Quick hits (part II)

1) Meant to post this a couple weeks ago, “KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: In Their Own Words, Six Months Later.”  To be clear, why people say they don’t want a vaccine and why they did not actually get a vaccine likely have a pretty modest correlation, but, interesting nonetheless:

Key Findings

At the beginning of 2021 as vaccine distribution began in the U.S., KFF conducted interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults using open-ended questions to better understand public concerns around receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Six months later, we recontacted these individuals to find out whether they chose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, their reasoning behind their decisions, and how they are feeling about their choice.

  • The vast majority (92%) of those who planned to get vaccinated “as soon as possible” in early 2021 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as have slightly more than half (54%) of individuals who had previously said they wanted to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated. On the other hand, a majority (76%) of people who had previously said they would “only get vaccinated if required” or said they would “definitely not” get a COVID-19 vaccine remain unvaccinated.
  • One-fifth of adults (21%) now report being vaccinated after saying in January they planned on waiting to get vaccinated, would only get it if required, or would definitely not get vaccinated. Many of these individuals noted the role of their friends and family members as well as their personal doctors in persuading them to get a vaccine. Seeing their friends and family members get vaccinated without serious side effects, talking to family members about being able to safely visit, and conversations with their personal doctors about their own risks were all persuasive factors for these individuals. A small but meaningful share also say the easing of restrictions for vaccinated people was a factor in their decision to get a vaccine.
  • When asked to name the feeling that best describes how they feel now that they have been vaccinated, nearly a quarter of vaccinated adults offer responses around feeling safe (24%) and relieved (22%). Other positive feelings reported were freedom, confidence, and more certainty that if they did get COVID-19 it would be less serious or they were less likely to die from it. And while most respondents react with some positive emotion, one in ten said they felt the same or neutral. This feeling was more common among those who initially said they would “wait and see” in January or who said they would only get vaccinated if required or would not get vaccinated.
  • Conversations with family members and friends have played a major role in persuading people to get vaccinated. Two-thirds of vaccinated adults say they have tried to persuade their friends and family members to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and 17% of adults who are now vaccinated after saying in January they planned on waiting to get vaccinated, would only get it if required, or would definitely not get vaccinated, say they were persuaded to do so by a family member and 5% say they were persuaded by a friend. In addition to this, others cite protecting friends and family members as the main reason for getting vaccinated and others offer being able to see their friends and family members as well as family pressure or encouragement as the main reasons why they chose to receive a vaccine.
  • About one-fourth of those who previously said they planned on getting vaccinated “as soon as possible” or were wanting to “wait and see” before getting a vaccine, remain unvaccinated six months later. Some of these individuals either have an appointment to get a vaccine or still plan on getting it as soon as they are able, but one in ten (6% of total) now say they either will “only get vaccinated if required” or say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine. When asked what changed their mind, many offer concerns about the side effects of the vaccine as the reasons why they now do not plan on getting vaccinated.
  • Being concerned about side effects is the top reason offered by unvaccinated people for why they haven’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. When asked what would motivate them to get vaccinated against COVID-19, most in the “wait and see” group say they just want more time to see how the vaccine affects others who have already gotten it.

2) Good stuff from Margaret Sullivan, “Our democracy is under attack. Washington journalists must stop covering it like politics as usual.”

Back in the dark ages of 2012, two think-tank scholars, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, wrote a book titled “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” about the rise of Republican Party extremism and its dire effect on American democracy.

 

In a related op-ed piece, these writers made a damning statement about Washington press coverage, which treats the two parties as roughly equal and everything they do as deserving of similar coverage.

Ornstein and Mann didn’t use the now-in-vogue terms “both-sidesism” or “false equivalence,” but they laid out the problem with devastating clarity (the italics are mine):

“We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change any time soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.”

Nearly a decade later, this distortion of reality has only grown worse, thanks in part to Donald Trump’s rise to power and his ironclad grip on an increasingly craven Republican Party.

Positive proof was in the recent coverage of congressional efforts to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol…

This strain of news coverage, observed Jon Allsop in Columbia Journalism Review, centers on twinned, dubious implications: “That bipartisanship is desirable and that Democrats bear responsibility for upholding it — even in the face of explicit Republican obstructionism.”

This stance comes across as both cynical (“politics was ever thus”) and unsophisticated (“we’re just doing our job of reporting what was said”). Quite a feat.

Mainstream journalists want their work to be perceived as fair-minded and nonpartisan. They want to defend themselves against charges of bias. So they equalize the unequal. This practice seems so ingrained as to be unresolvable.

There is a way out. But it requires the leadership of news organizations to radically reframe the mission of its Washington coverage. As a possible starting point, I’ll offer these recommendations:

Toss out the insidious “inside-politics” frame and replace it with a “pro-democracy” frame.

Stop calling the reporters who cover this stuff “political reporters.” Start calling them “government reporters.”

Stop asking who the winners and losers were in the latest skirmish. Start asking who is serving the democracy and who is undermining it.

Stop being “savvy” and start being patriotic.

3) Anne Applebaum who really gets threats to democracy, “The MyPillow Guy Really Could Destroy Democracy.”

4) I mean, surely we would should be getting 1st and 2nd shots out to the rest of the world before we start offering ordinary Americans (immunocompromised is a different story) 3rd shots.  But, also, everything in the world is actually similarly unfair– should we really expect vaccines to be any different? “COVID boosters for wealthy nations spark outrage: Nations short of vaccine should get first doses to curb the pandemic, researchers say.”

Unequal distribution. A scatterplot showing GDP and Vaccination coverage by country.

5) Katherine Wu makes the case for vaccines and masks under Delta:

Partnering masks and vaccines is, in many ways, a natural move. If an unmasked, unvaccinated body is like an unprotected bank, vulnerable to burglars, these two tools are akin to the different high-security measures used to prevent a heist. Shots steel the institution from the inside out, papering its walls with most-wanted posters and alerting bank personnel to upswings in local crime. Supersensitive alarms get installed at windows; extra security guards are stationed throughout the building; the local sheriff’s office is put on speed dial. Should thieves try to force their way in, they’ll be recognized as familiar foes and get arrested on the spot, maybe before any real damage can be done.

COVID-19 vaccines have proved themselves ace at deploying these safeguards and preventing symptomatic disease, especially in its most severe forms, even when tangoing with variants. That is the classic vaccination modus operandi: fortifying our defenses so a pathogen has higher hurdles to clear.

But even vaccinated immune systems can be somewhat foiled when local conditions change. A well-armored bank will still be better off than an unsecured one, but could struggle to thwart career criminals—ones who are savvy enough to show up en masse,move fast, and use brutal tactics. And more of those robbers might make it out of the scuffle unscathed and eager to hit up a neighboring bank. Vaccine-prepped immune systems are still mostly clobbering Delta, the SARS-CoV-2 variant that’s now found in 80 percent of the virus samples being sequenced across the nation: People who have gotten all their shots are a lot less likely to experience symptoms, hospitalization, or death, and don’t seem to be responsible for much virus transmission. But Delta also appears to be especially good at accumulating in airways, and seems to eke past some of our immune defenses. These troubling traits might make it easier for the virus to mildly sicken some inoculated individuals, and perhaps spread from them as well. Vaccines are an imperfect shield; variants like Delta find their way through the cracks.

Masks cut down on all of this risk. If vaccines shore up security from the inside, face coverings (which, you know, literally cover your face) erect a sturdy blockade around the bank’s exterior—fences, bars, better locks, and ID checks at an intruder’s typical point of entry. Masks are physical barriers; they’re “great at preventing exposure to large doses of virus” before the invaders even enter the premises, Iwasaki said. And in the same way that it’s easier for security guards to incapacitate just a few crooks busting through the door, “the less virus you need to fight off, the better—I think that’s pretty clear,” Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, told me. Masks, in other words, curb the amount of labor our immune systems are forced to do—in some cases, maybe eliminating the threat entirely. In that way, they accomplish something vaccines can’t: Unlike immune cells, they don’t have to wait until after the virus has broken into the body to act. That’s an especially big asset for people whose bodies are less equipped to respond to vaccines, including the elderly and the immunocompromised, populations the CDC says should mask more vigilantly indoors, regardless of where they live.

6) I’m about 6 years behind on “Nathan for You” (enjoying it on my glitchy HBO Max) and I must say I love when the show’s preposterous stunts breakthrough into real media.  The episode on “The Movement” workout routine was just brilliant.  

7) I watched a Russian men’s gymnast compete this week who completely tore his Achilles in April and I just cannot even believe at all that he did this.  

8) I haven’t watched any Ted Lasso yet, but I plan on bingeing it once the Olympics is over.  Really enjoyed this James Poniewozik essay on how TV has evolved, “How TV Went From David Brent to Ted Lasso: Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of ironic detachment. Today, they’re more often sincere and direct. How did we get here?”

In TV’s ambitious comedies, as well as dramas, the arc of the last 20 years is not from bold risk-taking to spineless inoffensiveness. But it is, in broad terms, a shift from irony to sincerity.

By “irony” here, I don’t mean the popular equation of the term with cynicism or snark. I mean an ironic mode of narrative, in which what a show “thinks” is different from what its protagonist does. Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of dark or acerbic detachment. Today, they’re more likely to be earnest and direct. [emphases mine]

You can see this change in the careers of some of the medium’s biggest stars and in its creative energy overall. You could chalk the shift up to burnout with cringe comedies and antihero stories, to exhaustion with the cultural weaponization of irony, to changes in the viewership and creators of TV — to all these and more.

But the upshot is that, if David Brent would be out of place in 2021, it wouldn’t be because of the strictures of some cultural human-resources department; it would be because of the current vogue for TV that says things, for better or worse, like it means them.

Earlier this summer, my fellow Times critics and I put together a list of the 21 best American comedies of the past 21 years. It runs chronologically — I hate ranked lists that turn art into math — which has the side benefit of showing you TV history in time-lapse form.

It kicks off with the likes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Arrested Development” and the American “Office”: series with comically obnoxious or oblivious protagonists. It ends with the warm dramedy “Better Things” and the coming-of-age buddy comedy “PEN15”: big-hearted shows whose main characters may be imperfect or awkward, but whom you are meant to identify with.

If the patron imp of early-aughts comedy was Gervais’s David Brent — self-centered, desperate to be liked, casually vulgar and insulting to his staff — the essential face of comedy today might be Ted Lasso, the earnest American-transplant soccer coach in England who quotes Anne Lamott, encourages his players to be psychologically healthy and bakes cookies for his boss. He’s so sweet you could box him up like shortbread.

At heart, the original “Office” and “Ted Lasso” (which just scored 20 Emmy nominations) are both about the importance of kindness and empathy. Gervais’s show may be even more morally didactic; it has a sentimental, even maudlin streak that has become all the more pronounced in his later comedies, like “After Life.” But it makes its case ironically and negatively, expecting you to infer its judgment on David Brent from the reactions of other characters, and from your own.

What was going on at the turn of the millennium? “The Office” and company followed on the “Seinfeld” and David Letterman era of High Irony, a time when a literary device was enough of a cultural concern to inspire magazine coversbooks and premature obituaries. They were also of a piece with dramas like “The Sopranos,” which asked you to like watching their protagonists without like-liking them.

Antiheroes existed in art long before Tony whacked his first victim. Dostoyevsky created them; Northrop Frye wrote about them. And earlier TV dabbled in difficult protagonists, like Archie Bunker of “All in the Family.” But they were a harder sell for television, which required much broader audiences than literary fiction — or did, before outlets like HBO came along.

The common thread of antihero drama and cringe comedy is the assumption that audiences could and should be able to distinguish between the mind-set of the protagonist and the outlook of the author. They asked you to accept dissonance within the story and within yourself: You could see Tony as an animal while acknowledging the beast in you that resonated with him, you could see Larry David as a jackass while recognizing that you found it thrilling.

And, yeah, that’s definitely my favorite mode of storytelling.

9) This is true, “America’s COVID-19 Air Travel Rules Are Insane”

If you want to see how warped the current U.S. COVID-19 travel restrictions are, consider this: in 2019, there were 15.4 million air passenger arrivals from Mexico, almost 7 times the number from Italy. Today, despite Mexican COVID-19 prevalence being higher than in Italy, Delta variant cases permeating both countries, and Italy having administered well over double the number of Mexico’s vaccinations per 100 people, entry for non-Americans from Italy to the U.S. is banned, but people can fly in from Mexico irrespective of their vaccination status.

Despite months of clarity that the current COVID-19 U.S. air travel passenger rules defy basic logic, though, the White House remains stubbornly unmoved. “Given where we are … with the Delta variant,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, “we will maintain existing travel restrictions.” There was no acknowledgement of the incoherence of the current orders in terms of the countries they apply to, the people they apply to, or the changing context of COVID-19 in a world of vaccinations, let alone the dreadful impact of the rules on families and the economy.

10) Great, great stuff from David Epstein on athletes and mental health through the eyes of a former champion bobsledder.  Just read it.

11) Enjoyed Freddie deBoer on what’s wrong with the internet through his experience of writing his substack.

This is an consistent reality about writing for the internet, at least in my experience: the vast majority of the people who would prefer you to write something other than that which gives the most engagement will not reward you for doing that something else with their engagement. They have a vision of what your work could be that they will happily share with you, but they won’t actually read any of it when you try to put those principles into practice. Look, I’m not trying to be overly deterministic here; I still write mostly based on personal whim, I have zero long term tracking or plans for what I write in a given week or month, and I don’t sit around saying “how can I please those Facebook critics?” But it’s simply not realistic to be truly indifferent to quantitative rewards, and I would have to fly completely blind in this project to remain ignorant of the fact that the more I produce the content many people say they want, the worse this newsletter performs. Allow me to illustrate.

yes, I have noticed the dates on these, thank you

These categories are chosen purposefully. Getting salty about media is my most consistent click-generator and money-maker and is also what most people say they would prefer I do less often or not at all. Education research/policy posts are probably the single most-requested type of post in emails and comments, and because they could plausibly get a lot of engagement, it makes the comparison more fair. (As you see, the top-performing education post did pretty well.) I do other types of writing that don’t get many views at all, but I don’t expect them to. My favorite type of piece I do here is things like my review of Jenny Offill’s Weather, but I go in to those knowing that they won’t do numbers and I consider the opportunity to produce them part of the gift of artistic freedom I’m lucky to have. The issue is that, if I want this to continue being financially viable as my job long-term, it’s hard to look at that table and not realize what I’m losing by giving up the upper rows and emphasizing the bottom.

12) Oh, and, hey, this was a really, really unexpected surprise for my largely-ignored twitter feed.

Maybe he stumbled across all the good Covid stuff I retweet?

13) Good stuff in the Upshot, “What Improves the Chances of Solving a Murder? Speedy work is helpful, but it’s not the main factor in clearing a case, research finds.”

“The First 48,” a documentary on A&E about solving murders, has produced more than 450 episodes since its 2004 debut. The show’s title sequence tells us homicide detectives’ chances of solving a murder are “cut in half if they don’t get a lead within the first 48 hours.”

It’s hard to verify this claim because such data is not systemically tracked, but “my experience is that it’s not true,” said John Skaggs, a retired detective from the Los Angeles Police Department who supervised more than 200 homicide investigations and was the protagonist in the 2015 book “Ghettoside” by Jill Leovy.“Sometimes it takes a few days for something to develop.”

Research suggests that the reality is indeed more complex, but that one key to solving a murder is straightforward: devoting more hours to it, which usually involves more investigators…

Mr. Skaggs says about 15 percent to 18 percent of all murders are “self-solvers.” They are easy cases because “there is a smoking gun when the cops get there or it’s on video.” All others require more effort. Beyond the circumstances of the crime, two factors — the weapon used, and the resources dedicated to solving the crime — largely determine the success of a murder investigation.

Fatal shootings are harder to solve quickly than other kinds of murders. In Oakland, Calif., for example, 82 percent of stabbing murders that were solved were cleared within a week, compared with 32 percent of firearm murders.

14) If you haven’t noticed, women’s gymnasts have been getting older.  Very good stuff at 538:

In the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, stories were being written about the increasing age of female gymnasts, pointing out that the sport, once thought to be the exclusive domain of young teens, can be done — and done exceptionally well — by gymnasts who are in their late teens or even their 20s. After all, the average age for a female gymnast in these Olympics is just under 22 years. But the focus has been almost exclusively on the end of a gymnast’s career. Far less attention is being paid to how early a gymnast’s specialization starts and how that has the potential to affect how one’s final years look. There’s even less focus on how the sport can better accommodate gymnasts so they may extend their careers beyond what had long been thought impossible.

This change — which really has been underway for more than a decade, if not longer — is welcome, but it doesn’t signify a fundamental shift in how we approach training gymnasts. It doesn’t challenge the timeline that puts gymnasts on pace to being at their “peaks,” or at least a first “peak,” when they’re just 15 or 16 years old. It doesn’t question what is generally taken as an article of faith in the gymnastics community — that gymnasts have to train upward of 20 hours a week before they even hit their teen years just to have a shot at an Olympic team or a college scholarship. It is this timeline, which was built around the erroneous belief that female gymnasts had a narrow competitive window in their teens, that needs to be dismantled and rebuilt. If we want adult women to thrive in gymnastics, we have to change how their preteen and early teen years look.

15) And a really good feature in the NYT, “What If Everything We Know About Gymnastics Is Wrong? In the wake of a seismic scandal, Chellsie Memmel and other gymnasts are done with inhumane coaching — and the idea that they have to peak in their teens.”

16) Zaid Jilani, “Progressive Denial Won’t Stop Violent Crime”

Rising anxiety about crime will fuel support for policies that Ocasio-Cortez is opposed to. Many on the left feel understandably outraged about police abuses, and worry that using policing as a tool to combat crime will only harm people in the most vulnerable communities. But if progressives pay close attention to people in those high-crime communities, they’ll discover that residents generally want both police reform to prevent abuses and more effective policing to tackle crime…

One progressive who promotes that message is former Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort, who spent decades working on gun-violence issues in Atlanta, where homicides are up nearly 60 percent over the past year.

Fort primarily blames underlying socioeconomic factors for crime in the city, but he also thinks that an ever-expanding network of gangs and easy access to guns are fueling the violence. He senses little contradiction between tackling crime and promoting police reform. “I’ve been in courtrooms … not just fighting, you know, against over-policing, but I’ve been in the courtrooms sitting with the victims of violent crime,” he told me. “I’m equally comfortable standing with the victims of gun violence.”…

In the minds of many progressives, acknowledging cases like Ansari’s and the demand by those who are most at risk for policing to combat crime would only offer ammunition to conservatives and other supporters of the carceral state. John Pfaff, a prominent progressive criminologist, recently argued that “those who favor the status quo are trying to use the rise in homicides as grist for rolling back policies they dislike.”…

I’m sure that many progressives don’t buy the argument that quality policing is essential to controlling violent crime, but many voters do. The recent Democratic primaries in New York City provide an example of how progressives, when they are unable to address the public’s concerns about crime, will pay for it at the ballot box. Although the left found some success down the ballot, capturing the Democratic nomination for comptroller and a number of city-council spots, progressives found themselves overwhelmed in the mayoral race.

17) Great conversation on crime between Yascha Mounk and Patrick Sharkey:

Mounk: What do we know about the ways in which this may have been caused by the pandemic? Or do we really need to look for other factors?

Sharkey: It wasn’t just the suffering that came about because of the pandemic, and it wasn’t just people being locked down. It was [also] the breakdown of social institutions that bring us together and that provide the foundation for every community across the country. I’m talking about schools, but also libraries and parks and playgrounds. Those public spaces were shut down, in addition to community centers, after-school programs and summer jobs programs, and so forth. Those sorts of institutions provide the foundation for social order, and when those institutions shut down, people retreat to their homes. It doesn’t make every community more violent, but it makes every community more vulnerable to violence. When public spaces are abandoned, and institutions start to shut down, it creates the possibility for violence to emerge. So I think that was the starting point. [But] we didn’t see the explosion of violence until later in the year. That gives us a hint that it wasn’t all about the pandemic. 

First, you had the pandemic and lockdown. While that was going on, we had this incredible increase in gun ownership and gun sales in the background, a record-breaking year in terms of gun sales. There is some new evidence (or at least hints of evidence) that those guns were circulating [on] the streets early in the pandemic. Jens Ludwig, maybe the best criminologist in the world, who runs the Chicago Crime Lab, put out an analysis [recently] showing that there was an increase in the number of people who were stopped and were carrying a gun in Chicago as early as March and April. And then you have the protests in late May, after George Floyd was murdered, and the reaction to it and the set of processes that that generates, which includes changes in police behavior, but also changes in residents’ behavior. And that’s when violence really started skyrocketing in lots of cities across the country. 

When I look at last year, lots of people are still gathering data. These are all hypotheses right now. But [at] my lab at Princeton, we’ve started making some progress toward an […] explanation. It’s leading me to this idea that there’s a confluence of three stages, or three sets of factors: (1) the pandemic, the breakdown of social institutions; (2) the rise in guns, circulating guns; and then (3) the reaction to the protests, creating [an] overall feeling—which was partly around the election and the attack on the Capitol on January 6—that the social fabric was breaking down, and everybody’s on their own to deal with this set of crises…

Sharkey: The reason I called the book Uneasy Peace is because we hadn’t solved the larger challenge of extreme urban inequality and all of the problems and challenges that come bundled when you have extreme inequality. By this I mean segregation, [and] how segregation then translates into vastly unequal resources across communities and vastly unequal institutions across communities—concentrated poverty, extreme housing unaffordability, and [the] severe cost burden that is often concentrated in particular communities: addiction, mental illness, homelessness, and circulation of guns. 

I make the case in the book that the model that we developed in the U.S. to deal with that was to abandon central-city neighborhoods—not try to solve those problems—and instead invest in [and] rely on the police and the prison system to deal with all of that. I think that model has been very stable since the late 1960s, when we first set along that path, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced the policy of “benign neglect” to deal with the problems of central cities. Even though there have been investments over time, there have not been sustained investments to deal with urban inequality. 

The police are effective at controlling violence, but it also generates all these costs: anger and resentment. And that anger and resentment grew as more and more people saw what was happening in low-income communities of color, or how law enforcement was interacting with residents. It generally generates a feeling of legal estrangement: feeling like one is not protected by the law, or one is not part of the citizenry of a city. And it also generates costs that are more tangible, in the sense of mass incarceration. Our incarceration rate had been stable throughout the history of the country until the start of the 1970s. It increased by 700% from the 1970s to 2010. The impact of that on families and communities is only starting to reveal itself, because it doesn’t just affect the people who are incarcerated. It affects their entire networks, their families, and the next generation.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The fact that here we are in 2021 with all the technological sophistication we have and HBO cannot make an app for Roku that’s not extremely glitchy strikes me as nuts.  I mean, I use a bunch of different apps on Roku and HBO Max is the only one that consistently has problems.  And, yet, here we are.  It clearly cannot be that difficult a technological problem if you just care enough, thus HBO apparently, does not.  Damn them and all their good programming I want to watch despite their glitchy app!  Appreciated very much this Bloomberg article as I now know it’s not remotely just me:

Hershberger is not the only irritated customer. For months, subscribers have been complaining about HBO Max’s technical shortcomings, particularly on Roku — one of the most popular streaming devices, with 54 million active accounts. A post in December on Roku’s community forum about how HBO Max freezes and crashes now stretches 37 pages long and is filled with more than 360 replies. Similar angry comments from HBO Max subscribers have flooded Twitter and Reddit

Andi Agardy, 46, who lives in Tennessee, decided to wait a few months to sign up for HBO Max to give the service time to work out the bugs on Roku’s platform. But she said the app still frequently freezes and crashes, forcing her Roku to restart.

She also subscribes to Netflix, Hulu and YouTube TV. But HBO Max, she said, “is the one I have the most problems with.” …

Annoyed HBO Max subscribers say they’re torn between a desire to see the acclaimed shows and the headaches of constantly restarting the app.

2) Very good stuff on the evolution of Covid:

This progression of variants demonstrates the virus’s drive for heightened fitness, the natural selection of mutations and strains that make it more likely to find hosts and are further facilitated by sidestepping the immune response, even allowing repeat infections of people who previously had COVID-19. We emphasize, however, that enhanced transmissibility, rather than immunoevasion or greater lethality, would be considered the most potent path for the virus to become more fit and viable.

Indeed, more-fit variants can be expected to emerge over time (the occurrence of which will need to be monitored meticulously, as these pose a potential public health threat), but we believe that these will not continue to emerge indefinitely: nothing is infinite in nature, and eventually the virus will reach its form of ‘maximum transmission’. After then, new variants will provide no further advantage in infectivity. The virus will thus stabilize and this ‘final’ variant will prevail and become the dominant strain, experiencing only occasional, minimal variations.

By homology, we can imagine that the same took place when some very contagious RNA viruses (e.g., measles virus) spilled over in humans: in the early stages of the epidemic, the virus was probably unstable and less transmissible than it is now; then—once the most contagious phenotype was reached—the measles virus stabilized. We note that the inevitable outcome of this strategy for all RNA viruses that have developed high contagiousness (beyond measles virus, we could name, for instance, the viral agents that cause hepatitis A, poliomyelitis, mumps and rubella) is the lack of molecular structures that allow the virus to ‘dodge’ the immune response of the recovered host. Why is that? To make a long story short, by the time these viruses are attacked by the adaptive immunity of their new host, they have no immediate advantage in evading it, because they have probably already spread to another susceptible host, where replication and survival are ensured4.

3) I was having a hard time figuring out how I felt about the Simone Biles thing until I read this.  I had actually come to the conclusion that what was going on seemed a lot like the yips in golf or baseball and then I read this.  It’s the twisties! I love validation. I absolutely feel for Biles and this makes it clear she was right to pull out.  But, also, it really is stunning and I think unprecedented for such a superlative athlete to be felled by a psychological malady in a circumstance like this.

TOKYO — Imagine flying through the air, springing off a piece of equipment as you prepare to flip on one axis while twisting on another. It all happens fast, so there’s little time to adjust. You rely on muscle memory, trusting that it’ll work out, because with so much practice, it usually does.

But then suddenly, you’re upside down in midair and your brain feels disconnected from your body. Your limbs that usually control how much you spin have stopped listening, and you feel lost. You hope all the years you’ve spent in this sport will guide your body to a safe landing position.

When Simone Biles pushed off the vaulting table Tuesday, she entered that terrifying world of uncertainty. In the Olympic team final, Biles planned to perform a 2½-twisting vault, but her mind chose to stall after just 1½ twists instead.

Biles, who subsequently withdrew from the team competition and then the all-around final a day later, described what went wrong during that vault as “having a little bit of the twisties.”

The cute-sounding term, well-known in the gymnastics community, describes a frightening predicament. When gymnasts have the “twisties,” they lose control of their bodies as they spin through the air. Sometimes they twist when they hadn’t planned to. Other times they stop midway through, as Biles did. And after experiencing the twisties once, it’s very difficult to forget. Instinct gets replaced by thought. Thought quickly leads to worry. Worry is difficult to escape.

“Simply, your life is in danger when you’re doing gymnastics,” said Sean Melton, a former elite gymnast who dealt with the twisties through his entire career. “And then, when you add this unknown of not being able to control your body while doing these extremely dangerous skills, it adds an extreme level of stress. And it’s terrifying, honestly, because you have no idea what is going to happen.”
The twisties are essentially like the yips in other sports. But in gymnastics, the phenomenon affects the athletes when they’re in the air, so the mind-body disconnect can be dangerous, even for someone of Biles’s caliber.

4) Really, really enjoyed this profile of Matt Damon.  Especially the parts about the changing business of hollywood and how there’s no good mid-range movies anymore.

But you only have to look a bit closer at Damon’s career, at the notion of Matt Damon, Movie Star we have in our heads, to see that nice might be an ingenious sleight-of-hand, an illusion of sorts. Because that darkness is there. Damon doesn’t just play nice guys. Far from it. There’s Jason Bourne, whom he has played in four hit films and who is a miserable, self-loathing killing machine; the sociopathic social climber Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”; the crooked Colin Sullivan in “The Departed.” Or the prep-school anti-Semite in “School Ties,” an early hint at the lurking appeal of Bad Matt. Damon’s most deftly portrayed cretin may be Mark Whitacre, the self-dealing, weaselly-mustached corporate whistle-blower in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!” His most unexpected heel turn: a cameo as a cowardly astronaut (Mark Watney turned inside out) in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” “He has a willingness to rip apart his boyish, all-American exterior,” says Soderbergh, who has directed Damon in nine films. “He’s self-aware enough, and secure enough, to riff on that.” Whether another actor could have similar riffing opportunities anymore is doubtful. Over the course of his career, Damon has seen the films like the ones that sustained him — that is, the $20-million-to-$70 million drama, what he calls his “bread and butter” — mostly disappear. “You need those roles to develop as an actor and build your career, and those are gone,” Damon said, nodding. “Courtroom dramas, all that stuff, they can’t get made.” Those sorts of movies have been replaced by more easily exportable, higher-budget but paradoxically lower-risk ones. “You’re looking for a home run that can play in all these different territories to all these different ages,” Damon said. “You want the most accessible thing you can make, in terms of language and culture. And what is that? A superhero movie.” …

William Goldman’s old saw about how in Hollywood nobody knows anything could probably now be amended to this: Everyone knows only one thing, and it’s that superhero movies sell. The reorientation of the studios toward those films and other pre-existing intellectual property means the power of actors, even proven stars like Damon, has diminished. It’s the recognizable characters and cinematic universes that can be counted on financially, not the people inhabiting them. Fewer attractive parts adds extra pressure on stars to pick those parts wisely — a big, undervalued aspect of Hollywood acting. In hindsight, when you look over a successful actor’s IMDB page, it’s a list of hits and near misses and duds, but originally, they were all the same: a script. Nothing is preordained. Anyone who has a 25-year career as firmly A-list as Damon is good at picking, at telling not just whether a movie will be good but also whether he can be good in it, and whether it can be good for him. “Sometimes the right choice for an actor isn’t the biggest film, but what is the right choice for that moment in an actor’s career,” says George Clooney, who directed Damon in “The Monuments Men” and “Suburbicon.” “Matt has bounced back and forth between big studio pictures and independent, interesting films. Because he doesn’t keep doing the same thing, audiences don’t get bored of him.”

5) Drum has his list of rules for the pandemic. I endorse:

YES, kids should go back to school in person next month, with temporary exceptions during serious outbreaks. The risks of infection are far lower than the risk of yet another year of remote “learning.”

YES, kids should wear masks in school. Some extra caution is a good idea.

YES, vaccinations should be mandated for all health professionals who work with the public. This is really a no-brainer.

YES, we should accept help from wherever we can get it. If Alex Jones is willing to hype vaccinations by inventing a story that liberals have been secretly promoting vaccine fear in order to kill off conservatives, that’s fine. Whatever.

YES, vaccination mandates should be as widespread as possible. Corporations should put them in place for their own workers; businesses should put them in place for customers; and states should put them in place for everyone. They are legal, constitutional, and sensible. Enforce them via tax credits available only to those who have been vaccinated.

NO, mask mandates shouldn’t include most outdoor areas. The point here is not to put in place the maximum possible regime. It’s to put in place a regime that truly provides the most bang for the buck.

6) What’s interesting to me is the pathetically transparent rationalizations/justifications of the journalists who think this is a remotely reasonable way to practice journalism, “A Catholic newsletter promised investigative journalism. Then it outed a priest using Grindr data.”

In January, when Ed Condon and JD Flynn broke off from their jobs at a long-standing Catholic news agency, they promised readers of their new newsletter that they would deliver reporting without an agenda, or a foregone conclusion. “We aim to do serious, responsible, sober journalism about the Church, from the Church and for the Church. . . . We want The Pillar to be a different kind of journalism.”

Six months later the Pillar broke the kind of story mainstream news organizations would be unlikely to touch: They said they had obtained commercially available data that included location history from the hookup app Grindr, and used it to track a high-ranking priest from his offices and family lake house to gay nightclubs.

Now Condon and Flynn, two 38-year-old canon lawyers-turned-muckrakers, are at the center of both a global surveillance-ethics story as well as a mud fight among their fellow Catholics over whether last week they served or disgraced the church. One Catholic writer described it as “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests.”…

Flynn and Condon initially said they were not interested in participating in an interview for this article, then agreed to consider questions by email, and later said they didn’t have sufficient time and declined. But in comments they’ve tweeted since Tuesday and a podcast they posted Friday, they explained a bit of their thinking.

“There’s nothing to recommend the indiscriminate naming and shaming of people for moral failures just because you can. That is unethical. And that is not something I believe we’ve done,”Condon said on the podcast.

“People are entitled to moral failures and repentance and reconciliation and to a legitimate good reputation. There’s a difference between that and serial and consistent, immoral behavior on the part of a public figure charged with addressing public morality, isn’t there?” Flynn said.

7) Great stuff from Jeremy Faust (I highly recommend his newsletter) on the Olympics.  “Don’t cancel the Tokyo Olympics. Emulate them.”

In the lead up to the Opening Ceremonies, many in Japan and around the world called for the Tokyo Olympics to again be postponed or scrapped entirely. But one week into the Games, it appears that the 108-acre Olympic Village may actually be one of the safest populated areas on the planet.

Yes, there have been coronavirus cases among athletes and staff, and more will occur. That was inevitable. But a close analysis reveals that the International Olympic and Paralympic Committee “playbook” seems to be working as hoped. Cases have been identified rapidly. Those with positive tests have been quickly isolated and contact tracing has been completed. As a result, the situation has never spiraled out of control. The realistic goal was never to find zero cases. The idea was to rapidly find any and all cases, act decisively, and keep everyone else safe.

The system is working. While the plan has many elements, it is rooted in one crucial idea: a testing tsunami.

Check out the data visualization that we created for Inside Medicine below‡. It demonstrates that if the Olympic Village were a country, it would be the 4th most vaccinated nation in the world, behind Gibralter (population 34,000), Pitcairn (population 67), and Malta (population 502,000), and it would lead the world in daily coronavirus testing per person by a colossal margin. In fact, if coronavirus testing were an Olympic sport, the Olympic Village would tower over the world in Gold Medal position at over 250 tests per 1,000 people each day, with Cyprus in a distant Silver Medal position at just 84 tests per 1,000 people per day. Only 9 countries on Earth are currently conducting more than 10 tests per 1,000 people daily.

One week into the Games, it appears that the 108-acre Olympic Village may actually be one of the safest populated areas on the planet.
1.00
 
 
 
There is no populated region anywhere on the globe currently combining such high rates of vaccination and anything close to the testing protocols being implemented at the Olympic Games. So far, around 1 in 5,000 coronavirus tests performed in the Olympic Village have come back positive, giving it the lowest “positivity” rate in the world by a factor of 5 over its four closest competitors (Austria, Singapore, Australia, and Taiwan), and a literal order of magnitude or better than the rest of the nations of the world. As of this writing, more Olympic athletes have tested positive for banned drugs leading up to and during the Games than have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 while living in the actual Olympic Village in Tokyo.
 

8) The Washington Post takes a deep dive behind the scenes of UNC and NHJ.

9) For those of you at all epidemiologically inclined, this was really, really good, “How the coronavirus infects cells — and why Delta is so dangerous.”  Lots of really cool visualizations, e.g., 

Life cycle of the pandemic coronavirus: Infographic showing how the virus enters, adapts and exits from host cells.

10) Good Covid stuff from Katherine Xue, “COVID-19 is likely to become an endemic disease. How will our immune systems resist it?”

Still, it is likely that the virus itself is here to stay. “I personally think that there’s essentially zero chance that sars-CoV-2 will be eradicated,” Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told me. (Bloom advised my Ph.D. research on influenza evolution.) Most viruses, including the four seasonal coronaviruses, other common-cold viruses, and the flu, haven’t been eradicated; scientists describe them as “endemic,” a term derived from the Greek word éndēmos, meaning “in the people.” Endemic viruses circulate constantly, typically at low levels, but with occasional, more severe outbreaks. We don’t shut out these endemic viruses with quarantines and stay-at-home orders; we live with them.

What will it be like to live with endemic sars-CoV-2? That depends on the strength of our immune memories. How vividly will our bodies remember the virus or vaccine? How will waning immunity and the rise of variants—such as Delta, which is currently driving a spike in covid cases around the world—affect our vulnerability to reinfection? We’re beginning to learn the answers to some of these questions, and to get a sense of the years to come…

The immune system’s overlapping layers work together to strengthen its memory. But viruses aren’t static. As they accumulate mutations, their shapes shift, and they gradually become more difficult for the system to recognize. Survivors of the 1918 flu pandemic maintained strong antibody responses against that virus for almost ninety years. And yet adults still get the flu approximately once every five years, because the influenza virus’s rapid evolution insures that each year brings new variants. On average, flu viruses acquire half a dozen mutations each year; many of these alter the proteins that allow the viruses to enter and exit host cells. Antibodies that once bound tightly to a virus may have a weaker grip on its evolved form; the virus might escape the notice of certain T cells that used to recognize it.

“You can also ask the question for coronaviruses,” Bloom said. “How much of the ability to reinfect people might be driven by the virus changing?” Growing evidence suggests how much viral evolution might make us vulnerable to coronavirus reinfection. Recently, researchers in Bloom’s lab analyzed blood samples collected from people in the nineteen-eighties and nineties; the samples contained antibodies for the version of seasonal coronavirus 229E that circulated back then. Those same antibodies failed to recognize the descendants of the virus that had evolved in the intervening years. Coronaviruses mutate more slowly than viruses like influenza and H.I.V., but, over the course of a decade or two, they can still change enough to evade our immune memory.

11) This was fascinating, “Doctors Might Have Been Focusing on the Wrong Asthma Triggers: The pandemic was a big social experiment that sent asthma attacks plummeting.”

All around the country, doctors have spent the pandemic wondering why their patients with asthma were suddenly doing so well. Asthma attacks have plummeted. Pediatric ICUs have sat strangely empty. “We braced ourselves for significant problems for the millions of people living with asthma,” says David Stukus, Scarlett’s doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “It was the complete opposite. It’s amazing.” (Fears about people with asthma getting more severe COVID-19 infections haven’t been borne out either.) Studies in other countries, including England, Scotland, and South Korea, also found big drops in hospital and doctor’s-office visits for asthma attacks.

The massive global experiment that is the pandemic is now leading doctors to rethink some long-held assumptions about the disease. Asthma is a chronic condition that occasionally flares up, leading to 3,500 deaths and 1.6 million emergency-room visits a year in the United States. These acute attacks can be triggered by a number of environmental factors: viruses, pollen, mold, dust mites, rodents, cockroaches, pet dander, smoke, air pollution, etc. Doctors have often scrutinized allergens that patients can control at home, such as pests and secondhand smoke. But patients have stayed at home for a year and suffered dramatically fewer asthma attacks—suggesting bigger roles for other triggers, especially routine cold and flu viruses, which nearly vanished this year with social distancing and masks.

With life in the U.S. snapping back to normal, asthma doctors and patients are facing another new reality. Masks are going away; schools will be reopening in the fall. The pandemic unexpectedly reduced asthma attacks, and now doctors and patients have to navigate between what they know is possible in extraordinary conditions and what is practical in more ordinary ones.

12) Good stuff from the How Democracies Die team, “The Biggest Threat to Democracy Is the GOP Stealing the Next Election: Unless and until the Republican Party recommits itself to playing by democratic rules of the game, American democracy will remain at risk.”

13) What I find particularly interesting about this study is the ideological backlash to its conclusions.  Maybe it’s wrong and could have been conducted better; always a reasonable critique.  But I really don’t like critiques based on not liking the implications of the findings.  “Is opening more strip clubs one way to reduce sex crimes?”

In theory, adult entertainment businesses — including strip clubs and escort services — could either increase or decrease sex crimes. By teaching men to treat women as sex objects, they could foster the kinds of attitudes that lead men to commit rape and sexual assault. On the other hand, such establishments might provide substitutions for sex crimes: Men otherwise inclined to commit assaults might instead spend more time in strip clubs or hiring escorts.

In a forthcoming study in the Economic Journal, we found evidence for the second theory: In New York City, over the period from Jan. 1, 2004, to June 30, 2012, the opening of an adult entertainment business in a police precinct decreased sex crimes by 13 percent in that precinct.

This did not seem to be because police presence increased in those precincts when strip clubs appeared: Other crime rates — involving drugs and theft, for example — were not affected, something we’d be unlikely to see if more police were patrolling these neighborhoods. Nor was it because women (including street prostitutes, who are often the victims of sex crimes) avoided the areas around such businesses: If that were true, we’d expect to find sex crimes increase in neighboring precincts; the crimes might simply be relocated.

All of that suggests that the substitution explanation may be true: People inclined to commit sex crimes may be less likely to do so if they have an outlet for sexually explicit entertainment (which may include, at some clubs, illegal prostitution). Strengthening the case for this conclusion is the fact that the effect we found was more powerful at night, when these establishments do most of their business.

14) Pretty damn happy with the heat pump that’s been keeping me warm in winter for almost 20 years here in NC, “Are ‘Heat Pumps’ the Answer to Heat Waves? Some Cities Think So.”

15) Michael Pollan, “The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine?” Ummm, no, it’s not time.  But I do try to avoid it after mid-afternoon most all days.  In my case, I’m definitely not using caffeine to compensate for poor sleep as, I never use caffeine before noon (that’s when I go on my Diet Dr Pepper binge for the day).

An English neuroscientist on the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, Walker, author of Why We Sleep, is single-minded in his mission: to alert the world to an invisible public-health crisis, which is that we are not getting nearly enough sleep, the sleep we are getting is of poor quality, and a principal culprit in this crime against body and mind is caffeine. Caffeine itself might not be bad for you, but the sleep it’s stealing from you may have a price. According to Walker, research suggests that insufficient sleep may be a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, stroke, heart failure, depression, anxiety, suicide and obesity. “The shorter you sleep,” he bluntly concludes, “the shorter your lifespan.”

Walker grew up in England drinking copious amounts of black tea, morning, noon and night. He no longer consumes caffeine, save for the small amounts in his occasional cup of decaf. In fact, none of the sleep researchers or experts on circadian rhythms I interviewed for this story use caffeine.

I thought of myself as a pretty good sleeper before I met Walker. At lunch he probed me about my sleep habits. I told him I usually get a solid seven hours, fall asleep easily, dream most nights.

“How many times a night do you wake up?” he asked. I’m up three or four times a night (usually to pee), but I almost always fall right back to sleep.

He nodded gravely. “That’s really not good, all those interruptions. Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity.” The interruptions were undermining the amount of “deep” or “slow wave” sleep I was getting, something above and beyond the REM sleep I had always thought was the measure of a good night’s rest. But it seems that deep sleep is just as important to our health, and the amount we get tends to decline with age.

Caffeine is not the sole cause of our sleep crisis; screens, alcohol (which is as hard on REM sleep as caffeine is on deep sleep), pharmaceuticals, work schedules, noise and light pollution, and anxiety can all play a role in undermining both the duration and quality of our sleep. But here’s what’s uniquely insidious about caffeine: the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates.

16) I cannot imagine writing a book without Laurel Elder’s help.  Meanwhile, Laurel just churns out books on her own:

From Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren to Stacey Abrams and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, women around the country are running in—and winning—elections at an unprecedented rate. It appears that women are on a steady march toward equal representation across state legislatures and the US Congress, but there is a sharp divide in this representation along party lines. Most of the women in office are Democrats, and the number of elected Republican women has been plunging for decades.

In The Partisan Gap, Elder examines why this disparity in women’s representation exists, and why it’s only going to get worse. Drawing on interviews with female office-holders, candidates, and committee members, she takes a look at what it is like to be a woman in each party. From party culture and ideology, to candidate recruitment and the makeup of regional biases, Elder shows the factors contributing to this harmful partisan gap, and what can be done to address it in the future. The Partisan Gap explores the factors that help, and hinder, women’s political representation.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Lots of new interesting analysis of the 2020 election past week.  Nice summary in the NYT: “Biden Gained With Moderate and Conservative Voting Groups, New Data Shows: President Biden cut into Donald Trump’s margins with married men and veteran households, a Pew survey shows. But there was a far deeper well of support for Mr. Trump than many progressives had imagined.”

2) I used to be a pretty big tennis fan way back when.  Hardly at all anymore.  Very thorough and interesting NYT piece on the off-the-court troubles with tennis and the economic issues, in particular.  I was particularly intrigued by the hockey comparison.

What especially bothered him, though, was a sense that the A.T.P. was failing at its most basic duty: to promote the interest of the players. “There’s no way that tennis shouldn’t have 300 players making decent livings,” he said. Pospisil was acutely aware of how much better middle-of-the-pack athletes in other sports had it. The N.H.L. was his reference point: The league had roughly 700 players and, in 2019, a guaranteed minimum salary of $700,000. More than half the players were earning more than $1 million per year. Coaching and travel were free, as was health care, and players were paid even when they were out with injuries, which was not the case in tennis.

Pospisil recognized that a team sport could offer benefits that an individual sport could not. “Tennis is its own animal,” he said. But the share of revenue that the players received from the tournaments — around 17.5 percent across the two tours and the four majors — struck him as inexcusably low. Players were the ones pulling in the fans and driving the revenue, and in his view, they were being exploited. And when he thought about why the 300th-best hockey player was making seven figures while Chris O’Connell, the 139th-best tennis player, was barely solvent, the answer was self-evident. It wasn’t because N.H.L. team owners were inordinately generous; it was because N.H.L. players had a union and tennis players did not. “It was a logical conclusion,” Pospisil said.

3) Okay, I haven’t actually watched this NYT video of January 6, but a lot of people I trust swear by it.  I am going to watch this week.

4) In search of another short comedy to mix in with my evening TV viewing I finally gave “Rick and Morty” a try after HBO Max dubbed it Rick and Morty day a few weeks ago.  I must say, I’m loving it and really glad I finally gave it a chance (after hearing good things about it for years).

5) Really liked this conversation on happiness between Yascha Mounk and Arthur Brooks:

Mounk: How do I analyze the parts of my life where I’m not as happy as I could be? How do I come up with a plan?

Brooks: When it comes to satisfaction, we’ve already talked about strategies: the chipping-away exercise by managing your wants, and trying to practice intention without attachment where you have audacious goals. All of these are very concrete strategies. But it starts with a diagnosis of your life. There are four dishes that you think are the dishes of happiness: money, power, pleasure, and fame. Those are the wrong dishes. The right dishes are faith, family, friendship, and work. 

When I say “faith,” I don’t mean a traditional religious faith, necessarily. You don’t need my faith. You need something that is more transcendent than the boring TV program, something that zooms you out from your own individual life. It gives you the adventure of the transcendent. [Another] dimension is family, the ties that bind kin. Never make the stupid error of not talking to a family member because of politics. One in six Americans, by the way, is doing that right now. And then there’s friendship. Vivek Murthy, our wonderful surgeon general, talks about the epidemic of loneliness. It’s the most important avoidable problem that we have in public health today, he believes. And one of the reasons is that people actually are getting more and more incompetent at romantic love and are denying themselves the psychological nutrition of friendship. And then the last [dimension that people] don’t understand is that you’ve got to have two parts of work, which is earning your success and believing that you’re serving other people. 

Mounk: Let’s talk about friendship for a moment. [There is a] difference between how I see friendship in Europe and how I see it in the United States. Friendship in Europe is an obligation: It’s a natural element of friendship that you do each other favors. If you’re sick at 3 a.m., you can ask a friend to go run to the pharmacy for you, and there’s nothing strange about that. 

It seems to me that in the United States, often friendship is much more modular: “We both have some free time, let’s go grab a beer together.” The implied mutual obligation isn’t part of a social contract of friendship to the same extent. Obviously, you choose your friends. But it seems to me that there are meaningful friendships which at some point take on a kind of givenness: You’ve been friends for so long, you’ve been friends in such a close way, that it acquires [some of the characteristics of] a familial relationship. And even if your friend is no longer the person whom you would choose to make friends with, or if your life circumstances start to diverge, there is a kind of imperative, which gives you satisfaction and purpose in life, to [maintain] those links. 

6) Not sure if we’ll get improved laws on exotic pets in NC or not due to the zebra cobra episode.  But, we just might and I’ll be using this example when I talk about agenda setting and policy change for a long time.  

7) So, the local Catholic parish I used to belong to is bringing in as a speaker the author of this book, “Slaying Dragons: What Exorcists See & What We Should Know.”  What we should know includes that yoga and Harry Potter are both tools of the devil.  Not sorry that’s no longer my parish.  Wow.  

8) Good stuff from Ed Yong on Delta:

1. The vaccines are still beating the variants.

The vaccines have always had to contend with variants: The Alpha variant (also known as B.1.1.7) was already spreading around the world when the first COVID-19 vaccination campaigns began. And in real-world tests, they have consistently lived up to their extraordinary promise. The vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reduce the risk of symptomatic infections by more than 90 percent, as does the still-unauthorized one from Novavax. Better still, the available vaccines slash the odds that infected people will spread the virus onward by at least half and likely more. In the rare cases that the virus breaks through, infections are generally milder, shorter, and lower in viral load. As of June 21, the CDC reported just 3,907 hospitalizations among fully vaccinated people and just 750 deaths…

2. The variants are pummeling unvaccinated people.

Vaccinated people are safer than ever despite the variants. But unvaccinated people are in more danger than ever because of the variants. Even though they’ll gain some protection from the immunity of others, they also tend to cluster socially and geographically, seeding outbreaks even within highly vaccinated communities.

The U.K., where half the population is fully vaccinated, “can be a cautionary tale,” Hanage told me. Since Delta’s ascendancy, the country’s cases have increased sixfold. Long-COVID cases will likely follow. Hospitalizations have almost doubled. That’s not a sign that the vaccines are failing. It is a sign that even highly vaccinated countries host plenty of vulnerable people…

3. The longer Principle No. 2 continues, the less likely No. 1 will hold.

Whenever a virus infects a new host, it makes copies of itself, with small genetic differences—mutations—that distinguish the new viruses from their parents. As an epidemic widens, so does the range of mutations, and viruses that carry advantageous ones that allow them to, for example, spread more easily or slip past the immune system to outcompete their standard predecessors. That’s how we got super-transmissible variants like Alpha and Delta. And it’s how we might eventually face variants that can truly infect even vaccinated people.

None of the scientists I talked with knows when that might occur, but they agree that the odds shorten as the pandemic lengthens. “We have to assume that’s going to happen,” Gupta told me. “The more infections are permitted, the more probable immune escape becomes.”

9) It’s easy to forget we’re still imprisoning people at Gitmo.  This is good, “I was a prosecutor at Guantánamo. Close the prison now.”

I was one of the prosecutors for the only two litigated U.S. military tribunals since Nuremberg. These were the trials of Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who were among those detained at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base after the attacks of 9/11. While it’s been 12 years since I served in Guantánamo, and the number of detainees has dropped dramatically, the realities that must be faced for trials to proceed haven’t changed. Military tribunals are sometimes a necessary consequence of war, but to drag the judicial process out for this long — up to nearly 20 years — is absurd and un-American. It’s an abandonment of our commitment to rule of law and what we consider to be fair jurisprudence.

My entire experience at Guantánamo was a rude awakening. I believed in the system after the first failed effort at prosecuting alleged terrorists was repaired in the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, where the court acknowledged the unconstitutionality of the process. I thought our pursuit of justicecould be fair and impartial, and an example to the world. I was wrong. Everything I saw and experienced while serving in that assignment convinced me of that. Nothing I’ve observed since has changed my mind.
 

10) This… “Why You Still Might Want to Have a Home Covid Test on Hand: At-home rapid Covid-19 tests can offer unique benefits for weddings, parties, travel or for households with children or at-risk adults.”

11) Drum with some pushback on the “sky is falling” takes on democracy (like those I shared):

The New York Times, echoing the views of most liberals, says the Supreme Court is dismantling democracy piece by piece:

The latest blow came Thursday, when all six conservative justices voted to uphold two Arizona voting laws despite lower federal courts finding clear evidence that the laws make voting harder for voters of color — whether Black, Latino or Native American. One law requires election officials to throw out ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct; the other bars most people and groups from collecting voters’ absentee ballots and dropping them off at polling places.

This is starting to piss me off. Maybe the Supreme Court is bound and determined to take apart our voting laws no matter what, but the truth is that yesterday’s ruling can be laid directly at the feet of liberals. This was just a stupid case to bring. You can’t make a serious argument that there’s anything really wrong with either a ban on ballot harvesting or with requiring voters to cast ballots in the right precinct.

More generally, this kind of stuff, along with voter ID laws, is popular with the public, and this has nothing to do with the alleged existence of voter fraud. Even if there’s no fraud, the average Joe and Jane think ID laws make sense and are untroubled by common sense rules like being required to vote in the right precinct. Liberals will get nowhere by going after this stuff.

What’s more, none of it matters. The actual effect of these rules on Black and Hispanic voter turnout turns out to be minuscule. It is a waste of time—maybe worse than just a waste of time—to yell and scream about these kinds of laws.

What really is bad are provisions of these laws that allow Republican legislatures to replace election officials they deem insufficiently loyal to the Republican cause. If you talk to moderate voters, they’ll be shocked if you tell them about this. They’ll agree that these provisions are outrageous.

So why do we spend so much time protesting the stuff that doesn’t matter (and is popular) and so little time protesting the stuff that does matter (and is unpopular)? It is a vast mystery. And like I said, it’s really starting to piss me off. If democracy is truly at stake here, wouldn’t it make sense to be at least a little smart about trying to save it?

12) I follow a few of the “Intellectual Dark Web” types on twitter and they’re obsession with Ivermectin to treat Covid is just nuts.  Interesting to me that many of these people started out with reasonable complaints about cancel culture and wokeness and just end up off the cliff in conspiratorial nuttiness.  

13) I love the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes.  The following statements is completely ordinary for those into sports analytics, but it seems like you never see someone from the front office of a sports franchise say something like this:

Q: You want to win a Stanley Cup. What’s missing, what’s needed?

A: “I think we have to stay competitive, stay in the top percentage of the league every year. You hope that at some point you get the right thing to happen at the right time. Once you get into a playoff format with a small sample size, more random things have a bigger impact on the outcome. During the regular season, assuming you’re healthy, the better teams tend to make the playoffs. But once you’re in the playoffs it’s such a short series that the outcome is less about how good you are (in the regular season) but more how good you are and what happens in that exact moment. So we have to be there enough times with good players and good coaches and I think eventually we’ll get on the right run we need to win.”

14) The rule of law is so much more important than any one guilty person being punished.  And that’s why Bill Cosby was released. It’s really hard for Ian Milhiser to make this claim for his Vox audience, so he derides the decision every way he can, but does come down on this ultimate truth of our legal system.  

15) This was fascinating to me.  Apparently the writing is on the wall for Northern Ireland to cease to be.

16) Love this story! “Two women chatted in a bathroom. They soon realized they were each a match for the other’s husband, who needed a kidney.”

17) This was a really powerful essay. “I Am Breaking My Silence About the Baseball Player Who Raped Me”

Quick hits (part I)

1)Aaron Carroll is all about the coming vaccine mandates.  But it will a lot easier if the FDA actually gets its butt in gear on this.  

The U.S. experience with diseases for which vaccination isn’t mandated is also instructional: In those cases, vaccination rates have remained much lower than desired. The human papillomavirus vaccine approved in the United States, for example, protects against an extremely widespread and often asymptomatic sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cancer. Despite calls to mandate HPV vaccination, it is required for school only in a few states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico and has never been mandated outside the school environment, where it would do more good.

Although the vaccine was approved in 2006, only about half of teens are currently covered. What’s worse, only 22 percent of 18- to 26-year-olds, who are most at risk for infection, are fully vaccinated. Influenza vaccination is another that has rarely been mandated, and the United States has never achieved anywhere near the rates of protection that health experts would like, even during pandemics…

When vaccination is the default, most people will get vaccinated. Mandates still aren’t popular; few public health measures are. But they work.

2) This seems about right from Jeffrey Sachs, “Laws Aimed at Banning Critical Race Theory in K-12 Schools Are a Poorly Written, Misguided Mess: Even if you agree with the intention, these laws are a mistake.”  That seems pretty obvious and you should read it. My favorite part was his caveat:

It’s tempting to stop here. But instead, let me offer a concession to anti-CRT activists, as well as perhaps a few suggestions.

First, critics of CRT pedagogy (or whatever you wish to call it) have a legitimate gripe. There are real episodes where public school teachers have crossed the line. In Cupertino, third graders were instructed by their teacher to create an “identity map” with their race, ethnicity, and so forth, and then mark which of their identities “holds power and privilege.” An Oklahoma high school teacher told his students that “to be white is to be racist, period.” And at a public charter school in Las Vegas, students were taught that white, male, Christian, and heterosexual identities are inherently oppressive.

No one knows how common or representative these episodes are, but they’re real.

And that’s a problem. I am a parent. My daughter hasn’t begun grade school yet, but needless to say, I do not want her to feel guilt or shame on account of her racial identity. And while I believe it is important that she be taught about systemic racism at some point in K-12, it must be done at the right age and with great care. These episodes do not inspire confidence. They feel shallow, crude, and potentially harmful.

The “woke Left” (and here I broadly include myself) needs to do a much better job denouncing examples of bad antiracist pedagogy and elevating examples it thinks are good. There’s no use pretending the bad examples don’t exist. Clearly they do, and clearly people are going to talk about them. The least we can do is show that we are taking them seriously.

3) This has really stuck with me from Scott Alexander, “Drug Users Use A Lot Of Drugs”

When I first considered prescribing ketamine, the bladder injury stories scared me so much that I asked a bunch of veteran ketamine prescribers how I should monitor it. They all gave me weird non-commital answers like “I’ve prescribed ketamine to thousands of patients and never had a problem with this, so I guess don’t worry”. But why not? There are all these papers saying we should worry, and all these reports in the literature of ketamine-induced bladder injury!

A standard psychiatric dose of ketamine might be 0.5 mg/kg IV, 2x/week, for four weeks. So a 70 kg patient would get about 280 mg over the course of a month. This Chinese study and this UK study analyze recreational ketamine users, and both find they take about 3g daily, every day. That’s 90,000 mg over the course of a month. Again, that’s 280 mg for the psych patients and 90,000 mg for the recreational users (and you wouldn’t believe how many hoops the psych patients have to jump through to get their 280, or how terrified their doctors are that something could go wrong). Drug users use a lot of drugs! So why don’t psychiatric patients get bladder injuries? It’s because you get bladder injuries when you’re taking more like 90,000 mg of ketamine a month, and not when you’re taking 280 mg…

Every so often somebody realizes that there’s not much chemical difference between methamphetamine and Adderall. Then they freak out that we give ADHD kids Adderall all the time. Isn’t that like giving them crystal meth?

See eg Shoblock et al:

Despite the repeated claims of METH being more addictive or preferred than AMPH, proven differences between METH and AMPH in addiction liability and in reward efficacy have evaded researchers. Animals self-administer METH and AMPH at comparable rates (Balster and Schuster 1973) and humans prefer similar doses (Martin et al. 1971). Also, neither humans nor animals discriminate between equal doses of METH and AMPH (Huang and Ho 1974; Kuhn et al. 1974; Lamb and Henningfield 1994). Furthermore, while METH is commonly believed to be a more potent central psychostimulant than AMPH, no direct comparison on the potency of the two drugs to stimulate central processes have been verified. In addition, no previous study has directly compared the acute effects of the two drugs on locomotor activity, an important central process that contributes tothe definition of psychostimulant. Moreover, there are no known neurobiological differences in action between METH and AMPH that would account for the putatively greater addictive, rewarding, or psychomotor properties of METH.

So should we be less concerned about methamphetamine? More concerned about Adderall? Or what?

The average crystal meth addict uses about 500 mg a day. And they snort it, which probably produces about double the peak plasma level as taking it orally. So they’re getting the equivalent of 1000 mg oral amphetamine daily. The average Adderall patient takes 20 mg. The most important reason meth makes your teeth fall out and ruins your life but Adderall just makes you study a little harder is that the meth users are taking 50x higher doses (yeah, okay, there are also some pharmacokinetic differences, but those are less important). Drug users really do use a lot of drugs!

I recently had a patient stop their Adderall after reading this paper on how amphetamines appear to accelerate cardiovascular aging. The study was done on polysubstance abusers who were probably taking 50x higher doses than they were. This Reuters article on the study actually gets this exactly right, and has an interview with an expert saying the doses are so high that it can’t be extended to clinical practice. I don’t want to claim total victory here, because nobody’s done a study on clinical users proving they don’t get accelerated aging. But given the high doses necessary to produce the small effects found in the original paper, I’m not losing sleep.

4) I was vaguely aware of the “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” controversy when it happened and how it was yet again wokeness/cancellation amok.  Emily VanderWerf with, actually, a pretty nuanced take on all this.  Which led to Jesse Singal making free his take from when it first happened.  It’s really good.  

But nowhere in this almost 1,400-word-long statement will you find a clear explanation of exactly what is wrong with the story. That’s because the only accurate answer to that question is something like “Some people have very superficial but dearly held ideas about what gender is, and because this story took a more complicated and fraught and creative approach to its theories of gender — one which challenged those ideas — those people became deeply offended.” That’s why a story in a major sci-fi outlet had to be unpublished. I guess the alternative, by Clarke’s logic, would be to tell or imply to some people that their interpretation of the story isn’t ‘valid.’ Can you imagine that? Dealing with the pain of someone telling you your interpretation of a work of art isn’t valid??? I’d be in bed for weeks.

I wrote a lot about the YA unpublishings and the surrounding culture of online fear in this newsletter. I don’t want to jump back into this subject. But I found this entire turn of events so profoundly depressing. We are building a world of cowardly, shallow, masturbatory art. The ideology pushing things in this direction is completely incoherent, because it really is just built on visceral feelings. Look at the above excerpt: Clarke’s notes claims that 1) trans people did read this story beforehand, and therefore (by implication) must have been okay-enough with it that he was confident enough to publish it; and 2) that he (reluctantly) now thinks he should have noted the author was trans.

So: Do trans voices matter or not? Do trans opinions matter or not? Which ones? What about when they disagree? If I read the exact same fictional text once with the belief it was written by a cisgender person, and then again with the believe it was written by a transgender person, should my interpretation of it differ wildly?

Of course, in the long run this only punishes the bravest and most creative people. Neil Clarke will not feel any compunction about running the next Clarkesworld story about cyborgs and aliens and pew-pew-pew space battles. No. But he will think extra long and extra hard about publishing anything with even the faintest whiff of genuine thematic danger do it, anything that actually touches on the jagged edges of real human life. Which is too bad, because danger is an absolutely vital component of some of the best, most memorable art.

It’s too bad so many people in different areas of fiction publishing are cowards, opportunists, or both. It would be better if they could get a bit more organized and stand up for the creative values that should be underpinning this whole “writing and editing and publishing fiction” thing. Instead, over and over and over, gatekeepers are caving to loud, angry, thoughtless people who often haven’t read the stuff they’re criticizing, and who don’t actually care about art at all. They just want their own fragile beliefs stroked at every turn, which is poison to genuine creativity. Neil Clarke had an opportunity, and like so many others, he failed; like so many others, he empowered people at whom he should have been flipping a middle finger.

He also links to the original short story.  I didn’t read the whole thing, but… its good!!  And its good whether the author is trans, cis, white, black, or Australian Aborigine.  It’s just good!

5) I liked this from Jordan Ellenberg, “Want kids to learn math? Level with them that it’s hard.: It’s only easy once you’ve mastered the concepts. Telling students otherwise can backfire.”

These questions are vexed, but I’ve got one suggestion for how we can improve. We can tell students that math is very, very hard.

It’s the truth. The techniques of algebra, geometry and calculus were hard to create, and they’re hard to learn. But saying so forthrightly doesn’t come naturally to a lot of teachers — or to commenters on education. “Math Is Not Hard: A Simple Method That Is Changing The World,” reads a headline in HuffPost, extolling an approach that aims to help ease kids into the subject. I embraced rhetoric like this when I was an apprentice college instructor. I was constantly telling students, at the outset of a computation, “Now this is pretty simple” — encouraging them, or so I thought. My mentor, the master teacher Robin Gottlieb, now a professor at Harvard, set me straight. When we say a lesson is “easy” or “simple,” and it manifestly isn’t, we are telling students that the difficulty isn’t with the mathematics, it’s with them. And they will believe us. They won’t think, “I’ve been lied to,” they’ll think, “I’m dumb and I should quit.”

This applies to parents, too. I’ve been teaching math for two decades, and I still find myself telling my kids that a math concept they’re struggling with is “not that hard.” That’s not encouragement — that’s evidence of my frustration with watching them struggle, and it’s not part of teaching.  

6) Jesse Singal again, “What the media gets wrong on gender reassignment: The media is guilty of gross negligence on gender reassignment reporting.”  TL;DR Gender reassignment, especially among adolescents, is complex and complicated.  The media do the public no favors by just bowing to angry and loud ideology that pretends it’s not.

7) Ezra, “The Rest of the World Is Worried About America”

This weekend, American skies will be aflame with fireworks celebrating our legacy of freedom and democracy, even as Republican legislature after Republican legislature constricts the franchise and national Republicans have filibustered the expansive For The People Act. It will be a strange spectacle.

It is hard to view your own country objectively. There is too much cant and myth, too many stories and rituals. So over the past week, I’ve been asking foreign scholars of democracy how the fights over the American political system look to them. These conversations have been, for the most part, grim.

“I’m positive that American democracy is not what Americans think it is,” David Altman, a political scientist in Chile, told me. “There is a cognitive dissonance between what American citizens believe their institutions are and what they actually are.”

“The thing that makes me really worried is how similar what’s going on in the U.S. looks to a series of countries in the world where democracy has really taken a big toll and, in many cases, died,” Staffan Lindberg, a Swedish political scientist who directs the Varieties of Democracy Institute, said. “I’m talking about countries like Hungary under Orban, Turkey in the early days of Erdogan’s rule, Modi in India, and I can go down the line.”

Perhaps perversely, I was cheered by Lindberg’s list. America defies those examples in a consequential, and often ignored, way. In most cases of democratic collapse, a dominant party deploys its power and popularity to tighten its control. But there is more possibility in America than that. Democrats have a slim governing majority, at least nationally, and they are not fighting for the status quo. Even Senator Joe Manchin’s compromise proposal — to ban partisan gerrymandering, pass automatic voter registration, ensure 15 days of early voting, reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act and make Election Day a holiday, to name just a few provisions — would be a striking expansion of American democracy, bigger by far than anything passed since the 1960s.

8) Marty Makary in the Post, “Los Angeles’s masking guidance is not only excessive. It undermines vaccination efforts.”  I found this part about testing most compelling:

One factor driving the fearmongering is that public health officials are staring at case numbers on their computers, oblivious to our new over-testing problem that is inflating case numbers. Specifically, the United States and Britain are routinely testing vaccinated people who are asymptomatic. This is ignoring CDC guidelines that say fully vaccinated people who have no symptoms do not need to get tested. This is based on the recognition that immune people who are asymptomatic might have a detectable virus particle in their nose, but it does not represent a transmission risk and does not cause illness.

9) Interesting perspective, “Conspiracy theories are a mental health crisis: No one’s talking about the complex relationship between disinformation and mental health. That changes now.”

Studies have shown that conspiracy theories appeal to people with unmet psychological needs. They crave knowledge, desire safety and security, and need to maintain positive self-esteem. Conspiracy theories, which may sometimes be true, help explain the unknown, giving people a deep sense of satisfaction. That relief, however, can be temporary. Past research shows conspiracy theories are associated with anxietysocial isolation, and negative emotions. Now a new wave of research conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests a plausible connection between uncertainty, anxiety, and depression and an increased likelihood of believing conspiracy theories.

Perhaps with so much beyond understanding, people looked for answers wherever such revelations might be found. Insight was plentiful on YouTubeFacebookTelegramTwitter, and other media platforms where grifters, hucksters, and conspiracy theorists peddled the truth as they saw it to people who wanted what few could offer: certainty. That confidence became an antidote to the misery of not knowing what might come next.

10) Frank Bruni:

Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president in American history. You would think that the church’s leaders in the United States would look kindly and proudly on him.

You would be wrong. They’re going farther out of their way to admonish him than they ever did to reprimand Donald Trump.

As you probably know, Roman Catholic bishops in the United States have taken steps toward possibly denying communion to Biden, who pays them the compliment of regular attendance at Mass. His sin? Support for abortion rights.

That support indeed contradicts Catholic teaching. The bishops have every right to be displeased with and even heartsick over it and to make those feelings known. I respect their principles in this regard, just as I respect the principles of the tens of millions of Americans who oppose abortion rights. Although I am passionately pro-choice, I understand how if you believe to your core that human life begins at conception, you cannot easily let the matter of abortion go.

 

In an astute essay in The Week, Peter Weber noted the extreme harshness of the punishment for Biden that bishops are proposing, writing: “Deploying what amounts to the Catholic nuclear option only on abortion signals that abortion is the only issue the Catholic Church really cares about.”

An abortion monomania is the only explanation for why Biden is coming in for greater condemnation than Trump received. For many Catholic leaders as well as many leaders of other Christian denominations, Trump’s promotion of anti-abortion judges and measures often served as a get-out-of-jail-free card — and it shouldn’t have.

I concede that Trump isn’t Catholic and that he wasn’t going to Catholic services (or, on a regular basis, to any worship services whatsoever). Catholic leaders had less cause in that sense to weigh in on his degree of adherence to their strictures.

But they purport to care about the welfare of all humanity. That’s kind of their raison d’être. Along those lines, they had ample invitation to upbraid Trump.

 

Pope Francis gets it. He understands that his church and its followers shouldn’t be reduced to any one issue. Indeed, the Vatican tried to nudge the American bishops away from this course and has conspicuously not endorsed it. The bishops are marching to the beat of their own pious drummer. They no doubt consider themselves brave. Arrogant is as apt a descriptor.

Foolish, too. They’re not going to change Biden’s mind about abortion. And the sternness that they’re projecting — the imperiousness — makes it less likely that they’ll change anyone else’s.

That imperiousness is what Francis has been striving to move the church away from. He’s trying to put a friendlier, more accessible face on its hierarchy. He’s trying to modernize its image. He knows that you can’t preach to people effectively if your voice and your language feel utterly alien to them.

And you can’t win them over if your animating impulse is a punitive rather than exalting one.

11) Drum, “Liberals Need To Have the Courage to Call Out Our Own Nutcases”

On the left, which is what I care about, this is a big issue, and it’s a big issue for one specific reason: it scares off people who might vote for us. Go ahead and ask your moderate conservative friends why they’re afraid to vote for Democrats even though they admit that Trump has turned the Republican Party into a clown show. The answer is almost always going to be a litany of complaints about the most extreme progressive policies out there. They’re afraid Democrats want to spend another $6 trillion because one guy proposed it. They’re afraid Democrats want to open the border with Mexico because a small clique approves of it. They’re afraid Democrats want to get rid of the police because three or four people suggested it. They’re afraid Democrats want to pack the Supreme Court even though this is a distinctly limited view.

I could go on, but you get the idea. These kinds of things are killers for a party that wants to win more votes, but everyone is afraid to publicly denounce them hard and fast for fear of being branded racist/sexist/transphobic/etc. by a few extremists. And that’s all the opening that Fox News and others need to make it seem as if this stuff might really be the goal of mainstream liberals.

Mainstream liberals should not be afraid to make a distinction between proposals that are merely to our left and proposals that are batshit crazy. The former we can oppose in a normal way (and vice versa), but the latter should be swatted down with extreme prejudice. It doesn’t matter if the folks proposing the crazy ideas are white or Black, young or old, or men or women. Have the guts to call them nutcases if that’s what they are and to accept the inevitable accusations of racism, sexism, ageism, or whatever. Just tell the truth. If something is crazy, call it crazy.

After all, you want to win, don’t you?

12) This was really good.  I keep meaning to do this more with my wife. “The Most Effective Way to Thank Your Significant Other: One fact of long-term relationships is that humans often take their partner for granted. Think of gratitude as a buffer against that.”

It’s so simple that it can be easy to overlook: In the commotion of daily life, people forget to thank their partner for the myriad things they do. During the pandemic, significant others have made even more sacrifices, picked up the slack, or gone outside their comfort zone, putting plenty of romantic relationships through the wringer. Now could be the ideal moment to step back and reassess how you show gratitude for it all.

Yet when partners acknowledge and appreciate each other, it appears to create a protective effect, according to Barton’s research, that can help buffer couples from negative communication patterns such as being overly critical or conflict-avoidant. Even if couples struggle to communicate, their marital stability can be just as high as partners who navigate conflict well—as long as they maintain high levels of appreciation. In a 2015 study, Barton and a team of researchers found that showing gratitude for your spouse was highly linked to marital quality.

13) Generally not a big fan of Bari Weiss, but some of her anti-cancel culture/anti-woke takes are definitely on.  Like this guest post from Abigail Schrier about book banning to enforce a pro-trans orthodoxy.  Again, to be clear, I know, like, and respect multiple trans people and want them to be treated with decency and respect.  But, the idea that we cannot even be exposed to other ideas?

14) This seems… not great.  “Amazon destroying millions of items of unsold stock in one of its UK warehouses every year, ITV News investigation finds”

15) Drum’s take on the CRT controversy, “Critical Race Theory Is Just the Latest Hysteria About Black People From Fox News”

Out of nowhere, Fox News suddenly starts putting critical race theory in heavy rotation starting in March. Six weeks later, everyone else is following suit.

Among conservatives, this is nothing surprising. Fox News has built its brand since the beginning on stoking white fear of black (and brown) people. Conservatives have never objected to this—in fact, most of them won’t even admit it—so it’s perfectly natural that they’re along for the ride.

But there are also well-meaning moderates and liberals out there who have gotten on the “let’s hear them out” bandwagon. These are people who would insist that they aren’t influenced by right-wing agitprop, but they are. It goes like this: Fox keeps up the noise long enough; a few Republican legislatures propose performative laws to “ban CRT”; the mainstream media takes notice; and now we’re all talking about it.

But why? Are there a few schoolrooms where teachers have taken wokeness farther than they should? Sure. There are a couple of million schoolrooms in the United States and it would be shocking if there weren’t a few of them doing stupid stuff. Even if that number is a minuscule 0.1%, that’s 2,000 schoolrooms, more than enough to generate a couple of shocking stories per week.

But wait. How many schoolrooms are there who have taken wokeness to ridiculous levels? What’s that? You don’t know? And Fox News doesn’t know? Then knock off the crap until you do.

As long as you’re worried about this based solely on the highly orchestrated daily anecdotes of Fox News, you’re a sucker just like everyone else. This is the power of Fox News and you ignore it at your peril.

16) Jack Shafer, “Why Has Local News Collapsed? Blame Readers.”

So, why is local news collapsing, a trend spotted over the past two years by everybody from the New York Times to the Brookings Institution to the Harvard Business Review? The blame is often placed on rapacious publishers like Alden Global Capital or online advertising giants like Facebook and Google. Yes, they’ve contributed to local news’ declining fortunes, but the best explanation might be that publishers and editors have ignored the underlying cause. Despite all the impassioned calls from academics and journalists to salvage it, local news’ most vital constituency—readers—have withheld their affections.

In 2009, just as the apocalypse befell the newspaper industry but while local news was still in relative abundance, many readers gave it an apathetic shrug. A Pew Research Center survey from that year found that an astonishing 42 percent said they would miss their paper “not much” or “not at all” if it vanished. They said this even though 74 percent conceded that civic life would suffer “a lot” or “some” if their local newspaper died. Their apathy ultimately expressed itself in financial terms. Weekday newspaper circulation has dropped from about 55.8 million households to about 28.6 million in the past two decades. More than 2,000 newspapers have vanished since 2004 (most of them weeklies), creating what some call “news deserts.” And revenues have just about halved in the past decade, as has newsroom size, making it harder to report local news. Readers keep shrugging, too. A more recent Pew survey (2018) found that only 14 percent of respondents had paid for local news in the previous year.

For all the praise directed at local news and the importance of preserving it, the dirty secret of today’s newspapers is that there’s not all that much local news coverage to save anymore. A 2018 Duke University study of 16,000 local news outlets (including broadcasters) in 100 communities deemed only about 17 percent of articles as truly local (i.e., they took place in or were about the local municipality), and just over half were hard news. Another 2018 finding by Pew revealed that only 16 percent of Americans get their news “often” from a newspaper, further lowering the status of the press. Another marker of how scarce local news has become: Last year, when Facebook went prospecting for local news to include in a new section called “Today In,” it found that one in three of its users lived in places where there wasn’t enough local news published to sustain the section. “New Jersey was the worst place for finding local news on Facebook, with 58 percent of users unable to do so on any day in the last month,” Recode reported. Maybe what the Pew respondents were really saying is you can’t miss what’s already gone.

Where did all the local news go? A couple of decades ago, publishers collected so much revenue that they invented new sections, including local news, to spend the loot. Many metro newspapers ran weekly sections about computers and tech, weekly TV program guides, free-standing business sections filled with page after page of stock prices, Sunday magazines, pull-out book review sections and weekly tabloids about suburban counties. The Washington Post once ran a weekly section called “Sunday Source,” designed to hook young readers, and column after column of police blotter in its “District Weekly” section. Newspapers were cash machines, even in regional markets like Buffalo, N.Y. In her book Ghosting the NewsWashington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan writes that her old paper, the Buffalo News, was once so flush that, for many years, “the News would send a million dollars a week” to its owner, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. But after the Internet destroyed the advertising moat that had protected newspaper revenues for more than a century, editors and publishers stripped down the old newspaper, including local sections, to a more basic package to cut costs.

For what it’s worth, I love all the state and local coverage I get nowhere else but the N&O.  I mean, everything you could possible want to know about the zebra cobra this week.

17) Science! “Immune Cells Are More Paranoid Than We Thought: Healthy birds watched their friends get sick with a bacterial disease. Their immune cells freaked out.”

18) Onion FTW:

The idea that she has to miss the Olympics over marijuana is just so profoundly stupid.

19) J&J vaccine seems to be holding up well against Delta.  That’s great news.  Everybody compares J&J to AZ since they are both adenovirus vector vaccines.  But AZ was the only major vaccine not to stabilize the prefusion form of the spike protein and that could well be responsible for their under-performance against certain variants.  I really feel like science types should be talking about that more.  

20) Terrific, terrific piece from Emily Bazelon.  Read it. “I Write About the Law. But Could I Really Help Free a Prisoner? For years as a journalist, I’ve covered attempts to exonerate incarcerated people. But a letter from Yutico Briley led to a different kind of story.”

Writing about legal issues for 25 years, I’ve been frustrated by a stubborn truth: When science exposes a weakness in how criminal cases are conducted or how a jury determines the truth, it takes a long time for the practice in police precincts and courtrooms to catch up with the expert consensus. Research points the way, for example, on how to conduct interrogations with less risk of eliciting false confessions. New findings upend previous certainty about the medical diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. Similar doubts emerge about the reliability of forensic analysis of a variety of physical evidence, including hair, fiber, bite marks, burn patterns and blood spatters. But many investigations and prosecutions grind on, impervious to the latest studies.

When science makes it harder to prove guilt, police officers, prosecutors and judges may see it as an impediment. They keep doing their jobs much as they always have.

As I read Briley’s case file alongside the research on eyewitness IDs, I thought I might have a story after all. It would be different from any I had written before, because of my own involvement, but I was starting to see Briley’s case as emblematic of something larger — of how flaws in the criminal-justice system can cascade, one after the next. The very ordinariness of his case was the story. Everyone can deflect responsibility, and someone like Briley can spend the rest of his life in prison.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Enjoyed Noah Smith‘s interview with Marc Andressen.  I don’t know if the advice is right, but it’s worth thinking about.

N.S.: If you could give some advice — career advice, or otherwise — to a smart 23-year-old American today, what would it be?

M.A.: Don’t follow your passion. Seriously. Don’t follow your passion. Your passion is likely more dumb and useless than anything else. Your passion should be your hobby, not your work. Do it in your spare time.

Instead, at work, seek to contribute. Find the hottest, most vibrant part of the economy you can and figure out how you can contribute best and most. Make yourself of value to the people around you, to your customers and coworkers, and try to increase that value every day.

It can sometimes feel that all the exciting things have already happened, that the frontier is closed, that we’re at the end of technological history and there’s nothing left to do but maintain what already exists. This is just a failure of imagination. In fact, the opposite is true. We’re surrounding by rotting incumbents that will all

2) National Geographic on Delta:

Why is the Delta variant so scary?

Freely circulating viruses, especially coronaviruses and influenza viruses, which encode their genetic instructions using the molecule RNA, mutate frequently and randomly due to copying errors introduced as they replicate in their human host cells. Some mutations enable the virus to evade antibodies; some enhance its ability to infect a cell; others go unnoticed since they yield no benefits or can even weaken it.

The key to Delta’s success is the collection of mutations the variant has accumulated in the spike protein, which covers SARS-CoV-2 and gives the virus its signature crown-like appearance. These mutations have changed the spike, and, as a result, some of the existing antibodies may not bind as tightly or as often, explains Markus Hoffmann, an infectious disease biologist at the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Germany. Hoffman and others have shown that Delta and its closely related Kappa variant evade antibodies that were generated through previous infection and vaccinationSome synthetically produced antibody therapies, like Bamlanivimab, were unable to neutralize the Delta variant; but others such as Etesivimab, Casirivimab, and Imdevimab were still effective.

The Delta variant has mutations on the spike protein that alter how it interacts with the ACE2 receptor protein, which is found on the surface of lung and other human cells and is the portal to invade the cell. The mutation at location 452 of the spike protein, which is also present in some of the California variants, appears to make the virus more transmissible and helps it spread through the population, explains Mehul Suthar, an immunologist at the Emory Vaccine Center.

If a mutation gives a virus a fitness or reproductive advantage, that mutation tends to evolve independently around the world. Delta, its closely related variants, and the highly contagious Alpha variant all carry a mutation at position 681 of the spike protein, which is thought to be an evolutionary game changer that also makes it easier for SARS-CoV-2 to invade the host cell and spread. This mutation is fast becoming common in COVID-19 viruses around the globe.

“When you have all of these mutations, then you start seeing a difference in infectivity (of the virus),” says Ravindra Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, who has shown in an unpublished study how these variants can have a greater potential to cause disease.

3) I’m actually not at all sure it’s unreasonable to have slower mail service that’s more cost-effective for the USPS.  Pretty cool interactive feature to see how proposed changes will affect your Zip code.

4) Here’s some cool social science, “People tend to overestimate their romantic partner’s intelligence even more than their own”

People can estimate their own and their romantic partner’s intelligence (IQ) with some level of accuracy, which may facilitate the observation of assortative mating for IQ. However, the degree to which people may overestimate their own (IQ), as well as overestimate their romantic partner’s IQ, is less well established. In the current study, we investigated four outstanding issues in this area. First, in a sample of 218 couples, we examined the degree to which people overestimate their own and their partner’s IQ, on the basis of comparisons between self-estimated intelligence (SEI) and objectively measured IQ (Advanced Progressive Matrices). Secondly, we evaluated whether assortative mating for intelligence was driven principally by women (the males-compete/females choose model of sexual selection) or both women and men (the mutual mate model of sexual selection). Thirdly, we tested the hypothesis that assortative mating for intelligence may occur for both SEI and objective IQ. Finally, the possibility that degree of intellectual compatibility may relate positively to relationship satisfaction was examined. We found that people overestimated their own IQ (women and men ≈ 30 IQ points) and their partner’s IQ (women = 38 IQ points; men = 36 IQ points). Furthermore, both women and men predicted their partner’s IQ with some degree of accuracy (women: r = 0.30; men: r = 0.19). However, the numerical difference in the correlations was not found to be significant statistically. Finally, the degree of intellectual compatibility (objectively and subjectively assessed) failed to correlate significantly with relationship satisfaction for both sexes. It would appear that women and men participate in the process of mate selection, with respect to evaluating IQ, consistent with the mutual mate model of sexual selection. However, the personal benefits of intellectual compatibility seem less obvious.

How about that.  And here I’ve been thinking that one of the reasons my wife and I get along well is that she’s very smart.

5) I love Paul Campos on how slow the NBA has been to maximize the gains from the 3-point shot:

I was surprised that almost no one in that long thread noted that, while advanced analytics have hurt the aesthetics of baseball, they’ve been fantastic for the aesthetics of basketball, since it was analytics that finally convinced coaches that the three-point shot was being radically underemployed. These demonstrate that the expected point value of shots from three feet from the basket and 24 feet from the basket are pretty much the same).

Missed three-point attempts are also slightly more likely to produce offensive rebounds than missed two-pointers. All in all, the creation of the three-point shot should have immediately transformed the way the game was played. Again, this is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in which merit and success are defined and measured in the most straightforward way possible, unlike in most human endeavors.

So what happened? The answer is that for many years all the coaches in the most profitable and important basketball league in the world (basketball has become an extremely popular sport internationally over the past few decades) basically just ignored that the three-point shot even existed.

The statistics on this point are stunning: for most of the 1980s, NBA teams averaged two and three three-point shot attempts per game! What’s amazing about this is that, between long shots at the buzzer at the end of quarters and halves, and long jumpers beyond the arc forced by the expiration of the 24-second shot clock, I would have thought that teams would average more three-point attempts per game than that even if they literally never took a three-point shot as part of the normal flow of the offense.

What’s fair to say is that for the first decade of the three-point shot’s existence, the typical NBA team essentially never attempted any three-point shots as part of its standard offensive sets. This was just insane. It’s not as if there weren’t plenty of players in the league at the time who were more than capable of nailing an open 23-foot jump shot — the names Larry Bird and Dell Curry leap immediately to mind. Furthermore, the introduction of the three-point shot should have immediately produced a huge shift in the talent distribution of the players in the league, since a massive premium should have been put on being able to hit a long jump shot. (Imagine if the NFL suddenly decided that any touchdown scored from more than 25 yards out was worth nine points instead of six. What sort of premium would/should that suddenly put on speed receivers, big-armed QBs, lockdown corners etc?)…

Average number of three-point shots attempted by team per game:

1980: 2.0

1985: 3.3

1990: 7.1 (Still an absurdly low number)

1995: 13.2

2000: 14.9

2005: 16.8

2010: 18.1

2015: 24.1

2020: 34.6

The only reason this took so long is because of the incredibly deep-seated nature of fundamentally reactionary thinking among the relevant decision-making authorities, even though, again, the most straightforward possible metrics should have made it clear to them decades earlier that not structuring their rosters and offenses to take advantage of the three-point shot meant foregoing what would have been a massive competitive advantage against their similarly clueless and reactionary opponents.

6) I don’t know a lot about PsyPost, but when I checked it out, it seemed legit, so I did an email interview on some research.  The end result is, I think, a surprisingly good summary, “Mothers are not more likely than other women to demand action on guns”

When it comes to support for gun control policies, mothers are not significantly different than women without children, according to new research published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties. The findings indicate that parenthood doesn’t have a substantial impact on gun control views in the United States.

“I’ve always been interested in topics around gender and parenthood in American politics where I think, maybe, how a group or political dynamic is portrayed in the media may not actually reflect the underlying dynamic that well,” said study author Steven Greene (@HankGreene), a professor of political science at North Carolina State University.

“For example, 14 years ago, Laurel Elder and I co-wrote, ‘The Myth of “Security Moms” and “NASCAR Dads”: Parenthood, Political Stereotypes, and the 2004 Election.’ So much media and public attention around gun control has focused on moms (e.g., the Million Mom March) that we were anxious to explore this dynamic to see how much motherhood seemed to explain gun attitudes.

For their study, the researchers analyzed data collected by the Pew Research Center in March and April of 2017 as part of the organization’s nationally representative American Trends Panel.

The survey asked respondents to indicate whether they believed gun laws should be more or less strict. It also asked several questions related to gun ownership, such as support for allowing concealed carry in more places, preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns, banning assault weapons, and requiring background checks on all private gun sales.

In addition, the survey included several questions on gun policy relating to children, such as whether school officials should carry guns and whether stricter gun laws would reduce mass shootings.

 

The researchers had hypothesized that fatherhood would push men towards more conservative attitudes on gun control policies, while motherhood would push women towards more liberal attitudes. But after controlling for sociodemographic variables, there was little evidence that parenthood had much impact.

Mothers held more liberal views on guns control compared to the general population. But this appeared to be unrelated to motherhood. Women were more liberal than men in general on questions related to gun laws and regulations. But there was no evidence that mothers’ opinions on guns were more liberal compared to women without children. In fact, mothers were slightly more likely to support less restrictive gun laws.

“The big take-away is that moms are not uniquely liberal on guns,” Greene told PsyPost. “As with most issues across the American political spectrum, women are more liberal than men on gun policies, but there is nothing unique to being a mom that adds to more liberal gun attitudes. A focus from both the media and gun reform advocacy groups (e.g., Moms Demand Action on Guns) has clearly determined that this is a useful political/rhetorical framing, but it does not appear to reflect an underlying reality on gun attitudes beyond that which can simply be explained by gender.”

7) Dhruv Khullar on Delta in the New Yorker:

Earlier this year, scientists estimated that lineage B.1.1.7—the Alpha variant, first isolated in England—could be some sixty per cent more transmissible than the original version of sars-CoV-2. Now experts believe that the Delta variant is sixty per cent more transmissible than Alpha—making it far more contagious than the virus that tore through the world in 2020. It hasn’t yet been conclusively shown that Delta is more lethal, but early evidence from the U.K. suggests that, compared to Alpha, it doubles the risk of a person’s being hospitalized. Even if the variant turns out to be no deadlier within any one person, its greater transmissibility means that it can inflict far more damage across a population, depending on how many people remain unvaccinated when it strikes.

In this regard, India’s apocalyptic surge is Exhibit A. In May, at the crest of the wave, the role of the Delta variant was still unclear. A number of factors—the return of large gatherings, a decline in mask-wearing, and a sluggish vaccination campaign—had made a disaster of some kind more or less unavoidable. But it now seems likely that the rise of Delta accelerated the crisis into a shockingly rapid and widespread viral catastrophe. In the course of weeks, millions of people were infected and tens of thousands died; the country’s medical system buckled under the weight of a mutated virus. One of the most disturbing aspects of India’s surge was that many children fell ill. And yet there is currently no data to suggest that Delta causes severe illness in a greater proportion of kids; instead, it seems likely that the sheer transmissibility of the variant simply resulted in a higher absolute number of infected children.

One vitally important finding to emerge from the U.K. and India is that the covid vaccines are still spectacularly effective against Delta. According to one study from the U.K., a full course of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is ninety-six per cent effective at preventing hospitalizations due to the Delta variant; AstraZeneca’s vaccine is in the same ballpark, reducing the chance of hospitalization by ninety-two per cent. But these findings come with caveats. The first is that, with Delta, partial immunization appears to be less effective at preventing disease: a different study found that, for people who have received only the first shot, the vaccines were just thirty-three per cent effective at preventing symptomatic illness. (A first dose still appears to offer strong protection against hospitalization or death.) The second is that even full courses of the vaccines appear somewhat less effective at preventing infection from Delta. This may be especially true of the non-mRNA vaccines. A team of scientists in Scotland has found that both doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine reduced the chance of infection with Delta by just sixty per cent—a respectable showing, but less impressive than what the same vaccine offers against other strains of the virus. (The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine demonstrated seventy-nine per cent efficacy against Delta infection—a significant, but smaller, decrease.)

Taken together, these findings have led some experts to propose adjustments in vaccination strategy. Muge Cevik, an infectious-diseases expert at St. Andrews University and an adviser to the British government, told me that, given the arrival of Delta, it was important to ask “what our main aim of vaccination is.” She went on, “If our primary objective is to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, a first dose still gives very good protection. If it’s to stamp out transmission, then the second dose becomes quite important. I think that, especially in hot spots, we need to expedite second shots.” Others have proposed the idea of mRNA-vaccine booster shots for Americans who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which, like AstraZeneca’s, uses non-mRNA technology. The C.D.C.’s official guidelines tell Americans that “the best covid-19 vaccine is the first one that is available to you. Do not wait for a specific brand.” But that advice was minted when vaccine supply was constrained. The accumulated evidence has led many people to wonder whether the mRNA vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, are preferable to the one offered by Johnson & Johnson, and whether the Delta variant makes them even more so.

8) Quite liked this from Yasha Mounk, “The Perils of 180ism: Stop blindly opposing your adversaries. Stick to your values and think for yourself.”

180ism has three core components.

The first and most obvious is that the primary question most participants in public debate ask themselves is not “How do my values inform my views on this matter?” or “What is the evidence for what is being asserted?” Rather, it is “How do I demonstrate that I am a loyal member of my political tribe?” As it happens, the easiest way to do that is simple: Look for what the enemy says on any one issue and stake out the opposite position.

The second component is that public discourse becomes dangerously narrow when a lot of individuals with big platforms reflexively contradict whatever their adversaries say. Complex questions that should, in principle, allow for a large number of different answers are then flattened into a simple referendum between diametrically opposed sides. 

The third component is that the dynamics of 180ism exert enormous pressure on anybody who does not behave as expected. If, unwilling to let the discourse shoehorn you into one of two sanctioned positions, you insist on giving a third answer, you are denounced as an attention-seeking contrarian. And if, following your long-held values or principles, you come up with an answer that your political adversary happens to agree with, you are denounced as a traitor. In a discourse dominated by 180ism, occasionally disagreeing with your friends—a sign that you are willing to think for yourself—is widely interpreted as proof of bad faith.


In many of the examples I have given, it is the left that is guilty of 180ism. So let me be abundantly clear: I do not believe that the two sides in America’s great political fight are morally equivalent. That is why I publicly and persistently advocated for the election of Joe Biden. Nor do I think that conservatives are any less susceptible to the sins of 180ism than progressives; the aversion to supporting anything that a prominent adversary happens to agree with is, almost certainly, even more pronounced on the right.

But that is no reason to soft-pedal just how bad the state of the discourse has now become on my own side. In fact, it is precisely because I myself have long been part of the left-wing tribe that I feel especially compelled to speak out when my ostensible allies are willing to throw their principles out of the window.

Part of the reason is instrumental. To succumb to 180ism is to define yourself, not by your own principles, but rather against your opponents. In other words, it is to let your political adversaries choose your values for you. And if the right is even a little shrewd—choosing their own positions in ways that force those who are stuck in the logic of 180ism to defend highly unpopular ideas and organizations—this will inflict serious harm on liberal values. It could even increase the chances that Donald Trump or one of his allies will return to the White House in 2024.

But an even deeper reason is moral, intellectual or, if you will, aesthetic. I work in left-leaning institutions, write for left-leaning publications, and live in a left-leaning milieu. How the people around me talk about things is especially important to me because I care about thinking through the complex challenges that face all of us in an intellectually honest way—and the only way to do that is as part of a community that encourages people to think for themselves.

The deepest reason to resist 180ism is, simply, that succumbing to it is a terrible way to think and live.

9) Rick Hasen, interviewed by Isaac Chotiner, on protecting elections and Congressional legislation:

If you were designing a bill for Congress to prevent the subversion of a future election, what would that bill include? And how has your answer changed or not changed since the wave of state laws we’ve seen in the last several months?

I think the best place to start is to differentiate between election subversion and voter suppression. We’ve been hearing for many years about voter suppression: things that make it harder for people to register and to vote, like the provision of the Georgia law that says you can’t give water to people waiting on line to vote. That’s a different concern than this idea of election subversion, which is trying to manipulate the rules for who counts the votes in a way that could allow for a partisan official to declare the loser as the winner. This was, for example, a concern when President Trump called the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, in the period after the election, to try to get him to “find” the 11,780 votes.

Much of what proposed federal legislation would do in both H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is aimed at stopping voter suppression. Stopping election subversion requires a different set of tools, and, ideally, you might want to have federal legislation that attacks both. But, if you’re focussing solely on election subversion, then I think there are a few important things to do. No. 1, require every state to hold elections using some form of a paper ballot. That provision is actually in H.R. 1—it’s a small part of a very large bill. But that standing alone is not only something that could get bipartisan support—it’s absolutely essential. Just imagine if in Georgia, in the period after the election, when Secretary of State Raffensperger ordered a hand recount of all the ballots, with the ability for the public to observe—if Georgia was using voting machines that didn’t use a piece of paper, then the conspiracy theories of the flipped votes would have had much more resonance.

No. 2, fixing the 1887 Electoral Count Act. That’s this arcane federal law that explains how Congress is supposed to count the Electoral College votes from each state. One of the provisions in there says you only need an objection from one senator and one representative in order to go into separate trial sessions to negotiate over whether or not Electoral College votes should be accepted or rejected. There should be a much higher threshold, and there should be a substantive standard for rejecting those votes, so we would not see something like a hundred and forty-seven members of Congress that voted to object to state Electoral College votes on January 6th. There are other things that could be done as well, such as requiring that there be some kind of court review or independent review of the standards that are used for declaring winners in elections, as well as various transparency requirements in dealing with election administration, so that people can go to court if there is a problem with the fairness of how the election is conducted…

In the raft of voting legislation that we’ve seen in the past few months, what has most concerned you in terms of voter suppression, and what has most concerned you in terms of subversion?

 

There was, first of all, an expected tightening of the rules that allow people to easily cast a ballot, especially by mail. Requiring that Georgia voters provide certain identification information when they vote by mail is new. There was a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that said over two hundred and seventy thousand voters would not be able to vote by mail with that requirement. In some instances, such as in Iowa, there’s been a criminalization of attempts by local election administrators to try to allow for the expansion of voting opportunities, such as in sending absentee-ballot applications to voters. That’s not something that should be criminalized. We’re seeing, in a number of bills, attempts to make the job of local election administrators even harder and dissuade people even more from becoming election administrators.

In terms of election subversion, the biggest concern I have right now is what happened in Georgia, where as punishment for Raffensperger standing up to Trump, the secretary of state has been taken out of any authority as to how the state election board does its job, to be replaced by someone handpicked by the Republican legislature. This board now has the power to do temporary takeovers of up to four counties. You could easily imagine the state boards taking over how the election is run in heavily Democratic Fulton County, and then imposing rules or messing with election counts in ways that could affect the outcome in the now very purple state of Georgia.

10) Drum on the increased murder rate:

Here is the fundamental mystery of crime in the US over the past year:

As you might guess, the murder rate and the overall violent crime rate usually rise and fall in tandem. But in 2020, they suddenly diverged by an enormous amount: Compared to 2019, violent crime rose 3.3% while the murder rate went up 25%.

If you’re interested in the murder rate beyond partisan talking points, this is what you need to explain. What could account for a huge increase in homicides but not in violent crime more generally? Police presence seems an unlikely explanation. Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of murder, which is usually committed against someone you know.

In any case, this is what needs explaining. But be careful. This is trickier than it looks.

11) It was actually kind of depressing to see this take from a scientist and a historian just completely riddled with logical fallacies.  Support trans people.  Respect them.  But don’t make really bad arguments in service of that, “Attacks on trans people are also attacks on science itself.”  I’ll just give one example; this is a complicated issue and this rhetorical sophistry in no way does it justice:

The false premise behind them is that if transgender girls are allowed to compete on girls’ sports teams, then cisgender girls (whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth) won’t be able to win. Experience in California shows that this is not true. In 2013, the state passed a law that protects the rights of transgender students to participate in sports teams that match their gender identity. Los Angeles teacher and retired basketball coach Larry Strauss wrote that he has seen and heard of no problems with implementing the policy, and trans athletes are not dominating girls’ sports leagues. Similarly, when The Associated Press asked Republican legislators who introduced these bills to name a single transgender athlete in their state, most could not. This just doesn’t seem to be a real issue.

12) Okay, now this is nuts and definitely cancel-culture-adjacent, “‘I am appalled’: Billie Eilish apologises for mouthing apparent racist slur in resurfaced five-year-old clip: 
Singer says she was unaware of the meaning of the offensive word at the time, did not mean to cause offence, and the prospect of causing people hurt ‘absolutely breaks my heart’”  She was 14!!

13) Definitely a lot of truth to this, “The TV hit isn’t just dying — it may already be dead: Astute observers of television say the idea of a unifying show on even a modest scale is gone. In its wake are a hundred Twitter niches — and a dangerous lack of common culture.”  That said, although I may not be able to talk Mare of Easttown with my Food Lion cashier (hey, there’s always sports!), among the people I actually socialize with, there’s still substantial overlap in common viewing.

14) This is kind of wild, “Sharks Almost Went the Way of the Dinosaurs 19 Million Years Ago: Analysis of the fossil record shows a mysterious mass extinction that decimated the diversity of sharks in the world’s oceans, and they’ve never fully recovered.”

In 2015, Dr. Sibert received a box of mud spanning about 40 million years of history. The reddish clay, extracted from two sediment cores that had been drilled deep into the Pacific Ocean seafloor, contained fish teeth, shark denticles and other marine microfossils. Using a microscope and a very fine paintbrush, Dr. Sibert picked through the two sediments and counted the number of fossils in samples separated in time by several hundred thousand years.

About halfway through her data set, Dr. Sibert spotted an abrupt change in the fossil record. Nineteen million years ago, the ratio of shark denticles to fish teeth changed drastically: Samples older than that tended to contain roughly one denticle for every five fish teeth (a ratio of about 20 percent), but more recent samples had ratios closer to 1 percent. That meant that sharks suddenly became much less common, relative to fish, during an era known as the early Miocene, Dr. Sibert concluded.

Dr. Sibert and her collaborators, in an earlier study using the same data set, had also found that sharks declined in abundance by roughly 90 percent about 19 million years ago.

“We had a lot of them, and then we had almost none of them,” she said. “Basically the sharks almost completely disappear.”

15) This just seems so crazy to me, “Many People Have a Vivid ‘Mind’s Eye,’ While Others Have None at All: Scientists are finding new ways to probe two not-so-rare conditions to better understand the links between vision, perception and memory.”

Dr. Adam Zeman didn’t give much thought to the mind’s eye until he met someone who didn’t have one. In 2005, the British neurologist saw a patient who said that a minor surgical procedure had taken away his ability to conjure images.

Over the 16 years since that first patient, Dr. Zeman and his colleagues have heard from more than 12,000 people who say they don’t have any such mental camera. The scientists estimate that tens of millions of people share the condition, which they’ve named aphantasia, and millions more experience extraordinarily strong mental imagery, called hyperphantasia.

In their latest research, Dr. Zeman and his colleagues are gathering clues about how these two conditions arise through changes in the wiring of the brain that join the visual centers to other regions. And they’re beginning to explore how some of that circuitry may conjure other senses, such as sound, in the mind. Eventually, that research might even make it possible to strengthen the mind’s eye — or ear — with magnetic pulses.

“This is not a disorder as far as I can see,” said Dr. Zeman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Exeter in Britain. “It’s an intriguing variation in human experience.”

16) I love zoos and this is one of those things I really just want to argue against.  But it’s probably right.  “Modern Zoos Are Not Worth the Moral Cost”

Quick hits (part I)

0) Sorry to disappoint you last weekend.  Was off spending time with my non-nuclear family for the first time since the pandemic and it was wonderful.  Hooray for vaccines!! (And cheap rapid tests for my unvaccinated 10-year old).

1) Good points from Hans Noel on Joe Manchin that, as frustrating as he can be, always needs to be remembered:

Manchin has been the subject of particular ire, especially after his opinion article last weekend criticizing the voting-rights bill. But it should be possible for Democrats to hold two thoughts at once about the West Virginia politician: First, what he is doing is lamentable, damaging to the party’s goals. But second, his presence in the Senate is a gift to the Democratic Party. Having a Democratic senator in 2021 in a state like West Virginia — where neither Hillary Clinton nor Biden could crack 30 percent of the vote — is a remarkable bit of good fortune.

Had Manchin not won reelection in 2018, his seat would be held by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R). This is the Morrisey who joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit that sought to overturn the results in four states where Trump lost; so probably not, to put it mildly, someone whom Democrats could persuade to back the For the People Act. More importantly, all else remaining the same, had Morrisey won, Democrats would be in the minority in the Senate, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) would be setting the body’s agenda, as majority leader…

But perhaps West Virginia needn’t have chosen between Manchin and someone like Morrisey in the first place. What if Democrats ran and nominated someone more liberal, or at least more likely to vote with Democrats, in Manchin’s next primary?

Consider, however, that Manchin beat Morrisey with 49.6 percent of the vote to Morrisey’s 46.3. This in a state where Biden got 29.7 percent of the presidential vote in 2020 and the Democratic challenger to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) that same year got 27 percent. There’s no evidence that another Democrat could come anywhere close to Manchin’s electoral performance. (Sinema is a slightly different story, given that Biden won her state; Arizona could plausibly elect a more mainstream Democrat than her. However, the other senator from Arizona, Mark Kelly (D), has a voting record similar to Sinema’s.)

Despite Biden’s recent remark that Manchin and Sinema “vote more with my Republican friends” than with Democrats, that’s not true (as a Washington Post Fact Checker analysis explained): Both side with their party more often than they vote against it (although by not much). More importantly, they support Democrats for leadership positions. That leadership, in turn, helps shape the agenda. They aren’t the most loyal Democrats, but they’re more Democratic — obviously — than the Republicans who could replace them…

Manchin’s position is thus tricky. He needs to distance himself from a Democratic Party that has been slowly but steadily moving left — and not just on matters of race — for his entire political career. (Manchin is opposed to abortion, pro-gun rights and has broken with his party on environmental issues, banking regulation and many other issues.) But as politics has become more nationalized, that’s harder to do.

This poses a problem for Democrats, especially party leaders. They really want Manchin to back the party’s agenda, but they have little leverage to use against him. The party needs him and the seat he fills more than he needs them.

2) Scott Alexander has had a series of user-submitted book reviews.  And like his posts, they’re long.  But I’ve learned a lot.  I really appreciated this latest on Plagues and Peoples because it is literally the first book I remember reading in college (European History) and it was super eye-opening. 

3) You know me, I haven’t been getting into all that “scariant!” stuff.  But Ashish Jha is right, “The delta variant is a rising threat in the U.S. We have to redouble vaccination efforts.”  This delta variant is definitely no joke and areas with low vaccination rates may well pay the price.  

4) This newly approved Alzheimer’s drug story is kind of crazy.  At first I thought, “yeah, let’s just get this approved if it can help with this awful disease.”  But it’s far from clear it offers meaningful help with this awful disease.  The only thing we can know for sure is that it will make a lot of people really rich, likely at the expense of you, me, and all the other taxpayers and health consumers.  

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration overruled—to much criticism—its own scientific advisory committee and approved the Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. The agency made this decision despite thin evidence of the drug’s clinical efficacy and despite its serious side effects, including brain swelling and bleeding. As a result, a serious risk now exists that millions of people will be prescribed a drug that does more harm than good.

Less appreciated is how the drug’s approval could trigger hundreds of billions of dollars of new government spending, all without a vote in Congress or indeed any public debate over the drug’s value. Aduhelm’s manufacturer, Biogen, announced on Monday that it would price the drug at an average of $56,000 a year per patient, a figure that doesn’t include the additional imaging and scans needed to diagnose patients or to monitor them for serious side effects.

The federal government will bear the brunt of the new spending. The overwhelming majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are eligible for Medicare, the federally run insurance program for elderly and disabled Americans. If even one-third of the estimated 6 million people with Alzheimer’s in the United States receives the new treatment, health-care spending could swell by $112 billion annually…

The decision to approve Aduhelm is thus likely to increase the federal deficit, squeeze state budgets, and force additional costs onto seniors—all for a drug that may not work. Yet the FDA has no authority to consider the broader fiscal consequences of its decision. It focuses not on dollars and cents, but on safety and efficacy—and even on that metric, physicians widely criticized the decision.

This situation underscores a big problem in how we pay for drugs in the United States. In theory, one regulator’s decision about whether to approve a drug for sale could be entirely separate from another regulator’s decision of whether to spend public resources on it—and if so, how much. That’s how most countries do it. Here in the United States, however, a mix of legal constraints and political obstacles leaves the government little choice about whether to cover approved drugs. FDA approval and payment policies are tightly linked.

The big question now is whether Aduhelm finally breaks that link.

The reasons for the linkage between FDA approval and government spending go back to 1965, when Congress created Medicare. To overcome political opposition, as the program’s chief architect later explained, supporters had to “promise” that “there would be no real controls over hospitals and physicians.” That kind of deal might have seemed reasonable at the time, when health-care spending amounted to about 5 percent of GDP. Today, however, that figure stands at 17.7 percent.

Formally, Medicare won’t pay for medical care that is “not reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury.” In line with the original deal, however, Medicare denies only about 3 percent of claims that hospitals and physicians submit to it. The law is also ambiguous about whether Medicare can consider costs in deciding what to cover. Is a drug “not reasonable and necessary” because it’s too expensive for the clinical value it provides? Or is Medicare committed to paying for all medically necessary care, costs be damned? And is a drug “medically necessary” just because the FDA has approved it, even if a clinical benefit for the drug has not yet been demonstrated?

5) Really appreciated this feature in the NYT, “The 21 Best Comedies of the 21st Century”  Definitely pleased to see some of my very favorites like “Arrested Development” and “Bojack Horseman” on there.  And the little-appreciated, but absolutely brilliant, “The Comeback.”  I’m currently watching “Nathan for you” with my kids every other night after Jeopardy and find myself laughing out loud almost every show.

6) Meanwhile, I think this explains why I was disappointed in “Kim’s Convenience” after seeing that so many people love it.

In the second episode of the television show “Kim’s Convenience,” there’s a moment that has always stuck with Diane Paik.

Umma, the matriarch of the Kim family, arrives at the apartment of her son, Jung, carrying containers of kimbap.

It’s not a particularly pivotal scene, but it immediately brought Ms. Paik, 30, a senior social media manager for the men’s grooming company Harry’s, back to the many times her own parents drove 10 hours from their home in West Bloomfield, Mich., to her apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, always with their homemade kimchi in tow.

Bringing food is her mother’s love language, she said — an unspoken way that Korean parents show affection by ensuring that their children’s kitchens are stocked with home-cooked meals.

The scene resonated with her for another reason. “There is no explanation or embarrassment” about the food, Ms. Paik said. “It is not so much, ‘Hey, we are Korean and we are going to remind you all the time through all these ways we are Korean.’ It is just like, this is a family that happens to be Korean.”

“Kim’s Convenience,” a CBC Television sitcom based on a play of the same name about a Korean Canadian family who own a convenience store in Toronto, is not about food, per se. But the show stands apart for the way it has normalized Korean cuisine and culture throughout its five-season run. (The fifth and final season arrives on Netflix internationally on Wednesday.)

“It takes the foreignness and otherness out of Korean food,” said June Hur, 31, an author in Toronto. “It’s just food and people love it.” Seeing this on television “makes me proud of my heritage,” she added. “Before, I was not as much.”

All well and good, but not a lot in there about being funny.  In the half dozen or so episodes I watched, it was amusing, but, nothing anywhere like those shows in #5.

7) Gallup’s latest on gay marriage.  A couple of key charts:

Majority support among Republicans really tells you what you need to know.  

8) Very cool interactive feature at NYT, “How Do Animals Safely Cross a Highway? Take a Look.”

9) This interactive Washington Post photo essay on the mouse plague in Australia is stunning.  Seriously, just trust me and check it out. 

10) A couple weeks ago the twitter discourse for the day was about people who have never eaten a Big Mac.  Guilty!  I like McDonald’s plenty, but as a notoriously picky eater who accepts only ketchup on my burgers, no way am I ever getting near a Big Mac.  Yglesias disapproves of me:

As it’s a holiday, in lieu of a real post I am simply going to treat you to an extended complaint about a random New Yorker article titled “The Best Burger to Eat Right Now” about a place called Smashed NYC that sounds pretty tasty.

The lead of their story is about a menu item called the Big Schmacc which as you might imagine is designed to be a burger done in the style of a Big Mac, except upscale like you might get written up in the New Yorker. I have bolded a key sentence for effect.

A big part of what makes the Big Mac appealing in pictures,” a burger aficionado I know mused the other day, “is that the patties extend past the perimeter of the bun. But then you actually get one, and most of the time you can barely even see the patties.” We were sitting outside Smashed NYC, a new burger shop on the Lower East Side. He peeled back the black-and-white checkered wax paper folded around the Big Schmacc, a highlight of the menu. Two thin jagged-edged disks of deeply browned ground beef hung floppily over the limits of three halves of Martin’s “Big Marty’s” sesame roll; there was clear visual evidence, too, of sharp-cornered, barely melted slices of American cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, crinkle-cut pickle coins, and Creamsicle-colored Smash Sauce. “This is what it’s supposed to look like,” he explained, with the authority of a biologist.

I confess that I’ve never tried a Big Mac—because I’ve seen what it looks like in real life. (It’s better not to gaze directly upon the beef, which tends to take on a gray tone.) But I imagine that the Big Schmacc is also what the Big Mac—which McDonald’s introduced in the hope of attracting adult customers, and once advertised as “a meal disguised as a sandwich”—is supposed to taste like: a sandwich carefully layered to provide a uniform, balanced medley of charred, smoky fat, mellow cream, gentle tang, crunch, salt, and just a hint of sweetness in every bite. Unlike at McDonald’s, where the burgers are precooked and reheated, at Smashed your burger is made to order, pressed flat and seared on an extremely hot griddle until it becomes a marvel of the Maillard reaction, umami sparks flying as amino acids and reducing sugars collide, coalescing into a crunchy golden crust.

I don’t understand how you write this line in this story.

For starters: Who has never tried a Big Mac? If you’re a lifelong vegetarian — fine. Or if you’re just a profoundly incurious person — also fine, I guess. But you shouldn’t be so incurious. It’s a good idea to try things.

11) The power we give the Border Patrol well inside the US border is just nuts and it’s one of those awful things that just goes on and hardly anybody seems to know or care about.  Nice piece in Persuasion:

Senator Patrick Leahy has a distinctive license plate: a single digit “1” on Vermont tags. But, as he told a 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, neither that plate nor his driving seventy-five miles from the Canadian border stopped an immigration officer from pulling him over in his home state. “I asked the Border Patrol officer by what authority he was stopping me,” Leahy recounted. “He patted his gun and said that’s all the authority he needed.”

Recent debates about immigration have, understandably, focused on the plight of arrivals at the southern border. But Senator Leahy’s story offers a dramatic insight into an under-discussed element at the intersection of law enforcement and immigration control: the broad powers that allow federal authorities to conduct stops well beyond the border. 

At dozens of internal checkpoints across the country, Border Patrol agents stop and question passing motorists on their citizenship. Elsewhere, officers engage in roving traffic stops aimed at interdicting illegal immigration inside the United States. Agents at checkpoints require neither a warrant nor individualized suspicion to stop passing motorists and inquire about the occupants’ citizenship, or to inspect private lands within twenty-five miles of the border. Taken together, these “defense in depth” measures amount to an extraordinarily expansive law enforcement effort carried deep into the U.S. interior.

These powers long precede the current debate on immigration. And, after four years of an administration that sought to weaponize cruelty in border control and against the lives caught in its web, it can be tempting to focus on the acute situation at the southern border or the prospects for the Biden administration’s ambitious immigration reform proposal to Congress. But the current administration should have another, less-discussed target in its sights: ending U.S. Border Patrol’s sweeping powers to conduct warrantless stops, on citizens and non-citizens alike, miles from the U.S. border. 

12) Don’t know how I missed this before, but I’m all for my apples being picked by laser shooting robots.  Cool!  Also, preferably, Jazz, Braeburn, Suncrisp or Crimson Crisp.

13) Given the dramatically different financial stakes of men’s and women’s sports, I think the charges of rank sexism can be overblown, but damn if Leonhardt doesn’t make a compelling and disturbing case when it comes to NCAA non-revenue sports:

The Women’s College World Series, which began yesterday, is one of the most popular events in college sports.

It is an eight-team softball tournament held every year in Oklahoma City, and the games frequently sell out. The television audience on ESPN is substantial, too. In the most recent previous tournament, 1.8 million people watched the final game, substantially more than have watched recent championship games of college soccer, hockey or lacrosse — men’s or women’s.

The popularity of softball makes it a telling study in the different ways that the N.C.A.A. treats female and male athletes. In terms of fan interest, softball ranks near the top of college sports. It is well behind football and basketball, but ahead of almost every other sport.

Yet the N.C.A.A. treats softball as a second-class sport, many athletes and coaches say.

The stadium that hosts the championship tournament has no showers; players and coaches must instead shower at their hotels. Off days between games are rare, and some teams have to play twice on the same day, increasing injury risk. The N.C.A.A. prefers the condensed schedule to hold down hotel and meal costs, coaches have told Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman.

The men’s version of the College World Series — an eight-team baseball tournament held each year in Omaha — treats the players better. They have off days, as well as a golf outing, a free massage day and a celebratory dinner for coaches, players and dozens of guests, Molly Hensley-Clancy of The Washington Post reported.

The Oklahoma City softball stadium is also too small to hold all the fans who would like to attend, and many games sell out quickly. It has a capacity of about 13,000 (recently expanded from 9,000), compared with 24,000 for the baseball stadium in Omaha. “I think we could easily get 20,000, just like the men,” one longtime coach told The Post. “But we won’t get that chance.”…

Equity in sports can be a complicated topic, because men’s sports often draw larger crowds and television audiences. Officials who defend the differential treatment of female and male athletes — as executives at U.S. Soccer have — cite the revenue differences.

But the softball situation shows how incomplete those explanations are. The average television audience for the most recent softball World Series (1.05 million) was similar to that of the most recent college baseball World Series (1.13 million). And yet one sport’s players get showers, off days, massages and a festive dinner, while the others get doubleheaders and sweaty bus rides back to a hotel.

Jacquie Joseph, the longtime softball coach at Michigan State, has said that softball players are treated worse than women’s basketball players, who are in turn treated worse than men’s basketball players. “They’re the chosen ones,” Joseph said, referring to women’s basketball teams, “and they’re treated like afterthoughts. What’s lower than an afterthought? That’s us.”

I asked N.C.A.A. officials for a response, and they did not address any of the specific differences between the baseball and softball tournaments. In an emailed statement, Joni Comstock, the senior vice president of championships, said the N.C.A.A. was looking forward to “another exciting championship series.”

14) This is cool, “Send in the Bugs. The Michelangelos Need Cleaning.: Last fall, with the Medici Chapel in Florence operating on reduced hours because of Covid-19, scientists and restorers completed a secret experiment: They unleashed grime-eating bacteria on the artist’s masterpiece marbles.”

15) Yeah, Bari Weiss just goes looking for the worst cases of left-wing/woke nuttiness and then pretends its representative.  But, damn, this piece (in Weiss’ substack) from Katie Herzog!

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a recording of a talk called “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind.” It was delivered at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center by a New York-based psychiatrist as part of Grand Rounds, an ongoing program in which clinicians and others in the field lecture students and faculty. 

When I listened to the talk I considered the fact that it might be some sort of elaborate prank. But looking at the doctor’s social media, it seems completely genuine.

Here are some of the quotes from the lecture:

  • This is the cost of talking to white people at all. The cost of your own life, as they suck you dry. There are no good apples out there. White people make my blood boil. (Time stamp: 6:45)

  • I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body, and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step. Like I did the world a fucking favor.  (Time stamp: 7:17)

  • White people are out of their minds and they have been for a long time.  (Time stamp: 17:06)

  • We are now in a psychological predicament, because white people feel that we are bullying them when we bring up race. They feel that we should be thanking them for all that they have done for us. They are confused, and so are we. We keep forgetting that directly talking about race is a waste of our breath. We are asking a demented, violent predator who thinks that they are a saint or a superhero, to accept responsibility. It ain’t gonna happen. They have five holes in their brain. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. It’s just like sort of not a good idea. (Time stamp 17:13)

  • We need to remember that directly talking about race to white people is useless, because they are at the wrong level of conversation. Addressing racism assumes that white people can see and process what we are talking about. They can’t. That’s why they sound demented. They don’t even know they have a mask on. White people think it’s their actual face. We need to get to know the mask. (Time stamp 17:54)

Here’s the poster from the event. Among the “learning objectives” listed is: “understand how white people are psychologically dependent on black rage.”

16) The ACLU used to be awesome and used to stick up for free speech no matter what.  Now it’s just about making the left happy and that sucks.  

Its national and state staff members debate, often hotly, whether defense of speech conflicts with advocacy for a growing number of progressive causes, including voting rights, reparations, transgender rights and defunding the police.

Those debates mirror those of the larger culture, where a belief in the centrality of free speech to American democracy contends with ever more forceful progressive arguments that hate speech is a form of psychological and even physical violence. These conflicts are unsettling to many of the crusading lawyers who helped build the A.C.L.U.

 

“There are a lot of organizations fighting eloquently for racial justice and immigrant rights,” Mr. Glasser said. “But there’s only one A.C.L.U. that is a content-neutral defender of free speech. I fear we’re in danger of losing that.”

Founded a century ago, the A.C.L.U. took root in the defense of conscientious objectors to World War I and Americans accused of Communist sympathies after the Russian Revolution. Its lawyers made their bones by defending the free speech rights of labor organizers and civil rights activists, the Nation of Islam and the Ku Klux Klan. Their willingness to advocate for speech no matter how offensive was central to their shared identity.

One hears markedly less from the A.C.L.U. about free speech nowadays. Its annual reports from 2017 to 2019 highlight its role as a leader in the resistance against President Donald J. Trump. But the words “First Amendment” or “free speech” cannot be found. Nor do those reports mention colleges and universities, where the most volatile speech battles often play out.

17) Though I’m a pretty decent musician I never really learned all that much music theory.  But I find it pretty fascinating and have just been loving David Bennett’s YouTube videos on it.  Definitely relatedly, it’s got me listening to more classical music again.  For my money, I think Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 just might be the greatest classical composition ever (the fact that I could actually play some Rachmaninoff was always something I was quite proud of and was very rewarding at the time).  And this performance is amazing.  I’m listening as I type.  

18) Omar Wasow with perhaps the best take I’ve seen on CRT and the current right-wing freakout.

19) And Drum:

Out of nowhere, Fox News suddenly starts putting critical race theory in heavy rotation starting in March. Six weeks later, everyone else is following suit.

Among conservatives, this is nothing surprising. Fox News has built its brand since the beginning on stoking white fear of black (and brown) people. Conservatives have never objected to this—in fact, most of them won’t even admit it—so it’s perfectly natural that they’re along for the ride.

But there are also well-meaning moderates and liberals out there who have gotten on the “let’s hear them out” bandwagon. These are people who would insist that they aren’t influenced by right-wing agitprop, but they are. It goes like this: Fox keeps up the noise long enough; a few Republican legislatures propose performative laws to “ban CRT”; the mainstream media takes notice; and now we’re all talking about it.

But why? Are there a few schoolrooms where teachers have taken wokeness farther than they should? Sure. There are a couple of million schoolrooms in the United States and it would be shocking if there weren’t a few of them doing stupid stuff. Even if that number is a minuscule 0.1%, that’s 2,000 schoolrooms, more than enough to generate a couple of shocking stories per week.

But wait. How many schoolrooms are there who have taken wokeness to ridiculous levels? What’s that? You don’t know? And Fox News doesn’t know? Then knock off the crap until you do.

As long as you’re worried about this based solely on the highly orchestrated daily anecdotes of Fox News, you’re a sucker just like everyone else. This is the power of Fox News and you ignore it at your peril.

And for the record, I think a lot of CRT genuinely goes too far and that it’s larger approach has too often bled down into K-12 classrooms, but, this is still mostly just a right-wing moral panic.  

20) Also, Vox used to be so chock full of thoughtful journalism.  And it still actually has a fair amount.  But its reputation for thoughtful journalism is largely in tatters because it keeps beclowning itself with stuff like this.

21) Great piece from Leonhardt on kids, Covid, and delta.  The key point from Jha:

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) As a kid I was beyond fascinated by UFO’s and probably read dozens of books on them.  Long forgotten, but damn, if UFO’s aren’t all over the place and regularly in the NYT.  What a world!  “I’m a Physicist Who Searches for Aliens. U.F.O.s Don’t Impress Me.”

2) God I love science, “Sleep Evolved Before Brains. Hydras Are Living Proof: Some of nature’s simplest animals suggest that sleep evolved long before centralized nervous systems.”

THE HYDRA IS a simple creature. Less than half an inch long, its tubular body has a foot at one end and a mouth at the other. The foot clings to a surface underwater—a plant or a rock, perhaps—and the mouth, ringed with tentacles, ensnares passing water fleas. It does not have a brain, or even much of a nervous system.

And yet, new research shows, it sleeps. Studies by a team in South Korea and Japan showed that the hydra periodically drops into a rest state that meets the essential criteria for sleep.

But a counterpoint to this brain-centric view of sleep has emerged. Researchers have noticed that molecules produced by muscles and some other tissues outside the nervous system can regulate sleep. Sleep affects metabolism pervasively in the body, suggesting that its influence is not exclusively neurological. And a body of work that’s been growing quietly but consistently for decades has shown that simple organisms with less and less brain spend significant time doing something that looks a lot like sleep. Sometimes their behavior has been pigeonholed as only “sleeplike,” but as more details are uncovered, it has become less and less clear why that distinction is necessary.

It appears that simple creatures—including, now, the brainless hydra—can sleep. And the intriguing implication of that finding is that sleep’s original role, buried billions of years back in life’s history, may have been very different from the standard human conception of it. If sleep does not require a brain, then it may be a profoundly broader phenomenon than we supposed.

3) This is fascinating and I bet you can guess the answer before reading, “Exercise vs. Diet? What Children of the Amazon Can Teach Us About Weight Gain”

When children gain excess weight, the culprit is more likely to be eating too much than moving too little, according to a fascinating new study of children in Ecuador. The study compared the lifestyles, diets and body compositions of Amazonian children who live in rural, foraging communities with those of other Indigenous children living in nearby towns, and the results have implications for the rising rates of obesity in both children and adults worldwide.

The in-depth study found that the rural children, who run, play and forage for hours, are leaner and more active than their urban counterparts. But they do not burn more calories day-to-day, a surprising finding that implicates the urban children’s modernized diets in their weight gain. The findings also raise provocative questions about the interplay of physical activity and metabolism and why exercise helps so little with weight loss, not only in children but the rest of us, too.

The issue of childhood obesity is of pressing global interest, since the incidence keeps rising, including in communities where it once was uncommon. Researchers variously point to increasing childhood inactivity and junk food diets as drivers of youthful weight gain. But which of those concerns might be more important — inactivity or overeating — remains murky and matters, as obesity researchers point out, because we cannot effectively respond to a health crisis unless we know its causes.

That question drew the interest of Sam Urlacher, an assistant professor of anthropology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who for some time has been working among and studying the Shuar people. An Indigenous population in Amazonian Ecuador, the traditional Shuar live primarily by foraging, hunting, fishing and subsistence farming. Their days are hardscrabble and physically demanding, their diets heavy on bananas, plantains and similar starches, and their bodies slight. The Shuar, especially the children, are rarely overweight. They also are not often malnourished.

In Dr. Pontzer’s pioneering research with the Hadza, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, he found that, although the tribespeople moved frequently during the day, hunting, digging, dragging, carrying and cooking, they burned about the same number of total calories daily as much-more-sedentary Westerners.

Dr. Pontzer concluded that, during evolution, we humans must have developed an innate, unconscious ability to reallocate our body’s energy usage. If we burn lots of calories with, for instance, physical activity, we burn fewer with some other biological system, such as reproduction or immune responses. The result is that our average, daily energy expenditure remains within a narrow band of total calories, helpful for avoiding starvation among active hunter-gatherers, but disheartening for those of us in the modern world who find that more exercise does not equate to much, if any, weight loss. (Dr. Pontzer’s highly readable new book on this topic, “Burn,” will be published on March 2. )

So, exercise because it is great for your health.  But, to lose weight, you’re just going to have to cut the calories.

4) I know BB is a sucker for anything with CA and FL comparisons, “California mandated masks. Florida opened its restaurants. Did any of it matter? Which Covid-19 restrictions really worked — and which ones really didn’t?”

5) Give the often vastly different financial worlds for men’s versus women’s sports I think people sometimes focus to much on differences that can fairly easily be explained away by the finances involved.  But, Leonhardt compares College Softball and College Baseball and compellingly concludes that the NCAA is treating the women in a grossly unfair manner:

The Women’s College World Series, which began yesterday, is one of the most popular events in college sports.

It is an eight-team softball tournament held every year in Oklahoma City, and the games frequently sell out. The television audience on ESPN is substantial, too. In the most recent previous tournament, 1.8 million people watched the final game, substantially more than have watched recent championship games of college soccer, hockey or lacrosse — men’s or women’s.

The popularity of softball makes it a telling study in the different ways that the N.C.A.A. treats female and male athletes. In terms of fan interest, softball ranks near the top of college sports. It is well behind football and basketball, but ahead of almost every other sport.

Yet the N.C.A.A. treats softball as a second-class sport, many athletes and coaches say.

The stadium that hosts the championship tournament has no showers; players and coaches must instead shower at their hotels. Off days between games are rare, and some teams have to play twice on the same day, increasing injury risk. The N.C.A.A. prefers the condensed schedule to hold down hotel and meal costs, coaches have told Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman.

The men’s version of the College World Series — an eight-team baseball tournament held each year in Omaha — treats the players better. They have off days, as well as a golf outing, a free massage day and a celebratory dinner for coaches, players and dozens of guests, Molly Hensley-Clancy of The Washington Post reported.

The Oklahoma City softball stadium is also too small to hold all the fans who would like to attend, and many games sell out quickly. It has a capacity of about 13,000 (recently expanded from 9,000), compared with 24,000 for the baseball stadium in Omaha. “I think we could easily get 20,000, just like the men,” one longtime coach told The Post. “But we won’t get that chance.”…

Equity in sports can be a complicated topic, because men’s sports often draw larger crowds and television audiences. Officials who defend the differential treatment of female and male athletes — as executives at U.S. Soccer have — cite the revenue differences.

But the softball situation shows how incomplete those explanations are. The average television audience for the most recent softball World Series (1.05 million) was similar to that of the most recent college baseball World Series (1.13 million). And yet one sport’s players get showers, off days, massages and a festive dinner, while the others get doubleheaders and sweaty bus rides back to a hotel.

Personally, I find both baseball and softball boring as hell these days and cannot quite understand why so many people want to watch either, but hard to conclude anything other than rank sexism going on here.

5) And this was a really interesting discussion with the WNBA Commissioner on efforts to grow the sport.

6) Good stuff on the behavioral economics of vaccine lotteries:

But economists who know how to party see lotteries and other inducements in a whole different way. This will sound resoundingly dumb when I say it, but some people need reasons to justify their behaviors and make decisions. That idea is called “reason-based choice.” Vaccines are scarce in most of the world but widely available in the United States. If someone hasn’t gotten one yet, maybe they’re just an anti-vaxxer, in which case, a lottery ain’t gonna help. But different kinds of hesitancy are sensitive to different kinds of interventions. Some people—like in the Black community—have historical reasons to distrust the medical establishment, and that requires a different kind of outreach to fix. And some people, maybe they’re busy, or they procrastinate, or they’re worried about side effects, or they’re anywhere else on the spectrum of hesitancy. Some motivational change might, well, nudge them to get a shot.

So why not just give people a guaranteed reward, instead of one that almost certainly won’t hit? Maybe not a doughnut, but what about, say, $100? That’s a lot.

But it’s not enough. The problem is sort of the inverse of what the economists Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini meant when they wrote the article “A Fine Is a Price.” Their hypothesis says that if you charge people a penalty for bad behavior (for anything from coming late to pick up kids at daycare to, presumably, polluting waterways), that doesn’t deter them—people (and corporations) just factor the fine into their cost of doing business. The flip side is, if you give people a doughnut or $100 or 2,000 frequent-flier miles or a discounted $5 subscription to WIRED, that’s the value they assign to what they’re getting. And if that’s less, to them, than the value of getting vaccinated, it doesn’t work as a nudge. The needling isn’t worth the needle. It’s too low to overcome vaccine hesitancy—in theory.

(This idea is actually hard to study. Thaler says he and Katy Milkman, a behavior researcher at the Wharton School and author of How to Change, once thought about running an experiment to give some people $3 lottery tickets to induce them to get flu vaccines. “It would’ve been a nice thing to have done two years ago,” Thaler says. And proposals to give people $100 to get vaccines have run into trouble with university institutional review boards, the groups that monitor the treatment of human subjects in scientific research. One fundamental ethical tenet is that you’re not supposed to coerce or bribe people to participate.)

But when it comes to Covid vaccines, free beers haven’t moved numbers as well as the irrational but fabulous prizes. “Economists think there’s no such thing as a free beer,” Thaler says. “Real people think free beers are good.” But they think even a scant chance at $1 million is better.

In marketing, this overvaluing of the distant win is called “prospect theory”; in gaming terms, it’s an “extrinsic reward,” something fun or useful that’s not inherent to the act. “A fully rational economist from Chicago can’t figure out why people buy lottery tickets,” Monk says. “It’s the same thing happening here. The expected value that people assign to the potential to win $1 million is far higher than the cost to the state.”

7) Disturbing stuff from Brownstein:

Across these states and others, Republican legislators and governors have operated as if they were programming a prime-time lineup at Fox News. They have focused far less on the small-government, limited-spending, and anti-tax policies that once defined the GOP than on an array of hot-button social issues, such as abortion, guns, and limits on public protest, that reflect the cultural and racial priorities of Trump’s base…

The lurch right in Republican-controlled states extends to some economic issues: Nearly two dozen states, for instance, have rejected the increased unemployment benefits that congressional Democrats approved earlier this year in President Joe Biden’s stimulus plan. But the social and racially tinged issues that Trump moved to the center of GOP messaging have dominated legislative sessions in state after state. Among the issues advancing most broadly:..

GOP legislators appear to be operating more out of fear that Trump’s base of non-college-educated, rural, and evangelical white voters will punish them in primaries if they fail to pursue maximum confrontation against Democrats and liberal constituencies, particularly on issues revolving around culture and race. “Very few of the districts are competitive [in a general election], so all they are worried about is being primaried,” says John Geer, a political-science professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, one of the states that have advanced the most aggressive conservative agenda this year. Glenn Smith, a longtime Democratic operative in Texas, notes that the state’s militantly conservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has pushed legislators toward his priorities this year in part by persuading them that any moderation risks infuriating “an aggrieved Trump base who feels that the election was stolen from them, are fired up, and love the red meat on every issue.”

In earlier generations, when governors of both parties tended to position themselves as less partisan, business-oriented problem-solvers, the GOP chief executives in these states might have restrained their legislators from veering toward the ideological fringe or even forcing votes on polarizing social issues. But today, many governors appear to feel the same pressure of a possible primary challenge—and others, most notably Florida’s DeSantis, seem to be pursuing support from the Trump base for a possible 2024 presidential bid. (As if to spotlight that intention, DeSantis signed the bill barring transgender girls from school sports on June 1, the first day of LGBTQ Pride month, and he did so at a Christian private school.)

8) Really enjoyed Yglesias take on Ezra’s interview with Obama (which, of course, is also well worth your time):

Obama was clearly the more immigration-friendly candidate relative to Romney’s idea of “self-deportation.” But Obama was maintaining considerable distance between himself and immigration activists in order to reduce the distance between himself and Romney. After the failure of the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, Obama moved toward what became DAPA. But beyond that, activists increasingly persuaded rank-and-file members that all this stuff about border security was a failed effort to bargain with Republicans and not something they should embrace as an idea they actually believed in.

Choices have consequences

In most respects, I think I like the contemporary Democratic Party’s message better than I liked its 2012- or certainly 2008-vintage message.

But I am not a swing voter, and I don’t live in a swing state or even have representation in the United States Senate. What’s changed is that Democrats went from being an urban-based diverse party that nonetheless tried pretty hard to pander to the views of rural white people in hopes of getting the voters of the poorer and less-religious among them, to becoming a party that decided it would be unnecessary or immoral to pander like that.

But the Senate map (and to a lesser extent the Electoral College) makes it absolutely necessary to pander the views of rural white people. There is no other way to win. And I think a politics of “lose your majority forever when West Virginia, Ohio, and Montana go red in 2024” can’t possibly be a moral politics. The fact that the post-Obama Democrats are somewhat less successful with Black and Latino voters than Obama was should further call into question the logic of doctrinaire moralism about these tactical choices.

Mainly, though, even if you think I’m wrong, I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that choices have been made here. That, I think, is what Obama obscures when he talks about meeting people in small town V.F.W. halls and how the media has changed. He makes it sound like either it’s impossible for a Democrat to win in Iowa (the media has changed) or else it’s just a question of hustling more (gotta go to those V.F.W. meetings and talk to folks). But while the media climate and campaign tactics both matter, the fundamental fact is that Obama tried harder to mirror the views of secular rural white midwesterners.

And his campaign, knowing that pandering to low-income rural white people is not what comes most naturally to liberal professionals, imposed ruthless message discipline on the whole party. They decided what every surrogate who went on television was supposed to say, and they’d get really fucking pissed at you if you went off-script and talked about what you thought was important rather than what they thought would help them persuade swing voters in pivotal states. That sounds really tedious in a lot of ways. I bet a bunch of young, college-educated, city-dwelling staffers for the campaigns faced some eye-rolling from their young, college-educated, city-dwelling friends about some of their messaging choices. But while there’s more to politics than winning elections, there’s literally nothing you can achieve unless you win elections first.

9) Good stuff from one of the co-authors of the Emerging Democratic MajorityDemocrats Can’t Rely on Demographics Alone”

There are four lessons here. First, while the effects of rising diversity do indeed favor the Democrats, these effects are fairly modest in any given election and can easily be overwhelmed by shifts in voter preference against the Democrats among unfavorable demographic groups, such as white non-college voters.

Second, even among favorable demographic groups, the electoral benefit to the Democrats can be completely neutralized by shifts against the Democrats within a demographic group. This was the case with the Hispanic vote in Arizona and many other states in 2020.

Third, in states where demographic change is rapid, it is easy to mistake shifts toward the Democrats in a given election as indicators of these underlying demographic changes. But as we saw for Arizona and Texas in 2016 and Arizona and Georgia in 2020 (there are many other examples), their pro-Democrat shifts were, in fact, driven by white voters.

Finally, the long-range effects of rising diversity are also an all-else-equal proposition. While cycle-by-cycle voter preference shifts can be volatile and even out over time, sometimes they result in a long-term shift against a party like the Democrats—think of the move of white non-college voters toward the Republicans in the 2000s. This can cancel or even swamp the pro-Democratic effects of demographic change over a lengthy period. 

In short, demographics set the playing field, but they are not destiny unless all else remains equal. And all else almost never remains equal. Therein lies a challenge for the Democrats that the simple fact of rising racial diversity cannot solve.

10) Greg Sargent on Democrats and the politics of crime:

With crime rising in U.S. cities, Republicans are confident that they can win the midterms by tying it to Democrats and the “defund the police” movement. This, in turn, has prompted a mini-battle among liberals, with some warning against complacency about both the terrible underlying policy problem and the political threat it poses.

But something has been missing from that debate: a look at the strategic response of Democrats themselves. The party is elaborating an approach that defies easy characterization, and could, if successful, defuse GOP attacks and resolve tensions inside the Democratic coalition in a constructive way.

This response demonstrated success this week, when Melanie Stansbury won a special House election in New Mexico by 25 points. Her GOP challenger sought to make the race all about crime and supposed Democratic disdain for law enforcement.

“We believe that Melanie Stansbury created a template for how to respond,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told me. “Respond aggressively, and talk about what you support.”

This template is nuanced. It doesn’t constitute merely denouncing the excesses of “defund,” as some have called for. Instead, it combines a forthright declaration of the facts about what the candidate actually supports on policing with a refusal to retreat on discussing systemic racism…

The key here is that Democrats must forcefully describe what they are for with conviction, but this must entail describing both their actual positions on defunding the police and their continued support for racial justice and police reform.

11) Been hearing for years about a crisis in sperm counts.  Maybe, not so much of a crisis after all?

Now a group of interdisciplinary researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology contend that fears of an impending Spermageddon have been vastly overstated. In a study published in May in the journal Human Fertility, they re-evaluated the 2017 review and found that it relied on flawed assumptions and failed to consider alternate explanations for the apparent decline of sperm.

In an interview, Sarah Richardson, a Harvard scholar on gender and science and the senior author on the new study, called the conclusion of the 2017 review “an astonishing and terrifying claim that, were it to be true, would justify the apocalyptic tenor of some of the writing.” Fortunately, she and her co-authors argue, there is little evidence that this is the case.

Mostly, I’m now looking for opportunities to use the term “Spermageddon” 😉

12) Good stuff from Drum, “Democrats Need to Focus on Election Administration”

Republicans have been passing—or trying to pass—voter suppression laws with stunning frequency over the past few months. Most of the press attention has been focused on the simple stuff that restricts where and when people can vote, but most of these provisions aren’t really that important. The evidence suggests that even when you add them all up they aren’t likely to have a large effect on turnout.

What might have a large effect is the Republican effort to undermine the administration of elections. Donald Trump was hellbent on getting election administrators to recount the 2020 vote until they could figure out a way to declare him the winner, but they unanimously refused to do it. Now, Republicans are working to make sure that they can eject future election administrators who don’t play ball.

Yesterday’s letter from a hundred political scientists is clear about what’s happening:

Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations should Democrats win more votes.

Ron Brownstein writes that the Biden team agrees. They feel that they can overcome minor rules changes here and there without too much trouble, but not wholesale corruption in election administration:

The White House does see a risk in the possibility that Republicans—whether local election officials, GOP-controlled state legislatures, or a potential Republican majority in the U.S. House or Senate—will refuse to certify clear Democratic wins in the 2022 and 2024 elections. The senior Democrat told me, “Given how things have developed since January 6, if the situation is not brought under some control and this isn’t countered effectively, then I think there is a significant risk” that “Republican officials, unlike the ones we saw standing up to pressure in 2020, are going to decline to certify Democratic victories.” If Republicans hold the House, Senate, or both after the 2024 election, that could allow Congress to try to install a GOP president even if clear evidence exists that the Democrat won.

Democrats need to focus all their attention on this. Lots of people hear about the water bottle stuff or the voter ID rules and just shrug. It doesn’t strike them as all that big a deal. But they don’t know about the movement to allow Republican legislatures to remove election administrators and replace them with faithful party operatives. When they do hear about it, even many conservatives are outraged at the idea.

So forget all the other stuff. This is the real threat to democracy, and the public needs to be aware of it clearly.

13) Speaking of voting, Scott Lemieux, “Texas’ voting bill to support Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ will eventually pass. Blame the Supreme Court.: It used to be unconstitutional to target Black and brown communities with voter suppression efforts. Then the court ruled against the Voting Rights Act.”

14) Fun interview with Jordan Ellenberg, “Why So Many Pandemic Predictions Failed: The mathematician Jordan Ellenberg discusses how geometry explains the world.”

15) This is great (and disturbing) “The Endless Trap of American Parole: How can anyone rebuild their lives when they keep getting sent back to jail for the pettiest of reasons?”

Twenty-five years ago, there was a common saying among community supervision officers: “Trail ’em, nail ’em, jail ’em.” In other words, surveillance and apprehension. This has started to evolve, with an increased focus on behavioral change, treatment and services. “Parole has two objectives,” says Rita Shah, an associate professor of criminology at Eastern Michigan University. “To assist in the transition back to society and to ensure that you are no longer committing crimes.” In other words, reentry and supervision.

Community supervision rates fell by nearly a fifth over the past decade. Horowitz is clear: “I don’t want to paint a picture of a system that’s failing.” But America’s approach to parole is still plagued by problems. Horowitz says the number of people on supervision per capita remains historically high, up several hundred percent from 1980. National data also shows that between 30 and 40 percent of state prison admissions are for “technical violations,” i.e., failing to observe the conditions of supervision. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, 58.8 percent of California’s parole population went to prison for a technical violation. This could be a misdemeanor, like petty theft or a minor drug offense. But it could also include traveling more than 50 miles from one’s home without permission or entering a bar. Parolees have been sanctioned for infractions such as forgetting to return a steak knife to the kitchen after eating dinner in front of the living room TV; outside the kitchen, the knife is considered a weapon.

Horowitz says concerns about the parole system have largely “flown under the radar” but are gaining attention. It’s partly financial: Probation and parole revocations cost states over $9.3 billion annually; technical violations account for a third of that. Reformers are also pushing for change. Since 2010, 35 states have adopted recommendations of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership among Pew, the U.S. Department of Justice and state governments. JRI takes a data-driven approach to reforming sentencing policies; its recommendations have helped to lower both prison populations and supervision revocations in at least a handful of states.

We have to do so much better with helping people actually thrive and rebuild their lives outside prison– not set them up to fail.

16) Given that I follow dozens of journalists on twitter, the Emily Wilder story lit up my feed for a while.  What I hate is any organization giving into bad faith mobs.  And there’s so many bad faith mobs!  Not encouraging that the AP executive responsible is now at the Washington Post:

On May 18, the Associated Press reported on the arrest of an arson suspect over a Los Angeles wildfire: “The man detained Sunday near the fire zone was being treated for smoke inhalation, said Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas. He did not identify the suspect or offer details about the investigation.” At the foot of this classic AP story is a line that reads, “AP journalist Emily Wilder contributed to this report from Phoenix.“

Two days later, AP management dismissed Wilder from her job as a news associate at the AP. Had she botched her contribution to the arson-arrest story? Or had she botched her contribution to a May 7 report about an Idaho school shooting?

Nothing like that, as the media world now knows. The 22-year-old Wilder received her dismissal notice following a successful attempt by conservatives to promote outrage over her activist work while attending Stanford University, where she served as a leader of Students for Justice in Palestine. The episode points to two emerging facts of life in contemporary mainstream media — one, that editors at large news organizations quake when right-wing actors target their colleagues; and two, publishers’ concerns over ethical appearances and perceptions are reaching irrationality.

As part of her work for Students for Justice in Palestine, Wilder, a Jewish woman raised in an Orthodox community, helped organize a 2017 protest against Birthright Israel, a group that funds trips to Israel for young people of Jewish heritage. In a Facebook post promoting the protest, Wilder wrote that the event would coincide with a “fundraising gala with far-right, pro-Trump, naked mole rat-looking billionaire Shel Adelson,” according to the Washington Free Beacon. Adelson was a Birthright benefactor as well as a prominent GOP donor.

The story in the Washington Free Beacon fed off the work of the Stanford College Republicans, a group that found news value in Wilder’s accession to the AP in early May. A May 17 tweet, now pinned to the top of the group’s account, provided screenshots of Wilder’s collegiate activism…

According to Wilder’s dismissal letter, the rumblings from Stanford — and inquiries from the Washington Free Beacon, Fox News and others — prompted a deeper look into the AP rookie’s social media history. “As discussed, over the last few days some of your social media posts made prior to joining AP surfaced,” reads the dismissal letter. “Those posts prompted a review of your social media activity since you began with the AP, May 3, 2021. In that review, it was found that some tweets violated AP’s News Values and Principles.

Did the AP receive independent objections to Wilder’s tweets, or did it decide to scrutinize those tweets only after the Stanford College Republicans raised hell about her college days? (We asked the AP to clarify this point; Wilder tells the Erik Wemple Blog that she didn’t know whether “someone else raised concerns.”) AP managers found stuff like this when they ventured into Wilder’s feed:

17) Scott Alexander with a helluva post about Depression.  Well worth reading and thinking about.  

18) This is really, really upsetting and deserving of more coverage:

Just now (Friday night) the images are back, courtesy of news stories reporting on this.  

19) This is a terrific thread on the awesomeness of the vaccines and how they work.

Easy guns –> Police brutality

Here’s just an everyday story in America— thank God the sheriff’s deputy wasn’t killed:

A veteran Wake County sheriff’s deputy was shot with an AK-47 assault rifle Wednesday morning while serving an eviction notice at a Raleigh apartment complex, Sheriff Gerald Baker said.

Sgt. Ronald Waller underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon at WakeMed, Baker said at a news conference at the hospital. Waller, who was starting the “long road of recovery” Wednesday night, has worked for the sheriff’s office for over 20 years, agency spokesman Eric Curry said in an email update…

The shooting occurred on Torquay Crossing in the River Birch at Town Center Apartments on Old Wake Forest Road.

A suspect, Eddie Dewain Craig, 32, was taken into custody, Baker said. Craig was charged with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to kill, three counts of attempted murder, three counts of assault on a law enforcement officer with a firearm and assault With a dangerous weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, according to Raleigh police…

Waller approached a door at the apartment complex around 10:13 a.m. Wednesday to serve civil papers, according to Baker and Curry. Civil papers can include eviction notices or summonses to court.

“It is perhaps one of the most dangerous jobs that you are going to find in law enforcement,” Baker said. “You never know what’s going to be on the other side of that door when it opens.”

So, you are the police and one of your officers was just shot with a military assault rifle delivering a run-of-the-mill eviction notice.  That’s got to increase the incentive for the “dynamic entry” SWAT style assaults which lower the risk to officers while raising the risk to innocent bystanders and completely non-violent targets of warrants, notices, etc.  As long as we think it is completely fine in America for mentally ill people to own extremely dangerous weapons of war we’ll continue to have police officers needlessly maimed and killed in the line of duty and policing agencies over-reacting to this in ways that hurt communities and innocent people.  Want to ameliorate the cycle?  Let’s start with the damn guns.  

Are we drinking too much?

Yglesias had a really nice post on how increasing alcohol taxes is a very smart way to try and cut crime that I was planning to paste extensively from.  But, before I got the chance, Kate Julian with just the best piece I have ever read on alcohol in the latest issue of the Atlantic.  It tackles the relationship between humans and alcohol evolutionary, psychologically, sociologically, etc.  So much good stuff.  You totally should just read it. 

As somebody who is basically a non-drinker I found it particularly interesting on many levels.  As for the non-drinker part, as you know, I’m picky and more than anything I pretty much hate the taste of all but some mixed drinks.  And those are expensive (and I’m cheap– that’s why a substantial part of my lifetime drinking is open bars at weddings).  Also, on my personal cost/benefit, I’m already pretty uninhibited and rarely in need of additional social lubrication (my wife would surely argue I generally need more inhibition even when sober), so the benefits seem much smaller for me than the average person.  That said, full disclosure is that my wife and I started dating in significant part due to alcohol lowering inhibitions.  

Anyway, onto some of the good stuff:

What’s distinctly American about this story is not alcohol’s prominent place in our history (that’s true of many societies), but the zeal with which we’ve swung between extremes. Americans tend to drink in more dysfunctional ways than people in other societies, only to become judgmental about nearly any drinking at all. Again and again, an era of overindulgence begets an era of renunciation: Binge, abstain. Binge, abstain…

Right now we are lurching into another of our periodic crises over drinking, and both tendencies are on display at once. Since the turn of the millennium, alcohol consumption has risen steadily, in a reversal of its long decline throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Before the pandemic, some aspects of this shift seemed sort of fun, as long as you didn’t think about them too hard. In the 20th century, you might have been able to buy wine at the supermarket, but you couldn’t drink it in the supermarket. Now some grocery stores have wine bars, beer on tap, signs inviting you to “shop ’n’ sip,” and carts with cup holders.

And here’s the evolution part I found super-fascinating:

Why do we drink in the first place? By we, I mean Americans in 2021, but I also mean human beings for the past several millennia.

Let’s get this out of the way: Part of the answer is “Because it is fun.” Drinking releases endorphins, the natural opiates that are also triggered by, among other things, eating and sex. Another part of the answer is “Because we can.” Natural selection has endowed humans with the ability to drink most other mammals under the table. Many species have enzymes that break alcohol down and allow the body to excrete it, avoiding death by poisoning. But about 10 million years ago, a genetic mutation left our ancestors with a souped-up enzyme that increased alcohol metabolism 40-fold.

This mutation occurred around the time that a major climate disruption transformed the landscape of eastern Africa, eventually leading to widespread extinction. In the intervening scramble for food, the leading theory goes, our predecessors resorted to eating fermented fruit off the rain-forest floor. Those animals that liked the smell and taste of alcohol, and were good at metabolizing it, were rewarded with calories. In the evolutionary hunger games, the drunk apes beat the sober ones.

But even presuming that this story of natural selection is right, it doesn’t explain why, 10 million years later, I like wine so much. “It should puzzle us more than it does,” Edward Slingerland writes in his wide-ranging and provocative new book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, “that one of the greatest foci of human ingenuity and concentrated effort over the past millennia has been the problem of how to get drunk.” The damage done by alcohol is profound: impaired cognition and motor skills, belligerence, injury, and vulnerability to all sorts of predation in the short run; damaged livers and brains, dysfunction, addiction, and early death as years of heavy drinking pile up. As the importance of alcohol as a caloric stopgap diminished, why didn’t evolution eventually lead us away from drinking—say, by favoring genotypes associated with hating alcohol’s taste? That it didn’t suggests that alcohol’s harms were, over the long haul, outweighed by some serious advantages.

Versions of this idea have recently bubbled up at academic conferences and in scholarly journals and anthologies (largely to the credit of the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar). Drunk helpfully synthesizes the literature, then underlines its most radical implication: Humans aren’t merely built to get buzzed—getting buzzed helped humans build civilization. Slingerland is not unmindful of alcohol’s dark side, and his exploration of when and why its harms outweigh its benefits will unsettle some American drinkers. Still, he describes the book as “a holistic defense of alcohol.” And he announces, early on, that “it might actually be good for us to tie one on now and then.”

Alcohol is basically beneficial as a social drug.  As an individual drug… not so much:

But this rosy story about how alcohol made more friendships and advanced civilization comes with two enormous asterisks: All of that was before the advent of liquor, and before humans started regularly drinking alone…

Just as people were learning to love their gin and whiskey, more of them (especially in parts of Europe and North America) started drinking outside of family meals and social gatherings. As the Industrial Revolution raged, alcohol use became less leisurely. Drinking establishments suddenly started to feature the long counters that we associate with the word bar today, enabling people to drink on the go, rather than around a table with other drinkers. This short move across the barroom reflects a fairly dramatic break from tradition: According to anthropologists, in nearly every era and society, solitary drinking had been almost unheard‑of among humans.

The social context of drinking turns out to matter quite a lot to how alcohol affects us psychologically. Although we tend to think of alcohol as reducing anxiety, it doesn’t do so uniformly. As Michael Sayette, a leading alcohol researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, recently told me, if you packaged alcohol as an anti-anxiety serum and submitted it to the FDA, it would never be approved. He and his onetime graduate student Kasey Creswell, a Carnegie Mellon professor who studies solitary drinking, have come to believe that one key to understanding drinking’s uneven effects may be the presence of other people. Having combed through decades’ worth of literature, Creswell reports that in the rare experiments that have compared social and solitary alcohol use, drinking with others tends to spark joy and even euphoria, while drinking alone elicits neither—if anything, solo drinkers get more depressed as they drink.[emphasis mine]

Anyway, lots more good stuff.  Short version… if you are drinking reasonable amounts and you are doing so with other people, you’re fine.  If otherwise… maybe not.

And, as for the maybe not.  Alcohol is a huge contributor to crime.  My favorite criminologist–the late, great Mark Kleiman–wrote about this a lot and one of the reasons I love Yglesias on crime is that he’s heavily influenced by Kleiman, too.  One way to have less alcohol-influenced crime is higher alcohol taxes.  Yes, it’s really that simple.  Sure, easy for me the non-drinker to say, but if you told me that doubling the cost of my beloved Diet Dr Pepper would save lives and substantially reduce human suffering, I’d gladly pay up.  Anyway, onto Yglesias:

This is not particularly in the news, but I think one of the most underrated basic public policy points around is that the consumption of alcoholic beverages is a pretty serious public health problem.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a drink now and then, and I enjoyed more drinks more frequently when I was younger. A lot of people derive immense satisfaction out of alcohol as a complement to socializing or find winding down with a glass of wine at the end of the day to be incredibly relaxing.

But I don’t think we really have any kind of clear consensus on how to weigh everyday pleasures against public health concerns. About 40,000 people die each year from injuries inflicted by firearms, of which more than half are suicides. In some social circles in the United States, that’s seen as an acute crisis worthy of drastic political action to curtail the tide of violence. CDC stats say about 95,000 excess deaths each year can be attributed to alcohol abuse, of which about 10,000 are drunk driving fatalities. So looked at one way, booze is deadlier than guns. Looked at another way, gun murder is a more serious problem than drunk driving. Either way, to the extent that you’re inclined to see the gun situation as worth major legislative action, I think it’s certainly worth looking at alcohol as well. Indeed, scholars think that something like 40% of murders involves the use of alcohol, so the issues really are fairly comparable…

We tax alcohol in the United States, of course, but we’ve chosen to do it in a slightly odd way that treats beer, wine, and liquor differently.

As a side note, the favorable tax treatment of beer relative to liquor helps explain the rise of “hard seltzer.” You could combine vodka and carbonated water in a can, but that would be taxed as liquor. Eventually, people figured out a process for creating a flavorless malt liquor — “hard seltzer” — that is taxed like beer. But as you can see here courtesy of David Roodman, the big picture is that inflation has eroded the value of all of these taxes.

This is particularly significant because household income has also risen a lot since 1960. So the real value of the tax on beer and spirits has not only fallen considerably, but the affordability of paying the booze tax has surged over the generations…

When German Lopez made the case for a higher alcohol tax at Vox a few years ago, he noted that “if you care about gun violence, or car crashes, or the current drug overdose crisis, or HIV/AIDS, you should care about alcohol — because alcohol’s annual death toll is higher than deaths due to guns, cars, drug overdoses, or HIV/AIDS ever have been in a single year in America.”

With crime on the rise, I think it’s particularly important to note the role of alcohol in perpetuating violence.

“Take any dimension of the problem you like, except for source country violence,” the late crime scholar Mark Kleiman told the Washington Post in 2013. “All illegal drugs combined are to alcohol as the Mediterranean is to the Pacific.”

He explained that surveys of incarcerated people reveal that half the people in prison were drunk at the time they committed their offense. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they wouldn’t have committed the crime if they’d been sober. But we all know that drunkenness reduces inhibitions and time-horizons (that’s why it’s fun, right?), and uninhibited people who don’t think about long-term consequences commit more crimes…

A lot of people seem to be skeptical that higher alcohol taxes would have a meaningful impact on any alcohol-related problems.

Conveniently, not only is there a lot of research out there about this, but David Roodman reviewed it for the Open Philanthropy Project and, in many cases, did replications of the underlying studies. And the evidence is pretty clear that higher taxes mean less drinking…

Roodman’s view is that looking only at alcohol-related disease, “a 10 percent price increase would cut the death rate 9-25 percent,” saving several thousand lives per year.

Anyway, lots of interesting stuff all-around.  Short version: don’t drink alone and tax alcohol more.  

Small steps are steps

Good stuff (as pretty much always) from Leonhardt on crime and policing reform on the year anniversary of George Floyd.  Lots of good stuff, but, as you know, I’m an optimist and I find stuff like this chart very encouraring:

Sure some of it is very low-hanging fruit (i.e., neck restraints), but there’s movement and it’s all in the right direction.  And I think de-escalation and duty to intervene are both important and being widely adopted.  That’s good.  

Most of the states and cities passing these laws are run by Democrats, but not all. Kentucky, Indiana and Iowa have done so, too. At the federal level, the House has passed a bill named for Floyd that would limit police use of force and make it easier to prosecute officers for wrongdoing. The Senate has not passed any policing bill.

Christy Lopez of the Innovative Policing Program at Georgetown University calls the changes important but preliminary: “They’re really necessary first steps, but they’re also baby steps,” she said.
I’d consider them more toddler steps than baby steps.  But, they are steps and they are moving in the right direction. Policy change moves slowly.  If this is what we’ve got in a year, I’ll take it.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I meant to share this a while back– it’s so good.  Zeynep shares the insights of Whitney Robinson on meta-epistemology of epidemiology.  Basically goes through how she thinks about thinking about the pandemic, “How to reason when information is incomplete, uncertain and emotionally-fraught”

Principle 1. “Look to previous phenomena to know what questions to ask”

Principle 2. “Observed versus expected.” In other words, “Pay attention to unexpected data that has no natural constituency and to lack of data that are in high demand”…

Principle 3. “Beware of ‘sticky’ priors” 

2) Relatedly, loved this from Ellie Murray.  “I’m an epidemiologist. Here’s what I got wrong about covid.”  We should all do more of this.  For example, I put way too much stock in the potential value of therapeutics.  I have undoubtedly been more skeptical of findings that emphasize the role of children in transmission than those that suggest a small role.  Anyway, if you want to be a good thinker you should definitely be putting your own thinking under a skeptical focus. 

3) I really enjoyed Tim Harford’s The Data Detective.  In the last chapter, he talked about the power of curiousity and combating the “illusion of explanatory depth.”  I really love that idea.  Nice summary here:

If you asked one hundred people on the street if they understand how a refrigerator works, most would respond, yes, they do. But ask them to then produce a detailed, step-by-step explanation of how exactly a refrigerator works and you would likely hear silence or stammering. This powerful but inaccurate feeling of knowing is what Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil in 2002 termed, the illusion of explanatory depth (IOED), stating, “Most people feel they understand the world with far greater detail, coherence, and depth than they really do.”

Rozenblit and Keil initially demonstrated the IOED through multi-phase studies. In a first phase, they asked participants to rate how well they understood artifacts such as a sewing machine, crossbow, or cell phone. In a second phase, they asked participants to write a detailed explanation of how each artifact works, and afterwards asked them re-rate how well they understand each one. Study after study showed that ratings of self-knowledge dropped dramatically from phase one to phase two, after participants were faced with their inability to explain how the artifact in question operates. Of course, the IOED extends well beyond artifacts, to how we think about scientific fields, mental illnesses, economic markets and virtually anything we are capable of (mis)understanding.

At present, the IOED is profoundly pervasive given that we have infinite access to information, but consume information in a largely superficial fashion. A 2014 survey found that approximately six in ten Americans read news headlines and nothing more. Major geopolitical issues from civil wars in the Middle East to the latest climate change research advances are distilled into tweets, viral videos, memes, “explainer” websites, soundbites on comedy news shows, and daily e-newsletters that get inadvertently re-routed to the spam folder. We consume knowledge widely, but not deeply.

Understanding the IOED allows us to combat political extremism. In 2013, Philip Fernbach and colleagues demonstrated that the IOED underlies people’s policy positions on issues like single-payer health care, a national flat tax, and a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. As in Rozenbilt and Keil’s studies, Fernbach and colleagues first asked people to rate how well they understood these issues, and then asked them to explain how each issue works and subsequently re-rate their understanding of each issue. In addition, participants rated the extremity of their attitudes on these issues both before and after offering an explanation. Both self-reported understanding of the issue and attitude extremity dropped significantly after explaining the issue—people who strongly supported or opposed an issue became more moderate. What is more, reduced extremity also reduced willingness to donate money to a group advocating for the issue. These studies suggest the IOED is a powerful tool for cooling off heated political disagreements.

The IOED provides us much-needed humility. In any domain of knowledge, often the most ignorant are the most overconfident in their understanding of that domain. Justin Kruger and David Dunning famously showed that the lowest performers on tests of logical reasoning, grammar, and humor are most likely to overestimate their test scores. Only through gaining expertise in a topic do people recognize its complexity and calibrate their confidence accordingly. Having to explain a phenomenon forces us to confront this complexity and realize our ignorance. At a time where political polarization, income inequality, and urban-rural separation have deeply fractured us over social and economic issues, recognizing our only modest understanding of these issues is a first step to bridging these divides. 

I’m totally going to start having my students engage in this exercise of explaining things they think they understand.

4) Good stuff from PRRI on Republicans and the Big Lie.  This chart via main news source is not all the surprising, but still kind of amazing:

5) Good stuff from Zeynep on the Yankees outbreak:

So, yes, it does feel quite unusual for eight vaccinated people to test positive. That is almost certainly a cluster. Here’s what we know: it got detected after a coach, who had some mild symptoms but now no longer has any, tested positive. Then they found seven more people who tested positive, all of whom were completely asymptomatic. Here’s how the testing is done.

Everyone in the Yankees’ traveling party of 50 to 60 people is being tested three times a day using polymerase chain reaction, saliva and rapid tests. Thursday was the first day of no new positive test results since the outbreak began, Cashman said. “Maybe it’s slowing down,” he said.

For one thing, they should sequence these cases so we know if it was a variant or not, but the incident is still not a cause for worry. Here are some of the possibilities:

1-They are all positive because of a common source, likely a highly infectious individual. These people all got a bit of the virus, and the virus was able to replicate just enough to be picked up by PCR tests that are very sensitive and can pick up even very small amounts. They are testing people three times a day with PCR tests! They’ll pick up anything and everything, even the tiniest viral amount. The virus was obviously stopped in its tracks, so almost everyone is without symptoms. That sounds like a great outcome to me. 

A case of vaccine breakthrough is not the same thing as an unvaccinated or non-immune person catching COVID-19. Personally, if I had tested positive while unvaccinated, I’d be worried until it played out. Post-vaccination? For me, testing positive would be but a curiosity unworthy of my anxiety. There’s a reason that vaccine trials and real world data show so few severe cases, let alone hospitalizations or deaths. Post-vaccination, the virus would no no longer be able to surprise my immune system as a novel pathogen, and I’m not that worried whether it replicates just a bit in my nose before getting shut down.

The virus in the Yankees case might even have been a variant with some antibody evading features which gives the virus a bit more time to replicate (the mutations act like a disguise that slow down but don’t eliminate its eventual recognition) before the rest of the immune system shuts it down. None of the variants we have are in “disguises” (antibody evading mutations) that are 100% effective in hiding from the totality of the immune system, and it’s quite likely they never will get there. 

6) Really liked this, “Stop Deriding Liz Cheney: Demanding ideological purity among those who stand up to Trump is not a viable way to protect American democracy.”

Cheney deserves commendation for breaking with Trump and the GOP. The Republican Party’s refusal to accept the results of a free and fair election is an existential threat to our democracy. Defenders of liberal democracy of all political stripes should be applauding her honesty, courage, and refusal to bend the knee. 

But in the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and progressive publications besides, journalists have been attacking Cheney. They say that it’s too little too late, label her a warmonger, or complain that she’s just too conservative. 

These critiques might be fair to level in a different circumstance, but raising them now as a reason not to applaud Cheney for standing up to her party is foolish. For five years, progressives asked for conservatives to come out and condemn Trump. Yet when they do, these same voices condemn conservatives within the Republican Party’s ranks for the sin of remaining conservative. It is ludicrous, if not reckless, to claim that the threat to the republic is imminent, and then rebuff potential allies who don’t come from the same ideological club…

Cheney could have gone along with Trump’s lie and stayed in Republican leadership. By fighting back, she is potentially sacrificing a powerful future in the party. Her quick rise up the party ranks shows that she is savvy enough to have had a clear shot at becoming speaker of the House. She was a State Department official and a viable future candidate for secretary of state or defense. She may have even had a chance at winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and becoming the first female president of the United States. 

Instead, she chose to be cast into the political wilderness. This might have been why she waited so long to come out against Trump. To many of us, January 6 was the climax of Trump’s attacks on democracy. For Cheney, it was a wake-up call. But she finally woke up, and now she is sacrificing a potentially great future. That is worthy of admiration and praise, not scorn.

That is not to say that any progressive should become a Cheney superfan. Nor does it mean that Democrats should start agreeing with her on policy. It only means that they should welcome her efforts to preserve our liberal democracy and admire her courage.

As much as some progressives would like to do away with conservatism, America is going to have a conservative political faction with significant influence over a major party. We cannot afford to apply an ideological purity test, especially one that bans all conservatives, in our efforts to save liberalism in America. One can object to Cheney’s views on foreign policy, or even oppose conservatism altogether, and still see Cheney as a welcome addition to the fight against illiberalism…

Defenders of liberal democracy in America, on both the left and the right, should take the same approach. The main political divide is no longer between conservatives and progressives, but between liberals and illiberals. Demanding ideological purity among our liberal allies is not a viable way to protect American democracy.

7) This. “To prevent next pandemic, scientists say we must regulate air like food and water”

8) This story is totally bonkers and it was also basically a one-day story.  Amazing what we’re willing to just accept from all the corrupt criminals in the Trump administration, “Activists and Ex-Spy Said to Have Plotted to Discredit Trump ‘Enemies’ in Government: The campaign included planned operations against President Trump’s national security adviser at the time, H.R. McMaster, and F.B.I. employees, according to documents and interviews.”

9) Years ago I learned just how bad drug-sniffing dogs are from a paper from one of my students.  They are so bad at it! And yet, our whole criminal justice system treats them as if they are infallible.  Some dogs will basically just indicate, “yes, drugs here” every damn time you ask them.  And the way they test these dogs is some embarrassingly bad I expect many an elementary school student could explain it:

Don’t blame Karma. The police dog simply followed his training when he helped local agencies impound vehicles that sometimes belonged to innocent motorists in Republic, Washington, an old mining town near the Canadian border.

As a drug detection dog, Karma kept his nose down and treated every suspect the same. Public records show that from the time he arrived in Republic in January 2018 until his handler took a leave of absence to campaign for public office in 2020, Karma gave an “alert” indicating the presence of drugs 100 percent of the time during roadside sniffs outside vehicles.

Whether drivers actually possessed illegal narcotics made no difference. The government gained access to every vehicle that Karma ever sniffed. He essentially created automatic probable cause for searches and seizures, undercutting constitutional guarantees of due process.

Similar patterns abound nationwide, suggesting that Karma’s career was not unusual. Lex, a drug detection dog in Illinois, alerted for narcotics 93 percent of the time during roadside sniffs, but was wrong in more than 40 percent of cases. Sella, a drug detection dog in Florida, gave false alerts 53 percent of the time. Bono, a drug detection dog in Virginia, incorrectly indicated the presence of drugs 74 percent of the time…

False alerts, which create problems for people like Farris and Said, sometimes have nothing to do with a dog’s nose. Brain scientist Federico Rossano, who studies animal communication with humans at the University of California, San Diego, says dogs have an innate sense of loyalty that can override their sense of smell.

“The tendency of producing signals even when they detect nothing comes from the desire to please the human handler,” he says.

Essentially, intelligent animals pick up subtle cues from their handlers and respond. Rossano says the communication often occurs by accident without anyone being aware.

Clever Hans, a horse celebrated in the early 1900s for his math ability, provides the most prominent example. The proud owner truly believed that Hans could solve arithmetic problems, but skeptics later proved that the horse merely was responding to facial expressions and body language from his human companion.

A 2011 study from the University of California, Davis, shows how cues can influence drug detection dogs. When human handlers believed that narcotics were hidden in test areas, their canine partners were much more likely to indicate the presence of drugs—even when no drugs actually existed.

Police participants did not like the implications. But rather than using the findings to improve their training techniques, they denounced the study and refused further cooperation.

They preferred a 2014 study from Poland, which eliminated the potential for false positives. Rather than simulating real-world conditions, researchers ensured that every test included measurable quantities of narcotics.

Participating dogs had no opportunity to sniff drug-free vehicles and communicate a lack of odor. The only correct answer was an indication for drugs. Karma could have aced such a test simply by sitting down every time. He would have looked like a prodigy, but a broken dial stuck on “alert” would have achieved the same result.

10) Speaking of bad criminal justice practices… the death penalty really needs to go.  Yes, there are some people who actually “deserve” it, but not at the cost of the fact that we just keep putting innocent people on death row.  And maybe executing some innocent people. “4 Years After an Execution, a Different Man’s DNA Is Found on the Murder Weapon
Lawyers’ request to conduct additional DNA testing before Ledell Lee was executed had been denied.”

11) Really liked this on diversity “training” at universities:

At a time when trainings are proliferating across institutions of higher learning, people could be forgiven for confusing training with education. But they are vastly different and should be seen as such especially when it comes to issues of diversity. The purpose of education, bell hooks reminds us, is critical thinking. Requiring “courage and imagination,” the “heartbeat of critical thinking is the longing to know — to understand how life works.” With hooks’s words in mind, here are 10 ways to tell training and education apart.

  1. Training makes assumptions; education challenges them.
  2. Training is packaged; education cannot be contained.
  3. Training rewards compliance, education curiosity.
  4. Training is having to say something, education having something to say.
  5. Training tells you what to think; education teaches you how to think.
  6. Training answers questions; education poses them.
  7. Training is generic; education all about context.
  8. Training simplifies the world; education reveals its complexity.
  9. Training promotes conformity, education independence.
  10. Training is performative; education is transformative.

Training has its uses. It can even save lives. (See CPR above.) But training is woefully inadequate when it comes to confronting social problems such as poverty, discrimination and racism. These are long-standing, knotty and complex issues that defy ready-made solutions. Any serious effort to address them must start with education, a process for which there are no shortcuts.

Consider these two hypothetical examples of a college trying to deal with issues of race and diversity. The first is a prototypical training module; the second takes an educational approach.

In many trainings, you likely will be told that your racial identity defines who you are — and that participants will be divided into two main racial affinity groups, white and BIPOC. You will be informed that white people are oblivious to race, while BIPOC people see everything through a racial lens. You will be advised that white folks use “white talk,” which is “task-oriented” and “intellectual,” whereas people of color use “color commentary,” which is “process-oriented” and “emotional.”

It will be explained to you that traits like precision, individualism and objectivity are hallmarks of “white supremacy culture.” “White supremacy” will be defined as an ideology that maintains “white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions of white people are superior to people of color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions.” In order to reveal unconscious biases, you will be made to share the racial stereotypes you hold and then catalog the racial microaggressions you have perpetrated. Finally, you will be encouraged to make a public commitment to transforming your institution into a “fully inclusive antiracist multicultural organization.”

12) OMG, I really do “know” that we just cannot build our way out of traffic.  And I’ve read many studies like this.  But even still, it’s so hard not to just want more lanes. “Asphalt, Gridlock and Common Sense: It’s clear that adding lanes to urban expressways or building new ones doesn’t reduce congestion. Sometimes it makes things worse. So why do we keep doing it?”

Sometimes in government, the best-laid strategies of policymakers and consultants are much less rational than ordinary common sense. Nearly everyone in America believes, correctly, that workers shouldn’t be yoked to their employers for health insurance, even though we can’t seem to change that. Nearly all of us can see that our zoning laws are a hodgepodge of outdated rules that ban mixed uses in neighborhoods badly in need of them. I could make a much longer list.

Other times, however, what seems the most elementary common sense turns out to be wrong. Nothing looks more obvious to most people than the idea that when a highway is choked with traffic, the solution is to expand it or build another road nearby. It looks like plain common sense, but it doesn’t work. A whole slew of examples from recent history is sufficient to prove the point.

There is, to cite one clear case, the Interstate 405 freeway in Los Angeles. In the first decade of the new century, it was such a traffic-clogged mess that people would leave social engagements hours early with the excuse that they needed a head start on the 405. So it was widened in a five-year project ending in 2014 at a cost of $1.8 billion. The benefits? Not very many. Travel times actually increased once the project was finished, although rush hours shortened slightly…

FIASCOES LIKE THESE run into the reality of “induced demand,” the phenomenon that lures more vehicles and more congestion to a highway after it is expanded than were there before. The idea goes back to the 1960s, when the economist Anthony Downs promulgated what he called “the law of peak-hour expressway congestion.” “On urban commuter roads,” Downs argued, “peak-hour congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.” Traffic planners, especially those in state highway departments, refused to believe it. They went with what they considered common sense and kept expanding and widening. They made a costly mistake.

What the numbers invariably show is that highways are vulnerable to latent demand — people who haven’t been using them start to fill them up once the capacity is expanded, especially at rush hour. Some are commuters who had been using public transportation; some are drivers who shift their trips to rush hour rather than the middle of the day; and some who hadn’t been making trips at all take to the highway. The combined result, in many cases, is more traffic than existed prior to the expansion.

But it isn’t just drivers suddenly venturing onto the highway. Expanded capacity means more development — new trucking depots and large numbers of employees who commute to work; new housing developments and shopping centers at the exits. All of this contributes to making a situation, if not greatly worse, then demonstrably no better.

13) Pretty fascinating post from Scott Alexander on prescription apps, which is pretty interesting in its own right.  In this case, the apps are for CBT-I (Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia), which I don’t need, but also find very interesting.  

14) I wish we didn’t live in a world where we so valued the lives of Americans over the lives of people in other countries.  Or that we weren’t such a damn tribal species.  But we do and we are, so arguments like this are so fantastically unrealistic that they just annoy me, “As pediatricians, we say please don’t use precious coronavirus vaccines on healthy children.” I mean, in reality, you can say this about the vast majority of resources spent on Americans, period, would have way way way more impact for good if spent in developing nations.  

15) Want to read a super-depressing assessment of the state of the world?  Here’s one from Noah Smith, “The Darkness: Illiberalism is on the march, all over the world.”

16) So, I just came across this from 6 years ago and, immodestly, was pretty happy with my results. “A Quick Puzzle to Test Your Problem Solving”

Do you realize just how bad our gun laws are?

Great stuff from Gail Collins.  I think one of the under-appreciated facts on how the gun rights folks have been so damn successful in shaping our gun laws is just how absurdly difficult to make it to trace the guns used in crimes.  And the fact that almost every gun used in a crime was first purchased legitimately– they are not being smuggled in like drugs.  Rather, legally purchased guns end up in the hands of malefactors and used for crimes and we completely hamstring our ability to actually know what these pathways are to take a rational approach to fighting gun crime.  Why?  Freedom!!  How can you really have the right to own a gun if the government know who you bought it from and when?!

Back in the olden days — oh, children, it was a long time ago, when woolly mammoths and liberal Republicans roamed the earth. Anyhow, back in those days, when you’d hear about a terrible shooting, one of the most obvious, major details to fret over was where the killer got the gun.

These days, the answer is often: It’s a secret.

Here’s how this works. Perhaps you heard we had a shooting in Times Square last weekend…

It’s very possible he acquired the gun in a street deal, or borrowed it from a friend. But we’re not going to learn anything about who originally purchased it, or where. That’s because — bet you didn’t know this, people — it’s illegal for the authorities who track this stuff to let the public know.

Yes! This is thanks to the Tiahrt amendment, first passed in 2003, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from sharing information with … almost anybody. It also limits the F.B.I.’s ability to hang onto gun background check data, requiring its quick destruction. All in all, the idea is to give gun dealers approximately as much right to privacy as cloistered nuns…

 As a result, it’s pretty much impossible for the public to know if there are one or two particular gun dealers in their town who’ve sold a whopping number of weapons that were later used in crimes.

“The A.T.F. has a tremendous amount of data,” said Josh Scharff, legal counsel for Brady, the gun-safety advocacy organization. Five percent of gun dealers, Scharff said, are responsible for selling 90 percent of the guns used in crimes.

A lot of these weapons come from the South, particularly Georgia and Florida. “I-95 is known as the iron pipeline.”

A gun dealer certainly can’t be responsible for knowing exactly where every gun he sells is going to wind up. But there can be some, um, telltale signs. Like all-cash transactions, or a single customer suddenly announcing he wants to buy five or 10 pistols of the same make and model.

Most dealers, Scharff noted, “won’t make that sale.” But some will, and it’d be very useful for all of us to know who — and where — they are…

And even the most modest gun laws require what optimists might call compromise. When you buy a gun from a legal dealer, he or she will have to report the sale right away. Most of the background checks — more than 90 percent — are finished almost instantly, and the F.B.I. has eight days to resolve the rest. Then it has to destroy the information it accumulated.

What’s left rests with the licensed dealers, who must maintain records for at least 20 years. The hitch is that, as you’ll remember, those are the same guys whose identities we aren’t allowed to know.

Good news: A handful of lawmakers have just introduced a bill to get rid of the Tiahrt rule. This proposal, helpfully called the Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act, would allow the A.T.F. and the F.B.I. to share their gun-tracing data with local authorities, researchers and the public.

Of course, as we all know, if this data were actually available, the jackbooted guns would be bursting down doors and confiscating the guns of freedom-loving Americans in no time; and we can’t have that.  So, instead, we just have the highest murder rates (by far) among developed democracies and tie our hands in every possible way to try and have rational policies to changes this.  Thousands of innocent lives sacrificed an altar of illusory freedom.  
 
%d bloggers like this: