Quick hits (part I)

1) Edsall on conservative calls for avowedly Christian nationalism:

On June 22, 75 supporters of the National Conservatism project issued a 10-part statement of principles. The signatories include Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative; Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina and a former president of the Heritage Foundation; Mark Meadows, a former chief of staff to President Trump; Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute and the venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

The principles include a strong commitment to the infusion of religion into the operation of government: “No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition.” Thus the “Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and nonbelievers alike.”

Perhaps most strikingly, the principles declare that:

Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes.

2) Some interesting stuff here and also some personality “science” that I’m not quite convinced is science, “Why do you like the music you like? Science weighs in.”

Many people tend to form their musical identity in adolescence, around the same time that they explore their social identity. Preferences may change over time, but research shows that people tend to be especially fond of music from their adolescent years and recall music from a specific age period — 10 to 30 years with a peak at 14 — more easily.

Musical taste is often identified by preferred genres, but a more accurate way of understanding preferences is by musical attributes, researchers say. One model outlines three dimensions of musical attributes: arousal, valence and depth.
“Arousal is linked to the amount of energy and intensity in the music,” says David M. Greenberg, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge. Punk and heavy metal songs such as “White Knuckles” by Five Finger Death Punch were high on arousal, a study conducted by Greenberg and other researchers found…

“Valence is a spectrum,” from negative to positive emotions, he says. Lively rock and pop songs such as “Razzle Dazzle” by Bill Haley & His Comets were high on valence.

Depth indicates “both a level of emotional and intellectual complexity,” Greenberg says. “We found that rapper Pitbull’s music would be low on depth, [and] classical and jazz music could be high on depth.”

Also, musical attributes have interesting relationships with one another. “High depth is often correlated with lower valence, so sadness in music is also evoking a depth in it,” he says.

We prefer music from artists whose personalities we identify with. “When people listen to music, they’re being driven by how similar that artist is to themselves,” Greenberg says.

In his 2021 study, participants rated the personality traits of artists using the Big 5 model: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN). To the respondents, David Bowie displayed high Openness and Neuroticism; while Marvin Gaye displayed high Agreeableness.

“The match between the [personality of the] listener and the artist was predictive of the musical preferences for the artist beyond just the attributes from the music,” Greenberg says.

Personality traits may predict people’s musical taste, researchers say. In a 2022 study, Greenberg and his colleagues found that despite sociocultural differences, participants around the world displayed personality traits that were consistently correlated with their preference for certain genres of Western music. Extraversion, for example, was linked to a preference for upbeat contemporary music, and Openness was linked to a preference for sophisticated or cerebral styles.

Look at me with my upbeat, cerebral music preferences 🙂

3) Good stuff from Yglesias on policing:

Once you get past the fantasy that we can wish policing away or “reimagine” public safety in a way that doesn’t involve guys with uniforms and guns, you’re left with the fact that the policing status quo is bad and also hard to change.

Officers should be held accountable for misconduct — not just the most extreme forms of misconduct, but relatively minor kinds as well. Yet we see chiefs reluctant to fire officers, and officers who do get dismissed bouncing from department to department. And this is at least in part because in many cases it is genuinely not easy to fill vacancies. Meanwhile, many if not most departments seem to have a deeply ingrained warrior mentality that emphasizes dominance rather than service. Policing has become so politicized that the overwhelming majority of officers, even in very liberal areas, are right-wing and often seem to have barely disguised disdain for the citizens they nominally serve, and not-at-all disguised disdain for the politicians elected to run their cities. Over the course of 2020-21, we saw a massive national wave of shootings and murder that seems to have been caused at least in part by a de facto police strike, tacitly organized to (successfully) push back on momentum for reform.

That’s bad on its own terms, and it’s also a ticking time bomb for democracy more broadly…

Right now, very few people with progressive values or any qualms about the status quo in the criminal justice system are willing to consider a career in policing. But that dynamic is only going to make everything people worry about in policing even worse. We’re both exacerbating ideological selection into and out of policing, and also making general staffing problems harder. This only makes chiefs more reluctant to dismiss bad cops and more likely to accept retreats who’ve washed out for misconduct elsewhere.

If we accept that policing is important and that high-poverty, high-crime communities want to see policing improved rather than defunded, it would be more constructive to create a program that challenges people who believe policing can be done better to actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

There’s a good amount of evidence (most recently summed up in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing) that better-educated police officers are better across a variety of dimensions — they use force less and engage in more “problem-oriented” policing. This is sometimes taken as a reason to encourage departments to require college degrees or create financial incentives for getting them. Realistically, though, creating a degree requirement is only going to make personnel shortages worse, and a crude financial incentive is going to lead to people enrolling in low-value programs just to get a raise.

Police for America would address the same issue from the opposite direction, creating a centralized mechanism for increasing the supply of educated officers available to work in high-poverty communities. I think it’s safe to assume that PFA cops, like TFA teachers, would have above-average rates of medium-term attrition. But the ones who don’t leave policing would be disproportionately likely to secure promotion. And many of the ones who do leave policing would still work in adjacent fields and would bring practical police experience to bear on careers in law, policy, journalism, and politics. You’d get cultural change inside police departments via the entry of different kinds of people, and also a criminal justice reform community that was operating across less of a conceptual void from the people doing police work…

I have some criticisms of PP trends (the inclination you see in some places to treat illegal gun possession as a non-violent crime unworthy of serious punishment seems like a big mistake to me), but the basic idea that reformers should actually take on criminal justice work and try to do it better is correct. The idea came to prosecutors first because lawyering is more of a high-prestige occupation than policing. But that’s why TFA seems like a promising model — you can really create prestige out of thin air with a little money, savvy, and media hype.

4) Paul Waldman on the awful Trump judge and the broader undermining of the rule of law:

The Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis as its ongoing legal revolution becomes more and more alarming to a public unhappy about its recent rulings on abortion and gun rights. But there’s another legitimacy crisis brewing, one that can be seen vividly in Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s extraordinary rulings in the case involving Donald Trump’s hoarding of documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump despite her thin experience, has been almost comically eager to help the former president. Her appointment of a special master to review documents seized in the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago was greeted with shock and ridicule on substantive grounds and was widely seen as a means of delaying the case as long as possible.

But Cannon’s latest intervention on Trump’s behalf is particularly disturbing. I want to focus on one part of the order she gave Thursday, because it speaks to how we believe courts are supposed to work and how those foundations of the justice system are being warped.

Trump, true to form, has been making fantastical claims about how victimized he has been at the hands of law enforcement. Among other things, he has said the FBI may have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago to incriminate him.

So special master Raymond J. Dearie — who was suggested by Trump’s attorneys and agreed to by the government — essentially told the Trump team to put up or shut up. He instructed them to clarify whether they’re challenging the government’s inventory of documents collected at Mar-a-Lago. Would they make an official statement alleging documents were planted, or would they accept that the inventory is accurate?

This put them in an awkward position — the same awkward position Trump attorneys have been in before. Their client is the most notorious liar in the history of American politics. But in court, the rules are different than on Fox News or Truth Social.

In case after case after the 2020 election, Trump attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell rolled into court with rumors, speculation and hearsay about widespread election fraud. Again and again, they were shot down by judges telling them it wasn’t enough to say they heard about a guy whose cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbor said he saw a van with a Joe Biden bumper sticker idling behind the board of elections building. Without evidence, they lost.

But Cannon swooped in to save Trump’s lawyers from the embarrassment of contradicting their boss. She overruled Dearie, allowing the lawyers to avoid taking a position on whether the inventory is accurate. Given the chance to draw a bright line marking the integrity of what goes on in court, she did the opposite.

This may seem like a small thing. But it’s a direct assault on the idea that the courts are a venue where fairness prevails precisely because there are strict rules everyone has to follow, rules designed to get to the truth.

Almost two years after Trump left office, the poison he injected into the courts with the appointment of a long list of hack judges is becoming more clear. It’s increasingly difficult to look at important court cases of recent days and believe that whether you like the outcome, the procedures have been fair, the judges have worked to be objective and the integrity of the courts is intact.

Judges such as Cannon undermine a cornerstone of the legitimacy of the court system: the idea of “procedural fairness.” This topic has long been of interest to judges and lawyers, and research has found that people’s perceptions of whether they were treated fairly is often just as important as the outcome in determining their feelings about the process.

5) Really, really liked this from Jesse Singal, “It Isn’t Journalism’s Job To Hand-Hold People To The Correct Moral Conclusions”

One of the silliest ideas to infect mainstream journalism in recent years is the notion that when journalists produce work about a bad person, they must signpost that work, seemingly every moment, with explicit indicators that that person is bad. You need to hold readers’ hands tightly, because they are moral idiots, and the moment your grip slips, they’ll race off and return in a Klansman’s hood or something.

This is now a thoroughly mainstream view in journalism, and it is applied to coverage not just to actual fascists, but to an ever-growing variety of right-wing (or otherwise disfavored) figures…

When a journalist gets dragged on Twitter the way Harkinson did, it gets noticed by other journalists. One of Twitter’s main functions, after all, is to publiclydish out discipline to those deemed to have violated a given group’s norms, whether or not the accusation is valid.

Things have gotten a lot worse in mainstream journalism since Harkinson’s piece. I’m not the first to have ranted and written about the culture of stifling conformity, of jumping down the throats of anyone who argues for nuanced takes on hot-button issues, or who publicly disagrees with sacralized narratives. These tendencies have contributed to botched coverage of national news events over and over and over and over.

But there’s a more fundamental principle at stake here: respect for readers (and listeners). The ideas that readers will scurry off to fascism unless we keep them tightly leashed, that they can’t handle a little bit of uncertainty or nuance or a couple of unanswered questions — it’s all deeply condescending. Certain prescriptions for how journalism should be conducted — such as the idea that we should be awash in headlines like “Racist President Drones Racistly As Racist Group Howls With Racist Glee” — seem motivated by genuine contempt for readers.

When Damon Kiesow argues that an article about Chris Rufo was a terrible act because it included a prominent photo of Rufo as well as a somewhat in-depth interview with him, that’s because he doesn’t respect Times readers. “The path to not amplifying hate is to lead with a portait [sic] of the director of a local anti-hate group and have them describe the issue – and then dig into the details of the people pushing anti-civil rights legislation.” This is an utterly impoverished, impossibly bland concept of journalism in which we slap helmets on readers and then lead them by hand, via velvet ropes and padded walls, to their final, safe destination: On your left you’ll see a local civil rights leader. He is a hero. What a good man! In our next room you’ll meet today’s baddy, an eeeeeeeevil man named Chris Rufo. Do not listen to what he says, for he is a Deceiver.

I can’t write like this because I don’t hate my readers. And most journalists, to be fair, don’t hate their readers either — they want to produce interesting work. But the hysterical, moralizing view of journalism is winning, largely because of the social media shitstorm that engulfs anyone who insists on treating readers as compos mentis adults rather than kids in the under-10 section of a theme park. If you’re skeptical of my argument that views like Kiesow’s stem from contempt for readers, reflect, for a minute, on the claim that launched this whole article: that describing a hardened racist as “dapper” will cause people to be drawn to that racist and to embrace his ideas. The hypothetical seductee in this scenario is, full-stop, an idiot.

Any competent critique of 2022 needs to mention class, and this is indeed partly a class issue. Journalists are increasingly from privileged, liberal backgrounds like mine, and privileged, liberal people tend to have very strong, very set feelings about politics — feelings that only grew more intense during the Trump years. For the most part, journalists in my milieu are cut off, at least as far as close social and familial ties go, from the sorts of people who might be fans of Chris Rufo. That makes it harder to cover Rufo accurately, which is something you should want even if — especially if — you dislike Rufo and his project.

Journalism needs more Josh Harkinsons, is what it comes down to. There are all sorts of structural reasons why it’s harder than ever before to produce long, careful, rigorous works of magazine reporting — that such works are now shouted down and slandered by other journalists is an exceptionally foreboding development for an already teetering industry.

6) This Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest TV shows got dunked on all over twitter.  But it’s really good!  Sopranos is #1 and Wired, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld are all top 10.  That’s a good list!

7) Heck, more Jesse Singal on a singularly (okay, it’s not, but couldn’t resist) Vox article.

8) Cathy Young with one of the best pieces I’ve read on Diversity training:

Let’s grant that DeSantis’s Trump-lite culture-warmongering is cynical and noxious, and the “Stop WOKE” law—which should be taken out and shot for its moniker alone—is a very real speech infringement, especially given the broad scope and the vagueness of its prohibitions. (For example, the law prohibits training or teaching that individuals “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions . . . committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” Does this apply only to instructing trainees that such reactions are required, or could any material that inspires employees to feel “psychological distress” or shame over racial inequities fall under suspicion?)

And let’s further grant that Rufo is a political hack who is upfront about his end-justifies-the-means approach to stopping “wokeness.”

But DEI training is also one of those issues on which the right and the left tend to get trapped in a mutual cycle of escalating culture-war follies. The right seizes on a real problem, blows it up into an imminent threat to Civilization As We Know It, and demands ham-handed—and often unconstitutional—action to root it out. The left circles the wagons and ferociously argues that whatever the right is complaining about is either nonexistent or actually a good thing. The right attacks even more forcefully. Rinse and repeat.

While Rufo’s dispatches from the culture-war front definitely need to be taken with a grain, or maybe a shaker-full, of salt—as I noted last year, he’s prone, at the very least, to exaggeration and cherry-picking—some of the corporate documents he has collected should give cause for concern.

For instance, the “Listen. Understand. Act.” program launched at AT&T in April 2021 describes “21-Day Racial Equity Habit Challenge” which invites the employee to “do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity” every day for 21 days. These actions include reading, watching, or listening to material on antiracism, gender issues and/or social justice from an ideologically uniform list that features Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Nikole Hannah-Jones. No alternative or critical point of view is listed—not, say, Kelefa Sanneh’s trenchant 2019 critique of Kendi and DiAngelo for the New Yorker, or the podcast discussions by Brown University economist Glenn Loury and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter, two black academics critical of the Kendi brand of antiracism.

Other recommended material includes a blog post arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has been good for anti-racism because living in the constant shadow of death allows white Americans to understand how black Americans feel all the time; a column that bluntly states, “White people, you are the problem”; a video titled “Not Everyone Is Your Friend,” in which a spoken-word poet warns that old friends who don’t support you on your social justice journey may not really be true friends; and a conversation with the author of a book arguing that the United States owes its economic power to slavery, with no mention of other work challenging his thesis. Participants are also encouraged to become involved in social and racial justice activism and to scrutinize their circle of friends, their reading and film- or TV-viewing habits, and even the artwork in their homes for racial balance…

Moreover, one need not endorse conspiracy theories about “woke” corporations and the left to be troubled by a trend of major employers expecting employees to declare allegiance to a particular political viewpoint. Nor does one need to endorse Trump-style white identity politics to believe that the DiAngelo-style identity politics of many DEI programs are, in fact, very bad. It’s everything from the messages decrying “whiteness” and badgering white employees to confess their “complicity” in racism to the fixation on seeing all interpersonal problems through the lens of identity, privilege, and oppression to the constant sleuthing for “microaggressions” and “harm.” It doesn’t help that for all the talk of “diversity,” many DEI programs are focused on the dynamics of black and white Americans while giving short shrift to other groups. The “Listen. Understand. Act.” materials include more than forty items that focus on the black American experience, but just two focused on Hispanics and one dealing with Asian Americans…

Another alternative DEI program is offered by Brooklyn-based African-American entrepreneur and writer Chloé Simone Valdary under the name “Theory of Enchantment.” (It’s based on the 2011 book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, who defines “enchantment” as winning people over by “delighting” them with a product or idea.) On the Theory of Enchantment website, Valdary describes her program, launched four years ago, as “a framework for compassionate antiracism that combines social-emotional learning (SEL), character development, and interpersonal growth,” based on three principles: “treat people like human beings, not political abstractions”; “criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down or destroy”; “root everything you do in love and compassion.” Clients include the online food-delivery company GrubHub and the Hadassah Jewish women’s organization. The company currently has six part-time employees; Valdary told me that at least for now, she’s looking not to expand but to build sustainable systems. She also stresses that she approaches the issue “from an entrepreneurial perspective, not a culture-war perspective.”

Like Manji, Valdary is highly critical of the conventional DEI model, which her site describes as leading to “individuals being unfairly singled out, ostracized, and humiliated” and “animosity developing among coworkers.” But she also believes that the anti-woke crusaders—whether activists or politicians—end up becoming the very things they wage war against, and she thinks HB 7, with its focus on banning “harmful” concepts in workplace training, is a perfect example. “They’re imitating critical race theory, which also wants to ban certain uses of words,” she says. “It’s like, to a T, an imitation of their opponents.”

9) The story that dominated twitter for a day earlier this week, “More Trans Teens Are Choosing ‘Top Surgery’” Can we at least agree that doctors advertising for teenage patients for this on TikTok is bad?

10) Relatedly, semi-recent report on changes on all this in Europe, “The Beginning of the End of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’? Britain is closing the infamous Tavistock Centre. Finland and Sweden have radically revised their treatment guidelines. But American doctors are advertising surgeries to children on TikTok.”

The question is how Americans will react.

In a sign that they may be rethinking the “puberty blockers are safe and reversible” dogma, the Food and Drug Administration, also on Thursday, announced that it was slapping a new warning on puberty blockers. It turns out they may cause brain swelling and vision loss. But for now, the move among American medical associations, health officials and dozens of gender clinics is to double down on the affirmative approach, with the Biden administration recently asserting gender affirmation is “trauma-informed care.”

The American stance is at odds with a growing consensus in the West to exercise extreme caution when it comes to transitioning young people. Uber-progressive countries like Sweden and Finland have pushed back—firmly and unapologetically—against the affirmative approach of encouraging youth transition advocated by some transgender activists and gender clinicians.

Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare released new guidelines for treating young people with gender dysphoria earlier this year. The new guidelines state that the risks of these “gender-affirming” medical interventions “currently outweigh the possible benefits, and that the treatments should be offered only in exceptional cases.”

Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care (COHERE) came to a similar conclusion a year earlier, noting: “The first-line intervention for gender variance during childhood and adolescent years is psychosocial support and, as necessary, gender-explorative therapy and treatment for comorbid psychiatric disorders.” And: “In light of available evidence, gender reassignment of minors is an experimental practice.” Gender reassignment medical interventions “must be done with a great deal of caution, and no irreversible treatment should be initiated.”

Both guidelines starkly contrast with those proffered by the Illinois-based World Professional Association of Transgender Health, an advocacy group made up of activists, academics, lawyers, and healthcare providers, which has set the standard when it comes to transgender care in the United States. WPATH will soon issue new standards that lower recommended ages for blockers, hormones and surgeries. (WPATH did not respond to a request for comment.)

WPATH’s position is in keeping with an array of U.S. medical associations and activist groups across the country that insist gender-affirming care is “life-saving.” Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who is herself a transgender woman, recently asserted that there is a medical consensus as to its benefits. Some activists and gender clinicians in the U.S. feel that WPATH doesn’t go far enough, asserting that any child who wants puberty blockers should get them, for instance, or claiming that a teenager who later regrets having her breasts removed can just get new ones.

In Sweden and Finland, this issue has been primarily a question of health and medicine. Here in the U.S. it is a political football.

11) Paul Waldman, “Those GOP ‘tough on crime’ ads? They’re based on a very big lie.”

But the idea that crime rates in America will depend on which party controls Congress is ridiculous on its face. The truth — which in a better world would play some role in campaign debates — is that almost nothing Congress does will have any more than the smallest effect on crime.

As The Post reports, in the past month or so Republicans have made crime the primary focus of their campaigns. Apparently, inflation just didn’t provide the appropriate dose of fear and rage:

During the first three weeks of September, the Republican candidates and allies aired about 53,000 commercials on crime, according to AdImpact, which tracks political spots on network TV. That’s up from the 29,000 crime ads they aired in all of August. Nearly 50 percent of all Republican online ads in battleground states have focused on policing and safety since the start of the month, according to data from Priorities USA, a group focused on electing Democrats.

As Republicans know well — because they’ve run on this issue for decades — crime is both a real problem and a symbolic one. It can affect people’s lives in profound ways. But bringing it up can also activate fear, tribalistic distrust and oftentimes outright bigotry, emotions that override any rational assessment of problems and solutions.

But there is a truth in the general vicinity, which is that Republicans do in fact want to spend more on police than we do now; the essence of their position is that police budgets must always rise. In some states, they’ve even passed laws that would punish cities that cut their police budgets, no matter the reason. There is a real policy difference here: Republicans generally favor whatever sounds “tough” — more cops, longer sentences, less accountability for police misconduct — while Democrats tend to have a broader view of what government could do to reduce crime, while also often supporting more spending on police.

12) Always enjoy reading about research on apples, but so many of the new cultivars are just sweet with now balancing tartness– so frustrating.  Meanwhile, Braeburn is one of the best apples ever (and if you like Jazz, it’s Braeburn crossed with Gala) and you can’t even find it anywhere anymore.  “How About Them Apples? Research Orchards Chart a Fruit’s Future. Scientists working in research groves, like one in Nova Scotia, are developing your favorite new apple variety.”

13) Jessica Grose on kids’ sports, “‘The more parents spend on their kids’ sports, the less the kid enjoys it and the more pressure they feel’”

My daughters love to swim, and we’d exhausted the lessons at our local Y, so I thought I’d try to find them a swim team. They’re only 6 and 9, so what I was looking for was a local rec situation that offered a bit of low-stakes camaraderie and regular exercise. They’re strong swimmers but probably not future Olympians, and besides, I want a life: I have zero interest in shuttling them up and down the Eastern Seaboard every weekend to compete, as the parents whose children are on travel teams seem to do.
The kind of chill athletic experience I wanted for my kids barely seems to exist anymore. There wasn’t anything like the delightfully bumbling soccer league of my youth. All I could find were intense teams that had practices several times a week. The only other regular swimming option for my children is lessons, which are expensive, and you need to sign up on the first day of registration or you’re out of luck.
I thought it might be just a New York City thing — often there are wait lists for all kinds of kid activities because there is so much demand and not enough supply. But it seems to be a cross-country problem: When I tweeted in frustration, lots of folks replied describing similar experiences — including a woman who wryly suggested that one might have to sacrifice a baby goat to get kids into swimming lessons in Portland, Ore.
This saddens me for so many reasons. A big one is that sports were such an important part of my tween and teen years. I wasn’t good enough to play in college, but I played soccer and field hockey through my senior year of high school. It always felt like a respite from adolescent drama, and it provided structure and solace on even the worst days. Being part of a team taught me a lot of lessons, not least of which that showing up on time and ready to play has tangible benefits, no matter what happens in the game.
But as Linda Flanagan explains in her new book, “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports — and Why It Matters,” the problem is systemic. At its base, over the past several decades, “kids’ sports stopped being for kids.” There are fewer low-cost options, the time parents are spending on sports has ratcheted up and kids from lower-income families have less access to play. Instead, youth sports are about making adults money and fueling what some economists call the “rug rat race” — middle-class and upper-middle-class competition to get kids into colleges and secure their futures.

That sucks.  Too bad these parents don’t have access to NCFC Youth Rec soccer, where we totally get this right.

14) Did you hear about the “academic” paper last month which was some guy describing his diary of masturbating to pseudo-child porn?  Academics should not be defending this stuff– not all subjects are worthy of study and not all study expands are knowledge– but they do.

15) I saw an ad for Xyzal the other day, which is basically warmed over Zyrtec, but, of course, does not have a generic.  And, how does the efficacy compare?  Zyrtec is actually better.

16) More frustrating culture war battles.  This documentary sounds great and thoughtful.  But, alas, how dare a white woman make a documentary about Muslim men? “Sundance Liked Her Documentary on Terrorism, Until Muslim Critics Didn’t”

17) Loved this take from “History Boomer

“Stay in your lane” is one of the stupider phrases to emerge from lefty identity politics. It’s the crazy idea that certain topics should only be discussed or portrayed by people with the appropriate characteristics. It’s a smothering approach that would set limits on art based on skin color and background when the only limit to art should be the artist’s imagination.

Michael Powell over at the New York Times penned an important article on a film that has been unfairly attacked because it has the “wrong” views and its director the wrong cultural heritage. Meg Smaker directed Jihad Rehab, a documentary investigating the lives of four men who joined jihadist groups, were imprisoned and tortured at Guantanamo Bay, and finally began a move towards a different view of the world during a stay at a Saudi Arabian rehabilitation center. The film was widely praised (read this positive review at The Guardian) until it caught the eye and ire of activists who complained that Ms. Smaker was demonizing Muslims as terrorists and should not, as a white woman, be making such a film at all. Ms. Smaker had film festivals pull her documentary because of the controversy and she is facing career ruin.

For all the details, read Powell’s article, the Guardian’s review, an open letter from filmmakers (who mostly hadn’t seen it) condemning the film, and an open letter from the film’s executive director Abigail Disney, who had originally called the film “freaking brilliant,” but now condemned it because it “has landed like a truckload of hate on people whom I sincerely love and respect.”

For me, one quote jumped out:

“When I, a practicing Muslim woman, say that this film is problematic,” wrote Jude Chehab, a Lebanese American documentarian, “my voice should be stronger than a white woman saying that it isn’t. Point blank.”

Jude Chehab thinks she should be listened to because she is a Muslim Arab while Meg Smaker, as a white American, has a less valid point of view. This way of thinking stems from what is called “standpoint theory,”1 which argues we need to grant special authority to views expressed by those whose identity makes them more trustworthy narrators. (Smaker spent years living in Yemen, learning Arabic, and studying Muslim cultures.)

It’s darkly funny that this same emphasis on identity and authenticity has also been used to justify attacking the casting of non-white characters in Amazon’s The Rings of Power and a black mermaid in the live-action The Little Mermaid. Ms. Chehab wants only Muslim filmmakers to make films about Muslims and conservative critics want only white people to portray mermaids and elves…

The article has some nuance—Farah Fleurima says that sometimes fat suits can work, as with Christian Bale in the film Vice—but mostly pushes for the idea that actors should closely resemble the people they are portraying.

Who can forget the caramel-hued actress Zoe Saldaña playing the singer Nina Simone in a much-maligned biopic of the proudly dark-coffee-skinned performer?

“Caramel-hued,” “dark-coffee-skinned”? While the right complains about dark-skinned elves and black mermaids, the left thinks that Zoe Saldaña—who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage—isn’t dark enough? Should casting calls include Pantone color swatches to make sure each actor properly fits the role? Of course, we also need to examine your sex life to make sure only straight actors play straight characters, ditto your physical abilities if you want to play wheel-chair bound Stephen Hawking.

This way lies madness. Taken to its logical conclusion, “stay in your lane” thinking will result in filmmakers only making films about themselves and only Barack Obama will be acceptable to portray Barack Obama. We must fight the purity police on all sides who want to resegregate our culture. Meg Smaker has as much right to make a film about four Muslim men (assuming she approaches the subject with care and integrity) as a black filmmaker has to create her own vision of Romeo and Juliet. We are all citizens of this world, hungry students learning from her intertwined cultures.

18) Yglesias is right, “Beating climate change absolutely requires new technology: We have what we need to drastically cut emissions — but we’re going to need much more”

So how much does this cost? Well, not very much. Because the key thing about this scenario is that all my kilowatts of electricity get used. When I’m in surplus, that extra electricity goes “to the grid” where it substitutes for other sources of power, and I earn credits that offset my electricity usage during deficit periods. If I had to throw away my surplus kilowatts instead of selling them to the grid, my per-kilowatt cost would soar.

And if everyone had solar power, that’s the problem we would face. Who would we export the extra electricity to during surplus periods? At a small margin, we have the technology for this: instead of exporting power during the day and importing it at night, I could get a home battery and store daytime excess for use at night. That would raise my per-kilowatt cost, but only modestly since batteries aren’t that expensive. And you can add wind as well as solar to your grid so you have some resiliency against seasonal variations in sunlight.

The problem is that without fossil fuels for resilience, the cost per megawatt of renewables soars because redundancy is expensive.

Wasting electricity is costly

Seasonal variation is a big problem here, for example.

Let’s say you have enough solar panels to cover 100 percent of your electricity needs on an average December day. That means you’re going to have way more panels than you need on an average June day when the sun is shining for a much longer period of time. On a pure engineering basis, that’s fine — there are just some panels that in practice are only generating power for a few days per year in the dead of winter. But the cost per megawatt of those panels is going to be astronomical because a solar panel is almost 100 percent fixed costs.

The same is true of random fluctuations in weather. If you’re like Texas and rely on a mix of gas and wind, then wind is cheap — you add some turbines and that means you burn less gas. If there’s some freak day when there’s very little wind, then you burn an unusually large amount of gas. As long as you’re using almost all the wind power you generate, the cost per megawatt of your turbines is low. But if you try to build enough turbines to keep the lights on during low-wind days, you’re wasting wind on high-wind days. This means your cost per megawatt rises.

Because massively overbuilding renewables would not only cost a lot of money but wastefully consume vast tracts of land, it seems like a better idea would be to use long-term batteries. If you had really big batteries that stored electricity for a long time, you could simply store surplus power in the high season and unleash it in the low season.

In fact, if you are lucky enough to have large hydroelectric dams at your disposal, you can probably use them as a seasonal storage vehicle. You can let the water pile up when renewables are at maximum capacity and then run it through the dam when you need it. Not coincidentally, politicians from the Pacific Northwest — where there’s tons of hydro — tend to be huge climate hawks.

But for the rest of us, it’s Hypothetical Storage Technology to the rescue.

I’m not saying anything here that renewables proponents aren’t aware of. They write articles about seasonal electricity storage all the time. There are plenty of ideas here that could work, ranging from ideas on the technological cutting edge to brute force engineering concepts like using pumps to create extra hydro capacity. Another idea is that maybe you could replace a lot of current fossil fuel use with burning hydrogen, and then you could manufacture hydrogen using renewable electricity while accepting seasonal variation in the level of hydrogen output. It might work!

19) Relatedly, “What Many Progressives Misunderstand About Fighting Climate Change”

But this may not be enough for some environmentalists. Jamie Henn, an environmental activist and the director of Fossil Free Media, recently told Rolling Stone, “Look, I want to get carbon out of the atmosphere, but this is such an opportunity to remake our society. But if we just perpetuate the same harms in a clean-energy economy, and it’s just a world of Exxons and Elon Musks—oh, man, what a nightmare.” Many progressive commentators similarly believe that countering climate change requires a fundamental reordering of the West’s political and economic systems. “The level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below ‘absolutely catastrophic’ is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo,” the writer Phil McDuff has argued. The climate crisis, the Green New Deal advocate Naomi Klein has insisted, “could be the best argument progressives have ever had” to roll back corporate influence, tear up free-trade deals, and reinvest in public services and infrastructure.

Such comments raise a question: What is the real goal here—stopping climate change or abolishing capitalism? Taking climate change seriously as a global emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck attitude and a recognition that technological solutions (yes, often built and deployed by private firms) can deliver real progress on decarbonization before the proletariat has seized the means of production. A massive infusion of private investment, made not for charity but in the anticipation of future profits, is precisely what’s needed to accelerate the clean-energy transition—which, like all revolutions, will yield unpredictable results.

The belief that top-down decision makers can choreograph precisely how the clean-energy revolution will proceed runs deep in progressive circles. In the manifesto describing his version of the Green New Deal, Bernie Sanders declared, “To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.” Many environmental groups share the Vermont senator’s aversion to these technologies. But the climate emergency demands we take a closer look at some of them before writing them off completely. In the face of uncertainty about the best path to decarbonization, policy makers should think like a venture capitalist—placing lots of bets in the expectation that some technologies will fail but the investment portfolio will succeed as a whole. The “false solutions” that Sanders decries may indeed prove unworkable. Nuclear energy might never be cost-competitive, and geoengineering may prove technically infeasible. But we can’t know in advance…

In a variety of other ways, Americans will have to choose between the perfect and the good. Some environmentalists are skeptical of geothermal energy, which requires extensive drilling. Yet it has high potential as a source of clean baseload power with a small geographical footprint that can, in theory, be deployed anywhere in the world (if you drill deep enough). One way to accelerate investment in geothermal energy would be to give this clean technology the same expedited permitting that oil and gas companies already receive for leases on federal land.

20) I cannot recall how I came across this, but, among other things, it’s got a nice replication of the Milgram experiment and it’s damn entertaining, Derren Brown’s, “The Heist

21) Special K for the win, “Nothing seemed to treat their depression. Then they tried ketamine.”

22) This is good, “How to Change Minds? A Study Makes the Case for Talking It Out. Researchers found that meaty conversations among several people can align beliefs and brain patterns — so long as the group is free of blowhards.” (Haven’t done a free NYT article in a while, so, here you go)

A few years ago, Dr. Sievers devised a study to improve understanding of how exactly a group of people achieves a consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. The results, recently published online but not yet peer-reviewed, showed that a robust conversation that results in consensus synchronizes the talkers’ brains — not only when thinking about the topic that was explicitly discussed, but related situations that were not.

The study also revealed at least one factor that makes it harder to reach accord: a group member whose strident opinions drown out everyone else.

“Conversation is our greatest tool to align minds,” said Thalia Wheatley, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who advises Dr. Sievers. “We don’t think in a vacuum, but with other people.”

23) One of the most interesting things about Covid to me is how much it has brought attention to general features of disease that have long been ignored, “It’s Not Just Long COVID: Society has been underestimating the long-term consequences of viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites for ages.”

Despite the initial disbelief and remaining questions, the phenomenon behind long COVID isn’t entirely new. We’ve always lived with post-infection illnesses and underappreciated their consequences. A recent article in Nature Medicine lists 15 infectious agents—many of which are well-known viruses, bacteria, and parasites—that can cause these “post-acute infection syndromes.” Long COVID is unprecedented in terms of its scale—it has affected many millions of people in the U.S. alone—but we should try to understand and study it in the context of other long illnesses, not as something that emerged out of nowhere with no comparison or antecedents.

One of us—Hank Balfour—has spent decades studying the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can have strikingly similar long-term patterns. EBV, named for two of the researchers who discovered it, is millions of years older than SARS-CoV-2, but its prolonged effects are only just beginning to be well understood. They’re elusive in part because the virus is so common. It infects at least 90 percent of adults, which makes establishing a clear control group and proving that EBV was the cause of a long illness very difficult.

Yet, new research is revealing more and more about the connection between EBV and chronic diseases. New studies suggest that multiple sclerosis is the result of an EBV infection, and we know for sure that EBV is the principal cause of infectious mononucleosis (mono). Most patients recover from mono in a few weeks, but some continue to have mono-like symptoms for years—or get over the initial illness only to suffer recurring bouts of sickness later on. This condition could be called “long mono/EBV” or “chronic mono.” Two prominent symptoms it shares with long COVID are brain fog and fatigue. And just as doctors didn’t believe long-COVID patients at first, chronic mono isn’t a widely accepted diagnosis among health-care professionals. That’s a shame. The similarities between long COVID and long mono/EBV, and the purported interactions between the two viruses during acute COVID or after COVID vaccination, demand further investigation…

Persistent postinfection symptoms are also found in influenza. Long influenza—which most people have never thought about, even though influenza is quite common—and its similarities to long COVID can teach us how both diseases cause brain fog. In the aftermath of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic, scientists noticed that the infection can come with complications, including neurological disorders, that last longer than the acute respiratory illness. There is growing evidence that influenza viruses, much like SARS-CoV-2 and reactivated EBV, can trigger neuroinflammation by infecting white blood cells that then breach the blood-brain barrier and release proinflammatory small proteins called cytokines. Studies suggest that microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, can also secrete these pro-inflammatory agents following viral assault and thus may be factors in the brain fog experienced as a delayed effect of both influenza and COVID. Animal studies and human-brain postmortems bolster this theory. Investigators recently found that both SARS-CoV-2 and H1N1 activate neuroinflammation through microglia, and they noted the similarity of what they observed to the “chemo fog” that patients experience following cancer chemotherapy.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I really wanted to give this one it’s own post, but, too damn busy lately.  Short version: yes, it sucks that politicians lie about each other all the time with impunity.  But, we allow this because it would actually be even worse if we tried to have our court system regularly determining when politicians attacks on each other went too far.  The law in question in NC is clearly unconstitutional for this reason and I don’t get why reporting isn’t just saying so: “A problematic law about political lies threatens to snag NC’s attorney general”

Politicians lie. It’s something voters have even come to expect on the campaign trail, in campaign ads and in office. But what constitutes a lie, and should those lies be punished? Those questions are at the center of a case involving North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and it threatens to throw his office and the 2024 race for governor into chaos.

A grand jury in Wake County decided Monday that the district attorney’s office could pursue charges against Stein and two of his top aides, based on a campaign ad from the 2020 election cycle that called out his opponent, Republican candidate Jim O’Neill. Wake DA Lorrin Freeman said her office will decide as early as next month whether to charge Stein with anything, but Stein did get a victory late Tuesday when the Fourth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction to stop the investigation from moving forward.

The offending advertisement from Stein featured a sexual assault survivor saying that there were more than 1,500 untested rape kits in Forsyth County, where O’Neill is the district attorney. O’Neill said that testing rape kits is the responsibility of Forsyth County’s police departments, not his, then filed a complaint based on a 1931 state law that makes it illegal to knowingly circulate false and “derogatory” reports about candidates.

2) Leanna Wen gets a ton of (mostly unfair) hate, but I think she’s pretty well on-target here, ‘I’m a doctor. Here’s why my kids won’t wear masks this school year.”

It became clear that the goal I’d hoped for — containment of covid-19 — was not reachable. This coronavirus is here to stay.

With this new, indefinite time frame, the benefit-risk calculus of mitigation measures shifted dramatically. I was willing to limit my children’s activities for a year or two but not for their entire childhood.

Given how careful we’d been, it wasn’t easy to change my mind-set to accept covid-19 as a recurring risk. But the high transmissibility of new variants meant that we would have to pay an increasingly high price if our goal was to keep avoiding the virus. I began trying to think of the coronavirus as I do other everyday risks, such as falls, car accidents or drowning. Of course I want to shield my children from injuries, and I take precautions, such as using car seats and teaching them how to swim. By the same logic, I vaccinated them against the coronavirus. But I won’t put their childhood on hold in an effort to eliminate all risk…

I accept the risk that my kids will probably contract covid-19 this school year, just as they could contract the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and other contagious diseases. As for most Americans, covid in our family will almost certainly be mild; and, like most Americans, we’ve made the decision that following precautions strict enough to prevent the highly contagious BA.5 will be very challenging. Masking has harmed our son’s language development, and limiting both kids’ extracurriculars and social interactions would negatively affect their childhood and hinder my and my husband’s ability to work.

3) Advice for parenting teens about social media:

THERE ARE AT least three critical paths to helping teens, and these build on the different types of agency outlined by psychologist Albert Bandura.

First, teach teens to build personal agency. Personal agency refers to the things an individual can do to exert influence over situations. Teens in our research described curating their social media feeds toward well-being by unfollowing or muting accounts that make them feel bad. They also work toward personal agency by setting their own screen time limits or intentionally putting their phones out of reach when they want to focus on studying. Others strategically segment their online audiences to empower more intentional sharing to particular groups.

Building teens’ personal agency means supporting skills and strategies they can deploy when digital stressors come up. This can mean moving beyond rules that simply impose arbitrary screen time limits. Of course, teens often need support developing healthy screen time habits and curbing unregulated binges. An important aim is helping teens recognize moments when tech use adds to or undercuts their well-being or personal goals. This requires focusing more on what a teen is doing during their screen time and to what end. By modeling intentional digital habits (e.g., “I need to turn off my notifications for a bit, I’m feeling so distracted by my phone today”), we can help teens do the same for themselves. In this spirit, Tom Harrison writes about the value of parents being “thick exemplars” who share with children times when we struggle with our own digital experiences, misstep, or puzzle over how to “do the right thing.” …

Collective agency is when people “provide mutual support and work together to secure what they cannot accomplish on their own.” A signature example: the ways teens form pacts to vet photos of each other before tagging and posting. Even amid dismay about a world in which privacy feels forsaken, some teens find ways to protect and respect each other’s privacy and online public image. Collective agency is also at play when teen girls share intel about guys known to leak girls’ nudes so that they can be on alert and avoid them. Yet another example came up in the descriptions of teens who create online study spaces over Discord or Zoom to help each other maintain focus while keeping other digital distractions in check. Because friends are often poised to make digital life more or less stressful, when teens work together to reshape burdensome norms, everyone stands to win.

Parents can validate efforts that support collective agency, like when friends decide to keep phones in an untouched stack during dinners together. Or when they use location-sharing as part of a group effort to keep friends safe during a night out. Such approaches reflect a “digital mentoring” approach to parental mediation, rather than simply limiting tech access or permitting unlimited access. While younger adolescents need more direct oversight, parents can support personal agency through a gradual release toward more age-appropriate independence and privacy as their children get older.

Proxy agency is where adults most often come in. This mode of agency acknowledges that on their own—and even when they collaborate with others—teens only have so much control over their circumstances. Proxy agents are typically those who hold more power and can wield it on others’ behalf to support their agency. Because adults usually create the rules, policies, and relevant laws (not to mention the very technologies teens use!), we are critical proxy agents in a context of digital opportunities and risks.

 

Parents are perhaps the most obvious figures here, as they make day-to-day decisions that grant and limit teens’ digital access. Those who hold gatekeeping roles make decisions about whether to consider digital artifacts in school admissions, scholarship awards, and hiring. Adults may be the recipients of online receipts with evidence of transgressions. Those who work in education are often tasked with handling cases that unfold among students—where a teen is a target of persistent cyberbullying or where a nude a teen shared with one person was circulated around the entire school. Those who work at tech companies, designers especially, have the power—and the responsibility—to raise questions about whether features will hook and pull teens in at the expense of their well-being. Recognizing our roles as proxy agents means acknowledging our complicity in creating conditions that can unintentionally undercut youth agency.

Whatever roles adults are in, it’s past time to consider: How do our decisions support or compromise young people’s agency and well-being? Where, when, and how should we intervene and disrupt existing devices, apps, norms, policies, and laws? How can we design for more agency? And how can we center considerations about differential susceptibility and equity when we do so?

4) Interesting research: “Why Don’t We Sleep Enough? A Field Experiment Among College Students”

This study investigates the mechanisms affecting sleep choice and explores whether commitment devices and monetary incentives can be used to promote healthier sleep habits. To this end, we conducted a field experiment with college students, providing them incentives to sleep and collecting data from wearable activity trackers, surveys, and time-use diaries. Monetary incentives were effective in increasing sleep duration with some evidence of persistence after the incentive was removed. We uncover evidence of demand for commitment. Our results are consistent with partially sophisticated time-inconsistent preferences and overconfidence, and have implications for the effectiveness of information interventions on sleep choice.

5)  A mother is being prosecuted for helping her teen daughter give herself a medical abortion at 30(!!) weeks.  Yes, the vast majority of 30 week abortions are for a good reason (birth defects, mother’s health, etc.), but, given that’s the case, maybe it is the right thing to prosecute the people in cases like this one.

6) Quinta Jurecic on Trump and the documents:

Now Trump’s apparent squirreling away of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and his outrage over the Justice Department’s investigation of that conduct, speaks once more to his vision of his own absolute authority—even after he has departed the presidency. It’s a vision that places Trump himself, rather than the Constitution and the rule of law, as the one true source of legitimate political power.

A great deal remains unclear about the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago—among other things, why and how the material arrived at the estate in the first place instead of remaining in the custody of the National Archives, where it belonged. Reporting, though, suggests that Trump may have understood those documents—material that, under the Presidential Records Act, belongs to the American people—to be his own, to do whatever he liked with. “It’s not theirs; it’s mine,” Trump reportedly told several advisers about the misplaced documents. One “Trump adviser” told The Washington Post that “the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term … are now his personal property.” Another adviser to the former president said to the Post, “He didn’t give them the documents because he didn’t want to.”

This childlike logic reflects Trump’s long-running inability to distinguish between the individual president and the institutional presidency, a structure that existed before him and that persists even after he unwillingly departed the White House. In his view, he is the presidency (which … is not what legal scholars typically mean when they talk about the “unitary executive.”) The same logic surfaces in the bizarre arguments made by Trump’s defenders that Trump somehow declassified all the sensitive documents held at Mar-a-Lago before he left office. Under the Constitution, the president does have broad authority over the classification system. But as experts have noted, it makes little sense to imagine a president declassifying information without communicating that decision across the executive branch so that everyone else would know to treat the material in question as no longer classified—unless, that is, you understand presidential power not as an institution of government, but as the projection of a single person’s all-powerful consciousness onto the world.

7) David Brooks on the value of talking to strangers.  Personally, I’m a huge fan, but I’ve become more hesitant to do so when on an airplane because it gets really awkward when you are thinking, but cannot say, “my book is just much more interesting than you.” Or, “you are great to talk to for 20 minutes, but this is a 2 hour flight.”  But, when escape is possible, yeah, I do enjoy it.

One day Nicholas Epley was commuting by train to his office at the University of Chicago. As a behavioral scientist he’s well aware that social connection makes us happier, healthier and more successful and generally contributes to the sweetness of life. Yet he looked around his train car and realized: Nobody is talking to anyone! It was just headphones and newspapers.

Questions popped into his head: What the hell are we all doing here? Why don’t people do the thing that makes them the most happy?

He discovered that one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk to strangers on a train or plane is they don’t think it will be enjoyable. They believe it will be awkward, dull and tiring. In an online survey only 7 percent of people said they would talk to a stranger in a waiting room. Only 24 percent said they would talk to a stranger on a train.

But are these expectations correct? Epley and his team have conducted years of research on this. They ask people to make predictions going into social encounters. Then, afterward, they ask them how it had gone.

They found that most of us are systematically mistaken about how much we will enjoy a social encounter. Commuters expected to have less pleasant rides if they tried to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But their actual experience was precisely the opposite. People randomly assigned to talk with a stranger enjoyed their trips consistently more than those instructed to keep to themselves. Introverts sometimes go into these situations with particularly low expectations, but both introverts and extroverts tended to enjoy conversations more than riding solo.

It turns out many of us wear ridiculously negative antisocial filters. Epley and his team found that people underestimate how positively others will respond when they reach out to express support. Research led by Stav Atir and Kristina Wald showed that most people underestimate how much they will learn from conversations with strangers.

In other research, people underestimated how much they would enjoy longer conversations with new acquaintances. People underestimated how much they’re going to enjoy deeper conversations compared to shallower conversations. They underestimated how much they would like the person. They underestimated how much better their conversation would be if they moved to a more intimate communications media — talking on the phone rather than texting. In settings ranging from public parks to online, people underestimated how positively giving a compliment to another person would make the recipient feel.

We’re an extremely social species, but many of us suffer from what Epley calls undersociality. We see the world in anxiety-drenched ways that cause us to avoid social situations that would be fun, educational and rewarding.

8) Pew with a notable chart:

Chart shows economy remains dominant midterm voting issue, but abortion grows in importance

9) Really enjoyed this Noah Smith, “On the wisdom of the historians: Just as in economics, beware untested theories.”

A lot of people are talking about the history profession this week. There was a kerfuffle when James Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association, wrote a rambling and somewhat opaque post criticizing what he felt was his profession’s excessive focus on the politics of the present, and singling out the 1619 Project for criticism. A subset of historians predictably flew into a rage at this, and forced Sweet to issue a stumbling apology.

I’m not particularly interested in the “woke vs. anti-woke” politics of this dispute. But I think a big part of the reason people care so much about the goings-on in history academia is that in recent years, history professors have become some of the most important voices that we look to in order to understand our current political and social troubles. Jay Caspian Kang explained it well in a New York Times column today:

Over the past decade or so, history has become the lingua franca of online political conversation. This is a relatively new phenomenon…[T]he shift has something to do with the centrality of Twitter over the past decade (historical documents and photos make for great screenshots) and, more important, the changes in the country itself. Once Donald Trump became president, it was harder to write about “Breaking Bad” and Taylor Swift in such self-serious tones…

Twitter has also allowed historians to assume a place in the public discourse that would’ve only been available to a select few before the advent of social media…As a result, history does seem to have an unusual amount of weight in the public discourse.

In the wake of the Great Recession, we talked a lot about whether economists and their theories were afforded too much credence, but as far as I can tell there has been no similarly critical public discourse about academic history. But there ought to be. Just as economists became a sort of priestly order that we relied upon to tell us how to achieve prosperity and distribute resources in society, historians have become a sort of priestly order that we rely on to tell us about where our politics are headed and how we should think about our sense of nationhood.

This is not a blanket criticism of the history profession (although some people on Twitter are certain to interpret it as such, and react accordingly). I am not saying that history needs to stay out of politics and go back to the ivory tower. Nor am I saying that our current crop of historians have bad takes on modern politics. All I am saying is that we ought to think about historians’ theories with the same empirically grounded skepticism with which we ought to regard the mathematized models of macroeconomics.

10) Good stuff from McWhorter, “Leveling the racism charge at something like a licensing exam is crude — it flies past issues more nuanced and complex”

The Association of Social Work Boards administers tests typically required for the licensure of social workers. Apparently, this amounts to a kind of racism that must be reckoned with.

There is a Change.org petition circulating saying just that, based on the claim that the association’s clinical exam is biased because from 2018 to 2021 84 percent of white test-takers passed it the first time while only 45 percent of Black test-takers and 65 percent of Latino test-takers did. “These numbers are grossly disproportionate and demonstrate a failure in the exam’s design,” the petition states, adding that an “assertion that the problem lies with test-takers only reinforces the racism inherent to the test.” The petitioners add that the exam is administered only in English and its questions are based on survey responses from a disproportionately white pool of social workers.

But the petition doesn’t sufficiently explain why that makes the test racist. We’re just supposed to accept that it is. The petitioners want states to eliminate requirements that social workers pass the association’s tests, leaving competence for licensure to be demonstrated through degree completion and a period of supervised work.

So: It’s wrong to use a test to evaluate someone’s qualifications to be a social worker? This begins to sound plausible only if you buy into the fashionable ideology of our moment, in which we’re encouraged to think it’s somehow antiracist to excuse Black and brown people from being measured by standardized testing. There have been comparable claims these days with regard to tests for math teachers in Ontario and state bar exams, and, in the past, on behalf of applicants to the New York City Fire Department

This will mean taking a deep breath and asking why it is that in various instances, Black and Latino test-takers disproportionately have trouble with standardized tests. The reason for the deep breath is the implication ever in the air on this subject: that if the test isn’t racist, then the results might suggest that they aren’t as smart as their white peers. That’s an artificially narrowed realm of choices, however. There is more to what shapes how people handle things like standardized tests.

11) I can’t say stories of our criminal justice system like this surprise me.  But they still infuriate me.  This is just not okay.  Seriously, read this twitter thread:

12) I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who don’t have ideas of friendship shaped by toxic masculinity. “Men have fewer friends than ever, and it’s harming their health”  This Vox piece is all images– I think this one is key:

13) Good stuff from Katherine Wu on the Omicron boosters.

The nation has latched on before to the idea that shots alone can see us through. When vaccines first rolled out, Americans were assured that they’d essentially stamp out transmission, and that the immunized could take off their masks. “I thought we learned our lesson,” says Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at George Mason University. Apparently we did not. America is still stuck on the notion of what Popescu calls “vaccine absolutism.” And it rests on two very shaky assumptions, perhaps both doomed to fail: that the shots can and should sustainably block infection, and that “people will actually go and get the vaccine,” says Deshira Wallace, a public-health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As fall looms, the U.S. is now poised to expose the fatal paradox in its vaccine-only plan. At a time when the country is more reliant than ever on the power of inoculation, we’re also doing less than ever to set the shots up for success.

14) I’ve long been fascinated by the ongoing technological warfare between car manufacturers and car thieves.  This, from Planet Money was the most enlightening thing I’ve ever read on it:

15) Lots and lots of people shared this article with me, “Pickleball, Sport of the Future Injury? It’s all fun and games till you strain your Achilles’ tendon, herniate a disc or do a face-plant in the Kitchen.”

16) This is wild… you will metabolize a pill much faster if you take it and lie on your right side than on your left.  Asymmetry, baby! 

17) Another really good post from Noah Smith, “The Elite Overproduction Hypothesis: Did America produce too many frustrated college graduates in the 2000s and 2010s?”

Ben Schmidt has many more interesting data points in his Twitter thread. To me the most striking was that there are now almost as many people majoring in computer science as in all of the humanities put together:

When you look at the data, it becomes very apparent why the shift is happening. College kids increasingly want majors that will lead them directly to secure and/or high-paying jobs. That’s why STEM and medical fields — and to a lesser degree, blue-collar job-focused fields like hospitality — have been on the rise.

But looking back at that big bump of humanities majors in the 2000s and early 2010s (the raw numbers are here), and thinking about the social unrest America has experienced over the last 8 years, makes me think about Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction. Basically, the idea here is that America produced a lot of highly educated people with great expectations for their place in American society, but that our economic and social system was unable to accommodate many of these expectations, causing them to turn to leftist politics and other disruptive actions out of frustration and disappointment.

18) I wrote a whole post on this a long time ago, but, short version, this research shows why being a college professor is the best job in the world.

19) Democrats can only hope our current Lieutenant Governor is the Republican’s gubernatorial nominee in 2024:

Third graders who attend public school in North Carolina learn about the solar system and volcanoes in science class. Fourth graders study fossils.

Social studies at the second grade level teaches students about democracy. In fifth grade, students discuss rights that are protected under the U.S. Constitution.

But according to Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, kids shouldn’t be learning about any of that…

“In those grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies,” he writes. “We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.”

20) This is fun– “most regretted baby names

Inspired by Mississippi-based journalist Sarah Fowler’s brilliant Washington Post story on the folks who changed their baby’s first name — 30,000 in the past five years alone — we asked the Social Security Administration for a list of the most-changed names. They ran the numbers back to 2017.

Apparently, it’s hard to spell after you or your partner have just gone through labor: The two most-changed names are “Issac” and “Chole,” and the two most-adopted names, as you might expect…

Beyond egregious misspellings, the third most-changed and third most-adopted names show another common pattern: People tend to abandon names that are falling rapidly in the ranks of most popular baby names — such as Aiden — and to adopt names that are on the rise, such as Sebastian.

21) This is something else, “The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment.”  Also, a Fresh Air interview

22) OMG the Mensa people are pathetic, “My Week With America’s Smartest* People”

The truth was, I couldn’t quite articulate why I wouldn’t want to join. I certainly had a nice time at the convention. (“I’ve never seen you do this much reporting,” my fiancé said after I informed him I had to spend yet another day there.) The environment reminded me that I take pleasure in a lot of the same nerdy shit Mensans live for: logic games, trivia, and other sorts of puzzles. It was fun learning Set and later, competing in the Wordle tournament.

But I didn’t quite feel like I had found my people. I have never in my life struggled to find smart friends who get my jokes, and my intelligence (or, per my haters, my lack thereof) isn’t something that makes me feel alienated from my peers. It’s not to say that being brainy isn’t important to me — I’m glad I’m engaged to someone who I think is brilliant and likes to play all the stupid little games that I do — but high IQ is not in the top ten or 20 or 100 qualities I look for in a friend or community. I want to be around part of a group of people who are empathetic and funny and intellectually curious and have weird interests. A lot of people I met fit that bill. And I’m happy for all the Mensans who have found a home in their exclusive club and that their IQ has provided them with a way to understand themselves and their place in the world.

But if my time at the Mensa Annual Gathering taught me anything, it’s that being “smart” and doing well on tests have virtually nothing to do with each other.

22) Gallup, “Americans and the Future of Cigarettes, Marijuana, Alcohol”

Gallup has been asking Americans about their attitudes toward cigarettes and alcohol since the 1930s and 1940s, and, in more recent decades, has added similar questions about marijuana. One purpose of these continuing surveys is to update estimates of these substances’ frequency of use.

 

  • Alcohol is by far the most used of the three. About 45% of Americans have had an alcoholic drink within the past week, while another 23% say they use it occasionally. A third are “total abstainers.”

    Alcohol use has remained relatively constant over the years. The average percentage of Americans who have said they are drinkers since 1939 is 63%, quite close to Gallup’s most recent reading of 67%.

 

  • Some 16% of Americans say they currently smoke marijuana, while a total of 48% say they have tried it at some point in their lifetime.

    Marijuana use (based on self-reports) has increased dramatically over the past half-century. Only 4% said they had ever tried marijuana in 1969, when the question was first asked. That’s now 48%. Seven percent of Americans said they currently smoke marijuana in 2013, compared with the 16% measured this summer.

 

 

  • Cigarette smoking incidence has dropped steadily over the decades, from a high of 45% in the mid-1950s.

    Today, a new low of 11% of American adults report being smokers. Roughly three in 10 nonsmokers say they used to smoke.

In sum, American adults are significantly more likely to use alcohol than either marijuana or cigarettes. And while alcohol consumption has remained relatively constant over the decades, cigarette use is now less than a fourth of what it was in the 1950s. Americans’ regular use of marijuana is modestly higher than cigarettes at this point, but the trend over recent decades in marijuana use is upward…

Bottom Line

Americans recognize the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes, and smoking has declined significantly over the past half-century and can be expected to continue on this trajectory.

Americans are more ambivalent about the effects of smoking marijuana, and its future use by Americans will depend partly on changes in recognition of its potential harms and partly on the continuing shifts in its legality in states across the union.

The majority of Americans recognize that alcohol consumption has negative effects on both the user and society more generally. But unlike the case with smoking, there are no signs that these attitudes have resulted in a decrease in alcohol use. Why people use alcohol and have continued to use it while recognizing its downsides are complex questions that have engendered a great deal of medical and psychological research over the years. Clearly the social and personal benefits alcohol provides, along with its historical entrenchment in American culture, tend to outweigh consideration of its social and personal costs.

What could change the pattern of alcohol use going forward? Americans are not likely to support any type of ban on alcohol (a 2014 CNN poll showed only 18% of Americans said alcohol should be made illegal in this country), so if alcohol use diminishes in the future, it will most likely result from factors like those that reduced the incidence of smoking. These include an increased emphasis on its personal and social costs, along with, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such steps as increasing taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of places where alcohol is sold, and reducing the hours of sale and general availability of alcohol.

 

Covid meets DARE?

What am I talking about you ask?  Let’s start with Aaron Carrol’s recent excellent column:

You would think that vaccination sites would have been swamped with parents rushing to vaccinate their young children against Covid after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccines for the under-5 age group in June. But as of early August, around 5 percent of eligible children under 5 had received the first dose of the vaccine series. Worse, the number of them being immunized has been decreasing.

Some may argue that it’s harder to get their young children vaccinated because not all drugstores will give shots to babies and toddlers. But the fact that ‌uptake is still so low, even though pediatricians and family physicians‌ can provide them, suggests a lack of urgency. Moreover, only 30 percent of those ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, and vaccines for that group have been authorized since fall 2021 and ‌‌are available anywhere shots are given.

‌The best way to end the pandemic and keep everyone safe is vaccination. Immunization is the only intervention that gives the benefits of extended immunity without the dangers ‌of infection for all ages. It’s what we’ve done to combat — and even eradicate — a host of diseases that used to ravage humanity…

I fear that it’s indicative of Americans’ loss of trust in the public health system of the United States. Much of that is because of misinformation and disinformation spread about the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. But some of it is the result of inconsistent and often suboptimal science communication by public health experts.

Too many messages are still centered on trying to frighten people into compliance by arguing about worst-case scenarios and ‌‌convincing them that things are as dangerous as ever. They amplify every new variant and predict future worsening. They point to charts of the unvaccinated and vaccinated and marvel at the differences in deaths. [emphasis mine]

Such charts almost always, however, depict outcomes that don’t easily apply to young children. If the goal is to persuade parents to take action to prevent harm to their children, this won’t work.

The truth is that awful as Covid is, in a giant country, many, if not most of us, are going to personally know, few, if any, seriously affected. I do not personally know a single person who has died from Covid, much less been hospitalized much less been more seriously ill than a bad case of influenza.  And this is even more the case for kids.  And I know I’m not alone in this experience.  This is not at all to downplay Covid and the very real risks– regardless of my personal circumstances I, well… read.  But, most people make most decisions in their life based upon what they personally experience and the truth is, for many, many Americans, Covid just isn’t that scary.  And trying to tell them just how scare it is (especially in a post-vaccine world) feels like a lot of needless scaremongering when, perhaps, every single kid they know had a fairly mild case.  

So, where does the DARE anti-drug program come in?  Well, my best memories of DARE from middle school were police officers telling us just how awful and scary illegal drugs were.  One hit on a joint and you were on the path to cocaine, PCP, and your life being ruined.  But, most of us knew at least some older kids who used marijuana.  Sure, there were “stoners” and “burnouts” as we used to say back in the day (do they still?) but plenty of really successful kids who had got into elite universities while having part-time jobs, etc.  We saw with our own eyes that the whole DARE program was not a very accurate reflection of reality and just out to scare us.  That’s why I still use PCP :-).  Seriously, though, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned I’ve never been one for any drugs (beyond the very occasional alcohol), but it’s sure not because of DARE.  

Of course, if you want people to act out of irrational fear, just get on Fox news and scare them about immigrants at the border.  But, when it comes to public health– Covid or illegal drugs– just be honest.  

 

(Better than no) Quick Hits

Sorry I’ve let you all down with the limited posting this week.  Been pretty busy getting ready for classes to start this coming week.  Throw in a day off on Friday to visit Wet n Wild with my daughter (soooo fun) and many hours last evening to celebrate the wedding of one of my most loyal readers (who, presumably, will not be reading this Sunday morning), and, tough weekend for quick hits, too. But, I couldn’t give you nothing, so, we’ll see how much I can queue up Saturday post-nuptials…

1) Such a good post from Brian Beutler (he’s good at this!)

All of this raises the question of what Democrats can do as we drift into an information environment that responsible gatekeepers no longer shape, where huge swaths of the population can be made to think that wild conspiracy theories and bizarre nonsense (Colbert-sent reporters???) are the most important stories the Democrat-run media won’t tell you about. What do liberals who hope to persuade people with facts and reason do in a world where an astonishing percentage of young voters get their popular information from social media platforms like TikTok and, also (by pure coincidence, probably) an astonishing percentage of young voters disapprove of Biden. More even than disapproved of Trump.

The answer, I think (and to coin a bunch of tedious Trump apologists) is to take Dark Brandon seriously but not literally. More specifically, it’s to realize that Democrats are already figuring out how to win in this new world without embracing the genuinely dark forces of incitement and totalitarian lying that now define GOP politics. Obama did it in 2012. John Fetterman is doing it today, pairing a high-minded substantive campaign with a meme-driven one aimed at making a mockery of his opponent. He’s crushing Dr. Oz by a greater margin than the other statewide candidates in Pennsylvania are leading their races, or Senate candidates in other battlegrounds are leading theirs.

The January 6 committee has done it in its own way, rendering a substantive and complex investigation of a huge and important scandal into headline-grabbing moments with long shelf lives.  

But the Democratic strategic class remains excessively hidebound to the material school. When House Democrats were about to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who runs the House Democrats’ election committee, appeared on MSNBC and scolded his interviewers for asking him about the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago, and Donald Trump’s theft of highly classified information. “Look, it’s sad and it is serious that we would be in a place where we had a former president keeping classified information in the basement,” he said. “But can I tell you something? We are on the verge of historic legislation right here. So with all due respect, I think you guys are maybe overdoing the relative importance of these two stories. My constituents care a lot more about what’s in their paychecks than what’s in Donald Trump’s basement.”

 
 

Right, when has a candidate having classified information in her basement ever changed the course of an election?

There remain too many Democrats who don’t get that these stories about Trump are opportunities to influence social knowledge about him and the GOP. Republicans don’t miss those moments. They know each Trump scandal impels them to circle wagons and treat Trump like a victim, so that as many people as possible come to see him that way; they know that when their opponents are under criminal investigation, it’s good news for them. Meanwhile it’s been a week and a half since the raid and Democratic leaders have done nothing to influence how people perceive that development and, astonishingly, almost seem to wish it would disappear. 

These are moments candidates like Fetterman (and the January 6 committee and the 2012 Obama campaign and Dark Brandon) wouldn’t miss. Easy opportunities not just to go on the attack but to turn the subject matter underlying the attack into a multi-day earned-media bonanza. Like the one that would ensue if congressional Republicans had to vote on their demand to defund the FBI, or to insulate critical national-security investigations from political meddling. Fetterman has a maestro’s knack for creating online content that makes Oz look ridiculous. But his tweets don’t do the work directly. It’s that they’re funny, and people talk about them, and reporters glom on, and turn them into news stories. If Fetterman had inverted his formula and run an expensive TV ad about Dr. Oz calling vegetables “crudités,” while using his Twitter account to talk about the prescription-drug provisions of the IRA, it would’ve accomplished almost nothing. Instead Pennsylvania political media can’t get enough of how Oz appears to be from outer space

By the same token, Chuck Schumer could do the work of 100 paid ads by one day casually responding to a question about GOP Senate candidates with an arch line about whether the reporter was referring to the one who threatened to kill his wife, the one who actually lives in New Jersey, the one whose intellectual role models are Nazis, or the one who spent 4th of July with Putin and lies about vaccines. Republicans would get mad, and then we’d get a multi-day conversation about how insane the GOP candidates are (couched here and there as a Schumer fact check). And the fundamental vileness of the Republican field would become a piece of social knowledge people shared, irrespective of anyone’s plans to address inflation. 

But it’d require using a different skill set, a willingness to wield message after message in search of the dagger that draws blood. It’d require at least some recognition that materiality and data aren’t destiny. It’d require asking, What Would Dark Brandon Do? 

2) Still very unsure of what to make of this NC Supreme Court decision.  Just because a decision benefits liberals does not mean this is how I want a judicial system to operate.  But, Democrats should also not unilaterally disarm.  

North Carolina’s state legislature was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to the extent that lawmakers may have lacked the authority to claim to represent the people, when they passed new constitutional amendments in 2018, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled Friday.

“Today’s decision sends a watershed message in favor of accountability and North Carolina democracy,” said Deborah Maxwell, president of the North Carolina NAACP, which brought the lawsuit. “Rigging elections by trampling on the rights of Black voters has consequences.”

One of the state constitutional amendments in question required voters to show photo ID to cast a ballot. It has never been used, however, due to this and other lawsuits challenging it. The other banned future politicians from raising the state’s income tax rate above 7%.

Justice Anita Earls’ majority opinion states that “amendments that could change basic tenets of our constitutional system of government warrant heightened scrutiny,” especially when written by “legislators whose claim to represent the people’s will has been disputed.”

3) Yes, I have already messaged my doctor about getting some oral minoxidil.  But, it is kind of crazy to think that we’ve got a great drug for hair loss not being used in the most effective way because there’s not enough profit incentive:

But there is a cheap treatment, he and other dermatologists say, costing pennies a day, that restores hair in many patients. It is minoxidil, an old and well-known hair-loss treatment drug used in a very different way. Rather than being applied directly to the scalp, it is being prescribed in very low-dose pills.

Although a growing group of dermatologists is offering low-dose minoxidil pills, the treatment remains relatively unknown to most patients and many doctors. It has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this purpose and so is prescribed off-label — a common practice in dermatology.

Without a rigorous trial leading to F.D.A. approval, though, the use of minoxidil pills for hair loss remains off-label. And, dermatologists say, it is likely to remain so.

“Oral minoxidil costs pennies a day,” Dr. King said. “There is no incentive to spend tens of millions of dollars to test it in a clinical trial. That study truly is never, ever going to be done.”
Serious question, though, should Pfizer or somebody like that take minoxidil, add a useless molecule to it call it levominoxidil or something and market it as an amazing new baldness cure?  What am I missing?  

4) Great stuff from Chait:

After making the decision to stop challenging Trump’s election lies, it followed that the rest of the party needed to go along. Cheney stubbornly refused. As a result, Republicans stripped her of her leadership post and then began to abandon her as Trump backed a primary challenge.

The party Establishment decided to treat Trump’s coup as a minor detail they could put to the side. Confronting the insurrection would open a damaging schism within the party. They expected the party to work together in an authoritarian-led coalition.

Accordingly, the Establishment Republican view is that Cheney has nobody to blame for her defeat but herself. Cheney might be correct about the 2020 election result, but she should have kept quiet. “In Wyoming, Cheney lost because her constituents saw that she cared more about fighting Trump than fighting Biden. She was more concerned with waging a civil war within the Republican Party than the inflation that is forcing her voters to choose between staples such as gas and food,” argues Marc Thiessen. “Telling truths is important, but we rightly regard people who only ever tell the same one truth all the time as fanatics who have lost perspective,” explains the National Review’s Dan McLaughlin.

But of course one completely foreseeable consequence of the party’s decision to cede the argument over 2020 to Trump is that it has allowed Trump to retain his influence. Republicans complain over the personal aspect of Trump’s influence — he has interceded in primaries to endorse unqualified candidates — but his ideological influence is more profound.

If Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen, of course they are going to demand their party nominate candidates who will stop it. Why would they even consider “moving on” from a historical crime so profound? It makes perfect sense that their primary consideration in choosing nominees going forward is a willingness to fight against the future steals they believe will occur.

Yet the party Establishment has persisted in believing Trump’s influence is the result of choices other than their own refusal to confront him. This explains why the Democratic Party tactic of running ads highlighting the extremism of Trumpist primary candidates, and thus to help them win, has become an obsession of anti-anti-Trump Republicans. The tactic may be deplorable, but its effect on the outcome of Republicans primaries is marginal. The greatest determinate by far is the GOP backing off its brief determination to purge Trump. Once they decided they couldn’t win without him, they ceded all the leverage to Trump.

In a just world, the Republican Establishment would pay a dear price for its cowardice. In reality, the price is likely to be bearable. Very few Republicans have any moral compunction against electing extreme or even outright fascistic Republicans to office. Witness the near-total absence of any intraparty resistance to candidates like election denier Kari Lake or Christian nationalist and Nazi ally Doug Mastriano, both of whom have enjoyed full public endorsements from Ron DeSantis, the main hope of the GOP’s non-Trump wing.

5) Lara Bazelon, “The Death Penalty Case That Went Too Far Oklahoma is set to kill Richard Glossip, but he’s almost certainly innocent. Even Republicans are revolting.”

6) If there’s one thing Dall-e 2 is really good at, it is mimicking the style of a particular artist.  Wired on the implications for current artists:

David Oreilly, a digital artist who has been critical of DALL-E, says the idea of using these tools that feed on past work to create new works that make money feels wrong. “They don’t own any of the material they reconstitute,” he says. “It would be like Google Images charging money.”

Jonathan Løw, CEO of Jumpstory, a Danish stock image company, says he doesn’t understand how AI-generated images can be used commercially. “I’m fascinated by the technology but also deeply concerned and skeptical,” he says.

Hannah Wong, a spokesperson for OpenAI, provided a statement saying the company’s image-making service was used by many artists, and that the company had sought feedback from artists during the tool’s development. “Copyright law has adapted to new technology in the past and will need to do the same with AI-generated content,” the statement said. “We continue to seek artists’ perspectives and look forward to working with them and policymakers to help protect the rights of creators.”

Although Guadamuz believes it will be difficult to sue someone for using AI to copy their work, he expects there to be lawsuits. “There will absolutely be all sorts of litigation at some point—I’m sure of it,” he says. He says that infringing trademarks like a brand’s logo, or the image of a character such as Mickey Mouse, could prove more legally fraught.

Other legal experts are less sure that AI generated knock-offs are on solid legal ground. “I could see litigation arising from the artist who says ‘I didn’t give you permission to train your algorithm on my art,’” says Bradford Newman, a partner in the law firm Baker Mckenzie, who specializes in AI. “It is a completely open question as to who would win such a case.”

7) This is great from Don Moynihan, “Republican loyalty to Trump is fueling more radical positions about the role of the state”

8) I’ll admit, I didn’t read the whole thing.  But this is a helluva photo essay very much worth taking a look at (gift link), “Odesa Is Defiant. It’s Also Putin’s Ultimate Target.”

9) Of course, there’s just no political viability in this, but an interesting idea that liberals should stop looking to rehabilitate the Constitution because it’s beyond rehabilitation:

When liberals lose in the Supreme Court — as they increasingly have over the past half-century — they usually say that the justices got the Constitution wrong. But struggling over the Constitution has proved a dead end. The real need is not to reclaim the Constitution, as many would have it, but instead to reclaim America from constitutionalism.

The idea of constitutionalism is that there needs to be some higher law that is more difficult to change than the rest of the legal order. Having a constitution is about setting more sacrosanct rules than the ones the legislature can pass day to day. Our Constitution’s guarantee of two senators to each state is an example. And ever since the American founders were forced to add a Bill of Rights to get their handiwork passed, national constitutions have been associated with some set of basic freedoms and values that transient majorities might otherwise trample.

But constitutions — especially the broken one we have now — inevitably orient us to the past and misdirect the present into a dispute over what people agreed on once upon a time, not on what the present and future demand for and from those who live now. This aids the right, which insists on sticking with what it claims to be the original meaning of the past.

Arming for war over the Constitution concedes in advance that the left must translate its politics into something consistent with the past. But liberals have been attempting to reclaim the Constitution for 50 years — with agonizingly little to show for it. It’s time for them to radically alter the basic rules of the game.

In making calls to regain ownership of our founding charter, progressives have disagreed about strategy and tactics more than about this crucial goal. Proposals to increase the number of justices, strip the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to invalidate federal law or otherwise soften the blow of judicial review frequently come together with the assurance that the problem is not the Constitution; only the Supreme Court’s hijacking of it is. And even when progressives concede that the Constitution is at the root of our situation, typically the call is for some new constitutionalism…

No matter how openly political it may purport to be, reclaiming the Constitution remains a kind of antipolitics. It requires the substitution of claims about the best reading of some centuries-old text or about promises said to be already in our traditions for direct arguments about what fairness or justice demands.

It’s difficult to find a constitutional basis for abortion or labor unions in a document written by largely affluent men more than two centuries ago. It would be far better if liberal legislators could simply make a case for abortion and labor rights on their own merits without having to bother with the Constitution.

By leaving democracy hostage to constraints that are harder to change than the rest of the legal order, constitutionalism of any sort demands extraordinary consensus for meaningful progress. It conditions democracy in which majority rule always must matter most on surviving vetoes from powerful minorities that invoke the constitutional past to obstruct a new future.

After failing to get the Constitution interpreted in an egalitarian way for so long, the way to seek real freedom will be to use procedures consistent with popular rule. It will not be easy, but a new way of fighting within American democracy must start with a more open politics of altering our fundamental law, perhaps in the first place by making the Constitution more amendable than it is now.

10) Of course in a post-Roe world Louisiana is making a woman carry a fetus that will be born without a skull and die.

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health said that because of Ms. Davis’s case the department would add acrania to the preliminary list of two dozen fetal conditions explicitly named as examples of conditions that would make a pregnancy “medically futile” and allow for an abortion.

The final guidelines will go into effect 90 days after a public notice, which was expected to be published in the September edition of the state register, said Michelle McCalope, a spokeswoman for the agency, in an email.

Jenny Ma, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who has led arguments for plaintiffs challenging the Louisiana law, said that the group was “absolutely horrified” about Ms. Davis’s situation and that it was “absolutely one of the animating reasons for the lawsuit that we brought.” Ms. Ma noted that there was also a lack of clarity about what kind of physicians could sign off on the exemption, and that there was not a guarantee that two doctors would be available or nearby to quickly assess a case, particularly in rural areas.

She added that any list could not account for every situation that could emerge and that the problem was “exacerbated by the chilling effect” on doctors who were facing legal liability.

Sarah Zagorski, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Right to Life, who noted that the organization had fought against an amendment to the ban that allowed for an exception if a fetus had a fatal medical condition, said that in Ms. Davis’s case, the organization would recommend “support for families and perinatal palliative care from the moment of the diagnosis through the duration of the child’s natural life.”

My God these forced-birth-at-all-costs people are just insane.  Who does this to a mother/family?

11) If there’s one thing I didn’t need data to know, but, still, nice to have proof, “Buttons beat touchscreens in cars, and now there’s data to prove it”

I love the Carplay in my Jetta, but I also love that all the climate and basic radio functions are good old-fashioned buttons and knobs.

12) Study– Russians basically made up their efficacy data on the Sputnik vaccine.

13) Really interesting post from Scott Alexander on how and why our skills decay over time:

Why Do Skills Plateau?

 

Economist Philip Frances finds that creative artists, on average, do their best work in their late 30s. Isn’t this strange? However good a writer is at age 35, they should be even better at 55 with twenty more years of practice. Sure, middle age might bring some mild proto-cognitive-impairment, but surely nothing so dire that it cancels out twenty extra years!

A natural objection is that maybe they’ve maxed out their writing ability; further practice won’t help. But this can’t be true; most 35 year old writers aren’t Shakespeare or Dickens, so higher tiers of ability must be possible. But you can’t get there just by practicing more. If acheivement is a function of talent and practice, at some point returns on practice decrease near zero.

The same is true for doctors. Young doctors (under 40) have slightly better cure rates than older doctors (eg 40-49). The linked study doesn’t go any younger (eg under 35, under 30…). However, Goodwin et al find that only first-year doctors suffer from inexperience; by a doctor’s second year, she’s doing about as well as she ever will. Why? Wouldn’t you expect someone who’s practiced medicine for twenty years to be better than someone who’s only done it for two?

We find the same phenomenon in formal education; on a standardized test of book learning for student doctors, there’s a big increase the first year of training, a smaller increase the second year, and by year 4-5 the increase is basically indistinguishable from zero (even though some doctors remain better than others). And here I talk about a slightly different phenomenon: ADHD children given Ritalin study harder and better, but haven’t learned any more vocabulary words at the end of a course (even though they haven’t learned all the vocabulary).

After a lot of looking through the psychological literature, I’ve found two hypotheses which, combined, mostly satisfy my curiosity.

The Decay Hypothesis

 

The first explanation is a “dynamic equilibrium of forgetting”.

Suppose that you forget any fact you haven’t reviewed in X amount of time (X might be shorter or longer depending on your intelligence/memory/talent). And suppose that an average doctor sees 5 diseases ~weekly, another 5 diseases ~monthly, and another 5 diseases ~yearly. A bad doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a week, a mediocre doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a month, and a great doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a year. So the bad doctor will end up knowing about 5 diseases, the mediocre doctor 10, and the great doctor 15. They will master these diseases quickly, and no matter how long they continue practicing medicine, they will never get better…

The Interference Hypothesis

 

An acquaintance relates that, using flashcards, he can learn twenty words of some language (I forget which, let’s say Spanish) per day. If he studies more than twenty, too bad, he’ll only remember twenty.

But if he studies two language (let’s say Spanish and Chinese), he can learn twenty Spanish vocab words plus twenty Chinese vocab words. The cap is per language, not absolute!

This suggests an interference hypothesis: once there are too many similar things in memory, they all kind of blend together and it’s hard to learn new things in the same space. It might still be easy to learn some other topic, though. However fast you can comfortably learn Spanish, you can take a karate class at the same time and learn karate and that won’t interfere.

Something like this feels intuitively true to me. I find remembering the difference between gold and silver easier than remembering the difference between yttrium and ytterbium. In fact, I remember the basics of inorganic chemistry, and the basics of organic chemistry, but not the details of either. Why do I even remember the basics? Why not forget all of it? Why is getting an introductory understanding of twenty fields easier than getting a masterly understanding of one?

Wikipedia has a good summary of experiments showing that memory inteference is a real phenomenon, but I can’t tell if their page is treating it as a curiosity or as the fundamental explanation for why we can’t keep learning a field forever and eventually become as gods by the time we’re 50 or 60. But I think it’s a big part of that.

This feels more convincing after learning about neural nets. The ability of neural nets to consider finely-grained concepts depends on their parameter count; the more parameters, the more distinctions they can draw. A common problem is “catastrophic forgetting”, where too high a learning rate causes a net to overfit to “remember” the most recent example, making it less good at remembering previous examples. Human memory seems to lack this failure mode, but maybe its ordinary forgetting is a tamer subspecies of the same problem.

14) Alex Tabarrok, “Still under-policed and over-imprisoned”

A new paper, The Injustice of Under-Policing, makes a point that I have been emphasizing for many years, namely, relative to other developed countries the United States is under-policed and over-imprisoned.

…the American criminal legal system is characterized by an exceptional kind of under-policing, and a heavy reliance on long prison sentences, compared to other developed nations. In this country, roughly three people are incarcerated per police officer employed. The rest of the developed world strikes a diametrically opposite balance between these twin arms of the penal state, employing roughly three and a half times more police officers than the number of people they incarcerate. We argue that the United States has it backward. Justice and efficiency demand that we strike a balance between policing and incarceration more like that of the rest of the developed world. We call this the “First World Balance.”

First, as is well known, the US  has a very high rate of imprisonment compared to other countries but less well  known is that the US has a relatively low rate of police per capita.

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If we focus on rates relative to crime then we get a slightly different but similar perspective. Namely, relative to the number of homicides we have a normal rate of imprisonment but are still surprisingly under-policed.

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As a result, as I argued in What Was Gary Becker’s Biggest Mistake?, we have a low certainty of punishment (measured as arrests per homicide) and then try to make up for that with high punishment levels (prisoners per arrest). The low certainty, high punishment level is especially notably for black Americans.

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Shifting to more police and less imprisonment could reduce crime and improve policing. More police and less imprisonment also has the advantage of being a feasible policy. Large majorities of blacks, hispanics and whites support hiring more police. “Tough on crime” can be interpreted as greater certainty of punishment and with greater certainty of punishment we can safely reduce punishment levels.

15) “All Hooting Aside: Did a Vocal Evolution Give Rise to Language? The loss of certain muscles in the human larynx may have helped give our species a voice, a new study suggests.”

Read this sentence aloud, if you’re able.

As you do, a cascade of motion begins, forcing air from your lungs through two muscles, which vibrate, sculpting sound waves that pass through your mouth and into the world. These muscles are called vocal cords, or vocal folds, and their vibrations form the foundations of the human voice.

They also speak to the emergence and evolution of human language.

For several years, a team of scientists based mainly in Japan used imaging technology to study the physiology of the throats of 43 species of primates, from baboons and orangutans to macaques and chimpanzees, as well as humans. All the species but one had a similar anatomical structure: an extra set of protruding muscles, called vocal membranes or vocal lips, just above the vocal cords. The exception was Homo sapiens.

The researchers also found that the presence of vocal lips destabilized the other primates’ voices, rendering their tone and timbre more chaotic and unpredictable. Animals with vocal lips have a more grating, less controlled baseline of communication, the study found; humans, lacking the extra membranes, can exchange softer, more stable sounds. The findings were published on Thursday in the journal Science.

16) Ecosystems are cool. “Death Valley’s Invasive Donkeys Have Become Cat Food: Feral burros wreck wetlands in the desert national park. But a study found that when mountain lions prey on them, the donkeys may help some terrain thrive.”

Early on a June morning in Death Valley National Park, a wild donkey brought her foal to one of the springs scattered throughout the desert. Two sets of eyes watched the foal pick its way through the brush. One set belonged to a mountain lion, the other to a trail camera.

Footage of the subsequent kill was published last month in the Journal of Animal Ecologyin a study that provided direct evidence of mountain lions hunting donkeys in the western deserts of North America. The attacks don’t just result in donkey scraps and full cougars, researchers argue: They suggest that native carnivores act as an important check on nonnative prey. The study also raises questions about how damaging donkeys are in the wild desert landscapes where they are found, although federal wildlife authorities maintain a goal of eliminating them entirely.

Donkeys originated in North Africa but were introduced to the United States through the mining industry in the late 1800s. Federal agencies were not pleased to see the hardy herbivores establish themselves in Death Valley. In the 1930s, wildlife managers began culling donkeys, arguing that herds of burros trampled vegetation, muddied springs and drove away native wildlife like bighorn sheep. But the donkeys have persisted, and decades later, an estimated 4,000 live in Death Valley, despite National Park Service goals of bringing the population to zero.

Erick Lundgren, a biologist at Aarhus University in Denmark took an interest in the donkeys’ effects on the desert’s wetlands. Initially, he focused on donkeys’ habit of digging wells — sometimes up to five feet deep — to reach water beneath dry stream beds. These wells have often been cited as evidence of ecological damage, Dr. Lundgren said. But he and colleagues found in a 2021 study that donkey wells served as nurseries and oases for native plants and animals.

He also found that donkeys congregating near Death Valley campsites could cause damage.

“They pretty much turn these wetlands into just a warren of trails and trampled ground,” Dr. Lundgren said. While some plant species actually benefit from this kind of grazing, he added, the donkeys wipe out other kinds of vegetation that attract birds and store carbon.

But in more remote spring-fed groves, Dr. Lundgren found, donkeys tended not to linger, and their impact on vegetation was much less drastic. At many of the sites, the researchers found mountain lion caches — the stashed carcasses that are hidden away behind boulders or thickets to prevent theft by scavengers and other cats. Many of the Death Valley caches contained donkey remains, suggesting that donkeys in parts of the park were serving an important ecological function: cat food…

“Our study shows that burros can denude wetlands but only when mountain lions are absent,” Dr. Lundgren said. “This is the case in the most visible springs in Death Valley, which occur at campsites, where mountain lions are fearful to go,” Dr. Lundgren said. He said that the places where wild donkeys do the most damage are “places that are artificially safe because of humans.”

The predators, in other words, were acting as a check on the donkeys, Dr. Lundgren said, moderating their impact on sensitive sites into something ecologically useful — well digging and opening up spring-fed thickets.

17) This is great, “11 Questions About the Dr. Oz Crudités Video”

18) Score this one for twitter.  Jesse Singal tweeted what overlooked movie should he watch on a streaming platform and someone suggested Oxygen on Netflix.  I don’t think Singal watched it, but I’m damn glad I did.  

Quick hits (Part II)

1) Are skittles toxic?  I doubt it, but I’m eating them anyway.

2) I took Vitamin D supplements for about a year. But, barring some dramatic new evidence, I’m done with it. “Study Finds Another Condition That Vitamin D Pills Do Not Help: The vitamin pills do not prevent bone fractures in most people or protect against many other diseases, adding to questions about medical guidance many now take for granted.”

3) I always aim to have my aerobic exercise be at least 20 minutes, but rarely go much over 30.  Good to know that’s pretty efficient.  NYT Well Newsletter:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week from activities like biking or swimming. That corresponds to just over 20 minutes a day. Still, you can benefit from doing less, said Dr. I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist who studies exercise at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The first 20 minutes of physical activity per session confer the most health perks, at least in terms of longevity, Dr. Lee said. As you continue working out, “the bang for your buck starts to decrease” in terms of tangible health rewards, she added.

4) Greg Sargent, “Rising GOP anger at Mitch McConnell offers a lesson for Democrats”

Republicans have staged a carnival of fake outrage ever since Sen. Joe Manchin III announced support for a massive climate and health-care package. Their claim: The West Virginia Democrat and his party double-crossed them by announcing a deal just after Senate Republicans helped pass industrial policy making us competitive with China.

There’s a lesson in this for Democrats: Procedural hardball works.

You can see this in rising GOP anger at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican, angry lawmakers say, has been too willing to agree to bipartisan deals on legislation — which allowed that alleged double-cross to happen, catching him flat-footed.

CNN reports on new “internal tensions” in the party, with House Republicans faulting McConnell for negligently letting bipartisanship break out on infrastructuregun control and the Chips and Science Act. That bill invests $280 billion in shoring up the semiconductor industry and in science and technology development, and just passed both houses

Regardless, there’s a moral in this story for Democrats: There is often no serious penalty for political hardball, no matter how far it pushes the procedural envelope.

Republicans have strained vigorously to gin up outrage over the Democrats’ procedural handling of all this. House Republicans raged that the Manchin deal required them to sink the chips bill. Senate Republicans held up a measure to provide health care to veterans suffering from burn pit exposure, though there’s some dispute about the motive. And Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) declared the Democrats’ perfidy would make it harder to win GOP support for a bill codifying same-sex marriage.

That’s absurdly revealing: The explicit admission is that the merits of the same-sex marriage bill (and possibly the burn pit bill) are beside the point. If Republicans do sink that measure, it will be because Democrats used their authority under the simple-majority reconciliation process to pass something entirely unrelated to it!

But that aside, here’s the thing: None of that fake outrage will matter in the least.

5) Nice summary of evidence on food and weight loss from Eric Barker:

Here’s the neuroscience of eating less and staying fit:

  • Beware “Food Reward”But blander foods aren’t fun! (Which is why you’ll eat less of them.)
  • Reduce Food Variety: Say you ate steak for dinner. If dessert was more steak, you’d be a lot less likely to eat it.
  • Control Your Environment: Discipline at the grocery store. And put all your tasty snacks in a jar. On a high shelf. In another country.
  • “High Satiety” Foods: Eat meat, fish, oatmeal, vegetables… Okay, I’m just typing that and I already feel full.
  • Exercise To Maintain Weight Loss: It may not help you lose fat but it will help keep it off — as long as you can tolerate the music at the gym.

The food variety party really hits home and makes so much intuitive sense and is something I personally really need to work on.  When I’m feeling full from my dinner, I switch foods and pack on more calories.

Reduce Your Variety

In 2010 Chris Voight ate nothing but 20 plain potatoes a day for 60 days. Yes, your mind cannot process that degree of horror. He lost 21 pounds. Frankly, he had trouble eating enough because he just wasn’t all that hungry.

Yes, this brief tableau of gastronomic desolation is anecdotal, but the scientists are nodding. Food variety is a very big deal. What six words have the mystical ability to increase space in your stomach? “Do you have room for dessert?

Even within a meal we go back and forth between steak and potatoes or chips and soda. Why? Keeps the variety high. When variety is low, we get tired of whatever we’re eating faster. Researchers have even coined the term “the buffet effect” because the endless options resist any habituation and people eat until they’re ready to explode. (Example: Thanksgiving.)

More options mean more eating. Less variety is an easy way to feel full on fewer calories.

6) The extra cool part of this is that a friend of mine from high school, who is a complete space buff, had a contract to write the descriptions of the items for Sotheby’s, “Buzz Aldrin’s Space Memorabilia Sells for More Than $8 Million”

7) I really doubt we’ll ever have the sense to do it, but, oh my should we just clean up the spelling in the English language. McWhorter:

I hope it would help people to unbend somewhat to more intuitive (if odd-looking) spellings if those new spellings were seen as social justice of a kind. Children whose first language is English have to labor longer to learn to read than their counterparts. This crowds out school time that could be used for learning other things. Dyslexia appears to be less prevalent in many other languages because mapping the sounds we utter to the chaos of how they are represented on the page (“cough,” “bough,” “enough”) is so complex and often arbitrary. Anglophone kids are twice as likely to show signs of dyslexia as Italian ones, for example.

Plus, English is notoriously hard to master for the legions of people worldwide required to learn it as a second or third language. However, as languages go, English isn’t especially tough — if you want difficult, try Polish, Lithuanian or Navajo. A good deal of what frustrates English learners is the spellings. To think beyond our time is to imagine English as an international language that welcomes learners with spellings that actually make sense. Finnish spellings do — the sounds you make correspond neatly with the letters on the page. But let’s face it, the likelihood of Finnish as a lingua franca is slim. So why can’t English tidy itself up a bit?

Busy people leading busy lives shouldn’t have to put up with spelling seemingly designed to be difficult, random and frustrating. Think, for example, of just that word, “busy.” Why is its “u” pronounced “ih”? And why is the “y” in that word and at the end of adverbs pronounced “ee”?

I could go awn. We Anglophones wallow in orthographical muck. Attention must be paid.

8) Good stuff from Ron Brownstein, “Red states are building a nation within a nation”

9) This is excellent.  You should read it (free link), “Alabama Takes From the Poor and Gives to the Rich”

In states like Alabama, almost every interaction a person has with the criminal justice system comes with a financial cost. If you’re assigned to a pretrial program to reduce your sentence, each class attended incurs a fee. If you’re on probation, you’ll pay a fee to take your mandatory urine test. If you appear in drug court, you will face more fees, sometimes dozens of times a year. Often, you don’t even have to break the law; you’ll pay fees to pull a public record or apply for a permit. For poor people, this system is a trap, sucking them into a cycle of sometimes unpayable debt that constrains their lives and almost guarantees financial hardship.

While almost every state in the country, both red and blue, levies fines and fees that fall disproportionately on the bottom rung of the income ladder, the situation in Alabama is far more dramatic, thanks to the peculiarities of its Constitution. Over a century ago, wealthy landowners and businessmen rewrote the Constitution to cap taxes permanently. As a result, today, Alabama has one of the cruelest tax systems in the country.

Taxes on most property, for example, are exceptionally low. In 2019, property taxes accounted for just 7 percent of state and local revenue, the lowest among the states. (Even Mississippi, which also has low property taxes, got roughly 12 percent from property taxes. New Jersey, by contrast, got 29 percent.) Strapped for cash, all levels of government look for money anywhere they can get it. And often, that means creating revenue from fines and fees. A 2016 study showed that the median assessment for a felony in Alabama doubled between 1995 and 2005, to $2,000…

To understand how Alabama came to be so underdeveloped, you need only look to the Black Belt, a large region originally named for its rich black dirt that sweeps across the lower midsection of the state. The earth is full of crushed limestone left behind by the sea that once covered the land. Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, is in the heart of the region. It’s an agriculturally rich area that was once blanketed by cotton plantations worked by enslaved people. Much of the area is still rural and agricultural, but the product isn’t cotton; it is, among other things, timber. Drive just a few minutes outside Montgomery and you’re flanked by forest. Rows of loblolly pine stand sentinel along the roads, waiting to be turned into America’s paper. Much of the land is owned by multinational corporations, international investors, hedge funds, some families that live outside the Black Belt and some whose ancestors cultivated the land before the Civil War.

Many of those families’ agricultural interests were top of mind when state lawmakers rewrote Alabama’s Constitution. In 1874, less than a decade into Reconstruction, the Democratic Party, representing the landowning, formerly slave-owning class, took over the state government in a rigged election and quickly passed a new Constitution that mandated taxes on property would remain permanently low.

In the next couple of decades, as cotton prices crashed, poor sharecroppers, both white and Black, banded together in a populist movement to unseat the elites who controlled the state. In response, in another set of contested elections, the elites called another constitutional convention to further consolidate their power over the state. “What is it that we want to do?” the convention president, John B. Knox, asked. “Establish white supremacy in this state.” But this time, he said, they wanted to “establish it by law — not by force or fraud.”

10) Chait, “Without Media Accountability, Republicans Will Govern Like a One-Party State”

Last week, the Florida Republican Party held its annual Sunshine Summit, which was marked by a new policy: The mainstream media was not permitted to cover the event. Instead, the only “news” would be transmitted through conservative-approved sources. “We in the state of Florida are not going to allow legacy media outlets to be involved in our primaries,” Florida governor Ron DeSantis said. “I’m not going to have a bunch of left-wing media people asking our candidates gotcha questions.”

The next day, the Washington Post published a detailed reported story on the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank whose scholars have supported the Trump administration’s efforts to secure an unelected second term. The Institute’s president, Ryan Williams, replied on the record that he saw no need to explain any of this. “The Claremont Institute,” he wrote, “is not interested in participating in the fiction that the Washington Post is a legitimate media outlet, or that its chronically discredited journalists are dispassionate fact-finders intent on bringing their readers objective news.”

As long as it has existed, the right has loathed the news media. Figures like Joe McCarthy and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler used the tactic of pointing to alleged media bias to discredit reporting that challenged their lies. But, as David Freedlander noted, the right’s war on independent media is reaching a new stage of blanket refusal to acknowledge its legitimacy…

The only point I need to make is that the mainstream media does routinely report critically on the Democratic Party. If you are watching CNN or reading the New York Times, you have encountered a steady stream of articles questioning whether Joe Biden is too old for the job, noting high inflation, pummeling the Afghanistan withdrawal, and so on. Whether you believe this level of criticism is excessive or insufficient is a matter of perspective, but the clear fact is that it exists.

Nothing like this exists within the conservative media. The communications apparatus of the conservative movement was established with the goal of advancing the right’s political interests. Its organs often borrow superficial conventions, like bylines and the inverted-pyramid structure, to create the simulacrum of a traditional news medium. But the people working in these institutions understand they are working for the conservative movement, not on behalf of the public’s right to know. Their approach to malfeasance by their side is to ignore, distort, or change the subject to some agreed-upon sin by the enemy (a practice called “whataboutism”).

The rise of Donald Trump intensified the bubble effect in the conservative media. His famous boast that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing any support reflected his grasp of the conservative base’s imperviousness to facts. Trump understood that he could maintain his base without engaging with external reality at any rational level; reporting that made him look bad was simply “fake news” by definition.

11) I love that Biden’s drug czar is all about “harm reduction.” That’s so the way to go on drug issues.

12) From early June, before the Dobbs decision, “‘Pro-Choice’ Identification Rises to Near Record High in U.S.”

A Gallup poll conducted mostly after the draft of a Supreme Court decision addressing abortion rights was leaked finds a marked shift in public attitudes over the past year. After a decade in which Americans’ identification as “pro-choice” varied narrowly between 45% and 50%, the percentage has jumped six points to 55% in the latest poll, compared with the prior measure a year ago.

Pro-choice sentiment is now the highest Gallup has measured since 1995 when it was 56% — the only other time it has been at the current level or higher — while the 39% identifying as “pro-life” is the lowest since 1996.

13) David French on Tim Miller’s new book:

The genius of Tim’s book (and I highly recommend reading it) is that it cuts through the rationalizations—and the rationalizations are endless—and gets ultimately to a heart-level question: Who are you, really? Or, put another way, What is your core identity?

I don’t think those who live outside the American right understand the extent to which the upheaval of the Trump years impacted multiple, intersecting aspects of personal identity and exposed the true hierarchy of personal values.

Let’s take the example of Lindsey Graham. Yesterday in The Atlantic Mark Leibovich published a scorching profile of Graham, Kevin McCarthy, and other politicians who’ve been particularly sycophantic to Donald Trump. Leibovich highlights this revealing exchange:

Once, early in 2019, I asked Graham a version of the question that so many of his judgy old Washington friends had been asking him. How could he swing from being one of Trump’s most merciless critics in 2016 to such a sycophant thereafter? I didn’t use those exact words, but Graham got the idea. “Well, okay, from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he told me. “‘This,’” Graham specified, “is to try to be relevant.” Relevance: It casts one hell of a spell.

Ask any person to describe themselves, and they’ll likely respond with a mix of characteristics and virtues. They’ll describe their profession (lawyer, banker, plumber), their relationships (husband, father, grandfather), and their politics (Republican, Democrat), and if asked they might even describe their perceived virtues (honesty, fidelity, fortitude).

But what if the virtues conflict with other core parts of a person’s identity? Prior to the Trump years, Graham was joined at the hip with the maverick John McCain. During the 2016 campaign, he called out Trump’s flaws early and often.

So how would one describe Lindsey Graham, before Trump? He was a senator. He was powerful. And while all politicians are flawed, I’d say he was generally perceived to be both honest and independent.

But then, during the Trump years, honesty and independence directly and starkly clashed with status. Time and again, men and women in America’s political class found that they couldn’t possess both virtue and power. They had to make a choice.

The writer and Christian theologian C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Another way of putting it is that we don’t really know if we possess a virtue until it is tested.

We might think of ourselves as honest, but we don’t really know if we are until honesty carries a cost. Or we might think of ourselves as physically brave, but we don’t know if we are until we face a mortal threat. We might be sure that we’re faithful, right until the moment when temptation is at its peak.

During the Trump years, the collision between status and virtue was constant and relentless. Trump never gave anyone a breather. He was never chagrined or mollified by scandal. He never apologized. He never turned over a new leaf. He just charged from one lie to another, and his demands for absolute loyalty left his defenders and followers with little ability to separate themselves from his worst moments while still remaining in the Republican tent.

As we’ve seen from days of courageous testimony before the January 6 House Select Committee, it is quite possible to say “I’m a Republican, and I’m honest.” But with each passing week—and with each new revelation—it grows more difficult to say “I’m a Trump Republican, and I’m honest.” Status conflicts with virtue, and status wins.

14) What’s not to love about a Janeane Garofalo profile? “Janeane Garofalo Never Sold Out. What a Relief. That concept might be the reason her trailblazing stand-up career has been overshadowed; it may also be the reason she’s still so sharp, our critic argues.”

15) Relatively new NC resident Frank Bruni give his take on the state (and the Congressional district that I’m about a mile outside of):

I visited the 13th District because it’s the site of the only House race in North Carolina that’s considered a tossup, an emblematic contest between a 46-year-old Democrat, Wiley Nickel, with decades of public service under his belt, and a 26-year-old Republican, Bo Hines, who was endorsed by Trump and crows about that whenever, wherever and however he can. On his Twitter profile, his Facebook page and his campaign website, the headshot of Trump is bigger than his own headshot.

But I also toured the district as part of my acclimation to North Carolina, to continue testing my belief that this state — my new home — is as accurate, illuminating and alarming a political mirror of the country as any other. A year after moving here from the People’s Republic of the Upper West Side, I realize that I didn’t so much turn my back on New York City as turn my gaze toward a broader, truer portrait of America right now…

And it’s a tense state whose residents are, as Bitzer said, “sorting themselves more and more into like-minded communities.” That was driven home to me when I looked for a house here. I had the vague idea of finding, within a roughly 25-minute drive of Duke’s campus in Durham, some kind of political mix that reflected the state’s reputed political color. I like purple.

But I learned how inexact the “purple” label is. It implies some real blending of red and blue, some halfway point. But North Carolina is purple only if you step far back, the way you do to make sense of a Seurat painting, so that you no longer see the individual dabs and blotches of red and blue.

A blotch of deep blue is where I ended up, 20 minutes from Duke, on the border of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Front yards near mine showcase “Black Lives Matter” and “We Believe” signs. Several neighbors’ first conversations with me were about how to follow the county’s recycling rules correctly.

These days, “the red is redder and the blue is bluer,” said Steve Schewelwho was on Durham’s school board and then its City Council before serving as the city’s mayor from December 2017 to December 2021.

And, oh, yeah, how nice to unexpectedly find a friend and blog fan quoted in the NYT:

Damon Circosta, the chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, told me, “This is a state that’s most comfortable — more comfortable — forging a middle path.” North Carolina swung sharply right during the first half of the last decade, but then voters denied the incumbent Republican governor, Pat McCrory, a second term and elected Cooper. Two years later, Republicans lost their supermajorities in the state legislature. Cooper, meanwhile, has combined a mild manner and practical approach to remain popular enough that he’s mentioned as a possible presidential contender if Joe Biden doesn’t run again.

16) And speaking of NC, how cool to see a former student of mine in Slate, “State Judge Elections Are About to Become Decisive for Abortion Rights”

17) It really does not speak well for left organizations in DC these days that Ruy Teixeira feels he has no home at the Center for American Progress any more.

Ruy Teixeira is one of Washington’s most prominent left-leaning think-tank scholars, a fixture at the Center for American Progress since the liberal organization’s founding in 2003. But as of August 1, he’ll have a new professional home: The American Enterprise Institute, the longtime conservative redoubt that over the years has employed the likes of Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D’Souza, and Robert Bork.

Teixeira, whose role in the Beltway scrum often involved arguing against calls to move right on economic issues, insists his own policy views haven’t changed — but says the current cultural milieu of progressive organizations “sends me running screaming from the left.”

“My perspective is, the single most important thing to focus on in the social system is the economic system,” he tells me. “It’s class.” We’re sitting in AEI’s elegantly furnished library. Down the hall, there’s a boisterous event celebrating the conservative intellectual Harvey Mansfield. William Kristol, clad in a suit, has just left the room. Teixeira’s untucked shirt and sneakers aren’t the only thing that seems out of place. “I’m just a social democrat, man. Trying to make the world a better place.”

To hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

“I would say that anybody who has a fundamentally class-oriented perspective, who thinks that’s a more important lens and doesn’t assume that any disparity is automatically a lens of racism or sexism or what have you … I think that perspective is not congenial in most left institutions,” he says.

To hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

“I would say that anybody who has a fundamentally class-oriented perspective, who thinks that’s a more important lens and doesn’t assume that any disparity is automatically a lens of racism or sexism or what have you … I think that perspective is not congenial in most left institutions,” he says.

“I’d say they have been affected by the nature and inclination and preferences of their junior staff,” he says. “It’s just the case that at CAP, like almost any other left think tank you can think of, it’s become very hard to have a conversation about race and gender and trans issues, even crime and immigration. You know, ‘How should the left handle these?’ There’s a default assumption about how you’re supposed to talk about these things, even the language. There’s a real chilling effect on all of these organizations, and I think it’s had an effect on CAP as well.”

18) Interesting stuff on fatherhood from Melinda Wenner Moyer:

Have you ever noticed that men love to hear — and tell — stories about deadbeat dads? The husband who cheats on his wife; the father who doesn’t know how to use a washing machine; the guy who gets mad at his wife if the house isn’t spotless. Their reaction is rarely horror or disgust or “God, what a dick!” — but rather, something along the lines of:

“See, I’m not so bad, right?”

“Look! I’m an angel in comparison.”

“Aren’t you glad you married me?”

I know, I know; #notallmen. But if I had a dime for every time I heard a friend laugh/vent about their husband comparing himself to a bad apple to make himself look good, well, I wouldn’t need any paid subscribers…

First, let’s start with who mothers tend to compare themselves to. Although we might not like to admit it, moms often compare themselves to other moms they know. Who’s got a cleaner house? Does my friend read to her kids more often than I do to mine? Mothers are also frequently comparing themselves to ideal versions of mothers on social media, and this is a problem. When we compare our lives to the aspirational, tightly curated and totally unrealistic depiction of life we see on Instagram — mom looks beautiful, the house is spotless, the kids are rosy-cheeked and smiling — we are constantly taking in data that says: You aren’t doing as good of a job as they are. No wonder we all feel like failures.

Research suggests this is exactly what happens. A study published in February found that mothers who tend to make social comparisons are more negatively affected by parenting-related Instagram accounts than moms who don’t make a lot of social comparisons. Social media, the researchers found, gives social-comparison-oriented mothers a “decreased sense of parenting competence.” More than one-third of the moms in the study “mentioned the idealistic picture of parenting presented by InstaParents as something that was affecting them negatively, e.g. “Some people on Instagram make it all seem a little too perfect – then you start doubting yourself.” Sound familiar?

On the other side of the comparison spectrum are dads. In general, there’s much less research on dads than on moms (that’s slowly changing, thank god!), but wow, the research we do have on how dads make social comparisons is …. fascinating. As you might guess, compared with moms, dads aren’t spending as much time on Instagram and Facebook, comparing themselves to ideal parents. Sometimes dads compare themselves to other dads they know, but because dads don’t tend to talk about parenting and household tasks with their guy friends as much as moms do with their mom friends, they often don’t have the data they need to make these comparisons. So what do they do instead? When dads make social comparisons, they often choose to compare themselves to fictional deadbeat dads. And this has big implications… [emphasis in original]

What happens when a dad compares himself to a fictional terrible dad? He feels pretty good about himself and his contributions to the family. He certainly doesn’t feel like he’s not doing enough. There is no incentive to change his ways, to do more. As Gaber explained, fathers who compared themselves to do-nothing dads “believed that they were doing more than this mythical dad who left all child care and housework responsibilities to their wives… They wanted to believe the division of labor was fair, even though their wives were doing more housework. By utilizing this manufactured referent, they could argue that their household contributions were greater than the average.”

19) I loved Jeff Maurer’s take on WV vs. EPA:

I’m going to do something weird here: I’m going to focus on the law, not the policy outcome. Articles about Supreme Court rulings almost never discuss the relevant law. They focus on policy outcomes, and people cheer or decry rulings based on those outcomes. Everyone in America seems to believe that the objective answer to any legal question — in an amazing coincidence — just so happens to align with the policy outcome they prefer. We treat this fact as so obvious that any disagreement must be the work of devious activist judges. Conservatives sang this song for decades while liberals denounced them as sore losers, and now the roles have exactly reversed, but few people seem to appreciate the irony. So, before I start, I insist that we all:

A federal agency can’t do anything without Congressional authority. The bureaucracy might be thought of as Congresses’ contractors; they do jobs that Congress can’t do themselves. It’s a logical system; if the government needs to, say, break up a drug ring, that should probably be farmed out to highly trained DEA agents instead of having Chuck Grassley and Elizabeth Warren kick down doors themselves.

Congress often uses vague language to authorize various actions. They have to; it’s impossible to anticipate every nuance that an agency might encounter in the course of doing the thing Congress wants them to do. Broad language also provides longevity; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has the authority to regulate alcohol, generally, not a list of spirits that would be rendered obsolete every time the sick fucks at Budweiser add a new sin against liquor to their product line of the damned…

So: Congress gives authority to federal agencies, but the parameters of that authority are vague pretty much by definition. The question in West Virginia v. EPA is whether EPA overstepped its authority in 2015 when it tried to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants. EPA claims that its authority comes from section 111(d) of the 1970 Clean Air Act, which is too long to cite in full, but I’ll link to it here in case you’re trying to commit suicide by boredom.1 Luckily, understanding the key question in this case doesn’t require reading the full law — you just need to channel your inner stoned freshman and ponder this question: What, like…really is a SYSTEM, man?

The definition of the word “system” is at the center of this case. That’s because the law requires EPA to regulate air pollution according to “…the best system of emission reduction…that has been adequately demonstrated.” So: EPA can’t just say “cut your emissions in half”; they have to have a method for cutting emissions — a system, if you will — that actually exists on Earth. Traditionally, these systems have usually been technology such as “scrubbers” added to coal-fired power plants, though they could also be processes such as changes to how the plant operates…

Justice Roberts and the five justices who joined his opinion think that EPA’s cap-and-trade plan is absolutely not a “system”. Roberts writes:

“The word “system” shorn of all context, however, is an empty vessel. Such a vague statutory grant is not close to the sort of clear authorization required.”

I have to say: I’m sympathetic to Justice Roberts’ concern here. You can’t have federal agencies seizing authority that nobody gave them by distorting the English language beyond all recognition. The dumbest articles and Twitter threads responding to this ruling have basically argued that the ruling is wrong because climate change is an EMERGENCY!!! I happen to believe that climate change is an emergency, but more importantly: So fucking what? You can’t chuck the rule of law out the window and say “It’s okay because: Emergency.” Most power grabs in history use emergency as pretext; the very concept of a dictator arose in ancient Rome as a temporary post in response to an emergency. Of course, the “emergency” never ended, and the post became the opposite of temporary, and Rome was unable to stab their way back to being a Republic.

20) And, as long as we’re on Maurer’s legal takes, this is excellent, “The Court’s Conservatives are Lying About Gay Marriage: But it’s not clear which part of their story is a lie”

In Obergefell, three of the four justices seem to believe that “liberty” does not include the freedom to marry. Thomas and Alito each wrote dissents in which they forcefully defend a narrow conception of the word “liberty”.2 Justice Scalia — who has assumed a role in conservative jurisprudence that I would describe as “Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque” — calls the expansive reading of the Due Process Clause by liberals a “threat to American democracy”. All four conservative justices who ruled on that case took the opportunity to write a dissent; they were like a rap group recording a diss track, each trying to one-up the others as they took turns spitting fire at the object of their disdain.

My uncharitable reading of Roberts’ argument after that point is that it’s basically gibberish. I feel that it essentially amounts to an internally-conflicted Roberts gasping “but come on!” In the course of searching for an explanation as to why marriage is a right, but not a right possessed by everyone, Roberts sings the praises of opposite-sex marriage as “…a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs.” Well — if the Aztecs did it, then I’m convinced! It’s good to know that if I ever engage in human sacrifice like the Aztecs, or child abandonment like the Carthaginians, John Roberts will have my back…

It seems clear that Roberts, Alito, and Thomas would give gay marriage the thumbs-down if the question was litigated again. To not nix it would be to basically say: “We totally blew it way back in 2015.” It’s hard to imagine what event might change their minds short of a Christmas Eve visit from Gay Jacob Marley and his husband, Ghost Scrooge. (Side note: Would you watch a Netflix series called The Adventures of Gay Jacob Marley and Ghost Scrooge? I’ve got a pitch meeting next week.)

The big question, then, is where Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett stand. Justices’ opinions on not-yet-litigated cases are always a coquettish fan dance, but by backing Dobbs, the three Trump-appointed justices endorsed the same skepticism of Due Process Clause-derived rights that animates the Obergefell dissents. Dobbs repudiates the logic of Roe and Obergefell; in his opinion, Alito speaks of the abortion right that the Court derived from the Fourteenth Amendment with the same disdainful tone that I’ve used on this blog to talk about George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky.

21) I found this really interesting, “Why Netflix’s most expensive movies keep getting worse.”  That said, I’ve watched most of Netflix’s “The Hustle” and I think it’s really good.

22) I hope this pans out! “UK scientists take ‘promising’ step towards single Covid and cold vaccine”

Scientists have made a “promising” advance towards developing a universal coronavirus vaccine to tackle Covid-19 and the common cold.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London have discovered that a specific area of the spike protein of Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – is a good target for a pan-coronavirus jab that could offer protection against all the Covid-19 variants and common colds.

Developing a vaccine that protects against a number of different coronaviruses is a huge challenge, they said, because this family of viruses have many key differences, frequently mutate and generally induce incomplete protection against reinfection. That is why people can repeatedly catch common colds, and why it is possible to be infected multiple times with different variants of Sars-CoV-2.

A universal coronavirus vaccine would need to trigger antibodies that recognise and neutralise a range of coronaviruses, scientists said, stopping the virus from entering hosts cells and replicating.

In the new study, the researchers investigated whether antibodies targeting the “S2 subunit” of Sars-CoV-2’s spike protein also neutralise other coronaviruses. The researchers found that after vaccinating mice with Sars-CoV-2 S2, the mice created antibodies able to neutralise a number of other animal and human coronaviruses.

They included the common cold coronavirus HCoV-OC43, the original strain of Sars-CoV-2, the D614G mutant that dominated in the first wave, Alpha, Beta, Delta, the original Omicron and two bat coronaviruses. The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“The S2 area of the spike protein is a promising target for a potential pan-coronavirus vaccine because this area is much more similar across different coronaviruses than the S1 area,” said the study’s co-first author, Kevin Ng, of the Francis Crick Institute. “It is less subject to mutations, and so a vaccine targeted at this area should be more robust.”

23) This really is kind of wild, from David Wallace-Wells, “Hardly Anyone Talks About How Fracking Was an Extraordinary Boondoggle”

Perhaps the most striking fact about the American hydraulic-fracturing boom, though, is unknown to all but the most discriminating consumers of energy news: Fracking has been, for nearly all of its history, a money-losing boondoggle, profitable only recently, after being propped up by so much investment from Wall Street and private equity that it resembled less an efficient-markets no-brainer and more a speculative empire of bubbles like Uber and WeWork. The American shale revolution did bring the country “energy independence,” whatever that has been worth, and more abundant oil and gas. It has indeed reshaped the entire geopolitical landscape for fuel, though not enough to strip leverage from Vladimir Putin. But the revolution wasn’t primarily a result of some market-busting breakthrough or an engineering innovation that allowed the industry to print cash. From the start, the cash moved in the other direction; the revolution happened only because enormous sums of money were poured into the project of making it happen.

Today, with profits aided by the energy price spikes of the last year, the fracking industry is finally, at least for the time being, profitable. But from 2010 to 2020, U.S. shale lost $300 billion. Previously, from 2002 to 2012, Chesapeake, the industry leader, didn’t report positive cash flow once, ending that period with total losses of some $30 billion, as Bethany McLean documents in her 2018 book, “Saudi America,” the single best and most thorough account of the fracking boom up to that point. Between mid-2012 and mid-2017, the 60 biggest fracking companies were losing an average of $9 billion each quarter. From 2006 to 2014, fracking companies lost $80 billion; in 2014, with oil at $100 a barrel, a level that seemed to promise a great cash-out, they lost $20 billion. These losses were mammoth and consistent, adding up to a total that “dwarfs anything in tech/V.C. in that time frame,” as the Bloomberg writer Joe Weisenthal pointed out recently. “There were all these stories written about how V.C.s were subsidizing millennial lifestyles,” he noted on Twitter. “The real story to be written is about the massive subsidy to consumers from everyone who financed Chesapeake and all the companies that lost money fracking last decade.”

24) Lots of gas and bloating for many early humans! “Early Europeans Could Not Tolerate Milk but Drank It Anyway, Study Finds: For thousands of years, Europeans consumed milk products despite lacking an enzyme needed to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort, according to a new study.”

The oldest evidence of milk came from Turkey, which was home to some of the world’s first agrarians. Those farmers then moved across Europe, taking their cattle and other livestock with them. By 6,000 years ago, they had arrived with their milk in England and Ireland.

Dr. Evershed and his colleagues found that some societies took up milk while neighboring ones did not. They also found that milk production went through boom-and-bust cycles over the centuries.

Mark Thomas, a geneticist at University College London, led the team’s analysis of lactase persistence. He and his colleagues analyzed DNA harvested from 1,786 ancient skeletons found across Europe and neighboring regions. They looked for a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on during adulthood.

The oldest mutation they found dated back about 6,600 years ago. But in their collection of ancient remains, it stayed rare until 4,000 years ago. For those 2,600 years, in other words, Europeans were consuming milk despite almost none of them being able to make lactase as adults.

To see how this mutation affected people today, the researchers joined forces with George Davey Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Bristol. Dr. Davey Smith has carried out a number of studies on the health of living British people by analyzing a large database called UK Biobank. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have submitted their DNA to the effort, along with their electronic health records and answers to questionnaires.

Dr. Davey Smith sifted through the UK Biobank for information about milk and lactase, comparing 312,781 volunteers who carried the lactase mutation to 20,250 who did not.

The analysis delivered some surprising results: People without the lactase mutation consume about as much milk as people who carry it. Yet people who cannot make the enzyme do not suffer any significant health problems. They do not die at a higher rate, they do not have weaker bones and they have just as many children as people with the mutation do…

Together, these parallel lines of evidence suggest that early Europeans made milk a part of their diet, even without lactase. It is possible that some of them occasionally suffered some uncomfortable cramps and gas, but it was not enough to affect their health.

Early Europeans may have also lessened the painful effects of milk sugar by fermenting milk into cheese or turning it into butter. (In Ireland, people who harvest peat from bogs have occasionally found massive containers of “bog butter” dating back thousands of years.)

Consuming milk without lactase became riskier later, in times of crisis, Dr. Evershed and his colleagues argued. Starvation has been shown to shift mild symptoms, such as gas and cramps, to more dangerous ones, like diarrhea.

25) Lots of good social science here from Edsall, “How You Feel About Gender Roles Can Tell Us How You’ll Vote”

competing ideas about the roles of men and women, at home and at work, shape our political life. They do not set men against women as much as produce two opposing coalitions, each made up of both men and women.

It almost goes without saying, but men and women who support traditional gender roles for men and women lean strongly toward the Republican Party; men and women who question traditional gender roles and who are sympathetic to women’s rights lean strongly toward the Democratic Party…

While there are modest gender gaps in partisanship, voting and policy views, Winter wrote, “these pale compared with the differences among men and among women in views on gender roles and feminism. And gender roles and feminism have increasingly structured elite partisan debate.”

In an email expanding on the points he made in his book chapter, Winter wrote that “a voter’s personal masculinity/femininity (and views on same)” interacts with partisanship such that “people (men or women) who support traditional gender roles tend to favor the Republican Party and people who either reject or at least do not valorize traditional gender roles (men and women both) favor the Democratic Party.” The focus “is on the voter’s views about how gender should be organized (i.e., the belief that men should be masculine, act masculine and hold masculine roles; women should be feminine, act feminine, hold feminine roles).”

The gap between the attitudes of Democrats and Republicans toward the women’s rights movement has widened in recent years, Winter notes:

From 1970 through 2016, Democrats rated feminists and the women’s movement higher than did Republicans. This difference was modest — between 5 and 10 degrees — through the 1970s, then increased steadily from 10 degrees in 1980 to almost 20 degrees in the mid-1990s. After closing slightly, partisan polarization in ratings of feminists reached their most polarized level yet in 2016. That year, Democrats rated feminists at 67 degrees, compared with 43 degrees among Republicans, a difference of about a quarter of the 101-degree rating scale.”

The same pattern Winter describes can be found on a wide range of politically salient issues. The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers issued a report, “Gender Gap Public Opinion,” based on poll data from the 2016 and 2020 American National Election Study, the 2018 General Social Survey, the 2020 Cooperative Election Study and the June 2020 AP-NORC Center Poll.

 

The pandemic, courts, and rising crime

Important read from Alec MacGillis, “Two Cities Took Different Approaches to Pandemic Court Closures. They Got Different Results. Did closing courts contribute to the resurgence in violent crime that began in 2020? What happened in Albuquerque and Wichita may provide clues.”

One of the great under-appreciated facts about criminal justice is that swiftness of punishment is actually a more effective deterrent than severity of punishment (certainty is most important).  That’s a key theme in Mark Kleiman’s When Brute Force Fails which I have been assigning to my Criminal Justice Policy class for as long as I’ve been teaching it.  As MacGillis points out here the pandemic substantially undermined the swiftness of punishment and that the subsequent impact on deterrence may be, in part, responsible for the rise in crime.  It also seems to me, quite likely, that not just swiftness, but certainty of punishment may have taken a pandemic hit as well as prosecutors and courthouses have become completely overwhelmed by pandemic backlogs.  I don’t know what the “right” answer is for how the criminal justice system should respond to a pandemic, but, I think there’s some decent evidence here that there are very real costs to just trying to put the system on pause.  Crime does not take a break and the need for justice (for victims and the accused) does not take a break– these really are essential services. 

Criminologists have offered several explanations for the increase, including the rise in gun sales early in the pandemic, changes in police behavior following the protests over the murder of George Floyd, and the social disruptions caused by closures of schools and interruptions in social services. But many people who work in criminal justice are zeroing in on another possible factor: the extended shutdown of so much of the court system, the institution at the heart of public order.

This could have led to more violence in a number of ways. Prosecutors confronted with a growing volume of cases decided not to take action against certain suspects, who went on to commit other crimes. Victims or witnesses became less willing to testify as time passed and their memories of events grew foggy, weakening cases against perpetrators. Suspects were denied substance-abuse treatment or other services that they would normally have accessed through the criminal justice system, with dangerous consequences.

Above all, experts say, the shutdowns undermined the promise that crimes would be promptly punished. The theory that “swift, certain and fair” consequences deter crimes is credited to the late criminologist Mark Kleiman. The idea is that it’s the speed of repercussions, rather than their severity, that matters most. By putting the justice system on hold for so long, many jurisdictions weakened that effect. In some cases, people were left to seek street justice in the absence of institutional justice. As Reygan Cunningham, a senior partner at the California Partnership for Safe Communities, put it, closing courts sent “a message that there are no consequences, and there is no help.” …

Over the past few months, I’ve visited a few cities where the courts underwent some of the country’s longest suspensions, and I found a very different scene. In Oakland, California, where jury trials started resuming only in the spring of 2021, the Alameda County Superior Courthouse still seemed frozen at the peak of the pandemic, with signs ordering visitors to take staircases only in certain directions and jurors and courtroom personnel still in mandatory masks.

In an interview in late April, the district attorney, Nancy O’Malley, told me that the county had about 4,700 felony cases and 6,000 misdemeanor cases pending with a future court date, up by a third from before the pandemic began. “The court is still not fully operational,” she said. She wasn’t sure if the county could have done differently, given California’s strict edicts on social distancing. “With rules for 6 feet apart, there was no way you could have people sitting in a box made for 12 people,” she said. “I don’t know how you do it while keeping people healthy.”

But she had little doubt that the court constraints had played a role in the rise in crime in Oakland, which last year saw homicides jump to 134, its highest tally since 2006. The absence or delay of consequences for many offenders created the perception of a “lawless society,” she told me.

 

On policing and selection bias (and music)

Last night I queued up quick hits including Scott Alexander’s case that police pullback in response to protests was largely responsible for the homicide spike.  It’s not rock-solid, but it is a compelling argument. 

Also, last night I had an interesting conversation with a couple of Cary PD while working my new side hustle of selling food and beer at the Town of Cary’s outdoor performing arts venue.  (“All tips go to support the Cary High School band boosters”).  I was in luck and got to enjoy Dvorak’s brilliant “New World Symphony” without too many sales to get in the way.  

Before the show, a couple of officers came by to chat and they were telling us about the crazy crowds at Billy Strings last week (loved Billy Strings– too busy selling what seemed liked thousands of beers to fully appreciate).  In talking about the crowd, and the arrests, and the shortage of officers on the Cary force (there’s around 26 vacancies on a force of about 200), the general tenor of the conversation from the officers in speaking to what were presumably middle-class Cary white parents (rather than stealth experts on criminal justice policy selling beer and nachos on the side) seemed… not great.

And, that immediately had me thinking of my favorite, underappreciated concept that seems to explain almost everything in the world– selection bias.  Historically, Cary has a great policy department (I’ve known all the chiefs and had as speakers in my class going back about 15 years).  The police force is committed to doing things right and does so by hiring the right people. You pretty much never hear of Cary PD behaving questionably.  I remember former chiefs telling me about the luxury of over 200 applicants for a new officer position, so they really could choose the best people.  The officers last night told me there’s hardly any applicants now.  And what I was thinking was that if I were a young person with a genuine commitment to protect and serve my community (which, hey, apparently police don’t actually have to do!), I would already be skeptical of joining the police.  Throw in an organization– and even a better one like CPD– where officers routinely talk in fairly dismissive ways about the legitimate concerns of reformers and how all the criminals out there are going to turn Cary into a “shitshow” if we’re not careful, and you are not going to get the type of potential officers that we desperately need to be officers if we’re going to make policing better.  Instead we’re going to get even more officers who are casually dismissive of the need for reform and who readily adopt an us/them mentality. 

I wish I had some ideas on what the solution is (okay, actually I do–train better, pay better, and truly change organizational cultures– but, yeah, that’s vague).  But I am confident that we have to find ways to truly diversify our pool of officers (more women– who I’m convinced make better officers because they have to rely on brains and social skills– and more minorities is great), but we need police officers genuinely motivated by serving their communities and doing so in ways that are better than what we’ve been doing here.  That’s not easy, but it’s necessary.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) You know I’m always here for good takedowns of the intellectual fraud that is originalism.  Guns edition in Politico:

This week, what was once a fringe intellectual concept, confined to conservative legal circles, achieved its ultimate ascendance. In a decision that purports to rely on deep historic knowledge of the founding generation’s views on gun control, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court knocked down a New York State law limiting the concealed carry of firearms. Drafted by Justice Clarence Thomas, the decision applies a strict originalist frame to conclude that “[o]nly if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s unqualified command.’”…

There’s just one problem. Both decisions get the history wrong.

There is ample reason to disagree with originalism as a legal philosophy. Should a 21st century society really interpret its Constitution by the standards of 1787 — an era before the introduction of semi-automatic weaponry, steam power, penicillin, automobiles, trains, electric lights and indoor plumbing? In some ways, though, that’s a pointless debate at the moment. With originalists holding six of the Supreme Court’s nine seats, we’re all living in an originalist world.

The functional problem with originalism is that it requires a very, very firm grasp of history — a grasp that none of the nine justices, and certainly few of their 20-something law clerks, freshly minted from J.D. programs, possess.

It’s difficult to become an expert in American political, legal or social history. It’s quite easy, though, to cherry-pick historical examples that prop up an end in search of a rationale — which is precisely what the Supreme Court majority did this week, twice.

In its recent gun control decision, just like in its recent abortion decision, the Supreme Court’s majority showed just how intellectually fragile the originalist project really is.

2) Nice summary from VRBPAC.  So frustrating that there’s a number of people on the vaccine advisory board who just don’t get it.  But, at least it seems a majority do:

Frequently, for an FDA panel, the result cannot be fully summarized by just a vote tally. That is especially the case today.

The panel was broadly in favor of telling companies to start manufacturing an Omicron-containing booster, with only two panelists voting that the data did not yet support creating such a shot.

But there was consensus on more than that. The panelists largely agreed that the booster should contain the BA.4 or BA.5 variants of Omicron. The data for shots containing these variants largely comes from tests on animals, not humans, but the panelists believed the new vaccine would be similar enough to previously tested variant vaccines that it is worth trying to get ahead of the next viral mutation, to go, as one panelist said, where the puck is going, not where it is now.

Despite data from Pfizer showing a better immune response from a so-called monovalent vaccine that contains antigen from only the Omicron strain, the panelists largely backed a bivalent vaccine, that is, one that contains both an Omicron strain and the original SARS-CoV-2 strain.

The panel had mixed ideas on whether to extrapolate from results in adults to children for new boosters, but all said that companies needed to collect data from children more quickly. There was unexpected interest in the vaccine being developed by Novavax, which has not yet been authorized, as a booster. Peter Marks, an FDA official, indicated that the discussions around the vaccine were complex.

2) Edsall treatment of the woke left ruining liberal advocacy organizations from within:

William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings, has a sharp eye for what’s not working in Washington and has long been a critic of those he feels are pulling the Democratic Party too far to the left. Galston emailed me his take on the current situation:

In recent months I’ve had the chance to talk to several presidents and executive directors of established left-leaning centers and groups. They all tell versions of the same story:

Around 2015, something changed. The young people they were hiring were focused on issues of race, gender, and identity as never before, and they were impatient with — even scornful of — what they regarded as the timid incrementalism of the organizations’ leaders. They wanted equity (as they defined it) immediately. They were acutely sensitive to what they saw as microaggressions, including the use of terms to identify different groups that they regarded as out of date and insulting. They were prickly, quick to take offense and to see malign motives rather than inadvertent mistakes.

This generation gap has forced leaders to devote unprecedented time and energy to internal governance, sometimes to the detriment of their organization’s mission. The left has a long tradition of turning on itself, and what I’ve reported is the latest chapter in a long running saga.

One high-ranking nonprofit official who has been in the middle of these battles, but who declined to be identified because of the repercussions he would face within his organization, commented by email:

Difficulties addressing D.E.I. issues and identity politics are part of the problem, but they are symptoms as much as causes. There’s a new perfectionism in our organizations that gets in the way of actually dealing with challenges in our imperfect world.

The fundamental problem, he wrote, is “the presence in every progressive organization of a small but very vocal fringe that views every problem as a sin.” This hyper-moralization of internal disputes spills over into real-world but otherwise routine disagreements, he continued: “It has become too easy for people to conflate disagreements about issues with matters of identity.”…

3) Oh man this is good from Dan Kois:

Here’s what we know. On Sunday, Jennifer Lopez posted an Instagram video featuring numerous shots of her and Ben Affleck driving together, canoodling, lounging on various boats, etc. We hear J. Lo explaining that “nothing is more fulfilling to me than being able to build a family with someone who I love deeply.” The video’s accompanying text reads:

Happy Father’s Day to the most caring, loving, affectionate, consistent and selfless Daddy ever. #HappyFathersDay my love. For my full Father’s Day post go to OnTheJLo.com 🤍💚

In the middle of the video, a curious image appears. Ben Affleck sits in a home office, editing video on a Mac. He turns to face the camera, surprised, then grins a big, doofy grin. The room is furnished with a light for Zoom calls, some kind of old-fashioned landline that looks like the Red Phone in pictures of the Oval Office (maybe the Damon Phone, so the two buddies can reach each other at any time), and—best of all—a soda fountain of the sort that you might see in a small restaurant. “Chill out … drink up!” the soda machine urges.

Well, that’s great. Ben Affleck has a sweet home office, in which he can pour himself fresh, cold soda at any time. And while often he is hard at work, frowning at a screen, he is also happy to be surprised by his beloved J. Lo, smiling at her when she shows up.

But wait a minute. All is not right in this video clip. Computer … ENHANCE.

A close-up of the dispensers in Ben Affleck's office, showing one that is clearly Diet Coke and one that is clearly Diet Pepsi.

A four-dispenser soda machine, nice. That might be Sunkist on the left, and some member of the Dew family in position No. 2. But then: Diet Coke? And Diet Pepsi?! OCCUPYING THE SAME SODA FOUNTAIN??!

This is absolutely shocking. First of all, as everyone knows, Coke and Pepsi products are not compatible in a soda dispenser. Each of America’s two soda megabrands utilizes its own proprietary BIB (“bag-in-box”) connector, which conveys syrup into the machine, where it is mixed with carbonated water to create soda. A soda fountain that delivers both phyla of carbonated beverages at once is a custom machine, utilizing the finest in BIB adaptor technology. Someone went the extra mile with this fountain.

But why? Why would you create this unholy monstrosity, this horrific hybrid, this affront to nature? Look, I am not naïve. I know that some tragically misguided individuals prefer Diet Pepsi, the devil’s beverage, to Diet Coke, the elixir of life. But who drinks both? No one. It’s not like you prefer one soda on weekdays and one on weekends. You are either a Diet Coke person or a Diet Pepsi person. So why, God, why, does Ben Affleck have a soda machine that dispenses both?

4) Love this from Frank Bruni:

One of my Duke students, an uncommonly thoughtful woman who cops readily to her confusion about the ways of the world, sent me an email on the day that the Supreme Court struck down Roe. The decision, she wrote, reduced her to “a vessel for potential life.” She was reeling. And she didn’t know what to do about it.

“I can only imagine how you feel,” I wrote. “I really do think it’s more than cliché to say that men must be humble about this issue.”

About 36 hours later, over my morning coffee, I spotted an article on The Times website about men and abortion, and I read this passage:

Paul Noble, 57, a retired high school teacher in Illinois, grew up in a “very white, very Catholic” community in the suburbs of Chicago. He said he learned from those around him that he should be “pro-life.”

His perspective changed during his sophomore year of college in Wisconsin. He was a resident assistant in his dorm at the time, and a young woman came to him for advice. “She sat down and immediately started to cry. She said, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m pregnant,’” Mr. Noble said. She explained to him that she had broken up with her boyfriend and that having a baby was not an option.

“I was just kind of agog listening to her talk,” Mr. Noble said. “This feeling washed over me — I don’t know if it was shame or humility — and I remember thinking to myself: ‘Why did I think I had a right to have an opinion on this subject?’”

He’s of course entitled to an opinion. Men have a role in reproduction, a role in families, a role in communities. And it’s silly to think that individuals should develop moral convictions and make political judgments only about matters that affect them in the most direct and immediate ways. That’s not how democracy works, it’s not how human nature works and it’s not how societies are stitched together.

But he was recognizing something important, something essential, which is that he would never carry a potential life to term, with all the fear, pain, sacrifice and difficult decisions that often attend that process. In our culture, he would probably never be made to feel the degree of responsibility for a child that so many people expect mothers to take on instantly and happily and forevermore. The stakes for him were hugely different from the stakes for his fellow student. That didn’t and doesn’t preclude an opinion, but it sure as hell compels “humility.”

I love that he used that word. I wish it was front of mind for more of us — for all of us. I wish Justice Clarence Thomas felt just a dab of humility as he elevated his and his scheming wife’s regressive vision for our country above a majority of Americans’ values. I wish his most conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court — who “prefer to set American law as they believe it should be set, even when they must overrule longstanding precedent,” as David Leonhardt observed in The Morning newsletter in The Times — would reacquaint themselves with it.

“The arrogance and unapologetic nature of the opinion are breathtaking,” Linda Greenhouse wrote in The Times, referring to the reversal of Roe, and she’s right. No matter the flaws of the Roe decision itself, it determined American law for half a century, during which the culture shifted, the possibilities for women expanded and the science of dealing with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies advanced. A precedent that longstanding, with ripple effects that broad, matters.

Also responding in The Times to the court’s seismic ruling last Friday, Bret Stephens wrote: “For me, the word that comes to mind is arrogance. Supreme arrogance.” It’s no accident that he and Linda, who occupy different places on the ideological spectrum, landed on the same term.

I’m mentioning humility and arrogance specifically in the context of Roe, but I’m also thinking and speaking more broadly than that. In our political fights, in our personal lives, all of us should ponder and factor in the limits of our understanding. All of us should accept that the world doesn’t exist to mirror our preferences or validate our prejudices. It’s richer for that. And peace depends on such acceptance.

5) Brian Beutler is such an insightful critic of Democratic failings.  Good stuff here:

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we could travel back in time to 2019 or early 2020 and tell Joe Biden he’d be the next president, but that under the governing approach he’d laid out for primary voters—pro-filibuster, anti-court reform, conciliatory to a fault with the GOP—he’d oversee the abolition of the right to abortion, the hollowing out of the regulatory state, the imposition of an imaginary constitutional right to concealed carry, the disintegration of his policy agenda, an inability to marshal a federal response to a violent coup, and perhaps, right before his re-election campaign, the constitutionalization by five rogue Supreme Court justices of the January 6 strategy to steal elections for Republican candidates. 

What if anything would he do or say differently? Excuse the boiled-frog metaphor, but this is a thought experiment all Democrats should entertain from time to time to help them gauge whether they’re responding to current crises the way their earlier selves would’ve expected, or just letting themselves get cooked. If Biden had rethought his institutionalism, what different steps would he have taken to rally Democrats around a new and (by necessity) more partisan approach to governing, to insure against rapid democratic backsliding and maybe even the end of the republic? 

The answer may actually be “none.” All of these things have come to pass, and Biden still at least claims faith in the institutions that are steering the country toward an authoritarian takeover. 

But I suspect this is not the presidency Biden wanted or imagined for himself. I think he really did want to save the country from Donald Trump and preside over an American renewal. I think (because nothing else really makes sense) that he drove himself into a cul-de-sac by running on the idea that his victory would largely solve these problems automatically, that retrofitting the country’s democracy wouldn’t require using carrots and sticks and tireless persuasion to change what it means to be a Democrat. That as a calm, unimpassioned figure, his mere presence would quiet national unrest and refasten the bonds that used to hold the country together. By the time he realized he’d handed Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema all the justifications they’d need to stand in the way of responding to new threats, it was too late.

Obviously this is a multi-layered counterfactual, of limited probative value. Maybe if Biden had been open to more procedurally radical ideas, he would’ve lost the election; maybe no amount of cajoling from the leader of the party—no matter how early and heartfelt and persuasive—would’ve changed what Manchin and Sinema thought they could get away with. If you’re intent on concluding that Biden played a bad hand perfectly, and we were always destined for the abyss, it isn’t hard to reason your way there.  

But the problems swallowing Biden’s presidency were easily foreseeable. For one thing, I foresaw them! In October 2019, I wrote that candidates who cling, like Biden, “to the view that a golden era of compromise will dawn once Trump is gone… will lock themselves into a mode of governing that can not work anymore. Their supporters and intra-party critics will be demoralized, their presidencies will stagnate, and they will waste precious time grasping for a better approach.”

6) Jamelle Bouie on constraining the Supreme Court constitutionally:

As recent events have made clear, powerful reactionaries are waging a successful war against American democracy using the counter-majoritarian institutions of the American political system, cloaking their views in a distorted version of our Constitution, where self-government means minority rule and the bugaboos of right-wing culture warriors are somehow “deeply rooted” in our “history and traditions.”

But the Republic is not defenseless. The Constitution gives our elected officials the power to restrain a lawless Supreme Court, protect citizens from the “sinister legislation” of the states, punish those states for depriving their residents of the right to vote and expel insurrectionists from Congress.

They are drastic measures that would break the norms of American politics. They might even spark a constitutional crisis over the power and authority of Congress.

But let’s not be naïve. The norms of American politics were shattered when Donald Trump organized a conspiracy to subvert the presidential election. They were shattered again when he sent an armed mob of supporters to attack the Capitol and stop Congress from certifying the votes of the Electoral College. And they were shattered one more time in the early hours of the next day, when, even after all that, hundreds of his congressional allies voted to overturn the election.

As for the constitutional crisis, it is arguably already here. Both the insurrection and the partisan lawmaking of the Supreme Court have thrown those counter-majoritarian features of the American system into sharp relief. They’ve raised hard questions about the strength and legitimacy of institutions that allow minority rule — and allow it to endure. It is a crisis when the fundamental rights of hundreds of millions of Americans are functionally overturned by an unelected tribunal whose pivotal members owe their seats to a president who won office through the mechanism of the Electoral College, having lost the majority of voters in both of his election campaigns.

The ground has shifted. The game has changed. The only question left is whether our leaders have the strength, fortitude and audacity to forge a new path for American democracy — and if they don’t, whether it is finally time for us to find ones who do.

7) NYT Op-Ed on the case for fetal personhood.  Ends thusly, thereby horribly undermining it:

Without robust societal support of pregnant women and child-rearing families, too many pregnant women will be left to regard their unborn children as trespassers on their already taxed lives rather than unbidden gifts that open new horizons to them. These women need society’s utmost assistance — not abortion, or scorn.

It could not be any clearer that the very same project that fights so hard against legal abortion is also fighting the hardest against “robust societal support of pregnant women and child-rearing families.”  When pro-lifers actually take this fact seriously, I’ll take them more seriously.  Until then, it’s more about control of women’s lives/fertility.  

8) Jonathan Cohn, “It Took The Supreme Court Just 10 Days To Change America As We Know It”

9) Scott Alexander makes the case that police backlash to protests in the form of less policing where it was needed is responsible for the murder spike. 

I think there’s clear evidence that the current murder spike was caused primarily by the 2020 BLM protests. The timing matches the protests well, and the pandemic poorly. The spike is concentrated in black communities and not in any of the other communities affected by the pandemic. It matches homicide spikes corresponding to other anti-police protests, most notably in the cities where those protests happened but to a lesser degree around the country. And the spike seems limited to the US, while other countries had basically stable murder rates over the same period.

I understand this is the opposite of what lots of other people are saying, but I think they are wrong.

10) How Title  IX led to the amazing growth of girls/women’s soccer:

Before Title IX passed, an N.C.A.A. count found only 13 women’s collegiate soccer teams in the 1971-72 season, with 313 players.

In 1974, the first year in which a survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations tracked girls’ participation across the United States, it counted 6,446 girls playing soccer in 321 schools in just seven states, mostly in New York. That number climbed to about 394,100 girls playing soccer in high schools across the country during the 2018-19 school year, with schools often carrying multiple teams and states sponsoring as many as five divisions.

11) This was frustrating to read.  Come on, FDA! “You’re Not Allowed to Have the Best Sunscreens in the World: Newer, better UV-blocking agents have been in use in other countries for years. Why can’t we have them here?”

In 2014, Congress passed a law attempting to speed access to sunscreen ingredients that have been in wide use in other countries for years, but it hasn’t really worked. “The FDA was supposed to be fast-tracking these ingredients for approval, because we have the safety data and safe history of usage from the European Union,” Dobos said. “But it seems to continually be stalled.” According to Courtney Rhodes, a spokesperson for the FDA, manufacturers have submitted eight new active ingredients for consideration. The agency has asked them to provide additional data in support of those applications, but none of them has yet satisfied the agency’s requirements.

“In the medical community, there is a significant frustration about the lack of availability of some of the sunscreen active ingredients,” Henry Lim, a dermatologist at Henry Ford Health, in Michigan, told me. The more filters are available to formulators, the more they can be mixed and matched in new ways, which stands to improve not just the efficacy of the final product, but how it feels and looks on your skin, and how easy it is to apply. On a very real level, making sunscreen less onerous to use can make it more effective. “The best sunscreen is going to be the one you’re going to use often and according to the directions,” Dobos said. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and by one estimate, one in five Americans will develop it in their lifetime.

12) Dog evolution:

For years, one of the most confounding questions in science — alongside “What is dark matter?” and “Why do we sleep?” — has been one that many pet owners may have found themselves casually pondering: Where did dogs come from?

Scientists generally agree that humanity’s best friend descended from gray wolves, scampering into our lives at least 15,000 years ago. Virtually everything else is a matter of debate.

“When and where did this happen and with whom — with what human group?” said Pontus Skoglund, a paleogeneticist at the Francis Crick Institute in London. “It’s really a mystery.”

Studies have turned up widely divergent answers, variously concluding that dogs were first domesticated somewhere in Asia or Europe or the Middle East or perhaps in multiple locations.

 

Now, a new analysis of 72 ancient wolf genomes spanning the last 100,000 years suggested one possible explanation for some of the seemingly contradictory results: Two different ancient wolf populations, one in Asia and another in the Middle East or surrounding area, contributed DNA to modern dogs.

Precisely how that happened remains unclear. It is possible that dogs were domesticated twice, in two different locations, and that the populations subsequently mixed. An alternate scenario is that dogs emerged just once, somewhere in Asia, and later bred with a more western wolf population, picking up additional wolf DNA.

“We can’t tell the scenarios apart,” said Anders Bergstrom, an expert in evolutionary genomics at the Francis Crick Institute and an author of the study, which was published on Wednesday in Nature. “But we can say that there were at least two source populations of wolves.”

The research also offers insight into the evolutionary history of gray wolves, providing hints about how the species managed to escape the fate of other, long extinct ice age mammals…

Modern village dogs in Africa and the Middle East — as well as breeds that originated in those regions, such as the Basenji — still have considerable amounts of ancestry from this second wolf population, the researchers found. But this genetic legacy persists in nearly all modern dogs; globally, most dog breeds today can trace between 5 percent and 30 percent of their ancestry to this second wolf population, Dr. Bergstrom said.

“It looks like there is a smoking gun of a second population,” said Greger Larson, a paleogenomicist at the University of Oxford and an author of the new study.

Dr. Larson had previously proposed that dogs might have been domesticated twice, before changing his mind when subsequent evidence suggested a single origin. Now, he said he was “on the fence” about whether dogs truly emerged twice or simply bred with wolves after migrating. “We’re back to that square one again,” he said.

Dr. Boyko said that the simplest explanation, and the scenario he favored, was that dogs were domesticated just once, in Central Asia, and later mated with anotherpopulation of wolves. “It just seems more parsimonious to believe — because we already know that dogs and wolves exchange genes and have done it at other times — that that’s what went on, and not a secondary domestication event.”

13) Red states are going to make it so miserable to have a miscarriage.

14) Always here for a good takedown of originalism:

The originalist adherence to history has many flaws, all of them in evidence last week. First, assessing what the historical record says with respect to a modern legal question can be extraordinarily difficult. That Thomas found ways to dismiss so many historical examples over six centuries illustrates the problem.

Second, even where one can agree on the historical facts, assessing at what level of generality or specificity they should be viewed is not dictated by the Constitution. And that gives judges substantial discretion. Take Kennedy v. Bremerton School Districtfor example, in which the court yet again relied on “history and tradition” to reject decades of precedent and ruled that the free exercise clause required a public high school to permit its football coach to pray ostentatiously at the 50-yard line after games. There is no history from the time of the founding protecting such a right; on the contrary, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson insisted on strict separation of church and state. So instead, the court invoked what it vaguely called a history of toleration as “part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society.” At that level of abstraction, history can support virtually any result.

Third, the vast majority of Supreme Court justices over the two centuries of its existence have not been originalists but have instead interpreted the Constitution as evolving, through the application of broad principles to new circumstances and developing fundamental norms. The five “originalist” justices now sitting on the court are among the only justices that have ever taken that view (Justice Antonin Scalia would make a sixth). But that means that to adopt their approach consistently would necessarily upend over 200 years of precedent developed by justices who rejected originalism. It would mean not only that marriage equality and the right to contraception would be eliminated but also that racial segregation would be legal, women would not be protected by the equal protection clause and children could be executed.

Most fundamentally, originalism does not make sense on its own terms because the Constitution’s framers themselves did not intend us to be tied to the specific understandings that governed their time. That’s why they used open-ended terms such as “liberty,” “due process” and “equal protection.” As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in McCulloch v. Marylandthe Constitution was “intended to endure for ages to come,” capable of adapting to a future “seen dimly.”

15) The FDA’s 10-week guidelines for the abortion pill are actually conservative by world standards.  It can be used safely much further into a pregnancy.  And you better believe this is going to start happening en masse in red states. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’m not going to read a whole book on Jack Welch and American capitalism, but this is really good from the author of that book, “How Jack Welch’s Reign at G.E. Gave Us Elon Musk’s Twitter Feed” (I even made it a gift link so anyone can read it).  Also, a nice Fresh Air interview here

When Jack Welch died on March 1, 2020, tributes poured in for the longtime chief executive of General Electric, whom many revered as the greatest chief executive of all time.

David Zaslav, the C.E.O. of Warner Bros. Discovery and a Welch disciple, remembered him as an almost godlike figure. “Jack set the path. He saw the whole world. He was above the whole world,” Mr. Zaslav said. “What he created at G.E. became the way companies now operate.”

Mr. Zaslav’s words were meant as unequivocal praise. During Mr. Welch’s two decades in power — from 1981 to 2001 — he turned G.E. into the most valuable company in the world, groomed a flock of protégés who went on to run major companies of their own, and set the standard by which other C.E.O.s were measured.

Yet a closer examination of the Welch legacy reveals that he was not simply the “Manager of the Century,” as Fortune magazine crowned him upon his retirement.

Rather, he exerted a powerful and lasting influence on American business, informing how workers are treated, how shareholders are rewarded and how C.E.O.s comport themselves in an increasingly divisive age. When Donald J. Trump is elected president, when Jeff Bezos argues about inflation with the White House, when Elon Musk negotiates his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter by using the poop emoji — this is the world that Jack Welch helped create.

For the past several years, I have written the Corner Office column for The Times, speaking with hundreds of executives about their careers and approaches to leadership. And time after time, Mr. Welch’s name kept coming up. Some wanted to model themselves after him, while others sought to define themselves in opposition to all he stood for. Either way, it was clear that Mr. Welch still looms over the corporate world, living rent-free in the minds of C.E.O.s around the globe.

And in more than 100 conversations for “The Man Who Broke Capitalism,” my new book, from which this article is adapted, a broad range of people said some version of the same thing: While it has been more than two decades since Mr. Welch was C.E.O. of G.E., his legacy still affects millions of American households.

Almost immediately after Mr. Welch retired in September 2001 with a $417 million severance package, G.E. went into a tailspin from which it would never recover.

His pupils, though, went on to run dozens of other major companies, including Home Depot, Albertson’s, Chrysler and Boeing. Most of them failed.

And in the decades since Mr. Welch assumed power, the economy at large has come to resemble his skewed priorities. Wages stagnated and jobs moved overseas. C.E.O. pay went stratospheric and buybacks and dividends boomed. Factories closed and companies found ways to pay fewer taxes.

Beyond his enduring influence on the economy, Mr. Welch also redefined what it meant to be a boss, personifying an aggressive, materialistic style of management that endures to this day.

“Jack was the rock star C.E.O. of my era,” said Lynn Forester de Rothschild, one of the rare female media moguls of the 1980s. “We all thought Jack was doing everything right and that success was defined by meeting quarterly earnings to the penny.”

In retirement, Mr. Welch continued to hold sway over the business world as an elder statesman, penning books and columns, and appearing on cable news to praise the executives he had groomed and continue his assault on taxation and regulation.

Mr. Welch also pursued an unexpected retirement pastime: He became an internet troll. His old friend Donald J. Trump seemed to lead the way on many conspiracy theories that Mr. Welch embraced. But by 2012, Mr. Welch was picking fights of his own with his online adversaries, trying to own the libs on Twitter and promulgating conspiracy theories about the Obama administration.

It was a career defined by a ruthless devotion to maximizing short-term profits at any cost, and punctuated by a foray into misinformation. And it opened the door to an era where billionaire C.E.O.s are endowed with vast power and near total impunity.

G.E., too, is still reckoning with Mr. Welch’s legacy. For two decades after he retired, a succession of C.E.O.s tried and failed to return the company to its former glory. Then last year, G.E. management admitted defeat and made an announcement — the company would be broken up for good.

2) Heckuva an essay on “kid culture” in the U.S.

Childcare is exhausting and tedious and repetitive. It is glorious to be able to unleash your child at a playground and let them clamour and slide and do their own thing while you just sit and think. You don’t have to be ‘on’ in the particularly draining way that childcare asks of you. This is the allure of kid culture.

I also understand its benefits. Kids need and want to be around other kids, and many can no longer do so organically in their own neighbourhoods and houses. They need and want to experiment with things and, if they don’t have lightsabers and sand tools, then they’re probably going to be digging into your cabinets and dragging out camera equipment or experimenting with the toilet. Kid spaces remove a lot of pressure and can free parents from the demands of constant attention.

But kid culture is also an opportunistic capitalist response to a fundamental structural and societal problem: the cordoning off of family life from community life, and the obsession with parenting as a task, goal and project. Kid culture is heavily commercial. So many of the events pitched as ‘family friendly’ are plastered in corporate logos and full of junk ‘gifts’ for kids to tote around, from lip gloss to keychains; memberships to museums cost hundreds of dollars; trampoline parks and gymnastics gyms, the latest incarnations of kid spaces, can cost $30 an hour.

The culture as a whole is leaning evermore toward the insipid and nakedly consumerist. Pay to jump on 45 different trampolines! With disco lighting! Pay to jump into a giant pit of foam cubes! Kid culture now is driven by the belief that child development requires constant energy, vigilance and direction, and by the US desire to paper over the void where community once thrived.

In the meantime, as kid culture has become more entrenched, the backlash is being felt in adult culture, in the push to get kids out of spaces such as weddings or restaurants, in more blatant contempt on the part of some adults for the presence of children in any space not full of other children. This is part of a larger trend of ‘bubbles’ in US life. Families are meant to stay in theirs. No one should have to share any space with someone who isn’t perfectly politically, economically, physically, culturally and socially aligned with them. These types over here; those, over there.

The American political scientist Robert Putnam, in his book about the end of community life in the US, Bowling Alone (2000), writes that children are mostly siloed within their own race, class and household. This is a natural tendency in children, but one reinforced when the only adults they interact with are parents…

I am wary of heralding the free-range kids movement or any other phenomenon that justifies itself in terms of child development (‘Kids need X! It’s good for kids because of Y!’) as a solution here. While I admire the tenets of this movement and its pushback against the oppressive culture of risk management that dominates contemporary parenting, it is ultimately the classic US capitalist response to a problem created by US capitalism: a movement, a manifesto, a book, a website about how to create a new, proper kind of kid culture to correct the errors of existing kid culture. All of it becomes a kind of obsessive focus on creating the right kind of child, on childhood as product, either wrapped in 18 layers of bubblewrap, or misted in a nostalgic gauze of bike-riding ‘freedom’. Missing here is any sense of community. Instead, what if we were to focus on building more public spaces and events, more opportunities for genuine community? What if the arts were more generously funded and accessible, if there were more opportunities for people to come together in ways that aren’t centred entirely around a table of Play-Doh and glue?

3) Interesting take on San Francisco as a failed city:

I’d gotten used to the crime, rarely violent but often brazen; to leaving the car empty and the doors unlocked so thieves would at least quit breaking my windows. A lot of people leave notes on the glass stating some variation of Nothing’s in the car. Don’t smash the windows. One time someone smashed our windows just to steal a scarf. Once, when I was walking and a guy tore my jacket off my back and sprinted away with it, I didn’t even shout for help. I was embarrassed—what was I, a tourist? Living in a failing city does weird things to you. The normal thing to do then was to yell, to try to get help—even, dare I say it, from a police officer—but this felt somehow lame and maybe racist.

A couple of years ago, one of my friends saw a man staggering down the street, bleeding. She recognized him as someone who regularly slept outside in the neighborhood, and called 911. Paramedics and police arrived and began treating him, but members of a homeless advocacy group noticed and intervened. They told the man that he didn’t have to get into the ambulance, that he had the right to refuse treatment. So that’s what he did. The paramedics left; the activists left. The man sat on the sidewalk alone, still bleeding. A few months later, he died about a block away.

It was easier to ignore this kind of suffering amid the throngs of workers and tourists. And you could always avert your gaze and look at the beautiful city around you. But in lockdown the beauty became obscene. The city couldn’t get kids back into the classroom; so many people were living on the streets; petty crime was rampant. I used to tell myself that San Francisco’s politics were wacky but the city was trying—really trying—to be good. But the reality is that with the smartest minds and so much money and the very best of intentions, San Francisco became a cruel city. It became so dogmatically progressive that maintaining the purity of the politics required accepting—or at least ignoring—devastating results.

But this dogmatism may be buckling under pressure from reality. Earlier this year, in a landslide, San Francisco voters recalled the head of the school board and two of her most progressive colleagues. These are the people who also turned out Boudin; early results showed that about 60 percent of voters chose to recall him.

Residents had hoped Boudin would reform the criminal-justice system and treat low-level offenders more humanely. Instead, critics argued that his policies victimized victims, allowed criminals to go free to reoffend, and did nothing to help the city’s most vulnerable. To understand just how noteworthy Boudin’s defenestration is, please keep in mind that San Francisco has only a tiny number of Republicans. This fight is about leftists versus liberals. It’s about idealists who think a perfect world is within reach—it’ll only take a little more time, a little more commitment, a little more funding, forever—and those who are fed up.

Okay, I was going to leave it there, but then this part of the article:

The city’s schools were shut for most of the 2020–21 academic year—longer than schools in most other cities, and much longer than San Francisco’s private schools. In the middle of the pandemic, with no real reopening plan in sight, school-board meetings became major events, with audiences on Zoom of more than 1,000. The board didn’t have unilateral power to reopen schools even if it wanted to—that depended on negotiations between the district, the city, and the teachers’ union—but many parents were appalled to find that the board members didn’t even seem to want to talk much about getting kids back into classrooms. They didn’t want to talk about learning loss or issues with attendance and functionality. It seemed they couldn’t be bothered with topics like ventilation. Instead they wanted to talk about white supremacy.

One night in 2021, the meeting lasted seven hours, one of which was devoted to making sure a man named Seth Brenzel stayed off the parent committee.

Brenzel is a music teacher, and at the time he and his husband had a child in public school. Eight seats on the committee were open, and Brenzel was unanimously recommended by the other committee members. But there was a problem: Brenzel is white.

“My name’s Mari,” one attendee said. “I’m an openly queer parent of color that uses they/them pronouns.” They noted that the parent committee was already too white (out of 10 sitting members, three were white). This was “really, really problematic,” they said. “I bet there are parents that we can find that are of color and that also are queer … QTPOC voices need to be led first before white queer voices.”

Someone else called in, identifying herself as Cindy. She was calling to defend Brenzel, and she was crying. “He is a gay father of a mixed-race family,” she said.

A woman named Brandee came on the call: “I’m a white parent and have some intersectionality within my family. My son has several disabilities. And I really wouldn’t dream of putting my name forward for this.” She had some choice words for Cindy: “When white people share these kinds of tears at board meetings”—she pauses, laughing—“I have an excellent book suggestion for you. It’s called White Tears/Brown Scars. I’d encourage you to read it, thank you.”

4) Electricity as the newest advance in medicine:

Recent advances in engineering and biology suggest that electricity could treat such conditions as paralysis, depression, and autoimmune conditions. Physicians have demonstrated for decades that it is possible to treat some patients with epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease using deep brain stimulation (DBS)—in which an electrode is surgically implanted deep in the brain to electrically stimulate specific neurons. What’s different now is that there is a growing repertoire of diseases that scientists believe may also respond to electrical stimulation, delivered from both the inside and outside of the body.

5) How did I not know about this?! “The real story behind Morocco’s tree-climbing goats”

Animal welsfare advocates and ecologists say that making goats stand in argan trees for hours is bad for the animals and bad for the trees.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WOLFGANG KAEHLER, LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES
 

6) Bruni on Liz Cheney:

I keep waiting for Liz Cheney to flinch.

I keep looking for some sign that her nerve is faltering, that the attacks are getting to her and that the loneliness of her situation — unconditionally contemptuous of Donald Trump, emphatically committed to a Republican Party beyond him — has become unbearable.

But no. She’s all in and she’s all steel. It could well be the political death of her. Or it could give her a kind of immortality more meaningful than any office.

Cheney, who represents Wyoming in the House, is front and center this week, with a starring role as the vice chair of the House committee whose investigation into the Jan. 6 riot has reached a dramatic culmination in prime-time television hearings. She’s one of just two Republicans on the nine-member panel.

But while the other, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, isn’t running for re-election, Cheney is in the middle of a furiously contested primary battle against a prominent Wyoming Republican official who has welded herself to Trump. Just two weeks ago, Trump traveled to the deep red state, which he won by more than 40 percentage points in 2020, to command his supporters to oust Cheney when they vote on Aug. 16. He said that she had “thrown in her lot with the radical left.”

That statement, like so much of his blather, was ludicrous. And it didn’t cow Cheney in the least.

In a subsequent interview with Robert Costa of CBS News, she called Republicans’ subservience to Trump “a cult of personality.” She said that the committee’s investigation had cemented her horror over the events of Jan. 6, which reflected a coordinated movement. “It’s extremely broad,” she said. “It’s extremely well organized. It’s really chilling.”

And when asked to analyze the obsequious comportment of the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, she said that it’s driven by “craven political calculation.” And she let him have it.

“He is embracing those in our party who are antisemitic,” she said. “He is embracing those in our party who are white nationalists. He is lying about what happened on January 6. And he’s turned his back on the Constitution.” There wasn’t a wobble or a waver in those words. Not a lie, either.

That’s what makes Cheney so important. Whatever you think of her fatherher past or the rest of her ideology, she has, for the past year and a half, been an unstinting, unflagging and — frankly — inspiring model of principle above partisanship, of truth over tribalism. While nearly all the other Republicans in Congress keep changing their tunes to harmonize with Trump, she refuses to sing along.

7) Jeff Maurer, “The Republican Climate Change Plan Sucks in an Encouraging Way”

I’ve often wished that America had a normal conservative party. I look at the Tories in the UK — who summoned modest support to legalize gay marriage — or the Christian Democrats in Germany — which has a notable pro-refugee contingent — and get envious. There’s supposed to be a right-wing party that spends less money than I would like and restricts immigration more than I would like, but that forms part of the consensus on big issues. Instead, America has a party that sows vaccine skepticism, thinks you shouldn’t have to fill out a form to buy a military-grade weapon, and is currently debating whether the winner of an election should win the election. Maybe my perception is skewed by proximity; maybe this is like thinking that everyone’s parents are cooler than yours. But it does feel like most countries have a party led by stodgy old bastards who are nonetheless sane, while our right-wing party is basically a pirate ship full of feral children smoking angel dust.

The GOP’s shortcomings might be most noticeable on climate change. Their response to the biggest challenge of our time has been to fuss and resist like a toddler who won’t put on his jammies. When Jim Inhofe — the fucking chair of the Senate Environment Committee — tossed a snowball on the Senate floor, it marked total victory for the Up With Stupidity movement. In the past several decades, Republicans have contributed about as much to the solution to climate change as they have to the development of modern hip hop.

Which is why I was encouraged when the GOP announced a climate change plan last week. Was this…something? Was this a sign that Republicans might be ending their decades of climate denialism and wading into the policy debate? I was intrigued, so I read the plan…

The Republican plan is definitely not a solution to climate change. In my opinion, its focus is misplaced. There are a million things that it could do but doesn’t. It’s vague. It’s small. And it contains no numbers — it’s hard to know what something like “invest in America’s nuclear plants” really means without a dollar figure attached. Republicans remain allergic to taxes; they funded the infrastructure bill by rummaging through old coats in the hall closet until they found 1.2 trillion dollars. If the “investment” in nuclear ends up being a water jug full of pennies and a $20 voucher to Supercuts, then Republicans haven’t actually done a damn thing.

But I think that sneering at the plan is the wrong reaction. If nothing else, the plan does one big thing: It acknowledges that climate change is real and caused by humans. That’s huge. I know I’m grading on the silliest of curves here; I feel a bit like I’m handing a trophy to a 40 year-old who crossed the street without shitting his pants. But Republicans were very recently led by a guy who called climate change a “con” and a “hoax”, so reading a GOP plan that acknowledges basic reality feels like a “man walks upright for the first time”-level moment…

Still, I enjoyed imagining that I was reading a sincere plan by a sane party in a country with a functional government. At times, it almost felt — dare I say it — normal. I’m supposed to read a plan from the other side of the aisle and think “bad idea…misfire…half-measure…red herring.” And I absolutely did think that. But once I’m done whinging about the parts I hate, I’m supposed to take the parts I like and go from there. The GOP continues to be a party without a workable climate change plan, but they are now a party with an extremely shitty climate change plan. Which, if I’m being honest, I actually find pretty encouraging.

8) Good stuff from Serwer on police and gun reform:

But one of the most significant factors preventing gun control on the federal level might be that American police themselves are broadly opposed to restrictions on guns, and they remain one of the only institutions in American life whose influence on conservative voters is significant enough to make any federal gun regulations feasible. Americans trust policeoften to a fault, so when they say that new restrictions are unnecessary or won’t work, millions of people believe them. American police, like other institutions, have been affected by the partisan polarization of recent decades, resulting in an already conservative demographic identifying even more strongly with the Republican Party and its opposition to gun control laws. That means their advocacy organizations are less likely to sign onto anything associated with the Democratic Party on the national level.

“In the ’90s, police unions were conservative but still played in both parties. They still endorsed candidates on the Democratic side because they were pro-labor and pro-law-and-order,” Ron DeLord, an attorney and negotiator for police unions, and a former police officer, told me. “The unions are becoming part of the Republican Party now.”…

Most gun deaths—half of which are suicides—and gun crimes involve handguns, but the AR-15’s prominence has as much to do with the identity politics of the weapon as with its association with mass shootings, which have increased markedly since the lapse of the assault-weapons ban. The present politics of guns are partly a consequence of selling firearms not merely as a tool of personal protection, sport, or wildlife maintenance, but as a tool of potential political insurrection against liberal tyranny. The political identity of many right-wing gun enthusiasts is rooted not just in a hypothetical scenario of protecting their home from crime, but in a fantasy of murdering their political opponents.

If you want a firearm for personal protection or recreation, then the most popular proposals for firearm restrictions are not particularly threatening. But if your political identity is constructed around the idea that you need your firearms for an imminent battle against the forces of evil, then any such restriction portends apocalypse…

The police, who have traditionally been conservative and strongly supported gun rights, are not exempt from partisan polarization or evolutions in conservative political identity. Certain organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, still support some new restrictions on firearms. As recently as 2016, the Fraternal Order of Police, which supported restrictions as part of Clinton’s tough-on-crime agenda in the ’90s but endorsed Trump in 2016, stated that because of “the increased politicization of firearms issues and the lack of any meaningful public safety component in many legislative proposals,” it would “not support any additional ‘gun control’ measures.” Asked by email about the FOP’s current position on the slate of reforms proposed by the Biden administration, National FOP director Jim Pasco said that it hadn’t yet taken positions on any of the current proposals.

“I really do think it’s just the politics of rank-and-file police officers—fundamentally, they don’t support gun control; they really believe that guns are a right, and an armed citizenry is a safer one,” Michael Zoorob, a researcher who has studied the politics of police organizations, told me. “Rank-and-file police officers now are Republicans who support gun rights and who are skeptical of gun control, and that’s pretty much it … A lot of that is just partisan polarization in the last 20 years and sorting, [with] conservative Democrats withering away.” Some law-enforcement officials have even publicly pledged not to enforce firearm restrictions if they are passed.

9) Elizabeth Bruenig, “The Uvalde Police Chose Dishonor”

If the police had just broken down the door early on, they may have found the odds of a veritable throng of adult men against a teenage boy fairly favorable. Other men caught in the sights of school shooters have done as much. Liviu Librescu, a 78-year-old engineering professor at Virginia Tech, barricaded his classroom door with his body and directed his students to escape through windows during the 2007 rampage there. He eventually died of his injuries after the gunman gained entry. Riley Howell, a student, gave his life at 21 as he tackled a shooter firing into a crowded classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2019, taking bullets to the head and torso as he slammed his body into the shooter’s, ending the killing. That same year, Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old student at STEM School Highlands Ranch, in Colorado, lunged at a shooter who opened fire on his literature class, allowing a group of other students to disarm the killer. Castillo, too, died for his bravery. There are so many others…

Yet on the other side of the wall was, it seems, another sort of toxic masculinity—a platoon of armed and trained men who had evidently come to rely so heavily on guns and armor in lieu of courage and strength that they found themselves bereft of the latter when outdone in the former. Instead they were beset by cowardice, evidently as convinced as the shooter was that the gun really does make the man, and that outgunned is thus as good as outmanned.

In its own imagination, Texas is the land of men who would never admit defeat at all, much less surrender instantly with decent odds and innocent lives at stake: Surely its police ought to feel the highest and noblest sort of calling to valor, the type of vocation that surpasses profession and speaks to a person’s mission in life. Or perhaps those things, too, all the militarism and bravado, the heady authority and free respect, the unearned certainty in one’s own capacities provoked by so manyPunisher bumper stickers and decals, had the same corrupting effect as the guns and body armor. Eventually, one either develops their own virtues or finds they’ve developed vices instead.

10) Yascha Mounk and Sam Koppelman, “Are America’s Institutions Broken?”

Mounk: Take us through what the actual threats to voting rights are. What are the things that are not catastrophizing, not talking points, but reasons to be seriously worried about a rollback of civil and voting rights today?

Koppelman: Since the start of the Biden presidency, dozens of states have put forward bills that are characterized as suppressing voting rights. Right around the time of the Shelby County case, Alabama decided to mandate an official government-issued ID to vote, while at the same time defunding DMVs and closing a whole bunch of them around the state. Bills of that kind have taken place across the country. There’s also bills that make it easier to purge voter rolls based on not voting. There have been studies, including in Ohio, where someone decided to spend their weekends auditing everyone who was purged from the voter rolls, and a huge percentage of those people—something like half—still lived in the state and should be eligible to vote. But they didn’t use the right to vote in the last elections, so they’re taken off the rolls. And the thing is, with these laws, it’s not necessarily convincing to me that they actually effectively help one party or another. When you look at voter ID laws, they also lead to a lot of organizing against them and extra registration efforts. People get motivated to fight back against these attacks to their right to vote. 

Mounk: This seems to be like an area where these laws are clearly wrong. But they’re actually wrong for slightly different reasons than people tend to think. I think they are often motivated by either racial animus or at least strategic considerations: black people tend to vote for the Democratic Party, we want to win against Democrats, so we’re going to try to stop black people from coming to the polls. That is morally heinous. They are also morally wrong because they have the effect of making it harder to vote, and we shouldn’t make it harder, for people who can legitimately vote, to vote.

But I think what’s interesting is that some of the scholarly literature on this actually suggests that the partisan effects that both Republicans and Democrats think these laws have, don’t tend to happen. Voter ID laws, for example, don’t discriminate against Democrats as cleanly as you might think. It’s a case in which Republicans are passing laws that really are deeply morally objectionable, and they’re not even serving their intended purpose, which is sort of absurd.

Koppelman: My favorite example of this is vote by mail, which, especially after the pandemic, Democrats have hugely favored. Trump said if these laws were passed enabling vote by mail, Republicans would never win another election again. But if you look at vote by mail, it just makes sense who that helps: older voters, who tend to be Republicans. So it’s one of those weirdly partisan debates that might be organized to the opposite of how it should be. But I think it’s the intention that’s the scary thing, that there are people who are trying to make it harder to vote, thinking that that’s going to make them more likely to win.

Right now, when Texas passed their voter ID law, if you didn’t have your birth certificate at the time, for whatever reason (which is true of hundreds of thousands of people in Texas) you’d need another form of ID, which could cost you something like $80. We all recognize that poll taxes are just completely immoral; you shouldn’t have to pay any money to vote. What we should do is have the government send everybody an ID, to their mailboxes. If you don’t have a stable home or mailbox, you should be able to go to any government office—a post office, a DMV, or wherever else—and pick it up. This should be the lowest barrier to entry possible, because then you could actually pass laws that mandate ID and can snuff out fraud, should there be any (even though the statistics say it’s pretty unlikely). But I think that this is a clear case where it would serve Democrats well, and it would serve Republicans well, to just talk about this as a sensible, good governance solution. Most Americans think you should have some form of ID, they also think that it should be free to get the ID…

Mounk: We’ve talked about gerrymandering and primaries. Next on our agenda is the Electoral College. What’s the case for abolishing the Electoral College, or what kind of alternative reform do you suggest?

Koppelman: The Electoral College is, I think, the most laughable American institution. It was created because when America was founded, we didn’t believe in the popular vote at all. Each state could just send its slate of electors to the convention, and then they could just decide to vote for whomever they wanted. Eventually, different states passed laws that essentially said, “We’re going to give all of our state’s electoral votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote in our state,” which makes more sense. If the Electoral College advantaged Democrats, as it did during President Obama’s time, by the way, Republicans would support getting rid of the Electoral College. Because it advantages Republicans right now, Democrats are the ones who want to get rid of the Electoral College, though, in polls, 60-70% of Americans oppose it.

There’s two solutions, one of which is a constitutional amendment, which is not going to happen. But there is actually a really interesting way to do this, which is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, where states agree to give their electors to whomever wins the national popular vote…

Koppelman: The key thing you want is that in all 50 states, the certification of election is conducted by nonpartisans. What you want is for every election to be certified by a group of people who are neither partisan themselves, nor appointed by partisans. The problem is that in states like Georgia, they flipped certification so that the state legislature is ultimately in charge, or at least in charge of who gets appointed to do this. I wish I had a better, more programmatic set of policies for what to do to prevent this at the federal level, but fundamentally, election administration in America has long been conducted by the states themselves. And what you need to fight to make sure that it continues to be independently run in as many places as possible. This is just one of those situations where I’m fundamentally pessimistic. My biggest concern about 2024 is Donald Trump winning fair and square. I think that’s the most likely bad outcome for America—that he just happens to win more votes than Joe Biden. But it’s very easy to imagine just a slightly different version of what happened in 2020, but this time, it succeeds.

The biggest check against the last coup was that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, which ultimately has to certify the outcome of the election. If you look at the midterm polls, it definitely seems like it’s possible that Republicans are going to be in control of the House and the Senate in 2024. So that huge protection, that final step in the process, is gone. We’re just counting on the states to actually certify the elections, as they did last time. You look at what happened last time: in Michigan, one of the major certification crises, Republicans ended up flipping and joining the Democrats, refusing to decertify the results of the election in Michigan. But that guy’s gone. In Georgia, all the people who led the movement to respect the results of the election—Raffensperger and whoever else— they’re being primary challenged, and really might not win.1 In a bunch of states, the certification of elections is being transferred from a nonpartisan process to a partisan process. This is something to be genuinely worried about. And if 2020 happened in 2024—a very similar election, where four states were decided by fewer than 40,000 votes or something crazy like that—it’s not obvious to me that the outcome would be the same as in 2020. In terms of what you can do about it, you can try to vote out elected officials who are doing this absolutely crazy shit. You can volunteer to be an election worker or a poll worker. You also can run for election administration positions yourself. These are pretty uncontested elections. We talked about primaries, but these are elections that have such low turnout, if you go run and have all your friends vote for you, you’ll probably win. You can put yourself in powerful positions here. But in the states that have already changed their structure of government such that partisans can certify or not certify elections, we’re kind of screwed. Democrats have to win by a big enough number that Republicans aren’t within cheating distance of a victory. But I wish I had a more programmatic positive answer here. Fundamentally, it’s just electing better representatives who are not trying to literally undermine our entire democracy.

11) I really think this is going to backfire on Republicans once all these extremist laws come into being.  They are extremely unpopular. “The New Abortion Bans: Almost No Exceptions for Rape, Incest or Health: Most of the state abortion prohibitions that would go into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned do not contain carve-outs that were once widely supported by abortion opponents.”

n the years before Roe v. Wade, some states that had outlawed abortion began permitting it in limited circumstances: in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life or health of the woman.

And for decades after the Roe ruling guaranteed the right to abortion throughout the United States, abortion opponents from Ronald Reagan to Donald J. Trump generally supported those exceptions, even as they worked to undo Roe.

Exceptions for rape, incest and life endangerment are codified in the Hyde Amendment as the only reasons the federal government will pay for abortions through Medicaid. For decades, surveys have shown that large majorities of Americans support these carve-outs, even in heavily Republican states.

But if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, as expected, many state abortion bans would take effect that do not include most of the exceptions.

There are no allowances for victims of rape or incest in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee or Texas. Mississippi, whose law banning abortion after 15 weeks is at the center of the case the Supreme Court will rule on this month, permits an abortion in cases of rape but does not specify incest.

While all bans allow an exception to save the life of the woman, those in some states, such as IdahoSouth Dakota and Arkansas, do not also cite protection of her health…

Many of the new bans are set up as so-called trigger laws in 13 Midwestern and Southern states, intended to take effect swiftly if Roe falls. At least nine more states are weighing similar bans — some of which have been paused by courts — or could revive pre-Roe abortion prohibitions. The outcomes will depend on the details of the Supreme Court’s decision and the politics of each state.

“I think we are heading in a direction of increasing absolutism and punitiveness,” said Reva Siegel, a Yale Law School professor who is a co-author of an equal protection amicus brief in the Mississippi case before the Supreme Court. She noted that even as Mississippi legislators restricted abortion access, they refused to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage.

The move away from exceptions reflects the Republican Party’s shift to the right, said Mary Ziegler, a legal historian at the University of California, Davis, Law School and author of “Dollars for Life,” a book to be published this month about the anti-abortion movement and the Republican Party.

Candidates are increasingly jockeying for far-right support in primaries in Republican-dominated states, she said, aware not only that turnout typically consists of the most fervent voters but also that national anti-abortion groups are searching for local standard-bearers to fund.

12) So my recent quote in the NYT has now been approvingly quoted in Breitbart.  Hmmm. 

13) I’ve been fascinated by how well the NHL has quietly avoided controversy despite having a ton of super-important Russian athletes.  First time I’ve seen an article forthrightly address this:

But the series is being played at a time when Russia has become a global outcast following its military invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. And President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a hockey fan, is seen as a pariah in the United States and many other parts of the world.

Nonetheless, Shesterkin and Vasilevskiy are both adored, and it doesn’t stop with them. The Eastern Conference finals features other excellent Russian stars, like Artemi Panarin, the Rangers highly skilled winger; Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning’s dangerous forward; and Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa’s dependable defenseman.

But while other sports have banned Russian teams and their athletes from international sporting events, the N.H.L. did not, because the 57 active Russians in the league play as individuals and do not represent their country or their government in the way an Olympian or a Russian national soccer player does. They represent the Rangers, Lightning and other N.H.L. teams.

Shortly after the invasion, the N.H.L. announced it would suspend relationships with businesses in Russia, paused Russian-language digital media platforms and refused to consider Russia as a site for future competitions involving the N.H.L. But it never considered banning Russian players like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko and all the goalies, simply because of their nationality.

In tennis, the French Open allowed Russians to participate, but Wimbledon announced it would ban them because competitors in tennis play under their national flags. Under pressure from the British government, Wimbledon did not want to provide a propaganda victory should a Russian, like Daniil Medvedev, win.

“But if the Rangers win the Stanley Cup, it’s not really a propaganda victory for Russia,” said Timothy Frye, a Russian politics expert at Columbia University and the author of “Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia.”

“Banning team sports, particularly ones that represent Russia, is certainly justified,” he said. “But it would be hard to exclude the hockey players. The hardest one to justify would be banning Vasilevskiy or Shesterkin.”

Frye has traveled to Russia regularly since 1985 and has been to about a half-dozen hockey games there, both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He said that when he watches the N.H.L. now, he wonders why the Russian players aren’t more of a discussion in hockey since the invasion, as opposed to in soccer and tennis.
 

Me, too.  I kind of think that hockey journalists understand that the league could unravel if they push too hard on this, so they don’t. 

14) Good stuff from Noah Smith, “U.S. pundits: Please stop trying to concede on Ukraine’s behalf”

These sentiments also seem to echo the recent words of France’s President Macron, who called on Western powers to press for an end to the Ukraine War that doesn’t “humiliate” Putin. Presumably this means letting Russia keep some of the Ukrainian territory it has seized.

This view is madness cloaked in reasonable-sounding language.

First, let’s be clear about some of the facts that these op-eds try to sugar-coat or quietly omit. Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of its neighbor; thus, allowing it to keep some of its conquests would constitute a Russian victory and a Ukrainian defeat. International relations professor Paul Poast explains this quite clearly in a recent thread:

So the NYT editorial board, Macron, and various other pundits suggesting that the U.S. lean on Ukraine to let Russia take its territory are calling for the war to be resolved as a Russian victory.

Also, it’s important to realize that the U.S. is not a combatant. We have provided the Ukrainians with weapons, training, and financial aid, but we have not sent our forces to do any of the fighting. The Ukrainians themselves are deeply committed to pushing Russia out of their territory. Thus, for the U.S. to bring about a “negotiated settlement” in Ukraine means for the U.S. to threaten to withdraw support from Ukraine — thus hamstringing the Ukrainian war effort — unless Ukraine concedes territory to Russia. The various op-eds tend to tiptoe around this fact, but that is what it would require.

Another fact the make-Ukraine-concede advocates tiptoe around is the human cost of Russian occupation for the Ukrainians living in the conquered territories. It is by now common knowledge that these conquered people are being subjected to mass rapeconfiscation of food, deportation to Russia, and other atrocities. To suggest that the U.S. hold back from liberating these territories is to suggest that the U.S. abandon those innocent people to their horrific fate. So we should make that crystal-clear as well.

Anyway, those are the stakes. Now let’s talk about why having the U.S. force a Ukrainian concession is a bad idea.

The appeasement strategy was tried before, and it failed

The most obvious reason that the proposed concession strategy is a bad idea is that it has been tried before, and it catastrophically failed. In 2014, Putin seized Crimea and effectively seized a chunk of the Donbas region. Ukraine didn’t cede these territories, but it was unable to take them back, and no one really expected the territories to return to Ukraine. Presumably, if this was all Russia wanted, Putin would have stopped there.

But he did not stop there. Instead, he sent a massive force to the border of Ukraine and invaded, without any provocation on the part of the Ukrainians. Rather than issuing any sort of reasonable demands for the Ukrainians to meet in order to avoid an invasion, Putin simply sent in the tanks. He tried to conquer the Ukrainian capital and seize most or all of the country.

That attempt failed, thanks to the valiant Ukrainian defense and to timely Western aid. But it revealed Putin’s true intentions. The fact that he tried to seize all of Ukraine means that he won’t be satisfied just by carving out another small piece of the country; he wants it all. And the fact that he invaded without any provocation means that as soon as he rebuilds his damaged army, he’ll make another attempt.

In other words, although the U.S. pundits who urge appeasement may fancy themselves the voice of level-headed reason, they are explicitly calling for us to double down on a failed strategy. The burden of proof is on them to explain why appeasement would succeed in 2022 where it failed in 2014, and they have not made that case.

15) I kind of cannot believe how much work Jesse Singal put into this, but he’s clearly right.  Most fundamentally, Science Vs. is far more skeptical of research that doesn’t support their pro-trans ideolgocial viewpoint than research that does not. “”Science Vs” Cited Seven Studies To Argue There’s No Controversy About Giving Puberty Blockers And Hormones To Trans Youth. Let’s Read Them. The show is strikingly selective in its skepticism”

16) This technology could really be world-changing, but until it’s more mature, it really is kind of a Pandora’s box, “Blood Tests That Detect Cancers Create Risks for Those Who Use Them”

But companies are not waiting for a nod from regulators. One, GRAIL, is selling its annual test, with a list price of $949, in advance of approval, and another company, Exact Sciences, expects to follow suit, using a provision known as laboratory developed tests.

The tests, which look for minuscule shards of cancer DNA or proteins, are a new frontier in screening. Companies developing them say they can find dozens of cancers. While standard screening tests are commonly used to detect cancer of the breast, colon, cervix and prostate, 73 percent of people who die of cancer had cancers that are not detected by standard tests.

Supporters say the tests can slash cancer death rates by finding tumors when they are still small and curable. But a definitive study to determine whether the tests prevent cancer deaths would have to involve more than a million healthy adults randomly assigned to have an annual blood test for cancer or not. Results would take a decade or longer.

“We’re at a point now where the blood tests are in their early days,” said Dr. Tomasz Beer, a cancer researcher at Oregon Health & Science University, who is directing a GRAIL-sponsored study of the test that found Mr. Ford’s cancer. “Some people in an informed manner can choose to be early adapters.”

The companies would like to get the tests approved with studies less rigorous than the F.D.A. typically requires, and they stand to make huge profits if that happens…

“GRAIL proposes to test every Medicare beneficiary every year, making it the screening test that could bankrupt Medicare,” said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a senior investigator in the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

With 44 million Medicare beneficiaries and an annual test costing about $1,000 a year plus expensive scans and biopsies for those whose tests are positive, the price tag could be substantial.

He and other critics warn that the risks of unleashing the tests are substantial. Paradoxical as it may sound, finding cancers earlier could mean just as many deaths, with the same timing as without early diagnosis. That is because — at least with current treatments — cancers destined to kill are not necessarily cured if found early.

And there are other risks. For example, some will have a positive test, but doctors will be unable to locate the cancer. Others will be treated aggressively with surgery or chemotherapy for cancers that, if left alone, would not have grown and spread and may even have gone away.

17) Good free post from Yglesias, “Russia’s war on the world’s food supply”

18) Princeton Professor Robert George with the best thing I’ve read on the Jonathan Katz case.  Yes, having sex with an undergraduate is so, so wrong, but it’s also very clear that he never would have lost his job had he not challenged the current DEI orthodoxy (and had parts of Princeton’s administration not acted abominably).  

19) And some really encouraging cancer news.  I really do think we’re going to make some dramatic improvements in the not-too-distant future, “With the right molecular signal, a cancer drug works in every patient”

20) The best TV show ever is 20.  Alan Sepinwall with a terrific appreciation of what makes it so damn good.

It’s the guns!!

Frum:

The crucial variable in mass shootings is not ideas but weapons. We cannot control ideas or speech and should not attempt to do so even if we could. But we could reduce access to the weaponry that converts ideology into atrocity. At least, other advanced countries find themselves able to do so. Almost every country on Earth has citizens filled with vitriol, but no comparably advanced country has a gun-violence epidemic quite like America’s.

Yesterday’s alleged shooter appears to be a white supremacist. If the next killer is Muslim or vegan, many of those now most eager to assign blame to the Buffalo suspect’s co-partisans will be anxious to do the opposite—and of course, those now most anxious to restrict blame to the alleged killer alone will next time be eager to spread the blame as widely as possible.

Racist ideology is an evil in itself. But the American exception that bathes this country in blood and grief again and again and again is not that we are uniquely susceptible to racism or jihadism or veganism. The American exception is the unique ease of access to weapons.

Condemn the words if you will, but understand what those words do and what those words do not do. To save lives, focus on what is taking lives. Americans die by the gun in such terrible numbers because Americans live by the gun with such reckless disregard.

Also, I haven’t seen exactly what type of assault rifle he used, but it was an assault rifle that killed 10 of the 13 people he shot.  That just doesn’t happen with a handgun unless someone is an extraordinarily good shot.  With an assault rifle, the damage is exponentially greater.  It is a weapon of war (not to mention the body armor). It is absolutely insane that we make it easy enough for a mentally unstable (de facto) 18 year old to get a weapon like this.  

And, yes, blood is on the hands of the politicians who perpetuate this situation. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this from deBoer about public apologies and the woke mobs:

Would you like another little indication of how broken and ugly and unworkable progressive spaces have become? Check out this NYT explainer about an absurd controversy among medievalists, a field that takes academic self-importance to incredible new highs. Apparently a scholar named Mary Rambaran-Olm wrote a book review for the Los Angeles Review of Books; the book was by two bigwig medievalist academics, Matthew Gabriele and David Perry, who are just the living picture of the Weepy Self-Aggrandizing Good White Male Allies. The LARB rejected the review, they say because Rambaran-Olm refused to accept edits, she says because of, uh, toxic whiteness or whatever.

No one comes out looking good here. Rambaran-Olm looks transparently like someone who simply didn’t want to be edited, which is a common fault in academics, who are given far too much rope in their classes. (Although considering that the average academic journal article is read by a small handful of people the stakes are very low.) Like so much of what happens in social justice-y academic spaces, this is really a turf war about who’s going to reap the personal and professional benefits from shouting the loudest about diversity to the right audience. I don’t blame Rambaran-Olm, really, for being annoyed that to date in her field it’s been two white dudes, but then they’re very, very good at credit-seeking. I mention this controversy because the editor at LARBwho killed Rambaran-Olm’s piece apologized, then apologized for the apology when it was deemed insufficient. I would love to show you that, but she deleted her account, no doubt inundated with hate and anger for not apologizing enough, or in the right way….

I believe, deeply, in the positive value of guilt, shame, and contrition. I think working through your shit and contemplating the harm you’ve done is important, and I’ve tried to do a lot of it in the past few years. And I think we all should push back against the “nothing matters but what you want and how you feel” brand of sociopathy that’s popular now in inspirational memes. There’s a notion running around our culture that feeling bad about something you’ve done is always some sort of disordered trauma response, but that’s destructive bullshit. Most of the time when you feel bad about something you’ve done, you should. I’ve spent my adult lifetime trying to make amends to people I’ve hurt, and trying to understand my own culpability when my control over myself was not complete. I think about things I’ve done, and feel shame for them, every day of my life. I don’t want to wallow and I don’t think guilt in and of itself is productive. I am however certain that my guilt is an appropriate endowment to me.

But it’s become abundantly clear that there simply is no value in public apology. Admitting fault only emboldens critics. The mechanisms of social media always reward escalation and never reward calm and restraint. Contemporary progressive politics excuse any amount of personal viciousness so long as the target is perceived to be guilty of committing some identity crime. The notion of proportionality is totally alien to these worlds, and when people ask for such proportionality they’re accused of supporting bigotry. People who are friendly online shamelessly wage backchannel campaigns against each other, and almost no one on social media has the stomach to stand up for someone else when the mob comes for them. Most importantly, the public can never grant you absolution for what you’ve done; absolution is not the public’s to grant. The strangers on Twitter can’t accept an apology, even if they ever would, and they wouldn’t. You can ask the mob for forgiveness, but they have no moral right to grant it, and anyway they never will. They’ll just keep you wriggling on the end of a pin forever. Honestly: how often do people who make public apologies come out ahead in doing so, especially because they’re so often coerced and thus insincere?

Apology itself is good. But public apology is a useless and self-defeating ritual. If you have done something wrong to another, I recommend that you privately apologize to them. That person can then accept your apology or not. They can publicize your apology or not. But all of the moral value of apologizing will be preserved, while nothing of practical value to your life will be lost.

2) This is really good, “The Southernization of the Pro-Life Movement”

Before the mid-1970s, active opposition to abortion in the United States looked almost exactly like opposition to abortion in Britain, Western Europe, and Australia: It was concentrated mainly among Catholics. As late as 1980, 70 percent of the members of the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization, the National Right to Life Committee, were Catholic. As a result, the states that were most resistant to abortion legalization were, in most cases, the states with the highest concentration of Catholics, most of which were in the North and leaned Democratic.

This fit the pattern across the Western world: Countries with large numbers of devout Catholics restricted abortion, while those that were predominantly Protestant did not. Sweden—where Catholics made up less than 1 percent of the population—legalized some abortions as early as the 1930s; Ireland did not follow suit until 2018.

If the United States had followed this script, opposition to abortion probably would have weakened with the decline of Catholic-church attendance rates. Like Canada and England, where the leading conservative parties are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights, the Republican Party in the United States might have remained what it was for most of the 1970s: a heavily Protestant party whose leaders generally leaned in favor of abortion rights.

But in the United States, the anti-abortion movement did not remain predominantly Catholic. Southern evangelical Protestants, who had once hesitated to embrace the anti-abortion movement in the belief that it was a sectarian Catholic campaign, began enlisting in the cause in the late ’70s and ’80s. Motivated by a conviction that Roe v. Wade was a product of liberal social changes they opposed—including secularization, the sexual revolution, second-wave feminism, and a rights-conscious reading of the Constitution—they made opposition to the ruling a centerpiece of the new Christian right. When they captured control of the Republican Party in the late 20th century, they transformed the GOP from a northern-centered mainline Protestant party that was moderately friendly to abortion rights into a hotbed of southern populism that blended economic libertarianism with Bible Belt moral regulation…

But what really motivated anti-abortion activists to remain loyal to the GOP was not merely a platform statement but the promise of the Supreme Court. They believed that the Republican Party offered them the only path to a conservative judiciary that would overturn Roe v. Wade. If this goal required them to accept a conservative economic platform at odds with the views that many in the movement had held before Roe, well, that was of little matter, because many of the evangelical-Protestant anti-abortion advocates were political conservatives anyway.

As late as the beginning of this century, Texas still had a pro-abortion-rights (Protestant) Republican senator, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota were still represented in Congress by anti-abortion Democrats who were Catholic. But as the historically Catholic population of the North became less devout and therefore less inclined to follow the Church’s teaching on abortion—and as a younger generation of progressive Democrats began to view reproductive rights as a nonnegotiable part of the Democratic Party platform—anti-abortion influence in the politically liberal states of the Northeast diminished, while it expanded in the South.

The anti-abortion movement’s political priorities changed as a result. A movement that in the early ’70s had attracted some political progressives who opposed the Vietnam War and capital punishment became associated in the ’80s and ’90s with evangelical-inspired conservative-Christian nationalism. Early activists wanted to create a comprehensive “culture of life,” but many of the evangelicals who joined the movement in the late 20th century wanted to save America from secularism and take back the nation for God.

3) Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on the one parenting decision that matters most:

The results showed that some large metropolitan areas give kids an edge. They get a better education. They earn more money: The best cities can increase a child’s future income by about 12 percent. They found that the five best metropolitan areas are: Seattle; Minneapolis; Salt Lake City; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Madison, Wisconsin.

However, parents don’t merely pick a metropolitan area to live in. They have to pick neighborhoods within these areas, so Chetty and co. drilled down, determining that some were much more advantageous than others. They created a website, The Opportunity Atlas, that allows anyone to find out how beneficial any neighborhood is expected to be for kids of different income levels, genders, and races.

Something interesting happens when we compare the study on adoptions with this work on neighborhoods. We find that one factor about a home—its location—accounts for a significant fraction of the total effect of that home. In fact, putting together the different numbers, I have estimated that some 25 percent—and possibly more—of the overall effects of a parent are driven by where that parent raises their child. In other words, this one parenting decision has much more impact than many thousands of others.

Why is this decision so powerful? Chetty’s team has a possible answer for that. Three of the biggest predictors that a neighborhood will increase a child’s success are the percent of households in which there are two parents, the percent of residents who are college graduates, and the percent of residents who return their census forms. These are neighborhoods, in other words, with many role models: adults who are smart, accomplished, engaged in their community, and committed to stable family lives.

There is more evidence for just how powerful role models can be. A different study that Chetty co-authored found that girls who move to areas with lots of female patent holders in a specific field are far more likely to grow up to earn patents in that same field. And another study found that Black boys who grow up on blocks with many Black fathers around, even if that doesn’t include their own father, end up with much better life outcomes.

Data can be liberating. It can’t make decisions for us, but it can tell us which decisions really matter. When it comes to parenting, the data tells us, moms and dads should put more thought into the neighbors they surround their children with—and lighten up about everything else.

4) Catherine Rampell is not wrong, “hese GOP politicians aren’t pro-life. They’re pro-forced birth.”

Republican politicians working to overturn Roe v. Wade say they are pro-life and antiabortion. In fact, they are neither. What they are is pro-forced birth.

This distinction is about more than semantics. These officials have drawn a clear line, as evidenced by policies they’ve adopted in conjunction with their opposition to Roe. GOP-led states are making choices, today, that increase the chances of unplanned pregnancies and, therefore, demand for abortions; their choices also limit access to health care and other critical programs for new moms, endangering the lives and welfare of mothers and their children.

Consider Mississippi.

It was a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks that has set the stage for the Supreme Court to roll back nearly 50 years of reproductive rights. If the court does overturn Roe, as a leaked draft decision suggests it soon will, another Mississippi law would automatically “trigger,” banning nearly all abortions.

Some residents who find themselves with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy might be able to leave the state to seek an abortion. But others without the means to travel or take time off from work will be forced to give birth. And in Mississippi, that is an unusually dangerous undertaking.

The United States has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world; Mississippi has one of the higher maternal death rates within the United States. The odds are worse for Black women, whose risk of death related to pregnancy and childbirth are nearly triple those for White women in the state.

Mississippi also has the country’s highest infant mortality and child poverty rates.

When asked this weekend how this track record squares with his avowed pro-life bona fides, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) acknowledged the state’s “problems” and said he was committed to devoting more “resources” to make sure that expectant and new mothers get the “help that they need from a health-care standpoint.”

That would be welcome news if it were true. But it isn’t.

Mississippi’s legislature recently considered whether to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to a full year after birth, as federal law newly allows states to do. If you care about the lives of new moms (and, by extension, their kids), this is a no-brainer. Roughly 6 in 10 births in the state are covered by Medicaid; 86 percent of the state’s maternal deaths occur postpartum. Pregnancy and delivery raise the risk of many health complications, including infections, blood clots, high blood pressure, heart conditions and postpartum depression. Giving low-income moms access to health care a full year after birth would save lives.

5) As I have literally no use for MCU, I actually loved Yglesias‘ deconstruction of the new Dr Strange movie and how it completely fails to take the implications of it’s ideas (most notably, the blip) seriously:

But I do think it’s genuinely unfortunate how casually they deal with this stuff. There’s an old cliché about science fiction as “the literature of ideas” that I think is important and true. And these Marvel movies are essentially science fiction. But they don’t have any ideas. The most fantastical things imaginable happen in the movies, but the world they’re set in is incredibly banal. None of these stupendous events seem to matter at all, and nothing makes much of an impression on anyone. Wouldn’t it be a big deal if there turned out to be a secret African nation full of advanced technology that reluctantly decided to change course and open itself to the world? Do people in, I dunno, Dallas feel bummed out that there are no superheroes there?

The blip is the most annoying example of this because it keeps coming up over and over again across properties without any effort to take it seriously. In this case probably because it’s an idea that, if you take it seriously, is too enormous and horrifying to get your head around. But it would be nice to see some ideas somewhere taken seriously.

6) I am always here for deconstructions of originalism!

What’s clear now is that the destruction is the intent. Originalism is just a clever trick of perspective. If you narrow your vision to look only for specific words that people used when the Constitution was drafted, you will always be engaged in a process of halting progress beyond that moment in time. Was there gay marriage in 1868? No? Well then, due process obviously doesn’t protect any right to marriage equality. You freeze recognition of rights as of the nineteenth century, while claiming to be neutrally applying interpretive principles to reach that conclusion. Of course, in order to achieve this result, you absolutely may not widen the perspective to consider the ultimate goals inherent in the Constitution. The question of whether the Framers (or the Constitution itself) contemplated an idea of securing the right to bodily autonomy is prohibited. Don’t ask whether it makes sense to apply eighteenth-century notions of personhood to a twenty-first-century country. Ask only whether the Constitution mentions “abortion.” …

Originalists argue that it’s not their fault that the drafters may have been slaveholders, or uniformly male, or white, or without any knowledge of contemporary technology or a more inclusive notion of humanity. Them’s the breaks; mere accidents of history. Or they argue that they are only interpreting the law as written. If you want to change the law, they say, that’s the role of the legislature, not the judiciary. But that, too, is a profoundly dishonest response. To say that is to say that the Dred Scott case was correctly decided when it was written, in 1857. At that time, as Justice Roger Taney wrote, Black people “had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.” That holding is now universally regarded as one of the most shameful in Supreme Court history. It is an object lesson in the misapplication of legal principles to profoundly inhuman ends. Black Americans should have been entitled to full citizenship, and to all the protections of the Constitution, from the moment the country was founded. Our legal system, however, didn’t recognize their rights, and that failure is the great crime of this country’s founding. The logic of originalism, as expressed in Alito’s draft opinion, would mean that Black Americans should not have been entitled to citizenship, or to their full humanity, until the civil-rights amendments said so. To say that the law is correct because it’s what the law says, is, at best, circular, and, in many instances, monstrous.

And, as Judge Mizelle’s ruling in Florida shows, crafting legislation that overcomes conservatives’ determined misreading of it is virtually impossible. Mizelle, a Trump appointee, held that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority in issuing a mask mandate on airplanes, because the law creating the C.D.C. only authorizes the agency to issue public-health regulations regarding “inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination,” and the destruction of infected or contaminated “animals or articles.” Mizelle reasoned that because masks don’t do any of those things—they don’t fumigate, or disinfect, or sanitize; they merely trap particles containing the virus—the C.D.C. has no authority to require passengers to wear them. The question, according to Mizelle, is not whether masks are effective in preventing the spread of covid-19 across state lines, or whether they are still necessary as a policy matter. It is whether the statute grants the C.D.C. the authority to have an opinion about masks in the first place. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s right there in the name (Centers for Disease Control), Mizelle says that the words of the statute don’t cover masks. Originalism told her so.

7) deBoer again on the romanticization of mental illness.  So good:

Most importantly: I thought I made this very clear, but the whole point of my perspective is that the people who are most hurt by this infantilizing insistence that mental illness makes you beautiful and deep are the very people who buy into that ideology. They are the ones I write for. Not to mock them, but to impress on them: this isn’t going to work. It isn’t going to last. The benefits you think are accruing to you from treating your mental illness as some benevolent conveyor of meaning are illusory, and in time you will be left all too aware that this shit just hurts. You’re not always going to be a photogenic 22-year-old, showcasing your disorder on Instagram. If you’re really afflicted, someday you’ll be a 43-year-old working on your second divorce, estranged from many of the people who once meant the most to you, 30 pounds overweight from meds, unemployed, and broke. And none of this shit, none of it, will comfort you in the slightest. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But I’ve been in a half-dozen psychiatric facilities in my life, and the people in them aren’t self-actualized and being their best selves. They’re in profound pain. Many of them have ruined lives. The romanticism that would obscure this basic, tragic reality is what I am absolutely committed to opposing. And I invite you to go ahead and tell someone whose life has been irreparably damaged by their mental illness that they should be grateful for it, a notion that crops up again and again in these spaces. Go right ahead.

I have sympathy for people with diabetes and think they should receive free and effective medical care. But that’s what it is, sympathy – an acknowledgment that someone has suffered a hindrance, a problem, a dis-ability. It would be absolutely bizarre if I insisted on “honoring” their diabetes, of treating it like something that should inspire pride. Lines have been muddied here for no coherent reason and to no positive effect. I don’t know why it’s so hard to understand the statement, “people with mental illness are not bad, they’ve done nothing wrong, they don’t deserve to be punished or disrespected for having mental illness, but the illnesses themselves are bad, by definition, and should not be celebrated.” Just as diabetes or heart disease or cancer should not be.

Some things in life are just sad and broken and can’t be changed. That’s our existence. And the obsession with turning every negative into a positive, through the application of cliches and good intentions, is a sign of a culture that has forgotten how to live with tragedy. I sincerely and passionately believe that people would be far healthier if they stopped injecting their struggles for mental stability with romance or inspiration or woowoo bullshit and instead accessed the dignity that comes from living with pain without ceremony.

8) Was watching the Maple Leafs (why not the Leaves) vs. Lightning the other night.  Why are they the exact same shade of blue.  And why are the Panthers and Capitals the exact same shade of red.  Had fun exploring pantones and hex codes for NHL teams here and the NHL really needs some more variation in the shades of the primary colors it uses.  

9) How can you resist? “‘He’s Not OK’: The Entirely Predictable Unraveling of Madison Cawthorn

10) Are pandemic-based loosened standards leading to disengagement among college students?  Maybe. Personally, I had a terrific class this last semester (during which I pretty much applied my usual standards):

The pandemic certainly made college more challenging for students, and over the past two years, compassionate faculty members have loosened course structures in response: They have introduced recorded lectures, flexible attendance and deadline policies, and lenient grading. In light of the widely reported mental health crisis on campuses, some students and faculty members are calling for those looser standards and remote options to persist indefinitely, even as vaccines and Covid therapies have made it relatively safe to return to prepandemic norms.

I also feel compassion for my students, but the learning breakdown has convinced me that continuing to relax standards would be a mistake. Looser standards are contributing to the problem, because they make it too easy for students to disengage from classes.

Student disengagement is a problem for everyone, because everyone depends on well-educated people. College prepares students for socially essential careers — including as engineers and nurses — and to be citizens who bring high-level intellectual habits to bear on big societal problems, from climate change to the next political crisis. On a more fundamental level it also prepares many students to be responsible adults: to set goals and figure out what help they need to attain them.

Higher education is now at a turning point. The accommodations for the pandemic can either end or be made permanent. The task won’t be easy, but universities need to help students rebuild their ability to learn. And to do that, everyone involved — students, faculties, administrators and the public at large — must insist on in-person classes and high expectations for fall 2022 and beyond.

11) Ruy Teixeira indicts the left of the Democratic party across a bunch of issue domains here.  I don’t agree with all of it, but some good points.  Here’s the abortion part:

7. Abortion. With the likely impending demise of Roe v. Wade at the hands of the Supreme Court, the Democratic Left is on high alert. Unfortunately, that high alert doesn’t seem to be too centered on what most American voters would actually support. With the enthusiastic support of the Democratic Left, Chuck Schumer had the Senate vote on a bill that would effectively have legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy (perhaps a third of Americans support legal third trimester abortions). Of course, it failed.

As the previously-cited Dimitri Melhorn noted:

The fight about abortion is all about framing. Most Americans are in the middle. Republicans ranged from moderately pro-choice to hardline pro-life but no one really cared because Roe was the law of the land. The hardline pro-life position in other words did nothing to bother most voters. Democrats’ historic track record in attacking people with even soft pro-life sympathies and purging them from the caucus created this current moment of threat to women by helping associate Democrats with an extremely unpopular position rather than the Safe Legal and Rare positioning that could actually win elections….Democrats are intensely skilled at allowing the GOP to get away with unpopular extremism by running to their own extreme.

As the great Casey Stengel might have put it: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

The thread that runs through all these failures is the Democratic Left’s adamant refusal to base its political approach on the actually-existing opinions and values of actually-existing American voters. Instead they entertain fantasies about kindling a prairie fire of progressive turnout with their approach, despite falling short again and again in the real world. It hasn’t worked and it won’t work.  

Instead, what they need is a plan on how to win outside of deep blue areas and states (the average Congressional Progressive Caucus leader is from a Democratic +19 district). That entails compromises that, so far, the Democratic Left has not been willing to make. Cultural moderation, effective governance and smart campaigning are what is needed to win in competitive areas of the country. If democracy is in as much danger as the Democratic Left appears to believe, would not such compromises be worth making? And wouldn’t winning make a nice change of pace at this point?

12) One of the things that has always frustrated me about the “life begins at conception” people is that they are all in on limiting abortion, but, conveniently ignore IVF.  Presumably, because they know how incredibly politically unpopular it would be for them to oppose IVF.  But, it now seems possible that an empowered and emboldened far right could actually come after IVF in some states. 

13) I keep on reading some version of this from the right (and even from Ruy Teixiera).  Here’s Henry Olsen:

Yet Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is scheduling a vote this week on a bill that would effectively make abortion legal without restrictions for the duration of a woman’s pregnancy.

The various explainers on this are awful.  I actually just went and did something I very rarely do– I read the bill!  It no more allows abortion without restriction for 9 months than Casey does.  It’s really just the Casey standard of mother’s life/health after viability.  

14) Derek Thompson is so right about human progress:

What if we invented a technology to save the planet—and the world refused to use it?

This haunting hypothetical first popped into my head when I was reading about Paxlovid, the antiviral drug developed by Pfizer. If taken within a few days of infection with COVID-19, Paxlovid reduces a vulnerable adult’s chance of death or hospitalization by 90 percent. Two months ago, the White House promised to make it widely available to Americans. But today, the pills are still hard to find, and many doctors don’t know to prescribe them.

The pandemic offers more examples of life-saving inventions going largely unused. Unlike Paxlovid, COVID vaccines are known to every doctor; they are entirely free and easily available. But here, too, invention alone hasn’t been enough. COVID is the leading cause of death for middle-aged Americans, and the mRNA vaccines reduce the risk of death by about 90 percent. And yet approximately one-third of Americans ages 35 to 49 say they’ll never take it.

My hypothetical concern applies even more literally to energy. What if I told you that scientists had figured out a way to produce affordable electricity that was 99 percent safer and cleaner than coal or oil, and that this breakthrough produced even fewer emissions per gigawatt-hour than solar or wind? That’s incredible, you might say. We have to build this thing everywhere! The breakthrough I’m talking about is 70 years old: It’s nuclear power. But in the past few decades, the U.S. has actually closed old nuclear plants faster than we’ve opened new ones. This problem is endemic to clean energy. Even many Americans who support decarbonization in the abstract protest the construction of renewable-energy projects in their neighborhood…

The second lesson is about progress, generally: Invention is easily overrated, and implementation is often underrated.

Many books about innovation and scientific and technological progress are just about people inventing stuff. The takeaway for most readers is that human progress is one damn breakthrough after another. In the 19th century, we invented the telegraph, then the telephone, then the light bulb, then the modern car, then the plane, and so on. But this approach—call it the eureka theory of progress—misses most of the story. In the 1870s, Thomas Edison invented the usable light bulb. But by 1900, less than 5 percent of factory power was coming from electric motors. The building blocks of the personal computer were invented in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. But for decades, computers made so little measurable difference to the economy that the economist Robert Solow said, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”…

Progress is a puzzle whose answer requires science and technology. But believing that material progress is only a question of science and technology is a profound mistake.

  • In confronting some challenges—for example, curing complex diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia—we don’t know enough to solve the problem. In these cases, what we needis more science.
  • In other challenges—for example, building carbon-removal plants that vacuum emissions out of the sky—we have the basic science, but we need a revolution in cost efficiency. We need more technology.
  • In yet other challenges—for example, nuclear power—we have the technology, but we don’t have the political will to deploy it. We need better politics.
  • Finally, in certain challenges—for example, COVID—we’ve solved most of the science, technology, and policy problemsWe need a cultural shift.

15) Abortion exceptions for rape and incest used to be standard GOP policy.  That’s changing.  To which, I say… yes, please push really hard for abortion bans with no exceptions.  That will more than counteract the public opinion problems from those pushing too far on the left.  

16) My teenage son wishes he were taller.  I will not be encouraging him to get limb-lengthening surgery, however. 

17) Sad, disturbing story, “A Woman’s Haunting Disappearance Sparks Outrage in Mexico Over Gender Violence”

18) Zeynep on the FDA and kids’ vaccines:

We want to be sure, of course, that vaccines are safe, and thus far, the trials for under-5 vaccines have not raised any safety concerns. Plus, children who are 5 years and a month old aren’t a different species than those who are 4 years and 10 months old — and we have plenty of data points on the safety and the benefits of these vaccines since they were authorized for children over 5 just about six months ago.

So what should the F.D.A. do?

First, it should stop all the five-dimensional chess games that predict blowback due to perverse behavioral outcomes, and often do so without a sound social science basis. It’s good that the officials consider vaccine confidence as a key issue as they try to navigate such a challenging time. However, those concerns should be based on a realistic understanding of how people are likely to actually behave, and the officials should prioritize empowering and informing people, rather than trying to guide behavior by withholding tools. There should especially be no room for pop psychology. Transparency is great, proper communication is essential, and, above all, providing tools that help protect children as soon as possible is crucial.

19) I think David Brooks is mostly right here, “Seven Lessons Democrats Need to Learn — Fast”

20) Since I’m 50 I recently had my first colonoscopy.  Not really so bad.  I’m in the need to come back in 5 years instead of 10 category (a couple of small polyps), but the worst part was simply waking up at 4:30am for prep part 2.  Anyway, doing that to my digestive tract really did get me wondering about the impact on my microbiome.  Good news— I should already be back to normal (about 2 weeks):

Large bowel preparation may cause a substantial change in the gut microbiota and metabolites. Here, we included a bowel prep group and a no-procedure control group and evaluated the effects of bowel prep on the stability of the gut microbiome and metabolome as well as on recovery. Gut microbiota and metabolome compositions were analyzed by 16S rRNA sequencing and capillary electrophoresis time-of-flight mass spectrometry, respectively. Analysis of coefficients at the genus and species level and weighted UniFrac distance showed that, compared with controls, microbiota composition was significantly reduced immediately after the prep but not at 14 days after it. For the gut metabolome profiles, correlation coefficients between before and immediately after the prep were significantly lower than those between before and 14 days after prep and were not significantly different compared with those for between-subject differences. Thirty-two metabolites were significantly changed before and immediately after the prep, but these metabolites recovered within 14 days. In conclusion, bowel preparation has a profound effect on the gut microbiome and metabolome, but the overall composition recovers to baseline within 14 days. To properly conduct studies of the human gut microbiome and metabolome, fecal sampling should be avoided immediately after bowel prep.

21) Apparently “dirty soda” is all the rage.  It’s just soda with milk.  I tried it with my Diet Dr Pepper.  Pretty… pretty… good.  

22) Yglesias (and helper Milan Singh) analyzes the leftward shift of the Democratic party through looking at the party platforms.  This actually makes a lot of sense:

In “Republicans have changed a lot since 2008,” Matt argued that the Elon Musk/Colin Wright meme depicting a leftward-moving left versus a steady-state right underrated the extent of change in the Republican Party. But contrary to many of the takes online, the Democratic Party has changed, too.

One way to see this is in the evolution of the party’s platform, which is why Milan carefully read the 2012 and 2020 Democratic platforms in their entirety. The point of this exercise isn’t that the mass electorate scrutinizes these documents in detail, but that the statements are a chance for party leaders to tell the world what the party aspires to be and do. It’s of course possible that a party could smuggle some totally obscure new policy commitment into the platform that doesn’t reflect anything other than platform-writing. But that’s really not the case here…

But the shift on criminal justice issues is much broader than that, with the 2020 platform not just expressing awareness that police officers sometimes do bad things but adopting a thoroughgoing skepticism of punishment. Today’s Democrats say that people under 21 should not be sentenced to life without parole and that juvenile records should be automatically sealed and expunged. The 2020 platform calls the War on Drugs a failure, opposes jailing people for drug use, and supports federal legalization of medical marijuana and decriminalization for recreational use. It also calls for eliminating cash bail, the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity, and the death penalty…

Eight years later, the 2020 platform promises to “embed racial justice” throughout the governing agenda:

We will take a comprehensive approach to embed racial justice in every element of our governing agenda, including in jobs and job creation, workforce and economic development, small business and entrepreneurship, eliminating poverty and closing the racial wealth gap, promoting asset building and homeownership, education, health care, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and voting rights.

You see that racial justice embedding at work in the climate plank’s promise of targeting “40 percent of the overall benefits to disadvantaged and frontline communities.” You see it in a promise to “prioritize support for Black entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs of color” and to “end violence against transgender Americans and particularly against Black transgender women.”

The new platform invokes the racial wealth gap — an idea not present in the 2012 platform — on five separate occasions, while the 2012 platform mentions wealth only to condemn a Republican Party approach “that benefited the wealthy few but crashed the economy and crushed the middle class.”

And that’s a general trend. This chart illustrates the frequency with which specific words and phrases are mentioned in the 2020 and 2012 platforms; it shows a large increase in mentions of “health care” plus frequent invocation of terms related to race and identity categories…

This post has been very platform-centric because platforms are a convenient index.

But the ideological movement — not an overthrow of the party establishment by leftists, but the establishment leaders themselves taking on new ideas — is clearly visible in other forms. In June of 2016, Dylan Matthews wrote for Vox that “President Obama’s huge reversal on Social Security is a big win for liberals.” In July of that year, Victoria Massie wrote “Hillary Clinton said ‘systemic racism’ in tonight’s speech. That’s major.” On May 27 of 2020, David Roberts described a new consensus approach to climate policy on the left, and on May 28 he published a piece arguing that Joe Biden should embrace this consensus even though Biden “just won without them.”

You can see that both of those articles have July 2020 updates at the top noting that Biden had basically done what Roberts recommended and adopted the new progressive consensus. Pivoting left after winning a primary is a little odd, but it’s what Biden did, and progressives acknowledged it at the time.

There’s lots of room for debate about whether this was a good idea. But the people who yelled at Elon Musk that he was imagining this leftward transformation are being silly. The fact that DW-NOMINATE scores don’t pick up on it is a limitation of that metric — not to say that it’s wrong, but just that analysis of roll call votes only tells you so much.

 

 

The low-hanging hemp of legal marijuana

Okay, I don’t even know how hemp grows, but I do like a good “low-hanging fruit” metaphor.  And that’s what legal marijuana is for Democrats and they are totally dropping the ball.  I meant to write this post a few days ago, but in the meantime, twitter was all abuzz for a day (as it will) about Joe Biden’s stark decline in popularity among young people.  And you know what young people really love? Legal marijuana.  A recent poll on the state of the issue in NC:

The poll also found:

  • 75% of Democrats polled felt medical marijuana should be legalized, 15% of Democrats it should remain against the law and 10% weren’t sure.
  • 63% of Democrats felt recreational marijuana should be legalized, 26% felt it should remain against the law and 12% weren’t sure.
  • 64% of Republicans felt medical marijuana should be legalized, 26% felt it should remain against the law and 10% weren’t sure.
  • 45% of Republicans felt recreational marijuana should be legalized, 45% felt it should remain against the law and 10% weren’t sure.

Got that– it’s even a break even proposition among all Republicans.  Here’s a chart with various breakdowns on legal recreational marijuana.


Sure, maybe Democrats might turn off some older voters who were culturally comfortable with Democrats but marijuana was the last straw (honestly, seems like that’s got to be a pretty small group), but I think the gains among young people would be quite meaningful.  And, a lot of young people who favor legal marijuana are otherwise disengaged from politics and just maybe this could help get some of them voting.  

This is a fight worth having because the status quo policy (federal schedule 1 is dumb) and because it is almost assuredly a political winner for Democrats.  I think this is where the party truly is hampered by having so much of their leadership having come of age in the “reefer madness” generation.  

[This is funny, I went to queue this up to post in the morning and I saw that I’m posting on 4/20— that was seriously not even my intent :-)]

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