Quick hits (Part I)

1) Using a nuclear weapon to stop an asteroid from hitting earth could actually be a thing!

One day, astronomers may spot an asteroid months away from a cataclysmic rendezvous with Earth. Our only chance of survival at such a late stage would be to try to use a nuclear explosive to obliterate it.

But would it work?

Unlike some melodramatic Hollywood blockbusters of the 1990s, real-life scientists are largely unconcerned by any planet-sterilizing behemoths. The orbits of almost every asteroid two-thirds of a mile across or larger have been precisely mapped out. “We know they’re not going to be a threat anytime soon,” said Megan Bruck Syal, a planetary defense researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Instead, their focus is on relatively small asteroids, those about the size of football stadiums, notable for their abundance as well as their ability to evade asteroid-hunting observatories. “Those are the ones that we tend to worry more about because they could come out of nowhere,” Dr. Bruck Syal said.

Such a diminutive asteroid may not sound like much of a danger compared to the 6.2-mile colossus that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago with apocalyptic results. But a meteor that exploded over Siberia back in 1908 was only about 200 feet across — and the blast’s shock wave leveled 800 square miles of forest. “That’s the size of the whole Washington D.C. metro area,” said Dr. Bruck Syal.

Using high-fidelity simulations, scientists reported in a study published earlier this month that a stealthy asteroid as long as 330 feet could be annihilated by a one-megaton nuclear device, with 99.9 percent of its mass being blasted out of Earth’s way, if the asteroid is attacked at least two months before impact.

Ideally, asteroids targeting our blue marble would be identified decades ahead of time. If so, the hope is that an uncrewed spacecraft could slam into them with sufficient momentum to nudge them out of Earth’s way. This strategy, known as deflection, is getting its first test next year with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) space mission.

But an asteroid even several years away from Earth may not be suitable for deflection. At that stage, it may be too late to sufficiently alter its trajectory with a nudge. And if any deflection attempt proves overzealous, the asteroid may break up into smaller but still portly pieces that could hit Earth in multiple spots.

Using a nuclear blast to obliterate an interplanetary interloper “will always be the last resort,” said Patrick Michel, an asteroid expert at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur who was not involved in the study. But if we are short on time, it may be our only hope.

2) Good to see the NBA doing away with some of the most ridiculous fouls.  Hopefully, they follow through on this properly.  Lots of great videos at 538.

3) This is a pretty amazing story, “In a First, Surgeons Attached a Pig Kidney to a Human, and It Worked: A kidney grown in a genetically altered pig functions normally, scientists reported. The procedure may open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.”

Surgeons in New York have successfully attached a kidney grown in a genetically altered pig to a human patient and found that the organ worked normally, a scientific breakthrough that one day may yield a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients.

Researchers have long sought to grow organs in pigs that are suitable for transplantation into humans. Technologies like cloning and genetic engineering have brought that vision closer to reality in recent years, but testing these experimental organs in humans has presented daunting ethical questions.

So surgeons at N.Y.U. Langone Health took an astonishing step: With the family’s consent, they attached the pig’s kidney to a brain-dead patient who was sustained on a ventilator, and then followed the body’s response while taking measures of the kidney’s function. It is the first operation of its kind.

The researchers tracked the results for just 54 hours, and many questions remained to be answered about the long-term consequences of such an operation. The procedure will not be available to patients any time soon, as there are significant medical and regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Still, experts in the field hailed the surgery as a milestone.

“This is a huge breakthrough,” said Dr. Dorry Segev, a professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. “It’s a big, big deal.”

A steady supply of organs from pigs — which could eventually include hearts, lungs and livers — would offer a lifeline to the more than 100,000 Americans currently on transplant waiting lists, including the 90,240 who need a kidney. Twelve people on the waiting lists die each day.

An even larger number of Americans with kidney failure — more than a half million — depend on grueling dialysis treatments to survive. In large part because of the scarcity of human organs, the vast majority of dialysis patients do not qualify for transplants, which are reserved for those most likely to thrive after the procedure.

4) Spencer Bokat-Lindell, “Why Is Raising a Child in the United States So Hard?”

If you’re active on social media there’s a decent chance you came across this chart this month from a Times article about how much less the U.S. government spends on young children’s care than other rich countries.

The infrastructure and family plan that President Biden proposed and that’s now being negotiated in Congress is an attempt to shrink the gap through four key policies: a federal paid family and medical leave program, an extension of the child tax credit (in the form of a monthly payment) that debuted this year, subsidized day care, and universal pre-K.

5) This has taken longer than it should of, but very encouraging for the millions and millions of Americans who suffer from hearing loss:

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration started the process — after a long wait — to create a new category of government-approved hearing aids that Americans will be able to buy without a prescription. Congress authorized over-the-counter hearing aids in 2017.

These over-the-counter hearing aids have the potential to prove that the best efforts of government and technology companies can improve Americans’ lives.

You can buy reading glasses at Walgreens without a prescription. Perhaps by this time next year, you’ll be able to do the same with an officially labeled hearing aid at a cost of a few hundred dollars.

Medical professionals, patient advocates and tech executives that I’ve spoken with are excited about the potential of over-the-counter hearing aids. They imagine the government’s blessing will spark new inventions from companies like Bose, Best Buy and Apple. And they believe that this could be the start of a golden age for hearing help.

“I’m crying reading this,” Nicholas Reed, the director of audiology at the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, said he wrote to his contacts on Tuesday after hearing the news.

When I wrote about this topic in April, I was surprised at the pernicious and widespread effects of hearing loss. Roughly 38 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, and only a minority of people who could benefit from hearing aids use them.

Prescription hearing aids work well for many Americans, if they have access to medical care and can afford to pay an average of about $5,000. (Hearing aids are not typically covered by traditional Medicare. Coverage by private health insurance plans and Medicaid is spotty.) Some people also feel embarrassed about losing their hearing or are put off by tests and fittings for hearing aids.

Untreated hearing loss can be serious. Struggling to understand what we hear stresses the brain and is associated with cognitive decline, dementia and social isolation.

Research by Dr. Reed and other academics found that some nonprescription hearing devices on the market for $350 or less — they can’t legally be called hearing aids at the moment — were almost as good as prescription hearing aids for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. But hearing helpers in this category can be excellent or garbage, and it has been difficult to tell the difference.

The best listening devices might win approval as official over-the-counter hearing aids under the new F.D.A. rules. Experts say that more companies are waiting in the wings to offer new hearing products.

Bose announced in May a hearing device for $850, and the company told me that it wants to sell the product as an over-the-counter hearing aid when the F.D.A. finalizes its rules. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple is studying ways to make its AirPods, which are wireless headphones, into a device to enhance hearing.

More gadgets don’t necessarily mean that more people will be helped by them. But the new market opportunity that the government created may open the door to ideas we can’t yet imagine, wholesale changes in public awareness of hearing loss and choices for treating it.

6) Sean Wilentz, “Why I Oppose Removing a Statue of Thomas Jefferson”

Efforts to repudiate Jefferson are, by now, familiar enough. The reassessment of historical figures traditionally celebrated for their contributions to American equality is nothing new, as in Lerone Bennett Jr.’s much-criticized but widely-read vilification of Abraham Lincoln as a white supremacist. Jefferson has become a particularly fraught case, due in large part to his slaveholding and his ugly remarks about Africans inhis bookNotes on the State of Virginia. Additionally, historians have affirmed longstanding speculations that he had sexual relations and conceived several children with one of his young slaves, Sally Hemings, who also happened to be, almost certainly, his late wife’s half-sister.

The most authoritative interpreter of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship, Annette Gordon-Reed, has described it as a fundamentally absurd and unequal but ultimately respectful long-term bond. Contrary to Gordon-Reed’s historical evidence, however, Jefferson gained a reputation as a rapist, a systematic abuser of black women, and a sadistic slave owner. Blend enough sensational falsehood into his biography and it’s easy enough to invent a Thomas Jefferson who was a perfect monster, unfit for celebration of any kind, let alone in New York’s City Hall.

One need not accept portrayals of Jefferson as a moral monster to see that he had flaws from which any fair-minded twenty first century observer recoils. But study him awhile and he appears to have been a man of contradictions. Notes on the State of Virginia indeed contains hair-raising comments about black people, closer than not to the common view among his fellow white Virginians. It also contains an indictment of racial slavery as an offense to heaven—an uncommon view in Virginia, especially among slaveholders. (“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” Jefferson wrote, a remark that impressed his antislavery Massachusetts friend John Adams as “worth diamonds.”) 

There is the early Jefferson who took firm antislavery stances, to the point of heading a committee of the Confederation Congress in 1784 that sought to ban the introduction of slavery into any American territory. About two decades later, as president, he completed the abolition of U.S. participation in the Atlantic slave trade. Then there is also the later Jefferson, who backed off from any public expressions of antislavery opinion, to the point, in 1820, of supporting the introduction of slavery into Missouri Territory over the intense objection of antislavery northerners.

Above all, there is Jefferson’s greatest contribution to America, indeed, to humankind, in the Declaration of Independence’s simple assertion that all men are created equal. The declaration’s universalist claim was a deeply radical statement then, and remains radical today. It expressed an idea that swept beyond Jefferson’s own time to inspire future abolitionists, women’s rights advocates, and every variety of champion for human rights. Although there were radical egalitarians before Jefferson, there had never been anything quite like the declaration, which became the basis of a democratic political order that rejected monarchs, hereditary aristocrats, and theocrats. Furthermore, had Jefferson prevailed over the objections of delegates from the Lower South, the declaration would have included a denunciation of slavery and the slave trade as violations of human nature’s “most sacred rights of life and liberty.”

Even when Jefferson lived, there were some who claimed that he didn’t really mean what he wrote in the declaration, that he really meant to say that only white men were created equal. Yet never, either in public or in private, did Jefferson seek to amend or modify the wording of his greatest contribution. His failure to do so made him and his declaration deeply suspicious to later generations of pro-slavery advocates and their allies, who denounced the declaration as a pack of “self-evident lies,” a farrago of “glittering generalities”—that is, as a standing rebuke to their barbaric cause. 

Indeed, it was Jefferson, more than any other American, who set the standard by which we find him so lacking, the universal standard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked when he quoted Jefferson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln, meanwhile, warned that those who would forsake Jefferson were “the vanguard—the miners and sappers—of returning despotism.”

7) Damn this is stupid… “‘Cancel Culture’ Isn’t the Problem. ‘OK Culture’ Is.”  Ummm, no.  Enough with stupid false binaries!  The behavior of John Gruden and his enablers in the NFL (i.e., OK Culture) is deplorable.  But, a repudiation of Gruden is not Cancel Culture (trying to get Chapelle’s special removed from Netflix and declaring Netflix a pariah company, however, is) and it does no favors to conflate the two, just because Gruden has some troglodytic supporters who would like to.

8) Totally worth it’s own post, bur for now, I tried not to spend all evening obsessively playing with the data here, “Is College Worth It? A Comprehensive Return on Investment Analysis”

Key Findings

Executive Summary

9) God this is so tiresome! “Mayim Bialik Wants the ‘Jeopardy!’ Job. Is She ‘Neutral’ Enough? Alex Trebek projected impartiality. Bialik has questioned vaccines, endorsed a disputed brain supplement and weighed in on hot-button issues.”  Mayim Bialik is undoubtedly a flawed person (unlike her detractors, apparently).  She’s very good at hosting Jeopardy and whatever her flaws, she’s clearly not an awful person.  Being good at it and not awful really should be enough.    

10) This is cool, “Fake news game confers psychological resistance against online misinformation”

The spread of online misinformation poses serious challenges to societies worldwide. In a novel attempt to address this issue, we designed a psychological intervention in the form of an online browser game. In the game, players take on the role of a fake news producer and learn to master six documented techniques commonly used in the production of misinformation: polarisation, invoking emotions, spreading conspiracy theories, trolling people online, deflecting blame, and impersonating fake accounts. The game draws on an inoculation metaphor, where preemptively exposing, warning, and familiarising people with the strategies used in the production of fake news helps confer cognitive immunity when exposed to real misinformation. We conducted a large-scale evaluation of the game with N = 15,000 participants in a pre-post gameplay design. We provide initial evidence that people’s ability to spot and resist misinformation improves after gameplay, irrespective of education, age, political ideology, and cognitive style.

11) Drum, “Voting legislation never had the slightest chance of passing”

The Democrats’ latest voting rights bill failed again last night and activists think President Biden isn’t pushing it hard enough:

So far, the Biden administration’s response to the GOP assault on voting rights hasn’t matched the president’s urgent rhetoric. This isn’t to say the president has done nothing, or that the attention he’s devoted to other matters—infrastructure, the climate crisis, the pandemic—is unwarranted. But has the administration acted like this is the existential threat to democracy that they say it is? “He’s made clear that he supports voting reform, but that is simply not enough,” Johnson told Politico“We need him to bring this over the finish line.”

This is nuts. What do they expect Biden to do? Wave a magic wand?

There is not, and never has been, the slightest chance of passing this legislation. It doesn’t have the 60 votes to pass under regular order and it doesn’t have the 50 votes it would take to end the filibuster and pass it with Democratic votes alone. Like it or not, this is the simple reality.

It is—or should be—obvious that the urgency of a problem has little or nothing to do with the chances of doing anything about it. Climate change is Exhibit A. The Black-white test gap among high school students is Exhibit B. National healthcare is Exhibit C. I could go on forever, but why bother?

The Republican Party’s decades-long war against Black people because they tend to vote for Democrats is shameful, vile, and disgusting. The lengths they’re now willing to go to in the wake of Donald Trump’s lunatic lies is almost beyond belief. Every single member of the Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a party that does this.

But they aren’t, and the plain reality is that there’s nothing Joe Biden can do about it. He’s got the bully pulpit, but that’s all. This legislation will never pass and never had any chance of passing.

12) David Brock, “I Was Wrong About Donald Trump”

Like most Democrats, I initially underestimated Donald Trump. In 2015, I founded a super PAC dedicated to electing Hillary Clinton. Through all the ups and downs of the campaign, I didn’t once imagine that Americans would vote Mr. Trump in.

He was an obvious pig (see the “Access Hollywood” tape), a fraud (multiple failed businesses and bankruptcies) and a cheat (stiffing mom-and-pop vendors). Not to mention the blatant racism and misogyny. About the outcome, I was spectacularly wrong.

Once he was in office, I misread Mr. Trump again. Having worked inside the conservative movement for many years, I found his policies familiar: same judges, same tax policy, same deregulation of big business, same pandering to the religious right, same denial of science. Of course, there were the loopy tweets, but still I regarded Mr. Trump as only a difference of degree from what I had seen from prior Republican presidents and candidates, not a difference of kind.

When a raft of books and articles appeared warning that the United States was headed toward autocracy, I dismissed them as hyperbolic. I just didn’t see it. Under Mr. Trump, the sky didn’t fall.

My view of him began to shift soon after the November election, when he falsely claimed the election was rigged and refused to concede. In doing so, Mr. Trump showed himself willing to undermine confidence in the democratic process, and in time he managed to convince nearly three-quarters of his supporters that the loser was actually the winner.

Then came the Capitol Hill insurrection, and, later, proof that Mr. Trump incited it, even hiring a lawyer, John Eastman, who wrote a detailed memo that can only be described as a road map for a coup. A recent Senate investigation documented frantic efforts by Mr. Trump to bully government officials to overturn the election. And yet I worry that many Americans are still blind, as I once was, to the authoritarian impulses that now grip Mr. Trump’s party. Democrats need to step up to thwart them.

Are Democrats up for such a tough (and expensive) fight? Many liberal voters have taken a step back from politics, convinced that Mr. Trump is no longer a threat. According to research conducted for our super PAC, almost half of women in battleground states are now paying less attention to the political news.

But in reality, the last election settled very little. Mr. Trump not only appears to be preparing for a presidential campaign in 2024; he is whipping up his supporters before the 2022 midterms. And if Democrats ignore the threat he and his allies pose to democracy, their candidates will suffer next fall, imperiling any chance of meaningful reform in Congress.

Going forward, we can expect bogus claims of voter fraud, and equally bogus challenges to legitimate vote counts, to become a permanent feature of Republican political strategy. Every election Republicans lose will be contested with lies, every Democratic win delegitimized. This is poison in a democracy.

13) Harry Enten,”Why neither party has a sustainable political majority”

Let me tell you a little story. Nine years ago, Barack Obama won a second term in office, and there was talk of an emerging Democratic majority in presidential elections. Then came Donald Trump, the least liked major party nominee of all time, who won the 2016 election — albeit without winning the popular vote. 

Now, there is talk of Democrats potentially being locked out of a Senate majority for a time to come because of trends in the electorate. 
I am skeptical of this — at least over the long term. History tells us that parties adjust messaging and tend to find the best pathway to a majority, leaving this to be a 50/50 country on average.  
Political scientist David Hopkins articulates the idea of this nation being a 50/50 one well. He notes that since the 1980 elections, Democrats and Republicans have won control of the House, Senate and presidency about the same number of times. They have controlled all three for about the same time, including for the Democrats at this point. 

14) My latest discovery from Pandora.  I love this song (especially the guitar part).  

15) Linsey Marr with an excellent thread on ventilation.

16) Great thread on value of different boosters to J&J.  I’m getting my heterologous Moderna boost next week


Quick hits (part II)

1) Maybe there’s something to this whole “punching up/down” stuff, but, wow, just way-overused and I love this Freddie deBoer take:

There is no such thing as punching up or punching down. The entire notion is an absurd pretense. For it to make any sense at all, human beings would have to exist on some unitary plane of power and oppression, our relative places easily interpreted for the purpose of figuring out who we can punch. That’s obviously untrue, and thus the whole concept is childish and unworkable, an utterly immature take on a world that is breathtaking in its complexities and which defies any attempt to enforce moral simplicity. Power is distributed between different people in myriad and often conflicting ways; when two people interact, their various privileges and poverties are playing out along many axes at once.

Take a college class with an adjunct instructor. Social justice norms demand that the instructor holds the power in the relationship, that his is the hand of oppression. But in fact this profoundly misunderstands the contemporary university. Adjuncts are terribly-paid at-will labor who often lack the most basic workplace protections; students at most schools now are simply customers and are afforded the deference typically given to customers. Certainly most college students have the ability to provoke the kind of bureaucratic panic that can prompt a department to drop an adjunct. It’s just so much less risky to do so than to invite student protest and angry parents, regardless of what the argument is about. Instructors are still in charge of grading, of course, and enjoy at least nominal authority within the classroom itself. So they have their own form of power. We could attempt to develop some sort of facile points system to determine whether adjuncts or students are more powerful, and who is punching up at whom when once complains about the other. Or we could instead choose to act like adults and understand that there are many different kinds of power and many different valences to each kind and that trying to arrive at a punching up/punching down binary amounts to a childish refusal to acknowledge the moral world’s irreducible complexity…

Bong Joon-Ho’s brilliant Parasite is the kind of complex and multilayered work that defies any cheap categorization of this type. I would argue in fact that its great genius is its refusal to fit comfortably into the populist revolt-of-the-downtrodden narrative many commentators tried to force on it. But no work of art can be so delicate and singular that they will not try to make it lay down in this Procrustean bed, and so now I learn, chastened, that Parasite punches down. All of that brilliant commentary on class, the well-crafted performances, the symbolism – all worthless, in the face of the incisive analysis of punching up or punching down. There are only two choices. Shame. If only the Constitution didn’t mandate that art must operate on a facile binary designed to make smug liberals feel assured that their mockery is always righteous, that of their opponents always bigoted.

What if – what if – “punching up vs. punching down” is a totally artificial construct that bends to accommodate whatever the person invoking it wants to believe? There is one rule: people I like are punching up, people I don’t are punching down. There is no deeper meaning to be had here…

The more time goes on in this never-ending woke production of The Crucible, the more I come to believe that the animating spirit behind it all is moral simplicity. People desperately want to believe that the world is simple, that good and bad are easily sorted, and that they are always on the right side of that ledger. 

2) From a couple weeks ago, but, is it so wrong to talk bout “pregnant women” instead of “pregnant persons”?  And, oh, my has the ACLU just lost it.  Michele Goldberg:

Recently, on the anniversary of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, the American Civil Liberties Union set out to pay tribute to her pro-choice heroism, and ended up making the sort of self-parodic blunder the right salivates over.

One of R.B.G.’s iconic quotes came from her 1993 Senate confirmation hearings, when, instead of shying away from commenting on reproductive rights like most Supreme Court nominees, she made a forthright case for their indispensability to human flourishing.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices,” Ginsburg said.

In a ham-handed attempt to make the quote conform to current progressive norms around gender neutrality, the A.C.L.U. rendered it this way in a tweet: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity … When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.”…

What’s more difficult to discuss is how making Ginsburg’s words gender-neutral alters their meaning. That requires coming to terms with a contentious shift in how progressives think and talk about sex and reproduction. Changing Ginsburg’s words treats what was once a core feminist insight — that women are oppressed on the basis of their reproductive capacity — as an embarrassing anachronism. The question then becomes: Is it?…

Yet I think there’s a difference between acknowledging that there are men who have children or need abortions — and expecting the health care system to treat these men with respect — and speaking as if the burden of reproduction does not overwhelmingly fall on women. You can’t change the nature of reality through language alone. Trying to do so can seem, to employ a horribly overused word, like a form of gaslighting.

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote. You can interpret this to support the contemporary notion of sex and gender as largely matters of self-identification. Or you can interpret it as many older feminists have, as a statement about how the world molds you into a woman, of how certain biological experiences reveal your place in the social order, and how your identity develops in response to gender’s constraints.

Seen this way, a gender-neutral version of Ginsburg’s quote is unintelligible, because she was talking not about the right of all people to pursue their own reproductive destiny, but about how male control of women’s reproductive lives makes women part of a subordinate class. The erasure of gendered language can feel like an insult, because it takes away the terms generations of feminists used to articulate their predicament.

3) Great stuff from Zeynep: “The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think”

Some key research on the unvaccinated comes from the Covid States Project, an academic consortium that managed to scrape together resources for regular polling. It categorizes them as “vaccine-willing” and “vaccine-resistant,” and finds the groups almost equal in numbers among the remaining unvaccinated. (David Lazer, one of the principal investigators of the Covid States Project, told me that the research was done before the mandates, and that the consortium has limited funding, so they can only poll so often).

Furthermore, their research finds that the unvaccinated, overall, don’t have much trust in institutions and authorities, and even those they trust, they trust less: 71 percent of the vaccinated trust hospitals and doctors “a lot,” for example, while only 39 percent of the unvaccinated do.

Relentless propaganda against public health measures no doubt contributes to erosion of trust. However, that mistrust may also be fueled by the sorry state of health insurance in this country and the deep inequities in health care — at a minimum, this could make people more vulnerable to misinformation. Research on the unvaccinated by KFF from this September showed the most powerful predictor of who remained unvaccinated was not age, politics, race, income or location, but the lack of health insurance.

The Covid States team shared with me more than a thousand comments from unvaccinated people who were surveyed. Scrolling through them, I noticed a lot more fear than certainty. There was the very, very rare “it’s a hoax” and “it’s a gene therapy” but most of it was a version of: I’m not sure it’s safe. Was it developed too fast? Do we know enough? There was also a lot of fear of side effects, worries about lack of Food and Drug Administration approval and about yet-undiscovered dangers.

Their surveys also show that only about 12 percent of the unvaccinated said they did not think they’d benefit from a vaccine: so, only about 4 percent of the national population.

4) I think at this point the only answer to Krysten Sinema is satire.  Alexandra Petri, “Finally Understand Kyrsten Sinema in 360 Easy Steps”

5) James Curry and Frances Lee on the difficulty of getting stuff done in Washington, even with unified government:

We find that parties with unified control in Washington since the Clinton years have struggled for two reasons.

The filibuster explains some of the majority parties’ struggles. Senate rules require most legislation to obtain 60 votes to advance to passage. As a result, minority parties have a chance to either veto or reshape most legislation. Still, even though it’s a constant source of discussion and debate in today’s Washington, we find the filibuster was the cause of only one-third of failed attempts by majority parties to enact their priorities during unified government since 1993.

The second reason is less well appreciated but accounts for the other two-thirds — a large majority — of failures. Both parties have been, and remain, internally divided on many issues. Parties are often able to hide their disagreements by simply not taking up legislation on issues that evoke significant fissures. But when those issues reflect their campaign promises, majority parties will often forge ahead even in the absence of internal consensus on a plan.

Whether Democratic or Republican, the party with unified control in Washington in recent years has failed on one or more of its highest-priority agenda items because of insufficient unity within its own ranks. In 2017, Republicans failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act because of the opposition of three Senate Republicans (Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mr. McCain). In 2009-10, Democrats failed to enact a cap-and-trade policy because of spats between coastal Democrats and those representing the interior of the country. In 2005, Republicans failed to reform Social Security despite President Bush making it his top domestic legislative priority because of a lack of consensus in the party about how to proceed. In Mr. Clinton’s first term, Democrats were never able to unify behind a single plan to enact comprehensive health care reform despite relatively large majorities in both chambers.

6) Public opinion is thermostatic. “A new problem for Democrats: Americans suddenly want smaller government after all”

7) This research dubs me an “international expert” so I might as well share it:

Opinion polarization is increasingly becoming an issue in today’s society, producing both unrest at the societal level, and conflict within small scale communications between people of opposite opinion. Often, opinion polarization is conceptualized as the direct opposite of agreement and consequently operationalized as an index of dispersion. However, in doing so, researchers fail to account for the bimodality that is characteristic of a polarized opinion distribution. A valid measurement of opinion polarization would enable us to predict when, and on what issues conflict may arise. The current study is aimed at developing and validating a new index of opinion polarization. The weights of this index were derived from utilizing the knowledge of 58 international experts on polarization through an expert survey. The resulting Opinion Polarization Index predicted expert polarization scores in opinion distributions better than common measures of polarization, such as the standard deviation, Van der Eijk’s polarization measure and Esteban and Ray’s polarization index. We reflect on the use of expert ratings for the development of measurements in this case, and more in general.

8) I like John McWhorter’s take that so much wokeness basically infantilized Black people:

Now: Let’s break down what the crux of objections to showing a blackface performance ever at all are.

The typical idea is that blackface is a reminder of the reign of minstrel shows, in which white performers wore blackface makeup and engaged in clownish distortion of Black speech and dance styles. Minstrel shows were core American entertainment for most of the 19th century, and well into the 20th. It was a filmic depiction of a minstrel show, in fact, that I showed my class: Al Jolson in 1930’s “Mammy.”

Minstrel shows were disgusting, all the more so in how utterly central they were in American entertainment for so very long. But is there no statute of limitations on how long a people will feel actual injury about such a thing? In 2021, there is barely a person alive who attended a minstrel show performed as mainstream, professional entertainment. Even those who may have caught ragtag amateur groups keeping the tradition alive are likely now quite elderly.

The idea seems to be that we (relatively) younger Black people and our non-Black fellow travelers are nevertheless so viscerally stung by seeing any manifestation of this bygone tradition that to show dated footage of a white British actor in blackface, as part of an academic colloquy, qualifies as a grievous insult. But I like to think of Black Americans as a people of pride and forward thinking. I miss those qualities in this submission to an insult leveled by perpetrators now very, very dead. And since no one can seriously argue that Sheng’s intent was to revive or exalt the practice of blackface — and not to teach something about the operatic adaptation of a seminal literary work — to treat him as an accessory to those dead perpetrators seems more a kind of performance in itself than a spontaneously felt insult.

Another idea would be that to imitate a Black person by trying to darken the appearance of one’s skin is, inherently, to ridicule that person. But is it impossible in the logical sense that someone might costume oneself as a Black person one admires and put on makeup to darken one’s face simply as part of seeking to look like that person? Many will heatedly object: “Impossible!” But we must attend to why. If the answer is minstrel shows, then see above.

These days, we’re expected to recoil, under any circumstances, at the idea of a white person attempting to make their skin look like the color of a nonwhite person’s, as if this were the automatic equivalent to using a racist slur, or worse. But context matters. A lot.

Is blackface being shown as part of a collegiate-level discussion, as in the Michigan case? College students shouldn’t need protection from an old film used to help them think about and debate the conversion of a classic over time. Sheng was using the film to stir and inform artistic consciousness. To read that situation otherwise is deeply anti-intellectual.

8) I think Jordan Weissman is right and a lot of reporting is making this too complicated, “The Absolute Simplest Explanation for America’s Supply Chain Woes”

But if you look at the bigger picture, it becomes clear the problems in the U.S. largely flow from one key factor: We are simply buying an enormous amount of things. When the pandemic began, and Americans found themselves unable to go out, households suddenly shifted their spending to goods from services. With the money they saved skipping restaurant meals, movie trips, and vacations, people spruced up their living rooms with new couches, built out home offices, and bought themselves some exercise equipment. Stimulus checks helped fuel the shopping as many employees who’d kept their jobs splurged on TVs and cars. Economists widely expected that, as the pandemic faded, Americans would revert back to their older spending patterns. But that hasn’t happened yet, thanks in part to the delta wave. By August, inflation-adjusted spending on goods was up 14.5 percent compared with pre-pandemic, while services were still down more than 2 percent.

Consumer Spending
Jordan Weissmann/Slate

As a result of this buying binge, the United States is now actually importing more physical goods than ever before. That may sound a bit strange, given all the focus on how supply chains are in disarray. But it’s true. Measured by shipping container volume, imports were up 5 percent year-over-year in September, and up 17 percent compared with the same time in 2019, before the pandemic, according to the latest report from Panjiva, the trade data firm owned by S&P Global. (Panjiva’s numbers only include goods that have been processed by U.S. customs officials, meaning they only cover items that have actually been unloaded, not the freight waiting offshore.)

This unprecedented tsunami of stuff has swamped America’s ability to unload, warehouse, and transport it all. There are only so many berths where cargo ships can dock, and only so many cranes to unload them. There are only so many trucks that can enter and exit the port at a time, and only so many warehouses where goods can be stored. And there are also only so many trained dock workers or truck drivers available to actually do these jobs. So while enormous amounts of goods are arriving, individual shipments—whether it’s a new container of shirts destined for J.Crew, or an office chair you ordered on Amazon—have to wait in a long line to make it through to their final destination.

9) This is cool, “New Lighting System Helps Deer Avoid Vehicles at Night”

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS) program recently applied for a patent (U.S. Patent Application No. 16/668,253) for a new vehicle-based lighting system to prevent deer-vehicle collisions during low-light conditions.

Through a series of experiments with free-roaming white-tailed deer, researchers at the WS program’s National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) found the use of a rear-facing light-emitting diode (LED) light bar‒which illuminates a larger portion of the vehicle’s front surface than standard headlights alone‒resulted in fewer dangerous deer-vehicle interactions. The likelihood of dangerous interactions decreased from 35% to only 10% of vehicle approaches when using a rear-facing light bar plus headlights versus just headlights alone. The reduction in dangerous interactions appeared to be driven by fewer instances of immobility or “freezing” behavior by deer when the light bar was used. The study “Frontal vehicle illumination via rear-facing lighting reduces potential for collisions with white-tailed deer” is highlighted in the latest issue of the journal Ecosphere.

“This new lighting system takes advantage of a deer’s predator avoidance behavior (also known as flight behavior),” states lead author and former NWRC researcher Dr. Travis DeVault who currently serves as the associate director of the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. “We predicted that light reflected from the front surface of the vehicle would provide a more reliable looming image to deer, thus encouraging the deer to move out of the path of the approaching vehicle.”

When an object “looms,” it becomes increasingly larger to the perceiving animal, helping the animal realize that the object is an approaching object versus one that is stationary.

10) This interactive feature about the explosion in Beirut is from a year ago.  But I missed it then and it’s amazing. 

11) I know some of you think I’m too concerned about the wokeness.  But it is profoundly anti-liberal and it keeps leading to really bad outcomes on college campuses, which I care a lot about.  Ruth Marcus:

Maoist reeducation camps have nothing on Yale Law School. If you think this is an exaggeration, okay, it is, but keep reading.

Last month, a second-year law student sent some classmates an invitation to a party — to celebrate Constitution Day, of all things.

The student, Trent Colbert, who has the unusual profile of belonging to both the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) and the conservative Federalist Society, emailed: “Sup NALSA, Hope you’re all still feeling social! This Friday at 7:30, we will be christening our very own (soon to be) world-renowned NALSA Trap House . . . by throwing a Constitution Day bash in collaboration with FedSoc. Planned attractions include Popeye’s chicken, basic-bitch-American-themed snacks (like apple pie, etc.) . . . Hope to see you all there.”

“Trap House,” according to the Urban Dictionary, was “originally used to describe a crack house in a shady neighborhood,” but “has since been abused by high school students who like to pretend they’re cool by drinking their mom’s beer together.” A popular far-left podcast, by three White men, calls itself Chapo Trap House, without incident.

Not at Yale Law School. Within minutes, as reported by Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon, the invitation was posted on the group chat for all 2Ls, or second-year law students, of which several asserted that the invite had racist connotations, and had encouraged students to attend in blackface.

“I guess celebrating whiteness wasn’t enough,” the president of the Black Law Students Association wrote in the forum. She objected to the involvement of the Federalist Society, which, she said, “has historically supported anti-Black rhetoric.”

But what erupted on the group chat didn’t stay on the group chat. All too typically, the issue was escalated to authorities and reinforced by the administrative architecture of diversity and grievance. And that’s when things went off the rails.


Within 12 hours, Colbert was summoned to meet with associate law dean Ellen Cosgrove and diversity director Yaseen Eldik. There, he was told that his message had generated nine student complaints of discrimination and harassment, and was more or less instructed to apologize.

Colbert secretly recorded that conversation, and another the next day, and the Free Beacon has posted them. The audio offers an unsettling insight into the hair-trigger and reflexively liberal mind-set of the educational diversity complex.

12) Ted Lasso season 1 was really good.  Season 2 is enjoyment, but a clear step down in quality.  The Christmas episode of season 2 was an abomination that almost made me stop watching the show.

13) Loved this from Dan Drezner as, like him, I had my first post-pandemic common cold last week and lived my life (while testing Covid negative, of course), “We need to get used to occasionally being sick”

With in-person activities back, however, it is inevitable that non-covid viruses and bugs will reemerge. I know this because, as I type this, I’m getting over my first post-pandemic cold.

A few weeks ago at my place of work, someone suggested that individuals who test negative for the coronavirus but are experiencing flu or cold-like symptoms should “of course” stay away from campus. But that strikes me as a massive overreaction. Before the pandemic, there were no restrictions on those who had a cold from attending class. If anything, the current masking requirement means that the chance of spreading a cold now is lower than in the pre-pandemic era. Making students stay home for non-covid illnesses is punitive and unnecessary.

It is also understandable, because we have spent more than 20 months being panicked at the first sign of any sickness — myself included. A rational calculation of the risks should acknowledge that there are costs to excessive caution. Society might not be able to readjust to the higher risk of catching a perfectly ordinary ailment, but this can and should be part of returning to a semblance of normality.

People should get vaccinated for the flu, of course, but those vaccines are much more variable than the mRNA vaccines against the coronavirus. There is no vaccine against the common cold. Perhaps a norm of masking when sick would be a solid precaution to take. But so is the notion that for some illnesses, the costs of possibly getting sick are outweighed by the benefits of living one’s life.

14) It really is amazing that we’ve got so much good evidence on how to best teach kids to read and it is so often not followed.  Emily Oster interviews Emily Solari:

Emily Solari: I am a professor of education at the University of Virginia. My work concentrates on translating scientific findings to classroom practice. Specifically, I focus on reading development — how reading develops, why some kids find learning to read difficult, and how we can provide evidence-based reading instruction in classroom settings. In your book, you highlight the decades-old debate related to how reading is taught in the nation’s schools. But just like most things in education, there is a complex history, as schools are complex systems.

How children learn how to read is, arguably, the most researched aspect of human learning. Decades of research from multiple disciplines has shown us the importance of early reading instruction concentrating on foundational reading skills — such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, and phonics. In your book, you discuss the evidence base and state that “in the end, phonics has returned, and this is most certainly what your child’s school will use.” However, a recent survey suggests that about 75% of teachers use curricula that teach early reading using a cueing approach, not explicitly and using systematic instruction in phonics or early reading foundational skills. Given the state of reading instruction in the country, I think it’s important that we are communicating with parents about the reality of the instruction their children may receive…

One of the most prominent and extensively researched frameworks for understanding reading development is the Simple View of Reading, which highlights the importance of both decoding (word reading) development and linguistic awareness, or oral language development. As such, teachers working with our youngest readers should include explicit and systematic instruction in alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, and phonics in order to effectively and efficiently teach students to decode words. At the same time, teachers need to engage in activities that promote students’ linguistic comprehension via instruction focusing on building vocabulary and background knowledge. We do this through engagement in high-quality read-alouds and vocabulary and oral language instruction across all content areas.

Second, the teaching of foundational skills, such as alphabet knowledge, phonemic awareness, and phonics, can and should be fun — and can be done efficiently during the English language arts block, so that it is not taking up the whole time. Phonics instruction has been given a bad rap by many, but the effective teaching of early foundational skills unlocks the code of reading for kids and allows kids to read words, and therefore comprehend what they read. Playing with sounds and words can be fun and game-like — and should be appropriately paced so that kids are being challenged but also able to practice enough that they are reaching mastery.

There is really no greater gift that a teacher can teach a child than how to accurately and fluently read words so that they can engage authentically with text — and young children need to be explicitly taught how to read. The reality is that we have decades of data showing how instruction should occur in classrooms. What most people don’t understand or do not want to understand is that the teaching of reading in ways that do not align with the scientific evidence base is ingrained in many of the teaching materials and curricula that teachers have at their fingertips. Further, when teachers are getting their teaching credentials, they are often not prepared to teach reading in an evidence-based way. I say this to remind folks that there should not be blame placed on teachers. Teachers are just one actor in a broad and complex educational system. Many teachers who I have worked with are surprised and shocked when they do learn about how they should be teaching early reading — aligned with the evidence base — when they think back to their own training.

One common rebuttal to the implementation of explicit and systematic early phonics instruction is that it does not foster a joy for reading. I would like to flip this and ask people to consider: It’s very hard to develop joy for reading if you can’t read. A child who is not taught how to read is a child who is more likely to become disengaged in school; they become frustrated and this impacts all academic content areas. 

15) Yes, the woke are annoying– and sometimes worse– but, no I have not remotely forgotten that far too many Republicans are just nuts, and really, so much worse.  There is nothing in the excesses of CRT as bad as this insane over-response from the Republicans in Johnston County, NC:

Johnston County teachers could be disciplined or fired if they teach that American historical figures weren’t heroes, undermine the U.S. Constitution in lessons or say that racism is a permanent part of American life.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners is withholding $7.9 million until the school board passes a policy preventing Critical Race Theory from county classrooms. School leaders deny that Critical Race Theory is being taught. But to get the money, the school board unanimously approved Friday an updated policy on how history and racism will be taught.

“When we all work together we can accomplish good things for kids, and this is one of those moments I truly believe has happened,” school board vice chairwoman Terri Sessoms said at Friday’s specially called virtual meeting.

The revised Code of Ethics policy includes new wording such as “the United States foundational documents shall not be undermined,” and “all people who contributed to American Society will be recognized and presented as reformists, innovators and heroes to our culture.” The policy says failure to comply “will result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

16) This is kind of wild, “Wolf Puppies Are Adorable. Then Comes the Call of the Wild.”

NICOLET, Quebec — I’m sitting in an outdoor pen with four puppies chewing my fingers, biting my hat and hair, peeing all over me in their excitement.

At eight weeks old, they are two feet from nose to tail and must weigh seven or eight pounds. They growl and snap over possession of a much-chewed piece of deer skin. They lick my face like I’m a long-lost friend, or a newfound toy. They are just like dogs, but not quite. They are wolves.

When they are full-grown at around 100 pounds, their jaws will be strong enough to crack moose bones. But because these wolves have been around humans since they were blind, deaf and unable to stand, they will still allow people to be near them, to do veterinary exams, to scratch them behind the ears — if all goes well.

Yet even the humans who raised them must take precautions. If one of the people who has bottle-fed and mothered the wolves practically since birth is injured or feels sick, she won’t enter their pen to prevent a predatory reaction. No one will run to make one of these wolves chase him for fun. No one will pretend to chase the wolf. Every experienced wolf caretaker will stay alert. Because if there’s one thing all wolf and dog specialists I’ve talked to over the years agree on, it is this: No matter how you raise a wolf, you can’t turn it into a dog.

As close as wolf and dog are — some scientists classify them as the same species — there are differences. Physically, wolves’ jaws are more powerful. They breed only once a year, not twice, as dogs do. And behaviorally, wolf handlers say, their predatory instincts are easily triggered compared to those of dogs. They are more independent and possessive of food or other items. Much research suggests they take more care of their young. And they never get close to that Labrador retriever “I-love-all-humans” level of friendliness. As much as popular dog trainers and pet food makers promote the inner wolf in our dogs, they are not the same.

The scientific consensus is that dogs evolved from some kind of extinct wolf 15,000 or more years ago. Most researchers now think that it wasn’t a case of snatching a pup from a den, but of some wolves spending more time around people to feed on the hunters’ leftovers. Gradually some of these wolves became less afraid of people, and they could get closer and eat more and have more puppies, which carried whatever DNA made the wolves less fearful. That repeated itself generation after generation until the wolves evolved to be, in nonscientific terms, friendly. Those were the first dogs.

People must spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks on end with wolf puppies just to assure them that humans are tolerable. Dog puppies will quickly attach to any human within reach. Even street dogs that have had some contact with people at the right time may still be friendly.

Despite all the similarities, something is deeply different in dog genes, or in how and when those genes become active, and scientists are trying to determine exactly what it is.

There are clues.

Some recent research has suggested that dog friendliness may be the result of something similar to Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder in humans that causes hyper-sociability, among other symptoms. People with the syndrome seem friendly to everyone, without the usual limits.

17) Fascinating Planet Money newsletter trying to understand what’s gone so wrong with Haiti.

18) Good stuff from David Epstein (really, read both The Sports Gene and Range), “What Nobel Laureates and Elite Athletes Have in Common: Short-term results can undermine long-term development”

What Nobel Laureates and Elite Athletes Have in Common

Nobel-worthy breakthroughs take time, risk, and willingness to follow a meandering path — to detour in light of “unforeseen small findings,” as Yoshinori Ohsumi put it. Nobel laureates, too, require long-term development.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a new study on the childhoods of elite athletes. Bottom line: athletes who went on to become the best adults did a wider variety of activities in childhood, and initially progressed more slowly than the best youth athletes — who more often specialized early and peaked early.

That study also referenced Nobel laureates. Specifically, a 2015 paper on Nobel laureates found that — compared to high-achieving but non-Nobel peers — Nobel laureates were more likely to do multidisciplinary work early in their careers, and to progress more slowly early on.

“Nobel laureates were less likely to have won a scholarship as a student and took significantly longer to earn full professorships…Taken together, the observations suggest that early multidisciplinary practice is associated with gradual initial discipline specific progress but greater sustainability of long-term development of excellence.”

Pressure for short-term development of people, then, may ultimately curtail breakthrough innovation — just like pressure for short-term results in research.

I think we need all kinds of research, with all kinds of time horizons. The danger, as highlighted in “Transformation and Enterprise,” would be if all the pressure and incentives increasingly align for the short-term. How, then, do we get mRNA vaccines?

This year, if another Nobel laureate uses their platform to challenge the current funding climate — if they highlight the way that a short-term-results orientation limits exploration — I hope the research-funding world listens.

19) Get moving! “Why Exercise Is More Important Than Weight Loss for a Longer Life: People typically lower their risks of heart disease and premature death far more by gaining fitness than by dropping weight.”

For better health and a longer life span, exercise is more important than weight loss, especially if you are overweight or obese, according to an interesting new review of the relationships between fitness, weight, heart health and longevity. The study, which analyzed the results of hundreds of previous studies of weight loss and workouts in men and women, found that obese people typically lower their risks of heart disease and premature death far more by gaining fitness than by dropping weight or dieting.

The review adds to mounting evidence that most of us can be healthy at any weight, if we are also active enough…

As a whole, the studies they cite show that sedentary, obese men and women who begin to exercise and improve their fitness can lower their risk of premature death by as much as 30 percent or more, even if their weight does not budge. This improvement generally puts them at lower risk of early death than people who are considered to be of normal weight but out of shape, Dr. Gaesser said.



Gay and transgender people aren’t “filth”; it’s just teaching that they exist that is

I honestly don’t think it is particularly uncharitable to term NC’s Lieutenant Governor, Mark Robinson, a truly horrible person (seriously, just google for 5 minutes).  His latest is particularly deplorable:

Recently-released video showed Mr. Robinson telling a crowd in June: “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth. And yes, I called it filth.”

In August, he told a religious gathering: “If there’s a movement in this country that is demonic, and that is full of anti-, the spirit of Antichrist, it is the transgender movement.”

For starters, that’s right out of the 1950’s or so?  I mean, obviously, I think it’s horrible to refer to transgender people as “filth” but, that probably still plays to some degree with the Republican base in our culture war politics.  But, in this era when even a majority of Republicans support same-sex marriage, Robinson is just totally out on a limb of depraved cruelty.  So, what’s the response from Republicans?  Ignore, elide, and obfuscate.  From the N&O:

Some Republicans who responded to the Observer’s survey said they believed that Robinson was only referring to what books should be available in schools.

“I assume he was referring to pornography and/or obscenity that could steal a student’s innocence; therefore, he should not resign,” Rep. Kelly Hastings said in a statement. “As a Christian, I believe we are all sinners and can be forgiven by God.” Rep. Jake Johnson said in a statement that he believed Robinson was referring to “the display and promotion of explicit images being shown to young children, and any social agenda being pushed onto students.”

“Most parents I have spoken to agree that children are in school to learn to read, write, do math and learn basic social skills,” he added. “Not to be inundated with any social or political agenda.”

Of the Mecklenburg County delegation, most told the Observer that Robinson should resign. Reps. Kelly Alexander, John Bradford III, Carla Cunningham, Carolyn Logan, as well as Sens. Mujtaba Mohammed, Jeff Jackson and Joyce Waddell did not respond to the survey.

Both Jackson and Cheri Beasley, two candidates running for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat, have called on Robinson to resign.

For Democrats, though, calling out Robinson is relatively painless. “It doesn’t matter what Democrats say about Mark Robinson, it matters what Republicans say about Mark Robinson,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University who studies the role of gender in politics.

Although that shift has included many Republicans, it is less apparent among white evangelicals — a major force in GOP politics, Miller said. Even among many Republican voters who wouldn’t approve of Robinson’s comments, LGBT issues are not among their top issues when they go to the polls, he said.

“If I’m a Republican in the North Carolina legislature, then I’m thinking: What do I risk or what do I gain by condemning his comments?” Miller said. “I don’t see a lot of gain in that because I’m sticking my neck out on a low-priority issue.”

Along with that, they would risk alienating evangelicals who do prioritize so-called “culture war” issues. “For Republicans to publicly call for Robinson to resign, I suspect, would be seen as akin to liberal cancel culture mobs,” Greene said.

Now, there’s a perfectly reasonable conversation to be had about what and when we teach about human sexuality in public schools.  This is not that.  Robinson could have said, “we don’t need schools pushing a liberal agenda to re-shape society and push a transgender/homosexual agenda on our children.”  Not great, but, just another day for a Republican politician.  But, he doubled down on “filth.”  And, it’s not at all clear what the logical argument is that says teaching about these things are “filfth” but there’s not actually anything wrong with them.  It’s really just offensive on every level (including intellectually, the idea that somehow this is not incredibly derogatory language about human beings based on their sexuality).  

As I alluded to, a better Republican party (one not in thrall to Donald Trump and it’s worst elements) would, of course, condemn this type of language.  But, apparently only liberals actually criticize their own for saying awful and inappropriate things.  So, ultimately, I guess it’s just being a horrible person and accepting that kind of behavior in co-partisans to own the libs.  Ugh.  

When all you have is hammer-ism

I really loved this from Jon Haidt in Persuasion.  One of my great intellectual bugaboos/pet peeves is the tendency of people to explain the incredibly complex world around us from just a single ideological perspective– whether it’s sex, race, power, whatever.  Yes, sometimes it really is monocausality.  But, when we are talking about the complexity of the human species and our societies, proper explanations can almost never be boiled down to just a single cause.  Haidt refers to monomania, but, damn if the “when all you have is a hammer…” metaphor capture this perfectly for my tastes.  And, sadly, this is a genuine problem in the illiberalism on the left.  Anyway…

In October 2018 I was on a book tour, speaking about The Coddling of the American Mind, a book I co-wrote with Greg Lukianoff. The publisher had packed five lectures at five colleges into five days. On Monday, I arrived at the first college and was surprised to see a statue of Sigmund Freud on a pedestal in front of the main gate. I gave my talk, took questions from the audience, and then met with a senior seminar class in psychology. In all of my interactions with students, I found that all they could talk about was sexuality. These students had somehow come to believe that everything people do is ultimately done to relieve repressed anxiety stemming from unresolved childhood sexual conflicts. I personally love reading Freud, and I agree with him that sexual motives sometimes drive seemingly non-sexual behavior, but I was saddened to see an entire cohort of students limiting their minds to a single analytical lens on our very complex world. 

On Tuesday, I arrived at the second college and saw a statue of B.F. Skinner in front of the main gate. I gave my talk, took questions from the audience, and then met with another psychology class. This time the students interpreted everything in terms of “reinforcement.” They had somehow come to believe that all you need to do to understand and predict people’s behavior is study their learning history—the set of all actions for which they had been rewarded or punished. Once again, I was saddened to see an entire cohort of students constricting their thinking to a single theoretical framework. 

On Wednesday, I arrived at the third college and found a statue of Charles Darwin in front of the main gate. The students at this university interpreted everything in terms of how our genes manipulate us to maximize their own success. These students had somehow come to believe that everything people do is ultimately done to leave behind the maximum number of surviving children (or twice that number of surviving nieces and nephews). 

On Thursday, I arrived at the fourth college, where a statue of Adam Smith stood in front of the main gate. The students at this school interpreted everything in terms of material self-interest. As a social psychologist who studies morality, I love Adam Smith, and I was stunned to find that the humane author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments had been transmogrified into the patron saint of greed based on a warped reading of The Wealth of Nations

On Friday, I arrived at the fifth college and was met by a statue of Michel Foucault in front of the main gate. At this school students interpreted everything in terms of power and power structures. Whatever I said, whatever I asked them about, the students insisted that everything that happens in our society happens because power is always and everywhere trying to maintain itself. Even our interaction in the classroom was reduced to power structures, although the students could not explain what power I—a visiting speaker—had over them.

On Saturday, I returned to my home in New York City, deeply discouraged by what I had seen. I wanted to put the students from all five colleges together in a giant classroom and make them talk to each other until they could each write an essay using at least three of the five lenses to examine a complex social issue of their choosing. 

Of course, this week was pure fiction, except for Friday, which really happened, more or less. It was never a majority of the students who limited their worldview to power, but in many of the schools I have spoken at since 2015, there has been a subset of students who suffer from monomania, which is defined as an exaggerated and unhealthy obsession with one thing…

The “prestige economy” is the network of values and meanings within which people compete for status. In monomaniacal groups, the prestige economy rewards those who are most committed to the object of devotion, which has two major illiberal effects. The first is the “expansion imperative”—the pressure to apply the one true lens ever more widely. For example, one can gain points by interpreting glacier research and dog parks as manifestations of power structures. The insistence that the lens applies everywhere means that the preferred remedies must be implemented everywhere. This expansion imperative can explain the otherwise astonishing statement on page 18 of Ibram Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist”:

There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.

In other words, if a high school teaches chemistry without discussing race, it is not “nonracist,” it is racist. True believers exert pressure on the leadership of the school to bring race into every part of the curriculum, and anyone who expresses doubt or raises concerns risks being publicly shamed and possibly fired. Monomanics sometimes demand that their focal value be installed as the telos of every organization. 

This brings us to the second major illiberal effect: the incentivization of intimidation and cruelty. Within a group of people competing for prestige on adherence to a belief, one can often gain points by publicly attacking outsiders. This creates an incentive for individuals in the group to attack not just their enemies, who are often out of reach, but innocent people who happen to be nearby. This dynamic may account for the cruelty with which power monomaniacs turn on professors and administrators who try to help them, or who otherwise share their political views but not their monomania…

2) Monomania makes groups stupid.

In a 2009 TEDx talk titled “Be suspicious of simple stories” the economist Tyler Cowen warned that stories impose a structure on events that distorts them and blinds us to the distortion. He was particularly concerned about moralistic stories that divide the world into good and evil. He proposed that “as a simple rule of thumb, just imagine that every time you’re telling a good versus evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more.” 

As a social psychologist who studies moral judgment and motivated reasoning, I think Cowen is exactly right—for individuals. Binary thinking makes it hard for individuals to understand the nuance and complexity of most situations. For groups, I’d put the cost closer to 20 IQ points. Shared moralism creates a mutual policing effect that prevents the group from thinking well or changing its mind in response to new evidence. (Please note: I am not calling any person stupid. I am saying that smart people create stupid groups when they bind themselves together in a monomaniacal community.)…

I want to be clear that monomania is not just a problem on the far left. On the far right, we have seen communities becoming illiberal and stupid by following monomaniacs obsessed with communism, homosexuality, religion, immigration, and the national debt. But to return to the problem I encountered on my five-college book tour, I think that professors and leaders of educational institutions have a fiduciary duty toward their students that requires them to oppose monomania and lead students out of its stultifying embrace. A liberal arts education should expand minds and prepare students for citizenship in a liberal democracy, particularly in our era when the future of liberal democracy is so much less assured than it was just a decade ago.

Short version: life is complicated and if you think one “ism” or perspective really explains almost everything and you find yourself placing almost everything into simple binaries… you are almost surely wrong (hmmm, unless that’s too binary of me).

This is what cancellation amok looks like

What recently happened at MIT with a disinvited/”canceled” speaker is truly appalling.  Yashca Mounk argues that this case is “different” but what I find concerning is that it’s not quite “different” enough.  Somehow we’ve reached the point where being against the woke campus consensus on DEI is, in and of itself, cancelable, even though the woke consensus on campus is far from a majority American political opinion.  Mounk:

Dorian abbot is a geophysicist at the University of Chicago. In recognition of his research on climate change, MIT invited him to deliver the John Carlson Lecture, which takes place every year at a large venue in the Boston area and is meant to “communicate exciting new results in climate science to the general public.”

But there is more to this story than meets the eye. For although most outlets have covered Abbot’s disinvitation as but the latest example of an illiberal culture on campus, it is qualitatively different from other recent instances in which invitations have been rescinded—and suggests that the scope of censorship is continuing to morph and expand.

Is abbot a climate-change denier? Or has he committed some terrible crime? No, he simply expressed his views about the way universities should admit students and hire faculty in the pages of a national magazine.

Back in August, Abbot and a colleague criticized affirmative action and other ways to give candidates for admission or employment a leg up on the basis of their ethnic or racial identity in Newsweek. In their place, Abbot advocated what he calls a Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) framework in which applicants would be “treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone.” This, Abbot emphasized, would also entail “an end to legacy and athletic admission advantages, which significantly favor white applicants.”

There are rational grounds for criticizing Abbot. In the conclusion to his piece, for example, he made an ill-advised comparison with 1930s Germany:

Ninety years ago Germany had the best universities in the world. Then an ideological regime obsessed with race came to power and drove many of the best scholars out, gutting the faculties and leading to sustained decay that German universities never fully recovered from. We should view this as a warning of the consequences of viewing group membership as more important than merit, and correct our course before it is too late.

Abbot seemingly meant to highlight the dangers of thinking about individuals primarily in terms of their ethnic identity. But any comparison between today’s practices on American college campuses and the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime is facile and incendiary.

Even so, it is patently absurd to cancel a lecture on climate change because of Abbot’s article in Newsweek. If every cringeworthy analogy to the Third Reich were grounds for canceling talks, hundreds of professors—and thousands of op-ed columnists—would no longer be welcome on campus.

Meanwhile, Abbot’s beliefs about affirmative action, right or wrong, are similar to those held by the majority of the American population. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, for example, 74 percent of Americans believe that, in making hiring decisions, companies and organizations should “only take qualifications into account, even if it results in less diversity”; just 24 percent agreed that they should “also take race and ethnicity into account in order to increase diversity.” Similarly, in a 2020 referendum on affirmative action, 57 percent of voters in California—a very liberal state that also happens to be majority minority—voted to uphold a ban on the practice.

And, yet, here we are.  The idea that somebody should not be able to speak on an area of expertise in their field simply because they think universities should not have affirmative action is nuts.  I happen to think there’s still a place for affirmative action in universities, but to think that arguing otherwise is beyond the pale is just completely inimical to a meaningful culture of free speech and free expression.  And damn is it concerning to see that kind of anti free speech view take hold in what should be bastions of free speech. 

We shouldn’t have to sneak CO2 monitors into schools!

Schools should absolutely positively be monitoring air quality in their classrooms.  It should not be on concerned and conscientious parents to have their kids smuggle in monitors.  Even if schools think its too expensive to monitor every classroom all the time, they can invest in just a few monitors and get a general sense and check for problem areas.  

Anyway, it was pretty cool to just open a story about this on the front of the NYT yesterday and discover that the parent they had spoke to as an example was Jeremy Chrysler, who I’ve made friends with on twitter due to very similar interests in air quality, mask quality, and rapid testing (and center-left politics to boot).  He had a great article on the history of getting air and disease transmission a while ago.  Anyway

When Lizzie Rothwell, an architect in Philadelphia, sent her son to third grade this fall, she stocked his blue L.L. Bean backpack with pencils, wide-ruled paper — and a portable carbon dioxide monitor.

The device gave her a quick way to assess how much fresh air was flowing through the school. Low levels of CO2 would indicate that it was well-ventilated, reducing her son’s odds of catching the coronavirus.

But she quickly discovered that during lunch, CO2 levels in the cafeteria rose to nearly double those recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She shared what she’d learned with the principal and asked if students could eat outside instead.

“He expressed surprise that I had any data at all,” she said.

Ms. Rothwell is one of a growing number of parents who are sneaking CO2 monitors into schools in a clandestine effort to make sure their children’s classrooms are safe.Aranet, which makes a monitor popular with parents, says orders have doubled since the new school year began…

Some parents have gotten results. When Jeremy Chrysler, of Conway, Ark., sent a monitor in with his 13-year-old daughter, this fall, the CO2 readings were a sky-high 4,000 p.p.m.

He brought his findings to district officials, who discovered that two components of the school’s HVAC system were not working properly. After the units were fixed, CO2 levels plummeted.

“What my measurements showed was, hey, measuring CO2 can identify problems and sometimes those problems are easy to fix,” he said…

“There are some success stories,” said Kimberly Prather, an atmospheric chemist at the University of California, San Diego. “Unfortunately I’ve heard more parents rejected.”

After Shanon Kerr, of Waterloo, Canada, found high CO2 levels in some of her daughter’s school spaces, she asked district officials to monitor indoor air quality throughout the building, even offering up her own CO2 monitor. “They’ve been very dismissive,” she said.

In an email to The Times, Loretta Notten, director of education of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, said that follow-up testing in the classrooms Ms. Kerr identified revealed that carbon dioxide levels “were within acceptable parameters.”

Air quality testing is done on an as-needed basis, she said: “The Board does not intend on performing ongoing monitoring of carbon dioxide.”

(Ms. Kerr has also run into resistance closer to home. Her daughter no longer wants to take the monitor to school. “I’ve been bribing her with KitKat chocolate bars but it’s not working anymore,” she said.)

Graham Freeman, the father of two boys in Santa Cruz, Calif., said his request to send CO2 monitors to school with his sons was denied.

I got my daughter to take my monitor to class last spring, but she’s refused so far this year– again, schools should be responsible for this! (Hopefully ES and LG will see to it that I get Kingswood Elementary readings).  

Mr. Chrysler, whose CO2 readings prompted his Arkansas district to repair its HVAC system, is now lobbying officials to buy air quality monitors for every classroom in the district.

Pointing to Belgium, which has mandated CO2 monitors in restaurants, gyms and other buildings, Dr. Jimenez said he would like all public indoor spaces to provide permanent real-time displays of the carbon dioxide levels: “This is something that we should do permanently in schools but also in all places where we share air.”

Surely, that school in Arkansas is not the only one that’s had dangerously high CO2.  It should not have to depend upon the actions of a single parent.  And tight budgets or not, every school can surely afford at least a handful of monitors.  We can and should do so much better on this.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) It’s a long essay, but, really nobody anybody on the politics and policy of criminal justice than John Pfaff, “Can Criminal Justice Reform Survive a Wave of Violent Crime? An uptick in homicides across the country is getting blamed on reforms. That argument gets the data all wrong.”

The uptick in murders is not unique to New York, nor is the attempt to exploit it to undermine reforms. Even as the pandemic lockdown helped push down many crimes, last year saw an unprecedented spike in homicides nationwide, likely more than twice the largest previous one-year rise. And given the retaliatory nature of lethal violence and the ongoing disruption from the pandemic, we should expect homicides to remain high in 2021 as well. One study in Chicago, for example, found evidence that cycles of retaliation and counterretaliation meant that a single shooting was often the root cause of three, or sometimes 60, or once almost 500 subsequent shootings over the next few years.

How to stop this wave of violence is thus one of the most important policy questions for 2021, but asking it has rarely felt more fraught. The surge in homicide comes at a moment when conventional responses to crime face more intense criticism than any time since the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Reformers and activists across the country have spent the past decade campaigning to reduce our reliance on prisons, jail, probation, and even the police. The changes we’ve seen may be less dramatic than what many advocates have hoped for, and certainly less dramatic than how many of their detractors describe them, but they both reflect and have nurtured a growing shift in popular views on crime control. Just observe how quickly calls to “defund” the police entered mainstream debates in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Considering this trend, it’s unsurprising that those who favor the status quo are trying to use the rise in homicides as grist for rolling back policies they dislike. Some residents in San Francisco, for example, are urging the recall of the city’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, even though the city’s homicide rate barely budged and remains lower than that of almost any year but 2019. And the police union in Philadelphia had invoked the rise in homicides to try to unseat that city’s progressive prosecutor, Larry Krasner—although that effort fell flat, as Krasner easily won the Democratic primary in May (a victory that all but ensures his reelection in solidly Democratic Philadelphia).

To be clear, the defenders of the status quo are mistaken. Not only have reforms been less extreme than they often claim, but the rise in homicides has occurred more or less equally in places that adopted reforms and those that rejected them. And given how few places have significantly altered their approach to crime, the homicide spike by and large took place on the status quo’s watch. Those who want policy to remain more punitive are thus arguing for more of what has mostly failed us this past year, and they are trying to blame reforms that appear to be uncorrelated with the surge.

What’s more, to argue in favor of the status quo is to ignore that the prescribed cure—more of what we have been doing for decades now—is almost certainly not the best cure, and is quite likely not even a good cure. Our criminal legal system produces tremendous harm and immiseration, even death, not just for defendants but for their families and communities. In a damning indictment of our fundamental indifference to the lives of the millions who come in contact with this system, we have no idea what the criminal legal system’s actual humanitarian costs are, but they are surely staggering. Reinforcing the status quo will provide less safety than its proponents hope, while perpetuating if not magnifying the harms the throngs of protesters are protesting against.

Nonetheless, the spike in homicides will surely alter the politics of reform, now and in the years ahead. In an increasingly hostile political environment, how can reformers preserve and even still build on the gains that have been made? And how should they strategically retreat at the times it becomes politically inevitable?

2) I was optimistic on molnupiravir (formerly EIDD 2801) for a long time.  Looks like the optimism has paid off, just much later than I thought it would.

An investigational antiviral pill reduced the chances that patients newly diagnosed with Covid-19 would be hospitalized by about 50%, a finding that could give doctors a desperately needed new way to treat the sick, the drug maker Merck announced Friday.

A five-day course of molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, reduced both hospitalization and death compared to a placebo. In the placebo group, 53 patients, or 14.1%, were hospitalized or died. For those who received the drug, 28, or 7.3%, were hospitalized or died.

A simple oral medication to help treat Covid-19 has been an elusive goal since the start of the pandemic. Other drugs, including Gilead’s remdesivir, have also been shown to reduce hospitalizations if given early in the course of disease, but must be given intravenously.

“If this pans out, it will change the landscape,” said Andy Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah. “There’s still a lot we need to know. What does the side effect profile look like? Do we know how to dose it in populations that are different such as children and the obese? But as a top-line result, this is definitely exciting.”

If approved, molnupiravir could have a dramatic impact on efforts to fight the pandemic. Merck and Ridgeback said they would seek an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration “as soon as possible” and would submit it to regulatory agencies worldwide.

3) This is great from indoor air quality expert, Joseph Allen, “Employers Have Been Offering the Wrong Office Amenities: Workplaces need fresh air, not foosball tables and coffee bars.”  

Before you read any further, take a long, slow, deep breath. Congratulations! If you’re sitting in a typical American home, office building, or school, about 3 percent of the air you breathed in recently came out of the lungs of the people in the room with you right now.

Breathing in one another’s air is kind of nasty when you think about it. We would never drink from the same cup of water that every one of our co-workers had just sipped out of. But something very similar happens all day long in our offices, schools, homes, buses, and even airplanes. All day, every day, we sit around breathing in what other people expel from their lungs. It’s the respiratory equivalent of drinking everyone else’s backwash.

The gross-out factor notwithstanding, inhaling someone else’s breath is not a big deal if they’re not sick. But if they’re actively infectious, they’re constantly releasing viruses packaged in small respiratory aerosols that form deep in the lungs…

Throughout the 21st century, employers and commercial-real-estate developers have tried to make workplaces more attractive by adding showy amenities, such as gyms, coffee bars, and beanbag chairs, that supposedly foster creativity and cooperation and keep younger workers happy. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the interior designers and HR professionals who decide how offices look paid little attention to ventilation—an invisible variable that determines whether people can think well at their desk and whether coughs, colds, and other respiratory ills will circulate within a company.

But as companies and their employees ponder what the post-pandemic office will be like, the cool new amenity won’t be a foosball table. It’ll be something we should have had all along—clean air…

Our lack of attention to the air we breathe indoors looks reckless in hindsight. Humanity is now an indoor species. Americans spend 90 percent of our lives indoors. You take 6,000 breaths in your workplace on an average day. Over the past 100 years, humans have made astonishing gains in public health by focusing on the basics of clean water, food safety, and sanitation. But as dozens of my scientific colleagues around the world and I argued recently in the journal Science, governments have not similarly prioritized cleaning up the air that most people breathe most of the time. “In the 21st century,” the article urged, “we need to establish the foundations to ensure the air in our buildings is clean … just as we expect for the water coming out of our taps.”

As a basic toxicology rule asserts, the dose makes the poison. By reducing the dose of coronavirus that people inhaled, higher levels of ventilation and filtration could have kept a lot of indoor spread of COVID-19 at bay. Yet with the exception of hospitals, most buildings were not designed to limit the spread of infectious diseases. Instead, architects in recent decades have designed buildings, and their owners have operated them, with the goal of making them airtight. This mindset has helped with energy efficiency, but it has the distinct downside of concentrating indoor pollutants—not only those from our lungs but also the chemicals emanating from chairs, carpets, cleaning agents, and personal-care products. As a result, we were living and working in a sick-building era even before the coronavirus arrived.

Alas, based on evidence from the past year, I’m far from confident that many workplaces will actually take this seriously.

4) Ruy Teixeira, “The Democrats’ Hispanic Voter Problem: More Evidence from the 2020 Pew Validated Voter Survey”

 Here are some of the things I found from looking at the Hispanic validated voter data.

1. Trump’s support was higher among Hispanic working class (noncollege) voters than among the college-educated. Biden carried Hispanic college voters by a whopping 39 points (69-30) compared to just 14 points (55-41) among the Hispanic working class.

2. Hispanic Trump voters were 81 percent working class and just 19 percent college-educated.

3. Within the working class, the less education Hispanic voters had, the more they supported Trump. Those with some college gave Trump 39 percent of their vote, high school graduates gave him 42 percent and high school dropouts gave him 53 percent.

4. Pew breaks income into three broad groups: lower income, middle income and upper income. Trump’s worst group by far here was upper income Hispanics where he received just 28 percent of the vote. But he got 41 percent support among middle income Hispanics and 40 percent support among lower income Hispanics.

5. Just under a third of Hispanic voters described themselves as conservative. These voters supported Trump by a lopsided 73-26.

6. Over half of Hispanic voters (53 percent) were very or somewhat confident in Trump’s ability to make good decisions about economic policy. Those who were very confident supported Trump 77-18; those who were somewhat confident supported him 56-40.

7. Trump support was highest among young Hispanic voters. Those under 30 gave him 41 percent support, those in the 30-49 year old age group gave him 38 percent; those 50-64 gave him 37 percent and those 65 and over the least at 35 percent.

What lies behind these unsatisfying results for the Democrats? One possibility, as I have previously argued, is that Democrats fundamentally misunderstood the nature of this voter group and what they really care about. Hispanics were lumped in with “people of color” and were assumed to embrace the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. The reality of the Hispanic population is that they are, broadly speaking, an overwhelmingly working class, economically progressive, socially moderate constituency that cares above all, about jobs, the economy and health care…

An important thing to remember about the Hispanic population is that they are heavily oriented toward upward mobility and see themselves as being able to benefit from available opportunities to attain that. Three-fifths of Latinos in the national exit poll said they believed life would be better for the next generation of Americans. In the VSG data, these voters agreed, by 9 points, that racial minorities have mostly fair opportunities to advance in America, by 11 points agreed that America is a fair society where everyone has a chance to get ahead and by 20 points agreed that “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

They are also patriotic. By well over 3:1, Hispanics in the VSG survey said they would rather be a citizen of the United States than any other country in the world and by 35 points said they were proud of the way American democracy works. Clearly, this constituency does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy.

It is probable that Democrats will continue to have problems with this voter group until they base their appeals to this group on what these voters care about the most rather than what Democrats believe they should care about.

5) Enjoyed this essay on two new books about America’s founding:

There was nothing inevitable about the creation of the United States — the United States, singular, that is, a continental nation-state with a central government, rather than these United States, plural, a collection of small, quarrelsome quasi republics connected by a weak treaty of friendship. In fact, the path to the nation as we know it, with a powerful executive, a representative legislature and an independent judiciary, was highly implausible. For the 13 states at the time of the Revolution — mini-nations that had their own currencies, their own foreign policies, their own navies — the quest for independence was not just freedom from an imperial Britain, but independence from one another. America could have very easily looked like a bigger, more dysfunctional European Union.

In these two masterly works, the great historians of America’s Revolutionary era, Gordon S. Wood and Joseph J. Ellis, show how this experiment in republican self-government almost didn’t happen. As Ellis writes in “The Cause,” there was always far more emphasis on pluribus than unum, on the many rather than the one. The original demand of The Cause (the historical term for the Revolutionary War) was actually conservative: Give us our due rights under British law. Nationhood was not the goal. People saw themselves as Virginians, Rhode Islanders, New Yorkers — not Americans. How the many became a fractious one is the story these two books tell. They both suggest that it was only the creation of the Constitution in 1787 that made these disparate citizens into Americans.

But Ellis and Wood are not triumphalist about the Constitution. They each underscore that the signers failed to deal with some awfully big problems. They both assert that the deepest flaw was the failure to purge the new nation of the evil of slavery, and that error, more than any other, betrayed the values on which America was founded. Each of them writes that many of the same difficult questions that almost prevented the Union from coming into being 234 years ago — bondage versus emancipation, big government versus small, city versus country, individualism versus communitarianism — still divide us today. Back then, the anti-Federalists protested that creating a strong national government was just substituting one form of tyranny for another. Whether they know it or not, the governors who now reject federal mask mandates are echoing the anti-Federalists of the 1780s.

6) A J&J 2nd dose months later has a major impact on efficacy.  FDA is discussing J&J boosters next week.  I see one in my future.

7) Oh man this essay drove me nuts.  Shame on white scholars for wanting to study and have opinions on health disparities. “‘Health equity tourists’: How white scholars are colonizing research on health disparities.”  One can also imagine a world in which white scholars are criticized for devoting insufficient attention to health disparities.  And damn do I hate this use of “colonizing.”

8) So, this is nuts, the governor of WV is totally committed to coaching a HS basketball team and insists it doesn’t impact his ability to do his actual job.  

LEWISBURG, W.Va. — The governor was livid.

“Other than GOD above and my family, I place my duties as Governor above all else,” he thundered in a statement sent out on Tuesday evening. “All I do is work, and I love my work, and I love the people of West Virginia, especially the kids.”

But there were some, he went on, who had recently committed a “vile action,” one that was “manifestly arbitrary and capricious,” even forbidden by law.

His antagonists were three retirees who sit on the school board in Greenbrier County, 110 miles southeast of the state capital. In August, they had voted not to hire Gov. Jim Justice to coach the boys’ varsity basketball team at Greenbrier East High School.

“Does the hate of these Board members hurt?” the governor wrote. “Of course, it does.”

This blast of dudgeon over his authority to coach the boys’ basketball team in his spare time — he already coaches the girls’ team — was par for the course in Mr. Justice’s tenure as governor of West Virginia. A coal mining tycoon and the state’s richest person, Mr. Justice, whose two terms in office have been richly marbled with conflicts of interest, has generally bulldozed past various rules and obligations. He has been hounded by private companies, federal agencies and county governments for hundreds of millions in unpaid bills, and he was sued, successfully, for preferring to spend his nights at his home in Greenbrier rather than in the state capital, as the State Constitution mandates.

9) This strategy memo sounds about right, “Democrats: Let’s Face Reality: The Term ‘People of Color’ Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.”

10) Just life in America, “Their Baby Died in the Hospital. Then Came the $257,000 Bill.: A New York family had good health insurance. But the bills for their daughter’s care started showing up and kept coming.”

Last summer, Ms. Lane started receiving debt collection notices. The letters, sent by the health plan Cigna, said she owed the insurer over $257,000 for the bills it accidentally covered for Alexandra’s care after Ms. Lane switched health insurers.

Ms. Lane was flummoxed: It was Cigna that had received the initial bill for care and had paid Mount Sinai West. Now, Cigna was seeking the money it had overpaid the hospital by turning to the patient.

“For them, it’s just business, but for us it means constantly going through the trauma of reliving our daughter’s death,” said Clayton Lane, Alexandra’s father and Ms. Lane’s husband. “It means facing threats of financial ruin. It’s so unjust and infuriating.”

11) Enjoyed this sharply critical review of IDW favorites Weinstein and Heying, “
A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century review – self-help laced with pseudoscience”

till, if everything is an adaptation, there is a lot of advice to give. Some of it – offered in bullet points closing each chapter – is boilerplate (get more exercise; get more sleep); some is oddly specific (go barefoot more often); some is plain weird (don’t let markets get involved in music or comedy). Little of it appears to be based on actual research; the science is really, as the kids these days say, just a vibe.

Not that the authors do much better when they engage with studies. They make alarming pronouncements based on flimsy data, such as when they say that water fluoridation is “neurotoxic” to children based on one reference to a “pilot study”. They lazily repeat false information from other pop-science books, such as the “fact” that all known species sleep (some, including certain amphibians, don’t!). The final chapter, in which they embrace the bonkers “degrowth” movement, contains what might be the single stupidest paragraph on economics ever written (claiming, bizarrely, that the invention of more efficient versions of products such as fridges would bring the economy to its knees).

Above all, Heying and Weinstein are really annoying. Their seen-it-all, know-it-all attitude is grating from around page five, and becomes increasingly irksome as they pontificate their way through each chapter. If only you knew as much about evolution as they do, you would know how to organise society. You would know to “steer clear” of genetically modified food (the millions of lives saved by such food apparently don’t warrant a mention). You’d know not to have casual sex. You’d know not to look at your smartphone so much. And so on.

And they haven’t merely solved the central questions of biology. They are also, apparently, the best teachers imaginable. Without embarrassment, they quote a student describing their classroom as “an ancestral mode for which I was primed, but didn’t even know existed”. Their towering self-regard gives them the false belief that all their arguments – including the book’s premise, which is just a repackaging of 18th-century Burkean conservatism with a faux-Darwinian paint job – are staggeringly innovative.

12) Krugman, “Are Centrists in the Thrall of Right-Wing Propaganda?”

More surprising, at least to me, has been the self-destructive behavior of Democratic centrists — a term I prefer to “moderates,” because it’s hard to see what’s moderate about demanding that Biden abandon highly popular policies like taxing corporations and reducing drug prices. At this point it seems all too possible that a handful of recalcitrant Democrats will blow up the whole Biden agenda — and yes, it’s the centrists who are throwing a tantrum, while the party’s progressives are acting like adults.

So what’s motivating the sabotage squad? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that they have internalized decades of right-wing economic propaganda, that their gut reaction to any proposal to improve Americans’ lives is that it must be unworkable and unaffordable…

The point is that as far as I can tell, those troublesome Democratic centrists are blinded by an economic narrative that was deliberately created to block progress and justify vast inequality. So they imagine that the Biden agenda — which is a fairly modest effort to address our nation’s very real problems — is somehow irresponsible and a threat to the nation’s future.

I would urge them to reconsider their premises. Biden’s proposed spending isn’t irresponsible and wouldn’t hurt growth. On the contrary, it would be deeply irresponsible not to invest in people as well as concrete, and if you look at the evidence, rather than repeating right-wing dogma, you realize that Biden’s agenda is actually pro-growth.

13) Melina Wenner Moyer, “Is homework helpful or harmful?”

Plus, overall, the research suggests that homework in elementary school doesn’t do much good.

In middle school and high school, research does generally find a positive association between homework and achievement (though the effects can be hard to tease out; kids who do more homework might fare better because they might come from higher-income families, attend better schools, or are simply more motivated). But that is not the case in elementary school.

In what is by far the most comprehensive analysis of the research on homework, published in 2006, Harris Cooper, a neuroscientist and social psychologist at Duke, and his colleagues found no relationship between the amount of homework elementary school students did and their overall academic achievement. In 2019, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, average mathematics test scores were actually lower among fourth graders whose teachers assigned more than 30 minutes of math homework a day.

“There is a misconception that the more homework you give, the more rigorous the education,” said Cathy Vatterott, a professor of education at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and a former middle school teacher and principal…

Even if homework does teach kids to be conscientious, other activities achieve the same goal. “Washing the dishes will teach discipline,” says Barbara Stengel, an education professor emerita at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. “Making your bed in the morning will teach discipline.” My son developed resilience playing soccer (especially since his team usually lost); my daughter has learned self-control helping her dad make pancakes…

But maybe, after such a trying year, schools will recognize that the emotional health of their students should be priority — and that homework doesn’t provide much of a benefit. My second grader has had upwards of 40 minutes of homework some nights this fall — one afternoon walking home from the school bus, she burst into tears over how much she had — but I was relieved to hear her teacher tell us during their virtual Curriculum Night earlier this week that if homework causes our kids stress or frustration, we should skip it. We will absolutely do this when it feels warranted — and given what I know from the research, I will not second-guess my decision.

14) I used my first ever rapid test on Friday due to a sore throat (I’ve got a really modest cold, my first illness at all since the pandemic).  Feeling pretty confident in my negative (especially as I clearly got the cold from my PCR-negative son).  Good stuff on what rapid tests do and do not tell us.

15) Part of the evolution of cancer treatment is less reliance on chemotherapy, which sounds pretty great.  

16) Important interview with Rick Hasen.  Open this one in a new tab and read it. “What If 2020 Was Just a Rehearsal? American democracy is in the midst of a waking nightmare, says Rick Hasen. And Democrats aren’t taking it seriously enough.”

When we spoke 17 months ago, you outlined a “nightmare scenario” for the 2020 election: That the pandemic would disenfranchise huge numbers of Americans, voting processes would be overwhelmed by absentee ballots, Trump would declare victory based on early returns and then once the absentees were counted and Biden was the victor, he’d claim fraud. I get the sense that the nightmare now is much worse. How did 2020 alter the way that you think through all of this?

In Sept. 2020, I wrote a piece for Slate titled, “I’ve never been more scared about American democracy than I am right now.” A month ago, I was on CNN and said I was “scared shitless” — the anchor badgered me into saying those words on cable TV. But I’m even more frightened now than in those past months because of the revelations that continue to come to light about the concerted effort of Trump to try to alter the election outcome: Over 30 contacts with governors, state legislative officials, those who canvass the votes; pressuring governors, pressuring secretaries of state; having his lawyer pass out talking points to have Mike Pence declare Trump the winner even though he lost the election. I mean, this is not what we expect in a democracy.

In 2020, there was a massive shift to absentee balloting; Donald Trump did denigrate absentee balloting despite using it himself and despite having his own ballot harvested for the primary; he lost the election but claimed he actually won; he made hundreds of false statements calling the election results into question; he’s convinced millions of people that the election has been stolen from him, and he is continuing to not only push the lie that the election was stolen, but also to cause changes in both elected officials and election officials that will make it easier for him to potentially manipulate an election outcome unfairly next time. This is the danger of election subversion.
The reason I’m so scared is because you could look at 2020 as the nadir of American democratic processes, or you could look at it as a dress rehearsal. And I’m afraid that with all of these people being put in place… when you’ve got Josh Mandel in the Senate [from Ohio] and not Rob Portman, I’m really worried.

17) This from Rory Smith on the worship of money in soccer was so good.

The P.I.F. has not bought Newcastle because it loves soccer, or England’s northeast, or the beach at Tynemouth or the leafy streets of Gosforth or the grand Georgian facades of Gray Street.

It has bought Newcastle to diversify its economy, to enmesh strategic allegiances in sport and culture, to rehabilitate its image, to make people think of Saudi Arabia and soccer before they think of Saudi Arabia and starving children in Yemen. The fact that it gets a free vanguard of vitriolic advocates on social media — just as Abu Dhabi has managed at Manchester City — is a bonus.

Newcastle United, and those fans, are being used, just as City is being used and just as P.S.G. is being used and Chelsea is being used, just as soccer as a whole is being used and, in the process, corrupted. And yes, those fans are complicit in it. But they are not the only ones to blame.

So, too, are the authorities that have allowed this to happen, time and time again: the Premier League, with the “ownership neutral” stance that it wears with such pride, and the Football Association and UEFA and FIFA and all the rest of them, the bodies that are supposed to protect and cherish the sport but have instead sold it off to the highest bidder.

And so, too, are the rest of us: the journalists and the commentators and the observers and the fans, everyone who has reveled in the conspicuous consumption of transfer deadline day, anyone who has ever taken the Deloitte Money League as a sign of the sport’s health, rather than a damning indictment of its venality, its naked, unashamed worship of money…

It is money that has distorted soccer to such an extent that all dreams but one are now dead. There is no hope of a team’s breaking through thanks to a particularly gifted crop of youngsters who emerge from its academy. There is precious little belief that an inspirational manager, with a keen eye for talent, will be enough to challenge the petroclubs for league titles and European trophies.

The only thing that can do that, the only dream that survives, is that your club will, somehow, one day wake up with more money than everyone else. That, in effect, is what happened to Newcastle on Thursday: the sudden, jolting realization that its wildest fantasy had come true; not just that its purgatory was over, but that its paradise had arrived.

It is easy to point at those fans and say that they are the problem — that it is their willingness to pay any price for success that means that yet another club that prides itself as a community institution is now in the hands of an owner who is willing to use it for selfish ends; that they are apparently ready to service the needs of the murderous regime that is seeking to deploy soccer to launder its image.

But they are not the problem; they are the consequence of the problem. They are the end point of an era and a culture obsessed with acquisition, that believes ambition can be measured only in millions of dollars, that cherishes those who spend and castigates those who do not, that has welcomed money, whatever its provenance, as an objective good, and never questioned, not once, what that money might want to do, what its purpose might be.

This is the answer. This is where that path leads — to a place where the only hope that fans have is money, where dreams are built on money, and where there is no such thing as a price too high to pay.

18) Can’t say I watch much NBA, but I’m sympathetic to this take, “How the 3-point line is breaking basketball”  Too much of a good thing is a not good thing.

19) Great NYT feature on the poll tax in Florida.  It really is unconscionable what’s going on there.  

Ms. Bolden is one of more than 700,000 people in Florida who are barred from voting because they can’t afford the financial obligations stemming from a prior felony conviction. “It’s like I’m not a citizen,” she said. “That’s what they’re saying.”

Earlier this year we asked Floridians whose voting rights had been denied because of a criminal conviction to sit for photographs, wearing a name tag that lists not their name but their outstanding debt — to the extent they can determine it. This number, which many people attempt to tackle in installments as low as $30 a month, represents how much it costs them to win back a fundamental constitutional right, and how little it costs the state to withhold that right and silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of its citizens. The number also echoes the inmate identification number that they were required to wear while behind bars — another mark of the loss of rights and freedoms that are not restored upon release.

This is the way it’s been in Florida for a century and a half, ever since the state’s Constitution was amended shortly after the Civil War to bar those convicted of a felony from voting. That ban, like similar ones in many other states, was the work of white politicians intent on keeping ballots, and thus political power, out of the hands of millions of Black people who had just been freed from slavery and made full citizens.

Even as other states began reversing their own bans in recent years, Florida remained a holdout — until 2018, when Floridians overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to nearly everyone with a criminal record, upon the completion of their sentence. (Those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense were excluded.)

Democratic and Republican voters alike approved the measure, which passed with nearly two-thirds support. Immediately, as many as 1.4 million people in the state became eligible to vote. It was the biggest expansion of voting rights in decades, anywhere in the country.

That should have been the end of it. But within a year, Florida’s Republican-led Legislature gutted the reform by passing a law defining a criminal sentence as complete only after the person sentenced has paid all legal financial obligations connected to it.

The state adds insult to injury by making it difficult, if not impossible, for many of these people, like Ms. Bolden, to figure out what they owe. There is no central database with those numbers, and counties vary in their record-keeping diligence. Some convictions are so old that there are no records to be located.

20) Great stuff from Dear Pandemic on Delta specific booster shots:

A: Variant specific boosters are currently being tested, but it’s not clear whether we need them just yet.

Here is a run-down of ongoing trials:

Pfizer/BioNTech has two Phase 2/3 trials ongoing, one with a booster designed to target the Beta variant (the one that emerged in South Africa in late 2020) and one that is designed to target the Delta variant (the now dominant variant).

Moderna is also testing boosters targeted against just Beta, just Delta, BOTH Beta and Delta, and one that targets the original SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as the Beta variant in Phase 2/3 trials. Interim findings showed that ALL boosters increased neutralizing antibodies against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as the Beta and Delta variants to levels that were equal to or greater than that observed 1 month after the original vaccine series. This trial is ongoing.

AstraZeneca is also carrying out Phase 2/3 trials testing a Beta variant-specific booster in those who were previously vaccinated (with the AstraZeneca vaccine or a mRNA vaccine) as well as unvaccinated adults. Unvaccinated adults will receive 2 doses of the Beta variant specific vaccine either 4 or 12 weeks apart or one dose of the original AstraZeneca vaccine and a second dose of the Beta variant specific vaccine 4 weeks later.

Results from all these trials are expected later this year.

But are variant specific boosters even necessary?

Across the board, antibody responses triggered by additional doses of the *original* vaccine formulations for currently approved COVID-19 vaccines have been reported to be very robust-including against the Delta variant. For this reason, booster doses of the original vaccines may be sufficient and variant specific boosters may not be needed.

Indeed, a booster dose of the original Pfizer vaccine was already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. for certain groups (see our post on this here.).

21) From the BBC, “Ivermectin: How false science created a Covid ‘miracle’ drug”

22) Damn, just the daily awfulness that continues to happen in our country is sometimes so depressing.  And for all my frustration with wokeness, lets not forget that ongoing, appalling racism is still a thing.  “Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge.”

23) Love this story, “The World’s Deadliest Bird Was Raised by People 18,000 Years Ago: Researchers studying ancient cassowary egg shells in New Guinea found signs that the sharp-taloned bird was being domesticated.”

The southern cassowary is often called the world’s most dangerous bird.

While shy and secretive in the forests of its native New Guinea and Northern Australia, it can be aggressive in captivity. In 2019, kicks from a captive cassowary mortally wounded a Florida man. They don’t take kindly to attempts to hunt them, either: In 1926, a cassowary attacked by an Australian teenager kicked him in the neck with its four-inch, velociraptor-like talons, slitting his throat.

Not a bird it’s advisable to spend too much time in close quarters with, in other words. But as early as 18,000 years ago, people in New Guinea may have reared cassowary chicks to near-adulthood — potentially the earliest known example of humans managing avian breeding.

“This is thousands of years before domestication of the chicken,” said Kristina Douglass, an archaeologist at Penn State University and lead author on the study, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The first people arrived on New Guinea at least 42,000 years ago. Those settlers found rain forests stalked by large, irritable, razor-footed cassowaries — and eventually worked out how to put them to use. During excavations of rock shelter sites in the island’s eastern highlands, Susan Bulmer, an archaeologist from New Zealand, collected artifacts and bird remains that ended up at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea. Among those remains were 1,019 fragments of cassowary eggshell, likely plucked from wild cassowary nests.

(The return of full) Quick hits (part I)

You’re regularly scheduled quick hits are back for your Saturday reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

1) Ruy Teixera, “There Just Aren’t Enough College-Educated Voters! You Can Ignore the Working Class If You Like, But That Would Be Very, Very Unwise”

Education polarization is increasing election on election in the United States. In 2012, the difference in Democratic support between college-educated and noncollege (working class) voters in the Presidential election was about 4 margin points (Catalist data, two party vote), with college voters being more favorable to the Democrats than noncollege voters. In 2016 that difference ballooned to 18 points. And in 2020, it went up again to 22 points.

Democrats seem remarkably relaxed about this polarization, despite liking to style themselves as the party for “working people”. One reason for this is the general perception that the college-educated population is growing while the working class is declining. True as far as it goes but the fact remains that noncollege voters far outnumber college voters. In the 2020 Catalist data, the tally was 63 percent noncollege/37 percent college. That means that any given shift among noncollege voters is significantly more consequential than a similarly-sized shift among college voters. This situation will continue for many election cycles, as the noncollege voter share is likely to decline only gradually.

Another reason for Democratic complacency is the firm belief that Democrats’ working class problem is solely confined to whites and that white working class voters are so racist/reactionary that it is a badge of honor to ignore them. This is highly questionable as a matter of political strategy and arithmetic, given that they are 44 percent of voters and a lot more than that in key swing states and districts.

But there is a deeper problem. The perception that nonwhite working class voters are a lock for the Democrats is no longer tenable. In the 2020 election, working class nonwhites moved sharply toward Trump by 12 margin points, despite Democratic messaging that focused relentlessly on Trump’s animus toward nonwhites. According to Pew, Trump actually got 41 percent of the Hispanic working class vote in 2016. Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 points off of their margin among nonwhite working class voters…

More broadly, as Matt Yglesias noted in a recent article documenting the growth and extent of education polarization:

[H]aving society sharply polarized around occupational categories and educational attainment is going to make it very difficult for us to function effectively as a country… [S]tark education polarization is really bad for Democrats’ prospects of winning a Senate majority….[M]athematically, Democrats cannot govern in the long term without increasing their appeal to less-educated voters…..For some people, of course, the current system works great. Culture wars and skewed maps help Republicans win elections, after which they cut taxes for rich people and multinational corporations while doing nothing to satisfy their base’s resentments — resentments that fuel the fire for the next campaign.

In short, Democrats should not be complacent about education polarization. College graduates are neither numerous nor reliable enough to underpin a dominant coalition. Their party’s fate—and that of the country’s prospects for effective governance—depends on reducing this polarization as much and as rapidly as possible.

2) This is a hell of a tale.  A little long, but pretty good and everybody’s talking about it.  As for “who is the bad art friend?”  Both of them, damnit.  1) Person #1 needs to get over herself for donating a kidney and accept that other people can take a kidney donation as the inspiration for their own fiction and person #2 needs to not actually plagiarize and then get out of it by claiming “racism!” 

3) Leonhardt on mandates:

Many vaccinations, few firings

We are now living through this cycle again. The deadline for many workplace mandates arrived this week, often requiring people to have received a Covid-19 vaccine or face being fired. In California, the deadline for health care workers is today.

As was the case with Washington’s army, the mandates are largely succeeding:

  • California’s policy has led thousands of previously unvaccinated medical workers to receive shots in recent weeks. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, about 800 additional workers have been vaccinated since the policy was announced last month, bringing the hospital’s vaccination rate to 97 percent, according to my colleague Shawn Hubler.
  • When New York State announced a mandate for hospital and nursing-home staff members in August, about 75 percent of them had received a shot. By Monday, the share had risen to 92 percent. The increase amounts to roughly 100,000 newly vaccinated people.
  • At Trinity Health, a hospital chain in 22 states, the increase has been similar — to 94 percent from 75 percent, The Times’s Reed Abelson reports. At Genesis HealthCare, which operates long-term-care facilities in 23 states, Covid cases fell by nearly 50 percent after nearly all staff members had finished receiving shots this summer.

Often, the number of people who ultimately refuse the vaccine is smaller than the number who first say they will. Some are persuaded by the information their employer gives them — about the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety, compared with the deadliness of Covid — and others decide they are not really willing to lose their jobs.

A North Carolina hospital system, Novant Health, last week suspended 375 workers, or about 1 percent of its work force, for being unvaccinated. By the end of the week, more than half of them — about 200 — received a shot and were reinstated.

Of course, 175 firings are not nothing. (A Washington Post headline trumpeted the story as “one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a vaccine mandate.”) United Airlines said this week that it would terminate even more employees — about 600, or less than 1 percent of its U.S. work force.

These firings can create hardship for the workers and short-term disruptions for their employers. But those disruptions tend to be fleeting, because the percentage of workers is tiny. “I’m not seeing any widespread disruptive effect,” Saad Omer of the Yale Institute for Global Health told The Times.

And the benefits — reducing the spread of a deadly virus and lowering the chances it will mutate dangerously in the future — are large.

4) Scott Lemieux summarizes the mandate success in Washington state:

Also nice to see a story that focuses on the big picture rather than unrepresentative outliers:

Gov. Jay Inslee’s order for 63,000 state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has drawn broad outcry from conservatives, large protests from state workers and legal challenges by employees who stand to lose their jobs under the mandate.

But if Washington’s biggest agencies are any indication, state employees are largely complying with the mandate that they be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.

The Washington Department of Corrections, (DOC) which oversees the state’s 12 prisons, has verified that 89% of workers have been vaccinated as of noon Thursday, according to a spokesperson. That’s a steep rise from a few weeks ago, when individual prisons reported vaccination rates among staffers as low as 39%.

The Department of Social and Health Services — Washington’s largest state agency, with nearly 16,000 employees — had verified 91% of its workers as vaccinated as of Thursday.

The state Department of Transportation meanwhile is at 93% verified vaccinated as of Friday morning, and the Washington State Patrol announced Wednesday that 93% of its workers had been vaccinated.

At the Department of Children, Youth and Families, that number stood at nearly 87% as of Wednesday — up from around 50% three weeks ago.

5) Sad story with a 20-year old local kid (unvaccinated, of course) who had a Covid death like none I’ve heard of– somehow is Covid led to a fatal sinus infection. that got into his brain.

6) I think one of the clearest indications of the degradation of our democracy is that we’re hardly even talking about it.  Adam Serwer a couple weeks ago, “Trump’s Plans for a Coup Are Now Public: Some of the plots to overturn the election happened in secret. But don’t forget the ones that unfolded in the open.’

7) I meant to write a post on this back in August(!) but it’s still really relevant.  Alec MacGillis, “What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge”

The video of George Floyd’s death was appalling to Joe Sullivan, who spent 38 years with the Philadelphia police department, much of it overseeing the unit that handles large demonstrations, eventually rising to deputy commissioner. He retired from the force in early 2020, after Outlaw’s arrival as commissioner. Sullivan could stomach watching the video of Floyd only once, but immediately texted his former colleagues on the force that they needed to see it. “My heart just sank,” he said. “I knew right then and there that bad things were going to happen, because it just was so egregious.”

The protests in Philadelphia commenced the following Saturday, with hundreds of people gathering at the art museum and City Hall. As the crowds swelled, someone set a police car on fire, and others started breaking into stores near Rittenhouse Square, carrying out clothes and electronics. Mayor Kenney ordered an 8 p.m. curfew; by day’s end, more than 100 people had been arrested and more than a dozen officers were injured.

Overnight, action shifted to the 52nd Street commercial strip in a heavily Black section of Southwest Philadelphia. Early on Sunday morning, four people looted a clothing store, and that afternoon and into Monday morning, others emptied a jewelry store and a pharmacy, set fire to a uniform shop and damaged a day care center, a tax-preparation business and a seller of hijabs, among others. It was just a couple of blocks from where Tyffani Rudolph had lived before she entered foster care. “It was heartbreaking to see, because it was my own people doing it,” she said. “It was upsetting because it’s like we’re destroying our own home.”

Sullivan, too, watched with dismay, aghast that things unraveled to the point where officers felt the need to take a step he had avoided in many years of crowd control: releasing tear gas. In Philadelphia, protests and looting continued for days, as did the use of tear gas. The police department redeployed officers from across the city to the protests and looting, leaving swaths of the city underpatrolled.

The shift in police focus was immediately discernible in the data: from late May to mid-June last year, police vehicle and pedestrian stops plunged by more than two-thirds. This was driven by more than staffing shifts, said Sullivan. Even officers still on their usual patrols were increasingly opting not to engage with the frequency they had before, which he attributed partly to the firing and arrest of two officers during the protest, one for pepper-spraying protesters on Interstate 676 and another for striking a Temple student in the head with his baton. (Charges were dropped in the first case, and the second officer was later acquitted.) “Officers are saying, ‘Man, if they’re getting locked up that easily, I don’t really want to get involved in this. I’ve got a mortgage to pay and tuition to pay,’” Sullivan said. “I’m sure that some officers have pulled back.”

It was a seeming replay of the dynamic observed in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, and in Chicago following the death of Laquan McDonald. In those cities, arrests dropped sharply in the weeks following protests over the deaths. What made this latest iteration so unusual was that it was playing out in cities across the country, not only in the city that had experienced this particular death at police hands, Minneapolis. Some combination of the extremity of the Floyd video and the release of emotions pent up during the lockdowns had elevated the protests into a national event, reproducing nationwide the dynamic seen in Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago several years earlier.

There is another side to the dynamic, many criminologists agree. In the wake of high-profile deaths at police hands and the often heavy-handed police response to the ensuing protests, community trust in the police plummets. This leaves many people even less likely to report a crime or offer a tip or testify, further depressing case closure rates that were already barely 50% for homicides in Philadelphia, and much lower for nonfatal shootings. “The murder of George Floyd really reactivated this deep sense of mistrust and cynicism in many disadvantaged communities,” Abt said. “And when that happens, there’s multiple bodies of evidence that suggests that when people don’t believe in the system, they don’t comply with it and they don’t use it.”

Instead, they resolve disputes themselves — sometimes with violence…

That could be seen as self-preservation, a response to a rise in shootings that in turn would beget more shootings, abetted by the loss of confidence in the police. “There certainly are young men and women carrying guns on the street because they don’t believe the police can protect them,” said Sullivan, the former deputy commissioner. “They’ve been led to believe that police won’t protect them, and they feel they need to carry guns. And that means more guns on the street.”

One could also consider it from the supply perspective: There had been a surge in legal gun sales nationwide early in the pandemic, amid all the apocalyptic talk of food and supply shortages. Some weapons were inevitably making their way onto the black market, via theft or resale. And, in Philadelphia and other cities, many people now had extra means to buy their own guns on the black market. For all the economic stresses caused by pandemic-related job losses, the $1,200-per-person stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits of the CARES Act had injected cash into many neighborhoods. An 18-year-old member of YEAH Philly, who also didn’t want his name used because of his open criminal cases, said, “Everybody had a lot of money, and everybody started buying guns. When everybody started buying guns, everybody wanted to be tough.” Johnson, the councilmember, found this dynamic worrisomely plausible: “The easy access to money, and some people who never had this kind of money before, is playing a role in purchasing guns.”

There’s also the other side of personal risk calculus: the odds of repercussions for carrying. After all, police were making fewer stops. And even before the pandemic and the Floyd protests, those getting caught with illegal firearms were facing fewer consequences. Krasner’s office had launched a diversion program for some defendants, under which those who had purchased firearms legally but lacked the permit to carry them could have their arrests expunged after probation. (The office argued that it was unfair that Philadelphians face more stringent gun rules than residents of other parts of Pennsylvania, as the state requires gun permits for city residents but not for those elsewhere.) And the overall conviction rate for illegal gun possession cases was falling, too. It dropped to 49% in 2019 from more than 60% in the four years before Krasner took office, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

8) Good stuff from Freddie DeBoer, “Anatomy of a Bad Idea: Affirmative Consent”

My primary objection to affirmative consent is pretty simple, really. I don’t, in fact, think that most cases of sexual assault are a matter of mixed signals and misunderstandings. I think most rapes are committed by rapists who don’t care if women say no and are perfectly happy to lie about whether they did. (In fact I remember in the 90s that the feminist position was to ardently assert that sexual assault is very rarely a matter of mixed signals.) And this is the immediate, existential problem for affirmative consent: a rapist can just as easily say “she said yes” as he previously would have said “she didn’t say no.” Right? So what problem is being solved here? It’s still a matter of disputing what communication took place in a world where we generally have no evidence about those communicative facts. The condition that vexes a lot of people is that it’s genuinely very difficult to establish the truth if the question at hand is not whether sexual acts took place but whether they were consensual. We live in a rule-bound society where due process has to exist, as unpopular as that sentiment has become in liberal circles, which means that we will frequently be locked in he said-she said scenarios. Affirmative consent is often represented as some sort of salve for this problem but it simply replaces one type of dispute about who said what with another.

And because of the nature of sex affirmative consent activists are forever introducing ambiguity into the picture when the entire purpose of affirmative consent was to reduce ambiguity. You say to people, “you know, it really doesn’t seem like two people who have been dating for five years are going to robotically be saying ‘may I touch your breast now?’ every time they have sex.” And they say “oh no no, of course not, you see there can be implied consent between partners.” Which, one, is no longer affirmative, and two, seems like a disturbing concession – of course people in long-term relationships can commit sexual assault against their partners, so isn’t the notion of such implied consent pretty problematic? Or they’ll say “well, consent can be affirmative without being explicit, it can be a touch, a look in the eye.” Again, this completely torpedoes the very clarity that affirmative consent was designed to achieve. That notion simply empowers rapists; “I read that consent doesn’t have to be explicitly voiced to be affirmative, and she had that look in her eye….”

A common defense of the standard, when this debate was raging, was to say that no one would make an allegation if no sexual assault had occurred, therefore it wouldn’t matter if most people usually don’t follow the standard. Which is bizarre enough on the face of it; what do we make of a policy whose defenders reassure us that it usually won’t be followed? But it’s especially perverse here because it presumes an entirely different standard than the one it’s advocating. If affirmative consent means anything at all, it must mean that someone who does not proactively give consent has been sexually assaulted regardless of whether they believe that they have been. Otherwise it makes no sense, nothing’s changed from the old standard. If what rules is not the victim’s actually expressed consent but their feeling towards whether or not they have consent, then there is no standard of affirmative consent at all! We’re right back where we started. It’s completely unworkable and would appears to solve no problems. It’s just a way to look busy…

The problem was always this: the affirmative consent standard required the participation of a large and diverse group of young adults who, like most of us, find constantly stopping to ask permission of every discrete “sexual act” dehumanizing and unnatural. They’ve told us so. This seems like an entirely predictable outcome, yet when this was being debated in around 2014 or 2015, criticism of the policy was muted. Why? Well, it’s obvious: to appear to be against a law represented as a victory for women’s sexual and bodily autonomy is very risky in the social media era, regardless of how ineffective and bizarre that law actually is and regardless of what you’re actually objecting to. Who, in the era of cancellation, is going to be particularly vocal about opposing laws that some people represent as an impediment to rape, even if everyone knows that they’re a fig leaf? Should this post escape from my regular readership onto Twitter, surely someone is going to claim that I’ve said that consent is dehumanizing and unnatural, and many more people will then amplify that claim without bothering to read what I actually wrote. Most writers are too emotionally delicate and professionally vulnerable for that, so everybody halfheartedly got on board the way they did with Defund the Police and other bad ideas.

So you get this huge policy change at hundreds of universities that does effectively nothing to stop sexual assault, infringes on the rights of the accused, and functions as a make-work program for overpaid “consultants” and liberal writers, all while most people quietly recognize that nobody follows it, and support for that empty policy is enforced with missionary zeal not by true believers but almost entirely by people who are too scared to ask whether any of it makes any sense. Perhaps creating an oppressive culture of fear of permanent ostracism and professional exile in liberal media was a bad idea.

9) Katherine Wu on the possible future evolution of Covid:

In the worst-case scenario, a variant could arise that would “make it like the vaccines did not exist,” Hanage said. But at the moment, “there is no such variant like that.” And it would probably be extraordinarily difficult for one to manifest. Even the most evasive variants we know of—the ones that have stumped certain antibodies—aren’t fully duping vaccinated bodies, which harbor a slew of other immunological guards. Hanage also pointed out that many people’s immune systems have been trained on different triggers—distinct brands of vaccines, unique variants, or some combination thereof. A new version of SARS-CoV-2 would find skirting all of those blockades at once to be nearly impossible.

Viruses aren’t infinitely mutable; sometimes, to keep themselves in contention, they must make sacrifices. Several experts told me they’re hopeful that the coronavirus might struggle to max out both transmission and immune evasion at once, requiring some sort of trade-off between the two. Some of the most powerful anti-coronavirus antibodies target SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein, which the virus uses to unlock and enter our cells. If the virus altered the protein to sidestep those antibodies, it might make itself less recognizable to the immune system. But it could also hurt its ability to infect us at all.

That might help explain why Beta has, so far, remained only a supporting character in the coronavirus’s ensemble cast. Another hint comes from Alpha, which didn’t seem to benefit all that much when it acquired an antibody-eluding mutation last spring, despite widespread fears. There is, in other words, probably a limit to just how bad SARS-CoV-2 can get: Even the most careful dog breeders cannot turn a bulldog into a bear…

Vaccines, however, aren’t just reactive. They are also proactive interventions that curb the number of times the virus gets to roll the evolutionary dice, cutting down on the number, intensity, and duration of infections, and the chance that they’ll pass to others. A more vaccinated world creates a more hostile global environment for SARS-CoV-2. Mutations will still occur, but fewer of them will be of consequence; lineages will still splinter, but they’ll do so less often. “The overriding effect of vaccination should be to reduce the rate of [virus] adaptation,” Cobey told me. Variants, after all, can’t adapt when they’re starved of hosts to infect.

Glimmers of early evidence suggest that this slowdown has already begun. One recent study, not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that SARS-CoV-2’s shape-shifting rate is lower in highly immunized countries, the expected outcome of a virus knocking up against new immune walls. Gupta, of the University of Cambridge, also hopes that we’ll someday cook up vaccines that can stamp out infection and transmission to an even greater degree—or ones that direct immune cells to hit the virus in spots that can’t mutate without hamstringing it. “That will force the virus into a corner,” he told me. We’d need those types of inoculations less often, too. “I don’t envision a constant cat-and-mouse game.”

10) Wildfires aren’t just destructive, expensive, and potentially deadly– they’re also really bad for human health. “Breathing wildfire smoke can affect the brain and sperm, as well as the lungs”

10) Terrific New Yorker article on Kathryn Harden and her research into the genetic bases of intelligence.  To their profound discredit, many liberals just cannot ideologically admit the obvious– of course there’s a genetic basis to intelligence.  

11) And good stuff from Drum on the matter:

But lots of things are impossible until suddenly they aren’t. Readers with very good memories may recall that a few years ago I wrote about Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS, pronounced jee-wass). These do the impossible: they allow genetic researchers to find single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced snips) that are associated with cognitive traits. At the time, I linked to a paper that claimed to have found SNPs that explained about 5% of the variance in intelligence. But work was ongoing, and the latest studies have gotten up to 20% or so. There’s no telling where this number will eventually end up, but it’s almost certain that within a few years we’ll get to one that’s high enough to prove to all but the most recalcitrant that genes do in fact have a considerable effect on human intelligence.

Why mention this? Because in its current issue the New Yorker has a profile of Kathryn Paige Harden, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who has written a new book, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality. Harden has been doing GWAS work of her own and her conclusion is unsurprising: both genes and environment play significant and intertwined roles in most cognitive traits. But there’s a depressing coda:

In my conversations with her colleagues, Harden’s overarching idea was almost universally described as both beautiful and hopelessly quixotic….James Tabery, a philosopher at the University of Utah, believes that underscoring genetic difference is just as likely to increase inequality as to reduce it. “It’s truly noble for Paige to make the case for why we might think of biological differences as similar to socially constructed differences, but you’re bumping into a great deal of historical, economic, political, and philosophical momentum—and it’s dangerous, no matter how noble her intentions are, because once the ideas are out there they’re going to get digested the way they’re going to get digested,” he said. “The playing board has been set for some time.”

“Hopelessly quixotic” is a fancy way of saying that no matter what the science says, Harden will never convince people on the left. As Harden puts it, the life of a behavior geneticist resembles “Groundhog Day.” Always the same arguments no matter what.

In fairness, the reason for lefty intolerance of cognitive genetics is obvious and righteous: It’s been violently misused for a very long time as a way of proving that certain kinds of people are inferior to others. As Tabery says above, the playing board has been set, and it’s almost certain that any new results, no matter how carefully explained, will be used as an excuse by some people to dismiss the possibility of ever improving the lives of the poor, the black, and the oppressed.

But as understandable as this is, it has a big problem: it looks as if we’re getting close to a genuine understanding of how genes affect cognitive traits—and the answer is not going be “they don’t.” At that point the left had better have an argument to make, because they’re certain to lose if they just bury their heads in the sand.

The funny thing is that I’ve never entirely understood lefty opposition to the notion that genes have a significant impact on cognitive abilities. My view has always been close to Harden’s: if genes do have an impact, then it makes the case for social safety nets incomparably stronger. It becomes impossible to argue, for example, that poor people are merely lazy if you can point to SNPs that have a clear association with poverty. At that point, it’s provably the case that being poor is mostly a matter of bad genetic luck. So what argument is left for leaving anyone in poverty?

Beyond that, as Harden points out, if you know the genetic foundations for a particular trait then it’s easier to disentangle its genetic and environmental causes. This makes it easier to accurately identify the environmental causes, which in turn makes it more likely that you can construct social interventions that actually work. In other words, knowledge of genetics is a key part of the liberal project of doing everything we can to improve lives via social programs that are truly effective.

But most people don’t see it that way. And beneath it all lurks the deep fear that someone doing GWAS research is eventually going to find SNPs associated with both race and intelligence. I continue to think that’s unlikely in anything more than a trivial sense, but I may be wrong. And if I am, what are we going to do?

12) And how about this for some interesting social science research, “Cognitive ability is a powerful predictor of political tolerance”



Despite the broad appeal of abstract notions of political tolerance, people vary in the degree to which they support the political rights of groups they dislike. Prior research highlighted the relevance of individual differences in the cognitive domain, claiming the application of general tolerance ideals to specific situations is a cognitively demanding task. Curiously, this work has overwhelmingly focused on differences in cognitive style, largely neglecting differences in cognitive ability, despite compelling conceptual linkages. We remedy this shortcoming.


We explore diverse predictors of tolerance using survey data in two large samples from Denmark (N = 805) and the United States (N = 1,603).


Cognitive ability was the single strongest predictor of political tolerance, with larger effects than education, openness to experience, ideology, and threat. The cognitively demanding nature of tolerance judgments was further supported by results showing cognitive ability predicted tolerance best when extending such tolerance was hardest. Additional small-sample panel results demonstrated substantial 4-year stability of political tolerance, informing future work on the origins of political tolerance.


Our observation of a potent role for cognitive ability in tolerance supports cognitively oriented accounts of tolerance judgments and highlights the need for further exploration of cognitive ability within the political domain.

13) This was quite an interesting story, “One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia: Ksenia Coffman’s fellow editors have called her a vandal and a McCarthyist. She just wants them to stop glorifying fascists—and start citing better sources.”

14) Apparently library e-books are a massive rip-off (of us taxpayers who fund libraries).  When it comes to your library, you really should stick with the physical books if you can.  New Yorker:

The sudden shift to e-books had enormous practical and financial implications, not only for OverDrive but for public libraries across the country. Libraries can buy print books in bulk from any seller that they choose, and, thanks to a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine, they have the right to lend those books to any number of readers free of charge. But the first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content. For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries. These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,” Michelle Jeske, who oversees Denver’s public-library system, told me. Digital content gives publishers more power over prices, because it allows them to treat libraries differently than they treat other kinds of buyers. Last year, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from twenty per cent the year before.

There are a handful of popular e-book venders, including Bibliotheca, Hoopla, Axis 360, and the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America. But OverDrive is the largest. It is the company behind the popular app Libby, which, as the Apple App Store puts it, “lets you log in to your local library to access ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines, all for the reasonable price of free.” The vast majority of OverDrive’s earnings come from markups on the digital content that it licenses to libraries and schools, which is to say that these earnings come largely from American taxes. As libraries and schools have transitioned to e-books, the company has skyrocketed in value. Rakuten, the maker of the Kobo e-reader, bought OverDrive for more than four hundred million dollars, in 2015. Last year, it sold the company to K.K.R., the private-equity firm made famous by the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate.” The details of the sale were not made public, but Rakuten reported a profit of “about $365.6 million.”…

To illustrate the economics of e-book lending, the N.Y.P.L. sent me its January, 2021, figures for “A Promised Land,” the memoir by Barack Obama that had been published a few months earlier by Penguin Random House. At that point, the library system had purchased three hundred and ten perpetual audiobook licenses at ninety-five dollars each, for a total of $29,450, and had bought six hundred and thirty-nine one- and two-year licenses for the e-book, for a total of $22,512. Taken together, these digital rights cost about as much as three thousand copies of the consumer e-book, which sells for about eighteen dollars per copy. As of August, 2021, the library has spent less than ten thousand dollars on two hundred and twenty-six copies of the hardcover edition, which has a list price of forty-five dollars but sells for $23.23 on Amazon. A few thousand people had checked out digital copies in the book’s first three months, and thousands more were on the waiting list. (Several librarians told me that they monitor hold requests, including for books that have not yet been released, to decide how many licenses to acquire.)

The high prices of e-book rights could become untenable for libraries in the long run, according to several librarians and advocates I spoke to—libraries, venders, and publishers will probably need to negotiate a new way forward. “It’s not a good system,” Inouye said. “There needs to be some kind of change in the law, to reinstate public rights that we have for analog materials.” Maria Bustillos, a founding editor of the publishing coöperative Brick House, argued recently in The Nation that libraries should pay just once for each copy of an e-book. “The point of a library is to preserve, and in order to preserve, a library must own,” Bustillos wrote. When I asked Potash about libraries and their growing digital budgets, he argued that “digital will always be better value,” but he acknowledged that, if current trends continue, “Yes, there is a challenge.”

15) Highlights from a Barred Owl nestcam.  “Who cooks for you?”

16) Very good stuff from Yglesias on homelessness and it’s a public post, so read it. “Homelessness is about housing, not addiction or mental health”

17) It’s crazy that there’s so much evidence on how to best teach reading (phonics!) that so many places aren’t following.  Drum:

John McWhorter says we should quit arguing about how to teach reading and just accept that we already know perfectly well how to do it:

In a word, phonics….Phonics works better for more children. Project Follow Through, a huge investigation in the late 1960s led by education scholar Siegfried Englemann, taught 75,000 children via the phonics-based Direct Instruction method from kindergarten through third grade at 10 sites nationwide. The results were polio-vaccine-level dramatic. At all 10 sites, 4-year-olds were reading like 8-year-olds, for example.

….However, there is a persistent disconnect between the world of reading science and the world of people teaching children to read. Only 15 percent of programs training elementary-school teachers include actual instruction on how to teach children to read. There remain people who favor the whole word method, or a combination of whole word and phonics, or even no particular “method” at all.

There’s a wealth of research that confirms this, but unfortunately reading instruction has become part of the culture wars, with conservatives taking the side of phonics while university education departments tend to favor other methods.

This is unfortunate. Phonics works, and to the extent that you can invent add-ons that are potentially a little bit better it’s really not worth the effort. DI-based phonics instruction is so good that we’d be a lot better off simply making it universal since it works well with both poor and affluent children. In addition:

There is a racial angle to this….We have known how to teach Black children, including poor ones, how to read since the Johnson administration: the Direct Instruction method of phonics. In this case, Black children don’t need special materials; districts need incur no extra expenses in purchasing such things. I consider getting Direct Instruction to every Black child in the country a key plank of three in turning the corner on race in America (the other two are ending the War on Drugs and sharply increasing funding and cultural support to vocational education).

Liberals should get on this train. Stop resisting just because conservatives have been pushing this for decades. In this case, they’re right.

18) What the heck, one more on IQ (sometimes, I go down rabbit holes), “Complicated links between IQ and prejudiced views”

There’s a long-standing and somewhat uncomfortable finding in psychology: that low IQ, conservative social beliefs and prejudice — including anti-gay attitudes and racism — are all linked. Many studies have found this relationship — so much so that a 2015 meta-analysis of the research suggested that researchers who conduct studies of people’s ideology and prejudice should take participants’ cognitive ability into account.

New research, though, suggests that there’s more to the story. When the definition of prejudice is expanded beyond its usual meaning — that is, holding negative attitudes toward historically powerless minority groups — it turns out that people all along the IQ spectrum show prejudiced attitudes.

In other words, intelligence doesn’t determine if you’re prejudiced, but rather the target of that prejudice, the study found. Both the smart and the dumb have biases, but those biases are toward different groups of people, according to the new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

19) And the limits of robot intelligence, “Why Robots Can’t Sew Your T-Shirt: Machines can print textiles, cut fabric, and fold clothes. But it’s hard to train them to sew as fast and precisely as humans.”

The length of time it has taken to get to this point isn’t surprising. Machines have proved adept at many steps in making clothes, from printing textiles to cutting fabric and folding and packaging finished garments.

SoftWear’s robots overcame those hurdles. They can make a T-shirt. But making them as cheaply as human workers do in places like China or Guatemala, where workers earn a fraction of what they might make in the US, will be a challenge, says Sheng Lu, a professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware.

20) Interesting, “Alcohol Is the Breast Cancer Risk No One Wants to Talk About”

According to a 2020 analysis of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, only about one in four women ages 15 to 44 knows that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer. Priscilla Martinez, who is leading the Drink Less campaign, would like to change that. “My goal was to prevent a young woman of today who uses alcohol, like many women do, from finding out in 20 years that she has breast cancer and wondering why,” says Martinez, a public health researcher who typically studies racial and ethnic health disparities related to alcohol at the Alcohol Research Group, a nonprofit based in Emeryville, California. “To me, it’s also an equity issue. Society has this information about a potential consequence of this behavior, and the women at risk don’t know about it.”

In a 2021 paper published in the journal The Lancet Oncology, researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, calculated a “global burden of cancer in 2020 attributable to alcohol consumption” based on prior research on alcohol-linked cancer risk, per capita alcohol consumption, and country-specific data on cancer cases. By their estimate, 14,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the US in 2020 could be attributed to prior drinking.

Research shows that overall cancer risk rises with heavier drinking, even for women who don’t drink every day. Binge drinking—four or more drinks at one sitting—is, in itself, associated with higher breast cancer risk.

University of Wisconsin oncologist Noelle LoConte has long felt that the link doesn’t get enough attention—even among oncologists. She is the lead author of a 2017 statement on alcohol and cancer from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which calls on these specialists to take the lead in addressing “excessive exposure to alcohol” through education, advocating for policy changes, and research.

Alcohol raises the risk of head, neck, esophageal, liver, and colorectal cancers, in addition to breast cancer, likely due to the way it is metabolized, the statement explains. Ethanol undergoes a biochemical reaction that produces acetaldehyde, which is then broken down by another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase and excreted from the body. Some people, particularly those of East Asian descent, have a less active form of the enzyme, which allows the acetaldehyde—a probable human carcinogen—to circulate longer in the body, potentially putting them at greater risk of cancer. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA, causing changes that can lead to cancer.

Quick hits (mini edition)

Busy weekend.  Sorry, better a few than nothing.

1) Good stuff on expertise:

This is just one chapter in a larger story. At many points in the war, the coalition had access to the insights of people who had graduated from the world’s best universities and brought highly specialized knowledge to issues (state building, counterterrorism) that the United States was facing in Afghanistan. The last president of the American-backed government, Ashraf Ghani, has a Ph.D. from Columbia and was even a co-author of a book titled “Fixing Failed States.” But for all their credentials, they were not able to stop a swift Taliban takeover of the country.

What Afghanistan shows is that we need a new definition of expertise, one that relies more on track records and healthy cognitive habits and less on credentials and the narrow forms of knowledge that are too often rewarded. In an era of populism and declining trust in institutions, such a project is necessary to put expertise on a stronger footing.

It’s true that many experts also opposed the Afghanistan war and thought that the United States was seeking unrealistic goals. But individuals with the most subject-matter expertise often tended to get things the most wrong. This included generals with experience in counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as many think tank analysts with the most focus and interest in those conflicts.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Philip Tetlock, a psychologist, has famously shown that subject-matter experts are no better at accurately forecasting geopolitical events relevant to their field than those with training in different areas. Similarly, in a different study, the intelligence community, with access to classified information, proved less accurate than an algorithm weighted toward the views of amateurs with no security clearances but a history of making accurate forecasts.

So “just trust the experts” is the wrong path to take. But simply deciding to ignore them can lead us down rabbit holes of conspiracy theories and misinformation. The subject-matter experts in Mr. Tetlock’s research couldn’t beat informed amateurs, but they did defeat random guessing, or the epistemological equivalent of monkeys throwing darts.

This is in part because the divisions we create between fields are, in a sense, artificial. As radical as it sounds, just because someone has a Ph.D. in political science or speaks Pashto does not make that person more likely to be able to predict what is going to happen in Afghanistan than an equally intelligent person with knowledge that appears less directly relevant. Anthropology, economics and other fields may offer insight, and it is often difficult to know ahead of time which communities of experts have the most relevant training and tools to deal with a particular problem.

Academia is in some ways nearly ideally suited to produce the wrong kinds of expertise. Scholarly recognition is based on high degrees of specialization, obtaining the right pedigree and the approval of colleagues through peer review rather than through an external standard.

2) Had three tenure cases in my department this year– including the first ever non-unanimous vote I was a part of.  And yet, somehow, I had never learned this about the history of academic tenure:

The idea was to protect the academic freedom of all instructors who proved themselves competent teachers for a reasonable trial period, regardless of research output. The association declared that “tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability,” since salaries in academia could never compete with those of the private sector.

Harvard introduced the practice of prioritizing research in the criteria for up-or-out promotion and tenure in the late 1930s, under the presidency of James Conant — although faculty members at the time cautioned against his narrow emphasis on research. Other elite schools adopted the practice in the higher education boom years after World War II, according to the research of Richard Teichgraeber, a historian at Tulane University. At most universities, the publish-or-perish rule did not take hold until the late 1960s. “This is how a lot of stuff happens in this country. Ideas and practices spread from the Ivies to the prestigious public universities, then to the midlevel schools offering master’s programs, to the middling bachelor’s institutions,” Hans-Joerg Tiede, the director of research for the American Association of University Professors, told me.

Ever since then, the pressure to publish quickly has driven faculty members down ever narrower lanes of inquiry, searching for some hidden byway no one has taken before in order to claim an original (if, to nonspecialists, trivial) contribution. In graduate school, aspiring professors often hear: Don’t be overly broad in your dissertation; you’ll have to get it done and published, because hiring committees care far more about that than how prepared you are to teach a wide range of subjects. Academic freedom no longer includes freedom to be a generalist…

Universities should use tenure review as a mechanism to encourage professors to connect their research interests to bigger questions and to create broader, more interdisciplinary courses — to take new risks. This is not a call to abandon disciplinary rigor or cater to student consumer whims. It’s a call to remember the reason most professors got into their fields in the first place: We believe our discipline is not a rabbit hole but a world of ideas, discoveries and methods that can help students understand human existence in new ways…

Adam Steinbaugh, a lawyer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (better known as FIRE), told me that his organization gets calls about attacks on academic freedom from both the left and the right. The unifying theme is that “administrations are conflict-averse. It doesn’t really matter who is bringing up the complaints. They are eager to protect the reputation of the institution, protect the budget and avoid conflict,” he said. “There is a certain tension with the fact that the First Amendment and the principle of free speech are supposed to embrace conflict. The notion of a marketplace of ideas is imperfect, but people do have different opinions, and that means there is going to be conflict.”

3) Very interesting from Robert Farley, “Why So Many Historians Look Down On Ulysses S. Grant”

Grant has been justly lauded for his sound strategic judgment during the war, although this assessment has often included a backhanded slap at his tactical talents. Grant, the story goes, knew that he could bleed the South dry, and needed no special military talent to do so; he could simply commit the Army of the Potomac to grind down the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually prevail through numbers alone.

The first part of this assessment is sound; Grant had the firmest grip on the strategic situation of the Civil War of anyone apart from Abraham Lincoln. The second part is nonsense. It takes active, aggressive ignorance to ignore Grant’s tactical intelligence at Forts Henry and Donelson, at Vicksburg, at Chattanooga, and in the Overland Campaign that won the war. Generations of historians (many of whom were Southern sympathizers) were willing to be actively, aggressively ignorant but there is no need for us to take their assessments seriously.

Grant displayed a nuanced, forward-thinking approach to war, characterized early on by his appreciation that offensive action could disrupt the cognitive process of the enemy.  Like Lee, he understood that interaction with the enemy was necessarily fluid and that rapid, assertive action placed the enemy under stress and made them inclined to poor decisions. Grant’s final campaign set out to pin Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia like a bug against Richmond. It succeeded brilliantly, even if it left Virginia drenched in blood; having identified the Confederacy’s two remaining assets, Grant tied them to one another, eventually destroying Lee’s army shortly after seizing Richmond.

After the war, a posthumous cult of personality was attached to Lee, bound tightly with the campaign to restore white supremacy in the Reconstruction South. This cult had little room for Grant, in no small part because Grant was the only President to vigorously pursue Reconstruction and the first to treat blacks as both human and American. And so Grant became simultaneously butcher of the flower of the South and pawn of the Radical Republicans, his military brilliance ignored and his literary genius forgotten.

4) I quite liked some of the ideas here, “How to create a safe space for real debate in the classroom.”

Getting students to consider that they might just be wrong, to be comfortable articulating not only their opinions but willing to entertain the best arguments of those on the other side, is the challenge facing us today. So how should educators respond?

For the past dozen years we have been team-teaching a course conducting a dialogue between economics and the humanities. In the early days, it was mostly a class on how different academic disciplines approach the search for truth. But, in response to changes on campus and in the larger world, it has evolved to focus on facilitating civil and constructive conversation. This change reflects our view of what members of Generation Z lack—intellectual humility, and practice in taking opposing views seriously.

We ask students to write a series of papers with a common directive: to state their own views, not those of the professors, and in making a compelling case to support their own positions, they must argue against the strongest position of the other side (a technique sometimes known as “steel-manning,” as opposed to straw-manning). Each week we remind them of John Stuart Mill’s great line that “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

An example: we recently prompted them to create a policy for vaccine allocation. As expected, the economics majors tended to argue in terms of maximizing efficiency, while many of the other students contended that economic considerations were of limited relevance during a pandemic. The best students, however, made clear that they truly understood both sides—they could accurately represent the standard economic model, whether or not they supported its application, and they represented well the many objections to using a cost-benefit analysis in a life and death context.

We, as co-professors, realize how important it is to demonstrate the processes of listening and learning. So we argue issues and our interpretations of the readings, sometimes exaggerating our differences for heuristic purposes. Other times we honestly disagree—our goal is to exhibit what it means to listen carefully and sincerely, and not to villainize your intellectual opponents. No matter how heated our arguments get, we make it clear that we respect each other and are interested in moving the conversation forward rather than gaining rhetorical points.

We believe that it would be of incalculable benefit if educators worked together to create more intellectually diverse classroom environments. Yet we realize that interdisciplinary team-taught classes are far from the norm in the academy. Most classes are taught by a single professor and are focused on fulfilling the requirements for a particular major. So with that in mind, here are some pointers for educators hoping to create an open classroom.

First, professors should promote a “what is said here stays here” rule to remind students that the classroom is an intellectual laboratory, not a venue for identifying and exposing heretics. This will give students the confidence to express their true opinions, and to argue against the strongest case from the opposing view (to “steel-man”).

Second, it is essential to set proper expectations for conduct. Most colleges and universities have codes forbidding one member of the community from harassing or intimidating another member on account of their religious viewpoints; some are wise enough to say the same about political views. It doesn’t hurt to include language of this sort on the syllabus and to explicitly remind students that the imperfect and evolving thoughts of their peers aren’t cause for retaliation or public shaming. Our students respond well to this: when they fill out end-of-the-year course evaluations, many express gratitude that our classes model dialogue of a type they all-too-rarely see on campus or in their daily lives.

Finally, educators themselves must be mindful that genuine dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy, requiring an unending exchange—and testing—of ideas. Such an approach is radically different from the human tendencies to catechize ancient doctrines or be swept away by new ideological fashions. Our colleges and universities are designed to be intellectual sanctuaries in which meaningful dialogue can be attempted, reworked and refined. If not in our universities, then where else in society can we hope to achieve this?

5) Good stuff from Yglesias.  This is a free post so you should trust me and read it all, “The median voter is a 50-something white person who didn’t go to college”

The point is most people live in communities that are smaller than the Rochester metro area. Either they’re in rural areas, a smaller metro, or a community like Kerrville, TX (where I spent much of the summer) that’s so far out on the exurban fringe of San Antonio that it doesn’t qualify for membership in the MSA.

In practical terms:

  • The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Pennsylvania’s population.

  • The Milwaukee and Madison MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Wisconsin’s population.

  • The Detroit and Ann Arbor MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Michigan’s population.

Interestingly, the “new” swing states of Georgia and Arizona are more urbanized, with the giant Atlanta and Phoenix metro areas each comprising a majority of their respective state’s population. So it’s not like nobody lives in giant metro areas or they don’t matter. That said, a lot of work in media and progressive politics is done by New Yorkers who snobbishly disdain D.C., which — whatever its flaws — is a substantially bigger, more urban, and more cosmopolitan place than Phoenix.

The point is that when we talk about decisive suburban voters, we’re likely talking about the suburbs of Grand Rapids or Kenosha.

Who needs to know this?

Obviously, not everyone in life needs to feel beholden to the median voter. In fact, if you’re working at the DSCC and trying to secure a majority against the backdrop of a skewed map, you need to focus on someone well to the right of the median voter.

The injunction to pay attention to electoral demographics comes most naturally to people in roles like that: working at the party committees, the aligned super PACs, or staffing frontline House districts. And obviously, if you’re working for a specific senator, you probably want a Post-It that’s about your state-specific demographics.

Realistically, though, I think the people most in need of the Post-It are probably people working for activist or advocacy groups where they don’t necessarily see it as their mission to cater to the median voter. And that’s fine; there is more to life than pandering to the public opinion status quo.

But I think that if you want to speak, write, or otherwise engage with the political system on almost any level — whether as a professional activist, a scholar who is interested in real-world impact, a journalist, or just a citizen who’s active on social media and makes small-dollar donations — it’s worth keeping these demographic considerations top of mind.

  • Say your goal is to persuade people not to pander to their existing views — well, you need to know who you are hoping to persuade.

  • Say you think you have a chance of getting something done even though the mass public doesn’t agree with you — then a quiet, insider strategy could be more effective than a noisy outsider campaign.

Public opinion needn’t be a binding constraint on politics, but it’s always a relevant consideration. When Republicans gain power, they cut taxes on the rich regardless of the polls. But the donor base doesn’t demand that GOP candidates loudly and frequently pledge allegiance to the cause of low taxes on the rich because that would be counterproductive. They act as if they are aware that working-class 50-somethings living in exurbs and small cities are not incredibly concerned about the well-being of people who own large amounts of stock. So when they do talk about taxation, they always find some way to make it about ranch owners.

Long story short, if you’re going to blow off the median voter, you ought to do it purposefully and with a plan — don’t just act like the views of under-40 college grads are typical.

6) Must read from Jamelle Bouie, “Trump Had a Mob. He Also Had a Plan.”

As the full picture of Jan. 6 begins to come into view, I think we should consider it a kind of revolution or, at least, the very beginning of one. Joe Biden ultimately became president, but Donald Trump’s fight to keep himself in office against the will of the voters has upturned the political order. The plot itself shows us how.

Trump, we know, urged Mike Pence to reject the votes of the Electoral College, with the mob outside as the stick that would compel his obedience. “You can either go down in history as a patriot,” Trump told Pence, as recounted in this newspaper, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.”

When this was first revealed, I assumed that Trump simply wanted Pence to do whatever it would take to keep himself in power. But this week we learned that he had an actual plan in mind, devised by John Eastman, a prominent conservative lawyer who worked with the former president to challenge the election results, a job that included a speaking slot at the rally on the National Mall that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

“We know there was fraud,” Eastman said to the crowd that would become a mob. “We know that dead people voted.”

“All we are demanding of Vice President Pence,” he continued, “is this afternoon at 1 o’clock, he let the legislatures of the states look into this so we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not!”

These weren’t just the ravings of a partisan. Eastman was essentially summarizing the contents of a memo he had written on Trump’s behalf, describing the steps Pence would take to overturn the election in Trump’s favor…

None of this should make you feel good or cause you to breathe a sigh of relief. Consider what we know. A prominent, respected member in good standing of the conservative legal establishment — Eastman is enrolled in the Federalist Society and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — schemed with the president and his allies in the Republican Party to overturn the election and overthrow American democracy under the Constitution. Yes, they failed to keep Trump in office, but they successfully turned the pro forma electoral counting process into an occasion for real political struggle.

It was always possible, theoretically, to manipulate the rules to seize power from the voters. Now, it’s a live option. And with the right pieces in place, Trump could succeed. All he needs is a rival slate of electoral votes from contested states, state officials and state legislatures willing to intervene on his behalf, a supportive Republican majority in either house of Congress, and a sufficiently pliant Supreme Court majority.

As it happens, Trump may well run for president in 2024 (he is already amassing a sizable war chest) with exactly that board in play. Republican state legislatures in states like Georgia and Arizona have, for example, used claims of fraud to seize control of key areas of election administration. Likewise, according to Reuters, 10 of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada — have either declared the 2020 election stolen or demanded that authorities invalidate the results in their states. It is also not unlikely that a Republican Party with pro-Trump zealots at its helm wins Congress in November of next year and holds it through the presidential election and into 2025.

If Trump is, once again, on the ballot, then the election might turn on the manipulation of a ceremony that was, until now, a mere formality.

7) To return to a theme of recent months, “Your Workout Burns Fewer Calories Than You Think: Our bodies compensate for at least a quarter of the calories we expend during exercise, undermining our best efforts to lose weight by working out.”

8) Increasing evidence that Moderna probably provides better protection than Pfizer.  TL;DR– higher dose.

But by now, the observational studies have delivered results from a number of locations — Qatar, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, several other states in the United States — and in health care workers, hospitalized veterans or the general population.

Moderna’s efficacy against severe illness in those studies ranged from 92 to 100 percent. Pfizer-BioNTech’s numbers trailed by 10 to 15 percentage points.

The two vaccines have diverged more sharply in their efficacy against infection. Protection from both waned over time, particularly after the arrival of the Delta variant, but the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s values fell lower. In two of the recent studies, the Moderna vaccine did better at preventing illness by more than 30 percentage points.


The Air Quality Op-Ed I meant to write

So, you may remember a very recent quick hit #13:

13) Local school/air quality news, “NC parents are buying air purifiers for schools. Are they worth the cost to fight COVID?”

Last school year, Wake County school system installed MERV-13 air filters in the HVAC units at each school. But the district is only providing individual air purification units to special-needs classrooms where students are unable to wear face masks.

The reason that Wake County hasn’t provided air purifiers in every classroom is the ABC Science Collaborative, a group formed by Duke University to advise schools on COVID issues.

“Air exchange, purifiers, or filters may help minimally, but have not been shown to help if people are masked.”

I’ve been meaning to write a whole post about this, but, what the hell?!?!  There’s plenty of evidence, just no large trials.  A lack of large RCT trials is not the same things as “no scientific data.”  This is just wrong.  

I had really thought about writing an Op-Ed about this.  And, honestly, if I wasn’t so busy on various strains of Covid research, I would have.  But, hey, fortunately, a group of NC State Engineering professors wrote a terrific Op-Ed, putting to shame all the people in my alma mater in the ABC collaborative.  This is really good:

The most recent research shows COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through aerosols, tiny particles emitted to the air as we exhale. These aerosols linger for hours and pose a risk to people in an indoor space long after an infected person has left. A recent study by leading researchers concludes that adopting a layered approach to risk mitigation is the best way to navigate the pandemic.

Unfortunately, this evidence has not reached local authorities. In a recent N&O article, we were dismayed to read that ABC Science Collaborative claims “There are no scientific data to support that the use of HEPA filters and ventilation work to prevent spread of COVID-19 when everyone is masking.” This statement appears to be based on an outdated and limited study conducted last winter, before classrooms were full and the far-more-infectious delta variant became the dominant form of this coronavirus.

Since then, several studies have confirmed that aerosol-removing air filtration units reduce the risk of transmission in classrooms…

We fully support mask mandates, but they alone are not a silver bullet. As any parent or teacher can attest, kids’ attention to proper mask wearing is imperfect at best. Thus, other layers of protection are essential. Air filtration should be used as a complement to enhanced building ventilation.

As scientists and concerned parents, we implore WCPSS to do two things:

1. Keep pace with the latest in our scientific understanding of COVID.

2. Act quickly to implement low cost, low risk solutions equitably.

Many of the additional layers of protection come with multiple benefits, such as the use of improved air filtration long-term to keep school air healthy, and spending more time outdoors. These investments can improve our schools for many years to come.

Very good stuff.  Had I written the Op-Ed, I probably would have tried to include this from a July CDC report that the ABC folks chose to ignore:


What is already known about this topic?

Ventilation systems can be supplemented with portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners to reduce the number of airborne infectious particles.

What is added by this report?

A simulated infected meeting participant who was exhaling aerosols was placed in a room with two simulated uninfected participants and a simulated uninfected speaker. Using two HEPA air cleaners close to the aerosol source reduced the aerosol exposure of the uninfected participants and speaker by up to 65%. A combination of HEPA air cleaners and universal masking reduced exposure by up to 90%.

What are the implications for public health practice?

Portable HEPA air cleaners can reduce exposure to simulated SARS-CoV-2 aerosols in indoor environments, especially when combined with universal masking.

Anyway, it still kind of astounds me that public health professionals would advocate masks as a single magic bullet and ignore the layered risk reduction approach basically every serious person has been advocating.  And in schools with sub-optimal ventilation, air filtration should almost sure be part of that layered risk reduction.  

Test to stay (in school)

More of this, please:

When the schools in Marietta, Ga., opened their doors on Aug. 3, the highly contagious Delta variant was sweeping across the South, and children were not being spared.

By Aug. 20, 51 students in the city’s small school district had tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly 1,000 others had been flagged as close contacts and had to quarantine at home for seven to 10 days.

“That’s a lot of school, especially for children that are recovering from 18 months in a pandemic where they missed a lot of school or had to transition to virtual,” said Grant Rivera, the superintendent of Marietta City Schools.

Last week, the district changed tack. Students who are identified as close contacts can now continue attending school as long as they have no symptoms and test negative for the virus every day for seven days.

An increasing number of school districts are turning to testing to keep more children in the classroom and avoid disrupting the work lives of their parents. The resource-intensive approach — sometimes known as “test to stay” or modified quarantine — allows students who have been exposed to the virus to stay in school as long as they take frequent Covid tests, which are typically provided by the school, and adhere to other precautions.

Experts agree that children who are infected with the virus should isolate at home, but the question of what to do about their classmates poses a dilemma.

Allowing children who have been exposed to the virus to remain in school does pose a potential transmission risk, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it “does not have enough evidence” to support the approach. Instead, it recommends that close contacts who have not been fully vaccinated quarantine for as long as 14 days. (Vaccinated close contacts can remain in the classroom as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask, according to the agency’s school guidance.)

“At this time, we do not recommend or endorse a test-to-stay program,” the C.D.C. said in a statement to The New York Times. The agency added, “However, we are working with multiple jurisdictions who have chosen to use these approaches to gather more information.”

The C.D.C. guidelines mean that in some cases, especially in classrooms where students are not vaccinated, masked or socially distanced, a single case of Covid can force a dozen or more students out of school. New York City’s school guidelines are even more stringent, stipulating that all unvaccinated students must quarantine for seven to 10 days if one of their classmates contracts the virus.

A new study, which was published last week in The Lancet, suggests that the test-to-stay approach can be safe. The randomized controlled trial included more than 150 schools in Britain, and found that case rates were not significantly higher at schools that allowed close contacts of infected students or staff members to remain in class with daily testing than at those that required at-home quarantines.

Roughly 2 percent of school-based close contacts ultimately tested positive for the virus, researchers found, which means that schools were keeping 49 uninfected students out of class every time one student tested positive.

“When you put that in the broader context of what we’re doing in society, it’s putting a pretty strong penalty on young people, I think,” said Dr. Bernadette Young, an infectious disease expert at the University of Oxford and a lead author of the paper.

This summer, the United Kingdom announced that children identified as close contacts no longer needed to quarantine, although it encouraged them to be tested for the virus.

As school officials embark on a third pandemic academic year, many say the time has come for a new approach.

Why, yes, the CDC is too bureaucratically over-cautious on this.  Especially in light of the Lancet study.  Huge benefit to keeping more kids in school at, seemingly no cost of further infection.  As for the financial cost of the rapid tests?  In America, it’s ridiculous.  Maybe more programs like this would encourage the government to find a way to get the costs down so we’re paying the $1/test they are paying in Europe.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) The tale of one journalist who had enough of “both sides!” journalism in the wake of January 6:

Andrew Taylor began his journalism career in the late 1980s, clipping newspaper articles for the politics reporters at Congressional Quarterly.

This spring, more than 30 years later, he quit his longtime job as a Capitol Hill reporter for the Associated Press.

He leaves daily journalism disgusted by what Congress has become and traumatized by the Jan. 6 riot — which he witnessed from inside the Capitol. He also leaves the profession doubtful that traditional, objective-style journalism is up to the job of covering today’s politics and government.

His is not a simple cause-and-effect story: At 59, with a spouse who works fulltime as an editor and the demands of three school-age children, Taylor was thinking of wrapping things up anyway.

But he’s very glad to be out of the Capitol — not just for the unanticipated danger he experienced there but the political and societal culture surrounding it…

The Capitol was Taylor’s second home, the focus of so much of his daily life and conversation. He still speaks of “the sanctity of the place”; it’s clear that on a certain level he became accustomed to its rhythms and routines. “You become invested in a functional ecosystem,” he said.

But that placewas already beginning to change long before Jan. 6, he said. “I was there when the wheels came off,” he told me, during the Obama era, when the tea-party caucus of conservative House members seized increasing influence. From that point on, “a large percentage of congressional activity was being spent posturing for political bases” rather than, say, putting together the budget.

He now sees the dysfunction as irrevocable.

He has particularly harsh words for House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as prominent among those in Congress whose “approach to their jobs is too often bad-faith bull—-.” For similar reasons, he’s tough on Mitch McConnell, too. On his now more freewheeling Twitter account, Taylor quote-tweeted the Senate minority leader’s recent bluster about raising the debt limit and how Republicans “will not facilitate another reckless, partisan taxing and spending spree.”…

“So glad I don’t have to cover this,” Taylor wrote, along with a reminder of some inconvenient facts: “When Republicans controlled the government in 2017-18, Pelosi and Schumer facilitated debt limit increases both before and after enactment of debt-financed tax cuts.” Taylor added: “McConnell is wholly inconsistent here and I am being generous.”

Overall, Taylor fears that Congress is like a coral reef that has sustained so much piece-by-piece deterioration, with the departures of some of those who have integrity and respect for their elected roles in the democracy, that “you can’t put it back together again.”

And while he calls the Associated Press “a wonderful, essential organization” and praises many of his former colleagues in Washington journalism, he has become increasingly worried that traditional reporting can’t — or at least doesn’t — tell the full, disturbing story.

“The rules of objective journalism require you to present facts to tell a true story but the objective-journalism version of events can often obscure the reality of what’s really going on,” he told me.

As he sees it, the typical practices of putting everything that happens in the context of normal behavior, of giving ‘both sides’ an almost-equal say, and describing events in a neutral tone has an overall, damaging effect.

Put simply: “It sanitizes things.”

2) Let’s be honest, this is awfully damn tempting.  Just approve the things already! “Parents Are Lying to Get Their Little Kids Vaccinated: It’s surprisingly easy to get unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines for 10- and 11-year-olds who can “pass” for 12″  I’d think harder about it if my 10-year old could pass for 12, but not even close.

3) “Why At-Home Rapid Covid Tests Cost So Much, Even After Biden’s Push for Lower Prices”

For Americans looking for swift answers,the cheapest over-the-counter covid test is the Abbott Laboratories BinaxNOW two-pack for $23.99. Close behind are Quidel’s QuickVue tests, at $15 a pop. Yet supplies are dwindling. After a surge in demand, CVS is limiting the number of tests people can buy, and Amazon and Walgreen’s website were sold out as of Friday afternoon.

President Joe Biden said Thursday he would invoke the Defense Production Act to make 280 million rapid covid tests available. The administration struck a deal with Walmart, Amazon and Kroger for them to sell tests for “up to 35 percent less” than current retail prices for three months. For those on Medicaid, the at-home tests will be fully covered, Biden said.

An increased supply should help to lower prices. As schools open and much of the country languishes without pandemic-related restrictions, epidemiologists say widespread rapid-test screening — along with vaccination and mask-wearing — is critical to controlling the delta variant’s spread. Yet shortages, little competition and sticky high prices mean routine rapid testing remains out of reach for most Americans, even if prices drop 35%.

Consumers elsewhere have much cheaper — or free — options. In Germany, grocery stores are selling rapid covid tests for under $1 per test. In India, they’re about $3.50. The United Kingdom provides 14 tests per person free of charge. Canada is doling out free rapid tests to businesses…

Billions in taxpayer dollars have been invested in these products. Abbott Laboratories, for instance, cashed in on hundreds of millions in federal contracts and gave its shareholders fat payouts last year, increasing its quarterly dividend by 25%. Even so, according to a New York Times investigation, as demand for rapid tests cratered in early summer, Abbott destroyed its supplies and laid off workers who had been making them.

More than a year ago, Abbott said the company would sell its BinaxNOW in bulk for $5 a test to health care providers, but that option is not available over the counter to the public. Even with the anticipated price decrease, a two-pack will be more than $15. Abbott did not comment further.

Schrier said in spring that test prices were high because “big companies are buying up all the supplies.” Also, “their profit is far higher making 1,000 $30 tests than 30,000 $1 tests” — in other words, they can make the same amount of money for many fewer tests.

4) This is just a super-fun collection of soccer goals.  

5) David Epstein on his failed newsletter launch and Hanlon’s razor.  This is so apt– definitely going to use this term more!

As a very loyal subscriber (with two email addresses!) to my own newsletter (gotta keep numbers up), I was immediately confused by what I had wrought — no offense to this other fellow, who I’m sure is a Ryantastic guy. Then the messages started.

I would say the tenor of messages I received ranged from curious, to querulous, to I’m a hippo and you got between me and my water source. I received a few messages — just a few, but they’re important — suggesting that I had either sold subscriber information or subscribed people to something without their consent.

I immediately jumped on the phone with a member of the Bulletin team to find out what I had done. Reader, until you have tried, you will never know how hard it is to have a stern emergency conversation with tech support while maintaining a straight face and repeating the name/word Ryantastic. A dozen “Ryantastics” later, I learned what happened.

If you can’t wait, you can skip below to the “What Actually Happened” section. But before I tell you, I’d like to do my Range Widely thing and use this as a teachable moment to discuss a critical thinking principle. Namely: “Hanlon’s razor.”

The most common (if not the most polite) formulation of Hanlon’s razor is: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” The term “razor” means that the principle helps you “shave off” unnecessary explanations.

(You may be familiar with the more popular “Occam’s razor,” the idea that the simplest explanation is often the correct one. The most implausible part of Contact is that Matthew McConaughey’s character is a philosopher who hasn’t heard of Occam’s razor. What are you doing all day man?!)

The idea of Hanlon’s razor is that we more often make better judgments if we search for common, reasonable explanations of behavior we don’t like, instead of assuming the worst right away. I like this idea; I think Hanlon’s Twitter might be a nice place. I especially like this idea right now, because I’d prefer you treat Ryantastic-gate as a screw-up instead of a nefarious plot. But this wouldn’t be my newsletter if I didn’t try to investigate whether Hanlon’s razor actually is a good principle for thinking. So let’s begin.

Intuitively, I think it is a good principle. I spent a decade as an investigative reporter, generally assuming the worst motivations behind whatever I was investigating; sometimes that bore out, but often I was surprised to find that some organizational screw-up or other was a result of carelessness or poor communication. I found the same for journalism itself. Early in my journalism career, I was a fact-checker, and I usually concluded that writers who reported inaccurate facts were simply making mistakes, or were blind to their own biases, not proactively conspiring to distort the truth.

As the book Super Thinkingnotes, Hanlon’s razor is an attempt to correct what psychologists refer to as “fundamental attribution error.” That is, we all tend to judge the behavior of others as if it represents something fundamental about them, even though we don’t judge ourselves that way. When you see someone run a red light, it’s because they’re a jerk who doesn’t care about anyone else. When you run a red light, it was an accident, or you were really in a rush, or this intersection sucks anyway.

6) The case that we’re actually winning the war on poverty:

7) This is good, “Jurors don’t know what the penalties for a guilty verdict will be. They should.: If juries knew the consequences of their decisions, they’d deliberate more carefully — and could serve as a check on punitive laws”

That’s because most American jurisdictions follow a rule of jury ignorance, meaning that neither judges nor lawyers may tell jurors what punishment a defendant could receive if convicted. There are rare exceptions — state courts in Louisiana and North Carolina, for example — but in most American courtrooms, judges go to great lengths to make sure that jurors don’t know what will happen after a “guilty” verdict.

Keeping juries ignorant, however, exacerbates one of the U.S. criminal justice system’s worst tendencies — its inclination to grow more punitive. Evidence from both history and social scientific experiments suggest that jurors are less likely to convict if they know a defendant’s punishment could be extremely harsh. The rule of jury ignorance eliminates an important check on the system. If politicians thought juries would be less likely to convict when a sentence was severe, for instance, they would be less likely to pass draconian laws.

Replacing ignorant juries with informed ones therefore could be an important criminal justice reform. As a general rule, then, we propose that judges should tell jurors the range of sentences, including the statutory maximum and any mandatory minimums, that a defendant would face upon conviction. (We make the case in a forthcoming article in the Vanderbilt Law Review.)

There are obstacles to this reform — notably a 1994 Supreme Court decision that described jury ignorance as a “well established” principle. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, said there was “a basic division of labor in our legal system between judge and jury”: Juries find guilt, judges sentence. (In that case, Shannon v. the United States, the defendant, who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, wanted the jury to be told that he would be confined involuntarily even if the jury concluded he was insane. The jury wasn’t told, and he was found guilty.)

But that opinion was weakly argued, and not well grounded in judicial history. The argument that juries should be informed about sentences should appeal to both liberal and conservative justices of an “originalist” bent — with liberals focusing on how such a reform would democratize the criminal justice system, and originalists focusing on the fact that the ignorant jury lacks a solid historical foundation.

Indeed, juries informed about punishment were quite familiar to the founding generation.

8) I’ve always thought the survey-based estimates of propensity for partisan violence seemed unrealistically high.  Some new PS research on the topic that, says, yes, they are.  Fascinating thread on how disengaged survey respondents are likely leading to large over-estimates.  

9) Gotta love this idea– potty-training cows to reduce emissions:

A herd of “clever cattle” in Germany have successfully been potty-trained and can now relieve themselves in a designated area nicknamed the “MooLoo,” scientists say — a move that they hope will help lower greenhouse gas emissions amid the global warming crisis.

There are an estimated 1.4 billion cows on Earth and they happen to emit a lot of harmful waste products — through burping, urination and defecating — making the animals a major driver of climate change.

Their frequent urination produces 55 to 110 gallons of methane each day and contains nitrogenous components that pollute Earth’s streams and rivers, make the waters dangerous for people to swim in or drink from, and pose a risk to wildlife.

The University of Auckland joined forces with scientists at a research laboratory in Germany for an experiment that would allow the cow’s urine to be collected, treated and neutralized — so it poses less of a risk.

According to researchers, 11 out of 16 calves were taught to use the MooLoo in just 15 training sessions — a result they said compares favorably to the amount of time it takes to toilet-train children ages 3 to 4.

“The common perception is that cows are placid, lovable, but perhaps not as bright as other animals,” said Lindsay Matthews, a New Zealand-based animal behavioral expert and one of the lead authors of the study. “The cute thing here is that the animals are causing a problem, because of [intensive] farming practices. And here, we can have them as part of the solution, by using their underestimated intellect.”

During the training process, the animals were rewarded with a sweet treat when they urinated exactly where they were supposed to go — in a special pen installed in their barn. If they toileted outside of the area they were offered a mild punishment: a short burst of water.

10) You know I love my apples.  Honeycrisps are good, but over-rated.  Good, but not worth the premium price and there’s a lot of other supermarket apples out there with better, more complex flavor.  Now Honeycrisp has an offspring that’s great for late summer when the apples from storage are old and bad.  Raves ripen early so they are fresh in August and September and they’ve got a great flavor.  Pretty excited to find these at my local Harris Teeter.

11) Frum on the NeverTrumpers dilemma:

Many of the conservatives and Republicans appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency clutched a hope through the bewildering years: Someday this would all be over and politics would return to normal.

But normal has not returned. Those elected Republicans who stood for legality when Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election found themselves party pariahs in 2021, on their way to being out of politics altogether in 2022.

And it’s not just a few politicians who have been displaced by the Trump era. Millions of voters have been too. “Never Trump is not a political party. It is a dinner party”: That jibe was heard a lot in 2017 and 2018. It has not been heard much since. In 2018, Democratic candidates won districts that had loyally voted Republican for 30, 40, 50 years, including those once held by Eric Cantor, Newt Gingrich, and George H. W. Bush.

The anti-Trump Republicans did not return home in 2020. Now, in 2021, their former party seems much more eager to welcome anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers than to win them back.

12) If you love a good subway like I do, you’ll also love this audio interactive, “The Hidden Melodies of Subways Around the World: When train doors close, these jingles warn riders to stand clear.”

13) Local school/air quality news, “NC parents are buying air purifiers for schools. Are they worth the cost to fight COVID?”

Last school year, Wake County school system installed MERV-13 air filters in the HVAC units at each school. But the district is only providing individual air purification units to special-needs classrooms where students are unable to wear face masks.

The reason that Wake County hasn’t provided air purifiers in every classroom is the ABC Science Collaborative, a group formed by Duke University to advise schools on COVID issues.

“Air exchange, purifiers, or filters may help minimally, but have not been shown to help if people are masked.”

I’ve been meaning to write a whole post about this, but, what the hell?!?!  There’s plenty of evidence, just no large trials.  A lack of large RCT trials is not the same things as “no scientific data.”  This is just wrong.  

14) I watched the 2015 movie, Sicario, this week.  It was so damn good.  How the hell did I not hear about this back in 2015?!  We need more movies like this– exciting, thrilling, wonderfully-directed, and about real human beings.

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