Police unions must go

To be fair, I thought this long before Covid and long before George Floyd (basically, ever since I learned about the issues when I started teaching Criminal Justice Policy in the 00’s), but, damn, if the response to Covid vaccine mandates just doesn’t put the spotlight on what profoundly anti-social, reactionary institutions these unions are.  NYT:

In many cities across the country, there is friction between governments and law enforcement unions over requirements that officers get vaccinated against the coronavirus or prove their vaccination status, leading to contentious public clashes.

Even though the shots have proven to be largely effective in preventing severe disease and death, many police officers and their unions have pushed back, threatening resignations and lawsuits.

John Catanzara, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, has urged police officers there to ignore requirements by the mayor, Lori Lightfoot, that city employees report their vaccination status. Employees who are not vaccinated will be subject to twice-weekly testing, but vaccinations are not mandatory.

In Baltimore, a police union leader told officers not to disclose their vaccination status to city officials amid negotiations over a mandate scheduled to take effect there next week, The Baltimore Sun and other local news outlets reported.

City leaders in San Jose, Calif., decided just as a vaccine mandate was taking effect at the end of last month to allow unvaccinated officers to remain employed through the end of the year, with incremental discipline and testing requirements.

Officials in Ann Arbor, Mich., reiterated their commitment this week to a vaccine mandate for city employees, despite pushback from the police union there.

And in Seattle, a police union has expressed fears that the city’s shortage of officers will worsen because of vaccine mandates, The Associated Press reported.

More than 460 American law enforcement officers have died from Covid infections, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, making the coronavirus by far the most common cause of duty-related deaths in 2020 and 2021. More than four times as many officers have died from Covid-19 as from gunfire in that period.

Some elected officials say police officers have a higher responsibility to get vaccinated because they regularly interact with the public and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Of course, this is the least of it when it comes to police unions.  Peter Suderman made a nice case against the unions in Reason about a year ago and it is, of course, as relevant as ever:

In 2018, as a gunman murdered 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Sgt. Brian Miller, a deputy with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, hid behind his police cruiser, waiting 10 minutes to radio for help. For his failure to act, Miller was fired. The official cause was “neglect of duty.”

In May 2020, however, Miller was reinstated and given full back pay. His 2017 salary was more than $138,000. Miller had challenged his firing, and he had done so with the full backing of his union.

Miller’s reinstatement is notable in that it relates to a high-profile case. But the essential story—an officer performs poorly, with fatal results, and the union comes to his defense—is all too common. That is what police unions do: defend the narrow interests of police as employees, often at the expense of public safety. They start from the premise that police are essentially unfireable and that taxpayers should foot the bill for their dangerous, and even deadly, negligence. And although unions are not the only pathology that affects American policing, they are a key internal influence on police culture, a locus of resistance to improvements designed to reduce police violence. To stop police abuse and remove bad cops from duty, police unions as we know them must go.

In case after case, police unions have defended deadly misdeeds committed by law enforcement. In 2014, for example, New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo put Eric Garner in a chokehold for selling loose cigarettes. As a result of Pantaleo’s chokehold, Garner died, gasping the words, “I can’t breathe.” [emphases mine]

The incident, caught on video, helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement. A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, but five years after Garner’s death, he was fired from the force following a police administrative judge’s ruling that the chokehold was, indeed, a violation of department policy.

Pantaleo had violated his police department’s policy in a way that resulted in the death of a man who was committing the most minor of offenses. Yet when Pantaleo was finally fired, Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, Pantaleo’s union, criticized the city for giving in to “anti-police extremists” and warned that such decisions threatened the ability of city police to carry out their duties. “We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job,” Lynch said.

In essence, the police union’s position was: Officers of the law should not be punished for using prohibited techniques in ways that result in the deaths of nonviolent offenders, because to do so would unduly inhibit police work. A deadly violation of department policy is just police “doing their job.”

Too often, when police wantonly use deadly force, their unions slow or prevent justice…

These are anecdotes, but other evidence bears the point out. The Police Union Contract Project, which collects and compares police union contracts across the country, notes that the agreements are generally designed to make it difficult to hold police accountable, in part by giving them privileges that are not afforded to the broader public. For example, the contracts often prevent officers from being questioned quickly after incidents and often give them access to information not available to private citizens. Cities are often required to shoulder the financial burdens of officer misconduct, and disciplinary measures are often restricted. Forthcoming research out of the University of Victoria’s economics department finds that the introduction of collective bargaining does not correlate with a reduction in total crime, but it does eventually correlate with higher numbers of killings by police, especially of minorities.

In other words, the research finds roughly what one would expect given a public sector workforce with unions set up to protect police officer compensation while limiting discipline and oversight. Police get paid more, yet the public is no safer—and it’s at greater risk of violence by police.

Presumably, there may be some reform that dramatically limits the malignant influence of police unions that allows them to continue existing.  But, honestly, the evidence is pretty damn that, in their present form, police unions really do need to go.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) It’s a long essay, but, really nobody anybody on the politics and policy of criminal justice than John Pfaff, “Can Criminal Justice Reform Survive a Wave of Violent Crime? An uptick in homicides across the country is getting blamed on reforms. That argument gets the data all wrong.”

The uptick in murders is not unique to New York, nor is the attempt to exploit it to undermine reforms. Even as the pandemic lockdown helped push down many crimes, last year saw an unprecedented spike in homicides nationwide, likely more than twice the largest previous one-year rise. And given the retaliatory nature of lethal violence and the ongoing disruption from the pandemic, we should expect homicides to remain high in 2021 as well. One study in Chicago, for example, found evidence that cycles of retaliation and counterretaliation meant that a single shooting was often the root cause of three, or sometimes 60, or once almost 500 subsequent shootings over the next few years.

How to stop this wave of violence is thus one of the most important policy questions for 2021, but asking it has rarely felt more fraught. The surge in homicide comes at a moment when conventional responses to crime face more intense criticism than any time since the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Reformers and activists across the country have spent the past decade campaigning to reduce our reliance on prisons, jail, probation, and even the police. The changes we’ve seen may be less dramatic than what many advocates have hoped for, and certainly less dramatic than how many of their detractors describe them, but they both reflect and have nurtured a growing shift in popular views on crime control. Just observe how quickly calls to “defund” the police entered mainstream debates in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Considering this trend, it’s unsurprising that those who favor the status quo are trying to use the rise in homicides as grist for rolling back policies they dislike. Some residents in San Francisco, for example, are urging the recall of the city’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, even though the city’s homicide rate barely budged and remains lower than that of almost any year but 2019. And the police union in Philadelphia had invoked the rise in homicides to try to unseat that city’s progressive prosecutor, Larry Krasner—although that effort fell flat, as Krasner easily won the Democratic primary in May (a victory that all but ensures his reelection in solidly Democratic Philadelphia).

To be clear, the defenders of the status quo are mistaken. Not only have reforms been less extreme than they often claim, but the rise in homicides has occurred more or less equally in places that adopted reforms and those that rejected them. And given how few places have significantly altered their approach to crime, the homicide spike by and large took place on the status quo’s watch. Those who want policy to remain more punitive are thus arguing for more of what has mostly failed us this past year, and they are trying to blame reforms that appear to be uncorrelated with the surge.

What’s more, to argue in favor of the status quo is to ignore that the prescribed cure—more of what we have been doing for decades now—is almost certainly not the best cure, and is quite likely not even a good cure. Our criminal legal system produces tremendous harm and immiseration, even death, not just for defendants but for their families and communities. In a damning indictment of our fundamental indifference to the lives of the millions who come in contact with this system, we have no idea what the criminal legal system’s actual humanitarian costs are, but they are surely staggering. Reinforcing the status quo will provide less safety than its proponents hope, while perpetuating if not magnifying the harms the throngs of protesters are protesting against.

Nonetheless, the spike in homicides will surely alter the politics of reform, now and in the years ahead. In an increasingly hostile political environment, how can reformers preserve and even still build on the gains that have been made? And how should they strategically retreat at the times it becomes politically inevitable?

2) I was optimistic on molnupiravir (formerly EIDD 2801) for a long time.  Looks like the optimism has paid off, just much later than I thought it would.

An investigational antiviral pill reduced the chances that patients newly diagnosed with Covid-19 would be hospitalized by about 50%, a finding that could give doctors a desperately needed new way to treat the sick, the drug maker Merck announced Friday.

A five-day course of molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, reduced both hospitalization and death compared to a placebo. In the placebo group, 53 patients, or 14.1%, were hospitalized or died. For those who received the drug, 28, or 7.3%, were hospitalized or died.

A simple oral medication to help treat Covid-19 has been an elusive goal since the start of the pandemic. Other drugs, including Gilead’s remdesivir, have also been shown to reduce hospitalizations if given early in the course of disease, but must be given intravenously.

“If this pans out, it will change the landscape,” said Andy Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah. “There’s still a lot we need to know. What does the side effect profile look like? Do we know how to dose it in populations that are different such as children and the obese? But as a top-line result, this is definitely exciting.”

If approved, molnupiravir could have a dramatic impact on efforts to fight the pandemic. Merck and Ridgeback said they would seek an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration “as soon as possible” and would submit it to regulatory agencies worldwide.

3) This is great from indoor air quality expert, Joseph Allen, “Employers Have Been Offering the Wrong Office Amenities: Workplaces need fresh air, not foosball tables and coffee bars.”  

Before you read any further, take a long, slow, deep breath. Congratulations! If you’re sitting in a typical American home, office building, or school, about 3 percent of the air you breathed in recently came out of the lungs of the people in the room with you right now.

Breathing in one another’s air is kind of nasty when you think about it. We would never drink from the same cup of water that every one of our co-workers had just sipped out of. But something very similar happens all day long in our offices, schools, homes, buses, and even airplanes. All day, every day, we sit around breathing in what other people expel from their lungs. It’s the respiratory equivalent of drinking everyone else’s backwash.

The gross-out factor notwithstanding, inhaling someone else’s breath is not a big deal if they’re not sick. But if they’re actively infectious, they’re constantly releasing viruses packaged in small respiratory aerosols that form deep in the lungs…

Throughout the 21st century, employers and commercial-real-estate developers have tried to make workplaces more attractive by adding showy amenities, such as gyms, coffee bars, and beanbag chairs, that supposedly foster creativity and cooperation and keep younger workers happy. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the interior designers and HR professionals who decide how offices look paid little attention to ventilation—an invisible variable that determines whether people can think well at their desk and whether coughs, colds, and other respiratory ills will circulate within a company.

But as companies and their employees ponder what the post-pandemic office will be like, the cool new amenity won’t be a foosball table. It’ll be something we should have had all along—clean air…

Our lack of attention to the air we breathe indoors looks reckless in hindsight. Humanity is now an indoor species. Americans spend 90 percent of our lives indoors. You take 6,000 breaths in your workplace on an average day. Over the past 100 years, humans have made astonishing gains in public health by focusing on the basics of clean water, food safety, and sanitation. But as dozens of my scientific colleagues around the world and I argued recently in the journal Science, governments have not similarly prioritized cleaning up the air that most people breathe most of the time. “In the 21st century,” the article urged, “we need to establish the foundations to ensure the air in our buildings is clean … just as we expect for the water coming out of our taps.”

As a basic toxicology rule asserts, the dose makes the poison. By reducing the dose of coronavirus that people inhaled, higher levels of ventilation and filtration could have kept a lot of indoor spread of COVID-19 at bay. Yet with the exception of hospitals, most buildings were not designed to limit the spread of infectious diseases. Instead, architects in recent decades have designed buildings, and their owners have operated them, with the goal of making them airtight. This mindset has helped with energy efficiency, but it has the distinct downside of concentrating indoor pollutants—not only those from our lungs but also the chemicals emanating from chairs, carpets, cleaning agents, and personal-care products. As a result, we were living and working in a sick-building era even before the coronavirus arrived.

Alas, based on evidence from the past year, I’m far from confident that many workplaces will actually take this seriously.

4) Ruy Teixeira, “The Democrats’ Hispanic Voter Problem: More Evidence from the 2020 Pew Validated Voter Survey”

 Here are some of the things I found from looking at the Hispanic validated voter data.

1. Trump’s support was higher among Hispanic working class (noncollege) voters than among the college-educated. Biden carried Hispanic college voters by a whopping 39 points (69-30) compared to just 14 points (55-41) among the Hispanic working class.

2. Hispanic Trump voters were 81 percent working class and just 19 percent college-educated.

3. Within the working class, the less education Hispanic voters had, the more they supported Trump. Those with some college gave Trump 39 percent of their vote, high school graduates gave him 42 percent and high school dropouts gave him 53 percent.

4. Pew breaks income into three broad groups: lower income, middle income and upper income. Trump’s worst group by far here was upper income Hispanics where he received just 28 percent of the vote. But he got 41 percent support among middle income Hispanics and 40 percent support among lower income Hispanics.

5. Just under a third of Hispanic voters described themselves as conservative. These voters supported Trump by a lopsided 73-26.

6. Over half of Hispanic voters (53 percent) were very or somewhat confident in Trump’s ability to make good decisions about economic policy. Those who were very confident supported Trump 77-18; those who were somewhat confident supported him 56-40.

7. Trump support was highest among young Hispanic voters. Those under 30 gave him 41 percent support, those in the 30-49 year old age group gave him 38 percent; those 50-64 gave him 37 percent and those 65 and over the least at 35 percent.

What lies behind these unsatisfying results for the Democrats? One possibility, as I have previously argued, is that Democrats fundamentally misunderstood the nature of this voter group and what they really care about. Hispanics were lumped in with “people of color” and were assumed to embrace the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. The reality of the Hispanic population is that they are, broadly speaking, an overwhelmingly working class, economically progressive, socially moderate constituency that cares above all, about jobs, the economy and health care…

An important thing to remember about the Hispanic population is that they are heavily oriented toward upward mobility and see themselves as being able to benefit from available opportunities to attain that. Three-fifths of Latinos in the national exit poll said they believed life would be better for the next generation of Americans. In the VSG data, these voters agreed, by 9 points, that racial minorities have mostly fair opportunities to advance in America, by 11 points agreed that America is a fair society where everyone has a chance to get ahead and by 20 points agreed that “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

They are also patriotic. By well over 3:1, Hispanics in the VSG survey said they would rather be a citizen of the United States than any other country in the world and by 35 points said they were proud of the way American democracy works. Clearly, this constituency does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy.

It is probable that Democrats will continue to have problems with this voter group until they base their appeals to this group on what these voters care about the most rather than what Democrats believe they should care about.

5) Enjoyed this essay on two new books about America’s founding:

There was nothing inevitable about the creation of the United States — the United States, singular, that is, a continental nation-state with a central government, rather than these United States, plural, a collection of small, quarrelsome quasi republics connected by a weak treaty of friendship. In fact, the path to the nation as we know it, with a powerful executive, a representative legislature and an independent judiciary, was highly implausible. For the 13 states at the time of the Revolution — mini-nations that had their own currencies, their own foreign policies, their own navies — the quest for independence was not just freedom from an imperial Britain, but independence from one another. America could have very easily looked like a bigger, more dysfunctional European Union.

In these two masterly works, the great historians of America’s Revolutionary era, Gordon S. Wood and Joseph J. Ellis, show how this experiment in republican self-government almost didn’t happen. As Ellis writes in “The Cause,” there was always far more emphasis on pluribus than unum, on the many rather than the one. The original demand of The Cause (the historical term for the Revolutionary War) was actually conservative: Give us our due rights under British law. Nationhood was not the goal. People saw themselves as Virginians, Rhode Islanders, New Yorkers — not Americans. How the many became a fractious one is the story these two books tell. They both suggest that it was only the creation of the Constitution in 1787 that made these disparate citizens into Americans.

But Ellis and Wood are not triumphalist about the Constitution. They each underscore that the signers failed to deal with some awfully big problems. They both assert that the deepest flaw was the failure to purge the new nation of the evil of slavery, and that error, more than any other, betrayed the values on which America was founded. Each of them writes that many of the same difficult questions that almost prevented the Union from coming into being 234 years ago — bondage versus emancipation, big government versus small, city versus country, individualism versus communitarianism — still divide us today. Back then, the anti-Federalists protested that creating a strong national government was just substituting one form of tyranny for another. Whether they know it or not, the governors who now reject federal mask mandates are echoing the anti-Federalists of the 1780s.

6) A J&J 2nd dose months later has a major impact on efficacy.  FDA is discussing J&J boosters next week.  I see one in my future.

7) Oh man this essay drove me nuts.  Shame on white scholars for wanting to study and have opinions on health disparities. “‘Health equity tourists’: How white scholars are colonizing research on health disparities.”  One can also imagine a world in which white scholars are criticized for devoting insufficient attention to health disparities.  And damn do I hate this use of “colonizing.”

8) So, this is nuts, the governor of WV is totally committed to coaching a HS basketball team and insists it doesn’t impact his ability to do his actual job.  

LEWISBURG, W.Va. — The governor was livid.

“Other than GOD above and my family, I place my duties as Governor above all else,” he thundered in a statement sent out on Tuesday evening. “All I do is work, and I love my work, and I love the people of West Virginia, especially the kids.”

But there were some, he went on, who had recently committed a “vile action,” one that was “manifestly arbitrary and capricious,” even forbidden by law.

His antagonists were three retirees who sit on the school board in Greenbrier County, 110 miles southeast of the state capital. In August, they had voted not to hire Gov. Jim Justice to coach the boys’ varsity basketball team at Greenbrier East High School.

“Does the hate of these Board members hurt?” the governor wrote. “Of course, it does.”

This blast of dudgeon over his authority to coach the boys’ basketball team in his spare time — he already coaches the girls’ team — was par for the course in Mr. Justice’s tenure as governor of West Virginia. A coal mining tycoon and the state’s richest person, Mr. Justice, whose two terms in office have been richly marbled with conflicts of interest, has generally bulldozed past various rules and obligations. He has been hounded by private companies, federal agencies and county governments for hundreds of millions in unpaid bills, and he was sued, successfully, for preferring to spend his nights at his home in Greenbrier rather than in the state capital, as the State Constitution mandates.

9) This strategy memo sounds about right, “Democrats: Let’s Face Reality: The Term ‘People of Color’ Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.”

10) Just life in America, “Their Baby Died in the Hospital. Then Came the $257,000 Bill.: A New York family had good health insurance. But the bills for their daughter’s care started showing up and kept coming.”

Last summer, Ms. Lane started receiving debt collection notices. The letters, sent by the health plan Cigna, said she owed the insurer over $257,000 for the bills it accidentally covered for Alexandra’s care after Ms. Lane switched health insurers.

Ms. Lane was flummoxed: It was Cigna that had received the initial bill for care and had paid Mount Sinai West. Now, Cigna was seeking the money it had overpaid the hospital by turning to the patient.

“For them, it’s just business, but for us it means constantly going through the trauma of reliving our daughter’s death,” said Clayton Lane, Alexandra’s father and Ms. Lane’s husband. “It means facing threats of financial ruin. It’s so unjust and infuriating.”

11) Enjoyed this sharply critical review of IDW favorites Weinstein and Heying, “
A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century review – self-help laced with pseudoscience”

till, if everything is an adaptation, there is a lot of advice to give. Some of it – offered in bullet points closing each chapter – is boilerplate (get more exercise; get more sleep); some is oddly specific (go barefoot more often); some is plain weird (don’t let markets get involved in music or comedy). Little of it appears to be based on actual research; the science is really, as the kids these days say, just a vibe.

Not that the authors do much better when they engage with studies. They make alarming pronouncements based on flimsy data, such as when they say that water fluoridation is “neurotoxic” to children based on one reference to a “pilot study”. They lazily repeat false information from other pop-science books, such as the “fact” that all known species sleep (some, including certain amphibians, don’t!). The final chapter, in which they embrace the bonkers “degrowth” movement, contains what might be the single stupidest paragraph on economics ever written (claiming, bizarrely, that the invention of more efficient versions of products such as fridges would bring the economy to its knees).

Above all, Heying and Weinstein are really annoying. Their seen-it-all, know-it-all attitude is grating from around page five, and becomes increasingly irksome as they pontificate their way through each chapter. If only you knew as much about evolution as they do, you would know how to organise society. You would know to “steer clear” of genetically modified food (the millions of lives saved by such food apparently don’t warrant a mention). You’d know not to have casual sex. You’d know not to look at your smartphone so much. And so on.

And they haven’t merely solved the central questions of biology. They are also, apparently, the best teachers imaginable. Without embarrassment, they quote a student describing their classroom as “an ancestral mode for which I was primed, but didn’t even know existed”. Their towering self-regard gives them the false belief that all their arguments – including the book’s premise, which is just a repackaging of 18th-century Burkean conservatism with a faux-Darwinian paint job – are staggeringly innovative.

12) Krugman, “Are Centrists in the Thrall of Right-Wing Propaganda?”

More surprising, at least to me, has been the self-destructive behavior of Democratic centrists — a term I prefer to “moderates,” because it’s hard to see what’s moderate about demanding that Biden abandon highly popular policies like taxing corporations and reducing drug prices. At this point it seems all too possible that a handful of recalcitrant Democrats will blow up the whole Biden agenda — and yes, it’s the centrists who are throwing a tantrum, while the party’s progressives are acting like adults.

So what’s motivating the sabotage squad? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that they have internalized decades of right-wing economic propaganda, that their gut reaction to any proposal to improve Americans’ lives is that it must be unworkable and unaffordable…

The point is that as far as I can tell, those troublesome Democratic centrists are blinded by an economic narrative that was deliberately created to block progress and justify vast inequality. So they imagine that the Biden agenda — which is a fairly modest effort to address our nation’s very real problems — is somehow irresponsible and a threat to the nation’s future.

I would urge them to reconsider their premises. Biden’s proposed spending isn’t irresponsible and wouldn’t hurt growth. On the contrary, it would be deeply irresponsible not to invest in people as well as concrete, and if you look at the evidence, rather than repeating right-wing dogma, you realize that Biden’s agenda is actually pro-growth.

13) Melina Wenner Moyer, “Is homework helpful or harmful?”

Plus, overall, the research suggests that homework in elementary school doesn’t do much good.

In middle school and high school, research does generally find a positive association between homework and achievement (though the effects can be hard to tease out; kids who do more homework might fare better because they might come from higher-income families, attend better schools, or are simply more motivated). But that is not the case in elementary school.

In what is by far the most comprehensive analysis of the research on homework, published in 2006, Harris Cooper, a neuroscientist and social psychologist at Duke, and his colleagues found no relationship between the amount of homework elementary school students did and their overall academic achievement. In 2019, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, average mathematics test scores were actually lower among fourth graders whose teachers assigned more than 30 minutes of math homework a day.

“There is a misconception that the more homework you give, the more rigorous the education,” said Cathy Vatterott, a professor of education at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and a former middle school teacher and principal…

Even if homework does teach kids to be conscientious, other activities achieve the same goal. “Washing the dishes will teach discipline,” says Barbara Stengel, an education professor emerita at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. “Making your bed in the morning will teach discipline.” My son developed resilience playing soccer (especially since his team usually lost); my daughter has learned self-control helping her dad make pancakes…

But maybe, after such a trying year, schools will recognize that the emotional health of their students should be priority — and that homework doesn’t provide much of a benefit. My second grader has had upwards of 40 minutes of homework some nights this fall — one afternoon walking home from the school bus, she burst into tears over how much she had — but I was relieved to hear her teacher tell us during their virtual Curriculum Night earlier this week that if homework causes our kids stress or frustration, we should skip it. We will absolutely do this when it feels warranted — and given what I know from the research, I will not second-guess my decision.

14) I used my first ever rapid test on Friday due to a sore throat (I’ve got a really modest cold, my first illness at all since the pandemic).  Feeling pretty confident in my negative (especially as I clearly got the cold from my PCR-negative son).  Good stuff on what rapid tests do and do not tell us.

15) Part of the evolution of cancer treatment is less reliance on chemotherapy, which sounds pretty great.  

16) Important interview with Rick Hasen.  Open this one in a new tab and read it. “What If 2020 Was Just a Rehearsal? American democracy is in the midst of a waking nightmare, says Rick Hasen. And Democrats aren’t taking it seriously enough.”

When we spoke 17 months ago, you outlined a “nightmare scenario” for the 2020 election: That the pandemic would disenfranchise huge numbers of Americans, voting processes would be overwhelmed by absentee ballots, Trump would declare victory based on early returns and then once the absentees were counted and Biden was the victor, he’d claim fraud. I get the sense that the nightmare now is much worse. How did 2020 alter the way that you think through all of this?

In Sept. 2020, I wrote a piece for Slate titled, “I’ve never been more scared about American democracy than I am right now.” A month ago, I was on CNN and said I was “scared shitless” — the anchor badgered me into saying those words on cable TV. But I’m even more frightened now than in those past months because of the revelations that continue to come to light about the concerted effort of Trump to try to alter the election outcome: Over 30 contacts with governors, state legislative officials, those who canvass the votes; pressuring governors, pressuring secretaries of state; having his lawyer pass out talking points to have Mike Pence declare Trump the winner even though he lost the election. I mean, this is not what we expect in a democracy.

In 2020, there was a massive shift to absentee balloting; Donald Trump did denigrate absentee balloting despite using it himself and despite having his own ballot harvested for the primary; he lost the election but claimed he actually won; he made hundreds of false statements calling the election results into question; he’s convinced millions of people that the election has been stolen from him, and he is continuing to not only push the lie that the election was stolen, but also to cause changes in both elected officials and election officials that will make it easier for him to potentially manipulate an election outcome unfairly next time. This is the danger of election subversion.
 
The reason I’m so scared is because you could look at 2020 as the nadir of American democratic processes, or you could look at it as a dress rehearsal. And I’m afraid that with all of these people being put in place… when you’ve got Josh Mandel in the Senate [from Ohio] and not Rob Portman, I’m really worried.

17) This from Rory Smith on the worship of money in soccer was so good.

The P.I.F. has not bought Newcastle because it loves soccer, or England’s northeast, or the beach at Tynemouth or the leafy streets of Gosforth or the grand Georgian facades of Gray Street.

It has bought Newcastle to diversify its economy, to enmesh strategic allegiances in sport and culture, to rehabilitate its image, to make people think of Saudi Arabia and soccer before they think of Saudi Arabia and starving children in Yemen. The fact that it gets a free vanguard of vitriolic advocates on social media — just as Abu Dhabi has managed at Manchester City — is a bonus.

Newcastle United, and those fans, are being used, just as City is being used and just as P.S.G. is being used and Chelsea is being used, just as soccer as a whole is being used and, in the process, corrupted. And yes, those fans are complicit in it. But they are not the only ones to blame.

So, too, are the authorities that have allowed this to happen, time and time again: the Premier League, with the “ownership neutral” stance that it wears with such pride, and the Football Association and UEFA and FIFA and all the rest of them, the bodies that are supposed to protect and cherish the sport but have instead sold it off to the highest bidder.

And so, too, are the rest of us: the journalists and the commentators and the observers and the fans, everyone who has reveled in the conspicuous consumption of transfer deadline day, anyone who has ever taken the Deloitte Money League as a sign of the sport’s health, rather than a damning indictment of its venality, its naked, unashamed worship of money…

It is money that has distorted soccer to such an extent that all dreams but one are now dead. There is no hope of a team’s breaking through thanks to a particularly gifted crop of youngsters who emerge from its academy. There is precious little belief that an inspirational manager, with a keen eye for talent, will be enough to challenge the petroclubs for league titles and European trophies.

The only thing that can do that, the only dream that survives, is that your club will, somehow, one day wake up with more money than everyone else. That, in effect, is what happened to Newcastle on Thursday: the sudden, jolting realization that its wildest fantasy had come true; not just that its purgatory was over, but that its paradise had arrived.

It is easy to point at those fans and say that they are the problem — that it is their willingness to pay any price for success that means that yet another club that prides itself as a community institution is now in the hands of an owner who is willing to use it for selfish ends; that they are apparently ready to service the needs of the murderous regime that is seeking to deploy soccer to launder its image.

But they are not the problem; they are the consequence of the problem. They are the end point of an era and a culture obsessed with acquisition, that believes ambition can be measured only in millions of dollars, that cherishes those who spend and castigates those who do not, that has welcomed money, whatever its provenance, as an objective good, and never questioned, not once, what that money might want to do, what its purpose might be.

This is the answer. This is where that path leads — to a place where the only hope that fans have is money, where dreams are built on money, and where there is no such thing as a price too high to pay.

18) Can’t say I watch much NBA, but I’m sympathetic to this take, “How the 3-point line is breaking basketball”  Too much of a good thing is a not good thing.

19) Great NYT feature on the poll tax in Florida.  It really is unconscionable what’s going on there.  

Ms. Bolden is one of more than 700,000 people in Florida who are barred from voting because they can’t afford the financial obligations stemming from a prior felony conviction. “It’s like I’m not a citizen,” she said. “That’s what they’re saying.”

Earlier this year we asked Floridians whose voting rights had been denied because of a criminal conviction to sit for photographs, wearing a name tag that lists not their name but their outstanding debt — to the extent they can determine it. This number, which many people attempt to tackle in installments as low as $30 a month, represents how much it costs them to win back a fundamental constitutional right, and how little it costs the state to withhold that right and silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of its citizens. The number also echoes the inmate identification number that they were required to wear while behind bars — another mark of the loss of rights and freedoms that are not restored upon release.

This is the way it’s been in Florida for a century and a half, ever since the state’s Constitution was amended shortly after the Civil War to bar those convicted of a felony from voting. That ban, like similar ones in many other states, was the work of white politicians intent on keeping ballots, and thus political power, out of the hands of millions of Black people who had just been freed from slavery and made full citizens.

Even as other states began reversing their own bans in recent years, Florida remained a holdout — until 2018, when Floridians overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to nearly everyone with a criminal record, upon the completion of their sentence. (Those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense were excluded.)

Democratic and Republican voters alike approved the measure, which passed with nearly two-thirds support. Immediately, as many as 1.4 million people in the state became eligible to vote. It was the biggest expansion of voting rights in decades, anywhere in the country.

That should have been the end of it. But within a year, Florida’s Republican-led Legislature gutted the reform by passing a law defining a criminal sentence as complete only after the person sentenced has paid all legal financial obligations connected to it.

The state adds insult to injury by making it difficult, if not impossible, for many of these people, like Ms. Bolden, to figure out what they owe. There is no central database with those numbers, and counties vary in their record-keeping diligence. Some convictions are so old that there are no records to be located.

20) Great stuff from Dear Pandemic on Delta specific booster shots:

A: Variant specific boosters are currently being tested, but it’s not clear whether we need them just yet.

Here is a run-down of ongoing trials:

Pfizer/BioNTech has two Phase 2/3 trials ongoing, one with a booster designed to target the Beta variant (the one that emerged in South Africa in late 2020) and one that is designed to target the Delta variant (the now dominant variant).

Moderna is also testing boosters targeted against just Beta, just Delta, BOTH Beta and Delta, and one that targets the original SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as the Beta variant in Phase 2/3 trials. Interim findings showed that ALL boosters increased neutralizing antibodies against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as the Beta and Delta variants to levels that were equal to or greater than that observed 1 month after the original vaccine series. This trial is ongoing.

AstraZeneca is also carrying out Phase 2/3 trials testing a Beta variant-specific booster in those who were previously vaccinated (with the AstraZeneca vaccine or a mRNA vaccine) as well as unvaccinated adults. Unvaccinated adults will receive 2 doses of the Beta variant specific vaccine either 4 or 12 weeks apart or one dose of the original AstraZeneca vaccine and a second dose of the Beta variant specific vaccine 4 weeks later.

Results from all these trials are expected later this year.

But are variant specific boosters even necessary?

Across the board, antibody responses triggered by additional doses of the *original* vaccine formulations for currently approved COVID-19 vaccines have been reported to be very robust-including against the Delta variant. For this reason, booster doses of the original vaccines may be sufficient and variant specific boosters may not be needed.

Indeed, a booster dose of the original Pfizer vaccine was already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. for certain groups (see our post on this here.).

21) From the BBC, “Ivermectin: How false science created a Covid ‘miracle’ drug”

22) Damn, just the daily awfulness that continues to happen in our country is sometimes so depressing.  And for all my frustration with wokeness, lets not forget that ongoing, appalling racism is still a thing.  “Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge.”

23) Love this story, “The World’s Deadliest Bird Was Raised by People 18,000 Years Ago: Researchers studying ancient cassowary egg shells in New Guinea found signs that the sharp-taloned bird was being domesticated.”

The southern cassowary is often called the world’s most dangerous bird.

While shy and secretive in the forests of its native New Guinea and Northern Australia, it can be aggressive in captivity. In 2019, kicks from a captive cassowary mortally wounded a Florida man. They don’t take kindly to attempts to hunt them, either: In 1926, a cassowary attacked by an Australian teenager kicked him in the neck with its four-inch, velociraptor-like talons, slitting his throat.

Not a bird it’s advisable to spend too much time in close quarters with, in other words. But as early as 18,000 years ago, people in New Guinea may have reared cassowary chicks to near-adulthood — potentially the earliest known example of humans managing avian breeding.

“This is thousands of years before domestication of the chicken,” said Kristina Douglass, an archaeologist at Penn State University and lead author on the study, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The first people arrived on New Guinea at least 42,000 years ago. Those settlers found rain forests stalked by large, irritable, razor-footed cassowaries — and eventually worked out how to put them to use. During excavations of rock shelter sites in the island’s eastern highlands, Susan Bulmer, an archaeologist from New Zealand, collected artifacts and bird remains that ended up at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea. Among those remains were 1,019 fragments of cassowary eggshell, likely plucked from wild cassowary nests.

(The return of full) Quick hits (part I)

You’re regularly scheduled quick hits are back for your Saturday reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

1) Ruy Teixera, “There Just Aren’t Enough College-Educated Voters! You Can Ignore the Working Class If You Like, But That Would Be Very, Very Unwise”

Education polarization is increasing election on election in the United States. In 2012, the difference in Democratic support between college-educated and noncollege (working class) voters in the Presidential election was about 4 margin points (Catalist data, two party vote), with college voters being more favorable to the Democrats than noncollege voters. In 2016 that difference ballooned to 18 points. And in 2020, it went up again to 22 points.

Democrats seem remarkably relaxed about this polarization, despite liking to style themselves as the party for “working people”. One reason for this is the general perception that the college-educated population is growing while the working class is declining. True as far as it goes but the fact remains that noncollege voters far outnumber college voters. In the 2020 Catalist data, the tally was 63 percent noncollege/37 percent college. That means that any given shift among noncollege voters is significantly more consequential than a similarly-sized shift among college voters. This situation will continue for many election cycles, as the noncollege voter share is likely to decline only gradually.

Another reason for Democratic complacency is the firm belief that Democrats’ working class problem is solely confined to whites and that white working class voters are so racist/reactionary that it is a badge of honor to ignore them. This is highly questionable as a matter of political strategy and arithmetic, given that they are 44 percent of voters and a lot more than that in key swing states and districts.

But there is a deeper problem. The perception that nonwhite working class voters are a lock for the Democrats is no longer tenable. In the 2020 election, working class nonwhites moved sharply toward Trump by 12 margin points, despite Democratic messaging that focused relentlessly on Trump’s animus toward nonwhites. According to Pew, Trump actually got 41 percent of the Hispanic working class vote in 2016. Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 points off of their margin among nonwhite working class voters…

More broadly, as Matt Yglesias noted in a recent article documenting the growth and extent of education polarization:

[H]aving society sharply polarized around occupational categories and educational attainment is going to make it very difficult for us to function effectively as a country… [S]tark education polarization is really bad for Democrats’ prospects of winning a Senate majority….[M]athematically, Democrats cannot govern in the long term without increasing their appeal to less-educated voters…..For some people, of course, the current system works great. Culture wars and skewed maps help Republicans win elections, after which they cut taxes for rich people and multinational corporations while doing nothing to satisfy their base’s resentments — resentments that fuel the fire for the next campaign.

In short, Democrats should not be complacent about education polarization. College graduates are neither numerous nor reliable enough to underpin a dominant coalition. Their party’s fate—and that of the country’s prospects for effective governance—depends on reducing this polarization as much and as rapidly as possible.

2) This is a hell of a tale.  A little long, but pretty good and everybody’s talking about it.  As for “who is the bad art friend?”  Both of them, damnit.  1) Person #1 needs to get over herself for donating a kidney and accept that other people can take a kidney donation as the inspiration for their own fiction and person #2 needs to not actually plagiarize and then get out of it by claiming “racism!” 

3) Leonhardt on mandates:

Many vaccinations, few firings

We are now living through this cycle again. The deadline for many workplace mandates arrived this week, often requiring people to have received a Covid-19 vaccine or face being fired. In California, the deadline for health care workers is today.

As was the case with Washington’s army, the mandates are largely succeeding:

  • California’s policy has led thousands of previously unvaccinated medical workers to receive shots in recent weeks. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, about 800 additional workers have been vaccinated since the policy was announced last month, bringing the hospital’s vaccination rate to 97 percent, according to my colleague Shawn Hubler.
  • When New York State announced a mandate for hospital and nursing-home staff members in August, about 75 percent of them had received a shot. By Monday, the share had risen to 92 percent. The increase amounts to roughly 100,000 newly vaccinated people.
  • At Trinity Health, a hospital chain in 22 states, the increase has been similar — to 94 percent from 75 percent, The Times’s Reed Abelson reports. At Genesis HealthCare, which operates long-term-care facilities in 23 states, Covid cases fell by nearly 50 percent after nearly all staff members had finished receiving shots this summer.

Often, the number of people who ultimately refuse the vaccine is smaller than the number who first say they will. Some are persuaded by the information their employer gives them — about the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety, compared with the deadliness of Covid — and others decide they are not really willing to lose their jobs.

A North Carolina hospital system, Novant Health, last week suspended 375 workers, or about 1 percent of its work force, for being unvaccinated. By the end of the week, more than half of them — about 200 — received a shot and were reinstated.

Of course, 175 firings are not nothing. (A Washington Post headline trumpeted the story as “one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a vaccine mandate.”) United Airlines said this week that it would terminate even more employees — about 600, or less than 1 percent of its U.S. work force.

These firings can create hardship for the workers and short-term disruptions for their employers. But those disruptions tend to be fleeting, because the percentage of workers is tiny. “I’m not seeing any widespread disruptive effect,” Saad Omer of the Yale Institute for Global Health told The Times.

And the benefits — reducing the spread of a deadly virus and lowering the chances it will mutate dangerously in the future — are large.

4) Scott Lemieux summarizes the mandate success in Washington state:

Also nice to see a story that focuses on the big picture rather than unrepresentative outliers:

Gov. Jay Inslee’s order for 63,000 state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has drawn broad outcry from conservatives, large protests from state workers and legal challenges by employees who stand to lose their jobs under the mandate.

But if Washington’s biggest agencies are any indication, state employees are largely complying with the mandate that they be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.

The Washington Department of Corrections, (DOC) which oversees the state’s 12 prisons, has verified that 89% of workers have been vaccinated as of noon Thursday, according to a spokesperson. That’s a steep rise from a few weeks ago, when individual prisons reported vaccination rates among staffers as low as 39%.

The Department of Social and Health Services — Washington’s largest state agency, with nearly 16,000 employees — had verified 91% of its workers as vaccinated as of Thursday.

The state Department of Transportation meanwhile is at 93% verified vaccinated as of Friday morning, and the Washington State Patrol announced Wednesday that 93% of its workers had been vaccinated.

At the Department of Children, Youth and Families, that number stood at nearly 87% as of Wednesday — up from around 50% three weeks ago.

5) Sad story with a 20-year old local kid (unvaccinated, of course) who had a Covid death like none I’ve heard of– somehow is Covid led to a fatal sinus infection. that got into his brain.

6) I think one of the clearest indications of the degradation of our democracy is that we’re hardly even talking about it.  Adam Serwer a couple weeks ago, “Trump’s Plans for a Coup Are Now Public: Some of the plots to overturn the election happened in secret. But don’t forget the ones that unfolded in the open.’

7) I meant to write a post on this back in August(!) but it’s still really relevant.  Alec MacGillis, “What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge”

The video of George Floyd’s death was appalling to Joe Sullivan, who spent 38 years with the Philadelphia police department, much of it overseeing the unit that handles large demonstrations, eventually rising to deputy commissioner. He retired from the force in early 2020, after Outlaw’s arrival as commissioner. Sullivan could stomach watching the video of Floyd only once, but immediately texted his former colleagues on the force that they needed to see it. “My heart just sank,” he said. “I knew right then and there that bad things were going to happen, because it just was so egregious.”

The protests in Philadelphia commenced the following Saturday, with hundreds of people gathering at the art museum and City Hall. As the crowds swelled, someone set a police car on fire, and others started breaking into stores near Rittenhouse Square, carrying out clothes and electronics. Mayor Kenney ordered an 8 p.m. curfew; by day’s end, more than 100 people had been arrested and more than a dozen officers were injured.

Overnight, action shifted to the 52nd Street commercial strip in a heavily Black section of Southwest Philadelphia. Early on Sunday morning, four people looted a clothing store, and that afternoon and into Monday morning, others emptied a jewelry store and a pharmacy, set fire to a uniform shop and damaged a day care center, a tax-preparation business and a seller of hijabs, among others. It was just a couple of blocks from where Tyffani Rudolph had lived before she entered foster care. “It was heartbreaking to see, because it was my own people doing it,” she said. “It was upsetting because it’s like we’re destroying our own home.”

Sullivan, too, watched with dismay, aghast that things unraveled to the point where officers felt the need to take a step he had avoided in many years of crowd control: releasing tear gas. In Philadelphia, protests and looting continued for days, as did the use of tear gas. The police department redeployed officers from across the city to the protests and looting, leaving swaths of the city underpatrolled.

The shift in police focus was immediately discernible in the data: from late May to mid-June last year, police vehicle and pedestrian stops plunged by more than two-thirds. This was driven by more than staffing shifts, said Sullivan. Even officers still on their usual patrols were increasingly opting not to engage with the frequency they had before, which he attributed partly to the firing and arrest of two officers during the protest, one for pepper-spraying protesters on Interstate 676 and another for striking a Temple student in the head with his baton. (Charges were dropped in the first case, and the second officer was later acquitted.) “Officers are saying, ‘Man, if they’re getting locked up that easily, I don’t really want to get involved in this. I’ve got a mortgage to pay and tuition to pay,’” Sullivan said. “I’m sure that some officers have pulled back.”

It was a seeming replay of the dynamic observed in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, and in Chicago following the death of Laquan McDonald. In those cities, arrests dropped sharply in the weeks following protests over the deaths. What made this latest iteration so unusual was that it was playing out in cities across the country, not only in the city that had experienced this particular death at police hands, Minneapolis. Some combination of the extremity of the Floyd video and the release of emotions pent up during the lockdowns had elevated the protests into a national event, reproducing nationwide the dynamic seen in Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago several years earlier.

There is another side to the dynamic, many criminologists agree. In the wake of high-profile deaths at police hands and the often heavy-handed police response to the ensuing protests, community trust in the police plummets. This leaves many people even less likely to report a crime or offer a tip or testify, further depressing case closure rates that were already barely 50% for homicides in Philadelphia, and much lower for nonfatal shootings. “The murder of George Floyd really reactivated this deep sense of mistrust and cynicism in many disadvantaged communities,” Abt said. “And when that happens, there’s multiple bodies of evidence that suggests that when people don’t believe in the system, they don’t comply with it and they don’t use it.”

Instead, they resolve disputes themselves — sometimes with violence…

That could be seen as self-preservation, a response to a rise in shootings that in turn would beget more shootings, abetted by the loss of confidence in the police. “There certainly are young men and women carrying guns on the street because they don’t believe the police can protect them,” said Sullivan, the former deputy commissioner. “They’ve been led to believe that police won’t protect them, and they feel they need to carry guns. And that means more guns on the street.”

One could also consider it from the supply perspective: There had been a surge in legal gun sales nationwide early in the pandemic, amid all the apocalyptic talk of food and supply shortages. Some weapons were inevitably making their way onto the black market, via theft or resale. And, in Philadelphia and other cities, many people now had extra means to buy their own guns on the black market. For all the economic stresses caused by pandemic-related job losses, the $1,200-per-person stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits of the CARES Act had injected cash into many neighborhoods. An 18-year-old member of YEAH Philly, who also didn’t want his name used because of his open criminal cases, said, “Everybody had a lot of money, and everybody started buying guns. When everybody started buying guns, everybody wanted to be tough.” Johnson, the councilmember, found this dynamic worrisomely plausible: “The easy access to money, and some people who never had this kind of money before, is playing a role in purchasing guns.”

There’s also the other side of personal risk calculus: the odds of repercussions for carrying. After all, police were making fewer stops. And even before the pandemic and the Floyd protests, those getting caught with illegal firearms were facing fewer consequences. Krasner’s office had launched a diversion program for some defendants, under which those who had purchased firearms legally but lacked the permit to carry them could have their arrests expunged after probation. (The office argued that it was unfair that Philadelphians face more stringent gun rules than residents of other parts of Pennsylvania, as the state requires gun permits for city residents but not for those elsewhere.) And the overall conviction rate for illegal gun possession cases was falling, too. It dropped to 49% in 2019 from more than 60% in the four years before Krasner took office, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

8) Good stuff from Freddie DeBoer, “Anatomy of a Bad Idea: Affirmative Consent”

My primary objection to affirmative consent is pretty simple, really. I don’t, in fact, think that most cases of sexual assault are a matter of mixed signals and misunderstandings. I think most rapes are committed by rapists who don’t care if women say no and are perfectly happy to lie about whether they did. (In fact I remember in the 90s that the feminist position was to ardently assert that sexual assault is very rarely a matter of mixed signals.) And this is the immediate, existential problem for affirmative consent: a rapist can just as easily say “she said yes” as he previously would have said “she didn’t say no.” Right? So what problem is being solved here? It’s still a matter of disputing what communication took place in a world where we generally have no evidence about those communicative facts. The condition that vexes a lot of people is that it’s genuinely very difficult to establish the truth if the question at hand is not whether sexual acts took place but whether they were consensual. We live in a rule-bound society where due process has to exist, as unpopular as that sentiment has become in liberal circles, which means that we will frequently be locked in he said-she said scenarios. Affirmative consent is often represented as some sort of salve for this problem but it simply replaces one type of dispute about who said what with another.

And because of the nature of sex affirmative consent activists are forever introducing ambiguity into the picture when the entire purpose of affirmative consent was to reduce ambiguity. You say to people, “you know, it really doesn’t seem like two people who have been dating for five years are going to robotically be saying ‘may I touch your breast now?’ every time they have sex.” And they say “oh no no, of course not, you see there can be implied consent between partners.” Which, one, is no longer affirmative, and two, seems like a disturbing concession – of course people in long-term relationships can commit sexual assault against their partners, so isn’t the notion of such implied consent pretty problematic? Or they’ll say “well, consent can be affirmative without being explicit, it can be a touch, a look in the eye.” Again, this completely torpedoes the very clarity that affirmative consent was designed to achieve. That notion simply empowers rapists; “I read that consent doesn’t have to be explicitly voiced to be affirmative, and she had that look in her eye….”

A common defense of the standard, when this debate was raging, was to say that no one would make an allegation if no sexual assault had occurred, therefore it wouldn’t matter if most people usually don’t follow the standard. Which is bizarre enough on the face of it; what do we make of a policy whose defenders reassure us that it usually won’t be followed? But it’s especially perverse here because it presumes an entirely different standard than the one it’s advocating. If affirmative consent means anything at all, it must mean that someone who does not proactively give consent has been sexually assaulted regardless of whether they believe that they have been. Otherwise it makes no sense, nothing’s changed from the old standard. If what rules is not the victim’s actually expressed consent but their feeling towards whether or not they have consent, then there is no standard of affirmative consent at all! We’re right back where we started. It’s completely unworkable and would appears to solve no problems. It’s just a way to look busy…

The problem was always this: the affirmative consent standard required the participation of a large and diverse group of young adults who, like most of us, find constantly stopping to ask permission of every discrete “sexual act” dehumanizing and unnatural. They’ve told us so. This seems like an entirely predictable outcome, yet when this was being debated in around 2014 or 2015, criticism of the policy was muted. Why? Well, it’s obvious: to appear to be against a law represented as a victory for women’s sexual and bodily autonomy is very risky in the social media era, regardless of how ineffective and bizarre that law actually is and regardless of what you’re actually objecting to. Who, in the era of cancellation, is going to be particularly vocal about opposing laws that some people represent as an impediment to rape, even if everyone knows that they’re a fig leaf? Should this post escape from my regular readership onto Twitter, surely someone is going to claim that I’ve said that consent is dehumanizing and unnatural, and many more people will then amplify that claim without bothering to read what I actually wrote. Most writers are too emotionally delicate and professionally vulnerable for that, so everybody halfheartedly got on board the way they did with Defund the Police and other bad ideas.

So you get this huge policy change at hundreds of universities that does effectively nothing to stop sexual assault, infringes on the rights of the accused, and functions as a make-work program for overpaid “consultants” and liberal writers, all while most people quietly recognize that nobody follows it, and support for that empty policy is enforced with missionary zeal not by true believers but almost entirely by people who are too scared to ask whether any of it makes any sense. Perhaps creating an oppressive culture of fear of permanent ostracism and professional exile in liberal media was a bad idea.

9) Katherine Wu on the possible future evolution of Covid:

In the worst-case scenario, a variant could arise that would “make it like the vaccines did not exist,” Hanage said. But at the moment, “there is no such variant like that.” And it would probably be extraordinarily difficult for one to manifest. Even the most evasive variants we know of—the ones that have stumped certain antibodies—aren’t fully duping vaccinated bodies, which harbor a slew of other immunological guards. Hanage also pointed out that many people’s immune systems have been trained on different triggers—distinct brands of vaccines, unique variants, or some combination thereof. A new version of SARS-CoV-2 would find skirting all of those blockades at once to be nearly impossible.

Viruses aren’t infinitely mutable; sometimes, to keep themselves in contention, they must make sacrifices. Several experts told me they’re hopeful that the coronavirus might struggle to max out both transmission and immune evasion at once, requiring some sort of trade-off between the two. Some of the most powerful anti-coronavirus antibodies target SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein, which the virus uses to unlock and enter our cells. If the virus altered the protein to sidestep those antibodies, it might make itself less recognizable to the immune system. But it could also hurt its ability to infect us at all.

That might help explain why Beta has, so far, remained only a supporting character in the coronavirus’s ensemble cast. Another hint comes from Alpha, which didn’t seem to benefit all that much when it acquired an antibody-eluding mutation last spring, despite widespread fears. There is, in other words, probably a limit to just how bad SARS-CoV-2 can get: Even the most careful dog breeders cannot turn a bulldog into a bear…

Vaccines, however, aren’t just reactive. They are also proactive interventions that curb the number of times the virus gets to roll the evolutionary dice, cutting down on the number, intensity, and duration of infections, and the chance that they’ll pass to others. A more vaccinated world creates a more hostile global environment for SARS-CoV-2. Mutations will still occur, but fewer of them will be of consequence; lineages will still splinter, but they’ll do so less often. “The overriding effect of vaccination should be to reduce the rate of [virus] adaptation,” Cobey told me. Variants, after all, can’t adapt when they’re starved of hosts to infect.

Glimmers of early evidence suggest that this slowdown has already begun. One recent study, not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that SARS-CoV-2’s shape-shifting rate is lower in highly immunized countries, the expected outcome of a virus knocking up against new immune walls. Gupta, of the University of Cambridge, also hopes that we’ll someday cook up vaccines that can stamp out infection and transmission to an even greater degree—or ones that direct immune cells to hit the virus in spots that can’t mutate without hamstringing it. “That will force the virus into a corner,” he told me. We’d need those types of inoculations less often, too. “I don’t envision a constant cat-and-mouse game.”

10) Wildfires aren’t just destructive, expensive, and potentially deadly– they’re also really bad for human health. “Breathing wildfire smoke can affect the brain and sperm, as well as the lungs”

10) Terrific New Yorker article on Kathryn Harden and her research into the genetic bases of intelligence.  To their profound discredit, many liberals just cannot ideologically admit the obvious– of course there’s a genetic basis to intelligence.  

11) And good stuff from Drum on the matter:

But lots of things are impossible until suddenly they aren’t. Readers with very good memories may recall that a few years ago I wrote about Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS, pronounced jee-wass). These do the impossible: they allow genetic researchers to find single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced snips) that are associated with cognitive traits. At the time, I linked to a paper that claimed to have found SNPs that explained about 5% of the variance in intelligence. But work was ongoing, and the latest studies have gotten up to 20% or so. There’s no telling where this number will eventually end up, but it’s almost certain that within a few years we’ll get to one that’s high enough to prove to all but the most recalcitrant that genes do in fact have a considerable effect on human intelligence.

Why mention this? Because in its current issue the New Yorker has a profile of Kathryn Paige Harden, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who has written a new book, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality. Harden has been doing GWAS work of her own and her conclusion is unsurprising: both genes and environment play significant and intertwined roles in most cognitive traits. But there’s a depressing coda:

In my conversations with her colleagues, Harden’s overarching idea was almost universally described as both beautiful and hopelessly quixotic….James Tabery, a philosopher at the University of Utah, believes that underscoring genetic difference is just as likely to increase inequality as to reduce it. “It’s truly noble for Paige to make the case for why we might think of biological differences as similar to socially constructed differences, but you’re bumping into a great deal of historical, economic, political, and philosophical momentum—and it’s dangerous, no matter how noble her intentions are, because once the ideas are out there they’re going to get digested the way they’re going to get digested,” he said. “The playing board has been set for some time.”

“Hopelessly quixotic” is a fancy way of saying that no matter what the science says, Harden will never convince people on the left. As Harden puts it, the life of a behavior geneticist resembles “Groundhog Day.” Always the same arguments no matter what.

In fairness, the reason for lefty intolerance of cognitive genetics is obvious and righteous: It’s been violently misused for a very long time as a way of proving that certain kinds of people are inferior to others. As Tabery says above, the playing board has been set, and it’s almost certain that any new results, no matter how carefully explained, will be used as an excuse by some people to dismiss the possibility of ever improving the lives of the poor, the black, and the oppressed.

But as understandable as this is, it has a big problem: it looks as if we’re getting close to a genuine understanding of how genes affect cognitive traits—and the answer is not going be “they don’t.” At that point the left had better have an argument to make, because they’re certain to lose if they just bury their heads in the sand.

The funny thing is that I’ve never entirely understood lefty opposition to the notion that genes have a significant impact on cognitive abilities. My view has always been close to Harden’s: if genes do have an impact, then it makes the case for social safety nets incomparably stronger. It becomes impossible to argue, for example, that poor people are merely lazy if you can point to SNPs that have a clear association with poverty. At that point, it’s provably the case that being poor is mostly a matter of bad genetic luck. So what argument is left for leaving anyone in poverty?

Beyond that, as Harden points out, if you know the genetic foundations for a particular trait then it’s easier to disentangle its genetic and environmental causes. This makes it easier to accurately identify the environmental causes, which in turn makes it more likely that you can construct social interventions that actually work. In other words, knowledge of genetics is a key part of the liberal project of doing everything we can to improve lives via social programs that are truly effective.

But most people don’t see it that way. And beneath it all lurks the deep fear that someone doing GWAS research is eventually going to find SNPs associated with both race and intelligence. I continue to think that’s unlikely in anything more than a trivial sense, but I may be wrong. And if I am, what are we going to do?

12) And how about this for some interesting social science research, “Cognitive ability is a powerful predictor of political tolerance”

Abstract

Objectives

Despite the broad appeal of abstract notions of political tolerance, people vary in the degree to which they support the political rights of groups they dislike. Prior research highlighted the relevance of individual differences in the cognitive domain, claiming the application of general tolerance ideals to specific situations is a cognitively demanding task. Curiously, this work has overwhelmingly focused on differences in cognitive style, largely neglecting differences in cognitive ability, despite compelling conceptual linkages. We remedy this shortcoming.

Methods

We explore diverse predictors of tolerance using survey data in two large samples from Denmark (N = 805) and the United States (N = 1,603).

Results

Cognitive ability was the single strongest predictor of political tolerance, with larger effects than education, openness to experience, ideology, and threat. The cognitively demanding nature of tolerance judgments was further supported by results showing cognitive ability predicted tolerance best when extending such tolerance was hardest. Additional small-sample panel results demonstrated substantial 4-year stability of political tolerance, informing future work on the origins of political tolerance.

Conclusions

Our observation of a potent role for cognitive ability in tolerance supports cognitively oriented accounts of tolerance judgments and highlights the need for further exploration of cognitive ability within the political domain.

13) This was quite an interesting story, “One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia: Ksenia Coffman’s fellow editors have called her a vandal and a McCarthyist. She just wants them to stop glorifying fascists—and start citing better sources.”

14) Apparently library e-books are a massive rip-off (of us taxpayers who fund libraries).  When it comes to your library, you really should stick with the physical books if you can.  New Yorker:

The sudden shift to e-books had enormous practical and financial implications, not only for OverDrive but for public libraries across the country. Libraries can buy print books in bulk from any seller that they choose, and, thanks to a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine, they have the right to lend those books to any number of readers free of charge. But the first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content. For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries. These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,” Michelle Jeske, who oversees Denver’s public-library system, told me. Digital content gives publishers more power over prices, because it allows them to treat libraries differently than they treat other kinds of buyers. Last year, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from twenty per cent the year before.

There are a handful of popular e-book venders, including Bibliotheca, Hoopla, Axis 360, and the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America. But OverDrive is the largest. It is the company behind the popular app Libby, which, as the Apple App Store puts it, “lets you log in to your local library to access ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines, all for the reasonable price of free.” The vast majority of OverDrive’s earnings come from markups on the digital content that it licenses to libraries and schools, which is to say that these earnings come largely from American taxes. As libraries and schools have transitioned to e-books, the company has skyrocketed in value. Rakuten, the maker of the Kobo e-reader, bought OverDrive for more than four hundred million dollars, in 2015. Last year, it sold the company to K.K.R., the private-equity firm made famous by the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate.” The details of the sale were not made public, but Rakuten reported a profit of “about $365.6 million.”…

To illustrate the economics of e-book lending, the N.Y.P.L. sent me its January, 2021, figures for “A Promised Land,” the memoir by Barack Obama that had been published a few months earlier by Penguin Random House. At that point, the library system had purchased three hundred and ten perpetual audiobook licenses at ninety-five dollars each, for a total of $29,450, and had bought six hundred and thirty-nine one- and two-year licenses for the e-book, for a total of $22,512. Taken together, these digital rights cost about as much as three thousand copies of the consumer e-book, which sells for about eighteen dollars per copy. As of August, 2021, the library has spent less than ten thousand dollars on two hundred and twenty-six copies of the hardcover edition, which has a list price of forty-five dollars but sells for $23.23 on Amazon. A few thousand people had checked out digital copies in the book’s first three months, and thousands more were on the waiting list. (Several librarians told me that they monitor hold requests, including for books that have not yet been released, to decide how many licenses to acquire.)

The high prices of e-book rights could become untenable for libraries in the long run, according to several librarians and advocates I spoke to—libraries, venders, and publishers will probably need to negotiate a new way forward. “It’s not a good system,” Inouye said. “There needs to be some kind of change in the law, to reinstate public rights that we have for analog materials.” Maria Bustillos, a founding editor of the publishing coöperative Brick House, argued recently in The Nation that libraries should pay just once for each copy of an e-book. “The point of a library is to preserve, and in order to preserve, a library must own,” Bustillos wrote. When I asked Potash about libraries and their growing digital budgets, he argued that “digital will always be better value,” but he acknowledged that, if current trends continue, “Yes, there is a challenge.”

15) Highlights from a Barred Owl nestcam.  “Who cooks for you?”

16) Very good stuff from Yglesias on homelessness and it’s a public post, so read it. “Homelessness is about housing, not addiction or mental health”

17) It’s crazy that there’s so much evidence on how to best teach reading (phonics!) that so many places aren’t following.  Drum:

John McWhorter says we should quit arguing about how to teach reading and just accept that we already know perfectly well how to do it:

In a word, phonics….Phonics works better for more children. Project Follow Through, a huge investigation in the late 1960s led by education scholar Siegfried Englemann, taught 75,000 children via the phonics-based Direct Instruction method from kindergarten through third grade at 10 sites nationwide. The results were polio-vaccine-level dramatic. At all 10 sites, 4-year-olds were reading like 8-year-olds, for example.

….However, there is a persistent disconnect between the world of reading science and the world of people teaching children to read. Only 15 percent of programs training elementary-school teachers include actual instruction on how to teach children to read. There remain people who favor the whole word method, or a combination of whole word and phonics, or even no particular “method” at all.

There’s a wealth of research that confirms this, but unfortunately reading instruction has become part of the culture wars, with conservatives taking the side of phonics while university education departments tend to favor other methods.

This is unfortunate. Phonics works, and to the extent that you can invent add-ons that are potentially a little bit better it’s really not worth the effort. DI-based phonics instruction is so good that we’d be a lot better off simply making it universal since it works well with both poor and affluent children. In addition:

There is a racial angle to this….We have known how to teach Black children, including poor ones, how to read since the Johnson administration: the Direct Instruction method of phonics. In this case, Black children don’t need special materials; districts need incur no extra expenses in purchasing such things. I consider getting Direct Instruction to every Black child in the country a key plank of three in turning the corner on race in America (the other two are ending the War on Drugs and sharply increasing funding and cultural support to vocational education).

Liberals should get on this train. Stop resisting just because conservatives have been pushing this for decades. In this case, they’re right.

18) What the heck, one more on IQ (sometimes, I go down rabbit holes), “Complicated links between IQ and prejudiced views”

There’s a long-standing and somewhat uncomfortable finding in psychology: that low IQ, conservative social beliefs and prejudice — including anti-gay attitudes and racism — are all linked. Many studies have found this relationship — so much so that a 2015 meta-analysis of the research suggested that researchers who conduct studies of people’s ideology and prejudice should take participants’ cognitive ability into account.

New research, though, suggests that there’s more to the story. When the definition of prejudice is expanded beyond its usual meaning — that is, holding negative attitudes toward historically powerless minority groups — it turns out that people all along the IQ spectrum show prejudiced attitudes.

In other words, intelligence doesn’t determine if you’re prejudiced, but rather the target of that prejudice, the study found. Both the smart and the dumb have biases, but those biases are toward different groups of people, according to the new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

19) And the limits of robot intelligence, “Why Robots Can’t Sew Your T-Shirt: Machines can print textiles, cut fabric, and fold clothes. But it’s hard to train them to sew as fast and precisely as humans.”

The length of time it has taken to get to this point isn’t surprising. Machines have proved adept at many steps in making clothes, from printing textiles to cutting fabric and folding and packaging finished garments.

SoftWear’s robots overcame those hurdles. They can make a T-shirt. But making them as cheaply as human workers do in places like China or Guatemala, where workers earn a fraction of what they might make in the US, will be a challenge, says Sheng Lu, a professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware.

20) Interesting, “Alcohol Is the Breast Cancer Risk No One Wants to Talk About”

According to a 2020 analysis of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, only about one in four women ages 15 to 44 knows that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer. Priscilla Martinez, who is leading the Drink Less campaign, would like to change that. “My goal was to prevent a young woman of today who uses alcohol, like many women do, from finding out in 20 years that she has breast cancer and wondering why,” says Martinez, a public health researcher who typically studies racial and ethnic health disparities related to alcohol at the Alcohol Research Group, a nonprofit based in Emeryville, California. “To me, it’s also an equity issue. Society has this information about a potential consequence of this behavior, and the women at risk don’t know about it.”

In a 2021 paper published in the journal The Lancet Oncology, researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, calculated a “global burden of cancer in 2020 attributable to alcohol consumption” based on prior research on alcohol-linked cancer risk, per capita alcohol consumption, and country-specific data on cancer cases. By their estimate, 14,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the US in 2020 could be attributed to prior drinking.

Research shows that overall cancer risk rises with heavier drinking, even for women who don’t drink every day. Binge drinking—four or more drinks at one sitting—is, in itself, associated with higher breast cancer risk.

University of Wisconsin oncologist Noelle LoConte has long felt that the link doesn’t get enough attention—even among oncologists. She is the lead author of a 2017 statement on alcohol and cancer from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which calls on these specialists to take the lead in addressing “excessive exposure to alcohol” through education, advocating for policy changes, and research.

Alcohol raises the risk of head, neck, esophageal, liver, and colorectal cancers, in addition to breast cancer, likely due to the way it is metabolized, the statement explains. Ethanol undergoes a biochemical reaction that produces acetaldehyde, which is then broken down by another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase and excreted from the body. Some people, particularly those of East Asian descent, have a less active form of the enzyme, which allows the acetaldehyde—a probable human carcinogen—to circulate longer in the body, potentially putting them at greater risk of cancer. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA, causing changes that can lead to cancer.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Something tells me if the impact from the wildfires out west were happening on the East coast there’d be way more media coverage.  Something about this article and it’s images really got through to me.  Just… damn.

Smoke from the Caldor fire shrouded Emerald Bay, near South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Wednesday.

2) I don’t love the “puppy” description for a 14-month old pit bull mix, but if you watch the video (and read the context) there’s just no way this police officer should be on the force.  And rules that allow police to shoot any dog that comes towards them under any circumstances lead to an ongoing dogmaggedon.  If you’ve spent 5 minutes with dogs, you clearly recognize this is a dog coming to play, not attack.  “Body-cam footage shows police shoot a ‘playful’ puppy: ‘He was curious and excited to greet this officer’”

3) Yes, of course the energy we spend on air conditioning makes climate change worse, but, come on, articles telling people to not use air conditioning are not the way to save the planet.  Not to mention, this one goes full woke Vox with a whole section on how air conditioning is “racist.”  

4) Ezra’s take on Afghanistan this week was so, so good.  But, I’ve already given you a lot of NYT links, so here’s an extensive excerpt:

To state the obvious: There was no good way to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban. A better withdrawal was possible — and our stingy, chaotic visa process was unforgivable — but so was a worse one. Either way, there was no hope of an end to the war that didn’t reveal our decades of folly, no matter how deeply America’s belief in its own enduring innocence demanded one. That is the reckoning that lies beneath events that are still unfolding, and much of the cable news conversation is a frenzied, bipartisan effort to avoid it.

Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure. It’s also obscuring the true alternative to withdrawal: endless occupation. But what our ignominious exit really reflects is the failure of America’s foreign policy establishment at both prediction and policymaking in Afghanistan.

“The pro-war crowd sees this as a mechanism by which they can absolve themselves of an accounting for the last 20 years,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told me. “Just think about the epic size of this policy failure. Twenty years of training. More than $2 trillion worth of expenditure. For almost nothing. It is heartbreaking to watch these images, but it is equally heartbreaking to think about all of the effort, of lives and money we wasted in pursuit of a goal that was illusory.” …

It is worth considering some counterfactuals for how our occupation could have ended. Imagine that the Biden administration, believing the Afghan government hollow, ignored President Ashraf Ghani’s pleas and began rapidly withdrawing personnel and power months ago. The vote of no-confidence ripples through Afghan politics, demoralizing the existing government and emboldening the Taliban. Those who didn’t know which side to choose, who were waiting for a signal of who held power, quickly cut deals with the Taliban. As the last U.S. troops leave, the Taliban overwhelms the country, and the Biden administration is blamed, reasonably, for speeding their victory.

Another possible scenario was suggested to me by Grant Gordon, a political scientist who works on conflict and refugee crises (and is, I should say, an old friend): If the Biden administration had pulled our allies and personnel out more efficiently, that might have unleashed the Taliban to massacre their opposition, as America and the world would have been insulated and perhaps uninterested in the aftermath. There have been revenge killings, but it has not devolved, at least as of yet, into all-out slaughter, and that may be because the American withdrawal has been messy and partial and the Taliban fears re-engagement. “What is clearly a debacle from one angle may actually have generated restraint,” Gordon told me. “Having spent time in places like this, I think people lack a real imagination for how bad these conflicts can get.”

Let me offer one more: Even though few believed Ghani’s government would prevail in our absence, and the Trump administration cut them out of its deal with the Taliban, there’s widespread disappointment that the government we supported collapsed so quickly. Biden has been particularly unsparing in his descriptions of the Afghan Army’s abdication, and I agree with those who say he’s been unfair, underestimating the courage and sacrifice shown by Afghan troops throughout the war. But put that aside: Americans might have felt better seeing our allies in Afghanistan put up a longer fight, even if the Taliban emerged victorious. But would a multiyear civil war have been better for the Afghans caught in the crossfire?

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, put it simply: “I think there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance, and smart people are struggling with how to rationalize defeat. Because that’s what we have here in Afghanistan — a defeat.” …

The tragedy of humanitarian intervention as a foreign policy philosophy is that it binds our compassion to our delusions of military mastery. We awaken to the suffering of others when we fear those who rule them or hide among them, and in this way our desire for security finds union with our desire for decency. Or we awaken to the suffering of others when they face a massacre of such immediacy that we are forced to confront our passivity and to ask what inaction would mean for our souls and self-image. In both cases, we awaken with a gun in our hands, or perhaps we awaken because we have a gun in our hands.

To many, America’s pretensions of humanitarian motivation were always suspect. There are vicious regimes America does nothing to stop. There are vicious regimes America finances directly. It is callous to suggest that the only suffering we bear responsibility for is the suffering inflicted by our withdrawal. Our wars and drone strikes and tactical raids and the resulting geopolitical chaos directly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis.

This is the deep lacuna in America’s foreign policy conversation: The American foreign policy establishment obsesses over the harms caused by our absence or withdrawal. But there’s no similar culpability for the harms we commit or that our presence creates. We are much quicker to blame ourselves for what we don’t do than what we do.

My heart breaks for the suffering we will leave behind in Afghanistan. But we do not know how to fix Afghanistan. We failed in that effort so completely that we ended up strengthening the Taliban. We should do all we can to bring American citizens and allies home. But if we truly care about educating girls worldwide, we know how to build schools and finance education. If we truly care about protecting those who fear tyranny, we know how to issue visas and admit refugees. If we truly care about the suffering of others, there is so much we could do. Only 1 percent of the residents of poor countries are vaccinated against the coronavirus. We could change that. More than 400,000 people die from malaria each year. We could change that, too.

“I want America more forward-deployed, but I want it through a massive international financing arm and a massive renewable energy arm,” Senator Murphy told me. “That’s the United States I want to see spread across the world — not the face of America today that’s by and large arms sales, military trainers and brigades.”

The choice we face is not between isolationism and militarism. We are not powerful enough to achieve the unachievable. But we are powerful enough to do far more good, and far less harm, than we do now.

5) I had never really thought about how much it sucks to be a tennis great of declining skills getting whipped by no-names in the 1st and 2nd round as opposed to a star from a team sport who manages to have a farewell tour while competing far below peak ablity:

There are many reasons that tennis does not lend itself to perfect endings. The modern game imposes immense physical demands and a relentless schedule. Its ranking system rewards consistent, elite play and punishes those whose aging bodies only allow them to dabble with lower seeds and more difficult early-round matches. The knockout format prevents anyone, regardless of past performance, from being guaranteed a grand setting for a final match, which can easily occur on a random Tuesday in a half-empty stadium.

The result is a stark choice for even the best tennis players: Go out on top while most likely leaving some championships on the table, or meander through a frustrating descent into being OK at best, which can be less than fun in a sport that shines its brightest lights on the top two or four players and lumps nearly everyone else into something of an also-ran category.

A star on a team sport can flicker then fade amid the protection of teammates. There’s an unforgiving loneliness to stardom in tennis.

The tennis equivalent of Derek Jeter’s gift-collecting farewell tour as the Yankees’ shortstop — an unproductive .256 batting average over 145 games coupled with not good but not embarrassing defense — is a lot of early-round losses to journeymen.

6) Just came across this study from March that just a good solid surgical mask (type II) does a good job with protecting aerosols while hardly impacting the difficulty in breathing.  And, just use a hack or two to make it fit better and you are in quite good shape. 

7) I so want to say “yes” to this even though I recognize the inherent problems, “Would It Be Fair to Treat Vaccinated Covid Patients First?” 

8) David Zweig with a solid piece in New York, “The Science of Masking Kids at School Remains Uncertain.”  I’m entirely okay with accepting “uncertain,” but with “nonetheless plenty of suggestive evidence that indicates this really is a good idea, and one who’s potential benefits almost surely outweigh the costs.” 

9) Among the various diet trends I’ve been interested in, I was pretty intrigued by this high/low glycemic index thing for a while.  Now, I just simply try and focus on more healthy food and calorie counting when I really want to lose weight.  Interestingly, some solid research suggests it doesn’t actually matter all that much.  

High-glycemic index (high-GI) foods (so-called fast carbs) have been hypothesized to promote fat storage and increase risk of obesity. To clarify whether dietary GI impacts body weight, we searched PubMed and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews for observational studies reporting associations between BMI and dietary GI, and for meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing low-GI and high-GI diets for weight loss. Data on 43 cohorts from 34 publications, totaling 1,940,968 adults, revealed no consistent differences in BMI when comparing the highest with the lowest dietary GI groups. In the 27 cohort studies that reported results of statistical comparisons, 70% showed that BMI was either not different between the highest and lowest dietary GI groups (12 of 27 cohorts) or that BMI was lower in the highest dietary GI group (7 of 27 cohorts). Results of 30 meta-analyses of RCTs from 8 publications demonstrated that low-GI diets were generally no better than high-GI diets for reducing body weight or body fat. One notable exception is that low-GI diets with a dietary GI at least 20 units lower than the comparison diet resulted in greater weight loss in adults with normal glucose tolerance but not in adults with impaired glucose tolerance. While carbohydrate quality, including GI, impacts many health outcomes, GI as a measure of carbohydrate quality appears to be relatively unimportant as a determinant of BMI or diet-induced weight loss. Based on results from observational cohort studies and meta-analyses of RCTs, we conclude that there is scant scientific evidence that low-GI diets are superior to high-GI diets for weight loss and obesity prevention.

10) Of course Democrats’ plans to make Medicare a lot better are going to come under zealous assault from those who may stand to lose, such as dentists and insurers.  Money before better health for more Americans, of course.  

11) I really need to write another post about boosters, especially in regard to J&J.  For now:

As vaccine makers set their sights on boosters, new studies unveiled on Wednesday from Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech demonstrated that extra shots can dramatically raise antibodies against the coronavirus.

The companies said they were submitting the new data to the Food and Drug Administration for evaluation, and Pfizer has formally asked the agency to authorize a booster shot. The Biden administration said last week that it wants to provide booster shots for all Americans eight months after vaccination.

The Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine was absent from the government’s booster plan announced last week. But with the new data, the company hopes to be part of the initial distribution of additional shots, which could happen as early as September…

In its new study, Johnson & Johnson tracked 17 volunteers from last year’s clinical trial. When given a booster shot at six months, their antibodies against the coronavirus jumped nine times as high as after the first dose. The data has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

Small studies of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots have found comparable jumps in antibody levels, as the companies reported on recent earnings calls.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech released new data from 306 people showing that a third dose given five to eight months after the second caused a strong immune response. The level of antibodies against the coronavirus in the volunteers more than tripled, the companies reported.

The side effects of a third injection were about the same as after the initial two doses, the companies said. The underlying data was not included in the news release, nor were the dates or location of the study specified. The companies said they were preparing a scientific publication describing the research.

12) I didn’t even realize today that an open tab from an old (i.e., 2020) article was actually about epistemic trespassing.  “Which Experts Should You Listen to during the Pandemic?
It should be a no-brainer: your best bet is to follow those who have actual expertise.”  Turns out Ballantyne’s twitter thread was better because I had a bunch of issues with this.  Basically, using a bunch of anecdotes of “epistemic trespassing” to say, “see, and they were wrong.”

Trespassers lack that well-tailored expertise. What they actually do know does not always transfer to new and different topics. Worse, they often lack the awareness that such tailored expertise exists. Their gaps in knowledge remain invisible to them.

Meanwhile, let’s ignore the fact that all sorts of people with “tailored expertise” kept on insisting on “droplet” transmission and denying airborne for months and months after many without this “tailored expertise” had correctly concluded otherwise.  Sure, ceteris paribus, go with those with the real expertise.  But, quite often, not else is equal.  I’ll take my ivermectin now :-).

13) Interesting take from Frum, “The One Thing That Could’ve Changed the War in Afghanistan: Had Osama bin Laden been killed or captured in December 2001, justice would have been served in the way Americans like: fast, hard, and cheap.”

Had the United States caught and killed Osama bin Laden in December 2001, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would have faded away almost immediately afterward. I cannot prove that. It’s only an opinion from my vantage point as one of President George W. Bush’s speechwriters in 2001 and 2002.

Had U.S. forces succeeded against bin Laden in 2001, justice would have been served in the way Americans like: fast, hard, and cheap. Republicans could have campaigned in the elections of 2002 as the winners of a completed war—and pivoted then to domestic concerns. Remember, if George W. Bush learned one single lesson from his father’s presidency, it was that even the most overwhelming military success does not translate into reelection. In November 1992, the elder Bush won 37 percent of the vote against a Democratic nominee who had opposed the triumphant Gulf War.

Bin Laden’s survival doomed any idea of pivoting back to domestic concerns. Without a kill or capture of bin Laden to show, the swift overthrow of the Taliban government seemed very much a consolation prize.

The road opened to the Iraq War.

Again, this is only one man’s opinion, but I don’t believe Bush was yet committed to a ground war against Saddam Hussein when he delivered his “Axis of Evil” speech in January 2002. That speech identified Iraq’s weapons potential as a deadly serious security threat. It said the same of Iran’s and North Korea’s weapons potential, and Bush had no intention of fighting either of them. There were and are many ways to address weapons potential short of a ground war, whether sanctions or sabotage or air strikes.

Yet in the year after that speech, the decision for war coalesced. Something had to be done against Islamic terrorism that was not Afghanistan; the Iraq War became that something. A strange dichotomy split the U.S. foreign-policy elite. Prominent figures in the Bush administration—Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—wished fiercely to escape Afghanistan. This wish was partly because of their determination to finish off Saddam Hussein, but it was also a policy preference in its own right. (For what little it’s worth, that’s how I personally felt at the time: However steep the odds against a stable future for Iraq, that urbanized and literate country was a more promising terrain for U.S. strategic goals than hopeless Afghanistan.)

14) Good stuff from Pew, “How Americans feel about ‘cancel culture’ and offensive speech in 6 charts”

In the September 2020 survey, Americans said they believed calling out others on social media is more likely to hold people accountable than punish people who don’t deserve it. Overall, 58% of adults said that in general, when people publicly call others out on social media for posting content that might be considered offensive, they are more likely to hold people accountable. In comparison, 38% said this kind of action is more likely to punish people who don’t deserve it.

A chart showing that partisans differ over whether calling out others on social media for potentially offensive content represents accountability or punishment

Views on this question differed sharply by political party. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to say that this type of action holds people accountable (75% vs. 39%). In contrast, 56% of Republicans – but just 22% of Democrats – said this generally punishes people who don’t deserve it.

In a separate report using data from the same September 2020 survey, 55% of Americans said many people take offensive content they see online too seriously, while a smaller share (42%) said offensive content online is too often excused as not a big deal.

A chart showing that Democrats, Republicans are increasingly divided on whether offensive content online is taken too seriously, as well as the balance between free speech, feeling safe online

Americans’ attitudes again differed widely by political party. Roughly six-in-ten Democrats (59%) said offensive content online is too often excused as not a big deal, while just a quarter of Republicans agreed – a 34 percentage point gap. And while 72% of Republicans said many people take offensive content they see online too seriously, about four-in-ten Democrats (39%) said the same.

15) What could be better?  Matt Grossman interviews Ezra Klein about how political science informs our understandings of politics in the modern world.

16) Really, really interesting analysis from Chait: “Why the Media Is Worse for Biden Than Trump”

And they’re right: Conservative media really does command enormous audiences that frequently dwarf its mainstream-news counterparts. But this merely underscores the fact that what we think of as “the media” only accounts for a portion of the American news-media diet. The other half of the media is simply a vehicle for partisan propaganda. And whatever its failings, the last week has amply demonstrated once again that the nonconservative mainstream media is not that.

This is not necessarily to deny that the mainstream media has some kinds of liberal bias. It’s certainly true that, as the electorate has grown more polarized by education, the mainstream media’s near-total reliance on college graduates has made it much more socially liberal than the overall country. (One stark example of this bias was the stampede last year to dismiss the COVID-19 lab-leak hypothesis as a “racist conspiracy theory.”) For the sake of argument, I am willing to concede that this liberal bias outweighs other cross-cutting biases. I would simply maintain that liberal bias is not the only determinant of media coverage.

Above all else, it treats bad news as more important than good news. And so, while mainstream media often covers Republican presidents critically, it metes out the same treatment to Democratic presidents. For instance, the American media’s coverage of COVID — which a study found to be more relentlessly negative than coverage in almost any other country — probably hurt Trump, but now it’s hurting Biden. Even many situations that a Democratic president handles almost perfectly — think of President Obama’s innovative response to the BP oil spill or the Ebola outbreak — will produce little reward, just scary headlines disappearing and the subject being dropped in favor of the next looming disaster.

Traditional journalistic norms may have weakened, especially in subjects like culture and sports, but they remain intact in most newsrooms, and especially in political coverage. Those norms enshrine a certain definition of objectivity that implicitly favors, in addition to social liberalism, hawkish foreign policy, deficit reduction, and bipartisanship.

Putting aside the ethics of the media’s approach, the political effect seems clear enough. Most Democratic voters will experience Democratic administrations as a mixed bag, at best. Republican voters, who mostly absorb the news through party-aligned media, will experience Republican administrations as an unmitigated triumph. The four-year experiment in Trump proved conclusively just how low the conservative media’s standards of truthfulness and competence are for a Republican president. If nothing else, Trump proved conservative media will support anything its party’s leader does.

Even the most dishonest, incompetent, and scandal-ridden Republican presidency imaginable — which more or less describes the one we just had — will still have a media environment divided almost equally between scorching criticism and obsequious fawning. On Trump’s worst days, the Fox News chyrons depicted him as a triumphal leader. On Biden’s best days, the conservative media was still giving him hell. In recent days, CNN and MSNBC looked a lot like Fox News, all hyping chaos in Afghanistan 24/7. That is the kind of comprehensive media hostility Trump never had to worry about.

Police reform– NC Edition

From the N&O:

For the first time, North Carolina could soon keep track of when police officers kill people, or are caught lying under oath in court, or receive complaints from the community.

If Gov. Roy Cooper signs a criminal justice bill that passed the N.C. General Assembly with near-unanimous support in recent days, state officials will be ordered to start tracking that sort of information.

The bill, Senate Bill 300, is a bipartisan effort to crack down on bad cops — and to try to figure out whether problems like excessive force in the criminal justice system are confined to a small number of officers, or if they are more systemic.

“One of those things that shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but often becomes a partisan issue, is criminal justice reform,” said Sen. Danny Britt, a Lumberton Republican and the bill’s lead sponsor.

The bill would create several databases to track police use-of-force and disciplinary issues, but much of the information would not be available to the public, like details about which officers have been secretly banned from testifying in court for issues like lying under oath. That information would be available for the first time ever to the state boards that grant or take away the certifications required to work in law enforcement, but would continue to be hidden from the general public.

To quote myself from twitter…This bill is not perfect, but it is substantial progress. The politics on police reform has genuinely shifted in a positive way and real changes are happening. Not as fast or as big as activists would like, but things are getting better.

Quick hits (part II)

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

Key Findings

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop being “savvy” and start being patriotic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

2) Very good stuff on the evolution of Covid:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8) Good stuff from Ed Yong on Delta:

1. The vaccines are still beating the variants.

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

2. The variants are pummeling unvaccinated people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See eg Shoblock et al:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10) Frank Bruni:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18) Onion FTW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

2) National Geographic on Delta:

Why is the Delta variant so scary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1980: 2.0

1985: 3.3

1990: 7.1 (Still an absurdly low number)

1995: 13.2

2000: 14.9

2005: 16.8

2010: 18.1

2015: 24.1

2020: 34.6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

7) Dhruv Khullar on Delta in the New Yorker:

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

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

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

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

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

180ism has three core components.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

10) Drum on the increased murder rate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the quotes from the lecture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

19) And Drum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Disturbing stuff from Brownstein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choices have consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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