Quick hits (part II)

1) This is going into my Public Policy syllabus, “We Pay to Keep the Old Out of Poverty. Why Won’t We Do the Same for the Young?”

Others have argued that American poverty persists because government assistance makes Americans unwilling to work. As the former representative Paul Ryan put it, “There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap.” But our high child poverty rate isn’t because poor people feel less incentivized to work or they’re just plain lazier in the United States. We manage to have both high employment levels and high poverty rates at the same time.

The real difference is that the United States does far less to reduce its child poverty rate than some of its foreign peers. “It’s no more complex than we spend less, and so poverty rates are higher among kids,” Hilary Hoynes, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.

There are a number of social programs that other countries offer that the United States doesn’t. We don’t have universal health care (although we do have the Children’s Health Insurance Program for low-income kids, as well as more expanded coverage through the Affordable Care Act). We also spend far less on child care and early childhood education.

But the most important distinction is that most other countries give parents more money when their children are young, many of them through direct child allowances. “The evidence is overwhelming that child allowances are the single most important policy for preventing child poverty,” said Irwin Garfinkel, an economist at Columbia. Giving parents cash goes an incredibly long way toward erasing poverty.

By contrast, we’ve spent significant resources over the past half-century on alleviating elderly poverty. Social Security is the greatest anti-poverty program we have in the United States. It kept 26.5 million people out of poverty in 2020, most of them seniors. Unemployment insurance, the safety net program that clocks in next, lifted 5.5 million people above the poverty line. We rarely talk about it this way, but Social Security is a form of direct cash payment to all Americans once they hit a certain age.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dr. Hoynes said. When it comes to how much we spend on the elderly, “we look pretty similar to other countries.” The United States simply spends less on a permanent safety net for children.

2) Great interview by Yascha Mounk of David Wallace-Wells on climate change:

First, what do you think is the most likely scenario at this point in terms of climate? And I know that that depends on political choices, and it’s really hard to project. But if you have made your best point estimate of where we’re going to be in fifty, or a hundred years, what do you think the climate and life on earth will look like? 

Wallace-Wells: Well, I think the first thing to say is that all of these projections are governed by several layers of uncertainty. There is uncertainty, as you point out, about human response and human action. And there’s also uncertainty about how the climate itself will respond, what sorts of feedback loops may be initiated, and exactly how quickly things like Arctic and Antarctic ice will disappear. So we’re making projections in a cloud of deep uncertainty. And for the most part, I think most humans alive on the planet today use that as an excuse to not worry too much about it. 

But I think the alternate approach, that we should be worrying about it more as a result, is probably more responsible, at least. But of course, as a human, I share the other impulse too. If I had to guess I would say that we’re looking at a level of warming this century somewhere between two and two and a half degrees Celsius, maybe a little north of that. And that’s basically because we are making remarkably fast progress driving down the price of renewable energy, which makes it now a good bargain just about everywhere in the world that’s investing in its own energy future. But we’re not nearly doing enough or moving fast enough to draw down our use of fossil fuels. So at the moment, we’re supplementing our existing energy base with renewables rather than replacing, which is what we really need to do.

Mounk: The battle against climate change is often framed as revolving primarily around economic sacrifices. And there is a part of that which is true. But what you’re talking about in terms of the falling price of renewable energies is that actually, in many places, it’s just becoming economically rational to deploy technologies that are better for the planet.

Wallace-Wells: Yeah. This is really one of the major shifts in the culture of climate change and climate action over the last five or ten years. The Kyoto Protocol, and Al Gore first warning us about climate change—those were undertaken at moments when we really thought that this was going to be a burdensome transition, that we would have to do it for the sake of each other and the planet and our lives in the future, but it was going to be expensive in the short and medium term. In part because renewable energy costs have fallen so dramatically, and because we’re getting a clearer sense of the catastrophic health effects of burning fossil fuels, that calculus has really changed. Just about every world leader acknowledges that. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that 90% of the world is now living in places where new renewable energy is cheaper than new fossil fuel energy. It’s a very, very different policy landscape than the one that we were operating in even during the Paris Accords negotiations in 2015. 

3) Love this NPR article on peak TV! (Except that, sorry, Severance was just a B show with quirky production design and poor episodic structure):

What resonates the most, though, from that talk in 2015, is the way Landgraf talked about the good and the great. A lot of people who heard those “peak TV” numbers from critics — 400 shows! — groused back that it didn’t really matter, because most of it was terrible. Landgraf, on the other hand, was careful to point out that this was not the point he was making. He didn’t think the problem was too much bad TV; he thought the problem was largely too much good TV. Or, maybe, too much good enough TV. The head of FX, after all, doesn’t care about total garbage shows or about how many of them there are; that’s not the competition, either for viewers or awards, or for critical attention. (There was a lot of speculation at the time that this part of the speech reflected in part FX’s frustration at a lack of awards recognition for The Americans.)

Here’s what he said about too much good TV: “There’s just too much competition, so much so that I think the good shows often get in the way of the audience finding the great ones.”

Maybe self-serving? Sure, of course. Landgraf is not an academic or a neutral arbiter; he’s a network executive who had (and has) his own business to worry about. But I think this phenomenon does exist, and not just for audiences. As a critic, I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of television — but not by the amount that’s terrible, most of which I get to ignore. I feel overwhelmed by the amount that’s okay. Perfectly fine. Watchable, but unremarkable. The ten-episode series that should be four; the four-episode series that should be a movie. The A-for-effort project that just doesn’t quite get where it’s trying to go. The adaptation of true events that’s well-made but has little to add to the podcast it’s based on. The show that stars very famous people doing solid work and nevertheless doesn’t make so much as a ripple.

It’s not that nothing is great. There are still exciting new shows out there; Apple’s Severance, for instance, is wonderful and innovative, weird and special and provocative. But at times, I do feel like I am kept very busy looking at B-plus shows that look a lot like other B-plus shows, that are nicely made and earnestly executed by talented people and that are perfectly okay if you like the kind of thing that they are.

But with the Netflix news last week, it does seem like perhaps we really have reached Peak TV. Maybe things really are going to contract, just a few years behind schedule. If that happens, it may come as a relief to viewers (both amateur and professional), but it will mean shake-ups with implications for jobs and creativity that are still very hard to predict. And of course, when money is hard to come by, it’s often the new voices that are sacrificed first.

Or, I suppose, this will all be wrong, and the number of shows will grow for the next seven years like they’ve grown for the last seven years, and in 2029, we’ll be back here talking about SuperPeak TV and the fact that our greatest movie stars are now making shows that exclusively air on those little screens at gas pumps. Nobody ever said it was easy to see the future.

4) Enjoyed this New Yorker profile of Emily St John Mandel, but, sorry Sea of Tranquility pales in comparison to Station Eleven..

5) Nice twitter thread on some new research on the impact of a university education on political values in Britain. Here’s the TL;DR:

6) Super low-N, but, what a great subject to study, “Nine weeks of high-intensity indoor cycling training induced changes in the microbiota composition in non-athlete healthy male college students”

7) Good Chait piece on Christopher Rufo, the evil genius behind the CRT-panic and now all the “groomer” nonsense.

8) German Lopez on how opioids are a cautionary tale for legalizing drugs:

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached their highest point ever recorded last year, with more than 100,000 deaths over 12 months. Deaths are up nearly 50 percent since the start of the Covid pandemic.

Whenever I write about deadly overdoses, some readers ask: Why not legalize and regulate drugs? They argue that the government causes more harm by outlawing drugs and enforcing those bans through policing and incarceration. They suggest that legalization and regulation could better minimize the risks involved.

So today I want to explain why that argument goes only so far — and why many experts are skeptical.

“Drug warriors said we should have a drug-free nation, which was totally bogus,” Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, told me. “But it is totally bogus on the other side to say we can legalize and all the problems will go away.”

In fact, we are living through a crisis that shows the risks of legalization: the opioid epidemic.

The problem began with a legal, regulated drug: prescription painkillers. Pharmaceutical companies promised the drugs would help address pain, a major public health issue. But when the pills were made widely available in the 1990s, their use skyrocketed — along with addiction and overdoses. And instead of carefully regulating the drugs, officials consistently gave in to profit-minded pharmaceutical companies, which sold opioids to millions of people.

America is poorly poised to legalize and regulate drugs, some experts said. It tends to resist regulation and favor free-market solutions more than other developed nations. It is one of two countries to allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads. The First Amendment protects some commercial speech, making drug marketing hard to regulate.

“The policy has to match the culture,” Caulkins said. And “we are not good at having bureaucracies that view their mission as defending the people against the industry.”

The painkiller saga illustrates this…

Experts widely agree that the U.S. government failed to properly regulate opioids. But that does not justify the prohibition and criminalization of drugs, argued Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. “That’s a false binary,” she told me.

Many options exist between commercialized legalization and criminalized prohibition, experts said. Portugal decriminalized the personal possession of all drugs in 2001, but not manufacturing and distribution. Canada prohibits drugs, but allows for facilities where trained staff supervise drug users and may even provide substances to use.

Different drugs can also warrant different approaches. Marijuana is much safer than cocaine and heroin, and laws can reflect that.

And while the opioid crisis has shown the perils of legalization, it has also exposed the risks of prohibition. People who die from a fentanyl overdose often believe they are consuming heroin, cocaine or some other drug, not knowing it is actually fentanyl or contaminated with fentanyl. That is a problem of unregulated supply.

9) Jane Coaston on banning Russian tennis players from Wimbledon:

But limiting Russian influence by banning Russian and Belarusian tennis players from Wimbledon is unlikely to bring about a swifter end to the war in Ukraine or concretely damage Putin’s regime. Where’s the evidence that Russia’s president will be swayed to rethink his military aggression if these athletes aren’t allowed to compete at Wimbledon? What makes the governing bodies of Wimbledon and the L.T.A. think Putin will be devastated that Daniil Medvedev and Victoria Azarenka will not be heating up the courts at The Championships? Sports Illustrated reported that one player doubted Putin even cared about tennis.

By taking this action, Wimbledon hasn’t banned a team competing under the Russian or Belarusian flag. Tennis players are independent contractors. At major tournaments like Wimbledon, they aren’t competing for their countries. Even if fans back home cheer for them, they are competing for themselves.

So, what is the ban doing? It’s doing something. It’s performing the act of action. And perhaps that’s the point. The do-something impulse is among our strongest, even when, in many cases, there’s very little you, I or Wimbledon really can do to make the Russian government stop its campaign of violence against Ukrainians. Inaction can feel weak, but action, even when it’s ineffective, often feels strong.

10) This is good from Jeremy Faust, “Four key facts that show legalized abortion saves and improves maternal lives.”

11) Science! “New method delivers life-saving drugs to the brain—using sound waves: An emerging technique harnessing ultrasound may revolutionize treatment of fatal or hard-to-cure conditions, from cancer to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

Focused ultrasound is “science-fiction medicine that is rapidly becoming non-fiction,” says Brad Wood, director of the National Institutes of Health Center for Interventional Oncology.

The novel procedure gets drugs into the brain by overcoming a major hurdle: the blood-brain barrier, a thin protective layer of specialized cells lining the very small blood vessels guarding the human body’s most privileged organ. It keeps out the bad stuff, such as pathogens, but it also prevents potentially useful things from getting in. As a result, virtually all medications for conditions such as brain cancer and neurodegenerative diseases are effectively unable to reach the site where they are needed most.

The challenge is that the brain is extraordinarily fragile and damage is irreversible, which is why surgeons want new strategies to bypass the blood-brain barrier. Methods such as surgical injection have been tried in the past but involve skin incisions, holes in the skull, and passing instruments through the brain, which all risk infection, bleeding, and swelling and could cause permanent brain damage. “When treating the brain, we have to remember the person, too,” says Lipsman, who is also the director of Sunnybrook’s Harquail Center for Neuromodulation. “Treating the heart, limbs, or lungs, won’t change someone’s personality, memory, or affect. Harming the brain will.”

That’s why focused ultrasound, which is noninvasive, is so appealing. Numerous teams around the world have now shown that opening the blood-brain barrier with ultrasound is safe and feasible, so the next hurdle is proving the medical benefits…

Focused ultrasound is not a new idea and has been used as a medical treatment since the 1950s. Beginning 15 years ago physicians used it to destroy uterine fibroids and prostate cancer and treat prostate gland enlargement. Today the procedure is being applied to more than 160 diseases and conditions at various stages of research and commercialization. Some of the FDA-approved techniques are used to treat tremors and some motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease—but these efforts are unrelated to opening the blood-brain barrier.

12) Remember the “pregnant persons” flap over an RBG quote last fall.  Jesse Singal just unlocked his excellent post on the matter:

I do think that when people talk about this, they slightly overcomplicate it. Like, if someone pressed me on why I was calling the person a ‘man’ — what I was really saying — I’d stammer a bit and turn slightly red and eventually admit that really, the only coherent answer is that I was making a strong guess about his physical anatomy. What’s going on in my brain is something like “Beard and suit and tie —> masculine-coded —> male anatomy —> ‘he.’ ” 

Of course things get more complicated with the idea that people should be allowed to choose their pronouns, which is something I am happy to go along with (except in some truly bizarre edge cases we can ignore for now). So if I was informed the beardy, male-seeming person went by ‘they,’ I’d use ‘they.’ I’d be switching, for the sake of politeness, from a system in which pronouns refer (at root, when you really get down to it) to someone’s biological sex to a system in which they refer to someone’s gender identity. Language is flexible; the world will continue to spin and the sun will come up tomorrow. But overall, ‘he’ still usually refers to biological sex, at root. I’m a ‘he’ not because I ‘identify’ as male — all these years later I still don’t understand what that means — but because I am physically, biologically male.

Whether or not you agree with my assessment of my own heness, it’s undeniably the case that sometimes when we say ‘girls’ or ‘women’ or ‘boys’ or ‘men,’ we are locked in quite specifically on biology and nothing else. When we refer to the effects of abortion laws on ‘women,’ we really do just mean “adult human females.” It doesn’t, and never has, had anything to do with how the adult human females in question identify, present, or anything else. To see why, imagine a sentence “We need to protect X’s rights to abortion,” where X refers to how people identify and where the sentence itself is coherent. I don’t think there’s any such sentence, because whether you can get pregnant and therefore might need an abortion has nothing to do with how you identify.

I know that that phrase “adult human female,” despite being right there in the dictionary, has now been successfully pathologized and is treated as borderline hate speech, but we really need it to understand what’s going on here linguistically. So, well, sorry! 

13) You are going to be hearing a lot from me about abortion pills, “Abortion pills by mail pose challenge for officials in red states”

The end of a national right to abortion could trigger a surge of interest in a method of pregnancy termination that has become popular in states that already restrict the procedure: Abortion pills by mail.

Many Republican legislatures have tried banning the pills from being shipped or prescribed. But some women have been able to circumvent the restrictions by getting their pills online from overseas pharmacies that can’t be reached by U.S. laws. The five-day regimen of tablets usually comes in an unassuming envelope, making it hard to police. With the Supreme Court possibly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, people seeking abortions in the United States will probably flock to these sources, experts say.

“This is just not going to be stoppable,” said Gerald Rosenberg, a law professor emeritus at the University of Chicago law school.

This workaround will probably become another front in the battle over abortion rights.

Residents of Texas and about two dozen other states with sharp limits on abortions have already helped fuel the boom in medicationabortions, as patients seek alternatives to surgical abortions at a clinic, advocatessay. Another factor driving the trend has been coronavirus lockdowns, which limited face-to-face visits at medical facilities. Americans are more comfortable receiving medical care by Zoom-style video links, which allow doctors to prescribe and direct patients on how to take the pills from outside the borders of states that are hostile to abortion.

Mifepristone, sold under the brand name Mifeprex and also known as the abortion pill, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 for medication abortion. The drug is used with a second pill, misoprostol, to induce what is essentially a miscarriage. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to progress. Misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone, causes cramping and bleeding and empties the uterus. The medication is approved as safe and effective for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, although it is sometimes used “off label” after that…

“Mailed pills are hard to police,” said Rachel Rebouche, interim dean of Temple Law School. “That has not stopped [states] from trying.”

14) If this actually pans out, it really is an amazing medical development, “Patients Taking Experimental Obesity Drug Lost More Than 50 Pounds, Maker Claims: The data have not yet been peer reviewed or published. But experts said the drug may give people with obesity an alternative to bariatric surgery.”

An experimental drug has enabled people with obesity or who are overweight to lose about 22.5 percent of their body weight, about 52 pounds on average, in a large trial, the drug’s maker announced on Thursday.

The company, Eli Lilly, has not yet submitted the data for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal or presented them in a public setting. But the claims nonetheless amazed medical experts.

“Wow (and a double Wow!)” Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, chief executive of Verve Therapeutics, a company focusing on heart disease drugs, wrote in a tweet. Drugs like Eli Lilly’s, he added, are “truly going to revolutionize the treatment of obesity!!!”

Dr. Kathiresan has no ties to Eli Lilly or to the drug.

Dr. Lee Kaplan, an obesity expert at the Massachusetts General Hospital, said that the drug’s effect “appears to be significantly better than any other anti-obesity medication that is currently available in the U.S.” The results, he added, are “very impressive.”

On average, participants in the study weighed 231 pounds at the outset and had a body mass index, or B.M.I. — a commonly used measure of obesity — of 38. (Obesity is defined as a B.M.I. of 30 and higher.)

At the end of the study, those taking the higher doses of the Eli Lilly drug, called tirzepatide, weighed about 180 pounds and had a B.M.I. just below 30, on average. The results far exceed those usually seen in trials of weight-loss medications and are usually seen only in surgical patients.

Some trial participants lost enough weight to fall into the normal range, said Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of the comprehensive weight control center at Weill Cornell Medicine, who worked with Eli Lilly as the study’s principal investigator.

Most of the people in the trial did not qualify for bariatric surgery, which is reserved for people with a B.M.I. over 40, or those with a B.M.I. from 35 to 40 with sleep apnea or Type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing diabetes is many times higher for people with obesity than for people without it.

15) NYT, “Russia’s Grave Miscalculation: Ukrainians Would Collaborate”

KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine — The solicitation to commit treason came to Oleksandr Vilkul on the second day of the war, in a phone call from an old colleague.

Mr. Vilkul, the scion of a powerful political family in southeastern Ukraine that was long seen as harboring pro-Russian views, took the call as Russian troops were advancing to within a few miles of his hometown, Kryvyi Rih.

“He said, ‘Oleksandr Yurivich, you are looking at the map, you see the situation is predetermined,’” Mr. Vilkul said, recalling the conversation with a fellow minister in a former, pro-Russian Ukrainian government.

“Sign an agreement of friendship, cooperation and defense with Russia and they will have good relations with you,” the former colleague said. “You will be a big person in the new Ukraine.”

The offer failed spectacularly. Once war had begun, Mr. Vilkul said, the gray area seeped out of Ukrainian politics for him. Missiles striking his hometown made the choice obvious: He would fight back.

“I responded with profanity,” Mr. Vilkul said in an interview.

If the first months of the war in Ukraine became a military debacle for the Russian army — deflating the reputations of its commanders and troops in a forced retreat from Kyiv — the Russian invasion also highlighted another glaring failure: Moscow’s flawed analysis of the politics of the country it was attacking. The miscalculation led to mistakes no less costly in lives for the Russian army than the faulty tactics of tank operators who steered into bogs.

The Kremlin entered the war expecting a quick and painless victory, predicting that the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky would fracture and that leading officials in the largely Russian-speaking eastern region would gladly switch sides. That has not happened.

16) Did not like this story! “‘Heartbreaking’: Wild fox kills 25 flamingos, 1 duck at National Zoo”  What’s up with that fox?  Just kill something and eat it– but 25?!

17) Technology FTW, “Small Drones Are Giving Ukraine an Unprecedented Edge: From surveillance to search-and-rescue, consumer drones are having a huge impact on the country’s defense against Russia.

“Drones changed the way the war was supposed to be,” says Valerii Iakovenko, the founder of Ukrainian drone company DroneUA. “It is all about intelligence, collecting and transferring data about enemy troops’ movements or positionings, correcting artillery fire. It is about counter-saboteurs’ actions, and it is of course search-and-rescue operations.” Iakovenko estimates that Ukrainian forces are operating more than 6,000 drones for reconnaissance and says these can link up with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite systems to upload footage. “In 2014, drones became the center of attention of intelligence units, but their scale cannot be compared to what we see today,” he says. (Russia first began its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 with its annexation of Crimea.)

Civilian drone researcher Faine Greenwood has tracked and logged almost 350 incidents in which consumer drones have been used in Ukraine, with the video footage shared on Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and other social media. Many of the clips, which Greenwood has also mapped, are recorded by military forces, but others have been captured by civilians and journalists. The documented incidents are likely to be only a small fraction of the drone usage in Ukraine. Iakovenko says that in addition to collecting footage for possible war crimes, drones are being used to inspect buildings that have been hit and to help restore power supplies that have been damaged or knocked out.

“You get cheap airborne surveillance, or even strike capabilities, by using these,” says Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the use of drones in war. The drones allow troops on the ground to immediately surveil forces around them, retarget weapons, and take action that could stop enemy advances or save lives. “You have individuals or small militia groups that all of a sudden have their own airborne surveillance capability—that’s something you wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. There certainly have been tactical advances and tactical victories because of that.”

18) Fascinating twitter thread on the evolution of religion.

19) This could be a very interesting twist, “Your phone could reveal if you’ve had an abortion: Internet searches, visits to clinics and period-tracking apps leave digital trails.”

When someone gets an abortion, they may decide not to share information with friends and family members. But chances are their smartphone knows.

The leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion proposing to overturn Roe v. Wade raises a data privacy flash point: If abortion becomes criminal in some states, might a person’s data trail be treated as evidence?

There is precedent for it, and privacy advocates say data collection could become a major liability for people seeking abortions in secret. Phones can record communications, search histories, body health data and other information. Just Tuesday, there was new evidence that commercial data brokers sell location information gathered from the phones of people who visit abortion clinics.
 
“It is absolutely something to be concerned about — and something to learn about, hopefully before being in a crisis mode, where learning on the fly might be more difficult,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a technology fellow at the Ford Foundation.

20) I can’t wait! “See Daniel Radcliffe as “Weird Al” Yankovic in the First Trailer for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

21) Good stuff on health care from Yglesias, “Overtreatment in American health care is a problem”

22) 30 foot border wall means 30 foot falls.  Yikes. “The border wall Trump called unclimbable is taking a grim toll: The journal JAMA Surgery offers one of the first attempts to measure injuries and deaths resulting from falls along new sections of the wall”

23) This conversation between Derek Thompson on adolescent mental health and parenting was fascinating.  I’ve been thinking about it so much since I listened to it. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) So much good stuff in this Noah Smith interview with a futurist:

So oil is where Putin makes his money. Russia makes about three times as much money from sales of oi and oil products as it does from the sale of natural gas.  Why is natural gas interesting?

Because natural gas (methane) keeps the lights on. And because it’s a regionally traded commodity.  You see, oil is a global commodity. Oil is moved extensively in tanker ships around the world. Europe could stop buying Russian oil and buy oil (or refined oil products, like gasoline or diesel) from somebody else. There’s differences, but in general it’s a pretty fungible market.

Natural gas is different.  The world has relatively little shipping capacity. To move gas over oceans you have to chill it to -160 degrees C, and turn it into a liquid. That’s doable. But it’s relatively expensive. And so most gas is moved by pipeline. That means that if the gas link between Europe and Russia were shut down for any reason – political, economic, or physical – that you have a much harder time replacing that supply.

Now, this natural gas doesn’t really make all that much money for Putin. I mean, it’s on the order of $80B / year (before this crisis), which is a third of the amount Putin makes from oil. Yet gas is actually more important in terms of his leverage over Europe.  That’s because of the problems shipping gas around that I mention above, and also because gas is used to keep the lights on and houses warm.

If you look at where Europe uses methane gas, one third of it goes to buildings. That means building heat. Literally keeping your home or office warm.  Another third is “heat and power” – that’s electricity. That’s keeping the lights on.  Another third is “industry”. And that’s a mix of using natural gas to make ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizer, which massively affects crop yields and thus food prices, and other industrial uses such as refineries, making plastics, and so on.  You can see this breakdown in this chart from Eurostat:

The combination of natural gas’s greater difficulty of transportation vs oil, along with its mission critical role in keeping buildings warm, the lights on, and making fertilizer to apply to fields, means that, even though it earns Putin less money than oil, it’s incredible leverage that he has over Europe.  

Gas is where he has Europe over a barrel. Or where he thinks he does. And reducing or eliminating the need for Russian natural gas is going to be and incredible driver of innovation…

N.S.: Of course we should be doing the same thing in the U.S., right? How good was the Build Back Better bill, and how much does that bill’s death set back U.S. and global decarbonization efforts? Is this a minor setback or a catastrophe?

R.N.: We absolutely should be passing more policy in the US. The energy provisions of the Build Back Better bill are fantastic. They’re not a panacea, but they would amount to the most substantial federal legislation advancing clean energy of all time. The provisions advance clean electricity, electric vehicles, expansion of the power grid, new technologies like green hydrogen, and even carbon capture and direct air capture. Multiple analysis found that BBB would have gone a long way towards the US hitting its Paris commitments and more. And it would most likely lead to lower energy prices for American consumers, as solar and wind are just plain cheaper than coal and gas, and electric vehicles are increasingly becoming cheaper than gas-guzzlers (especially when you include the cost of fuel and maintenance).

Unfortunately, Build Back Better appears to be dead. By which I mean that the omnibus bill is likely dead. Manchin has actually said that he would be open to an energy-only BBB bill, with some initiatives in it to increase US fossil fuel production as well. The theory is that increasing US fossil fuel production would help increase US resilience to oil price shocks. In reality, that doesn’t do much, and the private sector has all the approvals it needs to drill a whole lot more for oil and gas. Renewables and EVs really do much more for energy security. Even so, I’d take such a deal with Manchin. Deploying more renewables makes them cheaper. Deploying more electric cars and trucks makes them cheaper. Scaling green hydrogen technology makes green hydrogen cheaper. The same just isn’t true of fossil fuels. It’s a battle of technology’s always-improving economics on one side, vs a “resource” play that has supply / demand dynamics that cause prices to fluctuate, sometimes wildly, on the other side. Technology will always win. Subsidize both of them equally, and the tech side will gain more.

Alas, Sinema has thrown cold water on such a deal…

The other policy we don’t talk about nearly enough, that’s even more under-rated, is getting out of the way of building things. In the US, a host of regulations empower NIMBY activists, land owners, and conservatives who just don’t like clean energy to block the development of solar and wind. Even worse policies make it practically impossible to build new electricity transmission in the US. And long-range, coast-to-coast power transmission is actually one of the cheapest ways to increase how much solar and wind we can use on the grid, to increase grid reliability across the country, and to lower the cost of energy. But bad regulation at the federal, state, and local level makes it hard to build. We have to fix that. The Left has to own up to this and fix it. This is a complete moral failing on the left, in my opinion. You want more clean energy? Fix NEPA.  Get rid of the Jones Act so we can actually build offshore wind in the US. And Congress has to reform permitting of transmission lines to make it at least as easy to build a transmission line as it is to build an oil or gas pipeline. It’s hilarious that today it’s much much much easier to build a dirty, polluting natural gas or oil pipeline in the US than it is to build an electricity transmission line to carry clean electricity. And fixing that requires action at the Federal level. And it also requires defeating lefty NIMBYs at the state and local level. You want progress? Get out of the way…

N.S.: Is it possible to be any more specific at this point? Do you have a short list of technologies that are in the more nascent, research-intensive stage? 

R.N.: I don’t want to be too prescriptive on the “how” of the technologies. But in terms of the goals, yes. Here are some of the biggest unsolved climate problems:

  • Ultra-long duration storage – economically storing weeks of electricity.

  • Cheap clean industrial heat & industrial processes – making steel, cement, plastics, and chemicals without carbon emissions, at a price similar to or cheaper than how it’s done today with coal or natural gas.

  • Clean “firm” energy resources – Next generation energy resources that can produce 24/7/365, anywhere on earth, in a compact footprint, including next generation advanced geothermal, advanced nuclear fission (thought that already gets the most funding of any energy technology), and energy fusion.

  • Decarbonizing aviation and shipping – Super high energy density batteries, or more likely, clean “electrofuels” made from solar and wind, at the same price or cheaper than jet fuel or bunker fuel are today.

  • Decarbonizing building heat – Can we make heating a building with clean electricity, including the installation and retrofit, as cheap as it is to burn natural gas.

  • Decarbonizing agriculture and ending deforestation – This is a big one. A quarter of the world’s emissions come from agriculture forestry and land use – AFOLU in the IPCC’s lingo. That comes form deforestation which is mostly caused by using land to grow livestock or biofuels. And it comes from fertilizer applied to the fields, which decomposes into nasty stuff like N2O and NOX that are potent greenhouse gasses. And then the animals themselves, especially cows, burp up methane. Each of those could use billions and billions each year in R&D funding.

  • Stabilizing fragile ecosystems – Even at 1.5 degrees C of warming (which we’re going to exceed) you’re going to see a lot more forest fires, and we could see a nearly complete loss of shallow water coral reefs. What can we do to intervene to make these ecosystems more resilient? Can we plant trees that don’t burn so easily? Grasses that sequester more moisture or carbon in the soils? Can we engineer corals that can survive higher temperatures and acidity? Or can we improve coral reef microbiomes to make them more resilient? Can we create robots or other ways of replanting corals that don’t require expensive, non-scalable human divers.

  • Direct climate system interventionsGeo-engineering. Most controversially, I will say that our biggest single climate policy miss, by far, is that we are doing essentially zero to advance the state of science of intervening in the climate system. I’m talking about a range of things here, from cloud brightening, to stabilizing glaciers that are melting, or somehow intervening in methane release from a thawing arctic, and all the way up to solar radiation management geo-engineering. Everyone seems to hate this idea. But I have news for you. We are not going to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. It is just not going to happen. We have missed that boat. We might stay below 2 degrees Celsius if we get our act together and deploy the technologies we have ready or have in the pipeline. We have a really great shot at staying below 2.5 or 3 degrees C. And we could even pull it in to below 2, I believe. But we’ve just plain missed 1.5 degrees Celsius. I want people to get that in their heads. There is no plausible scenario in which the world decarbonizes fast enough to hit that goal. Unless… Unless you reflect a tiny bit of the sun’s energy back into space. You’d probably do it by spraying aerosols into the stratosphere. It looks like it would be really cheap. People are terrified of the idea. But in part they’re terrified because we don’t understand the side effects. Actually, we might understand them better than people think. But okay. If that’s a problem, let’s do some very small scale experiments. And let’s fund 100x as much modeling of this as we have today. Let’s get serious about understanding how geo-engineering would work. Let’s have it ready as an option. It’s far better to have these tools available and not use them, then to find out that we’re up against a wall, that some climate tipping point is going much faster than we expected, and that we don’t have the tools that could help save us. So I will plant my flag here. Today, the world spends roughly single digit millions of dollars a year on geo-engineering research. Does that sound like a lot? It’s not. We spent more than $60 billion. Billion with a B. On venture capital investments into clean energy last year. In 2022 we’re going to spend probably a TRILLION dollars deploying solar, wind, batteries, and electric vehicles.  That’s awesome.  But it’s not enough. Let’s spend an addition, say, 1/1000th of that amount, or $1 Billion / year, on researching solar radiation management geo-engineering and other direct climate interventions. That would increase research in the area by roughly a factor of 100, which is about right.

2) Lots of people talking about this Vanity Fair piece about the “new right” funded by Peter Thiel.  I didn’t actually read it closely, but tell me if I should. 

3) The case for new houses (my house was built in 1985, for what it’s worth):

And despite what old-home snobs may believe, new housing is also just plain nice to live in—in many ways an objective improvement on what came before.

Noise is now appropriately recognized as one of the biggest quality-of-life issues in cities. As I write this in the living room of my 1958 Los Angeles dingbat, I can hear the neighbor on my right shouting over the phone and the neighbor on my left enjoying reggaeton at maximum volume. The distant hum of the 405 is forever in the background. Back when I lived in a mid-2000s apartment building in D.C.—a relatively old building in our pro-growth capital—I had no such distractions. Double-paned windows kept out virtually all street noise, even on a busy downtown intersection, while fiberglass insulation kept neighbors from bothering one another. I wasn’t even certain that I had neighbors until we bumped into each other several months after I moved in.

Modern homes and apartment buildings are not only far better insulated—they also feature modern HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) technologies, such that homes can be warmed and cooled without using nearly as much energy as their older counterparts. Given that heating and cooling account for nearly half of all household energy use in the U.S., the savings from new housing could have serious implications for climate change. That little space heater struggling to keep your drafty old apartment warm—to say nothing of your window AC unit—isn’t just unsightly. It’s also a climate failure.

In smaller ways, too, new construction is nicer. Bathrooms and closets are larger, as are kitchens, which are no longer walled off from the rest of the home. Modern windows let you bathe a unit in natural light, without temperature or noise concerns. Smaller unit sizes—think studios and one-bedrooms—better reflect shrinking households. And in-unit laundry is more common now, as are balconies—amenities that have only grown in value amid recurring COVID-related shutdowns.

For comparison’s sake, consider the Japanese approach. The average Japanese home is demolished 30 years after construction, the realistic life span of a typical cheaply built structure. The Japanese have virtually no “used home” market: Fully 87 percent of Japanese home sales are new, compared with 11 to 34 percent in the West. As a result, most Japanese households enjoy a new house or apartment with all the modern amenities and design innovation that entails, including ever-improving earthquake standards. And this steady supply of new housing has helped make Tokyo one of the most affordable cities in the world, despite a growing population.

All that construction consumes a fair share of resources, and housing in Japan doesn’t double as an investment vehicle. But I, for one, would take that trade-off.

4) Jerusalem Demsas on what’s behind the current moment for student loan forgiveness.  A number of theories, but I think it’s mostly this:

Reason five: The power of college graduates

According to Catalist data, roughly 43 percent of the 2020 Biden electorate graduated from a four-year college or university. Compare that with 2012, when, according to Pew, just 36 percent of registered Democrats had completed a four-year degree or more. Given that trend, student-loan forgiveness may seem like the classic tale of a political party transferring a valuable benefit to a crucial constituency.

Although college-educated voters are an important segment of the Democratic Party, no one identity group is completely dominant. The party has long been a coalitional organization stitched together loosely and lacking a clear ideological core. Daniel Schlozman, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, explained a coalitional shift within the party in recent years. “Democrats are becoming more consistently liberal in a variety of ways, and they’re becoming more upper-middle-class all at once,” he told me. “And that creates some awkwardness.”

Awkward indeed that so much energy has been spent on a policy proposal that would affect just 13 percent of the population, and that would send the most dollars to high-income earners and those with graduate degrees. The fervor with which student-loan advocates argue that these policies are in fact racially and economically progressive may be an attempt to resolve the awkwardness that Schlozman describes—advocates of debt cancellation are trying to build a coherent narrative for why a diverse coalition, many of whom have never attended college, should be in favor of forgiveness.

College-educated voters are not just dominant within the Democratic Party; they also dominate the media and, naturally, academia—two institutions that have significant power over what issues are brought to the fore. Importantly, academia and media have also become notoriously unstable work environments lacking sufficiently well-paying jobs. The demographics and precarity of these fields are likely playing a role in the prominence of the student-loan-forgiveness debate.

There are many good proposals for how to forgive student debt, particularly targeted programs aimed at helping those who attended predatory institutions or those who never received a degree and thus missed out on the higher earning potential that comes with it. But the issue’s prominence in our discourse has less to do with its merits than the changing political landscape that has stymied legislative efforts and given college graduates agenda-setting power.

5) Really, really good interview with Yashca Mounk on his new book about multiethnic democracy:

Gupta: Let’s discuss the ideal scenario. We talked a little bit about it in terms of the group dynamics we want to encourage. What changes would you make to American society and politics to make that a reality? 

Mounk: I actually think the most important reason why I’m optimistic about the future is not that I’ve come up with a great solution, and I’m going to tell you what that solution is, and then if only you will listen to me, we can right the ship—I think a lot of books have that kind of structure and it’s never very convincing. The reason why I’m optimistic is that when I look at Twitter, I despair. When I look at a lot of newspapers, I despair. When I look at the cable news shows, I definitely despair. But when I look at what’s actually going on in society, I don’t despair. America has become much more tolerant in the last decades. We have really rapid socioeconomic progress of minority and immigrant groups, in a way that’s rarely appreciated by either the left or the right. The best study suggests that immigrants from Central or South America, for example, are rising up the socio-economic ranks as rapidly as Irish and Italian Americans did a century ago. This shows that the far-right is wrong in believing that there’s something somehow inferior about them. But it also shows that parts of the left are wrong in thinking that our countries are so racist and so discriminatory that nonwhite people don’t have opportunity. Thankfully, actually, people have opportunity. We see that in the way in which their children or grandchildren in particular are rising up very rapidly. Now, there are also all kinds of sensible things we can do in terms of how we think about our country, the education we engage in, the kind of patriotism we embrace, the kinds of policies and acts of Congress that we should pass—and that’s important, too. But fundamentally, my optimism comes from the developments that I already see happening in society.

6) Jane Coaston on don’t say gay legislation:

I didn’t come out as bisexual when I was a kid. I grew up in Ohio in the ’90s and attended Catholic school. The message I received was that women who weren’t feminine by traditional standards were vaguely suspicious. So I was clearly in big trouble, and bisexuality seemed like something I’d only get to achieve if I could somehow make it to a safer place.

If I had learned at some point when I was young that being L.G.B.T.Q. was a normal way to be a human being — not a sign that I was evil and disgusting or, even worse to a chubby girl in junior high, ugly — I could have avoided so much anguish and time spent trying to “fix” myself on evangelical Christian message boards.

So to me, bills like Florida’s HB 1557, which bars “instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, are vague at absolute best and extraordinarily dangerous at worst, aimed at solving a “problem” that I do not think exists.

This week, for “The Argument,” I was grateful to have had a chance to discuss the Florida bill, along with similar legislation, with Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg, columnists for Times Opinion.

As Ross recently wrote, some of these bills have been put forward by people who see the growing number of L.G.T.B.Q. Americans as a bad thing. The share of younger Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender has risen over the last decade, including 21 percent of those born between 1997 and 2003. Ross wrote in his column that the reactions to these numbers can be sorted into three groups: “this is great news,” “we shouldn’t read too much into it,” and “this trend is bad news.”

 

I can be found resting happily somewhere in between the first two groups. That more people are L.G.B.T.Q. seems like what would logically happen in a society that is more affirming of being L.G.B.T.Q.

But having read a great deal by social conservatives about the new bills, it seems to me that these writers believe that there are simply too many L.G.B.T.Q. kids — “far in excess of what can be explained by more people coming out as stigma declines” — and that this must be the fault of teachers “grooming” them or a media environment that’s too permissive. Because otherwise, those kids would be, as conservative writer Rod Dreher might put it, normal.

I would love to know the degree to which LGBT-identifying young adults in other western Democracies mirrors the rise here in the U.S. or is different and I’ve not been able to find that.  I’d love to know the percentage in France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, etc.

7) Singal and Chait both pushing back against a common leftist trope on twitter, but Chait I can link and quote:

8) This seems not great, “Fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than they used to be”

As you gaze across the rows of brightly colored fruits and vegetables in the produce section of the grocery store, you may not be aware that the quantity of nutrients in these crops has been declining over the past 70 years.

Mounting evidence from multiple scientific studies shows that many fruits, vegetables, and grains grown today carry less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C than those that were grown decades ago. This is an especially salient issue if more people switch to primarily plant-based diets, as experts are increasingly recommending for public health and for protecting the planet.

Nutrient decline “is going to leave our bodies with fewer of the components they need to mount defenses against chronic diseases—it’s going to undercut the value of food as preventive medicine,” says David R. Montgomery, a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington in Seattle and co-author with Anne Biklé of What Your Food Ate.

Even for people who avoid processed foods and prioritize fresh produce, this trend means that “what our grandparents ate was healthier than what we’re eating today,” says Kristie Ebi, an expert in climate change and health at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Scientists say that the root of the problem lies in modern agricultural processes that increase crop yields but disturb soil health. These include irrigation, fertilization, and harvesting methods that also disrupt essential interactions between plants and soil fungi, which reduces absorption of nutrients from the soil. These issues are occurring against the backdrop of climate change and rising levels of carbon dioxide, which are also lowering the nutrient contents of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Experts say it’s important to keep these declines in perspective and not let this news deter you from eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to maintain your health. But they hope the results will spur more people to care about how their food is being grown.

9) This is definitely not great, “Covid vaccine concerns are starting to spill over into routine immunizations”

Kids aren’t getting caught up on routine shots they missed during the pandemic, and many vaccination proponents are pointing to Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy as a big reason why.

Public health experts, pediatricians, school nurses, immunization advocates and state officials in 10 states told POLITICO they are worried that an increasing number of families are projecting their attitudes toward the Covid-19 vaccine onto shots for measles, chickenpox, meningitis and other diseases.

That spillover of vaccine hesitancy may also be fueling an uptick in religious exemption requests from parents of school-aged children and is making it more difficult for states to catch up with children who missed immunizations during the pandemic’s early days when families skipped doctor’s appointments, they say.

That has pediatricians, school nurses and public health experts worried that preventable and possibly fatal childhood illnesses, once thought to be a thing of the past, could become more common.

“We just want to keep measles, polio, and all the things we vaccinate against out of the political arena,” said Hugo Scornik, a pediatrician and president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

He was alarmed by the introduction of several bills in the state legislature in the last year to limit vaccinations, including one that would have ended immunization requirements in schools. Several states considered similar pieces of legislation that would have either removed or whittled away at school vaccination requirements, though none moved forward.

10) NPR, “The education culture war is raging. But for most parents, it’s background noise”

Math textbooks axed for their treatment of race; a viral Twitter account directing ire at LGBTQ teachers; a state law forbidding classroom discussion of sexual identity in younger grades; a board book for babies targeted as “pornographic.” Lately it seems there’s a new controversy erupting every day over how race, gender or history are tackled in public school classrooms.

But for most parents, these concerns seem to be far from top of mind. That’s according to a new national poll by NPR and Ipsos. By wide margins – and regardless of their political affiliation – parents express satisfaction with their children’s schools and what is being taught in them.

11) I like this from Drum.  I want to actually look at the data on this some myself:

Why don’t Americans trust experts anymore? Sean Illing interviewed Michael Lewis about this recently, but they somehow managed to miss the obvious. Here are three charts from the GSS survey:

There are blip and bloops, but around 1990 Republican trust in experts started a steady downward trend compared to Democrats. Republican distrust of the press is a long-told story. Distrust in medicine, which far predates COVID-19, likely has something to do with abortion, treatment of addiction as a disease, and perhaps increasing physician support of national health care. And distrust of the scientific community is pretty obviously because the scientific community keeps producing inconvenient conclusions.

I’m not claiming this is the whole story. But overall, distrust of experts is a Republican-driven phenomenon. You’re missing a lot if you don’t acknowledge that.

 

12) Ian Milhiser on the latest school prayer case, “The justices may take a big bite out of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, or they might take a simply enormous bite out of it.”

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, briefly explained

Kennedy involves Joseph Kennedy, a former public school football coach in Bremerton, Washington, who for many years would lead post-game prayer sessions for his players and for players on the opposing team. After his school district ordered him to discontinue these sessions, he largely did so, but he still insisted upon going to the 50-yard line after games and visibly praying in front of his players and the gathered spectators.

Kennedy also went on a nationwide media tour — at one point, Good Morning America did a segment on him — promoting his desire to tout his faith while he was coaching his students. This led many of Kennedy’s supporters to become disruptive during games. After one game, for example, so many people stormed the field to support Kennedy that a federal appeals court described it as a “stampede.” The district itself complained that this rush of people knocked over members of the school’s marching band, and that it was unable “to keep kids safe.”

Meanwhile, at least one parent complained to the school that his son “felt compelled to participate” in Kennedy’s prayers, despite the fact that he is an atheist, because the student feared “he wouldn’t get to play as much if he didn’t participate.”

Eventually, the school placed Kennedy on leave, after he rebuffed the school’s attempt to reach an accommodation that would allow Kennedy to pray without disrupting games or pressuring students into unwanted religious acts.

Under existing law, this should not be a difficult case. The Supreme Court suggested in Lee v. Weisman (1992) that public school-sponsored religious activity is inherently coercive, both because of the authority school officials wield over students, and because students who stand out are likely to face peer pressure to fall in line. Such pressure, the Court said in Lee, may be “subtle and indirect” but it also “can be as real as any overt compulsion,” as it leaves a young nonadherent with “a reasonable perception that she is being forced by the State to pray in a manner her conscience will not allow.”

But the Court’s 6-3 Republican majority has been quite clear about its eagerness to overrule longstanding religion cases. One of the new majority’s very first actions after Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation gave Republicans a supermajority on the Court, for example, was to give churches and other places of worship a new right to defy public health orders during the Covid-19 pandemic.

13) I thought I’d give David French an open-minded read with his contention that the coach “should be allowed to pray.”  But the fact that French completely elides the key fact of the coach’s coercive power over his players made me even more firm in my opinions on this one. 

14) I think I missed this from Jeffrey Sachs in 2020, “No, Professors Are Not Brainwashing Their Students”

So What Does College Do?

It wasn’t always this way. Data from the 1940s to 1970s show that there used to be a strong relationship between college attendance and political liberalism. But the link has been weakening for decades, probably because of hardening political attitudes among freshmen. High schoolers also have a much wider range of colleges and universities to choose from, making it easier to find an institution that matches their pre-existing beliefs.

But none of this means higher education has no political effect. College graduates are more likely to be politically active than their non-graduate peers, especially if they major in the social sciences. They also tend to be more politically knowledgeable, as shown in a recent study of identical twins. And while college seems to have little impact on whether a student is liberal or conservative, a number of studies find that it does make them more supportive of civil liberties and gender egalitarianism, though not less religious.

However, even these changes are more likely due to the influence of peers (i.e., other students) than faculty. Indeed, one of the best predictors of whether a student’s political views will change in university is their degree of social embeddedness. The more involved a student is in campus clubs, Greek life, or athletics, the more likely he or she will adopt their peers’ political views. Students want to fit in, and that pressure affects their politics. But it’s not the approval of their faculty they crave. It’s their classmates.

Thus, while college graduates do tend to be more liberal than non-graduates, it is unlikely that college itself is responsible. On the contrary, someone who enters college a conservative will almost certainly leave as one. The same happens with liberals.

Some changes take place, especially in terms of general political knowledge, activism, and attitudes toward gender equality and civil rights. But anything beyond this is more likely due to socialization and peer pressure. Faculty have very little to do with it.

15) Love this from Pamela Paul, “The Limits of ‘Lived Experience’”

Did Dana Schutz, a white artist, have the right to paint Emmett Till? Was it fair that a white historian, David Blight, won a Pulitzer for his biography of Frederick Douglass? Should Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner be the ones to update “West Side Story,” a musical conceived by four Jewish men but fundamentally about Puerto Rican lives?

Let’s make it personal: Am I, as a new columnist for The Times, allowed to weigh in on anything other than a narrow sliver of Gen X white woman concerns?

Not according to many of those who wish to regulate our culture — docents of academia, school curriculum dictators, aspiring Gen Z storytellers and, increasingly, establishment gatekeepers in Hollywood, book publishing and the arts. It’s the ultimate litmus test: Only those whose “lived experience” matches the story are qualified to tell the tale.

So what is this vaunted “lived experience”? You may recognize it by its longstanding name, “personal experience,” or less excitingly, “experience.” But “lived experience,” with its earthy suggestion of authority, says to other people: Unless you have walked in my shoes, you have no business telling my story.

Here’s the argument: The dominant culture (white, male, Western, straight) has been dictating the terms for decades, effectively silencing or “erasing” the authentic identities and voices of the people whose stories are being told. The time has come to “center” these other voices.

In practice and across the arts, this means that only those people who have directly experienced discrimination or oppression, for example, or who in some way embody that experience should be allowed to portray characters, create stories or drive programming about it. They’re the ones who can truly interpret those tales accurately. The goal is greater share of the narrative and greater stake in any profits.

It’s essentially a turf war. Only Latino authors can write novels about Latinos. Only Holocaust survivors can convey the truth of the Holocaust. Only disabled people can portray disabled people. Everyone else is out.

16) Fascinating in Smithsonian, “How Yellow Fever Intensified Racial Inequality in 19th-Century New Orleans: A new book explores how immunity to the disease created opportunities for white, but not Black, people”

17) I’m really intrigued by Katherine Harden’s work on genetics and I love Thomas Frank’s Success and Luck, so I quite enjoyed Frank’s review of Harden’s book:

That things like eye color, body mass, and longevity are heritable was known millennia before anyone even knew what genes were. Studies documenting the heritability of sexual orientation, academic achievement, schizophrenia, and political beliefs are relatively recent. As Kathryn Paige Harden notes in The Genetic Lottery, many social scientists are more comfortable acknowledging some of these linkages than others. Although it is uncontroversial to note that speech pathologies are heritable, for example, few seem comfortable discussing evidence suggesting that the same is true of a propensity to homelessness.

There’s an obvious explanation for this asymmetry. “For over 150 years,” Harden writes, “the science of human heredity has been used to advance racist and classist ideologies, with horrific consequences for people classified as ‘inferior’” (p. 12). A behavioral geneticist on the psychology faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, she is quick to disassociate herself from Social Darwinists and their ilk. An unapologetic egalitarian in the Rawlsian tradition, she argues that our efforts to construct a more just society will be more likely to succeed if we ground them on our best understanding of the forces that spawn existing social structures. She presents compelling evidence that genetic variation is one of the most important of those forces.

Income and wealth inequality clearly result in part from traits we inherit. Some of the relevant causal pathways have long been evident, as in studies linking earnings to IQ and good health, both of which are strongly heritable. Heritable traits like height and physical attractiveness are also associated with higher earnings. But Harden also describes new evidence linking genetic variation to less easily measured traits, such as openness to experience, ability to defer gratification, and grit—the ability to persist in the face of adversity. These traits also strongly influence someone’s ability to succeed in the labor market.

Studies showing that heredity’s role in economic success is far greater than many realized pose no challenge to the egalitarian position. On the contrary, Harden argues, they actually bolster it. Successful people have long been quick to attribute their accomplishments to talent and hard work alone. (As E. B. White memorably wrote, “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.”) But where do talent and the inclination to work hard come from? Scientists could once say only that they result from a poorly understood mix of genetic and environmental forces. The forces themselves remain poorly understood. But as Harden’s narrative makes clear, revolutionary advances in gene sequencing have shown that the genetic components of these forces are far more important than once believed…

Even without reference to genetic variations, it has long been beyond question that events over which individuals have no control have enormous influence on important life outcomes. For example, roughly half of the variance in incomes across persons worldwide is explained by country of residence and the income distribution within that country. Even within a country, children are far more likely to flourish in some family environments than in others. Chance events also matter in a variety of less conspicuous ways—as when Bryan Cranston, who had never before acted in a leading dramatic role, was cast as Walter White in Breaking Bad only after Matthew Broderick and John Cusack first turned the role down.

To all that, we now add Harden’s evidence that the genetic lottery is even more influential than we knew. In the face of this evidence, it is difficult to deny that success in life is almost entirely a matter of luck.

But to acknowledge the importance of chance events is not to deny the importance of traditional determinants of success. Most successful people are of course both talented and hardworking, as they are quick to remind us. When they try to explain their success to themselves and others, they easily retrieve examples from memory in which they came to work early and stayed late, solved difficult problems, bested formidable rivals, and so on. It is thus perfectly natural that many might feel offended when their success is attributed, even in small measure, to luck.

But even though talent and an inclination to work hard result from genetic and environmental forces over which we have little control, it may be disadvantageous to think in those terms. Working hard is, well, hard. To persist in the face of difficult challenges often means having to dig deep, to resist powerful impulses to quit. Imagine two people who have managed to persist under trying circumstances. One thinks to herself, “How lucky I was to draw the DNA card for persistence in the genetic lottery.” Her rival instead basks in pride for having summoned the will to persist. If you agree that the rival will be more likely to persevere when the next difficult challenge arises, you understand why few parents encourage their children to view being inclined to work hard as luck. It is luck, of course. But from the individual perspective, it may be disadvantageous to view it that way.

That same caveat doesn’t apply in the domain of public policy, where steps to reduce luck’s contribution to inequality promise benefits for all.

18) Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel” special was honestly like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I highly recommend it.  Also, I find most stand-up comics just not all that funny.  Carmichael, though, actually makes me laugh.

19) Meanwhile, hard to think of a show with a bigger drop off in quality than Russian Doll season 2.  They really should’ve stopped after season 1.  After falling asleep during each of the first 3 episodes of season 2, I called it quits. 

20) Such a sad story, “Millions of Bees Bound for Alaska Are Rerouted and Die in Atlanta
A shipment of five million honeybees was diverted to Atlanta and left out on a hot tarmac. Local beekeepers tried to come to the rescue, but very few survived.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Fun list of 50 best romantic comedies.  Definitely the right call that “When Harry met Sally” takes the top spot.

2) The human brain. Damn, “She Was Missing a Chunk of Her Brain. It Didn’t Matter”

EG, who has requested to go by her initials to protect her privacy, is missing her left temporal lobe, a part of the brain thought to be involved in language processing. EG, however, wasn’t quite the right fit for what the scientists were studying, so they referred her to Evelina Fedorenko, a cognitive neuroscientist, also at MIT, who studies language. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship. The first paper based on EG’s brain was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia, and Fedorenko’s team expects to publish several more.

For EG, who is in her fifties and grew up in Connecticut, missing a large chunk of her brain has had surprisingly little effect on her life. She has a graduate degree, has enjoyed an impressive career, and speaks Russian—a second language–so well that she has dreamed in it. She first learned her brain was atypical in the autumn of 1987, at George Washington University Hospital, when she had it scanned for an unrelated reason. The cause was likely a stroke that happened when she was a baby; today, there is only cerebro-spinal fluid in that brain area. For the first decade after she found out, EG didn’t tell anyone other than her parents and her two closest friends. “It creeped me out,” she says. Since then, she has told more people, but it’s still a very small circle this is aware of her unique brain anatomy.

Over the years, she says, doctors have repeatedly told EG that her brain doesn’t make sense. One doctor told her she should have seizures, or that she shouldn’t have a good vocabulary—and “he was annoyed that I did,” she says. (As part of the study at MIT, EG tested in the 98th percentile for vocabulary.) The experiences were frustrating; they “pissed me off,” as EG puts it. “They made so many pronouncements and conclusions without any investigation whatsoever,” she says…

Remarkably, EG’s sister is missing her right temporal lobe and is largely unaffected by it, suggesting there’s likely some genetic component to the early childhood strokes that can explain the missing brain regions, Fedorenko says. Next up, the team wants to use both EG and her sister—who has also volunteered to be studied—to try to understand how social and emotional processing takes place predominantly in the right hemisphere. In fact, the whole family is getting involved. A third sibling and EG’s father have also had their brains scanned, although it turns out they each have two intact temporal lobes—or a “boring brain,” as EG dubs it. A fourth sibling will be scanned in the near future. For a long time, it had never occurred to EG that anybody would want to study her, so she is just glad that the neuroscience field has been able to learn something from her brain. “And I hope that it will also take some stigma away from atypical brains,” she says.

3) I’m a huge fan of reading aloud.  Alas, my kids are mostly done with it, but it’s definitely one of the joys of parenthood:

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book into powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. In The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of DistractionMeghan Cox Gurdon discusses the scientific benefits – and joys – of reading aloud. This month, we were lucky enough to talk to Meghan about the importance of reading aloud, something that is a big part of our #ShareAStorycampaign, which encourages parents, carers, siblings and friends to read to one another for at least 10 minutes a day…

You carried out a lot of scientific and behavioural research. How did you research your books? And what was the most fascinating bit of information about reading aloud that you came across?
People who work at the cliff-face of clinical research tend to be wonderfully generous with their time and expertise. They want the world to know about their work, and are happy to share their findings with writers like me. I learned so many arresting things: That the language circuits in a new baby’s brain spring to life at the sound of a mother’s voice; that a child’s receptive vocabulary (what he understands) may be as many as 3 years ahead of his expressive vocabulary (what he can say); that a child’s ability to pay calm attention at 4 predicts whether he will graduate from university by the age of 25…

Reading aloud is not just for children and your book encourages readers to share stories with adults and the elderly. What are some of the benefits of reading aloud to older readers?
For older people, as for young ones, there’s a brain-kindling aspect, to start: Exciting research at the University of Liverpool, for instance, suggests that reading poetry aloud can help Alzheimer’s sufferers by stimulating their neural pathways. There’s a social aspect: It is a way for people to connect when age or illness makes conversation awkward or impossible, offering a balm for the heart and consolation for lonely.

4) New word for the vocabulary– snarge. “‘Snarge’ Happens, and Studying It Makes Your Flight Safer: When a bird collides with an airplane, determining its species can help prevent future collisions. To do that, scientists need snarge.”

5) As you know, I hate tipping.  Just charge me an appropriate price for a service and don’t expect me to pay your employees!  Now, where employee income is largely dependent upon wages (like restaurant servers who literally get lower wages because of expected tips), of course I’m a good tipper.  But, I hate the tipping creep where all sorts of services just ask you to pay them extra money when there’s no reason to.  NYT: “To Tip, or Not to Tip? Automated payment and the spread of tipping to every corner of the food-service business have helped workers weather the pandemic. But some consumers feel overwhelmed.”

6) I suspect I will be talking about Tucker Carlson and testicle tanning as one of the ultimate signs of the decline of the American right, years from now. Dana Milbank, “Why Tucker Carlson wants men to aim lasers at their private parts”

McGovern recommends that you “expose yourself to red-light therapy and the Joovv” — a brand of red light — “that we were using in the documentary.”

“It’s testicle tanning,” McGovern agrees, “but it’s also full-body red-light therapy.”

Carlson, the most-watched Fox News host, sums it up: “So, obviously, half the viewers are now like, ‘What? Testicle tanning — that’s crazy.’ But my view is, okay, testosterone levels have crashed and nobody says anything about it. That’s crazy.”

No, this is what’s crazy. To the extent declining testosterone levels are a problem, the correct solution would be to address a major cause: rising obesity. Instead of shining a red light on your private parts, dear Fox News viewer, turn off Tucker Carlson, get off the couch and go exercise.

But Carlson isn’t primarily hawking a genital-lighting device; he’s really touching all the erogenous zones of the Trumpian right.

There’s perceived loss of national pride: Carlson sees testosterone collapsing in “American men” (it’s a worldwide phenomenon). There’s paranoia about the government: “The NIH doesn’t seem interested in this at all,” Carlson says, impersonating some presumed official from the National Institutes of Health saying “it’s not a big deal” (the topic is widely studied). There’s paranoia about the media: McGovern claims the benefit of red-light therapy “isn’t being picked up on or covered” and says “there’s a lot of people out there that don’t trust the mainstream information.”

There’s the usual racist fearmongering: After the trailer shows several fit White bodies, the first Black body to appear is obese (as President John F. Kennedy intones that “there is nothing, I think, more unfortunate than to have soft, chubby, fat-looking children”), and an image from a street riot is used to convey “weak” America. There’s obsession with gender and sexuality: A shirtless man throws a javelin that turns into a flaming rocket; a man squeezes a cow’s udder; and other men, several also shirtless, exercise, fire a gun, wrestle, flip a tractor tire, swing an ax, swallow raw eggs and, of course, stand naked in front of red lights.

There’s the Trump right’s celebration of masculinity as aggression rather than chivalry or gentlemanliness, a notion promoted lately by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka. In the trailer, words appear on the screen over President Biden stumbling on Air Force One’s stairs and Democratic senators kneeling in tribute to George Floyd: “Good times made weak men; weak men made hard times.”

Above all, there’s the unwavering faith in junk science — or, as Carlson’s “expert” calls it, “bromeopathy” (apparently a form of homeopathy in which you get advice from friends). Red-light treatment is used for various skin conditions, and it’s not impossible a man can boost his testosterone by plunking down four figures to aim such a device at his nether regions. But, as Marc Goldstein, a Weill Cornell Medicine male fertility expert told the publication Inverse, the claim lacks “convincing scientific evidence or properly done studies.”

7) I really like this, “Let Your Kids Be Bad at Things: When parenting becomes about perfectionism, you’re missing the point.”

8) Yes, we should totally let our kids be more independent at younger ages here in America.  But I got bored of the Japanese television show that’s kicking off all these essays in about five minutes.

9) Cathy Young is a heterodox thinker I’ve discovered through twitter.  I really like this, “The Messy Politics of Teaching Gender”

The controversy over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which severely curbs the ability of public schools to teach about sexual orientation or gender identity, has brought the spotlight on the extent to which the culture wars over public schools now have to do with transgender identities and the recent dramatic shifts in liberal and progressive views on the subject. Unfortunately, this controversy replicates an all-too-familiar pattern: Conservatives respond to a real problem—in this case, progressive overreach in proselytizing simplistic and strongly disputed beliefs on a contentious issue to often-young schoolchildren—in ham-fisted ways, resulting in accusations of both bigotry and speech suppression; liberals circle the wagons and deny that there is any real problem, attributing the conservative moves solely to intolerance and reactionary backlash against social progress; over-the-top accusations proliferate on both sides; and the chances of productive conversation dwindle from slim to none.

Make no mistake: Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which was signed by Republican culture warrior and likely presidential aspirant Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28 and takes effect on July 1, is bad law. True, it does not prohibit anyone from saying the word “gay” in or out of public schools, and the groups paying for those “Say Gay” billboards in Florida could definitely find a better use for their money. On the face of it, the text of the bill may even seem reasonable: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” But it’s not clear whether, for instance, the prohibition on sexual orientation “instruction” in K-3 would cover such things as a parent volunteer during a class activity mentioning a same-sex spouse, or the use of any book or cartoon with a gay character.

The “age-appropriate[ness]” in later grades could also be a thorny issue—especially since, like some other recent social-issues legislation, the bill empowers ordinary citizens to serve as enforcers by suing. Given how stupid the culture wars have gotten, that’s worrisome.

It is also true that the anecdote DeSantis used as a justification for the bill—a supposed incident in which schoolteachers encouraged a 13-year-old student to explore a transgender identity without the parents’ knowledge or consent—turns out to have been substantially misreported: It seems that in reality, school staff was fully cooperative with the parents. (One of the bill’s provisions requires such cooperation, except in cases of a credible risk of abuse, when the child is making potentially life-altering decisions.)

But that doesn’t mean concerns about gender-identity extremism in educational settings are all made up.

Right now, for instance, these concerns are being aired in my own “blue” state of New Jersey as  health and sex education standards passed into law statewide in 2020 and now being implemented by local school boards have drawn objections not only from Republicans and conservatives but from some Democrats and moderates. For the moment, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has announced that the guidelines are being reviewed by the Department of Education and stressed that parents will always have the right to opt their children out of the lessons.

What’s so controversial? While some of the objections have focused on elementary-school materials that include overly explicit descriptions of sexual anatomy, proposed lesson plans dealing with gender identity issues have been a particular lightning rod. Thus, a cartoon video on “Puberty and Transgender Youth” suggested by one local school board as potential viewing material for fifth graders casually discusses the use of puberty blockers and shows a character experiencing anxiety because of by bodily changes (and apparently using a chest binder to hide developing breasts) and getting an injection of puberty blockers.

Meanwhile, a sample lesson plan recommended by that same school board for first graders instructs teachers to ask children how they know what gender they are, then explain the concept of gender identity as “that feeling of knowing your gender,” and elaborates:

You might feel like you are a boy, you might feel like you are a girl. You might feel like you’re a boy even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “girl” parts. You might feel like you’re a girl even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “boy” parts. And you might not feel like you’re a boy or a girl, but you’re a little bit of both. No matter how you feel, you’re perfectly normal!

A second-grade lesson from the same curriculum more specifically identifies “male genitals” and “female genitals,” but also offers this disclaimer: “There are some body parts that mostly just girls have and some parts that mostly just boys have. Being a boy or a girl doesn’t have to mean you have those parts, but for most people this is how their bodies are.” (While the Washington Post has pointed out that these lessons plans are not mandatory but are simply offered as potential resources, they are still among the approved material for the curriculum.)…

Are parents reactionary if they think the claim that sex at birth is established by the doctor “making a guess” is not only terrible science, but a highly confusing message for children whose sense of themselves and the world is still developing and for whom the boundaries between fantasy and reality may be still unstable? (Like many other children, I went through an “I’m a boy” phase when I was 7, not long after other phases in which I was a dog, the goddess Artemis, a prehistoric cave child, and a variety of fairly-tale characters of different sexes and species.) Or if they think that the schools should not be in the business of endorsing puberty-blocking drugs whose long-term effects are still poorly understood?

Other parents who are not GOP activists from Florida but suburban liberals from places like Stamford, Connecticut have pushed back against reading materials like The Pants Project, a book about a transgender boy assigned in grades 3 to 5. The objections have been not only to overly sexualized material—the main character, Liv, muses at one point, “Last week, Chelsea loudly told Jade that she’d seen a bulge in my underwear (I wish!)”—but to “gender stereotypes”: the book, one mother complained, seemed to imply that all girls are girly and that wearing pants, as Liv hankers to do, is a boy thing…

A full analysis of today’s gender identity debates is certainly beyond the scope of this article. However, it is worth noting that extremism in the transgender rights movement is being increasingly challenged across the political spectrum. Jonathan Rauch has recently written a thoughtful essay on the subject for the American Purpose, arguing that the movement needs to reject ultra-radicalism the way the gay rights movement did to win its civil rights victories. The Los Angeles Times last week reported on clinical psychologist Erica Anderson, who is herself transgender and has worked with numerous transgender patients; Anderson has broken ranks with the trans advocacy community by arguing that too many teenagers are being rushed into transitioning and that being transgender or “genderqueer” has, in some cases, become a trendy thing among progressive young people. Science journalist Jesse Singal, who is no one’s idea of a conservative or a right-winger, has been writing for several years about the bad science and bad ideas of radical trans advocacy.

There has been extreme and genuinely bigoted rhetoric about transgender people, both from the right and from radical feminists—but there has also been a disingenuous and deeply counterproductive campaign to equate all dissent from transgender-movement orthodoxy with bigotry and hate. It is entirely possible to believe that transgender identities are valid and worthy of social respect and that gender transition is in many cases the best solution to gender dysphoria, and yet also to believe that transgender advocacy in its current form raises many difficult issues that are far from settled—including hard questions related to gender transition for minors.

Unfortunately, our toxic political scene is the worst possible arena to address these complicated issues. Right now, the right is screaming “groomer” at anyone who believes sexuality and gender identity should be even mentioned in a school setting, while the left is screaming “murderer of trans kids” at anyone who thinks we should be careful about letting a 16-year-old get a mastectomy to fit a male or nonbinary gender identity. The moderate voices are essential—but too often they are getting drowned out. Today, responsible liberals and centrists are well aware of the bigotry and extremism of the anti-trans right; but they should pay more attention to the intolerance and extremism of the militant trans-advocacy left.

10) It’s good that the Supreme Court ruled that, yes, the military can require soldiers to be vaccinated for Covid.  But, plenty disturbing that somehow Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito think themselves above this chain of command.

11) Really enjoyed this from Derek Thompson, “A Stanford Psychologist Says He’s Cracked the Code of One-Hit Wonders: What separates Blind Melon from Shania Twain?”

For decades, psychologists have puzzled over the ingredients of creative popularity by studying music, because the medium offers literally millions of data points. Is the thing that separates one-hit wonders from consistent hitmakers luck, or talent, or some complex combination of factors? I did my best to summarize their work in my book, Hit Makers. This month, the Stanford psychologist Justin Berg published a new paper on the topic and argued that the secret to creative success just happens to hinge on the difference between “No Rain” and Shania Twain.

Berg compiled a data set of more than 3 million songs released from 1959 to 2010 and pulled out the biggest hits. He used an algorithm developed by the company EchoNest to measure the songs’ sonic features, including key, tempo, and danceability. This allowed him to quantify how similar a given hit is to the contemporary popular-music landscape (which he calls “novelty”), and the musical diversity of an artist’s body of work (“variety”).

“Novelty is a double-edged sword,” Berg told me. “Being very different from the mainstream is really, really bad for your likelihood of initially making a hit when you’re not well known. But once you have a hit, novelty suddenly becomes a huge asset that is likely to sustain your success.” Mass audiences are drawn to what’s familiar, but they become loyal to what’s consistently distinct.

Blind Melon’s “No Rain” rated extremely low on novelty in Berg’s research. Dreamy, guitar-driven soft rock wasn’t exactly innovative in 1992. According to Berg, this was the sort of song that was very likely to become a one-hit wonder: It rose to fame because of a quirky music video, not because the song itself stood out for its uniqueness. After that hit, the band struggled to distinguish their sound from everything else that was going on in music.

By contrast, Twain’s breakout hit rated high on novelty in Berg’s research. She was pioneering a new pop-country crossover genre that was bold for her time but would later inspire a generation of artists, like Taylor Swift. “Twain is a great fit for the model, because her blending of pop and country was so original before she had her breakout,” Berg told me. After her second album, he said, her novelty, which had previously been an artistic risk, helped her retain listeners. She could experiment within the kingdom of country-pop without much competition from other artists, and this allowed her to dominate the charts for the next decade.

Berg’s research also found that musical variety (as opposed to novelty) was useful for artists before they broke out. But down the line, variety wasn’t very useful, possibly because audience expectations are set by initial hits. “After the first hit, the research showed that it was good for artists to focus on what I call relatedness, or similarity of music,” he said. Nobody wants Bruce Springsteen to make a rap album.

This second finding about the benefits of early variety is similar to a model of creativity known as explore-exploit. The Northwestern University economist Dashun Wang has found that artists and scientists tend to have “hot streaks,” or tight clusters of highly successful work. When he looked closer at what preceded these hot streaks, he found a similar pattern. First, artists and scientists would “explore,” or experiment with a bunch of different ideas, styles, jobs, or topics, before they really got in the zone. Then they would “exploit,” or productively focus on one particular area.

Berg’s and Wang’s research suggests three rules of thumb that may come in handy for creative work.

First, extremely new ideas are unlikely to initially find a large audience. But if they break through, artists and entrepreneurs may find that uniqueness is an asset, the same way that Twain’s country-pop hybrid style switched from a burden to a benefit after her first hit. Second, early-career exploration can pay dividends in the long run. This is as true of the broader labor force as it is in music. A 2014 study of young workers found that people who switch jobs more frequently early in their career tend to have higher incomes in their prime working years. Third, the difference between one-hit wonders and hitmakers isn’t just novelty; it’s also focus, or what Berg called “relatedness.” Hot streaks require creative people to mine deeply when they find something that works for them.

But where does Chumbawamba fit into this?!

12) Why would Jay Wright retire from college basketball?  This sounds good:

I joked often this winter that when I talk to college basketball coaches these days, the conversations feel less like interviews and more like therapy sessions. That doesn’t seem so funny now that the sport is losing one of its leading men just when it needs him most. Put simply, the job is exhausting — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The travel is a killer. The parents wear you out. The press is always on your ass. The fans shout obscenities from the bleachers and hurl insults on social media. Your wife gets harassed at the grocery store, your kids get teased at school, and your very livelihood is dependent on the whims of 19- and 20-year-old kids who are under enormous pressure to succeed, and quickly. If things don’t go their way, they’re on to another school or off the pros. And you’re out of a job.

Coaching is a great job but a lousy profession. It pays well if you make it big, but it also chews you up and spits you out, because there’s always fresh meat on the way.

13) NYT on the subway shooter, “Why No One Died When a Gunman Opened Fire on the Subway: Luck and poor marksmanship appear to have saved the victims of the subway attack.”

Also, he was using a handgun, not an assault rifle.  I guarantee you some of these people would be dead if had been using an AR-15.

14) This is good, “THE UNSEEN SCARS OF THOSE WHO KILL VIA REMOTE CONTROL”

In the Air Force, drone pilots did not pick the targets. That was the job of someone pilots called “the customer.” The customer might be a conventional ground force commander, the C.I.A. or a classified Special Operations strike cell. It did not matter. The customer got what the customer wanted.

And sometimes what the customer wanted did not seem right. There were missile strikes so hasty that they hit women and children, attacks built on such flimsy intelligence that they made targets of ordinary villagers, and classified rules of engagement that allowed the customer to knowingly kill up to 20 civilians when taking out an enemy. Crews had to watch it all in color and high definition.

15) Damn, the full-on censorious book-banning of conservatives is just completely nuts.  (And, yet, that does not excuse the censoriousness of campus leftists, just because it’s worse), “Censorship battles’ new frontier: Your public library: Conservatives are teaming with politicians to remove books and gut library boards”

Wallace’s list was the opening salvo in a censorship battle that is unlikely to end well for proponents of free speech in this county of 21,000 nestled in rolling hills of mesquite trees and cactus northwest of Austin.

Leaders have taken works as seemingly innocuous as the popular children’s picture book “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak off the shelves, closed library board meetings to the public and named Wallace the vice chair of a new library board stacked with conservative appointees — some of whom did not even have library cards.

With these actions, Llano joins a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures…

Leila Green Little, a parent and board member of the Llano County Library System Foundation, said her anti-censorship group obtained dozens of emails from country officials that reveal the outsize influence a small but vocal group of conservative Christian and tea party activists wielded over the county commissioners to reshape the library system to their own ideals.

In one of the emails, which were obtained through a public records request and shared with The Washington Post, Cunningham seemed to question whether public libraries were even necessary.

“The board also needs to recognize that the county is not mandated by law to provide a public library,” Cunningham wrote to Wallace in January.

16) From a few years ago, but anybody who knows rich people knows this to be so true, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? Turns Out It’s Just Chance.: The most successful people are not the most talented, just the luckiest, a new computer model of wealth creation confirms. Taking that into account can maximize return on many kinds of investment.”

17) This is also true, “Enough About Climate Change. Air Pollution Is Killing Us Now.”

In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, doctors noticed a surprising silver lining: Americans were having fewer heart attacks.

One likely reason, according to an analysis published last month by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, is that people were inhaling less air pollution.

Millions of workers were staying home instead of driving to work. Americans were suddenly burning a lot less gas. And across the country, the researchers found that regions with larger drops in pollution also had larger drops in heart attacks.

The menace of air pollution doesn’t command public attention as it did in the 1960s, when thick smog yellowed urban skies. But evidence has piled up in recent years that the real progress the United States has made in reducing air pollution isn’t nearly good enough. Air pollution is a lot deadlier than we previously understood — and, in particular, studies like the analysis of heart attacks during the pandemic show that the concentrations of air pollution currently permitted by federal policy are still far too high.

In an assessment of recent research, the World Health Organization concluded last year that air pollution is “the single largest environmental threat to human health and well-being.”

The low quality of the air that we breathe should be regarded as a crisis. It also presents an opportunity. The existential threat of climate change has come to dominate debates about environmental regulation. Proposals to curb emissions, once presented as public health measures, are now billed as efforts to limit global warming.

The solution to both threats is the same: We need to stop burning fossil fuels, preferably yesterday. But there is cause to wonder whether a greater focus on the immediate dangers posed by air pollution, rather than the more distant specter of global warming, might help to muster the necessary support for changes that are going to be expensive and disruptive.

18) Great thread from Noah Smith on climate optimism.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) deBoer on pragmatism (and the lack of it from the far left)

I come from a tradition with radical demands but which also recognizes that we can’t actually get most of those demands yet, that we need to do a lot of organizing and persuading to get there. But so many leftist Democrats now insist that

  1. Their agenda is already popular with Americans

  2. You only need to juice turnout, not to change minds, evidence be damned

  3. If the Democrats only embrace a left-wing agenda, they’ll sweep to power

None of this is persuasive to me, but it’s become holy writ on social media. And here’s an example of where the left being shut out of power becomes a vicious circle. Centrists are correct that left Democrats are often deeply averse to compromise and bargaining, but this is in part because they’ve never had the power with which to make a compromise. What would they bargain with? Shut out of power for so long, leftist Democrats have no practice with having the juice to force a compromise and are so convinced of the fundamental corruption and fecklessness of the overall party that they recoil at the idea of making one. Meanwhile, I’m constantly told that message discipline – not abandoning any of your principles, but highlighting the ones that are most popular – is not only undesirable but actively impossible.

For example. I’m a “let them all in” guy when it comes to immigration. Those are my values, and I do think that someday we’ll have a vastly more open and humane immigration system. But someday is not today. Liberal views on immigration are deeply unpopular in this country right now. If Democrats run hard on mass immigration increases, they will lose more elections and the Republicans will be empowered to make the immigration situation even worse. I don’t have any sort of simplistic schema for when you have to compromise and when you have to fight; it’s complicated. But so many further-left Democrats I encounter presume that there’s never any time when compromise is necessary and who view strategic calls for moderation as inherently bad faith, as the province of the wicked. It’s a terribly unhelpful way to do electoral politics in our stupid system.

2) Love this from Frank Bruni:

Enough about “parental rights.” I want to talk about nonparental rights.

I want to talk about the fact that a public school, identified that way for a reason, doesn’t exist as some bespoke service attending to the material wants and political whims of only those Americans with children in the science lab and on the soccer field. It’s an investment, funded by all taxpayers, in the cultivation of citizens who better appreciate our democracy and can participate in it more knowledgeably and productively.

Each of us has skin in the game. And each of us, even those of us without children, has the right to weigh in on how the game is played.

But you wouldn’t know that from the education conflagrations of the moment — from the howls of protest from parents about what their children are or aren’t exposed to, what their children are and aren’t taught.

You wouldn’t know it from the arguments for Florida’s recently enacted ban on talk of gay and trans people with young schoolchildren. That measure, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” initiative by its opponents, was called the Parental Rights in Education bill by its promoters — as if it were restoring and safeguarding some fundamental prerogative that should never have been challenged, as if parents’ sensitivities and sensibilities hold extra-special sway.

They matter, definitely. But one parent’s sensitivities and sensibilities don’t reliably align with another’s. Or with mine. Or with yours.

And raising the banner of “parental rights,” which is being hoisted high and waved with intensifying passion these days, doesn’t resolve that conflict. Nor does it change the fact that the schools in question exist for all of us, to reflect and inculcate democratic values and ecumenical virtues that have nothing to do with any one parent’s ideology, religion or lack thereof.

If the prevailing sensitivities and sensibilities of most parents at a given moment were the final word, formal racial segregation of educational institutions would have lasted longer than it did. There’d still be prayer in some public schools, and I don’t mean nondenominational.

I’m not equating those issues with current fights over L.G.B.T.Q. content in curriculums. Nor am I pushing specifically for that content, whose prevalence and emphasis remain murky to me, as they do, I’d wager, to most of the Americans who have vociferously entered the fray.

I’m sympathetic to the perspective that there’s a time, place and tone for such discussions. Too much too soon can be a clumsy, politically reckless provocation. So can vaguely worded, spitefully conceived, intentionally divisive laws, like the one in Florida, that encourage parents specifically to file lawsuits if they catch the scent of something they find unsavory in their children’s classrooms.

Parents do and should have authority over much of their children’s lives. No quarrel from me there. I’m in genuine awe of the responsibilities that parents take on, and I feel enormous gratitude toward those who approach those responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.

But public education is precisely that, and it’s both inappropriate and dangerous to treat the parents who have children in public schools as the only interested parties or as stakeholders whose desires are categorically more important than everybody else’s. The spreading cry of “parental rights” suggests as much. And the wrongness of that transcends any partisan affiliation.

3) OMG this book banning on the right these days.  Apparently, the picture book “Everywhere babies” is getting banned because some of the parents are same-sex couples.  God forbid kids get the idea that actually happens in the real world. 

4) Pet rental is a thing? Sort of. What the hell? Of course, it all starts with buying a pet from a pet store which, lets be honest, no responsible pet owner does (I’m not talking about pet stores that facilitate adoptions). 

5) Now Florida is trying to do away with tenure for its universities to stop all the liberal indoctrination.  Glad we have state legislators like this on the case ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

He also said it would increase transparency with a provision that would require course syllabuses to be posted online, preventing attempts by professors to “smuggle in ideology and politics.” Sprowls said it would prevent students from signing up for a class on “socialism and communism” when they thought they were signing up for “Western democracy” and classes about “what it means to be an actual American.”

“That’s what this bill is about,” Sprowls said. “Are (students) going to walk into a university system that’s more about indoctrination than it is about getting getting jobs someday and learning skills and the subject matter necessary to get a job? Or is it about some sort of radical political agenda that a particular professor that’s been told they get a lifetime job is going to tell them they have to believe to get an A in their class?”

6) And, as long as we’re on Florida, Chait is on the case when it comes to DeSantis:

7) This is a terrific and, dare I say, heartening interview on the limited and corrupt Russian military:

Could the Russian military say, in its defense, that the military-modernization project was done with a different kind of war in mind than the one in Ukraine? Or do you see the failure being broader than that?

 

8) John Cassidy on McCarthy and McConnell:

It’s eminently clear where Republican candidates are learning the techniques of prostration: from their own leaders. And this abject situation isn’t likely to change. If the events of January 6, 2021, weren’t sufficient to embolden the likes of McCarthy and McConnell for more than a few days, could anything effect such a transformation? Probably not. To be sure, there are some individual elected Republicans, such as Cheney and Mitt Romney, who are still willing to criticize and challenge Trump, but none of them are in positions of authority within the Party.

Taken as a whole, the G.O.P. is still in the same position it has been in for the past five and a half years: beholden to a narcissistic demagogue who has no respect for democracy or the law. In fact, the situation is even worse than it used to be, because the demagogue is now explicitly demanding that Republican candidates sign on to his Big Lie about 2020—a modern version of the “stab-in-the-back” conspiracy theory that helped undermine the Weimar Republic. In one sense, it’s fun to read yet another story confirming the utter spinelessness and cravenness of McConnell, McCarthy, et al. Ultimately, though, the joke is on us.

9) Fascinating deBoer piece about the explosion of claims of multiple personality disorder among teenagers on TikTok and what it says about current pathologies in our culture [emphases in original]

You might very well ask how it could possibly be the case that a notoriously controversial and historically extremely rare disorder would suddenly bloom into epidemic proportions among teenagers with smartphones and a burning need to differentiate themselves. How could that happen? The standard line on these things is that expanding public consciousness about such illnesses reduces stigma and empowers more people to get diagnosed with conditions they already had. But with dissociative identity disorder, I can only ask… really? One of the rarest mental illnesses in the medical literature has had thousands of people walking around undiagnosed, despite the fact that it’s perhaps the single hardest psychiatric condition to hide? It’s one thing to say that there’s tons of, say, autistic people walking around who are undiagnosed because of stigma around the diagnosis. It’s another to say that thousands of people’s conditions have gone unnoticed when they experience the world as a number of distinct and incompatible personalities which they switch between in jarring and disorienting moments.

None of this is healthy. None of it will result in better treatment or results for those who have legitimate psychiatric disorders. Ideas core to the toxic mental health ideology that kids are absorbing on TikTok include

  • That intense childhood trauma is universal or near-universal, despite the fact that it simply isn’t, and thank god

  • That trauma is somehow ennobling, a maker of meaning, a creator of identity, a way to be unique and special, rather than something terrible we should do everything we can to prevent

  • Correspondingly, that to be mentally healthy is undesirable, when it’s a condition we should aspire to secure for everyone

  • That mental illness is an identity, the most important and central element of someone’s self, rather than an unfortunate detail, and that the right way to have a mental illness is to revel in it, celebrate it, fixate on it completely, act as though there’s nothing else interesting or meaningful about you than your mental illness

  • That any critical thinking or questioning of their rhetoric about mental illness is inherently a matter of “stigma” and thus illegitimate, and that the job of doctors and therapists is always to affirm their self-diagnoses, not to act as independent and dispassionate agents

  • That anything they feel is valid, that their emotions are a perfect guide to their reality, and that anything that contradicts their intuitions or their desires is by definition the hand of oppression.

And the core point here is that the people who are being hurt by this are these kids themselves. Sucking up scarce mental health resources with fictitious conditions is irresponsible, yes, and pretending to be sick for clout is untoward. But setting that aside, self-diagnosis is dangerous. Playacting a serious mental illness is harmful to your actual mental health. Fixating on the most broken part of yourself is contrary to best medical practices and to living a fulfilled life. Defining yourself by dysfunction is a great way to stay dysfunctional. And everything about mental illness that seems cool and deep and intense when you’re 18 becomes sad and pathetic and self-destructive and ugly by the time you’re 40. Take it from me. These kids are hurting themselves. I don’t want to ridicule them. I’m not even angry at them. I’m angry at their adult enablers. That includes the vast edifice of woowoo self-help bullshit Instagram self-actualization yoga winemom feel-good consumerist tell-me-I’m-special psychiatric medicine, and a media that loves the prurient thrills of multiple personalities and never saw a vulnerability that it couldn’t exploit.

10) Loved this piece.  I’m glad hockey has evolved to become a sport with much more emphasis on skill.  I would not be the fan I am if it were otherwise, “‘It’s almost like the game has been reinvented’: Players, coaches and GMs on the NHL’s scoring boom”

This is a new age in the NHL, a far cry from the dead puck era that saw a sharp decline in goal scoring from the 1980s. In 1980-81, teams averaged 4.01 goals per game. In the decade, there was never a year below 3.67 goals per game.

By 2003-04, goals per game fell to 2.57 — the lowest in a half-century.

This season, teams are averaging 3.09 goals per game, the highest average since 1995-96, when it was 3.14 per game. The league-wide save percentage of .907 is the lowest since 2006-07 (.905). The average penalty kill is 79 percent, which is frankly unbelievable. The average power play is 21 percent. As Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft notes, “It wasn’t that long ago when if you had a 19, 20 percent power play, you were in the top five in the National Hockey League.”

The Florida Panthers are averaging 4.17 goals per game, the highest by a team since the Pittsburgh Penguins averaged 4.41 per game in 1995-96. Eighteen teams (56 percent of the league) are averaging more than three goals per game. And it’s not just the teams with offensive superstars like the Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Blues have shot up to fourth in the NHL in goals per game, at 3.74, thanks to recently scoring four or more goals in 12 consecutive games (62 goals, 5.17 per game). Heck, the Wild, for years considered one of the most committed defensive teams in the NHL with a foundation established by original coach Jacques Lemaire, have six 20-goal scorers, three 30-goal scorers and rank fifth in the NHL with 3.66 goals per game.

“Look how teams are made up now: four lines that can contribute offensively,” says 37-year-old future Hall of Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who debuted for the Penguins in 2003. “When I started, your third line was grinding, your fourth line was fighting. Now, look at our third line. We have two 20-goal scorers on there. Imagine having to defend (Jordan) Greenway, (Joel) Eriksson Ek and (Marcus) Foligno. Is there a bigger line in the league? Imagine having to defend them. They’re our checking line, but they check by playing in the offensive zone.”

There are 39 point-per-game players this season in the NHL (minimum 60 games) with another four hovering at 0.99. When the Blues scored seven second-period goals Sunday in Nashville and won 8-3, it was the 30th time since March 1 that an NHL team scored at least seven goals in a game. In 2015-16, 29 teams scored that many in a game in the entire season.

Last Saturday and Sunday, 153 goals were scored across the league — the highest-scoring weekend in NHL history.

You see the impact of the scoring increase in every facet of the game. 

11) Florida wants to ban K-12 textbooks for “social-emotional learning”  That’s nuts!  But, alas, everything is “critical race theory” now. 

Administrators in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District were already looking for ways to support students’ mental well-being before the pandemic, driven in part by a string of student deaths, including some suicides. Then covid-19 and remote schooling inflicted fresh emotional damage.

So, this past fall, the district implementeda social-emotional learning (SEL) program — a curriculum geared at helping students manage emotions, develop positive relationships and make good decisions. Schools have worked to develop these skills for decades, and in recent years, formal programming has proliferated coast to coast. In Anoka-Hennepin, elementary schools focused on themes such as respect, empathy, gratitude, kindness, honesty, courage, cooperation, perseverance and responsibility each month. Students learned how to ask for help and spot someone having a bad day.

The complaints began immediately, often from parents already upset about remote schooling and mask mandates. Minnesota’s Child Protection League, a group active on conservative issues, said social-emotional learning is a vehicle for critical race theory, an effort to divide students from their parents, emotional manipulation and “the latest child-indoctrination scheme.”

 

12) And Dana Goldstein in the NYT, “A Look Inside the Textbooks That Florida Rejected”

But many of the textbooks included social-emotional learning content, a practice with roots in psychological research that tries to help students develop mind-sets that can support academic success.

The image below, from marketing materials provided by the company Big Ideas Learning — whose elementary textbooks Florida rejected — features one common way teachers are trained to think about social-emotional learning.

 
Image
The diagram names core skills students should develop, and gives an example of how to conquer fear and build self-confidence.
Credit…Big Ideas Learning
 
The diagram names core skills students should develop, and gives an example of how to conquer fear and build self-confidence.

The circular diagram names the five core skills students should develop: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness and relationship building. This framework was developed by CASEL, an education nonprofit.

Until recently, the idea of building social-emotional skills was a fairly uncontroversial one in American education. Research suggests that students with these skills earn higher test scores.

13) To be fair, Drum is right and stuff like this should not be in math books:

The Florida Department of Education finally released a few examples of “unacceptable” math problems today. Here is one of them:

So the lesson here is that conservatives are racist, as proven by a test that’s of dubious reliability.

Nice work, textbook people. This is insane. I can’t imagine there’s a conservative governor anywhere in the country who wouldn’t be offended by this. If this math book included a similar bar graph showing crime rates by race, do you think that liberal governors might be equally offended?

Also, the IAT is not a valid measure of racial prejudice!

14) Interesting story here, “How a Crime-Fighting Institution Took a Partisan Turn: Crime Stoppers of Houston built its reputation on a successful tip line. Then it decided to take on Democratic judges.”  And, the NYT takes so much heat, but they have revealing, deeply-reported stories like this every single day that would otherwise not see the light of day. It really is an amazing journalistic institution.  

15) Leonhardt (with an assist from Michael Osterholm) on mask mandates:

As Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist, puts it, a mask mandate with as many exceptions as the airline mandate is like a submarine that closes three of its five doors.

On the other hand, research shows that, when used correctly, masks can be a valuable tool for reducing the spread of Covid. How, then, should the country be thinking about masks during the current stage of the pandemic? Today’s newsletter tries to answer that question.

Broad and lenient

The trouble with the transportation mask mandate was that it was both too broad and too lenient.

Its breadth required people to muzzle their faces for long periods of time, and most people don’t enjoy doing so. (If you doubt that, check out the gleeful responses of airline passengers and school children when told they didn’t have to wear masks anymore.)

A central lesson of public health is that people have a limited capacity to change their routine. They’re not machines. For that reason, the best responses to health crises depend on triage, with political leaders prioritizing the most valuable steps that people can take. Whenever politicians impose rules that are obviously ineffective, they undermine the credibility of the effective steps.

The transportation mandate had so many exceptions that many Americans understandably questioned its worth. Travelers took off their masks to eat and drink. Some flight attendants removed their masks to make announcements. Some passengers wore their masks on their chins. The mandate also did not require N95 and KN95 masks, which are more effective against the virus than cloth masks or standard medical masks.

 

These problems — the open doors on the mask-mandate submarine — help explain a pandemic conundrum: Rigorous laboratory tests show that masks reduce Covid transmission, but supporting real-world evidence tends to be much weaker.

The most glaring example in the U.S. is that liberal communities, where masks are a cherished symbol of solidarity, have experienced nearly as much Covid spread as conservative communities, where masks are a hated symbol of oppression. Another example is school mask mandates, which don’t seem to have had much effect. A third example is Hong Kong, where mask wearing is very popular (although often not with N95 or KN95 masks, Osterholm notes); Hong Kong has just endured a horrific Covid wave, among the world’s worst since the pandemic began.

Osterholm, who spent 15 years as Minnesota’s state epidemiologist and has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington, argues that much of the U.S. public health community has exaggerated the value of broad mask mandates. KN95 and N95 masks reduce the virus’s spread, he believes, but mandates like the one on airlines do little good.

“Public health advice has been way off the mark, all along, about mask protection,” he told me. “We have given the public a sense of a level of protection that is just not warranted.”

Osterholm added: “Let’s just be honest.”

Narrow and strict

A more effective approach to mask mandates would probably be both narrower and stricter. It would close the big, obvious loopholes in any remaining mandates — but also limit the number of mandates.

The reality is that masks are less valuable today than they were a year or two ago. Covid vaccines are universally available in the U.S. for adults and teenagers, and the virus is overwhelmingly mild in children. Treatments for vulnerable people are increasingly available.

And consider this: About half of Americans have recently had the Omicron variant of Covid. They currently have little reason to wear a mask, for anybody’s sake.

Together, vaccines and treatments mean that the risks of severe Covid for boosted people — including the vulnerable — seem to be similar to the risks of severe influenza. The U.S., of course, does not mandate mask wearing every winter to reduce flu cases. No country does.

Another relevant factor is that one-way masking reduces Covid transmission. People who want to wear a mask because of an underlying health condition, a fear of long Covid or any other reason can do so. When they do, they deserve respect.

“One-way masking works,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, said. When he is treating tuberculosis patients, they are typically maskless, and he wears an N95 mask to protect himself.

Still, if Covid illness begins surging again at some point, there may be situations in which mandates make sense. To be effective, any mandates probably need to be strict, realistic and enforced. Imagine, for example, that a subway system mandated KN95 or N95 masks inside train cars — but not on platforms, which tend to be airy.

Or imagine that the C.D.C. required high-quality masks in the airport and aboard a plane on the runway — but not in flight when people will inevitably eat and when a plane’s air-filtration system is on. “When I travel, I’m always more worried about in-airport exposures than I am the plane,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Brown University epidemiologist, said.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has spent much of the past two years with the worst of all worlds on masks. People have been required to wear them for hours on end, causing frustration and exhaustion and exacerbating political polarization. Yet the rules have included enough exceptions to let Covid spread anyway. The burden of the mandates has been relatively high, while the benefits have been relatively low. It’s the opposite of what a successful public health campaign typically does.

16) The Dead Eyes interview with Tom Hanks was about the perfect podcast episode.  And the 29 before it were well worth the trip. 

Quick hits (part II)

Happy Easter!

1) I watched about 5 minutes of “Old Enough” on Netflix before I got bored. But it’s a great starting off point for Jessica Grose’s latest parenting newsletter:

An aggressively adorable reality show that’s been on for decades in Japan recently hit Netflix. It’s called “Old Enough!” and it depicts Japanese little ones, some as young as 2, taking their first solo journeys (the show’s original title is translated as “My First Errand”). ..

In addition to being utterly charmed by how cute the show is, my response was: This wouldn’t fly in the United States. If there were an American version, parents who allowed their children to appear would probably be framed as irresponsible, or the kids would be shown to need parental support at every turn.

It’s not just Japan. In much of the rest of the world, kids are allowed to do more solo at earlier ages. Dan Kois, who wrote a book about traveling the world with his 9- and 11-year-olds, said, “Our experience in most of the places we lived in the course of that year, children, especially middle-grade children, were given enormous amounts of freedom that were totally incomprehensible” to the average American. In the Netherlands, for instance, Kois said that kids rode their bikes to school by themselves.

Though I knew American parents were more protective than some parents in other countries, I was surprised at the extent of the protectiveness. According to a 2012 analysis of a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mean age at which American adults believed a child could be left at home alone was 13, bathe alone was 7 and a half, bike alone was around 10.

American norms seem also to have become more protective over time…

Experts peg the 1980s and 1990s as when American parenting started becoming more conservative in this way. Lenore Skenazy, the founder of Free-Range Kids and the president of Let Grow, an organization that advocates children having more freedom, said that a shift began, understandably, when child abductions were getting a lot of national media coverage. Etan Patz and Adam Walsh became household names, and rather than thinking of these cases as horrific anomalies, parents began to think of child kidnapping as something more common than it is.

Skenazy said that poorly defined child neglect laws also play a role. Many parents have told me they want to give their kids more freedom, but worry that if they let their 9-year-old go to the park alone, for example, they might wind up getting a call from child protective services. (Skenazy notes that this kind of thing really happens.) Others might make the argument that there’s not much downside to being extra cautious, but research suggests something more complicated — a 2021 paper in the Journal of Family Psychology found that too much parental involvement may lead to worse self-regulation among kindergartners. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that part of the reason American teenagers are so anxious is that their bubble-wrapped childhoods can leave them without a sense of competence.

America is vast, and parents know their kids and their specific neighborhoods best — I’m not about to send my 5-year-old to the bodega by herself quite yet. But I hope watching “Old Enough!” will make more American parents consider the possibility that our cultural norms need a reset, or at least a rethink.

2) To me great art/literature is great because it speaks to the human condition.  Of course, there are culturally unique and specific aspects of the human condition, but what’s awesome is that a book written hundreds or thousands of years ago can still speak to people today or that a novel about being a child soldier in Africa can have a profound impact on a middle-class American.  It’s speaking to our shared humanity that makes great art.  Thus, I really enjoyed this portion of a conversation between Yascha Mounk and Classics professor, Roosevelt Montás:

Then there is this other aspect of it that is very dangerous. You alluded to this condescending notion that people who are from certain cultures, or certain racial or ethnic minorities, somehow don’t have the human apparatus to connect to big fundamental questions that some other student or individual does. My wife is an American white woman, and this culturally responsive approach to teaching easily falls into something like the idea that Dante is appropriate for her, but not for me. You know, “Give Roosevelt Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Junot Diaz, and give Leigh Plato and Aristotle.” There is a reductionist and narrowness and ultimately a condescension to that attitude that pervades education. I think we have done more damage than good by incorporating that type of thinking into our curriculum. I, as a high school student, found Plato to be very affirming. I found that Plato affirmed the deepest aspects of my identity. By Plato I mean Socrates, really—at least the figure that Plato gives us of Socrates. That had nothing to do with my ethnicity and with my language and with my culture; it had something to do more fundamentally with my sense of self, with the possibilities of living in a society. This happens over and over again—I see students are able to connect with, say, Dante, not because Dante is Italian and because it’s rooted in medieval Catholic theology; there’s something else in Dante, a point of connection that makes Dante no closer to an Italian American than to a Dominican American. 

Mounk: One of the things that I find weird about this, as you’re saying, is that the logical implication of “Only Spanish or Latino literature will appeal to somebody from the Dominican Republic,” is that only English people are truly going to get Shakespeare, which is deeply offensive. Though, when it comes to somebody like Socrates, it’s also the weird metaphysics that’s going on. Socrates lived so long ago, in a society that was so different from either the New York of 1985 or the Dominican Republic of 1985. Which of those two societies was closer to Socrates? I have no way to begin to answer that question. So there’s an odd idea, when you think about transhistorical white identity, where suddenly, the kid with roots that are not at all in Greece, living in a highly technologically, economically complex and diverse society in the 21st century, somehow is supposed to be just like Socrates. It’s just such a weird way of thinking about what it is to be human and how our contemporary identities map onto the past. 

Montás: And the sad thing is that it involves a certain kind of reductionism and essentialism that was invented, historically, as a tool of oppression. This notion of whiteness and blackness and this cultural essentialism develops in the service of racial supremacism, exploitation, enslavement, and absolute dehumanization of the other. Today, the logic is adopted so easily into a discourse that poses itself as progressive, anti-racist, and social justice-oriented. I don’t really question the intentions of people who advance this, but I do think that they are making a fundamental mistake and reproducing the categories that are the exact same tools that produce the oppression that they’re fighting.

3) Sometimes you talk to a journalist for half an hour and they use one boring, anodyne quote.  Other times, they make it worth your while.  Love how the quotes here very much capture how I actually speak about politics, “North Carolina primary bids watched by nation”

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, told Courthouse News that Budd probably didn’t lose any headway by not participating in the debate. 

He is financially formidable and is likely “Trumpy” enough to maintain a substantial Republican following, Greene said. 

The professor describes McCrory as more of an “old-guard, pre-Trump, reagan-era conservative,” while describing Budd as more of an “own-the-libs Republican.” 

“He has a potent national brand,” Greene said of Cawthorn, adding,” He’s aligned with Trump and in many ways, he represents what the Republican Party is all about right now.”

The young representative was recently reprimanded by GOP leadership for making public claims unflattering to the party, including tales of “orgy” invites.

That doesn’t matter either, Greene said. 

“Republican primary voters will be willing to overlook problematic statements,” he said, including Cawthorn’s recent statements siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukrainian leadership in the ongoing invasion.

He says Republican primary voters in the state are energized by Trump-esque rhetoric like that of Cawthorn’s. 

Plus, he said, “any Republican candidate with a pulse” is likely to win the majorly conservative 11th District over the Democratic challengers hoping to keep Cawthorn from gaining reelection in November. 

4) Lots of interesting facts/charts checking out here from Pew, “10 facts about today’s college graduates”

A line graph showing that since 2000, the share of Americans with a bachelor's degree has increased across all races and ethnicities

A chart showing that among household heads with at least a bachelor's degree, those with a college-educated parent are typically wealthier and have greater incomes

5) Edsall, ‘Trump Poses a Test Democracy Is Failing.”  This is all just so damn depressing the number of people who so readily choose power, owning-the-libs, negative partisanship, tax cuts or whatever over, you know… democracy.

Ordinary citizens play a critical role in maintaining democracy. They refuse to re-elect — at least in theory — politicians who abuse their power, break the rules and reject the outcome of elections they lose. How is it, then, that Donald Trump, who has defied these basic presumptions, stands a reasonable chance of winning a second term in 2024?

Milan W. Svolik, a political scientist at Yale, anticipated this question in his 2019 paper “Polarization versus Democracy”: “Voters in democracies have at their disposal an essential instrument of democratic self-defense: elections. They can stop politicians with authoritarian ambitions by simply voting them out of office.”

What might account for their failure to do so?

In sharply polarized electorates, even voters who value democracy will be willing to sacrifice fair democratic competition for the sake of electing politicians who champion their interests. When punishing a leader’s authoritarian tendencies requires voting for a platform, party, or person that his supporters detest, many will find this too high a price to pay.

In other words, exacerbated partisan competition “presents aspiring authoritarians with a structural opportunity: They can undermine democracy and get away with it.”

Svolik and Matthew H. Graham, a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University, expand on Svolik’s argument and its applicability to the United States. Supporters of democracy, they contend in their 2020 paper “Democracy in America? Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the United States,” can no longer rely on voters to serve as a roadblock against authoritarianism:

We find the U.S. public’s viability as a democratic check to be strikingly limited: only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices, and their tendency to do so is decreasing in several measures of polarization, including the strength of partisanship, policy extremism, and candidate platform divergence.

Graham and Svolik cite survey data demonstrating that “Americans have a solid understanding of what democracy is and what it is not” and can “correctly distinguish real-world undemocratic practices from those that are consistent with democratic principles.”…

Despite this awareness, Graham and Svolik continue,

only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices when doing so goes against their partisan identification or favorite policies. We proposed that this is the consequence of two mechanisms: first, voters are willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan ends and second, voters employ a partisan ‘double standard’ when punishing candidates who violate democratic principles. These tendencies were exacerbated by several types of polarization, including intense partisanship, extreme policy preferences, and divergence in candidate platforms.

The authors have calculated that “only 3.5 percent of voters realistically punish violations of democratic principles in one of the world’s oldest democracies.”

6) The latest Jonathan Haidt everybody is talking about America as a modern-day Babel being ruined by social media (I haven’t actually read it yet, I’ll get around to it in my hardcopy Atlantic).

Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.

7) I hate the LA Times paywall that gives you not a single article and diminishes their ability to have a national influence.  But, at least the journalist made a nice twitter thread here:

8) This is kind of cool. “Why Rome?”

Rome rose from obscurity to become a vast, prosperous and durable empire. It first outgrew the other Latin cities mainly due to its location as a nexus and its proximity to the wealthy Etruscans (75% confidence). If this is not the case, Rome does not get hegemony over Latium (70% confidence).

Roman culture then spread primarily through conquest (95% confidence). A key reason that this worked was the Romans’ unusually expansive and inclusive notion of citizenship, which increased its labour force, suppressed rebellious tendencies and gave conquered peoples a stake in the Roman venture (70% confidence). If this is not the case, the Romans don’t expand outside the Italian peninsula (60% confidence).

9) Chait, “Why Ketanji Brown Jackson Will Be the Last Democratic Justice for a Long Time The Court is getting more partisan and much harder to change.”

The important news from Jackson’s confirmation was not that Democrats managed to seat a justice; their possession of a Senate majority and the presidency made that a foregone conclusion. The news was that Democrats would not get another justice confirmed without controlling the Senate.

When McConnell announced in 2016 that he would not permit a hearing for any Supreme Court nominee put forward by Barack Obama, his stated rationale was that it would be improper for the Senate to confirm anybody during an election year. An army of conservative pundits came forward to vouchsafe this rationale. “Only once in U.S. history (in 1888) has the Senate acted before Election Day to confirm a justice who was nominated in the last year of a presidential term by a president of the opposing party,” insisted National Review’s Dan McLaughlin.

It was perfectly obvious at the time that McConnell had simply concocted an arbitrary time frame, but conservatives put up a great show in pretending the distinction between election-year nominees and justices nominated other times had real meaning. But McConnell is now dispensing with the pretext and openly refusing to commit to holding hearings for a Democratic Court nominee at all, election year or no. As far as I can tell, the number of conservatives who disagree with him is zero.

The old norms governing Supreme Court nominations generally meant that a well-qualified jurist from within that party’s mainstream would command overwhelming approval from senators in both parties. But that expectation relied on the shared belief that judges were ideologically unpredictable. (Because, indeed, they were.)

In the new world, confirming a Supreme Court justice is just like passing any other part of the president’s agenda: You either have a majority of the votes in Congress or you don’t get it. It will now become routine for Supreme Court seats to stay vacant for years until one party controls the presidency and the Senate.

In practical terms, this will make it nearly impossible for Democrats to take back the Court in the near future. 

10) I was at the Hurricanes 3-0 loss to the Red Wings and they just killed the Red Wings in every metric except, of course, the one that counts. Led me to a bit of dive into the various advanced metrics and I quite like this one that shows plain old scoring chances % as a better metric than high danger chances for percentage.

11) Noah Smith and Matt Yglesias with a fascinating and thoughtful debate on defense spending.

12) And a really interesting interview on the military threats in space:

What are those biggest threats?

Our primary potential adversaries are China and Russia, which have clearly already demonstrated multiple ways that they would hold our space capabilities at risk. We’ve seen this in 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite missile that blew up one of their own satellites. By the way, today we’re still tracking thousands of pieces of debris from that test. That represents a threat to safety and navigation in space. Not a good event. 

And then, most recently, Russia did the same thing on the 15th of November last year, blew up one of their satellites. And now we have hundreds more pieces of debris that we’re tracking because of that. In addition, they continue to develop other capabilities: satellite and navigation signal jamming capabilities; directed energy capabilities from the ground that could be used to dazzle, disrupt, or even damage satellites in low earth orbit, and so on. 

So why are China and Russia doing this? Because they see what space means to modern warfare, and how dependent our terrestrial forces are on space capabilities. And they want to hold them at risk, because they’re actually afraid of the capabilities that our space assets bring to bear.

13) Great guest essay on the nurse convicted of a crime for a medical mistake.

But some are more devastating. RaDonda Vaught, a former Tennessee nurse, is awaiting sentencing for one particularly catastrophic case that took place in 2017. She administered a paralyzing medication to a patient before a scan instead of the sedative she intended to give to quell anxiety. The patient stopped breathing and ultimately died.

Precisely where all the blame for this tragedy lies remains debated. Ms. Vaught’s attorney argued his client made an honest mistake and faulted the mechanized medication dispensing system at the hospital where she worked. The prosecution maintained, however, that she “overlooked many obvious signs that she’d withdrawn the wrong drug” and failed to monitor her patient after the injection.

Criminal prosecutions for medical errors are rare, but Ms. Vaught was convicted in criminal court of two felonies and now faces up to eight years in prison. This outcome has been met with outrage by doctors and nurses across the country. Many worry that her case creates a dangerous precedent, a chilling effect that will discourage health care workers from reporting errors or close calls. Some nurses are even leaving the profession and citing this case as the final straw after years of caring for patients with Covid-19.

14) I don’t get why we can’t just have Ukrainian refugees give their dogs rabies shots at the border, “Ukrainians Face New Hurdle at U.S. Border: No Dogs: Federal health guidelines limit the entry of pets from countries like Ukraine with a high incidence of rabies. For some refugees, the rule has been devastating.”

15) No game-changer, but still a cool technological development, “The F.D.A. authorizes the first Covid-19 breath test.”

16) There had been a lot of hope for Vitamin D and Covid. Evidence is pretty clear, though, there’s just nothing there.  

17) The case for prescribing Paxlovid to low-risk Covid patients.

18) How they managed to build monasteries like this on top of rock formations hundreds of years ago just astounds me.

19) Yeah, we’re not getting to zero Covid.  But science just keeps on making progress, “Sabizabulin Cuts COVID-19 Death; Trial Stopped Early Due to Efficacy”

Positive results were announced from a phase 3 trial evaluating sabizabulin in hospitalized COVID-19 patients at high risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Sabizabulin is an oral cytoskeleton disruptor that blocks microtubule trafficking. The investigational treatment is expected to provide both antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects, thereby treating both the SARS-CoV-2 infection and the cytokine storm and septic shock that lead to ARDS.

The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04842747) included approximately 210 patients hospitalized with moderate to severe COVID-19 (WHO Ordinal Scale for Clinical Improvement score of at least 4) who were at high risk for ARDS and death.

Patients were randomly assigned 2:1 to receive sabizabulin orally once daily for up to 21 days or placebo. Both treatment arms were allowed to receive standard of care, which included remdesivirdexamethasone, anti-interleukin 6 (IL6) receptor antibodies, and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors. 

The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients who died by day 60. The key secondary endpoint was the proportion of patients who were alive without respiratory failure at day 15, day 22, and day 29.

An interim analysis showed that treatment with sabizabulin resulted in a clinically and statistically meaningful 55% relative reduction in deaths in the intent to treat population (P =.0029). The mortality rates for the sabizabulin and placebo groups were reported to be 20% and 45%, respectively. As for safety, sabizabulin was well tolerated with no clinically relevant safety concerns compared with placebo. According to the Company, secondary efficacy endpoints are still being analyzed.

20) Two things that are true.  Black Lives Matter is an important and worthy social movement. Black Lives Matter as an organization is basically scamming people. 

21) I’ve never actually been all that much of a fan of Louis C.K., but damn does a sub-headline like this annoy me, “Some comedians are questioning how the Recording Academy saw fit to bestow an award to someone who had admitted to sexual misconduct.”

Presumably because the voters thought he had the best comedy album.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Fascinating post from Katelyn Jetelina on “original antigenic sin”

Original antigenic sin (OAS)

When we come in contact with a virus or get a vaccine for the first time, our immune system develops a repertoire of tools. One of those tools is B-cells, which are antibody factories. Each B-cell makes a single antibody shape, and they can pump out huge quantities of antibodies if needed. If you come in contact with another variant, B-cells can evolve and modify the antibodies they create for a new variant. This is just like factories that can modify their product on the line.

The immune system wants to clear a threat in the fastest way possible. Responses based on memory (as opposed to modifying the antibodies) work fastest, so B-cells get to work pumping out antibodies of shapes they’ve seen before. This is called “imprinting.” Imprinting in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It simply reflects that a person’s first exposure to a virus can have a noticeable effect on their later responses to variants of that same virus.

Original antigenic sin (OAS) is a special type of imprinting. In OAS, prior memory can interfere and even prevent you from generating antibodies against new variants. How this occurs is not well understood. 

But we do know that OAS occurs with some other viruses, like the flu. For example, the first flu infection you get as a child has been shown to impact the way you react to flu variants later in life. While it could induce a less than optimal response, it can also be good and provide a more robust response. The figure below displays this phenomenon nicely.

Say a 2 year old is infected with the flu with A-D shapes on the virus. So, that child makes antibodies with A-D shapes. But then, at 5 years old, they are exposed to another variant with shapes A, C, E, and F. Because of the first exposure, only antibodies for shapes A and C respond. Even though there are only two shapes recognized, they provide a much stronger response than originally. Then, say at 20 years old, that same person is exposed to a virus with shapes A, D, E, and G. Because of the very first exposure (at 2 years old), antibodies A and D are recalled to fend off the infection; antibodies against E and G do not get made. 

Figure 11.34 from Murphy K, Weaver C. Janeway’s Immunobiology. 9th ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2016

During the 1918 flu pandemic, we also saw very worrisome epidemiological signs of OAS. Those who were previously infected by the Russian flu (i.e. a different type of swine flu) did significantly worse during the pandemic than those not previously infected by the Russian flu.

Because we’ve seen OAS with other viruses, it’s theoretically possible with SARS-CoV-2. And scientific studies are now coming through…

Bottom line

After two years of vaccines and the virus significantly mutating, there is no definitive evidence of OAS in humansbeing an important concern for COVID-19.

Without knowing the future, decisions must continuously weigh benefits with risks we know right now. Evidence from Israel shows meaningful benefit of a fourth mRNA dose (or second booster) against severe disease among older adults. We need to be responsive to the needs of our immune systems to protect us from this virus. The reality is, for someone who needs a booster, the theoretical concern of OAS is not a strong enough reason to not get it.

2) Did you know you can have the aura of a migraine without actually getting the headache?  Neither did I.  But, far as we can tell, that’s what happened to me last Sunday night.  (To be fair, I had a completely modest, run-of-the-mill headache a couple hours later, but not something you’d normally associate with a migraine). 

3) It really is amazing how extraordinarily gullible people can be in the name of politics: “Why Are Seemingly Functional Adults Falling for the ‘Furries’ Myth?”

A Nebraska state senator, Bruce Bostelman, last month warned of an alarming new variety of deviance making its way into the state’s schools. “It’s something called furries,” he said. Schoolchildren, Bostelman claimed, were identifying as cats or dogs. “They meow and they bark.” And educators, indulging them, “are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for the children to use,” said Bostelman.

Perhaps needless to say, none of this was true. Bostelman later apologized for spreading falsehoods, saying, “It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly.”

What interests me is why he thought this was really happening, and not just in decadent enclaves like New York City or San Francisco, but in his own Midwestern backyard.

Part of the answer is surely social media. As The Associated Press reported, the rumor, a mockery of transgender identification, has persisted in a Facebook group called Protect Nebraska Children. The same rumor has cropped up in Iowa, where a school superintendent had to send out a letter to students and parents debunking it; in Michigan, where a parent brought it up at a school board meeting; and in Wisconsin, where it was spread by a conservative radio host.

4) Jeff Maurer with a good take on problem gambling:

Basically: Sports apps offer an engrossing and user-friendly betting experience. Perhaps too engrossing and user-friendly. In many ways, they draw from the same design playbook that now has Twitter and Facebook backpedaling. People who want to slow the impulsive use of social media apps often talk of “friction”, i.e. inserting steps that a user has to take before completing an action. The idea is that users would have to act deliberately instead of responding impulsively to induced mania, which is a change that Facebook and Twitter often resist, because that induced mania has made them some of the richest companies in the world.

The concept of friction might help reduce problem gambling. One good thing about legal gambling is that we can take steps to give people the ability to tap the breaks when they feel things veering out of control. But in order to do that, we have to actually do that. And right now, we sort of haven’t; we have definitely done the part where we legalize gambling and create clever, high-budget ad campaigns, but the part where we develop common sense support infrastructure is lagging behind.

So, here are some things we should probably consider doing.

1. Responsible gaming provisions should exist and have teeth…

2. We should expand treatment for gambling addiction…

3. We should consider banning credit cards on gambling apps.

This would be a big move; sportsbooks would hate this. And it would annoy ordinary users — they’d have to use bank accounts or something similar. But it’s harder to get deep in the hole when you don’t have fast access to credit.

In 2020, the UK banned using credit cards to place bets. Gambling, of course, is as deeply embedded in British culture as train wine or wearing flip flops in 50 degree weather. Whenever a Premier League team is sponsored by a company that you’ve never heard of, that’s a gambling app. So, there were surely a few punters who threw a wobbly when this regulation passed, but the UK is trying it, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m comfortable with — even enthusiastic about — using the UK as a lab rat. We should have good data within a few years; the UK, unlike the US, does have a federal agency dedicated to problem gambling, which makes data collection easier. Before long, we’ll have a sense of whether banning credit cards is a meaningful step that helps keeps things under control or a late-era-Covid style pointless annoyance that does nothing.

5) Watched Tick, Tick… Boom on Netflix.  This week.  So good.  I’ve never seen “Rent” but I sure want to now.  

6) Well, what started out as just a funny kind of story about a fox loose on the Capitol grounds is not so funny.  It’s rabid and it’s been biting people. (Okay, it was rabid). 

7) I really like Yglesias‘ (free post) pragmatic take on Joe Manchin:

Emotions matter in politics

On an intellectual level, none of this is very controversial.

  • Everyone understands that if Manchin said tomorrow, “I’m sick of arguing with you people, I’m resigning on Friday,” that would be a disaster for progressive politics.

  • Everyone who’s not insane understands that if the Democratic nominee in 2018 had been Not-Manchin, Democrats would have lost the seat and would not have the majority today.

  • Everyone also understands that whatever disappointment they may feel about the current state of the Biden legislative agenda, everything would be worse if Mitch McConnell were Majority Leader.

But I do think the emotional landscape matters as well as the intellectual one.

Progressives — by which, to be clear, I mean mainstream Democratic Party advocacy groups and the mainstream Democratic Party politicians they support, not “the Squad” or left-wing factionalists — overwhelmingly do not have an emotional stance of gratitude toward and appreciation of Joe Manchin. They instead have an emotional stance of anger. That manifests not just in lashing out on Twitter (which is unfortunate but not that significant), but in things like the bizarre decision last year to pivot the whole legislative strategy toward trying to jam Manchin up on a voting rights bill in a way that generated lots of people calling him racist but no voting rights legislation.

A much smarter strategy would have been to cave to all his demands and try to pass a Manchin-friendly version of Build Back Better.

Today, we are still limping toward the inevitable outcome of passing a reconciliation bill that Joe Manchin likes. But with several additional months of delay, high inflation prints, and intra-party ill will, his demands have gotten worse. Among the circuit of people whose politics are centered on being mad at Joe Manchin, that’s just further proof that he’s a bad guy. But the fact of the matter is that the day Warnock and Ossoff won in Georgia, the art of the possible flipped from “what Mitch McConnell is willing to do” to “what Joe Manchin is willing to do,” and every hour of every day that was not spent in polite, friendly conversation aimed at making sure all his needs were met was a wasted hour.

The way back is more Manchinism

It also matters for the future. In 2022, Democrats stand a very high chance of losing the Senate. Then in 2024, even if they have a good year and Biden is re-elected, they will almost certainly lose their existing seats in Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia. And there’s no easy road to recovery from there. Realistically, Democrats are going to need to nominate candidates who are as distant from the progressive base as Manchin is, but instead of running them in states like WV where Trump got 68 percent of the vote, they’ll run them in states like North Carolina (50%), Florida (51%), Texas (52%), Iowa (53%), Ohio (53%), South Carolina (55%), Kansas (56%), Indiana (57%), and Missouri (57%).

All these states are quite conservative. Trump did not win Florida by a large margin, but he won it narrowly in the context of losing the national popular vote by 4.5 percentage points.

But those are the states that you need to compete in to secure a majority. If Democrats held six of those 18 seats instead of one, they’d be much better off today. And while that doesn’t mean running carbon copies of Manchin for all of them, it does mean running candidates who have a structurally similar relationship to the base of the party. Not “moderates” in the sense of “agree with Joe Biden that we shouldn’t defund the police or do socialism,” but “moderates” in the sense of “have several high-salience disagreements with the mainstream leadership of the Democratic Party while also agreeing on some other topics.”

8) This was great, “Ke Huy Quan: From Short Round to Romantic Lead in Just Four Long Decades: A child star in the 1980s, he hit a dry patch and turned to stunt work in the 2000s. Now he has returned to acting in a part that blends his action and drama chops.” (Indiana Jones fans will remember him as Short Round)

9) Modern academia, “Help Wanted: Adjunct Professor, Must Have Doctorate. Salary: $0. After protests, U.C.L.A. took down a job posting that offered no pay. But it turns out colleges often expect Ph.D.s to work for free.”  Here’s the thing– yes, this is nuts and exploitative.  Yes.  But, also, from a purely economic perspective, UCLA actually does have qualified people willing to teach their class for no monetary compensation.  You can see why that’s appealing.  And people do this because there is surely non-monetary value in getting to say you taught at UCLA.  But, yeah, not great.  

10) I was in Chicago for a PS conference and made a too-brief trip to the Art Institute.  Towards the end I realized I had not seen JMW Turner yet and finally did in the very last gallery I went to before they kicked me out at 4:58.  And then yesterday morning I read this.  I’ve never made a trip just for an art exhibition.  But, damn would I love to go to Boston and see this, “J.M.W. Turner: The Romantic Turns Reformist: Britain’s commander of the churning waves was also a painter of technology and industry. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston shows how he reshaped an art form.”

11) Drum:

It’s a well-known fact that in the United States rich people have much longer life expectancies than poor people. Much of this is attributed to our private health care system, which does a lousy job of treating the uninusured and underinsured.

That got me curious: do other countries with national health care systems do better? In a nutshell, not really:

The rich live about ten years longer than the poor in the US. In France it’s about 12 years. The UK and Belgium are a little over 9 years. Only Sweden, at around 4 years, does significantly better.

The numbers in the chart above are taken from various sources, not all of which agree with each other, and in some cases are roughly extrapolated from education levels, which are a decent but imperfect proxy for income differences. Don’t take any of them as gospel.

That said, they’re in the right ballpark. The problem of low lifespans for the poor is universal and has little to do with the details of health care systems. It’s much more foundational than that, and it’s one reason why increasing retirement ages is a bad idea. It might help put pension systems like Social Security on a sounder footing, but it does so on the backs of the poor. Raising the retirement age to 68 takes a much bigger toll on someone who will live to age 76 than it does to someone who will live to age 88.

12) This seems… not great:

Using data across countries and over time we show that women are unhappier than men in unhappiness and negative affect equations, irrespective of the measure used – anxiety, depression, fearfulness, sadness, loneliness, anger – and they have more days with bad mental health and more restless sleep. Women are also less satisfied with many aspects of their lives such as democracy, the economy, the state of education and health services. They are also less happy in the moment in terms of peace and calm, cheerfulness, feeling active, vigorous, fresh and rested. However, prior evidence on gender differences in global wellbeing metrics – happiness and life satisfaction – is less clear cut. Differences vary over time, location, and with model specification and the inclusion of controls especially marital status. We also show that there are significant variations by month in happiness data regarding whether males are happier than females but find little variation by month in unhappiness data. It matters which months are sampled when measuring positive affect but not with negative affect. These monthly data reveal that women’s happiness was more adversely affected by the COVID shock than men’s, but also that women’s happiness rebounded more quickly suggesting resilience. As a result, we now find strong evidence that males have higher levels of both happiness and life satisfaction in recent years even before the onset of pandemic. As in the past they continue to have lower levels of unhappiness. A detailed analysis of several data files, with various metrics, for the UK confirms that men now are happier than women.

13) Spencer Greenberg and the power of question wording in surveys.  I think this is going into my syllabus for public opinion.

14) Really interesting stuff from Noah Smith, “The long economic war against Russia: A plan: Beyond financial sanctions: How to cripple the Russian death machine for good.”

The more fundamental factor here is that the world is still buying a ton of Russian oil and gas. Oil exports have dropped somewhat, but oil is inherently fungible — Russia will simply reroute the tankers elsewhere. And high-ish prices — oil has dropped a bit but is still around $100 — are cushioning that blow. Also, switching away from Russian oil does impose some costs on European economies, so it’s hard to do overnight.

Natural gas is far harder to reroute than oil, since this requires constructing new pipelines to Asia (currently, very few such pipelines exist). But a number of EU countries are very reliant on this gas, most notably Germany, which produces about 15% of its total energy consumption from Russian gas. Naturally they’re squeamish about shutting off the taps instantaneously.

Thus we’re seeing the limitations of financial sanctions. Ultimately, if Russia can keep selling fossil fuels to the world, it can keep getting foreign exchange. So in order to prosecute a long economic war against Russia, we need to look beyond financial sanctions.

I see four basic things the West can do:

  1. Export controls

  2. Weaning Europe off of Russian gas

  3. Draining Russia of smart and competent people

  4. Reducing oil prices by switching to electric vehicles

15) We can, should, and need to be doing so much better.  The return on investment here is just off the charts.  And yet. “We need to be developing vaccines for the next pandemic — right now: Scientists have a strong idea of which types of viruses could cause an outbreak. We can fund vaccines and treatments for them now.”

16) This is so cool. “Meet DALL-E, the A.I. That Draws Anything at Your Command”

OpenAI, one of the world’s most ambitious artificial intelligence labs, researchers are building technology that lets you create digital images simply by describing what you want to see.

They call it DALL-E in a nod to both “WALL-E,” the 2008 animated movie about an autonomous robot, and Salvador Dalí, the surrealist painter.

OpenAI, backed by a billion dollars in funding from Microsoft, is not yet sharing the technology with the general public. But on a recent afternoon, Alex Nichol, one of the researchers behind the system, demonstrated how it works…

When he asked for “a teapot in the shape of an avocado,” typing those words into a largely empty computer screen, the system created 10 distinct images of a dark green avocado teapot, some with pits and some without. “DALL-E is good at avocados,” Mr. Nichol said.

Image
DALL-E generated this image from a command for “cats playing chess.”
Credit…OpenAI

When he typed “cats playing chess,” it put two fluffy kittens on either side of a checkered game board, 32 chess pieces lined up between them. When he summoned “a teddy bear playing a trumpet underwater,” one image showed tiny air bubbles rising from the end of the bear’s trumpet toward the surface of the water.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Really fascinating profile of Covid misinformation purveyor, Robert Malone, who has been falsely claiming he invented mRNA vaccine technology (yes, he did help in some key research, but that’s it). Anyway, a really interesting case of a sense of grievance metastasizing into something truly awful:

The coronavirus pandemic has “given rise to a class of influencers who build conspiracy theories and recruit as many people into them as possible,” said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council who studies digital platforms. “These influencers usually have a special claim to expertise and a veneer of credibility.”

In extended interviews at his home over two days, Dr. Malone said he was repeatedly not recognized for his contributions over the course of his career, his voice low and grave as he recounted perceived slights by the institutions he had worked for. His wife, Dr. Jill Glasspool Malone, paced the room and pulled up articles on her laptop that she said supported his complaints.

The example he points to more frequently is from his time at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. While there, he performed experiments that showed how human cells could absorb an mRNA cocktail and produce proteins from it. Those experiments, he says, make him the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology.

“I was there,” Dr. Malone said. “I wrote all the invention.” …

The idea that he is the inventor of mRNA vaccines is “a totally false claim,” said Dr. Gyula Acsadi, a pediatrician in Connecticut who along with Dr. Malone and five others wrote a widely cited paper in 1990 showing that injecting RNA into muscle could produce proteins. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by injecting RNA into arm muscles that produce copies of the “spike protein” found on the outside of the coronavirus. The human immune system identifies that protein, attacks it and then remembers how to defeat it.)

But Dr. Malone was not the lead author on the paper and, according to Dr. Acsadi, did not make a significant contribution to the research. While the paper stated that the technology could “provide alternative approaches to vaccine development,” Dr. Acsadi said none of the other authors would claim that they invented the vaccine.

“Some of his work was important,” said Dr. Alastair McAlpine, a pediatric infectious disease doctor based in Vancouver, British Columbia, “but that’s a long way away from claiming to have invented the technology that underpins the vaccines as we use them today.”

2) My favorite Finn (narrowly beating out Sebastian Aho) shared this on twitter, “Is Finland really the happiest country in the world? Finns weigh in.”

For the fifth year in a row, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world by the United Nations-sponsored World Happiness Report. And for the fifth year in a row, I’m surprised. I lived in Finland for a year as a student in the Rotary Youth Exchange program from 2001 to 2002. It was a life-changing experience. I made incredible Finnish friends. I drank too much vodka. I pet a reindeer in Lapland. I saunaed, ice swam and rolled in the snow naked until my pink body looked like a honey-baked ham. It was certainly one of the happiest years of my life. But my Finnish friends? Well, I’m not entirely sure they’ve ever been that happy.

The thing about the Finns, in my experience, is they’re one of the most reserved people on the planet. Blatant signs of glee are not in their playbook…

“Finns have a subdued happiness,” agrees Katja Pantzar, an expert on the topic and author of “Everyday Sisu: Tapping into Finnish Fortitude for a Happier, More Resilient Life.” Pantzar was born in Finland before her family moved to Australia and finally Vancouver, B.C., where she grew up. When an opportunity to work for Finnair’s in-flight magazine came up 20 years ago, she returned to her homeland and has never looked back. In fact, she’s so enthusiastic about the Finnish lifestyle — including its frequent trips to the sauna and its bike-friendly city planning — that she’s written two books on the topic. And she has a special insight into the Finnish psyche. “They might be totally satisfied, but they don’t have the same body language, like smiling,” she says. But don’t let Finns’ poker faces fool you. If the World Happiness Report is to be believed, Finns are masking a deep contentment built on an appreciation for a society that puts the public good first.

3) Though I’m a huge fan of classic rock, I’ve never been a particular fan of the guitar solo.  Yes, there’s some great ones, but, it too easily leads to self-indulgence.  That said, quite enjoyed this NYT audio-embedded essay, “Why We Can’t Quit the Guitar Solo”

4) This learning pit metaphor is great:

When Hunter, 6, started first grade last autumn, he struggled to match letter sounds with the shape of letters on paper. He found writing letters hard and writing words even harder. “It felt bad,” he said recently.

But Hunter also knows how to articulate what is happening when things get frustrating. “Your brain grows at the bottom,” he said. It’s a phrase that refers to the bottom of the learning pit, an imaginary place where students in Hunter’s class in Illinois have been taught to go when something they are learning gets difficult. Hunter also knows what he needs to get out of the pit — hard work, his friends, his teacher — and what it feels like when he climbs up and out on the other side (“excited”).

The learning pit as a metaphor is one of several common educational strategies that lean into the idea that struggle is something to be embraced. It was conceived in the early 2000s by James Nottingham when he was a teacher in a former mining town in Northern England. He saw that his students, many of whom were low income and lived in communities with high unemployment, avoided leaving their comfort zones. He wanted to encourage his students to get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.

At a moment when students are reeling from two years of pandemic learning and isolation from their peers, the idea of intentionally making young people uncomfortable may seem misguided. But manyeducators and learning scientists say that now, as students look to rebuild academic confidence, is a crucial moment for teachers and parents to step back when learning gets hard and to be explicit that the challenge offers rewards.

 

“It becomes a way of articulating what might in the past have been humiliating and uncomfortable and discouraging,” Dr. Dweck said.

The idea that struggle is vital to learning is well-established, she added. John Hattie, the director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, spent 15 years studying the educational factors that most influence learning. In 2017, he published “10 Mindframes for Visible Learning,” which identified the factors that work best to accelerate learning. One is striving for challenge and not “just doing your best.”

Teachers in the United States and Britain have found that the learning-pit metaphor comes with conceptual handles that are easy to grasp. A student struggling with a math problem can say to the teacher, “I am in the pit with this” — an easier thing for a child to admit than “I don’t understand.” And a teacher can prepare students to “go into the pit,” as if on a spelunking adventure…

Mr. Nottingham, the founder and executive director of The Challenging Learning Group, an education company, said: “My purpose is, instead of giving them clarity, it’s creating confusion, or cognitive wobble. Like when you are learning to ride a bike and it wobbles — I am trying to create that mental wobble so they have to think about it more.”

Mr. Nottingham identified three mental states that students occupy when learning something new: relatively comfortable, relatively uncomfortable and panicked. Too many parents and educators intervene when learning gets uncomfortable, denying students a chance to stretch enough to deepen their learning, he said. It’s counterproductive,” he said, like trying to help a child learn to ride a bike by holding onto the back of the seat to navigate every bump, hole or obstacle…

Dr. Kapur recently co-wrote a meta-analysis analyzing 53 studies from the past 15 years that examined which teaching strategy was more effective: providing direct instruction on how to complete a problem before practicing it, or providing well-designed questions to provoke thinking on a concept before introducing knowledge about how to tackle it.

The first strategy is widely accepted; teachers have little time to spare, and it is easier to tell students what to do and then have them practice. The latter method seems wildly inefficient: Why let students waste time and develop wrong ideas when a teacher is there to show the “right” way? But Dr. Kapur found that students — in middle school, high school and college, from North America, Europe and Asia — performed better when they had to struggle first. Problem-solving practice before learning a concept was significantly more effective than the converse — learning the concept first and then practicing. “We are taking the science of human cognition and learning,” Dr. Kapur said, “and designing failure-based experiences to help kids learn better.”

5) Few things in nature more cool than a starling murmuration.  Great photo feature.

A murmuration at the De Houtwiel nature reserve.

6) I really think we’re going to be able to amazing diagnostics with AI some day not too far in the future:

Imagine a test as quick and easy as having your temperature taken or your blood pressure measured that could reliably identify an anxiety disorder or predict an impending depressive relapse.

Health care providers have many tools to gauge a patient’s physical condition, yet no reliable biomarkers — objective indicators of medical states observed from outside the patient — for assessing mental health.

But some artificial intelligence researchers now believe that the sound of your voice might be the key to understanding your mental state — and A.I. is perfectly suited to detect such changes, which are difficult, if not impossible, to perceive otherwise. The result is a set of apps and online tools designed to track your mental status, as well as programs that deliver real-time mental health assessments to telehealth and call-center providers.

Psychologists have long known that certain mental health issues can be detected by listening not only to what a person says but how they say it, said Maria Espinola, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

With depressed patients, Dr. Espinola said, “their speech is generally more monotone, flatter and softer. They also have a reduced pitch range and lower volume. They take more pauses. They stop more often.”

Patients with anxiety feel more tension in their bodies, which can also change the way their voice sounds, she said. “They tend to speak faster. They have more difficulty breathing.”

Today, these types of vocal features are being leveraged by machine learning researchers to predict depression and anxiety, as well as other mental illnesses like schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. The use of deep-learning algorithms can uncover additional patterns and characteristics, as captured in short voice recordings, that might not be evident even to trained experts.

“The technology that we’re using now can extract features that can be meaningful that even the human ear can’t pick up on,” said Kate Bentley, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

7) Enjoyed this (free) Yglesias post on the popularism debate

This style of thinking set the stage for a primary campaign that was dominated by activists asking candidates to endorse ideas like:

  • A national ban on hydraulic fracturing

  • A national ban on private health insurance

  • A repeal of the statute that makes it a felony to enter the United States without proper paperwork

  • A moratorium on deportations

  • A repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion

But in no plausible universe would a fracking ban would get 60 votes in the Senate. And while activists were hoping to reform the filibuster, the concerns that filibuster reform might lead to an effort to pass a national fracking ban only made reform less likely. Getting the presidential nominee to campaign in favor of a ban on fracking was not going to lead to a ban on fracking. What it could lead to was the re-election of Donald Trump and/or worse down-ballot performance for congressional Democrats. And that would lead to worse climate policy, not better.

You could run down this whole list and reach the same conclusion.

I’m not sure how big of a difference it made that Joe Biden flip-flopped and endorsed Hyde Amendment repeal. But I was sure on the day he did it that repeal of the Hyde Amendment was legislatively impossible and that, by pushing the party to adopt an unpopular stance, the cause of abortion rights had become more imperiled rather than less. Much more imperiled? No. The number of lost votes attributable to any one unpopular stance is usually going to be small. But the sign of the effect is predictably negative.

And that is popularism. It is an almost childishly silly thing to argue about. But I believe that it is counterproductive to progressive causes to push candidates in tough races to take high-salience public stances in favor of unpopular progressive causes. Instead, you should encourage candidates to embrace popular progressive causes and allow them to make tactical retreats from fights where conservatives have public opinion on their side…

The mobilization myth

This mobilization idea is incorrect, as I have written several times.

Just mathematically speaking, you need to mobilize two non-voters to obtain the same value as convincing a single voter to switch parties, so to the extent that you face a choice between these two things, it is clearly better to focus on persuasion. But when making messaging choices, you actually don’t face a tradeoff because sporadic voters are more moderate than regular voters. The people who vote all the time are more engaged with the political system, more ideological in their thinking, and more extreme in their views. There may be a tradeoff in terms of resource allocation — which population should you target for mailers or online ads or whatever — but in terms of message, there is no tradeoff. You want to portray yourself as a moderate politician with popular stances on issues.

Indeed, as Hall & Thompson showed in a very nice paper a few years back, extreme candidates mobilize their opponents’ base and hurt themselves.

Of course certain specific issues that are clearly coded as left-wing are nonetheless very popular. Price control for prescription drugs is one that gets kicked around a lot, and though it doesn’t get as much attention in D.C., the capping of credit card interest rates has a similar quality. And many of Democrats’ most unpopular views (support of affirmative action in college admissions, for example) are not the subject of factional controversy.

But back to 2020: activists were not demanding that candidates take clearer positions in favor of prescription drug price controls or capping credit card interest rates. They were specifically asking candidates to come out — in public, in high-salience venues like debates — in favor of ideas that were both unpopular and wildly unrealistic in legislative terms. And I still don’t know why. My suspicion is that the whole popularism debate has become so poisoned in part because the groups themselves realize that this was an error and don’t like to admit it or be reminded of it. And to an extent, I sympathize. I have had the experience of being loudly and publicly wrong, and it is unpleasant to have to admit error, publicly or privately, and annoying to be reminded that you were wrong.

Nonetheless, they were wrong. And the people reinforcing the norm that it’s wrong to criticize left-wing activists are contributing to poor public comprehension of this topic, a topic that I will admit is of only limited contemporary relevance.

8) Pretty sure I reviewed this research at some point (honestly, some times it all blurs together).  Anyway, interesting

Despite evidence that infants affect families’ economic and social behaviors, little is known about how young children influence their parents’ political engagement. I show that U.S. women with an infant during an election year are 3.5 percentage points less likely to vote than women without children; men with an infant are 2.2 percentage points less likely to vote. Suggesting that this effect may be causal, I find no significant decreases in turnout the year before parents have an infant. Using a triple-difference approach, I then show that universal vote-by-mail systems mitigate the negative association between infants and mothers’ turnout.

9) Interesting idea… arranged friendship, “A Creative Solution to ‘the Friendship Desert of Modern Adulthood’ “I knew many old couples who had happy and loving arranged marriages. I thought, If it worked for them, why couldn’t it work for friendships?”

This week she talks with three women who are part of a group experimenting with “arranged friendship.” Inspired by the arranged marriages common in her home country of Iran, Ari Honarvar brought together a group of relative strangers who decided to commit upfront to be friends through thick and thin. In this interview, they discuss “the friendship desert of modern adulthood” and the oasis that this experiment created for them…

Julie Beck: How did you get the idea for approaching friendship this way?

Ari Honarvar: When I moved to California with my husband and my six-month-old, I really struggled meeting friends. All parents wanted to talk about was their kids. I wanted to have something else to talk about. I was like, Where’s my village?

I tried all these different community-building activities. I combined activism with hanging out with friends. I organized weekly potlucks. At one point I put an ad on Nextdoor and got our neighbors to go for a walk and get to know each other better. But I still didn’t have many intimate friends.

That’s how I came up with the idea of arranged friendships. I grew up in Iran, and I knew many old couples who had happy and loving arranged marriages. I thought, If it worked for them, why couldn’t it work for friendships?

10) Great stuff from Melinda Wenner Moyer.  Wish I had read some version of this 20 years ago, “Consequences Versus Punishments”

Logical consequences are like natural consequences in that they, too, directly stem the choice your kid made — but they’re similar to punishments in that they’re engineered by the parent to have an immediate effect. They are, ultimately, gentle constraints that require kids to recognize and take responsibility for their behavior. A parent using logical consequences might sound like this:

  • Since you’re not taking care of your library books, I’m going to have to take them away from you to prevent them from getting damaged.

  • You weren’t able to leave the play date when I asked you to, so we aren’t going to have time to go to the playground before dinner.

  • Because you started yelling for me before it was wake-up time, I’m too tired to make pancakes. We’ll have cereal instead.

Research is starting to suggest that logical consequences are at least, if not more, effective than mild punishments. One recent meta-analysis found, for instance, that logical and natural consequences were among the most effective ways to shape kids’ behavior, above and beyond disciplinary strategies like time-outs and ignoring bad behavior. In another recent study, kids who were surveyed said that logical consequences and mild punishments would probably be equally effective in shaping their behavior, but they said they would prefer the use of logical consequences.

There are a few reasons why logical consequences might have an edge over punishments. One is that they are less likely than punishments to make kids feel angry and ashamed and are more likely to encourage empathy. Research suggests that, perhaps because punishments sometimes feel unpredictable and unfair, they make kids feel upset and resentful, which then prevents them from being able to consider their parents’ perspective. In other words, kids who are punished turn their focus on themselves, rather than on the effects their choice had on others. I can’t believe Dad grounded me! It’s so unfair! They might not learn much from the punishment, other than to conclude that Dad is a jerk.

Logical consequences, on the other hand, help to focus kids on the effects their choice had on others, which promotes perspective-taking. In a 2019 study, researchers showed 9- to 12-year-olds a handful of cartoon vignettes, some of which showed parents employing logical consequences with kids and others which showed parents employing mild punishments. Then they asked the kids questions about how the scenarios might affect them if they were the child in the cartoon. The kids said they would feel less angry, and better be able to consider their parents’ perspective, if they experienced logical consequences rather than punishments. In a follow-up study, the researchers surveyed teens, who said the same thing.

This perspective-taking is crucial: If you’ve read my book, you know there’s lots of research showing that the ability to take another person’s perspective, what’s called theory of mind, is a crucial foundation for the development of compassionate and generous behavior. We want our kids to think of themselves as part of a larger whole, and for them to consider how their choices and actions might impact those around them.

Compared with punishments, logical consequences more clearly communicate why the behavior or choice was unacceptable, too, since the consequence is directly linked to the choice they made.

11) Such a terrific conversation between Yascha Mounk and Randall Kennedy on race.  Kennedy’s take on critical race theory is about the best I’ve read:

Kennedy: Well, first of all, when we use the term “critical race theory,” we need to be very careful about exactly what we are talking about. When I hear the term now I put quotation marks around it immediately, because when people (especially those attacking it from the right) make references to it now, they’re often making references to a boogeyman that they have created to advance their political aims. They have created something that is unattractive, completely doctrinaire, that they can mobilize against. That’s the boogeyman version of critical race theory. Now, there is another version of critical race theory that would be writings and speeches by a wide range of people, those with whom I’m most familiar being people in legal academia. And indeed, I think it’s right to say that it was within legal academia that this term really took off: the writings of people like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda, Charles Lawrence, Derek Bell, Gary Peller, others. 

What do I think about their work, that stems from the 1980s and has gone under the banner of critical race theory? I have various responses to it. Let me start off with my positive response. My positive response is that the people who call themselves critical race theorists are onto a very important point. The central point of critical race theory is that racism is deeply embedded in American life—indeed, virtually ubiquitous. That, it seems to me, is correct. I know plenty of people who do not call themselves critical race theorists, but who would embrace the proposition that racism has been and is to this day a central feature of American life, whether we’re talking about the most public aspects of American life (voting, office holding, jury service) to the most intimate spheres of American life (friendship, sex, adoption, marriage). Fine—I applaud that. I have no problem with that. Now, are there other features with which I do have problems? Yes. There are a variety of features of critical race theory with which I have problems. One that was pretty fundamental, had to do with the relationship between status and thought. 

One of the writings that was probably my introduction to this thing that is now known as critical race theory was an article by a guy named Richard Delgado—I think it was called “The Imperial Scholar.” Basically, the point of the article was that white legal academics, most of whom were liberals, had in his view colonized academia, including race relations law, such that they refer only to one another, they debated with one another, but they ignored and implicitly put down scholars of color. That was the claim. And in elaborating his point, he said, “this is bad,” (and, of course, if it were true, I would agree), but then he went on to say that not only is this bad insofar as it is excluding people on a non-meritocratic basis, but he went on to suggest that it’s also bad because, after all, minority scholars have more of a claim to attention than whites because of their status; minority scholars have more insight because they’re minorities. They have more insight into American racial problems, and so they should actually be given more credence because of their racial identity. No. I’m very much against that. Because if you go along with that, that means that racial identity now becomes an intellectual credential. It means that we can appropriately put boundary lines in the realm of culture. And I’m totally against all of that. You write about a subject and then I want to read what you have written, and if you have written something that is great and insightful, then fine. I don’t care if you’re white, I don’t care if you’re American. Maybe you’re from some other place. I don’t care! I don’t think that these identities constrict our ability to know things. Identity becoming a part of knowledge certification—to the extent that that was part of CRT, I disagreed and disagreed very strongly.

There was another aspect of critical race theory which prompted me to disagree, and it’s very relevant to discussions going on today. There were certain critical race theorists—notice that I said “certain,” because there are a lot of people who are critical race theorists, and they disagree among themselves (I’m not saying that there’s some sort of monolithic CRT, or that they all believe the same things)—who believe, for instance, that there has been no appreciable racial change in the United States of America. “What we have today is neo-slavery”—as far as I’m concerned, that idea is untenable. One person who was very important in developing this idea was a colleague and a friend of mine, Derek Bell—The Permanence of Racism. And he applauded the second reconstruction—the civil rights movement—but basically said, “Ultimately, white folks stayed on top.” Now, I guess it all depends on what counts for you as appreciable change. The fact that there was a black American who was the president of the United States for eight years? For me, that counts as appreciable change. Is it revolutionary? Does it mean that everything is changed? No. Does it mean that because Barack Obama became president of the United States that we don’t have a racial problem in the United States now? No. It didn’t mean any of those things. But did it mean that racial beliefs, racial habits, racial conduct had changed in my lifetime? Yes.

And finally, I disagreed with some critical race theorists who, in my view, are all too inattentive to the importance of protections for civil liberties. And of course, it’s ironic to say this now, since critical race theory is under attack by people who want to erase critical race theory. And I defend critical race theory, and defend it to the -nth degree. Why? Because I believe in freedom of thinking. I believe in freedom of teaching. I believe in freedom of listening. I want the critical race theory to be available to people, even though in certain dimensions, I disagree with it very strongly. But we need to defend intellectual pluralism. And I think some people in critical race theory have not been as attentive to the importance of the defense of intellectual pluralism as they ought to have been.

12) And a good excerpt from Yglesias on Katherine Page Harden, genetics, and policy implications:

I’ve been thinking on and off about this topic for a while.

One thing that’s odd about it is that Harden’s most controversial point is that published studies in the academic literature say that intelligence is a bit more than 60 percent heritable in genetic terms. But this is actually very close to the estimate given by the lay public. And I’ve certainly noticed that in casual conversation among parents, people generally expect children to be good at the same things their parents are good at — including, per this survey, perhaps overestimating the extent to which athleticism is heritable.

So in an interesting sense, the heritability of intelligence thesis really isn’t that controversial. But it is often ignored in academic social science where people will ask facts about inequality or social stratification without attempting to consider the obvious confounding influence of the fact that most children are close genetic relatives of the parents who raise them.

To draw out all the policy implications of these genetic insights would take way more space than I have here.

So I just want to note one particularly salient idea that I think has scared people off the whole subject, which is that Charles Murray infamously argued that because intelligence is heritable, all efforts to reduce racial inequality are at best doomed and at worst counterproductive. As I’ve previously written at length, this involves at least a half-dozen logical leaps and fallacies and is directly contradicted by evidence in favor of lots of specific equity-advancing initiatives. Given that the geneticists actual estimate of heritability here is not far off from what laypeople already believe, I don’t think there are substantial political benefits to stigmatizing discussion of the science and it would be better to directly stake the case for egalitarian policies on the basis of the evidence in their favor, which is quite real.

13) I find this fascinating, “Are some people resistant to COVID-19? Geneticists are on the hunt.
Thousands of people repeatedly exposed to the virus never got sick. Scientists hope their DNA may hold clues to new kinds of treatments.”

The COVID Human Genetic Effort started recruiting volunteers last year, with a focus on healthcare workers who were exposed to the virus but didn’t get infected, and healthy adults living in a household with a spouse or partner who got sick and experienced moderate or severe COVID-19 symptoms, like Kaoukaki. 

The scientists hypothesized that if these individuals were repeatedly exposed and still escaped infection, they were more likely to carry a mutation that confers resistance to the virus.

One promising target is the gene that codes for the human ACE2 receptor and those that regulate its expression on cell surfaces. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 must bind to ACE2 to enter cells and infect them. A mutation that alters its structure and expression might block the virus from binding and prevent infection. 

So far, ACE2 seems to be our best bet, says Jean-Laurent Casanova, a geneticist at Rockefeller University who is part of the COVID Human Genetic Effort. Genetic variations that allow ACE2 to function normally but disrupt its interaction with the virus—”these would be good candidate genes,” he says.

It’s possible, though, that there are other biological factors aside from the ACE2 receptor that could explain why some people didn’t develop a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Some people may possess a robust immune system that produces antiviral proteins called type I interferons, which limit the virus from replicating in human cells. They’re the body’s first line of defense and appear even before antibodies form against the virus. 

Another hypothesis is that immune cells called memory T cells that may have formed during previously encountered coronaviruses, like those that cause the common cold, help limit SARS-CoV-2 infection in certain patients.

In 2020, prior to the vaccine rollout, one study found greater presence of memory T cells in healthcare workers who were exposed to the virus but who didn’t develop COVID-19.

The memory T-cells may have cleared the virus very quickly for a few people. But it’s no guarantee these people will be protected from future infections. “In fact, we know some have gone on to get infected with more infectious variants and/or perhaps with a higher dose of the virus,” says Mala Maini, a viral immunologist at the University College London and one of the study authors.

If their study does turn up clues to genetic resistance, Casanova hopes that information could be used to develop therapeutics against COVID-19, similar to the CCR5 inhibitors designed to treat HIV infections. But decisions to develop these therapies, Casanova says, will depend on the nature of the mutated genes discovered.

14) Jeff Maurer on Florida’s don’t say gay law and bad faith from left and right

Despite Kilmeade’s rock-solid argument that the bill is “smart” because it comes from the Florida state legislature’s Republican caucus — that fabled haunt of philosopher kings! — I think this is an extremely bad law. Its backers are trying to invoke the specter of a hyper-woke kindergarten teacher illuminating the dark corners of alternative lifestyles — I picture an apple-cheeked Teach for America volunteer pointing to a poster that says “Bukkake Etiquette in a Gender-Fluid Octo-cule.” In reality, the law would prohibit all sorts of reasonable classroom interactions, or at least it might — embroil yourself in a soul-crushing lawsuit to find out! Kilmeade distills the bill’s warped thinking with this statement:

“If you’re talking about sex and sexuality to kindergartners, first graders, second graders, and third graders — think about that! — who’s got the other side of that issue? Please, define it well and say: You need your kindergartner talking about sex.”

This is simple: Sex and sexuality are two different things. Sex is out-of-bounds in early education. Sexuality — meaning sexual orientation or gender identity — is simply a thing that exists in the world. Forbidding any mention of it in the classroom would be like excluding talk of birds. The policy wonks at Fox & Friends and Rupert Murdoch’s Obvious Choice for President 2024 Ron DeSantis are conflating two things that happen to have the same root word. It’s like someone saying “I can’t believe you gave my kid either crystal meth or Crystal Pepsi!” Well, which was it? Those are two very different things: One is a toxic controlled substance, and the other…is crystal meth! (#ClassicJokeStructure)

There’s something very familiar about the tactics the right is using to sell this bill (and its doppelganger in Ohio). The combination of ill-defined rules and draconian punishments for those who violate those rules invokes similar fear-inducing strategies used by some on the left. The Twitter left may or may not have pioneered this suite of below-the-belt tactics — I’m not aware of any copyright claims in this area — but they’ve certainly used them. And now the revanchist right seems to be running the same play. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Create extremely vague rules…

Step 2: Pair the vague rules with Draconian enforcement mechanisms.

Some on the left have developed a bad habit of waving away severe social and career penalties for minor infractions of perceived norms. The composer who got blackballed due to an innocuous Instagram post? No big deal. The utility worker who was fired for allegedly making a white power gesture (even though he’s not white)? He’ll get some other job. There’s a subset of Twitter that views the fact that JK Rowling and Al Franken aren’t pelted with rotten garbage everywhere they go as hard proof that punishments haven’t gotten out of hand…

Step 3: Use viral content — especially things taken out of context — to energize your supporters…

Step 4: Lob extremely serious charges at anyone who disagrees with you.

If you disagree with the activist left, you’re going to get called a bigot. It’s a fait accompli at this point; the left throws around charges of bigotry like a vendor slinging bags of peanuts at a ballgame. It’s an effective tactic because being called a racist, sexist, or homophobe is a very serious charge. Most people will bend over backwards to avoid it, even if it’s bullshit.

In the circles I run in, pedophilia is also a very serious charge. Which might be why some conservatives are firing it at their opponents; DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw recently accused the Florida bill’s opponents of either being pedophiles or pedophile-friendly (which I guess would make them pedophile-philes). She even (unintentionally?) borrowed the language of the social justice left by saying “silence is complicity”. So, to clarify our present-day linguistic markers: “silence is complicity” = Fox News conservative. “Silence is violence” = social justice left. “Silence is golden” = 8th grade class trip chaperones. “Silence is a sound” = Simon & Garfunkel.

Pushaw’s charge is another data point in what seems to be a trend of conservatives calling their opponents soft on pedophilia. Josh Hawley recently made the completely unfounded case that Ketanji Brown Jackson gives light sentences to pedophiles. In the Fox & Friends clip at the beginning of this article, Kilmeade asks “who’s got the other side of that issue?”, with the obvious intimation that only child molesters are on the other side. This seems to be the state of our political debate: Both sides sling the most serious charges they can think of at their opponents and hope that some of it will stick. I would normally write a hyperbole joke here, i.e. “What’s next? People accusing politicians of running a cannibalistic child sex ring?” except that literally already happened, so I don’t know where we go from here.

15) This is such a good article.  You’re getting the gift link, “The remarkable brain of a carpet cleaner who speaks 24 languages”

16) Nice story from the local news on my research, “New PSA shows Trump telling supporters to get vaccinated. And it’s working.”

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

1) Yglesias:

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

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

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

2) Good social science:

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

3) Free speech debate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) https://twitter.com/GarrettPetersen/status/1508499283628101632

Black People Less Likely

5) Tim Noah on taxing the rich:

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

Indeed there are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Kareem FTW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11) Kareem on Will Smith:

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

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

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

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

13) Beutler on Democrats and Clarence Thomas:

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

We know:

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

Yikes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About a Second Booster?

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

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

Should I get a 2nd booster?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The least partisan issue ever?

OMG, check out this YouGov poll on Will Smith and Chris Rock:

Just wow.  How many issues of public attention/concern can you find where Democrats and Republicans are completely indistinguishable? 

So, where’s the differences?  Age.  Young people are (relatively speaking) for the slap:

Also, perhaps I’ll have a say in the updated results.  Here’s the questions I got from YouGov last night:

Quick hits (part I)

1) NYT discussion on the future of democracy.  This part really stood out to me.  How much is about just plain cowardice:

Homans: Ben, you worked for the Republican Party for decades as an election lawyer. Did the way in which the party metabolized Trump’s response to the 2020 election, and the Jan. 6 attack, surprise you?

Ginsberg: The whole thing, honestly, has shocked me. It’s not so much the elected officials who were giving the fist pumps on Jan. 6, because they were sort of predictable in doing that. It’s the many people within the party whom I know and have known for years who are good, decent, principled people, who are silent. It’s the silence of the Republican Party that is most surprising to me and most upsetting. We’ve described the problem in this conversation, but the much more difficult part is figuring out what to do about it. I think that’s what Sarah and I as Republicans have a particular obligation to do. But I don’t know how you bring the people within the Republican Party who should be speaking out to do exactly what you say, Steve, which is to make clear that this violence and election denial is not acceptable.

Homans: Steven, one clear takeaway from “How Democracies Die” is that the resolution to democratic crisis really has to come from within the party that is incubating the anti-democratic movement. This was what the center-right parties in Germany and Italy failed to do in the 1930s, which delivered Hitler and Mussolini to power. But other European center-right parties in Sweden and Belgium, for instance, succeeded in expelling fascist movements within their ranks in that same period.

Levitsky: But I think the Republicans will not reform themselves until they take a series of electoral defeats, major electoral defeats — and given the level of partisan identity that Lily describes, and given an electoral system that is biased toward the Republicans through no fault of their own, that’s not going to happen.

Also, totally agree with Lewitsky on this point:

Levitsky: Some of that is obviously true. I think what’s needed in the short term to preserve democracy, to get through the worst of this storm, is a much broader coalition than we’ve put together to date. Something on the lines of true fusion tickets that really brings in Republicans — maybe not a lot of the electorate, but enough to assure that the Trumpist party loses. That would mean bringing in a good chunk of that Bush-Cheney network that’s out there — that in private says the same things that I’ve said, but that has thus far been largely unwilling to speak out publicly — and having them in many cases on the same ticket.

And that means something that we have not seen enough of in the last couple of decades, which is real political sacrifice. It means that lifelong Republicans have to work to elect Democrats. And it means the progressives have to set aside a slew of policy issues that they care deeply about so that the ticket is comfortable to right-wing politicians. And we’re nowhere near that, neither in the Bush-Cheney network nor in the Democratic Party. Having talked to a number of Democratic elected politicians, I can tell you that we are nowhere near Democrats being willing to make those kinds of political sacrifice. But that is what is needed.

2) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer:

One of the main Republican lines of attack involves Judge Jackson’s work as a public defender. Both Mitch McConnell and the RNC suggested that her time as a defense attorney indicates sympathy for criminals, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. I find this logic phenomenally dumb; I think the principle that everyone deserves a defense has been basically settled since John Adams/Paul Giamatti defended British redcoats/the guy who played Pius Thickness in Harry Potterway back in 1770/2008.

And yet, I managed to hear the “how dare you defend that person” argument twice in one day. At roughly the same moment that Judge Jackson was being sworn in, Aaron Sibarium was publishing an article on Bari Weiss’ substack recounting numerous instances of defense attorneys getting flak from left-leaning law students. The law students were basically asking the same question as Congressional Republicans: How could you defend that person? And, of course, that question has an answer: You defend that person because if a right exists, then it exists universally, or it doesn’t exist at all. I think that’s easy to understand. But I’m struck by the number of people on the left these days who appear not to understand that, and how they also don’t seem to realize that continually carving out exceptions to liberal principles will almost surely come back to bite them in the ass.

Consider free speech. A common argument among those who feel that American doesn’t have a free speech problem is that the concern over eroding speech norms is mostly just white men who want freedom to be racist. There’s a mountain of evidence suggesting that that’s not true — the very New York Times editorial that ignited the most recent Twitter tribalism dunk-fest contains some of that evidence — but suppose that it was true. Suppose that this entire debate was about straight-up, no-doubt-about-it racism.

Probably the most famous free speech case in American history is the ACLU defense of Nazis’ right to march in Skokie, Illinois. We will surely never have a harder test case of the free speech principle because Nazis are — I’m sure we can all agree — the worst people. It’s actually incredible how near-universal that sentiment is. In a century that saw the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, the KKK, and the 1980s Oakland A’s, the Nazis still emerged as the all-but universally agreed uponworst people in the world. When it comes to undisputed GOATs, it’s basically just Hitler for evil and Michael Phelps for swimming, which I’m sure is a comparison that Michael Phelps loves.

The ACLU understood that if free speech could be curbed for Nazis, it could be curbed for other groups. In fact, they were explicitly trying to push back against tactics that had been used to shut down civil rights protesters in the south. Many backers of the free speech movement were socialists, which makes sense, because being a socialist in Cold War America was about as popular as being a nudist at bible camp. By defending a far-right group, the ACLU defended a principle that also gave left-wing groups freedom to operate…

The right will continue to use tactics being used by the left. This week, Josh Hawley achieved the incredible feat of lowering my opinion of Josh Hawley by accusing Ketanji Brown Jackson of being soft on child pornographers. The charge was utter bullshit — it was even denounced in the National ReviewBut Hawley’s tactic was a classic Twitter-era move: accuse someone of a charge so toxic that they lose by even addressing it. An unhealthy aspect of our culture is that people thrown around very serious charges — pedophilia, racism, sexism, etc. — the way Jackson Pollack tossed around paint. Judge Jackson will survive because people understand what Hawley’s doing, and also because Hawley is about as popular as a bee sting to the anus. But our habit of lobbing serious charges just to put our enemies on the defensive is not an appealing societal trait, and I think it’s ridiculous to pretend that it doesn’t have a chilling effect on speech.

3) The squat as the ultimate exercise:

What is the single best strength-building exercise many of us could be doing right this minute but almost certainly are not? Consult enough exercise scientists and the latest exercise research, and the answer would likely be a resounding: squats.

“For lower-body strength and flexibility, there is probably no better exercise,” said Bryan Christensen, a professor of biomechanics at North Dakota State University in Fargo, who studies resistance exercise.

The benefits are not confined to the lower body. “It is really a whole body exercise,” said Silvio Rene Lorenzetti, the director of the Performance Sports division of the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport in Magglingen. “It requires core stability and trains the back.”

Some people worry that squats can imperil the knees and hips, but the exercise can actually help protect and improve the workings of these and other joints, said Sasa Duric, an exercise scientist at the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait, who has studied squats. The movement “helps maintain the flexibility, stability and function” of hips, knees and ankles, he said.

But perhaps most fundamentally, squats are key to living and aging well. “When we clean the house or plant a vegetable garden, we need to squat,” Dr. Duric said. Ditto for easing into and out of chairs and lowering ourselves to toddler level for face-to-face playtime.

In essence, according to a 2014 scientific overview, squats are “one of the most primal and critical fundamental movements necessary to improve sport performance, to reduce injury risk and to support lifelong physical activity.”

When my timer on my office desktop goes off reminding me to move every 20 minutes, I actually usually do squats.

4) Because we’re not going to fix European soccer with financial rules doesn’t mean we can’t fix European soccer.  Rory Smith:

By now, it is abundantly clear that the way to manage the central problem in European soccer — the lack of competition engendered by financial imbalance — does not lie in a set of fiscal rules. They are too easily circumvented, too lightly enforced and invariably introduced several years too late.

Instead, the solution has to be sporting. The biggest teams will always make the most money — or at least say they make the most money — and will therefore have an advantage when spending is limited to a percentage of income. The more effective way to improve competition, both between clubs and between leagues, is to limit how they can spend it.

A hard salary cap, the sort often seen in North American sports, is clearly not something the clubs are prepared to accept. But there is nothing at all to stop UEFA from instituting policies that demand all teams have a significant proportion of homegrown players, or a certain number of squad members under age 23. There is no reason it cannot cap the number of players any team can send out on loan, or even introduce rules that grant effective free agency to players who have not made a specific number of appearances.

Any and all of those measures would discourage the hoarding of stars by a handful of teams. In turn, they would allow that talent to be spread more evenly around Europe’s various leagues. They would encourage teams to be more judicious in the market, to think more long-term. They would help to level the playing field not by suppressing some, but by lifting others.

5) Great stuff from Leonhardt on the insanity of Republicans at the KBJ hearings:

The debate over Jackson’s nomination has often had little to do with her. It has become an argument over a nominee who does not exist — one who does not respect America, is not truly religious, coddles child abusers and terrorists and has highly developed views about the importance of “woke” education. Yesterday, conservative activists used this portrayal to pressure moderate Democratic senators to vote against Jackson.

Conspiracy theories and unfair accusations have a long history in American politics, of course. But they have often remained on the margins. Today, distortions and falsehoods have moved to the center of politics.

While neither party is entirely innocent, there is a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats. False claims regularly flow from the leaders of the Republican Party — including its most recent president, several of its likely future presidential candidates and the most influential media figures aligned with the party.

Donald Trump began his political career by claiming that Barack Obama was born in Africa and ended his presidency with false accusations of voter fraud. Prominent Republicans regularly cast doubt on the fact that greenhouse gases are warming the planet and contributing to extreme weather. Disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines has been so widespread that almost 40 percent of Republican adults have not received a shot, sometimes with fatal consequences.

There is no comparable list of false information coming from senior members of the Democratic Party…

But in trying to make Jackson a stand-in for these views, Republican senators are distorting reality. They are creating a caricature of a liberal Democrat that bears little resemblance to Jackson herself.

“One thing that is striking about this hearing,” Lori Ringhand, a legal scholar, told The Times, “is how little effort we are seeing to engage the nominee on her views about actual legal issues.”

6) Good stuff from Chait, “Trump’s Greatest Triumph Is Convincing America Crime Pays The failure to prosecute is a defeat for the rule of law.”

We don’t need to rely on Pomerantz’s say-so to evaluate Trump’s culpability. The public evidence is very extensive. As a practical matter, these crimes turn out to be difficult to prosecute. Trump famously refuses to write things down, scolds his aides and lawyers from taking notes in his presence, and manically destroys documents. Some of the crimes that are documented, like his years of systematic tax fraud proven by the New York Times, occurred too long ago to be charged today.

That said, the correct observation that certain crimes are difficult to charge seems to be transmuting into a sense that stealing is more or less acceptable. Even complaining about the fact that a once and potentially future president of the United States can be a career criminal has become deeply unfashionable.

The modern history of Ukraine shows the deeply corrosive effects of allowing this assumption to exist unchallenged. When a country gives up on the idea that rich people have to follow the law, the entire legitimacy of the state comes into question. Both the supporters and the enemies of Ukrainian sovereignty have understood for more than a decade that its very existence hinged on eliminating, or at least suppressing, the legal impunity enjoyed by its business class.

That belief is why Vice-President Joe Biden, at the tail end of the Obama administration, was pushing Ukraine to fire its ineffective prosecutor and install one who would make rich Ukrainians follow the law. And it is also why Vladimir Putin has so relentlessly used Ukrainian corruption as a pretext to violate his neighbor’s sovereignty.

Trump has spread a similar idea here. He has, of course, promiscuously accused all his antagonists of being crooks. But he has also insinuated his own complicity in their crookedness, bragging that he bought off politicians. The prosecutors who have tried to bring him to heel all look like losers. Mueller is a punchline. The broad cynicism that has set in about the rule of law is a genuine triumph for Trump.

7) This is such a fantastic essay from Ross Douthat (gift link) on the decline of movies as we know them (especially all the great middlebrow movies for adults that barely exist anymore).

My favored theory is that the Oscars are declining because the movies they were made to showcase have been slowly disappearing. The ideal Oscar nominee is a high-middlebrow movie, aspiring to real artistry and sometimes achieving it, that’s made to be watched on the big screen, with famous stars, vivid cinematography and a memorable score. It’s neither a difficult film for the art-house crowd nor a comic-book blockbuster but a film for the largest possible audience of serious adults — the kind of movie that was commonplace in the not-so-distant days when Oscar races regularly threw up conflicts in which every moviegoer had a stake: “Titanic” against “L.A. Confidential,” “Saving Private Ryan” against “Shakespeare in Love,” “Braveheart”against “Sense and Sensibility”against “Apollo 13.”…

Within the larger arc of Hollywood history, though, this is the time to call it: We aren’t just watching the decline of the Oscars; we’re watching the End of the Movies…

No, what looks finished is The Movies — big-screen entertainment as the central American popular art form, the key engine of American celebrity, the main aspirational space of American actors and storytellers, a pop-culture church with its own icons and scriptures and rites of adult initiation.

This end has been a long time coming — foreshadowed in the spread of television, the invention of the VCR, the rise of cable TV and Hollywood’s constant “It’s the pictures that got small” mythologization of its own disappearing past…

The late 1990s were this cultural order’s years of twilight glow. Computer-generated effects were just maturing, creating intimations of a new age of cinematic wonder. Indie cinema nurtured a new generation of auteurs. Nineteen ninety-nine is a candidate for the best year in movies ever — the year of “Fight Club,” “The Sixth Sense,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Election,” “Three Kings” and “The Insider,” so on down a roster that justifies not just a Top 10 but a Top 50 list in hindsight.

8) And OMG was 1999 an amazing year for movies.  And that also led me to an oral history of one of my personal favorites from 1999, “Office Space.

9) I’m fully intending to write more about the incredibly problematic use of the precautionary principle, but for now, a snipped from Chait regarding a horrible misguided piece from a couple of public health authors:

10) I love reading about how Jon Bon Jovi thinks about his set lists:

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve released 17 albums in my career. That’s a lot of music. … You go, ‘Oh, this one would be nice to pull out again.’ And it’s not an easy task, because the audience wants hear Song X, Y and Z. … You gotta do all the obvious hits. … You’re not gonna not play ‘Livin’ On a Prayer,’ and ‘It’s My Life,’ and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name.’

“So it’s just how far into the ‘Bed of Roses,’ and ‘Always,’ and then ‘I’ll Be There for You.’ ‘Oh yeah, that’s three ballads. Gee, I can’t fit three. But they’re all hits!’ Believe me, it’s a good problem to have,” Bon Jovi says, with a laugh.

“But yeah, the hits take up 70%, and that leaves you with 30% for new material and obscure tracks. That’s the kind of breakdown. (So it leaves) you with X amount of slots for your artistic, you know, ‘listen-and-look-at-me’ moments, when it’s just about ‘I don’t care if you don’t wanna hear this song, I wanna play it. I’m allowed one or two of those,” he says, chuckling again.

“Then I have the benefit of changing it on a nightly basis. … If somebody hears ‘Always’ one night and ‘Bed of Roses’ the next night, it’s cool. It’s all acceptable.”

“Truly, it is like a very simple (process),” Bon Jovi adds, “but nonetheless a Rubik’s Cube.”

11) This is cool, “Is Geometry a Language That Only Humans Know? Neuroscientists are exploring whether shapes like squares and rectangles — and our ability to recognize them — are part of what makes our species special.”

The researchers called this the “geometric regularity effect” and they hypothesized — it’s a fragile hypothesis, they admit — that this might provide, as they noted in their paper, a “putative signature of human singularity.” (Experiments are ongoing and open to participants online.)

With the baboons, regularity made no difference, the team found. Twenty-six baboons — including Muse, Dream and Lips — participated in this aspect of the study, which was run by Joël Fagot, a cognitive psychologist at Aix-Marseille University.

The baboons live at a research facility in the South of France, beneath the Montagne Sainte-Victoire (a favorite of Cézanne’s), and they are fond of the testing booths and their 19-inch touch-screen devices. (Dr. Fagot noted that the baboons were free to enter the testing booth of their choice — there were 14 — and that they were “maintained in their social group during testing.”) They mastered the oddity test when training with nongeometric images — picking out an apple, say, among five slices of watermelon. But when presented with regular polygons, their performance collapsed.

Fruit, Flower, Geometry

Symbols used to test whether baboons can pick out a non-matching symbol within a group.

 

By The New York Times | Source: Mathias Sablé-Meyer, Stanislas Dehaene et al.

“The results are striking, and there seems indeed a difference between the perception of shapes by humans and baboons,” Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, said in an email. “Whether this difference in perception amounts to human ‘singularity’ would have to await research on our closest primate relatives, the apes,” Dr. de Waal said. “It is also possible, as the authors argue (and reject), that humans live in an environment where right angles matter, whereas baboons do not.”

12) As almost always, great stuff from deBoer: “Sometimes People Legitimately Disagree on Difficult Questions: it’s not in fact true that everyone who disagrees with you is secretly evil”

I choose this tweet merely because it’s an encapsulation of so much of the assumption of bad faith and avoidance of the social justice perspective. (That Adam Costco is one of the most nakedly self-aggrandizing Last Good White Men is merely a bonus.)

Here’s the deal. I am opposed to the “social justice movement,” while being very much in favor of social justice, for a few reasons. The first is that I think the social justice movement is legitimately wrong on a variety of core issues. For example, civil liberties – I think they’re good; the social justice movement thinks they’re a con on the part of bigots. That’s a genuine disagreement. There’s people in the social justice movement who are explicitly, unambiguously opposed to free speech as a principle. And that’s cool. They’re wrong, is all. You can find plenty of books written that define the reasons free speech is good. But that disagreement between me and them is real. It’s not code for “I think trans people are faking.” (I genuinely don’t have the slightest idea what that could mean.) Unlike many in the social justice movement, I believe that civil liberties are essential even while I understand the vital need to fight racism, sexism, and transphobia. I simply believe that those fights have to be balanced with the defense of civil liberties, and in fact think that waging those fights requires a respect for civil liberties. Costco is free to disagree. But he’s not free to tell me what I “really” think. Another disagreement is about the proportionality of social punishment. The social justice movement often seems to think that anyone guilty of even minor expressions of bigotry should be permanently socially outcast. I don’t agree. But that’s all it is. It’s just disagreement. Happens every day.

But here’s something that should perhaps concern even people like Costco: the social justice movement has coopted basic left goals and has completely failed to meet them. The social justice movement hates racism, sexism, homophobia, and assorted social ills, and yet has achieved nothing in fighting them.

Indeed, I criticize the social justice movement not because I oppose challenging our status quo power hierarchy, but precisely because I do want to challenge that hierarchy. The social justice movement absolutely sucks at challenging establishment power! …

This failure, by the way, is perfectly predictable when you observe the fact that the social justice movement actively disdains persuading others (“it’s not my job to educate you”) and relentlessly fixates on ideas that are vastly unpopular (“defund the police”). Those seem like valid, important observations.

13) Yes to this on how to make the NCAA games way better:

The sport shouldn’t get rid of replay, but it should, at the very least, adopt a couple of fixes. No one needs officials quietly whispering “Enhance” to the replay operator eight times to see if the ball nicked the offensive player’s hangnail after the defender knocked it out of his hands and out of bounds.

When I tune into the final minutes of an NCAA Tournament game, I want to see a moment that looks like a dynamic athlete is operating on bullet-time closely followed by a decision that looks like a team never has seen a full-court press before.

I want to see the best plays I’ve ever seen randomly interspersed with the worst plays I’ve ever seen. It’s the beauty of watching college players chase a dream. It’s tremendous television. You never know what can happen on the bracket, but you never know what can happen on the floor in a game, either. On Saturday, North Carolina coughed up a 25-point lead in less than a half and beat a No. 1 seed in overtime anyway. It was the kind of game with enough twists and turns that would be a farce if it was fiction. Instead, it was one of the craziest games I’d seen all year.

I want to see that.

I don’t want to see 12 replays of a block/charge call interspersed with a closeup of the back of two referees hunched over a tiny monitor at center court. I’d rather watch a marathon of the final season of “Lost” on repeat for a week.

This can be fixed.

One, install a permanent replay official with the power to overturn a call. There’s no reason the game needs to be stopped for a replay review of whether a shooter’s foot was on the line. Let a replay official, with no responsibilities on the court, examine it during play. If the call was correct, keep it moving. If a change is necessary, stop play at the next made basket or dead ball and announce it. Then keep it moving.

And most importantly, that “52 seconds” that can go well over on plenty of occasions and definitely did so during the season, has to drop. Let a permanent replay official, whether on-site or in a neutral location like the NBA does, begin the review immediately (maybe even before a review officially begins) and consult with on-court officials after they go to the monitor and work together to make a decision.

But there has to be a clock. No review needs to go longer than a minute or 90 seconds at most, barring a fix to the game clock to correct a missed call. If it’s not 100 percent clear by that brief deadline, let the call stand.

Replay has to be a net to catch egregious misses, not forensic science. The pursuit of getting calls right is a noble one, but when it becomes three minutes spent watching eight zoomed-in shots of four different angles and a couple of fan-shot videos from the crowd to learn that, actually, the ball didn’t graze the center’s leg hair and officials got the call right on the floor, that pursuit becomes a net negative on the sport.

The NCAA Tournament is the most fun event in sports, but replay is turning the most fun part of the game into an atrocious viewing experience.

14) Good stuff from Katelyn Jetelina on the possibilities we face for BA.2. 

15) Unless one of you convinces me otherwise, I’m done with “Severance” on Apple TV.  Mostly, I’ve decided the creative team has some interesting ideas that I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a big payoff at the end, but they have basically no idea how to construct a compelling episode of television.

It might as well be called the Maguffin Corporation, given that whatever their work might be revealed to affect, if indeed it affects anything at all, will be less important than the fact that none of them have any idea what it’s about and less interesting than the pokily building adventure that gets them to wherever this show is meant to end. Clues are dropped that something deeper is going on, but so much time elapses between them that you may have dropped one by the time you gather the next…

And because there is a mystery, if only in the sense that we are given very little information — even the characters, apart from Mark, have been severed from their backstories — one keeps watching, to discover what’s being held back, however many trips down a white corridor to jaunty tropical hold music that entails. You will have to wait a little; the season finale is genuinely exciting and suspenseful, but, really, even as an advocate of slow television, we might have got there in half the time with twice the effect. Rod Serling could have wrapped it up in half an hour.

16) Meanwhile, “The Other Two” is an absolute delight and so well-written.  Way more people should be watching and talking about this show. 

17) This Editorial from the UVA student newspaper calling for Mike Pence not to speak on campus is nuts. It really is “no platform for Republicans.”  

A student organization recently announced its plans to host former vice president Mike Pence this April to speak in Old Cabell Hall. For Pence, gay couples signify a “societal collapse,” Black lives do not matter, transgender individuals and immigrants do not deserve protection and the pandemic should not be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the University has accepted Pence’s visit as an “opportunity to hear from, and engage with, leaders and experts from a wide variety of fields and perspectives.” So-called “perspectives” should not be welcomed when they spread rhetoric that directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members. [emphasis mine] The LGBTQ+ individuals Pence has attacked, the Black lives he refuses to value and the successful stories of immigration he and the former president hope to prevent — these very people are our peers, our neighbors and our community members. We refuse to condone platforming Pence.

Oh, “the lives” threatened by Pence! Anyway, I got my first ever block on twitter as Jamelle Bouie (UVA alum) blocked me for tweeting derisively about this editorial. 

18) Mark Joseph Stern, “The Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings Show Marriage Equality Is the Next Target Once Roe Falls”

During Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearings this week, GOP senators have, predictably, condemned Roe—but not as much as might be expected. Instead, many senators have turned their attention to a different precedent that’s likely next on their hit list once Roe likely falls this summer: Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision recognizing same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry.

Loathing for Obergefell emerged early on Tuesday, when Republican Sen. John Cornyn launched a frontal assault on the ruling, then sought Jackson’s reaction. He began by criticizing “substantive due process,” which holds that the “liberty” protected by the due process clause protects substantive rights, not just procedural ones. The Supreme Court has used this theory to enforce “unenumerated rights” that it deems fundamental, including the right to marry, raise children, use contraception, and terminate a pregnancy. Along with equal protection, it served as the basis of Obergefell. According to Cornyn, however, this doctrine is “just another form of judicial policymaking” that can be used “to justify basically any result.”…

In case it wasn’t clear what these senators were up to, Cornyn made it explicit on Wednesday afternoon. “The Constitution doesn’t mention the word abortion,” he lectured Jackson, “just like it doesn’t mention the word marriage.” These senators appear confident that the Supreme Court will overrule the constitutional right to an abortionin Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which should come down by JuneThey are so confident, in fact, that they prodded Jackson to say whether she would abide by Dobbs once she joins the court, rather than fight to revive Roe. But on the whole, Republicans were noticeably less engaged over abortion than they were about same-sex marriage…

It’s easy to see why. The GOP, alongside the conservative legal movement, has built up a massive infrastructure to fight the culture wars. After Roe, it will need a new target, and marriage equality is the obvious choice. Republicans never really gave up on the issue, but rather staged a tactical retreat after Obergefell, pressing for sweeping exemptions from civil rights laws to legalize discrimination against same-sex couples. But after Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett replaced the gay-friendly Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this retreat slowed to a crawl, and Republicans sought to regain some ground. They pressed the Supreme Court to roll back protections for same-sex couples (to no avail—yet) and have now launched a campaign to mandate anti-LGBTQ discrimination in schools. A GOP legislator in Texas has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to declare that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage remains valid and enforceable.

As the architect of Texas’ vigilante abortion ban has candidly acknowledged, overturning Roe will leave Obergefell hanging by a thread. And the unraveling won’t stop there. A number of major decisions protecting reproductive rights, including access to contraception, will be imperiled if the court repudiates substantive due process. So will Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision legalizing interracial marriage, which—just like Obergefell—relied on both due process and equal protection. Republican Sen. Mike Braun claims to have misspoken when he said that Loving should be overturned on Tuesday. But he was only following his beliefs to their logical conclusion.

19) This is really good, “How Putin badly misjudged the West, as explained by a Russia expert”

Greg Sargent: What is it about Putin’s way of seeing the world, and his understanding of his own mythologies, that made it inevitable that he’d underestimate the Western response?

Timothy Snyder: For me the most revealing text here is the victory declaration, which the Russian press agency accidentally published on Feb. 26. What they say is that the West just basically needed one more push to fall into total disarray.

If you watch Jan. 6 clips over and over again, you can get that impression. The Russians really have been fixated on Jan. 6.

They thought a successful military operation in Ukraine would be that nudge: We’d feel helpless, we’d fall into conflict, it would help [Donald] Trump in the U.S., it would help populists around the world.
 
Sargent: When you say Russia has been making a lot of Jan. 6 — what do they read into it?

Snyder: Number one, they use it to mock us by saying, “These are just peaceful protesters.” Number two, they use it for one of their favorite arguments, which is that democracy is a joke everywhere.

But the deeper point is that Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election on Jan. 6 made the American system look fragile. They think, “One more Trump and the Americans are done.” In invading Ukraine, they think they’re putting huge pressure on the Biden administration. They’re going to make Biden look weak.

That probably was their deep fantasy about the West: Successful military occupation in Ukraine; the Biden administration is totally impotent; we humiliate them; Trump comes back; this is a big strategic victory for us.

20) This is old and funny as hell, “Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies”

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”

An excellent movie. The obviously unfit individuals are winnowed out through a series of entrepreneurial tests and, in the end, an enterprising young boy receives a factory. I believe more movies should be made about enterprising young boys who are given factories. —Three and a half stars. (Half a star off for the grandparents, who are sponging off the labor of Charlie and his mother. If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work.)…

“Charlotte’s Web”

A farmer allows sentimental drawings by a bug to prevail over economic necessity and refuses to value his prize pig, Wilbur, by processing and selling him on the open market. Presumably, the pig still dies eventually, only without profiting his owners. The farmer’s daughter, Fern, learns nothing except how to become an unsuccessful farmer. There is a rat in this movie. I quite liked the rat. He knew how to extract value from his environment. —Two stars.

21) Good free Yglesias post you should read, “Climate politics for the real world: What the Sunrise Movement and its boosters get wrong”

And it’s worth stepping back from the debate about specific tactical decisions and bad tweets to examine that underlying framing. This is the way I think the left sees the climate issue:

  • There is a latent desire among the mass public for sweeping change in general and for sweeping climate-related change in particular.

  • The main impediment to change is an elite cabal of special interests, most of all the fossil fuel companies, who wield power through campaign contributions and buying ads to distort the media agenda.

  • Due to the corrupting influence of fossil fuel money, not only do Republicans take bad stances on climate-related issues but so do Democrats, which means highlighting Joe Manchin’s personal financial relationship to the coal industry is crucial to communicating the legislative dynamics at work.

The upshot of this framework is that we need a broad grassroots movement that can push the political system (including corrupt and wayward moderate Democrats) into taking the drastic action the planet needs and the people demand.

And my view is that this is all wrong…

The vast majority of people believe that climate change is a real problem and would like to see politicians and elected officials do something about it.

But popular commitment is fairly shallow for a number of reasons:

  • Most people are somewhat selfish and somewhat short-sighted, and the worst impacts of climate change occur in the future and afflict other people.

  • Climate is a global problem and solutions require global coordination, which is inherently difficult and involves players who want to free-ride and also those who worry about others free-riding.

  • Humans are often arbitrarily averse to change. If you tell people “instead of X you can have Y,” they have a strong tendency to be suspicious that Y is worse than X.

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting interview on Ukraine by Yasha Mounk with a Polish politician:

Sikorski: Ukraine has been attacked from three directions: from Belarus, trying to go for Kiev; from the east, at the city of Kharkiv and beyond; and in the south. Only one city in the south has been captured. And even where the Russians are present, they are really present only on the roads and where they have direct military bearing, because the Ukrainian population has turned out to be uniformly hostile. More than that for a number of days, the Russian offensive is not progressing. They are bogged down on the far outskirts of Kiev. They have not even taken the city of Mariupol or even Kharkiv, which is only 40 kilometers from Russia’s border. And Putin seems to have committed almost all his active professional army to this operation. He’s still bringing up some reinforcements from Chechnya, from Syria, and from some mercenaries. But it looks like he’s stuck. So the option is either to mobilize the population for total war or to negotiate. Negotiations seem to be progressing. And from what Russian officials are telling us, Russia has dramatically scaled down its level of ambition.

Instead of “de-Nazification”—which is absurd, given that Zelensky is a democratically-elected Jewish president of Ukraine—and “demilitarization”, which meant basically taking over Ukraine, they now say that they have nothing against Zelensky staying on. By demilitarization, they just mean a non-aligned status—which of course is also absurd, because Ukraine has been, and is, non-aligned. The fact that a measure of realism is coming into the Russian position would suggest that they realize that they’re not winning.

Mounk: So what would a settlement like that look like? Putin will need to justify a war domestically in some kind of way.

Sikorski: I wouldn’t worry about Putin’s credibility. He has destroyed all the remnants of an independent press. He can push any line he wishes. Whatever happens, he will explain it as his victory. 

I think Zelensky is preparing his country for changing the constitution and dropping the ambition to join NATO, which I think is a purely symbolic concession because NATO was not going to admit Ukraine anytime soon, anyway. The harder bits will be the territorial stuff. I don’t think it’s helpful of you and me to give advice on what’s reasonable, because it’s not our politics and it’s not our country. The third demand is for some cultural rights for Russian language broadcasting and Russian speakers in the southeast, which I understand Ukraine had already passed into legislation a long time ago. So that should be no problem.

Mounk: What would neutrality look like? Because it’s one thing to concede that Ukraine is not going to become a member of NATO. At the same time, Ukraine will obviously need some kind of realistic guarantee that Russia is not just going to restart the war at another point, or going to continue to lop off Ukrainian territory in the way it has over the last seven years. Is there some realistic set of arrangements that can guarantee those things?

Sikorski: Well, what guarantees of security are worth—both Russian and Western guarantees—Ukraine has just learned. 

The spokesman of the Kremlin says that they’ll be happy with Ukraine being like Austria or Sweden. Sweden has an army that can fight. Actually, it’s Swedish-made anti-tank missiles that are hitting Russian armor very effectively. I think that’s something that Ukraine could live with…

Sikorski: Look, Putin invaded Ukraine because he wants Ukraine as part of a new empire, but also because he wanted to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful, Europeanizing democracy. This he has done for an understandable reason: he correctly fears that if Ukraine becomes successful and increasingly integrated with the West, the people of Russia will eventually want the same. So my prediction is that if Ukraine succeeds—I define that by defending its democracy and keeping the great majority of its territory, and getting rid of Russian troops from its soil—then I think eventually Putinism will fail, and we will have some kind of new opening in Russia.

2) Fascinating thread from Michael Lin on pediatric Covid vaccine dosing.  Really seems like we actually were on the right track and then Omicron messed it up.  But, since it did, sure wish they’d revise the dosing for 5-11.

3) Good post from Conor Friedersdorf on what those most concerned about Covid should be doing:

These budgeting and health-policy decisions are of infinitely greater consequence for pandemic response than the behavioral lapses and policy heresies that get individuals COVID-shamed on social media. It is time to unite mask enthusiasts and mask skeptics who agree on funding public health.

2. Better ventilation everywhere. COVID-19 spreads much better indoors than outdoors. So do other communicable diseases, such as influenza. Thus a strong case exists for making our indoor environments more like the outdoors. Better ventilation is highly likely to reduce mortality and sickness on a significant scale far into the future. Yet there’s more scolding of individuals for failing to mask up properly than pressuring the people in charge of buildings, or building codes, to adopt best practices. My colleague Sarah Zhang has written at length about this underrated intervention.

3. Operation Warp Speed for a universal coronavirus vaccine. Scientists are already testing a vaccine that could work across variants, but there’s no telling whether it will succeed. Insufficient effort and resources are being spent on accelerating the testing process, developing alternative candidates, and if all else fails, increasing the speed at which we can tweak existing vaccines and roll them out at scale if a new variant demands it.

4) They sure don’t like to hear it, but David Leonhardt is right, that yes, the “very liberal” are simply more worried about Covid than they should be.  The fact that 48% of “very liberal” see Covid as a “great risk” to children’s health and well-being is pretty telling. Likewise, “More than 60 percent of very liberal Americans believe that mask mandates should continue for the foreseeable future. Most moderates and conservatives see mandates as a temporary strategy that should end this year.”

5) Well this is fascinating, “The controversial quest to make a ‘contagious’ vaccine: A new technology aims to stop wildlife from spreading Ebola, rabies, and other viruses. It could prevent the next pandemic by stopping pathogens from jumping from animals to people.”

Imagine a cure that’s as contagious as the disease it fights—a vaccine that could replicate in a host’s body and spread to others nearby, quickly and easily protecting a whole population from microbial attacks. That’s the goal of several teams around the world who are reviving controversial research to develop self-spreading vaccines.

Their hope is to reduce infectious disease transmission among wild animals, thereby lowering the risk that harmful viruses and bacteria can jump from wildlife to humans as many experts believe happened with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60 percent of all known infectious diseases and 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Scientists cannot predict why, when, or how new zoonotic diseases will emerge. But when they do, these diseases are often deadly and costly to control. What’s more, many researchers predict that climate change, biodiversity loss, and population growth will accelerate their spread.

Vaccines are a key tool for preventing diseases from spreading, but wild animals are difficult to vaccinate because each one must be located, captured, vaccinated, and released. Self-spreading vaccines offer a solution.

Advances in genomic technology and virology, and a better understanding of disease transmission, have accelerated work that began in the 1980s to make genetically engineered viruses that spread from one animal to another, imparting immunity to disease rather than infection.

Researchers are currently developing self-spreading vaccines for Ebola, bovine tuberculosis, and Lassa fever, a viral disease spread by rats that causes upward of 300,000 infections annually in parts of West Africa. The approach could be expanded to target other zoonotic diseases, including rabies, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and the plague.

Advocates for self-spreading vaccines say they could revolutionize public health by disrupting infectious disease spread among animals before a zoonotic spillover could occur—potentially preventing the next pandemic.

But others argue that the viruses used in these vaccines could themselves mutate, jump species, or set off a chain reaction with devastating effects across entire ecosystems.

6) As much as I would personally love permanent Daylight Savings Time, it’s actually quite right that the House take a longer, careful look at this.

The House is set to hit the snooze button on the Senate’s plan to permanently change the nation’s clocks.

“It could be weeks — or it could be months” before House Democratic leaders decide whether to tee up a vote on eliminating the biannual clock changes that have governed daily life in most states for decades, said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D.-N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees time change policies. While the Sunshine Protection Act, which unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday, would nationally shift clocks an hour later to maximize daylight, some doctors have argued that adopting permanent standard time would be a healthier option and better align with humans’ natural rhythms.

Pallone, who held a hearing last week on daylight saving time, said he shares the Senate’s goal to end the “spring forward” and “fall back” clock changes linked to more strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But he wants to collect more information, asking for a long-delayed federal analysis on how time changes might affect productivity, traffic and energy costs, among other issues.

7) Medical mystery in the Post:

Brooke Stroud was flummoxed and upset. How, the Washington clinical psychologist wondered, had her teenage houseguest gotten sick so quickly with the unidentified illness that had struck Stroud’s family of five at the end of 2020?

Stroud, her husband Stephane Carnot, and their daughter Olivia, then 17, had consulted primary care doctors in a fruitless attempt to identify the cause of their headaches, dizziness, vomiting and exhaustion. The pattern of their flu-like illness was perplexing: One or more of them would start to feel better, but within hours their symptoms would always return.

Ultimately it was the suggestion made by an infectious-disease expert more than 1,000 miles away that proved to be spot on, leading to a diagnosis and recovery.

I’m no MD, but I read this and thought, “uummmm, Carbon Monoxide poisoning?”  Yep.  Also, this went on for far longer than needed because the homeowners thought they had a CO detector but did not.  Seriously?!

8) For a photography lover like me who is honestly amazed at what the computer in the Iphone can accomplish photography-wise with a very limited lens and image sensor, I found this fascinating, “Have iPhone cameras become too smart?”

For a large portion of the population, “smartphone” has become synonymous with “camera,” but the truth is that iPhones are no longer cameras in the traditional sense. Instead, they are devices at the vanguard of “computational photography,” a term that describes imagery formed from digital data and processing as much as from optical information. Each picture registered by the lens is altered to bring it closer to a pre-programmed ideal. Gregory Gentert, a friend who is a fine-art photographer in Brooklyn, told me, “I’ve tried to photograph on the iPhone when light gets bluish around the end of the day, but the iPhone will try to correct that sort of thing.” A dusky purple gets edited, and in the process erased, because the hue is evaluated as undesirable, as a flaw instead of a feature. The device “sees the things I’m trying to photograph as a problem to solve,” he added. The image processing also eliminates digital noise, smoothing it into a soft blur, which might be the reason behind the smudginess that McCabe sees in photos of her daughter’s gymnastics. The “fix” ends up creating a distortion more noticeable than whatever perceived mistake was in the original.

Earlier this month, Apple’s iPhone team agreed to provide me information, on background, about the camera’s latest upgrades. A staff member explained that, when a user takes a photograph with the newest iPhones, the camera creates as many as nine frames with different levels of exposure. Then a “Deep Fusion” feature, which has existed in some form since 2019, merges the clearest parts of all those frames together, pixel by pixel, forming a single composite image. This process is an extreme version of high-dynamic range, or H.D.R., a technique that previously required some software savvy. (As a college student, I’d struggle to replicate H.D.R. on my traditional camera’s photos by using Photoshop to overlay various frames and then cut out their desirable parts.) The iPhone camera also analyzes each image semantically, with the help of a graphics-processing unit, which picks out specific elements of a frame—faces, landscapes, skies—and exposes each one differently. On both the 12 Pro and 13 Pro, I’ve found that the image processing makes clouds and contrails stand out with more clarity than the human eye can perceive, creating skies that resemble the supersaturated horizons of an anime film or a video game. Andy Adams, a longtime photo blogger, told me, “H.D.R. is a technique that, like salt, should be applied very judiciously.” Now every photo we take on our iPhones has had the salt applied generously, whether it is needed or not.

9) And here’s a really deep dive into photography on the Iphone 13 Pro.  Some amazing images, too.

10) True, “Josh Hawley’s latest attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson is genuinely nauseating”

On Wednesday evening, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) leveled a false and astonishing charge against Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Judge Jackson, Hawley untruthfully claimed, spent the last quarter decade advocating for — and later using her position as a judge to protect — child pornographers.

Hawley’s broad allegation is false. His most substantive claim against Jackson is that as a judge she frequently did not follow the federal sentencing guidelines when sentencing child pornography offenders. But, as Ohio State law professor and sentencing policy expert Douglas Berman writes, “the federal sentencing guidelines for” child pornography offenders “are widely recognized as dysfunctional and unduly severe.”

It’s also a stunningly inflammatory charge, reminiscent of conspiracy theories such as QAnon or Pizzagate, which posit that prominent liberals are part of a vast ring of pedophiles. Similarly incendiary claims have inspired violence in the past, such as when a man with an assault rifle opened fire in a DC pizza restaurant in 2016. The man was apparently motivated by his unfounded belief that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chair John Podesta ran a child sexual abuse ring in the basement of this pizzeria…

An honest look at Jackson’s record reveals that, as a law student, she wrote a nuanced analysis of a difficult constitutional question that vexed many judges — and that several judges relied upon in their own opinions. It reveals that, like any sentencing policymaker, Jackson had to draw distinctions among offenders who had all committed grave crimes. And it reveals that, as a judge, her sentencing practices were in line with those of other judges.

ButHawley’s attack on Jackson is not honest.

11) Honestly,  yeah, time for this, “The End of the Endless Final Set: Grand Slams Adopt Same Tiebreaker: The French Open was the last major tennis tournament that allowed an “advantage final set” without a tiebreaker. Once the maker of many classic, marathon matches, the system is no more.”

12) I absolutely think we need to be kind and supportive of children struggling with gender identity issues. That said, this post contains a lot of truth, “Trans exceptionalism and ordinary children”

Trans activists, ‘affirmative’ medical providers, and parents tend to see kids who identify as transgender as exceptional. To these children, none of the normal rules and nothing we know about child development seems to apply. 

But children who identify as transgender are just that: children. They hurt, like other children. They’re trying to figure out themselves and the strange world they live in, like other children. 

They’ll change over time, like other children, in unpredictable ways, like other children. 

And they will grow up, like all children. They will surprise themselves and us.

Children who identify as trans only have one body and one life, like all children. They are—as Ian McEwan put it—“easily torn and not easily mended.”

Children who identify as trans don’t have endocrine conditions or birth defects. They’re not the vanguard of some transhuman future. Rather, they’re made of the same stuff that children have always been made of, with the same needs for care and attention. 

What’s changed are the ideas and expectations that we’ve raised children on and the way we’ve turned them loose in an online world whose terrain no one has mapped. Many of these children have grown up with extended experiences of online disembodiment. They may not be free to run around outside with their friends but they’re free to roam the darkest corners of the Internet. Who knows what strangers and strange ideas they encounter there. 

These children have grown up hearing a very new and confusing set of fairytales about gendered souls that can end up in the ‘wrong bodies.’ Adults who should know better (and on some level do know better) have made them impossible promises. 

Children who identify as trans aren’t sages. They aren’t sacred. They haven’t been endowed with wisdom beyond their years. It’s not fair to treat them as exceptions to the safeguards we place around children, so that when they grow up and change their minds and ask why we let them do this, we say: You wanted it. You asked for it. You were so sure. What else could we have done? 

We need to remember that we are working with children. That children have one childhood, one body, one life, and endless ideas, pressures, pains, and theories about how the world works that they test against the grownups in their lives. 

There’s a way in which everything that touches trans must be exceptional—the children, the stakes, the feelings, the possibility of knowing anything for sure—because if these kids aren’t exceptional, then we threw everything we knew out the window. We didn’t ‘help’ exceptional children but harmed ordinary ones, struggling with ordinary challenges of development, sexual orientation, identity, meaning, and direction.

13) Being a long-haul truck driver also struck me as a nightmarish job.  And now it’s worse than ever, “How Life as a Trucker Devolved Into a Dystopian Nightmare”

Today, long-haul truckers are some of the most closely monitored workers in the world. Cameras and sensors dot their trucks, watching the road, the brakes and even the driver’s eye movements. Once, when his truck’s cabin heater broke, Mr. Knope was forced to sleep in freezing temperatures for several days while traveling across northern Ohio and New York because an automated system made sure his engine was turned off at night. The company told him there was no way to override the system.

Just imagine finishing 10 hours at a desk job, only to return to your apartment to find the heat didn’t work. That’d be quite frustrating. Then imagine your apartment was your office and most nights dinner was a microwaveable burrito or a bag of fast food. And then imagine your desk job required you regularly press a little pedal, you couldn’t stand up, you had essentially no face-to-face contact with co-workers, and if a bathroom didn’t easily present itself you were forced to use a plastic jug — all while a computer or a person at a desk hundreds of miles away monitors your every move…

For decades, truckers have quit at alarming rates, leading to a chronic shortage. The turnover rate was at a staggering 91 percent in 2019, which means that for every 100 people who signed up to drive, 91 walked out the door. Plenty of people have the commercial driver’s licenses needed to operate trucks, said Michael Belzer, a Wayne State University economist who has studied the industry for 30 years. “None of them will work for these wages,” he added. Studies even show that their pay, when adjusted for inflation, has declined markedly since the 1970s.

14) Here’s what I don’t quite get.  How come nobody has passed a law that simply demands transparency in ticket pricing.  If you want to charge me $120 to see Bon Jovi in Raleigh, just tell me that.  Don’t tell me it’s $94 plus fees.  I mean we have a perfect model– airline tickets are full of “fees” but when you shop online, they actually show you the full price.  John Oliver takes on Ticketmaster and fees.

15) How have I never come across this before?  “Pixar’s 22 rules for storytelling.”

16) I appreciate SAM recommending the film “About Time” in comments last week.  I quite enjoyed it. I will say, I did find it unusual and surprising in just how little conflict/challenges to the hero there were. But, very charming.  

17) Like it or not, on all sorts of metrics, Asian-Americans out-perform other minorities.  And, many don’t like that so, instead, they play games of how to lie with statistics.  But deBoer is on the case:

There’s been a long-running conversation about the “myth of the model minority,” the idea that Asian Americans somehow represent a symbol of social success. There’s a lot of those complaints out there. Here’s a new piece by Hua Hsu in the New Yorker. Here’s a recent piece in the Times. Here’s NPR. Here’s WaPo. Here’s Time. Here’s National Geographic. Here’s CNBC. Here’s NBC News. Here’s Harvard Business Review. Here’s Forbes. There are multiple books on the subject. I could go on. There’s plenty to critique there, but a lot of this conversation seems to deliberately obscure the origins of the idea.

The model minority construct is the product of referring to large groups in a way we do every day without controversy. Asian Americans have frequently been represented in social science and politics as a “model minority” because on average they have far higher incomes than the national average, perform best on all manner of educational metrics, and commit crimes at dramatically lower levels. If people think of the average Asian American as someone who is law-abiding, did well in school, and earns an enviable salary, they’re not wrong, any more than it would be wrong to say that the average American man’s height is 5’9. Obviously, it’s stupid to assume that any individual Asian you meet has a high income, just like it’s stupid to assume any individual man will be 5’9. But this constant weird troubling of the very notion of demographic metrics isn’t constructive. Of course “the average Asian American” is a construct, as all averages are, and many Asian Americans are not like the average. But I find it tiring, this pretense that people don’t understand what a demographic average is in this context and none other. [emphases mine]

If the complaint is that these statistics are somehow factually incorrect, that’s interesting, but would require a lot of proof. If instead the argument is that we shouldn’t pay attention to such averages because they obscure the diversity of outcomes within each group, I think that’s a valid point of view, but I don’t think the people who complain about the model minority construct are remotely consistent in this. We use averages for social justice purposes all the time – we know Black people face a lot of social inequality thanks to the compilation of averages, to pick an important example. Of course we should never prejudge any individual based on their broad demographic categories. But we need to apply these rules consistently across different contexts, and we don’t.

If you want to discourage projecting averages onto individuals, you should do that with all kinds of people. A lot of these pieces like to stress that some Asian people are poor, some Asian people do badly in school, and some Asian people commit crimes, so therefore referring to averages is illegitimate. This piece, for example, seems premised on the idea that the notion of spread within a sampled population is groundbreaking and undermines the very concept of a median or mean. Other issues aside, it immediately forces me to point out that every other group also has internal diversity too. To pick an obvious group, white people! Many white people are poor. Many white people struggle in school. Many white people commit crimes or are the victims of crime. Many white people lack political or social power. And yet often the same exact people who complain about the myth of the model minority turn around and talk about white people as a unified bloc of wealth and privilege. There are some profoundly wealthy Black people in this country; should we therefore not refer to how low the average Black net worth is? If nothing else, there’s a profound lack of consistency in this regard.

If the idea is that we should pay a lot less attention to demographic identity because these groupings always distort who we are as individuals, I say, yeah! I’m on board. But that attitude usually offends the social justice set. The trouble is that the people who complain about the model minority thing tend to be very enthusiastic practitioners of political philosophies that stress group identity above all other things.

18) My daughter does not score a lot of goals.  And last time she did, it was in a game where I was out of town.  And, I also miss seeing a fair number of goals while trying to figure out substitution patterns.  So, I was so delighted to see Sarah just pop one right over the defense and the goalkeeper’s head, into the back of the net yesterday.  

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