Quick hits (part II)

1) Really good from Juliette Kayem, “Why Memphis Is Different: Because of the sheer prevalence of police brutality in America, public officials have gotten better at managing the shock.”

But as Friday night unfolded, the protests remained peaceful; news reports showed Americans in various cities righteously and nonviolently demanding justice. We have witnessed many peaceful protests in response to police violence before, but there was one noticeable difference this time around: Rollout of the video footage seemed highly choreographed.

By the time protesters were chanting in the streets, the five officers who had beaten Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, had already been charged with second-degree murder. By the time the video footage of the attack was released, the anger and dismay had already been predicted; law-enforcement and political leaders had issued statements preparing the public for some of the worst police violence this nation has seen. The Memphis police chief likened Nichols’s beating to that of Rodney King in 1991. These officials were right: The footage was brutal, at times unbearable, with Nichols appearing not to resist the officers as they repeatedly struck him. All of this reveals the sad fact that, because of the sheer number of times Americans have now confronted videos of police officers killing Black citizens, public officials have gotten better at managing the shock.

2) Good stuff from Chait:

3) Katherine Wu, “I Bought a CO2 Monitor, and It Broke Me”

A few weeks ago, a three-inch square of plastic and metal began, slowly and steadily, to upend my life.

The culprit was my new portable carbon-dioxide monitor, a device that had been sitting in my Amazon cart for months. I’d first eyed the product around the height of the coronavirus pandemic, figuring it could help me identify unventilated public spaces where exhaled breath was left to linger and the risk for virus transmission was high. But I didn’t shell out the $250 until January 2023, when a different set of worries, over the health risks of gas stoves and indoor air pollution, reached a boiling point. It was as good a time as any to get savvy to the air in my home…

The illusion was shattered minutes after I popped the batteries into my new device. At baseline, the levels in my apartment were already dancing around 1,200 parts per million (ppm)—a concentration that, as the device’s user manual informed me, was cutting my brain’s cognitive function by 15 percent. Aghast, I flung open a window, letting in a blast of frigid New England air. Two hours later, as I shivered in my 48-degree-Fahrenheit apartment in a coat, ski pants, and wool socks, typing numbly on my icy keyboard, the Aranet still hadn’t budged below 1,000 ppm, a common safety threshold for many experts. By the evening, I’d given up on trying to hypothermia my way to clean air. But as I tried to sleep in the suffocating trap of noxious gas that I had once called my home, next to the reeking sack of respiring flesh I had once called my spouse, the Aranet let loose an ominous beep: The ppm had climbed back up, this time to above 1,400. My cognitive capacity was now down 50 percent, per the user manual, on account of self-poisoning with stagnant air.

CO2 monitors are not designed to dictate behavior; the information they dole out is not a perfect read on air quality, indoors or out. And although carbon dioxide can pose some health risks at high levels, it’s just one of many pollutants in the air, and by no means the worst. Others, such as nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone, can cause more direct harm. Some CO2-tracking devices, including the Aranet4, don’t account for particulate matter—which means that they can’t tell when air’s been cleaned up by, say, a HEPA filter. “It gives you an indicator; it’s not the whole story,” says Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech.

Still, because CO2 builds up alongside other pollutants, the levels are “a pretty good proxy for how fresh or stale your air is,” and how badly it needs to be turned over, says Paula Olsiewski, a biochemist and an indoor-air-quality expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The Aranet4 isn’t as accurate as, say, the $20,000 research-grade carbon-dioxide sensor in Marr’s lab, but it can get surprisingly close. When Jose-Luis Jimenez, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, first picked one up three years ago, he was shocked that it could hold its own against the machines he used professionally. And in his personal life, “it allows you to find the terrible places and avoid them,” he told me, or to mask up when you can’t.

That rule of thumb starts to break down, though, when the terrible place turns out to be your home—or, at the very least, mine. To be fair, my apartment’s air quality has a lot working against it: two humans and two cats, all of us with an annoying penchant for breathing, crammed into 1,000 square feet; a gas stove with no outside-venting hood; a kitchen window that opens directly above a parking lot. Even so, I was flabbergasted by just how difficult it was to bring down the CO2 levels around me. Over several weeks, the best indoor reading I sustained, after keeping my window open for six hours, abstaining from cooking, and running my range fan nonstop, was in the 800s. I wondered, briefly, if my neighborhood just had terrible outdoor air quality—or if my device was broken. Within minutes of my bringing the meter outside, however, it displayed a chill 480.

I feel her pain. My home is stubbornly over 1000 for much of the time (though, I stopped paying close attention a while ago).  I do permanently leave a window open now, though, to help out.  Ventilation is definitely good for health, but I would appreciate a little more honesty about the fact that there’s a pretty straight-up trade-off with energy costs.

4) As to the AP African-American studies controversy, this seems quite notable to me:

Moreover, College Board officials said Wednesday that they had a time-stamped document showing that the final changes to the curriculum were made in December, before the Florida Department of Education sent its letter informing the College Board that it would not allow the course to be taught.

I feel like we should know more about this before the liberal “The College Board caved” consensus completely takes over.  Also, how about some reporting about how much pilot AP classes typically change and in what ways.

5) Good stuff from Linda Greenhouse on the Supreme Court, “The Latest Crusade to Place Religion Over the Rest of Civil Society”

And so now, a very different court from the one that ruled 46 years ago is about to do the work itself.

That isn’t an idle prediction but rather the surely foreordained outcome of the new case the justices recently added to their calendar for decision during the current term. The appeal was brought by a conservative Christian litigating group, First Liberty Institute, on behalf of a former postal worker, Gerald Groff, described as a Christian who regards Sunday as a day for “worship and rest.”

Mr. Groff claimed a legal right to avoid the Sunday shifts required during peak season at the post office where he worked. Facing discipline for failing to show up for his assigned shifts, he quit and filed a lawsuit. The lower courts ruled against him, with the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit expressing no doubt that the disruption and loss of morale Mr. Groff’s absences caused in the small rural post office where he worked exceeded the de minimis threshold that the Supreme Court’s 1977 precedent requires an employer to demonstrate.

The decision to hear his appeal brings the Supreme Court to a juncture both predictable and remarkable. It is predictable because Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have all called for a case that would provide a vehicle for overturning a precedent that is clearly in tension with the current court’s privileging of religious claims above all others, whether in the context of public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic or anti-discrimination claims brought by employees of religious organizations.

The court in 1977 worried about the burden on nonreligious workers from accommodations granted to their religious colleagues. To today’s court, as Justice Alito has repeatedly expressed it, the real victims of discrimination are those who take religion seriously.

The moment is remarkable for the bold activism the court is about to display. In the days when the justices professed respect for the doctrine of stare decisis, or adherence to precedent, the general understanding was that decisions that interpreted statutes should be harder to overturn than those that interpreted the Constitution. That may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but the reasoning went like this: Only the Supreme Court can issue a definitive constitutional interpretation, so only the court can revisit a constitutional precedent if the justices later perceive a problem with it. But Congress has the last word on the meaning of a federal law, so the court should stay its hand and let Congress repair an erroneous statutory interpretation.

That Congress has refused for decades to revisit the meaning of “undue hardship” carries no weight with the justices pressing to revisit the issue on their own. That was certainly the view expressed by Justices Gorsuch and Alito two years ago in dissent from the court’s decision not to hear an earlier case challenging the 1977 precedent. “There is no barrier to our review and no one else to blame,” the two wrote in Small v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water. “The only mistake here is of the court’s own making — and it is past time for the court to correct it.”

6) I was pretty shocked and appalled when I stumbled across “Power Slap” on TV. It’s like something straight out of “Idiocracy.

“Take some deep breaths, you’re doing fine.” That’s what the doctor was telling a man named Chris Kennedy, but Kennedy did not look as if he was doing fine. He was flat on his back, with someone cradling his head, and he was just starting to look around. After a moment, he sat up, and perhaps he registered that he was on a large padded stage, beneath lights, with a camera crew hovering.

“You got knocked out,” someone else said.

Kennedy considered this. “Got knocked out doing what?” he asked. “Was I fighting?”

The answer to that question may depend on how you define “fighting.” Moments before, Kennedy had been standing motionless in front of a podium, with both hands behind his back. On the other side of the podium stood his opponent, who wound up and smacked Kennedy in the face. Kennedy collapsed instantly and grotesquely—arms stiff, fingers gnarled. It was the American cable début of not just a show but perhaps a sport. The show is “Power Slap: Road to the Title,” which had its première earlier this month on TBS, a network that also broadcasts baseball and hockey. The sport is known as slap fighting, an activity that may well be, like the blows exchanged by its participants, impossible to defend. In slap fighting, there is no evasion, no trickery, no possibility of a swing and a miss. Just two people taking turns slapping each other in the face.

By any reasonable standard, this is an absurd idea, and quite possibly a bad one. Stefon Diggs, the Buffalo Bills wide receiver, posted clips of the show on his Instagram page, writing, “I NEVER WATCH TV ANYMORE ONLY NETFLIX AND THIS WHAT BE ON TV JESUS CHRIST.” Chris Nowinski, a former professional wrestler who is now a neuroscientist working to prevent brain trauma in sports, didn’t find it at all funny, and he expressed his outrage on Twitter. “Pure exploitation,” he wrote. “What’s next, ‘Who can survive a stabbing’?”

The show is hosted by Dana White, the president of the U.F.C., the preëminent organization in mixed martial arts. This new program is patterned after “The Ultimate Fighter,” an ongoing reality show that was launched in 2005 and that helped change the public perception of M.M.A.: the sport, sometimes known as cage fighting, was famously dismissed by Senator John McCain as “human cockfighting” but is now a regular part of the ESPN lineup, and the U.F.C. is a major subsidiary of Endeavor, the sports and entertainment conglomerate. In “Power Slap,” as on “The Ultimate Fighter,” the contestants live in a house and compete for the chance to become professional slappers. “The beautiful thing about this thing is you get to slap the shit out of all the fuckin’ people you don’t like,” White apparently says to the contestants. (“Apparently,” because on TBS the slaps are uncensored but the language is not.) He promises them that the show will be “a life-changing experience in a lot of different ways,” and he seems to mean it as a guarantee rather than a dark prophecy.


Slap fighting is outrageous by design. But, in the case of “Power Slap,” some of the outrage has come from a surprising quarter: the world of professional fighting. In the nineties, boxers were aghast at the sight of an M.M.A. fighter knocking his opponent down and then jumping on top of him, raining punches until the referee shoved him off. Now many M.M.A. fans are appalled by the spectacle of two people just standing and swinging. Bloody Elbow, an M.M.A. publication, called slap fighting “gross” and an “alleged sport”; Ariel Helwani, a leading M.M.A. journalist, said, “That’s not sport—shame on Nevada, for sanctioning that.” (“Power Slap,” like the U.F.C., is based in Las Vegas.) Ryan Garcia, one of the most popular boxers in America, put it simply: “Power slap is a horrible idea and needs to be stopped.”

7) This was fascinating… apparently fallopian tubes present the real potential for ovarian cancer and just maybe should be fairly widely removed after menopause:

There is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, so doctors urge women at high genetic risk for the disease to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed once they are done having children, usually around the age of 40.

On Wednesday, a leading research and advocacy organization broadened that recommendation in ways that may surprise many women.

Building on evidence that most of these cancers originate in the fallopian tubes, not the ovaries, the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance is urging even women who do not have mutations — that is, most women — to have their fallopian tubes surgically removed if they are finished having children and are planning a gynecologic operation anyway. 

In such a procedure, surgeons remove the tubes, which lead from the ovaries to the uterus, but leave the ovaries intact. The ovaries produce hormones that are beneficial even later in life, reducing the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and sexual dysfunction. Sparing the organs has been linked to lower mortality overall…

Dr. Bill Dahut, chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, or A.C.S., said, “There is a lot of good data behind what they’re suggesting, showing that for folks who had that surgery, the incidence rates of ovarian cancer are less.”

“If you look at the biology, maybe we should be calling it fallopian tube cancer and think of it differently, because that’s where it starts,” he said.

8) The stuff that HP in particular is doing with printers where you basically don’t even really own your printer is just evil:

The trouble started with a label for a package. My printer was unresponsive. Then I discovered an error message on my computer indicating that my HP OfficeJet Pro had been remotely disabled by the company. When I logged on to HP’s website, I learned why: The credit card I had used to sign up for HP’s Instant Ink cartridge-refill program had expired, and the company had effectively bricked my device in response.

For those not trapped in this devil’s bargain, Instant Ink is a monthly subscription program that purports to monitor one’s printer usage and ink levels and automatically send new cartridges when they run low. The name is misleading, because the monthly fee is not for the ink itself but for the number of pages printed. (The recommended household plan is $5.99 a month for 100 pages). Like others, I signed up in haste during the printer-setup process, only slightly aware of what I was purchasing. Getting ink delivered when I need it sounded convenient enough to me, a man so thoroughly coddled by one-click e-commerce that the frontal lobes of my brain likely resemble cottage cheese. The monthly fee is incurred whether you print or not, and the ink cartridges occupy some liminal ownership space. You possess them, but you are, in essence, renting both them and your machine while you’re enrolled in the program.

I’ve struggled in subsequent conversations with friends and family to adequately convey the level and intensity of entitled fury I felt when I realized all of this. Here was a piece of technology that I had paid more than $200 for, stocked with full ink cartridges. My printer, gently used, was sitting on my desk in perfect working order but rendered useless by Hewlett-Packard, a tech corporation with a $28 billion market cap at the time of writing, because I had failed to make a monthly payment for a service intended to deliver new printer cartridges that I did not yet need. Indignant, and making grotesque, frustrated noises that I now understand to be hereditary Warzel responses to printer problems, I declared to nobody in particular that I was being extorted by my printer.

I am sheepish to air this grievance aloud, lest it be seen as an abuse of my venerable platform. I am an adult of somewhat sound mind and have the ability to read contracts: I did this to myself. But my printer’s shakedown is just one example of how digital subscriptions have permeated physical tech so thoroughly that they are blurring the lines of ownership. Even if I paid for it, can I really say that I own my printer if HP can flip a switch and make it inert?

“What HP is doing is remarkably bad and deeply user hostile,” the writer and activist Cory Doctorow told me recently. Doctorow has written extensively about digital-rights management across printer brands. For him, prosaic printer issues like mine help people understand digital rights and the ways that companies make devices that resist user modification. “The battle for the soul of digital freedom [is] taking place inside your printer,” he argues. It’s not just about the surveillance, or the egregious markups on ink and the efforts to stop third parties from undercutting the inkjet-cartridge market, he said. It’s about the way that consumers are losing control over things they’ve already paid for.

10) Erin Matson may well be one of the best field hockey players ever, but hiring her to coach her recent former team at the age of 22 is just nuts. By now, people should really know that being great at a sport and being great at coaching a sport are very different skill sets.  

11) My wife’s store got mentioned in this, which is pretty cool, “How a Texas Baby-Clothing Company Took Target Down (a Peg)”

The Target Corporation is used to defending itself. That is, it’s used to playing the role of the defendant, often in federal copyright courts, where it faces off against much smaller businesses. In 2021, California company Globalo LLC sued Target for selling a product that infringed on a patent for a curling iron caddy. In 2019, a Georgia woman named Emily Golub, the founder of a meal-kit service called Garnish & Gather, came after the big-box behemoth for copying her name and logo when it launched its Good & Gather line of foodstuffs. Target has even angered fellow major players, such as London fashion house Burberry, which sued the chain in 2018 for allegedly ripping off several of its iconic plaids. But all of those cases were eventually settled out of court. Last month, though, a David took on Target’s Goliath and actually won.

The David in question is Austin’s Adrian Layne, who has been designing and selling baby clothes under the label Cat & Dogma since 2015 (though she began selling hand-sewn garments at artisan fairs as far back as 2008). Her hottest-ticket items were garments illustrated with her “I love you” print. Layne designed it herself, and it was simple and straightforward, with the phrase drawn out in cursive and repeated in such a way as to make the pattern seem almost striped. She sold bibs, blankets, hats, and onesies in the design, both on her website and through other retailers such as Hatched Market and SnapdragonsBaby, which would buy her products wholesale. Up until recently, it was her most profitable design.

12) My teenage son is not enough of a sports fan to realize how atypical my personal fan-dom is.  He was pretty surprised when I explained to him how much less popular ice hockey is than other pro sports. And, naturally, he’s flabbergasted at the ongoing popularity of baseball. (He’s not wrong.) We looked up the Gallup data. Hockey, at 4%, didn’t make this chart.

Line graph. Americans' four most favorite sports to watch: football 37% (in 2018), basketball 11%, baseball 9%, soccer 7%.

13) This is an amazing piece from Jesse Singal. Literally a masterclass on the important issues of p-hacking and the highly-related problem of HARK, “hypothesize after the results are known.”  This could be taught in a graduate social science methods class. “On Scientific Transparency, Researcher Degrees Of Freedom, And That NEJM Study On Youth Gender Medicine.” As for the substance, I bet you can guess what this has to say about some recent research.

This refusal to talk to journalists is an unfortunate decision on the researchers’ part, especially when paired with their glowing quotes about the importance of their findings — quotes that obscure a lot of nuance and missing results. At the end of the day, this team publicly predicted that eight variables would move in a particular direction. Then, when it was time to report their data, they only told us what happened to two of those variables, and the two they did report weren’t even direct hits, given that trans girls didn’t experience reductions in depression and anxiety. If these findings are so impressive, where are all those other variables? …

Did the NEJM article’s authors “inaccurately represent[] certain hypotheses as those hypotheses that guided the design of the study”? Maybe this is too strong a claim, but I’m not sure. The researchers are crystal clear about the variables they are most interested in in the protocol document that supposedly underpins this study — they hypothesize that “Patients treated with cross-sex hormones will exhibit decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression, gender dysphoria, self-injury, trauma symptoms, and suicidality and increase [sic] body esteem and quality of life over time.” Then, in the study that is one of the main reasons they were collecting all this data in the first place — a study that includes the line “The authors vouch for the accuracy and completeness of the data and for the fidelity of the study to the protocol” — their hypothesis is substantially different, and they present their interest in appearance congruence as a hypothesis they had all along, when there’s no evidence that was the case. This change, and the disappearance of all these variables, go almost entirely unexplained.

14) But, come-on, Republicans trying to ban drag brunches?

The drag panic of 2022 has exploded into a frightening and revanchist nationwide movement to menace and ban drag performances, pushed by activists and politicians whose insides are dark and nasty.

Protests targeting drag queens have sprouted up all across America, surging in the latter part of last year, according to analysis from Counting Crowds. In the two months since a deadly attack on a drag show in Colorado Springs, a gay New York City council member’s apartment building was breached by protesters; a Unitarian-Universalist church in Ohio canceled an event due to protests by militia members; armed activists gathered outside a theater in San Antonio; a Massachusetts library story time featuring a drag queen dressed as a princess was interrupted by adult males shouting profanities; and in Cookeville, Tennessee, a group of masked men carrying a Nazi flag threatened attendees of a drag brunch.

And that’s just a random sampling from their recent rolodex of hate.

The drag panic of 2022 has exploded into a frightening and revanchist nationwide movement to menace and ban drag performances, pushed by activists and politicians whose insides are dark and nasty.

Protests targeting drag queens have sprouted up all across America, surging in the latter part of last year, according to analysis from Counting Crowds. In the two months since a deadly attack on a drag show in Colorado Springs, a gay New York City council member’s apartment building was breached by protesters; a Unitarian-Universalist church in Ohio canceled an event due to protests by militia members; armed activists gathered outside a theater in San Antonio; a Massachusetts library story time featuring a drag queen dressed as a princess was interrupted by adult males shouting profanities; and in Cookeville, Tennessee, a group of masked men carrying a Nazi flag threatened attendees of a drag brunch.

And that’s just a random sampling from their recent rolodex of hate.

These actions can’t be dismissed as outlier behavior from a tiny number of Oath Keeper freaks because the attacks on drag have gone from libraries to the legislature, where Republican politicians in states across the country are now poised to criminalize the free expression of the victims of these assaults.

First to the runway is Arkansas, where the state Senate passed SB-43 last week by a 29-6 vote. The bill would ban drag outside of strip-clubs: Any performance “in which one or more performers exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer’s gender assigned at birth . . . and sings lip-synchs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience of at least 2 persons for entertainment” must take place at an “adult-oriented business,” which the bill defines as an adult arcade, book store, video store, cabaret, theater, massage establishment, escort agency, or nude model studio.

15) Julia Belluz on the new weight loss drugs:

The new drugs are the first to manipulate the hormonal regulatory systems governing energy balance. The drugs simulate the action of our native GLP-1 but with longer-lasting effects, amplifying the fullness signal inside the body. People who struggle to feel sated suddenly don’t, effectively giving “someone the willpower of those lucky enough to have won the genetic lottery,” said Dr. Brierley.

Many people who have taken the medicines for obesity described to me how their experience of hunger had fundamentally changed. Patricia McEwan, who has injected Ozempic for nine months, said she planned to stay on the drug for life because it “shut off the intrusive constant thoughts about food” that had consumed too much of her mental space since childhood. Before Ozempic, Ms. McEwan thought her overeating was driven by her emotions and lack of willpower. After Ozempic, she understood that how she responded to food was the product of her physiology.

16) Brian Klass, “Did humans start writing 10,000+ years earlier than we thought? A London-based furniture conservator and amateur archaeologist may have solved a mystery that has long perplexed experts—and it could revolutionize our understanding of the history of humanity.”

17) Really good article from Alec MacGillis on the promise and peril of community-based anti-violence programs:

In 2020, everything changed. Violence spiked across the country, with homicides rising by 30%, wiping out two decades of progress. Criminologists attributed the rise to a combination of the social disruption caused by the pandemic and the deterioration of police-community relations after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which led to less proactive policing and less cooperation from residents. After the presidential election, Joe Biden’s administration looked for ways to stem the violence without relying solely on traditional law enforcement, which had come under intense scrutiny on the left. In 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, which included funding that many cities are spending on “community violence intervention,” the catchall term for non-police approaches to reducing violent crime. In addition to interrupters, these measures include programs that detach young men from gangs, those which meet with shooting victims in hospitals to deter retaliation and those which offer young men employment and counseling in cognitive-behavioral therapy.

For years, these programs competed with one another for whatever scarce funding was available, passing from one short-lived pilot project to another. Now they are being showered with unprecedented resources: Louisville is getting $24 million; Baltimore will receive $50 million.

The funding has created an opportunity for community violence intervention to become a significant feature of the public safety landscape. But the challenges are still immense. The programs have only a few years to prove that they deserve lasting support after the federal money runs out. Public safety agencies that until recently consisted of a handful of people are having to expand rapidly to oversee millions in spending, building a new civic infrastructure in a matter of months. And the evidence for how well some of the programs work is mixed and sometimes elusive, not least because it’s hard to measure crimes that never happen. “The money creates a problem,” Eddie Woods said. “Everybody’s an intervention specialist now.”

18) Scenes of my firstborn and me at the Krispy Kreme Challenge yesterday (I ate 2 donuts– I save the true challenge for the young and the adventurous. Getting out of bed to run 5 miles at 8am is enough challenge for me).



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

4 Responses to Quick hits (part II)

  1. Mika says:

    #12 Suprised to see football so far apart from the others and not seeing auto racing higher up. I thought Nascar racing is a big thing over there.

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