similar to humans. This level of awareness is much higher than eight years ago (12%). The biggest increase has been among younger adults. In 2015, just 12% of 18- to 34-year-olds heard a lot about recent developments in the field. Today, nearly half (45%) this age group says the same. Overall, more men (46%) than women (24%) have heard a lot about recent AI developments. Fully 9 in 10 Americans (91%) are aware of the term artificial intelligence, which is up from 70% in 2015.

One of the newer AI products is ChatGPT, an application that can have conversations and write entire essays based on a few human prompts. Six in ten (60%) Americans have heard about this product and 72% believe there will be a time when entire news articles will be written by artificial intelligence. However, very few see this as a positive development. In fact, more than 3 in 4 (78%) say that news articles written by AI would be a bad thing. Furthermore, 65% say it is very likely that AI programs such as ChatGPT will be used by students to cheat on their schoolwork.

“AI has started to permeate every facet of life. Most Americans are skeptical that this is a good thing, even though many of them use some form of artificial intelligence on a regular basis already,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Overall, only 1 in 10 (9%) Americans believe computer scientists’ ability to develop AI would do more good than harm to society. The remainder are divided between saying AI would do equal amounts of harm and good (46%) or that it would actually do more harm to society overall (41%). These results are largely unchanged from Monmouth’s poll in 2015, but public opinion continues to be more pessimistic about AI’s impact than it was a generation ago. When this same question was asked in 1987 by Cambridge Reports/Research International, 20% of Americans said AI would do more good than harm, 29% expected equal amounts of harm and good, and 39% said it would do more harm overall.

7) This is pretty wild, “Orca Moms Pay a High Price to Feed Large Adult Sons: A maternal preference for sons in a group of killer whales that swim off the Pacific Northwest may contribute to its endangered status.”

A fully grown male orca is one of the planet’s fiercest hunters. He’s a wily, streamlined torpedo who can weigh as much as 11 tons. No other animal preys on him. Yet in at least one population, these apex predators struggle to survive without their moms, who catch their food and even cut it up for them.

Scientists have previously seen that some killer whale mothers share food with their grown sons. In a study published Wednesday in Current Biology, researchers found that this prolonged feeding carries a huge reproductive cost for mothers.

Killer whales, actually the largest members of the dolphin family, swim throughout the world’s oceans. Yet they live in discrete populations with their own territories, dialects and hunting customs. A group that spends much of the year off the coast of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon is known as the southern residents. They eat mainly Chinook salmon, which have been increasingly hard to find.

“Killer whales worldwide are doing fine,” said Michael Weiss, research director at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash. But the southern residents, with a population of just 73, are considered endangered.

These whales stay with their birth family for their whole lives. The families are led by matriarchs who can live 80 to 90 years. Yet the females stop reproducing in midlife: Orcas and a few other whale species are the only mammals, besides humans, known to undergo menopause.

To try to explain menopause, scientists have looked for ways that matriarchs encourage the survival of their children and grandchildren. A 2012 study of southern resident killer whales, along with their neighbors, the northern residents, showed that the presence of older moms helped adult offspring stay alive — especially sons. Males over age 30 were eight times more likely to die in the year following their own mothers’ deaths.

One likely factor is that their moms feed them. After a female dives to catch a salmon, Dr. Weiss said, she surfaces with the fish sideways in her mouth. Another whale, often her son, may lurk over her shoulder. “She’ll basically jerk her head and bite down really hard, and half of the fish will float back behind her,” Dr. Weiss said, to her waiting kid. This feeding continues throughout the son’s life.

An adult male may be simply too bulky to easily chase a fleeing salmon, Dr. Weiss said. The whale’s more petite mom “not only is probably better at catching the fish but probably better at finding it,” he said, thanks to her years of experience. “We think that’s a big part of what’s keeping these males alive.”

8) “Cunk on Earth” is basically a polished Ali G (one of my all-time favorites) meets history documentary and it’s so good. 

Philomena Cunk, the host of Netflix and BBC Two’s Cunk on Earth, a mockumentary series about the history of human civilization, asks the stupidestquestions. Half historical tour guide and half field reporter, the character, played by comedian Diane Morgan, trains her glassy gaze upon real academics who’ve dedicated their lives to scholarship and poses queries like, “How did Egyptians build the pyramids? Did they start at the top and work down?” and “Were numbers worth less back in ancient times?” These experts, many of whom are in on the bit, play along by answering her questions as sincerely as they can. In episode five, Ashley Jackson, a professor of imperial and military history at London’s King’s College, gives in quickly after Cunk accuses him of “mansplaining” the distinction between the Soviet Union and what she calls the “Soviet Onion.” “If you want to talk about Russian Soviet vegetables, we can,” he says.

But Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator — best known in the United States for creating the anthology series Black Mirror — knows Cunk on Earth can’t sustain itself on dopey interview questions alone (Morgan’s Cunk character originated on Brooker’s mid-2010s BBC Two series, Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe), so the show etches out different ways to maintain its profound commitment to stupidity. Cunk’s narration is packed with factual inaccuracies, anecdotes about eccentric characters from her personal life, and daffy non sequiturs. “What’s ironic about Jesus Christ becoming a carpenter was he was actually named after the two words you’re most likely to shout after hitting your thumb with a hammer,” she says in episode two. For no apparent reason, the show’s go-to benchmark for the measurement of time is the 1989 Technotronic song “Pump Up the Jam.” Each reference to the “unrelated Belgian techno anthem” is accompanied by nearly 40 seconds of the song’s extremely ’80s music video and a chyron displaying jokes about the song like, “‘Pump Up the Jam’ is an anagram of ‘Jam Up the Pump.’” There is a commercial for a hotel resort played completely straight, a solo reenactment of a medieval feast turned mêlée soundtracked by expert sound design, a Black Mirror–inspired bit about traumatizing an artificially intelligent Beethoven by re-creating his sentience within a smart speaker, and more.

9) Robinson Meyer, “A Huge, Uncharted Experiment on the U.S. Economy Is About to Begin”

If you want to understand the immense windfall the Biden administration is about to bestow on green industries, take a look at hydrogen. Engineers still aren’t exactly sure what role the gas will play in a climate-friendly economy, but they’re pretty sure that (contra the ridicule in “Glass Onion) it will be useful for something. We might burn it to generate heat in factories, for instance, or use it to make high-tech chemicals.

And thanks to three laws Congress passed over the past two years — the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act — the industry will be very well taken care of. Over the next decade, the government is going to invest $8 billion in hydrogen “hubs” across the country, special zones where companies, universities and local governments can build the machinery and expertise that the new industry needs. Other hydrogen projects will qualify for a $10 billion pot of money in the Inflation Reduction Act or $1.5 billion in the infrastructure bill. Still others could draw from a new $6.3 billion program that will help industrial firms develop financially risky demonstration projects.

So that’s up to $25.8 billion before you get to the bazooka: an uncapped tax credit for hydrogen that could pay out perhaps $100 billion or more over the next decades.

Few Americans realize it yet, but the trifecta of the Biden-era laws amounts to one of the biggest experiments in how the American government oversees the economy in a generation. If this experiment is successful, it will change how politicians think about managing the market for years to come. If it fails or misfires, then it will greatly limit the number of tools to fight climate change or a recession. The story of the 21st-century American economy is being shaped now.

I say “experiment,” but, really, there are two. The first concerns the economy. President Biden’s team believes that it can move the United States toward a more robust, high-capacity and even re-industrialized economy. Can it? And can it use policy moreover to make sure that innovative ideas don’t get lost in the research lab or patent office, but instead make their way to the factory floor and corporate showroom, generating jobs and economic value along the way?

Don’t get me wrong: Some kind of climate boom is now all but assured. The investment bank Credit Suisse predicted last year that the Inflation Reduction Act would put more than $800 billion into the economy by the end of the decade, galvanizing more than $1.7 trillion in climate-friendly public and private spending overall. The law will transform the United States into the “world’s leading energy provider,” the bank said. The American renewable industry alone could attract 78 percent more investment per year by 2031, according to the energy-research firm Wood Mackenzie.

10) Damn I just hate this post-Roe reality, “Her baby has a deadly diagnosis. Her Florida doctors refused an abortion.”

Deborah and Lee Dorbert say the most painful decision of their lives was not honored by the physicians they trust. Even though medical experts expect their baby to survive only 20 minutes to a couple of hours, the Dorberts say their doctors told them that because of the new legislation, they could not terminate the pregnancy.

“That’s what we wanted,” Deborah said. “The doctors already told me, no matter what, at 24 weeks or full term, the outcomefor the baby is going to be the same.”

Florida’s H.B. 5 — Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality — went into effect last July, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court overturneda half-century constitutional right to abortion.

The new law bans abortion after 15 weeks with a couple of exceptions, including one that permits a later termination if “two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality” and has not reached viability.

It is not clear how the Dorberts’ doctors applied the law in this situation. Their baby has a condition long considered lethal that is now the subject of clinical trials to assess a potential treatment.

Neither Dorbert’s obstetrician nor the maternal fetal medicine specialist she consulted responded to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesman for Lakeland Regional Health, thehospital system the doctors are affiliated with, declined to discussDorbert’s case or how it is interpreting the new law. In an emailed statement, Tim Boynton, the spokesman, said, “Lakeland Regional Health complies with all laws in the state of Florida.”

The combination of a narrow exception to the law and harsh penalties for violating it terrifies physicians, according to Autumn Katz, interim director of litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who has been tracking the implementation of abortion bans across the country.

Florida physicians who violate the new law face penalties including the possibility of losing their licenses, steep fines and up to five years in prison.As a result, Katz said, they “are likely to err on the side of questioning whether the conditions are fully met.”

11) Apparently, norovirus is making a big comeback these days.  My family has been fortunate in not experiencing this for many years now, but we’ve sure done our norovirus time.  It’s just an insanely effective virus:

Still, fighting norovirus isn’t easy, as plenty of parents can attest. The pathogen, which prompts the body to expel infectious material from both ends of the digestive tract, is seriously gross and frustratingly hardy. Even the old COVID standby, a spritz of hand sanitizer, doesn’t work against it—the virus is encased in a tough protein shell that makes it insensitive to alcohol. Some have estimated that ingesting as few as 18 infectious units of virus can be enough to sicken someone, “and normally, what’s getting shed is in the billions,” says Megan Baldridge, a virologist and immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis. At an extreme, a single gram of feces—roughly the heft of a jelly bean—could contain as many as 5.5 billion infectious doses, enough to send the entire population of Eurasia sprinting for the toilet.

Unlike flu and RSV, two other pathogens that have bounced back to prominence in recent months, norovirus mainly targets the gut, and spreads especially well when people swallow viral particles that have been released in someone else’s vomit or stool. (Despite its “stomach flu” nickname, norovirus is not a flu virus.) But direct contact with those substances, or the food or water they contaminate, may not even be necessary: Sometimes people vomit with such force that the virus gets aerosolized; toilets, especially lidless ones, can send out plumes of infection like an Air Wick from hell. And Altan-Bonnet’s team has found that saliva may be an unappreciated reservoir for norovirus, at least in laboratory animals. If the spittle finding holds for humans, then talking, singing, and laughing in close proximity could be risky too.

Once emitted into the environment, norovirus particles can persist on surfaces for days—making frequent hand-washing and surface disinfection key measures to prevent spread, says Ibukun Kalu, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Duke University. Handshakes and shared meals tend to get dicey during outbreaks, along with frequently touched items such as utensils, door handles, and phones. One 2012 study pointed to a woven plastic grocery bag as the source of a small outbreak among a group of teenage soccer players; the bag had just been sitting in a bathroom used by one of the girls when she fell sick the night before.

Once a norovirus transmission chain begins, it can be very difficult to break. The virus can spread before symptoms start, and then for more than a week after they resolve. To make matters worse, immunity to the virus tends to be short-lived, lasting just a few months even against a genetically identical strain, Baldridge told me.

12) Catherine Rampell on Trump’s tax cuts:

This past week, more than 70 Republican lawmakers introduced a bill to make permanent the 2017 GOP-passed tax cuts, large chunks of which are scheduled to expire in 2025. Thenew bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), credited the original tax cuts for “historic economic growth” and promised more “prosperity” ahead if they’re extended.

The White House, among others, has repeatedly attacked the proposed Trump tax-cut extension. With pretty good reason: At precisely the same time that Republicans are raising a hue-and-cry about federal deficits, they’re proposing a measure that would massively worsen our fiscal challenges.

Extending President Donald Trump’s individual tax cuts in full would add around $3 trillion to federal deficits over a decade, according to various estimates. As President Biden and others have pointed out, this is of a piece with other GOP-endorsed proposals that would widen deficits, such as repealing funding for the Internal Revenue Service and undoing Democrats’ prescription-drug pricing overhaul.

Moreover, extending the Trump tax cuts sounds pretty plutocratic: By far, the biggest benefits would go to higher-income households, according to estimates from the Tax Policy Center.

There is also little evidence that the 2017 tax law significantly boosted growth, at least based on the investment-driven theories touted by its supporters. It definitely didn’t generate enough economic growth to “pay for itself,” as those same supporters promised.

What’s more, in the regular polling that occurred for years after the law’s passage, it was almost consistently underwater in favorability.

All in all, probably not such a wise thing for Republicans to launch their economic agenda this way. Right?

And yet: If I had to guess, I’d bet that all or nearly all of the Trump tax cuts will indeed get extended before they lapse — evenifBiden is still president when the deadline comes, and even if Democrats somehow achieve unified control over both legislative chambers again.

In designing their 2017 tax overhaul, Republicans did something clever: They made the corporate-side tax changes (mostly) permanent, and the individual-side ones temporary. This made the upfront cost of the bill look a lot cheaper, with the “expectation that no Congress would stand in the way of extending them later on,” says Tax Policy Center’s Steven M. Rosenthal.

Why was it reasonable to assume that future Congresses won’t let the tax cuts sunset, as planned, given how unpopular the original law was? Because the tax cuts did, in fact, benefit most Americans, including the middle class…

So, if these individual-side tax provisions lapse, a whole lot of Americans’ tax bills will rise — and whoever stands in the way of extending those provisions will inevitably get blamed for “raising taxes.” President Barack Obama learned this the hard way when he was in the White House and negotiating with Republicans over extensions to the Bush-era tax cuts. After all, once voters have received a benefit, it becomes politically dangerous to ever take that benefit away, even if initially the program seemed unpopular. (Just ask Republicans about Obamacare!)

The White House has so far been noncommittal about its approach to the soon-to-expire Trump tax provisions. But Biden might have already boxed himself into keeping most of them in place.

That’s because he has repeatedly pledged — including in the recent State of the Union — that “nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in taxes.” If this “no new taxes” promise is supposed to mean no projected increases due to expiring tax breaks, most of the 2017 law gets extended. Which is still expensive! Depending on exact details, extending all of the expiring provisions other than the top tax rate could cost $2.1 trillion over a decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Even Biden’s proposed billionaire tax wouldn’t raise enough to offset that price tag.

Once upon a time, when both parties pretended to care about fiscal responsibility, Republicans generally favored addressing budget challenges through spending cuts, and Democrats through tax increases. Today, everyone’s on record as opposing just about anything that might make a significant dent in the deficit.

13) Good stuff from two of my favorite epidemiology follows on twitter, “We Still Don’t Know What Works Best to Slow the Spread Of COVID-19″

Since those first, bleak days of the early pandemic, we’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the steps taken at the start of the crisis, when governments and their public health advisers were making emergency decisions armed with very little data and information on an entirely new illness. This was the era before we had developed the powerful vaccines and medicines that have transformed the outlook for COVID-19. While there is certainly evidence that these early community mitigation strategies, which scientists call “non-pharmaceutical interventions” (NPIs), reduced the spread of the virus, what might surprise you is how little effort there has been to fully assess their impact.

Because of a lack of research on NPIs, we still can’t answer important questions like: which government measures had the greatest and the least impact? How did the sequencing and timing of these NPIs affect their effectiveness? Which measures caused more harm than benefit? We need answers to these questions so we can prepare for the next pandemic, armed with better knowledge.

When it comes to NPIs, every angry person online has a strong belief that if only we had spent more time promoting mask wearing, been more like Sweden with its government-sponsored healthcare and incredibly generous paid sick leave provisions, or done something, anything, better than we did, we could have averted the mass deathdisability, and orphanhood that COVID-19 caused. However, given the lack of data, it’s remarkably hard to know exactly how we could have used NPIs more effectively.

The most strident critics of government interventions and of public health measures during COVID-19 go so far as to say that the “cure was worse than the disease”—that is, they think NPIs killed more people than COVID-19 itself. Our research found no evidence for this assertion; we found that letting the virus rip through the population in an uncontrolled way was much deadlier, at least in the short term, than the most stringent NPIs, such as shelter-in-place orders.

Nevertheless, as we previously argued, highly restrictive NPIs clearly caused harms. For example, prolonged shelter-in-place orders were linked with an increase in harmful alcohol use and domestic violence. However, there has been little in the way of research on the trade-offs—that is, on understanding the balance between the harms of uncontrolled viral transmission versus those of NPIs. And it can also be very difficult to distinguish the impacts of the pandemic itself from the harms of NPIs. There’s no doubt, for example, that prolonged school closures affected children’s mental health, but so did losing a parent or other caregiver to COVID-19.

With all NPIs, when you start digging into the research evidence, the picture isn’t always clear cut. Take masks. From a basic science perspective, masks work—they filter the particles that we breathe. High filtration masks, like N95s, work better than surgical or cloth masks. Masking provides quite a bit of protection for the people wearing them against respiratory diseases, and can also help reduce transmission from an infected person to others…

But the problem with all this complexity is that it is anathema to the tedious simplicity that surrounds most COVID-19 retrospection. It’s easy to argue that ill-defined “lockdowns” have caused unimaginable harm, or that even the most extreme, ongoing NPIs are a great idea. It is, however, far harder to ask difficult questions like “When is it reasonable to close schools due to infectious diseases?” or “Do stay-at-home orders have a marginal benefit or harm when coupled with a range of other NPIs?” or even “Could we have achieved the same reduction in cases with less damaging interventions?”.

Which is a problem, because one thing virtually every expert agrees on is that we will face another pandemic just like COVID-19, or even more deadly, at some point in the future. Hopefully, we can get ready for it.

14) Typically excellent Noah Smith, “The U.S. cannot afford to turn against immigration: Bringing in new recruits is not charity, nor is it a luxury. It’s a necessity.”

Why we need immigration now more than ever


One reason we need immigrants is to keep our population young. Despite a very small post-pandemic uptick, the country’s total fertility rate has fallen well below the replacement level over the past decade and a half:

Source: OWID

This puts us slightly below the fertility rates of Denmark and France, and slightly above the UK and Germany. In other words, the America fertility exceptionalism of the 1990s and early 2000s is now a thing of the past.

Everyone is talking about China’s demographic challenges these days. Well, bad news: Those same problems are going to hit the U.S. equally hard unless we sustain robust levels of immigration. Not only does immigration directly increase our population by bringing young workers over to support our growing legions of elderly folks, but it also increases fertility because immigrants tend to have more kids.

Without immigrants, our population will grow older and older on average. Each worker will need to work more days out of every year just to support the growing ranks of the elderly. Productivity will probably fall as well, and multinational companies will be less willing to invest in a shrinking U.S. market.

And the problem created by shortages of high-skilled immigrants will be especially acute. As Alec Stapp and Jeremy Neufeld wrote in a Noahpinion guest post last year, immigrants are absolutely essential to U.S. innovation and technical leadership:

Despite making up just 14% of the population, immigrants are responsible for 30% of U.S. patents and 38% of U.S. Nobel Prizes in science. A team of Stanford economists recently estimated that nearly three quarters of all U.S. innovation since 1976 can be attributed to high-skilled immigration.

Immigrants’ contributions in the business world are comparably impressive. Recent analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy found that 55% of billion-dollar startups in the U.S. were started by immigrants…

Today, defense-related industries disproportionately turn to international talent to find workers with advanced STEM degrees. And there is nothing new about the idea that attracting the best and brightest can be a major strategic asset — it has been a major benefit to U.S. security from the Civil War through WWIIthe Cold War, and beyond.

Restrictionists’ response to this is to just wave their hands and mumble some sort of pablum about educating our own people more instead. This is fantasy. Not only do those restrictionists have no idea how to improve U.S. education, this “solution” neglects the brute fact that America has only 4% of the world’s population — the global talent pool is always going to be bigger than the local one, just due to sheer size.

That’s not to say that “low-skilled” immigration (a term I really dislike, btw) is bad. We need that too. Research continues to show that immigration of manual laborers doesn’t hurt the wages or the job prospects of the native-born. And even uneducated manual laborers who move to a new country to win a better future for themselves are a highly selected set, which is why the kids of poor immigrants tend to be very upwardly mobile. But pound-for-pound, high-skilled immigration is the highest priority, especially because of strategic considerations and the need to stay ahead in the tech race.

Quick hits (part I)

1) NC House voted for a new law eliminating earth science requirement and adding a computer science requirement.  What happens in NC Senate remains to be seen.  Among other things, the standard HS curriculum will now only require 2 sciences, but UNC system expects 3.  Hmmm.

2) Surprised I missed this before, but a big Reuters investigation on youth gender transitions.  Short-version, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

The United States has seen an explosion in recent years in the number of children who identify as a gender different from what they were designated at birth. Thousands of families like the Boyers are weighing profound choices in an emerging field of medicine as they pursue what is called gender-affirming care for their children.

Gender-affirming care covers a spectrum of interventions. It can entail adopting a child’s preferred name and pronouns and letting them dress in alignment with their gender identity – called social transitioning. It can incorporate therapy or other forms of psychological treatment. And, from around the start of adolescence, it can include medical interventions such as puberty blockers, hormones and, in some cases, surgery. In all of it, the aim is to support and affirm the child’s gender identity.

But families that go the medical route venture onto uncertain ground, where science has yet to catch up with practice. While the number of gender clinics treating children in the United States has grown from zero to more than 100 in the past 15 years – and waiting lists are long – strong evidence of the efficacy and possible long-term consequences of that treatment remains scant.

Puberty blockers and sex hormones do not have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for children’s gender care. No clinical trials have established their safety for such off-label use. The drugs’ long-term effects on fertility and sexual function remain unclear. And in 2016, the FDA ordered makers of puberty blockers to add a warning about psychiatric problems to the drugs’ label after the agency received several reports of suicidal thoughts in children who were taking them.

More broadly, no large-scale studies have tracked people who received gender-related medical care as children to determine how many remained satisfied with their treatment as they aged and how many eventually regretted transitioning. The same lack of clarity holds true for the contentious issue of detransitioning, when a patient stops or reverses the transition process.

The National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government agency responsible for medical and public health research, told Reuters that “the evidence is limited on whether these treatments pose short- or long-term health risks for transgender and other gender-diverse adolescents.” The NIH has funded a comprehensive study to examine mental health and other outcomes for about 400 transgender youths treated at four U.S. children’s hospitals. However, long-term results are years away and may not address concerns such as fertility or cognitive development.

Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

3) Like, for example, this very good post from Yglesias, that, yes, asks some tough questions, “Progressives need to engage with the specific questions about youth gender care”

It’s an excellent piece, and it helped me articulate why I disagree so strongly with the segment of Slow Boring’s audience that wants me to join them in complaining about elective pronouns and the contemporary progressive vocabulary of cis-versus-trans. These linguistic shifts are not just some pose or studied effort to slice the political salami just so — they speak to this core question of dignity.

I would add, with a gesture at Judith Shklar, that decent people are on guard against the politics of cruelty. Cruelty can be tempting and it can be fun, but even the worst of us know that cruelty is wrong. So there are always people seeking a higher justification for their cruelty, a reason that being an asshole is actually a high-minded undertaking serving some crucial purpose. And today’s backlash to trans rights clearly involves people doing this — bullies and wannabe bullies being jerks for sport.

And when bullies are working to make so many people’s lives harder, it’s enormously important, as Bouie does, to articulate the guiding principles that help us push back against their conservative crusade.

But it’s also important not to avoid venturing into the weeds of the specific policy questions we’re facing, and this is where I think progressives are falling short…

This is where you get into the reality that abstract political values don’t always answer factual questions.

Phunky and Joseph agree that teens should be able to get reversible gender-affirming treatments. But are puberty-blocking medications reversible? According to the United States government they are, but the UK’s NICE says there is no good clinical evidence on this.

Importantly, because youth gender dysphoria treatment is an off-label use of drugs that were originally created to treat precocious puberty, the big clinical trials that were conducted for FDA approval don’t really speak to the issue at hand in a clear way. Again, this is not some special feature of gender-affirming care or the fault of anyone in the trans community. But it’s also not a fever dream of the reactionary right. A structural feature of American health regulation is that the FDA sets a very high bar for approving drugs but a very light regulatory bar for their off-label use. Pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to organize new clinical trials because their medication is already being used for this purpose and the market is growing.

This is one of these things where it’s such a political hot button that most of the people offering any commentary on the issue have very strong feelings. I have scanned some of the relevant arguments from qualified professionals and it really strikes me as understudied and somewhat hard to say. My point, though, is that the enduring values articulated by Douglass and channeled by Bouie can’t determine any particular factual conclusion about the impact of medications.

Meanwhile, despite the attention given to the controversy about the reversibility of puberty blockers, the current World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommendations say that “hormones could be started at age 14, two years earlier than the group’s previous advice, and some surgeries done at age 15 or 17, a year or so earlier than previous guidance.” WPATH has its reasons for making this recommendation, but I don’t think Phunky and Joseph are drawing the line the way they did as an attack on the dignity of trans people. It’s quite possible they would change their stance if they knew that WPATH had changed its recommendation — people often have weakly held views and defer to expert organizations. But at a minimum, the current WPATH recommendations are laxer and the science of puberty blockers more uncertain than a casual scan of the coverage would lead you to believe.

4) Good stuff from Lee Drutman, “Democrats are for rich people? Republicans are not? Has the world turned upside down?”

Last week, my talented New America colleague Oscar Pocasangre and I released a new deep data-dive on the demographics and voter preferences of all 435 congressional districts. 

We had started last fall by asking how competitive districts were tugging differently on Democratic and Republican coalitions. We wound up with an even deeper understanding of the challenges both parties face in holding together their coalitions.

The report is chock-a-block with fascinating stuff. (I promise!). But the scatterplot that sticks out for me is our Figure 2. 

Districts vary considerably by percent of residents who identify as white. This is not news to anybody. Most districts have average income in the mid-five figures, but some districts have high average incomes: Also not news to anybody.

But if we break districts into four quadrants, splitting on the average, we get four types of districts. And that’s where it gets interesting… 


The most common type of district has a below-average income, and is more white than average. These are the districts where Republicans dominate. Of the 162 districts that fit this category (about 37 percent of districts), Republicans won 137 in 2022, or 85 percent.

But in the other three types of districts here, Democrats dominate.

Democrats do best in the more diverse and wealthier than average districts. Of these 82 districts, Democrats won 63 in 2022, or 77 percent.

Democrats also prevail among the more diverse (less white) and less affluent districts, winning 74 out of 102 such districts, or 73 percent — just a shade less than the less white, wealthier than average districts.

Finally, among the whiter and wealthier districts, Democrats also win the majority, 51 out of 89, or 57 percent. 

Put another way, Democratic members of Congress come from many different types of districts. Republican members of Congress overwhelmingly come from districts that are mostly white and less affluent than average.

5) I had a conversation the other day where someone suggested that the illiberal liberal overreach is receding because they don’t have Trump to animate them.  Chait makes this point in his latest newsletter:

6) Not your everyday NYT Op-Ed, “Let Us Eat Lungs

Federal policy in the United States allows butchers to sell virtually every part of an animal’s body as human food, with one notable exception: the lungs. In 1971 the Department of Agriculture declared animal lungs unfit “for use as human food” and banned them from the commercial food supply.

As a doctor who enjoys eating nose to tail, including an animal’s internal organs and entrails, I believe that the lung ban makes no medical sense and accomplishes little to keep the American public safe. The Department of Agriculture should discard the rule.

When people first hear about this rule, even scientists and food law experts I’ve spoken to, they often presume that it is designed to protect us from dangerous infections that can harbor in animal lungs, like tuberculosis and anthrax. But the language of the ban’s stated rationale says little about lung infections. When the Department of Agriculture proposed the rule in 1969, it purported to protect people from eating things like dust, flower pollen and fungal spores that animals (including humans) inhale.

The rule was based on studies conducted around 1970 in which pathologists at the Department of Agriculture cut open the branching airways of animal lungs to study them much more deeply than in a typical post-mortem examination. The pathologists found those inhaled airborne particulates. They also found stomach contents, which may have refluxed up the animals’ esophagi and into their airways before or after death.

Notably, the pathologists did not mention any serious infections, which are generally discovered with a typical superficial examination — the same check that every internal organ undergoes before being U.S.D.A. approved. (Infected specimens should, of course, be kept out of the food supply.)

Still, the Department of Agriculture felt that such impurities rendered lungs unfit for human consumption and banned them outright. Scottish haggis, which includes the organ, disappeared from store shelves and butcher shops in the United States. (Dried lung treats for pets, however, are legal and widely available. Also, the ruling does not extend to those who hunt and slaughter animals for personal consumption.)

To be clear, there is little scientific data to show that ingesting these impurities is dangerous — or, conversely, that it is safe. But a basic understanding of how our lungs clean themselves suggests how nonsensical the Department of Agriculture rule is.

Needless to say, I will not be partaking regardless of FDA regulations.

7) It really was pretty interesting to see just how far the Texas Tech DEI bureaucracy had inserted themselves into the faculty hiring process, “In rare move, Texas Tech rescinds DEI litmus test for faculty. Others aren’t as lucky.”

As diversity initiatives have proliferated on campuses in recent years, FIRE has expressed repeated concern that mandatory diversity statements — in which a faculty member must pledge allegiance to prevailing views about diversity, equity, and inclusion to get hired or promoted — impose an illiberal campus orthodoxy. This week, a Wall Street Journal piece shed light on Texas Tech University’s use of these statements to weed out candidates with dissenting views, exposing the dark underbelly of a practice that FIRE has long criticized. It also prompted the university to take the unprecedented, and welcome, step of rescinding the policy and reviewing hiring practices across all departments. 

On Monday night, National Association of Scholars Senior Fellow John D. Sailer announced in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece the release of 99 pages of internal documents revealing how faculty applicant statements discussing contributions to DEI served as a political litmus test for hiring at Texas Tech University. 

The records, obtained from the public university via public records requests, cast a bright light on the ideological conformity demanded of candidates for Texas Tech faculty positions. FIRE has long argued that these statements are intended to reward adherence to highly specific views on diversity and punish those who hold different views. The Texas Tech records show that’s exactly what’s happening, with rubrics describing with particularity which views professors are expected to express and which views were unacceptable: 

Don’t know the difference between “equity” and “equality”? You’ll get dinged for that. Might you have forgotten to acknowledge that the land on which you hope to teach was once occupied by Native Americans? You’ll be knocked for that, too.

The search committee flagged one candidate for espousing “race neutrality” in teaching. He expressed that respecting students and treating them equally regardless of race was best practice, but this raised the school’s alarm for reflecting “a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.” Conversely, an immunology candidate received high marks for mentioning “inclusivity in lab” and referencing their “unconscious bias.” 

8) Yasmin Tayag on the difficulty of making sense of the research on masks:

An important feature of Cochrane reviews is that they look only at “randomized controlled trials,” considered the gold standard for certain types of research because they compare the impact of one intervention with another while tightly controlling for biases and confounding variables. The trials considered in the review compared groups of people who masked with those who didn’t in an effort to estimate how effective masking is at blunting the spread of COVID in a general population. The population-level detail is important: It indicates uncertainty about whether requiring everyone to wear a mask makes a difference in viral spread. This is different from the impact of individual masking, which has been better researched. Doctors, after all, routinely mask when they’re around sick patients and do not seem to be infected more often than anyone else. “We have fairly decent evidence that masks can protect the wearer,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told me. “Where I think it sort of falls apart is relating that to the population level.”

The research on individual masking generally shows what we have come to expect: High-quality masks provide a physical barrier between the wearer and infectious particles, if worn correctly. For instance, in one study, N95 masks were shown to block 57 to 90 percent of particles, depending on how well they fit; cloth and surgical masks are less effective. The caveat is that much of that support came from laboratory research and observational studies, which don’t account for the messiness of real life.

That the Cochrane review reasonably challenges the effectiveness of population-level masking doesn’t mean the findings of previous studies in support of masking are moot. A common theme among criticisms of the review is that it considered only a small number of studies by virtue of Cochrane’s standards; there just aren’t that many randomized controlled trials on COVID and masks. In fact, most of those included in the review are about the impact of masking on other respiratory illnesses, namely the flu. Although some similarities between the viruses are likely, Nuzzo explained on Twitter, COVID-specific trials would be ideal.


The handful of trials in the review that focus on COVID don’t show strong support for masking. One, from Bangladesh, which looked at both cloth and surgical masks, found a 9 percent decrease in symptomatic cases in masked versus unmasked groups (and a reanalysis of that study found signs of bias in the way the data were collected and interpreted); another, from Denmark, suggested that surgical masks offered no statistically significant protection at all.

Criticisms of the review posit that it might have come to a different conclusion if more and better-quality studies had been available. The paper’s authors acknowledge that the trials they considered were prone to bias and didn’t control for inconsistent adherence to the interventions. “The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect,” they concluded. If high-quality masks worn properly work well at an individual level, after all, then it stands to reason that high-quality masks worn properly by many people in any situation should indeed provide some level of protection.

9) Super-depressing Washington Post story on authoritarian regimes giving draconian sentences for protest.  Gift link.

That’s all — a click.

They are hardly alone. The world’s political prisons are bulging. A string of popular uprisings over the past few years brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the streets, protesting against authoritarianism in Hong Kong, Cuba, Belarus and Iran; against the military junta that toppled democracy in Myanmar; and against strict restrictions on speech and protest in Russia and China. Also, Arab Spring uprisings swept Egypt, Syria and elsewhere a decade ago, and protests broke out in Vietnam in 2018. Most of these protests were met with mass crackdowns and arrests. Thousands of participants — largely young and demonstrating for the first time — have been held in prison for demanding the right to speak and think freely and to choose their leaders.

Authoritarian regimes often work in the shadows, using secret police to threaten dissidents, censor the media, prohibit travel or choke off internet access. But when prisons are jam-packed with thousands who simply marched down the street or sent a tweet, the repression is no longer hidden; it is a bright, pulsating signal that freedom is in distress.

Arrested for political protest

Belarus, Cuba and Vietnam have thrown thousands into prison in recent years.

*Justicia 11J says 990 people are imprisoned and convicted or pending trial in Cuba.


Political prisons are, sadly, not new. During the 20th century, the practice of mass repression grew to immense proportions in Joseph Stalin’s gulag system of forced labor camps. Political prisons have been notorious in Fidel Castro’s Cuba; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; Cold War East Germany; apartheid South Africa; North Korea; and, in recent years, in China’s Xinjiang region.

According to the classic definition, formulated by Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1956, a totalitarian dictatorship is characterized by an ideology, a single party led by one person, a terroristic police, government control of all communications, a weapons monopoly and a centrally controlled economy. In today’s world, fewer authoritarian states run a command economy. But many embrace the other characteristics. The political prisons are where the threads come together, punishing those who challenge a regime’s monopoly on power.

10) Stuart Stevens on Nikki Haley:

I remember the first time I saw Nikki Haley. It was in a high school gym before the 2012 South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Tim Scott, who was then a congressman, was holding a raucous town hall, and Ms. Haley was there to cheer him on. The first woman to be governor of South Carolina, the first Indian American ever elected to statewide office there, the youngest governor in the country. Whatever that “thing” is that talented politicians possess, Ms. Haley had it. People liked her, and more important, she seemed to like people. She talked with you, not to you, and she made routine conversations feel special and important. She seemed to have unlimited potential.

Then she threw it all away.

No political figure better illustrates the tragic collapse of the modern Republican Party than Nikki Haley. There was a time not very long ago when she was everything the party thought it needed to win. She was a woman when the party needed more women, a daughter of immigrants when the party needed more immigrants, a young change maker when the party needed younger voters and a symbol of tolerance who took down the Confederate flag when the party needed more people of color and educated suburbanites…

As a former Republican political operative who worked in South Carolina presidential primaries, I look at Ms. Haley now, as she prepares to launch her own presidential campaign, with sadness tinged with regret for what could have been. But I’m not a bit surprised. Her rise and fall only highlights what many of us already knew: Mr. Trump didn’t change the Republican Party; he revealed it. Ms. Haley, for all her talents, embodies the moral failure of the party in its drive to win at any cost, a drive so ruthless and insistent that it has transformed the G.O.P. into an autocratic movement. It’s not that she has changed positions to suit the political moment or even that she has abandoned beliefs she once claimed to be deeply held. It’s that the 2023 version of Ms. Haley is actively working against the core values that the 2016 Ms. Haley would have held to be the very foundation of her public life.

11) On the viral spread of psychogenic disease (Tik Tok tics) among today’s teens.  I’m sure this has no relationship whatsoever to insanely increasing rates of gender dysphoria in teens. 

Over the next year, doctors across the world treated thousands of young people for sudden, explosive tics. Many of the patients had watched popular TikTok videos of teenagers claiming to have Tourette’s syndrome. A spate of alarming headlines about “TikTok tics” followed.

But similar outbreaks have happened for centuries. Mysterious symptoms can spread rapidly in a close-knit community, especially one that has endured a shared stress. The TikTok tics are one of the largest modern examples of this phenomenon. They arrived at a unique moment in history, when a once-in-a-century pandemic spurred pervasive anxiety and isolation, and social media was at times the only way to connect and commiserate.

Now, experts are trying to tease apart the many possible factors — internal and external — that made these teenagers so sensitive to what they watched online.

Four out of five of the adolescents were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and one-third reported past traumatic experiences, according to a study from the University of Calgary that analyzed nearly 300 cases from eight countries. In new research that has not yet been published, the Canadian team has also found a link to gender: The adolescents were overwhelmingly girls, or were transgender or nonbinary — though no one knows why.

12) Horse virus story from history! “A virus crippled U.S. cities 150 years ago. It didn’t infect humans.”

In the late 19th century, American cities moved to a soundtrack of clopping and clanking. Horses pulled commuters on streetcars, hauled construction materials for new buildings, carted groceries to homes, and conveyed patrons to theaters and baseball games.

But in late September 1872, horses fell sick on several farms near Toronto. Within days, a veterinarian found an additional 14 sick horses in the city. Within a week, the count grew to 600. The mysterious “Canadian horse disease” spread quickly, following rail lines into bustling cities and knocking out the workhorses that had powered the United States into a new era.

A fire devastated Boston’s commercial district, in part because horses were too sick to haul pump wagons. In New York, boxes lay untouched at railroad depots and city piers, among the busiest in the world. People lost work. Garbage went uncollected, mail undelivered. Political rallies, just weeks ahead of the presidential election, were canceled. Streets fell silent in such far-flung cities as Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. In D.C., streetcar service was shut down, as was horse- and mule-drawn traffic on the C&O Canal.

Known as the Great Epizootic, the outbreak of what was later determined to be the equine flu hit the vast majority of the country’s horses between October 1872 and March 1873, temporarily paralyzing cities in a crisis “comparable to what would happen today if gas pumps ran dry or the electric grid went down,” University of Tennessee historian Ernest Freeberg wrote.

Fortunately, the crisis was short-lived. Most horses rallied, and life in each locale resumed within several weeks. But the 150-year-old episode serves as an early example of how vulnerable modern life can be to a disease outbreak among animals. It’s a strikingly familiar theme at a time when an outbreak of avian flu has helped send egg prices soaring (and has infected some mammals) — and when a virus believed to have started in animals in a Chinese open-air market jumped into humans and shut down much of the globe starting in 2020.

13) This is pretty wild, “How Supergenes Beat the Odds—and Fuel Evolution: Stretches of DNA that lock inherited traits together often accumulate harmful mutations. But they also hold genetic benefits for species.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from home in the steamy Amazon rain forest in the mid-1800s, the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates had a problem. More than one, really; there were thumb-size biting insects, the ever-present threat of malaria, venomous snakes, and mold and mildew that threatened to overtake his precious specimens before they could be shipped back to England. But the nagging scientific problem that bothered him involved butterflies.

By the time Bates’ discovery reached the scientific cognoscenti in England, Charles Darwin’s then new proposal of natural selection could explain why this brilliant mimicry occurred. Birds and other predators avoid Heliconius butterflies because they are toxic to eat, with a bitter taste. The mimics were not toxic, but because they looked so much like the foul-tasting Heliconius, they were less likely to be eaten. The closer the resemblance, the more potent the protection.

What Bates and many later evolutionary biologists couldn’t explain was how this mimicry was possible. Getting the right shades of aquamarine and fiery orange in the right places on the wings required a constellation of precisely tuned genes. Those traits would have to be inherited with perfect fidelity, generation after generation, to preserve the Heliconius disguise. Maybe real Heliconius butterflies could afford to deviate a bit in coloration because their toxins could still teach predators to stay away in the future, but the mimics needed to be consistently flawless replicas. Yet the random reshuffling and remixing of traits in sexual reproduction should have quickly disrupted the essential coloring patterns.

Today we know that in many species the answer is supergenes—stretches of DNA that lock several genes together into a single inheritable unit. “They’re kind of a wild card,” said Marte Sodeland, a molecular ecologist at the University of Agder in Norway. This aggregated form of inheritance “has obvious advantages, because it allows rapid adaptation, but there’s a lot we don’t know yet.”

Supergenes once seemed like an evolutionary oddity, but the rise of genetic sequencing has shown that they are far more common than researchers believed. Not all supergenes may serve a function, but work in just the past few years has revealed that traits in a wide range of animal and plant species might be driven by these groups of genes that function like a single gene. Supergenes help wild sunflowers adapt to a range of environments, such as sand dunes, coastal plains, and barrier islands. In other families of plants, they produce subtle but important variations in their sexual organs and fertility that help to prevent inbreeding. Research published last spring showed that in some fire ant species, supergenes determine which type of social organization predominates—whether a colony has a single breeding queen or more than one, and whether it produces more males or females. (Specific supergenes in humans haven’t been confirmed, but likely candidates have been found.)

14) Really interesting book excerpt in the Atlantic, “What Really Took America to War in Iraq: A fatal combination of fear, power, and hubris”

Fear, power, and hubris explain America’s march to war in Iraq. By thinking otherwise, by simplifying the story and believing that all would be well if we only had more honest officials, stronger leaders, and more realistic policy makers, we delude ourselves. Tragedy occurs not because our leaders are naive, stupid, and corrupt. Tragedy occurs when earnest and responsible officials try their best to make America safer and end up making things much worse. We need to ask why this happens. We need to appreciate the dangers that lurk when there is too much fear, too much power, too much hubris—and insufficient prudence.

15) This is really going to get a full post soon, as I just listened to the best podcast limited series ever, but, for now, Kristof: “Two-Thirds of Kids Struggle to Read, and We Know How to Fix It”

A lovely aphorism holds that education isn’t the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

But too often, neither are pails filled nor fires lit.

One of the most bearish statistics for the future of the United States is this: Two-thirds of fourth graders in the United States are not proficient in reading.

Reading may be the most important skill we can give children. It’s the pilot light of that fire.

Yet we fail to ignite that pilot light, so today some one in five adults in the United States struggles with basic literacy, and after more than 25 years of campaigns and fads, American children are still struggling to read. Eighth graders today are actually a hair worse at reading than their counterparts were in 1998.

One explanation gaining ground is that, with the best of intentions, we grown-ups have bungled the task of teaching kids to read. There is growing evidence from neuroscience and careful experiments that the United States has adopted reading strategies that just don’t work very well and that we haven’t relied enough on a simple starting point — helping kids learn to sound out words with phonics.

“Too much reading instruction is not based on what the evidence says,” noted Nancy Madden, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who is an expert on early literacy. “That’s pretty clear.

“At least half of kids in the U.S. are not getting effective reading instruction.”

Other experts agree. Ted Mitchell, an education veteran at nearly every level who is now president of the American Council on Education, thinks that easily a majority of children are getting subpar instruction.

Others disagree, of course. But an approach called the “science of reading” has gained ground, and it rests on a bed of phonics instruction…

I became intrigued by the failures in reading after listening to a riveting six-part podcast, “Sold a Story,” that argues passionately that the education establishment ignored empirical evidence and unintentionally harmed children.

“Kids are not being taught how to read because for decades teachers have been sold an idea about reading and how children learn to do it,” Emily Hanford, a public radio journalist who for years has focused on reading issues, says in the first of the podcasts. She told me that the podcast has had more than 3.5 million downloads.

One of the targets of the podcast is Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College who has a widely used reading curriculum. Calkins has acknowledged learning from the science of reading movement and from Hanford, and she told me how she has modified her curriculum as a result — but she also says that phonics was always part of her approach and that media narratives are oversimplified.

As Calkins and others revise their materials, skeptics worry that curriculums still aren’t fully committed to phonics but layer it onto other strategies, leaving students befuddled.

It’s easy to be glib in describing these reading wars. Everyone agrees that phonics are necessary, and everyone also agrees that phonics are not enough.


What’s clear is that when two-thirds of American kids are not proficient at reading, we’re failing the next generation. We can fix this, imperfectly, if we’re relentlessly empirical and focus on the evidence. It’s also noteworthy that lots of other interventions help and aren’t controversial: tutoring, access to books, and coaching parents on reading to children. And slashing child poverty, which child tax credits accomplished very successfully until they were cut back.


Actually, this is overly-generous to the phonics-deniers.  But, more on that in a future post. 

16) I loved this New Yorker interview with Aubrey Plaza.  Also loved “Emily the Criminal” which I watched this week (and you should, too– it’s on Netflix).

17) Yglesias makes the case for cautious optimism on police reform

18) Derek Thompson on the mental health crisis among teen girls:

American teenagers—especially girls and kids who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning—are “engulfed” in historic rates of anxiety and sadness. And everybody seems to think they know why.

Some psychologists point to social media, whereas others blame school shootings; others chalk it up to changes in parenting. Climate-change activists say it’s climate change. Atlantic writers like me blather on about the decline of physical-world interactions. These explanations aren’t equally valid, and some of them might be purely wrong. But the sheer number of theories reflects the complexity of mental-health challenges and suggests that, perhaps, nobody knows for sure what’s going on…

Why is it so hard to prove that social media and smartphones are destroying teen mental health?

The story seems simple from a distance: Teen anxiety increased during a period when smartphones and social media colonized the youth social experience. Offline time with close friends went down. Time spent alone staring into a virtual void went up. Sounds pretty bad.

But the academic literature on social media’s harms is complicated. Perhaps the most famous and trusted study of the effects of social media on polarization and mental health is “The Welfare Effects of Social Media.” When researchers paid people to deactivate their Facebook accounts, they found that online activity went down, offline activity went up, both polarization and news knowledge declined, and subjective well-being increased. Many participants who had been randomly selected to leave Facebook stayed off the site even weeks after they had to, suggesting that using social media may be akin to compulsive or addictive behavior. The researchers describe the effect of Facebook deactivation on depression and anxiety as “small—about 25-40 percent of the effect of psychological interventions including self-help therapy.”

In a few years, the assumption that social media is making us crazy might look eye-bleedingly obvious, like a surgeon-general warning that sucking on cigarettes to pull addictive carcinogens into your lungs is, in fact, bad for your lungs. But the best evidence we have suggests that social media isn’t really like smoking. My guess is that it’s more of an attention alcohol—a substance that, in small doses, can be fun or even useful for adults, but in larger doses can cause problems for certain people. But maybe even that’s too strong. Just as academics now believe we overrated the danger of online echo chambers (in fact, social media probably exposes us to a much wider range of views than cable news does), we’ll realize that we unfairly blame social media for declining mental health.

“There’s been absolutely hundreds of [social-media and mental-health] studies, almost all showing pretty small effects,” Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University, told The New York Times last year. I think we still need more high-quality studies and randomized trials to fully understand what’s happening here…

Why are Americans so mentally distressed even as they’ve become better at talking about mental distress?

It’s obvious, you might say: As anxiety rates have escalated, more people have had to build their own personal therapeutic glossary.

Or maybe something else is going on. In the past few years, a great deal of U.S. discourse has absorbed the vocabulary of therapy, with frequent references to trauma, harm, emotional capacity, and self-care. But the ubiquity of “therapy-speak” on the internet has coincided with the emergence of an internet culture that is decidedly anti-therapeutic.

Research from both the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Beihang University, in Beijing, have found that intense and negative emotions are among the most likely to go viral online. Anger and outrage seem to be aerodynamic on the internet not only because we’re drawn to the emotional meltdowns of our fellow humans, but also because demonstrating outrage about a topic is a good way of advertising one’s own moral standing.

Anger, outrage, and catastrophizing are exactly what modern therapists tell their patients to avoid. One of the most popular modes of clinical psychology is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which formalizes an ancient wisdom: We don’t often control what happens in life, but at the margins, we can change how we think about what happens to us. We can learn to identify the most negative and unhelpful thoughts and restructure them, so as to guide us toward better feelings and behaviors. In life, treating minor problems as catastrophes is a straight path to misery—but online, the most catastrophic headlines get the most attention. In life, nurturing anger produces conflict with friends and family; online, it’s an excellent way to build an audience.

Modern internet culture has adopted therapy-speak while repeatedly setting fire to the actual lessons of modern therapy. It’s a bizarre spectacle, like a hospital where fake doctors know the words for every disease but half of the surgeries result in sepsis. In the open expanse of the internet, we could have built any kind of world. We built this one. Why have we done this to ourselves?

19) I’ve read about ChatGPT “watermarks” but couldn’t really understand.  Now, I do!  So cool. 

20) Party Down is one of the best TV comedies ever.  So cool that they’ve made some new episodes. 

21) Maryn McKenna, “The Bird Flu Outbreak Has Taken an Ominous Turn: The avian flu has killed millions of chickens, decimated wild birds—and moved into mammals. Now the poultry industry needs new measures to stop its spread.

“When there’s public discussion of addressing zoonotic disease, it almost immediately turns to vaccination, preparedness, biosecurity—but no one discusses addressing the root cause,” says Jan Dutkiewicz, a political economist and visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law and Policy Clinic. “We would never have a debate about preventing cancer from tobacco products without talking about stopping smoking. Yet when it comes to zoonotic disease risk, there is a huge reticence to discuss curbing animal production.”

That might be an unthinkable proposal, given that Americans ate an estimated 1.45 billion wings during the Superbowl last Sunday—and that as a culture, we’re not inclined to ask many questions about how our food arrives at our plates. “Industrial animal production operates and maybe even depends on a distance between the consumer and the realities and violence of industrial animal production,” says Adam Sheingate, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University who studies food and agriculture policy. “Most people really prefer not to know how their food is produced.” Still, he points out, when disease risks from food become clear, other nations respond rapidly—such as when the UK changed cattle-farming practices after Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, the human variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease,” killed 178 people in the mid-1990s.

“This is not to say we get rid of poultry,” says Andrew deCoriolis, executive director of Farm Forward, a nonprofit that works to improve farm animal welfare. “It’s to say: We have to understand what are the factors that are the biggest risk drivers, and perhaps legislate changes to them. That could be moving farms out of flyways, it could be reducing the number of barns on a particular location, it could be reducing animal density within the barns.”

Dreadful though it is, it’s possible to construe the current outbreak as an opportunity to begin gathering big data about what makes poultry production so vulnerable. Precisely because the disease has spread so widely, data could reveal patterns that haven’t been visible before—whether affected farms use certain feed or water systems, for instance, or buy just-hatched birds from specific breeding lines, or are sited in particular landscape features or lie under the migration routes of identifiable birds. “There isn’t a lot of research to show what are absolute best practices, because viruses are stochastic—you don’t know exactly when you’re going to get an introduction,” says Meghan Davis, a veterinarian and epidemiologist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

After the 2015 outbreak, which up to that point was the worst poultry producers could imagine, the industry focused on identifying the human networks that made its farms vulnerable. Companies tried to control how visitors might unknowingly expose them to the virus: through sharing housing with workers from another property, or driving a truck from an infected farm onto a clean one, or carrying mail or even a cell phone that might have been contaminated. The extraordinary expansion of H5N1 flu into wild birds now may mean that producers also have to think about how the environment itself invites exposure. Wetlands attract ducks. Copses shelter raptors that pursue rodents that scavenge spilled grain. It’s an approach that concedes that biosecurity can never be perfect, and that a production system can never fully seal itself off from the world.

22) Frank Bruni on RDS:

But the latest wave of commentary underestimates him — and that’s dangerous. He’s not Walker: Nate Cohn explained why in The Times early this week, concluding that DeSantis “has a lot more in common with Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan” when they were gearing up for their first presidential bids than with Walker, Kamala Harris or Rick Perry, whose sizzle fizzled fast.

He’s also not Jeb Bush. It has become popular to make that comparison as well, likening DeSantis to his predecessor in the Florida governor’s mansion. But DeSantis has the very venom that Bush didn’t. He’s a viper to Bush’s garter snake.

23) The AP African-American studies controversy is so much more complicated than both sides are presenting it.  Finally, John McWhorter with far and away the best explanation of what’s really going on here:

I’d like to make clear that I disapprove of the vast majority of DeSantis’s culture warrior agenda, a ham-handed set of plans designed to stir up a G.O.P. base in thrall to unreflective figures such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. If DeSantis runs for president, he will not get my vote.

However, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and in terms of how we tell the story of Black America, the board did the right thing, whether because of DeSantis’s threat or for more high-minded reasons. The take that I saw in the course’s original draft depicted the history of Black America over the past several decades as an unbroken stream of left protest against a seemingly unchanging racist hegemon. There is certainly drama in the procession. The Black Panthers, the Black arts movement, Black studies departments, Black Lives Matter. Incarceration, reparations and Black struggle. Amiri Baraka, Molefi Kete Asante, Manning Marable (all notably left-leaning writers). But Black history has been ever so much more than protest and professional pessimism; note how hard it is to imagine any other group of people whose history is written with this flavor so dominant.

This is not education but advocacy. And in no sense does racism mean that the difference has no meaning. The key issue is the difference between opinions that are considered and debated and opinions that are mostly uncontested and perhaps considered uncontestable — essentially opinions that are treated as if they were facts.

Of course, it is possible to teach about opinions rather than facts. When that is properly done, the opinions are presented along with intelligent counterproposals. Given that Black conservatives — or skeptics of progressive narratives often processed as mainstream after the late 1960s — were nowhere to be found in the A.P. curriculum (except for Booker T. Washington, who has been dead for over a hundred years, and Zora Neale Hurston, whose conservatism is all too often downplayed), it is reasonable to assume that opinions from the left were going to be presented with little or no meaningful challenge.

Certain takes on race are thought of by an influential portion of progressive Americans — Black, white and otherwise — as incarnations of social justice. To them, our nation remains an incomplete project that will remain mired in denial until these ways of seeing race are universally accepted and determine the bulk of public policy. These issues include ones in the earlier version of the A.P. course, such as the idea that Black people may be owed reparations and that one of the most accurate lenses through which to view America is through the lens of intersectionality.

I imagine that to people of this mind-set, incorporating these views into an A.P. course on African American studies is seen as a natural step, via which we help get America woken by appealing to its brightest young minds. But for all the emotional resonance, the savory intonation of key buzzwords and phrases and the impassioned support of people with advanced degrees and prize-awarded media status, views of this kind remain views.

To dismiss those in disagreement as either naïve or malevolent is unsophisticated, suggesting that racial enlightenment requires comfort with a take-no-prisoners approach and facile reasoning. Not even the tragedies of America’s record on race justify saying “I’m just right, dammit!” as if the matter were as settled as the operations of gravity…

Some C.R.T. advocates, for example, conclude that systemic oppression means that views from those oppressed via intersectionality must be accepted without question, as a kind of group narrative that renders it egregious to quibble over the details and nuances of individual experience. As the C.R.T. pioneer Richard Delgado put it, nonwhite people should protest based on a “broad story of dashed hopes and centuries-long mistreatment that afflicts an entire people and forms the historical and cultural background of your complaint.”

But this perspective, called standpoint epistemology, while intended as social justice, also questions empiricism and logic. Who really thinks that its absence from an A.P. course constitutes denying that slavery happened or that racism exists? C.R.T. advocates too often discuss white people as an undifferentiated mass, as in claims that white people resist letting go of their power, a view memorably promulgated by the legal scholar Derrick Bell. There is a rhetorical power in this sociological shorthand, but it also encourages a shallow classification of American individuals as bad white people and good everybody else. Fact this is not.

To pretend that where Blackness is concerned, certain views must be treated as truth despite intelligent and sustained critique is to give in to the illogic of standpoint epistemology: “That which rubs me the wrong way is indisputably immoral.”

And I hardly see this as applying only to people I disagree with. I have broadcast my views about race for almost a quarter century. Naturally, I consider my views correct — that’s why they are my views — and contrary to what some may suppose, conservative white people are by no means the core of people who often see things my way. I am always gladdened to find that there are quite a few Black people from all walks of life who agree with me. Yet I would protest seeing my views on race included in an A.P. course as facts or uncontested opinions.

There are certainly conservatives who think discussion of racism should be entirely barred from public life. This is, on its face, blinkered, ignorant and pathetic. But to pretend that controversial views on race from the left are truth incarnate is being dishonest about race as well. It sacrifices logic out of a quiet terror of being called racist (or, if Black, self-hating). How that is progressive or even civil in a real way is unclear to me. In being honest enough to push past the agitprop, I hate having to say that in this case, DeSantis, of all people, was probably right.

24) And, lastly, Pamela Paul wrote what struck me as a very reasonable defense of JK Rowing on gender issues.  I swear, if all you saw about this was what leftists on twitter had to say, you would genuinely think Paul had written something along the lines of “all transgender people deserve to die.” 

“Trans people need and deserve protection.”

“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others but are vulnerable.”

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.”

“I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”

These statements were written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, a human-rights activist and — according to a noisy fringe of the internet and a number of powerful transgender rights activists and L.G.B.T.Q. lobbying groups — a transphobe.

Even many of Rowling’s devoted fans have made this accusation. In 2020, The Leaky Cauldron, one of the biggest “Harry Potter” fan sites, claimed that Rowling had endorsed “harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person,” letting members know it would avoid featuring quotes from and photos of the author.


Haley 2024!

As if.

Good stuff from Nate Cohn, “What Nikki Haley Can Teach Us About the Republican Party”

Ms. Haley’s strength in the polls may not be a great test of the electoral appeal of traditional conservatism. She’s a first-time candidate with single-digit support in the polls. Almost all presidential candidates who start in the single digits end at zero, and that usually doesn’t say much about the strength of their ideological faction.

But if Ms. Haley can gain traction — if she can raise big money, if she can land a punch on the debate stage, if she can draw applause for linking immigration and inflation, or attacking Mr. Putin — it may say something about the appetite for her brand of conservatism.

What might say the most of all is if she could successfully attack Mr. Trump — but, realistically, she is probably not going to directly do so very often. She was a former Trump administration official as U.N. ambassador. Indeed, Mr. Trump appeared to bless her run, perhaps in hope that she will siphon away votes from Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

In an interview with the Fox host Sean Hannity last month, Ms. Haley didn’t seem eager for a fight. When asked whether she had policy differences with Mr. Trump, she said she “totally” agreed with “most of the policies that he did.” When Mr. Hannity followed up by asking the question a second time, she pivoted to the baby formula shortage.

This nonconfrontational approach is emblematic of a broader challenge for her in today’s populist, pugnacious Republican Party. She appears to be temperamentally moderate, regardless of her views on the issues. And some of her views really have been relatively moderate. As governor, she famously removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House. She wouldn’t support a bill blocking transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. She’s sympathetic to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. This is no culture warrior.

In today’s Republican Party, Ms. Haley will have no choice but to try to tap into the culture wars. In her announcement video, she recast her Reagan-like belief in American greatness as a counter to the left-wing view that America’s founding principles are “bad” or “racist.” Her race and gender might make her an especially strong proponent for this kind of position, especially if she more explicitly embraces conservative views.

But while American exceptionalism may be at odds with the left, it doesn’t channel the anger and resentment that fuels large elements of the conservative base. In this important respect, a reincarnated Reaganism will not be like the original.

And an NYT discussion:

David Brooks In a normal party, she would have to be taken seriously. She’s politically skilled, has never lost an election, has domestic and foreign policy experience, has been a popular governor, is about as conservative as the median G.O.P. voter and is running on an implicit platform: Let’s end the chaos and be populist but sensible. The question is, is the G.O.P. becoming once again a normal party?

Jane Coaston To borrow a phrase, we should take it extremely literally but not seriously. She is indeed running for president. But Nikki Haley will not be the next president of the United States of America.

Ross Douthat Much less seriously than the likely front-running candidacies of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, and somewhat less seriously than the likely also-ran candidacy of Mike Pence. Which means that barring a scenario where at least two of those three men don’t catch fire, not particularly seriously at all.

David French The Republican race is best summed up as two individuals (Trump and DeSantis) and a field. Maybe a third candidate can emerge from the field, and maybe that person can be Haley — a decent reason to take her seriously — but we need to see evidence of independent traction.

Michelle Goldberg Not very. I can’t imagine who she thinks her constituency is. A video teasing her candidacy starts with a spiel by the neocon Reagan official Jeane Kirkpatrick. Talk about nailing the zeitgeist!

And, lastly, my comments for the Slovak audience:

As Nikki Haley announced her presidential bid, how do you assess her chances to win the GOP nomination and to become the next US President? What is her biggest strength and what about her weakness?
I would be very surprised were Haley to win the nomination. She just does not have some obvious, popular role to play in the Republican primaries that would net her the support needed to win. On one level, there is Trump vs everybody else, but, like all the other Republicans, Haley has been entirely unwilling to meaningfully stand up to Trump. To defeat Trump, it seems that would have to happen at some time. Ron DeSantis seems to have all the energy and establishment support behind him as the non-Trump candidate and it seems hard to see, at this point, how Haley, or anybody else surpasses him on that. Even if DeSantis falters, though, it’s hard to see Haley as somebody who is really exciting to a lot of Republican voters. Presumably, she offers something different as a woman and a racial minority, but this is in an era where Trump has unleashed thinly-veiled racism and sexism that seem ascendant within much of the Republican base. Haley has an impressive resume and undeniable political skills, but I don’t think that really gets her close to the nomination in the current Republican Party.

(Positive)ly fine

You know what I was most afraid about with getting Covid? Extended social isolation.  And, voila, here I am :-(.  I’m not completely isolated.  I spend a decent amount of time with my kids out on the deck each day.  I’ve been zooming for various things (including class), but, my God is my extreme extrovert psyche not cut out for this!!  Alas, every day since February 7 I start with a rapid Covid test and every day that sample line turns dark pink in no time.  Ugh.

The thing is I feel totally fine.  Just the slightest bit of extra mucous, but, not something I think I’d really even think twice about under normal circumstances.  And I think my energy level was roughly back to normal by this past weekend.  Today, I realized there was no reason not to fully resume my exercise regimen and I ran my normal distance in just ever-so-slower than my usual time (I realized that any other illness I would not have an everyday test of viral load and I would have assumed I had recovered and resumed normal exercise).  But those damn pink lines!  

Anyway, this of course caused me to to more research on lingering Covid.  Among, other things, staying positive this long is not unusual at all.  And really does suggest the CDC’s– let yourself out of isolation after five days if you are symptom free– is far more about expediency than actually preventing the spread of Covid. 

Some good stuff I came across:

How long should I isolate if I have covid?

The coronavirus has the tricky feature of being transmissible even before the infected person has symptoms. In general, the peak period of virus shedding starts about a day or two before symptoms appear and continues two or three days after.

Even though a person is less likely to transmit the virus later in the course of illness, it’s still possible. Research shows that people continue to shed virus that can be cultured in a laboratory — a good test of the potential to pass along the virus — for about eight days on average after testing positive.

In another report, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School found that 30 percent of patients were still testing positive on a rapid antigen test 10 days after their infection was confirmed through a sensitive PCR molecular test.

And this was especially handy from NPR, “Still testing positive after day 10? How to decide when to end your COVID isolation” (at this point I feel like surely I’ll still be testing positive on day 10)

Testing to get out of isolation is tempting because it promises a straightforward answer. Unfortunately — and perhaps unsurprisingly — the science is not entirely settled.

“We don’t have anything that says definitely you are contagious or definitely you’re not,” says Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at UChicago Medicine. “The best thing we have are these rapid antigen tests.”

Unlike PCR tests, which search for genetic material from the virus, rapid antigen tests work by looking for the proteins that are packed inside the virus. A positive test generally correlates with the presence of infectious virus. Scientists can determine that by taking samples from someone who’s been infected and trying to grow the virus in a lab — what’s known as a viral culture…

Generally, most people who get infected are not still testing positive on an antigen test 10 days after symptom onset.

If you have enough virus in your system to be turning one of these tests positive, that means your body probably hasn’t yet fully cleared the infection,” says Hay.

But there is no perfect study that shows how likely it is thata positive test on a rapid test translates into shedding enough virus that you could actually infect another person, says Dr. Geoffrey Baird, chair of the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“The answer to that is clear as mud,” he says.

Indeed, infectious disease experts tend to differ about how much stock to put in a rapid test result when someone knows they’re infected and deciding whether it’s safe to rejoin the outside world.

After all, Baird points out that these tests were never designed to function as get-out-of-isolation cards. Relying on the result to tell whether you’re truly still infectious is dicey, he says.

“There’s actually a lot more discrepancy than anyone would be happy with,” he says.

A positive antigen test could essentially be picking up leftover viral “garbage,” which can include “dead viruses, mangled viruses … viruses that are 90% packed together but not really going to work,” says Baird. And the amount can vary depending on each person’s immune system, the variants, the stage of the infection, and so on…

In fact, a study co-authored by Landon followed health care workers at the University of Chicago who had been infected but were feeling mostly better and went to get tested after five days. They found that more than half of them still tested positive on antigen tests after six days.

This tracks with other research. For example, one study analyzing data from a testing site in San Francisco during the January omicron surge suggests that many people were still testing positive after five days. And research done by the CDC shows about half of people were still testing positive on the antigen test between five and nine days after symptom onset or diagnosis.

“You’d be erring on the side of caution if you followed the test and said, ‘I’m not going to leave my isolation until after my test is negative,'” she says.

Preliminary data from scientists at Harvard and MIT shows that about 25% of symptomatic people with COVID-19 had virus that could be cultured after eight days after symptom onset or their first test.

On the more encouraging side, there’s this:

Some research has aligned more closely with the CDC isolation guidance, which assumes most people will no longer be infectious after five days. A preprint study of close to 100 vaccinated college students at Boston University suggests that a majority were no longer infectiousafter five days.

“Only about 17% of those who we looked at still had what looks like viable COVID out past five days,” says Dr. Karen Jacobson, an infectious disease specialist at the Boston University School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors. A very small number did have virus that could be cultured eight days after symptom onset.

Her study found that a negative rapid antigen test on day five is a “perfect” indicator of whether the virus could be cultured in a lab. In other words, anyone who had a negative test on day five or later after their initial diagnosis had no more detectable virus.

The flip side was that if you had a positive rapid [test], about half of the people still had culturable virus and half did not,” says Jacobsen. “The way that we’ve started to frame it, and I think many others have, is that if you’re positive, you particularly need to take this very seriously.”

At the end the day, if you’re still testing positive but you feel fine and are symptom-free, the decision to go out in the world comes down to context. If you’re going to spend time with people who are high-risk, think twice, says Landon.

“If you are thinking about going to the nursing home to visit your grandmother, this is not the time to do it,” she says.

But if there’s something essential you need to do, don’t feel trapped in your house. Go do it but keep your mask on, she adds.

And here’s the cool scientific study on all this.

Anyway, so, presumably it’s only about 50-50 at this point that I’d still be infecting people with my positive test.  Of course, we’ve made it 8 days with me not infecting any of the other five household members (ventilation plus N95 when in common areas absolutely works!), so I’m sure not going to blow that now.  Charts C and E above really make it seem like it is pretty damn safe to come out after 10 days, regardless of the testing status, as eyeballing it only about 5% of people seem to have culturable (i.e., infectious) virus, regardless of testing at that point.  So, I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m still positive at day 10 (I know what my wife will want me to do), but this sure is damn frustrating.  


Photo of the day

I never heard of the “superb owl Sunday” joke until this year. Regardless, it does make for a gallery of truly superb owl photos at the AtlanticA snowy owl flies low, just inches from a stretch of ice.

A snowy owl flies low across a stretch of ice. 

Wirestock / iStockphoto / Getty

Is computer science science? And should NC HS students learn it?

So, I find this piece of news really interesting.  NC is looking to change it’s high school science requirements by eliminating the earth science requirement and replacing it with computer science:

North Carolina lawmakers could replace earth science with computer science as a high school graduation requirement.

Legislation that will be considered Tuesday by the state House K-12 Education Committee would make computer science one of the science credits students need for graduation. House Bill 8 would also make it possible for students to take computer science instead of the earth science credit they now must complete.

“Of all the things that keep me up at night, eliminating earth science isn’t necessarily one of them if it means we could replace it with computer science,” Republican State Superintendent Catherine Truitt told the House K-12 Education Committee last week.

But some state lawmakers and teachers don’t think computer science should be treated as a science requirement. They say replacing earth science with computer science will weaken the science instruction that students receive.

“Students are only required to take 3 HS science courses, as it is,” Janine Kube, a high school science teacher tweeted Feb. 7. “Now they want to reduce that down to 2 HS courses. How is that going to impact our student’s future in competing with students from other nations that actually believe in science?”

So many thoughts.  But, first, one thing that frustrates me is just how amazingly bad the rationale for the change seems to be:

The proposal to require computer science comes as some business and education leaders are pointing to a skills gap in the state’s workforce. North Carolina already has thousands of unfilled jobs that require some computer science knowledge.

“We know that 70% of jobs in 10 years time are going to require some kind of computer science knowledge,” Truitt, told lawmakers. “We’re not talking about jobs in IT (information technology). We’re talking about jobs in hospitals, in banking, in manufacturing. Kids need to learn computer science.”

Computer science majors can earn 40% more over their lifetimes than the average college graduate, Jamey Falkenbury, Truitt’s director of Government Affairs, told lawmakers…

Is computer science math or science?

North Carolina high school students currently must take three science credits to graduate: physical science, biology and earth science/environmental science. House Bill 8 requires students to take computer science as a science class but says it can’t be used to fulfill the biology or physical science credit — leaving earth science as the option that can be swapped out.

If the legislation becomes law, the new computer science requirement would go into effect with ninth-grade students beginning in the 2024-25 school year.

Questions have been raised at the last two House Education Committee meetings about replacing the earth science credit.

Rep. Laura Budd, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said at the Jan. 31 meeting that she agreed students need to learn more about computer science. But she questioned why computer science wasn’t made a math course.

“Computer science is more computation of information, algorithms that sort of thing,” Budd said. “With most computer science degrees, they are closer akin to math in that they require basics in algebra, calculus, that sort of thing.”

Falkenbury responded that it fit better to make computer science a science credit than a math credit.

“There’s a lot of students that take earth sciences right now,” Falkenbury said. “But you get a lot of earth science in biology. So do you really need to take basically two biology courses?”

That explanation didn’t sit well with Rep. Zack Hawkins, a Durham Democrat.

First, that “We know that 70% of jobs in 10 years time are going to require some kind of computer science knowledge” bit.  Come-on!  Knowing how to use Word or Excel (clearly what that statistic is based upon) is not exactly “computer science.”  Heck, if they want basic computer literacy (not the worst idea!) they could fold it in with the new financial literacy course they now require instead of a second year of history.  

And, that “earth science is just another biology class” line.  Ugh.  That said, based on my HS education lacking earth science and based on daily conversations with my 11th grader about the AP earth science class he just completed, I’m far from convinced of the necessity of earth science for a good science education.  And, yeah, nobody is publicly saying this at all, but a lot of material in earth science is about climate change (honestly, arguably too much– my good liberal son found it eye-rolling at times).  

Also, not to start some huge thing, but computer science really does seem more math than science to me.  Natural science classes you learn about the scientific method, perform experiments/actual science, do lab reports, etc. I don’t think there’s anything particularly analogous in computer science. 

I also have serious doubts as to whether what kids my daughter’s age (currently in 6th grade) end up getting will be anything remotely resembling actual computer science (of which I have no doubt of the value for learning logical thinking, algorithms, etc.) and instead just a pretty basic here’s how a bunch of computer software works course.  The fact that “earth science= biology” and 70% of jobs will need computer science people are behind this does not give me a lot of confidence.  

Alright dear readers… really want your thoughts on this one!

[Oh, yeah, and I’m still feeling fine, Covid positive, and bitter about it]

Biden in 2024

Michelle Goldberg wrote a much talked-about column last week about why Biden should not run in 2024.  I meant to write a post about why she was wrong.  But, now Jonathan Weiler has done that and I can just borrow from him:

While acknowledging the advantages of incumbency and Biden’s positive record, Michelle Goldberg made the case yesterday that Biden’s age was a potentially devastating liability, especially if he’s facing the 46-year old Ron DeSantis, not the 76-year old Trump:

“it’s hard to ignore the toll of Biden’s years, no matter how hard elected Democrats try. In some ways, the more sympathetic you are to Biden, the harder it can be to watch him stumble over his words, a tendency that can’t be entirely explained by his stutter. [Democrats in…focus group[s] have talked] about holding their breath every time he speaks. And while Biden was able to campaign virtually in 2020, in 2024 we will almost certainly be back to a grueling real-world campaign schedule, which he would have to power through while running the country. It’s a herculean task for a 60-year-old and a near impossible one for an octogenarian.”

Biden’s staunchest defenders should take this seriously. It will be grueling, and there is no precedent for a person Biden’s age running for President. For that, and other reasons, including the fact that many find him uninspiring, Biden is not an ideal candidate. But the question is whether another Democrat has a better chance of winning the presidency next year than Biden. I think the answer is no. Goldberg referred to a “deep bench” of Democrats like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock who could step up in Biden’s place. What would follow, however, if Biden stepped aside could be a bruising primary fight among Democrats. There’s no guarantee that your favorite candidate – the one you’re certain could beat Trump or DeSantis – would emerge from such a fight the winner. Indeed, a prolonged battle among Democrats will introduce more uncertainty into an already fractious and unnerving political environment. Such an environment better suits the GOP’s appetite for chaos than it does Democrats’ desire to actually govern. Indeed, the Biden persona that many regard as low key to the point of blah also might be an underrated strength in this tumultuous political era, especially among risk-averse voters. People may not be head over heels for Biden, but he’s a known quantity.

Relatedly, while Biden isn’t especially popular, many of his accomplishments are. He has a real record to run on, though his communications strategy needs to do a better job of highlighting it (tonight’s State of the Union was a good effort overall, to that end). That record is the sort of thing that can’t easily be passed off to another candidate, as if a baton in a relay race. Those achievements are, in a fundamental political sense, Biden’s. Insofar as partisanship is the key animating motivation for most voters, antipathy toward the other party more than love of one’s own that moves the needle. But among swingy voters, who are both less loyal to any political party and more wary of political and social experimentation, Biden’s penchant for pragmatic legislating could be the affirmative reason they need to vote for him. Another way of saying this is that any Democrat will begin a general election campaign with the enormous liability of being presumptively hated by a significant swath of the country. But none will have the same positive *tangible* bona fides that Biden does.

In last week’s Mailbag column Yglesias also went into some detail on this:

I sympathize with everything she says, but I did not find this paragraph to be incredibly convincing:

Plenty of Democrats worry that if Biden steps aside, the nomination will go to Vice President Kamala Harris, who polls poorly. But Democrats have a deep bench, including politicians who’ve won in important purple states, like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia. Biden said he wanted to be a bridge to the next generation of Democrats. There are quite a few promising people qualified to cross it. A primary will give Democrats the chance to find the one who is suited for this moment.

None of that is wrong, but I just don’t think this fully considers the toll a contested primary would have on the party. It’s easy as a journalist to feel that it would be more fun to see the next generation of Democrats go at it and let a younger, fresher candidate emerge. But I think it’s really hard to do the math and have it come out net-positive. Do I wish Biden were 15 years younger? Sure. Do I wish Kamala Harris was a more appealing figure? Absolutely. Should everyone have listened to me when I made the unfashionable-at-the-time case against picking her? Yes!

But this is all water under the bridge. In the real world, Biden running for re-election is the best option that Democrats have.

I think we all saw at the State of the Union that he can perform in the big moments, and he’s genuinely one of the most appealing figures Democrats have today with strong political instincts and all the rest.

That being said, if Biden for whatever reason decides he doesn’t want to run, it’s not like that’s the end of the world. Goldberg is right that Democrats have plenty of other strong contenders, and I also don’t write off the possibility that Harris will raise her game — she definitely has it in her to be an excellent politician, I just think she needs to get a bit out of the bunker mentality and listen to the smartest possible people, which will include people who’ve criticized her. But what I would like is for people who want to do the “Biden shouldn’t run again” hot take to really dig and write out in some detail how they imagine the 2024 primary shaking out.

To me it seems like an open contest would cost a lot of money and drain war chests of resources that could be better used in the general election. It would also probably end with Harris winning, not by addressing her political weaknesses but by locking down progressive movement institutional support in a way that’s not appealing to swing voters or to disaffected sporadic voters. I think you’d have a huge risk of repeating the 2020-style policy auction dynamic in which key contenders feel pressures to elevate unpopular, unrealistic ideas. And I think you’d risk undermining a lot of what Biden has achieved in terms of calming all that down. But maybe I’m wrong about that. I’m not a seer who can peer into the future. What I’d like to hear from Goldberg and others from the Someone Else 2024 camp is whether they think I’m overstating the value of money, I’m misreading the dynamic, I’m wrong that this kind of policy auction would be undesirable, or what.

And, regardless of who the alternatives are (and there are some good ones) it is quite likely that the process itself would genuinely divide the party in a way a Biden re-nomination would not. And, I think Yglesias is not-wrong in that a very-weak general election Harris is probably the most-likely winner in this alternate universe. 

Continuing isolation quick hits (part II)

1) OMG this is just the absurdist end-point of leftists eating themselves, “Durham fails to condemn anti-gay bill because of debate over who is more oppressed” 

Things got heated at Durham City Council’s Thursday work session when council member and former Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson introduced a resolution that would take a firm stance against the transphobic bills being filed in the North Carolina General Assembly.

North Carolina Republicans have filed at least two bills that directly target trans youth in North Carolina. The most worrisome of these is the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” — also known as N.C.’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill — that has already passed the N.C. Senate and will soon get a vote in the House.

This type of resolution seems like a no-brainer for Durham, the city that held North Carolina’s first Pride parade. Yet the conversation ended up taking a turn when Mark-Anthony Middleton, the current Mayor Pro Tem, had a concern over the phrasing of the second sentence in the resolution.

“WHEREAS, members of the LGBTQ+ community currently experience the highest rate of hate-motivated violence among all marginalized communities in the US.”

Middleton said he felt this wasn’t factually accurate, as the FBI’s hate crime tracking data shows that race is the most common reason victims of hate crimes were targeted. Johnson pointed out that, when compared to the size of the overall U.S. population, LGBTQ individuals experience the highest rate of hate crime victimization. 

From there, other members of the council began weighing in on the resolution and the argument between Johnson and Middleton. Johnson eventually asked if the rules could be suspended so that the council could hold a vote, even though that isn’t part of work session procedure. The council voted against changing things up, and now the resolution will be voted on in 10 days.

2) I really, really liked the movie Tar. (And shoutout to Peacock TV, which is proving to be my best $2/month).  Loved this analysis of key scenes from the movie.  And, I really liked this exploration of the movie’s reality (definitely don’t read this if you haven’t seen it). 

3) Ethan Mollick with a guide to making a remarkably effective fake video of yourself (it looks fake if you are looking for it, but could easily fool people not paying close attention) for less than $10 in software and tools. 

4) I really respect Cochrane views (as people who take science/medicine seriously, generally do), so was pretty taken aback by their essentially “masks don’t work” review.  I’ve seen surprisingly few good takes on-line, but, Scott Alexander came through with something that made a lot of sense:

45: New Cochrane meta-analysis finds no evidence that masks work for preventing transmission of respiratory illnesses, including COVID, but that hand-washing does.

Context is that long before COVID, there was debate about whether respiratory illnesses were more droplet spread (in which case hand-washing > masks) or airborne spread (in which case masks > hand-washing), and some people who have been on Team Droplet for decades wrote this meta-analysis, which did indeed find handwashing > masks.

This shouldn’t be surprising – most of the studies included were the same pre-COVID studies that the establishment used to argue that hand-washing worked and masks didn’t back in March 2020. Most of these were studies showing that if one person in a household had flu, them wearing a mask at home didn’t seem to prevent their family from getting flu – although there were some issues here like “they were supposed to wear masks even while sleeping because they slept in the same bed as their spouse, but obviously they didn’t do that and then their spouse got the flu” which don’t translate to the COVID situation. The analysis does include two new COVID studies – one from Bangladesh that shows a positive effect from masks and one from Denmark that doesn’t (but people complain the lockdown there was so strict that there was too low a sample size of people getting COVID). But mostly it’s just the same set of studies. So this shouldn’t be a strong update on whatever you thought about the mask debate in March 2020.

In March 2020, I reviewed many of these same studies and concluded that while they pretty clearly showed that masking within households didn’t prevent flu from spreading, this seemed different enough from the spread of COVID in public places that it was hard to say, and given the low risk of masks, they were probably worth trying for most people. I still think this is true, although notice that this is a lower bar than “government mandate”.

More commentary hereherehereherehere, I’m focusing on the negative commentary since obviously the positive commentary is “haha, we were right, suck it”. This article discusses the broader transition from Team Droplet to Team Airborne among epidemiologists, and I would interpret continuing establishment support for masks as coming from this change at the theoretical level, rather than new RCTs (which mostly haven’t happened). I’m cynical enough to believe that most RCTs conducted during the pro-droplet-consensus period got pro-droplet results, but that once they get around to conducting new RCTs during the new pro-airborne-consensus period, they’ll get pro-airborne results. But people mostly haven’t gotten around to conducting new RCTs during the new pro-airborne-consensus period, so most RCTs are still pro-droplet, so all the meta-analyses come out pro-droplet for now. Trust Science!

5) What we really need is regulatory crackdown so that pharmaceutical companies cannot change one meaningless molecule and claim they have a new drug with new patent protection, but, until then, I love this idea, “Insulin is way too expensive. California has a solution: Make its own.”

The newer artificial insulins can be very valuable for people with diabetes who need to time their insulin injections with meals in mind, though it is not clear that artificial insulin is more beneficial than bioengineered human insulins for some patients, such as those with Type 2 diabetes. But, according to many academic experts, the amount of innovation in the insulin business hardly justifies the current costs for insulin products. Insulin is still, at its core, more or less the same product that debuted a century ago.

Nevertheless, pharmaceutical companies stand to make a lot of money by continually refreshing their products. Thus, the three major insulin manufacturers in the US — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi — continue to do that, and thereby maintain their control of the country’s insulin supply. The main mechanism the US has for bringing down prescription drug prices is allowing generic drugs to compete with brand-name versions. When a company develops a new drug, it gets a period of exclusivity, 10 years or more, in which it is the only one able to make or sell that drug. But after that exclusivity period has passed, other companies can make a carbon copy and sell it at a lower price. Studies find that once several generic competitors come on the market, prices drop significantly.

But pharma companies are savvy about finding ways to extend their monopolies, with insulin and other drugs, by making minor tweaks to the chemical compound and asking for a patent extension. In the case of insulin, the companies can also modify the delivery device to protect their market share. Each product is meant to be used with specific, company-designed injectors. Though the patents on the artificial insulin developed in the 1990s have started expiring, these companies continue to hold and extend monopolies on either their devices or other chemical compounds, making it harder for generic competitors to enter the market.

Other federal regulations have added to the challenge. The FDA began to treat insulin as a biologic drug in 2020 — meaning it is made with living materials instead of combining chemicals like conventional pharmaceuticals — which comes with a different set of standards for generic versions, which are known as biosimilars, as well as manufacturing challenges given the precise conditions these products must be made in. Biosimilars can cost up to $250 million to produce and take up to eight years to bring to the market, versus a one-year investment of as little as $1 million for conventional generics. And unless the FDA recognizes a new generic insulin as interchangeable with the products already on the market, health insurers might not want to cover it and doctors may not be willing to prescribe it.

6) How did I have no idea about these absolutely massive prehistoric elephants?? “These Extinct Elephants Were Neanderthals’ ‘Biggest Calorie Bombs’
A study of butchered bones from 125,000 years ago offers what researchers call “the first clear-cut evidence of elephant-hunting in human evolution.””

It is now accepted that the more typical Neanderthal was one who lived in southern Europe through the Ice Age and in central Europe during interglacial periods, as epitomized by Neumark-Nord. About 86,000 to 106,000 years ago, for instance, fisher-hunter-gatherers occupied the Gruta da Figueira Brava site on Portugal’s Atlantic coast.

Similarly, a new body of research has transformed our image of Neanderthals as knuckle-dragging brutes who wandered from cave to cave while gnawing on slabs of slain mammoth. Evidence is mounting that they were skilled toolmakers with a complex language who built shelters, traded jewelry and lived in large social groups.

“Until very recently, Neanderthals were considered simple slaves of nature who were living off the land, the first hippies,” Dr. Roebroeks said. “The truth is that they were using fire to shape their environment, as well as having a huge impact on the most massive animals alive at that time.”

Straight-tusked elephants were the largest terrestrial mammals of the Pleistocene, a geological epoch lasting until 11,700 years ago when vast ice sheets and other glaciers spread across North America and Eurasia. Adult males weighed as much as 14 tons, adult females about half that. The straight-tusked elephant, or Palaeoloxodon antiquus, was the reigning elephant ancestor of that time. It was much larger than the woolly mammoth and roughly twice as big as today’s African elephant.

7) This is good. Liberals should not back from either of these.  We just need to define the progressive vision, not the cramped and problematic conservative versions. “Ro Khanna on the Progressive Case for Patriotism and Capitalism”

8) Jennifer Rubin on PRRI’s new poll on white Christian nationalism:

When you hear the phrase “Christian nationalists,” you might think of antiabortion conservatives who are upset about the phrase “Happy Holidays” and embrace a vaguely “America First” way of thinking. But according to a Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll released Wednesday, Christian nationalists in fact harbor a set of extreme beliefs at odds with pluralistic democracy. The findings will alarm you.

“Christian nationalism is a new term for a worldview that has been with us since the founding of our country — the idea that America is destined to be a promised land for European Christians,” PRRI president and founder Robert P. Jones explained in a news release on the survey of more than 6,000 Americans. “While most Americans today embrace pluralism and reject this anti-democratic claim, majorities of white evangelical Protestants and Republicans remain animated by this vision of a white Christian America.”The poll used the following beliefs to gauge how deeply respondents embraced Christian nationalism:
  • “The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.”
  • “U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.”
  • “If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.”
  • “Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.”
  • “God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.”

PRRI found that 10 percent (“adherents”) of American adults believe in these ideas overwhelmingly or completely; 19 percent agree but not completely (“sympathizers”); 39 percent disagree (“skeptics”) but not completely; and 29 percent disagree completely (“rejecters”).

Who are these people? “Nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (35%) or adherents (29%).” Put differently, Christian nationalist adherents are a minority but when combined with sympathizers still comprise a stunning 29 percent of Americans — many tens of millions.

Christian nationalists also make up the base of the Republican Party. “Most Republicans qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (33%) or adherents (21%), while at least three-quarters of both independents (46% skeptics and 29% rejecters) and Democrats (36% skeptics and 47% rejecters) lean toward rejecting Christian nationalism.” In total, “Republicans (21%) are about four times as likely as Democrats (5%) or independents (6%) to be adherents of Christian nationalism.” Some promising news: There are fewer adherents and sympathizers among younger Americans. “More than seven in ten Americans ages 18-29 (37% skeptics, 42% rejecters) and ages 30-49 (37% skeptics, 35% rejecters) lean toward opposing Christian nationalism.” Support is also inversely related to educational attainment.

Christian nationalist adherents are emphatically out of synch with the pluralist majority. “Americans overall are much more likely to express a preference for the U.S. to be a nation made up of people belonging to a variety of religions (73%).” They also are much more likely to hold authoritarian and racist views…

More than 70 percent of adherents embrace replacement theory, nearly one-quarter harbor the antisemitic view that Jews hold too many positions of power and 44 percent believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America, the poll found. More than 65 percent think Muslims from some countries should be banned. Almost 70 percent believe “the husband is the head of the household in ‘a truly Christian family’ and his wife submits to his leadership.”

If you think this sounds like MAGA tripe, you’re right. This is the hardcore MAGA base. More alarming: “Nearly six in ten QAnon believers are also either Christian nationalism sympathizers (29%) or adherents (29%).”

9) I love “Rick and Morty” and have definitely had concerns about how the loss of one of the co-creators may affect the show in the future, but this Vox essay suggests I need not worry and is a great appreciation of the show:

Hidden in all this clever recursion and juvenile brinkmanship are genuine human concerns. Throughout both shows, Jeff and Rick earnestly, even plaintively continue to wonder why they’re such walking disasters — at least they do when they can overcome their self-loathing long enough to get the question out. Why do people do bad things? Harmon wants to know, and he wants us to want to know.

10) No, “Last of Us” cordyceps is not coming for us, but we do need to worry about fungal pathogens:

Fungus-caused infections — real ones, not the ones sparking the zombie apocalypse on the popular show “The Last of Us” — pose a growing threat in the United States and around the world.

Mississippi has become the latest state to report residents infected with Candida auris, a highly contagious fungus that thrives in hospitals and nursing homes. It won’t be the last and, without dedicated effort, infections and deaths will continue to pile up.

The Mississippi Department of Public Health announced it has identified six people infected with C. auris. This pathogen can contaminate just about any surface imaginable, from intravenous lines and feeding tubes to bedsheets, doctors’ coats, and sinks. People who are elderly or immunocompromised are the most vulnerable to this pathogen, and it is often deadly: two of the six people infected in Mississippi have died.

The rapid ascent of C. auris is unsettling. The fungus has carved a deadly path around the globe since Japanese researchers identified the first-known infection in 2009. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that it had logged seven cases of C. auris across four states: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois. By 2019, the pathogen had infected more than 700 people across 12 states, and the numbers continue to climb. In 2022, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Hawaii all confirmed their first C. auris cases, and nearly 5,000 people in the U.S. have now been infected with it.

Public health experts have for years been warning that C. auris and other fungal infections are a growing threat. Numerous studies have detailed the ways in which climate change may aid and abet the spread of these pathogens as the world warms. C. auris is just one of dozens of fungal pathogens affecting humans, yet the U.S. — and the world — has continually failed to take action against this threat.

A quick assessment of the armamentarium of antifungal agents shows just how underprepared countries are. No new classes of antifungal drugs have become available during the last 20 years, according to a study in the journal Drugs, and only one new agent from a known antifungal class has been approved in the last decade. Investment in this area is sorely lacking: the World Health Organization reports that fungal infections receive less than 1.5% of all infectious disease research funding.

11) Some good political science here, even if I find it mystifying as to why there would be a dozen co-authors, “Rooted in Racism? Race, Partisanship, Status Threat, and Public Opinion Toward Statehood for Washington, D.C.”

In recent years, a number of prominent elected officials on both sides of the partisan divide have weighed in on the possibility of making Washington, D.C., the nation’s fifty-first state. While Democratic supporters of statehood for D.C. emphasize issues of equal representation, some Republican opponents have stressed the partisan and ideological consequences of D.C. statehood. Other Republican opponents, in justifying their position, have made the claim that Washington, D.C., lacks the necessary and sufficient characteristics associated with statehood, and these claims have been widely interpreted as implicitly racist appeals. In this paper, using three nationally representative surveys, we explore whether mass opinion on this issue is primarily shaped by partisanship, ideology, racial status threat, or racial prejudice. We find clear and consistent evidence that while partisan and ideological attachments, as well as perceptions of racial status threat, influence opinion on statehood for Washington, D.C., the strongest determinant of opposition to statehood are negative racial attitudes. We take these results as further evidence of the debate over D.C. statehood, like debates over public policies that are purported to benefit African Americans, is intimately intertwined with negative racial views expressed by the mass public.

12) I don’t know how I had never come across this 10-year old Gladwell talk at Google, but it’s really good, “Why Did I Say “Yes” to Speak Here?”

13) This Vox video on the Titanic’s insufficient number of lifeboats is the best thing I’ve seen on the subject by far. 

14) Here’s a fun technology story, “‘My Watch Thinks I’m Dead’ Dispatchers for 911 are being inundated with false, automated distress calls from Apple devices owned by skiers who are very much alive.”

Winter has brought a decent amount of snowfall to the region’s ski resorts, and with it an avalanche of false emergency calls. Virtually all of them have been placed by Apple Watches or iPhone 14s under the mistaken impression that their owners have been debilitated in collisions.

As of September, these devices have come equipped with technology meant to detect car crashes and alert 911 dispatchers. It is a more sensitive upgrade to software on Apple devices, now several years old, that can detect when a user falls and then dial for help. But the latest innovation appears to send the device into overdrive: It keeps mistaking skiers, and some other fitness enthusiasts, for car-wreck victims.

Lately, emergency call centers in some ski regions have been inundated with inadvertent, automated calls, dozens or more a week. Phone operators often must put other calls, including real emergencies, on hold to clarify whether the latest siren has been prompted by a human at risk or an overzealous device.

“My whole day is managing crash notifications,” said Trina Dummer, interim director of Summit County’s emergency services, which received 185 such calls in the week from Jan. 13 to Jan. 22. (In winters past, the typical call volume on a busy day was roughly half that.) Ms. Dummer said that the onslaught was threatening to desensitize dispatchers and divert limited resources from true emergencies.

15) Great stuff from Jeff Maurer, “Debt Ceiling Idiocy Shows the Dangers of Living in a Fantasyland”

But here we are, trying to find a way forward that’s compatible with the Bizarro World of false narratives that Republicans have been living in for years.

The first falsehood warping Republican brains is the idea that the deficit needs to be mostly or completely eliminated to avoid catastrophe. This idea has become a bedrock of Republican orthodoxy over the course of several decades. Remember the National Debt Clock, which showed up in Times Square in 1989? Remember the Balanced Budget Amendment that was part of Newt Gingrich’s 1995 Contract with America? Remember Paul Ryan’s YouTube videos, which were delivered with the solemn tone of a tough-love dad who’s worried about your marijuana use? Conservatives keep warning of a fiscal crisis that never comes. Of course, the kernel of truth here is that debt does matter; leftists who have convinced themselves that it doesn’t are in a cult every bit as deranged and disappointingly sexless as the Republican one. But it’s become an article of faith on the right that we must move the deficit towards zero AND FAST, which doesn’t comport with reality.

Republicans love to compare the federal budget to a household budget. But the federal budget is different from a household budget in a few crucial ways. For starters, you and I can’t print money. I mean…I suppose we could. could run off a few million Maurer Bucks on the ol’ HP ink jet, but if I try to buy a Whopper with them, they’ll kick me out of Burger King. Also, my self-produced currency is unlikely to become a coveted store of value around the globe, and that remains true even in a world in which people buy Dogecoin. In contrast, the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, which makes it easier for the US to borrow money. Finally, a lot of federal borrowing is done in-house; America can borrow money from Americans, whereas I can’t borrow $1,000 from my son, because he is both a baby and a deadbeat.

Which is to say: We don’t need to balance the budget. And in fact, we shouldn’t: A singular focus on a balanced budget would cause us to pass up low-interest-high-yield investments that we should make. Our goal should be to keep the debt manageable, and our definition of “manageable” should change depending on economic conditions. The obsession with zero deficit is an overly-simple view promoted by people who either have ulterior motives or who don’t understand how the federal budget works.

The second Republican misunderstanding driving this insanity is the idea that a vote to raise the debt ceiling “puts more money on the nation’s credit card”. In reality, the money has already been charged to the card, and raising the debt ceiling just lets us pay the bill…

The third relevant brain worm is the myth that the budget could be balanced through a few relatively-painless cuts. Republicans frequently object to suggestions that they want to cut Social Security or Medicare, and obviously, tax hikes are as heretical to GOP doctrine as Lobsterfest is to Orthodox Judaism. So, if the deficit is a crisis, then what’s the proposed solution?

Republican rhetoric tends to focus on non-defense discretionary spending. That is: nuts-and-bolts government function stuff like highways and diplomacy, plus more touchy-feely stuff like environment, health, and education. That stuff doesn’t butter a typical Republican’s toast, and even a liberal like me will admit that not every penny of that spending is crucial funding keeping vulnerable Americans from being dragged out to sea by economic currents and ripped apart by sharks. But to talk about non-defense discretionary spending as a solution to the budget deficit is basically a non-sequitur.

The bottom line is that there just isn’t enough money there. Non-defense discretionary spending is usually around $600 billion (adjusted for inflation); the deficit has averaged $1.16 trillion over the past 15 years. So, if you carved out the whole District of Columbia, floated it into the Atlantic ocean, and then sank it along with the entire federal government, you’d be about half way to where you’d need to be. For context, this spending is slightly below where it’s been for the last 35 years as a percentage of GDP. To allege a budget crisis and then shift to talk of shaving non-defense discretionary spending is like announcing a plan to lose 100 pounds and declaring that you’ll get there by reducing how often you eat bananas foster.

These three myths combine to form a simple, misleading, narrative, which goes like this: The government is on the brink of a fiscal crisis. This crisis can be solved without tax hikes or cuts to popular programs. Members of Congress who vote to raise the debt ceiling are authorizing more profligate spending instead of getting our fiscal house in order.

How much does the GOP base believe this narrative? Well, they believe it enough that most Republican members of the House seem scared to vote to raise the ceiling. We also might deduce something from the fact that the most zealous debt ceiling warriors seem to be those Republicans who are least in touch with reality. To wit: Major players include Ralph Norman, who doesn’t appear to know what the debt ceiling is, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, of whom former RNC chair Michael Steele recently said: “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.” GOP leadership has ignored White House calls for proposed spending cuts, and of course they have: No cuts exist that are big enough to satisfy the Republican base and that are popular with the rest of the country. The GOP is reaping what they sowed: They promoted a lie, people believed the lie, and now those same people are demanding that their leaders take action in response to a crisis that doesn’t exist.

16) Just maybe this time the promising new Alzheimer’s drug is actually promising?  Really interesting stuff here on the latest drug and the history of false hope.

17) Good stuff from Phillip Bump, “The core weakness of the Republican Party, on raucous display”

Why is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) in Congress?

The 2020 campaign that first brought her to Washington wasn’t centered on the policy proposals Greene wanted to enact as a legislator. Her campaign was instead centered mostly on fringe rhetoric and chastisements of the D.C. establishment, including members of her own party. This was amplified after Republican leaders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) criticized past comments of Greene’s that were racist or endorsed the QAnon conspiracy theory.

But that didn’t matter. Greene easily won the primary and then election in a district that backed Donald Trump by a 3 to 1 margin. So now she’s in Congress — and was a key ally of McCarthy in his struggle to be elected House speaker. Her willingness to throw bombs at her perceived opponents has made her a force in Republican politics, one that McCarthy clearly thinks is useful to keep close.

In other words, Greene is in Congress because her style of agitating the Republican base was useful in winning a primary in a deep-red district, winning election in a wildly pro-Trump one and in getting access to the core of Republican institutional power. And this, really, is the Republican Party’s central weakness, as made obvious in last year’s midterm elections: It is very, very good at energizing its base and not very good at appealing to everyone else.

On Tuesday night, President Biden delivered his State of the Union address. This annual event is Congress’s prom, an opportunity to get dressed up and be fancy with lots of expectations that people will be on their best behavior. Before this year’s iteration, McCarthy cautioned his caucus to behave, reportedly reminding them that the country would be watching.

To continue the prom analogy, this is a bit like the principal telling the jocks that the local news would be filming the dance and not to act up. Guess what the jocks are going to do? …

The other motivation for interrupting Biden is implicit: Many Republican elected officials are simply used to treating their opponents with overt disdain. Greene has endorsed QAnon theories and mused about executions of prominent Democrats. Given the rare opportunity to be face-to-face with Biden, we should expect her to demurely observe his speech?

We should not be surprised that McCarthy’s warning to his caucus about behaving went unheeded. We should not be surprised that his efforts to quell the uproar in the moment were ignored. We should not be surprised that on Wednesday morning he excused the interruptions as evidence of his caucus being “passionate.” After all, the story of McCarthy’s tenure as leader of his party has largely been about his failure to erect fences around the party’s fringe, from Trump on down.

There is simply a large element of his party that is focused on combating the left, on fighting Democrats or other elites in Fox News hits or punchy tweets. They do so for the same reasons some of them interrupted Biden’s speech: They want attention or they are simply behaving in the way they’ve become accustomed to behaving. There’s a Pavlovian element here. Greene and others have been successful at getting Republican votes by ginning up Republican anger. In districts where Republicans win easily, that works just fine. In the jostle to get attention and support from Republicans nationally, extremism in this regard is a boon. But in winning contested races? Less so.

18) So tired of stories like this!! Our laws and enforcement are both woefully insufficient.  And who are all the damn people buying dogs from these disreputable breeders and thereby propping up the whole sordid mess?!  Shame on them! “47 dogs rescued from backyard breeder, animal hoarding home in rural NC”

19) I’m in a monthly meeting with a faculty member who I am pretty sure never turns her camera on because she believes cameras on is “ableist.” Oh, yeah, that’s a thing.  As for me, I believe it’s rude to hide yourself and participate by voice only if you are perfectly capable of more fully participating.  It’s already diminishing human contact enough to be on in zoom instead of in person, that you really shouldn’t make it worse unless there’s a good reason (to be fair, there’s often good reasons, but a stand against ableism is not among them).   

20) It was pretty cool to read this Atlantic article on obstacles to nuclear power growth from within the nuclear power industry and think, “wow, that was really good” and then go back and see it was Jonathan Rauch. I love that guy. 

Small and safe is the vision, at least. Dozens of companies and labs in the U.S. and abroad are pursuing it. Kairos is well along, with a permit to build a full-fledged nuclear test reactor already moving toward federal approval, hopefully by the end of 2023. That test will depend on this one in Albuquerque, because molten-salt reactor cooling has not been tried in the United States since the 1960s, when a five-year experiment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, proved the idea viable. In a few days, the test unit’s top will be installed, crowning the device with bristling pipes and sensors. Nearby, welders ready those pipes and valves. Engineers stand on top of scaffolding slotting graphite reflectors into place.

As I tour the facility, however, I soon realize that the crucial technology is not 16 feet tall but about 5 foot 6, balding, with jeans and thick, black-framed glasses…

Nuclear power is in a strange position today. Those who worry about climate change have come to see that it is essential. The warming clock is ticking—another sort of countdown—and replacing fossil fuels is much easier with nuclear power in the equation. And yet the industry, in many respects, looks unready to step into a major role. It has consistently flopped as a commercial proposition. Decade after decade, it has broken its promises to deliver new plants on budget and on time, and, despite an enviable safety record, it has failed to put to rest the public’s fear of catastrophic accidents. Many of the industry’s best minds know they need a new approach, and soon. For inspiration, some have turned toward SpaceX, Tesla, and Apple…

The real challenge with giant nuclear plants like Fukushima and Three Mile Island is not making them safe but doing so at a reasonable price, which is the problem that companies like Kairos are trying to solve. But even people who feel scared of nuclear power do not dispute that fossil fuels are orders of magnitude more dangerous. One study, published in 2021, estimated that air pollution from fossil fuels killed about 1 million people in 2017 alone. In fact, nuclear power’s safety record to date is easily on par with the wind and solar industries, because wind turbines and rooftop panels create minor risks such as falls and fire. As for nuclear waste, it has turned out to be a surprisingly manageable problem, partly because there isn’t much of it; all of the spent fuel the U.S. nuclear industry has ever created could be buried under a single football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, according to the Department of Energy. Unlike coal waste, which is of course spewed into the air we breathe, radioactive waste is stored in carefully monitored casks.

And so environmentalists, I thought, were betraying the environment by stigmatizing nuclear power. But I had to revise my view. Even without green opposition, nuclear power as we knew it would have fizzled—today’s environmentalists are not the main obstacle to its wide adoption…
And so, in a generation, nuclear power went from the fuel of the future to not worth the bother. Supply chains withered; talented engineers and executives sought greener pastures. The United States, once the industry’s world leader, became an also-ran. Today, as Peterson said, we find ourselves “mired in this world where all you can get are light-water reactors, and they’re challenging and expensive to build, and we don’t have good alternatives. Breaking out of that set of problems is one of the critical things we need to do today.” That requires technological breakthroughs; more important, however, it requires attitudinal ones.

21) Headlines like this all the time, of course, “Single Powerball Ticket Wins $754.6 Million Jackpot” got me thinking how much more good would we do in in the world and really change lives by having 100 $7 million jackpots.  That would be so much better!  Of course, I’m sure you’d sell way less tickets for that.

22) McWhorter on “racism” and policing:

As Duane Loynes Sr., an assistant professor of urban and Africana studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, told The Los Angeles Times’s Jaweed Kaleem, “Here’s a dirty little secret: Studies indicate that Black officers are just as brutal and at times even more brutal against Black bodies as their white counterparts.”

The point is not that we don’t have a grievous problem, but rather that the problem is not exclusively racist white cops. It’s cops, period. (An important note: When it comes to nonlethal mistreatment, as opposed to police shootings, studies demonstrate the existence of outright racial bias. This is very much a problem, but a very different problem from police killings.)

The way we are trained to view the situation is understandable, but outdated. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, cops killed people — Black and white alike — at much higher rates in major cities than they do now, as the criminologist Peter Moskos has shown. I grew up in the Philadelphia of that era, where Mayor Frank Rizzo openly condoned cops’ brutality against Black people. By morbid coincidence, I saw the gruesome videotaped beating of Nichols shortly after I rewatched Melvin Van Peebles’ pioneering 1971 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” In the movie, Van Peebles plays a Black man on the run from racist white cops whose shameless, bloodletting brutality roughly corresponded to what some Black people of the period actually experienced. A lot of time has passed since then, but the way we discuss police brutality against Black people today can sometimes make it sound as if there is no difference between the situation Van Peebles depicted — of marauding, openly racist cops — and the one we face today.

Yet white Americans are also killed by police officers in appalling numbers — many more, overall, than Black Americans, owing to the fact that the latter make up only about 14 percent of the U.S. population. In 2022, The Washington Post’s database on cop killings documented that of 755 victims whose race was known, 225 were Black and 389 were white.

Because casual and sometimes lethal violence against Black people by cops is part of our shameful and still recent national narrative, names like those of the victims I cited earlier sometimes become national news stories. But the media rarely even covers police killings of white people, which don’t fit so neatly into that pre-existing narrative…

Police killings of unarmed or unthreatening American citizens are a national disgrace, and one that requires action. But action requires comprehension, and the simplest explanation — “racist white cops kill Black people” — is clearly often not the correct one.

Is “systemic racism” at work in Memphis?  Quite clearly.  That said, I think the fact that black cops killed a black man forces us to deal with the broader problems of policing and police culture rather than just simply saying, “see… racism.”

23) Drum on social security: “Fixing Social Security forever requires only 1.5% of GDP”

Social Security is back in the news. The word on the street is that MAGA Republicans—unlike Donald Trump himself—want to “reform” Social Security so it doesn’t go “bankrupt” and cut off our kids from their rightful pensions.

I’m willing to go toe-to-toe on the gritty details of Social Security with anyone, but not today. Instead, I’ll just give you a taste of the Social Security doomsaying we’re likely to get. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is Travis Nix telling us that raising the payroll tax cap is a bad idea:

The Social Security administration forecasts that without benefit cuts or structural reforms the entitlement program will run out of money in 2035. In response, lawmakers in both parties are mulling the idea of lifting the payroll tax cap.

….[This] wouldn’t fix the structural issues with Social Security. Like a ponzi scheme, the program relies on the contributions of a shrinking young population to pay off an increasing elderly population.

….These programs need serious structural reforms—more tax revenue won’t save them….Lawmakers need to think bigger to offer real solutions. By raising the retirement age, letting workers put their tax in personal accounts instead of Social Security, and shifting Social Security to a flat benefit to make it a true antipoverty program, lawmakers could begin to address the crisis.

First off, Social Security will not “run out of money” in 2035. Current estimates say it will run about 25% short in 2035. That’s a big difference, but conservatives can never bring themselves to say it.

Second, it’s not a Ponzi scheme. If you cut off all the babble surrounding it, Social Security is just a standard social welfare program: Taxes go in and pensions go out. This can keep up forever, just like it can for Medicaid or the military or anything else.

Third, raising the retirement age saves money but does so mainly on the backs of the poor. Personal accounts are risky, which is why Social Security doesn’t use them. And a flat, small benefit for the few would destroy public support for Social Security. Nix surely knows all this.

Fourth, literally everything Nix implies is baloney. I’m excited to report that the Social Security Trustees now include Excel data in their annual report, which means I can recreate their charts on my own. Here’s the most basic, most important single chart you will ever see about Social Security:

That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Forget about high and low estimates or bend points or the accuracy of the Trustees’ actuarial assumptions or any of that. Those are trivial. What this chart tells you is that Social Security is not doomed to an endless spiral of death. It’s projected to eventually run annual deficits of about 1.5% of GDP forever.

So to fix it, all we need is reform that eventually adds up to 1.5% of GDP. That’s it. Some combination of tax hikes and benefit cuts that come to 1.5% of GDP. That will keep Social Security properly financed forever

24) Oh man do I hate unrealistic obsessions with “stranger danger” and I loved this Melida Wenner Moyer post so much!

During the show, host Brown took a moment to address the audience, saying: “Predators are a real threat. In the U.S., 2,300 children go missing each day. I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s an urgent child safety issue.”


There is so much fear-mongering about child safety these days, and I believe it’s actually more dangerous than the supposedly scary things parents are being warned about.

Consider the terrifying statistic that 2,300 kids are reported missing each day in the U.S. That’s technically true, but extremely misleading. For one thing, an estimated 99 percent of those kids are found fairly quickly, and 98 percent of them are either runaways or abducted by family members. The F.B.I. reported that only between 52 and 306 children were kidnapped by strangers or acquaintances in 2019, which is a very, very small number, considering that there are about 75 million children living in the United States. As researchers from UC-Irvine explained in a 2016 research paper:

The actual risk of a teen or child being abducted by a stranger and killed or not returned is estimated at around 0.00007%, or one in 1.4 million annually—a risk so small that experts call it de minimis, meaning effectively zero.

And yet, according to a new Pew Research survey published in January, 28 percent of American parents say they are “extremely worried” that their children will someday be abducted.


Why are we so worried about abductions when they are so rare? Well, because of shows like The Parent Test. Okay, I’m oversimplying; there are many reasons, but the media sure hasn’t been helping. In a 2022 study, researchers in Australia analyzed the content of TV shows and other media that discussed child abductions and related issues. They found that 94 percent of the media coverage focused on scary risks and that only six percent mentioned the potential benefits of granting kids autonomy. (The reports of parents being arrested for not constantly supervising their kids don’t help, either.)

It’s worth pointing out, too, that violent crime rates have dropped precipitously since the 1990s, even though U.S. adults tend to say they think crime has been increasing:

Okay, but, you might be thinking — it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? I mean, if there’s even a slim chance your kid could be abducted or hurt, shouldn’t you teach them to be scared of strangers and supervise them as much as possible? Not necessarily. When we worry too much about stranger danger and overestimate the potential risks of giving kids freedom, we rob our children of important experiences and opportunities. (It’s important to note here that some American kids really do face horrific dangers. Black children are, for instance, are nearly six times as likely as white children to be killed with guns. So some parents are indeed right to be terrified, which is unfair and awful.)

Among other things, parents today are much less likely than parents of generations past to let kids walk to school alone and to let them play unsupervised. In fact, research has found that parents believe they should be communicating to their kids that the world is a terrible, scary place.

The problem is that all this over-protectiveness doesn’t give kids the chance to learn how to navigate the world. It may also make them more prejudiced. And when we constantly tell our kids to be afraid, they are more likely to develop anxiety. (To learn more about why over-protectiveness is dangerous — and what to do instead — check out the non-profit organization Let Grow and its resources.)

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consider risk or teach our kids to be aware of it. What I am saying is that safety risks — especially to kids — are often overstated, and that this inaccurate messaging harms kids and society at large. I found myself quite frustrated that The Parent Test chose drama over data, fueling a dangerous parenting trope. What we need from the media is balance.

Yes, we should teach our kids what to do if strangers ring the doorbell. But if our kids are a bit too trusting at times, this does not mean we have failed them or that they have failed. We shouldn’t teach our kids that the world is always out to get them, and, assuming they really aren’t at much risk, we shouldn’t hide our children away to keep them safe.

Isolation Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been really, really lucky with my Covid.  Symptom-wise, only the first day was bothersome at all.  As of now, I feel completely normal.  Alas, that doesn’t keep me from showing up instantly with a dark red line on the Covid rapid test.  On the bright side, lots of open windows in my house, judicious use of N95 by me, and spending most of my time shut away in a room with a fan blowing out the window means nobody else in my family has gotten sick from me.  We’ve also been really lucky with the weather and I’ve spent a good amount of time with my family out on the deck.  Alas, that ends today.  All along I feared that when I got Covid I would suffer more from the isolation than from the actual disease and that has definitely proven to be the case.  That negative test can’t come soon enough.

2) Great stuff from Eric Levitz on how Democrats should not be so afraid of DeSantis:

Generally speaking, it is wiser to overestimate one’s political rivals than to underestimate them. But it would nevertheless be a mistake for Democrats to grow so awed by a Florida governor with a 56 percent approval rating as to conclude that their only hope for keeping a reactionary out of the White House is to become more reactionary themselves.

DeSantis’s much-publicized political strengths are paired with underexposed weaknesses. And the issues on which he is most vulnerable — Medicare, Social Security, and abortion rights — are far more nationally salient than his crusades against “wokeness” in public schools…

Before his present incarnation as a populist purple-state governor, DeSantis was a pro-austerity, right-wing House member. In his 2011 book, he wrote that the U.S. Constitution was designed to “prevent the redistribution of wealth through the political process” and that this was commendable because “when the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” He further lamented that “popular pressure to redistribute wealth or otherwise undermine the rights of property … will ever be present.”

In other words, the self-styled “populist” argued that democracy is inherently dangerous since ordinary voters are sometimes able to pursue their economic interests through the political process — interests that include the progressive redistribution of income. Thus, DeSantis implied that the very existence of social-welfare programs that take resources from the wealthy and transfer them to the middle class, poor, and elderly is a violation of property rights and inherently tyrannical.

Although Congressman DeSantis did not go so far as to propose the wholesale abolition of all transfer programs, his congressional record is largely of a piece with his libertarian musings. During his 2012 congressional campaign, DeSantis expressed support for privatizing Social Security and Medicare. In 2013 and 2014, DeSantis deemed Paul Ryan’s infamous proposals for balancing the federal budgets insufficiently austere. Instead, as Josh Barro notes, DeSantis voted to replace those proposals with the Republican Study Committee’s more radical budget blueprints. The RSC’s 2013 fiscal vision would have raised the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare to 70, slowed the growth of Social Security benefits, and ended Medicare as we’d known it, transforming the program from a health-insurance entitlement to a stipend that wouldn’t necessarily increase with rising health-care costs…

Biden remains an unpopular president, and U.S. voters remain unhappy with inflation. Were Republicans capable of nominating a (relatively) moderate figure like former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, Democrats’ 2024 prospects might look poor. But a short, charisma-free, nasal-voiced proponent of Social Security cuts and abortion bans is not an especially fearsome adversary. Conventional Democratic politics — which is to say, promising to sustain entitlements by taxing the rich and to protect abortion rights by beating back the Bible-thumpers — is quite plausibly equal to the challenge of Ron DeSantis. And in his State of the Union on Tuesday night, Biden showed he remains more than fluent in such politics.

2) David Leonhardt on all the damn hidden fees:

Sneaky fees have become a big part of America’s consumer economy.

Hertz charges almost $6 a day simply for using a toll transponder in a rental car. Marriott and Hilton add nightly “resort fees” to the bill even at hotels that nobody would consider to be resorts. American, Delta and United list one airfare when you first search for a seat — and then add charges for basic features like the ability to sit next to your spouse.

Ticketmaster is especially aggressive about imposing fees, as I experienced recently while buying two tickets to a football game. When I initially selected my seats on Ticketmaster’s online stadium map, they cost $48. The bill at checkout was more than one-third higher — $64.40.

President Biden has announced a crackdown on these fees (which his administration calls “junk fees”), and he devoted a section of his State of the Union address to them. “Look, junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most other folks in homes like the one I grew up in,” he said Tuesday night. “I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and gets away with it.”

Today, I want to explain why anybody is even worrying about this problem. After all, in a competitive capitalist economy like ours, shouldn’t the market have already solved it?


The market solution to sneaky fees seems straightforward. When Marriott starts charging $50 nightly “resort fees,” Hilton can call out its competitor and try to steal Marriott customers. And some companies do take this approach: Southwest Airlines advertises a “Bags Fly Free” policy, an obvious swipe at rivals.

But the mushrooming number of fees has made clear that competition does not usually eliminate the practice. Why not? Academic research has suggested that there are two main reasons.

First, human beings are not the efficiently rational machines that economic theory pretends they are. An entire branch of the field, behavioral economics, has sprung up in recent decades to make sense of our limited attention spans.

If you are familiar with the best-selling book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman, you will recognize these ideas. We lead busy lives that keep us from analyzing every purchase, and we get distracted by salient but misleading information (like a low list price). Big companies, with the resources at their disposal, have learned to take advantage of these limitations. The economist Richard Thaler refers to practices like these as “sludge,” the evil counterpart to nudges that use behavioral economics to improve life.

True, one company could call out another for using sludge. But doing so often requires a complex marketing message that tries to persuade people to overcome their psychological instincts (like the appeal of a low list price). For that reason, Hilton can probably make more money by charging its own sneaky resort fees than by criticizing Marriott’s.

“Once some subset of hotels start charging these fees and generating a significant amount of revenue,” Bharat Ramamurti, a Biden adviser, told me, “that creates pressure on hotels to do this, or otherwise they’re getting left behind.”

No choices

The second major reason is monopoly power. In some markets, consumers don’t have much choice. Ticketmaster’s fees outrage many people. But I didn’t have any choice when I bought those football tickets. There was no rival service selling them.

In recent decades, many American industries have become more concentrated, partly because Washington became more lax about enforcing antitrust laws. Thomas Philippon, an N.Y.U. economist, has estimated that increased corporate concentration costs the typical American household more than $5,000 a year.

In some industries, sludge and monopoly power feed off each other. The small number of dominant internet providers, for instance, reduces the chances that a new entrant can design a business strategy around undercutting Comcast’s and Verizon’s sneaky fees. Those new entrants don’t exist. Comcast and Verizon have also figured out how to make the cancellation of internet service unpleasant and time-consuming. Airlines — another concentrated industry — use frequent-flier programs in a similar way, effectively punishing customers for switching to a different carrier.

Here’s what I don’t get.  I honestly don’t object to the fees, in theory, if the cost of a ticket is $50, I just want to know that.  I don’t care how you break it down, but don’t tell me the ticket is $35 and then charge me $50.  What I’ve yet to have explained to me is why we manage to pull this off for airline tickets, but not anything else.  Search for an airline ticket right now and it will show you the cost of what you will pay.  Click through, and you can see the various fees that add up to to full price.  Clearly, there’s some good regulation at work here.  Why isn’t it like this for all tickets?!

3) And now for the anti-wokeness portion of quick hits… This is a fascinating must-read, “I Thought I Was Saving Trans Kids. Now I’m Blowing the Whistle.: There are more than 100 pediatric gender clinics across the U.S. I worked at one. What’s happening to children is morally and medically appalling.”

I am a 42-year-old St. Louis native, a queer woman, and politically to the left of Bernie Sanders. My worldview has deeply shaped my career. I have spent my professional life providing counseling to vulnerable populations: children in foster care, sexual minorities, the poor. 

For almost four years, I worked at The Washington University School of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases with teens and young adults who were HIV positive. Many of them were trans or otherwise gender nonconforming, and I could relate: Through childhood and adolescence, I did a lot of gender questioning myself. I’m now married to a transman, and together we are raising my two biological children from a previous marriage and three foster children we hope to adopt…

I left the clinic in November of last year because I could no longer participate in what was happening there. By the time I departed, I was certain that the way the American medical system is treating these patients is the opposite of the promise we make to “do no harm.” Instead, we are permanently harming the vulnerable patients in our care.

Today I am speaking out. I am doing so knowing how toxic the public conversation is around this highly contentious issue—and the ways that my testimony might be misused. I am doing so knowing that I am putting myself at serious personal and professional risk.

Almost everyone in my life advised me to keep my head down. But I cannot in good conscience do so. Because what is happening to scores of children is far more important than my comfort. And what is happening to them is morally and medically appalling.

4) This was something else, too. “A Black Professor Trapped in Anti-Racist Hell”

On the sunny first day of seminar, I sat at the end of a pair of picnic tables with nervous, excited 17-year-olds. Twelve high-school students had been chosen by the Telluride Association through a rigorous application process—the acceptance rate is reportedly around 3 percent—to spend six weeks together taking a college-level course, all expenses paid.

The group reminded me of the heroes of the Mysterious Benedict Society books I was reading to my daughter: Each teenager, brought together for a common project, had some extraordinary ability and some quirk. One girl from California spoke and thought at machine-gun speed and started collecting pet snails during the pandemic; now she had more than 100. A girl from a provincial school in China had never traveled to the United States but had mastered un-accented English and was in love with E.M. Forster. In addition to the seminar, the students practiced democratic self-governance: They lived together and set their own rules. Those first few days, the students were exactly what you would expect, at turns bubbly and reserved, all of them curious, playful, figuring out how to relate to each other and to the seminar texts.

Four weeks later, I again sat in front of the gathered students. Now, their faces were cold, their eyes down. Since the first week, I had not spotted one smile. Their number was reduced by two: The previous week, they had voted two classmates out of the house. And I was next.

“I was guilty of countless microaggressions.”

Each student read from a prepared statement about how the seminar perpetuated anti-black violence in its content and form, how the black students had been harmed, how I was guilty of countless microaggressions, including through my body language, and how students didn’t feel safe because I didn’t immediately correct views that failed to treat anti-blackness as the cause of all the world’s ills.

This might be just another lament about “woke” campus culture, and the loss of traditional educational virtues. But the seminar topic was “Race and the Limits of Law in America.” Four of the 6 weeks were focused on anti-black racism (the other two were on anti-immigrant and anti-indigenous racism). I am a black professor, I directed my university’s black-studies program, I lead anti-racism and transformative-justice workshops, and I have published books on anti-black racism and prison abolition. I live in a predominantly black neighborhood of Philadelphia, my daughter went to an Afrocentric school, and I am on the board of our local black cultural organization.

Like others on the left, I had been dismissive of criticisms of the current discourse on race in the United States. But now my thoughts turned to that moment in the 1970s when leftist organizations imploded, the need to match and raise the militancy of one’s comrades leading to a toxic culture filled with dogmatism and disillusion. How did this happen to a group of bright-eyed high school students?

5) Graeme Wood, “DEI Is an Ideological Test”

Here, I offer a qualified defense of Rufo’s initiative. The grossest aspect of his work is his villainization of individuals—people who, like the tatted-up social-media addicts and priggish schoolteachers featured on the Libs of TikTok account, are hardly the best advocates for their cause. Picking weak targets is dishonorable. But a public college is not a weak target, and if Rufo wants to challenge an entrenched bureaucracy, then he will have a fair fight. I am curious as to how it will turn out.

Many institutions of higher learning ask faculty applicants to write a statement of commitment not just to diversity, equity, and inclusion but to an extreme form of it. The universities’ publicly stated positions imply that there is only one proper way to interpret the DEI trinity: through the concept of “anti-racism,” which may not mean what you think it means. Anti-racists argue that “the only remedy for past discrimination is present discrimination”—that is, not ignoring race but focusing on it with renewed vigor and treating people differently depending on their skin color.

Discerning applicants know not to say that they will treat students of different races and backgrounds equally. Academic jobs are rare, so woe to any applicant who makes this error and thereby expresses a political view that runs against the policies plastered all over the university’s website. Hiring committees who want to bring on such a heretic will have to explain to the dean why the campus should tolerate a professor who holds these forbidden views, and who is too dense or too ornery to hide them…

But the demolition of DEI as a bureaucratic force is another matter. Critics have accused Rufo of trying “to turn [New College] into a space of extremist indoctrination”—as if a campus with a de facto ideological test for employment is not already political. Whether that ideological test is valid is unsettled in the general public, at least judging by the controversy Rufo has kicked up so far.

It is a simple step, to go from believing that politics is everywhere to believing that because it is everywhere, the politics may as well be one’s own politics rather than one’s enemy’s—to make politics not just omnipresent but hyper-partisan. Curiously, though, those who have spent decades saying that politics is everywhere seemed to have been caught flat-footed when it arrived in the form of Rufo. Last week, when Rufo and another trustee, Jason “Eddie” Speir, showed up to talk to New College’s faculty about their plans, the provost tried to cancel the event for security reasons. She alleged that the event “put our community at risk,” because someone wrote in to say that trustees should “MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE A FLAK JACKET ON.” (It’s not even obvious that this is a threat. The message is certainly menacing, but it would be more menacing if it expressed a hope that Rufo not wear a flak jacket.) Rufo, of course, treated the threat as serious, which allowed him to insist in Churchillian fashion that the event go forward. Then he used the occasion to humiliate the provost, calling her an example of the censorious crybabies whom he had come to relieve of their responsibility.

6a)  And this was depressing, “Yet another campus blasphemy dispute in Minnesota: Macalester College covers up Iranian-American’s feminist art exhibition after student complaints”

A series of images, titled Blasphemy X and Blasphemy IX, and sculptures depicting niqab and hijab-clad women with exposed body parts or visible lingerie especially caused a stir. Students decried these “overtly sexualized” images in a petition shared after the installation of the exhibit. 

“Though we respect the principle of academic freedom, we are also simultaneously aware that freedom, like art, does not simply exist in a vacuum. The decision to display and continue to display this exhibition despite the harm it perpetuates is a deeply problematic issue. It is targeting and harming an already small community that exists on this campus,” students wrote. “The lack of action on the part of the administration is unacceptable, but unfortunately not surprising. The administration’s decisions continue to ignore the deep pain felt by many of their students.”

Ikran Noor, the Macalester student who started the petition, said “a lot of it is really proactive and really supportive of the Iranian women’s movement that’s happening,” but she believed “the ones that are particularly depicting hijabi women and niqabi women, I think those should be put down.”

Black curtains covered the Law Warschaw Gallery’s glass walls over the weekend
Black curtains cover artwork in the Law Warschaw Gallery at Macalester College. (Courtesy Taravat Talepasand)

At a community meeting held to discuss complaints about the art, some Iranian students reportedly shared their support of their exhibition despite their peers’ objections. 

Nevertheless, after the meeting to discuss student opposition to the exhibition, the college temporarily closed it, and covered windows with large black curtains to obscure all of the art. 

Obstructed glass and “non-consensual” art

In an email sent to the campus this week, the college announced the reopening of the gallery — with some caveats. During the shutdown, Macalester wrote, “we had several conversations with students, faculty, and staff to consider multiple perspectives from Muslim communities on campus, worked with the artist, and supported gallery staff. We also prepared the gallery to prevent unintentional or non-consensual viewing of certain works and added a content warning.”

That’s right: obscured windows to prevent “unintentional,” “non-consensual” glimpses of works of art. In an American campus art gallery. 

6b) And Jill Filipovic:

Two of Talepasand’s drawingsBlasphemy X and Blasphemy IX, show women in conservative garb revealing parts of themselves: A woman in a niqab shows her leg and crotch and gives the viewer the finger; a woman in a hijab pulls up her dress to show the sexy lingerie underneath. Several sculptures depict women in niqabs fully covered except for cartoonishly large protruding breasts. One piece references a teddy bear, which was at the center of a blasphemy case in Sudan: A teacher there allowed her students to name the bear, they picked the name Muhammad, and she faced 40 lashes and six months imprisonment (in the end, she spent 10 days in jail and was deported).

The exhibition, in other words, does a pretty good job at highlighting the small-minded and misogynist absurdities of religious fundamentalism.

The exhibition isn’t for everyone (what is?). But this exhibition has been challenged by a number of students at Macalester who say it’s offensive — and that because it’s offensive, it should never have been displayed in the first place, and should now be taken down. And the administration, briefly, ceded to their demands, hitting pause on the exhibition to listen to student complaints, before reopening it — but with black veils hiding its contents so as not to offend anyone who doesn’t choose to avert their eyes. This, the university said, was to prevent “non-consensual viewing.”

(I have some bad news for these students: If you are a person who has the gift of eyesight, life is a series of non-consensual viewings)…

If I were an administrator at Macalester, censoriousness, small-mindedness, and religious fundamentalism are the sorts of things I wouldn’t want to be associated with. And I would be very troubled if students at my institution believed that we shouldn’t be associated with art that challenges fundamentalism and embraces feminism.

But the Macalester administrators don’t seem so sure. Unlike the craven and cowardly administrators at Hamline University just a few miles down the road from Macalester, Macalester didn’t immediately and entirely cave to the wholly unreasonable demands of these young fundamentalists. But it did partly cave. It put an exhibition — one point of which is to criticize the mandatory covering of female bodies and the fear of female sexuality — behind curtains and frosted class, to cater to students who demanded the mandatory covering of images of female bodies. It attempted to prevent “non-consensual viewing” of the female form which is, by the way, awfully similar to the justification for mandatory hijab and modesty laws.

The university also emailed students a mea culpa: “Unfortunately, as the Taravat exhibition was installed, we did not take the steps needed to demonstrate cultural sensitivity and awareness of the possible impact of the art. For this and for the harm it caused, we apologize.”

And then the school posted a QR code that links to the student petition on the front door of the gallery, alongside a sign warning that the exhibition “contains images of sexuality and violence that may be upsetting or unacceptable for some viewers. Please view the exhibition with caution.”

I haven’t been to this exhibition. But nothing I can find suggests it depicts “violence.” Most of what I see are boobs.

If you can’t handle seeing breasts — including breasts on a woman who wears a hijab or niqab — I would recommend not going to any art museum or exhibit. I might stay off of the internet, too, and perhaps reconsider leaving the house.

The artist herself believes that these choices are censorious and inappropriate. “I really didn’t argue about the closure for the weekend or the pause,” she told Sahan Journal. “But nobody told me about the black curtain veiling all the windows. That’s a whole other level of censorship.”

Like in the Hamline case, the Macalester students who want this work censored don’t use the language of religious fundamentalism or blasphemy — although that is what they are, and that is what they are objecting to — but rather the language of social justice, therapy, and DEI initiatives. They talk about the “harm” caused by mere images of women with both breasts and headscarves. The sign that includes a QR code to sign the petition encourages viewers to “stand in solidarity” with them. The university uses this language, too, apologizing for “the harm it caused” and the lack of “cultural sensitivity and awareness of the possible impact of the art.”

Yes, this is a different, gentler kind of censoriousness than we see on the right. But it’s censoriousness nonetheless — and it’s frankly embarrassing that the school apologized or took any steps at all to placate students with unreasonable and profoundly illiberal demands.

7) Oh, let’s just keep going.  Are there any worse activists than those fighting against ableism?  Who else could somehow find wrongness in YouTube star Mr Beast paying for 1000 people’s cataract surgery to restore their vision.  What’s wrong with being blind, damnit??

8) Stories like this are so frustrating. “How Educators Secretly Remove Students With Disabilities From School: Known as informal removals, the tactics are “off-the-book” suspensions often in violation of federal civil rights protections for those with disabilities.”  I’m a parent with a disabled kid.  I get it.  But this story completely ignores the fact that in many situations one misplaced disabled kid can seriously set back the learning of 30 other kids and that has to be wrestled with.  Shame on the NYT author for entirely failing to do so (interestingly, NYT commenters are totally on this problem). 

9) Likewise, its an opinion column sure. And Jamelle Bouie is right to push back against Republicans’ demonization of trans people.  But, to do so without at least admitting that sometimes, yes, trans activists can really push things and that the science of medical treatment for trans minors is far from settled is intellectually dishonest.

10) This is depressing.  Ranked-choice voting is one of the best things we could do to improve our democracy. So, of course Republicans are now against it. “Republicans go to war against ranked-choice voting”

11) Now, this is how it’s done.  Properly condemn DEI in universities for what it does wrong, but make the case that what DeSantis is doing in Florida is far worse:

  • “Typical DEI training includes unscientific claims.”

  • “The growth of DEI bureaucracies has fueled bureaucratic bloat.”

  • “DEI offices… are in fact a threat to academic freedom.”

We agree with these three claims. They come from a recent Manhattan Institute Issue Brief about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in public universities. The lead author, Christopher Rufo, is a pivotal figure in the nation-wide anti-Critical Race Theory movement and the brains behind Ron DeSantis’s wholesale efforts to remake Florida’s system of public higher education.

As professors, we have long been skeptical of conventional DEI initiatives. We’ve argued that diversity training is ineffective, often counterproductive; that the push for more DEI administrators has swelled the ranks of unnecessary middle management;and that DEI offices have a pernicious predilection to undermine academic freedom

Expertise and competence don’t appear to count for much in DeSantis’ top-down, directives-driven program for higher education reform. On top of eliminating funding for DEI, key features include prohibitions against teaching CRT and “identity politics,” as well as a directive to align universities’ missions to “Florida’s existing and emerging workforce needs.” In a further blow to faculty-led university governance, the proposed legislation empowers institutions’ presidents and boards of trustees to “take ownership of hiring and retention decisions, without interference from unions and faculty committees” and “to conduct a post-tenure review of a faculty member at any time with cause.”

But academic freedom is effectively meaningless if faculty, who are the experts in their areas, are cut out from the hiring process. Presidents and trustees simply do not have the requisite expertise to make judgment calls about the needs and requirements of academic departments and programs. The fact that presidents and board members are increasingly political appointees (thinkthe half-dozen new trustees at New College) makes these provisions even more alarming.

At a recent press conference, DeSantis justified his proposal as a necessary corrective to the left-wing “political agenda” currently being imposed on higher education. Rufo, who spoke after DeSantis, applauded the move to defund campus DEI programs, declaring that “the purpose of a university is not to push political activism.”

But the plan from Rufo and DeSantis is itself a multi-pronged campaign to impose a deeply conservative political agenda: an attempt to fight politicization with politicization. Watch this recent Rufo video titled “The Conservative Counter-Revolution Begins in the Universities” and it’s abundantly clear that he sees college campuses first and foremost as culture war battlegrounds. It’s high time, he maintains, that conservatives organize to “recapture territory” and “reverse” the alleged “leftwing ideological dominance” at public universities in Florida and other states…

What’s happening in Florida is a power play. While we are deeply skeptical of many DEI initiatives, we recognize that DEI needs to be reformed—and indeed transformed—from within the university itself, with faculty taking the lead. Even if you find Rufo and DeSantis’s criticisms compelling, top-down change by state diktat is never the answer.  

12) This is really cool, “‘Most lifelike’ Lincoln portrait on display after years in obscurity”

A close-up of an 1865 portrait of Abraham Lincoln by W.F.K. Travers on display at the National Portrait Gallery. (Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery)

The National Portrait Gallery unveiled a rare portrait of President Abraham Lincoln on Friday, ahead of Lincoln’s 214th birthday. The nine-foot-tall portrait, painted by W.F.K. Travers in 1865, is one of only three known full-length renderings of the 16th president and will be on loan to the Smithsonian gallery in downtown D.C. for the next five years.

The painting, which hung for decades in relative obscurity in a municipal building in a small New Jersey town, has been newly restored and is now part of the “America’s Presidents” gallery.

There are plenty of photographs of Lincoln, but, like most subjects of the day, he sits stiffly and somberly, and of course, is rendered in black and white. This portrait — painted in color, face relaxed with a hint of a smile, and body standing at its full 6-foot-4 height — offers viewers perhaps the best opportunity today to see Lincoln as he really was.

13) Katherine Wu writes so much great stuff, “A ‘Distinctly Human’ Trait That Might Actually Be Universal: Disgust is surprisingly common across nature.”

Eleven years ago, on the remote Japanese island of Kojima, a female macaque walked backwards into a stray heap of primate poop, glanced down at her foot, and completely flipped her lid. The monkey hightailed it down the shoreline on three feet, kicking up sand as she sprinted, until she reached a dead tree, where “she repeatedly rubbed her foot and smelled it until all of the sticky matter disappeared,” says Cécile Sarabian, a cognitive ecologist at the University of Hong Kong, who watched the incident unfold. Sarabian, then a graduate student studying parasite transmission among primates, was entranced by the familiarity of it all: the dismay, the revulsion, the frenetic desire for clean. It’s exactly what she or any other human might have done, had they accidentally stepped in it.

In the years following the event, Sarabian came to recognize the macaque’s panicked reaction as a form of disgust—just not the sort that many people first think of when the term comes to mind. Disgust has for decades been billed as a self-awareness of one’s own aversions, a primal emotion that’s so exclusive to people that, as some have argued, it may help define humanity itself. But many scientists, Sarabian among them, subscribe to a broader definition of disgust: the suite of behaviors that help creatures of all sorts avoid pathogens; parasites; and the flora, fauna, and substances that ferry them about. This flavor of revulsion—centered on observable actions, instead of conscious thought—is likely ancient and ubiquitous, not modern or unique to us. Which means disgust may be as old and widespread as infectious disease itself.

Researchers can’t yet say that disease-driven disgust is definitely universal. But so far, “in every place that it’s been looked for, it’s been found,” says Dana Hawley, an ecologist at Virginia Tech. Bonobos rebuff banana slices that have been situated too close to scat; scientists have spotted mother chimps wiping the bottoms of their young. Kangaroos eschew patches of grass that have been freckled with feces. Dik-diks—pointy-faced antelopes that weigh about 10 pounds apiece—sequester their waste in dunghills, potentially to avoid contaminating the teeny territories where they live. Bullfrog tadpoles flee from their fungus-infested pondmates; lobsters steer clear of crowded dens during deadly virus outbreaks. Nematodes, no longer than a millimeter, wriggle away from their dinner when they chemically sense that it’s been contaminated with bad microbes. Even dung beetles will turn their nose up at feces that seem to pose an infectious risk.

14) Great takedown of the awful originalism on display behind new court gun rulings:

American law has not historically been good to women, and whatever progress there once was is now vulnerable to regression. This return is being midwifed into the world by the theory of constitutional interpretation known as originalism—the idea that a law’s constitutionality today is dependent on the Constitution’s purported “original public meaning” when the relevant constitutional text was enacted. Its adherents market originalism as fair and free from favor or prejudice—but its effects are not and will not be fair at all. By its very nature, originalism threatens women and other minority groups who were disempowered at the time of the Constitution’s adoption. We must instead develop a new constitutional interpretative method that protects all Americans as equal members of our democratic society.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrated as much when it relied on originalism in United States v. Rahimi, a case about a law restricting the gun rights of domestic-violence offenders, last week. The central legal issue in Rahimi was not whether protecting women and children from gun violence is good; the court conceded that it is. Rather, the question before the court was whether protecting women and children from gun violence is constitutional. And the court concluded that it is not.

A three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the Second Amendment was violated by a federal statute that made possessing a gun unlawful for a person who is subject to a restraining order in protection of an intimate partner or child. Its explanation for this dangerous ruling was a straightforward application of originalism. The Founders mentioned a right to keep and bear arms in the Constitution. They did not, however, mention women, who are disproportionately victimized by domestic violence. And although today’s lawmakers may care about women’s rights, they cannot deviate from the Founders’ wishes without a formal constitutional amendment. This will almost assuredly have very real, potentially fatal consequences for women in America: The presence of a gun in a domestic-violence situation increases the risk of femicide by more than 1,000 percent. Originalism is going to get women killed.

United States v. Rahimi is the latest example of the intolerable hazard that  originalism poses to women’s lives and our democratic society. Originalist ideology glorifies an era of blatant oppression along racial, gender, and class lines, transforming that era’s lowest shortcomings into our highest standards. The country and the Constitution do not belong to the nation’s white and wealthy forefathers alone. But the consequence of chaining constitutional interpretation to a time when much of the country was much worse off and only a rarefied few held power is as foreseeable as it is deadly: Huge swaths of the population will be worse off once again. Originalism is fundamentally incompatible with a legal system interested in protecting the rights of all of the nation’s people.

15) Science! “Plant toxin hailed as ‘new weapon’ in antibiotic war against bacteria”

Scientists have discovered a plant toxin whose unique method of dispatching bacteria could be used to create a powerful new range of antibiotics. The prospect of developing new antibacterial drugs this way has been hailed by doctors, who have been warning for many years that the steady rise of multidrug-resistant pathogens such as E coli now presents a dangerous threat to healthcare across the planet.

The new antibiotic – albicidin – attacks bacteria in a completely different way to existing drugs, a group of British, German and Polish scientists have revealed in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Catalysis. This suggests a new route could be exploited to tackle bacterial disease, they say.

“We could not elicit any resistance towards albicidin in the laboratory,” said Dmitry Ghilarov, whose research group is based at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. “That is why we are really excited – because we think it will be very hard for bacteria to evolve resistance against albicidin-derived antibiotics.”

Albicidin is produced by a bacterial plant pathogen called Xanthomonas albilineans that triggers a devastating disease, known as leaf scald, in sugarcane. The pathogen uses albicidin to attack the plant, but it was also found, several decades ago, that it was highly effective at killing bacteria.

“The problem was that, at the time, we did not know exactly how albicidin attacked bacteria and so we could not use it as the basis of new antibiotics because these might have triggered all sorts of complications in the human body,” said Ghilarov. “We had to determine precisely how it killed bacteria before we could do that – and that is what we have now achieved.”

16) Jonathan Haidt makes a very important case on the rise of teen mental health problems.  I’m not as prepared to lay this so much at the feet of social media as he is, but I agree entirely on the scope and seriousness of the problem. You should just read this. Really.

17) Oh, yeah, happy 51st birthday to me.  I hope I get a negative covid test for my birthday, but, I suspect what I’ll really get is just more isolation and worse weather. 

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