Quick hits (part II)

1) This is really good on misguided police culture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8) Great stuff from Binyamin Applebaum on tax policy:

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

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

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

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

But the federal debt still carries a hefty price tag.

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

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

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

They need to start fighting and winning both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presumably you get the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

14) Pretty fascinating thread on aging and appearance:

15) Really seems like public toilets should have lids:

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

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

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

16) Frustrating poll results given our political reality

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

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I think my students would tell you I genuinely care about them and want the best for them. But, my god the coddling approach that the Chronicle of Higher Education teaching newsletter is always taking is just so grating:

  • Acknowledge the Bigger Picture. “We were brought up to just walk into the classroom and say, oh, this DNA molecule is so cool, or this new Shakespeare play is so cool,” said Bryan Dewsbury, associate professor of biological sciences and associate director of the STEM Transformation Institute at Florida International University. But that’s not working for today’s students, who face not only the pandemic but climate change and a host of other serious threats. “We have to stop pretending that the classroom and the campus and the online-course space are just completely disconnected to what’s happening in the wider world — and that people are walking in and just able to shelve all that chaos and just fully be present.”

So, expect less of my students because… climate change?

2) Really interesting interview on how two Supreme Court cases could make some pretty big differences in how social media companies operated. A lot of complicated issues involved.  Also, how had I never heard of this painting?

You said you were sympathetic with the goals, but it seems that the goals might have been just to stop companies from restricting far-right content.

Yes, I do think that’s the goal. But the first time that I saw litigation on claims like this, it came from more traditionally left sources. In Brazil, Facebook took down an image of a native Amazonian woman who was topless. And [the Ministry of Culture said] this was a violation of cultural diversity.

 

That’s hilarious.

The other one’s even crazier. I don’t know if you know the French “L’Origine du Monde,” which is a Gustave Courbet painting? It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay. Its credentials are impeccable, but it’s also a very closeup depiction of female genitalia. Facebook took it down. And the Frenchman who had posted it was, like, “But this is art. I have a right to post art.”

Both of these state laws require platforms to carry speech that the platforms don’t want to. And both of them imposed transparency obligations somewhat similar to the ones in the Digital Services Act in the E.U. The platforms challenged both of those laws in both aspects, the transparency and the so-called must-carry provisions, on a couple of different legal grounds. But the grounds that the Supreme Court would look at if they took it is whether the platform’s own First Amendment rights to set editorial policy have been violated.

The Florida one says that, if an online speaker counts as a journalistic enterprise, which is defined very broadly and strangely, or if they’re a political candidate or they’re talking about a political candidate, then the platform can’t take down anything they say, with almost no exceptions. There’s a weird obscenity exception. Basically, that means if you’re talking about a political candidate or you are a political candidate, you can share electoral disinformation or covid disinformation or racist biological theories. All kinds of things that I think most people would consider pretty horrific. Platforms would have to leave it up in Florida.

The Texas law is also motivated by a concern about conservative voices being silenced, but it comes at it a little bit differently. It says that platforms can engage in content moderation under their own discretionary terms, but they have to do so in a way that is viewpoint-neutral. And there’s a lot of disagreement and uncertainty about what it means to be viewpoint-neutral. I think, and a lot of people think, that it means that if you take down posts celebrating the Holocaust, you also have to take down posts condemning it. If you leave up posts that are anti-gun violence, you also have to leave up posts that are pro-gun violence.

Sorry, these examples are very dark. But that is what we’re talking about here: horrific things that people say on the Internet, that, effectively, platforms such as Facebook or YouTube would have to leave up under this Texas law, unless they want to take down a whole lot of user speech. They could not let anybody ever talk about racism at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, or not let people talk about abortion at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, etc.

3) Scott Alexander on AI is always interesting.  I was also listening to a podcast on ChatGPT today and what was really key was that the language model was trained by feedback from real humans.

So far, so boring. What really helped this sink in was reading Nostalgebraist say that ChatGPT was a GPT instance simulating a character called the Helpful, Harmless, and Honest Assistant.

The masked shoggoth on the right is titled “GPT + RLHF”. RLHF is Reinforcement Learning From Human Feedback, a method where human raters “reward” the AI for good answers and “punish” it for bad ones. Eventually the AI learns to do “good” things more often. In training ChatGPT, human raters were asked to reward it for being something like “Helpful, Harmless, and Honest” (many papers use this as an example goal; OpenAI must have done something similar but I don’t know if they did that exactly).

4) The Durham investigation is a complete embarrassment. Nice summary from Drum:

Today’s big New York Times piece about the Durham investigation is chock full of goodies about how Donald Trump and his lackeys desperately tried to prove that the FBI had illegally opened an investigation of Trump for no good reason. Attorney General Bill Barr and his special counsel, John Durham, were obsessed about this and became increasingly agitated as their investigation continued and they were unable to find anything that backed up their suspicions. They never did. We know now that, in fact, Trump’s presidential campaign did have links to the Russian government. The FBI did have a perfectly sensible reason to open an investigation into this. Vladimir Putin did try to interfere with the election in Trump’s favor. And several members of Durham’s team did quit because of disagreements with him over prosecutorial ethics.

There’s no single smoking gun in the story, just a long series of incidents that paint a damning picture of Barr’s Justice Department. In one of them, Barr received a tip from Italian intelligence:

[In 2019] the Times reported that Mr. Durham’s administrative review of the Russia inquiry had evolved to include a criminal investigation, while saying it was not clear what the suspected crime was. Citing their own sources, many other news outlets confirmed the development.

The news reports, however, were all framed around the erroneous assumption that the criminal investigation must mean Mr. Durham had found evidence of potential crimes by officials involved in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Barr, who weighed in publicly about the Durham inquiry at regular intervals in ways that advanced a pro-Trump narrative, chose in this instance not to clarify what was really happening.

Barr was normally a chatterbox, constantly tossing out tidbits about the investigation that made it seem as if they had the goods on the FBI. This time, however, he kept his mouth shut.

Why? Because the tip from the Italians linked Trump to financial crimes. That was the criminal investigation, but Barr saw no need to correct reporters who thought he was looking into criminal conduct by the FBI.

Nothing came of this investigation, but it’s telling nevertheless. And it’s a warning to everyone to take Durham’s final report with a salt mine’s worth of skepticism when it comes out. Past experience tells us that Durham will do his best to make it look like the FBI was guilty of massive crimes even though he was unable to prove any of them and unable to successfully prosecute even the minor charges he took to court.

Poor John Durham. He made his own bed, but this was partly because he got sucked into the black hole that is Donald Trump. Everyone who associates with Trump comes out of it looking worse than when they went in, and that’s what happened to Durham. In 2019 he was a respected veteran prosecutor. Four years later that reputation is in tatters. Nomen amicitiae sic, quatenus expedit, haeret.

5) Pamela Paul on the chilling effect of the American Dirt controversy:

Three years ago this month, the novel “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins landed in bookstores on a tsunami of enthusiasm. “Extraordinary,” Stephen King wrote in a prepublication blurb. “Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment,” raved Julia Alvarez. “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas,” Sandra Cisneros proclaimed. “This is the international story of our times. Masterful.”

The book’s momentum was nonstop. Riding on starred prepublication reviews from the trades, the book, a fast-paced road novel about a Mexican bookseller and her son trying to cross the border to escape a murderous drug cartel, was named an Indie Next List Pick by independent bookstores. Then came the rapturous reviews. “A thrilling adrenaline rush — and insights into the Latin American migrant experience,” raved The Washington Post. Cummins “proves that fiction can be a vehicle for expanding our empathy,” said Time magazine. Finally, the golden ticket: Oprah selected “American Dirt” for her book club. “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up,” Winfrey said.

It all fell apart with stunning speed. Following a blistering online campaign against the author and others involved in the book over who gets to write what, and in response to threats of violence against both author and booksellers, Cummins’s publisher, Flatiron Books, canceled her book tour. Cummins’s motives and reputation were smeared; the novel, eviscerated. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor,” Flatiron’s president said in a statement.

Looking back now, it’s clear that the “American Dirt” debacle of January 2020 was a harbinger, the moment when the publishing world lost its confidence and ceded moral authority to the worst impulses of its detractors. In the years since, publishers have become wary of what is now thought of as Another American Dirt Situation, which is to say, a book that puts its author and publishing house in the line of fire. This fear now hangs over every step of a fraught process with questions over who can write what, who should blurb and who can edit permeating what feels like a minefield. Books that would once have been greenlit are now passed over; sensitivity readers are employed on a regular basis; self-censorship is rampant.

A creative industry that used to thrive on risk-taking now shies away from it. And it all stemmed from a single writer posting a discursive and furious takedown of “American Dirt” and its author on a minor blog. Whether out of conviction or cowardice, others quickly jumped on board and a social media rampage ensued, widening into the broader media. In the face of the outcry, the literary world largely folded.

“It was a witch hunt. Villagers lit their torches,” recalled the novelist and bookseller Ann Patchett, whose Nashville home Cummins stayed in after her publisher told her the tour was over. The two were up all night crying. “The fall that she took, in my kitchen, from being at the top of the world to just being smashed and in danger — it was heartbreaking.”…

But if the proposal for “American Dirt” landed on desks today, it wouldn’t get published.

“In the past two or three years, there’s a lot of commentary about the publishing industry being increasingly eager to appease potential cancelers, to not get into trouble to begin with, to become fearful and conformist,” says Bernard Schweizer, a professor emeritus of English at Long Island University who is founding a small publishing company, Heresy Press, with his wife, Liang, to take on the kind of riskier work that now gets passed over. According to Schweizer, the publisher will look for work “that lies between the narrow ideological, nonaesthetic interests presently flourishing on both the left and the right” and “won’t blink at alleged acts of cultural appropriation.” As he told me: “The point is not to offend but to publish stories that are unfettered and freewheeling, maybe nonconformist in one way or another. Somebody may be offended or not, but that’s the kind of risk we want to take.”

For some aspiring writers, the mood remains pessimistic. “My take is the only take and the one everyone knows to be true but only admits in private: the literary world only accepts work that aligns with the progressive/woke point of view of rich coastal liberals,” the Latino writer Alex Perez said in an interview with Hobart magazine last fall. “This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of 15.” Shortly after publication of Perez’s interview, Hobart’s staff of editors quit and Perez was widely mocked on social media. Elizabeth Ellen, Hobart’s editor and the person who conducted the interview, posted a letter from the editor advocating for an atmosphere “in which fear is not the basis of creation, nor the undercurrent of discussion.”

6) It really is crazy that on an entirely regular basis the local school system simply fails to run the necessary busses to get kids to school.  It’s not even Econ 101 about what to do about the bus driver shortage; it’s Econ 01.  Just pay more or find other ways to make the job more enticing.  But, damnit, you’ve got to get the kids to and from school!

That means parents need to be prepared — sometime on short notice — to become their child’s chauffeur when the school bus is very late or isn’t running at all.

“Any day in the office I could get the message that I need to leave my job to get my child,” said Heather Wilson, a Raleigh parent whose daughter rides the bus to Farmington Woods Elementary School in Cary. “It’s definitely very stressful.”

The driver shortage is causing students to miss school, teachers to stay late watching students and bus drivers to feel burned out from the additional routes they’re running.

And the situation could get worse as more drivers retire or switch to other jobs with better hours and higher pay. School bus driver vacancy rates have soared post-pandemic.

7) Big story in the NYT this week about whether schools should tell parents when the kids switch gender identities. I don’t think this is an easy issue with an obviously right answer.  I do think all the trans “allies” who consider the very reporting of this story and a sympathetic hearing of the parents’ views to be so very wrong.  Mona Charen:

Advocates for “gender-affirming care” are vigilant, potent, and feared, trashing anyone who raises questions about rushing into transition as hatemongers who are attempting to “erase” trans people. But their campaign to stifle debate is ebbing. The Atlantic ran a sympathetic account of detransitioners, i.e., patients who’ve regretted sex changes and sought to restore their natal identity. Both of the authors are trans themselves. The New York Times Magazine also ran a piece highlighting competing views within the medical community about how best to handle the explosion of young people saying they think they’re trans, and acknowledging that social contagion may indeed be at work.

The Times also reported on the controversy (yes, there is a controversy) about the use of puberty blocker drugs in children. The Washington Post, noting the pattern of schools withholding information about students’ social transitions from parents, quoted Erica Anderson, a transgender woman and former president of the U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health, to the effect that failing to notify parents is a form of malpractice: “If there are issues between parents and children, they need to be addressed. It’s not like kicking a can down the road. It only postpones, in my opinion, and aggravates any conflict that may exist.” And New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait chastised enforcers on the left who attempt to cow mainstream journalists on this topic:

The purpose of their rhetorical strategy is to conflate advocates of more cautious treatment of trans children with conservatives who oppose any treatment for trans children. This campaign has met with a great deal of success. Much of the coverage in mainstream and liberal media has followed this template—ignoring or denying the existence of the medical debate, and presenting anti-trans Republican politicians as the only alternative to gender-affirming care. This has been the theme . . . of mainstream organs like Politico and CNN, where coverage of the issue often treats progressive activists as unbiased authorities and dismisses all questions about youth gender treatment as hate-driven denial of the medical consensus.

It’s healthy that the suppression of competing views on this subject is starting to subside, because, as independent journalist Jesse Singal has indefatigably reported, the research on puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone treatment, and other aspects of the affirmative treatment model is actually quite weak. Several European nations, including France, Sweden, and Finland, have drastically limited treatment with puberty blockers, and the largest transgender clinic in Great Britain has been closed due to controversy about unprofessional standards.

8) I actually found this NYT feature on mass shooters infuriating, “We Profiled the ‘Signs of Crisis’ in 50 Years of Mass Shootings. This Is What We Found.”  They are deeply disturbed people suffering despair.

This is no coincidence. The killings are not just random acts of violence but rather a symptom of a deeper societal problem: the continued rise of “deaths of despair.”…

We think the concept of “deaths of despair” also helps explain the accelerating frequency of mass shootings in this country.

Every damn country has people like this, though.  Only in America do they have such ready access to guns.  It’s the guns, guns, guns!

9) I’m cranky about a lot this week. Like this guest essay on childhood obesity:

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its first comprehensive guidelines for evaluating and treating children and adolescents with obesity. The paper, co-written by 21 prominent doctors, health researchers and obesity experts, advises health care providers that they may refer children as young as 2 years old to “intensive health behavior and lifestyle treatment” programs if they have a body mass index in the overweight or obese range. For children ages 12 and up with an obese B.M.I., doctors are encouraged to prescribe weight-loss medications and to offer those over age 13 with severe obesity a referral to a bariatric surgery center.

The paper’s authors see this new guidance as a brave leap forward in the fight against childhood obesity, which they frame as a “complex and often persistent disease” requiring early and aggressive treatment.

But the guidelines are rooted in a premise that should have been rejected long ago: that weight loss is the best path to health and happiness.

The academy’s guidelines are the latest sally in the war on obesity that health care providers, public health officials and the general public have waged to shrink our bodies for over 40 years. The approach hasn’t worked; Americansincluding kids, are not getting thinner.

Instead, we face an epidemic of anti-fat bias, which results in the stigmatization of fat people in schools, workplaces, doctor’s offices and other public spaces. In a study of almost 14,000 people enrolled in behavioral weight management programs across six countries, researchers found that over half of the participants had experienced weight stigma, with more than two-thirds of those encountering it doing so from doctors…

The guidelines acknowledge that experiences of “weight stigma, victimization, teasing and bullying” are major challenges faced by kids in larger bodies that contribute to disordered eating and worse mental health outcomes. Some health care providers, they note, are biased against fat patients in ways that compromise the quality of care and contribute to more severe illness and even death.

Yes, be nice to overweight people!  But, that doesn’t mean childhood obesity isn’t a serious health issue that we should not take diet and behavioral steps to try and reduce!

10) Loved this in Yglesias‘ mailbag about Reuben Gallego taking on Sinema in Arizona:

Gallego is a great type of candidate for Democrats to run in general — very solid working-class background, military veteran, knows how to talk to normal people — and I think specifically in Arizona is well-positioned to hold on to Democrats’ new voters while halting or partially reversing some Republican gains with Latinos. You can’t tell all that much from his electoral track record because he’s been running in very safe blue House seats, but he did run two to three points ahead of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020 respectively, which is what you want to see. Some House members use safe seats like that to be bomb throwers and cast prudence to the wind. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do (members of the Squad run on average 6+ points worse than a generic Democrat, but none of them are at risk of losing their seats), but Gallego doesn’t do that. He’s personable, he champions mainstream Democratic positions on economic issues, and he tries to represent his constituents. He’s also got good judgment, and his team features Rebecca Katz, late of the John Fetterman campaign, and Chuck Rocha, who was Bernie’s Hispanic outreach strategist in the 2020 cycle.

People get touchy about how exactly you characterize the Fetterman campaign, but I’d say it was a good example of how to run a race that progressive factionalists are happy with while avoiding progressive pitfalls and embracing banal popular messages.

But there are sort of three interrelated challenges facing Gallego:

  1. He needs to establish himself as quickly as possible as the immovable force in the race — the Democratic Party nominee who is either going to win the race and finish in first place, or else a Republican will win and Gallego will be in second. Sinema is a spoiler, don’t waste your vote on Sinema.

  2. He needs to define the campaign as having some texture to it other than “he’s more left-wing than Sinema.” I think that probably means trying to find at least one topic to be in some sense to her right on, even as he can clearly position himself as a champion of mainstream Democratic positions on taxing private equity managers and prescription drug pricing against her plutocrat politics. He’s got the progressive base locked down, but he needs to be more than a factional candidate.

  3. He needs to manage his elite politics — his relationship with Katie Hobbs and Mark Kelly and Chuck Schumer and the White House and the national press — to clarify that he, Gallego, the guy with the D next to his name, is standing up for mainstream Democratic Party positions, not for left-factionalist positions. The stuff Sinema killed from the reconciliation package was Biden/Wyden ideas on taxation and prescription drugs that Joe Manchin supports.

The upshot of all this is that as unrealistic as it sounds, I think a dream goal for a Gallego campaign would be to do something collaborative with Manchin on taxes, pharma pricing, and deficit reduction where they talk about how working-class people have a lot in common whether they’re rural whites in West Virginia or Latinos in southern Phoenix, and the Democrats need to be something more than a party for educated snobs.

We’ll see what happens. But I thought the launch ad was pretty great. My only criticism is that I think they are going to want to drop the framing that he is “challenging Kyrsten Sinema” for the seat. She has vacated the Democratic Party nomination and he is running to (a) get the Democratic Party nomination and (b) defeat the GOP nominee. Sinema is unpopular, electorally doomed, and should just bow out from running and go be a part-time lobbyist, part-time triathlete. If she wants to insist on running an obviously doomed spoiler campaign, that’s on her, but Gallego wants to rally the Kelly/Biden/Hobbs coalition of Democrats, independents, and McCain Republicans against the MAGA forces who’ve taken over the Arizona GOP.

11) I love German Lopez’s take on the classified documents– especially since it’s basically what I told my class earlier this week.  A cost/benefit lens and bureaucratic risk aversion explain so much:

Why does this keep happening? One possible reason, experts say, is that too many documents are classified in the first place. The federal government classifies more than 50 million documents a year. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of all of them. Some get lost and found years later — and many more are likely still out there…

Playing it safe

The government classifies all kinds of information, including informants’ identities, war plans and diplomatic cables. There are three broad categories of classification: confidential, secret and top secret. Technically, the president decides what is classified. But the job is delegated to cabinet and agency heads, who further delegate, through agency guidelines, to lower-ranked officials.

That system effectively encourages federal officials to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach to classification. The classification of a document reduces the risk that important secret information leaks and leads to trouble, particularly when it concerns national security. But if a document is not classified and is obtained by America’s enemies or competitors, the people who originally handled that information could lose their jobs, or worse.

In many agencies, officials “face no downsides for over-classifying something,” said Oona Hathaway, a professor at Yale Law School and former special counsel at the Pentagon. “But if you under-classify something, really dire consequences could come for you.”

So officials tend to play it safe. Of the more than 50 million documents classified every year, just 5 to 10 percent warrant the classification, Hathaway estimated, based on her experience at the Pentagon.

One example of the extremes of classification: In a cable leaked by Chelsea Manning, an official marked details of wedding rituals in the Russian region of Dagestan as “confidential” — as if most such details were not already well known in a region of more than three million people.

Presidents have criticized the classification system, too. “There’s classified, and then there’s classified,” Barack Obama said in 2016. “There’s stuff that is really top-secret top-secret, and there’s stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get in open-source.”

In 2010, Obama signed the Reducing Over-Classification Act. It didn’t solve the problem, experts said.

The downsides

So what’s the harm? Experts say there are several potential dangers to over-classification.

For one, it keeps potentially relevant information from the public, making it harder for voters and journalists to hold their leaders accountable. One example: Starting in the 2000s, the U.S. ran a highly classified drone program to identify, locate and hunt down suspected terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. The program’s existence was well known, and the destruction it caused was widely reported. Yet elected officials, including members of Congress briefed on the program, could answer few questions from constituents or reporters about it because the details were classified.

Over-classification can also make it difficult for agencies to share information with others, whether they are other U.S. agencies or foreign partners. “There are national security concerns — in terms of information not getting shared that should be,” said Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.

And, of course, the recent discoveries show how hard it can be to track all of these classified documents. “We’ve just overloaded the system,” Goitein said. “And that makes slippage inevitable.”

12) You know where I stand on Alec Baldwin’s guilt, but here’s the other side, “Why Alec Baldwin Could Be Found Guilty.”  Not to be belabor, but I just feel like a gun on a movie set is in important ways, fundamentally different from a gun in the rest of the world in ways that affect what would be considered “negligence.”

13) Sorry, but this is wokeness amok, “Stanford student may need to ‘take accountability,’ ‘acknowledge harm’ for reading Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’”

14) Good public post from Yglesias on the debt ceiling, “Republicans can’t even explain what they’re trying to do with the debt ceiling”

15) I ultimately found this New Yorker article not all that enlightening, “Republicans’ sustained and successful courting of Latino voters in South Florida could be a road map for the G.O.P. in 2024.”  And it raises the question of why it is so easy to convince South American immigrants that Democrats are basically socialists/communists when this is not remotely true. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Cathy Young, “Ron DeSantis, Chris Rufo, and the College Anti-Woke Makeover”

DeSantis’s move has been met with alarm by progressive media and by many New College students who see the school as a haven for social justice-friendly values. But harsh rebukes have also come from some people who are themselves strongly critical of the progressive academy and its illiberal bent—such as New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait, who has been writing about “social justice” zealotry and its baneful effects on public discourse for the past eight years (and has taken his share of lumps for it). Indeed, in his column slamming DeSantis’s power grab, Chait wrote:

It is important to understand that there is a critique of the academic left rooted in free-speech norms that posits that many schools have had an atmosphere of ideological pressure that discourages or punishes professors who violate left-wing taboos. This is not the belief system animating DeSantis’s academic mission. He is not seeking to protect or restore free speech, but to impose controls of his own liking.

The DeSantis brand of “anti-wokeism” is classic right-wing illiberalism. (Chait rightly compares it to the conservative institutional takeover in Hungary under the stewardship of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who proudly embraces the “illiberal” label—and who was cited as a model by a DeSantis spokesperson at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami last September.) But that brand is also bad news for those of us who oppose left-wing illiberalism from a liberal, libertarian, or classical conservative perspective favoring the values of free expression, individual rights, and intellectual openness.

2) Advice I will never take (I don’t think they are talking about 10am). “How to Become a Morning Exercise Person”

3) I think Voter ID laws motivated by making it disproportionately harder for minorities to vote are bad on their face.  I think lying to the public about the amount of voter fraud to push these laws is wrong.  That said, they really just don’t have much impact on turnout.  Nate Cohn:

Effects of voter suppression

Many readers asked about another topic I didn’t mention in my post-election analyses: voter suppression.

Did voter suppression or even the threat thereof affect Black and Hispanic turnout? Thank you for your interesting newsletters! — Claire Hess

It’s worth noting that this is a reply to a newsletter entry from early December, when I noted that Black turnout appeared to drop markedly across the country. Indeed, Black turnout really did seem to decline everywhere, regardless of whether states imposed new voter suppression laws or even expanded voter access.

To take the three states where we have the best data — North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia — Black turnout dropped off the most in North Carolina and Louisiana, where Democratic governors blocked efforts to restrict access. And turnout stayed strongest in Georgia, the epicenter of the fight over voting rights.

This pattern doesn’t prove that new voter laws had zero effect in Georgia or elsewhere — and this analysis is separate from the ethics of the intent of the laws — but the broad decline in Black turnout across the country suggests that other factors were mainly responsible. It also implies that the effect of the new laws was small enough that it’s hard to tease out from the other factors that affect turnout from state to state.

As I wrote two years ago about the new Georgia law, “In the final account, it will probably be hard to say whether it had any effect on turnout at all.” This is by no means the final account, but that remains my best guess.

4) Jamelle Bouie on he debt ceiling– he’s right:

One proposed solution to all this is to use accounting tricks and other games to get around the debt limit and render it immaterial. But I think the better option is to take the offensive and confront the issue head-on. Biden should make the case that the debt limit, because of the threat it poses to the validity of the nation’s debt, is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

By this reasoning, Congress has no right to prevent the White House from faithfully executing the law and borrowing money in accordance with its own instructions. If and when the Treasury exhausts its extraordinary measures, it should simply keep issuing debt, in order for the federal government to do what it is obligated to do under the Constitution.

This is not the best of a set of bad options; I’d say it is the best option, period. President Biden, like all other constitutional officers, is duty bound to interpret and faithfully adhere to the Constitution. And here, on the question of whether he is permitted to place “substantial doubt” on the status of the national debt, much less to let the nation go into default, the Constitution is clear — or at least clear enough for the president to take a stand.

5) From a classified documents expert, “Yes, Trump and Biden Both Broke the Rules. Here’s Why It’s Not the Same.”

But a closer, fuller examination of both the presidency and historical prosecutions for mishandling classified records actually makes the opposite case: Mr. Biden’s mishandling of a limited number of classified files, which upon discovery were promptly turned over to the National Archives and proper authorities, should make the reasoning, and necessity, of prosecuting Mr. Trump all the more clear.

Mr. Biden’s handling of the issue — especially given the more detailed timeline recently released by his team — shows how an official who finds misfiled or improperly stored classified files should react. Mr. Biden’s behavior stands in sharp contrast to that of Mr. Trump, who spent months fighting with the National Archives over the files and repeatedly assured the Justice Department that he had turned over all files, even when he was still — apparently knowingly — holding onto scores of classified files. He failed to comply with a legal subpoena, and only then did the F.B.I. move to search his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Mr. Biden’s scandal so far feels more like an administrative error; there’s no evidence he even knew the documents were misplaced or in his possession, and when discovered they were promptly and properly returned to authorities. The government didn’t know they were missing (which itself is a bit of a mystery, since classified documents are usually tightly controlled, which is how the National Archives knew Mr. Trump had missing documents in the first place), and Mr. Biden didn’t try to hold onto them in the face of a legal process ordering otherwise…

In a tweet, the former Missouri Senate candidate Jason Kander compared Mr. Biden to a shopper who “realized he mistakenly failed to pay for an item in his cart” when he left a store and an alarm went off. Mr. Biden, the analogy goes, went back in and returned the items. By contrast, Mr. Trump apparently stuffed items in his pockets, and when the store alarm sounded “he ran to his car and peeled out.”

You could add to the Trump part of the analogy that he led the police on a low-speed pursuit, and then insisted the stolen items were his all along.

6) Great stuff from Brian Beutler on the debt ceiling:

This gets at my Grand Unified Theory of the politics of Republican debt-limit sabotage. Having learned the hard way in 2011 that the worst approach is to negotiate terms of surrender, Democrats reasoned that the optimal approach is to beat Republicans at their own game. To bait them into offering up a list of politically toxic demands, then using it to turn the public against them. That approach is obviously better than simply caving, but it still sets the political system on a path to vitriol and chaos and economic harm as the drop-dead date to raise the debt limit approaches, and leaves us dangerously vulnerable to a Republican-imposed default. Even if they cave before doing the greatest possible damage, there’ll be more economic misery than there needs to be, and everyone will be less popular than they otherwise would’ve been, including Joe Biden. Liberal commentators often marvel that Republican leaders seem totally indifferent to the concerns of their frontline members when they deploy these kamikaze tactics. But it isn’t irrational at all—just sociopathic. They operate on the theory that hurting the incumbent president by creating national distress helps their frontline members more than any specific antics harm them. And the record, from 2009-2022 suggests it’s at least a wash.

The truly optimal approach, then, is to beat Republicans in the battle of aggression. After Donald Trump became president, and needed Democratic help to raise the debt limit, I argued Democrats should condition their votes on permanently neutralizing the debt limit itself. No more jerking us around when we control the presidency. When Trump wrecked the economy in 2020, and needed Democratic help to pass various rescue bills, I argued Democrats should condition their votes on, among other things, permanently neutralizing the debt limit. When Democrats were rounding out their legislative agenda in 2022, and then lost the House in November, I argued that they should permanently neutralize the debt limit on a partisan basis. Each time, Democrats balked. They also bypassed their best political option. They left the country vulnerable to today’s predictable Republican depredations, because they viewed using power in this way as a liability. Something that would expose them to political attacks and campaign ads they didn’t want to face, rather than an opportunity to defeat a gang of bullies before god and everyone, and brag about having stood between the sinister and the meek…

The good news is that Democratic leaders (if not all the rank and file members of the party) have the correct bottom-line. No negotiations. That’s the one strategic element they can not sacrifice. Isolate Republicans, let them do most of the work of making it clear to everyone they they’re courting default because their demands are not being met. I like what Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the Daily Beast“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing. You don’t get a cookie. You don’t get to be treated like you’re the second coming of LBJ. You’re just a person doing the bare minimum of not intentionally screwing over your constituents for insane reasons.”…

Beyond that, I’d add two important ingredients. First, since the Biden administration has disclaimed unilateral measures, Democrats may as well accept (both publicly and in their private contemplations) that Republicans really might do something evil and irreversible out of spite, and no one can really force them to be better people. It’s in their hands alone now and the best hope for the country is that their consciences and political survival instincts kick in before it’s too late. 

Second, since Republicans are threatening to do something evil out of spite, the best way to make that clear to a bewildered public is with real, justified outrage and contempt. I don’t know whether Democrats are outraged or not, but if they are, it isn’t coming through, and I think that’s because being indignant isn’t totally compatible with trying to lure Republicans into a trap…

7) Persuasion, “The Green Technology That Dare Not Speak Its Name”  You know what it is, of course. Nuclear.

It’s the biggest, strangest, most unnecessary environmental disaster of the 21st century: a source of hundreds of millions of tons of new carbon emissions that aren’t just needless but purely senseless, at a time when we’re meant to be going all out to combat climate change.

I’m not talking about fossil fuel subsidies or plutocrats’ private plane fleets, or any other of the climate bugbears you already know about and hate. No, I’m talking about an environmental disaster perpetrated largely by environmentalists in the name of the environment.

Yes, I’m talking about the mass, premature shutdown of nuclear power plants.

As scientists and policy analysts know perfectly well, nuclear power—and I’m talking about old-style nuclear fission power—is in some ways the perfect solution to the climate crisis: extremely safe and reliable, it’s the only way humanity knows to produce large quantities of energy without heating up the atmosphere. Nuclear power plants tick over reliably in fair weather and foul, at night time as well as day, providing a stable base for any electric grid.

And we’re turning them off. In great numbers. All around the developed world. For no good reason. 

8) This was good, “Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach”

Across the country, university professors like Mr. Aumann, department chairs and administrators are starting to overhaul classrooms in response to ChatGPT, prompting a potentially huge shift in teaching and learning. Some professors are redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones…

The moves are part of a real-time grappling with a new technological wave known as generative artificial intelligence. ChatGPT, which was released in November by the artificial intelligence lab OpenAI, is at the forefront of the shift. The chatbot generates eerily articulate and nuanced text in response to short prompts, with people using it to write love letters, poetry, fan fiction — and their schoolwork.

That has upended some middle and high schools, with teachers and administrators trying to discern whether students are using the chatbot to do their schoolwork. Some public school systems, including in New York City and Seattle, have since banned the tool on school Wi-Fi networks and devices to prevent cheating, though students can easily find workarounds to access ChatGPT.

In higher education, colleges and universities have been reluctant to ban the A.I. tool because administrators doubt the move would be effective and they don’t want to infringe on academic freedom. That means the way people teach is changing instead.

For now, I’ve only added the following line to my syllabi, “Academic Integrity also includes not representing work from AI as your own.”  You can follow the links to them and judge for yourself whether my assignments are sufficiently GPT-resistant.

9) You probably already know the social science answer as to the key to a good life… good relationships.  So, how to have them?  Good stuff in the Atlantic.

Thinking about these numbers can help us put our own relationships in perspective. Try figuring out how much time you spend with a good friend or family member. We don’t have to spend every hour with our friends, and some relationships work because they’re exercised sparingly. But nearly all of us have people in our lives whom we’d like to see more. Are you spending time with the people you most care about? Is there a relationship in your life that would benefit both of you if you could spend more time together? Many of these are untapped resources, waiting for us to put them to use. And, enriching these relationships can in turn nourish our minds and bodies…

In this sense, having healthy, fulfilling relationships is its own kind of fitness—social fitness—and like physical fitness, it takes work to maintain. Unlike stepping on the scale, taking a quick look in the mirror, or getting readouts for blood pressure and cholesterol, assessing our social fitness requires a bit more sustained self-reflection. It requires stepping back from the crush of modern life, taking stock of our relationships, and being honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive. Finding the time for this type of reflection can be hard, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But it can yield enormous benefits.

10) I think it’s ridiculous that Alex Baldwin is being charged with Involuntary Manslaughter.  Yes, you should check a gun before you fire it, but an actor on a movie set has no reason whatsoever to think the gun they are firing would ever be loaded with real bullets!  That has to matter.  All the comments I’ve been seeing on standard gun safety apply to situations where you have reason to believe there might possibly be actual bullets in it.  Why would there be on a movie set?

11) Interesting discussion on obesity and the amazing new generation of weight-loss drugs.  I really do think obesity is essentially a disease for many people.  But, for many others it really can be controlled by better diet and exercise and thus it should not always be considered a disease.  But, yeah, it does affect your brain, hormones, and metabolism in dysfunctional ways for many.  Honestly, it really does seem like the key is to never become obese in the first place, if at all possible. 

So I’m going to say it’s a disease of the brain. And the reason why I’m going to say it’s a disease of the brain is because the brain regulates how the body stores fat. The brain is the central operating system.

If the brain’s not there, the rest of the body doesn’t work. So let’s explain what happens. There are two primary pathways by which the brain will regulate weight. There is the pathway that tells us to eat less and store less, what we call the POMC or proopiomelanocortin pathway, or AGRP pathway, which is the agouti-related peptide pathway, which tells us to eat more and store more.

And we don’t choose. And this is where the willpower issue goes away. My organs, my genetics, my environment, all of these things can play a role in whether I signal down the more desirable pathway or less desirable pathway. And so this comes the complexity of this disease that is obesity. Why do certain people signal one way and other people signal another way?

Lulu Garcia-Navarro

Well, help me understand this. Our genetics haven’t completely changed in the past 40 years. Yet, we’ve seen this huge increase in the number of people living with obesity. So what’s changed? I mean, are there environmental factors at play?

Fatima Cody Stanford

Absolutely. So we’ve placed our bodies inside of what we call this obesogenic environment. And this gets into those environmental factors and how they play a role.

How has diet quality changed? How has our sleep quality changed? Our screen time, how does that disrupt or affect our circadian rhythm? We’re supposed to rise when it’s bright outside and go to sleep when it’s dark outside.

But I can tell you that most of us don’t follow that as our inherent rhythm. So when we deviate from all of these things, put ourselves in this world that our bodies weren’t really created to be in, it’s going to lead to a greater storage of adipose or fat. It’s stress on the body. And when we have stress, stress increases storage of an organ that has typically helped us out. And that organ is adipose or fat.

12) Love this from Derek Thompson, “Stop Trying to Ask ‘Smart Questions’”

But for most of my professional life, I labored under a powerful delusion. I thought that asking Smart Questions was of the utmost importance.

A Smart Question is a query designed to advertise the wisdom of the asker. The point may be to establish that the interviewer and interviewee are on equal intellectual footing. Sometimes, the question is designed to get the source to begin the answer with a brief compliment: “That’s a smart question!” or, on a good day, “That’s a really smart question!”

I used to think these kudos were a sign that my investigation was on the right track. I didn’t want to embarrass myself on the phone with a government official or an academic. And a part of me just wanted the conversations to go as pleasantly as possible.

But after many years of subscribing to the theory of Smart Questions, I’ve decided that I’ve been mostly wrong. Smart Questions are, typically, kind of dumb. And, just as typical, questions that might initially seem dumb or underinformed, or downright unintelligent, are the smartest way to learn stuff if you’re a journalist, an academic, or anybody else…

Readers seemed to like the Big Dumb Question stories because the articles used the day’s news to investigate a deeper truth about the world. Personally, I liked them because they changed the way I thought about asking questions. Reporting out these BDQs required my writers and me to ask a lot of, well, BDQs. Really revelatory and surprising answers can come from extremely basic questions such as:

  • “Can you just explain this to me like I barely know anything about this subject?”
  • “What, if anything, is actually interesting or new about this story?”
  • “Let’s say everything you say is going to happen really does happen. Then what happens?”

And perhaps most important of all:

  • “Is there some angle here that I’m not even seeing?”

None of these questions assume any knowledge. None of them reveal much intelligence. It’s their openness that I’ve found to be useful. 

13) Jeremy Faust, “”Future Covid-19 booster vaccinations should be 100% Omicron.”

14) A few days ago I had the random thought, “why haven’t we cured any genetic diseases with CRISPR yet?”  Next day, I see we actually do have a Crispr-based cure for Sickle Cell Disease.  But, it’s complicated. 

This year, Dr. Jackson and other people with sickle cell may have the option of finally living without the damage the disease causes. Two drug companies are seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for gene therapies that may provide what amounts to a cure. But the decision to take the medication — should it become available — it turns out, is not so simple.

After a life adapted to their illness, some like Dr. Jackson are unsure of how to begin again as healthy people. Do they go back to school after dropping out because of their illness? Do they start looking for jobs after thinking that, with frequent hospitalizations because of sickle cell, they were unemployable? What if this new life is not so easy to enter?

Others fear that the logistical complexities of gene therapies may imperil their ability to access them.

These and other dilemmas illustrate an often hidden aspect of medical advances — a long awaited cure can be accompanied by trepidation.

15) Good stuff in the Atlantic.  Since it actually written by trans people, all the trans-radicals cannot just dismiss this out of hand, “Take Detransitioners Seriously: Some people reverse their gender transition. Understanding their experience is crucial.”

Both of us are trans academics. One of us studies the history of trans activism; the other recently studied detransitioners’ experiences in depth. We strongly oppose efforts, in state legislatures and elsewhere, to target trans children and their families and pass laws restricting treatment options for gender dysphoria, a condition that the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual defines as impairment or distress over an incongruence between a person’s gender identity and their gender assigned at birth. But trans-rights advocates and mainstream-media outlets should stop downplaying the reality of detransition, lest readers and viewers conclude that it’s a negligible issue. It’s not…

To many in the trans and nonbinary community, detransition stories—especially those that involve regret—seem to jeopardize half a century of hard-won gains for civil rights and access to health services. Detransition has become a political cudgel to challenge any and all gender care for young people. This may be one reason right-wing outlets have prominently featured Beck, who has urged trans youth to “slow down” in order to avoid his own fate. Never mind that Beck explicitly states that he is not against trans people or gender-related medical care.

Unfortunately, some people who discuss their detransition on social media are met with suspicion, blame, mockery, harassment, or even threats from within the LGBTQ communities in which they previously found refuge. Some trans-rights advocates have likened detransitioners to the ex-gay movement or described them as anti-trans grifters. In fact, many detransitioners continue to live gender-nonconforming and queer lives. No one benefits from the anger and suspicion that gender-care issues currently inspire. Detransitioners who face social rejection, coupled with shame and isolation, may come to view anti-trans activists as their only allies—even when those activists portray them negatively, as damaged goods rather than as human beings who have survived medical trauma. Meanwhile, clinicians who receive threats of violence for assisting trans youth are vulnerable to developing myopic positions and overly optimistic clinical practices that ignore detransitioners’ accounts…

The LGBTQ community today must still contend with attacks on gender and sexual diversity—but is also at a moment of unprecedented cultural, institutional, and political strength. Those of us who believe in LGBTQ-inclusive health care and bodily autonomy must recognize that some of our hard-earned wins may have introduced new uncertainties. Upholding the dignity and diversity of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming populations should not be at odds with a data-informed medical approach that seeks to maximize positive outcomes for all. Gender-affirming care must be available to those who need it. But our community must also advocate for the research to help transitioning patients thrive in the long run—regardless of their individual outcome.

16) For example, Jesse Singal is reviled and constantly defamed by trans activists for regularly writing about detransitioners and the complexities of the issue overall.  Not surprisingly, a bunch of the woke went crazy over this piece in the NYT, but, he’s got the research to back him up, “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?”

D.E.I. trainings are designed to help organizations become more welcoming to members of traditionally marginalized groups. Advocates make bold promises: Diversity workshops can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on. The only problem? There’s little evidence that many of these initiatives work. And the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue — mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems — may well have a net-negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about.

Over the years, social scientists who have conducted careful reviews of the evidence base for diversity trainings have frequently come to discouraging conclusions. Though diversity trainings have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects. The lack of evidence is “disappointing,” wrote Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton and her co-authors in a 2021 Annual Review of Psychology article, “considering the frequency with which calls for diversity training emerge in the wake of widely publicized instances of discriminatory conduct.”

Dr. Paluck’s team found just two large experimental studies in the previous decade that attempted to evaluate the effects of diversity trainings and met basic quality benchmarks. Other researchers have been similarly unimpressed. “We have been speaking to employers about this research for more than a decade,” wrote the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in 2018, “with the message that diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program around.” (To be fair, not all of these critiques apply as sharply to voluntary diversity trainings.)

17) This was disturbing reading.  Lot of dog murder going on in Italy! “Hunting for Truffles Is a Perilous Pursuit, Especially for the Dogs Who Dig: Truffles are big business, and some are trying to take out the competition by poisoning the dogs that accompany those known as “truffle hunters.””

18) Fascinating thread from a gender scholar on sex differences in how we use humor:

19) HEPA filters are great to reduce our exposure to airborne viruses. They can also be a real problem in classroom environments because they are loud.  Here’s the solution:

20) Somehow I had never watched the movie “The Sting” and I saw a little twitter conversation about it this week and decided that it’s time.  It’s on Netflix and if you like Redford, Newman, and a good caper movie, it’s a must watch.  

(New Year’s) Quick hits

1) Nice little post from Eric Barker, “These 5 Things Will Make You Smarter”

Here’s how to get smarter:

  • Get Your Sleep: As a hard-working blogger and author, I assure you that the fact I sometimes get only 5-6 hours of sleep a night is the fine good for think when importantly function productive.
  • Get Your Exercise: What helps your body helps your brain. (If you’re the one person reading this who has friends insisting “You really need to exercise less to improve your health!” then feel free to ignore this.)
  • Stay Calm: We’re grown-ups – but often only theoretically. Impulsivity is considered a negative in research studies and on witness stands. Increase calm to increase smart judgment.
  • Focus: Things are rarely so bad that distractions can’t make them worse. You do not need the latest cultural software update from social media. I know singletasking sounds like something only elderly people do, like pinochle or saving money, but give it a try.
  • Get Help: Pre-masticated knowledge is often the best kind. That’s why you’re reading this. Ask for advice. Become the chimeric blend of the smartest people around you.

Do we become less intelligent as we age? The scientific answer is: yes and no.

The research shows there are two kinds of intelligence: fluid and crystallized. Fluid intelligence is raw processing power. Figuring things out with no knowledge. Crystallized intelligence is closer to expertise, based more on prior learning and information.

Fluid intelligence declines rapidly as we get older. In fact, it begins dropping at around age 25. Yeesh. But crystallized intelligence doesn’t even peak until age 60. It’s well known that top mathematicians and physicists do their best work in the first half of life. Meanwhile, great authors usually create their masterworks in the second half. (Fingers crossed.)

So as you age, focus on building skills and knowledge. Your processor may not be as fast but you can make up for it with a bigger hard drive. Become an expert at something deep and rich that you’re passionate about — and keep learning. You may not be as sharp as the young whippersnappers but if you focus on gaining more information about your field they won’t be able to keep up with you.

IQ isn’t everything. It’s just a measure of potential. It’s what you do with what you have that really matters.

2) This sucks, “Growing vaccine hesitancy fuels measles, chickenpox resurgence in U.S.”

A rapidly growing measles outbreak in Columbus, Ohio — largely involving unvaccinated children — is fueling concerns among health officials that more parent resistance to routine childhood immunizations will intensify a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Most of the 82 children infected so far are old enough to get the shots, but their parents chose not to do so, officials said, resulting in the country’s largest outbreak of the highly infectious pathogen this year.
“That is what is causing this outbreak to spread like wildfire,” said Mysheika Roberts, director of the Columbus health department.

The Ohio outbreak, which began in November, comes at a time of heightened worry about the public health consequences of anti-vaccine sentiment, a long-standing problem that has led to drops in child immunization rates in pockets across the United States. The pandemic has magnified those concerns because of controversies and politicization around coronavirus vaccines and school vaccine mandates.

More than a third of parents with children under 18 — and 28 percent of all adults — now say parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) to attend public schools, even if remaining unvaccinated may create health risks for others, according to new polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care research nonprofit.

Public sentiments against vaccine mandates have grown significantly since the pandemic, said Jen Kates, a Kaiser senior vice president. A 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center found that less than a quarter of parents — and 16 percent of all adults — opposed school vaccination requirements.

The growing opposition stems largely from shifts among people who identify as or lean Republican, the Kaiser survey found, with 44 percent saying parents should be able to opt out of those childhood vaccines — more than double the 20 percent who felt that way in 2019.

3) New Yorker article on activists behind the “The People’s CDC” who want the maximally strong public health approach and are willing to be misleading/dishonest to get it:

In the organization’s written materials, a few specific grievances come up again and again, with varying degrees of scientific support to back them up. First, they hate the new map that the C.D.C. débuted in February, which reflects covid “community levels” around the country, instead of raw case counts. The map tries to account for how hard the virus is hitting health-care systems in a given area, factoring in things like hospitalization rates and the availability of hospital beds. On the community-levels map, covid looks as if it’s largely under control, with much of the country shaded green to indicate a “low” level of spread. “The C.D.C.’s pastel-green map creates the false impression that the pandemic is over,” Thill said, in an Instagram Reel posted in June. The map that the People’s C.D.C. circulates, which is based on individual transmission rates, is bright red. “At the People’s C.D.C., we want you to know that the community-levels map masks the state of the pandemic,” she continues. “It pretends that covid transmission doesn’t matter. It pretends that it’s O.K. for people to continue dying.”

More grievances: the People’s C.D.C. believes that the C.D.C. downplays the risk of long covid, a post-viral syndrome that can follow the initial infection. The People’s C.D.C. matter-of-factly reports that getting covid more than once increases your risk of death and hospitalization, and of developing chronic conditions affecting your lungs, heart, brain, and other organs. No amount of covid is safe, and no number of shots can protect you: “We want to say plainly that you can have a mild infection and still get Long COVID,” the organization wrote, in a Weather Report in June. “Vaccinated people can also get Long COVID.” They frequently cite the figure that one in five cases may lead to long-covid symptoms, based on a C.D.C. study of data gathered, in part, before vaccines were widely available. All of this is an argument against treating covid like any other inevitable seasonal yuck, the People’s C.D.C. argues—instead, we should think about it as a “mass-disabling event.”

And then there are masks. The People’s C.D.C. strongly supports mask mandates, and they have called on federal, state, and local governments to put them back in place, arguing that “the vaccine-only strategy promoted by the CDC is insufficient.” The group has noted that resistance to masks is most common among white people: Lucky Tran, who organizes the coalition’s media team, recently tweeted a YouGov survey supporting this, and wrote that “a lot of anti-mask sentiment is deeply embedded in white supremacy.”

This kind of accusation is common for the People’s C.D.C. Their messaging has the unmistakable inflection of activist-speak, marked by a willingness to make eye-popping claims about the motivations of politicians, corporations, or anyone in power. “To name it clearly, the CDC’s policies are eugenic,” the Weather Report team wrote, in August. “They rely on and promote the indefensible stance that disabled and elderly, poor and working class people are disposable, unworthy of care, and unworthy of participation in society.” Eugenic policies have a long and ugly history, commonly associated with the Nazis, white supremacists, and others who advocate the racial purification of humanity. I asked Thill whether she truly believes that the C.D.C. is eugenicist, along these lines. “Just because a charge is difficult or impactful doesn’t make it a wrong charge,” she said.

4) Drum’s top 10 charts of 2022:

5) NYT with the best advice from their readers.  Some good stuff here:

In your closet and your life, subtract whenever you add. — Mary Shanklin, Winter Garden, Fla.

From the “Ten Percent Happier” podcast: Stop and recognize happy moments when you’re in the middle of them. Literally stop and say out loud, “This is a happy time.” It’s a way to ground yourself in the joyful parts of your life. We do this with moments of trauma and crisis all the time. Maybe we should flip that script. — Mary Guzzetta, Pittsburgh

You don’t have to identify with your feelings. — Rori Quinonez, Toledo, Ohio

The best advice I received this year was to stretch my calves regularly. It cured my mild knee pain. — Nicole Byer, Simsbury, Conn.

Parent the child you have. As a parent of a child with special needs, this is my mantra. But this is also true of any child. Stop trying to make your child quieter, louder, more outgoing, more interested in things their sibling likes and appreciate the unique and individual small person you’ve been given. — Sue Lanigan, East Aurora, N.Y.

Everyone is going through something. — Rose Fischietto, Macedonia, Ohio

Dance often, host parties. This advice occurred to me and my friend after a million hours of discussing our pandemic depressions and dating lives. We made lists of the best bars with non-pretentious dance scenes we wanted to try out and themed parties we wanted to host. — Emily Kennedy, Brooklyn

If there is an issue bothering me, I think to myself, “Will this still be an issue in one week or in one month?” If the answer is no, it’s a small problem so I let the stress go and move on. — LaNae Williams, East Lansing, Mich.

If you didn’t have to keep working, would you? — Tom Myers, Holden Beach, N.C.

After my son and his fiancée were involved in an automobile accident in Spain, a friend told me I would need to learn how to practice “powerless mothering.” Following several spinal cord surgeries and six months of challenging rehabilitation, my son’s sweetheart has slowly regained strength and mobility in her upper body, but she remains paralyzed from the waist down, and my grown son has become a loving caregiver. My friend’s advice has helped me see that I can still be a supportive mother without any power to change their new world. — Candice Dale, South Portland, Maine

The best marriage advice: Binge shows and movies in separate rooms. — Juli Leber, New York City

When the wrench is on the nut, tighten it. In other words, if you’re already touching a piece of mail, deal with it. If you see a thing you’ll need soon, buy it now. If an uncomfortable conversation comes up, have it rather than deflecting it. — Kasia Maroney, Trumansburg, N.Y.

The best way to make a decision: Does it light me up? — Robyn Pichler, Weaverville, N.C.

I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days is 100 percent, and that’s pretty good. — Hudson, San Diego

Put 10 pennies in your left pocket. Find something for which you are grateful. Move one penny to your right pocket. You should find all pennies have moved to the right pocket at the end of the day. Celebrate. — Mike Wilson, Sedona, Ariz.

Stop reaching for people who aren’t reaching back. — Katya Davidson, Portland, Ore.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to do it, or that it’s good for you. — Divya Rao Heffley, Pittsburgh

Be where your feet are. — Submitted by both Pattie Saunders, Portland, Ore., and Kelly Kammerer, New York City

6) A university fired a professor for showing an image of Mohammed, thoughtfully and respectfully, in an art history class! So wrong.  Good take here, “Most of All, I am Offended as a Muslim”

On October 6, during a class on Islamic art that was part of a global survey course in art history, a professor at Hamline University offered students an optional exercise: Analyze and discuss a 14th-century Islamic painting that depicts the Archangel Gabriel delivering to the Prophet Muhammad his first Quranic revelation.

Before showing a slide of the painting, the instructor issued a content warning and spent over two minutes providing context about the controversies surrounding depictions of Muhammad. “I am showing you this image for a reason,” the professor explained.

There is this common thinking that Islam completely forbids, outright, any figurative depictions or any depictions of holy personages. While many Islamic cultures do strongly frown on this practice, I would like to remind you there is no one, monothetic Islamic culture.

A senior in the class, who is also president of the Muslim Student Association at Hamline, later complained that pictorial depictions of Muhammad offended her Muslim sensibilities: “As a Muslim, and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.” In an email aimed at addressing the student’s concerns, the professor reminded her: “I did not try to surprise students with this image, and I did my best to provide students with an out … I am sorry that despite my attempt to prevent a negative reaction, you still viewed and were troubled by this image.”

Explanation notwithstanding, the complaint set in motion the DEI bureaucracy on campus, and on November 7, David Everett, associate vice president for inclusive excellence, called the classroom exercise “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamophobic.” Just days later, on November 11, Everett told the student newspaper in an interview that because of the incident, “it was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community.” By all accounts, the professor was not given any opportunity to explain the rationale behind the class exercise…

This case offends me on many levels:

As a professor, I am appalled by the senior administration’s decision to dismiss the instructor and pander to the students who claim to have been “harmed.” This kind of “inclusive excellence” permits DEI administrators to ride roughshod over faculty knowledge. The administration’s blatant disregard for and active suppression of the very thing an institution of higher learning is valued for — the specialized knowledge of its faculty — makes this “one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory,” in the words of PEN America.

With leadership like Hamline’s, who needs content-banning legislation to limit the scope of inquiry and teaching? It is the ultimate betrayal of the promise of education when institutions of higher learning begin endorsing ignorance. In the end, it is the students who pay the highest price for such limits on academic freedom.

As an historian,I am shocked that Hamline’s administration cannot appreciate that the image is a primary source and that a class on art history, by definition, necessitates engaging with primary sources; this is the heart of the historian’s craft. Barring a professor of art history from showing this painting, lest it harm observant Muslims in class, is just as absurd as asking a biology professor not to teach evolution because it may offend evangelical Protestants in the course.

And it will certainly have a chilling effect.As Audrey Truschke, an associate professor of South Asian studies at Rutgers University at Newark, points out, Hamline’s action “endangers lots of professors who show things in class from premodern Islamic art to Hindu images with swastikas to ‘Piss Christ.’” Humanities professors may quietly drop primary sources and other materials that may offend, and professors in the natural sciences will be forced to think twice before teaching theories that contradict the religious beliefs of their students.

But most of all, I am offended as a Muslim. In choosing to label this image of Muhammad as Islamophobic, in endorsing the view that figurative representations of the Prophet are prohibited in Islam, Hamline has privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view.

7) Good stuff from Jesse Singal, “In 2023, Let’s Rediscover Wrongness: Not every difference of opinion is an urgent threat”

Few articles could better sum up the media and intellectual landscape of 2022 than this one published late last month in The Guardian“Ancient Apocalypse is the most dangerous show on Netflix.” The subheadline: “A show with a truly preposterous theory is one of the streaming giant’s biggest hits – and it seems to exist solely for conspiracy theorists. Why has this been allowed?”

The show is dangerous! How was it allowed?

The article is by Guardian culture writer Stuart Heritage. “Ancient Apocalypse,” he explains, centers on the theory that “an advanced ice-age civilisation – responsible for teaching humanity concepts such as maths, architecture and agriculture – was wiped out in a giant flood brought about by multiple comet strikes about 12,000 years ago.” …

In 2023, I hope we can rediscover wrongness. Mere wrongness. Wrongness untethered from other accusations. Not everything that is wrong is dangerous or evil or bigoted. Sometimes people are just wrong. A big part of human life is arguing over who is wrong and attempting to nudge this whole ungainly human enterprise toward rightness, a few painstaking microns at a time. It’s harder to do that when the pitch of everything is so shrill.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people who believe crazy things don’t hurt anyone. No one is going to bomb an airport over Ancient Apocalypse. Even the truly deranged QAnon conspiracy theory, which does posit an international conspiracy of pedophiles, has produced only a blip’s worth of real-world violence. In the vast majority of cases, wrongness is just wrongness. People can usually believe wrong things without being dangerous, and in fact billions of people do hold religious beliefs that make no logical sense without becoming violent zealots.

Some ideas can be credibly described as dangerous, or as likely to lead to bad outcomes. But it becomes harder to make this argument when everything is called dangerous, from, well, Ancient Aliens to non-condescending journalism about bigoted figures. Harm inflation has really taken hold of a lot of public intellectual life, and it has led to a certain boy-crying-wolf dynamic that makes the world seem fuzzy and exhausting. If everything is dangerous or violent, then nothing is. 

I do think a lot of this has to do with the attention economy. The aforementioned Guardian article probably gained a wider audience from couching Heritage’s concerns about Ancient Apocalypse in the language of danger and threat and deplatforming than it would have if he and his editors had gone in a more sober direction — both from readers who agreed with the silly premise and those who rage-shared it because of the provocative headline and subheadline. 

8) This is actually awesome, “Gene-edited hens may end cull of billions of chicks”

Israeli researchers say they have developed gene-edited hens that lay eggs from which only female chicks hatch.

The breakthrough could prevent the slaughter of billions of male chickens each year, which are culled because they don’t lay eggs.

The female chicks, and the eggs they lay when they mature, have no trace of the original genetic alteration

Animal welfare group, Compassion in World Farming, has backed the research.

 

Dr Yuval Cinnamon from the Volcani institute near Tel Aviv, who is the project’s chief scientist, told BBC News that the development of what he calls the ”Golda hen” will have a huge impact on animal welfare in the poultry industry.

“I am very happy that we have developed a system that I think can truly revolutionise the industry, first of all for the benefit of the chickens but also for all of us, because this is an issue that affects every person on the planet,” he said.

The scientists have gene edited DNA into the Golda hens that can stop the development of any male embryos in eggs that they lay. The DNA is activated when the eggs are exposed to blue light for several hours.

Female chick embryos are unaffected by the blue light and develop normally. The chicks have no additional genetic material inside them nor do the eggs they lay, according to Dr Cinnamon.

9) This is nuts and so wrong!  There needs to be a legal remedy for this, “Madison Square Garden Uses Facial Recognition to Ban Its Owner’s Enemies: MSG Entertainment, the owner of the arena and Radio City Music Hall, has put lawyers who represent people suing it on an “exclusion list” to keep them out of concerts and sporting events.”

10) Farhad Majjoo on ChatGPT:

On matters involving science, ChatGPT seems more definitive, saying, for instance, that “climate change is real and is happening now,” that evolution is “supported by a vast amount of scientific evidence from many different fields” and that the Earth is incontrovertibly not flat. In general, though, ChatGPT has a remarkable tendency to admit that it is incapable of offering a definitive answer.

Why is that remarkable? Two of the well-known problems in A.I. research are about maintaining “alignment” and avoiding “hallucinations.” Alignment involves an A.I.’s ability to carry out the goals of its human creators — in other words, to resist causing harm in the world. Hallucinations are about adhering to the truth; when A.I. systems get confused, they have a bad habit of making things up rather than admitting their difficulties. In order to address both issues in ChatGPT, OpenAI’s researchers fine-tuned its language model with what is known as “reinforcement learning from human feedback.” Basically, the company hired real people to interact with its A.I. As the humans talked to the machine, they rated its responses, essentially teaching it what kinds of responses are good and which ones are not.

Murati told me that combining the language model with human feedback created a much more realistic A.I. conversational partner: “The model can tell you when it’s wrong,” she said. “It can ask you a follow-up question. It can challenge incorrect premises or reject requests that are inappropriate.”

10) I hope Michelle Goldberg is right, “The Left’s Fever Is Breaking”

It’s no secret that many left-wing activist groups and nonprofits, roiled by the reckonings over sexual harassment and racial justice of the past few years, have become internally dysfunctional.

In June the Intercept’s Ryan Grim wrote about the toll that staff revolts and ideologically inflected psychodramas were taking on the work: “It’s hard to find a Washington-based progressive organization that hasn’t been in tumult, or isn’t currently in tumult.” Privately, I’ve heard countless people on the professional left — especially those over, say, 35 — bemoan the irrational demands and manipulative dogmatism of some younger colleagues. But with a few exceptions, like the brave reproductive justice leader Loretta Ross, most don’t want to go on the record. Not surprisingly, many of Grim’s sources in the nonprofit world were anonymous.

That’s why the decision by Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the progressive Working Families Party, to speak out about the left’s self-sabotaging impulse is so significant. Mitchell, who has roots in the Black Lives Matter movement, has a great deal of credibility; he can’t be dismissed as a dinosaur threatened by identity politics. But as the head of an organization with a very practical devotion to building electoral power, he has a sharp critique of the way some on the left deploy identity as a trump card. “Identity and position are misused to create a doom loop that can lead to unnecessary ruptures of our political vehicles and the shuttering of vital movement spaces,” he wrote last month in a 6,000-word examination of the fallacies and rhetorical traps plaguing activist culture.

Addressed to the left, Mitchell’s keen, insightful essay seemed designed to be ignored by the broader public. It had a deeply unsexy headline, “Building Resilient Organizations,” and was published on platforms geared toward professional organizers, including The Forge and Nonprofit Quarterly. Among many progressive leaders, though, it’s been received eagerly and gratefully. It “helped to put language to tensions and trends facing our movement organizations,” Christopher Torres, an executive director of the Leadership for Democracy and Social Justice institute, said at a Tuesday webinar devoted to the article.

Mitchell’s piece systematically lays out some of the assertions and assumptions that have paralyzed progressive outfits. Among them are maximalism, or “considering anything less than the most idealistic position” a betrayal; a refusal to distinguish between discomfort and oppression; and reflexive hostility to hierarchy. He criticizes the insistence “that change on an interpersonal or organizational level must occur before it is sought or practiced on a larger scale,” an approach that keeps activists turned inward, along with the idea that progressive organizations should be places of therapeutic healing.

11) Katherine Wu, “Is COVID a Common Cold Yet?”

Now, nearly three years into the crisis, the virus is more familiar, and its symptoms are too. Put three sick people in the same room this winter—one with COVID, another with a common cold, and the third with the flu—and “it’s way harder to tell the difference,” Chavez told me. Today’s most common COVID symptoms are mundane: sore throat, runny nose, congestion, sneezing, coughing, headache. And several of the wonkier ones that once hogged headlines have become rare. More people are weathering their infections with their taste and smell intact; many can no longer remember when they last considered the scourge of “COVID toes.” Even fever, a former COVID classic, no longer cracks the top-20 list from the ZOE Health Study, a long-standing symptom-tracking project based in the United Kingdom, according to Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London who heads the project. Longer, weirder, more serious illness still manifests, but for most people, SARS-CoV-2’s symptoms are getting “pretty close to other viruses’, and I think that’s reassuring,” Spector told me. “We are moving toward a cold-like illness.”

That trajectory has been forecast by many experts since the pandemic’s early days. Growing immunity against the coronavirus, repeatedly reinforced by vaccines and infections, could eventually tame COVID into a sickness as trifling as the common cold or, at worst, one on par with the seasonal flu. The severity of COVID will continue to be tempered by widespread immunity, or so this thinking goes, like a curve bending toward an asymptote of mildness. A glance at the landscape of American immunity suggests that such a plateau could be near: Hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. have been vaccinated multiple times, some even quite recently with a bivalent shot; many have now logged second, third, and fourth infections with the virus. Maybe, just maybe, we’re nearing the level of cumulative exposure at which COVID gets permanently more chill. Then again? Maybe not—and maybe never.

The recent trajectory of COVID, at least, has been peppered with positive signs. On average, symptoms have migrated higher up the airway, sparing several vulnerable organs below; disease has gotten shorter and milder, and rates of long COVID seem to be falling a bit. Many of these changes roughly coincided with the arrival of Omicron in the fall of 2021, and part of the shift is likely attributable to the virus itself: On the whole, Omicron and its offshoots seem to prefer infecting cells in the nose and throat over those in the lungs. But experts told me the accumulation of immune defenses that preceded and then accompanied that variant’s spread are almost certainly doing more of the work. Vaccination and prior infection can both lay down protections that help corral the virus near the nose and mouth, preventing it from spreading to tissues elsewhere. “Disease is really going to differ based on the compartment that’s primarily infected,” says Stacey Schultz-Cherry, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As SARS-CoV-2 has found a tighter anatomical niche, our bodies have become better at cornering it.

With the virus largely getting relegated to smaller portions of the body, the pathogen is also purged from the airway faster and may be less likely to be passed to someone else. On the individual level, a sickness that might have once unfurled into pneumonia now gets subdued into barely perceptible sniffles and presents less risk to others; on the population scale, rates of infection, hospitalization, and death go down.

12) There were a lot of predictions that Covid would change how we treat all disease.  But, in the end, nope.  I’ve seen plenty of evidence that is someone has “just a cold” and is Covid-negative, we treat it just like we did in 2019.  That said, “No One Wants Your Cold: How to know if you’re too sick to hang”

But of course, people want to hang—want to be with friends and family, especially after two years of holiday disruptions. In some ways, the question people face is the same one they have faced the whole pandemic: How can we spend time together safely? But the question is also different now, with so many more minor viruses circulating—people might be willing to take a chance on a runny nose or a sore throat. So should you stay home? How sick do you need to be to sit out the holidays a third year in a row?

For starters, pretty much everyone agrees that one symptom is an absolute no-go: fever. A temperature equals stay home, for at least 24 hours. (And no cheating with ibuprofen: You should be fever-free without pain meds.) Two other “red flag” symptoms some experts mentioned are vomiting and diarrhea.

Beyond that, it gets a bit trickier. One reason is that some of these viruses can feel the same, which means you might have to treat cold symptoms as if they could be a more severe illness. For example, RSV “feels just like a cold for everybody except those under 2 years old—particularly under six months—and those over 65,” Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, explained to me, speaking in general terms…

I asked Jay Varma, a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College who formerly worked for the CDC, if there are any symptoms a person just doesn’t want to mess with in terms of getting other people sick. He told me that if I had asked him about this pre-pandemic, he would’ve offered that standard guidance about being fever-free for 24 hours and making sure your symptoms are resolving. But mass repeated COVID testing taught us that symptoms and their severity aren’t linked as closely as we thought to whether you can spread the coronavirus. “Even having no symptoms at all, you could be more infectious than somebody with symptoms,” he said. “The challenge is that similar types of large-scale analysis have not previously been done before for RSV or influenza.” …

Without at-home tests or better research for other viruses, people can use the length of the infection to estimate whether they are still spreading the virus, though that gets into a gray area. In general, experts told me that the initial phase—the first week in particular—is the most important for staying home, because that’s when you’re likely the most contagious. Katelyn Jetelina, who writes the newsletter Your Local Epidemiologist, told me that, as a parent, she keeps track of her children’s illnesses, marking day one of symptoms. With the flu and RSV, people can be contagious for as many as seven or eight days.

13) Must-read post-election analysis on the midterms from Nate Cohn. Gift link. “2022 Review: How Republicans Lost Despite Winning the Popular Vote: There were several reasons Republicans struggled to translate votes into seats, including candidate quality and strength in the wrong places.”

But as tempting as it might be to assume that “bad Republican” nominees are mainly to blame, strong Democratic candidates probably made a difference, too.

Nationwide, Democratic incumbents enjoyed a modest incumbency advantage of a few percentage points — enough to stay standing in a red tide, even if they might have been submerged in a red wave. Almost by definition, incumbents are relatively good candidates (the bad candidates are less likely to become incumbents, after all), and they often enjoy additional advantages in fund-raising and name recognition…

All of this adds up to a fairly tidy explanation, but there are a few loose ends that give me pause about whether we’ve given enough credit to the Democrats.

Perhaps the most interesting cases are the House races where no Democrat was running for re-election and Republicans nominated mainstream candidates, like in Colorado’s Eighth and Pennsylvania’s 17th. Democrats often fared quite well in races like these, even though there wasn’t a MAGA Republican or a stalwart Democrat.

What’s the excuse for the Republicans there?

This was part of a broader pattern of Democratic strength in the battleground districts, especially in traditional battleground states. Yes, there were disappointing showings for them on both coasts, but there were very few outright poor showings — ones that look like a Republican +2 environment — in the competitive House districts in the key presidential or Senate battleground states.

Maybe Democratic strength in the battlegrounds can be attributed to good campaigns, with strong advertisements and fund-raising. Or maybe I could tell a story about how demographics, abortion and democracy help explain the pattern. But while threats to democracy and abortion rights were certainly more relevant in many battleground states than in the blue states, it is not a perfect pattern. It doesn’t make sense of Colorado, for instance.

Of course, national patterns will never perfectly explain every race. But there are enough examples like these to raise a basic question about the 2022 election: Should it be understood as an outright good Democratic year that was interrupted by a few isolated Republican waves (Florida, New York, Oregon) and obscured by low nonwhite turnout in solidly Democratic areas? Or was it a good but not great Republican year that the party didn’t translate into seats because of bad candidates and somewhat inefficiently distributed strength?

14) Likewise, for the electorally-inclined, a must-read from Yglesias, ‘The midterms should be a stake through the heart of the mobilization myth”

Democrats won key races by persuading a small but nonzero number of Republicans to vote for them…

This idea of deliberately courting crossover voters is so banal that it hardly seems worth analyzing. But it really did go out of style in the wake of liberals’ shock and horror at the idea that anyone would vote for Donald Trump. Normally, when you lose an election, the first order of business is to figure out how to convince some of the people who voted for the other guy to change their minds next time. But lots of progressives found Trump so appalling that the idea of trying to do outreach to his voters was beyond the pale. Even though Hillary Clinton’s infamous analysis put only half of them in the basket of deplorables, there was very little interest in even trying to reach the other half. But there just isn’t some other way of doing politics…

Once you give up on the magical idea of mobilizing the base instead of finding ways to make swing voters like you, it’s easier to see that there actually isn’t a tradeoff here anyway. In other words, you should absolutely try to maximize the turnout of sporadic voters who are likely to vote for you. But there’s no reason to believe there’s a tension between that goal and trying to appeal to swing voters, because the boring truth is that sporadic voters are less politically engaged and less ideological than non-voters. Successful but boring messages (like Catherine Cortez Masto and John Fetterman talking about how they think it’s good when cops arrested criminals) are a perfectly good mobilization strategy. They let Cortez Masto and Fetterman seem like sane, sensible human beings to the kind of people who are not that interested in politics and only sometimes vote.

Indeed, one of the things that’s so striking about the 2022 crossover vote data is that it’s extremely rare to have a situation like the one we saw in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania where Democrats won swing voters while doing badly on turnout.

In a normal year, you either get great turnout and do well with independents (like in 2018) or you get crappy turnout and tank with independents (2014). But in 2022, Democrats did badly on turnout — admittedly not nearly as bad as in 2014 — while nevertheless winning a bunch of key races thanks to crossover voters.

The key is that while Democrats won the preponderance of the most important races, their overall 2022 performance wasn’t very good. They got about 48 percent of the two-party vote, which should have been consistent with losing the Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania Senate races. And recall our Georgia case: Democrats really did do badly in most Georgia races in November. That’s how we know so precisely that Warnock won thanks to crossover voters. Taken on the whole, Democrats flopped on both turnout and vote choice. Warnock himself just did really well. Here’s a chart David Shor put together showing that Democratic incumbents in tossup races ran much stronger than Democrats in races that tilted clearly D or R. That’s smart politics; it’s good to run your best races in the most important spots instead of coughing up the likes of Herschel Walker and Blake Masters.

15) Good take from Eric Levitz on twitter and free speech. 

The first point of view goes roughly like this: Individuals should have the right to express their views without fear of government coercion. But they also have the right to form media enterprises that host some forms of speech but not others. Twitter therefore should not be obligated to facilitate speech that its owners and managers object to, and any effort to coerce the platform into doing otherwise would itself constitute a violation of freedom of speech. If individuals object to how Twitter goes about moderating discourse, they can simply post their thoughts on another platform.

Others contend that this view willfully ignores the structural power of dominant platforms. Social media has an innate tendency toward centralization because of network effects: The more people join one specific site, the more valuable it is to have a presence there. Given the outsize influence Twitter and Facebook exert over our democratic life, their approach to moderating discourse is a matter of public concern. Giving a tiny number of tech billionaires and their patrons veto power over which ideas can and cannot be expressed on major social-media platforms — and/or the power to decide which ideas are actively promoted or suppressed — undermines the spirit of the First Amendment.

Personally, I think the first perspective is a bit glib. Twitter and Facebook aren’t entirely invulnerable to competition. But they’re plainly insulated from it by the power of network effects and sunk costs. This reality is reflected in the reluctance of liberal journalists to quit Twitter despite its new owner’s open contempt for them and amplification of far-right conspiracy theories. These might be private companies, but they are hard to displace. And their democratically unaccountable leaders have tremendous power to shape public discourse. How they choose to exercise that power is a determinant of precisely how free and open our civic discourse is.

That said, many civil-libertarian critiques of big tech are heavy on hyperbole and light on perspective.

Some form of social-media moderation is both necessary and inevitable. There are genuine tensions between free speech and public safety. The costs of imprisoning people for advocating the genocide of minority groups might outweigh the benefits. But it doesn’t follow that the same is true of merely denying would-be genocidaires a voice on large social-media platforms.

16) Celebrated New Year’s Eve by watching Fall with my kids.  Not a great movie, but a compelling as hell movie.  Long time since I’ve watched a movie which so physically affected me. 

17) Happy New Year!

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

2) Drum on crime and perceptions of crime:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Jamelle Bouie, “The Supreme Court Is Turning Into a Court of First Resort”

There is another possibility. According to Mark A. Lemley, a law professor at Stanford, the Roberts court, with its conservative majority, is an “imperial” Supreme Court, undermining the power and authority of the other branches of government, as well as weakening the power of lower courts to act and make decisions. “The Court,” Lemley writes, “has taken significant, simultaneous steps to restrict the power of Congress, the administrative state, the states, and the lower federal courts.” It gets its way, he continues, “not by giving power to an entity whose political predilections are aligned with the Justice’s own, but by undercutting the ability of any entity to do something the Justices don’t like.”…

The upshot of all of this, Lemley writes, is a court that is “consolidating its power, systematically undercutting any branch of government, federal or state, that might threaten that power, while at the same time undercutting individual rights.”

This, I think, is a useful way of thinking about the current Supreme Court’s aggressive disregard for its own rules and tradition regarding case selection, methodology and precedent. The conservative majority is working to make the court the leading institution in American politics, with total control over the meaning of the Constitution and its application to American life.

Americans can and should challenge this. Here, as I’ve noted before, Abraham Lincoln is invaluable: “If the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court,” he said in his first inaugural address, “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

The first step toward challenging the Supreme Court’s power grab is to recognize the basic fact that, as the law professor Eric Segall has written, the Supreme Court is not actually a court. Yes, the justices of the Supreme Court work in a courtroom, wear robes and decide cases. But the court, he says, “functions much more like a political veto council than a court of law” and the justices “decide cases more like a traditional council of elders than typical judges.”

To see the truth about the Supreme Court is to see that it is not the ultimate arbiter of meaning, holding forth on how we must organize our political lives. It is to see, instead, that it is a political institution, jockeying for power and influence among a set of political institutions. It is to see that the Supreme Court exists to serve American democracy, and when it does not, then it can and must be checked by us, the people.

2) Love this from National Geographic.  Definitely learned some new ones here. “The 22 most amazing discoveries of 2022.”  I liked this one:

A bobcat eating python eggs shows ‘Everglades fighting back’

Burmese pythons have been overrunning the Florida Everglades for decades. These invasive animals are so ecologically destructive in part because they have no native predators—or so scientists thought.

For the first time, biologists have observed a native species, a bobcat, raiding a python nest and eating its eggs. Later, when the bobcat returned to find the snake guarding its nest, the cat took a swipe at the reptile. “When you get interactions like this and see the native wildlife fighting back, it’s like a ray of sunshine for us,” says Ian Bartoszek, an ecologist with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “In 10 years of tracking snakes, I can count on one hand the number of observations” of native animals standing up to the reptiles. The confrontation could represent a step toward restoring ecological balance in the python-troubled Everglades.

3) Apparently “stiff person syndrome” is a thing. And Celine Dion is suffering from it. 

4) Okay, I think I might actually start running up the stairs at work. “2-Minute Bursts of Movement Can Have Big Health Benefits”

Dashing up the stairs to your apartment, weaving between commuters as you dart toward the train — those small snippets of exercise, if they’re intense enough, can add up, according to a new study. The paper is among the first to examine what many exercise scientists have long hypothesized: A little bit of physical activity goes a long way, even movement you might not consider a workout.

The paper, published today in Nature Medicine, shows that tiny spurts of exercise throughout the day are associated with significant reductions in disease risk. Researchers used data from fitness trackers collected by UK Biobank, a large medical database with health information from people across the United Kingdom. They looked at the records of over 25,000 people who did not regularly exercise, with an average age around 60, and followed them over the course of nearly seven years. (People who walked recreationally once a week were included, but that was the maximum amount of concerted exercise these participants did.)

Those who engaged in one or two-minute bursts of exercise roughly three times a day, like speed-walking while commuting to work or rapidly climbing stairs, showed a nearly 50 percent reduction in cardiovascular mortality risk and a roughly 40 percent reduction in the risk of dying from cancer as well as all causes of mortality, compared with those who did no vigorous spurts of fitness…

One 2020 study linked four-minute bursts of exercise with longer life spans; another in 2019 found that climbing stairs for 20 seconds, multiple times a day, improved aerobic fitness. And still others have found that repeating just four-second intervals of intense activity could increase strength or counteract the metabolic toll of sitting for long stretches of time.

“Intensity is very effective at building muscle and stressing the cardiovascular system,” said Ed Coyle, a professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas who has researched intense bursts of exercise. Quick blasts of vigorous exercise, performed repeatedly with short rest periods, can increase oxygen uptake and keep cardiac arteries from clogging, he said, as well as power the heart to pump more blood and function better overall.

The new study, however, shows that the average person doesn’t need to go out of their way to identify those small spikes in activity; everyday movements, intensified, can be enough. And because they collected data from trackers that participants wore on their wrists, rather than questionnaires, which some exercise studies rely on, the researchers were able to analyze the impact of minute movements.

“It really just emphasizes how little vigorous physical activity can be extremely beneficial,” said Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario who was an author on the study.

5) David Wallace-Wells, “Covid-19 Isn’t a Pandemic of the Unvaccinated Anymore”

Americans received their first Covid-19 vaccine doses in December 2020, which means we are now approaching the beginning of the third year of the pandemic’s vaccine phase. And yet hundreds of Americans are still dying each day. Who are they? The data offers a straightforward answer: older adults.

Though it’s sometimes uncomfortable to say it, the risk of mortality from Covid has been dramatically skewed by age throughout the pandemic. The earliest reports of Covid deaths from China sketched a pattern quickly confirmed everywhere in the world: In an immunologically naïve population, the oldest were several thousand times more at risk of dying from infection than the youngest.

But the skew is actually more dramatic now — even amid mass vaccinations and reinfections — than it was at any previous point over the last three years. Since the beginning of the pandemic, people 65 and older accounted for 75 percent of all American Covid deaths. That dropped below 60 percent as recently as September 2021. But today Americans 65 and over account for 90 percent of new Covid deaths, an especially large share given that 94 percent of American seniors are vaccinated…

As many Twitter discussions about the “base rate fallacy” have emphasized, this is not because the vaccines are ineffective — we know, also from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, that they work very well. Estimates of the effectiveness of updated bivalent boosters suggest they reduce the risk of mortality from Covid in Americans over the age of 12 by more than 93 percent compared with the population of unvaccinated. That is a very large factor.

But it isn’t the whole story, or vaccinated older adults wouldn’t now make up a larger share of Covid deaths than the unvaccinated do. That phenomenon arises from several other factors that are often underplayed. First is the simple fact that more Americans are vaccinated than not, and those older Americans most vulnerable to severe disease are far more likely to be vaccinated than others.

It is also partly a reflection of how many fewer Americans, including older ones, have gotten boosters than got the initial vaccines: 34 percent, compared with 69 percent. The number of those who have gotten updated bivalent boosters is lower still — just 12.7 percent of Americans over the age of 5.

Finally, vaccines are not as effective among older adults because the immune system weakens with age. It’s much harder to train older immune systems, and that training diminishes more quickly. In Americans between the ages of 65 and 79, for instance, vaccination reduced mortality risk from Covid more than 87 percent, compared with the unvaccinated. This is a very significant reduction, to be sure, but less than the 15-fold decline observed among those both vaccinated and bivalent-boosted in the overall population. For those 80 and above, the reduction from vaccination alone is less than fourfold.

That is a very good deal, of course. But it also means that, given the underlying age skew, vaccinated people in their late 80s have a similar risk of Covid death as never-vaccinated 70-year-olds. Which is to say, some real risk. If it was ever comfortable to say that the unconscionable levels of American deaths were a pandemic of the unvaccinated, it is surely now accurate to describe the ongoing toll as a pandemic of the old.

6) German Lopez with lots of good stuff on ChatGPT:

Advanced efficiency

The upside of artificial intelligence is that it might be able to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently than any person can. The possibilities are up to the imagination: self-driving and even self-repairing cars, risk-free surgeries, instant personalized therapy bots and more.

The technology is not there yet. But it has advanced in recent years through what is called machine learning, in which bots comb through data to learn how to perform tasks. In ChatGPT’s case, it read a lot. And, with some guidance from its creators, it learned how to write coherently — or, at least, statistically predict what good writing should look like.

There are already clear benefits to this nascent technology. It can help research and write essays and articles. ChatGPT can also help code programs, automating challenges that can normally take hours for people.

Another example comes from a different program, Consensus. This bot combs through up to millions of scientific papers to find the most relevant for a given search and share their major findings. A task that would take a journalist like me days or weeks is done in a couple minutes.

These are early days. ChatGPT still makes mistakes, such as telling one user that the only country whose name starts and ends with the same letter is Chad. But it is very quickly evolving. Even some skeptics believe that general-use A.I. could reach human levels of intelligence within decades.

Unknown risks

Despite the potential benefits, experts are worried about what could go wrong with A.I.

For one, such a level of automation could take people’s jobs. This concern has emerged with automated technology before. But there is a difference between a machine that can help put together car parts and a robot that can think better than humans. If A.I. reaches the heights that some researchers hope, it will be able to do almost anything people can, but better.

Some experts point to existential risks. One survey asked machine-learning researchers about the potential effects of A.I. Nearly half said there was a 10 percent or greater chance that the outcome would be “extremely bad (e.g., human extinction).” These are people saying that their life’s work could destroy humanity.

That might sound like science fiction. But the risk is real, experts caution. “We might fail to train A.I. systems to do what we want,” said Ajeya Cotra, an A.I. research analyst at Open Philanthropy. “We might accidentally train them to pursue ends that are in conflict with humans’.”

Take one hypothetical example, from Kelsey Piper at Vox: A program is asked to estimate a number. It figures out that the best way to do this is to use more of the world’s computing power. The program then realizes that human beings are already using that computing power. So it destroys all humans to be able to estimate its number unhindered.

If that sounds implausible, consider that the current bots already behave in ways that their creators don’t intend. ChatGPT users have come up with workarounds to make it say racist and sexist things, despite OpenAI’s efforts to prevent such responses.

The problem, as A.I. researchers acknowledge, is that no one fully understands how this technology works, making it difficult to control for all possible behaviors and risks. Yet it is already available for public use.

7) And the Times’ technology reporter Kevin Roose with a really good rundown on ChatGPT.

8) Nice thorough look at NC turnout from Michael Bitzer.  What sticks out to me is the Republicans just keep getting more turnout.

9) Good stuff from Yglesias, “A lot of the best political messages are really boring”

So how did she pull it off? I think Dobbs was clearly an important factor, as it was in many states.

But a new report suggests that Cortez Masto and her campaign can offer some important lessons, namely that one incredibly banal message about law enforcement that she ran is apparently very potent. To an extent, this insight backs up things I’ve believed for a long time about the value of normie politics. But I also think that people who are more left-wing than I am will find a fair amount to like in this story because it suggests the possibility of making substantial gains in public opinion with very superficial gestures to the center.

Democrats’ best message, revealed

The key insight here comes from Data for Progress’ post-election report, which I recently heard Danielle Deiseroth, Marcela Mulholland, Julia Jeanty, and McKenzie Wilson describe in a post-election panel.

The report includes the results of a large sample experiment DFP did with Brian Schaffner that involved a sample of 77,197 registered voters. Each person was given six different head-to-head matchups between congressional candidates, with each candidate given a random set of demographic characteristics and also randomly assigned a policy message drawn from real things said by real politicians. This is designed to capture two things that a typical poll doesn’t:

  • Given these realistic settings, the impact of different messages on vote choice is just very very small — the vast majority of people vote consistently for either the hypothetical Democrat or the hypothetical Republican regardless of what message they are assigned. Campaign effects are small.

  • But because the sample is so large, you can pick up on the impact of small campaign effects. And that matters because so many races are so close. Small effects can be a big deal.

They ran 135 different Democratic messages in this experiment, of which 35 generated statistically significant campaign effects.

And now the big reveal, Democrats’ top campaign message:

I worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement to crack down on crimes and keep our communities safe. I led the fight to combat sex trafficking, helped protect victims of sexual assault, and passed legislation to combat law enforcement suicide. I’ve worked tirelessly to get law enforcement the support and resources they need to keep our communities safe

When I shared this factoid on Twitter, I got a somewhat incredulous response from a number of rightists who didn’t believe a Democrat would ever say that. This was funny because these are all real-world messages, in this case, one from Cortez Masto. You can see a version of it here on her campaign website, and it’s similar to the opening of her official bio on her Senate page.

The flip side of the rightists’ incredulity is that a lot of progressives I’ve talked to are a little disheartened to see that the very best thing DFP could come up with is so boring. This message doesn’t speak at all to the big, structural changes that get progressives out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t reference the existential battle for American democracy, and it doesn’t touch on the climate crisis that has become the progressive movement’s top priority or the abortion rights struggle that invigorated so many after the Dobbs decision. It’s just blah.

But part of the reason this blah message works is precisely because it’s blah. Persuadable voters aren’t persuaded by the stuff that gets progressives fired up, in part because if they were fired up about that stuff they wouldn’t be persuadable voters, and in part because everyone already knows that Democrats care about that stuff, so talking about it at the margin doesn’t change anything. And in that light, what takes the message from good to great is that despite being so blah, conservatives were incredulous that a Democrat would actually say it. The content is not that surprising or exciting but the context apparently is — voters were genuinely swayed by a Democrat making some extremely banal supportive statements about law enforcement.

And it’s not unique to Cortez Masto or her precise framing. This from John Fetterman apparently worked really well, too:

Everyone has the right to feel safe in their communities. I worked with the Chief of Police, our police officers, and the community to reduce violent crime. I’ve worked hand-in-hand with the police and I understand the challenges our police forces face and how to support them to make communities more safe. I will make sure law enforcement has the resources necessary to do their job, but I will also prioritize oversight, accountability, and violence prevention.

Fetterman’s version of this nods a bit more to the left by mentioning oversight and accountability, but is also even more straightforwardly tough on crime than Cortez Masto’s. He talks generically about violent crime instead of centering more feminist concerns like sex trafficking and sexual assault.

The point is that just being a Democrat who says loud and clear “I think it’s good when the cops arrest criminals” actually moves the needle meaningfully because people’s baseline impression of Democrats on crime has become so bad.

10) NYT Editorial on the Independent State Legislature case:

“The most important case for American democracy” in the nation’s history — that’s how the former appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig described Moore v. Harper, an extraordinary lawsuit that the Supreme Court considered in oral arguments Wednesday morning. Judge Luttig, a conservative and a widely respected legal thinker, is not one for overstatement. Yet most Americans aren’t paying attention to the case because it involves some confusing terminology and an arcane legal theory. It is essential that people understand just how dangerous this case is to the fundamental structure of American government, and that enough justices see the legal fallacies and protect our democracy.

First, the back story on the case: In 2021, North Carolina lawmakers redrew their congressional maps. The state had 13 districts at the time, and its voters were more or less evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. But the Republicans who are in control of North Carolina’s legislature didn’t want fair maps; they wanted power. In one of the most egregious gerrymanders in the nation, they drew 10 seats intended to favor themselves.

The North Carolina courts were not amused. A panel of three trial judges found that the 2021 maps were “intentionally and carefully designed to maximize Republican advantage” — so much so that Republicans could win legislative majorities even when Democrats won more votes statewide. The State Supreme Court struck down the maps, finding they violated the North Carolina Constitution’s guarantees of free elections, free speech, free assembly and equal protection.

That should have been the end of it: A state court applying the state Constitution to strike down a state law. But North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers appealed, arguing that the U.S. Constitution does not give state courts authority to rule on their congressional maps — even though the legislature had passed a law authorizing the courts to review redistricting plans like these. Instead, the lawmakers are relying on an untested theory that asserts that state legislatures enjoy nearly unlimited power to set and change rules for federal elections…

To be clear, this is a political power grab in the guise of a legal theory. Republicans are trying to see if they can turn state legislatures — 30 of which are controlled by Republicans — into omnipotent, unaccountable election bosses with the help of the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court. The theory has no basis in law, history or precedent. The idea that state lawmakers exist free of any constraints imposed by their constitution and state courts makes a mockery of the separation of powers, which is foundational to the American system of government. By the North Carolina lawmakers’ logic, they possess infinite power to gerrymander districts and otherwise control federal elections. It is a Constitution-free zone where no one else in the state — not the governor, not the courts, not the voters through ballot initiatives — has any say.

On Wednesday morning, Justice Elena Kagan rejected the theory out of hand, saying it “gets rid of the normal checks and balances on the way big governmental decisions are made in this country. And you might think that it gets rid of all those checks and balances at exactly the time when they are needed most.”

In practice, the theory that the petitioners in the case are seeking to use would turn hundreds of state constitutional provisions into dead letters in federal elections. 

11) Good stuff from Brian Beutler on Musk and twitter.

12) Enjoyed these in Yglesias‘ weekly reader response:

Hutcheson: Granted that “cancel culture” in academe is not the world’s top priority problem but is there anything productive that a good faith conservative state legislature could do to promote less of an ideological bias in state universities.

I think conservatives need to think a little bit harder about what it is they actually think about higher education. Here are three different center-right narratives that are in reasonably wide circulation:

  • We need more practical education that is aimed at useful job skills and delivers economic benefits to individuals and society. This is like a conservative critique of student loan relief or something Marco Rubio would say.

  • We need more “old-fashioned” education that challenges preconceptions, wrestles with difficult ideas, and engages the canon. This is like the Chicago Principles or the kind of thing I heard a lot when I went to a Heterodox Academy conference.

  • We need to accept that education is largely just pointless status-seeking and consumption, and we should reduce the number of resources our society dedicates to this and the power and prestige of top universities. That’s in Bryan Caplan’s books and in a lot of takes you see on the internet about how employers should give job candidates IQ tests.

These takes all kind of converge to express a negative attitude toward incumbent universities, left-wing faculty, faddish political ideas, cancel culture, etc. But they’re actually very different claims. And in particular, the kind of ideas from bullet point two or in the book “The Coddling of the American Mind” have opposite implications from the ideas in points one and three. Right now, anti-coddlers are in a coalition with anti-humanists and education skeptics on the basis of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but to devise a constructive anti-coddling agenda, you need to break out of that coalition.

City Dweller: Any thoughts on the White House’s just-announced guidance on incorporating “indigenous knowledge” into federal agency decision-making?

I’ve read this twice, and I don’t really understand what it says.

I think it’s an example of a dynamic that is pretty toxic: academics like to come up with striking-sounding terms for things, then foundations tend to port these academic concepts into an advocacy context, and then executive branch officials want to show responsiveness to the advocates, so they embrace weird, radical-sounding jargon, the upshot of which may actually be pretty banal. There was a Nature article right around Thanksgiving whose headline was about “Decolonizing” agricultural research, but its specific proposal was that “decolonization should go beyond simply citing colleagues from developing countries to including them in conferences and as co-authors.” Now if I were trying to communicate the idea “it would be good to invite more scholars from poor countries to conferences about agriculture,” I think I would just say that. These scholars might have valuable perspectives, and the conferences are a networking opportunity that could help the field.

So back to “indigenous knowledge” — is this a fancy, off-putting, radical-sounding way of saying “we should consult with indigenous communities about what’s up when we make changes?” That sounds very reasonable! Or are we actually endorsing some radical epistemological ideas? I find the document very unclear and the overall rhetorical approach to be at best unhelpful.

13) Kid in the area brings a gun to school and shoots a window before handing it over to a teacher. And this…

Seth Lanterman-Schneider, 39, of Willow Spring is charged with selling/giving a weapon to a minor, which is a misdemeanor, according to the sheriff’s office.

This needs to be a felony!!

14) Good stuff from Benjamin Mazer, “COVID Science Is Moving Backwards”

At the outset of the crisis, the world’s scientists used their grit and genius to develop new ideas with unprecedented speed; collectively, the COVID vaccines and treatments they produced saved tens of millions of lives. But their historic push for knowledge has lately slowed and sputtered in its tracks. Society spent billions of dollars to answer a single, urgent question: How do you combat a novel respiratory virus? Now, all of a sudden, we find ourselves a little baffled by the follow-up: How do you handle a respiratory virus that is familiar? …

What’s pushing COVID science backwards? Don’t blame viral evolution—or not entirely. The emergence of new subvariants does weaken the effects of our vaccines. (It may also render some monoclonal-antibody treatments obsolete.) But the bigger problem isn’t that the virus has become a stranger. It’s that we’ve come to know it all too well.

Most of the groundbreaking research that led to our current vaccines and treatments was performed in a type of human that no longer exists in any but the smallest numbers: Homo uninoculatus uninfectus, which is to say, a person who has neither gotten sick with COVID nor ever taken a vaccine against it. The original vaccine studies by Moderna and Pfizer excluded participants who were known to have caught COVID. Paxlovid was authorized based on a study of unvaccinated subjects. The other antivirals, too, were tested only in those who hadn’t gotten any shots. Yet here’s where we are right now: Seven in 10 Americans have received at least a primary vaccine series, and more than 95 percent have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from vaccination, infection, or both. Globally, 13 billion shots have been administered, and nearly every country has suffered through widespread disease. We developed all these drugs for a world of COVID virgins, and now that world is gone.

This is very good news: Patients with preexisting immunity are at far lower risk. New infections are a lot milder, on average, than they were in 2020. Fewer patients are entering ICUs with lungs damaged by the severe pneumonia we saw at the start of the pandemic, and those hospitalized with COVID are trending older and sicker overall. Clearly we’re living through a new—and better—phase of the pandemic. But the same development also makes it harder to figure out whether vaccines are still doing what they’re meant to do.

15) I cannot believe the degree to which Pro Publica just completely lit their reputation on fire over bad translations in the Chinese lab leak story.  It’s really kind of amazing.  James Fallows with details.

The central figure in the story is a man named Toy Reid, the one shown in that dramatic black-and-white photo. He is an American who speaks Mandarin and claims to have unique insight into the nuance and meaning of official Chinese documents. He is introduced thus:

[Communist] Party speak is “its own lexicon,” explains Reid, now 44 years old. Even a native Mandarin speaker “can’t really follow it,” he says. “It’s not meant to be easily understood. It’s almost like a secret language of Chinese officialdom. When they’re talking about anything potentially embarrassing, they speak of it in innuendo and hushed tones, and there’s a certain acceptable way to allude to something.”

For 15 months, Reid loaned this unusual skill to a nine-person team [the “minority oversight” staffers] dedicated to investigating the mystery of COVID-19’s origins.

My BS-detectors all switched on when I first read this. I know only a little about Mandarin. But enough to doubt that properly reading official documents is some extremely rare “unusual skill.” I know a little more about editing investigative stories, and about the moments when you’d ask a reporter, “Wait a minute, does this make any sense?”

—Almost as soon as the story appeared, it was met with questions, criticism, and derision from the very large group of people accustomed to reading Chinese documents, including Party statements. You can see a summary of the pushback in a Semafor piece by Max Tani, and some line-by-line critique in this widely circulated Twitter thread by Jane Qiu. People I’d known and worked with in the Chinese-translator community, both Chinese and international, were all critics.

Here is a crucial point: Skepticism about the story was entirely separate from views on the “lab leak” hypothesis itself (which the story supported, as had the Republican staff report). I have no idea where the pandemic virus came from and have never joined arguments about its origin. I don’t know enough. This post is explicitly not about the “lab leak” idea. The same is true for most people questioning the ProPublica story. The controversy involves language, evidence, and journalistic transparency and accountability.

16) Nice 538 piece on the high-tech soccer ball in use at the World Cup.

17) What I found amazing about this story, “ABC News Pulls Daytime Co-Anchors After Revelations of a Romance” is how stunningly well-documented the romantic assignations of these two C-list celebrities were.  

18) Enjoyed this on Kanye and mental illness:

Which brings me to Kanye West, now known as Ye, and probably the most famous mentally ill person in the world right today. West’s mental state has been in freefall for years and he has been talking about his bipolar disorder for a while. His manic behaviour goes off and on, and right now, it is very much on…

I’m Jewish, but when I read West’s posts I didn’t feel offended. I just felt sad that an artist so talented is now so clearly out of his tree. Maybe West really does think Diddy is being controlled by Jewish people. Or maybe that reflects his true feelings as much as that man in hospital was genuinely turned on by Richard and Judy. “Being bipolar doesn’t make you racist,” people shout on Twitter. Not necessarily, but poor mental health makes you say a lot of crazy stuff, because it’s not about being sexily impetuous or soulfully sensitive. It’s about being out of your fucking mind. And I get that’s not special or sparkly, but then, tuberculosis is a lot less pretty than some of those Victorian novels made it sound. Illness sucks…

Yet I would bet that many of the same people who are demanding West be held accountable for his actions would be horrified at the idea of sending a mentally ill person who commits a terrible crime to prison. He should be sent to a psychiatric hospital, they would say. That is correct, and the same is true of West. He doesn’t need punishment — he needs help.

And, yes, it feels good to say “mental illness doesn’t make you anti-semitic.”  But we don’t say “mental illness doesn’t make you think you are Jesus” or “mental illness doesn’t make you think CIA agents are after you.”  But, of course, it does!  What Kanye is saying is decidedly not okay, but it really does need to be seen through the perspective of a man clearly in a genuine mental health crisis.

19) Not quite a simple pill yet, but actually bringing some nice rigor and standardization to fecal transplants.

20) Ian Bogost writes in the Atlantic, “ChatGPT Is Dumber Than You Think: Treat it like a toy, not a tool.” For the record, I think he’s dead wrong. 

But you may find comfort in knowing that the bot’s output, while fluent and persuasive as text, is consistently uninteresting as prose. It’s formulaic in structure, style, and content. John Warner, the author of the book Why They Can’t Write, has been railing against the five-paragraph essay for years and wrote a Twitter thread about how ChatGPT reflects this rules-based, standardized form of writing: “Students were essentially trained to produce imitations of writing,” he tweeted. The AI can generate credible writing, but only because writing, and our expectations for it, has become so unaspiring.

Yes, right now, it is a very predictable and boring writer.  So are most people who aren’t paid to write! (And even many of them)

21) A couple of good takes on the utter nonsense on twitter and Hunter Biden’s laptop

22) But Mona Charen’s is fantastic:

So what is this really about? Consider the timing.

For seven years, the right has been explaining, excusing, avoiding, and eventually cheering the most morally depraved figure in American politics. That takes a toll on the psyche. You can tell yourself that the other side is worse. Or you can tell yourself that the critics are unhinged, suffering from “Trump derangement syndrome” whereas you are a man of the world who knows nobody’s perfect. But then Trump will do what he always does—he’ll make a fool of you. You denied that Trump purposely broke the law when he took highly classified documents to Mar-A-Lago and obstructed every effort to retrieve them. And then what does Trump do? He admits taking them! You scoff at the critics who’ve compared Trump with Nazis. And then what does he do? He has dinner with Nazis! (And fails to condemn them even after the fact.) You despised people who claimed Trump was a threat to the Constitution, and then Trump explicitly calls for “terminating” the Constitution in order to put himself back in the Oval Office.

Hunter Biden seems to be corrupt. He traded on his father’s name. He has abused drugs and engaged in other unsavory practices. He’s a mess. But there is nothing relevant to public policy or civic virtue here. President Biden is hardly the first president to have troubled family members. But Joe Biden didn’t hire Hunter at the White House, and if there is any evidence of the president using official influence on Hunter’s behalf, we haven’t seen it. The Department of Justice under President Trump opened an investigation into Hunter Biden. President Biden has left it alone. It’s ongoing.

The right has a deep psychological need for the Hunter Biden story. They desperately want Joe Biden to be corrupt and for the whole family to be, in Stefanik’s words, “a crime family” because they have provided succor and support to someone who has encouraged political violence since his early rallies in 2015, has stoked hatred of minorities through lies, has used his office for personal gain in the most flagrant fashion, has surrounded himself with criminals and con men, has committed human rights violations against would-be immigrants by separating children from their parents, has pardoned war criminals, has cost the lives of tens of thousands of COVID patients by discounting the virus and peddling quack cures, has revived racism in public discourse, and attempted a violent coup d’etat.

They know it. It gnaws at them. That’s why the Hunter Biden story is their heart’s desire. But here’s something else they need to meditate on: Even if everything they’re alleging about Joe Biden were true; even if he did pull strings to help his son and even profited unjustly thereby, it still wouldn’t amount to a fraction of what Trump did. And it still won’t wash out the “damn’d spot.”

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15) The truth about job interview questions:

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

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

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

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

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

18) Fatherhood changes your brain!

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

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

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

Dads’ brains change, too

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

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

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

Quick hits

1) I’ve got 3 free two-month subscriptions to Yglesias’ substack.  Let me know if you want one.

2) When the 2nd amendment impedes on the 1st amendment, that’s not great:

Across the country, openly carrying a gun in public is no longer just an exercise in self-defense — increasingly it is a soapbox for elevating one’s voice and, just as often, quieting someone else’s.

This month, armed protesters appeared outside an elections center in Phoenix, hurling baseless accusations that the election for governor had been stolen from the Republican, Kari Lake. In October, Proud Boys with guns joined a rally in Nashville where conservative lawmakers spoke against transgender medical treatments for minors.

In June, armed demonstrations around the United States amounted to nearly one a day. A group led by a former Republican state legislator protested a gay pride event in a public park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Men with guns interrupted a Juneteenth festival in Franklin, Tenn., handing out fliers claiming that white people were being replaced. Among the others were rallies in support of gun rights in Delaware and abortion rights in Georgia.

Whether at the local library, in a park or on Main Street, most of these incidents happen where Republicans have fought to expand the ability to bear arms in public, a movement bolstered by a recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to carry firearms outside the home. The loosening of limits has occurred as violent political rhetoric rises and the police in some places fear bloodshed among an armed populace on a hair trigger.

3) I did not realize the typical elite soccer game often has less than 50 minutes of the ball in play.  One possible solution, a 60 minute clock that stops (gasp!) 

4) I’m sure part 2 of this will be great, but I love the aviation only part from James Fallows, “Learning from Disasters: If aviators can do so, why won’t the press? Part 1.”

This post is about aviation. But really it’s about institutional self-correction. I intend it as a Part 1 setup to a Part 2 post coming up, about media and politics…

The connecting theme is how to learn from mistakes — as individuals, as companies and organizations, as a larger culture. Today I’ll discuss what happens what individuals and institutions do learn. Next, what happens when they don’t.

Summary version: Modern aviation is so incredibly safe because aviation has been so thorough and unsparing about facing and learning from its errors…

An under-appreciated miracle of modern society is how safe and reliable developed-country airlines have become. On a statistical basis, being aboard a North American or Western European airliner is about the safest thing you can do with your time, compared even with taking a walk or sitting in a chair1.

A big-picture illustration: Over the past 13-plus years, U.S. airlines have conducted well over ten billion “passenger journeys” — one person making one trip. And in those years, a total of two people, of the ten billion, have died in U.S. airline accidents. For comparison: on average two people in the U.S. die of gunshot wounds every 25 minutes around the clock. And two more die in car crashes every half hour. (Around 45,000 Americans died last year of gunshots, and around 42,000 in car crashes.)

How could the aviation system possibly have managed this? Airplanes weighing close to one million pounds hurtle into the sky, carrying hundreds of passengers who are separated by sheets of aluminum and plastic from air so cold and thin it would kill them quickly on exposure. Passengers gaze out at engines each up to 1/10th as powerful as those that sent Apollo 13 toward the moon. At the end of the journey the pilots bring the plane down on a precise strip of pavement—perhaps 60 seconds after the plane ahead of them in the queue, 60 seconds before the next one. And we take it all for granted—grumbling about the crowds and the hassle and the pretzels and the leg room, but safe.

The origins of this ongoing safety revolution is well chronicled; I spent several chapters on it in my book China Airborne. My point for now involves the aviation world’s relentless, unsparing, de-personalized, and highly systematized insistence on learning from whatever makes the system fail.

—On an informal level, this involves aviation magazines, newsletters, websites, and seminars—90% of which have titles like “What went wrong?” or “Breaking the accident chain.” It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you love flying and being in the air, much of your avocational reading will be articles in the “Anatomy of Disaster” category.2

5) I’ve had a really annoying cough (finally gone) the last couple of weeks.  Inspired my latest dive into the research on cough medicine.  And, as before, the reality is… suck it up, there’s not much you can do, but honey at least works somewhat. 

6) I’m only about half-way through Andor, but really enjoying it and especially liked this take:

It wasn’t until the sixth episode of the shape-shifting and genre-curious new “Star Wars” series “Andor” that I figured out what had been nagging at me. The episode, titled “The Eye,” centers on rebel fighters as they plan to infiltrate an imperial base. At the outset of this risky operation, the group splits into two teams. “Safe travels,” the leader of one team says to the other. Safe travels? I thought. What am I watching? Surely that was the moment to drop a “May the Force be with you.” But neither the Force nor the Jedi had been mentioned during the previous episodes. Indeed, the mystical mumbo-jumbo that saturates much of “Star Wars” is entirely absent from this series. There has been no discussion of the Dark Side or the Sith. Thus far, a single lightsabre has been waved.

I made a quick list of other “Star Wars” staples that the creators of “Andor” have eschewed. There are hardly any cute comic-relief characters speaking in bleeps, grunts, or cringey patois. Despite one quirky, lovable robot, the series is notably short on aliens and droids. All the major characters are human, and none hide their face behind a mask à la Darth Vader. (As if to emphasize this human-centeredness, Andy Serkis, who built his career playing the likes of Gollum and King Kong—as well as the ghoulish Supreme Leader Snoke in the most recent “Star Wars” trilogy—gives a striking performance as a prison-inmate leader, without any apparent aid from a bodysuit or C.G.I.) The plot of “Andor,” mercifully, doesn’t hinge on a love story—the only real romance is low-key and lesbian. And there is a decided lack of interest in paternity, which is as essential to much of “Star Wars” as it is to daytime talk shows. I began to wonder whether “Andor” was prestige TV masquerading as a “Star Wars” story.

7) We should’ve done better by our children during Covid:

Academic progress for American children plunged during the coronavirus pandemic. Now a growing body of research shows who was hurt the most, both confirming worst fears and adding some new ones.

Students who learned from home fared worse than those in classrooms, offering substantial evidence for one side of a hot political debate. High-poverty schools did worse than those filled with middle class and affluent kids, as many worried. And in a more surprising finding, older students, who have the least amount of time to make up losses, are recovering much more slowly from setbacks than younger children.

Most school districts saw declines, but the magnitude varied.
 
Those are the findings from more than a half-dozen studies published in recent months examining the pandemic’s toll on academic achievement. Across-the-board, they find big drops between spring 2019, before the pandemic hit, and spring 2021, one year in.

“The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes, leaving devastating learning losses in some districts and leaving many other districts untouched,” said Tom Kane, faculty director for the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.

Students made more progress last year, but it was nowhere near enough to make up for the losses already sustained.

“People were hoping, ‘Oh gosh, there’s going to be a lot of natural bounce back that occurs,’ and we did not see it last year,” Kane said. “Maybe it will happen this year, but I’m not sure there’s much evidence underlying that hope.”

The high price of distance learning

One of the fiercest debates during the pandemic’s first year was how quickly schools should reopen and how significant the ramifications would be of keeping them closed. We now have some answers…

A pile of evidence charts setbacks that were more severe the longer students stayed in virtual school. These studies examined the impact of in-person vs. remote education during the 2020-21school year, when policies varied widely. In Texas and Florida, Republican governors ordered schools to operate in person starting in fall 2020. Elsewhere, and often in big cities, resistance and fear of the virus among teachers and parents kept schools virtual for a year or longer.

Different studies rely on different data sets and describe the magnitude of the impact to varying degrees, but they all point in the same direction:

· A study using data from the testing company NWEA found modest academic declines for students who quickly returned to in-person classes in fall 2020. But achievement losses were far higher for those who learned from home, and they were most pronounced for students in high-poverty, mostly remote schools, widening long-standing racial and economic achievement gaps.

Students who were in person full-time during 2020-21 lost an average of 7.7 weeks of learning in math. But those who were in virtual class for more than half the year lost more than double that — an average of 19.8 weeks.

This research was based on NWEA assessments of 2.1 million students in 10,000 districts and analyzed by researchers at NWEA, Harvard and the American Institutes for Research.

8) There’s been a lot of speculation on a Trump 3rd party run if he doesn’t get the nomination.  Chait makes a strong case for otherwise:

But I think this idea misunderstands both Trump and the incentive structure of the Republican Party.

It is true that a world in which Trump has lost a primary to DeSantis is a world in which Trump feels very angry with DeSantis. But DeSantis is not the only person Trump feels angry with. Trump has spent the past several years simmering with anger at Joe Biden. And while a contested primary would make Trump resent DeSantis more than he does now, it’s hardly certain that it would make him hate DeSantis more than he hates Biden.

More important, it would be uncharacteristic for Trump to allow his grudges to get in the way of his clear self-interest. Trump does lash out wildly at anybody who disrespects him, but he also turns on a dime and makes friends with his former enemies. You can see this pattern in the way he lashed out at the likes of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio before reconciling on the basis of mutual interest.

What interests would Trump have in common with DeSantis? For one thing, DeSantis could offer Trump legal protection — either pardons or immunity from additional prosecution. Second, DeSantis already commands a massive fundraising network, and as the Republican nominee, he would hold enormous power over various revenue streams around the party, ranging from its scam PACs to its media outlets. DeSantis would be in a position to make sure Trump is very well compensated in return for an endorsement.

9) If you know what you want to buy, Amazon is great.  If you want to shop and see what’s available (for, I dunno, a step-in dog harness for a GSP) Amazon has turned into a complete joke.  This Washington Post piece shows how (free link so you can check it out). 

10) David Frum on guns in 2017. More relevant than ever, “The Rules of the Gun Debate”

A parable:

A village has been built in the deepest gully of a floodplain.

At regular intervals, flash floods wipe away houses, killing all inside. Less dramatic—but more lethal—is the steady toll as individual villagers slip and drown in the marshes around them.

After especially deadly events, the villagers solemnly discuss what they might do to protect themselves. Perhaps they might raise their homes on stilts? But a powerful faction among the villagers is always at hand to explain why these ideas won’t work. “No law can keep our village safe! The answer is that our people must learn to be better swimmers – and oh by the way, you said ‘stilts’ when the proper term is ‘piles,’ so why should anybody listen to you?”

So the argument rages, without result, year after year, decade after decade, fatalities mounting all the while. Nearby villages, built in the hills, marvel that the gully-dwellers persist in their seemingly reckless way of life. But the gully-dwellers counter that they are following the wishes of their Founders, whose decisions two centuries ago must always be upheld by their descendants…

The deadliest mass shooting in American history has restarted the long debate whether something can be done to impede these recurring slaughters. That debate is conducted pursuant to rigid rules.

Rule 1. The measures to be debated must bear some relationship to the massacre that triggered the debate. If the killer acquired his weapons illegally, it’s out of bounds to point out how lethally easy it is to buy weapons legally. If the killer lacked a criminal record, it’s out of bounds to talk about the inadequacy of federal background checks. The topic for debate is not, “Why do so many Americans die from gunfire?” but “What one legal change would have prevented this most recent atrocity?”…

Rule 3. The debate must always honor the “responsible gun owners” who buy weapons for reasonable self-defense. Under Rule 1, these responsible persons are presumed to constitute the great majority of gun owners. It’s out of bounds to ask for some proof of this claimed responsibility, some form of training for example. It’s far out of bounds to propose measures that might impinge on owners: the alcohol or drug tests for example that are so often recommended for food stamp recipients or teen drivers.

11) Binyamin Applebaum, “Overconfident Regulators Caused the Ticketmaster Mess”

Before the federal government let Live Nation merge with Ticketmaster in 2010, it obtained some very solemn promises that the company would not use its newly acquired dominance in the business of selling tickets to take advantage of customers.

Ask a Taylor Swift fan how well that has worked out.

Ticketmaster’s website was overwhelmed last week by people seeking tickets for Ms. Swift’s upcoming concert tour. It was inevitable that most people who wanted tickets wouldn’t be able to buy them. There aren’t enough to go around. But crashes, bugs and error messages left many people feeling they never really had a chance.

Monopolies raise prices, but that’s not the only reason Americans should be worried about the rise of corporate concentration. Companies with market power also tend to get lazy. They stop trying to deliver the best possible product. Jonathan Skrmetti, the Republican attorney general of Tennessee, told The Washington Post that Ticketmaster’s customer service problems raised the question of whether “because they have such a dominant market position, they felt like they didn’t have to worry about that.”

That’s an important question, and it raises another one: Why do antitrust regulators keep getting tricked by companies that don’t keep their promises?

The federal government in recent decades has blessed the vast majority of proposed corporate mergers. And even when regulators have concluded that a merger is not in the public interest, they have often sought to address concerns by imposing conditions rather than blocking the deal. In effect, the government has adopted the strategy of asking companies to refrain from taking full advantage of their power.

12) Science! “Turns Out Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes Actually Works: New evidence indicates that an effort to stamp out disease-carrying insects is working. The key? Mosquitoes genetically engineered to kill off their own kind.”

HE Aedes aegypti mosquito is not just a nuisance—it’s a known carrier of dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, and Zika viruses. Distinguished by the black and white stripes on its legs, the species is one of the most dangerous to humans.

In the Brazilian city of Indaiatuba, an effort is underway to eliminate these pests before they have a chance to spread illness. The weapon: more Aedes aegypti mosquitoes—but ones genetically engineered to kill their own kind. Made by British biotechnology firm Oxitec, the mosquitoes seem to be working. 

The modified mosquitoes carry a synthetic self-limiting gene that prevents female offspring from surviving. This is important, because only the females bite and transmit disease. In a new study, scientists at the company showed that their engineered insects were able to slash the local population of Aedes aegypti by up to 96 percent over 11 months in the neighborhoods where they were released. 

13) German Lopez on the stark disjunction between American public opinion on marijuana and our actual laws.

14) The story of the hero in the Club Q shooting is just amazing.  It’s like a action movie script, but real life.  And the here was not a good guy with a gun.  It was a good guy with combat experience in Iraq, which is clearly worth a helluva lot more.

15) Encouraging biotechnology, “F.D.A. Approves a Drug That Can Delay Type 1 Diabetes

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first treatment that can delay — possibly for years — the onset of Type 1 diabetes, a disease that often emerges in teenagers.

The new drug, teplizumab, is made by Provention Bio, which will partner with Sanofi to market the drug in the United States under the brand name Tzield. In an investor call on Friday, Provention said the drug would cost $13,850 a vial or $193,900 for the 14-day treatment. The company said teplizumab should be available by the end of the year.

The drug, which the F.D.A. approved on Thursday, does not cure or prevent Type 1 diabetes. Instead, it postpones its onset by an average of two years and, for some lucky patients, much longer — the longest so far is 11 years, said Dr. Kevan Herold of Yale, a principal investigator in trials of the drug.

The only other treatment for the disease — insulin — was discovered 100 years ago and does not affect the course of the disease. It just replaces what is missing.

16) We have vaccines and some excellent treatments now, but the latest editions of the virus have outsmarted all our existing monoclonal antibodies.  

17) Experts on aging on a Biden second term.  He would be really old to be president.

18) I am enjoying the World Cup, but it is such a damn shame that the world’s greatest sporting event is run my literally one of the most corrupt organizations on the planet.

Qatar hosting the soccer World Cup is like Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. It should not have happened, but the very fact that it has only exposes how bad things have become. Once this famous old tournament kicks off in Doha tomorrow, the fact that it did can never be unwound: Qatar will forever have been the host of the 22nd FIFA World Cup, the greatest absurdity in the history of the sport.

Even to recite the details of the backstory feels darkly grim. In 2010, soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, awarded the right to host the world’s most popular and prestigious sporting event to a tiny Middle Eastern autocracy with a population of barely 3 million. Qatar had never even played in a World Cup before, let alone hosted one, and it made a singularly unsuitable venue: In summer, when the tournament has always been held, the temperatures are so hot, soccer cannot safely be played at all. To hold 90-minute matches in the desert at the height of an Arabian summer is self-evidently ludicrous.

This is why, for the first time ever, the tournament is taking place in November and December, which is midway through the European soccer season. This is as preposterous as running the World Series over Christmas week—in Jeddah. They might as well have handed Dubai the rights to the Winter Olympics.

But this idiocy glosses over the true ignominy. Qatar might now be home to about 3 million people, but the proportion of actual Qatari citizens who live there is little more than 10 percent. The rest comprise some very rich expatriates of other nations and a huge army of poor migrants who do most of the work. When Qatar won the tournament, it did not have the infrastructure, weather, or fan base to justify being awarded the World Cup. But it was very, very rich.

The whole saga is rather like Dave Chappelle’s cynical take on Trump. Just as the former president acted as the “honest liar” who revealed something important about American politics in Chappelle’s view, Qatar seems to me to have done something similar for soccer. Until now, the sport’s world governing body was able to at least partially hide its sheer awfulness because everyone had a stake in the charade. If handing the tournament to Russia in 2018 might have looked bad on a democracy and human-rights index, it was at least a big country with a proud soccer history. But Qatar?

Not even FIFA’s disgraced former boss Sepp Blatter now feels able to defend the decision—a “mistake,” he recently admitted. That Qatar was able to beat rival bids from the United States, Australia, Japan, and South Korea to win the right to host the event was so indefensible, so in-your-face ridiculous, that it is impossible not to conclude that the whole system is rigged. Which, in essence, it is.

19) Ethan Mollick on what research says on how to make other people happier:

So, there is no need to belabor the point further. You can make people (including yourself!) happier, and the reason you aren’t doing it is because you are stuck in your own head. So the research suggests a few small things you can do this Thanksgiving (or World Cup) week, to make the world a little bit better:

  • Express gratitude more

  • Give more genuine compliments to people you know

  • Don’t feel awkward about offering to help, even if you can’t solve the problem

  • Reach out to some old contacts and say “hi”

Science says it is okay, and not nearly as awkward as you think.

20) Interesting research on academic credentials:  I think it’s kind of wild that even after the PhD, undergraduate institution still matters.  Most of my professor friends that I have who are way more accomplished than me did not go to an “Ivy Plus” institution as I did (Duke).  Or, maybe I’m just an under-achiever.  

We introduce a model of the admissions process based upon standard agency theory and explore its implications with economics PhD admissions data from 2013-2019. We show that a subjective score that aggregates subjective ratings and recommendation letter features plays a more important role in determining admissions than an objective score based upon graduate record exam (GRE) scores. Subjective evaluations by references who write multiple letters are not only more influential than those of references who write one letter, but they are also more informative. Since multiple-letter references are also more highly ranked economists, this implies that there is a constraint on the supply of high-quality references. Moreover, we find that both the subjective and objective scores are correlated with job placement at a top economics department after the completion of the PhD. These indicators of individual achievement have a smaller effect than an undergraduate degree from an Ivy Plus school (i.e., Ivy League + Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago). In the self-selected pool of applicants, Ivy Plus graduates are twice as likely to be admitted to a top 10 graduate program and are much more likely to obtain an assistant professor position at a top 10 program upon PhD completion. Given that Ivy Plus students must pass a stringent selection process to gain admission to their undergraduate program, we cannot reject the hypothesis that admission committees use information efficiently and fairly. However, this also implies that there may be a return to attending a selective undergraduate program in order to be pooled with highly skilled individuals.

21) I had really been looking forward to seeing Nope.  But, OMG, the pacing and plot… just plain old boring.  One of the few reviews willing to call out the film’s failures.

22) With a Republican majority in the House, we’ll surely be hearing a lot more about Hunter Biden’s laptop next year.  Drum:

It’s still 43 days until the new Congress starts up, but it’s never too early to take a deep dive into some the important issues Republicans will be addressing when January 3rd rolls around. And anyway, there’s only one, so it’s not like you have a ton of homework to do. The subject, of course, is Hunter Biden and his laptop. Here’s a detailed rundown of this sordid affair:

  • Back in the day, Hunter did a lot of drugs and got himself enmeshed in a bunch of sleazy deals. Apparently he routinely promised people that his ties to “Dad” would be a big help to their cause.
  • There is no evidence that Joe Biden knew about Hunter’s dealings or was ever involved in any of them.

Also, come on. Even if you’re a total partisan hack, this doesn’t really sound like Joe’s style, does it?

I guess that wasn’t so hard after all. Just try to keep these bullet points in mind during the 672 days of Fox News hits; strategic leaking to friendly reporters; invocations of “there’s no other explanation for ______” (there always is); New York Times excerpts from the inevitable Peter Schweizer book; 3,000-word thumbsuckers on the Ukrainian judicial system circa 2017; and, of course, chants of “Lock him up” because MAGAnauts are nothing if not predictable.

23) Apparently, many bands now eschew the encore.  Given that the encore is really almost always just completely planned after a short break, I’m good with that.  

24) Can hunter-gatherers teach us lessons for dealing with the modern workplace?

Quick hits (part II)

1) I don’t know that I’ve ever watched the Raleigh Christmas Parade, but I had it on today since my son’s marching band was set to march in it.  And, damn, if a truck pulling a float didn’t have a brake failure and run over an 11-year old girl (I have one of those!), killing her.  Just awful. 

2) There was a lot about the value, or lack thereof, of SAT scores in college admissions these days, but I was disappointed in that I felt like the article never answered the headline, “What Does an SAT Score Mean Anymore?”

3) Matt Grossman interviews David Shor, “Does the 2022 election show how Democratic campaigns win?”

4) One of the interesting stories I have not seen addressed at all in national midterm coverage is how damn well Republicans did in NC, “Amidst a Red Ripple, North Carolina Republicans Swept to Victory”

5) Really nice graphical interactive from the Post on where the votes shifted most from 2020.  Worth the gift link for you to check out.

6) This is so good from Brian Beutler:

① The reason they midterms came as a big surprise is that Democrats outperformed “fundamentals”

② But what Democrats and data scientists think of as “the fundamentals” were defined before we passed through the looking glass of Donald Trump

③ If Trump swamps those fundamentals, Dems need to readjust to a political landscape where he looms large, at least until he and his political methods are vanquished..

But I think you can make a pretty good case in hindsight that, of every midterm since 2002, the one where the incumbent party had the best opportunity to defy “fundamentals” was 2018, not 2022. 

Unlike today, the economy of 2018 was perceived to be very good. Unlike today, the incumbent party in 2018 hadn’t made dramatic policy change. Yes, Republicans passed an unpopular corporate tax cut, and yes they tried to pass toxically unpopular legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and throw millions of people off of health insurance. But that effort failed, and—crucially—it failed a year and a half before the election. And yet Republicans lost their sizable majority in dramatic fashion, and lost the national popular vote for the House by an earthshaking margin.

Again, why did Trump Republicans in 2018, when unemployment was 3.8 percent, perform as badly as Barack Obama Democrats did in 2010, when unemployment was almost 10 percent? Many, many Democrats told themselves it was because they’d stopped the health-care repeal and then run health-care-centered campaigns in frontline districts. But that isn’t as tidy an explanation as it appears at a glance. It doesn’t account for why the swing to Dems was fairly uniform nationwide, even in places where the campaigns were not particularly health-care focused or competitive. It doesn’t account for the year-and-a-half lag between the failure of the repeal effort and the midterm. 

My personal sense has always been that voters mobilized to address a multifaceted emergency; the danger that Republicans would retain their trifecta and take another run at health care was part of the emergency, but all elements of it fit under a huge umbrella embroidered gaudily with the last name TRUMP.  

Which is to say, Trump, through malice and degeneracy, cost Republicans an opportunity to overperform the fundamentals in 2018, and provided Democrats an opportunity to do so last week. He overwhelms the fundamentals, or is a fundamental unto himself.

7) Greg Sargent, “How Marjorie Taylor Greene’s MAGA House will boost Trump”

But there’s a less obvious way that Republicans can wield House probes to political advantage. If they can confuse voters — and seduce the news media — into treating any and all congressional oversight as inevitably politically motivated, they will succeed in a whole different fashion.

This goal — which entails obfuscating the basic distinction between oversight conducted in good faith and in bad — will be within reach for Republicans, due to a peculiar situation. The House select committee examining Donald Trump’s coup attempt will release its report before the end of this year, and might make criminal referrals. Those findings will be debated well into next year, while Trump is running for president.

Which means that for House Republicans, the goal of next year’s investigations will not just be to let a thousand Hunter Biden probes bloom. It will also be to discredit revelations produced by Democrats about Trump…

Congressional oversight of the department serves a critical public function. We want law enforcement to feel constrained by oversight, which Republicans could theoretically do in good faith, in a valuable and revelatory way.

But Republicans have signaled something different. Greene describes Jan. 6 defendants as “political prisoners.” She and others have demanded the defunding of the FBI simply because it executed a lawfully approved search, which they describe as unchecked jackbooted lawlessness, of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Their position, then, is essentially that all investigative activity involving Jan. 6 and Trump is inherently illegitimate. So their oversight is likely to metastasize into an industrial-strength bad-faith effort to discredit all such activity, expressly to protect Trump from accountability, and to bury the Jan. 6 committee’s final report in a blizzard of propaganda. Republicans could even try to defund continuing law enforcement investigations and prosecutions.

8) These four scenarios for 2024 primaries strike me as about right.

Scenario 1: Trump Clears the Field

Scenario 2: A Crowded Field Splits the Anti-Trump Vote

Scenario 3: The DeSantis Hype Is Real

Scenario 4: A Moderate Candidate Threads the Needle

9) So tired of insane stories like this, “Suburban Mom Handcuffed, Jailed for Making 8-Year-Old Son Walk Half a Mile Home: Heather Wallace plead guilty to child endangerment and can no longer work with kids.”  Worst part?  Sounds like the cop who made this awful call is a Q Anon adherent:

As they stood on her porch, the officers told Wallace that her son could have been kidnapped and sex trafficked. “‘You don’t see much sex trafficking where you are, but where I patrol in downtown Waco, we do,'” said one of the cops, according to Wallace.

This statement struck her as odd.

“They were basically admitting that this is a safe neighborhood,” she says.

The officer then asked Wallace whether she would let her son walk home again, now that she knew about the sex trafficking.

“I still didn’t know it was illegal and I said, ‘I don’t know,'” says Wallace. “That’s when the cop replied, ‘Okay, I’m going to have to arrest you.'”

10) This is good. “Mark Kelly’s (Likely) Win Is an Indictment of Sinema’s Politics”  No way Sinema makes it out of a Democratic primary in two years. 

11) An interesting take on Trump’s announcement speech, “At long last, Trump gives his concession speech”

It was rambling. It was vain. At times, it was weird. What’s with that tale he keeps telling about giving Chancellor Angela Merkel a “white flag” to symbolize German surrender to dependence on Russian energy? There was a scary — if possibly unintended — evocation of Jan. 6, 2021: “The corridors of power” in Washington, he warned, “are our corridors and we are coming to take our corridors back.”

Still, Donald Trump’s hour-long speech Tuesday night should be remembered not just for the things he said, including his announcement that he will seek another presidential term in 2024. What mattered most was what he did not say: that Joe Biden and the Democrats thwarted his reelection in 2020 by fraud.

Trump has been repeating that outlandish lie endlessly for the past two years, including as he barnstormed the country on behalf of Republican candidates in the midterm elections.

And yet on Tuesday, with all eyes upon him and his political future on the line, he omitted it. Yes, there were allusions to the supposed need for an election revamp based on hand-counted paper ballots, which Trump called a “very personal job for me.” He floated innuendo about “a very active role” by China against him in our 2020 election.

At no time, however, did he repeat his false claim of massive cheating in 2020, nor did Trump say Biden holds office illegitimately; by repeatedly criticizing the current president’s record, he backhandedly implied the opposite. He even indirectly acknowledged the reality of the 2022 results by boasting that “by 2024,” when he intends to head the ticket, “the voting will be much different.”

12) Good thread from G. Elliott Morris on the good year for the polls.

13) This was quite interesting, “The Fading Art of Preserving the Dead: A dwindling group of professionals is tasked with navigating the often fraught passage from life to death.”

But the world he belongs to, the world of embalming, is increasingly losing its sway over the American way of death.

Data gathered by the National Funeral Directors Association shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans in 2021 were cremated after death, an increase from around 25 percent in 1999. More than 60 percent of people surveyed were interested in having so-called green burials, which are cheaper than traditional funerals and limit the chemicals allowed into the body for preservation. Embalmers are becoming more difficult to find; most funeral homes rely on contractors like Mr. Harvell, who may be the sole embalmers for a dozen funeral-home clients.

According to people in the industry, things have been trending away from embalming for decades. “Absolutely there’s a shift going on,” said Tim Collison, the chief operating officer of The Dodge Company, the largest embalming fluid manufacturer in the country. “There’s less demand — it’s not an expanding market.” Dr. Basil Eldadah, a physician with the National Institute on Aging, said, “We’re just in this place in our society where we’re questioning the way that things have always been done.”

14) You know I love me some first amendment and don’t like the heightened attacks from both right and left, “How America turned against the First Amendment: Moderation laws. Book bans. Courts that keep getting played. America’s politicians are tired of the First Amendment getting in their way, and no one seems to care.”

15) Almost done watching “All Quiet on the Western Front” on Netflix.  I think it’s terrific. 

(Abbreviated and late) Quick hits (part II)

1) Spent all of Saturday being a marching band dad, which put me way behind, but a few things you should try and find some time to read.

1) This Yascha Mounk conversation with Sam Harris is really, really good.  If you are the type of person who finds the same things interesting that I do (and, if not, why are you here?) you should just read it. 

2) Loved this NYT Magazine interview with Bono.  They covered a lot of interesting ground, but I especially enjoyed the parts about contemporary pop music and about songwriting:

It’s more about where your music fits into the culture. Is the pop-culture world still a place where U2 can realistically compete for attention? I know now that with youth culture I am kind of tolerated hanging out at the back of the birthday party but the magic show’s going on down here for the kids. I wished to connect with the pop charts over the last two albums and failed. But the songwriting got really good. “Songs of Experience” is great songwriting even if you don’t like the sound of it. Or “Every Breaking Wave” or “The Troubles” on “Songs of Innocence.” I would have loved to have a pop song on the radio. Probably we’ve run a road on that. So right now I want to write the most unforgiving, obnoxious, defiant, [expletive]-off-to-the-pop-charts rock ’n’ roll song that we’ve ever made. I spoke to about it this week. He’s going, “Is it that call again?” “What call?” “The one about we’re going to write the big [expletive]-off rock song?” And I say, “Yeah, it’s our job!” We can make songs famous now, but I don’t think U2 can make them hits…

Not exactly your highest moment. You’ve never heard us doing those songs. [Expletive] you. “The Boy Falls From the Sky” is an amazing song; so is “Turn Off the Dark.” 

 But why did we end up working on Broadway? The American songbook! If I could impart one thing to you in this exchange it’s that I’m a student, and so is my friend Edge. We’re students of songwriting. We don’t mind if we’re humiliated to find a great song. These  we worked with on our last albums know a lot about songs. You say, “But you’re U2 — you don’t need that.” What’s interesting is that we want that.

3) Paul Waldman, “We’ve been told a lie about rural America”

There’s a story Republicans tell about the politics of rural America, one aimed at both rural people and the rest of us. It goes like this: Those coastal urban elitist Democrats look down their noses at you, but the GOP has got your back. They hate you; we love you. They ignore you; we’re working for you. Whatever you do, don’t even think about voting for a Democrat.

That story pervades our discussion of the rural-urban divide in U.S. politics. But it’s fundamentally false. The reality is complex, but one thing you absolutely cannot say is that Democrats don’t try to help rural America. In fact, they probably work harder at it than Republicans do.

Let’s talk about just one area that has been of particular interest to Democrats, and to rural people themselves: high-speed internet access, a problem that’s addressed by hundreds of millions of dollars in funding that the Biden administration announced this week.

The problem is straightforward: The less dense an area is, the harder it is for private companies to make a profit providing internet service. Laying a mile of fiber-optic cable to reach a hundred apartment buildings is a lot more efficient than laying a mile of cable to reach one family farm.

So you need government to fill the gaps. That’s because the lack of high-speed service makes it harder to start and sustain many kinds of businesses, have schools access the information students need, and allow people many of the basic pleasures of modern life, like rewatching all six seasons of “Peaky Blinders.”

The Biden administration has now rolled out $759 million in new grants and loans for building rural broadband. This money comes from the infrastructure bill, but the other big spending bills President Biden signed, the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, also had a wealth of money and programs specifically targeted to rural areas.

While those programs cover a variety of needs, broadband is particularly visible. The administration is using the money to fund rural broadband projects from Alaska to Michigan to Minnesota to Oregon. And of course, when that federal money provided by Democrats over the objection of Republicans comes to red states, Republican officials rush to take credit for it.

This isn’t new or unusual. Every Democratic presidential campaign puts out a plan for rural America. The Biden administration created the Rural Partners Network to coordinate executive branch initiatives affecting rural Americans. Every big spending bill Democrats write makes sure to direct money to address the needs of rural areas…

Liberals sometimes say rural dwellers have been fooled into voting Republican — and therefore against their economic interests — based on social issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights. That’s not the argument I’m making here. It’s legitimate to put those issues first if they’re what you care about the most. If you live in rural Kansas and your opposition to abortion is profoundly important to you, it would be unreasonable to expect you to support the pro-abortion-rights party, even if it brought broadband to your town.

But it would be wrong to ignore the extremely hard work Democrats do to improve the lives of rural Americans, even as they won’t win most of their votes. We could argue about the value of different programs or economic policies in such areas, but you can’t say Democrats aren’t trying.

4) Before he became a public intellectual on race and wokism, John McWhorter was just a great linguist.  I loved this column on the oddity of English having the exact same word for singular and plural 2nd person, ie., you.

Fish don’t know they’re wet, and we English speakers don’t know we’re weird. Have you ever thought about how odd it is that English uses the same word for “you” in the singular and the plural?

Possibly not, because to speak English lifelong is to sense this as normal. But try to think of another language where there is only one word for “you.” Imagine if in Spanish one used “usted” to mean both one person and several, or if in French there were no “tu” and “vous” was the only word ever used to mean “you.” As often as not, languages do even more than just distinguish the singular and plural in the second person, marking distinctions of politeness as well. In Hindi there is the informal singular “tū,” the more formal “tum” and then “āp” for addressing elders and others to whom one is meant to show respect.

And in cases where English serves as the foundation for brand-new languages, one of the first things people do is fill in the “you” hole. When the British first arrived in Australia, one of the ways they initially communicated with Indigenous people was through a pidgin English with a limited vocabulary. That pidgin was later used throughout the South Seas area, and ultimately flowered into actual languages. One of them is now the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. In that language, Tok Pisin, no one puts up with this business of using “you” for all numbers of people. Rather, they get even more fine-grained than most others: They address two people as “yutupela” — you two fellows — and three as “yutripela.” …

What happened with English?

It’s something we may never have a complete answer to. Certainly, in the Middle Ages across Europe, a fashion arose in various languages of addressing individuals with the plural pronoun as a mark of respect. The idea was that using a singular form was too direct; the plural form suggested a kind of polite distance, rather like Queen Victoria’s reputed fondness for saying about herself that “we are not amused,” the premise being that to refer to herself in the singular would suggest that she was on the same level as ordinary people.

At first, this usage of “you” was between people of higher status, with the expectation then developing that people lower on the social scale would address their betters as “you” while addressing one another as “thou.” But the “you” fashion spread down the scale, with even middle-class couples alternating between calling each other “thou” and “you” depending on factors of formality, affection and subject matter. In Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Benedick, likely wanting to connote intimacy to Beatrice, tells her, “Come, bid me do anything for thee.” But a bit later, when he is addressing a more formal and even menacing matter, he switches to “you”: “Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?”

This stage was paralleled in many European countries, but the odd thing about English is that “you” then edged out “thou” completely in the 17th century. Why English took it this far is difficult to know. At a time when “thou” was still a recent memory, Quakers found the “you” takeover elitist, with its overtone of saluting and bowing creating conflict with their egalitarian ideology. I attended a Quaker school for a while in the late 1970s and at least one teacher was still using “thou” in this way — I will never forget him reminding me before an exam, “Be sure to put thy name on thy paper.” However, in the 17th century, Quakers’ insistence on using “thou” even with people of high status felt to many like an insult, and some were even physically assaulted for their refusal to get on the “you” bandwagon.

The Quakers’ beef was with matters of hierarchy, but they were also onto something in the linguistic sense. Normal languages have separate singular and plural second-person pronouns, period.

5) The US Constitution is way too hard to amend and that’s bad for our country.  Jill Lepore with a cool interactive feature on it in the New Yorker. 

6) Eric Levitz, “The Media Did Not Trick Voters Into Disliking Inflation”

As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight’s forecast gives Republicans an 81 percent chance of taking the House. Democrats’ prospects for keeping the Senate, meanwhile, are surprisingly favorable: Despite widespread disapproval of Joe Biden and the economy, Democrats are narrowly favored to retain a majority in the upper chamber.

This suggests that the GOP might be paying a penalty for its flirtations with authoritarian rule. But if so, the penalty is small. In polls, voters consistently name inflation as their top concern. And support for Democrats appears to rise and fall with the price of gasoline; when pain at the pump goes up, Democratic vote-share goes down…

The open conspiracy against democratic government in the U.S. troubles voters much less than the cost of living.  When Gallup asked voters to name America’s most important problem in September, only 4 percent mentioned threats to its democracy.

This has inspired an understandable yet ironic genre of commentary: The denunciation of the voting public, in the name of democracy…

There is something to this critique. All news media has a negativity bias. And mainstream outlets have not devoted much attention to the merits of the Biden economy. Two and a half years after the 2008 crash, unemployment remained well above 8 percent; two and a half years after the COVID crash, unemployment is at 3.5 percent. More basically, the press has done a poor job of contextualizing today’s inflation. The cause of contemporary economic dysfunction is not primarily Biden’s economic mismanagement, even if one stipulates, for the sake of argument, that the American Rescue Plan was excessively large. Rather, the cause of our economic difficulties is a prolonged pandemic that killed more than 1 million Americans, disabled many others, forced factory closures, bankrupted many small businesses, and triggered a sudden shift in the structure of consumer demand. We could have been paid for those costs through high unemployment. Instead, we are paying them through elevated prices. One can debate whether the Biden administration struck the right balance between full employment and price stability. But they were dealt a difficult hand, and were likely to preside over economic discontent no matter how they chose to play it. At the same time, cable news has done far more to spotlight the Democrats’ failure to reduce inflation than to inform the public of the GOP’s (heinously unpopular) plans for restoring price stability.

Separately, mainstream news outlets aim to reach the broadest possible audience. And in a country closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, this often compels such outlets to elide the reality that only one of America’s major parties is committed to the basic tenets of liberal democracy.

But none of this means that CNN and the New York Times boast primary responsibility for the electorate’s frustration with the economy or its complacency about the threat to U.S. democracy.

7) No you don’t actually need to read past the headline of “Climate Protester Glues His Head to ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ Painting.”  OMG these people are absolutely moronic!  Could ExxonMobil even come up with a better strategy for undermining climate goals?!

8) And, damn, no better take on skewering these morons than Jeff Maurer.  I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this, “If You’re Not Hot-Gluing Your Scrotum to the Venus de Milo, Then I Don’t Believe You Really Care About Climate Justice”

Let’s not mince words: These protesters are idiots. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that you won’t solve climate change by gluing your face to “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”. For starters: It’s not even Vermeer’s best work. This list ranks it as his eighth-best; “View of Delft” is clearly superior in both composition and theme. And frankly, I’m skeptical that the challenge of finding alternate energy sources will be solved by gluing ourselves to anything less than classical masterpieces. I’m talking ancient works — the pediments of the Parthenon, or Tutankhamun’s burial mask, for example. Only when I open the paper and see some brave climate warrior permanently attached to “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” will I start to believe that solutions might be nigh.

Also: Only an amateur glues his face to something. Once you’ve been around for a while, you know that a more sensitive body part = more justice. That’s why we need to use our brains and get our ball sacks involved. At the risk of being gender-exclusive, nothing generates political capital quite like a glued nutsack — it’s a benefit that stems from the organ’s unique sensitivity. In a pinch, a labia will do, as will a clitoris (despite the obvious logistical challenges), and I applaud women who use these organs to their advantage. But at the end of the day, nothing wins people over quite like gluing your balls to something — it’s how Lincoln passed the 13th Amendment! …

Shame on these milquetoast protesters! Let’s see some fucking commitment, assholes. Are you dodging the Louvre — where the Venus de Milo is kept — just because it’s a high-profile museum with advanced security? Well then I guess we’ll all burn alive because you can’t figure out how to get 8 ounces of Loctite Ultra Gel and a thermos of clam chowder past a security guard! Did these protesters think that solving climate change will be easy? It won’t be. As Max Weber said: “Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” Phrased another way: “If you’re not prepared to permanently attach your sack to a classical masterpiece, then you might as well stay home.”

National parks were established when John Muir stapled his dick to a Terracotta soldier. Erin Brockovich brought Pacific Gas & Electric to heel by epoxying both buttcheeks to Nefertiti’s burial mask. Acid rain was solved when an international coalition of leaders came together to rubber cement their taints to The Stele of Hammurabi. The recipe is clear: firm attachment + sensitive body part + classical work of art = environmental progress. That’s what it takes — that’s where solutions are found. We need brave climate warriors who are ready to make that commitment. If these protesters aren’t prepared to stand tall, drop trou, and firmly attach their fuzzy bean bag to a two thousand year-old Greek masterpiece, then I’m afraid I just can’t take them seriously.

9) So fascinating, “How the ‘Black Death’ Left Its Genetic Mark on Future Generations”

Many Europeans carry genetic mutations that protected their ancestors from the bubonic plague, scientists reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

When the Black Death struck Europe in 1348, the bacterial infection killed large swaths of people across the continent, driving the strongest pulse of natural selection yet measured in humans, the new study found.

It turns out that certain genetic variants made people far more likely to survive the plague. But this protection came with a price: People who inherit the plague-resistant mutations run a higher risk of immune disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

“These are the unfortunate side effects of long-term selection for protection,” said Hendrik Poinar, a geneticist at McMaster University in Canada and an author of the new study…

The idea makes basic evolutionary sense: When a lot of organisms die off, the survivors will pass down mutations that protected them from death. During the Industrial Revolution, for example, peppered moths changed from a light speckled coloring to dark. That shift was driven by the coal smoke that blackened the trees where the moths rested. Dark moths were better able to hide from birds and survived to pass on their genes.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is interesting, “How to Make, and Keep, Friends in Adulthood.” What I particularly like in reflecting upon this is that a number of people reading this are friends I made in adulthood.  Also, know that I’m probably not spending as much time with you as I’d like (and it’s probably your fault– I’m always up to hang out 🙂 ).  

Is that why you believe that assuming people like you is so important?

According to the “risk regulation theory,” we decide how much to invest in a relationship based on how likely we think we are to get rejected. So one of the big tips I share is that if you try to connect with someone, you are much less likely to be rejected than you think.

And, yes, you should assume people like you. That is based on research into the “liking gap” — the idea that when strangers interact, they’re more liked by the other person than they assume.

There is also something called the “acceptance prophecy.” When people assume that others like them, they become warmer, friendlier and more open. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I never used to be much of a mind-set person until I got into the research. But your mind-set really matters! …

You also believe that it is critical to show and tell your friends how much you like them. Why is that?

Because we tend to like people who we believe like us. I used to go into groups and try to make friends by being smart — that was my thing. But when I read the research, I realized that the quality people most appreciate in a friend is ego support, which is basically someone who makes them feel like they matter. The more you can show people that you like and value them, the better. Research shows that just texting a friend can be more meaningful than people tend to think.

I like you!

2) Really good from Jonathan Weiler on gerrymandering

The relevance of gerrymandering to the larger threats facing our democracy isn’t just in the numbers themselves.It’s about the context in which our political battles are playing out. New York and Ohio courts both ruled that their state legislatures engaged in unconstitutional gerrymanders. The former responded by changing its maps. The latter responded by telling the courts to go fuck themselves. Those two responses to court decisions may, all by themselves, result in the flipping of four seats, enough to determine control of the House all by themselves.

And if that’s not bad enough, it’s what that disparate response to court orders reflects that makes Leonhardt’s conclusion dubious. One party is hunting for every conceivable advantage it can, legal or otherwise, not only to seize power in the upcoming election, but to rig the system to make it harder and harder to dislodge them at all. This is where the Orban precedent in Hungary matters – translating initial electoral victories into increasingly insurmountable obstacles to challenging his rule, including by the rigging of parliamentary maps.

So, in the narrow sense, it’s fine to talk about how many seats gerrymandering does or does not impact in a given election. But gerrymandering is, itself, now part of a larger anti-democratic arsenal, which also includes relentless harassment of election workers, more brazen attempts to engage in election fraud and running candidates for high office who will overturn popular election results, to name a few. The premise of the war all of those weapons are being deployed to wage is that we are “a Republic, not a democracy,”1 by which the right means some people’s votes *should* count more than others. All of which is to say that the meaning and threat of gerrymandering itself has changed in recent years. It’s no longer just the usual partisan back and forth of American politics. It’s more insidious, because it’s yet another weapon being deployed evermore brazenly by the GOP, in its effort to ultimately bar Democrats from office, and Democratic voters from representation.

So, when Leonhardt says gerrymandering is not among the bigger problems facing our democracy, he’s right in a narrow sense, but wrong in context.

3) Interesting on exercise, “How Painful Should Your Workout Be?”

The next time around she decided to do things differently. “I wanted to have a more pleasant experience,” she said. “And I thought, how can I learn to like running?”

That question eventually drove her doctoral research on the experiences of beginner runners — how they feel and how that affects their ability to stick with their new habit. And according to her peers in the emerging field of exercise psychology, the answers are far more important to your long-term physical and mental health than the humdrum details of how long, how hard or how often you exercise. After all, no exercise regimen is effective if you don’t stick with it.

But the connection between how a workout routine makes you feel and whether you’re still doing it in six months isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. If it makes you miserable, like Dr. Kennedy’s first experience with running, you’ll likely quit. If it’s too easy, on the other hand, you may find it boring — or, perhaps worse, pointless. The most committed exercisers often crave a certain amount of discomfort.

So if you’re trying to form an exercise habit, how do you figure when to avoid suffering and when to embrace it?

I literally do not like running.  But I do it 4-5 times a week.  I really like how being fit makes me feel overall; I like how I feel after a workout; I enjoy being outside; I love the opportunity to listen to podcasts.  But, I almost never find running for exercise pleasurable.

4) Interesting stuff from Noah Smith, “Thoughts on the origins of wokeness”

The first of these posts is my theory as to why wokeness exploded in the 2010s. The basic idea is that America is a very disrespectful society, and that this lack of respect increasingly clashed with rising diversity and the strides toward racial and gender equality that previous decades had produced. So I think that to a large degree, wokeness was a redistributionary movement aiming for a leveling of social respect.

The second post is my theory of where wokeness comes from, and why it focused on the issues and ideas that it did. The U.S. has a long tradition of semi-Protestant social crusades to uplift the marginalized, dating back at least to the Abolitionist movement. This tradition has never been an outgrowth of European Marxism, as some anti-woke people allege; instead, the animating ideas have come partly from Black thought and partly from Protestantism, and sometimes from both at once. So wokeness should really be seen not as something new, but as something deeply American, which emerges every once in a while.

Anyway, whether you’re a deep believer in wokeness or a dedicated opponent, I urge you to read these posts with an open mind. My goal is not (yet) to judge, but only to understand. I don’t claim to be a scholar or arbiter of these things, but I hope these thoughts can contribute a bit to our general understanding of the forces reshaping our society…

Anyway. I sort of believe in Ian Morris’ principle that “each age gets the thought it needs” — when I see a new ideology develop, my first question is always “Which pressing human problems does this address?” It’s possible to fool yourself this way, and to turn the history of thought into a series of just-so stories. But for years leading up to the so-called “Great Awokening” in 2014-15, I had felt a nagging sense that the country wasn’t quite changing in some of the ways I had hoped and expected it to. In the 2000s and early 2010s, as the country and its elite both became more diverse, I had expected the popular image of what constitutes an “American” to gradually and easily shift away from “a White person, or occasionally a Black person”. It did not. Asian and Hispanic people were rarely represented in popular media, largely ignored by politicians, and generally “othered” with stereotypes and assumptions of foreign-ness. I now see what I should have seen then — the erasure couldn’t go on, and a backlash had to come.

For Black people, the Great Awokening has been more about material concerns, especially police brutality and the persistent income/wealth gap. But there’s also a deep sense in which many Black people feel disrespected, which has to do with history. A lot of Black Americans feel that the history of the bad things this country did to their ancestors is not sufficiently recognized or highlighted in politics and popular culture. And wokeness, with its focus on history, is in part an attempt to fill that lacuna.

And for women, a big part of the Woke Era has been about respect in the workplace. The 90s backlash against sexual harassment made some headway, but many men were still in the habit of talking about sex to their female coworkers in a way that made it clear that they thought of those coworkers as sex objects. And that is a deep and grating lack of respect.

Thus, I think wokeness is in part an attempt to renegotiate the distribution of respect in American society. So many of the things we associate with wokeness — pronoun culture, “canceling” writers who appear to traffic in stereotypes, re-centering American history around Black people, the whole idea of “centering the voices of marginalized groups”, and so on — are explicitly about respect. Wokeness does include social movements with real material aims (e.g. defunding the police), but mostly it’s a cultural movement whose goal is to change the way Americans talk and think about each other.

So when I wrote about redistributing respect, I had the right idea; I just totally missed the dimensions along which the demands for respect would come.

5) John McWhorter on not being a racist:

Since I started writing this newsletter, once about every couple of weeks I have received a missive from someone troubled by a controversy involving race, usually in the workplace.

These readers feel that their opponents in these fusses are unfairly tarring them as racist. Typical disputes they find themselves embroiled in include whether a school program should devote itself centrally to antiracism, whether it is fair to hire people ranking skin color over qualifications, whether reparations for slavery in a local context are appropriate and what they should consist of, and whether a piece of art should be deemed racist.

They seek my confirmation that they are in the right, that they are not racist, and presumably want to take that judgment back to the ring as proof that their position is not anti-Black. Sometimes they are under the impression that it would help if I addressed their colleagues over Zoom.

It has occurred to me that I should provide, in this space, an all-purpose response to this kind of letter I get. For starters, I’d like to offer a guide to my positions on the debates my correspondents seem to find themselves in.

To wit:

I do not support treating the word “Negro,” as opposed to the “N-word,” as a slur. “Negro” was not a slur when it was current, and the case for classifying it as one now because it is archaic is quite thin. Why look for something to be offended by?

I do not support calling something “racist” because outcomes for it differ for the (Black) race. For example, I take issue with the idea that there is something “racist” or “biased” about the questions on the SAT.

I do not condemn white authors writing Black fictional characters who speak Black English so long as it’s a respectful and realistic rendition.

I think the idea that it is cultural appropriation when whites take on Black cultural traits is ahistoric — human groups sharing space have always shared culture — and also pointless, given that Black American culture has always, and will continue to, infuse mainstream America. I also do not think arguments about power relations somehow invalidate my position. I think that it is in vain to decree that culture cannot be borrowed by people in power from those who are not.

I think the idea that only Black people should depict Black people in art and fiction is less antiracist than anti-human, in forbidding the empathy and even admiration that can motivate respectful attempts to create a literary character.

I revile any concept of equity that allows for appointing Black people to positions over more highly qualified non-Black ones.

I know that racism exists both on the personal and structural levels. But I also feel deep disappointment that the tenor of our times seems to encourage some Black people to exaggerate racism’s effects, to enshrine a kind of charismatic defeatism as a substitute for activism. And then there are those who outright fabricate having suffered racist mistreatment. I also worry that these kinds of things desensitize many observers from acknowledging the real racism that exists.

6) This Atlantic cover story from last month really is a must-read, “The secret history of the U.S. government’s family-separation policy”

7) Yglesias is damn right about this, “Funding the tax police is very good: Republicans need to stop coddling criminals”

In April of 2021, I argued that boosting IRS funding would have two major benefits: it would more than pay for itself through increased tax revenue, allowing the government to do useful things without raising tax rates, and it would allow the IRS to invest in customer service, better serving the average taxpayer.

Now that this funding increase has come to pass as part the Inflation Reduction Act, Republicans have made it the focus of their complaints about the law.

And I think it’s worth diving into because on the merits, this is probably their least valid complaint, but by the polling, it’s their politically strongest argument. If you think that spending a few hundred billion subsidizing zero-carbon energy production is a bad idea, then that’s fine. But the government collecting the tax revenue it’s owed is unambiguously good, and the Republican Party’s opposition to it is telling and disturbing.

After all, they wrote a tax reform bill in 2017, and even though their bill cut taxes on net, it did raise a bunch of revenue (most famously from curbing the SALT deduction) to partially offset the cost of the tax cut. The GOP could have increased tax enforcement as another offset, and instead of letting Democrats spend the revenue, they could have used it to make the cuts in the Trump tax bill even bigger.

But they didn’t. Because separate from the party’s overall view on the desirable level of taxation, they’ve developed a peculiar soft spot for tax cheats.

Don’t be like Italy

 

Because taxes are levied on broad macroeconomic categories, it’s possible to predict, in a top-down kind of way, how much taxes should theoretically be coming in. And in every country I’ve seen data for, actual revenue received is less than this top-down analysis predicts.

A lot of that is fairly banal — people getting paid in cash transactions that aren’t recorded or reported — but most of it stems from the complexities of small business taxation.

The good news, as this Tax Foundation report shows, is that the American tax gap is on the lower side. But pay attention to some of the countries at the top of the list:

I think Republican Party elected officials and their non-specialist allies in the conservative movement are underrating how bad it would be for the United States to migrate closer to the top of that list. The countries with huge tax gaps are not dynamic, business-friendly free market societies — they tend to be stuck in a dysfunctional paradigm in which businesses struggle to grow or adopt professionalized management because so much money hinges on their ability to keep two different sets of books. Italy and Greece are dominated by small, closely held businesses with family-centric management that are reaping huge economic gains by cheating on their taxes. Even the best-run of those companies tend not to expand or professionalize because to do so successfully, they’d have to actually pay what they owe.

If you believe that taxes should be low, the goal is to be like Ireland or New Zealand, where taxes are low but compliance is very high. Or you could be like Denmark, where tax compliance is very high and the taxes are high. But you don’t want to be like Italy where everyone is cheating on their taxes. As I wrote in “What’s Not Wrong With Italy,” there’s actually a bunch of good stuff happening in Italian public policy. But it’s swamped by this trap of bad government and small, badly managed companies.

8) David Sims, “Hollywood Learned All the Wrong Lessons From Avatar”

9) This is really good, “What Ted Cruz and Tucker Carlson Don’t Understand About War: On the modern battlefield, brains and adaptability yield far better results than ruthless brutality does.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals aren’t the only people who think that the more ruthless, hypermasculine, and reflexively brutal an army is, the better it performs on the battlefield. That view also has fans in the United States.

Last year, Senator Ted Cruz recirculated a TikTok video that contrasted a Russian military-recruitment ad, which showed a male soldier getting ready to kill people, with an American recruitment video that told the story of a female soldier—the daughter of two mothers—who enlisted partly to challenge stereotypes. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea,” Cruz tweeted sarcastically. The Texas Republican is not alone in trumpeting a Putinesque ideal. Several months earlier, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson had similarly complained about a supposedly “woke” Pentagon, which he likened to the Wesleyan University anthropology department. By promoting diversity and inclusion, he insisted, military leaders were destroying American armed forces, supposedly the last great bastion of merit in the country. More recently, Carlson has complained that America’s armed forces are becoming “more feminine, whatever feminine means anymore,” just as China’s are “more masculine.”

Arguments like these were much easier to make before Putin unleashed his muscle-bound and decidedly unwoke fighting machine on the ostensibly weak Ukrainians, only to see it perform catastrophically. More than seven months into the war, the Ukrainian army continues to grow in strength, confidence, and operational competence, while the Russian army is flailing. Its recent failures raise many questions about the nature of military power. Before Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine, many analysts described his military as fast and powerful and predicted that it would “shock and awe” the overmatched defenders. The Ukrainian armed forces were widely assumed to be incapable of fighting the mighty Russians out in the open; their only option, the story went, would be to retreat into their cities and wage a form of guerrilla war against the invaders.

The success of the Ukrainian military over the past few months, along with the evolution of the Ukrainian state itself toward a more tolerant, more liberal norm, reveals what makes a better army in the modern world. Brains mean more than brawn, and adaptability means more than mindless aggression. Openness to new ideas and new equipment, along with the ability to learn quickly, is far more important than a simple desire to kill.

From the moment the Russian military crossed the border, the Ukrainians have outfought it, revealing it to be inflexible and intellectually vapid. Indeed when confronted with a Ukrainian military that was everything it was not—smart, adaptable, and willing to learn—the Russian army could only fall back on slow, massed firepower. The Battle of the Donbas, the war’s longest engagement, which started in late April and is still under way, exposed the Russian army at its worst. For months, it directed the bulk of personnel and equipment toward the center of a battle line running approximately from Izyum to Donetsk. Instead of breaking through Ukrainian lines and sending armored forces streaking forward rapidly, as many analysts had predicted, the Russian army opted to make painfully slow, incremental advances, by simply blasting the area directly in front of it. The plan seemed to be to render the area uninhabitable by Ukrainians, which would allow the Russians to advance intermittently into the vacuum. This was heavy-firepower, low-intelligence warfare on a grand scale, which resulted in strategically meaningless advances secured at the cost of unsustainably high Russian casualties. And in recent weeks, the Ukrainians have retaken much of the territory that Russia managed to seize at the start of the battle—and more.

And… that’s it.  

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Edsall on conservative calls for avowedly Christian nationalism:

On June 22, 75 supporters of the National Conservatism project issued a 10-part statement of principles. The signatories include Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative; Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina and a former president of the Heritage Foundation; Mark Meadows, a former chief of staff to President Trump; Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute and the venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

The principles include a strong commitment to the infusion of religion into the operation of government: “No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition.” Thus the “Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and nonbelievers alike.”

Perhaps most strikingly, the principles declare that:

Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes.

2) Some interesting stuff here and also some personality “science” that I’m not quite convinced is science, “Why do you like the music you like? Science weighs in.”

Many people tend to form their musical identity in adolescence, around the same time that they explore their social identity. Preferences may change over time, but research shows that people tend to be especially fond of music from their adolescent years and recall music from a specific age period — 10 to 30 years with a peak at 14 — more easily.

Musical taste is often identified by preferred genres, but a more accurate way of understanding preferences is by musical attributes, researchers say. One model outlines three dimensions of musical attributes: arousal, valence and depth.
“Arousal is linked to the amount of energy and intensity in the music,” says David M. Greenberg, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge. Punk and heavy metal songs such as “White Knuckles” by Five Finger Death Punch were high on arousal, a study conducted by Greenberg and other researchers found…

“Valence is a spectrum,” from negative to positive emotions, he says. Lively rock and pop songs such as “Razzle Dazzle” by Bill Haley & His Comets were high on valence.

Depth indicates “both a level of emotional and intellectual complexity,” Greenberg says. “We found that rapper Pitbull’s music would be low on depth, [and] classical and jazz music could be high on depth.”

Also, musical attributes have interesting relationships with one another. “High depth is often correlated with lower valence, so sadness in music is also evoking a depth in it,” he says.

We prefer music from artists whose personalities we identify with. “When people listen to music, they’re being driven by how similar that artist is to themselves,” Greenberg says.

In his 2021 study, participants rated the personality traits of artists using the Big 5 model: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN). To the respondents, David Bowie displayed high Openness and Neuroticism; while Marvin Gaye displayed high Agreeableness.

“The match between the [personality of the] listener and the artist was predictive of the musical preferences for the artist beyond just the attributes from the music,” Greenberg says.

Personality traits may predict people’s musical taste, researchers say. In a 2022 study, Greenberg and his colleagues found that despite sociocultural differences, participants around the world displayed personality traits that were consistently correlated with their preference for certain genres of Western music. Extraversion, for example, was linked to a preference for upbeat contemporary music, and Openness was linked to a preference for sophisticated or cerebral styles.

Look at me with my upbeat, cerebral music preferences 🙂

3) Good stuff from Yglesias on policing:

Once you get past the fantasy that we can wish policing away or “reimagine” public safety in a way that doesn’t involve guys with uniforms and guns, you’re left with the fact that the policing status quo is bad and also hard to change.

Officers should be held accountable for misconduct — not just the most extreme forms of misconduct, but relatively minor kinds as well. Yet we see chiefs reluctant to fire officers, and officers who do get dismissed bouncing from department to department. And this is at least in part because in many cases it is genuinely not easy to fill vacancies. Meanwhile, many if not most departments seem to have a deeply ingrained warrior mentality that emphasizes dominance rather than service. Policing has become so politicized that the overwhelming majority of officers, even in very liberal areas, are right-wing and often seem to have barely disguised disdain for the citizens they nominally serve, and not-at-all disguised disdain for the politicians elected to run their cities. Over the course of 2020-21, we saw a massive national wave of shootings and murder that seems to have been caused at least in part by a de facto police strike, tacitly organized to (successfully) push back on momentum for reform.

That’s bad on its own terms, and it’s also a ticking time bomb for democracy more broadly…

Right now, very few people with progressive values or any qualms about the status quo in the criminal justice system are willing to consider a career in policing. But that dynamic is only going to make everything people worry about in policing even worse. We’re both exacerbating ideological selection into and out of policing, and also making general staffing problems harder. This only makes chiefs more reluctant to dismiss bad cops and more likely to accept retreats who’ve washed out for misconduct elsewhere.

If we accept that policing is important and that high-poverty, high-crime communities want to see policing improved rather than defunded, it would be more constructive to create a program that challenges people who believe policing can be done better to actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

There’s a good amount of evidence (most recently summed up in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing) that better-educated police officers are better across a variety of dimensions — they use force less and engage in more “problem-oriented” policing. This is sometimes taken as a reason to encourage departments to require college degrees or create financial incentives for getting them. Realistically, though, creating a degree requirement is only going to make personnel shortages worse, and a crude financial incentive is going to lead to people enrolling in low-value programs just to get a raise.

Police for America would address the same issue from the opposite direction, creating a centralized mechanism for increasing the supply of educated officers available to work in high-poverty communities. I think it’s safe to assume that PFA cops, like TFA teachers, would have above-average rates of medium-term attrition. But the ones who don’t leave policing would be disproportionately likely to secure promotion. And many of the ones who do leave policing would still work in adjacent fields and would bring practical police experience to bear on careers in law, policy, journalism, and politics. You’d get cultural change inside police departments via the entry of different kinds of people, and also a criminal justice reform community that was operating across less of a conceptual void from the people doing police work…

I have some criticisms of PP trends (the inclination you see in some places to treat illegal gun possession as a non-violent crime unworthy of serious punishment seems like a big mistake to me), but the basic idea that reformers should actually take on criminal justice work and try to do it better is correct. The idea came to prosecutors first because lawyering is more of a high-prestige occupation than policing. But that’s why TFA seems like a promising model — you can really create prestige out of thin air with a little money, savvy, and media hype.

4) Paul Waldman on the awful Trump judge and the broader undermining of the rule of law:

The Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis as its ongoing legal revolution becomes more and more alarming to a public unhappy about its recent rulings on abortion and gun rights. But there’s another legitimacy crisis brewing, one that can be seen vividly in Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s extraordinary rulings in the case involving Donald Trump’s hoarding of documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump despite her thin experience, has been almost comically eager to help the former president. Her appointment of a special master to review documents seized in the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago was greeted with shock and ridicule on substantive grounds and was widely seen as a means of delaying the case as long as possible.

But Cannon’s latest intervention on Trump’s behalf is particularly disturbing. I want to focus on one part of the order she gave Thursday, because it speaks to how we believe courts are supposed to work and how those foundations of the justice system are being warped.

Trump, true to form, has been making fantastical claims about how victimized he has been at the hands of law enforcement. Among other things, he has said the FBI may have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago to incriminate him.

So special master Raymond J. Dearie — who was suggested by Trump’s attorneys and agreed to by the government — essentially told the Trump team to put up or shut up. He instructed them to clarify whether they’re challenging the government’s inventory of documents collected at Mar-a-Lago. Would they make an official statement alleging documents were planted, or would they accept that the inventory is accurate?

This put them in an awkward position — the same awkward position Trump attorneys have been in before. Their client is the most notorious liar in the history of American politics. But in court, the rules are different than on Fox News or Truth Social.

In case after case after the 2020 election, Trump attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell rolled into court with rumors, speculation and hearsay about widespread election fraud. Again and again, they were shot down by judges telling them it wasn’t enough to say they heard about a guy whose cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbor said he saw a van with a Joe Biden bumper sticker idling behind the board of elections building. Without evidence, they lost.

But Cannon swooped in to save Trump’s lawyers from the embarrassment of contradicting their boss. She overruled Dearie, allowing the lawyers to avoid taking a position on whether the inventory is accurate. Given the chance to draw a bright line marking the integrity of what goes on in court, she did the opposite.

This may seem like a small thing. But it’s a direct assault on the idea that the courts are a venue where fairness prevails precisely because there are strict rules everyone has to follow, rules designed to get to the truth.

Almost two years after Trump left office, the poison he injected into the courts with the appointment of a long list of hack judges is becoming more clear. It’s increasingly difficult to look at important court cases of recent days and believe that whether you like the outcome, the procedures have been fair, the judges have worked to be objective and the integrity of the courts is intact.

Judges such as Cannon undermine a cornerstone of the legitimacy of the court system: the idea of “procedural fairness.” This topic has long been of interest to judges and lawyers, and research has found that people’s perceptions of whether they were treated fairly is often just as important as the outcome in determining their feelings about the process.

5) Really, really liked this from Jesse Singal, “It Isn’t Journalism’s Job To Hand-Hold People To The Correct Moral Conclusions”

One of the silliest ideas to infect mainstream journalism in recent years is the notion that when journalists produce work about a bad person, they must signpost that work, seemingly every moment, with explicit indicators that that person is bad. You need to hold readers’ hands tightly, because they are moral idiots, and the moment your grip slips, they’ll race off and return in a Klansman’s hood or something.

This is now a thoroughly mainstream view in journalism, and it is applied to coverage not just to actual fascists, but to an ever-growing variety of right-wing (or otherwise disfavored) figures…

When a journalist gets dragged on Twitter the way Harkinson did, it gets noticed by other journalists. One of Twitter’s main functions, after all, is to publiclydish out discipline to those deemed to have violated a given group’s norms, whether or not the accusation is valid.

Things have gotten a lot worse in mainstream journalism since Harkinson’s piece. I’m not the first to have ranted and written about the culture of stifling conformity, of jumping down the throats of anyone who argues for nuanced takes on hot-button issues, or who publicly disagrees with sacralized narratives. These tendencies have contributed to botched coverage of national news events over and over and over and over.

But there’s a more fundamental principle at stake here: respect for readers (and listeners). The ideas that readers will scurry off to fascism unless we keep them tightly leashed, that they can’t handle a little bit of uncertainty or nuance or a couple of unanswered questions — it’s all deeply condescending. Certain prescriptions for how journalism should be conducted — such as the idea that we should be awash in headlines like “Racist President Drones Racistly As Racist Group Howls With Racist Glee” — seem motivated by genuine contempt for readers.

When Damon Kiesow argues that an article about Chris Rufo was a terrible act because it included a prominent photo of Rufo as well as a somewhat in-depth interview with him, that’s because he doesn’t respect Times readers. “The path to not amplifying hate is to lead with a portait [sic] of the director of a local anti-hate group and have them describe the issue – and then dig into the details of the people pushing anti-civil rights legislation.” This is an utterly impoverished, impossibly bland concept of journalism in which we slap helmets on readers and then lead them by hand, via velvet ropes and padded walls, to their final, safe destination: On your left you’ll see a local civil rights leader. He is a hero. What a good man! In our next room you’ll meet today’s baddy, an eeeeeeeevil man named Chris Rufo. Do not listen to what he says, for he is a Deceiver.

I can’t write like this because I don’t hate my readers. And most journalists, to be fair, don’t hate their readers either — they want to produce interesting work. But the hysterical, moralizing view of journalism is winning, largely because of the social media shitstorm that engulfs anyone who insists on treating readers as compos mentis adults rather than kids in the under-10 section of a theme park. If you’re skeptical of my argument that views like Kiesow’s stem from contempt for readers, reflect, for a minute, on the claim that launched this whole article: that describing a hardened racist as “dapper” will cause people to be drawn to that racist and to embrace his ideas. The hypothetical seductee in this scenario is, full-stop, an idiot.

Any competent critique of 2022 needs to mention class, and this is indeed partly a class issue. Journalists are increasingly from privileged, liberal backgrounds like mine, and privileged, liberal people tend to have very strong, very set feelings about politics — feelings that only grew more intense during the Trump years. For the most part, journalists in my milieu are cut off, at least as far as close social and familial ties go, from the sorts of people who might be fans of Chris Rufo. That makes it harder to cover Rufo accurately, which is something you should want even if — especially if — you dislike Rufo and his project.

Journalism needs more Josh Harkinsons, is what it comes down to. There are all sorts of structural reasons why it’s harder than ever before to produce long, careful, rigorous works of magazine reporting — that such works are now shouted down and slandered by other journalists is an exceptionally foreboding development for an already teetering industry.

6) This Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest TV shows got dunked on all over twitter.  But it’s really good!  Sopranos is #1 and Wired, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld are all top 10.  That’s a good list!

7) Heck, more Jesse Singal on a singularly (okay, it’s not, but couldn’t resist) Vox article.

8) Cathy Young with one of the best pieces I’ve read on Diversity training:

Let’s grant that DeSantis’s Trump-lite culture-warmongering is cynical and noxious, and the “Stop WOKE” law—which should be taken out and shot for its moniker alone—is a very real speech infringement, especially given the broad scope and the vagueness of its prohibitions. (For example, the law prohibits training or teaching that individuals “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions . . . committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” Does this apply only to instructing trainees that such reactions are required, or could any material that inspires employees to feel “psychological distress” or shame over racial inequities fall under suspicion?)

And let’s further grant that Rufo is a political hack who is upfront about his end-justifies-the-means approach to stopping “wokeness.”

But DEI training is also one of those issues on which the right and the left tend to get trapped in a mutual cycle of escalating culture-war follies. The right seizes on a real problem, blows it up into an imminent threat to Civilization As We Know It, and demands ham-handed—and often unconstitutional—action to root it out. The left circles the wagons and ferociously argues that whatever the right is complaining about is either nonexistent or actually a good thing. The right attacks even more forcefully. Rinse and repeat.

While Rufo’s dispatches from the culture-war front definitely need to be taken with a grain, or maybe a shaker-full, of salt—as I noted last year, he’s prone, at the very least, to exaggeration and cherry-picking—some of the corporate documents he has collected should give cause for concern.

For instance, the “Listen. Understand. Act.” program launched at AT&T in April 2021 describes “21-Day Racial Equity Habit Challenge” which invites the employee to “do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity” every day for 21 days. These actions include reading, watching, or listening to material on antiracism, gender issues and/or social justice from an ideologically uniform list that features Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Nikole Hannah-Jones. No alternative or critical point of view is listed—not, say, Kelefa Sanneh’s trenchant 2019 critique of Kendi and DiAngelo for the New Yorker, or the podcast discussions by Brown University economist Glenn Loury and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter, two black academics critical of the Kendi brand of antiracism.

Other recommended material includes a blog post arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has been good for anti-racism because living in the constant shadow of death allows white Americans to understand how black Americans feel all the time; a column that bluntly states, “White people, you are the problem”; a video titled “Not Everyone Is Your Friend,” in which a spoken-word poet warns that old friends who don’t support you on your social justice journey may not really be true friends; and a conversation with the author of a book arguing that the United States owes its economic power to slavery, with no mention of other work challenging his thesis. Participants are also encouraged to become involved in social and racial justice activism and to scrutinize their circle of friends, their reading and film- or TV-viewing habits, and even the artwork in their homes for racial balance…

Moreover, one need not endorse conspiracy theories about “woke” corporations and the left to be troubled by a trend of major employers expecting employees to declare allegiance to a particular political viewpoint. Nor does one need to endorse Trump-style white identity politics to believe that the DiAngelo-style identity politics of many DEI programs are, in fact, very bad. It’s everything from the messages decrying “whiteness” and badgering white employees to confess their “complicity” in racism to the fixation on seeing all interpersonal problems through the lens of identity, privilege, and oppression to the constant sleuthing for “microaggressions” and “harm.” It doesn’t help that for all the talk of “diversity,” many DEI programs are focused on the dynamics of black and white Americans while giving short shrift to other groups. The “Listen. Understand. Act.” materials include more than forty items that focus on the black American experience, but just two focused on Hispanics and one dealing with Asian Americans…

Another alternative DEI program is offered by Brooklyn-based African-American entrepreneur and writer Chloé Simone Valdary under the name “Theory of Enchantment.” (It’s based on the 2011 book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, who defines “enchantment” as winning people over by “delighting” them with a product or idea.) On the Theory of Enchantment website, Valdary describes her program, launched four years ago, as “a framework for compassionate antiracism that combines social-emotional learning (SEL), character development, and interpersonal growth,” based on three principles: “treat people like human beings, not political abstractions”; “criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down or destroy”; “root everything you do in love and compassion.” Clients include the online food-delivery company GrubHub and the Hadassah Jewish women’s organization. The company currently has six part-time employees; Valdary told me that at least for now, she’s looking not to expand but to build sustainable systems. She also stresses that she approaches the issue “from an entrepreneurial perspective, not a culture-war perspective.”

Like Manji, Valdary is highly critical of the conventional DEI model, which her site describes as leading to “individuals being unfairly singled out, ostracized, and humiliated” and “animosity developing among coworkers.” But she also believes that the anti-woke crusaders—whether activists or politicians—end up becoming the very things they wage war against, and she thinks HB 7, with its focus on banning “harmful” concepts in workplace training, is a perfect example. “They’re imitating critical race theory, which also wants to ban certain uses of words,” she says. “It’s like, to a T, an imitation of their opponents.”

9) The story that dominated twitter for a day earlier this week, “More Trans Teens Are Choosing ‘Top Surgery’” Can we at least agree that doctors advertising for teenage patients for this on TikTok is bad?

10) Relatedly, semi-recent report on changes on all this in Europe, “The Beginning of the End of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’? Britain is closing the infamous Tavistock Centre. Finland and Sweden have radically revised their treatment guidelines. But American doctors are advertising surgeries to children on TikTok.”

The question is how Americans will react.

In a sign that they may be rethinking the “puberty blockers are safe and reversible” dogma, the Food and Drug Administration, also on Thursday, announced that it was slapping a new warning on puberty blockers. It turns out they may cause brain swelling and vision loss. But for now, the move among American medical associations, health officials and dozens of gender clinics is to double down on the affirmative approach, with the Biden administration recently asserting gender affirmation is “trauma-informed care.”

The American stance is at odds with a growing consensus in the West to exercise extreme caution when it comes to transitioning young people. Uber-progressive countries like Sweden and Finland have pushed back—firmly and unapologetically—against the affirmative approach of encouraging youth transition advocated by some transgender activists and gender clinicians.

Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare released new guidelines for treating young people with gender dysphoria earlier this year. The new guidelines state that the risks of these “gender-affirming” medical interventions “currently outweigh the possible benefits, and that the treatments should be offered only in exceptional cases.”

Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care (COHERE) came to a similar conclusion a year earlier, noting: “The first-line intervention for gender variance during childhood and adolescent years is psychosocial support and, as necessary, gender-explorative therapy and treatment for comorbid psychiatric disorders.” And: “In light of available evidence, gender reassignment of minors is an experimental practice.” Gender reassignment medical interventions “must be done with a great deal of caution, and no irreversible treatment should be initiated.”

Both guidelines starkly contrast with those proffered by the Illinois-based World Professional Association of Transgender Health, an advocacy group made up of activists, academics, lawyers, and healthcare providers, which has set the standard when it comes to transgender care in the United States. WPATH will soon issue new standards that lower recommended ages for blockers, hormones and surgeries. (WPATH did not respond to a request for comment.)

WPATH’s position is in keeping with an array of U.S. medical associations and activist groups across the country that insist gender-affirming care is “life-saving.” Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who is herself a transgender woman, recently asserted that there is a medical consensus as to its benefits. Some activists and gender clinicians in the U.S. feel that WPATH doesn’t go far enough, asserting that any child who wants puberty blockers should get them, for instance, or claiming that a teenager who later regrets having her breasts removed can just get new ones.

In Sweden and Finland, this issue has been primarily a question of health and medicine. Here in the U.S. it is a political football.

11) Paul Waldman, “Those GOP ‘tough on crime’ ads? They’re based on a very big lie.”

But the idea that crime rates in America will depend on which party controls Congress is ridiculous on its face. The truth — which in a better world would play some role in campaign debates — is that almost nothing Congress does will have any more than the smallest effect on crime.

As The Post reports, in the past month or so Republicans have made crime the primary focus of their campaigns. Apparently, inflation just didn’t provide the appropriate dose of fear and rage:

During the first three weeks of September, the Republican candidates and allies aired about 53,000 commercials on crime, according to AdImpact, which tracks political spots on network TV. That’s up from the 29,000 crime ads they aired in all of August. Nearly 50 percent of all Republican online ads in battleground states have focused on policing and safety since the start of the month, according to data from Priorities USA, a group focused on electing Democrats.

As Republicans know well — because they’ve run on this issue for decades — crime is both a real problem and a symbolic one. It can affect people’s lives in profound ways. But bringing it up can also activate fear, tribalistic distrust and oftentimes outright bigotry, emotions that override any rational assessment of problems and solutions.

But there is a truth in the general vicinity, which is that Republicans do in fact want to spend more on police than we do now; the essence of their position is that police budgets must always rise. In some states, they’ve even passed laws that would punish cities that cut their police budgets, no matter the reason. There is a real policy difference here: Republicans generally favor whatever sounds “tough” — more cops, longer sentences, less accountability for police misconduct — while Democrats tend to have a broader view of what government could do to reduce crime, while also often supporting more spending on police.

12) Always enjoy reading about research on apples, but so many of the new cultivars are just sweet with now balancing tartness– so frustrating.  Meanwhile, Braeburn is one of the best apples ever (and if you like Jazz, it’s Braeburn crossed with Gala) and you can’t even find it anywhere anymore.  “How About Them Apples? Research Orchards Chart a Fruit’s Future. Scientists working in research groves, like one in Nova Scotia, are developing your favorite new apple variety.”

13) Jessica Grose on kids’ sports, “‘The more parents spend on their kids’ sports, the less the kid enjoys it and the more pressure they feel’”

My daughters love to swim, and we’d exhausted the lessons at our local Y, so I thought I’d try to find them a swim team. They’re only 6 and 9, so what I was looking for was a local rec situation that offered a bit of low-stakes camaraderie and regular exercise. They’re strong swimmers but probably not future Olympians, and besides, I want a life: I have zero interest in shuttling them up and down the Eastern Seaboard every weekend to compete, as the parents whose children are on travel teams seem to do.
The kind of chill athletic experience I wanted for my kids barely seems to exist anymore. There wasn’t anything like the delightfully bumbling soccer league of my youth. All I could find were intense teams that had practices several times a week. The only other regular swimming option for my children is lessons, which are expensive, and you need to sign up on the first day of registration or you’re out of luck.
I thought it might be just a New York City thing — often there are wait lists for all kinds of kid activities because there is so much demand and not enough supply. But it seems to be a cross-country problem: When I tweeted in frustration, lots of folks replied describing similar experiences — including a woman who wryly suggested that one might have to sacrifice a baby goat to get kids into swimming lessons in Portland, Ore.
This saddens me for so many reasons. A big one is that sports were such an important part of my tween and teen years. I wasn’t good enough to play in college, but I played soccer and field hockey through my senior year of high school. It always felt like a respite from adolescent drama, and it provided structure and solace on even the worst days. Being part of a team taught me a lot of lessons, not least of which that showing up on time and ready to play has tangible benefits, no matter what happens in the game.
But as Linda Flanagan explains in her new book, “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports — and Why It Matters,” the problem is systemic. At its base, over the past several decades, “kids’ sports stopped being for kids.” There are fewer low-cost options, the time parents are spending on sports has ratcheted up and kids from lower-income families have less access to play. Instead, youth sports are about making adults money and fueling what some economists call the “rug rat race” — middle-class and upper-middle-class competition to get kids into colleges and secure their futures.

That sucks.  Too bad these parents don’t have access to NCFC Youth Rec soccer, where we totally get this right.

14) Did you hear about the “academic” paper last month which was some guy describing his diary of masturbating to pseudo-child porn?  Academics should not be defending this stuff– not all subjects are worthy of study and not all study expands are knowledge– but they do.

15) I saw an ad for Xyzal the other day, which is basically warmed over Zyrtec, but, of course, does not have a generic.  And, how does the efficacy compare?  Zyrtec is actually better.

16) More frustrating culture war battles.  This documentary sounds great and thoughtful.  But, alas, how dare a white woman make a documentary about Muslim men? “Sundance Liked Her Documentary on Terrorism, Until Muslim Critics Didn’t”

17) Loved this take from “History Boomer

“Stay in your lane” is one of the stupider phrases to emerge from lefty identity politics. It’s the crazy idea that certain topics should only be discussed or portrayed by people with the appropriate characteristics. It’s a smothering approach that would set limits on art based on skin color and background when the only limit to art should be the artist’s imagination.

Michael Powell over at the New York Times penned an important article on a film that has been unfairly attacked because it has the “wrong” views and its director the wrong cultural heritage. Meg Smaker directed Jihad Rehab, a documentary investigating the lives of four men who joined jihadist groups, were imprisoned and tortured at Guantanamo Bay, and finally began a move towards a different view of the world during a stay at a Saudi Arabian rehabilitation center. The film was widely praised (read this positive review at The Guardian) until it caught the eye and ire of activists who complained that Ms. Smaker was demonizing Muslims as terrorists and should not, as a white woman, be making such a film at all. Ms. Smaker had film festivals pull her documentary because of the controversy and she is facing career ruin.

For all the details, read Powell’s article, the Guardian’s review, an open letter from filmmakers (who mostly hadn’t seen it) condemning the film, and an open letter from the film’s executive director Abigail Disney, who had originally called the film “freaking brilliant,” but now condemned it because it “has landed like a truckload of hate on people whom I sincerely love and respect.”

For me, one quote jumped out:

“When I, a practicing Muslim woman, say that this film is problematic,” wrote Jude Chehab, a Lebanese American documentarian, “my voice should be stronger than a white woman saying that it isn’t. Point blank.”

Jude Chehab thinks she should be listened to because she is a Muslim Arab while Meg Smaker, as a white American, has a less valid point of view. This way of thinking stems from what is called “standpoint theory,”1 which argues we need to grant special authority to views expressed by those whose identity makes them more trustworthy narrators. (Smaker spent years living in Yemen, learning Arabic, and studying Muslim cultures.)

It’s darkly funny that this same emphasis on identity and authenticity has also been used to justify attacking the casting of non-white characters in Amazon’s The Rings of Power and a black mermaid in the live-action The Little Mermaid. Ms. Chehab wants only Muslim filmmakers to make films about Muslims and conservative critics want only white people to portray mermaids and elves…

The article has some nuance—Farah Fleurima says that sometimes fat suits can work, as with Christian Bale in the film Vice—but mostly pushes for the idea that actors should closely resemble the people they are portraying.

Who can forget the caramel-hued actress Zoe Saldaña playing the singer Nina Simone in a much-maligned biopic of the proudly dark-coffee-skinned performer?

“Caramel-hued,” “dark-coffee-skinned”? While the right complains about dark-skinned elves and black mermaids, the left thinks that Zoe Saldaña—who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage—isn’t dark enough? Should casting calls include Pantone color swatches to make sure each actor properly fits the role? Of course, we also need to examine your sex life to make sure only straight actors play straight characters, ditto your physical abilities if you want to play wheel-chair bound Stephen Hawking.

This way lies madness. Taken to its logical conclusion, “stay in your lane” thinking will result in filmmakers only making films about themselves and only Barack Obama will be acceptable to portray Barack Obama. We must fight the purity police on all sides who want to resegregate our culture. Meg Smaker has as much right to make a film about four Muslim men (assuming she approaches the subject with care and integrity) as a black filmmaker has to create her own vision of Romeo and Juliet. We are all citizens of this world, hungry students learning from her intertwined cultures.

18) Yglesias is right, “Beating climate change absolutely requires new technology: We have what we need to drastically cut emissions — but we’re going to need much more”

So how much does this cost? Well, not very much. Because the key thing about this scenario is that all my kilowatts of electricity get used. When I’m in surplus, that extra electricity goes “to the grid” where it substitutes for other sources of power, and I earn credits that offset my electricity usage during deficit periods. If I had to throw away my surplus kilowatts instead of selling them to the grid, my per-kilowatt cost would soar.

And if everyone had solar power, that’s the problem we would face. Who would we export the extra electricity to during surplus periods? At a small margin, we have the technology for this: instead of exporting power during the day and importing it at night, I could get a home battery and store daytime excess for use at night. That would raise my per-kilowatt cost, but only modestly since batteries aren’t that expensive. And you can add wind as well as solar to your grid so you have some resiliency against seasonal variations in sunlight.

The problem is that without fossil fuels for resilience, the cost per megawatt of renewables soars because redundancy is expensive.

Wasting electricity is costly

Seasonal variation is a big problem here, for example.

Let’s say you have enough solar panels to cover 100 percent of your electricity needs on an average December day. That means you’re going to have way more panels than you need on an average June day when the sun is shining for a much longer period of time. On a pure engineering basis, that’s fine — there are just some panels that in practice are only generating power for a few days per year in the dead of winter. But the cost per megawatt of those panels is going to be astronomical because a solar panel is almost 100 percent fixed costs.

The same is true of random fluctuations in weather. If you’re like Texas and rely on a mix of gas and wind, then wind is cheap — you add some turbines and that means you burn less gas. If there’s some freak day when there’s very little wind, then you burn an unusually large amount of gas. As long as you’re using almost all the wind power you generate, the cost per megawatt of your turbines is low. But if you try to build enough turbines to keep the lights on during low-wind days, you’re wasting wind on high-wind days. This means your cost per megawatt rises.

Because massively overbuilding renewables would not only cost a lot of money but wastefully consume vast tracts of land, it seems like a better idea would be to use long-term batteries. If you had really big batteries that stored electricity for a long time, you could simply store surplus power in the high season and unleash it in the low season.

In fact, if you are lucky enough to have large hydroelectric dams at your disposal, you can probably use them as a seasonal storage vehicle. You can let the water pile up when renewables are at maximum capacity and then run it through the dam when you need it. Not coincidentally, politicians from the Pacific Northwest — where there’s tons of hydro — tend to be huge climate hawks.

But for the rest of us, it’s Hypothetical Storage Technology to the rescue.

I’m not saying anything here that renewables proponents aren’t aware of. They write articles about seasonal electricity storage all the time. There are plenty of ideas here that could work, ranging from ideas on the technological cutting edge to brute force engineering concepts like using pumps to create extra hydro capacity. Another idea is that maybe you could replace a lot of current fossil fuel use with burning hydrogen, and then you could manufacture hydrogen using renewable electricity while accepting seasonal variation in the level of hydrogen output. It might work!

19) Relatedly, “What Many Progressives Misunderstand About Fighting Climate Change”

But this may not be enough for some environmentalists. Jamie Henn, an environmental activist and the director of Fossil Free Media, recently told Rolling Stone, “Look, I want to get carbon out of the atmosphere, but this is such an opportunity to remake our society. But if we just perpetuate the same harms in a clean-energy economy, and it’s just a world of Exxons and Elon Musks—oh, man, what a nightmare.” Many progressive commentators similarly believe that countering climate change requires a fundamental reordering of the West’s political and economic systems. “The level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below ‘absolutely catastrophic’ is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo,” the writer Phil McDuff has argued. The climate crisis, the Green New Deal advocate Naomi Klein has insisted, “could be the best argument progressives have ever had” to roll back corporate influence, tear up free-trade deals, and reinvest in public services and infrastructure.

Such comments raise a question: What is the real goal here—stopping climate change or abolishing capitalism? Taking climate change seriously as a global emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck attitude and a recognition that technological solutions (yes, often built and deployed by private firms) can deliver real progress on decarbonization before the proletariat has seized the means of production. A massive infusion of private investment, made not for charity but in the anticipation of future profits, is precisely what’s needed to accelerate the clean-energy transition—which, like all revolutions, will yield unpredictable results.

The belief that top-down decision makers can choreograph precisely how the clean-energy revolution will proceed runs deep in progressive circles. In the manifesto describing his version of the Green New Deal, Bernie Sanders declared, “To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.” Many environmental groups share the Vermont senator’s aversion to these technologies. But the climate emergency demands we take a closer look at some of them before writing them off completely. In the face of uncertainty about the best path to decarbonization, policy makers should think like a venture capitalist—placing lots of bets in the expectation that some technologies will fail but the investment portfolio will succeed as a whole. The “false solutions” that Sanders decries may indeed prove unworkable. Nuclear energy might never be cost-competitive, and geoengineering may prove technically infeasible. But we can’t know in advance…

In a variety of other ways, Americans will have to choose between the perfect and the good. Some environmentalists are skeptical of geothermal energy, which requires extensive drilling. Yet it has high potential as a source of clean baseload power with a small geographical footprint that can, in theory, be deployed anywhere in the world (if you drill deep enough). One way to accelerate investment in geothermal energy would be to give this clean technology the same expedited permitting that oil and gas companies already receive for leases on federal land.

20) I cannot recall how I came across this, but, among other things, it’s got a nice replication of the Milgram experiment and it’s damn entertaining, Derren Brown’s, “The Heist

21) Special K for the win, “Nothing seemed to treat their depression. Then they tried ketamine.”

22) This is good, “How to Change Minds? A Study Makes the Case for Talking It Out. Researchers found that meaty conversations among several people can align beliefs and brain patterns — so long as the group is free of blowhards.” (Haven’t done a free NYT article in a while, so, here you go)

A few years ago, Dr. Sievers devised a study to improve understanding of how exactly a group of people achieves a consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. The results, recently published online but not yet peer-reviewed, showed that a robust conversation that results in consensus synchronizes the talkers’ brains — not only when thinking about the topic that was explicitly discussed, but related situations that were not.

The study also revealed at least one factor that makes it harder to reach accord: a group member whose strident opinions drown out everyone else.

“Conversation is our greatest tool to align minds,” said Thalia Wheatley, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who advises Dr. Sievers. “We don’t think in a vacuum, but with other people.”

23) One of the most interesting things about Covid to me is how much it has brought attention to general features of disease that have long been ignored, “It’s Not Just Long COVID: Society has been underestimating the long-term consequences of viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites for ages.”

Despite the initial disbelief and remaining questions, the phenomenon behind long COVID isn’t entirely new. We’ve always lived with post-infection illnesses and underappreciated their consequences. A recent article in Nature Medicine lists 15 infectious agents—many of which are well-known viruses, bacteria, and parasites—that can cause these “post-acute infection syndromes.” Long COVID is unprecedented in terms of its scale—it has affected many millions of people in the U.S. alone—but we should try to understand and study it in the context of other long illnesses, not as something that emerged out of nowhere with no comparison or antecedents.

One of us—Hank Balfour—has spent decades studying the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can have strikingly similar long-term patterns. EBV, named for two of the researchers who discovered it, is millions of years older than SARS-CoV-2, but its prolonged effects are only just beginning to be well understood. They’re elusive in part because the virus is so common. It infects at least 90 percent of adults, which makes establishing a clear control group and proving that EBV was the cause of a long illness very difficult.

Yet, new research is revealing more and more about the connection between EBV and chronic diseases. New studies suggest that multiple sclerosis is the result of an EBV infection, and we know for sure that EBV is the principal cause of infectious mononucleosis (mono). Most patients recover from mono in a few weeks, but some continue to have mono-like symptoms for years—or get over the initial illness only to suffer recurring bouts of sickness later on. This condition could be called “long mono/EBV” or “chronic mono.” Two prominent symptoms it shares with long COVID are brain fog and fatigue. And just as doctors didn’t believe long-COVID patients at first, chronic mono isn’t a widely accepted diagnosis among health-care professionals. That’s a shame. The similarities between long COVID and long mono/EBV, and the purported interactions between the two viruses during acute COVID or after COVID vaccination, demand further investigation…

Persistent postinfection symptoms are also found in influenza. Long influenza—which most people have never thought about, even though influenza is quite common—and its similarities to long COVID can teach us how both diseases cause brain fog. In the aftermath of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic, scientists noticed that the infection can come with complications, including neurological disorders, that last longer than the acute respiratory illness. There is growing evidence that influenza viruses, much like SARS-CoV-2 and reactivated EBV, can trigger neuroinflammation by infecting white blood cells that then breach the blood-brain barrier and release proinflammatory small proteins called cytokines. Studies suggest that microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, can also secrete these pro-inflammatory agents following viral assault and thus may be factors in the brain fog experienced as a delayed effect of both influenza and COVID. Animal studies and human-brain postmortems bolster this theory. Investigators recently found that both SARS-CoV-2 and H1N1 activate neuroinflammation through microglia, and they noted the similarity of what they observed to the “chemo fog” that patients experience following cancer chemotherapy.

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