Better late than never quick hits

0) Had a terrific vacation at the beach last week.  Read plenty of good stuff, but, more important to sit in the sun than to work on the blog.  And when I got back home, set back due to an AC failure.  Good news is that I had it repaired in less than 24 hours and I’m typing this in pleasant climate-controlled air.  Anyway…

1) Great conversation between Yascha Mounk and Sabrina Tavernise:

Mounk: You’re somebody who has spent much of your career as a foreign correspondent living outside the United States. You spent time in Russia and Turkey, some time in Lebanon and other places. But coming back to the United States, you suddenly felt like your experience of covering deeply divided societies gave you insight into the United States. [The U.S.] suddenly felt similar to both societies in a way that it hadn’t done when you were growing up here. What lessons can we take from these deeply divided societies? And how can we make sure that we have empathy for our fellow citizens who are on the other side of a political divide without excusing the most reprehensible actions?

Tavernise: I moved to Russia when I was 24 years old, and I started in journalism when I was 26. And I didn’t really know very much about the way the world worked at that point. And I feel like I kind of went out into that society speaking very good Russian—my Russian was very fluent—without very much humility, and with a lot of arrogance about who they were and how they were supposed to get their act together. I remember traveling to these little provincial towns, and I’d be writing about an aluminum plant or an oil company or a local election. And I remember thinking and writing in this way, “You know, guys, the widget factory is never coming back. I know everybody wants the widget factory because that was what was comfortable and safe. But that was a communist thing, and communism is over. You really need to get your act together. Why don’t you just go out and kind of invent something? Go out and build a business, go out and rearrange your life and your town in a way that will make you prosperous and more like us.” 

When I first came back to the United States, I’d been gone for the better part of more than a dozen years. And I started talking to Americans, also in provincial places, and I realized they were saying, “Oh, if only the widget factory that was here in the 70s, in the 80s, would come back! If only it would come back, then all of our problems would be gone.” I realized, oh, my God, it was the same thing. It was the same dynamic. And part of that was economic collapse. Part of that was extreme lack of trust in government and in each other. 

Another parallel was the disinformation that started to spread in Russia, quite early and very virulently. [With] every person you would talk to, every cab driver, you would get into it: “Gorbachev is actually being run by MI6.” Everybody had a theory of why life was so messed up, and who was responsible, who was to blame. And I remember thinking, “Oh, my God, this is just a bunch of tinfoil-hat stuff. These people were in the Soviet cave for 70 years, and they kind of got a little wacky in there. They didn’t modernize with everybody else.”

[But] more recently, in my own society, people say, “Oh, yeah, the election was stolen? Absolutely. Biden has basically been kidnapped, and there are all these people around him who are actually making the decisions and pulling the strings.” I realized we are absolutely not exceptional in any way. We basically have exactly the same problems and exactly the same group dynamics and exactly the same divides. We were richer and more developed, [but] that didn’t matter. That’s pretty sobering, because now we’re stuck. How do we get out of this situation? No one on the right I’m talking to even thinks that Biden is kind of a sentient, conscious individual. The elections [going forward] are going to be really fraught, because there’s been this poison pill injected into them by Trump, and it’s hard to know where it’s going. 

2) Great stuff on cuttlefish and the implications for the evolution of intelligence:

These studies suggest that cuttlefish are capable of self-control and of remembering their own past experiences. The next step will be tests of whether, like the jays, they are aware of how they will feel in the future, and can plan for it.

“We’re adapting these experiments that have been done in chimpanzees and corvids,” Dr. Schnell said, “to see if these animals that diverged from this lineage 550 million years ago have the same capacity.”

If they do, cuttlefish will have an important role in illuminating how and when intelligence evolves. Corvids and certain primates — including humans — each developed the ability to plan for the future, but they seem to have arrived at it independently, rather than inheriting the capacity from a common ancestor. Both kinds of creatures have complex social lives and lengthy life spans to learn from, commonalities that make it hard for biologists to say what traits or environment make intelligence a good investment for an organism.

The cuttlefish promises to add another dimension to the study of intelligence because they must have developed it in a completely different context.

“They don’t live a long time, unlike the corvids. They’re not highly social, unlike the corvids,” Dr. Clayton said. “It was very unlikely that it was social intelligence that was driving the evolution.”

There are still more tests to come. It’s not clear whether cuttlefish will turn out to have all the same skills as apes and corvids, or just a handful. If what they have is similar, then it’s possible that profound vulnerability, rather than long life or social complexity, is what has forced them to become so canny.

3) Philip Bump, “Want to know how a county voted? Find out how many White Christians live there.”

Here, as the title of the image says, are two maps of the United States. One shows every county in which at least half of the population is made up of non-Hispanic Whites who are Christian, as estimated by PRRI as part of its 2020 Census of American Religion. The other map shows counties that Preside nt Donald Trump won in the 2020 election. The darker the coloration, the greater each percentage.

 

So which is which?

The easiest way to tell is by looking at the Northeast. Much of New England votes reliably Democratic but is also densely White. So you can tell that Map B is the map of White Christians and Map A the map of 2020 election results.

The point, of course, is that it isn’t easy to differentiate between them. Looking at PRRI’s maps of the distribution of religious groups, the superficial similarity of White Christianity and Trump support is immediately obvious. But, of course, national maps of county-level data tend to obscure underlying trends, as anyone who has had a debate over how to depict presidential-vote results can attest.

4) I literally don’t get why paramedics are paid so little.  I’d like to see that addressed in this article.  I mean, like what’s going on economically that you can actually have a sufficient supply of people trained to treat heart attacks, major trauma, etc., on the spot for only $17/hour?

The misconception that emergency medics provide transportation, not medicine, leaves them to cope with all sorts of indignities. “They’re used to being second-class citizens,” says Michael Levy, the president of the National Association of EMS Physicians. In one hour—during which they may respond to several 911 calls—the median paramedic or EMT makes a little more than $17. That’s half the hourly pay of registered nurses and less than one-fifth the pay of doctors—if they’re paid at all. During the pandemic, emergency medics were literally enclosed in rolling boxes with COVID-19 patients. But in some states, they were not prioritized alongside other essential health-care workers for the first round of vaccines. After delivering their precious cargo to a hospital, in many cases they don’t learn the final diagnosis, or whether their patient ever makes it back home.

That medicine treats emergency medics like disposable, low-wage workers instead of the health-care professionals they are isn’t just unfortunate for the workers themselves—it also leads to less than optimal care for the rest of us on the day we may need it most.

5) Good Post editorial, “The U.S. is growing more unequal. That’s harmful — and fixable.”

First, the data: The combined wealth of all households in the United States added up to $129.5 trillion in the first quarter of this year. The wealthiest 1 percent held 32.1 percent of the total, up from 23.4 percent in 1989. The top 10 percent of households owned $70 of every $100 in household wealth, up from $61 in 1989. The bottom half, whose share never exceeded 5 percent, now holds just 2 percent of household wealth in the United States…

Though wealth inequality has grown in other industrialized democracies too, the U.S. figures mark this country as an outlier. A 2018 study of 28 countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development found that, on average, the top 10 percent of households owns 52 percent of wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns 12 percent. But in the United States the top 10 percent held 79.5 percent and the bottom 60 percent held 2.4 percent…

The wealth gap did not develop overnight. It neither can, nor should, be entirely eliminated; but the United States could aim for a more equitable distribution similar to that of our peer nations today — and, indeed, that which prevailed in the country during the era of its greatest international prestige. Policy reforms, starting now, could make it happen.

6) This was interesting, “The Secrets of ‘Cognitive Super-Agers’: By studying centenarians, researchers hope to develop strategies to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and slow brain aging for all of us.”

Fewer than 1 percent of Americans reach the age of 100, and new data from the Netherlands indicate that those who achieve that milestone with their mental faculties still intact are likely to remain so for their remaining years, even if their brains are riddled with the plaques and tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Findings from the Dutch study may eventually pave a path for many more of us to become “cognitive super-agers,” as researchers call people who approach the end of the human life span with brains that function as if they were 30 years younger.

One day everyone who is physically able to reach 100 may also be able to remain mentally healthy. By studying centenarians, researchers hope to identify reliable characteristics and develop treatments that would result in healthy cognitive aging for most of us. Meanwhile, there is much we can do now to keep our brains in tiptop condition, even if reaching 100 is neither a goal nor a possibility.

These hopeful prospects stem from the study of 340 Dutch centenarians living independently who were tested and shown to be cognitively healthy when they enrolled. The 79 participants who neither died nor dropped out of the study returned for repeated cognitive testing, over an average follow-up of 19 months.

The research team, directed by Henne Holstege at Vrije University in Amsterdam, reported in JAMA Network Open in January that these participants experienced no decline in major cognitive measures, except for a slight loss in memory function. Basically, the participants performed as if they were 30 years younger in overall cognition; ability to make decisions and plans and execute them; recreate by drawing a figure they had looked at; list animals or objects that began with a certain letter; and not becoming easily distracted when performing a task or getting lost when they left home.

7) It’s been a while since I’ve adopted a pet, but can we all agree that so many rescue organization are over-the-top nuts?  I didn’t realize how bad it’s gotten. “Want to Adopt a Pet? Prepare for a Full Background Check.: Overlong applications, home inspections and fecal samples from existing pets are all fair game in finding a cat’s or dog’s “forever home.””

Shortly after the pandemic began, I started religiously checking Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet in search of a kitten. Whenever I saw one I wanted, I filled out an application. Unlike the two pages I’d submitted to adopt my dog in 2009, these were long, exhaustive and, in my opinion, a bit invasive.

One rescue organization asked that I fill out a seven-page application, submit five personal references and provide a detailed record of every pet I’ve owned since childhood. Another wanted my driver’s license number, multiple references, a fecal sample from each of my dogs, a personal meeting and a separate home visit.

Others wanted to know whether my yard was fenced; if I’d enroll my pet in a training class; if I had ever been divorced; how much time I spent at home; and what my overall discipline philosophy was.

8) This NYT “How to be happy” guide is really good.  As for me, I am, of course, already on most of it.

9) Damon Linker argues that the anti-anti-CRT people have gone too far, and I think he’s right.  Yes, systemic racism is a thing, but CRT goes way further than that to places that are a lot less defensible:

According to an adage attributed to George Santayana, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. But how to explain those who know history quite well and yet nonetheless repeat it?

That question has cropped into my head many times in recent weeks, as conservative activists and Republicans in Congress have actively denounced and in some cases acted to ban the teaching of what they call Critical Race Theory in public schools (both K-12 and universities) — and many of the left’s most intelligent writers have responded almost exclusively by railing against right-wing critics of CRT.

Put in slightly more schematic terms, the left is reacting to the anti-CRT movement by becoming loudly anti-anti-CRT. That is a big mistake, both intellectually and politically. How do we know? In part because we just lived through the folly of Republicans enacting the double negation of becoming anti-anti-Trump in order to avoid calling out the obscenity of the man himself.

 

But there’s an even more pertinent parallel further back in American history. Roughly seventy years ago the left’s forebears made precisely the same move when confronted with an overly zealous, demagogic critic of communism. Rather than single out Sen. Joseph McCarthy for hysterical overreach while also acknowledging that communism was a serious threat that demanded vigilance, they instead became anti-anti-communists, elevating “McCarthyism” into the real danger, perhaps even the only danger, and dismissing concerns about communism as a phantom threat…

Left-leaning critics of the ascendant anti-CRT movement like to point out that Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught in schools. Strictly speaking, this is correct, and I’ve made the point myself. CRT is a diffuse academic specialty animating the work of serious scholars across a range of fields, including law, history, and various disciplines in the social sciences. Much of this work is worthwhile and fruitfully provocative in its emphasis on structural dimensions of racial oppression in the past and present. But the suggestion that this scholarship is regularly being taught in K-12 history classes, or even in survey-level courses to undergraduates, is risible…

Others on the left will quietly concede that the past and present of American life is indeed more complicated than the most simple-minded construals of systematic or structural racism imply. Yet they will point out more loudly that conservatives hardly do better at advocating pluralism and complexity in the classroom. On the contrary, they propose and prefer uncritical patriotic homilies like those contained in the report produced by Donald Trump’s “1776 Commission.”

This is certainly true of some on the right. But that’s precisely why the country needs liberal-minded leftists to ally with liberal centrists in taking a stand against the pious simplicities proffered by illiberal ideologues on both extremes. Public schools should be teaching the story of the past and present in a way that foregrounds the admirable as well as the shameful, that shows students how to hold contrary and complex views in their minds at the same time, that highlights our noblest principles as well as our most egregious faults, in the past as well as in the present.  

But that’s not what we’re getting from the left. Instead, we’re seeing savage critiques of the critics of CRT, but almost nothing about the simple-minded counter-homilies that their own allies are proposing. 

10) That said, indeed, let’s be careful here.  Somehow I never read Jamelle Bouie’s 1619 Project essay, and it’s great.  Students need to learn stuff like this.  “America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others.”

The Republican rationale for tilting the field in their permanent favor or, failing that, nullifying the results and limiting Democrats’ power as much as possible, has a familiar ring to it. “Citizens from every corner of Wisconsin deserve a strong legislative branch that stands on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison,” one Wisconsin Republican said following the party’s lame-duck power grab. The speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos, made his point more explicit. “If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority — we would have all five constitutional officers, and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.” The argument is straightforward: Some voters, their voters, count. Others — the liberals, black people and other people of color who live in cities — don’t.

Senate Republicans played with similar ideas just before the 2016 election, openly announcing their plans to block Hillary Clinton from nominating anyone to the Supreme Court, should she become president. “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” declared Senator John McCain of Arizona just weeks before voting. And President Trump, of course, has repeatedly and falsely denounced Clinton’s popular-vote victory as illegitimate, the product of fraud and illegal voting. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide,” he declared on Twitter weeks after the election, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

The larger implication is clear enough: A majority made up of liberals and people of color isn’t a real majority. And the solution is clear, too: to write those people out of the polity, to use every available tool to weaken their influence on American politics. The recent attempt to place a citizenship question on the census was an important part of this effort. By asking for this information, the administration would suppress the number of immigrant respondents, worsening their representation in the House and the Electoral College, reweighting power to the white, rural areas that back the president and the Republican Party.

You could make the case that none of this has anything to do with slavery and slaveholder ideology. You could argue that it has nothing to do with race at all, that it’s simply an aggressive effort to secure conservative victories. But the tenor of an argument, the shape and nature of an opposition movement — these things matter. The goals may be colorblind, but the methods of action — the attacks on the legitimacy of nonwhite political actors, the casting of rival political majorities as unrepresentative, the drive to nullify democratically elected governing coalitions — are clearly downstream of a style of extreme political combat that came to fruition in the defense of human bondage.

11) Appreciated reading the details of how the Raleigh Zebra Cobra was captured.  

12) Meanwhile a black bear was camped out in a tree near a local hospital and was lured down with doughnuts.  

13) As the parent of an intellectually disabled adult (here we are at the beach last week), I really appreciated former Obama adviser David Axelrod talking about the challenges for parents of intellectually-disabled adults.

14) Really appreciate BB sharing this article on NHL draft pick values with me.  After the first half of the first round, it’s really just a crapshoot.

15) Katherine Wu on the fact that we should not label all breakthrough Covid infections the same.

The first thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they’re doing exactly what they were designed and authorized to do. Since the shots first started their rollout late last year, rates of COVID-19 disease have taken an unprecedented plunge among the immunized. We are, as a nation, awash in a glut of spectacularly effective vaccines that can, across populations, geographies, and even SARS-CoV-2 variants, stamp out the most serious symptoms of disease.

The second thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they’re flame retardants, not impenetrable firewalls, when it comes to the coronavirus. Some vaccinated people are still getting infected, and a small subset of these individuals is still getting sick—and this is completely expected.

We’re really, really bad at communicating that second point, which is all about breakthroughs, a concept that has, not entirely accurately, become synonymous with vaccine failure. It’s a problem that goes far beyond semantics: Bungling the messaging around our shots’ astounding success has made it hard to convey the truly minimal risk that the vaccinated face, and the enormous gamble taken by those who eschew the jabs.

The main problem is this. As the CDC defines it, the word breakthrough can refer to any presumed infection by SARS-CoV-2 (that is, any positive coronavirus test) if it’s detected more than two weeks after someone receives the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But infections can come with or without symptoms, making the term imprecise. That means breakthroughs writ large aren’t the most relevant metric to use when we’re evaluating vaccines meant primarily to curb symptoms, serious illness, hospitalizations, and death. “Breakthrough disease is what the average person needs to be paying attention to,” Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease physician at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, told me. Silent, asymptomatic breakthroughs—those that are effectively invisible in the absence of a virus-hunting diagnostic—are simply not in the same league.

16) I would’ve missed this if not for SAM sharing with me.  Profound biotechnological advancement, “Tapping Into the Brain to Help a Paralyzed Man Speak
In a once unimagined accomplishment, electrodes implanted in the man’s brain transmit signals to a computer that displays his words.”

Three years ago, when Pancho, now 38, agreed to work with neuroscience researchers, they were unsure if his brain had even retained the mechanisms for speech.

“That part of his brain might have been dormant, and we just didn’t know if it would ever really wake up in order for him to speak again,” said Dr. Edward Chang, chairman of neurological surgery at University of California, San Francisco, who led the research.

The team implanted a rectangular sheet of 128 electrodes, designed to detect signals from speech-related sensory and motor processes linked to the mouth, lips, jaw, tongue and larynx. In 50 sessions over 81 weeks, they connected the implant to a computer by a cable attached to a port in Pancho’s head, and asked him to try to say words from a list of 50 common ones he helped suggest, including “hungry,” “music” and “computer.”

As he did, electrodes transmitted signals through a form of artificial intelligence that tried to recognize the intended words.

Pancho (who asked to be identified only by his nickname to protect his privacy) also tried to say the 50 words in 50 distinct sentences like “My nurse is right outside” and “Bring my glasses, please” and in response to questions like “How are you today?”

His answer, displayed onscreen: “I am very good.”

In nearly half of the 9,000 times Pancho tried to say single words, the algorithm got it right. When he tried saying sentences written on the screen, it did even better.

By funneling algorithm results through a kind of autocorrect language-prediction system, the computer correctly recognized individual words in the sentences nearly three-quarters of the time and perfectly decoded entire sentences more than half the time.

17) While on vacation I read Andy Weir’s Hall Mary Project.  Loved, loved, loved it!  And, 2/3 of the way through, my 15-year old definitely feels the same.  I love how seriously Weir takes the science.  But, I had a nagging feeling about him not taking language/communication quite seriously enough.  Thus, I loved this essay on that part of the book.  But don’t read this if you think you will be reading the book.

18) Haven’t read much on gut microbiomes lately, so very much appreciated BB sharing this with me, “Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status”

Summary

Diet modulates the gut microbiome, which in turn can impact the immune system. Here, we determined how two microbiota-targeted dietary interventions, plant-based fiber and fermented foods, influence the human microbiome and immune system in healthy adults. Using a 17-week randomized, prospective study (n = 18/arm) combined with -omics measurements of microbiome and host, including extensive immune profiling, we found diet-specific effects. The high-fiber diet increased microbiome-encoded glycan-degrading carbohydrate active enzymes (CAZymes) despite stable microbial community diversity. Although cytokine response score (primary outcome) was unchanged, three distinct immunological trajectories in high-fiber consumers corresponded to baseline microbiota diversity. Alternatively, the high-fermented-food diet steadily increased microbiota diversity and decreased inflammatory markers. The data highlight how coupling dietary interventions to deep and longitudinal immune and microbiome profiling can provide individualized and population-wide insight. Fermented foods may be valuable in countering the decreased microbiome diversity and increased inflammation pervasive in industrialized society.

19) I found this “How to Raise Kids Who Won’t Be Racist” essay to be interesting just in the idea that, apparently many people have the idea that ignoring the fact that race is a thing will help your kids be less racism.  Ummmm… no.

Even if we don’t want them to, children do notice differences in race and skin color. And that means that attempts to suppress discussions about race and racism are misguided. Those efforts won’t eliminate prejudice. They may, in fact, make it worse.

So-called colorblind parenting — avoiding the topic of race in an effort to raise children who aren’t prejudiced — is not just unhelpful, it actually perpetuates racism.That’s because racism isn’t driven solely by individual prejudice. It’s a system of inequity bolstered by racist laws and policies — the very fact that opponents of teaching critical race theory are trying to erase…

When children aren’t presented with the context required to understand why our society looks the way it does, “they make up reasons, and a lot of kids make up biased, racist reasons,” said Rebecca Bigler, a developmental psychologist who studies the development of prejudice. Children often start to believe that white people are more privileged because they’re smarter or more powerful, Dr. Bigler says.

Parents should explicitly challenge these wrong assumptions and explain the role of centuries of systemic racism in creating these inequities. Brigitte Vittrup, a psychologist at Texas Woman’s University, and George W. Holden, a psychologist at Southern Methodist University, found that white children whose parents talked with them about race became less prejudiced over time, compared with children whose parents didn’t have such conversations.

Another study co-written by Dr. Bigler found that white children who had learned about racial discrimination had more positive attitudes toward Black people than children who were not exposed to that curriculum. The same researchers later found that classroom discussions about racial discrimination also had a positive impact on Black children.

20) Important research here, “Who is most likely to develop severe COVID-19 even after a second jab?” Answer: older people with serious health conditions.

21) So, is it wrong of me to still talk about gypsy moths? “This Moth’s Name Is a Slur. Scientists Won’t Use It Anymore.”

22) As you know, I’m a big fan of Matt Yglesias and a big fan of Noah Smith.  So I really enjoyed the latter interviewing the former.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Noah Smith on counter-acting the Hispanic shift towards Republicans:

In other words, despite starting from a very humble base, Hispanics are treading the same upward path that American immigrant groups always tread. The history of the Irish, Italians, Poles, and so on is repeating itself. Whatever structural forces have kept Black Americans and Native Americans from realizing their full economic potential, they don’t appear to be acting on Hispanics — or at least, not to nearly the same extent. If Chetty et al. are correct, Hispanics are headed for parity with Whites, or very close to it.

And anyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the progress of Hispanic Americans over the decades knows that this is exactly the reason they came here. When Mexican immigrants waved American flags at pro-immigration rallies in the 2000s, they weren’t just courting public opinion — they really believed in this country, and in the American Dream they were promised. The dream of working hard, bettering yourself, and moving up. They were immigrants, damn it. And their children and their grandchildren remembered that dream as well — and now they’re achieving it. America has kept the promise it made.

So why would this make Hispanics shift toward the GOP? Maybe it’s because Trump presided over the most recent boom, in which Hispanic incomes did so well. Maybe it’s because when you start moving up the economic ladder, you get the urge to protect your gains with low taxes.

But it might also be because many liberals have been disparaging the American Dream. In 2015, a faculty training guide at the University of California warned professors that calling America a “land of opportunity” constituted a microaggression. Liberal rhetoric has turned increasingly against the notion of the American Dream, both because of the people who are still excluded from it — undocumented immigrants, many Black and Native American people, many people caught up in the justice system, etc. — and because of rising inequality. To call America a “land of opportunity” seems, to many liberals, a cruel taunt directed at those who still don’t enjoy full opportunity.

And of course, they’re not wrong; America is a deeply unequal place, and many are excluded from opportunity. That needs to be remedied, and to be remedied it needs to be remembered, highlighted, and focused on. But at the same time, focusing exclusively on the areas in which American opportunity still lags — and punishing people who highlight the very real opportunity that still exists — does a disservice to all the people who were given a chance, who believed in this nation and who worked hard for their place in it.

Like, for example, many Hispanic Americans. They, or their parents or grandparents, worked damn hard to get to this country and succeed here; my bet is that they do not want to see the America they believed in and fought so hard for be yanked away by pious White liberals and replaced with a stifling spoils system.

Now, you might respond that this derogatory attitude toward the American Dream is confined to media outlets, shouty activists, and overzealous university administrators. But in this age of ubiquitous social media exposure, politicians don’t have the luxury of merely standing above the cultural fray — they have to actually address the things that it seems like “their side” is doing all over the country. And conservatives, for their part, are racing to take advantage of the situation, claiming that Biden’s programs are aimed at ending the American Dream. It’s all B.S., of course — Biden’s programs would enhance and strengthen the American Dream (I’ll write more on this in subsequent posts). But if woke pundits and clucking university admins are running all over the country denouncing the idea that the American Dream even exists, then there’s no one to push back on conservative alarmism.

If they want to make sure that the Hispanic trend toward the GOP remains a blip, Democrats need to start talking about the American Dream again. And more than that, they need to focus their policies on upward mobility for working-class and middle-class strivers. For example, despite income gains, Hispanics are still way behind in wealth and homeownership (which for the middle class are the same thing). Elizabeth Warren and Cecilia Rouse’s proposal for down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers living in traditionally segregated areas should be expanded to target low-income Americans in general, or people who grew up in low-income households — that will make sure it targets Hispanic as well as Black Americans, giving them a leg up into the middle class. Also, Biden’s call for free community college shouldn’t be tabled or left by the wayside, as this would be very targeted toward working-class Hispanic Americans climbing toward the middle class.

America isn’t a perfect land of opportunity by any means, but to immigrants and their children and grandchildren, it remains a beacon of hope. That’s the whole reason we take in immigrants in the first place. Liberals must not forget that.

2) Eric Levitz really good on Democrats and crime:

America’s distribution of violent death has changed little over the past seven years. But the sum total has risen considerably. In 2019, the U.S. murder rate was about 11 percent higher than it had been in 2014. We do not yet have an official body count for 2020. But preliminary data suggests that, across major cities, homicides rose by an average of 30 percent last year — and then jumped another 24 percent through the first few months of this one. If current estimates prove accurate, 2020 witnessed the largest single-year increase in homicides in U.S. history, and 2021 is on pace to see a jump an even higher jump.

Thus, the present homicide surge threatens to erode the left’s fragile progress toward a justice system worthy of that name. Already, the Democratic Party is seeking greater distance from radical police reform. And since frightened electorates are often reactionary ones, the rising salience of crime imperils the entire progressive project…

In isolation, almost all of these media criticisms are defensible. One can muster reasonable critiques of the framing of most articles about gun violence. America is not experiencing a “crime wave” (i.e., an across-the-board increase in all categories of crime) so much as a homicide surge in certain pockets of certain cities. A wide range of socially devastating activities are not coded as criminal because powerful interests benefit from them. And yet, as these plausible-if-overheated denunciations of homicide coverage proliferate on progressive social media, they send one fundamental, meta-message: The left is complacent about a large increase in the already exceptionally high rate of homicide victimization endured by the urban working class.

I think it’s both politically and morally imperative for progressives to disavow such complacency. The threat that public alarm over crime will trigger a punitive turn in policy is real. But the best way for the left to counter that threat is not to downplay concerns about rising murder rates, but rather to insist that such violence only underscores the necessity of progressive reform. That is not an easy argument to make in the U.S., but at the municipal level at least, we know that it can be a winning one.

3) David Epstein:

Misconception 4: Unless Sha’Carri was running for a bag of chips, weed wouldn’t have made her faster so it shouldn’t be banned. 

Honestly, even if she were running for a bag of chips, it would probably just make her think she was faster. Seriously, though, I sympathize with this argument. Personally, I do not think WADA should be testing for marijuana, and — as a year-round track fan — I would be thrilled to see Sha’Carri run in Tokyo. That said, even if everyone agreed that marijuana only makes you slower, (and they might), it could still be banned. 

First off, the WADA prohibited list is not sport-specific — with one exception that I know of. For the most part, a substance is either banned or not; it isn’t banned by sport. So let’s say a sedative is banned in archery or shooting, where athletes have used calming drugs to improve performance. Then it’s going to be banned in track, too, even if it wouldn’t help. The lone exception (that I know of) is for beta blockers, common prescription drugs that lower blood pressure and slow heart rate. Beta blockers are banned in archery and shooting, and a few other sports, presumably because of potential performance enhancement. (Shooters try to fire between heartbeats.)

Unlike, say, anabolic steroids, marijuana is only banned in competition, and a 2011 WADA paper gives the reasons why. In a nutshell, the paper claims that marijuana meets all three criteria of a prohibited substance — and it only needs to meet two to get on the list: 1) Health risk: impaired reaction time and decision making could endanger the athlete or other athletes. 2) Performance enhancement: the paper contends that studies and athlete interviews suggest it could help with some sports. (The paper mentions that marijuana dilates blood vessels and airways, which “could improve oxygenation.”) 3) Violates the spirit of sport: it’s illegal in most places, and hence doesn’t make for good role modeling for young people. 

The third criterion is plainly subjective. (And given that THC is only banned in competition, that criterion may not be carrying much weight.) The evidence for the other two, in my opinion, is extremely thin. If I were emperor of WADA, the agency would simplify testing more generally and would not be testing for marijuana. (Believe me, if I were WADA emperor, I’d have changed lots of things over the years.) Like any international body, WADA tends to be a slow-moving ship. But, to its credit, it removed CBD from the prohibited list in 2019, so perhaps THC will be reconsidered in the future. The 2011 paper did note that the issue is controversial, and knowledge on it is evolving. 

I was really looking forward to a showdown between Richardson and Fraser-Pryce. And I’m still holding out some consolation-prize hope. Richardson’s ban will end mid-Olympics, just before the 4×100-meter relay starts, so maybe we can still get a showdown in the relay.

4) We should be so much better about this:

When it came to coronavirus vaccination, the third time was the charm for Esther Jones, a dialysis nurse in rural Oregon. After two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine failed to jolt her immune system into producing antibodies, she sought out a third, this time the Moderna shot.

It worked. Blood tests revealed a reasonable antibody response, although lower than what would be detected in healthy people. She received a fourth dose last month in hopes of boosting the levels even more.

Ms. Jones, 45, had a kidney transplant in 2010. To prevent rejection of the organ, she has taken drugs that suppress the immune response ever since. She expected to have trouble responding to a coronavirus vaccine, and enrolled in one of the few studies so far to test the utility of a third dose in people with weak immune systems.

Since April, health care providers in France have routinely given a third dose of a two-dose vaccine to people with certain immune conditions. The number of organ transplant recipients who had antibodies increased to 68 percent four weeks after the third dose from 40 percent after the second dose, one team of French researchers recently reported.

The study in which Ms. Jones enrolled has turned up similar results in 30 organ transplant recipients who procured third doses on their own.

Being vulnerable to infection even after inoculation is “very scary and frustrating” for immunocompromised people, said Dr. Dorry Segev, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins University who led the study. “They have to continue to act unvaccinated until we figure out a way to give them better immunity.”

But in the United States, there is no concerted effort by federal agencies or vaccine manufacturers to test this approach, leaving people with low immunity with more questions than answers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health in fact recommend even against testing to find out who is protected. And academic scientists are stymied by the rules that limit access to the vaccines.

5) Persuasion on what we got right and wrong about Covid

VP: Another great failure is that we didn’t learn a lot. We did so many different interventions, but we didn’t actually study many of them. For example, there are still questions about how much to wear masks, and under what circumstances. We don’t know much more about that than when the pandemic began.

The other kind of failure is the cultural failure, which I view as several interlocking things. One is when you have a very polarizing political figure making statements, some of the response from the public health community was to oppose the polarizing figure because he’s polarizing, not necessarily because what he says is always wrong. As bad as Trump is, as much as I personally disliked him, he was probably right on opening schools.

I think the social media environment was an abject failure. If you had the same pandemic without social media, you would have naturally, I think, had a consensus towards centrist risk reduction—a harm reduction philosophy. But in the era of social media, it’s so easily skewed into two diametric policy positions, both unhelpful. One [extreme] was that the virus doesn’t exist, or “it’s just the flu, bro”—a totally bizarre and farcical view. And the other extreme was, all you needed to do to exterminate the virus was for everyone to be a good person and wear their N-95 mask for four weeks and we get to zero COVID.

The last thing I would say is sort of a core failure is Zoom. I think many people think Zoom is what liberated us—were it not for Zoom, how bad would this pandemic have been? But my counterfactual is different. Zoom allowed a lot of upper-middle-class white-collar people the ability to work and make money and not lose their jobs, and to exclude themselves from society. That fundamentally changed the pandemic. If you went back 15 years ago, and you didn’t have Zoom, you would be facing unprecedented layoffs of wealthy, upper-middle-class people. I think a lot of businesses would have had staggered schedules and improved ventilation. Schools would have pushed to reopen. Amazon Prime and Zoom and all these things in our lives allowed a certain class of people to be spared the pains of COVID-19, taking them out of the game, and making them silent on many of the issues that affected other communities.

6) James Lang on digital versus print reading and what it means for college students:

You can find different angles of that story in two recent books, both of which I highly recommend for faculty members who assign readings (which means almost all of us). Both books analyze the differences between print and digital reading:

  • How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio, by Naomi S. Baron, was published in March by Oxford University Press.
  • Skim, Dive, Surface: Teaching Digital Reading, by Jenae Cohn, appeared in June from West Virginia University Press. (Full disclosure: Cohn’s book is part of a teaching-and-learning series that I edit for the press.)

What the research showsBaron’s book provides a straightforward overview of a growing body of scholarship that explores both how students learn from different types of “texts” (including audio) and how they prefer to read. That research tells a story that educators should consider as they select or create readings for their courses.

That finding seems to be especially true for longer texts and for narrative-based reading, but Baron reports that, in most studies in this area, print is superior to digital reading for learning purposes. In some contexts, the research shows little or no difference between digital and print, but in almost no cases did digital reading prove the better option for learning.

This one is tough.  E-books and on-line reading save students a ton of money.  I also like that the profits from ebooks are captured by those who created the intellectual property, not re-sellers.

7) Great stuff from Bernstein on the ongoing deleterious influence of Trump on Republican politics:

Where to start? Usually, when a president loses re-election, his party quickly moves on. Republicans in 1992 and Democrats in 1980 thanked George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter for their service and then ignored them. Donald Trump never fell to the popularity lows of either of those one-termers and didn’t lose re-election by margins comparable to theirs, but then again he never had the periods of solid popularity that they had — or an initial impressive win. Trump is popular among Republicans, but that’s less of an accomplishment than it seems. Most partisan voters like most of their party’s politicians! Republicans could have moved on, during a period where the danger in doing so was as low as it’s likely to be, and they chose not to.

Part of the reason was that Trump didn’t act like Bush, Carter or any other former president. Not only is he whining nonstop about his usual grievances, and adding false claims about fraud in the 2020 election, but he’s pressuring candidates up and down the Republican Party to go along with his increasingly anti-democratic rants.

Among other things, this has meant that Republicans have lost a made-to-order opportunity supplied by the Jan. 6 attack. Mainstream Republicans could have looked good by consistently condemning the attack, thereby distancing themselves from organized hate groups involved in the event. Instead, they’re stuck defending the indefensible and making it a major part of Republican messaging, while allowing their leading voices to be … well, let’s call them the high-profile Republicans least likely to appeal to swing voters.

This is most important in its effect on readying the party to govern when it next gets a chance at the national level, and to some extent it’s making governing at the state level more and more difficult. The Republican agenda right now is a combination of three things: Opposition to whatever President Joe Biden and the Democrats propose; support for whatever Fox News Channel’s product of the month happens to be; support for whatever incoherent and self-serving whims come out of Trump’s mouth.

This is barely a formula for making the strongest supporters happy. It’s certainly no way to build a policy agenda. What has been a problem for the party for several years, especially at the national level, is only getting worse…

One is about candidates. We’ve seen Republicans lose elections they could have won by nominating fringe candidates. It’s still unlikely, but certainly possible, that they could wind up with another round of that in 2022 and 2024 — or that otherwise generic or better candidates could turn themselves into fringers by spending more effort trying to impress Trump than appealing to actual voters. Trump’s nomination endorsements are a key wild card. At times they’ve seemed strategic, with Trump picking good general-election candidates and backing ones who were going to win anyway. But at times he’s seemed arbitrary, choosing the best flatterer or otherwise undermining the party’s interests.

The other risk is that the party could wind up incapable of running a regular campaign because its feels obliged to follow whatever Trump says, rather than what’s popular in their districts — that at worst, Republicans run on contesting the 2020 election. Perhaps that still would make little difference, and Biden’s popularity will be more important than whatever the out-party says. We can’t be sure that evidence from previous elections applies, because nothing like that has ever happened.

8) Chait on Trump supporters and racism:

Kaufmann’s proposal is more audacious: He wants the government to step in. “Employers should not be permitted to fire employees for legally protected speech unless the firing is justified by the core aims of the organization and authorized in an employee’s contract,” he suggests. Also, “publicly funded organizations would be required to be politically neutral in their communications and operations except on matters directly pertinent to organizational aims.”

Conservatives normally take a highly skeptical view of extending government authority into such prerogatives as an employer deciding whom to hire and fire. Kaufmann argues that this robust new government authority will merely be used to enforce “neutrality,” not to coerce institutions into becoming active supporters of the Republican agenda. Putting aside the difficult, if not impossible, task of designing and enforcing workable rules to this end, the goal of politically neutral spaces that permit political disagreement is sympathetic…

If Trump supporters don’t want to be seen as racist, one easy remedy would be to stop supporting a politician who utters slurs — like saying Ilhan Omar has no business critiquing American policy because “her country” is a mess — so routinely that it no longer even rates press coverage. But somehow, the problem of Trump fans being seen as racist is a crisis enormous enough to justify the creation of vast new government powers, but not large enough to justify steps like “let’s stop supporting a huge racist.” [emphasis mine]

A related, somewhat more longstanding stigma attached to conservatives in elite spaces is their hostility to science and empiricism, which have become more significant cultural barriers between conservatives and business in the age of Moneyball and big data. Trump has deepened that association: If you support a candidate whose stream of cartoonishly transparent lies practically screams that he doesn’t want or need any thinking person’s vote, whose fault is that?

The cultural stigma attached to right-wing thought isn’t purely due to Trump; an enthusiastic George W. Bush fan might have had a bit more trouble getting hired or moving up the ranks at a hip software company, not to mention a prestigious tenure-track job. But the choice to make “Republican” a useful heuristic for “meathead ideologue who refuses to accept evidence” was not made by liberals. Conservatives spent decades insisting the mainstream news media, government bureaucracy, and academia were hopelessly biased, and built their own counter-establishment to affirm their belief that climate change is fake, tax hikes always reduce revenue, and so on. Now that they’ve spent generations mocking pencil-necked nerds, they realize the nerds run a lot of institutions they would like to join, after all.

9) TNR on death of Friedmanonmics

South Africa, he warned, should avoid the example of the United States, which since 1929 had allowed political democracy to steadily encroach on the domain of the “economic market,” resulting in “a drastic restriction in economic, personal, and political freedom.”

The idea that America experienced an erosion of political liberty amid the destruction of Jim Crow is simply impossible to take seriously. Between 1929 and 1976, in addition to the advances in civil rights, explicitly racist immigration quotas were eliminated, prohibition was repealed, and legal barriers to birth control were abolished, as poverty rates plunged across demographic groups and American income inequality reached the lowest levels on record. And yet, as he toured South Africa, Friedman did not retreat from his conviction that the state had dealt a perilous blow to American freedom. In a conversation with the courageous anti-apartheid politician Helen Suzman, Friedman expressed his belief that “a laissez-faire economic policy” was “the only way in which you could get a multiracial community going” in South Africa. And the free market had to be insulated from democratic pressure. The burgeoning activist movement to “urge all foreign enterprises to boycott investment in South Africa,” Friedman believed, would ultimately serve to “hurt the Blacks, not to help them.”

Friedman did not subscribe to biological theories of racial inferiority. His time in South Africa does not instruct us on his moral character or any unique failures of political judgment. It offers instead a window into the deepest currents of his intellectual contributions. The program Friedman prescribed for apartheid South Africa in 1976 was essentially the same agenda he called for in America over his entire career as a public intellectual—unrestrained commerce as a cure-all for inequality and unrest.

That this prescription found political purchase with the American right in the 1960s is not a surprise. Friedman’s opposition to state power during an era of liberal reform offered conservatives an intellectual justification to defend the old order. What remains remarkable is the extent to which the Democratic Party—Friedman’s lifelong political adversary—came to embrace core tenets of Friedmanism. When Friedman passed away in 2006, Larry Summers, who had advised Bill Clinton and would soon do the same for Barack Obama, acknowledged the success of Friedman’s attack on the very legitimacy of public power within his own party. “Any honest Democrat will admit that we are now all Friedmanites,” he declared in The New York Times.

But the real turn is not about deficits or spending levels. It is the relationship between economic policy and democracy itself. For Friedman, liberty lived in the marketplace, rendering government a necessary evil under the best of circumstances. Today’s Democrats, by contrast, have reclaimed state power as an essential component of self-government. When he laid out his agenda in April, Biden declared “it’s time to remember that ‘We the People’ are the government—you and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force that we have no control over. It’s us.”

The new consensus on Friedman’s work among economists has essentially reversed Summers’s verdict from 2006. “Almost nothing remains of his intellectual legacy,” according to Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs. “It has proven to be a disastrous misdirection for the world’s economies.”

In 2021, 15 years after his body gave out, Milton Friedman is finally dead…

Much of Friedman’s political relevance within the Republican Party derived from his willingness to defend conservative policies on race during the 1950s and 1960s. “Missing from most analyses of Friedman’s economic thought is the inseparable role of race,” said Darrick Hamilton, the director of the New School’s Institute on Race and Political Economy. “The racialization of poverty and ideas about those who are deserving and undeserving allows us to have a system without empathy where those in despair are treated as surplus populations.” …

“The Role of Government in Education” marks the earliest appearance of what remains Friedman’s most damaging belief—the idea that bigotry and violence could be forced out of public life by the magic of the market. Friedman would insist on this basic proposition again and again throughout his career. In 1972, he would go so far as to suggest that the free market could have put a stop to the war in Vietnam if people had really wanted it to end. Enough chemists would have refused to make napalm that the cost of producing the explosive would have become prohibitively high. This was the appropriate way to stop a war—not the crude “voting mechanism” of “the political system.”…

Friedman wrote: “The man who objects to buying from or working alongside a Negro, for example, thereby limits his range of choice. He will generally have to pay a higher price for what he buys or receive a lower return for his work. Or, put the other way, those of us who regard color of skin or religion as irrelevant can buy some things more cheaply as a result.” The relentless logic of the market would drive such inefficiency from public life.

Of course, the voters who backed Goldwater in 1964 didn’t believe a word of that. They supported Goldwater because they believed he would maintain the Jim Crow order, not because they expected economic freedom to unleash a wave of radical egalitarian social change across the South. This was clear to conservative political commentators during the campaign. As Robert Novak wrote (with his partner Rowland Evans) for The Washington Post in June 1963, “These Republicans want to unmistakably establish the Party of Lincoln as the white man’s party.”…

And few serious economists today accept Friedman’s hard divide between economic fact and political reality. “Friedman developed a fantasy land of theory that ignored the way economic power can be used to capture elements of the political system to generate additional economic gains for those at the top,” said the New School’s Hamilton.

This vicious cycle has been degrading American democracy for decades. Joe Biden is the first president to desecrate not only the tenets of Friedman’s economic ideas, but the anti-democratic implications of his entire philosophy. He is also the first Democratic president since the 1960s who has formulated and publicly endorsed a coherent defense of American government as an expression of democratic energy. It is a powerful vision that enjoys the support of a large majority of American citizens. He has nothing to fear but Friedman himself.

10) More Noah Smith on the Economics profession:

There’s a sort of popular myth that economics began with Adam Smith’s declaration that the “invisible hand” of the market would lead to a good society. In fact, while Smith did recognize the importance of market forces and self-interest, his vision of a good society didn’t stop there. Here are some Adam Smith quotes:

  1. “Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains.”

  2. “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

  3. “No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which by far the greater part of the numbers are poor and miserable.”

  4. “Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.”

  5. “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

And so on. Adam Smith decries the existence of inequality and poverty, blames property rights for this inequality, advocates progressive taxation as a remedy, and is innately suspicious of profit. He sounds more like Thomas Piketty than Milton Friedman…

It turns out that the “economics” most people interface with is not even mainstream academic economics. It’s a pop version of conservative ideology, broadcast by a network of well-funded partisan think tanks, right-leaning publications, and TV hucksters. So-called “supply-side economists” were often not even trained economists, but political columnists and commentators like Larry Kudlow and Jude Wanniski.

This process is well-described in James Kwak’s excellent book Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality. I encourage you to read that book. What the various hucksters did was to describe their political positions using the language of economics, without much (any?) support from actual economics research. Academics who knew this was a lot of hot air tended to stay in the ivory tower, not speaking out. So the public’s perception of “economics” became dominated by the media motormouths.

Looking at where Carr is getting his impression of the econ profession, it turns out he’s getting it from…pop economics!

Now, to be fair, the Economist has moved strongly in a pro-government-intervention direction in recent years, and Russ Roberts has evolved in this direction as well. But when you’re getting your idea of what economics is from the pages of the Wall Street Journal, you’re not getting any sort of accurate picture of what economics actually says.

And that’s a problem…

In recent decades, three huge and important changes have happened in the economics profession. All of these changes work against both the free-market wave of the 70s and 80s and the rise of well-funded “economism” in the public sphere.

First, the profession has become much more empirical.

Whether or not something works in theory is less important now than whether it works in practice. Papers still have theory sections, but they’re more phenomenological — proposed explanations for observed phenomena, rather than a mathed-up form of philosophy. Meanwhile, new econometric methods relying on quasi-experiments are rapidly becoming dominant.

The empirical turn means that economists are more open to being persuaded by the evidence…

Meanwhile, young high-profile economists tend to be champions of government intervention and foes of inequality.

This leftward shift of economic ideas parallels the overall leftward shift among the public — the age of Reagan and Thatcher is over, and the shortcomings of the free-market revolt have made themselves painfully apparent. Economists aren’t pushed around by popular opinion, but nor are they blind to events in the real world.

In any case, this hopefully clears up why Carr’s stereotype of the economics profession is — happily — a misconception. Econ did go through a phase where many of its most outspoken leaders and a coterie of loosely affiliated political pundits were dedicated to promoting the cause of government inaction. That phase has now been over for a while.

The obsession with microaggressions is a perfect example of the desperate need for materialism in racial politics. Yes, it’s unfortunate if people say or do things that subtly indicate racial superiority or otherwise embody imperfect racial attitudes, such as making oblique references to stereotypes. But human beings have profoundly limited control over their minute social interactions. (Among other things, we literally do not choose the things we say.) Policy cannot effectively stop microaggressions, even if we implemented heavy-handed laws to attempt to do so, and I certainly hope we won’t. Meanwhile a mile or two from me a bunch of Black children live in Brownsville in environmentally unhealthy housing, go hungry every night, and are regularly exposed to violence and crime. The notion that we should spend so much time talking about microaggressions and so little talking how to improve the conditions of those children can only happen when the racial discourse has been hijacked by a bunch of cossetted affluent college-educated journalists and academics who are as far removed from Brownsville as they are from Mars, whatever their race. And this is another key element of materialist approaches to race: recognizing that we in fact have limited political and social and argumentative resources, that we must prioritize, that we will never achieve a perfect racial environment and that our efforts to do so are counterproductive. We have to decide what comes first, and what should come first is making sure people are safe, fed, housed, clothed, educated, and cared for. After that we can worry more about being nice to each other…

It would take a long time to sketch out a materialist antiracist policy agenda. But in the broadest strokes, it would be a redistributive agenda, one that seeks to redistribute both money and power to Black people. Given the reality of political life in a country with a significant white majority and a dominant white hold on power, these programs would rarely be explicitly announced as pro-Black as such. But because of the distribution of material need in contemporary America, if they redistributed money from rich to poor they would inevitably redistribute money from white to Black. Would gradually bringing Black income and wealth and incarceration rates and similar comparable to white suddenly eliminate racism, or make life easy for Black people? Of course not. But a richer Black America is a Black America with far greater ability to secure their own material interests, so that they no longer have to worry about the good will of white people. And that’s the ultimate goal: not just Black wellbeing but Black autonomy. I don’t want a world where white people generally have positive feelings towards Black people. I want a world where white people’s feelings towards Black people don’t matter.

11) So, I’m a complete convert on the “it’s all bout the calories in” take (Burn is an amazing book, full post on it when I’m done), but, this study on the benefits of resistance training has me intrigued.  

Weight lifting, however, changed those outcomes, the researchers found, substantially lowering the risk that someone would become obese, by any measure. Men and women who reported strengthening their muscles a few times a week, for a weekly total of one to two hours, were about 20 percent less likely to become obese over the years, based on B.M.I., and about 30 percent less likely, based on waist circumference or body-fat percentage.

The benefits remained when the researchers controlled for age, sex, smoking, general health and aerobic exercise. People who worked out aerobically and lifted weights were much less likely to become obese. But so were those who lifted almost exclusively and reported little, if any, aerobic exercise.

The results suggest that “you can get a lot of benefit from even a little” weight training, says Angelique Brellenthin, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State, who led the new study.

Of course, the study was observational and does not prove that resistance training prevents weight gain, only that they are linked. It also did not consider people’s diets, genetics or health attitudes, any of which could affect obesity risk.

Perhaps most important, it does not tell us how muscle strengthening influences weight, although it is likely that resistance training builds and maintains muscle mass, Dr. Brellenthin says. A metabolically active tissue, muscle burns calories and slightly increases our metabolic rate. Interestingly, the desirable effect of adding muscle mass may also explain why fewer lifters avoided obesity when the researchers used B.M.I. as a measure. B.M.I. does not differentiate muscle from fat, Dr. Brellenthin points out. If you add muscle with weight training, your B.M.I. can rise.

Still, the primary message of the study is that some weight training likely helps, over time, with weight control. “So, my advice would be to fit in a few body weight exercises before or after your usual daily walk,” Dr. Brellenthin suggests. Or join a gym or an online class. Or try one of Well’s easy, at-home resistance-training routines, like the 7-Minute Standing Workout.
 

12) I haven’t watched “Luca” yet, but I enjoyed reading this, “Pixar’s latest film deftly features a character born without an arm. Here’s how a director of “Crip Camp” came to consult on the project.”  One thing I always loved about breaking bad was that Walter Jr was a character that happened to have cerebral palsy, but it didn’t define him.  

13) Brian Beutler:

④ A TOO CONVENIENT TRUTH

 

When I started in this business in the mid-aughts, blogs were all the rage, and the liberal blogosphere flourished on the premise that the ultimate purpose of politics should be to improve people’s lives through the enactment and implementation of good policy. That insight was correct and decent, and holds true all these many years later. It’s why Biden’s infrastructure agenda matters! But some of the same wonky minds ultimately convinced themselves that the inverse is also true; that the hidden upshot of good policy is that it makes for great politics. 

This should have struck these very smart people as suspiciously convenient. If it were true as a rule, we might expect that the passage of the American Rescue Plan, one of the most popular and consequential kitchen-table policies in history, had made Democrats politically bulletproof. In reality, it had no discernible impact on Biden’s popularity whatsoever.

And if you think about it for more than just a second, you realize it’d be a huge coincidence if both of these things happened to be right. The end goal of politics could after all be many things: the common good, liberty, group dominance, scientific innovation. The wonkosphere formed around one I agree with: the common good. But the other question—what’s the ideal politics for building power to advance political end goals?—is separate, and you could answer in many ways: divide and conquer, conciliation, pandering to the fevered imaginations of swing voters, technocratic excellence in pursuit of the common good. The wonks quite conspicuously decided that their calling in life also happened to be self-actualizing. It’s not impossible to imagine that being the case, but it is improbable. The kind of tidy theory one arrives at through motivated reasoning: both the means and the ends of politics happen to be the same things that bring me professional and intellectual satisfaction.

In the face of this belief, election after election has come and gone, and few if any have turned on the substantive policies that came into existence over the preceding two years, or that the candidates in those elections promised to support going forward. More often they turned on whose passions had been stirred the most. So ask yourself, which is the more galvanizing appeal: 1. The other side (sotto voce: which stole the last election and murdered the hero who could have stopped them) seeks to control your lives, and the life of the American mind, or 2. We passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill with those people!

Unless Dems swap out option 2 for something a little more responsive to the passions of the moment, I think I know the answer. The election won’t be about both of these things. One or the other will take hold. And what’s at stake is whether a major U.S. political party can turn their countrymen into cannon fodder for a deadly virus, embrace an attempted coup…and win.

14) Michael Pollan, “The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine?”  Honestly, I’m pretty confident I actually could if it didn’t mean having to give up diet sodas (seriously, if there were caffeine-free diet sodas in restaurants, I could pull this off).

An English neuroscientist on the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, Walker, author of Why We Sleep, is single-minded in his mission: to alert the world to an invisible public-health crisis, which is that we are not getting nearly enough sleep, the sleep we are getting is ofpoor quality, and a principal culprit in this crime against body and mind is caffeine. Caffeine itself might not be bad for you, but the sleep it’s stealing from you may have a price. According to Walker, research suggests that insufficient sleep may be a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, stroke, heart failure, depression, anxiety, suicide and obesity. “The shorter you sleep,” he bluntly concludes, “the shorter your lifespan.”

Walker grew up in England drinking copious amounts of black tea, morning, noon and night. He no longer consumes caffeine, save for the small amounts in his occasional cup of decaf. In fact, none of the sleep researchers or experts on circadian rhythms I interviewed for this story use caffeine.

Walker explained that, for most people, the “quarter life” of caffeine is usually about 12 hours, meaning that 25% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee consumed at noon is still circulating in your brain when you go to bed at midnight. That could well be enough to completely wreck your deep sleep.

I thought of myself as a pretty good sleeper before I met Walker. At lunch he probed me about my sleep habits. I told him I usually get a solid seven hours, fall asleep easily, dream most nights.

“How many times a night do you wake up?” he asked. I’m up three or four times a night (usually to pee), but I almost always fall right back to sleep.

He nodded gravely. “That’s really not good, all those interruptions. Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity.” The interruptions were undermining the amount of “deep” or “slow wave” sleep I was getting, something above and beyond the REM sleep I had always thought was the measure of a good night’s rest. But it seems that deep sleep is just as important to our health, and the amount we get tends to decline with age.

Caffeine is not the sole cause of our sleep crisis; screens, alcohol (which is as hard on REM sleep as caffeine is on deep sleep), pharmaceuticals, work schedules, noise and light pollution, and anxiety can all play a role in undermining both the duration and quality of our sleep. But here’s what’s uniquely insidious about caffeine: the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates.

15) We should be using more heat pumps to save energy.  That’s been my home heating source since I moved to NC in 2002.  

16) In honor of lots of Euro 2020 watching, I liked this from 2020, “5 Rule Changes That Could Improve World Football.”  And, honestly, penalty shootouts to decide games are dramatic, yes, but I absolutely loathe them.  And, as I’ve written here before, I think the penalty kick rule is also extremely problematic.  

17) I was recently discussing with BB the fact that I suspect that we are, on average, pretty awful at accurately assessing the quality of soccer goalkeepers.  There’s just so few shots in a typical game where the goalkeeper makes the difference as to whether a goal is scored or not (probably a mode of 0).  Thus, I’m intrigued by this analysis suggesting an MLS goalkeeper is the league’s most valuable player, but I’m far from convinced.   

Quick hits (part II)

1) Lots of new interesting analysis of the 2020 election past week.  Nice summary in the NYT: “Biden Gained With Moderate and Conservative Voting Groups, New Data Shows: President Biden cut into Donald Trump’s margins with married men and veteran households, a Pew survey shows. But there was a far deeper well of support for Mr. Trump than many progressives had imagined.”

2) I used to be a pretty big tennis fan way back when.  Hardly at all anymore.  Very thorough and interesting NYT piece on the off-the-court troubles with tennis and the economic issues, in particular.  I was particularly intrigued by the hockey comparison.

What especially bothered him, though, was a sense that the A.T.P. was failing at its most basic duty: to promote the interest of the players. “There’s no way that tennis shouldn’t have 300 players making decent livings,” he said. Pospisil was acutely aware of how much better middle-of-the-pack athletes in other sports had it. The N.H.L. was his reference point: The league had roughly 700 players and, in 2019, a guaranteed minimum salary of $700,000. More than half the players were earning more than $1 million per year. Coaching and travel were free, as was health care, and players were paid even when they were out with injuries, which was not the case in tennis.

Pospisil recognized that a team sport could offer benefits that an individual sport could not. “Tennis is its own animal,” he said. But the share of revenue that the players received from the tournaments — around 17.5 percent across the two tours and the four majors — struck him as inexcusably low. Players were the ones pulling in the fans and driving the revenue, and in his view, they were being exploited. And when he thought about why the 300th-best hockey player was making seven figures while Chris O’Connell, the 139th-best tennis player, was barely solvent, the answer was self-evident. It wasn’t because N.H.L. team owners were inordinately generous; it was because N.H.L. players had a union and tennis players did not. “It was a logical conclusion,” Pospisil said.

3) Okay, I haven’t actually watched this NYT video of January 6, but a lot of people I trust swear by it.  I am going to watch this week.

4) In search of another short comedy to mix in with my evening TV viewing I finally gave “Rick and Morty” a try after HBO Max dubbed it Rick and Morty day a few weeks ago.  I must say, I’m loving it and really glad I finally gave it a chance (after hearing good things about it for years).

5) Really liked this conversation on happiness between Yascha Mounk and Arthur Brooks:

Mounk: How do I analyze the parts of my life where I’m not as happy as I could be? How do I come up with a plan?

Brooks: When it comes to satisfaction, we’ve already talked about strategies: the chipping-away exercise by managing your wants, and trying to practice intention without attachment where you have audacious goals. All of these are very concrete strategies. But it starts with a diagnosis of your life. There are four dishes that you think are the dishes of happiness: money, power, pleasure, and fame. Those are the wrong dishes. The right dishes are faith, family, friendship, and work. 

When I say “faith,” I don’t mean a traditional religious faith, necessarily. You don’t need my faith. You need something that is more transcendent than the boring TV program, something that zooms you out from your own individual life. It gives you the adventure of the transcendent. [Another] dimension is family, the ties that bind kin. Never make the stupid error of not talking to a family member because of politics. One in six Americans, by the way, is doing that right now. And then there’s friendship. Vivek Murthy, our wonderful surgeon general, talks about the epidemic of loneliness. It’s the most important avoidable problem that we have in public health today, he believes. And one of the reasons is that people actually are getting more and more incompetent at romantic love and are denying themselves the psychological nutrition of friendship. And then the last [dimension that people] don’t understand is that you’ve got to have two parts of work, which is earning your success and believing that you’re serving other people. 

Mounk: Let’s talk about friendship for a moment. [There is a] difference between how I see friendship in Europe and how I see it in the United States. Friendship in Europe is an obligation: It’s a natural element of friendship that you do each other favors. If you’re sick at 3 a.m., you can ask a friend to go run to the pharmacy for you, and there’s nothing strange about that. 

It seems to me that in the United States, often friendship is much more modular: “We both have some free time, let’s go grab a beer together.” The implied mutual obligation isn’t part of a social contract of friendship to the same extent. Obviously, you choose your friends. But it seems to me that there are meaningful friendships which at some point take on a kind of givenness: You’ve been friends for so long, you’ve been friends in such a close way, that it acquires [some of the characteristics of] a familial relationship. And even if your friend is no longer the person whom you would choose to make friends with, or if your life circumstances start to diverge, there is a kind of imperative, which gives you satisfaction and purpose in life, to [maintain] those links. 

6) Not sure if we’ll get improved laws on exotic pets in NC or not due to the zebra cobra episode.  But, we just might and I’ll be using this example when I talk about agenda setting and policy change for a long time.  

7) So, the local Catholic parish I used to belong to is bringing in as a speaker the author of this book, “Slaying Dragons: What Exorcists See & What We Should Know.”  What we should know includes that yoga and Harry Potter are both tools of the devil.  Not sorry that’s no longer my parish.  Wow.  

8) Good stuff from Ed Yong on Delta:

1. The vaccines are still beating the variants.

The vaccines have always had to contend with variants: The Alpha variant (also known as B.1.1.7) was already spreading around the world when the first COVID-19 vaccination campaigns began. And in real-world tests, they have consistently lived up to their extraordinary promise. The vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reduce the risk of symptomatic infections by more than 90 percent, as does the still-unauthorized one from Novavax. Better still, the available vaccines slash the odds that infected people will spread the virus onward by at least half and likely more. In the rare cases that the virus breaks through, infections are generally milder, shorter, and lower in viral load. As of June 21, the CDC reported just 3,907 hospitalizations among fully vaccinated people and just 750 deaths…

2. The variants are pummeling unvaccinated people.

Vaccinated people are safer than ever despite the variants. But unvaccinated people are in more danger than ever because of the variants. Even though they’ll gain some protection from the immunity of others, they also tend to cluster socially and geographically, seeding outbreaks even within highly vaccinated communities.

The U.K., where half the population is fully vaccinated, “can be a cautionary tale,” Hanage told me. Since Delta’s ascendancy, the country’s cases have increased sixfold. Long-COVID cases will likely follow. Hospitalizations have almost doubled. That’s not a sign that the vaccines are failing. It is a sign that even highly vaccinated countries host plenty of vulnerable people…

3. The longer Principle No. 2 continues, the less likely No. 1 will hold.

Whenever a virus infects a new host, it makes copies of itself, with small genetic differences—mutations—that distinguish the new viruses from their parents. As an epidemic widens, so does the range of mutations, and viruses that carry advantageous ones that allow them to, for example, spread more easily or slip past the immune system to outcompete their standard predecessors. That’s how we got super-transmissible variants like Alpha and Delta. And it’s how we might eventually face variants that can truly infect even vaccinated people.

None of the scientists I talked with knows when that might occur, but they agree that the odds shorten as the pandemic lengthens. “We have to assume that’s going to happen,” Gupta told me. “The more infections are permitted, the more probable immune escape becomes.”

9) It’s easy to forget we’re still imprisoning people at Gitmo.  This is good, “I was a prosecutor at Guantánamo. Close the prison now.”

I was one of the prosecutors for the only two litigated U.S. military tribunals since Nuremberg. These were the trials of Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who were among those detained at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base after the attacks of 9/11. While it’s been 12 years since I served in Guantánamo, and the number of detainees has dropped dramatically, the realities that must be faced for trials to proceed haven’t changed. Military tribunals are sometimes a necessary consequence of war, but to drag the judicial process out for this long — up to nearly 20 years — is absurd and un-American. It’s an abandonment of our commitment to rule of law and what we consider to be fair jurisprudence.

My entire experience at Guantánamo was a rude awakening. I believed in the system after the first failed effort at prosecuting alleged terrorists was repaired in the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, where the court acknowledged the unconstitutionality of the process. I thought our pursuit of justicecould be fair and impartial, and an example to the world. I was wrong. Everything I saw and experienced while serving in that assignment convinced me of that. Nothing I’ve observed since has changed my mind.
 

10) This… “Why You Still Might Want to Have a Home Covid Test on Hand: At-home rapid Covid-19 tests can offer unique benefits for weddings, parties, travel or for households with children or at-risk adults.”

11) Drum with some pushback on the “sky is falling” takes on democracy (like those I shared):

The New York Times, echoing the views of most liberals, says the Supreme Court is dismantling democracy piece by piece:

The latest blow came Thursday, when all six conservative justices voted to uphold two Arizona voting laws despite lower federal courts finding clear evidence that the laws make voting harder for voters of color — whether Black, Latino or Native American. One law requires election officials to throw out ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct; the other bars most people and groups from collecting voters’ absentee ballots and dropping them off at polling places.

This is starting to piss me off. Maybe the Supreme Court is bound and determined to take apart our voting laws no matter what, but the truth is that yesterday’s ruling can be laid directly at the feet of liberals. This was just a stupid case to bring. You can’t make a serious argument that there’s anything really wrong with either a ban on ballot harvesting or with requiring voters to cast ballots in the right precinct.

More generally, this kind of stuff, along with voter ID laws, is popular with the public, and this has nothing to do with the alleged existence of voter fraud. Even if there’s no fraud, the average Joe and Jane think ID laws make sense and are untroubled by common sense rules like being required to vote in the right precinct. Liberals will get nowhere by going after this stuff.

What’s more, none of it matters. The actual effect of these rules on Black and Hispanic voter turnout turns out to be minuscule. It is a waste of time—maybe worse than just a waste of time—to yell and scream about these kinds of laws.

What really is bad are provisions of these laws that allow Republican legislatures to replace election officials they deem insufficiently loyal to the Republican cause. If you talk to moderate voters, they’ll be shocked if you tell them about this. They’ll agree that these provisions are outrageous.

So why do we spend so much time protesting the stuff that doesn’t matter (and is popular) and so little time protesting the stuff that does matter (and is unpopular)? It is a vast mystery. And like I said, it’s really starting to piss me off. If democracy is truly at stake here, wouldn’t it make sense to be at least a little smart about trying to save it?

12) I follow a few of the “Intellectual Dark Web” types on twitter and they’re obsession with Ivermectin to treat Covid is just nuts.  Interesting to me that many of these people started out with reasonable complaints about cancel culture and wokeness and just end up off the cliff in conspiratorial nuttiness.  

13) I love the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes.  The following statements is completely ordinary for those into sports analytics, but it seems like you never see someone from the front office of a sports franchise say something like this:

Q: You want to win a Stanley Cup. What’s missing, what’s needed?

A: “I think we have to stay competitive, stay in the top percentage of the league every year. You hope that at some point you get the right thing to happen at the right time. Once you get into a playoff format with a small sample size, more random things have a bigger impact on the outcome. During the regular season, assuming you’re healthy, the better teams tend to make the playoffs. But once you’re in the playoffs it’s such a short series that the outcome is less about how good you are (in the regular season) but more how good you are and what happens in that exact moment. So we have to be there enough times with good players and good coaches and I think eventually we’ll get on the right run we need to win.”

14) The rule of law is so much more important than any one guilty person being punished.  And that’s why Bill Cosby was released. It’s really hard for Ian Milhiser to make this claim for his Vox audience, so he derides the decision every way he can, but does come down on this ultimate truth of our legal system.  

15) This was fascinating to me.  Apparently the writing is on the wall for Northern Ireland to cease to be.

16) Love this story! “Two women chatted in a bathroom. They soon realized they were each a match for the other’s husband, who needed a kidney.”

17) This was a really powerful essay. “I Am Breaking My Silence About the Baseball Player Who Raped Me”

Quick hits (part I)

1)Aaron Carroll is all about the coming vaccine mandates.  But it will a lot easier if the FDA actually gets its butt in gear on this.  

The U.S. experience with diseases for which vaccination isn’t mandated is also instructional: In those cases, vaccination rates have remained much lower than desired. The human papillomavirus vaccine approved in the United States, for example, protects against an extremely widespread and often asymptomatic sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cancer. Despite calls to mandate HPV vaccination, it is required for school only in a few states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico and has never been mandated outside the school environment, where it would do more good.

Although the vaccine was approved in 2006, only about half of teens are currently covered. What’s worse, only 22 percent of 18- to 26-year-olds, who are most at risk for infection, are fully vaccinated. Influenza vaccination is another that has rarely been mandated, and the United States has never achieved anywhere near the rates of protection that health experts would like, even during pandemics…

When vaccination is the default, most people will get vaccinated. Mandates still aren’t popular; few public health measures are. But they work.

2) This seems about right from Jeffrey Sachs, “Laws Aimed at Banning Critical Race Theory in K-12 Schools Are a Poorly Written, Misguided Mess: Even if you agree with the intention, these laws are a mistake.”  That seems pretty obvious and you should read it. My favorite part was his caveat:

It’s tempting to stop here. But instead, let me offer a concession to anti-CRT activists, as well as perhaps a few suggestions.

First, critics of CRT pedagogy (or whatever you wish to call it) have a legitimate gripe. There are real episodes where public school teachers have crossed the line. In Cupertino, third graders were instructed by their teacher to create an “identity map” with their race, ethnicity, and so forth, and then mark which of their identities “holds power and privilege.” An Oklahoma high school teacher told his students that “to be white is to be racist, period.” And at a public charter school in Las Vegas, students were taught that white, male, Christian, and heterosexual identities are inherently oppressive.

No one knows how common or representative these episodes are, but they’re real.

And that’s a problem. I am a parent. My daughter hasn’t begun grade school yet, but needless to say, I do not want her to feel guilt or shame on account of her racial identity. And while I believe it is important that she be taught about systemic racism at some point in K-12, it must be done at the right age and with great care. These episodes do not inspire confidence. They feel shallow, crude, and potentially harmful.

The “woke Left” (and here I broadly include myself) needs to do a much better job denouncing examples of bad antiracist pedagogy and elevating examples it thinks are good. There’s no use pretending the bad examples don’t exist. Clearly they do, and clearly people are going to talk about them. The least we can do is show that we are taking them seriously.

3) This has really stuck with me from Scott Alexander, “Drug Users Use A Lot Of Drugs”

When I first considered prescribing ketamine, the bladder injury stories scared me so much that I asked a bunch of veteran ketamine prescribers how I should monitor it. They all gave me weird non-commital answers like “I’ve prescribed ketamine to thousands of patients and never had a problem with this, so I guess don’t worry”. But why not? There are all these papers saying we should worry, and all these reports in the literature of ketamine-induced bladder injury!

A standard psychiatric dose of ketamine might be 0.5 mg/kg IV, 2x/week, for four weeks. So a 70 kg patient would get about 280 mg over the course of a month. This Chinese study and this UK study analyze recreational ketamine users, and both find they take about 3g daily, every day. That’s 90,000 mg over the course of a month. Again, that’s 280 mg for the psych patients and 90,000 mg for the recreational users (and you wouldn’t believe how many hoops the psych patients have to jump through to get their 280, or how terrified their doctors are that something could go wrong). Drug users use a lot of drugs! So why don’t psychiatric patients get bladder injuries? It’s because you get bladder injuries when you’re taking more like 90,000 mg of ketamine a month, and not when you’re taking 280 mg…

Every so often somebody realizes that there’s not much chemical difference between methamphetamine and Adderall. Then they freak out that we give ADHD kids Adderall all the time. Isn’t that like giving them crystal meth?

See eg Shoblock et al:

Despite the repeated claims of METH being more addictive or preferred than AMPH, proven differences between METH and AMPH in addiction liability and in reward efficacy have evaded researchers. Animals self-administer METH and AMPH at comparable rates (Balster and Schuster 1973) and humans prefer similar doses (Martin et al. 1971). Also, neither humans nor animals discriminate between equal doses of METH and AMPH (Huang and Ho 1974; Kuhn et al. 1974; Lamb and Henningfield 1994). Furthermore, while METH is commonly believed to be a more potent central psychostimulant than AMPH, no direct comparison on the potency of the two drugs to stimulate central processes have been verified. In addition, no previous study has directly compared the acute effects of the two drugs on locomotor activity, an important central process that contributes tothe definition of psychostimulant. Moreover, there are no known neurobiological differences in action between METH and AMPH that would account for the putatively greater addictive, rewarding, or psychomotor properties of METH.

So should we be less concerned about methamphetamine? More concerned about Adderall? Or what?

The average crystal meth addict uses about 500 mg a day. And they snort it, which probably produces about double the peak plasma level as taking it orally. So they’re getting the equivalent of 1000 mg oral amphetamine daily. The average Adderall patient takes 20 mg. The most important reason meth makes your teeth fall out and ruins your life but Adderall just makes you study a little harder is that the meth users are taking 50x higher doses (yeah, okay, there are also some pharmacokinetic differences, but those are less important). Drug users really do use a lot of drugs!

I recently had a patient stop their Adderall after reading this paper on how amphetamines appear to accelerate cardiovascular aging. The study was done on polysubstance abusers who were probably taking 50x higher doses than they were. This Reuters article on the study actually gets this exactly right, and has an interview with an expert saying the doses are so high that it can’t be extended to clinical practice. I don’t want to claim total victory here, because nobody’s done a study on clinical users proving they don’t get accelerated aging. But given the high doses necessary to produce the small effects found in the original paper, I’m not losing sleep.

4) I was vaguely aware of the “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” controversy when it happened and how it was yet again wokeness/cancellation amok.  Emily VanderWerf with, actually, a pretty nuanced take on all this.  Which led to Jesse Singal making free his take from when it first happened.  It’s really good.  

But nowhere in this almost 1,400-word-long statement will you find a clear explanation of exactly what is wrong with the story. That’s because the only accurate answer to that question is something like “Some people have very superficial but dearly held ideas about what gender is, and because this story took a more complicated and fraught and creative approach to its theories of gender — one which challenged those ideas — those people became deeply offended.” That’s why a story in a major sci-fi outlet had to be unpublished. I guess the alternative, by Clarke’s logic, would be to tell or imply to some people that their interpretation of the story isn’t ‘valid.’ Can you imagine that? Dealing with the pain of someone telling you your interpretation of a work of art isn’t valid??? I’d be in bed for weeks.

I wrote a lot about the YA unpublishings and the surrounding culture of online fear in this newsletter. I don’t want to jump back into this subject. But I found this entire turn of events so profoundly depressing. We are building a world of cowardly, shallow, masturbatory art. The ideology pushing things in this direction is completely incoherent, because it really is just built on visceral feelings. Look at the above excerpt: Clarke’s notes claims that 1) trans people did read this story beforehand, and therefore (by implication) must have been okay-enough with it that he was confident enough to publish it; and 2) that he (reluctantly) now thinks he should have noted the author was trans.

So: Do trans voices matter or not? Do trans opinions matter or not? Which ones? What about when they disagree? If I read the exact same fictional text once with the belief it was written by a cisgender person, and then again with the believe it was written by a transgender person, should my interpretation of it differ wildly?

Of course, in the long run this only punishes the bravest and most creative people. Neil Clarke will not feel any compunction about running the next Clarkesworld story about cyborgs and aliens and pew-pew-pew space battles. No. But he will think extra long and extra hard about publishing anything with even the faintest whiff of genuine thematic danger do it, anything that actually touches on the jagged edges of real human life. Which is too bad, because danger is an absolutely vital component of some of the best, most memorable art.

It’s too bad so many people in different areas of fiction publishing are cowards, opportunists, or both. It would be better if they could get a bit more organized and stand up for the creative values that should be underpinning this whole “writing and editing and publishing fiction” thing. Instead, over and over and over, gatekeepers are caving to loud, angry, thoughtless people who often haven’t read the stuff they’re criticizing, and who don’t actually care about art at all. They just want their own fragile beliefs stroked at every turn, which is poison to genuine creativity. Neil Clarke had an opportunity, and like so many others, he failed; like so many others, he empowered people at whom he should have been flipping a middle finger.

He also links to the original short story.  I didn’t read the whole thing, but… its good!!  And its good whether the author is trans, cis, white, black, or Australian Aborigine.  It’s just good!

5) I liked this from Jordan Ellenberg, “Want kids to learn math? Level with them that it’s hard.: It’s only easy once you’ve mastered the concepts. Telling students otherwise can backfire.”

These questions are vexed, but I’ve got one suggestion for how we can improve. We can tell students that math is very, very hard.

It’s the truth. The techniques of algebra, geometry and calculus were hard to create, and they’re hard to learn. But saying so forthrightly doesn’t come naturally to a lot of teachers — or to commenters on education. “Math Is Not Hard: A Simple Method That Is Changing The World,” reads a headline in HuffPost, extolling an approach that aims to help ease kids into the subject. I embraced rhetoric like this when I was an apprentice college instructor. I was constantly telling students, at the outset of a computation, “Now this is pretty simple” — encouraging them, or so I thought. My mentor, the master teacher Robin Gottlieb, now a professor at Harvard, set me straight. When we say a lesson is “easy” or “simple,” and it manifestly isn’t, we are telling students that the difficulty isn’t with the mathematics, it’s with them. And they will believe us. They won’t think, “I’ve been lied to,” they’ll think, “I’m dumb and I should quit.”

This applies to parents, too. I’ve been teaching math for two decades, and I still find myself telling my kids that a math concept they’re struggling with is “not that hard.” That’s not encouragement — that’s evidence of my frustration with watching them struggle, and it’s not part of teaching.  

6) Jesse Singal again, “What the media gets wrong on gender reassignment: The media is guilty of gross negligence on gender reassignment reporting.”  TL;DR Gender reassignment, especially among adolescents, is complex and complicated.  The media do the public no favors by just bowing to angry and loud ideology that pretends it’s not.

7) Ezra, “The Rest of the World Is Worried About America”

This weekend, American skies will be aflame with fireworks celebrating our legacy of freedom and democracy, even as Republican legislature after Republican legislature constricts the franchise and national Republicans have filibustered the expansive For The People Act. It will be a strange spectacle.

It is hard to view your own country objectively. There is too much cant and myth, too many stories and rituals. So over the past week, I’ve been asking foreign scholars of democracy how the fights over the American political system look to them. These conversations have been, for the most part, grim.

“I’m positive that American democracy is not what Americans think it is,” David Altman, a political scientist in Chile, told me. “There is a cognitive dissonance between what American citizens believe their institutions are and what they actually are.”

“The thing that makes me really worried is how similar what’s going on in the U.S. looks to a series of countries in the world where democracy has really taken a big toll and, in many cases, died,” Staffan Lindberg, a Swedish political scientist who directs the Varieties of Democracy Institute, said. “I’m talking about countries like Hungary under Orban, Turkey in the early days of Erdogan’s rule, Modi in India, and I can go down the line.”

Perhaps perversely, I was cheered by Lindberg’s list. America defies those examples in a consequential, and often ignored, way. In most cases of democratic collapse, a dominant party deploys its power and popularity to tighten its control. But there is more possibility in America than that. Democrats have a slim governing majority, at least nationally, and they are not fighting for the status quo. Even Senator Joe Manchin’s compromise proposal — to ban partisan gerrymandering, pass automatic voter registration, ensure 15 days of early voting, reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act and make Election Day a holiday, to name just a few provisions — would be a striking expansion of American democracy, bigger by far than anything passed since the 1960s.

8) Marty Makary in the Post, “Los Angeles’s masking guidance is not only excessive. It undermines vaccination efforts.”  I found this part about testing most compelling:

One factor driving the fearmongering is that public health officials are staring at case numbers on their computers, oblivious to our new over-testing problem that is inflating case numbers. Specifically, the United States and Britain are routinely testing vaccinated people who are asymptomatic. This is ignoring CDC guidelines that say fully vaccinated people who have no symptoms do not need to get tested. This is based on the recognition that immune people who are asymptomatic might have a detectable virus particle in their nose, but it does not represent a transmission risk and does not cause illness.

9) Interesting perspective, “Conspiracy theories are a mental health crisis: No one’s talking about the complex relationship between disinformation and mental health. That changes now.”

Studies have shown that conspiracy theories appeal to people with unmet psychological needs. They crave knowledge, desire safety and security, and need to maintain positive self-esteem. Conspiracy theories, which may sometimes be true, help explain the unknown, giving people a deep sense of satisfaction. That relief, however, can be temporary. Past research shows conspiracy theories are associated with anxietysocial isolation, and negative emotions. Now a new wave of research conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests a plausible connection between uncertainty, anxiety, and depression and an increased likelihood of believing conspiracy theories.

Perhaps with so much beyond understanding, people looked for answers wherever such revelations might be found. Insight was plentiful on YouTubeFacebookTelegramTwitter, and other media platforms where grifters, hucksters, and conspiracy theorists peddled the truth as they saw it to people who wanted what few could offer: certainty. That confidence became an antidote to the misery of not knowing what might come next.

10) Frank Bruni:

Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president in American history. You would think that the church’s leaders in the United States would look kindly and proudly on him.

You would be wrong. They’re going farther out of their way to admonish him than they ever did to reprimand Donald Trump.

As you probably know, Roman Catholic bishops in the United States have taken steps toward possibly denying communion to Biden, who pays them the compliment of regular attendance at Mass. His sin? Support for abortion rights.

That support indeed contradicts Catholic teaching. The bishops have every right to be displeased with and even heartsick over it and to make those feelings known. I respect their principles in this regard, just as I respect the principles of the tens of millions of Americans who oppose abortion rights. Although I am passionately pro-choice, I understand how if you believe to your core that human life begins at conception, you cannot easily let the matter of abortion go.

 

In an astute essay in The Week, Peter Weber noted the extreme harshness of the punishment for Biden that bishops are proposing, writing: “Deploying what amounts to the Catholic nuclear option only on abortion signals that abortion is the only issue the Catholic Church really cares about.”

An abortion monomania is the only explanation for why Biden is coming in for greater condemnation than Trump received. For many Catholic leaders as well as many leaders of other Christian denominations, Trump’s promotion of anti-abortion judges and measures often served as a get-out-of-jail-free card — and it shouldn’t have.

I concede that Trump isn’t Catholic and that he wasn’t going to Catholic services (or, on a regular basis, to any worship services whatsoever). Catholic leaders had less cause in that sense to weigh in on his degree of adherence to their strictures.

But they purport to care about the welfare of all humanity. That’s kind of their raison d’être. Along those lines, they had ample invitation to upbraid Trump.

 

Pope Francis gets it. He understands that his church and its followers shouldn’t be reduced to any one issue. Indeed, the Vatican tried to nudge the American bishops away from this course and has conspicuously not endorsed it. The bishops are marching to the beat of their own pious drummer. They no doubt consider themselves brave. Arrogant is as apt a descriptor.

Foolish, too. They’re not going to change Biden’s mind about abortion. And the sternness that they’re projecting — the imperiousness — makes it less likely that they’ll change anyone else’s.

That imperiousness is what Francis has been striving to move the church away from. He’s trying to put a friendlier, more accessible face on its hierarchy. He’s trying to modernize its image. He knows that you can’t preach to people effectively if your voice and your language feel utterly alien to them.

And you can’t win them over if your animating impulse is a punitive rather than exalting one.

11) Drum, “Liberals Need To Have the Courage to Call Out Our Own Nutcases”

On the left, which is what I care about, this is a big issue, and it’s a big issue for one specific reason: it scares off people who might vote for us. Go ahead and ask your moderate conservative friends why they’re afraid to vote for Democrats even though they admit that Trump has turned the Republican Party into a clown show. The answer is almost always going to be a litany of complaints about the most extreme progressive policies out there. They’re afraid Democrats want to spend another $6 trillion because one guy proposed it. They’re afraid Democrats want to open the border with Mexico because a small clique approves of it. They’re afraid Democrats want to get rid of the police because three or four people suggested it. They’re afraid Democrats want to pack the Supreme Court even though this is a distinctly limited view.

I could go on, but you get the idea. These kinds of things are killers for a party that wants to win more votes, but everyone is afraid to publicly denounce them hard and fast for fear of being branded racist/sexist/transphobic/etc. by a few extremists. And that’s all the opening that Fox News and others need to make it seem as if this stuff might really be the goal of mainstream liberals.

Mainstream liberals should not be afraid to make a distinction between proposals that are merely to our left and proposals that are batshit crazy. The former we can oppose in a normal way (and vice versa), but the latter should be swatted down with extreme prejudice. It doesn’t matter if the folks proposing the crazy ideas are white or Black, young or old, or men or women. Have the guts to call them nutcases if that’s what they are and to accept the inevitable accusations of racism, sexism, ageism, or whatever. Just tell the truth. If something is crazy, call it crazy.

After all, you want to win, don’t you?

12) This was really good.  I keep meaning to do this more with my wife. “The Most Effective Way to Thank Your Significant Other: One fact of long-term relationships is that humans often take their partner for granted. Think of gratitude as a buffer against that.”

It’s so simple that it can be easy to overlook: In the commotion of daily life, people forget to thank their partner for the myriad things they do. During the pandemic, significant others have made even more sacrifices, picked up the slack, or gone outside their comfort zone, putting plenty of romantic relationships through the wringer. Now could be the ideal moment to step back and reassess how you show gratitude for it all.

Yet when partners acknowledge and appreciate each other, it appears to create a protective effect, according to Barton’s research, that can help buffer couples from negative communication patterns such as being overly critical or conflict-avoidant. Even if couples struggle to communicate, their marital stability can be just as high as partners who navigate conflict well—as long as they maintain high levels of appreciation. In a 2015 study, Barton and a team of researchers found that showing gratitude for your spouse was highly linked to marital quality.

13) Generally not a big fan of Bari Weiss, but some of her anti-cancel culture/anti-woke takes are definitely on.  Like this guest post from Abigail Schrier about book banning to enforce a pro-trans orthodoxy.  Again, to be clear, I know, like, and respect multiple trans people and want them to be treated with decency and respect.  But, the idea that we cannot even be exposed to other ideas?

14) This seems… not great.  “Amazon destroying millions of items of unsold stock in one of its UK warehouses every year, ITV News investigation finds”

15) Drum’s take on the CRT controversy, “Critical Race Theory Is Just the Latest Hysteria About Black People From Fox News”

Out of nowhere, Fox News suddenly starts putting critical race theory in heavy rotation starting in March. Six weeks later, everyone else is following suit.

Among conservatives, this is nothing surprising. Fox News has built its brand since the beginning on stoking white fear of black (and brown) people. Conservatives have never objected to this—in fact, most of them won’t even admit it—so it’s perfectly natural that they’re along for the ride.

But there are also well-meaning moderates and liberals out there who have gotten on the “let’s hear them out” bandwagon. These are people who would insist that they aren’t influenced by right-wing agitprop, but they are. It goes like this: Fox keeps up the noise long enough; a few Republican legislatures propose performative laws to “ban CRT”; the mainstream media takes notice; and now we’re all talking about it.

But why? Are there a few schoolrooms where teachers have taken wokeness farther than they should? Sure. There are a couple of million schoolrooms in the United States and it would be shocking if there weren’t a few of them doing stupid stuff. Even if that number is a minuscule 0.1%, that’s 2,000 schoolrooms, more than enough to generate a couple of shocking stories per week.

But wait. How many schoolrooms are there who have taken wokeness to ridiculous levels? What’s that? You don’t know? And Fox News doesn’t know? Then knock off the crap until you do.

As long as you’re worried about this based solely on the highly orchestrated daily anecdotes of Fox News, you’re a sucker just like everyone else. This is the power of Fox News and you ignore it at your peril.

16) Jack Shafer, “Why Has Local News Collapsed? Blame Readers.”

So, why is local news collapsing, a trend spotted over the past two years by everybody from the New York Times to the Brookings Institution to the Harvard Business Review? The blame is often placed on rapacious publishers like Alden Global Capital or online advertising giants like Facebook and Google. Yes, they’ve contributed to local news’ declining fortunes, but the best explanation might be that publishers and editors have ignored the underlying cause. Despite all the impassioned calls from academics and journalists to salvage it, local news’ most vital constituency—readers—have withheld their affections.

In 2009, just as the apocalypse befell the newspaper industry but while local news was still in relative abundance, many readers gave it an apathetic shrug. A Pew Research Center survey from that year found that an astonishing 42 percent said they would miss their paper “not much” or “not at all” if it vanished. They said this even though 74 percent conceded that civic life would suffer “a lot” or “some” if their local newspaper died. Their apathy ultimately expressed itself in financial terms. Weekday newspaper circulation has dropped from about 55.8 million households to about 28.6 million in the past two decades. More than 2,000 newspapers have vanished since 2004 (most of them weeklies), creating what some call “news deserts.” And revenues have just about halved in the past decade, as has newsroom size, making it harder to report local news. Readers keep shrugging, too. A more recent Pew survey (2018) found that only 14 percent of respondents had paid for local news in the previous year.

For all the praise directed at local news and the importance of preserving it, the dirty secret of today’s newspapers is that there’s not all that much local news coverage to save anymore. A 2018 Duke University study of 16,000 local news outlets (including broadcasters) in 100 communities deemed only about 17 percent of articles as truly local (i.e., they took place in or were about the local municipality), and just over half were hard news. Another 2018 finding by Pew revealed that only 16 percent of Americans get their news “often” from a newspaper, further lowering the status of the press. Another marker of how scarce local news has become: Last year, when Facebook went prospecting for local news to include in a new section called “Today In,” it found that one in three of its users lived in places where there wasn’t enough local news published to sustain the section. “New Jersey was the worst place for finding local news on Facebook, with 58 percent of users unable to do so on any day in the last month,” Recode reported. Maybe what the Pew respondents were really saying is you can’t miss what’s already gone.

Where did all the local news go? A couple of decades ago, publishers collected so much revenue that they invented new sections, including local news, to spend the loot. Many metro newspapers ran weekly sections about computers and tech, weekly TV program guides, free-standing business sections filled with page after page of stock prices, Sunday magazines, pull-out book review sections and weekly tabloids about suburban counties. The Washington Post once ran a weekly section called “Sunday Source,” designed to hook young readers, and column after column of police blotter in its “District Weekly” section. Newspapers were cash machines, even in regional markets like Buffalo, N.Y. In her book Ghosting the NewsWashington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan writes that her old paper, the Buffalo News, was once so flush that, for many years, “the News would send a million dollars a week” to its owner, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. But after the Internet destroyed the advertising moat that had protected newspaper revenues for more than a century, editors and publishers stripped down the old newspaper, including local sections, to a more basic package to cut costs.

For what it’s worth, I love all the state and local coverage I get nowhere else but the N&O.  I mean, everything you could possible want to know about the zebra cobra this week.

17) Science! “Immune Cells Are More Paranoid Than We Thought: Healthy birds watched their friends get sick with a bacterial disease. Their immune cells freaked out.”

18) Onion FTW:

The idea that she has to miss the Olympics over marijuana is just so profoundly stupid.

19) J&J vaccine seems to be holding up well against Delta.  That’s great news.  Everybody compares J&J to AZ since they are both adenovirus vector vaccines.  But AZ was the only major vaccine not to stabilize the prefusion form of the spike protein and that could well be responsible for their under-performance against certain variants.  I really feel like science types should be talking about that more.  

20) Terrific, terrific piece from Emily Bazelon.  Read it. “I Write About the Law. But Could I Really Help Free a Prisoner? For years as a journalist, I’ve covered attempts to exonerate incarcerated people. But a letter from Yutico Briley led to a different kind of story.”

Writing about legal issues for 25 years, I’ve been frustrated by a stubborn truth: When science exposes a weakness in how criminal cases are conducted or how a jury determines the truth, it takes a long time for the practice in police precincts and courtrooms to catch up with the expert consensus. Research points the way, for example, on how to conduct interrogations with less risk of eliciting false confessions. New findings upend previous certainty about the medical diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. Similar doubts emerge about the reliability of forensic analysis of a variety of physical evidence, including hair, fiber, bite marks, burn patterns and blood spatters. But many investigations and prosecutions grind on, impervious to the latest studies.

When science makes it harder to prove guilt, police officers, prosecutors and judges may see it as an impediment. They keep doing their jobs much as they always have.

As I read Briley’s case file alongside the research on eyewitness IDs, I thought I might have a story after all. It would be different from any I had written before, because of my own involvement, but I was starting to see Briley’s case as emblematic of something larger — of how flaws in the criminal-justice system can cascade, one after the next. The very ordinariness of his case was the story. Everyone can deflect responsibility, and someone like Briley can spend the rest of his life in prison.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Enjoyed Noah Smith‘s interview with Marc Andressen.  I don’t know if the advice is right, but it’s worth thinking about.

N.S.: If you could give some advice — career advice, or otherwise — to a smart 23-year-old American today, what would it be?

M.A.: Don’t follow your passion. Seriously. Don’t follow your passion. Your passion is likely more dumb and useless than anything else. Your passion should be your hobby, not your work. Do it in your spare time.

Instead, at work, seek to contribute. Find the hottest, most vibrant part of the economy you can and figure out how you can contribute best and most. Make yourself of value to the people around you, to your customers and coworkers, and try to increase that value every day.

It can sometimes feel that all the exciting things have already happened, that the frontier is closed, that we’re at the end of technological history and there’s nothing left to do but maintain what already exists. This is just a failure of imagination. In fact, the opposite is true. We’re surrounding by rotting incumbents that will all

2) National Geographic on Delta:

Why is the Delta variant so scary?

Freely circulating viruses, especially coronaviruses and influenza viruses, which encode their genetic instructions using the molecule RNA, mutate frequently and randomly due to copying errors introduced as they replicate in their human host cells. Some mutations enable the virus to evade antibodies; some enhance its ability to infect a cell; others go unnoticed since they yield no benefits or can even weaken it.

The key to Delta’s success is the collection of mutations the variant has accumulated in the spike protein, which covers SARS-CoV-2 and gives the virus its signature crown-like appearance. These mutations have changed the spike, and, as a result, some of the existing antibodies may not bind as tightly or as often, explains Markus Hoffmann, an infectious disease biologist at the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Germany. Hoffman and others have shown that Delta and its closely related Kappa variant evade antibodies that were generated through previous infection and vaccinationSome synthetically produced antibody therapies, like Bamlanivimab, were unable to neutralize the Delta variant; but others such as Etesivimab, Casirivimab, and Imdevimab were still effective.

The Delta variant has mutations on the spike protein that alter how it interacts with the ACE2 receptor protein, which is found on the surface of lung and other human cells and is the portal to invade the cell. The mutation at location 452 of the spike protein, which is also present in some of the California variants, appears to make the virus more transmissible and helps it spread through the population, explains Mehul Suthar, an immunologist at the Emory Vaccine Center.

If a mutation gives a virus a fitness or reproductive advantage, that mutation tends to evolve independently around the world. Delta, its closely related variants, and the highly contagious Alpha variant all carry a mutation at position 681 of the spike protein, which is thought to be an evolutionary game changer that also makes it easier for SARS-CoV-2 to invade the host cell and spread. This mutation is fast becoming common in COVID-19 viruses around the globe.

“When you have all of these mutations, then you start seeing a difference in infectivity (of the virus),” says Ravindra Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, who has shown in an unpublished study how these variants can have a greater potential to cause disease.

3) I’m actually not at all sure it’s unreasonable to have slower mail service that’s more cost-effective for the USPS.  Pretty cool interactive feature to see how proposed changes will affect your Zip code.

4) Here’s some cool social science, “People tend to overestimate their romantic partner’s intelligence even more than their own”

People can estimate their own and their romantic partner’s intelligence (IQ) with some level of accuracy, which may facilitate the observation of assortative mating for IQ. However, the degree to which people may overestimate their own (IQ), as well as overestimate their romantic partner’s IQ, is less well established. In the current study, we investigated four outstanding issues in this area. First, in a sample of 218 couples, we examined the degree to which people overestimate their own and their partner’s IQ, on the basis of comparisons between self-estimated intelligence (SEI) and objectively measured IQ (Advanced Progressive Matrices). Secondly, we evaluated whether assortative mating for intelligence was driven principally by women (the males-compete/females choose model of sexual selection) or both women and men (the mutual mate model of sexual selection). Thirdly, we tested the hypothesis that assortative mating for intelligence may occur for both SEI and objective IQ. Finally, the possibility that degree of intellectual compatibility may relate positively to relationship satisfaction was examined. We found that people overestimated their own IQ (women and men ≈ 30 IQ points) and their partner’s IQ (women = 38 IQ points; men = 36 IQ points). Furthermore, both women and men predicted their partner’s IQ with some degree of accuracy (women: r = 0.30; men: r = 0.19). However, the numerical difference in the correlations was not found to be significant statistically. Finally, the degree of intellectual compatibility (objectively and subjectively assessed) failed to correlate significantly with relationship satisfaction for both sexes. It would appear that women and men participate in the process of mate selection, with respect to evaluating IQ, consistent with the mutual mate model of sexual selection. However, the personal benefits of intellectual compatibility seem less obvious.

How about that.  And here I’ve been thinking that one of the reasons my wife and I get along well is that she’s very smart.

5) I love Paul Campos on how slow the NBA has been to maximize the gains from the 3-point shot:

I was surprised that almost no one in that long thread noted that, while advanced analytics have hurt the aesthetics of baseball, they’ve been fantastic for the aesthetics of basketball, since it was analytics that finally convinced coaches that the three-point shot was being radically underemployed. These demonstrate that the expected point value of shots from three feet from the basket and 24 feet from the basket are pretty much the same).

Missed three-point attempts are also slightly more likely to produce offensive rebounds than missed two-pointers. All in all, the creation of the three-point shot should have immediately transformed the way the game was played. Again, this is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in which merit and success are defined and measured in the most straightforward way possible, unlike in most human endeavors.

So what happened? The answer is that for many years all the coaches in the most profitable and important basketball league in the world (basketball has become an extremely popular sport internationally over the past few decades) basically just ignored that the three-point shot even existed.

The statistics on this point are stunning: for most of the 1980s, NBA teams averaged two and three three-point shot attempts per game! What’s amazing about this is that, between long shots at the buzzer at the end of quarters and halves, and long jumpers beyond the arc forced by the expiration of the 24-second shot clock, I would have thought that teams would average more three-point attempts per game than that even if they literally never took a three-point shot as part of the normal flow of the offense.

What’s fair to say is that for the first decade of the three-point shot’s existence, the typical NBA team essentially never attempted any three-point shots as part of its standard offensive sets. This was just insane. It’s not as if there weren’t plenty of players in the league at the time who were more than capable of nailing an open 23-foot jump shot — the names Larry Bird and Dell Curry leap immediately to mind. Furthermore, the introduction of the three-point shot should have immediately produced a huge shift in the talent distribution of the players in the league, since a massive premium should have been put on being able to hit a long jump shot. (Imagine if the NFL suddenly decided that any touchdown scored from more than 25 yards out was worth nine points instead of six. What sort of premium would/should that suddenly put on speed receivers, big-armed QBs, lockdown corners etc?)…

Average number of three-point shots attempted by team per game:

1980: 2.0

1985: 3.3

1990: 7.1 (Still an absurdly low number)

1995: 13.2

2000: 14.9

2005: 16.8

2010: 18.1

2015: 24.1

2020: 34.6

The only reason this took so long is because of the incredibly deep-seated nature of fundamentally reactionary thinking among the relevant decision-making authorities, even though, again, the most straightforward possible metrics should have made it clear to them decades earlier that not structuring their rosters and offenses to take advantage of the three-point shot meant foregoing what would have been a massive competitive advantage against their similarly clueless and reactionary opponents.

6) I don’t know a lot about PsyPost, but when I checked it out, it seemed legit, so I did an email interview on some research.  The end result is, I think, a surprisingly good summary, “Mothers are not more likely than other women to demand action on guns”

When it comes to support for gun control policies, mothers are not significantly different than women without children, according to new research published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties. The findings indicate that parenthood doesn’t have a substantial impact on gun control views in the United States.

“I’ve always been interested in topics around gender and parenthood in American politics where I think, maybe, how a group or political dynamic is portrayed in the media may not actually reflect the underlying dynamic that well,” said study author Steven Greene (@HankGreene), a professor of political science at North Carolina State University.

“For example, 14 years ago, Laurel Elder and I co-wrote, ‘The Myth of “Security Moms” and “NASCAR Dads”: Parenthood, Political Stereotypes, and the 2004 Election.’ So much media and public attention around gun control has focused on moms (e.g., the Million Mom March) that we were anxious to explore this dynamic to see how much motherhood seemed to explain gun attitudes.

For their study, the researchers analyzed data collected by the Pew Research Center in March and April of 2017 as part of the organization’s nationally representative American Trends Panel.

The survey asked respondents to indicate whether they believed gun laws should be more or less strict. It also asked several questions related to gun ownership, such as support for allowing concealed carry in more places, preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns, banning assault weapons, and requiring background checks on all private gun sales.

In addition, the survey included several questions on gun policy relating to children, such as whether school officials should carry guns and whether stricter gun laws would reduce mass shootings.

 

The researchers had hypothesized that fatherhood would push men towards more conservative attitudes on gun control policies, while motherhood would push women towards more liberal attitudes. But after controlling for sociodemographic variables, there was little evidence that parenthood had much impact.

Mothers held more liberal views on guns control compared to the general population. But this appeared to be unrelated to motherhood. Women were more liberal than men in general on questions related to gun laws and regulations. But there was no evidence that mothers’ opinions on guns were more liberal compared to women without children. In fact, mothers were slightly more likely to support less restrictive gun laws.

“The big take-away is that moms are not uniquely liberal on guns,” Greene told PsyPost. “As with most issues across the American political spectrum, women are more liberal than men on gun policies, but there is nothing unique to being a mom that adds to more liberal gun attitudes. A focus from both the media and gun reform advocacy groups (e.g., Moms Demand Action on Guns) has clearly determined that this is a useful political/rhetorical framing, but it does not appear to reflect an underlying reality on gun attitudes beyond that which can simply be explained by gender.”

7) Dhruv Khullar on Delta in the New Yorker:

Earlier this year, scientists estimated that lineage B.1.1.7—the Alpha variant, first isolated in England—could be some sixty per cent more transmissible than the original version of sars-CoV-2. Now experts believe that the Delta variant is sixty per cent more transmissible than Alpha—making it far more contagious than the virus that tore through the world in 2020. It hasn’t yet been conclusively shown that Delta is more lethal, but early evidence from the U.K. suggests that, compared to Alpha, it doubles the risk of a person’s being hospitalized. Even if the variant turns out to be no deadlier within any one person, its greater transmissibility means that it can inflict far more damage across a population, depending on how many people remain unvaccinated when it strikes.

In this regard, India’s apocalyptic surge is Exhibit A. In May, at the crest of the wave, the role of the Delta variant was still unclear. A number of factors—the return of large gatherings, a decline in mask-wearing, and a sluggish vaccination campaign—had made a disaster of some kind more or less unavoidable. But it now seems likely that the rise of Delta accelerated the crisis into a shockingly rapid and widespread viral catastrophe. In the course of weeks, millions of people were infected and tens of thousands died; the country’s medical system buckled under the weight of a mutated virus. One of the most disturbing aspects of India’s surge was that many children fell ill. And yet there is currently no data to suggest that Delta causes severe illness in a greater proportion of kids; instead, it seems likely that the sheer transmissibility of the variant simply resulted in a higher absolute number of infected children.

One vitally important finding to emerge from the U.K. and India is that the covid vaccines are still spectacularly effective against Delta. According to one study from the U.K., a full course of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is ninety-six per cent effective at preventing hospitalizations due to the Delta variant; AstraZeneca’s vaccine is in the same ballpark, reducing the chance of hospitalization by ninety-two per cent. But these findings come with caveats. The first is that, with Delta, partial immunization appears to be less effective at preventing disease: a different study found that, for people who have received only the first shot, the vaccines were just thirty-three per cent effective at preventing symptomatic illness. (A first dose still appears to offer strong protection against hospitalization or death.) The second is that even full courses of the vaccines appear somewhat less effective at preventing infection from Delta. This may be especially true of the non-mRNA vaccines. A team of scientists in Scotland has found that both doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine reduced the chance of infection with Delta by just sixty per cent—a respectable showing, but less impressive than what the same vaccine offers against other strains of the virus. (The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine demonstrated seventy-nine per cent efficacy against Delta infection—a significant, but smaller, decrease.)

Taken together, these findings have led some experts to propose adjustments in vaccination strategy. Muge Cevik, an infectious-diseases expert at St. Andrews University and an adviser to the British government, told me that, given the arrival of Delta, it was important to ask “what our main aim of vaccination is.” She went on, “If our primary objective is to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, a first dose still gives very good protection. If it’s to stamp out transmission, then the second dose becomes quite important. I think that, especially in hot spots, we need to expedite second shots.” Others have proposed the idea of mRNA-vaccine booster shots for Americans who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which, like AstraZeneca’s, uses non-mRNA technology. The C.D.C.’s official guidelines tell Americans that “the best covid-19 vaccine is the first one that is available to you. Do not wait for a specific brand.” But that advice was minted when vaccine supply was constrained. The accumulated evidence has led many people to wonder whether the mRNA vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, are preferable to the one offered by Johnson & Johnson, and whether the Delta variant makes them even more so.

8) Quite liked this from Yasha Mounk, “The Perils of 180ism: Stop blindly opposing your adversaries. Stick to your values and think for yourself.”

180ism has three core components.

The first and most obvious is that the primary question most participants in public debate ask themselves is not “How do my values inform my views on this matter?” or “What is the evidence for what is being asserted?” Rather, it is “How do I demonstrate that I am a loyal member of my political tribe?” As it happens, the easiest way to do that is simple: Look for what the enemy says on any one issue and stake out the opposite position.

The second component is that public discourse becomes dangerously narrow when a lot of individuals with big platforms reflexively contradict whatever their adversaries say. Complex questions that should, in principle, allow for a large number of different answers are then flattened into a simple referendum between diametrically opposed sides. 

The third component is that the dynamics of 180ism exert enormous pressure on anybody who does not behave as expected. If, unwilling to let the discourse shoehorn you into one of two sanctioned positions, you insist on giving a third answer, you are denounced as an attention-seeking contrarian. And if, following your long-held values or principles, you come up with an answer that your political adversary happens to agree with, you are denounced as a traitor. In a discourse dominated by 180ism, occasionally disagreeing with your friends—a sign that you are willing to think for yourself—is widely interpreted as proof of bad faith.


In many of the examples I have given, it is the left that is guilty of 180ism. So let me be abundantly clear: I do not believe that the two sides in America’s great political fight are morally equivalent. That is why I publicly and persistently advocated for the election of Joe Biden. Nor do I think that conservatives are any less susceptible to the sins of 180ism than progressives; the aversion to supporting anything that a prominent adversary happens to agree with is, almost certainly, even more pronounced on the right.

But that is no reason to soft-pedal just how bad the state of the discourse has now become on my own side. In fact, it is precisely because I myself have long been part of the left-wing tribe that I feel especially compelled to speak out when my ostensible allies are willing to throw their principles out of the window.

Part of the reason is instrumental. To succumb to 180ism is to define yourself, not by your own principles, but rather against your opponents. In other words, it is to let your political adversaries choose your values for you. And if the right is even a little shrewd—choosing their own positions in ways that force those who are stuck in the logic of 180ism to defend highly unpopular ideas and organizations—this will inflict serious harm on liberal values. It could even increase the chances that Donald Trump or one of his allies will return to the White House in 2024.

But an even deeper reason is moral, intellectual or, if you will, aesthetic. I work in left-leaning institutions, write for left-leaning publications, and live in a left-leaning milieu. How the people around me talk about things is especially important to me because I care about thinking through the complex challenges that face all of us in an intellectually honest way—and the only way to do that is as part of a community that encourages people to think for themselves.

The deepest reason to resist 180ism is, simply, that succumbing to it is a terrible way to think and live.

9) Rick Hasen, interviewed by Isaac Chotiner, on protecting elections and Congressional legislation:

If you were designing a bill for Congress to prevent the subversion of a future election, what would that bill include? And how has your answer changed or not changed since the wave of state laws we’ve seen in the last several months?

I think the best place to start is to differentiate between election subversion and voter suppression. We’ve been hearing for many years about voter suppression: things that make it harder for people to register and to vote, like the provision of the Georgia law that says you can’t give water to people waiting on line to vote. That’s a different concern than this idea of election subversion, which is trying to manipulate the rules for who counts the votes in a way that could allow for a partisan official to declare the loser as the winner. This was, for example, a concern when President Trump called the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, in the period after the election, to try to get him to “find” the 11,780 votes.

Much of what proposed federal legislation would do in both H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is aimed at stopping voter suppression. Stopping election subversion requires a different set of tools, and, ideally, you might want to have federal legislation that attacks both. But, if you’re focussing solely on election subversion, then I think there are a few important things to do. No. 1, require every state to hold elections using some form of a paper ballot. That provision is actually in H.R. 1—it’s a small part of a very large bill. But that standing alone is not only something that could get bipartisan support—it’s absolutely essential. Just imagine if in Georgia, in the period after the election, when Secretary of State Raffensperger ordered a hand recount of all the ballots, with the ability for the public to observe—if Georgia was using voting machines that didn’t use a piece of paper, then the conspiracy theories of the flipped votes would have had much more resonance.

No. 2, fixing the 1887 Electoral Count Act. That’s this arcane federal law that explains how Congress is supposed to count the Electoral College votes from each state. One of the provisions in there says you only need an objection from one senator and one representative in order to go into separate trial sessions to negotiate over whether or not Electoral College votes should be accepted or rejected. There should be a much higher threshold, and there should be a substantive standard for rejecting those votes, so we would not see something like a hundred and forty-seven members of Congress that voted to object to state Electoral College votes on January 6th. There are other things that could be done as well, such as requiring that there be some kind of court review or independent review of the standards that are used for declaring winners in elections, as well as various transparency requirements in dealing with election administration, so that people can go to court if there is a problem with the fairness of how the election is conducted…

In the raft of voting legislation that we’ve seen in the past few months, what has most concerned you in terms of voter suppression, and what has most concerned you in terms of subversion?

 

There was, first of all, an expected tightening of the rules that allow people to easily cast a ballot, especially by mail. Requiring that Georgia voters provide certain identification information when they vote by mail is new. There was a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that said over two hundred and seventy thousand voters would not be able to vote by mail with that requirement. In some instances, such as in Iowa, there’s been a criminalization of attempts by local election administrators to try to allow for the expansion of voting opportunities, such as in sending absentee-ballot applications to voters. That’s not something that should be criminalized. We’re seeing, in a number of bills, attempts to make the job of local election administrators even harder and dissuade people even more from becoming election administrators.

In terms of election subversion, the biggest concern I have right now is what happened in Georgia, where as punishment for Raffensperger standing up to Trump, the secretary of state has been taken out of any authority as to how the state election board does its job, to be replaced by someone handpicked by the Republican legislature. This board now has the power to do temporary takeovers of up to four counties. You could easily imagine the state boards taking over how the election is run in heavily Democratic Fulton County, and then imposing rules or messing with election counts in ways that could affect the outcome in the now very purple state of Georgia.

10) Drum on the increased murder rate:

Here is the fundamental mystery of crime in the US over the past year:

As you might guess, the murder rate and the overall violent crime rate usually rise and fall in tandem. But in 2020, they suddenly diverged by an enormous amount: Compared to 2019, violent crime rose 3.3% while the murder rate went up 25%.

If you’re interested in the murder rate beyond partisan talking points, this is what you need to explain. What could account for a huge increase in homicides but not in violent crime more generally? Police presence seems an unlikely explanation. Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of murder, which is usually committed against someone you know.

In any case, this is what needs explaining. But be careful. This is trickier than it looks.

11) It was actually kind of depressing to see this take from a scientist and a historian just completely riddled with logical fallacies.  Support trans people.  Respect them.  But don’t make really bad arguments in service of that, “Attacks on trans people are also attacks on science itself.”  I’ll just give one example; this is a complicated issue and this rhetorical sophistry in no way does it justice:

The false premise behind them is that if transgender girls are allowed to compete on girls’ sports teams, then cisgender girls (whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth) won’t be able to win. Experience in California shows that this is not true. In 2013, the state passed a law that protects the rights of transgender students to participate in sports teams that match their gender identity. Los Angeles teacher and retired basketball coach Larry Strauss wrote that he has seen and heard of no problems with implementing the policy, and trans athletes are not dominating girls’ sports leagues. Similarly, when The Associated Press asked Republican legislators who introduced these bills to name a single transgender athlete in their state, most could not. This just doesn’t seem to be a real issue.

12) Okay, now this is nuts and definitely cancel-culture-adjacent, “‘I am appalled’: Billie Eilish apologises for mouthing apparent racist slur in resurfaced five-year-old clip: 
Singer says she was unaware of the meaning of the offensive word at the time, did not mean to cause offence, and the prospect of causing people hurt ‘absolutely breaks my heart’”  She was 14!!

13) Definitely a lot of truth to this, “The TV hit isn’t just dying — it may already be dead: Astute observers of television say the idea of a unifying show on even a modest scale is gone. In its wake are a hundred Twitter niches — and a dangerous lack of common culture.”  That said, although I may not be able to talk Mare of Easttown with my Food Lion cashier (hey, there’s always sports!), among the people I actually socialize with, there’s still substantial overlap in common viewing.

14) This is kind of wild, “Sharks Almost Went the Way of the Dinosaurs 19 Million Years Ago: Analysis of the fossil record shows a mysterious mass extinction that decimated the diversity of sharks in the world’s oceans, and they’ve never fully recovered.”

In 2015, Dr. Sibert received a box of mud spanning about 40 million years of history. The reddish clay, extracted from two sediment cores that had been drilled deep into the Pacific Ocean seafloor, contained fish teeth, shark denticles and other marine microfossils. Using a microscope and a very fine paintbrush, Dr. Sibert picked through the two sediments and counted the number of fossils in samples separated in time by several hundred thousand years.

About halfway through her data set, Dr. Sibert spotted an abrupt change in the fossil record. Nineteen million years ago, the ratio of shark denticles to fish teeth changed drastically: Samples older than that tended to contain roughly one denticle for every five fish teeth (a ratio of about 20 percent), but more recent samples had ratios closer to 1 percent. That meant that sharks suddenly became much less common, relative to fish, during an era known as the early Miocene, Dr. Sibert concluded.

Dr. Sibert and her collaborators, in an earlier study using the same data set, had also found that sharks declined in abundance by roughly 90 percent about 19 million years ago.

“We had a lot of them, and then we had almost none of them,” she said. “Basically the sharks almost completely disappear.”

15) This just seems so crazy to me, “Many People Have a Vivid ‘Mind’s Eye,’ While Others Have None at All: Scientists are finding new ways to probe two not-so-rare conditions to better understand the links between vision, perception and memory.”

Dr. Adam Zeman didn’t give much thought to the mind’s eye until he met someone who didn’t have one. In 2005, the British neurologist saw a patient who said that a minor surgical procedure had taken away his ability to conjure images.

Over the 16 years since that first patient, Dr. Zeman and his colleagues have heard from more than 12,000 people who say they don’t have any such mental camera. The scientists estimate that tens of millions of people share the condition, which they’ve named aphantasia, and millions more experience extraordinarily strong mental imagery, called hyperphantasia.

In their latest research, Dr. Zeman and his colleagues are gathering clues about how these two conditions arise through changes in the wiring of the brain that join the visual centers to other regions. And they’re beginning to explore how some of that circuitry may conjure other senses, such as sound, in the mind. Eventually, that research might even make it possible to strengthen the mind’s eye — or ear — with magnetic pulses.

“This is not a disorder as far as I can see,” said Dr. Zeman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Exeter in Britain. “It’s an intriguing variation in human experience.”

16) I love zoos and this is one of those things I really just want to argue against.  But it’s probably right.  “Modern Zoos Are Not Worth the Moral Cost”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Good stuff from Chait– Democrats need to tax rich people more (I think a big part of the problem is that so many Democratic financial supporters are now rich people who love gay rights, anti-racism, abortion rights, etc., but also low taxes).  Anyway, Chait:

When the Biden administration rolled out proposals to increase taxes on corporations and wealthy stockholders, the targets of the increases laughed them off. “Corporate executives and lobbyists in Washington, New York and around the country say they are confident they can kill almost all of these tax hikes by pressuring moderate Democrats in the House and Senate,” reported Politico last month.

It seems those haughty fat cats, so confident they could easily work their will in Congress … were absolutely correct. The pushback has operated largely behind the scenes, but evidence of its effectiveness has popped up primarily in reports targeted at the inside-Washington audience. Farm-state Democrats in the House are openly protesting Biden’s measure to close a huge capital-gains-tax loophole. Biden’s plan “seems like a rather high rate to me,” said Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The pushback includes Democratic moderates in both houses of Congress — and not only those fighting off strong 2022 challenges.

The front pages have been consumed with Biden’s struggles to keep his party together on infrastructure and democracy protection. But the quiet Congressional revolt against his tax hikes poses the most serious threat to his agenda.

The reason is that Congressional budget rules mandates that any permanent increase in the deficit be fully financed. A temporary outlay — for coronavirus relief, or building infrastructure — does not require any offset. But the most ambitious measures Biden proposes to reshape government — expanding health-care coverage, a more generous child tax credit, universal pre-kindergarten and community college — all need an ongoing source of financing.

Taxing the rich is Biden’s solution. There’s a lot of money in the bank accounts of the affluent, especially after several decades of rising inequality and a big fat Trump-era tax cut for the wealthy. But every dollar Congressional Democrats shave off Biden’s proposal for taxing the rich means one less dollar that can be spent on his social programs.

Why are Democrats so skittish about Biden’s proposal they’re willing to put his domestic legacy at risk? They — or the rich people lobbying them — cite a mix of political and policy reasons. “You are talking about tax hikes that could hit millions of small businesses across the country and taxes that could kill investment,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tells Politico, “From a raw political perspective, it would be a really funky decision for these moderates to say they would be willing to put this much of a wet blanket on an economy that is really poised to take off.” A “senior financial services industry lobbyist” adds that if Democrats pass anything more than a watered-down version of Biden’s plan, “Democrats are just going to get killed over it.”

While both these concerns probably sound serious over a comped steak dinner, neither is remotely supported by the data. 

2) Loved this essay from Freddie de Boer taking down a misleading, revisionist account of Vietnam Veterans’ experiences:

The veterans and servicemen who made these papers were overwhelmingly white. That is not surprising; the US military presence in Vietnam was overwhelmingly white. It is true, as has been pointed out repeatedly in art and journalism, that there were racial inequities at play in the drafting of conscripts in the latter half of the war, and among all draftees Black soldiers exceeded their percentage of their overall population by about 5%. It is also true, though, that despite what you may have heard most of the fighting in Vietnam was conducted by enlisted men, not those conscripted, and they were white in dominant majorities. One might say that all of this is besides the point; many of the soldiers in Vietnam were coerced or conned into going, and they suffered then and suffered when they came home, white or Black. But today I’m afraid we must place demographics above all else. Who am I to blow against the wind? …

The offending piece is a review of a book called How White Men Won the Culture Wars by someone called Joseph Darda, a minor academic who I must congratulate for making such a naked stab for relevance with his book and its title. Its argument, according to Lehmann, is that the anguished fight for recognition, respect, medical treatment, and mental health care waged by veterans coming home from the war in Vietnam was, in fact, simply white male grievance politics. Legless 23 year olds who had been put through a meat grinder by a rapacious and indifferent military machine were, to Lehmann and Darda, no different from the angry white guys who own Ford dealerships that powered Donald Trump’s campaign. Their demands for recognition and access to basic social services can now be safely derided as the special pleading of the privileged; you know, the privilege of being crippled both literally and metaphorically. I urge you to read Lehmann’s piece to see how unbroken and shameless his contempt for these wounded and hopeless victims of empire really is. There is no “to be sure” paragraph here. Lehmann and Darda are committed to the bit…

Darda, it is worth noting, has just so happened to release a book about why white men are bad at precisely the right time, riding the wave of what’s politically fashionable among those who write takes and buy books. Lehmann, too, has had a political evolution recently, suddenly injecting clumsy waves at antiracism into his doddering leftish scribblings for places like The Baffler, that bland stew of vague and toothless post-capitalism. Darda and Lehmann are, of course, both white men themselves, and the product they sell is the reassurance to other white men that all white men are bad, save them, the writer and readers; they tell the white men who are undoubtedly the large majority of their audience that there is, in the sea of evil that their own race and gender connote, a tiny elect who get it. Darda and Lehmann believe that they are the good ones, and they are willing to sell that status to whichever white men will buy.

I call these kinds of opportunistically woke white men “crabs in a bucket.” They jostle and scrape for a little glimpse at sunlight, convinced that one day they will emerge on top, and a beautiful Black angel will descend from above and place on their heads a crown that reads “The Only Good White Man.” To Lehmann these veterans are just white men because that perspective is monetizable. He sees nothing of experience, only of demographics, a stance that might leave you wondering how he himself is deserving of his station as “Editor-at-Large” (lol). These are not opinions that Lehmann developed organically, like a tumor growing on his face. Instead I think that this disdain for all things white and male was a calculation. Greying old white men in this industry have collectively decided that ceaselessly complaining about “white men,” an abstraction that they excuse themselves from with every ham-handed denunciation they write, will keep the old career going until they can enter their shuffleboard-playing years. It’s a living, in the sense that necrotizing fasciitis is alive.

Hard to capture the whole flavor… really worth reading the whole thing.

3) I usually find David von Drehle fairly anodyne, but this was quite perceptive, “The religious freedom bomb may be about to detonate”

The 2015 Supreme Court decision extending the right to marry to same-sex adult couples contained a ticking time bomb. Six years later, the noise is getting loud.

The explosive material has to do with religious freedom. While polls clearly show that a growing majority of Americans support marriage equality, a significant number of religious people continue to believe that same-sex marriage and other evolving understandings of gender and sexuality are transgressions against God’s law.

But how can their dissent be lawfully expressed? The five-vote majority in 2015 papered over this question by insisting that the ruling applied only to civil marriage — and thus posed no burden on the right of religions to choose which marriages to bless. As we’ve learned since, however, sanctifying marriages is not the only way religion enters this picture.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court again dodged the problem of religious freedom vs. discrimination. This time, the question was whether the city of Philadelphia could force Catholic Social Services to include qualified same-sex couples as prospective foster parents. Seizing on the fact that Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination law allows for certain exemptions, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that fairness required an exemption be considered for CSS…

Beneath the unanimity, however, lay a splintered court, with a number of justices saying the bomb must finally detonate. Either religious freedom protects those who treat same-sex couples unequally in public life, or it doesn’t.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, in a concurring opinion, counted the cost of dodging this uncomfortable question: “Individuals and groups across the country will pay the price” of endless litigation over the unsettled question, “in dollars, in time, and in continued uncertainty about their religious liberties.”

Religious liberty or freedom from discrimination: Advocates on both sides insist the question is simple. In fact, it is very difficult. Two bedrock principles of the Constitution are brought into direct conflict. Americans have a right in their public lives to be free from discrimination based on who they are. This right finds expression in laws requiring businesses and agencies that serve the public to do so without discrimination.

Americans also have a protected freedom of belief and expression. They cannot be compelled by the government to express or reject any religious views or political opinions.

No case puts the matter more sharply in relief than the matter of the baker and his cakes, which may well be headed back to the Supreme Court for round two. A transgender individual has asked Phillips to create a celebratory cake. When Phillips refused, a state district judge levied a fine without any of the gratuitous commentary that previously gave the justices their wiggle room.

The fact that these bedrock principles have collided inside a bag of cake frosting does not make them frivolous. Either the baker’s freedom of belief allows him to sell customized cakes only to those people whose identities and conduct comport with his religious beliefs, or the would-be cake buyers of Lakewood have a right to decide what Phillips will write on cakes as long as he operates a public business.

4) Damn I love that Abigail Disney is a super-rich heiress who actually had the courage to look at her life and recognize what was wrong with all her wealth,  This is good, “I Was Taught From a Young Age to Protect My Dynastic Wealth: A common ideology underlies the practices of many ultra-wealthy people: The government can’t be trusted with money.”

5) And good stuff in Noah Smith’s substack, “America’s scarcity mindset: Is our society turning into a zero-sum competition for survival?”

I’ve been reading Rick Perlstein’s Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980. Like all Perlstein books, it’s excellent and you should read it. Anyway, one of the things that really jumps out about the Carter years is the way scarcity and pessimism (which is just anticipation of future scarcity) made the country more selfish. The oil crises of the 70s created absolute chaos, with gunfights at gas stations and violent trucker strikes. It’s not hard to see how that era led to the every-man-for-himself attitude of the conservative 1980s.

But the crazy thing is that America seems to be falling back into this scarcity mindset. Only this time, the shortages are almost entirely of our own creation.

Stephen Covey, the self-help author who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, coined the terms “abundance mindset” and “scarcity mindset”. Basically he means that some people going around thinking of the world as a set of positive-sum, win-win situations, while other people go around thinking of everything as a zero-sum competition where you’re either a winner or a loser.

Meanwhile, the political scientist Ronald Inglehart came up with the related idea of “self-expression values” vs. “survival values”. Survival values, which supposedly come about because of economic scarcity, include ethnocentrism, xenophobia, fear of disease, and a hunger for authoritarianism. Sounds a lot like Trumpism, but I think you can also see echoes of this in various leftist ideologies and spaces.

The World Values Survey keeps track of these values, and it’s interesting to see how the U.S. has evolved over time. Here’s the map of countries from 2008:

You can see that while we were more traditionalist than most other rich countries, we were also very high on the “self-expression” end of the scale — about the same as Australia, New Zealand, or Denmark. This is basically the classic view of the U.S. — a bit religious, but a very open and tolerant society. Now check out the map for 2020:

The difference is striking. It’s not clear what the absolute change has been (it looks like the variables might have had some renormalization between 2008 and 2020), but the relative position tells the story. The U.S. is way to the left of other English-speaking countries, having shifted strongly toward survival values and away from self-expression.

6) This was good stuff from Gallup: “Changing One’s Gender Is Sharply Contentious Moral Issue”America's Views of Moral Acceptability of Issues

7) File under, I had no idea… “Trouble in Los Angeles County: Too Many Peacocks: Some residents admire their beauty. Others complain about the noise, the aggression and the droppings. Now, officials are considering an ordinance to stop people from feeding peafowl.”

8) Dogs are really good at detecting Covid infections by smell and we can potentially use that to our benefit.  But talk about the devil is in the details:

og noses are great Covid-19 detectors, according to numerous laboratory studies, and Covid sniffing dogs have already started working in airports in other countries and at a few events in the United States, like a Miami Heat basketball game.

But some experts in public health and in training scent dogs say that more information and planning are needed to be certain they are accurate in real life situations.

“There are no national standards” for scent dogs, according to Cynthia M. Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the authors of a new paper on scent dog use in Covid detection.

And although private groups certify drug-sniffing and bomb and rescue dogs, similar programs for medical detection do not exist, according to the new paper in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

Lois Privor-Dumm, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University and the senior author of the paper, said there was no question that dogs have great potential in medical fields. But she wants to explore how they could be deployed on a large scale, such as by the government.

“What are all the ethical considerations? What are the regulatory considerations? How practical is this?” she asked. Not only the quality of detection but logistics and cost would be central to any widespread application, as with any public health intervention.

Quality control is a first step, and a large one. Medical scent detection is more complicated than drug or bomb detection, Dr. Otto said. A dog working an airport for drugs or explosive detection has a consistent context and a fairly straightforward target odor. In Covid detection, researchers know that the dogs can distinguish an infected person’s sweat or urine. But they don’t know what chemicals the dog is identifying.

Because human scents vary, medical detection dogs have to be trained on many different people. “We have all of the ethnicities and ages and diets and all of these things that make human smell,” Dr. Otto said.

9) Always read David Hopkins, “The ACA Survives, in One More Victory for Boring Old Liberalism”

Plain vanilla American liberalism hasn’t been particularly fashionable for a long time, and it certainly isn’t now. Anyone who regularly consumes high-status media like NPR or the Wall Street Journal, or who spends any time at all in the Twitterverse, could well conclude that today’s politics is mostly defined by a battle between a highly intellectualized, social identity-oriented, self-consciously “anti-establishment” left wing on one side and an array of conservative critics, both Trumpist and anti-Trumpist, on the other.

But when we shift our attention to what the government is actually doing, we see a policy-making apparatus that continues to be dominated by a familiar pragmatic liberal tradition representing the historical legacy of the New Deal and Great Society. The Affordable Care Act is one of this tradition’s most important recent achievements, if it’s appropriate to refer to a law passed more than a decade ago as “recent.” And the Supreme Court’s 7–2 decision, announced Thursday, upholding the ACA against what may well be the last in a series of major legal challenges only confirms the resilience of the center-left policy state in the face of dissatisfaction on both ideological sides.

The ACA is complicated. It’s inelegant and kludgy. It was designed to patch up the most urgent perceived flaws in the existing health care system rather than to tear it down completely and construct a more efficient and coherent successor. It is easy for its strongest detractors to hate, but hard for even its strongest defenders to love.

And yet the ACA remains a representative model of policy-making because it had two critically valuable qualities: enough initial support to be enacted in the first place and a big enough constituency to protect it from subsequent retrenchment. For all of the well-argued critiques directed its way by dissenters on the left and right, neither side has demonstrated the ability to transform a purer ideological vision into achievable and sustainable policy. Decades of progressive attempts to replace the current health care system with a universal single-payer alternative have yet to bear fruit. Conservatives’ philosophical opposition to government involvement in health care provision has historically been a politically potent force when working to block liberal reform proposals before they passed, as in 1994, or when mobilizing an electoral backlash immediately after enactment, as in 2010. But after Republicans gained full policy-making power in 2017, general anti-government sentiment turned out to be insufficiently strong to persuade enough politicians within the party to rescind the ACA’s specific benefits once they had actually started flowing to the public…

Traditional pragmatic liberalism is a perennial rhetorical target for people who think of themselves as committed to loftier ideals. On the right, social conservatives like Ross Douthat criticize it for lacking “a clear sense of moral purpose,” suggesting that in our time it has become “somewhat exhausted.” Purist activists on the left echo these themes, speaking of an age marked by the supposedly catastrophic failures of “neoliberalism” and representing the onset of “late capitalism”—implying that a non-capitalist future is surely soon to arrive.

But old-fashioned half-a-loaf liberalism has proven tough to replace. It’s not just that revolutionary change is difficult to achieve in the American political system, though it is. There are also plenty of important constituencies invested in conventional liberal policy-making—classes of credentialed work-within-the-system subject matter experts, institutionalized interest groups that prize partial victories over none at all, and a large number of regular voters who hold moderately left-of-center views on domestic affairs and are wary of socialism and laissez-faire-ism alike. While critics on all sides yawn with impatience for the era of boring old liberalism to end, the boring old liberal ACA has just further entrenched itself, boring old liberals Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are working to enact more boring old technocratic incrementalist liberal policies, and boring old liberalism just keeps muddling through to prevail once again.

10) I love playing with my kids because I enjoy playing with my kids.  But, I’m also hugely in favor of them having their own, independent, kid lives.  Like everything, it’s a balance.  But, as somebody who still appreciates the old-school parenting of all the kids on my cul-de-sac just running wild and unsupervised in the 1970’s and 80’s, I quite appreciate this perspective, “Don’t Play With Your Kids. Seriously.”

My daughter was born a year after that. She is shy and moody, and she has been content to play on her own since she could crawl. I’ve never met a more self-​possessed child — she used to tell me when she needed a nap. She has never liked the sorts of games her brother prefers, and play between them has always been a negotiation. The games they’ve created combine his love of fantasy and drama with her need for realism; when they set up their pretend yak farm with pillows and stuffed animals, she enjoys an imagined sunset, while her brother worries about predators who have yet to grace this earthly plane.

In the past, if they couldn’t agree on a game’s direction, I would try to help, only to make it worse: I was a reality-TV host, watching helplessly as my contestants swapped insults at a show reunion. When Mom is there to listen, they turn defensive and mean; when I say, “Figure it out,” they do. I know I’m lucky they have each other to play with, and so I’ve taught myself to hold back. I tell myself they’re learning about compromise and boundaries. As am I. I’m distracted by work (and life). I have a bad temper. I can be critical. And I don’t like to play, especially pretend, or anything with dolls or figures, or any games that ask me to hide or wield a Nerf gun. My motto is “Moms don’t play.” (The other context also applies: I do not play.) Our third child joined the family with this system in place, and he is, as most third children are, remarkably independent.

I can’t say that my approach is right for everyone. I know that it resonates for me in part because of how I was raised. I have no memories of my parents playing with me. I can remember reading together and their swimming with me in the ocean, but they weren’t involved in the fashion shows I filmed with my sisters, and they didn’t help me make my magazine, Kid Stuff, either. Not once did they dine at my fictional restaurant.

This isn’t a complaint; it’s gratitude. They may not be a part of these memories, but they weren’t absent either. They were on the edges — there but not there. My parents allowed me private worlds of my own creation, and they respected them. I imagine they felt the same joy I do when I watch my children playing without me; my daughter opens a bakery as her older brother bounces on a giant rubber ball. The baby fills his garbage truck with blocks. Each of us enters his or her own separate sphere. This, I’ve realized, is my favorite part of mothering. My looking away and then observing.

11) Quite the essay from a teacher, “I Taught Online School This Year. It Was a Disgrace.”

12) Really enjoyed this interview with Adam Serwer: “The news is what you have forgotten”

ANAND: You cite two different definitions of what the news is early in the book. One of them is, “The news is what is new,” which is an old saying that you and I and every other journalist hears at some point. But you also quote a contrary saying from an old editor of yours, David Corn: “The news is also what people have forgotten.”

Can you talk about each of those understandings of what the news is, and how your grappling with those two shapes your particular and quite distinct method of journalism?

ADAM: As journalists, we are ideologically predisposed to think that something that is new is important, and that’s the thing that we should be talking about. But the truth is that we sometimes take for granted that our readers have the same information and context that we have to make sense of something. Part of journalism is figuring out what that context is, and what it should be. Because of that bias towards novelty, we sometimes forget the longer historical lens.

David Corn, who was my editor at Mother Jones, used to say, “The news is what people have forgotten,” because he was encouraging us to dig, and not just assume that, because someone had been in the public eye for a long time, the public knew everything about them that they needed to know.

This, for me, evolved into trying to put a historical lens on what was happening, in part because the response to Trump was so historically myopic. It was just like, “We had a Black president. How could this guy be winning?”

The answer is, because he is manipulating forces that have been part of American politics since the founding, for generations, and that we had sort of naively assumed that we had conquered. I’m using “we,” in the sort of collective American sense, because there are obviously plenty of Americans who did not believe that we had conquered those things.

To the extent that that belief was overrepresented in the media, it prevented journalists from putting Trump in his proper historical context as a product of those historical forces, rather than just sort of this goofy reality-show star — like, “How could this ever happen?”

13) Years and years ago I remember a student telling me I’d really enjoy “Adam Ruins Everything” if I watched it.  Many years later and… he was right.  Even when I don’t learn anything (I’m kind of like Adam myself), the show is really well written and very funny.  It is now the standing Saturday morning entertainment for the Greene family (on HBO Max).  I really enjoyed this essay on what makes the show good, “Adam Ruins Everything Shows Us the Right Way to Be Wrong: In every episode, the character whose misconceptions are corrected actually grows from the experience”

Today many people are wrong about important facts, and they need to be corrected. But they need to be corrected in a manner that leads to acceptance, not resistance. This is a hard task we all need help with. Luckily, one show is providing a blueprint for success.

In every episode of the ever-more-popular show Adam Ruins Everything, the titular host, Adam Conover, appears seemingly out of thin air to correct a character who has a misconception on a social, health, tech, historical, business or other topic.

What it is important to glean from this show is that while Adam arrives to correct or “ruin,” what he is really arriving to do is help others learn and grow. And, in every episode, the corrected person grows.

That is an incredibly important point that it is worth repeating: the person who is corrected actually changes. While so many other shows in modern times demonize and make fun of those who are wrong, this show makes those who are wrong the positive protagonists of the story. Because on this show, what is presented as most wrong is the belief that one is always right. And, what is presented as most right is knowing how to recognize when you are wrong and move forward.

So, while each episode of Adam has educational facts about different topics, the show as a whole is a thesis statement on the process of learning. In this way, the show can teach us all how to better correct others, whether we are scientists, activists, or someone just having Thanksgiving dinner with the family.

I’ll admit it… I love being right.  And I think people assume that goes along with hating to be wrong.  But, in my case, certainly not so.  I don’t always like being wrong, but in many cases I do, because that actually means I’m learning.  That’s also, of course, very much the idea in Julia Galef’s “Scout Mindset” I’ve briefly written about.  Anyway, as long as you are learning from being wrong, being wrong is okay.

14) Another family entertainment my family has discovered is Mark Rober videos.  He had a squirrel obstacle course video that went viral last year that you may well have seen, but there’s a lot more really good stuff that’s almost always both fascinating and engaging.  For example, we watched this on “devil’s toothpaste” last night and were super entertained.  

15) This, this, this!!!  The FDA needs to grant full licensure to the vaccines, already!

 

Quick hits (part I)

0) Sorry to disappoint you last weekend.  Was off spending time with my non-nuclear family for the first time since the pandemic and it was wonderful.  Hooray for vaccines!! (And cheap rapid tests for my unvaccinated 10-year old).

1) Good points from Hans Noel on Joe Manchin that, as frustrating as he can be, always needs to be remembered:

Manchin has been the subject of particular ire, especially after his opinion article last weekend criticizing the voting-rights bill. But it should be possible for Democrats to hold two thoughts at once about the West Virginia politician: First, what he is doing is lamentable, damaging to the party’s goals. But second, his presence in the Senate is a gift to the Democratic Party. Having a Democratic senator in 2021 in a state like West Virginia — where neither Hillary Clinton nor Biden could crack 30 percent of the vote — is a remarkable bit of good fortune.

Had Manchin not won reelection in 2018, his seat would be held by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R). This is the Morrisey who joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit that sought to overturn the results in four states where Trump lost; so probably not, to put it mildly, someone whom Democrats could persuade to back the For the People Act. More importantly, all else remaining the same, had Morrisey won, Democrats would be in the minority in the Senate, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) would be setting the body’s agenda, as majority leader…

But perhaps West Virginia needn’t have chosen between Manchin and someone like Morrisey in the first place. What if Democrats ran and nominated someone more liberal, or at least more likely to vote with Democrats, in Manchin’s next primary?

Consider, however, that Manchin beat Morrisey with 49.6 percent of the vote to Morrisey’s 46.3. This in a state where Biden got 29.7 percent of the presidential vote in 2020 and the Democratic challenger to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) that same year got 27 percent. There’s no evidence that another Democrat could come anywhere close to Manchin’s electoral performance. (Sinema is a slightly different story, given that Biden won her state; Arizona could plausibly elect a more mainstream Democrat than her. However, the other senator from Arizona, Mark Kelly (D), has a voting record similar to Sinema’s.)

Despite Biden’s recent remark that Manchin and Sinema “vote more with my Republican friends” than with Democrats, that’s not true (as a Washington Post Fact Checker analysis explained): Both side with their party more often than they vote against it (although by not much). More importantly, they support Democrats for leadership positions. That leadership, in turn, helps shape the agenda. They aren’t the most loyal Democrats, but they’re more Democratic — obviously — than the Republicans who could replace them…

Manchin’s position is thus tricky. He needs to distance himself from a Democratic Party that has been slowly but steadily moving left — and not just on matters of race — for his entire political career. (Manchin is opposed to abortion, pro-gun rights and has broken with his party on environmental issues, banking regulation and many other issues.) But as politics has become more nationalized, that’s harder to do.

This poses a problem for Democrats, especially party leaders. They really want Manchin to back the party’s agenda, but they have little leverage to use against him. The party needs him and the seat he fills more than he needs them.

2) Scott Alexander has had a series of user-submitted book reviews.  And like his posts, they’re long.  But I’ve learned a lot.  I really appreciated this latest on Plagues and Peoples because it is literally the first book I remember reading in college (European History) and it was super eye-opening. 

3) You know me, I haven’t been getting into all that “scariant!” stuff.  But Ashish Jha is right, “The delta variant is a rising threat in the U.S. We have to redouble vaccination efforts.”  This delta variant is definitely no joke and areas with low vaccination rates may well pay the price.  

4) This newly approved Alzheimer’s drug story is kind of crazy.  At first I thought, “yeah, let’s just get this approved if it can help with this awful disease.”  But it’s far from clear it offers meaningful help with this awful disease.  The only thing we can know for sure is that it will make a lot of people really rich, likely at the expense of you, me, and all the other taxpayers and health consumers.  

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration overruled—to much criticism—its own scientific advisory committee and approved the Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. The agency made this decision despite thin evidence of the drug’s clinical efficacy and despite its serious side effects, including brain swelling and bleeding. As a result, a serious risk now exists that millions of people will be prescribed a drug that does more harm than good.

Less appreciated is how the drug’s approval could trigger hundreds of billions of dollars of new government spending, all without a vote in Congress or indeed any public debate over the drug’s value. Aduhelm’s manufacturer, Biogen, announced on Monday that it would price the drug at an average of $56,000 a year per patient, a figure that doesn’t include the additional imaging and scans needed to diagnose patients or to monitor them for serious side effects.

The federal government will bear the brunt of the new spending. The overwhelming majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are eligible for Medicare, the federally run insurance program for elderly and disabled Americans. If even one-third of the estimated 6 million people with Alzheimer’s in the United States receives the new treatment, health-care spending could swell by $112 billion annually…

The decision to approve Aduhelm is thus likely to increase the federal deficit, squeeze state budgets, and force additional costs onto seniors—all for a drug that may not work. Yet the FDA has no authority to consider the broader fiscal consequences of its decision. It focuses not on dollars and cents, but on safety and efficacy—and even on that metric, physicians widely criticized the decision.

This situation underscores a big problem in how we pay for drugs in the United States. In theory, one regulator’s decision about whether to approve a drug for sale could be entirely separate from another regulator’s decision of whether to spend public resources on it—and if so, how much. That’s how most countries do it. Here in the United States, however, a mix of legal constraints and political obstacles leaves the government little choice about whether to cover approved drugs. FDA approval and payment policies are tightly linked.

The big question now is whether Aduhelm finally breaks that link.

The reasons for the linkage between FDA approval and government spending go back to 1965, when Congress created Medicare. To overcome political opposition, as the program’s chief architect later explained, supporters had to “promise” that “there would be no real controls over hospitals and physicians.” That kind of deal might have seemed reasonable at the time, when health-care spending amounted to about 5 percent of GDP. Today, however, that figure stands at 17.7 percent.

Formally, Medicare won’t pay for medical care that is “not reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury.” In line with the original deal, however, Medicare denies only about 3 percent of claims that hospitals and physicians submit to it. The law is also ambiguous about whether Medicare can consider costs in deciding what to cover. Is a drug “not reasonable and necessary” because it’s too expensive for the clinical value it provides? Or is Medicare committed to paying for all medically necessary care, costs be damned? And is a drug “medically necessary” just because the FDA has approved it, even if a clinical benefit for the drug has not yet been demonstrated?

5) Really appreciated this feature in the NYT, “The 21 Best Comedies of the 21st Century”  Definitely pleased to see some of my very favorites like “Arrested Development” and “Bojack Horseman” on there.  And the little-appreciated, but absolutely brilliant, “The Comeback.”  I’m currently watching “Nathan for you” with my kids every other night after Jeopardy and find myself laughing out loud almost every show.

6) Meanwhile, I think this explains why I was disappointed in “Kim’s Convenience” after seeing that so many people love it.

In the second episode of the television show “Kim’s Convenience,” there’s a moment that has always stuck with Diane Paik.

Umma, the matriarch of the Kim family, arrives at the apartment of her son, Jung, carrying containers of kimbap.

It’s not a particularly pivotal scene, but it immediately brought Ms. Paik, 30, a senior social media manager for the men’s grooming company Harry’s, back to the many times her own parents drove 10 hours from their home in West Bloomfield, Mich., to her apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, always with their homemade kimchi in tow.

Bringing food is her mother’s love language, she said — an unspoken way that Korean parents show affection by ensuring that their children’s kitchens are stocked with home-cooked meals.

The scene resonated with her for another reason. “There is no explanation or embarrassment” about the food, Ms. Paik said. “It is not so much, ‘Hey, we are Korean and we are going to remind you all the time through all these ways we are Korean.’ It is just like, this is a family that happens to be Korean.”

“Kim’s Convenience,” a CBC Television sitcom based on a play of the same name about a Korean Canadian family who own a convenience store in Toronto, is not about food, per se. But the show stands apart for the way it has normalized Korean cuisine and culture throughout its five-season run. (The fifth and final season arrives on Netflix internationally on Wednesday.)

“It takes the foreignness and otherness out of Korean food,” said June Hur, 31, an author in Toronto. “It’s just food and people love it.” Seeing this on television “makes me proud of my heritage,” she added. “Before, I was not as much.”

All well and good, but not a lot in there about being funny.  In the half dozen or so episodes I watched, it was amusing, but, nothing anywhere like those shows in #5.

7) Gallup’s latest on gay marriage.  A couple of key charts:

Majority support among Republicans really tells you what you need to know.  

8) Very cool interactive feature at NYT, “How Do Animals Safely Cross a Highway? Take a Look.”

9) This interactive Washington Post photo essay on the mouse plague in Australia is stunning.  Seriously, just trust me and check it out. 

10) A couple weeks ago the twitter discourse for the day was about people who have never eaten a Big Mac.  Guilty!  I like McDonald’s plenty, but as a notoriously picky eater who accepts only ketchup on my burgers, no way am I ever getting near a Big Mac.  Yglesias disapproves of me:

As it’s a holiday, in lieu of a real post I am simply going to treat you to an extended complaint about a random New Yorker article titled “The Best Burger to Eat Right Now” about a place called Smashed NYC that sounds pretty tasty.

The lead of their story is about a menu item called the Big Schmacc which as you might imagine is designed to be a burger done in the style of a Big Mac, except upscale like you might get written up in the New Yorker. I have bolded a key sentence for effect.

A big part of what makes the Big Mac appealing in pictures,” a burger aficionado I know mused the other day, “is that the patties extend past the perimeter of the bun. But then you actually get one, and most of the time you can barely even see the patties.” We were sitting outside Smashed NYC, a new burger shop on the Lower East Side. He peeled back the black-and-white checkered wax paper folded around the Big Schmacc, a highlight of the menu. Two thin jagged-edged disks of deeply browned ground beef hung floppily over the limits of three halves of Martin’s “Big Marty’s” sesame roll; there was clear visual evidence, too, of sharp-cornered, barely melted slices of American cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, crinkle-cut pickle coins, and Creamsicle-colored Smash Sauce. “This is what it’s supposed to look like,” he explained, with the authority of a biologist.

I confess that I’ve never tried a Big Mac—because I’ve seen what it looks like in real life. (It’s better not to gaze directly upon the beef, which tends to take on a gray tone.) But I imagine that the Big Schmacc is also what the Big Mac—which McDonald’s introduced in the hope of attracting adult customers, and once advertised as “a meal disguised as a sandwich”—is supposed to taste like: a sandwich carefully layered to provide a uniform, balanced medley of charred, smoky fat, mellow cream, gentle tang, crunch, salt, and just a hint of sweetness in every bite. Unlike at McDonald’s, where the burgers are precooked and reheated, at Smashed your burger is made to order, pressed flat and seared on an extremely hot griddle until it becomes a marvel of the Maillard reaction, umami sparks flying as amino acids and reducing sugars collide, coalescing into a crunchy golden crust.

I don’t understand how you write this line in this story.

For starters: Who has never tried a Big Mac? If you’re a lifelong vegetarian — fine. Or if you’re just a profoundly incurious person — also fine, I guess. But you shouldn’t be so incurious. It’s a good idea to try things.

11) The power we give the Border Patrol well inside the US border is just nuts and it’s one of those awful things that just goes on and hardly anybody seems to know or care about.  Nice piece in Persuasion:

Senator Patrick Leahy has a distinctive license plate: a single digit “1” on Vermont tags. But, as he told a 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, neither that plate nor his driving seventy-five miles from the Canadian border stopped an immigration officer from pulling him over in his home state. “I asked the Border Patrol officer by what authority he was stopping me,” Leahy recounted. “He patted his gun and said that’s all the authority he needed.”

Recent debates about immigration have, understandably, focused on the plight of arrivals at the southern border. But Senator Leahy’s story offers a dramatic insight into an under-discussed element at the intersection of law enforcement and immigration control: the broad powers that allow federal authorities to conduct stops well beyond the border. 

At dozens of internal checkpoints across the country, Border Patrol agents stop and question passing motorists on their citizenship. Elsewhere, officers engage in roving traffic stops aimed at interdicting illegal immigration inside the United States. Agents at checkpoints require neither a warrant nor individualized suspicion to stop passing motorists and inquire about the occupants’ citizenship, or to inspect private lands within twenty-five miles of the border. Taken together, these “defense in depth” measures amount to an extraordinarily expansive law enforcement effort carried deep into the U.S. interior.

These powers long precede the current debate on immigration. And, after four years of an administration that sought to weaponize cruelty in border control and against the lives caught in its web, it can be tempting to focus on the acute situation at the southern border or the prospects for the Biden administration’s ambitious immigration reform proposal to Congress. But the current administration should have another, less-discussed target in its sights: ending U.S. Border Patrol’s sweeping powers to conduct warrantless stops, on citizens and non-citizens alike, miles from the U.S. border. 

12) Don’t know how I missed this before, but I’m all for my apples being picked by laser shooting robots.  Cool!  Also, preferably, Jazz, Braeburn, Suncrisp or Crimson Crisp.

13) Given the dramatically different financial stakes of men’s and women’s sports, I think the charges of rank sexism can be overblown, but damn if Leonhardt doesn’t make a compelling and disturbing case when it comes to NCAA non-revenue sports:

The Women’s College World Series, which began yesterday, is one of the most popular events in college sports.

It is an eight-team softball tournament held every year in Oklahoma City, and the games frequently sell out. The television audience on ESPN is substantial, too. In the most recent previous tournament, 1.8 million people watched the final game, substantially more than have watched recent championship games of college soccer, hockey or lacrosse — men’s or women’s.

The popularity of softball makes it a telling study in the different ways that the N.C.A.A. treats female and male athletes. In terms of fan interest, softball ranks near the top of college sports. It is well behind football and basketball, but ahead of almost every other sport.

Yet the N.C.A.A. treats softball as a second-class sport, many athletes and coaches say.

The stadium that hosts the championship tournament has no showers; players and coaches must instead shower at their hotels. Off days between games are rare, and some teams have to play twice on the same day, increasing injury risk. The N.C.A.A. prefers the condensed schedule to hold down hotel and meal costs, coaches have told Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman.

The men’s version of the College World Series — an eight-team baseball tournament held each year in Omaha — treats the players better. They have off days, as well as a golf outing, a free massage day and a celebratory dinner for coaches, players and dozens of guests, Molly Hensley-Clancy of The Washington Post reported.

The Oklahoma City softball stadium is also too small to hold all the fans who would like to attend, and many games sell out quickly. It has a capacity of about 13,000 (recently expanded from 9,000), compared with 24,000 for the baseball stadium in Omaha. “I think we could easily get 20,000, just like the men,” one longtime coach told The Post. “But we won’t get that chance.”…

Equity in sports can be a complicated topic, because men’s sports often draw larger crowds and television audiences. Officials who defend the differential treatment of female and male athletes — as executives at U.S. Soccer have — cite the revenue differences.

But the softball situation shows how incomplete those explanations are. The average television audience for the most recent softball World Series (1.05 million) was similar to that of the most recent college baseball World Series (1.13 million). And yet one sport’s players get showers, off days, massages and a festive dinner, while the others get doubleheaders and sweaty bus rides back to a hotel.

Jacquie Joseph, the longtime softball coach at Michigan State, has said that softball players are treated worse than women’s basketball players, who are in turn treated worse than men’s basketball players. “They’re the chosen ones,” Joseph said, referring to women’s basketball teams, “and they’re treated like afterthoughts. What’s lower than an afterthought? That’s us.”

I asked N.C.A.A. officials for a response, and they did not address any of the specific differences between the baseball and softball tournaments. In an emailed statement, Joni Comstock, the senior vice president of championships, said the N.C.A.A. was looking forward to “another exciting championship series.”

14) This is cool, “Send in the Bugs. The Michelangelos Need Cleaning.: Last fall, with the Medici Chapel in Florence operating on reduced hours because of Covid-19, scientists and restorers completed a secret experiment: They unleashed grime-eating bacteria on the artist’s masterpiece marbles.”

15) Yeah, Bari Weiss just goes looking for the worst cases of left-wing/woke nuttiness and then pretends its representative.  But, damn, this piece (in Weiss’ substack) from Katie Herzog!

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a recording of a talk called “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind.” It was delivered at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center by a New York-based psychiatrist as part of Grand Rounds, an ongoing program in which clinicians and others in the field lecture students and faculty. 

When I listened to the talk I considered the fact that it might be some sort of elaborate prank. But looking at the doctor’s social media, it seems completely genuine.

Here are some of the quotes from the lecture:

  • This is the cost of talking to white people at all. The cost of your own life, as they suck you dry. There are no good apples out there. White people make my blood boil. (Time stamp: 6:45)

  • I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body, and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step. Like I did the world a fucking favor.  (Time stamp: 7:17)

  • White people are out of their minds and they have been for a long time.  (Time stamp: 17:06)

  • We are now in a psychological predicament, because white people feel that we are bullying them when we bring up race. They feel that we should be thanking them for all that they have done for us. They are confused, and so are we. We keep forgetting that directly talking about race is a waste of our breath. We are asking a demented, violent predator who thinks that they are a saint or a superhero, to accept responsibility. It ain’t gonna happen. They have five holes in their brain. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. It’s just like sort of not a good idea. (Time stamp 17:13)

  • We need to remember that directly talking about race to white people is useless, because they are at the wrong level of conversation. Addressing racism assumes that white people can see and process what we are talking about. They can’t. That’s why they sound demented. They don’t even know they have a mask on. White people think it’s their actual face. We need to get to know the mask. (Time stamp 17:54)

Here’s the poster from the event. Among the “learning objectives” listed is: “understand how white people are psychologically dependent on black rage.”

16) The ACLU used to be awesome and used to stick up for free speech no matter what.  Now it’s just about making the left happy and that sucks.  

Its national and state staff members debate, often hotly, whether defense of speech conflicts with advocacy for a growing number of progressive causes, including voting rights, reparations, transgender rights and defunding the police.

Those debates mirror those of the larger culture, where a belief in the centrality of free speech to American democracy contends with ever more forceful progressive arguments that hate speech is a form of psychological and even physical violence. These conflicts are unsettling to many of the crusading lawyers who helped build the A.C.L.U.

 

“There are a lot of organizations fighting eloquently for racial justice and immigrant rights,” Mr. Glasser said. “But there’s only one A.C.L.U. that is a content-neutral defender of free speech. I fear we’re in danger of losing that.”

Founded a century ago, the A.C.L.U. took root in the defense of conscientious objectors to World War I and Americans accused of Communist sympathies after the Russian Revolution. Its lawyers made their bones by defending the free speech rights of labor organizers and civil rights activists, the Nation of Islam and the Ku Klux Klan. Their willingness to advocate for speech no matter how offensive was central to their shared identity.

One hears markedly less from the A.C.L.U. about free speech nowadays. Its annual reports from 2017 to 2019 highlight its role as a leader in the resistance against President Donald J. Trump. But the words “First Amendment” or “free speech” cannot be found. Nor do those reports mention colleges and universities, where the most volatile speech battles often play out.

17) Though I’m a pretty decent musician I never really learned all that much music theory.  But I find it pretty fascinating and have just been loving David Bennett’s YouTube videos on it.  Definitely relatedly, it’s got me listening to more classical music again.  For my money, I think Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 just might be the greatest classical composition ever (the fact that I could actually play some Rachmaninoff was always something I was quite proud of and was very rewarding at the time).  And this performance is amazing.  I’m listening as I type.  

18) Omar Wasow with perhaps the best take I’ve seen on CRT and the current right-wing freakout.

19) And Drum:

Out of nowhere, Fox News suddenly starts putting critical race theory in heavy rotation starting in March. Six weeks later, everyone else is following suit.

Among conservatives, this is nothing surprising. Fox News has built its brand since the beginning on stoking white fear of black (and brown) people. Conservatives have never objected to this—in fact, most of them won’t even admit it—so it’s perfectly natural that they’re along for the ride.

But there are also well-meaning moderates and liberals out there who have gotten on the “let’s hear them out” bandwagon. These are people who would insist that they aren’t influenced by right-wing agitprop, but they are. It goes like this: Fox keeps up the noise long enough; a few Republican legislatures propose performative laws to “ban CRT”; the mainstream media takes notice; and now we’re all talking about it.

But why? Are there a few schoolrooms where teachers have taken wokeness farther than they should? Sure. There are a couple of million schoolrooms in the United States and it would be shocking if there weren’t a few of them doing stupid stuff. Even if that number is a minuscule 0.1%, that’s 2,000 schoolrooms, more than enough to generate a couple of shocking stories per week.

But wait. How many schoolrooms are there who have taken wokeness to ridiculous levels? What’s that? You don’t know? And Fox News doesn’t know? Then knock off the crap until you do.

As long as you’re worried about this based solely on the highly orchestrated daily anecdotes of Fox News, you’re a sucker just like everyone else. This is the power of Fox News and you ignore it at your peril.

And for the record, I think a lot of CRT genuinely goes too far and that it’s larger approach has too often bled down into K-12 classrooms, but, this is still mostly just a right-wing moral panic.  

20) Also, Vox used to be so chock full of thoughtful journalism.  And it still actually has a fair amount.  But its reputation for thoughtful journalism is largely in tatters because it keeps beclowning itself with stuff like this.

21) Great piece from Leonhardt on kids, Covid, and delta.  The key point from Jha:

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Excellent stuff from Yglesias on capitalism, China, and free speech:

That being said, it seems really clear at this point that the original premise of U.S.-Chinese economic integration got one important point backward. Rather than trade and development allowing for some spread of American liberal norms into China, it is doing the reverse, and western multinationals’ commercial interests in China are inducing them to impose Chinese speech norms on the West. And we ought to try to do something about it…

But here’s what’s worst of all: not only is the internet failing to smuggle free speech into China, Western companies’ desire to make money is smuggling unfree speech out of China.

There are no Chinese movie villains

International intrigue is a common cinematic plot device. There are lots of movies about spies and assassins and terrorists attacking the White House and all sorts of other things. One would expect that just in the ordinary course of such matters, someone would make a movie where the bad guy is an agent of the Chinese government. After all, I assume that in the real world, the U.S. and Chinese intelligence agencies tussle here and there doing whatever the boring real-world equivalent of cool movie spying is.

For a while, the general understanding about this was basically that the PRC would not let you show your movie in China if it made them mad, so film studios told the stewards of big tentpole films and franchises to not do stuff that would cut them off from the China market.

That’s kind of lame, but it also seems to fall within the scope of pretty normal business operations. But last year, Ben Smith reported that Apple’s formal guidelines for original Apple TV+ content include that you cannot portray China in a negative light:

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for internet software and services, who has been at the company since 1989, has told partners that “the two things we will never do are hard-core nudity and China,” one creative figure who has worked with Apple told me. (BuzzFeed News first reported last year that Mr. Cue had instructed creators to “avoid portraying China in a poor light.”)

And Smith says that Disney+ has essentially the same policy:

So far, Apple TV+ is the only streaming studio to bluntly explain its corporate red lines to creators — though Disney, with its giant theme park business in China, shares Apple’s allergy to antagonizing China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

What’s disturbing about this is that while “you can’t sell this particular movie in China” certainly hurts that movie’s marketing prospects, it’s not like it’s impossible to make a profitable film or TV series without selling it to China. It’s one thing to say “look, we’re so invested in the James Bond franchise that we don’t want to lose any opportunities to market it.” It’s another thing entirely to say “we are categorically going to refuse to make anything that antagonizes the Chinese government.”

The implication is that Chinese pressure has stepped up. That they’re not just telling Disney that if they make a movie the PRC disapproves of then that movie won’t air in China, but that they will retaliate against Disney’s overall business interests. Of course on some level, we can’t really know what’s going on inside these companies or in their conversations with Chinese leaders. But some things that we can see are disturbing.

2) Not dead yet by any means, but what is going on now with the Republican Party (and too many Democrats who don’t seem to realize the stakes) is exactly what it looks like when democracies die.

Before leaving town for their Memorial Day recess, in fact, Senate Republicans successfully used the legislative filibuster for the first time this session to block the proposed bipartisan panel. Their stated arguments against a commission range from the implausible to the insulting; the real explanation is political cynicism in the extreme. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is so far delivering on his pledge to focus a “hundred per cent” on blocking Biden’s agenda, even claimed that an investigation was pointless because it would result in “no new fact.” John Cornyn, a close McConnell ally, from Texas, was more honest, at least, in admitting, to Politico, that the vote was all about denying Democrats “a political platform” from which to make the 2022 midterm elections a “referendum on President Trump.” For his part, Trump has been putting out the word that he plans to run for reëlection in 2024—and exulting in polls showing that a majority of Republicans continue to believe both his false claims of a fraudulent election and that nothing untoward happened on January 6th. Needless to say, these are not the signs of a healthy democracy ready to combat the autocratic tyrants of the world.

“Turns out, things are much worse than we expected,” Daniel Ziblatt, one of the “How Democracies Die” authors, told me this week. He said he had never envisioned a scenario like the one that has played itself out among Republicans on Capitol Hill during the past few months. How could he have? It’s hard to imagine anyone in America, even when “How Democracies Die” was published, a year into Trump’s term, seriously contemplating an American President who would unleash an insurrection in order to steal an election that he clearly lost—and then still commanding the support of his party after doing so…

In contemporary Germany, he pointed out, an incitement to violence of the kind deployed by Trump and some of his backers might be enough to get a political party banned. But, in America’s two-party system, you can’t just ban one of the two parties, even if it takes a terrifying detour into anti-democratic extremism.

This is the worrisome essence of the matter. In one alarming survey released this week, nearly thirty per cent of Republicans endorsed the idea that the country is so far “off track” that “American patriots may have to resort to violence” against their political opponents. You don’t need two Harvard professors to tell you that sort of reasoning is just what could lead to the death of a democracy. The implications? Consider the blunt words of Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in a ruling on a case involving one of the January 6th rioters at the Capitol, issued even as it became clear that Republican senators would move to block the January 6th commission from investigating what had caused the riot:

The steady drumbeat that inspired defendant to take up arms has not faded away; six months later, the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near daily fulminations of the former President.

It’s worth noting that Jackson released this ruling this week, the same week that Trump issued statements calling the 2020 vote “the most corrupt Election in the history of our Country,” touting himself as “the true President,” and warning that American elections are “rigged, corrupt, and stolen.”

3) Good interview here, “Are Democrats sleepwalking toward democratic collapse?”

Sean Illing

You said we were “at a very dangerous moment in American history” back in 2018. I have to say, the situation seems worse now. Trump is gone, but over the last year or so the Republican Party has taken an explicit turn against democracy itself. So what’s your current level of concern?

David Faris

My current level of concern is exploring countries to move to after 2024. I’m deeply concerned about the direction that the Republican Party has taken, especially over the last year or so. Things were bad in 2018, but the basic problem in 2018 was that we had structural factors working against the Democrats and you had a Republican Party that was fundamentally trying to keep people from voting.

So 2020 felt like a test run. The plot to overturn the 2020 election never had a real chance of working without some external intervention like a military coup or something like that, which I never thought was particularly likely. But the institutional path that they pursued to steal the election failed because they didn’t control Congress and they didn’t control the right governorships in the right places.

So I worry complacency has set in on the Democratic side and people are lulled into thinking things are normal and fine just because Biden’s approval ratings are good.

Sean Illing

2020 was a “test run” for what, exactly?

David Faris

It was a test run for a way to overturn an election with the veneer of legality. You have to give Trump and Republicans some kind of dark credit for figuring out that this is really conceivable. I think they now know that, even though it would cause a court battle and possibly a civil war, that if they can’t win by suppressing the vote and the election is close enough, they can do this if they control enough state legislatures and the Congress.

If Democrats don’t make some changes to our election laws and if they lose some races that they really need to win in 2022 and 2024, then we’re in real trouble.

4) College are moving away from relying on standardized tests in admissions, but they may mean more reliance on essays.  Which have even more of a socio-economic bias (and really interesting to read in which ways).

5) Kind of nuts that twitter will literally ban people because it’s AI is entirely lacking a sense of humor and that twitter doesn’t seem to care to much about wrongly banning people unless they have a ton of followers.

It took a single tweet about autism for Twitter to suspend me for life. The tweet, part of my “life with #autism” series, quoted a clumsy joke from my autistic son. It contained the words “smash your head.”

The fate of those who accidentally post the wrong words on social media should set off alarm bells for anyone concerned about due process and free speech.

Shortly after posting what turned out to be my last tweet about life with autism, I discovered I had been permanently suspended for violating Twitter’s rules against violent threats. I also discovered that Twitter won’t tell you what your offending tweet was. But when, stunned, I scrolled through my history, I found that one tweet—and one only—had been expunged.

It is highly unlikely that a human would mistake the quotation of a joke threat for an actual threat. But artificial intelligence has no sense of humor. And most artificial intelligence looks only for keywords and phrases, not for whether they are embedded within a quoted dialogue.

I am a computational linguist and have long known about the limitations of AI. But only after becoming a Twitter outcast did I learn the dirty secret of moderation on social media. While Twitter’s policy for reviewing tweets is ambiguous (likely purposefully so), prominent figures, like the former president, are almost certainly monitored by real humans who examine their every utterance. But regular people are more frequently relegated to AI—an AI that not only erases tweets, but indefinitely suspends entire accounts. And though Twitter claims not to ban accounts solely based on AI, my own experience and many similar anecdotes make me incredibly skeptical of that claim.

A scroll through tweets directed at @TwitterSupport, Twitter’s customer support account, shows scores of people using alternative accounts, along with their supporters, protesting that no Twitter rules were violated. Some report making joke threats like “I’ll kill you”; others have no idea what went wrong.

But this problem has flown under the radar. Most people writing about free speech and social media are focused on partisan politics, not on artificial intelligence. They appear to be unaware of, or unconcerned about, the thousands of ordinary folks who are suspended indefinitely because a clumsy and indifferent AI flagged a perfectly legitimate tweet.

6) And, back to a theme, “If American Democracy collapsed, you probably wouldn’t notice it”

Let’s warm up with a question. Why don’t powerful people just seize the reins of authority in American politics? You may think that the answer is because our system of laws says that they may not. We have a Constitution, after all, that says that presidents and members of Congress are elected. The rules say that powerful people cannot just seize power. If you want to have the authority to make laws, you have to win elections.

But that answer is wrong. What constrains the powerful is not the Constitution, nor the system of laws, regulations, and bureaucracies that govern political competition. What constrains them is the practice that American politicians seek power through elections and that everyone agrees to accept that method.

That difference is subtle. It may even seem tautological—didn’t I just say that powerful people don’t seize power because they don’t? But it is essential for understanding what sustains democracy, and what undermines it. Democracy is a political regime, which O’Donnell and Schmitter define as

the ensemble of patterns, explicit or not, that determines and channels of access to principal governmental positions, the characteristics of the actors who are admitted and excluded from such access, and the resources or strategies that they can use to gain access.

Democracy is nothing other than a particular pattern of behavior that reveals how, within some community, people access positions of political authority.

Constitutions and laws, like other so-called “parchment institutions,” help to provide a structure for politics. Given that there are many ways to have elections, our Constitution generates public, common expectations about how they might be conducted (see Carey [PDF]). But laws do not constrain on their own. They constrain—and this is the essential bit—if people behave as if they are constrained by them.

Working from these two points—democracy is a pattern of behavior, and laws only constrain if people behave as if they are constrained—it follows that we would be correct to say that democracy has collapsed if the explicit or implicit patterns of behavior that govern access to political authority no longer operated. And we would not look to the passage of a law, or necessarily even the outcome of an election, to determine if democracy had collapsed.

Democracy, in fact, makes it particularly challenging to know if democracy has collapsed. That is because when democracy functions, challenges to it are usually hidden, and when they emerge in the open, they are processed through a system that presumes that challenges can be handled democratically. Political actors invoke laws and Constitutions as if they were binding constraints. Stresses that pose questions about the stability of the regime over time, therefore, are fundamentally ambiguous. They may be regime-altering, or not. And the responses to them by those who hold power may be regime-altering. Or not.

And that is why, if American democracy were to collapse, you almost certainly wouldn’t notice it. Not right away, at least…

That is an unsettling conclusion, but it is an important one, because it lays out the stakes for defending democracy. Indeed, there aren’t very many differences between everyday life under most forms of authoritarianism and everyday life under democracy. For most people, in most cases, life is basically the same. And because most people, in most cases, are not motivated primarily by their politics in going about their everyday life, the functioning of national politics is not a first-order concern for them.* Democracies usually do not go out with a bang. They just cease to be.**

7) OMG I hate articles about “myths” that aren’t myths at all, or that actually a thing and they pretend its not.  The reality is that NPR should just not being producing this kind of ideological journalism, “6 Charts That Dismantle The Trope Of Asian Americans As A Model Minority”  For starters, “Myth: Asian Americans are a single monolithic group.”  Seriously?!  Does even your average 8-year old believe this.  What a ridiculous low bar of a “myth” to debunk.  Meanwhile “myth” number 2 got dragged, rightly, all over twitter because “Myth: Asian Americans are high earning and well educated” in this case the underlying data shows, that, on average, yes.  The fact that there are large disparities within Asian-Americans (really– not a monolith?!) does not undermine this at all.

8) I loved this guest post at Zeynep’s substack about the key to the novel coronavirus being the novelty.

Novelty Means Severity

by Dylan. H. Morris, PhD

SARS-CoV-2 is new to our immune systems. That makes it very dangerous. Viruses that are new to us spread faster and are more lethal than old familiar ones.

Some scientists are tempted to chalk this up to evolution. The argument is that a virus that leaves its host alive will outcompete one that kills its host. Viruses do sometimes become less deadly as they adapt to a new host species (like us), but they also sometimes become more deadly. But whether wrong or right for a given virus, this tempting just-so story can be a distraction.

Novelty is bad regardless of virus evolution.

When a virus is new, nobody possesses acquired immune protection against it. Acquired immune protection is a different kind of adaptation: not virus evolution, but our own learned—adaptive—immunity. We build over our lifetimes as we encounter new pathogens and learn how to fend them off.

If nobody has adaptive immune protection, a virus spreads faster. Even a few immune individuals in a population can meaningfully slow the rate of virus spread, since they are less likely to become infectious and infect others. If there are enough immune individuals, the virus may not be able to spread at all. This is the logic of population immunity and herd immunity. It is important. We talk about it a lot.

If nobody has adaptive immune protection, a virus causes severe disease in more of the people it infects. This is also important. We don’t talk about it enough…

One of the first observations people made about COVID was that it was frighteningly lethal in the elderly, but by and large, children were not getting too sick. Some people were surprised. Conventional wisdom was that influenza hit children and the elderly hardest, while sparing younger adults. Why was SARS-CoV-2 different?

But we need to look a little more closely, because it’s hard to reach adulthood without having had the flu. Look at virus severity not by age but by age of first infection, and a pattern emerges: see something for the first time as a kid, and you’ll most likely be okay (but only most likely). See it for the first time as an adult, and it can be nasty. The older you get, the worse it becomes to be infected with a virus you’ve never seen.

Children encounter many viruses to which they have no prior immunity. They compensate with robust innate immune responses that allow them to handle novel infections fairly well.

Robust doesn’t equal invincible. Without widespread childhood vaccination, infectious diseases kill many children, particularly children under five. A first encounter between the immune system and a virus can end tragically, even for a child.1

As you age, you get less good at handling novel viruses. And eventually you get less good at handling any virus, novel or familiar—your immune system ages (“immunosenescence”). The flu, for example, can be very severe in the elderly. But adults, even elderly adults, usually have at least some adaptive immunity to the viruses they face.

Things can get bad if they don’t…

In an article on OC43, Anthony King writes: “If OC43 was the culprit in the 1889/90 pandemic, it has clearly lost its sting in the past 130 years”. Has it? Or do we (almost) all now see it in childhood?

The “almost” may be important. I often wonder about the strong similarity between myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)—a rare but severe chronic health condition—and many cases of Long COVID. ME/CFS is more common in adults than in children; it often takes hold in adults after a viral infection. What if it is a rare but dangerous consequence of first seeing in your 30s a virus most people first saw in childhood? Evade OC43 or another common virus as a kid, and it could give you post-viral sequelae when it finally hits you in adulthood.

And so while we don’t yet have hard data on the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing Long COVID if they fail to prevent infection, the severity-is-novelty principle makes me hopeful. The virus might get you sick, but it won’t be new to you. That could matter a lot.2

9) Thank your T-cells.  Monica Gandhi, “Relax: If you’re vaccinated, you won’t need a booster any time soon”

As coronavirus vaccines begin to steer the United States back to normalcy after a long and nerve-racking year, Americans’ optimism is mixed with anxiety about the pandemic hurdles that lay ahead. Among those worries is boosters — extra shots that might be needed to shore up immunity among the vaccinated. But emerging research is showing that vaccines and even infections by the virus actually confer long-term immunity and that most vaccinated people won’t need booster shots — at least, not any time soon.

A short primer on the immune system will help explain why. There are two major arms of the immune system: B cells, which produce antibodies, and T cells, which form to attack parts of a pathogen called epitopes. Part of the reason booster shots are under discussion is that antibodies in the bloodstream produced by B cells wane over time. Your blood cannot hold high levels of antibodies to all of the infections you have seen over your lifetime or it would be as thick as paste.

But when you get an infection or vaccine, both parts of your immune system also typically make what are known as memory cells. These long-lasting cells are designed to protect you from a disease you might have encountered a long time ago. For instance, a 2008 study found memory B cells in the blood of people who had been exposed to the influenza pandemic of 1918 and were over 90 years old. Those memory B cells could produce strong neutralizing antibodies against the virus or its variants decades later. The immunity conferred by memory T cells can also last decades.

10) Edsall rounds up a variety of opinions on how the “woke” debate may (or may not) be hurting Democrats:

At one level, it is a dispute over ground rules. Can a professor quote literature or historic documents that use taboo words? What rights should be granted to a person accused of sexual harassment? Are there issues or subjects that should not be explored in an academic setting?

On another level, though, it is a conflict over practical politics. Do specific policies governing speech and sexual behavior win or lose voter support? Are there policies that attract criticism from the opposition party that will stick? Are certain policies so controversial that they divert attention from the opposition’s liabilities?

In an article in March, “Why Attacking ‘Cancel Culture’ And ‘Woke’ People Is Becoming the G.O.P.’s New Political Strategy,” Perry Bacon Jr., formerly a senior writer at FiveThirtyEight and now a Washington Post columnist, described the ways that policies the Democratic left argued for provided political opportunities to the Republican Party:

First and perhaps most important, focusing on cancel culture and woke people is a fairly easy strategy for the G.O.P. to execute, because in many ways it’s just a repackaging of the party’s long-standing backlash approach. For decades, Republicans have used somewhat vague terms (“dog whistles”) to tap into and foment resentment against traditionally marginalized groups like Black Americans who are pushing for more rights and freedoms. This resentment is then used to woo voters (mostly white) wary of cultural, demographic and racial change.

Among the reasons Republicans will continue to adopt an “anti-woke posture,” Bacon writes, is that it

gives conservative activists and Republican officials a way to excuse extreme behavior in the past and potentially rationalize such behavior in the future. Republicans are trying to recast the removal of Trump’s accounts from Facebook and Twitter as a narrative of liberal tech companies silencing a prominent conservative, instead of those platforms punishing Trump for using them to “incite violence and encourage overturning the election results.”

Insofar as Republicans suppress Democratic votes, Bacon continued,

or try to overturn election results in future elections, as seems entirely possible, the party is likely to justify that behavior in part by suggesting the Democrats are just too extreme and woke to be allowed to control the government. The argument would be that Democrats would eliminate police departments and allow crime to surge if they have more power, so they must be stopped at all costs. Polls suggest a huge bloc of G.O.P. voters is already open to such apocalyptic rhetoric.

Bacon’s views are widely shared among Democratic Party strategists, whether or not they will say so publicly. And Bacon is hardly alone.

In a piece in New York magazine, “Is ‘Anti-Wokeness’ the New Ideology of the Republican Party?” Ed Kilgore makes the case that for Republicans

Casting a really wide range of ideas and policies as too woke and anyone who is critical of them as being canceled by out-of-control liberals is becoming an important strategy and tool on the right — in fact, this cancel culture/woke discourse could become the organizing idea of the post-Trump-presidency Republican Party.

This approach is particularly attractive to conservative politicians and strategists, Kilgore continued, because

It allows them and their supporters to pose as innocent victims of persecution rather than as aggressive culture warriors seeking to defend their privileges and reverse social change.

Really not a fan of casting everything in the language of harm, so I really appreciated the pushback from Randall Kennedy:

Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard and the author of the forthcoming book “Say It Loud! On Race, Law, History and Culture,” cited in an email a similar set “of reasons for the deficient response to threats against freedom of thought, expression and learning emanating from the left.”

His list:

“Woke” folk making wrongful demands march under the banner of “EQUALITY” which is a powerful and attractive emblem, especially in this George Floyd/Covid-19 moment when the scandalous inequities of our society are so heartbreakingly evident. On the campuses, many of the most vocal woke folk are students whom teachers and administrators want to mollify, comfort and impress. Many teachers and administrators seek desperately to be liked by students.

At the same time, Kennedy continued, many of the people demanding the diminution of what he sees as essential freedoms have learned how to package their insistence in effective ways. They have learned, Kennedy wrote, to deploy skillfully the language of “hurt” — as in “I don’t care what the speaker’s intentions were, what the speaker said has hurt my feelings and ought therefore to be prohibited.”

Authorities, particularly those at educational institutions, need to become much more skeptical and tough-minded when encountering the language of “hurt.” Otherwise, they will continue to offer incentives to those who deploy the specters of bigotry, privilege and trauma to further diminish vital academic, intellectual and aesthetic freedoms.

11) Good stuff in Reason on the NHJ tenure case:

The question is who ought to decide whether particular individuals should be hired for available faculty positions. The board at UNC has apparently taken the view that it should not rubber stamp such offers but should feel free to override the determination of the faculty and administration on individual personnel decisions. Nothing good can come of this.

Members of the boards of trustees of universities have no expertise to assess the quality of an individual’s work and the potential contribution that a faculty member might make to the campus. They have no basis on which to assess whether the faculty have made a good or bad choice in a hiring or promotion decision from a scholarly perspective. What board members do have are political opinions and personal interests. If boards can block faculty hiring and promotion decisions, the inevitable result will be to shrink the range of acceptable ideas that can be expressed, taught and investigated on the university campus. Faculty hiring and promotion decisions will turn not just on peer review but also on the vagaries of political lobbying campaigns by activists. Peer review is hardly perfect, but it does not get better if a political body gets to second-guess the results…

Even so, those who seek to promote academic freedom, campus free speech, and greater intellectual diversity in academia should be seeking to expand and not to shrink the range of ideas expressed on college campuses. Free speech is not only for those with whom we agree. The principle requires tolerating those with whom we disagree. We do not improve the state of higher education by further politicizing the process of hiring and promoting faculty.

The Hannah-Jones situation is not the most egregious sin against freedom of thought in American higher education. She was still offered a five-year contract. She apparently accepted that offer. She will remain a loud voice in American political discourse, and she will be regularly feted on university campuses. Far more troubling and career-damaging decisions are made every day on university campuses across the country.

But the principle that trustees should not interfere in faculty hiring decisions was hard won and essential to establishing academic freedom in the United States. It would be all too easy for that principle to be eroded in our current polarized political environment. Setting aside that principle whenever we happen to disagree with what the faculty has done will only encourage the belief that faculty appointments should be treated as political spoils and that the scope of acceptable teaching and scholarship should be determined by politicians and mass public opinion.

12) This is so true, “Americans, It’s Time to Get Comfortable With Platonic Touch.”  I remember that being a big issue when I went off to college and no longer got daily hugs from my mom and dad.  My two youngest kids, especially, really just love snuggling up, so I sure get plenty these days, but, as a society, we should do better.

The isolation of the pandemic has highlighted how much we need — and miss — the many forms of nonsexual contact that once permeated daily life. Returning to normal offers not just a chance to resume hugs and handshakes, but also to ask if we should engage in more forms of touch with our friends and colleagues.

As I learned from 17 months of travel abroad before the pandemic, America has a narrow approach to touch. (I’d witnessed the difference on previous travel abroad, but a trip of this duration allowed me to also experience the difference firsthand.) As adults, our opportunities to touch each other are generally limited to a handshake when we meet someone for the first time, a quick hug greeting of a friend, and all the forms of touch two people in a romantic relationship exchange.

In other countries, touch is far freer. I interviewed Christian singles around the world, talking to more than 300 people in nearly 40 countries — all but a handful in person. In several of those places, I saw public touch between same-sex pairs that has almost no corollary in the United States.

13) Good stuff from Zeynep on the media and the lab leak:

Essentially, in early 2020, Trump and Senator Tom Cotton weighed in on the issue, after which it exploded in the fever swamps, with undeniable racism at play, advocating increasingly weird and unlikely scenarios. All that made it kind of became harder to talk about the topic at all.

At the same time, a small but vocal group of scientists, some of whom had fairly active profiles on social media, provided a lot of content, quotes and viewpoints to the media,  generally making themselves very accessible but with a particular point of view on this question. They also wrote strongly-worded opinion pieces for a few high-profile scientific outlets, essentially dismissing a version of what’s getting called the “lab leak” hypothesis—which is fine, as is their right.

By itself, there isn’t anything wrong with what I just outlined. That small vocal group of critics were not even entirely wrong, in my view, and they are certainly entitled to their opinions and to being loud about them.

But the response to that reality from traditional journalism/media is where things went awry.

Many top media outlets took this group of critics’ dismissal of a version of the lab leak hypothesis and then acted like that dismissal was universal and a scientific consensus, which it wasn’t, or was conclusive, which it couldn’t be simply because we… don’t know. We certainly didn’t have the evidence we need to be so conclusive, especially not at the time.

In addition, press reports suggested that everything that fell under the umbrella of the term ‘lab leak,’ which has been a conceptual mess, had also been dismissed, although it hadn’t been, even by some of the original opponents of that particular version.

Then, for a whole year, the coverage implied that any question or statement skeptical of the lab leak critics, broadly defined, was essentially unscientific and could only be motivated by racism. Social media sites took down posts, and even news articles that made such claims.

In the meantime, the reporters did not do the leg work to separate the pieces of the question or seek a broad range of experts. If they had, they might have realized that many experts were quiet on the topic partly because they didn’t want to die on this hill last year, and partly because many were actually eminent experts very very busy doing work on the pandemic itself. Unfortunately, many media outlets failed to do the work necessary to pull themselves out of the tight Twitter/media feedback loop that dominates so much of our media coverage.

Next came the scolding “fact-checks,” painting all discussion of the lab leak as a possibility in any version as mere racism or just a conspiracy theory, suggesting that any attempt to have a sane conversation about a really important topic was, at best, aiding and abetting racists if not outright racist. Of course, these knee-jerk dismissals just makes the problem worse, because when the mainstream media ignores vital, debatable topics, the ones left speaking about the issue most vocally become the racists in the fever swamps.

In any case, just looking at the names on that letter itself would make it obvious to someone who was familiar with the field why it was such a big deal, but it seemed not to get the media attention it would get in that context, probably because most the signatories, while leaders in the filed, are not on social media much, if at all and not that active — and there are many others in this and related fields who aren’t involved openly at all, but would maybe talk to reporters if contacted. However, media keeps quoting the same few very accessible people, to the detriment of the story.

Plus, the coverage has been weird in terms of logical analysis and causal inference. Once something does happen in the real world, we cannot go directly from considering the abstract odds of it happening before to understanding what actually happened after it already happened. It’s one thing to understand how pandemics happen, in general and in the past. It’s an entirely different process to try to answer the question as how did this one happen…

I believe that working to answer key questions that otherwise would be monopolized by racists is core to practicing antiracism. I also believe that equating criticism of the Chinese government with racism against Chinese people is, to put it bluntly, is, indeed, racist. The government is not the people, and like all authoritarian countries, China has great many dissidents.Some dissidents we know of, and there are many others who cannot speak out freely, including some who risked everything to warn us about the pandemic early on and were punished by their government. We should honor and highlight their work, not bury them by acting like criticizing a government — any government, to be honest, but especially unelected, authoritarian ones — means we’re somehow being racist against a billion of people who just happen to live there, or people of that descent. These people are not puppets of a singular government, and criticizing a government is not racism; rather, it’s often a requirement of antiracism.

14) For a while, I was pretty annoyed that we were not going to get a vaccine mandate for NC State.  But, pretty soon I realized this is just politics and our university system is under control of the Republican legislature.  Here’s the sad reality, “For Colleges, Vaccine Mandates Often Depend on Which Party Is in Power: Hoping for a return to normal, more than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated for Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.”

15) There’s good arguments for banning ransomware payments.  And there’s good arguments against banning ransomware payments.  And this Post article nicely rounds them up.  That said, I’m not sure there are not good arguments for failing to step up investment and policies that make life much tougher for the ransomware malefactors.

16) This was good from Linda Greenhouse, “The Free Ride May Soon Be Over for Anti-Abortion Politicians”

Do I think the court will use this case to permit states to ban abortion entirely? No, not directly and not this soon; there’s no need for the new majority, handpicked for that very purpose, to go that far this fast. The question the court has agreed to answer, as framed by the state’s petition, “Whether all previability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” suggests but doesn’t require an all-or-nothing response.

However, as President Biden might say, here’s the deal: Viability has been the essential firewall protecting the right to abortion. As the law of abortion currently stands, states can require onerous waiting periods, misleading “informed consent” scripts, needless ultrasound exams — anything to make abortion as burdensome, expensive and stigmatizing as possible. But what a state can’t do at the end of the day is actually prevent a woman with the resources and will to get to one of the diminishing number of providers (the clinic that sued to block the Mississippi law is the only one in that state) from terminating her pregnancy.

Once the viability firewall is breached, it’s hard to see what limiting principle the new majority might invoke even if so inclined. Ninety percent of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. What’s the difference between 15 weeks and 13, or 11, or 10? Mississippi offers as a limiting principle the claim that at 15 weeks a fetus is “likely capable of conscious pain perception.” But as a compilation of peer-reviewed medical articles published in 2015 by FactCheck.org concluded, scientific evidence is lacking even for the more common assertion that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks…

If there is any good news to salvage from the court’s announcement this week, it is this: the free ride that anti-abortion politicians have enjoyed may be coming to a crashing end.

Ever since the 2010 election ushered new Republican majorities into state legislatures, politicians there have been able to impose increasingly severe abortion restrictions without consequence, knowing that the lower courts would enjoin the laws before they took effect and save the people’s representatives from having to own their actions.

The question as the polls’ respondents processed it was most likely “Do you want to keep the right to abortion?” And no wonder the answer was yes: nearly one American woman in four will have an abortion. (Catholic women get about one-quarter of all abortions, roughly in proportion to the Catholic share of the American population.) Decades of effort to drive abortion to the margins of medical practice have failed to dislodge it from the mainstream of women’s lives.

For the cynical game they have played with those lives, politicians have not paid a price. Now perhaps they will. Of course, women themselves will pay a heavy price as this new reality sorts itself out, particularly women with low incomes who now make up the majority of abortion patients.

And there’s another price to be paid as justices in the new majority turn to the mission they were selected for. The currency isn’t votes, but something even more important and harder to win back: the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court of the United States.

There’s no free ride for the court either.

17) I cannot remember the last time I watched a Friends episode.  And I don’t even remember if I was still watching at the end of their run.  But I quite enjoyed the Friends Reunion special on HBO.  Truly some excellent writing and gifted comic actors on that show.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Bernstein:

You want to know something really depressing? Now is the time when Republicans have the least to fear from former President Donald Trump. There’s more than a year to go until the 2022 midterm elections, and at least 10 months until the primaries for those elections. Trump left office at one of his low points in popularity. Sure, most Republican voters still like him — as most Republicans like most Republican politicians (other than congressional leaders, who are almost always unpopular).

Not only that, but Trump’s electoral defeat is still fairly recent news. If there was ever a time to move away from him, it’s now.

That, of course, is not what’s happening. Just in the last few days, angry Utah Republicans hooted at Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to remove Trump from office after his impeachment trials. Over in the House of Representatives, Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming is apparently in danger (again) of losing her leadership post because she insists on accurately saying that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election. And believing — or at least pretending to believe — Trump’s fantastic lies about nonexistent voting fraud is increasingly the central belief Republican elected officials must share

My guess is that this has little to do with Trump. Republican complaints about fictional election fraud were central to their legislative agenda in state after state well before Trump’s 2016 campaign. It’s true that the specifics of that agenda have shifted somewhat in response to Trump’s whining. What that shows more than anything, however, is that attempts to hijack elections may only be the secondary motive for these laws; the primary reason for them is for Republican elected officials to convince their strongest supporters that they are doing their best to repress Democrats and various Democratic groups. 

That’s why fictional election fraud is such a good issue for many Republicans right now. Opposing Biden and the Democratic legislative agenda, after all, would tend to unite the party. But a united Republican Party is the last thing that Republican radicals want. They need enemies; they need apostates they can label “Republicans in name only” to prove that they are the true conservatives. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump’s continuing lies are so obviously an attack on the Constitution, the rule of law and the American republic that Republicans such as Romney and Cheney refused to go along. For the radicals, that’s exactly the kind of opportunity they rarely fail to exploit.

It’s possible, but unlikely, that any of this will seriously damage Republicans in 2022 and 2024. Elections tend to ride on what voters think about incumbents, not challengers. There is a slim possibility that the party will split and make itself unelectable. And there’s a somewhat greater chance that it will wind up throwing away a handful of elections by nominating candidates who run well behind what a generic candidate would do, as it’s done repeatedly over the last decade. For the most part, however, the out-party’s actions don’t have much to do with its electoral success.

The real damage continues to be to the party’s capacity to govern when it does win. And, even more seriously, to the party’s commitment to core democratic beliefs and procedures. Depressing, indeed — and scary.

2) Yeah, so this… “Experts: CDC’s Summer-Camp Rules Are ‘Cruel’ and ‘Irrational’”

With all this good news related to the pandemic in the U.S. and the relaxing of a number of controls, the CDC’s newly released guidance for summer camps is notable for its rigidity and strictness: Masks must be worn at all times, even outdoors, by everyone, including vaccinated adults and children as young as 2 years old. The exceptions are for eating and swimming. (The guidance helpfully notes that if a person is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, no mask need be worn.) Campers must remain three feet apart from each other at all times including, again, outdoors. Six feet of distance must be maintained during meals and between campers and staff. If you need to sneeze and you don’t have a tissue, do it into your mask. (Children presumably are expected to carry a cache of spares.) Campers and staff should be cohorted, and any interaction with a person outside the cohort must be conducted at a distance of six feet. Art supplies, toys, books, and games are not to be shared…

For much of last summer, when COVID-19 rates were on par with where they are now — before half the adult population was vaccinated and millions of children had acquired immunity naturally — many camps had far fewer restrictions and there was no corresponding wave of related outbreaks.

The combination of masking and social distancing of children outdoors, said Dimitri Christakis, an epidemiologist and the editor-in-chief of JAMA Pediatrics, the leading journal for pediatric medicine, “is unfairly draconian.” We should let kids be close and play, he said. And with rapid testing twice a week on a rolling basis, a relatively easy program to conduct, he added, we should be able to forgo masks. Even without testing, Christakis said that sports like soccer should be able to be done without masks. And that “keeping children masked for activities like baseball and tennis is ridiculous.”

Mark Gorelik, a pediatric immunologist at Columbia University and an expert on MIS-C, the rare COVID-19-related inflammatory syndrome, said, “We know that the risk of outdoor infection is very low. We know risks of children becoming seriously ill or even ill at all is vanishingly small. And most of the vulnerable population is already vaccinated. I am supportive of effective measures to restrain the spread of illness. However, the CDC’s recommendations cross the line into excess and are, frankly, senseless. Children cannot be running around outside in 90-degree weather wearing a mask. Period.”

An infectious-disease scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci’s agency, spoke with me about the CDC guidance on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. “With staff and parents vaccinated, there is no reason to continue incredibly strict mitigation efforts or put severe limitations on activities,” they said. “Charitably,” the scientist, who has an expertise in respiratory viruses, continued, “masking kids at camp outdoors is simply virtue signaling. Requiring kids to continuously wear masks at camps, even while outside playing in the heat, when it provides little additional protection is unfair and cruel to our children. Considering that children are at incredibly low risk for developing severe illness, the minimal benefits of mask wearing do not outweigh the substantial costs of discouraging children to be active and their overall health.

3) We’re doing some survey experiments with some cool PSA’s we made.  Check out this one.  At the end of the survey there’s an option for open-ended feedback.  This one was just amazing:

In case you’re wondering.  I’m not getting the vaccine any time soon because I’m pissed off about the government lockdowns and the blatant lying by the CDC, and Fauci, about the actual research studies that prompted the state mandated lockdowns.  Refusing to get the vaccine is the only thing that I have control over in this whole unconstitutional situation.  So even though I compleley trust the vaccines, and I believe that they work remarkably well, and that refusing to get the vaccine is not in my best interest nor in the best interest of society as a whole, I am still going to say no.  I’ll get the vaccine when I’m done being pissed off.

4) Speaking of vaccines, I’m so tired of the media trying to scare people about variants for clicks when the reality is more like this, “Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine is Highly Effective Against Variants, Studies Find: Two studies showed the vaccine to be more than 95 percent effective at protecting against severe disease or death from the variants first identified in South Africa and the U.K.”

5) Given the current reality, I’d be disappointed if my or my kid’s university was doing on-line only graduation.  NC State is doing multiple outdoor graduations.  I am disappointed, though, that the PS ceremony where we get to see our graduates and meet their families is not happening.  

6) The lost Franklin expedition of 1845 is fascinating.  I’ve not watched AMC’s The Terror, but read Dan Simmon’s novel upon which it’s based.  Now there’s this, “His Ship Vanished in the Arctic 176 Years Ago. DNA Has Offered a Clue.: For the first time, researchers have identified the remains of a sailor from the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition of the fabled Northwest Passage.”

7) I gotta say, I’m not impressed by the prison abolition movement.  There’s so much we need to do a lot better, but I think there’s pretty solid models in Europe rather than a utopian vision of prison abolition:

The book, which débuted on the Times best-seller list, offers an entry point into the world of abolitionist politics, beginning with an essay titled “So You’re Thinking about Becoming an Abolitionist.” It contains several basic but profound observations: “Increasing rates of incarceration have a minimal impact on crime rates. Moreover, crime and harm are not synonymous. All that is criminalized isn’t harmful, and all harm isn’t necessarily criminalized.” If there is a mismatch between punishment and crime, and crime and harm, then what is the intent of the criminal-justice system and the police it employs? Kaba refers to the “criminal punishment system” to emphasize that justice in the United States means a promise of retribution much more than an effort to understand why an infraction has occurred. She writes, “If we want to reduce (or end) sexual and gendered violence, putting a few perpetrators in prison does little to stop the many other perpetrators. It does nothing to change a culture that makes this harm imaginable, to hold the individual perpetrator accountable, to support their transformation, or to meet the needs of the survivors.” When we spoke, Kaba told me, “I am looking to abolish what I consider to be death-making institutions, which are policing, imprisonment, sentencing, and surveillance. And what I want is to basically build up another world that is rooted in collective wellness, safety, and investment in the things that would actually bring those things about.” …

Our current criminal-justice system is rooted in the assumption that millions of people require policing, surveillance, containment, prison. It is a dark view of humanity. By contrast, Kaba and others in this emergent movement fervently believe in the capacity of people to change in changed conditions. That is the optimism at the heart of the abolitionist project. As Kaba insists in her book, “The reason I’m struggling through all of this is because I’m a deeply, profoundly hopeful person. Because I know that human beings, with all of our foibles and all the things that are failing, have the capacity to do amazingly beautiful things, too. That gives me the hope to feel like we will, when necessary, do what we need to do.” Abolition is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Even the guiding lights of the movement are embedded in campaigns for short-term reforms that make a difference in daily life. For Kaba, that has meant raising funds for mutual aid during the pandemic and campaigning for reparations in Chicago. For Gilmore, it has meant working with incarcerated people and their families to challenge the building of prisons across California. For Angela Davis, it has meant lending her voice to movements for civil and human rights, from Ferguson to Palestine. The point is to work in solidarity with others toward the world as they wish for it to be. “Hope is a discipline,” Kaba writes. “We must practice it daily.”

8) Looks like MDMA (aka Ecstasy) can be remarkably effective as part of a treatment regime for PTSD.  It’s a shame to think of the human suffering we could have been alleviating without such a moralistic and binary approach to so many potentially beneficial drugs:

In an important step toward medical approval, MDMA, the illegal drug popularly known as Ecstasy or Molly, was shown to bring relief to those suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder when paired with talk therapy.

Of the 90 people who took part in the new study, which is expected to be published later this month in Nature Medicine, those who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo. Two months after treatment, 67 percent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group.

MDMA produced no serious adverse side effects. Some participants temporarily experienced mild symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite.

“This is about as excited as I can get about a clinical trial,” said Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “There is nothing like this in clinical trial results for a neuropsychiatric disease.”

Mental health experts say that this research — the first Phase 3 trial conducted on psychedelic-assisted therapy — could pave the way for further studies on MDMA’s potential to help address other difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, including substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, eating disordersdepressionend-of-life anxiety and social anxiety in autistic adults.

And, mental health researchers say, these studies could also encourage additional research on other banned psychedelics, including psilocybin, LSD and mescaline.

“This is a wonderful, fruitful time for discovery, because people are suddenly willing to consider these substances as therapeutics again, which hasn’t happened in 50 years,” said Jennifer Mitchell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the new study.

9) The latest on Neanderthals

Estatuas cave in northern Spain was a hive of activity 105,000 years ago. Artifacts show its Neanderthal inhabitants hafted stone tools, butchered red deer, and may have made fires. They also shed, bled, and excreted subtler clues onto the cave floor: their own DNA. “You can imagine them sitting in the cave making tools, butchering animals. Maybe they cut themselves or their babies pooped,” says population geneticist Benjamin Vernot, a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), whose perspective may have been colored by his own baby’s cries during a Zoom call. “All that DNA accumulates in the dirt floors.”

He and MPI-EVA geneticist Matthias Meyer report today in Science that dirt from Estatuas has yielded molecular treasure: the first nuclear DNA from an ancient human to be gleaned from sediments. Earlier studies reported shorter, more abundant human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from cave floors, but nuclear DNA, previously available only from bones and teeth, can be far more informative. “Now, it seems that it is possible to extract nuclear DNA from dirt, and we have a lot of dirt in archaeological sites,” says archaeologist Marie Soressi of Leiden University.

“This is a beautiful paper,” agrees population geneticist Pontus Skoglund of the Francis Crick Institute. The sequences reveal the genetic identity and sex of ancient cave dwellers and show that one group of Neanderthals replaced another in the Spanish cave about 100,000 years ago, perhaps after a climate cooling. “They can see a shift in Neanderthal populations at the very same site, which is quite nice,” Skoglund says.

In what Skoglund calls “an amazing technical demonstration,” they developed new genetic probes to fish out hominin DNA, allowing them to ignore the abundant sequences from plants, animals, and bacteria. Then, they used statistical methods to home in on DNA unique to Neanderthals and compare it with reference genomes from Neanderthals in a phylogenetic tree.

All three sites yielded Neanderthal nuclear and mtDNA, with the biggest surprise coming from the small amount of nuclear DNA from multiple Neanderthals in Estatuas cave. Nuclear DNA from a Neanderthal male in the deepest layer, dating to about 113,000 years ago, linked him to early Neanderthals who lived about 120,000 years ago in Denisova cave and in caves in Belgium and Germany.

But two female Neanderthals who lived in Estatuas cave later, about 100,000 years ago, had nuclear DNA more closely matching that of later, “classic” Neanderthals, including those who lived less than 70,000 years ago at Vindija cave in Croatia and 60,000 to 80,000 years ago at Chagyrskaya cave, says co-author and paleoanthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University of Madrid.

At the same time, the more plentiful mtDNA from Estatuas cave shows declining diversity. Neanderthals in the cave 113,000 years ago had at least three types of mtDNA. But the cave’s Neanderthals 80,000 and 107,000 years ago had only one type. Existing ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones and teeth had also pointed to a falloff in genetic diversity over the same period.

Arsuaga suggests Neanderthals thrived and diversified during the warm, moist interglacial period that started 130,000 years ago. But about 110,000 years ago, temperatures in Europe dipped suddenly as a new glacial period set in. Soon after, all but one lineage of Neanderthals disappeared. Members of the surviving lineage repopulated Europe during later, relatively warm spells, with some taking shelter in Estatuas cave.

10) The Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebasitan Aho had the team’s first hat trick of the season this week.  I was disappointed to learn that the team makes no effort to return the hats to the fans (some teams do).  

11) John Swartzwelder wrote a ton of iconic Simpsons episodes (and way more episodes than any other writer), but is known for being extraordinary private and reclusive.  Thus, a real treat to read this new interview with him.  

12) I’m entirely open to the scientific possibility that we don’t actually need to vaccinate all our kids to keep them safe and Covid well-contained (I like that formulation better than “herd immunity”).  But, the sociological/psychological reality is that there’s too many parents (and teachers) who won’t be able to relax and behave normally till all the kids are vaccinated— so let’s do it. “Do Kids Really Need to Be Vaccinated for Covid? Yes. No. Maybe.: Many experts argue that Covid-19 cannot be curbed without vaccinating children. But others aren’t so sure.”

13) I was shocked to see an ad for Dr Pepper Zero the other day.  As those who know me in real-life know, I absolutely swear by my Diet Dr Pepper (or DDP as we refer to it in the Greene household).  Fortunately, it’s not being replaced and we’ll have a Diet Coke/Coke Zero kind of thing going on here.  Also, I am curious about it.  

14) I remember being really intrigued by David Buss’ work on sex and evolutionary psychology a long time ago (in fact, I even used to discuss it in my Gender & Politics class).  I imagine it is less welcome than ever on the left.  Here’s a pretty interesting summary from his new book:

Professor David M. Buss, a leading evolutionary psychologist, states in the introduction of his fascinating new book that it “uncovers the hidden roots of sexual conflict.” Though the book focuses on male misbehavior, it also contains a broad and fascinating overview of mating psychology.

Sex, as defined by biologists, is indicated by the size of our gametes. Males have smaller gametes (sperm) and females have larger gametes (eggs). Broadly speaking, women and men had conflicting interests in the ancestral environment. Women were more vulnerable than men. And women took on far more risk when having sex, including pregnancy, which was perilous in an environment without modern technology. In addition to the physical costs, in the final stages of pregnancy, women must also obtain extra calories. According to Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, pregnant women in their final trimester require an additional 200 calories per day, or 18,000 calories more in total than they otherwise would have required. This surplus was not easy to obtain for our ancestors. Men, in contrast, did not face the same level of sexual risk.

These differences in reproductive biology have given rise to differences in sexual psychology that are comparable to sex differences in height, weight, and upper-body muscle mass. However, Buss is careful to note, such differences always carry the qualifier “on average.” Some women are taller than some men—but on average men are taller. Likewise, some women prefer to have more sex partners than some men—but on average men prefer more. These evolved differences are a key source of conflict.

One goal of the book is to highlight situations in which sexual conflict is diminished or amplified to prevent victimization and reduce harm.

Because of the increased risk women carry, they tend to be choosier about their partners. In contrast, men are less discerning. Studies of online dating, for example, find that most men find most women to be at least somewhat attractive. In contrast, women, on average, view 80 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. Another study found that on the dating app Tinder, men “liked” more than 60 percent of the female profiles they viewed, while women “liked” only 4.5 percent of male profiles.

The book provides a simple figure to understand the ongoing conflict between men and women.

Men are constantly trying to manipulate women into moving closer to their preferred optimum, and women are likewise relentlessly influencing men to inch closer toward theirs. Buss writes, “If women and men could agree in advance on a compromised middle-ground solution that was perfect for neither but acceptable for both … they could avoid many of these costs.”

Because sexual risks are higher and sexual mistakes are more dangerous for women, they prefer to wait longer to evaluate a potential partner for suitability. For men, sexual mistakes are viewed differently. Research indicates that when asked to reflect on their sexual history, women are more likely to regret having had sex with someone, while men are more likely to regret having missed out on sexual opportunities. 

Even in the most egalitarian countries, men prefer more sexual partners compared to women. In Norway, researchers asked people how many sex partners they would prefer over the next 30 years. On average, women preferred five, men preferred 25. Even the desire to kiss before intercourse differs between the sexes. About 53 percent of men report that they would have sex without kissing, while only 14.6 percent of women would have sex without kissing. These different preferences can give rise to sexual conflict.

15) Pretty interesting stuff from Gallup on proof of vaccination status:

Americans’ Preferences for Proof of Vaccination to Participate in Activities Based on COVID-19 Attitudes
% Who favor businesses requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to do each over the next several months
  Travel by airplane Go to events
with large crowds
Go to your worksite
to do your job*
Stay in a hotel Dine in
at a restaurant
  % % % % %
Vaccination status  
Have been/Will be vaccinated 74 71 59 56 52
Will not get vaccinated 8 7 6 6 5
Worry about getting COVID-19  
Very/Somewhat worried 77 72 66 59 55
Not too/Not at all worried 49 48 36 37 34
*Among those employed full or part time.
GALLUP PANEL, APRIL 19-25, 2021
Partisans’ Preferences for Proof of Vaccination to Participate in Activities
% Who favor businesses requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to do each over the next several months
  Travel by airplane Go to events
with large crowds
Go to your worksite
to do your job*
Stay in a hotel Dine in
at a restaurant
  % % % % %
Party identification  
Democrat 85 82 69 66 62
Independent 47 47 38 35 30
Republican 28 25 16 22 19
*Among those employed full or part time.
GALLUP PANEL, APRIL 19-25, 2021

16) There’s a 9 inch(!) moth in Australia.

The giant wood moth was discovered by a construction worker at the Mount Cotton State School.

Credit…Mount Cotton State School

17) This is terrific.  “‘I seek a kind person’: the Guardian ad that saved my Jewish father from the Nazis: In 1938, there was a surge of classified ads in this newspaper as parents – including my grandparents – scrambled to get their children out of the Reich. What became of the families?”

18) David Frum argues that China is actually a paper dragon and not nearly as scary as we think.

Undergirding these examples and dozens more like them is Beckley’s clarifying theoretical insight: Repression is expensive.

The lines that plot the comparative GDP of the United States and China distort the real balance of power between the two societies, Beckley argues, because China must devote such a large share of its resources to basic subsistence needs to avert the overthrow of the state.

Beckley dramatizes this point with historical context. The concept of GDP did not exist in the 19th century, but economists have retrospectively reconstructed those figures backward into time. They have found that in the 1800s, the Chinese empire had a GDP much larger than that of Great Britain. The Chinese army of 800,000 men also enormously exceeded Britain’s troop numbers. Yet when the two states clashed in the two Opium Wars, from 1839 to 1842 and again in 1858, China was crushingly defeated. Why?

A great part of the answer, then as now, was the cost of repression.

Nineteenth-century China faced an average of 25 local uprisings a year. Most of its troops had to be deployed to suppress rebellions and control banditry, leaving few available for war-fighting.

The next part of the answer is that mass is not power.

Although China’s resources were enormous in the aggregate, most were consumed by the basics of subsistence. In the 19th-century, Britain produced only half as much as China, but it did so with one-thirteenth the population—making more wealth available for more purposes.

A final piece of the answer is that technological copycats face huge disadvantages against technological innovators. They will always lag behind the more creative rival, not only in the factory, but on the battlefield. “Repeatedly during the Opium Wars … Chinese armies of thousands were routed in minutes by a few hundred, or even a few dozen, British troops,” Beckley notes.

19) Looks like I was wrong on this and I truly believe that when you opine on stuff it’s important to admit when you are wrong (and even better to grapple with why you were).  For now, here’s Drum: “Update: The J&J Vaccine Pause Probably Had No Effect on Vaccine Hesitancy”

20) Always read Ash Jha: “We may not reach herd immunity. That’s okay.”

After an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign over the past four months, vaccine demand has begun to soften, leading to hand-wringing in some quarters about whether the United States will achieve herd immunity or whether we will be living with the coronavirus months and years from now.

The answer is, it’s not that simple. And just as important, it may not matter that much.

Herd immunity is not a clear line. The virus will not be eradicated the moment we administer the shot that gets us to herd immunity. The term describes the inflection point at which each infection results in less than one additional infection and outbreaks sputter out. You can think of it like a wildfire surrounded by firebreaks, where the blaze ultimately burns out without additional interventions.

It’s not hard to see how it came to be viewed as the pandemic finish line, but that line has shifted. Estimates of herd immunity have been adjusted upward from the 60 percent to 70 percent that we expected last year, to 80 percent more recently, largely because of new variants that are more contagious. The threshold is determined by factors beyond vaccination, including immunity due to prior infections, seasonal effects such as humidity and time spent indoors, who is immune and who isn’t, and broader behavioral factors such as whether people are engaging in any public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
 
Real-world evidence from Israel and the United Kingdom suggests that even without hitting the herd immunity threshold, vaccination can drive infections way down. Why? Because immunity in a population is not like an on-off switch. As populations begin to build up immunity, infection spread begins to slow. If people practice even modest levels of public health measures such as mask-wearing indoors or avoiding large crowds, it may be enough to drive infection numbers down substantially. To stretch the fire metaphor, even if you don’t have the flames surrounded on all sides, a little bit of a drizzle combined with some firebreaks may be enough to keep it from burning out of control…

The coronavirus pandemic marks the clearest dividing line in most of our lives. But while the pandemic had a clear beginning, the ending will be much more gradual. As vaccination rates slow, we will require a resource-intensive ground game to reach more and more unvaccinated people and push us toward herd immunity. It is indeed possible that we may not reach that elusive threshold, or we might get there for a period only to have waning immunity, new variants or changes in behavior drop us below that threshold. But with infection numbers low and modest mitigation efforts in place, we will see small outbreaks that will affect the unvaccinated and burn out quickly. The terrifying surges of the past year will be behind us. And the things we value most in our lives — time with family and friends, social gatherings with colleagues, entertainment and sports — things we have missed so much, will be possible and safe.

This pandemic will end when the risk it poses, and the strategies necessary to mitigate that risk, fade into the background and become part of normal life. To get there, we should focus less on the herd immunity threshold, vaccinate more people and get on with our lives. As the old saying goes, pandemics end with a whimper, not with a bang. This one, too, will end. With a whimper.

21) This was very interesting, but I think in some ways misguided, “The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles: A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green” Yes, there’s absolutely local, significant environmental costs to mining all that lithium.  But on a global cost/benefit scale the benefits are so much greater.  Of course we should minimize the harm we do from mining lithium, but, let’s keep this in big picture perspective.

22) I’ve been following the whole global efforts and patents controversy at some remove so I’m a little cautious, but Alex Tabarrok seems pretty right based on what I do know:

For the last year and a half I have been shouting from the rooftops, “invest in capacity, build more factories, shore up the supply lines, spend billions to save trillions.” Fortunately, some boffins in the Biden administration have found a better way, “the US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic.”
Waive IP protections. So simple. Why didn’t I think of that???

Patents are not the problem. All of the vaccine manufacturers are trying to increase supply as quickly as possible. Billions of doses are being produced–more than ever before in the history of the world. Licenses are widely available. AstraZeneca have licensed their vaccine for production with manufactures around the world, including in India, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, China and South Africa. J&J’s vaccine has been licensed for production by multiple firms in the United States as well as with firms in Spain, South Africa and France. Sputnik has been licensed for production by firms in India, China, South Korea, Brazil and pending EMA approval with firms in Germany and France. Sinopharm has been licensed in the UAE, Egypt and Bangladesh. Novavax has licensed its vaccine for production in South Korea, India, and Japan and it is desperate to find other licensees but technology transfer isn’t easy and there are limited supplies of raw materials:

Virtually overnight, [Novavax] set up a network of outside manufacturers more ambitious than one outside executive said he’s ever seen, but they struggled at times to transfer their technology there amid pandemic travel restrictions. They were kicked out of one factory by the same government that’s bankrolled their effort. Competing with larger competitors, they’ve found themselves short on raw materials as diverse as Chilean tree bark and bioreactor bags. They signed a deal with India’s Serum Institute to produce many of their COVAX doses but now face the realistic chance that even when Serum gets to full capacity — and they are behind — India’s government, dealing with the world’s worst active outbreak, won’t let the shots leave the country.

Plastic bags are a bigger bottleneck than patents. The US embargo on vaccine supplies to India was precisely that the Biden administration used the DPA to prioritize things like bioreactor bags and filters to US suppliers and that meant that India’s Serum Institute was having trouble getting its production lines ready for Novavax. CureVac, another potential mRNA vaccine, is also finding it difficult to find supplies due to US restrictions (which means supplies are short everywhere). As Derek Lowe said:

Abolishing patents will not provide more shaker bags or more Chilean tree bark, nor provide more of the key filtration materials needed for production. These processes have a lot of potential choke points and rate-limiting steps in them, and there is no wand that will wave that complexity away.

Technology transfer has been difficult for AstraZeneca–which is one reason they have had production difficulties–and their vaccine uses relatively well understood technology. The mRNA technology is new and has never before been used to produce at scale. Pfizer and Moderna had to build factories and distribution systems from scratch. There are no mRNA factories idling on the sidelines. If there were, Moderna or Pfizer would be happy to license since they are producing in their own factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week (monopolies restrict supply, remember?). Why do you think China hasn’t yet produced an mRNA vaccine? Hint: it isn’t fear about violating IP. Moreover, even Moderna and Pfizer don’t yet fully understand their production technology, they are learning by doing every single day. Moderna has said that they won’t enforce their patents during the pandemic but no one has stepped up to produce because no one else can.

The US trade representative’s announcement is virtue signaling to the anti-market left and will do little to nothing to increase supply.

What can we do to increase supply? Sorry, there is no quick and cheap solution. We must spend. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed spent on the order of $15 billion. If we want more, we need to spend more and on similar scale. The Biden administration paid $269 million to Merck to retool its factories to make the J&J vaccine. That was a good start. We could also offer Pfizer and Moderna say $100 a dose to produce in excess of their current production and maybe with those resources there is more they could do. South Africa and India and every other country in the world should offer the same (India hasn’t even approved the Pfizer vaccine and they are complaining about IP!??) We should ease up on the DPA and invest more in the supply chain–let’s get CureVac and the Serum Institute what they need. We should work like hell to find a substitute for Chilean tree bark. See my piece in Science co-authored with Michael Kremer et. al. for more ideas. (Note also that these ideas are better at dealing with current supply constraints and they also increase the incentive to produce future vaccines, unlike shortsighted patent abrogation.)

Bottom line is that producing more takes real resources not waving magic patent wands.

Quick hits (part II)

1) One of my more idiosyncratic academic interests is the 19th century American political parties.  So, of course I loved seeing “What can Never Trump learn from the nineteenth century’s Free Soilers?”

The annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the Wilmot Proviso all served to deepen the rifts in the Democratic Party. Antislavery Northern and master-race Southern Democrats found themselves increasingly at odds with one another, feuding over the direction of the party as well as the nation. Building off their Jacksonian ideology, Democrats who opposed the so-called “peculiar institution” saw their fight against slavery as a continuation of their battle against entrenched power and corrupt elites. Others, like William Leggett, viewed it as the natural outgrowth of their egalitarian ethos. In time, they understood their fight against the “money power” of banks and corporations to be the same as the battle against the “slave power,” viewing both as threats to American liberty. For these Democrats, opposing slavery was the only logical conclusion to the democratic revolution Jackson had launched. Walt Whitman called these men members of “the Undaunted Democracy.”

With the nomination of Lewis Cass for the 1848 election on the Democratic ticket, a supporter of popular sovereignty, antislavery Jacksonians expressed their protest in the formation of the Free-Soil Party. In a powerfully symbolic gesture towards antislavery unionism, the Free Soilers nominated Andrew Jackson’s former Vice President, Martin Van Buren, and Charles Francis Adams, the son of the man Jackson had defeated. Their platform boiled down to the slogan, “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men!”

Despite their antislavery stance, however, the Free-Soil Party stopped well short of the complete abolition of slavery. Despite their heady goals of halting the spread of slavery, with such little political infrastructure, numerous organisational weaknesses, and intense internal divisions, the Free-Soil Party did not win a single state, though a few did win election to the House of Representatives.

Diehard Free Soilers were soon marginalised and spent years in the political wilderness, out of power and with almost no influence. To make matters worse, many of these Democrats returned home following the failure of Van Buren’s presidential bid. The antislavery wing of the Democratic Party continued to quarrel with one another, so much so that Francis Blair lamented, “It is unfortunate that we should be splitting our fragment of a party into smaller fragments by making new strife among our leading men.” Despite Preston King’s best efforts at the 1854 New York Democratic convention to convert the party into a free-soil party, the Southern pull of the party proved too strong. Realising there was no room from in the party of Jackson, men like King bolted, finding their way into the newly formed explicitly antislavery Republican Party.

As Jonathan H. Earle in his masterwork on the antislavery Democrats notes, “The Jacksonian element within the Republican party was by no means a majority, or even a dominant voice. But the genius of the early Republicans lay in their ability to attract various Free-Soil Democrats, Liberty men, and Whigs under a single antislavery banner.” Soon, savage critics of the Jacksonians like the radical Whig Thaddeus Stevens found themselves in the same party. Though at odds on numerous policy debates and in matters of best governance, former rivals shared the common goal of putting slavery on the course for ultimate destruction from the United States. Combining their efforts and forgetting past feuds, antislavery Democrats were able to bolster the Republican coalition that won Abraham Lincoln the presidency in 1860.

Lincoln’s victory was the result of an antislavery amalgamation.

With Trump’s defeat in 2020, the question is whether or not Never Trumpers will formally join the Democratic Party, or try and reform the Republican Party, or embrace an exile from party politics. All three have risks and rewards. Naturally, appeals to conservative voters will not score points for Biden with the online left and party progressives. Likewise, if Never Trump Republicans like The Atlantic’s David Frum, CNN’s S.E. Cupp, and The Bulwark’s Sarah Longwell do formally join the Democratic Party, it will likely be greeted by Trumpsters as confirmation of their ‘fake’ conservative credentials. There is also the possibility that Never Trumpers will lose their identity in becoming Democrats. Free Soil Democrats faced similar questions and the lessons they offer are complex though poignant.

2) This is really great from John McWhorter, “How the N-Word Became Unsayable” [McWhorter actually uses the word, but I’m not going to because I sure don’t need people searching my blog and finding it, even if just quoting a NYT column]

In 1934, Allen Walker Read, an etymologist and lexicographer, laid out the history of the word that, then, had “the deepest stigma of any in the language.” In the entire article, in line with the strength of the taboo he was referring to, he never actually wrote the word itself. The obscenity to which he referred, “fuck,” though not used in polite company (or, typically, in this newspaper), is no longer verboten. These days, there are two other words that an American writer would treat as Mr. Read did. One is “cunt,” and the other is “[n-word].” The latter, though, has become more than a slur. It has become taboo.

Just writing the word here, I sense myself as pushing the envelope, even though I am Black — and feel a need to state that for the sake of clarity and concision, I will be writing the word freely, rather than “the N-word.” I will not use the word gratuitously, but that will nevertheless leave a great many times I do spell it out, love it though I shall not.

 “[n-word]” began as a neutral descriptor, although it was quickly freighted with the casual contempt that Europeans had for African and, later, African-descended people. Its evolution from slur to unspeakable obscenity was part of a gradual prohibition on avowed racism and the slurring of groups. It is also part of a larger cultural shift: Time was that it was body parts and what they do that Americans were taught not to mention by name — do you actually do much resting in a restroom?

That kind of concern has been transferred from the sexual and scatological to the sociological, and changes in the use of the word “[n-word]” tell part of that story. What a society considers profane reveals what it believes to be sacrosanct: The emerging taboo on slurs reveals the value our culture places — if not consistently — on respect for subgroups of people. (I should also note that I am concerned here with “[n-word]” as a slur rather than its adoption, as “nigga,” as a term of affection by Black people, like “buddy.”)…

Rather, the modern American uses “the N-word.” This tradition settled in after the O.J. Simpson trial, in which it was famously revealed that Detective Mark Fuhrman had frequently used “[n-word]” in the past. Christopher Darden, a Black prosecutor, refused to utter the actual word, and with the high profile of the case and in his seeming to deliberately salute Mr. Read’s take, by designating “[n-word]” “the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language,” Mr. Darden in his way heralded a new era.

That was in 1995, and in the fall of that year I did a radio interview on the word, in which the guests and I were free to use it when referring to it, with nary a bleep. That had been normal until then but would not be for much longer, such that the interview is now a period piece.

It’s safe to say that the transition to “the N-word” wasn’t driven by the linguistic coarseness of a Los Angeles detective or something a prosecutor said one day during a monthslong trial. Rather, Mr. Darden’s reticence was a symptom of something already in the air by 1995: the larger shift in sensibility that rendered slurs, in general, the new profanity.

This occurred as Generation X, born from about 1965 to 1980, came of age. These were the first Americans raised in post-civil-rights-era America. To Generation X, legalized segregation was a bygone barbarism in black-and-white photos and film clips. Also, Generation X grew up when overt racist attitudes came to be ridiculed and socially punished in general society. Racism continued to exist in endless manifestations. However, it became complicated — something to hide, to dissemble about and, among at least an enlightened cohort, something to check oneself for and call out in others, to a degree unknown in perhaps any society until then.

For Americans of this postcountercultural cohort, the pox on matters of God and the body seemed quaint beyond discussion, while a pox on matters of slurring groups seemed urgent beyond discussion. The N-word euphemism was an organic outcome, as was an increasing consensus that “[n-word]” itself is forbidden not only in use as a slur but even when referred to. Our spontaneous sense is that profanity consists of the classic four-letter words, while slurs are something separate. However, anthropological reality is that today, slurs have become our profanity: repellent to our senses, rendering even words that sound like them suspicious and eliciting not only censure but also punishment.

3) I’ve been hearing for a while about the super-high lumber prices.  Finally, I know why.  Pretty fascinating.  

Since 2018, a one-two punch of environmental harms worsened by climate change has devastated the lumber industry in Canada, the largest lumber exporter to the United States. A catastrophic and multi-decade outbreak of bark-eating beetles, followed by a series of historic wildfire seasons, have led to lasting economic damage in British Columbia, a crucial lumber-providing province. Americans have, in effect, made a mad dash for lumber at the exact moment Canada is least able to supply it.

Climate change, which has long threatened to overturn dependable facts about the world, is now starting to make itself known in commodities markets, the exchanges that keep staple goods flowing to companies and their customers. For years, scientists and agricultural forecasters have warned that climate change could result in devastating failures among luxury goods, such as fine chocolate and wine. Others have speculated about several grain-producing regions slipping into a simultaneous drought, a phenomenon dubbed “multiple breadbasket failures.” But for now, a climate-change-induced shortage is showing up more subtly, dampening supply during a historic demand crunch.

“There are people who say, ‘Climate change isn’t affecting me,’” Janice Cooke, a forest-industry veteran and biology professor at the University of Alberta, told me. “But they’re going to go to the hardware store and say, ‘Holy cow, the price of lumber has gone up.’”…

This has produced a surge in home construction—and with it, a need for Canadian softwood lumber. Among builders, the preferred “species” of wood for framing homes is called Canadian SPF, or Canadian spruce-pine-fir, Jalbert said. As its hyphenated name gives away, SPF is not a single species of tree, but a catchall industry name for conifers grown in the northern boreal forest. If you’re in a relatively new American home or low-rise building right now—or if you can see one out the window—there’s a good chance it’s made of SPF imported from Canada, specifically British Columbia or Alberta.

Canadian SPF is grown in orderly tracts of forest that span much of Canada’s northern belt. Starting in 1999, an outbreak of bark-eating mountain pine beetles has ravaged conifer forests across the American and Canadian West. It has been especially bad in British Columbia, which exports about half of its lumber to the U.S.

“The mountain pine beetle has been a force of nature in this current epidemic,” Cooke said. The beetle has devoured 18 million hectares of forest in British Columbia alone, killing 60 percent of its merchantable pine. The outbreak has been accelerated by “weather associated with climate change,” Cooke said. A series of unusually warm winters has failed to kill the usual number of mountain pine beetles, allowing populations to swell to unprecedented size. Nor have two decades of unusually dry and drought-riddensummers helped. When trees are drought-stressed, they’re less able to mount a defense to the beetle, and they succumb more quickly.

Across North America, the woodland affected by the beetle—a tract stretching from Montana to Saskatchewan—totals 27 million hectares, an area more than three-quarters the size of Germany.

The outbreak has required quick thinking from regulators and lumber companies. In the early years, British Columbia “went into salvage mode,” Cooke said. Loggers followed the path of the beetle, felling dead trees as quickly as they could. If collected in the first year or two after dying, beetle-blighted timber is essentially as high-quality as freshly felled trees. “But the longer it stands dead, the less useful it is,” Cooke said. “You can use it for pallets and pellets, but not that nice construction-grade timber.” At the same time, loggers cleared around the affected forest, hoping to cut off the outbreak’s expansion.

This approach worked for more than a decade. As the outbreak expanded, the province maintained its lumber production. But trees take a long time to grow in the harsh climes of British Columbia. With its bountiful sunlight and warm, wet weather, Florida can grow a pine to merchantable size in 15 years, but “in 15 years, a tree is not much taller than me here,” Cooke said. Canadian forests take 40 to 60 years to reach maturity. Looking ahead, British Columbia foresaw a production gap, a decades-long span when it would have no trees to harvest. That shortfall was predicted to begin about now.

4) Kate Winslet is terrific in Mare of Easttown, but, damnit, I expect HBO to spare me the melodramatic twists worthy of General Hospital or Dallas.  Alas.

5) I did not realize kids and berries was some weird instagram thing.  Apparently, some people are starting to notice that berries are expensive.

Why would we who can afford it—but not really—put ourselves through this? As year-round strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries have become absolutely ubiquitous on kid-food Instagram—that pleasing Technicolor world of carefully arranged fruit rainbows and nicely packed PlanetBox Rovers—some parents are beginning to push back on the fruits’ dominance. “Can I complain about the overuse of fresh berries in baby/kid food media?” wrote a commenter on a post by Amy Palanjian, whose account is @yummytoddlerfood. “They’re in most meals that I see on Instagram, and in my neck of the woods they’re very expensive most of the year and don’t last long.”…

The prices that middle-class parents moan about, others have recently pointed out on the social network where berries are king, put fresh berries totally out of reach for others. Dalina Soto, whose Instagram account is @your.latina.nutritionist, recently described going to the supermarket with her child, who “LOVES berries,” and grabbing a mixed 2-pound container of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. At the checkout counter, she realized that it was $18.25. “I can afford this but WTF,” she wrote. “I just heard my mom’s voice in my head: ‘Tu ta loca, pon eso pa’tra!’ [‘You’re crazy, put that back!’]” She got a 2-pound container of blueberries instead for $7.99—still, she wrote, “more than what a worker at that store probably makes” in an hour.

I’m long on record as saying the biggest difference in my lifestyle if I were super-rich is that I’d simply eat all the raspberries I wanted regardless of cost.  I think I could easily eat $8-10/day and that’s just not justifiable.  Relatedly, it’s strawberry season in NC and in-season, local strawberries are so much better than what typically survives the journey to the Food Lion or Harris Teeter. 

6) Speaking of kids, I don’t recall how I came across this 13 year old New Yorker article about EB White and Stuart Little, but I loved it as that is one of my very favorite kids’ books.

7) This is full of colorful goodness in Wired, “How Pixar Uses Hyper-Colors to Hack Your Brain: The animation studio’s artists are masters at tweaking light and color to trigger deep emotional responses. Coming soon: effects you’ll only see inside your head.”

8) We don’t notice what’s not happening, but excellent point from Fareed Zakaria, “Ten years later, Islamist terrorism isn’t the threat it used to be”

9) A really under-appreciated point– the U.S. actually kicked ass in our economic response to Covidcompared to a bunch of other modern democracies.

When my editors asked me to write a story for our Pandemic Playbook series on the country that I thought “got Covid-19 right” economically, I immediately looked abroad. I spent a few weeks researching and writing about Japan, which has kept unemployment low and spent big to fight the economic downturn.

But as I was working on my Japan article, the US adopted Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion behemoth of a bill. With that step coming after the two Trump relief bills, the US just about matched Japan’s spending to fight the downturn. And as I looked into the details, it became impossible to deny that the US spent the money better…

No country handled the economic shock of Covid-19 perfectly. Every country, the US included, made mistakes, sometimes grave mistakes. But a detailed comparison suggests that the US had the strongest economic response to the pandemic, in terms of providing income to its citizens during lockdown and ensuring a strong, rapid recovery as the economy began to reopen.

“The US will come out of this economically better than any country that was similarly affected by the virus,” Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard and former chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, says.

10) We have to do criminal justice so much better.  Far too many headlines like this.  Not just an innocent mistake– a lazy mistake.  “KARE 11 Investigates: Innocent MN family held at gunpoint in SWAT no-knock warrant raid: Mother and child terrorized in bungled no-knock warrant raid. A KARE 11 investigation reveals Minneapolis police failed basic checks and hit the wrong address.”

11) OMG this makes me so mad.  If neo-Nazis started calling it the Hitler High Five should people stop giving each other high fives?  Like, “look at those high-fiving after a white guy scored a goal– must be a white power high five.”  I just don’t get the desire to live in the world where every action is given the worst possible interpretation and people let right-wing neo-nazis and trolls redefine ordinary hand gestures! “No, ‘Jeopardy!’ Champ Kelly Donohue Didn’t Make the ‘White Power’ Hand Gesture”

12) Relatedly, I loved this.  I have not watched “Nomadland” but did notice that it was a work about “nomads” in the American West, created by a Chinese woman.  Sounds great if that’s your type of movie.  Alas, a lot of people might have been complaining about a white American making a movie about Chinese people.  Look for the universals in the human experience, damn it!  Great artists do that, regardless of their own demography.  

On Sunday, Chloé Zhao won an Oscar for best director for her film Nomadland, becoming the first Asian woman to win the award. Zhao’s win is rightfully being celebrated by women and communities of color everywhere.

Zhao, 39, was raised in China and educated in London and New York. Nomadland is her third successive film that focuses on life in the American West. On the surface, Zhao has little in common with her protagonists, who include a pair of Native American siblings struggling with life on a reservation, a rodeo cowboy recovering from a traumatic brain injury, and, most recently in Nomadland, a 50-something teacher who adopts a nomadic lifestyle after losing her job. But this did not stop her from daring to tell their stories. In fact, the very thing that makes Zhao such an interesting filmmaker is the steady hand she brings to films whose protagonists experience a world wholly unlike her own. 

Zhao’s success has come at a time when critics are questioning the legitimacy of filmmakers telling stories as community outsiders. Last year, the filmmaker Lulu Wang publicly criticized Ron Howard’s decision to direct a film about the Chinese pianist Lang Lang. “As a classically-trained pianist born in China, I believe it’s impossible to tell Lang Lang’s story without an intimate understanding of Chinese culture and the impact of the Cultural Revolution on artists and intellectuals and the effects of Western imperialism,” Wang tweeted.  

Wang alludes to a movement that prioritizes stories whose creative leadership is “deeply tied to those communities” they aim to depict. Proponents of this perspective claim that, for too long, stories have been told by outsiders, which harms the communities portrayed. This can be true, and advocates are right to ensure that some films are chronicled by those with lived experience. But if this belief is the new paradigm for who can tell whose stories, will it not also work to prevent Zhao, a Chinese woman, from portraying the lives of those in the American West? Given the praise for Zhao, one is left wondering what actual standards are being applied.

Zhao says that her directing method allows her to more accurately portray lives so different from her own. She blends the real and the fictional by casting nonprofessional actors, incorporating their real-life stories into her scripts, and encouraging on-screen improvisation. “By staying close to real life, I can help myself, an outsider, to make a film from inside,” she says.

In Howard’s case, Lang Lang, whose story is at the center of the film, co-wrote the source material and is helping to produce the project. Even this, however, was not enough to shield the film from Wang’s experience-based criticism. Staying close to the truth, whether scripted or unscripted, does not seem to be a defense to the condemnation of “outsider” storytelling.

Elevating the work of non-white filmmakers is a worthy goal because viewpoint diversity allows great art to flourish. But in the uncritical embrace of Zhao’s filmmaking, those pushing the “lived-experience” norm have created a double standard. If they really mean that white filmmakers should not be allowed to tell the stories of non-whites, they should say so clearly and present a coherent argument for it. Otherwise, the prevailing standard will lead to the exclusion of great works like Zhao’s. 

13) One of those epidemiological studies I really enjoyed digging into:

In-person schooling has proved contentious and difficult to study throughout the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Data from a massive online survey in the United States indicates an increased risk of COVID-19-related outcomes among respondents living with a child attending school in-person. School-based mitigation measures are associated with significant reductions in risk, particularly daily symptoms screens, teacher masking, and closure of extra-curricular activities. A positive association between in-person schooling and COVID-19 outcomes persists at low levels of mitigation, but when seven or more mitigation measures are reported, a significant relationship is no longer observed. Among teachers, working outside the home was associated with an increase in COVID-19-related outcomes, but this association is similar to other occupations (e.g., healthcare, office work). While in-person schooling is associated with household COVID-19 risk, this risk can likely be controlled with properly implemented school-based mitigation measures.

14) Back before streaming lots of TV shows paid for only short-term rights for the music they used.  Not great for many shows that rely heavily on music.  Dawson’s Creek even lost its theme song!

15) Prepare for a major expansion of how the Supreme Court interprets the 2nd Amendment.  Also, to be fair, if we stipulate that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right (I don’t agree with that decision, but that’s’ where we are), I think there’s a very reasonable case to be made that NY’s law is, in fact, too strict.  

16) I am so with Ezra on this, “Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat”

It’s these next paragraphs where I fear I might lose you. It’s easier to argue for human welfare than animal welfare. I spent most of my life not just as a meat eater, but as an enthusiastic one. I posted my burgers on Instagram and I sought out the perfect roast chicken. Even now, I don’t believe it’s necessarily immoral to eat meat. What I believe is immoral is the way we treat animals in most factory farms. And the scale of that suffering melts the mind.

A reasonable estimate is that about 70 billion land animals are raised and slaughtered for food each year, a vast majority of them chickens. My colleague Nick Kristof has written eloquently about the plight of Costco’s rotisserie chickens, but the horrors do not end there. I’ve spoken with farmers who lie awake with guilt over the way they treat their animals, but they are so buried in debt to the agricultural conglomerates that they see no way out for themselves.

We treat too many animals like inputs, and their suffering as a mere byproduct. Cheap meat isn’t really cheap. It’s just the animal that paid the cost, living in conditions so gruesome I fear describing them. But suffice it to say: If we could produce the meat we want without the suffering we now inflict, it would be one of the great achievements of our age.

My reason for optimism is technological: There have been remarkable strides made in plant-based meat — witness the success of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — and milks. And the next step is cultivated meat, which is meat grown directly from animal cells. This isn’t science fiction: There’s now a restaurant in Singapore where you can eat lab-grown chicken made by Eat Just. Unsurprisingly, it tastes like chicken, because that’s what it is.

But so far, most of these advances, most of these investments, are through private dollars, with the findings locked up in patents, by companies competing with one another for market share. We’re going to need to move faster than that. “If we leave this endeavor to the tender mercies of the market there will be vanishingly few products to choose from and it’ll take a very long time,” Bruce Friedrich, co-founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute, told me.

This is where policymakers can, and should, come in. At its heart, the American Jobs Plan is a climate bill. But there isn’t a dollar for alternative proteins, despite animal agriculture’s huge contributions to both climate and pandemic risk. That’s worse than a mistake. It’s a failure of policy design. Luckily, it’s easily fixed.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is very true, “A Vaccine Can Be Bad for a Person but Awesome for All People: The safety pause in giving the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is up for debate again—a battle in a Secret War of Denominators and risk-benefit philosophies.”

2) Have I mentioned how much I love, love, love Zeynep’s (free) substack.  So many posts are basically just a clear breakdown of how to be a better thinker applied to examples with Covid.  In these week’s it’s about an outbreak at a nursing home that led many to say “oh, no, vaccines don’t work” but was really a great demonstration of vaccine efficacy.

What are we looking at here? A nursing home outbreak, 46 infections, three deaths, a variant with concerning mutations.

Here’s one way to headline an article about the study:

The article describes the outbreak:

An unvaccinated health care worker set off a Covid-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky where the vast majority of residents had been vaccinated, leading to dozens of infections, including 22 cases among residents and employees who were already fully vaccinated, a new study reported Wednesday.

Most of those who were infected with the coronavirus despite being vaccinated did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, but one vaccinated individual, who was a resident of the nursing home, died, according to the study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Altogether, 26 facility residents were infected, including 18 who had been vaccinated, and 20 health care personnel were infected, including four who had been vaccinated. Two unvaccinated residents also died.

The article isn’t inaccurate. It relays what indeed happened. The headline is descriptive. The article states up top that most of the infected did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, while noting the one death. It highlights the importance of vaccinating nursing home staff (which is how it came into the facility), and explains that this was a variant that shared a key mutation, E484K, with variants that were suspected of partial immune escape, like  B.1.351 (South Africa) and P.1. (Brazil). I’m not picking on the article at all, it is usually how such studies are represented in responsible outlets: the descriptive facts, in order. This is our accepted practice.

The CDC study also notes an efficacy calculation: “Vaccine was 86.5% protective against symptomatic illness among residents and 87.1% protective among HCP.” I saw multiple attempts on social media to compare this number to the one efficacy number from the trials, usually around 95%:…

A cluster differs greatly from what we measured in trials where the participants did not live together or share exposure especially because we know this pathogen is very overdispersed. It oscillates between being aggressively contagious—probably a combination of a person who emits a lot of aerosols and is at the most contagious stage of their infection plus an enclosed space, or repeated exposure in a congregate living facility like this one—and not transmitting onward at all. Various studies find that 80 to 90 percent of people never transmit onward—they are the end of the chain.

Hence, if your exposure takes place while you are a member of a potential cluster, your odds of being infected are much greater than in comparison with exposure that doesn’t occur as part of a cluster. For a pathogen like this, finding transmission events, not infected people, are key because transmission events are near each other. If you find one, you are likely to find more. But that also means that being in a cluster is a worse case scenario, compared with the independent measurements from the trials: one would expect higher attack rates.  In fact, this is very useful information for mitigation: focusing on finding such clusters and “backward-tracing them” to find the source, and then trying to look at other people that might have been exposed within that cluster, rather than trying to trace every infected person’s onward contacts (most of which were going to be dead end anyway) was key to Japan’s comparatively very successful strategy (something I wrote about while explaining overdispersion and its implications). 

When you put this together, what is the information you get from the above study?

You get very, very good, reassuring news about the vaccines.

3) This is really good from political scientists Frances Lee and James Curry: “What’s Really Holding the Democrats Back: It’s not the filibuster.”

Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s Democratic senator, has put everyone on notice: Under no circumstances will he vote to eliminate the Senate filibuster. If the support of at least 10 Republicans is needed to pass legislation, progressives have little hope for their agenda. At least that’s what many seem to think. But eliminating the filibuster probably wouldn’t matter as much as they believe it would. The bigger obstacle to any party’s agenda is its members’ inability to agree among themselves.

We compiled the stated policy goals of every congressional majority party from 1985 through 2018. We identified the parties’ agendas by looking to the bills designated as leadership priorities and the issues flagged by the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader in their opening speech to Congress, yielding a list on average of 15 top priorities per congressional term. Tracking each proposal, 265 in total, we found that the parties failed outright on their agenda priorities about half the time, meaning that no legislation on the issue was enacted.  

We then analyzed when, how, and why each failed, and also whether the majority party faced a unified or divided government when it did. Naturally, when a party controlled the House, Senate, and presidency, it fared somewhat better in enacting its agenda than when it didn’t, but not markedly so. Parties failed on 43 percent of their agenda priorities in unified government as compared with 49 percent in divided government. This failure rate varies from Congress to Congress, but has remained fairly consistent even in recent years. When Democrats most recently held all three branches of government (in 2009–10), they failed on 50 percent of their agenda items. When Republicans most recently held all three (in 2017–18), they failed on 36 percent.

When a party has unified control of government, the filibuster provides the Senate’s minority party (if it has at least 41 senators) with the ability to stop the majority’s legislative efforts. This is why partisans focus so much on the filibuster, and why progressive activists are so concerned over it right now. But the filibuster accounted for only about one-third of the majority party’s failures during the periods of unified government we studied. In the two most recent instances of unified government—the Democrats in 2009–10 and the Republicans in 2017–18—agenda failures caused by the filibuster were even less common. The Democrats had just one of their priorities, immigration reform, fail because of the filibuster. The Republicans had none. Filibuster reform, then, may enable Democrats to achieve particular policy goals opposed by Republicans, and those would certainly be victories. But most failures, about two-thirds overall during years of unified government and 90 percent during the past two instances of unified government, stemmed from disagreements within the majority party rather than the minority party’s ability to block legislation via the filibuster.

4) Kevin Drum with his “megatrends” of American politics.  I agree with most, especially these:

1. US politics will stay toxic as long as Fox News is around. Rupert Murdoch has discovered that spreading fear and outrage is the most reliable way of making money, so that’s what he does. It’s all but impossible to sustain a traditional political system when half the population is scared senseless of the other half, and that will remain the case until Fox New is somehow reined in…

6.  We are entering a biotech golden age. I know, I know: we’ve been entering a biotech golden age for the past four decades. But after years of prologue, I think we really are finally on the verge of huge change. Cheap genome sequencing, CRISPR, and mRNA vaccines are harbingers of the near future.

5) David Frum with an interesting take on the rise of Ron DeSantis.

6) Jack Shafer on the rise of Substack:

The rise of Substack—and of platforms of its competitors—signals a new juncture in journalism, one that combines the power and mystique of the byline with the editorial independence afforded by the blog. After being lectured forever about how information wants to be free, Substack is teaching us that not only will readers pay for top-drawer copy, but that the work of some writers was actually undervalued in the market before readers were given the opportunity to purchase journalism a la carte instead of from a prix fixe menu.

Substack has stampeded some elite media types into a panic. “Is Substack the Media Future We Want?” worried a New Yorker feature recently. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith analyzed the upheaval in his column, “Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack.” Yes, Substack looks like a revolution and smells like a revolution, but as many have noted, it’s really a throwback to the origins of journalism in the Middle Ages, and the emphasis on who is writing the copy as opposed to what is being written can be traced to the late 19th century. Substack may be educating the industry about who adds the high value in journalism, writers or editors.

7) This is cool, “This Map Lets You Plug in Your Address to See How It’s Changed Over the Past 750 Million Years”

8) Pretty sure I wrote a post a while back about how the soccer penalty kick is the dumbest thing in sports.  I stand by that.  Apparently, Premier League teams are now working extra hard to draw fouls in the corner of the penalty box where the likelihood of your next few actions actually scoring a goal is super-low anyway.  Soccer is such a great sport with some really stupid rules.  

Indeed, it hasn’t merely gone, but it’s flipped the other way. Aside from serious foul play, VAR only looks at incidents in the box — so now, fouls that are less obvious inside the box are penalised more than those outside.

This new era hasn’t simply changed the decision-making of officials, but also the approach of forwards, which probably explains the increase in the award of penalties between the first VAR season and the second (as well as some particularly harsh handball decisions at the start of this campaign). It has become increasingly obvious that in certain situations, more than ever, attackers are playing for penalties by attempting to engineer contact. Strategically, it makes complete sense, particularly when an attacker is in the corner of the box.

The word “box” is key here, because the concept of a penalty box doesn’t reflect the true value of the football pitch. In other comparable sports — hockey, for example — this type of area is denoted by a semi-circle rather than a rectangle, forming a consistent distance from the goal. Everyone knows the penalty box in football is 18 yards long, but they might not know it is 44 yards wide — because that ensures it also stretches 18 yards away from the two posts, which are eight yards apart.

So although 18 yards was considered the key distance from goal, this became a box rather than a semi-circle. Clearly, there’s a zone in the corners of the penalty box that are within 18 yards of the byline, but considerably further from the goal. These are poor positions in terms of creating a goal from open play, and are therefore disproportionately valuable in terms of winning a foul.

You’ll probably be familiar with the concept of expected goals, aka xG, which outlines the probability of a shot finding the net when struck from a particular position. Shooting from the corner of the box will result in a goal around one or two per cent of the time, depending upon the xG model and the precise position.

Of course, that doesn’t entirely explain the situation. A player with the ball in that position probably won’t shoot. He’ll attempt to pass or dribble into a better position.

But we can also account for that through analytics. Karun Singh, a football analytics writer with a computer science degree from Cornell University, has developed the concept of “expected threat” — xT. This is explained at length on his blog, and largely follows the concept of xG, but takes the process forward a few stages. In other words, it’s not simply about judging the probability of a goal stemming directly from a particular zone, but about judging the probability of a goal arising from the next two, three, four or five “actions” (passes, crosses, dribbles, shots etc) from a particular zone.

Singh’s analysis is worth reading — his methodology is beyond most of us, but it features excellent interactive graphics to explain the concept. For the purposes of this article, the zone highlighted below is relevant. If a player has the ball in this position, his team will score from the next five “actions” 9 per cent of the time (on average — it varies for different teams).

Furthermore, the heatmap demonstrates how the probability of a goal arising in the next five moves varies across the pitch — the darker the zone, the more dangerous it is. And the most interesting here is the very obvious visual proof that not only is the corner of the box less dangerous than a central position, as you would expect, but it’s also slightly less dangerous than a wider position — the same distance from the byline, but outside the box. The danger increases further when a player reaches the zone near the byline, still outside the box.

In other words, having the ball in the corner of the box is not particularly valuable in terms of creating a goal from open play. And therefore the more logical thing to do is attempt to win a penalty, which will bring a 78 per cent chance of a goal (slightly more if, like in Singh’s model, you include subsequent actions, to account for rebounds).

9) This is very good for the Covid-inclined, “We know a lot about Covid-19. Experts have many more questions”

10) Civil Asset Forfeiture is just the worst! “The Government Seized This Innocent Man’s Car Without Due Process. SCOTUS Won’t Hear the Case.
“How can an ordinary person afford to wait years after the government takes their car?””

11) I don’t post a lot on foreign policy, but if this wasn’t just the clearest case of “sunk cost trap” imaginable when it comes to Afghanistan:

At a recent National Security Council Principal’s Committee meeting, Cabinet-level officials including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and others gathered as part of the administration’s weekslong review of US policy in Afghanistan.

The officials are debating which of three broad options for the 20-year war in Afghanistan Biden should pursue. The first is to adhere to former President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban, which would require Biden to withdraw all remaining 2,500 US troops by May 1. The second is to negotiate an extension with the insurgent group, allowing American forces to remain in the country beyond early May. And third is to defy the Trump-Taliban pact altogether and keep fighting in Afghanistan with no stated end date.

During the meeting, according to four sources from the White House, Pentagon, and elsewhere familiar with what happened, Milley made an impassioned — and at times “emotional,” according to some — case to consider keeping US troops in the country.

Milley, who was the deputy commanding general of US forces in Afghanistan and served three tours in the country, essentially argued that if American forces fully withdraw by May 1, it would open the door for the Taliban to overtake the country, making life worse for millions of Afghans and imperiling US national security goals.

Women’s rights “will go back to the Stone Age,” Milley said, according to two of the sources. He argued that it wasn’t worth leaving the country after “all the blood and treasure spent” there over the last two decades. [emphasis mine] He also added that, in his view, the lack of 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan would make it harder to stem threats from a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

12) Damn I love science! “This Ultra-White Paint May Someday Replace Air Conditioning: Developed by researchers at Purdue University, the paint reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight”

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new ultra-white paint that reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight and can keep surfaces up to 19 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than their ambient surroundings. This new paint, which may become available for purchase in the next year or two, could someday help combat global warming and reduce our reliance on air conditioners.

The team of scientists in Purdue’s mechanical engineering department recently published the findings of their paint research, funded by the university’s cooling technologies research center and the Air Force’s scientific research office, in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

“Our paint only absorbs 1.9 percent of the sunlight, whereas commercial paint absorbs 10 to 20 percent of sunlight,” says Xiulin Ruan, a Purdue mechanical engineering professor and one of the study’s co-authors.

The paint is a marked improvement from current heat-rejecting paints on the market. When struck by the sun’s rays, surfaces covered in today’s available white paints get warmer, not cooler. At best, these heat-combatting paints can reflect 80 to 90 percent of sunlight, says Ruan.

The new ultra-white paint, which the researchers say is the coolest on record, reflects nearly all of the sun’s rays and sends infrared heat away from the surface, providing an average cooling power of 113 watts per square meter. If painted onto the roof of a 1,000-square-foot home, that translates to a cooling power of 10 kilowatts, which is more powerful than most residential central air conditioners, Ruan says.

In tests conducted during sunny, midday hours on the roof of a campus building in West Lafayette, Indiana, the paint kept outdoor surfaces 8 degrees cooler than the ambient surrounding temperatures. At night, the paint kept surfaces 19 degrees cooler than their surroundings.

“Our paint can lose heat by its own emission—it emits heat to deep space,” Ruan says. “With such little absorption from the sun, our paint loses more heat than it absorbs. This is really exciting for us. Under the sun, it cools below the ambient temperature and that’s hard to achieve.”

13) Apparently the NHL told its players that after vaccination life could go back to normal, but, then… not so much.  Also, I had no idea how restrictive they were being to make this all work:

Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner sparked discussion and controversy Wednesday when he spoke out against the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols and overall approach to mental health during the pandemic.

Lehner sat at the press conference table inside the Vegas practice facility and delivered an emotional message, claiming that the NHL promised players a more relaxed version of the current protocols once players were vaccinated. He said that even though the majority of Golden Knights players have received their shots, the league hasn’t followed through.

“To be promised something’s going to change, to take a vaccine,” Lehner said. “Where some people, some players were even on the verge of taking it, and I was one of them. I wasn’t sure, but I took it for my mental health. When we did it, now they said it’s not happening. I think that’s wrong.”

The NHL and deputy commissioner Bill Daly quickly disputed Lehner’s claim, stating the league never made such promises. Shortly after Lehner spoke publicly, he talked again with The Athletic over the phone to clarify some of his statements and provided details for the exact rule relaxations he was expecting.

He didn’t back down from his initial statements but doubled down on his belief that the league must do better in its handling of players’ mental health issues.

“We were presented with, ‘Listen, if we can get 85 percent of our travel party vaccinated, these rules are going to change,” Lehner told The Athletic. “They showed us the NBA protocols for all the stages, and that’s what made me take the vaccine.

“Being lied to about things changing, to kind of force us to take the vaccine, is unacceptable. And now that we’ve taken the vaccine, to say ‘Nah, we aren’t changing because of competitive advantage,’ is outrageous.”

NHL players are following stricter isolation rules than most of the general public, essentially only traveling from the rink to their house and back for an entire calendar year. They aren’t allowed to leave their house for something as simple as grocery shopping. No visitors are allowed into their homes, including their own teammates. On the road they often can’t even dine as a team, forced to grab a meal and take it to their room to eat. Even players’ family members are encouraged not to go out for any reason. To the rink, and back home. That’s it.

14) Of course there’s fraud in the vaccination cards.

15) Leonhardt on our inability to properly assess the risks of Covid:

Guido Calabresi, a federal judge and Yale law professor, invented a little fable that he has been telling law students for more than three decades.

He tells the students to imagine a god coming forth to offer society a wondrous invention that would improve everyday life in almost every way. It would allow people to spend more time with friends and family, see new places and do jobs they otherwise could not do. But it would also come with a high cost. In exchange for bestowing this invention on society, the god would choose 1,000 young men and women and strike them dead.

Calabresi then asks: Would you take the deal? Almost invariably, the students say no. The professor then delivers the fable’s lesson: “What’s the difference between this and the automobile?”

In truth, automobiles kill many more than 1,000 young Americans each year; the total U.S. death toll hovers at about 40,000 annually. We accept this toll, almost unthinkingly, because vehicle crashes have always been part of our lives. We can’t fathom a world without them.

It’s a classic example of human irrationality about risk. We often underestimate large, chronic dangers, like car crashes or chemical pollution, and fixate on tiny but salient risks, like plane crashes or shark attacks.

One way for a risk to become salient is for it to be new. That’s a core idea behind Calabresi’s fable. He asks students to consider whether they would accept the cost of vehicle travel if it did not already exist. That they say no underscores the very different ways we treat new risks and enduring ones.

I have been thinking about the fable recently because of Covid-19. Covid certainly presents a salient risk: It’s a global pandemic that has upended daily life for more than a year. It has changed how we live, where we work, even what we wear on our faces. Covid feels ubiquitous.

Fortunately, it is also curable. The vaccines have nearly eliminated death, hospitalization and other serious Covid illness among people who have received shots. The vaccines have also radically reduced the chances that people contract even a mild version of Covid or can pass it on to others.

Yet many vaccinated people continue to obsess over the risks from Covid — because they are so new and salient.

Visitors riding the swings at Adventureland, in Farmingdale, N.Y., yesterday.Johnny Milano for The New York Times

‘Psychologically hard’

To take just one example, major media outlets trumpeted new government data last week showing that 5,800 fully vaccinated Americans had contracted Covid. That may sound like a big number, but it indicates that a vaccinated person’s chances of getting Covid are about one in 11,000. The chances of a getting a version any worse than a common cold are even more remote.

But they are not zero. And they will not be zero anytime in the foreseeable future. Victory over Covid will not involve its elimination. Victory will instead mean turning it into the sort of danger that plane crashes or shark attacks present — too small to be worth reordering our lives.

That is what the vaccines do. If you’re vaccinated, Covid presents a minuscule risk to you, and you present a minuscule Covid risk to anyone else. A car trip is a bigger threat, to you and others. About 100 Americans are likely to die in car crashes today. The new federal data suggests that either zero or one vaccinated person will die today from Covid.

It’s true that experts believe vaccinated people should still sometimes wear a mask, partly because it’s a modest inconvenience that further reduces a tiny risk — and mostly because it contributes to a culture of mask wearing. It is the decent thing to do when most people still aren’t vaccinated. If you’re vaccinated, a mask is more of a symbol of solidarity than anything else.

Coming to grips with the comforting realities of post-vaccination life is going to take some time for most of us. It’s only natural that so many vaccinated people continue to harbor irrational fears. Yet slowly recognizing that irrationality will be a vital part of overcoming Covid.

15) Discovered the Raccoon Whisperer videos this weekend.  Ummm… wow.  Who knew raccoons could get so fat!

16) I love McDonald’s ice cream cones.  The fact that they are so constantly broken drives me crazy and feels like some bizarre failure of capitalism (I mean, there’s money at stake here– invent a more reliable ice cream machine!!)  And OMG this amazing Wired story explains it all and so much more.  It’s your must-read for the weekend.  And it also introduced me to this awesome website which I will now be checking before heading to McDonald’s for cones with the kids after Sunday afternoon nature walks.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been a huge believer in index funds ever since I read John Bogle’s book in grad school and actually started index fund investing way back then.  Safe to say, a big part of my retirement portfolio is in index funds.  But Annie Lowery tells me they may be “worse than Marxism”?

Yet economists, policy makers, and investors are worried that American markets have become inert—the product of a decades-long trend, not a months-long one. For millions of Americans, getting into the market no longer means picking stocks or hiring a portfolio manager to pick them for you. It means pushing money into an index fund, as offered by financial giants such as Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street, otherwise known as the Big Three.

With index funds, nobody’s behind the scenes, dumping bad investments and selecting good ones. Nobody’s making a bet on shorting Tesla or going long on Apple. Nobody’s hedging Europe and plowing money into Vietnam. Nobody is doing much of anything at all. These funds are “passively managed,” in investor-speak. They generally buy and sell stocks when those stocks enter or exit indices, such as the S&P 500, and size their holdings according to metrics such as market value. Index funds mirror the market, in other words, rather than trying to pick winners and losers within it…

This financial revolution has been unquestionably good for the people lucky enough to have money to invest: They’ve gotten better returns for lower fees, as index funds shunt billions of dollars away from financial middlemen and toward regular families. Yet it has also moved the country toward a peculiar kind of financial oligarchy, one that might not be good for the economy as a whole.

The problem in American finance right now is not that the public markets are overrun with failsons picking up stock tips on Reddit, investors gambling on art tokens, and rich people flooding cash into Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs. The problem is that the public markets have been cornered by a group of investment managers small enough to fit at a lunch counter, dedicated to quiescence and inertia.

2) As you know, I’m a big vaccine mandate fan.  The case that, maybe, they could backfire:

A possible solution is a vaccine mandate. Omer and other public-health specialists were working on vaccine-requirement frameworks before the pandemic, particularly in connection with outbreaks of measles. In July, 2019, Omer and two of his collaborators—the social scientists Cornelia Betsch, of the University of Erfurt, in Germany, and Julie Leask, of the University of Sydney, both of whom work on medical communication—published an article in Nature urging caution in introducing compulsory vaccination. The authors warned that overly punitive or restrictive vaccine mandates could backfire. For example, when California eliminated nonmedical exemptions from childhood-vaccination requirements, many parents either secured medical exemptions or opted to homeschool their children. Omer told me that he thinks vaccine mandates should be an option in the fight against covid-19, but only following a concerted campaign for voluntary vaccination. “Mandates don’t get you from fifty-per-cent uptake to a hundred,” he said. “But they can be helpful in getting from seventy to ninety.”

Hotez is vaccine developer (he has a covid-19 vaccine currently in clinical trials) and also a longtime activist against vaccine disinformation. Last year, research to which he contributed showed that two groups without much overlap exhibited the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy: Black Americans and conservative Republicans. (Hesitancy among Black Americans has since lowered.) In response to these findings, Hotez became a regular on radio talk shows that would reach people least likely to trust the vaccines. What he discovered, he told me, was that conservative callers assumed that the government would institute a vaccine mandate—they were already in battle with this straw man. Requiring vaccination, Hotez told me, would be, at this stage, “poking the bear.” “Mandates may become necessary, but now I’d say, ‘Don’t push too hard,’ ” he said. “It may be counterproductive.” A mandate, he believes, would affirm the anti-big-government expectations of some of most vocal vaccine resisters, rather than change their minds.

3) The gender gap in public opinion on issues involving guns, military, etc., is interesting and pervasive.  My sometimes co-author Mary-Kate Lizotte (and some others) with some good stuff:

What factors influence an individual’s concern for personal security and safety? Prior research shows that women exhibit higher levels of fear, anxiety, and perceived threat. These differences in threat perceptions have important policy consequences, including the fact that women display lower support for military interventions, lower support for retaliation against terrorist groups, and lower levels of support for using torture. However, previous research has not fully investigated the origins of these differences in concern for safety and security, which we refer to as “personal security dispositions.” We ask if these differences are the result of lived experience, socialization, or both. Specifically, our analysis explores the extent to which personal security dispositions can be traced to parental warnings about safety and avoiding danger. Our findings indicate that both gender identity and parental socialization have an impact on security dispositions. We conclude the article with a discussion of avenues for further research and the policy implications of our findings, in particular with respect to public opinion on issues such as support for the international use of military force.

4) Yglesias on Georgia’s election law:

One thing is that they’ve made it less likely that people will vote absentee in Georgia — they narrowed the window during which ballots can be requested, they largely banned absentee dropboxes, and they made it illegal for local officials to adopt a policy of mailing ballots to all voters. Then they banned mobile voting centers.

The upshot is to funnel more people to normal in-person voting, which likely means longer lines. Yet they put restrictions on giving people food and water in line to encourage them to stick it out and vote. They made it harder to vote legally if you vote at the wrong polling place (perhaps deterred by long lines). And they made it harder to respond to long lines by extending voting hours.

This is all offset by a provision that expands early voting — but does so in a very particular way. Basically, it raises the floor for early voting rather than raising the ceiling. This means, in practice, that early voting should become more available in rural counties while staying the same in the high population Greater Atlanta counties. They are pretty clearly trying to make voting more burdensome and frustrating in metro Atlanta while keeping things the same or maybe even making it easier in the rural parts of the state. It’s an effort to halt the state’s leftward drift by manipulating the electorate rather than adapting to shifting opinion. It will also just make voting more annoying for the typical person, which is bad, albeit not exactly the return of Jim Crow…

After a lot of words, I think the key context on Georgia’s election changes is the ongoing claims by Donald Trump that the 2020 election was fraudulently stolen from him.

When he pushed these claims in the winter of 2020-21, the key Republicans with decision-making authority generally stood firmly against him. But a healthy minority of Republican senators backed him; most House Republicans backed him; and the general perception is that downballot GOP elected officials who did the right thing damaged their political fortunes. The Georgia restrictions represent a symbolic and practical healing of the intra-GOP divide, and they do so on Trump’s terms.

Making it harder for people to vote is bad per se, but unlikely to swing the 2024 election.

The risk is simply that in the future, GOP officials will do what Trump wanted and steal elections. The spectacular and alarming events of January 6 ended up creating what I think is an overstated sense in some people’s minds that the country is facing some kind of violent terrorist movement that might try to seize power. A much more plausible threat is just that a bunch of boring state legislators who are insulated from electoral accountability by gerrymandering will, through one means or another, assign their state’s electorate votes to the Republican candidate.

Back to Georgia, the election reform package also includes a great deal of centralization of power, further raising the risk that the GOP-dominated state legislature will try to invalidate the election…

Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives and a majority of the state legislatures in the country have badly skewed partisan gerrymanders. We just wrapped up a census last year and redistricting is imminent. Democrats have a once-in-a-decade chance to pass a tough anti-gerrymandering law that sets a partisan fairness standard. If they pass such a law, then if they win future elections 51-49 they will receive narrow governing majorities. If they do not pass such a law, then Republicans will continue to run states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin indefinitely and just laugh off the occasional 55-45 defeat.

Similarly, right now, the geographic skew of the Senate massively overrepresents non-college white voters while underrepresenting Black and Hispanic voters

This means that it is going to be very hard for Democrats to win future Senate majorities. The current 50-50 Senate is based on Democrats having held on to Senate seats in West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio back in 2018 when there was a Republican president, Democratic incumbents in each of those states, and a very favorable national political environment. That majority likely cannot be sustained past the 2022 and 2024 cycles, meaning the chance to enact reforms is slipping away very fast.

These big skews — gerrymandering and the Senate — matter much more than the marginal impact of tinkering with voter ID or absentee ballot rules. And right now, nothing at all other than timidity and paralysis is stopping Democrats from curtailing the filibuster, passing anti-gerrymandering rules, and creating a path for D.C. and U.S. territories to become states. Those would be good, highly effective, pro-democracy reforms with strong public legitimacy that would make it much harder to steal future elections. They deserve much more focus and urgency.

5) “What Bears Can Teach Us About Our Exercise Habits”

Accumulating research suggests that we humans, as a species, are apt to be physically lazy, with a hard-wired inclination to avoid activity. In a telling 2018 neurological study, for example, brain scans indicated that volunteers were far more attracted by images of people in chairs and hammocks than of people in motion.

 

But the extent to which we share this penchant for physical ease with other species and whether these predilections affect how we and they traverse the world has remained unclear.

So, cue grizzlies, particularly those living at the Washington State University Bear Center, the nation’s primary grizzly bear conservation and research center. University biologists affiliated with the center study how the animals live, eat and interact with humans…

Comparing the data, the scientists found that wild grizzlies, like us, seem born to laze. The researchers had expected the wild bears to move at their most efficient speed whenever possible, Mr. Carnahan says. But in reality, their average pace traveling through Yellowstone was a pokey and physiologically inefficient 1.4 miles per hour.

They also almost invariably chose the least-steep route to get anywhere, even when it required extra time. “They did a lot of side-hilling,” Mr. Carnahan says.

Taken as a whole, the findings suggest that the innate urge to avoid exertion plays a greater role in how all creatures, great and small, typically behave and navigate than we might imagine.

6) I always wash my hands after adding bird food to the feeders.  Going to be extra diligent about that now! “Salmonella Outbreak Is Linked to Wild Birds and Feeders, C.D.C. Says”

7) This is pretty damn good from Clearerthinking.org, “How to achieve self-control without “self-control””

8) Another excellent Ezra column, “Four Ways of Looking at the Radicalism of Joe Biden” in the NYT, well worth reading in full, but here’s the final section:

Biden is a politician, in the truest sense of the word. Biden sees his role, in part, as sensing what the country wants, intuiting what people will and won’t accept, and then working within those boundaries. In America, that’s often treated as a dirty business. We like the aesthetics of conviction, we believe leaders should follow their own counsel, we use “politician” as an epithet.

But Biden’s more traditional understanding of the politician’s job has given him the flexibility to change alongside the country. When the mood was more conservative, when the idea of big government frightened people and the virtues of private enterprise gleamed, Biden reflected those politics, calling for balanced budget amendments and warning of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars.” Then the country changed, and so did he.

A younger generation revived the American left, and Bernie Sanders’s two campaigns proved the potency of its politics. Republicans abandoned any pretense of fiscal conservatism, and Trump raised — but did not follow through on — the fearful possibility of a populist conservatism, one that would combine xenophobia and resentment with popular economic policies. Stagnating wages and a warming world and Hurricane Katrina and a pandemic virus proved that there were scarier words in the English language than “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” as Ronald Reagan famously put it.

Even when Biden was running as the moderate in the Democratic primary, his agenda had moved well to the left of anything he’d supported before. But then he did something unusual: Rather than swinging to the center in the general election, he went further left. And the same happened after winning the election. He’s moved away from work requirements and complex targeting in policy design. He’s emphasizing the irresponsibility of allowing social and economic problems to fester, as opposed to the irresponsibility of spending money on social and economic problems. His administration is defined by the fear that the government isn’t doing enough, not that it’s doing too much. As the pseudonymous commentator James Medlock wrote on Twitter, “The era of ‘the era of big government is over’ is over.’”

9) Derek Thompson with a good take on the Georgia law.  It really is bad, but Democrats should be more honest about it.

Political hyperbole is neither sin nor modern invention. But suggesting that the Georgia provisions are a steroidal version of poll taxes, literacy tests, whites-only primaries, armed sheriffs patrolling voting lines, and outright domestic terrorism is not helpful. “There’s no doubt about it: This new law does not make it easier to vote,” Bullock said. “But I hear it being billed as Jim Crow 2.0, and it’s really not anywhere near that. This law does not compare to the cataclysms of the white primary or poll taxes.”…

As Delaware’s former senator, Biden would be on firmer ground excoriating Georgia for “Jim Crow 2.0” if he could hold up his home state as a model for voting rights. But Delaware has been a laggard on early voting, and its legislature is still trying to legalize no-excuse absentee voting, which allows any voter to request a mail-in ballot. Georgia, by contrast, permits many weeks of early voting and has allowed no-excuse absentee voting since 2005. Voting-rights activists may justifiably focus their outrage on a swing state like Georgia that, unlike Delaware, actually determines the balance of power. But “Jim Crow” rhetoric from northeastern politicians and media figures loses some bite when we consider that Georgia’s voting rights have long been more accommodating than those of deep-blue states including not only Delawarebut also Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York

This is what we’ve learned from the Georgia voting-rights fiasco: Corporations are still corporations, the White House’s metaphors are overheated, and the Georgia legislation is far worse. Democrats’ rhetorical embellishments pale in comparison to both the voting-fraud conspiracy theory that inspired Georgia Republicans and the needless provisions of the law itself. Lurking beneath all this confusion and incoherence is a basic partisan difference: GOP activism is about making it harder to vote; Democratic activism is about making it harder to make it harder to vote. If that is the choice before us, I for one know which box I’m prepared to check.

10) Good stuff from Sarah Zhang, “You Probably Have an Asymptomatic Infection Right Now: No, not COVID-19. Many, many viruses can infect humans without making us sick, and how they do that is one of biology’s deepest mysteries.”  I think I’m going to be boring people with anecdotes about human cytomegalovirus in my future.

But for most of human existence, we didn’t know that viruses could infect us asymptomatically. We didn’t know how to look for them, or even that we should. The tools of modern science have slowly made the invisible visible: Antibody surveys that detect past infection, tests that find viral DNA or RNA even in asymptomatic people, and mathematical models all show that viruses are up to much more than making us sick. Scientists now think that for viruses, a wide range of disease severity is the norm rather than the exception.

A virus, after all, does not necessarily wish its host ill. A dead host is a dead end. The viruses best adapted to humans have co-evolved over millions of years to infect but rarely sicken us. Human cytomegalovirus is a prime example, a virus so innocuous that it lives in obscurity despite infecting most of the world’s population. (Odds are that you have it.) Infections with human cytomegalovirus are almost always asymptomatic because it has evolved a suite of tricks to evade the human immune system, which nevertheless tries its best to hunt the virus down. By the time humans reach old age, up to a quarter of our killer T cells are devoted to fighting human cytomegalovirus. Pathogens and immune systems are in constant battle, with one just barely keeping the other in check. In the rare instances when human cytomegalovirus turns deadly—usually in an immunocompromised patient—it’s because this equilibrium did not hold…

T cell responses also weaken with age, which may help explain why COVID-19 is dramatically more deadly for the elderly. Humans have a huge diversity of T cells, some of which are activated each time we encounter a pathogen. But as we age, our supply of unactivated T cells dwindles. Immunosenescence, or the gradual weakening of the immune system over time, is influenced by both age and the system’s previous battles. Human cytomegalovirus—that otherwise innocuous virus that infects much of the world’s population—seems to play a particular role in immunosenescence. So many of our T cells are devoted to suppressing this virus that we may become more vulnerable to new ones.

Unlike human cytomegalovirus, the coronavirus doesn’t seem capable of hiding inside our bodies in the same way for decades. Once it sneaks in, its goal is to replicate as quickly as possible—so that it can find another body before it kills its host, or its host eliminates it.

Now that this coronavirus has found humans, it will have a chance to hone its strategy, probing for more weaknesses in the human immune system. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will become more deadly; the four coronaviruses already circulating among humans cause only common colds, and the virus that causes COVID-19 could one day behave similarly. Variants of the virus are already exhibiting mutations that make them more transmissible and better able to evade existing antibodies. As the virus continues to infect humans over the coming years, decades, and maybe even millenia, it will keep changing—and our immune systems will keep learning new ways to fight back. We’re at the very beginning of our relationship with this coronavirus.

11) I really kind of love how much we don’t know about the world we live in– there’s also so much to learn.  This is fascinating! “A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics: Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.”

Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.

The result, physicists say, suggests that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science. The new work, they said, could eventually lead to breakthroughs more dramatic than the heralded discovery in 2012 of the Higgs boson, a particle that imbues other particles with mass.

“This is our Mars rover landing moment,” said Chris Polly, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., who has been working toward this finding for most of his career.

The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.

The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.

“This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory,” said Renee Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky.

12) Gallup’s latest PID:

Bottom Line

It is not unprecedented for Democratic Party affiliation to rise after a Democratic candidate wins the presidential election. It is also not unprecedented to see more people shift to independent political status in a nonelection year, as has occurred. With more of the gain in independent identification coming from the Republican side of the ledger, the GOP is facing its smallest share of Republican identifiers since 2018 and its largest deficit to Democrats on party identification and leaning in nearly nine years.

Republicans did recover from their 2012-2013 deficits to make gains in the 2014 midterm elections and are hoping to duplicate that feat in 2022. Like in 2014, their hopes may rest largely on the popularity level of the incumbent Democratic president.

The GOP’s hopes of regaining control of the House and Senate it lost in the past two federal election cycles may also depend on how well the party appeals to independent voters, the largest bloc in the U.S., something the Republican Party struggled to do during the Trump administration.

13) This.  “Stop Freaking Out: You Probably Already Have Some Type Of Vaccine Passport
Schools, international travel, and military service — people in the US already have to prove they are vaccinated against many diseases.”

14) Sargent on Manchin, “Why filibuster reformers aren’t (quite) ready to give up on Joe Manchin”

So where are 10 Republican votes (the amount needed to overcome a GOP filibuster) going to come from to support even a narrow infrastructure bill?

If and when they don’t materialize, that will be strike one on the Joe Manchin test…

At some point, if Republicans keep failing the Joe Manchin test, he’ll have to admit that nothing will achieve the cooperation that can supposedly be achieved by senators simply rediscovering their inner civic virtue. And he’ll either have to revise his arguments, or reconsider his opposition to filibuster reform. You’d think, anyway.

15) G. Elliot Morris on survey response:

In the 1970s, more than 80% of people called by Gallup’s interviewers answered their phones and completed their interviews. In 1997, surveys run by the Pew Research Centre—another large pollster—had a response rate of 36%. By 2018, it was 6%. It is even lower today—around 2% or 3%, according to Pew. As response rates decrease, the chance that the people answering the phone are systematically different than those who aren’t increases. In recent years, the population of respondents has been more Democratic than the population as a whole, leading to large misses in pre-election surveys. What are pollsters doing about this?

Over the past decade, the survey methodologists at Pew have embarked on a full redesign of the way they conduct public-opinion polls. In 2014, they began surveys over the internet, via a panel of respondents who answer questions repeatedly over time. Their American Trends Panel currently has 13,600 people regularly taking surveys online—some on internet-enabled tablets that Pew sent them. Online surveys have higher response rates than phone polls, and have supplanted random-digit dialling as Pew’s primary mode of collecting public-opinion data in America.

But switching to online polling has not completely solved the differential-response problem. In a recent analysis, Pew has detailed a persistent source of partisan bias in their poll: new recruits. The political composition of people who agreed to join their panel, after receiving a call or postcard soliciting their participation, has grown less Republican each year (see chart). Pew is able to fix much of this bias by adjusting the data to match the political composition of the electorate. This increases the uncertainty of the poll, and is an incomplete fix during an election year; there is still a chance that Republicans answering the phone are different from the ones who aren’t. That is what happened in 2020 when Pew’s panel was weighted by party but still understated support for Donald Trump.

In an attempt to solve the problem and provide a high-quality, less biased estimate of how many Democrats and Republicans live in the country, Pew has begun fielding an annual survey via the postal system that asks people their religious and political attitudes, among other metrics. Crucially, the national survey lets respondents answer either online or by paper in a prepaid envelope. The response rate for the mail survey is 29%, harkening back to the high response rates of the 1990s and early 2000s. According to Courtney Kennedy, Pew’s director of survey research, providing this offline response option has made the survey more representative.

Ms Kennedy hopes that using these higher-quality benchmarks to adjust their online polls will make their taking of the pulse of democracy less susceptible to a mass of Republicans refusing to answer their phones. But the methodological fixes do not change the underlying pattern. For some reason, Republicans, especially conservatives, are less likely to feel comfortable telling a pollster how they feel on the issues of the day. Although some biases can be fixed by weighting, Ms Kennedy said, “we really can’t afford to have this get much worse.” The real fix is to convince conservatives that polls are worth taking part in.

16) Watched “The Founder” (the story of Ray Kroc, “founder” of McDonald’s) playing on Netflix this week.  Great job from Michael Keaton and I found the movie very entertaining and was fascinated by the origins of the restaurant and the modern fast-food business.  The movie was really accurate.  

17) Somebody at Gallup had fun with this headline, “Global Warming Attitudes Frozen Since 2016”

18) Yglesias on America’s secularization

Religion is getting more polarized

When I shared that image on Twitter, a lot of secular liberals who don’t like right-wing evangelical politics got excited and dunked on right-wing evangelicals.

But this doesn’t really seem to be the case. Ryan Burge, a religion scholar who makes lots of great charts on Twitter, shows that evangelical or “born again” identity is holding up very well.

The decline in membership instead has two causes. One is that a growing number of people who describe themselves as non-denominational Christians aren’t members of a congregation. The other is that, as documented in Burge’s new book, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of people who say they have no religious affiliation. In the 1972 General Social Survey, the “Nones” are 5% of the population, while today they are nearly a quarter of the population.

We’re essentially looking at a more polarized religious landscape, with normie Protestants and Catholics in decline but evangelicals holding their ground in the face of the Rise of the Nones…

The racial polarization of the American electorate steadily increased for decades until bottoming out in 2012. Then somewhat contrary to what you’d guess based on the tenor of the Trump-era takes, the gap between the white and non-white vote shrunk a bit in 2016 and then shrunk more in 2020.

There are a few different reasons for this.

But a political data person I spoke to says that secularization plays a role. He says that in his firm’s data, they see “a substantial effect of no longer identifying with a religion on change in partisanship,” but the impact varies by race. When a white person goes from Christian to non-affiliated, they are more likely to become a Democrat. But when a Black person makes the same switch, the correlation goes in the other direction.

The causation here, of course, is a bit hard to tease out. Michele Margolis’ book suggests that when people leave the GOP, they tend to leave their church, too, since they see right-wing politics as having become constitutive of the religion. Ismail White and Chryl Laird have a recent book which argues that Black Americans with moderate or even conservative views tend to be Democrats out of a sense of partisan loyalty that is inculcated in Black social institutions — with Black churches very high on that list. So secularization of the Black population leads to higher levels of GOP affiliation as Black conservatives (and some Black moderates) drift right in their voting behavior without the socializing influence of the church.

Burge’s data also sees religious disaffiliation moving Hispanics to the right…

Demographics to watch out for

To me, the most interesting thing about this is that the media and political universes seem to have overreacted to the declining political salience of religion by moving to ignoring it entirely. We used to hear a lot about segmenting the white population based on religious affiliation, and now we’ve shifted almost entirely to discussing educational attainment.

But it’s not like the religious influence on politics went away just because secularization forced Republicans to become a less-overtly Jesus-first kind of political coalition.

As I noted above, the secularization trend seems to be prompting a reduction in the racial polarization of the electorate. But it’s also worth saying that since white voters outnumber non-white ones, it’s not like this is a neutral change — falling religious affiliation helps Democrats. It’s also particularly important because the geographical skew of the Senate is a huge deal in contemporary politics, and that skew is driven in part by the great overrepresentation of white voters in the upper house. So a dynamic through which Democrats gain newly unchurched white voters in exchange for losing newly unchurched non-white ones is actually very unfavorable to the GOP.

19) Radley Balko, “The Chauvin trial underscores two very different approaches to policing”

At Derek Chauvin’s trial this week, the jury heard from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, the city’s former training commander and expert witnesses, all of whom testified that Chauvin’s treatment of George Floyd violated widely accepted use of force standards as well as Minneapolis Police Department policy, which calls for commensurate force and requires respect for the “sanctity of life.” But despite those standards, Chauvin also had a history of kneeling on suspects’ necks for long periods of time, and none of those incidents resulted in discipline. It’s an apt illustration of how, for about the past 10 years, two contradictory philosophies have been at war in American policing.

On one side are the de-escalationists, a product of the criminal justice reform movement. They accept police brutality, systemic racism and excessive force as real problems in law enforcement, and call for more accountability, as well as training in areas like de-escalation and conflict resolution. De-escalationists believe police serve their communities by apprehending and detaining people who violate the rights and safety of others, but must also do so in a way that protects the rights of the accused.

The other side — let’s call them “no-hesitationists” — asserts that police officers aren’t aggressive enough and are too hesitant to use deadly force, which puts officers and others at risk. They see law enforcement officers as warriors, and American neighborhoods as battlefields, where officers vanquish the bad to protect the good. These are the self-identified “sheepdogs,” the cops who sport Punisher gear.

No-hesitationists are more prominent in sheriff’s offices and police union leadership, and among rank-and-file officers. They’re more populist and have been successful including their policies in union contracts, honing successful legal arguments for cops accused of excessive force and leveraging political power, both to elect police-friendly judges, prosecutors and lawmakers, and to shame and intimidate politicians deemed insufficiently pro-law enforcement.

The de-escalationists successfully worked their preferred practices into official policy. But the no-hesitationists prevented meaningful enforcement of those policies. One example played out in Los Angeles in 2015. After LAPD chief Charlie Beck announced a new “Preservation of Life” award, for officers who held their fire and peacefully resolved confrontations with potentially dangerous suspects, the police union objected, claiming the award valued the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of police officers.

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