Quick hits (part II)

1) Is semaglutide the ultimate wonder drug?

As semaglutide has skyrocketed in popularity, patients have been sharing curious effects that go beyond just appetite suppression. They have reported losing interest in a whole range of addictive and compulsive behaviors: drinking, smoking, shopping, biting nails, picking at skin. Not everyone on the drug experiences these positive effects, to be clear, but enough that addiction researchers are paying attention. And the spate of anecdotes might really be onto something. For years now, scientists have been testing whether drugs similar to semaglutide can curb the use of alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opioids in lab animals—to promising results.

Semaglutide and its chemical relatives seem to work, at least in animals, against an unusually broad array of addictive drugs, says Christian Hendershot, a psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Treatments available today tend to be specific: methadone for opioids, bupropion for smoking. But semaglutide could one day be more widely useful, as this class of drug may alter the brain’s fundamental reward circuitry. The science is still far from settled, though researchers are keen to find out more. At UNC, in fact, Hendershot is now running clinical trials to see whether semaglutide can help people quit drinking alcohol and smoking. This drug that so powerfully suppresses the desire to eat could end up suppressing the desire for a whole lot more…

GLP-1 analogs appear to actually bind to receptors on neurons in several parts of the brain, says Scott Kanoski, a neurobiologist at the University of Southern California. When Kanoski and his colleagues blocked these receptors in rodents, the first-generation drugs exenatide and liraglutide became less effective at reducing food intake—as if this had eliminated a key mode of action. The impulse to eat is just one kind of impulse, though. That these drugs work on the level of the brain—as well as the gut—suggests that they can suppress the urge for other things too.

In particular, GLP-1 analogs affect dopamine pathways in the brain, a.k.a the reward circuitry. This pathway evolved to help us survive; simplistically, food and sex trigger a dopamine hit in the brain. We feel good, and we do it again. In people with addiction, this process in the brain shifts as a consequence or cause of their addiction, or perhaps even both. They have, for example, fewer dopamine receptors in part of the brain’s reward pathway, so the same reward may bring less pleasure.

2) Jonathan Weiler with a great post on abortion in NC:

The result is that North Carolina’s abortion restrictions did not go as far as the draconian bans other GOP-controlled states have imposed in the wake of the overturning of Roe last year, including Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and elsewhere. North Carolina’s ban begins at 12 weeks, rather than six or zero. It also includes exceptions for rape or incest (which many of the most draconian laws do not), as well as threats to the life of the mother and in the case of significant fetal abnormalities.

But its new restrictions are onerous. It sharply constrains where abortions can be performed, particularly after 12 weeks, in ways that are medically unnecessary, but will make access to care much more difficult.

 It now bars consultations by telehealth to initiate the state’s newly expanded 72-hour waiting period. The result is that women must meet with a health care provider in person before they can initiate that waiting period. Indeed, they must have three such consultations (or four, based on an ambiguity in the law) for medication abortions, another medically irrelevant requirement. Jessica Valenti, who tirelessly tracks the GOP’s war on abortion access at her Abortion Every Day Substack, has described the clear thrust of the new law as intended to ensure that “in the first weeks of a woman’s pregnancy…she will have to fight through as many humiliating and unnecessary steps as possible in order to maybe get the care Republicans say they’ve graciously ‘allowed.’” 

As has always been true, the brunt of these new restrictions will fall disproportionately on those of fewer means, women who can’t take time off from work, let alone travel multiple times from out of state to seek an abortion. Indeed, that’s a key goal of these new provisions, since North Carolina has become a critical haven for those living in more restrictive neighboring states who are trying to access abortion care…

In North Carolina and nationally, advocates of these new restrictions have suddenly become big fans of European social policy, or at least a particular take on it, which I’ll discuss further below. Arguments before the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case included amicus briefs on both sides from European legal and other experts about how US abortion laws stack up against those across the European continent…

In addition, the landscape in most of Europe for what counts as an allowable exception after the period of general permissibility is very different from what has emerged from America’s abortion restrictions. In France, for example, legislation last year increased the period of so-called abortion on demand from 12 to 14 weeks.  And what about after fourteen weeks? Exceptions exist in several cases, including those where the pregnancy was caused by rape, in the case of the endangerment of the life of the mother, or because of mental well being. That last is significant because, of course, it goes well beyond any allowable exception among the draconian American states and certainly will not be a feature of Graham’s proposed legislation. Mental health exceptions and other life circumstances, it’s important to emphasize, are typically potentially allowable in abortion laws throughout Europe, including in Germany, whose abortion laws are among the most restrictive (though, like much of Europe, they’ve been liberalizing and are likely to continue to do so).

3) This is pretty interesting (and, honestly, not all that surprising), “How Therapists Became Social Justice Warriors”

Therapists are supposed to listen without judgment, to help clients understand themselves and heal. But what if your therapist is judging you—and trying to change you—because of your politics?.. This is the reality facing a growing number of Americans who seek therapy only to find themselves in sessions with counselors who have been trained to view the world through the lens of social justice activism… The result is a new breed of therapists who see their role not as helping clients achieve their own goals, but as helping clients achieve the right goals—the ones that align with the therapist’s political views… “They are training people who will not be able to see half the population as human beings who need compassionate treatment,” said one therapist in training who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions… The shift in therapy training is part of a larger trend in American culture, where institutions that once prided themselves on neutrality and objectivity are increasingly embracing a partisan and ideological agenda… The consequences for mental health care are profound. Therapy, at its best, is a space where people can explore their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or censure. Therapy, at its worst, is a space where people are pressured to conform to a predetermined set of beliefs and behaviors—or risk losing their therapist’s approval.

4) This is terrific and depressing.  Gift link. “The short life of Baby Milo”

Deborah Dorbert wanted to terminate her pregnancy when she learned that her baby had Potter syndrome, a rare and lethal condition that prevents the development of kidneys and lungs… But her doctors in Florida refused to honor her request, citing the state’s new abortion law that bans abortion after 15 weeks with an exception for fatal fetal abnormalities… The law is vague and carries severe penalties for doctors who violate it, creating confusion and fear among medical practitioners… Deborah had to wait until 37 weeks to deliver her baby, who lived for only 99 minutes after birth… Her story illustrates the emotional and physical toll of the new abortion law on women who face heartbreaking decisions about their pregnancies… It also raises questions about the role of doctors in interpreting and applying the law, and the impact of politics on health care.

5) I think people can get a little too obsessed with the dress code for the oval office.  I also think people are way too into sneakers. That said, I do find the idea of “dress sneakers” in the Oval Office to be ridiculous.  Dress sneakers?

6) Good point “Where have all the Disney villains gone?”

When Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid is released on May 26, audiences will finally get to see Melissa McCarthy’s take on one of the most iconic villains of all time: Ursula. The sea-witch octopus, originally voiced by Pat Carroll and modeled after drag queen Divine, is the epitome of a classic Disney baddie: unabashedly evil and self-serving, with a campy anthem to boot. But with a new version of this character back on our screens, you might realize that it’s been quite some time since Disney has produced an antagonist as brazenly wicked as Ursula. That kind of unbridled villainy has become a relic of sorts in the animation studio’s latest original storytelling, which might have you wondering: Where are all the bad guys?

Once a staple of Disney’s animated features, particularly musicals, villains have slowly been phased out in favor of stories like Frozen II or Encanto that focus more on our hero’s inner conflict with themselves. Rather than face off against an evil archetype working toward their downfall, our current generation of heroes are fighting their own demons, acting as their own foils, and having to overcome their own mistakes.

The change marks one of the starkest shifts in the history of Disney fairytales, perhaps second only to the switch from 2D animation to CGI. For over half a century, the villain had loomed large in these stories, beginning with the Evil Queen in the first-ever animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Cinderella’s Stepmother, Captain Hook, and Maleficent soon followed during the Golden Age, and eventually, when the “Disney Renaissance” began in 1989, villains like Ursula, Jafar, and Scar continued the tradition.

It’s classic storytelling, with each playing a key role in driving the plot and furthering the character development of our hero. Whether it be locking them away in a tower, stealing their voice, or trying to kill them in a power grab, these characters set the ball in motion and serve as a tangible figure to defeat.

But as of late, those archetypes have gradually faded away. While The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Tangled (2010) gave us Dr. Facilier and Mother Gothel respectively, we haven’t seen a traditional villain since 2013. Even in that case — Hans from Frozen — the villain pales in comparison to the conflict that Elsa has with her own powers. That theme continued in the film’s sequel, where Elsa struggled to find where she and those powers belonged. Similarly, in 2016’s Moana, the title character sets out on an adventurous ocean quest of self-discovery. And most recently, in 2021’s Encanto, Mirabel’s main conflict is her desire for approval and purpose within her magical family as she fights to restore their fading powers.

7) A really nice look at the new mammogram recommendations:

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has updated its guidelines on who should be screened for breast cancer with mammograms… The new guidelines recommend that women with average risk start getting mammograms every two years beginning at 40, instead of starting at 50… The change was motivated by an increase in breast cancer cases among women in their 40s and a higher mortality rate among Black women… But the benefits of more mammograms are not clear-cut. Mammograms can also lead to false positives, overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and anxiety… Some experts argue that mammograms do not significantly reduce breast cancer deaths and that other factors, such as access to care and quality of treatment, are more important… The new guidelines also do not address the role of other screening methods, such as breast MRI or ultrasound, which may be more effective for some women… Ultimately, the decision to get a mammogram should be based on individual preferences and risk factors, and informed by a discussion with a health care provider.

Of course, this being Vox, it does use the term “person with breasts” instead of women for a header

8) While all the attention has been on abortion, North Carolina Republicans also passed a universal education voucher law.  Chait had a pretty recent look at programs like this (they are, unsurprisingly, not great):

For those who have practical concerns about the performance of the public-school system, vouchers might have once been a plausible reform experiment. But now they are simply a tool for transferring resources to families who have already left the system.

If you object on principle to the design of the public-school system, then vouchers offer an attractive solution. If you merely have a practical objection to the performance of the school system and would like to improve educational outcomes, then vouchers are a bad idea.

9) Amazing 3D scans of the Titanic. Definitely check these out. 

10) Heartbreaking essay, “My Daughter’s Future Was Taken From Her, and From Us”

11) Jeff Maurer take the satirical approach to US immigration policy, “GUEST COLUMN: The United States Has the Best Immigration System in the World! An opinion from the Sinaloa cartel”

Let’s take a moment to revel in the system’s genius. The U.S. has a diverse population, vast natural resources, and persistently low unemployment — perfect conditions for a welcoming, orderly legal immigration system. Tragically, such a system would squeeze out small, family-run crime organizations like the Sinaloa cartel. Thank God America’s current immigration system — with its too-low admittance rates and copious loopholes — allows people like me to thrive! They say Congress is bad at creating jobs, but I say hooey — hooey and poppycock! I made seven figures last year.

Much of the credit needs to go to the American right. For decades, they’ve labored under the delusion that tighter border controls will stanch the flow of immigrants. They don’t seem to realize that unless those policies are paired with expanded legal pathways, the flow of immigrants will just go underground. Thank God they can’t figure that out! I’ve got a daughter at Dartmouth and a son doing his gap year; a sudden pragmatic turn by the GOP would really hurt my bottom line.

But the right doesn’t deserve all the credit: An honorable mention must go to people on the left who view any attempt to enforce immigration laws as racist and mean. These people don’t just make the politics of reform more difficult; they also entrench an off-the-books immigration system that leaves immigrants vulnerable to exploitation. Although…”exploitation” and “vulnerable” are loaded terms, aren’t they? Instead, let’s say that undocumented immigrants are “likely customers” for the “extra-legal migration services” of the type provided by Sinaloa’s team of highly-trained (and heavily armed) professionals!

12) Yes, most late-term abortions really are tragedies.  But some really are just women who waited too long to get an abortion and this doctor serves them no questions asked. 

These later abortions are the less common cases, and the hardest ones. They are the cases that even stalwart abortion-rights advocates generally prefer not to discuss. But as the pro-choice movement strives to shore up abortion rights after the fall of Roe, its members face strategic decisions about whether and how to defend this work.

Most Americans support abortion access, but they support it with limits—considerations about time and pain and fingernail development. Hern is reluctant to acknowledge any limit, any red line. He takes the woman’s-choice argument to its logical conclusion, in much the same way that, at this moment, anti-abortion activists are pressing their case to its extreme. Hern considers his religious adversaries to be zealots, and many of them are. But he is, in his own way, no less an absolutist.

13) Amazing NYT interactive on a building collapse in a Turkey earthquake.  Gift link. 

14) There’s a reason I don’t get my PSA levels tested:

Changing medical practice often takes a frustratingly long time. In the study, 40 percent of men with low-risk prostate cancer still had invasive treatment. And approaches vary enormously between urology practices.

The proportion of men under active surveillance “ranges from 0 percent to 100 percent, depending on which urologist you happen to see,” Dr. Cooperberg said. “Which is ridiculous.”


The latest results of a large British study, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, provide additional support for surveillance. Researchers followed more than 1,600 men with localized prostate cancer who, from 1999 to 2009, received what they called active monitoring, a prostatectomy or radiation with hormone therapy.

Over an exceptionally long follow-up averaging 15 years, fewer than 3 percent of the men, whose average age at diagnosis was 62, had died of prostate cancer. The differences between the three treatment groups were not statistically significant.

Although the cancer in the surveillance group was more likely to metastasize, it didn’t lead to higher mortality. “The benefit of treatment in this population is just not apparent,” said Dr. Oliver Sartor, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic who specializes in prostate cancer and who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

15) I literally just do not believe this.  

In the past few weeks, a dramatic revelation in “Succession” reignited the debate over how long spoilers should be suppressed on social media — and whether having advance knowledge of a momentous plot development (in this case: Logan Roy dies) ruins our enjoyment of a story. Recently, my colleagues and I conducted research to address this very question.

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

In a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, my co-authors and I had people watch a suspenseful 30-minute TV episode directed by Alfred Hitchcock titled “Bang! You’re Dead.” Our purpose was to determine the extent to which knowing the outcome of a dramatic scenario would affect a viewer’s ability to be drawn in by it. We showed our participants this short episode, in which a young boy finds a loaded gun and mistakes it for a toy. The boy grabs it and walks around his small town pointing it and shooting at people yelling “Bang! You’re dead!” oblivious to the fact that there is a bullet in the chamber.

We told participants — a sample of undergraduate students — to raise their hand every time any character said the word “gun.” In the control group, participants knew nothing about how the story would end. As the suspense mounted midway through the show, they were so immersed in the events onscreen that they forgot all about their assignment.

In a different group, we told participants how the program would end. We predicted that knowing the ending would lower their engagement — and allow them to better remember to respond to the word “gun.”

We were wrong.

At the exact same point in the show participants neglected their assignment in a similar manner as those in the control group. In other words, they were just as immersed even though they knew the outcome. In follow-up questionnaires, they also reported the same levels of engagement and enjoyment as those who didn’t know the ending.

The truth is, we are just as likely to get caught up in a story even when we know what is coming — perhaps because more significant factors determine our enjoyment of narratives rather than simply waiting to learn or guess their resolution. Humans are hard-wired not just to absorb facts but also to lose themselves in stories and attune themselves to the characters and plots unfolding on the screen.

Sorry, there’s just no way the Sixth Sense or the Red Wedding  or that Succession episode are as good if you know what’s coming.  Sure, good drama can still be great with “spoilers” but there’s just nothing like having your jaw drop in shock and surprise at what you’ve just seen.

16) The relationship between long Covid and being bisexual is fascinating.

Figure 1. Share of COVID-19 Sufferers Who Had Long COVID by Age, Race, Sex


AI Quick Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) On the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) The kids and their subtitles these days!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The group agreed on several key points:

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

10) And a great post from Yglesias on policing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like this Dilan Esper response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quick hits (part I)

1) I haven’t yet read Will Saletan’s “The Corruption of Lindsey Graham” but seems great.  (That said, if anyone knows a link with a good TL;DR, let me know).

2) Great Op-Ed from a UNC History professor on the asinine legislation:

As proposed, the NC REACH Act requires completion of a course in American government to get a bachelor’s degree from the UNC System or an associate’s degree from a community college. By law, that course would include reading and being tested on specific documents from U.S. and North Carolina history.

NC REACH stands for “Reclaiming College Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage,” but the idea that the Constitution needs to be reclaimed in college education is false. At UNC system schools, we count on our students already knowing the basics of American government and our founding documents. Every North Carolina senior is required to pass the high school course “Founding Principles of the United States of America and North Carolina: Civic Literacy,” in addition to civics units in earlier K-12 years also required by the state.

3) Chait, “Indoctrination Nation: Convinced that schools are brainwashing kids to be left-wingers, conservatives are seizing control of the American classroom.”

Education has become an obsession on the political right, which now sees it as the central battlefield upon which this country’s future will be settled. Schoolhouses are being conscripted into a cataclysmic war in which no compromise is possible — in which a child in a red state will be discouraged from asking questions about sexual identity, or a professor will be barred from exploring the ways in which white supremacy has shaped America today, or a trans athlete will be prohibited from playing sports.

In the spring of 2021, Richard Corcoran delivered a fire-breathing speech at Hillsdale, a right-wing Christian college in Michigan, touting the agenda he had helped implement as education commissioner in Florida. When an audience member asked how he had been able to find common ground with people who disagreed with him, Corcoran responded, “I have fought … There’s no negotiation. I don’t think antifa wants to sit down and have a conversation with me about how can we make this society better.” Corcoran went on to compare America’s disputes over education to “the warring in the streets” in Germany before World War II between the Nazis and the communists. “The war will be won in education,” he vowed. “Education is our sword. That’s our weapon. Our weapon is education.”

What sets the current movement apart from these previous efforts is not merely its greater intensity but its focus. Academic-achievement levels are incidental to Republicans’ concern. Their main preoccupation is not the ways in which Chinese and Swedish kids may be outpacing their American counterparts. They are instead accusing schools of carrying out an insidious indoctrination campaign that, they believe, poses an existential threat to their party’s future and their way of life.

Dubya once said, famously, “Rarely is the question asked, Is our children learning?” The complaint of Republicans today is not that the schools aren’t working but that they are working all too well at the objective of brainwashing children in left-wing thought. Education, as Corcoran reportedly put it, is “100 percent ideological.”

Media coverage of the Republicans’ education crusade has largely treated it as a messaging exercise. A New York Times headline from earlier this year, “DeSantis Takes On the Education Establishment, and Builds His Brand,” reflects the cynical assumption that this is mostly a way for him to rile up the Fox News audience. One progressive pollster recently told The Atlanticthat for Republican voters, liberal control of schools “is a psychological, not policy, threat,” even as their elected officials strike back with policy. Some Democrats have mocked Republicans for pursuing arcane obsessions that fail to connect with voters’ concerns. And it’s true the voters are not driving this crusade: A recent poll found only 4 percent of the public lists education as the most important issue. Politico reports that “mounds of research by Democratic pollsters over the last several months” have found Republican book bans to be utterly toxic with swing voters.

You might wonder why Republicans would throw themselves into such a risky venture. The answer is that they aren’t looking to enrage their base or get their face on Fox News. They have come to believe with deadly seriousness that they not only must but can seize control of the ideological tenor in American schools, from the primary to the university level. If accomplishing this social transformation carries a near-term political cost, they are willing to pay it. And to imagine that they will fail, or grow bored and move on, and that the education system will more or less remain the same as it ever was, is to lack an appreciation for their conviction and the powers they have at their disposal to realize their goal.

4) Given that my son had to take two AP tests last week for classes he finished in January (block scheduling) I’m particularly annoyed with it lately and tried to see if there was any good research on it.  I did find this:

The purpose of this white paper is to investigate the effects of block and traditional scheduling on high school student achievement, as measured by grade-point averages and standardized test scores, by analyzing ten research studies. Although teachers and students have generally positive views of block scheduling, no consistent effects of block scheduling, as compared to traditional scheduling, on high school student achievement were found. Recommendations are made for future research.

5) Man do I just love Brian Klaas.  This is great, “”Knowingness” and the Politics of Ignorance
Much ink has been spilled about “polarization.” Most of it ignores a major cause: the widespread, misplaced faith that we already know that which we do not know.”

And yet, paradoxically, deliberate ignorance has become one of the biggest threats to our fragile democracies. In the past, we needed to worry about uninformed voters, those who didn’t know much about politics. These days, we need to worry about the much more dangerous misinformed voters who are often wrong, never uncertain.

But uncertainty is a crucial feature of our world, one to be accepted, even embraced, because the world is a delightfully complex and surprising place, and it’s our human duty, every day, to discover a new slice of it.

A case study in knowingness

Understanding knowingness is crucial, because the antidote to it is different from the antidote to misinformation. If someone is only misinformed, you just need to provide them with correct facts and they can become rightly informed. But misinformation persists precisely because knowingness shields a person from learning.

If you want to be steeped in the most toxic forms of knowingness, log onto Twitter. On social media, few are trying to discover ideas. Instead, it’s more often a form of intellectual jousting (something that alas, I, too, am guilty of engaging in from time to time). Recently, on Elon’s Hellscape, I experienced an instructive lesson in how knowingness directly causes democratic dysfunction, with real-world consequences.

This week, I responded to yet another horrific mass shooting in the United States by re-posting my “It’s the Guns” article, in which I systematically debunk all the major lies that pro-gun advocates parrot, with actual data and empirical evidence, drawing comparisons between where I live now (the UK) and where I’m from (the US).

I wrote that article precisely because I kept getting the same factually wrong arguments thrown at me whenever I wrote about guns. But when I posted a link to article—the article debunking common false claims—my replies were comically predictable. Hordes of pro-gun advocates responded with the exact same false claims! I couldn’t get them to just click on the link, where I had helpfully laid out all the data.

One reply took the cake. Mark Pukita, a pro-gun, former Republican candidate for US Senate in Ohio, responded to my UK/US gun comparisons like this:

This was particularly remarkable, because I did cover stabbings in the article he was responding to—with a fair bit of detail and data. With a sigh, I clicked reply and wrote this:

These are readily available pieces of knowledge, one Google search away. And yet, when I provided the information for him, Pukita doubled-down, pointing out, with the glee of knowingness, that the chart showed old data from 2017. Gotcha!

That was true, but a Google search would have confirmed that the data points were basically unchanged, which is why I used the chart. (In the most recent available data, of the 50 major cities with the highest homicide rates in the world, seven are in the US; zero are in the UK; and London remains safer than every major American city).


Now, the simple way of perceiving this exchange is that Pukita didn’t know what he was talking about. But there’s something deeper going on, a dysfunctional aspect of modern culture. And understanding that phenomenon is crucial to combating misinformed voters who are certain that they know Their Truth™, but never consider that they might not know the truth.

Pukita, like so many afflicted with knowingness, didn’t want to know, which made my attempt futile.

6) This Op-Ed in defense of a “Black” Cleopatra was honestly one of the worst NYT Op-Eds I’ve read. It was so facile I would’ve been embarrassed for one of my undergrads to have written it (and, yikes, it’s by two professors).  It plays a small role in Jeff Maurer’s latest, which is excellent, “The “Rules” About Which Actors Can Play Who Never Made Sense”

On its face, Queen Cleopatra would appear to be an egregious violation of Hollywood’s norms about which actors can play which roles. The subject is a historical figure whose lineage is largely know (detailed discussion of Cleopatra’s ancestry to follow) played by an actor whose lineage is decidedly different. The people who claim that figure as part of their history are loudly objecting to the portrayal. We might expect Netflix to be in full damage-control mode; we might expect a groveling statement in which they vow to “do better”, paired with a sizable donation to…I don’t know. Somebody.

That hasn’t happened. And that’s largely because the rules about which actors can play who are an incoherent bunch of nonsense. They’re not even really “rules”; they’re a disjointed series of notions enforced by internet mobs. If we want to address the real problem of insensitive racial portrayals in media, then we should try to tease out some principles about which actors can play which roles…

In my opinion, the idea that actors must be the same race as the characters they play doesn’t work. The first problem is that it’s race essentialist. I’ve already called racial categories “pseudoscientific 18th-century bullshit”, and I stand by that. After all: What are the groups? Nobody seems to know. The furor around Prince of Persia is instructive: None of the people who complained seemed to be able to articulate who, exactly, would be qualified for the role. Blogger Jehanzeb Dar called the movie “insulting to Persians” and also “white people”, but had to backtrack and clarify that he actually meant the movie was insulting to “people of color”, presumably because many people — such as the U.S. Census Bureau — consider Persians to be white. There were calls for the role to go to a “Middle Eastern” actor, but “Middle Eastern” includes both Persians and Arabs. Wouldn’t casting an Arab as the Prince of Persia — and to do so in the name of casting an “authentic” actor — be the height of ugly American reductionism? Wouldn’t that be a lot like saying “We cast Jackie Chan as Akira Kurosawa because, hey: It’s all the same over there in Soy Sauce Land.” These racial puzzles are unsolvable because the categories are made up.

The second problem with the “actors have to be the same race as their characters” view is that it’s extremely limiting. It took real balls for John Leguizamo to say that James Franco shouldn’t take a Latino role, because Leguizamo has played many non-Latino characters. He played Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet, a genie in Arabian Nights, and even a deeply revered figure in Italian culture: Luigi from the Mario Brothers. Personally, I think that’s fine; I would never argue that Leguizamo should stick to “his own” ethnicity. And his ethnicity, by the way, is Columbian-Iberian-Afro-Basque; I don’t know who he’d be allowed to play according to a strict interpretation of the “has to be your own race” rule. Shakira, perhaps? Maybe that would work — we already know what Leguizamo looks like as a woman thanks to To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

7) The behavioral approach to treating opioid addiction.  Mark Kleiman writes a ton about this in When Brute Force Fails, which I use for PS 313.

There is another way to treat addiction, one that is slowly being rolled out across the country, which might be called the “behavioral approach.” Interventions of this sort, rooted in behavioral economics, have the potential to effectively leverage the existing mechanisms available to the criminal justice system, while minimizing harm to users from both punishment and morbidity. Unlike the spiritual approach, the behavioral approach removes moral imperatives from the recovery process and strives for the minimal effective penalties to prevent relapse. And unlike the medical approach, it doesn’t universally mandate treatment: the aim is to keep users in their communities for as long as possible while respecting their individual agency.

The behavioral approach begins with how you frame the problem. Addiction corrupts the brain’s reward feedback system through a form of operant conditioning that diminishes the ability of the sufferer to rationally choose. It foreshortens the informational lens by overweighting the payoff of an immediate high at the expense of freedom, health, and financial solvency. But as the psychiatrist Sally Satel has argued, this process of atrophy is not indelible. People retain the ability to change their behavior when presented with well-calculated incentives. The sensible way to correct the problem of addiction is to reverse the operant conditioning, helping the person recondition themselves to accurately calculate the costs and benefits of their actions and act accordingly.

What would this look like in practice? Rather than grudging tolerance of her drug use, the mother I visited might face consequences each time she used drugs, consequences small enough to be consistently applied, but big enough to create inconvenience. People struggling with substance abuse are not good at hiding their failures, even small ones. As one agent told me: “When you start seeing red flags pop up you know it’ll be a matter of time before you have to say, ‘put your hands behind your back.’” If each of those flags was addressed in the moment, the eventual loss of liberty (and life) might be avoidable. The idea is to nudge people rather than cudgel them.

This is not a hypothetical exercise. Fueled by an interest in rational choice among scholars of crime and addiction, several programs that aim to appropriately balance the benefits and harms of punishment have emerged across the country. The most prominent example is Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), which began in 2004. Under HOPE, all detected violations of supervision conditions are punished as quickly as possible. This may seem harsh; but by raising the likelihood of detection and punishment, HOPE reduces the need for severity. Had the mother I visited been on HOPE supervision, her failed drug test might have resulted in increased reporting, a spell with an electronic monitoring device, or a night in jail. Such punishments do no permanent harm to the person on supervision, but they are extremely inconvenient. This inconvenience seems to pay off. Initial evaluations of HOPE were ebullient, and while subsequent iterations have sometimes failed to replicate Hawaii’s success across metrics such as criminal recidivism, HOPE seems to diminish drug abuse consistently and lastingly.

Another attribute of the behavioral approach is to narrowly focus on preventing the behavior that is most dangerous—in this case, substance abuse that could lead to death—instead of trying to transform all aspects of a person’s life. People caught up in the criminal justice system face an often overwhelming set of rules and restrictions. Agents I’ve interviewed confirm that the people they supervise rarely remember or understand the importance of the many conditions they are supposed to follow.

8) Nicholas Kristof, “It Is a Delusion to Think Having a Gun in the Home Makes Us Safer”

In most of the world, going to the wrong house is not a deadly risk.

But in the United States it is, because we’re awash in an estimated 450 million guns and suffer from a mass delusion that a gun in the home makes us safer.

We’re caught in a spiral in which perceptions of rising crime lead more people to purchase firearms — about 60 million guns have been sold in the United States just since 2020 — and this in turn leads to more gun violence, which leads to more fear and gun purchases …. You get the idea…

We’re not going to ban guns or eliminate gun deaths in America. But I’ve argued in a longer essay that common-sense gun measures could plausibly reduce the toll of gun deaths by one-third or more.


We can adopt universal background checks, safe storage requirements, a minimum age of 21 for private gun sales and an enforced ban on possession of guns by people with a history of stalking or violent misdemeanors. All states should adopt California’s successful experiment with background checks for buying ammunition; having instituted a number of smart gun measures, California now has a gun death rate 38 percent below the national average.

As I write this, I happen to be in Mississippi, which has a much more rigorous process to adopt a dog than to acquire a gun. Should it really be easier to buy an AR-15-style rifle than to adopt a Chihuahua?

9) Good stuff on re-thinking DEI:

During the summer of 2020, George Floyd’s murder ignited an outcry across America, shaking many awake to the wrongs of racism. In the days and months that followed, colleges and universities, keen to show that they were in tune with the times, began introducing programs addressing DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — in their institutions. They created positions for developing anti-racist policies, established anti-racist courses and training, and encouraged faculty to “decolonize” syllabuses.

Many have applauded this turn of events. Others, predominantly on the political right, warn that the awakening is a Trojan horse for social justice, smuggling progressive ideology into the classroom and infecting vulnerable young minds with false and divisive beliefs. Conservative activists have turned school board meetings into shouting matches about the place of race in the education of children in America and have gotten books deemed to be “offensive” banished from the curriculum. Lawmakers have passed legislation that restricts how educators may address issues of race in nine states (at last count) and have introduced such legislation in at least 20 more. Most recently, Florida’s legislature has approved the “Stop WOKE Act,” stating that “In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory.” This has made teaching uncomfortable facts about the history of race in the United States illegal, with the support of many right-leaning parents…

We want to make it clear that we fully endorse the aims of DEI programs. But we object to how they are carried out, for, as noble as these aims are, there is a fatal contradiction at the heart of much of what goes on in them, a contradiction that threatens to undermine the entire enterprise. Although the purpose of anti-racist training is to vanquish racism, most of these initiatives are simultaneously committed to upholding and celebrating race. One can see this quite clearly in the work of Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, well-known voices in the anti-racist movement. Both of them presume that we can oppose racism while leaving the concept of race intact.

But in the real world, can we have race without racism coming along for the ride? Trying to extinguish racism while shoring up race is like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. It can only make matters worse. To get rid of racism we have to get rid of race…

Writing an essay like this is not easy, because it challenges the status quo of both conservatives and progressives. Many on the left will balk at our claim that the very idea of race is destructive and should be abandoned, while many on the right will object to our emphasis on improving education on our nation’s racial history. But such education is sorely needed.

Most Americans get their ideas about race from the toned-down versions dished out in high school classes and the media. Most have no idea that when African American men were lynched they were often tortured for hours, castrated, mutilated and then burned alive and that these atrocities, often attended by hundreds or thousands of eager spectators, continued well into the 20th century. They were not taught that Adolf Hitler — the man whose name is synonymous with evil — hugely admired American racism and applauded our genocide of Native Americans, or that the Nazis modeled their Nuremberg race laws — the first steps on the road to Auschwitz — on our own Jim Crow legislation. Unaware of the sheer weight of history, it does not occur to them that Black Americans were legally enslaved for 244 years and have been free for only 157, and they are ignorant of the fact that slavery persisted in other forms such as peonage, sharecropping and violent coercion that persisted into living memory.

These are mainstream historical facts that are excluded from public consciousness in a nation that refuses to seriously examine itself. Little wonder, then, that the backlash against anti-racist initiatives is often so vehement, and the efforts to curb what we educators may teach our pupils are so impassioned. The truth about race seems too dangerous to be let off a very short leash, but imagining away its reality cannot address, much less solve, the urgent problems of our deeply divided and unequal nation. In spite of persistent efforts to bury it, our racial history keeps coming back from the dead…

Our position may seem controversial, but it is not unprecedented. Other racial “eliminativists” — people who believe that race should be consigned to the rubbish heap of history — include philosophers Kwame Anthony Appiah, Naomi Zack, Adam Hochman and Joshua Glasgow; cultural critic Thomas Chatterton Williams; literary scholar Sheena Mason and race scholar Paul Gilroy. Gilroy’s view is close to our own. He sees the idea of race as an impediment to human solidarity and freedom from race as part of a larger liberatory project. “The pursuit of the liberation from ‘race,’” he writes in “Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line,” “is an especially urgent matter for those peoples who … were assigned an inferior position in the enduring hierarchies raciology creates.” He continues:

However, this opportunity is not theirs alone. There are very good reasons why it should be enthusiastically embraced by others whose antipathy to race-thinking can be defined not so much by the way it has subordinated them, but because in endowing them with the alchemical magic of racial mastery, it has distorted and delimited their experiences and consciousness in other ways. … Black and white are bonded together by the mechanisms of “race” that estrange them from one another and amputate their common humanity.

As professors, we are frequently in a position to give presentations on race and racism to the general public and often discuss these topics with our academic colleagues. Inevitably, someone objects that getting rid of race makes it impossible to address racial injustice, echoing a popular argument in anti-racist literature. As Ibram X. Kendi writes in “How To Be an Anti-Racist”:

Assimilationists … fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist.

This is an extraordinary claim. It harkens to the period from the 15th to 17th centuries, when tens of thousands of people — mostly but not exclusively women — were accused of being witches and summarily tortured and executed. Witches were supposed to be people who possessed supernatural powers, casting spells, transforming themselves into animals and commanding demons to do their bidding. Many believed that they flew through the air at night to a secret place and consorted with the devil.

Witches did not exist. It would be preposterous to suggest that recognizing the cruelty and injustice of the witch hunts requires believing that the victims really were witches. The victims of witch hunts were not singled out because they were witches but because people believed that they were witches. This would be true even if those who were persecuted as witches also believed themselves to be witches.

Racially oppressed people are not oppressed because of their race. They are oppressed because of false beliefs about their race. We can acknowledge and remedy racist practices without also upholding race.

10) Fascinating story about a Nebraska Republican legislator more interested in representing his constituents than listening to his party:

OMAHA, Neb. — In the days since state Sen. Merv Riepe cast the lone vote that blocked a near-total abortion ban in his conservative state, he’s faced protests at his office, the cold shoulder from irate colleagues and calls for his resignation. A stranger left an angry note inside his home mailbox.

Yet the 80-year-old Republican has also raked in accolades, becoming an unlikely hero for those fighting to protect abortion access in Nebraska and around the country in the year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Abortion advocates wept in the Capitol after Riepe’s April 27 vote. A downtown Omaha novelty store is now selling blue T-shirts and tank tops that say “Hot Merv Summer” in bold white type.

Riepe’s vote reflects a growing realization among some Republicans that staking out extreme positions on abortion might be politically perilous. Since Roe, which guaranteed the right to abortion, was struck down, Republicans have faced pressure from the far right to ban the procedure in states across the country. But voters, including those who identify as or lean Republican, have signaled an uneasiness with taking restrictions too far.

11) San Francisco gay Pride has no place for Dee Snider after he fails to toe the party line on trans issues.

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Two days after he was pulled from a main-stage appearance at this year’s Pride Celebration in San Francisco — and after his song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” was canceled as the festival’s unofficial rallying cry — Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider has issued a response.

“I was not aware the Transgender community expects fealty and total agreement with all their beliefs and any variation or deviation is considered ‘transphobic,’” wrote Snider in a Facebook post.

To which I would reply, I guess Snider hasn’t been paying attention :-).

12) This was pretty fascinating and full of cool diagrams.  It’s all about the stairways! “Why we can’t build family-sized apartments in North America”

13) Good stuff from John McWhorter, “Jordan Neely’s horrible death reveals uncomfortable truths about the subway”

Nothing Neely did remotely justified this fate. The fact that Penny, as of this writing, has not been arrested pending more information seems unconscionable regardless of legal niceties. Based on what is known, it seems obvious that cutting off someone’s oxygen supply for so long would risk killing him — especially following the notorious choking deaths of Eric Garner and, more recently, George Floyd.

At the same time, the conversation among political leaders in the news and on social media has largely ignored the experience of legions of subway-riding New Yorkers. It implies that Neely was merely a desperate human being who should not have been detained in any way short of the intervention of a trained professional — an opportunity vanishingly unavailable in a subway car at any given moment.

This perspective is rooted in an enlightened quest to sympathize with the plight of the mentally ill in a society grievously unprepared to help them. But in addition to minimizing the experiences of the other passengers on the train, it fails to put enough attention on the genuine public policy solutions needed by people like Neely.

We must be able to keep in our minds two things. One is that Neely was unjustifiably killed. The other is that the episode, in all of its horror, highlights what New York City subway riders are being asked to endure daily — and that this, too, is not just.

14) Apparently, AA has gone against a longtime commitment to keep politics out of AA and gone full woke:

Arguably the most important tradition is Tradition 10: “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” The Washingtonians, a group of recovering alcoholics that preceded AA by about a century, disbanded due to infighting over its involvement in social reforms like prohibition, religion and slavery abolition. AA’s founders, William Wilson and Dr Robert Smith (Bill and Dr Bob), didn’t want AA to suffer the same fate. Best their organisation remain neutral, they thought, so as to be welcoming for alcoholics from every walk of life. For nearly 88 years, AA has never weighed in on foreign or domestic policies, nor has it endorsed political candidates or legislative proposals. And so desperate drunks of every race, colour and creed have kept on coming and — together — got sober…

In 2020, violations of Tradition 10 reached a fever pitch. After George Floyd’s murder, institutions across the nation absorbed progressive ideals into their mission statements. I was finishing my last year of study at Columbia University. Having entered the university in 2017 as a self-described radical progressive planning a career in LGBT activism, I was graduating an exile. I had become disillusioned with, and spoken out against, my fellow progressives’ tactics: suppressing free speech, purity policing and reducing every individual to his or her skin colour, gender and sexual orientation. During my last semester, which was moved online due to the pandemic, I’d sign on to virtual AA meetings after class, and immediately be struck by how similar the two spaces had become. Pronouns lit up the screen. Whereas opening readings once consisted of the AA preamble, the 12 Steps and 12 traditions, and details about the meeting, now some groups chose to add a thinly veiled threat: “We will not tolerate racist, homophobic, sexist or transphobic rhetoric in this space.”

From my experience of post-Trump academia, I knew these proclamations wouldn’t so much prevent inappropriate speech as put everyone on high alert, encouraging an atmosphere of self-censorship. Recovering alcoholics carry a lot of guilt about the harm their drinking has caused others; they are often irrationally fearful of causing any more. If they feel like they’re traversing a mine field of potential triggers that could set off listeners in the room, they may be reluctant to admit shameful details about the past, which they want and need to get off their chests. Recovering alcoholics’ lives depend on their ability to share honestly, and to feel like they will be accepted by AA no matter their histories or their personal views. Increasingly, certain opinions — although you could never be totally sure which ones — were no longer worthy of respect in a democratic society. Meetings were not unlike my university classes, where the silence during discussions would extend for what felt like an eternity, as so many students stayed quiet rather than risk transgressing.

15) Good NYT Editorial, “America Can Have Democracy or Political Violence. Not Both.”

Many — far too many — Americans now consider political violence not only acceptable but perhaps necessary. In an online survey of more than 7,200 adults, nearly a third of people answered that political violence is usually or always justified. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and released in October, came to the alarming conclusion that “MAGA Republicans” (as opposed to those who identified themselves as traditional Republicans) “are more likely to hold extreme and racist beliefs, to endorse political violence, to see such violence as likely to occur and to predict that they will be armed under circumstances in which they consider political violence to be justified.”

Any violence suppresses participation in democratic decision making, and it can negate the decisions that are made. “The damage that this violence itself and the conspiracies driving it are causing to our democracy are already substantial and are likely to produce significant democratic decline if not arrested soon,” Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Jan. 6 committee.

There are four interrelated trends that the country needs to address: the impunity of organized paramilitary groups, the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military, the global spread of extremist ideas and the growing number of G.O.P. politicians who are using the threat of political violence not just to intimidate their opponents on the left but also to wrest control of the party from those Republicans who are committed to democratic norms…

But it is unacceptable in a democracy for organized groups of men armed with military-style firearms and dressed in body armor to appear regularly at political rallies or to act as security for public officials and office seekers. Indeed, in nearly every state the subordination of the military to civil authorities is written explicitly into their constitutions.

“When private armies organize into military-style units that are neither responsible to, nor under the command of, the civil power of the state authorities, they may violate this constitutional command to the detriment of civil order,” concluded a report from the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, which compiled a state-by-state compendium of laws banning so-called militias.

16) And, yes, I do love that the NYT devoted a whole article to this stunningly adorable dog, “Striker Will Never Know He Wasn’t Best in Show”

Striker, sitting on a small table and staring at the camera with his tongue out, lefts his front-right paw as he is groomed.

17) Really liked Frank Bruni on Elizabeth Holmes:

Many of my friends were abuzz last weekend about Amy Chozick’s profile in The Times of Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced and convicted founder of the fraudulent biotech start-up Theranos. The incarnation of herself that Holmes presented to Chozick — loving spouse, nurturing mother, known to her husband and friends as Liz — was a far cry from the Silicon Valley sorceress who spoke so affectedly, rose so astronomically and fell so spectacularly, and my friends puzzled over the same question Chozick did: How much of Liz was real?

I’m betting quite a bit, and that’s not because I’m credulously accepting that she has traveled some profound moral arc, from a thicket of want to a clearing of altruism and authenticity. I don’t believe in personality transplants any more than I do in head transplants, and life isn’t tidy that way. But just as I suspect that Elizabeth lives on in Liz, I suspect that Liz was always lurking in Elizabeth. Life is messy that way.

We love to assign people types, fold them into taxonomies, put them in discrete categories. You’re an introvert, but your partner is an extrovert. He’s codependent, but she has commitment issues. Many of us are all of the above. Most of us indeed contain multitudes, even if — for a short period or forever — we manage to wear and show the world just one face, which reflects the circumstances in which we find ourselves as much as it does some unalloyed and immutable truth.

Elizabeth or Liz? It’s not a binary, and the more relevant and answerable question is whether Elizabeth-cum-Liz acted badly, hurt people needlessly and should pay a price. I believe so, as did a jury and a judge: She has been sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for her reckless and ruinous fictions, be they consistent with her priorities now or not.

18) This was depressing from Greg Sargent, “A Tennessee teacher planned a Mother’s Day class. Then came the MAGA rage.”

By now, it’s well understood that the right’s efforts to restrict classroom discussion are all about marginalizing LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting children. But they also harbor a less obvious aim: to convince parents that kids are under threat in the first place. That mild-mannered teacher over there? She just might be scheming to pervert, indoctrinate and snatch away childhood innocence.

Caroline Mickey, the librarian at Alpine Crest Elementary School outside Chattanooga, Tenn., just learned this the hard way, when her idea for a Mother’s Day-themed lesson came under sudden and heavy fire from parents in the area. The vitriol of the attack, and the school district superintendent’s rapid decision to cancel her lesson in response, caught her off guard.

“It was overwhelming,” Mickey told me. “I didn’t realize it was going to be quite this intense.”

The saga started when Mickey sent out a notice to parents of a planned lesson in advance of Mother’s Day. She wrote that the lesson would be “sensitive to the fact that not all students live with a mother,” by celebrating those who aren’t mothers but “fill the motherly roles in our lives.”

The saga started when Mickey sent out a notice to parents of a planned lesson in advance of Mother’s Day. She wrote that the lesson would be “sensitive to the fact that not all students live with a mother,” by celebrating those who aren’t mothers but “fill the motherly roles in our lives.”

Mickey notified parents that two books would be read aloud to kids from kindergarten through second grade. One was “Stella Brings the Family,” about a girl who is unsure how to approach a Mother’s Day celebration at school because she has two dads. The other was “Mother Bruce,” about a bear who adopts a brood of goslings who believe he’s their mother.

“We have students who don’t have mothers for a variety of reasons,” Mickey told me. “But everyone has somebody who loves them the way that a mother does.”

She offered parents the option of opting out of this lesson for their kids. In keeping with school district policy, she offered them an alternate lesson.

Then Moms for Liberty — which is restricting classroom discussion and getting books purged from school libraries across the country — wheeled into action.

Members of its chapter in the red-leaning area around the school in Hamilton County attacked the idea on social media and in local newspapers as Leninist indoctrination, anti-Christian and a threat to Western civilization. One woman called on locals to pray for children to guard them against the demonic threat posed by those children’s books.

19) Nate Cohn reports from the annual conference on polling:

But if Donald J. Trump showed that Republicans didn’t have to support immigration reform to win, he most certainly showed pollsters they would have to innovate. A decade and two historically significant poor cycles later, AAPOR is a very different place. The old guard is still around, but presentation after presentation employs methods that would have been scorned a decade ago. This year’s Innovators Award went to someone who referred to AAPOR as an association of “Buggy-Whip Manufacturers” back in 2014, the year I first attended.

The innovative turn in the polling community is very real, including in public political polling. Today, virtually no pollsters are using the methods they did a decade ago. The ABC/Post poll is perhaps the only major exception, with its live-interview, random-digit-dialing telephone surveys. But to this point, innovation and change hasn’t been enough to solve the problems facing the industry. It has been enough only to keep it afloat, if still struggling to keep its head above water.

Heading into 2024, pollsters still don’t know if they can successfully reach Trump voters. They still struggle with rising costs. And they really did lose something they had a decade ago: the belief that a well-designed survey would yield a representative sample. Today, a well-designed survey isn’t enough: The most theoretically sound surveys tended to produce the worst results of 2020.

To this point, innovation in polling has occurred on two parallel tracks: one to find new ways of sampling voters in an era of low response rates; another intended to improve unrepresentative samples through statistical adjustments. If there’s an underlying theory of the Times/Siena poll, it’s to try to get the best of both worlds: high-quality sampling with sophisticated statistical adjustment. There are surprisingly few public polls that can make a similar case: There’s bad sampling with fancy statistical modeling, and there’s some good sampling with simple demographic adjustment, but not much of both.

20) Good stuff from Perry Bacon, Jr “How the media can cover Trump better this time”

1. Focus on “the stakes” of the 2024 election, not “the odds.”

Back in 2015, lots of journalists, myself included, said Trump had no chance to win the Republican primary. Then, the media concluded he could not win the 2016 general election. After Trump-endorsed candidates did badly in last year’s midterms, there was a spate of stories suggesting that the Republican Party was ready to move on from Trump. Wrong again. Trump has a huge lead in most polls of the Republican primary field…

2. Explain Trump’s probable agenda as president in detail.

In 2016, the media not only played down Trump’s chances of winning but also suggested that Trump would not pursue the outlandish and far-right ideas that he was running on if he won. This attitude was summed up by an Atlantic article titled “Taking Trump Seriously, Not Literally.” This perspective was entirely wrongheaded. Trump implemented modified versions of the Muslim bana wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and many of his other controversial ideas…

3. Don’t make getting access to Republican politicians or projecting “neutrality” and “objectivity” a main goal of coverage.

There are real reasons to be skeptical of CNN in particular hosting this town hall. The network’s new leaders have repeatedly said that they felt CNN was too anti-Trump when he was president. CNN has forced out some of the reporters and anchors (John Harwood, Don Lemon, Brian Stelter) who were most critical of Trump. The network now brags that it has more Republican officials and operatives on air as guests than before.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Noah Smith on American industrial policy:

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

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

Here are a few key excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why are elections still so close?

Two words: Issue bundling

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

Huh? The bundle? What, you say?

Stick with me.

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

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

How is this possible?

Enter… The Ostrogorski Paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More cops, faster courts, better prisons


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work smarter, not harsher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12) And Yglesias on standardized tests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t worry too much about dropping the tests


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On thin privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quick hits (part I)

1) Yes, of course way more people are co-sleeping than like to admit it.  Since it’s long in my past, I’ll admit it. 

2) Ron Brownstein, “Red States Need Blue Cities”

In red and blue states, Democrats are consolidating their hold on the most economically productive places.

Metropolitan areas won by President Joe Biden in 2020 generated more of the total economic output than metros won by Donald Trump in 35 of the 50 states, according to new research by Brookings Metro provided exclusively to The Atlantic. Biden-won metros contributed the most to the GDP not only in all 25 states that he carried but also in 10 states won by Trump, including Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Ohio, and even Florida, Brookings found. Almost all of the states in which Trump-won metros accounted for the most economic output rank in the bottom half of all states for the total amount of national GDP produced within their borders.

Biden’s dominance was pronounced in the highest-output metro areas. Biden won 43 of the 50 metros, regardless of what state they were in, that generated the absolute most economic output; remarkably, he won every metro area that ranked No. 1 through 24 on that list of the most-productive places.

The Democrats’ ascendance in the most-prosperous metropolitan regions underscores how geographic and economic dynamics now reinforce the fundamental fault line in American politics between the people and places most comfortable with how the U.S. is changing and those who feel alienated or marginalized by those changes.

Just as Democrats now perform best among the voters most accepting of the demographic and cultural currents remaking 21st-century America, they have established a decisive advantage in diverse, well-educated metropolitan areas. Those places have become the locus of the emerging information economy in industries such as computing, communications, and advanced biotechnology.

And just as Republicans have relied primarily on the voters who feel most alienated and threatened by cultural and demographic change, their party has grown stronger in preponderantly white, blue-collar, midsize and smaller metro areas, as well as rural communities. Those are all places that generally have shared little in the transition to the information economy and remain much more reliant on the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: agriculture, fossil-fuel extraction, and manufacturing…

The trajectory is toward greater conflict between the diverse, big places that have transitioned the furthest toward the information-age economy and the usually less diverse and smaller places that have not. Across GOP-controlled states, Republicans are using statewide power rooted in their dominance of nonmetropolitan areas to pass an aggressive agenda preempting authority from their largest cities across a wide range of issues and imposing cultural values largely rejected in those big cities; several are also now targeting public universities with laws banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and proposals to eliminate tenure for professors.

This sweeping offensive is especially striking because, as the Brookings data show, even many red states now rely on blue-leaning metro areas as their principal drivers of economic growth. Texas, for instance, is one of the places where Republicans are pursuing the most aggressive preemption agenda, but the metros won by Biden there in 2020 account for nearly three-fourths of the state’s total economic output.

“State antagonism toward cities is not sustainable,” says Amy Liu, the interim president of the Brookings Institution. “By handicapping local problem solving or attacking local institutions and employers, state lawmakers are undermining the very actors they need to build a thriving regional economy.”…

The analysis showed that the metros Biden carried generated 50 percent or more of state economic output in 28 states, and a plurality of state output in seven others. States where Biden-won metros accounted for the highest share of economic output included reliably blue states: His metros generated at least 90 percent of state economic output in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. But the Biden-won metros also generated at least 80 percent of the total economic output in Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, as well as two-thirds in Michigan and almost exactly half in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—all key swing states. And the metros he carried generated at least half of total output in several Republican states, including Texas, Iowa, and Missouri.

3) Aaron Blake, “5 striking findings about what the GOP wants in 2024”

1. The party wants election deniers, full stop

Election deniers cost the GOP dearly in the 2022 election; the evidence for that is unmistakable. Yet this poll reinforces not just that a large majority of Republican-leaning voters continue to believe the election was stolen, but also that they want candidates who say that.

That last one is particularly startling. It’s one thing to falsely believe the election was stolen, as most Republicans do; it’s another to want someone who continues to re-litigate that. (Indeed, there are other issues Republicans are less interested in re-litigating, which we’ll get to.)

Candidates who keyed on that stolen-election message fared extremely poorly in swing areas in 2022, winning just 10 of 47 competitive races and being nearly swept in competitive races for Senate, governor and secretary of state. It’s a big reason some in the party have gently tried to usher Trump away from this message.

2. Electability is a nonissue (for now)

Rather than call the election stolen, DeSantis tried to use the fact of Trump’s loss against him — in the service of an electability argument. DeSantis has even gestured at the idea that Trump’s voter-fraud claims are bogus and that he’s dishonest.

The poll reinforces that this electability argument isn’t as effective as DeSantis might hope, though it does point to some potential.

Not only do 75 percent of Republican-leaners say Trump’s supposed victory in 2020 is a reason to vote for him again, 84 percent say that “He would beat Joe Biden” is a reason to vote for him. By contrast, just 38 percent say “He could lose to Joe Biden” is a reason to vote against him.

4) This is from November, but just came across it.  A lot of colleges are in for a lot of hurt. Kevin Carey, “The incredible shrinking future of college: The population of college-age Americans is about to crash. It will change higher education forever.”

In four years, the number of students graduating from high schools across the country will begin a sudden and precipitous decline, due to a rolling demographic aftershock of the Great Recession. Traumatized by uncertainty and unemployment, people decided to stop having kids during that period. But even as we climbed out of the recession, the birth rate kept dropping,and we are now starting to see the consequences on campuses everywhere. Classes will shrink, year after year, for most of the next two decades. People in the higher education industry call it “the enrollment cliff.”

Among the small number of elite colleges and research universities — think the Princetons and the Penn States — the cliff will be no big deal. These institutions have their pick of applicants and can easily keep classes full.

For everyone else, the consequences could be dire. In some places, the crisis has already begun. College enrollment began slowly receding after the millennial enrollment wave peaked in 2010, particularly in regions that were already experiencing below-average birth rates while simultaneously losing population to out-migration. Starved of students and the tuition revenue they bring, small private colleges in New England have begun to blink off the map. Regional public universities like Ship are enduring painful layoffs and consolidation…

The problem now is that colleges have likely hit a ceiling in terms of how many 18-year-olds they can coax onto campus. The percentage of young adults with a high school diploma has reached 94 percent. And the immediate college enrollment rate of high school graduates was flat, right around 70 percent, from 2010 to 2018, before dipping in 2019 and 2020 as the job market heated up for less-skilled, lower-wage jobs.

Some parts of the country are already experiencing an enrollment bust, mainly because of internal migration. According to the census, 327,000 people moved to the Northeast (which includes Pennsylvania) from elsewhere in the United States in 2018-19, while 565,000 moved out, for a net loss of 238,000 people.

By contrast, the South (which includes Texas and Florida) saw a net increaseof 263,000 internal migrants, and another 447,000 people arrived from abroad, more than twice the number for the Northeast. Fertility rates are also lower, and falling faster, for white people, and the Northeast and Midwest have proportionally more white people. This was true before the Great Recession, too.

5) Derek Thompson, “America Fails the Civilization Test”

The true test of a civilization may be the answer to a basic question: Can it keep its children alive?

For most of recorded history, the answer everywhere was plainly no. Roughly half of all people—tens of billions of us—died before finishing puberty until about the 1700s, when breakthroughs in medicine and hygiene led to tremendous advances in longevity. In Central Europe, for example, the mortality rate for children fell from roughly 50 percent in 1750 to 0.3 percent in 2020. You will not find more unambiguous evidence of human progress.

How’s the U.S. doing on the civilization test? When graded on a curve against its peer nations, it is failing. The U.S. mortality rate is much higher, at almost every age, than that of most of Europe, Japan, and Australia. That is, compared with the citizens of these nations, American infants are less likely to turn 5, American teenagers are less likely to turn 30, and American 30-somethings are less likely to survive to retirement.

Last year, I called the U.S. the rich death trap of the modern world. The “rich” part is important to observe and hard to overstate. The typical American spends almost 50 percent more each year than the typical Brit, and a trucker in Oklahoma earns more than a doctor in Portugal.

This extra cash ought to buy us more years of living. For most countries, higher incomes translate automatically into longer lives. But not for today’s Americans. A new analysis by John Burn-Murdoch, a data journalist at the Financial Times, shows that the typical American is 100 percent more likely to die than the typical Western European at almost every age from birth until retirement.

Imagine I offered you a pill and told you that taking this mystery medication would have two effects. First, it would increase your disposable income by almost half. Second, it would double your odds of dying in the next 365 days. To be an average American is to fill a lifetime prescription of that medication and take the pill nightly.

According to data collected by Burn-Murdoch, a typical American baby is about 1.8 times more likely to die in her first year than the average infant from a group of similarly rich countries: Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, the U.K., Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Let’s think of this 1.8 figure as “the U.S. death ratio”—the annual mortality rate in the U.S., as a multiple of similarly rich countries.

6) I loved this, because it’s so me.  One of the reasons I’m such a happy person is that I pretty much never beat myself up over what I feel, “Lean Into Negative Emotions. It’s the Healthy Thing to Do.”

We’re nervous about an upcoming work presentation, then lament our lack of confidence. We get angry at our partner, then feel guilty about our impatience. Our emotions undoubtedly influence our well-being — but recent research suggests that how we judge and react to those emotions may affect us even more.

In a study published last month in the journal Emotion, researchers found that people who habitually judge negative feelings — such as sadness, fear and anger — as bad or inappropriate have more anxiety and depression symptoms and feel less satisfied with their lives than people who generally perceive their negative emotions in a positive or neutral light.

The findings add to a growing body of research that indicates people fare better when they accept their unpleasant emotions as appropriate and healthy, rather than try to fight or suppress them.

“Many of us have this implicit belief that emotions themselves are bad, they’re going to do something bad to us,” said Iris Mauss, a social psychologist who studies emotions at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the new study. But most of the time, she said, “emotions don’t do harmful things.”

“It’s actually the judgment that causes, ultimately, the suffering.”

7) Just a great Brian Beutler on Democrats and the politics of the debt ceiling:

If Democrats were like Republicans, they would’ve treated turnabout as fair play, and held the debt limit hostage for ideological policy concessions after Trump took office. Of course, the parties aren’t similar, and Democrats never considered this, nor should they have: Extortion is extortion, and every bit as anti-democratic as stealing court seats, or elected offices. 

But I did think, and argued at the time, that when Republicans came to Democrats for help increasing the debt limit, Democrats should have made one demand: that in exchange for their votes, Republicans would have to relinquish the debt limit as a tool of extortion forever. This could have taken many forms: Outright debt-limit abolition, indefinite debt-limit suspension, a debt-limit increase of effectively infinite size, or the permanent delegation of authority to increase the debt limit to the executive branch. Either way, the idea was that Democrats should have had enough dignity to insist the parties be bound by a single set of rules, and make it the price of bailing Republicans out of a jam. 

Democrats instead gave their votes away for free. 

Later, when Trump’s scandalous maladministration of the coronavirus pandemic forced the government to layout trillions of dollars, I argued that Democrats should condition their support for stimulus on measures that would guarantee reciprocity, so that if a Democratic president inherited a damaged nation from Trump, Republicans couldn’t simply turn around and sabotage it further. This would have included tying economic support to material conditions like the unemployment rate (what economists call “automatic stabilizers”), compliance with congressional oversight, and (again) the permanent neutralization of the debt limit. 

Democrats demanded none of these things. 

By the end of the last Congress, with Republicans poised once again to control the House under a Democratic president, the idea that Democrats should use their narrow, lame-duck majorities to moot the debt limit grew into something like a clamor, rather than the musings of one random political columnist. Democrats thus had to respond to it, and their response was: sorry, no. This time, they seemingly just didn’t have the votes. But Democratic leaders expended almost no public effort trying to whip them up. Instead they and their loyalists treated supporters to excuses ranging from ‘we don’t have enough time’ to ‘we are leaving the doomsday device armed and ticking on purpose!’ How better to force Republicans to produce a budget, which will contain unpopular policies, the better to run against?

Well, Republicans did produce a budget, it has made almost no difference in the short term, they remain committed to engineering a recession while lying about the contents of their budget legislation, and the White House is left whining that industry trade groups and corporate-funded advocacy shops have not ridden to the rescue

8) NYT on taxing alcohol more (I’ve long been all-in on this because criminologist extraordinaire Mark Kleiman was a big advocate– also, I don’t drink much)

The synthetic opioid fentanyl is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. It’s a national crisis and deserves our attention.

Also killing tens of thousands of Americans every year is alcohol. By the count of the Centers for Disease Control, about 140,000 deaths per year in the United States are the result of injuries or disease caused by alcohol.

Only one of these two tragedies has the nation’s attention. The other has been normalized to the point where we seemingly don’t consider more than 100,000 lives lost to a preventable cause a crisis.

While winning the war on drugs is now far out of reach, we do actually know how to reduce American fatalities from excessive drinking.

The answer is taxes. More of them. On alcohol. That’s the solution we explore in an Opinion Video today.

About a half-century worth of research has shown that raising taxes on alcohol reduces alcohol-related deaths. According to researchers, a rough rule of thumb holds that a 10 percent increase in the price of alcohol reduces drinking by 5 percent or more.

In some ways, my comparison to fentanyl is unfair and unneeded. The insidious nature of drug syndicates lacing pills to increase America’s habit is incomparable.

But America’s failed war on drugs has led many experts to believe we should be focusing on harm reduction — strategies to reduce deaths and suffering — instead of on ineffective prohibition and enforcement measures.

Why shouldn’t that same philosophy carry over to a legal and widely used drug like alcohol?

Yes, we know taxes aren’t fun. But even an increase of pennies per drink could lead to fewer car crashes, lower rates of liver disease, a dip in crime — even fewer cases of sexually transmitted diseases.

Would you be willing to pay such a tax if you knew it could save lives?

9) David Frum on how Britain is really suffering economically from Brexit but, politically, unwilling to undo it.

10) Really, really like this research from Tim Ryan (my a few times co-author) and others on what it really means to measure “racial resentment”

When individuals’ racial attitudes are associated with their judgments related to race — for example, when people with more negative attitudes toward Blacks are less likely to vote for a Black political candidate — existing studies routinely interpret it as evidence of prejudice against minorities. But theoretically, such associations can represent favoring minorities, disfavoring them, or a combination of both. We provide a conceptual framework to distinguish patterns of favoring and disfavoring against a standard of racial indifference, and test it with a preregistered conjoint experiment. In our results, one widely used measure — the Racial Resentment Scale — captures favoring of Blacks substantially more than disfavoring. This finding calls for greater care in characterizing white Americans’ racial attitudes and illustrates ways to improve future research designs. We also describe several extensions that integrate the distinction between favoring and disfavoring into the broader study of racial attitudes.

11) They are not wrong, which means we need to think about other financial incentives for cures. Prizes? “Goldman Sachs asks in biotech research report: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’”

Richter cited Gilead Sciences’ treatments for hepatitis C, which achieved cure rates of more than 90 percent. The company’s U.S. sales for these hepatitis C treatments peaked at $12.5 billion in 2015, but have been falling ever since. Goldman estimates the U.S. sales for these treatments will be less than $4 billion this year, according to a table in the report.

“GILD is a case in point, where the success of its hepatitis C franchise has gradually exhausted the available pool of treatable patients,” the analyst wrote. “In the case of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, curing existing patients also decreases the number of carriers able to transmit the virus to new patients, thus the incident pool also declines … Where an incident pool remains stable (eg, in cancer) the potential for a cure poses less risk to the sustainability of a franchise.”

12) Really terrific look at nasal vaccines (and why it’s so hard, but worth doing) from Katelyn Jetelina:

The vast majority of research is still in the animal phase, which shows promise, but we do not have any guarantee that the result will be the same in people. 

We have done hard things

Anything that reduces the incidence of infections and curbs the spread of SARS-CoV-2 has the potential for massive public health benefit. If that can be translated to other infectious diseases, that would be superb. 

Furthermore, a vaccine that can be administered without the need for a skilled medical professional is especially valuable in regions where such expertise may be sparse, as has been observed with polio eradication campaigns. 

Bottom line

While a mucosal vaccine may help, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We shouldn’t oversell the potential but recognize the real challenges and cheer on the scientists who are trying to figure them out. Operation Next Gen should help move mountains, but time will tell.

13) I was actually relating this to somebody in-person the other day, so need to share it here, via Drum:

Health care pros prefer AI to human doctors

I’m not sure why this amuses me so much, but it does:

This is from a study comparing human doctors to GPT 3.5. The methodology was sort of fascinating: the authors collected 195 questions and responses from real doctors on Reddit and then fed the exact same questions into the chatbot. Then they jumbled up all the responses and had them evaluated by health care professionals.

As the chart shows, the pros concluded that the chatbot’s answers were more accurate and more empathetic. So what was up with the doctors? Were they telling people to suck it up and just accept the pain? Or what? Here’s an example:

(Sorry this is so small. As always, click to embiggen.)

In this case, I empathize with the human doctor. My response probably would be along the lines of “ffs, it’s just a toothpick,” so I think the doctor was heroically patient here.

Still, the chatbot answer is demonstrably better. One reason is that it’s not time restricted. Most human doctors just don’t have the patience or time to write long answers with lots of little verbal curlicues. The chatbot has no such problem. It used three times as many words as the doctor and could have used ten times more with no trouble. It simply doesn’t require any effort for the chatbot to be empathetic and provide lots of information that might be of only minor importance.

14) Loved this interview with James Marsden and I’ve loved the first two episodes of “Jury Duty.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Katelyn Jetelina on guns and mass shootings:

Firearms are the leading cause of death for American children


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

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

We are failing our children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Good stuff from Jonathan Weiler:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was first described by economist Bryan Caplan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we know whether that’s happening?

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

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

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

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

18) Love this San Jose approach to gun ownership:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Wiiliam Hanage on lessons from Covid:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are just a few of those differences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results have been published in the Nature Communications journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13) Jeff Wise on Long Covid:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16) And on the amazing pace of AI progress

17) Helluva chart from twitter.

18) Yes, this is real.

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



Quick hits

1) I’ve been meaning to do a post about adolescent depression, social media use, and phones.  But I haven’t yet.  So, do me a favor and just read this excellent Noah Smith post. 

Younger Americans adopted the technology more quickly than older ones; 2010-11 seems to have been an especially important moment. And of course the “killer app” for smartphones was social media. When you had to go to a computer to check Facebook or Twitter, you could only experience it intermittently; now, with a smartphone in your pocket and notifications enabled, you were on every app all the time.

Why would that make us unhappy? There’s an obvious reason: social isolation.

Pretty much everyone knows that social isolation makes people less happy, and research strongly backs this up. It’s known to be a suicide risk. The worst punishment in a prison is solitary confinement, which some view as a form of torture. In case you doubt that the relationship between social isolation and unhappiness is causal, you should recall that we recently ran a gigantic natural experiment on much of society in the form of Covid, and the results were clearly negative.

But why would devices that make people more connected lead to social isolation? Isn’t that backwards? Doesn’t having access to all of their friends and acquaintances at all times via a device in their pockets mean that kids are less isolated than before?

Well, no. As the natural experiment of the pandemic demonstrated, physical interaction is important. Text is a highly attenuated medium — it’s slow and cumbersome, and an ocean of nuance and tone and emotion is lost. Even video chat is a highly incomplete substitute for physical interaction. A phone doesn’t allow you to experience the nearby physical presence of another living, breathing body — something that we spent untold eons evolving to be accustomed to. And of course that’s even before mentioning activities like sex that are far better when physical contact is involved.

Of course, smartphones, by themselves, don’t force you to stop hanging out in person. But there are several reasons they reduce it. First, they’re a distraction — the rise of smartphones was also the rise of “phubbing”, i.e. when people go on their phones instead of paying attention to the people around them. Second, phones provide a behavioral “nudge”, like a pantry stocked with junk food — when your phone is right there in your pocket, it’s easier to just text a friend instead of going and hanging out, even if the latter would be less fulfilling. And third, in-person interaction is a network effect. If 20% of people would rather be on their phones, that reduces everyone else’s options for in-person hangouts by 20%.

The psychologist Jean Twenge, the leading proponent of the theory that phones cause unhappiness, has a great run-down of these various mechanisms.

In any case, the data clearly shows that isolation is increasing. Teens had been getting gradually more isolated through the decades — perhaps as a result of larger houses and better entertainment options at home. But face-to-face interaction really plummeted right after — you guessed it! — 2010.

2) David Leonhardt with a good piece on Asian-American voters:

Nationally, the rightward drift of Asian voters is connected to a new class divide in American politics. The Democratic Party, especially its liberal wing, has increasingly come to reflect the views of college-educated professionals. This development has had some benefits for Democrats, helping them win more suburban voters and flip Arizona and Georgia in recent elections.

To a growing number of working-class voters, however, the newly upscale version of the party has become less appealing. The trend has long been evident among white working-class voters, and many liberal analysts have claimed that it mostly reflects racial bigotry. But recent developments have weakened that argument. Class appears to be an important factor as well. Since 2018, more Asian and Latino voters have supported Republicans, and these voters appear to be disproportionately working-class.

The Pew Research Center has conducted a detailed analysis of the electorate and categorized about 8 percent of voters as belonging to “the progressive left.” This group spans all races, but it is disproportionately white — and upper-income. True, a large number of Democrats, including many Black voters, are more moderate. But the progressive left has an outsize impact partly because of its strong presence in institutions with access to political megaphones, like advocacy groups, universities, media organizations and Hollywood.

The Covid era

The shift of Asian and Latino voters has coincided with a period when the progressive left has become bolder and shaped the Democrats’ national image. The shift has also coincided with the pandemic and its aftermath.

Progressives supported extended Covid school closures — which were easier for white-collar parents to manage — and often excoriated people who favored a return to normal activities. As crime surged during the pandemic, progressives often downplayed the importance of the trend even as it alarmed many people of color. “Being Asian, I felt I had a bigger target on my back,” Karen Wang, 48, a Queens resident and lifelong Democrat who voted Republican last year, told The Times.

Immigration may also play a role. Democratic leaders like Barack Obama once emphasized the importance of border security. Today, many Democrats are uncomfortable talking about almost any immigration restrictions. In Texas, polls show, immigration concerns have driven some Latino voters toward Republicans.

Then there are the debates over language. In the name of inclusion and respect, some progressives have argued that common terms such as “pregnant women,” “the poor” and “Latinos” are offensive. Many voters find these arguments befuddling and irrelevant to their everyday concerns.

Beyond individual policy issues, working-class voters tend to have a different worldview than much of the modern Democratic Party. They are often more religious and more patriotic. In a Times poll last year, only 26 percent of Democratic voters with a bachelor’s degree described the U.S. as the greatest country in the world; more than half of voters without a bachelor’s degree gave that answer.

The Republican Party obviously has its own problems with swing voters, including Asian Americans. Donald Trump has promoted white nationalism, and his descriptions of Covid fed anti-Asian racism. The Republican Party favors abortion bans, while most voters favor significant access to abortion. Many Republican politicians also oppose popular economic policies, like caps on medical costs.

Given the radicalism of today’s Republican Party, liberals had hoped that Asian and Latino voters would help usher in an era of Democratic dominance. And maybe that will happen one day. But it is not happening yet. Instead, Democrats’ struggles with Latino and Asian voters have helped Republicans solidify their hold on states where Democrats had hoped to start winning by now, like Texas, Florida and North Carolina.

To a growing number of working-class voters, the Democratic Party looks even more flawed than the alternative.

3) This is fantastic and going into my next Public Policy syllabus, “The Programs You’d Have to Cut to Balance the Budget.” Gift link

Several conservative lawmakers say House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has promised a House vote on a balanced federal budget. That’s a harder task than it sounds, given the size of the federal deficit.

More recently, Mr. McCarthy has said he doesn’t want to cut spending on defense, Medicare or Social Security — or raise taxes. Those constraints mean cuts to the rest of the budget would have to be brutal…

“It’s incredibly difficult to balance the budget within 10 years,” said Marc Goldwein, a senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group that backs deficit reduction. “It goes from being incredibly difficult to practically impossible if you start taking things off the table.”

The federal deficit is expected to be so large over the next decade that it would take about $16 trillion in spending reductions or new revenues to balance the budget by 2033. That’s about the size of the entire Social Security program. Or the entire Medicare program in addition to every anti-poverty program and refundable tax credit. Those outlandish examples come from a recent analysis from the committee.

Balancing the budget without tax increases, or cuts to the military, Medicare or Social Security, would mean cutting the rest of the budget by a whopping 70 percent. Cuts of that magnitude would mean the firings of most federal workers in agencies like the F.B.I., the Parks Service and the State Department, and huge reductions in food assistance and military retirement.

4) Deserves it’s own post (but do does a lot of stuff and I’ve been really busy with research lately), “The Polls Were Historically Accurate In 2022″

Let’s give a big round of applause to the pollsters. Measuring public opinion is, in many ways, harder than ever — and yet, the polling industry just had one of its most successful election cycles in U.S. history. Despite a loud chorus of naysayers claiming that the polls were either underestimating Democratic support or biased yet again against Republicans, the polls were more accurate in 2022 than in any cycle since at least 1998, with almost no bias toward either party.

5) Gallup with a nice look at the latest public opinion on Covid.  Still so polarized:

6) Loved this video from Vox.  I had no idea about the exposure to sunlight connection to myopia.  “Why so many people need glasses now”

7) Rob Henderson is not wrong, “Dropping the SATs Hurts Poor Kids: Columbia is the first Ivy League university to abandon standardized tests in the name of ‘equity.’ It’s disadvantaged students like me who will suffer.”

Columbia University has just become the first Ivy League school to permanently abandon the SAT/ACT requirement for college admission.

Elite colleges are eliminating standardized tests before they eliminate legacy admissions. Tells you all you need to know.

The reasoning, according to Columbia’s announcement, is “to best determine an applicant’s suitability for admission and ability to thrive in our curriculum and our community, and to advance access to our educational opportunities.”

The ability to effortlessly produce buzzwords and gibberish and euphemisms has become a precondition for advancement in our institutions of higher learning, which is how ambitious mediocrities have gained control.

I know it’s supposedly “test optional.” But this contributes to a situation in which testing is downgraded and other application materials take on even more importance.

Here’s a headline in The New York Times:


The writer claims standardized tests penalize poor kids who get good grades. He calls it a “barrier.”

I rarely see discussions about the reverse situation. There are poor kids who get bad grades but find a path upward because of standardized testing.

A 2016 study found that implementing a standardized testing requirement increased the number of poor and non-white kids in gifted programs. In other words, an IQ test administered to all students revealed that previously overlooked students from disadvantaged backgrounds qualified as academically gifted.

Similarly, a British study found that when relying on their own impressions, teachers tended to view a kid from a low-income background as less academically competent even when they had the same test score as a rich kid. The objectivity of scores can serve as a useful corrective to the subjective nature of teacher evaluations…

The chattering class is using poor kids as pawns to eliminate standardized testing, which helps their own kids—rich kids who “don’t test well.” But they know how to strategically boost their GPAs, get recommendation letters from important people, stack their résumés with extracurriculars, and use the right slogans in their admissions essays. They have “polish.”

Applicants from the most affluent families excel at these games. A study at Stanford found that family income is more highly correlated with admissions essay content than with SAT scores. Applicants from well-to-do backgrounds are especially adept at crafting their essays in ways that please admissions committees.

8) Tom Edsall with a bunch of academics on the assault on Higher Education in Florida:

Many who have in the past been sharply critical of progressive excess now see DeSantis as promoting excess on the right.

Amna Khalid, a history professor at Carleton College in Minnesota, has written extensively in The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications on such subjects as “Yes, D.E.I. Can Erode Academic Freedom. Let’s Not Pretend Otherwise” and “The Data Is In — Trigger Warnings Don’t Work.”

However, when I asked Khalid about legislation in Florida (HB 999) that would codify DeSantis’s higher education proposals into law, she emailed back:

HB 999 is an abomination. It’s the most comprehensive attack on academic freedom we’ve seen. From banning concepts and theories that can be taught to limiting faculty and student speech outside the classroom to the erosion of tenure and faculty involvement in hiring decisions, this bill, if passed, will turn Florida colleges and universities into state propaganda factories and intellectual wastelands.

What’s most dangerous about the bill, Khalid continued,

is its vagueness. Calling for general education courses to ban “critical race theory” and the teaching of “identity politics,” without defining what exactly those terms mean, is a most devastatingly effective way of intimidating instructors. Anyone who wants to keep their jobs will no doubt have to self-censor and toe the line.

In addition, Khalid wrote, the measure “empowers university presidents and boards of trustees” (board members are appointed by the governor)

to make hiring, firing and post-tenure review determinations, making it impossible for faculty to critique any policy or challenge any position that runs counter to that of state officials. HB 999 targets the very core of academic freedom, the very thing that has made U.S. universities the envy of the world. If passed this bill will sound the death knell for higher education in Florida.

Khalid is by no means alone among those who have turned their fire on DeSantis.

Musa al-Gharbi, a sociologist at Columbia and a research fellow at the Heterodox Academy, noted in an email that

there is a vast and growing literature showing that existing D.E.I. programming used in many schools and corporations is not just ineffective, it’s actually pernicious. It demoralizes people, reduces trust, increases hostility and conflict and even sometimes reinforces stereotypes or legitimizes prejudicial behaviors.

Al-Gharbi, however, is equally critical of DeSantis:

What is the main complaint of DeSantis et al.? Not that knowledge being produced is unreliable or that students are failing to get good jobs, etc. No. They don’t like that institutions seem to bolster the cultural and political power of their rivals. And they want to instead leverage these institutions in the service of their own agenda. They’re not committed to academic freedom.

Many of the laws being passed, al-Gharbi wrote,

prevent teachers from discussing certain areas of research or force them to toe particular lines or drive them toward self-censorship or weaken tenure protections. These are not moves that enhance academic freedom but undermine it. They aren’t concerned about academic freedom. They’re concerned about power.

9) Radiolab has been one of my favorite podcasts for as long as I’ve been a podcast junkie.  Really enjoyed reading about the history of the show and the new hosts. 

10) I actually disagree with a lot of this, but this is honestly, by far, the most intellectually honest take of a youth gender transition booster in that it actually takes the skeptics, like me, seriously, rather than just labels skeptics as bigots. “There Are Two Sides to the Debate on Health Care for Trans Kids. Here’s What You’re Missing About One of Them.”

11) I think Josh Barro makes a good case here (and I’m looking at you DJC!) on daylight savings time. 

“Every March, it’s the same old thing,” the LA Times declared in a staff editorial this week, but unfortunately they weren’t referring to the annual raft of poorly reasoned editorials calling for the abolition of seasonal daylight saving time. No, they were referring to the annual time shift itself, which like so many writers before them, they purport to find so burdensome that Congress must act:

We set the clocks forward an hour to begin daylight saving time (or increasingly, our smart devices do it automatically) and then spend the next few days slightly discombobulated and wondering why we still practice this odd ritual. By the time the following Sunday rolls around, our disturbed schedules have adjusted and we forget about the week of missed appointments or bad sleep.

There are two possibilities when an entire editorial board claims the annual clock shift causes them to miss appointments for a week. One is that the board consists of the sort of people who frequently put on their shoes before realizing they’re not wearing pants. The other is that the board consists of people who like to complain so much they need to invent problems in order to complain about them.

I assume it has to be the latter.

 Haven’t any of these people ever taken a business trip to another time zone? Or stayed out too late on a weeknight? Or had to get up extra early to catch a flight? I assume their lives went on and these events were barely interesting enough to merit a mention in passing to friends, let alone a demand in a major newspaper for a legislative response.

I also don’t get why the authors of these articles always purport not to understand what daylight saving time is for. “Something about farmers? Or kids walking to school?” the LA Times proposes. No, the purpose of daylight saving time is so simple and obvious that it’s encapsulated right there in the title: The policy saves daylight. It obviously doesn’t increase the total amount of daylight, but increases the total amount of daylight for which members of the public are awake, and it balances that objective with also seeking to minimize the extent to which people have to wake up in the dark.

The fact that both of these objectives are important explains why people who want to abolish daylight saving time can rarely agree on what kind of time we should have instead:

  • If we set the clocks permanently forward by an hour, like Sen. Marco Rubio proposes, we’d get very late sunrises in the winter, such as 8:55 AM in Seattle and 8:58 AM in Detroit on December 21. This was the downfall of America’s prior experiment with permanent DST — yes, we tried this before, back in the ‘70s, a fact that many time-reform proponents fail to mention, maybe because they’re not aware. The experiment did not go well: People really didn’t like how dark it was quite late into the morning in the winter, and after just a few months of trying out eternal summer time, Congress voted by an overwhelming margin to repeal the experiment and return us to time that changes with the seasons.

  • If we instead left the clocks permanently on winter time — this is generally the actual preferred policy of the “sleep experts” whose advice permanent summer-time advocates dishonestly wave around to argue The Science Says we should implement their late-sunrise agenda for health reasons — we would end up with some extremely early sunrises in the summer, like 4:15 AM in Chicago and 4:07 AM in Boston on June 21. And that would mean a big loss of useful daylight: The long, sunlit summer evenings we love would all be one hour shorter, replaced with early-morning daylight we’d all sleep through — and all so some editor at the LA Times who frequently forgets his wallet on the bus doesn’t oversleep a week of meetings.

Those outcomes are both bad, which is why we have the policy we already have, which is designed to avoid both of them. I promise you, people thought this through already, and the system we have is the best one available for managing the effects of the earth’s axial tilt at moderate-to-high latitudes.

 So stop trying to change the way the clocks work — don’t make me write this column again! — and enjoy your extra hour of evening sunlight this Sunday.

12) DeSantis really is so bad, “Ron DeSantis’s book ban mania targets Jodi Picoult — and she hits back”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants you to know he’d never dream of engaging in mass censorship. He held a recent event challenging criticism of his classroom book restrictions as a “hoax,” releasing a video suggesting only “porn” and “hate” are targeted for removal.

There’s a big problem with DeSantis’s claims: The people deciding which books to remove from classrooms and school libraries didn’t get the memo. In many cases, the notion that banned books meet the highly objectionable criteria he detailed is an enormous stretch.

This week, Florida’s Martin County released a list of dozens of books targeted for removal from school libraries, as officials struggle to interpret a bill DeSantis signed in the name of “transparency” in school materials. The episode suggests his decrees are increasingly encouraging local officials to adopt censoring decisions with disturbingly vague rationales and absurdly sweeping scope.

Numerous titles by well-known authors such as Jodi Picoult, Toni Morrison and James Patterson have been pulled from library shelves. The removal list includes Picoult’s novel “The Storyteller” about the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor who meets an elderly former SS officer. It contains some violent scenes told in flashbacks from World War II and an assisted suicide.

“Banning ‘The Storyteller’ is shocking, as it is about the Holocaust and has never been banned before,” Picoult told us in an email.

“Martin County is the first to ban twenty of my books at once,” Picoult said, slamming such bans as “a shocking breach of freedom of speech and freedom of information.” A coastal county in the southeastern part of the state, Martin County is heavily Republican.

Picoult said she’s puzzled by the ban, because she does not “write adult romance,” as objections filed against her books claimed.

“Most of the books pulled do not even have a single kiss in them,” Picoult told us. “They do, however, include gay characters, and issues like racism, disability, abortion rights, gun control, and other topics that might make a kid think differently from their parents.”

“We have actual proof that marginalized kids who read books about marginalized characters wind up feeling less alone,” Picoult continued. “Books bridge divides between people. Book bans create them.”

13) Zeynep on masks, “Here’s Why the Science Is Clear That Masks Work”

Now the organization, Cochrane, says that the way it summarized the review was unclear and imprecise, and that the way some people interpreted it was wrong.

“Many commentators have claimed that a recently updated Cochrane review shows that ‘masks don’t work,’ which is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation,” Karla Soares-Weiser, the editor in chief of the Cochrane Library, said in a statement.

“The review examined whether interventions to promote mask wearing help to slow the spread of respiratory viruses,” Soares-Weiser said, adding, “Given the limitations in the primary evidence, the review is not able to address the question of whether mask wearing itself reduces people’s risk of contracting or spreading respiratory viruses.”

She said that “this wording was open to misinterpretation, for which we apologize,” and that Cochrane would revise the summary.

Soares-Weiser also said, though, that one of the lead authors of the review even more seriously misinterpreted its finding on masks by saying in an interview that it proved “there is just no evidence that they make any difference.” In fact, Soares-Weiser said, “that statement is not an accurate representation of what the review found.”

Cochrane reviews are often referred to as gold standard evidence in medicine because they aggregate results from many randomized trials to reach an overall conclusion — a great method for evaluating drugs, for example, which often are subjected to rigorous but small trials. Combining their results can lead to more confident conclusions…

So what we learn from the Cochrane review is that, especially before the pandemic, distributing masks didn’t lead people to wear them, which is why their effect on transmission couldn’t be confidently evaluated.

Soares-Weiser told me the review should be seen as a call for more data, and said she worried that misinterpretations of it could undermine preparedness for future outbreaks.

So let’s look more broadly at what we know about masks.

Crucially, the question of whether a mask reduces a wearer’s risk of infection is not the same as whether wearing masks slows the spread of respiratory viruses in a community.

14) This is so disturbing and there’s just going to be more and more, “Three Texas women are sued for wrongful death after allegedly helping friend obtain abortion medication”

15) I was challenged by tough books in high school and I hated them.  I even hated The Great Gatsby in high school (I loved it when I read it on my own in grad school).  I’m not sure Pamela Paul is right here because your typical HS kid is not on a path to NYT book review editor.  Still, interesting:

This began largely with the Common Core, instituted in 2010 during the Obama administration. While glorifying STEM, these nationwide standards, intended to develop a 21st-century work force, also took care to de-emphasize literature. By high school, 70 percent of assigned texts are meant to be nonfiction. Educators can maximize the remaining fiction by emphasizing excerpts, essays and digital material over full-length novels. Immersing children in the full arc of storytelling has largely gone out that window as novels have increasingly been replaced by short stories — or shorter yet, by “texts.”

“The Common Core killed classic literature,” as Diane Ravitch noted in 2018.

So what do kids read instead? To even be considered, a work must first pass through the gantlet of book bans and the excising of those books containing passages that might be deemed antiquated or lie outside the median of student body experiences. Add to that the urge to squelch any content that might be deemed “triggering” or controversial, the current despair over smartphoned attention spans and the desire to “reach students where they are.” Toni Morrison’s short first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” a coming-of-age story, tends to be assigned over her longer, more intricate, more provocative — and to this reader, anyway, richer — novel “Beloved.”

The assumption is that kids aren’t discerning or tough enough to handle complexity or darkness, whether it’s the nastiness of Roald Dahl or the racism and sexism in 19th-century fiction, and that they can’t read within context or grasp the concept of history. But kids adopt the blinkered veil of presentism — the tendency to judge past events according to contemporary standards and attitudes — only when adults show them how.

Citing the need to appeal to fickle tastes with relevant and engaging content, teachers often lowball student competence. Too often, this means commercial middle grade and young adult novels such as “The Lightning Thief” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” or popular fiction like “The Outsiders,” or on the more ambitious end, accessible works of 20th-century fiction like “To Kill a Mockingbird” — all engaging novels that kids might read on their own — in lieu of knottier works that benefit from instruction and classroom discussion. The palpable desperation to just get students to read a book doesn’t come across as the kind of enticement that makes literature soar.

Those books that remain are read in a manner seemingly intended to leach all pleasure from the process. Even apart from the aims of the Common Core, the presiding goal is no longer instilling a love of literature but rather teaching to the test and ensuring students reach certain mandated benchmarks. In recent years in New York State, for example, skills like “information literacy” appear to be given priority over discussions of literature…

When I was in public high school in the olden ’80s, we read “The Red Badge of Courage” and “The Scarlet Letter,” with multiple forays into Shakespeare. We were assigned Faulkner, Joyce, Conrad and Henry James, authors whose work opened my mind and tested my abilities of comprehension and interpretation.

I also hated the Scarlet Letter (I might appreciate it now) and got less than nothing out of Faulkner in high school. 

16) Kat Rosenfeld, “The Illusion of a Frictionless Existence: Eliminating everyday annoyances may be creating the most risk-averse generation in history.”

It is almost certainly this, and not a sudden epidemic of extraordinary wisdom among teenagers, that is fueling the current generation’s extreme aversion to risk, whether it’s the physical hazards of drinking too much or the emotional ones of a broken heart. Today’s teens and young adults have spent their whole lives being overscheduled, micromanaged, and encouraged to report even the most minor disagreement to the nearest authority, rather than attempting to resolve it themselves—and have been taught to see genuine danger in any situation that causes emotional upset. Witness the rise of the word “unsafe” to describe things like a PowerPoint presentation or a New York Times opinion piece that contains arguments someone finds disagreeable; witness how the discourse surrounding sex and dating has become dominated by discussions of consent, until one gets the sense that relationships are not so much an exciting chance at romantic connection as a terrifying midnight sprint through a minefield full of rapists. Of course today’s young people are having less sex; if all you ever heard about dating was how dangerous it was, how rife with the potential for lifelong trauma, would you risk it?

All of this has been well-intentioned. Nobody wants their child to experience trauma—or heartbreak, or failure, or any other kind of hurt. But in seeking to provide kids with a frictionless path through the world, and by teaching them to expect one, we are also sending a powerful message: You can’t handle this. Inadvertently instilled in many of this generation’s kids is a lack of faith in their ability to negotiate discomfort, to recover from emotional wounds, to weather a difficult situation and experience growth as a result; instead, we teach them that bad experiences create permanent trauma and should be avoided at all costs.

The irony is, the result of all this effort to protect Gen Z from feeling anxious has only made their anxiety worse.

For 10 years between 2009 and 2019, I authored a teen advice column. At first, the problems being sent to me were more or less the same ones I struggled with during my own high school years: bullying, crushes, the desperate yearning to be your own person (or at least, to figure out who that person was). But a few years in, something changed, and the letters began to be imbued with a strange fearfulness—of awkward situations, of ordinary social conflicts, of having to hear, or articulate, the word “no.” Amid all this, there was one phrase that popped up, repeatedly, verbatim: “I shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable.”

At the time, I thought this was remarkable. And I thought: Oh, but you should. You do. You must.

Indeed, the world is an uncomfortable place, filled as it is with 8 billion humans who think differently, talk differently, live differently. People of different religious faiths; people of different political persuasions. People who think it’s morally acceptable to put ketchup on a hot dog! Living in a society means encountering people who test us, or annoy us, or infuriate us—or to whom we ourselves are tiresome, annoying, and infuriating. Two things are true: that a frictionless world would spare us the duty to tolerate all of these people, and that we would be the worse for it. Perhaps it’s for the better, then, that such a thing is unattainable.

17) I don’t eat meat with bones. I love the Bojangles Cajun Filet Biscuit. But, it was really interesting to see that it is making new stores with no bone-in chicken. 

Bojangles is ditching the bones, at least in newer markets.

The Charlotte-based chicken chain, which has made its living specializing in bone-in chicken, is planning to expand in new markets with a menu pared down to its breakfast and boneless options, the better to take advantage of shifting consumer demands.

Jose Armario, CEO of the 800-unit chain, said on this week’s episode of the A Deeper Dive podcast that the company has been testing a smaller menu featuring its breakfast, chicken sandwiches and chicken fingers, but not the bone-in chicken for which it’s known.

The company is testing the new menu at some restaurants in Memphis. Results have been strong thus far, and he said the company will likely use that menu in new locations going forward.

“We’re finding the customer is pretty happy, really. The sales have been well over our projections,” Armario said. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised, so far.”

Chicken is increasingly popular among consumers in general. And bone-in chicken had something of a renaissance during the pandemic as buckets of chicken proved popular meal replacements for consumers stuck at home, not wanting to cook.

But in general, much of that market has shifted to boneless options like chicken fingers or chicken sandwiches. That was highlighted by the popularity of Chick-fil-A, now the largest chicken chain in the U.S. and the country’s third-largest restaurant chain, period.

And in general, companies specializing in boneless chicken, such as Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s, have easily outperformed their bone-in cousins, according to data from Restaurant Business sister company Technomic. But even those numbers highlight one key fact: Popeyes’ growth in recent years has been driven primarily by the sale of its own boneless option, the chicken sandwich.

18) Jeremy Faust with a nice explainer. This needs to start being widely prescribed, “Metformin found to reduce Long Covid in clinical trial.”

19) Just finished the first season of Poker Face.  So, so good. Basically, I never watch episodic television because it doesn’t have the same high quality production values, casting, and writing of serialized dramas. But give it those things– especially Natasha Lyonne, and it can be great. 

20) Great Planet Money newsletter on the problem of fake reviews:

But there is no scientific support for any of these hypotheses or approaches. In fact, the science suggests that our ability to detect lying vs. truthful witnesses is mediocre, at best. And that’s when we’re face to face with someone. So how do we stand a chance when we’re reading something online, and we aren’t able to see a person’s mannerisms or expressions? 

It could be that without those distractions, we might do better at identifying fakes. There is a theory that it’s easier to determine whether someone is telling the truth when one reads the account of what they say, rather than seeing them say it.

Azimi, Chan and Krasnikov’s study suggests that we’re no better with text than we are in person, although the liar’s tools may be different when he or she is writing, as opposed to talking.

When it came to faking a review, length was important to believability, as was detail. A long, negative review of a hotel, complete with lots of information, tended to convince participants. A lengthy, positive review, on the other hand, was regarded as suspicious, and participants tended to trust writers that kept their glowing reviews short.

Emotion was also important in convincing readers — or the lack of emotion, at least. Azimi says study participants tended not to trust reviews where the writers expressed their feelings in a big way. The more dispassionate that negative write-up, the more likely it was to take the reader in.  

Other keys to a convincing review were the fluency of the writing, and the readability of the text. With a positive review, the more the test read like an ad, Azimi says, the less likely the participant was to believe it. Typos and grammatical errors, meanwhile, tended not to sway people either way.

Finally, the study authors wanted to see whether there was a certain type of person that was more susceptible, or more capable of detecting fakes. So they selected participants that conformed to the Big Five personality types: extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. It turns out that people who display openness, and tend to be adventurous and intellectually curious, are better at spotting fake reviews than other personality types. Extroverted people, on the other hand, tend to have a harder time identifying a fake review.

Machine manipulation

The fake reviews written for Azimi’s study were put together by humans, but increasingly, fake reviews are being written by machines. In the past, these bogus endorsements or critiques have been relatively easy to spot, but programs like ChatGPT and other neural networks are now being used to generate realistic reviews that can swamp a business’s website.

Many companies that host reviews, like Amazon, Tripadvisor or Expedia use algorithms to weed out fake reviews. But Azimi points out that the machines are programmed by humans, and given our inability to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to fake reviews, this doesn’t bode well.

The conclusion? When it comes to reviews, it’s wiser to be skeptical. We can’t be sure whether a machine wrote that review, or, if it was a human, whether they’re telling the truth. We can’t trust them. Unfortunately, it seems, we can’t trust ourselves, either.

21) How had I never heard of this bookGalileo’s Middle Finger till a random twitter post, 

“Soon enough,” Alice Dreger writes at the beginning of her romp of a book, “I will get to the death threats, the sex charges, the alleged genocides, the epidemics, the alien abductees, the anti-lesbian drug, the unethical ethicists, the fight with Martina Navratilova and, of course, Galileo’s middle finger. But first I have to tell you a little bit about how I got into this mess.”

As is so often the case, what got ­Dreger into trouble was sex. A historian of science and medicine, she criticized a group of transgender activists who had attacked a sex researcher for his findings on why some people want to change gender. Having hounded the researcher mercilessly, the activists attacked Dreger too. The bad news is that this was hard on ­Dreger. (More on that momentarily. For now, I’ll just note they called her son a “womb turd.”) The good news is that from this mess emerged not only a sharp, disruptive scholar but this smart, delightful book.

“Galileo’s Middle Finger” is many things: a rant, a manifesto, a treasury of evocative new terms (sissyphobia, autogynephilia, phall-o-meter) and an account of the author’s transformation “from an activist going after establishment scientists into an aide-de-camp to scientists who found themselves the target of activists like me” — and back again.

As its title suggests, the book is also a defiant gesture aimed at those who would deny empiricism. Yet this middle finger (Galileo’s actual middle finger, in fact, which Dreger stumbles across in Italy) is raised in affirmation as well. It points toward the stars that confirmed his cosmology — and toward empiricism’s power to create a fairer, more rational society. For Galileo is famous not just because he saw how the stars move. He’s famous because he insisted we see for ourselves how the world works, share what we see and shape our society accordingly.

22) This is really cool, “Using A.I. to Detect Breast Cancer That Doctors Miss: Hungary has become a major testing ground for A.I. software to spot cancer, as doctors debate whether the technology will replace them in medical jobs.”

Advancements in A.I. are beginning to deliver breakthroughs in breast cancer screening by detecting the signs that doctors miss. So far, the technology is showing an impressive ability to spot cancer at least as well as human radiologists, according to early results and radiologists, in what is one of the most tangible signs to date of how A.I. can improve public health.

Hungary, which has a robust breast cancer screening program, is one of the largest testing grounds for the technology on real patients. At five hospitals and clinics that perform more than 35,000 screenings a year, A.I. systems were rolled out starting in 2021 and now help to check for signs of cancer that a radiologist may have overlooked. Clinics and hospitals in the United States, Britain and the European Union are also beginning to test or provide data to help develop the systems.

A.I. usage is growing as the technology has become the center of a Silicon Valley boom, with the release of chatbots like ChatGPT showing how A.I. has a remarkable ability to communicate in humanlike prose — sometimes with worrying results. Built off a similar form used by chatbots that is modeled on the human brain, the breast cancer screening technology shows other ways that A.I. is seeping into everyday life.

Widespread use of the cancer detection technology still faces many hurdles, doctors and A.I. developers said. Additional clinical trials are needed before the systems can be more widely adopted as an automated second or third reader of breast cancer screens, beyond the limited number of places now using the technology. The tool must also show it can produce accurate results on women of all ages, ethnicities and body types. And the technology must prove it can recognize more complex forms of breast cancer and cut down on false-positives that are not cancerous, radiologists said.

The A.I. tools have also prompted a debate about whether they will replace human radiologists, with makers of the technology facing regulatory scrutiny and resistance from some doctors and health institutions. For now, those fears appear overblown, with many experts saying the technology will be effective and trusted by patients only if it is used in partnership with trained doctors.

My theory… we will absolute still need radiologists, but there will be fewer of them as they will be more productive and more accurate with the assistance of AI technology and that is a great thing.

23) This is wild, “They thought loved ones were calling for help. It was an AI scam.: Scammers are using artificial intelligence to sound more like family members in distress. People are falling for it and losing thousands of dollars.”

As impersonation scams in the United States rise, Card’s ordeal is indicative of a troubling trend. Technology is making it easier and cheaper for bad actors to mimic voices, convincing people, often the elderly, thattheir loved ones are in distress. In 2022, impostor scams were the second most popular racket in America, with over 36,000 reports of people beingswindled by those pretending to be friends and family, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission. Over 5,100 of those incidents happened over the phone, accounting for over $11 million in losses, FTC officials said.

Advancements in artificial intelligence have added a terrifying new layer, allowing bad actors to replicate a voice with an audio sample of just a few sentences. Powered by AI, aslew of cheap online tools can translate an audio file into a replica of a voice, allowing a swindler to make it “speak” whatever they type.

Experts say federal regulators, law enforcement and the courts are ill-equipped to rein in the burgeoning scam. Most victims have few leads to identify the perpetrator and it’s difficult for the police to trace calls and funds from scammers operating across the world. And there’s little legal precedent for courts to hold the companies that make the tools accountable for their use.

24) I got access to the new Bing/ChatGPT.  I haven’t had too much time to play with it yet (and I’m open to ideas). Doesn’t seem all that different to me except that, when it comes to politics, it really is a big deal that it can search the web (gave me some pretty decent stuff on the 2024 election).  This was also pretty good:

25) The origins of Daylight Saving in WWI 

26) For my fellow hockey fans.



Quick hits (part II)

1) Michelle Goldberg on Fox News and the Dominion lawsuit:

As the Dominion filing lays out, there was panic at Fox News over viewer backlash to the network correctly calling Arizona for Joe Biden on election night. Despite its accuracy, the call was viewed, internally, as a catastrophe.

“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson texted his producer. He added, “An alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.” Sean Hannity, in an exchange with fellow hosts Carlson and Laura Ingraham, fretted about the “incalculable” damage the Arizona projection did to the Fox News brand and worried about a competitor emerging: “Serious $$ with serious distribution could be a real problem.”

Hyping false claims about election fraud was a way for Fox to win its audience back. While the Arizona call was “damaging,” Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott wrote in a text to Fox executive Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son, “We will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them.”

When Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked Trump’s wild claims about Dominion on Twitter, Carlson was enraged and tried to get her fired. “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight,” he texted Hannity. “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” (Heinrich kept her job but deleted the tweet.)

The network knew, of course, that Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell, a chief promoter of Dominion conspiracy theories, was a delusional fantasist. The legal brief reveals that some of her claims about Dominion were based on an email Powell had received from someone who claimed to be capable of “time travel in a semiconscious state.” On Nov. 18, 2020, Carlson told Ingraham: “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. Caught her. It’s insane.” Ingraham wrote back that Powell was a “complete nut.”

But according to the Dominion brief, an analysis by Ron Mitchell, the senior vice president for prime-time programming and analytics, found that “Fox viewers were switching the channel specifically to watch Sidney Powell as a guest” on Newsmax. A few days after this analysis, Powell was a guest on Hannity’s show.

At one point, Carlson did express skepticism of Powell on-air, noting on Nov. 19 that she had never produced evidence for her claims. “Maybe Sidney Powell will come forward soon with details on exactly how this happened, and precisely who did it,” he said, adding, “We are certainly hopeful that she will.”

Even this gentle note of doubt produced viewer pushback, though most of a message about it from Fox executive Raj Shah is redacted. Afterward, Carlson seems to have given up trying to steer his audience away from total credulity about Trump’s stolen election claims, even though he privately called Trump a “demonic force.” On Jan. 26, Carlson hosted MyPillow founder Mike Lindell on his show and let him sound off about Dominion without resistance. In fairness, Carlson may have had a motive for indulging Lindell besides grubbing for ratings. As Media Matters for America pointed out, MyPillow at the time was Carlson’s single biggest advertiser.

2) Andrew Prokop, “A juicy new legal filing reveals who really controls Fox News”

Who really runs Fox News?

Some liberals have a mental model in which the network lies to and misleads its audience, propagandizing them to support Republicans and the right. But an ongoing defamation lawsuit from the voting machine company Dominion against Fox News tells a more complex story — one in which the network’s key players feel compelled to supply the conspiratorial content the audience is demanding.

new filing by Dominion’s attorneys released Thursday cited a trove of Fox emails and texts they had obtained in the discovery phase of the lawsuit, as well as testimony from top executives and hosts, to lay out a narrative about what happened in the tense weeks after Election Day 2020, when then-President Donald Trump was spreading lies about the election.

As they discussed coverage of Trump’s falsehoods, Fox’s top executives and primetime personalities were explicitly terrified of alienating pro-Trump viewers, panicked about losing the “trust” of the audience, and anxious about competition from the further right and more conspiratorial Newsmax.

Almost everyone at the network, it seems, understood Trump’s allegations about a stolen election, and particularly his attorney Sidney Powell’s wacky tales of malfeasance from Dominion, were nonsense.

But an intense culture of what one might call “political correctness” took hold — in which challenging Trump and Powell’s claims could only happen with the utmost care and sensitivity, for fear of offending the tender feelings of Fox viewers.

More broadly, in understanding how lies and conspiracies spread on the right, it’s important to reckon not just with the suppliers of this coverage, but also the demand. There’s an intense desire for it among viewers that organizations like Fox calculate they have to satisfy in some way. And if Fox doesn’t provide it, those audiences will just seek it out elsewhere.

3) I didn’t know all that much about Ruben Gallego (he’ll hopefully knock-off Sinema and be Arizona’s next Democratic Senator), but I consider myself a huge fan after this interview.  

4) The fact that DeSantis thinks it is good politics to take on not just AP African-American studies, but all of the College Board and AP classes suggests that his political instincts are not always so great.  Talk about alienating suburban voters!

5) Good stuff from Chait, “Fight the Anti-Trans Backlash With Accountability, Not Silence.”  Relatedly, the hysterical, hyper-aggressive, completely non-rational response to pieces like this from Chait by the trans-activists on twitter just completely undermine their position.  

On Wednesday, a large collection of progressive journalists launched a public campaign, including a letter and a coordinated in-person demonstration by GLAAD, to protest the New York Times’s coverage of youth gender care. The letter claims the Times’s coverage is excessive, and it raises a couple attribution complaints about sources in a few of the stories to suggest the overall tenor is biased toward criticism.

The letter’s key premise is that the Times is whipping up public concern over a nonexistent phenomenon. “Puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and gender⁠-⁠affirming surgeries have been standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades,” explains the letter. Since nothing especially new is occurring medically (“This is not a cultural emergency”), it follows that reporters have no reason to give the matter any new attention.

But this is simply not true. Reporting in theTimes, and in the other publications noted above, all show clearly that the field has undergone dramatic changes in the last decade or so. The old practice asked medical providers to diagnose gender dysphoria only in children who expressed persistent belief that they had the wrong gender identity. Many medical providers have adopted the view advocated by activists that children’s professed identity needs to be taken at face value almost immediately, with significantly less medical gatekeeping.

“I think what we’ve seen historically in trans care is an overfocus on assessing identity,” Colt St. Amand, a family-medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic told theTimes. “People are who they say they are, and they may develop and change, and all are normal and okay. So I am less concerned with certainty around identity, and more concerned with hearing the person’s embodiment goals.” This is a candid description of the new theory sweeping through clinics across the country: Stop the “overfocus” on assessing the gender identity of kids, and instead take their statement at face value and proceed to helping them actualize what they say they want.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) last year dropped its age guidelines for hormone use and surgeries. Some clinicians have expressed concern over the new practices. “It went so quickly that not even centers but individual clinicians, people who were not knowledgeable, were just giving this kind of treatment,” said Dr. Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, a Dutch psychologist who worked at the clinic that pioneered treatment for transgender youth, in another story in the Times. Many American gender clinics, Reuters found, prescribe puberty blockers “on the first visit, depending on the age of the child.”

At the same time as providers have sped up their protocols for transitioning children, the number of children requesting gender reassignment has risen dramatically. Within a few years, the number of young people identifying as transgender “nearly doubled,” and the number of pediatric gender clinics exploded from “a handful” to more than 60.

Unlike in past years, when “those assigned male at birth accounted for the majority,” a large majority of children questioning their gender now were assigned female at birth, reported Reuters. “Adolescents assigned female at birth initiate transgender care 2.5 to 7.1 times more frequently than those assigned male at birth,” according to WPATH. This is taking place in the context of a mental health crisis that is disproportionately affecting girls and LGBTQ+ teens. Properly assessing kids who question their gender is much more challenging when they are afflicted with serious mental health challenges. And so medical providers are diagnosing and treating kids much faster than before at a time when the patient population has become much harder to diagnose.

Whatever parallels the letter writers see to past practices — the letter cites episodes going back as far as 1394 — phenomena like a surgeon on TikTok telling teens to “Come to Miami to see me and the rest of the De Titty Committee,” as Reuters found, are new. One can defend the new practices, but it is preposterous to maintain that the field has merely continued “standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades,” rather than having implemented a very sharp change.

But proceeding from the false assumption that nothing significant has changed in the field of youth-gender care, it is easy to see why progressive critics would believe the only explanation for the Times devoting significant reporting resources to the issue would be to foment a panic. And what other motives would the Times have to foment a panic besides fear and bias?…

The primary harm cited by the protesters is one that arises regularly any time a reporter or commentator suggests there are problems with the new treatment practices for gender-questioning youth: They are blamed for a wave of Republican-driven laws. It doesn’t matter if the reporter or critic opposes these laws. The presumption is that anything that discredits the left automatically benefits the right. The anti-Times letter makes a great deal of the fact that Times reporting has been cited by sources like Arkansas’s attorney general, and that a conservative activist “approvingly cited the Times’ reporting and relied on its reputation as the ‘paper of record’ to justify criminalizing gender⁠-⁠affirming care.”

It is true that Republicans are passing a wave of harmful, restrictive laws on trans medical access. The blame for laws like this does not rest with the medical providers who demanded evidence for the rapidly changing protocols in their field, nor with the reporters who brought these doubts to light. It lies first with politicians and the party that pass them. But blame will rest as well with activists who were so certain they stood on the side of justice that they sought to silence all doubt until it was too late.

Of course, the whole reason leftists try to associate reporters at the Times with Republican-backed laws is precisely that their targets do not agree with the conservative position on transgender care. If they did agree with it, there would be no shame in associating them with Republican-sponsored legislation. The point is to discredit any middle position, forcing a binary choice between extremes.

The idea that reporting on failures and abuses in the system feeds a backlash strikes me as completely backward. Of course, the right is going to push for harmful laws restricting trans youth regardless of the evidence. But the degree to which those bans win support in the middle of the political spectrum depends heavily on whether there is any real abuse in the system to correct. Conservative “bathroom” bills have died out because they combatted an imaginary problem with no real or sympathetic victims. Measures that target a real problem — even if they go too far — stand a better chance of success if they can point to actual, not imagined, harm.

The official line of pro-trans activists and their allies has maintained a dogmatic insistence that such victims of the newer, faster, and more aggressive treatment of gender-questioning kids are vanishingly rare. But that insistence has often extended to reflexively denying or ridiculing trans people who come to regret their transition (as two trans researchers, Leo Valdes and Kinnon MacKinnon, explained in The Atlantic).

6) This is cool– some polling on ChatGPT:

One-third (35%) of the public reports hearing a lot about recent artificial intelligence developments regarding the ability of computers and machines to carry out decision-making thought processes similar to humans. This level of awareness is much higher than eight years ago (12%). The biggest increase has been among younger adults. In 2015, just 12% of 18- to 34-year-olds heard a lot about recent developments in the field. Today, nearly half (45%) this age group says the same. Overall, more men (46%) than women (24%) have heard a lot about recent AI developments. Fully 9 in 10 Americans (91%) are aware of the term artificial intelligence, which is up from 70% in 2015.

One of the newer AI products is ChatGPT, an application that can have conversations and write entire essays based on a few human prompts. Six in ten (60%) Americans have heard about this product and 72% believe there will be a time when entire news articles will be written by artificial intelligence. However, very few see this as a positive development. In fact, more than 3 in 4 (78%) say that news articles written by AI would be a bad thing. Furthermore, 65% say it is very likely that AI programs such as ChatGPT will be used by students to cheat on their schoolwork.

“AI has started to permeate every facet of life. Most Americans are skeptical that this is a good thing, even though many of them use some form of artificial intelligence on a regular basis already,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Overall, only 1 in 10 (9%) Americans believe computer scientists’ ability to develop AI would do more good than harm to society. The remainder are divided between saying AI would do equal amounts of harm and good (46%) or that it would actually do more harm to society overall (41%). These results are largely unchanged from Monmouth’s poll in 2015, but public opinion continues to be more pessimistic about AI’s impact than it was a generation ago. When this same question was asked in 1987 by Cambridge Reports/Research International, 20% of Americans said AI would do more good than harm, 29% expected equal amounts of harm and good, and 39% said it would do more harm overall.

7) This is pretty wild, “Orca Moms Pay a High Price to Feed Large Adult Sons: A maternal preference for sons in a group of killer whales that swim off the Pacific Northwest may contribute to its endangered status.”

A fully grown male orca is one of the planet’s fiercest hunters. He’s a wily, streamlined torpedo who can weigh as much as 11 tons. No other animal preys on him. Yet in at least one population, these apex predators struggle to survive without their moms, who catch their food and even cut it up for them.

Scientists have previously seen that some killer whale mothers share food with their grown sons. In a study published Wednesday in Current Biology, researchers found that this prolonged feeding carries a huge reproductive cost for mothers.

Killer whales, actually the largest members of the dolphin family, swim throughout the world’s oceans. Yet they live in discrete populations with their own territories, dialects and hunting customs. A group that spends much of the year off the coast of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon is known as the southern residents. They eat mainly Chinook salmon, which have been increasingly hard to find.

“Killer whales worldwide are doing fine,” said Michael Weiss, research director at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash. But the southern residents, with a population of just 73, are considered endangered.

These whales stay with their birth family for their whole lives. The families are led by matriarchs who can live 80 to 90 years. Yet the females stop reproducing in midlife: Orcas and a few other whale species are the only mammals, besides humans, known to undergo menopause.

To try to explain menopause, scientists have looked for ways that matriarchs encourage the survival of their children and grandchildren. A 2012 study of southern resident killer whales, along with their neighbors, the northern residents, showed that the presence of older moms helped adult offspring stay alive — especially sons. Males over age 30 were eight times more likely to die in the year following their own mothers’ deaths.

One likely factor is that their moms feed them. After a female dives to catch a salmon, Dr. Weiss said, she surfaces with the fish sideways in her mouth. Another whale, often her son, may lurk over her shoulder. “She’ll basically jerk her head and bite down really hard, and half of the fish will float back behind her,” Dr. Weiss said, to her waiting kid. This feeding continues throughout the son’s life.

An adult male may be simply too bulky to easily chase a fleeing salmon, Dr. Weiss said. The whale’s more petite mom “not only is probably better at catching the fish but probably better at finding it,” he said, thanks to her years of experience. “We think that’s a big part of what’s keeping these males alive.”

8) “Cunk on Earth” is basically a polished Ali G (one of my all-time favorites) meets history documentary and it’s so good. 

Philomena Cunk, the host of Netflix and BBC Two’s Cunk on Earth, a mockumentary series about the history of human civilization, asks the stupidestquestions. Half historical tour guide and half field reporter, the character, played by comedian Diane Morgan, trains her glassy gaze upon real academics who’ve dedicated their lives to scholarship and poses queries like, “How did Egyptians build the pyramids? Did they start at the top and work down?” and “Were numbers worth less back in ancient times?” These experts, many of whom are in on the bit, play along by answering her questions as sincerely as they can. In episode five, Ashley Jackson, a professor of imperial and military history at London’s King’s College, gives in quickly after Cunk accuses him of “mansplaining” the distinction between the Soviet Union and what she calls the “Soviet Onion.” “If you want to talk about Russian Soviet vegetables, we can,” he says.

But Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator — best known in the United States for creating the anthology series Black Mirror — knows Cunk on Earth can’t sustain itself on dopey interview questions alone (Morgan’s Cunk character originated on Brooker’s mid-2010s BBC Two series, Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe), so the show etches out different ways to maintain its profound commitment to stupidity. Cunk’s narration is packed with factual inaccuracies, anecdotes about eccentric characters from her personal life, and daffy non sequiturs. “What’s ironic about Jesus Christ becoming a carpenter was he was actually named after the two words you’re most likely to shout after hitting your thumb with a hammer,” she says in episode two. For no apparent reason, the show’s go-to benchmark for the measurement of time is the 1989 Technotronic song “Pump Up the Jam.” Each reference to the “unrelated Belgian techno anthem” is accompanied by nearly 40 seconds of the song’s extremely ’80s music video and a chyron displaying jokes about the song like, “‘Pump Up the Jam’ is an anagram of ‘Jam Up the Pump.’” There is a commercial for a hotel resort played completely straight, a solo reenactment of a medieval feast turned mêlée soundtracked by expert sound design, a Black Mirror–inspired bit about traumatizing an artificially intelligent Beethoven by re-creating his sentience within a smart speaker, and more.

9) Robinson Meyer, “A Huge, Uncharted Experiment on the U.S. Economy Is About to Begin”

If you want to understand the immense windfall the Biden administration is about to bestow on green industries, take a look at hydrogen. Engineers still aren’t exactly sure what role the gas will play in a climate-friendly economy, but they’re pretty sure that (contra the ridicule in “Glass Onion) it will be useful for something. We might burn it to generate heat in factories, for instance, or use it to make high-tech chemicals.

And thanks to three laws Congress passed over the past two years — the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act — the industry will be very well taken care of. Over the next decade, the government is going to invest $8 billion in hydrogen “hubs” across the country, special zones where companies, universities and local governments can build the machinery and expertise that the new industry needs. Other hydrogen projects will qualify for a $10 billion pot of money in the Inflation Reduction Act or $1.5 billion in the infrastructure bill. Still others could draw from a new $6.3 billion program that will help industrial firms develop financially risky demonstration projects.

So that’s up to $25.8 billion before you get to the bazooka: an uncapped tax credit for hydrogen that could pay out perhaps $100 billion or more over the next decades.

Few Americans realize it yet, but the trifecta of the Biden-era laws amounts to one of the biggest experiments in how the American government oversees the economy in a generation. If this experiment is successful, it will change how politicians think about managing the market for years to come. If it fails or misfires, then it will greatly limit the number of tools to fight climate change or a recession. The story of the 21st-century American economy is being shaped now.

I say “experiment,” but, really, there are two. The first concerns the economy. President Biden’s team believes that it can move the United States toward a more robust, high-capacity and even re-industrialized economy. Can it? And can it use policy moreover to make sure that innovative ideas don’t get lost in the research lab or patent office, but instead make their way to the factory floor and corporate showroom, generating jobs and economic value along the way?

Don’t get me wrong: Some kind of climate boom is now all but assured. The investment bank Credit Suisse predicted last year that the Inflation Reduction Act would put more than $800 billion into the economy by the end of the decade, galvanizing more than $1.7 trillion in climate-friendly public and private spending overall. The law will transform the United States into the “world’s leading energy provider,” the bank said. The American renewable industry alone could attract 78 percent more investment per year by 2031, according to the energy-research firm Wood Mackenzie.

10) Damn I just hate this post-Roe reality, “Her baby has a deadly diagnosis. Her Florida doctors refused an abortion.”

Deborah and Lee Dorbert say the most painful decision of their lives was not honored by the physicians they trust. Even though medical experts expect their baby to survive only 20 minutes to a couple of hours, the Dorberts say their doctors told them that because of the new legislation, they could not terminate the pregnancy.

“That’s what we wanted,” Deborah said. “The doctors already told me, no matter what, at 24 weeks or full term, the outcomefor the baby is going to be the same.”

Florida’s H.B. 5 — Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality — went into effect last July, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court overturneda half-century constitutional right to abortion.

The new law bans abortion after 15 weeks with a couple of exceptions, including one that permits a later termination if “two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality” and has not reached viability.

It is not clear how the Dorberts’ doctors applied the law in this situation. Their baby has a condition long considered lethal that is now the subject of clinical trials to assess a potential treatment.

Neither Dorbert’s obstetrician nor the maternal fetal medicine specialist she consulted responded to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesman for Lakeland Regional Health, thehospital system the doctors are affiliated with, declined to discussDorbert’s case or how it is interpreting the new law. In an emailed statement, Tim Boynton, the spokesman, said, “Lakeland Regional Health complies with all laws in the state of Florida.”

The combination of a narrow exception to the law and harsh penalties for violating it terrifies physicians, according to Autumn Katz, interim director of litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who has been tracking the implementation of abortion bans across the country.

Florida physicians who violate the new law face penalties including the possibility of losing their licenses, steep fines and up to five years in prison.As a result, Katz said, they “are likely to err on the side of questioning whether the conditions are fully met.”

11) Apparently, norovirus is making a big comeback these days.  My family has been fortunate in not experiencing this for many years now, but we’ve sure done our norovirus time.  It’s just an insanely effective virus:

Still, fighting norovirus isn’t easy, as plenty of parents can attest. The pathogen, which prompts the body to expel infectious material from both ends of the digestive tract, is seriously gross and frustratingly hardy. Even the old COVID standby, a spritz of hand sanitizer, doesn’t work against it—the virus is encased in a tough protein shell that makes it insensitive to alcohol. Some have estimated that ingesting as few as 18 infectious units of virus can be enough to sicken someone, “and normally, what’s getting shed is in the billions,” says Megan Baldridge, a virologist and immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis. At an extreme, a single gram of feces—roughly the heft of a jelly bean—could contain as many as 5.5 billion infectious doses, enough to send the entire population of Eurasia sprinting for the toilet.

Unlike flu and RSV, two other pathogens that have bounced back to prominence in recent months, norovirus mainly targets the gut, and spreads especially well when people swallow viral particles that have been released in someone else’s vomit or stool. (Despite its “stomach flu” nickname, norovirus is not a flu virus.) But direct contact with those substances, or the food or water they contaminate, may not even be necessary: Sometimes people vomit with such force that the virus gets aerosolized; toilets, especially lidless ones, can send out plumes of infection like an Air Wick from hell. And Altan-Bonnet’s team has found that saliva may be an unappreciated reservoir for norovirus, at least in laboratory animals. If the spittle finding holds for humans, then talking, singing, and laughing in close proximity could be risky too.

Once emitted into the environment, norovirus particles can persist on surfaces for days—making frequent hand-washing and surface disinfection key measures to prevent spread, says Ibukun Kalu, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Duke University. Handshakes and shared meals tend to get dicey during outbreaks, along with frequently touched items such as utensils, door handles, and phones. One 2012 study pointed to a woven plastic grocery bag as the source of a small outbreak among a group of teenage soccer players; the bag had just been sitting in a bathroom used by one of the girls when she fell sick the night before.

Once a norovirus transmission chain begins, it can be very difficult to break. The virus can spread before symptoms start, and then for more than a week after they resolve. To make matters worse, immunity to the virus tends to be short-lived, lasting just a few months even against a genetically identical strain, Baldridge told me.

12) Catherine Rampell on Trump’s tax cuts:

This past week, more than 70 Republican lawmakers introduced a bill to make permanent the 2017 GOP-passed tax cuts, large chunks of which are scheduled to expire in 2025. Thenew bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), credited the original tax cuts for “historic economic growth” and promised more “prosperity” ahead if they’re extended.

The White House, among others, has repeatedly attacked the proposed Trump tax-cut extension. With pretty good reason: At precisely the same time that Republicans are raising a hue-and-cry about federal deficits, they’re proposing a measure that would massively worsen our fiscal challenges.

Extending President Donald Trump’s individual tax cuts in full would add around $3 trillion to federal deficits over a decade, according to various estimates. As President Biden and others have pointed out, this is of a piece with other GOP-endorsed proposals that would widen deficits, such as repealing funding for the Internal Revenue Service and undoing Democrats’ prescription-drug pricing overhaul.

Moreover, extending the Trump tax cuts sounds pretty plutocratic: By far, the biggest benefits would go to higher-income households, according to estimates from the Tax Policy Center.

There is also little evidence that the 2017 tax law significantly boosted growth, at least based on the investment-driven theories touted by its supporters. It definitely didn’t generate enough economic growth to “pay for itself,” as those same supporters promised.

What’s more, in the regular polling that occurred for years after the law’s passage, it was almost consistently underwater in favorability.

All in all, probably not such a wise thing for Republicans to launch their economic agenda this way. Right?

And yet: If I had to guess, I’d bet that all or nearly all of the Trump tax cuts will indeed get extended before they lapse — evenifBiden is still president when the deadline comes, and even if Democrats somehow achieve unified control over both legislative chambers again.

In designing their 2017 tax overhaul, Republicans did something clever: They made the corporate-side tax changes (mostly) permanent, and the individual-side ones temporary. This made the upfront cost of the bill look a lot cheaper, with the “expectation that no Congress would stand in the way of extending them later on,” says Tax Policy Center’s Steven M. Rosenthal.

Why was it reasonable to assume that future Congresses won’t let the tax cuts sunset, as planned, given how unpopular the original law was? Because the tax cuts did, in fact, benefit most Americans, including the middle class…

So, if these individual-side tax provisions lapse, a whole lot of Americans’ tax bills will rise — and whoever stands in the way of extending those provisions will inevitably get blamed for “raising taxes.” President Barack Obama learned this the hard way when he was in the White House and negotiating with Republicans over extensions to the Bush-era tax cuts. After all, once voters have received a benefit, it becomes politically dangerous to ever take that benefit away, even if initially the program seemed unpopular. (Just ask Republicans about Obamacare!)

The White House has so far been noncommittal about its approach to the soon-to-expire Trump tax provisions. But Biden might have already boxed himself into keeping most of them in place.

That’s because he has repeatedly pledged — including in the recent State of the Union — that “nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in taxes.” If this “no new taxes” promise is supposed to mean no projected increases due to expiring tax breaks, most of the 2017 law gets extended. Which is still expensive! Depending on exact details, extending all of the expiring provisions other than the top tax rate could cost $2.1 trillion over a decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Even Biden’s proposed billionaire tax wouldn’t raise enough to offset that price tag.

Once upon a time, when both parties pretended to care about fiscal responsibility, Republicans generally favored addressing budget challenges through spending cuts, and Democrats through tax increases. Today, everyone’s on record as opposing just about anything that might make a significant dent in the deficit.

13) Good stuff from two of my favorite epidemiology follows on twitter, “We Still Don’t Know What Works Best to Slow the Spread Of COVID-19″

Since those first, bleak days of the early pandemic, we’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the steps taken at the start of the crisis, when governments and their public health advisers were making emergency decisions armed with very little data and information on an entirely new illness. This was the era before we had developed the powerful vaccines and medicines that have transformed the outlook for COVID-19. While there is certainly evidence that these early community mitigation strategies, which scientists call “non-pharmaceutical interventions” (NPIs), reduced the spread of the virus, what might surprise you is how little effort there has been to fully assess their impact.

Because of a lack of research on NPIs, we still can’t answer important questions like: which government measures had the greatest and the least impact? How did the sequencing and timing of these NPIs affect their effectiveness? Which measures caused more harm than benefit? We need answers to these questions so we can prepare for the next pandemic, armed with better knowledge.

When it comes to NPIs, every angry person online has a strong belief that if only we had spent more time promoting mask wearing, been more like Sweden with its government-sponsored healthcare and incredibly generous paid sick leave provisions, or done something, anything, better than we did, we could have averted the mass deathdisability, and orphanhood that COVID-19 caused. However, given the lack of data, it’s remarkably hard to know exactly how we could have used NPIs more effectively.

The most strident critics of government interventions and of public health measures during COVID-19 go so far as to say that the “cure was worse than the disease”—that is, they think NPIs killed more people than COVID-19 itself. Our research found no evidence for this assertion; we found that letting the virus rip through the population in an uncontrolled way was much deadlier, at least in the short term, than the most stringent NPIs, such as shelter-in-place orders.

Nevertheless, as we previously argued, highly restrictive NPIs clearly caused harms. For example, prolonged shelter-in-place orders were linked with an increase in harmful alcohol use and domestic violence. However, there has been little in the way of research on the trade-offs—that is, on understanding the balance between the harms of uncontrolled viral transmission versus those of NPIs. And it can also be very difficult to distinguish the impacts of the pandemic itself from the harms of NPIs. There’s no doubt, for example, that prolonged school closures affected children’s mental health, but so did losing a parent or other caregiver to COVID-19.

With all NPIs, when you start digging into the research evidence, the picture isn’t always clear cut. Take masks. From a basic science perspective, masks work—they filter the particles that we breathe. High filtration masks, like N95s, work better than surgical or cloth masks. Masking provides quite a bit of protection for the people wearing them against respiratory diseases, and can also help reduce transmission from an infected person to others…

But the problem with all this complexity is that it is anathema to the tedious simplicity that surrounds most COVID-19 retrospection. It’s easy to argue that ill-defined “lockdowns” have caused unimaginable harm, or that even the most extreme, ongoing NPIs are a great idea. It is, however, far harder to ask difficult questions like “When is it reasonable to close schools due to infectious diseases?” or “Do stay-at-home orders have a marginal benefit or harm when coupled with a range of other NPIs?” or even “Could we have achieved the same reduction in cases with less damaging interventions?”.

Which is a problem, because one thing virtually every expert agrees on is that we will face another pandemic just like COVID-19, or even more deadly, at some point in the future. Hopefully, we can get ready for it.

14) Typically excellent Noah Smith, “The U.S. cannot afford to turn against immigration: Bringing in new recruits is not charity, nor is it a luxury. It’s a necessity.”

Why we need immigration now more than ever


One reason we need immigrants is to keep our population young. Despite a very small post-pandemic uptick, the country’s total fertility rate has fallen well below the replacement level over the past decade and a half:

Source: OWID

This puts us slightly below the fertility rates of Denmark and France, and slightly above the UK and Germany. In other words, the America fertility exceptionalism of the 1990s and early 2000s is now a thing of the past.

Everyone is talking about China’s demographic challenges these days. Well, bad news: Those same problems are going to hit the U.S. equally hard unless we sustain robust levels of immigration. Not only does immigration directly increase our population by bringing young workers over to support our growing legions of elderly folks, but it also increases fertility because immigrants tend to have more kids.

Without immigrants, our population will grow older and older on average. Each worker will need to work more days out of every year just to support the growing ranks of the elderly. Productivity will probably fall as well, and multinational companies will be less willing to invest in a shrinking U.S. market.

And the problem created by shortages of high-skilled immigrants will be especially acute. As Alec Stapp and Jeremy Neufeld wrote in a Noahpinion guest post last year, immigrants are absolutely essential to U.S. innovation and technical leadership:

Despite making up just 14% of the population, immigrants are responsible for 30% of U.S. patents and 38% of U.S. Nobel Prizes in science. A team of Stanford economists recently estimated that nearly three quarters of all U.S. innovation since 1976 can be attributed to high-skilled immigration.

Immigrants’ contributions in the business world are comparably impressive. Recent analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy found that 55% of billion-dollar startups in the U.S. were started by immigrants…

Today, defense-related industries disproportionately turn to international talent to find workers with advanced STEM degrees. And there is nothing new about the idea that attracting the best and brightest can be a major strategic asset — it has been a major benefit to U.S. security from the Civil War through WWIIthe Cold War, and beyond.

Restrictionists’ response to this is to just wave their hands and mumble some sort of pablum about educating our own people more instead. This is fantasy. Not only do those restrictionists have no idea how to improve U.S. education, this “solution” neglects the brute fact that America has only 4% of the world’s population — the global talent pool is always going to be bigger than the local one, just due to sheer size.

That’s not to say that “low-skilled” immigration (a term I really dislike, btw) is bad. We need that too. Research continues to show that immigration of manual laborers doesn’t hurt the wages or the job prospects of the native-born. And even uneducated manual laborers who move to a new country to win a better future for themselves are a highly selected set, which is why the kids of poor immigrants tend to be very upwardly mobile. But pound-for-pound, high-skilled immigration is the highest priority, especially because of strategic considerations and the need to stay ahead in the tech race.

Quick hits (part I)

1) NC House voted for a new law eliminating earth science requirement and adding a computer science requirement.  What happens in NC Senate remains to be seen.  Among other things, the standard HS curriculum will now only require 2 sciences, but UNC system expects 3.  Hmmm.

2) Surprised I missed this before, but a big Reuters investigation on youth gender transitions.  Short-version, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

The United States has seen an explosion in recent years in the number of children who identify as a gender different from what they were designated at birth. Thousands of families like the Boyers are weighing profound choices in an emerging field of medicine as they pursue what is called gender-affirming care for their children.

Gender-affirming care covers a spectrum of interventions. It can entail adopting a child’s preferred name and pronouns and letting them dress in alignment with their gender identity – called social transitioning. It can incorporate therapy or other forms of psychological treatment. And, from around the start of adolescence, it can include medical interventions such as puberty blockers, hormones and, in some cases, surgery. In all of it, the aim is to support and affirm the child’s gender identity.

But families that go the medical route venture onto uncertain ground, where science has yet to catch up with practice. While the number of gender clinics treating children in the United States has grown from zero to more than 100 in the past 15 years – and waiting lists are long – strong evidence of the efficacy and possible long-term consequences of that treatment remains scant.

Puberty blockers and sex hormones do not have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for children’s gender care. No clinical trials have established their safety for such off-label use. The drugs’ long-term effects on fertility and sexual function remain unclear. And in 2016, the FDA ordered makers of puberty blockers to add a warning about psychiatric problems to the drugs’ label after the agency received several reports of suicidal thoughts in children who were taking them.

More broadly, no large-scale studies have tracked people who received gender-related medical care as children to determine how many remained satisfied with their treatment as they aged and how many eventually regretted transitioning. The same lack of clarity holds true for the contentious issue of detransitioning, when a patient stops or reverses the transition process.

The National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government agency responsible for medical and public health research, told Reuters that “the evidence is limited on whether these treatments pose short- or long-term health risks for transgender and other gender-diverse adolescents.” The NIH has funded a comprehensive study to examine mental health and other outcomes for about 400 transgender youths treated at four U.S. children’s hospitals. However, long-term results are years away and may not address concerns such as fertility or cognitive development.

Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

3) Like, for example, this very good post from Yglesias, that, yes, asks some tough questions, “Progressives need to engage with the specific questions about youth gender care”

It’s an excellent piece, and it helped me articulate why I disagree so strongly with the segment of Slow Boring’s audience that wants me to join them in complaining about elective pronouns and the contemporary progressive vocabulary of cis-versus-trans. These linguistic shifts are not just some pose or studied effort to slice the political salami just so — they speak to this core question of dignity.

I would add, with a gesture at Judith Shklar, that decent people are on guard against the politics of cruelty. Cruelty can be tempting and it can be fun, but even the worst of us know that cruelty is wrong. So there are always people seeking a higher justification for their cruelty, a reason that being an asshole is actually a high-minded undertaking serving some crucial purpose. And today’s backlash to trans rights clearly involves people doing this — bullies and wannabe bullies being jerks for sport.

And when bullies are working to make so many people’s lives harder, it’s enormously important, as Bouie does, to articulate the guiding principles that help us push back against their conservative crusade.

But it’s also important not to avoid venturing into the weeds of the specific policy questions we’re facing, and this is where I think progressives are falling short…

This is where you get into the reality that abstract political values don’t always answer factual questions.

Phunky and Joseph agree that teens should be able to get reversible gender-affirming treatments. But are puberty-blocking medications reversible? According to the United States government they are, but the UK’s NICE says there is no good clinical evidence on this.

Importantly, because youth gender dysphoria treatment is an off-label use of drugs that were originally created to treat precocious puberty, the big clinical trials that were conducted for FDA approval don’t really speak to the issue at hand in a clear way. Again, this is not some special feature of gender-affirming care or the fault of anyone in the trans community. But it’s also not a fever dream of the reactionary right. A structural feature of American health regulation is that the FDA sets a very high bar for approving drugs but a very light regulatory bar for their off-label use. Pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to organize new clinical trials because their medication is already being used for this purpose and the market is growing.

This is one of these things where it’s such a political hot button that most of the people offering any commentary on the issue have very strong feelings. I have scanned some of the relevant arguments from qualified professionals and it really strikes me as understudied and somewhat hard to say. My point, though, is that the enduring values articulated by Douglass and channeled by Bouie can’t determine any particular factual conclusion about the impact of medications.

Meanwhile, despite the attention given to the controversy about the reversibility of puberty blockers, the current World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommendations say that “hormones could be started at age 14, two years earlier than the group’s previous advice, and some surgeries done at age 15 or 17, a year or so earlier than previous guidance.” WPATH has its reasons for making this recommendation, but I don’t think Phunky and Joseph are drawing the line the way they did as an attack on the dignity of trans people. It’s quite possible they would change their stance if they knew that WPATH had changed its recommendation — people often have weakly held views and defer to expert organizations. But at a minimum, the current WPATH recommendations are laxer and the science of puberty blockers more uncertain than a casual scan of the coverage would lead you to believe.

4) Good stuff from Lee Drutman, “Democrats are for rich people? Republicans are not? Has the world turned upside down?”

Last week, my talented New America colleague Oscar Pocasangre and I released a new deep data-dive on the demographics and voter preferences of all 435 congressional districts. 

We had started last fall by asking how competitive districts were tugging differently on Democratic and Republican coalitions. We wound up with an even deeper understanding of the challenges both parties face in holding together their coalitions.

The report is chock-a-block with fascinating stuff. (I promise!). But the scatterplot that sticks out for me is our Figure 2. 

Districts vary considerably by percent of residents who identify as white. This is not news to anybody. Most districts have average income in the mid-five figures, but some districts have high average incomes: Also not news to anybody.

But if we break districts into four quadrants, splitting on the average, we get four types of districts. And that’s where it gets interesting… 


The most common type of district has a below-average income, and is more white than average. These are the districts where Republicans dominate. Of the 162 districts that fit this category (about 37 percent of districts), Republicans won 137 in 2022, or 85 percent.

But in the other three types of districts here, Democrats dominate.

Democrats do best in the more diverse and wealthier than average districts. Of these 82 districts, Democrats won 63 in 2022, or 77 percent.

Democrats also prevail among the more diverse (less white) and less affluent districts, winning 74 out of 102 such districts, or 73 percent — just a shade less than the less white, wealthier than average districts.

Finally, among the whiter and wealthier districts, Democrats also win the majority, 51 out of 89, or 57 percent. 

Put another way, Democratic members of Congress come from many different types of districts. Republican members of Congress overwhelmingly come from districts that are mostly white and less affluent than average.

5) I had a conversation the other day where someone suggested that the illiberal liberal overreach is receding because they don’t have Trump to animate them.  Chait makes this point in his latest newsletter:

6) Not your everyday NYT Op-Ed, “Let Us Eat Lungs

Federal policy in the United States allows butchers to sell virtually every part of an animal’s body as human food, with one notable exception: the lungs. In 1971 the Department of Agriculture declared animal lungs unfit “for use as human food” and banned them from the commercial food supply.

As a doctor who enjoys eating nose to tail, including an animal’s internal organs and entrails, I believe that the lung ban makes no medical sense and accomplishes little to keep the American public safe. The Department of Agriculture should discard the rule.

When people first hear about this rule, even scientists and food law experts I’ve spoken to, they often presume that it is designed to protect us from dangerous infections that can harbor in animal lungs, like tuberculosis and anthrax. But the language of the ban’s stated rationale says little about lung infections. When the Department of Agriculture proposed the rule in 1969, it purported to protect people from eating things like dust, flower pollen and fungal spores that animals (including humans) inhale.

The rule was based on studies conducted around 1970 in which pathologists at the Department of Agriculture cut open the branching airways of animal lungs to study them much more deeply than in a typical post-mortem examination. The pathologists found those inhaled airborne particulates. They also found stomach contents, which may have refluxed up the animals’ esophagi and into their airways before or after death.

Notably, the pathologists did not mention any serious infections, which are generally discovered with a typical superficial examination — the same check that every internal organ undergoes before being U.S.D.A. approved. (Infected specimens should, of course, be kept out of the food supply.)

Still, the Department of Agriculture felt that such impurities rendered lungs unfit for human consumption and banned them outright. Scottish haggis, which includes the organ, disappeared from store shelves and butcher shops in the United States. (Dried lung treats for pets, however, are legal and widely available. Also, the ruling does not extend to those who hunt and slaughter animals for personal consumption.)

To be clear, there is little scientific data to show that ingesting these impurities is dangerous — or, conversely, that it is safe. But a basic understanding of how our lungs clean themselves suggests how nonsensical the Department of Agriculture rule is.

Needless to say, I will not be partaking regardless of FDA regulations.

7) It really was pretty interesting to see just how far the Texas Tech DEI bureaucracy had inserted themselves into the faculty hiring process, “In rare move, Texas Tech rescinds DEI litmus test for faculty. Others aren’t as lucky.”

As diversity initiatives have proliferated on campuses in recent years, FIRE has expressed repeated concern that mandatory diversity statements — in which a faculty member must pledge allegiance to prevailing views about diversity, equity, and inclusion to get hired or promoted — impose an illiberal campus orthodoxy. This week, a Wall Street Journal piece shed light on Texas Tech University’s use of these statements to weed out candidates with dissenting views, exposing the dark underbelly of a practice that FIRE has long criticized. It also prompted the university to take the unprecedented, and welcome, step of rescinding the policy and reviewing hiring practices across all departments. 

On Monday night, National Association of Scholars Senior Fellow John D. Sailer announced in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece the release of 99 pages of internal documents revealing how faculty applicant statements discussing contributions to DEI served as a political litmus test for hiring at Texas Tech University. 

The records, obtained from the public university via public records requests, cast a bright light on the ideological conformity demanded of candidates for Texas Tech faculty positions. FIRE has long argued that these statements are intended to reward adherence to highly specific views on diversity and punish those who hold different views. The Texas Tech records show that’s exactly what’s happening, with rubrics describing with particularity which views professors are expected to express and which views were unacceptable: 

Don’t know the difference between “equity” and “equality”? You’ll get dinged for that. Might you have forgotten to acknowledge that the land on which you hope to teach was once occupied by Native Americans? You’ll be knocked for that, too.

The search committee flagged one candidate for espousing “race neutrality” in teaching. He expressed that respecting students and treating them equally regardless of race was best practice, but this raised the school’s alarm for reflecting “a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.” Conversely, an immunology candidate received high marks for mentioning “inclusivity in lab” and referencing their “unconscious bias.” 

8) Yasmin Tayag on the difficulty of making sense of the research on masks:

An important feature of Cochrane reviews is that they look only at “randomized controlled trials,” considered the gold standard for certain types of research because they compare the impact of one intervention with another while tightly controlling for biases and confounding variables. The trials considered in the review compared groups of people who masked with those who didn’t in an effort to estimate how effective masking is at blunting the spread of COVID in a general population. The population-level detail is important: It indicates uncertainty about whether requiring everyone to wear a mask makes a difference in viral spread. This is different from the impact of individual masking, which has been better researched. Doctors, after all, routinely mask when they’re around sick patients and do not seem to be infected more often than anyone else. “We have fairly decent evidence that masks can protect the wearer,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told me. “Where I think it sort of falls apart is relating that to the population level.”

The research on individual masking generally shows what we have come to expect: High-quality masks provide a physical barrier between the wearer and infectious particles, if worn correctly. For instance, in one study, N95 masks were shown to block 57 to 90 percent of particles, depending on how well they fit; cloth and surgical masks are less effective. The caveat is that much of that support came from laboratory research and observational studies, which don’t account for the messiness of real life.

That the Cochrane review reasonably challenges the effectiveness of population-level masking doesn’t mean the findings of previous studies in support of masking are moot. A common theme among criticisms of the review is that it considered only a small number of studies by virtue of Cochrane’s standards; there just aren’t that many randomized controlled trials on COVID and masks. In fact, most of those included in the review are about the impact of masking on other respiratory illnesses, namely the flu. Although some similarities between the viruses are likely, Nuzzo explained on Twitter, COVID-specific trials would be ideal.


The handful of trials in the review that focus on COVID don’t show strong support for masking. One, from Bangladesh, which looked at both cloth and surgical masks, found a 9 percent decrease in symptomatic cases in masked versus unmasked groups (and a reanalysis of that study found signs of bias in the way the data were collected and interpreted); another, from Denmark, suggested that surgical masks offered no statistically significant protection at all.

Criticisms of the review posit that it might have come to a different conclusion if more and better-quality studies had been available. The paper’s authors acknowledge that the trials they considered were prone to bias and didn’t control for inconsistent adherence to the interventions. “The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect,” they concluded. If high-quality masks worn properly work well at an individual level, after all, then it stands to reason that high-quality masks worn properly by many people in any situation should indeed provide some level of protection.

9) Super-depressing Washington Post story on authoritarian regimes giving draconian sentences for protest.  Gift link.

That’s all — a click.

They are hardly alone. The world’s political prisons are bulging. A string of popular uprisings over the past few years brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the streets, protesting against authoritarianism in Hong Kong, Cuba, Belarus and Iran; against the military junta that toppled democracy in Myanmar; and against strict restrictions on speech and protest in Russia and China. Also, Arab Spring uprisings swept Egypt, Syria and elsewhere a decade ago, and protests broke out in Vietnam in 2018. Most of these protests were met with mass crackdowns and arrests. Thousands of participants — largely young and demonstrating for the first time — have been held in prison for demanding the right to speak and think freely and to choose their leaders.

Authoritarian regimes often work in the shadows, using secret police to threaten dissidents, censor the media, prohibit travel or choke off internet access. But when prisons are jam-packed with thousands who simply marched down the street or sent a tweet, the repression is no longer hidden; it is a bright, pulsating signal that freedom is in distress.

Arrested for political protest

Belarus, Cuba and Vietnam have thrown thousands into prison in recent years.

*Justicia 11J says 990 people are imprisoned and convicted or pending trial in Cuba.


Political prisons are, sadly, not new. During the 20th century, the practice of mass repression grew to immense proportions in Joseph Stalin’s gulag system of forced labor camps. Political prisons have been notorious in Fidel Castro’s Cuba; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; Cold War East Germany; apartheid South Africa; North Korea; and, in recent years, in China’s Xinjiang region.

According to the classic definition, formulated by Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1956, a totalitarian dictatorship is characterized by an ideology, a single party led by one person, a terroristic police, government control of all communications, a weapons monopoly and a centrally controlled economy. In today’s world, fewer authoritarian states run a command economy. But many embrace the other characteristics. The political prisons are where the threads come together, punishing those who challenge a regime’s monopoly on power.

10) Stuart Stevens on Nikki Haley:

I remember the first time I saw Nikki Haley. It was in a high school gym before the 2012 South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Tim Scott, who was then a congressman, was holding a raucous town hall, and Ms. Haley was there to cheer him on. The first woman to be governor of South Carolina, the first Indian American ever elected to statewide office there, the youngest governor in the country. Whatever that “thing” is that talented politicians possess, Ms. Haley had it. People liked her, and more important, she seemed to like people. She talked with you, not to you, and she made routine conversations feel special and important. She seemed to have unlimited potential.

Then she threw it all away.

No political figure better illustrates the tragic collapse of the modern Republican Party than Nikki Haley. There was a time not very long ago when she was everything the party thought it needed to win. She was a woman when the party needed more women, a daughter of immigrants when the party needed more immigrants, a young change maker when the party needed younger voters and a symbol of tolerance who took down the Confederate flag when the party needed more people of color and educated suburbanites…

As a former Republican political operative who worked in South Carolina presidential primaries, I look at Ms. Haley now, as she prepares to launch her own presidential campaign, with sadness tinged with regret for what could have been. But I’m not a bit surprised. Her rise and fall only highlights what many of us already knew: Mr. Trump didn’t change the Republican Party; he revealed it. Ms. Haley, for all her talents, embodies the moral failure of the party in its drive to win at any cost, a drive so ruthless and insistent that it has transformed the G.O.P. into an autocratic movement. It’s not that she has changed positions to suit the political moment or even that she has abandoned beliefs she once claimed to be deeply held. It’s that the 2023 version of Ms. Haley is actively working against the core values that the 2016 Ms. Haley would have held to be the very foundation of her public life.

11) On the viral spread of psychogenic disease (Tik Tok tics) among today’s teens.  I’m sure this has no relationship whatsoever to insanely increasing rates of gender dysphoria in teens. 

Over the next year, doctors across the world treated thousands of young people for sudden, explosive tics. Many of the patients had watched popular TikTok videos of teenagers claiming to have Tourette’s syndrome. A spate of alarming headlines about “TikTok tics” followed.

But similar outbreaks have happened for centuries. Mysterious symptoms can spread rapidly in a close-knit community, especially one that has endured a shared stress. The TikTok tics are one of the largest modern examples of this phenomenon. They arrived at a unique moment in history, when a once-in-a-century pandemic spurred pervasive anxiety and isolation, and social media was at times the only way to connect and commiserate.

Now, experts are trying to tease apart the many possible factors — internal and external — that made these teenagers so sensitive to what they watched online.

Four out of five of the adolescents were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and one-third reported past traumatic experiences, according to a study from the University of Calgary that analyzed nearly 300 cases from eight countries. In new research that has not yet been published, the Canadian team has also found a link to gender: The adolescents were overwhelmingly girls, or were transgender or nonbinary — though no one knows why.

12) Horse virus story from history! “A virus crippled U.S. cities 150 years ago. It didn’t infect humans.”

In the late 19th century, American cities moved to a soundtrack of clopping and clanking. Horses pulled commuters on streetcars, hauled construction materials for new buildings, carted groceries to homes, and conveyed patrons to theaters and baseball games.

But in late September 1872, horses fell sick on several farms near Toronto. Within days, a veterinarian found an additional 14 sick horses in the city. Within a week, the count grew to 600. The mysterious “Canadian horse disease” spread quickly, following rail lines into bustling cities and knocking out the workhorses that had powered the United States into a new era.

A fire devastated Boston’s commercial district, in part because horses were too sick to haul pump wagons. In New York, boxes lay untouched at railroad depots and city piers, among the busiest in the world. People lost work. Garbage went uncollected, mail undelivered. Political rallies, just weeks ahead of the presidential election, were canceled. Streets fell silent in such far-flung cities as Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. In D.C., streetcar service was shut down, as was horse- and mule-drawn traffic on the C&O Canal.

Known as the Great Epizootic, the outbreak of what was later determined to be the equine flu hit the vast majority of the country’s horses between October 1872 and March 1873, temporarily paralyzing cities in a crisis “comparable to what would happen today if gas pumps ran dry or the electric grid went down,” University of Tennessee historian Ernest Freeberg wrote.

Fortunately, the crisis was short-lived. Most horses rallied, and life in each locale resumed within several weeks. But the 150-year-old episode serves as an early example of how vulnerable modern life can be to a disease outbreak among animals. It’s a strikingly familiar theme at a time when an outbreak of avian flu has helped send egg prices soaring (and has infected some mammals) — and when a virus believed to have started in animals in a Chinese open-air market jumped into humans and shut down much of the globe starting in 2020.

13) This is pretty wild, “How Supergenes Beat the Odds—and Fuel Evolution: Stretches of DNA that lock inherited traits together often accumulate harmful mutations. But they also hold genetic benefits for species.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from home in the steamy Amazon rain forest in the mid-1800s, the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates had a problem. More than one, really; there were thumb-size biting insects, the ever-present threat of malaria, venomous snakes, and mold and mildew that threatened to overtake his precious specimens before they could be shipped back to England. But the nagging scientific problem that bothered him involved butterflies.

By the time Bates’ discovery reached the scientific cognoscenti in England, Charles Darwin’s then new proposal of natural selection could explain why this brilliant mimicry occurred. Birds and other predators avoid Heliconius butterflies because they are toxic to eat, with a bitter taste. The mimics were not toxic, but because they looked so much like the foul-tasting Heliconius, they were less likely to be eaten. The closer the resemblance, the more potent the protection.

What Bates and many later evolutionary biologists couldn’t explain was how this mimicry was possible. Getting the right shades of aquamarine and fiery orange in the right places on the wings required a constellation of precisely tuned genes. Those traits would have to be inherited with perfect fidelity, generation after generation, to preserve the Heliconius disguise. Maybe real Heliconius butterflies could afford to deviate a bit in coloration because their toxins could still teach predators to stay away in the future, but the mimics needed to be consistently flawless replicas. Yet the random reshuffling and remixing of traits in sexual reproduction should have quickly disrupted the essential coloring patterns.

Today we know that in many species the answer is supergenes—stretches of DNA that lock several genes together into a single inheritable unit. “They’re kind of a wild card,” said Marte Sodeland, a molecular ecologist at the University of Agder in Norway. This aggregated form of inheritance “has obvious advantages, because it allows rapid adaptation, but there’s a lot we don’t know yet.”

Supergenes once seemed like an evolutionary oddity, but the rise of genetic sequencing has shown that they are far more common than researchers believed. Not all supergenes may serve a function, but work in just the past few years has revealed that traits in a wide range of animal and plant species might be driven by these groups of genes that function like a single gene. Supergenes help wild sunflowers adapt to a range of environments, such as sand dunes, coastal plains, and barrier islands. In other families of plants, they produce subtle but important variations in their sexual organs and fertility that help to prevent inbreeding. Research published last spring showed that in some fire ant species, supergenes determine which type of social organization predominates—whether a colony has a single breeding queen or more than one, and whether it produces more males or females. (Specific supergenes in humans haven’t been confirmed, but likely candidates have been found.)

14) Really interesting book excerpt in the Atlantic, “What Really Took America to War in Iraq: A fatal combination of fear, power, and hubris”

Fear, power, and hubris explain America’s march to war in Iraq. By thinking otherwise, by simplifying the story and believing that all would be well if we only had more honest officials, stronger leaders, and more realistic policy makers, we delude ourselves. Tragedy occurs not because our leaders are naive, stupid, and corrupt. Tragedy occurs when earnest and responsible officials try their best to make America safer and end up making things much worse. We need to ask why this happens. We need to appreciate the dangers that lurk when there is too much fear, too much power, too much hubris—and insufficient prudence.

15) This is really going to get a full post soon, as I just listened to the best podcast limited series ever, but, for now, Kristof: “Two-Thirds of Kids Struggle to Read, and We Know How to Fix It”

A lovely aphorism holds that education isn’t the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

But too often, neither are pails filled nor fires lit.

One of the most bearish statistics for the future of the United States is this: Two-thirds of fourth graders in the United States are not proficient in reading.

Reading may be the most important skill we can give children. It’s the pilot light of that fire.

Yet we fail to ignite that pilot light, so today some one in five adults in the United States struggles with basic literacy, and after more than 25 years of campaigns and fads, American children are still struggling to read. Eighth graders today are actually a hair worse at reading than their counterparts were in 1998.

One explanation gaining ground is that, with the best of intentions, we grown-ups have bungled the task of teaching kids to read. There is growing evidence from neuroscience and careful experiments that the United States has adopted reading strategies that just don’t work very well and that we haven’t relied enough on a simple starting point — helping kids learn to sound out words with phonics.

“Too much reading instruction is not based on what the evidence says,” noted Nancy Madden, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who is an expert on early literacy. “That’s pretty clear.

“At least half of kids in the U.S. are not getting effective reading instruction.”

Other experts agree. Ted Mitchell, an education veteran at nearly every level who is now president of the American Council on Education, thinks that easily a majority of children are getting subpar instruction.

Others disagree, of course. But an approach called the “science of reading” has gained ground, and it rests on a bed of phonics instruction…

I became intrigued by the failures in reading after listening to a riveting six-part podcast, “Sold a Story,” that argues passionately that the education establishment ignored empirical evidence and unintentionally harmed children.

“Kids are not being taught how to read because for decades teachers have been sold an idea about reading and how children learn to do it,” Emily Hanford, a public radio journalist who for years has focused on reading issues, says in the first of the podcasts. She told me that the podcast has had more than 3.5 million downloads.

One of the targets of the podcast is Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College who has a widely used reading curriculum. Calkins has acknowledged learning from the science of reading movement and from Hanford, and she told me how she has modified her curriculum as a result — but she also says that phonics was always part of her approach and that media narratives are oversimplified.

As Calkins and others revise their materials, skeptics worry that curriculums still aren’t fully committed to phonics but layer it onto other strategies, leaving students befuddled.

It’s easy to be glib in describing these reading wars. Everyone agrees that phonics are necessary, and everyone also agrees that phonics are not enough.


What’s clear is that when two-thirds of American kids are not proficient at reading, we’re failing the next generation. We can fix this, imperfectly, if we’re relentlessly empirical and focus on the evidence. It’s also noteworthy that lots of other interventions help and aren’t controversial: tutoring, access to books, and coaching parents on reading to children. And slashing child poverty, which child tax credits accomplished very successfully until they were cut back.


Actually, this is overly-generous to the phonics-deniers.  But, more on that in a future post. 

16) I loved this New Yorker interview with Aubrey Plaza.  Also loved “Emily the Criminal” which I watched this week (and you should, too– it’s on Netflix).

17) Yglesias makes the case for cautious optimism on police reform

18) Derek Thompson on the mental health crisis among teen girls:

American teenagers—especially girls and kids who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning—are “engulfed” in historic rates of anxiety and sadness. And everybody seems to think they know why.

Some psychologists point to social media, whereas others blame school shootings; others chalk it up to changes in parenting. Climate-change activists say it’s climate change. Atlantic writers like me blather on about the decline of physical-world interactions. These explanations aren’t equally valid, and some of them might be purely wrong. But the sheer number of theories reflects the complexity of mental-health challenges and suggests that, perhaps, nobody knows for sure what’s going on…

Why is it so hard to prove that social media and smartphones are destroying teen mental health?

The story seems simple from a distance: Teen anxiety increased during a period when smartphones and social media colonized the youth social experience. Offline time with close friends went down. Time spent alone staring into a virtual void went up. Sounds pretty bad.

But the academic literature on social media’s harms is complicated. Perhaps the most famous and trusted study of the effects of social media on polarization and mental health is “The Welfare Effects of Social Media.” When researchers paid people to deactivate their Facebook accounts, they found that online activity went down, offline activity went up, both polarization and news knowledge declined, and subjective well-being increased. Many participants who had been randomly selected to leave Facebook stayed off the site even weeks after they had to, suggesting that using social media may be akin to compulsive or addictive behavior. The researchers describe the effect of Facebook deactivation on depression and anxiety as “small—about 25-40 percent of the effect of psychological interventions including self-help therapy.”

In a few years, the assumption that social media is making us crazy might look eye-bleedingly obvious, like a surgeon-general warning that sucking on cigarettes to pull addictive carcinogens into your lungs is, in fact, bad for your lungs. But the best evidence we have suggests that social media isn’t really like smoking. My guess is that it’s more of an attention alcohol—a substance that, in small doses, can be fun or even useful for adults, but in larger doses can cause problems for certain people. But maybe even that’s too strong. Just as academics now believe we overrated the danger of online echo chambers (in fact, social media probably exposes us to a much wider range of views than cable news does), we’ll realize that we unfairly blame social media for declining mental health.

“There’s been absolutely hundreds of [social-media and mental-health] studies, almost all showing pretty small effects,” Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University, told The New York Times last year. I think we still need more high-quality studies and randomized trials to fully understand what’s happening here…

Why are Americans so mentally distressed even as they’ve become better at talking about mental distress?

It’s obvious, you might say: As anxiety rates have escalated, more people have had to build their own personal therapeutic glossary.

Or maybe something else is going on. In the past few years, a great deal of U.S. discourse has absorbed the vocabulary of therapy, with frequent references to trauma, harm, emotional capacity, and self-care. But the ubiquity of “therapy-speak” on the internet has coincided with the emergence of an internet culture that is decidedly anti-therapeutic.

Research from both the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Beihang University, in Beijing, have found that intense and negative emotions are among the most likely to go viral online. Anger and outrage seem to be aerodynamic on the internet not only because we’re drawn to the emotional meltdowns of our fellow humans, but also because demonstrating outrage about a topic is a good way of advertising one’s own moral standing.

Anger, outrage, and catastrophizing are exactly what modern therapists tell their patients to avoid. One of the most popular modes of clinical psychology is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which formalizes an ancient wisdom: We don’t often control what happens in life, but at the margins, we can change how we think about what happens to us. We can learn to identify the most negative and unhelpful thoughts and restructure them, so as to guide us toward better feelings and behaviors. In life, treating minor problems as catastrophes is a straight path to misery—but online, the most catastrophic headlines get the most attention. In life, nurturing anger produces conflict with friends and family; online, it’s an excellent way to build an audience.

Modern internet culture has adopted therapy-speak while repeatedly setting fire to the actual lessons of modern therapy. It’s a bizarre spectacle, like a hospital where fake doctors know the words for every disease but half of the surgeries result in sepsis. In the open expanse of the internet, we could have built any kind of world. We built this one. Why have we done this to ourselves?

19) I’ve read about ChatGPT “watermarks” but couldn’t really understand.  Now, I do!  So cool. 

20) Party Down is one of the best TV comedies ever.  So cool that they’ve made some new episodes. 

21) Maryn McKenna, “The Bird Flu Outbreak Has Taken an Ominous Turn: The avian flu has killed millions of chickens, decimated wild birds—and moved into mammals. Now the poultry industry needs new measures to stop its spread.

“When there’s public discussion of addressing zoonotic disease, it almost immediately turns to vaccination, preparedness, biosecurity—but no one discusses addressing the root cause,” says Jan Dutkiewicz, a political economist and visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law and Policy Clinic. “We would never have a debate about preventing cancer from tobacco products without talking about stopping smoking. Yet when it comes to zoonotic disease risk, there is a huge reticence to discuss curbing animal production.”

That might be an unthinkable proposal, given that Americans ate an estimated 1.45 billion wings during the Superbowl last Sunday—and that as a culture, we’re not inclined to ask many questions about how our food arrives at our plates. “Industrial animal production operates and maybe even depends on a distance between the consumer and the realities and violence of industrial animal production,” says Adam Sheingate, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University who studies food and agriculture policy. “Most people really prefer not to know how their food is produced.” Still, he points out, when disease risks from food become clear, other nations respond rapidly—such as when the UK changed cattle-farming practices after Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, the human variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease,” killed 178 people in the mid-1990s.

“This is not to say we get rid of poultry,” says Andrew deCoriolis, executive director of Farm Forward, a nonprofit that works to improve farm animal welfare. “It’s to say: We have to understand what are the factors that are the biggest risk drivers, and perhaps legislate changes to them. That could be moving farms out of flyways, it could be reducing the number of barns on a particular location, it could be reducing animal density within the barns.”

Dreadful though it is, it’s possible to construe the current outbreak as an opportunity to begin gathering big data about what makes poultry production so vulnerable. Precisely because the disease has spread so widely, data could reveal patterns that haven’t been visible before—whether affected farms use certain feed or water systems, for instance, or buy just-hatched birds from specific breeding lines, or are sited in particular landscape features or lie under the migration routes of identifiable birds. “There isn’t a lot of research to show what are absolute best practices, because viruses are stochastic—you don’t know exactly when you’re going to get an introduction,” says Meghan Davis, a veterinarian and epidemiologist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

After the 2015 outbreak, which up to that point was the worst poultry producers could imagine, the industry focused on identifying the human networks that made its farms vulnerable. Companies tried to control how visitors might unknowingly expose them to the virus: through sharing housing with workers from another property, or driving a truck from an infected farm onto a clean one, or carrying mail or even a cell phone that might have been contaminated. The extraordinary expansion of H5N1 flu into wild birds now may mean that producers also have to think about how the environment itself invites exposure. Wetlands attract ducks. Copses shelter raptors that pursue rodents that scavenge spilled grain. It’s an approach that concedes that biosecurity can never be perfect, and that a production system can never fully seal itself off from the world.

22) Frank Bruni on RDS:

But the latest wave of commentary underestimates him — and that’s dangerous. He’s not Walker: Nate Cohn explained why in The Times early this week, concluding that DeSantis “has a lot more in common with Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan” when they were gearing up for their first presidential bids than with Walker, Kamala Harris or Rick Perry, whose sizzle fizzled fast.

He’s also not Jeb Bush. It has become popular to make that comparison as well, likening DeSantis to his predecessor in the Florida governor’s mansion. But DeSantis has the very venom that Bush didn’t. He’s a viper to Bush’s garter snake.

23) The AP African-American studies controversy is so much more complicated than both sides are presenting it.  Finally, John McWhorter with far and away the best explanation of what’s really going on here:

I’d like to make clear that I disapprove of the vast majority of DeSantis’s culture warrior agenda, a ham-handed set of plans designed to stir up a G.O.P. base in thrall to unreflective figures such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. If DeSantis runs for president, he will not get my vote.

However, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and in terms of how we tell the story of Black America, the board did the right thing, whether because of DeSantis’s threat or for more high-minded reasons. The take that I saw in the course’s original draft depicted the history of Black America over the past several decades as an unbroken stream of left protest against a seemingly unchanging racist hegemon. There is certainly drama in the procession. The Black Panthers, the Black arts movement, Black studies departments, Black Lives Matter. Incarceration, reparations and Black struggle. Amiri Baraka, Molefi Kete Asante, Manning Marable (all notably left-leaning writers). But Black history has been ever so much more than protest and professional pessimism; note how hard it is to imagine any other group of people whose history is written with this flavor so dominant.

This is not education but advocacy. And in no sense does racism mean that the difference has no meaning. The key issue is the difference between opinions that are considered and debated and opinions that are mostly uncontested and perhaps considered uncontestable — essentially opinions that are treated as if they were facts.

Of course, it is possible to teach about opinions rather than facts. When that is properly done, the opinions are presented along with intelligent counterproposals. Given that Black conservatives — or skeptics of progressive narratives often processed as mainstream after the late 1960s — were nowhere to be found in the A.P. curriculum (except for Booker T. Washington, who has been dead for over a hundred years, and Zora Neale Hurston, whose conservatism is all too often downplayed), it is reasonable to assume that opinions from the left were going to be presented with little or no meaningful challenge.

Certain takes on race are thought of by an influential portion of progressive Americans — Black, white and otherwise — as incarnations of social justice. To them, our nation remains an incomplete project that will remain mired in denial until these ways of seeing race are universally accepted and determine the bulk of public policy. These issues include ones in the earlier version of the A.P. course, such as the idea that Black people may be owed reparations and that one of the most accurate lenses through which to view America is through the lens of intersectionality.

I imagine that to people of this mind-set, incorporating these views into an A.P. course on African American studies is seen as a natural step, via which we help get America woken by appealing to its brightest young minds. But for all the emotional resonance, the savory intonation of key buzzwords and phrases and the impassioned support of people with advanced degrees and prize-awarded media status, views of this kind remain views.

To dismiss those in disagreement as either naïve or malevolent is unsophisticated, suggesting that racial enlightenment requires comfort with a take-no-prisoners approach and facile reasoning. Not even the tragedies of America’s record on race justify saying “I’m just right, dammit!” as if the matter were as settled as the operations of gravity…

Some C.R.T. advocates, for example, conclude that systemic oppression means that views from those oppressed via intersectionality must be accepted without question, as a kind of group narrative that renders it egregious to quibble over the details and nuances of individual experience. As the C.R.T. pioneer Richard Delgado put it, nonwhite people should protest based on a “broad story of dashed hopes and centuries-long mistreatment that afflicts an entire people and forms the historical and cultural background of your complaint.”

But this perspective, called standpoint epistemology, while intended as social justice, also questions empiricism and logic. Who really thinks that its absence from an A.P. course constitutes denying that slavery happened or that racism exists? C.R.T. advocates too often discuss white people as an undifferentiated mass, as in claims that white people resist letting go of their power, a view memorably promulgated by the legal scholar Derrick Bell. There is a rhetorical power in this sociological shorthand, but it also encourages a shallow classification of American individuals as bad white people and good everybody else. Fact this is not.

To pretend that where Blackness is concerned, certain views must be treated as truth despite intelligent and sustained critique is to give in to the illogic of standpoint epistemology: “That which rubs me the wrong way is indisputably immoral.”

And I hardly see this as applying only to people I disagree with. I have broadcast my views about race for almost a quarter century. Naturally, I consider my views correct — that’s why they are my views — and contrary to what some may suppose, conservative white people are by no means the core of people who often see things my way. I am always gladdened to find that there are quite a few Black people from all walks of life who agree with me. Yet I would protest seeing my views on race included in an A.P. course as facts or uncontested opinions.

There are certainly conservatives who think discussion of racism should be entirely barred from public life. This is, on its face, blinkered, ignorant and pathetic. But to pretend that controversial views on race from the left are truth incarnate is being dishonest about race as well. It sacrifices logic out of a quiet terror of being called racist (or, if Black, self-hating). How that is progressive or even civil in a real way is unclear to me. In being honest enough to push past the agitprop, I hate having to say that in this case, DeSantis, of all people, was probably right.

24) And, lastly, Pamela Paul wrote what struck me as a very reasonable defense of JK Rowing on gender issues.  I swear, if all you saw about this was what leftists on twitter had to say, you would genuinely think Paul had written something along the lines of “all transgender people deserve to die.” 

“Trans people need and deserve protection.”

“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others but are vulnerable.”

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.”

“I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”

These statements were written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, a human-rights activist and — according to a noisy fringe of the internet and a number of powerful transgender rights activists and L.G.B.T.Q. lobbying groups — a transphobe.

Even many of Rowling’s devoted fans have made this accusation. In 2020, The Leaky Cauldron, one of the biggest “Harry Potter” fan sites, claimed that Rowling had endorsed “harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person,” letting members know it would avoid featuring quotes from and photos of the author.


Isolation Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been really, really lucky with my Covid.  Symptom-wise, only the first day was bothersome at all.  As of now, I feel completely normal.  Alas, that doesn’t keep me from showing up instantly with a dark red line on the Covid rapid test.  On the bright side, lots of open windows in my house, judicious use of N95 by me, and spending most of my time shut away in a room with a fan blowing out the window means nobody else in my family has gotten sick from me.  We’ve also been really lucky with the weather and I’ve spent a good amount of time with my family out on the deck.  Alas, that ends today.  All along I feared that when I got Covid I would suffer more from the isolation than from the actual disease and that has definitely proven to be the case.  That negative test can’t come soon enough.

2) Great stuff from Eric Levitz on how Democrats should not be so afraid of DeSantis:

Generally speaking, it is wiser to overestimate one’s political rivals than to underestimate them. But it would nevertheless be a mistake for Democrats to grow so awed by a Florida governor with a 56 percent approval rating as to conclude that their only hope for keeping a reactionary out of the White House is to become more reactionary themselves.

DeSantis’s much-publicized political strengths are paired with underexposed weaknesses. And the issues on which he is most vulnerable — Medicare, Social Security, and abortion rights — are far more nationally salient than his crusades against “wokeness” in public schools…

Before his present incarnation as a populist purple-state governor, DeSantis was a pro-austerity, right-wing House member. In his 2011 book, he wrote that the U.S. Constitution was designed to “prevent the redistribution of wealth through the political process” and that this was commendable because “when the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” He further lamented that “popular pressure to redistribute wealth or otherwise undermine the rights of property … will ever be present.”

In other words, the self-styled “populist” argued that democracy is inherently dangerous since ordinary voters are sometimes able to pursue their economic interests through the political process — interests that include the progressive redistribution of income. Thus, DeSantis implied that the very existence of social-welfare programs that take resources from the wealthy and transfer them to the middle class, poor, and elderly is a violation of property rights and inherently tyrannical.

Although Congressman DeSantis did not go so far as to propose the wholesale abolition of all transfer programs, his congressional record is largely of a piece with his libertarian musings. During his 2012 congressional campaign, DeSantis expressed support for privatizing Social Security and Medicare. In 2013 and 2014, DeSantis deemed Paul Ryan’s infamous proposals for balancing the federal budgets insufficiently austere. Instead, as Josh Barro notes, DeSantis voted to replace those proposals with the Republican Study Committee’s more radical budget blueprints. The RSC’s 2013 fiscal vision would have raised the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare to 70, slowed the growth of Social Security benefits, and ended Medicare as we’d known it, transforming the program from a health-insurance entitlement to a stipend that wouldn’t necessarily increase with rising health-care costs…

Biden remains an unpopular president, and U.S. voters remain unhappy with inflation. Were Republicans capable of nominating a (relatively) moderate figure like former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, Democrats’ 2024 prospects might look poor. But a short, charisma-free, nasal-voiced proponent of Social Security cuts and abortion bans is not an especially fearsome adversary. Conventional Democratic politics — which is to say, promising to sustain entitlements by taxing the rich and to protect abortion rights by beating back the Bible-thumpers — is quite plausibly equal to the challenge of Ron DeSantis. And in his State of the Union on Tuesday night, Biden showed he remains more than fluent in such politics.

2) David Leonhardt on all the damn hidden fees:

Sneaky fees have become a big part of America’s consumer economy.

Hertz charges almost $6 a day simply for using a toll transponder in a rental car. Marriott and Hilton add nightly “resort fees” to the bill even at hotels that nobody would consider to be resorts. American, Delta and United list one airfare when you first search for a seat — and then add charges for basic features like the ability to sit next to your spouse.

Ticketmaster is especially aggressive about imposing fees, as I experienced recently while buying two tickets to a football game. When I initially selected my seats on Ticketmaster’s online stadium map, they cost $48. The bill at checkout was more than one-third higher — $64.40.

President Biden has announced a crackdown on these fees (which his administration calls “junk fees”), and he devoted a section of his State of the Union address to them. “Look, junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most other folks in homes like the one I grew up in,” he said Tuesday night. “I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and gets away with it.”

Today, I want to explain why anybody is even worrying about this problem. After all, in a competitive capitalist economy like ours, shouldn’t the market have already solved it?


The market solution to sneaky fees seems straightforward. When Marriott starts charging $50 nightly “resort fees,” Hilton can call out its competitor and try to steal Marriott customers. And some companies do take this approach: Southwest Airlines advertises a “Bags Fly Free” policy, an obvious swipe at rivals.

But the mushrooming number of fees has made clear that competition does not usually eliminate the practice. Why not? Academic research has suggested that there are two main reasons.

First, human beings are not the efficiently rational machines that economic theory pretends they are. An entire branch of the field, behavioral economics, has sprung up in recent decades to make sense of our limited attention spans.

If you are familiar with the best-selling book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman, you will recognize these ideas. We lead busy lives that keep us from analyzing every purchase, and we get distracted by salient but misleading information (like a low list price). Big companies, with the resources at their disposal, have learned to take advantage of these limitations. The economist Richard Thaler refers to practices like these as “sludge,” the evil counterpart to nudges that use behavioral economics to improve life.

True, one company could call out another for using sludge. But doing so often requires a complex marketing message that tries to persuade people to overcome their psychological instincts (like the appeal of a low list price). For that reason, Hilton can probably make more money by charging its own sneaky resort fees than by criticizing Marriott’s.

“Once some subset of hotels start charging these fees and generating a significant amount of revenue,” Bharat Ramamurti, a Biden adviser, told me, “that creates pressure on hotels to do this, or otherwise they’re getting left behind.”

No choices

The second major reason is monopoly power. In some markets, consumers don’t have much choice. Ticketmaster’s fees outrage many people. But I didn’t have any choice when I bought those football tickets. There was no rival service selling them.

In recent decades, many American industries have become more concentrated, partly because Washington became more lax about enforcing antitrust laws. Thomas Philippon, an N.Y.U. economist, has estimated that increased corporate concentration costs the typical American household more than $5,000 a year.

In some industries, sludge and monopoly power feed off each other. The small number of dominant internet providers, for instance, reduces the chances that a new entrant can design a business strategy around undercutting Comcast’s and Verizon’s sneaky fees. Those new entrants don’t exist. Comcast and Verizon have also figured out how to make the cancellation of internet service unpleasant and time-consuming. Airlines — another concentrated industry — use frequent-flier programs in a similar way, effectively punishing customers for switching to a different carrier.

Here’s what I don’t get.  I honestly don’t object to the fees, in theory, if the cost of a ticket is $50, I just want to know that.  I don’t care how you break it down, but don’t tell me the ticket is $35 and then charge me $50.  What I’ve yet to have explained to me is why we manage to pull this off for airline tickets, but not anything else.  Search for an airline ticket right now and it will show you the cost of what you will pay.  Click through, and you can see the various fees that add up to to full price.  Clearly, there’s some good regulation at work here.  Why isn’t it like this for all tickets?!

3) And now for the anti-wokeness portion of quick hits… This is a fascinating must-read, “I Thought I Was Saving Trans Kids. Now I’m Blowing the Whistle.: There are more than 100 pediatric gender clinics across the U.S. I worked at one. What’s happening to children is morally and medically appalling.”

I am a 42-year-old St. Louis native, a queer woman, and politically to the left of Bernie Sanders. My worldview has deeply shaped my career. I have spent my professional life providing counseling to vulnerable populations: children in foster care, sexual minorities, the poor. 

For almost four years, I worked at The Washington University School of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases with teens and young adults who were HIV positive. Many of them were trans or otherwise gender nonconforming, and I could relate: Through childhood and adolescence, I did a lot of gender questioning myself. I’m now married to a transman, and together we are raising my two biological children from a previous marriage and three foster children we hope to adopt…

I left the clinic in November of last year because I could no longer participate in what was happening there. By the time I departed, I was certain that the way the American medical system is treating these patients is the opposite of the promise we make to “do no harm.” Instead, we are permanently harming the vulnerable patients in our care.

Today I am speaking out. I am doing so knowing how toxic the public conversation is around this highly contentious issue—and the ways that my testimony might be misused. I am doing so knowing that I am putting myself at serious personal and professional risk.

Almost everyone in my life advised me to keep my head down. But I cannot in good conscience do so. Because what is happening to scores of children is far more important than my comfort. And what is happening to them is morally and medically appalling.

4) This was something else, too. “A Black Professor Trapped in Anti-Racist Hell”

On the sunny first day of seminar, I sat at the end of a pair of picnic tables with nervous, excited 17-year-olds. Twelve high-school students had been chosen by the Telluride Association through a rigorous application process—the acceptance rate is reportedly around 3 percent—to spend six weeks together taking a college-level course, all expenses paid.

The group reminded me of the heroes of the Mysterious Benedict Society books I was reading to my daughter: Each teenager, brought together for a common project, had some extraordinary ability and some quirk. One girl from California spoke and thought at machine-gun speed and started collecting pet snails during the pandemic; now she had more than 100. A girl from a provincial school in China had never traveled to the United States but had mastered un-accented English and was in love with E.M. Forster. In addition to the seminar, the students practiced democratic self-governance: They lived together and set their own rules. Those first few days, the students were exactly what you would expect, at turns bubbly and reserved, all of them curious, playful, figuring out how to relate to each other and to the seminar texts.

Four weeks later, I again sat in front of the gathered students. Now, their faces were cold, their eyes down. Since the first week, I had not spotted one smile. Their number was reduced by two: The previous week, they had voted two classmates out of the house. And I was next.

“I was guilty of countless microaggressions.”

Each student read from a prepared statement about how the seminar perpetuated anti-black violence in its content and form, how the black students had been harmed, how I was guilty of countless microaggressions, including through my body language, and how students didn’t feel safe because I didn’t immediately correct views that failed to treat anti-blackness as the cause of all the world’s ills.

This might be just another lament about “woke” campus culture, and the loss of traditional educational virtues. But the seminar topic was “Race and the Limits of Law in America.” Four of the 6 weeks were focused on anti-black racism (the other two were on anti-immigrant and anti-indigenous racism). I am a black professor, I directed my university’s black-studies program, I lead anti-racism and transformative-justice workshops, and I have published books on anti-black racism and prison abolition. I live in a predominantly black neighborhood of Philadelphia, my daughter went to an Afrocentric school, and I am on the board of our local black cultural organization.

Like others on the left, I had been dismissive of criticisms of the current discourse on race in the United States. But now my thoughts turned to that moment in the 1970s when leftist organizations imploded, the need to match and raise the militancy of one’s comrades leading to a toxic culture filled with dogmatism and disillusion. How did this happen to a group of bright-eyed high school students?

5) Graeme Wood, “DEI Is an Ideological Test”

Here, I offer a qualified defense of Rufo’s initiative. The grossest aspect of his work is his villainization of individuals—people who, like the tatted-up social-media addicts and priggish schoolteachers featured on the Libs of TikTok account, are hardly the best advocates for their cause. Picking weak targets is dishonorable. But a public college is not a weak target, and if Rufo wants to challenge an entrenched bureaucracy, then he will have a fair fight. I am curious as to how it will turn out.

Many institutions of higher learning ask faculty applicants to write a statement of commitment not just to diversity, equity, and inclusion but to an extreme form of it. The universities’ publicly stated positions imply that there is only one proper way to interpret the DEI trinity: through the concept of “anti-racism,” which may not mean what you think it means. Anti-racists argue that “the only remedy for past discrimination is present discrimination”—that is, not ignoring race but focusing on it with renewed vigor and treating people differently depending on their skin color.

Discerning applicants know not to say that they will treat students of different races and backgrounds equally. Academic jobs are rare, so woe to any applicant who makes this error and thereby expresses a political view that runs against the policies plastered all over the university’s website. Hiring committees who want to bring on such a heretic will have to explain to the dean why the campus should tolerate a professor who holds these forbidden views, and who is too dense or too ornery to hide them…

But the demolition of DEI as a bureaucratic force is another matter. Critics have accused Rufo of trying “to turn [New College] into a space of extremist indoctrination”—as if a campus with a de facto ideological test for employment is not already political. Whether that ideological test is valid is unsettled in the general public, at least judging by the controversy Rufo has kicked up so far.

It is a simple step, to go from believing that politics is everywhere to believing that because it is everywhere, the politics may as well be one’s own politics rather than one’s enemy’s—to make politics not just omnipresent but hyper-partisan. Curiously, though, those who have spent decades saying that politics is everywhere seemed to have been caught flat-footed when it arrived in the form of Rufo. Last week, when Rufo and another trustee, Jason “Eddie” Speir, showed up to talk to New College’s faculty about their plans, the provost tried to cancel the event for security reasons. She alleged that the event “put our community at risk,” because someone wrote in to say that trustees should “MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE A FLAK JACKET ON.” (It’s not even obvious that this is a threat. The message is certainly menacing, but it would be more menacing if it expressed a hope that Rufo not wear a flak jacket.) Rufo, of course, treated the threat as serious, which allowed him to insist in Churchillian fashion that the event go forward. Then he used the occasion to humiliate the provost, calling her an example of the censorious crybabies whom he had come to relieve of their responsibility.

6a)  And this was depressing, “Yet another campus blasphemy dispute in Minnesota: Macalester College covers up Iranian-American’s feminist art exhibition after student complaints”

A series of images, titled Blasphemy X and Blasphemy IX, and sculptures depicting niqab and hijab-clad women with exposed body parts or visible lingerie especially caused a stir. Students decried these “overtly sexualized” images in a petition shared after the installation of the exhibit. 

“Though we respect the principle of academic freedom, we are also simultaneously aware that freedom, like art, does not simply exist in a vacuum. The decision to display and continue to display this exhibition despite the harm it perpetuates is a deeply problematic issue. It is targeting and harming an already small community that exists on this campus,” students wrote. “The lack of action on the part of the administration is unacceptable, but unfortunately not surprising. The administration’s decisions continue to ignore the deep pain felt by many of their students.”

Ikran Noor, the Macalester student who started the petition, said “a lot of it is really proactive and really supportive of the Iranian women’s movement that’s happening,” but she believed “the ones that are particularly depicting hijabi women and niqabi women, I think those should be put down.”

Black curtains covered the Law Warschaw Gallery’s glass walls over the weekend
Black curtains cover artwork in the Law Warschaw Gallery at Macalester College. (Courtesy Taravat Talepasand)

At a community meeting held to discuss complaints about the art, some Iranian students reportedly shared their support of their exhibition despite their peers’ objections. 

Nevertheless, after the meeting to discuss student opposition to the exhibition, the college temporarily closed it, and covered windows with large black curtains to obscure all of the art. 

Obstructed glass and “non-consensual” art

In an email sent to the campus this week, the college announced the reopening of the gallery — with some caveats. During the shutdown, Macalester wrote, “we had several conversations with students, faculty, and staff to consider multiple perspectives from Muslim communities on campus, worked with the artist, and supported gallery staff. We also prepared the gallery to prevent unintentional or non-consensual viewing of certain works and added a content warning.”

That’s right: obscured windows to prevent “unintentional,” “non-consensual” glimpses of works of art. In an American campus art gallery. 

6b) And Jill Filipovic:

Two of Talepasand’s drawingsBlasphemy X and Blasphemy IX, show women in conservative garb revealing parts of themselves: A woman in a niqab shows her leg and crotch and gives the viewer the finger; a woman in a hijab pulls up her dress to show the sexy lingerie underneath. Several sculptures depict women in niqabs fully covered except for cartoonishly large protruding breasts. One piece references a teddy bear, which was at the center of a blasphemy case in Sudan: A teacher there allowed her students to name the bear, they picked the name Muhammad, and she faced 40 lashes and six months imprisonment (in the end, she spent 10 days in jail and was deported).

The exhibition, in other words, does a pretty good job at highlighting the small-minded and misogynist absurdities of religious fundamentalism.

The exhibition isn’t for everyone (what is?). But this exhibition has been challenged by a number of students at Macalester who say it’s offensive — and that because it’s offensive, it should never have been displayed in the first place, and should now be taken down. And the administration, briefly, ceded to their demands, hitting pause on the exhibition to listen to student complaints, before reopening it — but with black veils hiding its contents so as not to offend anyone who doesn’t choose to avert their eyes. This, the university said, was to prevent “non-consensual viewing.”

(I have some bad news for these students: If you are a person who has the gift of eyesight, life is a series of non-consensual viewings)…

If I were an administrator at Macalester, censoriousness, small-mindedness, and religious fundamentalism are the sorts of things I wouldn’t want to be associated with. And I would be very troubled if students at my institution believed that we shouldn’t be associated with art that challenges fundamentalism and embraces feminism.

But the Macalester administrators don’t seem so sure. Unlike the craven and cowardly administrators at Hamline University just a few miles down the road from Macalester, Macalester didn’t immediately and entirely cave to the wholly unreasonable demands of these young fundamentalists. But it did partly cave. It put an exhibition — one point of which is to criticize the mandatory covering of female bodies and the fear of female sexuality — behind curtains and frosted class, to cater to students who demanded the mandatory covering of images of female bodies. It attempted to prevent “non-consensual viewing” of the female form which is, by the way, awfully similar to the justification for mandatory hijab and modesty laws.

The university also emailed students a mea culpa: “Unfortunately, as the Taravat exhibition was installed, we did not take the steps needed to demonstrate cultural sensitivity and awareness of the possible impact of the art. For this and for the harm it caused, we apologize.”

And then the school posted a QR code that links to the student petition on the front door of the gallery, alongside a sign warning that the exhibition “contains images of sexuality and violence that may be upsetting or unacceptable for some viewers. Please view the exhibition with caution.”

I haven’t been to this exhibition. But nothing I can find suggests it depicts “violence.” Most of what I see are boobs.

If you can’t handle seeing breasts — including breasts on a woman who wears a hijab or niqab — I would recommend not going to any art museum or exhibit. I might stay off of the internet, too, and perhaps reconsider leaving the house.

The artist herself believes that these choices are censorious and inappropriate. “I really didn’t argue about the closure for the weekend or the pause,” she told Sahan Journal. “But nobody told me about the black curtain veiling all the windows. That’s a whole other level of censorship.”

Like in the Hamline case, the Macalester students who want this work censored don’t use the language of religious fundamentalism or blasphemy — although that is what they are, and that is what they are objecting to — but rather the language of social justice, therapy, and DEI initiatives. They talk about the “harm” caused by mere images of women with both breasts and headscarves. The sign that includes a QR code to sign the petition encourages viewers to “stand in solidarity” with them. The university uses this language, too, apologizing for “the harm it caused” and the lack of “cultural sensitivity and awareness of the possible impact of the art.”

Yes, this is a different, gentler kind of censoriousness than we see on the right. But it’s censoriousness nonetheless — and it’s frankly embarrassing that the school apologized or took any steps at all to placate students with unreasonable and profoundly illiberal demands.

7) Oh, let’s just keep going.  Are there any worse activists than those fighting against ableism?  Who else could somehow find wrongness in YouTube star Mr Beast paying for 1000 people’s cataract surgery to restore their vision.  What’s wrong with being blind, damnit??

8) Stories like this are so frustrating. “How Educators Secretly Remove Students With Disabilities From School: Known as informal removals, the tactics are “off-the-book” suspensions often in violation of federal civil rights protections for those with disabilities.”  I’m a parent with a disabled kid.  I get it.  But this story completely ignores the fact that in many situations one misplaced disabled kid can seriously set back the learning of 30 other kids and that has to be wrestled with.  Shame on the NYT author for entirely failing to do so (interestingly, NYT commenters are totally on this problem). 

9) Likewise, its an opinion column sure. And Jamelle Bouie is right to push back against Republicans’ demonization of trans people.  But, to do so without at least admitting that sometimes, yes, trans activists can really push things and that the science of medical treatment for trans minors is far from settled is intellectually dishonest.

10) This is depressing.  Ranked-choice voting is one of the best things we could do to improve our democracy. So, of course Republicans are now against it. “Republicans go to war against ranked-choice voting”

11) Now, this is how it’s done.  Properly condemn DEI in universities for what it does wrong, but make the case that what DeSantis is doing in Florida is far worse:

  • “Typical DEI training includes unscientific claims.”

  • “The growth of DEI bureaucracies has fueled bureaucratic bloat.”

  • “DEI offices… are in fact a threat to academic freedom.”

We agree with these three claims. They come from a recent Manhattan Institute Issue Brief about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in public universities. The lead author, Christopher Rufo, is a pivotal figure in the nation-wide anti-Critical Race Theory movement and the brains behind Ron DeSantis’s wholesale efforts to remake Florida’s system of public higher education.

As professors, we have long been skeptical of conventional DEI initiatives. We’ve argued that diversity training is ineffective, often counterproductive; that the push for more DEI administrators has swelled the ranks of unnecessary middle management;and that DEI offices have a pernicious predilection to undermine academic freedom

Expertise and competence don’t appear to count for much in DeSantis’ top-down, directives-driven program for higher education reform. On top of eliminating funding for DEI, key features include prohibitions against teaching CRT and “identity politics,” as well as a directive to align universities’ missions to “Florida’s existing and emerging workforce needs.” In a further blow to faculty-led university governance, the proposed legislation empowers institutions’ presidents and boards of trustees to “take ownership of hiring and retention decisions, without interference from unions and faculty committees” and “to conduct a post-tenure review of a faculty member at any time with cause.”

But academic freedom is effectively meaningless if faculty, who are the experts in their areas, are cut out from the hiring process. Presidents and trustees simply do not have the requisite expertise to make judgment calls about the needs and requirements of academic departments and programs. The fact that presidents and board members are increasingly political appointees (thinkthe half-dozen new trustees at New College) makes these provisions even more alarming.

At a recent press conference, DeSantis justified his proposal as a necessary corrective to the left-wing “political agenda” currently being imposed on higher education. Rufo, who spoke after DeSantis, applauded the move to defund campus DEI programs, declaring that “the purpose of a university is not to push political activism.”

But the plan from Rufo and DeSantis is itself a multi-pronged campaign to impose a deeply conservative political agenda: an attempt to fight politicization with politicization. Watch this recent Rufo video titled “The Conservative Counter-Revolution Begins in the Universities” and it’s abundantly clear that he sees college campuses first and foremost as culture war battlegrounds. It’s high time, he maintains, that conservatives organize to “recapture territory” and “reverse” the alleged “leftwing ideological dominance” at public universities in Florida and other states…

What’s happening in Florida is a power play. While we are deeply skeptical of many DEI initiatives, we recognize that DEI needs to be reformed—and indeed transformed—from within the university itself, with faculty taking the lead. Even if you find Rufo and DeSantis’s criticisms compelling, top-down change by state diktat is never the answer.  

12) This is really cool, “‘Most lifelike’ Lincoln portrait on display after years in obscurity”

A close-up of an 1865 portrait of Abraham Lincoln by W.F.K. Travers on display at the National Portrait Gallery. (Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery)

The National Portrait Gallery unveiled a rare portrait of President Abraham Lincoln on Friday, ahead of Lincoln’s 214th birthday. The nine-foot-tall portrait, painted by W.F.K. Travers in 1865, is one of only three known full-length renderings of the 16th president and will be on loan to the Smithsonian gallery in downtown D.C. for the next five years.

The painting, which hung for decades in relative obscurity in a municipal building in a small New Jersey town, has been newly restored and is now part of the “America’s Presidents” gallery.

There are plenty of photographs of Lincoln, but, like most subjects of the day, he sits stiffly and somberly, and of course, is rendered in black and white. This portrait — painted in color, face relaxed with a hint of a smile, and body standing at its full 6-foot-4 height — offers viewers perhaps the best opportunity today to see Lincoln as he really was.

13) Katherine Wu writes so much great stuff, “A ‘Distinctly Human’ Trait That Might Actually Be Universal: Disgust is surprisingly common across nature.”

Eleven years ago, on the remote Japanese island of Kojima, a female macaque walked backwards into a stray heap of primate poop, glanced down at her foot, and completely flipped her lid. The monkey hightailed it down the shoreline on three feet, kicking up sand as she sprinted, until she reached a dead tree, where “she repeatedly rubbed her foot and smelled it until all of the sticky matter disappeared,” says Cécile Sarabian, a cognitive ecologist at the University of Hong Kong, who watched the incident unfold. Sarabian, then a graduate student studying parasite transmission among primates, was entranced by the familiarity of it all: the dismay, the revulsion, the frenetic desire for clean. It’s exactly what she or any other human might have done, had they accidentally stepped in it.

In the years following the event, Sarabian came to recognize the macaque’s panicked reaction as a form of disgust—just not the sort that many people first think of when the term comes to mind. Disgust has for decades been billed as a self-awareness of one’s own aversions, a primal emotion that’s so exclusive to people that, as some have argued, it may help define humanity itself. But many scientists, Sarabian among them, subscribe to a broader definition of disgust: the suite of behaviors that help creatures of all sorts avoid pathogens; parasites; and the flora, fauna, and substances that ferry them about. This flavor of revulsion—centered on observable actions, instead of conscious thought—is likely ancient and ubiquitous, not modern or unique to us. Which means disgust may be as old and widespread as infectious disease itself.

Researchers can’t yet say that disease-driven disgust is definitely universal. But so far, “in every place that it’s been looked for, it’s been found,” says Dana Hawley, an ecologist at Virginia Tech. Bonobos rebuff banana slices that have been situated too close to scat; scientists have spotted mother chimps wiping the bottoms of their young. Kangaroos eschew patches of grass that have been freckled with feces. Dik-diks—pointy-faced antelopes that weigh about 10 pounds apiece—sequester their waste in dunghills, potentially to avoid contaminating the teeny territories where they live. Bullfrog tadpoles flee from their fungus-infested pondmates; lobsters steer clear of crowded dens during deadly virus outbreaks. Nematodes, no longer than a millimeter, wriggle away from their dinner when they chemically sense that it’s been contaminated with bad microbes. Even dung beetles will turn their nose up at feces that seem to pose an infectious risk.

14) Great takedown of the awful originalism on display behind new court gun rulings:

American law has not historically been good to women, and whatever progress there once was is now vulnerable to regression. This return is being midwifed into the world by the theory of constitutional interpretation known as originalism—the idea that a law’s constitutionality today is dependent on the Constitution’s purported “original public meaning” when the relevant constitutional text was enacted. Its adherents market originalism as fair and free from favor or prejudice—but its effects are not and will not be fair at all. By its very nature, originalism threatens women and other minority groups who were disempowered at the time of the Constitution’s adoption. We must instead develop a new constitutional interpretative method that protects all Americans as equal members of our democratic society.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrated as much when it relied on originalism in United States v. Rahimi, a case about a law restricting the gun rights of domestic-violence offenders, last week. The central legal issue in Rahimi was not whether protecting women and children from gun violence is good; the court conceded that it is. Rather, the question before the court was whether protecting women and children from gun violence is constitutional. And the court concluded that it is not.

A three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the Second Amendment was violated by a federal statute that made possessing a gun unlawful for a person who is subject to a restraining order in protection of an intimate partner or child. Its explanation for this dangerous ruling was a straightforward application of originalism. The Founders mentioned a right to keep and bear arms in the Constitution. They did not, however, mention women, who are disproportionately victimized by domestic violence. And although today’s lawmakers may care about women’s rights, they cannot deviate from the Founders’ wishes without a formal constitutional amendment. This will almost assuredly have very real, potentially fatal consequences for women in America: The presence of a gun in a domestic-violence situation increases the risk of femicide by more than 1,000 percent. Originalism is going to get women killed.

United States v. Rahimi is the latest example of the intolerable hazard that  originalism poses to women’s lives and our democratic society. Originalist ideology glorifies an era of blatant oppression along racial, gender, and class lines, transforming that era’s lowest shortcomings into our highest standards. The country and the Constitution do not belong to the nation’s white and wealthy forefathers alone. But the consequence of chaining constitutional interpretation to a time when much of the country was much worse off and only a rarefied few held power is as foreseeable as it is deadly: Huge swaths of the population will be worse off once again. Originalism is fundamentally incompatible with a legal system interested in protecting the rights of all of the nation’s people.

15) Science! “Plant toxin hailed as ‘new weapon’ in antibiotic war against bacteria”

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

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

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

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

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

16) Jonathan Haidt makes a very important case on the rise of teen mental health problems.  I’m not as prepared to lay this so much at the feet of social media as he is, but I agree entirely on the scope and seriousness of the problem. You should just read this. Really.

17) Oh, yeah, happy 51st birthday to me.  I hope I get a negative covid test for my birthday, but, I suspect what I’ll really get is just more isolation and worse weather. 

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.


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.



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