Quick hits (part I)

1) Bernstein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) The latest on Neanderthals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit…Mount Cotton State School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s these next paragraphs where I fear I might lose you. It’s easier to argue for human welfare than animal welfare. I spent most of my life not just as a meat eater, but as an enthusiastic one. I posted my burgers on Instagram and I sought out the perfect roast chicken. Even now, I don’t believe it’s necessarily immoral to eat meat. What I believe is immoral is the way we treat animals in most factory farms. And the scale of that suffering melts the mind.

A reasonable estimate is that about 70 billion land animals are raised and slaughtered for food each year, a vast majority of them chickens. My colleague Nick Kristof has written eloquently about the plight of Costco’s rotisserie chickens, but the horrors do not end there. I’ve spoken with farmers who lie awake with guilt over the way they treat their animals, but they are so buried in debt to the agricultural conglomerates that they see no way out for themselves.

We treat too many animals like inputs, and their suffering as a mere byproduct. Cheap meat isn’t really cheap. It’s just the animal that paid the cost, living in conditions so gruesome I fear describing them. But suffice it to say: If we could produce the meat we want without the suffering we now inflict, it would be one of the great achievements of our age.

My reason for optimism is technological: There have been remarkable strides made in plant-based meat — witness the success of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — and milks. And the next step is cultivated meat, which is meat grown directly from animal cells. This isn’t science fiction: There’s now a restaurant in Singapore where you can eat lab-grown chicken made by Eat Just. Unsurprisingly, it tastes like chicken, because that’s what it is.

But so far, most of these advances, most of these investments, are through private dollars, with the findings locked up in patents, by companies competing with one another for market share. We’re going to need to move faster than that. “If we leave this endeavor to the tender mercies of the market there will be vanishingly few products to choose from and it’ll take a very long time,” Bruce Friedrich, co-founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute, told me.

This is where policymakers can, and should, come in. At its heart, the American Jobs Plan is a climate bill. But there isn’t a dollar for alternative proteins, despite animal agriculture’s huge contributions to both climate and pandemic risk. That’s worse than a mistake. It’s a failure of policy design. Luckily, it’s easily fixed.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is very true, “A Vaccine Can Be Bad for a Person but Awesome for All People: The safety pause in giving the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is up for debate again—a battle in a Secret War of Denominators and risk-benefit philosophies.”

2) Have I mentioned how much I love, love, love Zeynep’s (free) substack.  So many posts are basically just a clear breakdown of how to be a better thinker applied to examples with Covid.  In these week’s it’s about an outbreak at a nursing home that led many to say “oh, no, vaccines don’t work” but was really a great demonstration of vaccine efficacy.

What are we looking at here? A nursing home outbreak, 46 infections, three deaths, a variant with concerning mutations.

Here’s one way to headline an article about the study:

The article describes the outbreak:

An unvaccinated health care worker set off a Covid-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky where the vast majority of residents had been vaccinated, leading to dozens of infections, including 22 cases among residents and employees who were already fully vaccinated, a new study reported Wednesday.

Most of those who were infected with the coronavirus despite being vaccinated did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, but one vaccinated individual, who was a resident of the nursing home, died, according to the study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Altogether, 26 facility residents were infected, including 18 who had been vaccinated, and 20 health care personnel were infected, including four who had been vaccinated. Two unvaccinated residents also died.

The article isn’t inaccurate. It relays what indeed happened. The headline is descriptive. The article states up top that most of the infected did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, while noting the one death. It highlights the importance of vaccinating nursing home staff (which is how it came into the facility), and explains that this was a variant that shared a key mutation, E484K, with variants that were suspected of partial immune escape, like  B.1.351 (South Africa) and P.1. (Brazil). I’m not picking on the article at all, it is usually how such studies are represented in responsible outlets: the descriptive facts, in order. This is our accepted practice.

The CDC study also notes an efficacy calculation: “Vaccine was 86.5% protective against symptomatic illness among residents and 87.1% protective among HCP.” I saw multiple attempts on social media to compare this number to the one efficacy number from the trials, usually around 95%:…

A cluster differs greatly from what we measured in trials where the participants did not live together or share exposure especially because we know this pathogen is very overdispersed. It oscillates between being aggressively contagious—probably a combination of a person who emits a lot of aerosols and is at the most contagious stage of their infection plus an enclosed space, or repeated exposure in a congregate living facility like this one—and not transmitting onward at all. Various studies find that 80 to 90 percent of people never transmit onward—they are the end of the chain.

Hence, if your exposure takes place while you are a member of a potential cluster, your odds of being infected are much greater than in comparison with exposure that doesn’t occur as part of a cluster. For a pathogen like this, finding transmission events, not infected people, are key because transmission events are near each other. If you find one, you are likely to find more. But that also means that being in a cluster is a worse case scenario, compared with the independent measurements from the trials: one would expect higher attack rates.  In fact, this is very useful information for mitigation: focusing on finding such clusters and “backward-tracing them” to find the source, and then trying to look at other people that might have been exposed within that cluster, rather than trying to trace every infected person’s onward contacts (most of which were going to be dead end anyway) was key to Japan’s comparatively very successful strategy (something I wrote about while explaining overdispersion and its implications). 

When you put this together, what is the information you get from the above study?

You get very, very good, reassuring news about the vaccines.

3) This is really good from political scientists Frances Lee and James Curry: “What’s Really Holding the Democrats Back: It’s not the filibuster.”

Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s Democratic senator, has put everyone on notice: Under no circumstances will he vote to eliminate the Senate filibuster. If the support of at least 10 Republicans is needed to pass legislation, progressives have little hope for their agenda. At least that’s what many seem to think. But eliminating the filibuster probably wouldn’t matter as much as they believe it would. The bigger obstacle to any party’s agenda is its members’ inability to agree among themselves.

We compiled the stated policy goals of every congressional majority party from 1985 through 2018. We identified the parties’ agendas by looking to the bills designated as leadership priorities and the issues flagged by the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader in their opening speech to Congress, yielding a list on average of 15 top priorities per congressional term. Tracking each proposal, 265 in total, we found that the parties failed outright on their agenda priorities about half the time, meaning that no legislation on the issue was enacted.  

We then analyzed when, how, and why each failed, and also whether the majority party faced a unified or divided government when it did. Naturally, when a party controlled the House, Senate, and presidency, it fared somewhat better in enacting its agenda than when it didn’t, but not markedly so. Parties failed on 43 percent of their agenda priorities in unified government as compared with 49 percent in divided government. This failure rate varies from Congress to Congress, but has remained fairly consistent even in recent years. When Democrats most recently held all three branches of government (in 2009–10), they failed on 50 percent of their agenda items. When Republicans most recently held all three (in 2017–18), they failed on 36 percent.

When a party has unified control of government, the filibuster provides the Senate’s minority party (if it has at least 41 senators) with the ability to stop the majority’s legislative efforts. This is why partisans focus so much on the filibuster, and why progressive activists are so concerned over it right now. But the filibuster accounted for only about one-third of the majority party’s failures during the periods of unified government we studied. In the two most recent instances of unified government—the Democrats in 2009–10 and the Republicans in 2017–18—agenda failures caused by the filibuster were even less common. The Democrats had just one of their priorities, immigration reform, fail because of the filibuster. The Republicans had none. Filibuster reform, then, may enable Democrats to achieve particular policy goals opposed by Republicans, and those would certainly be victories. But most failures, about two-thirds overall during years of unified government and 90 percent during the past two instances of unified government, stemmed from disagreements within the majority party rather than the minority party’s ability to block legislation via the filibuster.

4) Kevin Drum with his “megatrends” of American politics.  I agree with most, especially these:

1. US politics will stay toxic as long as Fox News is around. Rupert Murdoch has discovered that spreading fear and outrage is the most reliable way of making money, so that’s what he does. It’s all but impossible to sustain a traditional political system when half the population is scared senseless of the other half, and that will remain the case until Fox New is somehow reined in…

6.  We are entering a biotech golden age. I know, I know: we’ve been entering a biotech golden age for the past four decades. But after years of prologue, I think we really are finally on the verge of huge change. Cheap genome sequencing, CRISPR, and mRNA vaccines are harbingers of the near future.

5) David Frum with an interesting take on the rise of Ron DeSantis.

6) Jack Shafer on the rise of Substack:

The rise of Substack—and of platforms of its competitors—signals a new juncture in journalism, one that combines the power and mystique of the byline with the editorial independence afforded by the blog. After being lectured forever about how information wants to be free, Substack is teaching us that not only will readers pay for top-drawer copy, but that the work of some writers was actually undervalued in the market before readers were given the opportunity to purchase journalism a la carte instead of from a prix fixe menu.

Substack has stampeded some elite media types into a panic. “Is Substack the Media Future We Want?” worried a New Yorker feature recently. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith analyzed the upheaval in his column, “Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack.” Yes, Substack looks like a revolution and smells like a revolution, but as many have noted, it’s really a throwback to the origins of journalism in the Middle Ages, and the emphasis on who is writing the copy as opposed to what is being written can be traced to the late 19th century. Substack may be educating the industry about who adds the high value in journalism, writers or editors.

7) This is cool, “This Map Lets You Plug in Your Address to See How It’s Changed Over the Past 750 Million Years”

8) Pretty sure I wrote a post a while back about how the soccer penalty kick is the dumbest thing in sports.  I stand by that.  Apparently, Premier League teams are now working extra hard to draw fouls in the corner of the penalty box where the likelihood of your next few actions actually scoring a goal is super-low anyway.  Soccer is such a great sport with some really stupid rules.  

Indeed, it hasn’t merely gone, but it’s flipped the other way. Aside from serious foul play, VAR only looks at incidents in the box — so now, fouls that are less obvious inside the box are penalised more than those outside.

This new era hasn’t simply changed the decision-making of officials, but also the approach of forwards, which probably explains the increase in the award of penalties between the first VAR season and the second (as well as some particularly harsh handball decisions at the start of this campaign). It has become increasingly obvious that in certain situations, more than ever, attackers are playing for penalties by attempting to engineer contact. Strategically, it makes complete sense, particularly when an attacker is in the corner of the box.

The word “box” is key here, because the concept of a penalty box doesn’t reflect the true value of the football pitch. In other comparable sports — hockey, for example — this type of area is denoted by a semi-circle rather than a rectangle, forming a consistent distance from the goal. Everyone knows the penalty box in football is 18 yards long, but they might not know it is 44 yards wide — because that ensures it also stretches 18 yards away from the two posts, which are eight yards apart.

So although 18 yards was considered the key distance from goal, this became a box rather than a semi-circle. Clearly, there’s a zone in the corners of the penalty box that are within 18 yards of the byline, but considerably further from the goal. These are poor positions in terms of creating a goal from open play, and are therefore disproportionately valuable in terms of winning a foul.

You’ll probably be familiar with the concept of expected goals, aka xG, which outlines the probability of a shot finding the net when struck from a particular position. Shooting from the corner of the box will result in a goal around one or two per cent of the time, depending upon the xG model and the precise position.

Of course, that doesn’t entirely explain the situation. A player with the ball in that position probably won’t shoot. He’ll attempt to pass or dribble into a better position.

But we can also account for that through analytics. Karun Singh, a football analytics writer with a computer science degree from Cornell University, has developed the concept of “expected threat” — xT. This is explained at length on his blog, and largely follows the concept of xG, but takes the process forward a few stages. In other words, it’s not simply about judging the probability of a goal stemming directly from a particular zone, but about judging the probability of a goal arising from the next two, three, four or five “actions” (passes, crosses, dribbles, shots etc) from a particular zone.

Singh’s analysis is worth reading — his methodology is beyond most of us, but it features excellent interactive graphics to explain the concept. For the purposes of this article, the zone highlighted below is relevant. If a player has the ball in this position, his team will score from the next five “actions” 9 per cent of the time (on average — it varies for different teams).

Furthermore, the heatmap demonstrates how the probability of a goal arising in the next five moves varies across the pitch — the darker the zone, the more dangerous it is. And the most interesting here is the very obvious visual proof that not only is the corner of the box less dangerous than a central position, as you would expect, but it’s also slightly less dangerous than a wider position — the same distance from the byline, but outside the box. The danger increases further when a player reaches the zone near the byline, still outside the box.

In other words, having the ball in the corner of the box is not particularly valuable in terms of creating a goal from open play. And therefore the more logical thing to do is attempt to win a penalty, which will bring a 78 per cent chance of a goal (slightly more if, like in Singh’s model, you include subsequent actions, to account for rebounds).

9) This is very good for the Covid-inclined, “We know a lot about Covid-19. Experts have many more questions”

10) Civil Asset Forfeiture is just the worst! “The Government Seized This Innocent Man’s Car Without Due Process. SCOTUS Won’t Hear the Case.
“How can an ordinary person afford to wait years after the government takes their car?””

11) I don’t post a lot on foreign policy, but if this wasn’t just the clearest case of “sunk cost trap” imaginable when it comes to Afghanistan:

At a recent National Security Council Principal’s Committee meeting, Cabinet-level officials including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and others gathered as part of the administration’s weekslong review of US policy in Afghanistan.

The officials are debating which of three broad options for the 20-year war in Afghanistan Biden should pursue. The first is to adhere to former President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban, which would require Biden to withdraw all remaining 2,500 US troops by May 1. The second is to negotiate an extension with the insurgent group, allowing American forces to remain in the country beyond early May. And third is to defy the Trump-Taliban pact altogether and keep fighting in Afghanistan with no stated end date.

During the meeting, according to four sources from the White House, Pentagon, and elsewhere familiar with what happened, Milley made an impassioned — and at times “emotional,” according to some — case to consider keeping US troops in the country.

Milley, who was the deputy commanding general of US forces in Afghanistan and served three tours in the country, essentially argued that if American forces fully withdraw by May 1, it would open the door for the Taliban to overtake the country, making life worse for millions of Afghans and imperiling US national security goals.

Women’s rights “will go back to the Stone Age,” Milley said, according to two of the sources. He argued that it wasn’t worth leaving the country after “all the blood and treasure spent” there over the last two decades. [emphasis mine] He also added that, in his view, the lack of 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan would make it harder to stem threats from a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

12) Damn I love science! “This Ultra-White Paint May Someday Replace Air Conditioning: Developed by researchers at Purdue University, the paint reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight”

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new ultra-white paint that reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight and can keep surfaces up to 19 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than their ambient surroundings. This new paint, which may become available for purchase in the next year or two, could someday help combat global warming and reduce our reliance on air conditioners.

The team of scientists in Purdue’s mechanical engineering department recently published the findings of their paint research, funded by the university’s cooling technologies research center and the Air Force’s scientific research office, in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

“Our paint only absorbs 1.9 percent of the sunlight, whereas commercial paint absorbs 10 to 20 percent of sunlight,” says Xiulin Ruan, a Purdue mechanical engineering professor and one of the study’s co-authors.

The paint is a marked improvement from current heat-rejecting paints on the market. When struck by the sun’s rays, surfaces covered in today’s available white paints get warmer, not cooler. At best, these heat-combatting paints can reflect 80 to 90 percent of sunlight, says Ruan.

The new ultra-white paint, which the researchers say is the coolest on record, reflects nearly all of the sun’s rays and sends infrared heat away from the surface, providing an average cooling power of 113 watts per square meter. If painted onto the roof of a 1,000-square-foot home, that translates to a cooling power of 10 kilowatts, which is more powerful than most residential central air conditioners, Ruan says.

In tests conducted during sunny, midday hours on the roof of a campus building in West Lafayette, Indiana, the paint kept outdoor surfaces 8 degrees cooler than the ambient surrounding temperatures. At night, the paint kept surfaces 19 degrees cooler than their surroundings.

“Our paint can lose heat by its own emission—it emits heat to deep space,” Ruan says. “With such little absorption from the sun, our paint loses more heat than it absorbs. This is really exciting for us. Under the sun, it cools below the ambient temperature and that’s hard to achieve.”

13) Apparently the NHL told its players that after vaccination life could go back to normal, but, then… not so much.  Also, I had no idea how restrictive they were being to make this all work:

Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner sparked discussion and controversy Wednesday when he spoke out against the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols and overall approach to mental health during the pandemic.

Lehner sat at the press conference table inside the Vegas practice facility and delivered an emotional message, claiming that the NHL promised players a more relaxed version of the current protocols once players were vaccinated. He said that even though the majority of Golden Knights players have received their shots, the league hasn’t followed through.

“To be promised something’s going to change, to take a vaccine,” Lehner said. “Where some people, some players were even on the verge of taking it, and I was one of them. I wasn’t sure, but I took it for my mental health. When we did it, now they said it’s not happening. I think that’s wrong.”

The NHL and deputy commissioner Bill Daly quickly disputed Lehner’s claim, stating the league never made such promises. Shortly after Lehner spoke publicly, he talked again with The Athletic over the phone to clarify some of his statements and provided details for the exact rule relaxations he was expecting.

He didn’t back down from his initial statements but doubled down on his belief that the league must do better in its handling of players’ mental health issues.

“We were presented with, ‘Listen, if we can get 85 percent of our travel party vaccinated, these rules are going to change,” Lehner told The Athletic. “They showed us the NBA protocols for all the stages, and that’s what made me take the vaccine.

“Being lied to about things changing, to kind of force us to take the vaccine, is unacceptable. And now that we’ve taken the vaccine, to say ‘Nah, we aren’t changing because of competitive advantage,’ is outrageous.”

NHL players are following stricter isolation rules than most of the general public, essentially only traveling from the rink to their house and back for an entire calendar year. They aren’t allowed to leave their house for something as simple as grocery shopping. No visitors are allowed into their homes, including their own teammates. On the road they often can’t even dine as a team, forced to grab a meal and take it to their room to eat. Even players’ family members are encouraged not to go out for any reason. To the rink, and back home. That’s it.

14) Of course there’s fraud in the vaccination cards.

15) Leonhardt on our inability to properly assess the risks of Covid:

Guido Calabresi, a federal judge and Yale law professor, invented a little fable that he has been telling law students for more than three decades.

He tells the students to imagine a god coming forth to offer society a wondrous invention that would improve everyday life in almost every way. It would allow people to spend more time with friends and family, see new places and do jobs they otherwise could not do. But it would also come with a high cost. In exchange for bestowing this invention on society, the god would choose 1,000 young men and women and strike them dead.

Calabresi then asks: Would you take the deal? Almost invariably, the students say no. The professor then delivers the fable’s lesson: “What’s the difference between this and the automobile?”

In truth, automobiles kill many more than 1,000 young Americans each year; the total U.S. death toll hovers at about 40,000 annually. We accept this toll, almost unthinkingly, because vehicle crashes have always been part of our lives. We can’t fathom a world without them.

It’s a classic example of human irrationality about risk. We often underestimate large, chronic dangers, like car crashes or chemical pollution, and fixate on tiny but salient risks, like plane crashes or shark attacks.

One way for a risk to become salient is for it to be new. That’s a core idea behind Calabresi’s fable. He asks students to consider whether they would accept the cost of vehicle travel if it did not already exist. That they say no underscores the very different ways we treat new risks and enduring ones.

I have been thinking about the fable recently because of Covid-19. Covid certainly presents a salient risk: It’s a global pandemic that has upended daily life for more than a year. It has changed how we live, where we work, even what we wear on our faces. Covid feels ubiquitous.

Fortunately, it is also curable. The vaccines have nearly eliminated death, hospitalization and other serious Covid illness among people who have received shots. The vaccines have also radically reduced the chances that people contract even a mild version of Covid or can pass it on to others.

Yet many vaccinated people continue to obsess over the risks from Covid — because they are so new and salient.

Visitors riding the swings at Adventureland, in Farmingdale, N.Y., yesterday.Johnny Milano for The New York Times

‘Psychologically hard’

To take just one example, major media outlets trumpeted new government data last week showing that 5,800 fully vaccinated Americans had contracted Covid. That may sound like a big number, but it indicates that a vaccinated person’s chances of getting Covid are about one in 11,000. The chances of a getting a version any worse than a common cold are even more remote.

But they are not zero. And they will not be zero anytime in the foreseeable future. Victory over Covid will not involve its elimination. Victory will instead mean turning it into the sort of danger that plane crashes or shark attacks present — too small to be worth reordering our lives.

That is what the vaccines do. If you’re vaccinated, Covid presents a minuscule risk to you, and you present a minuscule Covid risk to anyone else. A car trip is a bigger threat, to you and others. About 100 Americans are likely to die in car crashes today. The new federal data suggests that either zero or one vaccinated person will die today from Covid.

It’s true that experts believe vaccinated people should still sometimes wear a mask, partly because it’s a modest inconvenience that further reduces a tiny risk — and mostly because it contributes to a culture of mask wearing. It is the decent thing to do when most people still aren’t vaccinated. If you’re vaccinated, a mask is more of a symbol of solidarity than anything else.

Coming to grips with the comforting realities of post-vaccination life is going to take some time for most of us. It’s only natural that so many vaccinated people continue to harbor irrational fears. Yet slowly recognizing that irrationality will be a vital part of overcoming Covid.

15) Discovered the Raccoon Whisperer videos this weekend.  Ummm… wow.  Who knew raccoons could get so fat!

16) I love McDonald’s ice cream cones.  The fact that they are so constantly broken drives me crazy and feels like some bizarre failure of capitalism (I mean, there’s money at stake here– invent a more reliable ice cream machine!!)  And OMG this amazing Wired story explains it all and so much more.  It’s your must-read for the weekend.  And it also introduced me to this awesome website which I will now be checking before heading to McDonald’s for cones with the kids after Sunday afternoon nature walks.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been a huge believer in index funds ever since I read John Bogle’s book in grad school and actually started index fund investing way back then.  Safe to say, a big part of my retirement portfolio is in index funds.  But Annie Lowery tells me they may be “worse than Marxism”?

Yet economists, policy makers, and investors are worried that American markets have become inert—the product of a decades-long trend, not a months-long one. For millions of Americans, getting into the market no longer means picking stocks or hiring a portfolio manager to pick them for you. It means pushing money into an index fund, as offered by financial giants such as Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street, otherwise known as the Big Three.

With index funds, nobody’s behind the scenes, dumping bad investments and selecting good ones. Nobody’s making a bet on shorting Tesla or going long on Apple. Nobody’s hedging Europe and plowing money into Vietnam. Nobody is doing much of anything at all. These funds are “passively managed,” in investor-speak. They generally buy and sell stocks when those stocks enter or exit indices, such as the S&P 500, and size their holdings according to metrics such as market value. Index funds mirror the market, in other words, rather than trying to pick winners and losers within it…

This financial revolution has been unquestionably good for the people lucky enough to have money to invest: They’ve gotten better returns for lower fees, as index funds shunt billions of dollars away from financial middlemen and toward regular families. Yet it has also moved the country toward a peculiar kind of financial oligarchy, one that might not be good for the economy as a whole.

The problem in American finance right now is not that the public markets are overrun with failsons picking up stock tips on Reddit, investors gambling on art tokens, and rich people flooding cash into Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs. The problem is that the public markets have been cornered by a group of investment managers small enough to fit at a lunch counter, dedicated to quiescence and inertia.

2) As you know, I’m a big vaccine mandate fan.  The case that, maybe, they could backfire:

A possible solution is a vaccine mandate. Omer and other public-health specialists were working on vaccine-requirement frameworks before the pandemic, particularly in connection with outbreaks of measles. In July, 2019, Omer and two of his collaborators—the social scientists Cornelia Betsch, of the University of Erfurt, in Germany, and Julie Leask, of the University of Sydney, both of whom work on medical communication—published an article in Nature urging caution in introducing compulsory vaccination. The authors warned that overly punitive or restrictive vaccine mandates could backfire. For example, when California eliminated nonmedical exemptions from childhood-vaccination requirements, many parents either secured medical exemptions or opted to homeschool their children. Omer told me that he thinks vaccine mandates should be an option in the fight against covid-19, but only following a concerted campaign for voluntary vaccination. “Mandates don’t get you from fifty-per-cent uptake to a hundred,” he said. “But they can be helpful in getting from seventy to ninety.”

Hotez is vaccine developer (he has a covid-19 vaccine currently in clinical trials) and also a longtime activist against vaccine disinformation. Last year, research to which he contributed showed that two groups without much overlap exhibited the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy: Black Americans and conservative Republicans. (Hesitancy among Black Americans has since lowered.) In response to these findings, Hotez became a regular on radio talk shows that would reach people least likely to trust the vaccines. What he discovered, he told me, was that conservative callers assumed that the government would institute a vaccine mandate—they were already in battle with this straw man. Requiring vaccination, Hotez told me, would be, at this stage, “poking the bear.” “Mandates may become necessary, but now I’d say, ‘Don’t push too hard,’ ” he said. “It may be counterproductive.” A mandate, he believes, would affirm the anti-big-government expectations of some of most vocal vaccine resisters, rather than change their minds.

3) The gender gap in public opinion on issues involving guns, military, etc., is interesting and pervasive.  My sometimes co-author Mary-Kate Lizotte (and some others) with some good stuff:

What factors influence an individual’s concern for personal security and safety? Prior research shows that women exhibit higher levels of fear, anxiety, and perceived threat. These differences in threat perceptions have important policy consequences, including the fact that women display lower support for military interventions, lower support for retaliation against terrorist groups, and lower levels of support for using torture. However, previous research has not fully investigated the origins of these differences in concern for safety and security, which we refer to as “personal security dispositions.” We ask if these differences are the result of lived experience, socialization, or both. Specifically, our analysis explores the extent to which personal security dispositions can be traced to parental warnings about safety and avoiding danger. Our findings indicate that both gender identity and parental socialization have an impact on security dispositions. We conclude the article with a discussion of avenues for further research and the policy implications of our findings, in particular with respect to public opinion on issues such as support for the international use of military force.

4) Yglesias on Georgia’s election law:

One thing is that they’ve made it less likely that people will vote absentee in Georgia — they narrowed the window during which ballots can be requested, they largely banned absentee dropboxes, and they made it illegal for local officials to adopt a policy of mailing ballots to all voters. Then they banned mobile voting centers.

The upshot is to funnel more people to normal in-person voting, which likely means longer lines. Yet they put restrictions on giving people food and water in line to encourage them to stick it out and vote. They made it harder to vote legally if you vote at the wrong polling place (perhaps deterred by long lines). And they made it harder to respond to long lines by extending voting hours.

This is all offset by a provision that expands early voting — but does so in a very particular way. Basically, it raises the floor for early voting rather than raising the ceiling. This means, in practice, that early voting should become more available in rural counties while staying the same in the high population Greater Atlanta counties. They are pretty clearly trying to make voting more burdensome and frustrating in metro Atlanta while keeping things the same or maybe even making it easier in the rural parts of the state. It’s an effort to halt the state’s leftward drift by manipulating the electorate rather than adapting to shifting opinion. It will also just make voting more annoying for the typical person, which is bad, albeit not exactly the return of Jim Crow…

After a lot of words, I think the key context on Georgia’s election changes is the ongoing claims by Donald Trump that the 2020 election was fraudulently stolen from him.

When he pushed these claims in the winter of 2020-21, the key Republicans with decision-making authority generally stood firmly against him. But a healthy minority of Republican senators backed him; most House Republicans backed him; and the general perception is that downballot GOP elected officials who did the right thing damaged their political fortunes. The Georgia restrictions represent a symbolic and practical healing of the intra-GOP divide, and they do so on Trump’s terms.

Making it harder for people to vote is bad per se, but unlikely to swing the 2024 election.

The risk is simply that in the future, GOP officials will do what Trump wanted and steal elections. The spectacular and alarming events of January 6 ended up creating what I think is an overstated sense in some people’s minds that the country is facing some kind of violent terrorist movement that might try to seize power. A much more plausible threat is just that a bunch of boring state legislators who are insulated from electoral accountability by gerrymandering will, through one means or another, assign their state’s electorate votes to the Republican candidate.

Back to Georgia, the election reform package also includes a great deal of centralization of power, further raising the risk that the GOP-dominated state legislature will try to invalidate the election…

Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives and a majority of the state legislatures in the country have badly skewed partisan gerrymanders. We just wrapped up a census last year and redistricting is imminent. Democrats have a once-in-a-decade chance to pass a tough anti-gerrymandering law that sets a partisan fairness standard. If they pass such a law, then if they win future elections 51-49 they will receive narrow governing majorities. If they do not pass such a law, then Republicans will continue to run states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin indefinitely and just laugh off the occasional 55-45 defeat.

Similarly, right now, the geographic skew of the Senate massively overrepresents non-college white voters while underrepresenting Black and Hispanic voters

This means that it is going to be very hard for Democrats to win future Senate majorities. The current 50-50 Senate is based on Democrats having held on to Senate seats in West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio back in 2018 when there was a Republican president, Democratic incumbents in each of those states, and a very favorable national political environment. That majority likely cannot be sustained past the 2022 and 2024 cycles, meaning the chance to enact reforms is slipping away very fast.

These big skews — gerrymandering and the Senate — matter much more than the marginal impact of tinkering with voter ID or absentee ballot rules. And right now, nothing at all other than timidity and paralysis is stopping Democrats from curtailing the filibuster, passing anti-gerrymandering rules, and creating a path for D.C. and U.S. territories to become states. Those would be good, highly effective, pro-democracy reforms with strong public legitimacy that would make it much harder to steal future elections. They deserve much more focus and urgency.

5) “What Bears Can Teach Us About Our Exercise Habits”

Accumulating research suggests that we humans, as a species, are apt to be physically lazy, with a hard-wired inclination to avoid activity. In a telling 2018 neurological study, for example, brain scans indicated that volunteers were far more attracted by images of people in chairs and hammocks than of people in motion.

 

But the extent to which we share this penchant for physical ease with other species and whether these predilections affect how we and they traverse the world has remained unclear.

So, cue grizzlies, particularly those living at the Washington State University Bear Center, the nation’s primary grizzly bear conservation and research center. University biologists affiliated with the center study how the animals live, eat and interact with humans…

Comparing the data, the scientists found that wild grizzlies, like us, seem born to laze. The researchers had expected the wild bears to move at their most efficient speed whenever possible, Mr. Carnahan says. But in reality, their average pace traveling through Yellowstone was a pokey and physiologically inefficient 1.4 miles per hour.

They also almost invariably chose the least-steep route to get anywhere, even when it required extra time. “They did a lot of side-hilling,” Mr. Carnahan says.

Taken as a whole, the findings suggest that the innate urge to avoid exertion plays a greater role in how all creatures, great and small, typically behave and navigate than we might imagine.

6) I always wash my hands after adding bird food to the feeders.  Going to be extra diligent about that now! “Salmonella Outbreak Is Linked to Wild Birds and Feeders, C.D.C. Says”

7) This is pretty damn good from Clearerthinking.org, “How to achieve self-control without “self-control””

8) Another excellent Ezra column, “Four Ways of Looking at the Radicalism of Joe Biden” in the NYT, well worth reading in full, but here’s the final section:

Biden is a politician, in the truest sense of the word. Biden sees his role, in part, as sensing what the country wants, intuiting what people will and won’t accept, and then working within those boundaries. In America, that’s often treated as a dirty business. We like the aesthetics of conviction, we believe leaders should follow their own counsel, we use “politician” as an epithet.

But Biden’s more traditional understanding of the politician’s job has given him the flexibility to change alongside the country. When the mood was more conservative, when the idea of big government frightened people and the virtues of private enterprise gleamed, Biden reflected those politics, calling for balanced budget amendments and warning of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars.” Then the country changed, and so did he.

A younger generation revived the American left, and Bernie Sanders’s two campaigns proved the potency of its politics. Republicans abandoned any pretense of fiscal conservatism, and Trump raised — but did not follow through on — the fearful possibility of a populist conservatism, one that would combine xenophobia and resentment with popular economic policies. Stagnating wages and a warming world and Hurricane Katrina and a pandemic virus proved that there were scarier words in the English language than “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” as Ronald Reagan famously put it.

Even when Biden was running as the moderate in the Democratic primary, his agenda had moved well to the left of anything he’d supported before. But then he did something unusual: Rather than swinging to the center in the general election, he went further left. And the same happened after winning the election. He’s moved away from work requirements and complex targeting in policy design. He’s emphasizing the irresponsibility of allowing social and economic problems to fester, as opposed to the irresponsibility of spending money on social and economic problems. His administration is defined by the fear that the government isn’t doing enough, not that it’s doing too much. As the pseudonymous commentator James Medlock wrote on Twitter, “The era of ‘the era of big government is over’ is over.’”

9) Derek Thompson with a good take on the Georgia law.  It really is bad, but Democrats should be more honest about it.

Political hyperbole is neither sin nor modern invention. But suggesting that the Georgia provisions are a steroidal version of poll taxes, literacy tests, whites-only primaries, armed sheriffs patrolling voting lines, and outright domestic terrorism is not helpful. “There’s no doubt about it: This new law does not make it easier to vote,” Bullock said. “But I hear it being billed as Jim Crow 2.0, and it’s really not anywhere near that. This law does not compare to the cataclysms of the white primary or poll taxes.”…

As Delaware’s former senator, Biden would be on firmer ground excoriating Georgia for “Jim Crow 2.0” if he could hold up his home state as a model for voting rights. But Delaware has been a laggard on early voting, and its legislature is still trying to legalize no-excuse absentee voting, which allows any voter to request a mail-in ballot. Georgia, by contrast, permits many weeks of early voting and has allowed no-excuse absentee voting since 2005. Voting-rights activists may justifiably focus their outrage on a swing state like Georgia that, unlike Delaware, actually determines the balance of power. But “Jim Crow” rhetoric from northeastern politicians and media figures loses some bite when we consider that Georgia’s voting rights have long been more accommodating than those of deep-blue states including not only Delawarebut also Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York

This is what we’ve learned from the Georgia voting-rights fiasco: Corporations are still corporations, the White House’s metaphors are overheated, and the Georgia legislation is far worse. Democrats’ rhetorical embellishments pale in comparison to both the voting-fraud conspiracy theory that inspired Georgia Republicans and the needless provisions of the law itself. Lurking beneath all this confusion and incoherence is a basic partisan difference: GOP activism is about making it harder to vote; Democratic activism is about making it harder to make it harder to vote. If that is the choice before us, I for one know which box I’m prepared to check.

10) Good stuff from Sarah Zhang, “You Probably Have an Asymptomatic Infection Right Now: No, not COVID-19. Many, many viruses can infect humans without making us sick, and how they do that is one of biology’s deepest mysteries.”  I think I’m going to be boring people with anecdotes about human cytomegalovirus in my future.

But for most of human existence, we didn’t know that viruses could infect us asymptomatically. We didn’t know how to look for them, or even that we should. The tools of modern science have slowly made the invisible visible: Antibody surveys that detect past infection, tests that find viral DNA or RNA even in asymptomatic people, and mathematical models all show that viruses are up to much more than making us sick. Scientists now think that for viruses, a wide range of disease severity is the norm rather than the exception.

A virus, after all, does not necessarily wish its host ill. A dead host is a dead end. The viruses best adapted to humans have co-evolved over millions of years to infect but rarely sicken us. Human cytomegalovirus is a prime example, a virus so innocuous that it lives in obscurity despite infecting most of the world’s population. (Odds are that you have it.) Infections with human cytomegalovirus are almost always asymptomatic because it has evolved a suite of tricks to evade the human immune system, which nevertheless tries its best to hunt the virus down. By the time humans reach old age, up to a quarter of our killer T cells are devoted to fighting human cytomegalovirus. Pathogens and immune systems are in constant battle, with one just barely keeping the other in check. In the rare instances when human cytomegalovirus turns deadly—usually in an immunocompromised patient—it’s because this equilibrium did not hold…

T cell responses also weaken with age, which may help explain why COVID-19 is dramatically more deadly for the elderly. Humans have a huge diversity of T cells, some of which are activated each time we encounter a pathogen. But as we age, our supply of unactivated T cells dwindles. Immunosenescence, or the gradual weakening of the immune system over time, is influenced by both age and the system’s previous battles. Human cytomegalovirus—that otherwise innocuous virus that infects much of the world’s population—seems to play a particular role in immunosenescence. So many of our T cells are devoted to suppressing this virus that we may become more vulnerable to new ones.

Unlike human cytomegalovirus, the coronavirus doesn’t seem capable of hiding inside our bodies in the same way for decades. Once it sneaks in, its goal is to replicate as quickly as possible—so that it can find another body before it kills its host, or its host eliminates it.

Now that this coronavirus has found humans, it will have a chance to hone its strategy, probing for more weaknesses in the human immune system. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will become more deadly; the four coronaviruses already circulating among humans cause only common colds, and the virus that causes COVID-19 could one day behave similarly. Variants of the virus are already exhibiting mutations that make them more transmissible and better able to evade existing antibodies. As the virus continues to infect humans over the coming years, decades, and maybe even millenia, it will keep changing—and our immune systems will keep learning new ways to fight back. We’re at the very beginning of our relationship with this coronavirus.

11) I really kind of love how much we don’t know about the world we live in– there’s also so much to learn.  This is fascinating! “A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics: Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.”

Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.

The result, physicists say, suggests that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science. The new work, they said, could eventually lead to breakthroughs more dramatic than the heralded discovery in 2012 of the Higgs boson, a particle that imbues other particles with mass.

“This is our Mars rover landing moment,” said Chris Polly, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., who has been working toward this finding for most of his career.

The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.

The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.

“This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory,” said Renee Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky.

12) Gallup’s latest PID:

Bottom Line

It is not unprecedented for Democratic Party affiliation to rise after a Democratic candidate wins the presidential election. It is also not unprecedented to see more people shift to independent political status in a nonelection year, as has occurred. With more of the gain in independent identification coming from the Republican side of the ledger, the GOP is facing its smallest share of Republican identifiers since 2018 and its largest deficit to Democrats on party identification and leaning in nearly nine years.

Republicans did recover from their 2012-2013 deficits to make gains in the 2014 midterm elections and are hoping to duplicate that feat in 2022. Like in 2014, their hopes may rest largely on the popularity level of the incumbent Democratic president.

The GOP’s hopes of regaining control of the House and Senate it lost in the past two federal election cycles may also depend on how well the party appeals to independent voters, the largest bloc in the U.S., something the Republican Party struggled to do during the Trump administration.

13) This.  “Stop Freaking Out: You Probably Already Have Some Type Of Vaccine Passport
Schools, international travel, and military service — people in the US already have to prove they are vaccinated against many diseases.”

14) Sargent on Manchin, “Why filibuster reformers aren’t (quite) ready to give up on Joe Manchin”

So where are 10 Republican votes (the amount needed to overcome a GOP filibuster) going to come from to support even a narrow infrastructure bill?

If and when they don’t materialize, that will be strike one on the Joe Manchin test…

At some point, if Republicans keep failing the Joe Manchin test, he’ll have to admit that nothing will achieve the cooperation that can supposedly be achieved by senators simply rediscovering their inner civic virtue. And he’ll either have to revise his arguments, or reconsider his opposition to filibuster reform. You’d think, anyway.

15) G. Elliot Morris on survey response:

In the 1970s, more than 80% of people called by Gallup’s interviewers answered their phones and completed their interviews. In 1997, surveys run by the Pew Research Centre—another large pollster—had a response rate of 36%. By 2018, it was 6%. It is even lower today—around 2% or 3%, according to Pew. As response rates decrease, the chance that the people answering the phone are systematically different than those who aren’t increases. In recent years, the population of respondents has been more Democratic than the population as a whole, leading to large misses in pre-election surveys. What are pollsters doing about this?

Over the past decade, the survey methodologists at Pew have embarked on a full redesign of the way they conduct public-opinion polls. In 2014, they began surveys over the internet, via a panel of respondents who answer questions repeatedly over time. Their American Trends Panel currently has 13,600 people regularly taking surveys online—some on internet-enabled tablets that Pew sent them. Online surveys have higher response rates than phone polls, and have supplanted random-digit dialling as Pew’s primary mode of collecting public-opinion data in America.

But switching to online polling has not completely solved the differential-response problem. In a recent analysis, Pew has detailed a persistent source of partisan bias in their poll: new recruits. The political composition of people who agreed to join their panel, after receiving a call or postcard soliciting their participation, has grown less Republican each year (see chart). Pew is able to fix much of this bias by adjusting the data to match the political composition of the electorate. This increases the uncertainty of the poll, and is an incomplete fix during an election year; there is still a chance that Republicans answering the phone are different from the ones who aren’t. That is what happened in 2020 when Pew’s panel was weighted by party but still understated support for Donald Trump.

In an attempt to solve the problem and provide a high-quality, less biased estimate of how many Democrats and Republicans live in the country, Pew has begun fielding an annual survey via the postal system that asks people their religious and political attitudes, among other metrics. Crucially, the national survey lets respondents answer either online or by paper in a prepaid envelope. The response rate for the mail survey is 29%, harkening back to the high response rates of the 1990s and early 2000s. According to Courtney Kennedy, Pew’s director of survey research, providing this offline response option has made the survey more representative.

Ms Kennedy hopes that using these higher-quality benchmarks to adjust their online polls will make their taking of the pulse of democracy less susceptible to a mass of Republicans refusing to answer their phones. But the methodological fixes do not change the underlying pattern. For some reason, Republicans, especially conservatives, are less likely to feel comfortable telling a pollster how they feel on the issues of the day. Although some biases can be fixed by weighting, Ms Kennedy said, “we really can’t afford to have this get much worse.” The real fix is to convince conservatives that polls are worth taking part in.

16) Watched “The Founder” (the story of Ray Kroc, “founder” of McDonald’s) playing on Netflix this week.  Great job from Michael Keaton and I found the movie very entertaining and was fascinated by the origins of the restaurant and the modern fast-food business.  The movie was really accurate.  

17) Somebody at Gallup had fun with this headline, “Global Warming Attitudes Frozen Since 2016”

18) Yglesias on America’s secularization

Religion is getting more polarized

When I shared that image on Twitter, a lot of secular liberals who don’t like right-wing evangelical politics got excited and dunked on right-wing evangelicals.

But this doesn’t really seem to be the case. Ryan Burge, a religion scholar who makes lots of great charts on Twitter, shows that evangelical or “born again” identity is holding up very well.

The decline in membership instead has two causes. One is that a growing number of people who describe themselves as non-denominational Christians aren’t members of a congregation. The other is that, as documented in Burge’s new book, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of people who say they have no religious affiliation. In the 1972 General Social Survey, the “Nones” are 5% of the population, while today they are nearly a quarter of the population.

We’re essentially looking at a more polarized religious landscape, with normie Protestants and Catholics in decline but evangelicals holding their ground in the face of the Rise of the Nones…

The racial polarization of the American electorate steadily increased for decades until bottoming out in 2012. Then somewhat contrary to what you’d guess based on the tenor of the Trump-era takes, the gap between the white and non-white vote shrunk a bit in 2016 and then shrunk more in 2020.

There are a few different reasons for this.

But a political data person I spoke to says that secularization plays a role. He says that in his firm’s data, they see “a substantial effect of no longer identifying with a religion on change in partisanship,” but the impact varies by race. When a white person goes from Christian to non-affiliated, they are more likely to become a Democrat. But when a Black person makes the same switch, the correlation goes in the other direction.

The causation here, of course, is a bit hard to tease out. Michele Margolis’ book suggests that when people leave the GOP, they tend to leave their church, too, since they see right-wing politics as having become constitutive of the religion. Ismail White and Chryl Laird have a recent book which argues that Black Americans with moderate or even conservative views tend to be Democrats out of a sense of partisan loyalty that is inculcated in Black social institutions — with Black churches very high on that list. So secularization of the Black population leads to higher levels of GOP affiliation as Black conservatives (and some Black moderates) drift right in their voting behavior without the socializing influence of the church.

Burge’s data also sees religious disaffiliation moving Hispanics to the right…

Demographics to watch out for

To me, the most interesting thing about this is that the media and political universes seem to have overreacted to the declining political salience of religion by moving to ignoring it entirely. We used to hear a lot about segmenting the white population based on religious affiliation, and now we’ve shifted almost entirely to discussing educational attainment.

But it’s not like the religious influence on politics went away just because secularization forced Republicans to become a less-overtly Jesus-first kind of political coalition.

As I noted above, the secularization trend seems to be prompting a reduction in the racial polarization of the electorate. But it’s also worth saying that since white voters outnumber non-white ones, it’s not like this is a neutral change — falling religious affiliation helps Democrats. It’s also particularly important because the geographical skew of the Senate is a huge deal in contemporary politics, and that skew is driven in part by the great overrepresentation of white voters in the upper house. So a dynamic through which Democrats gain newly unchurched white voters in exchange for losing newly unchurched non-white ones is actually very unfavorable to the GOP.

19) Radley Balko, “The Chauvin trial underscores two very different approaches to policing”

At Derek Chauvin’s trial this week, the jury heard from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, the city’s former training commander and expert witnesses, all of whom testified that Chauvin’s treatment of George Floyd violated widely accepted use of force standards as well as Minneapolis Police Department policy, which calls for commensurate force and requires respect for the “sanctity of life.” But despite those standards, Chauvin also had a history of kneeling on suspects’ necks for long periods of time, and none of those incidents resulted in discipline. It’s an apt illustration of how, for about the past 10 years, two contradictory philosophies have been at war in American policing.

On one side are the de-escalationists, a product of the criminal justice reform movement. They accept police brutality, systemic racism and excessive force as real problems in law enforcement, and call for more accountability, as well as training in areas like de-escalation and conflict resolution. De-escalationists believe police serve their communities by apprehending and detaining people who violate the rights and safety of others, but must also do so in a way that protects the rights of the accused.

The other side — let’s call them “no-hesitationists” — asserts that police officers aren’t aggressive enough and are too hesitant to use deadly force, which puts officers and others at risk. They see law enforcement officers as warriors, and American neighborhoods as battlefields, where officers vanquish the bad to protect the good. These are the self-identified “sheepdogs,” the cops who sport Punisher gear.

No-hesitationists are more prominent in sheriff’s offices and police union leadership, and among rank-and-file officers. They’re more populist and have been successful including their policies in union contracts, honing successful legal arguments for cops accused of excessive force and leveraging political power, both to elect police-friendly judges, prosecutors and lawmakers, and to shame and intimidate politicians deemed insufficiently pro-law enforcement.

The de-escalationists successfully worked their preferred practices into official policy. But the no-hesitationists prevented meaningful enforcement of those policies. One example played out in Los Angeles in 2015. After LAPD chief Charlie Beck announced a new “Preservation of Life” award, for officers who held their fire and peacefully resolved confrontations with potentially dangerous suspects, the police union objected, claiming the award valued the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of police officers.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Perry Bacon Jr.  Why do Republicans want to talk about “woke” issues and cancel culture all the time?  Because that unites Republicans and divides Democrats. 

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

In many ways, casting people on the left as too woke and eager to cancel their critics is just the present-day equivalent of attacks from the right against “outside agitators” (civil rights activists in 1960s), the “politically correct” (liberal college students in the 1980s and ’90s) and “activist judges” (liberal judges in the 2000s). Liberals pushing for, say, calling people by the pronoun they prefer or reparations for Black Americans serve as the present-day analogies to aggressive school integration programs and affirmative action. These are ideas that are easy for the GOP to run against, because they offer few direct benefits (the overwhelming majority of Americans aren’t transgender and/or Black) but some costs to the (white) majority of Americans. In many ways, we are just watching an old GOP strategy with new language and different issues…

Second, this strategy unifies the GOP while dividing the Democrats, a very useful function in a two-party system in which the parties are in a zero-sum competition. As we wrote about this week, many ideas that are newly ascendant on the left, such as reducing funding for police, divide Democrats (more on that in a bit) but unify Republicans. Moreover, many of these ideas are opposed by a majority of the public. 

2) Harm reduction is such a great principle of public health that is even more broadly applicable (basically, avoid binaries and reduce costs).  And on the public health issue of Covid, this is the approach we need.  German Lopez:

For too long, America has approached public health issues with puritanical, black-and-white approaches. Whether it’s an abstinence-only approach for teen sex and HIV/AIDS, or refusing to provide clean needles and overdose antidotes to people who use drugs, the country has a tendency to prefer the perfect but unrealistic over the better and pragmatic. The US repeated those mistakes again with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Much of the discussion about the coronavirus and how to mitigate it has been framed in absolutist terms. The initial phase of the pandemic was marked by harsh lockdowns, including relatively safe spaces like parks and beaches. People created Instagram accounts to shame those who didn’t perfectly follow the precautions. Schools have remained closed partly because parents and teachers are worried about any risk of Covid-19, suggesting that any risk whatsoever is too much.

But over the course of the pandemic, an alternative has started to take hold: harm reduction. The approach, initially popularized by activists working on drug use and HIV/AIDS, focuses on minimizing risk, even under less-than-ideal circumstances, such as telling people to have safe sex rather than abstain entirely, or be monogamous to avoid HIV. In theory, it’s not the best approach for preventing HIV, but it’s better, while letting people live their lives closer to what they want.

Over the past year, people have started to take approaches that enable them to do the things they love — even if that means minimizing risk rather than eliminating it entirely. Now, more people are dining out and going to parks, mitigating the risks involved with social distancing and masks. Federal officials have pushed to reopen K-12 schools, talking about reducing risk rather than completely eliminating it.

3) Krugman on Europe’s vaccination flaws:

Europe’s vaccination debacle will almost surely end up causing thousands of unnecessary deaths. And the thing is, the continent’s policy bungles don’t look like isolated instances, a few bad decisions made by a few bad leaders. Instead, the failures seem to reflect fundamental flaws in the continent’s institutions and attitudes — including the same bureaucratic and intellectual rigidity that made the euro crisis a decade ago far worse than it should have been.

The details of the European failure are complex. But the common thread seems to be that European officials were not just risk averse, but averse to the wrong risks. They seemed deeply worried about the possibility that they might end up paying drug companies too much, or discover that they had laid out money for vaccines that either proved ineffective or turned out to have dangerous side effects.

So they minimized these risks by delaying the procurement process, haggling over prices and refusing to grant liability waivers. They seemed far less worried about the risk that many Europeans might get sick or die because the vaccine rollout was too slow.

4) Cancel culture really is a thing.  The same people, though, who would surely forgive an African-American youth who committed a violent crime when 17 and repented don’t seem to have much forgiveness for people who make stupid and racist tweets at 17.  That’s wrong, but if you are clearly not that person any more (seriously, raise your hand if you didn’t engage in some form of seriously regrettable behavior at 17), why punish now?  Yes, the Teen Vogue editor.  

5) I was having faculty book club yesterday with a professor who teaches Organic Chemistry and it got me wondering how necessary this gatekeeper class really is for medical school.  Came across this fascinating account from 2013:

But the rules have many, many exceptions, which students find maddening. The same molecule will behave differently in acid or base, in dark or sunlight, in heat or cold, or if you sprinkle magic orgo dust on it and turn around three times. You can’t memorize all the possible answers — you have to rely on intuition, generalizing from specific examples. This skill, far more than the details of every reaction, may actually be useful for medicine.

“It seems a lot like diagnosis,” said Logan McCarty, Harvard’s director of physical sciences education, who taught the second semester. “That cognitive skill — inductive generalization from specific cases to something you’ve never seen before — that’s something you learn in orgo.”…

This is one thing that orgo is testing: whether you have the time and desire to do the work. “Sometimes, if a student has really good math skills, they can slide through physics, but you can’t do that in orgo,” Mr. McCarty told me, adding, “You can’t slide through medical school, either.”

6) The other day, I made the practical case for being practical on voting rights issues and pushing a policy you were sure you could get Manchin and Sinema on.  Brian Beutler makes the case, though, for going full bore for HR1.  

If anything, deferring to all of Manchin’s objections (or imagined objections) at the outset of the process would screw up the balance of leverage that makes it possible to imagine a 50-vote Democratic majority governing in the first place. 

Offer him a bill that he has no objection to at the outset and he’ll run off in search of Republican votes that will never materialize and actually derail the process. Confront him with one that contains a bunch of meritorious but non-essential progressive wishlist items in it (un-Manchin-ables, if you will), and he can make a stink about how the bill is unacceptable. Then Democrats can trade him those provisions for a promise to embrace whatever filibuster reforms are necessary to allow the remainder to pass. 

Once we reach that point, then I think going back and looking at the provisions Rick deems essential is instructive. A bill that: 1) revived the Voting Rights Act with an updated preclearance requirement; 2) made automatic (or near-automatic) voter registration the law of the land; 3) required a paper-ballot trail for all federal elections; and 4) eliminated partisan gerrymandering would be a historic accomplishment. Include statehood provisions for DC and the territories, it would be the biggest expansion of the franchise since LBJ. 

At the same time, we’d have to watch Manchin dash measures to enfranchise former prisoners, reform the campaign-finance system, and impose disclosure requirements on federal officers. It’d be no fun. But that doesn’t mean we should assume these are the pounds of flesh Manchin would demand and sheer them off for him. Let him name his price, and if part of that price is unacceptable, well, Democrats just reintroduced earmarks; maybe Manchin will be more amenable to negotiation than we realize. 

7) Chapel Hill students are going back to school, but I hate this 4 days a week so a fifth can be for “cleaning.”  Give me a break.  And if 4 days is pedagogically superior for at-risk students, why are we saving it for a pandemic?

Chapel Hill-Carrboro students will begin a hybrid Plan B schedule of both in-person and virtual classes Monday, with elementary students shifting to four days a week of Plan A in-person classes after spring break.

The new schedule, which the board approved unanimously Thursday, will continue to set aside Wednesdays for remote learning, giving staff time to clean the schools and teachers time to plan and work more closely with small groups and at-risk students.

8) Leonhardt on how UK’s policy of delaying the 2nd dose seems to be working great.  (That really was predictable).  

9) Damn do I love Noah Smith’s (mostly free) substack.  You should totally subscribe.  Great post on climate change:

Basically, the general principle here is that if we sacrifice much of our economy to decarbonize — as the degrowth movement would have us do — it will provide a negative example to the rest of the world. It will demonstrate that decarbonization = poverty. Asian countries just won’t do it.

BUT, if we find ways to decarbonize while growing our economy, that will do three positive things. First, it will show developing nations that decarbonization is the route to riches, which will make them accelerate their own efforts out of self-interest. Second, it will create technologies that developing countries can use to decarbonize cheaply. And third, it will discover, through policy experiments, which strategies are most effective.

Sivaram mentions research and technology transfer, as well as the beneficial effect of creating detailed decarbonization plans. Those are all important and good things. He also calls for actually investing directly in other countries’ green infrastructure, which I think is a great idea (if they’ll let us do it, which China might not).

Those are all great ideas, but I would like to add one more: Learning curves

In other words, the more solar you install, the more the cost of solar really does go down. That almost certainly goes for batteries too.

So the more the U.S. pays to adopt these technologies, at huge scale and very quickly, the more the cost goes down. And that means the more other countries will be able to decarbonize cheaply. With solar/storage cheaper than coal/gas/oil, developing nations in Asia and elsewhere will want to use these green technologies simply because doing so will speed up their growth

The best way to scale these technologies up quickly will be to directly speed-up large-scale adoption. That means massive government investment in solar and storage. Carbon taxes will be much less effective, since their effect is diffused through all sectors of the economy rather than focused on the key areas, and since carbon taxes are partially a degrowth policy in addition to an adoption incentive. Similarly, policies to intentionally limit economic growth will be actively counterproductive.

Green growth — intentional rapid mass adoption of renewables — is America’s best shot at saving the planet from catastrophic climate change, because it’s our best shot at actually getting China and other countries to decarbonize. It’s also fair, because it minimizes the sacrifices that developing countries will have to make. And it’s likely to be far more politically acceptable to the American people than high carbon taxes or degrowth policies.

When it comes to climate change, we really do have to think globally and act locally.

10) Somehow, I’ve never heard the term “myside bias” but I quite like this:

In recent years, an upsurge of polarization has been a salient feature of political discourse in America. A small but growing body of research has examined the potential relevance of intellectual humility (IH) to political polarization. In the present investigation, we extend this work to political myside bias, testing the hypothesis that IH is associated with less bias in two community samples (N1 = 498; N2 = 477). In line with our expectations, measures of IH were negatively correlated with political myside bias across paradigms, political topics, and samples. These relations were robust to controlling for humility. We also examined ideological asymmetries in the relations between IH and political myside bias, finding that IH-bias relations were statistically equivalent in members of the political left and right. Notwithstanding important limitations and caveats, these data establish IH as one of a small handful psychological features known to predict less political myside bias.

11) The case for Breyer retiring right now (something happens to one Democratic Senator and we’re screwed).

12) Been a long time since I’ve been too NC’s Outer Banks, but loves this NYT photo essay on the eroding beaches.  

13) Did I mention Perry Bacon has been doing very good work: “The Ideas That Are Reshaping The Democratic Party And America”

Here are 10 views, based on polls and public discourse, that are increasingly influential on the left. This is an informal list, but I think it captures some real sentiments on the left and ideas that people on the right are criticizing when they invoke the term “woke”: 

  1. The United States has often not lived up to the ideals of its founders or the notion that it is an “exceptional” nation that should be a model for other countries. Because the U.S. has disempowered its Native and Black populations and women throughout its history, America has never been a true or full democracy.
  2. White people, particularly white men, are especially advantaged in American society (“white privilege”).
  3. People of color in America suffer from not only individualized and overt acts of racism (someone uses a racial slur, for example) but a broader “systemic” and “institutional” racism.
  4. Capitalism as currently practiced in America is deeply flawed, giving way too much money and power to the wealthy. America’s economy should not be set up in a way that allows people to accumulate billions of dollars in wealth.
  5. Women suffer from systemic sexism.
  6. People should be able to identify as whatever gender they prefer or not to identify by gender at all.
  7. The existence of a disparity — for example, Black, Latino or women being underrepresented in a given profession or industry — is evidence of discrimination, even if no overt acts of discrimination are visible.
  8. Black Americans deserve reparations to make up for slavery and post-slavery racial discrimination.
  9. Law enforcement agencies, from local police departments to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are designed to defend America’s status quo as much as any public safety mission. When they treat people of color or the poor badly, they are working as they are designed. So these agencies must be defunded, abolished, disbanded or at least dramatically changed if the goal is to improve their treatment of people of color and the poor.
  10. Trump’s political rise was not an aberration or a surprise. Politicians in both parties, particularly Republicans, have long used racialized language to demean people of color — Trump was just more direct and crude about it. And his messages resonated with a lot of Americans, particularly white people and conservatives, because lots of Americans have negative views about people of color, Black people in particular.

These views are now expressed regularly by left-leaning people and Democrats — particularly those who use Twitter, are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and are under age 40. Books such as Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste” have become bestsellers because they appeal to people with these views and are likely pushing those who read them even further in this direction. 

Perhaps most important, these views are powerfully shaping public discourse and policy.

14) Totally need to share this with my dog-obsessed daughter, “The Family Dog Is in Sync With Your Kids”

Family dogs match their movements to those of the children they live with, according to a poignant new study of young people and their pets. In the study, pet dogs moved when their accompanying children did and remained still when they stopped, a physical synchrony that often signals emotional bonding. The family canines also tended to stay close by and to orient themselves in the same directions as the kids, a further indication of social engagement and attentiveness that could have implications for the emotional development of both dogs and youngsters, as well as for the safety of the interactions between them.

The results add to the growing evidence that how people and other creatures move depends to a surprising extent on who they are with, and that social connections can be shaped and strengthened by shared activity. The findings also raise practical questions about how children and dogs can best learn to read each other’s body language, and how family pets might help to encourage children to move more or best serve as a source of emotional support.

15) Planet Money on what we can learn about legal marijuana:

It’s been almost a decade since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana. That’s given economists and other researchers enough time to study the effects of the policy. Here are some of the most interesting findings:

Legalization didn’t seem to substantially affect crime rates — Proponents of legalizing weed claimed it would reduce violent crimes. Opponents said it would increase violent crimes. A study by the CATO Institute finds, “Overall, violent crime has neither soared nor plummeted in the wake of marijuana legalization.”

Legalization seems to have little or no effect on traffic accidents and fatalities — Opponents of marijuana legalization argued it would wreak havoc on the road. A few studies have found that’s not the case. Economists Benjamin Hansen, Keaton S. Miller & Caroline Weber, for instance, found evidence suggesting it had no effect on trends in traffic fatalities in both Colorado and Washington.

Legalization has created jobs. Lots of jobs — A new report by Leafly and Whitney Economics finds the marijuana industry is booming. In 2020 alone, they calculate, it created 77,000 jobs. Across the country, there are about 321,000 jobs in the legal marijuana industry. That’s more than the mining industry.

Legalization is good for state budgets — Tax revenue from legal recreational marijuana has surpassed everyone’s expectations. Colorado usually collects more than $20 million a month. In 2020, the state collected a total of $387 million. The California government collects more than $50 million a month. You can find similar stories in other states that have legalized.

Umm, yeah, so let’s just legalize it everywhere.

16) Geoffrey Skelley on the changing meaning of presidential approval:

It’s early yet, but President Biden’s initial approval marks aren’t all that impressive, either. Or at least that’s true when compared to past presidents’ ratings in the first few months of their presidency, often referred to as the “honeymoon” period. (According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 53 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s job performance,2 whereas at this point in the presidency, most new presidents’ approval ratings have usually been closer to 60 percent.)

So if the new normal is presidential approval ratings that don’t change all that much, is it time to abandon them?

Not so fast. On the one hand, we do need to recalibrate our expectations of presidential approval ratings. They’re just not going to move that much in our hyper-polarized political climate. But that doesn’t mean approval ratings aren’t a useful window into how the public broadly views a president’s performance. Or that they can’t still signal a change in political fortunes. And once we move past the presidency, approval ratings of other American leaders, such as governors, see wider ranges of support largely because partisanship isn’t quite as baked in at the state level.

First, the presidency. Nowadays, it’s just harder to have a glowing approval rating. That’s in large part thanks to the rise of negative partisanship, which compels most members of the opposing party to disapprove of a new president right from the start. Consider Gallup’s presidential approval polling conducted the month after the last five inaugurations of new presidents. When Gallup surveyed Americans in February 1993 after Bill Clinton became president, they found that 74 percent of Democrats approved of Clinton’s job performance, compared to 24 percent of Republicans. Now, that 50-point partisan gap in Clinton’s approval rating was nothing to sneeze at, but as the table below shows, it has only grown, with both Trump and Biden facing an 80-plus point gap along party lines in their early approval polls…

But the important takeaway here is not that shifts in presidential approval can’t still happen. They can. We just need to adjust our expectations of how big these swings will be. Observers might have once looked for swings of 10 or more percentage points to gauge how the public responded to an especially big event — like Ronald Reagan’s double-digit decline after the Iran-Contra affair became public — but that just isn’t a useful barometer anymore. 

17) Super-loved this auditory essay on the changing nature of pop music.  I had no idea a “pop drop” was a thing.

18) LG may think I write too much about the woke, but, damnit, don’t come after books:

There’s nothing new about the denunciation of ideas and authors in the name of morality. It’s a power that has always been used by those seeking to assert cultural dominance.

Two thousand years before the advent of mass print publishing, Socrates was sentenced to drink poison for having polluted the minds of the YA community of Athens. From the mid-16th century until 1966, the Catholic Church maintained its Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of prohibited books. Over the past century, the establishment used anti-obscenity laws to ban Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Norman Mailer couldn’t depict soldiers cursing in his World War II novel The Naked and the Dead because it would be “obscene.” The likes of Native Son and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest were stricken from school curricula for their political subversiveness and perceived vulgarity. Meanwhile, all totalitarian states suppress transgressive writing, sometimes trying to do so across borders, as when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1989.

When I was growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, the social conservatives of the Moral Majority patrolled the virtue of the American reading public. They were especially exercised by the subject of witchcraft and sorcery, and found a nemesis in Harry Potter. Some organized public burnings of J.K. Rowling’s books. Such right-wing censoriousness hasn’t disappeared: Conservative attacks on literature are still common with respect to books for young people that present LGBTQ characters and themes in a positive light.

What is new, though, is the trend of policing books for social goodness from within the left-leaning literary community—the very people whom we entrust to steer the course of our artistic and intellectual culture.

Those currently burning Rowling’s books aren’t the religious right but members of the progressive left, angered by her comments about gender and trans issues. Numerous articles have asked if it still is permissible in good conscience to enjoy not only Harry Potter, but Rowling’s latest adult detective thriller, Troubled Blood. Reviewers have scoured the text for signs of her alleged transphobia, many noticing that one character, as a Los Angeles Times reviewer pointed out, is “a male serial killer known to have worn a dress.”

“Is that enough to say the author is transphobic?” the reviewer asked, citing various elements in the novel. “Perhaps.” A better question is this: Is it the role of a book reviewer to parse texts for insight into an author’s morality? It’s not far from looking for satanic messages in rock ‘n’ roll. And even if heavy-metal songs were rooting for the devil, should people have been prevented from hearing them?

This new literary moralism isn’t only scrutinizing contemporary writing for evidence of sin; it’s looking to the past as well. #DisruptTexts, a group dedicated to helping teachers “challenge the traditional canon,” talks of “problematic depictions” in Shakespeare, and complains of The Great Gatsby being defined by the white male gaze. If applied fully, that objection would wipe out innumerable works of literature—including many containing moral messages that progressives would endorse.

Does the canon of classics suffer from a lack of diversity? Absolutely. But canons expand with each generation. We don’t simply let old works drop off the back end. And a canon includes books not because they are virtuous, but because they are in complex conversation with one another, or are mighty in their own terms. Writers who broke the canonical color barrier—from W.E.B. Du Bois to Toni Morrison—didn’t do so by tearing up what came before, but by asserting that they too had a place in that long conversation.

19) Why are we always so bad at this (okay, I know, but still), “Were the Airline Bailouts Really Needed? Once again, we have socialized an industry’s losses and privatized its profits.”

20) Derek Lowe on what’s going on with the AZ vaccine.  

21) Really enjoyed “Judas and the Black Messiah.”  Interesting article on how hard it was to get this movie made and what that says about Hollywood (among other things, race aside, still hard to make moderate-budget intelligent dramas for adults that don’t involve superheroes, explosions, etc.).  

22) Little-appreciated fact that gasoline engines keep on getting ever more efficient, but almost always those efficiency gains have gone to horsepower rather than fuel efficiency (guilty myself as I moved from a 118hp Corolla to a 170hp Jetta five years ago).  Drum has this in chart form:

(Also, I loved learning that Drum used to drive a 1980 Mazda RX-7.  I spent a year with an ’81 model– so much fun).  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really good deep dive into the manufacturing of Covid vaccines in the New Yorker.  The conclusion:

The most hopeful news is that Pfizer has cut the time it takes to make a batch of its vaccine to sixty days. As of mid-March, the company expects to deliver more than thirteen million doses a week, up from around five million last month. At a congressional hearing in February, John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, explained that the company has begun making its own lipids, and has increased capacity at its facilities in Kansas and Wisconsin (in addition to the new production suites in Michigan). It has also doubled batch sizes, increased yields per batch, and developed faster laboratory tests.

“We’re getting better at it,” Calitri said, of the manufacturing process. “I think people don’t know how challenging it is to make billions of doses of a product that you did not have a process for nine months ago. And then to scale that up even further. There’s so much involved from an engineering perspective, from a quality perspective, from a compliance perspective, and from a safety perspective. We’re not making widgets. We’re making a product that people inject into their bodies—into healthy humans—and it has to be perfect. We need to make sure of that for every single dose. That takes engineering, it takes science, it takes time.”

2) This was a great appreciation of R.E.M.’s “Out of Time” at 30 years old.  What a great album.  And it also made me realize that I need more R.E.M. in my life as my SiriusXM stations (80s, 90’s, First Wave, Lithium, Spectrum, and a few others) hardly ever play them and my Pandora stations don’t either (guess I just need to seed some in there!).  Still have great memories of seeing R.E.M. in Pittsburgh in June 1995.

3) Meant to post this from Yglesias back when Tanden was still a thing, but his conclusion is as valid as ever:

To make a long story short, there are lots of good choices here. Tanden is not like a “budget wonk” per se, so if she ends up doing something else in the White House, that’s not a tragedy. And I really do get Manchin’s politics here.

Nonetheless, I think giving into bad-faith nonsense from Senate Republicans is bad.

And we know that’s what this is — there’s no way the “I didn’t see the tweet” crowd can turn around after four years of Trump and claim to have a principled objection to the idea of a person mixing it up on Twitter. That’s just absurd.

The reason it’s bad to give into that isn’t that everything ought to be a partisan steamroller. It’s precisely because if you want to have bipartisan legislating, you need people to say things that they mean. If a Democrat puts an idea on the table and then a Republican articulates sincere objections to it, you can sit down and start to talk about addressing those objections. Alternatively, the Republicans might admit that their objections, while genuine, are simply not that strongly held. In that case, it might be possible to do a horse trade — an idea Democrats love (and Republicans are cool on) paired with an idea the GOP loves (but that Democrats are cool on).

But you can’t address bad faith objections, and you can’t horse trade if everyone is constantly turning the outrage dial up to 11 over things that they’re actually only mildly skeptical of. The way to make progress on immigration, or climate, or poverty, or whatever else is to get an honest dialogue going (probably behind closed doors), and the whole Tanden situation has been the 180° opposite of that. If Biden can round up a handful of Republican votes from people willing to admit that “don’t be a jerk on Twitter” is not a genuine line in the sand, that would be an excellent precedent.

4) I had no idea Bangladesh had made such great progress on moving its citizens out of poverty.  Good stuff from Kristoff.  The key?  Educating and empowering women!

“The most dramatic thing that happened to Bangladesh has to do with transforming the status of women, starting with the poorest women,” Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who pioneered microcredit in Bangladesh and elsewhere, told me. Yunus founded Grameen Bank, which turned women into entrepreneurs — nearly 100,000 became “telephone ladies” over four years, selling mobile phone services — in ways that helped transform them and their country.

As Bangladesh educated and empowered its girls, those educated women became pillars of Bangladesh’s economy. The nation’s garment factories have given women better opportunities, and that shirt you’re wearing right now may have been made by one of them, for Bangladesh is now the world’s largest garment exporter, after China.

Granted, factories in Bangladesh pay poorly by Western standards, have problems with abuse and sexual harassment, and pose fire risks and other safety problems; a factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,100 workers. But the workers themselves say that such jobs are still better than marrying at 14 and working in a rice paddy, and unions and civil society pushed for and won huge though incomplete improvements in worker safety.

Educated women also filled the ranks of nonprofits like Grameen and BRAC, another highly regarded development organization. They got children vaccinated. They promoted toilets. They taught villagers how to read. They explained contraception. They discouraged child marriage.

Bangladesh hasn’t had great political leaders. But its investments in human capital created a dynamism that we can all learn from.

The World Bank calls Bangladesh “an inspiring story of reducing poverty” — with 25 million Bangladeshis lifted from poverty over 15 years. The share of children stunted by malnutrition has fallen by about half in Bangladesh since 1991 and is now lower than in India.

5) Interesting first-person essay, “I was a well-meaning White teacher. But my harsh discipline harmed Black kids.”

6) I’ve been intrigued by the potential medical benefits of hallucinogenics (despite honestly having no desire to actually try them), but, at least as far as the benefits of micro-dosing on mental health, perhaps not much there:

In a paper published in the journal eLife, the researchers revealed their findings. After the month-long testing period, they found that all psychological outcomes had improved since the start of the experiment for those in the microdosing group, including “in the domains of well-being, mindfulness, life satisfaction, and paranoia.” However, the same was true for the placebo group—with no significant differences between the two.

“So, in a way, microdosing did increase a lot of these psychological variables,” says Balazs Szigeti, a research associate at Imperial College London Centre of Psychedelic Research and the lead author of the study. “But so did taking placebos for four weeks.”

The researchers conclude that the anecdotal benefits of microdosing can therefore be explained by the placebo effect. That’s not to say that people who claim to feel benefits from microdosing are wrong, Szigeti says—on the contrary, the study suggests that they do feel these benefits—but that these outcomes may not be the result of the pharmacological effect of the drug but instead due to their psychological expectations.

People who microdose take very small amounts of psychedelic drugs such as LSD or psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms)—usually around a tenth of the amount you’d take to get a full psychedelic experience. Some people claim that microdosing has mood-enhancing effects, while others claim cognitive benefits or say it makes them feel more creative or effective at work. Others microdose in an attempt to self-medicate conditions such as depression. But there is very little scientific evidence on the effects of microdosing, and it is difficult to run controlled trials (not least because of the illegal nature of these drugs in many countries.)

Placebo effect for the win!

7) This seems like one of those only in America headlines, “North Carolina sends 6-year-olds to court. Why some say it’s time for change.”  “Some”?  You think?

8) I am literally mad at David Bianculli for speaking so highly of “Behind her Eyes” and causing me to waste 5 or so hours on it.  Yes, one hell of a twist ending, but so unearned.  To compare this with “The Sixth Sense” or “Usual Suspects” is just blasphemous.

9) Oh boy did I love this one, ““Natural Is Better”: How the Appeal To Nature Fallacy Derails Public Health”

As consumers, we are faced with a virtually endless range of “natural” products. We can start our mornings with a piece of toast slathered in all-natural smooth peanut butter and wash our clothes in naturally dirt-demolishing laundry detergent, while those of us with certain habits can enjoy a natural American Spirit cigarette when the craving hits.

Without a doubt, the “natural trend” is a dominant force across consumer industries, and particularly the food sector, where over 60 percent of all new products introduced in 2019 flaunted labels such as “organic,” “natural,” and “additive-free.” This natural cornucopia is not growing out of vacuum. Rather, it is catering to our ever-growing, and irrational, preference for the natural.

Researchers believe that our persistent pro-nature bias is rooted in the belief that natural things are simply better for us. This belief has little grounding in physical reality. Indeed, people strongly prefer to drink “natural” spring water to water that has been distilled and subsequently mineralized even after researchers tell them that the two drinks are certified to be chemically identical. Natural is simply better—what can you do?

Our preference for things deemed to be natural is so illogical and systematic that researchers have given it a name—the appeal to nature fallacy. The power of this cognitive bias is so great that the average person is willing to pay a premium on foods and medicines referred to as natural. This has certainly spawned its fair share of shrewd marketing tactics aimed at unsuspecting consumers.

In our current COVID-19 predicament, the appeal to nature fallacy has an even darker side:  it makes some people believe that they do not need vaccines. Why would they, if they can protect themselves the “natural way”?

10) I still don’t get why these trials have taken so long, but we really might be looking at an effective therapeutic for Covid-19 at some point.

11) More very good stuff from Kristoff.  As somebody who’s got to pee alot, I especially loved this.  “America Is Not Made for People Who Pee”

Here’s a populist slogan for President Biden’s infrastructure plan: Pee for Free!

Sure, we need investments to rebuild bridges, highways and, yes, electrical grids, but perhaps America’s most disgraceful infrastructure failing is its lack of public toilets.

Greeks and Romans had public toilets more than 2,000 years ago, with people sitting on benches with holes to do their business. There were no partitions, and Romans wiped with sponges on sticks that were dipped in water and shared by all users.

I’m not endorsing that arrangement, but at least the ancient Romans operated large numbers of public latrines, which is more than can be said of the United States today.

The humorist Art Buchwald once recounted an increasingly desperate search for a toilet in Manhattan. He was turned down at an office building, a bookstore and a hotel, so he finally rushed into a bar and asked for a drink.

“What kind of drink?” the bartender replied.

“Who cares?” Buchwald answered. “Where’s the men’s room?”

America should be better than that. Japan manages what may be the world’s most civilized public toilets — ubiquitous, clean and reliably equipped with paper — and almost every industrialized country is more bladder-friendly than America. Even poorer countries like China and India manage networks of public latrines. But the United States is simply not made for people who pee.

“I go between cars or in bushes,” Max McEntire, 58, who has been homeless about 10 years, told me as he stood outside the tent where he lives here. “Sometimes at my age, if your body says pee, you’ve got to pee. If your body says poop, you can’t wait.”

Most stores and businesses are of little help, he said, because they often insist on a purchase to use the restroom — and that’s even before a pandemic closed many shops…

Cities also lose their livability, and open defecation becomes a threat to public health. Americans have painstakingly built new norms about dog owners picking up after their pets, but we’ve gone backward with human waste.

Meanwhile, it’s not just the homeless who suffer. Taxi drivers, delivery people, tourists and others are out and about all day, navigating a landscape that seems oblivious to the most basic of needs. The same is true of parents out with kids.

I’m a clean-cut middle-aged white guy, so I almost never have too much trouble finding a place, but I absolutely recognize the privilege of that and know we could and should do a helluva lot better on this score.

12) There’s a phrase I’ve been using a lot when talking about my latest research that I have mentioned to several reporters, but I really didn’t think it would make it into print.  Also, the whole article is really worth a read:

COVID has placed enormous burdens on parents like Candace and Christy. Professor Steven Greene at North Carolina State recently co-authored a study on the topic, “A Recipe for Madness,” and told me that the COVID experience “extra sucked” for parents.

13) This is good stuff (thanks to BB), “California vs. Florida: Who handled COVID-19 better?”

14) I mean, this is almost like some O Henry short-story.  13-year old’s face-saving lie leads to a murder!  “Samuel Paty: French schoolgirl admits lying about murdered teacher”

Samuel Paty was beheaded in October after showing students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The girl, whose complaints sparked an online campaign against Paty, has now admitted that she was not in the class.

Mr Paty’s killing stunned France and led to an outpouring of support at memorial ceremonies and marches around the country.

The 13-year-old girl, who has not been officially named, originally told her father that Paty had asked Muslim students to leave the classroom while he showed the cartoon during a class on free speech and blasphemy.

According to evidence given by the girl seen by French media she said: “I didn’t see the cartoons, it was a girl in my class who showed me them.”

“She lied because she felt trapped in a spiral because her classmates had asked her to be a spokesperson,” her lawyer, Mbeko Tabula, told AFP news agency.

The perpetrator, 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, was shot dead by police shortly after the attack.

It then emerged that the campaign against the history and geography teacher had been based on a distorted account of what had happened in class days earlier.

As he had done in similar lessons on free speech in previous years, Paty warned students that he was about to show a depiction of Muhammad. He said anyone who thought they might be offended could close their eyes.

The girl had originally claimed the teacher had asked Muslim pupils to leave the room. When she objected she was suspended from school, she said. It now appears that the girl was suspended the day before the class was given, according to Le Parisien newspaper, because of repeated absence from school.

The girl explains in her leaked testimony that she made up the story so as not to disappoint her father. He posted two videos on social media in response to the allegations.

Speaking on French radio on Tuesday, the Paty family’s lawyer said the girl’s family knew that she had not been in class on the day in question and why she had been suspended. “So to come and say now, sorry, I believed my daughter’s lies, that’s really weak,” Virginie Le Roy told RTL radio.

15) There’s quite likely gonna be this really weird period where all the adults who want are vaccinated and none of the kids we want to be vaccinated will be.  Emily Oster:

What about Kids?

I want you to cast your mind back to January 2018. During one week in late January of that year, the CDC reported flu hospitalization rates of 7.3 per 100,000 for children aged 0-4 and 1.4 per 100,000 for kids 5-17. This means that of 100,000 children aged 0 to 4, 7.3 of them were hospitalized with flu complications that week.

Kids get the flu from a lot of sources. School, child care, their parents, travel, indoor trampoline parks, etc, etc. And flu can be very serious; there were almost 200 pediatric flu deaths during that 2017 – 2018 flu season. But I would venture in that time frame most of you were not making choices about your activities based on flu risk.

The peak week of the COVID-19 pandemic for hospitalization for children 0 to 4 was mid-December (data here). During this week, the hospitalization rate for this group was 2.3 per 100,000. For children 5 to 17, the peak was the first week of January, with hospitalization rate of 1.3 per 100,000. In the most recent week of reported data, the week ending February 27th, these rates were 0.3 per 100,000 for children aged 0 to 4 and 0.6 per 100,000 for children 5 to 17.

Here’s all these numbers in a graph.

Here’s all these numbers in a graph.

Bottom line here: hospitalization rates even at the peek COVID week were below that week in January 2018.

Let me add onto this another set of facts, based on the graph below (original paper here). This graph shows non-COVID death rates for children in two age groups (based on 2018 data) versus COVID-19 death risks over the period from March through October 2020.

Deaths in these age groups from any cause are really, really rare so I’m not trying to freak you out. But I am trying to convey that death rates from COVID-19 in these age groups over this period are less than a typical year of suicide, homicide or cancer. They are an order of magnitude less than car accidents. Infants are not in this chart, but the same logic flows. COVID death rates are higher in absolute numbers but lower in ratios. The SIDS death rate for infants under 1 in this comparison period is eighty times higher than the death rate for COVID-19.

The you from 2018 was not thinking about these non-COVID risks. Yes, in the back of your mind you probably worried about your kids getting the flu and had some sense of the idea that cars are dangerous. But you were planning travel and playdates and everything else in spite of these risks because they are small. And for kids, the COVID-19 risks are even smaller. This isn’t true for adults. But it is true for kids.

This doesn’t mean kids do not get COVID. They do get it (although probably at lower rates). Just like they can get flus, and colds, and other viral illnesses. But they are simply very, very unlikely to get extremely sick.

Look forward, now, to the summer. You’re vaccinated, your parents are, your brother is. Barring some surprise, COVID-19 rates are expected to be even lower than they are now. Not zero, but lower. This makes COVID-19 even less of a threat to kids. They are extremely unlikely to be infected. And if they were, they would be extremely unlikely to get very sick and they wouldn’t spread it to older people because those people are vaccinated.

What’s going to happen if your family and your brother’s family and your parents rent a beach house together with all the cousins for a weekend? Let me tell you based on personal experience. Monday after you return home one of the children in one of the families will be vomiting, and the other family will recall one of their children complaining about a stomach issue which they didn’t think to mention.

What if you fly with your kids to a vacation? They might get sick on the airplane and ruin your first two days in England complaining about their sore throat.

My point is: kids get viruses. You cannot avoid the possibility they might get sick on vacation. But the presence of COVID-19 in a world of vaccinated adults does not change the risk of this very much at all.

The challenge of this summer, I think, is going to be figuring out how we can consciously move towards normalcy despite lack of full vaccination for kids and despite the fact that COVID-19 will always be with us. It is going to require putting our minds to it. Booking that summer trip might be the first step.  [bold is mine; italics in original]

16) And my firstborn makes into quick hits by sharing with me that a cuttlefish has passed the marshmallow test!

17) Really enjoyed this essay, “The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is.”

They managed this con job partly with a propaganda technique that will be familiar to modern Americans, but hasn’t received the coverage it deserves in our sesquicentennial celebrations. Starting in the 1840s wealthy Southerners supported more than 30 regional pro-slavery magazines, many pamphlets, newspapers and novels that falsely touted slave ownership as having benefits that would – in today’s lingo – trickle down to benefit non-slave owning whites and even blacks. The flip side of the coin of this old-is-new trickle-down propaganda is the mistaken notion that any gain by blacks in wages, schools or health care comes at the expense of the white working class.

Today’s version of this con job no longer supports slavery, but still works in the South and thrives in pro trickle-down think tanks, magazines, newspapers, talk radio and TV news shows such as the Cato Foundation, Reason magazine, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. These sources are underwritten by pro trickle-down one-per-centers like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.

For example, a map of states that didn’t expand Medicaid – which would actually be a boon mostly to poor whites – resembles a map of the old Confederacy with a few other poor, rural states thrown in. Another indication that this divisive propaganda works on Southern whites came in 2012. Romney and Obama evenly split the white working class in the West, Midwest and Northeast. But in the South we went 2-1 for Romney.

Lowering the flag because of the harm done to blacks is the right thing to do. We also need to lower it because it symbolizes material harm the ideology of the Confederacy did to Southern whites that lasts even to this day.

18) Really enjoyed this from Scott Alexander on “trapped priors” (the link is also full of cool illusions to help make the point, like this one).

Trapped priors: the basic cognitive version

Phobias are a very simple case of trapped priors. They can be more technically defined as a failure of habituation, the fancy word for “learning a previously scary thing isn’t scary anymore”. There are lots of habituation studies on rats. You ring a bell, then give the rats an electric shock. After you do this enough times, they’re scared of the bell – they run and cower as soon as they hear it. Then you switch to ringing the bell and not giving an electric shock. At the beginning, the rats are still scared of the bell. But after a while, they realize the bell can’t hurt them anymore. They adjust to treating it just like any other noise; they lose their fear – they habituate.

The same thing happens to humans. Maybe a big dog growled at you when you were really young, and for a while you were scared of dogs. But then you met lots of friendly cute puppies, you realized that most dogs aren’t scary, and you came to some reasonable conclusion like “big growly dogs are scary but cute puppies aren’t.”

Some people never manage to do this. They get cynophobia, pathological fear of dogs. In its original technical use, a phobia is an intense fear that doesn’t habituate. No matter how many times you get exposed to dogs without anything bad happening, you stay afraid. Why?

In the old days, psychologists would treat phobia by flooding patients with the phobic object. Got cynophobia? We’ll stick you in a room with a giant Rottweiler, lock the door, and by the time you come out maybe you won’t be afraid of dogs anymore. Sound barbaric? Maybe so, but more important it didn’t really work. You could spend all day in the room with the Rottweiler, the Rottweiler could fall asleep or lick your face or do something else that should have been sufficient to convince you it wasn’t scary, and by the time you got out you’d be even more afraid of dogs than when you went in.

Nowadays we’re a little more careful. If you’ve got cynophobia, we’ll start by making you look at pictures of dogs – if you’re a severe enough case, even the pictures will make you a little nervous. Once you’ve looked at a zillion pictures, gotten so habituated to looking at pictures that they don’t faze you at all, we’ll put you in a big room with a cute puppy in a cage. You don’t have to go near the puppy, you don’t have to touch the puppy, just sit in the room without freaking out. Once you’ve done that a zillion times and lost all fear, we’ll move you to something slightly doggier and scarier, than something slightly doggier and scarier than that, and so on, until you’re locked in the room with the Rottweiler.

It makes sense that once you’re exposed to dogs a million times and it goes fine and everything’s okay, you lose your fear of dogs – that’s normal habituation. But now we’re back to the original question – how come flooding doesn’t work? Forgetting the barbarism, how come we can’t just start with the Rottweiler?

The common-sense answer is that you only habituate when an experience with a dog ends up being safe and okay. But being in the room with the Rottweiler is terrifying. It’s not a safe okay experience. Even if the Rottweiler itself is perfectly nice and just sits calmly wagging its tail, your experience of being locked in the room is close to peak horror. Probably your intellect realizes that the bad experience isn’t the Rottweiler’s fault. But your lizard brain has developed a stronger association than before between dogs and unpleasant experiences. After all, you just spent time with a dog and it was a really unpleasant experience! Your fear of dogs increases.

(How does this feel from the inside? Less-self-aware patients will find their prior coloring every aspect of their interaction with the dog. Joyfully pouncing over to get a headpat gets interpreted as a vicious lunge; a whine at not being played with gets interpreted as a murderous growl, and so on. This sort of patient will leave the room saying ‘the dog came this close to attacking me, I knew all dogs were dangerous!’ More self-aware patients will say something like “I know deep down that dogs aren’t going to hurt me, I just know that whenever I’m with a dog I’m going to have a panic attack and hate it and be miserable the whole time”. Then they’ll go into the room, have a panic attack, be miserable, and the link between dogs and misery will be even more cemented in their mind.)

The more technical version of this same story is that habituation requires a perception of safety, but (like every other perception) this one depends on a combination of raw evidence and context. The raw evidence (the Rottweiler sat calmly wagging its tail) looks promising. But the context is a very strong prior that dogs are terrifying. If the prior is strong enough, it overwhelms the real experience. Result: the Rottweiler was terrifying. Any update you make on the situation will be in favor of dogs being terrifying, not against it!

This is the trapped prior. It’s trapped because it can never update, no matter what evidence you get. You can have a million good experiences with dogs in a row, and each one will just etch your fear of dogs deeper into your system. Your prior fear of dogs determines your present experience, which in turn becomes the deranged prior for future encounters.

Trapped prior: the more complicated emotional version

20) I love Facebook because I love sharing cute pics of my kids, Achilles challenges, soccer coaching, etc., and seeing similar from my friends far and wide, but I do recognize the deeply-embedded problems in the platform.  This is good, “How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation: The company’s AI algorithms gave it an insatiable habit for lies and hate speech. Now the man who built them can’t fix the problem.”

By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.

In other words, the Responsible AI team’s work—whatever its merits on the specific problem of tackling AI bias—is essentially irrelevant to fixing the bigger problems of misinformation, extremism, and political polarization. And it’s all of us who pay the price.

“When you’re in the business of maximizing engagement, you’re not interested in truth. You’re not interested in harm, divisiveness, conspiracy. In fact, those are your friends,” says Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who collaborates with Facebook to understand image- and video-based misinformation on the platform.

“They always do just enough to be able to put the press release out. But with a few exceptions, I don’t think it’s actually translated into better policies. They’re never really dealing with the fundamental problems.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Yglesias, “Democrats should try harder to win elections: If Republicans are a threat to democracy, try moving to the center on culture to beat them”

Zack Beauchamp has written what I think is the best and most empirically rigorous article in the genre of “the Republican Party has become a menace to democracy.”

As readers of “Republicans’ unhinged moderation” and “Is asymmetrical polarization real?” know, I fundamentally agree with this diagnosis. In part for deep reasons rooted in demographic and sociocultural change, and in part for the shallow reason that happenstance has led Republicans to benefit from counter-majoritarian aspects of U.S. political institutions, normative support for democratic self-government has collapsed among Republican elites and the GOP base. That’s a large challenge to America going forward.

I think that most people who believe that tend to be fairly hardcore liberals with some leftist tendencies — they have a lot of ideological distance from the conservative movement, and thus are willing to be very harshly critical of it — and what I want to argue today is that tendency creates a bit of a trap. The same people who are most nominally worried about GOP descent into non-democracy are the least willing to do something about it by urging mainstream Democrats to adopt a few more conservative policy positions, while urging the party as a whole to become more welcoming to Manchin-type figures in the spirit of big tentism.

Biden won 51% of the vote, and if you’re talking about a Senate candidate in a state that Biden got at least 51% in, then you should be comfortable with your candidate adopting Biden-style positioning. But there are only 19 states like that! Democrats need to be aiming to crush Republicans by winning seats in states like Ohio and Iowa (both 45% Biden) while looking to at least occasionally pull off a flukey victory of some kind in places like Kansas and Mississippi (both 41% Biden). And that means a lot more ideological flexibility. Not because Republicans are nice guys or because the conservative movement is a benign influence on American life. But for the opposite reason — those things are really bad and need to be beaten.

More Joe Manchins can solve the Joe Manchin problem

Right now, progressives are fairly annoyed with Joe Manchin because Manchin does not agree with all of their priorities, and everything is being held hostage to his particular views.

But note that this is so troubling largely because there is only one Joe Manchin. If there were a dozen more senators who had Manchin-esque rates of agreeing with Bernie Sanders about stuff, then a ton more bills could pass as long as there was some variation among the 13 of them as to when they broke with the party. Some ideas would just be total non-starters with anyone repping a right-of-center state. But while Manchin seems to have serious doubts about a $15/hour minimum wage, it’s easy to imagine someone who represents Florida or Texas or Ohio solidly supporting it, even while having conservative views on some other topic. But you need more wins to get that variation…

If you don’t want your governing agenda perpetually held hostage to Joe Manchin (or for a majority to be out of reach if Manchin retires in 2024), then you need to win Senate races in right-of-center states like Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida that just aren’t as right-wing as West Virginia. How exactly you do that is complicated, depending on on-the-ground knowledge and local nuances, etc. But in a big picture sense, it pretty clearly involves dropping the fantasy that everything is about mobilization and turnout and acknowledging that to win in right-of-center states, you need to annoy progressives some with noteworthy moderate positions on at least some high-profile policy issues.

And by “moderate,” I don’t mean Red Rose Twitter screaming at Pete Buttigieg. I mean “somewhere between Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski,” i.e. the Manchin Zone.

2) That said, its also clear that just appearing “moderate” is no panacea.  And frustratingly, it seems that Republicans face virtually no electoral penalty for being perpetually out-of-step with the American public.  Perry Bacon Jr, “Why Republicans Don’t Fear An Electoral Backlash For Opposing Really Popular Parts Of Biden’s Agenda”

So if an unpopular party uniformly opposes popular policies in the run-up to 2022 and 2024, is it buying itself a ticket further into the political wilderness?

Not necessarily.

There are several reasons to think that opposing popular policies won’t hurt Republicans electorally, and conversely, that implementing a popular agenda won’t necessarily boost Biden that much.

The first reason that congressional Republicans can afford to oppose popular ideas is one that you have probably read a lot about over the last several years: The GOP has several big structural advantages in America’s electoral system. Because of the Electoral College, Trump would have won the presidency with around 257,000 more votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, even though he lost nationally by more than 7 million votes. The Senate gives equal weight to sparsely populated states like Wyoming and huge ones like California, so the chamber’s 50 Democratic senators effectively represent about 185 million Americans, while its 50 Republican senators represent about 143 million, as Vox’s Ian Millhiser recently calculated. Gerrymandering by Republicans, as well as the weakness of Democrats in rural areas, makes it harder for Democrats to win and keep control of the House even when most voters back Democratic House candidates. That’s what happened in 2020.

Put all that together, and congressional Republicans are somewhat insulated from the public will. In turn, the advantage for Biden and congressional Democrats of being closer to the public’s opinions is blunted.

Second, electoral politics and policy are increasingly disconnected. More and more Americans vote along party lines and are unlikely to break from their side no matter what it does. Some scholars argue that voters’ attachments to the parties are not that closely linked to the parties’ policy platforms but rather more akin to loyalty to a team or brand. And partisanship and voting are increasingly linked to racial attitudes, as opposed to policy. So GOP-leaning voters may support some Democratic policies but still vote for Republican politicians who oppose those policies.

Third, the last several midterm elections have all been defined by backlashes against the incumbent president. You could argue that there’s nothing inevitable about this, and that former President George W. Bush (Social Security reformIraq War), Obama (Obamacare in 2010 and its flawed rollout in 2014) and Trump (Obamacare repeal) all did or proposed controversial things that irritated voters. Maybe if Biden sticks to popular stuff he’ll buck the trend. But it could instead be the case that voters from the president’s party tend to be kind of fat and happy in midterms, while the opposition is inspired to turn out. So even if Biden does popular things, GOP voters could be more motivated to vote in November 2022.

3) Cathy Young with easily the best thing I’ve read on Dr Seuss.  I really like her point that, yes, the woke have gone too far on this and I also like that she takes on a CNN “news” article on this that I found absurdly credulous of the worst criticisms as if we should all just accept the arguments in “Research on Diversity in Youth Literature” at face value.

For one, the decision comes in tandem with other moves intended to demote Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) from his iconic status. On the same day, President Biden omitted any mention of Dr. Seuss from his official proclamation to mark Read Across America Day, breaking a tradition started by Barack Obama. The event, first established by the National Education Association in 1998, has always honored Dr. Seuss: His birthday was picked as its date. Now, the NEA says that Read Across America is no longer affiliated with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, and at least one school district in Virginia has been instructing schools to downplay the day’s connection to Dr. Seuss because of “strong racial undertones” found in his work.

What’s more, the critique of those “racial undertones” has been often tendentious to the point of distortion. Thus, a CNN article asserts that Geisel, who was also a political cartoonist, “had a long history of publishing racist and anti-Semitic work, spanning back to the 1920s when he was a student at Dartmouth College. There, Dr. Seuss once drew Black boxers as gorillas and perpetuated Jewish stereotypes by portraying Jewish characters as financially stingy.” No mention is made of the fact that by the 1940s, the cartoonist had emerged as an outspoken foe of anti-Semitism — a stance that would later earn him the title of “honorary Jew,” bestowed by Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek in 1969 — and of anti-Black racism. A 1942 cartoon skewered racial discrimination in U.S. war industries: An entrance for “Negro job-hunters” is shown leading to an impenetrable maze.

Regrettably, many of Dr. Seuss’ wartime cartoons also featured the blatant anti-Japanese racism that was a staple of U.S. war propaganda. Yet in later years, his children’s books often served as parables denouncing racial prejudice and xenophobia. Horton Hears a Who, written after a visit to Japan, famously declared, “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” and was dedicated to a Japanese friend, Mitsugi Nakamura.

To erase this complicated history really does smack of “cancellation.”

No less disturbing, much of the current pushback against Dr. Seuss is based on a 2019 paper by Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens that consistently interprets his work in the most negative light and peddles extreme ideological dogma. Take Dr. Seuss’s 1961 book The Sneetches, which has been widely praised for its anti-racist message: Birdlike creatures with stars on their bellies scorn and bully their plain-bellied cousins until a wily salesman brings a device that can add or remove stars, and all the sneetches change so many times they get thoroughly mixed up and decide to treat everyone equally. But Ishizuka and Stephens attack the poem as insidious because it teaches that color shouldn’t matter. Echoing Kansas State University scholar Philip Nel, they also read a sinister racist subtext into The Cat in the Hat: The magical cat supposedly resembles images from Black minstrelsy and exists only to entertain two white children.

If such takedowns can get an author moved to the “problematic” list, who and what will escape the purges? Some who support the withdrawal of the six Dr. Seuss books argue that even subtle racism must be “exorcised” from our cultural legacy, especially works intended for children. But if the exorcism targets racial codes so subtle that they are invisible or innocuous to the naked eye (a black-and-white cat wearing white gloves represents racist minstrelsy?), it could do much more harm than good, fostering both paranoia and backlash. And imagine how much art and literature will have to be junked if we ever apply the same magnifying lens to gender stereotypes…

The answer isn’t that anything goes; it’s that we can use common sense to distinguish between old texts or images that degrade or dehumanize members of a group and ones that reflect dated but non-malignant stereotyping. Among the canceled Dr. Seuss books, for instance, If I Ran the Zoo really does contain some shockingly racist iconography of Africans as thick-lipped, potbellied, half-naked savages in grass skirts. On the other hand, the supposedly racist depiction of a Chinese man in To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street involves an actual costume worn in parts of China at the time the book was published (1937), a bowl of rice, and chopsticks. (The original edition also gave the man bright yellow skin and a pigtail and referred to him as a “Chinaman,” but Dr. Seuss himself later made changes.) Mildly stereotypical? Sure, but much the same way as, say, the depiction of a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke and eating a bagel or a Scotsman playing bagpipes in a kilt. Many Asian-Americans have said they don’t find the picture offensive, and effectively purging the book from the Dr. Seuss canon because of it seems excessive.

Should children’s literature adapt to a more racially and ethnically diverse, more gender-equal society? Of course. But the way to do that is to add new classics, not discard old ones. Given the speed of cultural shifts today, people are right to worry about harsh and unforgiving judgments of dated attitudes. And when a writer who cheers the Dr. Seuss “cancellation” warns that “we will have to get rid of other things, too,” we are right to feel a chill.

Good stuff.  You come after the Sneetches and you’re coming for me.

4) Okay, this is kind of crazy and really interesting (I did a pretty decent skim through this paper), “Facial recognition technology can expose political orientation from naturalistic facial images”

Ubiquitous facial recognition technology can expose individuals’ political orientation, as faces of liberals and conservatives consistently differ. A facial recognition algorithm was applied to naturalistic images of 1,085,795 individuals to predict their political orientation by comparing their similarity to faces of liberal and conservative others. Political orientation was correctly classified in 72% of liberal–conservative face pairs, remarkably better than chance (50%), human accuracy (55%), or one afforded by a 100-item personality questionnaire (66%). Accuracy was similar across countries (the U.S., Canada, and the UK), environments (Facebook and dating websites), and when comparing faces across samples. Accuracy remained high (69%) even when controlling for age, gender, and ethnicity. Given the widespread use of facial recognition, our findings have critical implications for the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

5) I didn’t read this article at first because I thought it was just old news about restaurants, but it makes some very important, deeper points:

Even if restaurants limit capacity, however, aerosolized virus may accumulate if ventilation is inadequate, Dr. Allen said.

“It doesn’t really matter if it’s a restaurant, spin class, a gym, a choir practice — if you’re indoors with no masks, low or no ventilation, we know that’s higher risk,” he said. “Respiratory aerosols build up indoors. It’s that simple. This is a real problem for restaurants.”

Linsey Marr, an expert on aerosol transmission at Virginia Tech, said Americans could not be expected to follow all the latest science, and so many simply rely on what is open or closed as an indicator of what is safe.

That is a point that I think we as social scientists should absolutely be exploring in greater depth.  

6) Derek Thompson on a multi-faceted approach to vaccine hesitancy.  I’ve got one particular neighbor/parent of my kids’ friend, that is a great guy, but pretty much an anti-vaxxer.  I’m actually kind of curious to see if there’s anything that might make any headway with him in the type of conversation described here.  

Vaccine hesitancy is as old as vaccines themselves. The smallpox vaccine faced immediate skepticism in the U.K. when Edward Jenner tried to present his initial experiments to the scientific community and the public in the late 1700s. Around 1900, as authorities tried to contain smallpox, Americans formed anti-vaccination leagues and hid sick children from public-health officials. Their reasons were as manifold as those of today’s vaccine resisters, including fear of the new and unnatural and skepticism about a dubious authority. A bit of distrust was not entirely irrational.

Today’s vaccine resistance isn’t entirely irrational, either. And even if it were, it wouldn’t do any good to treat the vaccine-hesitant as if they were crazy. “As a clinician, I find it’s a mistake to simply tell people what to think,” Richterman, the Pennsylvania infectious-disease specialist, told me. “Screaming ‘Just take this!’ isn’t effective, because this isn’t about getting others to see my goals. It’s about helping them identify their own goals and how, maybe, getting a vaccine might help achieve them.”

This approach is often called “motivational interviewing.” It works like this: Instead of telling people why you think they should change, you ask them open-ended questions to help them discover their own reasons. If their motivation (e.g., “I want to be healthy”) matches your goal (e.g., “I want you to take this vaccine”), you can guide them toward a plan.

“Sometimes I flip the question and ask, ‘What would make you want to get the vaccine? What would convince you to get it?’ That way you urge them to identify the positive things,” Richterman said. “Maybe they’ll say, ‘I want to help my friend who isn’t well,’ or, ‘I want to protect my family.’ And then I latch on to that and try to build on that.” These methods don’t exactly proceed at warp speed. It can take time for people to change their mind, if they do so at all. But the approach seems to work better than any other to soften vaccine deliberation. A 2021 study from the University of Pennsylvania found that Black Americans who expressed reluctance toward the COVID-19 vaccine “were willing to consider” receiving it when trusted health-care providers reflected their concerns and emphasized the safety of the shot.

7) I really don’t love that Cosmic Crisp apples are all over store shelves this year?  Why not?  Because they are overpriced and really not all that special.  They are just new.  With this arms race of new, proprietary varieties I can hardly even ever find my beloved Braeburn anymore, which is, without a doubt, superior in taste to every single one of the new varieties excepting Crimson Crisp (which had a great run at Lidl last year, but no sign of it this year).  Anyway, an article on how the biggest thing the Cosmic Crisp has going for it is that it’s new(!)

8) Good stuff from David Hopkins, “Of Course Biden Is Running for Re-Election”

The idea of the self-declared single-term president has had a romantic appeal to editorial-page writers (and few others) since well before Biden became the oldest person in history elected to the job. Like many other ideas with romantic appeal, it is disconnected from political reality. Declaring oneself a lame duck from the early days of an administration is not an effective strategy for a president to build or maintain influence, both inside and outside the party. The perception that you might be there awhile is a much better way to attract talented subordinates, pursue ambitious goals, and pressure members of Congress for support, and the inability to seek re-election is one reason why modern presidents’ second terms tend to be less focused and successful than their first.
 
The main point made by the Post article—that Biden is at heart a loyal party man—also applies to the re-election question. Unless an unforeseen governing disaster occurs, Democratic leaders will perceive that they are far better off with Biden running again, and presumably benefiting from the electoral advantage that incumbents normally hold, than with the risk of a damaging internal fight over the 2024 nomination. Even if Kamala Harris were able to quickly consolidate support within the party as Biden’s heir apparent, she would still stand in the general election as both a less tested national figure and as a liberal woman of color seeking the presidency in a highly polarized era.
 
Leading Democrats who have their president’s ear are thus very likely to encourage his intention to seek a second term—and to be terrified that a premature Biden retirement would only further increase the chances of a Trump comeback in 2024. Even if Biden were to have doubts about his ability to serve a full eight years, a successful re-election and subsequent mid-term handoff to Harris, setting her up as an incumbent in her own right before she had to face the voters, would be a much more desirable solution according to prevailing Democratic calculations. And Biden has already shown that he’s the kind of president who cares a lot about what other people in his party think.
 
Yes, health considerations or other events may alter these plans. It’s certainly possible that Joe Biden will not still be running for a second term when we get to 2024. But right now? Of course he’s running. He’s already started.

9) Racism is bad.  Standing up to racism is good.  Going way overboard in the latter and painting everything possible as racism is bad– English Premier League edition:

Edinson Cavani was ecstatic. Manchester United’s star Uruguayan striker had scored two cinematic goals in a dramatic, come-from-behind 3-2 win against Southampton in England’s Premier League. His friend from back home Pablo Fernández sent congratulations on Instagram, to which Cavani answered, using Fernández’s lifelong nickname: “Gracias negrito.”

There, his troubles began. Some in the British media seized upon Cavani’s reply of last November as racially offensive, so the player hurriedly apologized, and took down the Instagram post. But it was too late. The English Football Association—while finding “no intent on the part of the player to be discriminatory or offensive in any way”—still fined him £100,000 (around $135,000), and suspended him for three games.

To us Latin Americans, the story was just short of incomprehensible. “Negrito”—the diminutive of the word for “black”—sounds aggressive in English. But, as Uruguay’s National Academy of Letters noted, in Spanish it’s not offensive; it’s a term of endearment. It’s not even particularly racialized: Plenty of white people are nicknamed negrito, including, as it happens, Cavani’s friend. (His hair is black.)

“Unfortunately,” a statement from the Uruguayan Players’ Union read, “through its sanction, the English Football Association expresses absolute ignorance and disdain for a multicultural vision of the world.” The South American Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, also expressed its support for Cavani. One Uruguayan winery began marketing a new “Gracias Negrito” vintage.

It’s easy to see this as the latest case of Context Collapse—the inevitable misunderstanding that arises on social media when content produced for one audience reaches a separate audience primed to take offense. But it goes farther than that. The Cavani case shows how America’s racial debates are being globalized via the export of a radical form of antiracist ideology that sees appeals to context or cross-cultural understanding as excuse-making for bigots…

In Spanish-language media, there was near universal astonishment at the sanction Cavani received. “Unfair” and “disproportionate” were the words that came up most often. Try as I might, I could not find one antiracism organization unequivocally and officially supporting the punishment.

However, some activists in the region did think the fine and the three-match ban were justified. Sandra Chagas, an Afro-Uruguayan antiracism activist, supported it—but only when I pressed her to take a stand. “It has racist connotations with reminiscences of slavery,” she told me by phone. His punishment “is like a ticket for parking your vehicle in the wrong place: It doesn’t matter that you did it with good intentions or without knowing that it was banned.”

But Alejandro Mamani, who speaks for Identidad Marrón (Brown Identity), an online collective for brown-skinned Latin Americans, rejected the sanction. He argued that we should distinguish between expressions like “negrito” that have positive connotations and expressions that use “negro” as a pejorative term, like “mercado negro” (“black market”) or “magia negra” (“black magic”).

The English Football Association has in recent years supported a zero-tolerance policy toward racism. Considering the lamentable history of aggressive racism against players and among fans, this initiative is long overdue. Racism and hooliganism plagued stadiums, most notoriously during the 1980s, with black players tormented with abuse and expected to play even as thugs in the stands threw bananas at them. Belatedly, the authorities cracked down, and English soccer stadiums are very different places today. Even so, players are still subjected to racism, especially via social media. So the Football Association is eager to support antiracist initiatives, and what could be wrong about that?

Ask Cavani. Applied without regard for social, cultural and linguistic context, antiracism efforts risk becoming a caricature of themselves, driving a wedge between people of different cultures rather than bringing them together, as soccer does so impressively around the globe, engaging people of all origins and colors in team efforts. The English Football Association, with its over-the-top sanction of Cavani, managed instead to show only mindless adherence to a brand of maximalist Anglo-American antiracism ideology that does little to combat racism itself. 

Rather than exporting its hair-trigger racial neuroses, the Anglosphere should consider whether there is something positive to import from Latin Americans in how we reckon with the vast complexity of identity rather than seeking binary opposition—and, in the best cases, how we acknowledge superficial differences with affection in a way that takes the sting out of racial terms.

10) Different, but similar, I certainly did not agree with all of Glenn Loury’s take on race, racism, and anti-racism in America, but definitely found it thought-provoking.

11) OMG do I hate when Republicans talk about the “Democrat Party.”  AP on the increasing use of the term.  As I’ve said before, on the bright side, it instantly reveals that you are not dealing with an intellectually serious person.  

12) Good NYT piece full of infographics on what vaccine efficacy numbers actually mean.

13) I think Will Wilkinson’s work on the density divide (no matter where you are, the more dense the residential patterns, the more liberal the people) is fascinating.  And now some cool new research that shows the clear selection effects of liberals disproportionately choosing to live in denser places:

My 2019 paper, “The Density Divide,” makes a case for the importance of selective migration as an explanation for the striking relationship between population density and party vote share. A good question to ask when you see a correlation between two variables is whether you’re looking at a “treatment effect” or a “selection effect.” When I began looking into explanations for this bizarrely tidy pattern, I wasn’t sure which was more likely. The first thing I did was try to find evidence for the treatment effect. I wanted to see if there’s reason to believe that living at higher population densities makes us more liberal and Democratic and that living at lower population densities makes us more conservative and Republican.

There’s plenty of evidence that disembedding from one community and re-embedding in another will tend to shift our opinions in the direction of the new community. If you know any humans, it’s pretty obvious that we’re conformist creatures worried about status and prone to adopt opinions in the vein of locally prevailing sentiment. But the harder I looked for evidence that moving to a city makes us more liberal or that moving to the country makes us more conservative, the weaker it seemed. Opting into a new community affects our opinions, for sure. But what explains why we opt out of one community and opt into another? As I dug deeper and deeper, it became clear to me that the treatment effects probably swamped the selection effects.

However, I didn’t arrive at this conclusion because there was clear, straightforward empirical evidence to this effect. It was more a matter of what C.S. Peirce called “abduction,” which amounts to hypothesis generation through well-informed hunches. I wanted to marshal as much evidence as I could for my hypothesis, but I’m not a quantitative methods guy, so I tried to be clear that my aim was to develop a theory and show that it’s worth taking seriously, but that I wasn’t claiming to have shown that it’s correct. Because I couldn’t! The right sort of studies simply weren’t available…

However, Jokela notes, there have been no studies using individual-level longitudinal data that track both migration patterns and party identification over time. So Jokela fixes that and then fits a model from the data to estimate the size of the effect on urban/rural party vote share difference. Here’s what he finds:

The current study provides direct longitudinal evidence on how political party affiliation of individuals predicts their subsequent residential mobility across urban and rural regions of the United States. Compared to those supporting Democrats, individuals supporting Republicans were less likely to move from rural areas to major cities and were more likely to move away from major cities. Simple simulation models based on the regression models indicated that, between ages 20 and 40, selective residential mobility would have widened the political divide by 6 percentage points in major cities (from 50% Democrats vs. 40% Republicans to 53% Democrats vs. 37% Republicans) and by 6 percentage points in rural areas (from 50% Democrats vs. 40% Republicans to 47% Democrats vs. 43% Republicans).

That’s the ball game in the passage I’ve emphasized in bold. If this weren’t true, the theory of the Density Divide would be falsified. But this amounts to solid, direct evidential support. The fact that Republicans are more likely to move away from major cities is a bonus, but isn’t strictly necessary, since there’s much more rural-to-city migration than city-to-rural migration. That’s what urbanization is. Over the longer-run, the really important thing is that Republican types are less likely to urbanize.

Because very few people move after the age of 40, “most of the correlation between urban–rural residence and political affiliation emerged between ages 20 and 40.”

14) Too much choice is definitely not a good thing.  Krugman, “Too Much Choice Is Hurting America: Learning from subprime, health care and electricity.”

As The Times’s Margot Sanger-Katz has documented, many people end up with heavy financial burdens because they chose the wrong health insurance plan — yet even experts have a very hard time figuring out which plan is best. Using an out-of-network health care provider can also lead to huge medical bills.

Wait, there’s more. One cause of the 2008 financial crisis was the proliferation of novel financial arrangements, like interest-only loans, that looked like good deals but exposed borrowers to huge risks.

What these stories have in common is that they’re snapshots of a country in which many of us are actually offered too many choices, in ways that can do a lot of harm.

It’s true that both Economics 101 and conservative ideology say that more choice is always a good thing. Milton Friedman’s famous and influential 1980 TV series extolling the wonders of capitalism was titled “Free to Choose.”

The spread of this ideology has turned America into a land where many aspects of life that used to be just part of the background now require potentially fateful decisions. You don’t get a company pension, you have to decide how to invest your 401(k). When you turn 65, you don’t just get put on Medicare, you also decide which of many Medicare Advantage plans to sign up for. You don’t just get power and phone service, you also have to choose from a wide variety of options.

Some, maybe even most, of this expansion of choice was good. I don’t miss the days when all home phones were owned by AT&T and customers weren’t allowed to substitute their own handsets.

But the argument that more choice is always good rests on the assumption that people have more or less unlimited capacity to do due diligence on every aspect of their lives — and the real world isn’t like that. People have children to raise, jobs to do, lives to live and limited ability to process information.

And in the real world, too much choice can be a big problem…

What I’m suggesting is that a society that turns what should be routine concerns into make-or-break decisions — a society in which you can ruin your life by choosing the wrong electric company or health insurer — imposes poverty-like cognitive burdens even on the middle class.

And it’s all unnecessary. We’re a rich country — and citizens of other rich countries don’t worry about being bankrupted by medical expenses. It wouldn’t take much to protect Americans against being scammed by mortgage lenders or losing their life savings to fluctuations in the wholesale price of electricity.

So the next time some politician tries to sell a new policy — typically deregulation — by claiming that it will increase choice, be skeptical. Having more options isn’t automatically good, and in America we probably have more choices than we should.

15) Hmmm, looks like I had a lot of racism related links to clear out this week.  Here’s Yglesias in the Post that I missed last month, “Not all ‘anti-racist’ ideas are good ones. The left isn’t being honest about this.: On some topics, progressives prefer pointing out right-wing hypocrisy to debating substance.”

The same Republicans championing free speech and deploring “cancel culture” are trying to pass laws criminalizing protests, bar classroom discussions of the New York Times’ 1619 Project on slavery and penalize people who advocate boycotts to oppose Israeli settlements. Combine that with the idea that we’ve got more important issues to deal with, from the pandemic to the Jan. 6 insurrection, and many progressives think they don’t have to engage with the argument that the left is too conformist and dogmatic on certain topics involving race. They don’t want to hear about the San Francisco Board of Education stripping Abraham Lincoln’s name from a high school, or Oregon teacher-training materials claiming that asking math students to “show their work” reinforces white supremacy.

“One of America’s major parties has turned against democracy,” Vox’s Zack Beauchamp tweeted Feb. 9, after a Times reporter who had used the n-word in a discussion with students about racism was compelled to resign, “and we’re talking about . . . the Times’ staffing decisions?”

But it would be a significant mistake for mainstream progressives to duck the substance of these controversies. After all, it is progressives who in recent years have attempted to increase the stigma attached to racist speech while also expanding the scope of what’s “racist.” That double move introduces complications into discussions of racism that should invite more argumentation, not less…

The shift from dismantling monuments to the Confederacy to erasing homages to Lincoln, for example, raises important questions about how to balance the praiseworthy and lamentable aspects of political figures. (The school board noted that during Lincoln’s presidency, the military hanged 38 rebellious Native Americans in Minnesota.) But whether to cancel Lincoln is — for most people — a fairly easy case. Consider a more challenging one, involving land use restrictions in American cities. Having studied the issue, I believe that excessively strict regulations embody structural racism in housing: Such rules price low-income people, who are disproportionately Black and Brown, out of many areas. To me, it’s clear that the sensible (and progressive) course of action is to allow denser construction in the most expensive neighborhoods; increasing housing supply will have ripple effects that reduce housing prices for everyone. But I’m also aware that many people sincerely believe that allowing real estate development fuels gentrification and displacement — and that the key to racial justice is even more stringent regulations.

Nothing is gained if the different parties in this debate call each other racists or invoke the specter of “white supremacy” to discredit their opponents. The affordable-housing question requires dispassionate analysis, not the censoriousness and scolding that might be appropriate for combating expressions of traditional prejudice, such as redlining…

Meanwhile, schools, nonprofits and businesses increasingly embrace diversity training programs that, Columbia University sociologist Musa al-Gharbi argues, meet public relations goals without actually accomplishing anything worthwhile — and may even make it harder for people from diverse backgrounds to work together. You don’t need to “internalize left-progressive views on inequality and identity issues” to effectively collaborate on the job, al-Gharbi points out, and people of color may themselves not embrace the left perspective. Debate over such programs should be encouraged, not deemed taboo, even if conservatives oppose them in knee-jerk fashion.

By all means, let’s dispense with the frustrating and at times hypocritical meta-debate about “free speech” (in the context of racism) and “cancel culture.” But the newly fashionable anti-racist thinking contains a mix of good ideas and bad ones — including some that are dangerously counterproductive for the people they are intended to help. Bland agreement that “racism is bad” does not suffice when racism is reconceptualized as an abstract attribute of policies and systems, as opposed to bigoted individual behaviors. Understanding complicated social phenomena is difficult. Solving social problems, almost all of which involve race, is contentious. Liberals can’t respond by ceding huge swaths of the political landscape to the hardcore right — or to whichever activist happens to have most loudly proclaimed their own anti-racism.

16) And lastly, I really like this from McWhorter, “Is it racist to expect black kids to do math for real?” (All emphases below are his)

There is a document getting around called Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction, a guide put together by a group of educators. It has a black boy on the cover.

The idea is to show us how our racial reckoning of late ought change how we expose black kids to math. I suppose the counsel is also intended for kids of other types of melanin, but this is in essence a document that could be called “Math For Black Kids.”

The latest is that state-level policy makers in Oregon are especially intrigued by this document. There is all reason to suppose that its influence will spread more widely.

And this is to be resisted, as this lovely pamphlet is teaching us that it is racist to expect black kids to master the precision of math. To wit – its message, penned by people who consider themselves some of the most morally advanced souls in the history of the human species, is one that Strom Thurmond would have happily taken a swig of whiskey to.

Of course the authors have it that “The framework for deconstructing racism in mathematics offers essential characteristics of antiracist math educators and critical approaches to dismantling white supremacy in math classrooms by visualizing the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture.” But translated, this means that math as we have always known it is racism. That’s a rich claim, and if correct, it is of earth-shattering urgency. But is it correct? Let’s see how it holds up.

Now, part of “antiracist math teaching” here is to teach about black mathematicians (the authors have this as kids “reclaiming their mathematical ancestry” – the jargon is, we must admit, beautiful) or to air facts such as that the traditional Yoruba approach to numbers (and wow, numbers in Yoruba, I note as linguist me, are indeed fierce!) use base 20. No one would object to these things, nor to the idea that we “teach students of color about the career and financial opportunities in math and STEM fields.”

But 96% of people reading this kind of thing will be thinking “Yeah, but what about the math??”

More to the point is that this entire document is focused on an idea that making black kids be precise is immoral.

Yes, the document pays lip service otherwise, claiming at one point to seek to  “teach rich, thoughtful, complex mathematics.” And rather often, the word praxis is used. But the thrust of this pamphlet is that:

1. a focus on getting the “right” answer is “perfectionism” or “either/or thinking;”

2. the idea that teachers are teachers and students are learners is wrong;

3. to think of it as a problem that the expectations you have of students are not met is racist;

4. to teach math in a linear fashion with skills taught in sequence is racist;

5. to value “procedural fluency” – i.e. knowing how to do the fractions, long division … — over “conceptual knowledge” is racist. That is, black kids are brilliant to know what math is trying to do, to know “what it’s all about,” rather than to actually do the math, just as many of us read about what physics or astrophysics accomplishes without ever intending to master the math that led to the conclusions;

6. to require students to “show their work” is racist;

7. requiring students to raise their hand before speaking “can reinforce paternalism and powerhoarding, in addition to breaking the process of thinking, learning, and communicating.”

You may wonder if this is a cartoon but no, this is real! This is actually what this document tells us, again and again. This, folks, is the “Critical Race Theory” that so many of us are resisting, not a simple program for “social justice.” To distrust this document is not to be against social justice, but against racism.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Damn I’m loving Noah Smith’s substack (lots of great free posts– I won’t be paying for him, too).  This is a really thoughtful one on, “The end of the War on Islam”

But what’s really weird is how quickly all of this seems to be receding into memory. Islamophobic attacks have fallen at a rapid clip since early 2017. A recent poll found that only 20% of Americans (and 34% of Republicans) now want to ban immigration from Muslim countries. Other polls have also found that anti-Muslim sentiment is now strongly unpopular in America. Islamophobia is far from dead, but it’s no longer widely accepted, and it no longer feels connected to a wider anxiety about geopolitical conflict.

Of course, for Muslim Americans (and for South Asian Americans in danger of being visually stereotyped as “Muslim”) the specter of Islamophobia, and of renewed clashes between America and Muslim countries, is still very clear and present. I am sure it will be decades at the very least before those worries recede. But I think it’s worth asking why the perception of a conflict between the U.S. and global Islam has receded. I see several reasons — some unambiguously positive, others more ominous.

The U.S. won the War on (Islamist) Terror

This is a thing that you used to get yelled at for saying in public — no one wanted to jinx it, or encourage complacency, or minimize the terror attacks that still do strike many parts of the world. But it has been true for a while:

  1. Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes, and the senior al Qaeda leadership has pretty much all been killed or captured.

  2. Al-Qaeda has failed to launch an attack on U.S. soil since 2001.

  3. Attacks by al-Qaeda over the past decade have all or nearly all been the work of loosely affiliated regional groups like AQAP or Al-Shabaab that have sworn nominal allegiance to al-Qaeda.

  4. ISIS has lost all of its core territories in Iraq and Syria, and its founder and leader is dead.

  5. ISIS managed six small terror attacks in the U.S., with the only two fatal attacks being the Orlando and San Bernardino shootings. These attacks were “stochastic terrorism”, perpetrated by lone-wolf types who said nice things about ISIS but very possibly had other motives.

Of course no one knows the future, and some other dangerous Islamist group might emerge and start launching terror attacks, etc. I doubt it, for reasons I’ll explain later. But if so, the U.S. is well-equipped to stop it in its tracks…

Some of America’s 16-year panic over Islam was due to terror attacks, but some was due to the fact that the American Right simply panics about stuff. It is what they do. Communism, crime, rap lyrics, the War on Christmas, Dungeons and Dragons, video games — always just one thing after another. Some of the panics are much more justifiable than others, but the supply of panic is roughly fixed.

Readers on the Right are not going to like hearing this, but some portion of the panic over Islam was not really about terror attacks, but a displaced fear of the demographic and cultural changes that were taking place in America in the 2000s and early 2010s. The conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was a Muslim was obviously just a stand-in for the fact that he was part African. The fear of Sharia Law probably had something to do with the decline of Christianity in the U.S. The years of 2001-2016 were years of high immigration and rapid demographic change, and many people on the Right were afraid of that, and it was easy to associate those things with a “foreign”-feeling religion like Islam, especially given the backdrop of the War on Terror.

But the Trump Era changed this in two ways. First of all, it gave people on the Right permission to express explicit worries about one of the things they were really scared of — immigration. Instead of using the foreign-seeming-ness of Islam as a proxy, conservatives were free to point the finger at actual foreigners. Second, the Trump Era saw the reignition of America’s biggest and most fundamental and most divisive social conflict — the Black-White Conflict. Given a choice to fight about the Black-White Conflict vs. anything else, Americans will choose the former. With Antifa and BLM to worry about, who needs ISIS?

2) Political scientist Pippa Norris on why Republicans have not abandoned Trump:

Barrier 1: The Republican Party has adopted authoritarian-populist values

The first problem is that authoritarian-populist values have gone viral and spread deeply through the Republican Party. Expert estimates of political parties’ ideological positions suggest that the party of Lincoln has become willing to undermine democratic principles in pursuit of power, much like the Alternative for Germany, Austria’s Freedom Party and Hungary’s Fidesz. Other independent evidence confirms these estimates.

It’s not just Trump and the top congressional leaders who embrace authoritarian values. This mind-set has penetrated the party nationwide. In December, the Electoral Integrity Project asked 789 experts to estimate the ideological position of U.S. state parties. As you can see in the figure below, some state Republican parties, such as those in Vermont and Hawaii, continue to respect liberal democratic principles. But most, like those in Wisconsin and Nevada, have abandoned these values.

The MAGA base similarly doubts basic democratic principles, such as the integrity of American elections. Even since Joe Biden’s inauguration, about 8 in 10 Republican voters continue to endorse the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was rigged and Biden’s victory is illegitimate…

Barrier 2: Republicans see diversity as a threat, not an opportunity

Instead of adapting, Republicans have come to fear the growing ethnic and racial diversity of the American electorate as an existential threat to the party’s survival…

Barrier 4: Party cultures are slow to change

Parties can and do learn. They can move closer to the median voter. But congressional Republicans haven’t suffered the shock of landslide defeats. Rather, the party has gained House seats, insulated by gerrymandering.

3) And good stuff from Chris Hayes, “The Republican Party Is Radicalizing Against Democracy: The GOP is moderating on policy questions, even as it grows more dangerous on core questions of democracy and the rule of law.”

The republican party is radicalizing against democracy. This is the central political fact of our moment. Instead of organizing its coalition around shared policy goals, the GOP has chosen to emphasize hatred and fear of its political opponents, who—they warn—will destroy their supporters and the country. Those Manichaean stakes are used to justify every effort to retain power, and make keeping power the GOP’s highest purpose. We are living with a deadly example of just how far those efforts can go, and things are likely to get worse.

And so the Biden era of American politics is shaping up as a contest between the growing ideological hegemony of liberalism, and the intensifying opposition of a political minority that has proved willing to engage in violence in order to hold on to power. This fight isn’t ultimately about policy, where the gaps are narrowing. It’s about whether the United States will live up to the promise of democracy—and on that crucial question, we’ve rarely been so divided.

4) I thought this was quite good, “Sexual Assault and the Taboo of Sound Advice”

One recent Friday, campus police at University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), sent out a school-wide welcome email offering safety tips to students, some of whom are incoming freshman and the rest of whom would be on campus for the first time in a while. “With the first week of classes now underway,” the email began, “I’d like to take this time to remind you that University Police Services is focused on preserving an environment where you can study, live, and work safely.”

The opening tips were in the realm of those familiar body-language prescriptives that some find hokey but that self-defense experts swear by: “Look confident, keep your head up and walk with a confident stride.” The email emphasized that merely making eye contact could establish one’s status as an alpha and thereby “deter a potential attack.” The advice continued: “Be aware and alert to your surroundings. Don’t talk on your cellphone or listen to music when you are in an unfamiliar area” and “If you jog alone, stay in public areas that are well lit and populated” and “It is a good idea to prepare yourself… so you don’t freeze with fear if something ever was to happen.” Commonsensical advice, right?

Not among those sworn with ecclesiastical fervor to support victims of rape, domestic violence, and similar crimes, whose principal function seems to be to sniff out rhetoric that makes victims feel discomfort having been victimized. Those advocates, hailing from several UNLV entities, apparently got on the horn and raised holy hell with the campus cops. Duly chastened, by first-thing Monday, they had sent out a sheepish mea culpa. Campus PD wrote now to “sincerely apologize” for the “inadvertently sent” email’s “effects on our students, faculty, and staff.” …

Of course, the point of these safety memos is not to apportion blame for crimes that have already occurred so much as to publicize best practices for preventing new crimes. It is absurd to propose that furnishing a general audience with actionable advice on safety somehow stigmatizes people who—quite possibly despite their own best efforts—have been victimized. Yes, your car might be stolen even if you lock it and take the keys, but does that mean that no one should remind us to lock our cars and take our keys? Or to use a more timely example, advising people to mask and maintain social distance does not victim-shame those who have already contracted COVID, some of whom no doubt caught the disease despite masking and maintaining distance. Still, the activists suppress.

It’s a kind of punitive narcissism: the condition whereby your desire not to be reminded of your misfortune outweighs my right to be equipped to avoid the same misfortune. But even taken at face value, the activists’ notion that we can never correlate outcomes with predisposing behaviors is an argument that we apply nowhere else in life. Such reasoning negates the eminent behavioristic goal of learning from one’s mistakes. Logically speaking, it also negates entire major fields of inquiry—say, epidemiology, which is wholly dependent on the strategy of cataloging possible causative factors over time and drawing logical inferences about common denominators and outcomes. In most walks of life, it is assumed that growth is an ongoing process of self-reflection: What worked? What didn’t?

5) I love ancient cave art (even have a framed reproduction in my office).  I had never heard of this cave art, but I love it, “A Natural Work of Art May Be Hiding Among Indian Cave Masterpieces
What may be an overlooked fossil in a well-known cultural site could offer clues to the age of its underlying rocks.”

Cave paintings at the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters in Madhya Pradesh in India.

Credit…Frédéric Soltan/Corbis, via Getty Images

6) Also really liked Noah Smith’s sci-fi recommendations.  Some of my favorites here and others I will turn to next time I’m in the mood for science fiction.

7) Joseph Allen and Helen Jenkins, “The CDC’s latest demands will keep millions of kids out of school unnecessarily”

The new report on schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be a wake-up call to parents everywhere: If they’re not back already, your kids are not going back to school full-time this year.

The report adds new and unnecessary demands that will ultimately keep millions of kids out of school. In particular, there are two items that will act as barriers: the use of community-spread metrics to determine whether schools should open, and the requirement of routine screening testing…

The CDC emphasizes hand-washing, which is great, but it overemphasizes cleaning. There isn’t a single documented case of covid-19 transmission through surfaces, so why is the CDC emphasizing things such as cleaning outdoor playground equipment that have no bearing on exposure or risk? Shared air is the problem, not shared surfaces

On that point, the CDC gives lip service to ventilation, but you have to get to page 13 to find it under the last bullet under “Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities.” The CDC recognizes airborne transmission of covid-19, so why is ventilation not more prominent?

Finally, the CDC emphasizes maintaining six feet of distancing, even between kids. But that ignores the science on children, transmission and the power of layered risk-reduction measures. One of us (Allen) and another colleague have recommended three feet of distancing for kid-kid interaction while keeping adults six feet from everyone else. Why? Because with masks, distancing is important, but not the key factor determining risk. As an example, hospitals don’t distance at all. Ultimately, this six-foot distancing rule is what will keep most kids out of school simply because of space limitations.

The science is clear: Kids — especially young children — can get and transmit covid-19, but they are less likely to do so than adults. Kids can die from the disease, but the risk of that happening is one in a million; they are about 10 times as likely to die by suicide. Teachers also have lower risk than other occupations and can be kept safe through adherence to universal precautions.

 
We’re all for stringent controls in schools. There are many that are both effective for adults and kids and don’t keep kids out of school, as some of these new ones from CDC will. At some point, we have to recognize the consequences of keeping millions out of school for a year and treat this like the national emergency it is.

8) Good to see the CDC finally giving out good guidance on the importance of mask fit.  And recommending night just double-masking, but the far more comfortable and equally effective mask fitters.

9) And this very handy summary I meant to post a while back and mis-placed:

Here are the different mask types with filtration efficacy. Bolded below is the top-of-the-line N-95 mask, which proved to be 98 percent effective.

Consumer-grade facemasks:

2-layer woven nylon mask, ear loops, w/o aluminum nose bridge: 44.7%
2-layer woven nylon mask, ear loops, w/ aluminum nose bridge: 56.7%
2-layer woven nylon mask, ear loops, w/ nose bridge, 1 non-woven insert: 74.4%
2-later woven nylon mask, ear loops, w/ nose bridge, washed, no insert: 79%
Cotton bandana – folded Surgeon General style: 50%
Cotton bandana – folded “Bandit” style: 49 %
Single-layer woven polyester gaiter/neck cover (balaclava bandana): 37.8%
Single-layer woven polyester/nylon mask with ties: 39.7%
Non-woven polypropylene mask with fixed ear loops: 28.6%
Three-layer woven cotton mask with ear loops: 26.5%

Medical facemasks and modifications:

3M 9210 NIOSH-approved N95 Respirator: 98%
Surgical mask with ties: 71.4%
Procedure mask with ear loops: 38.5%
Procedure mask with ear loops + “loops tied and corners tucked in”: 60.3%
Procedure mask with ear loops + “Ear Guard”: 61.7%
Procedure mask with ear loops + “23mm claw hair clip”: 64.8%
Procedure mask with ear loops + “Fix-the Mask (3 rubber bands)”: 78.2%
Procedure mask with ear loops + “nylon hosiery sleeve”: 80.2%

10) The UK variant running roughshod through Denmark.  Damn are we lucky it didn’t make it here earlier.  Also, our numbers are improving so much.  If it wasn’t for these damn new variants, we’d just have an amazing outlook right now.  

11) Speaking of the UK variant, “A lone infection may have changed the course of the pandemic: The number of mutations in the UK variant took scientists by surprise. Now they think its origins may lie in one person, chronically infected with the virus”

12) Kristof, “The Ugly Secrets Behind the Costco Chicken.”  We have just got to treat animals we use for food better.  Such a moral failing.  Pay more for chicken so it doesn’t get tortured– it’s really not so hard.

Probably like many of you, I think of Costco as an enlightened company exemplifying capitalism that works. One ranking listed it as the No. 1 company to work at in terms of pay and benefits — a prime example of a business that is both profitable and humane.

Unless, it turns out, you’re a chicken.

Rotisserie chickens selling for just $4.99 each are a Costco hallmark, both delicious and cheap. They are so popular they have their own Facebook page, and the company sells almost 100 million of them a year. But an animal rights group called Mercy for Animals recently sent an investigator under cover to work on a farm in Nebraska that produces millions of these chickens for Costco, and customers might lose their appetite if they saw inside a chicken barn.

“It’s dimly lit, with chicken poop all over,” said the worker, who also secretly shot video there. “It’s like a hot humid cloud of ammonia and poop mixed together.”

You may be thinking: Huh? People are dying in a pandemic. Donald Trump is facing a Senate impeachment trial. And we’re talking about chicken, er, poop?

 

Torture a single chicken in your backyard, and you risk arrest. Abuse tens of millions of them? Why, that’s agribusiness.

It’s not that Costco chickens suffer more than Walmart or Safeway birds. All are part of an industrial agricultural system that, at the expense of animal well-being, has become extremely efficient at producing cheap protein.

When Herbert Hoover talked about putting “a chicken in every pot,” chicken was a luxury: In 1930, whole dressed chicken retailed in the United States for $7 a pound in today’s dollars. In contrast, that Costco bird now sells for less than $2 a pound.

Those commendable savings have been achieved in part by developing chickens that effectively are bred to suffer. Scientists have created what are sometimes called “exploding chickens” that put on weight at a monstrous clip, about six times as fast as chickens in 1925. The journal Poultry Science once calculated that if humans grew at the same rate as these chickens, a 2-month-old baby would weigh 660 pounds…

Abuse of livestock and poultry persists largely because it is hidden — even as chickens are slaughtered in the United States at the rate of one million per hour, around the clock. We treat poultry particularly poorly because humans identify less with birds than with fellow mammals. We may empathize with a calf with big eyes, but less so with species that we dismiss as “bird brains.”

Still, the issue remains as the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham posed it in 1789: “The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

I hardly ever eat beef any more thanks to the great options from Impossible and Beyond.  Really wanting my Beyond/Impossible chicken.

13) I love this headline, but I wish there were actually more evidence for it being a genuine trend, “The coronavirus is airborne. Here’s how to know if you’re breathing other people’s breath.
In a major new pandemic trend, people are turning to carbon dioxide monitoring devices to help assess ventilation quality.”  This really should be a regular part of life and very frustrating to me that it’s not.  We could be notably safer and have less Covid if it was.

14) Oh, yeah, about that impeachment trial this week.  Good take from EJ Dionne, “The impeachment managers have sealed off Republicans’ escape hatches”

The House impeachment managers moved efficiently on Wednesday to close off the escape hatches and back doors for Senate Republicans. Quietly but passionately, they put the lie to the sham alibis that weak and cowardly members of the GOP are likely to invoke if they decide to do Donald Trump’s bidding one more time.

Those who vote to acquit the former president will now own it all: The incendiary speech that made the nation’s capital a killing ground but also the months of incitement and lying that built up to the violence.

They will own the threats against elected officials who refused to cheat on Trump’s behalf, the attacks on Black voters in big cities, and the savage mendacity of his all-caps tweets. Voting to acquit will mean joining in Trump’s rejection of the democratic obligation to accept the outcome of a free election and in his declarations even before the voting began that this was a “rigged” and “stolen” contest.

15) And Frum, “There Is No Defense—Only Complicity”

There is no escape for him, and no escape for the other Republican senators in that same predicament.

Today the House impeachment managers made that predicament more inescapable and more agonizing.

Over almost eight hours, the House managers presented a detailed timeline of Trump’s culpability for the January 6 attack. They showed how Trump started arguing in mid-summer 2020 that any result other than his own reelection should be treated as a “fraud” and a “steal.” They showed the intensifying violence of his rhetoric on TV and Twitter through November and December. And they itemized how Trump repeatedly and forcefully summoned supporters to Washington on January 6 to stop the final certification of the vote in Congress.

Then they played a minute-by-minute juxtaposition of Trump’s words of incitement on the day of the attack with videos of the violence of supporters who told cameras again and again that they acted on Trump’s orders, at Trump’s wishes. They showed how Trump went silent as the assault unfolded, how he ignored supporters who pleaded with him to call off the attack or call out the National Guard. They quoted Trump praising and thanking the insurrectionists even after he knew they had wounded police officers, and repeating the big lie that had set the insurrection in motion, the big lie that he had somehow won an election that he had actually lost by 7 million votes.

The remorseless, crushing power of the House managers’ evidence, all backed by horrifying real-time audio and video recordings, shuttered any good-faith defense of Trump on the merits of the case. The constitutional defense—that it’s impossible to convict a president if he leaves office between his impeachment and his trial—was rejected by 56 senators yesterday, not least because it defies a quarter millennium of federal and state precedents.

There is no defense. There is only complicity, whether motivated by weakness and fear or by shared guilt. And the House managers forced every Republican senator to feel that complicity from the inside out.

That feeling of complicity will not change the final outcome of this Senate trial. The weak will be no less weak for being shamed by their weakness; those who share Trump’s guilt will not cease to share it, because that guilt has been blazed to the world. But at least the House case can restrict the personal and political options of the weak and the guilty. If a senator like Marco Rubio did not feel his world tightening around him, he would not look so haunted. The Republican senators are shrinking before the eyes of the whole country. They are all becoming “liddle.” They know it. They feel it. They hate it. But they cannot stop it.

16) I had read that libraries have to pay way more for e-books, but finally an explanation as to why:

Publishers justify the increased cost of e-books because they say the new technology has reduced friction too much, hurting their sales. They have argued that Libby and libraries have made it too easy for people to read books without buying them. Macmillan, one of the big five publishers, placed an eight-week embargo on library sales of new e-book releases in late 2019 for just that reason, though it reversed its position in March 2020 because of the pandemic. “In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market. As the development of apps and extensions continues, and as libraries extend their reach statewide as well as nationally, it is becoming ever easier to borrow rather than buy,” wrote John Sargent, Macmillan’s then-CEO, in an open letter to librarians justifying the embargo.

Don’t know if its that simple, but if you want your library spending to go further, actually check out real books.

17) I think Chait goes a bit far in comparing the firing of Gina Carano to the Hollywood Blacklist of communists, but, barring truly abhorrent beliefs and behavior, we should not be firing actors for their political beliefs and Carano’s are disturbingly close to the GOP mainstream.  

Earlier this week, Gina Carano, an actor in The Mandalorian, was fired from her job after a controversy over an allegedly anti-Semitic social-media post. In short order, UTSA, her talent agency, dropped her as a client.

Many media accounts have taken the anti-Semitism charge at face value (USA Today: “… an anti-Semitic Instagram Story that she shared from another user.”) The post in question, which triggered a social-media firestorm that quickly led to her firing and loss of representation, was not anti-Semitic by any reasonable definition. The post simply argued (uncontroversially) that the Holocaust grew out of a hate campaign against Jews, which it then likened (controversially) to hatred of fellow Americans for their political views:

“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors … even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views”

I don’t find this post especially insightful. But overheated comparisons to Nazi Germany are quite common, and, more to the point, not anti-Semitic. There is no hint anywhere in this post of sympathy for Nazis or blame for their victims.

Many of the reports of Carano’s termination string together the trumped-up offense of her post about Nazism with a series of controversial posts. The worst of them is a post insinuating elections are rife with voter fraud and should impose photo ID — a claim that, while provably false, is also a standard-issue Republican belief. The second-most controversial post in her history is a very small joke, in which she added “boop/bop/beep” to her Twitter profile, before apologizing for the insensitivity of seeming to mock the practice of including pronouns in social-media biographies.

The remainder of her case history seems to consist of commonly held beliefs. Variety solemnly reports, “Other posts, including a quote saying ‘Expecting everyone you encounter to agree with every belief or view you hold is fucking wild’ and one saying ‘Jeff Epstein didn’t kill himself,’ remained.” The suspicion that Epstein was murdered is hardly unusual. And Carano’s belief that we should not expect everybody we encounter to share all our beliefs is not only widespread but utterly sensible. Indeed this seems to be the central point of disagreement between Carano and her former employer and client.

What’s most striking about the news coverage of Carano’s defenestration is the utter absence of any scrutiny of her employer or her (now-former) agency. The tone of the reporting simply conveys her posts as though they were a series of petty crimes, the punishment of which is inevitable and self-evidently justified. The principle that an actor ought to be fired for expressing unsound political views has simply faded into the background.

Quick hits (part II)

1) From Tim Noah, “The End of the 40-Year War on Government”

Reagan’s war on government was more talk than action. As Kinsley would observe in 2001, on the occasion of Reagan’s ninetieth birthday, federal spending was, after inflation, one-quarter higher when Reagan left office than when he entered it, and the federal civilian workforce expanded from 2.8 million to three million. What Reagan did was reduce taxes, principally on the rich, as a share of gross domestic product. Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump followed Reagan’s example, spouting anti-government rhetoric to justify tax cuts for the rich but not following through with significant spending cuts.

The theory for tax cuts as a means to shrink government was “starve the beast”: Deprive the federal government of revenue, and spending cuts would have to follow. But that didn’t happen; government spending continued to go up. Reviewing tax and spending patterns over the 20 years that followed Reagan’s election, the late libertarian economist William Niskanen concluded that tax cuts, far from compelling spending cuts, accelerated government spending by reducing its cost to the taxpayer. As with pencils or automobiles or anything else, the way to sell more government was to lower its cost.

Even though Reagan’s disparagement of government failed to shrink its size, it did plenty of long-term damage. The tax cuts enacted to wage war on big government accelerated the trend toward income inequality without doing much to create economic growth. (A recent study by two economists at the London School of Economics reached the same conclusion about tax cuts enacted over the past five decades in other countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.) Growth in income inequality, in turn, fueled tribal disaffection among the white working class, which the GOP successfully exploited in presidential politics.

The war on government also made it possible to reduce nondefense domestic discretionary spending—that is, all government spending except defense spending and “nondiscretionary” entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, where anybody who’s eligible receives benefits automatically. Domestic nondiscretionary spending represents only about 14 percent of all federal spending, which is why shrinking it has no appreciable effect on overall government spending. But conservative politicians like to cut it anyway, because such cuts help make “government is the problem” a self-fulfilling prophecy. An especially high priority has been to cripple the ability of regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Labor Department to police business violations of environmental law, labor law, and other protections.

Under Reagan, nondefense domestic discretionary spending fell from more than 5 percent of GDP to less than 3.5 percent, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank. After that, it never cracked 4 percent, except briefly during the early part of Barack Obama’s presidency. Under Trump, it sank lower than it’s been since John F. Kennedy was president.

Another victim of Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric was regulation, which was hampered not only by cuts to nondefense domestic discretionary spending but also by the imposition of more direct obstacles. After Republicans regained the House of Representatives in 1994, Congress passed a law requiring that all major regulations be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis, a reasonable-sounding proposition often abused to minimize potential benefits to the public and maximize potential costs to business. (Estimates of compliance costs nearly always turned out to be much higher than what businesses ended up spending in the real world.) Giving lip service to health and safety regulations, Trump waged overt war against the regulatory process, rolling back no fewer than 100 environmental rules and bottling up many more.

Reagan’s assertion that “government is the problem” was so great a rhetorical success that even Democrats felt powerless to challenge it. In his 1996 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton echoed Reagan by saying “the era of big government is over” and boasted that he was already creating a “new, smaller government.” Even Obama felt compelled to say, in his 2013 State of the Union address, “It is not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government”—even though it was plainly evident that government wouldn’t likely get much smarter until nondefense spending was permitted to increase. (In a more frank vein, Obama would tell Ta-Nehisi Coates in 2016 that if you had no problem with government spending before it was made available to bring African Americans and Latinos into the middle class, then you “have to ask yourself the question of how consistent you are, and what’s different, and what’s changed.”)

Trump’s presidency has been described by many conservatives as a repudiation of Reagan’s movement conservatism, and in many ways it was. Certainly, Reagan would have deplored Trump’s vulgarity and incivility, and rejected Trump’s policy views on immigration and trade. But Trump embraced more wholeheartedly than any other president Reagan’s dictum that “government is the problem.”

Trump’s very candidacy was based on the proposition that anyone with experience in politics was unfit to be president. He raged continually against government, stating repeatedly that it was bloated when in fact civilian employment stood about where it was in the mid-1960s. He waged his war against regulation. He left key government posts unfilled, even in the few agencies he cared about, like the Department of Homeland Security, where only about one-third of the top positions were filled with permanent appointees. He presided over the highest turnover of senior-level advisers in at least 40 years.

Trump inveighed against the “deep state,” which sometimes meant the civil service and sometimes meant political appointees to whom he’d taken a dislike. He hurled insults continually at his Cabinet appointees on Twitter, as if they belonged to someone else’s government. When he lost the 2020 election, he disputed the results, dismissed the many court rulings that upheld those results, and in the end waged war on his own vice president for not throwing out electoral ballots. Finally, he incited an insurrection against Congress and refused for hours to tell rioters who were committing acts of deadly violence and vandalism to go home. You can’t get any more anti-government than that.

In calling for unity Wednesday, Biden was in effect saying, enough—not only with treasonous insurrection but also with the identification of government as the enemy. He didn’t say, “I’m for big government, and I’m going to make it bigger.” But he did say this: “We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.”

Biden didn’t say that the federal government can do these things, but that’s what he meant. He’s got an ambitious agenda to stimulate the economy and distribute vaccines and address the climate change crisis. These are all actions that will be undertaken by the same federal government that Ronald Reagan said was not the solution to America’s problems, but the problem itself. With a little luck, Biden will finally put such poisonous rhetoric to rest.

2) Will Wilkinson on “The Republican Unity Grift”

Joe Biden’s first act as president was an inspiring and passionate call for Americans to come together and repair our wounded nation. Republicans responded by spitting in his face and aggravating the wound.

Republicans haven’t explicitly rejected Biden’s moral appeal for unity. There has been no confession that their contempt for democracy (and Democrats) is so total, that their sense of entitlement to power is so profound, they must disrespectfully decline the president’s offer, slap his extended hand, and continue to wage bitter war on the basic rights and interests of the American majority. They understand that such abominable truths must not be spoken. They know they have to pretend to care. So what they did is seize on the president’s plea for unity and turn it into a perverted cudgel, which they have used to relentlessly bludgeon their reviled opponents and drive the bloody wedge of factional division deeper still.

It ought to be obvious what Republicans are doing and it’s maddening when respectable media outlets buy into the right’s unity grifting frame even a little. The plain fact is that, although Trump is gone, the GOP remains heavily invested in a form of ethno-nationalist populism that denies the moral and political equality of America’s multicultural urban majority and, therefore, the validity of the Democratic Party’s claim to govern. The Republican Party doesn’t want unification. It wants submission.

That is to say, Republicans couldn’t be less sincere when they speak “unity.” When they argue that Biden’s call for unity is a joke because Democrats insist on impeaching a president who, in an attempted coup d’etat, incited a mob that laid siege to the Capitol and scattered the U.S. Congress as it counted electoral votes, all they’re saying is that they don’t have a problem with it and wish it had worked.

What do you call insincerity so depraved that “bad faith” feels like euphemism? I don’t know, but whatever it is, this is it. It’s just an impossibly shitty, grotesquely dishonest move. But, man, do they love to make it…

Of course, the whole unfortunate problem of social and political division would vanish in a puff of smoke if Democrats would adopt Republican beliefs, values, and priorities. Though it’s wrong and bad for Democrats to have power at all, and it’s ridiculous and unjust to expect Republicans to make any concessions at to all their wrong bad wrongness, Democrats could at least take responsibility for causing division, ease off their willful antagonism of Republicans, and meet them halfway on everything. It’s not enough to be half right and half good, but it’s a lot less outrageous than being maximally wrongheaded and evil. That’s the least Democrats can do to bring down the temperature. But they refuse to do even that much, which is why Biden’s calls for unity are joke at best and sinister at worst.

That’s it! Now you can unity grift, too!

3) Noah Smith, “Hispanics or Coups”

If the GOP doesn’t become a majority party, its only option for electoral success is to make it so that majority parties don’t win elections. This is hardly news — for years the GOP has been trying to tilt the scale away from majoritarianism through gerrymandering, Electoral College gaming, and command of the Senate, as well as through various schemes to suppress the vote in Black areas. That effort has been moderately successful — Bush won in 2000 and Trump won in 2016 while losing the popular vote, and the GOP holds a substantial electoral advantage in both houses of Congress. But this only works to a certain extent. And with a lot of hard work and proactive organizing, Democrats have been very effective in blocking efforts to suppress the vote.

That leaves non-democratic means. Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election by bullying state legislators to appoint fake electors failed, but leaves open the specter that future GOP incumbents would make efforts like this a standard part of their toolkit. And of course, there is the option of trying to launch coups…

So while the GOP’s answer to the question of “Hispanics or coups?” in 2020 was “Porque no los dos?”, that’s not going to work in the long run. The GOP must choose: Will it expand its tent to include Hispanic voters, or will it doom itself when half of its people insist on trying to overturn democracy with violence?

There is still time to make the smart decision.

4) John McWhorter, “Schools Must Resist Destructive Anti-racist Demands: Contrary to what activists seem to believe, campuses are not bastions of social injustice.”

At Princeton last summer, 350 faculty members signed an anti-racist manifesto that described the school as founded upon the pillars of its oppressive past, requiring an overhaul of faculty, curriculum, and admissions procedures to fumigate the campus of an all-permeating racism. Its nearly 50 demands included “exponentially” increasing the number of faculty of color; mandatory anti-racist training focused on identifying participants’ “vulnerability” and fostering “productive discomfort”; rewarding the “invisible work done by faculty of color with course relief and summer salary;” and most controversially, the formation of “a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty.” …

My colleague Conor Friedersdorf has documented that even some of the faculty who signed the Princeton petition were not necessarily united in adherence to its specific demands, or in agreement as to the depths of the university’s depravity. Many wanted, simply, to deliver a nebulous acknowledgment that some anti-racist efforts would be beneficial. Although racism surely exists at Princeton, as it does throughout American society, Princeton is not the utter sinkhole of bigotry and insensitivity that the letter implies. American universities have long been more committed to anti-racism than almost any other institutions. Princeton is where, for example, Woodrow Wilson’s name was recently removed from the name of the School of Public and International Affairs in acknowledgment of his implacably racist beliefs—albeit in response to student pressure.

Figuring out where to draw the line is ever elusive, but one clarifying development in the Princeton case was, of all things, a threatened civil-rights investigation of the university. The United States Department of Education announced over the summer that, in light of the Princeton manifesto, it was looking into whether the university had been misrepresenting itself in reporting adherence to federal nondiscrimination law—i.e., whether it had gone afoul of legislation designed to protect students.

This approach was, of course, a ploy, rather than a sincere search for injustice. It was part of the Trump administration’s callow play to the “populist” sentiments of its voter base as well as evidence of an overall numbness to even basic concern with issues of race, racism, equity, and racist legacies. However, the fact remains: If Princeton is really a place where the demands in the letter would be appropriate, then the idea of the school being formally investigated for racist practices shouldn’t seem so absurd. A Princeton truly all about racism, bigotry, discrimination, obstacles, and inattendance to same—as the faculty letter richly implied and even stated—would be gracefully submissible to charges of civil-rights violation.

The only way to make sense of this contradiction is to allow that Princeton’s problems must be much subtler, and also have much less actual effect, than what civil-rights law is designed to address. And if the letter refers to matters so elusive and indirect, one must question the uncompromising, alarmist extremity of the letter.

This skepticism is equally applicable to the other manifestos. At Bryn Mawr, as at pretty much all small, elite liberal-arts colleges in the 21st century, “woke” ideals are deeply inculcated and largely unquestioned; one can assume that most 19-year-olds have heard of the term intersectionality; and racism is considered the quintessence of human evil. The protests there were motivated not by an on-campus event, but by the police killing of a Black man a half hour’s drive away in Philadelphia.

5) I don’t love everything about this approach, but this strikes me as a way better way to think about Diversity education. “Can Chloé Valdary Sell Skeptics on DEI? Valdary’s Theory of Enchantment elicits unusual openness, trust, and engagement from ideologically diverse observers.”

The diversity, equity, and inclusion industry is booming as corporations, government agencies, high schools, colleges, and nonprofit organizations clamor for its services. Advocates insist that formal instruction in anti-racism yields more inclusive, equitable institutions. Skeptics object to what they characterize as coerced indoctrination in esoteric theories, or charge that prominent consultants like Robin DiAngelo, author of the best-selling White Fragility, traffic in false and divisive racial stereotypes. Still others cite studies finding that diversity training sessions are actually counterproductive…

Although it’s too soon to evaluate the proliferation of training sessions introduced after George Floyd’s death, I am persuaded by older research suggesting that DEI programs can do more harm than good––even granting that there is no universal definition of success––and I think I know one reason why. The political psychologist Karen Stenner has found that roughly a third of humans have an authoritarian predisposition—a kind of political personality—characterized by a fundamental discomfort with difference. Authoritarians tend to treat members of other racial groups best in contexts where they are presented as (or feel like, or appear to be) “one of us,” and with more hostility when race is seen (or identified) as a core attribute that differentiates “us” from “them.” The racial essentialism embedded in leading DEI frameworks fuels “us” and “them” thinking.

Valdary’s approach does not. Having interviewed her by phone and email, and having delved into her course material and the thinking behind it, I can confirm that her approach to anti-racism and inclusion really is substantively different from that of her better-known competitors. Theory of Enchantment elicits unusual openness, trust, and engagement from ideologically diverse observers, including many critics of more conventional DEI-training approaches…

In 2018, after two years of delivering lectures on her framework in the U.S. and abroad, she saw that her Theory of Enchantment could be applied to efforts to manage diversity and fight racism within institutions, so she launched a business, targeting educational institutions and corporations. Three principles guide all of the coursework her company offers:

  1. Treat people like human beings, not political abstractions.
  2. Criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down, never to destroy.
  3. Root everything you do in love and compassion…

Whether or not love is in fact the key to transcending injustice, Theory of Enchantment strikes me as more likely to cause people to treat one another better than other diversity training for the simple reason that it rejects race essentialism, which alienates many, and centers love, which does not. Robin DiAngelo’s popular “white fragility” framework breaks the first rule of the Theory of Enchantment, Valdary points out, by treating white people as a monolith and racially essentializing everyone. “All individuals are complex and multifaceted. If we treat any human being, any group of people, as a conglomerate, we run the risk of stereotyping them, reducing them, in our words and in our actions, and turning them into an abstraction,” she said. “That’s not going to be helpful or sustainable for anyone. We have to treat each other like family.”

A lot of this really resonated me.  Yes, it really is valuable for me to hear about the much more difficult experiences, racism encountered, etc., of black Americans, but the best thing is when we can see our shared humanity through our divergent experiences.  Not by emphasizing our differences.  

6) David Leonhardt, “Why Are Republican Presidents So Bad for the Economy? G.D.P., jobs and other indicators have all risen faster under Democrats for nearly the past century.”

The six presidents who have presided over the fastest job growth have all been Democrats, as you can see above. The four presidents who have presided over the slowest growth have all been Republicans…

What, then, are the most plausible theories?

First, it’s worth rejecting a few unlikely possibilities. Congressional control is not the answer. The pattern holds regardless of which party is running Congress. Deficit spending also doesn’t explain the gap: It is not the case that Democrats juice the economy by spending money and then leave Republicans to clean up the mess. Over the last four decades, in fact, Republican presidents have run up larger deficits than Democrats.

That leaves one broad possibility with a good amount of supporting evidence: Democrats have been more willing to heed economic and historical lessons about what policies actually strengthen the economy, while Republicans have often clung to theories that they want to believe — like the supposedly magical power of tax cuts and deregulation. Democrats, in short, have been more pragmatic.

7) An absolute must-read from Ezra Klein.  Really, read it.  “The Senate Has Become a Dadaist Nightmare: No one would ever design a legislative body that worked this way.”  I read a great tweet recently taking on all the absurd defenses of the filibuster.  If a super-majority is so great, how come no other legislative bodies of other democracies routinely use one nor any state legislatures?  Hmmm.  Maybe it’s not so great.  

8) And fitting to follow up Ezra with Yglesias with “The normie case for filibuster reform”

I think the biggest thing today’s moderate Democrats get wrong about the filibuster is they keep wanting it to result in bipartisan compromises (which give them helpful political cover) and they fear that a majority rule senate would generate a lot of left-wing legislation that they’re uncomfortable with.

But just look around: Is the Senate in fact passing lots of moderate bipartisan bills that make the public feel good about incumbents? Not really. And does Mitch McConnell — the architect of the universal filibuster — seem like someone who’s passionate about problem-solving legislating, bipartisan compromise, and ideas that help red state Democrats hold their seats? Again, not really.

What Joe Manchin wants is for moderate Republicans to come to the table with ideas that he likes better than what progressive Dems are pushing for.

But for that to happen, moderate Republicans need to prefer the compromise outcome to the no-compromise outcome. Right now, the no-compromise outcome is that nothing passes. And we’ve seen time and again that moderate Republicans are okay with that. If the filibuster is gone, then the no-compromise outcome at least potentially becomes left-wing bills passing. But there are lots of Republicans (not just Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins) who have reason to prefer moderate bills to left-wing ones. And since Manchin also prefers moderate bills — and has a strong political incentive to favor bipartisanship — there is now a real opportunity for moderate Democrats to make deals with Republicans.

Now some Republicans won’t care. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul probably prefer to cast ineffectual no votes rather than win substantive concessions.

But in a universe where voting no is likely to be ineffective, there’s a reasonably large universe of Republicans who at least some of the time will prefer substantive concessions to ineffectual no votes. And that’s how you end up with bills that pass 73-22. It’s not by requiring that legislation get 70 votes to pass. It’s by creating a situation where some kind of legislation train is bound to leave the station, so it’s actually worth your while as a senator to get on board.

Political power is lying in the streets

Lenin famously said of the chaotic situation prevailing before the October Revolution: “power was lying in the street; we picked it up.”

Moderate Senators have spent the 21st century essentially refusing to pick up political power. They let more extreme members set the agenda and define the issue space. Then they either obstruct, or they cut the proposals down. But they don’t collaborate effectively with each other, articulate their own ideas clearly, set the policy agenda, or otherwise wield influence commensurate with their actual institutional role.

Trepidation about the legislative filibuster continues that trend. Rather than make themselves pivotal, Manchin & Sinema currently prefer to punt authority to Jerry Moran (or whoever) while letting relatively extreme voices define the brand of the congressional Democratic party.

This is bad on their part, but also part of a larger trend toward politicians being blame-avoiders rather than power-seekers. 

9) This is mostly good from Dan Froomkin, “Best Practices: What the next generation of editors need to tell their political reporters”

So let me tell you a bit about what we need to do differently.

First of all, we’re going to rebrand you. Effective today, you are no longer political reporters (and editors); you are government reporters (and editors). That’s an important distinction, because it frees you to cover what is happening in Washington in the context of whether it is serving the people well, rather than which party is winning.

Historically, we have allowed our political journalism to be framed by the two parties. That has always created huge distortions, but never like it does today. Two-party framing limits us to covering what the leaders of those two sides consider in their interests. And, because it is appropriately not our job to take sides in partisan politics, we have felt an obligation to treat them both more or less equally.

Both parties are corrupted by money, which has badly perverted the debate for a long time. But one party, you have certainly noticed, has over the last decade or two descended into a froth of racism, grievance and reality-denial. Asking you to triangulate between today’s Democrats and today’s Republicans is effectively asking you to lobotomize yourself. I’m against that.

Defining our job as “not taking sides between the two parties” has also empowered bad-faith critics to accuse us of bias when we are simply calling out the truth. We will not take sides with one political party or the other, ever. But we will proudly, enthusiastically, take the side of wide-ranging, fact-based debate.

While we shouldn’t pretend we know the answers, we should just stop pretending we don’t know what the problems are. Indeed, your main job now is to publicly identify those problems, consider diverse views respectfully, ask hard questions of people on every side, demand evidence, explore intent, and write up what you’ve learned. Who is proposing intelligent solutions? Who is blocking them? And why?

And rather than obsess on bipartisanship, we should recognize that the solutions we need – and, indeed, the American common ground — sometimes lie outside the current Democratic-Republican axis, rather than at its middle, which opens up a world of interesting political-journalism avenues.

10) Drum goes big, “Here’s How to Fix What’s Wrong With the United States”

My goal here is not really to convince you I’m right. It’s just to get you thinking. Here it is:

  • In material terms, the United States is in pretty good shape. Incomes are up; crime is down; financial satisfaction is high; and overall happiness is stable. This does not mean we have no problems. It merely means that our problems are not any worse than they’ve ever been.
  • Democracy is in pretty good shape too. The Trump insurrection was scary, but it was a one-off. Overall, elections are held normally; voter turnout is stable; Black turnout is up; we have greater diversity in Congress; and the attempt to challenge the 2020 election was a dismal failure.
  • Much of the distress over politics is due to the fact that the country has been stuck in a 50-50 pattern for so long. This kind of endless trench warfare irritates everyone. But it’s not a sign of instability. It’s just a sign that neither party has done a very good job of building a large and durable majority. It’s also a sign that few people are terrifically unhappy over our current situation.
  • Nevertheless, what fundamentally defines modern politics is that we’re all scared. That is, we’re scared of the other party. Why?
  • It isn’t because we’re more prone to conspiracy theories these days. The evidence suggests that belief in conspiracy theories has been fairly stable since the 1960s. Nor is it because of social media. This fear goes back to at least the year 2000, far before social media had any impact. And obviously it isn’t because the US is facing ruin. We aren’t.
  • The reason is simple: Fox News. Newt Gingrich may have been the original prophet of fear, but it was Fox News that executed his vision and then gained a national following in the early 2000s. Fox broadcasts are dedicated almost exclusively to scaring the hell out of their audience about what Democrats will do if they gain power. They will tax your money away. They will give your money to Black people. They will crush Christianity. They want government bureaucrats to control every aspect of your life. They want schools to teach your kids that gay sex is good and patriotism is bad.
  • This is the explanation for the most fundamental question everyone should be asking about the 1/6 insurrection: what on earth scared so many people so badly that they were willing to storm the Capitol in order to keep Joe Biden from becoming president?

There are two things we can do about this culture of fear. First, liberals need to avoid going down the same rabbit hole as conservatives. We’re not close to that yet, but there’s not much question that we’ve been moving in that direction. It needs to stop.

Second, and most important, we need to mount some kind of broad, aggressive battle against Fox News. This obviously needs to be a fully private battle, and it needs to be waged in every possible way. We can boycott advertisers. We can pressure cable companies. We can air commercials that take on the fear machine. We can even compromise on some of the political positions that conservatives find most unnerving.

11) Pretty much nobody better on mass incarceration than John Pfaff, “Private prisons aren’t uniquely heinous. All prisons are abusive.”

To see this, we have to disabuse ourselves of perhaps our biggest misconception about private prisons, which is that they are somehow uniquely pernicious. At the end of the day, the public prisons are … close to identical. The tendency to single out the private ones risks obscuring the similarities between the two institutions, which in turn means that we are likely to overlook their similar problems — and the problems of public prisons occur on a much greater scale.

The standard distinction people try to draw between public and private prisons is that there is something fundamentally wrong about profiting from putting people in cages. The catch? Public prisons are “profiting,” too, and offer benefits to the people responsible for running them and the communities where they are located in ways that may not be as immediately obvious but are often even more significant. And, like the private firms, those who benefit from public prisons will aggressively lobby for punitive policies that will keep the prisons open.

Much like “solutions” based on letting out all the non-violent drug offenders, banning private prisons is a much-too-easy fix for a far more complex problem.

12) Loved this Yglesias post on how to think about our amount of vaccines:

Of course, we know that the reason Pfizer and Moderna aren’t making more is that they “can’t.” In other words, it’s not like they’re just forgetting to run the assembly line or something.

But you can search The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, FT, Stat, Politico, Axios, or whatever else you like in vain for a detailed, specific explanation of why they can’t make more. Or in other words, you won’t see a detailed, specific explanation of what would have to be the case for it to be possible to make more. You can’t take a taxi from Ohio to Austin, but when I was in Austin I met a driver who claimed to me that he had a client who was, in fact, going to pay him a very large sum of money to drive to Ohio, pick someone up, and then drive him back to Austin.

Now suppose you wanted to make that Ohio/Austin drive next week without stopping for gas. Well, you can’t do that because there’s no car for sale with a big enough gas tank. But if you really wanted to, you could get a bunch of jerrycans full of gas and load up the trunk of the car with them. That’s all getting pretty absurd, but it’s actually quite doable if you’re willing to spend the money.

But if you want to make the drive in an electric car without stopping to recharge, you’re out of luck. There’s no car that can make that drive. You can’t just put spare batteries in the trunk. You’d need a whole new custom vehicle built from scratch. But even if you could design a vehicle that could carry a battery that heavy, the timeline to actually construct it would be way longer than a week regardless of your budget. You run into Mythical Man-Month problems in which you can’t parallelize the design or construction work. And beyond that, cars are a heavily regulated industry — you can’t just build weird shit and then take it out onto the highway.

My point is simply that “we can’t do X” is something people say (honestly and truthfully) all the time without it being literally true. What you mean is that you’re up against some kind of constraint. And what we don’t have in the media is a clear description of what the constraints are exactly.

13) Chait, “QAnon Is Now Too Big to Fail”

Polls consistently showed a substantial chunk of Republican voters to agree with QAnon. In September, Pew found that 41 percent of Republicans described the group positively; the next month, Morning Consult found that 38 percent of them believed QAnon theories to be at least somewhat true. An Emerson poll of Georgia voters that same month found that a plurality of Republicans thought QAnon was “accurate.”

But it wasn’t just that the party’s voters liked QAnon. Its political class did too — or at least found it useful. Several Republican strategists admitted to Business Insider last fall that they saw the cult “not as a liability or as a scourge to be extinguished, but as a useful band of fired-up supporters.”

QAnon’s role in the party roughly echoes that of Joe McCarthy seven decades ago. Republicans regarded McCarthy privately as a clown and a demagogue, and their contempt frequently leaked out in the press. But they also relished his wild lies, which put Democrats on the defensive and associated them in the public mind with communism. Eventually, McCarthy turned his attacks on his own party, bringing about his political self-destruction. But before he did so, it was quite convenient for Republicans to have McCarthy firing up their base and wafting charges that the Democratic party was following orders from Joseph Stalin, which gave more traction to their slightly more hinged Red-baiting attacks on the New Deal.

QAnon’s smears play an analogous role. The wildest adherents can directly charge Democrats with belonging to a secret global pedophile cult, while more respectable Republicans merely issue sober warnings that Democratic policies would fail to contain sex trafficking. The beautiful part is that sex trafficking, like communism in the 1950s, is a real problem, albeit not on anything like the scale Republicans imply…

McCarthy’s objective is to keep QAnon in the field while minimizing the exposure of his vulnerable members. It is far too late to make a clean break without suffering political consequences, a cost nobody seriously believes McCarthy would entertain paying under any circumstances. For better or worse, QAnon is part of the Republican coalition now.

14) Really enjoyed Leonhardt’s take on how liberalism may be slowing down vaccine distribution:

So far, though, it’s hard to find many progressive governments that are vaccination role models.

Why? A common problem seems to be a focus on process rather than on getting shots into arms. Some progressive leaders are effectively sacrificing efficiency for what they consider to be equity.

The European Union has taken a ponderous, risk-averse approach that tries to avoid upsetting its member countries, Kauffmann points out. Similarly, many U.S. states have delegated decisions to local health officials and have suffered from “confusion and competition among localities,” William Galston of the Brookings Institution has written. State leaders in Alaska and West Virginia have taken a more top-down approach, Elaine Povich of Stateline has reported.

Some blue states have also created intricate rules about who qualifies for a vaccine and then made a big effort to keep anybody else from getting a shot. These complicated rules have slowed vaccination in both California and New York.

“Across New York State,” my colleague Dana Rubinstein has written, medical providers have had “to throw out precious vaccine doses because of difficulties finding patients who matched precisely with the state’s strict vaccination guidelines — and the steep penalties they would face had they made a mistake.”

Equity is good.  Shots in arms are even better.

15) Relatedly, Drum, “California’s Vaccine Rollout Is Now Age Based, And Disability Activists Are Enraged”

About a week ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded to our state’s slow vaccine rollout by doing away with “tiers” and going to a purely age-based system. This is what lots of people have been recommending, but every decision like this leaves someone out in the cold:

“They act as if we do not exist. Or if we do, we’re expendable,” said [Ntombi] Peters, who uses multiple inhalers and daily medications to control her severe asthma and is on immunosuppressant drugs to treat multiple sclerosis, both of which put her at severe risk from COVID-19. “It’s very disheartening.”

….“Clearly, we are living in a culture that still sees people like me as disposable,” said Alice Wong, 46, a disabled activist in San Francisco, who created the hashtag #HighRiskCA in response to the change. “This is clearly erasure, this is eugenics, and I consider this a form of violence. It is a form of violence against the most marginalized communities.”

The problem, of course, is that someone has to make up rules about which disabilities qualify you for an early vaccination, and then someone else has to verify that the people applying really do have the disabilities they say they do. This is a huge amount of work that generates ever yet more blowback from whatever group finds itself on the wrong side of the line, and in the end it slows down the vaccine rollout.

This is the dilemma, and I can’t pretend to have the answer. One thing I’ll say, though, is that I think activists would have more success if they’d drop the pseudo-academic language of “erasure” and “eugenics” and “violence.” It’s none of that, and it accomplishes little except to make people less sympathetic to their cause. It’s just a very difficult problem.

And, yes, so much the bold part. Nobody’s “erasing” anybody.  We’re just trying to figure out the best way to save as many lives as possible.

16) David Hopkins with an interesting take on how Biden’s narrow win may lead to more progressive governance:

  Expectations that the Biden presidency would follow a similar path had caused a certain anticipatory disaffection on the left. But Democratic veterans of the Clinton and early Obama eras see a very different Republican Party when they look across the aisle today. The last decade of American politics, marked by the Tea Party movement and ascendancy of Donald Trump, has convinced even “establishment” Democrats that making concessions outside their party doesn’t provide them much benefit—for either producing major policy achievements or realizing significant political advantages. And official Washington has discarded the once-prevalent assumption that the Republican Party is a valuable source of expertise and experience upon which Democratic presidents should productively draw. After the last four years, which party has a better claim to be the adults in the room?

If Biden had defeated Trump by a landslide margin in November, it might have paradoxically tempted him to govern in a more cautious style as a way to keep a wave of new defectors from the GOP inside his coalitional tent. But the last two elections have demonstrated that the anti-Trump Republicans who populate high-status editorial pages and Beltway professional circles are not representative of a numerically populous mass constituency; their approval might make a positive impression within a limited peer group, but it simply doesn’t sway many voters. As long as the Republican Party remains devoted to Trump’s style of politics if not Trump himself, Democrats may calculate that moderates and conservatives who find Trumpism intolerable will have little choice but to root for Biden’s success even if his record is more liberal than they’d like.
 
The new opportunities for influence granted to the American left by the decaying position of the center-right may turn out to be one of the most unexpected political legacies of the Trump years. Center-right elites used to see themselves as the natural leaders of a “center-right nation.” But today they are increasingly abandoned by both partisan sides, facing the realization that they speak mostly for themselves.

17) Pro Publica, “Why Opening Restaurants Is Exactly What the Coronavirus Wants Us to Do: Governors continue to open indoor dining and other activities before vaccinations become widespread. Experts warn this could create superspreading playgrounds for dangerous variants and squander our best shot at getting the pandemic under control.”

I interviewed 10 scientists for this story and was surprised by the vehemence of some of their language. “Are you sure it could be that bad?” I asked, over and over.

They unanimously said they expected B.1.1.7, the variant first discovered in the U.K., to eventually become the dominant version of coronavirus in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that B.1.1.7 will become dominant in March, using a model that presumes it’s 50% more transmissible than the original “wildtype” coronavirus. The model’s transmission rate was based on experience in the U.K., which first detected B.1.1.7 in September and saw an increase in cases that became apparent in December, straining hospitals despite stringent closures and stay-at-home orders. So while our country appears relatively B.1.1.7-free right now, the situation could look drastically different in a matter of months.

Experts are particularly concerned because we don’t have a handle on exactly how far B.1.1.7 has spread. Our current surveillance system sequences less than 1% of cases to see whether they are a variant.

Throwing an even more troubling wrench into the mix is that B.1.1.7 is continuing to morph. Just this week, scientists discovered that some B.1.1.7 coronaviruses in Britain had picked up a key change, known as the E484K mutation. That mutation had previously been found in the B.1.351 variant, which was first discovered in South Africa. Scientists have hypothesized that it’s the E484K mutation that has reduced the efficacy of some vaccines in South African trials, so this is incredibly worrying news.

“It’s really hard to thread this needle without sounding like a prophet of doom,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security. While vaccines bring hope, she said, governors who are moving to expand indoor dining are “completely reckless”; if they don’t course correct, “I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say the worst could be yet to come.”

The choices that our federal and state leaders make right at this moment will determine if we can bend the curve once and for all and start ending the pandemic, or if we ride the rollercoaster into yet another surge, this one fueled by a viral enemy harder to fight than ever before.

Or, as I put it on twitter, Close indoor dining and bail out restaurants. We’re in a race between vaccination and more transmissible variants– let’s win the damn race.

18) Very much inspired by my oldest son taking an Intro to Film class I remembered this Wired article from a few years ago, “The World’s Best Film School Is Free on YouTube.”  I’ve now enjoyed a bunch of “Lessons from the Screenplay.”  This was my favorite for thinking about what makes good storytelling (consequences!)

Quick hits (part I)

1) A great NYT science reporter was fired, for, apparently actually saying the n-word while discussing racist language.  In absolutely no way using the word as a slur on someone, simply using the word in a conversation about racist language.  This is insane!  It really is completely crazy that there is this one word in the English language that you can’t say period.  That makes no sense.  Of course, I don’t say it because I’m trying to live in society here, but, NYT literally said “regardless of intent.”  What the hell?  Intent is the difference between a life sentence for first degree murder and going home to sleep with your family unpunished for justifiable homicide.  Liked Omar Wasow’s brief thread.

2) Kristof on child poverty:

Imagine you have some neighbors in a mansion down the road who pamper one child with a credit card, the best private school and a Tesla.

The parents treat most of their other kids decently but not lavishly — and then you discover that the family consigns one child to an unheated, vermin-infested room in the basement, denying her dental care and often leaving her without food.

You’d call 911 to report child abuse. You’d say those responsible should be locked up. You’d steam about how vile adults must be to allow a child to suffer like that.

But that’s us. That household, writ large, is America and our moral stain of child poverty.

Some American children attend $70,000-a-year nursery schools, but 12 million kids live in households that lack food. The United States has long had one of the highest rates of child poverty in the advanced world — and then the coronavirus pandemic aggravated the suffering.

“The American Rescue Plan is the most ambitious proposal to reduce child poverty ever proposed by an American president,” Jason Furman, a Harvard economist, told me.

A couple of decades from now, America will be pretty much the same whether direct payments end up being $1,000 or $1,400. But this will be a transformed nation if we’re able to shrink child poverty on our watch.

So the most distressing part of 10 Republican senators’ counterproposal to Biden was their decision to drop the plan to curb child poverty. Please, Mr. President, don’t budge on this.

3) Edsall rounds up the social scientists to talk about Q Anon.  Including some good friends of mine:

The “loser” thesis received strong backing from an August 2020 working paper, “Are Conspiracy Theories for Losers? The Effect of Losing an Election on Conspiratorial Thinking,” by Joanne MillerChristina E. Farhart and Kyle Saunders, political scientists at the University of Delaware, Carleton College and Colorado State University.

They make the parallel argument that

People are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories that make their political rivals look bad when they are on the losing side of politics than when they are on the winning side, regardless of ideology/partisanship.

In an email, Miller compared polling from 2004, when John Kerry lost to George W. Bush, to polls after the 2020 election, when Trump lost to Biden:

A 2004 a Post-ABC poll that found that 49 percent of Kerry supporters but only 14 percent of Bush supporters thought that the vote wasn’t counted accurately. But this year, a much larger percentage of Trump voters believe election fraud conspiracy theories than voters on the losing side in previous years. A January 2021 Pew poll found that approximately 75 percent of Trump voters believe that Trump definitely or probably won the election.

Over the long haul, Miller wrote, “I find very little correlation between conspiratorial thinking and party identification or political ideology.” But, she quickly added. “the past four years are an outlier in this regard.”

Throughout his presidency, Miller wrote,

former President Trump pretty much governed as a “loser.” He continued to insist that he would’ve won the popular vote in 2016 had it not been for widespread election fraud. So it’s not surprising, given Trump’s rhetoric, that Republicans during the Trump presidency were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories than we’d have expected them to, given that they were on the winning side.

The psychological predispositions that contribute to a susceptibility to conspiracy thinking are complex, as Joshua Hart, a professor of psychology at Union College, and his student, Molly Graether, found in their 2018 paper “Something’s Going on Here: Psychological Predictors of Belief in Conspiracy Theories.”

Perhaps more interesting, Hart and Graether argue that conspiracy theorists are more likely “to perceive profundity in nonsensical but superficially meaningful ideas,” a concept they cite as being described by academics in the field as “b.s. receptivity.”

4) My co-author/friend Laurel got a great quote and our research got a link in this NYT essay on Covid and motherhood.  My favorite part was telling my wife about this yesterday, and, she’s like “you were in the article with the mom in the closet?!”

“It’s a recipe for madness,” said Laurel Elder, a political scientist at Hartwick College in New York who has been studying the mental health effects of parenting in the pandemic. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true: You don’t get a day off from being a mom.

Also, kind of cool to see that roughly 300 people have followed the NYT link to our paper since I checked mid-day Friday.

5) It is way too easy to completely falsely destroy someone’s reputation on the internet.  No good excerpts, just read this one: “A Vast Web of Vengeance: Outrageous lies destroyed Guy Babcock’s online reputation. When he went hunting for their source, what he discovered was worse than he could have imagined.”

6) Pretty sure it was in reference to #1 that Jesse Singal shared this Freddie deBoer post from 2017:

The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7. You search and search for someone Bad doing Bad Things, finding ways to indict writers and artists and ordinary people for something, anything. That movie that got popular? Give me a few hours and 800 words. I’ll get you your indictments. That’s what liberalism is, now — the search for baddies doing bad things, like little offense archaeologists, digging deeper and deeper to find out who’s Good and who’s Bad. I wonder why people run away from establishment progressivism in droves.

7) Thanks to JP for sharing this John Moe substack with me.  Good stuff on Covid and mental health.  

8) Just because Netflix was telling me to watch Inception again today (I did not), but I did watch this musical selection.  I think this is probably my favorite bit of score-film combination that does not involve John Williams.

9) Good practical advice on mask use from Zeynep and Charlie Warzel.  But, honestly, we should have been getting this kind of advice from the CDC, etc., for months.  

10) And NPR with mask hacks.  Just get a clip in back and breathe.  

11) Annie Lowrey, “Earmarks Are Good: Why shouldn’t Democrats curry Joe Manchin’s favor with a few sky bridges and concert halls?”  Build a palace in WV or whatever it takes.  Just get Manchin on-board.

12) I don’t think Bari Weiss is even worth the extremely detailed takedown from Will Wilkinson, but it does nicely reveal how so much anti-wokeness is just as intellectually bankrupt as over-wokeness.  Hey, there’s a nice middle ground on this one, folks.

Bari Weiss’s latest New York Post column, “10 ways to fight back against woke culture,” is a pretty wild ride. I honestly can’t make out the argument that leads to Weiss’ conclusion that “It’s time to stand up and fight back” against woke scolds and her ten tips for beating them back. That said, the column is just jam packed with confident declarations advanced in a grand spirit of resounding moral authority that are, upon inspection, pretty puzzling. Yet I’m intrigued.

I doubt that Weiss’ piece hangs together intellectually, but now that I’ve read it a few times, I feel that it has a strong impressionistic emotional/moral/ideological coherence that bubbles up from the column’s jumble of assertion, admonition, and exhortation. I want to understand it! Maybe if I can make sense of the Bari Weiss gestalt, I can finally begin to understand the moral panic about “wokeness” and “cancel culture.” Maybe? Seems worth having a go. Even if I can’t bottle the ghost, I’m bound to learn something, right? So let us plunge into the unknown and proceed to parse and interrogate this New York Post column with a spirit of analytically rigorous adventure!

Weiss begins:

I realize the faddish thing to say these days is that we live in the worst, most broken and backward country in the world and maybe in the history of civilization. It’s utter nonsense.

Can it be faddish to say something literally no one says? It cannot. I think we’re all happy to allow for a bit of vivacious hyperbole, but I’ve never heard or read anyone make a claim that comes within a million miles of this. But, yeah, if anybody ever did say that the United States of America is the worst place on Earth, and maybe in all of human history, it would be nonsense. So there’s a point of agreement. Anyway, it’s clear enough that Weiss believes that too many Americans see their country in an excessively negative light, and she strongly disapproves of this.

Weiss doesn’t need to provide evidence that the U.S. circa 2021 is not in fact hellish beyond compare, because no one thinks that it is. Yet she goes ahead and offers a bit of evidence anyway, lest anyone is inclined to doubt that America is not in fact the absolute pits.

I have a few basic litmus tests in my own life: Can I wear a tank top in public? Can I walk down the street holding the hand of my partner, a (beautiful) woman, in many places in America without getting a second glance? Can I wear a Jewish star without fear?

I do not take those things for granted. I know very well that in many other places, the answers would be different, and my life wouldn’t be possible at all.

Yup, America’s definitely not the worst country on the planet or of all time. So ….?

13) This is pretty wild (and use photos at the article), “New Jersey man gets first successful face and double hand transplant”

14) I try and not to spend too much time posting on stuff that not only do I disagree with, but just isn’t that thought-provoking.  But, for some reason Karen Attiah’s “the first world is morally monstrous” schtick just really bugs me.  And its not that I particularly dislike being called morally monstrous.  Rather, “Wealthy nations are gobbling up vaccines. This moral failure will come back to haunt us.” I mean, wait until the wealthy nations aren’t under extreme vaccine scarcity before you blame them for not sending vaccines to Africa.  If we’ve reached this summer and the US is mostly vaccinated and we’ve done nothing to help poorer nations– sure, complain.  But now, it really makes no sense.

15) G. Elliot Morris, “Democrats will win more votes passing popular policies than compromising for bipartisanship’s sake”

As it turns out, political scientists are pretty smart and insightful people, and their research has a lot to say about these political calculations that many Democratic officials are making right now. Is it worth delaying progress to pursue bipartisan solutions?

Let’s briefly discuss two things: the popularity and positive electoral consequences of macroeconomic expansion, and the concerns about the appearance of unilateral policy-making.

For starters, we should recognize that a healthy economy confers a significant advantage to the party in power. We find evidence for this claim across disciplines: political prognosticators have long used economic measures like growth in the gross domestic product and per-capita disposable income as predicts in election-forecasting models; economists have evaluated claims that presidents manipulate the economy to boost their re-election prospects; and political scientists have shown that improvements in economic conditions (typically from pork-barrel spending) increase support for Congressional legislators. In 2020, it seems like the relative stability of per-capita income (eg when compared to, say, the unemployment rate) may have helped Donald Trump fare better in his re-election attempt than economic growth otherwise predicted.

What should we take away from this? The finding that presidents benefit from improved economic conditions maps pretty neatly on the Democratic dilemmas both over whether to eliminate the filibuster and if they ought to unilaterally pass a nearly $2T economic stimulus, or whether they should “compromise” with Republicans and pass a much smaller $600b bill. The research we’ve reviewed so far would suggest that Biden and his Senate co-partisans should just go for the bigger bill and disregard concerns over processes.

Further, it’s worth considering that almost every element of Biden’s agenda enjoys plurality support among all American adults, and most are popular with a majority.

16) I think this is the first time I’ve got a quick hit courtesy of my oldest son, “How an Eight-Sided ‘Egg’ Ended Up in a Robin’s Nest.”

It’s not as uncommon as you’d think for robins to find foreign objects in their nests. They play host to cowbirds, a parasitic species that lays eggs in other birds’ nests, where they hatch and compete with the robins’ own offspring for nourishment. Confronted with a cowbird egg, which is beige and squatter than its blue ovals, parent robins will often push the parasite’s eggs out. That makes the species a good candidate for testing exactly what matters when it comes to telling their own eggs apart from other objects, Dr. Hauber said.

The researchers 3-D printed two sets of decoy eggs. One group got progressively thinner, and the other got more and more angular. They carefully painted them robin’s egg blue, so birds could rely only on shape to tell the difference. Then they deployed these fake eggs in nests scattered around tree farms. As they revisited the nests, they kept track of which shapes had been removed by the nest’s owner.

The robins had a good eye for eggs that were too thin. Eggs that were about 75 percent the usual width were accepted more often than they were rejected. Eggs that were less than 50 percent the usual width were almost always kicked out.

But the pointed objects were not rejected nearly as often. In fact, only the very pointiest decoy, the eight-sided die shape, got pushed out almost every time.

“It was very surprising for us,” Dr. Hauber said.

The birds seem to be responding to variables that matter in nature. Cowbird eggs, for instance, are noticeably wider than their own, so robins may have evolved a canny sense of when width is off.

“They seem to be quite hesitant about rejecting eggs when the variable that we changed was not natural,” Dr. Hauber said, referring to the angular, pointed eggs. “Robins don’t know what to do with it, because they’ve never evolved to respond to it.”

And rather than toss out one of their own eggs by mistake, they let it lie.

17) Annie Lowrey again, “The Counterintuitive Workings of the Minimum Wage: The benefits of a $15 minimum would greatly outweigh the costs.”

Yet minimum wages have a way of screwing with economic intuition, and complicating the simple logic of supply and demand. The benefits of a $15 minimum would greatly outweigh the costs. More than that, new economic evidence suggests that those costs might be small ones anyway: Even in low-wage, low-density, low-cost-of-living parts of the country, a $15 minimum might not be a death knell for small businesses or a job killer for low-wage workers…

Even if the $15 minimum wage were to shrink payrolls in some places, low-wage workers—including those who experience joblessness—would still end up better off financially. Low-wage jobs tend to have tons of churn: Workers quit, get hired, and leave or get fired frequently. In any given month, one in ten low-wage workers leaves or starts a gig; fast-food restaurants have annual employee-turnover rates as high as 150 percent. That means a large share of low-wage workers experiences a spell of unemployment in any given year. Raising the minimum wage might extend that period of unemployment, Heidi Shierholz, the former chief economist at the Department of Labor, told me, as competition for the jobs heats up. But a worker earning $15 an hour for six months is stillbetter off than a worker earning $7.25 an hour for twelve months.

18) Stop with the hygiene theater, “COVID-19 rarely spreads through surfaces. So why are we still deep cleaning?”

19) I did quite enjoy this 7 year old article on the evolution of bees:

The first bees evolved from wasps, which were and remain predators today. The word ‘wasp’ conjures up an image of the yellow-and-black insects that often build large nests in lofts and garden sheds and which can be exceedingly annoying in late summer when their booming populations and declining food supplies force them into houses and on to our picnic tables. Actually, there are enormous numbers of wasp species, most of whom are nothing like this. A great many are parasitoids, with a gruesome lifestyle from which the sci-fi film Alien surely took its inspiration. The female of these wasps lays her eggs inside other insects, injecting them through a sharply pointed egg-laying tube. Once hatched, the grubs consume their hosts from the inside out, eventually bursting out of the dying bodies to form their pupae. Other wasp species catch prey and feed them to their grubs in small nests, and it is from one such wasp family, the Sphecidae, that bees evolved. In the Sphecidae the female wasps stock a nest, usually an underground burrow, with the corpses, or the paralysed but still living bodies, of their preferred prey. They attack a broad range of insects and spiders, with different wasp species preferring aphids, grasshoppers or beetles. At some point a species of sphecid wasp experimented with stocking its nest with pollen instead of dead insects. This could have been a gradual process, with the wasp initially adding just a little pollen to the nest provisions. As pollen is rich in protein, it would have provided a good nutritional supplement, particularly at times when prey was scarce. When the wasp eventually evolved to feed its offspring purely on pollen, it had become the first bee.

20) Some nice social science on politics and mass incarceration: “Who Punishes More? Partisanship, Punitive Policies, and the Puzzle of Democratic Governors”

The growth of the carceral state over the last few decades has been remarkable, with millions of Americans in prison, jail, on parole or probation. Political science explanations of this phenomenon identify partisanship as a key explanatory variable in the adoption of punitive policies; by this theory, Republicans are the driving force behind growing incarceration. This article argues this explanation is incomplete and instead emphasizes the bipartisan coalition that constructed the carceral state. I argue Democratic governors are incentivized to pursue more punitive policies to compete with Republicans when those Democrats are electorally vulnerable. I test this proposition using a series of regression discontinuity designs and find causal evidence for Democrats’ complicity in the expansion of the carceral state. Democratic governors who barely win their elections outspend and outincarcerate their Republican counterparts. This article highlights Democrats’ role as key architects in the creation of vast criminal justice institutions in the states when those Democrats are electorally vulnerable.

qh2

1) Political scientist friend Keith Gaddie shared these sentiments of political scientist Kirby Goidel who I literally just virtually met Friday at a virtual PS conference:

(1) If you continue to support Donald Trump after the events of this week, you aren’t a patriot, you are an authoritarian. You do not hold the U.S. Constitution sacred and you do not believe in the rule of law. Hold on to your Trump flag or confederate flag, but relinquish the American flag. It’s not yours to hold.

(2) There is something fundamentally different about protesting against police violence or any other injustice versus trying to overturn a democratic election. There is something fundamentally different about looting a Target during a riot and storming and breaking into the Capitol while the members of Congress, the members you elected, are fulfilling their constitutional duty. The Congress is where American democracy lives, not the presidency. Looting during a riot is criminal, attacking American democracy is sedition.

(3) There is no evidence of systematic voter fraud. The courts threw out every challenge for lack of evidence or lack of standing. Joe Biden won the election fairly by the rules in place. In a mature democracy, we accept the results we don’t like. This is what grown ups do.

(4) If you don’t like the results, prepare for the next election. In our country, we decided our conflicts would be solved by ballots, not bullets. No election should be the end of the world. Politics occurs in cycles. In 2022, Republicans may well regain control of the Senate and the House. In 2024, the presidential election will once again be up for grabs. This will only seem like the end of the world if your loyalty to Trump is more important than your loyalty to your country.

2) Seth Masket, “We Freaking Warned You”

Well, political scientists warned you about Donald Trump. Since 2015, we’ve been warning about the dangers he posed. Not because of the policies he advocated, but because of the threats he posed to American democracy.

We warned you that he had no commitment to democratic values or norms. We warned you about the dangers of a leader that abused federal law enforcement to investigate his enemies and to pardon his allies. We warned you that he was undermining the peaceful transfer of power, perhaps the most sacred and stabilizing tradition in American politics. We warned you that Trump’s lies about election results would erode faith in elections. We warned you that his embrace of authoritarianism would degrade American democracy for decades to come. We warned you that putting someone like Trump in the White House is how democracies die.

We warned you that his baseless and cruel attacks on reporters threatened the freedom of the press. We warned you that he was seeking to undermine the independence of the judiciary. We warned you that his racist nationalistic attacks challenged American traditions of citizenship.

We warned you that he was dangerous and that his presence made policymaking and governing harder. We warned you that his use of Twitter was death to policymaking and productive politics. We warned you that he was functionally a toddler.

We warned you that he was undermining science and harming America’s response to the greatest public health crisis it has faced in a century.

We warned you that the two major parties were becoming increasingly divergent in their commitment to democracy, that Republicans were increasingly comfortable with minority government while appealing to whites who wanted to burn institutions down, and that Trump was hastening this trend.

This week, we have seen the fulfillment of our concerns about Trump’s indifference to democracy…

Here’s another warning: This isn’t over. Maybe there will be more violence between now and Joe Biden’s inauguration, maybe not. But the forces that created Wednesday’s violence are still very much active and pose a significant threat to American democracy. The next time this crops up, let’s not say this can’t happen here. It already has, and it’s still happening.

3) Zeynep:

There was no pretense that this was about electoral processes, rather than who won the presidency. Representatives from Pennsylvania, for example, objected to the results of the presidential vote in Pennsylvania—the very votes that had seated them. To add to the blatant nature of the attempt, the voting process that allegedly caused the issue in Pennsylvania was put in place by its GOP state legislature. To the degree there was any attempt to pretend there was anything to this besides not liking the result, the key claim they raised was that Pennsyvlania had unreasonably extended its voting period. North Carolina, however, had an ever longer voting period but GOP legislators did not object to that one at all. (The difference is left as an exercise for the reader). 

Worse, this was a toned down attempt to overturn the election. There would have been more senators and representatives had the overrunning of the Capitol—and the resulting deaths—hadn’t either embarrassed some of them or if the results in Georgia hadn’t made it a different political calculation for them. (For example, Senate Loeffler, who lost her re-election bid, decided to withdraw her objection despite being an ardent Trump supporter and often echoing his false claims—she probably decided that this wasn’t how she wanted to go back to civilian life). 

Imagine being escorted back to chambers like this, and still voting to overturn the election. (That’s Senator Josh Hawley right there in the middle). Yet, that’s exactly what they did…

I’ll conclude by quoting from a piece I wrote the day before the mob stormed the capitol and the legislators voted to overturn elections anyway.

…Having one party’s top presidential contenders competing to convince voters that they will be the best candidate to steal elections—because that is what they are offering to help Trump do—is a five-alarm fire for a democracy. It compounds our ongoing crisis, in which various aspects of our system that empower minorities either constitutionally or opportunistically have been used to create conditions in which an electoral minority can impose its will on the majority. States containing less than 20 percent of the nation’s population elect a majority of the Senate. The Republican Party has used its control of this chamber to capture the Supreme Court and the rest of the judiciary. Through gerrymandering and the uneven distribution of the population, the GOP does about 6 percent better in the median House district than it does in the national popular vote.

And the GOP also enjoys a significant advantage in the Electoral College, which elects the president, and thus controls the executive branch. …The attempt to undermine whatever victories an electoral majority can eke out is the logical next step of persistent and entrenched minority rule as well as a significant escalation.

But that’s not all that’s happening. A theater show is performative because the actors and the audience know it’s a performance. If a gun is hanging on the wall in a Chekhov play, we know two things: that it will go off by the end of the play, and that it must actually be a fake or unloaded gun, because it’s only a play. When a loaded gun is brought out in real life, the fact that the person holding it is incompetent or clownish doesn’t make that gun performative; it’s still a gun. When the president of the United States calls up electoral officials to threaten them, he’s leveling a loaded gun at our democracy.

So here we are. Yes, their aim wasn’t great, but the gun was loaded. Very loaded. And it’s not over. How we respond will determine what they’ll bring out next time.

4) Norm Eisen, “The riot happened because the Senate acquitted Trump”

Every Republican member of Congress who failed to impeach, convict and remove him bears some responsibility for what happened next. True, there are gradations of responsibility. By then some of Trump’s support in his party had finally dropped away; Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other senators had at last had enough. But a handful of senators led by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), all of whom had voted to acquit on impeachment, doubled down. They picked up his false claims and drove them forward, joining about 140 of their peers in the House in announcing plans to object, baselessly, to the electoral slates from up to six states, all of which Biden won.

Nothing would have horrified the framers of the Constitution more than a president inciting an attack against his own Congress. It was a paradigmatic abuse of power, and with it — inevitably — came the obstruction of the truth. The old pattern. Trump’s remarks to his mob that day to stand down maintained the hateful fiction that had driven them to such extremes, as he repeated the fantasy that he, in fact, had won the presidential election, that it was stolen from him. He told his mob “we love you,” even in the face of their violence.

5) Elaine Godfrey, “It Was Supposed to Be So Much Worse”

The violence could have been even worse. Some of the rioters clearly wanted it to be. And Wednesday’s attack may have had another, more insidious effect: to embolden extremists. Already, Trump-supporting zealots online are promising to return to Washington around Inauguration Day.

“President Trump has ignited fire within people,” a protester named Maria told me on Wednesday afternoon, before either of us knew that rioters had broken into the Capitol. “Some of these guys … they’re ready to go to war or die for their country today. This is not going away anytime soon.”

As the rioters breached the Capitol walls, Representative Susan Wild of Pennsylvania was in the House gallery, watching her colleagues debating on the floor below. She watched as the Capitol Police evacuated Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Suddenly, officers announced that rioters had entered the Capitol Rotunda, and ordered Wild and her colleagues to put on the gas masks below their chairs. Wild dropped to the floor. She and several other members of Congress crawled on their hands and knees from one side of the gallery to an open exit on the other. She FaceTimed her two adult children to reassure them. After she hung up, the panic set in—the sensation of being trapped, cornered like a caged animal. This, Wild told me, was probably the moment captured in the now widely circulated photo of her being comforted by Representative Jason Crow of Colorado, a former Army Ranger. “I had an image of an overwhelming number of armed people invading the Capitol coming in to shoot us up,” she said. “I remember thinking, Wow, this is what it’s come to.”

The rioters didn’t shoot any lawmakers, but Wild was close to real danger. A screaming mob had forced its way into the Capitol on the west side, and more people were climbing through the broken windows of the east entrance. A group led by a man in a QAnon T-shirt chased a police officer up to the second floor, chanting and demanding to speak with senators. Some wore tactical gear—helmets, armor, and black masks covering their entire face. It was easy to miss them with all the coverage of the costumes and poop-smearing and poses struck in Statuary Hall, but they were there, these military-styled men, carrying blunt instruments and fistfuls of zip ties, better known as flex cuffs, capable of restraining hostages.At least one was an Air Force combat veteran, The New Yorker reported. They seemed to act with purpose and knew their way around the Capitol. One carried a semiautomatic weapon and 11 Molotov cocktails. Later, police officers found the two pipe bombs. The devices were outside the buildings housing the Democratic and Republican National Committees, just blocks from the Capitol. Federal agents discovered a truck full of rifles, shotguns, and bomb-making supplies parked outside the RNC headquarters.

“We are lucky, more than anything else, there wasn’t a large death toll,” Peter Simi, an expert on extremist groups at Chapman University, told me. “It could have been far, far worse.”

Rioters could have set off these bombs, used the flex cuffs to take lawmakers hostage, or set up a kind of kangaroo court for the politicians they consider to be traitors to the MAGA cause, Simi said. “The idea of taking folks who have committed treason prisoner, those are ideas that are widely circulating in [far-right] circles,” he said. “All the Democratic lawmakers and any of the Republicans that have criticized Trump or not fully supported Trump would be eligible.” A Reuters photographer on the scene said he heard at least three different rioters say they wanted to find and hang Pence, who supported certifying the results of the election.

6) Sadly, Civil War/Reconstruction historian extraordinaire, Eric Foner, is the perfect person to weigh in: “The Capitol Riot Reveals the Dangers From the Enemy Within: But the belief that America previously had a well-functioning democracy is an illusion.”

Yet the riot by supporters of President Trump, aimed at preventing the counting of electoral votes, reveals a darker side of the history of American democracy. One can begin with the fact that, more than two centuries since the adoption of the Constitution, we still select the president through the Electoral College, an archaic system that reflects the founders’ conviction that ordinary people are not to be trusted with voting directly for president, and their desire to bolster the slaveholding South, whose political power was augmented by the three-fifths clause that gave slave states extra electoral votes based on their disenfranchised Black population. Indeed, Trump occupies the White House only because an undemocratic electoral system makes it possible to lose the popular vote and still become president. Moreover, efforts to restrict the right to vote by race, gender, or some other criteria have a long history. The idea that the people should choose their rulers, the essence of democracy, has always coexisted with the conviction that too many people—of the wrong kind—are casting ballots. Georgia’s requirement that office seekers receive over 50 percent of the vote or face a runoff election, enacted in 1963 at the height of the civil rights revolution, was intended to prevent the victory of a candidate preferred by Blacks if several aspirants split the white vote.

7) Love this from Lee Drutman on how ranked choice voting could lead to more moderate politics– and make it much easier for Lisa Murkowski to leave the GOP and get re-elected as an Independent (strikes me as far more likely than running as a D):

Most of what we know about ranked-choice voting in national-level politics comes from Australia, which has used it since 1918, when the “alternative vote” emerged as the solution to vote-splitting. Australian political scientists often attribute Australia’s generally moderate politics to ranked-choice voting. That’s because RCV rewards parties with broad moderate appeal, while simultaneously allowing dissatisfied voters to vent their frustration and support minor parties. If anything, some have criticized Australia’s politicsas too moderate.

Ranked-choice voting is also often used in a multi-winner election. This is how it is used in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Australian Senate and a few other places. In this case, the process continues until all the district seats have been filled. This allows for elections to be truly proportional. Only the multi-winner form of ranked-choice voting would truly open space for more than two parties to be competitive.

Manydemocracyscholars see ranked-choice voting as bridging political gaps in divided societies. The kinds of vote-pooling that ranked-choice voting encourages builds electoral coalitions across competing groups and encourages candidates to seek broader support beyond their most loyal supporters. Northern Ireland, for example, instituted a form of multi-winner ranked-choice voting as part of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and some credit the voting system with encouraging cross-ethnic coalitions that have helped maintain the political peace.

8) This was interesting.  “Far-Right Protesters Stormed Germany’s Parliament. What Can America Learn?”

The similarity that struck me most, however, was how aimless and lost some of the rioters both in Berlin and Washington appeared to be once they had reached their target. At the Capitol, some trashed offices or sat in chairs that weren’t theirs. In Berlin, too, there was no plan beyond this spontaneous gesture of rage and disobedience. Many just pulled out their smartphones and started filming once they had reached the top of the stairs. Is this their revolution? A bunch of selfies?

It seems like protesters on both sides of the Atlantic long for some sort of control, and want to assert their power over legislative headquarters that they see as representative of their oppression. But all they get in the end is a cheap social media surrogate. Their selfies may resonate in their digital spheres — and eventually spill back into the real world to create more disruption — but their material effect may be pretty limited.

In that case, what can politicians do to deal with these extremists? …

Political compromise, and ultimately, reconciliation, starts with recognition. But real-world politics cannot follow those who become believers in their alternate realities. A different strategy is needed.

German policymakers have started to realize this — and it’s only become clearer since the August protests. Germany’s secret service has decided to put sub-organizations of the AfD, which is increasingly radical, “under observation,” an administrative step that allows for the collection of personal data and the recruitment of informants within the party. Organizers of the coronavirus protest in August are becoming a focus, too. The minister of the interior banned several right-wing extremist associations in 2020.

Of course, attempts to win voters back, to wrestle them from the grip of the cult, must never stop. But there are no policies and no recognition politics we could offer people who adhere to a cult. Instead, to protect our democracies, we must watch them, contain them, and take away their guns.

9) I’m still appalled that the police let so many of the rioters walk right out of the Capitol.  But there cell phone data will do most of them in, even without social media posts.  

10) In my previous Covid tests, they’ve been self-administered mid-turbinate swabs.  My latest test was self-administered anterior nares (nasal/front of of the nose).  Much more comfortable– thought the MT sure as hell beats the NP– but I did wonder about relative test sensitivity.  Here’s an older study that finds MT swabs catch almost as much influenza as NP swabs with way less discomfort.  And a study questioning Nasal swabs for Covid.  Seems like MT is the way to go.  

11) Good conversation between Yashcha Mounk and Wesley Yang on “successor ideology”

12) And I enjoyed listening to Julia Galief and Colman Hughes discussing a color blind approach to race.  

13) This was really good from Yglesias, “Making policy for a low-trust world”

The United States of America has become a country with low and falling levels of social trust. This is in some ways a rational response to elite failures, in some ways an inevitable consequence of the public becoming better educated, in some ways an unavoidable side effect of better information technology, and in some ways a deplorable thing that we should try to reverse.

But something I’ve become increasingly convinced of is that policymakers need to acknowledge that it’s a real feature of the landscape and adjust their decision-making accordingly.

In particular, they need to adjust it in an appropriate way. A very large share of the people involved in politics and government are lawyers, and their lawyerly instinct about the problem seems to be that you need to layer on more layers of process. If people are worried about the discretionary use of power, you need to make sure the decision-makers go through an elaborate compliance checklist. But as Princess Leia tried to explain to Grand Moff Tarkin, “the more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

The correct way to respond to a low-trust environment is not to double down on proceduralism, but to commit yourself to the “it does exactly what it says on the tin” principle and implement policies that have the following characteristics:

  • It’s easy for everyone, whether they agree with you or disagree with you, to understand what it is you say you are doing.

  • It’s easy for everyone to see whether or not you are, in fact, doing what you said you would do.

  • It’s easy for you and your team to meet the goal of doing the thing that you said you would do.

That’s not a guarantee of political or policy success. Maybe you will pick terrible ideas and be a huge failure anyway. But this triad for success under conditions of distrust at least creates the possibility of success, where people will look back and decide that what you did worked. Committing yourself to that triad may involve some waste and inefficiency relative to a more theoretically optimal scheme with more means-testing.

And it will almost certainly involve a bit more high-handedness and less community consultation. But it allows you to establish yourself as conditionally trustworthy in the sense that your policies do exactly what it says on the tin. And if you pick policies that work, you’re then in a position to rebuild trust as people see that confidence in you is rewarded.

14) I will never embrace a standing desk.  I like sitting!  But I try and take frequent breaks and often pair those breaks with brief bouts of high-intensity exercise (usually squats).  So, I loved seeing some validation for this approach:

Make 2021 the year of the exercise snack.

Just as you might grab a handful of chips or nuts to break the monotony of your day, an exercise “snack” is a short burst of movement you can enjoy at home or in the office or outdoors. It can last for mere seconds or for several minutes. You can do it while talking on the phone or just because you want to take an hourly break from sitting in your chair. You don’t even have to change your clothes.

number of scientific studies show that exercise snacking several times a day leads to meaningful gains in fitness and overall health. A recent study concluded that even just 4-second bursts of exercise have been shown to improve fitness.

“We’ve sort of been conditioned that exercise is this thing you do in a special place once you change into spandex, and it’s very daunting for people,” said Martin Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, whose lab has conducted several studies of exercise snacking. “Let’s get people out of the mind-set that exercise is this special thing we do. You can just be active, even if it means setting your watch to trigger you to do some squats or wall sits for one minute after an hour of sitting.” …

Dr. Gibala said the lesson from the research is that with a little effort, we can stay active anywhere under almost any circumstances — no matter how busy we are. The key to getting the benefit of brief exercise is to pick up the pace.

“You need to push it a little bit,” said Dr. Gibala. “Get out of your comfort zone. If your normal exercise is walking around the block, pick it up a little bit. As you go about your day, as you’re playing with grandchildren, as you’re walking to the bus; the key is to encourage people to do it in a vigorous manner, and that may lead to some real health benefits.”

15) I don’t know how I’ve never seen this, but found this beyond delightful.  “Watch: Adam Scott and Jon Hamm Recreate the ‘Simon & Simon’ Opening Credits”

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) In simpler times, there was a lot of commentary about Megan McCain coming around on parental leave now that she had a kid.  A rare disagreement between me and Drum:

In my little corner of the twittersphere, this has mostly generated mockery. Typical Republican. Can’t understand anyone else’s problems unless it happens to them too.

There’s an old saying that conservatives look for converts while liberals look for heretics. What this means is that when liberals see the light, conservatives welcome them to the fold. But when conservatives see the light, liberals sneer until they’ve proven themselves for a decade or three.

This is self destructive behavior. It is, after all, human nature—not conservative nature—for people to become more attuned to problems when they experience them personally. If you’re rich and your husband dies of prostate cancer, you start up a charity aimed at prostate cancer. Parents of autistic kids try to draw attention to autism. Movie stars who go through drug rehab dedicate themselves to funding drug rehab charities.

When we find an ally, we should welcome them even if they’re allies only on one or two issues. So welcome to the fold, Meghan. The next step is for you to help us figure out how to convince other conservatives that paid maternity (and paternity!) leave is a good idea.

All true… And, yet, it really is super-telling that so many conservatives are just so amazingly selfish that they don’t recognize something as a problem until it affects them personally.  I mean, sure, lets not beat up on McCain.  But lets do take the opportunity to highlight this dynamic and emphasize to conservatives that they may one day have a child– or a gay child!– or lose their job or cancer or whatever. 

2) Here’s a great headline.  We so need more de-escalation training for police!  We can do so much better.  “Newark police: No officer fired a single shot in 2020, thanks to de-escalation program”

3) Yascha Mounk makes the “don’t impeach” case.  It is a reasonable and serious case.  But I almost feel like that’s like telling the sheriff in 1950 Alabama not to arrest the white guy who shot the Black man because the all-white jury will acquit him anyway.  No, arrest him, damnit, and let other people own their moral failures.  

4) The Science version of Mina’s rapid testing case.  We’d alsmost surely already have these if Biden were president.  And I’m hopeful that he gets it off the ground fast.  

5) This is terrific from Clint Smith.  Read it.  “The Whole Story in a Single Photo: An image from the Capitol captures the distance between who we purport to be and who we have actually been.”

A Trump supporter carrying a Confederate flag through the U.S. Capitol.

Also behind the man in Wednesday’s photo, partially obscured by the rebel flag, is a portrait of John C. Calhoun. A senator from South Carolina and the vice president under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Calhoun wrote in 1837: “I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.”

The fact that this photo was taken the day after voters in Georgia chose the first Black person and the first Jewish person in the history of that state to serve in the Senate; that it shows a man walking past the portrait of a vice president who urged the country to sustain human bondage and another portrait of a senator who was nearly beaten to death for standing up to the slavocracy; that it portrays a man walking with a Confederate flag while a mob of insurrectionists pushed past police, broke windows, vandalized offices, stole property, and strolled through the halls of Congress for hours, forcing senators and representatives into hiding and stopping the certification of the electoral process—it is almost difficult to believe that so much of our history, and our current moment, was reflected in a single photograph.

6) The hell?!  “Maybe ‘dark matter’ doesn’t exist after all, new research suggests Observations of distant galaxies have seen signs of a modified theory of gravity that could dispense with the invisible, intangible and all-pervasive dark matter.”

For decades, astronomers, physicists and cosmologists have theorized that the universe is filled with an exotic material called “dark matter” that explains the stranger gravitational behavior of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Dark matter, according to mathematical models, makes up three-quarters of all the matter in the universe. But it’s never been seen or fully explained. And while dark matter has become the prevailing theory to explain one of the bigger mysteries of the universe, some scientists have looked for alternative explanations for why galaxies act the way they do.

Now, an international team of scientists says it has found new evidence that perhaps dark matter doesn’t really exist after all.

In research published in November in the Astrophysical Journal, the scientists report tiny discrepancies in the orbital speeds of distant stars that they think reveals a faint gravitational effect – and one that could put an end to the prevailing ideas of dark matter.

The study suggests an incomplete scientific understanding of gravity is behind what appears to be the gravitational strength of galaxies and galaxy clusters, rather than vast clouds of dark matter.

That might mean pure mathematics, and not invisible matter, could explain why galaxies behave as they do, said study co-author Stacy McGaugh, who heads the astronomy department at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

7) You know what is poisoning our politics (and, not symmetrically, but definitely a “both sides” here)?  Everybody wants to be the damn victim!  But, nobody loves playing the victim like the poor, aggrieved, white supporters of Trump.  David Graham “The Insurrectionists Would Like You to Know That They’re the Real Victims”

8) David Hopkins on Republicans:

But when a large population of citizens is told repeatedly by authorities they trust that political power is being improperly seized by a nefarious cabal, many will naturally start to think that they should do something drastic to stop it. And so whatever strategic cleverness might have inspired the repeated promotion of this and other conspiracy theories has been abruptly joined this week by what might be euphemistically called the corresponding downside risk.

The past five years have been especially valuable in revealing where power within the Republican Party does and doesn’t reside. Republican members of Congress enjoy substantial internal influence in certain areas: they largely controlled the party’s legislative agenda and shaped much of the policy-making during the tenure of the outgoing administration. But in the realm of rhetoric and communication, of speaking for their party and guiding its members, congressional Republicans are clearly at the mercy of a conservative media apparatus that has achieved the ability to dictate what the Republican Party should and shouldn’t publicly stand for.

If being a true conservative requires refusing to deny that the 2020 presidential election was rigged by treacherous Democrats, then Republican politicians will, regardless of their private views, be reluctant to defend the integrity of the electoral system, will support the disenfranchisement of voters from multiple states merely on the basis of improbable claims and rumors dismissed in courts of law by judicial appointees of both parties, and will pile on to demand the resignation of a fellow Republican elected official who was baselessly accused of mismanaging the administration of his state’s election once it became clear that the Democrats had narrowly won there.

The personal calculation at play here is obvious enough, and politicians of both parties can be expected to protect their own interests. But what do these acts add up to, in the end, if not the willful spreading of untruth, and the cession of massive national power to a set of voices who hardly even claim to prize or reward anything more than victory over their political adversaries? Recent events raise the question of whether the inarguable failure of security forces to defend the Capitol has been mirrored by an equally damaging weakness of responsible leadership from those who are supposed, at least some of the time, to lead. Can our form of government count on faithful protection from its stewards regardless of the partisan winds of the moment? Or are civic values, like the buildings that so often symbolize them, vulnerable to being smashed to pieces by those angry that they lost the last fight?

9) Really great WP photo essay on what went down on Wednesday.

10) Social science meets policing of protest in 538, ‘The Police’s Tepid Response To The Capitol Breach Wasn’t An Aberration: Authorities are more than twice as likely to break up a left-wing protest than a right-wing protest.”

11) And I almost never watch cable news clips, but a good segment from Chris Hayes on how damn scary this really was.

12) And harrowing first-person accounts from NYT journalists.

13) A follow-up to all the Boeing last week, “Boeing agrees to pay $2.5 billion to resolve federal criminal charge over 737 Max conspiracy”

14) 2020 has clearly been the best year for dogs!  “So many pets have been adopted during the pandemic that shelters are running out”

15) George Will lets loose:

The Trump-Hawley-Cruz insurrection against constitutional government will be an indelible stain on the nation. They, however, will not be so permanent. In 14 days, one of them will be removed from office by the constitutional processes he neither fathoms nor favors. It will take longer to scrub the other two from public life. Until that hygienic outcome is accomplished, from this day forward, everything they say or do or advocate should be disregarded as patent attempts to distract attention from the lurid fact of what they have become. Each will wear a scarlet “S” as a seditionist.

16) Because of course, “NC Republicans continue to defy governor’s orders by holding large party without masks”

17) This is so cool!  “Cuttlefish Took Something Like a Marshmallow Test. Many Passed.”

Zipping through water like shimmering arrowheads, cuttlefish are swift, sure hunters — death on eight limbs and two waving tentacles for small creatures in their vicinity. They morph to match the landscape, shifting between a variety of hues and even textures, using tiny structures that expand and contract beneath their skin. They even seem to have depth perception, researchers using tiny 3-D vision glasses found, placing them apart from octopuses and squids. And their accuracy at striking prey is remarkable.

But for cuttlefish, these physical feats in pursuit of food are not the whole story. A new study published this month in the journal Royal Society Open Science shows that there is even more to cuttlefish cognition than scientists may have known.

The sea creatures appear to be capable of performing calculations that are more complicated than simply “more food is better.” Presented with a choice between one shrimp or two, they will actually choose the single shrimp when they have learned through experience that they are rewarded for this choice.

While the braininess of their octopus cousins gets a lot of attention, researchers who study animal cognition have uncovered surprising talents in cuttlefish over the years. For instance, the cephalopods will hunt fewer crabs during the day if they learn that shrimp, their preferred food, is predictably available during the night. That shows that they can think ahead…

In these new experiments, curious to see whether they could alter the value cuttlefish attach to a single shrimp, the researchers gave the cuttlefish the option of entering a chamber with one shrimp or a chamber with none. Each time they entered the chamber with a shrimp, the researchers gave them a smaller shrimp as a reward.

Then each cuttlefish took a second test. They could enter a chamber and chase after two shrimp. Or they could enter another chamber that had only one.

“You’d think they always choose the larger quantity,” Dr. Chiao said. But that was not what happened.

In the second round the cuttlefish chose one shrimp significantly more often than two. Cuttlefish that hadn’t had the training reliably picked two shrimp over one, demonstrating that those that chose the smaller number were anticipating the reward and operating differently than their fellows. Even waiting until an hour had passed since the initial training did not completely erase the new behavior.

The process of being rewarded for choosing one shrimp seems to have given that option an extra glow as far as cuttlefish are concerned, Dr. Chiao said. That suggests that they are not simply making basic responses to prey they come across — they’re remembering what has come before and using it to make a choice. Even if in this situation the behavior didn’t result in a bigger haul, it adds to the evidence that they are complex creatures, capable of using their brains in ways that may surprise us.

18) I recently finished reading the Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.  I started it years ago and didn’t get far because I didn’t realize it was not just a time travel book, but a plague book.  A plague in modern times and in medieval times.  Kind of loved it.  But, actually don’t read this article about it if you think you might read it (damn, spoilers).

19) We’ll learn a lot more about policing failures.  For now, “Capitol Rioters Planned for Weeks in Plain Sight. The Police Weren’t Ready.”

20) And, to end on a happy note.  In our daily Simpsons watch, this week featured two of the greatest minutes of television ever.  Seriously.  I mean, honestly, I think I could watch this almost every day.

 

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