Bearing the financial costs of not being vaccinated

As of now, NC State’s approach to the Fall semester is to require weekly Covid tests for the unvaccinated that the vaccinated can opt out of.  Obviously, a vaccine mandate would be way better, but this is certainly better than nothing.  What really bugs me, though, is who will be paying for these weekly surveillance tests– me.  And all the other NC taxpayers.  Now, back before the vaccine, of course it made sense as a public policy good to distribute the costs of these tests widely as it enabled the university to function with some sense of normalcy.  But now that it is a (anti-social) choice to remain unvaccinated, the costs of the testing should absolutely be borne by the unvaccinated on campus, not the community at large.  Rhodes College in Tennessee (and other colleges I’ve read about) have this right.  NYT:

Spurred by rising Covid cases and the Delta variant’s spread, a wave of major employers announced the same rule for unvaccinated workers this week: They will need to submit to regular surveillance testing. The new requirement raises a thorny question: Who pays for those coronavirus tests?

Doctors typically charge about $50 to $100 for the tests, so the costs of weekly testing could add up quickly. Federal law requires insurers to fully cover the tests when ordered by a health care provider, but routine workplace tests are exempt from that provision.

“It’s really up to the employer,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “They can require employees to pick up the tab.”

Employers have so far taken a range of approaches, from fully covering the costs to having unvaccinated workers pay full freight.

Among the employers taking a different approach is Rhodes College in Tennessee: It will require unvaccinated students without a medical or religious exemption to pay a $1,500 fee per semester to cover the costs associated with a weekly coronavirus testing program.

Rhodes, a small liberal arts college, estimates that three-quarters of its employees are vaccinated. It is still collecting information about the vaccination rate among its 2,000 students, and it strongly encourages vaccination. But it is waiting until full Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines before mandating them.

“This is not a punishment,” said Meghan Harte Weyant, the college’s vice president for student life. “Students who choose to return to campus unvaccinated” without an exemption will have to cover the testing costs, she said. “This is intended to ensure that students who are vaccinated do not have to bear that cost.”

As a society, we are all now clearly bearing the costs of the unvaccinated in ways large and small, but where there is such a clearly identifiable financial cost as surveillance testing for the unvaccinated they should damn sure have to bear it themselves.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Meant to post this a couple weeks ago, “KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: In Their Own Words, Six Months Later.”  To be clear, why people say they don’t want a vaccine and why they did not actually get a vaccine likely have a pretty modest correlation, but, interesting nonetheless:

Key Findings

At the beginning of 2021 as vaccine distribution began in the U.S., KFF conducted interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults using open-ended questions to better understand public concerns around receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Six months later, we recontacted these individuals to find out whether they chose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, their reasoning behind their decisions, and how they are feeling about their choice.

  • The vast majority (92%) of those who planned to get vaccinated “as soon as possible” in early 2021 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as have slightly more than half (54%) of individuals who had previously said they wanted to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated. On the other hand, a majority (76%) of people who had previously said they would “only get vaccinated if required” or said they would “definitely not” get a COVID-19 vaccine remain unvaccinated.
  • One-fifth of adults (21%) now report being vaccinated after saying in January they planned on waiting to get vaccinated, would only get it if required, or would definitely not get vaccinated. Many of these individuals noted the role of their friends and family members as well as their personal doctors in persuading them to get a vaccine. Seeing their friends and family members get vaccinated without serious side effects, talking to family members about being able to safely visit, and conversations with their personal doctors about their own risks were all persuasive factors for these individuals. A small but meaningful share also say the easing of restrictions for vaccinated people was a factor in their decision to get a vaccine.
  • When asked to name the feeling that best describes how they feel now that they have been vaccinated, nearly a quarter of vaccinated adults offer responses around feeling safe (24%) and relieved (22%). Other positive feelings reported were freedom, confidence, and more certainty that if they did get COVID-19 it would be less serious or they were less likely to die from it. And while most respondents react with some positive emotion, one in ten said they felt the same or neutral. This feeling was more common among those who initially said they would “wait and see” in January or who said they would only get vaccinated if required or would not get vaccinated.
  • Conversations with family members and friends have played a major role in persuading people to get vaccinated. Two-thirds of vaccinated adults say they have tried to persuade their friends and family members to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and 17% of adults who are now vaccinated after saying in January they planned on waiting to get vaccinated, would only get it if required, or would definitely not get vaccinated, say they were persuaded to do so by a family member and 5% say they were persuaded by a friend. In addition to this, others cite protecting friends and family members as the main reason for getting vaccinated and others offer being able to see their friends and family members as well as family pressure or encouragement as the main reasons why they chose to receive a vaccine.
  • About one-fourth of those who previously said they planned on getting vaccinated “as soon as possible” or were wanting to “wait and see” before getting a vaccine, remain unvaccinated six months later. Some of these individuals either have an appointment to get a vaccine or still plan on getting it as soon as they are able, but one in ten (6% of total) now say they either will “only get vaccinated if required” or say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine. When asked what changed their mind, many offer concerns about the side effects of the vaccine as the reasons why they now do not plan on getting vaccinated.
  • Being concerned about side effects is the top reason offered by unvaccinated people for why they haven’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. When asked what would motivate them to get vaccinated against COVID-19, most in the “wait and see” group say they just want more time to see how the vaccine affects others who have already gotten it.

2) Good stuff from Margaret Sullivan, “Our democracy is under attack. Washington journalists must stop covering it like politics as usual.”

Back in the dark ages of 2012, two think-tank scholars, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, wrote a book titled “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” about the rise of Republican Party extremism and its dire effect on American democracy.

 

In a related op-ed piece, these writers made a damning statement about Washington press coverage, which treats the two parties as roughly equal and everything they do as deserving of similar coverage.

Ornstein and Mann didn’t use the now-in-vogue terms “both-sidesism” or “false equivalence,” but they laid out the problem with devastating clarity (the italics are mine):

“We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change any time soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.”

Nearly a decade later, this distortion of reality has only grown worse, thanks in part to Donald Trump’s rise to power and his ironclad grip on an increasingly craven Republican Party.

Positive proof was in the recent coverage of congressional efforts to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol…

This strain of news coverage, observed Jon Allsop in Columbia Journalism Review, centers on twinned, dubious implications: “That bipartisanship is desirable and that Democrats bear responsibility for upholding it — even in the face of explicit Republican obstructionism.”

This stance comes across as both cynical (“politics was ever thus”) and unsophisticated (“we’re just doing our job of reporting what was said”). Quite a feat.

Mainstream journalists want their work to be perceived as fair-minded and nonpartisan. They want to defend themselves against charges of bias. So they equalize the unequal. This practice seems so ingrained as to be unresolvable.

There is a way out. But it requires the leadership of news organizations to radically reframe the mission of its Washington coverage. As a possible starting point, I’ll offer these recommendations:

Toss out the insidious “inside-politics” frame and replace it with a “pro-democracy” frame.

Stop calling the reporters who cover this stuff “political reporters.” Start calling them “government reporters.”

Stop asking who the winners and losers were in the latest skirmish. Start asking who is serving the democracy and who is undermining it.

Stop being “savvy” and start being patriotic.

3) Anne Applebaum who really gets threats to democracy, “The MyPillow Guy Really Could Destroy Democracy.”

4) I mean, surely we would should be getting 1st and 2nd shots out to the rest of the world before we start offering ordinary Americans (immunocompromised is a different story) 3rd shots.  But, also, everything in the world is actually similarly unfair– should we really expect vaccines to be any different? “COVID boosters for wealthy nations spark outrage: Nations short of vaccine should get first doses to curb the pandemic, researchers say.”

Unequal distribution. A scatterplot showing GDP and Vaccination coverage by country.

5) Katherine Wu makes the case for vaccines and masks under Delta:

Partnering masks and vaccines is, in many ways, a natural move. If an unmasked, unvaccinated body is like an unprotected bank, vulnerable to burglars, these two tools are akin to the different high-security measures used to prevent a heist. Shots steel the institution from the inside out, papering its walls with most-wanted posters and alerting bank personnel to upswings in local crime. Supersensitive alarms get installed at windows; extra security guards are stationed throughout the building; the local sheriff’s office is put on speed dial. Should thieves try to force their way in, they’ll be recognized as familiar foes and get arrested on the spot, maybe before any real damage can be done.

COVID-19 vaccines have proved themselves ace at deploying these safeguards and preventing symptomatic disease, especially in its most severe forms, even when tangoing with variants. That is the classic vaccination modus operandi: fortifying our defenses so a pathogen has higher hurdles to clear.

But even vaccinated immune systems can be somewhat foiled when local conditions change. A well-armored bank will still be better off than an unsecured one, but could struggle to thwart career criminals—ones who are savvy enough to show up en masse,move fast, and use brutal tactics. And more of those robbers might make it out of the scuffle unscathed and eager to hit up a neighboring bank. Vaccine-prepped immune systems are still mostly clobbering Delta, the SARS-CoV-2 variant that’s now found in 80 percent of the virus samples being sequenced across the nation: People who have gotten all their shots are a lot less likely to experience symptoms, hospitalization, or death, and don’t seem to be responsible for much virus transmission. But Delta also appears to be especially good at accumulating in airways, and seems to eke past some of our immune defenses. These troubling traits might make it easier for the virus to mildly sicken some inoculated individuals, and perhaps spread from them as well. Vaccines are an imperfect shield; variants like Delta find their way through the cracks.

Masks cut down on all of this risk. If vaccines shore up security from the inside, face coverings (which, you know, literally cover your face) erect a sturdy blockade around the bank’s exterior—fences, bars, better locks, and ID checks at an intruder’s typical point of entry. Masks are physical barriers; they’re “great at preventing exposure to large doses of virus” before the invaders even enter the premises, Iwasaki said. And in the same way that it’s easier for security guards to incapacitate just a few crooks busting through the door, “the less virus you need to fight off, the better—I think that’s pretty clear,” Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, told me. Masks, in other words, curb the amount of labor our immune systems are forced to do—in some cases, maybe eliminating the threat entirely. In that way, they accomplish something vaccines can’t: Unlike immune cells, they don’t have to wait until after the virus has broken into the body to act. That’s an especially big asset for people whose bodies are less equipped to respond to vaccines, including the elderly and the immunocompromised, populations the CDC says should mask more vigilantly indoors, regardless of where they live.

6) I’m about 6 years behind on “Nathan for You” (enjoying it on my glitchy HBO Max) and I must say I love when the show’s preposterous stunts breakthrough into real media.  The episode on “The Movement” workout routine was just brilliant.  

7) I watched a Russian men’s gymnast compete this week who completely tore his Achilles in April and I just cannot even believe at all that he did this.  

8) I haven’t watched any Ted Lasso yet, but I plan on bingeing it once the Olympics is over.  Really enjoyed this James Poniewozik essay on how TV has evolved, “How TV Went From David Brent to Ted Lasso: Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of ironic detachment. Today, they’re more often sincere and direct. How did we get here?”

In TV’s ambitious comedies, as well as dramas, the arc of the last 20 years is not from bold risk-taking to spineless inoffensiveness. But it is, in broad terms, a shift from irony to sincerity.

By “irony” here, I don’t mean the popular equation of the term with cynicism or snark. I mean an ironic mode of narrative, in which what a show “thinks” is different from what its protagonist does. Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of dark or acerbic detachment. Today, they’re more likely to be earnest and direct. [emphases mine]

You can see this change in the careers of some of the medium’s biggest stars and in its creative energy overall. You could chalk the shift up to burnout with cringe comedies and antihero stories, to exhaustion with the cultural weaponization of irony, to changes in the viewership and creators of TV — to all these and more.

But the upshot is that, if David Brent would be out of place in 2021, it wouldn’t be because of the strictures of some cultural human-resources department; it would be because of the current vogue for TV that says things, for better or worse, like it means them.

Earlier this summer, my fellow Times critics and I put together a list of the 21 best American comedies of the past 21 years. It runs chronologically — I hate ranked lists that turn art into math — which has the side benefit of showing you TV history in time-lapse form.

It kicks off with the likes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Arrested Development” and the American “Office”: series with comically obnoxious or oblivious protagonists. It ends with the warm dramedy “Better Things” and the coming-of-age buddy comedy “PEN15”: big-hearted shows whose main characters may be imperfect or awkward, but whom you are meant to identify with.

If the patron imp of early-aughts comedy was Gervais’s David Brent — self-centered, desperate to be liked, casually vulgar and insulting to his staff — the essential face of comedy today might be Ted Lasso, the earnest American-transplant soccer coach in England who quotes Anne Lamott, encourages his players to be psychologically healthy and bakes cookies for his boss. He’s so sweet you could box him up like shortbread.

At heart, the original “Office” and “Ted Lasso” (which just scored 20 Emmy nominations) are both about the importance of kindness and empathy. Gervais’s show may be even more morally didactic; it has a sentimental, even maudlin streak that has become all the more pronounced in his later comedies, like “After Life.” But it makes its case ironically and negatively, expecting you to infer its judgment on David Brent from the reactions of other characters, and from your own.

What was going on at the turn of the millennium? “The Office” and company followed on the “Seinfeld” and David Letterman era of High Irony, a time when a literary device was enough of a cultural concern to inspire magazine coversbooks and premature obituaries. They were also of a piece with dramas like “The Sopranos,” which asked you to like watching their protagonists without like-liking them.

Antiheroes existed in art long before Tony whacked his first victim. Dostoyevsky created them; Northrop Frye wrote about them. And earlier TV dabbled in difficult protagonists, like Archie Bunker of “All in the Family.” But they were a harder sell for television, which required much broader audiences than literary fiction — or did, before outlets like HBO came along.

The common thread of antihero drama and cringe comedy is the assumption that audiences could and should be able to distinguish between the mind-set of the protagonist and the outlook of the author. They asked you to accept dissonance within the story and within yourself: You could see Tony as an animal while acknowledging the beast in you that resonated with him, you could see Larry David as a jackass while recognizing that you found it thrilling.

And, yeah, that’s definitely my favorite mode of storytelling.

9) This is true, “America’s COVID-19 Air Travel Rules Are Insane”

If you want to see how warped the current U.S. COVID-19 travel restrictions are, consider this: in 2019, there were 15.4 million air passenger arrivals from Mexico, almost 7 times the number from Italy. Today, despite Mexican COVID-19 prevalence being higher than in Italy, Delta variant cases permeating both countries, and Italy having administered well over double the number of Mexico’s vaccinations per 100 people, entry for non-Americans from Italy to the U.S. is banned, but people can fly in from Mexico irrespective of their vaccination status.

Despite months of clarity that the current COVID-19 U.S. air travel passenger rules defy basic logic, though, the White House remains stubbornly unmoved. “Given where we are … with the Delta variant,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, “we will maintain existing travel restrictions.” There was no acknowledgement of the incoherence of the current orders in terms of the countries they apply to, the people they apply to, or the changing context of COVID-19 in a world of vaccinations, let alone the dreadful impact of the rules on families and the economy.

10) Great, great stuff from David Epstein on athletes and mental health through the eyes of a former champion bobsledder.  Just read it.

11) Enjoyed Freddie deBoer on what’s wrong with the internet through his experience of writing his substack.

This is an consistent reality about writing for the internet, at least in my experience: the vast majority of the people who would prefer you to write something other than that which gives the most engagement will not reward you for doing that something else with their engagement. They have a vision of what your work could be that they will happily share with you, but they won’t actually read any of it when you try to put those principles into practice. Look, I’m not trying to be overly deterministic here; I still write mostly based on personal whim, I have zero long term tracking or plans for what I write in a given week or month, and I don’t sit around saying “how can I please those Facebook critics?” But it’s simply not realistic to be truly indifferent to quantitative rewards, and I would have to fly completely blind in this project to remain ignorant of the fact that the more I produce the content many people say they want, the worse this newsletter performs. Allow me to illustrate.

yes, I have noticed the dates on these, thank you

These categories are chosen purposefully. Getting salty about media is my most consistent click-generator and money-maker and is also what most people say they would prefer I do less often or not at all. Education research/policy posts are probably the single most-requested type of post in emails and comments, and because they could plausibly get a lot of engagement, it makes the comparison more fair. (As you see, the top-performing education post did pretty well.) I do other types of writing that don’t get many views at all, but I don’t expect them to. My favorite type of piece I do here is things like my review of Jenny Offill’s Weather, but I go in to those knowing that they won’t do numbers and I consider the opportunity to produce them part of the gift of artistic freedom I’m lucky to have. The issue is that, if I want this to continue being financially viable as my job long-term, it’s hard to look at that table and not realize what I’m losing by giving up the upper rows and emphasizing the bottom.

12) Oh, and, hey, this was a really, really unexpected surprise for my largely-ignored twitter feed.

Maybe he stumbled across all the good Covid stuff I retweet?

13) Good stuff in the Upshot, “What Improves the Chances of Solving a Murder? Speedy work is helpful, but it’s not the main factor in clearing a case, research finds.”

“The First 48,” a documentary on A&E about solving murders, has produced more than 450 episodes since its 2004 debut. The show’s title sequence tells us homicide detectives’ chances of solving a murder are “cut in half if they don’t get a lead within the first 48 hours.”

It’s hard to verify this claim because such data is not systemically tracked, but “my experience is that it’s not true,” said John Skaggs, a retired detective from the Los Angeles Police Department who supervised more than 200 homicide investigations and was the protagonist in the 2015 book “Ghettoside” by Jill Leovy.“Sometimes it takes a few days for something to develop.”

Research suggests that the reality is indeed more complex, but that one key to solving a murder is straightforward: devoting more hours to it, which usually involves more investigators…

Mr. Skaggs says about 15 percent to 18 percent of all murders are “self-solvers.” They are easy cases because “there is a smoking gun when the cops get there or it’s on video.” All others require more effort. Beyond the circumstances of the crime, two factors — the weapon used, and the resources dedicated to solving the crime — largely determine the success of a murder investigation.

Fatal shootings are harder to solve quickly than other kinds of murders. In Oakland, Calif., for example, 82 percent of stabbing murders that were solved were cleared within a week, compared with 32 percent of firearm murders.

14) If you haven’t noticed, women’s gymnasts have been getting older.  Very good stuff at 538:

In the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, stories were being written about the increasing age of female gymnasts, pointing out that the sport, once thought to be the exclusive domain of young teens, can be done — and done exceptionally well — by gymnasts who are in their late teens or even their 20s. After all, the average age for a female gymnast in these Olympics is just under 22 years. But the focus has been almost exclusively on the end of a gymnast’s career. Far less attention is being paid to how early a gymnast’s specialization starts and how that has the potential to affect how one’s final years look. There’s even less focus on how the sport can better accommodate gymnasts so they may extend their careers beyond what had long been thought impossible.

This change — which really has been underway for more than a decade, if not longer — is welcome, but it doesn’t signify a fundamental shift in how we approach training gymnasts. It doesn’t challenge the timeline that puts gymnasts on pace to being at their “peaks,” or at least a first “peak,” when they’re just 15 or 16 years old. It doesn’t question what is generally taken as an article of faith in the gymnastics community — that gymnasts have to train upward of 20 hours a week before they even hit their teen years just to have a shot at an Olympic team or a college scholarship. It is this timeline, which was built around the erroneous belief that female gymnasts had a narrow competitive window in their teens, that needs to be dismantled and rebuilt. If we want adult women to thrive in gymnastics, we have to change how their preteen and early teen years look.

15) And a really good feature in the NYT, “What If Everything We Know About Gymnastics Is Wrong? In the wake of a seismic scandal, Chellsie Memmel and other gymnasts are done with inhumane coaching — and the idea that they have to peak in their teens.”

16) Zaid Jilani, “Progressive Denial Won’t Stop Violent Crime”

Rising anxiety about crime will fuel support for policies that Ocasio-Cortez is opposed to. Many on the left feel understandably outraged about police abuses, and worry that using policing as a tool to combat crime will only harm people in the most vulnerable communities. But if progressives pay close attention to people in those high-crime communities, they’ll discover that residents generally want both police reform to prevent abuses and more effective policing to tackle crime…

One progressive who promotes that message is former Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort, who spent decades working on gun-violence issues in Atlanta, where homicides are up nearly 60 percent over the past year.

Fort primarily blames underlying socioeconomic factors for crime in the city, but he also thinks that an ever-expanding network of gangs and easy access to guns are fueling the violence. He senses little contradiction between tackling crime and promoting police reform. “I’ve been in courtrooms … not just fighting, you know, against over-policing, but I’ve been in the courtrooms sitting with the victims of violent crime,” he told me. “I’m equally comfortable standing with the victims of gun violence.”…

In the minds of many progressives, acknowledging cases like Ansari’s and the demand by those who are most at risk for policing to combat crime would only offer ammunition to conservatives and other supporters of the carceral state. John Pfaff, a prominent progressive criminologist, recently argued that “those who favor the status quo are trying to use the rise in homicides as grist for rolling back policies they dislike.”…

I’m sure that many progressives don’t buy the argument that quality policing is essential to controlling violent crime, but many voters do. The recent Democratic primaries in New York City provide an example of how progressives, when they are unable to address the public’s concerns about crime, will pay for it at the ballot box. Although the left found some success down the ballot, capturing the Democratic nomination for comptroller and a number of city-council spots, progressives found themselves overwhelmed in the mayoral race.

17) Great conversation on crime between Yascha Mounk and Patrick Sharkey:

Mounk: What do we know about the ways in which this may have been caused by the pandemic? Or do we really need to look for other factors?

Sharkey: It wasn’t just the suffering that came about because of the pandemic, and it wasn’t just people being locked down. It was [also] the breakdown of social institutions that bring us together and that provide the foundation for every community across the country. I’m talking about schools, but also libraries and parks and playgrounds. Those public spaces were shut down, in addition to community centers, after-school programs and summer jobs programs, and so forth. Those sorts of institutions provide the foundation for social order, and when those institutions shut down, people retreat to their homes. It doesn’t make every community more violent, but it makes every community more vulnerable to violence. When public spaces are abandoned, and institutions start to shut down, it creates the possibility for violence to emerge. So I think that was the starting point. [But] we didn’t see the explosion of violence until later in the year. That gives us a hint that it wasn’t all about the pandemic. 

First, you had the pandemic and lockdown. While that was going on, we had this incredible increase in gun ownership and gun sales in the background, a record-breaking year in terms of gun sales. There is some new evidence (or at least hints of evidence) that those guns were circulating [on] the streets early in the pandemic. Jens Ludwig, maybe the best criminologist in the world, who runs the Chicago Crime Lab, put out an analysis [recently] showing that there was an increase in the number of people who were stopped and were carrying a gun in Chicago as early as March and April. And then you have the protests in late May, after George Floyd was murdered, and the reaction to it and the set of processes that that generates, which includes changes in police behavior, but also changes in residents’ behavior. And that’s when violence really started skyrocketing in lots of cities across the country. 

When I look at last year, lots of people are still gathering data. These are all hypotheses right now. But [at] my lab at Princeton, we’ve started making some progress toward an […] explanation. It’s leading me to this idea that there’s a confluence of three stages, or three sets of factors: (1) the pandemic, the breakdown of social institutions; (2) the rise in guns, circulating guns; and then (3) the reaction to the protests, creating [an] overall feeling—which was partly around the election and the attack on the Capitol on January 6—that the social fabric was breaking down, and everybody’s on their own to deal with this set of crises…

Sharkey: The reason I called the book Uneasy Peace is because we hadn’t solved the larger challenge of extreme urban inequality and all of the problems and challenges that come bundled when you have extreme inequality. By this I mean segregation, [and] how segregation then translates into vastly unequal resources across communities and vastly unequal institutions across communities—concentrated poverty, extreme housing unaffordability, and [the] severe cost burden that is often concentrated in particular communities: addiction, mental illness, homelessness, and circulation of guns. 

I make the case in the book that the model that we developed in the U.S. to deal with that was to abandon central-city neighborhoods—not try to solve those problems—and instead invest in [and] rely on the police and the prison system to deal with all of that. I think that model has been very stable since the late 1960s, when we first set along that path, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced the policy of “benign neglect” to deal with the problems of central cities. Even though there have been investments over time, there have not been sustained investments to deal with urban inequality. 

The police are effective at controlling violence, but it also generates all these costs: anger and resentment. And that anger and resentment grew as more and more people saw what was happening in low-income communities of color, or how law enforcement was interacting with residents. It generally generates a feeling of legal estrangement: feeling like one is not protected by the law, or one is not part of the citizenry of a city. And it also generates costs that are more tangible, in the sense of mass incarceration. Our incarceration rate had been stable throughout the history of the country until the start of the 1970s. It increased by 700% from the 1970s to 2010. The impact of that on families and communities is only starting to reveal itself, because it doesn’t just affect the people who are incarcerated. It affects their entire networks, their families, and the next generation.

Better late than never quick hits

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

1) Great conversation between Yascha Mounk and Sabrina Tavernise:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

So which is which?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

1) No, prominent Catholic priests should not be using Grindr.  But it’s far more disturbing that this kind of private data can somehow make it into the hands of people who will exploit it so easily.  Who among us is confident we’d be okay with all the information our cell phone has about us getting out?

2) Given that ties have already seemed pretty optional in the vast majority of workplaces, I wonder how true this is.  Like, will law firms and wherever else they wear ties stop now? “Neckties Are the New Bow Ties: Now that tie wearers have tasted freedom, no one should expect them to go back.”  I mean, I almost always wear a tie to teach (even when that was through Zoom) and I’m not changing that now.

3) Really enjoyed this story about the “miracle” drug Rappamune, discovered in the soil of Easter Island because it is the drug that has successfully shrunk my son’s brain tumors without surgery.  

4) It’s great that Republican politicians are finally taking Covid seriously?  But what’s behind the change of heart?  Susan Glasser speculates:

So it was more than a bit surprising to see some Republicans this week kinda, sorta, maybe embrace a different message. The Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise, the House’s No. 2 Republican, posed for a photo of himself getting a vaccine shot, many months after he was eligible, and urged others to do the same. “Get the vaccine,” Scalise said, at a press conference on Thursday. “I have high confidence in it. I got it myself.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a polio survivor who was never on board with his party’s vaccine denialists and anti-maskers, warned, during his own press conference: either get vaccinated or get ready for more lockdowns. “This is not complicated,” McConnell said. Fox News, which, along with Facebook, has been among the country’s premier platforms for vaccine disinformation in recent months, started promoting a new get-vaccinated public-service announcement. Its prime-time star, the Trump confidant Sean Hannity, stared straight into the camera on Monday night and said, “It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated.”

These statements were not a coincidence; they were a coördinated political retreat. And no wonder: the new politics of the pandemic are following the alarming new math of the pandemic. With not quite half of the country—48.8 per cent, to be exact—fully vaccinated, cases of the new Delta variant are spiking upward across the United States, with particularly pronounced increases in large swaths of Trump country. At the end of June, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that eighty-six per cent of Democrats had at least one shot, versus fifty-two per cent of Republicans—and the gap in vaccination rates is not closing but widening. As of July, thirty-five per cent of the population in counties that voted for Trump had been vaccinated, compared with nearly forty-seven per cent in counties that voted for Biden. By this week, new daily cases nationally were at their highest level since April. Deaths are increasing, too, while the number of new vaccinations is down to January levels.

The Republican pollster Glen Bolger told me that he didn’t think the G.O.P.’s about-face stemmed from a sudden fear of electoral debacle so much as a reflection of the alarming trend lines in red America. Until now, “Republicans felt like we don’t necessarily need to push on vaccines and tick off a significant portion of our base, so we won’t talk about it,” Bolger said. But, with cases increasing, that calculus changed. “It’s more of ‘Hey, guess who’s getting sick? Republicans,’ ” he said. Red America is facing a deadly fourth wave of the pandemic, and Republican politicians, or at least some, appear to have decided that they don’t want to take the blame for killing off their own voters.

5) Good stuff in Politico on 2020 polling, “Pollsters: ‘Impossible’ to say why 2020 polls were wrong”

A new, highly anticipated report from the leading association of pollsters confirms just how wrong the 2020 election polls were. But nine months after that closer-than-expected contest, the people asking why are still looking for answers.

National surveys of the 2020 presidential contest were the least accurate in 40 years, while the state polls were the worst in at least two decades, according to the new, comprehensive report from the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

But unlike 2016, when pollsters could pinpoint factors like the education divide as reasons they underestimated Donald Trump and offer specific recommendations to fix the problem, the authors of the new American Association for Public Opinion Research report couldn’t put their finger on the exact problem they face now. Instead, they’ve stuck to rejecting the idea that they made the same mistakes as before, while pointing to possible new reasons for inaccuracy

“We could rule some things out, but it’s hard to prove beyond a certainty what happened,” said Josh Clinton, a professor at Vanderbilt University and the chair of the association’s 2020 election task force. “Based on what we know about polling, what we know about politics, we have some good prime suspects as to what may be going on.”

Those “prime suspects” will hardly be comforting to pollsters and those who depend on them, from political campaigns to the news media. The most likely — if far from certain — culprit for off-kilter polling results is that key groups of people don’t answer polls in the first place.

Decreasing response rates have been a major source of concern for pollsters for more than a decade. But the politicization of polling during the Trump era — including the feedback loop from the former president, who has falsely decried poll results he doesn’t like as “fake” or deliberately aimed at suppressing enthusiasm for answering polls among GOP voters — appears to be skewing the results, with some segment of Republicans refusing to participate in surveys.

I think a key test will be how the problem is influenced by Trump not being on the ballot.  2018 seemed to be somewhat better as a result.

6) Enjoyed this list.  Love most all these movies. “The Best Time Travel Movies of … All Time”  Though, apparently, I really need to see Primer.

7) Science/nature never fails to amaze what millions of years of evolution can accomplish, “The Never-Aging Ants With a Terrible Secret: A parasite gives its hosts the appearance of youth, and an unmatched social power in the colony.”

Under typical circumstances, Temnothorax ants live as most other ants do. They reside in communities ruled by a single fertile queen attended by a legion of workers whose professional lives take a predictable trajectory. They first tend the queen’s eggs as nurses, then graduate into foraging roles that take them outside the nest. Apart from the whole freaky parasite thing, “they are pretty boring,” Foitzik told me…

Normalcy goes out the door, however, when Temnothorax larvae ingest tapeworm-egg-infested bird feces trucked in by foragers. The parasites hatch and set up permanent residence in the young ants’ abdomens, where they can access a steady stream of nutrients. In return, they offer their host an unconventional renter’s fee: an extra-long life span that Foitzik and her colleagues managed to record in real time.

The researchers spent three years monitoring dozens of Temnothorax colonies in the lab, comparing the fates of workers who’d fallen prey to the parasites and those who remained infection-free. By the end of their experiment, almost every single one of the hundreds of worm-free workers had, unsurprisingly, died. But more than half the parasitized workers were still kicking—about the same proportion as the colonies’ ultra-long-lived queens. “That was amazing to see,” Biplabendu Das, an ant biologist and parasite expert at the University of Central Florida, who wasn’t involved in the study, told me. And despite their old age, the ants’ bodies still bore the hallmarks of youth. They were difficult to distinguish from uninfected nurses, who are usually the most juvenile members of the colony’s working class.

The tapeworm-laden ants didn’t just outlive their siblings, the team found. They were coddled while they did it. They spent their days lounging in their nest, performing none of the tasks expected of workers. They were groomed, fed, and carried by their siblings, often receiving more attention than even the queen—unheard of in a typical ant society—and gave absolutely nothing in return.

The deal the ants have cut with their parasites seems, at first pass, pretty cushy. Foitzik told me that her team couldn’t find any overt downsides to life as an infected ant, a finding that appears to shatter the standard paradigm of parasitism. Even the colonies as a whole remained largely intact. Workers continued to work; queens continued to lay eggs. The threads that held each Temnothorax society together seemed unmussed.

Only when the researchers took a closer look did that tapestry begin to unravel. The uninfected workers in parasitized colonies, they realized, were laboring harder. Strained by the additional burden of their wormed-up nestmates, they seemed to be shunting care away from their queen. They were dying sooner than they might have if the colonies had remained parasite-free. At the community level, the ants were exhibiting signs of stress, and the parasite’s true tax was, at last, starting to show. “The cost is in the division of labor,” Das said. The worms were tapping into not just “individual [ant] physiology, but also social interactions,” Farrah Bashey-Visser, a parasitologist at Indiana University who wasn’t involved in the study, told me.

8) Helen Branswell, “Can we stretch existing Covid vaccines to inoculate more people? Experts are divided.”  Actually, I’d say it’s pretty damn clear we “can.”  But, since it’s not actually tested in phase 3, we get disagreement:

Several times in recent years the World Health Organization has recommended “fractionation” — using partial or fractional doses when supplies of critical vaccines have been limited. When a dangerous yellow fever outbreak in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo threatened to exhaust the world’s stores of yellow fever vaccine, the WHO instructed countries to use one-fifth of a normal dose in their emergency vaccination efforts. (Research done during that 2016 outbreak suggested the lower dose protected those who received it.) The WHO has also recommended use of fractional doses of inactivated polio vaccine and meningococcal conjugate vaccines during periods of scarcity of those shots.

The idea of splitting doses of Covid vaccines is not universally supported, however; a number of experts contend that the vaccines should be used in the dose size tested during clinical trials and cleared for use by regulatory agencies. That route offers the best protection for individuals who are vaccinated, they insist. “The problem where I’m coming from is you have to prove fractional dosing works,” said Larry Corey, who co-led design of the trials of the Covid vaccines supported by the U.S. government. That hasn’t happened yet.

“Think of the lives that would have been saved” if manufacturers geared their research to finding the smallest possible dose that was protective when they were testing their Covid vaccines, Cowling told STAT in an interview about fractionation.

It’s important to understand that when pharmaceutical companies set out to develop Covid vaccines in early 2020, they were in a race against time, with the SARS-CoV-2 virus sweeping the globe and infections and deaths rising rapidly. In such a scenario, there was no time to find a Goldilocks dose — the one that used just enough antigen to protect a person being vaccinated, but no more than was needed.

Settling on a vaccine dose in a situation like this is as much an art as it is a science. Most manufacturers tested a two-dose regimen, because the accumulated body of vaccine experience suggests that an immune system will need two introductions to a new pathogen to mount a good response against it. (The sole exception was Johnson & Johnson, which tested both a one-dose and a two-dose vaccine. The former has been authorized for use; study of the latter continues.)

On the question of how much antigen — the fluid that comprises each vaccine dose — was needed, each of the manufacturers quickly tested a small range of options. For instance, Pfizer and BioNTech, the partnership that brought the first vaccine to market in the U.S., tested doses of 10, 20, and 30 micrograms given in a two-dose regimen, and a single 100-microgram dose in its dose-finding studyModerna tested doses of 25, 100 and 250 micrograms. Both opted for two-dose regimens with Pfizer selecting the 30-microgram dose and Moderna opting for 100 micrograms. (Moderna’s 250-microgram dose had caused too many side effects and was abandoned.)

The studies used to decide on those doses weren’t large enough to show whether the lower doses would have been protective. They only charted how tolerable the doses were — did they trigger too many unpleasant reactions? — and what the measurable immune responses were in the people who were vaccinated. For manufacturers, the priority was to find a vaccine dose that was effective, pushing them toward higher doses to be on the safe side.

9) One of those issues that really flies under the radar, but is an example of business power run amok being reigned in by the Biden administration, “Joe Biden Wants You to Be Able to Fix Your Own Damn iPhones: A sweeping new presidential directive includes, among other things, an initiative to secure consumers’ right to repair their own devices.”

10) Timing on this was maybe not the best right as Delta was about to surge, but David Wallace-Wells does make some good points here (while, perhaps eliding some issues):

In fact, for all the consternation that the United States responded to the pandemic by abandoning individuals to fend for themselves — a narrative belied by the data, which shows a roughly average level of stringency in our public response and a remarkably generous level of social-welfare spending, as Alex Tabarrok, among others, has noted — this principle of universal and shared burden has guided an enormous amount of our pandemic response: We have treated the disease almost as a uniform threat as a way of encouraging uniform vigilance. The best way to stop deaths was to stop cases, went the thinking, which dovetailed naturally with every parent’s intuitive caution and desire to keep their kids healthy and uninfected — and distrust, perhaps, of anyone who suggested that your child would be fine if she got sick. But whatever we told ourselves in doing so, we didn’t pull those kids out of school and put them in masks for their own. We did it for the sake of others.

But on that point mass vaccination in the United States has utterly changed the landscape of the pandemic: not only by protecting those who have received shots, indeed astonishingly well, but by changing the calculus for all those who haven’t, by eliminating almost all of the mortality risk of the population at large. All told, 80 percent of American deaths have been among those 65 and above. According to the White House, 90 percent of American seniors are now fully vaccinated. Which means that while more cases are likely and some amount of hospitalization and death, as well, vaccines have eliminated the overwhelming share of American mortality risk, with the disease now circulating almost exclusively among people who can endure it much, much better — kids especially.

The country’s whole risk profile has changed. But our intuitions about risk tolerance haven’t — at least not yet…

But the second gift may be more profound: the way our collective vulnerability has been transformed by vaccination programs focused on the old. The scale of this impact reflects the still under-appreciated fact of the age skew of COVID-19 — even by those who know, vaguely, that the older are more vulnerable. The important question is: How much more vulnerable? According to the CDC, the mortality risk for those 85 and above is 610 times higher than for 18-29 year olds. The number is so large it is almost hard to process. If a given number of infections among 20-somethings would produce just a single fatality, the same number of infections in 85-year-olds would produce 610. Of all the risk factors and comorbidities we read and heard so much about last spring, from race and class to obesity and COPD, each of which should raise ringing alarm bells about inequities in our society and our health system, the effect of age absolutely dwarfs all of them. Somehow, we could barely hear that alarm bell in the panicked pandemic din.

And though the skew is most visible among the very old, the effect is consistent across all age groups, with mortality risk doubling every five years. This means every difference of two decades multiplies risk 16-fold. Three decades and the difference is 64-fold. Those aged 75-84 face a mortality risk from the disease 230 times higher than those in their twenties. Between 65 and 74 you are 95 times more likely to die from a COVID infection than the CDC’s 20-something baseline reference group.

And the risk of children is dramatically smaller still than that CDC baseline; according to one, much-cited paper, the infection fatality rate for those aged 5 to 9 is less than 0.001 percent. It suggests that a child of that age, even sick, faces roughly one-ten-thousandth the mortality risk of an 85-year-old. Statistically speaking, if a kid who comes down with a coronavirus infection is facing a threat to her life equivalent to the flu — perhaps significantly less — a 90-year-old who does so is treading in the neighborhood of anthrax, the bubonic plague, and certain lighter outbreaks of Ebola. It was often said, in lamentations of American indifference at the outset of the pandemic, that the country would have taken the disease much more seriously if it hadn’t spared the very young. In the year that followed, we mostly pretended it didn’t.

11) Don’t 100% agree with Andrew Sullivan here on the illiberalism of the American left, but he makes a lot of good points, especially for Wokeism to traffic in overly-simple binaries:

The reason “critical race theory” is a decent approximation for this new orthodoxy is that it was precisely this exasperation with liberalism’s seeming inability to end racial inequality in a generation that prompted Derrick Bell et al. to come up with the term in the first place, and Kimberlé Crenshaw to subsequently universalize it beyond race to every other possible dimension of human identity (“intersectionality”).

A specter of invisible and unfalsifiable “systems” and “structures” and “internal biases” arrived to hover over the world. Some of this critique was specific and helpful: the legacy of redlining, the depth of the wealth gap. But much was tendentious post-modern theorizing. The popular breakthrough was Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay on reparations in the Atlantic and his subsequent, gut-wrenching memoir, “Between The World And Me.” He combined the worldview and vocabulary of CRT with the vivid lived experience of his own biography. He is a beautifully gifted writer, and I am not surprised he had such an emotional impact, even if, in my view, the power of his prose blinded many to the radical implications of the ideology he surrendered to, in what many of his blog readers called his “blue period.”

The movement is much broader than race — as anyone who is dealing with matters of sex and gender will tell you. The best moniker I’ve read to describe this mishmash of postmodern thought and therapy culture ascendant among liberal white elites is Wesley Yang’s coinage: “the successor ideology.” The “structural oppression” is white supremacy, but that can also be expressed more broadly, along Crenshaw lines: to describe a hegemony that is saturated with “anti-Blackness,” misogyny, and transphobia, in a miasma of social “cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy.” And the term “successor ideology” works because it centers the fact that this ideology wishes, first and foremost, to repeal and succeed a liberal society and democracy.

In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and “on the right side of history,” or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)

And that tells you about the will to power behind it. Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

What happened to me? You know what I want to know: What on earth has happened to you?

12) Thanks to BB for sending this my way on intermittent fasting.  Even if it’s not helping you lose weight, there appears to be some benefit, 

Abstract

Introduction 

Recently, a modified intermittent fasting protocol was demonstrated to be able to maintain muscle mass and strength, decrease fat mass and improve some inflammation and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy resistance-trained males after 2 months. The present study sought to investigate the long-term effects on these parameters.

Methods 

The experiment is a single-blind randomized study. Twenty healthy subjects were enrolled and underwent 12 months of either a time-restricted eating (TRE) diet or a normal diet (ND) protocol, along with resistance training. In the TRE protocol, subjects consumed their energy needs in 3 meals during an 8-h period of time each day (1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 8 p.m). Subjects in the normal diet (ND) group also had three meals, which were consumed at 8 a.m., 1 p.m., and 8 p.m. Groups were matched for kilocalories consumed and macronutrient distribution at baseline.

Results 

After 12 months of TRE, body mass, fat mass, IGF-1 and testosterone were significantly lower compared to ND. Moreover, inflammatory markers (IL-6, IL-1β and TNF-α), insulin sensitivity (fasting glucose, insulin and HOMA-IR) and lipid profile (cholesterol, HDL and LDL) significantly improved after TRE compared to ND. Finally, subjects in TRE spontaneously decreased their daily energy intake whilst ND maintained their starting kcal/day. No adverse events were reported.

Conclusion 

Our results suggest that long-term TRE combined with a resistance training program is feasible, safe and effective in reducing inflammatory markers and risk factors related to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

13) Really liked this Yglesias post, “In defense of the old-fashioned idea of “racism”” as he takes on what Kendi gets wrong (I tried to give Kendi a chance in his recent interview with Ezra, but he really elided some key points, and, yes, he too readily deals in seemingly simple binaries when the world is more complicated:

To me, one of the weirder phenomena of the past 12 to 18 months in American life is the way that Ibram X. Kendi has become this widely quoted, widely interviewed, widely celebrated figure, and yet hardly anyone has asked him about the most provocative and distinctive ideas in his book.

When the book was first published in 2019, that’s not how it was received. Kelefa Sanneh’s excellent review in the New Yorker heads straight for what I think is the core weirdness of Kendi’s ideas. If we accept the definition that a racist is a person who supports racist policies, and what makes a policy racist is that it “produces or sustains racial inequity,” then determining which policies are racist requires exhaustive analysis of controversial empirical questions. Sanneh uses the example of “ban the box” laws which prohibit employers from asking about past criminal convictions. Many activists and the National Employment Law Center regard this as an important anti-racist measure since African Americans are more likely to have prior convictions and thus be disadvantaged by this question.

But Jennifer Doleac and Benjamin Hansen find that “ban the box” laws lead to worse employment outcomes for Black men because absent specific information about past criminal records, employers engage in statistical discrimination.1

“Are these laws and their supporters racist?” Sanneh asks. “In Kendi’s framework, the only possible answer is: wait and see.”

Sanneh’s review suggests, rightly, that neither Kendi nor anyone else can consistently stick with this empiricist concept of racism. That the visceral reaction to animus, bias, and discrimination is still with us and still works as the primary meaning of “racism,” even for people who would like to officially move to something more like Kendi-ism…

Structural racism has its place

It feels almost absurd to write a column about how, you know, hate crimes are bad and discrimination is bad and nobody likes to be subjected to bigotry.

But something very odd happened in the Trump years. A lot of people had a visceral reaction of disgust to his bigoted rhetoric — implying that Mexican immigrants are typically murderers or offhand references to “shithole countries,” but at the same time, more people than ever were insisting that this actually isn’t what racism is, that real racism is what Kendi says it is.

Yet it seems inescapable that the reason white liberals started talking more about racism isn’t that we suddenly became aware of gaps in economic conditions — it’s because Trump was saying all this racist stuff.

That’s not to say that there’s no place for a structural account of racism. My go-to example is the U.S. Senate, which not-really-by-design systematically down weights the preferences of Black voters. Things then flow downstream from that. A more equitable Senate would have confirmed Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. A more equitable Senate would have passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. A more equitable Senate would not need to swap rural broadband money to get mass transit money…

This is different from how other political systems work. Finland’s political institutions create a situation where the small party representing the country’s Swedish-speaking minority is almost always useful to have as a coalition partner. As a result, even though Swedish-speakers are in some sense marginalized in a majority-Finnish-speaking country, their concrete interests are safeguarded. But a lot of America’s governance institutions (including the aforementioned zoning ordinances) were created in a much more aggressively racist time and become ongoing sources of disadvantage.

That being said, remember when Donald Trump spent years making “jokes” about how Barack Obama was secretly Kenyan? That was really racist. And then when those racist jokes catapulted him into being someone whose endorsement Mitt Romney would court, and someone who was on Fox News a lot, and then suddenly someone leading in the polls for the GOP nomination, that was really disturbing. Because it was super racist. And racist in a very banal, commonsense way that I think is actually very important relative to the more fashionable and largely unworkable version of racism that Kendi is trying to sell us on.

14) I liked this from Ed Kilgore, “Democrats Can’t Win the Culture War With Silence”

The most persuasive case for treating silence on cultural issues as golden is being made by data analyst David Shor, who believes Republican traction on such issues explains why Donald Trump and his party did better than expected last year. I won’t go through his math lesson on Trump’s performance among non-college-educated white and nonwhite voters, other than to say it leads to the conclusion he outlined earlier this year in an interview with my colleague Eric Levitz:

If we divide the electorate on self-described ideology, we lose — both because there are more conservatives than liberals and because conservatives are structurally overrepresented in the House, Senate, and Electoral College. So the way we get around that is by talking a lot about progressive goals that are not ideologically polarizing, goals that we share with self-described conservatives and moderates. Even among nonwhite voters, those tend to be economic issues. … Now, how we should campaign and what we should do once in office are different questions. Our immigration system is a humanitarian crisis, and we should do something about that. But the point of public communication should be to win votes. And the way that you do that is to not trigger ideological polarization.

With all due respect to Shor, Democrats do not have the power to keep “ideological polarization” from happening on cultural issues that he considers party weak points. Indeed, if they are Democratic weak points, Republicans are going to talk about them incessantly, and if Democrats fall silent, Republicans will be free to define Democrats as they wish. Silence is not golden, in other words; in politics, it’s often a big mistake.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask Hillary Clinton, who lost in 2016 in no small part because decades of conservative attacks on her personality and character that she never effectively addressed came to fruition that year in the ridiculous but crucial pseudo-scandal of “Hillary’s emails.” Ask John Kerry, whose campaign’s determination to stay on message in the face of the smears of his war record, launched by the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads in the late summer of 2004, let Republicans turn his biography upside down and arguably cost Democrats the presidency. Or ask Michael Dukakis, who relentlessly pursued a good-jobs-at-good-wages message in 1988, as George H.W. Bush’s campaign savaged him on his crime record as governor of Massachusetts. And as Crooked’s Brian Beutler reminds us, something similar happened in the 2014 midterm elections, when Democrats tried to ignore the conspiracy-theory-mongering and thinly veiled racism of Republican attacks on Obama by serving up tasty and poll-tested economic policy treats:

Dems entered the 2014 cycle with a head of steam from President Obama’s re-election; their advantage narrowed over the first half of 2013; exploded when Republicans shut down the government; reverted to the mean when the shutdown ended (exacerbated a bit by the failed launch of healthcare.gov); then basically nothing happened for a year until the month before the election when Republicans (led even then by Donald Trump) began a propaganda campaign to convince Americans that Obama would allow ISIS to bring Ebola into America across the southern border. They rode that lie to victory in the Senate, through the theft of the Scalia Supreme Court seat, and straight into the maw of Trump’s America. All the ups and downs of policy for two years, completely swamped by a late surge of culture-war nonsense.

And that was only a pale echo of what happened in 2010, when the tea-party movement — supposedly about fiscal discipline but actually a nasty attack pushing the notion that our nonwhite president was robbing white taxpayers to shower vast federal resources on undeserving nonwhite constituents — blew two years of major Democratic messaging on health care and the economy out of the water.

Beutler isn’t just right about the failure of change-the-subject Democratic politics in the past. He’s also right about the painful but necessary remedy for what Republicans are campaigning on right now:

I’d wager that the January 6 insurrection polls terribly basically everywhere and that discouraging young people from getting their COVID-19 shots is only popular in the fringiest of communities. 

For Republicans to suffer politically for embracing these things, though, Democrats have to make them. To treat these liabilities less as side shows than as the actual thematic center of the election. To stop hiding from the culture wars and actually win them.

It would take a little creative thinking, and a modest tolerance for getting down in the mud; but the goal should be to make Republicans pay a price for venturing down the road to cultishness and political violence directly, rather than through a parallel referendum on health care or the minimum wage.

Exactly how to do that is a separate conversation (Beutler suggests, for example, a campaign to honor the health-care providers going door-to-door to save lives with COVID-19 vaccinations who Republicans are attacking as brownshirts). But the key point is to contest Republican smears, instead of looking like you are afraid to discuss them because they are true. Bill Clinton was an effective media-era politician in part because he understood Democrats had to address their perceived weaknesses. You don’t have to agree with exactly how he responded on this or that issue see how his determination to counterattack drove Republicans crazy. “He’s stealing our issues!” they’d cry. And his success showed how ridiculous the very idea of “issue ownership” was.

15) This was something, “A Grizzly Bear Terrorized a Man for Days in Alaska. The Coast Guard Saw His SOS.”

16) Caitlyn Flanagan on how California is being dishonest about the impact of discontinuing standardized testing for admissions:

The university has averred that standardized tests discriminate against low-income Black and Latino students; its evidence is that these students tend to perform worse on the SAT and ACT than students from other racial and ethnic groups. If we were to think about this assertion rationally instead of emotionally, we would have to face what California has done: consigned its most vulnerable students to some of the worst K–12 schools in America. There can be no more obvious example of state-sponsored discrimination than the condition of these schools, which, decade after decade, have robbed students of 13 years and given them little in return. All the standardized tests do is reveal the obvious outcome of our cruelty. Saying it’s the tests’ fault is like feeding children a poisoned sundae and then blaming the cherry on top for making them sick.

Do the tests prevent low-income Black and Latino students from getting college degrees? This is the charge of a lawsuit filed in 2019 and settled by the university in May that claimed that requiring test scores for admission “actively prevent[s] Plaintiffs from accessing public higher education and its attendant opportunities.“

Only the counterrevolutionary impulse would lead anyone to want to douse the flames of social justice with the fire retardant of fact. But the truth is that no high-school graduate in California is denied higher education because of a test score. The UC schools are some of the most competitive in the state, but the Cal State system has more than twice as many campuses and costs about half as much to attend, and some locations have an admission rate of almost 90 percent. Students reluctant to earn a degree from the “lesser” system may avail themselves of the best deal in American higher education: Earn a 2.4 GPA in the requisite courses at a California Community College, and your ability to transfer to a UC campus is guaranteed. Not a single standardized test need ever be taken.

Here are some more of the fiercely held arguments for dumping the tests: Test scores don’t reflect the character-forging aspects of life as a poor teenager; the tests force students from underfunded schools to compete against “affluent whites” who can afford expensive test prep; high-school GPA is a much better predictor of students’ ability to succeed in a UC program anyway.

These are not facts. They are assumptions, all of them flawed or flat-out incorrect.

First, poor students were not pitted against rich students. One of the ways the UC system found to work around the state’s ban on affirmative action was to evaluate test scores “in local context.” You didn’t need to be a top test taker in California to be UC-eligible. You just needed to be a top test taker within your own school. Moreover, UC admissions adopted a system of “holistic review” to take into account the hardships that applicants faced, allowing students to express themselves in essays that are read by an army of readers.

Second, while high-school GPA has been found to be more predictive of success at college than standardized test scores at some schools, the exact opposite turns out to be true for students at UC schools. There, standardized test scores say more about which applicants are likely to earn a degree and to do it in less than eight years; they also correlate strongly with students’ GPA at the university.

The biggest barrier to getting into the University of California is not the SAT; it is, again, the GPA. Because students at underfunded schools have such limited access to college counseling, they often assume that if they want to go to the UC, they should keep an eagle eye on their GPA. What many don’t know is that, to be eligible, they must complete a series of 15 college prep classes called the A-G requirements. Good grades in other classes don’t count. (And—shockingly—some high schools don’t even offer all the A-G requirements.)

There was a loophole these students could use, and it involved test scores: The course-load requirement could be waived for those who did well enough on the SAT or the ACT. This was a Hail Mary pass for many smart kids who, for whatever reason, didn’t do well in high school or did well but not in the A-G classes. In 2018, about 22,000 students “tested in” to the UC. Almost half of those students were low-income, and more than a quarter were Black, Latino, or Native American. The UC has now taken this lifeline away…

How do i know all of this? Because unlike the regents, who enthusiastically voted to eliminate the tests for the first time in 2020, I did not ignore the findings of a 225-page report that was prepared for them at the request of the UC’s then-president, Janet Napolitano. This report, by the Academic Council’s Standardized Testing Task Force, was based on years of UC admissions data and was the product of a tremendous amount of work by a formidable team of experts in statistics, medicine, law, philosophy, neuroscience, education, anthropology, and admissions.

The scholars determined that the obvious challenges faced by low-income Black and Latino students were poverty and poor K–12 education. And they found that the UC’s use of standardized tests did not amplify racial disparities. They agreed that the university should continue using test scores in admissions, but recommended that the UC begin developing its own test, which would be designed to meet the needs of both students and the institution.

17) Wonky and good: “The smartest way to make the rich pay is not a wealth tax”

In Ms. Warren’s version of the wealth tax, which calls for 2 percent annual levies on net wealth above $50 million, and 3 percent above $1 billion, very rich people would face large tax bills even when they had little or negative net income, forcing them to sell assets to pay their taxes. That could set off a downward spiral in the markets, affecting people of more modest means. Though prices of marketable securities are easy to track, the huge chunks of private wealth tied up in real estate, rare art and closely held businesses are more difficult — sometimes impossible — to assess consistently.

Such problems help explain why national wealth taxes yielded only modest revenue in the 11 European countries that levied them as of 1995, and why most of those countries subsequently repealed them. Americans should be familiar with the issues from our existing equivalent to a wealth tax: state and local property taxes, which raised $547 billion in 2018, a surprising 10 percent of all federal, state and local revenue. The fairness and accuracy of property-value assessments is a perennial bone of contention. Reforming local property taxes — though a difficult battle that would have to be waged across thousands of counties and cities — could go a long way toward reducing national wealth inequality, without adding a new layer of political controversy and policy complexity by trying to replicate them at the federal level.

Fortunately, legitimate goals of a wealth tax can be achieved through other means, as the OECD report indicates. This would require undoing not only some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts, but much previous tax policy as well, which has produced a top federal marginal tax rate on capital gains of 23.8 percent — far below the top rate on ordinary income, which is 37 percent. The Treasury Department has aptly summarized the effect of this differential: “Preferential tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends disproportionately benefit high-income taxpayers and provide many high-income taxpayers with a lower tax rate than many low- and middle-income taxpayers.” The disparity “also encourages economically wasteful efforts to convert labor income into capital income as a tax avoidance strategy.” A notorious example of the latter is the “carried interest” loophole that enables hedge fund managers to characterize their multimillion-dollar annual compensation as lightly taxed capital gains.

The higher capital gains rate should be applied to a broader base of investment income, of which carried interest, egregious as it is, represents a relatively small slice. The big money is in changing rules that let wealthy people pass on securities that have increased in value to their heirs, without the latter having to pay taxes on the appreciation. President Biden’s American Families Plan calls for reform of this so-called “stepped-up basis” loophole that would yield an estimated $322.5 billion over 10 years.

 

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Eric Levitz really good on Democrats and crime:

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

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

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

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

3) David Epstein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) We should be so much better about this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8) Chait on Trump supporters and racism:

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

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

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

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

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

9) TNR on death of Friedmanonmics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10) More Noah Smith on the Economics profession:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s a problem…

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

First, the profession has become much more empirical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13) Brian Beutler:

④ A TOO CONVENIENT TRUTH

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This much I know is true?

Way back in my undergraduate days I was kind of into philosophy, but, in the end, too much of it really seemed to be so much “how many angels on the head of a pin” stuff.  But, these days, I’m really fascinated by ongoing debates of epistemology– that is, how we know, what we know.  I think because, at least in the political realm, there was pretty much a substantial consensus on the basic facts of the world in which we live.  But now, that is clearly not so much the case and increasingly a problem.  I really loved this Will Wilkinson post (pretty sure that he, like Yglesias, was a Philosophy major) trying to understand how so many people believe the Q nonsense:

If an individual were to voice belief in this stuff entirely of his own initiative and on his own steam, we’d suspect a loose connection in the noggin. But we don’t think it’s crazy to believe absolutely batshit stuff as long as enough people believe it. Why is that?

I think it’s because we have no choice but to rely on testimony. I’ve never been eye-to-eye with a virus. I think I’ve seen pictures taken through powerful microscopes. I just take it for granted that these microscopes exist, that they’re powerful enough to take snaps of viruses, and that these alleged depictions are what they’re said to be.

It’s trust. I don’t suspect that any of the people involved in the chain of transmission here are making mischief or telling fibs. The idea that there’s a conspiracy to make me falsely believe that there are pictures of viruses does not jibe with my web of belief. So I don’t give it a second thought. I just assume James Madison was real. All the books say so.

The fact is, almost all the general information in your personal web of belief is stuff you read, stuff somebody told you, stuff you saw on TV. Building a relatively accurate mental model of the world doesn’t have all that much to do with your individual reasoning capacity. It’s mostly about trusting and distrusting the right people. [bold is mine; italics is Wilkinson] The problem is that few of us have the capacity to independently assess whether someone, or some institution, or some process, is a reliable source of accurate information. You have to depend on other people to tell you whose testimony you ought to trust. There’s no way around it. The bootstrapping problem here is central the human condition. We can’t get started building a model of the world that encompasses more than our own extremely narrow idiosyncratic experience unless, at some point, we simply take somebody’s word for it.

It’s easy to see how, if you start out trusting to wrong people, you can get trapped in a bubble. If you start out trusting the wrong people, they’ll tell you to trust other unreliable people, who in turn will tell you to trust unreliable methods. Worse, they’ll tell you to distrust thetrustworthy people spreading the word about the genuinely illuminating results of reliable knowledge-gathering methods. You won’t be listening to the people you ought to be listening to. It’s a problem that comes for most of us, sooner or later. That’s why ideology tends to be self-insulating; it functions as a heuristic for grading the trustworthiness of testimony…

Now, I’ve come to think that people who really care about getting things right are a bit misguided when they focus on methods of rational cognition. I’m thinking of the so-called “rationalist” community here. If you want an unusually high-fidelity mental model of the world, the main thing isn’t probability theory or an encyclopedic knowledge of the heuristics and biases that so often make our reasoning go wrong. It’s learning who to trust. That’s really all there is to it. That’s the ballgame.

But that’s a lot easier said than done. I can’t use my expertise in macroeconomics to identify which macroeconomists we ought to trust most, because I have no expertise in macroeconomics. I’m going to have to rely on people who understand the subject better than I do to tell me who to trust. But then who do I trust to tell me who to trust?

It’s really not so hard. In any field, there are a bunch of people at the top of the game who garner near-universal deference. Trusting those people is an excellent default. On any subject, you ought to trust the people who have the most training and spend the most time thinking about that subject, especially those who are especially well-regarded by the rest of these people. This suggests a useful litmus test for the reliability of generalists who professionally sort wheat from chaff and present themselves as experts in expert identification — people like Malcolm Gladwell or, say, me. Do they usually hew close to the consensus view of a field’s leading, most authoritative figures? That may be boring, but it’s a good sign that you can count on them when they talk about subjects you know less well…

I don’t care how smart you think you are. It’s dangerous out there, especially if you have an Internet connection. Be careful who you trust. Tune that bullshit detector. Eschew iconoclasts and ideologues. Agree with the respectable consensus. Be a model citizen. And if you get a chance, stick up for maligned yet generally reliable sources of information. Stick up for your local critical race theorist. Stick up for the New York Times. If those suggestions make you stiffen, consider the possibility that you have trust issues.

Good, thought-provoking stuff.  Is science and scientific consensus wrong sometimes?  Absolutely!  But it’s still the best we’ve got.  Yes, science can lead us astray (from phlogiston to aether to lobotomies to primarily droplet spread of respiratory viruses), but, all else being equal, it sure beats the alternative.  And, yes, expert consensus can very much be wrong, but its almost always going to beat the alternative.  

On good writing, parenthood, and velociraptors

I’ve been hearing from my daughter’s teachers the past couple of years what a good writer she is.  But, she’ll never share her writing with me, no matter how much I beg.  But now, I finally get to see.  Inspired by 1) her brother’s extensive lego collection, and 2) the boredom arising from her two neighbor friends heading off to Morocco for the whole summer, she decided to make a “Velociraptor Sightings” Instagram account (You should check out all the posts and start at the beginning).  At the risk of being a totally biased dad, I’ve got to say, I think it’s hilarious and pretty brilliant.  

What so amazes and impresses me is the style/tone of her writing.  As a college professor, I think a lot about good writing.  And one thins that’s really clear is that a lot of the best writers simply read a lot and naturally assimilate the tone and conventions of the style of writing they are trying to do themselves.  Others can learn this, but, often, it’s an effortful slog.  What I love here is that Sarah has so wonderfully reproduced a tone you would find in a social media account for some kind of wildlife center or in a short, fun, nature video.  Obviously, I take no credit for this and as much as appreciate the teachers at Kingswood Elementary, she did not learn this there.  In short, as a parent, its delightful to see what a naturally gifted writer my daughter is.  [I think I will take a bit of credit for the humor, as that is something we all enjoy together and that is definitely encouraged in the Greene household]

Anyway, so far most of this talent is wasted on just her family, so, if you are on Instagram, please consider giving her a follow.

 

Teaching kids how to think

Really liked this Persuasion essay from Coddling of the American Mind co-author Gregory Lukianoff.  It’s ostensibly about “fixing” K-12 education.  I don’t love all of it (I mean, he’s not wrong on “freedom of thought,” etc., but this are 2nd and 3rd order problems), but, the stuff on emphasizing the teaching of critical thinking really resonated with me:

Principle 3: Foster the broadest possible curiosity, critical thinking skills, and discomfort with certainty.

Our collective knowledge is nowhere near complete, yet it vastly surpasses the competence of any one individual, field, or even community to know. If we want to educate citizens to navigate this limitless ocean of information, we should cultivate a thirst for knowledge and the intellectual habits that transform information into knowledge. 

As the great jurist Learned Hand said in 1944, “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.” And, of course, a dogmatic moral certainty among teenagers entering both college and full voting citizenship undermines free speech, freedom of inquiry, and democratic compromise. After all, if you’re already certain that you know the complex moral truths about the world, what use would you have for discussion, debate, or research?

Principle 4: Demonstrate epistemic humility at all levels of teaching and policymaking.

Curiosity should not be merely taught: It is most effectively learned by example. Demonstrating epistemic humility is one of the best ways to do that. A teacher being willing to say truthfully, “I don’t know—let’s find out,” does not undermine that teacher’s authority in the classroom, and it can bring appreciation for how massive the world of knowledge is.

As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in 1957:

No field of education is so thoroughly comprehended by man that new discoveries cannot yet be made. Particularly is that true in the social sciences, where few, if any, principles are accepted as absolutes…. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.” (emphasis added). 

This was true then, and there is no reason to think that we have anything close to perfect knowledge today.

Heavy-handed ideological programs always show epistemic arrogance. To believe that students must be inculcated with specific political or ideological beliefs is to assume the infallibility of those beliefs and the omniscience of the instructors or of the curriculum designers. 

This is not the way we educate people to become critical thinkers. Our collective knowledge is incomplete, no ideology has a monopoly on truth, and to tell young people otherwise leaves them ill-equipped to live in a society in which questions are always open, debates are always to be had, and new discoveries are always to be made…

Principle 6: Do not teach children to think in cognitive distortions. 

As I initially observed in 2015, we as a society seem to be teaching a generation of students the mental habits of anxious and depressed people. I mean this quite literally: Cognitive distortions are exaggerated patterns of thought that are out of line with reality. All people engage in cognitive distortions to some degree, but if you engage in too many, too often, you may become anxious, depressed, or both. Not coincidentally, learning to avoid cognitive distortions is also a good way to learn critical thinking. Indeed, some of the tools of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can just as easily be applied to the rules of productive debate between two people as to the habits of healthy thinking within one’s own mind.

You can see a full list of cognitive distortions here; I have left out full definitions in the interest of space. Cognitive distortions include:

  • Emotional reasoning

  • Catastrophizing

  • Overgeneralizing

  • Dichotomous thinking

  • Mind-reading

  • Labeling

  • Negative filtering

  • Discounting positives 

  • Blaming

The antidote to cognitive distortions is practiced disputation, which means examining and engaging with competing ideas in order to correct distortions and arrive at a nearer approximation to the truth. Shielding students from competing ideas, therefore, does them no favors. Schools are tasked with instructing developing minds on the importance of sound, logical reasoning. They should not allow—or worse, promote—what are, effectively, logical fallacies…

I know I can be such a blowhard in person that people I know laugh when I preach intellectual humility as such a key, but it, along with an expansive curiosity about the world and how it works is really so important.  But, again, for me, I get articles rejected far more than I get them accepted and if I wasn’t learning from this rejections and the mistakes I make in my research, safe to say I would not have made it in academia.  When you are wrong you can take that as an opportunity to feel bad or an opportunity to learn something new.  

Anyway, I would love to see more of an emphasis on these principles in K-12 education and since I talk to my kids about school every single school day I’m pretty confident that we really don’t see enough.  

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the quotes from the lecture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

19) And Drum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) As a kid I was beyond fascinated by UFO’s and probably read dozens of books on them.  Long forgotten, but damn, if UFO’s aren’t all over the place and regularly in the NYT.  What a world!  “I’m a Physicist Who Searches for Aliens. U.F.O.s Don’t Impress Me.”

2) God I love science, “Sleep Evolved Before Brains. Hydras Are Living Proof: Some of nature’s simplest animals suggest that sleep evolved long before centralized nervous systems.”

THE HYDRA IS a simple creature. Less than half an inch long, its tubular body has a foot at one end and a mouth at the other. The foot clings to a surface underwater—a plant or a rock, perhaps—and the mouth, ringed with tentacles, ensnares passing water fleas. It does not have a brain, or even much of a nervous system.

And yet, new research shows, it sleeps. Studies by a team in South Korea and Japan showed that the hydra periodically drops into a rest state that meets the essential criteria for sleep.

But a counterpoint to this brain-centric view of sleep has emerged. Researchers have noticed that molecules produced by muscles and some other tissues outside the nervous system can regulate sleep. Sleep affects metabolism pervasively in the body, suggesting that its influence is not exclusively neurological. And a body of work that’s been growing quietly but consistently for decades has shown that simple organisms with less and less brain spend significant time doing something that looks a lot like sleep. Sometimes their behavior has been pigeonholed as only “sleeplike,” but as more details are uncovered, it has become less and less clear why that distinction is necessary.

It appears that simple creatures—including, now, the brainless hydra—can sleep. And the intriguing implication of that finding is that sleep’s original role, buried billions of years back in life’s history, may have been very different from the standard human conception of it. If sleep does not require a brain, then it may be a profoundly broader phenomenon than we supposed.

3) This is fascinating and I bet you can guess the answer before reading, “Exercise vs. Diet? What Children of the Amazon Can Teach Us About Weight Gain”

When children gain excess weight, the culprit is more likely to be eating too much than moving too little, according to a fascinating new study of children in Ecuador. The study compared the lifestyles, diets and body compositions of Amazonian children who live in rural, foraging communities with those of other Indigenous children living in nearby towns, and the results have implications for the rising rates of obesity in both children and adults worldwide.

The in-depth study found that the rural children, who run, play and forage for hours, are leaner and more active than their urban counterparts. But they do not burn more calories day-to-day, a surprising finding that implicates the urban children’s modernized diets in their weight gain. The findings also raise provocative questions about the interplay of physical activity and metabolism and why exercise helps so little with weight loss, not only in children but the rest of us, too.

The issue of childhood obesity is of pressing global interest, since the incidence keeps rising, including in communities where it once was uncommon. Researchers variously point to increasing childhood inactivity and junk food diets as drivers of youthful weight gain. But which of those concerns might be more important — inactivity or overeating — remains murky and matters, as obesity researchers point out, because we cannot effectively respond to a health crisis unless we know its causes.

That question drew the interest of Sam Urlacher, an assistant professor of anthropology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who for some time has been working among and studying the Shuar people. An Indigenous population in Amazonian Ecuador, the traditional Shuar live primarily by foraging, hunting, fishing and subsistence farming. Their days are hardscrabble and physically demanding, their diets heavy on bananas, plantains and similar starches, and their bodies slight. The Shuar, especially the children, are rarely overweight. They also are not often malnourished.

In Dr. Pontzer’s pioneering research with the Hadza, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, he found that, although the tribespeople moved frequently during the day, hunting, digging, dragging, carrying and cooking, they burned about the same number of total calories daily as much-more-sedentary Westerners.

Dr. Pontzer concluded that, during evolution, we humans must have developed an innate, unconscious ability to reallocate our body’s energy usage. If we burn lots of calories with, for instance, physical activity, we burn fewer with some other biological system, such as reproduction or immune responses. The result is that our average, daily energy expenditure remains within a narrow band of total calories, helpful for avoiding starvation among active hunter-gatherers, but disheartening for those of us in the modern world who find that more exercise does not equate to much, if any, weight loss. (Dr. Pontzer’s highly readable new book on this topic, “Burn,” will be published on March 2. )

So, exercise because it is great for your health.  But, to lose weight, you’re just going to have to cut the calories.

4) I know BB is a sucker for anything with CA and FL comparisons, “California mandated masks. Florida opened its restaurants. Did any of it matter? Which Covid-19 restrictions really worked — and which ones really didn’t?”

5) Give the often vastly different financial worlds for men’s versus women’s sports I think people sometimes focus to much on differences that can fairly easily be explained away by the finances involved.  But, Leonhardt compares College Softball and College Baseball and compellingly concludes that the NCAA is treating the women in a grossly unfair manner:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personally, I find both baseball and softball boring as hell these days and cannot quite understand why so many people want to watch either, but hard to conclude anything other than rank sexism going on here.

5) And this was a really interesting discussion with the WNBA Commissioner on efforts to grow the sport.

6) Good stuff on the behavioral economics of vaccine lotteries:

But economists who know how to party see lotteries and other inducements in a whole different way. This will sound resoundingly dumb when I say it, but some people need reasons to justify their behaviors and make decisions. That idea is called “reason-based choice.” Vaccines are scarce in most of the world but widely available in the United States. If someone hasn’t gotten one yet, maybe they’re just an anti-vaxxer, in which case, a lottery ain’t gonna help. But different kinds of hesitancy are sensitive to different kinds of interventions. Some people—like in the Black community—have historical reasons to distrust the medical establishment, and that requires a different kind of outreach to fix. And some people, maybe they’re busy, or they procrastinate, or they’re worried about side effects, or they’re anywhere else on the spectrum of hesitancy. Some motivational change might, well, nudge them to get a shot.

So why not just give people a guaranteed reward, instead of one that almost certainly won’t hit? Maybe not a doughnut, but what about, say, $100? That’s a lot.

But it’s not enough. The problem is sort of the inverse of what the economists Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini meant when they wrote the article “A Fine Is a Price.” Their hypothesis says that if you charge people a penalty for bad behavior (for anything from coming late to pick up kids at daycare to, presumably, polluting waterways), that doesn’t deter them—people (and corporations) just factor the fine into their cost of doing business. The flip side is, if you give people a doughnut or $100 or 2,000 frequent-flier miles or a discounted $5 subscription to WIRED, that’s the value they assign to what they’re getting. And if that’s less, to them, than the value of getting vaccinated, it doesn’t work as a nudge. The needling isn’t worth the needle. It’s too low to overcome vaccine hesitancy—in theory.

(This idea is actually hard to study. Thaler says he and Katy Milkman, a behavior researcher at the Wharton School and author of How to Change, once thought about running an experiment to give some people $3 lottery tickets to induce them to get flu vaccines. “It would’ve been a nice thing to have done two years ago,” Thaler says. And proposals to give people $100 to get vaccines have run into trouble with university institutional review boards, the groups that monitor the treatment of human subjects in scientific research. One fundamental ethical tenet is that you’re not supposed to coerce or bribe people to participate.)

But when it comes to Covid vaccines, free beers haven’t moved numbers as well as the irrational but fabulous prizes. “Economists think there’s no such thing as a free beer,” Thaler says. “Real people think free beers are good.” But they think even a scant chance at $1 million is better.

In marketing, this overvaluing of the distant win is called “prospect theory”; in gaming terms, it’s an “extrinsic reward,” something fun or useful that’s not inherent to the act. “A fully rational economist from Chicago can’t figure out why people buy lottery tickets,” Monk says. “It’s the same thing happening here. The expected value that people assign to the potential to win $1 million is far higher than the cost to the state.”

7) Disturbing stuff from Brownstein:

Across these states and others, Republican legislators and governors have operated as if they were programming a prime-time lineup at Fox News. They have focused far less on the small-government, limited-spending, and anti-tax policies that once defined the GOP than on an array of hot-button social issues, such as abortion, guns, and limits on public protest, that reflect the cultural and racial priorities of Trump’s base…

The lurch right in Republican-controlled states extends to some economic issues: Nearly two dozen states, for instance, have rejected the increased unemployment benefits that congressional Democrats approved earlier this year in President Joe Biden’s stimulus plan. But the social and racially tinged issues that Trump moved to the center of GOP messaging have dominated legislative sessions in state after state. Among the issues advancing most broadly:..

GOP legislators appear to be operating more out of fear that Trump’s base of non-college-educated, rural, and evangelical white voters will punish them in primaries if they fail to pursue maximum confrontation against Democrats and liberal constituencies, particularly on issues revolving around culture and race. “Very few of the districts are competitive [in a general election], so all they are worried about is being primaried,” says John Geer, a political-science professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, one of the states that have advanced the most aggressive conservative agenda this year. Glenn Smith, a longtime Democratic operative in Texas, notes that the state’s militantly conservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has pushed legislators toward his priorities this year in part by persuading them that any moderation risks infuriating “an aggrieved Trump base who feels that the election was stolen from them, are fired up, and love the red meat on every issue.”

In earlier generations, when governors of both parties tended to position themselves as less partisan, business-oriented problem-solvers, the GOP chief executives in these states might have restrained their legislators from veering toward the ideological fringe or even forcing votes on polarizing social issues. But today, many governors appear to feel the same pressure of a possible primary challenge—and others, most notably Florida’s DeSantis, seem to be pursuing support from the Trump base for a possible 2024 presidential bid. (As if to spotlight that intention, DeSantis signed the bill barring transgender girls from school sports on June 1, the first day of LGBTQ Pride month, and he did so at a Christian private school.)

8) Really enjoyed Yglesias take on Ezra’s interview with Obama (which, of course, is also well worth your time):

Obama was clearly the more immigration-friendly candidate relative to Romney’s idea of “self-deportation.” But Obama was maintaining considerable distance between himself and immigration activists in order to reduce the distance between himself and Romney. After the failure of the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, Obama moved toward what became DAPA. But beyond that, activists increasingly persuaded rank-and-file members that all this stuff about border security was a failed effort to bargain with Republicans and not something they should embrace as an idea they actually believed in.

Choices have consequences

In most respects, I think I like the contemporary Democratic Party’s message better than I liked its 2012- or certainly 2008-vintage message.

But I am not a swing voter, and I don’t live in a swing state or even have representation in the United States Senate. What’s changed is that Democrats went from being an urban-based diverse party that nonetheless tried pretty hard to pander to the views of rural white people in hopes of getting the voters of the poorer and less-religious among them, to becoming a party that decided it would be unnecessary or immoral to pander like that.

But the Senate map (and to a lesser extent the Electoral College) makes it absolutely necessary to pander the views of rural white people. There is no other way to win. And I think a politics of “lose your majority forever when West Virginia, Ohio, and Montana go red in 2024” can’t possibly be a moral politics. The fact that the post-Obama Democrats are somewhat less successful with Black and Latino voters than Obama was should further call into question the logic of doctrinaire moralism about these tactical choices.

Mainly, though, even if you think I’m wrong, I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that choices have been made here. That, I think, is what Obama obscures when he talks about meeting people in small town V.F.W. halls and how the media has changed. He makes it sound like either it’s impossible for a Democrat to win in Iowa (the media has changed) or else it’s just a question of hustling more (gotta go to those V.F.W. meetings and talk to folks). But while the media climate and campaign tactics both matter, the fundamental fact is that Obama tried harder to mirror the views of secular rural white midwesterners.

And his campaign, knowing that pandering to low-income rural white people is not what comes most naturally to liberal professionals, imposed ruthless message discipline on the whole party. They decided what every surrogate who went on television was supposed to say, and they’d get really fucking pissed at you if you went off-script and talked about what you thought was important rather than what they thought would help them persuade swing voters in pivotal states. That sounds really tedious in a lot of ways. I bet a bunch of young, college-educated, city-dwelling staffers for the campaigns faced some eye-rolling from their young, college-educated, city-dwelling friends about some of their messaging choices. But while there’s more to politics than winning elections, there’s literally nothing you can achieve unless you win elections first.

9) Good stuff from one of the co-authors of the Emerging Democratic MajorityDemocrats Can’t Rely on Demographics Alone”

There are four lessons here. First, while the effects of rising diversity do indeed favor the Democrats, these effects are fairly modest in any given election and can easily be overwhelmed by shifts in voter preference against the Democrats among unfavorable demographic groups, such as white non-college voters.

Second, even among favorable demographic groups, the electoral benefit to the Democrats can be completely neutralized by shifts against the Democrats within a demographic group. This was the case with the Hispanic vote in Arizona and many other states in 2020.

Third, in states where demographic change is rapid, it is easy to mistake shifts toward the Democrats in a given election as indicators of these underlying demographic changes. But as we saw for Arizona and Texas in 2016 and Arizona and Georgia in 2020 (there are many other examples), their pro-Democrat shifts were, in fact, driven by white voters.

Finally, the long-range effects of rising diversity are also an all-else-equal proposition. While cycle-by-cycle voter preference shifts can be volatile and even out over time, sometimes they result in a long-term shift against a party like the Democrats—think of the move of white non-college voters toward the Republicans in the 2000s. This can cancel or even swamp the pro-Democratic effects of demographic change over a lengthy period. 

In short, demographics set the playing field, but they are not destiny unless all else remains equal. And all else almost never remains equal. Therein lies a challenge for the Democrats that the simple fact of rising racial diversity cannot solve.

10) Greg Sargent on Democrats and the politics of crime:

With crime rising in U.S. cities, Republicans are confident that they can win the midterms by tying it to Democrats and the “defund the police” movement. This, in turn, has prompted a mini-battle among liberals, with some warning against complacency about both the terrible underlying policy problem and the political threat it poses.

But something has been missing from that debate: a look at the strategic response of Democrats themselves. The party is elaborating an approach that defies easy characterization, and could, if successful, defuse GOP attacks and resolve tensions inside the Democratic coalition in a constructive way.

This response demonstrated success this week, when Melanie Stansbury won a special House election in New Mexico by 25 points. Her GOP challenger sought to make the race all about crime and supposed Democratic disdain for law enforcement.

“We believe that Melanie Stansbury created a template for how to respond,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told me. “Respond aggressively, and talk about what you support.”

This template is nuanced. It doesn’t constitute merely denouncing the excesses of “defund,” as some have called for. Instead, it combines a forthright declaration of the facts about what the candidate actually supports on policing with a refusal to retreat on discussing systemic racism…

The key here is that Democrats must forcefully describe what they are for with conviction, but this must entail describing both their actual positions on defunding the police and their continued support for racial justice and police reform.

11) Been hearing for years about a crisis in sperm counts.  Maybe, not so much of a crisis after all?

Now a group of interdisciplinary researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology contend that fears of an impending Spermageddon have been vastly overstated. In a study published in May in the journal Human Fertility, they re-evaluated the 2017 review and found that it relied on flawed assumptions and failed to consider alternate explanations for the apparent decline of sperm.

In an interview, Sarah Richardson, a Harvard scholar on gender and science and the senior author on the new study, called the conclusion of the 2017 review “an astonishing and terrifying claim that, were it to be true, would justify the apocalyptic tenor of some of the writing.” Fortunately, she and her co-authors argue, there is little evidence that this is the case.

Mostly, I’m now looking for opportunities to use the term “Spermageddon” 😉

12) Good stuff from Drum, “Democrats Need to Focus on Election Administration”

Republicans have been passing—or trying to pass—voter suppression laws with stunning frequency over the past few months. Most of the press attention has been focused on the simple stuff that restricts where and when people can vote, but most of these provisions aren’t really that important. The evidence suggests that even when you add them all up they aren’t likely to have a large effect on turnout.

What might have a large effect is the Republican effort to undermine the administration of elections. Donald Trump was hellbent on getting election administrators to recount the 2020 vote until they could figure out a way to declare him the winner, but they unanimously refused to do it. Now, Republicans are working to make sure that they can eject future election administrators who don’t play ball.

Yesterday’s letter from a hundred political scientists is clear about what’s happening:

Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations should Democrats win more votes.

Ron Brownstein writes that the Biden team agrees. They feel that they can overcome minor rules changes here and there without too much trouble, but not wholesale corruption in election administration:

The White House does see a risk in the possibility that Republicans—whether local election officials, GOP-controlled state legislatures, or a potential Republican majority in the U.S. House or Senate—will refuse to certify clear Democratic wins in the 2022 and 2024 elections. The senior Democrat told me, “Given how things have developed since January 6, if the situation is not brought under some control and this isn’t countered effectively, then I think there is a significant risk” that “Republican officials, unlike the ones we saw standing up to pressure in 2020, are going to decline to certify Democratic victories.” If Republicans hold the House, Senate, or both after the 2024 election, that could allow Congress to try to install a GOP president even if clear evidence exists that the Democrat won.

Democrats need to focus all their attention on this. Lots of people hear about the water bottle stuff or the voter ID rules and just shrug. It doesn’t strike them as all that big a deal. But they don’t know about the movement to allow Republican legislatures to remove election administrators and replace them with faithful party operatives. When they do hear about it, even many conservatives are outraged at the idea.

So forget all the other stuff. This is the real threat to democracy, and the public needs to be aware of it clearly.

13) Speaking of voting, Scott Lemieux, “Texas’ voting bill to support Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ will eventually pass. Blame the Supreme Court.: It used to be unconstitutional to target Black and brown communities with voter suppression efforts. Then the court ruled against the Voting Rights Act.”

14) Fun interview with Jordan Ellenberg, “Why So Many Pandemic Predictions Failed: The mathematician Jordan Ellenberg discusses how geometry explains the world.”

15) This is great (and disturbing) “The Endless Trap of American Parole: How can anyone rebuild their lives when they keep getting sent back to jail for the pettiest of reasons?”

Twenty-five years ago, there was a common saying among community supervision officers: “Trail ’em, nail ’em, jail ’em.” In other words, surveillance and apprehension. This has started to evolve, with an increased focus on behavioral change, treatment and services. “Parole has two objectives,” says Rita Shah, an associate professor of criminology at Eastern Michigan University. “To assist in the transition back to society and to ensure that you are no longer committing crimes.” In other words, reentry and supervision.

Community supervision rates fell by nearly a fifth over the past decade. Horowitz is clear: “I don’t want to paint a picture of a system that’s failing.” But America’s approach to parole is still plagued by problems. Horowitz says the number of people on supervision per capita remains historically high, up several hundred percent from 1980. National data also shows that between 30 and 40 percent of state prison admissions are for “technical violations,” i.e., failing to observe the conditions of supervision. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, 58.8 percent of California’s parole population went to prison for a technical violation. This could be a misdemeanor, like petty theft or a minor drug offense. But it could also include traveling more than 50 miles from one’s home without permission or entering a bar. Parolees have been sanctioned for infractions such as forgetting to return a steak knife to the kitchen after eating dinner in front of the living room TV; outside the kitchen, the knife is considered a weapon.

Horowitz says concerns about the parole system have largely “flown under the radar” but are gaining attention. It’s partly financial: Probation and parole revocations cost states over $9.3 billion annually; technical violations account for a third of that. Reformers are also pushing for change. Since 2010, 35 states have adopted recommendations of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership among Pew, the U.S. Department of Justice and state governments. JRI takes a data-driven approach to reforming sentencing policies; its recommendations have helped to lower both prison populations and supervision revocations in at least a handful of states.

We have to do so much better with helping people actually thrive and rebuild their lives outside prison– not set them up to fail.

16) Given that I follow dozens of journalists on twitter, the Emily Wilder story lit up my feed for a while.  What I hate is any organization giving into bad faith mobs.  And there’s so many bad faith mobs!  Not encouraging that the AP executive responsible is now at the Washington Post:

On May 18, the Associated Press reported on the arrest of an arson suspect over a Los Angeles wildfire: “The man detained Sunday near the fire zone was being treated for smoke inhalation, said Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas. He did not identify the suspect or offer details about the investigation.” At the foot of this classic AP story is a line that reads, “AP journalist Emily Wilder contributed to this report from Phoenix.“

Two days later, AP management dismissed Wilder from her job as a news associate at the AP. Had she botched her contribution to the arson-arrest story? Or had she botched her contribution to a May 7 report about an Idaho school shooting?

Nothing like that, as the media world now knows. The 22-year-old Wilder received her dismissal notice following a successful attempt by conservatives to promote outrage over her activist work while attending Stanford University, where she served as a leader of Students for Justice in Palestine. The episode points to two emerging facts of life in contemporary mainstream media — one, that editors at large news organizations quake when right-wing actors target their colleagues; and two, publishers’ concerns over ethical appearances and perceptions are reaching irrationality.

As part of her work for Students for Justice in Palestine, Wilder, a Jewish woman raised in an Orthodox community, helped organize a 2017 protest against Birthright Israel, a group that funds trips to Israel for young people of Jewish heritage. In a Facebook post promoting the protest, Wilder wrote that the event would coincide with a “fundraising gala with far-right, pro-Trump, naked mole rat-looking billionaire Shel Adelson,” according to the Washington Free Beacon. Adelson was a Birthright benefactor as well as a prominent GOP donor.

The story in the Washington Free Beacon fed off the work of the Stanford College Republicans, a group that found news value in Wilder’s accession to the AP in early May. A May 17 tweet, now pinned to the top of the group’s account, provided screenshots of Wilder’s collegiate activism…

According to Wilder’s dismissal letter, the rumblings from Stanford — and inquiries from the Washington Free Beacon, Fox News and others — prompted a deeper look into the AP rookie’s social media history. “As discussed, over the last few days some of your social media posts made prior to joining AP surfaced,” reads the dismissal letter. “Those posts prompted a review of your social media activity since you began with the AP, May 3, 2021. In that review, it was found that some tweets violated AP’s News Values and Principles.

Did the AP receive independent objections to Wilder’s tweets, or did it decide to scrutinize those tweets only after the Stanford College Republicans raised hell about her college days? (We asked the AP to clarify this point; Wilder tells the Erik Wemple Blog that she didn’t know whether “someone else raised concerns.”) AP managers found stuff like this when they ventured into Wilder’s feed:

17) Scott Alexander with a helluva post about Depression.  Well worth reading and thinking about.  

18) This is really, really upsetting and deserving of more coverage:

Just now (Friday night) the images are back, courtesy of news stories reporting on this.  

19) This is a terrific thread on the awesomeness of the vaccines and how they work.

Why does college cost so much?

Terrific post from Paul Campos on college costs.  First, he goes through a lot of myths (well-worth reading) before getting to what’s really driving things– administrative bloat and the perverse incentives involved therein:

Nevertheless some major factors include:

(1) A huge increase in the amount of money that’s being spent on administration. While over the past 40 years the size of university faculties has increased more slowly than student enrollment, the sheer number of university administrators has increased far faster than the student population. On top of this, while compensation for faculty has stagnated or declined, as salaries for full time faculty have barely kept pace with inflation, and more and more formerly full time positions have been filled by low-paid adjuncts, compensation for upper administration has exploded.

Consider that a survey of the salaries of more than 700 American college and university presidents for the 1983-84 academic year found that the mean salary for this group was $63,501 — equivalent to about $157,000 35 years later. The single highest-paid university president at the time was making $118,000 in salary, that is, a little under $300,000 in constant dollars.

Today several dozen university presidents have seven figure annual compensation packages. (In 2017 the 20 highest-paid American university presidents had annual compensation packages that averaged $2.5 million). Overall, mean salaries of American university presidents have more than tripled in real terms over the past 35 years. And of course the salaries of presidents set the benchmark for the rest of the upper administrators at universities: there are now literally thousands of administrators at American universities making more, in constant dollars, than the highest-paid university president was making a generation ago.

(2) Closely related to (1), the upper administration of universities has become its own world, increasingly cut off from if not actively hostile to the faculties it is overseeing. As a rough generalization, prior to the 1980s or so, American universities were run by their own faculties: the top administrators were typically drawn from an institution’s faculty, and they would usually rotate back into regular faculty positions after a time.

Today, as an LGM commenter noted recently, universities are run by a class of professional university administrators, who move from school to school, very much as top corporate managers are always searching for the next promotion at the next company that will appear on their resumes. These are people who have abandoned academic life to become managers of massive bureaucracies, and their orientation toward their faculties is very much a severely hierarchical one, with all the latent and often overt hostility such relationships entails.

The career path of professional university administrators creates all sorts of perverse incentives from an institutional perspective, because the path to lateral advancement is always to spend more money: to “grow” the institution with more programs, more initiatives, more centers, more splashy hires of one kind or another, and in particular more shiny new buildings — the dreaded edifice complex — until the PUA moves on in a few years to the next institution, where the process can be repeated. [emphases mine]

(3) All this, of course, means that the people running American universities have to be positively obsessed with increasing revenue, in order to pay for all this resume-enhancing growth. For example, the annual expendable endowment income of my alma mater, the University of Michigan, is now equivalent, in constant inflation-adjusted dollars, to what was the combined total annual expendable endowment income of all the nation’s 1,497 public colleges and universities when I was an undergraduate 40 years ago. (During this time Michigan’s endowment has grown from $115 million to $12.5 billion).

Spending levels at elite universities have become mind-boggling: in real dollars, the operating budgets of these places have nearly tripled over the past 30 years. Example: in 1989 Princeton had a total operating budget of $848 million in 2020 dollars: a sum which included a six million dollar operating deficit. In fiscal 2020 the school’s operating budget was $2.3 billion, which included an enormous operating surplus — the school had pulled in more than three billion dollars in total revenue during the previous fiscal year.

And all of this has a perverse trickle down effect, as schools further down the hierarchy spend sums that would have been considered absurdly profligate at HYPS a generation ago, but which are now considered the minimum necessary to maintain and enhance institutional “excellence” — a term which, like the other MBA buzzwords used compulsively now by top university administrators, is never actually defined in any concrete way, beyond spending more money this year than you spent last.

(4) It’s difficult to overstate the insidious effect that the creation and popularization of various ranking systems, that purport to formalize the American university hierarchy, has had on higher education in this country. It’s hard to remember now, but 40 years ago these things basically didn’t exist. Today, US News and the rest of its bastard progeny perform a very important practical function, which is to give university administrators a pseudo-empirical frame for constantly pursing an insanely negative sum competition for institutional status. Thus the competition to become a top X university — or more terrifyingly, to not cease to be one — requires ever-higher levels of spending: not least of all because these ranking systems actually use spending as a direct proxy for, um, “excellence.” (In other words, if two institutions are identical in all other respects, the one that spends more money to generate exactly the same results as the other will be higher ranked as between the two.)

Just for example here’s all the Vice Provosts at my very own institution.  There’s a lot!  And I’m not going to call any of the out by name or job title and I suspect if you dove in, most all of them would seem justifiable, but, in the totality, it’s a lot of administration.  It’s also a lot of very expensive administration.  My guess is you could find lots of highly-competent people to do these jobs at substantially less salary, but, as Campos said, it’s an insulated world. 

So, how do we make this better? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  Not much from Campos on that other than 

But one thing we should not be doing is shoveling ever-larger sums of money, via cash tuition payments, $1.6 trillion in loans, $200 billion per year in public subsidies, and so on and so forth, into the hands of self-dealing university administrators, on the basis of what are increasingly preposterous claims about how under-funded their institutions are.

It is certainly arguable that American higher education should be funded at even higher levels than it is today. What is not defensible is the idea that we should give the people who have constructed the current system even more money, without also creating some better system of accountability in regard to how they are choosing to spend that money.

But, yeah, something needs to change.  

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