It’s the guns!!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider Mississippi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) I am always here for deconstructions of originalism!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the previously-cited Dimitri Melhorn noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14) Derek Thompson is so right about human progress:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18) Zeynep on the FDA and kids’ vaccines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The low-hanging hemp of legal marijuana

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

The poll also found:

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

1) I know a good number of you are going to find this one really interesting, “What the ‘Active Grandparent Hypothesis’ Can Tell Us About Aging Well: The need for healthy, active grandparents who can help with child-rearing may be encoded in our genes.”

Why is physical activity so good for us as we age? According to a novel new theory about exercise, evolution and aging, the answer lies, in part, in our ancestral need for grandparents.

The theory, called the “Active Grandparent Hypothesis” and detailed in a recent editorial in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that in the early days of our species, hunter-gatherers who lived past their childbearing years could pitch in and provide extra sustenance and succor to their grandchildren, helping those descendants survive. The theory also makes the case that it was physical activity that helped hunter-gatherers survive long enough to become grandparents — an idea that has potential relevance for us today, because it may explain why exercise is good for us in the first place.

Most of us probably think we already know why we should exercise. We have ample evidence that physical activity of almost any kind improves heart health, reduces the risks and severity of multiple diseases and in many ways just makes us feel better…

Early humans had to move around often to hunt for food, the thinking goes, and those who moved the most and found the most food were likeliest to survive. Over eons, this process led to the selection of genes that were optimized by plentiful physical activity. Physical activity likewise appears to jump-start various cell processes controlled by genes that help to promote health. In this way, evolution favored the most active tribespeople, who tended to live the longest and could then step in to help with the grandchildren, furthering active families’ survival.

In other words, exercise is good for us, they point out in their new paper, because long ago, the youngest and most vulnerable humans needed grandparents, and those grandparents needed to be vigorous and mobile to help keep the grandkids nourished.

Crucially, the new Active Grandparents paper also delves into what it is about physical activity that makes it still so necessary for healthy aging today. For one thing, moving around uses up energy that might otherwise be stored as fat, which, in excess, can contribute to diseases of modern living, such as Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Lieberman and his co-authors write.

Activity also sets off a cascade of effects that strengthen us. “Exercise is a kind of stress,” Dr. Lieberman told me. It slightly tears muscles and strains blood vessels and organs. In response, a large body of exercise science shows, our bodies initiate a variety of cellular mechanisms that fix the tears and strains and, in most cases, overbuild the affected parts. “It’s as if you spill coffee on the floor, clean it up, and your floor winds up cleaner than it was,” Dr. Lieberman said. This interior overreaction probably is especially important when we are older, he continued. Without exercise and the accompanying repairs, then, aging human bodies work less well. We wear down. We cannot care for the grandkids.

Fundamentally, Dr. Lieberman said, lack of exercise during aging explains why there is a difference between the human life span — how many years we live — and health span — how many of those years we remain in generally good health.

2) Good stuff here, “Teachers In America Were Already Facing Collapse. COVID Only Made It Worse” though I’m here for this anecdote:

“Five years ago, it was an issue in that it was kids just texting each other,” said M., an art teacher in Northern Virginia who requested going by her first initial to speak freely. Now, she says, she’s observed more passive content consumption in lieu of communication. “​​I was watching one student make their way through the entire third and fourth season of Bojack Horseman,” she said.

3) More of this, please, “Colorado Approves Law That Gives Kids ‘Reasonable Independence'”

Colorado has now become the fourth state to pass what was originally dubbed the Free-Range Parenting Law when Utah passed it in 2018.  Texas and Oklahoma followed suit last year.

But Colorado is the first blue state to pass the legislation. That’s great, because at Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, we have always maintained that childhood independence is a bipartisan issue. Many Republicans appreciate our work to promote can-do kids and keep the government out of everyday family decisions, and many Democrats appreciate the same exact thing.

The new law narrows the definition of neglect, making it clear that a child is not neglected simply because a parent lets them engage in normal childhood activities, like playing outside without adult supervision or staying home alone for a bit.

4) This thread on why it’s so hard to supply Urkaine with weapons systems is so good.

5) Don’t fall for this, “A Sinister Way to Beat Multifactor Authentication Is on the Rise”

6) This was pretty interesting, “This Rap Song Helped Sentence a 17-Year-Old to Prison for Life”

Tommy Munsdwell Canady was in middle school when he wrote his first rap lyrics. He started out freestyling for friends and family, and after two of his cousins were fatally shot, he found solace in making music. “Before I knew it, my pain started influencing all my songs,” he told me in a letter. By his 15th birthday, Mr. Canady was recording and sharing his music online. His tracks had a homemade sound: a pulsing beat mixed with vocals, the words hard to make out through ambient static. That summer, in 2014, Mr. Canady released a song on SoundCloud, “I’m Out Here,” that would change his life.

In Racine, Wis., where Mr. Canady lived, the police had been searching for suspects in three recent shootings. One of the victims, Sémar McClain, 19, had been found dead in an alley with a bullet in his temple, his pocket turned out, a cross in one hand and a gold necklace with a pendant of Jesus’ face by his side. The crime scene investigation turned up no fingerprints, weapons or eyewitnesses. Then, in early August, Mr. McClain’s stepfather contacted the police about a song he’d heard on SoundCloud that he believed mentioned Mr. McClain’s name and referred to his murder.

On Aug. 6, 2014, about a week after Mr. Canady r­­eleased “I’m Out Here,” a SWAT team stormed his home with a “no knock” search warrant. Lennie Farrington, Mr. Canady’s great-grandmother and legal guardian, was up early washing her clothes in the kitchen sink when the police broke through her front door. Mr. Canady was asleep. “They rushed in my room with assault rifles telling me to put my hands up,” he recalled. “I was in the mind state of This is a big misunderstanding.” He was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and armed robbery.

Prosecutors offered Mr. Canady a plea deal, but he refused, insisting he was innocent. “Honestly, I’m not accepting that,” he told the judge. He decided to go to trial.

I have been reporting on the use of rap lyrics in criminal investigations and trials for more than two years, building a database of cases like Mr. Canady’s in partnership with the University of Georgia and Type Investigations. We have found that over the past three decades, rap — in the form of lyrics, music videos and album images — has been introduced as evidence by prosecutors in hundreds of cases, from homicide to drug possession to gang charges. Rap songs are sometimes used to argue that defendants are guilty even when there’s little other evidence linking them to the crime. What these cases reveal is a serious if lesser-known problem in the courts: how the rules of evidence contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

7) Hell of a NYT interactive (using the gift link for this), “How Kyiv Has Withstood Russia’s Attacks”

8) This is cool, “The Farthest Star Sheds New Light on the Early Universe: A cosmic fluke helped Hubble spy Earendel, a giant star at the edge of the known universe that could tell us more about what happened after the Big Bang.”

Earendel’s discovery offers a glimpse into the first billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just 7 percent of its current age. At 12.9 billion light-years away, it smashes the previous record of 9 billion, which was also set by Hubble when it observed a giant blue star called Icarus in 2018.

Until now, the smallest objects seen at this distance have been clusters of stars inside early galaxies. “It’s quite crazy that we can see a star that far away,” says Guillaume Mahler, from the Center of Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who was part of an international team that worked on the research. “No one would have hoped that we would have been able to see it.”

In fact, Earendel might be the farthest star we are ever able to see because spotting it was only possible thanks to what NASA astronomer Michelle Thaler calls “a coincidence of stellar proportions.” The star happened to be perfectly lined up with both Hubble and a kind of natural zoom lens offered by a huge galaxy cluster that sits between Earth and Earendel. Through a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, this cluster, called WHL0137-08, acted as a magnifying glass, warping the fabric of space and amplifying the light of distant objects behind it. “This cluster of galaxies is actually producing this wonderful lens, kind of a natural telescope—a telescope made of space itself,” Thaler says.

That amplified Earendel’s light by a factor of thousands and allowed Hubble to see farther than ever before. “It’s an incredible distance. And what’s special about it is, because the light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us, we’re seeing the universe practically as a baby,” says Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research. She and others liken the phenomenon of gravitational lensing to the bright patterns of light at the bottom of a swimming pool, which are created by ripples of water on the surface catching and concentrating the sunlight.

9) Jeffrey Sachs on a really interesting free speech case.  Also, Oberlin [eye roll]

10) Psychology Today, ‘Are Sex Differences in Mate Choice Really Universal?” Yes.

A few things stood out about the findings, reported in an article in Psychological Science. First, in every society Walter and colleagues examined, women placed more importance on financial prospects than did men (see the Figure). Second, men in most societies placed more emphasis on a woman’s physical attractiveness, but this was not universal. The sex difference was close to zero in a couple of the societies, and very slightly reversed in a couple of others. Third, the biggest difference, one that held in all societies studied, was that women were married to older men (and conversely men were married to younger women). This difference varied according to participants’ age, and was very small for people around 20 years old, but got substantially larger as people got older (in line with findings that Keefe and I collected from numerous societies three decades age, and which I discussed in the post “When statistics are seriously sexy).

In the new data set, Walter and colleagues did not replicate the finding that physical attractiveness was more desired in countries with higher levels of disease-carrying microbes and parasites. That might be because, since the time of the earlier studies, less developed countries have progressed greatly in health care, and vaccinations for formerly deadly diseases have become nearly universal (as discussed by Hans Rosling, see “10 biases that blind us to a world getting better“).

Walter and colleagues did not find much support for the idea that sex differences in mate preferences are related to a country’s level of gender inequality. They did find that the age gap between men and their wives was greater in countries with greater inequality. This correlation may or may not inform us about causation — age gaps are lower in countries where women are less likely to age rapidly, due to lower birth rates and better health care, and women in those countries are also better educated, which means that they marry slightly later, rather than in their teens. Nevertheless, the general tendency for women and men to differ more over the lifespan held true across societies.

11) Really interesting free Yglesias post on theories of history, Ukraine, etc.

Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” and Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” annoyed seemingly everyone when they came out in the early ‘90s. And yet, something about their core arguments was compelling enough that people still reference them both decades later.

I’ve been thinking about these books in the context of the war in Ukraine and the varied responses from countries around the world. The scale of the mobilization against Russia certainly has a “history is back” flavor. Fukuyama fans maintained throughout the Global War on Terror that his book never argued that historical events would stop occurring, but it did argue that a certain flavor of big picture ideological contestation was a thing of the past. And while the volume of sanctioning against Russia is certainly a big deal, it is meaningfully contested. Russia has a powerful ally in China, a durable relationship with India, and many countries around the world who just don’t think a showdown over Ukraine is worth the cost.

But many wealthy states do see Russian aggression against Ukraine as worth upending the global economy, and if you had to characterize these countries, I think the idea of “the West” — complete with the seemingly bizarre gerrymander that assigns Portugal to the same cultural group as Australia rather than Brazil — is useful. So score one for the Clash of Civilizations? Perhaps not.

The current resurgence of great power politics throws into relief the extent to which the civilizations thesis doesn’t hold up in detail. In particular, if you want to understand what’s going on in Ukraine, Fukuyama’s Neo-Hegelian view sheds much more light on the matter than framing the conflict as a war between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

12) Wow, this was such an interesting piece on the important role that Stuart Sutcliffe played in the early Beatles before his untimely death. 

13) And lots of interesting discussion about this online this week, “Mackenzie Fierceton was championed as a former foster youth who had overcome an abusive childhood and won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Then the University of Pennsylvania accused her of lying.”

14) Twitter is a weird place. This is now far and away my most engaged-with tweet ever.

Also, amusing to me the number of people defending this about how awful it is to pump gas, etc.

15) Speaking of insane, how did I not know about this movie?

16) Speaking of craziness, how did I not know about this, “Flamingo No. 492 Is Still on the Run 17 Years Later: A fisherman’s sighting in March confirmed that a flamingo that fled a Kansas zoo in 2005 has defied the odds to live a Pixar-worthy life in the wilds of Texas.”

17) Because people make meth out of pseudoephedrine they started selling OTC decongestants that don’t actually work.  I love this, “The Uselessness of Phenylephrine

All this means that even if pseudoephedrine were more freely available, it might not be as much of an illegal article of commerce as it was twenty years ago.

But be that as it may: the fact remains that its alleged replacement, phenylephrine, is of no real use and does not deserve its FDA listing. There’s no reason to think that it’s a safer compound than pseudoephedrine or one with fewer side effects – if you can get enough of it into your blood, you’ll probaby have a rather similar profile. The only reason it’s sold is to have some alternative to offer consumers, even if it’s a worthless one. There have been several attempts over the years to do something about this (here’s an earlier one from the authors of the current paper), but absolutely nothing has happened. Perhaps the agency does not wish to be put in the position of having nothing available than can be put out on the open shelves, and perhaps the pharmacies themselves prefer things as they are as well. It’s for sure that the companies producing phenylephrine-containing products like the current situation a lot better than the alternative. But for people who actually want to be able to breath for a while as we enter allergy season, wouldn’t it be better just to stop pretending and to stop wasting everyone’s time and money?

18) There’s people I disagree with and they make me think.  And then there’s people I just disagree with like Roxanne Gay. No, people should be able to take a joke. “Jada Pinkett Smith Shouldn’t Have to ‘Take a Joke.’ Neither Should You.”

19) Not surprising, “How you think about physical pain can make it worse: It’s not all in your head. But a promising new approach to treatment may offer relief to many sufferers of chronic pain.”

Chronic pain afflicts some 20 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The devastating consequences of addiction to opioid painkillers—which in 2019 alone killed nearly 50,000 people in the United States—have motivated researchers to look for innovative treatments beyond new drugs. Research on alternative approaches is “absolutely exploding,” says Padma Gulur, director of the pain management strategy program at the Duke University Health System. “All of us are looking for non-opioid, and frankly non-pharmacological, options” to avoid unwanted side effects and addiction, she says.

One promising area of research is looking at the way “catastrophizing” about pain—thinking it will never get better, that it’s the worst ever, or that it will ruin your life—plays a central role in whether these predictions come true. This effect is very different from the dismissive “it’s all in your head” comments chronic-pain patients sometimes hear from doctors when they can’t pinpoint a physical cause, says Yoni Ashar, a psychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College and coauthor of the study in which Waldrip participated. Some contemporary researchers even dislike the term “catastrophizing” since it can imply the thinker is at fault.

“You can have very real, debilitating pain without any biomedical injury in your body because of changes in the pain processing pathways,” Ashar says. It turns out, he says, that “the main organ of pain is actually the brain.” And that’s why for some sufferers, treatments like pain reprocessing therapy seem to help.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Yglesias:

Because the thing about college is a lot of people like it! Not just because college is fun and has parties and stuff, but because a lot of people learn a lot of interesting things at college. I think I’m pretty decent at learning things on my own. But I took plenty of classes in college that involved close readings of dense texts or detailed technical matters, and I’m very bad at studying that kind of thing independently. Without the formal structure of a technical logic class, I’d never have been able to get through the proof of the diagonal lemma or all the technical aspects of Tarski’s undefinability theorem or Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Some people absolutely could do that. But I couldn’t.

The discipline of formal learning helped a lot with that. And with reading “Anna Karenina.” And with understanding David Lewis’ arguments about causation and possibility.

And even though I generally don’t use this information in my day-to-day work, it actually does come up from time to time. But more to the point, doing the work of struggling through it taught me things about how to learn and how to know what I don’t know.

2) Good social science:

Do policy makers in both parties represent the opinions of the richest Americans, ignoring those of median income? We find that the two political parties primarily represent different interest group sectors, rather than public economic classes. The Republican Party and business interests are aligned across all issue areas and are more often aligned with the opinions of the richest Americans (especially on economic policy). Democrats more often represent middle class opinions and are uniformly aligned with advocacy groups. Support from both parties is associated with policy adoption, but party influence cannot explain the association between affluent opinions and policy outcomes. Rather than an oligarchic political system, these patterns show competition among organized elites that still provides multiple potential paths for unequal public class influence.

3) Free speech debate:

Cancel culture comes from our natural instinct to silence dissent. The desire for compliance and conformity is reflected in most of human history. It’s deeply ingrained in all of us. We did not have to learn to censor others, we had to learn to be tolerant of nonconformity. We had to learn not to burn the heretic.

Cancel culture is a useful term for delineating the social media era expression of the ancient desire for conformity. Pervasive social media means that things that might have previously been ignored––angry letters sent to The New York Times––are now potentially successful efforts to mobilize a sufficient number of people to ruin lives. Early attempts to describe the new phenomena are instructive, including my own short book Freedom From Speech (2014), the documentary Can We Take a Joke? (2015), and Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (2015).

So how would I define cancel culture? Broadly and tentatively, of course. How about: 

“Cancel culture” is a term to refer to a relatively recent (post-2013) uptick in—and success of—ideologically driven efforts to get individuals fired or otherwise cast out of acceptable society for non-conforming speech or actions, including speech that would have once been considered trivial, private, or unrelated to someone’s job. It is tightly related to the rise in social media, which allows for unparalleled collective policing of ideological norms, and the comparative ease of creating online “outrage mobs.” 

Cancel culture is in my view, the progeny of campus “callout culture” that Jonathan Haidt and I explore in our book TheCoddling of the American Mind (2019). Some characteristics of campus callout culture looks similar to cancel culture, including: 1) the conflation of expressions of opinion with physical violence, 2) the use of ad hominem rhetorical tactics which delegitimize the person and soften or ignore the substance of the argument), 3) the elimination of concern for the intent of targeted speech, relying solely on its claimed effect, 4) a high reliance on guilt by association and theories of “moral pollution” (a concept well explained by my colleague Pamela Paresky), and 5) appeals to authority to punish or remove the targeted speaker (also known as moral dependency). None of these criteria are required to be part of cancel culture, but some or all of these characteristics often are. 

Cancel culture often relies on speech that is already unprotected under First Amendment law, including threats of bodily harm and outright harassment. In other cases, cancel culture demands behavior from others that would be unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful. While, for example, you’re absolutely free to advocate for less free speech by, for example, demanding a professor be fired for their expression, if a public university were to act on those demands it would violate the law, plain and simple. 

The forces of conformity are very strong in humans, and we’ve given them superpowers in recent days. It must be opposed. Diversity of opinion, the right to individual conscience, the power of thought experimentation and devil’s advocacy are important for a free and innovative society.


Black People Less Likely

5) Tim Noah on taxing the rich:

Manchin gave a much better reason Monday for opposing Biden’s billionaire tax. You can’t be taxed “on things you don’t have,” he said. “You might have it on paper. There are other ways for people to pay their fair share.”

Indeed there are.

You can lay on higher tax brackets for incomes well above $628,300, which is where the top marginal rate of 37 percent kicks in now for married couples filing jointly. Biden proposes raising that top rate to 39.6 percent, which is where it was under Barack Obama, but he doesn’t add any new brackets. There ought to be three or four piled on top, with the marginal tax rate maxing out at perhaps 70 percent, which was the top rate in the 1960s and 1970s. (Before that, the top rate was 90 percent or more.)

You can also tax capital gains the same as wage income, which Biden more or less proposes for people who earn in excess of $1 million. Biden would raise the top capital gains rate from the current 20 percent to 37 percent, which—combined with an existing net investment income tax of 3.8 percent—would lift the effective top tax rate on capital to 40.8 percent. Really, that’s the way it should be for all investors, not just those who earn more than $1 million.

You can also raise the top corporate tax rate above the pitiful 21 percent to which President Donald Trump lowered it from the previous 35 percent. Biden now proposes raising it to 28 percent. A decent case can be made that 28 percent would make the U.S. competitive with comparable industrial democracies—provided our tax code eliminated an accompanying thicket of deductions. That was the original idea, following the example of the 1986 income-tax reform bill, when both parties discussed reforming corporate taxation a decade ago. But of course Trump lowered the top rate to 21 percent without eliminating any deductions, and in proposing an increase to 28 percent Biden isn’t eliminating any deductions either. Absent such housecleaning, the top corporate income tax rate should go back to 35 percent.

You can also tax unrealized capital gains at death, as Biden proposes. As things stand now, when you die and your assets transfer to your heirs, the only capital gains they must pay taxes on when they sell are those accumulated after they received the inheritance.

These reforms are all better ways than Biden’s billionaire tax to raise taxes on the rich. But it’s doubtful Manchin would support them. Indeed, except for the billionaire tax, every proposed Biden tax change cited above was also proposed by Biden last year, and Biden’s fellow Democrats—not just Manchin—shot them down. The Democrats rejected these tax changes, even though the changes didn’t go far enough.

Biden’s own timidity is reflected in his pledge not to raise taxes on anybody earning less than $400,000. The Democrats have been pampering the haute bourgeoisie in this fashion for more than a decade, with the protected class growing ever richer. President Barack Obama pledged not to raise taxes on anybody earning less than $250,000; now the magic number is $400,000. The notion that anybody today earning less than $400,000 (or even $250,000) can’t afford to pay higher taxes is patently absurd. Richard Reeves, a British-American senior fellow at Brookings, says mass denial by the affluent of their economic circumstances is the most baffling phenomenon he’s encountered in his adopted home. “If you’re upper middle class and you’re comfortably making six figures as a household,” he told me, “then when we talk about the need to raise taxes on people who can afford it, we mean you.” But that’s a hard sell even to liberal Democrats.

So where do you end up if you’re a Democratic president? You end up, like Biden, proposing a tax on billionaires that you know will never become law.

6) Kareem FTW:

Some have romanticized Smith’s actions as that of a loving husband defending his wife. Comedian Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the movie Girls Trip with Pinkett Smith, praised Smith’s actions: “[F]or me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”

Actually, it was the opposite. Smith’s slap was also a slap to women. If Rock had physically attacked Pinkett Smith, Smith’s intervention would have been welcome. Or if he’d remained in his seat and yelled his post-slap threat, that would have been unnecessary, but understandable. But by hitting Rock, he announced that his wife was incapable of defending herself—against words. From everything I’d seen of Pinkett Smith over the years, she’s a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show.

This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor least they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This “women need men to defend them” is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.

7) Damn do I love Jeff Maurer, “Is There Even the Slightest Chance That We, As a Nation, Are Becoming Somewhat Humorless”

So: “Don’t make fun of the weak” is a good rule. When someone says “you can’t make fun of me,” they’re basically saying “I’m weak.” Which is okay. Another sign of societal progress is moving away from the dumbass machismo that requires never admitting weakness. This stupidity is what causes some dudes to respond to any injury smaller than a whale harpoon to the brain with “I’m fine”. We were all weak once, most of us will be weak again, protecting the weak is something a healthy society does.

But let’s also recognize that weakness is not a good state of being. It’s precarious; it doesn’t feel good. Protecting a weak person is Plan B; Plan A should be for the person to be strong. In the context of comedy, a weak person doesn’t get to be in on the fun; they have to be the Jehovah’s Witness kid forced to sit in the library while the rest of the class celebrates a birthday. By labeling a person “protected”, we’re acknowledging that they — unfortunately — can’t enjoy the feeling of safety that comedy provides…

mpathy protects the weak, but a person with too much empathy (yes, I think a person can have too much empathy) can enable perpetual weakness. And a culture that over-values empathy (yes, I think a culture can over-value empathy2) can cause people to encourageweakness in others so that they can assume the hero protector role.

Let me make this less abstract. In her comedy special Nanette, Hannah Gadsby criticized self-deprecation by gay comics. I can see where she’s coming from: Comedy that stereotyped gay people was common very recently. When I was starting out in the mid-2000s, you’d often see a gay comic doing borderline minstrelry. I completely understand Gadsby’s aversion to comedy that gets a laugh at gay people’s expense.

But she applies her criticism in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. 17 minutes into her act, Gadsby executes an abrupt tonal shift, announcing: “I have to quit comedy.” Here’s her explanation:

“I have been questioning this whole comedy thing. I don’t feel very comfortable in it anymore. … I had built a career out of self-deprecating humor. That’s what I’ve built my career on, and I don’t want to do that anymore. (applause) Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility; it’s humiliation.”

I respectfully disagree with that one thousand percent. Gadsby is ruling out the possibility that healthy self-deprecation could ever come from a gay comic. She’s declaring that gay comics — gay people — can only ever exist “on the margins”. In doing so, she relegates gay people to permanently weak and vulnerable status. I think that’s an inaccurate view of the world and frankly a pretty fucked-up thing to do.

When a comedian self-deprecates, they’re saying “I can take it.” It’s a form of ju-jitsu in which the comic demonstrates strength by admitting weakness; they’re saying “Here are my flaws, but who gives a shit? I’m fine.” The audience laughs because they feel comfortable; they see a person who’s flawed but unafraid. On some primitive level, people get the signal: “We’re all safe here.”

Gadsby seems to believe that no gay person could ever possess that strength. She uses the language of the social justice left (“marginalized communities”) that assumes that certain groups will always be weak and unsafe. While I acknowledge that some people in those groups are sometimes weak and unsafe — and sometimes specifically because of their membership in that group — I can’t over-emphasize how toxic I believe Gadsby’s mindset to be. It’s the polar opposite of empowerment; it’s a plea for empathy that condemns large swaths of humanity to permanent on-the-brink-of-crisis status. Gadsby also indicates that she not only thinks that this state of affairs is true now, but that it will always be true. It’s fatalism in its purest form…

The ability to take a joke is a positive trait. A society that places no limits on what’s “fair game” would be cruel, but a society that declares most things off limits would be treating people like children. When people can’t take a joke…well, that’s a shame. I hope those people get to a place where they can let go of their fear, because I’d like them to join in on the fun. I don’t know if our society is getting more humorless or not, but if the recent behavior of the guy who started his career doing funky fresh raps while wearing a sideways baseball hat is any indication, then we might be headed in the wrong direction.

8) This Chait profile of DeSantis is really good and you should read it, but my favorite part was this summation of Trump:

Many Republicans have tried to discern the source of Trump’s appeal and replicate it. As early as 2016, Ted Cruz was tacking to Trump’s right on abortion and guns, and Marco Rubio briefly tried to match Trump’s schoolyard insults, at one point making fun of the size of his hands. But Trump’s secret sauce with the base turned out to be his unwavering pugilism. Having spent more time than perhaps any other Republican candidate consuming conservative media, Trump had absorbed its message that conservative America is under assault by sinister liberal elites. He built a political style designed for the world depicted on Fox News, in which the Republican Party is always losing because its leaders are too weak to fight back.

Conservatives sum up his appeal with the phrase “But he fights.” As the “but” implies, they often acknowledge Trump’s flaws before praising his overriding instinct to attack their enemies. Even his errors can turn to his benefit. The more Trump draws howls of outrage from liberals and the media, the more he proves his tribal bona fides.

DeSantis has undertaken an almost clinical effort to manufacture and bottle this aspect of Trump’s style. He has repeated the Trumpian narrative that the party’s leaders have failed to take the fight to the enemy. “We cannot, we will not, go back to the days of the failed Republican Establishment of yesteryear,” he promised in 2021. DeSantis’s brand is, like Trump’s, a Republican who never compromises, never apologizes, and always fights — whether the issue is education, the pandemic, or even Trump’s misconduct. At the CPAC conference in his home state in February, he claimed that Democrats “want us to be second-class citizens” and assailed the “corrupt and dishonest legacy media.”

9) Bruni on DeSantis and “Don’t say gay”

DeSantis has deftly portrayed that nomenclature as liberal hysteria and leftist overreach.

But that, too, is unfair. There are reasons aplenty to balk at what Florida has done — to see it as more than a simple caveat affecting only students through the third grade. And I say that as someone who is not pushing instruction on matters gay or trans for students in that age range, who doesn’t care a whit whether a 7-year-old knows the name Harvey Milk, who agrees that parents’ sensibilities and sensitivities must be factored into how schools operate.

Here’s what DeSantis doesn’t cop to: a vagueness in the legislation’s language that suggests its potential application to children well beyond the third grade. Look at the words I’ve boldfaced in this clause of the law: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” What additional prohibitions — what future muzzling — are those phrases opening the door to?

It’s a necessary question, because it’s coupled with this one: What’s motivating the law’s promoters and supporters, who’ve lifted this issue above so many others with more relevance to, and impact on, the quality of Floridians’ everyday lives?

In case you missed it, DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, framed the bill as an important defense against pedophiles’ recruitment of children into homosexual activity. There’s no other way to read this tweet of hers: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.” She’s paid to articulate DeSantis’s viewpoints, and she’s peddling perhaps the nastiest, cruelest homophobic stereotype there is.

Under fire for those remarks, she said that she was using her personal Twitter account during her off-work hours. How very reassuring.

10) Okay, I’m going to actually come back to Chait for some stuff on DeSantis:

Acommon assumption of mainstream-media analysis of DeSantis is that he is merely pandering to Trump and his supporters and, as a graduate of Yale and Harvard, is too smart to actually believe what he is saying. This is a failure of imagination. DeSantis developed reactionary suspicions of democracy before Trump ever came along, which positioned him perfectly to straddle the elite-base divide within his party. In fact, DeSantis once wrote a book warning of the dangers of a megalomaniacal president who threatened to destroy the foundations of the republic. That president’s name was Barack Obama.

DeSantis published Dreams From Our Founding Fathers in 2011, when he was running for Congress. It is out of print and has received barely any attention in the media. DeSantis joked recently that the book “was read by about a dozen people.” But it provides deep insight into the worldview that has propelled him to this point.

Published at the height of the tea-party movement, Dreams From Our Founding Fathers made the case that Obama and his agenda were inimical to the Constitution and this country’s founding ideals. It is sprinkled with passages DeSantis would never have written after Trump took office. He notes accurately that the Founders “worried about the emergence of popular leaders who utilized demagoguery to obtain public support in service of their personal ambitions.” He flays Obama for alienating traditional allies, meeting with foreign dictators, and impugning American innocence with statements like “We sometimes make mistakes,” a far more measured assessment than Trump’s “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” He devotes an entire chapter to the importance of the president being personally humble, depicting Obama’s alleged excessive self-confidence as a disqualifying trait.

DeSantis’s obsession with media bias, which has since become a motif of his political style, clearly developed before he ran for office. He laces the book with bitter complaints that the media failed to vet Obama or expose his allegedly radical influences, while extensively citing criticisms of Obama that appeared in the mainstream press, oblivious to the contradiction. DeSantis is an exceedingly unreliable narrator, wrenching heavily abridged quotations out of context to distort their meaning. For example, he plucks the phrase “At a certain point you’ve made enough money” to characterize Obama as a radical socialist who wants to confiscate all income above some level, neglecting to note that Obama’s follow-up was: “But, you know, part of the American way is that you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or you’re providing a good service.”

Still, Dreams From Our Founding Fathers is much more interesting than a typical partisan screed. Its author, who majored in history and spent a year teaching the subject at a tony boarding school, has clearly given a great deal of thought to the book’s thesis: that Obama’s agenda of raising taxes on the rich and spending more money on the non-rich is an attack on the Constitution…

The Constitution, he argues, was designed to “prevent the redistribution of wealth through the political process.” The danger is that, as his fake Franklin quote suggests, people will support programs funded by taxing the rich that benefit themselves. “Popular pressure to redistribute wealth or otherwise undermine the rights of property,” he laments, “will ever be present.” The Constitution’s role, as DeSantis sees it, is to prevent popular majorities from enacting the economic policies they want…

DeSantis treats any further expansion of government as a mortal threat to the Constitution. Sentences like “Obamanomics represents a dramatic departure from the nation’s founding principles” and “Obama’s quest to ‘fundamentally transform the United States of America’ represents the type of political program that the Constitution was designed to prevent” are found in nearly every chapter. The word redistribution and its variants appear more than 150 times.

11) Kareem on Will Smith:

Some have romanticized Smith’s actions as that of a loving husband defending his wife. Comedian Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the movie Girls Trip with Pinkett Smith, praised Smith’s actions: “[F]or me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”

Actually, it was the opposite. Smith’s slap was also a slap to women. If Rock had physically attacked Pinkett Smith, Smith’s intervention would have been welcome. Or if he’d remained in his seat and yelled his post-slap threat, that would have been unnecessary, but understandable. But by hitting Rock, he announced that his wife was incapable of defending herself—against words. From everything I’d seen of Pinkett Smith over the years, she’s a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show.

This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor lest they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This “women need men to defend them” is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.

12) We need to stop convicting people when the only evidence is coerced confessions.

13) Beutler on Democrats and Clarence Thomas:

First, let’s review what we know, suspect, and don’t know about the Thomases’ conduct.

We know:

  • Ginni Thomas communicated with Donald Trump’s last White House Chief or Staff Mark Meadows, GOP members of Congress, other administration officials, and a network of elite right-wing lawyers including many of her husband’s former clerks, about overturning the election and re-installing Trump in power for an illegitimate second term.
  • She claimed to have discussed these matters as well with her “best friend.”
  • Also, “best friend” is her sobriquet for Clarence (which, let’s face it, would be incredibly heartwarming, if they weren’t quite so corrupt).
  • The January 6 committee knows about the Meadows communications, because he handed them over of his own accord, before contemptuously ending his cooperation with the committee.
  • There’s an unexplained gap in the available Thomas/Meadows correspondence between late November and after the insurrection.
  • There’s also an unexplained, eight hour gap in Trump’s insurrection day call log.
  • Filling those gaps will require the committee (and, hello Merrick Garland, DOJ?) to review other White House records and private telecommunications records. 
  • Congressional Republicans and Ginni Thomas have reacted with suspicious alarm at the thought of their phone records becoming public, and have retaliated against the two GOP members of the January 6 committee. Kevin McCarthy even threatened telecommunications companies with revenge if they cooperate with the January 6 committee.
  • Clarence Thomas participated in numerous election and coup-related cases before the Supreme Court, most suspiciously when he voted alone to hear Trump’s farcical legal challenge to the election, and then voted alone a year later to conceal Trump administration records from the January 6 committee.


Knowing all this, we thus strongly suspect, but can’t assert:

  • Ginni talked to her husband about efforts to overturn the election.
  • He had reason to believe Trump-era White House records would contain evidence of her involvement in (or adjacency to) the coup.
  • He took his vote to give the coup a fighting chance in court in futherance of his wife’s goal of ending constitutional government in the U.S.
  • He took his vote to conceal evidence from the January 6 committee corruptly, to protect his wife, and possibly to cover up other damning evidence.

And if we work to confirm or disprove what we suspect, we’d learn about things we really don’t know, such as:

  • To what extent Ginni Thomas was aware of or involved in non-procedural (that is, violent) efforts to overturn the government.
  • To what extent was her husband also aware that the plot his wife was at least privy to involved organized violence.  
  • How many other cases Thomas has ruled in to advance his wife’s interests.

I want answers; I think I’m entitled to them; I can handle the truth; etc etc. I also want politics to be more normal than it is, and that can’t happen if Democrats allow these revelations to be swept away by the news cycle…

As much as I appreciate any effort to get the party to do something rather than nothing, I’d like these Democrats, straddling the poles of their caucuses, to give a bit more thought to the inherent absurdity of demanding that if a Supreme Court justice was privy or party to a plot to overthrow the republic he must recuse himself from certain cases in the future. That an apparent enemy of constitutional government must follow the basic ethical rules of constitutional government. 

I appreciate that Democrats can’t make Thomas resign, and that if they impeach him, Senate Republicans will once again make themselves party to vast corruption by acquitting him of any wrongdoing. I even agree to some extent with Dan Pfeiffer that—because of this complicity—the ultimate recourse can only be for voters to punish Republicans for conspiring against the United States. 

But there will be no price to pay if voters never learn that something deeply wrong is afoot; that there’s a blood clot in the heart of our system of self-rule. Democrats who say this must fall to voters to remedy also must know that under this leadership team’s approach, that’ll never happen; Democrats can’t make this scandal a high-salience issue with short-lived demands for recusal that fall on deaf ears. 

And the key is, the alternative to what they’ve done isn’t “nothing.” There’s a great deal more they could do. 

  • They could subpoena Ginni Thomas’s testimony before the January 6 committee and/or the Judiciary and oversight committees. 
  • They could ask her under oath whether she discussed her desire or efforts to overturn the election with her husband.
  • They could subpoena records pertinent to previous cases where it appears Clarence Thomas worked as his wife’s agent on the Supreme Court.
  • If she refuses to appear or to answer questions, they could hold her in criminal contempt of Congress.
  • They could censure Thomas. 
  • They could impeach Thomas in the manner of an ultimate censure, foregrounding for voters that, because they are parties to corruption, Republicans will make sure he isn’t removed from office.

If I were a Democratic leader, I think I’d probably balance the competing wings of the party by saying something like, “we need to investigate this matter aggressively, because if what appears to be true is proved, it’s impeachable conduct.” That would subject the Thomases to an aggressive public fact-finding effort, and leave the door open to either another symbolic impeachment, or, alternatively, some kind of party-wide statement that Thomas’s continued service is intolerable—and that those protecting him are unfit for office. 

14) Thanks to RJ for this on Israeli efforts on lab-grown meat.  Plant-based or lab-grown, let’s just get some more high-quality and affordable alternatives out there. 

15) And, hey, how about some pork alternatives while we’re at it.  Because I hate stuff like this, “Supreme Court to Weigh California Law on Humane Treatment of Pigs
Trade groups challenged the law, which requires adequate space for breeding pigs to turn around, saying it unfairly burdens out-of-state farmers.”

16) Pretty cool NYT interactive on the once and future evolution of Covid.  I haven’t done enough “gift links” so, here’s one you should use. 

17) I’ve got pretty much zero interest in baseball these days, yet I found this article on the history and now re-positioning of 2nd base pretty interesting.  

18) The video in here is definitely must-see, “Snow Squall Leads to 50-Car Pileup on Pennsylvania Highway”

19) This seems worth paying attention to.  Especially for me given my daughter’s age, “Does Social Media Make Teens Unhappy? It May Depend on Their Age.
A large study in Britain found two specific windows of adolescence when some teenagers are most sensitive to social media.”

Analyzing survey responses of more than 84,000 people of all ages in Britain, the researchers identified two distinct periods of adolescence when heavy use of social media spurred lower ratings of “life satisfaction”: first around puberty — ages 11 to 13 for girls, and 14 to 15 for boys — and then again for both sexes around age 19.

Like many previous studies, this one found that the relationship between social media and an adolescent’s well-being was fairly weak. Still, it suggested that there were certain periods in development when teenagers may be most sensitive to the technology.

“We actually considered that the links between social media and well-being might be different across different ages — and found that that is indeed the case,” said Amy Orben, an experimental psychologist at Cambridge University, who led the study…

Still, research looking for a direct relationship between social media and well-being has not found much.

“There’s been absolutely hundreds of these studies, almost all showing pretty small effects,” said Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University who has conducted a meta-analysis of 226 such studies.

What is notable about the new study, said Dr. Hancock, who was not involved in the work, is its scope. It included two surveys in Britain totaling 84,000 people. One of those surveys followed more than 17,000 adolescents ages 10 to 21 over time, showing how their social media consumption and life-satisfaction ratings changed from one year to the next.

“Just in terms of scale, it’s fantastic,” Dr. Hancock said. The rich age-based analysis, he added, is a major improvement over previous studies, which tended to lump all adolescents together. “The adolescent years are not like some constant period of developmental life — they bring rapid changes,” he said.

The study found that during early adolescence, heavy use of social media predicted lower life-satisfaction ratings one year later. For girls, this sensitive period was between ages 11 and 13, whereas for boys it was 14 and 15. Dr. Orben said that this sex difference could simply be because girls tend to hit puberty earlier than boys do.

“We know that adolescent girls go through a lot of development earlier than boys do,” Dr. Orben said. “There are a lot of things that could be potential drivers, whether they’re social, cognitive or biological.”

20) Jamelle Bouie on Ginni Thomas, “Ginni Thomas Is No Outlier”

At this point, there’s very little distance between the fringes of the modern Republican Party and the elites who lead it. Superficial differences of affect and emphasis mask shared views and ways of seeing. In fact, members of the Republican elite are very often the fringe figures in question.

Take Virginia (known as Ginni) Thomas. She is an influential and well-connected conservative political activist who has been a fixture of Washington since the late 1980s. A fervent supporter of former President Donald Trump, she reportedly urged his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to do everything in his power to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election and keep Trump in power. And judging from her text messages to Meadows — which include the hope that the “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators” are awaiting trial before military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay — she is also something of a QAnon believer, one of millions of Americans who embrace the conspiracy theory that Trump is fighting a messianic war against the “deep state.”

Ginni Thomas is also, notably, the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And while Justice Thomas is in no way responsible for the actions of his spouse, it does beggar belief to think he is unaware of her views and actions, including her work to keep Trump in office against the will of the electorate.

But that’s something of a separate issue. What matters here is that we have, in Ginni Thomas, a very high-profile Republican activist who holds, and acts on, fringe, conspiratorial beliefs. And she is not alone…

You can play this game with any number of prominent Republicans. Leading figures like Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia regularly give voice to conspiracy theories and other wild accusations. Last month, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, released an 11-point agenda that, among other things, denies the existence of transgender people and calls on the government to treat socialism as a “foreign combatant.”

And those Republicans who don’t openly hold fringe views are more than willing to pander to them, such as Senator Ted Cruz’s enthusiastic embrace of “stop the steal” and Senator Josh Hawley’s QAnon dog whistle that Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, is soft on (and sympathetic to) child predators.

For Democrats, and especially for Democratic leadership, the upshot of all of this is that they should give up whatever hope they had that the Republican Party will somehow return to normal, that the fever will break and American politics will snap back to reality. From its base to its leaders, the modern Republican Party is fully in the grip of an authoritarian movement animated by extreme beliefs and fringe conspiracy theories.

Democrats can’t force Republicans onto a different path. But they also can’t act as if they’re above the fray. That appears to have been the plan so far, and if the current political state of the Democratic Party is any indication, it’s not working. The only alternative is to confront the Republican Party as forcefully as possible and show the extent to which that party has descended into conspiracies and corruption.

21) Brownstein, “The Green-Energy Culture Wars in Red States”

The battle over the nation’s energy future has become another front in the escalating cultural and political confrontation between what America has been and what it is becoming.

The states that are most deeply integrated into the existing fossil-fuel economy, either as producers or as consumers, tend also to be the places that are most resistant to, and separated from, the major demographic, cultural, and economic changes remaking 21st-century American life.

These fossil-fuel-reliant states are nearly all among those moving most aggressively to restrict voting, abortion, and LGBTQ rights; to ban books; and to censor what teachers and college professors can say about race, gender, and sexual orientation. The majority of them rank near the bottom among the 50 states in the share of their residents who hold four-year college degrees, are foreign-born, or work in occupations tied to the new digital economy, according to census figures. Industry marketing figures show they tend to rank near the bottom of the 50 states in adoption of electric vehicles and near the top in their reliance on gas-guzzling pickup trucks. Most of them have larger populations of white voters who identify as Christianand rely heavily on blue-collar work in the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: production of energy and other natural resources, manufacturing, and agriculture. Republicans dominate their electoral landscape, both in state and federal offices.

This convergence of fossil-fuel dependence, cultural conservatism, and isolation from the most dynamic modern industries captures how comprehensively the two parties are divided by their exposure to, and attitudes about, the changes reshaping America. It also shows how difficult it will be to establish any consensus for national action to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy sources, despite the mounting evidence that climate change threatens all regions of the country (and the world).

The irony is that the energy transition may represent the best chance for the states most reliant on fossil fuels to benefit from the new sources of economic growth. Although the fossil-fuel-reliant states (with Texas and Ohio as the most conspicuous exceptions) are almost all peripheral today to the digital revolution creating massive wealth, many of them are already leaders in the production of clean energy, especially wind and solar power. Yet their political leaders, in what I’ve called the “brown blockade,” are generally fighting the policies that would accelerate the growth of those emerging industries—such as the tax incentives for clean energy in the sweeping Build Back Better economic plan that has been blocked by opposition from Joe Manchin and every Republican senator.

22) Really good stuff from Eric Topol on BA.2 and boosters:

What About a Second Booster?

There are only 3 studies of the 2nd booster to date, all during the Omicron wave in Israel , where these were initiated back in December 2021 for people age 60+ (previously for immunocompromised) and now are administered broadly to all adults who are past 4 months from their 3rd shot. The first study was small, looking at safety, antibody formation and vaccine effectiveness vs infections in health care workers. While the neutralizing antibody response from the 4th shot was good, the effectiveness vs symptomatic infections was quite low, only 31% for Moderna and 44% for Pfizer. The second study was in a million people age 60+ with either a 4th dose of at least 4 months out from the 3rd dose (1st booster). Follow-up was only 12+ days but a >4-fold protection against severe disease was demonstrated. The most important, 3rd study, was performed at Clalit Health, one of the 4 large healthcare organizations in Israel. It was also among people age 60+ and showed a 78% reduction of death for 4 shots vs 3 shots (post 4 or more months). This is remarkably similar to the Clalit Health report in people age 50+ with their first booster compared both only 2 shots (> 4 months out) for whom there was a 90% reduction of mortality. That study was conducted during Israel’s Delta wave. The absolute reductions in death are small in these studies (Y-axis), but the huge number of people in these age groups points to an important benefit at the population level.

This brings us to this week’s announcement by the FDA that 4th shots (Pfizer and Moderna) will be provided for people age 50+ as an option, which factors in the similarity of the data from these 2 reports. Note less divergence of the curves for Omicron in this side-by-side comparison with Delta, signifying less effect.

Should I get a 2nd booster?

The deficiency in our knowledge base is the lack of follow-up, maximal at only 40 days so far, for enhanced protection vs severe illness, hospitalization and death. Surely that’s worth something, and likely will have some durability for a few months. but It probably will have faster attrition than BA.1 protection from the Israeli data we’ve seen so far on infections. So this should be viewed as a temporizing, bridging measure.

I would recommend the 2nd booster if you are more than 4-6 months from your 3rd shot, you are age 50+, you tolerated the previous shots well, and you are concerned about the BA.2 wave where you live, or that it’s getting legs as you are trying to decide. Or if you are traveling or have plans that would put you at increased risk.

It can certainly be deferred, but the question is when is the right time, and whether an Omicron-specific vaccine will have any advantage over a 2nd booster directed at the original strain. The data from 2 animal models (macaques and mouse models) suggests there may not be advantage of the Omicron-specific vaccine but that may not correlate with its effect in people. From my discussions with FDA, it is not likely the Omicron-specific vaccine will be available before late May or June. So you can factor that uncertain added benefit and timeline into your decision.

It’s also fine to wait if there’s a low level of circulating virus where you live and work. Israel will have more follow-up data soon, and for all age groups, so in the weeks ahead we’ll know more about the magnitude, age range (such as age less than 50) and durability of the benefit.

If you had 3 shots and an Omicron breakthrough infection, there’s little need for getting a 2nd booster at this point. You’ve got some hybrid immunity and you can save an extra shot, if or when there’s ultimately supportive evidence for a later time.

If you haven’t had your 1st booster, you’re long overdue to get it. It was lifesaving vs Delta for people age 50+ and vital for maintaining high level of protection vs severe disease from the Omicron family of variants.

23) Sometimes I just see what movies Netflix thinks I should watch.  Last night I went with “The Imitation Game” the 2014 film about Alan Turing and the Enigma Project.  I found it fascinating and very entertaining.  If anybody has any recommended books about the Enigma and Ultra projects, do let me know.  I definitely want to learn more.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Freddie deBoer on last week’s dust-up over NYT and cancel culture:

Another week, another opportunity for our media class to freak out when it’s suggested that we are living in an age that’s not friendly to open debate. The absolute madness this anodyne NYT op-ed provoked among the NPR tote bag set should be listed in the DSM. Just an absolute shriek of anger from the privileged, overeducated Brooklynites (in spirit if not in geography) who have put our intellectual culture in such a stranglehold.

I could go through the usual litany, starting with the fact that free speech and the First Amendment are not coterminous, that democratic society requires not just legal protection of the right to express oneself but a culture of open exchange, a shared social understanding that the only way to solve our myriad problems with their irreducible complexity is through an actually-existing free discursive space. I could also point out that liberals and leftists who insist that free speech refers only to freedom from government interference are swallowing libertarian ideology hook, line, and sinker, simply rolling over to the idea that private forces like corporations can’t abridge rights, and all for momentary argumentative convenience. I could do that.

But it would all be for naught. You have to understand this to understand our media class: the number one priority in their entire lives, above and beyond literally any other, is to earn insider status with other people in media. That’s it. That is their lodestar, their true north. They want other people in media to see them as cool and smart and fuckable, and most of all they want to have the right opinions, the opinions that the group doesn’t laugh at. The mirror image of the desperation to be considered cool is the intense, all-consuming fear of being made fun of by cool people in media. Look at the way they write, report, communicate with each other; these people are absolutely terrified that someone’s going to take something they say and hold it up for mockery on Twitter. This seems to me to be pretty much exactly the opposite attitude you should want among writers and journalists, who literally can only perform their function when they are pissing most people off. But that’s the professional culture of media, a culture defined by the fear of being made fun of.

And that’s why, when these debates go down, they never, ever say “well this scenario wasn’t ideal, I agree, but….” They can’t admit exceptions. Demonstrating themselves to be good and upstanding members of the in-crowd to which they relentlessly aspire forces them to deny the very notion of an exception. But I have to believe there are free speech controversies so bad that even they could be forced to admit an exception. So I’m going to tell you about a little controversy over free expression that was not, in any sense, ambiguous.

[And, you should click through and read the whole thing]

2) A public Yglesias post worth your time, “American poverty is too high for all kinds of people
The case for universalism”

Randolph himself in his introduction writes that “the tragedy is that the workings of our economy so often pit the white poor and the black poor against each other at the bottom of society.”

These were not people who were unaware of racial discrimination or indifferent to specifically racial forms of injustice. They were not practicing “colorblind” politics in the sense of modern-day Republicans who insist we can never talk about race or racism or its impact on American history and society. But they not only believed in a politics of universalism; they believed one of the major sins of racism was to pit people against each other who should have been cooperating to solve common problems.

White poverty is a significant issue

White Americans experience poverty at a much lower rate than Black Americans, a legacy of racism over the course of American history. It’s also true that white Americans of all income levels enjoy certain racial privileges. But if you are yourself white and poor, it doesn’t really do you, personally, any good to know that a different set of white people has a lot of money or that white people on average are unlikely to be poor.

As King was at pains to point out, in his time, a large majority of the poor were white. That is less true today since the population as a whole has become less white. But it is still true that since non-Hispanic whites are such a large share of the overall population, they are a plurality of the poor despite the lower poverty rate.

I think it’s a bad political strategy but also bad ethics to sweep low-income white people under the rug. This is a group that voted for Barack Obama twice before flipping to Donald Trump, and they experience lots of very real problems of material deprivation. They deserve on the merits to have their problems taken seriously, and taking those problems seriously is a necessary ingredient to winning a political coalition that will tackle poverty. If activists sincerely can’t get themselves excited about a broad political push against poverty per se and see the moral force in that, then I think that just reflects poorly on them. But I also doubt anyone who says that really means it. Little kids growing up in trailers with parents who don’t earn any money aren’t to blame for structural racism, and everyone knows it.

do suspect that the wealthy donor class genuinely does find King-style rhetoric about class struggle off-putting and prefers to think of things in narrow racial terms. But that is precisely the virtue of going back to the great civil rights leaders’ original texts, because King and Randolph and Bayard Rustin and others all rightly saw that as a dead end.

3) Must-read thread on the Russian army through the ages.

4) Carl Bergstrom and evolutionary models to help us think about the misinformation problem:

An evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, Bergstrom has studied the evolution of cooperation and communication in animals, influenza pandemics, and the best ways to rank scientific journals. But over the past 5 years, he has become more and more interested in how “bullshit” spreads through our information ecosystem. He started fighting it before COVID-19 emerged—through a popular book, a course he gives at UW’s Center for an Informed Public, and, ironically, a vigorous presence on social media—but the pandemic underscored how persuasive and powerful misinformation is, he says.

“Misinformation has reached crisis proportions,” Bergstrom and his UW colleague Jevin West wrote in a 2021 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “It poses a risk to international peace, interferes with democratic decision-making, endangers the well-being of the planet, and threatens public health.” In another PNAS paper, Bergstrom and others issued a call to arms for researchers to study misinformation and learn how to stop it…

In his Ph.D. thesis, he tackled the question of how communication can stay useful when there is so much to be gained from misusing it.

In nature, he concluded the answer is often that lies are costly. Begging for food makes baby birds vulnerable, for example, so they have an incentive to do it only when necessary. “If you’re just a defenseless ball of meat sitting in a nest and can’t go anywhere, yelling at the top of your lungs is amazingly stupid,” Bergstrom says. “If they’re not really hungry, they’ll just shut up.” On social media, such repercussions barely exist, he says: Liars have little incentive to shut up…

BERGSTROM SEES SOCIAL MEDIA, like many other things in life, through an evolutionary lens. The popular platforms exploit humanity’s need for social validation and constant chatter, a product of our evolution, he says. He compares it to our craving for sugar, which was beneficial in an environment where sweetness was rare and signaled nutritious food, but can make us sick in a world where sugar is everywhere. Facebook exploits humans’ thirst for contact, in his view, like a Coca-Cola for the mind, allowing people to connect with others in larger numbers during a single day than they might have over a lifetime in humanity’s past.

And whereas Coca-Cola cannot tweak its formula on a weekly basis, social media platforms can constantly change their algorithms and test out new strategies to keep us engaged. “The social media companies are able to run the largest scale psychological experiments in history by many orders of magnitude, and they’re running them in real time on all of us,” Bergstrom says…

Online networks also undermine traditional rules of thumb about communication. Before the advent of the internet, for example, hearing the same information from multiple people made it more trustworthy. “In the physical world, it would be almost impossible to meet anyone else who thinks the world is flat,” Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Bristol, wrote in an email. “But online, I can connect with the other .000001% of people who hold that belief, and may gather the (false) impression that it is widely shared.”

Social media companies have little incentive to change their practices because they make money selling ads. “The network structures along which we share information have changed radically in the last 20 years, and they’ve changed without any kind of stewardship,” Bergstrom says. “They’ve changed basically just to help some tech startups sell ads.”

5) And Matt Taibbi on the NYT editorial controversy:

When I asked Froomkin if the idea was to keep cycling through Times opinion editors “until you get one who’s appropriately focused in the direction you like,” he replied: “Yes, I would like them replaced with people who stake out bold, defensible, not-brainless positions, while publishing a very wide range of perspectives from others.” He then linked to an essay of his arguing that publishing “wide perspectives” would essentially entail coating any articles with which the “bold” op-ed board disagreed all over with warnings pointing out where they’re wrong, arguing in bad faith, or are “morally abhorrent.” (This incidentally is how the Cotton piece looks online now, a 970-word op-ed preceded by a 300-word Editor’s Note explaining why it sucks and shouldn’t have been published).

This is the same terror of uncontextualized thought that’s spurred everything from the campaigns to place more controls on Joe Rogan to the mountains of flags and warning labels platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pile on all kinds of content now (“Are you sure you want to read this debunked wrongthinker? Click yes/no”) to the bizarre new “fact-checking” movement that takes factually true statements and objects to them at length for “missing context.”

The underlying premise of all these formats is the conviction that the ordinary schlub media consumer will make the wrong decision if the correct message isn’t hammered out everywhere for him or her in all caps by mental superiors. This idea isn’t just insulting but usually incorrect, like thinking Lord Haw Haw broadcasts would make English soldiers bayonet each other rather than laugh or fight harder. Even just on the level of commercial self-preservation, one would think media people would eventually realize there’s a limit to how many times you can tell people they’re too dumb to be trusted with controversial ideas, and still keep any audience. But they never do.

There may be plenty of reasons to roll eyes at the Times piece, but the poll numbers in there speak to this exhaustion, with what Chatterton Williams calls the “consensus enforcers who feverishly insist there’s no problem, and the fact that you disagree is evidence that you should resign your position.” It was crazy enough when jobs were lost over the Harper’s letter. But calling for firings over this? An editorial that drives two miles an hour down the middle of the middle of the middle of the road? If this is anybody’s idea of a taboo, we really have lost it.

6) EJ Dionne, “We say we love kids and families. Our policies prove the opposite.”

Our society claims to love children, admire parents and revere the family. But our public policies send the opposite message.

A June 2021 UNICEF report on where rich countries stand on child care found that the United States ranked 40th.

Yes, you read that right.

Unlike every other well-off democracy, the United States has “never adapted to the needs of families in today’s labor market and economy,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. “We’ve never responded to so many women with young children being in the workforce.”

It’s hard to think of work more important to a society’s long-term well-being and prosperity than raising children. Yet the market economy values work outside the home that produces goods, services and profits far more than the work of parenting. While parenting’s value is, well, infinite, it goes largely unmeasured in our gross domestic product…

No one can claim to be “pro-family” without being willing to deal with the stresses the modern economy places on family life. In Europe, effective child-care policies have been championed not only by Social Democrats, in keeping with their long history of egalitarianism, but also by Christian Democrats and other moderately conservative parties concerned with strengthening the family.

7) The case for financial incentives to get more Americans boosted:

The immunity boost of that third shot is something of a game changer: CDC data have shown that booster shots significantly ratchet up protection from Omicron hospitalization, compared with two vaccine doses. In some charts of COVID deaths and hospitalizations, the number of triple-jabbed patients is so low, you have to squint to find them in the graphs. And though it’s not clear how long this extra protection will last, what makes getting boosted now even more of a no-brainer is that the added protection starts to build in just a few days—far quicker than after the first shot—meaning that even this long into the Omicron wave, third shots can help stave off COVID’s worst outcomes, as well as immunologically arm us for whatever variant comes next.

And yet the rate of Americans who have received a booster shot is abysmally low. Although 87 percent of adults have received one vaccine dose, just 52 percent of eligible vaccinated adults are boosted—less than a third of the total adult population. One thing that could help is booster mandates—sticks over carrots. Mandates may be controversial, but they are effective. Even so, at least so far, we’ve seen astonishingly few companies or governments roll out booster mandates. Don’t expect many more: Last week, the Supreme Court batted down an effort by the Biden administration to mandate vaccines for large employers. Some companies, such as Starbucks, have responded by nixing the mandates they had voluntarily implemented.

8) Really, really good piece from David Wallace-Wells about what we can learn about Covid deaths from excess mortality statistics:

There is one data point that might serve as an exceptional interpretative tool, one that blinks bright through all that narrative fog: excess mortality. The idea is simple: You look at the recent past to find an average for how many people die in a given country in a typical year, count the number of people who died during the pandemic years, and subtract one from the other. The basic math yields some striking results, as shown by a recent paper in The Lancet finding that 18.2 million people may have died globally from COVID, three times the official total. As skeptical epidemiologists were quick to point out, the paper employed some strange methodology — modeling excess deaths even for countries that offered actual excess-death data and often distorting what we knew to be true as a result. A remarkable excess-mortality database maintained by The Economist does not have this problem, and, like the Lancet paper, the Economist database estimates global excess mortality; it puts the figure above 20 million.

As a measure of pandemic brutality, excess mortality has its limitations — but probably fewer than the conventional data we’ve used for the last two years. That’s because it isn’t biased by testing levels — in places like the U.S. and the U.K., a much higher percentage of COVID deaths were identified as such than in places like Belarus or Djibouti, making our pandemics appear considerably worse by comparison. By measuring against a baseline of expected death, excess mortality helps account for huge differences in the age structures of different countries, some of which may have many times more mortality risk than others because their populations are much older. And to the extent that the ultimate impact of the pandemic isn’t just a story about COVID-19 but also one about our responses to it — lockdowns and unemployment, suspended medical care and higher rates of alcoholism and automobile accidents — excess mortality accounts for all that, too. In some places, like the U.S., excess-mortality figures are close to the official COVID data — among other things, a tribute to our medical surveillance systems. In other places, the numbers are so different that accounting for them entirely changes the picture of not just the experience of individual nations but the whole world, scrambling everything we think we know about who did best and who did worst, which countries were hit hardest and which managed to evade catastrophe. If you had to pick a single metric by which to measure the ultimate impact of the pandemic, excess mortality is as good as we’re probably going to get…

So what does it say? A year ago, it seemed easy enough to divide pandemic outcomes into three groups — with Europe and the Americas performing far worse than East Asia, which appeared to have outmaneuvered the virus through public-health measures, and much of the Global South, especially sub-Saharan Africa, which looked to have been spared mostly by its relatively young population. Today, a crude count of official deaths, not excess mortality, suggests the same grouping: North America and Europe have almost identical death counts with official per capita totals eight times as high as Asia, as a whole, and 12 times as high as Africa. South America’s death toll is higher still — ten times as high as Asia and 15 times as high as Africa.

The excess-mortality data tells a different story. There is still a clear continent-by-continent pattern, but the gaps between them are much smaller, making the experiences of different parts of the world much less distinct and telling a more universal story about the devastation wrought by this once-in-a-century contagion. According to The EconomistEurope, Latin America, and North America have all registered excess deaths ranging from 270 to 370 per 100,000 inhabitants; excess mortality in Asia is estimated between 130 to 330; in Africa, the range is 79 to 220. These numbers are not identical, but, all things considered, they are remarkably close together. The highest of the low-end estimates is barely three times the lowest; the highest of the high-end estimates is not even twice as high as the lowest.

If you adjust for age, as the Economist database does separately, the differences among continents grow more dramatic — suggesting a reversal of outcomes, rather than a convergence. Outside of Oceania, Europe and North America were among the best in the world at preventing deaths among the old, and they were several times better at protecting their elderly, of whom they had many more, than Africa and South Asia. East Asia performed better, but only slightly: Canada is in line with China, Germany just marginally worse than South Korea, Iceland in the range of Japan. By almost any metric, Oceania remains an outlier: The Economist estimates zero excess deaths among the elderly in New Zealand, for instance, and gives the whole region an excess-mortality range of negative 31 to positive 37 per 100,000 residents, meaning it’s possible fewer people died there than would’ve had we never even heard of SARS-CoV-2.

In the country-by-country data, the divergences grow even bigger. Perhaps most striking, given both self-flagellating American narratives about the pandemic and current events elsewhere on the globe, is that the worst-hit large country in the world was not the U.S., which registered the most official deaths of any country but ranks 47th in per capita excess mortality, or Britain, which ranks 85th, or even India, which ranks 36th. It is Russia, which has lost, The Economist estimates, between 1.2 million and 1.3 million citizens over the course of the pandemic, a mortality rate more than twice as high as the American one.

Russia is not an outlier. While we have heard again and again in the U.S. about the experience of the pandemic in western Europe — sometimes in admiration, sometimes to mock — it has been eastern Europe that, of any region in the world, has the ugliest excess-mortality data. This, then, is where the pandemic hit hardest — in the countries of the old Warsaw Pact and formerly of the Soviet bloc. In fact, of the ten worst-performing countries, only one is outside eastern Europe.

9) More good free Yglesias, “Playing to win against the attacks on LGBTQ progress: Democrats should make smart decisions about when to fight and when to make a tactical retreat.”

One interesting thing about the conservative movement is how effective they’ve been at getting everyone to shut up about the marriage issue now that their position is unpopular. The Supreme Court has gotten a lot more conservative since it handed down a 5-4 decision in favor of marriage equality, but nobody in the U.S. Senate or the conservative legal movement talked about using the Kavanaugh or Barrett nominations to reverse that.

And yet even though marriage equality is very popular, it’s still quite divisive among rank-and-file Republicans. In theory this could be a troublesome wedge issue where safe seat Republicans are constantly talking about rolling it back, and more moderate or vulnerable Republicans need to argue with them. But instead, the movement has largely acted with message discipline and savvy to just stop talking about it.

If Ron DeSantis were running on a platform that explicitly restricted LGBTQ teaching in classrooms and also banned same-sex marriage, he would have a losing position. But he isn’t saying that explicitly. The Supreme Court took the marriage topic out of the legislative arena, and conservatives have mustered the discipline to instead fight on more ambiguous winning terrain. In contrast, Democrats seem to have pretty uniformly lined up behind an explicit and unpopular position and are largely engaging with arguments against it by denying the consequence of their position — often by butchering facts and science about athletic performance in a way that makes the left look silly even to people who aren’t invested in the particulars of the issue.

It is not obvious to me that there is a strong philosophical or conceptual basis for gender-segregated sports leagues, and someday we might come to a consensus that divisions by weight or size or some other factor make more sense for some sports. But that day has not yet arrived, and I don’t think it’s productive for activists to push Democratic candidates or elected officials to walk this plank before voters are convinced that it’s a good idea.

One prominent feminist told me that she hesitates to raise any doubts about the sports questions while trans people are under attack, but I don’t think politics really works that way. If progressives insist on hewing to a high-salience, unpopular position that trans advocacy groups concede they don’t have broadly persuasive arguments for, then school boards are going to end up dominated by bigots like Dennis Baxley and Ileana Garcia who try to craft legislation and policy that harasses and undermines LGBTQ students and teachers.

That would be a really bad outcome, and it’s worth fighting against it in a smart way — by arguing against morally indefensible policies without taking up electorally indefensible positions of our own.

10) This is a really, really cool explanation of how people figured out Pi.

11) It’s a mantra from the public health people on “global vaccine equity” and this idea that we’re just holding back these shots from Africa.  But the shots are there and the problem is much more complicated, “In Africa, a Mix of Shots Drives an Uncertain Covid Vaccination Push
Supplies are more plentiful now but they are unpredictable and often a jumble of brands. Many places can’t meet the W.H.O.’s recommended dosing schedules.”

12) Modern Republican politics– not wanting an electric truck factory in your state to own the libs.

13) Remembering “My Cousin Vinnie” 30 years later.  Marisa Tomei’s courtroom testimony at the end is simply one of my favorite movie scenes ever. 

14) A pretty compelling case that Law Schools have been taken over by excessive wokeness.

15) A really important thread on the Pandora’s box of finding a nurse criminally liable for making a fatal medication error.

16) My daughter scored a goal for the 2nd week in a row yesterday.  She told me she’s just going out there with a goal-scoring mindset now. It really is amazing how mental/psychological sports performance is (also, thinking about that as a Duke basketball fan considering where the team is now– final four bound– as compared to two weeks ago).

Too easy access to guns just makes things suck

Text message from my son yesterday, “Code red not a drill!!!!!!” Thank God for my sanity that I actually saw the follow-up message, sent 8 minutes later, first, “They just said false alarm.”  Everybody’s worst nightmare and damn I hate to think of all the kids (and parents who saw their texts) for those 8 minutes.  It sucks.  And the reality of why is because we all know it is just way too easy for a kid to get a gun and start shooting at his school.

What actually happened?  From the school later that day:

To keep you informed, I wanted to let you know about an incident that occurred at school today.

While dealing with a routine discipline situation in the school office, a student became non-compliant and decided to leave the office and walk through campus. Out of an abundance of caution, administrators moved the school into a code red lockdown until we could determine that the student did not pose a threat.

There was no weapon or threat associated with this event. I apologize for any stress or inconvenience this may have caused. 

Did the school overreact? Maybe? But, the reality is school shootings are an all-too-regular thing and they were unsure as to whether this student was a threat.  And, even if they did overreact (again, I’m agnostic on that question), the whole reason for such a strong reaction is that this type of response only makes sense in a society overrun by guns where we just accept that the occasional mass shooting will be a downside of our too-lenient gun policies.  And that really sucks.  

[p.s. I meant to post it yesterday, but it stayed in the draft.  I learned that the student in question fled while being searched for weapons– so, yeah, that’s not overreacting] 

Quick hits (part II)

1) OMG this interview with a historian of Russia is soooo good.  Insight after insight.  Trust me and read the whole thing.

This is Alexey Navalny, Putin’s most vivid political rival, who was poisoned by the F.S.B. and is now in prison.

Yes. He was imprisoned in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine. In retrospect, it could well be that this was a preparation for the invasion, the way that Ahmad Shah Massoud, for example, was blown up in Northern Afghanistan [by Al Qaeda] right before the Twin Towers came down.

You have the denial of alternatives, the suppression of any opposition, arrest, exile, and then you can prosper as an élite, not with economic growth but just with theft. And, in Russia, wealth comes right up out of the ground! The problem for authoritarian regimes is not economic growth. The problem is how to pay the patronage for their élites, how to keep the élites loyal, especially the security services and the upper levels of the officer corps. If money just gushes out of the ground in the form of hydrocarbons or diamonds or other minerals, the oppressors can emancipate themselves from the oppressed. The oppressors can say, we don’t need you. We don’t need your taxes. We don’t need you to vote. We don’t rely on you for anything, because we have oil and gas, palladium and titanium. They can have zero economic growth and still live very high on the hog.

There’s never a social contract in an authoritarian regime, whereby the people say, O.K., we’ll take economic growth and a higher standard of living, and we’ll give up our freedom to you. There is no contract. The regime doesn’t provide the economic growth, and it doesn’t say, Oh, you know, we’re in violation of our promise. We promised economic growth in exchange for freedom, so we’re going to resign now because we didn’t fulfill the contract.

What accounts for the “popularity” of an authoritarian regime like Putin’s?

They have stories to tell. And, as you know, stories are always more powerful than secret police. Yes, they have secret police and regular police, too, and, yes, they’re serious people and they’re terrible in what they’re doing to those who are protesting the war, putting them in solitary confinement. This is a serious regime, not to be taken lightly. But they have stories. Stories about Russian greatness, about the revival of Russian greatness, about enemies at home and enemies abroad who are trying to hold Russia down. And they might be Jews or George Soros or the I.M.F. and nato. They might be all sorts of enemies that you just pull right off the shelf, like a book.

We think of censorship as suppression of information, but censorship is also the active promotion of certain kinds of stories that will resonate with the people. The aspiration to be a great power, the aspiration to carry out a special mission in the world, the fear and suspicion that outsiders are trying to get them or bring them down: those are stories that work in Russia. They’re not for everybody. You know many Russians who don’t buy into that and know better. But the Putin version is powerful, and they promote it every chance they get.

2) I read Alfred Lansing’s book Endurance about the Shackleton edition way back in grad school.  Still one of my favorite non-fiction books ever.  Loved reading about how they found the ship at the bottom of the Antarctic sea. 

3) Ron Brownstein, “Want to Understand the Red-State Onslaught? Look at Florida: Alarmingly restrictive laws continue to proliferate across much of the country.”

The red-state drive to roll back civil rights is entering a new phase, perhaps best symbolized by Florida’s passage this week of the “Don’t Say ‘Gay’” bill censoring how schools discuss sexual orientation. President Joe Biden’s administration is leaning more heavily into the fight, even as business leaders are retreating from the battlefield.

In multiple states, prominent companies that regularly tout their commitment to diversity and inclusion have largely stood aside as GOP-controlled legislatures and governors have approved laws that restrict voting access, curtail abortion rights and LGBTQ freedoms, and limit how teachers can discuss race, gender, and sexual orientation in public schools. The refusal of the Walt Disney Company, one of Florida’s most powerful employers, to publicly criticize Florida’s “Don’t Say ‘Gay’” bill as it moved through the legislature has quickly come to symbolize a retreat from the loud public opposition that many companies expressed to earlier state initiatives restricting civil liberties, such as the “bathroom bill” North Carolina Republicans approved in 2016…

Since 2021, Republican-controlled states such as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Idaho, and Montana have advanced a torrent of socially conservative legislation. This includes laws limiting access to abortion, restricting voting rights, banning transgender girls from participating in high-school or college sports, barring transition medical treatment for transgender minors, censoring how teachers can talk about current or historical racial and gender inequities, removing licensing requirements to publicly carry firearms, increasing penalties for public protesters, and immunizing drivers who hit and injure protesters…

In many ways, the 23 states where Republicans now control both the governorship and state legislature are attempting to unravel “the rights revolution” of the past 60 years, in which both the Supreme Court and Congress have generally expanded the range of basic rights and liberties available nationwide. As I’ve written, the cumulative aim of these proposals is to return the U.S. to a pre-1960s world in which those basic rights and liberties vary much more from state to state.

In the process, the red states are enshrining the social priorities of a GOP coalition centered mostly on the experiences and preferences of older white Christian and nonurban voters over those of more demographically and culturally diverse younger generations. The contrast is sharpest with Generation Z, young Americans born after 1996: Almost half of the generation is nonwhite, about one-fifth of its members identify as LGBTQ, and more than one-third describe themselves as secular, unaffiliated with any religious tradition. Among the Millennial generation, born from 1980 to 1996, the numbers on each front are not quite as high, but still far above older generations.

4) Interesting take from Noah Smith, “Time for a Diplomatic Revolution: Cold War 2 is here, and the U.S. needs all the allies we can get.”

Neutralize lingering, unnecessary conflicts

Making a closer, more explicit partnership with India, and drawing it decisively out of Russia’s orbit, would be the biggest diplomatic revolution the U.S. and our allies could pull off. If successful, it would leave China, Russia, and their small coterie of satellite states facing off against a coalition of democracies that overmatched them in terms of population, GDP, and military power. That coalition would be able both to guard the world against military aggression and to uphold the regime of human rights and positive-sum trade that has seen the world grow so much freer and richer since 1945.

But in addition, there are lots of other smaller conflicts that the U.S. should seek to resolve as part of this diplomatic revolution. Frictions with the leftist regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, and especially the lingering conflict with Iran, consume American attention and energy and create openings for Russia and China to expand their network of client states. Dispensing with these conflicts would allow America to focus on containment of Russian and Chinese power.

First, end the embargo against Cuba and open trade and immigration links with that communist country. The embargo has obviously failed to change Cuba’s regime in all its decades of application — in fact, by convincing the Cuban people that their economic woes are America’s fault, it probably solidifies the regime’s control. Opening up to Cuban people and goods won’t make them ditch communism in a day, but it’ll remove one potential Russian/Chinese ally in America’s backyard, while offering the Cuban people the chance at a brighter future.

Similarly, Biden should end sanctions on the impoverished basket-case country of Venezuela, and establish friendly relations with its president, Nicolas Maduro. Maduro has obviously been making overtures in this direction, and Biden should repay these with rapprochement. This will not only give Venezuela a chance to climb out of the deep economic hole that the policies of Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez dug for it, but it’ll also prevent Venezuela from becoming another Cuba.

Finally, the U.S. should make a good-faith effort to reduce conflict with Iran. Actually pulling off another diplomatic revolution and allying with Iran would probably be a bridge too far, given that regime’s dependence on anti-American rhetoric for its domestic and regional legitimacy. And also, partnering with Iran would draw us back into the quagmire of the Middle East, which is a region that the U.S. has few strategic interests in, and which needs some time without great-power interference in order to work out its problems in seclusion. Instead, we need to extricate ourselves from the Middle East as completely as possible, in order to focus on the true global threats of the totalitarian great powers threatening Europe and Asia.

5) Adam Serwer, “The Who-Cares-If-You’re-Innocent Project: Republicans want to blame the rise in crime on liberal permissiveness, which includes, in their view, the right to counsel.”

Republicans want to blame the rise in crime on liberal permissiveness, copying a political playbook that worked extraordinarily well from the 1960s to the turn of the century. As HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery writes, the attack on Morrison is related to the Republicans’ war against liberal prosecutors, who have been elected on promises to be lenient on crimes like marijuana possession and to prosecute police misconduct. They also don’t like that President Joe Biden has nominated more defense attorneys as judges than his predecessor, bringing a needed balance to a federal bench stacked with former prosecutors.

Republican senators are likely to attack Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden’s nominee to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court, on similar terms. In his written questions to Jackson during her prior nomination, to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska asked whether Jackson’s “work as an Assistant Federal Public Defender would result in more violent criminals—including gun criminals—being put back on the streets?” Jackson would be the first public defender appointed to the Supreme Court in its history, in part because of arguments like these, which imply that due process protects only criminals. Jackson, for her part, responded that “the primary concern of lawyers who work as public defenders is the same as that of the Framers who crafted the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.”…

Preventing wrongful convictions shouldn’t be a partisan culture war issue and hopefully will not become one as a result of ambitious Republicans doing Trump impersonations; most states have wrongful-conviction laws, and some right-wing groups, like the Cato Institute, have done admirable work on criminal-justice issues. But nonetheless, some on the right believe that the justice system should prioritize efficient incarceration over certain culpability. That is, they believe it’s more important that the system be good at locking people up than good at making sure those who get locked up are actually guilty. The rhetoric at Morrison’s hearing reflects a view among some conservatives that America’s criminal-justice system is too easy on defendants, and that the Constitution’s due-process protections could use a couple of passes with a black Sharpie.

6) I have a good friend from Russia and he said speaking to some family and friends back there reminds him of speaking with anti-vaxxers. Frank Bruni on Russia and misinformation:

The consequence? “As Ukrainians deal with the devastation of the Russian attacks in their homeland, many are also encountering a confounding and almost surreal backlash from family members in Russia, who refuse to believe that Russian soldiers could bomb innocent people, or even that a war is taking place at all,” Valerie Hopkins explained in The Times on Sunday.

Starved of accurate information, Russians gorge on disinformation, including a widely circulated claim that the United States is developing biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. “This is preposterous,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a Twitter thread last night, adding that it exemplifies “the types of false pretexts we have been warning the Russians would invent.”

It’s astonishing how far people can travel from the truth. Then again, it’s not. We have watched it happen here in the United States, among many of our fellow Americans, in regard not to Russia and Ukraine but to the 2020 election, to the safety and efficacy of vaccines, to so much else.

Instead of benefiting fully from a free flow of ideas and data and genuine insights, too many of us volitionally make do with an unrepresentative trickle. If the result isn’t an alternate reality nearly as comical and tragical as Russia’s right now, it’s a distortion nonetheless, and a dangerous one to boot. We are only as good as the information we seek.

7) Just what is the deal with Epstein-Barr virus, anyway?  Sarah Zhang with the not-exactly answers:

Statistically speaking, the virus known as Epstein-Barr is inside you right now. It is inside 95 percent of us. It spreads through saliva, so perhaps you first caught the virus as a baby from your mother, who caught it as a baby from her mother. Or you picked it up at day care. Or perhaps from a friend with whom you shared a Coke. Or the pretty girl you kissed at the party that cold New Year’s Eve.

If you caught the virus in this last scenario—as a teen or young adult—then Epstein-Barr may have triggered mono, or the “kissing disease,” in which a massive immune response against the pathogen causes weeks of sore throat, fever, and debilitating fatigue. For reasons poorly understood but not unique among viruses, Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV, hits harder the later you get it in life. If you first caught the virus as a baby or young child, as most people do, the initial infection was likely mild, if not asymptomatic. Unremarkable. And so this virus has managed to fly under the radar, despite infecting almost the entire globe. EBV is sometimes jokingly said to stand for “everybody’s virus.” Once inside the body, the virus hides inside your cells for the rest of your life, but it seems mostly benign.

Except, except. In the decades since its discovery by the virologists Anthony Epstein and Yvonne Barr in 1964, the virus has been linked not only to mono but also quite definitively to cancers in the head and neck, blood, and stomach. It’s also been linked, more controversially, to several autoimmune disorders. Recently, the link to one autoimmune disorder got a lot stronger: Two separate studies published this year make the case—convincingly, experts say—that Epstein-Barr virus is a cause of multiple sclerosis, in which the body mistakenly attacks the nervous system. “When you mentioned the virus and MS 20 years ago, people were like, Get lost … It was a very negative attitude,” says Alberto Ascherio, an epidemiologist at Harvard and a lead author of one of those studies, which used 20 years of blood samples to show that getting infected with EBV massively increases the risk of developing multiple sclerosis. The connection between virus and disease is hard to dismiss now. But how is it that EBV causes such a huge range of outcomes, from a barely noticeable infection to chronic, life-altering illness?

In the face of a novel coronavirus, my colleague Ed Yong noted that a bigger pandemic is a weirder pandemic: The sheer number of cases means that even one-in-a-million events become not uncommon. EBV is far from novel; it belongs to a family of viruses that were infecting our ancestors before they were really human. But it does infect nearly all of humanity and in rare occasions causes highly unusual outcomes. Its ubiquity manifests its weirdness. Decades after its discovery and probably millennia after those first ancient infections, we are still trying to understand how weird this old and familiar virus can be. We do little to curb the spread of Epstein-Barr right now. As the full scope of its consequences becomes clearer, will we eventually decide it’s worth stopping after all? …

In particular, EBV infects a type of lymphocyte called a B cell, each of which is born to recognize a different hypothetical enemy. If a certain B cell never finds its matching enemy, it dies as part of the body’s ruthless culling of useless immune cells. If it does find a match, however, the B cell divides and transforms into memory B cells, which will remain to guard against infection for the rest of a person’s life.

EBV’s genius is that it co-opts this normal process. It manipulates infected B cells into thinking they have been activated, so that they turn into long-lasting memory B cells where the virus can hide for decades. (All herpesviruses in the family have this unusual ability to become latent, though they hide out in different types of cells. The chicken-pox virus, for example, uses nerve cells, sometimes coming out to cause shingles.) Occasionally, EBV emerges from its hiding place, replicating just enough to get by. If it replicates too little, it won’t find another host before getting shut down by the immune system. If it replicates too much, it risks harming its current host. The virus and immune system are in constant balance, each holding the other in check. There’s an “elegance with which this virus has established a long-term relationship with the host,” says Sumita Bhaduri-McIntosh, an Epstein-Barr virologist and infectious-disease doctor at the University of Florida.

8) Public opinion is just such a messy thing:

9) I’ll admit to being a sucker for time travel movies, so The Adam Project didn’t have to be great for me to enjoy it, but I really, really did and largely agree with this positive review.

10) I really like Seth Masket, but in this response to Emma Camp, I think he ultimately elides the key issues by focusing too much on the fact that she used the worde “debate.”

11) I really wanted to like HBO’s The Tourist more than I do.  I think this review captures the problem:

Content bloat on cable and streaming is such an apparently incurable epidemic that even shows that play as lean and mean genre exercises are stuck oozing outside of their deserved boundaries — as if once there’s no marketplace for an idea to be conveyed at 90 minutes, might as well just go forever.

Something like Netflix’s True Story, which would have been an arthouse hit as a brisk John Dahl-directed theatrical thriller, instead became an instantly forgotten Netflix series, because that’s how it could get produced. Significantly better on every level, but still in need of a robust trim, is HBO Max’s The TouristIdeally, this would have been an Outback-set B-movie probably helmed by somebody like Phillip Noyce. Instead, it arrives on streaming as a six-hour drama replete with illogical misdirects, a second half that’s far less engaging than the first and a disappointing assortment of false conclusions.

12) So much this.  And genuinely disappointed we haven’t done better given so much to gain, “Improving Ventilation Will Stop More Than Covid-19: All airborne pathogens — including viruses that cause colds and flu — spread quickly in buildings without proper air circulation and filtration.”

Air hygiene took a backseat for much of the pandemic as we focused on medical and social interventions such as vaccines, treatments, testing and masks. Those have been critical but often divisive, because they have involved persuading individuals to act for the greater good. Improving indoor air quality, on the other hand, is an innocuous way to improve health outcomes now and well beyond the pandemic. “You’re not cleaning surfaces, you’re not telling someone to wear a mask,” says Joseph Allen, a professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s operating all the time in the background.”…

Yet the investment is worthwhile because it can reduce the spread of respiratory viruses of all kinds. Researchers have amassed plenty of case reports suggesting that ventilation and filtration can prevent superspreading events. Several ongoing and planned studies will give better information on the value of specific ventilation improvements for different settings.

A University of Leeds study of 30 primary schools in northern England, for example, will compare various approaches to ventilation and filtration, whether simply opening windows, incorporating air filtration or using ultraviolet disinfection devices.

A similar study underway in the U.S. will focus on how ventilation can affect flu infections. Donald Milton, an environmental health expert at University of Maryland, and his team will put people with flu symptoms (who should be shedding a lot of virus) in rooms outfitted with differing methods of air-cleaning to see how they affect virus transmission to others.

13) Well here’s an interesting approach to a workout, ‘Stronger Muscles in 3 Seconds a Day: Men and women who briefly contracted their arm muscles as hard as possible once daily increased their biceps strength by up to 12 percent in a month.”

14) This seems decidedly not great, “10,000 women die in car crashes each year because of bad design: Men are more likely to cause crashes, but women are more likely to die in them. That’s because car manufacturers have no incentive to safely design vehicles for women—and that has to change.”

In 2019, 10,420 women died from motor vehicle crashes, and over 1 million sustained injuries. While men are more likely to cause crashes, women are more likely to die in them. None of this is surprising to car manufacturers or the government agency responsible for car safety standards, both of which have known these statistics for decades. While bias plagues many of our nation’s institutions, perhaps none are as shocking as a government- and industry-sanctioned practice that protects men and kills or seriously injures the other 50% of the population. The government’s long-acknowledged negligence bears the responsibility, while women and their families carry the consequences.

Every car that receives a safety rating from the National Highway Safety Transportation Association (NHSTA)—the nation’s safety rating agency—undergoes four tests. Intended to mimic the impact of frontal, rollover, side, and side pole crashes, these tests represent the standard to which automakers design their cars. Even though women are 72% more likely to be injured, and 17% more likely to die in a car crash than men, the frontal crash test the agency requires is only performed using a male driver. There is no mandated test that simulates a female driver.

Regulators have known for over 40 years that the internal structures of women put them at greater risk than men. In 1980, based on the recommendation of a team of researchers at the University of Michigan, NHSTA prepared to create a family of dummies that would have included a true female representation. When the Reagan administration came into power in 1981, the agency’s budget was slashed along with many other cuts to the federal government—the accurate female dummy was a casualty of those cuts.

15) Sometimes the “trial tax” is just so, so wrong, ‘Rogel Aguilera-Mederos Rejected a Plea Deal. So He Got 110 Years in Prison.: Colorado First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King said she pursued the punishment after Aguilera-Mederos insisted on his right to trial.”

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’ recent sentencing sparked significant backlash. The Colorado man received 110 years behind bars after his truck brakes failed, causing a traffic accident that killed four people in April 2019. The first person to object to the sentence was the judge who imposed it, lamenting the state’s mandatory sentencing laws as he handed it down. Another government official is now speaking up: First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King, who sought the punishment in the first place, and who tells Reason she never felt such a punitive response was necessary to protect public safety.

“My administration contemplated a significantly different outcome in this case and initiated plea negotiations but Mr. Aguilera-Mederos declined to consider anything other than a traffic ticket,” she told me last week.

King’s statement may not shock the conscience at first glance: Plea deals are a fixture of the U.S. criminal legal system. But her remarks hit at something deeper. By her own admission, Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced to die in prison not because the state felt that was the fair and just punishment, but because he insisted on exercising his constitutional right to trial.

Called the “trial penalty,” prosecutors are known to pile on superfluous charges and threaten astronomical prison time unless the defendant agrees to plead guilty and save them the trouble of a trial. Should the defendant insist on his innocence, and should a jury disagree, he will likely receive a much more severe sentence for the same actions. The only difference is that he invoked his Sixth Amendment right.

King’s office declined to comment on the precise parameters of the deal she would’ve offered. But as I wrote last week, whatever it was wouldn’t have come remotely close to 110 years.

16) Margaret Sullivan, “Putin’s full-scale information war got a key assist from Donald Trump and right-wing media: Thanks to his skills at the influence game, Putin knew how to ‘soften up the enemy’ — and get a swath of the American public cheering for him:”

17) This is a question I really want to know the answer to.  And was discussing with my son just last night.  Alas, the answers aren’t really here, “Why Do Some People Never Get Covid?” Well, kind of.  It’s almost surely related to genetics, but not in a way we meaningfully understand yet.

18) Was talking about books with my kids the other night and was surprised they were not familiar with Lexiles for reading difficulty.  And I came across this nice short piece on how the system gets so many books really wrong and rewards bad writing. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Conor Friedersdorf on with a very solid take on policing that I missed last August:

Other researchers have confirmed that murders of Black victims disproportionately go unsolved. This is precisely the sort of disparity now described in some progressive circles as “structural” or “institutional” racism. By the logic now prevalent on the left, the disproportionate murder of Black people and the disproportionate failure to catch their killers should be a focus of anti-racist activism, and solving those murders should be seen as anti-racist.

Instead, advocates of defunding or abolishing the police buy into a false binary: They regard the police as a fundamentally oppressive force that one can either strengthen, by dedicating more funds to it, or weaken, by starving it of scarce resources that can be spent instead on non-oppressive social goods.

Ghettoside’s great insight is that a community can be over-policed and under-policed at the same time––and that reformers can advocate for an end to over-policing while also championing the proposition that more police resources are required to solve more violent crimes. Defund the war on drugs. Defund stop-and-frisk. But also, fund the homicide bureau and the processing of rape kits and the community-policing initiatives that help people of all classes to feel as safe in their neighborhoods as wealthy Americans do in theirs.

The absence of policing yields not a safe space where marginalized people thrive, but a nasty, brutish place where violent actors either push people around with impunity or are met with violence by someone who forces them to stop. “When people are stripped of legal protection and placed in desperate straits, they are more, not less, likely to turn on each other,” Leovy wrote. “Lawless settings are terrifying; if people can do whatever they want to each other, there are always enough bullies to make it ugly.”

Even with the help of the best PR firms, “defund the police” has little future as a successful slogan or governing program. And I remain a proponent of many other criminal-justice-reform initiatives, like 8 Can’t Wait, with their data-informed emphasis on best practices for local police departments. But at a moment when fear of violent crime is understandably increasing, especially in cities, it might be that the most urgent argument reform advocates can now make is also a political winner: Stop over-policing, but stop under-policing, too. Stop frisking people for furtive movements or arresting people for having a joint, but start funding homicide bureaus adequately and allocating police resources to prioritize the need to solve every murder. Close racial disparities in clearance rates. Black lives matter, so “Solve All Murders.”

2) Brian Beutler:

That’s all the background you need to gauge the sincerity of the GOP’s commitment to Ukrainian autonomy. It’s the context that explains why people who now claim to be unwavering supporters of Ukraine and Zelensky would simultaneously try to sour the American public on the costs of allyship. They don’t particularly care if they weaken the national resolve to punish Putin, because Ukraine has always been a pawn to them; or if not a pawn, then subordinate to the higher calling of Republican partisan advantage.

All of these Republicans are aware of everything Donald Trump has said in recent weeks about Putin and Ukraine, just as they’re aware that he teamed up with Russia to sabotage both Ukraine and the 2016 election, and that he continues to spread poisonous lies about the election in 2020, assaulting democracy at home while we try to defend it abroad. Trump has been banished from mainstream social media, and both Democratic leaders and the national media have frequently engaged in collective, ritual ostriching, as if the best way to limit the damage he might inflict is to act as though it isn’t happening. But everything he says and does filters into the hivemind of the GOP; they know what will come to be party dogma if he runs for the party’s presidential nomination and wins. And through it all, Republican after Republican has made clear that, whether they want him to be the nominee or not, they will support him anyhow, with all that entails.

Bill Barr says, “It’s inconceivable to me that I wouldn’t vote for the Republican nominee.” Mitch McConnell will “absolutely” support the man who heaps abuse on him almost daily.

And let’s not delude ourselves: That will almost certainly entail abandoning Ukraine. The most slavish Trump loyalists the party have already taken to parroting Kremlin propaganda about Zelensky’s ‘thuggishness’ and echoing conspiratorial lies meant to justify the Russian invasion. We know the overwhelming majority of Republicans will go along with it if forced to choose between that and party disarray, because they’ve done it before.

And you know who else knows it? Putin, Zelensky, and the rest of the world’s interested parties. As morally satisfying as it may feel to affect a stance of national unity, the benefits for our global alliances are small and the domestic political costs are high. So long as Republicans are what they are, failing to make issue of their fair-weather commitment to Ukraine cedes the whole terrain of political contestation over the Ukraine question to bad actors, allowing them to persuade the electorate that the only thing wrong with our Ukraine policy is Joe Biden’s stewardship of it. That all the sacrifices Putin’s war entails from us are outgrowths of his failures. 

Biden has taken to calling it “Putin’s price hike” but he hasn’t completed the circle to make it clear that the people blaming him for higher gas prices are actually doing Putin’s dirty work. Or that this should come as no surprise since Trump’s in Putin’s pocket and they support Trump all the way. Putin has put the western way of life in existential danger, Trump is subservient to Putin, and Republicans are subservient to Trump. It does no further harm to America to level with the world about what Republicans are, and it does Ukraine no favors to pretend America’s commitments to its sovereignty are consistent across our two parties. The Democratic commitment is ironclad. The Republican commitment is Potemkin. ..

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Democrats can learn from former North Carolina GOP governor and current Senate candidate Pat McCrory, who said of his opponent, “As Ukrainians bled and died Congressman Budd excused their killer.” (The difference is that McCrory will support Trump who will abandon Ukraine; Democrats should not do that part.) 

3) Even though we know so much more about Covid know, the patterns of surges and disease transmission still remain a mystery to a surprising degree. Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

This is all to say that we are all living in a different pandemic landscape now with new variants armed with novel immune-evasion capacity, a clearer sense of the limitations of vaccines in preventing spread, and a growing understanding of the dynamics of waning immunity. To judge from the recent Omicron experience in Europe, weathering another surge without much disruption or dying may require that vaccination levels and regular boosters among the elderly get pretty close to 100 percent. The U.K. managed Omicron relatively well with only 71 percent of its overall population double-vaccinated but 93 percent of its seniors. More than half of the country as a whole has gotten boosted compared with just 29 percent in the U.S.  This is partly why recent data from the U.K. is a bit more curious than that coming from Hong Kong. There, over the past few weeks, hospitalizations have begun to grow steadily in all regions of the country after a post-Omicron lull. The growth isn’t huge — 21 percent week over week — but it is visible everywhere.

The explanations are not so obvious — a reminder that, more than two years into this pandemic, there are still things about spread dynamics we don’t understand. At first, given low case levels, the rise in hospitalizations was attributed by some analysts to waning booster effects among the elderly many months after that rollout began. But there does not seem to be a clear sign in seroprevalence data that antibodies are declining at the moment. Behavioral changes may be playing some role with the recent lifting of Omicron restrictions, but case growth does not seem to be concentrated in any subgroup. Instead, it appears consistent across all age groups and regions. And while the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 has been growing as a proportion of British cases for a while now, presently accounting for more than half of new cases, it is not creating a major new wave of cases, and there are few clear signs it produces meaningfully different outcomes than the original Omicron, BA.1. A final hypothesis says hospitals are simply picking up more incidental COVID; having resumed normal operations post-Omicron, more people are coming to the hospital for other kinds of procedures, and some percentage of them are popping up as positives. (This would explain the lack of a lag between case growth and hospital growth.) But even isolating those cases, admissions for COVID are ticking up, too, if by a smaller degree.

As a result, many of those looking closely at the British turn are shrugging in confusion, which means it isn’t easy to extract lessons from the U.K. experience for the U.S. future. (Though one lesson the U.K. is apparently taking is that a fourth shot, or second booster, is important.) It is worth keeping in mind that this upturn is still recent and relatively small compared with the heights reached during Omicron (though in the southwestern U.K., more patients are now being admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 than at any point in the past year). But for those who’ve assumed the pandemic would steadily peter out, requiring a collective decision to declare “It’s over” — well, these are signs that the future is likely more complicated than that.

4) Lessons from Covid on combatting inflammation:

“Simply stopping inflammation is not enough to return tissue to its normal state,” says Ruslan Medzhitov, a professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine. This approach ignores the other side of the inflammation coin: resolution. Resolving inflammation is an active, highly choreographed process for rebuilding tissue and removing the dead bacteria and cells. When that process is disrupted, inflammatory diseases arise…

Now consensus is building that many of the illnesses attributed to inflammation—both chronic and acute—can be traced to a failure in resolution. Often that translates into a failure to clear away dead cells.

“If you knock out receptors in the macrophages of mice that recognize dying cells, for example, they become incapable of eating up these cells, resulting in a lupus-like disease,” with symptoms such as arthritis and skin rash, says Krönke. 

A similar mechanism is at work in older people, says Gilroy. As we age, the body loses a protein that recognizes dying cells; this blocks macrophages’ ability to find and eat debris. Locked in a pro-inflammatory state, these macrophages continue to produce molecules that amplify the inflammatory response early on.

Perhaps COVID-19 has been more severe in older populations “because they’ve lost some of the pro-resolution pathways with age,” suggests Luke O’Neill, an immunologist at Trinity College Dublin. He notes that COVID-19 has also been problematic for people with genetic differences that impact immune function, resulting in overactive inflammatory responses or underactive pro-resolving ones. His group and others have demonstrated that macrophages primed for inflammatory action play a significant role in critical COVID-19 cases, and they are currently testing pro-resolving strategies to combat this effect.

Cancer’s course, too, is affected when inflammation fails to resolve. The soup of toxins, growth factors, and other inflammatory by-products that accompany inflammation spurs cancer’s growth and spread. Many conventional treatments end up exacerbating the problem, according to Dipak Panigrahy, an assistant professor of pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

5) This is cool (text summary below from a New York newsletter) not the actual article:

What if things had been different? What if Hollywood had more parts for Asian actors back in the ’80s and ’90s — roles that someone like Ke Huy Quan, fresh off star-making performances in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, could step into as he grew up? Well, for one, he might never have become a fight-scene coordinator, tuning kicks for everything from X-Men to Hong Kong action films. He might never have been able to work as an assistant director for Wong Kar-wai. And he might not have had the life experience he needed for a movie like Everything Everywhere All at Once. This month, Quan plays husband to Michelle Yeoh in that multiverse-hopping epic in one of his first acting gigs since the early aughts. In this profile by Bilge Ebiri, Quan shares the story of his wildly eventful life and his glee at returning to acting. “When those opportunities dried up, I spent a long time trying to convince myself that I didn’t like acting anymore,” he told Ebiri. “I was lying to myself.”

6) Good stuff from Ian Milhiser, “The needlessly complicated Supreme Court fight over whether Navy SEALs have to obey orders: Republican judges appear unwilling to acknowledge that they do not command the United States military.”

O’Connor’s and Merryday’s orders are egregiously wrong

Ordinarily, when someone claims that the federal government has burdened their religious beliefs, they may sue the government under a statute known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that the federal government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it does so “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and uses the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

The Biden administration persuasively argues in its brief that preventing the spread of Covid-19 and ensuring military readiness are both compelling interests, and that a vaccine mandate is the least restrictive way of achieving these goals. But it really shouldn’t even need to make this argument, because the Court has repeatedly held that judges should be exceedingly reluctant to question the military’s decisions regarding its personnel.

The Court has held that judges should defer to the military even when such deference limits the constitutional rights of potential service members. Ordinarily, for example, the Court has held that “a party seeking to uphold government action based on sex must establish an ‘exceedingly persuasive justification’ for the classification.” In Rostker v. Goldberg(1981), however, the Court permitted the Selective Service System to discriminate against men by requiring them, and not women, to register for the draft.

In fact, the Court has specifically held that judges should defer to the military when a service member claims that their religious liberties are burdened by an order from a superior. That was the holding of Goldman, which held that a Jewish officer was not exempt from an Air Force regulation prohibiting him from wearing a yarmulke, the traditional Jewish skullcap, while he was indoors.

“Our review of military regulations challenged on First Amendment grounds is far more deferential than constitutional review of similar laws or regulations designed for civilian society,” the Court explained in Goldman, adding that granting an exemption would undermine service members’ “habit of immediate compliance with military procedures and orders” — a habit that “must be virtually reflex with no time for debate or reflection.”

In fairness, Goldman was decided nearly four decades ago, and the Court’s current majority is far more sympathetic to the concerns of religious objectors than the justices who sat in the 1980s. And generally, the Court’s deference to the executive branch on national security might merit some reevaluation. But the Court concluded as recently as 2018 that judges should defer to the president on matters of national security, even when religious liberty is at stake.

That was the holding of Trump v. Hawaii (2018), which upheld former President Donald Trump’s policy preventing people from several predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. “‘Any rule of constitutional law that would inhibit the flexibility’ of the President ‘to respond to changing world conditions,’” the Court explained in Hawaii, “‘should be adopted only with the greatest caution,’ and our inquiry into matters of entry and national security is highly constrained.”

All of which is a long way of saying that O’Connor’s and Merryday’s decisions have no basis in law.

Something needs to be done to prevent rogue judges from issuing lawless orders that bind the entire country

It is likely, for a variety of reasons, that the Supreme Court will not tolerate O’Connor’s and Merryday’s orders…

But O’Connor’s and Merryday’s orders highlight a pervasive problem within the judiciary. It is too easy for litigants to shop around for sympathetic judges who are willing to issue orders that most judges would conclude are lawless. And it takes far too long for the Biden administration to secure an order from a higher court overturning these rogue judges’ decisions.

7) Jamelle Bouie: “The Supreme Court Did the Right Thing. I’m Still Worried.”

State legislatures are, and always have been, creatures of state constitutions, bound by the terms of those constitutions and subject to the judgments of state courts.

This has important implications for the nature of state legislative power. The federal Constitution may give state legislatures the power to allocate electoral votes and regulate congressional elections, but that power is subject to the limits imposed by state constitutions.

Imagine what could happen if that were not the case. Imagine, instead, that state legislatures had plenary power over federal elections, which would allow them to overrule state courts, ignore a governor’s veto and even nullify an act of Congress. State legislatures would, in essence, be sovereign, with unchecked power over the fundamental political rights of those citizens who lived within their borders.

This change would both unravel and turn the clock back on our constitutional order, with states acting more like the quasi-independent entities they were before the Civil War and less like the subordinate units of a national polity.

But that, apparently, is what some Republicans want.

Recently, Republicans in North Carolina and Pennsylvania asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block congressional maps drawn by their state courts. Their argument was based on a revolutionary doctrine that would tee up this fundamental change to the American political system.

The challenges, which failed, stemmed from the effort to gerrymander Democrats out of as much power as possible. In North Carolina, the proposed gerrymander was so egregious that the State Supreme Court ruled that it was in violation of the state’s Constitution. The court drew a new map to rectify the problem. In Pennsylvania, likewise, state courts drew a new congressional map after Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed the heavily gerrymandered map produced by the Republican-led legislature.

The North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling and the Pennsylvania governor’s veto should have been the last word. Both were acting in accordance with their state constitutions, which bind and structure the actions of the state legislatures in question. For Republicans, however, those checks on their power are illegitimate. Their argument, in brief, is that neither state courts nor elected executives have the right to interfere with or challenge the power of state legislatures as it relates to the regulation of federal elections.

Nestled at the heart of the Republican argument is a breathtaking claim about the nature of state legislative power. Called the independent state legislature doctrine, it holds that Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution — which states that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators” — gives state legislatures total power to write rules for congressional elections and direct the appointment of presidential electors, unbound by state constitutions and free from the scrutiny of state courts…

The basic problem with this doctrine is that it’s bunk. “The text of the elections and electors clauses is silent as to the role of state constitutions, but the subsequent history is anything but,” the legal scholar Michael Weingartner writes in a draft article on the theory of independent state legislatures. “Since the founding, state constitutions have both directly regulated federal elections and constrained state legislatures’ exercise of their authority under the clauses.” What’s more, over the past century, “nearly every election-related state constitutional provision was either approved and presented to voters by state legislatures or placed on the ballot and enacted by voters directly.” Even if the federal Constitution is vague on the full scope of state legislative power to regulate elections, both history and practice have fixed the meaning of the relevant clauses in favor of constraint. State constitutions (and state courts) do in fact regulate state legislatures as it relates to election law.

8) Ruy Teixeira, “The Democrats’ Working Class Voter Problem”

Data since the 2020 election confirm a pattern of declining Democratic support among the nonwhite working class. Put another way: education polarization, it’s not just for white voters anymore. As a result, Democratic strength among the multiracial working class continues to weaken.


In a just-released Morning Consult/Politico poll, voters were broken down into three categories: noncollege, Bachelor’s degree only and postgraduate. Biden’s approval rating was just 37 percent among all working class voters, but 55 percent among the BA group and 63 percent among the postgraduates. Other polls show similar splits, with Biden faring far more poorly among working class than college-educated voters.

A recent Data for Progress poll shows this pattern extending to the generic Congressional ballot and a hypothetical rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024. Working class voters favor Republicans for Congress by 9 points while college voters prefer Democrats by 17 points. Unsurprisingly, there is a big education gap between white college and working class voters. But there are also wide gaps between working class and college nonwhite voters: Hispanic working class voters are 11 margin points less supportive of Democrats than their college-educated counterparts while black working class voters’ Democratic support is 31 margin points less than college blacks’.

The pattern is similar for the Biden-Trump rematch. Working class voters prefer Trump in 2024 by 7 points, while the college-educated prefer Biden by 21 points. And Hispanic working voters are 17 margin points less supportive of Biden than college Hispanics while working class blacks are 34 points less supportive of Biden than college-educated blacks. Remarkably, 40 percent of working class Hispanics currently say they would vote for Trump, along with 22 percent of working class blacks. These figures strongly suggest that the Democrats’ working class voter problem can no longer be fenced off as a white voter problem.

More bluntly, this performance among working class voters should be unacceptable for a party of the left. After all, what is the point of a left party that cannot command the loyalty of the working class and therefore plausibly claim to represent its interests? And in raw electoral terms, worsening performance among working class voters makes the Democrats’ quest for political dominance essentially impossible, since the share of working class voters in the country is 70 percent larger than the share of college-educated voters. The best they could hope for is to generate a stalemate by continually increasing their share of the college-educated vote while Republicans do, in fact, more and more become the party of the multiracial working class.

That seems an unpleasant prospect on many levels. Better to fight the good fight for the working class vote. That starts with Democrats’ pressing need to rebrand themselves on cultural issues, where they are decidedly out of step with working class opinion on issues around crime, immigration, race, gender, schools and language policing.

9) I love my kids and I love playing with my kids.  But I also love this, “How Much Do You Really Have to Play With Your Kids?”

To find out what is the “normal” amount that parents play with kids, I got in touch with David Lancy, author of The Anthropology of Childhood. Prof. Lancy has studied childhood on four continents, in areas rich and poor, rural, urban and suburban. It was a great relief when he said that not only is playing with kids not crucial for their development or happiness, other cultures find the idea downright bizarre. To them, adults getting down on the floor to play with the kids would seem as weird as a parent wearing a diaper, or drinking from a baby bottle. Here’s our discussion (edited for length and clarity).

Lenore: As an anthropologist, what do you wish modern-day parents understood?

David: To me the most important thing is to lose the guilt.

Lenore: Guilt about — ?

David: Everything. To recognize the fact that there are a few minimal imperatives in terms of [your child’s] health, their well-being, their diet, and their safety. What has happened is a sort of vicious circle where parents have a great deal of anxiety about their children, and the blogosphere kind of feeds that anxiety, and unwittingly the medical profession and educational system feed it, too. We need to start looking at the downside of all of these “must do” imperatives and see them as anxiety-provoking on the part of both parents and children.

Lenore: That includes the idea that you “must” play with your kids, right? I first heard about you years ago when you wrote a piece in the Boston Globe about how playing with your kids is considered unnatural in many other cultures.

David: Yes. In most cultures, adults do not intervene unless the child is hurt.

When parents feel they must be their kids’ playmates

Lenore: And today?

David: Nowadays I have these next-door neighbors and they spend literally the entire day supervising and playing with their children. They’re pushing them in swings and bouncing them on a trampoline and they have this sort of plastic car that the mother bent over pushing. I can’t help but eavesdrop –

Lenore: Hmm.

David: I suspect they bring an attitude something like, “Play is so important in children’s development!” And maybe the unspoken part is that play is way too important to be left to children.

Lenore: But isn’t is good for parents to play with their kids?

David: On a purely selfish basis, kids are wonderful. They’re a lot of fun to have around and interact with. But again, I would stress the fact that that’s a personal choice. Not every adult gets the same buzz. I suspect there are a lot of parents who spend a lot of time playing with children, guiding them, supervising them, because they feel an obligation. And they feel guilty because they don’t experience what they think should be the positive feedback, so they think there’s something wrong with them. They feel guilty.

10) This is really, really cool and a great use of AI, “This App Can Diagnose Rare Diseases From a Child’s Face: Doctors often struggle to identify rare conditions they may only see once in a lifetime. Face2Gene helps specialists find others with the same condition. “

11) Really liked this on elite goaltending and why one player’s stealthy wrist shot seems to work well against it:

Elite goaltenders are lauded for their reaction times, but in truth most NHL Gs stop high-danger chances by reading subtle cues delivered by the shooter before the puck is on its way.

Once the puck is in the air, there is little to no time to make late adjustments. This is why screens, redirections and pre-shot movement (which forces the G to refocus their eyes on a new point of attack) are so effective.

The more a shooter can disrupt a goalie’s information-gathering efforts, the more likely they are to score.

Aside from the usual tactics, there is another way for shooters to shift the odds in their favour.

James van Riemsdyk is a 32-year-old winger with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Due to his $7M cap hit and to his 2022-23 UFA status, he is unlikely to be on the move this trade deadline.

However, JVR is still worth a look for a contending team.

The left-hander is a premier net-front specialist and can beat goalies in a variety of ways in-tight or at medium range.

During the summer of 2018, I saw the former Maple Leaf’s skills up-close at a series of informal off-season skates.

Two things struck me about JVR’s shot.

First, JVR employs an extremely short follow-through when shooting off the rush.

Instead of using his hands and arm to add power, he contracts his core, pushes down on his stick and allows the interaction between the stick blade and the ice to propel the puck toward goal.

Less body movement = fewer visual cues for the goalie to read.

Second, the sound of JVR’s snap shot is unusually quiet. There’s no loud “snap” into the puck, only a soft “puff” when it finds twine.

How he does it is a bit of a trade secret – I’m still trying to figure it out.

In any case, it’s one fewer piece of information for a goalie looking around a screen and trying to predict when and where the shot will be coming from.

12) This was written about Putin this past November and it’s excellent for understanding the current situation, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business”

13) Helpful from Robinson Meyer as my wife asked me this exact question, ‘America Is the World’s Largest Oil Producer. So Why Is Losing Russia’s Oil Such a Big Deal?”

That means, under the U.S. oil industry as it exists today, there is no way to spin up new oil production in a few weeks or months. But more important, it means that U.S. oil companies have developed the opposite of independence. Since Congress lifted the ban on oil exports in 2015, all American-drilled oil and some of our natural gas have been priced on the international market. Global market forces, not our abundance of domestic fossil fuels, set the price of oil and gasoline in the United States.

This has exposed every fracking company to the volatility of the global oil market. Twice over the past decade, oil prices surged enough that frackers responded by drilling more wells and putting more oil on the global market. Each time, they drilled so much oil that prices crashed again, ruining their investment and driving a wave of consolidation in the industry. By far the worst of these bust cycles happened during the pandemic. Today, the U.S. fracking industry, which used to comprise hundreds of firms, has been whittled down to several dozen companies.

The industry, which has twice betrayed its investors, now has financial PTSD. Fracking companies are so worried about shanking their investors that they have barely drilled new wells as prices have climbed. (Last week, as Russian oil fell off the global market, the number of fracking wells in the U.S. actually went down.) This new “capital discipline” has turned the industry into something of a cartel. Scott Sheffield, the head of Pioneer Natural Resources, the country’s biggest shale company, declared last year that no fracking company would drill a new well even if the price of oil went above $100 a barrel—which it has. “All the shareholders that I’ve talked to said that if anybody goes back to growth, they will punish those companies,” he said.

This means that although America may be “energy independent” on paper, American consumers have won no benefits from this independence, and American officials cannot assert this independence in any meaningful way. Market dynamics, not overzealous regulations, have imprisoned the industry.

14) After Emma Camp’s op-ed on campus intellectual climate earlier this week, FIRE took a lot of (unfair) fire.  Greg Lukianoff with an excellent twitter thread in response. And FIRE’s own defense.

15) Sometimes I just have to link to things that are so stupid I need to respond. “Grades Are at the Center of the Student Mental Health Crisis.”  Yeah, it’s grades, something that we’ve been doing (and gotten way easier on!) for decades that are the problem. 

16) Hopefully some of my fellow Wordle fans will love this analysis as much as I did, “What makes a Wordle word hard?”  Yes, the duplicate letters are a killer. And this is a great analysis, too, “Wordle, 15 Million Tweets Later”

17) Really good post from Katelyn Jetelina on risk and Covid:

Bottom line

Risk calibration is incredibly complicated and hard to do. I find myself lost in this all the time. But, sticking to two themes helps:

  1. When transmission is low, relax. When transmission is high, take precautions. Reasonable measures can prevent infection and, perhaps more importantly, prevent transmission to vulnerable pockets of society. But if you do get infected…

  2. Vaccines do a superb job of keeping us out of the hospital.

We’ve done the best we can in an evolving landscape without clear risk communication. But we, public health practitioners, need to do better. Risk communication can and should to be part of our arsenal of preparedness for the next waves and public health threats beyond.

18) I’m sorry, but this is an example of liberal media bias and academic liberal bias, “Texas isn’t the only state denying essential medical care to trans youths. Here’s what’s going on.”  Essential is a pretty important word here and aside from the obvious animus and culture war politics of Texas’ law, there’s room for reasonable disagreement around “essential medical care” for trans children.  And how do we know it’s “essential” care?  Because of a link to a “viewpoint” article in JAMA.

19) Unsurprisingly, I quite enjoyed this, “The Pandemic Interpreter Why are so many liberals mad at David Leonhardt?”



Yes, fund the police (and do it intelligently)

Great stuff from Yglesias today.  Short version– spending money on police– espsecially if done in a thoughtful, data-driven manner– is good for reducing crime. (And crime is bad).  And, we should absolutely make it easier to get rid of bad police and dramatically weaken police unions.  Alas, all too rarely do you find the same people making both these arguments, but they are both very much true.

It’s also worth underscoring that while police violence against civilians disproportionately impacts African Americans, so does murder. Indeed, the racial gap in murder victimization rates is larger than the racial gap in police violence.

Given American history, it’s not hard to see why “the police should act with more restraint” is coded as a racial justice cause whereas “violent crime is a really big problem” is not. But that is the outcome of a number of contingent historical processes and does not reflect an objective reality whereby crime is a problem facing white people and police misconduct is a problem facing Black people. Among Democrats, white people are less enthusiastic than Black or Latin people about the idea of having more cops in their neighborhood, probably for the very good reason that most white Democrats have less to fear from crime and less to gain from law enforcement.

Misconduct on the part of armed officers of the state has major societal implications beyond the incidents of misconduct themselves, which explains their prominence in our political discourse.

But the absolute numbers matter, too. A policy change that led to a 99.9 percent reduction in the rate at which unarmed people are killed by the police but also generated a 0.75 percent increase in the murder rate would generate a net loss of Black lives (you would, however, save white lives because police violence is less racially disproportionate than murder). Now is there really such a tradeoff in policymaking? I’m not sure. But it illustrates why the big gap in the quantities is such a big deal. To save large numbers of people by reducing police violence requires huge reductions in the rate at which it occurs. By contrast, small changes in the murder rate make a big difference, simply because murder is much more common…

One issue with Mello’s study is that since murder is reasonably rare (and was considerably rarer in 2009 than it is today), generating evidence for statistically significant impacts on the murder rate is challenging. He finds statistically significant declines in violent crime in general and a directional decline in murder, but one that doesn’t reach the statistical significance threshold.

Aaron Chalfin and Justin McCrary try to get around that problem by abandoning the natural experiment approach to look at a much bigger dataset of all variations in crime and police spending across cities. Basically, they are asking Ifill’s question but using advanced math to try to address the endogeneity. They can’t guarantee that they’ve eliminated all endogeneity bias with their efforts, but they find $1.67 cents in crime reduction benefits for every $1 invested in policing — in this case largely driven by a reduction in murders.

More recently, Chalfin (this time with Benjamin Hansen, Emily Weisburst, and Morgan Williams Jr.) finds that “each additional police officer abates approximately 0.1 homicides” and improves on prior scholarship by documenting the race-specific effect, which is “twice as large for Black versus white victims.”

This seems persuasive to me — having more police officers around reduces crime. Most people’s intuition that hiring more cops is a good way to improve public safety is correct, as is their intuition that people who are very averse to hiring more cops are probably just not that fired up about crime reduction as a policy goal.

That said, there are certainly other investments that work, too…

You should fire bad cops

Someone is reading all this and banging their head against the wall saying, “GODAMMIT YGLESIAS IS TOTALLY IGNORING POLICE MISCONDUCT!!!!!”

But it’s crazy that we managed to get a place in the discourse where the conventional way to demonstrate your concern about police misconduct is to argue for arbitrary budget cuts or to suggest that normal, workaday non-misconduct is somehow unnecessary or abusive. If a bus driver got drunk, crashed the bus, and killed an innocent person, you wouldn’t say, “that goes to show we shouldn’t have buses.” You’d punish the bus driver. And if the Bus Driver Union had rules that made it impossible to hold abusive bus drivers accountable, you’d try to change the rules. You wouldn’t say, “these drivers are reckless and out of control so let’s run the buses less frequently.” If the bus is useful, you run the bus. If the driver is engaged in misconduct, you punish the driver. Derek Chauvin is in prison because he murdered George Floyd, which seems extremely appropriate to me.

In general, though, it is too difficult to discipline or fire cops for misconduct and too easy for bad cops to circulate from department to department. These are absolutely things that should be changed.

But if a manager decides to start being tougher on staff — asking more of them and firing a larger share of the worst performers — and also decides that prior recruiting practices haven’t been rigorous enough, are they somehow also going to promise payroll savings? Of course not. They’d need a larger budget.

My guess, though, is that the deep roots of progressive dysfunction on the topic of policing stem from the fact that there’s solid reason to think that police unions and police collective bargaining meaningfully increase misconduct. Adam Serwer did a great piece titled “Bust The Police Unions,” but unlike “defund the police,” that never became a viral meme on the left. Tackling police union power would, obviously, be difficult coalition politics for progressives since the idea has negative implications for other public sector unions. By contrast, “cut the police budget” is comfortable.

But that’s a sloppy way to think about policy. And while I’m glad that Biden and congressional Democrats haven’t embraced it, it’s a real problem that the institutions that are supposed to do policy analysis for progressives seem so twisted around on this.

Meanwhile, German Lopez in the NYT yesterday on (among other things) how to do policing better:

Better policing

Policing, in general, reduces crime and violence. Every addition of 10 officers prevents one homicide, a study found. The effect on the number of Black people killed is twice that.

But policing as it is widely practiced now also carries grave costs, including harassment, wrongful arrests and deaths, which disproportionately hurt minority communities.

The best policing approaches focus on the slivers of city blocks and other places where crime and violence often break out, known as “hot spots.” They comprehensively take on underlying problems contributing to crime, like drugs, guns and housing. They target repeat offenders.

In much of the country, such strategies require a rethinking of policing, leaving behind more confrontational and sweeping tactics. Those aggressive approaches are largely ineffective — and they can backfire, turning communities against the police…

Striking a balance

Policing appears to work best in the short term, generating reductions in crime that are nearly immediate but level off over time. The alternative approaches can take longer to work, but their effects can last for years.

Between the 1990s and the 2010s, America’s murder rate fell by more than half. The variety of credible explanations for the decline suggests that no single factor was solely responsible. It was a mix: more and better policing, the end of the crack epidemic, reduced exposure to lead, video games keeping kids indoors and out of trouble, and more.

The balanced approach worked then. For an inherently grim problem, that history is a reason for hope.

So, yeah, let’s spend money on police but spend it in the most effective ways while ensuring accountability and diminishing the power of unions.  And let’s do other proven non-police things, too. Hard? Sure, but damnit that’s what we should be trying.  

Quick hits (part II)

Well, damn, had these all done and accidentally scheduled for Monday morning instead of Sunday morning.  Just realized, so, Sunday afternoon it is.

1) How the hell did the guy get away with this for so long? “Home Depot Worker Swapped $387,500 in Fake Bills for Real Ones, Officials Say: The U.S. Secret Service said Adrian Jean Pineda bought prop $100 bills, which are used for entertainment purposes, and swapped them for genuine currency for four years.”

Adrian Jean Pineda had an entry-level job at a Home Depot in 2018, working as a vault associate in Tempe, Ariz., in charge of counting the money from registers, placing it in sealed bags and depositing it at a local Wells Fargo Bank.

Over the next four years, however, the bank found $100 bills from the store’s deposits with “PLAYMONEY” written as a serial number — a clear sign of prop currency, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

The problem continued, losses ballooned and, in December, Home Depot contacted the U.S. Secret Service. The agency charged Mr. Pineda last month with swapping $387,500 of the store’s real cash with fake bills.

“He was just in a really good position to do the crime,” Frank Boudreaux Jr., the special agent in charge with the U.S. Secret Service’s office in Phoenix, said on Sunday. He added that it was rare that someone would pass so much counterfeit money before being caught…

The scheme began in January 2018, according to the complaint, and started to unravel late last year after Home Depot detected a large number of fake bills coming from one particular store, Mr. Boudreaux said.

Mr. Pineda bought from Amazon prop $100 bills, which are used for parties and pranks and in television and movie productions. The bills are accurately scaled to size and contain text found on real ones. He brought to work about $800 to $1,200 of the fake currency at a time, Mr. Boudreaux said.

After cashiers brought Mr. Pineda the day’s receipts from the registers, he would swap real bills with fake ones, shoving crumpled fistfuls of real money into his pocket, the complaint said. Video surveillance cameras caught him doing this at least 16 times, the complaint said.

The prop bills, which cost $8.96 for a pack of 100 individual $100 bills, look “highly realistic,” Mr. Boudreaux said. They feature a perfectly printed Benjamin Franklin and, next to his face, a vertical blue line, similar to the 3-D security ribbon found on actual bills.

2) I tried Semantle a couple times but just found it too hard. That said, it’s still really cool:

In many ways, Semantle is hard mode Wordle. Gone is the simplified dictionary and five-letter limit, meaning words can be any type and length, and gone is any indication of correctly guessed letters or positions.

Instead, you’ve got two new helpers: the ability to make infinite guesses, and a neural network able to learn word associations telling you how close, conceptually, you are to the correct answer. I’ve yet to find the solution in fewer than 50 guesses.

Semantle, built by David Turner, uses Word2vec, an algorithm created by researchers at Google which can crawl through a large amount of text and, on its own, work out how words relate to one another. It then represents those associations by creating, basically, a galaxy of words. Words that are close together are similar, words that are far apart are less so.

How this is represented in Semantle is as a number between 1 and 100 which tells you how similar your word is to the solution. In yesterday’s game – like its inspiration, Semantle offers just one puzzle per day – the word “digest” had a similarity rating of 2.85 and “explode” had a rating of 16.17. The correct answer has a similarity rating of 100.

3) Let’s get Jeff Maurer in here on something I feel so strongly about and so bugs me about wokism, “The “You Can Only Write Characters Who Are Exactly You” Idea Is Not Workable: It’s Actually Pretty Racist and Dumb”

American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins became the subject of a Category 5 Twitter storm for telling a story about Mexican immigrants that was “not hers”. Jesse Singal wrote a series of articles chronicling the race-essentialism that has taken over young adult literature. Those stories match my own experiences in television, where ideas about who can write what have taken root seemingly without anyone asking: “Is this progressive, or is this an attitude towards race that would be at home in a book from the 1800s called The Traits of the Peoples of the Seven Continents?”

The current madness is a perversion of a legitimate critique. There is, without a doubt, something I’ll call the “hippies on Dragnet” problem. Dragnet, the ‘60s cop show that served as a cathartic release for squares whose greatest wish was to see some filthy long-hairs face justice, made no attempt whatsoever to understand the counterculture or portray it accurately. Hippies on the show are never anything more than hairy loudmouths dressed like a mashup of Pocahontas and Huck Finn, and whose only character traits are: 1) They say “groovy” a lot, and 2) They get their asses busted by Joe Friday. The writers clearly never bothered to meet any actual hippies. Not that that would have been easy; if a guy who looked like Vince Lombardi had shown up at a Country Joe and the Fish concert and said “Hello, fellow freaks! Care to rap with me?” I suspect it wouldn’t have gone over well.

Getting Old 30 Rock GIF
Seems like as good a time as any to post this.

When applied to hippies, lazy writing leads to lousy characters. When applied to an ethic group (or other group), it leads to ugly stereotypes. Was there a single gay, male character on TV before Will & Grace who wasn’t a lispy, effeminate guy in cutoffs? When did the first Asian character without any ancient wisdom to impart make it to the screen? The shallowness that leads to these stereotypes comes from assuming that you know something about a person based on their ascriptive traits.

Some critics, to their credit, continue to focus on the writing, not the writer. The New York Times review of American Dirtcriticized Cummins’ characters without declaring her incapable of writing them because she’s not Mexican.1 But it’s common for people to adopt the simple heuristic that any major character should share the author’s traits. This is the logic behind the “Own Voices” movement, which promotes books by “an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group.” That definition comes from the Seattle Public Library, which also includes this warning on its web page:

Not good enough, Seattle Public Library! If you’re really serious about steering people towards diversity, you’ll start slapping big, red labels on books that say: “WARNING: MAY CONTAIN WHITE PEOPLE!!!”

I’m all for hearing stories we haven’t heard before, and I’m all for expanding access to fields that are difficult to enter. But I don’t think an ethic that insists that authors only write from “their own” perspective is remotely workable…

Many authentic, important works have been authored by people not writing about “their own” group. The book that became the movie Schindler’s List was written by Thomas Keneally, an Australian Catholic. Keneally did his research, interviewing numerous Schindler Jews, which is why there’s no scene in the book where one Jewish character turns to another and says: “Thank Christ it’s finally Saturday — let’s make pork chops!” Another classic by an “outsider” is The Wire, whose no-filter realism distinguished it from other cop shows (like Dragnet). The Wire is the brainchild of David Simon, who is not a cop, nor is he Black, nor is he — to my knowledge — a drug dealer. One could argue that the story wasn’t “his” by any measure. But Simon worked the City Desk at the Baltimore Sun for 12 years — he knew that world inside and out. His deep knowledge base is why he could write The Wire about the drug trade and, for that matter, also The Deuce about the porn industry — the guy watches A TON of porn!2

If David Simon was shopping The Wire today — and if he was a nobody and not David Fucking Simon — he might get it into the hands of a producer who would think “this guy covered crime in Baltimore for 12 years, and these characters seem really authentic — this can work.” But he’d definitely get it to several producers who would think “White guy writing a show about mostly-Black characters — so this show is basically Career Suicide: Baltimore. Pass.” There’s an obvious catch-22 here: White writers aren’t supposed to write non-white characters, but they also shouldn’t write something that’s “too white”. My advice to white writers is simple: People like movies where a talking dog and cat try to find their way home. Write one of those.

Fixating on a writer’s race is bad for non-white writers, too. Non-white writers are often pigeon-holed based on their race; I know several who are sick of being asked to write about “their experience”. 

4) Aarron Carroll, “Covid Drugs May Work Well, but Our Health System Doesn’t”

But having drugs, especially highly effective ones like Paxlovid, is critical. And for these medications to succeed they must be taken correctly. People need to start them within five days of an infection, and because of the deficiencies of our testing system and other problems in health care, beginning treatment that quickly is difficult.

Let’s start with diagnosis. If you feel sick, you need a coronavirus test. A P.C.R. test most likely would take at least a day or two to return results, and that’s if you can find the test. An alternative would be to use an at-home antigen test. Like everything else, these tests become scarce when people need them most. The government is sending some to families free if they sign up on a website, but you can get only four per household at the moment.

Any at-home tests beyond that cost money. The Biden administration has pledged to make insurance cover the costs (up to eight a month), but that promise often requires you to pay for them out of pocket and then get reimbursed later.

And that’s if you have insurance. For those who don’t, the administration plans to make tests available at sites in underserved communities, but getting some requires people to know when they’re in and have the ability to pick them up. The uninsured will, very likely, have the most difficulty doing any of this.

If you test positive, you can’t go straight to a pharmacy for the drug therapy like you did for the test. You need a prescription for the medication, which often requires a doctor’s visit. That presupposes that you have a doctor (many people don’t), and that there’s an appointment available. Before the pandemic, fewer than half of people in the United States could get a same-day or next-day appointment with their provider when they were sick.

5) Another fun headline, “Family Dollar closes 400 stores, recalls products after FDA finds decaying dead rodents in warehouse”

6) James Fallows, “Journalism Needs to Engage With Its Critics: For the New York Times, that means a public editor.”  Lots of great stuff on how media bias and framing really work with great examples.  You just kind of need to read it.  Trust me.

7) Good stuff in the Planet Money newsletter:

In a new paper , the economists Anna Aizer, Hilary W. Hoynes, and Adriana Lleras-Muney explore the reasons why the United States is such an outlier when it comes to fighting child poverty. While they acknowledge the reasons are varied and complex, they focus their analysis on one factor: American policymakers, influenced by economists, have dwelled much more on the costs of social programs than their benefits.

The Cost Of Focusing Solely On Costs

For decades, many American economists were pretty much obsessed with trying to document the ways in which welfare programs discouraged work, or broke up families, or encouraged pregnancy, while ignoring all the benefits that society gets from having kids grow up in a more financially secure environment. Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney analyze research papers in America’s top academic journals since the 1960s, and they find that prior to 2010, fewer than 27 percent of all articles about welfare programs even bothered to try and document their benefits.

Over the last decade, however, economists have increasingly been focusing on the benefits of such social programs. One reason for this is that research techniques and data have gotten much better, allowing researchers to see both the short- and long-term effects of programs. In recent years, economists have found all sorts of benefits that derive from government spending on kids, including better educational outcomes, fewer health problemslower crime and incarceration rates, and higher earnings (and tax payments) when the kids become adults. 

One recent study in a top economic journal, by Harvard economists Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser, analyzed the bang-per-buck of government spending programs. They found that social spending on kids stands out as having far greater returns for society over the long run than spending on adults. The returns are so large that it’s possible that government spending on kids could end up paying for itself over those kids’ lifetimes, through economic gains for the kids, and through reduced public spending on them through other social programs when they get older.

Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney argue that the evidence is clear: social programs aimed at kids are investments, which have very real, measurable returns for society. “The returns of these investments… can only be properly measured over the entire lifetime of the recipients and should be comprehensive in nature, including gains to schooling, health and other aspects of human wellbeing,” Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney write.

However, they write, the federal government currently fails to take into account these long-term benefits. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is the nonpartisan agency that informs lawmakers about the costs and benefits of programs, currently only looks at the effects of programs over ten years. “Many of the returns to investments in children are not realized for many years, once the children complete their education, attain young adulthood and enter the labor market,” Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney write. “Thus, even if there were consensus on the long run benefits of a program (which might need to be predicted if a program is new), the long run benefits outside the 10-year window would not be included in the CBO scoring.” 

It’s Not Just Economists’ Fault 

There are many other reasons why America continues to prioritize social spending on the elderly over investment in kids. Kids, of course, don’t vote — and seniors do in droves. Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney point out that the American Association of Retired People “boasted 38 million members and $1.7 billion in revenues in 2019.” It’s a powerful lobbying group. Kids, on the other hand, don’t really have an analogue to the AARP. “The Children’s Defense Fund, one of the major groups advocating for children in the US, reported revenue of $17.8 million in 2019, just 1 percent of AARP revenue,” Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney write. 

Another factor that may be behind the discrepancy is that while children may be a sympathetic group, government spending, generally speaking, doesn’t go directly to them. It goes to their parents — and helping out parents sparks an age-old debate about fairness, work, and individual responsibility that doesn’t get opened up in the same way when giving money to the elderly. 

But, arguably, the biggest factor of all in explaining why our social safety net looks the way it does is America’s deeply fraught, racialized politics. That has been well-documented, including in a recent book by New York Times writer Eduardo Porter: American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise. Since the beginnings of the American welfare state, many Americans have disliked the idea of their tax dollars going to minorities or immigrants — and that has torn large holes in America’s social safety net.
Even today, Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney argue, demographics may help explain why we spend so much more on seniors than kids. “The elderly population in the US is 77 percent white non-Hispanic in contrast to children who are slightly less than half white non-Hispanic,” they write. “From the onset, the generosity and universality of anti-poverty programs have been a function of the racial composition of potential recipients.”

Economists are now amassing a mountain of evidence that supports the notion that spending on kids has huge benefits, not just for kids themselves, but for society — and taxpayers — as a whole. While many economists in the past may have helped contribute to the scaling back of social programs by pointing out their costs, maybe now they will help contribute to building them back up by illuminating their ample benefits.

8) This is really cool.  You should check it out (free link), “The Paradox of the Lizard Tail, Solved” It can break off in an instant but also stay firmly attached. Scientists have figured out the microscopic structures that make this survival skill possible.”

9) Really great look at Denmark and at BA.2 from Katelyn Jetelina:

In the past two weeks we’ve also gotten more scientific clarity on BA.2. As a reminder, Omicron (called BA.1) continues to mutate as expected, but one of the sublineages (called BA.2) caught the attention of many scientists due to a number of concerning mutations. Since my last update, we’ve learned more about this sister lineage:

  1. Transmissibility. We now have consistent data showing that BA.2 outcompetes BA.1. A recent study found the global reproductive rate of BA.2 was R(t)= 1.4 compared to BA.1, which had a R(t)=1.1. In England, secondary attack rates in U.K. households are also higher: 13.4% of BA.2 cases transmitted within their households vs 10.3% of BA.1. Together, this means that BA.2 will become the dominant variant worldwide very soon.

  2. Immunity escape. In a recent lab study, immune escape was similar for BA.2 compared to BA.1. In the real world, we have evidence that boosters continue to work against BA.2, but just like BA.1, protection against infection wanes over time (see Table below). A study of Denmark households found that vaccination helped protect against transmission more for BA.2 than BA.1. So, vaccines continue to work against BA.2. This is not surprising but sure is great news.

    UK Health Security Report Source Here

    What about infection-induced immunity? A recent preprint from Denmark found that BA.2 reinfections after BA.1 infection were rare, but much more common among unvaccinated compared to vaccinated: of the 47 reinfections, 89% were not vaccinated and 6% had only the two-dose series.

  3. Severity. We’ve gotten mixed signals as to whether BA.2 induces more severe disease than BA.1. A recent lab study in Japan found that BA.2 is more severe in hamsters. Hamster models have helped us out a lot in the past, but they certainly have limitations. A “real world” study in South Africa found something different: BA.2 had similar risk of hospitalization as BA.1. Because hamsters are not people, and because the lab is not the real world, I tend to have more confidence in South Africa’s conclusion that BA.2 is not more severe than BA.1. But we definitely need confirmatory analyses from other countries.


10) Many years ago I was quite taken with the idea that the brain reaches full physical maturity around age 25 (through the myelination process).  So taken, that I named my new blog after this.  Now, this is just some guy on reddit, but a really thorough look at evidence to suggest that maybe we’re wrong about this.

11) University IRB’s are totally out of control and somebody really needs to write a deep dive on the topic.  This isn’t that, but it’s a start.

12) Yascha Mounk on Ukraine:

 was born in 1982. The Berlin Wall came down when I was seven. The internet, with its promise to connect the globe, became a part of everyday life when I was a teenager. Democracy kept expanding its reach around the world until I reached my early twenties.

In my generation, hope for a better future was not the exclusive preserve of inveterate optimists. Despite serious setbacks, from the civil war in the former Yugoslavia to the terrorist attacks which shook America on 9/11, the evidence seemed to bear out the assumption that the world was getting more peaceful and tolerant.

The number of wars really was declining. The most aggressive forms of nationalism really were fading. The portion of the human population that was able to speak freely and express its preferences at the ballot box really did rise to record highs. For a few precious years, a cosmopolitan optimism which swapped the narcissism of minor differences for the embrace of a common humanity seemed to be the ruling ethos of the world’s most powerful countries.

This made it easy to dismiss disturbances in the matrix as anachronisms which would soon be overcome. Many members of my generation wrote off civil wars fed by ethnic pride as “ancient hatreds,” played down the revival of religious fanaticism as the province of extremists, and dismissed bellicose nationalists as Ewiggestrige, those who are “forever beholden to yesteryear.” When I was twenty years old, I was very much concerned about the rise of Silvio Berlusconi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin. But deep down, I thought I knew that they were throwbacks to a sinister past that would never make a real comeback—crooks and fanatics, ideologues and warmongers who posed a real threat but couldn’t possibly win the day and shape the future.

But just as the past can prove to be prologue, so apparent anachronists can turn out to be members of the avant-garde. 

Today, it seems clear that the prevailing consensus was reading the tea leaves all wrong. The world has just entered its sixteenth year of a democratic recession that has only gotten deeper over the past twelve months. Social media mostly inspired tribal narcissism instead of facilitating mutual understanding. Nothing, from the survival of democracy in its traditional heartlands to our collective ability to check the ambitions of the world’s most ruthless dictators, seems certain any longer.

Chauvinism and ethnic pride, demagoguery and the lust for conquest, it turns out, do not belong to a particular historical epoch. They are thoroughly human potentialities, forever lurking as possible futures should our vigilance waver and our institutions fail to keep the worst instincts of humanity in check—as they just did in the heart of Europe.

13) This case is so wrong on so many levels and, yes, deeply racist, “Pamela Moses ‘Requested a Jury Trial.’ So She Got 6 Years in Prison.” Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said Moses would be a free woman—if she hadn’t insisted on exercising her constitutional right to trial.”

14) And, hey, if you are an old white guy (and former cop) you can be acquitted of shooting someone to death because they threw popcorn at you.  Yes, seriously.

15) I quite liked “The Mandalorian” but the “Book of Bobba Fett” from the exact same creative team was deeply, deeply disappointing.  Alan Sepinwall nicely explains all the ways it went wrong.  

16) Good stuff here, “Lt. Col. Vindman: Trump ‘Absolutely’ at Fault for Russia’s Ukraine Invasion: “It’s because of Trump’s corruption that we have a less capable, less prepared Ukraine,” retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told VICE News.”

Court fees on poor people are bad policy

Something I’ve written about occasionally is how in many ways, the U.S. is basically criminalizing poverty.  Here’s a great series of NPR stories on it from 2014 and a New Yorker article about the profit motives distorting justice in the alternatives to incarceration industry.  

Of course, if this somehow kept “bad guys” in prison and all of us actually safer it would, presumably, be worth it.  But, you will likely be unsurprised to learn it does not.  A group of scholars actually did an RCT on court fines and fees.  Really cool stuff.  Here’s the abstract:

Court-related fines and fees are widely levied on criminal defendants who are frequently poor and have little capacity to pay. Such financial obligations may produce a criminalization of poverty, where later court involvement results not from crime but from an inability to meet the financial burdens of the legal process. We test this hypothesis using a randomized controlled trial of court-related fee relief for misdemeanor defendants in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. We find that relief from fees does not affect new criminal charges, convictions, or jail bookings after 12 months. However, control respondents were subject to debt collection efforts at significantly higher rates that involved new warrants, additional court debt, tax refund garnishment, and referral to a private debt collector. Despite significant efforts at debt collection among those in the control group, payments to the court totaled less than 5 percent of outstanding debt. The evidence indicates that court debt charged to indigent defendants neither caused nor deterred new crime, and the government obtained little financial benefit. Yet, fines and fees contributed to a criminalization of low-income defendants, placing them at risk of ongoing court involvement through new warrants and debt collection.

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