AI Quick Hits

1) I really enjoyed this recent post from AI guru Ethan Mollick, “On-boarding your AI Intern”

In previous posts, I have made the argument that, for a variety of reasons, it is better to think of AI as a person (even though it isn’t) than a piece of software. In fact, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of our current AI moment is that several billion people just got free interns. They are weird, somewhat alien interns that work infinitely fast and sometimes lie to make you happy, but interns nonetheless.

So, how can you figure out how to best use your intern

? Just like any new worker, you are going to have to learn its strengths and weaknesses; you are going to have to learn to train and work with it; and you are going to have to get a sense of where it is useful and where it is just annoying. The stakes for this are quite high. People using AI have 30-80% higher productivity in some writing and coding tasks, and often feel happier having offloaded their most annoying work. That is a big incentive to learn to work with your intern.

What would an AI intern be great for?  Choosing the best excerpts of articles for quick hits. So, let’s see how it goes.  If you don’t like the excerpts, you know who to blame.

2) It’s crazy how Scientific American is far more interested in pushing an ideological agenda than interesting science these days.  The latest was sharing this fascinating article about White-throated sparrows as somehow relevant for human gender debates (it’s really interesting on its own):

The White-throated Sparrow is common and familiar, hopping on the ground under bird feeders all over the eastern states in winter. But this seemingly ordinary backyard bird has a secret identity—or, actually, four secret identities. And it’s these multiple personalites that place the White-throat at the center of mysteries scientists are still working out.

Watch a flock of White-throats in spring and you’ll notice they have two kinds of head patterns. Some wear snappy stripes of black and white across the top of the head. Others have more modest head stripes of dark brown and tan. That superficial difference might not seem like a big deal, but it reflects a remarkable divergence in the lifestyles of these individuals.

As Lowther discovered, mated pairs of White-throats almost always involved one bird of each color morph: Either a tan-striped male with a white-striped female, or a white-striped male with a tan-striped female. Intrigued, Lowther extended his research, joined by biologist J. Bruce Falls and others.

They found that the color differences were more than skin deep. The two morphs had different personalities, different behaviors, different hormones, and even different chromosomes.

3) On the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld:

But they also presented an irreverent version of adulthood that I had never seen on TV or in life: a playful yet sophisticated world where grown-ups joked and laughed together and didn’t take themselves too seriously, even when everyone around them was being very serious indeed.

For the somehow uninitiated, “Seinfeld,” created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, stars Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself and follows his shenanigans with his three closest friends: his childhood buddy, George Costanza (Jason Alexander); his former girlfriend turned pal, Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); and his oddball neighbor, Kramer (Michael Richards). It is regarded as one of the greatest shows of all time.

It has consistently been framed as a comedy about four terrible people, with good reason. Jerry and his fellow misfits lied, cheated and stole. They were petty and shallow. They created a framework for “bad” sitcom characters that shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” would embrace with great relish and success.

But what if they were also onto something? What if their refusal to conform to the expectations of adulthood — marriage, children, career advancement — was not just a sign of immaturity, but also a form of resistance? What if their rejection of the conventional markers of success was not just a flaw, but also a strength?

3) Not going to have GPT summarize an abstract, though, “Individual Empowerment, Institutional Confidence, and Vaccination Rates in Cross-National Perspective, 1995 to 2018”

In the past decade, before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, rates of childhood vaccination against diseases such as measles, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus declined worldwide. An extensive literature examines the correlates and motives of vaccine hesitancy—the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines—among individuals, but little macrosociological theory or research seeks to explain changes in country-level vaccine uptake in global and comparative perspective. Drawing on existing research on vaccine hesitancy and recent developments in world society theory, we link cross-national variation in vaccination rates to two global cultural processes: the dramatic empowerment of individuals and declining confidence in liberal institutions. Both processes, we argue, emerged endogenously in liberal world culture, instigated by the neoliberal turn of the 1980s and 1990s. Fixed- and random-effects panel regression analyses of data for 80 countries between 1995 and 2018 support our claim that individualism and lack of institutional confidence contributed to the global decline in vaccination rates. We also find that individualism is itself partly responsible for declining institutional confidence. Our framework of world-cultural change might be extended to help make sense of recent post-liberal challenges in other domains.

4) Good stuff from NYT, “The Greatest Wealth Transfer in History Is Here, With Familiar (Rich) Winners”

n 1989, total family wealth in the United States was about $38 trillion, adjusted for inflation. By 2022, that wealth had more than tripled, reaching $140 trillion. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down from older Americans to millennial and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred within the next decade.

The pandemic has only accelerated this trend. The stock market has soared to record highs, while home prices have risen at their fastest pace in 15 years. These gains have disproportionately benefited older Americans who own more stocks and real estate than younger generations.

The result is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots that is likely to persist as wealth is handed down from one generation to the next. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the wealthiest 10 percent of American families owned 77 percent of total family wealth in 2019, up from 71 percent in 1989. The bottom half of families owned just 2 percent of total wealth, down from 4 percent in 1989.

The concentration of wealth among a few families also raises concerns about the influence of money on politics and democracy. Some of the richest heirs in America, such as Charles Koch and George Soros, have used their fortunes to fund political causes and candidates that align with their views.

5) The kids and their subtitles these days!

Recent research is showing that the use of subtitles on TV has continued to grow, with people choosing to use them. Why is this? If the speech intelligibility of the content we mix is so bad, surely we cannot be doing our job properly. What is going wrong?

The BBC has been conducting research into this issue and has found that subtitle usage has increased from 7.5% in 2007 to 18% in 2016. However, this figure does not include online viewing, where subtitle usage is much higher. According to Netflix, more than 80% of its UK users watch with subtitles on.

The BBC research also found that the main reasons for using subtitles were not related to hearing impairment, but rather to factors such as background noise, accents, mumbling and fast speech. Some viewers also said they used subtitles to help them understand complex plots or unfamiliar vocabulary.

6) One more “Jury Duty” episode to go for me.  So good!

Jury Duty—a series starring mostly unknown performers, tucked away on a largely unknown streamer—is incredible reality television, a boundary-pushing hidden-camera program. Set inside a fake courtroom, the show follows Ronald, a guy who believes he’s participating in a documentary about jury duty but who is actually surrounded by actors roping him into progressively weirder scenarios.

Jury Duty has become a word-of-mouth hit, and Ronald a bona fide star. According to a JustWatch report, the show was the most popular streaming series the week of its finale in April, nabbing more viewers than Netflix’s Beef and The Diplomat. Ronald, meanwhile, just appeared in an ad with Ryan Reynolds.

Given the show’s triumphs, the producers have teased the possibility of a second season; they told Variety that the best aspects of their concept are “infinitely repeatable.” But as true as that may be—other hoax-driven series in the past, such as Spike’s The Joe Schmo Show, ran for multiple seasons—creating more Jury Duty would be a shame.

The magic of Jury Duty is that it doesn’t yet have a formula. It’s an experiment that worked because of its novelty and unpredictability. To repeat it would be to risk losing what made it so special in the first place.

7) Another abstract from some really interesting PS research, “Who Supports Political Violence?”

The last few years have witnessed an increase in democratic “backsliding” in the United States—a decline in the quality of democracy, typically accompanied by an influx of non-normative behavior, such as political violence. Despite the real consequences of support for violence, fairly little is known about such an extremist attitude outside studies of terrorism or aggression. Using a unique survey containing many psychological, political, and social characteristics, we find that perceived victimhood, authoritarianism, populism, and white identity are the most powerful predictors of support for violence, though military service, conspiratorial thinking, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness are also related. These patterns suggest that subjective feelings about being unjustly victimized—irrespective of the truth of the matter—and the psychological baggage that accompanies such feelings lie at the heart of support for violence. We use these results to build a profile of characteristics that explain support for violence; the predictive validity of this profile is then tested by examining its relationship with support for the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, with which it is strongly associated, even accounting for support for Donald Trump. Our findings have implications for the detection of extremist attitudes and our understanding of the non-partisan/ideological foundations of anti-social political behavior.

8) Noah Smith, “How technology has changed the world since I was young”

he world has changed a lot since I was young. Technology has changed it. And I’m not just talking about the internet and smartphones and social media. I’m talking about the deeper changes that have reshaped our society and our culture, our economy and our politics, our values and our beliefs.

The first big change is that technology has made us more connected than ever before. We can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, with a click of a button or a swipe of a screen. We can access a vast amount of information and entertainment, from news and podcasts to movies and games. We can share our thoughts and feelings, our opinions and experiences, our likes and dislikes, with millions of strangers online.

The second big change is that technology has made us more powerful than ever before. We can create and manipulate things that were once beyond our imagination, from artificial intelligence and biotechnology to nanotechnology and quantum computing. We can solve problems that were once unsolvable, from curing diseases and exploring space to fighting climate change and enhancing human capabilities. We can influence and shape the world around us, for better or for worse.

The third big change is that technology has made us more uncertain than ever before. We face new challenges and risks that we don’t fully understand or control, from cyberattacks and misinformation to ethical dilemmas and social unrest. We face new questions and choices that we don’t have clear answers or guidelines for, from privacy and security to identity and morality. We face new possibilities and scenarios that we don’t have adequate preparation or foresight for, from technological singularity and superintelligence to posthumanism and transhumanism.

9) Don’t know how I missed this from 2021, but it’s excellent, “Reducing gun violence: What do the experts think?”

Gun violence is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires a comprehensive and evidence-based approach. Unfortunately, the public debate on this issue is often polarized and simplistic, pitting gun rights against gun control, or law enforcement against community prevention. This binary framing obscures the diversity of perspectives and experiences among those who are most affected by gun violence, as well as the potential for common ground and collaboration among stakeholders.

To move beyond this impasse, we convened a group of experts from different disciplines and backgrounds to discuss what we know and don’t know about reducing gun violence, and what policies and programs are most promising and feasible. The group included researchers, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers who have worked on various aspects of gun violence prevention, such as public health, criminal justice, mental health, education, and civil rights.

The group agreed on several key points:

  • Gun violence is not a monolithic phenomenon, but rather a collection of different types of violence that vary by context, motive, means, and impact. Therefore, no single policy or program can address all forms of gun violence; instead, we need a portfolio of interventions that are tailored to specific populations and settings.
  • Gun violence is not only a criminal justice problem, but also a public health and social justice problem. Reducing gun violence requires addressing its root causes and risk factors, such as poverty, inequality, trauma, racism, and social isolation.

10) And a great post from Yglesias on policing:

The basic problem with policing in America is that it’s not very effective at preventing crime. The clearance rate for homicides is only about 60%, and for other violent crimes it’s much lower. That means that most criminals get away with their crimes, and most victims don’t get justice.

One reason for this low effectiveness is that police officers are not allocated to the places where they are most needed. In a new paper, Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer show that there is a large spatial mismatch between where police officers are deployed and where crime occurs. They use data from 242 U.S. cities to measure the number of officers per square mile in each census block group, and compare it to the number of crimes per square mile in the same area.

They find that there is a negative correlation between police presence and crime: Areas with more crime have fewer officers per square mile, and vice versa. This correlation is especially strong for violent crimes like homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault. They estimate that reallocating officers to match the spatial distribution of crime could reduce homicides by 11% and violent crimes by 7%, without increasing the overall size of the police force.

Why do police departments allocate their officers so inefficiently? Devi and Fryer suggest several possible explanations, such as political pressure, union rules, historical inertia, or lack of data. They also point out some potential barriers to implementing a more efficient allocation, such as officer preferences, community resistance, or legal constraints.

11) Really great from NYT, “Does Therapy Really Work? Let’s Unpack That.”

The answer is complicated. The research shows that therapy does work for many people — but not for everyone. And it’s hard to say exactly what kind of therapy works best for whom, or under what circumstances. The effectiveness of therapy depends on many factors, such as the type and severity of the problem, the quality of the therapist-client relationship, the client’s motivation and expectations, and the therapist’s training and experience.

One way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use meta-analyses, which combine the results of many studies on the same topic. Meta-analyses can provide an overall estimate of how much therapy helps people improve their mental health, compared with not receiving any treatment or receiving a placebo.

According to a 2018 meta-analysis by Pim Cuijpers and colleagues, which included 421 studies with more than 36,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy was 0.69. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 76 percent of people who did not receive therapy.

Another way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use benchmarks, which compare the outcomes of therapy with those of other treatments or natural recovery. Benchmarks can help answer the question: How much better off are people who receive therapy than people who receive other forms of help or no help at all?

According to a 2013 meta-analysis by Bruce Wampold and Zac Imel, which included 79 studies with more than 7,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy compared with benchmarks was 0.51. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 69 percent of people who received other forms of help or no help at all.

12) Interesting stuff in the Lancet on how to think about obesity:

Oooof– summarized a different Lancet article!!  I’ll have to do it myself. 

In practical terms, this definition requires the health professional to answer the following question: Does this patient present with a health problem that is likely to improve with weight loss? If the answer is “yes”, then the patient has obesity. If not, then the patient may just have adiposity, which may well at some stage progress to overt obesity (hence the suggestion to refer to these individuals as having pre-obesity).
Such an approach to diagnosing obesity would of course require a clinical assessment of each patient by a qualified health practitioner. Only a comprehensive interview together with a physical exam as well as relevant laboratory and imaging tests would establish (or rule out) the diagnosis “obesity” in a given individual. While this clearly makes the diagnosis of obesity more cumbersome, it ensures that otherwise healthy individuals are no longer labeled as having obesity simply based on their size. Perhaps, more importantly, individuals presenting with health issues that are clearly linked to or likely to improve with weight loss, can be diagnosed with having obesity (and thus qualifying for obesity treatments), even when they fall below the conventional BMI cutoffs. While this introduces an element of clinical judgment into the diagnosis, this is not uncommon in medical practice, where clinical judgment is often called upon in determining the presence and severity of a medical issue and the best course of action.
Ultimately, the goal of making a proper diagnosis is to determine the right course of action for a given individual. In the case of someone presenting with a health problem closely linked to excess weight, for which we have strong evidence that weight-loss would improve it (e.g. hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea, etc.), we would see a “primary” indication for obesity treatment, i.e. successful reduction in body weight can essentially solve the problem (Fig. 1). However, we may also be confronted with a patient who presents with a health problem, not causally linked to obesity, but which is aggravated by or more difficult to manage due to the presence of excess weight (e.g. someone with excess weight who sustains an injury or contracts COVID). Such an individual could be considered to have a “secondary” indication for obesity treatment. While weight-loss will not solve the underlying problem, it may make management and recovery easier. Finally, we may consider individuals with excess weight, who present with a health problem that is neither related to nor likely to improve with weight loss. This person may be considered to have a “tertiary” indication for obesity treatment, which although perhaps leading to an overall improvement in health, would have no impact on the presenting complaint.

13) Ross Douthat’s case against legalizing marijuana didn’t strike me as particularly strong:

Of all the ways to win a culture war, the smoothest is to just make the other side seem hopelessly uncool. So it’s been with the march of marijuana legalization: There have been moral arguments about the excesses of the drug war and medical arguments about the potential benefits of pot, but the vibe of the whole debate has pitted the chill against the uptight, the cool against the square, the relaxed future against the Principal Skinners of the past.

All of this means that it will take a long time for conventional wisdom to acknowledge the truth that seems readily apparent to squares like me: Marijuana legalization as we’ve done it so far has been a policy failure, a potential social disaster, a clear and evident mistake.

The best version of the square’s case is an essay by Charles Fain Lehman of the Manhattan Institute explaining his evolution from youthful libertarian to grown-up prohibitionist. It will not convince readers who come in with stringently libertarian presuppositions — who believe on high principle that consenting adults should be able to purchase, sell and enjoy almost any substance short of fentanyl and that no second-order social consequence can justify infringing on this right. But Lehman explains in detail why the second-order effects of marijuana legalization have mostly vindicated the pessimists and skeptics.

First, on the criminal justice front, the expectation that legalizing pot would help reduce America’s prison population by clearing out nonviolent offenders was always overdrawn, since marijuana convictions made up a small share of the incarceration rate even at its height. But Lehman argues that there is also no good evidence so far that legalization reduces racially discriminatory patterns of policing and arrests.

I like this Dilan Esper response:

14) The WHO’s case against artificial sweeteners is even less compelling. Also, the WHO, of course, is the organization that was insisting on droplet transmission of Covid a whole damn year after everyone else knew it was airborne.

If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar, so smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness.

But do artificial sweeteners actually help reduce calories and deliver on their promise to help you lose weight? A new report from the World Health Organization suggests that they don’t.

The report, published on Monday in The BMJ, is based on a systematic review of 56 studies that examined the effects of non-sugar sweeteners on health outcomes in both adults and children. The researchers found that there was no compelling evidence to indicate that artificial sweeteners help people lose weight over time. Nor did they find any clear evidence that they prevent obesity or other conditions such as diabetes, cancer and dental decay.

The researchers did find some evidence that artificial sweeteners may have a modest benefit for reducing body mass index and fasting blood glucose levels. But they said these findings were based on low-quality studies with a high risk of bias, and that more research is needed to confirm them.

The report also noted that there are many uncertainties about the potential harms of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested that they may alter the gut microbiota and affect appetite and glucose regulation. Other studies have raised concerns about possible links between artificial sweeteners and cancer, cardiovascular disease and kidney damage.

15) Scott Alexander on the weirdness of the academic job market:

The academic job market is weird. It’s weird in a way that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s weird in a way that makes it hard for people who are in it to make rational decisions.

The weirdness starts with the fact that academic jobs are scarce and highly competitive. There are far more PhDs than there are tenure-track positions, and getting one of those positions requires not only years of training and research, but also luck, timing, networking, and strategic choices.

The weirdness continues with the fact that academic jobs are highly specialized and geographically dispersed. Unlike most other professions, where you can apply for jobs in your field in different cities or regions, academic jobs are tied to specific departments and disciplines. You can’t just decide to move to a new place and look for a job there; you have to wait for a job opening that matches your expertise and interests, and hope that it’s in a location that you like or can tolerate.

The weirdness culminates with the fact that academic jobs are highly uncertain and contingent. Even if you get a tenure-track position, you still have to go through a probationary period of several years, during which you have to prove yourself by publishing, teaching, and securing grants. If you fail to meet the expectations of your department or university, you can be denied tenure and lose your job. And even if you get tenure, you still have to deal with the pressures and challenges of academia, such as increasing workloads, shrinking budgets, changing student demographics, and shifting intellectual trends.1


Quick hits (part II)

1) Noah Smith on American industrial policy:

The really important thing about Biden’s policies, though, is that they don’t even gesture halfheartedly in the direction of “free trade”. The idea of free trade never carried much water with the general public; now, it carries essentially no water with the political class or the intellectual class either. The free-trade consensus is dead as a doornail.

We don’t know exactly what will replace the free-trade consensus yet, but we’re starting to get a pretty good idea of what the Biden administration wants the next paradigm to be. Members of the Biden administration have made a number of important speeches about the new industrial policy, including a speech last October by former NEC Director Brian Deese about America’s “new industrial strategy”, a speech in February by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo about the CHIPS Act and a speech in April by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about China policy. But I think the most comprehensive statement yet was the recent speech by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the Brookings Institution. If you want to understand why U.S. policy has changed, what the current administration thinks the new objectives are, and what methods they believe will achieve those objectives, I recommend starting with this speech.

Here are a few key excerpts:

When President Biden came into office more than two years ago, the country faced, from our perspective, four fundamental challenges…First, America’s industrial base had been hollowed out…The second challenge we faced was adapting to a new environment defined by geopolitical and security competition…The third challenge we faced was an accelerating climate crisis…Finally, we faced the challenge of inequality and its damage to democracy…

When President Biden came to office, he knew the solution to each of these challenges was to restore an economic mentality that champions building.  And that is the core of our economic approach. To build.  To build capacity, to build resilience, to build inclusiveness, at home and with partners abroad.  The capacity to produce and innovate, and to deliver public goods like strong physical and digital infrastructure and clean energy at scale.  The resilience to withstand natural disasters and geopolitical shocks. And the inclusiveness to ensure a strong, vibrant American middle class and greater opportunity for working people around the world.

All of that is part of what we have called a foreign policy for the middle class. (emphasis mine)

I’ve highlighted the phrase “a foreign policy for the middle class” because I think that really captures the essence of what the administration is trying to do. Biden’s people believe that the same set of policies that will build up American strength vis-a-vis China will also work against domestic inequality and help restore the American middle class. That doesn’t mean they see China as the root of America’s economic ills, as Trump did — instead, it means they think they can kill two birds with one stone. Three birds, if you count climate change.

What are the chances that the same policies that would strengthen the U.S. in the international arena would also boost the middle class at home? In fact, I do think there’s a good precedent for this: World War 2. The massive military manufacturing boom unleashed to fight that war, as well as the advent of science and technology policy, ended up boosting the power of labor, accelerating growth, and creating the preconditions for a robust middle class in the postwar years. It was a double win, and it’s one the Biden administration would like to repeat.

So those are the first two main points to understand about the new industrial policy:

  1. It’s intended to strengthen the U.S.’ hand against China, and

  2. It’s an attempt to at least partially reverse the rise in inequality that happened in the 80s, 90s, and 00s.

2) Great stuff from Lee Drutman, “The Paradoxical Reason Republicans Win Elections Despite Unpopular Policies”

Can The Ostrogorski Paradox explain why Republicans often win despite unpopular policies?

Or, why issue bundling blows up Democratic theories about how to win elections.
A political puzzle haunts Democrats. Public opinion aligns with Democrats across almost all major policy issues. Yet, every national election is close. Very close.

A majority of the public agrees with Democrats …. on economic issues. On healthcareOn modestly progressive taxation. On abortion. On (not) criminalizing gender transition-related medical care. On (not) restricting drag show performances. On doing something about the warming climate. On (not) banning books. On guns.

And yet. Republicans might still win unified control of Washington in 2024. If they lose, it will only be narrowly. 

So why are elections still so close?

Two words: Issue bundling

In a two-party voting system, voters must prioritize issues. Even though Republicans may hold unpopular stances, it’s the bundle, not the individual issues, that matters.

Huh? The bundle? What, you say?

Stick with me.

(And yes, there are other plausible explanations. Gerrymandering did it! Issues don’t matter! Voters are misinformed! I’ll get to those. They also explain a few things.)

But, here’s my big argument for today: Even if voters were fully informed, even if they voted on the issues, and even if congressional districts were all drawn fairly, Democrats might still lose a head-to-head election against Republicans — despite having the more popular policies. 

How is this possible?

Enter… The Ostrogorski Paradox

Moise Ostrogorski was a Belorussian political sociologist. In 1902, he published the classic Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties, after studying US and British parties. The book is quite pessimistic on mass political parties and their tendency to devolve into corrupt, top-heavy bureaucracies — a theme developed further by the Italian Robert Michels in his 1915 book Political Parties, which is remembered for its “iron law of oligarchy.” (The “iron law” is that all organizations, including political parties, eventually become oligarchic). 

Ostrogorski (pictured above) did not invent his eponymous paradox. The political scientists Douglas W. Rae and Hans Daudt conjured it in 1976. They named it for old Moise,  “for it was he who devoted his major work to the proposition that all manner of mischief can result when issues are mixed together in a single contest.”

3) On some level, yeah, I am just rooting for laundry with the teams I support, so I love stories like this where it really makes me root for people.  I love how 38-year old Brent Burns has Seth Jarvis, 21, over to dinner and to play video games with his kids. 

4) Glad to see that Ed Sheeran won his copyright trial.  Kind of wild that him playing guitar on the stand was part of the case. Also, this:

A quirk of copyright law governed how the jury could hear the two songs. The case involved only the compositions underlying both tracks — the lyrics, melodies and chords that can be notated on paper — and not their recordings. For older songs like “Let’s Get It On,” copyright is limited to the sheet music, or “deposit copy,” that was originally submitted to the United States Copyright Office. On “Let’s Get It On,” that notation was skeletal.

That meant that the jury never heard Gaye’s original recording, which went to No. 1 in 1973. Instead, the defendants supplied a computer-generated re-creation of what appears on the deposit copy, complete with a robotic voice rendering lyrics like “If you feel like I feel, baby, then come on, let’s get it on.” The studio recording of Mr. Sheeran’s song was heard multiple times.

One of the jurors, Sophia Neis, 23, said after the trial that “the song as we’re allowed to hear it” and the “deposit copy” were key pieces of evidence in the jury’s decision making.

“We ultimately came to what we thought was the right interpretation of the law,” she said.

“It’s obviously cool to have anyone play music in front of you live,” she added, of Mr. Sheeran’s decision to play on the stand. “That was an interesting surprise.”

5) Solid guest post in Yglesias‘ substack, “The criminal justice system doesn’t do enough to make us safe”

In a recent Atlantic article, Reihan Salam and I suggested a different perspective: identifying the “root causes” of our comparatively high rates of violence is less important than adequately applying the tools of policy to the problem of controlling violence. The level of violence should be understood primarily as a function of the extent to which state capacity is exerted to stop it. Violence, that is, is a policy choice.

A corollary of this is that reducing violence — to pre-pandemic levels or to the lower levels of other nations — requires the more vigorous exercise of policy. As I argue, below and in a recent Manhattan Institute report, we have in recent years gone the other direction, deprioritizing the criminal justice system and allowing its problems to fester. What is needed instead is a serious investment, one that offers real promise for making America safe…

More cops, faster courts, better prisons


The Department of Justice already doles out police hiring grants every year, primarily through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office. The office was authorized about $300 million in grants in FY 2023, a dramatic decline in nominal and real terms from the $1.4 billion per year it was first handed in 1995. Supercharging COPS-funded hiring is a proven way to bring crime down.

This isn’t just a guess. Numerous studies have exploited randomness in receipt of COPS grants to investigate how they affect crime. They have consistently found significant crime reduction: a 10% increase in employment reduces violent crime rates by 13% and property crime by 7%, by one estimate.

How much to spend? A very rough estimate is that returning to pre-Great Recession staffing ratios would require about 80,000 new police officers and would run about $10 billion, or $2 billion annually over five years. That’s more than what we currently spend but less than the original outlays adjusted for inflation.

We could maximize benefits by earmarking at least 10 percent of the funding for detectives who, as Matt has noted, are an under-attended way to bring down violence. Congress could also end the requirement

 that half of funds go to small jurisdictions. While spreading the wealth is laudable, the reality is that big cities need more police because they have more crime.

Problems with our detention and court systems merit attention, too. It’s hard to run down why deaths are rising in prisons and jails, but they aren’t rising everywhere. A targeted prison remediation program, combining funding with the threat of federal monitorship or receivership if prisons don’t shape up, could improve prison conditions — which in turn can reduce recidivism.

A faster court system, meanwhile, probably entails some fairly technocratic fixes. In their exhaustive study, the National Center for State Courts found that the fastest courts practiced “active case management,” with the judge taking a deliberate interest in expeditious procedure. A 2019 pilot project in Brooklyn followed similar principles and cut time to disposition by 22 percent. It’s not clear that more money would solve what is ultimately a best practices problem. But the federal government could certainly lead the way by promulgating national standards for efficient case management.

Work smarter, not harsher

Like any policy area, criminal justice involves lots of trade-offs. The harsher your system is, the more false positives you’ll get; the more lenient, the more false negatives. But a smarter criminal justice system reduces the risk of both outcomes, meaning the system can be more effective without also necessarily being more punitive. Investment in criminal justice data and research, in other words, is almost a free lunch — all it costs is money. In the report, I propose bulking up research and statistics funding with an additional $300 million per year.

6) This was interesting about the death of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and similar stores:

But the bigger picture is more interesting than the economic analysis or the culture-war haymaking. Bed Bath & Beyond was a quintessential “category killer”: a marriage of the big-box superstore (discount) and the specialty store (wide selection and knowledge), which emerged in its present form in the 1980s and 1990s. This particular retail segment has been perhaps hardest hit by the “retail apocalypse”: Borders, Toys ‘R’ Us, Sports Authority, and Circuit City come to mind, among others. Best Buy has weathered rough patches; Office Depot has been slowly shrinking but is holding on. You can probably think of others.

The category killer, in theory, is genius, giving the customer something like a mashup of Walmart and a boutique. That can mean anonymity, a huge sales floor, and low prices combined with a broad, deep, curated product selection and employees who are knowledgeable in a specific area. Those characteristics, however, would represent the best of Walmart and the boutique, a truly ideal arrangement. In execution, this hybrid often ended up being the worst of its two lineages: the same generic warehouse environment, poorly trained and overworked employees, and low-quality merchandise you might find at Walmart, but combined with the high prices of a boutique. Very few category killers (Best Buy and the Container Store are successful exceptions) felt like truly successful discount-oriented specialty stores. They more often felt like departments that had been broken off from a discount department store and reopened on their own with everything unaccountably marked up. The marginally lower prices, more or less similar merchandise, and one-stop-shop convenience of Walmart—and, later, Amazon—never lost their allure…

All of this is to say that category killers are hardest hit by these pressures because of the expectation consumers bring to them that their products are a cut above those being sold in the discount department stores or the “Amazon’s Choice” top search results. If all the products and suppliers end up being basically the same across retail segments—if the space heater or the towel or the bathroom mirror available through each outlet are all a bunch of imported brands you’ve never heard of, and all kind of flimsy anyway—that supply-side pressure advantages retailers who compete mostly or solely on cost. And that was never the way category killers were designed to compete.

And so we might sincerely miss this retail segment when it’s gone, as we might miss a vanished species of lake fish. We can mourn the existence value of Bed Bath & Beyond and similar stores. But in many ways, even that is already gone. And besides, as Katy Perry sings, “I miss you more than I loved you.”

7) Really liked this. Just because a hit in hockey is legal, doesn’t mean it’s clean.  And also, what’s legal needs to change:

In some cases, given the speed of the game and the fact it’s played on a super-slippery surface, two players can collide regardless of situational awareness or vulnerable positioning. But those aren’t the plays that are sparking debates like this one quickly has.

So at the end of the day, it has to be asked why the rules exist in the first place. The easy answer for anything regarding contact to the head should be the health and safety of players. But with this much wiggle room within the rules, they can become more like guidelines than restrictions. And that’s why these plays happen and controversial conversations follow. That was the case when Matt Dumba hit Joe Pavelski just weeks ago in Game 1 between the Wild and Stars.

That isn’t to say all hitting needs to come out of the game. There are ways to effectively hit, to make contact that is not to the head in an effort to separate a player from the puck to change possession. But once there’s contact to the head, it’s not clean or legal. The severity of the check, the intent and the context of the situation can influence the level of punishment during the game, with a concerted effort to penalize all hits to the head. Starting with that change in-game, instead of waiting for potential supplemental discipline that doesn’t always come to clean up what’s missed, is a step in the right direction to prioritizing a player’s health and safety.

In today’s game, a legal hit isn’t always clean. But until the rules change, there won’t be a tangible separation that helps progress anything.

8) One thing that annoys me about team sports is how much individual players are often judged by championships.  It’s not like this is tennis– you can be the greatest player ever and not win a championship.  Love this from Giannis:

Antetokounmpo, after being asked if he considered the past season a failure:

Do you get a promotion every year at your job? No, right? So every year, your work is a failure? No. Every year, you work towards something, which is a goal: It’s to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, provide a house for them, or take care of your parents. It’s not a failure, it’s steps to success. There’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played for 15 years and won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure? That’s what you’re telling me.

There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you’re not, some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. That’s what sport’s about. You don’t always win, some other people are gonna win. And this year, someone else is gonna win. Simple as that. 

So 50 years from 1971-2021 that we didn’t win a championship, it was 50 years of failure? No it was not, there were steps to it, and we were able to win one, hopefully we can win another one.

9) Here’s some biotech making great progress for animal welfare by working towards ending the culling of billions of male chicks:

Even the most clueless consumer likely suspects that all is not well on the big factory farms that raise animals for food, but let me share the details of one practice with which you might be unfamiliar: Every hour, across the world, around 742,000 freshly hatched male chicks are born. A few hours later, they’re tossed into a grinder, which kills them instantly, or gassed with carbon dioxide, which knocks them unconscious before killing them. (Rarer methods include burningelectrocutionsuffocation, and drowning).

While the female chicks go on to lay the more than 1.2 trillion eggs humans consume annually, 6.5 billion male chicks each year are hatched, only to be quickly snuffed out. That’s because they don’t lay eggs, so they’re of no use to the egg industry, and because they don’t grow as big and fast as other chicken breeds, they’re of no use to the chicken meat industry. Even though culling costs egg producers an estimated $500 million a year, it makes more economic sense to just kill the males on day one, rather than spend an additional dollar raising them.

Undercover investigations into hatcheries have drawn some public attention to male chick culling, enough that in recent years a number of European countries, including Germany and France, have gone so far as to ban the practice, giving hatcheries and egg producers a few options: raise male chicks for meat (albeit inefficiently), raise “dual-purpose” breeds (ones that lay a relatively moderate number of eggs and grow to a moderate size), import hens from neighboring countries, or shut down operations.

But there’s another option: They can use emerging technology to identify the sex of the chick while still in the egg so they can destroy it before it hatches, before the chick can feel pain.

That last possibility has gained momentum in recent years. Since 2019, five companies have managed to commercialize in-ovo — meaning in egg — sexing technology that enables them to identify the sex of the chick around either day nine or day 12/13 from when the egg incubation starts, depending on the approach. Such advances have already saved tens of millions of male chicks from being born, only to be swiftly culled. It’s estimated that 10 to 20 percent of Europe’s hen flock now comes from cull-free hatcheries.

10) I know many of you will find this interesting, “Does eating close to bedtime make you gain weight? It depends.: Your body’s response to a calorie is different in the morning versus the evening, a recent study reports.”

Eating later at night—or just a few hours before bedtime—contributes to several metabolic changes that increase hunger and may boost the risk of long-term weight gain.

Plenty of past research has found that late-night eating is linked to weight gain or obesity, but most studies are observational, and few explain why eating later might have anything to do with why people put on pounds. A recent study, published in Cell Metabolism, sought to address the questionby controlling the calories participants ate, how much they slept, and how much physical activity they got so researchers could learn how and why eating later might affect weight.

One of the most significant findings from this report is that “a calorie is a calorie, but the response of your body to that calorie is different in the morning versus the evening,” said Frank A.J.L. Scheer, the senior author and a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School.

That finding matches past research showing that the glycemic index of a food—how it affects the body’s blood sugar following a meal—varies depending on the time of day that food is consumed, said Nina Vujovic, a neuroscientist who led this study as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. The challenge people have with eating at the healthiest times, she added, is that many do not have regular schedules, or their schedule is outside their control.

In the study, Vujovic found that eating within four hours of bedtime affects two hormones related to hunger. On days participants ate closer to sleep, they also burned fewer calories and showed molecular changes in fat tissue suggesting their body converted calories into fat storage more easily.

What surprised Scheer most was that eating closer to bedtime affected all the factors they measured rather than just one or two of them. “In the nutrition field, I think the longest resistance against the idea that timing of food matters is based on this simplistic view of ‘a calorie is a calorie,’” meaning that it shouldn’t matter when someone eats it, Scheer said, “yet it does.”

One of the things I love about my 16-8 approach is that because I never eat after 8p, I’m pretty much never hungry after 8p.

11) Ross Douthat, “Can the Meritocracy Survive Without the SAT?”

The rapid abandonment of the SAT and ACT as requirements for college admissions, to the point where more than 80 percent of four-year colleges didn’t require a standardized test for admission in the coming fall, is a milestone in the history of the modern meritocracy. What remains to be seen is whether it’s a marker on the road to the meritocracy’s demise.

From the beginning meritocratic culture and standardized testing have been inextricably intertwined. The transformation of America’s elite colleges in the middle of the 20th century, from upper-class finishing schools into modern “multiversities” supposedly open to all comers, was driven and justified by the SAT, which was supposed to provide an equal-opportunity means of ascent and legitimate the new elite with numerical evidence of its brainpower.

For a long time meritocracy’s skeptics, left and right, have noted that the new system created an upper class that seems as privileged and insular as the old one. And according to some of the SAT’s critics, it’s precisely this criticism that’s motivating the current shift away from standardized tests — the idea that they’re inherently biased toward kids from well-off families and that a more holistic definition of merit will open more opportunities for the meritorious poor and middle class.

There are reasons to be doubtful of this account. First, it seems pretty clear that many schools are really ditching the SAT in response to the following sequence of events: Asian American SAT scores rose to the point where elite colleges were accused of discriminating against Asian American applicants to maintain the racial balance they desired, this led to lawsuits, and those lawsuits seem poised to yield a Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action. So universities are pre-emptively abandoning a metric that might be used against them in future litigation, not for the sake of widening opportunity but just in the hopes of sustaining the admissions status quo.

Second, while SAT scores are linked to family income, the link is not as tight as critics sometimes suggest, and standardized tests are probably a less class-bound metric than many things that go into more “holistic” assessments. Lots of kids use the SAT or ACT to get a boost out of a bad school or prove themselves despite lacking a polished résumé, and there’s little clear evidence that going test-optional increases racial diversity. Whereas the college essay (assuming it survives ChatGPT), the extracurricular-laden résumé, the right demeanor in the college interview — all of these seem more likely to be indicators of privilege than a raw score on a standardized test. So the children of the upper class could be beneficiaries of the SAT’s decline, while children trying to climb could lose a crucial ladder.

The first point suggests a future where the diminishment of the SAT won’t change all that much about the meritocracy. The second suggests a future where the meritocracy becomes even more privileged and insular — but over time, less associated with talent and intelligence, in a way that steadily undermines its legitimacy and influence.

12) And Yglesias on standardized tests:

Most American colleges have gone test-optional for their admissions policies, and a large and growing number have gone test-prohibited. The official reason for this move, according to its advocates, is the decently strong correlation between student standardized test scores and parental income.

“An overwhelming majority of undergraduate admissions offices now make selection decisions without relying on ACT/SAT results,” said FairTest Executive Director Harry Feder in the organization’s news release. “These schools recognize that standardized test scores do not measure academic ‘merit.’ What they do assess quite accurately is family wealth, but that should not be the criteria for getting into college.”

Feder added, “De-emphasizing standardized exam scores is a model that all of U.S. education – from K-12 through graduate schools — should follow.”

Note that what Feder literally said here is “family wealth,” which is wrong.

Wealth, as longtime Slow Boring readers know, is kind of weird. Donald Trump at various times in his career filed for bankruptcy because he has negative wealth, which did not make his children more disadvantaged than homeless kids whose parents have zero wealth. By the same token, we don’t expect national average SAT scores to crash during years when the stock market takes a downturn. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth has plummeted during the past couple of years, but his kids’ academic prospects haven’t.

I’m quibbling here, but since this is, in fact, the centerpiece of Feder’s argument, I think it’s worth calling attention to how sloppy he is with it. Because the whole thing is basically nonsense. As Erik Hoel writes, “I struggle with this reasoning,” since after all, “on the one side there is the litany of activities, academic successes, and school pedigrees that make up the bulk of a good college application, and the massive amounts of wealth and parental involvement that implies from essentially diapers onwards, and, on the other side, there’s a $20 Kaplan SAT prep book and getting your butt in a chair to go through example problems.” …

Don’t worry too much about dropping the tests


As I hope you can tell by now, I think the anti-testing people are wrong. That said, I do think the anti-anti-testing people are more worried than they ought to be. I hear from certain quarters that the end of standardized testing will lead to a catastrophic collapse of meritocratic standards or make it impossible for smart kids from modest backgrounds to distinguish themselves.

The people raising those concerns are, I think, taking the situation too literally. The worriers are looking at the current admissions system and then imagining the consequences of kicking out the standardized test leg of the stool. And it’s completely true that if you did that, you’d get a class that’s skewed more toward privilege and less toward intelligence. But I think that misunderstands the situation. Elite schools don’t design an admission system behind a veil of ignorance and then see what happens. They know what kind of class they want and they reverse-engineer admissions criteria to deliver that result. This reverse-engineering process places a thumb on the scale against Asian applicants from major metropolitan areas. But it’s embarrassing (and potentially illegal) to admit that this is happening, and the standardized tests make it a little too clear what’s going on.

Schools are moving to phase out the tests not because they want to admit a different group of people, but because they are anticipating a Supreme Court ruling that will try to make them change who they admit, and they don’t want to do that.

The idea is that without standardized test requirements, it will be harder for anyone to prove that discrimination is happening and schools can keep admitting the same people they are admitting now. Because the tests are a useful tool, doing without them will make admissions work a little bit more labor-intensive. But Harvard has plenty of money and can easily afford to hire more admissions officers to scrutinize applications that lack a convenient summary test score.

13) Speaking of merit.  This is long and I didn’t read all of it.  But, what I did is really good and I think some of you might really enjoy this. “In Defense of Merit in Science”

14) I quite liked this, “How Much Do Voters Really Care About Biden’s Age?”

Many Americans say they do not want President Biden to run for re-election, and his age is a big reason. In an NBC News poll released last weekend, 70 percent of adults said Mr. Biden, who is 80, should not run again. Asked if age was a factor, 69 percent of them said yes. Other recent surveys detect a similar lack of enthusiasm, with many voters — including around half of Democrats — calling him too old to seek the White House again.

Taken at face value, it’s easy to imagine that his age could undermine the re-election campaign he formally announced on Tuesday. Mr. Biden, already the oldest president in U.S. history, would be 86 at the end of his second term. Republicans have amplified video of his verbal miscues — he also has a stutter — and suggested they reflect cognitive decline. Mr. Biden’s age is a frequent punchline on late-night television.

But a review of the polling and academic research paints a surprisingly mixed picture. With the obvious caveat that a serious age-related gaffe or health crisis could change things, there are good reasons to think that Biden’s age may matter less than some polls suggest.

Americans often express concern about aging leaders, but that hasn’t stopped them from voting for older candidates…

That doesn’t mean Americans who say they’re concerned about age are lying. Their voting choices may reflect the available options. “There’s nothing inconsistent about people saying no one in their 80s should be president and then voting for someone in their 80s if that’s the only choice they’re given,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.

Polls do suggest that voters discern bigger issues for Mr. Biden than past older candidates (although pollsters seem to have asked about past candidates’ ages less often). But in a polarized era, party loyalty is far likelier to determine voters’ choice.

“In the final analysis, we’re going to vote for the ‘D’ or the ‘R,’ ” said Karlyn Bowman, an emeritus fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who studies public opinion polling. “Partisan loyalty is so strong at this point that that will trump the other concerns.”

Perceptions of Mr. Biden’s fitness also track with partisanship. Republicans — who are unlikely to back any Democratic candidate, no matter how spry — are the most apt to say that Mr. Biden is too old to run. His age also hasn’t stopped the vast majority of Democrats from deeming his presidency a success (though younger Democrats have expressed less eagerness to see Mr. Biden run again).

“People are thinking about the election through the lens of other things,” said Margie Omero, a principal at GBAO, a Democratic polling firm. “Biden’s record, Trump’s record, what they see as the future of the country, legislative accomplishments, the fight for abortion rights.”

15) This sounds right, “Harry Potter Was Always Meant to Be Television: A long story with a locked-in ending is ideal for the smaller screen.”

16) I definitely agree that we should not shame and stigmatize people for being fat.  My mom spent most of her adult life significantly overweight and I know how hard it was on her.  That said, I find the whole, “actually, the only bad thing about being fat is the social stigma and it’s otherwise just fine for your health” so tiresome.

Sole-Smith produces the newsletter and podcast Burnt Toast, where she explores fatphobia, diet culture, parenting and healthIn her new book, Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture, she argues that efforts to fight childhood obesity have caused kids to absorb an onslaught of body-shaming messages.

“The chronic experience of weight stigma … is similar to the research we see on chronic experiences of racism or other forms of bias,” Sole-Smith says. “This raises your stress level. This has you in a constant state of fight-or-flight, and stress hormones are elevated. That takes a toll on our bodies for sure.”

I also am really thinking that the concept of “privilege” may at this point be doing more harm than good for the left because we get so much stuff like this that just makes normies like me roll their eyes:

On thin privilege

Thin privilege is a concept that is tricky to get our heads around, because if you have it, you don’t really see how much you have it. I mean, it’s a lot like white privilege in that way because you don’t see how much it’s benefiting you. But what we’re talking about with thin privilege is the fact that if you are someone who can wear “straight” sizes [0 to 14], youcan walk into The Gap or Target or whatever and find your size easily on the rack. …

It means when you go to the doctor, your weight is not the first and often only thing that’s talked about. It means you can sit on an airplane and not worry about buckling the seatbelt. You can go to a restaurant without worrying, Will they have booths that are too tight for you to get into while the chairs have arms that are too tight? Physical spaces are built for your body. And whatever your own personal struggles might be … your body is not a target for the world in the way that someone in a bigger body is.

What’s also sort of nuanced and tricky about thin privilege is the fact that you can be fat and still be benefiting from thin privilege relative to someone fatter than you. … I identify as “small fat.” I wear like a 16, 18, 20, and so I can order clothes — mostly only online, not so much in-person stores — but I can get clothes that fit my body pretty easily. I can take weight out of the conversation with a health care provider. I have certainly experienced medical weight stigma, but if I say “I don’t want to get on the scale,” they respect that decision. That’s not available to someone who’s in a bigger body than me.
17) This was a pretty fascinating discussion in the History world back in March that I kept meaning to post on:

The trouble started with a writer on deadline. James Sweet, who goes by Jim, is a white professor of African history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the former president of the American Historical Association (A.H.A.). Every month, he was tasked with writing a column for Perspectives on History, a magazine put out by the association, which is mostly read by academics. Last summer, while he was on vacation in Ghana, he was struggling to come up with a column idea, and so he started looking around for inspiration.

At his hotel one morning, “a group of African Americans began trickling into the breakfast bar,” he wrote. Sweet noticed that one of them had brought along “a dog-eared copy of The 1619 Project,” a book-length expansion of the Times’ exploration of America’s founding, which looks at the country’s origins through the lens of slavery and racism. Later, Sweet and his family visited Elmina Castle, a slave-trading post on the Gulf of Guinea. “Our guide gave a well-rehearsed tour geared toward African Americans,” despite the fact that “less than one percent of the Africans passing through Elmina arrived in North America.” To Sweet, these examples illustrated the temptation of “presentism”—a concept, often used by scholars in a derogatory manner, referring to studies of the past that are distorted by the ideas of the present. In his essay, he leaned on some other examples, such as “The Woman King,” a popular film from last year, which seemed, to him, to twist violent episodes of African history into a story of Black, feminist triumph. He also brought in Supreme Court decisions written by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who made historical arguments to support decisions on guns and abortion rights. It was a list of strange bedfellows, but his point, or at least the point he wanted to make, was methodological. “We’re being inundated with history at all sorts of turns. No one is immune to that,” Sweet told me recently. “Certain narratives are harnessed in the service of particular political perspectives. For me, that’s a dangerous trend for professional historians to get drawn into.”

The piece was published on the afternoon of August 17th. Sweet, who is also a high-school football coach, was walking off the field after practice when he got the first indication that something was up: an e-mail in his in-box from a famous historian that said “Wow! . . . Just, wow.” By the time that Sweet got home, his piece was blowing up on Twitter. “Oh, hell,” he recalled thinking. “Here we go.”

A number of academics were exasperated that Sweet criticized “The 1619 Project,” which had already come under attack from other white-guy senior historians. Others were confused that he used non-academic examples to illustrate supposed problems in academic history. Some were incredulous that the leader of the country’s premier history organization seemed to dismiss work that was focussed on fundamental issues of power: Jamelle Bouie, a columnist at the Timestweeted, “Bold take from [checks byline] the president of AHA that race, gender, sexuality, nationalism and capitalism are ‘contemporary social justice issues’ which have been imposed on the study of history.” Many observed that Sweet’s targets for criticism were nearly all Black. One junior faculty member at a private Catholic university wrote about the essay on his blog, saying that he “cried re-reading it, seeing starkly the smug condescension and slap in the face to professional historians of Africa, and to Black Americans.”

18) Good stuff from Jean Twenge, “The Myth of the Broke Millennial: After a rough start, the generation is thriving. Why doesn’t it feel that way?”

Pick up a book on Millennials, or wander into a discussion about them online, and this theme pops up again and again: The once-optimistic children of the 1980s and early ’90s are now wheezing under the burden of college debt, too poor to buy houses or start families, sucker punched by a hostile economy that bears no resemblance to the one their parents enjoyed as young adults.

“We’re only now starting to grasp the degree to which we have gotten screwed,” Jill Filipovic wrote in her 2020 book, OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind, “and we’re responding with desperation and sometimes anger.” The famous rebuke that Filipovic takes as the book’s title isn’t mere snark, she writes; it’s “a final, frustrated dismissal from people suffering years of political and economic neglect.” In a Morning Consult poll last year, 45 percent of Millennials, compared with 35 percent of all adults, agreed with the statement “Because of my money situation, I will never have the things I want in life.” Fifty-two percent of Millennials said they were concerned that “the money I have or will save won’t last.”

The surprise was this: Millennials, as a group, are not broke—they are, in fact, thriving economically. That wasn’t true a decade ago, and prosperity within the generation today is not evenly shared. But since the mid-2010s, Millennials on the whole have made a breathtaking financial comeback.

This is terrific news. And yet it’s not all good news, because the belief that Millennials have been excluded from the implicit promises that America makes to its people—a house for most, middle-class security, a better life than your parents had—remains predominant in society and, to go by surveys and the tenor of social media, among Millennials themselves.

That prompts a question with implications for the cultural and political future of the United States, a country premised, to a large extent, on the idea of material progress: What if the American dream is still alive, but no one believes it to be?

19) Of course, in a lot of quarters of the left (and without a doubt on twitter), just sharing this article might get you labeled a transphobe.  But, the reality is “gender-affirming care” for minors is far from the area of settled science it’s advocates would have you believe. “A Teen Gender-Care Debate Is Spreading Across Europe: Doubts have now come to the Netherlands, where the most-contested interventions for children and adolescents were developed.”

As Republicans across the U.S. intensify their efforts to legislate against transgender rights, they are finding aid and comfort in an unlikely place: Western Europe, where governments and medical authorities in at least five countries that once led the way on gender-affirming treatments for children and adolescents are now reversing course, arguing that the science undergirding these treatments is unproven, and their benefits unclear.

The about-face by these countries concerns the so-called Dutch protocol, which has for at least a decade been viewed by many clinicians as the gold-standard approach to care for children and teenagers with gender dysphoria. Kids on the protocol are given medical and mental-health assessments; some go on to take medicines that block their natural puberty and, when they’re older, receive cross-sex hormones and eventually surgery. But in Finland, Sweden, France, Norway, and the U.K., scientists and public-health officials are warning that, for some young people, these interventions may do more harm than good.

European health authorities are not reversing themselves on broader issues of trans rights, particularly for adults. But this turn against the Dutch protocol has inflamed activists and politicians in the United States. Republicans who have worked to ban its recommended treatments claim that the shifts in Europe prove they’re right. Their opponents argue that any doubts at all about the protocol, raised in any country whatsoever, are simply out of step with settled science: They point to broad endorsements by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among other groups; and they assert that when it comes to the lifesaving nature of gender-affirming care, “doctors agree.”

But doctors do not agree, particularly in Europe, where no treatments have been banned but a genuine debate is unfurling in this field. In Finland, for example, new treatment guidelines put out in 2020 advised against the use of puberty-blocking drugs and other medical interventions as a first line of care for teens with adolescent-onset dysphoria. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare followed suit in 2022, announcing that such treatments should be given only under exceptional circumstances or in a research context. Shortly after that, the National Academy of Medicine in France recommended la plus grande réserve in the use of puberty blockers. Just last month, a national investigatory board in Norway expressed concerns about the treatment. And the U.K.’s only national gender clinic for children, the Tavistock, has been ordered to close its doors after a government-commissioned report found, among other problems, that its Dutch-protocol-based approach to treatment lacked sufficient evidence.

Believe me, I don’t for a second think this makes Republicans right on this subject.  Mostly, it makes me jealous that in Europe they seem to have reasonable, nuanced conversations about difficult issues whereas we get tribalism and grandstanding from both the right and the left.

20) I was in Vox a couple weeks ago.  That impressed at least one former student. Why these Democrats are defecting to the GOP: Four Democratic lawmakers in West Virginia, Louisiana, and North Carolina switched parties recently. Should Democrats worry?”

There’s also an incentive for a party that is just short of a supermajority, as was the case in Louisiana and North Carolina, to court members who may be on the political margins. It’s not yet clear whether the GOP made any concessions to any of the lawmakers to persuade them to come over, but it’s certainly possible.

“It’s a lot more fun to be part of the majority and even more fun to be part of the supermajority,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.

The lawmakers will inherently wield more power and have access to favorable committee assignments. But they also don’t have to vote with their new parties all the time: Greene said it would be strange for Cotham to turn her back on her previous positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights, but it’s possible that she might vote with Republicans on the state budget, where the implementation of Medicaid expansion is likely to be contentious.

Mostly, though, as I’ve written before, Tricia Cotham is just awful.  Decent people simply do not behave as she has done here. 


Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Brian Beutler: on Clarence Thomas and Democratic weakness:

In fairness to Democrats, they have also asked Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate Thomas internally, so it’s not like they’re casting a narrow net in the vain hope that Republicans might do the right thing. 

But more on that in a minute. Before we wring our hands over the Democrats’ apparent indifference, we should be of one mind about Thomas’s conduct, why it warrants an aggressive response, and what such a response might accomplish.   

For decades, while posing as the Supreme Court’s everyman, Thomas has accepted lavish gifts, vacations, and private-jet flights, worth millions of dollars, from the Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. Then—in violation of federal law—he elected to conceal the financial relationship. We learned all of that thanks to the excellent reporting of Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublicaAnd we know they have Thomas dead to rights, because he hasn’t denied any of it. Rather, he has sought to defend his behavior with what you might generously call lawyerly deception. Here’s the key part of the public statement he issued in response to the revelations:

Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.

I added the emphasis to identify the points of deceit. Reading his statement, you might imagine that when Thomas became a justice, he wondered what to do about his dear and generous friend Harlan who, while very rich, and very conservative, had no particular interest in the composition of the federal bench or what considerations enter the minds of Supreme Court justices when they interpret and make law. 

But that’s not so. Twenty-five years ago, Thomas had already been a justice for several years, which means he only befriended Crow after becoming one of the most powerful officeholders in the world. We don’t know when Thomas sought guidance from his similarly lawless colleagues, or which jurists he sought it from, but we know he voluntarily disclosed these gifts until the Los Angeles Times first began reporting on this improper relationship in 2004, at which point the disclosures stopped. Then note the past-tense voice when he claims Crow “did not have business before the court.” That is conspicuously not the same as saying he “did not and does not have business before the court,” or “has never had business before the court.” We don’t know, because Thomas left too much unsaid, but at best this means Crow had no business before the court in or around 2004 when Thomas and his buddies on the bench all agreed he didn’t have to follow any rules. 

A truer statement and timeline would have left a much different impression: That years after he became a justice, a right-wing influence peddler with a fortune and recurring business before the court befriended and began spending vast sums of money on him; that he disclosed these gifts for several more years before the press got wind of it, at which point he went looking for affirmation that it was OK to keep accepting the gifts without disclosing them.

This would be intolerable even if it were Thomas’s first offense, but his offenses are serial. His entanglement with Crow alone has seen straight up cash flow into his wife Ginni’s pockets and his own. As I was writing this we learned that Crow secretly paid above market value to purchase property from Thomas, parcels that included Thomas’s parents house, where they continued to maintain residence while Crow covered their property taxes. 

Meanwhile, Ginni resides at the center of a sprawling network of right-wing activists who encouraged and participated in efforts to overthrow the government after the 2020 election. Knowing that her communications about the attempted coup might end up in the hands of investigators and the public, Thomas cast the sole dissenting vote against requiring disclosure of Trump administration records to the House January 6 Committee. No recusal. Her involvement, and his desire to cover it up, at least hinted at his awareness of, or even complicity in, an effort to overturn American democracy. It all could easily have formed the basis of a tidy impeachment inquiry. Instead, then as now, Democrats in Congress let it be. They contented themselves with impotent calls for Thomas to recuse himself in future insurrection cases, and for a statutory code of ethics to bind the justices going forward. 

Democrats subsequently lost the House, removing impeachment as an option altogether. But that hasn’t left them powerless. They still have a significant bully pulpit. They could use it to insist (ineffectively, perhaps, but at real cost to Thomas and the GOP) that Thomas resign; that his defenders are complicit in selling the Court to right-wing billionaires; that a court that tolerates this cozy style of bribery and deception can not be trusted with as much power as it has. And they could back that up with a credible threat to investigate Thomas’s conduct more deeply, including through the use of subpoena power. 

A few righteous House Democrats have indeed called on Thomas to resign, but the ones best positioned to make this a painful problem for Thomas and Republicans have all ducked. As alluded to earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin’s first instinct was to pass the buck to John Roberts—”Chief Justice Roberts needs to take the important first step here as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, to restore the integrity of that court with a thorough and credible investigation of what happened with Justice Thomas,” Durbin said—while vaguely promising to “act.”  Initially, eight senators signed a letter to Roberts pressing him to relieve them of this hot potato. Subsequently, under wilting criticism, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wrote to Roberts again, urging him (again) to investigate this issue himself, but advising him that “the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.” One hearing! On ‘Supreme Court Ethics!’ Maybe!

So, for now, a buck passed and a box checked. 

We thus witnessed the perverse spectacle of Republicans feigning more outrage in defense of their poor, beleaguered friend Clarence Thomas, and his right to be corrupt, than Democrats directed at Thomas for the extent of his corruption. Republicans felt freer than they might have to treat Thomas as the victim of a smear campaign, because Democrats did not respond in proportion to the seriousness of the matter. Republicans would have you believe they’d be totally cool with George Soros sending Ketanji Brown Jackson to various beach resorts on his private planes (NB: they would lose every last ounce of their shit) because they didn’t have to worry about their opponents calling them liars, complicit in the corruption of the American government.





2) Freddie deBoer takes up some satire on leftists and crime and it’s brilliant:

A: We need to do something about our rotten criminal justice system.

B: Absolutely. We need major reform – police reform, sentencing reform, reform of our jails and prisons, robust programs for rehabilitation and reintegration.

A: No, we need to tear it all down. Defund the police, abolish prisons, and end the carceral state.

B: You know, if I thought that the Water & Sewer department was terribly corrupt, violent, and racist, I’d be very invested in Water & Sewer reform. I’d find Water & Sewer reform to be a moral necessity. I’d advocate for major Water & Sewer reform. But I wouldn’t say “Water & Sewer can’t be reformed, we need to let shit flow through the streets.” It seems like a major and unjustified leap in logic.

A: Sorry. Reform won’t do. Defund, disarm, decarcerate! No police!

B: Won’t that lead to a lot of crime and much lower living standards?

A: Not if we address need. Poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime.

B: Of all crime?

A: Yes.

B: But the vast majority of poor people aren’t committing crimes.

A: Crime is complex and multivariate.

B: If poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime, how is crime complex or multivariate?

A: … because. 

B: Remember when that MLB pitcher’s old tweets resurfaced recently?

A: Yes. That damn racist.

B: Well, I get why copying and pasting rap lyrics with the n-word in them and tweeting it is offensive. I don’t condone it. But he was a teenager when he sent those tweets, and you were saying that he should lose all of his endorsement deals. And you also thought that an actor who was caught on camera calling someone a “slut” should never work again.

A: That’s right. We’re trying to build an accountability culture here.

B: So you’re a minimalist when it comes to punishing actual crimes, but when it comes to handing down social punishment, you’re a maximalist.

A: …yes?

B: Does that make sense? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to have a conception of forgiveness and accountability that applies to both the public and private domains? Like, “we should be more forgiving towards people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. “We should be less forgiving to people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. But “we should be an absurdly punitive culture when it comes to violating social prohibitions, but effectively anarchists when it comes to violating legal prohibitions” seems bizarre and unworkable to me.

A: Why!

B: Well, I think the basic reality of human life is that we’re fallible. We don’t do the right thing, often. So we need society to create incentives and punishments to urge people towards the right kind of behavior. In the kind of society you’re envisioning, we aren’t creating those incentives and punishments to encourage lawful behavior, and so people will break the law. I don’t believe that people are essentially self-policing; I don’t believe that all people are basically good. I think most people are basically good, but some very much are not, and the ones who aren’t will prey on those who are if we don’t do anything. It’s sad but it’s a fact of life. You ever see the show Deadwood? There’s no police force in Deadwood. The result isn’t a utopia of people being good to each other; it’s a vicious place where the strong do whatever they want and the weak suffer. That’s what life was like before state-imposed order, the most powerful warlord took whatever he wanted and everyone else suffered. That’s reality. In a state of nature, human beings rob and rape and kill. So you have to have some sort of formal system of crime and punishment. That’s why I’m not a libertarian or anarchist. And I find it very weird that a lot of ostensible leftists have essentially adapted right-wing libertarian visions of law and order. But it’s really weird that those same people are also so eager to basically unperson those who say offensive things! Of course there should be social prohibitions against racism and similar types of offense, but it feels like the left is impossibly sensitive to those social mores and totally insensitive to the costs of having someone stick a gun in your face and take your car. If a woman goes on Twitter and says, “my boss just called me sexy,” people there will do everything they can to cost that man his job. If that same exact woman says, “I just got carjacked,” people with hammers and sickles in their bios will laugh at her and tell her that crime is just something you have to accept, and anyway she was rich enough to own a car so she’s privileged. It’s so bizarre. I just don’t get the consistent principles at play here. It all seems so fickle and arbitrary.

A: Look, I’m gonna level with you here. Like the vast majority of leftists who have been minted since Occupy Wall Street, my principles, values, and policy preferences don’t stem from a coherent set of moral values, developed into an ideology, which then suggests preferred policies. At all. That requires a lot of reading and I’m busy organizing black tie fundraisers at work and bringing Kayleigh and Dakota to fencing practice. I just don’t have the time. So my politics have been bolted together in a horribly awkward process of absorbing which opinions are least likely to get me screamed at by an online activist or mocked by a podcaster. My politics are therefore really a kind of self-defensive pastiche, an odd Frankensteining of traditional leftist rhetoric and vocabulary from Ivy League humanities departments I don’t understand. I quote Marx, but I got the quote from Tumblr. I cite Gloria Anzaldua, but only because someone on TikTok did it first. I support defunding the police because in 2020, when the social and professional consequences for appearing not to accept social justice norms were enormous, that was the safest place for me to hide. I maintain a vague attachment to police and prison abolition because that still appears to be the safest place for me to hide. I vote Democrat but/and call myself a socialist because that is the safest place for me to hide. I’m not a bad person; I want freedom and equality. I want good things for everyone. But politics scare and confuse me. I just can’t stand to lose face, so I have to present all of my terribly confused ideals with maximum superficial confidence. If you probe any of my specific beliefs with minimal force, they will collapse, as those “beliefs” are simply instruments of social manipulation. I can’t take my kid to the Prospect Park carousel and tell the other parents that I don’t support police abolition. It would damage my brand and I can’t have that. And that contradiction you detected, where I support maximum forgiveness for crime but no forgiveness at all for being offensive? For me, that’s no contradiction at all. Those beliefs are not part of a functioning and internally-consistent political system but a potpourri of deracinated slogans that protect me from headaches I don’t need. I never wanted to be a leftist. I just wanted to take my justifiable but inchoate feelings of dissatisfaction with the way things are and wrap them up into part of the narrative that I tell other people about myself, the narrative that I’m a kind good worthwhile enlightened person. And hey, in college that even got me popularity/a scholarship/pussy! Now I’m an adult and I have things to protect, and well-meaning but fundamentally unserious activists have created an incentive structure that mandates that I pretend to a) understand what “social justice” means and b) have the slightest interest in working to get it. I just want to chip away at my student loan debt and not get my company’s Slack turned against me. I need my job/I need my reputation/I need to not have potential Bumble dates see anything controversial when they Google me. Can you throw me a bone? Neither I nor 99% of the self-identified socialists in this country believe that there is any chance whatsoever that we’ll ever take power, and honestly, you’re harshing our vibe. So can you please fuck off and let us hide behind the BLM signs that have been yellowing in our windows for three years?

B: Honesty at last.

3) This is really interesting, “Income and emotional well-being: A conflict resolved”

Do larger incomes make people happier? Two authors of the present paper have published contradictory answers. Using dichotomous questions about the preceding day, [Kahneman and Deaton, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 16489–16493 (2010)] reported a flattening pattern: happiness increased steadily with log(income) up to a threshold and then plateaued. Using experience sampling with a continuous scale, [Killingsworth, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 118, e2016976118 (2021)] reported a linear-log pattern in which average happiness rose consistently with log(income). We engaged in an adversarial collaboration to search for a coherent interpretation of both studies. A reanalysis of Killingsworth’s experienced sampling data confirmed the flattening pattern only for the least happy people. Happiness increases steadily with log(income) among happier people, and even accelerates in the happiest group. Complementary nonlinearities contribute to the overall linear-log relationship. We then explain why Kahneman and Deaton overstated the flattening pattern and why Killingsworth failed to find it. We suggest that Kahneman and Deaton might have reached the correct conclusion if they had described their results in terms of unhappiness rather than happiness; their measures could not discriminate among degrees of happiness because of a ceiling effect. The authors of both studies failed to anticipate that increased income is associated with systematic changes in the shape of the happiness distribution. The mislabeling of the dependent variable and the incorrect assumption of homogeneity were consequences of practices that are standard in social science but should be questioned more often. We flag the benefits of adversarial collaboration.

4) Like the above, found this in Scott Alexander’s monthly links and it’s so good, “Some anomalies/questions which are not necessarily important, but do puzzle me or where I find existing explanations to be unsatisfying.”

5) Always here for microbiome research:

For the new global analysis of microbiomes, Segata, Valles-Colomer, and their colleagues honed their tools enough to recognize previously unknown species and different strains of the same species. Using these tools, they examined more than 9,700 samples of stool and saliva from 20 countries on five continents, representing communities with very diverse lifestyles and covering the full range of the human lifespan and many different living arrangements. They traced more than 800,000 strains of microbes between families, roommates, neighbors, and villages and calculated what percentage of shared species were the same strain.

As they expected, they found that the most sharing of strains happened between mothers and infants in the first year of life—about 50 percent of the shared species found in the infants’ guts were strains that spread from the mother. The mother’s influence diminished with time—slipping from 27 percent at age 3 to 14 percent by age 30—but didn’t disappear. Some elderly people in China were shown to still share strains with their surviving centenarian mothers.

For Veena Taneja, an immunologist at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the study, one of the more surprising tidbits in the findings was that although infants born vaginally shared more strains with their mothers than infants born by C-section did, this difference vanished by three years of age. “People make a big deal out of it” that babies born via C-section might be more at risk for certain diseases, she said. But the findings suggest that maybe it “should not be a big thing.”

(That view was corroborated by a new study published this month in Cell Host & Microbe. It found that babies born via C-section received less of their mother’s microbiomes than babies born vaginally, but that they didn’t miss out because they received more microbes from breast milk.)

As we get older, a sizable portion of our microbiomes continues to come from the people we live with or near. Unsurprisingly, the study by Segata and colleagues found that spouses and other physically intimate partners shared a lot of microbes: 13 percent of the gut species they shared were of the same strain, as were 38 percent of their shared oral species.

But people who lived together platonically weren’t far behind, at 12 percent for shared gut species and 32 percent for shared oral species. That’s because, as Segata, Valles-Colomer and their team found, the single most important determinant of transmission was time spent together. People living under one roof shared the most strains, but even people living in the same village tended to have more strains in common than people separated by greater distances. The frequency of strain sharing was consistent across different societies, but the team did confirm previous findings that people in non-westernized countries tend to have more diverse microbiomes.

The researchers also found that strains held in common could be lost over time. Twins growing up together had about a 30 percent strain-sharing level that dropped to about 10 percent after 30 years of living apart.

Segata thinks it’s likely that most of the other strains of shared species also come from other people—primarily from close contacts like friends or coworkers, but maybe also from people we encounter far more briefly and casually. (Pets, however, are probably not big contributors: Segata said that animals mostly harbor microbial species that don’t typically colonize or persist in us.)

The findings are the strongest evidence to date that we share parts of our microbiomes with the people we spend the most time with. The fact that the authors were able to see this pattern of transmission across the globe, and not just in a single population, was “striking,” said Ilana Brito, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. These data sets are extremely noisy, with many mutations happening across these different organisms, she added. But the team successfully uncovered “the signal across the noise.”

It’s not clear how microbiome organisms spread between people. Kissing and sex explain some of it, but microbes could also be transmitted through droplets spewed by coughs and sneezes, or they could be picked up from contaminated surfaces. There’s also still a lot to learn about which microbes are more easily spread than others. Answering that question is critical for understanding the implications of the idea that microbiome organisms can spread.

6) Loved reading about the tiny spit of land in Australia that was one of the few places of dry land on earth where one could see the latest total solar eclipse:

For the tens of thousands of astrophotographers, eclipse chasers and cosmically minded tourists contemplating the best site from which to view Thursday’s total solar eclipse, the town of Exmouth, perched on a finger of land jutting from Australia’s west coast, was the simplest solution to a problem of extreme scarcity.

The narrow ribbon across the planet from which the eclipse could be seen crossed land in just four places: the remotest reaches of East Timor and Western Papua, in Indonesia; freckle-like Australian islands, one of which is controlled by the oil company Chevron; and Exmouth, a tiny tourist destination and former U.S. naval base 770 miles from the nearest city…

Every year, Exmouth sees a regular influx of a few thousand vacationers, drawn by its pristine reef and resident whale sharks. But to accommodate a mass of 20,000 or 30,000 visitors required years of planning and millions of dollars in state support that went toward infrastructure updates, hundreds of portable toilets, dozens of additional emergency workers, the clearing of five acres of forestland and a 1.5-million-gallon water tank.

“It sounds pretty daunting, doesn’t it?” said Darlene Allston, a top local official.

In many instances, hotels and other tourism operators first learned of the eclipse from savvy tourists who booked their accommodations four or more years earlier. When someone emailed the town’s visitor center in 2018 seeking a booking, “We thought it was a joke at first,” said Jessica Smith, who worked there.

7) Charges are being dropped against Alec Baldwin.  It’s almost like he never should’ve been charged. 

8) Lots of cool ideas from Ethan Mollick on how to use Bing GPT to help teachers/professors.  I tried it out with American Government concepts, and, yeah, it worked really well. 

9) Relatedly.

10) After Damar Hamlin was revived on the field with CPR and an AED I decided I was not going to put off a CPR class any longer.  I’ve put it off so long because I knew it would be less than an hour of material in 2-3 hours.  And, yes, exactly that, but I’m really glad I took the class.  Meanwhile, an interesting story on whether home AED’s may be worth it.  On a society level, totally fails a cost/benefit because the events are so rare, but, nonetheless, it can absolutely make the key difference in some cases. 

On the evening of Jan. 15, 2021, in a remote Arizona desert town, Christine Benton saved a life.

She and her husband, Brian Benton, were traveling the country in a recreational vehicle and had parked near other R.V.ers at a winery in Willcox. As the couple were eating dinner, someone started shouting from an R.V. behind them. A woman had collapsed and was in cardiac arrest. She had no pulse. Frantic, her husband called 911 while two other people started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“She looked like she was gone,” said Ms. Benton, a retired paramedic firefighter.

But Ms. Benton had made a consequential decision before she and her husband started out: She had bought a personal automated external defibrillator, or A.E.D., which can shock a person’s heart back to life if it suddenly stops beating. Her plan was to to keep it with her, just in case. It was expensive, it was highly unlikely she would ever use it and her husband was hesitant. But she was adamant.

“If I were ever in a situation where I could save a life and I didn’t have an A.E.D., I could never live with myself,” she told her husband at the time.

As a firefighter, Ms. Benton had been trained to use a defibrillator. She knew that if someone’s heart stopped, a rescuer should start CPR immediately, pushing hard and rhythmically on the chest, while another rescuer went to get an A.E.D. As soon as that second rescuer returned, the A.E.D. should be used…

But emergency medicine specialists are divided on whether it makes sense for anyone to buy one.

They know that A.E.D.s in public places like airports, where thousands of people pass by every day, can make a difference and they urge people to use them if they see someone who needs help. In the U.S., 85 to 90 percent of people who have sudden cardiac arrests do not survive and many cannot be revived, often because resuscitation attempts start too late.

But the situation is different in the home.

For one, there is the expense — the devices often cost more than $1,000, making them far less affordable to the average person than home medical devices like a blood pressure monitor or a pulse oximeter. While there are efforts to develop cheaper A.E.D.s, they are still underway, according to Monica Sales, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

The price is not the only thing that gives some specialists pause. The odds are so stacked against a dramatic save that it has proved impossible to show that personal A.E.D.’s make a difference.

An estimated 1,000 people a day in the U.S. have sudden cardiac arrests, in which the heart stops beating and the person is technically dead. But that represents a minuscule portion of the American population.

Even people at high risk of a sudden cardiac arrest were not helped by home A.E.D.s, a large study showed. It involved 7,001 people who had previously had heart attacks and who were randomly assigned to receive an A.E.D. or to be in a control group.

Despite the huge number of study participants, very few had cardiac arrests and, even when they did, the arrests often did not occur at home or were not witnessed. In the end, just eight people in each group were resuscitated at home. The authors concluded that even if the study’s size were doubled, there would be too few events to detect an effect of home A.E.D.s.

11) Drum on DeSantis:

Ron DeSantis is blowing it. Initially, his pitch was simple: I’m an anti-woke conservative but I’m not crazy like Donald Trump.

But that’s evolved considerably over the past few months. DeSantis was doing fine as long as he attacked the soft underbelly of liberal sex, gender, and race politics: trans kids in sports; queer theory in AP classes; teaching gay acceptance to third graders; puberty blockers for adolescents; and so forth. These are all things that produce a fair bit of angst among not just MAGA conservatives, but also moderates and independents.

But banning discussion of gender identity completely? Taking over a public university because he didn’t like its curriculum? Banning abortion at six weeks? Going to war with Disney as an act of state-sponsored revenge? Claiming that the Federal Reserve is trying to mount an economic coup using digital currency?

Some of these seem like transparent pandering. Some seem like dangerous extremism. Some are flat-out conspiracy theory lunacy. And some, like the Disney war, are scaring the business wing of the Republican Party, which tolerates the GOP’s culture war agenda only as long as they’re left out of it.

DeSantis is acting like the United States is just an extension of the most conservative parts of Florida. It’s not, and DeSantis has put himself into a pickle. He’s obviously too weak and insecure to deny anything to the MAGA cesspool, and this is ruining his chances of appealing to anyone else. He needed to appear strong enough to control the MAGA beast, not become its kept man.

12) And Chait:

A little over four years ago, Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign appeared to be, if not inevitable, then at least like the most strongly positioned candidacy to win her party’s nomination. The former Harvard professor had won over a large segment of the progressive intelligentsia with her impressive array of domestic-policy proposals. But the enthusiasm of activists and intellectuals seemed to augur a groundswell of support from the base that never arrived.

The Warren precedent sprung to mind when Florida governor Ron DeSantis yesterday ventured to South Carolina, where he railed against the “woke mind-virus,” which he defined, perhaps unhelpfully, as “a form of cultural Marxism.” These are terms and concepts that have ricocheted across the conservative elite, especially Republicans trapped in New York, Washington, Silicon Valley, and other citadels of liberal elitism, where teachers and human-resource staffers have grown enamored of Robin DiAngelo–speak. But is this worldview, and the jargon DeSantis uses to express it, actually familiar to the voters? Are Republicans in South Carolina truly in a state of despair over “cultural Marxism”?

DeSantis’s struggles have consumed the national media and inspired sundry explanations. Perhaps his misanthropy is the problem. (“He doesn’t like talking to people, and it’s showing,” one supporter complained to the Washington Post.) Maybe the issue is that Donald Trump was indicted. Maybe it’s his refusal to engage the mainstream media. Or maybe his struggles are a passing phase, willed into existence by a campaign press corps that quadrennially seizes on any wisp of momentum, positive or negative, and blows it up into a self-perpetuating narrative, before getting bored and overcorrecting the other way. (DeSantis’s new image as an inept loser is difficult to square with his 19-point victory in Florida last year.) But the deepest problem may be that he has simply brain-poisoned himself into an abstract worldview that his constituents don’t recognize.

13) I’m a little obsessed with weather apps (I have four on my phone and mostly swear by Accuweather).  I love that Charlie Warzel actually wrote about them! 

Technologically speaking, we live in a time of plenty. Today, I can ask a chatbot to render The Canterbury Tales as if written by Taylor Swift or to help me write a factually inaccurate autobiography. With three swipes, I can summon almost everyone listed in my phone and see their confused faces via an impromptu video chat. My life is a gluttonous smorgasbord of information, and I am on the all-you-can-eat plan. But there is one specific corner where technological advances haven’t kept up: weather apps.

Weather forecasts are always a game of prediction and probabilities, but these apps seem to fail more often than they should. At best, they perform about as well as meteorologists, but some of the most popular ones fare much worse. The cult favorite Dark Sky, for example, which shut down earlier this year and was rolled into the Apple Weather app, accurately predicted the high temperature in my zip code only 39 percent of the time, according to ForecastAdvisor, which evaluates online weather providers. The Weather Channel’s app, by comparison, comes in at 83 percent. The Apple app, although not rated by ForecastAdvisor, has a reputation for off-the-mark forecasts and has been consistently criticized for presenting faulty radar screens, mixing up precipitation totals, or, as it did last week, breaking altogether. Dozens of times, the Apple Weather app has lulled me into a false sense of security, leaving me wet and betrayed after a run, bike ride, or round of golf…

Weather apps are not all the same. There are tens of thousands of them, from the simply designed Apple Weather to the expensive, complex, data-rich Windy.App. But all of these forecasts are working off of similar data, which are pulled from places such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Traditional meteorologists interpret these models based on their training as well as their gut instinct and past regional weather patterns, and different weather apps and services tend to use their own secret sauce of algorithms to divine their predictions. On an average day, you’re probably going to see a similar forecast from app to app and on television. But when it comes to how people feel about weather apps, these edge cases—which usually take place during severe weather events—are what stick in a person’s mind. “Eighty percent of the year, a weather app is going to work fine,” Matt Lanza, a forecaster who runs Houston’s Space City Weather, told me. “But it’s that 20 percent where people get burned that’s a problem.” 

Lanza explained the human touch of a meteorologist using the example of a so-called high-resolution forecasting model that can predict only 18 hours out. It is generally quite good, he told me, at predicting rain and thunderstorms—“but every so often it runs too hot and over-indexes the chances of a bad storm.” This model, if left to its own devices, will project showers and thunderstorms blanketing the region for hours when, in reality, the storm might only cause 30 minutes of rain in an isolated area of the mapped region. “The problem is when you take the model data and push it directly into the app with no human interpretation,” he said. “Because you’re not going to get nuance from these apps at all. And that can mean a difference between a chance of rain all day and it’s going to rain all day.”

But even this explanation has caveats; all weather apps are different, and their forecasts have varying levels of sophistication. Some pipe model data right in, whereas others are curated using artificial intelligence. Peter Neilley, the Weather Channel’s director of weather forecasting sciences and technologies, said in an email that the company’s app incorporates “billions of weather data points,” adding that “our expert team of meteorologists does oversee and correct the process as needed.”

Weather apps might be less reliable for another reason too. When it comes to predicting severe weather such as snow, small changes in atmospheric moisture—the type of change an experienced forecaster might notice—can cause huge variances in precipitation outcomes. An app with no human curation might choose to average the model’s range of outcomes, producing a forecast that doesn’t reflect the dynamic situation on the ground. Or consider cities with microclimates: “Today, in Chicago, the lakefront will sit in the lower 40s, and the suburbs will be 50-plus degrees,” Greg Dutra, a meteorologist at ABC 7 Chicago, told me. “Often, the difference is even more stark—20-degree swings over just miles.” These sometimes subtle temperature disparities can mean very different forecasts for people living in the same region—something that one-size-fits-all weather apps don’t always pick up.

14) And it also pointed me to this site, which I love, that compares the accuracy of various weather apps for your location (and my two favorite Accuweather and Weather Underground are at the top for Cary). 

15) Loved this Thomas Pueyo thread on maps (if you are on twitter you should totally follow him!)

16) Lots of great advice from Jeremy Faust on seasonal allergies.  I had no idea you could really pound the Zyrtec on those bad allergy days (but definitely not the eye drops). 

17) Drum on the Bud Light ridiculousness:

Every year, Bud Light spends more than $100 million on marketing. Of that, maybe a few million goes to social media. Of that, a small fraction goes to deals with social media influencers. And of that, a few thousand dollars recently went to Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman who racked up something like 10 million followers on TikTok by putting up daily videos of her transition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, after a meeting with Joe Biden, Mulvaney became a right-wing target. So she was already on their radar two weeks ago when she posted a cutesy Instagram video for Bud Light during March Madness. This led to a week of outrage from Fox News and calls for a conservative boycott of Bud Light. National Review editor Rich Lowry says there’s a lesson to be learned:

It would be a good outcome here if it becomes obvious to everyone that Bud Light made a mistake, and if big companies resolve not to do the same in the future.

Just so I have this straight: Lowry’s view is that no American corporation should ever hire a transgender person as part of a promotional campaign. Or am I missing something? Are there any other demographic groups that corporate America should also steer clear of?

18) EJ Dionne, “Gun absolutists don’t trust democracy because they know they’re losing”

Gunned-down children don’t seem to change the political equation on guns. Neither do dead teachers. Are parents petrified to send their sons and daughters to school? Tough. I expect the next new slogan on right-wing T-shirts will be: “Arm the Kids!


Speaking to the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis on Friday, former president Donald Trump didn’t go quite that far. But he did suggest that we “arm some of these teachers.” Former vice president Mike Pence similarly pledged to place “armed resource officers in every public and private school in America.” There’s big government for you.


That the Republican Party is now wholly owned by the gun lobby was witnessed not only by the eagerness of Pence, Trump and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to pander in person at the gathering self-described as “14 acres of guns & gear.” Other would-be 2024 GOP nominees — among them, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — felt obligated to bow before the gun worshipers by video.

The nonsense floated in Indianapolis — based on the idea that our national addiction to high-powered weaponry has nothing to do with America’s unique mass shooting problem — speaks to a deep ailment in our democracy. It has both partisan and (perverse) philosophical roots.

The GOP’s conversion to gun absolutism is the heart of the problem. But politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often follows from cultural and moral innovations.

For roughly four decades, American conservatism has identified firearms as a marker of a manly rejection of urban cosmopolitanism and gun ownership as a right more important than any other. As DeSantis said in his video, the right to bear arms is “the foundation on which all our other rights rest” and essential to Americans’ “ability to rule themselves.”

19) Pretty persuaded by this, “Harper: Why the NBA needs to ban the charge (because it’s stupid and needs to go away)”

The charge is stupid and needs to go away. Now put your pitchforks away and let me explain.

The charge isn’t really a basketball play. I know we’ve tricked ourselves through lore and grainy black-and-white clips that this is a true sacrifice when trying to play defense. It’s really not, especially not anymore. Not with today’s athleticism. The charge is a bailout call for the defense. It’s a game of Three-Card Monte where you’re encouraging collisions as if this were some kind of goal-line stand in football. The alternative would make for a better basketball product, but the league seems so set in its ways on whether or not to change the rule (or even consider it) that it’s willing to create bad situations time and time again.

Two of the biggest stars in the NBA got hurt on Sunday because of players attempting to take charges. Ja Morant fell hard when Anthony Davis tried to take a charge in Game 1 of Grizzlies-Lakers. He hurt his wrist and his status in this series is “in jeopardy,” according to the Grizzlies’ point guard…

In both instances, you have players looking to slide into position at the last second, hoping to con the referee into thinking they were in legal guarding position the entire time to gain the call. By the time Morant is taking off, Davis is still sliding into position. It’s insane to me that this would be rewarded, but I can also recognize it’s a bang-bang play that could go either way on the call. In the case of Giannis, he’s off the ground completely when Love slides into position, and his fall to the ground was contorted enough to have him land right on his back.

20) This interactive WP feature on recycling is pretty cool. Gift link. 

21) What a great idea, “California Wants to Cover Its Canals With Solar Panels”

A new state-funded project in the San Joaquin Valley hopes to find a new way to build drought resilience. The idea is simple: Cover the state’s canals and aqueducts with solar panels to both limit evaporation and generate renewable energy.

“If you drive up and down the state, you see a lot of open canals. And after year after year of drought it seemed an obvious question: How much are we losing to evaporation?” said Jordan Harris, co-founder and chief executive of Solar AquaGrid, a company based in the Bay Area that’s designing and overseeing the initiative. “It’s just common sense in our eyes.”

The California Department of Water Resources is providing $20 million to test the concept in Stanislaus County and to help determine where else along the state’s 4,000 miles of canals — one of the largest water conveyance systems in the world — it would make the most sense to install solar panels. The project is a collaboration between the state, Solar AquaGrid, the Turlock Irrigation District and researchers with the University of California, Merced, who will track and analyze the findings.

“This hasn’t been tried in the U.S. before,” said Roger Bales, an engineering professor at U.C. Merced who specializes in water and climate research. “We want these to eventually be scaled across the western U.S., where we have a lot of irrigated agriculture and open canals.”

California’s efforts got a jump start from a 2021 study published by Bales and his colleagues, who determined that covering the state’s canals with solar panels could reduce evaporation by as much as 90 percent and save 63 billion gallons of water per year — enough to meet the residential water needs of more than two million people.

22) Hell of an essay, “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon”

My 35 years living with two different donor hearts (I was 25 at the time of the first transplant) — finishing law school, getting married, becoming a mother and writing two books — has felt like a quest to outlast a limited life expectancy. With compulsive compliance, I adhered to the strictest interpretation of transplant protocols. I honored my gifts of life with self-discipline: not one pat of butter; not one sip of alcohol; running mile after mile hoping to stave off vasculopathy, an insidious artery disease that often besets transplanted hearts within about 10 years…

Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors. And I understand the irony of an incredibly successful and fortunate two-time heart transplant recipient making this case, but my longevity also provides me with a unique vantage point. Standing on the edge of death now, I feel compelled to use my experience in the transplant trenches to illuminate and challenge the status quo.

Over the last almost four decades a toxic triad of immunosuppressive medicines — calcineurin inhibitors, antimetabolites, steroids — has remained essentially the same with limited exceptions. These transplant drugs (which must be taken once or twice daily for life, since rejection is an ongoing risk and the immune system will always regard a donor organ as a foreign invader) cause secondary diseases and dangerous conditions, including diabetes, uncontrollable high blood pressure, kidney damage and failure, serious infections and cancers. The negative impact on recipients is not offset by effectiveness: the current transplant medicine regimen does not work well over time to protect donor organs from immune attack and destruction.

My first donor heart died of transplant medicines’ inadequate protection of the donor heart from rejection; my second will die most likely from their stymied immune effects that give free rein to cancer…

Transplantation is no different from lifelong illnesses that need newer, safer, more effective medicines. Improvements in drug regimens are needed for lupus, Parkinson’s and a host of others. The key difference is that only in transplantation are patients expected to see their disease state as a “miracle.” Only in transplant is there pressure to accept what you’ve been given and not dare express a wish, let alone a demand, for a healthier or longer life.


The side effects of transplant immunosuppression can be sickening day to day, as my small posse of stalwart organ recipient girlfriends knows well; we talk about the vomit bags stashed in our purses, the antacid tablets we tuck into our front pockets for quick-nibble access at a cocktail party or when giving a presentation at work. We’ve encouraged one another to be inventive and keep finding little fixes or at least ameliorations.

Yet over time, each of us tolerate significant challenges and damage, the kind that prompt us to call late at night in tears, reeling from the intractable infections that land us in emergency rooms and hospital beds, the biopsies that pluck pieces of our donor organs leaving us scarred and shaken, the skin cancers that blossom rapidly beside an eyelid or ear. We’ve learned that there can be no clearing every single cancer cell with a suppressed immune system; we will get cut again, and again and again.

But with rattled resolve, we push one another to squeeze laughter out of our common experiences, recounting in mimicking tones all the doctors and all the ways they’ve said to us: “You have taken too much of those medicines for too long. Things are bound to go sideways.”

23) I hope Freddie deBoer isn’t talking to me.  I feel like I’m actually funny.  But, maybe…

I pretty quickly figured out that outside of the weird social architecture of high school, I just wasn’t a particularly funny guy. I’m not exactly known for my great self-knowledge, but this was one of the times in my life when I suddenly and definitively understood myself. On reflection I came to realize that the conditions at high school were never going to be replicated. In particular, being funny in high school classes had these inherent advantages:

  1. There was a captive audience of just the right size, say 12-20.

  2. Within that captive audience were other personalities to bounce off of.

  3. The actual task at hand was usually very dry and boring.

  4. We were teenagers.

  5. Some of us liked school more, some less, but we were all forced to be there.

  6. There was a central authority figure who functioned as a natural and perfect foil, someone to be the butt of jokes.

  7. The fact that we were forced to be there, and that the authority figure’s power over us was to some degree arbitrary, made fighting back with humor feel like a battle for freedom and dignity.

Now, with time I have come to regret just how much of my adolescence I spent fucking with my teachers. For one thing, this was part of my total nosedive in academics that started in middle school, where I went from perfect grades as an elementary school student to constantly failing classes in high school. (Meaning that I performed best when it mattered least and performed worst when it mattered most.) But the bigger issue is that eventually I came to realize that my teachers were, with some exceptions, good people who were doing their best and had an essential task to perform, a task I made a little harder with my constant interruptions and defiance. In fairness, both my bad grades and my snottiness were symptoms of the fact that I was a profoundly wounded person at that point of my life. Still, I only ever gave a handful of teachers an easy time in four years of high school, and those I’m sure were because I perceived some sort of integrity in them that was probably based on entirely unfair and fickle criteria. The trouble was that the sense that the teacher was the locus of unjust authority was somewhat overpowering – it lent a sense of moral struggle to the behavior that was also getting me approval and popularity. I made villains out of people who were just trying to do their jobs, in a way that was convenient for me but felt like noble resistance.

I know this probably all sounds obscure, but I think it connects to broader issues within the world of humor. For example, you’ll find that in comedies the villain is very rarely complex or sympathetic. Comedy is great for exploring nuance but also thrives on having a deserving target. My teachers played that role in my own personal excuse architecture.

All of this windup is for a plainly self-aggrandizing purpose: I find that many people have failed to have the same moment of self-realization I had around college age. I think one of the perpetually aggravating conditions of American culture in 2023 is the feeling that everyone is trying to be a comic all the time. Through cultural and technological evolution we’ve created major social incentives for everyone to act like a comedian as well as digital platforms on which to perform. The trouble, to return to a theme, is that we haven’t and can’t democratize comedic talent. I wrote a piece about a year ago called “Perhaps the Barriers to Entry for Creative Work Have Become Too Low.” Some people got pretty salty about that piece and its title. But I think my main point was sympathetic: the tools to make and share movies or music or writing or video games have become so accessible that people aren’t sufficiently developing their craft before they find an audience. And, yes, the meaner point is that some people just aren’t very good at what they do, but they persist for years anyway because doing so is so low-cost. I think that’s sort of where we are with humor, only at a much bigger scale; many people seem to believe that adult conversation mostly involves people throwing wisecracks at each other, over and over again. As Willy Staley says in this piece on the decline of Twitter, “Who doesn’t want to be the person who can make everyone laugh at a dinner party?”

24) Paul Waldman, “Our new terror: The ‘law-abiding’ gun owner who is ready to kill”

I’m afraid of mass shootings. I’m afraid of getting caught in the crossfire of some stupid beef. I’m afraid of gun-wielding, right-wing extremists. But increasingly, I’m also afraid of the people who believe themselves to be “good guys” with guns, gripped with terror of the world around them and ready to kill.

That so many gun owners are consumed with fear is not an accident. It is a central part of the ideology propagated by conservative media outlets and gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association.


The message is hammered home again and again: The world is full of homicidal maniacs coming to kill you and your family. In the words of NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, “every day of every year, innocent, good, defenseless people are beaten, bloodied, robbed, raped and murdered.” Criminals, gangs, home invaders, terrorists, antifa — they’re all coming for you. So if your doorbell rings, you’d better have a gun in your hand when you answer.

The recent NRA convention in Indianapolis was touted by the group as “14 Acres of Guns & Gear!” But it might as well have been “14 Acres of Guns & Fear!” Former president Donald Trump told the crowd that liberals “want to take away your guns while throwing open the jailhouse doors and releasing bloodthirsty criminals into your communities.” One speaker after another echoed that idea.

This has become the core of the gun industry’s marketing efforts in recent years: to convince potential buyers that sooner or later (probably sooner), they will be the victims of violent crime. The only question is whether they’ll be able to kill their attackers before they’re killed first.

When the marketing isn’t talking about home invasions and street assaults, it focuses on what former gun industry insider Ryan Busse calls “fear-based tactical culture,” in which gun owners are encouraged to imagine themselves as paramilitary operatives facing down urban rioters. Gun owners are now significantly more likely to cite protection from crime as the reason they own guns than they were 20 years ago.

More of this, please

Any time a child (certainly under 12) shoots anyone or has a gun where they shouldn’t an adult is obviously morally responsible so we need to hold adults criminally responsible.  And we do that all too rarely.  Thus, this is encouraging:

A grand jury in Newport News, Va., has indicted the mother of a 6-year-old who shot and injured his first-grade teacher at an elementary school in January, the authorities said on Monday.

The mother, Deja Taylor, faces one felony charge of child neglect and a misdemeanor charge for child endangerment that involves a loaded weapon, the city’s prosecutor said in a statement. Her son is accused of shooting his teacher once with a handgun in a classroom at Richneck Elementary School, seriously injuring her.


Quick hits (part I)

Busy week political science-wise plus an Easter trip, so I’ll do my best:

1) For starters, I’m still leaning towards skepticism of the wisdom of the NY prosecution of Trump, but I honestly think there’s pretty good arguments for both.

2) Chait… don’t:

The specific danger that Comey avoided, but that Bragg wanders directly into, is the criminalization of politics. Elected officials ought to be held to the same standard as other Americans. While their standing does not give them license to commit crimes, it also shouldn’t expose them to criminal liability that a regular person would never face.

Trump is in this position because hemaneuvered to keep quiet a tawdry story about his infidelity. That is not a crime. The allegedcrime is disguising the source of the payment and, thereby, evading campaign-finance law. But it is not easy for a candidate to pay off a mistress while complying with campaign-finance laws. Trump is in a position where an activity he could have done legally became a crime simply because he was a candidate for office. The entire scheme follows from his effort to cover up an alleged affair. That is the definition of being below, not above, the law.

The best case I’ve seen for why Trump’s hush money should be considered a serious and prosecutable offense, rather than a technicality, was made by Amanda Carpenter. “The hush money did what Trump wanted it to do: It kept the women from talking,” she argues, referencing the National Enquirer’s “catch and kill” of Karen McDougal’s story of sex with Trump, which was, like Daniels’s encounter, fully consensual. That may be true, but even if you assume that the public had some important right to know about Trump’s affairs, campaign-finance laws are neither designed nor intended to enforce that right.

It may feel frustrating or pointless to insist on fair treatment for Trump when he and his devotees observe no such distinction themselves. It is true that most Trump defenders would denounce even a bulletproof legal case against him. (They are, in fact, already trying to paint the much stronger looming charges against Trump as equally weak.) It is likewise true that they need no “precedent” to justify their attempts to criminalize Democrats for spurious reasons — that corruption of justice already began under Trump’s administration, in fact.

Yes, the first criminal charge against Trump carries special symbolic importance. Yet we are loading more social and political weight on these charges than they can bear. The world can be a complicated place. Sometimes people with good intentions do bad things, and sometimes bad people are the victims of unfairness.

The correct response to Trumpist hypocrisy is to wait for it to manifest rather than abandoning standards of fairness. Since Trump faces a high likelihood of being charged for one or more solid crimes in the very near future, the only price of intellectual consistency is a modest degree of patience.

3) Frum… don’t:

Falsifying documents is illegal. Also illegal is committing perjury and inducing others to commit perjury on your behalf. Yet when President Bill Clinton was accused of doing both of those things to cover up an affair with a White House intern, the majority of Americans shrugged off the accusations. Perjury is wrong, they seemed to feel, but the motive for the perjury matters. Perjury to conceal a murder or fraud: very wrong. But perjury to conceal adultery?

Poorly considered prosecutions may offend the public’s sense of fairness, regardless of whether the target is popular. Clinton had won not even 50 percent of the vote in the prior presidential election, in 1996. Two years later, his 73 percent approval rating represented a repudiation of the Ken Starr investigation and the Newt Gingrich–led impeachment. Clinton, too, benefited from a “This?” verdict.

The first criminal indictment of an ex-president is bound to split American society along partisan, ideological, and cultural lines. Trump’s fiercest supporters would defend him against any charge—even, as Trump himself famously said, if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. But not all Trump supporters are so fierce. A just indictment for a major and consequential crime would pry more of them away than an indictment for a light and technical offense.

Prosecutors would have been wiser to see Trump brought to justice on the most serious legal issues. This Manhattan indictment may, through its sheer pettiness, inadvertently diminish Trump’s misdeeds. It may, even more worryingly, diminish his accusers by casting them—much as Clinton successfully did Starr’s team a generation ago—as prurient snoops.

Prosecutors do not think like politicians, and they should not. Yet they do have leeway to decide which offenses to pursue. As a businessman and as a politician, Trump has broken so many rules that prosecutors in different states and at the federal level can, should, and must reflect on their buffet of options. But if this is indeed all there is, it doesn’t justify inviting the destructive rancor about to explode around us.

4) Charlie Sykes… do.

5) Karen Friedman Agnifilo and Norman Eisen… definitely do, “We Finally Know the Case Against Trump, and It Is Strong”

The books and records counts laid out in the charging papers against Mr. Trump are the bread and butter of the D.A.’s office. Mr. Trump, who pleaded not guilty to all charges on Tuesday, is the 30th defendant to be indicted on false records charges by Mr. Bragg since he took office just over a year ago, with the D.A. bringing 151 counts under the statute so far. Indeed, the Trump Organization conviction and the Weisselberg plea included business falsification felonies.

The 34 felony books and records counts in the Trump indictment turn on the misstatement of the hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels arranged by Michael Cohen in the waning days of the 2016 election and the repayment of that amount by Mr. Trump to Mr. Cohen, ostensibly as legal expenses. There are 11 counts for false invoices, 11 for false checks and check stubs and 12 for false general ledger entries. This allegedly violated the false records statute when various entries were made in business documents describing those repayments as legal fees.

Moreover, the statement of facts alleges that deals, including one for Ms. Daniels and another for Karen McDougal that involved The National Enquirer, which had longstanding ties to Mr. Trump, were for the purpose of helping him win the presidency. If that is proved, then the deals would be “attempts to violate state and federal election laws,” as Mr. Bragg said in a statement, such as on their amount and disclosure. In this theory, the false records in the indictment covered up the campaign finance violation.

While the particulars of Mr. Trump’s case are unique, his behavior is not. Candidates and others have often attempted to skirt the disclosure and dollar limit requirements of campaign finance regulations and falsified records to hide it. Contrary to the protestations of Mr. Trump and his allies, New York prosecutors regularly charge felony violations of the books and records statute — and win convictions — when the crimes covered up were campaign finance violations, resulting in false entries in business records to conceal criminal activity.

6) Richard Hasen… don’t: “Donald Trump Probably Should Not Have Been Charged With (This) Felony”

First, the legal problems.

Back in 2018, I wrote at Slate that Donald Trump’s payments of hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her from speaking and hurting his 2016 U.S. presidential chances was likely a federal campaign finance crime. The feds should have charged him, but they did not, perhaps because of political interference from Trump’s then-attorney general, Bill Barr.

The federal case would not have been a slam dunk, because there were big legal and factual issues. Legally, some have argued that these payments were personal expenses, not campaign expenses, even if shutting Daniels up would have helped Trump politically, too. Factually, to turn a campaign finance violation into a criminal one, prosecutors would have to prove that Trump knew he was violating campaign finance laws and did so willfully. Proving intent can always be tricky. Just ask those who (unsuccessfully) prosecuted former Senator John Edwards…

Nonetheless, this new theory still has the old problems the federal case would have, but it also has new, more serious ones. Most importantly, it is far from clear that Trump could be liable for state campaign finance crimes as a federal candidate. Moreover, state prosecutors may be precluded from prosecuting federal candidates for federal crimes under a rule called “preemption,” meaning they have to be brought by federal authorities rather than state authorities. These are thorny issues that likely will have to be resolved by appeals courts over years.

These legal problems raise the political issues with bringing these claims against Trump as a felony based on proving “other crimes” that might not be proven and which rely on complex legal theories.

It is said that if you go after the king, you should not miss. In this vein, it is very easy to see this case tossed for legal insufficiency or tied up in the courts well past the 2024 election before it might ever go to trial. It will be a circus that will embolden Trump, especially if he walks.

7) Good stuff from Yglesias on gun laws, “The illegally carried handguns are the problem”

The widespread ownership of guns in the United States is the predominant reason we have so much more homicide than the developed countries of Europe and Asia. Differential availability of guns also largely explains why, inconveniently for Republicans, there is generally more murder happening in red states than in blue ones.

The standard GOP cope is to argue that the murders are happening in “blue cities,” but that just reflects the fact that essentially all cities are blue in the contemporary United States. When you look at the rare city with a Republican mayor like Jacksonville in Florida, you see a lot more homicide than in New York. That’s because criminals aren’t magicians or kung-fu masters; their ability to kill people depends on their access to lethal weapons. And unfortunately there is substantial interplay between the legal market for guns and the black market for guns. The NYT ran a great piece last week about the large number of guns used in crimes that are stolen from parked cars — the more guns floating around, the more people get shot. Morgan Williams has a great paper looking at a gun policy reform in Missouri where the state legislature made it easier to buy guns legally with the result that shootings surged in Kansas City and St. Louis. Non-gun homicides actually fell because assailants were equipping themselves with better weapons. But precisely because guns are more deadly than knives or bats, this generates an overall increase in death.

Do note, though, that essentially all of this action is being driven by handguns.

The big long guns, including those with features that would get them tagged as “assault weapons” and also long guns without those features, are collected by hobbyists for use in tacky family photos. They’re stockpiled for use in a hypothetical civil war. They’re used for fun. And occasionally (though still far too often), they are used in a rare-but-spectacular spree killing that electrifies the nation because it affects middle-class suburbanites who are unaccustomed to having their lives impacted by violence. These guns are too big and too expensive, though, to be the weapons of choice for “ordinary” crime — the type responsible for the overwhelming majority of gun deaths in the U.S.

That they are so frequently at the center of our national gun debate strikes me as an understandable reaction to horrific events. I’m a dad with a kid in school and I feel this anguish in my gut and I see it in the eyes of my fellow parents all the time. I get it. But the focus on the very most spectacular events to the exclusion of “normal” shootings generates bad policy analysis. We have policy solutions at our disposal that would address the proliferation of illegal handguns that drives the bulk of gun deaths in this country…

When guns are outlawed …


Something that I don’t think most normie Democrats realize is that at some point in the past 10 years, the criminal justice reform wing of the progressive coalition decided that arresting people for carrying guns illegally is bad. In the Prison Policy Institute’s mass incarceration pie chart, weapons charges are listed as non-violent public order crimes.

Keith Alexander recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post about the shocking discovery that the US Attorney for D.C., Matthew Graves, is declining to prosecute two-thirds of the cases that MPD brings to his office. In response to Alexander’s question, Graves reassures us that these are not violent crimes he’s letting slide:

Graves saidthe declinations are mostly coming after arrests in cases such as gun possession, drug possession and misdemeanors — not in violent crimes. Hesaid his office last year prosecuted 87.9 percent of arrests made inhomicides, armed carjackings, assaults with intent to kill and first-degree sexual assault cases. According to figures provided to The Washington Post, that percentage is higher than the 85.7 prosecuted cases in 2021,but down from 95.6 percent of prosecuted cases in 2018.

Note, again, that in this framework, gun possession is considered a non-violent offense. Just before the latest mass shooting re-ignited a national debate about assault weapons, the Marshall Project published a big feature complaining about gun possession arrests, arguing that this drives the racial disparity in incarceration. Larry Krasner, the progressive prosecutor running the show in Philadelphia, takes the same view and, like Graves, has cut down on gun possession prosecutions.

The view that having lots of people walking and driving around town while in possession of firearms isn’t a problem is, of course, a relatively mainstream view in American politics. But it’s the conservative view. If conservatives had their way, anyone living on the South Side of Chicago could easily walk into a gun shop and buy a handgun that he’s then free to carry, openly or concealed, wherever he wants. Most residents of Illinois and of other progressive jurisdictions recognize that this would have the downside consequence of a lot more murders. Again, per Williams’ paper, this is exactly what happened when Missouri liberalized gun laws — more people got guns legally, which meant more people got guns, which meant more people got shot. Note that in Williams’ data, virtually all of the additional homicides had Black victims.

I really think the leaders of the progressive movement need to get a bunch of stakeholders and smart people around a table and try to decide what we’re saying here.

  • If the incarceration generated by arresting and imprisoning people for carrying guns is intolerable, we should legalize carrying guns, aware that this will lead to more murder.

  • If “guns are the problem” and the high level of gun violence in the United States is intolerable, we should insist on arresting and prosecuting people carrying illegal guns…

The goal of strict enforcement of the handgun rules, at the end of the day, isn’t really to incarcerate some huge class of handgun carriers and keep them off the streets. It’s to create a situation where fewer people have guns, and therefore various neighborhood disputes and gang beefs are less likely to turn into shootings. It seems to work pretty well. But if you think it’s unconscionable to put people in prison for carrying guns, then it would make more sense to throw in with the conservatives and actually make it legal. To be clear, though, that’s a bad idea. Progressives are right about guns, and we ought to act like we’re right and re-embrace the successful strategy of enforcing gun laws.

It’s also just a fact of life that as long as the country is more awash with guns than other peer democracies, we are going to have a higher risk of violence and we’re going to need more policing and more incarceration. That’s regrettable, and I would hope over time to tighten the gun laws at both the state and federal levels. A good part of an iterative campaign to achieve that, though, is to demonstrate that gun regulation can work and can be vigorously enforced and that trafficking and carrying illegal guns is not a harmless activity.

8) This is a phenomenal piece from Ezra Klein.  Just trust me and read it (gift link), “The Problem With Everything-Bagel Liberalism”

9) Helen Lewis, “The Hogwarts Legacy Boycott That Wasn’t”

When Hogwarts Legacy was released in February, the verdict from video-game sites was close to unanimous: The latest spin-off from the Harry Potter series was a heartless mess, the product of a bigoted worldview, and playing it involved an uncomfortable act of moral compromise—or at least holding your nose and reassuring yourself that J. K. Rowling was not directly involved.

The tech magazine Wired gave the game 1/10, and said its “real-world harms are impossible to ignore.” (These were left unspecified, but let’s presume the reviewer wasn’t talking about repetitive-strain injury from too many spell battles.) TheGamer declined to review the title at all, and suggested that readers should not play Hogwarts Legacy “if you care about your trans friends.” The British outlet Rock Paper Shotgun pointedly reviewed games by trans developers instead. The Mary Sue reported on an alleged fan boycott, in an article that began with the Potteresque incantation “Accio controversy!”

Even the walk-throughs—those helpful guides telling players how to solve the game’s puzzles and defeat its bosses—carried panicked disclaimers. “On numerous occasions in recent years, billionaire and Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling has taken public stances against inclusive transgender laws and trans rights,” reads a note at the bottom of a Polygon guide to finding the magic keys scattered around Hogwarts. “The game has been embroiled in controversy due to transphobic remarks from Harry Potter author JK Rowling,” GameSpot warns its readers, in an apologetic tone. Neither outlet joined a boycott of the game—walk-throughs are a reliable source of web traffic for months or even years—but both wanted you to know that they deplored it nonetheless. The headline of an Axios article by the former Kotaku editor Stephen Totilo even declared that the Hogwarts Legacy launch had become a “referendum” on the author.

If so, the votes are in: J. K. Rowling wins by a landslide. The views she has expressed on Twitter and elsewhere—for instance, that women’s spaces, such as prisons and domestic-violence shelters, should be protected on the basis of biological sex rather than self-declared gender, and that some young people are rushed toward medical transition with insufficient gatekeeping—are clearly not fatally repulsive to normie consumers…

What’s going on? The most obvious explanation is the emergence of a class of internet critics who are completely out of touch with their audiences. This dynamic isn’t unique to video games. In recent years, I have become a student of what I think of as the “Rotten Tomatoes split”—that is, the gulf between critical and audience reactions to various pieces of art. Hannah Gadsby’s progressive demolition of stand-up comedy, Nanette, scored 100 percent with critics but just 26 percent with fans. For Dave Chappelle’s The Closer, which reflects on the comedian’s own experience of being ostracized for his jokes about trans issues, the reverse was true. It scored 40 percent with critics and 95 percent with audiences. (My own review was ambivalent; Chappelle’s sour anger dulled his undoubted gifts as a comic.)…

The explanation for this gulf’s persistence is simple. “Much of the current divergence between elite discourse and popular preference can be reduced to a simple heuristic: Most critics are on Twitter; most consumers are not,” my Atlantic colleague Yair Rosenberg argued last year. “Just as most people do not watch CNN and have no idea what’s in President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Act, most people are not even aware of J. K. Rowling’s tweeted views on transgender topics, let alone have had those views color their engagement with her writing.”

Because political takes go viral more easily than aesthetics assessments do, we end up with rafts of commentary on whether an artwork is problematic, with the question of whether it’s interesting or well made trailing a long way behind. Some of the Hogwarts Legacy reviews barely touched on its gameplay mechanics—largely lifted from the Batman: Arkham series, as far as I can see, with a dash of the Eagle Vision from Assassin’s Creed—because they were so busy delivering a verdict on its political credentials. I’m currently 40 hours in and having so much fun kidnapping hippogriffs that I haven’t finished the game’s main quest, but unless something catastrophic happens in hour 41, no remotely fair-minded reviewer would rate this game as low as 1/10.

Quasi-relatedly, I was curious, so I started watching Nanette after reading this.  Actually, I found it mildly entertaining, but about the only stand-up specials I have made it all the way through are Dave Chappelle and Jarod Carmichael.

10) Even if you stipulate that Kansas’ new law restricting trans youth participation in sports is mean-spirited and unnecessary I find it so frustrating that liberals feel the need to lie about it.  If you are right on the merits, you shouldn’t have to lie.  And just because you are sure of your virtue, does not make lying to support your cause okay!  No, the new law will not mandate “genital inspections” for all student athletes.  Of course, if you only read liberal twitter, you’ll think it does.  Also, I arguably had such a test when I had a physical before trying out for the tennis team (I wasn’t close), but, I did have to take the cough test. 

11) Krugman, “Putin’s Energy Offensive Has Failed”

In some ways, though, Russia’s most important defeat has come not on the battlefield but on the economic front. I said that Russia has launched four great offensives; the fourth was the attempt to blackmail European democracies into dropping their support for Ukraine by cutting off their supplies of natural gas.

There were reasons to be concerned about this attempt to weaponize energy supplies. While the Russian invasion of Ukraine initially disrupted markets for several commodities — Russia is a major oil producer, and both Russia and Ukraine were major agricultural exporters before the war — natural gas seemed like an especially serious pressure point. Why? Because it isn’t really traded on a global market. The cheapest way to ship gas is via pipelines, and it wasn’t obvious how Europe would replace Russian gas if the supply were cut off.

So many people, myself included, worried about the effects of a de facto Russian gas embargo. Would it cause a European recession? Would hard times in Europe undermine willingness to keep aiding Ukraine?

Well, the big story — a story that hasn’t received much play in the news media, because it’s hard to report on things that didn’t happen — is that Europe has weathered the loss of Russian supplies remarkably well. Euro area unemployment hasn’t gone up at all; inflation did surge, but European governments have managed, through a combination of price controls and financial aid, to limit (but not eliminate) the amount of personal hardship created by high gas prices.

And Europe has managed to keep functioning despite the cutoff of most Russian gas. Partly this reflects a turn to other sources of gas, including liquefied natural gas shipped from the United States; partly it reflects conservation efforts that have reduced demand. Some of it reflects a temporary return to coal-fired electricity generation; much of it reflects the fact that Europe already gets a large share of its energy from renewables…

So what can we learn from the failure of Russia’s energy offensive?

First, Russia looks more than ever like a Potemkin superpower, with little behind its impressive facade. Its much vaunted military is far less effective than advertised; now its role as an energy supplier is proving much harder to weaponize than many imagined.

Second, democracies are showing, as they have many times in the past, that they are much tougher, much harder to intimidate, than they look.

Finally, modern economies are far more flexible, far more able to cope with change, than some vested interests would have us believe.

For as long as I can remember, fossil-fuel lobbyists and their political supporters have insisted that any attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be disastrous for jobs and economic growth. But what we’re seeing now is Europe making an energy transition under the worst possible circumstances — sudden, unexpected and drastic — and handling it pretty well. This suggests that a gradual, planned green energy transition would be far easier than pessimists imagine.

12) David Wallace-Wells, “It’s Not ‘Deaths of Despair.’ It’s Deaths of Children.”

But increasingly the American mortality anomaly, which is still growing, is explained not by the middle-aged or elderly but by the deaths of children and teenagers. One in 25 American 5-year-olds now won’t live to see 40, a death rate about four times as high as in other wealthy nations. And although the spike in death rates among the young has been dramatic since the beginning of the pandemic, little of the impact is from Covid-19. Over three pandemic years, Covid-19 was responsible for just 2 percent of American pediatric and juvenile deaths.

Firearms account for almost half of the increase. Homicide accounted for 6.9 percent of deaths among that group, defined as those 19 years old or younger, and suicide accounted for 6.8 percent, according to a January analysis published in JAMA Network Open. Car crashes and accidental drug overdoses — which the National Center for Health Statistics collates along with other accidental deaths as “unintentional injuries” — accounted for 18.4 percent. In 2021, according to a JAMA essay published in March, more than twice as many kids died from poisoning, including drug overdoses, as from Covid-19. More than three times as many died of suicide, more than four times as many died from homicide, and more than five times as many died in car crashes and other transportation accidents (which began increasing during the pandemic after a long, steady decline)…

The new data tells a somewhat different story. In the big picture, opioids still play a large role, and suicide contributes, too. But that pattern of elevated middle-aged mortality is giving way to a growing crisis of juvenile death. The demographics are shifting away from those narrow markers of class and race identified by Case and Deaton, as well.

Mortality is still increasing more quickly for those without a college degree, but as John Burn-Murdoch demonstrated vividly in The Financial Times, except for a few superrich Americans, individuals at every percentile of income are now dying sooner than their counterparts in Britain, for instance. For the poorer half of the country, simply being an American is equivalent to about four full years of life lost compared with the average Brit. For the richer half, being an American is not quite as bad but is still the equivalent of losing, on average, about two years of life. And this is even though an American earning an income in the 75th percentile is much richer than a Brit at the same income percentile, since American incomes are much higher.

13) “The Finnish Secret to Happiness? Knowing When You Have Enough.: The Nordic nation has been ranked the happiest country on earth for six consecutive years. But when you talk to individual Finns, the reality is a bit more complicated.”

14) This is just ridiculous.  Sometimes this country is just so frustrating and depressing, “After two years of freedom, a man is ordered back to prison for life”

Crosley Green has had two years outside of prison walls. Two years of having cookouts with family, going to church on Sundays and dreaming of staying free for the rest of his life.

That seems to be all the time he’ll get. The 65-year-old Titusville, Fla., man, whose 1990 murder conviction was vacated in 2018 before being reinstated after the state’s appeal in 2022, must surrender himself to the Florida Department of Corrections by April 17, a judge ruled this week. U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton of the Middle District of Florida wrote that Green, having run out of appeals, will have to complete the remainder of his sentence: life behind bars.

Green, who has clung to his faith and remained optimistic despite the looming possibility of returning to prison,said of the court’s decision, “If it wasn’t for the Lord, I’d be down and out right now. I have so much faith and trust and belief, it’s hard for me to let my guard down.”

In a video shared by his attorneys, Green said of his time out, “I saw a lot, and I did a lot. There’s a lot more I’d like to do, but you know, in reality one day I’m going to get to do it. Right now I’m going to abide by the rules, abide by what was set forth.”

Green has long denied involvement in the killing of 21-year-old Charles “Chip” Flynn Jr. No physical evidence linked him to the crime, in which the victim’s ex-girlfriend reported that an assailant she described as “a Black guy” kidnapped the two of them and shot Flynn. Green had spent decades in prison, including 19 years on death row, by the time Dalton threw out the verdict of the all-White jury, saying the prosecutor had withheld information suggesting investigators suspected someone else: the ex-girlfriend.

The judge ordered the state to retry Green or release him. But Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) appealed, and Green remained behind bars until 2021, when Dalton released him amid the coronavirus pandemic. A year later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the evidence withheld was immaterial to the case…

Green had served 28 years when Dalton ruled that then-prosecutor Chris White had not turned over handwritten notes that might have changed the outcome of the case — a violation of Green’s constitutional rights. The notes, in which White documented a conversation with two on-scene investigators, said that they “suspect the girl did it” and that “she changed her story a couple times.”

Dalton’s ruling said it was “difficult to conceive of information more material to the defense and the development of the defense strategy” than the fact the initial investigators thought someone else might be responsible. The 11th Circuit disagreed, writing that concerns over the withheld evidence had already been exhausted at the state court level and that Green had not proved the notes would have changed the outcome of his trial.

15) Brave new world, “Ozempic Is About to Be Old News”

All of a sudden, Ozempic is everywhere. The weight-loss drug that it contains, semaglutide, is a potent treatment for obesity, and Hollywood and TikTok celebrities have turned it into a sensation. In just a few months, the medication has been branded as “revolutionary” and “game-changing,” with the power to permanently alter society’s conceptions of fatness and thinness. Certainly, a drug like semaglutide could be all of those things: Never in the history of medicine has one so safely led to such dramatic weight loss in so many people…

But not everyone who takes these drugs can achieve that level of weight loss. More than 60 percent of those on Wegovy experience smaller changes, in part because the drug can’t account for the complex drivers of obesity that aren’t related to food. The next generation of drugs is reaching for more. The first leap forward is Mounjaro, known generically as tirzepatide, a diabetes drug from Eli Lilly that the FDA is expected to approve for weight loss this year. In one study, it led to 20 percent or more weight loss in up to 57 percent of people who took the highest dose; The Wall Street Journal recently called it the “King Kong” of weight-loss drugs. People on Mounjaro tend to lose more weight more quickly and generally have a “better experience” than those on Wegovy, Keith Tapper, a biotech analyst at BMO Capital Markets, told me. It’s also cheaper, though by no means cheap, at roughly $980 for the highest-dose option, he said; a dose of Wegovy costs about $1,350

These leaps in potency are happening on the molecular level. Like semaglutide, Mounjaro mimics the effects of GLP-1, but it also hits receptors for another hormone—GIP. That leads to even more weight loss by further attenuating focus on food and potentially also increasing the activity of a fat-burning enzyme, Tapper said. So-called dual-agonist drugs “offer a step change” in both weight loss and blood-sugar control, he added.

And why stop at two receptors when so many others are involved in regulating hunger? “This area is exploding in terms of research and testing different combinations of hormones,” which are still poorly understood, Shauna Levy, a professor specializing in bariatric surgery at Tulane University School of Medicine, told me. Eli Lilly has another drug in the works that targets three receptors; one from the drugmaker Amgen works by “putting the brakes” on the GIP receptor and “putting the gas” on GLP-1’s, a company spokesperson told me. Several other companies have already joined what some have dubbed a “race” to develop the next great obesity drug, in which Lilly, Pfizer, Amgen, Structure Therapeutics, and Viking Therapeutics are expected to be the front-runners, Tapper said.

16) I really want to read Tim Urban’s new book, but, he’s not releasing it as a hardcopy as of now.  So, I won’t be for now.  Also sounds like he maybe leans a little too hard into anti-wokeness. But, I think the conceptualization summarized here is really useful:

Tim Urban’s new book What’s Our Problem? offers an excellent analysis of the current American political malaise. It breaks down the history of first how the Republican party got overrun by low-rung thinking from the mid-90s forward, then how equally low-rung thinking got the other side in the past decade or so. It’s a light, humorous recap of modern American political history. I highly recommend it.

It’s central contribution is adding a second dimension to the political spectrum. What we’re dealing with is not just far-left, left, center, right, far-right. That spectrum is about contesting “what is” and “what ought to be”. Our current problem is not so much disagreeing about those two central elements. All democracies will and should continue to do that. It’s how that disagreements manifest themselves in political tactics. Especially the concept of idea supremacy:


Yeah, that about sums it up. Which is what Urban does so well in this book, sums it up. Not just concepts like idea supremacy, high-rung vs low-rung thinking, ideological golems vs intellectual genies, or the Liberal Games vs the Power games. He also sums up the feeling of having been made politically homeless, as a long-term, progressive-leaning individual, once the low-rung thinking of the woke nonsense conquered one important institution after another.

In this effort, Urban shares a lot of his analysis with the likes of John McWhorter, whose book Woke Racism also came from the perspective of a progressive dismayed by what he saw his “own side” turn into. But Urban zooms further out. Trying to analyze not just a particular dysfunction, such as a woke nonsense, but all forms of nonsense that occurs once our baser instincts take over.

So I think it might be easier for progressives sitting on the fence, not sure what to think about the woke nonsense, to consider Urban’s analysis. It’s less testy out the gate. It starts with an account of “the other side started it”. The mood is lighter, at least in the beginning, and the drawings are funny. So by the time you get to the serious critique, your progressive guards might just have been lowered enough to consider the claims with an open mind.

17) Sorry, alcohol lovers, “Moderate Drinking Has No Health Benefits, Analysis of Decades of Research Finds”

18) I have two Gen Z children who drink a ton of milk (it’s expensive, but I’m glad for all the protein they get) and two who don’t drink milk or milk alternatives at all. “Got Milk? Not This Generation.: Alarmed by dwindling sales to Gen Z, the dairy industry is going all out to get younger Americans on the milk train.”

19) I think in coming years we are going to see some pretty cool biotech innovation that makes a real difference. Stuff like this, “This Blood Test Targets 50 Types of Cancer

BLEAK STATISTICS ACCOMPANY the world’s leading cause of death: 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime. Earlier diagnosis drastically improves survival, but unfortunately unscreened cancers account for 80 to 90 percent of cancer deaths, says Harpal Kumar, president of the European wing of Grail, a health care company whose mission is to detect cancer earlier.

Of the more than 200 types of cancer, we currently only screen for cervical, breast, and bowel cancer, says Kumar. He calls this the streetlight problem: “We’re looking for cancer in the light, but four-fifths are happening in the dark.” But even if we did check for all these cancers, people aren’t going to turn up for 200 screenings. “We cannot continue the paradigm of looking for these cancers one at a time,” he says.

The dream is a single test that can identify every cancer from a single draw of blood—and that’s roughly what Grail has been developing: a test that is sensitive to early stage cancers, can detect and locate many different cancer types, gives very few false positives, and can hone in on the most serious cancers.

Galleri is the result. The company says it can detect more than 50 types of cancer with a single blood sample. Just as regular cells shed DNA when they die, so do tumor cells, and this DNA is traceable in the blood. The test has been validated by Grail in clinical trials: If the test detects something, there’s a 45 percent likelihood that it’s cancer—an extremely high predictive rate for a cancer test. Galleri says it can predict where a cancer is in the body with 90 percent accuracy.

The test has been available commercially in the US for 18 months. The next step is the NHS-Galleri clinical trial—to demonstrate that the test works at scale “We will get first data from this trial next year, then if that data looks good, they will extend the pilot to a million people over the next few years, then complete it in the next three years,” says Kumar.

20) I’m running low on NYT gift links, but this interactive feature on Venice and how it’s seawalls could actually ruin it, is phenomenal.  Trust me and follow the link.

But even as Italy now hails its against-all-odds success, MOSE’s story — 50 years in the making — and Venice’s — some 1,500 — are still being written. MOSE has already become much more than an engineering project. It came to embody Italy’s ambition and technical ingenuity, but also its political instability, bad governance, bureaucracy, corruption, debt and defeatism as delays mounted.

Now, though celebrated as the city’s sentinel, it may yet stand as a monument to the inexorable nature of climate change and the futility of man’s efforts to stop it. MOSE’s walls, costing 5 billion euros, about $5.3 billion, took so long to come together that the pace of climate change is already outstripping the projections they were built to withstand.

After all of the effort to get the barriers up, the future challenge will be finding ways to keep them down. Venice is already using MOSE more than expected, and faces the prospect of needing it much more than it had ever imagined against rising seas, so often that it would threaten to seal the city from the waters that are its lifeblood.

Its incessant deployment, experts warn, could render Venice’s lagoon a fetid swamp choked by noxious algae, turning the city’s charming canals into stinking open sewers.

Yet if the waters are not held at bay, there is little doubt that Venice will eventually be submerged and uninhabitable, its sublime palaces and churches eroded by the sea’s salt, its history essentially washed away.

Local control is best (except when Republicans disagree with it!)

Emily Bazelon took over NYT’s The Morning today, and it’s great.  Here’s most of it.  I don’t think I need much more commentary beyond the title of this post:

Since 2015, dozens of prosecutors promising progressive reforms have taken office across the country. They vowed to send fewer people to prison and reduce the harms to low-income communities that are associated with high incarceration rates.

To achieve that goal, many of these prosecutors said they would use the discretion the law generally allows them to decline to charge categories of crimes, like low-level marijuana offenses. About 90 prosecutors, out of more than 2,000 nationwide, also pledged not to prosecute violations of abortion bans. Many of these prosecutors have been re-elected, a sign of sustained voter support.

Still, conservatives argue that the district attorneys are shirking their duty. Declining to prosecute a particular case is legitimate, they say; ruling out charges for a category of offenses is not. As a Republican legislator in Tennessee put it, “A district attorney does not have the authority to decide what law is good and what law isn’t good.” The conservative Heritage Foundation devotes a section of its website to attacking “rogue prosecutors.”

In Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and elsewhere, Republican lawmakers have moved to oust or constrain prosecutors and officials who oversee the court system. The Republicans, who largely represent rural areas, are often aiming to thwart voters in cities, including many Black and Latino residents, who elected candidates on platforms of locking up fewer people.

Examples include:

  • In February, the Mississippi House passed a bill that establishes a new court system in part of the state capital, Jackson, a majority Black city run mostly by Black officials. In the neighborhoods where most of Jackson’s white residents live, the legislation would effectively replace locally elected judges with state-appointed ones and city police with a state-run force.

  • Tennessee lawmakers in 2021 gave the state attorney general the authority to ask a judge to replace local prosecutors in cases in which they refuse to bring charges. Republican lawmakers criticized the district attorney in Nashville, Glenn Funk, who said he would no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession. Funk also said he would not charge businesses that ignored a state law requiring them to post signs saying transgender people could be using single-gender bathrooms.

  • When Deborah Gonzalez, a progressive, ran for district attorney in Athens, Ga., in 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp tried to cancel the election. Kemp lost in court, and Gonzalez won the seat.

  • In Florida last August, Gov. Ron DeSantis ousted Andrew Warren, the elected Democratic prosecutor in the district that includes Tampa, who had pledged not to prosecute offenses related to abortion or transgender health care.

These actions upend a longstanding tradition of local control over criminal justice. In the 19th century, many states embraced local elections of prosecutors to ensure that they “reflect the priorities of local communities, rather than officials in the state capital,” according to one history. Criminal laws are largely enacted at the state level, and prosecutors, meant to be accountable to their communities, decide how to enforce them.

Since prosecutors lack the resources to bring charges for every arrest, their discretion is a feature of the system. In the past, prosecutors usually used their discretion to act tough on crime. “Now you’re seeing a state effort to subvert the will of local voters who have elected prosecutors who use their discretion for a more compassionate and equitable system,” Marissa Roy, a lawyer for the Local Solutions Support Center, said. “It’s inherently undemocratic.”

This, of course, happens in matters beyond criminal justice as well.  Republicans talk a lot about how they believe in local control.  Except, apparently, when Democrats have the local control. 

Policing needs serious reform– and it’s not just racism

Back when a bunch of Black Memphis cops murdered Tyree Nichols, I wanted to write a post about how the problems of violent policing in America go so beyond just racism.  To be clear, racism is a genuine and real problem that needs to be addressed, but, honestly, if you focus only or primarily on racism, I think you miss the big picture.  You could take away every bit of anti-Black animus in every police officer, and it’s pretty damn clear we’d still have serious problems with the culture of policing in America.  

Mike Pesca did a great segment on this in his podcast last week, but you can’t copy and paste from a podcast. So I was very pleased to see he put his thoughts into a substack post (which you should read in its entirety!) so I could put my favorite parts here:

Exline, Frasure, and Couch are among the 66 white people killed by American police this year, as compared to 33 Black people. Because whites account for roughly 60% of the U.S. population and African-Americans account for less than 14% you can see that Black people are killed in disproportionate numbers. Hispanics are killed by police at a slightly higher rate than white Americans, according to the Washington Post’s data.

The number of unarmed white people and Black people killed each year by police are also disproportionately skewed, but in both cases low, much lower than the public believes. In 2022 there were 19 unarmed whites killed by police, and 12 unarmed Black people.

It is inarguably true that America has a problem of police killing Black people. But it is also the case that America has a problem with the police killing all Americans. Ponder the fact that if in 2024 not one Black person were to be killed by law enforcement, the United States would still have, by far, the highest number and rate of citizens killed by police of any country in the developed world.

That above paragraph is so damn important and is all too readily overlooked.  Continuing…

The reasons for this are many. Racism, the history of policing, and oppression of minorities is high on the list. But a driving factor in the death toll is the prevalence of guns, and the understandable belief among United States law enforcement officers that any encounter could become a fatal one. In no other advanced nation is that dynamic in play, which is also why even the best reforms will still leave us with hundreds of people killed each year by police. Some police killings are unavoidable, some are the best choice among dangerous, often horrible options. We need to account for the roles of guns, real risks, perceived risks, training and legal dynamics in understanding police killings; knowledge that adds to, not takes the place of, tackling the problem though a racial lens…

In practical terms, the current tactic of presenting police violence as a racial problem has not led to progress. All efforts to actually defund the police failed. The various efforts to weaken the polices legal protection got some traction in one or two states, but anything close to sweeping reform has been elusive. Minneapolis just got a settlement agreement that has some promise, but elsewhere, including in the U.S. Congress, police reform has stalled. That’s not surprising. Big reforms are hard, Americans are generally more afraid of crime than of excessive force, and police departments and unions know how to lobby and work the system.

But another stumbling block has been the framing of the problem along as a purely racial one. White people killed by the police have not become the kinds of martyrs that Black victims have become. It’s not for want of extremely sympathetic examples.

What follows are some horrible examples of white people being killed you probably didn’t know about.  But, that’s not actually the point.

There are dozens more people of all ethnicities whose stories, were they to be widely known, would paint a broader, more accurate picture of police abuse. These are all anecdotes, but not racially unrepresentative anecdotes. Examples, after all, not the data, is what galvanized Americans to protest the murder of George Floyd and the death of Breonna Taylor. To select the examples of victim from martyrdom from one demographic, and not all demographics, probably leads a number of White Americans to experience sympathy but not personal urgency.

It would seem that in order to pass broad, sweeping, legislation, you need to convince a broad swath of the public that changing laws is in their interest, not somebody else’s. Polls show that white liberals do agree with the idea of police reform, but that overall whites are the only demographic group to believe that “major” reform is unnecessary. Whites don’t see major police reform as in their interest, because they literally don’t see white people getting killed by police in the news or on their social media feeds.

The group least surprised by the lack of progress on police reform attitude would be critical race theorists. From the time he wrote “Race Racism and American Law” in 1973 CRT champion Derek Bell spoke of “interest converge theory.” This was the idea that the rights of Black people only advance upon experiencing a convergence with the interests of white people. When it comes to police killings, the interests actually have aligned, but most Americans, of all races, don’t realize it.

I don’t know how much this would or would not matter politically.  I think Pesca is right and it would likely be for the best to move past the strictly racial lens.  Most importantly, I think we have so much that needs improvement about American policing and thinking that “we just need to get rid of all the racist cops” completely undersells the broader and comprehensive reforms we need.  

(Better late than never) Quick hits (Part I)

0) I was out late seeing Tracy Morgan perform standup last night.  I’ve seen some pretty crude routines before (on specials, I’ve only been in person a few times), but… my goodness. 

1) David Wallace-Wells on the case of Sweden and the pandemic (and the broader issue of herd immunity:

The same type of confusion applies to Sweden. You may think of the country as the pandemic’s libertarian poster child, which is how the country’s leaders have described their course as well. But three years on it is hard to treat Sweden as an exceptional example of anything, because overall, compared to its neighbors and peer countries, it has in fact had a remarkably average pandemic. There is almost no evidence anywhere in the abundant data of any extreme or unusual policy response — not in the country’s mortality figures, not in its economic trajectories, and not in the squishier set of metrics we might use to estimate effects on quality of life and indeed human flourishing. At the beginning of the pandemic, Sweden boldly set off on its own, global public health consensus be damned. Three years on, it looks like just another member of the same pandemic pack. How can that be?

What follows is an exploration, through data, of the larger mystery. In the big picture, I think the lessons are twofold. First, by now, more than three years since the arrival of the coronavirus and more than two years since the arrival of vaccines, vaccination and policies to encourage it reign over cumulative pandemic outcomes much more heavily than do mitigation choices. Second, though it is humbling to acknowledge, policy and mandates may matter somewhat less than social behavior and the disease itself — and surely less than we want to believe…

But herd immunity never came — not to Sweden, and not anywhere in the world, at least not as it was conventionally understood at the time. Almost everywhere now, populations are dramatically more protected against severe Covid-19 than they were three years ago, thanks to immunity derived from both infections and vaccination. But no country has even glimpsed a horizon past which the disease would simply recede; in the United States, for instance, an estimated 94 percent of the country has now been infected, and yet the disease continues to circulate quite promiscuously, among the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.

This is one of the most conspicuous landmarks of the early pandemic to have been memory-holed in the post-vaccination, quasi-endemic phase we are still living through. In 2020, almost every conversation about the Covid-19 endgame featured references to herd immunity. Anthony Fauci even got into some trouble for revising his public estimate of the threshold of infection and vaccination that would be required for it, moving his goal posts by December of 2020 from 60 percent or 70 percent of the population to 80 percent or 85 percent.

But we hit those thresholds, one after another, and then kept going, with the disease still spreading. And we never really got an explanation or had a proper reckoning with the false predictions of a natural subsidence — which undergirded both the conservative case for reopening and the liberal case for flattening the curve until vaccines arrived.

Why did herd immunity turn into a mirage? New variants grew more transmissible and more immune-evasive, and vaccines proved less effective against simple spread than was initially hoped. But last year, the epidemiologist Michael Mina told me a more fundamental factor was at play: SARS-CoV-2 was simply not the kind of virus where infection or vaccination was likely to really stop transmission. This January, Fauci himself published a paper making a similar point — that viruses that replicate in mucosal passages can’t be eradicated by vaccines that create systemic immunity.

2) The reason people are libertarians. This is nuts, “Police Traveled 500 Miles To Seize Girl’s Pet Goat for Slaughter
A 9-year-old backed out of a deal to sell her pet goat for slaughter. Local officials and sheriff’s deputies used the power of the state to force her to go through with it.”

3) Good stuff from Chait, “Why Republicans Are Embracing Vouchers Even Though They Don’t Work”

This week, Florida became the fourth state this year to enact a universal school-voucher system. Georgia and Texas may follow suit. The idea of giving students vouchers, a public subsidy they can spend on private school, has circulated in Republican policy for decades and has been implemented in numerous localized experiments. Republicans are scaling up their commitment to this method very quickly.

What’s striking about this upsurge is that the evidence for vouchers has turned decidedly negative. Republicans are committing themselves to a course of treatment for schools that is failing the test of evidence…

Originally, advocates of both charter schools and vouchers hoped that giving parents choices would improve the system by introducing a market dynamic. Parents would pull their kids (and the funding that comes with them) out of bad schools and put them into good schools, leading to bad schools closing and good schools expanding.

The parental-choice dynamic never really panned out as hoped, though. Charter schools have produced impressive, even extraordinary gains in many cities, but the most successful systems depend on the presence of effective authorizers: a governing body that decides which charter schools are allowed to open and closes bad ones. The authorizers turn out to have the information needed to separate good schools from bad ones, a specialized determination that’s very hard for most parents to make.

Many parents would like their children to be able to attend a private school, but there is little reason to believe any given child will get a better education in private schools (at least ones that participate in voucher programs) over in public ones. A 2020 report in Chalkbeat explains how the evidence on vouchers has turned negative. “Older studies tended to show neutral or modest positive effects of vouchers on academic performance,” the story notes, but “in the last few years, a spate of studies have shown that voucher programs in IndianaLouisianaOhio, and Washington D.C. hurt student achievement — often causing moderate to large declines.” 

So why would Republican-run states invest huge sums of money in a program that seems more likely to hurt educational outcomes than help them?

The answer is that vouchers have ceased to be an education-reform program. They are being used now mainly to reimburse parents who home-school their children or send them to private school. In Arizona, which recently enacted a universal voucher system, three-quarters of the recipients already attended private schools. Providing vouchers didn’t give children choices; it simply sent checks to parents who were already privately educating their children.

4) Katelyn Jetelina on guns and mass shootings:

Firearms are the leading cause of death for American children


There have been a total of 130 mass shootings this year— more than the number of calendar days. Before Nashville, 33 incidents of gunfire have occurred at schools resulting in 8 deaths in 2023. (In 2022, there were 177 events resulting in 57 deaths.)

Altogether, firearm injuries (at and away from school) are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. It surpassed motor vehicle crashes in 2020 for the first time.

We are failing our children.

Figure from Goldstick et al., New England Journal of Medicine. Source here

The collective trauma is also real. Among survivors of school shootings, prescriptions of antidepressants (understandably) increases. In addition, a national poll found that 3 in 5 teenagers worry about a shooting happening at their school. This increases immediately following a mass school shooting.

5) Sargent and Waldman, “The unhinged GOP defense of Trump is the real ‘test’ for our democracy”

“It is beyond belief,” raged Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, that Bragg “has indicted a former President and current presidential candidate for pure political gain.”

The careful reader will note that Youngkin’s complaint is not simply that the indictment itself is flimsy. That is not what makes the charges “political.” Rather, it’s that Trump was indicted at all.

Similarly, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) railed that the indictment has already “irreparably damaged our country” and “weaponized our sacred system of justice.” Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance called it “a direct assault” on tens of millions of Trump supporters. Another Republican called it “a threat to our Republic.” One conservative leader compared it to “old Soviet show trials.”

None of those claims is contingent on the charges against Trump ultimately proving weak. The argument is essentially that they constitute a mortal threat to the country simply by virtue of having been filed against Trump in the first place…

This context is what renders the notion that this poses a “test” to our democracy so impoverished. Here’s how a New York Times analysis frames the situation:

Will it be seen by many at home and abroad as victor’s justice akin to developing nations where former leaders are imprisoned by their successors? Or will it become a moment of reckoning, a sign that even someone who was once the most powerful person on the planet is not above the law?

But if the former is a real possibility, it’s largely because Republicans are making it more likely by casting the process as inherently illegitimate in advance. If this is not stated clearly and forthrightly, Republican agency is erased from the equation entirely.

6) Good stuff from Jonathan Weiler:

That possibility raises the question that many have been asking. If that’s the case, is this worth the trouble? I spoke with Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo yesterday. I tried to make this (bad) analogy to Josh. In a basketball game, there’s an endless argument about whether a foul committed in the final seconds of a close game should be officiated just like a foul call in the first minute of a game. Others will retort that we all know that’s not how it really works. When the stakes are higher, it’s natural for referees to swallow their whistles, as they say. It doesn’t mean they should. But one reason for that is they don’t want to be responsible for making such a consequential call, especially given the fury they are likely to face.

So, like I said, flawed, if not outright bad analogy. But the point here is that while no one should be above the law, we cannot pretend that the politics are irrelevant in this case. I don’t say this to argue that Bragg should not have done what he’s doing. And neither is Mystal. But whether or not Bragg says he followed the law irrespective of political considerations, which is what he is supposed to do, it would be naive to pretend that we can treat this like any other case. That means, in practice, that both the evidentiary bar and the consequentiality of what’s being prosecuted have to be higher.

That brings me, reluctantly, to the usual bad faith arguments by Trump and his most vocal supporters, including various and sundry governors and House committee leaders. Their attempts to invoke the rule of law to argue that what is happening now is an unprecedented miscarriage of justice is, of course, a sick joke. 

Keep in mind that, for this crowd and Trump himself, *any* case against Trump is, by definition, a vendetta, a witch hunt, an attempt by lowlifes and other dark conspiracists to bring down this great and transcendent man. Any legal action against him contradicts the rule of law, because no “fair” legal process could ever conceivably find him guilty of anything..

But since Trump likes to be hyperbolic, I’d assert that no man in American history has benefited more from that unequal application of justice than Donald J. Trump, who has gotten away with stiffing contractors, assaulting women, making an absolute joke of the emoluments clause of the United States constitution and in myriad other ways avoiding legal accountability for a lifetime of misdeeds.

7) I really, really liked Jay Caspian Kang’s marvelously written take on GPT-4 and the art of writing. 

Writing, after all, is an outgrowth of reading. I have always been a reader, but I tend to get into ruts where I simply read the same passages over and over again. These include the opening pages of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” in which the narrator tells you about his cave of lights; Marcel Proust’s description of place names; Joan Didion’s expressions of pointed indifference in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”; the scene in Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son” where Fuckhead, the protagonist, stands outside a woman’s window; the introduction to Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia” (with the dinosaur skin); some random sentences in Barry Hannah’s “Geronimo Rex”; Orwell’s matter-of-fact conclusions in “Reflections on Gandhi”; every word of James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son”; the last stanza of Marilyn Hacker’s poem “For K. J., Leaving and Coming Back,” which reads “Although a day alone cuts tight or lies/too limp sometimes, I know what/I didn’t know/a year ago, that makes it the right/ size:/owned certainty; perpetual/surprise”; the list of items in Zooey Glass’s bathroom in J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey”; the postscript to Borges’s story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” as well as his love letter titled “Delia Elena San Marco.”

I’ve come to realize that I function like a more curated but less efficient version of GPT. My sentences are not generated by A.I., but they are largely the synthesis of my favorite authors. I can tell you which phrases have been borrowed from Borges, which authorial intrusions are taken from Chatwin, and how much of the supposed perspective is just an approximation of what I think Orwell might think about all of this. My “voice” is drawn from the corpus of those books. Perhaps there is some spiritual self in all this text, but if there is, I cannot locate it. Inspiration in writing, instead, feels to me like what happens when you give a machine enough opportunities to spit out something interesting that can take on its own, arguably false narrative about a “moment of genius.”

I asked the program to rewrite the second paragraph of this piece in the style of The New Yorker. It seems like GPT decided to swap out some of the more commonly used words I typed with fustier synonyms, while also laying down a cadence that made it feel like the author was holding up a monocle as he typed.

Throughout the greater part of my tenure as a magazine journalist, I found myself in the role of a literary artisan who produced but a few masterpieces annually. Each creation demanded an extraordinary investment of time, devoted to the painstaking refinement of reporting, structure, and prose.

Then I asked it to rewrite the same lines in the style of Jay Caspian Kang.

For most of the long, winding road that’s been my writing career, I played the part of a magazine journalist who brought just a few choice pieces into the world each year. It was a slow dance, a careful tango with words, each step an exercise in refining the reporting, structure, and sentences.

None of this output makes me feel concerned about being outmatched by the model, but it does make me wonder if I’ve been asking the wrong questions about it. We can disagree on whether A.I. can generate writing that could be convincingly passed off as mine—I think that, eventually, it will be able to do this—but I think you and I can agree that neither of us would want to read an article with GPT-4 (or 5 or 6) on the byline.

8) Meanwhile, Robert Wright has a chat with GPT-4 on the nature of artificial intelligence.  GPT-4 writes so well. 

9) I nice explanation of first amendment rights in defense of a professor who is protected by them, but is, nonetheless a case of a professor acting very unprofessionally. 

10) This is really, really good.  Gift link. “I wrote about high-priced drugs for years. Then my toddler needed one.
As a health and science reporter, I’ve studied the maze of U.S. health care. But when my son got sick, I still got lost.”

11) I think we are just at the cusp of AI being able to amazing diagnostic things in human health, “Your Speech May Reveal Early Signs of Alzheimer’s: Startup Accexible says the way you talk can indicate preclinical Alzheimer’s or other underlying health conditions.”

HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, but these are still underdiagnosed or detected too late for optimal intervention. Startup Accexible is trying to change that, based on the premise that early signs of certain conditions might be seen—or heard—in a person’s voice.

“Accexible works at the intersection of neuroscience, linguistics, and mathematics,” said Carla Zaldua Aguirre, the company’s CEO, speaking at WIRED Health this March. Accexible’s product—which is accessible on computer, app, or through a phone call—assesses the linguistic content of someone’s speech, as well as how they’re speaking, to identify changes that may indicate an underlying problem. Aguirre promises 90 percent accuracy and results in just a few minutes. The idea is that general practitioners can use the app as a screening test and neurologists can use it to monitor how their patients progress over time…

“There’s a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s where you can’t see symptoms but there are biological biomarkers,” says Aguirre. The company is exploring whether the model can predict levels of beta amyloid, the protein that builds up inside the brain in Alzheimer’s patients. Aguirre’s hope is that Accexible will eventually be able to detect a range of health conditions and expedite access to treatment.

12) Just came across this idea and I love it:

The Ideological Turing Test is an exercise where you try to pretend to hold an opposing ideology convincingly enough that outside observers can’t reliably distinguish you from a true believer.

It was first described by economist Bryan Caplan:

Put me and five random liberal social science Ph.D.s in a chat room. Let liberal readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a liberal. Then put [economist Paul] Krugman and five random libertarian social science Ph.D.s in a chat room. Let libertarian readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a libertarian. Simple as that.

Passing the ideological Turing test is a sign that you understand the opposing ideology on a deep level.

The ideological Turing test has a similar motivation to Steelmanning, but works in a different way.

The name comes from the Turing Test proposed by computer scientist Alan Turing, where a computer program must pretend to be a human while human judges try to tell it apart from real humans.

13) A clear consensus of my criminal justice policy class? We absolutely need to do rehabilitation better in prisons.  Nice story on the efforts at San Quentin:

There are many ways to measure the disaster that is America’s prison system: the sheer, monstrous size of the captive population, the wildly disproportionate confinement of Black and brown prisoners, the recidivism rate, the prevalence of sexual assault, suicide and mental illness rates.

But the metric that has haunted me in the decade since I helped start the nonprofit The Marshall Project and began paying attention to the role of prisons in America is this: Each year more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. Far too many of them emerge from custody brutalized, alienated, estranged from their families, stigmatized and lacking in basic education or employable skills. Unsurprisingly, about three-quarters of those released from state prisons nationwide are arrested again within five years. California has one of the worst records for repeat offenses.

That’s why Governor Gavin Newsom’s ambitious new plan for San Quentin State Prison in California deserves national attention…

Over the past decade or so, corrections officials from several states have made pilgrimages to Europe — Norway is a favorite destination — to study a different philosophy of corrections. Obviously the United States is not Norway, a relatively homogeneous, oil-rich welfare state with an incarceration rate about one-tenth of ours. San Quentin’s roughly 3,000 inhabitants broadly match the population of all of Norway’s prisons put together. In contrast to the way most Americans understand the point of prison, to punish, to incapacitate criminals and to deter would-be offenders, progressive Europeans see a temporary loss of freedom not only as punishment for violating society’s rules but also as an opportunity that should not be wasted. Prison officers are taught that their mission is to diagnose the factors that led to criminal behavior and equip offenders to be law-abiding members of society. Prisons are more like walled campuses than cages, inmates are expected to get themselves to jobs or classrooms on schedule, and prison staff are more like social workers than sentries. Homicide and recidivism rates are remarkably low…

Many American prisons, fearful of a political backlash if incarceration seems insufficiently punitive, offer at most some high school G.E.D. classes and manual labor training. San Quentin, attentive to the reality that upward of 90 percent of the incarcerated are eventually set free, endeavors to prepare its residents for a smooth re-entry to society. Last year its academic program became an accredited, degree-awarding junior college behind bars, Mt. Tamalpais College, the first of its kind in the country.

14) Race-based affirmative action is pretty unpopular with the American public at large.  And there’s a strong case for social-class based affirmative action.  Yet, “The Liberal Maverick Fighting Race-Based Affirmative Action: For decades, Richard Kahlenberg has pushed for a class-conscious approach to college admissions. He may finally get his wish, but it comes at a personal cost.”

ROCKVILLE, Md. — For the college class he teaches on inequality, Richard D. Kahlenberg likes to ask his students about a popular yard sign.

“In This House We Believe: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, No Human Is Illegal, Science Is Real,” it says.

His students usually dismiss the sign as performative. But what bothers Mr. Kahlenberg is not the virtue signaling.

“It says nothing about class,” he tells them. “Nothing about labor rights. Nothing about housing. Nothing that would actually cost upper-middle-class white liberals a dime.”…

In books, ‌articles and academic papers, Mr. Kahlenberg has spent decades‌ ‌arguing for a different vision of diversity, one based in his 1960s idealism. He believes that had they lived, Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have pursued a multiracial coalition of poor and working class people, a Poor People’s ‌Campaign that worked together toward the same goal of economic advancement in education, employment and housing. ‌ ‌

Race-conscious affirmative action, while it may be well intentioned,‌ ‌does just the opposite, he says — aligning with the interests of wealthy students‌ and creating racial ‌animosity.

With class-conscious affirmative action, “Will there be people in Scarsdale who are annoyed that working-class people are getting a break? Probably,” he said in an interview. “But the vast majority of Americans support the idea, and you see it across the political spectrum.”…

If Mr. Kahlenberg had his way, college admissions would be upended.

His basic recipe: Get rid of preferences for alumni children, as well as children of faculty, staff and big donors. Say goodbye to recruited athletes in boutique sports like fencing. Increase community college transfers. Give a break to students who have excelled in struggling schools, who have grown up in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, in families with low income, or better yet, low net worth. Pump up financial aid. Look for applicants in towns that do not normally send students to highly selective colleges.

It’s an expensive punch list and requires more financial aid for working class and poor students, which is the main reason, he believes, that universities have not rushed to embrace it.

Meanwhile, elite colleges have become fortresses for the rich, he said. Harvard had “23 times as many rich kids as poor kids,” Mr. Kahlenberg testified in 2018 at the federal court trial in the Harvard case, referring to a 2017 paper by Raj Chetty, then a Stanford economist, and colleagues.

Mr. Kahlenberg said the civil rights movement has made strides, while overall, poor people have been left further behind. He points to studies that found that the achievement gap in standardized test scores between rich and poor children is now roughly twice the size of the gap between Black and white children, the opposite of 60 years ago.

He said his theories are working in states with affirmative action bans, pointing to his 2012 study that found seven of 10 leading universities were able to return to previous levels of diversity through race-neutral means.

15) I found this article on LED bulbs (currently lighting up the room I am in) absolutely fascinating:

What Nelson had discovered is that LEDs are not good or bad but more like weird. The finickiness reflects the fundamental nature of the product. The LED bulb is the shape of an old lightbulb, and it fits into a lightbulb socket, and it gives off light, but it’s not so much a lightbulb as a lightbulb emulator. What it is is a computer.

Where an old-fashioned tungsten filament can generally be trusted to be either intact or broken, the drivers and diodes inside the new bulbs are subject to the kinds of glitches and compatibility errors you get from other electronics, especially once dimmers get involved. They can crash or hang, or audibly buzz from electromagnetic interference, or go haywire from being fed the wrong kind of power signal.

LEDs, in other words, can be broken even when they appear to be working. “It’s still on. You still have light coming out,” Nelson said. “They don’t just fail or burn out like a halogen source does. Oftentimes, there’s light loss or there’s color shift.” When an LED bulb package says it’s supposed to last a certain number of years, that doesn’t tell you when the light will go dark. It’s a guess about an arc of degradation. The end date is when the bulb is estimated to be 70 percent as bright as it started out.

The impetus is on you to decide when things have started to look uncanny. “I wish that would be addressed by the industry — like, maybe if it reached a certain light-loss factor, it would just shut down, you know?” Nelson said. “Or if it shifted in color past a certain point, it went into failure mode.”…

For something you may assume is universal and constant, light turns out to be a culturally mediated and often paradoxical phenomenon. Our ideas about it start 93 million miles away — eight minutes and 20 seconds as the photon flies — with our friend the sun. The sun is close to what physicists call an ideal Planckian blackbody radiator, delivering a smooth and broad electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves up through infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, and X-rays. A hot tungsten wire does the same, only with a much narrower range of output tilted toward the red and infrared.

But here, unfortunately for the layperson, the terminology reaches a point that is profoundly counterintuitive. In physical light-emission terms, blue is a hotter temperature than red. The sun looks yellow up in the sky, but with a surface temperature of 5,772 degrees Kelvin, or about 10,000-degrees Fahrenheit, it has much more blue in it than an incandescent filament at 2,700 degrees Kelvin does. (A red-hot steel bar, in turn, would be somewhere down around 1,000 degrees Kelvin.) The higher the color temperature, the colder, in everyday speech, we say the light looks.

“Warm” colors are the colors of the things humans experience as being warm. Obviously enough, through millennia of human existence, the point of reference for artificial illumination was firelight or lamplight. But they don’t burn at the same temperature as a star. If you bring a light source that is actually the color of the sun indoors, it stops looking golden and appears strikingly, severely blue. What to do about this fact is a debate that’s been unresolved for well over a century: Should the ideal artificial light approximate the sun, or should it approximate a flame?

From an engineer’s point of view, the answer seems clear. Blue light is rational: These are the literal technical specifications of our ultimate light source. A bulb “with its proper proportions of violet light as determined by our natural illuminant the sun is to be desired and not avoided,” declared a piece in the July 10, 1897, issue of the journal Western Electrician. But with certain exceptions — the incursion of fluorescent tubes, the creation of blue-tinged “daylight” incandescents — it was the warm-light faction that ruled most of the electric age. The tones of a standard incandescent bulb may have been too warm, scientifically speaking, spilling emissions right off the bottom of the visible spectrum into useless waves of heat, but they were what the lightbulb-using public expected.

16) Interesting piece at Vox, “How to tell when an investigation is politicized”

As someone who’s been covering investigations into leading political figures for the past decade, I’ve thought a lot about the politicization of the rule of law.

On the one hand, politicians shouldn’t be above the law — if they commit crimes, and there’s evidence to show that, they should be charged.

But on the other hand, criminal law shouldn’t be weaponized for political reasons against the opposing party’s enemies. When that happens in other countries, we generally view it as a sign of dysfunction or corruption.

So how do we know whether that’s happening?

Often, it’s harder than it may seem. Avid political partisans are very good at talking themselves into justifications for why their enemies are obviously criminals who deserve to be locked up, while their allies are clearly being unfairly persecuted with weak cases.

But I’ve come to think that prosecutions and investigations that can fairly be characterized as politicized tend to share several of the following traits:

  • They’re fishing expeditions — starting focused on one topic, and sprawling very far afield, often lasting years.
  • They focus on obscure or technical matters.
  • They feature novel legal theories.
  • They resemble few previous prosecutions.
  • Investigators are internally divided on the case’s strength.
  • They involve scrutiny and an investment of resources that would not have been put on anyone else.
  • Those in charge of them have obvious political motives.

17) After reading about it for a while, the ADHD stimulant medication shortage finally hit my house this week (fortunately, we found some).  This NBC story was actually the best explanation I found (demand went way up and it’s hard to rapidly scale a Schedule II drug). 

18) Love this San Jose approach to gun ownership:

Recent mass shootings have spurred renewed calls from President Biden for a national assault weapons ban. Sensibly so. But for even the most ardent gun control advocates, it’s hard not to ask whether, in a nation with an estimated 400 million firearms, restrictions on new gun purchases accomplish too little without something more.

Amid the rising tide of firearms, reducing gun deaths and injuries requires new solutions. In San Jose, Calif., where I am mayor, we’ve embarked on two approaches untried in any other city or state: We’re imposing an annual fee on gun-owning residents and investing the revenues in violence prevention efforts. And on Jan. 1, the city will begin requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance to compensate victims harmed by the negligent or reckless use of a firearm.

These initiatives reflect the recognition that we can’t make 400 million guns go away, but we can make gun ownership safer. The recent surge in pandemic-era gun sales, the influx of “ghost guns” — privately made and untraceable — and the Supreme Court’s decision in June striking down a New York law that had placed strict limits on carrying a gun outside the home have exacerbated the challenges to keep guns out of dangerous hands.

We can make some of those hands less dangerous, though…

19) Daily hotel room cleaning as a matter of course (especially the sheet changes) always struck me as decadent overkill.  It’s not uncommon for me to refuse housekeeping for a stay of a few days and just make sure I get fresh towels if needed.  Looks like this is now– appropriately, I would argue– a victim of the pandemic. “Say Goodbye to Daily Hotel Room Cleaning: The pandemic put a pause on many hotels’ guaranteed once-a-day cleanings. Now many of them are making the change permanent, even saying guests prefer it.” (Also, judging by the comments, a lot of people love their daily fresh sheets, to which I say… really?!) 

20) I watched “The Card Counter” this week and really enjoyed it.  How is this the first movie (that I’m aware of) to deal with Abu Ghraib at all? 

Quick hits (part I)

[Well, damn, could’ve sworn I cued this up for a standard Saturday 6:00 ET posting, but it didn’t happen.  So, here you go 6 hours late]

1) Noah Smith on the case for banning (or forcing a foreign buyer) Tik Tok. It’s damn compelling:

It’s important to point out that it’s not clear how much this propaganda matters right now. We have plenty of evidence that biased media outlets can change people’s votes, opinions, and behavior. But it’s less clear whether subtle algorithmic nudges on video platforms are capable of effectively shifting the opinions of whole populations; research into the much-feared possibility of YouTube right-wing radicalization hasn’t found any measurable effect.

But it’s clear that in an emergency situation like a conflict over Taiwan, the effect of TikTok propaganda might be much greater; the Chinese government could easily lean on ByteDance to block TikTok content in support of Taiwan, preventing it from developing the kind of sympathetic international audience that Ukraine developed following Russia’s invasion. An increasing number of Americans, including a quarter of young people, regularly get news from TikTok:

I'm pretty sure that short video apps are a terrible place to get news, even without any CCP propaganda.
Source: Pew

And in such an emergency, with TikTok spreading Chinese government messaging to much of the American population at a critical moment, it would be very hard to ban the app. Not only would the courts probably hold up an emergency ban (as they held up Trump’s attempted ban in 2020), but the app’s users and influencers represent a major constituency. Right now, TikTok is attempting to fight the ban by shipping a bunch of influencers to Washington D.C.

In other words, even if the TikTok issue seems largely symbolic right now, the app’s dominance of American media gives China’s government a considerable amount of option value in the event of a crisis. TikTok could become really important, really fast. We shouldn’t let things get to that point. So that’s the best argument in favor of banning it now; it gives us lead time to navigate the legal aspects of the ban, to psychologically prepare the American people for the realization that this app isn’t going to be around forever, and to force the app’s defenders to exhaust their political capital now.

As for the downsides of a TikTok, there really aren’t many. Even if TikTok doesn’t get sold to a non-Chinese buyer, there are plenty of other very similar video apps Americans can use. Ad if none of those satisfy, I’m sure someone can whip up a TikTok clone very quickly and make a lot of money. In short order, users will be back to browsing the exact same videos. The only people who lose out will be the few who spent years building up big followings on TikTok; but this could actually be a good thing, since social media influencer hierarchies tend to get ossified after a while, so clearing out the old would create opportunity for everyone else. A reset of social media status every once in a while could be a good thing.

2) Wiiliam Hanage on lessons from Covid:

GAZETTE: Is the path ahead more of what we’ve been seeing: Milder surges as the years go by?

HANAGE: This is what I think more than 80 to 90 percent of folks in the field would say: Absent a black-swan event like a super variant of some kind, we expect diminishing waves in terms of severe outcomes. It may be a bumpy road sometimes, but overall, we expect the trend to be down because people will keep encountering the virus, they will keep upping their immune response, their T cells will be extremely active at preventing severe illness. Most specialists expect it to become like one of the other seasonal coronaviruses. But we don’t know how long that’s going to take…

GAZETTE: Are we doing enough, as a society, to think about pandemic lessons?

HANAGE: I don’t think we are, and that’s allowing people to frame narratives in ways that minimize it. We are getting more received wisdom that particular interventions did or didn’t work.

For instance, quality masks as an intervention definitely work for individuals if you are wearing them correctly. Masks at a community level can work, though it does not necessarily mean they will. But by getting into the tizzy that we have over them — for reasons which are mostly not scientific — we are actively getting in the way of future responses to infectious disease emergencies.

Handwashing turned out to not be a big deal for COVID — it doesn’t really spread via the fomite route. But that is not going to help you in the future if you’re worried about Shigella. There’s received wisdom now that school closures were overkill. Even if they were, that would be true only some of the time for this virus, and if we have a flu pandemic next, flu tends to spread a lot in younger kids and age groups in schools.

We’re also getting relitigation of lockdowns — a phrase which I’d never liked. Lockdowns were never expected to completely expel the virus, but they were expected to slow it down, and the actions that were taken in the spring of 2020 meant the virus did not arrive and get started in places like Florida or Arizona until the summer. That meant that when people there got sick, they could be treated with dexamethasone, which, by then, we knew would work because a trial had been done. So those people who got infected then had a better chance than they would have had in the spring. A delay, even if only for a few months, can save a lot of lives. And amazingly, just six months after that, we had multiple vaccines.

3) Nate Cohn is usually just a polling guru, but I think his take on “woke” is spot-on (and it’s so tiresome to have “woke” liberals always complaining that it really means just being against racism and sexism):

On class and economics, it’s easy to delineate the new left. Mr. Sanders helpfully embraced the democratic socialism label to distinguish himself from those who would incrementally smooth out the rough edges of capitalism. It’s harder to distinguish the new left from Obama-era liberals on race, gender and sexuality. There is no widely shared ideological term like democratic socialism to make it easy.

And yet the differences between Obama-era liberals and the new left on race, sexuality and gender are extremely significant, with big consequences for American politics.

Here are just a few of those differences:

  • The new left speaks with righteousness, urgency and moral clarity. While liberals always held strong beliefs, their righteousness was tempered by the need to accommodate a more conservative electorate. Mr. Obama generally emphasized compromise, commonality and respect for conservatives, “even when he disagreed.”

    As Obama-era liberalism became dominant, a more righteous progressive discourse emerged — one that didn’t accommodate and even “called out” its opposition. This was partly a reflection of what played well on social media, but it also reflected that progressive values had become uncontested in many highly educated communities.

  • The new left is very conscious of identity. Obama-era liberals tended to emphasize the commonalities between groups and downplayed longstanding racial, religious and partisan divisions. Mr. Obama was even characterized as “post-racial.”

    Today’s new left consciously strives to include, protect and promote marginalized groups. In everyday life, this means prioritizing, trusting and affirming the voices and experiences of marginalized groups, encouraging people to share their pronouns, listing identities on social media profiles, and more. This extension of politics to everyday life is a difference from Obama-era liberalism in its own right. While the Obama-era liberals mostly focused on policy, the new left emphasizes the personal as political.

    Today’s new left is conscious of identity in policymaking as well, whether it’s arguing against race-neutral policies that entrench racial disparities or advocating race-conscious remedies. Obama-era liberals rarely implemented race-conscious policies or mentioned the racial consequences of racially neutral policies.

  • The new left sees society as a web of overlapping power structures or systems of oppression, constituted by language and norms as much as law and policy. This view is substantially informed by modern academic scholarship that explains how power, domination and oppression persist in liberal societies.

    Indeed, almost everything debated recently — critical race theory, the distinction between sex and gender, we can go on — originated in academia over the last half-century. Academic jargon like “intersectional” has become commonplace. It can be hard to understand what’s going on if you didn’t read Judith Butler, Paulo Freire or Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in college.

    Academic scholarship is also the source of the expanded, academic meanings of “trauma,” “violence,” “safety” and “erasure,” which implicitly equate the psychological harm experienced by marginalized groups with the physical harms of traditional illiberal oppression.

    This does not readily lend itself to a “politics of hope,” as virtually everything about America might have to change to end systemic racism. No law will do it. No candidate can promise it. But it does imbue individual actions that subvert oppressive hierarchies with liberatory and emancipatory implications, helping explain the urgency of activists to critique language and challenge norms in everyday life.

  • The new left view that racism, sexism and other oppressive hierarchies are deeply embedded in American society all but ensures a pessimistic view of America. This is quite different from Obama-era liberalism. Indeed, Mr. Obama himself was cast as a redeeming figure whose ascent proved American greatness.

  • When in conflict, the new left prioritizes the pursuit of a more equitable society over enlightenment-era liberal values. Many of the academic theories, including critical race theory, critique liberalism as an obstacle to progressive change.

    In this view, equal rights are a veneer that conceal and justify structural inequality, while some liberal beliefs impede efforts to challenge oppression. The liberal value of equal treatment prevents identity-conscious remedies to injustice; the liberal goal of equal opportunity accepts unequal outcomes; even freedom of speech allows voices that would offend and thus could exclude marginalized communities.

4) Quite the headline (and story), “53 rescue dogs survived a plane crash. Now you can adopt them.”

Tony Wasielewski pulled crate after crate from the wreckage of a plane that was supposed to carry 53 rescue dogs from New Orleans to Waukesha, Wis., on Tuesday morning. Instead, it crash-landed on a snow-covered golf course just outside of Milwaukee.

As the deputy fire chief went to grab yet another crate, one of the rescues — roaming the fuselage after freeing herself during the crash — leaped into his arms and slathered him with kisses.
Wasielewski, 47, didn’t know it yet, but less than 48 hours after leaving the crash site, he would welcome that dog into his family.

It all started around 9 a.m. Tuesday when several employees at the Western Lakes Golf Club in Pewaukee, Wis., watched a twin engine turboprop airplane crash onto the green of the fifth hole, Jason Hoelz, the club’s general manager, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The plane then shot through some trees — snapping off the wings — before plowing through a marsh, skidding across the second hole fairway and ramming into a tree on hole No. 3, where it came to rest.

5) Why were rescue dogs on a plane? Because among the most prominent geographic differences is that people in Southern states are awful dog owners, on average. It’s not okay. 

6) Pretty wild story here.  Gift link. “DNA From Beethoven’s Hair Unlocks Medical and Family Secrets”

7) This sounds great.  The frustration is that we are slow-walking this stuff.  After Operation Warp Speed on vaccines, it’s been all Impulse Drive. “A nasal spray protects against coronavirus infection – Effective also against recent immune-evasive variants”

In laboratory animal studies, a molecule known as TriSb92, developed by researchers at the University of Helsinki, has been confirmed as affording effective protection against coronavirus infection. The molecule identifies a region in the spike protein of the coronavirus common to all current variants of the virus and inhibits its functioning.

“When administered nasally, the TriSb92 molecule is extremely effective in preventing infection, and experiments carried out in cell cultures indicate that it also encompasses the very latest variants, including XBB, BF7 and BQ.1.1,” explains Postdoctoral Researcher Anna R. Mäkelä from Professor Kalle Saksela’s research group.

Animal models have also demonstrated that, unlike face masks, the molecule can, when sprayed into the nose, prevent infection even after a few hours of exposure.

According to the researchers, the molecule remains fully functional at room temperature for at least 18 months, making it well suited for use as a nasal spray.

The results have been published in the Nature Communications journal.

8) Why is America so bad at this? “Law Enforcement Beat This Innocent Man to a Pulp. Will the Supreme Court Allow Him To Seek Recourse? James King is once again asking the high court to rule that two officers should not receive immunity for choking him unconscious and temporarily disfiguring his face.”

It has been almost a decade since James King, then a college student in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was choked and beaten by an FBI agent and a local police detective after they mistook him for a suspect with whom he shared no resemblance. And yet, after all this time, it is unclear if King will be permitted to merely ask a jury if he deserves some compensation for the government’s misconduct, the likes of which left his face temporarily disfigured.

That legal odyssey is finally nearing a conclusion as King asks the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his case for a second time. If the justices choose to hear his plea, they’ll have to decide if FBI agent Douglas Brownback and Grand Rapids detective Todd Allen are immune from facing a civil suit for their actions, simply because of their government status.

In 2014, King was walking from one job to the next when Brownback and Allen, who were not in uniform, accosted him without identifying themselves as law enforcement. “Are you mugging me?” King asked. He then ran. The two officers, who were part of a police task force, responded by tackling him to the ground, beating his face to a pulp, and choking him unconscious. But they were looking for someone named Aaron Davison, who had been accused of stealing alcohol from his former employer’s apartment, and who, perhaps more importantly, looked nothing like King.

Even still, police arrested King and handcuffed him to a hospital bed as he received treatment, despite the fact that the only malfeasance here was committed against, not by, King.

What followed in the proceeding years is a case study in the level of protection given to rogue government actors and the byzantine obstacle course that victims of government misconduct have to navigate should they want the privilege of achieving any sort of recourse. Indeed, King’s case has ricocheted up and down the ladder of the U.S. legal system, from the bottom to the top and back again.

9) I’m sure it’s actually quite frustrating to be super-tall and have every stranger you meet ask if you play basketball. “Yes, They Are Tall. No, They Do Not Play Basketball.: For the vertically gifted, every day of the year means standing out. But March can be particularly maddening.”

10) Trademark law is complicated, “The Supreme Court ponders a surprisingly difficult case about poop jokes: A case about a silly, poop-themed dog toy is also a case about free speech and judicial humility.”

The Supreme Court will take a break on Wednesday from the unusually political mix of cases it decided to hear during its current term, to consider a case about poop jokes.

Jack Daniel’s v. VIP Products asks whether VIP Products, the nation’s second-largest maker of dog toys, infringed upon the whiskey maker’s trademarked bottle shape and label when it sold dog toys that resemble a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The dog toy, named “Bad Spaniels,” juxtaposes imagery drawn from the whiskey maker’s trademarks with a gag about a dog dropping “the old No. 2 on your Tennessee carpet.”

Jack Daniel’s seeks a court order prohibiting VIP from continuing to sell this toy.

A side-by-side photo of a Jack Daniels whiskey bottle and a dog toy in the shape of the bottle, featuring similar design elements.Petitioner’s brief in Jack Daniel’s v. VIP Products

Jack Daniel’s is, on the surface, a very silly case, which prompted some very silly attempts by the whiskey maker’s lawyers to explain why their client is so offended by this dog toy. Sample quote from their brief: “Jack Daniel’s loves dogs and appreciates a good joke as much as anyone. But Jack Daniel’s likes its customers even more, and doesn’t want them confused or associating its fine whiskey with dog poop.”

Lurking below the surface, however, are very serious questions about the First Amendment. And about how far courts should go in second-guessing Congress’s decisions about how to balance the needs of the marketplace with the demands of free speech. VIP has strong legal arguments that it should prevail in this case, but Jack Daniel’s also raises strong claims that the lower courts did too much to undermine federal trademark law.

11) Washington Post did a big survey of transgender adults.  Interesting take-aways:

2. Most trans people consider themselves gender non-conforming or nonbinary.

A 62 percent majority of trans adults identify as “trans, gender non-conforming” or “trans, nonbinary,” while 33 percent identify as a “trans man” or “trans woman.” Nearly half ask people to refer to them with they/them pronouns, although most say they use she/her or he/him pronouns.

3. Most have not had transition-related medical treatments.

Trans Americans reported a breadth of experiences in how they present physically and what transitioning has meant for them.

About three-quarters of trans Americans say they have changed their type of clothing (77 percent) or hairstyle or grooming habits (76 percent) to better fit their gender identity. Most also have used a different name than the one on their birth certificate (57 percent). Just 31 percent have used hormone treatments, HRT or puberty-blocking hormones, and 16 percent have undergone gender-affirming surgery or another surgical treatment to change their physical appearance.

12) Enjoyed this from Dilan Esper, “Crime Is a Legitimate Political Issue: People fear getting attacked and getting their stuff stolen, and habitual thieves and violent criminals are bad people”

The Left is going through the five stages of grief on the crime issue. For awhile, they were stuck in Denial. When upticks in the crime rate first appeared, a whole lot of people started saying that it was all BS. Republican talking points! Racist propaganda! Target was going to move its stores out of San Francisco anyway! If you look at the larger crime rate rather than homicide statistics, there was no increase!

For the most part, they’ve moved on from that. Reality has pulled them out of this position- we continue to see chain stores pull out of major cities and put stuff behind locked cabinets, more statistics have come out showing the crime rate is increasing, and there have been some really vivid anecdotes such as the CNN crew who got their equipment stolen from a car while parked at San Francisco City Hall to cover the crime issue!

And at bottom, this exposes the extensive class privilege behind a lot of what is supposed to sound like pro-working class Left rhetoric about how crime isn’t so bad. If you are a wealthy elite lawyer in San Francisco like Hamasaki is, sure, you can cope if you lose 10 grand to thieves who break into your car. (Of course, in reality lawyers like Hamasaki don’t park on the street and get their stuff stolen— they park in underground garages at fancy skyscrapers and, when they can, bill their clients for it.) You know who theft hits hard? Poor and working class people.

Homeless people have their belongings stolen all the time. You see, it turns out, one of the best ways to protect your stuff from being stolen is to not have it out on the street every day, because you have an apartment or house you can put it in. And if you are poor and have a house to live in, your neighborhood is far more likely to have a high crime rate and a lot of burglaries. It turns out thieves often can’t afford penthouse apartments in Beverly Hills, and it is easier for them to rob poor people’s houses in neighborhoods with less policing and private security, less burglar alarms, and less likelihood that they will seem “out of place” in the neighborhood.

And I am sure I don’t have to tell you that poorer neighborhoods also have higher rates of violent crimes as well. Their kids have to go to school in these conditions, and their classmates will often include some thieves and even violent gang members.

At bottom Hamasaki’s class privilege is enormous. Yes, if you are a rich person in the city who can rely on security to protect yourself and your family, can take precautions to reduce the chance of theft, and can absorb an occasional loss to thieves anyway, it’s easy to dismiss crime concerns. It’s easy to say that it’s all really racism.

13) Jeff Wise on Long Covid:

Now, three years later, the research is catching up to the anecdotal reports and the early evidence, and a clearer picture of long COVID has emerged. It turns out that, like COVID-19 itself, a lot of our early guesses about it turned out to be considerably wide of the mark. This time, fortunately, the surprises are mostly on the positive side. Long COVID is neither as common nor as severe as initially feared. As the U.S. government moves to end the country’s state of emergency, it’s another reassuring sign that, as President Biden put it during his State of the Union address, “COVID no longer controls our lives.”

The researchers had gone into the project expecting to find a large number of chronic COVID aftereffects. Instead, they concluded that there were actually very few. “As we analyzed the data,” the lead authors told Stat in January, “we were surprised to find only a small number of symptoms that were related to COVID and remained for a year post infection and the low number of people affected by them.”

Other studies produced similar results. Researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. combed through the health records of more than a million patients in a retrospective cohort study that compared those who’d tested positive for COVID with those who’d had other respiratory infections but had not been diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. After following patients’ symptoms for two years, they reported in the Lancet Psychiatry last August that they “found no evidence of a greater overall risk of any first neurological or psychiatric diagnosis after COVID-19 than after any other respiratory infection.” There was an elevated risk for certain symptoms, however. They found that 6.4 percent of COVID patients experienced “cognitive deficit (known as brain fog),” compared with 5.5 percent of patients who’d had other respiratory infections. Although the Oxford researchers were looking at a different set of cognitive symptoms than the Israeli researchers were, the upshot was similar: In both cases, nearly as many controls suffered the symptom as COVID patients did…

Meanwhile, researchers at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx looked at 18,811 patients who’d tested positive for COVID-19 and 5,772 who’d had influenza. The number of patients reporting new-onset neuropsychiatric symptoms after COVID-19 was 388, or 2 percent. This figure was actually less than that for patients with influenza, which was 2.5 percent.

There’s another way to look at long COVID’s impact, and that’s by examining how it has affected the workforce. “The COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly create a substantial wave of chronically disabled people,” Ed Yong wrote in 2020. Others argued that this surge of long-haul cases would not only mean enormous suffering but would actually pose a threat to economic recovery. “Long COVID is contributing to record high numbers of unfilled jobs by keeping millions of people from getting back to work,” a Brookings report suggested last year.

There is no evidence that any of this has actually happened. Not only did disability claims not rise during the pandemic, they fell. “You see absolutely no reaction at all to the COVID crisis,” Nicole Maestas, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard, told Benjamin Mazer of the Atlantic in June 2022. “It’s just not a mass disabling event.”

Further data bear this out. In January, the New York State Insurance Fund, which administers disability claims, released a report analyzing long COVID claims made between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 31, 2022. It found that while there were several hundred successful claims after the initial wave in March and April of 2020, the number subsequently fell to fewer than 10 per month, and spiked into the double digits only after the alpha and omicron waves. “The percentage of people meeting the report’s definition of long COVID in the overall COVID claimant population is declining,” said Gaurav Vasisht, the NYSIF’s CEO and executive director. The most recent data, from March 2022, shows that only about 5 claims for long COVID were being granted per month out of about 3,000 disability claims in the entire state.

14) “Geothermal Power, Cheap and Clean, Could Help Run Japan. So Why Doesn’t It? For decades, new plants have been blocked by powerful local interests, the owners of hot spring resorts, that say the sites threaten a centuries-old tradition.”

A treasured getaway for travelers in Japan is a retreat to one of thousands of hot spring resorts nestled in the mountains or perched on scenic coasts, some of which have been frequented for centuries.

All are powered by Japan’s abundant geothermal energy. In fact, Japan sits on so much geothermal energy potential, if harnessed to generate electricity, it could play a major role in replacing the nation’s coal, gas or nuclear plants.

For decades, however, Japan’s geothermal energy ambitions have been blocked by its surprisingly powerful hot spring owners.

“Rampant geothermal development is a threat to our culture,” said Yoshiyasu Sato, proprietor of Daimaru Asunaroso, a secluded inn set next to a hot spring in the mountains of Fukushima Prefecture that is said to date back some 1,300 years. “If something were to happen to our onsens,” he said, using the Japanese word for hot springs, “who will pay?”

Japan, an archipelago thought to sit atop the third-largest geothermal resources of any country on earth, harnesses puzzlingly little of its geothermal wealth. It generates about 0.3 percent of its electricity from geothermal energy, a squandered opportunity, analysts say, for a resource-poor country that is in desperate need of new and cleaner ways of generating power.

15) Ethan Mollick on the amazing things GPT 4 can do.

16) And on the amazing pace of AI progress

17) Helluva chart from twitter.

18) Yes, this is real.

19) And one more chart to finish us up.  Would love to know more about what’s going on here.



Quick hits (part II)

1) Chait on DeSantis:

While the board handles infrastructure and maintenance, DeSantis boasted that it could use its leverage to force Disney to stop “trying to inject woke ideology” on children.

“When you lose your way, you’ve got to have people that are going to tell you the truth,” DeSantis proclaimed. “So we hope they can get back on. But I think all of these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.”

It is worth pausing a moment to grasp the full breadth of what is going on here. First, DeSantis established the principle that he can and will use the power of the state to punish private firms that exercise their First Amendment right to criticize his positions. Now he is promising to continue exerting state power to pressure the firm to produce content that comports with his own ideological agenda.

Whether he is successful remains to be seen. But a few things ought to be clear. First, DeSantis’s treatment of Disney is not a one-off but a centerpiece of his legacy in Florida. He has repeatedly invoked the episode in his speeches, and his allies have held it up as evidence of his strength and dominance. The Murdoch media empire, which is functionally an arm of the DeSantis campaign, highlighted the Disney conquest in a New York Post front page and a Fox & Friends segment and DeSantis touted his move in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Second, DeSantis’s authoritarian methods have met with vanishingly little resistance within his party.

2) This is good from Jeremy Faust, “Covid antivirals not shown to decrease household spread. Here’s why they still might work.”

Why I’m still optimistic. Usually, I tend to say things like, “If an industry-funded study fails, it has to be really bad news because these studies are often subtly designed to succeed.” In this case, I think the investigators have a fundamental misunderstanding of coronavirus virology. As a result, the study designs were not adequate to detect what I think may be hidden benefits here (or rather, the detected lower rates of infection are meaningful, even though the statistics say they’re not distinguishable from noise).

In both studies, household contacts (who were confirmed not to have Covid-19 at the time of entry) were randomized to get either the antiviral or placebo after exposure to a person with a newish Covid-19 diagnosis (called the “index patient.”) I italicized newish because the household contacts were eligible for the study if the index patient had had a positive Covid-19 test and at least 1 symptom within 5 days.

The gaping hole is that symptoms generally come a few days after infection and don’t necessarily say anything about contagiousness. We know that Covid-19 patients who are asymptomatic (or pre-symptomatic) can and do have viral loads that are similar to those of symptomatic patients. That means in this study, the horse had left the barn in a great number of cases before the study even began.

A large fraction of coronavirus spread occurs early on (a few days after infection). The fact that these studies found (statistically insignificant) 24-37% reductions in infections despite enrolling household contacts of patients who were already symptomatic (for up to 5 days even) is actually remarkably good, in my view.

The reason these numbers were seen as failures is that the researchers were probably aiming for a 50% reduction (I can’t seem to find information on what researchers call “power calculations,” though I am trying to find out).

Why? Like I said: fundamental misunderstandings of coronavirus virology. If the researchers had realized how much transmission happens in the pre-symptomatic period, they might have aimed for a lower reduction as the bar for success. Also, the researchers looked at the number of participants who were positive by day 14. If a bunch of people in both arms of study were infected within 24-48 hours of the first dose of Paxlovid or Molnupiravir, those cases would tend to dilute the power of the study to detect any meaningful difference. (An analogy comes to mind to explain this statistical situation: imagine timing a stove’s performance boiling water. If the starting temperature is actually lower than you believed, you’d conclude the stove stinks. But in fact, your assumption about the baseline condition fooled you.)

Indeed, it turns out that Covid-19 patients are probably contagious for around 8 days on average (some shorter, some longer). And the peak viral load (which corresponds to peak contagiousness) in symptomatic cases has been found to occur on or around day 3 of symptoms. If household contacts were enrolled that day or the next day, the rate of infection in both arms of the study would be high. This is exactly the kind of thing that could take real 24-37% reductions and render them statistically insignificant, even though there might actually be a protective effect “in real life.” Meanwhile, asymptomatic patients may (may) have shorter windows of contagion, but their peak viral loads (which is likely when most spread occurs) appear similar to symptomatic cases.

All told, these studies show that if you enroll household contacts 1-5 days after exposure to a symptomatic Covid-positive patient, the reduction in infections is not statistically significant. But if the studies had aimed for less lofty goals (or had been designed to detect patients before they became symptomatic), the headlines may have have said that PEP worked! It’s amazing how something as subtle as study design can change the outcomes of a study.

3) You know I can’t resist an NYT article like, “How healthy is your gut microbiome?”

What are some simple things I can do to improve my gut health?

Unsurprisingly, the best way to care for your gut is to feed yourself — and by extension, your gut microbes — well.

Prioritizing foods rich in fiber (such as vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils) is one main way to boost gut health because fiber is an important source of nutrients for those bacteria, said Emily Haller, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Michigan Medicine.

Consuming a variety of plant-based foods can also help to diversify the types of microbes in your gut, which is associated with better health, Ms. Haller said. One study published in 2018, for instance, found that people who ate more than 30 types of plant foods per week had a more diverse gut microbiome than those who ate up to 10 types of plant foods per week.

Adding more fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut or kimchi to your diet can also be a safe (and tasty) way to boost the diversity of your microbiome and decrease inflammation, Dr. Sonnenburg said. Though more research is needed to confirm those links and to determine how much fermented food you must eat to obtain those benefits.

4) Some hospitals are finally figuring out… let patients sleep.

5) Given all the political controversy, this is a very important feature in the British Medical Journal, “Gender dysphoria in young people is rising—and so is professional disagreement”


Same evidence, divergent recommendations

Three organisations have had a major role in shaping the US’s approach to gender dysphoria care: WPATH, the AAP, and the Endocrine Society (see box). On 15 September 2022 WPATH published the eighth edition of its Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, with new chapters on children and adolescents and no minimum age requirements for hormonal and surgical treatments.212 GnRHa treatment, says WPATH, can be initiated to arrest puberty at its earliest stage, known as Tanner stage 2.

The Endocrine Society also supports hormonal and surgical intervention in adolescents who meet criteria in clinical practice guidelines published in 2009 and updated in 2017.14 And the AAP’s 2018 policy statement, Ensuring Comprehensive Care and Support for Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children and Adolescents, says that “various interventions may be considered to better align” a young person’s “gender expression with their underlying identity.”15 Among the components of “gender affirmation” the AAP names social transition, puberty blockers, sex hormones, and surgeries. Other prominent professional organisations, such as the American Medical Association, have issued policy statements in opposition to legislation that would curtail access to medical treatment for minors.16171819

These documents are often cited to suggest that medical treatment is both uncontroversial and backed by rigorous science. “All of those medical societies find such care to be evidence-based and medically necessary,” stated a recent article on transgender healthcare for children published in Scientific American.20 “Transition related healthcare is not controversial in the medical field,” wrote Gillian Branstetter, a frequent spokesperson on transgender issues currently with the American Civil Liberties Union, in a 2019 guide for reporters.21 Two physicians and an attorney from Yale recently opined in the Los Angeles Times that “gender-affirming care is standard medical care, supported by major medical organizations . . . Years of study and scientific scrutiny have established safe, evidence-based guidelines for delivery of lifesaving, gender-affirming care.”22 Rachel Levine, the US assistant secretary for health, told National Public Radio last year regarding such treatment, “There is no argument among medical professionals.”23

Internationally, however, governing bodies have come to different conclusions regarding the safety and efficacy of medically treating gender dysphoria. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, which sets guidelines for care, determined last year that the risks of puberty blockers and treatment with hormones “currently outweigh the possible benefits” for minors.24 Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care, a monitoring agency for the country’s public health services, issued similar guidelines, calling for psychosocial support as the first line treatment.25 (Both countries restrict surgery to adults.)

Medical societies in France, Australia, and New Zealand have also leant away from early medicalisation.2627 And NHS England, which is in the midst of an independent review of gender identity services, recently said that there was “scarce and inconclusive evidence to support clinical decision making”28 for minors with gender dysphoria29 and that for most who present before puberty it will be a “transient phase,” requiring clinicians to focus on psychological support and to be “mindful” even of the risks of social transition.30

6) This is fascinating, “France was once Europe’s superpower, thanks above all to its enormous population. Its decline coincided with a collapse in its birth rate – now we know why.”

In the eighteenth century, France was the China of Europe. But after a thousand years of dominance based on particularly fertile land, she declined over the next 250 years to be just another European power. Around this time, more than 100 years before the rest of Europe, French women began to have fewer children. In 1700, almost 1 in 25 inhabitants on Earth, and one in five in Europe, was French. Today, less than a percent of humanity is French. Why did France’s population decline in relative terms so dramatically, and did it really mark the decline of France?

The demographic transition is usually thought to be driven by economic forces, but – in France at least – culture came first. Using data from online family trees, my work shows how the loosening of traditional religious moral constraints in Ancien Régime France drove the decline in fertility, setting France off on a wholly different course from England, which was about to see a dramatic increase in its population…

Broadly, this narrative is accurate. But for Europe’s first superpower it is out of order. The historical decline in fertility took hold in France first, in the mid-eighteenth century and more than a century earlier than in any other country in the world. At the time, there were 25 million inhabitants in France and 5.5 million in England. Today, there are 68 million inhabitants in France and 56 million in England. Had France’s population increased at the same rate as England’s since 1760, there would be more than 250 million French citizens alive today.

According to Alfred Sauvy, the French demographer who coined the term ‘third world’, in 1962, the decline in fertility is ‘the most important fact of the history of France’. France was eclipsed as Europe’s only real superpower by the relative growth of its rivals, most importantly England and Germany, in the nineteenth century.

France’s emergence as a major global power spanned several centuries, from the foundation and expansion of the Kingdom of the Franks under Clovis and Charlemagne in the fifth and ninth centuries to Napoleon. During the Hundred Years’ War in the fourteenth century, London was by far the most populous city in medieval England, but Rouen, only France’s second city, may have been as large as it.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, under the long-lived Louis XIV France boasted the continent’s largest population and the world’s second largest colonial empire, after Spain. It was so dominant that it prompted multiple coalitions, or grand alliances, of all the other major European powers together to challenge it. And even then the first Grand Alliance was unable to make significant gains in the Nine Years’ War at the end of the seventeenth century. In the War of the Spanish Succession soon after, the French could field 400,000 troops at times, almost as many as the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, England, and the Netherlands.

The gap in demographic power and military might stood perhaps at its widest during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from 1792–1815. The French fought against most of Europe at once and could regularly field over a million soldiers, often outnumbering its opponents, which formed more than six successive coalitions before they could eventually prevail.

Rulers had worried about a projected depopulation of France since the seventeenth century, with the pronatalist Edict on Marriage of 1666, but it was not until much later that these demographic struggles became apparent. The prevailing view is that on 15th June 1815, during the Battle of Waterloo, France lost its position as the preeminent power in Europe. The influence of demographic factors was revealed most dramatically during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when France was defeated after a solitary battle against a single opponent. During World War I, the population and military gap had completely closed, if not reversed, and Germany had substantially larger forces than France.

And yet the early decline in fertility in France is not well understood…

It is unclear why the Catholic Church’s influence waned so quickly and why France was the first country to secularize. Secularization took hold in regions that were by no means the richest areas at the time. Provence was a rural backwater of the Kingdom of France, speaking a different language and under different fiscal rules, suggesting that neither wealth nor institutions caused the decline in fertility. However, the Counter-Reformation, which was particularly powerful in France, is mentioned by historians on occasion. In fact, regions where Jansenism, a theological doctrine opposed by Jesuits and the Pope as heretical, was strongest in the eighteenth century secularized more. The same seems true for areas where the Catholic League was strongest in 1590, during the French wars of religion. Both facts imply that the French regions where the Counter-Reformation was strongest are those which secularized the most, suggesting that secularization might have been a backlash against religious powers closely connected to absolutism.

The consequences for France are astonishing. French historian Fernand Braudel argued that ‘the entire course of French history since then has been influenced by something that happened in the eighteenth century’, and asks, ‘did France cease to be a great power not, as is usually thought, on 15 June 1815 on the field of Waterloo, but well before that, during the reign of Louis XV when the natural birth-rate was interrupted?’

7) J. Miles Coleman, “The Shocking Decline of Senate Ticket-Splitting”

— Senate races are increasingly converging with presidential partisanship, to the point where the huge overperformances that were so common a decade or two ago have become much less common.

— Since 2000, the number of senators who have run more than 10 points ahead of their party’s presidential nominee has decreased sharply.

— This trend helps explain why we currently rate Democratic-held West Virginia as Leans Republican and started off Montana and Ohio as Toss-ups.

8) Great example of the dysfunctions of policy, “The Pentagon Saw a Warship Boondoggle. Congress Saw Jobs.: After years of crippling problems and a changing mission, the Navy pushed to retire nine of its newest ships. Then the lobbying started.”

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The 387-foot-long warships tied up at the Jacksonville Navy base were acclaimed as some of the most modern in the United States fleet: nimble, superfast vessels designed to operate in coastal waters and hunt down enemy submarines, destroy anti-ship mines and repel attacks from small boats, like those often operated by Iran.

But the Pentagon last year made a startling announcement: Eight of the 10 Freedom-class littoral combat ships now based in Jacksonville and another based in San Diego would be retired, even though they averaged only four years old and had been built to last 25 years.

The decision came after the ships, built in Wisconsin by Fincantieri Marinette Marine in partnership with Lockheed Martin, suffered a series of humiliating breakdowns, including repeated engine failures and technical shortcomings in an anti-submarine system intended to counter China’s growing naval capacity.

“We refused to put an additional dollar against that system that wouldn’t match the Chinese undersea threat,” Adm. Michael M. Gilday, the chief of naval operations, told Senate lawmakers.

The Navy estimated that the move would save $4.3 billion over the next five years, money that Admiral Gilday said he would rather spend on missiles and other firepower needed to prepare for potential wars. Having ships capable of fulfilling the military mission, he argued, was much more important than the Navy’s total ship count.

Then the lobbying started.

A consortium of players with economic ties to the ships — led by a trade association whose members had just secured contracts worth up to $3 billion to do repairs and supply work on them — mobilized to pressure Congress to block the plan, with phone calls, emails and visits to Washington to press lawmakers to intervene…

The effort targeted members of Congress who represent communities with large Navy stations and have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the same military contractors that help maintain and operate these ships. They included Representative Rob Wittman, Republican of Virginia, who represents the Hampton Roads area, home to the world’s largest naval facility.

Within weeks, lawmakers offered amendments to the 2023 Pentagon spending authorization law that prohibited the Navy from retiring four of the eight ships in Jacksonville and the one in San Diego.

9) What is it about diabetes drugs having so many other benefits? “Could A Common Diabetes Drug Slow Down Aging?”

10) History Boomer is an anonymous center-left tweeter/substacker who I quite enjoy. I agree with pretty much everything in here on police violence and police reform. 

So what to do?

Blaming everything on racism is a very bad idea. It distracts from the real factors that lead to excessive police violence. Does this mean cops are never racist? Of course not. But most police violence isn’t a result of racism. If every cop in America underwent extensive diversity training the police would still be killing too many people.

Some police violence is inevitable. Until we can somehow make America less violent (a worthy goal) we will have higher rates of violent police encounters than other rich countries. Some of these encounters, inevitably, will result in wrongful deaths. This doesn’t mean, however, we can’t manage to have fewer killings by law enforcement.

Reducing the size of our departments is madness. We have too few officers, not too many. Eliminating police to solve America’s violence problem is like reducing the number of doctors in order to reduce medical errors. The defund the police activists focused on having fewer police rather than on making our police better. This was a distracting error in strategy and messaging.

Better and more extensive training seems called for. America compares poorly to its peer countries. There are specific procedures that should be reconsidered (no-knock raids, punitive traffic stops, dangerous physical restraint methods). It should be easier to get rid of bad officers (police unions seem to be a real roadblock here). Police need accountability.

Demilitarizing the police is a priority. We don’t need more SCORPIONS. The police force needs to support the communities it serves, not act as an occupying army. Sometimes force is necessary—American cops can’t go unarmed like British bobbies—but the emphasis should be on de-escalation.

Whatever we do to improve our police forces requires serious thought rather than shallow slogans. A rich country should do better with its police and for its citizens. We have lost too many men like Tyre Nichols.

11) G. Elliott Morris on why you should ignore partisan pollsters.

12) This is disturbing, “Why 23 Dead Whales Have Washed Up on the East Coast Since December”

Scientists believe the mortality rate may be tied to an unlikely confluence of factors.

The population of humpbacks, hunted legally until 1985, has rebounded, thanks in part to decades of efforts to clean the Atlantic Ocean and heavily polluted tributaries like the Hudson River. As the climate changes and oceans warm, whales and a favored prey, menhaden, are migrating and feeding in new locations, often closer to shore.

Online pandemic buying habits are also fueling a record-setting surge in cargo shipments that last year made ports in New York and New Jersey the nation’s busiest. Much of the merchandise is now toted on far bigger ships — some of which have altered their routes to help alleviate the supply-chain chaos that last year left some store shelves bare.

As a result, more whales appear to have found themselves in the direct path of more ships.

“When the whales are in these channels,” said Paul Sieswerda, executive director of Gotham Whale, a New York City-based whale research group, “you have to cross your fingers and hope there are no collisions.”

This winter’s quick succession of stranded whales also coincides with work being done in advance of the installation of roughly a dozen large offshore wind farms from Massachusetts to Virginia. Opponents of offshore wind have said that the sonar used by energy companies to map the ocean floor or the noise from seabed rock sampling might be contributing to the whale deaths, though NOAA and the Marine Mammal Commission say there is no evidence that this is true.

13) If you are going to sell tattoos that are designed to fade in “9 to 15 months” they probably shouldn’t be lasting over two years.

14) I love a good key change in music. Turns out they are disappearing and this essay explores why. 

15) Planet Money is one of my favorite podcasts, but talk about hitting my sweet spot! “Exploring Seinfeld through the lens of economics”

16) Well, this kind of sucks, but, hopefully something will be worked out and we’ll get these, “The FDA has cleared the first home flu and Covid test — but its maker just declared bankruptcy”

17) This is excellent from Freddie DeBoer. You should read all of it, “I Cannot Stress Enough That Grade Point Average is Racially Stratified Too: you want to replace the SAT because it’s racially stratified with a metric that’s… also racially stratified”

Again, I’m repeating myself, but all educational data is racially stratified. The SAT, GPA, the NAEP, the state standardized tests, reams of academic research results, and ancillary data like attendance rates. And that’s a reflection of the fact that we have a racially unequal country. What I find so bizarre about all of this is that liberals who will tell you that we live with extreme racial inequality will then turn around and say that racially unequal SAT results invalidate the test. But the test is just revealing the reality that you describe elsewhere in your politics! If we are a racially unequal country, unequal in as many ways as progressive people describe, then these results are precisely what you’d expect. Quantitative education metrics are an essential part of defining and understanding racial inequality, particularly given that they are metrics related to the success of children. Getting rid of them makes it harder for us to understand the degree and trend in that inequality. Indeed, we know that there are some racial influences on SAT score precisely because the test provides quantitative transparency. Abandoning that advantage is senseless.

Contrast that quantitative transparency with the fact that almost all competitive colleges have proprietary formulas which they use to adjust GPAs before consideration for admission. These adjustments are hugely important for admissions decisions, and yet they represent a black box, as schools usually keep their particular adjustment systems secret. So in GPA we’ve got a racially-stratified metric that gets modified by individual schools with secret formulas that make it impossible to know how that metric is actually used. Seems like a bad idea to make that so important in the admissions process. I’ve been trying to get some education reporter to investigate this dynamic for years, to no avail.

Oh, by the way, the SAT and high school GPA correlate at .785 anyway…

So an increasing focus on GPA won’t dramatically change who gets in anyway. Why then would we want to use the SAT? Because that ~.4 of the variance that’s not explained by GPA in SAT results can represent very different kinds of students. GPA rewards grinders; it rewards grade-grubbers; it rewards teacher’s pets. It’s as much a function of effort as of academic ability. And that’s fine; I would never want to remove GPA from the application process. But there are other kinds of kids, the brilliant but disengaged, the talented but unfocused, the gifted whose difficult lives keep them from doing well in school. Those kids are the ones the SAT rewards. So why not use both? And, for the record, the people who stand to gain the most from getting rid of the SAT are not poor Black kids but affluent white kids whose parents have the sway in the local school district they need to lean on teachers and get the grades they want for their children. People complain that SAT scores can be gamed with expensive tutoring. In fact, SAT tutoring has little effect, but let’s set that aside and point out what should be obvious: rich kids can get expensive tutoring to raise their GPA too! How on earth is tutoring an argument against the SAT but not against GPA, when grades are likely more easily influenced by tutoring?

You guys aren’t creating some level playing field where the rich kids won’t get ahead. Instead, you’ll be disadvantaging the brilliant but poor Black kid from a low-income school who used the SAT as the way to announce themselves. And you’re giving a hand to the idiot sons of privilege whose tony private academies will ensure they get a good GPA but who could never crack the SAT.

18) Meanwhile, people way over-estimate how much difference SAT prep makes.

19) Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea is simply one of the most amazing albums ever (I’m lucky to have seen NMH and Jeff Mangum solo)– and it’s 25 years old.  I enjoyed this appreciation.  And somehow I either forgot or never saw this amazing scene in Parks and Rec. 

20) When he was 28, Jimmy Carter really did directly help prevent a nuclear meltdown in Canada. 

In 1952, Carter was selected to join an elite team to help develop the Navy’s first nuclear submarines. Once he had trained his crew and the submarine was constructed, Carter was to be the commanding officer of the USS Seawolf, according to Carter in his 1976 book “Why Not the Best?: The First 50 Years.”

Then the partial meltdown happened, and Lt. Carter was one of the few people on the planet authorized to go inside a nuclear reactor.

Carter and his two dozen men were sent to Canada to help, along with other Canadian and American service members. Because of the intensity of radiation, a human could spend only 90 seconds in the damaged core, even while wearing protective gear.

First, they constructed an exact duplicate of the reactor nearby. Then they practiced and practiced, dashing into the duplicate “to be sure we had the correct tools and knew exactly how to use them,” Carter wrote.

Each time one of his men managed to unscrew a bolt, the same bolt would be removed from the duplicate, and the next man would prep for the next step.

Eventually, it was Carter’s turn. He was in a team of three.

“Outfitted with white protective clothes, we descended into the reactor and worked frantically for our allotted time,” he wrote.

In one minute and 29 seconds, Carter had absorbed the maximum amount of radiation a human can withstand in a year.

The mission was successful. The damaged core was removed. Within two years, it had been rebuilt and was back up and running.

21) More of this, please, “Plant toxin hailed as ‘new weapon’ in antibiotic war against bacteria”

Scientists have discovered a plant toxin whose unique method of dispatching bacteria could be used to create a powerful new range of antibiotics. The prospect of developing new antibacterial drugs this way has been hailed by doctors, who have been warning for many years that the steady rise of multidrug-resistant pathogens such as E coli now presents a dangerous threat to healthcare across the planet.

The new antibiotic – albicidin – attacks bacteria in a completely different way to existing drugs, a group of British, German and Polish scientists have revealed in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Catalysis. This suggests a new route could be exploited to tackle bacterial disease, they say.

“We could not elicit any resistance towards albicidin in the laboratory,” said Dmitry Ghilarov, whose research group is based at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. “That is why we are really excited – because we think it will be very hard for bacteria to evolve resistance against albicidin-derived antibiotics.”

Albicidin is produced by a bacterial plant pathogen called Xanthomonas albilineans that triggers a devastating disease, known as leaf scald, in sugarcane. The pathogen uses albicidin to attack the plant, but it was also found, several decades ago, that it was highly effective at killing bacteria.

“The problem was that, at the time, we did not know exactly how albicidin attacked bacteria and so we could not use it as the basis of new antibiotics because these might have triggered all sorts of complications in the human body,” said Ghilarov. “We had to determine precisely how it killed bacteria before we could do that – and that is what we have now achieved.”

Working with scientists at the Technische Universität Berlin in Germany and at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, Ghilarov and his team used a series of advanced techniques to reveal how albicidin kills.

“Now we have a structural understanding, we can create modifications of albicidin to improve its efficacy and pharmacological properties,” said Ghilarov. “We believe this is one of the most exciting new antibiotic candidates in many years. It has extremely high effectiveness in small concentrations and is highly potent against pathogenic bacteria – even those resistant to the widely used antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones.”

22) It really is ridiculous that we think it just fine for a man to go gray and not a woman.  The reporter profiled here still looks great (and of course, you shouldn’t have to look great to report the news), “After Going Gray, a News Anchor Found Herself the Focus of the Story: Lisa LaFlamme was dismissed after a decades-long TV career, not long after she stopped dyeing her hair, setting off debates across Canada about sexism, ageism and going gray”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great Adam Serwer piece on Fox News:

The Dominion filing drives home a few points. One is that there is a Fox News propaganda feedback loop: The network inflames right-wing conspiracism, but it also bows to it out of partisan commitment and commercial incentive. Another is that despite the long-standing right-wing argument that conservatives distrust mainstream media outlets because they do not tell the truth, Fox News executives and personalities understand that their own network loses traction with its audience when it fails to tell the lies that the audience wishes to hear. There are infinite examples of the mainstream press making errors of omission, fact, or framing. But as the private communications in the Dominion filing show, the mainstream media’s unforgivable sin with this constituency is not lying, but failing to consistently lie the way conservative audiences want them to.

Looking at these internal messages however, the confident, implacable cynicism on the right about how mainstream media outlets work is easier to understand. It is a reflection of how some of their own media institutions function, combined with an assumption that everyone else operates in a similarly amoral way.

Internally, Carlson referred to Sidney Powell, the attorney who was spreading the false fraud allegations, as a “complete nut,” while the Fox News host Sean Hannity said in a deposition that the “whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second.” But Carlson and Hannity also demanded that the Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich be fired after she fact-checked one of Trump’s tweets spreading the false election-fraud claims about Dominion, with one Fox executive fretting that viewers would be “disgusted.” The offending tweet was deleted. In another email, a different Fox executive feared that what he called “conspiratorial reporting” at Newsmax “might be exactly what the disgruntled FNC viewer is looking for,” later warning, “Do not ever give viewers a reason to turn us off. Every topic and guest must perform.”

2) A bunch of good tweets I’ve bookmarked in the past few weeks and forgot to share in previous quick hits.  Starting with Joseph Allen’s policy on ChatGPT use by students.

3) This was great from Tim Urban.

4) I get a ton of my podcast listening in during exercise, but when I really need a pick-me-up, yeah… music.

5) This is wild.  You’d never know that the median American has barely any alcohol in a given week.

6) Some really cool new political science research:

7) This is an amazing use of ChatGPT.  Especially impressed with how it captures Sagan’s voice:

8) The worst part about this is that the police are basically Q-Anon believers, “Connecticut Parents Arrested for Letting Kids, Ages 7 and 9, Walk to Dunkin’ Donuts: “I have never felt threatened by a single person in this town until meeting those officers and the social worker.””

This was in Killingly, Connecticut, a suburban town in the northeast part of the state. The Rivers’ lived near an elementary school, library, state police barracks, sidewalks, crosswalks, many Victorian-style homes, and the aforementioned donut shop. The kids gathered $7, and off they went.

A few minutes later, the River parents heard a knock at the door. It was the police.

The first cop to show up “said he didn’t think it was safe for the kids to walk by themselves,” Rivers tells Reason. “We told him that while we did feel it was safe, we agreed to not allow them to walk around town unsupervised.”

“We thought that would have been the end of it,” Rivers added, “until three more officers showed up.”

The first cop sent Rivers’ husband to retrieve the kids, who had only made it about two blocks. Then mom, dad, and the kids faced a barrage of questions.

“They told us that it wasn’t safe for kids to walk down the street, that there are registered sex offenders all over town that could take them, that drug dealers were going to give them drugs, and that it was ‘a different world now,'” says Rivers.

She tried to dispute what the police were saying, and one of them asked if she watched the news.

The police report, which was reviewed by Reason, makes clear that the police were obsessed with the possibility of sex offenders harming the children. Indeed, they pressed the Rivers to search the sex offender registry to learn which of their neighbors were on it.

The officers also claimed that they had received a dozen 911 calls about the kids during the short time they were gone. Rivers thought this was unlikely, as they had only made it past four other homes. But whatever the rationale, the officers proceeded to charge Rivers’ husband with risk of injury to a minor. They charged Rivers separately for the same thing. Then they arrested her husband and took him away.

9) Paul Poast, “The U.S. Has No Good Options for How to Approach China”

10) On subjective age:

Yet we seem to have an awfully rough go of locating ourselves in time. A friend, nearing 60, recently told me that whenever he looks in the mirror, he’s not so much unhappy with his appearance as startled by it—“as if there’s been some sort of error” were his exact words. (High-school reunions can have this same confusing effect. You look around at your lined and thickened classmates, wondering how they could have so violently capitulated to age; then you see photographs of yourself from that same event and realize: Oh.) The gulf between how old we are and how old we believe ourselves to be can often be measured in light-years—or at least a goodly number of old-fashioned Earth ones…

But “How old do you feel?” is an altogether different question from “How old are you in your head?” The most inspired paper I read about subjective age, from 2006, asked this of its 1,470 participants—in a Danish population (Denmark being the kind of place where studies like these would happen)—and what the two authors discovered is that adults over 40 perceive themselves to be, on average, about 20 percent younger than their actual age. “We ran this thing, and the data were gorgeous,” says David C. Rubin (75 in real life, 60 in his head), one of the paper’s authors and a psychology and neuroscience professor at Duke University. “It was just all these beautiful, smooth curves.”

This is weird to me!  I’m 51.  I don’t know what it would mean to feel 41 or 35 or whatever. What does 41 “feel like”?  I’m I constantly amazed at how old I am?  Yes, actually, but it doesn’t mean I don’t “feel” 51.

11) I had not heard of the S2 Cognition Test, but was totally fascinated by learning of it and this article.  I’ve always talked about great team sport athletes intuitively understanding what I call “the geometry of the game” and I think that’s exactly what’s being measured here.  

The S2 isn’t an intelligence test like the 50-question Wonderlic exam but rather measures how quickly and accurately athletes process information. It’s like the 40-yard dash for the brain.

”The game will never be too fast for Brock, I’ll say that,” said Brandon Ally, a neuroscientist and cofounder of Nashville-based S2 Cognition. “I don’t think he’ll ever have trouble adjusting.”

Ally and his partner, Scott Wylie, have tested more than 40,000 athletes, from big-league batsmen to pro golfers, and the company has contracts with 14 NFL teams. The group already has been testing players at college all-star games during the current draft cycle and will do more testing at next week’s combine in Indianapolis. By the time the draft begins in April, S2 will have scores for more than 800 prospects.

“The GMs have become so interested in the data that we start testing as soon as these kids declare,” Ally said.

The exam lasts 40 to 45 minutes. It’s performed on a specially designed gaming laptop and response pad that can record reactions in two milliseconds. To put that in perspective, an eye blink lasts 100 to 150 milliseconds.

In one section of the exam, a series of diamonds flash on the screen for 16 milliseconds each. Every diamond is missing a point, and the test taker must determine — using left, right, up or down keys — which part is missing.

In another, the test seeks to find out how many objects an athlete can keep track of at the same time. In another, there are 22 figures on the screen and the athlete must locate a specific one as quickly as possible. The object might be a red triangle embedded in other shapes that are also red.

“We’re talking about things they have to perceive on the screen within 16/1,000th of a second, which is essentially subliminal and which scientific literature says you shouldn’t be able to process,” Ally said. “And I’ll be honest with you, we’re seeing pro baseball players see something way faster than 16 milliseconds, which has never been reported in literature, all the way to some athletes who may take 150 milliseconds. So our eyes may see the same thing. But for some, it takes longer to process than others.” …

The battery of tests they had patients perform then are similar to the ones the athletes take now, only they’re modified to record the differences between brains that are merely healthy and ones that work on another level.

Ally says the results are predictive.

He couldn’t give out Purdy’s exact score because it’s privileged information but said it was in the “mid 90s.” That’s about where Brees, the former Saints quarterback famous for lightning-fast decision-making, scored and where two of the top passers in the league now, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen, also landed. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow took the test while at LSU and agreed to allow S2 to disclose the information.

Of course he did — he scored in the 97th percentile.

“We consider anything above the 80th percentile to be elite,” Ally said…

Top-tier quarterbacks have the highest average scores, followed closely by safeties. That makes sense considering safeties are known as the “quarterback of the defense” and must keep an eye on multiple moving opponents.

“The average human being can keep track of about three and a half objects at a time,” Alley said. “The average safety in the NFL, it’s closer to six.”

The positions with the third-highest scores: linebacker and cornerback.

The traditional thinking about cornerback was that it was all about physical skills — being fast and mimicking the movements of a wide receiver. As it turns out, the ability to make rapid decisions and to control impulses are paramount. One of the S2 tests looks at impulse control. Ally said low scores predict substandard play as well as holding and pass-interference penalties.

“If you’re impulsive, you fall prey to that double move,” Ally said. “You make a step in the wrong direction. And second, they just can’t control that impulse to grab a jersey when (the receiver) gets by them. You saw that call in the Super Bowl? We could argue all day long whether that was (a penalty) or not. But you saw him start to get burned and he just couldn’t control that impulse to grab the jersey. That’s very typical of someone with low impulse control.”

12) This is great from Jerusalem Demsas, “Permission-Slip Culture Is Hurting America”

In louisiana, it takes $1,485 and roughly 2,190 days to become an interior designer. In Washington, it takes $319 and 373 days to become a cosmetologist. The District of Columbia requires $740 to become an auctioneer, and a college degree to watch children for someone else. (Having and watching your own children continues to be an unlicensed affair.) In Kansas, you have to cough up $200 to work as a funeral attendant. And Maine requires $235 and 1,095 days to become a travel guide. Want to move states? That could mean you have to relicense, as if, say, cutting hair is materially different in Massachusetts than it is in New York.

This is absurd, and not just to me. Last week, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu announced that he would seek to “fully remove 34 different outdated licenses from state government” and eliminate “14 underutilized regulatory boards.” He also said that he would seek to make New Hampshire the next state to adopt universal recognition: “If you have a substantially similar license and are in good standing in another state, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a license on Day One in New Hampshire.” He joins a number of governors in embracing universal recognition but is going one step further by pushing to fully delicense certain professions.

The usual argument in favor of strict and pervasive licensing is that the system helps ensure high standards for consumer welfare. Of course we can all think of several professions where some form of licensing makes sense: doctors and nurses, operators of dangerous machinery, handlers of hazardous materials. But the assumption that barriers to entry, no matter their form, will necessarily increase the quality of services provided is flawed.

The Institute for Justice looked at state licensing requirements for 102 low-income occupations across the country and found that 88 percent of those professions were unlicensed in at least one state, suggesting that the system is fairly arbitrary. It also found that a high licensing burden does not mean a high-risk occupation: “Workers in 71 occupations, including all the barbering and beauty occupations we study, face greater average burdens than entry-level emergency medical technicians.”

Nor does licensing necessarily translate to high standards for health and safety. A report by the Obama White House in 2015 concluded that “most research does not find that licensing improves quality or public health and safety” and that “stricter licensing was associated with quality improvements in only 2 out of the 12 studies reviewed.”

So the benefits of excessive licensing are unsubstantiated, theoretical, or minimal. But the drawbacks? Those are very real for workers and consumers alike…

Occupational licensing springs from a permission-slip mentality that has infected American political institutions of all sorts. Permission slips to braid hair, permission slips to build affordable housing, permission slips to put solar panels on your roof … a country full of adults raising our hands waiting for someone to let us use the bathroom!

Although pro-licensing forces would have you believe that we must choose between permission-slip governance and peril, this is a false choice. The question is not whether a particular industry poses risks but what kind and how they can best be reduced. Our current licensing regime has not rid American society of risk; heavily licensed industries continue to present safety issues. Instead it has exacerbated labor shortages in crucial industries, encouraged artificially high prices, and created unreasonable barriers to employment and mobility.

I don’t need government workers to ensure that a restaurant is aesthetically pleasing by licensing interior designers; I need them to certify that the food is safe by regularly inspecting establishments. I don’t need the government to decide who’s qualified to work as a locksmith; I can ask my neighbors or check Yelp for advice. And although a test may be appropriate to guarantee that someone can operate a forklift, a college degree most certainly isn’t.

13) Good stuff about libel law and the legal case against Fox News:

If so, the messages could amount to powerful body of evidence against Fox, according to First Amendment experts, because they meet a critical and difficult-to-meet standard in such cases.

“You just don’t often get smoking-gun evidence of a news organization saying internally, ‘We know this is patently false, but let’s forge ahead with it,’” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a University of Utah professor who specializes in media law.

Under New York Times v. Sullivan, a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that has guided libel and defamation claims for nearly 60 years, a plaintiff like Dominion must show that a defendant like Fox published false statements with “actual malice” — meaning that it was done “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

Based on the messages revealed last week, “I think that Dominion both will and should prevail,” said Laurence Tribe, a former Harvard law professor. “If anything, the landmark this case is likely to establish will help show that New York Times v. Sullivan” is not an impossible legal hurdle to clear, as some critics have claimed.

“While it’s true that the Supreme Court [in Sullivan] has set a high bar for plaintiffs, a high bar doesn’t mean no bar,” said Sonja R. West, a First Amendment scholar at the University of Georgia law school. “What we’re seeing in this case looks an awful lot like the exception that proves the rule. The First Amendment often protects speakers who make innocent or even negligent mistakes, but this does not mean they can knowingly tell lies that damage the reputation of others.”

14) I’ll admit to not reading all of this, but for my fellow ChatGPT lovers, this is the ultimate explanation for how it works. 

15) A nice little essay on three lessons from the Ukraine war

The three lessons of the past year—war is never straightforward; power is not based on weapons; national identity has military value—should come as a relief to supporters of democracy. The great tragedy is that they had to be relearned in the first place.

16) Lots of good stuff in Chait’s newsletter this week.  I liked this part about standardized tests:

17) I also liked this take on the measures taken by the “there’s a scientific consensus on ‘gender-affirming care’ for teens and if you say otherwise you are a transphobe!” crowd:

18) Paul Waldman, “Republican elites fear the monster they created”

On screen, Fox News personalities paint a world of clear heroes and villains, where conservatives are always strong and right and liberals are weak and wrong. But the extraordinary private communications revealed in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox show who they really are. Panicked over Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, those same hosts, and the executives who run the network, cowered in abject terror.

They feared the same monster that keeps House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) up at night, the monster that conservative media and Republican politicians created: base voters who are deluded, angry and vengeful.

McCarthy has sought to appease the beast by granting exclusive access to 44,000 hours of surveillance footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to Fox News host Tucker Carlson. But with each capitulation, McCarthy and Fox News only make the monster stronger…

These documents make clear not only that Fox News stars and executives think their audience is a bunch of half-wits but also that they live in fear that the audience will turn on them unless they tell viewers exactly what they want to hear regardless of the facts.

Who taught that audience to believe conspiracy theories and to assume that any unwelcome information must be a sinister lie? Fox News, of course.

Now consider Jan. 6. McCarthy knows the facts. The Capitol insurrection wasn’t a false-flag operation by antifa or the FBI. Indeed, McCarthy initially blasted Trump for his role in stirring the rioters and dismissed conspiracy theories. So why has he given exclusive access to surveillance footage to Carlson, the constant purveyor of conspiracy theories?

There’s no mystery. Carlson’s producers will comb through endless pixels to find images with which to mislead viewers: to convince them that the riot wasn’t so bad or that Trump’s supporters weren’t to blame or that the whole thing was a setup…

Like the trembling dissemblers of Fox News, McCarthy must feel that he has no choice: Feed the beast or be eaten by it. Winning the future is an idea they cannot latch on to because they are so frantic to survive one more day.

Republican elites are not powerless. They helped make this mess and could nudge their base back toward reality if they chose. But they’re too afraid to try.

19) It really is ridiculous what a stigma we place on herpes when you consider how damn common it is and how easily it spreads.  It’s one damn tricky virus. 

Brittany, 29, who asked that her last name be withheld in order to discuss her personal health, only thinks about her HSV-2 when she scrolls through a dating app. In the two years since she was diagnosed, she’s only had one outbreak. Still, when she looks at each profile, she wonders how the man would respond to learning about her diagnosis. “I just worry so much that people are going to judge me,” she said. “That no matter how I present it to them, I’ll still face rejection. That weighs heavily on me.”

Some men have told her, flat-out, that they would never date someone with herpes, but what bothers her, too, are the ones who say, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” she said. “I wake up every day and I’m fine.”

Scientists have worked on herpes vaccines in fits and starts since the 1970s, said Dr. Harvey Friedman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine who has studied the disease for over 40 years. But past attempts have failed, for reasons researchers are still trying to uncover.

Because herpes has been around for so long, the viruses have evolved alongside us, making them more difficult to eradicate, said Christine Johnston, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine who has studied herpes.

There are new vaccines under development. Dr. Friedman is working with BioNTech on an HSV-2 vaccine candidate that was given to the first human subject in December. But none are in late-stage clinical trials, said Dr. Ina Park, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of S.T.D.s.” “There’s nothing anywhere close to prime time,” she said.

20) My 23-year old son has no desire for a driver’s license.  I thought his brother would get his right when he turned 16 (as I did on my 16th birthday), but he’s 17 and seemingly no rush (though, I think in the next few months).  But, this is really common these days. “Why aren’t teenagers driving anymore?”

When Dawn Johnson was a teenager growing up in Northern Virginia in the 1990s, she remembers counting down the days until she could start driving. The freedom to see her friends whenever she wanted was tantalizing, she says: “I wanted to get out of my house.”

So when her son, Derek, turned 15 nearly 10 months ago, she and her husband thought he might feel the same. “We were like, Derek, don’t you want to do this?” she says. “And he was like, ‘Nah. I’m good.’ And we just — we did not understand it.”

Driving a car was once a widely coveted rite of passage, but a rising number of kids no longer see it that way: 60 percent of American 18-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2021, down from 80 percent in 1983, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. In that same period, the number of 16-year-olds with licenses dropped from 46 percent to 25 percent. Today’s driving-age teens are navigating a very different world, filled with new complexities and anxieties.

21) Excellent NYT Editorial on what our drug policy should be, “America Has Lost the War on Drugs. Here’s What Needs to Happen Next.”

But there’s still much work for the nation’s leaders to do.

Amend outdated policies. Criminal justice still has a role to play in tackling addiction and overdose. The harm done by drugs extends far beyond the people who use them, and addictive substances — including legal ones like alcohol — have always contributed to crime. There is a better balance to strike, nonetheless, between public health and law enforcement.

One example is the so-called “crack house statute.” This federal law subjects anyone to steep penalties, including decades in prison, if they maintain a building for the purpose of using illicit drugs. It was enacted at the height of the crack epidemic but is currently being used to stymie supervised consumption sites, which are fundamentally different from crack houses.

At supervised consumption programs, people bring their own drugs, including heroin, and use them under the supervision of a staff that has been trained to reverse overdoses, promote safer drug use and in some cases help people access treatment. With several states now considering planning or starting supervised consumption programs, federal officials should make it clear that the people operating them will not face prosecution.

The federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine should finally be eliminated. The “Len Bias Law,” which enables courts to send anyone involved in an overdose death to prison, should also be amended, so that family members or fellow drug users aren’t criminalized for calling 911 in a crisis.

Invest in treatment. There are not enough programs or trained medical professionals to treat substance-use disorders.

As a result, it is too often left to the criminal justice system to decide who gets care. When wait lists for programs run long, people whose treatment is court-ordered jump to the front of the line. The outcomes have not been great. Judges and probation officers tend to have a paltry understanding of addiction medicine, producing treatment that tends to be punitive instead of therapeutic. For example, people placed on parole or probation for drug-related crimes are often incarcerated when they relapse, instead of getting additional care. (Relapses are a common feature of substance-use disorder and a normal part of the recovery process.)

One way to shift this calculus is to create incentives for more doctors and medical professionals to treat addiction. Lifting the special waiver that doctors need to prescribe buprenorphine — as federal lawmakers recently did — will help.

Other policy tweaks are needed as well: Parity laws, which require health insurers to cover addiction and mental health services as extensively as they cover treatments for other medical conditions, should be expanded to include Medicare. There are a lot of people aging into that program with substance-use disorders. Elected officials should also make basic training in addiction treatment a requirement for medical schools that receive state and federal funding.

Address root causes. People cannot heal from, or live stably with, substance-use disorders if they lack proper housing or suffer from untreated trauma or mental illness. For harm reduction — or any honest attempt to address the nation’s drug use and overdose epidemic — to succeed, communities will need to create more housing options. They will also need to provide clear pathways for people struggling with addiction to achieve food security and to have access to basic medical care. Policies that make it easier for people convicted of drug felonies to get benefits from social safety-net programs — including food stamps and supportive housing programs — would help. So would the Medicaid Re-entry Act, a bill that would reactivate Medicaid for inmates before their release.

Build an actual system. In other advanced nations, harm reduction and treatment for addiction are core public health services funded and protected by the national government. In the United States, syringe service programs and would-be supervised consumption sites have largely been left on their own, forced to design vital public health programs from scratch, then operate them in a legal morass, with little guidance or support.

22) I know nothing about Politics in Peru.  But as a political parties scholar, I loved this, “Peru is a Warning
Democracy doesn’t work without strong political parties.”

23) Jared Diamond, “Like Finland, Imagine Everything That Could Go Wrong”

Finland offers a model of preparing politically for any disaster. During World War II, Finns suffered greatly as a result of being cut off from imports. Finns responded after the war by setting up a government commission that meets once a month, imagines everything that could go wrong and each month plans and prepares for one such disaster. (A Finnish friend of mine is on that commission.) Finns are now prepared for chemical shortages, fuel shortages, medical supply shortages, an electric net failure and other eventualities.

One of those Finnish commission meetings several years ago recognized the likelihood of a respiratory disease pandemic. The commission advised the government to buy and store lots of face masks, which were cheap at the time. The result: Finland was ready for Covid, as well as for all of those other disasters.

Similar thinking is useful in our personal lives. In my field work as a biologist in New Guinea’s jungles, almost everything that could go wrong has at some time gone wrong for me. Whenever I’ve had an accident in Los Angeles, my wife has driven me to the hospital emergency room. But I don’t have that option in New Guinea’s jungles. After some close calls, I eventually learned to think constantly about what could next go wrong, and to prepare for it. I’ve found that habit useful even in my daily life in Los Angeles.

Psychiatrists use the term “paranoia” to mean constant exaggerated fear of something going wrong. Many non-Finns, and many of my Los Angeles friends, consider Finns’ and my outlook on life as an absurd vice, verging on paranoia. I consider our outlook as a healthy virtue that I call constructive paranoia. In other words, be ready for lots of bad luck.


Quick hits (part I)

1) NC House voted for a new law eliminating earth science requirement and adding a computer science requirement.  What happens in NC Senate remains to be seen.  Among other things, the standard HS curriculum will now only require 2 sciences, but UNC system expects 3.  Hmmm.

2) Surprised I missed this before, but a big Reuters investigation on youth gender transitions.  Short-version, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

The United States has seen an explosion in recent years in the number of children who identify as a gender different from what they were designated at birth. Thousands of families like the Boyers are weighing profound choices in an emerging field of medicine as they pursue what is called gender-affirming care for their children.

Gender-affirming care covers a spectrum of interventions. It can entail adopting a child’s preferred name and pronouns and letting them dress in alignment with their gender identity – called social transitioning. It can incorporate therapy or other forms of psychological treatment. And, from around the start of adolescence, it can include medical interventions such as puberty blockers, hormones and, in some cases, surgery. In all of it, the aim is to support and affirm the child’s gender identity.

But families that go the medical route venture onto uncertain ground, where science has yet to catch up with practice. While the number of gender clinics treating children in the United States has grown from zero to more than 100 in the past 15 years – and waiting lists are long – strong evidence of the efficacy and possible long-term consequences of that treatment remains scant.

Puberty blockers and sex hormones do not have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for children’s gender care. No clinical trials have established their safety for such off-label use. The drugs’ long-term effects on fertility and sexual function remain unclear. And in 2016, the FDA ordered makers of puberty blockers to add a warning about psychiatric problems to the drugs’ label after the agency received several reports of suicidal thoughts in children who were taking them.

More broadly, no large-scale studies have tracked people who received gender-related medical care as children to determine how many remained satisfied with their treatment as they aged and how many eventually regretted transitioning. The same lack of clarity holds true for the contentious issue of detransitioning, when a patient stops or reverses the transition process.

The National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government agency responsible for medical and public health research, told Reuters that “the evidence is limited on whether these treatments pose short- or long-term health risks for transgender and other gender-diverse adolescents.” The NIH has funded a comprehensive study to examine mental health and other outcomes for about 400 transgender youths treated at four U.S. children’s hospitals. However, long-term results are years away and may not address concerns such as fertility or cognitive development.

Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

3) Like, for example, this very good post from Yglesias, that, yes, asks some tough questions, “Progressives need to engage with the specific questions about youth gender care”

It’s an excellent piece, and it helped me articulate why I disagree so strongly with the segment of Slow Boring’s audience that wants me to join them in complaining about elective pronouns and the contemporary progressive vocabulary of cis-versus-trans. These linguistic shifts are not just some pose or studied effort to slice the political salami just so — they speak to this core question of dignity.

I would add, with a gesture at Judith Shklar, that decent people are on guard against the politics of cruelty. Cruelty can be tempting and it can be fun, but even the worst of us know that cruelty is wrong. So there are always people seeking a higher justification for their cruelty, a reason that being an asshole is actually a high-minded undertaking serving some crucial purpose. And today’s backlash to trans rights clearly involves people doing this — bullies and wannabe bullies being jerks for sport.

And when bullies are working to make so many people’s lives harder, it’s enormously important, as Bouie does, to articulate the guiding principles that help us push back against their conservative crusade.

But it’s also important not to avoid venturing into the weeds of the specific policy questions we’re facing, and this is where I think progressives are falling short…

This is where you get into the reality that abstract political values don’t always answer factual questions.

Phunky and Joseph agree that teens should be able to get reversible gender-affirming treatments. But are puberty-blocking medications reversible? According to the United States government they are, but the UK’s NICE says there is no good clinical evidence on this.

Importantly, because youth gender dysphoria treatment is an off-label use of drugs that were originally created to treat precocious puberty, the big clinical trials that were conducted for FDA approval don’t really speak to the issue at hand in a clear way. Again, this is not some special feature of gender-affirming care or the fault of anyone in the trans community. But it’s also not a fever dream of the reactionary right. A structural feature of American health regulation is that the FDA sets a very high bar for approving drugs but a very light regulatory bar for their off-label use. Pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to organize new clinical trials because their medication is already being used for this purpose and the market is growing.

This is one of these things where it’s such a political hot button that most of the people offering any commentary on the issue have very strong feelings. I have scanned some of the relevant arguments from qualified professionals and it really strikes me as understudied and somewhat hard to say. My point, though, is that the enduring values articulated by Douglass and channeled by Bouie can’t determine any particular factual conclusion about the impact of medications.

Meanwhile, despite the attention given to the controversy about the reversibility of puberty blockers, the current World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommendations say that “hormones could be started at age 14, two years earlier than the group’s previous advice, and some surgeries done at age 15 or 17, a year or so earlier than previous guidance.” WPATH has its reasons for making this recommendation, but I don’t think Phunky and Joseph are drawing the line the way they did as an attack on the dignity of trans people. It’s quite possible they would change their stance if they knew that WPATH had changed its recommendation — people often have weakly held views and defer to expert organizations. But at a minimum, the current WPATH recommendations are laxer and the science of puberty blockers more uncertain than a casual scan of the coverage would lead you to believe.

4) Good stuff from Lee Drutman, “Democrats are for rich people? Republicans are not? Has the world turned upside down?”

Last week, my talented New America colleague Oscar Pocasangre and I released a new deep data-dive on the demographics and voter preferences of all 435 congressional districts. 

We had started last fall by asking how competitive districts were tugging differently on Democratic and Republican coalitions. We wound up with an even deeper understanding of the challenges both parties face in holding together their coalitions.

The report is chock-a-block with fascinating stuff. (I promise!). But the scatterplot that sticks out for me is our Figure 2. 

Districts vary considerably by percent of residents who identify as white. This is not news to anybody. Most districts have average income in the mid-five figures, but some districts have high average incomes: Also not news to anybody.

But if we break districts into four quadrants, splitting on the average, we get four types of districts. And that’s where it gets interesting… 


The most common type of district has a below-average income, and is more white than average. These are the districts where Republicans dominate. Of the 162 districts that fit this category (about 37 percent of districts), Republicans won 137 in 2022, or 85 percent.

But in the other three types of districts here, Democrats dominate.

Democrats do best in the more diverse and wealthier than average districts. Of these 82 districts, Democrats won 63 in 2022, or 77 percent.

Democrats also prevail among the more diverse (less white) and less affluent districts, winning 74 out of 102 such districts, or 73 percent — just a shade less than the less white, wealthier than average districts.

Finally, among the whiter and wealthier districts, Democrats also win the majority, 51 out of 89, or 57 percent. 

Put another way, Democratic members of Congress come from many different types of districts. Republican members of Congress overwhelmingly come from districts that are mostly white and less affluent than average.

5) I had a conversation the other day where someone suggested that the illiberal liberal overreach is receding because they don’t have Trump to animate them.  Chait makes this point in his latest newsletter:

6) Not your everyday NYT Op-Ed, “Let Us Eat Lungs

Federal policy in the United States allows butchers to sell virtually every part of an animal’s body as human food, with one notable exception: the lungs. In 1971 the Department of Agriculture declared animal lungs unfit “for use as human food” and banned them from the commercial food supply.

As a doctor who enjoys eating nose to tail, including an animal’s internal organs and entrails, I believe that the lung ban makes no medical sense and accomplishes little to keep the American public safe. The Department of Agriculture should discard the rule.

When people first hear about this rule, even scientists and food law experts I’ve spoken to, they often presume that it is designed to protect us from dangerous infections that can harbor in animal lungs, like tuberculosis and anthrax. But the language of the ban’s stated rationale says little about lung infections. When the Department of Agriculture proposed the rule in 1969, it purported to protect people from eating things like dust, flower pollen and fungal spores that animals (including humans) inhale.

The rule was based on studies conducted around 1970 in which pathologists at the Department of Agriculture cut open the branching airways of animal lungs to study them much more deeply than in a typical post-mortem examination. The pathologists found those inhaled airborne particulates. They also found stomach contents, which may have refluxed up the animals’ esophagi and into their airways before or after death.

Notably, the pathologists did not mention any serious infections, which are generally discovered with a typical superficial examination — the same check that every internal organ undergoes before being U.S.D.A. approved. (Infected specimens should, of course, be kept out of the food supply.)

Still, the Department of Agriculture felt that such impurities rendered lungs unfit for human consumption and banned them outright. Scottish haggis, which includes the organ, disappeared from store shelves and butcher shops in the United States. (Dried lung treats for pets, however, are legal and widely available. Also, the ruling does not extend to those who hunt and slaughter animals for personal consumption.)

To be clear, there is little scientific data to show that ingesting these impurities is dangerous — or, conversely, that it is safe. But a basic understanding of how our lungs clean themselves suggests how nonsensical the Department of Agriculture rule is.

Needless to say, I will not be partaking regardless of FDA regulations.

7) It really was pretty interesting to see just how far the Texas Tech DEI bureaucracy had inserted themselves into the faculty hiring process, “In rare move, Texas Tech rescinds DEI litmus test for faculty. Others aren’t as lucky.”

As diversity initiatives have proliferated on campuses in recent years, FIRE has expressed repeated concern that mandatory diversity statements — in which a faculty member must pledge allegiance to prevailing views about diversity, equity, and inclusion to get hired or promoted — impose an illiberal campus orthodoxy. This week, a Wall Street Journal piece shed light on Texas Tech University’s use of these statements to weed out candidates with dissenting views, exposing the dark underbelly of a practice that FIRE has long criticized. It also prompted the university to take the unprecedented, and welcome, step of rescinding the policy and reviewing hiring practices across all departments. 

On Monday night, National Association of Scholars Senior Fellow John D. Sailer announced in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece the release of 99 pages of internal documents revealing how faculty applicant statements discussing contributions to DEI served as a political litmus test for hiring at Texas Tech University. 

The records, obtained from the public university via public records requests, cast a bright light on the ideological conformity demanded of candidates for Texas Tech faculty positions. FIRE has long argued that these statements are intended to reward adherence to highly specific views on diversity and punish those who hold different views. The Texas Tech records show that’s exactly what’s happening, with rubrics describing with particularity which views professors are expected to express and which views were unacceptable: 

Don’t know the difference between “equity” and “equality”? You’ll get dinged for that. Might you have forgotten to acknowledge that the land on which you hope to teach was once occupied by Native Americans? You’ll be knocked for that, too.

The search committee flagged one candidate for espousing “race neutrality” in teaching. He expressed that respecting students and treating them equally regardless of race was best practice, but this raised the school’s alarm for reflecting “a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.” Conversely, an immunology candidate received high marks for mentioning “inclusivity in lab” and referencing their “unconscious bias.” 

8) Yasmin Tayag on the difficulty of making sense of the research on masks:

An important feature of Cochrane reviews is that they look only at “randomized controlled trials,” considered the gold standard for certain types of research because they compare the impact of one intervention with another while tightly controlling for biases and confounding variables. The trials considered in the review compared groups of people who masked with those who didn’t in an effort to estimate how effective masking is at blunting the spread of COVID in a general population. The population-level detail is important: It indicates uncertainty about whether requiring everyone to wear a mask makes a difference in viral spread. This is different from the impact of individual masking, which has been better researched. Doctors, after all, routinely mask when they’re around sick patients and do not seem to be infected more often than anyone else. “We have fairly decent evidence that masks can protect the wearer,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told me. “Where I think it sort of falls apart is relating that to the population level.”

The research on individual masking generally shows what we have come to expect: High-quality masks provide a physical barrier between the wearer and infectious particles, if worn correctly. For instance, in one study, N95 masks were shown to block 57 to 90 percent of particles, depending on how well they fit; cloth and surgical masks are less effective. The caveat is that much of that support came from laboratory research and observational studies, which don’t account for the messiness of real life.

That the Cochrane review reasonably challenges the effectiveness of population-level masking doesn’t mean the findings of previous studies in support of masking are moot. A common theme among criticisms of the review is that it considered only a small number of studies by virtue of Cochrane’s standards; there just aren’t that many randomized controlled trials on COVID and masks. In fact, most of those included in the review are about the impact of masking on other respiratory illnesses, namely the flu. Although some similarities between the viruses are likely, Nuzzo explained on Twitter, COVID-specific trials would be ideal.


The handful of trials in the review that focus on COVID don’t show strong support for masking. One, from Bangladesh, which looked at both cloth and surgical masks, found a 9 percent decrease in symptomatic cases in masked versus unmasked groups (and a reanalysis of that study found signs of bias in the way the data were collected and interpreted); another, from Denmark, suggested that surgical masks offered no statistically significant protection at all.

Criticisms of the review posit that it might have come to a different conclusion if more and better-quality studies had been available. The paper’s authors acknowledge that the trials they considered were prone to bias and didn’t control for inconsistent adherence to the interventions. “The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect,” they concluded. If high-quality masks worn properly work well at an individual level, after all, then it stands to reason that high-quality masks worn properly by many people in any situation should indeed provide some level of protection.

9) Super-depressing Washington Post story on authoritarian regimes giving draconian sentences for protest.  Gift link.

That’s all — a click.

They are hardly alone. The world’s political prisons are bulging. A string of popular uprisings over the past few years brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the streets, protesting against authoritarianism in Hong Kong, Cuba, Belarus and Iran; against the military junta that toppled democracy in Myanmar; and against strict restrictions on speech and protest in Russia and China. Also, Arab Spring uprisings swept Egypt, Syria and elsewhere a decade ago, and protests broke out in Vietnam in 2018. Most of these protests were met with mass crackdowns and arrests. Thousands of participants — largely young and demonstrating for the first time — have been held in prison for demanding the right to speak and think freely and to choose their leaders.

Authoritarian regimes often work in the shadows, using secret police to threaten dissidents, censor the media, prohibit travel or choke off internet access. But when prisons are jam-packed with thousands who simply marched down the street or sent a tweet, the repression is no longer hidden; it is a bright, pulsating signal that freedom is in distress.

Arrested for political protest

Belarus, Cuba and Vietnam have thrown thousands into prison in recent years.

*Justicia 11J says 990 people are imprisoned and convicted or pending trial in Cuba.


Political prisons are, sadly, not new. During the 20th century, the practice of mass repression grew to immense proportions in Joseph Stalin’s gulag system of forced labor camps. Political prisons have been notorious in Fidel Castro’s Cuba; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; Cold War East Germany; apartheid South Africa; North Korea; and, in recent years, in China’s Xinjiang region.

According to the classic definition, formulated by Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1956, a totalitarian dictatorship is characterized by an ideology, a single party led by one person, a terroristic police, government control of all communications, a weapons monopoly and a centrally controlled economy. In today’s world, fewer authoritarian states run a command economy. But many embrace the other characteristics. The political prisons are where the threads come together, punishing those who challenge a regime’s monopoly on power.

10) Stuart Stevens on Nikki Haley:

I remember the first time I saw Nikki Haley. It was in a high school gym before the 2012 South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Tim Scott, who was then a congressman, was holding a raucous town hall, and Ms. Haley was there to cheer him on. The first woman to be governor of South Carolina, the first Indian American ever elected to statewide office there, the youngest governor in the country. Whatever that “thing” is that talented politicians possess, Ms. Haley had it. People liked her, and more important, she seemed to like people. She talked with you, not to you, and she made routine conversations feel special and important. She seemed to have unlimited potential.

Then she threw it all away.

No political figure better illustrates the tragic collapse of the modern Republican Party than Nikki Haley. There was a time not very long ago when she was everything the party thought it needed to win. She was a woman when the party needed more women, a daughter of immigrants when the party needed more immigrants, a young change maker when the party needed younger voters and a symbol of tolerance who took down the Confederate flag when the party needed more people of color and educated suburbanites…

As a former Republican political operative who worked in South Carolina presidential primaries, I look at Ms. Haley now, as she prepares to launch her own presidential campaign, with sadness tinged with regret for what could have been. But I’m not a bit surprised. Her rise and fall only highlights what many of us already knew: Mr. Trump didn’t change the Republican Party; he revealed it. Ms. Haley, for all her talents, embodies the moral failure of the party in its drive to win at any cost, a drive so ruthless and insistent that it has transformed the G.O.P. into an autocratic movement. It’s not that she has changed positions to suit the political moment or even that she has abandoned beliefs she once claimed to be deeply held. It’s that the 2023 version of Ms. Haley is actively working against the core values that the 2016 Ms. Haley would have held to be the very foundation of her public life.

11) On the viral spread of psychogenic disease (Tik Tok tics) among today’s teens.  I’m sure this has no relationship whatsoever to insanely increasing rates of gender dysphoria in teens. 

Over the next year, doctors across the world treated thousands of young people for sudden, explosive tics. Many of the patients had watched popular TikTok videos of teenagers claiming to have Tourette’s syndrome. A spate of alarming headlines about “TikTok tics” followed.

But similar outbreaks have happened for centuries. Mysterious symptoms can spread rapidly in a close-knit community, especially one that has endured a shared stress. The TikTok tics are one of the largest modern examples of this phenomenon. They arrived at a unique moment in history, when a once-in-a-century pandemic spurred pervasive anxiety and isolation, and social media was at times the only way to connect and commiserate.

Now, experts are trying to tease apart the many possible factors — internal and external — that made these teenagers so sensitive to what they watched online.

Four out of five of the adolescents were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and one-third reported past traumatic experiences, according to a study from the University of Calgary that analyzed nearly 300 cases from eight countries. In new research that has not yet been published, the Canadian team has also found a link to gender: The adolescents were overwhelmingly girls, or were transgender or nonbinary — though no one knows why.

12) Horse virus story from history! “A virus crippled U.S. cities 150 years ago. It didn’t infect humans.”

In the late 19th century, American cities moved to a soundtrack of clopping and clanking. Horses pulled commuters on streetcars, hauled construction materials for new buildings, carted groceries to homes, and conveyed patrons to theaters and baseball games.

But in late September 1872, horses fell sick on several farms near Toronto. Within days, a veterinarian found an additional 14 sick horses in the city. Within a week, the count grew to 600. The mysterious “Canadian horse disease” spread quickly, following rail lines into bustling cities and knocking out the workhorses that had powered the United States into a new era.

A fire devastated Boston’s commercial district, in part because horses were too sick to haul pump wagons. In New York, boxes lay untouched at railroad depots and city piers, among the busiest in the world. People lost work. Garbage went uncollected, mail undelivered. Political rallies, just weeks ahead of the presidential election, were canceled. Streets fell silent in such far-flung cities as Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. In D.C., streetcar service was shut down, as was horse- and mule-drawn traffic on the C&O Canal.

Known as the Great Epizootic, the outbreak of what was later determined to be the equine flu hit the vast majority of the country’s horses between October 1872 and March 1873, temporarily paralyzing cities in a crisis “comparable to what would happen today if gas pumps ran dry or the electric grid went down,” University of Tennessee historian Ernest Freeberg wrote.

Fortunately, the crisis was short-lived. Most horses rallied, and life in each locale resumed within several weeks. But the 150-year-old episode serves as an early example of how vulnerable modern life can be to a disease outbreak among animals. It’s a strikingly familiar theme at a time when an outbreak of avian flu has helped send egg prices soaring (and has infected some mammals) — and when a virus believed to have started in animals in a Chinese open-air market jumped into humans and shut down much of the globe starting in 2020.

13) This is pretty wild, “How Supergenes Beat the Odds—and Fuel Evolution: Stretches of DNA that lock inherited traits together often accumulate harmful mutations. But they also hold genetic benefits for species.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from home in the steamy Amazon rain forest in the mid-1800s, the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates had a problem. More than one, really; there were thumb-size biting insects, the ever-present threat of malaria, venomous snakes, and mold and mildew that threatened to overtake his precious specimens before they could be shipped back to England. But the nagging scientific problem that bothered him involved butterflies.

By the time Bates’ discovery reached the scientific cognoscenti in England, Charles Darwin’s then new proposal of natural selection could explain why this brilliant mimicry occurred. Birds and other predators avoid Heliconius butterflies because they are toxic to eat, with a bitter taste. The mimics were not toxic, but because they looked so much like the foul-tasting Heliconius, they were less likely to be eaten. The closer the resemblance, the more potent the protection.

What Bates and many later evolutionary biologists couldn’t explain was how this mimicry was possible. Getting the right shades of aquamarine and fiery orange in the right places on the wings required a constellation of precisely tuned genes. Those traits would have to be inherited with perfect fidelity, generation after generation, to preserve the Heliconius disguise. Maybe real Heliconius butterflies could afford to deviate a bit in coloration because their toxins could still teach predators to stay away in the future, but the mimics needed to be consistently flawless replicas. Yet the random reshuffling and remixing of traits in sexual reproduction should have quickly disrupted the essential coloring patterns.

Today we know that in many species the answer is supergenes—stretches of DNA that lock several genes together into a single inheritable unit. “They’re kind of a wild card,” said Marte Sodeland, a molecular ecologist at the University of Agder in Norway. This aggregated form of inheritance “has obvious advantages, because it allows rapid adaptation, but there’s a lot we don’t know yet.”

Supergenes once seemed like an evolutionary oddity, but the rise of genetic sequencing has shown that they are far more common than researchers believed. Not all supergenes may serve a function, but work in just the past few years has revealed that traits in a wide range of animal and plant species might be driven by these groups of genes that function like a single gene. Supergenes help wild sunflowers adapt to a range of environments, such as sand dunes, coastal plains, and barrier islands. In other families of plants, they produce subtle but important variations in their sexual organs and fertility that help to prevent inbreeding. Research published last spring showed that in some fire ant species, supergenes determine which type of social organization predominates—whether a colony has a single breeding queen or more than one, and whether it produces more males or females. (Specific supergenes in humans haven’t been confirmed, but likely candidates have been found.)

14) Really interesting book excerpt in the Atlantic, “What Really Took America to War in Iraq: A fatal combination of fear, power, and hubris”

Fear, power, and hubris explain America’s march to war in Iraq. By thinking otherwise, by simplifying the story and believing that all would be well if we only had more honest officials, stronger leaders, and more realistic policy makers, we delude ourselves. Tragedy occurs not because our leaders are naive, stupid, and corrupt. Tragedy occurs when earnest and responsible officials try their best to make America safer and end up making things much worse. We need to ask why this happens. We need to appreciate the dangers that lurk when there is too much fear, too much power, too much hubris—and insufficient prudence.

15) This is really going to get a full post soon, as I just listened to the best podcast limited series ever, but, for now, Kristof: “Two-Thirds of Kids Struggle to Read, and We Know How to Fix It”

A lovely aphorism holds that education isn’t the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

But too often, neither are pails filled nor fires lit.

One of the most bearish statistics for the future of the United States is this: Two-thirds of fourth graders in the United States are not proficient in reading.

Reading may be the most important skill we can give children. It’s the pilot light of that fire.

Yet we fail to ignite that pilot light, so today some one in five adults in the United States struggles with basic literacy, and after more than 25 years of campaigns and fads, American children are still struggling to read. Eighth graders today are actually a hair worse at reading than their counterparts were in 1998.

One explanation gaining ground is that, with the best of intentions, we grown-ups have bungled the task of teaching kids to read. There is growing evidence from neuroscience and careful experiments that the United States has adopted reading strategies that just don’t work very well and that we haven’t relied enough on a simple starting point — helping kids learn to sound out words with phonics.

“Too much reading instruction is not based on what the evidence says,” noted Nancy Madden, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who is an expert on early literacy. “That’s pretty clear.

“At least half of kids in the U.S. are not getting effective reading instruction.”

Other experts agree. Ted Mitchell, an education veteran at nearly every level who is now president of the American Council on Education, thinks that easily a majority of children are getting subpar instruction.

Others disagree, of course. But an approach called the “science of reading” has gained ground, and it rests on a bed of phonics instruction…

I became intrigued by the failures in reading after listening to a riveting six-part podcast, “Sold a Story,” that argues passionately that the education establishment ignored empirical evidence and unintentionally harmed children.

“Kids are not being taught how to read because for decades teachers have been sold an idea about reading and how children learn to do it,” Emily Hanford, a public radio journalist who for years has focused on reading issues, says in the first of the podcasts. She told me that the podcast has had more than 3.5 million downloads.

One of the targets of the podcast is Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College who has a widely used reading curriculum. Calkins has acknowledged learning from the science of reading movement and from Hanford, and she told me how she has modified her curriculum as a result — but she also says that phonics was always part of her approach and that media narratives are oversimplified.

As Calkins and others revise their materials, skeptics worry that curriculums still aren’t fully committed to phonics but layer it onto other strategies, leaving students befuddled.

It’s easy to be glib in describing these reading wars. Everyone agrees that phonics are necessary, and everyone also agrees that phonics are not enough.


What’s clear is that when two-thirds of American kids are not proficient at reading, we’re failing the next generation. We can fix this, imperfectly, if we’re relentlessly empirical and focus on the evidence. It’s also noteworthy that lots of other interventions help and aren’t controversial: tutoring, access to books, and coaching parents on reading to children. And slashing child poverty, which child tax credits accomplished very successfully until they were cut back.


Actually, this is overly-generous to the phonics-deniers.  But, more on that in a future post. 

16) I loved this New Yorker interview with Aubrey Plaza.  Also loved “Emily the Criminal” which I watched this week (and you should, too– it’s on Netflix).

17) Yglesias makes the case for cautious optimism on police reform

18) Derek Thompson on the mental health crisis among teen girls:

American teenagers—especially girls and kids who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning—are “engulfed” in historic rates of anxiety and sadness. And everybody seems to think they know why.

Some psychologists point to social media, whereas others blame school shootings; others chalk it up to changes in parenting. Climate-change activists say it’s climate change. Atlantic writers like me blather on about the decline of physical-world interactions. These explanations aren’t equally valid, and some of them might be purely wrong. But the sheer number of theories reflects the complexity of mental-health challenges and suggests that, perhaps, nobody knows for sure what’s going on…

Why is it so hard to prove that social media and smartphones are destroying teen mental health?

The story seems simple from a distance: Teen anxiety increased during a period when smartphones and social media colonized the youth social experience. Offline time with close friends went down. Time spent alone staring into a virtual void went up. Sounds pretty bad.

But the academic literature on social media’s harms is complicated. Perhaps the most famous and trusted study of the effects of social media on polarization and mental health is “The Welfare Effects of Social Media.” When researchers paid people to deactivate their Facebook accounts, they found that online activity went down, offline activity went up, both polarization and news knowledge declined, and subjective well-being increased. Many participants who had been randomly selected to leave Facebook stayed off the site even weeks after they had to, suggesting that using social media may be akin to compulsive or addictive behavior. The researchers describe the effect of Facebook deactivation on depression and anxiety as “small—about 25-40 percent of the effect of psychological interventions including self-help therapy.”

In a few years, the assumption that social media is making us crazy might look eye-bleedingly obvious, like a surgeon-general warning that sucking on cigarettes to pull addictive carcinogens into your lungs is, in fact, bad for your lungs. But the best evidence we have suggests that social media isn’t really like smoking. My guess is that it’s more of an attention alcohol—a substance that, in small doses, can be fun or even useful for adults, but in larger doses can cause problems for certain people. But maybe even that’s too strong. Just as academics now believe we overrated the danger of online echo chambers (in fact, social media probably exposes us to a much wider range of views than cable news does), we’ll realize that we unfairly blame social media for declining mental health.

“There’s been absolutely hundreds of [social-media and mental-health] studies, almost all showing pretty small effects,” Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University, told The New York Times last year. I think we still need more high-quality studies and randomized trials to fully understand what’s happening here…

Why are Americans so mentally distressed even as they’ve become better at talking about mental distress?

It’s obvious, you might say: As anxiety rates have escalated, more people have had to build their own personal therapeutic glossary.

Or maybe something else is going on. In the past few years, a great deal of U.S. discourse has absorbed the vocabulary of therapy, with frequent references to trauma, harm, emotional capacity, and self-care. But the ubiquity of “therapy-speak” on the internet has coincided with the emergence of an internet culture that is decidedly anti-therapeutic.

Research from both the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Beihang University, in Beijing, have found that intense and negative emotions are among the most likely to go viral online. Anger and outrage seem to be aerodynamic on the internet not only because we’re drawn to the emotional meltdowns of our fellow humans, but also because demonstrating outrage about a topic is a good way of advertising one’s own moral standing.

Anger, outrage, and catastrophizing are exactly what modern therapists tell their patients to avoid. One of the most popular modes of clinical psychology is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which formalizes an ancient wisdom: We don’t often control what happens in life, but at the margins, we can change how we think about what happens to us. We can learn to identify the most negative and unhelpful thoughts and restructure them, so as to guide us toward better feelings and behaviors. In life, treating minor problems as catastrophes is a straight path to misery—but online, the most catastrophic headlines get the most attention. In life, nurturing anger produces conflict with friends and family; online, it’s an excellent way to build an audience.

Modern internet culture has adopted therapy-speak while repeatedly setting fire to the actual lessons of modern therapy. It’s a bizarre spectacle, like a hospital where fake doctors know the words for every disease but half of the surgeries result in sepsis. In the open expanse of the internet, we could have built any kind of world. We built this one. Why have we done this to ourselves?

19) I’ve read about ChatGPT “watermarks” but couldn’t really understand.  Now, I do!  So cool. 

20) Party Down is one of the best TV comedies ever.  So cool that they’ve made some new episodes. 

21) Maryn McKenna, “The Bird Flu Outbreak Has Taken an Ominous Turn: The avian flu has killed millions of chickens, decimated wild birds—and moved into mammals. Now the poultry industry needs new measures to stop its spread.

“When there’s public discussion of addressing zoonotic disease, it almost immediately turns to vaccination, preparedness, biosecurity—but no one discusses addressing the root cause,” says Jan Dutkiewicz, a political economist and visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law and Policy Clinic. “We would never have a debate about preventing cancer from tobacco products without talking about stopping smoking. Yet when it comes to zoonotic disease risk, there is a huge reticence to discuss curbing animal production.”

That might be an unthinkable proposal, given that Americans ate an estimated 1.45 billion wings during the Superbowl last Sunday—and that as a culture, we’re not inclined to ask many questions about how our food arrives at our plates. “Industrial animal production operates and maybe even depends on a distance between the consumer and the realities and violence of industrial animal production,” says Adam Sheingate, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University who studies food and agriculture policy. “Most people really prefer not to know how their food is produced.” Still, he points out, when disease risks from food become clear, other nations respond rapidly—such as when the UK changed cattle-farming practices after Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, the human variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease,” killed 178 people in the mid-1990s.

“This is not to say we get rid of poultry,” says Andrew deCoriolis, executive director of Farm Forward, a nonprofit that works to improve farm animal welfare. “It’s to say: We have to understand what are the factors that are the biggest risk drivers, and perhaps legislate changes to them. That could be moving farms out of flyways, it could be reducing the number of barns on a particular location, it could be reducing animal density within the barns.”

Dreadful though it is, it’s possible to construe the current outbreak as an opportunity to begin gathering big data about what makes poultry production so vulnerable. Precisely because the disease has spread so widely, data could reveal patterns that haven’t been visible before—whether affected farms use certain feed or water systems, for instance, or buy just-hatched birds from specific breeding lines, or are sited in particular landscape features or lie under the migration routes of identifiable birds. “There isn’t a lot of research to show what are absolute best practices, because viruses are stochastic—you don’t know exactly when you’re going to get an introduction,” says Meghan Davis, a veterinarian and epidemiologist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

After the 2015 outbreak, which up to that point was the worst poultry producers could imagine, the industry focused on identifying the human networks that made its farms vulnerable. Companies tried to control how visitors might unknowingly expose them to the virus: through sharing housing with workers from another property, or driving a truck from an infected farm onto a clean one, or carrying mail or even a cell phone that might have been contaminated. The extraordinary expansion of H5N1 flu into wild birds now may mean that producers also have to think about how the environment itself invites exposure. Wetlands attract ducks. Copses shelter raptors that pursue rodents that scavenge spilled grain. It’s an approach that concedes that biosecurity can never be perfect, and that a production system can never fully seal itself off from the world.

22) Frank Bruni on RDS:

But the latest wave of commentary underestimates him — and that’s dangerous. He’s not Walker: Nate Cohn explained why in The Times early this week, concluding that DeSantis “has a lot more in common with Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan” when they were gearing up for their first presidential bids than with Walker, Kamala Harris or Rick Perry, whose sizzle fizzled fast.

He’s also not Jeb Bush. It has become popular to make that comparison as well, likening DeSantis to his predecessor in the Florida governor’s mansion. But DeSantis has the very venom that Bush didn’t. He’s a viper to Bush’s garter snake.

23) The AP African-American studies controversy is so much more complicated than both sides are presenting it.  Finally, John McWhorter with far and away the best explanation of what’s really going on here:

I’d like to make clear that I disapprove of the vast majority of DeSantis’s culture warrior agenda, a ham-handed set of plans designed to stir up a G.O.P. base in thrall to unreflective figures such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. If DeSantis runs for president, he will not get my vote.

However, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and in terms of how we tell the story of Black America, the board did the right thing, whether because of DeSantis’s threat or for more high-minded reasons. The take that I saw in the course’s original draft depicted the history of Black America over the past several decades as an unbroken stream of left protest against a seemingly unchanging racist hegemon. There is certainly drama in the procession. The Black Panthers, the Black arts movement, Black studies departments, Black Lives Matter. Incarceration, reparations and Black struggle. Amiri Baraka, Molefi Kete Asante, Manning Marable (all notably left-leaning writers). But Black history has been ever so much more than protest and professional pessimism; note how hard it is to imagine any other group of people whose history is written with this flavor so dominant.

This is not education but advocacy. And in no sense does racism mean that the difference has no meaning. The key issue is the difference between opinions that are considered and debated and opinions that are mostly uncontested and perhaps considered uncontestable — essentially opinions that are treated as if they were facts.

Of course, it is possible to teach about opinions rather than facts. When that is properly done, the opinions are presented along with intelligent counterproposals. Given that Black conservatives — or skeptics of progressive narratives often processed as mainstream after the late 1960s — were nowhere to be found in the A.P. curriculum (except for Booker T. Washington, who has been dead for over a hundred years, and Zora Neale Hurston, whose conservatism is all too often downplayed), it is reasonable to assume that opinions from the left were going to be presented with little or no meaningful challenge.

Certain takes on race are thought of by an influential portion of progressive Americans — Black, white and otherwise — as incarnations of social justice. To them, our nation remains an incomplete project that will remain mired in denial until these ways of seeing race are universally accepted and determine the bulk of public policy. These issues include ones in the earlier version of the A.P. course, such as the idea that Black people may be owed reparations and that one of the most accurate lenses through which to view America is through the lens of intersectionality.

I imagine that to people of this mind-set, incorporating these views into an A.P. course on African American studies is seen as a natural step, via which we help get America woken by appealing to its brightest young minds. But for all the emotional resonance, the savory intonation of key buzzwords and phrases and the impassioned support of people with advanced degrees and prize-awarded media status, views of this kind remain views.

To dismiss those in disagreement as either naïve or malevolent is unsophisticated, suggesting that racial enlightenment requires comfort with a take-no-prisoners approach and facile reasoning. Not even the tragedies of America’s record on race justify saying “I’m just right, dammit!” as if the matter were as settled as the operations of gravity…

Some C.R.T. advocates, for example, conclude that systemic oppression means that views from those oppressed via intersectionality must be accepted without question, as a kind of group narrative that renders it egregious to quibble over the details and nuances of individual experience. As the C.R.T. pioneer Richard Delgado put it, nonwhite people should protest based on a “broad story of dashed hopes and centuries-long mistreatment that afflicts an entire people and forms the historical and cultural background of your complaint.”

But this perspective, called standpoint epistemology, while intended as social justice, also questions empiricism and logic. Who really thinks that its absence from an A.P. course constitutes denying that slavery happened or that racism exists? C.R.T. advocates too often discuss white people as an undifferentiated mass, as in claims that white people resist letting go of their power, a view memorably promulgated by the legal scholar Derrick Bell. There is a rhetorical power in this sociological shorthand, but it also encourages a shallow classification of American individuals as bad white people and good everybody else. Fact this is not.

To pretend that where Blackness is concerned, certain views must be treated as truth despite intelligent and sustained critique is to give in to the illogic of standpoint epistemology: “That which rubs me the wrong way is indisputably immoral.”

And I hardly see this as applying only to people I disagree with. I have broadcast my views about race for almost a quarter century. Naturally, I consider my views correct — that’s why they are my views — and contrary to what some may suppose, conservative white people are by no means the core of people who often see things my way. I am always gladdened to find that there are quite a few Black people from all walks of life who agree with me. Yet I would protest seeing my views on race included in an A.P. course as facts or uncontested opinions.

There are certainly conservatives who think discussion of racism should be entirely barred from public life. This is, on its face, blinkered, ignorant and pathetic. But to pretend that controversial views on race from the left are truth incarnate is being dishonest about race as well. It sacrifices logic out of a quiet terror of being called racist (or, if Black, self-hating). How that is progressive or even civil in a real way is unclear to me. In being honest enough to push past the agitprop, I hate having to say that in this case, DeSantis, of all people, was probably right.

24) And, lastly, Pamela Paul wrote what struck me as a very reasonable defense of JK Rowing on gender issues.  I swear, if all you saw about this was what leftists on twitter had to say, you would genuinely think Paul had written something along the lines of “all transgender people deserve to die.” 

“Trans people need and deserve protection.”

“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others but are vulnerable.”

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.”

“I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”

These statements were written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, a human-rights activist and — according to a noisy fringe of the internet and a number of powerful transgender rights activists and L.G.B.T.Q. lobbying groups — a transphobe.

Even many of Rowling’s devoted fans have made this accusation. In 2020, The Leaky Cauldron, one of the biggest “Harry Potter” fan sites, claimed that Rowling had endorsed “harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person,” letting members know it would avoid featuring quotes from and photos of the author.

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