Professionalize (and fund) the police

Great post from Noah Smith on our need to professionalize policing:

So what else can we do when it comes to police reform in the United States? One answer is to look at how other developed countries handle policing.

Where the U.S. lags its peers: training

 

The advocates of the ill-fated “defund” movement like to imagine that the country in general is over-policed. But when we look at countries in Europe and the Anglosphere, we see that U.S. police staffing levels are actually on the low side. We have nowhere near as many officers per capita as, say, France or Germany.

Source: Wikipedia

As a percentage of GDP, the U.S. is in the middle of the pack. In fact, there is a body of evidence that suggests that the U.S. is under-policed.

What’s different about U.S. police is not their staffing levels or budgets; it’s their behavior. Despite the fact that U.S. cops are relatively few in number, they kill far more people than their counterparts in Europe and the Anglosphere:

And when we look at differences between U.S. policing practices and those in Europe and the Anglosphere, we notice one other big difference: training. U.S. cops have to undergo far fewer hours of training than their peers in other countries before they’re sent out on the job:

Source: ICJTR via BBC

In fact, U.S. cops undergo far less training than cosmetologists or plumbers — professions that don’t require people to carry deadly weapons and make life-and-death decisions.

Source: ICJTR

Do we really think a police officer needs 2000 fewer hours of training than someone who cuts hair and paints nails? Do we really think Australia, with 3500 hours of police training and less than 1/4 our rate of police killings, is getting something deeply wrong? Is it not common sense that cops who haven’t been properly prepared for the violent and dangerous situations they encounter on a job might resort to escalation dominance and demonstrative displays of aggression because they just don’t know how else to react?

Surprisingly, I can’t find good causal studies on the overall impact of police training on police brutality. What I can find are some studies showing good results from specific kinds of training, such as “procedural justice training” (basically, getting cops to communicate more, explain their actions, and respond to concerns) and “de-escalation training”.

Given this encouraging evidence, and the glaring international disparity, and plain old common sense, increasing the required hours of police training in America by a factor of 4 or 5 seems like an obvious policy to try.

Yes, yes, yes.  Every time we discuss policing in my classes we always end up with a consensus on more and better training.  (Right now, far too much of the training is the wrong training– also addressed in Smith’s post).  Let’s do it.  But it will take more of an investment in policing.  Smith also advocates for requiring a college degree.  That would also require more money through higher salaries.  But, if the benefit to these financial costs is safer communities and a dramatic reduction in police misbehavior sure strikes me as worth it!

The one thing I was kind of surprised Smith left out is that when it comes to our insane level of police shootings compared to other democracies is that this is surely closely related to the fact that we have an insane number of guns on our streets compared to other modern democracies. To be fair, that’s an issue beyond policing reform, but in the big picture, our streets awash in guns is surely part of the problem as it absolutely encourages a “warrior” mentality and combat training of the police.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is really good on misguided police culture:

Thirty-four years ago, near the crest of the crack-cocaine-fuelled crime surge of the early nineteen-nineties, two F.B.I agents began a novel investigation of threats to police. One agent was a former police lieutenant in Washington, D.C. The other was also a Catholic priest with a doctorate in psychology. Together, they plunged into the prison system, interviewing fifty convicted cop killers. Most criminologists today call such research pseudoscience. A sample size of fifty was almost anecdotal, and why should anyone trust a cop killer, anyway? The agents also had no benchmark—no comparable interviews with criminals who had complied. Yet the sweeping conclusions of their study, “Killed in the Line of Duty,” made the front page of the Times, and, through decades of promotion by the Department of Justice, became ingrained in the culture of American law enforcement.

At the top of an inventory of “behavioral descriptors” linked to officers who ended up dead, the study listed traits that some citizens might prize: “friendly,” “well-liked by community and department,” “tends to use less force than other officers felt they would use in similar circumstances,” and “used force only as last resort.” The cop killers, the agents concluded from their prison conversations, had attacked officers with a “good-natured demeanor.” An officer’s failure to dominate—to immediately enforce full control over the suspect—proved fatal. “A miscue in assessing the need for control in particular situations can have grave consequences,” the authors warned.

Although few patrolmen today explicitly cite the study, some of its findings survive as police folklore, like the commonplace that unshined shoes can make an officer a target. Most significant, the study’s core lesson about the imperative to dominate dovetailed with a nineties-era turn in law-enforcement culture toward what was known as a “warrior mind-set,” teaching officers to see almost any civilian as a potentially lethal assassin—an approach that many police trainers still advertise, even as the cops-vs.-citizens mentality has fallen out of favor among many police chiefs.

The killing, this month, of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis is the latest reminder that the dominate-or-die impulse persists among some rank-and-file officers. Body-camera and surveillance videos released on Friday by the the city of Memphis show that a cluster of officers appear to have beaten Nichols to death merely for defying their orders: commands like “Get on the ground,” “Lie flat, goddammit,” and “Give me your fucking hands.”

2) Okay, I get that everything that uses energy can be framed as a “climate change!” issue, but as someone who has not skied since about 1993, I was pretty intrigued to learn of the advances in fake snow technology:

A lack of snow and abnormally mild temperatures are threatening ski resorts in the eastern United States, Europe and Asia. As natural snow becomes scarcer and temperatures creep too high for traditional snow machines, new technology is helping a growing number of ski areas adapt to the warming climate.

These new snow machines can make fake snow in temperatures as high as 80 degrees. But there are limitations that may keep this human-made snow from being a true solution. The costly machines require an enormous amount of energy to operate — much more than traditional ones — and can often make only enough snow to cover small areas…

The all-weather snow-making technology comes in containers where ice flakes are shaved from frozen barrels. The snowlike ice flakes are then fired out using a high-powered fan. The machine uses electricity to draw from local water sources, pumping 20 gallons of water per minute. Since the artificial snow is made up of individual ice flakes, it’s much colder and more durable against warmer temperatures.

“I believe it’s the magic bullet that everyone needs,” said Ken Marlatt, the director of operations for the resort, in an interview.

The machine, made by the Italian company TechnoAlpin, can produce 60 tons of snow a day in any environment — a huge upgrade from previous machines that required temperatures of 28 degrees or lower to operate. Using the machine, Ski Apache was able to produce five acres of snow to get up and running nearly a month earlier at the start of this season, Marlatt said.

3) I love me some Rachmaninoff, but 3 1/2 hours for a classical music concert just seems insane to me. “Yuja Wang, Daredevil Pianist, Takes on a Musical Everest: Known for dazzling virtuosity, Wang faces a new challenge in a three-and-a-half-hour Rachmaninoff marathon at Carnegie Hall.”

4) Apparently the UC system made a deal with the grad student union for huge raises.  But there’s no additional budgetary allocation for this– could get interesting!

The full financial costs of the labor settlements between UC and 48,000 academic workers who help power the system’s vaunted teaching and research engine are still being tallied. But preliminary estimates have dealt a “financial shock to the system,” said Rosemarie Rae, UC Berkeley chief financial officer.

The UC Office of the President estimates the increased costs for salary, benefits and tuition systemwide will be between $500 million and $570 million over the life of the contracts. Campuses have come up with their own calculations: At UC Santa Barbara, for instance, the Academic Senate chair estimated that the cost of pay hikes alone could spiral to more than $53 million over three years at her campus, one of 10 systemwide.

Overall, the costs take in pay increases of 20% to 80% depending on the workers — teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and postdoctoral scholars — and are among the highest ever granted to such university employees in the nation.

“It’s a huge number,” UC Board of Regents Chair Rich Leib said of the costs. “I think it was a good agreement and I’m happy with that. But there are ramifications. It’s not like the money’s coming from the sky. We’re trying to figure it out, but it’s going to require changes.”

Options are limited, with no new state influx of money in the coming academic year dedicated to covering the raises when they kick in — and the state is facing a projected $22.5-billion budget deficit. Fixed federal contracts that pay for 60% of the academic workers can’t be abruptly renegotiated. Many campuses have raised pointed questions as to why UC negotiated the contracts without identifying a clear funding source.

Indeed!

5) This article from Brian Klass in 2021 is on my syllabus and highly relevant to the latest situation, “Focus on Who Police Are, Not What They Do”

This week, voters in Minneapolis decisively rejected a proposal to replace its much-maligned police department with a new department of public safety, and the rest of the United States remains fiercely divided over police reform. Some progressives cling to the faltering movement to defund the police, others suggest better training or accountability, and many Republicans insist that no reform is necessary. For years, there have been calls to expand the use of body cameras, to create more citizen-oversight panels, and to adopt more de-escalation training. All of those reforms are useful and can reduce avoidable police violence. But while American discourse has been focused on what the police do, New Zealand decided to improve upon its already-low levels of police violence by focusing on who the police are.

Several years ago, Doraville, Georgia, a small town not far from Atlanta, posted a disturbing police-recruitment video on the main page of the department’s website. The video (which has since been taken down from the department’s site, but remains online) opens by flashing the Punisher logo, a reference to a fictional vigilante whose tactics routinely include kidnapping, torture, and murder. Then a military vehicle screams into view, and officers in assault gear toss smoke grenades out the hatch before briefly exiting the vehicle to shoot their targets with military-style weapons. The entire video is accompanied by the song “Die MF Die” by the heavy-metal band Dope.

Anyone who went to the department’s website while contemplating joining the force would have been greeted by that video. It’s an unapologetic celebration of military tactics and the use of deadly force. For anyone who hoped to be part of a department devoted to public service and community policing, the video would be enough to dissuade them from applying. For other potential recruits who saw policing as being part of an occupying army that uses violence to lay down the law, the video would affirm that they had found the right department.

As I discovered in my research, the profession of policing is heavily skewed by a self-selection bias. Just as tall kids are more likely than short ones to try out for the school basketball team, certain kinds of people are more drawn to policing than others. Helen King, the former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, told me that authoritarian personalities are disproportionately drawn to the uniform. “If you’re a bully, a bigot, or a sexual predator, policing is a really attractive career choice,” she explained. This doesn’t mean that police officers are overwhelmingly bullies and bigots, but it does mean that many bullies and bigots like the idea of being a cop. To put it bluntly, white men with authoritarian personalities are disproportionately likely to be drawn to policing.

As I like to say, damn if selection bias doesn’t explain almost everything.

6) I hope that with the right scale and investment, small modular nuclear reactors– as those just approved– can be cost effective because they sound like a great solution:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has certified the design for what will be the United States’ first small modular nuclear reactor.

The rule that certifies the design was published Thursday in the Federal Register. It means that companies seeking to build and operate a nuclear power plant can pick the design for a 50-megawatt, advanced light-water small modular nuclear reactor by Oregon-based NuScale Power and apply to the NRC for a license.

It’s the final determination that the design is acceptable for use, so it can’t be legally challenged during the licensing process when someone applies to build and operate a nuclear power plant, NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell said Friday. The rule becomes effective in late February.

The U.S. Energy Department said the newly approved design “equips the nation with a new clean power source to help drive down” planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions…

However, David Schlissel at the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis expressed concerns about the costs. Schlissel, who has studied the history of the nuclear power industry and the finances of the NuScale project, expects they will continue to go up, which could limit how many NuScale reactors are built. He said he thinks they’re not competitive in price with renewables and battery storage.

Hughes said from wind and solar to hydrogen and nuclear, energy projects have seen cost increases due to changing financial market dynamics, interest rate hikes and inflationary pressures on the sector’s supply chain that have not been seen in decades. NuScale’s VOYGR power plant remains a cost competitive source of reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy, she added.

7) I’ve watched the first two episodes of “Poker Face” and I love it. 

8) Great stuff from Binyamin Applebaum on tax policy:

Washington’s favorite show, “Debt Ceiling Chicken,” is playing again in the big white theater on Capitol Hill. And once again, it is diverting attention from the fact that the United States really does have a debt problem.

Republicans and Democrats in recent decades have hewed to a kind of grand bargain, raising spending and cutting taxes, and papering over the difference with a lot of borrowed money.

From 1972 to 2021, the government, on average, spent about 20.8 percent of gross domestic product while collecting about 17.3 percent of G.D.P. in revenue. It covered the gap with $31.4 trillion in i.o.u.s — the federal debt.

The government relies on this borrowed money to function, and for decades, it has defied a variety of dire predictions about the likely consequences. Notably, there’s no sign that Washington is exhausting Wall Street’s willingness to lend. In financial markets, U.S. Treasuries remain the ultimate comfort food. There’s also little evidence the government’s gargantuan appetite is making it harder for businesses or individuals to get loans, which could impede economic growth.

But the federal debt still carries a hefty price tag.

The most immediate problem with the government’s reliance on borrowed money is the regular opportunity it provides for Republicans to engage in blackmail. Congress imposes a statutory limit on federal borrowing, known as the debt ceiling. The government hit that limit this month, meaning the total amount of spending approved by Congress now requires borrowing in excess of that amount…

Indeed, Americans need more federal spending. The United States invests far less than other wealthy nations in providing its citizens with the basic resources necessary to lead productive lives. Millions of Americans live without health insurance. People need more help to care for their children and older family members. They need help to go to college and to retire. Measured as a share of G.D.P., public spending in the other Group of 7 nations is, on average, more than 50 percent higher than in the United States.

In recent decades, proponents of more spending have largely treated tax policy as a separate battle — one that they’ve been willing to lose.

They need to start fighting and winning both.

It costs money to borrow money. Interest payments require the government to raise more money to deliver the same goods and services. Using taxes to pay for public services means that the government can do more.

The United States paid $475 billion in interest on its debts last fiscal year, which ran through September. That was a record, and it will soon be broken. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the government paid $210 billion.

The payments aren’t all that high by historical standards. Measured as a share of economic output, they remain well below the levels reached in the 1990s. Last year, federal interest outlays equaled 1.6 percent of G.D.P., compared with the high-water mark of 3.2 percent in 1991. But that mark, too, may soon be exceeded. The Congressional Budget Office projects that federal interest payments will reach 3.3 percent of G.D.P. by 2032, and it estimates interest payments might reach 7.2 percent of G.D.P. by 2052.

That’s a lot of money that could be put to better use.

Borrowing also exacerbates economic inequality. Instead of collecting higher taxes from the wealthy, the government is paying interest to them — some rich people are, after all, the ones investing in Treasuries.

9) Loved this from Jeff Maurer as so many liberals are so fundamentally dishonest on “Critical Race Theory”– “We Are NOT Teaching Post-Funk Techno-Industrial Nü-Metal In Schools! We Are Teaching Funk-Infused Synthetic Post-Punk Neo-Metal.
Any suggestion otherwise is propaganda”

Let me be perfectly clear: Despite what activists claim, children are emphatically NOT being taught post-funk techno-industrial nü-metal in schools. This is, frankly, a ridiculous charge. Children are being taught funk-infused synthetic post-punk neo-metal, as required by state guidelines that have been in place for more than a decade.

The first time I heard this accusation, I scarcely believed it was serious. A clip of a parent waving a Staind album popped up on my Twitter feed, and I almost burst out laughing. As if we would ever impose the rap-infused caterwauling of Staind — or for that matter Korn or Papa Roach — on children! Obviously, those offerings would be better suited to a college-level Intro To Thrash course. The idea that teachers across the country are putting on Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” and saying “class, what are the etymological origins of the line ‘Bawitdaba da bang da bang diggy diggy’?” doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Here’s the truth: A child’s metal education starts with the classics. So: Judas Priest, Motörhead, and anything Ozzy (though a teacher may choose to focus specifically on Sabbath). From there, coursework progresses commensurate with the child’s ability to recognize which bands totally fucking shred. By middle school, a student should be able to differentiate between the take-no-prisoners slaying of Pantera or Dream Theatre and the drop-D poseurism of Soundgarden or Faith No More. By graduation, a student should know the difference between black metal and goth metal, be able to accurately arrange bands according to djent-ness, and be able to explain how Dave Mustaine’s departure from Metallica led to the collapse of glam metal in the early ’90s.

This basic framework has existed since Zeppelin. What’s changed is parents’ belief — stoked by activists — that the curriculum includes the body of work known as nü-metal. Part of the confusion seems to stem from a lack of understanding about what, exactly, nü-metal is. Some parents think that any post-grunge, hip-hop infused guitar rock that relies on syncopated rhythms and minor-key tonalities is nü-metal. In one clip that’s been circulating on social media, a parent refers to Primus as nü-metal — this is absolute madness. Primus is nü-metal about as much as Mercyful Fate is Krautrock!

In my class, I teach an extensive unit on post-punk modern metal that draws from funk and the hard-industrial bands of the ’90s (Rammstein, Pitchshifter). But this is neo-metal, not nü-metal. And yet, activists push their agenda by blurring the line between the two. 

Presumably you get the point.

10) A while back I flagged this otherwise excellent article on school board politics for this bit:

At the work session, Golden shared one end of a conference table with Nancy Garrett, the board’s chair. Garrett, who has rectangular glasses and a blond bob, is from a family that has attended or worked in Williamson County Schools for three generations. She had won the chairmanship, by unanimous vote, the previous August. At one point, she asked an assistant superintendent who had overseen the selection and review of Wit & Wisdom whether “the concept of critical race theory” had come up during the process. No, the assistant superintendent said.

Moms for Liberty members were portraying Wit & Wisdom as “critical race theory” in disguise. Garrett found this baffling. C.R.T., a complex academic framework that examines the systemic ways in which racism has shaped American society, is explored at the university level or higher.

Sorry, but that’s just a fundamentally dishonest argument within the current political context, as Maurer’s piece makes so clear with satire.

11) Some good academic scholarship from last year I think I forgot to highlight, “Are Republicans and Conservatives More Likely to Believe Conspiracy Theories?”

A sizable literature tracing back to Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style (1964) argues that Republicans and conservatives are more likely to believe conspiracy theories than Democrats and liberals. However, the evidence for this proposition is mixed. Since conspiracy theory beliefs are associated with dangerous orientations and behaviors, it is imperative that social scientists better understand the connection between conspiracy theories and political orientations. Employing 20 surveys of Americans from 2012 to 2021 (total n = 37,776), as well as surveys of 20 additional countries spanning six continents (total n = 26,416), we undertake an expansive investigation of the asymmetry thesis. First, we examine the relationship between beliefs in 52 conspiracy theories and both partisanship and ideology in the U.S.; this analysis is buttressed by an examination of beliefs in 11 conspiracy theories across 20 more countries. In our second test, we hold constant the content of the conspiracy theories investigated—manipulating only the partisanship of the theorized villains—to decipher whether those on the left or right are more likely to accuse political out-groups of conspiring. Finally, we inspect correlations between political orientations and the general predisposition to believe in conspiracy theories over the span of a decade. In no instance do we observe systematic evidence of a political asymmetry. Instead, the strength and direction of the relationship between political orientations and conspiricism is dependent on the characteristics of the specific conspiracy beliefs employed by researchers and the socio-political context in which those ideas are considered.

12) Paul Waldman, “The evolving political symbolism of the pickup truck”

At a moment of rapid social change in which gender norms are being challenged, it was predictable that conservatives would begin warning of a new “crisis of masculinity” — practiced as they are in fomenting backlash to trends that unsettle their traditionalist base. That makes this a good time to consider one emblem of manhood that has fascinating implications for gender and politics: the pickup truck.

Nineteen years ago, then-presidential candidate Howard Dean caused some controversy when he said that Democrats needed to appeal to “guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.” While he was accused of stereotyping Southerners as Confederate sympathizers, no one questioned the idea that Democrats had a serious deficit with the pickup demographic.

Since then, a significant divide has opened up between what pickups symbolize and who’s actually buying them — a divide that says a lot about the place of geography and masculinity in a country that grows more urbanized with each passing year.

While some people still buy trucks for work, the pickup has also become a luxury item that carries in its bed a cargo of ideas about rural culture and manhood, enabling men to spend as much as $100,000 on an identity that may have little to do with their actual lives…

Which brings us to how pickups are marketed: by placing power at the core of their appeal.

 

In the most common type of pickup ad, the truck is presented as a work machine that gives the man who drives it almost limitless power. “A man will ask a lot of his truck,” says the rough-hewn voice of Sam Elliott over scenes of pickups traversing dusty landscapes and job sites in one ad for Ram trucks. “Can it tow that? Haul this? Make it all the way over the top of that? Well isn’t it nice to know that the answer will always be: Hell, yes!” The truck makes you strong and capable, up for any challenge. Does it make you a man? Hell, yes!

That idea of the pickup as a tool for work — especially agricultural work — goes back to its beginnings. The first production pickup truck, the Ford Model TT, debuted in 1917 as a vehicle that would allow farmers who were already using their Model T’s for farm work to haul bigger loads. Its roots in rural American work remain central to its marketing, even if rural people are no longer the target customers. That imagery is meant to evoke a kind of manhood that embodies self-reliance, competence, mastery over the environment and a physicality most men have no need for in their day-to-day lives.

13) OMG do I hate the tipping everywhere now with the electronic payments.  Yes, many retail workers are underpaid.  And, yes, official tipped employees like servers should definitely tip well.  But on the whole, tipping is a dumb way to do things and I hate that technology has led to its proliferation.  

The new tipping culture is confusing at best. I’ve found that some employees feel as uncomfortable about the point-of-sale moment as many consumers do. One barista in Colorado told me that he’d watched a customer contort his fingers on the tablet to make it look like he was tipping 20 percent when he was really selecting “No tip”; far from being offended, the barista said he now deploys the tactic when checking out elsewhere. Other service workers I spoke with suggested that the tablets aren’t the real problem here: If you can afford a $7 latte, they argued, why are you bristling at a $1 tip that would help your server?

And a long-running theory that technology has made people into better tippers may also be more complicated than it appears. A bartender at a Delta SkyClub in Seattle told me that incorporating a personal Venmo QR code into his work has drastically improved his tips. A Park and Ride–shuttle driver told me that digital tipping has hurt him, because people now tend not to carry cash. Square sent me data showing that tips received by both full-service and quick-serve restaurants exploded from 2020 to 2021; growth continued in 2022, but more modestly—full-service was up by more than 25 percent in the third quarter of 2022, and quick-service restaurants were up nearly 17 percent. Despite complaints, people are still tipping well and often.

It’s clear, in any case, that tech has upended tipping, creating a pervasive sense of cultural confusion about parts of the practice. And it’s been exacerbated by societal upheaval from the pandemic, mounting cultural and political frustrations, and broken business models. Employees and consumers are caught in the middle of these larger forces, and the result is a feeling of uncertainty at the moment of transaction.

 

It’s not that modern tipping is “out of control,” as CNN recently put it—a framework that seems to communicate a lack of compassion for service workers, whose minimum wage is staggeringly low in many states. There have always been vindictive customers, bad tippers, and class conflict, and stories about tablet-induced guilt trips have been popping up for a decade now. The new tipping weirdness is about something bigger. Service employees have been made to work through a pandemic, often without adequate protections. On top of that, they’ve had to deal with patrons behaving much more aggressively since mid-2020. Customer-facing employees are burned out, and consumers are more erratic, which means ample opportunities for resentment. More frequent prompts to tip can dredge up complex feelings of guilt and force us to confront difficult conversations: Why do some service industries have standardized tipping cultures, while others don’t? Why did Black service employees receive less money in tips during the pandemic than other employees? …

Ultimately, these tablets accomplish what so much tech-enabled automation does: adding another layer of abstraction between a business’s decisions and its customers. And when customers feel like they’re being taken advantage of by a business’s choice (say, a sneaky 30 percent tip default), they tend to lash out at the workers in front of them—the people least responsible for the decision. It’s another way that technology, when poorly or cynically implemented, can pit consumers against lower-wage employees.

14) Pretty fascinating thread on aging and appearance:

15) Really seems like public toilets should have lids:

Whatever the specifics, the main conclusion from years of research preceding the pandemic has been consistent and disgusting: “Flush toilets produce substantial quantities of toilet plume aerosol capable of entraining microorganisms at least as large as bacteria … These bioaerosols may remain viable in the air for extended periods and travel with air currents,” scientists at the CDC and the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health wrote in a 2013 review paper titled “Lifting the Lid on Toilet Plume Aerosol.” In other words, when you flush a toilet, an unsettling amount of the contents go up rather than down.

Knowing this is one thing; seeing it is another. Traditionally, scientists have measured toilet plume with either a particle counter or, in at least one case, “a computational model of an idealized toilet.” But in a new study published last month, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder took things a step further, using bright-green lasers to render visible what usually, blessedly, is not. John Crimaldi, an engineering professor and a co-author of the study, who has spent 25 years using lasers to illuminate invisible phenomena, told me that he and his colleagues went into the experiment fully expecting to see something. Even so, they were “completely caught off guard” by the results. The plume was bigger, faster, and more energetic than they’d anticipated—“like an eruption,” Crimaldi said, or, as he and his colleagues put it in their paper, a “strong chaotic jet.” …

The question, then, is not so much whether toilet plume happens—like it or not, it clearly does—as whether it presents a legitimate transmission risk of COVID or anything else. This part is not so clear. The 2013 review paper identified studies of the original SARS virus as “among the most compelling indicators of the potential for toilet plume to cause airborne disease transmission.” (The authors also noted, in a dry aside, that although SARS was “not presently a common disease, it has demonstrated its potential for explosive spread and high mortality.”) The one such study the authors discuss explicitly is a report on the 2003 outbreak in Hong Kong’s Amoy Gardens apartment complex. That study, though, is far from conclusive, Mark Sobsey, an environmental microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me. The researchers didn’t rule out other modes of transmission, nor did they attempt to culture live virus from the fecal matter—a far more reliable indicator of infectiousness than mere detection.

16) Frustrating poll results given our political reality

17) Pretty intrigued by this policy for ChatGPT and college classes.

 

 

Mass shootings are a policy choice!

As always on these horrible issues, great stuff from German Lopez:

In every country, people get into arguments, hold racist views or suffer from mental health issues. But in the U.S., it is easier for those people to pick up a gun and shoot someone.

That reality is what allowed an 18-year-old to obtain an assault rifle and kill 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school classroom in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. And it is what makes the U.S. a global outlier when it comes to gun violence, with more gun deaths than any of its peers.

This chart, looking at public shootings in which four or more people were killed, shows how much the U.S. stands out:

Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. Studies have found this to be true at the state and national level. It is true for homicides, suicides, mass shootings and even police shootings.

It is an intuitive idea: If guns are more available, people will use them more often. If you replaced “guns” in that sentence with another noun, it would be so obvious as to be banal.

Stricter gun laws appear to help. They are associated with fewer gun deaths, in both a domestic and global context, while looser gun laws are linked with more gun deaths…

The U.S. is always going to have more guns, and consequently more deaths, than other rich countries. Given the Second Amendment, mixed public opinion and a closely divided federal government, lawmakers face sharp limits on how far they can go…

But since America’s gun laws are so weak, there is a lot of room to improve — and at least cut some gun deaths.

To reduce mass shootings, experts have several ideas:

  • More thorough background checks might stop some gunmen, like those in the church shootings in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 and in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017.

  • “Red flag” laws allow law enforcement officials to confiscate guns from people who display warning signs of violence, like threatening their peers or family members. The laws might have applied to the gunman in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2018.

  • Assault weapon bans would restrict or prohibit access to the kinds of rifles shooters often use. A ban could at least make mass shootings less deadly by pushing gunmen toward less effective weapons, some experts argue

Most shootings in America never appear in national headlines. The majority of gun deaths in 2021 were suicides. Nearly half were homicides that occurred outside mass shootings; they are more typical acts of violence on streets and in homes (and most involve handguns). Mass shootings were responsible for less than 2 percent of last year’s gun deaths.

Stricter gun laws could also reduce the more common gun deaths. It all comes down to the same problem: More guns equal more gun deaths, whether a gang shootout in California, a suicide in Wyoming or a school shooting in Texas.

I also came across this substack from political science professor, Brian Klass, on the issue and it’s terrific, “It’s the Guns.: America is the only rich democracy that features the routine mass slaughter of its citizens with guns. Why does this happen? The data show a really clear picture: It’s the guns. Yes, it’s that simple.”

It’s got a series of false claims and then the reality.  I strongly recommend the whole thing:

Licensing, Training, and Safety Regulation

Most of the gun debate in the United States focuses on gun purchasing and background checks. But what’s often lost in the mix is the standard array of regulations around gun ownership that exist in almost every other country on the planet.

Just to take one example, the United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require gun owners to have a license in order to own a gun. This graphic is from Politico:

The New York Times has put together a fantastic guide that compares how easy it is to buy a gun in the United States compared to other peer countries. It’s really worth a look to see just how much of an outlier America is—which matters, because it’s not just about gun laws, but also about regulation, licensing, and responsible gun ownership training…

Moreover, the gun lobby and elected Republicans have made a policy choice that they are willing to tolerate tens of thousands of gun murders each year—including in terrifying mass shootings, even in schools. As a result, most sensible gun laws are dead on arrival in Congress, and until the balance of power tips substantially more toward the Democrats, the odds are low that any meaningful gun legislation will pass.

State legislation is crucial, even if it won’t solve the problem (due to what I described as the Chicago Problem above). But it’s going to be a generational battle, to shift America’s gun culture and bring it substantially more in line with other countries.

My message, though, is this: America’s gun violence is not inevitable. It’s a choice.

Parents in the United States are buying bulletproof backpacks, children are being traumatized by mass shooting drills, and an increasing number of people stay away from crowded events because they’re worried they’re going to be shot.

I’ve lived in the United States and I’ve lived in the United Kingdom. In the UK, there’s a key difference: I never think about guns. I never think about mass shootings. Never. It’s just not part of life. It’s not a problem that exists.

Every other rich democracy has solved this problem. The United States can solve it too. But it’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of persuasion, and a lot of hard-fought election victories. It’s worth it, because nobody wants to live in a broken, violent society in which you have to look for the nearest exits when you go to a concert, a movie theater, or a school.

It’s a choice, it’s a choice, it’s a choice. It’s a democracy and we have a say.  We don’t have to live like this.  And we should reject politicians (yes, 99% Republicans) who tell us we do have to. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Billy Binion on Alec Baldwin:

If convicted of the first involuntary manslaughter charge, Baldwin faces up to 18 months behind bars. If convicted of the second—to which prosecutors tacked on a firearm enhancement—he faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison.

Carmack-Altwies makes her case sound like a slam dunk. It is anything but.

The case comes down to what the word negligence means under the law. It doesn’t refer to a careless, airheaded moment with deadly consequences. That negligence has to be criminal, which under the New Mexico statute requires “that the defendant must possess subjective knowledge ‘of the danger or risk to others posed by his or her actions.'”

Does that mean that Baldwin is blameless? No. Does that mean that the prosecution will have an easy time convincing a jury that he is criminally culpable? Also no. “The prosecution would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was subjectively aware of the danger: that he actually thought about the possibility that the gun might be loaded, and proceeded to point it and pull the trigger despite that,” writes Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at UCLA. “That’s much harder than just to show carelessness, or even gross carelessness.” …

 

So why bring the case against Baldwin? I’d venture to guess it’s not because the government thinks that the actor, unpalatable as he may be, needs to spend five years in prison to protect public safety. Andrea Reeb, a special prosecutor helping on the case, provided a clue during the national press tour she did alongside Carmack-Altwies. “We’re trying to definitely make it clear that everybody’s equal under the law, including A-list actors like Alec Baldwin,” she said. Ironically, one wonders if these charges would have materialized had no one famous been involved and had it not attracted the attention of the world.

2) Eugene Volokh:

Involuntary manslaughter is thus very different from the voluntary; the similarities are just that it’s a homicide but not murder. One branch of it (“manslaughter committed in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to felony”) is the so-called “manslaughter-misdemeanor” rule, an analog to the “felony-murder” rule. The second branch involves, basically, causing death through negligence.

But not just any old negligence, of the sort that we’re familiar with from civil cases. Rather, it has to be “criminal negligence,” which is defined in New Mexico as “willful disregard of the rights or safety of others”—what some other states might call “recklessness”:

In New Mexico, “the State must show at least criminal negligence to convict a criminal defendant of involuntary manslaughter.” Because involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing, we only attach felony liability where the actor has behaved with the requisite mens rea. This Court has made clear that the criminal negligence standard applies to all three categories of involuntary manslaughter. Criminal negligence exists where the defendant “act[s] with willful disregard of the rights or safety of others and in a manner which endanger[s] any person or property.” We also require that the defendant must possess subjective knowledge “of the danger or risk to others posed by his or her actions.” [Emphasis added.]

Say, then, that the prosecution can show that Baldwin pointed the gun at Hutchins and pulled the trigger, but carelessly believed (without checking this for himself) that it was unloaded.

It wouldn’t be enough to show that Baldwin was careless, negligent, or lacked due caution in the ordinary sense of the word. The prosecution would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was subjectively aware of the danger: that he actually thought about the possibility that the gun might be loaded, and proceeded to point it and pull the trigger despite that. That’s much harder than just to show carelessness, or even gross carelessness, though of course much depends on what evidence the prosecution has gathered.

3) NYT: “Lights, Camera, Weapons Check? Actors Worry After Baldwin Charges.”

The news that Alec Baldwin is facing manslaughter charges for killing a cinematographer with a gun he had been told was safe had the actor Steven Pasquale thinking back to the filming of “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” more than a decade ago, when he and other actors were handed military-style rifles and told to start shooting.

He felt safe, he said, because he relied on the professional props experts and the armorer who had checked and shown him the gun.

“We are artists — we are not actual cowboys, actual cops, actual superheroes,” Mr. Pasquale said. “We are not Jason Bourne. I can’t even begin to imagine an actor having the responsibility of now needing to be the safety person on the set regarding prop guns. That’s insane.”

The charges being brought against Mr. Baldwin for an on-set shooting had many actors recalling their own experiences with guns on sets, and discussing safety measures and who bears primary responsibility for them…

Kirk Acevedo, an actor who has worked extensively with weapons on shows like “Band of Brothers” and in the film “The Thin Red Line,” said it was typical for a film’s armorer, who is responsible for guns and ammunition on set, to open a gun and demonstrate to the actor that it was empty. Mr. Acevedo said that while he owned guns and had experience with them, many actors lacked the expertise to check firearms on their own. In some cases, he noted, the actors are children.

“It’s not me,” he said, referring to who has the responsibility. “It can’t be me. If you have never fired a weapon before, how would you know how to do all of that? For some people, it’s hard to even pull back the slide.”

4) Really interesting take from Rob Henderson on family dysfunction among low income Americans, ‘No One Expects Young Men To Do Anything and They Are Responding By Doing Nothing”

If you come from poverty and chaos, you are up against 3 enemies:

1. Dysfunction and deprivation

2. Yourself, as a result of what that environment does to you

3. The upper class, who wants to keep you mired in it

The people with the most money and education—the class most responsible for shaping politics and culture and customs—ensure that their children are raised in stable homes.

But actively undermine the norm for everyone else…

Absent fathers and broken family units are major factors for many social ills. It’s obvious but no one wants to talk about it.

I am well aware of the behavior genetics research, twin studies, and so on indicating little effect of home environment on personality, propensity for crime, addiction, and so on. These studies are inapplicable for kids living in extreme dysfunction.

Behavior geneticists investigate the relative role of genetic and environmental variation within the sampled population.

Behavioral genetics studies report findings from within the environmental variation in their samples,not in all conceivable environments.

For example, there are many studies on identical twins separated at birth who are adopted by different families.

Researchers find little difference between these twins when they are adults. Their personalities, IQ, preferences, and so on are very similar.

But twins are usually adopted by intact middle-class families.

They are typically taken in by married parents with the means to jump through the hoops to qualify for adoption. Additionally, adoptive parents are the kind of people who would adopt, which introduces another layer of similarity.

I’ve yet to see any twin studies with one set of identical twins raised in extremely bad environments and another in good ones.

The intelligence researcher Russell T. Warne has written:

“A problem with heritability study samples is that they tend to consist of more middle and upper-class individuals than a representative sample would have…results of behavioral genetics studies will indicate genes are important—if a person already lives in an industrialized nation in a home where basic needs are met…it is not clear how well these results apply to individuals in highly unfavorable environments.”

In a chapter titled Genes and the Mind, the psychologist David Lykken states:

“If twins were separated as infants and placed, one with a middle-class Minnesota family and the other with an 18-year-old unmarried mother living on AFDC in the South Bronx, the twins will surely differ 30 years later.”

Yes, genes are responsible for human traits and behavior. But these traits are responsive to social norms and other environmental factors too.

Height is 90 percent heritable. But it is still malleable by the environment. Before Korea was divided, Northerners were taller than Southerners. Today, North Koreans are 6 inches shorter, on average, than South Koreans. Did their genes change? No. Their environments did.

Obesity is highly heritable (40-70%) but the percentage of Americans who are obese has tripled since 1982.

Access to food made people change their behavior by eating more.

Tobacco use is highly heritable (60-80%) but the percentage of Americans who smoke has dropped by half since 1982.

Strong norms against smoking made people change their behavior by smoking less.


Norms were loosened around being an absentee father. So more men took the option.

But nobody wants to admit it because it upsets people.

Instead, we retreat to discussions of poverty and economics because talking about family and parenting makes people feel weird and judgmental.

But young men will only do what’s expected of them.

And a lot did use to be expected. There were social norms to work hard, provide, take care of loved ones, and so on.

Today, these norms have largely dissolved.

Young men have responded accordingly.

5) Really good stuff from Jessica Grose on NZ prime minister, having it all, and what we expect out of our politicians:

In 2023, it’s clear that women can be ambitious and have families. We shouldn’t — we don’t — need to prove that at this point, though Ardern provided us with ample evidence of how well it can be done. She became prime minister in 2017 at just 37. She gave birth while in office, and rose to worldwide prominence for her “extraordinary leadership” in the aftermath of the tragic mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques in 2019.

Like every other world leader, she navigated the coronavirus pandemic and its various economic and political repercussions. As my colleague Natasha Frost reports, though Ardern’s Labour Party has lost favor with New Zealanders, she “has remained personally popular with the electorate” and is still most New Zealanders’ “preferred prime minister.”

All the while, she’s had a young child at home. In 2018, she brought her baby daughter to a United Nations peace summit honoring Nelson Mandela. During the scary early days of the Covid crisis, she “addressed the nation via a casual Facebook Live session she conducted on her phone after putting her toddler to bed,” as my colleague Amanda Taub wrote in 2020.

Making the decision to leave office now rather than run herself into the ground isn’t conceding that she can’t do the job anymore. It’s an acknowledgment — one that’s both astute and selfless, fine qualities in an elected official — that she no longer wants to do it in this particular way. While she says she has “no plan” and “no next steps” for after she leaves her government role, I anticipate she’ll put her abundant political skill to good use in some way.

She demonstrated that skill in her moving resignation speech, addressing her nation in terms highly relatable to any parent versed in the current motherhood discourse of “filling our tanks” before they are empty and putting our “oxygen masks” on first so we have something left to give our families before we burn out…

I never thought “having it all” meant we should sacrifice our entire lives and our health on the altar of ambition and outward metrics of success or financial reward. It shouldn’t mean that we can never leave a professional role that is no longer suiting us or our families, because feminism, or something. The world would probably be better off if more leaders were like Ardern, less concerned about their own egos and more concerned about what was best for their countries. The “I alone can fix it” posture has its obvious limitations.

 

6) Interesting, “Citing Accessibility, State Department Ditches Times New Roman for Calibri”  I love me some Times New Roman, but when I’m not using serifs (like, I just realized, this blog!) I’m good with Calibri.  That said, this article was frustrating because it was all assertions and no actual evidence. 

7) I’m not sure this policy is necessarily coming from the best place politically, but I do find myself sympathetic to this idea, “UNC Board of Governors to consider policy barring staff from ‘compelling’ speech”

The UNC Board of Governors is considering a policy that would prohibit UNC System schools from asking applicants for employment, promotion or academic admission to share their personal beliefs.

The proposed policy would bar questions requiring applicants “to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement.” It would revise the “Employee Political Activities” section of the system’s policy manual.

8) Regarding the Singal piece I linked yesterday, the problem of DEI trainings is not a new idea, “Don’t Mistake Training for Education: That should especially be the case when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, argue Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder.”

9) Ian Milhiser in Vox, “A new Supreme Court case could turn every workplace into a religious battleground: The fight over whether religious conservatives enjoy special rights is coming to a workplace near you.”

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear Groff v. DeJoy, a case that could give religious conservatives an unprecedented new ability to dictate how their workplaces operate, and which workplace rules they will refuse to follow.

Yet Groff is also likely to overrule a previous Supreme Court decision that treated the interests of religious employees far more dismissively than federal law suggests that these workers should be treated.

The case, in other words, presents genuinely tricky questions about the limits of accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs. But those questions will be resolved by a Supreme Court that has shown an extraordinary willingness to bend the law in ways that benefit Christian-identified conservatives.

That could lead to a scenario in which the Court announces a new legal rule that disrupts the workplace — and that potentially places far too many burdens on non-religious employees.

10) Yglesias addresses highway lanes (as part of a larger argument on transit)

In other words, I don’t think the induced demand critics of highway widening are wrong exactly. But they’re not really saying what they mean. This is what I think they mean:

  • The pollution associated with driving cars is bad.

  • Addressing that pollution via an appropriate gas tax seems politically challenging.

  • Because the American political system is laden with veto points and NIMBY institutions, blocking highway projects is easier than raising taxes.

  • Both new transit and new highways fail to solve traffic, but transit fails by leaving net driving flat while highways increase vehicle miles traveled.

  • Therefore we should advocate for transit and not for highways.

I don’t have a problem with that logic exactly. But when you live by the NIMBY, you die by the NIMBY. Just as the same NIMBY toolkit that blocks private development also blocks public housing, the NIMBY toolkit that blocks highway projects also makes it impossible to complete transit projects in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Beyond that, traffic congestion is a real problem and it deserves a solution.

11) I was really excited about the prospects of fluvoxamine as a cheap, effective treatment for Covid. New studies show that, alas, among the vaccinated there’s just no benefit. 

12) Another take from Rob Henderson, I really enjoyed, “Nobody is a Prisoner of Their IQ”

People often treat intelligence, a relatively immutable trait, as the sole predictive variable in determining life outcomes. And then use it as an instrument to advance their favored agendas.

People on the right and, increasingly, on the left, generally accept the importance of IQ. The right is more open about it. Those on the left are often coy in public, concealing their statements underneath an avalanche of hedges—but in private, without the fear of negative social judgment, most will acknowledge that intelligence matters a lot for achievement.

Recently, two prominent books discussing the importance of intelligence have been written by authors who are broadly thought to be on the political left: The Cult of Smart and The Genetic Lottery.

That intelligence is largely (though not entirely) influenced by genes is somehow simultaneously taboo and widely accepted. Perhaps an example of Paul Graham’s observation that “the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That’s where you’ll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.” Still, the publication and relative absence of anger about the two aforementioned books suggests that were it not for fear of being mobbed by lunatics, people would be more forthcoming about their acceptance of this psychological concept.

The importance and fixity of intelligence are now used by both the political right and left in different ways. For many on the left, it confirms that their view that unfairness is pervasive and thus they have a strong argument in favor of large-scale redistribution. You didn’t earn the genes that made you smart, thus whatever earnings you’ve obtained due to your innate abilities are due to luck. For many on the right, the durability of intelligence confirms their view that differences between people exist and there isn’t much you can do about it. Thus society should accept that things are unfair and, e.g., limit the number of immigrants who, on average, extract more resources than they contribute. 

Intelligence is important, but it’s far from the only thing that matters for living a decent life. A meta-analysis of 23 studies found that at the individual level, intelligence has no relationship with happiness. Knowing the IQ of two random people in the same country tells you nothing about whether one is happier than the other. And if you believe Richard Hanania, today the high IQ elites are more miserable than everybody else (yes, the elites are smarter than average—but often smart people use their intelligence to raise their own status rather than seek the truth).

The psychologist and intelligence researcher Russell T. Warne points out:

“Although below-average intelligence makes life more difficult for a person, other traits or life circumstances can compensate for having a lower IQ. Having a supportive family, higher socioeconomic status, motivation, conscientiousness, cultural influences that discourage unfavorable behaviors, determination, and many other characteristics can compensate for a. lower level of intelligence. Nobody is a prisoner of their IQ.”

13) What MSG is doing is still so wrong, but this is nonetheless heartening, “Lawyers Barred by Madison Square Garden Found a Way Back In: MSG Entertainment resorted to facial recognition technology to kick out legal foes, but some have undermined the ban using a law passed to protect theater critics in 1941.”

14) Enjoyed “The Last of Us” and enjoyed learning more about fungal infections here, “The Last Of Us Fungal Outbreak Is Terrifying, But Is It Realistic?”

In The Last of Us premiere episode, 20 years have passed with no progress made against the fungal threat — which is because of the real-life similarities between fungi and humans as eukaryotes, or organisms with nucleated cells, explains Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an instructor with the Duke University School of Medicine who specializes in immunocompromised hosts and invasive fungal infections.

“Our cells are a lot more complex than, for example, bacteria, and fungi are more related to people than they are to bacteria that cause infections,” says Dr. Schwartz of why there are only three antifungal agents compared with “way more classes of antibacterials.” “We have this problem with our adversary being closely related, and what that means is that the cell machinery is the same as ours. There are far fewer targets for antifungals to work with, to selectively cause damage to fungal cells without causing damage to human cells.”

15) Eric Barker on the value of humor and how to be funnier:

We just don’t take humor that seriously.

Yeah, it makes us happier, but its effects are much, much more profound than you might guess.

People who use humor to cope with stress have better immune systems, reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, experience less pain during dental work and live longer. Surgery patients who watched comedies needed 60% less pain medication. Heck, even anticipating humor has been shown to reduce stress.

Humor improves your relationships. Surveys say it’s the second most desirable trait in a partner. When both people in a couple have a good sense of humor they have 67% less conflict. (Want a tip? Reliving moments that made the two of you laugh is a proven way to increase relationship satisfaction.)

Let’s up the stakes, shall we? What about the office? A lot of people think humor isn’t appropriate at work and those people are, as we say, “wrong.” A survey of hundreds of senior executives showed 98% prefer employees who are funny – and 84% thought those people actually did better work.

In fact, if you’re not going for laughs at the office, you may be hurting your career. Humor increases perceptions of power and status. It boosts creativity. It signals intelligence. Making people laugh increases persuasion and made buyers willing to pay higher prices. In fact, studies show work teams often fail simply because they don’t joke around enough. And leaders with a sense of humor were rated as 23% more respected and 25% more pleasant to work with.

Can I stop there? I’ll stop there.

We need to get to the bottom of how to do this humor thing right. We’re gonna pull from a slew of excellent books and studies including Humor, SeriouslyHow to Write FunnyInside Jokes, and Ha: The Science of Why We Laugh.

Alright, let’s get to it…

16) Drum summarizes some cool new PS research:

A new study is out that tries to measure the effectiveness of social media advertising campaigns in political races. The unique part of this study is that it makes use of an actual advertising campaign during the 2020 presidential contest that deliberately held out a control group so that its effectiveness could be measured:

We present the results of a large, US$8.9 million campaign-wide field experiment, conducted among 2 million moderate- and low-information persuadable voters in five battleground states during the 2020 US presidential election. Treatment group participants were exposed to an 8-month-long advertising programme delivered via social media, designed to persuade people to vote against Donald Trump and for Joe Biden.

The funny thing is that I think the authors underrate their own results. For example, here is turnout for Republicans and Democrats:

The authors say, “We found both small mobilizing effects among Biden leaners and small demobilizing effects among Trump leaners.” But this is a net difference of 1.8% in turnout. In most political campaigns this would be considered pretty substantial and the price tag of $8.9 million for five states pretty modest. Most campaign managers in battleground states would be thrilled with it.

Basically, I think you can say two things here. First, on an absolute basis this study shows a fairly small effect. Second, within the context of a close political race, it shows a very substantial effect.

17) I hate this!  If we can’t have meat alternatives, can’t we at least pay more for meat to not have it be horribly inhumane?  Apparently not. “Spy Cams Reveal the Grim Reality of Slaughterhouse Gas Chambers”

18) Well, this is intriguing and, hopefully, promising, “Could this be the solution to chronic pain—and the opioid crisis? Early research suggests that monoclonal antibodies—used to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19—may provide non-addictive, long-lasting pain relief from a variety of conditions.”

As the pandemic raged, monoclonal antibodies gained sudden prominence when these laboratory-made proteins were found to reduce the risk of hospitalization from COVID in vulnerable and immunocompromised people. Now researchers are investigating whether these types of proteins might also be an effective treatment for a variety of chronic pain conditions: low back pain, pain from osteoarthritis, neuropathic pain (such as diabetic peripheral neuropathy), rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer pain.

Already, the Food and Drug Administration has approved four monoclonal antibodies (mAb) to prevent and treat painful chronic migraine attacks. Last year, the FDA approved use of an mAb (an injection of frunevetmab) to treat osteoarthritic pain in cats; similar drugs are in the works for people. And clinical trials for other mAbs for chronic pain are expected to begin later in 2023.

“The hope is that as we learn more about specific pain mechanisms, we can develop monoclonal antibodies that would target different forms of chronic pain,” says Charles Argoff, a professor of neurology and director of the Comprehensive Pain Center at the Albany Medical Center in New York. “But we’re not there yet and I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow.” …

The reason mAbs can be used for many different purposes is that each one has a highly specific target. During the pandemic, monoclonal antibodies were used to block the protein on the COVID-19 virus that enabled it to attach to human cells. Similarly, researchers believe they can design mAbs that can bind to receptors involved in pain transmission, thus blocking the signals.

Yarov-Yarovoy’s goal is to create monoclonal antibodies that target specific ion channels on the surface of nerve cells that receive signals caused by painful stimuli; essentially shutting off the transmission of chronic pain that occurs in a variety of medical conditions.

“In terms of chronic pain, we’ve got to figure something out because it’s difficult to treat and there aren’t a lot of great options,” says Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and addiction medicine specialist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Opioids lose their effectiveness with long-term use for a lot of people, and there’s a potential for dependency to develop. Even if you’re taking them as prescribed, you will have to take higher and higher doses to get pain relief.”

19) I’m not worried about getting germs from my spice jars.  I don’t handle raw meat anymore, but, when I did, I guarantee you I was zealous enough with hand-washing that I was not cross-contaminating spice jars. “The germiest spot in your kitchen? The spice jars, a new study found.”

If you had to guess the germiest spot in your kitchen, you might think of the refrigerator handle, the cutting board or maybe the inside of your sink. But a new study shows that icky bacteria could be more likely to be lurking in an unexpected spot: your spice drawer.

Researchers in a recent study commissioned by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service examined how people preparing turkey burgers cross-contaminated various surfaces in a kitchen. (Sneakily, the participants weren’t told they were participating in a food safety study; instead, they thought they were testing new recipes.)

Spice jars used in the meal, the researchers found, were far and away the most cross-contaminated spot — 48 percentof those used were found to harbor bacteria from the turkey.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Food Protection, noted that while consumers might have heard about the importance of cleaning cutting boards or wiping down handles, they might not have thought about their spice jars. “Consumers may not necessarily think to wipe down or decontaminate spice containers after cooking because they are not typically targeted as high risk for cross-contamination in consumer messaging,” the study says.

20) This is a really cool feature, “The happiest, least stressful, most meaningful jobs in America.”  Check it out with the gift link

21) Good stuff on ChatGPT, “Large Language Models like ChatGPT say The Darnedest Things: The Errors They Make, Why We Need to Document Them, and What We Have Decided to Do About it”

22) Thanks, Republicans! “Opposition to School Vaccine Mandates Has Grown Significantly, Study Finds: A third of parents now feel they should be the ones to decide whether to get their children immunized against measles, mumps and other childhood diseases.”

For generations of most American families, getting children vaccinated was just something to check off on the list of back-to-school chores. But after the ferocious battles over Covid shots of the past two years, simmering resistance to general school vaccine mandates has grown significantly. Now, 35 percent of parents oppose requirements that children receive routine immunizations in order to attend school, according to a new survey released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

All of the states and the District of Columbia mandate that children receive vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella and other highly contagious, deadly childhood diseases. (Most permit a few limited exemptions.)

Throughout the pandemic, the Kaiser foundation, a nonpartisan health care research organization, has been issuing monthly reports on changing attitudes toward Covid vaccines. The surveys have showed a growing political divide over the issue, and the latest study indicates that division now extends to routine childhood vaccinations.

Forty-four percent of adults who either identify as Republicans or lean that way said in the latest survey that parents should have the right to opt out of school vaccine mandates, up from 20 percent in a prepandemic poll conducted in 2019 by the Pew Research Center. In contrast, 88 percent of adults who identify as or lean Democratic endorsed childhood vaccine requirements, a slight increase from 86 percent in 2019.

21) Speaking of Republicans, “The House spectacle highlights a key difference between the parties”

As political scientists Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins wrote in their 2016 book, “Asymmetric Politics”: “While the Democratic Party is fundamentally a group coalition, the Republican Party can be most accurately characterized as the vehicle of an ideological movement.” Group coalitions can be managed through transactional politics — so long as some of the groups’ priorities are advanced, they will stick together to deliver for the other groups in the coalition.

Ideological movements are less flexible. There’s pressure for alignment among members — and even when members are mostly aligned, remaining differences may seem all the more significant. (McCarthy’s move rightward hasn’t done much to shore up his position with his opponents.) 

Since “Asymmetric Politics” was published, Democrats have grown increasingly ideological, and the ideological emphases of the GOP have changed. Yet it’s still the case that “the Democratic Party — in the electorate, as an organizational network, and in government — is organized around group interests.” The party’s “self-conscious” constituent groups include, for example, indebted college graduates, intellectuals and the expert class, government-employee unions, and the organized civil-rights apparatus (which itself includes many independent interests).

Democrats tend to argue for specific policies, Grossmann and Hopkins observed, on the grounds that they will help a specific group they see as part of their coalition — women, unions, universities. Republicans, meanwhile, are more likely to appeal to “general concepts and principles … frequently emphasizing the need to limit the scope of government or preserve traditional American society.” A coalition that makes ideology its lodestar is stronger in some respects — but as the House GOP fractiousness has shown, weaker in others.

Business might have once been a group interest within the GOP. Corporations are amenable to transactional politics and have historically expected benefits under Republican governance. But in the Trump years, big business and the Republican Party drifted apart, both because of corporate discomfort with populism and the GOP’s discomfort with business’s growing social liberalism. The gap widened after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. The Republican-business rift has left the House GOP even less constrained by interest groups’ needs, and more driven by ideological goals.

When Republicans ran the House between 2011 and 2019, they had comfortable majorities — from 234 seats to 247 — and still faced significant divisions that made speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan struggle to find 218 votes for legislation at key junctures. The new speaker’s margin for error will be much smaller.

There are similarities between each party’s populist wing — Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is a firebrand like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.); Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont launched an insurgent 2016 Democratic primary bid that paralleled Donald Trump’s. But the Democratic Party’s upstarts have been embraced by the party establishment; it also has leverage over them. Republican populism is more unpredictable and genuinely disruptive to the party system.

22) Alice Evans highlights interesting research on sex differences

 

America’s gun insanity (continued)

This is so much one of those “only in America” stories in the NYT last week, “A Heavily Armed Man Caused Panic at a Supermarket. But Did He Break the Law? In states with permissive gun laws, police and prosecutors have limited tools at their disposal when a heavily armed individual sows fear or panic in public.”

ATLANTA — Two days after a gunman killed 10 people at a Colorado grocery store, leaving many Americans on high alert, Rico Marley was arrested as he emerged from the bathroom at a Publix supermarket in Atlanta. He was wearing body armor and carrying six loaded weapons — four handguns in his jacket pockets, and in a guitar bag, a semiautomatic rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun.

Moments earlier, an Instacart delivery driver had alerted a store employee after seeing Mr. Marley in the bathroom, along with the AR-15-style rifle, which was propped against a wall. A grand jury indictment later described what had come next: “panic, terror and the evacuation of the Publix.”

Mr. Marley, then 22, was arrested without incident that day in March 2021. His lawyer, Charles Brant, noted that he had not made any threats or fired any shots, and had legally purchased his guns. Mr. Marley did not violate Georgia law, Mr. Brant said; he was “just being a person, doing what he had the right to do.”

Indeed, Mr. Marley’s arrest kicked off a long and as yet unresolved legal odyssey in which the criminal justice system waffled over what it could charge him with and whether to set him free. Clearly, visiting the grocery store with a trove of guns had frightened people. But was it illegal?

The episode, and others like it, speaks to a uniquely American quandary: In states with permissive gun laws, the police and prosecutors have limited tools at their disposal when a heavily armed individual’s mere presence in a public space sows fear or even panic.

So, just to be clear, because our country is insane when it comes to guns, it’s not actually clear whether or not it’s okay to walk into a grocery store with a bunch of assault weapons while wearing body armor.  What a bizarre, perverse interpretation of the 2nd amendment to somehow think this is okay.

 

We need harsher sentences to stop 6-year olds from shooting people!

Did you hear about the six-year old who intenionally shot his teacher?  Maybe not, because this just doesn’t even seem that out-of-place in gun-crazy America.  A relevant tweets:

Because, of course, Republicans never honestly confront this issue.  Which, would be to just honestly state as in the next tweet:

Because that’s it.  That’s the thing.  All policy is trade-offs and gun supporters are willing to trade incidents like this for their beloved 2nd amendment “freedom.”  Yeah, it sucks that occasionally kids bring guns to school and go wild and that America has way more murders than any other modern democracy, but, yes, that’s the necessary cost of our oh-so-wonderful freedom to own an arsenal with only the most modest limits. 

And, part of that absurd policy regime is that we almost never hold adults appropriately responsible.  I don’t know what happened in that household, but when a 6-year old gets a gun and shoot someone, damn it, someone out there should be criminally liable with a felony!  Alas.

From the Post article:

Authorities gave the dramatic account at a news conference Monday, revealing the most detailed portrait yet of a shooting that Drew labeled “unprecedented.” The boy’s mother had purchased the gun legally, Drew said, but it remains unclear whether the boy or anyone else will be charged in connection with the case that has shocked a nation that has grown accustomedto school shootings.

It shouldn’t be unclear!  Somebody should be charged with a serious crime!

Meanwhile, Ethan Mollick had a nice piece today on “How to… use ChatGPT to boost your writing” so I thought I’d try the edition of this post written by ChatGPT.  Mollick talks a lot about experiment with prompts.  I first tried “write a blog post about how parents should be charged with felonies when their young children use guns” and it was too “well, on the other hand, it’s mean to punish people for gun crimes” so here’s what I got out of, “now write this arguing that, although there are downsides and concerns, we should should definitely be prosecuting parents when children use guns”

The issue of children accessing firearms is a serious and complex one that has been the subject of much debate in recent years. While there are certainly valid concerns and drawbacks to the idea of charging parents with felonies when their young children use guns, I believe that it is an necessary step that must be taken in order to address the problem.

First, let’s examine the statistics surrounding children and firearms. According to a study by Everytown Research, there are an average of 100 deaths and 230 injuries per year caused by children under the age of 18 using firearms. These incidents can happen in a variety of ways, including accidental shootings, suicide, and homicide. These numbers speak for themselves and demonstrate the urgency of the problem.

One of the main arguments for holding parents accountable for their children’s access to firearms is that it serves as a deterrent. If parents know that they could face serious criminal charges if their child accesses a firearm, they may be more likely to take steps to secure their firearms and prevent their children from getting ahold of them. This could include locking up firearms and ammunition separately, using gun locks, or storing firearms in a safe. This could help to save lives and prevent injuries caused by children using firearms.

Another argument for holding parents accountable is that it may help to shift the cultural perception of gun ownership. Many people view gun ownership as a fundamental right, but if parents are held accountable for their children’s access to firearms, it could change the way that people think about firearms and the responsibility that comes with owning them. It may make people more cognizant and more cautious of the responsibility they have towards their firearms and children.

While it is true that there are concerns and drawbacks to the policy of charging parents with felonies when their children use guns, I believe that the benefits outweigh the downsides. Critics argue that criminalizing parents for their child’s actions may not be effective and could even be counter-productive, but we have to consider that children are suffering and dying as a result of the lack of precautions taken by parents. Furthermore, it’s also worth considering the potential impact on families and communities, but it is also important to consider the impact on the children who have been harmed or killed as a result of a lack of firearms safety measures in the home.

In conclusion, the issue of children accessing firearms is a serious and urgent problem that must be addressed. While there are certainly valid concerns and drawbacks to the idea of charging parents with felonies when their young children use guns, I believe that the benefits outweigh the downsides. Parents must be held accountable for the safety of their children, and if that means that they must face criminal charges, then so be it. It is important to have a proactive approach to this problem and prosecuting parents when children use guns may be a necessary step in preventing such tragic incidents from happening in the future.

Not bad.  I like to think I would’ve done this notably better (especially on the counter-arguments), but, suffice it to say, ChatGPT was much faster.  

Our justice system just keeps finding new ways to wrongfully convict people with junk science

I haven’t been posting much on criminal justice issues for a while, but PS 313 Criminal Justice Policy is back on the docket starting this week, so I should definitely be upping my game here.  Anyway, terrific new piece from Pro Publica on the latest in junk science.  Apparently, there’s some new “method” to analyze somebody’s voice during a 911 call and determine that they are lying and the likely perpetrator.  And, if your initial response to this is “give me a break!” you are right and a typical reader of this blog, but, alas, not a typical prosecutor or judge.

Tracy Harpster, a deputy police chief from suburban Dayton, Ohio, was hunting for praise. He had a business to promote: a miracle method to determine when 911 callers are actually guilty of the crimes they are reporting. “I know what a guilty father, mother or boyfriend sounds like,” he once said.

Harpster tells police and prosecutors around the country that they can do the same. Such linguistic detection is possible, he claims, if you know how to analyze callers’ speech patterns — their tone of voice, their pauses, their word choice, even their grammar. Stripped of its context, a misplaced word as innocuous as “hi” or “please” or “somebody” can reveal a murderer on the phone.

So far, researchers who have tried to corroborate Harpster’s claims have failed. The experts most familiar with his work warn that it shouldn’t be used to lock people up.

Prosecutors know it’s junk science too. But that hasn’t stopped some from promoting his methods and even deploying 911 call analysis in court to win convictions…

I first stumbled on 911 call analysis while reporting on a police department in northern Louisiana. At the time, it didn’t sound plausible even as a one-off gambit, let alone something pervasive that law enforcement nationwide had embraced as legitimate.

I was wrong. People who call 911 don’t know it, but detectives and prosecutors are listening in, ready to assign guilt based on the words they hear. For the past decade, Harpster has traveled the country quietly sowing his methods into the justice system case by case, city by city, charging up to $3,500 for his eight-hour class, which is typically paid for with tax dollars. Hundreds in law enforcement have bought into the obscure program and I had a rare opportunity to track, in real time, how the chief architect was selling it.

Harpster makes some astonishing claims in his promotional flyers. He says he has personally consulted in more than 1,500 homicide investigations nationwide. He promises that his training will let 911 operators know if they are talking to a murderer, give detectives a new way to identify suspects, and arm prosecutors with evidence they can exploit at trial…

The program has little online presence. Searches for 911 call analysis in national court dockets come up virtually empty too. A public defender in Virginia said, “I have never heard of any of that claptrap in my jurisdiction.” Dozens of other defense attorneys had similar reactions. One thought the premise sounded as arbitrary as medieval trials by fire, when those suspected of crimes were judged by how well they could walk over burning coals or hold hot irons.

Could it be true that Harpster, a man with no scientific background and next to no previous homicide investigation experience, had successfully sold the modern equivalent to law enforcement across the U.S. almost without notice?

Yes.

Fortunately, this is not as pervasive as bite mark analysis, blood splatter, and other junk science, but the idea that this could take hold well into the 21st century when we have already learned so much about (and discarded much) junk science is thoroughly depressing.  Honestly, our desire to punish somebody for heinous crimes just keeps on getting the better of us as a society and a criminal justice sytem.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I read this advice about exercising with a cold years ago and it’s worked well for me:

Before you don your workout gear, assess your symptoms carefully. “The most popular advice is to do what’s referred to as the neck check, where if symptoms are above the neck, exercise is probably safe,” said Thomas Weidner, a professor of athletic training and chair emeritus of the school of kinesiology at Ball State University in Indiana. If your only symptoms are nasal congestion and a low-grade headache, for example, a light workout shouldn’t make your cold worse.

In fact, a landmark study that demonstrated this was led by Dr. Weidner in the 1990s. In it, 50 young adults were infected with the common cold virus and randomly split into two groups: one that did 40 minutes of moderate exercise every other day for 10 days, and one that didn’t exercise at all. The researchers found that there was no difference in illness length or severity between the two groups — meaning that working out moderately did not prolong or exacerbate their colds. Other research done by Dr. Weidner has led to similar findings.

If, however, you do have symptoms below the neck, such as a hacking cough, chest discomfort, nausea, diarrhea or body-wide symptoms like fever, muscle aches or fatigue, “then it’s not a good idea to exercise,” Jeffrey Woods, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said via email.

2) Drum on crime and perceptions of crime:

I’ve written a lot about crime over the past month or so. Here’s a summary of the most important bits. First, crime has gone down steadily over the past decade. Property crime continued to go down in 2021 while violent crime remained stable.

In 2022, the largest cities in the US almost all reported lower murder rates and only smallish increases in violent crime. New York City is the sole outlier, and its numbers are iffy.

If there’s nevertheless a genuine fear of rising crime, it should show up in concrete actions taken by consumers. But it doesn’t. Google searches for home security devices have gone steadily down over the past few years.

Perception of rising crime is highly partisan and very recent. It started among Republicans in 2021, after Joe Biden was inaugurated.

Taking all parties together, overall perceptions of crime have been down consistently over the past decade. This changed only in 2022, when news media reports and Republican campaign ads began to insist that crime was out of control this year even though every indicator suggests that property crime is down and violent crime is up only slightly.

The Gallup poll results are easily explained. Fox News cynically began running sensationalized reports on violent crime beginning in 2021, and then almost instantly pulled back after the midterm elections of 2022 were over.

Bottom line:

  • Property crime is down over the past decade and has continued to fall this year.
  • Violent crime is also down over the past decade and is up only slightly this year.
  • Perceptions of crime were consistently modest during this time.
  • Perceptions changed only after Joe Biden took office. This was thanks to deliberate manipulation of crime coverage from Fox News.

3) Patrick Sharkey, “The Crime Spike Is No Mystery: By zooming out and looking at the big picture, the question of what causes violence becomes quite answerable.”

Why are some American neighborhoods so vulnerable to so much violence?

To answer this question requires thinking less in terms of months and years, and more in terms of decades. It requires thinking less about specific neighborhoods and cities where violence is common, and more about larger metropolitan areas where inequality is extreme and the affluent live separated from the poor. And it requires thinking less about individual criminals and victims, and more about bigger social forces, including demographic shifts, changes in urban labor markets, and social policies implemented by states and the federal government. All told, nearly six decades of data on violence in Chicago’s neighborhoods point to an unmistakable conclusion: Producing a sustained reduction in violence may not be possible without addressing extreme, persistent segregation by race, ethnicity, and income…

If this all seems far removed from the people wielding guns in cities like Chicago; Portland, Oregon; and Philadelphia, it is. The forces that have left American neighborhoods vulnerable to rising violence are entirely distinct from the people who live in those neighborhoods.

The young men who are most likely to be the victims or perpetrators of gun violence weren’t alive when the United States began to disinvest in central cities. In the decades during and after the Great Migration of Black Americans out of the rural South, federal dollars built our interstate highway system, insured home mortgages, and subsidized a large-scale movement of white people and other high-income segments of the population out of central cities. You needed money to buy a car in order to move to a house in the suburbs and commute into the city. And in many new housing developments, you needed to be white to be eligible to purchase a home or get a loan. New suburbs and exurbs outside Chicago and St. Louis quickly established zoning codes that would not allow for apartments or other forms of affordable housing to be built, meaning local property taxes would fund services only for relatively well-off residents. As the most advantaged segments of the urban population moved elsewhere, the share of city budgets funded by the federal government dwindled and political influence in state legislatures shifted away from the cities…

Let me be clear: It is important to find out what is driving this latest rise in gun violence, and to develop targeted responses in the neighborhoods where violence is concentrated—I am, in fact, devoting the next several years of my research to this question. But it is equally important to ask why the same neighborhoods have had the highest level of violence.

Analyzing the short-term fluctuations along with the long-term vulnerability allows us to move beyond the simplistic idea that to deal with violence, we must choose between an approach that addresses “root causes” and one that attempts to “stop the bleeding.” The long view tells us that disinvestment in communities, concentrated disadvantage, the disintegration of core community institutions of support, an overreliance on the institutions of punishment, and an unfathomable and unregulated supply of guns have created neighborhoods vulnerable to violence. In those vulnerable neighborhoods, a shorter-term perspective reveals how shifts in the local social order, policy tweaks, shocks such as crack cocaine and an influx of guns, and other micro changes—a new boys’ and girls’ club opens; a tenants’-rights group organizes an effort to mobilize against guns in a housing development; a violence-interruption organization loses funding; an abandoned building is razed—can lead to declines and spikes in violence.

4) It seems preposterous to me that the parents of a suicide victim should sue the university that punished a student before the suicide for wrongful death. 

5) This is cool, “To Ditch Pesticides, Scientists Are Hacking Insects’ Sex Signals: It’s now possible to mass-produce pheromones that keep insects from breeding near crops—protecting cereals and other staples with fewer chemicals.”

Female insects can attract partners in complete darkness without any audible signal, and over hundreds of meters—sometimes over a kilometer—using sex pheromones. Males track the smell of these chemical signals and mate with the females they’re led to, who then lay eggs that hatch into hungry larvae. It’s an incredible chemical power—and one that can be exploited.

“We can apply artificial pheromone compounds into the field, which will be released everywhere in the air and cover the original signal from the real female,” says Hong-Lei Wang, a researcher in the pheromone group at Lund University in Sweden. This blanket cover of the sex scent makes it harder for males to find females and mate, he explains, and so the insect population falls, meaning fewer pests in the area to cause crop damage.

Farmers have been using artificial pheromones this way for decades—but up until now, costs have limited how widely they’re used. Creating artificial pheromones has been pretty expensive, so it’s only made economic sense to use them to protect high-value crops, such as fruits. But now Wang and his colleagues have uncovered a way to affordably and sustainably produce pheromones that attract pests that eat cheaper crops, such as cabbage and beans, opening the door for pheromone-based pest control to be used more widely. 

6) Who knew we had a tree problem? “America’s Billion-Dollar Tree Problem Is Spreading: Grasslands are being overrun by drought-resistant invaders that wreck animal habitats, suck up water supplies, and can cost landowners a fortune.”

FAST-GROWING, DROUGHT-TOLERANT TREES are slowly spreading across grasslands on every continent except Antarctica. Given how desperate we are to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, millions of new saplings sprouting each year might seem like a good thing. But in reality, their spread across vulnerable grasslands and shrublands is upending ecosystems and livelihoods. As these areas transform into woodland, wildlife disappears, water supplies dwindle, and soil health suffers. The risk of catastrophic wildfire also skyrockets.

In a new study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, researchers have shown how woodland expansion also takes an economic toll. American ranchers often depend on tree-free rangelands to raise their livestock. Between 1990 and 2019, landowners in the Western US lost out on nearly $5 billion worth of forage—the plants that cattle or sheep eat—because of the growth of new trees. The amount of forage lost over those three decades equates to 332 million tons, or enough hay bales to circle the globe 22 times.

“Grasslands are the most imperiled and least protected terrestrial ecosystem,” says Rheinhardt Scholtz, a global change biologist and affiliate researcher with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Also called steppes, pampas, or plains, our planet’s grasslands have dwindled drastically. According to Scholtz, less than 10 percent are still intact, as most have been plowed under for crops or bulldozed for human development. One of the most dire threats facing the grasslands that remain is woody encroachment. “It’s a slow and silent killer,” Scholtz says. 

 

Historically, tree expansion onto grasslands was checked by regular fires, which relegated woody species to wet or rocky places. But as European settlers suppressed fires and planted thousands of trees to provide windbreaks for their homes and livestock, trees proliferated. When trees invade grasslands, they outcompete native grasses and wildflowers by stealing the lion’s share of sunlight and water. Birds, often used as a bellwether for ecosystem health, are sounding the alarm: North America’s grassland bird populations have declined more than 50 percent since 1970, a 2019 study in Science found. 

According to University of Montana researcher Scott Morford, who led the study on rangeland forage loss, tree cover has increased by 50 percent across the western half of the US over the past 30 years, with tree cover expanding steadily year on year. In total, close to 150,000 km2 of once tree-free grasslands have been converted into woodland. “That means we’ve already lost an area the size of Iowa to trees,” says Morford, who emphasizes that an additional 200,000 km2 of tree-free rangelands—an area larger than the state of Nebraska—are “under immediate threat” because they are close to seed sources.

7) Should you stop washing your hands? No.  Does washing them protect you from respiratory viruses? Also no.

And then we learned we’d had it all backwards. The virus didn’t spread much via surfaces; it spread through the air. We came to understand the danger of indoor spaces, the importance of ventilation, and the difference between a cloth mask and an N95. Meanwhile, we mostly stopped talking about hand-washing. The days when you could hear people humming “Happy Birthday” in public restrooms quickly disappeared. And wiping down packages and ostentatious workplace-disinfection protocols became a matter of lingering hygiene theater.

This whole episode was among the stranger and more disorienting shifts of the pandemic. Sanitization, that great bastion of public health, saved lives; actually, no, it didn’t matter that much for COVID. On one level, this about-face should be seen as a marker of good scientific progress, but it also raises a question about the sorts of acts we briefly thought were our best available defense against the virus. If hand-washing isn’t as important as we thought it was in March 2020, how important is it?

Any public-health expert will be quick to tell you that, please, yes, you should still wash your hands. Emanuel Goldman, a microbiologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, considers it “commonsense hygiene” for protecting us against a range of viruses spread through close contact and touch, such as gastrointestinal viruses. Also, let’s be honest: It’s gross to use the bathroom and then refuse to wash, whether or not you’re going to give someone COVID.

Even so, the pandemic has piled on evidence that the transmission of the coronavirus via fomites—that is, inanimate contaminated objects or surfaces—plays a much smaller role, and airborne transmission a much larger one, than we once thought. And the same likely goes for other respiratory pathogens, such as influenza and the coronaviruses that cause the common cold, Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer and aerosols expert at Virginia Tech, told me…

The upshot, for Goldman, is that surface transmission of respiratory pathogens is “negligible,” probably accounting for less than .01 percent of all infections. If correct, this would mean that your chance of catching the flu or a cold by touching something in the course of daily life is virtually nonexistent. Goldman acknowledged that there’s a “spectrum of opinion” on the matter. Marr, for one, would not go quite so far: She’s confident that more than half of respiratory-pathogen transmission is airborne, though she said she wouldn’t be surprised if the proportion is much, much higher—the only number she would rule out is 100 percent.

For now, it’s important to avoid binary thinking on the matter, Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University, told me. Fomites, airborne droplets, smaller aerosol particles—all modes of transmission are possible. And the proportional breakdown will not be the same in every setting, Seema Lakdawa, a flu-transmission expert at Emory University, told me. Fomite transmission might be negligible at a grocery store, but that doesn’t mean it’s negligible at a day care, where kids are constantly touching things and sneezing on things and sticking things in their mouths. The corollary to this idea is that certain infection-prevention strategies prove highly effective in one context but not in another: Frequently disinfecting a table in a preschool classroom might make a lot of sense; frequently disinfecting the desk in your own private cubicle, less so.

8) I was so excited to watch “Confess, Fletch.”  I love Fletch and I love Jon Hamm.  But just so poorly written

9) Good stuff from Tom Nichols, “To Putin, Brittney Griner Is a Pawn. To the U.S., She’s a Person.: Russia will regard any prisoner swap as a propaganda win. But the real message we can proclaim is about American values.”

Putin probably sees this trade, if it happens, as a double win for Russia. Moscow gets a shady but loyal arms dealer back on the roster for the price of two wrongly imprisoned Americans, one of whom the Russian media will spin as a spy and the other as an example of a decadent culture. In the Kremlin’s eyes, we recover two worthless people while it gains a top-shelf criminal asset. And they get to remind Russians that America is the kind of place where the president of the United States will go the distance for someone whom most Russians would regard with contempt.

So be it. Russia is at war with the entire international order at this point, and allowing Putin to indulge in some cheap racism and spy hysteria is a small price to pay for the release of unjustly imprisoned Americans. Unlike Russia, we make the effort to care about all Americans, wherever they are. Often, both at home and abroad, we fail in that effort, but we start from the proposition that our citizens are not merely disposable pawns.

In a just world, Bout would rot in a U.S. federal prison. But his sentence is not worth the lives of any Americans we can get released from Russia. And Bout, if he is sent back home, will go back to the life of a man who lives among enemies and bodyguards, a world in which today’s friends are tomorrow’s assassins. If we can bring Griner and Whelan home, maybe Bout’s exile back to Russia will be a fitting and just exchange, after all.

10) Apparently bodybuilders are just dying all the time because of the drugs they regularly subject their bodies to.  It just seems so nuts to me.  I could kind of get it if you were taking these kind of health risks to win the Tour de France or be a multi-million dollar pro athlete.  But to do it for some completely niche sport where the vast majority of the public just thinks you’re some kind of freak?  What the hell, man.

11) Great midterm analysis from Nate Cohn, “Turnout by Republicans Was Great. It’s Just That Many of Them Didn’t Vote for Republicans.”

In state after state, the final turnout data shows that registered Republicans turned out at a higher rate — and in some places a much higher rate — than registered Democrats, including in many of the states where Republicans were dealt some of their most embarrassing losses.

Instead, high-profile Republicans like Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona lost because Republican-leaning voters decided to cast ballots for Democrats, even as they voted for Republican candidates for U.S. House or other down-ballot races in their states.

Georgia is a fine example. While Mr. Walker may blame turnout for his poor showing in November and earlier this week, other Republican candidates seemed to have no problem at all. Gov. Brian Kemp won by nearly eight points over Stacey Abrams; Republican candidates for House won the most votes on the same day.

Yet Senator Raphael Warnock won in Georgia anyway because a large group of voters willing to back other Republicans weren’t willing to back Mr. Walker.

The final turnout figures make it clear that Republicans — including Mr. Walker — benefited from very favorable turnout last month. Unlike in recent years, Republican primary voters were likelier to vote than Democrats (by a modest margin). Meanwhile, the white turnout rate exceeded the Black turnout rate by the widest margin since 2006.

We went back and looked at the respondents to our pre-election Times/Siena survey, and matched them to post-election vote turnout records. We found that the respondents who said they backed Mr. Walker were actually likelier to vote than those who said they backed Mr. Warnock…

It’s fair to say voters in these key states probably preferred Republican control of government, in no small part because more Republicans showed up to vote. They just didn’t find Republican candidates they wanted to support at the top of the ticket.

12) Loved this from Derek Thompson on breakthroughs of the year.  Yes, AI is number one.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Democrats not acting in the lame duck to do anything about the debt ceiling is insane.  Though, all it takes is one or two insane Democrats to ruin it for the whole damn country.  Oh, yeah, and all the Republicans.  Greg Sargent:

It’s clear that the incoming House GOP majority will try to use debt-limit extortion to extract all kinds of concessions from Democrats. This will likely focus on refusing to raise the nation’s borrowing limit to try tosecure deep spending cuts. The slimness of the GOP majority will empower the MAGA caucus, which will wield this weapon to wreak havoc we can only guess at.

A top Senate Republican has now signaled that his party will use the debt limit to seek cuts to entitlements. Sen. John Thune (S.D.) flatly declared this week that if Republicans withhold support for raising the debt limit — which would threaten default and economic disaster — it could increase pressure on Democrats to “deliver” on raising the Social Security retirement age. This is ominous coming from the Senate GOP whip.

Unfortunately, there are reasons to be skeptical that Democrats will usethe lame-duck session to protect the country from the damage this could unleash. Senate Republicans are supposed to be the sober ones, relative to the House GOP. If such threats from a GOP leader in the upper chamber aren’t enough to get Democrats to act, what would be?

The need to do somethingduring the lame-duck session to eliminate the threat of debt-limit extortiondid not get addressed in a meeting Tuesday between President Biden and congressional leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters: “That didn’t come up.”

This is not exactly encouraging. “I’m extremely concerned,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), who has long argued for dealing with the debt limit, told me. “We must do this now. If we don’t, we’ll come to deeply regret it.”

True, securing lame-duck action on the debt limit would be challenging. First, there is already a ton to do, from fixing the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to preventing future coups to funding the entire government.

Second, action would require either Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on one side, or Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on the other, to play against type in a dramatic way.

2) You know I’m always here for takedowns of originalism, “Originalism is bunk. Liberal lawyers shouldn’t fall for it.”

Liberal lawyers — and liberal justices, for that matter — risk being caught in an originalism trap.

Originalism, the belief that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed at the time it was adopted, is the legal theory that dominates the thinking of this conservative Supreme Court. Not all of the conservative justices are committed originalists. I count four of the six — all but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and perhaps Samuel A. Alito Jr., who describes himself as a “practical originalist.” But they have all written or joined originalist rulings.

 

Given that reality, liberals can’t lightly dismiss conservatives’ insistence that the Constitution should be interpreted based strictly on the original meaning of its text. In the current circumstances, liberal advocates appearing before the court would be remiss not to make an originalist case.

But there’s also little evidence, at least in the highest-profile cases, that it will do them much good. When originalist arguments favor a result the conservative justices dislike, they’re content to ignore them, or to cherry-pick competing originalist interpretations that comport with their underlying inclinations. Originalism doesn’t serve to constrain but to justify.This is not a fair fight — or an honest one.

And it is one with dangerous consequences. The more liberals present originalist arguments, the more they legitimate originalism rather than refuting it and offering a compelling alternative. Courtroom advocates need to win the case at hand, yet that undermines the more critical long-term effort to wrench the court away from its reliance on what is, at least as currently practiced, a flawed doctrine that peddles the illusion of impartiality in the service of a conservative result.
 
Because originalism purports to freeze our understanding of the Constitution as written at the end of the 18th century or amended in the second half of the 19th, it is skewed to a cramped reading of the document, unleavened by modern science and sensibilities. Why should we understand — much less accept — the constitutional meaning as fixed at a time when women lacked the right to vote, when recently enslaved Black people attended segregated schools, when the economy was agrarian, and when the notion of gay rights was unthinkable?
 

3) Great N&O story about how the poultry industry is running roughshod over North Carolina and is just a perfect example of externalities amok (i.e., they get the profits, ordinary citizens get the environmental degradation and unpleasant living conditions). This really is worth your time.

4) OMG the new OpenAI chatbot is insanely good.  Every twitter professor I know has been struck by this the past couple days.  I’m honestly going to have to radically revise my exams starting now.  The current chatbot could surely get at least a B-, and probably higher, on my tests.  I definitely need to do a full post on this.  For now, my twitter thread with some examples.

5) I’m enjoying seeing a much more robust discussion of expected goals in this year’s World Cup.  Nice explainer of how they work in soccer here. 

6) Good piece from Nate Cohn on Black turnout in the midterms.

There was a lot of good news — or at least news that felt good — for Democrats this election cycle, from holding the Senate to remaining stubbornly competitive in the House.

But as more data becomes final, it’s clear that Black turnout is not one of those feel-good stories for the party.

We won’t get conclusive numbers for months, but the evidence so far raises the distinct possibility that the Black share of the electorate sank to its lowest level since 2006. It certainly did in states like Georgia and North Carolina, where authoritative data is already available.

The relatively low turnout numbers aren’t necessarily a surprise. After all, this was not supposed to be a good year for Democrats. Perhaps this is one of the things that went about as expected, with no reason to think it portends catastrophe for Democrats in the years ahead.

Still, relatively low Black turnout is becoming an unmistakable trend in the post-Obama era, raising important — if yet unanswered — questions about how Democrats can revitalize the enthusiasm of their strongest group of supporters.

Is it simply a return to the pre-Obama norm? Is it yet another symptom of eroding Democratic strength among working-class voters of all races and ethnicities? Or is it a byproduct of something more specific to Black voters, like the rise of a more progressive, activist — and pessimistic — Black left that doubts whether the Democratic Party can combat white supremacy?

Whatever the answer, it is clear that the relatively low Black turnout was not exactly disastrous electorally for Democrats in 2022. With the possible exception of the Wisconsin Senate race, it’s hard to identify a high-profile election where Democrats might have prevailed if the Black share of the electorate had stayed at 2014 or 2018 levels.

But it does help make sense of one of the stranger features of this election: how Republicans fared so well in the national vote, but routinely underperformed in critical states and districts. With the important exceptions of Georgia and North Carolina, the Black population share was below the national average in virtually all of the key districts and Senate contests.

Georgia and North Carolina are two of the states where voters indicate their race when they register to vote, offering an unusually clear look at the racial composition of the electorate. In both states — along with Louisiana — the Black share of the electorate fell to its lowest levels since 2006…

Perhaps more remarkable is that Raphael Warnock, the Democratic senator from Georgia, and Ms. Beasley fared so well, even with Black voters representing such a low share of the electorate. Mr. Warnock and Ms. Beasley appear to have fared better among non-Black voters than any Democrats in recent memory in either state.

7) Crazy story. “A Man Fell From a Cruise Ship. And Survived.”

The passenger, according to the Coast Guard, turned out to be James Grimes, 28, who had been traveling with his parents and siblings on the five-day cruise. His family had last seen him the night before, around 11 p.m.

But by 10:45 on Thanksgiving morning, when there was no sign of him, the family notified the crew, the Coast Guard said.

At 8:10 p.m., more than nine hours after his family reported him missing, a passing tanker spotted the man near the mouth of the Mississippi River and alerted the Coast Guard.

Rescuers found Mr. Grimes struggling in the water, waving frantically and trying to keep his head above the surface.

When the crew of the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter lifted him out, he was in shock, had mild hypothermia and was extremely dehydrated, said Lt. Seth Gross, who managed the search and rescue operation for the Coast Guard. But he was alive and in stable condition.

Mr. Grimes, whose family described him as an exceptional swimmer, had treaded in 65- to 70-degree water for hours, withstanding rain, 20-knot winds and three- to five-foot waves in the Gulf of Mexico, where bull sharks and blacktip sharks are common, Coast Guard officials said.

“This case is certainly extraordinary,” Lieutenant Gross said. “The survival instinct, the will to survive is just crazy.”

8) A UNC professor makes the case for a return to oral exams.  This one I felt the need to comment upon:

I’m tenured, have reasonable-sized classes, and yet this would still be an incredibly profligate use of my time (no, I’m not grading hundreds of students, but I have significant research and service constraints on my time). The simple fact is that, for the vast majority of faculty, this is time-wise, just a really inefficient way to assess students. And as many have pointed out, unfairly advantages extroverts, the more confident, etc. (and I say this as a confident extrovert).

9) Radley Balko did an overly credulous interview with the head of the Oath Keepers a decade ago and now provides a nice mea culpa and a thoughtful examination of how he got things so wrong.  We should all practice thinking like this.  

10) Just finished Amazon Prime’s “The Peripheral.”  Loved it!

11) Crazy story of a pilot who somehow accidentally fell out of plane near here a few months ago.  It is now, officially, indeed, an accident.  Seems like something out of a Cohn Brothers movie or something. 

12) Yes, I really cannot wait to see Cocaine Bear

13) This is important, “The $6 Billion Shot at Making New Antibiotics—Before the Old Ones Fail”

The possible collapse of Brown’s treatment could be avoided, if there were another option. Right now, there are no new antibiotics that doctors can add to his regimen. In the US, antibiotic innovation has skidded to a halt. The last novel class approved by the FDA debuted in 1984.

Independent analysts and drug-company personnel all say the measure is critically needed. But the Congress that reconvenes this week will be bruised from vituperative electioneering and distracted by races that remain unresolved. The body will also have to make decisions on a raft of legislative proposals that were delayed earlier in the year by hyperpartisan jostling, and will have to choose what they can accomplish before their session ends around Christmas Eve. If the Pasteur Act can’t get through by then, it will need to be reintroduced when the new Congress convenes in January. But that session will be focused on the 2024 election, and it could be hard for other issues to break through.

“If this doesn’t pass, or something like it doesn’t get implemented, then I don’t know what Plan B is,” says Joe Larsen, a vice president at Locus Biosciences Inc. who launched an Obama–era program of antibiotic investment while serving in the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority. “We need to re-envision the way we support antimicrobials in the US.”

14) This was pretty interesting, “The Physics of Scuba Diving”

15) The truth about job interview questions:

16) Oh man, Haiti is just such a disaster right now. “Gang Warfare Cripples Haiti’s Fight Against Cholera: The disease is spreading in the Caribbean nation in part because armed groups control poor neighborhoods with ruthless violence and prevent doctors from providing basic care.”

17) Loved this from Freddie deBoer, “Your Personality Has To Be Load-Bearing”

If the stuff you buy isn’t who you are, then what are you? I would say that your personality is simply your behavior, including your expressions. It would be lovely if our selves were only the product of our conscious choices, but as a species we are famously unaware of ourselves and act based on impulses and influences we would never choose. Sigmund Freud, and all that. Your personality is the way you talk and act; it’s your behaviors under a given circumstance that might be different from the behavior of others. The constituent elements of our personalities can’t be fully enumerated, but I would name honesty, creativity, gentleness, courage, perceptiveness, equanimity, extroversion, intelligence, kindness, and a sense of humor as essential parts. What I’m here today to argue is that these things have to be constitutive of you as a human being. You cannot be Mac Guy, not for long, not really. And I want to say also that the desire to be Mac Guy is profoundly human and something I have a lot of sympathy for.

The thing is that it’s hard to be a person. It’s hard! Our personalities are something that we both are and do, and we are always being evaluated by the others around us. Appearing attractive or admirable to other people, for most people most of the time, is something like the work of life. And like any other kind of work, there’s pressure to do it well. To fail at the construction of a self could hardly be more fraught with stakes and meaning. Looking around at your life and finding not much to be proud of is a common condition. To try and find that thing, that one external thing that shapes and animates your life, is a constant temptation, whether it’s Buddhism or Marxism or Alcoholics Anonymous or always carrying a guitar around for no reason or pretending to have Tourette’s on Twitch or buying every FunkoPop or being the guy who always has a toothpick hanging out of his mouth or your new boyfriend or cottagecore or vintage electronics or reading on the subway or the Buffalo Sabres or your insouciant yet political Twitter feed or your skill at Mario Kart or being a cat person or having an opinion on “Cat Person” or your Polish heritage or your pink gold iPhone or all your guns. These various external things can be core to our self-presentation, can be healthy and positive elements of our lives, and can amount to signals to others about what we value and enjoy. But they can’t fulfill our fundamental desire to be somebodies, to be people. I’m sure people in the comments will trouble the distinctions I’m drawing, and that’s fine. I still believe that, at the core of things, you can be your studied indifference to the vagaries of fate, but you cannot be the motorcycle you bought to broadcast it.

I have already discussed this issue when it comes to the realm of “fandom” specifically. I think people within that world – generally speaking, the world of intense devotion to cultural products in the realms of sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, comic books, fan fiction, and the like – are particularly at risk of obscuring the boundaries of the self, confusing what they like with what they are. This is why such people are so often still filled with resentment over perceived slights against their cherished properties despite the fact that such properties are commercially dominant in our world today; they can’t separate a difference in artistic tastes from insults to the self. You can broaden this to the entire concept of the “stan” and the frightening fan communities you find on the internet, such as those celebrating K-pop or Taylor Swift. Oftentimes, people deeply ensconced in these worlds are attempting to offload the burden of having a personality (of being a person) onto the art they enjoy. Such art is celebrated and, more importantly, acknowledged as real, as they would like to be. If you want to be a Star Wars fan existentially, if you want that to be your personality, there’s so much stuff, so much to grab onto that has heft and the feeling of being real – movies and shows and comic books and bedsheets and commemorative Coke cans but also communities and lore. The self? For a lot of people, that feels flimsy and not worthy of other people’s attention.

18) Fatherhood changes your brain!

The time fathers devote to child care every week has tripled over the past 50 years in the United States. The increase in fathers’ involvement in child rearing is even steeper in countries that have expanded paid paternity leave or created incentives for fathers to take leave, such as GermanySpainSweden and Iceland. And a growing body of research finds that children with engaged fathers do better on a range of outcomes, including physical health and cognitive performance.

Despite dads’ rising participation in child care and their importance in the lives of their kids, there is surprisingly little research about how fatherhood affects men. Even fewer studies focus on the brain and biological changes that might support fathering.

It is no surprise that the transition to parenthood can be transformative for anyone with a new baby. For women who become biological mothers, pregnancy-related hormonal changes help to explain why a new mother’s brain might change. But does fatherhood reshape the brains and bodies of men – who don’t experience pregnancy directly – in ways that motivate their parenting? We set out to investigate this question in our recent study of first-time fathers in two countries…

Dads’ brains change, too

As with practicing any new skill, the experience of caring for an infant might leave a mark on the brains of new parents. This is what neuroscientists call experience-induced brain plasticity – like the brain changes that occur when you learn a new language or master a new musical instrument.

A sparse but growing body of research is observing this type of plasticity in fathers who experience the cognitive, physical and emotional demands of caring for a newborn without going through pregnancy. In terms of brain function, for instance, gay male fathers who are primary caregivers show stronger connections between parenting brain regions when viewing their infants, compared with secondary male caregivers…

We found several significant changes in the brains of fathers from prenatal to postpartum that did not emerge within the childless men we followed across the same time period. In both the Spanish and Californian samples, fathers’ brain changes appeared in regions of the cortex that contribute to visual processing, attention and empathy toward the baby.

Would Jesus have hated marijuana?

Enjoyed Gallup’s latest on public opinion on marijuana.  At this point it seems that most everybody is on-board except really religious people.

Specifically, subgroups whose support for legalization exceeds the national average by 10 or more percentage points include those with no religious preference (89%), self-identified liberals (84%), Democrats (81%), young adults (79%) and those who seldom or never attend religious services (78%).

Groups whose support is at least 10 points below the national average include those who attend church weekly (46%), conservatives (49%), Republicans (51%), older adults (53%) and Hispanic adults (56%).

Also, old people:

Given the importance of ideology and age in predicting individuals’ support for marijuana legalization, ideological subgroups of different ages show some of the largest intergroup differences in attitudes.

At every age level, conservatives are less likely than moderates or liberals to support making marijuana legal. However, majorities of younger conservatives (those under age 50) favor legalization, compared with 32% of older conservatives.

With public views like this, it really is only a matter of time till national policy fundamentally changes.  Until then, Democrats should absolutely work harder to make this a wedge issue.  I honestly think part of the problem is that national Democratic leadership is just so old and it’s hard to get over that “reefer madness” stuff.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting essay at NBC News, “The Source of the ‘Asian Advantage’ Isn’t Asian Values”

Yet, the idea that Asian-American success is the result of a unique cultural inheritance ignores the role of U.S. immigration policy in creating Asian-American success. In the mid-1800s Asian immigrants were recruited as laborers to work as farm laborers and on the first transcontinental railroad. They were despised laborers who toiled for low wages in the harshest of conditions. Confucian values were not seen as the key to success, but as a marker of racial and religious differences. Eventually, most Asians were excluded from immigration altogether due to fears of racial contamination.

But what a difference a law can make. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act changed the way Asians were seen in this country–from uneducated and unwanted scourge to hardworking students and examples of economic success. How did we go from backwards laborers to a so-called “model minority”? Too many people assume the community’s educational and economic success is due to the cultural traits of Asian Americans. Like Kristof, they believe Asian Americans care more about education than the average American.

There is another explanation. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act ended Asian exclusion and created two immigration priorities: high skills and family reunification.

“We must not let the advantages of immigration policy and positive attitudes from teachers fuel the myth of cultural superiority.”

After 1965, the U.S. started to recruit high-skilled immigrants from Asia. More than half of the Asian-American population immigrated after 1990, when these efforts were ramped up even further. Today, fully 72 percent of all high-skilled visas are allocated to immigrants from Asia. And the majority of international student visas go to Asian immigrants.

This mode of selective recruitment challenges the idea that Asian success in the U.S. is due to Asian values. That is too simple. If Asian cultural values were the explanation, why don’t we see the same kind of educational achievement in Asia as in the U.S.? We don’t.

2) Always like good pantone drama, “Adobe Just Held a Bunch of Colors Hostage: Certain Pantone collections now require users to pay $15 a month to access them—with colors turned black unless you pay up.”

3) I haven’t used predictit much this election, but I had a pretty good ROI on my 2020 bets.  Thorough story in the New Yorker on the history of and current challenges for legal betting markets. 

4) Man, reporters just love talking about “unaffiliated“, voters.  And I just love telling them, no, these are not all swing voters who don’t have partisan attachments!

Over the years, the political landscape in North Carolina has shifted, there are more unaffiliated voters in the state than ever before. As North Carolina becomes more of a purple state, fewer people are publicly designating what party they support.

“People are frustrated with the party system, they don’t really want to feel like they have to publicly choose one or the other,” Steven Greene, a professor of political science at NC State University said…

“I think its nonetheless important to recognize that the vast majority of those unaffiliated voters have pretty strong party inclinations,” Greene said. “And whether someone is registered as unaffiliated probably doesn’t tell you very much about how they’re going to vote.”

That means most unaffiliated voters are not necessarily swing voters or moderates that can be won over by candidates.

5) This is hilarious.  A women in Raleigh literally called 911 because her barbecue was pink (it’s supposed to be after smoking) and somehow still thinks she’s in the right.  Also, this reminded me that I haven’t been to Clyde Cooper’s in too long. 

6) This was really cool. How Peter Jackson used AI to make the Beatles documentary and a remaster of Revolver.  

The problem was in its master tapes. Beginning with Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles recorded most of their instruments and vocals to separate tracks. So for Martin, boosting the volume of a guitar or organ from Abbey Road or “The White Album” was probably as simple as moving a fader. But on earlier albums, the band often combined a few sounds to the same track. The effect was to lock multiple voices or instruments in place together, leaving no easy way for future remixers to tweak just one by itself.

Non-audiophiles may ask: Who cares? The original Revolver sounded good enough to top lists of the greatest albums ever made. Did it really need the overhaul?

Arguably, yes. For all the Beatles’ genius, they never imagined a day when their music would mainly be played through earbuds. The stereo versions of their early albums were mixed for novelty, with extreme separation between sounds in the right and left speakers, sometimes to the point of lopsidedness. (The Beatles themselves preferred the mono mixes, which are harder to find these days.) “Taxman” was a notorious offender, with bass, drums, and rhythm guitar on one side, and for much of the song, just tambourine and cowbell on the other. It’s been reported to cause dizziness in headphone listeners. For 56 years, there was no way to separate those instruments and rearrange them across the stereo field.

But then Peter Jackson took up the case. A few years ago, the Lord of the Rings director was hired to sift through 60 hours of unused footage from the 1970 Beatles documentary Let It Be and cut it into his own movie — 2021’s Get Back. Large sections of that footage had been marked as unusable because the band’s conversations were drowned out on the mono audio tapes by the sound of their instruments: John, Paul, and George had deliberately hidden their sensitive discussions from the original doc crew by noodling on their guitars. Jackson asked the engineers at his production company, WingNut Films, to see what they could salvage, and so they developed their own machine-learning “de-mixing” software capable of splitting up interlocked sounds. It worked so well decoupling music from speech on the Let It Be audio tapes that Get Back, which had been planned as a two-hour film, grew into an eight-hour TV miniseries (a hit for Disney+ last fall and, by some estimations, the best rock documentary ever).

Martin wondered if Jackson’s software could also be used to isolate the sounds on the Beatles’ early studio albums. Could it ever! And so now we have a remixed Revolver, a “Taxman” that won’t make anybody sick, and, presumably, boxed-set remixes of the band’s other six albums on the way for the 2023-2028 holiday seasons. At last, the most valuable music catalogue in history will be AirPod compliant.

“There’s no one who’s getting audio even close as to what Peter Jackson’s guys can do,” Martin recently told Rolling Stone. “It’s like you giving me a cake, and then me going back to you about an hour later with flour, eggs, sugar, and all the ingredients to that cake, that all haven’t got any cake mix left on them.”

7) Why the decline in Monkey pox?

When monkeypox cases in Europe began to decline this summer, researchers’ first question was: Is it real? Some worried that people might not be getting tested because of receding fears of the virus, coupled with strict isolation requirements for patients. “They might be reluctant to be confirmed and be told not to go out at all,” says Catherine Smallwood, monkeypox incident manager at the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Regional Office for Europe.

But the decline is now unmistakable. WHO Europe, which reported more than 2000 cases per week during the peak in July, is now counting about 100 cases weekly. In the Americas, the other major epicenter of the outbreak, numbers have dropped by more than half (see graphic, right). “We’re seeing a true decline,” Smallwood says.

Vaccines, behavior change among the most affected group—men who have sex with men (MSM)—and immunity after natural infection are all playing a role in that decline, says Erik Volz, an infectious disease modeler at Imperial College London, but how much each factor has contributed is unclear. “This is something we’ve debated a lot internally.”

In the United Kingdom, at least, vaccination campaigns have played a minor role, according to a model published as a preprint this month by Samuel Brand, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Warwick. Monkeypox’s reproductive number—the average number of new infections triggered by an infected person—began to drop by mid-June, even though campaigns only started in July, Brand notes. Several other European countries saw the same pattern.

That leaves behavior change and immunity from natural infections. A survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention among MSM in August found about half had reduced their number of sexual contacts. As awareness of the disease increased, people also became more likely to seek diagnosis and treatment early and to avoid sex while they were infectious. The UK Health Security Agency has presented data suggesting syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections declined as well—which would bolster the case for behavior change—although that signal is “suggestive but not conclusive,” Volz says.

Immunity acquired through infections in the most sexually active men may be the biggest factor, however. Monkeypox has been affecting mostly MSM and their sexual networks because parts of those networks are densely connected, with some people having a large number of sexual contacts. Rising immunity in that group could limit the viru’s ability to spread, says Jacco Wallinga, chief epidemic modeler at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. “Because the persons with a very high number of sexual contacts are also those at the highest risk of infection, the depletion of susceptibles due to natural infection is very rapid,” he says. Brand agrees. His model suggests that among the estimated 1000 people in the United Kingdom who have 120 sexual partners per month or more, “maybe half got infected by the time of the peak.” Still, Brand says his model suggests infections among this small part of the MSM population cannot explain the observed decline on their own. “I don’t think it is as plausible” as behavior change playing a role as well, he says.

8) One of my problems with land acknowledgements is that whatever tribes are being acknowledged quite likely took that land by force from earlier tribes.  Really interesting new book reviewed by Thomas Ricks:

In INDIGENOUS CONTINENT: The Epic Contest for North America (Liveright, 592 pp., $40), Pekka Hämäläinen asserts that the war for control of the continent was “one of the longest conflicts in history,” lasting some four centuries. Hämäläinen, a prizewinning historian at Oxford University, recasts the history of North America from a Native American, or Indian, perspective. (He uses those two terms interchangeably.) In the process, he has produced the single best book I have ever read on Native American history, as well as one of the most innovative narratives about the continent.

One of his running themes is how limited the Europeans were in their range of action. Essentially, for most of the time, the English, French and Spanish did nothing without approval from one or another Native American tribe or confederation. The Iroquois, who were the dominant economic, military and diplomatic power in the Northeast in the late 17th century, once had a tribal representative respond to a French official’s threat of war with the dismissive comment, “Let us see whether his arms be long enough to remove the scalps from our heads.”

Westward expansion, the author says, was led not by European colonists but by the Sioux, who perceived the huge advantage in migrating with the horse, an animal new to the Western Hemisphere, into the grasslands of the Great Plains. There, armed with muskets and gunpowder given to them by the French as tribute, they became the second Native American superpower, dominating the Upper Mississippi Valley.

In the Southwest, the Comanches used the same combination of the gun and the horse to rise to a dominant regional position. Soon all of their buffalo hunters were mounted, enabling them to reap a bonanza of protein that fueled the rapid expansion of the tribe. By the 1840s, Hämäläinen notes, Comanches may have grown to become 10 percent of the total Native American population on the continent.They found the Spanish useful and made them their “junior allies,” he writes.

9) Loved reading Bono’s take on various books. 

10) Katrina vanden Heuvel argues, “Democrats have helped working-class Americans. They need to say so loudly.”  I feel like they would do this more if it actually worked.  I think it just doesn’t, even though it really should.

11) German Lopez, “Racial disparities in incarceration have fallen.”

I want to explain one such shift that has gotten little attention: Slowly, the American criminal justice system has become more equitable. The racial gap among inmates in state prisons has fallen 40 percent since 2000, fueled by a large decrease in Black imprisonment rates, according to a new report by the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank.

Finding the right balance between public safety and human dignity animated many of the criminal justice policies enacted in the U.S. over the past couple of decades. The decline in racial disparities is a remarkable reversal of policies now widely seen as unfairly punishing Black people. “It’s a tremendous drop,” said Thaddeus Johnson, one of the report’s authors…

Why did inequities in prison rates shrink? The decrease was the result of a decades-long effort to reduce what critics call mass incarceration.

That is their term for the harsher sentencing laws passed in response to a crime increase that began in the 1960s, which made the U.S. one of the world’s biggest incarcerators. Black communities were disproportionately affected and in some cases targeted by law enforcement, as the Justice Department has found in Ferguson, Mo., in Baltimore and elsewhere. By 2000, Black adults were locked up in state prisons at 8.2 times the rate of white Americans, after accounting for population.

Eventually, the high costs of incarceration and the racial disparities prompted activists from across the political spectrum to push for a rollback of the toughest punishments. Bit by bit, lawmakers obliged, reducing penalties mainly for nonviolent crimes.

As those changes took effect, incarceration rates dropped. Since Black Americans were more likely to be imprisoned, they benefited the most. Rates of arrest and imprisonment for Black Americans fell sharply, the Council on Criminal Justice analysis found. White arrests also fell, but by less. And the rate of white offenders being sent to prison actually increased.

12) The social science case for the “diversity” value of affirmative action.

The notion that racially diverse student bodies improve campus intellectual life has been roundly attacked by both liberals and conservatives. But the Roberts court should not be quick to dismiss diversity’s value and dismantle affirmative action. Because we have evidence that diversity works…

But we have found a way to quantify the value of diversity in higher education, as these GOP-appointed justices demanded. In a Columbia Law Review article published this year, we marshaled statistically significant evidence that the value of racial diversity is not illusory.

Our paper, “Assessing Affirmative Action’s Diversity Rationale,” examined the effect of increasing diversity in a setting familiar to the justices: student-edited law journals. The student editors of these publications select and edit the articles they will publish, with a goal of choosing those that will be cited most frequently by legal scholars. Citations are not a perfect measure of an article’s quality, but they are a widely used way to gauge the impact of research in many disciplines and to provide a metric for how well a journal is performing.

Over the past six decades, many leading student-run law journals — including the Yale Law Journal and the Harvard Law Review—have taken steps to increase the diversity of their mastheads, believing, like Powell, that a more diverse group of student editors would bring more diverse ideas and experiences to their publications.

More broadly, our article lends credibility to the idea that diverse student bodies, diverse faculties, diverse teams of attorneys and diverse teams of employees generally can perform better than non-diverse teams. These results, in sum, place empirical heft behind Powell’s much-derided diversity rationale.

13) Brownstein on crime:

These attacks assume that the changes in criminal-justice policies that some states and many cities have pursued over the past few years are undermining public safety and fueling higher crime rates.

But an exhaustive new study released today by the Center for American Progress refutes that allegation. Conducted by a team of seven academic researchers, the study compares cities that have elected so-called progressive prosecutors with places whose district attorneys continue to pursue more traditional approaches.

Countering conventional wisdom, the study found that homicides over recent years increased less rapidly in cities with progressive prosecutors than in those with more traditional district attorneys. It also found no meaningful differences between cities with progressive or traditional DAs in the trends for larceny and robbery. “I think it’s really important to emphasize the extent to which we looked for a relationship and found none” between a prosecutors’ commitment to reform and crime rates, Todd Foglesong, a fellow in residence at the University of Toronto and one of the co-authors, told me.

The data, from CAP, a liberal think tank and advocacy organization, reinforces the message from a study released earlier this year by Third Way, a centrist Democratic group. That report found that per capita murder rates in 2020 were 40 percent higher in states that voted for Donald Trump than in those that voted for President Joe Biden. The study found that eight of the 10 states with the highest per capita murder rates in 2020 have voted Republican in every presidential election in this century…

But although competing theories abound (such as more guns or less conscientious policing amid increased scrutiny of their behavior), there’s no real consensus about why crime picked up again starting around 2014. Nor is there any consensus on whether it will now recede from its pandemic heights.

Rick Rosenfeld, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and one of the authors of the CAP study, told me some evidence suggests that homicide rates have peaked. But property crime is likely to continue rising, he said, largely because the high price of conventional goods amid soaring inflation has increased the market for lower-cost stolen goods, which creates more incentives to steal. “We live in a multicausal world,” Rosenfeld, a former president of the American Society of Criminology, told me. “Some things may be pushing up crime rates at the same time other things are pushing them down.”

“Multicausal” is far from the world most Democratic candidates are living in these final weeks before Election Day. The CAP study makes a thorough case that the new policies the progressive prosecutors are implementing can’t be blamed for the rising incidence of crime. But the slugfest on the campaign trail underscores an equally important truth: that as long as crime rates are elevated, those criminal-justice reforms will remain politically vulnerable anyway.

14) Really good stuff from NYT on the sociology and demographics of election-denying, “Their America Is Vanishing. Like Trump, They Insist They Were Cheated.” (Gift link)

Quick hits (part I)

1) So good from Kat Rosenfield, “Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative”

This is a theory I’ve had for some time, but it crystallized in the writing of this piece: In our current era, politics no longer have anything to do with policy. Nor are they about principles, or values, or a vision for the future of the country. They’re about tribalism, and aesthetics, and vibes. They’re about lockstep solidarity with your chosen team, to which you must demonstrate your loyalty through fierce and unwavering conformity. And most of all, they’re about hating the right people…

As Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted, “the whole thing makes no sense — except as an exercise in labeling anyone out of step with progressive orthodoxy in any way at all as a right-winger.”

But of course this exercise is increasingly the preferred — and perhaps only — means for sorting people into various political boxes. And on that front, the whole thing makes perfect sense: This with-us-or-against-us ethos is how I, a woman who has voted Democrat straight down the ticket in every election for the past 20 years, found myself suddenly accused of apostasy by the Left at the same time that I began receiving invitations from right-wingers to appear on Gutfeld! 

I said yes to those invitations, too, of course. I even had a good time! 

But this is why conservatives so often mistake me for one of their own: not because I argue for right-wing policies or from a right-wing perspective, but because progressives are often extremely, publicly mad at me for refusing to parrot the latest catechism and for criticizing the progressive dogmas that either violate my principles or make no sense. I look like a friend of the Right only because the Left wants to make me their enemy — and because I can’t bring myself to do the requisite dance, or make the requisite apologies, that might get me back in the Left’s good graces. 

On that front, I am not alone. There’s a loose but growing coalition of lefties out there, artists and writers and academics and professionals, who’ve drawn sympathetic attention from conservatives after being publicly shamed out of the progressive clubhouse (that is, by the type of progressive who thinks there is a clubhouse, which is of course part of the problem). It’s remarkably easy these days to be named an apostate on the left. Maybe you were critical of the looting and rioting that devastated cities in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police in 2020. Maybe you were skeptical of this or that viral outrage: Covington Catholic, or Jussie Smollett, or the alleged racial abuse at a BYU volleyball game that neither eyewitness testimony nor video evidence could corroborate. Maybe you were too loud about the continued need for due process in the middle of #MeToo. Maybe you wouldn’t stop asking uncomfortable questions about the proven value of certain divisive brands of diversity training, or transgender surgeries for kids, or — come the pandemic — masking. Maybe you kept defending the right to free speech and creative expression after these things had been deemed “right-wing values” by your fellow liberals.

This is a fraught moment for those of us who aren’t reflexive team players, who struggle with reading the room, who remain committed to certain values on principle even when they’ve become politically inexpedient. The present climate leaves virtually no room for a person to dissent and yet remain in good standing. Attorney Lara Bazelon — whose commitment to due-process protections in Title IX cases puts her not just at odds with her left-wing peers but also, in a shocking turn, on the same side as the Trump administration — described the challenges of heterodoxy on an episode of Glenn Loury’s podcast in October 2022. “I have a tribe and they have a position, and I don’t agree with it,” Bazelon said, looking bewildered. “Why is it so poisonous and toxic and canceling-inducing to be able to say that basic thing?”

Now, of course, we’re not all post-policy– which is why Rosenfield still is a liberal:

The title of this essay is “Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative,” and it’s not lost on me that it would be an excellent setup for a tidily dramatic ending in which I suddenly realize that wait, no, the mistake was mine, and finally I see that I’ve been a conservative all along. But despite the occasional flirtation (or lunch) with members of the center-Right, and despite the lucrative career potential of a right-wing pivot, I shan’t be coming out of the closet or putting on a “Team GOP” jersey today. I still believe in liberal principles such as free speech, high social trust, and a government that provides a robust safety net for people in need while leaving the rest of us to live and let live. I support same-sex marriage, universal health care, police and prison reform, and an end to the destructive and foolhardy wars on drugs and terror — and while we’re abolishing things, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the sex-offender registry and capital punishment, too.

2) NHL offside review are just so awful.  I love this list of possible solutions.  This one seems great:

4. Shorten the coach’s time to decide

Offside review has always been broken, but it certainly seems like there’s one element that’s been getting worse over the last year or two: The interminable delays while we wait for the coach to make up his mind.

This is bad, for two reasons. First of all, hockey was way more fun when a goal would be scored and we’d cut to a shot of the other team’s coach looking mad, or yelling at this team, or waving his arms around, or reacting with some form of human emotion instead of just passively staring at a little screen like a bored toddler at the end of a long car ride. But more importantly, it’s giving all these coaches even more time to find those freeze-frame pixel plays that shouldn’t able to overturn a call but somehow still do.

You’d think we could turn to the rulebook for some sort of time limit here, but there actually isn’t one. It just says that the review has to be initiated before the next faceoff. And if the officials are willing to just stand around before dropping the puck, then the coach has all the time in the world to figure things out.

We need a limit, and here’s my suggestion: Five seconds.

That’s it. Five seconds from the moment the goal is scored until the coach has to make up his mind. The referee in the offensive-zone signals goal, and the trailing referee looks over at the coach and holds up five fingers. Count it down. Five seconds, coach, what do you got?

OK, I’m guessing you think that’s too quick. If so, make it 10 seconds or whatever. The point is that we want a quick decision, one that has to come before the video coach has had time to dig through every replay like it’s the Zapruder film. If the coach thinks he saw something in real time, or he trusts his players who say they did, then we’ll review it. But you don’t get to tell the linesman he missed a call when you didn’t see it either.

The beauty here is that we’d still be missing plays that were technically offside. It would probably happen even more often than with our other ideas. But now it’s not the officials’ fault anymore. Now it’s on the coach for not being quick enough. If the broadcast discovers an angle that shows a skate was a half-inch over the line, they won’t be blaming the linesman for not finding it on replay. They’ll blame the coach instead…

And this one such a no-brainer!

2. Limit how long the reviews can take

I hear this one a lot from frustrated fans, and it’s really just an extension of the first suggestion. The idea here is that any review that drags on for too long can’t be conclusive and irrefutable, so we put a time limit on things. Let’s say that from the moment the review begins, we have two minutes before the screens shut off. If you haven’t made your mind up by then, that’s fine. It means that the call on the ice was right, or at least that it was close enough that we can live with it. Let’s get the game going again.

Would it help? Let’s hold that thought, because the next idea is a similar approach

3) Krugman:

So Republican plans to cut Medicare and Social Security would impose widespread hardship, with some of the worst impacts falling on red-state, noncollege whites — that is, the party’s most loyal base.

Why, then, does the party want to do this? We needn’t take claims that it’s about fiscal responsibility seriously; a fiscally responsible party wouldn’t be seeking to make the Trump tax cuts permanent or oppose giving the I.R.S. the resources it needs to crack down on tax cheats. What we’re seeing, instead, is that despite its populist rhetoric, the G.O.P. is still very much a party of and for the rich.

A more interesting question is why Republicans think they can get away with touching the traditional third rails of fiscal policy. Social Security remains as popular as ever; Republicans themselves campaigned against Obamacare by claiming, misleadingly, that it would cut Medicare. Why imagine that proposals to deny benefits to many Americans by raising the eligibility age won’t provoke a backlash?

At least part of the answer is surely the expectation that the right-wing disinformation machine can obscure what the G.O.P. is up to. The Republican Study Committee has released a 153-page report calling, among other things, for denying full Social Security benefits to Americans under 70; that didn’t stop Sean Hannity from declaring the other day that “not a single Republican has ever said they want to take away your Social Security.”

Finally, how do Republicans imagine they could pass any of this agenda? After all, even if they do win the midterms, they won’t have enough votes to override a Biden veto.

Unfortunately, we know the answer: If Republicans win one or both houses of Congress, they’ll try to achieve their goals not though the normal legislative process but through blackmail. They’ll threaten to provoke a global financial crisis by refusing to raise the debt limit. If Democrats defang that threat, Republicans will try to get what they want by making America ungovernable in other ways.

Will they succeed? Stay tuned.

4) Is Long Covid just myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome?  Maybe sort of?

5) “Integralism” is the old conservatism made new again:

Broadly speaking, there are two different kinds of contemporary American conservatism. The more familiar—traditional conservatism—holds that the founding principles and institutions of the American polity remain sound but have been distorted by waves of progressive activism that have eroded our commitment to individual liberty and limited government. The task is to preserve these fundamentals while restoring their original meaning and function. 

The second kind of conservatism claims that America was flawed from the start. The focus on individual rights comes at the expense of community and the common good, and the claim that government exists to preserve individual liberty creates an inexorable move toward moral anarchy. These tendencies have moved us so far from traditional decency and public order that there is little of worth left to “conserve.” Our current situation represents a revolution against the forces—religion, strong families, local moral communities—that once limited the worst implications of our founding mistakes. The only remedy for this revolution is a counter-revolution. Instead of limited government, we need strong government capable of promoting the common good and defending moral common sense against the threat posed by unelected elites.

This proposed counter-revolution has little to do with conservatism as traditionally understood. It seeks not to limit the flaws in our founding principles but to replace them. Specifically, it is a revolt against liberalism, the political theory rooted in the Enlightenment that inspired the Declaration of Independence. This New Right is unabashedly anti-liberal, at the level of philosophical principle as well as political practice.

There are different kinds of anti-liberalism. Some are secular—for example, fascism, which rests its legitimacy on the culture and spirit of a specific “people” and uses all available means to pursue the interests of this people, as defined by an elite that purports to speak in its name. Other kinds of anti-liberalism appeal to a specific religion, the truth of which is taken for granted. Legitimate government rules in the name of this religion and promotes God’s will on earth.

With these distinctions, we have reached integralism, which is a distinctive form of religious anti-liberalism within Catholicism. It arose many centuries before the emergence of liberalism, as a justification for the integration of Catholicism and political power that began under the Roman emperor Constantine and was completed in 380 by emperor Theodosius I, who embraced Christianity not only as his personal religion but also as the religion of his realm. At the end of the next century, Pope Gelasius I formalized the Catholic understanding in his famous distinction between priestly and royal authority. In matters concerning religious practice and ultimate salvation, Gelasius argued, political authorities are required to submit to the authority of the Church. 

Among other implications, this arrangement precludes religious liberty as now understood. Any political authority that permits individuals and groups to freely choose among religions ipso facto denies the authority of the Church in spiritual matters.

6) This is a real must-read, “US Traffic Safety Is Getting Worse, While Other Countries Improve”

The US underperformance in road safety is especially dramatical: 11.4 Americans per 100,000 died in crashes in 2020, a number that dwarfs countries including Spain (2.9), Israel (3.3) and New Zealand (6.3). And unlike most developed nations, US roadways have grown more deadly during the last two decades (including during the pandemic), especially for those outside of cars. Last year saw the most pedestrians killed in the US in 40 years, and deaths among those biking rose 44% from 2010 to 2020…

In recent months I’ve written a series of CityLab articles exploring why many countries — including FinlandFrance and Japan — boast roadway death rates that are a fraction of the US toll. The closer you look, the clearer it becomes that the US traffic safety crisis is not a reflection of geography or culture. It is the result of policy decisions that elevated fast car travel and automaker profits over roadway safety. Other countries made different choices, and they’ve saved lives as a result…

Uniquely, the US has seen larger SUVs and pickup trucks dominate its domestic car market. While the profitability of this trend has delighted automakers, the weight and height of these vehicles places other road users in greater danger. Research has linked the ascent of SUVs to the surge in US pedestrian deaths. Larger vehicles are gaining popularity in other countries as well, but higher gasoline taxes (as well as weight-based fees adopted by countries like France) have slowed their adoption.

7) Loved this Nature article on the prospect of Far-UVC for cleaning our air of pathogens.  I so want us to invest in this, especially in places like schools:

With GUV light, “you can get very high rates of air disinfection with relatively little air movement”, says Milton. “And with the newest technology, maybe you don’t even have to worry about air movement, because now there are wavelengths that are safer to use and you can use GUV in the whole room.” In crowded spaces such as schools, hospitals and restaurants where diseases can easily spread, GUV can operate unnoticed “even before you know that you’ve got a problem”, Milton says. “That’s really critical in keeping these things under control.” …

Although there are no universally accepted and enforced standards for indoor air quality, targets are typically expressed in terms of how often the amount of air in a room is exchanged per hour. The recommendation for examination rooms in US hospitals, for instance, is six air changes per hour. That’s a struggle for ventilation systems and typically requires a lot of energy, Bahnfleth says. Whereas, an upper-room GUV system can easily reach the equivalent of two or three times those levels of air exchange for disinfection purposes while using much less energy than a ventilation system.“It’s mostly impossible for anything but a hospital or special facility to have six air changes,” says Nardell. “GUV is the only method that gives you this incredibly high number of equivalent air changes, because you can disinfect such a large volume of air at once.”…

8) If you’ve heard of John Lott you know he specializes in justifying conservative causes (mostly guns) with very dubious social science.  Nice takedown in the New Yorker.

For almost thirty years, Lott, who has a doctorate in economics from U.C.L.A., has provided the empirical backbone for the gun-rights movement. Virtually every statistical argument against regulation—made by lobbyists, Republican lawmakers, and National Rifle Association members alike—is based on his research, which reaches two conclusions: guns make Americans safer, and gun restrictions place them in danger. He stands against droves of distinguished academics who have determined that the opposite is true. But, in the scientific debate over firearms, no one has had greater influence.

 

Lott’s first and most famous book, “More Guns, Less Crime,” was published in 1998 by the University of Chicago Press, one of the country’s most prestigious academic publishers. The book has been republished multiple times, and offers one seemingly irrefutable statistic after another. It specifies that when states relaxed laws restricting the concealed carrying of handguns, counties saw a roughly eight-per-cent drop in murders, a five-per-cent reduction in rapes, and a seven-per-cent decrease in aggravated assaults. The text is the basis for arguments blaming “gun-free zones” for mass shootings, and the notion, popularized by the N.R.A., that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. “Overall,” Lott writes, “my conclusion is that criminals as a group tend to behave rationally—when crime becomes more difficult, less crime is committed.”

Lott’s findings and methods have generated scathing criticism from prominent academics, who have questioned his veracity and exposed flaws in his work. But the critiques have not diminished his stature. Instead, they have fed the conspiracy-oriented mentality of the gun-rights movement. In the eyes of its adherents, and in the messaging of the gun lobby and trade groups, attempts to discredit Lott are really attempts to suppress the truth…

In the second edition of his book, published in 2000, Lott attributed the brandishing claim to this three-month study. That year, in a piece for The Criminologist, Duncan had laid out his concerns. Lott, who was now in a temporary research position at Yale, responded in the same journal, providing some new specifics and an explanation for the confusion. “The survey that I oversaw interviewed 2,424 people from across the United States,” he said. “I had planned on including a discussion of it in my book, but did not do so because an unfortunate computer crash lost my hard disk right before the final draft of the book had to be turned in.”

In September, 2002, James Lindgren, a law professor at Northwestern University who has a Ph.D. in quantitative sociology, offered to examine the matter. Lott told Lindgren that the calls for the survey were made by University of Chicago undergraduates, who volunteered for the work and used their own phones. Lott did not have phone records, but the students could confirm whether the survey was conducted in the first place. When Lindgren asked for the students’ names, however, Lott said that he did not remember. Later, he explained that he was “horrible at names.” Lindgren told me, “After all these years, no one has come forward to say they worked on the survey.” Two people, however, claim that they were respondents; one of these, David Gross, is a former N.R.A. board member.

9) Good stuff from Lee Drutman, “Why Do People Who Don’t Like Politics Hold the Fate of the Country in Their Hands?”

It’s almost Election Day, and once again, the party that wins the midterms will likely be determined by swing voters — a small but critical slice of the electorate that, despite the polarization of U.S. politics, is still open to voting for Democrats or Republicans.

These swing voters have gained a reputation for being the one remaining moderating force in our politics. But more often they are a mercurial mix of unorthodoxy and political uninterest — and they hold disproportionate power to decide the fate of the country, based on the price of gasoline or a reflexive turn against the party in the White House.

What we’re left with in our polarized system is that the only real swing voters are those who either don’t really follow politics (most swing voters) or whose deeply considered political values leave them ambivalent about the two major parties (a few highly educated voters with an outsize media presence).

As Democrats and Republicans continue to diverge, especially over fundamental questions like “Was the 2020 election legitimate?” and “Is America a democracy?” the stakes of winning over these mostly disengaged voters are higher than ever.

This raises a perplexing question: Why do those who pay very little attention to our politics, whose vote choices are largely inscrutable and who are the most likely to default to voting against the party of the current president, hold the most decisive power? The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying: Because that’s how our voting system is set up. We can come up with a better system. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen in time for Election Day in November, but in a better system, all votes would matter equally everywhere, instead of just those of swing voters in swing districts.

10) With affirmative action in the news, good time to revisit Yglesias‘ take from earlier this year:

Affirmative action generates more racially balanced classes at elite universities but places the burden of adjustment on the shoulders of Asian Americans and lower-class white people rather than rich white people. Meanwhile, a person like me — a fairly privileged young person whose father’s family happens to come from Cuba — got a boost. I don’t know of any theory of distributive or restorative justice that says this is a reasonable formula for addressing America’s legacy of racial discrimination or present-day inequities. But it’s what’s actually happening.

I think Bill Clinton’s old “mend it, don’t end it” formula made a lot of sense, but in reality, nothing has been mended in the 25 years since he said that. Now the courts are poised to end it, and unfortunately, ending it could have bad consequences too…

Sometimes it does make sense to invest the most resources in training the most elite prospects. But at least at the current margin for American higher education, we would get better returns by giving money to help teach the weaker students. Whether through affirmative action (Bleemer) or Top X%, it is beneficial to be a below-average student at a more-competitive college because the more competitive college will devote more instructional resources to you.

It is obviously in the narrow interests of Harvard to keep fighting for a world in which Harvard gets tons of money and then wins social justice points by having a racially diverse class.

But from the standpoint of social justice, by far the preferable option is to redistribute the money away from the institutions that have so much and give it to the ones who serve a more diverse set of people from more modest backgrounds.

11) Likewise, Pew from earlier this year, “As courts weigh affirmative action, grades and test scores seen as top factors in college admissions”

More than nine-in-ten Americans (93%) say high school grades should be at least a minor factor in admissions decisions, including 61% who say they should be a major factor. Grades are, by far, the criteria the public says should most factor into admissions decisions. This is followed by standardized test scores (39% major factor, 46% minor factor) and community service involvement (19% major, 48% minor), according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted March 7-13, 2022.

A bar chart showing that Americans see grades and standardized test scores as top factors to be considered in college admissions

A bar chart showing that compared with 2019, fewer Americans now see high school grades and test scores as major factors that should be considered in college admissions decisions

 

12) Max Boot, “Don’t blame ‘both sides.’ The right is driving political violence.”

It should not be controversial to say that America has a major problem with right-wing political violence. The evidence continues to accumulate — yet the GOP continues to deny responsibility for this horrifying trend…

Violence is unacceptable whether from the left or right, period. But we can’t allow GOP leaders to get away with this false moral equivalency. They are evading their responsibility for their extremist rhetoric that all too often motivates extremist actions.

The New America think tank found last year that, since Sept. 11, 2001, far-right terrorists had killed 122 people in the United States, compared with only one killed by far-leftists. A study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies last year found that, since 2015, right-wing extremists had been involved in 267 plots or attacks, compared with 66 for left-wing extremists. A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey released in January found that 40 percent of Republicans said violence against the government can be justified, compared with only 23 percent of Democrats.

There is little doubt about what is driving political violence: the ascendance of Trump. The former president and his followers use violent rhetoric of extremes: Trump calls President Biden an “enemy of the state,” attacks the FBI as “monsters,” refers to the “now Communist USA” and even wrote that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a “DEATH WISH” for disagreeing with him. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has expressed support for executing Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.) has tweeted that “the America Last Marxists … are radically and systematically DESTROYING our country.”…

That type of extremist rhetoric used to be confined to fringe organizations such as the John Birch Society. Now it’s the GOP mainstream, with predictable consequences. The U.S. Capitol Police report that threats against members of Congress have risen more than tenfold since Trump’s election in 2016, up to 9,625 last year.

13) Good stuff from Jesse Singal on the state of modern journalism.  Well worth a read, but tough to excerpt.

14) As much as I would love permanent Daylight Savings Time, it was always crazy that the Senate just passed this unanimously with minimal discussion.  It’s not gonna happen. 

15) I still recycle a lot of plastic, but don’t feel bad throwing it away anymore. “On Second Thought, Just Throw Plastic Away: Even Greenpeace now admits the obvious: recycling doesn’t work.”

The Greenpeace report offers a wealth of statistics and an admirably succinct diagnosis: “Mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed and will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle.”

16) A pandemic updates from Eric Topol.

New on the Bivalent Booster

Now for the best news of the day, which is on the BA.5 bivalent booster, a reprint from Emory University that shows how well the bivalent held up to BQ.1. and BA.2.75.2, two of the most immune evasive new variants, compared with the original monovalent shot(s) via the live neutralization assay. This is the best data we have yet seen for the bivalent booster, since for the 2 earlier preprints by the Ho and Barouch labs, both did not show a big BA.5 neutralizing antibody response as was hoped. The prior studies used a pseudovirus assay whereas the Emory used live virus, likely a more accurate assessment. The BA.5 neutralization with bivalent was 4-fold the original booster, which is certainly better than 1.3 fold from the Barouch lab report. Importantly, now we have lab evidence that our defense against 2 of the worrisome variants with a growth advantage in the United States (especially BQ.1.1) should be bolstered with the new booster.

17) Definitely wonky, but I loved this so much from Nate Cohn, “Will One Small Shift Fix the Polls in 2022?”

The great polling misfire of the 2020 election wasn’t just about how Trump supporters were less likely to respond to political surveys.

It was also about the failure of pollsters’ usual statistical adjustments to fix the problem.

After all, some demographic groups — like Hispanic voters — invariably respond to surveys at lower rates than others. Usually, pollsters just adjust for it, most often by “weighting” respondents from underrepresented groups to represent their share of the population. In 2020, the problem was that weighting didn’t do the trick. Even if a poll had the right number of Republicans or working-class whites, it still understated Donald J. Trump’s support against Joe Biden.

But this cycle, one weighting technique that didn’t do the job in 2020 might just be a little more powerful this time around.

That technique is called weighting by recalled vote choice. That term is a fancy way to say having the right number of people who say they voted for a candidate, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden, in the last election.

Not every pollster weights on recalled vote. The Times/Siena poll doesn’t. But based on Times/Siena data, weighting on recalled vote seems a lot likelier to shift a poll toward Republicans than two years ago, even if Trump supporters are no more likely to take surveys.

What’s changed? In 2020, Times/Siena respondents showed more voters reporting they voted for Mr. Trump four years earlier than the actual 2016 result. Now, our respondents are likelier to report voting for Mr. Biden than the actual 2020 result. As a consequence, weighting on recalled vote would now shift Times/Siena polls toward the right, since we would need to give additional weight to Mr. Trump’s 2020 supporters to match the 2020 tally.

If that’s a little confusing, here’s a concrete example:

In our final poll of Pennsylvania in 2020, voters who recalled backing Mr. Trump in 2016 outnumbered those who recalled backing Hillary Clinton by four percentage points, even though Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania by less than one point in 2016. If we had adjusted our poll to match the 2016 result, we would have needed to give more weight to Mrs. Clinton’s former supporters, shifting our already-too-Democratic poll result further to the left.

This year, the pattern is reversed: In our recent Pennsylvania poll, voters who said they recalled voting for Mr. Biden outnumbered those who backed Mr. Trump by four points, compared with Mr. Biden’s actual one-point victory. If we had adjusted our poll to match the 2020 results, we would have given more weight to the voters who said they backed Mr. Trump, shifting our results to the right (if you’re curious, John Fetterman would have led by three points in our recent Senate poll of Pennsylvania, 48 percent to 45 percent, rather than by 5.5 points).

Nowadays, many pollsters weight on recalled vote choice. If their underlying data looks similar to ours, the decision to weight on past vote might do a lot to shift those polls to the right compared with the last cycle. This effect of recalled vote weighting might wind up improving the accuracy of the polling averages, even as the underlying data quality remains unchanged…

Nonetheless, I’m not convinced that this is a good practice — at least for us.

The biggest reason: There’s longstanding evidence that voters are less likely to recall voting for the losing candidate, and more likely to recall voting for the winner (this is one of my earliest polling-nerd memories).

The shift in our data is consistent with this pattern: Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, thus he outperformed the final result on recalled 2016 vote in 2020 polling; Mr. Biden won the 2020 election, thus he’s the one now outperforming. This suggests weighting on recalled vote will bias a poll against the party that won the last election, all else being equal.

This isn’t just a theoretical proposition: The partisanship of the people who refuse to tell us whom they supported last time around offers evidence that this is playing out in the Times/Siena poll. In our recent wave of congressional polling, nearly 10 percent of validated 2020 voters didn’t tell us whom they supported last time around. As a group, these voters are registered Republicans by a two-to-one margin, 48 percent to 25 percent. They disapprove of Mr. Biden by an even greater margin, 61 percent to 26 percent. This is certainly consistent with the possibility that an important and disproportionate sliver of Trump 2020 voters would prefer not to recall or divulge their vote.

I would find it hard to embrace something that would have unequivocally made our results even worse in 2020, no matter what our 2022 data showed. This evidence makes it very hard for me to justify weighting on recalled vote — even if I think the results look better that way.

There’s also an important practical challenge: What’s the right target? It’s easy enough to say that it should match the 2020 election, but that’s really not quite so clear. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Trump ought to lead on recalled vote with the likely electorate, if Republicans enjoy the usual midterm turnout advantage. Or maybe it’s the other way around, if Democrats benefit from demographic change or an influx of new registrants. And what about the voters who don’t seem to provide accurate information — like the folks who won’t tell us whom they supported or those who say they voted, even though they don’t have a track record of doing so. It’s messy.

Nonetheless, pollsters have been using recalled vote more and more over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why…

Unfortunately, this methodological debate is hard to resolve. It’s entirely possible that recalled vote will help cancel out a Democratic bias. It just won’t be clear whether that choice yielded a representative sample — whether a hypothetical perfect poll of America would show no bias on recalled vote — or whether it created a new, rightward bias that canceled out other biases.

And even if it is unbiased this time, there will be no way to know whether it will be unbiased in the future. After all, it would have hurt the Times/Siena polls in 2020.

What is fairly clear, though, is many pollsters using recalled vote weighting might show more favorable results for Republicans in 2022 than they did in 2020, even if their underlying data remains just as biased toward Democrats. It tends to reduce the risk of another 2020-like polling error.

Sorry to be so late with this! More tomorrow.  

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