We’re under-estimating costs and over-estimating benefits of keeping schools closed

Damn, that title felt good to type.  Am I confident that we should just re-open schools in August?  No.  Am I confident that we are under-estimating the costs?  Hell, yeah.  Am I confident that we are over-stating the benefits?  Moderately.  Love this Olga Khazan article for, appropriately, bringing this broader cost/benefit framework to thinking about schools:

Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University and a leading expert on the coronavirus, is one of a number of scientists vocally advocating for summer camps and schools to reopen, with some precautions, even if there’s no vaccine yet. “The idea of keeping kids at home, and having parents work at home, for however long, until we get a vaccine,” Nuzzo told me, “it seems to me that there are harms that kids are experiencing that we are not accounting for.”

But beyond relieving exasperated parents, in-person schooling confers all sorts of societal benefits that students are currently missing. With schools shifted to distance learning, 7 million kids have been stuck at home without the internet they need for their Zoom lessons. Research suggests that some low-income students are losing a year of academic gains. School feeds kids; it socializes them. There are good schools and bad schools, but even the worst ones tend to be better than no school at all.

Apart from the benefits of school, the reopeners point to evidence that children are less affected by the coronavirus than adults are. A recent study in Nature found that children and teenagers are only about half as likely as adults to get infected with the coronavirus. Though the long-term implications of a mild case of COVID-19 are still not known, when kids do get infected, only 21 percent show symptoms, compared with 69 percent of infected adults over 70. In May, some parents worried for their kids’ safety when about 100 children in the U.S. came down with a delayed, severe reaction to the coronavirus called “multisystem inflammatory syndrome.” Reopeners say this disorder has been so rare as to be worth the risk.

While more than 120,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, only about two dozen deaths have been children under the age of 15. Meanwhile, more than 1,700 children die in the United States each year from child abuse and neglect—two issues that have been harder for children to report while they haven’t been seeing teachers regularly…

The decision of whether to open up schools is going to take a clear-eyed assessment of all the risks. The way Nuzzo sees it, we have to think about not only the societal health benefits of keeping a generation of kids at home for a year, but also the detriment to kids of doing so. And so far, she thinks we’ve been underestimating the detriment part of the equation.

And Emily Oster:

What might we hope to see here? If online learning was basically just as productive as in-school learning, we wouldn’t expect to see a reduction in badges earned. The line would just be flat around zero.

This does not seem to be the case at all. Even for students in the best off districts — the higher income ones — there is a reduction of about 10% in the badges earned and this seems to get even worse in the most recent weeks. For students in middle and lower income school districts, the results are a disaster. There appears to be about a 60% drop in badges earned. That is, kids in these districts are moving through the curriculum at less than half the pace they did while in school.

For a week or two, that might be a surmountable slowdown. But this is consistent over the entire period. It’s a third of the school year. If kids learn half as much math for that third of a year, they will be months behind when the next grade rolls around…

But what these graphs show me is that keeping schools closed is also not without very significant risks. The current cohort of kids has already experienced learning loss. Now imagine you keep schools closed for another year. That is a full year in which some schools see students learning less than half the math they should learn. There is every reason to believe, based on what we know from other data, that these kids will be less likely to complete high school, go to college, get good jobs and earn a living wage. They will be more likely to die sooner.

What these Opportunity Insights graphs tell me is that we have to find a way to improve learning outcomes and, realistically, I think this means we have to find a way to open schools. And yet we need to do it safely. I do not want to be a broken record, but it is a travesty that we are not collecting more data to understand how child care is spreading the virus. We must do this. It is simply not fair to children not to.

And, yes we do need more data on child care.  But the data so far suggest it is not a big spreader (and expecting a standard of zero transmission anywhere is silly).

Of course kids transmit the virus.  But the best evidence now is that they transmit it at substantially lower rates than adults do.  And that matters.  We also know that people over-react to dramatic cases of sick kids and that dramatic cases of sick kids are really, really rare.  My guess is that having schools open with additional precautions probably adds about .2-.4 to Rt (look at me talking like I’m an epidemiologist and I know what I’m talking about).  That’s not great, but not horrible, especially when properly weighed against the enormous costs not just to kids, but to how our society functions, of keeping schools closed.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Great stuff from Yglesias, “The End of Policing left me convinced we still need policing
One of the most prominent books on police abolition doesn’t have a good answer on violent crime.”

But there’s a substantial literature in economics and sociology arguing that more police on the beat equals less violent crime. One effort to quantify this precisely is a 2018 Review of Economics and Statistics article by Aaron Chalfin and Justin McCrary. It estimates, based on a big set of police and crime data from large and midsize cities between 1960 and 2010, that every $1 spent on extra police generates about $1.63 in social benefits, primarily by reducing murders. One needn’t take this literature as gospel truth, but one of the go-to scholars on the abolitionist position should be able to — and want to — counter the prevailing academic claim that investments in policing pay off in reduced violent crime…

American policing needs to change. And there’s at least some reason to think that reducing the scope of policing can and should be a big part of that change. Fairly mild policy changes undertaken over the past few years have delivered results in terms of fewer police killings of unarmed people, and there’s reason to believe that plenty of opportunity exists for further reform.

But policing is important. There’s evidence that the number of police has an effect on crime, especially violent crime. And when crime soars, not only do the direct victims suffer but we run the risk that economically diverse cities will unravel as people with means flee to the suburbs. The people brushing past these worries with a casual nod to Vitale are relying on unearned authority, both about the impact on crime and about the possibilities of reform…

By the same token, Vitale is dismissive of promising reform ideas to reduce police misconduct.

“Much of the public debate has focused on new and enhanced training, diversifying the police, and embracing community policing as strategies for reform, along with enhanced accountability measures,” he writes. “However, most of these reforms fail to deal with the fundamental problems inherent to policing.”

Many faddish implicit bias trainings don’t really seem to work. But there are promising results from several different procedural justice trainings. More to the point, Vitale himself says that “in some ways training is actually part of the problem” because “in recent decades, the emphasis has shifted heavily toward officer safety training.” Instead of receiving training that creates an exaggerated sense of threat (police work is dangerous, but officers’ death rates are lower than for fishers or roofers), police should be provided with deescalation training (which has been found to be at least somewhat effective) and, more importantly, required to use it with real consequences for officers who don’t.

Even the relatively superficial reforms enacted between the killings of Michael Brown in 2014 and George Floyd have led to a reduction in police killings in big cities and fewer killings of unarmed people.

But we’ve barely scratched the surface of potential reforms that would really get tough on misconduct without compromising the basic concept that police are useful.

Right now, collective bargaining agreements make it extremely difficult to fire police with records of misconduct. Those who are dismissed are often ordered to be rehired. And police officers who are permanently fired — which, to be clear, means they have passed a high bar for badness — often get hired at other jurisdictions. Meanwhile, the “qualified immunity” doctrine immunizes police for civil penalties for misconduct.

Per what records are available, a relatively small number of officers are committing most of the misconduct, but studies show that bad behavior can spread like a virus to peer officers. Getting rid of the worst 5 percent of officers could eliminate an enormous share of the misconduct, halt the spread of bad norms throughout departments, and open up new hiring opportunities to create more diverse forces.

2) Good stuff from John Cassidy:

It has long been a basic principle of democratic governance that where public health comes into conflict with individual freedoms, the latter may have to be constricted, at least temporarily. But with Trump in the White House and elected Republicans terrified of incurring his supporters’ wrath, there is now, in parts of red America, nobody willing to make this argument or to follow through with actual edicts. Local leaders and their constituents are left to fend for themselves. Indeed, DeSantis, in Florida, said this openly on Wednesday, when, after insisting that he wouldn’t suspend any of his reopening measures, he added that residents of the state should “make wise decisions for themselves based upon their own personal risk.”

In DeSantis’s America, which is Trump’s America, you are on your own, even during a pandemic. According to a mathematical model maintained by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which the White House used for a time, the death toll from the virus, which is currently at about a hundred and eighteen thousand, will rise to more than two hundred thousand by October, and it could hit a quarter of a million. To be sure, this is just a prediction, and a lot of assumptions went into it. But it’s an indication of how things have deteriorated over the past few weeks, and how unlikely it is that an effective nationwide response will be found.

3) OMG this “re-open NC” folks are just breathtakingly stupid.  Now they are getting attention for public mask burning.

4) Goldfish crackers are still a big thing in my house.  This review of every flavor (flavor-blasted pizza, for the win) was a joy to read.

5) Good stuff from Emily Oster, “when to change your mind”

It’s not obviously wrong to change our decisions, or even to change them in a short period. But just like with making the decisions in the first place, we should be thoughtful about it. And this got me thinking about a second phase of the decision framework.

Imagine you ask not “What is the right decision?” but, instead, “I’m thinking of changing my decision? How do I know if that’s a good idea?” I’m thinking about COVID-19 but, really, I could have written this about sleep training.

In either case, I’d argue it comes down to thinking about the simple question: What Changed? That is: if it’s a good idea to change your decision, you must think something has changed. And, you should be able to articulate what it is.

In the specific case of COVID-19, there really aren’t that many possibilities.

Option 1: Change in Infection Rates Easiest thing to think about. The magnitude of infection risk scales with the share of other people infected. If infection rates go down, you are should be on average less cautious. Maybe when 20% of people being tested were positive, I was more wary about grocery shopping than I am when only 5% of those tested are positive.

Option 2: Change in Personal Disease Risk There might also be a change in what we know about the virus. For example, maybe we’ve learned something new about risk factors. Maybe it turns out you (or your loved ones, or others you’d interact with) are at lower risk than you thought.

Option 3: Change in Benefits When you think about choices in the era of COVID-19, one piece of the puzzle is the benefits of engaging in various activities. You may find these change over time. For example, I think many of underestimated the mental health costs — to us, our parents, our kids — of the isolation. Over the last six weeks, my estimation of the benefits of having children in school or child care have dramatically increased. That weighs against the risks. Even if I think the risks are the same, I might make a different choice.

Option 4: You were wrong. Despite your best decision-making efforts, maybe you were just wrong before. This is the stickiest, and most nebulous reason for changing your mind. And if that’s the reason…you want to really think about what you did wrong. Saying, “Well, I was wrong before” is a way to defend changing your mind, but not a principled one. So think about it: were you really wrong? Should you have made the choice differently before?

6) Enjoyed this from Timothy Egan, “A Soft-Handed Predator Masquerading in Manliness: How we treat animals tells us something about how we treat one another.”

You judge the character of a nation by how it treats fellow humans. Putting kids in cages, ignoring the warning signs of a virus that has killed more than 118,000 people in America, and using force to clear a park of peaceful protesters are among the most awful things that will follow Donald Trump into his dungeon of history.

But you should also judge the character of a nation by how it treats fellow living creatures. Because how we treat animals tells us something — a lot, in fact — about how we treat one another.

So, this is how you can now kill a bear on some federal preserves in Alaska: You put stale doughnuts or dog food drenched in honey outside a bear’s lair, and then shoot the drowsy and hungry animal that stumbles out to take the bait. This crude policy was banned by wildlife experts in the Obama administration, who said it was biologically unsound and unsportsmanlike.

There’s that curious and archaic word — sportsman, someone who follows the rules of engagement. Good hunters give their prey a chance. Bad hunters shoot hibernating mothers and their babies because they don’t have the patience or skill to track an animal in the wild.

Don’t be fooled by the stated excuse for the government’s turn to barbarism: that the feds are merely aligning themselves with the practices allowed by the State of Alaska.

This change is all about appeasing trophy hunters. Well, one trophy hunter — Donald Trump Jr. You may have heard the recent report that taxpayers spent $75,000 for junior to hunt and kill a rare argali sheep in Mongolia last year while in the secure silo of the Secret Service.

Trump Jr. is a hunter of privilege, jetting into an exotic locale, getting special treatment from the local government and a permit issued retroactively, using the best guides and equipment. The package was completed by Instagram posts of the entitled rich kid in camo atop a horse in Mongolia.

7) OMG this is amazing, “Former eBay Execs Allegedly Made Life Hell for Critics: Surveillance. Harassment. A live cockroach delivery. US attorneys have charged six former eBay workers in association with an outrageous cyberstalking campaign.”

The harassment campaign was planned in a series of meetings, prosecutors say. In one, Baugh showed the assembled team a clip, according to a confidential witness cited in the complaint, of the movie Johnny Be Good, in which pranksters deliver increasingly absurd and unwelcome items to people’s homes. A brainstorm allegedly followed: What could they send to their victims that would terrify them? In a separate meeting, the complaint says, Baugh and a few others charted out a complementary social media strategy: They would send anonymous tweets and DMs to the couple, pretending to be angry eBay sellers and claiming responsibility for the deliveries. They would also eventually doxx the couple by publicly posting their home address.

“The result, as alleged in the complaint, was a systematic campaign, fueled by the resources of a Fortune 500 company, to emotionally and psychologically terrorize this middle-aged couple in Natick with the goal of deterring them from writing bad things online about eBay,” US attorney Andrew Lelling said in a press conference Monday morning. While the complaint does not identify the victims by name, it cites specific headlines and stories that indicate that Baugh and his team were after the husband and wife publishers of EcommerceBytes.

8) The Supreme Court ruled for DACA not because Roberts favored the policy outcome, but because the Trump administration is truly, monumentally incompetent.  And while the other conservatives are willing to stand for this in pursuit of their ideological goals, Roberts is not.  Drum:

Obviously this is good news for Dreamers, but the part that really tickles me is that the ruling doesn’t actually say that DACA can’t be repealed. It just says that Trump was so incompetent that he failed to follow the rules for repealing it. This has always been the silver lining behind the Trump cloud: namely that he’s such an idiot that he’s caused a lot less damage than, say, a Ted Cruz or a Marco Rubio, who would know how to get things done legally and properly so they could withstand judicial review.

At least, that was the silver lining prior to the coronavirus outbreak, where Trump’s idiocy is just straight up killing people. November can’t come soon enough.

As Ben Wittes so aptly put it early in Trump’s presidency, “malevolence tempered by incompetence.”  So true.  And, in this case, the incompetence means great things for the Dreamers.

9) Loved this David Hopkins blog post on how the electoral college map is shaping up.  In fact, basically just repeated it for a politically-astute-but-not-that-astute friend today:

If we compare the two-party popular vote outcome in 2016 with today’s two-party polling margin as estimated by The Economist‘s daily forecasting model for the 16 states where both parties received at least 45 percent of the vote in the last election, we see (after accounting for sampling error and variations in data quality) what looks like a fairly uniform pro-Democratic shift nationwide:..

Polling estimates are, of course, inexact, and all three of the new Sun Belt battlegrounds had already swum against the national tide by becoming “bluer” between 2012 and 2016. But the best recent evidence indicates that these states remain more Republican than the national average, and are currently competitive mostly because Biden is well ahead in the overall popular vote. Even so, Biden appears to have a consistent lead only in Arizona, and he still trails Trump in Texas.
If Biden’s current advantage is changing the electoral map in some ways, it’s working against change in others. After Trump won Ohio and Iowa by unusually wide margins in 2016, some analysts speculated that both states would lose battleground status in 2020, conceded to the GOP from the start of the campaign. Ohio and Iowa remain clearly Republican-leaning in 2020 compared to the nation as a whole, but Biden’s overall lead allows him to keep both states in play (at least for now), and the Trump campaign is indeed spending money to defend them.
A scenario in which Biden maintains or expands his current margin would allow Democrats to consider deploying campaign resources into these states in pursuit of a decisive national victory and gains in downballot offices. But if the race starts to tighten, diverting attention to red-leaning states will be considerably less appealing, and Democratic dreams of “expanding the map” will need to wait for a future contest. Either way, the electoral college outcome in 2020 is still likely to pivot on the four states that Trump carried by narrow margins in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Florida. And there’s nothing new at all about those particular states deciding who the next president will be.

10) Emily Oster with some preliminary research on Covid outbreaks in childcare centers.  Short version– hardly any

Is this a scientifically valid sample and do you plan to publish the results?


No and no. This is crowdsourced. We didn’t sample randomly and we cannot be sure of the biases in responses. We were of the view (which not everyone will agree with) that some data is better than none.


Is the data perfect? Did you clean it?


No! Let us know if you see obvious errors.  We did minimal cleaning – to remove places which reported fewer than two students during the pandemic or did not report any location data.


Okay, what did you find?


You can see all the raw data and some high level summaries here.


Here’s a simple table with some of the results so far!  We’ll keep this updated as we get more data in.


You didn’t do all the analysis I wanted!


We bet not!  The raw data is in the sheet.  Feel free to play around with it on your own.  We also have some less clean data on teacher student ratios and typical populations which didn’t make it into the sheet so you can contact us (try Emily: emily_oster@brown.edu) if you want to access that.


Can I help?


We hope so!  More data will be better.  If you have run a child care center open during the pandemic, or know someone who has, or are a state or town or provider network or, etc, etc please share this survey here.


And stay tuned for our future efforts to do ongoing tracking of places as they continue to be open.

11) Great stuff from Dan Drezner, “Are Americans hard-wired to spread the coronavirus?”

We are not hard-wired to calculate risk and uncertainty terribly well. Most societies will defer to trusted experts to cobble together some cognitive certainty. In the United States, however, a low level of trust in institutions exacerbates the problem. And it is worth remembering that health officials have reversed themselves on both the utility of masks and the dangers of, say, public transport. In some cases, experts disagree with one another. The result is that ordinary Americans will rely more on common sense and word of mouth, which are, let’s say, “flawed.”

Finally, we are three months into a pandemic and no U.S. official has a narrative about how any of this will end. Wait, that’s not fair, Donald Trump has claimed that it will just “go away.” Let me rephrase: No U.S. official has a non-magical narrative about how this will end.

Absent therapeutics and vaccines, the most plausible way to get back to normal is through quality contact tracing. But as my Washington Post colleagues Frances Stead Sellers and Ben Guarino report, that is a tough sell in the United States:

Contact tracing failed to stanch the first wave of coronavirus infections, and today’s far more extensive undertaking will require 100,000 or more trained tracers to delve into strangers’ personal lives and persuade even some without symptoms to stay home. Health departments in many of the worst-affected communities are way behind in hiring and training those people. The effort may also be hobbled by the long-standing distrust among minorities of public health officials, as well as worries about promising new technologies that pit privacy against the public good.
“We don’t have a great track record in the United States of trust in the public health system,” said David C. Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. Ever since the 40-year Tuskegee experiment, which withheld treatment for syphilis from poor black men, officials have had to make special efforts, he said, to reach those now “disproportionately impacted by covid who are African Americans and Latinos.”

An awful lot of Americans were willing to radically change their behavior in the short term in response to the pandemic. The implicit understanding, however, was always that by the time the curve had been flattened, public authorities would have a regimen in place for testing and tracing. Public authorities at both the state and federal levels have not delivered on that quid pro quo.

12) This is from last year and there’s a decent chance I shared it already, but it’s such an important point.  Compared to major conservative parties in the whole rest of the developed world, the Republican party is really, really conservative.  And pretty close to fringe parties.  I.e., it’s the asymmetry, stupid.

The Republican Party leans much farther right than most traditional conservative parties in Western Europe and Canada, according to an analysis of their election manifestos. It is more extreme than Britain’s Independence Party and France’s National Rally (formerly the National Front), which some consider far-right populist parties. The Democratic Party, in contrast, is positioned closer to mainstream liberal parties.

13) Great stuff from Michael Tesler, “Republicans And Democrats Agree On The Protests But Not Why People Are Protesting”

14) Yet another good column from Thomas Edsall, on how the electorate is moving to the left.  And… race!

Measuring trends on three different dimensions —— economic, racial and cultural issues — Stanley Feldman, a political scientist at Stony Brook University, and three Australian colleagues, tracked responses to 40 questions in American National Election Study surveys from 1972 to 2016 covering 34,345 respondents.

In an email, Feldman pointed to some of the key findings in an unpublished working paper, “Sorting Apart: Partisan Polarization in the American Electorate, 1972-2016,” especially on racial attitudes.

“It’s clear that preferences have shifted significantly in a more conservative direction over this time period among Republican identifiers,” Feldman wrote, adding that contrary to those who argue that racial hostility among working class whites is the deciding factor in elections, he and his co-authors found that

It’s not the case that conservative racial issue preferences are concentrated among low-income whites. High-income Republicans are more conservative on racial issues than low-income Republicans.

There is a sustained liberal trend on racial issues, Feldman wrote,

among Democratic identifiers from 1972 to 2012, but virtually all of this is a function of the growing size of minorities among Democratic partisans. There is no real change in racial issue preferences among white Democratic identifiers up to 2012.

The progressive trend gains momentum between 2012 and 2016 when “you see a really large shift in the liberal direction among white Democrats.” Feldman suggested that

it could be a swift reaction to Trump’s rhetoric in the 2016 campaign. It’s also very possible that this was in response to the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests — Ferguson, Eric Garner, etc. It would take much more fine-grained data to sort this out.

The swing among white Democrats toward increased racial liberalism will have significant political consequences, Andrew Engelhardt, a postdoctoral research associate in political science at Brown, wrote in an email.

As white and black Democrats find common ground, Engelhardt argues,

this increased homogeneity makes Democrats less susceptible to wedge issues. The number of them who are cross-pressured by, say, holding more conservative social issue views when deciding whether to support a more liberal candidate, is decreasing. There’s less reason for people to decide to not turn out or to vote for the other party.

While white Democrats of all ages moved left on racial issues between 2012 and 2016, “millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) were substantially more liberal on racial attitudes in 2016 than older generations,” according to Feldman. This point leads directly to a striking finding in “The Age of Police Reform,” a 2019 working paper by Rebecca Goldstein, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, that “Age is a more powerful predictor of police-related policy preferences than race.”

15) I love the idea of applying “broken windows” theory of policing to policing itself:

The attorney Ken White is one of the few people to suggest applying the logic of broken windows to police officers and departments themselves. “If tolerating broken windows leads to more broken windows and escalating crime, what impact does tolerating police misconduct have?” he asked. “Under the Broken Windows Theory, what impact could it have but to signal to all police that scorn for rights, unjustified violence, and discrimination are acceptable norms? Under Broken Windows Theory, what could be the result but more scorn, more violence, and more discrimination?”Significant evidence substantiates the premise that police misconduct is widespread, far beyond the countless examples that are captured on cellphone cameras and posted to YouTube.

Last year, USA Today published a major database of police misconduct. “Obtained from thousands of state agencies, prosecutors, police departments and sheriffs, the records detail at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct, much of it previously unreported,” the newspaper stated. The records included “more than 110,000 internal affairs investigations by hundreds of individual departments and more than 30,000 officers who were decertified by 44 state oversight agencies,” as well as “22,924 investigations of officers using excessive force, 3,145 allegations of rape, child molestation and other sexual misconduct and 2,307 cases of domestic violence.” Independent Department of Justice probes into individual police departments, such as those in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, revealed agencies that routinely and brutally violated the civil rights of residents.

Similarly strong evidence suggests that police tolerate misconduct in their ranks. In major surveys of police officers, the Pew Research Center and the National Institute of Justice found that 72 percent disagree that cops in their department who consistently do a poor job are held accountable; 52 percent believe that “it is not unusual for a police officer to turn a blind eye to improper conduct by other officers” and that most cops in their department would not report a colleague they caught driving drunk; and 61 percent think that cops “do not always report even serious criminal violations that involve the abuse of authority by fellow officers.”

No community should be policed so aggressively. But if Ferguson is over-policed, the police themselves seem to be under-policed. And if police believe that aggressive policing of communities works, then on what basis could they object to a dose of their own medicine?A good place to start would be requiring police officers to police one another on the job. Pew’s survey of police officers found that 84 percent say “officers should be required to intervene when they believe another officer is about to use unnecessary force,” while just 15 percent say they should not be required to intervene. Apparently, a lot of police officers would find it reasonable if their department imposed a duty to intervene. But many cities enforce no such duty. According to the Police Use of Force Project, they include Anchorage, Atlanta, Birmingham, Boston, Buffalo, Charlotte, Chesapeake, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Durham, El Paso, Fort Wayne, Garland, Glendale, Greensboro, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Irving, Jacksonville, Jersey City, Kansas City, Laredo, Lexington, Lincoln, Long Beach, Louisville, Lubbock, Memphis, Mesa, Nashville, North Las Vegas, Omaha, Pittsburgh, Plano, Reno, Rochester, San Diego, San Jose, Scottsdale, St. Louis, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Toledo, Tulsa, Wichita, and Winston-Salem.

A duty to intervene would of course include preventing a colleague from needlessly firing a weapon. But it could be interpreted expansively to include, as well, needless use of a baton or pepper spray, needless shoving, or even a lower-level transgression such as needless yelling or needlessly detaining a motorist for an excessive period of time during a routine traffic stop.

More broadly, cities could crack down on cops who refrain from giving fellow cops traffic tickets, get caught fudging a minor detail in a police report, or park their car illegally. Perhaps such a policy would ultimately reduce more egregious examples of special treatment or lawbreaking on the job.

16) Adam Serwer on Roberts and DACA:

These cases have revealed Roberts as a bulwark against Trumpism on the Court, not because he is ideologically hostile to it, but because Roberts expects the federal government to adhere to minimum standards of honesty and fidelity to the public interest. These qualities are compatible with conservative governance but are anathema to Trumpism, an ideology wherein the whims of the executive take precedence over the rule of law. What is painfully clear is that the Trump administration could have prevailed in each of these cases, with Roberts’s express approval, had it comported itself with a minimum of good faith.

The conservative movement has come to view Republican-appointed justices as wholly owned subsidiaries of their party, and by extension, the administration. That assumption has lulled it into the mistaken belief that the shoddiest legal reasoning can pass muster at the high court, simply because of the ideological predilections of the Republican appointees. This belief is not entirely without merit—although one Trump appointee, Neil Gorsuch, has an independent streak, in all of the previous cases mentioned here, four Republican appointees were willing to go along with whatever flimsy or dishonest pretext the Trump administration could cobble together. But John Roberts remains hostile to being made to look a fool.

Nevertheless, the Trumpist right is but one vote away from something close to the rubber-stamp Court it would like to see. Should Trump prevail in November, it may get its way after all.

17) It’s valuable to think about how even in presumed anti-racist bastions like the academy, racism still exists.  But, I really resent the way this aggrieved professor maligns an entire community on the flimsiest of evidence: “White America Wants Me to Conform. I Won’t Do It. Even at elite universities, I was exposed to the disease that has endangered black lives for so long.”

In 2007, my wife and I moved to Charlottesville, Va. Before arriving I had been heartened by its electoral map — bright blue surrounded by socially menacing red. Once there, I soon learned that a blue town is in some ways worse than a red one because everyone is possessed of the conviction of their own racial virtues, and they’re almost all very wrong. My first three years in Charlottesville were spent coldly coming to terms with its radical segregation and the absence of a black middle class. I observed as the police harassed homeless black men on the beloved Downtown Mall while the white frat boys got to shamelessly litter the streets surrounding the University of Virginia with beer kegs. Dionysus surely considered these misfits his chosen ones. [emphasis mine]

By 2010, nine years after the day I could have died, I was hardly leaving the house. When I did venture out, I kept to myself, avoided small talk, went straight home after doing what I needed to do, grateful when I finally made it back to the safe comfort of my own home. Nothing in particular was happening in the world other than America just being America.

So, the racially liberal white people of Charlottesville are actually racist because– like much of America– there’s a lacking Black middle class and because frat boys get away with stuff?!  Sure, we all know that there’s plenty of “liberals” who nonetheless have some pretty retrograde racial attitudes, but this is really unfair to the people of Charlottesville (and later New Haven).


Quick hits

1) How broken is policing?  The cop who chooses not to shoot in what is clearly a suicide by cop situation is the one who gets fired.

2) My wife was talking about redlining, etc., today and it hit me– she’s never read “The Case for Reparations.”  Everybody needs to read this.  If you haven’t, set aside some time this weekend.  Seriously.  If one can refer to a magazine article as a foundational text of the modern era (and I think you can), this is it.

3) Jay Rosen on the state of the media.

I begin with this almost surreal image from 15 years ago — newspaper as giant battleship moving slowly out of harbor, critics so impotent they can only toss dead fish at it — because it shows how much has changed for the people formerly known as newspaper journalists, and especially for the editors who try to steer these organizations. They have suffered a massive loss in power as the media and political worlds have changed around them.

To whom has this power gone?

To the tech platforms that have a stronger hold on the audience for news; they do a better job and charge a fairer price for targeted advertising. To the internet itself, which continues to disassemble the newspaper “bundle” into specialist sites that satisfy niche audiences. To the faux-populists preaching resentment politics who have turned the “liberal media” into their always-on hate object, accelerating a loss of trust in the journalism that big city newspapers once practiced with impunity.

Power has been lost to Fox News. And to the trolls, including the one in the White House. And to sources who can find a following without playing ball with the press…

Debate club democracy — where people of good will share a common world of fact but disagree on what should be done — is an expensive illusion to maintain during a presidency that tries to undermine every independent and factual check there is on the executive’s power, not just a free press and its journalism, but the intelligence community, the diplomatic corps, the civil service, government scientists, inspectors general, and Congress in its oversight function.

Stories about the Trump government undermining all of these have appeared in the New York Times. They are ably reported. But at some point the light bulb has to flick on. This isn’t debate club. It’s an attack on the institutions of American democracy. Just as police work in our cities isn’t law enforcement constrained by the Constitution. It’s systemized suspicion of Black people, free of Constitutional constraint, and it frequently ends in violence.

The idea that the New York Times can never reach conclusions like this, and build them into its core values, because it has to remain neutral in order to be trusted as a news source by the very people who reject those values  — an idea I have called the view from nowhere — might have been a mistaken-but-survivable construct in the era of Battleship Newspaper. That is no longer the case.

4) We have to find a way to let kids go to school.  “Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions: The abrupt switch to remote learning wiped out academic gains for many students in America, and widened racial and economic gaps. Catching up in the fall won’t be easy.”

5) Terrific essay from Anne Applebaum on Trump’s enablers.  But, I take issue with this premise in the sub-head, “Why have Republican leaders abandoned their principles in support of an immoral and dangerous president?”  I’m not at all convinced that the foundational principles of liberal democracy and the US Constitution were ever truly the principles of folks like Lindsey Graham (and hella no Ted Cruz), but that, more likely they saw mouthing adherence to these principles as an effective way to accrue political power– their true primary principle.

6) Good stuff on Jared Kushner:

To understand how Jared Kushner received the opportunity to fail at managing the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic, you mostly need to know that he is married to the president’s daughter. But to truly grasp the distinctive style of failure that Kushner has brought to bear on his latest and most urgent challenge, it helps to know about the career of a man named Kevin Hassett.

In 1999, Hassett was 37 years old and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a familiar home port for Republican policy types, when his third book,Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market, arrived in stores on October 1. The timing was not ideal for a hucksterish book arguing that the market would soon “rise to much higher ground.” Three months later, the Dow began a steep descent; stocks declined by 44 percent in real terms over the next few years.

That book-length public blooper didn’t adversely affect his career. Hassett spent the next two decades flitting between AEI and various political campaigns. He was chairman of Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2017 to 2019 before returning in March of this year as an adviser focused on the economic recovery. It was in this new role that Hassett produced another simple econometric model that was, once again, preposterously wrong. Jason Furman, who headed up the CEA under President Obama, called Hassett’s “cubic model” projection, which showed coronavirus deaths dwindling away entirely by the middle of May, “utterly superficial and misleading,” and tweeted that it “might be the lowest point in the 74 year history of the Council of Economic Advisers.” InTheWashington Post, Hassett insisted that “no administration policy has been influenced by my projections.” He had to produce this disclaimer because administration policy had, in fact, been influenced by his projections.The Washington Postreported that Hassett’s chart sketching out the projected death tolls “was embraced inside the West Wing by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and other powerful aides helping to oversee the government’s pandemic response.” “It’s not hard to see why,” Slate’s Jordan Weissmann wrote. “It has a trail of pink dots leading to zero.”

So here we have Kushner, a powerful special adviser with no meaningful expertise in public health or epidemiology, using a breathtakingly specious chart produced by an economist who’d flubbed the biggest prediction he’d ever made—all as a justification for the federal government to do less to confront a rampaging pandemic. While the Trump years have offered many such crystalline and bottomless moments of executive abandonment, this one felt uniquely Jared. The collaboration is what makes it—a legacy figure in the field of elite ineptitude, delivering the old egregiousness in a style optimized for the vacuous new avatar of elite incompetence. The gilded tools of one generation of catastrophic conservative governance pass into the soft and clammy hands of the next. If it weren’t for all those people dying, it would be beautiful…

A Trumpian suspicion of conventional expertise, a trendy deference to business-boy buzzwords, and a rich kid’s innate distaste for people with less money all likely had something to do with how Kushner came to oversee a team of two dozen volunteers he’d borrowed from big management consultancies or from other government agencies to help coordinate the response. (At FEMA, officials came to call this group the Slim Suit Crowd.) But in the search for answers to the question of how this bespoke team with, per TheWashington Post, no “significant experience in health care, procurement or supply-chain operations” wound up tinkering unhelpfully in all three areas, it’s important not to overthink it, given the people involved. Volunteers from McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group were asked to procure protective gear for the same reasons that there are (presumably) chandeliers in the bathrooms at Mar-a-Lago—in the absence of actual discernment or real consideration, a rich person simply defaulted to the most luxurious option…

Conservative-movement lifers like Kevin Hassett are in the costume design business. Their work, in and out of power, is to dress up the atavistic avarice and self-serving fatuity of the wealthy people who fund and shape conservative politics as an ideology. For a long time, the idea was to invest these grouchy, suspicious, proudly unreasoned instincts with enough cosmetic heft that they could pass as actual values. Trump has undone this—there are no real values, now, only deals. As it happens, the old work of finding clever new ways to the same old answers was always just a matter of Getting To Yes. The solution was always going to be something as useless and superficially serious as Hassett’s vanishing pink curve. The real challenge, it turns out, was fitting it for an appropriately expensive-looking suit.

7) Do you know about the amazing properties of horseshoe crab blood and it’s importance to modern medicine.  It’s a thing.  And, turns out, it matters a lot for Covid testing.  (Here’s a one minute video explainer).

8) You know I’m always here for Bill Barr is the worst takes:

When scandal has engulfed past American presidencies, the Justice Department’s independence proved critical to upholding the rule of law. The textbook case was the Saturday Night Massacre, when Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than carry out President Richard Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Even in the George W. Bush administration, which faced scandals over politicized prosecutions and executive power, the department managed to preserve its autonomy from the White House at key moments.

Attorney General William Barr has overseen a stunning reversal of this tradition. He is, in many ways, the anti-Elliot Richardson: a loyal foot soldier who has successfully transformed the Justice Department into little more than an enabler of Trump’s policy whims and political interests. Nowhere was this mission clearer than in Barr’s move in May to dismiss the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who had already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The Flynn decision came on the heels of another dramatic Barr-sponsored foray to aid a disgraced Trump associate: The department’s effort to secure a lighter sentence for Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering last November, led to resignations by DOJ prosecutors and calls for Barr’s resignation…

The attorney general’s transformation into a more erudite version of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and onetime fixer-in-chief, serves a higher purpose. Barr frames himself as part of a spiritually driven mobilization to reshape American political life, one that seeks to extend the executive branch’s constitutional powers into the service of a higher calling. Barr sees himself not as the bagman for a corrupt president, but as the disciple of a fading legal and moral order—one in which unbounded executive power goes hand in hand with a sacred mandate to preserve the nation’s Christian culture from secular degeneration…

At this late stage of the Trump administration, it’s no longer shocking to see cabinet members and other figures in the president’s inner circle gleefully overturning past expectations and norms meant to govern the orderly operation of power in Washington. But Barr’s case is different—not least because when he was confirmed as attorney general in 2019, even liberal detractors of all things Trump hailed him as a welcome return to something like a reasoned pre-Trump status quo, duly deferential to basic notions of separation of federal power and the canons of constitutional law enforcement long established in court precedent. The question for future historians of the American constitutional order is not so much how the ardent culture warrior William Barr seized a key bastion of federal power; rather, it’s how anyone in Congress or the Washington punditocracy ever mistook him for anything other than what he was.

9) Michael Gerson, “This is what happens when bigotry dominates the main conservative media platform”‘

In a column that appeared (ironically) at Foxnews.com, James asked, “How many more black people must die, and how many more times will statements of sympathy have to be issued? . . . How many more committees will have to be formed until America admits that racism is still a problem in this country? . . . It’s time America takes responsibility and expands human flourishing to all of its citizens — not just the majority of them.”

How did Tucker Carlson of Fox News react to this plea? Did he listen respectfully to the voice of a different experience? Of course not. Carlson attacked James’s article as a “long scream denouncing America as an irredeemably racist nation” and urged his listeners to stop sending funds to Heritage. This is what happens when the main media platform of American conservatism is dominated by bigotry.

James felt compelled to make her points because she is woman of faith and character. For a glimpse of what the total absence of faith and character looks like, see the Republican Party of Texas. In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, a dozen elected leaders of the GOP wrote or retweeted racist memes and conspiracy theories. Comal County Republican Party Chair Sue Gafford Piner propagated the idea that philanthropist George Soros is funding a race war. Bexar County GOP Chair Cynthia Brehm suggested that Floyd’s death was staged to hurt President Trump’s reelection chances. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller wrote that the civil rights protesters are “domestic terrorists who were organized and paid for by George Soros.”

This is not the rejection of “political correctness”; it is the success of white supremacy in the Texas Republican Party. The GOP, in many places, has become an institution where leaders are elevated and groomed for cruelty and bigotry. This is what happens when the president of the United States normalizes racism and mainstreams ideological madness.

These habits of prejudice took root easily in the GOP, indicating a broad, preexisting disposition. If Republicans are ever to recover their moral balance, they will need to dispose of three pervasive assumptions.

The first is the assumption of rough equality — the belief that most racial prejudice was addressed by the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and, phew, aren’t we glad all that is over with. In this view, every abuser of rights is dismissed as one of a few bad apples — even when it is clear that some institutions (say, police forces or the Trump GOP) are engaged in the mass production of rotting fruit.

The third is the assumption of historical irrelevance — the belief that if subjugation did not take place this morning, it is morally extraneous. This is a particularly absurd view for conservatives, given their traditional belief that the past has a powerful hold on the present. For most of American history, deeply unjust laws meant that police enforced an oppressive social order, sometimes through tactics of terror. This has left habits in many police departments and scars in many communities. And this does not even start to cover the legacy of stolen labor, educational inequality and disenfranchisement.

10) Definitely more research on this, “Can existing live vaccines prevent COVID-19?”  Some interesting evidence I think I’m mentioned before on BCG.  Maybe Polio (OPV) too.

These nonspecific beneficial effects may not be limited to OPV and LEV. Other live attenuated viral vaccines such as those against measles (5) and smallpox (9) have also been associated with pronounced nonspecific protective effects against infectious diseases. In Africa, when measles vaccine was introduced in the community, the overall mortality in children declined by more than 50%, a reduction that was far larger than anticipated on the basis of the protection against measles deaths alone (10). A large-scale RCT confirmed that the measles vaccine was associated with a 30% reduction in overall mortality in children; only 4% was explained by prevention of measles infection (5).

Attenuated bacterial vaccines such as Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) against tuberculosis, as well as experimental live attenuated vaccine against pertussis (whooping cough), were also shown to protect against heterologous infections (5, 11). In addition, live pertussis vaccine also prevented noninfectious inflammatory diseases (11). RCTs showed that BCG vaccine at birth was associated with more than a one-third reduction of neonatal mortality, because BCG vaccine protected against deaths from septicemia and pneumonia (5). In 2014, an expert panel at the World Health Organization reviewed the evidence for nonspecific effects of live vaccines and concluded that they reduced childhood mortality by more than would be expected through their effects on the diseases they prevent (12). It is important to note that non-live (inactivated) vaccines do not seem to have the same effects, suggesting that replicating attenuated pathogens induce a broader immune response.

11) Very good stuff from David Petraeus, “Take the Confederate Names Off Our Army Bases: It is time to remove the names of traitors like Benning and Bragg from our country’s most important military installations.”

Fort Bragg and most of the other posts in question were established either during World War I, at one peak of the Lost Cause movement, or in the early 1940s, as the country was feverishly gearing up for World War II. Army leaders, to say nothing of political figures at the time, undoubtedly wanted to ingratiate themselves with the southern states in which the forts were located. They bowed to—and in many cases shared—the Lost Cause nostalgia that also sponsored so much civilian statuary, street naming, and memorial building from the end of Reconstruction through the 1930s, when the trend tapered off but did not end completely. In many cases, the Army’s sentiments simply mirrored those of the society it served.

For an organization designed to win wars to train for them at installations named for those who led a losing force is sufficiently peculiar, but when we consider the cause for which these officers fought, we begin to penetrate the confusion of Civil War memory. These bases are, after all, federal installations, home to soldiers who swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention. Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention…

But Confederate leaders are different from these other examples not simply in degree, but in kind: Plainly put, Lee, Bragg, and the rest committed treason, however much they may have agonized over it.* The majority of them had worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, and that Army should not brook any celebration of those who betrayed their country.

12) Given that my 14-year old son plays trumpet, I gotta admit I am fascinated by the idea of doing studies on how brass and woodwind instruments potentially spread virus.

13) For you Covid science nerds like me (and you know who you are), this is a great discussion to read, “Can a Vaccine for Covid-19 Be Developed in Record Time?”

14) This is good stuff from Alex Tabarrok on unbudling the police:

It’s an unacknowledged peculiarity that police are in charge of road safety. Why should the arm of the state that investigates murder, rape and robbery also give out traffic tickets? Traffic stops are the most common reason for contact with the police. I (allegedly) rolled through a stop sign in the neighborhood and was stopped. It was uncomfortable–hands on the wheel, don’t make any sudden moves, be polite etc. and I am a white guy. Traffic stops can be much more uncomfortable for minorities, which makes the police uncomfortable. Many of the police homicides, such as the killing of Philando Castile happened at ordinary traffic stops. But why do we need armed men (mostly) to issue a traffic citation?

Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail. Road safety does not require a hammer. The responsibility for handing out speeding tickets and citations should be handled by a unarmed agency. Put the safety patrol in bright yellow cars and have them carry a bit of extra gasoline and jumper cables to help stranded motorists as part of their job–make road safety nice. Highways England hires traffic officers for some of these tasks (although they are not yet authorized to issue speeding tickets).

Similarly, the police have no expertise in dealing with the mentally ill or with the homeless–jobs like that should be farmed out to other agencies. Notice that we have lots of other safety issues that are not handled by the police. Restaurant inspectors, for example, do over a million restaurant inspectors annually but they don’t investigate murder or drug charges and they are not armed. Perhaps not coincidentally, restaurant inspectors are not often accused of inspector brutality, “Your honor, I swear I thought he was reaching for a knife….”.

Another advantage of turning over road safety to an unarmed, non-police unit would be to help restore the fourth amendment which has been destroyed by the jurisprudence of traffic stops.

As we move to self-driving vehicles it will become obvious that road safety does not belong with the police (eventually it will be more like air traffic control). We can get a jump start on that trend by more carefully delineating which police duties require the threat of imminent violence and which do not.

Defunding the police, whatever that means, is a political non-starter. But we can unbundle the police.

15) Meanwhile, I am entirely unpersuaded by the, truly, abolish the police argument.  A real problem with this Op-Ed is that it argues that all our problems will be solved if we just sufficiently invest in our people and communities along the lines of Norway, Denmark, etc., (without ever mentioning other countries).  I’d be a lot more convinced if those genuine social democracies had abolished their police forces.

16) Greg Sargent, “Young people’s attitudes toward protests should worry Republicans”

What’s more, the new Pew polling also finds that an extraordinary 80 percent of those young Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement, 54 percent of them strongly.

A recent Post-Schar School poll helps underscore the point. Here’s what it found among Americans aged 18 to 29 years old:

82 percent of them support the protests
77 percent of them see the killing of George Floyd as a sign of broader problems in police treatment of black people
63 percent of them disapprove of Trump’s response to the protests
83 percent say police need to keep making changes to treat blacks equally to whites
58 percent prefer a president who will address the nation’s racial divisions, as opposed to restoring security by enforcing the law…

Yet Trump, the only Republican president many of them really lived under while being politically aware, is entirely out of step with them on the underlying issues at stake. Numerous Trump administration officials have denied in recent days that systemic racism is a problem in law enforcement…

“This is a movement that’s questioning the power of the state — the power of the police to kill people,” GOP strategist Rick Wilson, a frequent Trump critic, told me. “These young people are seeing this up close.”

Wilson added that many young people are experiencing this political movement in an “intimate” way, noting that its “size and demographics” threaten to usher in a “disastrous political moment” for Republicans.

“This has the potential to shape 20 years of American politics,” Wilson told me. “It’s got every downside in the world built into it for the GOP.”

17) This was interesting and I approve.  “NC State ends partnership with CPI Security over its CEO’s police brutality email”  CPI Security has the right to have a racist CEO and to sell security, but NC State can partner with many private companies that don’t.

18) I have sooo many thoughts on NYT and James Bennet and have really tried to read widely from people I respect.  I think it is a perfectly reasonable argument that NYT should not have run Cotton’s Op-Ed (though, I think there’s real value in seeing how people like Cotton think and present their case to a broad audience), but I think it way beyond the pale that Bennet lost his job for this.  I generally love David Roberts and he makes some good points, “The Tom Cotton op-ed affair shows why the media must defend America’s values: It cannot remain neutral when those values are under threat from racialized authoritarianism.”

There clearly are boundaries. The Times would not publish an op-ed advocating for a return to chattel slavery in the US. Presumably no mainstream US publication would. If it was found that a US senator (or a group of them) believed in the return of slavery, the Times would not give the senator space to make his case in the op-ed section. It would assign reporters to cover the story, like a scandal.

That slavery is abhorrent is taken as a background assumption informing coverage, not a subject of legitimate debate in which both sides deserve a hearing.

So the question is where are the boundaries and, just as importantly, who draws them? Who decides what is in bounds and out of bounds? Is it the press’s job to draw those lines and defend those boundaries?

These questions are at the heart of the Cotton affair, and they have haunted all of journalism since Donald Trump became president.

I’ll argue in this post that Cotton’s op-ed doesn’t meet the Times’s standards, not only because it contains inaccuracies but because it reflects a worldview incompatible with the baseline small-l liberal values that make the Times’s work, and journalism generally, possible.

That doesn’t just pose problems for the opinion side of the news business; it’s an even bigger challenge for the news side, which has been habituated to a notion of “objectivity” that makes telling the real story impossible.

The movement Trump represents, of which Cotton is an aspiring leader, has drifted into a racialized authoritarianism that is increasingly incompatible with liberal democracy. And because it is part of the core purpose of journalism to defend liberal democracy, that is the story it should tell…

The small-l liberal model is roughly as follows: Certain shared values and rules, enshrined in America’s founding documents and developed in its social and legal traditions, define the small-d democratic playing field. Values like respect for accuracy and shared facts, devotion to equality under law and democratic participation, and opposition to unlawful power are necessary to create a level playing field, but on that field, ideas about government and issues of the day should compete on merit. The more speech the better; let the best speech win. (Obviously I’m describing the liberal ideal, never actually reached in practice, either journalistically or politically.)

These videos show the police aren’t neutral. They’re counterprotesters.
To act with good faith in this model is to accept those shared values, rules, and norms and agree to compete within the boundaries of the playing field — to play by the rules. The marketplace of ideas only works if it is open to any idea that conforms to those rules and closed to ideas that reject them.

Here’s the thing, though. While Cotton very deftly exploited the liberal tolerance that Sulzberger and Bennet are so proud of to get his piece published, he does not share that tolerance. The movement he represents — he is often identified as the “future of Trumpism” — is ethnocentric and authoritarian. It is about maintaining the power and status of rural and suburban white people, even as they dwindle demographically, by allying with large corporate interests and using the levers of government to entrench minority rule.

Such a movement is incommensurate with the shared premises that small-l liberals take for granted. Minority rule is incompatible with full democratic participation. A revanchist movement meant to restore power to a privileged herrenvolk cannot abide shared standards of accuracy or conduct. Will to power takes precedent over any principle.

By Sulzberger’s standard, the GOP is not acting, and cannot act, in good faith.

Those are strong arguments and Roberts makes a good case.  But, I don’t think that gets to Bennet should have been fired.

19) Also have great respect for Brian Beutler

The more constructive admission came not from the Times public relations team, but from one of Bennet’s deputies and supporters, Bari Weiss, who wrote, “I agree with our critics that it’s a dodge to say ‘we want a totally open marketplace of ideas!’ There are limits. Obviously. The question is: does his view fall outside those limits? Maybe the answer is yes. If the answer is yes, it means that the view of more than half of Americans are unacceptable. And perhaps they are.”

This gets much, much closer to the core of the controversy. Many supporters of the decision to run the Cotton piece have cast their defenses in self-congratulatory language. They are willing to brook dangerous ideas, even emboss them with the imprimatur of the Times, because they are enlightened and unafraid. Yet once the Times’s critics and supporters have agreed that some ideas do not deserve to be amplified by the New York Times opinion section, we’re left with an argument over where the stewards of that institution should draw the line. The revolt over the Cotton op-ed wasn’t about the quality of Cotton’s prose. It was about placing the boundary at the maintenance of hard-won rights like free assembly and self-governance, rights that are now under increasing attack.

Times defenders have yet to be so specific, and so their collective paean to reasoned debate is artifice—one that barely obscures a willingness to surrender sound judgment in order to accommodate people of bad faith. It’s easy to articulate repellent ideas and deem them to fall outside the sphere of democratic debate. It’s easy to say the Times would never publish an op-ed that promoted genocide or the forced sterilization of minorities, while ignoring edge cases rooted in the reality of American politics today. It’s much more difficult to articulate principles that are endangered right now and defend them, because it’s impossible to know just how depraved and illiberal the right will become as it continues its march into authoritarianism.

The question for Times opinion editors and the rest of civil society is whether they want to remain so irresolute that they continue to allow the right to push the boundaries of legitimate debate further into anti-democratic terrain, simply because a disconcerting number of Americans will be along for the ride. It isn’t hard to play the default position forward to very dark places. Amid plague conditions, President Trump has declared that if Democratic states and cities facilitate absentee voting, the election won’t be legitimate. His assault on voting by mail is based on a lie, yet plenty of conservatives, including some who work for Trump and would happily write under his byline, could draft an op-ed consistent with Times editorial standards, arguing Trump is right to question the outcome of the election if absentee voting becomes the rule rather than the exception.

Again, a strong case.  I still might take the other side on this particular Op-Ed, but a good argument.  I still don’t think it gets us anywhere near Bennet should have been fired.

20) So, I’ll leave off with this.  I feel like Matt Taibbi has been more interested in trolling liberals than useful critiques of late, but I think he’s damn right here, “The American Press Is Destroying Itself” as he gets directly to the issue of not just what is published, but the firings, pile-ons, and shamings.  I think he goes a little too far in attributing good faith to Cotton, but, I also think most of the Cotton complaints come from non-readings and wildly bad-faith readings.

On the other side of the political aisle, among self-described liberals, we’re watching an intellectual revolution. It feels liberating to say after years of tiptoeing around the fact, but the American left has lost its mind. It’s become a cowardly mob of upper-class social media addicts, Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness.

The leaders of this new movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance, free inquiry, and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation. They are counting on the guilt-ridden, self-flagellating nature of traditional American progressives, who will not stand up for themselves, and will walk to the Razor voluntarily.

They’ve conned organization after organization into empowering panels to search out thoughtcrime, and it’s established now that anything can be an offense, from a UCLA professor placed under investigation for reading Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” out loud to a data scientist fired* from a research firm for — get this — retweeting an academic study suggesting nonviolent protests may be more politically effective than violent ones!

Now, this madness is coming for journalism. Beginning on Friday, June 5th, a series of controversies rocked the media. By my count, at least eight news organizations dealt with internal uprisings (it was likely more). Most involved groups of reporters and staffers demanding the firing or reprimand of colleagues who’d made politically “problematic” editorial or social media decisions…

In the most discussed incident, Times editorial page editor James Bennet was ousted for green-lighting an anti-protest editorial by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton entitled, “Send in the troops.”

I’m no fan of Cotton, but as was the case with Michael Moore’s documentary and many other controversial speech episodes, it’s not clear that many of the people angriest about the piece in question even read it. In classic Times fashion, the paper has already scrubbed a mistake they made misreporting what their own editorial said, in an article about Bennet’s ouster. Here’s how the piece by Marc Tracy read originally (emphasis mine):

James Bennet, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, has resigned after a controversy over an Op-Ed by a senator calling for military force against protesters in American cities.

Here’s how the piece reads now:

James Bennet resigned on Sunday from his job as the editorial page editor of The New York Times, days after the newspaper’s opinion section, which he oversaw, published a much-criticized Op-Ed by a United States senator calling for a military response to civic unrest in American cities.

Cotton did not call for “military force against protesters in American cities.” He spoke of a “show of force,” to rectify a situation a significant portion of the country saw as spiraling out of control. It’s an important distinction. Cotton was presenting one side of the most important question on the most important issue of a critically important day in American history…

The main thing accomplished by removing those types of editorials from newspapers — apart from scaring the hell out of editors — is to shield readers from knowledge of what a major segment of American society is thinking.

It also guarantees that opinion writers and editors alike will shape views to avoid upsetting colleagues, which means that instead of hearing what our differences are and how we might address those issues, newspaper readers will instead be presented with page after page of people professing to agree with one another. That’s not agitation, that’s misinformation.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Damn it just completely sucks how journalistic norms are hijacked, time and time again, for Republican ends.  Margaret Sullivan, “The media is helping Trump turn the bogus ‘Obamagate’ into the 2020 version of Clinton’s emails”

It’s becoming clear that journalists never fully reckoned with the mistakes of 2016 campaign coverage. We know this because they seem poised to repeat them.

As you may recall, the news media — from Fox News to the New York Times and plenty of others across the political spectrum — managed to make the relative molehill of Hillary Clinton’s dicey email practices into a daily obsession, roughly equal to the mountain of Donald Trump’s financial and personal transgressions.

Well, don’t look now but this is happening again before our eyes. Its name this time is “Obamagate.” That’s a moniker that, in President Trump’s outraged tweets, is rendered in all capital letters, but let’s not.

This vaporous, apparently made-up offense, according to Trump, is the political crime of the century — and, heck, last century too, because he claims that it makes the 1970s Watergate scandal look like child’s play.

As best as he’s even attempted to spell out, it supposedly involves a deep-state conspiracy by the former president and his allies to undermine Trump by being informed of the identity of the private citizen having covert and legally questionable discussions with the Russian ambassador — a citizen who turned out to be Trump’s national security adviser designate Michael Flynn.

Despite the fact that this practice is legal and normal, the nonscandal around it is getting plenty of attention.

2) Good God this Trump judges are just the worst and an absolute embarrassment to our legal system and the rule of law.  Mark Joseph Stern and Dahlia Lithwick:

 So it’s deeply troubling to see a burgeoning new trend among conservative jurists during Donald Trump’s presidency: the interjection of purely political hot takes into supposedly impartial judicial opinions. This phenomenon isn’t limited to Trump appointees. Some Trump judges have already mastered this art, but it seems to have caught on among some state judges who appear to be gunning for a promotion to the federal judiciary.

The latest example comes from Michigan, whose court of appeals blocked a ban on vaping products in the state on Thursday. Judge Mark Boonstra—an appointee of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder—joined the majority opinion striking down the ban. But he tacked on a separate 13-page polemic attacking Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders shutting down schools and nonessential businesses while limiting travel within the state. Whitmer has become the target of ire from the president as well as armed protesters who have occupied the state Capitol, forcing the Legislature to shut down due to safety concerns. Boonstra is now pouring gasoline on the fire. His concurrence included an ominous proclamation: “Totalitarianism has no place in America. Has it arrived? Well, that’s a question for another day.” While pretending to take no position on this apparently open question, Boonstra then cited far-right outlets to support his thinly veiled accusation that the governor has perhaps brought “tyranny” to Michigan.

3) Jay Rosen, “The plan is to have no plan”

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign. So much has already been made public that the standard script for a White House cover up (worse than the crime…) won’t apply. Instead, everything will ride on the manufacture of confusion. The press won’t be able to “expose” the plot because it will all happen in stark daylight. The facts will be known, and simultaneously they will be inconceivable.

“The plan is to have no plan” is not a strategy, really. Nor would I call it a policy. It has a kind of logic to it, but this is different from saying it has a design— or a designer. Meaning: I do not want to be too conspiratorial about this. To wing it without a plan is merely the best this government can do, given who heads the table. The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.

4) For now, NC State is adopting what seems to be the growing university consensus– early start, no breaks, finish by Thanksgiving.  I think the limiting student travel to/from campus during breaks definitely makes sense, but this whole thing being predicated on a late Fall wave seems more than dicey to me.  Trying to predict when waves of the virus may come, more than a few weeks out, seems like a real fool’s errand.

5) And damn does McSweeney’s nail what we’ve been hearing till this week:

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff —

After careful deliberation, we are pleased to report we can finally announce that we plan to re-open campus this fall. But with limitations. Unless we do not. Depending on guidance, which we have not yet received.

Please know that we eventually will all come together as a school community again. Possibly virtually. Probably on land. Maybe some students will be here? Perhaps the RAs can be let in to feed the lab rats?

We plan to follow the strictest recommended guidance from public health officials, except in any case where it might possibly limit our major athletic programs, which will proceed as usual.

We understand you may have concerns about the University’s future, but we will take this time to emphasize that academic terms are merely units of time, and here at the University, we strongly believe in the concept of time.

In this time, more than ever, it is time for strong, decisive action.

We have decided to delay our decision.

It is our decision to delay our decision so we can decide on our decision at a later decided time.

We will make our final decision on campus reopening on a date no later than the day our closest competing universities announce their decisions and no earlier than the day after we cash your fall tuition deposit checks.

The University is here for you in this trying time. If you have any questions not answered by this email, please do not hesitate to re-read this email.

The University

6) Very nice, straightforward piece from Business Insider on assessing your Covid risks.

“The general principle should be: Outside is better than inside; open is better than closed; fewer is better than more people; and stay away from sick people,” Dr. Erich Anderer, a neurosurgeon and founding member of the North Brooklyn Runners group, told Insider.

7) Also, on average, Americans are much more cautious and concerned about risks than one might gather from the media.  Good polling here in the Post:

8) Okay, there’s value in a personal essay from a parent of a young adult who had a very scary case of Covid.  But, put it in context and enough of the fearmongering, “My Son Survived Terrifying Covid-19 Complications: If schools reopen, how many kids won’t?” because all the data so far suggests the answer to her question is… very, very few.

9) If we commit to it, we can totally due the contract tracing that’s so important to controlling Covid outbreaks.  Paterson, NJ shows how it’s done.

10) Derek Thompson with the strategies we should take to be safe inside.

11) Great stuff from Frum, “The System Failed the Test of Trump: The story of recent years is of institutions that were unable to constrain the presidency.”

Have you ever known anyone swindled by a scam? It’s remarkable how determined they remain to defend the swindler, and for how long—and how they try to shift the blame to those who tried to warn them of the swindle. The pain of being seen as a fool hurts more than the loss of money; it’s more important to protect the ego against indignity than to visit justice upon the perpetrator. We human beings so often prefer a lie that affirms us to a truth that challenges us.

Americans are living now through the worst pandemic in a century and the severest economic crisis since the Great Depression. At every turn, President Donald Trump has made the crises worse. Had somebody else been president in December 2019—Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush—fewer Americans would have met untimely deaths; fewer Americans would now be unemployed; fewer businesses would be heading toward bankruptcy.

On the eve of the 2016 election, a Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist opined in The Washington Post: “If Trump wins, he’ll be held more or less in check by the House and Senate, because that’s the way our system of government is set up. Not even Republicans are eager to follow Trump’s lead.”

I cite that column—published under the headline “Calm Down. We’ll Be Fine No Matter Who Wins”—not to single it out, but precisely because it was so un-singular. The keepers of the institutions could imagine Trump testing the system. They could not imagine the system failing the test.

And yet fail it did. The story of the Trump years is a story of institutions that failed. The Department of Justice failed. The inspectors general failed. Congressional oversight failed. The national-security establishment failed. The courts failed. Trump has done things that no previous American president would ever have dared, that no previous president sank low enough even to imagine. Sometimes he was stopped, more often not. But whether stopped or not in any particular case, he has never ceased pressing ahead to do even worse the next time.

The only check remaining is that of the 2020 ballot box. Not Trump alone, but the great political party behind him, is working to ensure that election is as unfree and unfair as possible. In that effort, they have mobilized the active or tacit support of millions of Americans.

12) Good stuff from Pew, “Trust in Medical Scientists Has Grown in U.S., but Mainly Among Democrats”

Chart shows growing partisan differences over trust in medical scientists and scientists since the COVID-19 outbreak

Chart shows wide partisan differences on the role of testing and spread of coronavirus

I don’t even know what to say about a political party that engages in so much rejection of science.  They are surely not rejecting it when they go to the doctor or drink their treated municipal water.

13) Drum asks whether face shields might be better than cloth masks.  Would be great to have some more research on this as they are surely a lot more comfortable over hours of use.

14) Drum also makes the case for a good mask-wearing PSA.  Hell yeah!!  I’m actually quite frustrated by the lack of these.

15) I’ve recently become a huge fan of Bob Wachter.  Gotta love his twitter bio, “Career: What happens when a poli sci major becomes an academic physician.” Here he is on “the science and politics of masks.”

16) This Noah Smith twitter thread is amazing.  It’s a compilation of the best of twitter threads on Covid of the past week (I feltd good that I had already seen so many of these).  So much good stuff.

17) Local “experts” think swimming pools this summer are a bad idea.  But, I think that is under the presumption they will operate as normal (obviously, most places opening up are not operating as normal.  Glad the NPR experts label is a low risk.  I will be going to the pool.


18) I read a great twitter thread on best scientific discoveries of the past decade.  Lots of people mentioned Homo Naledi.  I remembered reading about this a few years ago, but had not really appreciated what an amazing discovery this was.  Now I do.

19) Loved this “micromorts” perspective on Covid risks:

Fortunately, there are tools for assessing risk that can help us put the daily torrent of numbers in perspective. I found the best way to communicate the level of risk was to put it in terms that allowed easier comparison to other, more familiar, risks. One could then talk, for instance, about how dangerous living in a contaminated city was compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

The average American endures about one micromort of risk per day, or one in a million chance of dying, from nonnatural causes, such as being electrocuted, dying in a car wreck or being struck by an asteroid (the list is long).

Let’s apply this concept to Covid-19.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York City experienced approximately 24,000 excess deaths from March 15 to May 9, when the pandemic was peaking. That’s 24,000 more deaths than would have normally occurred during the same time period in previous years, without this pandemic. This statistic is considered a more accurate estimate of the overall mortality risk related to Covid-19 than using the reported number of deaths resulting from confirmed cases, since it captures indirect deaths associated with Covid-19 (because of an overwhelmed health care system, for example) as well as the deaths caused by the virus itself.

Converting this to micromort language, an individual living in New York City has experienced roughly 50 additional micromorts of risk per day because of Covid-19. That means you were roughly twice as likely to die as you would have been if you were serving in the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan throughout 2010, a particularly deadly year.

The quality of data varies from state and state, and continues to be updated. But for comparison, using the C.D.C. data, Michigan had approximately 6,200 excess deaths during this same time period. That is roughly the same risk of dying as driving a motorcycle 44 miles every day (11 micromorts per day). Living in Maryland during this time would be roughly as risky as doing one skydiving jump a day for that duration (7 micromorts per jump).

20) A lot of talk about Vitamin D and Covid.  Good summary the issue at WebMD.  Does seem quite likely that Vitamin D deficiency will be more likely to set you up for a bad case of Covid.  But Vitamin D deficiency is already not great and we’ve not actually done anything about it as a society.  But, maybe fear of Covid could work on that and lead to fewer bad cases at the margins.

21) Really good piece on how we’ve misunderstood what Sweden is actually doing, but I especially liked this part:

But even if Sweden’s policy of allowing businesses to open and people to move out and about is not that different from some policies American states have or will soon implement, there’s been one major difference: the schools. Schools for children up to age 15 have remained open, all the way down to daycares and preschool. “That makes a world of difference,” Trägårdh told me. “It’s a gender issue.”

Sweden has one of the highest rates of female participation in the labor force for rich countries. Forcing young children to stay home would put many mothers in a bind or even knock them out of the workforce entirely.

“Closing down schools works well if you are in a well-to-do, middle-class family that has a house and a garden and can afford to have one person staying at home,” Trägårdh said. “That may not look like a doable proposition if you are a single parent or do not make a lot of money.”

Shutting down daycare and schools could increase risk as well, Angner explained, by leading working parents to turn to their own parents for help. “If you close daycares, then either one parent has to stop working or grandma or grandpa shows up,” he said. But since the elderly are most at risk, it was even more important to keep schools and daycares open.

Quick hits (part I)

1) With the end of Game of Thrones being a year ago, Wired re-pushed this piece on two approaches to storytelling and how GoT got all messed up in it’s final season:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Both approaches have their advantages. Since plotters know the story in advance, it’s easier to create tight narratives with satisfying conclusions. But that amount of predestination can sometimes make characters feel like cogs in service of the story. Pantsers have an easier time writing characters that live and breathe. They generate the plot by dropping a person with desires and needs into a dramatic situation and documenting the results. But with the characters in charge, pantsers risk a meandering or poorly paced structure, and they can struggle to tie everything together.

To be clear, the advantages of each are not guarantees. And plotters can write memorable characters, while pantsers can write thrilling sequences. The differences usually smooth themselves out over successive drafts anyway. Where the effect can be pronounced is in an ongoing television or book series, since the beginning of the story gets released and digested by the public while the rest is still being written…

Still, the approach to storytelling changed in the third act, and an audience can feel that happening. We fell in love with one kind of show, but that’s not the show that’s ending. No amount of spectacle or fan service is satisfying if we don’t buy how the characters got there. Treating the journey as equally important to the destination is how you get conclusions that feel earned, and it’s how characters stay alive after they’ve met their fates.

Endings invite us to consider the story as a whole; where it started, where it went, and where it left us. And we can feel the gaps as this one comes to a close.

2) Damn I love this headline of the latest Thomas Edsall, “When the Mask You’re Wearing ‘Tastes Like Socialism’”

The chart — documenting findings from two Pew surveys, one conducted April 7-12, the other April 29-May 5 — shows that in a matter of three weeks, Republican voters shifted from a modest majority (51-48) concerned that the restrictions would be lifted too quickly, to a similarly modest majority (53-47) concerned that the restrictions will not be lifted quickly enough. Democrats, on the contrary, went from a decisive majority who feared (81-18) that restrictions would be lifted too quickly to an even stronger concern (87-13).

3) Some malls will probably never re-open.  A good look at how it’s not really just the internet that’s been killing malls.

4) I saw an ad for “plant-based butter” the other day and thought, “ummm, margarine?”  Basically, yes, and fancy marketing, but a little more complicated.

5) Thanks to JW for sharing how professors are thinking about trying to stop cheating in an on-line only world  Fortunately for me, my course material is readily adaptable for take-home exams as that’s how I’ve been doing most of my finals for years.  Having the book/notes in front of you will not let you actually understand how polarization of media bias really work in 75 minutes.

6) When reading Emily Oster’s great piece on Covid this week, I came across something she wrote last year on parenting.  Was so glad to finally see an honest take on infant sleeping (pretty sure I wrote a post years and years ago complaining about our non-sensical binary approach to safe sleeping– found it!):

In the U.S., for example, official safe-sleep guidelines decree that parents not sleep in the same bed with their babies (commonly called co-sleeping), out of concern about higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome and suffocation. The policy message against co-sleeping is very clear, and very dire; when my daughter was born there was a brief controversy around a set of anti-co-sleeping advertisements, which equated bed sharing with allowing your infant to sleep next to a kitchen knife.

When I wrote my recent book, Cribsheet, I spent a lot of time with the data on co-sleeping. And I ultimately came to agree with the official guideline, in the sense that I believe the evidence shows a higher risk of infant mortality when parents share their bed with their infant. But the story’s not as simple as Big Baby would have you believe.

Co-sleeping is especially dangerous when accompanied by parental smoking, heavy drinking, or pillows and fluffy covers on the bed. In a safe sleep environment there is still a risk, but it is fairly small compared with other risks people take regularly (such as driving their children in a car). Seeing these risks for what they are, some parents might decide that co-sleeping (as safely as possible) is what works for their family.

The typical argument against framing risk in this way goes like so: Assuming there is a risk, even a very small one, we should tell people to avoid it. By informing parents that the risk is small, we normalize this behavior, making it seem okay. The same argument applies to the formula-mixing example at the start of this piece: Sure, the risk of bacteria is small, but it’s not zero, so why not tell parents to just boil the water?

But some infants simply will not sleep on their own. Despite parental best efforts at swaddling, white noise, rocking, tiptoeing out of the room, etc., some three-week-old babies will always wake up within a few minutes of being put down alone. In this situation, what’s a parent to do? Remember that Big Baby also tells parents that sleep is incredibly important for the developing brain (which it is). And consider that if baby’s not sleeping, Mom and Dad aren’t sleeping, and if Mom and Dad aren’t sleeping, they’re probably stressed—and perhaps clumsy with that boiling water.

It is easy to say, “Do the safest thing, it’s only a few months, it ends,” but where do people get the resources to survive these few months? When parents set out to do everything by the book, too often they ultimately muddle through, making choices at random. They co-sleep by accident: They try to stay awake and end up snoozing with the baby on a sofa (much more dangerous). Or  parents try to split the night between them and then both drive to work the next day exhausted.

If parents understood that the risks of co-sleeping (in a safe sleep environment) are small, more of them might do it—just like if they understood that the risks of using room-temperature water for formula are small, they might do it. The simple fact that resources are limited means the alternative might be worse.

7a) Just found out a whole book that takes down all the “appeal to nature” fallacies we rely upon.  But… but… chemicals!!

7b) Meanwhile, I’ve got a neighbor-friend who’s been telling me all about his crazy cleans/detox.  I just nod and don’t say anything negative and then discuss science with my boys as we continue along with our walk afterwards.

8) Paul Waldman on “Obamagate” and “unmasking” and horrible journalism:

So the fact that Obama administration officials saw intelligence reports saying the Russian ambassador was talking to an American about sensitive matters regarding the relationship between the two countries and asked “Who is this American who’s negotiating with the Russians?” (it turned out to be Flynn) can be characterized not as what those officials absolutely should have done, but as the heart of a sinister conspiracy.

The people who are feeding this lunacy—Trump himself, Republican politicians, media figures—all understand this perfectly well. But their project is built on the assumption that their target audience, the great mass of conservative voters, is ignorant and easily misled. They have seldom been given cause to think otherwise.

So they scream “Obamagate!” and give the topic wall-to-wall coverage on Fox News, in the hope that the end result will be that while most people won’t have much of a grasp on the details, they’ll remember that Obama and Biden tried to frame Trump and victimized his aides, just as all they grasped in 2016 was that Hillary Clinton was a corrupt schemer. As former Trump adviser Steve Bannon once said, the strategy is to “flood the zone with shit,” to pour so much misinformation into the media that the truth loses any importance.

Here’s the dilemma we in the media often find ourselves in: Trump will make some fantastical claim, and because he’s the president, everyone reports it. Some of the most important news outlets reflexively do so in an even-handed way that gives automatic credence to the charge. One could imagine the headline: “Trump Says Obama Killed Kobe Bryant With Ebola; Former President Denies.” With Trump’s charge immediately amplified by the conservative media, legitimate news organizations feel they have no choice but to spend time debunking the claim, the result being that the story is given even wider circulation. Most Americans just hear that there was something about Obama killing Kobe Bryant.

Unfortunately, except under the most extraordinary of circumstances, there is never a story that is widely understood in all its nuance by the public as a whole. The best we can hope for is that despite its limited capacity for attention and understanding, the public winds up reaching an accurate conclusion despite the attempts to mislead it.

But it often doesn’t work out that way, and Republicans are very practiced at engineering the opposite result. Experience has taught them that the variables that would matter in a more rational world—Is there any evidence for the charge they’re making? Is it relevant to the question of who should be president? Does it actually reveal something about the Democrat in question?—don’t actually matter at all.

9) Interesting piece on how right-wingers pushed “believe all women” instead of “believe women” as a feminist trap.  Also, probably don’t believe Tara Reade.

10) NYT piece about children seeing grandparents and if you are keeping a safe enough quarantine before doing so.  I really don’t like that the expert advice here mentions a variety of super-low risk encounters like “delivery driver” and potentially jogging to close to another person.

So as a first step, think about human contacts, big and small, by every member of the household. How many times did someone go to a store? Did you meet up with a friend for a walk? When you jog, how close are you to other runners? At the park, did your children run up to another child before you could stop them? Is a teenage boyfriend dropping by the house? Do you always wear a mask? Do your children?

“If you’re a family and you have some leakage in your quarantine protocol — if you had to go to the grocery store, for instance, delivery people came over, other people entered your house — any time you have a break in that protective bubble I would be extremely cautious,” said Dr. Soe-Lin.

11) An interesting argument that the key to safe re-opening is not social distancing, but isolation of those diagnosed with Covid.

12) A pretty compelling argument that traveling in airplanes does not actually spread a lot of disease.

You don’t get sick on airplanes any more than anywhere else. Really, you don’t.

If you think this is preposterous or even dangerous to suggest during a pandemic, consider this fact: The ventilation system requirements for airplanes meet the levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use with covid-19 patients in airborne infection isolation rooms.

Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: Airplanes are certainly vectors of disease, efficiently transporting infectious people around countries and the globe. This is obviously critical in terms of outbreak control for covid-19. But the fact that airplanes help spread disease across geographies does not mean that you are necessarily at risk during flight. There are fairly simple things you can do, if you do need to travel, to reduce the odds of getting sick.

Billions of people travel by plane every year, yet there have only been a handful of documented disease outbreaks attributable to airplanes in the past 40 years. If planes made you sick, we would expect to see millions of people sick every year attributable to flights. We haven’t seen it because it’s just not happening.

Consider one study that examined a passenger with tuberculosis on an airplane. It found that the median risk of infection to the other 169 passengers on the airplane was between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in a million. Wearing a mask, as some airlines now require, reduced the incidence of infection another 10-fold.

There’s a reason the risks are low. The required aircraft systems do a really good job of controlling airborne bacteria and viruses.

To get technical, airplanes deliver 10 to 12 air changes per hour. In a hospital isolation room, the minimum target is six air changes per hour for existing facilities and 12 air changes per hour for new. Airplanes also use the same air filter — a HEPA filter — recommended by the CDC for isolation rooms with recirculated air. Such filters capture 99.97 percent of airborne particles.

13) The Mount St Helens eruption was definitely one of the more memorable events of my childhood (I was 8).  Enjoying reading about it 40 years later, “Forty Years Later, Lessons for the Pandemic From Mount St. Helens: The tensions we now face between science, politics and economics also arose before the country’s most destructive volcanic eruption.”

14) Good stuff from Radley Balko, “The last days of a covid-19 prisoner”

It isn’t clear why Charles Hobbs was arrested in January. More than 20 years ago, a judge gave him five years probation for a crime that required him to register as a sex offender in one of the most restrictive counties in the country. He had no criminal record prior to that, and until January, his only subsequent arrests were for failing to register in 2007 and 2014. An attorney for his family says those arrests occurred when Hobbs temporarily moved in with a girlfriend and failed to notify the county where she lived.

When the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep the country, a judge ordered him released from jail and placed in home confinement, given his multiple underlying conditions of congenital heart failure, kidney failure and hypertension. But for reasons that also aren’t clear, that never happened. Last month, he caught the virus, and his condition deteriorated until a fellow prisoner found him unconscious. He was revived and transferred to another cell with other prisoners who had tested positive for covid-19. He got sicker and ultimately died alone in a Miami hospital on May 2.

15) Good stuff from Jonathan Safran Foer.  Truly hard to disagree, “The End of Meat Is Here: If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.”

16) In a very similar vein, Wired goes all in (and you know I’m with them!) on a plant-based meat future, “Let’s Rebuild the Broken Meat Industry—Without Animals: Covid-19 has laid bare many flaws of industrialized animal agriculture. Plant- and cell-based alternatives offer a more resilient solution.”

17) You know the real shame of it is that the horrible, horrible people who make-up rape allegations for personal gain do so much damage to the vast majority of rape victims who are actual victims.  Also sucks that it completely ruin an innocent person’s life.

19) You can’t just “re-open” an economy in an active pandemic.  Politico, “Reopening reality check: Georgia’s jobs aren’t flooding back”

20) Great stuff from the Henry Blodgett and David Plotz newsletter, which I’m now quite the fan of (always been of fan of Plotz).  “‘Reopening’ won’t fix the economy. Beating the virus will.”  It’s full of charts and links that all come down to this all-important fact:

Reopening is an important and meaningful step. But even when everything is open, our economy won’t recover until people feel safe resuming their normal lives.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Terrific twitter thread from Noah Smith on the coming Higher Ed apocalypse.  I’d like to think his dire predictions are wrong, but every one of them strikes me as supported and well-reasoned.  I’ve argued that we have too many over-priced, mediocre liberal arts colleges, but I sure don’t want to see a ton of them go belly-up at once.

2) This is fabulous, “We could stop the pandemic by July 4 if the government took these steps”

There is already a bipartisan plan to achieve this; we helped write it. The plan relies on frequent testing followed by tracing the contacts of people who test positive (and their contacts) until no new positive cases are found. It also encourages voluntary isolation, at home or in hotel rooms, to prevent further disease spread. Isolated patients would receive a federal stipend, like jurors, to discourage them from returning to workplaces too soon.

But our plan also recognizes that rural towns in Montana should not necessarily have to shut down the way New York City has. To pull off this balancing act, the country should be divided into red, yellow and greenzones. The goal is to be a green zone, where fewer than one resident per 36,000 is infected. Here, large gatherings are allowed, and masks aren’t required for those who don’t interact with the elderly or other vulnerable populations. Green zones require a minimum of one test per day for every 10,000 people and a five-person contact tracing team for every 100,000 people. (These are the levels currently maintained in South Korea, which has suppressed covid-19.) Two weeks ago, a modest 1,900 tests a day could have kept 19 million Americans safely in green zones. Today, there are no green zones in the United States.

Most Americans — about 298 million — live in yellow zones, where disease prevalence is between .002 percent and 1 percent. But even in yellow zones, the economy could safely reopen with aggressive testing and tracing, coupled with safety measures including mandatory masks. In South Korea, during the peak of its outbreak, it took 25 tests to detect one positive case, and the case fatality rate was 1 percent. Following this model, yellow zones would require 2,500 tests for every daily death. To contain spread, yellow zones also would ramp up contact tracing until a team is available for every new daily coronavirus case. After one tracer conducts an interview, the team would spend 12 hours identifying all those at risk. Speed matters, because the virus spreads quickly; three days is useless for tracing. (Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., are all yellow zones.)

A disease prevalence greater than 1 percent defines red zones. Today, 30 million Americans live in such hot spots — which include Detroit, New Jersey, New Orleans and New York City. In addition to the yellow-zone interventions, these places require stay-at-home orders. But by strictly following guidelines for testing and tracing, red zones could turn yellow within four weeks, moving steadfastly from lockdown to liberty.

Getting to green nationwide is possible by the end of the summer, but it requires ramping up testing radically. The United States now administers more than 300,000 tests a day, but according to our guidelines, 5 million a day are needed (for two to three months). It’s an achievable goal. Researchers estimate that the current system has a latent capacity to produce 2 million tests a day, and a surge in federal funding would spur companies to increase capacity. The key is to do it now, before manageable yellow zones deteriorate to economically ruinous red zones.

3) “Obamagate” is, more than anything, an abomination in the functioning of the modern media.  It needs to stop.  Aaron Blake, “Trump’s playbook on ‘Obamagate’ is extremely — and dubiously — familiar”

4) This is soooo pathetic and depressing, “Masks and Emasculation: Why Some Men Refuse to Take Safety Precautions: They think it makes them look weak, and avoiding that is evidently more important to them than demonstrating responsible behavior”

5) And more good stuff on social norms and masks.  Love the explicit smoking analogy, which I have made:

Similarly, the first wave of evidence about the harms of smoking focused on damage to the smokers themselves and had no effect on smoking in public spaces. People thought individuals had “the right to harm themselves,” says psychologist Jay Van Bavel of New York University. “It really started to change once we realized the consequences of secondhand smoke. Do you have a right to damage kids at school, your colleagues at work or the staff at a restaurant?” So far 28 states and Washington, D.C., have said the answer is no and passed comprehensive smoke-free-air laws.

“Social norms can change rapidly,” says social psychologist Catherine Sanderson of Amherst College, “and it doesn’t take everybody.” In an online experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, subjects engaged in social coordination to assign names to an object. The tipping point for achieving enough critical mass to initiate social change proved to be just 25 percent of participants. “They become the social influencers, the trendsetters,” Sanderson says. “You get this sweep.”

Leadership is critical, however, which is why behavioral scientists were so alarmed by the recent examples of Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump refusing to wear masks during public appearances. “They are the primary people who are setting norms, especially when it’s on television or in the news,” Van Bavel says. Those politicians are flouting the advice of their own public health officials. In early April the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” It did not help, however, that the new recommendation conflicted with earlier statements from officials suggesting that masks were ineffective or should be left for medical professionals, who needed them more…

Barriers remain. The politicization of masks in the U.S. might mean that some areas of the country will never adopt them entirely. And endemic racism has led some young black men to fear that they will be mistaken for criminals if they wear masks in stores.

Once masks become the norm in most places, however, donning them will not seem odd or alarming, says psychologist Alexander Todorov of Princeton University, who studies facial expression. “People compensate. When they meet on the street, there is more gesticulation. People engage in strategies to make sure that they’re being understood.”

I don’t think we’re going to get there, though.  At least not without real leadership from all sectors of society, and right now we’re getting none.

6) Also, on the topic of the media utterly failing us– the horribly disproportionate coverage of the protests:

In the last few weeks, protests against state lockdowns and social distancing measures have seized national headlines. The wall-to-wall coverage might give the impression that what we’re seeing is a powerful grassroots movement in the making.

But research we just conducted on protest attendance and media coverage shows something different: This massive media coverage has in fact been out of proportion.

A comprehensive look at the social distancing protests reveals that they have been small in terms of both the number of participants and locations. As one official in the administration of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) tweeted about a protest in Annapolis on April 20, “There were more media inquiries about this than there were participants.”

Our count confirms this impression. As of May 3, we counted 245 protests throughout April and early May against social distancing and related restrictions. In contrast, notable recent uprisings numbered in the hundreds of protests throughout the country in a single day, including Lights for Liberty against the detention of immigrants on July 12, 2019 (699), the climate strikes of September 20, 2019 (1184), pro-impeachment rallies on December 17, 2019 (599), and the fourth Women’s March on January 18 of this year (267).

The social distancing protests have also drawn modest crowds, with between 35,000 and 47,000 total attendees reported across all events combined through May 3. In comparison, a single protest against the governor in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, brought out upward of 250,000 on July 21, 2019. Hundreds of thousands turned out for PRIDE marches in June 2019 and the September 2019 climate strike. The Lights for Liberty protests exceeded 100,000, and December’s pro-impeachment rallies exceeded 75,000.

These numbers are backed up by recent polling that shows widespread national support for lockdowns to prevent the continued spread of the coronavirus.

Yet anti-Trump protests with far more attendees in a single day than all of April and early May’s #ReOpen events (as they have been called) passed with far less attention in the national press.

My take?  Working the refs worked.  Cover these protests and prove that you are not really the “liberal” media.

7) This is good, from bestselling author Richard North Patterson “The Pandemic and the GOP’s Science Problem: The party’s uneasy relationship with science goes back decades.”

“It’s hard to know,” writes Max Boot, “exactly when the Republican Party assumed the mantle of the ‘stupid party.’” But one might look to the 1970s as the gateway to a politically calculated dismissal of scientific knowledge.

Having allied with evangelicals over social issues, the GOP’s political class found it expedient to honor fundamentalists’ most fundamental premise: creationism. Evangelicals flocked—and the GOP became an anti-evolutionary haven. As recently as last year, Gallup found that 55 percent of self-identified Republicans—as compared to 40 percent of the general population—agree with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

Conservative media vilified evolutionary science. “Everybody that believes in Darwinism is corrupt,” pronounced Rush Limbaugh in 2010. “Liberals love anything that allows them to say there’s no God.”

It’s no longer just the party’s base that professes disbelief in evolution. In 2011, presidential candidate Jon Huntsman tweeted: “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Within the GOP, it was. By 2016, eleven of the serious GOP presidential aspirants were on the record as refusing to opine on evolution or rejecting it outright. A twelfth—Jeb Bush—said it shouldn’t be taught in public schools. (Interestingly, Donald Trump seems not to have been asked about his beliefs on evolution—or, at the least, not to have given a coherent answer.)

This progression fed a widening attack on knowledge rooted in what GOP strategist Stuart Stevens labels his party’s “toxic fantasies”: “Government is bad. Establishment experts are overrated or just plain wrong. Science is suspect.”

One additive, the anti-vaccination movement, combined a distrust of science, an adamant libertarianism disdainful of public health, and an insistence on parental rights often rooted in fundamentalism. From Kentucky to Oregon to California, anti-vaxxers like Michele Bachmann became an ardent minority within the party.

The World Health Organization lists opposition to vaccines among the top ten threats to global health. But here’s Trump in a presidential debate: “Just the other day . . . a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

Creationism and anti-vaccinationism did not, in themselves, transform federal policy. But disdain for science, once unleashed, spreads its political contagions.

8) Good stuff on reopening:

As circumstances have evolved, so has my thinking. We have survived the surge in hospitalized cases and suffered immense economic trauma. The full lockdown made sense weeks ago. But the situation is changing, and more data on the virus are now available to inform our next steps. The choice before us isn’t to fully lock down or to totally reopen. Many argue as though those are the only options.

As a physician, I firmly believe that the primary goal of our reopening strategy should be to maximize the number of lives saved. But virus mitigation can take many forms, ranging from effective to excessive. Extreme forms of mitigation can have diminishing returns. Projections of the death toll produced by the current economic shutdown are often politically motivated, but the effects on human life are real…

So what does a new, safer status quo look like? It looks different in different parts of the country. Not all reopenings are created equal. Areas with continuing outbreaks or rising cases should postpone nonessential activity, and those with a declining case trend should engage in some basic practices.

We need universal masking. China gives the earliest preview of a reopened society after a harsh wave of the virus. And while the Chinese Communist Party has not been honest about its coronavirus handling, Chinese doctors and citizens have largely been transparent. I recently called some prominent Chinese doctors to ask why they believe the infection is being controlled in most of their country. In their clinical judgment, they believe the main reason is universal masking.

Spend more time outside. Since April, we’ve learned a lot about indoor versus outdoor transmission of the coronavirus. Early on, we closed parks and told people to stay inside their homes. But studies have since shown that being outdoors with appropriate distancing carries a lower risk of getting the infection than being indoors. These findings have implications for restaurants and other businesses and activities that are able to use outdoor areas. Yoga and other fitness activities should resume outside when possible. Similarly, instead of having someone to your home for a meal, consider having a meal in your yard or at a park, six feet apart…
We must prioritize safeguarding nursing homes. Throughout April, several studies using antibody testing found that asymptomatic infections are 10 to 20 times more common than previously observed, lowering the true case fatality rate. The data also taught us that young, healthy Americans have a fatality rate similar to that of the seasonal flu. Deaths among those young and healthy are rare. (In fact, community immunity from seasonal viruses is often achieved through younger people developing antibodies.) About one-third of all Covid-19 deaths in America occurred among nursing home residents. In New Jersey, half of all deaths have been among long-term-care residents or workers. Nursing homes are often short-staffed and the last in line when it comes to getting needed resources…
Protect those at high risk. The data show that those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, lung disease or a weakened immune system are among the most vulnerable. Based on the degree of their risk and the prevalence of the virus in the region, we should advise these high-risk individuals, particularly the elderly, to avoid interactions with others until the risk of contagion is extremely low. This approach aligns with the White House’s return-to-work road map that shelters high-risk individuals until Phase 3, even as many businesses are reopened.

9) This was a nice piece on trying to take a look at giving thoughtful, serious, risk assessment to various activities from hanging in the backyard with friends to letting your kids bike with a friend.  We need more of this.  But we need more of this that acknowledges to kids biking outside is very low risk, not intermediate risk.  And that doesn’t assume the 10 people who came to your backyard are all hanging out with a different 10 people during the week.  I actually learned from my son that my wife disapproves of me talking to a neighbor, outside, usually 8-10 feet apart, 2-3 times a week because he is still working every day.  As you know, I’m obsessed with the science of transmission and will definitely take my chances with outdoor conversations at a good distance.

10) If you saw anything about the new Title IX regulations there’s a good chance it was the hyperbolic overly-liberal version where Betsy DeVos just allowed rape on campus.  Not so.  Harvard Law professor Jeanne Suk Gersen has been better on this issue than anybody and she takes a solid, thorough look at the new regulations:

It was unclear, however, precisely what aspects of the regulations were so extreme and alarming. Uncharacteristically for the Trump Administration, the Education Department, in crafting the regulations, engaged with a large range of public comments and concerns—from schools, advocates for survivors, and advocates of due process—and the regulations reflect that engagement. They are not exactly as I would wish, but they clarify the rights of both victims and the accused in a way that is likely to lead to improvements in basic fairness. The suggestion that even the most controversial provisions of the regulations allow rape with impunity speaks to a disturbingly large gap between reality and rhetoric on the topic—one that is particularly important to address, so students do not get the false sense that they should not bother to report assaults…

More than any specific commands, the government’s threat to withdraw federal funding from schools that did not comply with its Title IX guidance caused schools to attempt to please the government, by devising new practices, policies, and procedures that aimed to make it easier for victims to report assaults and to prevail in campus complaints. Soon, some advocates of fair process, among them law professors at Harvard (myself included), the University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell, raised concerns that the pressure to protect victims had led to an overcorrection: accused students were facing expulsion or suspension without fair procedures to defend against disciplinary charges. In many cases, accused students were not being given the complaint or identities of witnesses, and not being shown the evidence or the investigative report. Since 2011, hundreds of accused students have sued their schools for using unfair disciplinary procedures, and have won court judgments or received settlements. Courts have held that, just as it is sex discrimination under Title IX for schools to treat female victims of sexual assault unfairly, it can also be sex discrimination under Title IX to treat males accused of sexual misconduct unfairly…

The new regulations free schools to do some things that previously were prohibited or understood to be disfavored. The Obama Administration clearly stated its belief that compliance with Title IX required the use of the preponderance standard for sexual-harassment cases, because any higher standard would, by design, tilt toward the accused. The new regulations allow schools to choose between the preponderance standard or the higher “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which would demand heavier proof to find that the accused is responsible. But, because schools are not required to shift away from their current use of the preponderance standard, it will be surprising if many do. Prior guidance had discouraged schools from using informal resolution, such as mediation, for sexual-assault allegations, but the new regulations allow schools to offer the option, as long as the accused is not an employee, both parties voluntarily agree to it, and the process is led by a trained facilitator. There is a legitimate worry that schools could pressure victims into informal processes, which cost less than formal ones. But many victims who might not report sexual misconduct, owing to a reluctance to unleash a lengthy investigation or a harsh penalty, may be more willing to seek the school’s help because of the availability of an informal option. And many accused students, who might fight the acceptance of responsibility in an adversarial or punitive framework, may be more willing to give a desired apology and make amends.

11) Good stuff from Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Conspiracy Theorists Are Winning: America is losing its grip on Enlightenment values and reality itself.”

12) Sean Trende with some good points, “The Costly Failure to Update Sky-Is-Falling Predictions”

We could go on – after being panned for refusing to issue a stay-at-home order, South Dakota indeed suffered an outbreak (once again, in its meatpacking plants), but deaths there have consistently averaged less than three per day, to little fanfare – but the point is made.  Some “feeding frenzies” have panned out, but many have failed to do so; rather than acknowledging this failure, the press typically moves on.

This is an unwelcome development, for a few reasons. First, not everyone follows this pandemic closely, and so a failure to follow up on how feeding frenzies end up means that many people likely don’t update their views as often as they should. You’d probably be forgiven if you suspected hundreds of cases and deaths followed the Wisconsin election.

Second, we obviously need to get policy right here, and to be sure, reporting bad news is important for producing informed public opinion. But reporting good news is equally as important. Third, there are dangers to forecasting with incredible certitude, especially with a virus that was detected less than six months ago. There really is a lot we still don’t know, and people should be reminded of this. Finally, among people who do remember things like this, a failure to acknowledge errors foments cynicism and further distrust of experts. The damage done to this trust is dangerous, for at this time we desperately need quality expert opinions and news reporting that we can rely upon.

13) Finally have gotten around to watching HBO’s Succession.  Four episodes in and I really, really like it (and thanks to JCD who pushed this harder than anybody).  I especially love the theme song.  Apparently, the composer is really pretty amazing.


Quick hits (part II)

1) From Inside Higher Ed:

While the bulk of the $14 billion set aside for higher education in the CARES Act went to colleges and universities, Congress wanted smaller, specialized institutions, many of them religious in affiliation, to get at least $500,00 in stimulus funds.

Under one grant in the package, schools that didn’t get at least that much from the other parts of the CARES Act will get however much is needed to bring their amount of aid up to $500,000.

The U.S. Department of Education has released how 980 schools will divvy up $321.7 million in stimulus funds.

As Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs, said, “A significant number of schools just won the lottery.”

Among them:

The Institute of Taoist Education and Acupuncture, in Colorado, which had gotten $11,057, will get another $488,943;
The Mid-America College of Funeral Service, in Indiana, will get $490,883;
The Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine, in Florida, will get $481,960;
The Birthingway College of Midwifery, in Oregon, will get $481,960;
The Bergin University of Canine Studies, in California, will get $472,850;
The Hypnosis Motivation Institute, in California, will get $443,457.
A large number of the schools receiving the money appear to be seminaries, rabbinical colleges or theology schools.

They include God’s Bible School and College, in Ohio, which will receive $337,445 of stimulus money.

Ummm, not great.

2) Very intrigued by the potential protective effects of nicotine for Covid.  Considering what smoking does to your lungs, it’s kind of amazing that smokers seem to be substantially less likely to have a severe case of Covid.  Yes, it’s way early, but wouldn’t it be amazing if nicotine were actually an effective treatment (trials underway soon in France).  And, here in Cary, NC, wife totally freaked out at the idea of me buying some nicotine patches just in case :-).

3) Yes, I already knew working in a slaughter house is horrible, but it is also horrible in a way that is perfect for leading to Covid outbreaks.  Given how we treat animals and how we treat workers in slaughterhouses, I’m very glad I have cut back to minimal meat consumption (mostly pepperoni, honestly).  Great first-hand account of working conditions.  This bit just killed me:

(Contacted by The Washington Post about this article, Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance, said the company has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation. “The health and safety of our employees is our top priority at all times,” she said.

Riiiiiight.  That could not be further from the truth which is, profits at virtually any cost to human well-being.

4) So this is interesting, “Scientists know ways to help stop viruses from spreading on airplanes. They’re too late for this pandemic.”

Working with two Boeing engineers and a team of researchers from Purdue, Chen wanted to know how changing an airplane’s ventilation system would affect the risk of contracting SARS, as a stand-in for other dangerous viruses that might emerge.

Their results, published last year, were startling. They found that passengers sitting with a SARS patient in a seven-row section of a Boeing 767 would have a 1-in-3 chance of getting sick from a five-hour flight. On a shorter 737 flight, the risk was 1 in 5.

But they found that changing the existing ventilation system — essentially by having air flow into the cabin from near the floor rather than from above — would make a big difference, cutting the risk by half or more.

Chen said droplets were swept away from passengers more efficiently using alternative systems, one tested by Airbus engineers and another developed by Chen and his team.

One reason: The warmth of the passengers’ bodies helped the flow of air coming up from underneath, since warm air rises, he said. ­Going with that flow, rather than fighting against it, lessened the turbulence that could keep germs on top of passengers.

“We try to not mix your air with your neighbors’, ” Chen said…

Brenner and his team at Columbia have begun testing their special 3-by-3-inch lights against the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 220,000 people worldwide.

One colleague, physicist David Welch, is calibrating exposure from the lamps. Another, Manuela Buonanno, is testing how many viruses survive.

They killed two batches of less-threatening coronaviruses in recent weeks with a very low level of exposure, according to research released Monday, and Brenner said things are looking good so far with the one that causes covid-19.

Brenner believes the technology could address the problem of a virus-spewing airplane passenger.

“You’re sitting there and the guy right behind you sneezes. . . . All the filters in the world aren’t going to help you,” Brenner said. “I think the lamp would potentially deal with that.”

What takes longer is conclusively proving the long-term safety for people exposed to the light, a type of radiation known technically as far-UVC light. Traditional ultraviolet lights are used to clean water supplies and sanitize operating rooms, but only when no people are under them, because they can cause cancer and eye damage.

5) Tom Edsall does his great thing where he talks to a ton of smart political scientists to sum up the field of knowledge in a particularly relevant area– in this case, changing racial attitudes and how best to think about them and measure them:

This coming November, a great deal depends on whether white Democrats are becoming more liberal while white Republicans are simultaneously becoming more conservative.

If white Republicans and white Democrats are moving in opposite directions, as much current research suggests, Trump will retain a constituency receptive — perhaps even more receptive than it was in 2016 — to his racially divisive tactics.

In his 2019 paper, “White People’s Racial Attitudes are Changing to Match Partisanship,” Andrew Engelhardt, a political scientist at Brown, shows a dramatic increase in partisan racial polarization from 2016 to 2018.

“The data show a profound shift in whites’ evaluations of black Americans in just a two-year period,” Engelhardt wrote.

On a scale from zero to 100, ranking levels of racial resentment, the mean for white Democrats fell from 43 to 34. For white Republicans, the mean rose from 71 to 76.

In a more recent paper, “Observational Equivalence in Explaining Attitude Change: Have White Racial Attitudes Genuinely Changed?” Engelhardt answers in the affirmative the question posed in his title…

Poll data, he writes, supports “seeing changes in white racial attitudes as genuine. The decline in Democrats’ racial resentment levels between 2012 and 2016 appears sincere, not cheap talk.” And, Engelhardt contends, there will be significant political and policymaking consequences:

This result means that white Democrats’ political decision-making may increasingly reflect sincere belief-change with them increasingly supporting policies addressing racial inequality and candidates championing the same.

In an email, Engelhardt wrote that

while attitudes people report in surveys may show change that appears genuine, other dimensions of prejudice have not changed — for instance, what is broadly known as implicit bias.

There is a different, perhaps more distant, possibility, however: that everyone is getting more racially liberal, that many white Republicans are, in fact, tracking along with white Democrats and becoming not more conservative, but more liberal. If that’s the case, Trump’s polarizing strategies would be likely to encounter more resistance…

If, as Hopkins and Washington find, whites are abandoning the relatively high levels of prejudice of 2016 in meaningful numbers, and if this decline contributed to Democratic victories in 2018, Trump will face a steeper climb in capitalizing on racial resentment than he did four years ago.

Hopkins followed up by email:

Overall, I do think these results indicate that the share of white Americans who would rally to a general election campaign because of its explicit appeals to racial prejudice is smaller than many political strategists suppose.

The drop since Trump took office in what had been a fairly consistent sense of white racial superiority, according to Hopkins and Washington, would suggest that Trump’s ongoing racial appeals may have crossed a line, potentially endangering his re-election.

6) So, this was seemingly just one more of those interesting NYT science stories that don’t necessarily get much attention.  But, somehow, the invasive species dubbed the Asian Murder Hornet seemed to take over twitter yesterday.  Fascinating and disturbing:

Only later did he come to suspect that the killer was what some researchers simply call the “murder hornet.”

With queens that can grow to two inches long, Asian giant hornets can use mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins to wipe out a honeybee hive in a matter of hours, decapitating the bees and flying away with the thoraxes to feed their young. For larger targets, the hornet’s potent venom and stinger — long enough to puncture a beekeeping suit — make for an excruciating combination that victims have likened to hot metal driving into their skin.

In Japan, the hornets kill up to 50 people a year. Now, for the first time, they have arrived in the United States.

7) Excellent political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Ladd on the real damage done by Republicans actively working to destroy trust in government, science, and media:

Altogether, this three-pronged attack has produced a deeply partisan reaction to the greatest natural threat to humankind in 100 years. A recent Monmouth University poll found that less than 25% of Republicans were “very concerned” about someone in their family becoming seriously ill from coronavirus, compared to almost 60% of Democrats. Over 80% of Republicans said they were somewhat or very confident that the impact of coronavirus would be “limited,” compared to approximately 30% of Democrats. Several states, so far mostly led by Republican governors, such as Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, have already begun to lift their stay-at-home orders, in contradiction to the Trump administration’s own plan for opening up, which calls for states to have falling numbers of new COVID-19 cases for 14 days prior to reopening. Trump makes the problem worse by vacillating day-to-day between supporting his administration’s guidelines and supporting these governors.

Trump’s own distrust of government agencies, scientific experts, and information from the media may have contributed to his administration’s slow response to the crisis, as documented in detailed reports from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and 60 Minutes.

Why Americans’ trust is key to America’s success

American institutions are not perfect, of course. We all should want to improve scientific practices, remove bias from news coverage, and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of government. But a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic highlights the exorbitant costs of undermining trust in media, science, and government for political gain.

People must believe the health advice that they are getting from the CDC and other government agencies who are fighting the crisis. People must receive (and trust) accurate information from major news organizations, rather than rely on rumors and news from fringe websites that their friends might share on social media. Even as states eventually lift stay-at-home orders, people will need to follow expert guidance, transmitted through the media, in order to prevent a resurgence of new cases.

This need not be a partisan topic. Many Republicans and conservatives over the years have been deeply respectful of government professionals, the findings of science, and non-partisan national journalists. But from the beginning of the conservative movement’s takeover of the Republican Party, which started with Barry Goldwater’s nomination in 1964, many in that movement have seen discrediting these institutions as a useful political strategy—a good way to win votes and gain media market share. But this political strategy can have catastrophic consequences when those very institutions are the key to protecting public health and saving lives.

Calling out this long-running, cynical, and ultimately corrosive approach to politics is long overdue. Politicians and media personalities can pursue conservative policies without undermining the public’s trust in the media, science, and government agencies. Now more than ever, they should do that.

8) The reality is that genuinely “opening up” the economy means that schools will need to be open.  We must figure this out for Fall.

9) I had read that, just maybe, the tuberculosis vaccine could prove helpful.  But, I had not read about the concept of “innate immunology” and how the polio vaccine might be helpful, too.  Hopefully, it is, and even if not, pretty interesting stuff.

It’s counterintuitive to think that old vaccines created to fight very different pathogens could defend against the coronavirus. The idea is controversial in part because it challenges the dogma about how vaccines work.

But scientists’ understanding of an arm of immunology known as innate immunity has shifted in recent years. A growing body of research suggests that live vaccines, which are made from living but attenuated pathogens (as opposed to inactivated vaccines, which use dead pathogens) provide broad protection against infections in ways that no one anticipated.

“We can’t be certain as to what the outcome will be, but I suspect it’ll have an effect” on the coronavirus, said Jeffrey Cirillo, a microbiologist and immunologist at Texas A&M University who is leading one of the B.C.G. trials. “Question is, how big will it be?”

Scientists stress that these vaccines will not be a panacea. They might make symptoms milder, but they probably won’t eliminate them. And the protection, if it occurs, would most likely last only a few years.

Still, “these could be a first step,” said Dr. Mihai Netea, an immunologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands who is leading another one of the trials. “They can be the bridge until you have the time to develop a specific vaccine.”…

The W.H.O. has long been skeptical about these “nonspecific effects,” in part because much of the research on them has involved observational studies that don’t establish cause and effect. But in a recent report incorporating newer results from some clinical trials, the organization described nonspecific vaccine effects as “plausible and common.”…

The possibility that vaccines could have nonspecific effects is brow-furrowing in part because scientists have long believed that vaccines work by stimulating the body’s highly specific adaptive immune system.

After receiving a vaccine against, say, polio, a person’s body creates an army of polio-specific antibodies that recognize and attack the virus before it has a chance to take hold. Antibodies against polio can’t fight off infections caused by other pathogens, though — so, based on this framework, polio vaccines should not be able to reduce the risk associated with other viruses, such as the coronavirus.

But over the past decade, immunologists have discovered that live vaccines also stimulate the innate immune system, which is less specific but much faster. They have found that the innate immune system can be trained by live vaccines to better fight off various kinds of pathogens…

This area of innate immunity “is one of the hottest areas in fundamental immunology today,” said Dr. Robert Gallo, the director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-founder of the Global Virus Network, a coalition of virologists from more than 30 countries. In the 1980s, Dr. Gallo helped to identify H.I.V. as the cause of AIDS.

Dr. Gallo is leading the charge to test the O.P.V. live polio vaccine as a treatment for coronavirus. He and his colleagues hope to start a clinical trial on health care workers in New York City and Maryland within six weeks.

10) Chait on the patheticness of the anti-anti-Trump folks on the right, “The Secret to Making a Liberal Argument Sound Dumb: Pretending Trump Doesn’t Exist”

Conservative intellectuals caught between a president who has turned the idea of having any intellectual basis at all for one’s ideas into a dada joke, and an audience that demands fealty to him, have found refuge in anti-anti-Trumpism. The art of anti-anti-Trumpism often lies more in that which goes unsaid than that which is said. It consists largely of tightly narrowing one’s focus to Trump’s critics, whose actions can be analyzed as if Trump himself did not exist. The attraction of this technique is that it permits relative fealty to the facts without offending the Trumpian base.

The trouble is that the facts, even if true, must omit the context in which they make any sense. Imagine a history of the Pacific theater in World War II, which begins with the Doolittle raid and ends with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, skipping Pearl Harbor, etc., and you have a sense of how the method works.

National Review editor Rich Lowry has a column that is a perfect specimen of the genre. Lowry’s theme is that science alone is not a guide to managing the coronavirus pandemic. His launching-off point is a series of pro-science quotes — “Joe Biden has urged President Trump, “Follow the science, listen to the experts, do what they tell you.” — which Lowry rebuts by arguing that science doesn’t have every answer: “Once you are outside a lab setting and dealing with matters of public policy, questions of values and how to strike a balance between competing priorities come into play, and they simply can’t be settled by people in white lab coats.”…

Lowry’s column does not mention, or even allude to, any of this. He does not even have a tossed-off line saying to be sure, Trump’s dismissal of science has gone too far in the other direction. The only mention of Trump’s name in the column occurs in the sentence quoted above, in which Lowry quotes Biden urging Trump to listen to scientists. Lowry does not explain why Biden would even have to make this plea. For the purpose of Lowry’s argument, Biden has simply embraced extreme scientism, out of nowhere.

It is only in that contextless void that Lowry’s criticism makes any sense. An ad for a restaurant promising that its food would contain absolutely no rat would look silly. After all, avoiding rat is not one of the criteria most of us usually focus on when choosing our dining options, and in theory, a restaurateur who obsessed over rats to the exclusion of the taste and price of his meals would be making a mistake. However, if it happened to be the case that a competing restaurant was loading rat meat into every entree, then a no-rats ad campaign would be perfectly sensible.

That is how the anti-anti-Trump conservatives devote their attention: picking apart the claims of the people who are promising America not to serve up plates full of rat every day. Why are they so obsessed with rats? Is rat meat really less healthy than, say, starvation? Didn’t the health inspector once detect mouse droppings in their own kitchen?

Clever minds such as Lowry’s can occupy themselves with questions like this for years on end. It is a seductive escape from the unpleasant choice between maintaining one’s livelihood and thinking clearly about the most powerful man on earth.

11) This is really cool, “Microbe Mappers Are Tracking Covid-19’s Invisible Traces: Armies of microbiologists are swabbing subways, ATMs, and hospitals in search of the novel coronavirus. Their data could help cities reopen responsibly.”

DURING THE SECOND week of March, as the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, a team of latex-gloved scientists from Cornell Weill Medical School fanned out across Penn Station armed with packs of sterile, long-armed swabs and a tripod-mounted instrument for capturing air samples. In New York City, the 100th person had just tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the deadly new respiratory disease, but the subways remained open and packed with daily commuters. The researchers were there, in one of the most crowded areas of the city, to see if the coronavirus was, too.


Asymptomatic transmission?

Many, many Covid thoughts running through my head today, but here’s the one that I really want an answer to is… just how much truly asymptomatic spread is there?

We know that people are really infections when they are presymptomatic, just before they become symptomatic and that these people are a huge source of spread.  We know there’s a lot of people who get Covid and never have any symptoms.  What we don’t seem to know hardly at all, is if this latter group is a significant source of spreading the virus.  And, obviously, that matters a lot.  Especially as, it seems, the vast majority of children who are infected fall into that latter group.  Some stuff I did find:


As you might imagine, it’s hard to figure out when someone has a disease but shows no signs of it.

Some cases of asymptomatic carriers have been confirmed by finding and testing people who were in close contact with COVID-19 patients. For those who tested positive without symptoms, follow-up exams confirmed that about 25% continued to show no signs, World Health Organization officials said on April 1, citing data from China.

No one can truly determine the impact of asymptomatic cases on spread until there’s more testing. But so far, they have made up a sliver of the total number of people who’ve tested positive. And the affected individuals seem to skew young. A small clinical study from Nanjing, China, followed 24 people who tested positive but didn’t show overt symptoms at the time. In the one to three weeks after diagnosis, seven continued showing no symptoms. Their median age was 14.

“Can those people who are completely asymptomatic, who never develop any symptoms, transmit the infection? That’s still kind of an open question,” says Smith.  [emphases mine]

Closest I’ve seen is this really thought-provoking piece from Philip Klein on opening schools up, starting with younger grades:

An analysis from the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health looked at contact tracing data from the World Health Organization and found not a single case of a child under 10 transmitting the coronavirus to an adult. This is on top of a separate study from China that concluded “that children have not played a substantive role in the intra-household transmission” and a review in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal that found that, at a minimum, “the importance of children in transmitting the virus remains uncertain.”

Potentially, that seems like a really big deal.  And if it is hardly happening at all, under 10, then maybe pretty rarely under 18.  It could be that, come Fall, the key to preventing schools as vectors of Covid transmission is just keeping the adults away from each other (not all that hard, relatively) rather than keeping kids away from each other and adults away from kids.  That, we can do.  But, damn, is this sure something we could use some more research on.

Quick hits (part I)

Now, featuring a fair amount of Non-Covid 🙂

1) WP editorializes, “Tech firms must prove that digital contact tracing is worth the privacy intrusion.”  My take: it is.

Relying also on precise location information, as states such as North Dakota and Utah are already piloting, might assuage some problems, but conjures up a new set of privacy harms. It’s almost impossible truly to anonymize such data, or to compare two people’s paths without some potential for identification. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology group proposes redacting carriers’ location trails to mitigate the risk, instead encrypting each individual time-stamped location. These data, the researchers write, could even be publicized to help civilians see hot spots in their area, not to mention used by public health officials to spot outbreaks and assess where they might ease restrictions.

It’s tempting. But more invasive strategies have their downsides. See South Korea, where amateur investigators attempted to sniff out and shame the infected based on government-released information. That same worry here could spook people out of even getting tested. Other countries have taken more draconian measures — such as the scannable codes China assigns its citizens based on the likelihood they’ve been exposed. These determine whether someone can enter a building or leave home at all.

Making the most difference may require eroding the most protections, and right now no one really knows how much of a difference tech-centric contact tracing can make in the first place. Everyone is looking for a miracle, but the inventors promising one must prove their proposals are more than moonshots. Then they should explain to the rest of us why the proposals are worth it.

Nobody is asking for a “moonshot” here.  Until we have a widely available vaccine, every little bit that helps 1) slow transmission, and 2) reduce disease severity should be our goal.  And this would seem to have the potential to make a meaningful impact on disease transmission.  And, yes, the lives saved from that are worth a bit less digital privacy.

2) I really liked this in Politico “Admit It: You Are Willing to Let People Die to End the Shutdown: The question is how many and how soon. In the pandemic, everyone is a moral relativist.”

The pandemic highlights a different way of understanding relativism. It is not that values are no more than a matter of taste, in the way that you like pistachio but I like vanilla. It is to acknowledge—in a way our politics usually does not—that any important value is inevitably, at key moments, in competition with other important values. Individual liberties are in tension with public order. Respect for tradition is in tension with tolerance for diversity. And, yes, averting some number of tragic deaths from coronavirus is in tension with the need for a much larger number of people to resume life—sometime after it is no longer reckless to do so but sometime before it is perfectly safe.

An honest brand of politics, which we urgently need, admits the tension and tries in good faith—with reference to evolving evidence and with acknowledgment of uncertainty—to resolve it in the public interest. A dishonest brand of politics, of which we are wearily familiar, assumes a pose of superiority and certitude, and cares about evidence mostly as it can be deployed as a weapon or shield in a partisan argument that began long before the issue at hand and will continue long after.

Yes.  The reality is that some level of deaths is acceptable.  What we have now is too high.  What happened in NYC is way too high.  But we’ve clearly decided that .1% fatality rate for the flu is okay.  To some degree, we have to decide what that’s going to be for Covid.

3) Good stuff with Carl Bergstrom (one of my favorite new twitter followings) in the Guardian:

You’ve been teaching a course and have co-written a book about the concept of bullshit. Explain what you mean by bullshit?

The formal definition that we use is “language, statistical figures, data, graphics and other forms of presentation that are intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener with a blatant disregard for truth or logical coherence”.

The idea with bullshit is that it’s trying to appear authoritative and definitive in a way that’s not about communicating accurately and informing a reader, but rather by overwhelming them, persuading them, impressing them. If that’s done without any allegiance to truth, or accuracy, that becomes bullshit.

We’re all used to verbal bullshit. We’re all used to campaign promises and weasel words, and we’re pretty good at seeing through that because we’ve had a lot of practice. But as the world has become increasingly quantified and the currency of arguments has become statistics, facts and figures and models and such, we’re increasingly confronted, even in the popular press, with numerical and statistical argumentsAnd this area’s really ripe for bullshit, because people don’t feel qualified to question information that’s given to them in quantitative form.

It requires a lot of discipline to argue really hard for something but also be scrupulously open about all of the weaknesses in your own argument.

But it’s more important than ever, right? A really good paper will lay out all the most persuasive evidence it can and then in the conclusion section or the discussion section say, ‘OK, here are all the reasons that this could be wrong and here are the weaknesses.’

When you have something that’s so directly policy relevant, and there’s a lot of lives at stake, we’re learning how to find the right balance.

4) Really, really liked this on Dan Crenshaw (GOP Congressman who does a great job pretending he’s all about intellectual honesty and civility at the same time he is a Trump defender) in the Bulwark:

In a new book out this month, a Republican member of Congress offers one of the most brutal and surgical eviscerations of President Trump’s leadership style that has been put to print.

“The problem with today’s society is that it is swelling with the wrong role models,” he writes. “Abandoning traditional heroes for new and exciting villains who represent self-indulgence, loud-mouthed commentary, angry fist-shaking activism, or insulting spitfire politics.”

This is, he says, infecting our entire society, which “has grown out of control often at the expense of logic, decency, and virtue.” We now “mock virtue without considering how its abandonment accelerates our moral decay” and “don a mantle of fragility, of anger, of childishness, and are utterly shameless in doing so.”

“A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart,” he argues.

On Earth 2, this may have been the launching pad for a courageous and ambitious primary campaign that stands up for virtue in the face of our fragile, angry, childish, shameless, self-indulgent, loud-mouthed, insulting, self-pitying, and resentful president.

Here on Earth 1, the book is called Fortitude and its author is Rep. Dan Crenshaw, one of the most visible defenders of Donald Trump…

And then there’s the fact that before Crenshaw’s political fortunes required a baseline level of Trumpitude, he candidly assessed Trump’s failings himself, writing on Facebook that the then-candidate was an “idiot” whose rhetoric was “insane” and “hateful.”

Such assessments are no longer convenient for the former Navy SEAL who at first pitched himself to voters as a McCain-style antidote to the bitter partisanship that defines Trump’s Washington.

Eighteen short months later Crenshaw has found himself as part of a colloquy of pleasers jockeying for a spot at the pinnacle of Trump’s GOP with a path to succeeding the president in 2024. (That is, should Trump’s children or Trump himself take a pass on the race.)

He has ingratiated himself by putting on a masterclass in anti-anti Trumpism, using his considerable debate skills to spar with the worst excesses of the left and savage what he argues is media bias against Trump. At key inflection points, such as the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, Crenshaw has risen to defend Trump and suggest that anyone who thinks that the leader of the free world’s words and behavior matter is lacking nuance and seriousness.

In Fortitude, a book ostensibly about courage in the face of adversity, Crenshaw demonstrates that the values instilled in him as a SEAL that he believes will save the country apply to everything except his own political career…

In the story Dan Crenshaw tells himself, he sees himself as a good man, a rational man, a man who can make the world a better place by staying in it and fighting for truth and virtue. All of that may be true. But there’s just one catch: The price of admission is that Crenshaw must put one large, but inconvenient, truth in a box over to the side. And he must never open it, or even speak about it.

Because if he does, the insane, hateful idiot who leads the political cult Crenshaw belongs to will excommunicate him and force him out of public life.

So this is Crenshaw’s choice:

Say out loud the second part of the thoughts he holds in his head. And be consigned to exile with Mia Love and Jeff Flake and Mitt Romney and the others.


Fudge the truth about Trump and subject himself to the most devastating mental state he can imagine: One where he is helpless to stand up to someone who isn’t half the man he is, who is the embodiment of everything that he thinks is wrong with our society, who in any other circumstance he would regard with disdain. But have the chance to make a difference.

5) So, you probably saw this about an Alaska school board and some books:

An Alaska school board removed five famous — but allegedly “controversial” — books from district classrooms, inadvertently spurring renewed local interest in the excluded works.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison were all taken off an approved list of works that teachers in the Mat-Su Borough School District may use for instruction.

The school board voted 5-2 on Wednesday to yank those works out of teachers’ hands starting this fall. The removed books contained content that could potentially harm students, school board vice president Jim Hart told NBC News on Tuesday.

“If I were to read these in a corporate environment, in an office environment, I would be dragged into EO,” an equal opportunity complaint proceeding, Hart said. “The question is why this is acceptable in one environment and not another.”

I just couldn’t let that last quote from an elected official go with comment as it is monstrously stupid.  Hmmm, it’s almost like, I dunno… context matters!!

6) Drum on his Covid beliefs.  I don’t actually agree with all of them, but I really liked this:

However, we still have very little idea of which countermeasures provide the biggest bang for the buck. School closings? Stay-at-home orders? Mask wearing? Restaurant shutdowns? It’s critically important that we try to get a handle on this. If, for example, it turns out that schools can be re-opened with only small effects as long as we keep doing everything else, that would relieve a mountain of pressure from a lot of people…

I don’t especially blame Donald Trump for not endorsing lockdowns and quarantines and so forth until mid-March. In this, he was probably following expert advice fairly reasonably. What I do blame him for is: not planning for the worst case when he had the chance during February; consistently providing the country with bad information about vaccines and cures and bleach and so forth; declining to take testing seriously; turning the entire operation into a partisan crusade; using the month of April to fire up his base to “liberate” red states; wasting time blaming China and WHO and Democrats and governors for his own mistakes; putting Jared Kushner in charge of an important task that needed someone experienced and competent; and just generally acting like a buffoon the entire time. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.

7) So, this was fascinating that almost all pigeons in the Northeast corridor are the same species.  Except Boston.  “The East Coast is made up of two pigeon genetic megacities, and a patch of Connecticut seems to be what’s keeping them apart.”

8) Zoom definitely has it’s uses and I’ve been using it a lot.  But definitely no subsitute for the real thing.  And definitely cognitively just weird.

Not only does this mess with our perception, but it also plays havoc with our ability to mirror. Without realizing it, all of us engage in facial mimicry whenever we encounter another person. It’s a constant, almost synchronous, interplay. To recognize emotion, we have to actually embody it, which makes mirroring essential to empathy and connection. When we can’t do it seamlessly, as happens during a video chat, we feel unsettled because it’s hard to read people’s reactions and, thus, predict what they will do.

“Our brains are prediction generators, and when there are delays or the facial expressions are frozen or out of sync, as happens on Zoom and Skype, we perceive it as a prediction error that needs to be fixed,” said Paula Niedenthal, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who specializes in affective response. “Whether subconscious or conscious, we’re having to do more work because aspects of our predictions are not being confirmed and that can get exhausting.”

9) Now this is one super-cool evolution story.

 But by proving how a lizard would try to grit its way through hurricane-force winds with sheer grip strength, those whimsical experiments led Dr. Donihue, now at Washington University in St. Louis, and a team of other researchers to a profound suggestion: Extreme weather events may bend the evolutionary course of hundreds of species. A paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers deeper evidence of their earlier finding.

Across Central and South America and the Caribbean islands, scientists found that lizards with larger toe pads seem to be more common in areas that have been hit by storm after storm in the last 70 years. That suggests that severe but fleeting cataclysms don’t just leave lasting scars on people and places. They also reshape entire species.

First came Hurricane Irma, a screaming maelstrom of 160-mile-per-hour winds. Two weeks later came Hurricane Maria. When Dr. Donihue returned, trees were down and lizards were scarce. On average, he found the surviving anoles seemed to have much bigger, grippier toe pads than the population had averaged before, as if those with less sticky feet had been carried away by the storms.

That initial finding came out with the leaf blower videos. But the team kept digging. Eighteen months after the storm, Dr. Donihue went back to Turks and Caicos a third time to find a new generation of lizards scampering across new plant growth. Those carefree children of the survivors had kept their parents’ generation’s bigger toe pads.

10) Love the Ear Hustle podcast literally produced inside San Quentin prison.  So good.  This week had a great story of a former inmate who was sentenced to Life Without Parole at 18 for murder and completely turned his life around in prison.  Great to see that California recognized the utter folly of locking a man like this up forever.  I was especially drawn to the story as he is Steven Green.

11) I haven’t been following the Flynn pardon stuff to closely except to know that it’s utterly absurd.  Also, it is pretty funny that Republicans are shocked(!!) that law enforcement lies and coerces to get their way.  And it’s perfectly legal.  Ummm, welcome to America’s criminal justice system, conservatives.

12) So, totally out of left field, but quite interesting, the disastrous and failed re-branding of Tropicana orange juice in 2009.

13) UVA Center for Politics with a great analysis of the key 2020 Senate races.

14) Don’t call me a hypocrite, but I just don’t find Tara Reade a credible accuser of Joe Biden.  Here, a former prosecutor makes the case.  Also, in an entire lengthy public career (where he was sometimes too touchy and sometimes too in personal space), nobody else has made an allegation remotely similar to Reade’s.  And in a Senate where the staff always knows who the “good guys” are and who to watch out for, Biden was widely known as a good guy:

►Lack of other sexual assault allegations. Last year, several women claimed that Biden made them uncomfortable with things like a shoulder touch or a hug. (I wrote a column critical of one such allegation by Lucy Flores.) The Times and Post found no allegation of sexual assault against Biden except Reade’s.

It is possible that in his 77 years, Biden committed one sexual assault and it was against Reade. But in my experience, men who commit a sexual assault are accused more than once … like Donald Trump, who has had more than a dozen allegations of sexual assault leveled against him and who was recorded bragging about grabbing women’s genitalia.

Also, sorry, but the pathological love for Putin from Reade?

15) And Brian Beutler in his newsletter:

I wrote about the whole controversy at length here a couple weeks ago, and my thinking hasn’t really changed. The allegation just isn’t strong or substantiated enough to assume Biden’s guilt or call on him to step out of the race—at least as it stands. And as it stands—even if the Archives finds no complaint, as Biden seems confident it won’t—it’s also basically unfalsifiable. Which means absent new inculpatory evidence, or evidence of Reade’s deceit, we’re going to be left about where we are. Without ironclad closure, this controversy will become part of a larger mythology of liberal hypocrisy among left-wing critics, many of whom seemed more interested in embarrassing Democrats, or in smearing them, than in the truth of the matter. Yes, many Democrats have in recent years espoused a standard of deference to female accusers that makes their continued support for Biden a bit awkward. But I don’t think there’s much actual hypocrisy here. Lindsey Beyerstein has wise words to offer on this score. A moment of reckoning may await Biden and the liberal establishment in the future, but it hasn’t arrived, and hopefully it will not.

16) And here’s the great tweet he just linked:

17) And while I’m at it with newsletters, great stuff from Eric Boehlert: “”The insults don’t matter” — ABC reporter gives Trump a pass on vicious media attacks”

Asked on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” why reporters don’t get up and walk out of the briefing room when Trump launches one of his name-calling tirades, Karl insisted, “The insults don’t matter.” He added, “Who cares if the president is going to make personal attacks on us, the reporters in that room?” The claim that “insults don’t matter” is quite amazing. It’s the media voluntarily creating new, separate standards for the Trump era, and giving him a hard pass.

Karl, who serves as the president of the White House Correspondents Association and just released a new book, Front Row at the Trump Show, was echoing a familiar claim that journalists should never become the story, and that when the focus is on the press the real news is being missed. It’s a mantra used for generations and it often made sense. “As a reporter, the last thing you want to do is to turn this into a story about yourself,” Karl recently told the Hollywood Reporter, while discussing Trump.

That cover story doesn’t hold today because we have a ruler who has made it plain that he wants to destroy public faith in newsgathering for purely political purposes. In three years has launched more ugly, damaging attacks on the free press in America than the previous 44 U.S.  presidents, combined.

Now is not the time to hide behind the claim that “insults” don’t matter, that it’s irrelevant how the President of the Untied States behaves in public, and to ignore how he’s running a textbook authoritarian propaganda campaign to destabilize the free press.

This country has operated on a premise of acceptable, decent behavior among public officials, and especially the President of the United States, for more than two-and-a-half centuries. Trump has gleefully obliterated all those standards. The idea that his rancid behavior, which is signified by the insults he hurls at reporters, doesn’t matter, represents a deeply misguided way of looking at the damage Trump has done to this country, and specifically our public life.

“To me, I don’t care if he criticizes reporters or if he criticizes me. That is not what’s important or relevant,” Karl recently stressed.

Is Karl signaling to all future presidents that it’s fine if they call journalists nasty, unpatriotic people, as Trump does? Karl can’t possibly think that’s okay. What Karl is really saying is, there are no rules for Trump and we’re simply not interested in holding him accountable. Instead, journalists want to make sure they keep their “front row” seats to the Trump “show.”

Does anyone think that if a President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama had filled their press briefings with nasty name-calling, labeling the press “enemies of the people,” that the White House press corps would have spent years collectively shrugging their shoulders and chalking up the ugly attacks as Clinton and Obama personality quirks?

18) While learning about Covid this week, I also learned the latest on Zinc and the common cold.  I’ve actually been persuaded by the evidence for years, but I loved that this study really breaks it down to the type and amount of Zinc.

19) Maybe llama blood holds the key to the next amazing treatment.  Seriously.

20) Interesting stuff on how much Covid spread may be dependent upon crowds:

Ever since a new coronavirus emerged in China late last year, public health experts have debated why it was so dangerous. Now, as we consider how to reopen communities in the United States and across the world, we’re learning that the closer people live and work together, the more threatening and deadly the virus can be.

Models we created at PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, tracking and forecasting outbreaks in 211 counties in 46 states, as well as in the District of Columbia, revealed that crowding and population density, whether in densely populated areas in New York City or a meatpacking plant in South Dakota, are the most important factors in determining the havoc the virus can wreak.

After we accounted for age distribution and health issues, it was clear that risk not only of infection but of death broke between two groups: those in densely crowded areas, and everyone else. Large, densely populated areas like New York and Chicago had nearly twice the rate of transmission in the first two weeks of their outbreaks than the least densely populated areas we are tracking, like Birmingham, Ala., or the metro area of Portland, Ore.

Yes, we did find that warming spring temperatures in some areas are helping to reduce transmission, but that effect is dwarfed by the impact of population density in our largest cities, particularly in the North.




Quick hits

1) Terrific twitter thread from Jay Rosen on how and why the media is struggling so mightily in the age of Trump.

2) So, it’s become pretty clear that this Covid-19 virus is just crazy and unprecedented in all sorts of ways.  The latest is that it can, apparently, lead to strokes in seemingly otherwise healthy people in their 30’s and 40’s.  That’s scientifically interesting and horrible for those that it happens to, but given what we know about the rates of fatality and serious illness in those under 50, this is probably not the most important thing to read about Covid today, as many suggested on twitter.  We need to take this disease very seriously.  We don’t need to scare people that they are going to get a stroke if they don’t stay home.

3) Loved this on the “swiss cheese” approach to our second chance (i.e., we have flattened the curve in most places) on Covid.  Yes, test, test, test, but, also, masks, masks, masks.  And this sensible conclusion:

As we are seeing in Asia, relaxation of social interventions can lead to a resurgence of virus transmission. This will be a risk until we have substantial immunity in the population from a vaccine and/or previous exposure. We need to define triggers to reinstate social interventions early and in a coordinated manner, such as laboratory-based surveillance in the community or our inability to link new cases to known cases. Those triggers and actions should be understood and exercised by all communities.

After this wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, we will have a “new normal” way of living and working that will provide a layer of protection compared to our pre-pandemic life. Early on, we can expect fewer public gatherings, less travel, more social distancing in the workplace, and more virtual interactions. These will certainly reduce the risk of rebound. And if we’ve successfully deployed the first two solutions — masks and testing — we can avoid the most extreme measures that we are experiencing now.

These interventions are the layers of Swiss cheese that can let us reopen our cities while preventing a resurgence of infections. They’ll enable us to flatten a second wave of the pandemic if it comes in the fall — or sooner — but most importantly they will buy us much-needed time until we have a vaccine.

4) Speaking of test, test, test, I love the idea of using random sampling to get a sense of population-level dynamics with much smaller samples, just like we do in public opinion polling.  Especially since we are struggling so much to get enough tests.  E.g., random samples in major metro areas.

Given our current capacity, random testing is the quickest, most feasible and most effective means of assessing the U.S. population. Ideally, we could test every American today, or over the next month, but even tens of millions of test kits would not accomplish this. We could triple the current number of tests under existing protocols, but we would remain in the dark about future hospital needs and when and how to relax restrictions on economic activity.

Random testing uses but a sliver of that capacity to deliver immense value. And it can be done now, using incremental new capacity or at hospitals and universities that have capacity that remains idle because it is not yet authorized. It is the only way to get a true picture of prevalence, hospitalization and fatality rates and more.

The recent Nobel in economic science went to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, researchers using random control trials, the mainstay of scientific medicine. Their work dramatizes how misleading it can be, for example, to measure disease prevalence by reference to those who seek treatment at rural health clinics, omitting the multitudes who have no access.

Local random tests should be undertaken immediately. University researchers, working with local governments or operating independently, could conduct simple randomization, testing perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 individuals. We would quickly learn whether total cases were five times or 50 times current estimates in those areas.

5) Relatedly, nasopharyngeal tests sound really unpleasant (a swab inserted through your nose all the way down to your throat).  Very excited to hear that saliva-based testing may be coming soon  There’s huge advantages to this in that it doesn’t require heavily-PPE-protected health care workers and may even be more accurate.

6) Also, very much relatedly, if we are going to massively scale up testing, we need to massively scale up the production of the chemical reagents required.  Let’s get on that!!

7) And on health care more broadly, this is terrific, “America Can Afford a World-Class Health System. Why Don’t We Have One?”

The American health care industry is not good at promoting health, but it excels at taking money from all of us for its benefit. It is an engine of inequality.

Now is a difficult time to talk about the costs of health care. Doctors and nurses are risking their lives to fight the virus. We need more doctors and nurses. We need more beds, more ventilators and more protective equipment, and we need vaccines and drugs. High prices are not the best nor the only way to get drugs or vaccines that will win the war against the virus, but they can help…

Yet we cannot go on as we have been. America is a rich country that can afford a world-class health care system. We should be spending a lot of money on care and on new drugs. But we need to spend to save lives and reduce sickness, not on expensive, income-generating procedures that do little to improve health. Or worst of all, on enriching pharma companies that feed the opioid epidemic

The first step to reform is to change the way we think about the health care system. Many Americans think their health insurance is a gift from their employers — a “benefit” bestowed on lucky workers by benevolent corporations. It would be more accurate to think of employer-provided health insurance as a tax.

One way or another, everyone pays for health care. It accounts for about 18 percent of G.D.P. — nearly $11,000 per person. Individuals directly pay about a quarter, the federal and state governments pay nearly half, and most of the rest is paid by employers…

American doctors control access to their profession through a system that limits medical school admissions and the entry of doctors trained abroad — an imbalance that was clear even before the pandemic. That keeps their numbers down and their salaries up. As of 2012, doctors were the largest single occupation in the top 1 percent. The business model under which most doctors practice isn’t working; without the revenue from high-paid elective care, some hospitals are now resorting to furloughs and layoffs of doctors and nurses.

Hospitals, many of them classified as nonprofits, have consolidated, with monopolies over health care in many cities, and they have used that monopoly power to raise prices. Many Americans, even those with insurance, face bills that they cannot pay, or are hit with “surprise” medical bills charged by providers working at in-network hospitals who have opted not to accept insurance. Ambulance services and emergency departments that don’t accept insurance have become favorites of private equity investors because of their high profits. Medical device manufacturers have also consolidated, in some cases using a “catch and kill” strategy to swallow up nimbler start-ups and keep the prices of their products high…

At the very least, America must stop financing health care through employer-based insurance, which encourages some people to work but it eliminates jobs for less-skilled workers. Employer-based health care is a particular nightmare in this pandemic. In recent weeks, millions have lost their paychecks and their insurance, and will have to face the virus without either.

We are believers in free-market capitalism, but health care is not something it can deliver in a socially tolerable way.

8) Loved using Lee Drutman’s Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop in my Political Parties class this semester.  Excellent and thorough review here.

9) EJ Dionne:

“We need to push the pause button here,” McConnell said in a Tuesday interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We have racked up $2.7 trillion in national debt without much consideration of the impact of that on the future of this country.”

Deficits, it seems, start mattering only when it comes time to help hungry people, or renters pressed to the wall, or those who have lost their health insurance. Do Trump and McConnell really want to say that governors should take responsibility for dealing with the coronavirus crisis, but sorry, the federal government won’t be there to help their states out of the mess this is creating? That’s where McConnell seemed to be headed in his interview with Hewitt when he suggested state and local governments might be able to “use the bankruptcy route.”

Democrats might consider calling McConnell’s bluff by proposing provisional tax increases on the well-off in the next package, including a rollback of the corporate tax giveaway, that would not kick in until the economy recovered. Sure, Republicans would reject them, but in doing so they’d underscore how fake their deficit concerns are.

10) This is great from Bill Gates “Here are the innovations we need to reopen the economy.”  I really wish we had a competent president to just appoint Gates Covid Czar and give him the authority to make the necessary things happen.  Maybe just a wee bit more qualified and competent than Jared.

11) This is really good in Pro Publica, “To Understand the Medical Supply Shortage, It Helps to Know How the U.S. Lost the Lithium Ion Battery to China”

But the effort to establish a lithium battery manufacturing base in the U.S. largely failed, even after the Obama administration made it a keystone of its 2009 stimulus program, aiming to produce 40% of the world’s lithium ion batteries for advanced vehicles by 2015.

Today, that number stands at about 10%, largely because of Tesla’s battery plant in Nevada. Most of the batteries used in a plethora of U.S. products are shipped in from China or other foreign suppliers. Despite its economic nationalist rhetoric, the Trump administration has done little to revive battery-making, proposing deep cuts to alternative energy research and favoring fossil fuels at every turn. (A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy declined to comment on the record.)

12) Good discussion in Inside Higher Ed, “How lenient, or not, should professors be with students right now?”  My take?  Lenient on deadlines, but, damn if I’m going to be lenient on quality.  B work does not suddenly become A work because life sucks.

13) Great stuff from Brian Beutler on how the media is getting played again, just like with the Tea party:

The most uncanny echo of the late aughts is the orchestration by well-heeled right-wing donors of small anti-government, anti-lockdown protests, populated in large part by a hodgepodge of militants, conspiracy theorists, and neo-Confederates in state capitals across the country. The Tea Party movement began the same way, before it exploded into a mass uprising and a Republican revival—fueled by a priceless deluge of free media—just two years after the GOP left the country in shambles. But what makes this parallel truly alarming has less to do with the anti-lockdown protests per se than with the breathless way the national press, and in some cases the very same reporters, have chosen to cover it. They have treated these gatherings once again as the tip of the spear of a vast conservative insurrection, as if oblivious to polls showing overwhelming majorities of Americans, including Republicans, support their states’ social-distancing guidelines. The Tea Party was fringe, too, before this kind of treatment. The snowball effect is real, and it can happen again

Other parallels here are imperfect. It’s unsurprising that moneyed pro-Trump forces hope to get the band back together before the 2020 election, to buoy Trump through a tough election. But the actual Tea Party didn’t really blossom into a movement until after Republicans had been swept out of power, making its anti-government activism a more natural fit for the times than it would be today, with Trump in the White House. They have compensated for this awkwardness by organizing their protests in blue-state capitals, as if the jackboot of big government resides in Sacramento, Lansing, Harrisburg, and other small cities, rather than in Washington, DC. The Tea Party likewise presented itself not as the reactionary, xenophobic movement it was, but as an organic rebellion against soaring levels of federal debt. Many Tea Party protesters even rendered the word “TEA” in all caps as an acronym for “Taxed Enough Already.” The anti-lockdown protesters would make further mockery of themselves by protesting federal debt as it mushrooms under Trump’s watch, particularly if they did so at the doorstep of state governments.

14) Trump keeps on lying (take the hint, journalists) that voting by mail leads to voter fraud.  It doesn’t.  Great summary of the copious evidence.

15) My kids’ school in actual form (hard to consider the on-line replacement as school) was just canceled for the year.  I get it, but it makes me sad.  It sucks.  But, damn do I feel bad for HS and College seniors.  So, so bad.  But, also, it sucks for all kids who, you know, need to learn.  Yglesias, “Prolonged school closures could be very costly for America’s students”

16) Bright Line watch on the faltering state of US Democracy.  In chart form:


17) Good stuff from Frum: “Trump’s Two Horrifying Plans for Dealing With the Coronavirus:
If he can’t confine the suffering to his opponents, he is prepared to incite a culture war to distract his supporters.”

From his entry into presidential politics, Trump has divided Americans into first class, second class, and third class. He has continued that politics of division into this pandemic. On Saturday, Trump retweeted an ugly insinuation that state governments were favoring Muslim Ramadan observance over Easter worship.

The division is more than rhetorical. It shapes who gets economic assistance, who gets aid, and now, whose deaths are acceptable in order to put the country back to work.

Life never can be risk-free. The reopening of the economy cannot wait for the discovery and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. The job of our political leadership is to win acceptance of risk by undertaking that the accompanying benefits be shared. Trump’s noisy attacks on the cities and states that have suffered most—and his politics-first response—send the message that he’s acting in his self-interest, not the public interest.

Both Trump’s Plan A and Plan B intend to turn American against American, in an ugly spirit of rancor and resentment. In pandemic as in prosperity, the Trump way is to punish opponents, reward friends; accuse victims, protect culprits; demand credit, refuse accountability; protect preferred classes and groups of Americans—and sacrifice the rest.

18) Really, really good stuff from James Hamblin, “Why Some People Get Sicker Than Others
COVID-19 is proving to be a disease of the immune system. This could, in theory, be controlled.”

While America’s deepest health disparities absolutely would require generations  to undo, the country still could address many gaps right now. Variation in immune responses between people is due to much more than age or chronic disease. The immune system is a function of the communities that brought us up and the environments with which we interact every day. Its foundation is laid by genetics and early-life exposure to the world around us—from the food we eat to the air we breathe. Its response varies on the basis of income, housing, jobs, and access to health care.

The people who get the most severely sick from COVID-19 will sometimes be unpredictable, but in many cases, they will not. They will be the same people who get sick from most every other cause. Cytokines like IL-6 can be elevated by a single night of bad sleep. Over the course of a lifetime, the effects of daily and hourly stressors accumulate. Ultimately, people who are unable to take time off of work when sick—or who don’t have a comfortable and quiet home, or who lack access to good food and clean air—are likely to bear the burden of severe disease.

Much is yet unknown about specific cytokines and their roles in disease. But the likelihood of disease in general is not so mysterious. Often, it’s a matter of what societies choose to tolerate. America has empty hotels while people sleep in parking lots. We are destroying food while people go hungry. We are allowing individuals to endure the physiological stresses of financial catastrophe while bailing out corporations. With the coronavirus, we do not have vulnerable populations so much as we have vulnerabilities as a population. Our immune system is not strong.

19) Top-notch satire from Alexandra Petri, “Powerless to help, Donald Trump worries about incompetent pandemic leadership”

Why was nobody doing anything? That was the question President Trump kept asking himself, over and over, as he gazed at the United States’ response to the covid-19 pandemic.

“The states have to step up their TESTING!” he tweeted. Why was no one helping them? The United States was supposed to be some kind of a great nation, not a floundering compilation of states, each acting at cross purposes. Why were they bidding against one another for medical essentials? They were one country! Did no one realize that? Why were they being left to solve this alone? Could nobody help them coordinate? He looked on, helpless, as the rate of testing ticked up all too slowly.

It was heartbreaking to see. He sat in front of the television, barely watching baseball (“I’m tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old,” as he told reporters at a briefing. “But I haven’t actually had too much time to watch. I would say maybe I watch one batter then I get back to work.”), wondering why someone was not working harder to fix the numerous problems the nation, as a whole, faced with the pandemic. Shouldn’t someone be developing a plan? It seemed as though the guidance the states had received about whether to do that had been very mixed!

“Get out there and get the job done,” he tweeted to the governor of New York. If only he were in a position to offer more than verbal encouragement! He was happy to tell governors around the country whether they were doing good jobs or bad jobs, but it frustrated him to see them running low on supplies. Still, seeing New York behave as though it belonged to some larger entity that might be able to obtain more supplies at better prices gave him hope. Perhaps New York had a Costco membership?


We all need to wear masks in public

So, pretty sure I’ve mentioned that I’ve become a huge fan of Zenyep Tufekci in recent weeks for her science-based, common-sense take on mask use.  Here, along with some colleagues, she makes a very compelling case for universal mask use in public.  And I am totally on-board.  Short version: even cloth masks are really good at stopping virus particles from being emitted, so if we are all wearing them, you don’t need a good mask to stop from breathing them in, we just need a cotton mask to make sure we are not, unknowingly (the huge problem with Covid) spreading them to others.  No, the evidence is not rock-solid, but it is more than suggestive, and when one considers the potential benefit (immense) versus the potential cost (really, quite modest), this seems like a no-brainer.  So, I am definitely all in on this.  The details:

If you feel confused about whether people should wear masks and why and what kind, you’re not alone. COVID-19 is a novel disease and we’re learning new things about it every day. However, much of the confusion around masks stems from the conflation of two very different functions of masks.

Masks can be worn to protect the wearer from getting infected or masks can be worn to protect others from being infected by the wearer. Protecting the wearer is difficult: It requires medical-grade respirator masks, a proper fit, and careful putting on and taking off. But masks can also be worn to prevent transmission to others, and this is their most important use for society. If we lower the likelihood of one person’s infecting another, the impact is exponential, so even a small reduction in those odds results in a huge decrease in deaths. Luckily, blocking transmission outward at the source is much easier. It can be accomplished with something as simple as a cloth mask. [italics in original; bold is mine]

But the opposite concern also exists: egress, or transmission of particles from the wearer to the outside world. Historically, much less research has been conducted on egress, but controlling it—also known as “source control”—is crucial to stopping the person-to-person spread of a disease. Obviously, society-wide source control becomes very important during a pandemic. Unfortunately, many articles in the lay press—and even some in the scientific press—don’t properly distinguish between ingress and egress, thereby adding to the confusion.

The good news is that preventing transmission to others through egress is relatively easy. It’s like stopping gushing water from a hose right at the source, by turning off the faucet, compared with the difficulty of trying to catch all the drops of water after we’ve pointed the hose up and they’ve flown everywhere. Research shows that even a cotton mask dramatically reduces the number of virus particles emitted from our mouths—by as much as 99 percent. This reduction provides two huge benefits. Fewer virus particles mean that people have a better chance of avoiding infection, and if they are infected, the lower viral-exposure load may give them a better chance of contracting only a mild illness

Think of the coronavirus pandemic as a fire ravaging our cities and towns that is spread by infected people breathing out invisible embers every time they speak, cough, or sneeze. Sneezing is the most dangerous—it spreads embers farthest—coughing second, and speaking least, though it still can spread the embers. These invisible sparks cause others to catch fire and in turn breathe out embers until we truly catch fire—and get sick. That’s when we call in the firefighters—our medical workers. The people who run into these raging blazes to put them out need special heat-resistant suits and gloves, helmets, and oxygen tanks so they can keep breathing in the fire—all that PPE, with proper fit too.

If we could just keep our embers from being sent out every time we spoke or coughed, many fewer people would catch fire. Masks help us do that. And because we don’t know for sure who’s sick, the only solution is for everyone to wear masks. This eventually benefits the wearer because fewer fires mean we’re all less likely to be burned. My mask protects you; your masks protect me. Plus, our firefighters would no longer be overwhelmed, and we could more easily go back to work and the rest of our public lives…

Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease. Many countries already have more than 80 percent of their population wearing masks in public, including Hong Kong, where most stores deny entry to unmasked customers, and the more than 30 countries that legally require masks in public spaces, such as Israel, Singapore, and the Czech Republic. Mask use in combination with physical distancing is even more powerful…

We know a vaccine may take years, and in the meantime, we will need to find ways to make our societies function as safely as possible. Our governments can and should do much—make tests widely available, fund research, ensure medical workers have everything they need. But ordinary people are not helpless; in fact, we have more power than we realize. Along with keeping our distance whenever possible and maintaining good hygiene, all of us wearing just a cloth mask could help stop this pandemic in its tracks.

Sign me up.  More importantly, sign up some politicians!  If I were a governor, I would be on this hard.  I’d mandate that no place that serves the public lets in a person without a mask (and this is not a cost issue when you consider an old t-shirt or bandanna can be an effective cloth mask).

Plenty of controversy and confusion currently swirling about universities in the Fall.  My take?  Put me in Caldwell G109 teaching PS 302 Campaigns & Elections to 35 students, every one of us wearing a mask.

Quick hits (part II)

Okay, better really, really late than never.

1) This is the super-thorough, must-read, NYT report everybody is talking about.  It’s just as damning as you’d expect.  “He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus: An examination reveals the president was warned about the potential for a pandemic but that internal divisions, lack of planning and his faith in his own instincts led to a halting response.”

2) Zeynep Tufekci has rapidly become one of my favorite people to read.  She wrote this terrific piece on authoritarian “blind spots” back in February.

Xi would be far from the first authoritarian to have been blindsided. Ironically, for all the talk of the technological side of Chinese authoritarianism, China’s use of technology to ratchet up surveillance and censorship may have made things worse, by making it less likely that Xi would even know what was going on in his own country…

Authoritarian blindness is a perennial problem, especially in large countries like China with centralized, top-down administration. Indeed, Xi would not even be the first Chinese ruler to fall victim to the totality of his own power. On August 4, 1958, buoyed by reports pouring in from around the country of record grain, rice, and peanut production, an exuberant Chairman Mao Zedong wondered how to get rid of the excess, and advised people to eat “five meals a day.” Many did, gorging themselves in the new regime canteens and even dumping massive amounts of “leftovers” down gutters and toilets. Export agreements were made to send tons of food abroad in return for machinery or currency. Just months later, perhaps the greatest famine in recorded history began, in which tens of millions would die because, in fact, there was no such surplus. Quite the opposite: The misguided agricultural policies of the Great Leap Forward had caused a collapse in food production. Yet instead of reporting the massive failures, the apparatchiks in various provinces had engaged in competitive exaggeration, reporting ever-increasing surpluses both because they were afraid of reporting bad news and because they wanted to please their superiors…

It’s hard to imagine that a leader of Xi’s experience would be so lax as to let the disease spread freely for almost two months, only to turn around and shut the whole country down practically overnight.

In many ways, his hand was forced by his own system. Under the conditions of massive surveillance and censorship that have grown under Xi, the central government likely had little to no signals besides official reports to detect, such as online public conversations about the mystery pneumonia. In contrast, during the SARS epidemic, some of the earliest signs were online conversations and rumors in China about a flu outbreak. These were picked up by the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, who alerted the World Health Organization, who then started pressuring China to come clean, which finally triggered successful containment efforts.

If people are too afraid to talk, and if punishing people for “rumors” becomes the norm, a doctor punished for spreading news of a disease in one province becomes just another day, rather than an indication of impending crisis. Later, under criticism, Xi would say he gave instructions for fighting the virus as early as January 7, implying that he knew about it all along. But how could he admit the alternative? This is his system.

Contrary to common belief, the killer digital app for authoritarianism isn’t listening in on people through increased surveillance, but listening to them as they express their honest opinions, especially complaints. An Orwellian surveillance-based system would be overwhelming and repressive, as it is now in China, but it would also be similar to losing sensation in parts of one’s body due to nerve injuries. Without the pain to warn the brain, the hand stays on the hot stove, unaware of the damage to the flesh until it’s too late.

3) Tom Nichols lets loose, “With Each Briefing, Trump Is Making Us Worse People” [Have I mentioned that the Atlantic is just ridiculously full of great content]

What I mean instead is that Trump is a spiritual black hole. He has no ability to transcend himself by so much as an emotional nanometer. Even narcissists, we are told by psychologists, have the occasional dark night of the soul. They can recognize how they are perceived by others, and they will at least pretend to seek forgiveness and show contrition as a way of gaining the affection they need. They are capable of infrequent moments of reflection, even if only to adjust strategies for survival.

Trump’s spiritual poverty is beyond all this. He represents the ultimate triumph of a materialist mindset. He has no ability to understand anything that is not an immediate tactile or visual experience, no sense of continuity with other human beings, and no imperatives more important than soothing the barrage of signals emanating from his constantly panicked and confused autonomic system.

The humorist Alexandra Petri once likened Trump to a goldfish, a purely reactive animal lost in a “pastless, futureless, contextless void.” This is an apt comparison, with one major flaw: Goldfish are not malevolent, and do not corrode the will and decency of those who gaze on them.

4) Non-Covid!  I really liked this “how to edit your own writing.”  Lots of good advice.  My favorite…

Overwriting is a bigger problem than underwriting. It’s much more likely you’ve written too much than too little. It’s a lot easier to throw words at a problem than to take the time to find the right ones. As Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century writer and scientist (no, not Mark Twain) wrote in a letter, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

The rule for most writers is, “If in doubt, cut it.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John McPhee has called the process “writing by omission.” Novelist Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (and not William Faulkner, although he may have popularized this version of it) exhorted a version of the oft-repeated phrase, “In writing you must kill all your darlings.” This is true at every level: If a word isn’t necessary in a sentence, cut it; if a sentence isn’t necessary in a paragraph, cut it; and if a paragraph isn’t necessary, cut it, too.

Go through what you’ve written and look for the bits you can cut without affecting the whole — and cut them. It will tighten the work and make everything you’re trying to say clearer.

The beginning of anything you write is the most important part. If you can’t catch someone’s attention at the start, you won’t have a chance to hold it later. Whether you’re writing a novel or an email, you should spend a disproportionate amount of time working on the first few sentences, paragraphs or pages. A lot of problems that can be glossed over in the middle are your undoing at the start.

5) Damn if the NC Republican “leaders” are barely better than Trump.  Nice Charlotte Observer editorial, “NC’s top Republican doesn’t trust the governor to run a fair 2020 mail-in election. Really.”

6) My family has really gotten into Shark Tank lately– thus making me extra-appreciate Mark Cuban.  Love this interview with him about running a socially responsible business:

Would you consider raising the wages of hourly workers?

“I’ll tell you what I do with my company. It would have been embarrassing for me to find out if any employee of mine was on government employment, or getting any type of government assistance at all. Because that tells me I wasn’t paying them enough to support their family. And so I went and had people go through and check as best we could, because not everybody is going to tell you if they’re getting assistance. And we raised wages and we gave them enough to make sure that they weren’t on public assistance.

“And I think that’s the way every company could be, should be. Because to me, as a capitalist, if I’m paying so little that my fellow taxpayers have to subsidize my company, that’s just wrong. That’s not capitalism. That’s the ultimate socialism. I’m taking from other taxpayers to subsidize my company, my employees. And so, yes, I’m a firm believer that at least $15 has got to be the minimum national minimum wage.”

7) This is good in Wired, “The Face Mask Debate Reveals a Scientific Double Standard:No one complained about the lack of evidence for 20-second hand-washing. So why did we treat face masks differently?”  Also, nobody talks about protecting our eyes in public, but we know we aren’t supposed to touch our faces, especially mouth, nose, and eyes.

8) I’ve been meaning to post on the great new work on Black voters from Ismail White and Cheryl Laird.  Charles Lane’s op-ed actually explains it as succinctly as anything.

Conclusion: Black Americans are such loyal Democrats, and voting for Democrats is such a powerful norm in the African American community, that you literally cannot pay black people to “defect” openly.

These and other data appear in a provocative new book, “Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior,” by political scientists Ismail K. White and Chryl N. Laird. They argue that peer pressure — or “racialized social constraint” — is a key determinant of African American partisanship.

To be sure, most black Americans vote Democratic because they prefer that party, and what it stands for, over the Republican Party. Yet a significant minority of African Americans — nearly a third, White and Laird report — consider themselves conservative and share at least some Republican economic and social positions. It is on this segment of the black electorate that intragroup social pressure primarily operates, causing many to back Democrats, the authors argue…

As her book points out, would-be African American Trump voters still face the following choice: cast a secret ballot for Trump and admit it later to friends and family, taking heat at church or school; or conceal it, preserving social relationships but creating internal psychological distress.

“Given the social rewards of conformity, voting Democratic is the least costly option,” White and Laird write.

It would probably take a dramatic increase in neighborhood integration to change these dynamics. But the GOP’s white Southern base is not exactly clamoring for aggressive federal housing desegregation policies. In fact, the Trump administration rolled back the initiatives Obama took.

It’s not easy to get people’s votes while signaling that you don’t want them living next door.

9) Krugman with a good post-Wisconsin column.

Yet the scariest news of the past week didn’t involve either epidemiology or economics; it was the travesty of an election in Wisconsin, where the Supreme Court required that in-person voting proceed despite the health risks and the fact that many who requested absentee ballots never got them.

Why was this so scary? Because it shows that America as we know it may not survive much longer. The pandemic will eventually end; the economy will eventually recover. But democracy, once lost, may never come back. And we’re much closer to losing our democracy than many people realize.

To see how a modern democracy can die, look at events in Europe, especially Hungary, over the past decade…

If you say that something similar can’t happen here, you’re hopelessly naïve. In fact, it’s already happening here, especially at the state level. Wisconsin, in particular, is well on its way toward becoming Hungary on Lake Michigan, as Republicans seek a permanent lock on power.

10) Really liked this in NYT as I’ve heard exactly this from several of my students, “‘I’m in High School Again’: Virus Sends College Students Home to Parents, and Their Rules”

11) First-person account from a pulmonologist with a nasty case of Covid was really, really good.

12) Speaking of lungs, a JK Rowling tweet got me curious as to whether breathing exercise used for a variety of lung conditions could possibly help.  Maybe?

13) Good stuff from Dylan Matthews, “9 ideas Joe Biden should steal from his Democratic rivals”

14) Ezra is right, “The coronavirus shows tying health insurance to jobs is a disaster. Let’s fix it.”  This plan sounds good!

Medicare Extra is the middle ground Democrats need

Back in July, the Center for American Progress released its “Medicare Extra” proposal. As I wrote at the time, the plan was, and is, an intriguing synthesis of left and moderate ideas on health reform. It’s universal, it uses Medicare’s pricing power to hold down costs, it rebuilds the health system around public insurance — and it gives everyone, everywhere, a true choice between public and private options, no matter what their employer is offering. In all those ways, it goes much further than Bidencare.

At the same time, Medicare Extra retains private insurance options, allows employers to continue offering insurance to employees if they think they can provide something better than the public option, and it holds the total price tag to somewhere in the $2.8 trillion to $4.5 trillion range. Which is to say, it’s not nearly as disruptive as Sanders’s Medicare-for-all bill, and it only requires about a tenth of the tax increases.

Here’s how it works:

  • Medicare Extra builds a new public insurance program called, well, Medicare Extra. The new plan shares Medicare’s name, but its benefits are much more expansive: It includes, for instance, vision, dental, and reproductive health coverage.
  • Everyone in the system, from individuals getting insurance from their employer to traditional Medicare enrollees, could choose to purchase Medicare Extra instead, and they’d be eligible for normal subsidies and employer cash-outs if they did so. So unlike in Biden’s plan, employers could buy Medicare Extra for their employees, and even if they didn’t, employees could take the money their employer is spending on private insurance and use it to buy Medicare Extra.
  • Premiums are on a sliding scale, with Americans under 150 percent of the poverty line paying nothing and those making 500 percent of the poverty line or more seeing their total contribution capped at 9 percent of income. Cost-sharing, too, varies by income, with total out-of-pocket spending, even for the richest, capped at $5,000.
  • Newborns would automatically be enrolled in Medicare Extra, as would the uninsured and every legal resident upon turning 65. Medicaid and Obamacare would be folded into the new program, and anyone on traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Tricare, Veterans Affairs coverage, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, the Indian Health Service, or employer-sponsored coverage could opt in.
  • The plan saves money by expanding Medicare’s pricing power throughout the system — including to employer-provided private insurance. It’s the first of the major Democratic proposals to rely on a version of all-payer rate setting.

There are plenty of details and decisions in this plan worth debating. But something like Medicare Extra offers a middle ground that this moment demands. It eases the disruption of reform without reinforcing the dysfunctions of the status quo; it makes employer-provided health insurance one option people can freely choose, if they prefer it, rather than making it the only option most people have; and it creates a system that, while not single-payer, is far more integrated than anything we have now: a public system with private options, rather than a private system with fractured public options.

15) This was really interesting.  Humans are running colder than we used to.

According to Parsonnet, other reasons for the decline in body temperature over time could be that we’re also using less energy and have a lower metabolic rate than in the past.

The reduction may be due to a population-wide decline in inflammation. Generally, inflammation increases our metabolism and raises temperature.

Because of improvements in public health, this could be why inflammation has decreased. The ambient temperatures we live in, thanks to heating and air conditioning, could be factors in lower metabolic rates.

“I think it’s most likely because we have much less inflammation in our bodies now than we did when the standard was developed in the mid-19th century,” Parsonnet said.

“We have less inflammation because we have far fewer chronic infectious diseases like tuberculosis and periodontal disease, far less recurrent infection, shifts in our microbiomes, and we also have learned how to combat inflammation directly through better diets, and also with things like nonsteroidal drugs and statins,” she explained.

In general, humans are physiologically different than we were in the past, Parsonnet says.

16) Fascinating idea here, “How sewage could reveal true scale of coronavirus outbreak: Wastewater testing could also be used as an early-warning sign if the virus returns.”

17) Love, love, love my local newspaper and always have (except for that brief period where it was the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal).  But, the business model is, unfortunately, on life support.  Ben Smith writes about the need for a government-support and philanthropy model.


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