Double good news on the bacteria front

Wonkblog brings two pieces of science informing policy– hooray!

First, a more sensible approach to the widespread use of antibiotics and livestock:

This week, the Food and Drug Administration announced new policies to curtail the widespread use of antibiotics in cows, pigs and chickens raised for food…

One reason we’re seeing so many new, resilient bacterial strains — from staph to strep to salmonella — is that we’re overusing the antibiotics we already have, scientists say. This gives bacteria more opportunities to evolve and essentially outsmart these drugs…

There are a number of culprits. Many doctors still over-prescribe antibiotics for their patients. But large farms are another place to look: By some estimates, nearly 80 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are used on livestock, both to control disease and to promote animal growth. The FDA wants to phase out the use of antibiotics for animal growth over the next three years. It’s also proposing greater veterinarian supervision of antibiotics.

Given that this is Wonkblog, there’s a nice thorough rundown of the contreversy and how this policy may work.  Short version– I’d have to say this is far from perfect, but a really, really important step.

Additionally, the FDA is taking on “anti-bacterial” soap.  I don’t know who’s in charge there, but you go guy!

Anti-bacterial soaps pretty much make one promise: Namely, that they will kill bacteria.

Now the Food and Drug Administration says  that they have no evidence that anti-bacterial soaps do any better at stopping the spread of germs than less-glamorous, non-anti-bacterial soaps with no bacteria fighting powers to speak of…

Which is why the FDA put out a preliminary rule today that would require antibacterial soap makers to prove that their soaps do provide a clinical benefit — and one that outweighs the possible risks of regular contact with antibiotics.

“Due to consumers’ extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk,” Janet Woodcock, who directs the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, says in a statement.

Awesome.  It can actually be hard to find handsoap that’s not antibacterial (and given the above facts, that’s what the Greene family tries to purchase when we can find it).

Given the way things are heading, these and other small steps may not be enough, but it is a good thing to see the FDA taking the growing problem of antibiotic resistance seriously.

And on a PS front, this is a great example of how political control of the bureaucracy matters.  The bureaucracy makes a lot of policy.  I’m guessing these changes don’t happen under a Romney administration.

Bacteria and autism

How can I not write about new findings linking autism to the microbiome (at least in mice)?  I can’t not.  From Science:

Many physicians and parents report that their autistic children have unusually severe gastrointestinal problems, such as chronic constipation or diarrhea. These observations have led some researchers to speculate that an ailing gut contributes to the disorder in some cases, but scientific data has been lacking. Now, a provocative study claims that a probiotic treatment for gastrointestinal issues can reduce autismlike symptoms in mice and suggests that this treatment could work for humans, too.

The reported incidence of gut maladies in people with autism varies wildly between published studies—from zero to more than 80%—making it difficult to establish just how commonly the two conditions go together, says principal investigator Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. Overall, however, the evidence seems to point toward a connection. Last year, for example, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of thousands of children with developmental disabilities found that kids with autism were twice as likely as children with other types of disorders to have frequent diarrhea or colitis, an inflammation of the large intestine…

“It’s really striking that any bacterial treatment—even a transient one—could have a lasting impact on behavior,” Hsiao says. The most interesting thing about the results, she says, was not the correction of the autistic symptoms in the mice, but the clues the study provided about how the gut’s microbial population may affect the brain and behavior. The researchers found that levels of a substance called 4-ethylphenylsulfate that is produced by gut bacteria increased 46-fold in the mice with autistic symptoms, but returned to normal after treatment withB. fragilis. When the team isolated that chemical and injected it into healthy mice, the rodents showed increased anxiety, another autismlike symptom, she says. Although the substance did not provoke the symptoms seen in the previous experiment, Hsiao says that the animals’ altered response suggests that the substance could play a role in the disorder. Hundreds of other metabolic byproducts also changed in quantity after B. fragilis was administered and could have an effect, she adds.

By demonstrating that a widely used mouse model of autism does have gastrointestinal problems, and that these problems are associated with behavioral symptoms, the new research “shows us something fabulous,” says Betty Diamond, an immunologist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York. She cautions, however, that it would be premature to use B. fragilis or another probiotic as a treatment in humans. “We don’t really understand” which bacterial species are important or how they colonize the gut, she says.

Wow.  Pretty amazing stuff.  Of course, given the constant advances on what we’re learning about the impact of our microbiome, perhaps not all that surprising.  I don’t think we’re looking at any potential “cure” for autism here– I suspect autism is far more complicated than simply one’s gut bacteria and how it interacts with the brain, but I suspect that there is very real potential for a probiotic treatment that would definitely lessen some of the negative symptoms of autism.  And actually, my son Alex can be anxious as hell.  Not that I’m going to drop the Risperdal any time soon (though, I sure wish we could because the appetite and weight gain are a really unfortunate side effect– I’m a little wistful when I see photos of thin Alex on my screen saver), but I’m definitely going to look more into the issue of bacteria and anxiety.

And, big picture… yet more evidence that understanding these bacteria-human relationships are going to be at the forefront of coming medical advances.

Bacteria on the mind

I’ve blogged plenty about the role of good bacteria in your overall physical health.  But now there’s evidence it may very well play an important role in your mental health as well.  Nice summary of the research from NPR:

Could the microbes that inhabit our guts help explain that old idea of “gut feelings?” There’s growing evidence that gut bacteria really might influence our minds.

“I’m always by profession a skeptic,” says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But I do believe that our gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains.”

Mayer thinks the bacteria in our digestive systems may help mold brain structure as we’re growing up, and possibly influence our moods, behavior and feelings when we’re adults. “It opens up a completely new way of looking at brain function and health and disease,” he says…

Mayer found that the connections between brain regions differed depending on which species of bacteria dominated a person’s gut. That suggests that the specific mix of microbes in our guts might help determine what kinds of brains we have — how our brain circuits develop and how they’re wired…

But other researchers have been trying to figure out a possible connection by looking at gut microbes in mice. There they’ve found changes in both brain chemistry and behavior. One experiment involved replacing the gut bacteria of anxious mice with bacteria from fearless mice.

“The mice became less anxious, more gregarious,” says Stephen Collins of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who led a team that conducted the research.

It worked the other way around, too — bold mice became timid when they got the microbes of anxious ones. And aggressive mice calmed down when the scientists altered their microbes by changing their diet, feeding them probiotics or dosing them with antibiotics…

Gut microbes may also communicate with the brain in other ways, scientists say, by modulating the immune system or by producing their own versions of neurotransmitters.

“I’m actually seeing new neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria,” says Mark Lyte of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Abilene, who studies how microbes affect the endocrine system. “These bacteria are, in effect, mind-altering microorganisms.”

This research raises the possibility that scientists could someday create drugs that mimic the signals being sent from the gut to the brain, or just give people the good bacteria — probiotics — to prevent or treat problems involving the brain.

I think that truly understanding the human body as an ecosystem of human plus thousands of bacterial species is going to be the basis for our next series of major medical breakthroughs.  And now it looks like this may well be the case for mental health as well as physical health.  It’s really pretty amazing.  I really do wonder how long this will take.  In the meantime, it’s plenty of Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG and yogurt for me.  

You and your bacteria

Given the headline of this article

In Good Health? Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria

I was hoping to read that science was now suggesting that my overall very good health was largely a result of my great little microbiome I’ve been cultivating.  Despite the headline, that’s not actually where the story seemed to go.  Interestingly, nonetheless:

In a new five-year federal endeavor, the Human Microbiome Project, which has been compared to the Human Genome Project, 200 scientists at 80 institutionssequenced the genetic material of bacteria taken from nearly 250 healthy people.

They discovered more strains than they ever imagined — as many as a thousand bacterial strains on each person. And each person’s collection of microbes, the microbiome, was different from the next person’s. To the scientists’ surprise, they also found genetic signatures of disease-causing bacteria lurking in everyone’s microbiome. But instead of making people ill, or even infectious, these disease-causing microbes simply live peacefully among their neighbors.

The results, published on Wednesday in Nature and three PLoS journals, are expected to change the research landscape.

Over the past academic year I’ve managed to avoid a number of illnesses that have waylaid most, if not all, the members of my family other than me.  This past week every kid had a nasty cough and/or runny nose and Kim lost her voice.  I’ve been fine.  My mom rarely got sick (until that damn cancer at the end) so I’ve always assumed I’ve been fortunate to inherit a good immune system (and I figure my significant increase in the fruits and vegetable I eat ever since starting weight watchers can’t hurt either).   I’m sure all those help, but interesting to think that the many species of bacteria with which I share my body may be part of the key.  Also, I’ve never messed with them by taking an antibiotic.

Oh, and I almost forgot, of all I’ve read about bacteria in recent years, somehow I never came across this disgusting/fascinating factoid which I’m sure I’ll do all I can to spread around:

“The gut is not jam-packed with food; it is jam-packed with microbes,” Dr. Proctor said. “Half of your stool is not leftover food. It is microbial biomass.” [emphasis mine]  But bacteria multiply so quickly that they replenish their numbers as fast as they are excreted.

Bacteria are you

Well, I see that I’ve been remiss in not posting anything on bacteria in over a year.   I was thinking about this recent Miller-McCune article on the matter as Kim has just recovered from a case of “walking” pneumonia.  I went in with her for her 37 week OB appointment and when she complained about the nagging cold she just couldn’t shake, the doctor figured out she was actually suffering from pneumonia.  A couple of doses of Zithromax later and she underwent an amazing transformation back to good (though, still miserable from pregnancy) health.  The Zithromax did a number on what was likely a bunch of nasty Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

The Miller-McCune article is about some of the amazing things scientists are finding that bacteria are capable of (besides giving humans nasty infections in their lungs).  Apparently, they are capable of much more sophisticated behavior than we previously realized:

A few scientists noticed in the late 1960s that the marine bacteriaVibrio fischeri appeared to coordinate among themselves the production of chemicals that produced bioluminescence, waiting until a certain number of them were in the neighborhood before firing up their light-making machinery. This behavior was eventually dubbed “quorum sensing.” It was one of the first in what has turned out to be a long list of ways in which bacteria talk to each other and to other organisms.

Some populations of V. fischeri put this skill to a remarkable use: They live in the light-sensing organs of the bobtail squid. This squid, a charming nocturnal denizen of shallow Hawaiian waters, relies on V. fischeri to calculate the light shining from above and emit exactly the same amount of light downward, masking the squid from being seen by predators swimming beneath them.

For their lighting services, V. fischeri get a protected environment rich in essential nutrients. Each dawn, the squid evict all their V. fischeri to prevent overpopulation. During the day, the bacteria recolonize the light-sensing organ and detect a fresh quorum, once again ready to camouflage the squid by night.

And, of course, there’s the cool factoid I’ve loved to share for years:

Strictly by the numbers, the vast majority — estimated by many scientists at 90 percent — of the cells in what you think of as your body are actually bacteria, not human cells. The number of bacterial species in the human gut is estimated to be about 40,000, according to Daniel Frank andNorman Pace, writing in the January 2008 Current Opinion in Gastroenterology. The total number of individual bacterial cells in the gut is projected to be on the order of 100 trillion

Finally, I’ll throw in my little immune system brag that I have never once artficially interfered with this 90% of the cells in my body as I have never taken an antibiotic.  Most everybody I tell this to is quite surprised, so I am curious how unusual this is (at least for a person with access to developed world health care).

The latest on good bacteria

Those of you who know me know that I’m a huge fan of bacteriological trivia (i.e., the cells in your body are outnumbered 10-1 by bacterial cells) and that I’m a big fan of “good” bacteria.  In fact, ever since I read Good Germs, Bad Germs (great book, by the way) I’ve been taking Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG every day and am pretty sure I’m the healthier for it.  (There’s double-blind placebo controlled studies about is efficacy– I don’t go for snake oil).  Kim, who is prone to stomach upset, has definitely noticed an improvement.   Anyway, interesting article in today’s Post about scientists working on a new “good bacteria” that kills salmonella on the surface of fruits.  Apparently, in the lab, it even works against the nasty E. Coli.

“This is highly efficient weaponry, right here,” said Brown, pointing to pipettes filled with the “good” bacteria suspended in a saline solution that will be dripped onto the contaminated tomatoes. He presented the initial findings of his research at an international salmonella conference this month in France. “The beauty is that we take
something alive and organic and put it back into the field, and by itself, it will kill other bacteria. We’re right on the edge of this.” It’s a variation on the “enemy of my enemy” philosophy, with scientists like Brown cultivating hostile relatives of harmful bacteria to perform a sort of microscopic fratricide before the bugs can harm humans.

While Brown’s findings haven’t been applied outside the laboratory yet, in his experiments the microorganisms obliterate not only salmonella on tomatoes but also several other pathogens blamed for food-borne illnesses, including listeria and E. coli O15:H7. So far, only vibrio, the bacterium found in warm seawater that can contaminate
oysters and other seafood, has stood its ground against Brown’s bacteria.  Obviously, if this works well at a commercial level, this would be a huge advance for public health. For now, just more “good” bacteria trivia to bore my friends with.

It’s all about the bacteria

This week's science news that a particularly nasty strain of MRSA (a highly antibiotic resistant staph bacteria) is becoming the scourge of gay men in San Francisco has given me the push for finally posting on the best non-fiction book I read last year: Good Germs Bad Germs by Jessica Snyder Sachs.  This book helps explain how we got to the point where we have a previously easily-treated type of staph that is now resistant to 6(!) potent antibiotics.  At first, the book was quite distressing, as we learn the story of how the amazing hubris and shortsightedness of modern medicine has led us to a point where, after a golden age of antibiotic success, it seems that we may again be facing many bacterial diseases for which there is no effective treatment.  The good news, is that scientists are using a variety of truly amazing (and smarter) techniques to come up with new ways to fight bacteria that should not lead to this current cycle of creating resistance.  What I found most interesting about the book, though, is the emphasis on “good germs.”  In truth, the human body is really a complex ecosystem that has evolved symbiotically with hundreds of bacterial species over tens of thousands of years.  I've been telling everyone I know my favorite fact from the book– for every one of your own cells, you have ten cells of bacteria.  The vast majority of these are quite beneficial to you, though.  A clear lesson, both in terms of antibiotic resistance and autoimmune disorders, is that we should be very careful in messing with this ecosystem.  I've also mentioned to a number of people that I've never been on antibiotics and I've been quite surprised at just how uncommon this appears to be.  I'm also bummed that I have my own (very minor) autoimmune disorder (seasonal allergic rhinitis, i.e., hayfever) despite this fact.   Last factoid: children are less likely to acquire autoimmune disorders if they: spend time in daycare, have a family dog, and have older siblings– all of which expose people to a broad range of bacteria. 

I could go on, but I'll stop.  The book is great– I actually stayed up and lost sleep several nights while I was reading it.  For a short auditory introduction, check out the podcast on it from Quirks and Quarks

Today in interesting coronavirus reading

1) I really would prefer less hand-shaking in my life and more fist-bumping (I know DJC is with me):

Handshaking spreads germs and is a bad method of greeting. I prefer an elegant namaste but that is slightly hard to coordinate on when the other person sticks out their hand. The fist bump is a little smoother and has a greater chance of being adopted.

A study by Mela and Whitsworth in the American Journal of Infection Control found that fist bumps transferred one-quarter as much bacteria as a moderate handshake and even less compared to a strong handshake. Fist bumps are better because of lower contact times and lower contact area.

2) Good general Q&A in Slate:

Am I likely to get the new coronavirus?

Researchers are still figuring that out. One epidemiologist estimated that 40–70 percent of people will get the disease, according to a piece in the Atlantic helpfully titled “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus.” At Stat, reporter Sharon Begley lays out two scenarios based on interviews with epidemiologists if the virus isn’t contained: In one, COVID-19 becomes one of the mundane coronaviruses that’s always floating around in the world (there are currently four; they cause about a fourth of all colds). In another, it’s less mundane and more like the flu, which causes a lot of havoc every year.

So I am going to die of coronavirus?

No, almost certainly not! The death rate outside of Wuhan, China, is 0.7 percent, according to the WHO. In Wuhan, where hospitals are overwhelmed, it’s 2–4 percent. Those numbers might be high because they don’t account for people who experienced the virus without any major symptoms and weren’t screened for it, essentially artificially reducing the denominator. The virus is also mostly a concern for older people, and people who are otherwise immunocompromised; it damages the lungs, potentially leading to pneumonia and in severe cases, organ failure. Typically, severe symptoms from viruses are also a concern for babies, but so far, the symptoms in babies have been mild.

Wait, then why did the coronavirus kill a 29-year-old doctor?

Because he was a doctor. “It’s a dosage thing,” explains Anna Yeung-Cheung, a virologist at Manhattanville College. Health care workers are exposed to far more people, often pretty sick people, than the average person, and therefore stand to come in contact with higher levels of the virus. A lot of virus can still overwhelm a healthy immune system.

3) This is so damn true, “To Prevent Next Coronavirus, Stop the Wildlife Trade, Conservationists Say: Conservationists see a persistent threat of epidemics so long as tens of millions of animals are traded in Southeast Asia.”Just asking for it with zoonotic diseases until this changes.

4) I found this discussion of why the disease seems to be much more deadly for men particularly fascinating:

The coronavirus that originated in China has spread fear and anxiety around the world. But while the novel virus has largely spared one vulnerable group — children — it appears to pose a particular threat to middle-aged and older adults, particularly men.

This week, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published the largest analysis of coronavirus cases to date. Although men and women have been infected in roughly equal numbers, researchers found, the death rate among men was 2.8 percent, compared with 1.7 percent among women.

The figures were drawn from patient medical records, and the sample may not fully reflect the scope of the outbreak. But the disparity has been seen in the past…

When it comes to mounting an immune response against infections, men are the weaker sex.

“This is a pattern we’ve seen with many viral infections of the respiratory tract — men can have worse outcomes,” said Sabra Klein, a scientist who studies sex differences in viral infections and vaccination responses at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We’ve seen this with other viruses. Women fight them off better,” she added.

Women also produce stronger immune responses after vaccinations, and have enhanced memory immune responses, which protect adults from pathogens they were exposed to as children.

“There’s something about the immune system in females that is more exuberant,” said Dr. Janine Clayton, director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health.

But there’s a high price, she added: Women are far more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, in which the immune system shifts into overdrive and attacks the body’s own organs and tissues.

Nearly 80 percent of those with autoimmune diseases are women, Dr. Clayton noted. [emphases mine]

The reasons women have stronger immune responses aren’t entirely clear, and the research is still at an early stage, experts caution.

Quick hits

1) Jennifer Rubin, “Hillary Clinton is the most exonerated politician ever”

2) This Op-Ed from Peggy Orenstein on teen boys and sex is really, really good.  (I’m pretty sure I linked to her Atlantic piece last month).  I thought about just sending it to my 8th grader to read (I send him a fair amount of good stuff), but realized it would be a parental cop-out if I didn’t make these points myself.  I did– not that either of enjoyed it.  But I’m glad I did.

Yet that silence has troubling implications. According to a 2017 national survey of 3,000 high school students and young adults by the Making Caring Common Project, a large majority of boys never had a single conversation with their parents about, for instance, how to be sure that your partner “wants to be — and is comfortable — having sex with you,” or about what it meant to be a “a caring and respectful sexual partner.” About two-thirds had never heard from their parents that they shouldn’t have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent. Most had never been told by parents not to catcall girls or use degrading terms such as “bitches” or “hoes” — this despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of the girls in the survey reported having been sexually harassed.

3a) Tom Steyer has been talking up term limits.  Jon Bernstein on why they are a “terrible” idea.

He’s for Congressional term limits. That’s a solution in search of a problem. As the scholar of Congress Josh Huder notes, “65% of the Senate and 70% of the House have served 10 years or less.” Today’s Congress is historically weak, and one reason is the relatively short tenure of many members. As it is, short-timers allow themselves to be bossed around by experienced leaders or by the White House. That’s bad enough, but if experienced leaders were eliminated, Congress would find itself bossed by the White House and by large organized interest groups. That’s not just the logic of the situation; it’s also what political scientists who have studied term limits in state legislatures have found.

Politicians who want long careers in Congress tend to work hard to represent their constituents. Politicians who know they’ll be seeking a different job soon won’t have any incentive to care about the people who voted for them — and won’t develop the skills needed to represent them even if they want to try.

3b) Jamelle Bouie is on it, too:

It’s worth saying, to start, that the “problem” of long-serving lawmakers — the problem a term limit purports to solve — isn’t actually a problem at all. The congressional scholar Josh Huder notes that just 35 senators (and less than a third of the House) have served 10 years or more. Likewise, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, average tenure in the past two Congresses sat at roughly 10 years. Long-serving lawmakers are highly visible — often because they occupy key leadership roles — but they aren’t particularly common.

Not that this would be a problem, even if it were true. Time in office doesn’t inexorably lead to poor performance — just the reverse. It’s no coincidence that some of the most effective lawmakers in American history — architects of epochal bills like the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act — served for decades accumulating political and legislative expertise. And if voters want to reward an effective legislator or representative with more time in office, they should have that right. Forced retirement cuts against the idea that voters have an absolute right to choose their representatives.

If the goal of term limits is to bring new faces and fresh ideas to Washington, then the solution isn’t a blanket restriction on all lawmakers. The solution is more competition, to make it easier for interested people to run for office and win. There are ways to make that happen. Nonpartisan redistricting in all 50 states would break partisan gerrymandering and force incumbents to compete for votes. Public financing of campaigns would give challengers a fighting chance in a general election. And if part of the problem is low turnout, you can lower the barrier to voting and increase participation through universal registration and mail-in balloting.

4) What  it takes to hold your breath for 24 minutes (filling up on pure oxygen first, among other things).

5) David Hopkins on whether Democrats have a diversity problem:

But out in the mass Democratic Party, the pursuit of group interest is only sometimes channeled through supporting members of the group for elective office, and most citizens are resistant to—or even offended by—assumptions that they will or should line up behind a particular candidate simply because of shared social identity. Much has been made of Joe Biden’s success among black Democrats so far, persuasively explained as a combination of these voters’ collective ideological moderation, political pragmatism, and affection for Biden’s service under Barack Obama. But even the decidedly non-moderate and non-Obamaite Bernie Sanders was winning substantially more black support than Booker was before his withdrawal, just as Biden, Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren all easily outpolled Castro among Latino Democrats.

Mass-level Democratic voters of all races simply are not currently placing descriptive diversity above other priorities—defeating Donald Trump, achieving policy goals, ideologically recalibrating the party—to the same degree as the disproportionately audible voices of the journalistic and academic left. The historical milestone of Obama’s presidency has removed some urgency, at least in the short term, from efforts to elect another non-white candidate, and perceptions that women face a greater challenge than men in winning the presidency seem to have worked to the disadvantage of the female candidates in the 2020 race—perceptions that some feminist commentators have themselves unintentionally promoted. And the remaining Democratic field is not short on demographic diversity by traditional standards: Warren remains a leading contender, two major candidates are Jewish, and one is openly gay (it is, perhaps, a testament to the recent successes of the gay rights movement that much of the trendy left doesn’t celebrate Pete Buttigieg as a pathbreaking figure but instead mocks him as a square, co-opted incrementalist).

The demographic diversity of the 2020 presidential contenders in fact compares quite favorably to the larger officeholding class in American politics, where severe proportional discrepancies in social group representation remain rampant. (For example, Harris and Booker are two of only three black senators currently in office, and Patrick is one of only two elected black governors in the modern history of the nation.) On this issue, as on many others, the presidency receives excessive attention from American culture at the expense of the rest of the political system. But there is surely a distinction worth making between voters freely choosing across lines of group membership not to support a particular candidate or set of candidates in a large and wide-ranging field, as has occurred so far in 2020, and the more formidable social inequities in electoral politics that continue to shape the composition of the larger pool of political leadership in America.

6) Francis Wilkinson on Virginia and the NRA’s utter nonsense on guns:

The National Rifle Association, which has its headquarters in Virginia, and other gun-rights groups are rallying to fight the proposals, sometimes with a curious inattention to detail. Last month Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, and Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, released a 12-page letter to the people of Virginia. Over 12-single-spaced pages, they never quite get around to saying what those proposed regulations are — their broad outlines were debated in the campaign — or what makes them so awful. You will search the document in vain for the phrase “background check” or the word “silencer.”…

“Looking at a map of Virginia,” Pratt and Van Cleave wrote, “it becomes clear that only a few, geographically small, yet heavily populated, jurisdictions have declined to stand up against the current threats to the Virginia and United States Constitutions.” [emphases mine]

In other words, the “heavily populated” parts of Virginia do not have the same view of gun rights as the sparsely populated parts. And since the Virginia legislature was duly elected by popular vote, legislators will likely be more responsive to the interests of the majority than of the minority.

America is a representative democracy. But the gun lobby and other parts of the conservative coalition are increasingly skeptical of that. Armed with an all-purpose Constitution that means whatever they want it to mean, they seek to block popular government action.  

The Second Amendment sanctuaries emerging in Virginia and elsewhere may mark a burgeoning conservative counterculture. Contempt for the “geographically small, yet heavily populated” regions where most Americans reside is becoming a conservative tic. It’s the impetus behind those triumphal MAGA maps depicting countless hectares of American forest, farm and pasture in bold Republican red, while little enclaves such as Brooklyn, with a higher population than 15 states, are dismissed with a tiny blotch of blue.

Densely populated America, in other words, is not real America, and opposing real America is by definition unconstitutional. What the gun sanctuary movement is seeking is not protection from government overreach, but from democracy.

7) I just hate stuff like this, “Fox News goes to desperate lengths to gin up outrage over clip of Vince Vaughn chatting with Trump”  It’s bad enough that some would want to “cancel” Vaughn for talking with the president without Fox News basically pretending there was some widespread liberal reaction that wasn’t actually there.

8) Teaching middle-school sex education in the age of consent.  I’ll be curious to see what my 8th grader gets next semester (so far, it’s been pretty much biology, I think).

9) If 47 is really the most miserable age I’m doing awesome.  (Though, it’s 47.2 and I’m 47.9).

10) Trump’s absurd impeachment defense team (good Lord, is their any more embarrassing hack then Ken Starr?!) recruited from Fox News, of course:

What does this all-star team have in common? Between them, these four have appeared on Fox News over 350 times in the past year, according to Media Matters for America. Which no doubt left Jeanine Pirro asking why she didn’t make the cut.

11) Really liked Anand Giridharadas review of Michael Lind’s entirely class-based (and in some pretty bizarre ways) analysis of Trump’s populism:

Look, writing a book about Trump-era populism without a lens of racial awareness must be hard. Here’s how Lind describes political correctness, for instance: “the artificial dialect devised by leftist activists and spread by university and corporate bureaucrats that serves as a class marker distinguishing the college-educated from the vulgar majority below them.” In this framing, all the new awarenesses and sensitivities and humilities — for which I am profoundly thankful, since these days I’m much less often asked where I’m really from or told my English is impressive (thanks, they teach us well in Ohio!) — are just a ploy by leftists to hold white working-class people down. This understanding portrays the victims as the white working class, and the oppressors as those students who no longer wish to be called “faggots” and secretaries tired of being “sweetie.” I, for one, am grateful for all the thinking and doing that have changed how Americans navigate one another’s identities, and I do not have the luxury of dismissing the improvement in the dignity I am accorded daily as an “artificial dialect.”

Now, if you are going to present Trump as the receptacle of the cries of the unheard, you will need to funhouse-mirror him beyond recognition. Lind is on it. He takes the quintessential racist moment of Trump’s presidency — his famous comments on Charlottesville — and defends them: “Phrases from his remarks were taken out of context, recombined and misconstrued so they could fit into the Trump-is-Hitler narrative.” He also dismisses concerns about Russia’s role in the 2016 election as “mythological thinking.” “Liberal democracy in the West today is not endangered by Russian machinations or resurgent fascism,” Lind writes, describing a world I would love to live in. In fact, get this: Lind believes the “paranoid demonological thinking” represented by worries about Russia and fascism “has the potential to be a greater danger to liberal democracy in the West than any particular populist movements.”…

12) I really enjoy reading contemporary historical takes on Johnson’s impeachment as I got it so wrong in my AP US History paper in 11th grade based almost entirely upon sources which were basically by confederate apologists.  Unsurprisingly, Mike Pence’s history is still in the 1980’s:

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Vice President Mike Pence urging Senate Democrats to follow the example of Edmund G. Ross, who “bucked his party and voted to acquit Andrew Johnson.” Pence praised Ross, who served as a Republican senator during Johnson’s presidency, for resisting “pressure” from his party and staying “true to his own convictions” to “render a fair judgment.” He favorably cites John F. Kennedy’s 1956 book Profiles in Courage, which depicts Ross who resisted “legislative mob rule” and “partisan impeachment.” The vice president draws parallels between Johnson and Donald Trump, asking, “Who, among the Senate Democrats, will stand up to the passions of their party this time?”

Pence’s op-ed is profoundly ahistorical, inaccurate, and oddly reliant upon a view of Johnson promoted by the Ku Klux Klan during its resurgence in the early 20th century. Far from a principled independent, Ross was an unscrupulous politician who exploited his impeachment vote to obtain favors from the president and may well have been bribed to acquit. Historian Brenda Wineapple’s extraordinary book The Impeachers, published in 2019, details the true story of Ross’ corrupt bargain to save Johnson’s catastrophic presidency. We spoke on Friday about the many errors in Pence’s op-ed. Our interview has been edited for length.

13) On the practical value of a liberal arts education:

A study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce finds that over the course of a career, a liberal arts education is remarkably practical, providing a median return on investment 40 years after enrollment that approaches $1 million. The results, searchable and sortable by institution, were released Tuesday…

The Georgetown study finds that the return on a liberal arts education is not typically immediate — at 10 years, the median return is $62,000 — but over the decades of a career, it is solid. Only doctoral universities with the two highest levels of research activity, well-known institutions such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fared better in the school’s estimated return on investment. The median 40-year return of $918,000 at liberal arts colleges is more than 25 percent higher than the median for all colleges, researchers found.

Over a long period, the ideal preparation includes education in a field linked to a career, such as engineering, with the addition of general education that allows a person to be flexible and draw on a wealth of knowledge, according to Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the education and workforce center at Georgetown.

14) This is cool on many levels– living concrete:

For centuries, builders have been making concrete roughly the same way: by mixing hard materials like sand with various binders, and hoping it stays fixed and rigid for a long time to come.

Now, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has created a rather different kind of concrete — one that is alive and can even reproduce.

Minerals in the new material are deposited not by chemistry but by cyanobacteria, a common class of microbes that capture energy through photosynthesis. The photosynthetic process absorbs carbon dioxide, in stark contrast to the production of regular concrete, which spews huge amounts of that greenhouse gas…

The blocks also have the advantage of being made from a variety of common materials. Most concrete requires virgin sand that comes from rivers, lakes and oceans, which is running short worldwide, largely because of the enormous demand for concrete. The new living material is not so picky. “We’re not pigeonholed into using some particular kind of sand,” Dr. Srubar said. “We could use waste materials like ground glass or recycled concrete.”

The research team is working to make the material more practical by making the concrete stronger; increasing the bacteria’s resistance to dehydration; reconfiguring the materials so they can be flat-packed and easily assembled, like slabs of drywall; and finding a different kind of cyanobacteria that doesn’t require the addition of a gel.

Eventually, Dr. Srubar said, the tools of synthetic biology could dramatically expand the realm of possibilities: for instance, building materials that can detect and respond to toxic chemicals, or that light up to reveal structural damage. Living concrete might help in environments harsher than even the driest deserts: other planets, like Mars.

15) Nature shows are all the rage (and the Greene family is on-board).  I love that I shared watching National Geographic specials, etc., with my mom when I was a kid and now I’m watching David Attenborough with my kids.

16) Interesting, revisionist take on the 100th anniversary of Prohibition:

In reality, the temperance movement was anything but pinky-raising Victorians forbidding society to drink. Temperance was the longest-running, most widely supported social movement in both American and global history. Its foe wasn’t the drink in the bottle or the drunk who drank it, but the drink traffic: powerful business interests — protected by a government reliant on liquor taxes — getting men addicted to booze, and then profiting handsomely by bleeding them and their families dry.

In the 19th century, saloonkeepers across the United States and around the world were seen as parasites on the local community. This wasn’t Ted Danson, the friendly bartender in “Cheers!” There was no sending home a customer for having too much; that was lost profit. And since the saloonkeeper was often also the town pawnbroker, once you had drunk up your last penny, he might take your shirt, hat and watch too — if his hired pickpockets didn’t pinch them first.

Since fleecing customers was often illegal, the saloonkeeper’s profits paid kickbacks to the police, judges and mayor. Pop histories describe the saloon as a “symbol” — of masculinity, of drunkenness, of social ills. But the saloon wasn’t the symbol of some other problem; it was the problem itself.

This is why the powerful prohibitionist organization was called the Anti-Saloon League, not the Anti-Drinking Society. This is why neither the 18th Amendment nor state-level prohibitions ever outlawed drinking alcohol, but instead focused on its sale. It wasn’t taking a drink every now and then that got reformers’ hackles up; it was the idea of the rich getting richer by making the poor poorer through addiction.

One legislator called for prohibition “for the safety and redemption of the people from the social, political and moral curse of the saloon.” That zealot was Abraham Lincoln, rising to support Illinois’s statewide prohibition in 1855. Similar sentiments were expressed by Frederick Douglass, Theodore Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, William Jennings Bryan, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many other progressive leaders.

Our inability to comprehend the past comes from taking current worldviews and projecting them backward. And the fact that Prohibition largely failed at the national level, and was later repealed, doesn’t mean that its proponents were crackpots or radicals.

17) The short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall sounds interesting and provocative.  A shame that the publisher ultimately had to remove it

At the beginning of this year, the science fiction and fantasy magazine Clarkesworld published a short story called “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall. The story, which appears to be Fall’s debut, follows the first “somatic female” to undergo “tactical-role gender reassignment” surgery. She becomes, more or less literally, an Army helicopter. “When I was a woman I wanted my skin to be as smooth and dark as the sintered stone countertop in our kitchen,” the narrator says. “Now my skin is boron-carbide and Kevlar.” The experience of the narrator seemed to reflect the real-world struggles of transitioning. “Severe gender dysphoria,” Fall writes, “can be a flight risk.” The story took the offensive meme, slapped some rotors on it, and flew away to surprising places.

Responses were vehement. Readers who liked it saw an author being intentionally subversive. “I expected the worst when I saw the title,” wrote Reddit user Terminus0. “But I like how it leans into and treats seriously the saying … that people use to dismiss gender fluidity and makes it literal.” Most others in the thread agreed, saying they found the piece gripping, pleasantly surprising, or reminiscent of erotic sci-fi’s preeminent provocateur, Chuck Tingle. “I have been talking for days to everyone I meet about ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,’” @hoverpope tweeted. “It was immediately canonized for me.” Other celebrators of the work included noted author Carmen Maria Machado, who praised the story’s messy boldness. She also called out the critics—of which there seemed to be just as many. “My heart is so crushed and my brain is so angry,” Machado tweeted.

18) I’ll watch pretty much anything from Aardman animation.  And especially if it’s short and for a good cause like saving the oceans.

19) If you haven’t seen this from Buzzfeed, it really is amazing, “Here Are 20 Headlines Comparing Meghan Markle To Kate Middleton That May Show Why She And Prince Harry Are Cutting Off Royal Reporters”

 

 

 

 

2020 Quick hits

Happy New Year.

1) Peggy Orenstein’s Atlantic cover story on toxic masculinity was really good.  Enjoyed very much discussing this with my boys.  And, once again, made me super-grateful for my dad who was always a great role model of how to be a man without being a jerk.

2) As I like to say, capitalism is great… where it works.  Alas, increasingly an area where it does not work is in creating next-generation antibiotic drugs.  Time for governments to step in.

3) Adam Serwer with, naturally, a thoughtful take on the 1619 project controversy.  Though, in response to this:

The clash between the Times authors and their historian critics represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society. Was America founded as a slavocracy, and are current racial inequities the natural outgrowth of that? Or was America conceived in liberty, a nation haltingly redeeming itself through its founding principles? These are not simple questions to answer, because the nation’s pro-slavery and anti-slavery tendencies are so closely intertwined.

Does not the answer just have to be an emphatic, “both!”?

4) John McWhorter on why Latinx is not catching on:

Latino was enthusiastically taken up as an alternative to Hispanic around the same time African American came into use; the newer term solved the problem created by the fact that Hispanic, which centers language, refers to Spanish-speakers and thus excludes people of Brazilian descent. Latinx, too, purports to solve a problem: that of implied gender. True, gender marking in language can affect thought. But that issue is largely discussed among the intelligentsia. If you ask the proverbial person on the street, you’ll find no gnawing concern about the bias encoded in gendered word endings.

To black people, African American felt like a response to discrimination from outsiders, something black people needed as an alternative to the loaded word black. The term serves as a proud statement to a racist society. To Latinos, Latinx may feel like an imposition by activists. It’s also too clever by half for Romance-language speakers accustomed to gendered nouns…

The difference between African American and Latinx represents a pattern demonstrated endlessly in the past. Blackboard-grammar rules—fewer books rather than less books, when to use that instead of which, etc.—are imposed from on high.

5) I found this on hearing loss disturbing and fascinating:

While under normal circumstances, cognitive losses occur gradually as people age, the wisest course may well be to minimize and delay them as long as possible and in doing so, reduce the risk of dementia. Hearing loss is now known to be the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation, according to an international analysis published in The Lancet in 2017.

The analysis indicated that preventing or treating hearing loss in midlife has the potential to diminish the incidence of dementia by 9 percent.

Difficulty hearing can impair brain function by keeping people socially isolated and inadequately stimulated by aural input. The harder it is for the brain to process sound, the more it has to work to understand what it hears, depleting its ability to perform other cognitive tasks. Memory is adversely affected as well. Information that is not heard clearly impairs the brain’s ability to remember it. An inadequately stimulated brain tends to atrophy.

6) I had no idea rare-earth magnets are a thing.  Now, I do– and they’re cool!  But, as very powerful magnets they are potentially dangerous.  Like if kids swallow them.  The latest, “Number of children swallowing dangerous magnets surges as industry largely polices itself.”  But, sorry, lots of products are potentially dangerous (drain cleaner, anyone?) but we don’t think the government should entirely eliminate them from the marketplace (as, apparently, was once done with these magnets).

7) Even back when I was into cars (yes, yours truly had a subscription to “Road & Track” many, many years ago), I had an irrational bias against the Corvette.  But, damn, this new Corvette is really cool and hello of a deal.

8) Why is it so hard to get things right?  Apparently, cruise ships idling in port spew a ton of pollution needlessly, but even where they’ve added an electric power hook-up in Brooklyn, it hardly gets used.

9) The Navy Seal that Trump pardoned was a truly evil man by the accounts of the members of his own unit

They offer the first opportunity outside the courtroom to hear directly from the men of Alpha platoon, SEAL Team 7, whose blistering testimony about their platoon chief was dismissed by President Trump when he upended the military code of justice to protect Chief Gallagher from the punishment.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.

10) It’s crazy to me that Anna Maria College has revitalized itself behind an awful football team. Meanwhile, Northeastern has thrived after dropping its team.  Really interesting contrast.  NYT, “Adding Football Saved One College. Dumping It Boosted Another.Officials at tiny Anna Maria College say starting a football program was one of their best decisions. At Northeastern, it has been good riddance.”

11) Loved this Wired video on the science of color perception.  Of course there’s not even any red pixels in this image, but your brain just assumes that it’s red strawberries in blue light.

strawberries

PHOTOGRAPH: AKIYOSHI KITAOKA

Much more coolness at the link.

12) It’s great that some good guys with guns stopped a shooter in a church in Texas.  Sometimes, the good guy with a gun really does make a difference.  But it is absurdly clear that, on balance, a society awash in guns, as ours is, is simply much, much, much more dangerous.  Also, I read elsewhere that the good guy was a highly-trained, former FBI agent.  Not your usual concealed carry permit holder.

13) Yeah, so this is wrong:

Robert Alexander has been away from home for more than a decade. His days and nights are spent locked up behind walls topped with barbed wire.

“Prison kind of gives you that feeling that you’re like on an island,” says Alexander, 39, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies while serving his third prison sentence.

Clad in an oversized gray sweatshirt under the fluorescent lights inside the visiting room of Wisconsin’s oldest state prison, he is more than 70 miles from his last address in Milwaukee.

“You don’t feel like a resident of anything,” he adds.

But if Alexander and his more than 1,200 fellow prisoners are still incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution next Census Day — April 1 — the Census Bureau will officially consider them residents of Waupun, Wis., for the 2020 national head count.

That’s because, since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned. This technical detail of a little-known policy can have an outsized impact on prison towns across the U.S. for the next decade.

While serving time at Waupun Correctional Institution, Robert Alexander is working on a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. Since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned.

In many cases, rural, predominantly white towns see their population numbers boosted by population counts from prisons disproportionately made up of black and Latinx people.

In turn, states, which control how voting districts are drawn, and local governments can use those numbers to form districts filled predominantly with people who are locked behind bars and cannot vote in almost all states. Maine and Vermont are the exceptions.

Officials in some prison towns have come up with creative ways to avoid forming voting districts made up primarily of prisoners. But in many others, political lines are drawn around prisons in a way that critics deride as “prison gerrymandering.”

14) I did not know there was a worldwide “rule of law index” but discovered it when learning about Singapore on Wikipedia (my little sister just finished visiting there). Followed some links, and I love this report from the World Justice Project.  US ranks #20.  And, damn, Northern Europe kicks butt once again.  I like the comparisons controlling for income, like this one:

15) Great post from Jay Rosen on what Chuck Todd’s utter failure at MTP says about the broader failures of the media in the age of Trump:

A key premise for Meet the Press is symmetry between the two major political parties. The whole show is built on that. But in the information sphere — the subject of Chuck Todd’s confessions — asymmetry has taken command. The right wing ecosystem for news does not operate like the rest of the country’s news system. And increasingly conservative politics is getting sucked into conservative media. It makes more sense to see Fox News and the Trump White House as two parts of the same organism. As these trends grind on they put stress on Meet the Press practices. But it takes imagination to see how the show might be affected— or changed. In place of that we have Chuck Todd pleading naiveté.

So what will they do now? My answer: they have no earthly idea. This is what I mean by an epistemological crisis. Chuck Todd has essentially said that on the right there is an incentive structure that compels Republican office holders to use their time on Meet the Press for the spread of disinformation. So do you keep inviting them on air to do just that? If so, then you break faith with the audience and create a massive problem in real time fact-checking. If not, then you just broke the show in half.

There is simply nothing in the playbook at Meet the Press that tells the producers what to do in this situation. As I have tried to show, they didn’t arrive here through acts of naiveté, but by willful blindness, malpractice among the experts in charge, an insider’s mentality, a listening breakdown, a failure of imagination, and sheer disbelief that the world could have changed so much upon people paid so well to understand it.

16) I just came across this from a few years ago. Anyway, kind of amazing to me that there were people with an academic background actually arguing that the Southern realignment was predominantly about matters other than race.  Uhhh, no. Anyway, this paper uses copious data to make clear– it’s race:

After generations of loyalty, Southern whites left the Democratic party en masse in the second half of the twentieth century. To what extent did Democrats’ 1960s Civil Rights initiatives trigger this exodus, versus Southern economic development, rising political polarization or other trends that made the party unattractive to Southern whites? The lack of data on racial attitudes and political preferences spanning the 1960s Civil Rights era has hampered research on this central question of American political economy. We uncover and employ such data, drawn from Gallup surveys dating back to 1958. From 1958 to 1961, conservative racial views strongly predict Democratic identification among Southern whites, a correlation that disappears after President Kennedy introduces sweeping Civil Rights legislation in 1963. We find that defection among racially conservative whites explains all (three-fourths) of the decline in relative white Southern Democratic identification between 1958 and 1980 (2000). We offer corroborating quantitative analysis—drawn from sources such as Gallup questions on presidential approval and hypothetical presidential match-ups as well as textual analysis of newspapers—for the central role of racial views in explaining white Southern dealignment from the Democrats as far back as the 1940s.

17) Interesting article on just how hard it is to balance being a mom with being a surgeon.  Left almost entirely unaddressed in the article is that either A) there’s a lot of suffering dads as well, or B) a lot of surgeon dads just don’t really care that much about being a good dad.  Also, clearly, some changes need to happen so that this specialty is more compatible with a reasonable family life.

18) Unsurprisingly, the Ganges is brimming with dangerous bacteria.  Surprisingly, this is even the case near the headwaters:

High in the Himalayas, it’s easy to see why the Ganges River is considered sacred.

According to Hindu legend, the Milky Way became this earthly body of water to wash away humanity’s sins. As it drains out of a glacier here, rock silt dyes the ice-cold torrent an opaque gray, but biologically, the river is pristine — free of bacteria.

Then, long before it flows past any big cities, hospitals, factories or farms, its purity degrades. It becomes filled with a virulent type of bacteria, resistant to common antibiotics.

The Ganges is living proof that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are almost everywhere. The river offers powerful insight into the prevalence and spread of drug-resistant infections, one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Its waters provide clues to how these pathogens find their way into our ecosystem.

Winding over 1,500 miles to the Bay of Bengal, Ma Ganga — “Mother Ganges”— eventually becomes one of the planet’s most polluted rivers, a mélange of urban sewage, animal waste, pesticides, fertilizers, industrial metals and rivulets of ashes from cremated bodies.

But annual tests by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology show that antibiotic-resistant bacteria appear while the river is still flowing through the narrow gorges of the Himalayan foothills, hundreds of miles before it encounters any of the usual suspects that would pollute its waters with resistant germs.

The bacterial levels are “astronomically high,” said Shaikh Ziauddin Ahammad, a professor of biochemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. The only possible source is humans, specifically the throngs of ritual bathers who come to wash away their sins and immerse themselves in the waters…

But where exactly do these armies of drug-resistant germs come from? Are they already everywhere — in the soil beneath our feet, for example? Do they emerge in hospitals, where antibiotics are heavily used?

Are they bred in the intestines of livestock on factory farms? Do they arise in the fish, plants or plankton living in lakes downstream from pharmaceutical factories?

Or are the germs just sitting inside the patients themselves, waiting for their hosts to weaken enough for them to take over?

Research now being done in India and elsewhere suggests an answer to these questions: Yes, all of the above.

19) Good stuff in NYT about the lack of women’s coaches in college athletics:

Title IX, passed in 1972, transformed American sports — it decided girls deserved the same opportunities as boys to play sports. From then on, men and women in college had to receive equal treatment on the playing l.field and equal funding for their athletic programs. Now the United States produces many of the best female athletes in the world.

But that equality stops at graduation.

Before Title IX, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams. Passage of the law flooded women’s sports with money and created many more jobs, many of which went to men. Now about 40 percent of women’s college teams are coached by women. Only about 3 percent of men’s college teams are coached by women.

That means that men have roughly double the number of opportunities to coach. It only gets worse higher up the administrative ladder: 89 percent of Division I college athletic directors are men.

Without equal opportunities to lead, women don’t…

By not diversifying, college teams are quite literally leaving points on the field.

Adding women to leadership roles improves the overall performance of a team, across fields. According to a Harvard study, gender-balanced teams perform better than male-dominated teams. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that “women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones.” Another analysis of gender studies shows that when it comes to leadership skills, men excel at confidence, whereas women stand out for competence.

20) I had actually forgotten that at the beginning of this decade, 3D television was supposed to be a big thing.

The technology had existed before; Samsung got there first, in 2007. But January 2010 presented a clear inflection point. In addition to the Cell TV there were 3D Blu-ray players, sets that could automatically give depth to flat images, and the promise of DirecTV networks that broadcast exclusively in three dimensions. The industry had lined up behind a vision of the future, marketing executives and product managers insisting that the more they had created was also better. How could it not be? It was more.

Five years later, 3D TV was dead. You probably haven’t thought about it since then, if you even did before. But there’s maybe no better totem for the last decade of consumer technology. (The iPhone was more transformative, but is also singular, and besides that was born in the late aughts.) It’s what happens when smart people run out of ideas, the last gasp before aspiration gives way to commoditization. It was the dawn of all-internet everything, and all the privacy violations inherent in that. And it steadfastly ignored how human beings actually use technology, because doing so meant companies could charge more for it.

What I remember most from those press conferences in 2010 was the assuredness that millions of people somehow actively wanted to have to put glasses on their faces in order to watch television. Even then, it made no sense.

Quick hits

1) Okay, nothing particularly new here, but George Conway on Trump is always so good:

As rare as impeachments may be, today’s impeachment of Donald Trump, president of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors was pretty much inevitable.

It was inevitable because of Trump himself, his very character, whose essential nature many who now support him have long understood. As Senator Ted Cruz put it in May 2016, Trump is a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Just this year, Senator Lindsey Graham tried to excuse Trump’s racist, vitriolic attacks on congresswomen of color as “more narcissism than anything else.” “That’s just the way he is,” Graham said.

In essence, Trump thinks everything should be about him, for him, for his benefit and glorification—and he can’t comprehend, and doesn’t care about, anything that isn’t. The American diplomat David Holmes testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to him that “the president only cares about ‘big stuff’”—clarifying, according to Holmes, that this meant “big stuff that benefits the president.”

And that’s why Trump can’t comply with his duties to the nation, and why he now stands as the third president ever to have been impeached. His own stated view of his constitutional authority can only be described as narcissistic: “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” But as the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report rightly explains, “Impeachment is aimed at Presidents who believe they are above the law, and who believe their own interests transcend those of the country and Constitution.” Or, as then-Representative Mike Pence put it in 2008: “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” It was inevitable that, given his boundlessly self-centered bent, this president would do precisely that.

2) Hans Noel on impeachment and Trump’s populism:

It is populist in the specific sense in which Cas Mudde and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser defined it in their Populism: A Very Short Introduction. For them, populist appeals invoke a conflict between “the people” and “the elites.”…

In this framework, the role of the populist leader is to champion the people against the elites. The leader may be rich themselves, but they are on the side of the people and represent the will of the people. The leader loses elections only because the elites thwart this will, and when they win elections, the populist leader embodies the popular will. Small-r republican checks on the power of the leader are simply attempts to subvert the popular will.

This is the argument that dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign and his rallies since election. It also will dominate his 2020 campaign.

And being impeached is perfect fodder for this campaign…

In this framework, the role of the populist leader is to champion the people against the elites. The leader may be rich themselves, but they are on the side of the people and represent the will of the people. The leader loses elections only because the elites thwart this will, and when they win elections, the populist leader embodies the popular will. Small-r republican checks on the power of the leader are simply attempts to subvert the popular will.

This is the argument that dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign and his rallies since election. It also will dominate his 2020 campaign.

And being impeached is perfect fodder for this campaign.

3) Rick Hasen on ten years of Citizens United

In 2010, the largest reported individual contributors to federal campaigns in American politics were Robert and Doylene Perry, owners of Perry Homes, who donated about $7.5 million to support Republican and conservative candidates. In 2018, the largest reported contributors were casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who contributed about $122 million in outside money to support such candidates, representing a 16-fold increase over the Perrys’ 2010 contributions, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. What explains this dramatic shift in American elections, where the wealthiest Americans get to have even greater influence over who is elected and what policies elected officials pursue? The Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In 2010, Citizens United held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend sums independently to support or oppose candidates for office. Looking at the amount of direct corporate spending in elections over the past decade, one might think that Citizens United was a bust. Few for-profit corporations spend money in their own names boosting or dissing candidates. But this casehelped to usher in a sea change in American elections, and its influence on the decade that followed is hard to overstate. We’ve seen an explosion of outside, often-undisclosed money in elections, candidates skirting campaign finance rules by having shadow “super PACs,” and dangerous foreign interference in our elections. And that pivotal opinion contains all the tools the Supreme Court needs to get rid of remaining campaign contribution limits.

4) Christianity Today shows some actual Christianity and comes out against Trump:

The evangelical magazine founded by the late Rev. Billy Graham published a surprising editorial Thursday calling for President Trump’s removal and describing him as “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”

“Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment,” said the piece, written by editor in chief Mark Galli. “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

Galli, who will retire from the magazine Jan. 3, wrote that the facts leading to Wednesday’s impeachment of Trump are unambiguous.

“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” Galli wrote. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

But the editorial didn’t just call out Trump. It called out his devout Christian supporters.

“To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve,” Galli wrote. “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.”

Trump lashed out at the magazine in a pair of early-morning tweets Friday, calling Christianity Today a “far left magazine … which has been doing poorly.”

5) Not that you really need it, but Conor Friedersdorf eviscerates the Republican defenses of Trump on impeachment.

6) But, hey, really, who’s to know who’s right here?  CJR on the “both sides”! problem:

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, listed 12 more snippets from the article as evidence of the Times’s inability to handle what he calls “asymmetrical polarization.” They included “the different impeachment realities that the two parties are living in,” “both sides engaged in a kind of mutually assured destruction,” and “the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them.”

Rosen is right that this sort of language is inadequate: Democrats, for the most part, are engaging with the factual record; Republicans, for the most part, are not. These positions are manifestly not equivalent. Treating them as such does not serve any useful concept of fairness; instead, it rebounds clearly to the advantage of the one side (Republicans) for whom nonsense being taken seriously is a victory in itself. The Times is far from the only culprit. The structure of some TV news shows, in particular, has bothsidesism hardwired into it: a Democrat and a Republican are given equal time to make their unequal impeachment cases, and both face hard questions, to contrive a sense of balance. The questions lobbed at Democrats are often fair, but often pale into triviality when a Republican follows them on and starts sowing conspiracy theories

The media’s job, done properly, is multidirectional: it holds power to account, and communicates matters of public interest to news consumers. On impeachment, too much coverage seems to have got stuck in a feedback loop: we’re telling the public that politicians aren’t budging from their partisan siloes, and vice versa, with the facts of what Trump actually did getting lost somewhere in the cycle. The cult of “both sides” is integral to this dynamic, and it’s serving the impeachment story poorly. Now, more than ever, our top duty should be to fight for the truth.

7) Former FBI and CIA director William Webster in the NYT, “I Headed the F.B.I. and C.I.A. There’s a Dire Threat to the Country I Love. The rule of law is the principle that protects every American from the abuse of monarchs, despots and tyrants.”

8) Kevin Drum with a massive piece on what we should do about climate change.  And here’s his nickel summary:

In my climate piece today I make a detailed case for massive investment in R&D. I want to outline my argument here in the simplest possible terms:

  1. I am all in favor of building out green energy infrastructure on a huge scale. This means primarily solar, wind, nuclear, grid upgrades, and massive electrification of the economy.
  2. However, this is a big political lift and isn’t likely to happen. More to the point, it only barely matters anyway. Electrification can probably solve only about half our global greenhouse gas problem by 2050, and even if the United States (and Europe) cut their carbon emissions to zero today it would barely be a bump in the road to ever increasing global warming.
  3. This is the key: global warming is globalAny serious plan has to include a plausible way to reduce carbon emissions in China, India, southeast Asia, and other non-Western countries, which is where virtually all of the increase in carbon emissions is coming from. However, they have shown no inclination to sacrifice their economic growth by radically reducing their carbon emissions. I know this is a conservative talking point designed to allow them to shrug away any action, but it happens to be true anyway.
  4. There’s really only one way to get all these developing countries to cut carbon emissions: massive R&D that develops new, cheaper ways of providing energy. This has to include not just electric generation, but also things like cement, airplane travel, land use, chemical production, and other things that electrification won’t solve. Importantly, it also has to include some way of removing carbon from the atmosphere, since no matter how much we reduce emissions we’re still going to end up with too much carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.
  5. Then we give away all our new technology for free to everyone.

That’s basically it. Naturally you want some evidence that I’m right about all this stuff, and for that you have to read my full piece in the current issue of the magazine. Click here for all the grim and gritty details.

9) Interesting piece arguing that John Roberts will have far more say in the conduct of the impeachment trial than we realize.  And, certainly, better him than McConnell.

10) Now this is cool science, “What a 5,700-Year-Old Wad of Chewed Gum Reveals About Ancient People and Their Bacteria”

When hunter-gatherers living in what is now southern Denmark broke down pieces of birch bark into sticky, black tar about 5,700 years ago, they almost certainly didn’t realize that they were leaving future scientists their entire DNA.

Ancient people used the gooey birch pitch to fix arrowheads onto arrows and to repair a variety of stone tools. When it started to solidify, they rolled the pitch in their mouths and chewed on it, like some sort of primitive bubble gum. Chewing on birch pitch would have made it pliable again for using on tools.

It might have also relieved toothaches because of the antiseptic oils in the gum. It’s possible that children also used it recreationally, much like modern humans do today. When they spat the gum out, the same antiseptic properties helped preserve the DNA in their saliva.

The ancient DNA, described in a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, is especially valuable because few human bones from the Mesolithic and Neolithic Stone Ages have been found in Scandinavia. DNA from the chewed-up gum provides clues about the people who settled in the area, the kind of food they ate and even the type of bacteria they carried on their teeth.

11) In light of UNC’s absurd Board of Governor’s settlement with Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Daily Tarheel takes a really interesting look at internal conflict within the organization (which, in many ways is basically a biker gang!)

The members who spoke with the DTH alleged financial improprieties among SCV leadership, referenced intermingling with gangs and hate groups, and described threats and slurs that have been issued toward members who raise questions.

One member said he joined the SCV within the last decade after learning about his family tree and gaining a newfound appreciation for his Confederate ancestors. But he described an increasingly “scary” presence within the group in the time since.

“I do not like Nazis,” he said. “My uncle and my great grandpa went over there to kill Nazis. I don’t like none of that crap, and some of these guys, for some reason, that draws them to something.”

Stone revealed to SCV members in a Nov. 27 email that months of secret dealings with members of the UNC System Board of Governors had preceded a settlement he “never dreamed we could accomplish… and all at the expense of the University itself.”

Disgruntled members are expressing desires to squash the deal and give the money back. A common fear they shared is that the current deal will empower what they see as the SCV’s most problematic wing: the mechanized cavalry, a nationwide special interest group of motorcycle-riding members which Stone has helmed for around 10 years.

The Silent Sam settlement could lead to UNC System money funding a new headquarters and museum that one member predicts will have “racist overtones” and further enable a nefarious transition.

“Kevin Stone is no more interested in Silent Sam and what it stands for than the man on the moon,” the member said. “He sees this money as a pot of gold to build himself and his biker gang a massive headquarters.”

Stone did not respond to a request for comment.

12) NYT on the “fake meat” versus “real meat” wars.  We recently started purchasing the “fresh” version of Beyond Beef.  OMG, it is so good.  Now, this stuff really is revolutionary.  Compared to their frozen crumbles, which are adequate, but leave me craving the real stuff, this is the real deal.  Put this stuff everywhere and I’d happily be a vegetarian.  And, no, of course it’s not health food.  But the animals saved and the carbon not emitted doesn’t really care about that.

The meat industry has a warning for consumers: Beware of plant-based meat.

That is the message behind a marketing campaign by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a public relations firm whose financial supporters have included meat producers and others in the food industry. In recent weeks the group has placed full-page ads in The New York Times and other newspapers raising health concerns about plant-based meat substitutes like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, which are designed to look, taste and even appear to bleed like real meat.

The ads call them “ultra-processed imitations” with numerous ingredients. “What’s hiding in your plant-based meat?” asks one ad featuring a sad face made of two patties and sausage. Another directs readers to a site that compares plant-based burgers to dog food. In November, the group’s managing director, Will Coggin, wrote an opinion piece in USA Today that labeled fake meats as ultra-processed foods that can spur weight gain, although the research on processed foods has not included plant-based meats. A few days later, the center’s executive director, Rick Berman, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal criticizing plant-based meats as highly processed and no healthier than meat. Its headline: “‘Plant-Based Meat’ Is All Hat and No Cattle.”

Quick Hits (part II)

1) Andrew Sullivan on the taboo of discussing the fact that some transgender people actually de-transition.  Alas, among many, even discussing this fact gets labeled “transphobic.”  Once again, why can’t we just believe that we need to be sympathetic to and support trans persons and yet admit, maybe some teens actually rush into the process.

A Brown University professor, Lisa Littman, published a paper earlier this year citing parents’ reports on their transgender kids. She discovered a pattern: Most (83 percent) were girls in their teens with no previous history of gender dysphoria, who spent a lot of time online, and “more than one-third [of whom] had friendship groups in which 50 percent or more of the youths began to identify as transgender in a similar time frame.” Littman was not the first person to use this term, but she described this phenomenon as “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” and worried that it could be caused by social contagion, or connected to other issues such as the rejection of parents, depression, autism, and bipolar disease. Littman was concerned that these kids were not getting the full range of mental health help they needed. (Earlier this year, a governor of the Tavistock Centre resigned after submitting a report that argued that teens were being fast-tracked to transition in the center, without sufficient exploration of other comorbid factors. He felt the place had so lost its way in a thicket of ideology that he had to quit.)

The Littman paper was assailed by trans activists and their allies, denounced as transphobic, and had to have its framing language changed before it was republished. But the research and the findings, while very limited in their scope, held up under peer review, and were the same in the republished version as in the original. This is a real enough phenomenon to merit much more research to confirm it. But the pressure to stop this research remains enormous: Littman herself lost her consulting job over the paper, after a campaign to get her fired for transphobia.

2) Republican Senators’ latest plan to excuse Trump?  Throw out a bunch of legal language that maybe they don’t even understand and presume that it’s enough to convince their Fox News base:

“To me, this entire issue is gonna come down to, why did the president ask for an investigation,” Kennedy, who worked as a lawyer, said in an interview. “To me, it all turns on intent, motive. … Did the president have a culpable state of mind? … Based on the evidence that I see, that I’ve been allowed to see, the president does not have a culpable state of mind.”

Maybe the Fox viewership will be thrown by “culplable state of mind,” but, ummm… yes!

3) Of course Trump made up the “whimpering” death of Al-Baghdadi.  But, it’s Trump, so who cares?

That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. Mr. Trump’s flexibility with fact has become such an established feature of his presidency that polls show most Americans, including even many of his own supporters, do not, as a rule, take him at his word.

What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received. In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage. In the era of Trumpian truth, misstatements and lies are washed away by the next story, prompting Pinocchios from fact checkers and scolding from Democrats and Never Trumpers while Republicans dismiss them with that’s-just-Trump-being-Trump weariness.

“Donald Trump is not simply a serial liar; he is attempting to murder the very idea of truth, which is even worse,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Because without truth, a free society cannot operate.”

4) I enjoyed George Packer’s essay on trying to do right by his kids in NYC public schools.  But, even though he’s a really thoughtful liberal, in the end, it did seem a little too hard for him to realize what an utterly insane liberal-elitist-NYC bubble he lives in.  Safe to say, Packer’s kids will be fine at any non-horrible schools.

5) Yes, the photos here are great, but really love the title, “30 Pics Of Finnish Cats Living Their Best Winter Life.”

Norwegian-Forest-Cats-Sampy-Hiskias

6) Totally with Brett Stephens on this one.  We really should judge art on it’s own merit, not the political/ideological views of it’s creators.  Stephens talks about finding out Roald Dahl was quite an anti-semite.  Definitely disappointing to learn this.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still an all-time amazing book that I will enjoy again.  And, yes, I also still enjoy Michael Jackson’s music, while I’m at it.

7) This was really good from Matt Stoller, “Corporate America’s Second War With the Rule of Law
Opinion: Uber, Facebook, and Google are increasingly behaving like the law-flouting financial empires of the 1920s. We know how that turned out.”

8) Was looking to buy some tickets the other day and the fees, my God, the fees.  So totally absurd that we cannot find a way to require transparency in ticket pricing for sports/entertainment events.

9) This is great news, “Long-awaited cystic fibrosis drug could turn deadly disease into a manageable condition.”

The therapy is a combination of three drugs that wouldn’t have been possible if scientists working in academic laboratories hadn’t unraveled the basic biology of the disease. Finding the gene was a needle-in-a-haystack-type problem, Collins said, and it led scientists to a malfunctioning protein that normally keeps the right balance of salt and water in the lungs. There are more than 1,700 gene mutations that can cause the protein to malfunction, but in the most common mutation, the protein is misfolded and can’t reach the right spot in the cell — and even if it does reach that spot, it doesn’t work properly. The new combination therapy includes one drug that corrects the misfolded protein and two that activate the correctly folded protein when it reaches the right spot in the cell.

In the largest trial, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, 403 patients who had at least one copy of the most common gene mutation underlying cystic fibrosis received either Trikafta or a placebo. There were improvements in objective tests of lung function, decreases in lung problems and hospitalizations and an increase in people’s quality of life.

Many physicians see the most transformative potential impact of the drug in the hope that it will be eventually approved for younger children, as Vertex’s other drugs have been over time. The drug can help older patients, but it can’t erase years of lung damage; if it works and is safe in younger children, it could prevent damage in the first place.

10) It’s sad that the hierarchy of the Catholic church will, apparently, at least consider pretty much anything to address the shortage of priests.  But women.

The modern Catholic Church is beset with serious problems. Among them is that not enough men want to be priests. Over the past three weeks, 184 bishops gathered at a Vatican summit to seek solutions for the Amazon region in particular, singled out because of myriad crises it is facing, including environmental devastation, violence and a shortage of priests to serve the needs of the faithful there.

The bishops’ solution: Do anything other than ordaining women as priests.

On Oct. 26, in a “revolutionary” decision, the bishops gathered at the Vatican voted 128 to 41 to allow an exception to what has essentially been a 1,000-year ban on the ordination of married men as priests. They recommended this change for only certain parts of the Amazon and for only married men already made deacons, meaning men already allowed to perform marriages and baptisms, but not to officiate at mass, which only priests can do. It is now for Pope Francis to decide whether the decision goes forward.

It is surprising in many ways that the bishops made this decision. Allowing a married man to be a priest violates several longstanding rules. They voted as they did despite the tremendous importance of chastity for the Catholic Church and the old idea that sexual activity is a pollutant that cannot be allowed near the holy ritual of the mass. They voted in favor of married priests despite a longstanding fear that for a priest to have a wife and a family would lead to serious conflicts of interest. There is a legend that the word “nepotism” was invented in honor of the grasping nephews of popes who sought and obtained more than they deserved thanks to their powerful uncles (and “nephews” we can sometimes see as a euphemism for “sons”).

These potential conflicts of interest and other dangers that family influence and obligations bring, therefore, are something Catholic authorities have long recognized and have eagerly sought to prevent. They voted as they did despite the symbolic importance, too, of the idea that a priest be united to only one spouse, the Church, just as Jesus Christ was united in an exclusive bond with the Church…

Pope Francis himself has acknowledged that there could be what the theology professor Gary Macy has called a “hidden history” in which women had a larger role in ministry than the Catholic Church currently accepts, for which scholars such as Dr. Macy have found ample and intriguing evidence. While rejecting much of this evidence, conservative Catholic authorities do, however, recognize that for several centuries, their predecessors, like the leaders of the Eastern Churches then and now, allowed married men to serve as priests or as bishops, though sometimes they required celibacy and that their wives enter religious life.

11) Stuff like this makes me a techno-optimist in general.  CRISPR may actually solve our problem with antibiotic resistance:

Crispr-based antibiotic pills aren’t yet anywhere near pharmacy shelves. But developing such treatments could allow scientists to harness the power of the human body’s own resident microbes in preventing disease.

“Scientists are starting to figure out that microbiota can also be extremely beneficial for our health,” said Luciano Marraffini, a microbiologist at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Conventional antibiotics do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria, eradicating everything indiscriminately and occasionally creating problems for people with weakened immune systems.

“A major benefit of Crispr is that we can program it to kill only specific pathogenic bacteria and leave alone the rest of our healthy microbes,” Dr. Marraffini said.

A few companies have started to pursue Crispr-based antibiotics that can be delivered through viruses that have been engineered so that they cannot reproduce or cause infections themselves, as well as other methods. Dr. Marraffini is a co-founder of one such start-up, Eligo Bioscience.

The specificity of Crispr is equally enticing to researchers looking to target pathogenic viruses. Instead of having Crispr kill viruses that infect bacteria, as it does in nature, scientists are programming it to chop up viruses that infect humans.

12) Eat your fiber!  “Fiber and Yogurt Tied to Lower Lung Cancer Risk: By promoting a healthy gut microbiome, a high-fiber diet and foods like yogurt may lower lung cancer risk, even among smokers.”  And “Fiber in Fruits and Grains Protects Against Diverticulitis”

13) Dahlia Lithwick on “the judges Republicans are doing it all for.”

It’s not news that Trump has made packing the federal courts with the youngest, most radical, least qualified jurists ever seen a priority. Nor is it news that this project has been singularly successful because it was contracted out to effective outside groups, and because Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell now cares about no other. Last week, the Senate advanced the nomination for a lifetime tenured position of a 37-year-old associate professor, who had been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Justin Walker, the prospective judge in question, has never tried a case. He’s never been co-counsel in a case. His principal qualification for a federal district court judgeship seems to be his important legal work spent “conducting over 70 interviews in which he challenged the account of Christine Blasey Ford.” He’s a TV judge whom Mitch McConnell somehow touted as “unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to Presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky.” Despite his lack of any judicial qualifications and the once-rare not-qualified ABA rating, every Republican on the Judiciary Committee voted to advance his nomination while Democrats broke against him. As Jennifer Bendery noted here, “in his entire eight years in the White House, President Barack Obama didn’t nominate anyone to be a lifetime federal judge who earned a ‘not qualified’ ABA rating.” Walker was Trump’s fourth. And on Thursday, the Senate is poised to vote on the fifth, Sarah Pitlyk, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

14) Americans trust local news.  Brendan Nyhan on how that belief is being exploited by bad actors:

The nature of the news misinformation problem may be changing. As consumers become more skeptical about the national news they encounter online, impostor local sites that promote ideological agendas are becoming more common. These sites exploit the relatively high trust Americans express in local news outlets — a potential vulnerability in Americans’ defenses against untrustworthy information.

Some misinformation in local news comes from foreign governments seeking to meddle in American domestic politics. Most notably, numerous Twitter accounts operated by the Russian Internet Research Agency were found to have impersonated local news aggregators during the 2016 election campaign.

A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report found that 54 such accounts published more than 500,000 tweets. According to researchers at N.Y.U., the fake local news accounts frequently directed readers to genuine local news articles about polarizing political and cultural topics.

Domestically grown dubious outlets are also proliferating. Last week, The Lansing State Journal reported the existence of a network of more than 35 faux-local websites across Michigan with names like Battle Creek Times, Detroit City Wire, Lansing Sun and Grand Rapids Reporter…

Over all, we found that people preferred to consume local news most. Holding other factors constant, Americans were 11 percentage points more likely to choose articles from local news sources than ones from online-only national outlets — precisely why dubious websites might impersonate local news sources. This differential was largest among Republican identifiers and people with a negative view of the news media.

The prevalence of these impostors is likely to increase as the 2020 election approaches, threatening to mislead more voters and to promote greater skepticism toward all news media, including the local outlets that so many Americans rely on and trust.

15) “Tales from the teenage cancel culture.”  Personally, I’m ready to cancel cancel culture.  Perhaps the response from my younger readers… “Okay Gen-Xer”

16) Sad, hilarious, and amazing how dumb Trump and friends are about what a “witch hunt” means.

17) OMG I hate Britt Hume so much.  What a hack!  Now, I’m far from an expert on American foreign policy (as you’ve noticed, very much a domestic policy guy).  But for Hume to claim that American foreign policy is nothing more than what the president wants foreign policy to be is insane:

What’s also insane is all the commenters in this threat totally on this absurd “l’etat c’est moi” bandwagon where whatever Donald Trump wants is policy (even if it is to subvert America’s national security to his own personal interests).

Just for the record, Congress plays a role in foreign policy, too.

%d bloggers like this: