Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like you!

2) Really good from Jonathan Weiler on gerrymandering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) John McWhorter on not being a racist:

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

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

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

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

To wit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be like Italy

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And… that’s it.  

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Edsall on conservative calls for avowedly Christian nationalism:

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

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

Perhaps most strikingly, the principles declare that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The match between the [personality of the] listener and the artist was predictive of the musical preferences for the artist beyond just the attributes from the music,” Greenberg says.

Personality traits may predict people’s musical taste, researchers say. In a 2022 study, Greenberg and his colleagues found that despite sociocultural differences, participants around the world displayed personality traits that were consistently correlated with their preference for certain genres of Western music. Extraversion, for example, was linked to a preference for upbeat contemporary music, and Openness was linked to a preference for sophisticated or cerebral styles.

Look at me with my upbeat, cerebral music preferences 🙂

3) Good stuff from Yglesias on policing:

Once you get past the fantasy that we can wish policing away or “reimagine” public safety in a way that doesn’t involve guys with uniforms and guns, you’re left with the fact that the policing status quo is bad and also hard to change.

Officers should be held accountable for misconduct — not just the most extreme forms of misconduct, but relatively minor kinds as well. Yet we see chiefs reluctant to fire officers, and officers who do get dismissed bouncing from department to department. And this is at least in part because in many cases it is genuinely not easy to fill vacancies. Meanwhile, many if not most departments seem to have a deeply ingrained warrior mentality that emphasizes dominance rather than service. Policing has become so politicized that the overwhelming majority of officers, even in very liberal areas, are right-wing and often seem to have barely disguised disdain for the citizens they nominally serve, and not-at-all disguised disdain for the politicians elected to run their cities. Over the course of 2020-21, we saw a massive national wave of shootings and murder that seems to have been caused at least in part by a de facto police strike, tacitly organized to (successfully) push back on momentum for reform.

That’s bad on its own terms, and it’s also a ticking time bomb for democracy more broadly…

Right now, very few people with progressive values or any qualms about the status quo in the criminal justice system are willing to consider a career in policing. But that dynamic is only going to make everything people worry about in policing even worse. We’re both exacerbating ideological selection into and out of policing, and also making general staffing problems harder. This only makes chiefs more reluctant to dismiss bad cops and more likely to accept retreats who’ve washed out for misconduct elsewhere.

If we accept that policing is important and that high-poverty, high-crime communities want to see policing improved rather than defunded, it would be more constructive to create a program that challenges people who believe policing can be done better to actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

There’s a good amount of evidence (most recently summed up in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing) that better-educated police officers are better across a variety of dimensions — they use force less and engage in more “problem-oriented” policing. This is sometimes taken as a reason to encourage departments to require college degrees or create financial incentives for getting them. Realistically, though, creating a degree requirement is only going to make personnel shortages worse, and a crude financial incentive is going to lead to people enrolling in low-value programs just to get a raise.

Police for America would address the same issue from the opposite direction, creating a centralized mechanism for increasing the supply of educated officers available to work in high-poverty communities. I think it’s safe to assume that PFA cops, like TFA teachers, would have above-average rates of medium-term attrition. But the ones who don’t leave policing would be disproportionately likely to secure promotion. And many of the ones who do leave policing would still work in adjacent fields and would bring practical police experience to bear on careers in law, policy, journalism, and politics. You’d get cultural change inside police departments via the entry of different kinds of people, and also a criminal justice reform community that was operating across less of a conceptual void from the people doing police work…

I have some criticisms of PP trends (the inclination you see in some places to treat illegal gun possession as a non-violent crime unworthy of serious punishment seems like a big mistake to me), but the basic idea that reformers should actually take on criminal justice work and try to do it better is correct. The idea came to prosecutors first because lawyering is more of a high-prestige occupation than policing. But that’s why TFA seems like a promising model — you can really create prestige out of thin air with a little money, savvy, and media hype.

4) Paul Waldman on the awful Trump judge and the broader undermining of the rule of law:

The Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis as its ongoing legal revolution becomes more and more alarming to a public unhappy about its recent rulings on abortion and gun rights. But there’s another legitimacy crisis brewing, one that can be seen vividly in Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s extraordinary rulings in the case involving Donald Trump’s hoarding of documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump despite her thin experience, has been almost comically eager to help the former president. Her appointment of a special master to review documents seized in the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago was greeted with shock and ridicule on substantive grounds and was widely seen as a means of delaying the case as long as possible.

But Cannon’s latest intervention on Trump’s behalf is particularly disturbing. I want to focus on one part of the order she gave Thursday, because it speaks to how we believe courts are supposed to work and how those foundations of the justice system are being warped.

Trump, true to form, has been making fantastical claims about how victimized he has been at the hands of law enforcement. Among other things, he has said the FBI may have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago to incriminate him.

So special master Raymond J. Dearie — who was suggested by Trump’s attorneys and agreed to by the government — essentially told the Trump team to put up or shut up. He instructed them to clarify whether they’re challenging the government’s inventory of documents collected at Mar-a-Lago. Would they make an official statement alleging documents were planted, or would they accept that the inventory is accurate?

This put them in an awkward position — the same awkward position Trump attorneys have been in before. Their client is the most notorious liar in the history of American politics. But in court, the rules are different than on Fox News or Truth Social.

In case after case after the 2020 election, Trump attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell rolled into court with rumors, speculation and hearsay about widespread election fraud. Again and again, they were shot down by judges telling them it wasn’t enough to say they heard about a guy whose cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbor said he saw a van with a Joe Biden bumper sticker idling behind the board of elections building. Without evidence, they lost.

But Cannon swooped in to save Trump’s lawyers from the embarrassment of contradicting their boss. She overruled Dearie, allowing the lawyers to avoid taking a position on whether the inventory is accurate. Given the chance to draw a bright line marking the integrity of what goes on in court, she did the opposite.

This may seem like a small thing. But it’s a direct assault on the idea that the courts are a venue where fairness prevails precisely because there are strict rules everyone has to follow, rules designed to get to the truth.

Almost two years after Trump left office, the poison he injected into the courts with the appointment of a long list of hack judges is becoming more clear. It’s increasingly difficult to look at important court cases of recent days and believe that whether you like the outcome, the procedures have been fair, the judges have worked to be objective and the integrity of the courts is intact.

Judges such as Cannon undermine a cornerstone of the legitimacy of the court system: the idea of “procedural fairness.” This topic has long been of interest to judges and lawyers, and research has found that people’s perceptions of whether they were treated fairly is often just as important as the outcome in determining their feelings about the process.

5) Really, really liked this from Jesse Singal, “It Isn’t Journalism’s Job To Hand-Hold People To The Correct Moral Conclusions”

One of the silliest ideas to infect mainstream journalism in recent years is the notion that when journalists produce work about a bad person, they must signpost that work, seemingly every moment, with explicit indicators that that person is bad. You need to hold readers’ hands tightly, because they are moral idiots, and the moment your grip slips, they’ll race off and return in a Klansman’s hood or something.

This is now a thoroughly mainstream view in journalism, and it is applied to coverage not just to actual fascists, but to an ever-growing variety of right-wing (or otherwise disfavored) figures…

When a journalist gets dragged on Twitter the way Harkinson did, it gets noticed by other journalists. One of Twitter’s main functions, after all, is to publiclydish out discipline to those deemed to have violated a given group’s norms, whether or not the accusation is valid.

Things have gotten a lot worse in mainstream journalism since Harkinson’s piece. I’m not the first to have ranted and written about the culture of stifling conformity, of jumping down the throats of anyone who argues for nuanced takes on hot-button issues, or who publicly disagrees with sacralized narratives. These tendencies have contributed to botched coverage of national news events over and over and over and over.

But there’s a more fundamental principle at stake here: respect for readers (and listeners). The ideas that readers will scurry off to fascism unless we keep them tightly leashed, that they can’t handle a little bit of uncertainty or nuance or a couple of unanswered questions — it’s all deeply condescending. Certain prescriptions for how journalism should be conducted — such as the idea that we should be awash in headlines like “Racist President Drones Racistly As Racist Group Howls With Racist Glee” — seem motivated by genuine contempt for readers.

When Damon Kiesow argues that an article about Chris Rufo was a terrible act because it included a prominent photo of Rufo as well as a somewhat in-depth interview with him, that’s because he doesn’t respect Times readers. “The path to not amplifying hate is to lead with a portait [sic] of the director of a local anti-hate group and have them describe the issue – and then dig into the details of the people pushing anti-civil rights legislation.” This is an utterly impoverished, impossibly bland concept of journalism in which we slap helmets on readers and then lead them by hand, via velvet ropes and padded walls, to their final, safe destination: On your left you’ll see a local civil rights leader. He is a hero. What a good man! In our next room you’ll meet today’s baddy, an eeeeeeeevil man named Chris Rufo. Do not listen to what he says, for he is a Deceiver.

I can’t write like this because I don’t hate my readers. And most journalists, to be fair, don’t hate their readers either — they want to produce interesting work. But the hysterical, moralizing view of journalism is winning, largely because of the social media shitstorm that engulfs anyone who insists on treating readers as compos mentis adults rather than kids in the under-10 section of a theme park. If you’re skeptical of my argument that views like Kiesow’s stem from contempt for readers, reflect, for a minute, on the claim that launched this whole article: that describing a hardened racist as “dapper” will cause people to be drawn to that racist and to embrace his ideas. The hypothetical seductee in this scenario is, full-stop, an idiot.

Any competent critique of 2022 needs to mention class, and this is indeed partly a class issue. Journalists are increasingly from privileged, liberal backgrounds like mine, and privileged, liberal people tend to have very strong, very set feelings about politics — feelings that only grew more intense during the Trump years. For the most part, journalists in my milieu are cut off, at least as far as close social and familial ties go, from the sorts of people who might be fans of Chris Rufo. That makes it harder to cover Rufo accurately, which is something you should want even if — especially if — you dislike Rufo and his project.

Journalism needs more Josh Harkinsons, is what it comes down to. There are all sorts of structural reasons why it’s harder than ever before to produce long, careful, rigorous works of magazine reporting — that such works are now shouted down and slandered by other journalists is an exceptionally foreboding development for an already teetering industry.

6) This Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest TV shows got dunked on all over twitter.  But it’s really good!  Sopranos is #1 and Wired, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld are all top 10.  That’s a good list!

7) Heck, more Jesse Singal on a singularly (okay, it’s not, but couldn’t resist) Vox article.

8) Cathy Young with one of the best pieces I’ve read on Diversity training:

Let’s grant that DeSantis’s Trump-lite culture-warmongering is cynical and noxious, and the “Stop WOKE” law—which should be taken out and shot for its moniker alone—is a very real speech infringement, especially given the broad scope and the vagueness of its prohibitions. (For example, the law prohibits training or teaching that individuals “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions . . . committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” Does this apply only to instructing trainees that such reactions are required, or could any material that inspires employees to feel “psychological distress” or shame over racial inequities fall under suspicion?)

And let’s further grant that Rufo is a political hack who is upfront about his end-justifies-the-means approach to stopping “wokeness.”

But DEI training is also one of those issues on which the right and the left tend to get trapped in a mutual cycle of escalating culture-war follies. The right seizes on a real problem, blows it up into an imminent threat to Civilization As We Know It, and demands ham-handed—and often unconstitutional—action to root it out. The left circles the wagons and ferociously argues that whatever the right is complaining about is either nonexistent or actually a good thing. The right attacks even more forcefully. Rinse and repeat.

While Rufo’s dispatches from the culture-war front definitely need to be taken with a grain, or maybe a shaker-full, of salt—as I noted last year, he’s prone, at the very least, to exaggeration and cherry-picking—some of the corporate documents he has collected should give cause for concern.

For instance, the “Listen. Understand. Act.” program launched at AT&T in April 2021 describes “21-Day Racial Equity Habit Challenge” which invites the employee to “do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity” every day for 21 days. These actions include reading, watching, or listening to material on antiracism, gender issues and/or social justice from an ideologically uniform list that features Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Nikole Hannah-Jones. No alternative or critical point of view is listed—not, say, Kelefa Sanneh’s trenchant 2019 critique of Kendi and DiAngelo for the New Yorker, or the podcast discussions by Brown University economist Glenn Loury and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter, two black academics critical of the Kendi brand of antiracism.

Other recommended material includes a blog post arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has been good for anti-racism because living in the constant shadow of death allows white Americans to understand how black Americans feel all the time; a column that bluntly states, “White people, you are the problem”; a video titled “Not Everyone Is Your Friend,” in which a spoken-word poet warns that old friends who don’t support you on your social justice journey may not really be true friends; and a conversation with the author of a book arguing that the United States owes its economic power to slavery, with no mention of other work challenging his thesis. Participants are also encouraged to become involved in social and racial justice activism and to scrutinize their circle of friends, their reading and film- or TV-viewing habits, and even the artwork in their homes for racial balance…

Moreover, one need not endorse conspiracy theories about “woke” corporations and the left to be troubled by a trend of major employers expecting employees to declare allegiance to a particular political viewpoint. Nor does one need to endorse Trump-style white identity politics to believe that the DiAngelo-style identity politics of many DEI programs are, in fact, very bad. It’s everything from the messages decrying “whiteness” and badgering white employees to confess their “complicity” in racism to the fixation on seeing all interpersonal problems through the lens of identity, privilege, and oppression to the constant sleuthing for “microaggressions” and “harm.” It doesn’t help that for all the talk of “diversity,” many DEI programs are focused on the dynamics of black and white Americans while giving short shrift to other groups. The “Listen. Understand. Act.” materials include more than forty items that focus on the black American experience, but just two focused on Hispanics and one dealing with Asian Americans…

Another alternative DEI program is offered by Brooklyn-based African-American entrepreneur and writer Chloé Simone Valdary under the name “Theory of Enchantment.” (It’s based on the 2011 book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, who defines “enchantment” as winning people over by “delighting” them with a product or idea.) On the Theory of Enchantment website, Valdary describes her program, launched four years ago, as “a framework for compassionate antiracism that combines social-emotional learning (SEL), character development, and interpersonal growth,” based on three principles: “treat people like human beings, not political abstractions”; “criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down or destroy”; “root everything you do in love and compassion.” Clients include the online food-delivery company GrubHub and the Hadassah Jewish women’s organization. The company currently has six part-time employees; Valdary told me that at least for now, she’s looking not to expand but to build sustainable systems. She also stresses that she approaches the issue “from an entrepreneurial perspective, not a culture-war perspective.”

Like Manji, Valdary is highly critical of the conventional DEI model, which her site describes as leading to “individuals being unfairly singled out, ostracized, and humiliated” and “animosity developing among coworkers.” But she also believes that the anti-woke crusaders—whether activists or politicians—end up becoming the very things they wage war against, and she thinks HB 7, with its focus on banning “harmful” concepts in workplace training, is a perfect example. “They’re imitating critical race theory, which also wants to ban certain uses of words,” she says. “It’s like, to a T, an imitation of their opponents.”

9) The story that dominated twitter for a day earlier this week, “More Trans Teens Are Choosing ‘Top Surgery’” Can we at least agree that doctors advertising for teenage patients for this on TikTok is bad?

10) Relatedly, semi-recent report on changes on all this in Europe, “The Beginning of the End of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’? Britain is closing the infamous Tavistock Centre. Finland and Sweden have radically revised their treatment guidelines. But American doctors are advertising surgeries to children on TikTok.”

The question is how Americans will react.

In a sign that they may be rethinking the “puberty blockers are safe and reversible” dogma, the Food and Drug Administration, also on Thursday, announced that it was slapping a new warning on puberty blockers. It turns out they may cause brain swelling and vision loss. But for now, the move among American medical associations, health officials and dozens of gender clinics is to double down on the affirmative approach, with the Biden administration recently asserting gender affirmation is “trauma-informed care.”

The American stance is at odds with a growing consensus in the West to exercise extreme caution when it comes to transitioning young people. Uber-progressive countries like Sweden and Finland have pushed back—firmly and unapologetically—against the affirmative approach of encouraging youth transition advocated by some transgender activists and gender clinicians.

Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare released new guidelines for treating young people with gender dysphoria earlier this year. The new guidelines state that the risks of these “gender-affirming” medical interventions “currently outweigh the possible benefits, and that the treatments should be offered only in exceptional cases.”

Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care (COHERE) came to a similar conclusion a year earlier, noting: “The first-line intervention for gender variance during childhood and adolescent years is psychosocial support and, as necessary, gender-explorative therapy and treatment for comorbid psychiatric disorders.” And: “In light of available evidence, gender reassignment of minors is an experimental practice.” Gender reassignment medical interventions “must be done with a great deal of caution, and no irreversible treatment should be initiated.”

Both guidelines starkly contrast with those proffered by the Illinois-based World Professional Association of Transgender Health, an advocacy group made up of activists, academics, lawyers, and healthcare providers, which has set the standard when it comes to transgender care in the United States. WPATH will soon issue new standards that lower recommended ages for blockers, hormones and surgeries. (WPATH did not respond to a request for comment.)

WPATH’s position is in keeping with an array of U.S. medical associations and activist groups across the country that insist gender-affirming care is “life-saving.” Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who is herself a transgender woman, recently asserted that there is a medical consensus as to its benefits. Some activists and gender clinicians in the U.S. feel that WPATH doesn’t go far enough, asserting that any child who wants puberty blockers should get them, for instance, or claiming that a teenager who later regrets having her breasts removed can just get new ones.

In Sweden and Finland, this issue has been primarily a question of health and medicine. Here in the U.S. it is a political football.

11) Paul Waldman, “Those GOP ‘tough on crime’ ads? They’re based on a very big lie.”

But the idea that crime rates in America will depend on which party controls Congress is ridiculous on its face. The truth — which in a better world would play some role in campaign debates — is that almost nothing Congress does will have any more than the smallest effect on crime.

As The Post reports, in the past month or so Republicans have made crime the primary focus of their campaigns. Apparently, inflation just didn’t provide the appropriate dose of fear and rage:

During the first three weeks of September, the Republican candidates and allies aired about 53,000 commercials on crime, according to AdImpact, which tracks political spots on network TV. That’s up from the 29,000 crime ads they aired in all of August. Nearly 50 percent of all Republican online ads in battleground states have focused on policing and safety since the start of the month, according to data from Priorities USA, a group focused on electing Democrats.

As Republicans know well — because they’ve run on this issue for decades — crime is both a real problem and a symbolic one. It can affect people’s lives in profound ways. But bringing it up can also activate fear, tribalistic distrust and oftentimes outright bigotry, emotions that override any rational assessment of problems and solutions.

But there is a truth in the general vicinity, which is that Republicans do in fact want to spend more on police than we do now; the essence of their position is that police budgets must always rise. In some states, they’ve even passed laws that would punish cities that cut their police budgets, no matter the reason. There is a real policy difference here: Republicans generally favor whatever sounds “tough” — more cops, longer sentences, less accountability for police misconduct — while Democrats tend to have a broader view of what government could do to reduce crime, while also often supporting more spending on police.

12) Always enjoy reading about research on apples, but so many of the new cultivars are just sweet with now balancing tartness– so frustrating.  Meanwhile, Braeburn is one of the best apples ever (and if you like Jazz, it’s Braeburn crossed with Gala) and you can’t even find it anywhere anymore.  “How About Them Apples? Research Orchards Chart a Fruit’s Future. Scientists working in research groves, like one in Nova Scotia, are developing your favorite new apple variety.”

13) Jessica Grose on kids’ sports, “‘The more parents spend on their kids’ sports, the less the kid enjoys it and the more pressure they feel’”

My daughters love to swim, and we’d exhausted the lessons at our local Y, so I thought I’d try to find them a swim team. They’re only 6 and 9, so what I was looking for was a local rec situation that offered a bit of low-stakes camaraderie and regular exercise. They’re strong swimmers but probably not future Olympians, and besides, I want a life: I have zero interest in shuttling them up and down the Eastern Seaboard every weekend to compete, as the parents whose children are on travel teams seem to do.
The kind of chill athletic experience I wanted for my kids barely seems to exist anymore. There wasn’t anything like the delightfully bumbling soccer league of my youth. All I could find were intense teams that had practices several times a week. The only other regular swimming option for my children is lessons, which are expensive, and you need to sign up on the first day of registration or you’re out of luck.
I thought it might be just a New York City thing — often there are wait lists for all kinds of kid activities because there is so much demand and not enough supply. But it seems to be a cross-country problem: When I tweeted in frustration, lots of folks replied describing similar experiences — including a woman who wryly suggested that one might have to sacrifice a baby goat to get kids into swimming lessons in Portland, Ore.
This saddens me for so many reasons. A big one is that sports were such an important part of my tween and teen years. I wasn’t good enough to play in college, but I played soccer and field hockey through my senior year of high school. It always felt like a respite from adolescent drama, and it provided structure and solace on even the worst days. Being part of a team taught me a lot of lessons, not least of which that showing up on time and ready to play has tangible benefits, no matter what happens in the game.
But as Linda Flanagan explains in her new book, “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports — and Why It Matters,” the problem is systemic. At its base, over the past several decades, “kids’ sports stopped being for kids.” There are fewer low-cost options, the time parents are spending on sports has ratcheted up and kids from lower-income families have less access to play. Instead, youth sports are about making adults money and fueling what some economists call the “rug rat race” — middle-class and upper-middle-class competition to get kids into colleges and secure their futures.

That sucks.  Too bad these parents don’t have access to NCFC Youth Rec soccer, where we totally get this right.

14) Did you hear about the “academic” paper last month which was some guy describing his diary of masturbating to pseudo-child porn?  Academics should not be defending this stuff– not all subjects are worthy of study and not all study expands are knowledge– but they do.

15) I saw an ad for Xyzal the other day, which is basically warmed over Zyrtec, but, of course, does not have a generic.  And, how does the efficacy compare?  Zyrtec is actually better.

16) More frustrating culture war battles.  This documentary sounds great and thoughtful.  But, alas, how dare a white woman make a documentary about Muslim men? “Sundance Liked Her Documentary on Terrorism, Until Muslim Critics Didn’t”

17) Loved this take from “History Boomer

“Stay in your lane” is one of the stupider phrases to emerge from lefty identity politics. It’s the crazy idea that certain topics should only be discussed or portrayed by people with the appropriate characteristics. It’s a smothering approach that would set limits on art based on skin color and background when the only limit to art should be the artist’s imagination.

Michael Powell over at the New York Times penned an important article on a film that has been unfairly attacked because it has the “wrong” views and its director the wrong cultural heritage. Meg Smaker directed Jihad Rehab, a documentary investigating the lives of four men who joined jihadist groups, were imprisoned and tortured at Guantanamo Bay, and finally began a move towards a different view of the world during a stay at a Saudi Arabian rehabilitation center. The film was widely praised (read this positive review at The Guardian) until it caught the eye and ire of activists who complained that Ms. Smaker was demonizing Muslims as terrorists and should not, as a white woman, be making such a film at all. Ms. Smaker had film festivals pull her documentary because of the controversy and she is facing career ruin.

For all the details, read Powell’s article, the Guardian’s review, an open letter from filmmakers (who mostly hadn’t seen it) condemning the film, and an open letter from the film’s executive director Abigail Disney, who had originally called the film “freaking brilliant,” but now condemned it because it “has landed like a truckload of hate on people whom I sincerely love and respect.”

For me, one quote jumped out:

“When I, a practicing Muslim woman, say that this film is problematic,” wrote Jude Chehab, a Lebanese American documentarian, “my voice should be stronger than a white woman saying that it isn’t. Point blank.”

Jude Chehab thinks she should be listened to because she is a Muslim Arab while Meg Smaker, as a white American, has a less valid point of view. This way of thinking stems from what is called “standpoint theory,”1 which argues we need to grant special authority to views expressed by those whose identity makes them more trustworthy narrators. (Smaker spent years living in Yemen, learning Arabic, and studying Muslim cultures.)

It’s darkly funny that this same emphasis on identity and authenticity has also been used to justify attacking the casting of non-white characters in Amazon’s The Rings of Power and a black mermaid in the live-action The Little Mermaid. Ms. Chehab wants only Muslim filmmakers to make films about Muslims and conservative critics want only white people to portray mermaids and elves…

The article has some nuance—Farah Fleurima says that sometimes fat suits can work, as with Christian Bale in the film Vice—but mostly pushes for the idea that actors should closely resemble the people they are portraying.

Who can forget the caramel-hued actress Zoe Saldaña playing the singer Nina Simone in a much-maligned biopic of the proudly dark-coffee-skinned performer?

“Caramel-hued,” “dark-coffee-skinned”? While the right complains about dark-skinned elves and black mermaids, the left thinks that Zoe Saldaña—who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage—isn’t dark enough? Should casting calls include Pantone color swatches to make sure each actor properly fits the role? Of course, we also need to examine your sex life to make sure only straight actors play straight characters, ditto your physical abilities if you want to play wheel-chair bound Stephen Hawking.

This way lies madness. Taken to its logical conclusion, “stay in your lane” thinking will result in filmmakers only making films about themselves and only Barack Obama will be acceptable to portray Barack Obama. We must fight the purity police on all sides who want to resegregate our culture. Meg Smaker has as much right to make a film about four Muslim men (assuming she approaches the subject with care and integrity) as a black filmmaker has to create her own vision of Romeo and Juliet. We are all citizens of this world, hungry students learning from her intertwined cultures.

18) Yglesias is right, “Beating climate change absolutely requires new technology: We have what we need to drastically cut emissions — but we’re going to need much more”

So how much does this cost? Well, not very much. Because the key thing about this scenario is that all my kilowatts of electricity get used. When I’m in surplus, that extra electricity goes “to the grid” where it substitutes for other sources of power, and I earn credits that offset my electricity usage during deficit periods. If I had to throw away my surplus kilowatts instead of selling them to the grid, my per-kilowatt cost would soar.

And if everyone had solar power, that’s the problem we would face. Who would we export the extra electricity to during surplus periods? At a small margin, we have the technology for this: instead of exporting power during the day and importing it at night, I could get a home battery and store daytime excess for use at night. That would raise my per-kilowatt cost, but only modestly since batteries aren’t that expensive. And you can add wind as well as solar to your grid so you have some resiliency against seasonal variations in sunlight.

The problem is that without fossil fuels for resilience, the cost per megawatt of renewables soars because redundancy is expensive.

Wasting electricity is costly

Seasonal variation is a big problem here, for example.

Let’s say you have enough solar panels to cover 100 percent of your electricity needs on an average December day. That means you’re going to have way more panels than you need on an average June day when the sun is shining for a much longer period of time. On a pure engineering basis, that’s fine — there are just some panels that in practice are only generating power for a few days per year in the dead of winter. But the cost per megawatt of those panels is going to be astronomical because a solar panel is almost 100 percent fixed costs.

The same is true of random fluctuations in weather. If you’re like Texas and rely on a mix of gas and wind, then wind is cheap — you add some turbines and that means you burn less gas. If there’s some freak day when there’s very little wind, then you burn an unusually large amount of gas. As long as you’re using almost all the wind power you generate, the cost per megawatt of your turbines is low. But if you try to build enough turbines to keep the lights on during low-wind days, you’re wasting wind on high-wind days. This means your cost per megawatt rises.

Because massively overbuilding renewables would not only cost a lot of money but wastefully consume vast tracts of land, it seems like a better idea would be to use long-term batteries. If you had really big batteries that stored electricity for a long time, you could simply store surplus power in the high season and unleash it in the low season.

In fact, if you are lucky enough to have large hydroelectric dams at your disposal, you can probably use them as a seasonal storage vehicle. You can let the water pile up when renewables are at maximum capacity and then run it through the dam when you need it. Not coincidentally, politicians from the Pacific Northwest — where there’s tons of hydro — tend to be huge climate hawks.

But for the rest of us, it’s Hypothetical Storage Technology to the rescue.

I’m not saying anything here that renewables proponents aren’t aware of. They write articles about seasonal electricity storage all the time. There are plenty of ideas here that could work, ranging from ideas on the technological cutting edge to brute force engineering concepts like using pumps to create extra hydro capacity. Another idea is that maybe you could replace a lot of current fossil fuel use with burning hydrogen, and then you could manufacture hydrogen using renewable electricity while accepting seasonal variation in the level of hydrogen output. It might work!

19) Relatedly, “What Many Progressives Misunderstand About Fighting Climate Change”

But this may not be enough for some environmentalists. Jamie Henn, an environmental activist and the director of Fossil Free Media, recently told Rolling Stone, “Look, I want to get carbon out of the atmosphere, but this is such an opportunity to remake our society. But if we just perpetuate the same harms in a clean-energy economy, and it’s just a world of Exxons and Elon Musks—oh, man, what a nightmare.” Many progressive commentators similarly believe that countering climate change requires a fundamental reordering of the West’s political and economic systems. “The level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below ‘absolutely catastrophic’ is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo,” the writer Phil McDuff has argued. The climate crisis, the Green New Deal advocate Naomi Klein has insisted, “could be the best argument progressives have ever had” to roll back corporate influence, tear up free-trade deals, and reinvest in public services and infrastructure.

Such comments raise a question: What is the real goal here—stopping climate change or abolishing capitalism? Taking climate change seriously as a global emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck attitude and a recognition that technological solutions (yes, often built and deployed by private firms) can deliver real progress on decarbonization before the proletariat has seized the means of production. A massive infusion of private investment, made not for charity but in the anticipation of future profits, is precisely what’s needed to accelerate the clean-energy transition—which, like all revolutions, will yield unpredictable results.

The belief that top-down decision makers can choreograph precisely how the clean-energy revolution will proceed runs deep in progressive circles. In the manifesto describing his version of the Green New Deal, Bernie Sanders declared, “To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.” Many environmental groups share the Vermont senator’s aversion to these technologies. But the climate emergency demands we take a closer look at some of them before writing them off completely. In the face of uncertainty about the best path to decarbonization, policy makers should think like a venture capitalist—placing lots of bets in the expectation that some technologies will fail but the investment portfolio will succeed as a whole. The “false solutions” that Sanders decries may indeed prove unworkable. Nuclear energy might never be cost-competitive, and geoengineering may prove technically infeasible. But we can’t know in advance…

In a variety of other ways, Americans will have to choose between the perfect and the good. Some environmentalists are skeptical of geothermal energy, which requires extensive drilling. Yet it has high potential as a source of clean baseload power with a small geographical footprint that can, in theory, be deployed anywhere in the world (if you drill deep enough). One way to accelerate investment in geothermal energy would be to give this clean technology the same expedited permitting that oil and gas companies already receive for leases on federal land.

20) I cannot recall how I came across this, but, among other things, it’s got a nice replication of the Milgram experiment and it’s damn entertaining, Derren Brown’s, “The Heist

21) Special K for the win, “Nothing seemed to treat their depression. Then they tried ketamine.”

22) This is good, “How to Change Minds? A Study Makes the Case for Talking It Out. Researchers found that meaty conversations among several people can align beliefs and brain patterns — so long as the group is free of blowhards.” (Haven’t done a free NYT article in a while, so, here you go)

A few years ago, Dr. Sievers devised a study to improve understanding of how exactly a group of people achieves a consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. The results, recently published online but not yet peer-reviewed, showed that a robust conversation that results in consensus synchronizes the talkers’ brains — not only when thinking about the topic that was explicitly discussed, but related situations that were not.

The study also revealed at least one factor that makes it harder to reach accord: a group member whose strident opinions drown out everyone else.

“Conversation is our greatest tool to align minds,” said Thalia Wheatley, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who advises Dr. Sievers. “We don’t think in a vacuum, but with other people.”

23) One of the most interesting things about Covid to me is how much it has brought attention to general features of disease that have long been ignored, “It’s Not Just Long COVID: Society has been underestimating the long-term consequences of viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites for ages.”

Despite the initial disbelief and remaining questions, the phenomenon behind long COVID isn’t entirely new. We’ve always lived with post-infection illnesses and underappreciated their consequences. A recent article in Nature Medicine lists 15 infectious agents—many of which are well-known viruses, bacteria, and parasites—that can cause these “post-acute infection syndromes.” Long COVID is unprecedented in terms of its scale—it has affected many millions of people in the U.S. alone—but we should try to understand and study it in the context of other long illnesses, not as something that emerged out of nowhere with no comparison or antecedents.

One of us—Hank Balfour—has spent decades studying the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can have strikingly similar long-term patterns. EBV, named for two of the researchers who discovered it, is millions of years older than SARS-CoV-2, but its prolonged effects are only just beginning to be well understood. They’re elusive in part because the virus is so common. It infects at least 90 percent of adults, which makes establishing a clear control group and proving that EBV was the cause of a long illness very difficult.

Yet, new research is revealing more and more about the connection between EBV and chronic diseases. New studies suggest that multiple sclerosis is the result of an EBV infection, and we know for sure that EBV is the principal cause of infectious mononucleosis (mono). Most patients recover from mono in a few weeks, but some continue to have mono-like symptoms for years—or get over the initial illness only to suffer recurring bouts of sickness later on. This condition could be called “long mono/EBV” or “chronic mono.” Two prominent symptoms it shares with long COVID are brain fog and fatigue. And just as doctors didn’t believe long-COVID patients at first, chronic mono isn’t a widely accepted diagnosis among health-care professionals. That’s a shame. The similarities between long COVID and long mono/EBV, and the purported interactions between the two viruses during acute COVID or after COVID vaccination, demand further investigation…

Persistent postinfection symptoms are also found in influenza. Long influenza—which most people have never thought about, even though influenza is quite common—and its similarities to long COVID can teach us how both diseases cause brain fog. In the aftermath of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic, scientists noticed that the infection can come with complications, including neurological disorders, that last longer than the acute respiratory illness. There is growing evidence that influenza viruses, much like SARS-CoV-2 and reactivated EBV, can trigger neuroinflammation by infecting white blood cells that then breach the blood-brain barrier and release proinflammatory small proteins called cytokines. Studies suggest that microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, can also secrete these pro-inflammatory agents following viral assault and thus may be factors in the brain fog experienced as a delayed effect of both influenza and COVID. Animal studies and human-brain postmortems bolster this theory. Investigators recently found that both SARS-CoV-2 and H1N1 activate neuroinflammation through microglia, and they noted the similarity of what they observed to the “chemo fog” that patients experience following cancer chemotherapy.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Loved this from National Geographic on creativity and the default mode network.  I have come up with all my best ideas while in the shower or when running and I turn off podcasts:

If you’ve ever emerged from the shower or returned from walking your dog with a clever idea or a solution to a problem you’d been struggling with, it may not be a fluke.

Rather than constantly grinding away at a problem or desperately seeking a flash of inspiration, research from the last 15 years suggests that people may be more likely to have creative breakthroughs or epiphanies when they’re doing a habitual task that doesn’t require much thought—an activity in which you’re basically on autopilot. This lets your mind wander or engage in spontaneous cognition or “stream of consciousness” thinking, which experts believe helps retrieve unusual memories and generate new ideas.

“People always get surprised when they realize they get interesting, novel ideas at unexpected times because our cultural narrative tells us we should do it through hard work,” says Kalina Christoff, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “It’s a pretty universal human experience.”

Now we’re beginning to understand why these clever thoughts occur during more passive activities and what’s happening in the brain, says Christoff. The key, according to the latest research, is a pattern of brain activity—within what’s called the default mode network—that occurs while an individual is resting or performing habitual tasks that don’t require much attention.

Researchers have shown that the default mode network (DMN)—which connects more than a dozen regions of the brain—becomes more active during mind-wandering or passive tasks than when you’re doing something that demands focus. Simply put, the DMN is “the state the brain returns to when you’re not actively engaged,” explains Roger Beaty, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity Lab at Penn State University. By contrast, when you’re mired in a demanding task, the brain’s executive control systems keep your thinking focused, analytical, and logical…

Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and his colleagues serendipitously discovered the default mode network in 2001 when they were using positron emission tomography (PET) to see how the brains of volunteers were functioning as they performed novel, attention-demanding tasks. The team then compared those images to ones made while the brain was in a resting state and noticed that specific brain regions were more active during passive tasks than engaging ones.

However, because the function of each brain region isn’t well characterized and because a specific brain area can do different things under different circumstances, neuroscientists prefer to talk about “networks of brain areas,” such as the default mode network, which function together during certain activities, according to John Kounios, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Creativity Research Lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Raichle named this network the “default” mode network because of its heightened activity during idle periods, says Randy L. Buckner, a neuroscientist at Harvard University. But it’s something of a misnomer because the default mode network is also active in other mental tasks, such as remembering past events or engaging in self-reflective thought.

The network is also “involved in the early stages of idea generation, drawing from past experiences and knowledge about the world,” explains Beaty. “When you’re not actively working on a problem, the brain keeps spinning and you can get restructuring of elements of the problem, pieces get reshuffled, and something clicks.” The DMN, he adds, “helps you combine information in different ways and simulate possibilities.”

2) Good stuff on “Stop the Steal”

“‘Stop the Steal’ is a metaphor,” Skocpol said, “for the country being taken away from the people who think they should rightfully be setting the tone.” More than a decade later, evidence remains secondary when what you’re really doing is questioning whose vote counts—and who counts as an American.

Elaine Godfrey: Tell me what connection you see between the Tea Party movement that you studied and the Trump-inspired Stop the Steal effort.

Theda Skocpol: There’s a definite line. Opinion polls tell us that people who participated in or sympathized with the Tea Party—some groups are still meeting—were disproportionately angry about immigration and the loss of America as they know it. They became core supporters of Trump. I’m quite certain that some organizations that were Tea Party–labeled helped organize Stop the Steal stuff.

Trump has expanded the appeal of an angry, resentful ethno-nationalist politics to younger whites. But it’s the same outlook.

Godfrey: So how do you interpret the broader Stop the Steal movement?

Skocpol: I don’t think Stop the Steal is about ballots at all. I don’t believe a lot of people really think that the votes weren’t counted correctly in 2020. They believe that urban people, metropolitan people—disproportionately young and minorities, to be sure, but frankly liberal whites—are an illegitimate brew that’s changing America in unrecognizable ways and taking it away from them. Stop the Steal is a way of saying that. Stop the Steal is a metaphor. And remember, they declared voting fraud before the election.

3) Really enjoyed this interview of Mike Judge.  Never really got into Beavis and Butthead, but I’m a huge fan of Office Space, Idiocracy, and Silicon Valley.

4) I could be wrong :-), but I feel like I’ve actually become pretty good at admitting when I’m wrong.  It’s definitely an important part of maturity.  Jane Coaston:

We live in a world in which being right — or, at least, being seen as being right by as many people as possible — is important cultural currency. And while that makes sense for “Jeopardy!” contestants and neurosurgeons, it’s detrimental for politicians, pundits and the rest of us, who interact with our neighbors, friends and loved ones and the occasional grocery store attendant who might remind us that “12 items or fewer” actually means something.

 

Refusing to admit you’re wrong may be intended as self-protection but is really self-deception, which hurts you and your community. Like any untruth, it destroys trust and harms relationships on every level. I believe that in some ways, this stubborn dishonesty is at the root of our country’s polarization — millions of Americans seemingly incapable of admitting fault, focused instead on the faults of others. It’s driving us all into a moral and social ditch.

And yet we remain committed to this path. Rather than admit to being wrong, some people double down. (I’m sure that for dedicated conspiracy theorists like QAnon followers, Hillary Clinton’s arrest should be taking place any day now.) Others, particularly public figures and politicians, prefer to act as if the missteps never even happened. They merely glide past their mistakes, misunderstandings and outright falsehoods.

Some seem to find strength in dishonesty, able to construct entire worldviews out of lies because the truth would be far too humiliating. But admitting to being wrong — whether it’s about the rules of a card game or about the results of an election — isn’t a weakness. It’s a powerful statement of vulnerability. I know from my efforts to be honest about myself how much strength that takes.

5) This is encouraging, “Why Abortion Has Become a Centerpiece of Democratic TV Ads in 2022”

6) Book review that is a fascinating tale of the legal development of “rape” in the early US.

But the real assist came from the 17th-century lawyer Sir Matthew Hale, whose jurisprudence dominated the trial. Sir William Blackstone’s “Commentaries” on English criminal law supplied the Colonies and later new country with a basic understanding of many crimes, and Blackstone incorporated Hale’s ideas of what renders a rape prosecution plausible. According to Sweet, Hale, who was deeply anxious about malicious women bringing false accusations against innocent men, believed “the question was not simply whether a woman had been forced to have sex against her will but also whether her reputation was good enough, whether she had resisted vigorously enough, whether she had cried out loudly enough, whether she had sustained sufficiently conspicuous physical injuries and whether she had reported the crime soon enough.” Nearly every defense attorney funneled his questions through the Hale framework. And when it was the judge’s turn to instruct the jury in advance of their deliberations, he declared Hale’s ideas “just” and thus, as Sweet writes, completed “the transformation of Hale’s commentaries from suggestions written by a retired jurist into rigid rules that defined the nature of settled law and that were binding on the jurors.”

7) I had no idea that HBO had spent $30 million on a pilot for a Game of Thrones prequel and declared it unworthy before moving onto House of the Dragon.  Was also really interesting to see the role of George R.R. Martin in all this.

8) Big if true:

A new report from the Constructive Dialogue Institute, which was founded in 2017 by scholars Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl, finds that students who completed an online learning course on navigating difficult conversations showed significant improvements in affective polarization (or a tendency to distrust those with different political views), intellectual humility and conflict resolution skills. This is relative to a control group, as established via 755-student study that involved three colleges and universities.

The free online course, called Perspectives, was developed by the institute (formally known as OpenMind) and includes eight online lessons based on psychological concepts and interactive scenarios. A peer-to-peer conversation guide is optional. According to the institute, Perspectives students “develop a robust toolkit of evidence-based practices to challenge cognitive biases, engage in nuanced thinking and communicate more effectively with others about sensitive and divisive topics.”

The report says that the results “demonstrate that our deep divisions are not inevitable. There are scalable, evidence-based tools that can be used to break our toxic polarization and prepare students for democratic citizenship.”

9) As somebody who has had more than a few beach umbrellas blow away, this is scary, “A beachgoer was killed after being struck by an umbrella” That said, this year we switched over the highly wind-resistant cool cabana an it helped so much. 

10) Rather concerning rom David Wallace-Wells, “Europe’s Energy Crisis May Get a Lot Worse”

I don’t think many Americans appreciate just how tense and tenuous, how very touch and go the energy situation in Europe is right now.

For months, as news of the Ukraine war receded a bit, it was possible to follow the energy story unfolding across the Atlantic and still assume an uncomfortable but familiar-enough winter in Europe, characterized primarily by high prices.

In recent weeks, the prospects have begun to look darker. In early August the European Union approved a request that member states reduce gas consumption by 15 percent — quite a large request and one that several initially balked at. In Spain, facing record-breaking heat wave after record-breaking heat wave at the height of the country’s tourist season, the government announced restrictions on commercial air-conditioning, which may not be set below 27 degrees Celsius, or about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In France, an Associated Press article said, “urban guerrillas” are taking to the streets, shutting off storefront lights to reduce energy consumption. In the Netherlands a campaign called Flip the Switch is asking residents to limit showers to five minutes and to drop air-conditioning and clothes dryers entirely. Belgium has reversed plans to retire nuclear power plants, and Germany, having ruled out the possibility of such a turnabout in June, is now considering it as well…

Walk me through that worst case. How would we get to that kind of crisis?

I think you would see Russia continue to restrict gas exports and maybe cut them off completely to Europe — and a very cold winter. I think a combination of those two things would mean sky-high energy prices. But there’s a lot of other sources of uncertainty and risk. It’s not just high prices. There comes a certain point where there’s just not enough molecules to do all the work that gas needs to do. And governments will have to ration energy supplies and decide what’s important.

10) Pretty fascinating read on the schism within the United Methodist Church over homosexuality. 

11) OMG HOA’s are the worst!  I will never live somewhere with an HOA.  NC residents had to fight to the state supreme court to get solar panels installed over HOA objections. 

12) Greenhouse on Alito:

Barely a month after handing down the majority opinion that erased the right to abortion, Justice Samuel Alito traveled to Rome to give a keynote address at a “religious liberty summit” convened by the Religious Liberty Initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s law school. As the video that Notre Dame posted of the bearded justice delivering his remarks made clear, this was a victory lap.

The press coverage of that speech last month mainly focused on his snarky comments about world leaders who had the effrontery to criticize what the Supreme Court had done in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “One of these was former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he paid the price,” Justice Alito deadpanned as laughter filled the majestic Galleria Colonna.

One can debate the degree of bad taste displayed by such a remark, but that’s not my concern. What interests me about his talk was its substance: a call to arms on behalf of religion…

“The challenge for those who want to protect religious liberty in the United States, Europe and other similar places,” Justice Alito said, “is to convince people who are not religious that religious liberty is worth special protection.”

 

On one level, there is nothing surprising about such a declaration from Justice Alito. We know where he stands on religion. He is the author of a long string of opinions that have elevated the free exercise of religion above civil society’s other values, including the right not to be discriminated against and the right to enjoy benefits intended for all. He wrote a concurring opinion in June’s astonishing decision that permitted a high school football coach to commandeer the 50-yard line after games for his personal prayers over the public school district’s objection…

So yes, we know all that. But Justice Alito’s Notre Dame speech still merits close examination for what it reveals about the assumptions built into his worldview. What does it mean, for example, to assert that it is “people who are not religious” who need to be persuaded that religion is worthy of special treatment? Do all religiously observant people naturally believe that religion merits more protections than other values? There’s scant evidence for that; in any event, that has not been our law, at least not until recently. Still on the books is a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, which provides that the Constitution’s free exercise clause offers no special religious exemption from a “neutral” law that is “generally applicable.” That decision’s author was Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the more overtly religious people to sit on the Supreme Court in modern times…

In Rome, more clearly than in the past, Justice Alito provided his own definition of religious liberty, an expansive definition that mirrored the court’s holding in this summer’s praying coach case. In that case, the school district in Bremerton, Wash., had offered the coach an alternate place where he could pray after the games. But the coach insisted that he felt religiously compelled to pray in public in full view of the spectator stands. The court, which in the past was notably stingy when it came to the free speech rights of public employees, endorsed this expression of militant Christianity.

In his Rome speech, Justice Alito did not refer explicitly to that case, but his definition of religious liberty underscored and explained the court’s remarkable departure. Religious liberty must mean more than simply “freedom of worship,” he said. “Freedom of worship means freedom to do these things that you like to do in the privacy of your home, or in your church or your synagogue or your mosque or your temple. But when you step outside into the public square, in the light of day, you had better behave yourself like a good secular citizen.” And he added, “That’s the problem that we face.”

13) The real problem in the Breonna Taylor shooting was not mostly the cops who performed the raid, but the whole system that led to this misguided raid.  Glad to see the prosecutions reflecting this:

Former Louisville detective Kelly Goodlett intends to plead guilty this month to federal charges in connection to the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, in what would be the first conviction in a case that sparked months of racial justice protests in that city and across the country.

Goodlett and her attorney, Brandon Marshall, along with Mike Songer, an attorney representing the Justice Department, confirmed her plea agreement during an online court hearing Friday before Magistrate Judge Regina S. Edwards in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Kentucky. Edwards set an in-person hearing Aug. 22 to entertain that plea and released Goodlett on a $10,000 bond, ordering her to relinquish her passport and remove all firearms from her home…

The federal government is trying a different approach, charging current and former Louisville police in connection withwhat court filings allege as an overzealous and imperious narcotics investigations unit that used reckless tactics and knowingly put local residents in danger with no legal justification.

Hankison is charged with violating the civil rights of Taylor, her boyfriend and their neighbors when he allegedly fired several shots through a bedroom window and through a sliding-glass door — both of which were covered with blinds and a curtain.

14) Gallup, “Average American Remains OK With Higher Taxes on Rich”

This question was first asked by Fortune back in 1939 — at the tail end of the depression. At that point, there were record rates of unemployment and poverty. One might suppose that Americans would have been very happy to agree that the rich should be heavily taxed. But they actually weren’t. In that 1939 poll, despite the challenging economic conditions, just 35% of Americans approved of the idea, while 54% disapproved.

When Gallup asked the question again in 1998, a slim majority of 51% disapproved. In the nine times the question has been asked since then, positive reactions to this idea of “heavy taxes on the rich” have been generally higher, although variable. In 2008 and 2011, the public disapproved by slight margins. But in surveys conducted in 2013, 2015, 2016 and in July of this year, slim majorities approved of the idea of heavy taxes on the rich in order to redistribute wealth. The latest results are 52% approve, 47% disapprove.

In short, the question confirms the well-documented finding noted above. Americans tend to agree with the idea that those with more money should pay even more in taxes than they do now…

As is often the case, American public opinion on taxing the rich varies depending on how the policy is explained. And it is not constant across all population segments.

For one thing, not surprisingly, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to favor heavy taxes on the rich. This partisan gap has been significant and consistent over the years.

About seven in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have supported heavier taxes on the rich each time the classic Gallup question has been asked since October 2008. That compares to a consistent third or less of Republicans. In July’s update, 79% of Democrats support the idea of heavy taxes on the rich; 24% of Republicans agree. The partisan gap seen since October 2008 is slightly larger than it was in 2007 and April 2008…

Bottom Line

How valued resources are distributed across all members of a society is among the most important challenges a society faces. No social system distributes resources equally. This leaves the inevitable reality of “inequality” where some end up with more than others. Dealing with this inequality has been one of society’s most significant challenges throughout history. And it remains so today.

The people of the United States have addressed inequality in many ways throughout the nation’s history. In particular, the government has for over a century carried out a progressive tax system that extracts higher percentages of taxes from those with the most income.

The American public, taken as a whole, approves of this progressive system. The majority of the public would like to see taxes become even more progressive. But today’s political realities don’t appear conducive to an agreement on new taxes on the rich. Rank-and-file Republicans, and their leaders in Congress, remain strongly opposed to new taxes. And, as evidenced by the new Inflation Reduction Act about to become law, Democratic leadership has, in the end, decided to proceed without arguing or attempting to change the fundamentals of the individual tax system. What might happen in the future, of course, remains to be seen.

Quick hits (part I)

1) How your balance and mobility after 50 can predict your life expectancy.  I had never heard of the sitting-rising test before.  It’s hard! But, I just managed to get maximum points. 

“The idea here was just to come up with a really simple test that might be an indication of a person’s ability to balance,” said Dr. Jonathan Myers, a professor at Stanford University, researcher at the Palo Alto VA Health Care System and an author of the balance study. He said the inability to perform this task was powerfully predictive of mortality. In the study, one in five people could not manage it.

“With age, strength and balance tend to decrease and that can result in frailty. Frailty is a really big thing now that the population is aging,” Dr. Myers said.

Balance problems can be caused by a variety of factors, many of them age-related, said Dr. Lewis Lipsitz, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and the director of the Marcus Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife.

When your vision is affected by cataracts, or the nerve signals from your feet to your brain slow down, this makes it more difficult to balance. While it’s impossible to prevent all types of age-related decline, you can counteract the impact on your balance through specialized training and building strength.

“There’s a downward spiral of the people who don’t go out, who don’t walk, who don’t exercise, who don’t do balance training, and they become weaker and weaker. And muscle weakness is another important risk factor for falls,” he said.

Researchers have previously connected balance and strength with mortality, finding that the ability to rise from the floor to a standing position, balance on one leg for 30 seconds with one eye closed and even walk at a brisk pace are all tied to longevity.

2) Okay, my energy policy expert friend says this take is a little unfair to the left, but, I think there’s some really good points in here, “Why Internet Leftists Are So Pissed About Democrats’ Historic Climate Bill: The legislation is a win for the planet—and a loss for an entire philosophy of fighting climate change.”

In the end, there are essentially four main ways that a country can cut back on greenhouse gas emissions:

• It can put a price on carbon, using schemes like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.

• It can simply force businesses and utilities to emit less via regulations.

• It can try a supply-side approach by shutting down the development of new fossil fuels, in order to increase their costs.

• Or, it can just throw money at the problem by subsidizing cheap renewables so that they take over the market.

Climate groups have tended to advocate for some mix of all these approaches. But the most hardcore corners of the movement are deeply attached to supply-side solutions; they’ve spent years on efforts to keep fossil fuels buried and stop the construction of new oil and gas infrastructure, such as the lengthly battles against the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines as well as efforts to limit fracking.  In the process, “keep it in the ground” has become an international rallying cry…

Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have warned that these lease sales will effectively lock in oil production on federal land for years to come. Analysts have concluded that offering additional leases is unlikely to make a major difference in U.S. oil drilling, most of which happens on privately owned land, and is easily a worthwhile price to pay for the rest of the bill, which would amount to the biggest climate investment in American history. Multiple forecasts have concluded the legislation could roughly double the speed at which the U.S. is reducing its carbon emissions, bringing us reasonably close to the commitments the government made under the Paris climate accords. According to a preliminary study by the think tank Energy Innovation, for each ton of emissions added by its oil and gas provisions, the rest of the bill cuts 24.

For the most part, the bill achieves those reductions by subsidizing clean energy and transport—or, as I put before, throwing money at the problem. This, in the end, has turned out to be the core of Manchin’s approach to fighting climate change; rather than make fossil fuels more expensive, his philosophy has been to make zero-carbon power much, much cheaper, while allowing oil and gas to flow…

In some ways, this is as much a rebuke to Washington’s technocratic class as it is to climate activists; the biggest names in economics, for instance, have in recent years all rallied around carbon taxes as the most cost-effective and efficient ways to combat climate change, even as they’ve fallen out of public favor. It also has some obvious downsides of its own; subsidizing solar and wind costs money, whereas something like a carbon tax and dividend scheme—where revenue raised by the levy is sent back to taxpayers—is basically free.

But what Manchinism has going for it, perhaps above all else, is political palatability. The Inflation Reduction Act hasn’t aroused much opposition from industry, because it offers mostly carrots and few sticks. (Exxon’s CEO is perfectly happy with the legislation, as are most power companies.) And it’s been difficult for Republicans to attack, because the legislation doesn’t ask voters to make sacrifices. Instead, it does things like lower electricity costs by pouring money into renewables, giving Democrats a kitchen-table win to brag about at a moment of high inflation. For better or worse, it’s a lot easier to sell that sort of climate bill than it is to convince people that they should pay more to fill up their SUV.

3) I think I was bitten by a copperhead last year, but it was just a very mild bite reaction.  A snake expert friend/student, says that’s the best explanation and that many copperhead bites actually are pretty mild.  I’ve been trying to get some confirmation on this and finally have in the N&O:

Half of copperhead bites are dry or really mild. About 46% of the bites Poison Control was involved in treating received antivenom, Beuhler said, though the absolute treatment rate is unknown.

“You can get a tetanus shot from your pharmacy and clean the wound yourself — why take a trip to the ER and pay ER bills if you don’t have to? Let us help you make that decision and save you a potentially really expensive few hours,” he said.

Some disagreement on who/when to get antivenom.  There’s be more disagreement if it wasn’t insanely expensive:

Antivenom at WakeMed costs between $11,000 and $14,000 per vial, spokesperson Kristin Kelly said. For the typical initial dose of four to six vials, this costs at least $44,000.

UNC Health charges between $76,000 and $115,000 for the typical initial dose, The N&O previously reported. Duke Health declined to share current figures, but The N&O reported in 2020 that 12 vials cost $200,000.

4) And I really don’t quite understand why we still have to rely on horses making antibodies to actual snake venom to make this all happen.  I’m surprised our biotechnological abilities haven’t fully solved this by now. 

5) German Lopez with a good summary of the climate bill (aka IRA):

The bill’s climate provisions are mostly a collection of subsidies for energy that does not emit any carbon, like solar, wind and nuclear power. Without those subsidies, polluting fossil fuels are often still cheaper. The subsidies try to give cleaner energy an edge.

“I don’t mean this as an exaggeration: This really changes everything,” said Jesse Jenkins, a climate policy expert at Princeton University. “It is effectively going to shift the financial case away from dirty energy toward clean energy for everyone.”

For consumers, the subsidies will reduce the prices of electric vehicles, solar panels, heat pumps and other energy-efficient home improvements. You can claim the subsidies through tax filings; as a separate rebate if you don’t file taxes; or, in some cases, immediately when you make a purchase.

Let’s say you want to buy one of the cheaper, new electric vehicles on the market right now, priced around $40,000. To get the subsidy, you will first want to make sure the car qualifies; the bill requires, among other things, that the vehicles are assembled in North America. (Ask the car dealer or manufacturer to find out.) Then, make sure that you qualify; individual tax filers cannot make more than $150,000 a year, for example. And, given high demand, you might have to order a car well in advance.

If you meet the requirements, you can claim up to $7,500 in tax credits — effectively bringing the price of a $40,000 vehicle to $32,500.

That is the tax credit for new cars. For used cars, there will be a smaller tax credit of up to $4,000. The goal of both credits is to even the playing field: Cars that burn fossil fuels are still generally cheaper than electric vehicles. With the credits, electric cars will be much closer in price to, if not cheaper than, similar nonelectric vehicles.

For home improvements, the process will be different, but the basic idea is similar. For a typical $20,000 rooftop solar installation, tax credits will cut the price by up to $6,000. There are also subsidies for heat pumps, electric stoves and other energy-efficiency projects. The hope is to make all these changes much more affordable for everyday Americans, leading to less reliance on fossil fuels and expanding the market for cleaner energy…

The bill does include a compromise: It requires more leasing of federal lands and waters for oil and gas projects. Senator Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, demanded this provision.

But experts say that it will have only a modest impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, the bill will subtract at least 24 tons of carbon emissions for each ton of emissions that the oil and gas provision adds, according to Energy Innovation, a think tank.

“It’s a trade-off,” my colleague Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environmental policy, told me. “But in terms of emissions impact, it’s a good deal.”

The bottom line

The bill will make cleaner energy and electric vehicles much cheaper for many Americans. Over time, it will also likely make them more affordable for the rest of the world, as more competition and innovation in the U.S. lead to cheaper, better products that can be shipped worldwide.

And it will move America close to President Biden’s goal of cutting greenhouse emissions to half their peak by 2030, according to three independent analyses.

Modeling for the new climate bill is based on draft legislation from July 27, 2022. | Source: REPEAT Project, E.P.A. | By Nadja Popovich

The bill is also a sign that the U.S. is starting to take climate change seriously. That will give American diplomats more credibility as they ask other countries, such as China and India, to do the same.

Still, many scientists believe the U.S. will eventually need to do more to prevent severe damage from climate change. “This bill is really only the beginning,” said Leah Stokes, a climate policy expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

 

6) Two of my kids are unhealthily obsessed with the idea of “favorite children” in our family.  I did enjoy this Caroline Hax discussion of the issue:

Dear Carolyn: I have three kids. I love them all.

But one of them is my delight. I don’t admit this to anyone, not even my husband. I try so hard not to favor her in any way. There are big age gaps between all three kids, so it’s reasonably easy to hide. Plus, I’m seriously motivated.
In all my courtside, backstage, poolside, deck-chair conversations with other moms, no one EVER talks about this, no matter how many margaritas have been swirled. Is this the dirty little secret of parenting? Or are most people really fair in their affections?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I’m choosing against any answer that requires purity of “most people.”

I do think it’s common to feel and highly uncommon to express. Not because I have insight into a statistically significant sampling of parents, or specific firsthand knowledge (of course!), but because it makes too much sense.

Take the feelings people do express freely: We prefer one parent to another, one sibling to others, one grandparent, aunt, colleague, neighbor, dog, barista, TV character to others. Are you friends with a couple? Then you like one half better. The Earth is round, the sky is blue and some people fit better than others.

Follow the logic, and having equal feelings for multiple children would be the affront to nature, yet the reverse seems to earn that distinction.

It’s obvious why: Children are different. There are many reasons, but it’s mainly because there’s no greater power than a parent’s over a child. A good parent knows this, knows the weight of it, and wants to use it to uplift, not to crush. And how better to crush Sammie than to reveal her own mommy likes Pammie better?

So, you summon the same enthusiasm for their different strengths. Your kids will figure it out regardless, but it will matter that they never heard it from you.

7) The Greensboro News & Record used to be a really good paper.  Like most local papers… not so much any more.  The story of it’s decline and how the loss of local news is just so bad for democracy. 

8) A painted bunting hanging out in Raleigh.  Would’ve been so cool to see.

Birders converge on Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh to photograph a rare painted bunting in Raleigh, NC. BOB KARP ZUMA Press

9) Really cool NYT interactive feature on why restaurant meal prices have gone up so much.  You really should check this out– gift link

10) I’m not going to be watching Yellowstone anytime soon, but I did enjoy this discussion of tv shows and political views:

Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone”is a prime example. While liberal audiences mostly ignore it, this soapy conservative prestige television juggernaut is gobbling up audience share. An informal survey of my own filter bubble bears witness. When I asked my roughly 220,000 Twitter followers for television and movie recommendations, many offered up the usual award-winning and buzzy fare. Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy,” Amazon Prime’s “The Boys,” Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” and HBO’s “Hacks” were givens. Critical darlings “Stranger Things,” “The Bear” and “Only Murders in the Building” rounded out the list. I saw only one person suggest “Yellowstone,”and only in a private message. I dare say my bubble leans coastal elite.

These asymmetrical responses match findings from a working paper by two sociologists, Clayton Childress at the University of Toronto and Craig Rawlings at Duke University. The paper is titled “When Tastes Are Ideological: The Asymmetric Foundations of Cultural Polarization.” It is part of the subfield of sociology that studies how culture reflects and reproduces inequality. Childress and Rawlings draw out several asymmetries in how liberals and conservatives consume cultural objects like music and television…

“People on the left like more pop culture than people on the right,’’ Childress said. “And people on the left don’t dislike what people on the right dislike.” Liberals watch, read and listen to more stuff than conservatives do. They also do not necessarily reject a cultural object because conservatives like it. That is not because liberal audiences are more accepting. Anyone who has ever argued with a Grateful Dead or Phish fan can tell you otherwise.

But when it comes to identity and tastes, Childress said it is a “mark of social status for liberals to be culturally omnivorous.” In contrast, conservative audiences do not consider reading, watching or listening around a mark of status or identity. And they are more likely to dislike what liberals like than liberals are to dislike what conservatives like.

11) Speaking of which, BB says I really should be watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”  Three episodes in and… it’s pretty good, but I don’t love it.  I’ll watch more though.  That said, if you’ve got Amazon Prime, I thought the new Ron Howard movie about the Thai boys soccer team trapped in a flooded cave was terrific.  Really loved it. 

12) Interesting take from Yglesias on Trump and Republicans’ candidate quality problem:

Donald Trump is the GOP’s biggest candidate quality problem

That’s a dismal performance considering that it’s a midterm with an unpopular incumbent Democratic Party president. And that dismal polling reflects the fact that Republicans have fielded a ton of individual candidates who are underperforming expectations. Some of those underperforming candidates, like JD Vance in Ohio, are clearly favored to win anyway. But others, like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, stand a real chance of blowing clearly winnable races. And there are two common threads among the currently underperforming GOP Senate candidates:

  • The party nominated an “unconventional” candidate rather than a sitting House member or down-ballot state officeholder.

  • Donald Trump personally intervened to help the candidate win.

In most of these cases, there is no Meijer-like martyr figure. Nobody is totally sure why Trump favored Oz in the Pennsylvania race, but it wasn’t because there were no anti-impeachment, pro-insurrection Pennsylvania Republican politicians available. Trump just decided he wanted to support a Turkish dual citizen who lives in New Jersey.

Normally you expect party leaders to prioritize electability over ideological considerations. And to the extent that they do prioritize ideological considerations, you expect there to be some kind of logic to their actions.

But Oz doesn’t have any unusual policy views at all, as far as I can tell. He’s running as a standard-issue conservative Republican who just happens to live in New Jersey and lacks political experience. He’s a veteran, which is a good resume item for a non-politician, but he’s a veteran of the Turkish military — normally American political parties try to nominate people who served in the American military. It’s just a weird blunder of a choice. I’d say Trump is looking for sycophants and personal loyalists, but Vance once argued that Trump is like heroin, poisoning the communities he claims to represent. I thought it was an insightful article, but again, an odd choice when there are plenty of banal Republican politicians kicking around Ohio.

I’m inclined to believe that a lot of people in D.C. underestimate Trump’s smarts and that there’s some kind of angle he’s working that I just don’t quite see. But whatever the angle is, it’s not the best interests of the Republican party as conventionally defined. And that, much more than anything Democrats are doing, is the proximate problem facing the GOP.

13) This is good, too, from Yglesias, “What do Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis think about federal abortion policy?”

Abortion is a quintessential culture war issue. It’s not totally without technical nuance, but broadly speaking, some people want to ban abortion in all cases with no exceptions. Some favor narrow exceptions for rape or to save the life of the mother. Others favor a broader health exemption to allow for therapeutic abortion. Most voters seem to favor legal abortion for the first trimester (when the vast majority of abortions take place) and pretty strict restrictions after that. This is the kind of thing that’s relatively easy to discuss in plain language and doesn’t require a lot of math or technical models.

So it’s really weird that I have absolutely no idea what either Trump or DeSantis thinks about federal abortion policy.

The dog that caught the car

 

To some extent, this reflects the fact that the Republican Party had a bit of a “dog that caught the car” moment once the Dobbs opinion was handed down.

I don’t really follow the logic of anti-abortion theology, but one of its core tenets is that a fertilized embryo has rights that override any considerations of social consequences and of a pregnant woman’s bodily autonomy.1 This means that sentimental ideas like “you shouldn’t have to carry your rapist’s child to term” or “you shouldn’t have to continue a pregnancy that carries major risks to your health” are out. This is a view that very few Americans — but all of the intellectual leaders of the anti-abortion movement — adhere to…

Most conservatives I know think that it’s dirty pool for liberals to run around talking about rape victims because, in practice, rape victims constitute a very small share of abortions. By the same token, it would be trivially easy for Republicans to address that concern by allowing the exception. They don’t because the leading lights of the anti-abortion movement believe this is an important matter of principle.

But most Republicans also don’t want to lose elections by coming out and saying that they adhere to the FRC/USCCB position on this. Yes, every once in a while a state legislator will pop off about how pregnant women should be forced to carry non-viable fetuses to term. But in general, that’s considered amateur hour stuff, and savvy politicians don’t do it. They just also don’t come out and say, “okay, here are some situations in which I think abortion should be legal.”…

But that’s why it’s a little curious to me that very prominent and frequently discussed people like Trump and DeSantis haven’t been asked to clarify their views on federal abortion policy.

Now that Dobbs is the law of the land, what should the United States Congress do about abortion?

To an extent, I’m annoyed that none of the journalists who cover these guys have bothered to ask some pretty basic questions.

But more broadly, I think our ignorance on this point highlights an important asymmetry between the party conditions. I just don’t think you could run for president as a Democrat without articulating a public position on any issues that have dedicated advocacy groups. Planned Parenthood and NARAL ask candidates for office to publicly support the Women’s Health Protection Act, and they’d be very mad at someone who didn’t. And that’s not unique to abortion. Across a whole range of issues, advocacy groups have policy asks, and on the Democratic side, those asks tend to take the form of demands for public pledges of fealty.

Republicans are not generally like this.

I think it was understood during the 2020 primary that any Republican Party president would ease regulation of air and water pollution relative to the Obama administration’s policies. But industry groups never asked the candidates to publicly outline a specific agenda for increasing pollution. And the candidates didn’t get on stage at the debates and try to one-up each other with different specific agendas for allowing more air pollution. Marco Rubio said Trump had a small penis, and Trump dunked on Jeb Bush’s brother, but the test of one’s true commitment to conservatism was never a willingness to explicitly swear allegiance to unpopular and politically unrealistic activist demands.

The progressive side does things very differently, and we spent a lot of the 2020 primary engaging in a pointless debate over which candidates would and wouldn’t enact a ban on private health insurance.

It’s to the right’s credit that they don’t go that far overboard on this kind of thing. But the opposite extreme — no debate at all over the anti-abortion party’s abortion policy goals and platforms — is very odd. And I’m not sure how tenable it is.

14) Hard agree with this, “The F.D.A.’s Misguided War on Vaping: The government is putting stricter restrictions on vaping than on smoking. That’s bad for public health.”

People smoke primarily to experience the effects of nicotine—for stimulation and pleasure; to reduce stress and anxiety; and to improve concentration, reaction time, and cognitive performance. For some people, these effects improve their quality of life. But on the dark side, nicotine use can lead to dependence.

Crucially, however, it is smoke, not nicotine, that causes the overwhelming burden of disease and death.Inhaling the toxic particles and gases from the burning tip of a cigarette exposes the body to thousands of chemicals, of which hundreds are known to be hazardous. The result is widespread death and disease, with cigarettes killing 480,000 Americans annually and leaving around 16 million suffering from a smoking-induced disease. Without the harmful effects of smoking, nicotine use starts to look more like moderate alcohol consumption—a modest substance use that fits within the normal risk appetites of modern society.

With vaping, we have a solution to two related problems. First, millions of American smokers have the option of switching from smoking to vaping, greatly improving their health prospects. Second, people in the future who want to use nicotine will be able to do so with considerably reduced consequences.

In a liberal society, we should not prohibit or aim to eliminate drug use or pretend that it can be risk-free, but we should try to limit the risks to the extent possible. Vaping is the best opportunity we have to do that for nicotine.

15) Yes, I do think it is insane for a social science organization to require a DEI statement for you to get on their conference program.  This is bad. “Mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statements at SPSP”

A series of Orwellian emails recently appeared in my inbox. It all started sensibly enough. Much to my surprise, Jonathan Haidt, founder of Heterodox Academy and staunch defender of the type of liberal science advocated by JS Mill, Robert K. Merton, and Jonathan Rauch,1 had emailed a letter to Laura King, President of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP is a high-profile professional society for this group) protesting SPSP’s mandate that its members produce DEI statements if they wish to present at its prestigious and influential annual conference.2

No longer would acceptance of proposals be based exclusively on evaluations of scientific merit. Everyone had to state how their work advanced Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI); and this would be included in evaluations of which proposals SPSP would accept for presentation.

16) Similarly, Jeffrey Sachs and FIRE on misguided DEI ideological litmus tests at U of Oregon.

17) Investing in the IRS is another great feature of the IRA:

f the $80 billion total allotment to the tax agency, $45.6 billion will go to enforcement, marking a projected return-on-investment of $4.50 in revenue for every dollar spent on enforcement.

Experts say that figure — which is much lower than what the IRS typically brings in — has two potential explanations.

The first is that it could simply be a conservative estimate; with resources to hire hundreds, if not thousands, of employees, the agency could significantly exceed its revenue projections by both pursuing more tax cheats and by improving taxpayer services to make it easier for Americans to voluntarily comply with the tax code.

“If you are able to bring on a cadre of people who are really thinking forward … if they’re able to bring on the technology that allows them to bring on some of the data that they already have, that would have a compliance effect and help them going forward,” said Nina Olson, who served as national taxpayer advocate, the IRS’s internal consumer rights watchdog, from 2001 to 2019. “That would help, and I hope that’s what they’re planning to do.”

18) And a helluva photo essay on how incredibly outdated the IRS is as Republicans have quite intentionally starved their budget.  Apparently, law and order is good except for 1) Donald Trump and 2) rich people who want to cheat on their taxes.  Check it out— gift link

19) Jane Mayer, (Republican) “State Legislatures are Torching Democracy”

20) A (rare) conservative with some integrity on Trump: “Do We Believe Our Own Dogma?”

The FBI’s serving a search warrant on Donald Trump’s residence is not — in spite of everything being said about it — unprecedented. The FBI serves search warrants on homes all the time. Donald Trump is a former president, not a mystical sacrosanct being.

If we really believe, as we say we believe, that this is a republic, that nobody is above the law, that the presidency is just a temporary executive-branch office rather than a quasi-royal entitlement, then there is nothing all that remarkable about the FBI serving a warrant on a house in Florida. I myself do not find it especially difficult to believe that there exists reasonable cause for such a warrant. And if the feds have got it wrong, that wouldn’t be the first time. Those so-called conservatives who are publicly fantasizing about an FBI purge under the next Republican administration are engaged in a particularly stupid form of irresponsibility.

There are no fewer than five different congressional committees with FBI oversight powers. I’m not especially inclined to take federal agencies and their officers at their word in almost any circumstance, and so active and vigorous oversight seems to me appropriate here, as in most other cases. But if it turns out, in the least surprising political development of the decade, that Donald Trump is a criminal, then he should be treated like any other criminal.

21) It’s also insane that Republicans should be upset because Cracker Barrell is simply offering plant-based sausage to patrons who may want to eat it:

The blowback was immediate and intense. Comments, hundreds and hundreds of them, were split along ideological, generational and political lines.

The more conservative takes:

“All the more reason to stop eating at Cracker Barrel. This is not what Cracker Barrel was to be all about,” one person wrote.

“I just lost respect for a once great Tennessee company,” another injected.

“If I wanted a salad … I would in fact order a salad … stop with the plant based ‘meat’ crap,” wrote a third.

“Oh Noes … the Cracker Barrel has gone WOKE!!! It really is the end times …,” another commented.

 

22) And Never-Trumper Mona Charen, “Republicans Are Rooting for Civil War”

Executing a valid search warrant, FBI agents arrived in the morning to search the office. The word “unprecedented” was on everyone’s lips. They seized business records, computers, and other documents related to possible crimes. An enraged Donald Trump denounced the FBI and the Justice Department, saying not that they had abided by the warrant issued by a federal judge, but rather that agents had “broken into” the office.

The year was 2018, and Trump was livid about the FBI’s investigation into his longtime attorney/fixer, Michael Cohen.

At the time, many observers, including me, assumed that the investigation would yield bushels of incriminating documents about Trump. Cohen was his personal lawyer, after all, the guy who wrote the hush-money checks to porn stars and presumably had access to many of Trump’s dodgy or downright illegal acts. It didn’t turn out that way. Yes, Cohen was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to eight counts of criminal tax evasion, campaign finance violations (that was the Stormy Daniels piece), and other frauds. But Trump himself? Nothing. He skated while his faithful minion became a guest of the Bureau of Prisons in Otisville, New York. It was soon thereafter that we learned from Cohen that Trump keeps few records, shuns emails, and speaks not in commands but in Mafia-esque insinuations. Trump doesn’t give direct orders, Cohen testified, he “speaks in code and I understand that code.”

So, there may be less than meets the eye in those crates the FBI carted off from Mar-a-Lago on Monday. Or it could be a motherlode of incrimination. We don’t know, we can only speculate. But what is not open to doubt is that the Republican party, which seemed to be flirting with post-Trumpism just a few weeks ago, has now come roaring back as an authoritarian cult. Trump has not changed. But he has changed Republicans….

Now, as a substantive matter, McCarthy’s tweet is meaningless. The House of Representatives, along with the Senate, already exercises oversight authority over the Justice Department. The Judiciary Committee asks the attorney general to testify regularly. That’s how the system works. And if McCarthy is truly concerned about “following the facts,” Merrick Garland has nothing to fear. But the importance of the tweet is not its substance but its tone—the call for vengeance. McCarthy displays zero interest in whether Trump actually committed a crime. The clear message is “You’ve gone after our leader so we’re coming for you.” The merits of Garland’s actions are irrelevant. The facts are irrelevant. It’s war.

For some in the wooly precincts of the MAGA right, the call to arms was literal. As Vice reported, some Trumpists were explicit: “‘Civil War 2.0 just kicked off,’ one user wrote on Twitter, with another adding, ‘One step closer to a kinetic civil war.’ Others said they were ready to take part: ‘I already bought my ammo.’” Steve Bannon, who was pardoned for bilking Trump supporters who thought they were building a wall, declared that “This is war” and called the FBI the “Gestapo.”

Trump is a sick soul who cannot imagine a world in which people act on principle or think about the welfare of others. While in power, Trump wanted to use the FBI to punish his political opponents (“Lock her up”) and reward his friends (“Go easy on Michael Flynn”). He projects his own corrupt motives onto others and assumes that the FBI investigation is nothing but a Democratic power grab. It would be pathetic if he had not dragged an entire political party into the fever swamps with him.

This experiment in self-government requires a minimum amount of social trust to succeed. With every tweet that spreads cynicism and lies, with every call to arms that welcomes civil conflict, Trumpist Republicans are poisoning the nation they so ostentatiously claim to love.

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Terrific essay on Bruce Willis‘ cognitive decline and his acting career.  I had almost forgotten what a delightful charmer he was in “Moonlighting” and how that got completely lost in action here Bruce Willis.

2) Brian Beutler:

If Democrats accept that there’s immense political power in the backlash to the Dobbs decision, they can begin thinking through how to harness it effectively and with a sense of urgency. Here I’ll return to an idea that had its first test run in Big Tent eight months ago, right after the Dobbs oral arguments made clear that the Supreme Court would abolish the right to abortion.

If you’re a regular reader, you know it by heart already. Democrats should make voters a simple promise: Give us two more Senate seats and the House and we’ll codify the right to abortion in January 2023. 

By now I think it’s fair to say both that the idea has taken on a life of its own (which is great!) and that the party’s leaders and top strategists have been pretty listless about making this straightforward promise the engine of the national midterm campaign (not as great…)…

The hope has to be that the Kansas results awaken more Democrats to the power of this formulation so that the stakes of the election are lost on nobody. The theory is that the clearer the promise, the more cleanly Democrats can reduce the election, in every state and district in the country, to the same basic question Kansas voters just answered overwhelmingly. 

And here I’d add one lonely note of caution: As tempting as it might be, Democrats should avoid extending the same formulation to the whole gamut of achievable progressive objectives. With two more senators and the House, Democrats could and should be willing to reach further than fulfilling one promise, particularly when that promise is simply to restore a status quo that had prevailed with the consent of the public for 50 years. But that doesn’t mean they should commit to those things ex ante, in the same contractual terms they apply to codifying Roe

Two more senators and the House for Roe makes the election a grand referendum on a single, critical question. Two more senators and the House for Roe and a higher minimum wage and universal background checks and an assault weapons ban and democracy reform and so on reminds voters that national elections are about many things, some of which make them feel cross pressured, and that perhaps their support for abortion access doesn’t outweigh their gun-rights absolutism. 

That doesn’t mean Democrats should abandon those issues, or codify Roe and call it a day. Their allies should expect them to govern and make the country a better, fairer place along many dimensions, irrespective of their defining campaign rhetoric. But ask yourself: If the Kansas referendum asked voters to decide not just whether abortion should remain protected by the state’s constitution, but also whether the state should simultaneously restrict gun access, ban gerrymandering, and increase the minimum wage to $12 or $15, would it have succeeded by a nearly 20 point margin? Or would it have gone down to demoralizing defeat? …

The bigger risk, though, isn’t that the party overpromises, but that it underreaches. 

Survey a few thousand voters across the country, present them with an abstract list of priorities, and ask them to rank them highest to lowest, you may find that the national hivemind thinks “inflation” is a higher priority than “abortion access”—whatever that means. 

Unfortunately, what it means to the hivemind of party strategists, is that Democrats should make “inflation” rather than abortion access the thematic center of their campaigns. Kansas is a proof point for how foolish that way of thinking is. Try to imagine any serious anti-inflation policy question on the ballot in Kansas’s midterm primary passing 60-40, with more votes than Joe Biden won in the state two years ago. Can you do it? Does the very idea strike you as obviously stupid? It should! Because it is. It’s this:

Democrats should instead endeavor to reduce themselves as completely as possible to the people who will restore access to abortion in every state. If they try to reduce themselves to “inflation fighters” instead, Republicans will happily remind voters that inflation spiked under Democratic rule, and they will lose. 

By the same token, the Democratic edge on the abortion issue stems from the fact that Republicans have created a simple dichotomy between bans and no bans. There will come a time when elected Democrats will have to navigate thorny questions about whether, when, and how to restrict the right to abortion. But those questions only become salient against a backdrop where abortion is a national right. Some Democrats will feel compelled to say they support certain restrictions; others like their allies in Kansas, will couch their support for abortion access in libertarian or anti-government terms. 

That’s all basically fine, so long as the party’s promise is to revive abortion access everywhere in the country that Republicans have eliminated it. The Dobbs decision was wrong and bad and so Democrats will neutralize it, restoring the prior balance where some states (and national-level Republicans) vie to curtail access knowing they can’t eliminate it outright. 

 

 

 

3) Joseph Allen on what schools should look like this year:

That leaves one hard question: What to do about a child who has Covid? The first part is obvious. Kids with symptoms should stay home. But the trickier part, of course, is determining when they can return.

People can remain infectious past five days, and some for 10 days and even beyond. The C.D.C.’s recommendation is to isolate for five days, and then mask for five more. That’s smart. It relies on masks because they work.

Ideally, we would have kids “test to return,” as a colleague and I recommended last year, where kids must have two negative rapid tests before returning to school. But I think the strict science here is running up against the reality of the moment — that the longer kids who test positive are required to be out of school, and the longer parents miss work, the stronger the incentive for parents not to test their children if they show symptoms.

Next best is the current C.D.C. “5 and 5” approach, where students who test positive must stay home for the first five days and then return to school masked for the next five. But that still means that the default is for kids who test positive to miss up to a week of school. If masks work on day five, they also work on day three, right? So it’s reasonable to have kids stay home while they have symptoms, return once their symptoms have passed and wear a mask until 10 days after symptoms began.

Most school districts dropped their mask mandates by the end of the 2021-22 school year. This is a good policy choice that should continue into the fall because the value of mandates drops over time, as people become less likely to comply. Still, anyone who wants to should be allowed to wear an N95 mask. One-way masking works, and those arguing that N95s work only if everyone is wearing one have brought their messaging dangerously close to that of anti-maskers…

Masks should be a go-to, quick implementation strategy if something changes in a dire way. For example, a variant that disproportionately affects kids, or that has severe immune escape and resets us back to March 2020, God forbid.

It’s also time to end the practices that were put in place early in the emergency response phase of the pandemic that have remained for no apparent reason other than inertia. No more barring parents from entering school buildings, making kids have “no talking” lunches or eating lunch in the classroom instead of the cafeteria, limiting extracurricular activities or canceling field trips. Certainly, these policies do not contribute to risk reduction at this point.

4) Interesting piece on English soccer teams that bounce between the Premier League and the Championship.  I was really intrigued to read about a striker who is a goal-scoring machine in the Championship, but hardly at all in the Premier League.

5) Really enjoyed this Yascha Mounk interview with Sarah Longwell about 2024:

Yascha Mounk: You’ve been speaking with many focus groups over the last weeks and months about Donald Trump and the January 6th Committee hearings. Do you think that the hearings are having an impact on how Americans view him? And more broadly, how do most Americans now feel about Donald Trump?

Sarah Longwell: It’s not that they’re breaking through so much as they’re seeping in. Changing minds is really hard, but giving people a little psychic permission to move on is something that can be done. I’ve done nine focus groups since the hearings began, all with Trump 2020 voters. And the most stunning thing that has happened is that in four of the groups, zero of the respondents wanted to see Trump run again in 2024. About 15% of the nine groups wanted to see him run again. 

That’s only significant because prior to the hearings, we had done dozens and dozens of focus groups with Trump voters since January 6th, and half or more of the group always wanted him to run again. It rarely fell below half of the group. But people are very worried that Donald Trump can’t win in 2024. They have real doubts about his electability, and this is where I think the hearings have really made a difference. Joe Biden was nominated and elected by the Democrats, not necessarily because he was everybody’s top choice, but because he was the one everybody thought other people would vote for and that he could win and beat Donald Trump. These Republicans are starting to doubt that Trump is the person who can win in 2024. They still like him, to be clear. But they think he might have too much baggage: “We really need to win in 2024 and I think there are better people.” 

One thing that sort of happened at the same time as the January 6th Committee was the Ron DeSantis boomlet. His name comes up all the time in the focus groups. They think Trump is great: “He did great things for the country. He was a great president. But I think maybe we need some new blood. We got a lot of stars. I really like Ron DeSantis. I like Kristi Noem, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz…” They have a bunch of people that they’re interested in that are fresh. But they’re all from the America First wing of the party. Nobody wants Mike Pence or Nikki Haley. 

The thing that I keep trying to impress upon people is that even if Trump wanes in the imaginations of people, they have decided that they love his particular combative style of politics. They crave it. They want it, which is why there’s no going back to the old guard. There’s a reason that all of the candidates in 2022 look like little mini-Trumps, running around talking about the election being stolen and critical race theory and a lot of vague gesturing at QAnon candidates—they’re gonna go “RINO hunting,” posing with guns. Trump has unleashed a force that has changed what the Republican Party looks like, and what the voters want out of their elected officials…

Longwell: I haven’t even heard her name, and I’m following who the good moderates are that could potentially be part of a future generation of moderate Democrats. I think it’s partly the Democratic-aligned media: the fact that Democratic moderates are a little less likely to go seeking the spotlight in part because they’re not out there fighting the big progressive fights that get you a lot of on Twitter, and Twitter’s where the media lives. There’s this constant false frame about who’s getting all the love in these races. 

When Trump was President, he built this Trump Cinematic Universe in which there were lots of little Avenger mini-Trumps who now are stars: Mike Pompeo, Tucker Carlson, Ron DeSantis. But there’s not a big group of Democrats who are out there trying to help Joe Biden advance his agenda. A couple months back, the big narrative was how bad Democrats’ messaging was, and I was one of the people really pounding on that, because I was listening to my focus group participants saying, “I never hear from Joe Biden, I never hear from Kamala Harris” when they talked about Build Back Better or any other legislation. They only knew the price tag; they didn’t know what was in it. If Joe Biden’s not a very good communicator, send out the troops. Build a bench of surrogates, have people on TV, identify breakout stars: who’s good at selling an agenda, who’s good at talking about policy, who’s good at arguing about the politics. But the Democratic Party hasn’t done that.

I think that Democrats are just different on the inside than Republicans. I don’t know quite how to formulate this, but I feel like they’re scared of their own shadows. They say, “Joe Biden’s policy is not popular, so I don’t want to go out and do it.” Donald Trump was passing nothing, and Republicans would go out there—Jim Jordan or any Trump acolyte—saying, “We moved the embassy to Jerusalem! We did an executive order on this or that!” They would tick through five things and they would all say the exact same things. Democrats cannot get that discipline. They seem unwilling to go out and be the person to carry the water. Republicans close ranks, they go out and push the message. The fear that’s in Democrats on messaging and communications is weird to me.

6) Cool prospect here on Monkeypox vaccine (thanks BB):

Amid a newly announced monkeypox national public emergency and shortage of vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration announced it is reviewing a new vaccine approach that could lead to a fivefold increase in the US’s supply of the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine.

“Please know we’ve been exploring all scientifically feasible options, and we believe this could be a promising approach,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, speaking during a Thursday press briefing.

The vaccine would be given in a smaller, shallower injection under the skin, a method Califf said would still be safe, effective, and would allow up to five doses to be pulled from one vial.

The new strategy will still need to be tested in clinical trials — a process that could take weeks or months. But experts say prior studies look promising, and if successful, this could be a safe way to stretch limited vaccine supply.

“This kind of research is exactly what FDA and NIH should be leading in this moment of public health emergency,” said Dr. Josh Sharfstein, a former FDA Commissioner and currently vice dean for public health practice and community engagement and director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

7) This is really good, “The War on Drugs Has a Warning for Post-Roe America”

With the fall of Roe v. Wade, physicians across the country are struggling to balance the conflicting imperatives of their calling to care with their institutional duty to avoid legal liability, all to the detriment of their patients.

Medicine is hard to govern with the blunt instrument of criminal law. Human biological processes, including pregnancy, are enormously variable. In many cases, determining the precise moment when someone’s life or health is so threatened that abortion would be legal under a particular law is not an ethically answerable scientific question. And so doctors turn to lawyers, often with no medical experience, to protect themselves from prison.

Under Roe, most obstetricians and gynecologists didn’t face this level of legal peril. But this isn’t the first time America has criminalized aspects of medicine. Physicians who prescribe controlled substances like opioids carry a similar burden. They can face decades in prison if prosecutors target them for overprescribing. Although there are cases of bad actors who prescribed opioids for profit, even legitimate physicians may fear being targeted by law enforcement, and research shows that the threat of legal action has a broad chilling effect on the way doctors provide care.The war on drugs shows that when medicine is criminalized and politicized, harm to patients and doctors increases, while the activities that the laws are intended to curb continue or even increase.

8) Cool rundown of best two-player board games.  I have a couple of these and need to play them more.  I really love the simple gameplay, but reasonably complex strategy of Hive.

9) Unsurprisingly, most drugs are still safe and effective long after their expiration dates:

In a small 2012 study, Dr. Cantrell and three colleagues tested eight drugs, containing 14 widely differing active ingredients, that had been sitting unopened in a pharmacy closet with expiration dates that had passed between 28 and 40 years earlier. They found that 86 percent of the drugs’ ingredients were still present in the concentrations they were supposed to be. The findings suggest that some medications, like acetaminophen and the opioid painkiller hydrocodone, retain their potency “for a long, long time,” he said.

Dr. Cantrell pointed out, though, that he and his colleagues did not actually test the drugs in people. “I can’t say that it’s OK to take expired medication,” he said. The F.D.A. also recommends against taking expired drugs. However, he has been working at the California Poison Control Center in San Diego for nearly 30 years, and said that people call the center regularly after realizing they have taken expired medicines, worried about what will happen. To his knowledge, nothing bad ever has, he said.

Dr. Cantrell’s study is one of just a few published studies that have evaluated the chemistry of expired medicines. In a study published in 2006, researchers with the F.D.A. and the pharmaceutical company Sandoz tested 122 different drug products and found that 88 percent were still safe to use an average of 5.5 years past their expiration date.

In fact, the F.D.A. sometimes tests expired drugs needed for public health emergencies and extends their expiration dates if they are found to work and be safe. You can check whether the expiration dates of any of the drugs you own have been extended by searching here.

10) My 20-year old son had his wisdom teeth extracted this summer and, fortunately, all went well, and he seemed to enjoy his two weeks of a soft diet.  I saw his x-rays and it sure seemed like he needed them out, but it did prompt a short search in which I came across this from 2011:

The association said that 80 percent of young adults who retained previously healthy wisdom teeth developed problems within seven years, and that retained wisdom teeth are extracted up to 70 percent of the time.

 

Yet when asked, the association was not able to produce the evidence for these figures. “We were not able to locate the reference for it, and subsequently deleted the statement from our Web site,” Janice Teplitz, the group’s associate executive director of communications, said last week.

As of Monday, however, the association’s Web site still said that “between 25 percent and almost 70 percent” of the time, retained, asymptomatic wisdom teeth “are eventually extracted.”

Many studies suggest that the actual number of people who have trouble with their wisdom teeth is far lower.

Oral surgeons warn that even when young people are not experiencing pain or discomfort, they may have infection or inflammation; numerous studies have found that adults who keep their wisdom teeth tend to have more such problems over time than those who have them removed. But there does not appear to be a single randomized clinical trial — the gold standard for scientific proof — comparing similar patients who have and have not undergone prophylactic wisdom teeth removal…

Our dentist warned us that cysts and tumors could grow around impacted wisdom teeth. But a new study of more than 6,000 patients in Greece found that only 2.7 percent of the teeth had a cyst or tumor. An older study, often cited by critics of routine extraction, found that only 12 percent of 1,756 middle-aged people who had not had impacted wisdom teeth removed experienced a complication.

11) I really don’t like the idea that you cannot make up for “sleep debt” as I’ve basically been a fan of sleeping in on weekends my whole life:

The sleep debt collectors are coming. They want you to know that there is no such thing as forgiveness, only a shifting expectation of how and when you’re going to pay them back. You think of them as you lie in bed at night. How much will they ask for? Are you solvent? You fall asleep, then wake up in a cold sweat an hour later. You fall asleep, then wake up, drifting in and out of consciousness until morning.

As most every human has discovered, a couple nights of bad sleep is often followed by grogginess, difficulty concentrating, irritability, mood swings and sleepiness. For years, it was thought that these effects, accompanied by cognitive impairments like lousy performances on short-term memory tests, could be primarily attributed to a chemical called adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits electrical impulses in the brain. Spikes of adenosine had been consistently observed in sleep-deprived rats and humans.

Adenosine levels can be quickly righted after a few nights of good sleep, however. This gave rise to a scientific consensus that sleep debt could be forgiven with a couple of quality snoozes — as reflected in casual statements like “I’ll catch up on sleep” or “I’ll be more awake tomorrow.”

But a review article published recently in the journal Trends in Neurosciences contends that the folk concept of sleep as something that can be saved up and paid off is bunk. The review, which canvassed the last couple of decades of research on long term neural effects of sleep deprivation in both animals and humans, points to mounting evidence that getting too little sleep most likely leads to long-lasting brain damage and increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is really, really important in setting the stage for what needs to be done in sleep health and sleep science,” said Mary Ellen Wells, a sleep scientist at the University of North Carolina, who did not contribute to the review.

12) Some interesting social science on guns, “More Guns, More Unintended Consequences: The Effects of Right-to-Carry on Criminal Behavior and Policing in US Cities”

We analyze a sample of 47 major US cities to illuminate the mechanisms that lead Right-to-Carry concealed handgun laws to increase crime. The altered behavior of permit holders, career criminals, and the police combine to generate 29 and 32 percent increases in firearm violent crime and firearm robbery respectively. The increasing firearm violence is facilitated by a massive 35 percent increase in gun theft (p=0.06), with further crime stimulus flowing from diminished police effectiveness, as reflected in a 13 percent decline in violent crime clearance rates (p=0.03). Any crime-inhibiting benefits from increased gun carrying are swamped by the crime-stimulating impacts.

13) I’m loving my access to the real Dall-E 2, but here’s a nice Wired story on Dall-e Mini

14) I love this  (whole thread is really good):

15) This, from Sarah Longwell:

16) And, as long as I’m sharing the tweets, this is just a terrific takedown of the Forward Party with so much good social science.  Read the whole thread:

I7) In general, I’m okay with my county making election day a teacher workday.  But to do so because all those voters are somehow a threat to students is just to give in to paranoid parents and over-cautious hysteria:

Wake County school leaders are considering not holding classes on Election Day in response to parents who say it’s a safety risk when so many schools serve as polling sites.

The school system is currently scheduled to have classes on Nov. 8, when potentially more than 100,000 voters will enter schools to cast their ballots. Parents have been lobbying Wake to hold a teacher workday on Election Day so that students won’t be exposed to safety risks from so many strangers walking onto school campuses.

“While there are many risks that we can’t predict, we do have the ability to mitigate this one,” Kirstin Morrison, a Wake parent, said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “We can align a teacher workday with Election Day so that our students can stay out of the buildings and safe with the extra visitors in those school buildings.”

Morrison, the Wake parent, said 38,785 voters entered Wake schools during the May 17 primary. She called that “an alarming security risk” as she talked about how voters crossed paths with students inside her son’s elementary school as they were getting lunch in the cafeteria.

“It concerned me that day, and a week later as I watched what unfolded at Robb Elementary School it was a crushing worry,” Morrison continued. “So today’s world is unpredictable and we have no ability to be immune to such a tragedy unfolding in our own community.”

Morrison’s concerns were echoed by several other parents who submitted written comments to Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“With recent events, safety at school is a top concern for me as a parent with a child in WCPSS,” wrote Kimberly Hatch. “I understand the importance of the civic duty to vote and understand that our schools provide a space that can be used as a polling place, however I have concerns with the students being on campus for election days.

18) I just love the problems Derek Thompson thinks about and the way he thinks about things.  Great discussion on “Is Old Music Killing New Music?”

Quick hits (Part II)

1) Are skittles toxic?  I doubt it, but I’m eating them anyway.

2) I took Vitamin D supplements for about a year. But, barring some dramatic new evidence, I’m done with it. “Study Finds Another Condition That Vitamin D Pills Do Not Help: The vitamin pills do not prevent bone fractures in most people or protect against many other diseases, adding to questions about medical guidance many now take for granted.”

3) I always aim to have my aerobic exercise be at least 20 minutes, but rarely go much over 30.  Good to know that’s pretty efficient.  NYT Well Newsletter:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week from activities like biking or swimming. That corresponds to just over 20 minutes a day. Still, you can benefit from doing less, said Dr. I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist who studies exercise at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The first 20 minutes of physical activity per session confer the most health perks, at least in terms of longevity, Dr. Lee said. As you continue working out, “the bang for your buck starts to decrease” in terms of tangible health rewards, she added.

4) Greg Sargent, “Rising GOP anger at Mitch McConnell offers a lesson for Democrats”

Republicans have staged a carnival of fake outrage ever since Sen. Joe Manchin III announced support for a massive climate and health-care package. Their claim: The West Virginia Democrat and his party double-crossed them by announcing a deal just after Senate Republicans helped pass industrial policy making us competitive with China.

There’s a lesson in this for Democrats: Procedural hardball works.

You can see this in rising GOP anger at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican, angry lawmakers say, has been too willing to agree to bipartisan deals on legislation — which allowed that alleged double-cross to happen, catching him flat-footed.

CNN reports on new “internal tensions” in the party, with House Republicans faulting McConnell for negligently letting bipartisanship break out on infrastructuregun control and the Chips and Science Act. That bill invests $280 billion in shoring up the semiconductor industry and in science and technology development, and just passed both houses

Regardless, there’s a moral in this story for Democrats: There is often no serious penalty for political hardball, no matter how far it pushes the procedural envelope.

Republicans have strained vigorously to gin up outrage over the Democrats’ procedural handling of all this. House Republicans raged that the Manchin deal required them to sink the chips bill. Senate Republicans held up a measure to provide health care to veterans suffering from burn pit exposure, though there’s some dispute about the motive. And Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) declared the Democrats’ perfidy would make it harder to win GOP support for a bill codifying same-sex marriage.

That’s absurdly revealing: The explicit admission is that the merits of the same-sex marriage bill (and possibly the burn pit bill) are beside the point. If Republicans do sink that measure, it will be because Democrats used their authority under the simple-majority reconciliation process to pass something entirely unrelated to it!

But that aside, here’s the thing: None of that fake outrage will matter in the least.

5) Nice summary of evidence on food and weight loss from Eric Barker:

Here’s the neuroscience of eating less and staying fit:

  • Beware “Food Reward”But blander foods aren’t fun! (Which is why you’ll eat less of them.)
  • Reduce Food Variety: Say you ate steak for dinner. If dessert was more steak, you’d be a lot less likely to eat it.
  • Control Your Environment: Discipline at the grocery store. And put all your tasty snacks in a jar. On a high shelf. In another country.
  • “High Satiety” Foods: Eat meat, fish, oatmeal, vegetables… Okay, I’m just typing that and I already feel full.
  • Exercise To Maintain Weight Loss: It may not help you lose fat but it will help keep it off — as long as you can tolerate the music at the gym.

The food variety party really hits home and makes so much intuitive sense and is something I personally really need to work on.  When I’m feeling full from my dinner, I switch foods and pack on more calories.

Reduce Your Variety

In 2010 Chris Voight ate nothing but 20 plain potatoes a day for 60 days. Yes, your mind cannot process that degree of horror. He lost 21 pounds. Frankly, he had trouble eating enough because he just wasn’t all that hungry.

Yes, this brief tableau of gastronomic desolation is anecdotal, but the scientists are nodding. Food variety is a very big deal. What six words have the mystical ability to increase space in your stomach? “Do you have room for dessert?

Even within a meal we go back and forth between steak and potatoes or chips and soda. Why? Keeps the variety high. When variety is low, we get tired of whatever we’re eating faster. Researchers have even coined the term “the buffet effect” because the endless options resist any habituation and people eat until they’re ready to explode. (Example: Thanksgiving.)

More options mean more eating. Less variety is an easy way to feel full on fewer calories.

6) The extra cool part of this is that a friend of mine from high school, who is a complete space buff, had a contract to write the descriptions of the items for Sotheby’s, “Buzz Aldrin’s Space Memorabilia Sells for More Than $8 Million”

7) I really doubt we’ll ever have the sense to do it, but, oh my should we just clean up the spelling in the English language. McWhorter:

I hope it would help people to unbend somewhat to more intuitive (if odd-looking) spellings if those new spellings were seen as social justice of a kind. Children whose first language is English have to labor longer to learn to read than their counterparts. This crowds out school time that could be used for learning other things. Dyslexia appears to be less prevalent in many other languages because mapping the sounds we utter to the chaos of how they are represented on the page (“cough,” “bough,” “enough”) is so complex and often arbitrary. Anglophone kids are twice as likely to show signs of dyslexia as Italian ones, for example.

Plus, English is notoriously hard to master for the legions of people worldwide required to learn it as a second or third language. However, as languages go, English isn’t especially tough — if you want difficult, try Polish, Lithuanian or Navajo. A good deal of what frustrates English learners is the spellings. To think beyond our time is to imagine English as an international language that welcomes learners with spellings that actually make sense. Finnish spellings do — the sounds you make correspond neatly with the letters on the page. But let’s face it, the likelihood of Finnish as a lingua franca is slim. So why can’t English tidy itself up a bit?

Busy people leading busy lives shouldn’t have to put up with spelling seemingly designed to be difficult, random and frustrating. Think, for example, of just that word, “busy.” Why is its “u” pronounced “ih”? And why is the “y” in that word and at the end of adverbs pronounced “ee”?

I could go awn. We Anglophones wallow in orthographical muck. Attention must be paid.

8) Good stuff from Ron Brownstein, “Red states are building a nation within a nation”

9) This is excellent.  You should read it (free link), “Alabama Takes From the Poor and Gives to the Rich”

In states like Alabama, almost every interaction a person has with the criminal justice system comes with a financial cost. If you’re assigned to a pretrial program to reduce your sentence, each class attended incurs a fee. If you’re on probation, you’ll pay a fee to take your mandatory urine test. If you appear in drug court, you will face more fees, sometimes dozens of times a year. Often, you don’t even have to break the law; you’ll pay fees to pull a public record or apply for a permit. For poor people, this system is a trap, sucking them into a cycle of sometimes unpayable debt that constrains their lives and almost guarantees financial hardship.

While almost every state in the country, both red and blue, levies fines and fees that fall disproportionately on the bottom rung of the income ladder, the situation in Alabama is far more dramatic, thanks to the peculiarities of its Constitution. Over a century ago, wealthy landowners and businessmen rewrote the Constitution to cap taxes permanently. As a result, today, Alabama has one of the cruelest tax systems in the country.

Taxes on most property, for example, are exceptionally low. In 2019, property taxes accounted for just 7 percent of state and local revenue, the lowest among the states. (Even Mississippi, which also has low property taxes, got roughly 12 percent from property taxes. New Jersey, by contrast, got 29 percent.) Strapped for cash, all levels of government look for money anywhere they can get it. And often, that means creating revenue from fines and fees. A 2016 study showed that the median assessment for a felony in Alabama doubled between 1995 and 2005, to $2,000…

To understand how Alabama came to be so underdeveloped, you need only look to the Black Belt, a large region originally named for its rich black dirt that sweeps across the lower midsection of the state. The earth is full of crushed limestone left behind by the sea that once covered the land. Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, is in the heart of the region. It’s an agriculturally rich area that was once blanketed by cotton plantations worked by enslaved people. Much of the area is still rural and agricultural, but the product isn’t cotton; it is, among other things, timber. Drive just a few minutes outside Montgomery and you’re flanked by forest. Rows of loblolly pine stand sentinel along the roads, waiting to be turned into America’s paper. Much of the land is owned by multinational corporations, international investors, hedge funds, some families that live outside the Black Belt and some whose ancestors cultivated the land before the Civil War.

Many of those families’ agricultural interests were top of mind when state lawmakers rewrote Alabama’s Constitution. In 1874, less than a decade into Reconstruction, the Democratic Party, representing the landowning, formerly slave-owning class, took over the state government in a rigged election and quickly passed a new Constitution that mandated taxes on property would remain permanently low.

In the next couple of decades, as cotton prices crashed, poor sharecroppers, both white and Black, banded together in a populist movement to unseat the elites who controlled the state. In response, in another set of contested elections, the elites called another constitutional convention to further consolidate their power over the state. “What is it that we want to do?” the convention president, John B. Knox, asked. “Establish white supremacy in this state.” But this time, he said, they wanted to “establish it by law — not by force or fraud.”

10) Chait, “Without Media Accountability, Republicans Will Govern Like a One-Party State”

Last week, the Florida Republican Party held its annual Sunshine Summit, which was marked by a new policy: The mainstream media was not permitted to cover the event. Instead, the only “news” would be transmitted through conservative-approved sources. “We in the state of Florida are not going to allow legacy media outlets to be involved in our primaries,” Florida governor Ron DeSantis said. “I’m not going to have a bunch of left-wing media people asking our candidates gotcha questions.”

The next day, the Washington Post published a detailed reported story on the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank whose scholars have supported the Trump administration’s efforts to secure an unelected second term. The Institute’s president, Ryan Williams, replied on the record that he saw no need to explain any of this. “The Claremont Institute,” he wrote, “is not interested in participating in the fiction that the Washington Post is a legitimate media outlet, or that its chronically discredited journalists are dispassionate fact-finders intent on bringing their readers objective news.”

As long as it has existed, the right has loathed the news media. Figures like Joe McCarthy and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler used the tactic of pointing to alleged media bias to discredit reporting that challenged their lies. But, as David Freedlander noted, the right’s war on independent media is reaching a new stage of blanket refusal to acknowledge its legitimacy…

The only point I need to make is that the mainstream media does routinely report critically on the Democratic Party. If you are watching CNN or reading the New York Times, you have encountered a steady stream of articles questioning whether Joe Biden is too old for the job, noting high inflation, pummeling the Afghanistan withdrawal, and so on. Whether you believe this level of criticism is excessive or insufficient is a matter of perspective, but the clear fact is that it exists.

Nothing like this exists within the conservative media. The communications apparatus of the conservative movement was established with the goal of advancing the right’s political interests. Its organs often borrow superficial conventions, like bylines and the inverted-pyramid structure, to create the simulacrum of a traditional news medium. But the people working in these institutions understand they are working for the conservative movement, not on behalf of the public’s right to know. Their approach to malfeasance by their side is to ignore, distort, or change the subject to some agreed-upon sin by the enemy (a practice called “whataboutism”).

The rise of Donald Trump intensified the bubble effect in the conservative media. His famous boast that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing any support reflected his grasp of the conservative base’s imperviousness to facts. Trump understood that he could maintain his base without engaging with external reality at any rational level; reporting that made him look bad was simply “fake news” by definition.

11) I love that Biden’s drug czar is all about “harm reduction.” That’s so the way to go on drug issues.

12) From early June, before the Dobbs decision, “‘Pro-Choice’ Identification Rises to Near Record High in U.S.”

A Gallup poll conducted mostly after the draft of a Supreme Court decision addressing abortion rights was leaked finds a marked shift in public attitudes over the past year. After a decade in which Americans’ identification as “pro-choice” varied narrowly between 45% and 50%, the percentage has jumped six points to 55% in the latest poll, compared with the prior measure a year ago.

Pro-choice sentiment is now the highest Gallup has measured since 1995 when it was 56% — the only other time it has been at the current level or higher — while the 39% identifying as “pro-life” is the lowest since 1996.

13) David French on Tim Miller’s new book:

The genius of Tim’s book (and I highly recommend reading it) is that it cuts through the rationalizations—and the rationalizations are endless—and gets ultimately to a heart-level question: Who are you, really? Or, put another way, What is your core identity?

I don’t think those who live outside the American right understand the extent to which the upheaval of the Trump years impacted multiple, intersecting aspects of personal identity and exposed the true hierarchy of personal values.

Let’s take the example of Lindsey Graham. Yesterday in The Atlantic Mark Leibovich published a scorching profile of Graham, Kevin McCarthy, and other politicians who’ve been particularly sycophantic to Donald Trump. Leibovich highlights this revealing exchange:

Once, early in 2019, I asked Graham a version of the question that so many of his judgy old Washington friends had been asking him. How could he swing from being one of Trump’s most merciless critics in 2016 to such a sycophant thereafter? I didn’t use those exact words, but Graham got the idea. “Well, okay, from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he told me. “‘This,’” Graham specified, “is to try to be relevant.” Relevance: It casts one hell of a spell.

Ask any person to describe themselves, and they’ll likely respond with a mix of characteristics and virtues. They’ll describe their profession (lawyer, banker, plumber), their relationships (husband, father, grandfather), and their politics (Republican, Democrat), and if asked they might even describe their perceived virtues (honesty, fidelity, fortitude).

But what if the virtues conflict with other core parts of a person’s identity? Prior to the Trump years, Graham was joined at the hip with the maverick John McCain. During the 2016 campaign, he called out Trump’s flaws early and often.

So how would one describe Lindsey Graham, before Trump? He was a senator. He was powerful. And while all politicians are flawed, I’d say he was generally perceived to be both honest and independent.

But then, during the Trump years, honesty and independence directly and starkly clashed with status. Time and again, men and women in America’s political class found that they couldn’t possess both virtue and power. They had to make a choice.

The writer and Christian theologian C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Another way of putting it is that we don’t really know if we possess a virtue until it is tested.

We might think of ourselves as honest, but we don’t really know if we are until honesty carries a cost. Or we might think of ourselves as physically brave, but we don’t know if we are until we face a mortal threat. We might be sure that we’re faithful, right until the moment when temptation is at its peak.

During the Trump years, the collision between status and virtue was constant and relentless. Trump never gave anyone a breather. He was never chagrined or mollified by scandal. He never apologized. He never turned over a new leaf. He just charged from one lie to another, and his demands for absolute loyalty left his defenders and followers with little ability to separate themselves from his worst moments while still remaining in the Republican tent.

As we’ve seen from days of courageous testimony before the January 6 House Select Committee, it is quite possible to say “I’m a Republican, and I’m honest.” But with each passing week—and with each new revelation—it grows more difficult to say “I’m a Trump Republican, and I’m honest.” Status conflicts with virtue, and status wins.

14) What’s not to love about a Janeane Garofalo profile? “Janeane Garofalo Never Sold Out. What a Relief. That concept might be the reason her trailblazing stand-up career has been overshadowed; it may also be the reason she’s still so sharp, our critic argues.”

15) Relatively new NC resident Frank Bruni give his take on the state (and the Congressional district that I’m about a mile outside of):

I visited the 13th District because it’s the site of the only House race in North Carolina that’s considered a tossup, an emblematic contest between a 46-year-old Democrat, Wiley Nickel, with decades of public service under his belt, and a 26-year-old Republican, Bo Hines, who was endorsed by Trump and crows about that whenever, wherever and however he can. On his Twitter profile, his Facebook page and his campaign website, the headshot of Trump is bigger than his own headshot.

But I also toured the district as part of my acclimation to North Carolina, to continue testing my belief that this state — my new home — is as accurate, illuminating and alarming a political mirror of the country as any other. A year after moving here from the People’s Republic of the Upper West Side, I realize that I didn’t so much turn my back on New York City as turn my gaze toward a broader, truer portrait of America right now…

And it’s a tense state whose residents are, as Bitzer said, “sorting themselves more and more into like-minded communities.” That was driven home to me when I looked for a house here. I had the vague idea of finding, within a roughly 25-minute drive of Duke’s campus in Durham, some kind of political mix that reflected the state’s reputed political color. I like purple.

But I learned how inexact the “purple” label is. It implies some real blending of red and blue, some halfway point. But North Carolina is purple only if you step far back, the way you do to make sense of a Seurat painting, so that you no longer see the individual dabs and blotches of red and blue.

A blotch of deep blue is where I ended up, 20 minutes from Duke, on the border of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Front yards near mine showcase “Black Lives Matter” and “We Believe” signs. Several neighbors’ first conversations with me were about how to follow the county’s recycling rules correctly.

These days, “the red is redder and the blue is bluer,” said Steve Schewelwho was on Durham’s school board and then its City Council before serving as the city’s mayor from December 2017 to December 2021.

And, oh, yeah, how nice to unexpectedly find a friend and blog fan quoted in the NYT:

Damon Circosta, the chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, told me, “This is a state that’s most comfortable — more comfortable — forging a middle path.” North Carolina swung sharply right during the first half of the last decade, but then voters denied the incumbent Republican governor, Pat McCrory, a second term and elected Cooper. Two years later, Republicans lost their supermajorities in the state legislature. Cooper, meanwhile, has combined a mild manner and practical approach to remain popular enough that he’s mentioned as a possible presidential contender if Joe Biden doesn’t run again.

16) And speaking of NC, how cool to see a former student of mine in Slate, “State Judge Elections Are About to Become Decisive for Abortion Rights”

17) It really does not speak well for left organizations in DC these days that Ruy Teixeira feels he has no home at the Center for American Progress any more.

Ruy Teixeira is one of Washington’s most prominent left-leaning think-tank scholars, a fixture at the Center for American Progress since the liberal organization’s founding in 2003. But as of August 1, he’ll have a new professional home: The American Enterprise Institute, the longtime conservative redoubt that over the years has employed the likes of Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D’Souza, and Robert Bork.

Teixeira, whose role in the Beltway scrum often involved arguing against calls to move right on economic issues, insists his own policy views haven’t changed — but says the current cultural milieu of progressive organizations “sends me running screaming from the left.”

“My perspective is, the single most important thing to focus on in the social system is the economic system,” he tells me. “It’s class.” We’re sitting in AEI’s elegantly furnished library. Down the hall, there’s a boisterous event celebrating the conservative intellectual Harvey Mansfield. William Kristol, clad in a suit, has just left the room. Teixeira’s untucked shirt and sneakers aren’t the only thing that seems out of place. “I’m just a social democrat, man. Trying to make the world a better place.”

To hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

“I would say that anybody who has a fundamentally class-oriented perspective, who thinks that’s a more important lens and doesn’t assume that any disparity is automatically a lens of racism or sexism or what have you … I think that perspective is not congenial in most left institutions,” he says.

To hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

“I would say that anybody who has a fundamentally class-oriented perspective, who thinks that’s a more important lens and doesn’t assume that any disparity is automatically a lens of racism or sexism or what have you … I think that perspective is not congenial in most left institutions,” he says.

“I’d say they have been affected by the nature and inclination and preferences of their junior staff,” he says. “It’s just the case that at CAP, like almost any other left think tank you can think of, it’s become very hard to have a conversation about race and gender and trans issues, even crime and immigration. You know, ‘How should the left handle these?’ There’s a default assumption about how you’re supposed to talk about these things, even the language. There’s a real chilling effect on all of these organizations, and I think it’s had an effect on CAP as well.”

18) Interesting stuff on fatherhood from Melinda Wenner Moyer:

Have you ever noticed that men love to hear — and tell — stories about deadbeat dads? The husband who cheats on his wife; the father who doesn’t know how to use a washing machine; the guy who gets mad at his wife if the house isn’t spotless. Their reaction is rarely horror or disgust or “God, what a dick!” — but rather, something along the lines of:

“See, I’m not so bad, right?”

“Look! I’m an angel in comparison.”

“Aren’t you glad you married me?”

I know, I know; #notallmen. But if I had a dime for every time I heard a friend laugh/vent about their husband comparing himself to a bad apple to make himself look good, well, I wouldn’t need any paid subscribers…

First, let’s start with who mothers tend to compare themselves to. Although we might not like to admit it, moms often compare themselves to other moms they know. Who’s got a cleaner house? Does my friend read to her kids more often than I do to mine? Mothers are also frequently comparing themselves to ideal versions of mothers on social media, and this is a problem. When we compare our lives to the aspirational, tightly curated and totally unrealistic depiction of life we see on Instagram — mom looks beautiful, the house is spotless, the kids are rosy-cheeked and smiling — we are constantly taking in data that says: You aren’t doing as good of a job as they are. No wonder we all feel like failures.

Research suggests this is exactly what happens. A study published in February found that mothers who tend to make social comparisons are more negatively affected by parenting-related Instagram accounts than moms who don’t make a lot of social comparisons. Social media, the researchers found, gives social-comparison-oriented mothers a “decreased sense of parenting competence.” More than one-third of the moms in the study “mentioned the idealistic picture of parenting presented by InstaParents as something that was affecting them negatively, e.g. “Some people on Instagram make it all seem a little too perfect – then you start doubting yourself.” Sound familiar?

On the other side of the comparison spectrum are dads. In general, there’s much less research on dads than on moms (that’s slowly changing, thank god!), but wow, the research we do have on how dads make social comparisons is …. fascinating. As you might guess, compared with moms, dads aren’t spending as much time on Instagram and Facebook, comparing themselves to ideal parents. Sometimes dads compare themselves to other dads they know, but because dads don’t tend to talk about parenting and household tasks with their guy friends as much as moms do with their mom friends, they often don’t have the data they need to make these comparisons. So what do they do instead? When dads make social comparisons, they often choose to compare themselves to fictional deadbeat dads. And this has big implications… [emphasis in original]

What happens when a dad compares himself to a fictional terrible dad? He feels pretty good about himself and his contributions to the family. He certainly doesn’t feel like he’s not doing enough. There is no incentive to change his ways, to do more. As Gaber explained, fathers who compared themselves to do-nothing dads “believed that they were doing more than this mythical dad who left all child care and housework responsibilities to their wives… They wanted to believe the division of labor was fair, even though their wives were doing more housework. By utilizing this manufactured referent, they could argue that their household contributions were greater than the average.”

19) I loved Jeff Maurer’s take on WV vs. EPA:

I’m going to do something weird here: I’m going to focus on the law, not the policy outcome. Articles about Supreme Court rulings almost never discuss the relevant law. They focus on policy outcomes, and people cheer or decry rulings based on those outcomes. Everyone in America seems to believe that the objective answer to any legal question — in an amazing coincidence — just so happens to align with the policy outcome they prefer. We treat this fact as so obvious that any disagreement must be the work of devious activist judges. Conservatives sang this song for decades while liberals denounced them as sore losers, and now the roles have exactly reversed, but few people seem to appreciate the irony. So, before I start, I insist that we all:

A federal agency can’t do anything without Congressional authority. The bureaucracy might be thought of as Congresses’ contractors; they do jobs that Congress can’t do themselves. It’s a logical system; if the government needs to, say, break up a drug ring, that should probably be farmed out to highly trained DEA agents instead of having Chuck Grassley and Elizabeth Warren kick down doors themselves.

Congress often uses vague language to authorize various actions. They have to; it’s impossible to anticipate every nuance that an agency might encounter in the course of doing the thing Congress wants them to do. Broad language also provides longevity; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has the authority to regulate alcohol, generally, not a list of spirits that would be rendered obsolete every time the sick fucks at Budweiser add a new sin against liquor to their product line of the damned…

So: Congress gives authority to federal agencies, but the parameters of that authority are vague pretty much by definition. The question in West Virginia v. EPA is whether EPA overstepped its authority in 2015 when it tried to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants. EPA claims that its authority comes from section 111(d) of the 1970 Clean Air Act, which is too long to cite in full, but I’ll link to it here in case you’re trying to commit suicide by boredom.1 Luckily, understanding the key question in this case doesn’t require reading the full law — you just need to channel your inner stoned freshman and ponder this question: What, like…really is a SYSTEM, man?

The definition of the word “system” is at the center of this case. That’s because the law requires EPA to regulate air pollution according to “…the best system of emission reduction…that has been adequately demonstrated.” So: EPA can’t just say “cut your emissions in half”; they have to have a method for cutting emissions — a system, if you will — that actually exists on Earth. Traditionally, these systems have usually been technology such as “scrubbers” added to coal-fired power plants, though they could also be processes such as changes to how the plant operates…

Justice Roberts and the five justices who joined his opinion think that EPA’s cap-and-trade plan is absolutely not a “system”. Roberts writes:

“The word “system” shorn of all context, however, is an empty vessel. Such a vague statutory grant is not close to the sort of clear authorization required.”

I have to say: I’m sympathetic to Justice Roberts’ concern here. You can’t have federal agencies seizing authority that nobody gave them by distorting the English language beyond all recognition. The dumbest articles and Twitter threads responding to this ruling have basically argued that the ruling is wrong because climate change is an EMERGENCY!!! I happen to believe that climate change is an emergency, but more importantly: So fucking what? You can’t chuck the rule of law out the window and say “It’s okay because: Emergency.” Most power grabs in history use emergency as pretext; the very concept of a dictator arose in ancient Rome as a temporary post in response to an emergency. Of course, the “emergency” never ended, and the post became the opposite of temporary, and Rome was unable to stab their way back to being a Republic.

20) And, as long as we’re on Maurer’s legal takes, this is excellent, “The Court’s Conservatives are Lying About Gay Marriage: But it’s not clear which part of their story is a lie”

In Obergefell, three of the four justices seem to believe that “liberty” does not include the freedom to marry. Thomas and Alito each wrote dissents in which they forcefully defend a narrow conception of the word “liberty”.2 Justice Scalia — who has assumed a role in conservative jurisprudence that I would describe as “Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque” — calls the expansive reading of the Due Process Clause by liberals a “threat to American democracy”. All four conservative justices who ruled on that case took the opportunity to write a dissent; they were like a rap group recording a diss track, each trying to one-up the others as they took turns spitting fire at the object of their disdain.

My uncharitable reading of Roberts’ argument after that point is that it’s basically gibberish. I feel that it essentially amounts to an internally-conflicted Roberts gasping “but come on!” In the course of searching for an explanation as to why marriage is a right, but not a right possessed by everyone, Roberts sings the praises of opposite-sex marriage as “…a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs.” Well — if the Aztecs did it, then I’m convinced! It’s good to know that if I ever engage in human sacrifice like the Aztecs, or child abandonment like the Carthaginians, John Roberts will have my back…

It seems clear that Roberts, Alito, and Thomas would give gay marriage the thumbs-down if the question was litigated again. To not nix it would be to basically say: “We totally blew it way back in 2015.” It’s hard to imagine what event might change their minds short of a Christmas Eve visit from Gay Jacob Marley and his husband, Ghost Scrooge. (Side note: Would you watch a Netflix series called The Adventures of Gay Jacob Marley and Ghost Scrooge? I’ve got a pitch meeting next week.)

The big question, then, is where Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett stand. Justices’ opinions on not-yet-litigated cases are always a coquettish fan dance, but by backing Dobbs, the three Trump-appointed justices endorsed the same skepticism of Due Process Clause-derived rights that animates the Obergefell dissents. Dobbs repudiates the logic of Roe and Obergefell; in his opinion, Alito speaks of the abortion right that the Court derived from the Fourteenth Amendment with the same disdainful tone that I’ve used on this blog to talk about George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky.

21) I found this really interesting, “Why Netflix’s most expensive movies keep getting worse.”  That said, I’ve watched most of Netflix’s “The Hustle” and I think it’s really good.

22) I hope this pans out! “UK scientists take ‘promising’ step towards single Covid and cold vaccine”

Scientists have made a “promising” advance towards developing a universal coronavirus vaccine to tackle Covid-19 and the common cold.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London have discovered that a specific area of the spike protein of Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – is a good target for a pan-coronavirus jab that could offer protection against all the Covid-19 variants and common colds.

Developing a vaccine that protects against a number of different coronaviruses is a huge challenge, they said, because this family of viruses have many key differences, frequently mutate and generally induce incomplete protection against reinfection. That is why people can repeatedly catch common colds, and why it is possible to be infected multiple times with different variants of Sars-CoV-2.

A universal coronavirus vaccine would need to trigger antibodies that recognise and neutralise a range of coronaviruses, scientists said, stopping the virus from entering hosts cells and replicating.

In the new study, the researchers investigated whether antibodies targeting the “S2 subunit” of Sars-CoV-2’s spike protein also neutralise other coronaviruses. The researchers found that after vaccinating mice with Sars-CoV-2 S2, the mice created antibodies able to neutralise a number of other animal and human coronaviruses.

They included the common cold coronavirus HCoV-OC43, the original strain of Sars-CoV-2, the D614G mutant that dominated in the first wave, Alpha, Beta, Delta, the original Omicron and two bat coronaviruses. The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“The S2 area of the spike protein is a promising target for a potential pan-coronavirus vaccine because this area is much more similar across different coronaviruses than the S1 area,” said the study’s co-first author, Kevin Ng, of the Francis Crick Institute. “It is less subject to mutations, and so a vaccine targeted at this area should be more robust.”

23) This really is kind of wild, from David Wallace-Wells, “Hardly Anyone Talks About How Fracking Was an Extraordinary Boondoggle”

Perhaps the most striking fact about the American hydraulic-fracturing boom, though, is unknown to all but the most discriminating consumers of energy news: Fracking has been, for nearly all of its history, a money-losing boondoggle, profitable only recently, after being propped up by so much investment from Wall Street and private equity that it resembled less an efficient-markets no-brainer and more a speculative empire of bubbles like Uber and WeWork. The American shale revolution did bring the country “energy independence,” whatever that has been worth, and more abundant oil and gas. It has indeed reshaped the entire geopolitical landscape for fuel, though not enough to strip leverage from Vladimir Putin. But the revolution wasn’t primarily a result of some market-busting breakthrough or an engineering innovation that allowed the industry to print cash. From the start, the cash moved in the other direction; the revolution happened only because enormous sums of money were poured into the project of making it happen.

Today, with profits aided by the energy price spikes of the last year, the fracking industry is finally, at least for the time being, profitable. But from 2010 to 2020, U.S. shale lost $300 billion. Previously, from 2002 to 2012, Chesapeake, the industry leader, didn’t report positive cash flow once, ending that period with total losses of some $30 billion, as Bethany McLean documents in her 2018 book, “Saudi America,” the single best and most thorough account of the fracking boom up to that point. Between mid-2012 and mid-2017, the 60 biggest fracking companies were losing an average of $9 billion each quarter. From 2006 to 2014, fracking companies lost $80 billion; in 2014, with oil at $100 a barrel, a level that seemed to promise a great cash-out, they lost $20 billion. These losses were mammoth and consistent, adding up to a total that “dwarfs anything in tech/V.C. in that time frame,” as the Bloomberg writer Joe Weisenthal pointed out recently. “There were all these stories written about how V.C.s were subsidizing millennial lifestyles,” he noted on Twitter. “The real story to be written is about the massive subsidy to consumers from everyone who financed Chesapeake and all the companies that lost money fracking last decade.”

24) Lots of gas and bloating for many early humans! “Early Europeans Could Not Tolerate Milk but Drank It Anyway, Study Finds: For thousands of years, Europeans consumed milk products despite lacking an enzyme needed to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort, according to a new study.”

The oldest evidence of milk came from Turkey, which was home to some of the world’s first agrarians. Those farmers then moved across Europe, taking their cattle and other livestock with them. By 6,000 years ago, they had arrived with their milk in England and Ireland.

Dr. Evershed and his colleagues found that some societies took up milk while neighboring ones did not. They also found that milk production went through boom-and-bust cycles over the centuries.

Mark Thomas, a geneticist at University College London, led the team’s analysis of lactase persistence. He and his colleagues analyzed DNA harvested from 1,786 ancient skeletons found across Europe and neighboring regions. They looked for a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on during adulthood.

The oldest mutation they found dated back about 6,600 years ago. But in their collection of ancient remains, it stayed rare until 4,000 years ago. For those 2,600 years, in other words, Europeans were consuming milk despite almost none of them being able to make lactase as adults.

To see how this mutation affected people today, the researchers joined forces with George Davey Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Bristol. Dr. Davey Smith has carried out a number of studies on the health of living British people by analyzing a large database called UK Biobank. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have submitted their DNA to the effort, along with their electronic health records and answers to questionnaires.

Dr. Davey Smith sifted through the UK Biobank for information about milk and lactase, comparing 312,781 volunteers who carried the lactase mutation to 20,250 who did not.

The analysis delivered some surprising results: People without the lactase mutation consume about as much milk as people who carry it. Yet people who cannot make the enzyme do not suffer any significant health problems. They do not die at a higher rate, they do not have weaker bones and they have just as many children as people with the mutation do…

Together, these parallel lines of evidence suggest that early Europeans made milk a part of their diet, even without lactase. It is possible that some of them occasionally suffered some uncomfortable cramps and gas, but it was not enough to affect their health.

Early Europeans may have also lessened the painful effects of milk sugar by fermenting milk into cheese or turning it into butter. (In Ireland, people who harvest peat from bogs have occasionally found massive containers of “bog butter” dating back thousands of years.)

Consuming milk without lactase became riskier later, in times of crisis, Dr. Evershed and his colleagues argued. Starvation has been shown to shift mild symptoms, such as gas and cramps, to more dangerous ones, like diarrhea.

25) Lots of good social science here from Edsall, “How You Feel About Gender Roles Can Tell Us How You’ll Vote”

competing ideas about the roles of men and women, at home and at work, shape our political life. They do not set men against women as much as produce two opposing coalitions, each made up of both men and women.

It almost goes without saying, but men and women who support traditional gender roles for men and women lean strongly toward the Republican Party; men and women who question traditional gender roles and who are sympathetic to women’s rights lean strongly toward the Democratic Party…

While there are modest gender gaps in partisanship, voting and policy views, Winter wrote, “these pale compared with the differences among men and among women in views on gender roles and feminism. And gender roles and feminism have increasingly structured elite partisan debate.”

In an email expanding on the points he made in his book chapter, Winter wrote that “a voter’s personal masculinity/femininity (and views on same)” interacts with partisanship such that “people (men or women) who support traditional gender roles tend to favor the Republican Party and people who either reject or at least do not valorize traditional gender roles (men and women both) favor the Democratic Party.” The focus “is on the voter’s views about how gender should be organized (i.e., the belief that men should be masculine, act masculine and hold masculine roles; women should be feminine, act feminine, hold feminine roles).”

The gap between the attitudes of Democrats and Republicans toward the women’s rights movement has widened in recent years, Winter notes:

From 1970 through 2016, Democrats rated feminists and the women’s movement higher than did Republicans. This difference was modest — between 5 and 10 degrees — through the 1970s, then increased steadily from 10 degrees in 1980 to almost 20 degrees in the mid-1990s. After closing slightly, partisan polarization in ratings of feminists reached their most polarized level yet in 2016. That year, Democrats rated feminists at 67 degrees, compared with 43 degrees among Republicans, a difference of about a quarter of the 101-degree rating scale.”

The same pattern Winter describes can be found on a wide range of politically salient issues. The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers issued a report, “Gender Gap Public Opinion,” based on poll data from the 2016 and 2020 American National Election Study, the 2018 General Social Survey, the 2020 Cooperative Election Study and the June 2020 AP-NORC Center Poll.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting take from Brian Beutler:

This difference filters into how the parties wield power. 

Since the New Deal, through eras of ascendency and retreat, Democrats have sought political power almost exclusively as a means of modifying and expanding the terms of a social contract for Americans. They are driven by the pursuit of ideological goals and interest group demands, nearly all of which entail passing significant pieces of legislation. Their presidents view their own legacies as synonymous with how much they can get done on that front, and how well it stacks up to what FDR managed to achieve. If not FDR, then LBJ; if not LBJ, then Barack Obama. Be like them, and not only will history remember you fondly, but your party will thrive as the public rallies to the side of solidary leaders.

They have also, rightly and wrongly, projected mirror-image ambitions on to their opponents, imagining the great pendulum swings of politics as a tit-for-tat between common-good liberals and libertarian-minded conservatives; a world where the Republican ideal of political greatness runs through the Reaganesque devolution of the welfare state and other institutions of collective power. 

It’s a pleasingly symmetrical model, and there have been times when it resembled reality, but I think it’s mostly wrong, and completely outmoded today…

Generally speaking, though, that’s what the “Democratic establishment” has done. And not just the leaders, as Bacon defined it, but the whole network of party actors and aligned advocacy groups.

The broad left has effectively redoubled its conviction that the best way to deal with the right’s politics of rule or ruin is to pull the policy lever ever harder. Different Democrats have different intuitions about how the policy lever is supposed to work. Progressives imagine transformational, redistributive policies will generate working-class solidarity and an unbeatable rainbow coalition. Moderates believe competent management, along with popular but incremental new reforms will capture the political center, without which Republicans can’t win.

But both believe that good policy, and good execution, are destiny, and that consensus is visible in the party’s vast technocratic class, the army of Mr. Fix-its who ride to the rescue after Republicans leave everything in a smoldering heap.

And yet, Republicans still win half of all elections. The progressive writer David Dayen coined the term “deliverism” to reconcile Democratic policy essentialism with the party’s middling electoral performance. It isn’t enough, under his theory, for the planks of the Democratic agenda to be popular, they also have to become law, and be well implemented. It isn’t enough, and may even be counterproductive, to run campaign after campaign on promises to reduce insurance premiums and prescription-drug prices, if you never actually pass the bills that bring those dollar figures down mechanically, without muss or fuss. 

There’s real appeal to deliverism, especially if you’re a high-minded liberal or lefty, and (not for nothing) it describes a beau ideal of ethical conduct in public life. It’d be nice to imagine things working that way, it makes policy ambition the gravitational center of Democratic politics, and, in recent years at least, it’s been unfalsifiable: For all they’ve done in the new century, Democrats haven’t delivered many lasting, tangible benefits to the broad public. The ACA is something like the exception that proves the rule, because its universal benefit—the coverage guarantee—is abstract; the main material benefits—the coverage expansion—by design didn’t touch the existing arrangements of the vast majority of insured people. Biden delivered the temporary provisions of the American Rescue Plan, and they were popular, but they weren’t lasting, so can’t by definition be a basis for electoral domination.

I think the sad truth is, the evidence for deliverism is scant, and the only thing that will save Democrats and the country is a resolve to prioritize things we don’t really think of as policy objectives per se. What will work is adding states to the union, disempowering the Senate, abolishing the filibuster, expanding the courts, summarily reversing its most corrupt precedents, proportional representation, prison for Donald Trump.

2) David Leonhardt on our abortion pill future:

Today’s newsletter looks at three different realms where this issue is likely to play out.

1. Aid Access

In 2018, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch physician, founded a group called Aid Access to help women in countries where abortion is illegal order pills through the mail. With many American states now outlawing abortion, Aid Access has a new relevance in the U.S.: After Texas enacted a strict abortion law last year, for example, Aid Access experienced a surge of requests from Texas.

To receive pills, women contact a European doctor through Aid Access’s website. Then, a doctor will often fill the prescription using a pharmacy in India, which will send the pills by mail. They typically arrive in one to three weeks and can be taken safely up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Ordering the pills through Aid Access costs about $110, with discounts available to poorer women.

Gomperts told us that she believes Aid Access was not in legal jeopardy because it follows the laws in Austria, where it is based. “I practice according to the law and to all the medical ethical guidelines,” she said.

 

Both pro-choice and pro-life advocates agree that cracking down on the mailing of abortion pills is difficult. “This is a tough problem,” James Bopp, the top lawyer for the National Right to Life Committee, said. Elisabeth Smith of the Center for Reproductive Rights said, “Even the federal government does not have enforcement power against an entity that is wholly outside of the U.S.”

But Smith added that the situation might be different for women who take the pills: They could be in legal jeopardy in some states. Texas, for example, requires a woman seeking an abortion to visit a clinic twice — partly to restrict the use of pills. A woman who took abortion pills in Texas would be violating that law, and Smith and some other experts believe that prosecutors might bring such a case, especially in the rare instances when women had complications that required a doctor’s care.

One question is how law enforcement officials will try to stop the delivery of pills in a majority of cases. Pharmacies, of course, do not label their packages as containing abortion pills…

 

2. Overseas pharmacies

Some overseas pharmacies also ship abortion pills even without a prescription from a doctor. They typically sell generic versions of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol that have been produced in India.

Plan C, a group that helps women looking to obtain pills by mail, has published lists of pharmacies whose pills the group considers reliable. “We had them analyzed in the lab and they were the real thing,” Elisa Wells, Plan C’s co-founder, told us. The pills typically cost $200 to $500.

Taking a medication without help from a nurse or a doctor is obviously not an ideal situation, but some women may decide that they have no other option. Plan C also publishes medical and legal information about the pills, and a group called M+A operates a telephone hotline for questions about self-managed abortions or miscarriages.

As with pills obtained through Aid Access, women in some states may face legal risks from using an overseas pharmacy. Three states — Oklahoma, Nevada and South Carolina — have laws against self-managed abortion, Wells noted.

3. Mail forwarding

A third option involves getting a mailbox in a state where abortion is legal and working online with a medical provider in that state. The provider can send the pills to the mailbox, and the company that operates the mailbox can then forward them to a woman’s home in a state where abortion is banned.

This process involves multiple steps. Still, Wells said, it is among the cheapest, most convenient option for many women. It also involves some of the same legal vulnerabilities as the other options here.

Bopp, the anti-abortion advocate, said that he hoped the federal government would ultimately find ways to crack down on the mailing of abortion pills from one state to another. But it will not happen so long as President Biden is in office, he added.

(This Times Opinion video explains how a Texas woman used the mailbox approach. It meant that she did not have to take time off work, and she could induce the abortion in the privacy of her home.)

The bottom line

More than half of legal abortions in the U.S. are already conducted using pills, up from virtually none in 2000. The share is almost certain to keep rising, and a substantial number of illegal pill-based abortions also seem likely in Republican-run states. Increasingly, the future of abortion — and the political struggle over it — will revolve around medication abortion.

3) This is definitely going into the Public Opinion syllabus, “How much are polls misrepresenting Americans?”

Declining response rates for polls mean we must rely on the shrinking minority of Americans that agree to be interviewed to represent the broader public. Josh Clinton finds that Democrats were more likely to agree to be interviewed than Republicans or Independents in 2020. Common corrections could not compensate, as the partisans who do respond aren’t representative of those who don’t. Amnon Cavari finds that the people who refuse to participate in polls are less educated and less interested in politics. This means our measures of polarization overestimate partisan differences by speaking only to the highly engaged. We rely on public opinion surveys, but small response biases can paint a misleading picture.

4) Jamelle Bouie, “Why Andrew Yang’s New Third Party Is Bound to Fail”

The Forward Party, they say, will “reflect the moderate, common-sense majority.” If, they argue, most third parties in U.S. history failed to take off because they were “ideologically too narrow,” then theirs is primed to reach deep into the disgruntled masses, especially since, they say, “voters are calling for a new party now more than ever.”…

It is not clear that we can make a conclusion about the public’s appetite for a specific third party on the basis of its general appetite for a third party. But that’s a minor issue. The bigger problem for Yang, Whitman and Jolly is their assessment of the history of American third parties. It’s wrong.

The most successful third parties in American history have been precisely those that galvanized a narrow slice of the public over a specific set of issues. They further polarized the electorate, changed the political landscape and forced the established parties to reckon with their influence.

This also gets to the meaning of success in the American system. The two-party system in the United States is a natural result of the rules of the game. The combination of single-member districts and single-ballot, “first past the post” elections means that in any election with more than two candidates, there’s a chance the winner won’t have a majority. There might be four or five or six (or even nine) distinct factions in an electorate, but the drive to prevent a plurality winner will very likely lead to the creation of two parties that take the shape of loose coalitions, each capable of winning that majority outright…

The biggest problem with the Forward Party, however, is that its leaders — like so many failed reformers — seem to think that you can take the conflict out of politics. “On every issue facing this nation,” they write, “we can find a reasonable approach most Americans agree on.”

No, we can’t. When an issue becomes live — when it becomes salient, as political scientists put it — people disagree. The question is how to handle and structure that disagreement within the political system. Will it fuel the process of government or will it paralyze it? Something tells me that neither Yang nor his allies have the answer.

5) This is quite good, “Cancel Culture: It’s real and on the rise, on the left and the right”

The first myth is what we might call the Chappelle fallacy. It’s summed up nicely in this tweet: “Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Kanye, DaBaby and Marilyn Manson all nominated for Grammys today. Still waiting for ‘Cancel Culture’ to be real.”

“The notion that cancel culture exists at all is bullshit,” Daily Beast entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon says. “If anything, whenever a person being criticized claims ‘cancel culture,’ their career and financial situation improves.”

The same dozen or so names are trotted out whenever people make the claim that “canceled” people just get handed a loudermegaphone. Chappelle, Louis C.K.; writers and journalists like Andrew Sullivan, Bari Weiss and Glenn Greenwald who are thriving on Substack. 

The Chappelle Fallacy is a quintessential example of “survival bias.” The fact that some rich and famous people continue to maintain their platforms and followings after being “canceled” is NOT evidence that cancel culture is BS. For every Chappelle, there are dozens whose cancellations only register as a blip on our cultural radar, if they even register at all. 

Do you recognize this individual?

That’s Nashville composer Daniel Elder. Post George Floyd, several white protestors attempted to set Nasvhille’s Metro Courthouse on fire. Concerned by the destruction he was witnessing, which he thought was being fueled by a dangerous “mob mentality,” Elder posted this message on Instagram:

Elder was inundated with messages accusing him of being a racist—a “white supremacist piece of garbage,” as one social media comment put it. Others said they had appreciated his “beautiful” music but could no longer listen to or recommend it. Elder’s music publisher condemned his allegedly “incendiary” post and said they would be suspending future publishing with him. Local choir directors effectively blacklisted him. These career losses were, in Elder’s words, “devastating blows.” 

The impact of cancellations is far reaching. Documentary filmmaker Ted Balaker puts it best: “we shouldn’t judge cancel culture simply by what happens to a celebrity in the crosshairs.” The big stars capture all of the attention while ordinary people pay the biggest price…

So what, then, distinguishes cancel culture from criticism? 

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jonathan Rauch explains: “Criticism marshals evidence and arguments in a rational effort to persuade. Canceling, by contrast, seeks to organize and manipulate the social or media environment in order to isolate, deplatform or intimidate ideological opponents.”

Working from Rauch’s insightful “Cancel Culture Checklist,” here are what we see as the hallmarks of cancel culture:

  • moral grandstanding; that is,the display of moral outrage to impress one’s peer group, dominate others or both

  • caricatures and false accusations, especially quotes and information taken out of context

  • an emphasis on punishment 

  • guilt-by-association boycotts that target people who support the person under fire 

Here is Journalist Nick Gillespie, throwing the distinction between criticism and cancellation into sharp relief: “Somebody calling you a jackass on Twitter is criticism. Somebody organizing a mob to get you kicked off of Twitter…is cancel culture.”…

In the face of severe censorship challenges, we can continue to debate “cancel culture” from a partisan point-of-view. But we’ll end up like squabbling siblings, with endless debates about who started it and which party is most guilty.  

The urge to censor—an impetus common to governments, corporations, organizations, communities and individuals—is always there as a kind of default setting. But it seems clear to us that attempts to censor ideas, political viewpoints and individuals are on the rise in the United States. Some attempts will succeed. Others won’t. But all of them will help contribute to a polarized country where people increasingly turn to censorship in order to advance their agendas and vanquish their ideological opponents.     

No matter your political leanings, you should be troubled by the spread of cancel culture. It speaks to a nation that has lost faith in the capacity of its people to discuss, debate and deliberate. And reveals a society that revels in raw power over the power of persuasion. 

6) Nice interview with Eric Topol on BA5.

Why aren’t these better boosters in the pipeline instead?
Well, it’s pretty clear that Congress is unwilling to fund a dollar more for COVID. And that’s, of course, the Republicans blocking any COVID bill. But there are even people in the Biden administration who aren’t sure how much these next-generation vaccines — including variantproof, universal, and nasal — are going to help us. That’s just, I think, being out of touch with the science. And any COVID bill dedicated to getting ahead of the virus would need to include better drugs, more drugs. Because we have to plan for Paxlovid’s obsolescence, and we don’t have anything to replace it yet — but there are many good candidates in the pipeline…

And at the same time, we’ve collectively done virtually nothing to prepare for whatever evolves next.
Right. From day one of this pandemic, we have never tried to get ahead of the virus. Labs have come up with all sorts of broad neutralizing antibodies that would be variantproof. Nasal vaccines, to block transmission, to achieve mucosal immunity — there are 12 in clinical trials. There are all these drugs in the hopper. Pan-coronavirus vaccines. These are all academic pursuits or largely from small companies. There hasn’t been a national or a much larger international initiative to get ahead of the virus.

By initiative, you mean money.
Money and an Operation Warp Speed 2, with collaborations and private-public industry partnerships. And not necessarily just the U.S., it should be global. But you don’t see that, and it’s so stupid because look how successful we were. Operation Warp Speed showed how good we could be at this. But we haven’t done anything. We keep reacting and chasing instead of doing the things we know would get ahead of it.

I look at the data, and it says we can do better than this. I know we can; the science is there. It’s just waiting in the hopper to be activated, but we’re just not taking it seriously enough. And I want to get out of this thing. I thought we were out of it as we came down with Delta in June 2021. Who would’ve thought we would get to now, a year-plus later, and there’s still no light ahead of us? That’s why I want to take the aggressive get-ahead stance.

It seems like political will for that stance is nonexistent in the U.S. right now.
It’s also internationally. You don’t see the U.K. — which has been a model for science in the pandemic — or many places around the world that are capable of it talking about going after pan-coronavirus vaccines. Why aren’t we making this a global priority?

I’m optimistic that we can seize and achieve containment of the virus once and for all. I’ve been optimistic like that for many months, but I feel like I’m a Lone Ranger — not a single voice, but one of a minority.

To be clear, you mean a pharmacological way to contain the virus. Because we’re never going back to nonpharmaceutical interventions like we saw in the first few years of the pandemic, or at least unless there’s an enormous rise in hospitalizations and deaths.
Yeah. In January 2021, my colleague Dennis Burton and I wrote in Nature that we need a variantproof vaccine. This virus is ideally suited, as compared to flu or HIV, for a variantproof vaccine. The initial success of Pfizer’s vaccine was 95 percent against symptomatic COVID. There’s never been a flu vaccine like that. Look at the success of Paxlovid: a 90 percent reduction in hospitalizations and deaths. This virus is vulnerable. We’ve proven that. We’re just not building on our successes. It’s incredible. This is a less challenging, less hypermutating virus than the flu. Our COVID vaccines make flu vaccines look like a joke, or at least they did.

So we already have COVID on the ropes and can finish it off — if we try.
That’s why I’m so optimistic. We can do this. But we’re not doing it.

7) The lack of a center stand and instead these absurdly widely-spaced legs on modern TV’s is so annoying!

But even I have to admit that there’s one major hurdle to buying a new TV, and no, it’s not the weird, misplaced emotional attachment you may have to your 15-year-old Panasonic. I’m the proud owner of an 850-square-foot house in Portland, Oregon, and it’s literally my job to mount and watch TVs. But I still have a pathological fear of drilling into walls, and I don’t want to borrow my wife to lift and mount a new TV every few weeks.

I would much rather watch TVs on their own stands. You know, the ones that come in the box with them. But I can’t, for the dumbest possible reason—they don’t fit on my media console. I need to call out TV manufacturers, big and small, for a serious and common error in design: For the love of God, stop making TVs with legs so far apart.

We have been using media consoles to contain players and discs and hold screens since Monica and Chandler were first courting in prime time. The consoles haven’t changed much, but TV sizes sure have.

Over the past decade, we’ve settled on model standards of 55, 65, and 75+ inches, which is significantly bigger than all but the wealthiest of us were rocking in the ’90s. Back then, a large TV was around 40 inches. You can barely find TVs in that size now, much to the chagrin of my father and his built-in cabinets.

But companies are still placing angled legs at the edge of the TV, as though media consoles have gone through a similar growth spurt. It has to stop. When I built myself a TV reviewing space, I had to purchase a very expensive (yet somehow still poorly made) stand to fit this very real 75-inch TCL on top of.

8) Wired, “The New Climate Bill’s Secret Weapon? Tax Credits: The Inflation Reduction Act would provide billions for Americans to modernize their homes. It’s a way to encourage mass climate action.”

9) I love this idea, “The case for mandatory gun-liability insurance: You have to buy insurance to drive a car. Why not if you own a gun?”

Gun insurance would accomplish two goals: First, it would raise the cost of gun ownership for people whose firearms are deemed relatively more likely to be used in crimes (by themselves or others), based on an assessment of risk factors made by insurance companies. That would make those people less likely to obtain guns in the first place. Second, it would provide a strong financial incentive for gun owners to keep these weapons out of the hands of people who might commit crimes with them. Granted, mass shooters won’t be concerned about their future premiums — but many owners would take steps to ensure their weapons are well secured. And a 21-year-old with a history of violent behavior might find it much harder to obtain a gun if insurers insist that they pay premiums equal to several times the purchase price of a weapon. (Insurance would be a condition of ownership.)

The logic is analogous to that underpinning car insurance. If you drive a car, you may seriously damage another person’s property or even kill them. To discourage reckless driving, the law makes you legally liable should this happen. For most people, the potential liability exceeds their savings, which is why all 50 states require car owners to buy car insurance so payments can be made in the event of an accident.

In the case of guns, insurance would work similarly: If a gun you own were used in a crime (by you or someone else), you would be liable for the cost of that crime. The liability could be tens of thousands of dollars in the case of a robbery or tens of millions of dollars in the case of a mass shooting. To minimize legal costs, these liability amounts could be set by a regulatory agency, paralleling the workers’ compensation program. Gun owners would need insurance to guarantee their ability to pay, and insurers would set the premiums. They would set those rates based on obvious factors like age or past offenses as well as less obvious ones that they discover. (Perhaps Rotary Club members are 80 percent less likely to commit crimes.) Premiums would still be subject to anti-discrimination laws, so they could not vary systematically with race.

Liability insurance is not a substitute for other gun regulations, but it would supplement them nicely. 

10) Excellent stuff from Michele Goldberg, “The Anti-Abortion Movement Is in Denial”

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned last month, there’s been a steady barrage of horror stories, including several of women refused abortions for life-threatening pregnancy emergencies. Rakhi Dimino, a doctor in Texas, where most abortions have been illegal since last year, told PBS that more patients are coming to her with sepsis or hemorrhaging “than I’ve ever seen before.”

Some foes of abortion appear unbothered by such suffering; Idaho’s Republican Party recently rejected language from its party platform that would allow for abortions when a pregnant woman’s life is at stake. Others, however, seem to be struggling to reconcile their conviction that abortion bans are good for women with these evidently not-good outcomes. The result is frantic and sometimes paranoid deflection.

In National Review, Alexandra DeSanctis, who has written for Times Opinion calling for a fetal personhood amendment to the Constitution, suggested that pro-choice activists are the ones sowing confusion about how abortion bans affect miscarriage treatment. “Abortion supporters are muddying the waters on purpose, with the sole aim of undermining pro-life laws,” she wrote. The influential anti-abortion strategist Richard M. Doerflinger accused his opponents of “revving up a public relations apparatus to spread false and exaggerated claims in order to ‘paralyze’ physicians and discredit the laws.” LifeNews.com tweeted that doctors are “willing to put women’s lives at risk to create viral stories making abortion bans look culpable.”

To believe this, you have to believe that not just doctors, but also hospital attorneys and ethics boards, are collaborating to withhold care from anguished women in order to generate political propaganda.

Recently NPR reported on the ordeal of Elizabeth Weller, a Houston woman whose water broke at 18 weeks. With little amniotic fluid left, her fetus had almost no chance of survival. Continuing the pregnancy put Weller at risk of infection and hemorrhage. She decided to terminate, but when her doctor arrived at the hospital to perform the procedure, she wasn’t allowed to because of Texas’s abortion ban. The fetus still had a heartbeat, and Weller didn’t yet show signs of severe medical distress. She waited for days, getting sicker, until a hospital ethics board ruled that she could be induced.

Weller’s story is at once shocking and, to anyone who has followed the issue closely, predictable.

11) Jay Kaspian Kang on homework:

To help combat the myth of meritocracy, the authors suggest that teachers not assign overly challenging homework and stop rewarding or punishing students based on the quality of the homework they produce. They also suggest that some teachers, if so inclined, could go “a step further in attempting to reduce homework’s harm” and just get rid of it altogether. They write:

More research is needed to understand the consequences of these more “progressive” homework policies. Yet, we suspect that while optional and ungraded homework may reduce inequalities in homework-related rewards and punishments, it may not prevent teachers from judging those students (and their parents) who do not complete the optional or ungraded work. No-homework policies have greater potential for alleviating the kinds of unequal practices we observed in the schools in our study.

In short, teachers can’t even be trusted to give out optional homework because they’re too meritocracy-brained and will still judge the students based on the results. The easiest solution is to just stop giving homework altogether, so the wrong-thinking teachers don’t have as much of a platform upon which to prop up their meritocratic myths.

I want to be fair to the authors and acknowledge that even if I’m a bit skeptical about how their prescriptions could operate in a classroom, there might be other good reasons for doing away with homework.

Evidence about the effectiveness of homework is pretty scattered. There are studies and articles saying that homework helps students learn and that kids aren’t overly burdened with it. There are also studies and articles that say excessive homework shows diminishing returns and can be harmful to students’ mental health. Having read some of these studies, I think the fairest assessment right now would be to say that the evidence about the benefits of homework is pretty inconclusive because of the inherent difficulties in isolating one part of a student’s academic life and drawing huge conclusions about how it affects everything else.

From a theoretical standpoint, I mostly agree with Calarco, Horn and Chen’s diagnosis of the American educational system. It does largely function as a way to sort and stratify children into different socioeconomic bands, which, again, in theory, means that it would be helpful for teachers to approach their work with that in mind. Many richer kids go to private schools that feed into elite colleges that will more or less ensure their alumni will be on the glide path to staying rich. Many poorer kids go to poorer schools that provide them, in many cases, with fewer opportunities that might help them advance socioeconomically. Some portion of middle-class and working-class people, including a lot of immigrants and children of immigrants, pragmatically use the school system to achieve class mobility…

But there’s a defense of homework that doesn’t really have much to do with class mobility, equality or any sense of reinforcing the notion of meritocracy. It’s one that became quite clear to me when I was a teacher: Kids need to learn how to practice things. Homework, in many cases, is the only ritualized thing they have to do every day. Even if we could perfectly equalize opportunity in school and empower all students not to be encumbered by the weight of their socioeconomic status or ethnicity, I’m not sure what good it would do if the kids didn’t know how to do something relentlessly, over and over again, until they perfected it. Most teachers know that type of progress is very difficult to achieve inside the classroom, regardless of a student’s background, which is why, I imagine, Calarco, Horn and Chen found that most teachers weren’t thinking in a structural inequalities frame. Holistic ideas of education, in which learning is emphasized and students can explore concepts and ideas, are largely for the types of kids who don’t need to worry about class mobility.

12) Interesting, “The inside story of how John Roberts failed to save abortion rights”

13) Great stuff in the Atlantic, “The Gun Industry Created a New Consumer. Now It’s Killing Us.”

The gun industry’s modern marketing effort did not just arm these shooters; in a very real sense, it created them.

This is something I know a bit about, as someone who spent a quarter century in the business. Over my years as a rising executive with a successful gun manufacturer, I became more and more disturbed by the sort of firearms the industry was selling, how it was selling them, and to whom. Next week, I am testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at a hearing that, in the words of its chair, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, “will examine the role of gun manufacturers in flooding our communities with weapons of war and fueling America’s gun violence crisis.”

When I got my first job in the gun industry, in 1995, the marketing centered on hunting, target shooting, and responsible self-defense. Many advertisements evoked a love of craftsmanship and the outdoors, and some, like this 1995 Ruger ad, even directly addressed its customers as “responsible citizens”—a tagline the company dropped from its advertising in 2007.

A Ruger rifle ad
(Sturm, Ruger & Co.)

Companies such as the European American Armory, an importer of cheap, mostly Eastern European guns, that used cheesy ads—like this one from 2008—to sell imported guns were a rarity. Little did I realize that those tacky exceptions were the gun industry’s future.

A European American Armory ad featuring a female model
(European American Armory)

Those ads, designed to appeal to young men who knew no better, were the starting point for marketing that would create a new customer base and change our country forever.

This transformation received its first boost in the mid-aughts when President George W. Bush allowed the assault-weapons ban to sunset and then signed a bill that gave broad protection from liability to gunmakers. Combined, those moves reduced the social stigma and potential legal penalties for edgy marketing of military-style rifles. Over time, larger, more mainstream gunmakers began to experiment with marketing messages previously relegated to the disfavored fringe of the business.

Young men were the target. They had disposable income, a long customer life, and a readily exploited fascination with guns. The push to access these new customers took off in 2010 when the AR-15 maker Bushmaster launched its “Man Card” advertising campaign.

A Bushmaster ad with a picture of a rifle and the words, "Consider your man card reissued."
(Bushmaster Firearms International)

The ads, which ran in several gun-industry publications, on websites, and in Maxim magazine, were controversial and gained national attention. More important, they showed the rest of the industry the power of an appeal based on masculinity to the 18–35 male demographic, at a time when images from America’s foreign wars were airing constantly on the evening news.

“The Bushmaster Man Card declares and confirms that you are a Man’s Man, the last of a dying breed, with all the rights and privileges duly afforded,” the ad copy read. If you’re hearing there, in “dying breed,” an anticipatory echo of the “Great Replacement” theory that inspired the alleged killer in May’s mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, you’re not mistaken: The conclusion that this type of marketing has contributed to creating today’s radical violent extremists is inescapable.

14) I’m probably never going to watch the obviously bloated Season 4 of Stranger Things, but damn did I love deBoer’s take:

  • I have already written about my great annoyance at the tendency (found in far more places than just Stranger Things) to references that exist only for the sake of referencing. For example, in the last episode of this past season, Dustin is dressed in the costume of a character from Red Dawn. This is absolutely classic for this show: there is no meaning whatsoever to this reference other than that Red Dawn is a product of the 1980s and some small portion of the show’s audience will see it and say “hey, it’s Thing! I remember Thing!” That’s it. There’s nothing deeper or more meaningful there. Symbolism only has value if there is some deeper dramatic reason for that symbol to be invoked. Otherwise it’s just “remember Thing?!?” As a bonus, there isn’t even any in-narrative reason why Dustin would be wearing camouflage (a fucking ghillie suit) at all…

    • And the problem there is that the Stranger Things crew clearly pays much, much too much attention to the internet. This is a widespread plague in our present culture, this obsession with catering to the “hardcore fans.” The best art you’ve ever enjoyed was made with a studied indifference to its audience. One of the things I hate most about modern TV and movies is recognizing the moments where the creators said “oh, people are definitely gonna gif this part!” It’s bad form for shows to constantly put out their lips to be kissed.

  • This show is so thirsty for credit for its gay characters. How many times are they going to tease that Will is gay without just coming out and saying it? Ah, but the more you tease, the more sad obsessives can create gifs to share on Tumblr! If a character is gay, let them be gay without so much ceremony. It’s 2022. Just having LGBTQ characters should not get you an Emmy anymore. You’re making nostalgia porn for people who spend the rent money on FunkoPop, not throwing bricks at Stonewall.

15) I still need to see “Moonlight.” I will not be seeing “The Avengers” “The 10 Most Influential Films of the Decade (and 20 Other Favorites)”

16) I loved this essay so much, “I Would Have Been a ‘Trans Kid’—Stop Medicalizing Gender Non-Conformity: There is nothing wrong with not conforming to sex stereotypes.”

According to the DSM-5, children can receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if they have at least six of the following symptoms, one of which must be the first, for at least six months (as listed on psychiatry.org):

  1. A strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)

  2. In boys (assigned gender), a strong preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong preference for wearing only typical masculine clothing and a strong resistance to the wearing of typical feminine clothing

  3. A strong preference for cross-gender roles in make-believe play or fantasy play

  4. A strong preference for the toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender

  5. A strong preference for playmates of the other gender

  6. In boys (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically masculine toys, games, and activities and a strong avoidance of rough-and-tumble play; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically feminine toys, games, and activities

  7. A strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy

  8. A strong desire for the physical sex characteristics that match one’s experienced gender

I would have effortlessly met the first six criteria throughout my childhood, and the seventh as soon as puberty hit (I am sure many other women would say the same about point seven as well).

The fact that the first symptom must be included seems to be a mere formality, because what child could possibly exhibit such gender non-conforming behavior and not feel like life would be easier if they were the other sex? Even though my family and peers fully accepted my gender nonconformity, I still often wished that I was a boy so that I wasn’t such a different girl. I can only imagine how strong that desire would be in children whose friends and family are less accepting or even hostile.

Another major issue with these DSM-5 criteria is how most of these “symptoms” are based on stereotypes, which they readily admit: point four quite literally talks about “preference for the toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender” (my emphasis). This is damning for activists who argue that gender identity has absolutely nothing to do with stereotypes or the diagnosing of “transgender” children.

And how can they even pretend to believe this when story after story told so glowingly in the media features parents talking about how their child’s stereotypically gender-nonconforming behavior made them realize that their child was actually the opposite sex? …

“We let them be themselves,” says a pediatrician in this NBC News story about a 5-year-old girl who was being socially transitioned. “So, they cut their hair and they wear their clothes and they wear their shoes they want. And they wear jewelry or they play with the kids they want to play with and they do the activities they want to do. We call that social transition.”

Funny, I was also allowed to cut my hair the way I wanted, wear the clothes and shoes I wanted, play with the kids I wanted, and do the activities I wanted. But instead of calling this a “social transition,” the adults around me thankfully just called it “letting a child be a child.”

To believe that a child is “transitioning” just by being themselves and existing in the way they prefer is a dangerous and regressive idea. These stories and the widespread belief that there is such a thing as a “trans child” instills the notion that there is a “wrong” way to be a little boy or a little girl. It makes kids, teens, and even adults feel like there is something wrong with not conforming to sex stereotypes. [emphasis mine]

17) I really enjoyed this discussion of eliminating offside in hockey.  I think the last part is the key:

Man, the “get rid of the offside rule” movement is growing these days. And I’m not sure it’s wrong.

Let’s start with your first question. Offside exists because way back in the day, the idea was to encourage station-to-station hockey, and discourage teams from just having guys loiter in the offensive zone waiting for long passes. From an entertainment purpose, you can kind of see it. Nobody wants to watch a 200-foot game of tennis, so forcing teams to attack as a unit made some sense.

But that was a long time ago. As Jeff Marek has often asked, if you were designing hockey from scratch today, would this be a rule you’d want? Would you insist on a special line on the ice, somewhat arbitrarily placed, that held a unique power to negate an offensive play? Of course you wouldn’t.

The argument for just scrapping the rule altogether is that strategy and tactics have evolved enough over a century that we no longer need to force teams to work together. We know for sure that today’s defense-obsessed coaches wouldn’t let their forwards hang back waiting for breakaway passes. And what if they did? Wouldn’t that just stretch out the defense, and really test the guys making those long breakout passes? It might be fun to find out, and at the very least we’d get a faster-flowing game without awful replay reviews.

Here’s my one hesitation. I wouldn’t miss offside on zone entries at all. But I think I would miss the blue line battles to keep the puck in, and the sense of relief that comes when a team that’s under attack in their own zone finally gets the puck out over the line. Those moments can be good ones, and I’d miss them if we lost them completely. So while you could sign me up for some sort of floating blue line proposal (where once you lose the zone the whole team has to tag up to re-enter), I’m not sure I’m on board with completely scrapping the concept altogether. But I might be getting there.

18) Totally want to do this with my friends, “Therapy as a Party Game? Yes, With Fewer Fights Than Monopoly: If you want to hear about your guests’ daddy issues — without irony — break out the late ’60s board game Group Therapy.”

“Pick the member of the group who likes you the least and tell him how it is his problem.”

It sounds like a directive from a reality-show producer, but in fact, it is a challenge from the greatest board game of all time: Group Therapy.

In the three years since I stumbled upon Group Therapy at the Paula Rubenstein antique shop in New York, it has become one of my most cherished possessions. The game has strengthened existing friendships, formed the basis for new ones, and earned me more dinner-party invitations than my personality alone could account for. Other guests are kindly asked to bring desserts, wine or sides. My assignment: Bring Group Therapy.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is really good, “Roe’s Death Will Change American Democracy”

The dissolution of Roe will not make the tensions that preceded it disappear. Several states have already issued sweeping laws criminalizing abortion, while others have declared an intention to become sanctuaries for people seeking abortions. State leaders seem intent on influencing what happens outside their borders, encouraging or punishing travel for abortion. Anti-abortion leaders hope to ban abortion across the country through federal legislation or yet another Supreme Court decision, while abortion-rights groups are seeking to ensure access, circumvent criminal laws and wage battle in state courts.

 

But more fundamentally, the story the Supreme Court tells is dangerously incomplete. The decades-long fight to reverse Roewas not an effort to restore democracy but instead an attempt to change the way American democracy works — one that, now realized, will touch areas of life well removed from reproduction.

The leaders of the anti-abortion movement have long seen their cause as a fight for human rights in which compromise was a betrayal of principle. Their stance was clear in the 1960s, as they fought the loosening of criminal abortion laws, and it was obvious after Roe was decided, when the movement agreed on the need for a constitutional amendment recognizing fetal personhood and thus banning abortion nationwide.

American party politics as we know them today were, in time, shaped by those efforts…

After Casey, some anti-abortion groups expanded their focus:To gain even more control over Supreme Court nominations, they sought to overhaul the Republican Party and the rules of campaign spending. Anti-abortion lawyers waged war on campaign finance limits, which they believed hamstrung social conservatives, disempowered small-dollar donors and violated the First Amendment. They joined other groups working to unleash a torrent of spending from nonparty outside groups, fought for donor anonymity and played an instrumental role in the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down certain limits on corporate election expenditures.

With new money and influence in the G.O.P., anti-abortion groups were able to do something new: weaken the traditional leadership of the Republican Party, which had not made the fight against Roe as much a priority as business-friendly attacks on regulations and taxes…

It is appealing to believe that judges can rise above politics, interpreting the law and nothing more, and remain indifferent to the consequences of their decisions. But it’s clear that over the years the Supreme Court has become yet another partisan institution — and one that’s unaccountable to the American people. In that light, it’s hard to see the court’s aggressive moves to remake American constitutional law as anything but anti-democratic.

The fight to undo Roe, then, has been a fight to remake our country — and it has succeeded. That fight seems even more ominous when one looks around the globe: Other countries that have recently undone abortion rights are backsliding democracies.

We live in a post-Roe America now, and we are just beginning to understand what that means.

2) Just because conservatives are not interested in meaningful criminal justice reform or try and scare people with crime, doesn’t mean rising crime isn’t a real problem, “The Liberals Who Won’t Acknowledge the Crime Problem: Refusing to admit the gravity of the problem won’t make it go away.”

Anecdata, of course, are not the same as data. And in cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, progressive district attorneys have insisted that their critics have gotten the facts wrong. As The New York Times recently reported, the now-recalled San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin routinely “confront[ed] voters with data that shows overall crime has not increased meaningfully while he has been in office.” Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s cantankerous district attorney, has developed a habit of browbeating critics in town-hall meetings with appeals to “the science.” His in-house criminologist, Krasner has insisted, can give people the real numbers if they really want them. Ordinary residents are being told that what they perceive to be true is not, in fact, true.

The problem here is that humans understand and interact with the world based on perception and feeling. Politics is about policy, but it is also about human nature—which, however one wishes to characterize it, is a constant to contend with. You can try to transcend human nature by appealing to people’s better angels or through education and enlightenment—but only up to a point. Information and education dont necessarily serve the purpose liberals assume they will. Very few of us will read a detailed academic journal article about trends in crime reporting before deciding how to feel about crime. Your assessment also depends on which facts you pay attention to. Any self-respecting political scientist will be aware of how the data can be manipulated to confirm one’s prior beliefs. A criminologist—considering how politicized debates over crime are—is likely to have ideological biases that inform his or her research. Are you looking at “overall crime” or certain subcategories—and who’s to say which subcategories matter more than others? The notion of neutrality may be comforting, but no one, in the end, is a disinterested observer…

Being forthright with the public when certain categories of crime are increasing is important, but debates over numbers obscure a more fundamental objection. The data miners, the journalists, and the otherwise well-intentioned people who believe—as one might believe in a religion—that all we need to come to the right conclusion is the right information seem unable to grasp that crime isn’t just crime…

To be a liberal is to take care to balance one’s individual need for basic security with a benefit of the doubt for the least fortunate and compassion for the victims of an uncaring society. The good liberal knows that poverty, substance abuse, and untreated mental illness fuel criminal activity. These are root causes. But the root causes haven’t been addressed, even by the very progressives who say that they should be. This, too, reflects a debate about moral claims and starting assumptions, and fact-checking can’t quite address those. Are the least fortunate necessarily morally superior simply by virtue of their victimhood? Is crime simply a matter of addressing grievances—or is it also true that there is bad and even evil in a fallen world and that it can’t always be resolved through social policy? Sometimes, particularly when it comes to actual criminals, crime must be punished.

3) Greg Sargent, “Texas’s new secessionist platform exposes a big GOP scam”

Of all the lies that Republicans have told about the 2020 election, one of the most insulting is the “election integrity” ruse. In this telling, GOP state legislatures passed restrictions on voting across the country not to make it harder for the opposition’s voters to cast ballots, but rather to restore GOP voters’ “confidence” in elections going forward.

The Texas GOP has adopted a new platform that’s generating headlines for its open discussion of secession from the union. But the platform also exposes how that “election integrity” scam really functions. In so doing, it lays bare some ugly truths about how radical the abandonment of democracy among some Republicans has truly become.

The new platform, which thousands of GOP activists in Texas agreed to at the state party convention over the weekend, is a veritable piñata bursting with far-right extremist fantasies. It states that Texas retains the right to secede from the United States and urges the Texas legislature to reaffirm this…

But the document might be most revealing in its treatment of voting and democracy. It declares President Biden was “not legitimately elected” in 2020. It says Biden’s win was tainted by voting in swing-state cities, furthering a GOP trend toward more explicitly declaring votes in urban centers illegitimate.

It urgently warns that Republicans must vote in high numbers in November 2022 to “overwhelm any possible fraud.” And notably, it calls for repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

4) Catherine Rampell, “Here’s what voters will get if they cast their ballots based on gas prices”

Americans are mad about inflation. They’re especially outraged that gasoline averages $5 per gallon nationwide. And history suggests they may act on that furor by voting the bums out.

But voters should think carefully about what they’ll get if they cast their ballot based on gas prices.

Unexpected inflation tends to cause voters to punish incumbents at the polls. The cost of gasoline looms especially large in public consciousness; it also weighs heavily on presidential approval ratings. The president does not have some super-secret special dial on his desk that can adjust gas prices, but many voters believe otherwise.

Republicans hope this widespread confusion will turn the midterms into a referendum on painful economic conditions and, by extension, Democratic leadership. They’re counting on voters to project their hopes and dreams — including their wildest fantasies about cheaper gas — onto Republican challengers.

But here’s the thing.

There are relatively few tools that the president and Congress can deploy to help boost oil production or moderate overall inflation. They probably won’t make a huge dent in price growth, but they could help a little on the margin. Unfortunately, these are not the things that either party is proposing right now. Democrats are grandstanding about “greed” and considering silly stuff such as export bans and price controls;meanwhile, Republicans demagogue about President Biden’s supposed “war on fossil fuels” and socialism.

Neither party has a serious plan for dealing with inflation overall or gas prices specifically.

Assuming that Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to disrupt energy markets, then voters realistically face a choice between high gas prices and the rest of the Democratic agenda; or, high gas prices and the rest of the Republican agenda. So it’s worth considering what that “rest of” the agenda for each party actually entails…

So what do Republicans stand for?

Their national leaders won’t say, even when asked directly; their state-level rising stars are mostly focused on fighting with Mickey Mouse and drag queens. But if you look at GOP actions taken over the past several years, including when they had unified control of the federal government, you get a sense of what Republicans are likely to prioritize.

Mostly, Republicans seem to care about tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. They want to find ways to repeal Obamacare, or otherwise reduce access to health care by (for example) slashingMedicaid.

5) Nice piece in Science on trying to understand long Covid:

For each of these researchers—and many others exploring the causes of Long Covid—untangling the complex syndrome, with a still-evolving definition, is a laborious, step-wise process. First, they must show that a possible contributor—such as minuscule clots, lingering virus, or immune abnormalities—crops up disproportionately in people with Long Covid. Then comes the hard part: proving that each of these traits, alone or in combination, explains why the coronavirus has rendered millions of people shadows of their former selves.

All agree that solo operators are unlikely. Lingering virus, for example, could attack the circulatory system, triggering blood clots or chronic inflammation. “I see this as a triangle,” Buonsenso says, with each trigger potentially explaining, or even amplifying, the others.

6) Chait, “They Will Do It Again Republicans have not been chastened by the revelations of the January 6 committee.”

The January 6 hearings are about the events of a single day, but they implicate a much broader phenomenon: the Republican Party’s faltering commitment to democracy. The mob attack on Congress a year and a half ago was merely the most grotesque manifestation of Donald Trump’s rejection of democracy, and Trump himself merely the most grotesque manifestation of his party’s authoritarian impulses.

“Parties that are committed to democracy must, at minimum, do two things: accept defeat and reject violence,” wrote the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way earlier this year. Trump has built a movement that does neither. And while he is justifiably known for his petty egocentrism, he has finally and genuinely infused this movement with beliefs that are greater than his self-interest and whose power will outlast him…

Well over 100 Republican nominees for national or statewide office explicitly endorse Trump’s fantasy that the election was plagued by large-scale fraud. A much greater number of Republicans simply refuse to say one way or another if Joe Biden won the election fairly. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, asked recently about Barr’s confession that Trump had no grounds to dispute the election results, first asserted that something fishy did occur (“You saw some states not follow their state-passed legislation”) before pivoting to his desire not to “keep relitigating 2020.”

The party is split between those Republicans who refuse to take a stance on Trump’s coup and those who actively endorse it, with the latter faction rapidly gaining ground. The Republican nominee for Nevada secretary of state, a job that would oversee elections, has asserted, “Your vote hasn’t counted for decades. You haven’t elected anybody. The people that are in office have been selected.” Pennsylvania’s Republican candidate for governor not only supports Trump’s election-fraud lie but was present at the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

7) This is very good from Cathy Young.  Yes, Republicans are absolutely demonizing trans people, especially athletes, for cheap political points.  But, damn some of the crazy, hysterical response from the left is just so ridiculous, “Do Ohio Republicans Really Want to Use Genital Exams to Ban Trans Athletes?”

Earlier this month, news of the latest outrageous move from a GOP-dominated state legislature spread on some news sites and on social media: The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill that not only excluded transgender students from school sports but reportedly also required genital checks—and even internal pelvic exams—for female athletes to ensure they were not trans. Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg characterized the proposed law as a “new nadir,” because it “gives anyone . . . the standing to challenge an athlete’s gender, and provides no disincentives for making false reports.” A viral thread on Twitter, with nearly 200,000 likes and nearly 80,000 retweets and quote-tweets, asserted that under this law, any girl in Ohio would have to submit to a medicalized sexual assault to play middle school or high school sports:

In fact, the genital-exam panic is almost certainly a nothingburger, the joint product of Republican clumsiness and Democratic alarmism. It is also a diversion from the underlying problem of sports (particularly school sports), sex, and gender identity—a genuinely complicated issue where reactionary culture-war politics intersect with good-faith concerns about equity for girls and women.

First, let’s get the Ohio dystopia out of the way: A close look at the story shows that the chances of mandatory genital exams for female athletes actually happening are practically nil. For starters, House Bill 151, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” has yet to be approved by the Ohio Senate, let alone signed into law. What’s more, it’s not clear that the bill’s language actually calls for genital checks. What it says (after mandating single-sex teams, permitting the simultaneous availability of mixed-sex teams, and prohibiting schools and scholastic sports bodies from allowing “individuals of the male sex” to participate in female-only teams or events) is this:

If a participant’s sex is disputed, the participant shall establish the participant’s sex by presenting a signed physician’s statement indicating the participant’s sex based upon only the following:

(1) The participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy;

(2) The participant’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone;

(3) An analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup.

This language—added to the bill on June 1 by Republican state representative Jena Powell, who first cosponsored a bill with this same language in early 2020—is hardly a sterling example of legislative draftsmanship. It is vague in several ways. One, it’s not clear whether the physician’s statement would have to be based on all three criteria, or just one or two would be enough. Two, it is not clear whether the physician would be required to actually perform an exam on the student; a similar provision in an Idaho bill was clarified to state that no new physical exam was required as long as the attestation came from a doctor who knew the individual to be a biological female. Leave it to Republican legislators to make a hot mess of any culture-war-related bill.

It seems safe to say that girls who play sports in Ohio schools will not be undergoing genital checks or pelvic exams—if only because any legislators who mandated such a thing would get clobbered by their own conservative constituents. The most likely scenarios are that the bill will either fail to pass the Ohio Senate or will be amended to alter this language. And if somehow the bill were to pass both houses of the legislature, Gov. Mike DeWine indicated last year that he would veto it…

Of course there’s some cynical weaponizing going on. If the only time you mention women’s sports in a non-transgender context is to make lame jokes about how no one watches the WNBA, you’ll forgive me if I don’t take your concern about the trans menace to female athletes very seriously. (Chances are, it’s more about the “trans” part than the “female athletes” part.)

But it is also true that the nominally “conservative” camp on this issue includes many people who can hardly be suspected of fake concern for women’s sports, or of anti-LGBT bias. They include tennis great Martina Navratilova, the first professional athlete to publicly and voluntarily come out as gay—back in 1981, when it cost her a lot of money in endorsements from skittish corporations…

Since the debate has often been framed as one between fairness and inclusiveness, the question of what’s “fair” inevitably comes up. In a recent video examining the issue of trans athletes, German physicist and science commentator Sabine Hossenfelder concludes that “it seems clear from the data that trans women keep an advantage over cis women, even after several years of hormonal therapy” and that “no amount of training that cis women can do is going to make up for male puberty.” In that sense, Hossenfelder admits, trans inclusion “isn’t fair”—but then she pivots to the position that “athletic competition has never been fair in that sense”: Superior athletes, male or female, have genetic advantages over other people, whether it’s the runner’s long legs, the swimmer’s lung capacity, or the basketball player’s height. Others say that the “fairness” question is further diluted by the indisputable fact that young people from affluent families have vastly greater opportunities to benefit from training and coaching.

Such arguments, I suspect, are unlikely to persuade. Most people find it self-evident that the advantage Lia Thomas’s natal sex gives her over biological females is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage Michael Jordan’s genes give him over other males—just as, for instance, they instinctively feel that the advantage conferred by doping is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage conferred by having more time and resources to train. Social justice activists would likely argue that such assumptions arise from precisely the sort of deeply ingrained, culturally constructed biases that we should be encouraged to question: If we feel that the trans advantage is different, they suggest, it’s because, deep down, we don’t believe that transgender women are women. And yet, without getting into the thorny “What is a woman?” question, it is entirely possible to believe that trans identities are real and should be respected and that, in some areas including sports, biological sex matters—especially post-puberty. It’s possible to question cultural biases and still come away with that conclusion.

8) Relatedly, completely hyperbolic twitter threads like this are so popular. 

Somehow, “hmmm, should Lia Thomas really be competing against women?” is not the road to complete totalitarian fascism.  Who knew?

9) How the social justice left is destroying environmental advocacy organizations from the inside-out.  And, of course, those responsible are entirely morally convinced of their rightness:

Yet most environmental activists who spoke with POLITICO saw these types of convulsions as necessary for creating a more effective pressure movement.

“They understand that you cannot win on major pieces of environmental or climate legislation without Black and brown and indigenous and other folks who come from vulnerable communities,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization with the National Wildlife Federation.

Because you know what, of course we should pay attention to their concerns, but this assertion is just not true.

But Henn said it’s important to distinguish the grunt work of organizing from “performative solidarity.” He observed too many organizations distracted by “having internal debates about messaging and identity and your positions on different issues.”

Indeed, in this new phase of environmentalism, Big Green organizations are extending themselves into labor rights, immigration, housing and democracy reform. Some groups are aiming to stir millions of latent Democratic voters across the country; to defeat state-level voter suppression initiatives; to make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states; to end the Senate filibuster and erode structural imbalances favoring red-leaning states.

“Do you end up taking on so much that you become paralyzed?” Henn added. “Can you actually do the longer, deeper work to build a base that will turn out for climate? That is a challenge.”

Call me crazy, but… want to improve the environment? Focus on environmental policy.

10) Sure seems like twitter’s favorite liberal historian is guilty of some pretty serious plagiarism. From what I can tell, not many people seem to care because he’s twitter’s favorite historian.  But what he’s done seems… not okay. 

11) Fascinating in National Geographic, “The microbe behind the baby formula recall can be benign—or deadly: Cronobacter sakazakii, a little-known microbe, has evolved traits that make it difficult to destroy, posing a threat to our food safety.”

The bacterium behind the baby formula recall, Cronobacter sakazakii, is less well-known than other food-borne pathogens like E. coli or Salmonella, but itcan wreak havoc in vulnerable populations like newborns or people with compromised immune systems…

Part of the Enterobacteriaceae family, these bacteria are rod-shaped organisms with whiplike appendages that help them move towards nutrients and other targets.

Not only is this bacterium mobile, C. sakazakii is also exceptionally hardy; viable bacteria have been discovered in powdered formula left on the shelf for up to two years. “The fact that it survives in arid environments for a long time is really special,” Chapman says. This trait renders traditional food safety strategies like drying food to inhibit bacterial growth useless against C. sakazakii.

The bacterium’s secret lies in its genome, according to Roy Sleater, a molecular biologist at Munster Technological University in Ireland. Sleater and his team found that C. sakazakii contains seven copies of an osmotolerane gene—which encodes a protein that helps protect the bacteria in low moisture environments—while other bacteria have just one. This enables C. sakazakii to produce much more of this protective protein compared to their less desiccation-resistant peers. And “this protection extends to other forms of stress such as high temperatures and high pressure,” Sleater says, referring to previous research that found bacteria that can survive low moisture also become more resistant to heat.

C. sakazakii is also capable of forming a biofilm, a community of bacteria that live together in a sugary matrix its members produce, Claud says. This biofilm can adhere to surfaces like countertops or hospital equipment as well as organic matter like a baby’s intestinal cells. And in a case of “together we stand and divided we fall,” a biofilm is much more than the sum of its parts—the bacteria within it communicate with one another and adapt to changes in the environment. This flexibility makes biofilms especially tough to destroy.

12) I have The Men out from the library, but haven’t started reading it yet.  As to the basis of it’s “transphobia“? Give me a break:

Some early readers have called “The Men” transphobic, because transgender women disappear along with the cisgender men. I see what they mean. The novel states that an unexplained force “had removed every human with a Y chromosome, everyone who’d ever been potentially capable of producing sperm.” Given that this is an imaginary landscape that Newman could have organized any way she chose, she’s effectively made a strong statement about where transgender people “belong”: Transgender men remain on Earth with the cisgender women. Some readers will — very reasonably — want to avoid this book because of it.

13) I really need to rewatch Flight of the Conchords.  Enjoyed a trip down memory lane with this, “Every (Full) Flight of the Conchords Song, Ranked”

14) And much further back down memory lane, I really enjoyed this on Quora, “What 1980s movies were huge at the time but are now almost forgotten?”

15) Loved this Planet Money story on mandatory employee lunch away from the workplace in France.  Turns out the origins are actually based on ventilation– using lunchtime to clean out the air. 

16) And a great Planet Money newsletter on the history of the racial wealth gap:

his new study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that, despite ostensible progress made since the civil rights movement, when it comes to the most important, bread-and-butter economic issues of income, wealth, and mobility, progress in ending racial inequality is stalling — or even reversing. The study brings into focus the simple math of why — absent radical measures — America won’t be seeing true racial equality anytime soon…

Describing the data pattern as a “hockey-stick shape” (with the hockey stick lying on its handle), Derenoncourt showed that the degree of wealth inequality between white and Black people was extremely high in 1860 and then rapidly plunged through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1950 onward, however, it has remained pretty flat. That is, there’s been virtually no progress in closing the wealth gap. In fact, the study finds, since the 1980s, the gap has been widening. 

Let’s start back in 1860. This was before Emancipation, when about 4 million of the 4.4 million Black people in America were enslaved. Slavery robbed the vast majority of Black Americans of the ability amass wealth and pass it on to their children. They themselves were a form of wealth — other people’s wealth. In this barbaric world, the ratio of white-to-Black wealth was 56 to 1. Said in a different way, for every dollar the average white person had, the average Black person had only about 2 cents.

Despite President Johnson rescinding the 40-acres-and-a-mule order, Black Americans made huge progress reducing the wealth gap in the first years after Emancipation. By 1870, just five years after passage of the slavery-abolishing 13th Amendment, the white-to-Black wealth gap dropped to 23 to 1, less than half what it was.

Why did the racial wealth gap fall so quickly? One reason is the effect the Civil War and abolition had on white slaveowners. Enslaved people had been a huge form of wealth — about 15% of the total wealth of white America in 1860. Hence, their liberation reduced the average wealth of white America, thereby shrinking the racial wealth gap. 

However, Derenoncourt and her colleagues calculate that only about 25% of the drop in the racial wealth gap can be explained by white slaveowners’ losses. Instead, they find, most of the reduction was the result of newly freed people being able to earn, save, invest, and amass wealth for the first time. 

As inspiring as the story is of an oppressed people embracing freedom and working hard to build a better life for themselves against all odds, it’s also important to note that a large part of the reason for the steep decline in the racial wealth gap in these early years reflects some simple math. When one group starts off with basically zero wealth, even tiny gains in wealth look huge. When the denominator (the bottom part of the fraction) of the white-to-Black ratio goes from nothing to something, wealth inequality falls sharply.

It’s largely for this reason that the economists find that, despite the failure of Reconstruction, the imposition of Jim Crow apartheid, and the countless other stomach-churning injustices perpetuated against Black Americans in this era, the first 50 years after Emancipation saw the greatest progress in narrowing the racial wealth gap in American history. What had been a 56-to-1 wealth gap fell to a 10-to-1 gap by 1920. That is, by 1920, for every dollar the average White American had, Black Americans had about ten cents.

A hundred years ago, it might have looked like Black Americans were on the fast-track to closing the wealth gap with white Americans. However, progress has slowed since then, and starting in the 1980s, the gap began widening.

17) Enjoyed this story of a woman playing minor league baseball

18) This was interesting from Gallup, “Americans Say Government Should Address Slavery Effects”

Two-thirds (65%) of those who say the government has a responsibility to address the effects of slavery believe all Black Americans should benefit from these efforts, while 32% say only descendants of slaves should. These attitudes are generally similar by racial and ethnic group; between 63% and 69% of Black, Hispanic and White respondents who view the government as responsible say all Black people should benefit.

Even as the public thinks the government is responsible for addressing the effects of slavery, they are divided as to whether it should issue an official apology for the nation’s history of slavery. Forty-seven percent of U.S. adults say the government should apologize, and 52% say it should not. Most Black adults, 73%, say the government should apologize, as do 55% of Hispanic adults. White adults are more likely to believe the government should not apologize (62%) than to say it should (38%)…

As Americans commemorate the Juneteenth holiday, most believe the history of slavery still reverberates in the lives of Black people in the U.S. today, with four in 10 saying it affects Black people “a lot.” The public believes the government is responsible for addressing those effects but does not favor issuing an apology for the history of slavery. The first step may involve passing legislation, or the president issuing an executive order, to set up a committee to study reparations for slavery, something that appears to have support in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives, if not the Senate. The state of California set up its own commission to study the issue and recently released its report. Other state or local governments have set up similar commissions or are considering doing so.

19) Great summary of PS research from Edsall.  This is definitely going into a syllabus, “

Scholars in the field of politics and heritability are generally in agreement about the partial heritability of political ideology.

In the specific case of the United States, Christopher Dawes and Aaron C. Weinschenk, political scientists at N.Y.U. and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, write in their paper “On the genetic basis of political orientation,” “Twin studies show that political ideology is about 40 percent heritable.” …

Given the contentious nature of these studies, McDermott, in a thoughtful email to me, described the thinking of those who are pursuing these lines of inquiry. For that reason I am going to quote her at length:

Genes influence those characteristics that would have made a difference in survival over long swaths of human history. Maybe not even a huge difference but even tiny differences add up to huge effects when multiplied by millions of people over millennia. That means that those characteristics that were most likely to make a difference in survival get preserved in genetic terms. Ideologically, what we have found over many years and many populations tends to fall into a few basic categories: sex and reproduction; in-group defense and out-group discrimination; and resource allocation.

These underlying problems tend to affect all people over time in all situations. The specific issue might look different in a given time and place: in England in the 1840s, it might have looked like debates on pornography, prostitution and slavery or whatnot. In the U.S. now it may look like abortion, transgender bathrooms, immigration, war and welfare. But the underlying political and psychological issues they tap into are exactly the same. They get expressed differently but the underlying challenge to survival is the same…

In “Integrating Genetics into the Study of Electoral Behavior,” Carisa L. Bergner and Peter K. Hatemi, political scientists at Penn State, make the case that contemporary political issues can mirror prompts or situations encountered by human beings in the distant past:

Political traits, orientations, and ideologies, including those participatory acts such as voting, donating, and volunteering, encompass fundamentally the same issues of cooperation, reproduction and survival surrounding group life that confronted our ancestors.

Modern-day ideological issues, Bergner and Hatemi continue,

surrounding sexual freedoms, mores and parenting are reflected in the prehistoric need for access to mates and to ensure the survival of offspring; policy views on immigration are little different than the primal need to recognize and protect against unknown, unlike and potentially “dangerous” others; codified laws, policing and punishment are akin to dealing with mores violators in hunter-gatherer societies; taxes and social welfare programs essentially revolve around questions of the best way to share resources for group living; foreign policy and military are matters of protecting one’s in-group and defending against potential out-groups.

Bergner and Hatemi add:

While the labels and often meanings of issues change across time and cultures, and the medium through which preferences are communicated have changed from direct, immediate and interpersonal (e.g., person to person, group sanction, etc.) to indirect, latent and impersonal (e.g., internet, voting for someone you never met, etc.), the underlying connection between the core issues that are important to humans, revolving around cooperation, defense, reproduction, resources, and survival remain.

19) The story everybody was talking about before the Supreme Court took over, “Teenage Justice A list of boys “to look out for” appeared on a high-school bathroom wall last fall. The story of one of them.”

20) This is concerning and medically/sociologically interesting. “Uterine Cancer Is on the Rise, Especially Among Black Women”

Black women represented just under 10 percent of the 208,587 uterine cancer cases diagnosed in the United States between 2000 and 2017, but they made up almost 18 percent of the nearly 16,797 uterine cancer deaths during that period, Dr. Clarke’s study found.

The uterine cancer death rate for Black women is 31.4 per 100,000 women ages 40 and up, compared with 15.2 per 100,000 for white women in the same age group, Dr. Clarke reported. (Comparable death rates for Asian American women were nine per 100,000, and for Hispanic Americans, 12.3 per 100,000.)

That makes uterine cancer an outlier, since progress has been made toward narrowing the racial gap in death rates from most cancers over the past two decades. Another National Cancer Institute report, published in JAMA Oncology in May, found that overall, death rates from cancer have declined steadily among Black Americans between 1999 and 2019, though they continue to be higher than those of other racial and ethnic groups.

The reasons for the increase in uterine cancer cases are not well understood. The most common form, endometrioid cancer, is associated with estrogen exposure, which is higher when obesity is present, and obesity rates have been rising in the United States.

But non-endometrioid cancer has increased in prevalence, too, and it is not linked to excess weight. Dr. Clarke’s study found that Black women are more likely to have this aggressive form of uterine cancer. They are less likely to be diagnosed early in the course of the illness, and their survival rates are worse no matter when they are diagnosed and what subtype of the cancer they have.

“At every stage of diagnosis, there are different outcomes,” said Dr. Karen Knudsen, chief executive of the American Cancer Society. “Are they getting access to the same quality of cancer care?” She has called for more research into the factors driving the trends.

21) You definitely want to check this one out for the photos, “When Antlers Tangle, Sometimes Both Animals Lose: Antlers, the headgear of deer, moose and elk, are more useful for display than combat. But that does not stop deadly lockups from occurring.”

22) And this story is fascinating on both the rabbit front and the virus front.  So just read it (free link). “Think All Viruses Get Milder With Time? Not This Rabbit-Killer.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Rick Reilly on the new Saudi-backed golf tour:

LIV Golf, Saudi Arabia’s effort to sportswash its murderous human rights record by buying off pro golfers with stupid money (Phil Mickelson: reportedly $200 million), is working.

The inaugural event of this LIV and Let Die Tour, with a massive $25 million total purse, finished Saturday at the Centurion Club north of London. LIV has already signed up nine majors winners, with more big-name defectors to come.

These LIV golfers know the Saudis butchered Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. They know the Saudis jail dissenters, criminalize homosexuality and oppress women. And in response, the players have sent a message loud and clear: We don’t care. We want bigger jets.

It’s hilarious to hear Mickelson and the others try to justify working for blood money. Well, sure, he knows the Saudis are “scary mother——s,” as he told his biographer, Alan Shipnuck. But he also says: “I’ve also seen the good that the game of golf has done through history.”

Right. Nothing relieves the downtrodden people of a despotic nation like a well-struck 6-iron. Remember when Kim Jong Il shot 34 one day and the North Korean people suddenly weren’t starving? Yeah, neither do I.

Mickelson says it isn’t about the money. (It is.) No, he says working for the Saudis is part of his plan to “reshape” the PGA Tour that made him. What he’s actually trying to reshape is his retirement account.

Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson says it’s not about the money. (It is.) No, his decision to take a reported $125 million from the country that about 75 percent of the 9/11 terrorists called home is about doing “what’s best for my family.” He married a Gretzky, was already Kardashian rich and has only two kids. What’s he want, each of them to have their own yachts?

2) Jeff Maurer on the Washington Post controversy:

The first reason is that this story confirmed several of my priors. If you read this blog regularly, you know that many of my columns relate to an over-arching narrative that goes a little something like this:

An illiberalidentity-obsessed ideology has gained prominence on the left. That ideology is most prevalent among young people and in elite institutions. Followers of this ideology exert disproportionate influence at the places where there they work and study partly due to new technology, especially social media. Once-venerable institutions — especially in media — have crumbled under this pressure and have chronically undervalued the importance of their long-term credibility.

The Post meltdown fits this narrative perfectly. A dumb, mildly sexist tweet by reporter Dave Weigel drew battle lines that caused people to divide themselves into Team Hooray For Sexism and Team Sexism Must Be Brutally Purged No Matter What The Cost. The self-appointed captain, lead council, and Judge Dredd of the second team was now-ex-Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez. Sonmez spent several days publicly torching the Post on Twitter, and when some of hercolleagues waded into the fray, she went after them, too. The Post issued a sad little statement that only served to highlight the fact that they’d failed to enforce consistent standards of conduct, and it took them the better part of a week to fire the person who was obviously trying to burn their organization to the ground. All of this happened while the Post was running a series touting the 50th anniversary of Watergate, which reminded everyone that a titan of American journalism now seemed to be a coven of bratty teenagers publicly shit-talking each other in a display that would be beneath the dignity of a Bravo reality show.

I deeply enjoy the “I was right!” vibes that this story gave me. My priors were well and truly confirmed, and we should never lose sight of how satisfying it is to say “I was right.” At various points in a person’s life, one might seek out human connections, boundary-expanding adventures, or mind-blowing sex, but past a certain age, nothing beats the endorphin rush provided by encountering a headline that allows you to say: “Ha! TOLD ya!”

3) I’m not going to read Mounk or Fukuyama on the crisis in liberal democracy, but I really did enjoy this review of their new books.  

4) Pamela Paul is so good on something I really hate– when the wokeness comes for acting roles:

Adrian Lester, a British actor from Birmingham and the son of two immigrants from Jamaica, was nominated last week for a Tony Award for his performance in “The Lehman Trilogy” as Emanuel Lehman, one of the German-born Jewish founders of the fallen investment behemoth Lehman Brothers. Lester, like the other actors in the three-man play, takes on several parts, including female characters and at one point, a thumb-sucking toddler.

There has been no outcry about a British actor of African descent playing a German Jew, nor was there any fuss when he played Bobby, a character traditionally performed by white actors, in a London production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” for which he won an Olivier.

And why should there have been? It’s called acting.

There was no protest either about Lester’s co-star Simon Russell Beale, born to British parents in what was then British Malaya and a former chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral, playing a German Jew. Adam Godley, the third actor in the play, is Jewish in real life, but he’s also gay — not so in the play. Again, it’s called acting, and Beale and Godley were also nominated for Tony Awards last week.

And yet countless actors have been criticized for playing people they do not resemble in real life.

Earlier this year, Helen Mirren was lambasted for portraying Golda Meir, a former prime minister of Israel, in a forthcoming biopic even though she’s not Jewish — engaging in what is now called Jewface. In a recent interview defending Mirren, Ian McKellen (who incidentally has played everything from a wizard to a cat) asked, “Is the argument that a straight man cannot play a gay part, and if so, does that mean I can’t play straight parts?” He went on: “Surely not. We’re acting. We’re pretending.”

Daring to take on parts different from oneself didn’t always kick up a storm. Back in 1993 when Tom Hanks played a gay character in “Philadelphia,” he was hailed as brave for taking on homophobia and won an Oscar. Today, his performance no longer plays so well in some quarters. “Straight men playing gay — everyone wants to give them an award,” the performer Billy Porter complained in a 2019 actor’s round table. Yet many of our best gay, lesbian and bisexual actors — Jodie Foster, Alan Cumming, Kristen Stewart, Nathan Lane — have won awards for straight roles without even a murmur of complaint.

What we are effectively saying here — without ever, heaven forbid, saying it out loud — is that it’s OK for actors from groups considered to be marginalized — whether gay, Indigenous, Latino or any other number of identities — to play straight white characters. But it’s not OK for the reverse.

Such double standards may not trouble you. But if it’s a problem that a “miscast” actor — one who differs in identity from the character — takes a role away from a “properly cast” actor when there are already fewer roles for underrepresented or marginalized groups, then why not condemn Simon Russell Beale for taking a job from a Jewish actor? Why no outcry every time a 40-something actress bends biology to play the mothers of 25-year-old actresses, robbing older actresses who more plausibly fit the part?

If, however, the real problem is actors not being able to understand what it feels like to be part of a demographic group or to have a sexual orientation outside the confines of their own experience, then none of these actors should be able to play anyone unlike themselves. In other words, no one should ever be allowed to play a part.

5) A once a year friend who comes from rural Arkansas to visit his elderly mother neighbor of mine, told me about this crazy amusement park he used to work at as a young adult.  His local band even opened for Reba there.  Count on Slate for a nice article on an abandoned theme park, Dogpatch USA. 

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Though long abandoned, Dogpatch USA was arguably the country’s most successful hillbilly-themed amusement park centered on a trout farm.

In 1966, the Raney family trout farm in Marble Falls, Arkansas went up for sale. A company named Recreation Enterprises bought the land for an obvious reason: to turn it into a rustic theme park based on Al Capp’s hillbilly-themed Li’l Abner comic strip.

The hick motif was none-too-subtle: attractions included Barney Barnsmell’s Skunk-Works, Rotten Ralphie’s Rick-O-Shay Rifle Range, and a roller coaster called Earthquake McGoon’s Brain Rattler. Instead of garbage cans, the park had “trash eaters”—mechanical pigs, goats, and wild hogs that would suck refuse from the hands of whoever fed them. (“Please feed the trash eaters,” read the signs, “they gits hongry, too.”)

Among all these exciting spectacles was the star attraction: the trout pond. Visitors could catch as much fish as they liked and have it cleaned and packed in ice for a dollar per pound. If you didn’t want to lug your trout home, staff at the Dogpatch restaurant could even cook up your catch and serve it to you for dinner.

Despite all these delights, by the mid-1970s, the park was beginning to flounder. Rising interest rates, a national energy crisis, and the fading of hillbillies from pop culture all contributed to Dogpatch’s financial troubles. New rides with tenuous links to the park’s theme attempted to capitalize on trends—Li’l Abner’s Space Rocket ride promised “all the thrills and realism of an actual space shuttle and all the fantasy of Star Wars.” It delivered neither.

After being sold to new owners in 1981, and again in 1987, Dogpatch USA struggled on until 1993, when it closed for good. The park has since been left to ruin. A 2002 attempt to sell it on eBay for a million-dollar minimum bid drew no buyers.

6) This is wild, “They Were Cigarette Smokers. Then a Stroke Vanquished Their Addiction.
Patients whose brain injury coincidentally relieved their nicotine cravings may help unravel the neural underpinnings of addiction, a new study suggests.”

Taking a scan of an injured brain often produces a map of irretrievable losses, revealing spots where damage causes memory difficulties or tremors.

But in rare cases, those scans can expose just the opposite: plots of brain regions where an injury miraculously relieves someone’s symptoms, offering clues about how doctors might accomplish the same.

A team of researchers has now taken a fresh look at a set of such brain images, drawn from cigarette smokers addicted to nicotine in whom strokes or other injuries spontaneously helped them quit. The results, the scientists said, showed a network of interconnected brain regions that they believe underpins addiction-related disorders affecting potentially tens of millions of Americans.

7) I recently watched a terrific 10-year old documentary, Project Nim, about the 1970’s efforts to raise a chimpanzee in a human family and teach him to communicate in sign language.  It is fascinating and heartbreaking in all sorts of ways.  Thus, how timely for me to just come across this in National Geographic this week, “What do we owe former lab chimps?”

Chimps have not been used in invasive biomedical research— any research that causes injury, pain, or distress—in U.S. laboratories since 2015. But what to do with the former research chimps—and how to pay for their costly lifetime care—is a continuing conundrum. More than 250 chimps remain in labs, and even some that have been promised a home, like the 18 now at Wildlife Waystation, face a financially uncertain future. The unresolved fate of the former research chimps offers a cautionary tale about ethical quandaries and obligations to animals used in research intended to benefit humans.

The National Institutes of Health funds the lifelong care of its former research chimpanzees. There are 105 in various laboratories, many too old and frail to move, their owners say, and 317 between the ages of four and 61 living at Chimp Haven, a private sanctuary in Louisiana that’s the designated retirement home for the government’s chimps. But more than a hundred others linger in research institutions unsupported by the federal government. 

Feeding and caring for a captive chimp costs an estimated $17,000 a year, according to Chimp Haven. “This isn’t like caring for a dog or a cat,” says Kate Thompson, a Wildlife Waystation board member. “It’s childcare.”

On top of that, building new housing for chimps can run into millions of dollars—a key reason why it’s been difficult for laboratories to place them in accredited sanctuaries. 

Animal welfare advocates accuse NIH and private laboratories such as NYU’s LEMSIP of abdicating their obligation to support the chimps they bred. 

“Where is the accountability?” asks Eric Kleiman, a researcher at the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group.

8) NYT’s Pamela Paul is clearly on the wokeness amok beat.  But, damn is it so amok in the literary world:

Imagine a world in which all the men disappear from the planet in a single moment: Planes they were piloting are left unmanned (literally), their female passengers abandoned in midair; men in bed with their girlfriends mysteriously vanish; boys in the playground dematerialize before their mothers’ eyes. The girls and women left behind are given no apparent reason for the sudden absence of half the world’s population.

Now imagine another world — one in which an author proudly announces her forthcoming novel only to be attacked online for its fantastical premise. Months before the book comes out, it is described on Goodreads as a “transphobic, racist, ableist, misogynist nightmare of a book.” On Twitter, people who have yet to read the novel declare that it’s their responsibility to “deplatform” it. When one of the author’s friends, herself a writer, defends the book, she is similarly attacked, and a prominent literary organization withdraws her nomination for a prize for her own book.

Only one of these nightmare scenarios is real.

The first describes the premise of a novel that comes out this week: “The Men” by Sandra Newman. The second is what actually happened when the premise of Newman’s book was revealed…

Should the reader dare enter the fictional universe of “The Men,” one thing becomes immediately clear: This is in no way a transphobic novel. It neither denies the existence of transgender people, who are woven into the narrative in several places, nor maligns them. The world Newman creates is as scrupulously diverse as a Marvel franchise movie, populated by gay, lesbian and bisexual characters as well as by straight ones of various ethnicities.

In this fictional world, where the presence of a Y-chromosome dictates who disappears, a strictly biological definition of “man” is viewed as a moral wrong. The main characters are horrified by the fate of the transgender women who get swept up (“unjustly condemned”) and sympathetic to the plight of the transgender men who remain (one character is “paralyzed by the idea that transgender people were still here”)…

But even if Newman’s novel had “erased” transgender people, it doesn’t deserve to be denounced outright. Fiction wasn’t meant to be run through some kind of moral purity test.

“There seems to be a misunderstanding of what fiction or literature is for,” Lauren Hough said in a phone interview. Hough — for those who didn’t brave the tempest over “The Men” on Twitter — is the author of “Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing,” a memoir whose Lambda Prize nomination was rescinded when she forcefully defended Newman’s novel on Twitter. “People seem to want books to be good or evil, rather than exploring a question. Now no one can play this thought experiment again.”

Yet Hough, whose memoir details the author’s experience growing up in a sex cult and her subjection to abuse, rape and homophobia, has no regrets about stepping into the fray. “This happened in the literary world,” she said. “If you’re not going to defend literature, then what’s the point?”

What a sour irony that a dystopian fantasy brought a dark reality one step closer. In this frightful new world, books are maligned in hasty tweets, without even having been read, because of perceived thought crimes on the part of the author. Small but determined interest groups can gather gale force online and unleash scurrilous attacks on ideas they disapprove of or fear, and condemn as too dangerous even to explore.

9) Minority Report is 20 years old and it is one of Spielberg’s best works.  Such a good movie.  Also, “Minority Report Tried to Warn Us About Technology
Steven Spielberg’s film predicted how having more convenience would mean sacrificing personal freedom.”

10) Jonathan Weiler on the hearings:

It’s chilling and infuriating to consider that a man utterly lacking in conscience was in the position that Trump was. And, not incidentally, it reinforces the absolute imperative that coverage of Trump and those who would do his bidding – including all the candidates he’s endorsed for public office – aren’t just labeled “partisans” in a “polarized” polity. Instead, every one of them needs to be identified as a potential co-conspirator in the kind of violent nihilism that a second iteration of Trumpism might rain down upon us, and that the events of January 6 aptly distilled.

11) Man, I just really love Taika Waititi’s vibe.  Just watched “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” on Netflix.  Really, really good. 

12) “Six forces that fuel friendship.”

13) It’s hard to disagree with this, “Why Biden Shouldn’t Run in 2024: Yes, he’s fit to be president right now. But he’s too old for the next election.”

Let me put this bluntly: Joe Biden should not run for reelection in 2024. He is too old.

Biden will turn 80 on November 20. He will be 82 if and when he begins a second term. The numbers just keep getting more ridiculous from there. “It’s not the 82 that’s the problem. It’s the 86,” one swing voter said in a recent focus group, referring to the hypothetical age Biden would be at the end of that (very) hypothetical second term.

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken with 10 official and unofficial advisers to the administration who have spent time around the president during these deranged and divided days in America. “What has this been like for him?” is what I’ve been asking them, essentially. “How is he holding up?”

They say, for the most part, that Biden is coping fine. You know, despite the 8.6 percent inflation, his depressed approval numbers, his vice president’s worse approval numbers, the looming wipeout in the midterms, and all the other delights attending to Biden as he awaits the big, round-numbered birthday he has coming up in a few months. But here’s another recurring theme I keep hearing, notably from people predisposed to liking the president. “He just seems old,” one senior administration official told me at a social function a few weeks ago.

Here’s the thing, though.  I’m pretty convinced that Biden has a substantially better chance to win 2024 than any other Democrat.  And given the threats to democracy at stake, that is kind of everything.  Of course, if it reaches the point where I think some other Democrat has a better chance, I’ll happily change that view.  But, even in this crazy polarized world, I think there are so many advantages to being the incumbent.

14) This really was kind of infuriating.  Kind of… if you expect everything to look like racism, everything looks like racism.  I have definitely moved my personal items off a chair at a conference when a person sat one chair over.  I thought it was out of courtesy, but, had it been a Black person… racism.

15) Sally Jenkins just so damn good on this new Saudi golf tour:

Phil Mickelson looked like a fugitive from his own face as he cringed at questions inside his dirty new beard. Meanwhile, goons strong-armed the reporter who outed his gambling debts, and Greg Norman stood in the background orchestrating it all with a smile mirthless as Goldfinger’s. What a “fresh and fun” new thing this LIV Golf tour is. You may think it’s just plutomania backed by a despotic murderer and sold by duckers and hucksters, but that’s because you haven’t thought as hard as Mickelson has about how to make the world a better place with Saudi-blood-money golf purses.

You may have been tempted to shout at Mickelson and his fellow elopers to the Saudi tour: “Just say you want to be filthy rich! It’s so much more defensible than the tripe that you’re trotting out!” But you misunderstand Mickelson’s motives: He’s not out there to grasp at nine-figure checks. He’s there in an ambassadorial role for the greater good of the game and his fellow man. Graeme McDowell and Dustin Johnson, too. If you have a problem with kicking bunker sand over the bloodstains left by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, you simply don’t understand what a profoundly beneficent influence Saudi golf can have around the globe.

“I don’t condone human rights violations at all,” Mickelson said, with a look on his face that suggested he was trying to choke down smuggled diamonds. “Nobody here does, throughout the world. … I’ve also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history.”

McDowell’s turn. “Speaking personally, I really feel that golf is a force of good in the world,” he said.

The obvious follow-up question is: Exactly how has golf has been a historical force for good, if you please, especially in repressed countries? Reporter Alan Shipnuck might have pressed Mickelson on this topic after the first round at the inaugural LIV event at Centurion Club outside London, except he was hustled away from the press area by a couple of “neckless security dudes” saying they were acting on orders “from their boss, whom they refused to name,” as Shipnuck wrote in a tweet.

When Shipnuck messaged LIV Commissioner Norman for an explanation, that platinum-coated mannequin replied, “Did not hear, thanks for letting me know,” only for camera footage to reveal Norman was actually right behind Shipnuck as it happened, looking as if he was about to murder him for the diamonds that Mickelson had already swallowed.

16) I think I learn more about housing from Jerusalem Demsas than anyone else.  Good stuff here, “The Real Villain in the Gentrification Story”

The real villains in the tale of gentrification are not 20-something new entrants to mixed-income neighborhoods, but NIMBY homeowners in the wealthiest ones. Yet acknowledgment of the pivotal role that they play is often missing. They fade into the background even as their interests are defended by nearly every institution and elected official. This group has steadfastly refused to allow new housing in their communities—not just low-income units but the type of “luxury apartments” marketed to the young and upwardly mobile.

Cities are fundamentally engines of economic growth. They are agglomerations of workers and industries that have discovered that they are more productive together than they are apart. Happily, governments can more easily provide public services to more densely populated communities. And, less tangible but no less important, something about different sorts of people living close together creates the potential for new ideas, subcultures, and ways of being.

Perversely, instead of planning for population growth in urban areas, many American state and local governments have done the opposite: They have worked to restrict and slow construction, believing that a thriving, economically successful city could remain stagnant. In this, they were incorrect.

Local governments have, in particular, chosen to respect the class interests of wealthy homeowners by giving them the power to reject the construction of new and more affordable types of housing, in effect allowing them to economically segregate their neighborhoods. When local officials have had to create some new construction somewhere, they have turned to communities lacking political clout. Affordable-housing production in Washington, D.C., provides a clear example. Whereas the wealthy neighborhoods of Rock Creek West are just 1 percent of the way toward their goals, less exclusive neighborhoods have seen their supply swell…

At risk of repeating myself, I want to emphasize the dynamics at work here, because understanding them is instrumental to understanding the phenomenon of gentrification. When wealthy homeowners oppose new development in their neighborhoods—and when elected officials let them get their way—fewer homes are built overall, contributing to America’s undersupply crisis and raising prices for everyone. Their opposition also pushes what housing does get built into a handful of places where dissent is weaker. Even that housing is generally insufficient, however, so when young, upwardly mobile people move into these neighborhoods, they occupy not only the new high-rise developments, but also the dwindling stock of affordable housing, leaving lower- and middle-income people with few options. This phenomenon is why even high-income New Yorkers can find themselves fighting tooth and nail to rent inaccessible, unsafe, wildly expensive apartments.

In genuflecting to the class interests of wealthy homeowners, local officials have, then, set the stage for gentrification. Yes, in a narrow sense, gentrification happens when young, college-educated, and predominantly white people move to racially and economically diverse neighborhoods. But notice how insidious this framing is and who it leaves out: the homeowners and city officials who made equitable growth impossible. This framing foments conflict among young newcomers and lower-income communities of color and turns a structural problem into an individual one. Though the former often are higher-income and higher-educated than the latter, neither comes close to matching the political power of older, long-standing homeowners.

17) Loved this from Yglesias, as in addition to being about Jurassic Park, he’s got good points on how we are too damn risk averse, “We should build Jurassic Park”

Creating dinosaurs from old DNA fragments found in amber is, in fact, dangerous and could potentially get people killed. But lots of things are dangerous. Going to the moon was dangerous. Logging is dangerous. As Socrates told us in the “Laches,” it’s bad for people to be reckless, but the opposite of recklessness isn’t paralyzing risk-aversion. We have gotten to where we are as a society in part by allowing people to take risks in the name of progress…

Despite all the chaos theory mumbo-jumbo, the basic safety problem with Jurassic Park turned out to be pretty simple: a rogue employee deliberately deactivated the safety system and turned the power off.

One hardly needs to invoke high-level math to understand why it is that systems tend to collapse when the people in charge deliberately sabotage them. Back on March 24, 2015 the pilot of Germanwings flight 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf deliberately crashed the plane, killing 150 people. While that is the deadliest confirmed case of suicide-by-pilot in history, it is far from the only such case, and there are a couple of possible suicides that were even deadlier. But nobody has inferred from this that air travel is a fundamentally misguided or even fundamentally unsafe enterprise. Indeed, on a per-mile basis flying in an airplane is much safer than driving. American passenger aviation is so safe that it rounds to zero fatalities per 100 million aircraft-miles flown.

People fear flying, instinctively, due to a correct perception that the technology — you’re up in the sky in an aluminum tube — involves a lot of risks. But it’s very safe in practice because the human beings flying the plane are good at their jobs.

Jurassic Park involved both exciting, never-before-seen science (cloning dinosaurs!) and a lot of really banal HR issues, and the park collapsed due to the banal HR issues. They hired this guy, Dennis Nedry, who was disgruntled and unethical and had access to mission-critical systems and got bribed…

Life is full of risks

 

Treating novel risks as categorically distinct from risks that are simply longstanding facets of life is a common human failing.

Ever year, a large number of people are killed by other people’s poor operation of motor vehicles. Cars collide with each other, they collide with pedestrians and cyclists, and large trucks get into even deadlier accidents. Automobiles are, in my view, somewhat underrated public health hazards, and we would be well advised to take greater measures to mitigate the harms they cause.1 At the same time, no serious person thinks the deadliness of cars and trucks is a good reason to make them totally illegal.

The most dangerous job in the United States by far is logging, which carries a fatality rate of over 130 per 100,000 workers.

There are safety regulations in this industry, which are appropriate. And loggers earn a compensating differential — they get paid more than other workers with comparable skills but safer jobs — which again is appropriate. But we don’t want to live in a world where nobody has wood products, so we don’t respond to logging accidents by darkly intoning “that’s what you get for tampering with nature,” even though on some level, yes, this is the price we pay for tampering with nature. All our technology and gizmos and gadgets create new risks, and those risks often materialize.

On the other hand, it’s not as if pre-technological life was without its risks!

If you go all the way back to the dawn of agriculture, it turns out that tampering with mother nature by crowding all that livestock together generated a lot of new infectious diseases. Hunter-gatherer bands living in small communities at ultra-low density and mostly keeping their distance from wild animals didn’t pick up nearly as many microbes as crowded villages of farmers surrounded by sheep and pigs and cows. But for all its problems, agriculture brought us more humans rather than fewer and laid the groundwork for more and more technologies — each with some risks but also many benefits.

18) I’m reading an entertaining book on the history of surgery.  So much insanity in the past on what passed for medicine.  I find orificial surgery particularly interesting as 1) it’s only about 100 years old; 2) I had never heard of it before; and 3) it’s completely bonkers:

The Muncies were just two of hundreds of “orificial surgeons” who practiced in the United States between the 1880s and the 1920s. This branch of homeopathy believed that by performing surgeries on the orifices—the mouth, nostrils, ears, anus, and genitals—virtually every condition known to man (and woman) could be cured. During these four decades, tens of thousands of orificial surgeries were done by so-called doctors throughout California, Oregon, Arizona, and Utah, and across swathes of the Midwest…

Within two years of its 1888 launch, there were 94 members in the American Association of Orificial Surgeons. They came together regularly to discuss internecine quibbles, ranging from the use of cocaine as a surgical tool to whether correct dilation of a rectum might help keep someone warm, someone who had hitherto needed to wear “flannels” in September. (They concluded that it would.) Within a few years, their members numbered close to 300, with their annual meetings at Chicago’s ritziest hotels, or at the swish Muncie Surf Sanatorium…

Accounts of these surgeries are nauseating. Labia and scrotums were amputated with seeming abandon, hemorrhoids snipped, rectums slit, foreskins and urethras dilated. The surgery documentation is unilaterally positive—as you’d expect from a man trying to hawk his own homegrown medical philosophy—but it’s unlikely they had any positive impact. Miss E. was apparently subjected to a grotesque combination of below-the-belt cutting and packing. But recovery from this mutilation, the Muncies reported, bar a little nausea and a slight temperature, was “rapid and uneventful.” Her neurasthenia was allegedly cured.

Among orificial surgeons, circumcision was cited as a spectacular panacea, curing two women of their headaches and a young boy of his spinal curvature. It was touted, too, as a cure for “unnatural behaviors”—from masturbation to rape. (Other doctors, reading the account of Miss E., have suggested that her “ailments” are consistent with the effects of persistent, and apparently distracting, self-abuse.)

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’m not going to read a whole book on Jack Welch and American capitalism, but this is really good from the author of that book, “How Jack Welch’s Reign at G.E. Gave Us Elon Musk’s Twitter Feed” (I even made it a gift link so anyone can read it).  Also, a nice Fresh Air interview here

When Jack Welch died on March 1, 2020, tributes poured in for the longtime chief executive of General Electric, whom many revered as the greatest chief executive of all time.

David Zaslav, the C.E.O. of Warner Bros. Discovery and a Welch disciple, remembered him as an almost godlike figure. “Jack set the path. He saw the whole world. He was above the whole world,” Mr. Zaslav said. “What he created at G.E. became the way companies now operate.”

Mr. Zaslav’s words were meant as unequivocal praise. During Mr. Welch’s two decades in power — from 1981 to 2001 — he turned G.E. into the most valuable company in the world, groomed a flock of protégés who went on to run major companies of their own, and set the standard by which other C.E.O.s were measured.

Yet a closer examination of the Welch legacy reveals that he was not simply the “Manager of the Century,” as Fortune magazine crowned him upon his retirement.

Rather, he exerted a powerful and lasting influence on American business, informing how workers are treated, how shareholders are rewarded and how C.E.O.s comport themselves in an increasingly divisive age. When Donald J. Trump is elected president, when Jeff Bezos argues about inflation with the White House, when Elon Musk negotiates his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter by using the poop emoji — this is the world that Jack Welch helped create.

For the past several years, I have written the Corner Office column for The Times, speaking with hundreds of executives about their careers and approaches to leadership. And time after time, Mr. Welch’s name kept coming up. Some wanted to model themselves after him, while others sought to define themselves in opposition to all he stood for. Either way, it was clear that Mr. Welch still looms over the corporate world, living rent-free in the minds of C.E.O.s around the globe.

And in more than 100 conversations for “The Man Who Broke Capitalism,” my new book, from which this article is adapted, a broad range of people said some version of the same thing: While it has been more than two decades since Mr. Welch was C.E.O. of G.E., his legacy still affects millions of American households.

Almost immediately after Mr. Welch retired in September 2001 with a $417 million severance package, G.E. went into a tailspin from which it would never recover.

His pupils, though, went on to run dozens of other major companies, including Home Depot, Albertson’s, Chrysler and Boeing. Most of them failed.

And in the decades since Mr. Welch assumed power, the economy at large has come to resemble his skewed priorities. Wages stagnated and jobs moved overseas. C.E.O. pay went stratospheric and buybacks and dividends boomed. Factories closed and companies found ways to pay fewer taxes.

Beyond his enduring influence on the economy, Mr. Welch also redefined what it meant to be a boss, personifying an aggressive, materialistic style of management that endures to this day.

“Jack was the rock star C.E.O. of my era,” said Lynn Forester de Rothschild, one of the rare female media moguls of the 1980s. “We all thought Jack was doing everything right and that success was defined by meeting quarterly earnings to the penny.”

In retirement, Mr. Welch continued to hold sway over the business world as an elder statesman, penning books and columns, and appearing on cable news to praise the executives he had groomed and continue his assault on taxation and regulation.

Mr. Welch also pursued an unexpected retirement pastime: He became an internet troll. His old friend Donald J. Trump seemed to lead the way on many conspiracy theories that Mr. Welch embraced. But by 2012, Mr. Welch was picking fights of his own with his online adversaries, trying to own the libs on Twitter and promulgating conspiracy theories about the Obama administration.

It was a career defined by a ruthless devotion to maximizing short-term profits at any cost, and punctuated by a foray into misinformation. And it opened the door to an era where billionaire C.E.O.s are endowed with vast power and near total impunity.

G.E., too, is still reckoning with Mr. Welch’s legacy. For two decades after he retired, a succession of C.E.O.s tried and failed to return the company to its former glory. Then last year, G.E. management admitted defeat and made an announcement — the company would be broken up for good.

2) Heckuva an essay on “kid culture” in the U.S.

Childcare is exhausting and tedious and repetitive. It is glorious to be able to unleash your child at a playground and let them clamour and slide and do their own thing while you just sit and think. You don’t have to be ‘on’ in the particularly draining way that childcare asks of you. This is the allure of kid culture.

I also understand its benefits. Kids need and want to be around other kids, and many can no longer do so organically in their own neighbourhoods and houses. They need and want to experiment with things and, if they don’t have lightsabers and sand tools, then they’re probably going to be digging into your cabinets and dragging out camera equipment or experimenting with the toilet. Kid spaces remove a lot of pressure and can free parents from the demands of constant attention.

But kid culture is also an opportunistic capitalist response to a fundamental structural and societal problem: the cordoning off of family life from community life, and the obsession with parenting as a task, goal and project. Kid culture is heavily commercial. So many of the events pitched as ‘family friendly’ are plastered in corporate logos and full of junk ‘gifts’ for kids to tote around, from lip gloss to keychains; memberships to museums cost hundreds of dollars; trampoline parks and gymnastics gyms, the latest incarnations of kid spaces, can cost $30 an hour.

The culture as a whole is leaning evermore toward the insipid and nakedly consumerist. Pay to jump on 45 different trampolines! With disco lighting! Pay to jump into a giant pit of foam cubes! Kid culture now is driven by the belief that child development requires constant energy, vigilance and direction, and by the US desire to paper over the void where community once thrived.

In the meantime, as kid culture has become more entrenched, the backlash is being felt in adult culture, in the push to get kids out of spaces such as weddings or restaurants, in more blatant contempt on the part of some adults for the presence of children in any space not full of other children. This is part of a larger trend of ‘bubbles’ in US life. Families are meant to stay in theirs. No one should have to share any space with someone who isn’t perfectly politically, economically, physically, culturally and socially aligned with them. These types over here; those, over there.

The American political scientist Robert Putnam, in his book about the end of community life in the US, Bowling Alone (2000), writes that children are mostly siloed within their own race, class and household. This is a natural tendency in children, but one reinforced when the only adults they interact with are parents…

I am wary of heralding the free-range kids movement or any other phenomenon that justifies itself in terms of child development (‘Kids need X! It’s good for kids because of Y!’) as a solution here. While I admire the tenets of this movement and its pushback against the oppressive culture of risk management that dominates contemporary parenting, it is ultimately the classic US capitalist response to a problem created by US capitalism: a movement, a manifesto, a book, a website about how to create a new, proper kind of kid culture to correct the errors of existing kid culture. All of it becomes a kind of obsessive focus on creating the right kind of child, on childhood as product, either wrapped in 18 layers of bubblewrap, or misted in a nostalgic gauze of bike-riding ‘freedom’. Missing here is any sense of community. Instead, what if we were to focus on building more public spaces and events, more opportunities for genuine community? What if the arts were more generously funded and accessible, if there were more opportunities for people to come together in ways that aren’t centred entirely around a table of Play-Doh and glue?

3) Interesting take on San Francisco as a failed city:

I’d gotten used to the crime, rarely violent but often brazen; to leaving the car empty and the doors unlocked so thieves would at least quit breaking my windows. A lot of people leave notes on the glass stating some variation of Nothing’s in the car. Don’t smash the windows. One time someone smashed our windows just to steal a scarf. Once, when I was walking and a guy tore my jacket off my back and sprinted away with it, I didn’t even shout for help. I was embarrassed—what was I, a tourist? Living in a failing city does weird things to you. The normal thing to do then was to yell, to try to get help—even, dare I say it, from a police officer—but this felt somehow lame and maybe racist.

A couple of years ago, one of my friends saw a man staggering down the street, bleeding. She recognized him as someone who regularly slept outside in the neighborhood, and called 911. Paramedics and police arrived and began treating him, but members of a homeless advocacy group noticed and intervened. They told the man that he didn’t have to get into the ambulance, that he had the right to refuse treatment. So that’s what he did. The paramedics left; the activists left. The man sat on the sidewalk alone, still bleeding. A few months later, he died about a block away.

It was easier to ignore this kind of suffering amid the throngs of workers and tourists. And you could always avert your gaze and look at the beautiful city around you. But in lockdown the beauty became obscene. The city couldn’t get kids back into the classroom; so many people were living on the streets; petty crime was rampant. I used to tell myself that San Francisco’s politics were wacky but the city was trying—really trying—to be good. But the reality is that with the smartest minds and so much money and the very best of intentions, San Francisco became a cruel city. It became so dogmatically progressive that maintaining the purity of the politics required accepting—or at least ignoring—devastating results.

But this dogmatism may be buckling under pressure from reality. Earlier this year, in a landslide, San Francisco voters recalled the head of the school board and two of her most progressive colleagues. These are the people who also turned out Boudin; early results showed that about 60 percent of voters chose to recall him.

Residents had hoped Boudin would reform the criminal-justice system and treat low-level offenders more humanely. Instead, critics argued that his policies victimized victims, allowed criminals to go free to reoffend, and did nothing to help the city’s most vulnerable. To understand just how noteworthy Boudin’s defenestration is, please keep in mind that San Francisco has only a tiny number of Republicans. This fight is about leftists versus liberals. It’s about idealists who think a perfect world is within reach—it’ll only take a little more time, a little more commitment, a little more funding, forever—and those who are fed up.

Okay, I was going to leave it there, but then this part of the article:

The city’s schools were shut for most of the 2020–21 academic year—longer than schools in most other cities, and much longer than San Francisco’s private schools. In the middle of the pandemic, with no real reopening plan in sight, school-board meetings became major events, with audiences on Zoom of more than 1,000. The board didn’t have unilateral power to reopen schools even if it wanted to—that depended on negotiations between the district, the city, and the teachers’ union—but many parents were appalled to find that the board members didn’t even seem to want to talk much about getting kids back into classrooms. They didn’t want to talk about learning loss or issues with attendance and functionality. It seemed they couldn’t be bothered with topics like ventilation. Instead they wanted to talk about white supremacy.

One night in 2021, the meeting lasted seven hours, one of which was devoted to making sure a man named Seth Brenzel stayed off the parent committee.

Brenzel is a music teacher, and at the time he and his husband had a child in public school. Eight seats on the committee were open, and Brenzel was unanimously recommended by the other committee members. But there was a problem: Brenzel is white.

“My name’s Mari,” one attendee said. “I’m an openly queer parent of color that uses they/them pronouns.” They noted that the parent committee was already too white (out of 10 sitting members, three were white). This was “really, really problematic,” they said. “I bet there are parents that we can find that are of color and that also are queer … QTPOC voices need to be led first before white queer voices.”

Someone else called in, identifying herself as Cindy. She was calling to defend Brenzel, and she was crying. “He is a gay father of a mixed-race family,” she said.

A woman named Brandee came on the call: “I’m a white parent and have some intersectionality within my family. My son has several disabilities. And I really wouldn’t dream of putting my name forward for this.” She had some choice words for Cindy: “When white people share these kinds of tears at board meetings”—she pauses, laughing—“I have an excellent book suggestion for you. It’s called White Tears/Brown Scars. I’d encourage you to read it, thank you.”

4) Electricity as the newest advance in medicine:

Recent advances in engineering and biology suggest that electricity could treat such conditions as paralysis, depression, and autoimmune conditions. Physicians have demonstrated for decades that it is possible to treat some patients with epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease using deep brain stimulation (DBS)—in which an electrode is surgically implanted deep in the brain to electrically stimulate specific neurons. What’s different now is that there is a growing repertoire of diseases that scientists believe may also respond to electrical stimulation, delivered from both the inside and outside of the body.

5) How did I not know about this?! “The real story behind Morocco’s tree-climbing goats”

Animal welsfare advocates and ecologists say that making goats stand in argan trees for hours is bad for the animals and bad for the trees.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WOLFGANG KAEHLER, LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES
 

6) Bruni on Liz Cheney:

I keep waiting for Liz Cheney to flinch.

I keep looking for some sign that her nerve is faltering, that the attacks are getting to her and that the loneliness of her situation — unconditionally contemptuous of Donald Trump, emphatically committed to a Republican Party beyond him — has become unbearable.

But no. She’s all in and she’s all steel. It could well be the political death of her. Or it could give her a kind of immortality more meaningful than any office.

Cheney, who represents Wyoming in the House, is front and center this week, with a starring role as the vice chair of the House committee whose investigation into the Jan. 6 riot has reached a dramatic culmination in prime-time television hearings. She’s one of just two Republicans on the nine-member panel.

But while the other, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, isn’t running for re-election, Cheney is in the middle of a furiously contested primary battle against a prominent Wyoming Republican official who has welded herself to Trump. Just two weeks ago, Trump traveled to the deep red state, which he won by more than 40 percentage points in 2020, to command his supporters to oust Cheney when they vote on Aug. 16. He said that she had “thrown in her lot with the radical left.”

That statement, like so much of his blather, was ludicrous. And it didn’t cow Cheney in the least.

In a subsequent interview with Robert Costa of CBS News, she called Republicans’ subservience to Trump “a cult of personality.” She said that the committee’s investigation had cemented her horror over the events of Jan. 6, which reflected a coordinated movement. “It’s extremely broad,” she said. “It’s extremely well organized. It’s really chilling.”

And when asked to analyze the obsequious comportment of the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, she said that it’s driven by “craven political calculation.” And she let him have it.

“He is embracing those in our party who are antisemitic,” she said. “He is embracing those in our party who are white nationalists. He is lying about what happened on January 6. And he’s turned his back on the Constitution.” There wasn’t a wobble or a waver in those words. Not a lie, either.

That’s what makes Cheney so important. Whatever you think of her fatherher past or the rest of her ideology, she has, for the past year and a half, been an unstinting, unflagging and — frankly — inspiring model of principle above partisanship, of truth over tribalism. While nearly all the other Republicans in Congress keep changing their tunes to harmonize with Trump, she refuses to sing along.

7) Jeff Maurer, “The Republican Climate Change Plan Sucks in an Encouraging Way”

I’ve often wished that America had a normal conservative party. I look at the Tories in the UK — who summoned modest support to legalize gay marriage — or the Christian Democrats in Germany — which has a notable pro-refugee contingent — and get envious. There’s supposed to be a right-wing party that spends less money than I would like and restricts immigration more than I would like, but that forms part of the consensus on big issues. Instead, America has a party that sows vaccine skepticism, thinks you shouldn’t have to fill out a form to buy a military-grade weapon, and is currently debating whether the winner of an election should win the election. Maybe my perception is skewed by proximity; maybe this is like thinking that everyone’s parents are cooler than yours. But it does feel like most countries have a party led by stodgy old bastards who are nonetheless sane, while our right-wing party is basically a pirate ship full of feral children smoking angel dust.

The GOP’s shortcomings might be most noticeable on climate change. Their response to the biggest challenge of our time has been to fuss and resist like a toddler who won’t put on his jammies. When Jim Inhofe — the fucking chair of the Senate Environment Committee — tossed a snowball on the Senate floor, it marked total victory for the Up With Stupidity movement. In the past several decades, Republicans have contributed about as much to the solution to climate change as they have to the development of modern hip hop.

Which is why I was encouraged when the GOP announced a climate change plan last week. Was this…something? Was this a sign that Republicans might be ending their decades of climate denialism and wading into the policy debate? I was intrigued, so I read the plan…

The Republican plan is definitely not a solution to climate change. In my opinion, its focus is misplaced. There are a million things that it could do but doesn’t. It’s vague. It’s small. And it contains no numbers — it’s hard to know what something like “invest in America’s nuclear plants” really means without a dollar figure attached. Republicans remain allergic to taxes; they funded the infrastructure bill by rummaging through old coats in the hall closet until they found 1.2 trillion dollars. If the “investment” in nuclear ends up being a water jug full of pennies and a $20 voucher to Supercuts, then Republicans haven’t actually done a damn thing.

But I think that sneering at the plan is the wrong reaction. If nothing else, the plan does one big thing: It acknowledges that climate change is real and caused by humans. That’s huge. I know I’m grading on the silliest of curves here; I feel a bit like I’m handing a trophy to a 40 year-old who crossed the street without shitting his pants. But Republicans were very recently led by a guy who called climate change a “con” and a “hoax”, so reading a GOP plan that acknowledges basic reality feels like a “man walks upright for the first time”-level moment…

Still, I enjoyed imagining that I was reading a sincere plan by a sane party in a country with a functional government. At times, it almost felt — dare I say it — normal. I’m supposed to read a plan from the other side of the aisle and think “bad idea…misfire…half-measure…red herring.” And I absolutely did think that. But once I’m done whinging about the parts I hate, I’m supposed to take the parts I like and go from there. The GOP continues to be a party without a workable climate change plan, but they are now a party with an extremely shitty climate change plan. Which, if I’m being honest, I actually find pretty encouraging.

8) Good stuff from Serwer on police and gun reform:

But one of the most significant factors preventing gun control on the federal level might be that American police themselves are broadly opposed to restrictions on guns, and they remain one of the only institutions in American life whose influence on conservative voters is significant enough to make any federal gun regulations feasible. Americans trust policeoften to a fault, so when they say that new restrictions are unnecessary or won’t work, millions of people believe them. American police, like other institutions, have been affected by the partisan polarization of recent decades, resulting in an already conservative demographic identifying even more strongly with the Republican Party and its opposition to gun control laws. That means their advocacy organizations are less likely to sign onto anything associated with the Democratic Party on the national level.

“In the ’90s, police unions were conservative but still played in both parties. They still endorsed candidates on the Democratic side because they were pro-labor and pro-law-and-order,” Ron DeLord, an attorney and negotiator for police unions, and a former police officer, told me. “The unions are becoming part of the Republican Party now.”…

Most gun deaths—half of which are suicides—and gun crimes involve handguns, but the AR-15’s prominence has as much to do with the identity politics of the weapon as with its association with mass shootings, which have increased markedly since the lapse of the assault-weapons ban. The present politics of guns are partly a consequence of selling firearms not merely as a tool of personal protection, sport, or wildlife maintenance, but as a tool of potential political insurrection against liberal tyranny. The political identity of many right-wing gun enthusiasts is rooted not just in a hypothetical scenario of protecting their home from crime, but in a fantasy of murdering their political opponents.

If you want a firearm for personal protection or recreation, then the most popular proposals for firearm restrictions are not particularly threatening. But if your political identity is constructed around the idea that you need your firearms for an imminent battle against the forces of evil, then any such restriction portends apocalypse…

The police, who have traditionally been conservative and strongly supported gun rights, are not exempt from partisan polarization or evolutions in conservative political identity. Certain organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, still support some new restrictions on firearms. As recently as 2016, the Fraternal Order of Police, which supported restrictions as part of Clinton’s tough-on-crime agenda in the ’90s but endorsed Trump in 2016, stated that because of “the increased politicization of firearms issues and the lack of any meaningful public safety component in many legislative proposals,” it would “not support any additional ‘gun control’ measures.” Asked by email about the FOP’s current position on the slate of reforms proposed by the Biden administration, National FOP director Jim Pasco said that it hadn’t yet taken positions on any of the current proposals.

“I really do think it’s just the politics of rank-and-file police officers—fundamentally, they don’t support gun control; they really believe that guns are a right, and an armed citizenry is a safer one,” Michael Zoorob, a researcher who has studied the politics of police organizations, told me. “Rank-and-file police officers now are Republicans who support gun rights and who are skeptical of gun control, and that’s pretty much it … A lot of that is just partisan polarization in the last 20 years and sorting, [with] conservative Democrats withering away.” Some law-enforcement officials have even publicly pledged not to enforce firearm restrictions if they are passed.

9) Elizabeth Bruenig, “The Uvalde Police Chose Dishonor”

If the police had just broken down the door early on, they may have found the odds of a veritable throng of adult men against a teenage boy fairly favorable. Other men caught in the sights of school shooters have done as much. Liviu Librescu, a 78-year-old engineering professor at Virginia Tech, barricaded his classroom door with his body and directed his students to escape through windows during the 2007 rampage there. He eventually died of his injuries after the gunman gained entry. Riley Howell, a student, gave his life at 21 as he tackled a shooter firing into a crowded classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2019, taking bullets to the head and torso as he slammed his body into the shooter’s, ending the killing. That same year, Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old student at STEM School Highlands Ranch, in Colorado, lunged at a shooter who opened fire on his literature class, allowing a group of other students to disarm the killer. Castillo, too, died for his bravery. There are so many others…

Yet on the other side of the wall was, it seems, another sort of toxic masculinity—a platoon of armed and trained men who had evidently come to rely so heavily on guns and armor in lieu of courage and strength that they found themselves bereft of the latter when outdone in the former. Instead they were beset by cowardice, evidently as convinced as the shooter was that the gun really does make the man, and that outgunned is thus as good as outmanned.

In its own imagination, Texas is the land of men who would never admit defeat at all, much less surrender instantly with decent odds and innocent lives at stake: Surely its police ought to feel the highest and noblest sort of calling to valor, the type of vocation that surpasses profession and speaks to a person’s mission in life. Or perhaps those things, too, all the militarism and bravado, the heady authority and free respect, the unearned certainty in one’s own capacities provoked by so manyPunisher bumper stickers and decals, had the same corrupting effect as the guns and body armor. Eventually, one either develops their own virtues or finds they’ve developed vices instead.

10) Yascha Mounk and Sam Koppelman, “Are America’s Institutions Broken?”

Mounk: Take us through what the actual threats to voting rights are. What are the things that are not catastrophizing, not talking points, but reasons to be seriously worried about a rollback of civil and voting rights today?

Koppelman: Since the start of the Biden presidency, dozens of states have put forward bills that are characterized as suppressing voting rights. Right around the time of the Shelby County case, Alabama decided to mandate an official government-issued ID to vote, while at the same time defunding DMVs and closing a whole bunch of them around the state. Bills of that kind have taken place across the country. There’s also bills that make it easier to purge voter rolls based on not voting. There have been studies, including in Ohio, where someone decided to spend their weekends auditing everyone who was purged from the voter rolls, and a huge percentage of those people—something like half—still lived in the state and should be eligible to vote. But they didn’t use the right to vote in the last elections, so they’re taken off the rolls. And the thing is, with these laws, it’s not necessarily convincing to me that they actually effectively help one party or another. When you look at voter ID laws, they also lead to a lot of organizing against them and extra registration efforts. People get motivated to fight back against these attacks to their right to vote. 

Mounk: This seems to be like an area where these laws are clearly wrong. But they’re actually wrong for slightly different reasons than people tend to think. I think they are often motivated by either racial animus or at least strategic considerations: black people tend to vote for the Democratic Party, we want to win against Democrats, so we’re going to try to stop black people from coming to the polls. That is morally heinous. They are also morally wrong because they have the effect of making it harder to vote, and we shouldn’t make it harder, for people who can legitimately vote, to vote.

But I think what’s interesting is that some of the scholarly literature on this actually suggests that the partisan effects that both Republicans and Democrats think these laws have, don’t tend to happen. Voter ID laws, for example, don’t discriminate against Democrats as cleanly as you might think. It’s a case in which Republicans are passing laws that really are deeply morally objectionable, and they’re not even serving their intended purpose, which is sort of absurd.

Koppelman: My favorite example of this is vote by mail, which, especially after the pandemic, Democrats have hugely favored. Trump said if these laws were passed enabling vote by mail, Republicans would never win another election again. But if you look at vote by mail, it just makes sense who that helps: older voters, who tend to be Republicans. So it’s one of those weirdly partisan debates that might be organized to the opposite of how it should be. But I think it’s the intention that’s the scary thing, that there are people who are trying to make it harder to vote, thinking that that’s going to make them more likely to win.

Right now, when Texas passed their voter ID law, if you didn’t have your birth certificate at the time, for whatever reason (which is true of hundreds of thousands of people in Texas) you’d need another form of ID, which could cost you something like $80. We all recognize that poll taxes are just completely immoral; you shouldn’t have to pay any money to vote. What we should do is have the government send everybody an ID, to their mailboxes. If you don’t have a stable home or mailbox, you should be able to go to any government office—a post office, a DMV, or wherever else—and pick it up. This should be the lowest barrier to entry possible, because then you could actually pass laws that mandate ID and can snuff out fraud, should there be any (even though the statistics say it’s pretty unlikely). But I think that this is a clear case where it would serve Democrats well, and it would serve Republicans well, to just talk about this as a sensible, good governance solution. Most Americans think you should have some form of ID, they also think that it should be free to get the ID…

Mounk: We’ve talked about gerrymandering and primaries. Next on our agenda is the Electoral College. What’s the case for abolishing the Electoral College, or what kind of alternative reform do you suggest?

Koppelman: The Electoral College is, I think, the most laughable American institution. It was created because when America was founded, we didn’t believe in the popular vote at all. Each state could just send its slate of electors to the convention, and then they could just decide to vote for whomever they wanted. Eventually, different states passed laws that essentially said, “We’re going to give all of our state’s electoral votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote in our state,” which makes more sense. If the Electoral College advantaged Democrats, as it did during President Obama’s time, by the way, Republicans would support getting rid of the Electoral College. Because it advantages Republicans right now, Democrats are the ones who want to get rid of the Electoral College, though, in polls, 60-70% of Americans oppose it.

There’s two solutions, one of which is a constitutional amendment, which is not going to happen. But there is actually a really interesting way to do this, which is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, where states agree to give their electors to whomever wins the national popular vote…

Koppelman: The key thing you want is that in all 50 states, the certification of election is conducted by nonpartisans. What you want is for every election to be certified by a group of people who are neither partisan themselves, nor appointed by partisans. The problem is that in states like Georgia, they flipped certification so that the state legislature is ultimately in charge, or at least in charge of who gets appointed to do this. I wish I had a better, more programmatic set of policies for what to do to prevent this at the federal level, but fundamentally, election administration in America has long been conducted by the states themselves. And what you need to fight to make sure that it continues to be independently run in as many places as possible. This is just one of those situations where I’m fundamentally pessimistic. My biggest concern about 2024 is Donald Trump winning fair and square. I think that’s the most likely bad outcome for America—that he just happens to win more votes than Joe Biden. But it’s very easy to imagine just a slightly different version of what happened in 2020, but this time, it succeeds.

The biggest check against the last coup was that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, which ultimately has to certify the outcome of the election. If you look at the midterm polls, it definitely seems like it’s possible that Republicans are going to be in control of the House and the Senate in 2024. So that huge protection, that final step in the process, is gone. We’re just counting on the states to actually certify the elections, as they did last time. You look at what happened last time: in Michigan, one of the major certification crises, Republicans ended up flipping and joining the Democrats, refusing to decertify the results of the election in Michigan. But that guy’s gone. In Georgia, all the people who led the movement to respect the results of the election—Raffensperger and whoever else— they’re being primary challenged, and really might not win.1 In a bunch of states, the certification of elections is being transferred from a nonpartisan process to a partisan process. This is something to be genuinely worried about. And if 2020 happened in 2024—a very similar election, where four states were decided by fewer than 40,000 votes or something crazy like that—it’s not obvious to me that the outcome would be the same as in 2020. In terms of what you can do about it, you can try to vote out elected officials who are doing this absolutely crazy shit. You can volunteer to be an election worker or a poll worker. You also can run for election administration positions yourself. These are pretty uncontested elections. We talked about primaries, but these are elections that have such low turnout, if you go run and have all your friends vote for you, you’ll probably win. You can put yourself in powerful positions here. But in the states that have already changed their structure of government such that partisans can certify or not certify elections, we’re kind of screwed. Democrats have to win by a big enough number that Republicans aren’t within cheating distance of a victory. But I wish I had a more programmatic positive answer here. Fundamentally, it’s just electing better representatives who are not trying to literally undermine our entire democracy.

11) I really think this is going to backfire on Republicans once all these extremist laws come into being.  They are extremely unpopular. “The New Abortion Bans: Almost No Exceptions for Rape, Incest or Health: Most of the state abortion prohibitions that would go into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned do not contain carve-outs that were once widely supported by abortion opponents.”

n the years before Roe v. Wade, some states that had outlawed abortion began permitting it in limited circumstances: in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life or health of the woman.

And for decades after the Roe ruling guaranteed the right to abortion throughout the United States, abortion opponents from Ronald Reagan to Donald J. Trump generally supported those exceptions, even as they worked to undo Roe.

Exceptions for rape, incest and life endangerment are codified in the Hyde Amendment as the only reasons the federal government will pay for abortions through Medicaid. For decades, surveys have shown that large majorities of Americans support these carve-outs, even in heavily Republican states.

But if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, as expected, many state abortion bans would take effect that do not include most of the exceptions.

There are no allowances for victims of rape or incest in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee or Texas. Mississippi, whose law banning abortion after 15 weeks is at the center of the case the Supreme Court will rule on this month, permits an abortion in cases of rape but does not specify incest.

While all bans allow an exception to save the life of the woman, those in some states, such as IdahoSouth Dakota and Arkansas, do not also cite protection of her health…

Many of the new bans are set up as so-called trigger laws in 13 Midwestern and Southern states, intended to take effect swiftly if Roe falls. At least nine more states are weighing similar bans — some of which have been paused by courts — or could revive pre-Roe abortion prohibitions. The outcomes will depend on the details of the Supreme Court’s decision and the politics of each state.

“I think we are heading in a direction of increasing absolutism and punitiveness,” said Reva Siegel, a Yale Law School professor who is a co-author of an equal protection amicus brief in the Mississippi case before the Supreme Court. She noted that even as Mississippi legislators restricted abortion access, they refused to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage.

The move away from exceptions reflects the Republican Party’s shift to the right, said Mary Ziegler, a legal historian at the University of California, Davis, Law School and author of “Dollars for Life,” a book to be published this month about the anti-abortion movement and the Republican Party.

Candidates are increasingly jockeying for far-right support in primaries in Republican-dominated states, she said, aware not only that turnout typically consists of the most fervent voters but also that national anti-abortion groups are searching for local standard-bearers to fund.

12) So my recent quote in the NYT has now been approvingly quoted in Breitbart.  Hmmm. 

13) I’ve been fascinated by how well the NHL has quietly avoided controversy despite having a ton of super-important Russian athletes.  First time I’ve seen an article forthrightly address this:

But the series is being played at a time when Russia has become a global outcast following its military invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. And President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a hockey fan, is seen as a pariah in the United States and many other parts of the world.

Nonetheless, Shesterkin and Vasilevskiy are both adored, and it doesn’t stop with them. The Eastern Conference finals features other excellent Russian stars, like Artemi Panarin, the Rangers highly skilled winger; Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning’s dangerous forward; and Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa’s dependable defenseman.

But while other sports have banned Russian teams and their athletes from international sporting events, the N.H.L. did not, because the 57 active Russians in the league play as individuals and do not represent their country or their government in the way an Olympian or a Russian national soccer player does. They represent the Rangers, Lightning and other N.H.L. teams.

Shortly after the invasion, the N.H.L. announced it would suspend relationships with businesses in Russia, paused Russian-language digital media platforms and refused to consider Russia as a site for future competitions involving the N.H.L. But it never considered banning Russian players like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko and all the goalies, simply because of their nationality.

In tennis, the French Open allowed Russians to participate, but Wimbledon announced it would ban them because competitors in tennis play under their national flags. Under pressure from the British government, Wimbledon did not want to provide a propaganda victory should a Russian, like Daniil Medvedev, win.

“But if the Rangers win the Stanley Cup, it’s not really a propaganda victory for Russia,” said Timothy Frye, a Russian politics expert at Columbia University and the author of “Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia.”

“Banning team sports, particularly ones that represent Russia, is certainly justified,” he said. “But it would be hard to exclude the hockey players. The hardest one to justify would be banning Vasilevskiy or Shesterkin.”

Frye has traveled to Russia regularly since 1985 and has been to about a half-dozen hockey games there, both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He said that when he watches the N.H.L. now, he wonders why the Russian players aren’t more of a discussion in hockey since the invasion, as opposed to in soccer and tennis.
 

Me, too.  I kind of think that hockey journalists understand that the league could unravel if they push too hard on this, so they don’t. 

14) Good stuff from Noah Smith, “U.S. pundits: Please stop trying to concede on Ukraine’s behalf”

These sentiments also seem to echo the recent words of France’s President Macron, who called on Western powers to press for an end to the Ukraine War that doesn’t “humiliate” Putin. Presumably this means letting Russia keep some of the Ukrainian territory it has seized.

This view is madness cloaked in reasonable-sounding language.

First, let’s be clear about some of the facts that these op-eds try to sugar-coat or quietly omit. Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of its neighbor; thus, allowing it to keep some of its conquests would constitute a Russian victory and a Ukrainian defeat. International relations professor Paul Poast explains this quite clearly in a recent thread:

So the NYT editorial board, Macron, and various other pundits suggesting that the U.S. lean on Ukraine to let Russia take its territory are calling for the war to be resolved as a Russian victory.

Also, it’s important to realize that the U.S. is not a combatant. We have provided the Ukrainians with weapons, training, and financial aid, but we have not sent our forces to do any of the fighting. The Ukrainians themselves are deeply committed to pushing Russia out of their territory. Thus, for the U.S. to bring about a “negotiated settlement” in Ukraine means for the U.S. to threaten to withdraw support from Ukraine — thus hamstringing the Ukrainian war effort — unless Ukraine concedes territory to Russia. The various op-eds tend to tiptoe around this fact, but that is what it would require.

Another fact the make-Ukraine-concede advocates tiptoe around is the human cost of Russian occupation for the Ukrainians living in the conquered territories. It is by now common knowledge that these conquered people are being subjected to mass rapeconfiscation of food, deportation to Russia, and other atrocities. To suggest that the U.S. hold back from liberating these territories is to suggest that the U.S. abandon those innocent people to their horrific fate. So we should make that crystal-clear as well.

Anyway, those are the stakes. Now let’s talk about why having the U.S. force a Ukrainian concession is a bad idea.

The appeasement strategy was tried before, and it failed

The most obvious reason that the proposed concession strategy is a bad idea is that it has been tried before, and it catastrophically failed. In 2014, Putin seized Crimea and effectively seized a chunk of the Donbas region. Ukraine didn’t cede these territories, but it was unable to take them back, and no one really expected the territories to return to Ukraine. Presumably, if this was all Russia wanted, Putin would have stopped there.

But he did not stop there. Instead, he sent a massive force to the border of Ukraine and invaded, without any provocation on the part of the Ukrainians. Rather than issuing any sort of reasonable demands for the Ukrainians to meet in order to avoid an invasion, Putin simply sent in the tanks. He tried to conquer the Ukrainian capital and seize most or all of the country.

That attempt failed, thanks to the valiant Ukrainian defense and to timely Western aid. But it revealed Putin’s true intentions. The fact that he tried to seize all of Ukraine means that he won’t be satisfied just by carving out another small piece of the country; he wants it all. And the fact that he invaded without any provocation means that as soon as he rebuilds his damaged army, he’ll make another attempt.

In other words, although the U.S. pundits who urge appeasement may fancy themselves the voice of level-headed reason, they are explicitly calling for us to double down on a failed strategy. The burden of proof is on them to explain why appeasement would succeed in 2022 where it failed in 2014, and they have not made that case.

15) I kind of cannot believe how much work Jesse Singal put into this, but he’s clearly right.  Most fundamentally, Science Vs. is far more skeptical of research that doesn’t support their pro-trans ideolgocial viewpoint than research that does not. “”Science Vs” Cited Seven Studies To Argue There’s No Controversy About Giving Puberty Blockers And Hormones To Trans Youth. Let’s Read Them. The show is strikingly selective in its skepticism”

16) This technology could really be world-changing, but until it’s more mature, it really is kind of a Pandora’s box, “Blood Tests That Detect Cancers Create Risks for Those Who Use Them”

But companies are not waiting for a nod from regulators. One, GRAIL, is selling its annual test, with a list price of $949, in advance of approval, and another company, Exact Sciences, expects to follow suit, using a provision known as laboratory developed tests.

The tests, which look for minuscule shards of cancer DNA or proteins, are a new frontier in screening. Companies developing them say they can find dozens of cancers. While standard screening tests are commonly used to detect cancer of the breast, colon, cervix and prostate, 73 percent of people who die of cancer had cancers that are not detected by standard tests.

Supporters say the tests can slash cancer death rates by finding tumors when they are still small and curable. But a definitive study to determine whether the tests prevent cancer deaths would have to involve more than a million healthy adults randomly assigned to have an annual blood test for cancer or not. Results would take a decade or longer.

“We’re at a point now where the blood tests are in their early days,” said Dr. Tomasz Beer, a cancer researcher at Oregon Health & Science University, who is directing a GRAIL-sponsored study of the test that found Mr. Ford’s cancer. “Some people in an informed manner can choose to be early adapters.”

The companies would like to get the tests approved with studies less rigorous than the F.D.A. typically requires, and they stand to make huge profits if that happens…

“GRAIL proposes to test every Medicare beneficiary every year, making it the screening test that could bankrupt Medicare,” said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a senior investigator in the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

With 44 million Medicare beneficiaries and an annual test costing about $1,000 a year plus expensive scans and biopsies for those whose tests are positive, the price tag could be substantial.

He and other critics warn that the risks of unleashing the tests are substantial. Paradoxical as it may sound, finding cancers earlier could mean just as many deaths, with the same timing as without early diagnosis. That is because — at least with current treatments — cancers destined to kill are not necessarily cured if found early.

And there are other risks. For example, some will have a positive test, but doctors will be unable to locate the cancer. Others will be treated aggressively with surgery or chemotherapy for cancers that, if left alone, would not have grown and spread and may even have gone away.

17) Good free post from Yglesias, “Russia’s war on the world’s food supply”

18) Princeton Professor Robert George with the best thing I’ve read on the Jonathan Katz case.  Yes, having sex with an undergraduate is so, so wrong, but it’s also very clear that he never would have lost his job had he not challenged the current DEI orthodoxy (and had parts of Princeton’s administration not acted abominably).  

19) And some really encouraging cancer news.  I really do think we’re going to make some dramatic improvements in the not-too-distant future, “With the right molecular signal, a cancer drug works in every patient”

20) The best TV show ever is 20.  Alan Sepinwall with a terrific appreciation of what makes it so damn good.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Drum has joined the “clean the air” train:

A couple of months ago I mentioned “Far UV” as a possible solution to COVID-19, so I was interested to see it mentioned prominently in a recent tweet thread from an expert.

In general, the thread was about which engineering (not social) measures are worthwhile and which aren’t. To summarize super briefly, his advice is: Don’t waste time with cleaning, but do spend time on ventilation. Here are his top four recommendations:

4. Open windows. Also open the door and use a fan to push air from the window and out the door. It will be a lot of flow. The main problem is it can’t be done when it’s cold outside. It’s difficult to calculate the exact flow from windows. 17/21

3. Ventilation Improvements. Good ventilation can provide between 3-6 ACH. All the previously mentioned strategies are inferior to having a building with good ventilation. I can’t overstate the importance of investing in upgrading ventilation. 18/21

2. Upper Room UVGI — the real deal. It can add 12-24 eACH. It reduced measles outbreaks by 75%. If we want to go all out on mitigating airborne spread, this technology is needed. 19/21

1. Far UV. I’ve seen estimates between 10-300+ eACH. This technology isn’t widespread yet and still expensive, but it could be a game changer moving forward. 20/21

2) Very good stuff from Michael Powell, “What Lia Thomas Could Mean for Women’s Elite Sports: Although the number of top transgender athletes is small, the disagreements are profound, cutting to the core of the debate around gender identity and biological sex.”

Michael J. Joyner, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., studies the physiology of male and female athletes. He sees in competitive swimming a petri dish. It is a century old, and the sexes follow similar practice and nutrition regimens.

Since prepubescent girls grow faster than boys, they have a competitive advantage early on. Puberty washes away that advantage. “You see the divergence immediately as the testosterone surges into the boys,” Dr. Joyner said. “There are dramatic differences in performances.”

The records for elite adult male swimmers are on average 10 percent to 12 percent faster than the records of elite female swimmers, an advantage that has held for decades.

Little mystery attends to this. Beginning in the womb, men are bathed in testosterone and puberty accelerates that. Men on average have broader shoulders, bigger hands and longer torsos, and greater lung and heart capacity. Muscles are denser.

“There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it,” Dr. Joyner noted. “Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla.”…

But peer reviewed studies show that even after testosterone suppression, top trans women retain a substantial edge when racing against top biological women…

Most scientists, however, view performance differences between elite male and female athletes as near immutable. The Israeli physicist Ira S. Hammerman in 2010 examined 82 events across six sports and found women’s world record times were 10 percent slower than those of men’s records.

“Activists conflate sex and gender in a way that is really confusing,” noted Dr. Carole Hooven, lecturer and co-director of undergraduate studies in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. She wrote the book “T: The Story of Testosterone.” “There is a large performance gap between healthy normal populations of males and females, and that is driven by testosterone.”…

Joanna Harper, a competitive transgender female runner and Ph.D. student studying elite transgender athletic performance at Loughborough University in Britain, agreed that testosterone gives transgender female athletes some advantage.

But she spoke of inexorable emotional and psychological pressures on transgender athletes.

“Is it so horrible,” she said, “if a handful of us are more successful than they were in men’s sports?”

“So horrible”?  No.  Should we introduce a layer of unfairness for the vast majority of biological female competitors to reduce the psychological pressures on Joanna Harper?  Yes. No.

[Note– I somehow wrote “yes” when I meant “no” as I was clearly too taken with the rhetorical construction I had going on there.  Sorry!   

3) Ezra Klein on an abundance agenda for Democrats:

So I won’t say markets failed. We failed. Growth slowed, inequality widened, the climate crisis kept getting worse, deindustrialization wrecked communities, the pandemic proved America’s supply chains fragile, China became more authoritarian rather than more democratic, and then Vladimir Putin’s war revealed the folly of relying on countries we cannot trust for goods we desperately need.

No one considers this success. Deese, in his speech to the Economic Club of New York., declared the debate over: “The question should move from ‘Why should we pursue an industrial strategy?’ to ‘How do we pursue one successfully?’”

I am unabashedly sympathetic to this vision. In a series of columns over the past year, I’ve argued that we need a liberalism that builds. Scratch the failures of modern Democratic governance, particularly in blue states, and you’ll typically find that the market didn’t provide what we needed and government either didn’t step in or made the problem worse through neglect or overregulation.

We need to build more homes, trains, clean energy, research centers, disease surveillance. And we need to do it faster and cheaper. At the national level, much can be blamed on Republican obstruction and the filibuster. But that’s not always true in New York or California or Oregon. It is too slow and too costly to build even where Republicans are weak — perhaps especially where they are weak.

This is where the liberal vision too often averts its gaze. If anything, the critiques made of public action a generation ago have more force today. Do we have a government capable of building? The answer, too often, is no. What we have is a government that is extremely good at making building difficult.

The first step is admitting you have a problem, and Deese, to his credit, did exactly that. “A modern American industrial strategy needs to demonstrate that America can build — fast, as we’ve done before, and fairly, as we’ve sometimes failed to do,” he said.

He noted that the Empire State Building was constructed in just over a year. We are richer than we were then, and our technology far outpaces what was available in 1930. And yet does anyone seriously believe such a project would take a year today?

“We need to unpack the many constraints that cause America to lag other major countries — including those with strong labor, environmental and historical protections — in delivering infrastructure on budget and on time,” Deese continued…

The problem isn’t government. It’s our government. Nor is the problem unions — another favored bugaboo of the right. Union density is higher in all those countries than it is in the United States. So what has gone wrong here?

One answer worth wrestling with was offered by Brink Lindsey, the director of the Open Society Project at the Niskanen Center, in a 2021 paper titled “State Capacity: What Is It, How We Lost It, and How to Get It Back.” His definition is admirably terse. “State capacity is the ability to design and execute policy effectively,” he told me. When a government can’t collect the taxes it’s owed or build the sign-up portal for its new health insurance plan or construct the high-speed rail it’s already spent billions of dollars on, that’s a failure of state capacity.

But a weak government is often an end, not an accident. Lindsey’s argument is that to fix state capacity in America, we need to see that the hobbled state we have is a choice and there are reasons it was chosen. Government isn’t intrinsically inefficient. It has been made inefficient. And not just by the right:

What is needed most is a change in ideas: namely, a reversal of those intellectual trends of the past 50 years or so that have brought us to the current pass. On the right, this means abandoning the knee-jerk anti-statism of recent decades; embracing the legitimacy of a large, complex welfare and regulatory state; and recognizing the vital role played by the nation’s public servants (not just the police and military). On the left, it means reconsidering the decentralized, legalistic model of governance that has guided progressive-led state expansion since the 1960s; reducing the veto power that activist groups exercise in the courts; and shifting the focus of policy design from ensuring that power is subject to progressive checks to ensuring that power can actually be exercised effectively…

So this is what I have become certain of: Democrats spend too much time and energy imagining the policies that a capable government could execute and not nearly enough time imagining how to make a government capable of executing them. It is not only markets that have failed.

4) And an interesting rejoinder from Ryan Avent (thanks, JM)

I mean no disrespect to Ezra when I say that it is not surprising, given his wonk bona fides, that he would seek an answer to our troubles in reports produced by think tanks. But it seems to me a mistake to think that what we have here is a technical problem, for which we’re likely to find the solution in wonk-produced white papers. Similarly, treating a “state-capacity-building agenda” as an issue category which simply needs to be bumped up Democratic elites’ priority list does not feel like a productive route forward. That strikes me as a proceduralist way of visualizing the problem, actually.

But more broadly, I am uncomfortable with the idea that we can get to a better American future by making this a liberal crusade: that “what America needs is a liberalism that builds”, as the title of the essay has it. I understand it: Democrats are persuadable, a liberalism that builds would be a good thing, thus we should seek to persuade Democrats to embrace a liberalism that builds. But transforming the Democratic party into an institution which champions supply-side progressivism would bind the supply-side progressivism agenda to the electoral fortunes of the Democratic party—which are not good—while also conjuring up a passionate opposition to supply-side progressivism, dedicated to preventing its realization and indeed to making sure that much of America sees the “abundance agenda” as Satanic Communism, or possibly Communist Satanism.

A very big problem that we have right now (one which Ezra has written about) is that there are virtually no political values or identities which are able to transcend the partisan divide. This is an extraordinarily bad thing, because it means that even extremely basic, obviously good things which ought to command widespread support—like vaccination against a deadly virus, or participatory democracy—get processed by our political habits into stuff that a meaningful share of Americans comes to see as bad. Now if you are an elected Democrat or a party operative, there is only so much you can do about this; you’re there to try to win elections and get good things done, and you can’t swear off good policies because of the risk that they become identified with the party and thus activate the polarization reflex.

But if the country is going to survive, we need to find a way to disentangle certain broad political beliefs from questions of party identification. America should be a place in which people who oppose the notion that “democracy is good and we should respect the outcome of elections” are a tiny minority of party-less cranks, not a major wing of one of two parties which ever govern. And “America should set ambitious national goals and meet them, because that’s who we are and that’s what we do” ought to command a similar sort of mass support. Parties will disagree about the specifics and that matters. But an America in which we are able to build and maintain a broad national consensus around certain sacred principles—that democracy is good, that the country is a can-do place—should also be one with a more functional day-to-day politics.

You may not like that idea. You may think it reeks of the mushy op-ed centrism which imagines that we could all just get along if only we stopped caring which party wins elections. But it seems implausible to me that an abundance agenda will be the magic talisman that allows Democrats to win commanding majorities, which they will then use to make everyone’s policy dreams come true. And it seems implausible to me that an abundance agenda can be passed on a bipartisan basis without first building national political identities and values which transcend the partisan divide.

You may think that “building national political identities and values which transcend party” does not seem all that much more plausible than those other things. And you may be right. I don’t want to suggest that this would be an easy thing to do, or that there is some clear set of steps which need to be followed to get it done. I’m not arguing that it will be easy; I’m only arguing that it is necessary. 

5) This is a serious and interesting social science analysis of the rise of LGBT identity, especially among young adults.  What I especially appreciate is this is the first time I’ve seen the US compared to other nations. The summary:

  • The last decade has seen a precipitous rise in the share of Americans identifying as LGBT, particularly among the youngest adults. Today, among those under 30, a wide range of surveys converge on a number of around 20%.
  • Government data from Canada and the UK indicate that surveys might be overestimating the extent of the rise in LGBT identity. This caveat must be kept in mind in understanding this report. Nonetheless, these government sources indicate that the trend is real, even if less reliable surveys might exaggerate it. The UK’s Office for National Statistics finds that 7.6% of those 16-24 identify as LGBT, which can be taken as a low-end estimate for that country.
  • The most popular LGBT identity is bisexual, which is significantly more common among women than men.
  • When we look at homosexual behavior, we find that it has grown much less rapidly than LGBT identification. Men and women under 30 who reported a sexual partner in the last five years dropped from around 96% exclusively heterosexual in the 1990s to 92% exclusively heterosexual in 2021. Whereas in 2008 attitudes and behavior were similar, by 2021 LGBT identification was running at twice the rate of LGBT sexual behavior.
  • The author provides a high-point estimate of an 11-point increase in LGBT identity between 2008 and 2021 among Americans under 30. Of that, around 4 points can be explained by an increase in same-sex behavior. The majority of the increase in LGBT identity can be traced to how those who only engage in heterosexual behavior describe themselves.
  • Very liberal ideology is associated with identifying as LGBT among those with heterosexual behavior, especially women. It seems that an underlying psychological disposition is inclining people with heterosexual behavior to identify both as LGBT and very liberal. The most liberal respondents have moved from 10-15% non-heterosexual identification in 2016 to 33% in 2021. Other ideological groups are more stable.
  • Very liberal ideology and LGBT identification are associated with anxiety and depression in young people. Very liberal young Americans are twice as likely as others to experience these problems. 27% of young Americans with anxiety or depression were LGBT in 2021. This relationship appears to have strengthened since 2010.
  • Among young people, mental health problems, liberal ideology, and LGBT identity are strongly correlated. Using factor analysis in two different studies shows that assuming one common variable between all three traits explains 40-50% of the variation.
  • Because the rise in LGBT identity is so heavily concentrated on the political left, its influence on the balance of power between the two parties is likely to be limited.
  • College students majoring in the social sciences and humanities are about 10 points more LGBT than those in STEM. Meanwhile, 52% of students taking highly political majors such as race or gender studies identify as LGBT, compared to 25% among students overall.
  • Various data sources indicate that gender nonconformity – trans and non-binary identity – reached its peak in the last few years and has started to decline.
  • What kind of high school or college a young person attends poorly predicts their likelihood of identifying as LGBT. The one exception is Liberal Arts colleges, where 38% of students describe themselves in this way. This indicates that schooling might not have a large effect on changes in LGBT identity.
  • Overall, the data suggest that while there has been an increase in same-sex behavior in recent years, sociopolitical factors likely explain most of the rise in LGBT identity.

6) Good stuff on the history of the 2nd amendment:

We argue fiercely today about the intended relationship between the famous opening phrase (“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,”) and the famous main clause (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”). But it’s fruitless to try to nail down that relationship, to hope to prove for good and all that the opening phrase is or is not a preamble, or that a preamble does or does not determine the meaning of a main text, or that a “being” phrase means something different from or identical to a “whereas” clause.

The sentence is weak. The weakness is deliberate. Madison couldn’t afford, on the one hand, to let the amendment seem to contradict the hard-won federal military power in the Constitution’s main body. He couldn’t afford, on the other hand, to underscore too strongly for the states’ comfort the overwhelming nature of that federal power. He seems therefore to have resorted to a preamble-ish-like phrase (no other amendment in the first ten has a preamble), referring to the supposed benefits of state militias, while employing a loose “being” construction — technically the “absolute” phrase, largely avoided by modern English, for good reason — that leaves the phrase’s grammatical relation to the main clause permanently imprecise, and thus causes, despite so many assertions of certainty, permanent doubt…

However well or poorly such arguments are formed — Wills’s, while tricky, is exhaustively well-founded and logical; many of the gun advocates’ are not [UPDATE: Also see Justice Scalia’s grammatically and historically uninformed opinion in District of Columbia vs. Heller, 2008, where the  Supreme Court decided for the first time that the right is an individual one] — both sides in the current gun-rights debate are trying to make sense of something intended by its author not to make that kind of sense. Madison wasn’t trying to protect or rule out a right to individual gun ownership. He was trying to conjure a mood of grudging, semi-coherent consensus, to establish nationhood. To that end, he denied real divisions and real effects and wrote that denial into founding law. Seeming to contradict even while declining to contradict the federal military power in the Constitution’s main body, the Second Amendment, as written, passed, and ratified, is legal gibberish.

7) Too much TV has reached epic proportions:

It’s not your imagination: Spring 2022 has seen an avalanche of new and returning TV content. In the past ten weeks or so, streaming platforms and cable networks rolled out more than 50 new and returning high-profile series. An insane 15-day stretch at the end of April crammed in roughly two dozen pedigreed projects including fresh seasons of past Emmy faves (Barry, Russian DollThe Flight Attendant, Ozark), a galaxy of star-studded newcomers (The First Lady, Shining Girls, Gaslit), and a few long shots just hoping to get noticed (Billy the Kid, Outer Range). Even for the era of too much TV, it’s been ridiculous — yet amazingly, this audiovisual assault wasn’t simply an accident of the calendar. In some cases, it was a premeditated act.

Industry insiders tell Vulture the root cause of the programming pileup is the many Emmy-hungry platforms desperately seeking statuettes. Rather than just a handful of big cable powers (HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC) and a couple of streamers (Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu) duking it out for awards, all the new digital players (Apple TV+, Disney+, Peacock, Paramount+) are scrambling for recognition, as are smaller cablers such as Starz and Epix. And just as movie studios release critic-friendly titles in the fall to ensure maximum exposure before Oscars voting, these platforms are convinced that timing a show for spring betters the odds of a shower of Emmy noms come summer. Does it matter that last year’s big category winners (Ted LassoThe CrownThe Queen’s Gambit) were released the previous summer or fall? Apparently not. “So many titles have benefited in years past,” one veteran exec says of the spring scheduling strategy. “The show was fresh on voters’ minds just as the ballots were going out.”…

The good news for folks who believe there is, in fact, too much TV? Some insiders are convinced the past few months will be remembered as an inflection point for the business, a moment when execs realized they couldn’t spend themselves to victory in the streaming (or Emmys) wars. “I’ll leave it to Landgraf to call Peak TV, but it really does feel like this spring was the top,” one industry veteran says hopefully, referring to FX chairman John Landgraf. He believes “the reckoning we saw with Netflix” — when the company’s stock collapsed in the wake of stalled growth — will reverberate through the business and result in flat or reduced content spending. “What could happen in the wake of this streaming correction is that people slim down their offering, and that will help the traffic jam abate,” the exec predicts, making it clear he believes this will be a good thing. “We as an industry have overdone it.”

8) It really does seem that many universities are now using DEI statements not unlike the way Christian colleges often expect faculty/staff to make a commitment to Christianity. And for public universities that is decidedly not right. 

FIRE recognizes that universities generally may pursue DEI-related initiatives, but at institutions bound by the First Amendment or their own promises of expressive freedom, those efforts must not threaten free speech or academic freedom. Our statement explains that the ideals of free speech and of diversity and inclusivity are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, the latter depends on the former: “When universities uphold expressive freedom, they allow a diversity of voices and perspectives to flourish and create space for dialogue across lines of identity and ideology.”

Of course, institutions of higher education have both the authority and obligation to prevent unlawful discrimination on campus, as well as an interest in employing faculty who work toward the academic success of students of various backgrounds and identities. But DEI policies frequently go further, compelling faculty to affirm contested views on matters of public debate or to embed specific ideological perspectives in their academic activities. This violates faculty members’ individual rights and thwarts values like intellectual freedom, epistemic humility, and open-mindedness that underlie a university’s mission to produce and disseminate knowledge.

9) So this is an anonymous substack written by progressive Democratic staffers that’s been getting a lot of attention.  Here they take on popularism.  As you know, I lean popularist, but really try to be open-minded on this.  That said, I did not find this anti-popularism take compelling at all.

10) I didn’t clerk for Scalia, but I know this, “We Clerked for Justices Scalia and Stevens. America Is Getting Heller Wrong.”

But despite our fundamental disagreements, we are both concerned that Heller has been misused in important policy debates about our nation’s gun laws. In the 14 years since the Heller decision, Congress has not enacted significant new laws regulating firearms, despite progressives’ calls for such measures in the wake of mass shootings. Many politicians cite Heller as the reason. But they are wrong.

Heller does not totally disable government from passing laws that seek to prevent the kind of atrocities we saw in Uvalde, Texas. And we believe that politicians on both sides of the aisle have (intentionally or not) misconstrued Heller. Some progressives, for example, have blamed the Second Amendment, Heller or the Supreme Court for mass shootings. And some conservatives have justified contested policy positions merely by pointing to Heller, as if the opinion resolved the issues.

Neither is fair. Rather, we think it’s clear that every member of the court on which we clerked joined an opinion, either majority or dissent, that agreed that the Constitution leaves elected officials an array of policy options when it comes to gun regulation.

Justice Scalia — the foremost proponent of originalism, who throughout his tenure stressed the limited role of courts in difficult policy debates — could not have been clearer in the closing passage of Heller that “the problem of handgun violence in this country” is serious and that the Constitution leaves the government with “a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns.” Heller merely established the constitutional baseline that the government may not disarm citizens in their homes. The opinion expressly recognized “presumptively lawful” regulations such as “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” as well as bans on carrying weapons in “sensitive places,” like schools, and it noted with approval the “historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’” Heller also recognized the immense public interest in “prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.”…

Most of the obstacles to gun regulations are political and policy based, not legal; it’s laws that never get enacted, rather than ones that are struck down, because of an unduly expansive reading of Heller. We are aware of no evidence that any perpetrator of a mass shooting was able to obtain a firearm because of a law struck down under Heller. But Heller looms over most debates about gun regulation, and it often serves as a useful foil for those who would like to deflect responsibility — either for their policy choice to oppose a particular gun regulation proposal or for their failure to convince their fellow legislators and citizens that the proposal should be enacted.

11) A fun family discussion about how fast foreign languages sound led me to this– it’s really interesting:

To investigate this puzzle, researchers from the Université de Lyon recruited 59 male and female volunteers who were native speakers of one of seven common languages — English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish — and one not so common one: Vietnamese. All of them were instructed to read 20 different texts, including the one about the house cat and the locked door, into a recorder. All of the volunteers read all 20 passages in their native languages. Any silences that lasted longer than 150 milliseconds were edited out, but the recordings were left otherwise untouched.

The investigators next counted all of the syllables in each of the recordings and further analyzed how much meaning was packed into each of those syllables. A single-syllable word like bliss, for example, is rich with meaning — signifying not ordinary happiness but a particularly serene and rapturous kind. The single-syllable word to is less information-dense. And a single syllable like the short i sound, as in the word jubilee, has no independent meaning at all.

With this raw data in hand, the investigators crunched the numbers together to arrive at two critical values for each language: the average information density for each of its syllables and the average number of syllables spoken per second in ordinary speech. Vietnamese was used as a reference language for the other seven, with its syllables (which are considered by linguists to be very information-dense) given an arbitrary value of 1.

For all of the other languages, the researchers discovered, the more data-dense the average syllable was, the fewer of those syllables had to be spoken per second — and thus the slower the speech. English, with a high information density of .91, was spoken at an average rate of 6.19 syllables per second. Mandarin, which topped the density list at .94, was the spoken slowpoke at 5.18 syllables per second. Spanish, with a low-density .63, ripped along at a syllable-per-second velocity of 7.82. The true speed demon of the group, however, was Japanese, which edged past Spanish at 7.84, thanks to its low density of .49. Despite those differences, at the end of, say, a minute of speech, all of the languages would have conveyed more or less identical amounts of information.

“A tradeoff is operating between a syllable-based average information density and the rate of transmission of syllables,” the researchers wrote. “A dense language will make use of fewer speech chunks than a sparser language for a given amount of semantic information.” In other words, your ears aren’t deceiving you: Spaniards really do sprint and Chinese really do stroll, but they will tell you the same story in the same span of time.

12) EJ Dionne, “The gun debate is paralyzed by our past”

But today’s gun politics did not come from nowhere. The Civil War ended 157 years ago, yet the alignments that led up to and defined that conflict are still very much alive in our politics.

Look first at simple measures. In the Giffords Law Center’s list of the 20 states with the toughest gun laws, only Virginia, which tightened its statutes recently, was part of the old Confederacy. Among the 20 states with the lowest rates of gun deaths, Virginia was again the only one that left the Union after Abraham Lincoln was elected. (It’s worth noting that the two parties have, in a broad sense, switched sides. All the states that backed Lincoln in 1860 supported Barack Obama in 2008.)

But the influence of the struggles over slavery and secession goes deeper. As the historian Heather Cox Richardson argued in her 2020 book “How the South Won the Civil War,” the North may have prevailed militarily but not, in the long run, politically.

The triumph of Southern-inflected conservatism came first with the dismantling of Reconstruction in 1877, leading to the Jim Crow era of white supremacy. The Southern political ethic was also reflected in the West, she argues, with the rise of the myth of the cowboy and the rugged (White and male) individualism he embodied. Today’s coalition against sensible gun laws is largely an alliance between the South and the non-coastal West.

The battle over the Supreme Court and the meaning of the Constitution also has echoes in Civil War-era clashes. In his 2021 “The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution,” historian James Oakes traced the radical differences in how anti-slavery forces in the North and defenders of slavery in the South read the nation’s founding document.

13) I will absolutely admit that males are decidedly not great when it comes to attitudes about women and sex.  But Laurie Penny’s take is absolutely unhinged!

This also led me to a excellent takedown of Penny’s book:

The grandiloquently titled Sexual Revolution: Modern Fascism and the Feminist Fightback sounds more Kate Millett than Robin Norwood; it promises something serious-minded and galvanising, even if the word fascism does, in context, whiff just a little of Rick in The Young Ones. But as I read Laurie Penny’s “searing critique of male dominance”, it was Norwood of whom I thought. If the tone of this book is almost comically relentless – if Penny, whose pronouns are they/them, says something once, they say it 54 times – it’s also oddly reminiscent of a superannuated self-help manual, its assumptions seemingly based mostly on the experiences of its author and their friends, a focus group to whom every possible Bad Thing has happened at least once (so handy).

14) I really don’t love that Princeton went after a professor because of his statements about race in academia.  But, in the end, he really did have sex with an undergraduate.  As to this UCF professor, however, the idea that criticizing affirmative action should be a fireable offense it nuts. 

15) So good from Scott Alexander, “A Guide To Asking Robots To Design Stained Glass Windows”

I’m going to go out of order here so I can demonstrate some principles from simplest to most complicated. Empiricism was the easiest window to generate. I wanted a picture of Charles Darwin studying finches. DALL-E was happy to provide.

(On these and most other images, I’ve put the prompt on the top so you can see what it’s doing. All of these “screenshots” are slightly edited. In particular, I’m only showing three rather than the usual ten so that they show up better.)

Though even on this easiest of questions, some of the pictures could only be described as “disastrous”.

If Darwin had really looked like this, I bet he would have had an easier time convincing people of evolution.



16) Katherine Wu, “The U.S. Is About to Make a Big Gamble on Our Next COVID Winter: Experts are expected to choose a vaccine recipe for the fall, when Omicron may or may not still be the globe’s dominant variant.”

Unavoidably, several months will separate the selection of this autumn’s vaccine and the deployment of said shot. That’s eons in coronavirus time. Half a year ago, we were all still living in Delta’s world; now a whole gaggle of Omicrons are running the show. Any decision that scientists make in June will have to involve assumptions about how SARS-CoV-2 will shape-shift in the future, which exactly no one is eager to make. “We keep getting burned,” says Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan. Perhaps the virus will stay on its Omicron bender, making an Omicron vaccine—a favorite for the fall’s jab jubilee—sound like a no-brainer. Or perhaps by the time summer’s through, it will have moved on to a Rho, Sigma, or Chi that springs out from somewhere totally unexpected and undermines that Omicron shot. With so many people around the world harboring some degree of immunity, the virus is being forced to continually reinvent itself, and no one knows what new costumes it might try on next.

Our choice of fall shot, then, is inevitably going to be a gamble and a guess. But with the clock ticking down, most of the experts I’ve been talking with think an ingredient swap is wise, and probably inevitable. “We should be updating the vaccines now or yesterday,” said Jonathan Abraham, a physician and immunologist at Harvard Medical School. Modeled on the version of the virus that kick-started the crisis more than two years ago, our current crop of immunizations is still guarding against severe illness and death. But that OG variant has long since fizzled out—leaving our shots, in this one sense, frozen in the past, while the real SARS-CoV-2 continues to race ahead. A 2022 revamp might finally give our vaccines a chance to close some of that gap.

16) I’m semi-obsessed with evaluation and selection, whether it be college scholarship students, faculty colleagues, or pro athletes.  I really enjoyed this from Leonhardt a while back about the NFL draft:

Predicting performance is unavoidably hard, even in the country’s most popular form of mass entertainment, where executives can devote lavish resources to research. “There’s no crime in that,” Cade Massey, a University of Pennsylvania economist, said. “The crime is thinking you can predict it.”

The real mistake that the executives make is hubris. They believe that they can forecast the future and design draft strategies based on their confidence. In 2018, for example, the New York Jets traded away four picks for the right to move up only three spots in the draft — to the third pick from the sixth. With that third pick, the Jets executives thought that they would draft a quarterback so great that he would be gone by the sixth pick.

The quarterback they chose was Sam Darnold, who (as the chart above also shows) has been a disappointment. Imagine if the Jets had instead kept the sixth pick, taken Allen and also kept their other picks. It could have transformed the team.

The most successful N.F.L. teams have adopted a version of this anti-Jets strategy. They have embraced the power of humility. The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s and New England Patriots built Super Bowl winners by exchanging high picks for a larger number of lower picks. In recent seasons, the Los Angeles Rams have exchanged early picks — whose value league executives tend to exaggerate, as a 2005 academic paper by Massey and Thaler showed — for established players.

With those players, the Rams won last season’s Super Bowl. The Jets failed to make the playoffs, for the 11th straight season…

The most direct analogy to the N.F.L. draft is the hiring process elsewhere. Most employers still put a lot of weight on job interviews, believing that managers can accurately predict a candidate’s performance from a brief conversation. Research suggests otherwise.

Interviews can help people figure out whether they will like another person — which has some value — but not how effective that person will be at a job. If you think you’re a clairvoyant exception, you are probably making the same mistake the Jets did.

To be clear, the implication is not that nobody knows anything. Structured job interviews, which mimic the tasks that a job involves, can be helpful. And at the draft tonight, N.F.L. teams won’t be totally clueless: Higher draft picks have historically performed better than lower picks, but only somewhat.

The trouble is that human beings tend to overstate their ability to predict events. People who can resist that hubris — who can mix knowledge with humility — are often at a competitive advantage.

17) And speaking of predicting success, I loved Derek Thompson’s 2017 book The Hit Makers.  It’s basically about how thing become really popular– whether 21st century pop songs or 19th century impressionist art.  Of course, one of the great ironies is that I would have loved this book and read it back in 2017 if I had heard about it then (and it’s not long I’m not out there paying attention for interesting non-fiction), but it never made it across my radar till Thompson mentioned it in a tweet last month.  Nice review of the book in The Guardian:

But what about that old question people tend to ask of any new cultural product – you know, “Is it any good?” There is some fascinating stuff on internet-enabled focus grouping of new pop songs, which reveals that many tracks that score as highly as those that go on to become hits just languish forever in obscurity. Thompson concludes that quality – never defined, for this is not a work of philosophical aesthetics or even cultural criticism – is a necessary condition for success, but not a sufficient one. After that you need a big dose of luck: a crack marketing team, or the right influential friends, or a friendly broadcast. Yet one could as easily conclude from all the same evidence that, not only is the high quality of a product or artwork not a sufficient condition for its success, but that quality is completely irrelevant – that popularity is, always and everywhere, simply a matter of dumb luck. That, however, would not be an appropriate message for the kind of book aimed at a soft-business audience hoping to glean some scientific tips for success…

Responsibly, Thompson keeps insisting that “there is no formula” to success, but a book such as this is obliged nonetheless to offer pseudo-formulae, “takeaways” for the executive that, inevitably, are always hedged about with such formulae as that x “sometimes” ensures success (so at other times it doesn’t) or “can” create popularity (except when it can’t). Unusually for books of the type, however, it is at least self-conscious about its own commercially imposed limitations: in a winningly disarming tone, Thompson periodically mentions the challenges of working within this literary genre. It demands illustrative “stories”, for instance, but the author rightly warns us to beware of the seductively anti-rational powers of narratives, even as he deploys them himself.

So is Hit Makers a hit in the making? Well, one of the key things the author wants us to understand throughout is this: “Most consumers are simultaneously neophilic – curious to discover new things – and deeply neophobic – afraid of anything that’s too new.” Or, to put it less pseudo-scientifically, people want something that’s a bit new but also deeply familiar. It is surely no coincidence that Hit Makers, a book of a very familiar type with a couple of good new twists, is the ideal kind of product for such an audience.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Episode bloat is such a problem on steaming series.  I will not be watching Stranger Things season 4. Sepinwall:

To accommodate all these people, places, and concepts, the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, have opted to supersize all of this season’s episodes. In its earlier years, Stranger Things was not exactly a breezy show, with each installment usually hovering close to a full hour. But it wasn’t until the Season Three finale that the Duffers went full Sons of Anarchy with a 78-minute conclusion. That’s the new normal for Season Four, where the shortest of these May episodes is 63 minutes, the longest is 98, and the rest are all in the 70s. Netflix has also taken the unusual step of announcing the run times for the two July episodes, and the first is an hour and 25 minutes, while the second is two and a half hours long. Without doing an exhaustive search, that appears like it will be the longest episode in American TV history — a half hour longer than the M*A*S*H finale that 105.9 million people watched, 45 minutes longer than the Lost finale, more than twice as long as the longest episode of The Sopranos. It is also between 30-60 minutes longer than pretty much every movie that has influenced the Duffers, and those movies did not arrive with 10 and a half hours of preceding material that year…

The Duffers are smart writers and directors. They know that all the films that inspired the show tend to be lean and mean. So why the increasing bloat? They definitely wouldn’t be the first showrunners to get self-indulgent in their hit series’ later seasons. (Game of Thrones also waves hello.) And as the creators of one of the streaming era’s biggest hits, there’s probably very little little in the way of “no” from their bosses at Netflix — and there could, in fact, be some encouragement. With a show where Netflix knows for sure that most viewers will watch in its entirety, the longer the episodes, the more the “minutes spent watching” metric rises, and the happier the great and powerful Netflix algorithm feels. In this perilous moment, Netflix needs all the good data it can get

Or maybe it’s something much less nefarious than that. Maybe the Duffers just fell too in love with all these people they created, and/or the actors playing them, and couldn’t let any of them go, even in situations where they no longer had a take on the character (Mike, Will) or where the story might hit harder without them (i.e., Hopper’s sacrifice under the mall being real). And because they couldn’t say goodbye to any of them, Stranger Things as a whole just kept getting bigger and bigger, growing beyond their control in the same way that Eleven and some of Dr. Brenner’s other subjects once did.

2) Some good social science on partisanship and Covid:

Does local partisan context influence the adoption of prosocial behavior? Using a nationwide survey of 60,000 adults and geographic data on over 180 million registered voters, we investigate whether neighborhood partisan composition affects a publicly observable and politicized behavior: wearing a mask. We find that Republicans are less likely to wear masks in public as the share of Republicans in their zip codes increases. Democratic mask wearing, however, is unaffected by local partisan context. Consequently, the partisan gap in mask wearing is largest in Republican neighborhoods, and less apparent in Democratic areas. These effects are distinct from other contextual effects such as variations in neighborhood race, income, or education. In contrast, partisan context has significantly reduced influence on unobservable public health recommendations like COVID-19 vaccination and no influence on nonpoliticized behaviors like flu vaccination, suggesting that differences in mask wearing reflect the publicly observable and politicized nature of the behavior instead of underlying differences in dispositions toward medical care.

3) This article on “American Gentry” is really good:

The reality of American wealth and power is more banal. The conspicuously consuming celebrities and jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of the local hierarchies that govern daily life for tens of millions of people. Donald Trump grasped this group’s existence and its importance, acting, as he often does, on unthinking but effective instinct. When he crowed about his “beautiful boaters,” lauding the flotillas of supporters trailing MAGA flags from their watercraft in his honor, or addressed his devoted followers among a rioting January 6 crowd that included people who had flown to the event on private jets, he knew what he was doing. Trump was courting the support of the American gentry, the salt-of-the-earth millionaires who see themselves as local leaders in business and politics, the unappreciated backbone of a once-great nation…

These elites’ wealth derives not from their salary—this is what separates them from even extremely prosperous members of the professional-managerial class, such as doctors and lawyers—but from their ownership of assets. Those assets vary depending on where in the country we’re talking about; they could be a bunch of McDonald’s franchises in Jackson, Mississippi; a beef-processing plant in Lubbock, Texas; a construction company in Billings, Montana; commercial properties in Portland, Maine; or a car dealership in western North Carolina. Even the less prosperous parts of the United States generate enough surplus to produce a class of wealthy people. Depending on the political culture and institutions of a locality or region, this elite class might wield more or less political power. In some places, it has an effective stranglehold over what gets done; in others, it’s important but not all-powerful.

4) Ed Kilgore, “Will the ‘School-Shooting Generation’ Change Politics?”

There are multiple indicators that younger millennials and members of Generation Z, who have grown up experiencing regular trauma from mass shootings, especially in schools, could make gun violence a bigger issue in the political discourse. A Harvard Institute of Politics survey in 2018 found that 70 percent of likely voters under 30 that year believed gun laws should be stricter, up from the 49 percent who favored that view in 2013 soon after the Sandy Hook massacre. As one young activist wrote in Seattle University’s student paper last year, fear and anger over school shootings has shaped an entire cohort of new and future voters:

I was never alive to see a time before active shooter drills were set in place. We were trained to hide from a gun before we even knew what the object was. My generation was exposed to the idea of death so early on because we needed to understand the true harm of a gun for our own safety. We had to learn quickly that at any moment someone could walk into our school, a place we were told was our “safe space” from home, and hurt any one of us because it was that easy for someone to get a gun. 

At a time when Democrats desperately need young voters to turn out in midterm elections, where the electorate typically skews old and white, this generation’s intense feelings on gun violence could make it a more salient campaign issue…

There was a time in living memory when progress on federal civil-rights legislation seemed as hopeless as a congressional gun-safety measure seems today. A historic breakthrough occurred with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which formally ended de jure segregation. But southern states resisted its implementation, and just as importantly, racist politicians protected themselves by refusing to extend voting rights to Black citizens. It appeared another long slog of activism would be necessary to produce federal voting-rights legislation … until suddenly public opinion was aroused by television coverage of peaceful voting-rights protesters being brutalized by armed police officers in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. Just eight days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a joint session of Congress to hear his call for voting-rights legislation. By May, the Senate filibuster was broken, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 soon followed.

It’s unlikely that the nightmare images from Uvalde will generate a similar galvanization of public opinion, much less dislodge congressional obstruction of measures against gun violence. It’s possible, however, that beneath the surface, an accumulation of nightmare images from schools and shopping malls and college campuses and movie theaters and churches will together produce a “Selma moment” — a paradigm shift in which the impossible suddenly becomes possible. But political leadership as well as public support will be necessary.

5) First-hand account of a surviving student from Uvalde (free link).  It is just unbelievable how the police waited so long to help these kids. 

6) It really is nuts that the US still requires a negative Covid test to enter.  As if there’s not tons of Covid here already.  Here’s how various travelers are getting around it. 

7) Really enjoyed this Alex Tabarrok review of a new book on parenting:

Nate Hilger’s has written a brave book. Almost everyone will find something to hate about The Parent Trap. Indeed, I hated parts of it. Yet Hilger is willing to say truths that are often not said and for that I would rather applaud than cancel.

Hilger argues that the problems of poverty, pathology and inequality that bedevil the United States are not primarily due to poor schools, discrimination, or low incomes per se. The primary cause is parents: parents who are unable to teach their children the skills that are necessary to succeed in the modern world. Since parents can’t teach the necessary skills, Hilger calls for the state to take their place with a dramatic expansion of not just child care but collective parenting…

Schools, Hilger writes are “actually the smallest and most equalizing part of a much larger skill-building system.” The real problem, says Hilger, are parents.

But what about discrimination? When it comes to wage discrimination, Hilger is brutally honest:

If we compare individuals with similar cognitive test scores, Black college graduates earn higher wages than white college graduates. Studies that don’t control for test score differences but examine earnings gaps within specific professions—lawyers, physicians, nurses, engineers, scientists—tend to find Black workers earn zero to 10 percent less than white workers. These gaps could reflect discrimination, unmeasured skill differences, or other factors such as geography. In any case, such gaps are small compared to the 50 percent overall Black-white earnings gap and reinforce the idea that closing skills gaps would go a long way toward closing income gaps.

Hilger argues that racism does play an important role in explaining Black-white wage differentials but it’s the historical racism that made black parents less skilled and less able to pass on skills to their children. In the twentieth century, Asians, Hilger argues, were discriminated against in the United States at least much as Black Americans. But the Asians that came to the United States had high skills while the legacy of slavery meant that Black Americans began with low skills. Asians, therefore, were better able to overcome discrimination. The success of Nigerians and Jamaican immigrants in the United States also speaks to this point.  (Long time readers may recall that in 2016 I dubbed Hilger’s paper on Asian Americans and Black Americans the Politically Incorrect Paper of the Year .)

Parental investment is surely important but Hilger overstates his case. He writes as if poorer parents have neither the abilities nor the time to teach their children while richer, better educated parents simply invest lots of hours and money imbuing their children with skills:

…the enormous variation in parents’ own academic skills has big implications for kids because we also demand that parents try to be tutors. During normal times, parents in America spend an average of six hours per week helping—or trying to help—their kids with school work. Six hours per week is more than K12 math and English teachers get with children…good tutoring by parents for six hours a week, every week, year after year of childhood could raise children’s future earnings by as much as $300,000.

The data on the effectiveness of SAT test-prep suggests that these efforts are not nearly so effective as Hilger argues. The parental investment story also doesn’t fit my experience. I didn’t spend six hours a week helping my kids with their homework. I doubt most parents do. I simply assumed my kids would do their work. I do recall that we signed my kids up for tutoring at Kumon, the Japanese math education center. My kids would complain bitterly when we took them for drill on the weekend. It was mostly filling out rote forms and my kids would hide or bury their drill sheets so we were always behind. Driving my kids to the Kumon center, monitoring them. and forcing them to do the work when they rebelled like longshoreman on work-to-rule was time consuming and it was ruining our weekends. I felt guilty, but after a while, my wife and I gave up. Today one of my sons is a civil engineer and the other is a math and economics major at UVA.

Hilger has an answer to this line of objection, or at least he says he does, but to my mind it’s a very odd answer. He argues, relying heavily on Sacerdote, that adoption studies show that more skilled parents result in more skilled kids. I find that answer odd because my reading of Sacerdote is that the effect of parents are small after you control for genetics—this is, as Hilger acknowledges, the conventional wisdom among psychologists. (See Caplan for an excellent review of the literature). It is true that Sacerdote plays up the effect of parents, but it looks small to me. Here is the effect of the adopted mother’s maternal education on the child’s education.

As you can see there is an effect but it is almost all from the mother going from having less than a high school education to graduating high school (11 to 12 years). In contrast, the mother can move from graduating high school to having a PhD and there is very little change in the education level of an adoptee. Note, however, that the effect on non-adoptees, i.e. biological children, is much larger throughout the entire range which suggests the influence of nature not nurture.

8) Kristoff on how to reduce shootings (free link for this one). 

9) One thing I really love about Noah Smith is that I see a post with a title like “Ideas to boost Japanese growth” and think “why would I want to read that?” But, since it’s Smith, I end up really enjoying it and learning a ton. 

The woes of the Japanese workplace are by now well-known. Workers spend long hours sitting around in open-plan offices trying to look busy for the boss, waiting for the boss to go home. Young workers are paid near-poverty wages even at good companies, with raises dependent entirely on seniority rather than performance or value-added. Promotions are also seniority-based, meaning management is stuffed with old guys who don’t understand the benefits of new technologies, new markets, and new business models. This model also stifles the contributions of women, immigrants, etc. And by preventing employees from moving from company to company, it keeps ideas and knowledge from flowing and recombining.

9) Yes, I will go on record as saying its nuts that Northern Arizona University now expects its undergrads to take four “diversity perspectives” courses.  And, yeah, I do have doubts on the intellectual rigor on some of them.

At Northern Arizona University, a course titled Intersectional Movements of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality promises to analyze “how intersectionality, and the matrix of inequality, have shaped the production of knowledge” and to provide “a critical lens through which intersectional epistemologies can be foregrounded.” Another, Introduction to Queer Studies, covers “queer theory and activism,” the “social and historical construction of gender and sexuality,” and the “role of allies and social change.” Trans Existence and Resilience, meantime, promises to “examine trans epistemologies as well as critiques of Eurocentric models of thinking about genders that explain peoples’ existence within Western frameworks and ontologies.”

Each of these courses counts toward one of NAU’s two “diversity requirements,” which students must satisfy to complete their degrees. Now, NAU plans to take the requirements even further, mandating that students take four of such courses—a policy that the university’s own diversity-curriculum committee describes as “unprecedented.”

10) Honestly, the reality of this Monkeypox spread is just some really bad luck when it comes to the behavior of some individuals who had been recently infected, “Expert: Monkeypox likely spread by sex at 2 raves in Europe”

11) Good stuff (free post) from Yglesias on energy costs:

Expensive energy is really bad

High gasoline prices are obviously a good talking point for Republicans.

But over and above being a talking point, expensive energy is a genuinely very grave problem that serious policymakers should be trying to address on the merits, not just for which they are seeking political solutions.

Why is it bad? While energy consumption scales with income to some extent, it’s not like millionaires drive three times as much as the median American. People sometimes say that inflation is regressive, which I think is probably not true, but expensive gasoline is absolutely regressive, which means the direct consequences for human welfare are pretty dire. Beyond that, though, people treat their gas and utility expenses as quasi-fixed because altering them is hard. In other words, they respond to expensive energy by economizing on things that aren’t energy: by canceling a Netflix subscription, by skipping date night to avoid babysitting expenses, by making do rather than replacing a broken microwave. Indeed, fresh research suggests that a $1 increase in gas prices generates essentially a $1 reduction in non-gas spending in the short term.

The upshot is that even someone like me, whose gasoline expenses are very low and whose home electricity expenses are essentially zero,3 ends up suffering some economic hardship because it’s more difficult to sell newsletter subscriptions when everyone is watching gas costs drain their bank account.

What makes things really punishing, though, is that it’s not only households that have quasi-fixed energy costs — so do businesses.

So imagine you own a dive bar. You’re annoyed personally about how much more you’re paying for gas, but you figure it doesn’t have much to do with the bar business. Except your customers are a bit more frugal with their drinking since their wallets are lighter due to the higher energy costs. Not by a huge amount, but they are buying cheaper drinks and fewer of them. They’re also tipping less generously, which is annoying your staff. You also realize that the cost of air conditioning the bar in the summer is going up. Your revenues are heading down while your expenses are heading up, so at a certain point, it makes financial sense to curtail your hours because the slowest times in the week no longer pencil out.

And that’s a fairly trivial example. Someone whose business involves using a lot of gasoline — like the guys who deliver the beer to the bar — really needs to raise prices because their costs are exploding. Since this is happening at the same time that people are drinking less beer, it’s really bad for business to increase prices, but you’d be losing money driving the truck if you don’t.

Stag whether or not you get “-flation”

Translating into economics-ese, from the standpoint of people running non-energy businesses, high energy prices are a negative supply shock.

If you open up an economics textbook, you’ll find a simplified chart like this showing that when an industry faces a negative supply shock, they sell less stuff and they sell it at higher prices.

High energy prices are a negative supply shock to almost every business you can think of. For some businesses, like smelting aluminum, it’s an incredibly bad negative shock; for others, it’s pretty mild. But while the economy can adjust from a supply shock to one sector, a supply shock hitting almost every sector simultaneously creates a really bad problem.

12) This is one way to get back at your neighbors:

Myrna Campbell, who lives in the neighborhood across from the sign said she doesn’t believe the proposed strip club is real.

“It’s just his way of striking back at the neighbor who questioned what his intent was for the property,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who serves as secretary of the Hunt Estates Homeowner’s Association called the sign an act of retaliation after neighbors brought up an issue of Smith storing cars on the lot.

“Our main concern is that regulations be followed, and it be done properly if he is going to use that as a place to store inoperable vehicles,” Campbell said. “It’s just unfortunate that he has chosen to behave in this manner because all that was done initially was when one of the homeowners saw the junk cars on the lot, all she did was call and ask what his intent was with the property and he got angry about that and this is his retribution, I guess.”

According to Campbell, she has written to the Haywood County manager citing concerns.

Hoochie Hut or not, Smith said he does plan to add privacy fencing around his property.

A business registration search for ‘Hoochie Hut’ on North Carolina’s Secretary of State website came up with zero results.

13) Imagine paying over $500 for tickets to see Paul McCartney and then missing the show after sitting in traffic for four hours because the city/venue did not actually have the infrastructure to deal with the show. 

14) This is a fascinating campus controversy (free link).  Princeton clearly went after this professor because he had attacked their embrace of DEI orthodoxy.  That’s not okay!  Also, not okay is his infraction.  Sex with an undergraduate over a decade ago.  Sorry, I don’t care how long ago or how consensual.  Not okay.  

15) So, whatever happened to fluvoxamine as a Covid treatment? FDA says no. “Why the FDA rejected fluvoxamine as a Covid-19 drug: The FDA made a reasonable decision — but one that still shows much of what’s wrong with our current system for emergency approvals.”

Last year, researchers who were testing cheap generic drugs in the hope that one or more of them might prove to work as a Covid-19 treatment stumbled across a promising candidate: the antidepressant fluvoxamine.

In a massive randomized controlled trial, called Together, researchers at McMaster University compared eight different repurposeddrugs, and foundmost of them — including ivermectin, the antiparasitic that many embraced as a Covid-19 miracle cure — failed to do much against the disease. But fluvoxamine appeared to reduce severe disease by about 30 percent. While fluvoxamine had already shown some promisein small-scale trials last year, small-scale trials can sometimes turn up spurious good results, so most people didn’t take fluvoxamine seriously until the impressive data from the Together trial.

“This already feels different from hydroxychloroquine and company given the high quality of the research,” Paul Sax argued in NEJM Journal Watch, which analyzes recent research. “We might finally be onto something.” Government regulators, though, remained more skeptical — in part because the regulatory system isn’t exactly designed for adding new indications for drugs that have already been approved by the FDA without a pharmaceutical company sponsoring them.

Another researcher who was convinced of the case for fluvoxamine, David Boulware, decided to take matters into his own hands. The FDA didn’t know how to deal with submissions for a drug to be approved for a new indication without someone responsible for the submission? Fine. He’d submit it himself. In December, he wrote and submitted an emergency use application for fluvoxamine as a treatment for Covid-19.

In a lot of ways, it was a heartwarming story about the power of citizen science. But that’s not how it turned out.

This week, the FDA rejected the application for an emergency use authorization of fluvoxamine. Regulators argued that the results from the Together trial were more ambiguous than they looked — most of the benefits came from a reduction in extended observation in the emergency room, an endpoint fairly specific to the study’s clinical setting in Brazil and not necessarily all that useful. They pointed out that since the Together trial, additional studies have attempted to find a record of fluvoxamine’s benefits, and mostly haven’t found results as large.

16) The circus is coming back without the animals acts.  Hooray!  I’ve always loved the amazing things humans do (give me five motorcycle riders in a 20-foot sphere!) so much more.

17) I just came across this SNL skit and damn do I love it.

18) Paul Waldman, “Gun sales have exploded. Funny, that didn’t make us all safer.”

19) This is wild! Watch a Giant Stingray’s Safe Return to Its River Home. (I’ve got a lot of free NYT articles still to go this month, so here you go for this one, too). 

20) So damn true from Jay Caspian Kang, “Touch Screens in Cars Solve a Problem We Didn’t Have”  Buttons, damnit, buttons!

Today I want to talk about the oversize touch screen in my Subaru Outback. All my car’s important functions, which once were controlled by perfectly serviceable buttons, have now been relegated to a matrix of little boxes on a glowing screen. And, of course, the screen does not even really comply with my commands. Instead, it randomly changes its brightness and then disconnects my phone at the exact moment I need to look at the navigation map.

To do something as simple as change the direction of the air-conditioning from blasting in my face to blasting at my feet or to listen to a podcast, I need to hunt for a tiny, sensitive square, wait for a second screen to load and then find the appropriate icon on that new screen. This generally takes me about 10 seconds of inattention to the road because, despite having owned this car for two years, I have zero intuitive sense of where these small shapes and pictures are.

This presents me with a decision, one that must be made while driving: I can jab blindly at the screen while swerving on the road; I can try to make Siri play the podcast or adjust the air, an option that has not once worked; or I can drive in silence with the air-conditioning blasting in my face. I almost always choose the option of least resistance, which means that I am essentially driving a car with no adjustable climate control and no radio.

The question of whether touch screens are good or bad was broached way back in 1986, when Buick put something called the Graphic Control Center in its Riviera line. What’s particularly striking about the Graphic Control Center, a nine-inch touch screen in the center of the dashboard, was that it wasn’t all that functionally different from today’s versions.

You could turn the fan up and down, you could set your car’s temperature, and you could change the radio station. There was a five-band sound equalizer that you could use to turn up the bass in your speakers. (The funniest, and perhaps most useful, feature was the Reminder function, which was like a to-do list for the driver. Here’s a video showing all the functions.)

But by 1990, Buick had abandoned the Graphic Control Center after drivers complained that every small adjustment to the car’s temperature or radio caused them to take their eyes off the road while they prodded a touch screen.

Thirty-two years later, touch screens are not only back but mostly standard. The complaints are the same: The screens are equally useless and enraging. Distracted, frustrated drivers, of course, are dangers to themselves and everyone else on the road.

The only difference now is that the evidence of the effects that glowing screens have on automotive safety is overwhelming.

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