The boy problem

So, I gave a quick hit this weekend to Richard Reeves new book on our boy problem, but as I said, it deserves it’s own post.  I cannot recommend highly enough the conversation between Reeves and Derek Thompson (and seriously, if you listen to podcasts, you’ve got to subscribe to Plain English). Here’s from the transcript:

Thompson: And so give me some specific examples, where are boys struggling? Where is the data that you’re pointing to?

Reeves: Well, the three main areas I look at are education—I know that’s something that you’ve written a lot about Derek, and you’ve written a couple of very good pieces, one in particular on the growing gap in college and college campuses where we’re seeing like 60 percent of the students on college campuses and rising being female. And so we’re seeing very big gender gaps in education. And in fact, the gender gap in getting a four-year college degree in the U.S. now is wider than it was in 1972 when Title IX was passed to help girls and women. In 1972, it was about 13 percentage points more likely that a guy would be getting a degree than a woman. Now it’s flipped to 15 percentage points more likely that a woman is going to get it. So, bluntly put, gender inequality in higher education in the U.S. is wider today than when Title IX was passed, but the other way around. And then we’re seeing it among the top-scoring-GPA high school students, two thirds of them are girls, big differences in high school graduation rates and so on.

Then on the work front, and it’s important I think here, this is going to be true generally, but to add kind of nuances to who we’re talking about. Most men in the U.S. today earn less than most men did in 1979…

And then in the family, what we’re seeing is a really big increase in the number of fathers who are not in a close relationship with their children. For all kinds of complicated reasons around family instability and so on, too. But at heart I think because of the incredibly positive challenge that’s been made to the role of men as breadwinner, protector, provider by the successes of the women’s movement. But the result of that has been to leave particularly the least powerful men somewhat adrift and disconnected very much from their own children. And that’s bad for them, it’s bad for the moms, and it’s bad for the kids…

Thompson: Overall as I was reading your book and trying to find some way to synthesize what I saw as these struggles of some boys and men in America, it seemed to me that there’s this idea, somewhat controversial, of a success sequence. And if you go across a success sequence, men seem less likely to succeed in high school. Then less likely to take advanced classes in high school, then less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to drop out of high school. Then less likely to go to college. If they go to college, more likely to drop out, less likely to graduate from school. And then over the last 50 years, as you’re pointing out in the labor force, this is partly cashing out in the fact that they’re more likely to drop out of the job search entirely. The activity rate or participation rate of prime-age men has gone down consistently with every single decade. So that’s sort of how I conceive of the problems that we’re talking about. Is this happening in the U.S. only, or are you touching on global themes here?

 

Reeves: Far and large, I think this is an international trend. That’s one of the reasons I think we have to pay close attention to it, because if it was just a peculiarity of the U.S., you might say, “Oh, what’s weird about our education system? Can we go and learn? Maybe let’s go and see what they’re doing in France or Finland or South Africa or Australia.” But the basic trends are pretty similar everywhere. The U.S. does stand out a little bit for the extent to which men have lost ground economically. It’s not like men have done amazingly well in those other countries, but they’ve at least made some ground. We haven’t seen this sort of backsliding quite the same way elsewhere, but the basic pattern you’ve just described or this pipeline basically of just like a—it’s like a domino all the way through. Right from the beginning actually from pre-K or even like 2 years old all the way through to the 20s.

And you say that’s why young men are more likely to be living at home with their parents in their late 20s than women are, et cetera. And so I do think there’s this kind of sense of a causal chain running all the way through, but there’s also deep cultural questions as to why that should be the case. I think the question as to why it’s happening is a different one. But the fact that it’s happening in pretty much the same way, in pretty much every advanced economy. Again, big caveat, this is only a conversation you can be having really in pretty advanced economies. In most of the rest of the world, the statements we made earlier about gender equality really being about girls and women is still true. If I’m in Afghanistan, I’m not making this argument. But in advanced economies, the conversation has changed.

In the Atlantic, Reeves makes a compelling case that we should literally start boys in school one year after the girls.  Yes, sounds crazy, but there’s lots of good data and logic behind this:

The reason little boys wear almost all of the red shirts is not mysterious; the fact that boys mature later than girls is one known to every parent, and certainly to every teacher. According to a Rand survey, teachers are three times more likely to delay entry for their own sons than their own daughters. The maturity gap is now demonstrated conclusively by neuroscience: Brain development follows a different trajectory for boys than it does for girls. But this fact is entirely ignored in broader education policy, even as boys fall further behind girls in the classroom.

On almost every measure of educational success from pre-K to postgrad, boys and young men now lag well behind their female classmates. The trend is so pronounced that it can result only from structural problems. [emphases mine] Affluent parents and elite schools are tackling the issue by giving boys more time. But in fact it is boys from poorer backgrounds who struggle the most in the classroom, and these boys, who could benefit most from the gift of time, are the ones least likely to receive it. Public schools usually follow an industrial model, enrolling children automatically based on their birth date. Administrators in the public system rarely have the luxury of conversations with parents about school readiness…

A proposal to give a boost to boys may sound odd to some, given the inequities that many girls and women still face. But I am betting on our ability to think two thoughts at once. There is much still to be done to promote female representation in politics and corporate leadership, for example. But as to education, boys and men are the ones who need the most help. And it’s not an issue only for them. When schools fail boys, those boys grow into men lacking the skills to flourish in the workplace, to be strong partners, or to be good providers for their children. Giving boys the gift of time will help create a better society not just for men, but for women and children too…

Once boys begin school, they almost immediately start falling behind girls. A 6-percentage-point gender gap in reading proficiency in fourth grade widens to an 11-percentage-point gap by the end of eighth grade. In a study drawing on scores across the country, Sean Reardon, a sociologist and education professor at Stanford, found no overall gender difference in math in grades three through eight, but a big one in English. “In virtually every school district in the U.S., female students outperformed male students on ELA [English Language Arts] tests,” he writes. “In the average district, the gap is … roughly two-thirds of a grade level.”

By high school, the female advantage has become entrenched. The most common high-school grade for girls is now an A; for boys, it is a B. Twice as many girls as boys are in the top 10 percent of students ranked by GPA, and twice as many boys as girls are among those with the lowest grades. It’s an international pattern: Across economically advanced nations, boys are 50 percent more likely than girls to fail at all three key school subjects: math, reading, and science. In the U.S., almost one in five boys does not graduate high school on time, compared with one in 10 girls—the rate for boys is about the same as that for students from low-income families.

The basic trend is clear—at every age, on almost every educational metric, across the world, girls are leaving boys in the dust. Among many of the parents I know, a shorthand explanation has developed to explain the struggles of an adolescent child to stay on track, especially academically: “He’s a boy.”…

But I believe the biggest reason for boys’ classroom struggles is simply that male brains develop more slowly than female brains—or at least those parts of the brain that enable success in the classroom. The gaps in brain development are clearly visible around the age of 5, and they persist through elementary and middle school. (As Margaret Mead wrote of a classroom of middle schoolers: “You’d think you were in a group of very young women and little boys.”)

The brain-development trajectories of boys and girls diverge further, and most dramatically, as adolescence progresses—with the widest gaps around the age of 16 or 17. I hardly need to say that these are crucial years for educational achievement.

Really thought-provoking stuff.  Working closely with the NCSU Park Scholars– the very highest achievers at NC State– it’s definitely notable that our incoming classes are around 2-1 girls.  And it’s because at the far end of the tail of high school achievement– like everywhere else– girls are way out-performing boys.

Obviously, the redshirt all the boys approach is a very dramatic solution, but, regardless, these are important conversations we need to be having that do not detract from the fact that on a society level we also need to be deeply concerned about true equality for women.  (Life is complex and nuanced, despite what you might believe from twitter).  

Quick hits (part II)

1) I do some strength training, but, I suspect not enough for optimal benefit.  I need some study to tell me the minimum 🙂 “People Who Do Strength Training Live Longer — and Better
A consensus is building among experts that both strength training and cardio‌ are important for longevity.”

Regular physical activity has many known health benefits, one of which is that it might help you live longer. But what’s still being determined are the types and duration of exercise that offer the most protection.

In a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that while doing either aerobic exercise or strength training was associated with a lower risk of dying during the study’s time frame, regularly doing both — one to three hours a week of aerobic exercise and one to two weekly strength training sessions — was associated with an even lower mortality risk.

Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to a workout schedule is comparable to “smoking versus not smoking,” said Carver Coleman, a data scientist and one of the authors of the study.

 

The paper is the latest evidence in a trend showing the importance of strength training in longevity and overall health…

After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, income, education, marital status and whether they had chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, researchers found that people who engaged in one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week had a 15 percent lower mortality risk. Mortality risk was 27 percent lower for those who did three hours a week.

But those who also took part in one to two strength-training sessions per week had an even lower mortality risk — a full 40 percent lower than those who didn’t exercise at all. This was roughly the difference between a nonsmoker and someone with a half-a-pack-a-day habit.

2) This is really good.  More to come on this topic, “Richard Reeves on Why Men are Struggling
Yascha Mounk and Richard Reeves discuss the cultural and economic challenges facing boys and men and how to fix them.”

Mounk: It’s striking just how much of a gender gap there now is in American politics, and not always on the topics where people assume there is one. In broader questions like, “Do you prefer Democrats or Republicans,” and “how do you feel about Donald Trump?” and so on, there’s now a very strong gender divide, which I believe is actually stronger among young people. A few years ago, everyone was debating about Jordan Peterson, which some listeners may have strong feelings about. I always thought that he said some things that were sort of straightforwardly true, along with many things that I disagreed with. But there was a visceral moment of media panic about his rise. And that really was the fault of everybody on the center left, because we were not able to speak in clear and orienting ways to young people who may be trying to look for a path. It would have felt very strange for anybody in my sort of social milieu to say, “I’m going to write a book that tries to appeal not exclusively, but in some ways primarily, to young men who are a little bit lost in life, and tell them: here are some basic rules for how you should go about conceiving of a meaningful life.” If we’re not filling that space, it is unsurprising that somebody with whom I have some robust political disagreements, would end up becoming a star by moving into that empty space.

Reeves: It’s a vacuum. Anybody that doesn’t take seriously the appeal of people like Jordan Peterson, especially to young men, just isn’t paying attention. I treat some of his work in my book and have many criticisms of what he’s done, but I also have a great deal of admiration in some ways for the fact that he does make a lot of these young men feel listened to. He clearly has genuine compassion for them. I don’t like where his ideology goes, and he thinks out loud, so he’s bound to say something stupid or crazy. Every ten sentences are going to contain three horrific ones. But there is this reservoir of unmet questions and a sense of dislocation and disequilibrium which he has been able to exploit as a public intellectual, but which successful populists are also able to exploit. 

We have a Gender Policy Council now in the White House. They just put out a report, and there isn’t a single gender inequality it treats that goes the other way, not a single one. For me, that’s just a huge missed opportunity. Let’s say 90% of the things discussed were still about women, but it also talked a bit about deaths of despair, incarceration, how boys have fallen behind in education—just two or three issues. I think that would have paid massive political dividends. I don’t think that’s quite permissible on the left right now, and so it is leaving this gap, and I really do fear that it could get worse before it gets better. As we approach the midterms, I feel that the Democrats are doubling down in some ways on their current agenda, which I think may have the effect of worsening the gender divide even more than we’ve seen it in recent years.

3) It really seems amazing what psychedelic drugs are capable of when used therapeutically, “Psilocybin Therapy Sharply Reduces Excessive Drinking, Small Study Shows”

4) Really good piece from Jesse Singal on affirmative action in higher ed.  Its supporters need to 1) stop eliding how deeply unpopular it is with the American public, and 2) stop acting as if everyone who opposes it is “racist.”  And 3) come up with actual solutions.

I would question the utility of this framework in this particular setting. Yes, race-based affirmative action (let’s just call it RBAA so I don’t have to keep typing that) is likely to be dealt a crippling blow by a conservative-dominated Supreme Court set to hear a pivotal case on the subject this autumn, and yes, white people who feel racial resentment, and/or who are outright racists, are vehemently opposed to RBAA.

But these aren’t the only people who dislike RBAA. The fact is, it’s an unpopular policy, full stop. The racial group that most favors RBAA is black Americans, and even there, 59% say race should not be a factor in college admissions at allaccording to Pew polling from earlier this year:

Among all other racial groups, the numbers are significantly worse. This is a policy that enjoys no broad support among anyone, and that includes the groups most likely to benefit from it…

So even if RBAA didn’t face constitutional challenges, there’d still be the fact that, rightly or wrongly, people don’t like it. You’d think a column by two scholars very concerned about the potential extinction of this policy would make some reference to its durable unpopularity, and perhaps offer a strategy or two for convincing voters to feel more warmly toward it. They do neither: They present a flattened account in which supporting RBAA is supporting racial justice and opposing it is opposing racial justice. Never mind the fact that opponents of RBAA range from far-right white racists to… the average black voter…

There’s an ingrained breezy entitlement in some liberal intellectual spaces that mucks everything up. If people don’t agree with our preferred racial justice policies, it’s because they’re racist. Okay, whatever, they’re racist — what are you going to do about it? Ummmm, more ethnic studies? Wait, so your argument is that affirmative action is on its deathbed because society is too racist, but you think ethnic studies is part of the answer instead? Or what about if, like, rich universities gave money to poor kids? Okay, but isn’t that already a thing and don’t you worry that — Also: Let them catch up.

I don’t think this represents a very serious effort to address what is, in fact, a very serious problem.

5) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer, “What’s a “Progressive”, Anyway?

Progressivism makes sense to me as a continuation of the constant project of improving society. Liberalism arose mostly in response to government tyranny, which was a problem from the beginning of human history until…actually, it’s still a problem. It will likely be a problem forever — this is why I consider the negative rights at the core of liberalism to be fundamental. Progressives probably should have extolled those rights as essential instead of trashing them as insufficient. But even so, the creation of a new movement that responded to new problems was a good thing, and progressives got more right than they got wrong.

Bottom line: Gaining a better understanding of progressivism did not cause me to think that progressivism is, itself, a problem. I found progressivism to be completely compatible with liberalism. Authoritarian is not compatible with liberalism; it’s pretty much liberalism’s polar opposite. Same with Marxism; liberals balk at that level of government control, not to mention the monochromatic color scheme. But I see nothing inconsistent about a person calling themselves a “liberal progressive”. In fact, I think that would be a somewhat-accurate descriptor of what I am.

The problem — to the extent that there is a problem — is the absence liberal principles. I think that much intra-left tension these days is between progressives who don’t hold liberal principles and progressives who do. Those who don’t hold liberal principles are fine with things like steamrolling due process in the prosecution of sexual assault claims and the extreme narrowing of the bounds of acceptable speech. Those who do hold liberal principles are bothered by these things and have written many biting Twitter threads saying so. It may be true that the righteous tenor of progressive rhetoric attracts zealots, but as far as I’m concerned, the progressive label is a red herring. To me, the great political divide continues to be between liberals and everyone else, and the specific flavor of a person’s illiberalism doesn’t matter much.

6) Really good essay on how our blood plasma “donations” exploit the poor.  

7) Rod Graham on wokeness and post-materialism:

So what does the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map tell us about wokeness?

Countries composed of people that reject traditional life patterns and value self-expression, countries towards the upper right corner of the map, are more likely to develop ideas and movements that we see as woke. This is because people in those countries care about the quality of life (symbolic aspects) as opposed to the quantities of life (material aspects).

I’ll give three examples:

  1. The emphasis on language. The intolerance that is often levied at woke people is essentially an attempt to protect people from the negative impact of words. In woke nations, movements can arise to abolish words like “midget” because it is seen as a slur. The material benefits to using a different word are little to none, but there are symbolic benefits of restricting the use of that word. The word can be disrespectful or hurtful to the person it is directed at.

  2. The emphasis on diversity. Generally, all groups that have not been traditionally the focus – meaning not white, heterosexual, Christian, and male – are celebrated and platformed. The 1619 Project is about platforming the experiences related to black people in the United States. This emphasis on diversity also extends to nontraditional lifestyles like polyamory or jobs that have been stigmatized like sex work.

  3. The emphasis on thought patterns. Concepts like heteronormativity, toxic masculinity, and implicit bias are all about thinking differently. Sure, recognizing that hypermasculine behaviors can be damaging can lead to policy changes. But at its core, the idea is about changing how we think about masculinity. The same goes for ideas like white fragility, where white people are asked to think differently about how they engage in conversations about race…

So why is the West woke?

Well, it is not because of a few critical theorists in academia producing ideas about transphobia or systemic racism. Nor is it because white liberals have taken over our institutions.

Wokeness is likely a result of living in a wealthy, modern country. When people do not need tradition, are not religious, and have their material needs taken care of, they will focus on the quality of their lives. The West has had two generations of people who have lived in a world of relative comfort. We have had no major wars. With the end of the Cold War, we didn’t even have an enemy. Elections have been, for the most part, peaceful. Crime and violence are still a problem but have been steadily declining. Even with downturns and recessions, the standard of living in Western countries has been steadily improving.

In these conditions, people can focus on the quality of life. This is what has caused wokeness, and it is a good thing. Wokeness is an indicator of success.

8) David Brooks on the awfulness of open plan offices.

9) An electric car with a 600 mile range sounds great. “A New Approach to Car Batteries Is About to Transform EVs: Auto companies are designing ways to build a car’s fuel cells into its frame, making electric rides cheaper, roomier, and able to hit ranges of 620 miles.”

If you want to build an EV with better range, slapping in a larger battery to provide that range is not necessarily the solution. You would then have to increase the size of the brakes to make them capable of stopping the heavier car, and because of the bigger brakes you now need bigger wheels, and the weight of all those items would require a stronger structure. This is what car designers call the “weight spiral,” and the problem with batteries is that they require you to lug around dead weight just to power the vehicle.

But what if you could integrate the battery into the structure of the car so that the cells could serve the dual purpose of powering the vehicle and serving as its skeleton? That is exactly what Tesla and Chinese companies such as BYD and CATL are working on. The new structural designs coming out of these companies stand to not only change the way EVs are produced but increase vehicle ranges while decreasing manufacturing costs.

According to Euan McTurk, a consultant battery electrochemist at Plug Life Consulting, since technologies such as cell-to-pack, cell-to-body, and cell-to-chassis battery construction allow batteries to be more efficiently distributed inside the car, they get us much closer to a hypothetical perfect EV battery. “The ultimate battery pack would be one that consists of 100 percent active material. That is, every part of the battery pack stores and releases energy,” he says.

Traditionally, EV batteries have used cell modules that are then interconnected into packs. BYD pioneered cell-to-pack technology, which does away with the intermediate module stage and puts the cells directly into the pack. According to Richie Frost, the founder and CEO of Sprint Power, “standard modules may fit well within one pack but leave large areas of ‘wasted’ space in another pack. By removing the constraints of a module, the number of cells can be maximized within any enclosure.”

10) Humanities degrees are in freefall:

But something different has been happening with the humanities since the 2008 financial crisis. Five years ago, I argued that the humanities were still near long-term norms in their number of majors. But since then, I’ve been watching the numbers from the Department of Education, and every year, things look worse. Almost every humanities field has seen a rapid drop in majors: History is down about 45 percent from its 2007 peak, while the number of English majors has fallen by nearly half since the late 1990s. Student majors have dropped, rapidly, at a variety of types of institutions. Declines have hit almost every field in the humanities (with one interesting exception) and related social sciences, they have not stabilized with the economic recovery, and they appear to reflect a new set of student priorities, which are being formed even before they see the inside of a college classroom…

The most reliable indicators about the humanities in American colleges are reports that all colleges and universities make to the Department of Education. These run back to about 1950. Since then, the humanities have seen three eras. The first ran from 1955 to 1985. As normal schools around the country, set up to educate teachers, transformed into comprehensive universities, men and women alike poured into English and history majors; then, when the economy soured and the growth of higher education slowed in the 1970s, the boom turned to bust, and humanities majors collapsed nationwide. The second phase began around 1985 and ran to 2008. This was a long period of stability; majors in the four largest (and easiest to track over the long term) humanities majors held steady, with modest fluctuations. Since 2008, the crisis of the humanities has resumed, with percentage drops that are beginning to approach those of 40 years ago. Unlike the drops of the ’70s, though, there’s no preexisting bubble to deflate. And there’s no compelling demographic explanation. Five years ago, it was reasonable to look at these numbers and conclude that the long-term story is all about gender. Men majored in humanities fields at the same rate in the 1990s as they had in the 1950s, while women, seeing more options in the workforce, increasingly turned to majors in business fields. But the drops since the financial crisis can be seen among men and women, across racial groups, and in a wide variety of universities.

11) Good free Yglesias piece from a month ago, “We should expect more — and worse — pandemics to come”

People who like to follow Covid news have started paying attention to wastewater monitoring because it’s a great way to get broad-spectrum information in close to real time.

What we ought to be doing is setting more communities up with routine wastewater monitoring and building systems that don’t just check for a particular virus but all unusual DNA. That way you could find a virus you’re not already looking for. We should be investing in ventilation (which everyone says) but also basic testing of commercially available air purifiers. You should be able to find out easily which one is really the best at clearing out viruses, and that should become a basis for commercial competition.

Recent research indicates that far-ultraviolet light can kill viruses and make indoor space as safe as outdoor space. I’d want to run three or four more rigorous studies on that before I put far-UVC lights everywhere, but we should do that research and, if it pans out, put the lights everywhere. And we should be paying people lots of money to design new kinds of masks that are as effective as KN95s but more comfortable, or equally comfortable but more effective, or ideally both. There ought to be huge prizes for inventing masks like that and advanced purchase commitments to get them from manufacturers.

We also ought to have spacesuit-type supersuits lying around so that we can keep basic social infrastructure up and running in the event of a huge catastrophe.

And finally, we need to put the pedal to the metal on the universal coronavirus vaccine project and then work with equal alacrity on universal vaccines for the other families. Part of the power of the family-wide vaccine concept is it will offer protection against pathogens that don’t yet exist, which is far and away the best hope for getting ahead of engineered pathogens.

None of this — ventilation, special light, better PPE, better vaccines — is exactly existing science and technology. But it’s close, visibly within grasp, just as the possibility of simultaneously releasing dozens of separately engineered viruses is visibly within reach. In the race between the two, the bad actors’ advantage is they don’t need to follow the rules and protocols that slow things down. The good actors’ advantage is that developed world governments have at their disposal enormous financial resources. They just need to be persuaded to actually use them.

12) My teenage son and I have taken to watching pro wrestling as father-son bonding many evenings.  Entirely ironically, of course.  (I sometimes joke with him that his enjoyment sometimes seems to be lacking suitable levels of irony).  Anyway, I was interested to learn more about the new start-up AEW.  It really is just way more entertaining.  

13) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf, “What to Teach Young Kids About Gender: Schools should tell children to be themselves. But some districts say too much—and mistake progressive dogma for established fact.”

To better understand what is actually being taught—or what bans are prohibiting—I turned to Evanston/Skokie School District 65, a public-school system in the Chicago suburbs that is is laudably transparent about posting instructional material online. Last year, I reported on its Black Lives Matter at School curriculum. Its educators also post the lessons that they teach, starting in pre-kindergarten, during the district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month. Gender identity is a major focus of the curriculum—which, I should note, is similar to curricula I’ve seen elsewhere from progressive educators.

The District 65 instructional materials reveal a basic problem. Although American society’s approach to matters of gender identity is clearly still in flux, and reasonable people disagree on how best to engage students on the subject, some educators are writing progressive activists’ views into detailed lessons for young children. An alternative approach might promote inclusion in the broadest, plainest possible terms and reassure children: There’s no wrong way to be you. Instead, District 65 and other systems err on the side of saying too much and mistaking dogma for established fact…

Other lessons in the curriculum stray from affirming the dignity of nonbinary and trans people to teaching contested and in some cases contradictory claims about the nature of gender. One kindergarten lesson calls for teachers to read I Am JazzMy Princess Boy; and Jack (Not Jackie)—all books about trans or genderqueer kids. The following day’s lesson introduces “another important flag that has just 3 colors: light blue, pink and white.” The ensuing script reads, “People who identify as TRANSGENDER have their own ways of dressing, playing & acting that might not be what you expect. They might look to you like a boy, but dress and act like a girl.”

But wait: How does a girl dress and act? By day five of the school district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month, the kindergarteners have been taught that there are no such thing as boys’ toys and girls’ toys, or boys’ clothes and girls’ clothes—any boy can wear a dress and any girl can play with toy trucks. But then, when introducing terms such as trans and nonbinary, the curriculum relies on and arguably reaffirms gender stereotypes. For example, kindergarten students are shown a slide meant to represent a boy, a girl, and a nonbinary person. Its symbols are silhouettes of stereotypical male dress, stereotypical female dress, and a mash-up of the two:..

If you tell 5-year-olds that boys can wear dresses and play with dolls just as much as girls, but also that Michael feels like a girl, so from now on he’s going to wear dresses and play with dolls—act like a girl?—you’ve undercut the message that normative gender stereotypes are bogus.

14) I don’t doubt that these are very good ideas for parenting.  I’ve definitely come up short:

This is how to use ancient traditions to raise awesome kids:

  • To Raise Helpful Kids: Don’t shoo them away to the world of self-indulgent child distraction. Make them valued members of the team with communal activities that benefit the family.
  • To Teach Kids Emotional Regulation: Yes, you feel like you need to shout until your soul starts dribbling out your ears but all they’ll learn is that anger is the solution to life’s problems. Change your narrative, model calm behavior, trigger thought with questions, and touch them to let them know they’re loved.

Let’s step away from the ancient traditions and modern science for a second. I’ve read more books on parenting than any childless guy ever. What have I learned? It’s simple:

Almost all good parenting advice is good people advice.

Or, to put it bluntly: There are no grown-ups. None. Nowhere. Ever. We’re all muddling through. Sometimes we’re all selfish, emotional and out of control. It happens. And it’s okay.

If you apply parenting advice to all your relationships, you’ll be better off. Don’t try to control people. Treat them like adults – especially if they’re not acting like one. Bribes and punishments are not as effective as encouraging cooperation and making people feel like part of a team.

Anger usually just makes things worse with people. If they’re angry, you getting angry just escalates things. To stop being angry change the story in your head: they’re usually not evil, they’re just having a bad day. Encourage their thinky brain to take charge again and focus on a warm, positive connection where they feel supported.

When you stop trying to control or win with others you can focus on getting to that thing which is worth more than anything else is the universe…

Yes, printer ink.

Okay, maybe we should focus on the second most valuable thing in the universe: love. It’s not printer ink but it’s still pretty good.

15) I forget why I came across this, but the illusion of explanatory depth is such a great concept:

What is illusion of explanatory depth?

The illusion of explanatory depth (IOED) describes our belief that we understand more about the world than we actually do. It is often not until we are asked to actually explain a concept that we come face to face with our limited understanding of it.

Where this bias occurs

And yet, as the alien takes a seat to listen, you realize you can tell him what a house is, but you can’t explain much about them. How are they built? How did we as civilians come to live in houses? How are their prices determined? What are the laws surrounding them? How long have people lived in houses, and what did they live in before? Perhaps you can answer one or two of these specific questions, but surely the alien will have even more questions you can’t answer. To think that housing is such a simple concept, and that you actually know much less than you’d predicted puzzles you greatly. This is because of the illusion of explanatory depth: having to explain your knowledge brings you to the realization that you actually know much less than you thought you did.

16) Unless it’s going to kill me, I am not giving up my aspartame, damnit. “Personalized microbiome-driven effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on human glucose tolerance”

Summary

Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are commonly integrated into human diet and presumed to be inert; however, animal studies suggest that they may impact the microbiome and downstream glycemic responses. We causally assessed NNS impacts in humans and their microbiomes in a randomized-controlled trial encompassing 120 healthy adults, administered saccharinsucraloseaspartame, and stevia sachets for 2 weeks in doses lower than the acceptable daily intake, compared with controls receiving sachet-contained vehicle glucose or no supplement. As groups, each administered NNS distinctly altered stool and oral microbiome and plasma metabolome, whereas saccharin and sucralose significantly impaired glycemic responses. Importantly, gnotobiotic mice conventionalized with microbiomes from multiple top and bottom responders of each of the four NNS-supplemented groups featured glycemic responses largely reflecting those noted in respective human donors, which were preempted by distinct microbial signals, as exemplified by sucralose. Collectively, human NNS consumption may induce person-specific, microbiome-dependent glycemic alterations, necessitating future assessment of clinical implications.

17) Good stuff from Sean Illing and Zac Gershberg, “The Greatest Threat to Democracy Is a Feature of Democracy”

Far more than a bundle of laws, norms and institutions, democracy is an open culture of communication that affords people the right to think, speak and act and allows every possible means of persuasion. That makes every democratic society uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of communication. We may not like it, but something like Jan. 6 is always potentially in the offing.

We ought to avoid the naïveté of liberal fantasy, which imagines we can impose reliable guardrails against dangerous or deceptive speech. Indeed, there’s a whole genre of articles and books arguing that social media is destroying democracy. Because of changes to online platforms around a decade ago, wrote Jonathan Haidt recently, “People could spread rumors and half-truths more quickly, and they could more readily sort themselves into homogeneous tribes.”

But this is precisely what an unwieldy democratic culture looks like. Depending on the communications environment, a democracy can foster reliable, respectful norms, or it can devolve into outrageous propaganda, widespread cynicism and vitriolic partisanship.

And when communications devolve into propaganda and partisanship, a democracy can either end with breathtaking speed, as it did in Myanmar last year, when the military overthrew the democratically elected government, or descend more gradually into chaos and authoritarianism, as Russia did under Vladimir Putin.

Nothing forbids voters in a democracy to support an authoritarian or vote itself out of existence (as the ancient Athenian assembly famously did). The history of democracy is full of demagogues exploiting the openness of democratic cultures to turn people against the very system on which their freedom depends. In France, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte leveraged a celebrity name to run for president on a campaign of restoring order in 1848, only to end the Second Republic with a self-coup to become emperor when his term was up…

The paradox at the heart of this debate — the idea that democracy contains the ingredients for its own destruction — tells us that free expression and its sometimes troubling consequences are a feature, not a bug. What sometimes changes are novel forms of media, which come along and clear democratic space for all manner of persuasion. Patterns of bias and distortion and propaganda accompany each evolution.

When woke knows best

I feel kind of lame taking this long time off and then coming back just to complain about wokeness, but, alas that’s how the spirit moves me today.  Mostly, because of the NCSU email I got today with a link to this story, “Latinx Heritage Month: What Is It and How Can You Get Involved?”

I’ve been please to see the move away from “Latinx” as more and more liberals have recognized the problematic nature of insisting on a term for a group of people who clearly do not have much desire to be referred to by that term (4% of Latinos prefer the term Latinx). 

So, interestingly, the NCSU “Latinx” folks (folx?) are aware of this pushback so they take the time to explain their use of the term:

Why does NC State call it “Latinx” Heritage Month?

“Latinx” is a new, gender-neutral term for people who share Latin American heritage. While the term’s exact origin is unclear, its earliest use was likely by LGBTQ activists of that same heritage. By inserting an “x” into “Latina” and “Latino,” they sought to disrupt the gender binary inherent in Spanish — and raise awareness of marginalized identities within their community.

Not every person of Latin American heritage feels “Latinx” represents them, but languages change to meet the needs of speakers. Many familiar words or phrases were once viewed as clunky, unnecessary or even provocative. Today, “Latinx” appears in every English dictionary and is accepted by the AP Stylebook, which NC State follows.

More importantly, we follow our students and alumni. [emphasis mine]

Many people may still prefer to call themselves Latina, Latino or something else that specifies their heritage or national origin, such as Mexican American or Venezuelan. Others may use “Hispanic” to signify they are from a Spanish-speaking country or background. We stick to the AP Stylebook by respecting an individual’s preference — while still honoring our community’s use of the general term they feel is most inclusive.

Honestly, this just comes down to “it doesn’t really matter what Hispanic/Latino people want; we (the enlightened) know best).  Some really nice elision here too with “accepted” by the AP Stylebook. In fact, I just wen to the AP Stylebook and this is actually intentionally misleading from NCSU:

Latinx, which should be confined to quotations, names of organizations or descriptions of individuals who request it and should be accompanied by a short explanation.

Meanwhile, I don’t doubt that there’s a substantial number of very vocal NCSU students and alumni arguing for “Latinx” but as twitter teaches us every day, very vocal is not necessarily a good reflection of real life.  The Gallup poll, however is.  

Of course, this is actually pretty small potatoes with all that’s going on in the world, but I do find it compelling in that I think it really does capture that “but we know best!” element that is so off-putting about woke ideology.  And damn it, I’m put-off. Mostly because I think we still need to make a lot of progress towards equality and this does not get us there. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) I really wanted to give this one it’s own post, but, too damn busy lately.  Short version: yes, it sucks that politicians lie about each other all the time with impunity.  But, we allow this because it would actually be even worse if we tried to have our court system regularly determining when politicians attacks on each other went too far.  The law in question in NC is clearly unconstitutional for this reason and I don’t get why reporting isn’t just saying so: “A problematic law about political lies threatens to snag NC’s attorney general”

Politicians lie. It’s something voters have even come to expect on the campaign trail, in campaign ads and in office. But what constitutes a lie, and should those lies be punished? Those questions are at the center of a case involving North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and it threatens to throw his office and the 2024 race for governor into chaos.

A grand jury in Wake County decided Monday that the district attorney’s office could pursue charges against Stein and two of his top aides, based on a campaign ad from the 2020 election cycle that called out his opponent, Republican candidate Jim O’Neill. Wake DA Lorrin Freeman said her office will decide as early as next month whether to charge Stein with anything, but Stein did get a victory late Tuesday when the Fourth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction to stop the investigation from moving forward.

The offending advertisement from Stein featured a sexual assault survivor saying that there were more than 1,500 untested rape kits in Forsyth County, where O’Neill is the district attorney. O’Neill said that testing rape kits is the responsibility of Forsyth County’s police departments, not his, then filed a complaint based on a 1931 state law that makes it illegal to knowingly circulate false and “derogatory” reports about candidates.

2) Leanna Wen gets a ton of (mostly unfair) hate, but I think she’s pretty well on-target here, ‘I’m a doctor. Here’s why my kids won’t wear masks this school year.”

It became clear that the goal I’d hoped for — containment of covid-19 — was not reachable. This coronavirus is here to stay.

With this new, indefinite time frame, the benefit-risk calculus of mitigation measures shifted dramatically. I was willing to limit my children’s activities for a year or two but not for their entire childhood.

Given how careful we’d been, it wasn’t easy to change my mind-set to accept covid-19 as a recurring risk. But the high transmissibility of new variants meant that we would have to pay an increasingly high price if our goal was to keep avoiding the virus. I began trying to think of the coronavirus as I do other everyday risks, such as falls, car accidents or drowning. Of course I want to shield my children from injuries, and I take precautions, such as using car seats and teaching them how to swim. By the same logic, I vaccinated them against the coronavirus. But I won’t put their childhood on hold in an effort to eliminate all risk…

I accept the risk that my kids will probably contract covid-19 this school year, just as they could contract the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and other contagious diseases. As for most Americans, covid in our family will almost certainly be mild; and, like most Americans, we’ve made the decision that following precautions strict enough to prevent the highly contagious BA.5 will be very challenging. Masking has harmed our son’s language development, and limiting both kids’ extracurriculars and social interactions would negatively affect their childhood and hinder my and my husband’s ability to work.

3) Advice for parenting teens about social media:

THERE ARE AT least three critical paths to helping teens, and these build on the different types of agency outlined by psychologist Albert Bandura.

First, teach teens to build personal agency. Personal agency refers to the things an individual can do to exert influence over situations. Teens in our research described curating their social media feeds toward well-being by unfollowing or muting accounts that make them feel bad. They also work toward personal agency by setting their own screen time limits or intentionally putting their phones out of reach when they want to focus on studying. Others strategically segment their online audiences to empower more intentional sharing to particular groups.

Building teens’ personal agency means supporting skills and strategies they can deploy when digital stressors come up. This can mean moving beyond rules that simply impose arbitrary screen time limits. Of course, teens often need support developing healthy screen time habits and curbing unregulated binges. An important aim is helping teens recognize moments when tech use adds to or undercuts their well-being or personal goals. This requires focusing more on what a teen is doing during their screen time and to what end. By modeling intentional digital habits (e.g., “I need to turn off my notifications for a bit, I’m feeling so distracted by my phone today”), we can help teens do the same for themselves. In this spirit, Tom Harrison writes about the value of parents being “thick exemplars” who share with children times when we struggle with our own digital experiences, misstep, or puzzle over how to “do the right thing.” …

Collective agency is when people “provide mutual support and work together to secure what they cannot accomplish on their own.” A signature example: the ways teens form pacts to vet photos of each other before tagging and posting. Even amid dismay about a world in which privacy feels forsaken, some teens find ways to protect and respect each other’s privacy and online public image. Collective agency is also at play when teen girls share intel about guys known to leak girls’ nudes so that they can be on alert and avoid them. Yet another example came up in the descriptions of teens who create online study spaces over Discord or Zoom to help each other maintain focus while keeping other digital distractions in check. Because friends are often poised to make digital life more or less stressful, when teens work together to reshape burdensome norms, everyone stands to win.

Parents can validate efforts that support collective agency, like when friends decide to keep phones in an untouched stack during dinners together. Or when they use location-sharing as part of a group effort to keep friends safe during a night out. Such approaches reflect a “digital mentoring” approach to parental mediation, rather than simply limiting tech access or permitting unlimited access. While younger adolescents need more direct oversight, parents can support personal agency through a gradual release toward more age-appropriate independence and privacy as their children get older.

Proxy agency is where adults most often come in. This mode of agency acknowledges that on their own—and even when they collaborate with others—teens only have so much control over their circumstances. Proxy agents are typically those who hold more power and can wield it on others’ behalf to support their agency. Because adults usually create the rules, policies, and relevant laws (not to mention the very technologies teens use!), we are critical proxy agents in a context of digital opportunities and risks.

 

Parents are perhaps the most obvious figures here, as they make day-to-day decisions that grant and limit teens’ digital access. Those who hold gatekeeping roles make decisions about whether to consider digital artifacts in school admissions, scholarship awards, and hiring. Adults may be the recipients of online receipts with evidence of transgressions. Those who work in education are often tasked with handling cases that unfold among students—where a teen is a target of persistent cyberbullying or where a nude a teen shared with one person was circulated around the entire school. Those who work at tech companies, designers especially, have the power—and the responsibility—to raise questions about whether features will hook and pull teens in at the expense of their well-being. Recognizing our roles as proxy agents means acknowledging our complicity in creating conditions that can unintentionally undercut youth agency.

Whatever roles adults are in, it’s past time to consider: How do our decisions support or compromise young people’s agency and well-being? Where, when, and how should we intervene and disrupt existing devices, apps, norms, policies, and laws? How can we design for more agency? And how can we center considerations about differential susceptibility and equity when we do so?

4) Interesting research: “Why Don’t We Sleep Enough? A Field Experiment Among College Students”

This study investigates the mechanisms affecting sleep choice and explores whether commitment devices and monetary incentives can be used to promote healthier sleep habits. To this end, we conducted a field experiment with college students, providing them incentives to sleep and collecting data from wearable activity trackers, surveys, and time-use diaries. Monetary incentives were effective in increasing sleep duration with some evidence of persistence after the incentive was removed. We uncover evidence of demand for commitment. Our results are consistent with partially sophisticated time-inconsistent preferences and overconfidence, and have implications for the effectiveness of information interventions on sleep choice.

5)  A mother is being prosecuted for helping her teen daughter give herself a medical abortion at 30(!!) weeks.  Yes, the vast majority of 30 week abortions are for a good reason (birth defects, mother’s health, etc.), but, given that’s the case, maybe it is the right thing to prosecute the people in cases like this one.

6) Quinta Jurecic on Trump and the documents:

Now Trump’s apparent squirreling away of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and his outrage over the Justice Department’s investigation of that conduct, speaks once more to his vision of his own absolute authority—even after he has departed the presidency. It’s a vision that places Trump himself, rather than the Constitution and the rule of law, as the one true source of legitimate political power.

A great deal remains unclear about the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago—among other things, why and how the material arrived at the estate in the first place instead of remaining in the custody of the National Archives, where it belonged. Reporting, though, suggests that Trump may have understood those documents—material that, under the Presidential Records Act, belongs to the American people—to be his own, to do whatever he liked with. “It’s not theirs; it’s mine,” Trump reportedly told several advisers about the misplaced documents. One “Trump adviser” told The Washington Post that “the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term … are now his personal property.” Another adviser to the former president said to the Post, “He didn’t give them the documents because he didn’t want to.”

This childlike logic reflects Trump’s long-running inability to distinguish between the individual president and the institutional presidency, a structure that existed before him and that persists even after he unwillingly departed the White House. In his view, he is the presidency (which … is not what legal scholars typically mean when they talk about the “unitary executive.”) The same logic surfaces in the bizarre arguments made by Trump’s defenders that Trump somehow declassified all the sensitive documents held at Mar-a-Lago before he left office. Under the Constitution, the president does have broad authority over the classification system. But as experts have noted, it makes little sense to imagine a president declassifying information without communicating that decision across the executive branch so that everyone else would know to treat the material in question as no longer classified—unless, that is, you understand presidential power not as an institution of government, but as the projection of a single person’s all-powerful consciousness onto the world.

7) David Brooks on the value of talking to strangers.  Personally, I’m a huge fan, but I’ve become more hesitant to do so when on an airplane because it gets really awkward when you are thinking, but cannot say, “my book is just much more interesting than you.” Or, “you are great to talk to for 20 minutes, but this is a 2 hour flight.”  But, when escape is possible, yeah, I do enjoy it.

One day Nicholas Epley was commuting by train to his office at the University of Chicago. As a behavioral scientist he’s well aware that social connection makes us happier, healthier and more successful and generally contributes to the sweetness of life. Yet he looked around his train car and realized: Nobody is talking to anyone! It was just headphones and newspapers.

Questions popped into his head: What the hell are we all doing here? Why don’t people do the thing that makes them the most happy?

He discovered that one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk to strangers on a train or plane is they don’t think it will be enjoyable. They believe it will be awkward, dull and tiring. In an online survey only 7 percent of people said they would talk to a stranger in a waiting room. Only 24 percent said they would talk to a stranger on a train.

But are these expectations correct? Epley and his team have conducted years of research on this. They ask people to make predictions going into social encounters. Then, afterward, they ask them how it had gone.

They found that most of us are systematically mistaken about how much we will enjoy a social encounter. Commuters expected to have less pleasant rides if they tried to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But their actual experience was precisely the opposite. People randomly assigned to talk with a stranger enjoyed their trips consistently more than those instructed to keep to themselves. Introverts sometimes go into these situations with particularly low expectations, but both introverts and extroverts tended to enjoy conversations more than riding solo.

It turns out many of us wear ridiculously negative antisocial filters. Epley and his team found that people underestimate how positively others will respond when they reach out to express support. Research led by Stav Atir and Kristina Wald showed that most people underestimate how much they will learn from conversations with strangers.

In other research, people underestimated how much they would enjoy longer conversations with new acquaintances. People underestimated how much they’re going to enjoy deeper conversations compared to shallower conversations. They underestimated how much they would like the person. They underestimated how much better their conversation would be if they moved to a more intimate communications media — talking on the phone rather than texting. In settings ranging from public parks to online, people underestimated how positively giving a compliment to another person would make the recipient feel.

We’re an extremely social species, but many of us suffer from what Epley calls undersociality. We see the world in anxiety-drenched ways that cause us to avoid social situations that would be fun, educational and rewarding.

8) Pew with a notable chart:

Chart shows economy remains dominant midterm voting issue, but abortion grows in importance

9) Really enjoyed this Noah Smith, “On the wisdom of the historians: Just as in economics, beware untested theories.”

A lot of people are talking about the history profession this week. There was a kerfuffle when James Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association, wrote a rambling and somewhat opaque post criticizing what he felt was his profession’s excessive focus on the politics of the present, and singling out the 1619 Project for criticism. A subset of historians predictably flew into a rage at this, and forced Sweet to issue a stumbling apology.

I’m not particularly interested in the “woke vs. anti-woke” politics of this dispute. But I think a big part of the reason people care so much about the goings-on in history academia is that in recent years, history professors have become some of the most important voices that we look to in order to understand our current political and social troubles. Jay Caspian Kang explained it well in a New York Times column today:

Over the past decade or so, history has become the lingua franca of online political conversation. This is a relatively new phenomenon…[T]he shift has something to do with the centrality of Twitter over the past decade (historical documents and photos make for great screenshots) and, more important, the changes in the country itself. Once Donald Trump became president, it was harder to write about “Breaking Bad” and Taylor Swift in such self-serious tones…

Twitter has also allowed historians to assume a place in the public discourse that would’ve only been available to a select few before the advent of social media…As a result, history does seem to have an unusual amount of weight in the public discourse.

In the wake of the Great Recession, we talked a lot about whether economists and their theories were afforded too much credence, but as far as I can tell there has been no similarly critical public discourse about academic history. But there ought to be. Just as economists became a sort of priestly order that we relied upon to tell us how to achieve prosperity and distribute resources in society, historians have become a sort of priestly order that we rely on to tell us about where our politics are headed and how we should think about our sense of nationhood.

This is not a blanket criticism of the history profession (although some people on Twitter are certain to interpret it as such, and react accordingly). I am not saying that history needs to stay out of politics and go back to the ivory tower. Nor am I saying that our current crop of historians have bad takes on modern politics. All I am saying is that we ought to think about historians’ theories with the same empirically grounded skepticism with which we ought to regard the mathematized models of macroeconomics.

10) Good stuff from McWhorter, “Leveling the racism charge at something like a licensing exam is crude — it flies past issues more nuanced and complex”

The Association of Social Work Boards administers tests typically required for the licensure of social workers. Apparently, this amounts to a kind of racism that must be reckoned with.

There is a Change.org petition circulating saying just that, based on the claim that the association’s clinical exam is biased because from 2018 to 2021 84 percent of white test-takers passed it the first time while only 45 percent of Black test-takers and 65 percent of Latino test-takers did. “These numbers are grossly disproportionate and demonstrate a failure in the exam’s design,” the petition states, adding that an “assertion that the problem lies with test-takers only reinforces the racism inherent to the test.” The petitioners add that the exam is administered only in English and its questions are based on survey responses from a disproportionately white pool of social workers.

But the petition doesn’t sufficiently explain why that makes the test racist. We’re just supposed to accept that it is. The petitioners want states to eliminate requirements that social workers pass the association’s tests, leaving competence for licensure to be demonstrated through degree completion and a period of supervised work.

So: It’s wrong to use a test to evaluate someone’s qualifications to be a social worker? This begins to sound plausible only if you buy into the fashionable ideology of our moment, in which we’re encouraged to think it’s somehow antiracist to excuse Black and brown people from being measured by standardized testing. There have been comparable claims these days with regard to tests for math teachers in Ontario and state bar exams, and, in the past, on behalf of applicants to the New York City Fire Department

This will mean taking a deep breath and asking why it is that in various instances, Black and Latino test-takers disproportionately have trouble with standardized tests. The reason for the deep breath is the implication ever in the air on this subject: that if the test isn’t racist, then the results might suggest that they aren’t as smart as their white peers. That’s an artificially narrowed realm of choices, however. There is more to what shapes how people handle things like standardized tests.

11) I can’t say stories of our criminal justice system like this surprise me.  But they still infuriate me.  This is just not okay.  Seriously, read this twitter thread:

12) I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who don’t have ideas of friendship shaped by toxic masculinity. “Men have fewer friends than ever, and it’s harming their health”  This Vox piece is all images– I think this one is key:

13) Good stuff from Katherine Wu on the Omicron boosters.

The nation has latched on before to the idea that shots alone can see us through. When vaccines first rolled out, Americans were assured that they’d essentially stamp out transmission, and that the immunized could take off their masks. “I thought we learned our lesson,” says Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at George Mason University. Apparently we did not. America is still stuck on the notion of what Popescu calls “vaccine absolutism.” And it rests on two very shaky assumptions, perhaps both doomed to fail: that the shots can and should sustainably block infection, and that “people will actually go and get the vaccine,” says Deshira Wallace, a public-health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As fall looms, the U.S. is now poised to expose the fatal paradox in its vaccine-only plan. At a time when the country is more reliant than ever on the power of inoculation, we’re also doing less than ever to set the shots up for success.

14) I’ve long been fascinated by the ongoing technological warfare between car manufacturers and car thieves.  This, from Planet Money was the most enlightening thing I’ve ever read on it:

15) Lots and lots of people shared this article with me, “Pickleball, Sport of the Future Injury? It’s all fun and games till you strain your Achilles’ tendon, herniate a disc or do a face-plant in the Kitchen.”

16) This is wild… you will metabolize a pill much faster if you take it and lie on your right side than on your left.  Asymmetry, baby! 

17) Another really good post from Noah Smith, “The Elite Overproduction Hypothesis: Did America produce too many frustrated college graduates in the 2000s and 2010s?”

Ben Schmidt has many more interesting data points in his Twitter thread. To me the most striking was that there are now almost as many people majoring in computer science as in all of the humanities put together:

When you look at the data, it becomes very apparent why the shift is happening. College kids increasingly want majors that will lead them directly to secure and/or high-paying jobs. That’s why STEM and medical fields — and to a lesser degree, blue-collar job-focused fields like hospitality — have been on the rise.

But looking back at that big bump of humanities majors in the 2000s and early 2010s (the raw numbers are here), and thinking about the social unrest America has experienced over the last 8 years, makes me think about Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction. Basically, the idea here is that America produced a lot of highly educated people with great expectations for their place in American society, but that our economic and social system was unable to accommodate many of these expectations, causing them to turn to leftist politics and other disruptive actions out of frustration and disappointment.

18) I wrote a whole post on this a long time ago, but, short version, this research shows why being a college professor is the best job in the world.

19) Democrats can only hope our current Lieutenant Governor is the Republican’s gubernatorial nominee in 2024:

Third graders who attend public school in North Carolina learn about the solar system and volcanoes in science class. Fourth graders study fossils.

Social studies at the second grade level teaches students about democracy. In fifth grade, students discuss rights that are protected under the U.S. Constitution.

But according to Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, kids shouldn’t be learning about any of that…

“In those grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies,” he writes. “We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.”

20) This is fun– “most regretted baby names

Inspired by Mississippi-based journalist Sarah Fowler’s brilliant Washington Post story on the folks who changed their baby’s first name — 30,000 in the past five years alone — we asked the Social Security Administration for a list of the most-changed names. They ran the numbers back to 2017.

Apparently, it’s hard to spell after you or your partner have just gone through labor: The two most-changed names are “Issac” and “Chole,” and the two most-adopted names, as you might expect…

Beyond egregious misspellings, the third most-changed and third most-adopted names show another common pattern: People tend to abandon names that are falling rapidly in the ranks of most popular baby names — such as Aiden — and to adopt names that are on the rise, such as Sebastian.

21) This is something else, “The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment.”  Also, a Fresh Air interview

22) OMG the Mensa people are pathetic, “My Week With America’s Smartest* People”

The truth was, I couldn’t quite articulate why I wouldn’t want to join. I certainly had a nice time at the convention. (“I’ve never seen you do this much reporting,” my fiancé said after I informed him I had to spend yet another day there.) The environment reminded me that I take pleasure in a lot of the same nerdy shit Mensans live for: logic games, trivia, and other sorts of puzzles. It was fun learning Set and later, competing in the Wordle tournament.

But I didn’t quite feel like I had found my people. I have never in my life struggled to find smart friends who get my jokes, and my intelligence (or, per my haters, my lack thereof) isn’t something that makes me feel alienated from my peers. It’s not to say that being brainy isn’t important to me — I’m glad I’m engaged to someone who I think is brilliant and likes to play all the stupid little games that I do — but high IQ is not in the top ten or 20 or 100 qualities I look for in a friend or community. I want to be around part of a group of people who are empathetic and funny and intellectually curious and have weird interests. A lot of people I met fit that bill. And I’m happy for all the Mensans who have found a home in their exclusive club and that their IQ has provided them with a way to understand themselves and their place in the world.

But if my time at the Mensa Annual Gathering taught me anything, it’s that being “smart” and doing well on tests have virtually nothing to do with each other.

22) Gallup, “Americans and the Future of Cigarettes, Marijuana, Alcohol”

Gallup has been asking Americans about their attitudes toward cigarettes and alcohol since the 1930s and 1940s, and, in more recent decades, has added similar questions about marijuana. One purpose of these continuing surveys is to update estimates of these substances’ frequency of use.

 

  • Alcohol is by far the most used of the three. About 45% of Americans have had an alcoholic drink within the past week, while another 23% say they use it occasionally. A third are “total abstainers.”

    Alcohol use has remained relatively constant over the years. The average percentage of Americans who have said they are drinkers since 1939 is 63%, quite close to Gallup’s most recent reading of 67%.

 

  • Some 16% of Americans say they currently smoke marijuana, while a total of 48% say they have tried it at some point in their lifetime.

    Marijuana use (based on self-reports) has increased dramatically over the past half-century. Only 4% said they had ever tried marijuana in 1969, when the question was first asked. That’s now 48%. Seven percent of Americans said they currently smoke marijuana in 2013, compared with the 16% measured this summer.

 

 

  • Cigarette smoking incidence has dropped steadily over the decades, from a high of 45% in the mid-1950s.

    Today, a new low of 11% of American adults report being smokers. Roughly three in 10 nonsmokers say they used to smoke.

In sum, American adults are significantly more likely to use alcohol than either marijuana or cigarettes. And while alcohol consumption has remained relatively constant over the decades, cigarette use is now less than a fourth of what it was in the 1950s. Americans’ regular use of marijuana is modestly higher than cigarettes at this point, but the trend over recent decades in marijuana use is upward…

Bottom Line

Americans recognize the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes, and smoking has declined significantly over the past half-century and can be expected to continue on this trajectory.

Americans are more ambivalent about the effects of smoking marijuana, and its future use by Americans will depend partly on changes in recognition of its potential harms and partly on the continuing shifts in its legality in states across the union.

The majority of Americans recognize that alcohol consumption has negative effects on both the user and society more generally. But unlike the case with smoking, there are no signs that these attitudes have resulted in a decrease in alcohol use. Why people use alcohol and have continued to use it while recognizing its downsides are complex questions that have engendered a great deal of medical and psychological research over the years. Clearly the social and personal benefits alcohol provides, along with its historical entrenchment in American culture, tend to outweigh consideration of its social and personal costs.

What could change the pattern of alcohol use going forward? Americans are not likely to support any type of ban on alcohol (a 2014 CNN poll showed only 18% of Americans said alcohol should be made illegal in this country), so if alcohol use diminishes in the future, it will most likely result from factors like those that reduced the incidence of smoking. These include an increased emphasis on its personal and social costs, along with, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such steps as increasing taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of places where alcohol is sold, and reducing the hours of sale and general availability of alcohol.

 

Quick hits (Part I)

1) I hate public (reply all) congratulatory emails.  Yes, congratulate somebody on a job well done, but do we all have to see it (thank goodness I discovered Gmail’s “mute” feature).  Anyway, loved this from deBoer, “Congratulations, Like Condolences, Should Be Private” (emphases in original)

I hate to borrow overused internet lingo, but nothing to me is as cringe as watching people in media tweet overwrought congratulations at each other over professional news. It’s nails-on-a-chalkboard stuff, and yet it’s like 12% of all tweets. “Big, big congrats to @SnarkDad420 on taking over as Vice Managing Copy Editor at Dipshit.com!” And the responses, if anything, are worse. “Thanks so much, @GhostOfTomChoad! Buy me a beer at Do or Dive, haha!” Kill me. Strike me dead. Flay my bones.

Here’s my little bit of advice for all of you: send neither public congratulations nor public condolences. Text, email, or (gasp) say it in person. If you don’t know the person well enough to contact them privately, you don’t know them well enough to congratulate or console them. Right? Answer this for me: if you don’t commend them or send them condolences after an event, will they notice? Will it hurt them? If yes, it matters enough to say in private, where it will always mean more. If no, then you don’t have anything to say at all. What are you accomplishing by sending congratulations to a stranger? And why should anyone not think that you’re doing it for self-interested reasons of social position and patronage?

2) I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… the coming political fights over medical abortions are going to be huge.  The Post, “Most abortions are done at home. Antiabortion groups are taking aim.”

Two top antiabortion groups have crafted and successfully lobbied for state legislation to ban or further restrictthe predominant way pregnancies are ended in the United States — viadrugs taken at home, often facilitated by a network of abortion rights groups.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 14states now ban or partially ban the use of those drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in more than half of all abortions.

But the drugs remain widely available, with multiple groups working to help provide them even to women in states with abortion bans. Students for Life of America and National Right to Life Committee, which have played leading roles in crafting antiabortion laws, hope to change that with newlegislation.

The groups are pursuing a variety of tactics, from bills that would ban the abortion-inducing drugs altogether to others that would allow family members to sue medication providers or attempt to shut down the nonprofit groups that help women obtain and safely use the drugs…

National Right to Life, meanwhile, released a “model law,” a week before the overturn of Roe v. Wade that seeks to outlaw a coalition of nonprofit groups that assist women with self-managed abortions. Last month, Republican lawmakers in South Carolina became the first to introduce the legislation.

The efforts illustrate how the antiabortion battlefront now reaches beyond traditional bills seeking criminal penalties for doctors who provide surgical abortions in hospitals or clinics, instead targeting organizations that assist women with mail-order abortion prescriptions and safety protocols for self-managed abortions.

3) A “good enough” life sounds plenty good to me.

In 1953, the british pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott began writing about the idea of “good-enough” parenting—a term he coined, and one he’s still famous for today. According to Winnicott, after infancy, babies do not need tirelessly responsive or self-sacrificing parents. In fact, he wrote, it is developmentally key for parents to lessen their “active adaptation” to their children’s needs over time. In doing so, they teach their kids to “account for failure” and “tolerate the results of frustration”—both necessary skills at a very young age, as anyone who’s watched a baby learn to crawl knows.

In his recent book The Good-Enough Life, the scholar and writing lecturer Avram Alpert radically broadens Winnicott’s idea of good-enoughness, transforming it into a sweeping ideology. Alpert sees good-enoughness as a necessary alternative to “greatness thinking,” or the twin beliefs that everybody has the right to embark on “personal quests for greatness” and that the great few can uplift the mediocre many. Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capital is an example of greatness thinking; so is its latter-day analogue, trickle-down economics. So are many forms of ambition: wanting to win the National Book Award, to start a revolution that turns your divided and unequal country into a Marxist utopia, or to make a sex tape that catapults you to global fame.

Alpert does not ask his readers to abandon their goals completely, but he does ask us to acknowledge the unlikelihood of becoming the next Kim Kardashian or creating a workers’ paradise. He also argues that clinging too tightly to such dreams, at the expense of smaller or partial ones, sets us up for both practical and moral failure: To him, it’s selfish, especially on the political level, to strive exclusively for changes so large that they may be unattainable. Rather than aim for greatness, then, Alpert asks us to accept that frustration and limitation are inescapable—and sometimes beneficial or beautiful—parts of human life…

Many of alpert’s ideas about good-enough selves and good-enough relationships ask only that his readers be more patient and less selfish. Greatness thinking, he argues, teaches us to defend our own ideas, time, and convenience above all else; it suggests that anyone who wishes to excel must hoard their time and energy, ignoring all the little tasks, negotiations, and compromises that make up so much of daily life. (The writer Vladimir Nabokov, supposedly, didn’t even lick his own stamps.) On an interpersonal level, greatness thinking suggests that discord and friction are, like licking your own stamps and running your own errands, needless time sucks—or, worse, signs that a relationship is on the rocks. A great friendship, according to this line of thought, is one of unbroken companionship and total harmony, a lifelong version of Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana at their most intertwined. But even on Broad City, a show utterly devoted to the joys of friendship, Abbi and Ilana are at odds, if only briefly, on nearly every episode. Alpert would say that this is as it should be. Disagreement and compromise are crucial parts of friendship. They teach us openness, acceptance, and resilience. If we let them, they make us more whole.

4) Jamelle Bouie is right, “The Idea That Letting Trump Walk Will Heal America Is Ridiculous”

The main argument against prosecuting Donald Trump — or investigating him with an eye toward criminal prosecution — is that it will worsen an already volatile fracture in American society between Republicans and Democrats. If, before an indictment, we could contain the forces of political chaos and social dissolution, the argument goes, then in the aftermath of such a move, we would be at their mercy. American democracy might not survive the stress.

All of this might sound persuasive to a certain, risk-averse cast of mind. But it rests on two assumptions that can’t support the weight that’s been put on them.

The first is the idea that American politics has, with Trump’s departure from the White House, returned to a kind of normalcy. Under this view, a prosecution would be an extreme and irrevocable blow to social peace. But the absence of open conflict is not the same as peace. Voters may have put a relic of the 1990s into the Oval Office, but the status quo of American politics is far from where it was before Trump.

The most important of our new realities is the fact that much of the Republican Party has turned itself against electoral democracy. The Republican nominee for governor in Arizona — Kari Lake — is a 2020 presidential election denier. So, too, are the Republican nominees in Arizona for secretary of state, state attorney general and U.S. Senate. In Pennsylvania, Republican voters overwhelmingly chose the pro-insurrection Doug Mastriano to lead their party’s ticket in November. Overall, Republican voters have nominated election deniers in dozens of races across six swing states, including candidates for top offices in Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin…

All of this is to say that we are already in a place where a substantial portion of the country (although much less than half) has aligned itself against the basic principles of American democracy in favor of Trump. And these 2020 deniers aren’t sitting still, either; as these election results show, they are actively working to undermine democracy for the next time Trump is on the ballot.

This fact, alone, makes a mockery of the idea that the ultimate remedy for Trump is to beat him at the ballot box a second time, as if the same supporters who rejected the last election will change course in the face of another defeat. It also makes clear the other weight-bearing problem with the argument against holding Trump accountable, which is that it treats inaction as an apolitical and stability-enhancing move — something that preserves the status quo as opposed to action, which upends it.

5) My daughter wants a pet snake.  Not happening.  But she’d approve of this, “How Facebook Is Saving Snakes: Snake-identification groups on social media are turning serpent haters into appreciators”

What force could drive such a dramatic shift in perspective? Baker credits, of all things, a Facebook group, one whose mission it is to educate members about snakes. Although the social media giant has a bad reputation for doing everything wrong in public health and politics, it turns out to be a powerful tool for saving snake lives. It’s not just Facebook. Wildlife enthusiasts are co-opting various social media platforms to build communities that promote accurate snake information and slay viral myths. Through these efforts they are converting even the most committed snake haters into ardent snake appreciators whose newfound regard for these misunderstood creatures often spreads to family, friends and neighbors. One by one, the snakes are living to slither another day…

Whereas other social media ID groups encompass huge areas, from entire continents to the entire planet, Pyle went local, focusing on the snakes he’s most familiar with. That way, he reasoned, “I can actually help if someone has a snake in their backyard.” He hoped his regional approach would serve as a template for other local efforts.

Today Pyle’s group has more than 176,000 members eagerly exchanging information about the region’s venomous rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and coral snakes, as well as its nonvenomous rat snakes and water snakes, among other harmless species. “This group has been the first time in my life that I think I’m making a real difference,” he says. Other regional groups that have formed include a statewide Texas ID and Central Texas Snake ID, which has more than 43,000 members and is run by a snake-relocation service near San Antonio. Facebook features dozens of other groups, too, mostly in the southern and southwestern states where most snakes live, covering regions as niche as Southside Atlanta.

The premise of the groups is simple. A member uploads an image of a snake they want identified, and within minutes an expert administrator responds. One unbreakable rule of the pages is that users have to keep their guesses to themselves. Only IDs made with certainty are allowed. For Pyle, this rule is so crucial that he once muted his own daughter for guessing. It can be a matter of safety, especially if someone says a snake is nonvenomous when it isn’t.

6) Derek Thompson, “There Is No National Teacher Shortage: The narrative doesn’t match the numbers.”

For several weeks, I watched this Great American Teacher Shortage narrative bloom across the media landscape. Because of my reporting for my abundance-agenda series, I was predisposed to believe it was real. The U.S. is rife with shortages, including of infant formula and monkeypox vaccines. But I was also skeptical, because so many public-education controversies—see: the debates over remote schooling, the proper way to teach American history, and controversial laws regarding how teachers can discuss sex ed—are plastered with ideology.

When I spoke with education researchers and writers to figure out what was really going on, a more complex narrative emerged. In parts of the country, schools are struggling to hire staff. But they are mostly the same districts that have been struggling for years to fill the same positions, such as substitute and special-ed roles. In the big picture, the new and catastrophic national teacher shortage is neither newly catastrophic nor, in any meaningful sense, national. Under one interpretation of the murky data, the country might even have a teacher surplus on its hands, because so many parents have pulled their children out of public schools since the pandemic began…

American teachers and American schools absolutely do have real problems that deserve our attention.

Teacher vacancies exist, and they are concentrated in specific states, districts, and positions. Many rural areas and the Deep South are experiencing shortages. Some high-poverty districts have struggled for decades to hire enough teachers. High teacher turnover is especially a problem in child care and special education. A recent study in Louisiana found that one-third of the state’s child-care centers lose more than half of their teachers every year. A 2022 government survey found that the vacancy rate for special-ed teachers is more than four times higher than that for physical-education instructors.

Exhausted, underpaid, and stressed out, America’s teachers seem to be in a state of psychological and financial crisis. By some estimates, public-school teachers are the most “burned out” workers in America. The pandemic made things worse; some surveys show a big increase in the share of teachers who say they want to quit. Indeed, managing an elementary-school classroom via Zoom five days a week sounds to me like one of the lower rings of hell.

So, if the question is whether some districts are struggling to hire enough teachers, or whether some specific occupations have shortages, or even whether many teachers are feeling crummy about their work, the answer is clearly yes. These things are all happening. But most of these things have been happening for a long time.

“There has not been a mass exodus of teachers across the country,” Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, told me. Chad Aldeman, who writes about education finance at Edunomics Lab, agrees. “The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” he told me.

7) Jonathan Weiler with an excellent post on the value and limits of the “polarization” frame:

This Tweet, from Jeff Jarvis, a professor in CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism, has been making the rounds, as you can see.

Some thoughts….

Obviously, I’ve had some professional and, therefore, personal investment in the significance of the polarization frame. The books I’ve co-written on the subject document how the nature of America’s political divisions has changed over time, and argue that the changing nature of those divisions is highly consequential. One key facet of the argument is that a politics primarily anchored in deep-seated psychological and personality differences is a recipe for sustained, irreconcilable conflict. These deep-seated differences aren’t politically consequential in and of themselves, at least not according to our understanding. They become consequential when they map onto partisan conflict. That is, when people with basically different worldviews start sorting themselves out into two distinct partisan political camps, those different worldviews become the basic fault line of our politics. Once that happens, the stage is set for especially acrimonious and potentially violent politics. Others have built on that framework to argue such conditions have made the emergence of a Trump-like figure more likely, which reinforces and deepens the dangers of the politics we tried to map.

At a time of deepening polarization in the United States, the fallout in The Village points to troubling consequences on the cul-de-sac level: Not even old friends are immune to the forces pitting us against each other.

Polls reveal perceptions of major events — the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, the protests ignited by the death of George Floyd — vary widely along partisan lines. Less explored is the impact in our own backyards, the strains on bonds that are supposed to trump politics.

This is the kind of frame Jarvis is talking about. Much of the American right is becoming increasingly extreme, violent and enamored of political leaders who aren’t even making a pretense anymore of respecting such bedrocks of democracy as election outcomes that they don’t like. In the Graham story, it’s hard to fathom what context or insight readers gain from what feels almost like a polarization disclaimer. One of our two major parties is traveling far down the road of authoritarianism and is inspiring, all over the country, the kind of atmosphere that led to Graham’s resignation. Polarization, in the basic sense of describing a phenomenon in which two objects increasingly gravitate toward poles, is not what is at play here. Instead, one object, the Republican Party, is becoming increasingly and dangerously extreme in a way that simply does not characterize the other party.

I can’t believe I am about to do this, but here’s Bill Kristol (!!!!)1, explaining the differences in a Tweet this weekend:

8) This is cool, The Athletic with a way to think about elite soccer players through 18 different playing style categories. 

9) I know I shouldn’t waste quick hits on stuff I don’t like, but sometimes it amazes me what the NYT Op-Ed page lets get through.  Most of the commentators properly ripped this to shreds.  “Maternal Instinct Is a Myth That Men Created”  I mean, of course there’s some reality to that claim, so why completely undermine yourself by arguing with strawman after strawman.  

10) This is very fun from Randall Munroe (with good visuals, so gift link), “Shark or Orca: Which Should You Fear More?”

11) Nice NCSU news release, “Study of Ancient Skulls Sheds Light on Human Interbreeding With Neandertals

Research has established that there are traces of Neandertal DNA in the genome of modern humans. Now an exploratory study that assessed the facial structure of prehistoric skulls is offering new insights, and supports the hypothesis that much of this interbreeding took place in the Near East – the region ranging from North Africa to Iraq.

“Ancient DNA caused a revolution in how we think about human evolution,” says Steven Churchill, co-author of the study and a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “We often think of evolution as branches on a tree, and researchers have spent a lot of time trying to trace back the path that led to us, Homo sapiens. But we’re now beginning to understand that it isn’t a tree – it’s more like a series of streams that converge and diverge at multiple points.”

“Our work here gives us a deeper understanding of where those streams came together,” says Ann Ross, corresponding author of the study and a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University.

“The picture is really complicated,” Churchill says. “We know there was interbreeding. Modern Asian populations seem to have more Neandertal DNA than modern European populations, which is weird – because Neandertals lived in what is now Europe. That has suggested that Neandertals interbred with what are now modern humans as our prehistoric ancestors left Africa, but before spreading to Asia. Our goal with this study was to see what additional light we could shed on this by assessing the facial structure of prehistoric humans and Neandertals.”

“By evaluating facial morphology, we can trace how populations moved and interacted over time,” Ross explains. “And the evidence shows us that the Near East was an important crossroads, both geographically and in the context of human evolution.”

For this study, the researchers collected data on craniofacial morphology from the published literature. This ultimately resulted in a data set including 13 Neandertals, 233 prehistoric Homo sapiens, and 83 modern humans.

 

I need more poor friends

This was two weeks ago, but in case you didn’t see it, super-important research coming out from Raj Chetty on social mobility.  The fascinating key insight– wealthier friends are a key engine of social mobility for poor Americans.  Nice summary in the Upshot (great graphics, too, you really should check it out, so… gift link)

Over the last four decades, the financial circumstances into which children have been born have increasingly determined where they have ended up as adults. But an expansive new study, based on billions of social media connections, has uncovered a powerful exception to that pattern that helps explain why certain places offer a path out of poverty.

For poor children, living in an area where people have more friendships that cut across class lines significantly increases how much they earn in adulthood, the new research found.

The study, published Monday in Nature, analyzed the Facebook friendships of 72 million people, amounting to 84 percent of U.S. adults aged 25 to 44.

Previously, it was clear that some neighborhoods were much better than others at removing barriers to climbing the income ladder, but it wasn’t clear why. The new analysis — the biggest of its kind — found the degree to which the rich and poor were connected explained why a neighborhood’s children did better later in life, more than any other factor.

The effect was profound. The study found that if poor children grew up in neighborhoods where 70 percent of their friends were wealthy — the typical rate of friendship for higher-income children — it would increase their future incomes by 20 percent, on average.

These cross-class friendships — what the researchers called economic connectedness — had a stronger impact than school quality, family structure, job availability or a community’s racial composition. The people you know, the study suggests, open up opportunities, and the growing class divide in the United States closes them off.

Also, David Brooks spoke with Chetty and has some nice thoughts on it all and the power of friendship, in general:

When I spoke with Chetty last week about the study, I asked him: What is it exactly about these friendships that is so powerful?

He said the data doesn’t enable us to answer that question. But we can easily speculate that some of it must be informational. Kids whose parents have already been to college can tell their poorer friends how to play the college admissions game, where to sign up for the SATs and so on. A lot of it, too, must be connections. Affluent people can connect you to the right people to help you get a plum job or into the best schools.

But there’s got to be more to it than that. Chetty mentioned there’s a dosage effect. Kids who move into these economically diverse neighborhoods at age 2 tend to do better than those who move in at 14. Nobody is thinking about SATs or job openings at 2.

I would point to the transformational power of friendship itself. That’s because your friends are not just by your side; they get inside you. If you want to help people change, help them change their friendships.

We already know from the work by Yale’s Nicholas Christakis and others that behavior change happens in friend networks. If people in your friend network quit smoking, then you’re more likely to quit smoking. If your friend gains weight, you are more likely to gain weight. Heck, if one of your friend’s friends — who lives far away and whom you have never met — gains weight, then you’re more likely to gain weight, too…

Our friends shape what we see as normal. If our friends decide that being 15 pounds heavier is normal and acceptable, then we’ll probably regard being 15 pounds heavier as normal, too.

This is the key point. Your friends strongly influence how you perceive reality. First, they strongly influence how you see yourself. It’s very hard to measure your own worth, your own competence, unless people you admire and respect see you as worthy, see you as competent. Plus, if your friends say, “We’re all smart, talented people,” you’ll begin to see yourself that way, too.

Second, your friends shape how you see the world. A few decades ago, a theorist named James J. Gibson pioneered the theory of “affordances.” The basic idea is that what you see in a situation is shaped by what you are capable of doing in a situation. Dennis Proffitt of the University of Virginia has demonstrated this theory in a bunch of ways: People who are less physically fit perceive hills to be steeper than people who are fit, because they find it harder to walk up them. People carrying heavy backpacks perceive steeper hills than people without them.

The phenomenon works socioeconomically, too. Kids who grew up with college-educated parents walk onto the Princeton campus and see a different campus than kids who have never been around a college at all. Without even thinking about it, more-affluent kids might communicate to their less-affluent friends ways of seeing that make such places look less alien, less imposing, more accessible.

Anyway, it was interesting to think of my own life in reference to all of this.  Honestly, virtually all my friends are college-professors or highly-successful, educated professionals.  I don’t have any friends that are truly economically struggling.  I can think of one friend who’s not a college graduate, but he, unsurprisingly, lives in my middle-class neighborhood, and has a successful flooring business. 

And, realistically, the title of this post aside, I’m unlike to add less-educated, financially struggling friends in the future.  The hope, though, is that, overall, my neighborhood really is quite socio-economically and racially diverse (here’s the demographics for the elementary my kids all attended) and that means that my kids are those wealthier friends that help serve as engines of social mobility.  

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Good stuff on “Stop the Steal”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8) Big if true:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12) Greenhouse on Alito:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

— Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump is the GOP’s biggest candidate quality problem

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

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

  • Donald Trump personally intervened to help the candidate win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dog that caught the car

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans are not generally like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The more conservative takes:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I really expect more out of a story of a professor denied tenure at Harvard from the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  The default is not to get tenure at Harvard.  It’s ridiculously difficult.  The fact that you do a lot of service and your students love you is not enough– sorry.  And being a Black Latina scholar doesn’t change that. 

Two and a half years ago, many professors wondered just how broken the tenure system must be if Lorgia García Peña wasn’t considered worthy.

García Peña, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a child, was the only Black Latina scholar on the tenure track in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, or FAS. In 2019 her department committee unanimously recommended her for tenure, and the FAS-level appointments and promotions committee endorsed that decision. But once her case reached the administration, she was denied.

That move sparked outrage, with thousands of students and faculty members across the country signing letters to Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow. On campus, Harvard students held rallies to support her.

According to an article published last year in The New Yorker, some Harvard professors saw García Peña’s work as activism and not scholarship — a common challenge, according to ethnic-studies scholars. At one point, her assigned mentor suggested she withdraw an already-submitted manuscript and change the direction of her research, The New Yorker reported. But most of the tenure process went smoothly, and many students sang her praises.

After García Peña’s tenure denial, she filed a grievance. A panel of professors alleged that she’d faced discrimination and recommended that Harvard’s administration review the decision, according to The New Yorker, but that didn’t happen. A spokesperson for Harvard told The Chronicle this week that the university doesn’t comment on tenure cases. The dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences did agree to a review of the tenure process, and changes to increase transparency and reduce bias are being made now

You said you weren’t prepared for the silence of your colleagues after your tenure denial. What do you think was driving that?

Complicity. They didn’t feel responsible, if they weren’t the ones denying me tenure. But in structures of exclusion, people who are benefiting from the systems have to think about their role in it. How is it that you are able to obtain tenure and I’m not?

You never questioned the inequalities. You never questioned the fact that someone else is doing stuff that you don’t have to do. I was an affiliated faculty to five different units at Harvard, and I was in two departments, and I had 24 graduate students. The amount of labor that I was doing was much more than the average faculty member.

When you are someone who is benefiting from my labor directly, and you’re not questioning what your role is in that, and you’re silent after an injustice, you’re part of the problem. That’s always heartbreaking for me, because the only way that we can have actual change is if everyone recognizes their role, as small as it can be, in creating the problem, or at least in sustaining it…

[Also, apparently we’re all just a bunch or racists, sexists, etc., and only ethnic studies can change that]

Why do so many institutions, as you see it, not commit to ethnic studies?

Oh, that’s a very easy answer. The goal of ethnic studies is basically to dismantle and abolish the university as it is. We have all of these conversations about curriculum and hiring and retention and diversifying the faculty. But people still want to do things the way that they’re used to doing. And the way that we’re used to doing academia is Eurocentric, it’s anti-Black, it’s colonial, it’s misogynist, and it’s elitist, and it needs to change. Otherwise, we’re doomed. Ethnic studies is coming to save academia, if universities allow it.

People in higher ed talk about how “we are committed to becoming an antiracist institution.” What you’re saying is, They say that, and then …

It’s lip service. I call bullshit. So we have the murder of George Floyd. We have, the next day, all of these universities issuing statements about their support for Black faculty, including Harvard, at the same time that they’re firing me — the only Black Latina on the faculty. Their commitment to race and equity does not go beyond writing documents that nobody reads.

2) Brownstein, “Democrats Might Avoid a Midterm Wipeout: White-collar suburban voters will play an outsize role in upcoming elections.”

Polls indicate that many college-educated center-right voters have soured on the performance of Biden and the Democrats controlling both congressional chambers. Yet in Tudor Dixon, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in Michigan, and Blake Masters, the party’s Senate selection in Arizona, Republicans have chosen nominees suited less to recapturing socially moderate white-collar voters than to energizing Trump’s working-class and nonurban base through culture-war appeals like support of near-total abortion bans. With Trump-backed Kari Lake moving into the lead as counting continues in the Arizona Republican gubernatorial primary, the top GOP nominees both there and in Michigan will likely be composed entirely of candidates who embrace Trump’s lie that he won their state in 2020…

The more realistic route for Democrats in key races may be to defend, as much as possible, the inroads they made into the white-collar suburbs of virtually every major metropolitan area during the past three elections. Although, compared with 2020, the party will likely lose ground with all groups, Democrats are positioned to hold much more of their previous support among college-educated than noncollege voters, according to Ethan Winter, a Democratic pollster…

This strength among college-educated voters may be worth slightly more for Democrats in the midterms than in a general election. Voters without a degree cast a majority of ballots in both types of contests. But calculations by Catalist, a Democratic-voter-targeting firm, and Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who specializes in voter turnout, have found that voters with a college degree consistently make up about three to four percentage points more of the electorate in a midterm than in a presidential election. “When we see lower turnout elections,” like a midterm, “the gap between high-education and low-education voters increases,” McDonald told me. In close races, that gap could place a thumb on the scale for Democrats, partially offsetting the tendency of decreased turnout from younger and nonwhite voters in midterm elections…

Republican candidates this year have ceded virtually no ground to the pro-abortion-rights or pro-gun-control sentiments in those suburban areas. With the national protection for abortion revoked by the Supreme Court, almost all Republican-controlled states are on track to ban or restrict the practice. In swing states that have not yet done so, GOP gubernatorial candidates are promising to pursue tight limits. Dixon, the GOP’s Michigan nominee, said recently that she would push for an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother (while she would allow them only in cases that threaten the mother’s life). Asked during a recent interview about a hypothetical case of a 14-year-old who had been impregnated by an uncle, Dixon explicitly said the teenager should carry the baby to term because “a life is a life for me.”

3) David Hopkins on lessons from Kansas:

2. Neither party fully represents this view, but the Dobbs decision has abruptly shifted the terms of political debate from whether abortions should be made modestly harder to get (a somewhat popular position) to whether they should be banned almost entirely (much less popular). This puts Republicans in a riskier position than they were in before Dobbs.

3. Republicans could partially mitigate this risk by moderating their abortion positions. But the trend within the party has instead moved toward greater ideological purity. Not only are there fewer pro-choice Republican candidates than there used to be, but a growing number of pro-life Republicans now oppose carving out exceptions to legal prohibition (e.g. to protect the woman’s health) that were once considered standard doctrine within the party.

4. The abortion issue will almost certainly work to the net advantage of Democratic candidates this fall compared to an alternative timeline in which the Dobbs ruling did not occur. Dobbs forces Republicans to defend a less popular position than before, and it also provides an extra motivator for Democrats to turn out in a midterm election when they otherwise might have felt some ambivalence. How much of an advantage, however, is unclear; odds are still against it having a transformative effect on the overall outcome.

5. The overturning of Roe alsomakes abortion a much bigger issue in state and local politics than it ever was before. We will now start to find out what the effects of this change will be. They, too, are difficult to predict with confidence.

6. By increasing the electoral salience of abortion, an issue on which higher levels of education are associated with more liberal viewsDobbs will probably work to further increase the growing “diploma divide” separating Dem-trending college graduates from GOP-trending non-college whites. The best-educated county in Kansas is Johnson County (suburban Kansas City), where 56 percent of adults hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Johnson County voted for George W. Bush in 2004 by 23 points, for John McCain in 2008 by 9 points, and for Mitt Romney in 2012 by 17 points, but was carried by Joe Biden in 2020 with an 8-point margin over Donald Trump. It voted against the pro-life referendum on Tuesday by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent.

4) I will take this under advisement, “Just 2 Minutes of Walking After a Meal Is Surprisingly Good for You: A new paper suggests that it takes far less exercise than was previously thought to lower blood sugar after eating.”

Walking after a meal, conventional wisdom says, helps clear your mind and aids in digestion. Scientists have also found that going for a 15-minute walk after a meal can reduce blood sugar levels, which can help ward off complications such as Type 2 diabetes. But, as it turns out, even just a few minutes of walking can activate these benefits.

In a meta-analysis, recently published in the journalSports Medicine, researchers looked at the results of seven studies that compared the effects of sitting versus standing or walking on measures of heart health, including insulin and blood sugar levels. They found that light walking after a meal, in increments of as little as two to five minutes, had a significant impact in moderating blood sugar levels…

All seven studies showed that just a few minutes of light-intensity walking after a meal were enough to significantly improve blood sugar levels compared to, say, sitting at a desk or plopping down on the couch. When participants went for a short walk, their blood sugar levels rose and fell more gradually.

5) Everybody complains about the awful taste of the colonoscopy prep medication.  Not me– I got the new tasteless tablets to swallow, “At last, an easier way to prepare for a colonoscopy: The prep remains perhaps the biggest impediment to screening. That’s why the approval last year of a pill-based option is welcome news.”

6) This is cool.  I’ve not given up on small, modular nuclear powering our future, “US regulators will certify first small nuclear reactor design”

Small modular reactors have been promoted as avoiding many of the problems that have made large nuclear plants exceedingly expensive to build. They’re small enough that they can be assembled on a factory floor and then shipped to the site where they will operate, eliminating many of the challenges of custom on-site construction. In addition, they’re structured in a way to allow passive safety, where no operator actions are necessary to shut the reactor down if problems occur.

Many of the small modular designs involve different technology from traditional reactors, such as the use of molten uranium salts as the reactor fuel. NuScale has a much more traditional design, with fuel and control rods and energy transported through boiling water. Its operator-free safety features include setting the entire reactor in a large pool of water, control rods that are inserted into the reactor by gravity in the case of a power cut, and convection-driven cooling from an external water source.

7) I’m here all day for Yglesias taking on bad public health messaging and planning.  Monkey Pox edition:

As a bystander, one of the most disturbing aspects of this has been watching officialdom flail around on the issue of the relationship between monkeypox and men having sex with men.

The actual facts here do not appear to be particularly complicated or in dispute:

  1. There is nothing “gay” about the virus; experiencing same-sex attraction does not make you uniquely vulnerable to infection, nor does having sex with women offer any guarantee of protection.

  2. The virus spreads primarily through close physical contact, most of all direct skin-to-skin contact with someone else’s sores, but most people simply don’t touch very many other people in that way.

  3. The vast majority of the currently infected people are men who have sex with men. Because men are more sexually promiscuous on average than women, the gay social scene lends itself to a relatively rapid dissemination of sexually transmitted diseases.

  4. Because the virus can spread non-sexually and because some men who have sex with men also have sex with women, if enough gay men are infected, the virus will almost certainly spread to many women and straight men as well.

This is essentially the scenario the world went through with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s — a virus that is disproportionately a concern for gay men but certainly not one to which straight people are invulnerable or that is caused by being gay. Threading that needle seemed challenging, message-wise, in an era of relatively high homophobia, but a plain discussion of the facts should be much easier in the 2020s when there is a lot less stigma around homosexuality.

Instead, as Jerusalem Demsas recounts, the messaging has gotten tangled in a vortex of leftist thought about when it is and isn’t appropriate to draw attention to the fact that a problem disproportionately impacts a vulnerable minority group.

I tend to think the holdup here is solution aversion. A realistic late-May assessment of the situation carried the implication that public health types should have urged gay men to hold off on a summer of fun until vaccine supplies were ample. Indeed, given the very recent context of mandatory non-pharmaceutical interventions to curb SARS-CoV-2, you might have seen some suggestions that we ought to ban certain kinds of big parties. It’s a little strange that people who were relatively gung-ho about shutting down schools and bars and restaurants might shy away from that solution. But the gay angle raises the specter of discrimination and stigmatization, so instead many officials opted for obfuscation and a lack of clarity.

Meanwhile, unlike with Covid-19, we actually had the basic science of an effective monkeypox vaccine ahead of the outbreak — yet this has done us remarkably little good…

But most of all, the world invented a better vaccine and then just utterly failed to spend money on manufacturing and using the vaccine when it would have been timely. And this speaks to the fundamental political difficulty of pandemic prevention. The most egregious failure here was really by the Trump administration, which was in office at the time JYNNEOS was licensed and should have immediately mobilized to put it into the field. But at the time, nobody in the United States cared about this, and by the time it became a problem, it was Joe Biden’s problem. And then Team Biden itself was too slow for the exact same reason. The best time to act on building stockpiles and developing logistical plans is before anyone cares. We seem to be fortunate that this monkeypox outbreak is not that lethal. It’s important to understand, though, that this is somewhat surprising — based on previously available information, we would have expected to see more people die. There’s no good excuse for this level of lethargy…

there are some much more fundamental issues in play here.

One is that we are much too tightfisted with spending on this kind of thing. I sort of get why rich countries weren’t that interested in massively scaling-up JYNNEOS manufacturing back in 2019. The odds of an Orthopoxvirus outbreak occurring in any given year were low, so a slow and steady approach to production would probably let everyone get adequate stockpiles before it was needed. A big rush to increase production would have required large expenditures that would probably look unnecessary ex-post. But at the end of the day, the cost of “wasting” money on overproduction of useful vaccines and therapeutics is tiny compared to the cost of letting new pathogens become endemic.

The other is that ignoring public health problems in Africa is really short-sighted and bad. Even if monkeypox itself isn’t a particularly compelling African public health cause, in a purely self-interested sense we ought to be much more on the ball about dealing with emerging pathogens in the places where they emerge.

Last but not least, it seems to me that the public health community has a very harmful bias against voluntary action. We’ve let 100 million ACAM 2000 doses go unused because the risk profile of the vaccine is poorly suited to a mass vaccination campaign. That’s fine as far as it goes. But why not let the providers who want to administer it provide it to the patients who want to take it rather than waiting around for JYNNEOS? …

Would any of this have fixed the problem? Probably not. I think monkeypox is fundamentally just not scary enough to spur dramatic changes in behavior. But the nonchalance of the official response and the over-emphasis on telling people not to panic represents a real problem. We need to invest much more money in pandemic prevention, but also find a way to reform these institutions away from their inaction bias and hostility to simple provision of information and voluntary action. We actually should be panicking about the poor state of our preparedness and public health defenses.

8) Noah Smith with some very good myth debunking on public education, “The U.S. education system gets decent value for money”

But there’s a persistent belief among some Americans that our education system is low-quality. A lot of people seem to think that the U.S. spends a ton of money on public education and gets very little value in return. This belief is especially popular among conservatives, who tend to frown on public education as an institution…

But this common belief is wrong. The U.S. education system could use a lot of improvement, but as things stand it’s pretty decent. There are three basic facts that, taken together, demonstrate that we get pretty good value for our money:

  1. Our education system produces generally above-average results.

  2. Our education system doesn’t really cost a lot.

  3. Spending more on public schools pretty reliably improves outcomes.

Let’s go through the evidence for each of these facts…

U.S. education isn’t very expensive

 

Education quality is just one half of the cost-benefit calculation. A lot of people believe that the U.S. pours ridiculous amounts of money into K-12 education compared to other countries, but this just isn’t true. Looking at absolute spending on primary and secondary education (K-12), we see that while the U.S. spends a bit more than other rich countries, the numbers are actually quite similar:

Source: OECD

We spend about $13,000 per student (at purchasing power parity), while the average is around $10,000. Not a huge difference…

In other words, the best available data indicates that when the U.S. spends more money on public schools, academic performance improves. That implies that the money we’re already spending isn’t going to waste, on average.

So let’s review the facts here. The U.S. spends an average percent of its income on public school, and achieves above-average results. And when we force ourselves to spend more, student achievement tends to improve. That strongly suggests that the U.S. is getting good bang for its buck in terms of public education.

9) Meanwhile, deBoer, “Education Doesn’t Work 2.0: a comprehensive argument that education cannot close academic gap”

The brute reality is that most kids slot themselves into academic ability bands early in life and stay there throughout schooling. We have a certain natural level of performance, gravitate towards it early on, and are likely to remain in that band relative to peers until our education ends. There is some room for wiggle, and in large populations there are always outliers. But in thousands of years of education humanity has discovered no replicable and reliable means of taking kids from one educational percentile and raising them up into another. Mobility of individual students in quantitative academic metrics relative to their peers over time is far lower than popularly believed. The children identified as the smart kids early in elementary school will, with surprising regularity, maintain that position throughout schooling. Do some kids transcend (or fall from) their early positions? Sure. But the system as a whole is quite static. Most everybody stays in about the same place relative to peers over academic careers. The consequences of this are immense, as it is this relative position, not learning itself, which is rewarded economically and socially in our society.

10) So, so good from McSweeney’s, “I’m Stacy’s mom and here are all the things I’ve got goin’ on”

11) IRB’s are just the worst! And I’m here for anything making the case (this one under-reports just how bad they are).

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are ethics committees, ideally composed of scientific peers and lay community members, that review research before it can be conducted. Their ostensible purpose is to protect research subjects from research harms. But oftentimes, IRBs are costly, slow, and do more harm than good. They censor controversial research, invent harms where none exist, and by designating certain categories of subjects as “vulnerable,” cause a corresponding diminishment in research on those subjects. There is even a plausible legal argument that they violate researchers’ First Amendment rights. Because previous attempts to spur the responsible federal executive agencies into streamlining IRBs have been unsuccessful or only had limited success, a targeted legislative solution that does not depend on bureaucratic implementation is needed…

In response to highly publicized biomedical research scandals, most notably the Tuskegee Experiment, Congress passed the National Research Act of 1974. This created the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published the Belmont Report in 1976. As historian Zachary Schrag has amply documented in Ethical Imperialismthe commission was sorely lacking in social science expertise from the beginning. This was logical, since the most egregious research scandals, like the ones documented in this landmark 1966 Beecher article, were the work of biomedical researchers.2 

The federal government initially shied away from heavy-handed oversight of the social sciences, who had a powerful champion for academic freedom in Ithiel de Sola Pool. However, a gradual scope-creep, spearheaded by successive leadership of the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) in the Department of Health and Human Services, ensured that by the early 1990s practically all social science research involving human subjects had to undergo IRB review…

However unglamorous the origin of IRBs, the more damning fact is that IRBs are, mostly, a ham-fisted “solution” to a trumped-up problem. As Schneider argues at length in The Censor’s Hand:

[Being a subject] is not particularly hazardous…surveys both before and after the rise of the IRB system found few examples of serious risk3…people and institutions with incentives to discover and publicize risk locate little…studies repeatedly find that patients are not hurt and might be helped by being research subjects.

In the social sciences, the basis for IRB review is even weaker. Per Schrag’s Ethical Imperialism, Congress never intended to regulate social science. In fact, the studies cited as justification for research oversight in the Belmont Report are biomedical research. Decades later, in an interview with historian Zachary Schrag, two members (Jonsen and Beauchamp) of the original commission that wrote the report effectively admitted that the regulation of social science research by the same methods as biomedical research was a mistake.

As justification for their continued existence, IRBs have cited increasingly non-physical “harms” to subjects with little empirical support. For example, IRBs sometimes view speaking with trauma survivors about their trauma as a presumptively harmful act. This is likely incorrect, and avoiding those topics only delays squarely addressing them. A more concerning systemic problem with IRBs is their role as institutional censors. Some IRBs have explicitly stated that certain subjects, because of their controversy, face stricter scrutiny. IRBs also fear a media outcry, and limit local researchers as a result. Over several decades of social science research, it is not clear if any subject deaths have ever occurred as a result…

Some Reforms

 

The following are reforms that maintain IRBs in some form but fix their biggest problems. Ideally all of these reforms would be implemented, but each would be useful on its own. 

As professor Ryan Briggs has proposed, researchers who make small changes in a study protocol should be able to self-certify that their changes meet a de minimis standard, avoiding another round of IRB review and revision. Some IRBs only meet every few weeks or months, so an extra round of IRB review for small changes in a protocol means substantial delay, slowing scientific progress. If researchers abused this privilege and tried to smuggle in substantive changes to their protocol, they would forfeit this ability.

A similarly narrow reform is implementing an electronic checklist that would allow researchers to self-determine if their research was low-risk and did not require IRB review. A University of Chicago professor, Omri Ben-Shahar, has developed exactly such a tool, and OHRP has no objection, but clear federal guidance would assuage the worries of risk-averse university administrators, who often still require IRBs to approve exempted studies. If universities continued to delay the use of such a tool, Congress could make receipt of government funds conditional on developing and allowing such a tool. 

Holly Fernandez-Lynch, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that greater IRB transparency is sorely needed. In their current incarnation, IRB decisions are opaque to researchers and even other IRBs. In contrast to our legal system, which is built on precedent, every IRB decision is effectively made de-novo, which results in high heterogeneity between IRBs. Transparency would help every member of the research ecosystem: researchers would better understand which protocols would need modification, and IRBs would learn from each other’s best practices. Confidentiality would be reserved for commercially sensitive protocol sections and kept to a minimum.

12) Quidditch was a dumb enough sport in the Harry Potter books (seriously, one of the absolute weakest features of otherwise genius world-building), but it’s even dumber than muggles run around holding a broom between their legs.  Find other ways to love Harry Potter.  But, now that Rowling is gender-ideology persona non grata, the “sport” has been renamed “Quadball.” 

13) Some interesting social science:

Norton and Sommers (2011) assessed Black and White Americans’ perceptions of anti-Black and anti-White bias across the previous six decades—from the 1950s to the 2000s. They presented two key findings: White (but not Black) respondents perceived decreases in anti-Black bias to be associated with increases in anti-White bias, signaling the perception that racism is a zero-sum game; White respondents rated anti-White bias as more pronounced than anti-Black bias in the 2000s, signaling the perception that they were losing the zero-sum game. We collected new data to examine whether the key findings would be evident nearly a decade later, and whether political ideology would moderate perceptions. Liberal, moderate, and conservative White (but not Black) Americans alike believed that racism is a zero-sum game. Liberal White Americans saw racism as a zero-sum game they were winning by a lot, moderate White Americans saw it as a game they were winning by only a little, and conservative White Americans saw it as a game they were losing. This work has clear implications for public policy and behavioral science, and lays the groundwork for future research that examines to what extent racial differences in perceptions of racism by political ideology are changing over time.

14) Graeme Wood on al-Zawahiri:

Zawahiri’s replacement will be younger and more energetic than the old doctor. I wish that younger man a short and skittish life. But the truth is that Zawahiri’s killing probably will not have much effect on global terrorism, because the younger jihadist generation has already ceased to regard him as a leader, spiritual or otherwise. Zawahiri’s crowning achievement, the September 11 attacks, was ultimately a one-off, and its plotters spent most of the rest of their lives on the run, or bored senseless in Guantánamo Bay. The jihadist movement that achieved something new was the Islamic State—which ridiculed Zawahiri, called him a goofball and a geezer, and set out on a path of wanton destruction against his orders. It mocked him for his deference to the Taliban and for swearing allegiance to its founder, Mullah Omar, who turned out to have been dead for years. Many of the possible successors to Zawahiri have already split off into other jihadist groups, and have long been trying to bring about carnage and a terrestrial paradise without al-Qaeda’s consent. They certainly will not seek the consent of his successor.

More interesting, I suspect, will be the attitude of the Taliban. They thought they had a country of their own, and that they would be left alone to rebuild it. They want money, and they want food for their starving people. But their critics have said that they are little more than terrorists themselves, and that anyone who claims they have softened in the past 20 years has been taken in. The presence of Zawahiri in Kabul will be used as evidence that the Taliban deserve to be treated like terrorists in perpetuity. They could not resist turning their capital into an al-Qaeda clubhouse for even a few months. Unless it turns out that the Taliban ratted on Zawahiri themselves—I doubt it—his presence will instead make the group look incapable of change, and deserving of all the skepticism it got. And that will mean a long, hungry winter ahead for Afghanistan.

15) If you are flying you get a lot of value out of wearing your mask during boarding and unboarding:

Here’s the cheat code: Instead of masking up for your whole flight, just cover up at the start and end of it. Those crucial few minutes—first when you’re boarding the plane, and then after you’ve landed—account for only a sliver of your travel time, but they are by far the riskiest for breathing in viral particles.

Everyone already knows to switch off cellphone service when their flight is about to leave the gate, and then to turn it on the second they’ve landed. Something like the same principle could work for masking, too. Call it “airplane mode” for your face: Keep your mask in place until your plane is in the air, and then put it on again after you land. Otherwise, you’re free to breathe about the cabin…

That’s because planes are equipped with virus-zapping ventilation systems that put schools, restaurants, and other places to shame. About half of the stale, germ-laden air gets flushed out of the plane as the engines suck in more air from outside, and the other half gets recycled through HEPA filters. No other indoor spot that people typically frequent rivals that level of ventilation: In a home, the air gets refreshed every three hours. In a bank, it’s every 45 minutes. In a hospital operating room, it’s at least every five minutes. On airplanes, that cycle takes as little as two minutes.

But these primo ventilation systems aren’t always on, and they’re not always operating at full blast. To cut down on fuel costs and exhaust emissions—at least before the pandemic—pilots often shut off the ventilation system while planes are at the gate, Dan Freeman, a safety-management systems expert at Boeing, told me. A passenger can sometimes feel that difference in real time: Maybe it’s a bit hot and muggy when you first get on board; then the lights flicker for a second and you hear the engine come to life, followed by a rush of cool air from the AC vent above you. To make matters worse, passengers jam together in the aisles during the hot and muggy phase, huffing and puffing out aerosols as they strain to lift their bags into overhead bins…

So we shouldn’t think about airplane masking as an all-or-nothing binary, where you’re either sucking fabric for eight hours straight or giving up on masking altogether. Covering up for the minutes at the very start and very end of a flight makes a big, big difference. When the plane is stopped, definitely put that mask on; in the air, it’s okay to peel it off. “Wearing your mask during those critical periods is a way to drop the risk of flying,” Allen said, making it “lower than any other part of your trip.”

16) This story from Annie Lowry on her pregnancies is riveting and harrowing. And, related to abortion policy.  Just trust me and read it. So good. 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Ezra on the affordability crisis:

The numbers are startling. The median home price in 1950 was 2.2 times the average annual income; by 2020, it was six times average annual income. Child care costs grew by about 2,000 percent — yes, you read that right — between 1972 and 2007. Family premiums for employer-based health insurance jumped by 47 percent between 2011 and 2021, and deductibles and out-of-pocket costs shot up by almost 70 percent. The average price for brand-name drugs on Medicare Part D rose by 236 percent between 2009 and 2018. Between 1980 and 2018, the average cost of an undergraduate education rose by 169 percent. I could keep going.

We papered over the affordability crisis with low prices for consumer goods, soaring asset values that kept richer Americans happy, subsidies for some Americans at certain times and mountains of debt: housing debt and student-loan debt and medical debt that kept the working class semi-afloat. But none of this addressed the core problem. For far too long, the prices of the things we need most have been growing far faster than inflation.

And so a weird economy emerged, in which a secure, middle-class lifestyle receded for many, but the material trappings of middle-class success became affordable to most. In the 1960s, it was possible to attend a four-year college debt-free, but impossible to purchase a flat-screen television. By the 2020s, the reality was close to the reverse.,,

There’s a famous video where you’re told to keep your eye on a basketball being passed around and, as you do, you miss an actor in a gorilla suit ambling across the scene. But once you’ve seen the gorilla, you never miss it again. Politics works like that, too. It’s not just about the problems we have. It’s about the problems we learn to see. The prices problem has been lurking for years, but it’s never been the core of our politics. Now it is. It’s on gas station signs and at the supermarket. It’s in rental contracts and tuition checks. Even if headline inflation falls, I don’t think we’re going to unsee the high price of a middle-class life anytime soon. The political party that dominates this next era will be the one that shares the public’s fury and puts prices at the center of its agenda.

There are some early glimmers of what that might look like. The New Democrat Coalition, which is made up of 99 moderate-ish House Democrats, recently released a package of policy proposals meant to address inflation. But much of it is aimed at the affordability crisis that predates the rise in inflation. It includes legislation that would use federal transportation dollars to push cities and states to make it easier to build housing, that would ease worker shortages by raising legal immigration and that would cap insulin costs and allow Medicare to negotiate more drug prices.

If liberals look, they’ll find no end of ideas for bringing down prices across the economy. “I’ve been pulling my hair out about this stuff for years,” Dean Baker, one of the founders of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, told me. “We can’t just accept markets as structured and then use tax and subsidy policy to make it less bad. A real big problem with progressives is we treat the market problems as givens rather than restructure those markets.”

Baker’s long-running argument is that the division between market and government is now, and always has been, false. “The idea of a free market is nonsense,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of fun with libertarians who say they want the government out of markets. And I say, ‘Oh, you don’t want to have corporations anymore?’ Those are legal entities.”

2) Good stuff from Perry Bacon on media coverage of Biden:

Reporters tend to view their role as a check on politicians. This means presidents are always covered skeptically — but when one party dominates Washington, the political media often scrutinizes that party’s president even more. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump got very negative coverage at times when their parties also controlled Congress…

Also, the media’s “equally positive and negative to both sides” approach has been challenged by the increasingly radical and antidemocratic Republican Party. Honest coverage of political news often seems anti-GOP. The mainstream media covered Trump very harshly, particularly in the final months of his presidency as he worked to overturn election results. Some journalists, consciously or unconsciously, were poised to “balance” that negative Trump coverage with criticism of Biden, even if his actions weren’t nearly as deserving of condemnation. In the post-Trump era, leaders at CNN, the New York Times and other major outlets have emphasized that they don’t want to be perceived as more aligned with the Democrats….

Now, Biden is polling worse than Trump was in July 2020, when thousands of people were dying each week of covid, a situation much worse than the real and serious problem of high inflation in the Biden era. You can’t credibly argue that Trump, with his constant inflammatory statements and incompetent management, was a better president than Biden. These poll numbers reflect something gone wrong.

And in my view, media coverage is a big factor in those warped polling results. Media commitment to “equal” coverage of both parties has resulted in a year and a half of coverage since Biden entered office that implies both parties are similarly bad, as if the surge of inflation and some of Biden’s policy mistakes rival a Republican Party that is actively undermining democracy in numerous ways, such as continuing to voice baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, passing measures making it harder to vote, and gerrymandering so aggressively in states such as Wisconsin that elections are effectively meaningless.

Yes, I am calling for the media to cover Biden more positively. Not in the sense of declaring Biden a better man than Trump (though that is obviously true). Instead, political coverage should be grounded in highlighting the wide range of our problems and assessing whether politicians and parties are working toward credible solutions. Such a model would still produce a lot of stories about surging inflation, Afghanistan and other issues where Biden’s policies haven’t worked. But there would also be more stories about other issues important to Americans, even if they were going well under Biden (like the huge job growth during his tenure). Ideally, on every issue, the media would compare the Republican and Democratic solutions. You can see how this model might help Biden — but the bigger benefit would be to readers.

3) Republicans movement against democracy predates Trump. From Leonhardt’s newsletter:

On Feb. 24, 2016 — during Donald Trump’s Republican primary campaign and more than four years before he would falsely accuse Joe Biden of election fraud — somebody registered the website http://www.stopthesteal.org. It may have been Roger Stone, the Republican operative who was advising Trump’s 2016 campaign and appears to have coined the phrase “Stop the Steal.”

At the time, the target of the phrase was not a Democrat. It was Ted Cruz, Trump’s closest competition for the Republican nomination. After Cruz won the Colorado caucuses in April 2016, hundreds of Trump supporters gathered at the State Capitol in Denver and chanted, “Stop the steal!” During this same period, the website posted baseless allegations claiming fraud in other states.

This bit of history comes from Charles Homans’s latest revelatory story — which The Times Magazine has just published — about the anti-democracy movement within the Republican Party. The story’s central point is that this movement to create doubt about election results is older than many people realize and larger than Trump himself.

“What is striking about the movement around the supposed theft of the 2020 election,” Charles writes, “is how much of it — the ideas, and rhetoric, and even the people involved in it — predated Trump’s presidency, and in some cases even his candidacy.” And as that movement continues today, it is based less on the narrow goal of restoring Trump to power and more on a missionary zeal to put right-wing candidates into office.

4) Love this on new research on how woodpeckers don’t damage their brains with all that pounding:

Watching a woodpecker repeatedly smash its face into a tree, it’s hard not to wonder how its brain stays intact.

For years, the prevailing theory has been that structures in and around a woodpecker’s skull absorb the shocks created during pecking. “Blogs and information panels at zoos all present this as fact — that shock absorption is occurring in woodpeckers,” said Sam Van Wassenbergh, a biologist at the University of Antwerp. Woodpeckers have even inspired the engineering of shock-absorbing materials and gear, like football helmets.

But now, after analyzing high-speed footage of woodpeckers in action, Dr. Van Wassenbergh and colleagues are challenging this long-held belief. They discovered that woodpeckers are not absorbing shocks during pecking and they likely aren’t being concussed by using their heads like hammers. Their work was published in Current Biology on Thursday.

When a woodpecker slams its beak into a tree, it generates a shock. If something in a woodpecker’s skull were absorbing these shocks before they reached the brain — the way a car’s airbag absorbs shocks in an accident before they reach a passenger — then, on impact, a woodpecker’s head would decelerate more slowly compared with its beak.

With this in mind, the researchers analyzed high-speed videos of six woodpeckers (three species, two birds each) hammering away into a tree. They tracked two points on each bird’s beak and one point on its eye to mark its brain’s location. They found that the eye decelerated at the same rate as the beak and, in a couple of cases, even more quickly, which meant that — at the very least — the woodpecker was not absorbing any shock during pecking.

Dr. Van Wassenbergh said that if woodpeckers were absorbing some of the shock they were trying to deliver to the tree, “it would be a waste of precious energy for the birds. Woodpeckers have undergone millions of years of evolution to minimize shock absorption.” Maja Mielke, a biologist at the University of Antwerp and a co-author of the study, added that like a hammer, a woodpecker’s skull is “really optimized for pecking performance.”

But with one mystery solved emerged another: How do woodpecker brains withstand that repeated shock?

To calculate pressure in the birds’ skulls, the researchers created a computational model based on pecking movement and skull shape and size, and they found that the pressure created was far below what would cause a concussion in a primate. In fact, the birds would have to hit a tree at twice their current speed — or hit wood four times as stiff — to sustain a concussion. “We forget that woodpeckers are considerably smaller than humans,” Dr. Van Wassenbergh said. “Smaller animals can withstand higher decelerations. Think about a fly that hits a window and then just flies back again.”

5) Good take on the changing college football landscape (which totally bums me out, by the way):

There seems to be two things about conference realignment that everyone agrees with: It’s bad for the sport, and it’s all about the money. Long term, don’t these two things contradict each other? What’s going on? — Eric A.

That’s a truly fascinating thesis. On the surface, how could those two realities not be mutually exclusive, right? Wouldn’t the ability to make more money allow the powers that be to make the sport better, not worse? Or, if all this realignment is in fact bad for the sport, then isn’t all that money going to eventually evaporate?

My two cents: Two conferences separating themselves so far from the others that all but 32 fan bases feel they’re playing in the minor leagues is unquestionably bad for the sport of college football the way we’ve always known itUSC and UCLA ditching their 100-year-old conference and jeopardizing their West Coast peers’ future is frankly a big fat F.U. to the sport of college football the way we’ve always known it.

But college football has been veering farther and farther from its roots for several decades now, and the USC/UCLA news mostly feels like the moment everyone stopped pretending otherwise. The execs at Fox and ESPN don’t have any sort of civic responsibility toward Iowa State or Oregon State fans; their only obligation is to their shareholders. They are making a multi-billion dollar bet that while loyal, local college football fans may be alienated by the changing tides, they are going to draw in millions and millions of new fans with more NFL-esque version of the sport where every Saturday is Ohio State vs. Penn State, followed by Texas vs. Alabama, followed by Georgia vs. Oklahoma, followed by Michigan at USC.

Less charm, more blockbusters.

Fox Sports analyst Joel Klatt, whose opinions I respect tremendously but whose paycheck comes from one of the aforementioned companies, gave a pretty telling summation of this reality in a tweet shortly after the USC-UCLA news broke. “I think it is important to consider the potential CFB has as the clear #2 (sports) product in our country … Maximizing its potential hinges on the consumption from a national market rather than a regional one.”

6) And I guess if college athletes are just going to be paid employees, at least it’s not coming out of state funds?  Here’s the Texas Tech approach:

One week after Texas Tech announced a $200 million football facilities project, a group of Red Raider boosters announced Monday they’re taking their support to another level with a NIL program that will offer $25,000 deals to more than 100 Red Raider football players.

The Matador Club, a local nonprofit collective, is signing all 85 scholarship Texas Tech players and 20 walk-ons to one-year, $25,000 NIL contracts. In exchange, players will perform community service, serve as ambassadors for local and West Texas charities and appear at Matador Club events.

The contracts are payable monthly beginning in August and are renewable. Unlike NIL collectives at other schools, the contracts are also nonexclusive. The Matador Club is not acquiring players’ NIL rights and is encouraging them to continue pursuing other deals on their own.

“This serves as sort of a base salary for the whole locker room,” Cody Campbell, a founding member of the Matador Club and Texas Tech regent, told The Athletic, “and that should add a lot of stability and continuity to the program.”

Campbell, the co-CEO of DoublePoint Energy and co-founder of Double Eagle Energy Holdings, said $25,000 is a rate that is both sustainable and highly competitive with what other collectives are putting together. While the Matador Club raised enough funding through private donations to support more than 100 players, Campbell believes they can raise “two or three times more” if needed. They’re planning to sign men’s basketball and baseball players soon with the hopes of eventually also supporting non-revenue sports.

7) Good stuff from Jelani Cobb on Herschel Walker:

During three seasons with the University of Georgia Bulldogs, Walker, who is now sixty, recorded more than five thousand rushing yards. In 1982, he won the Heisman Trophy. These are his primary qualifications for representing Georgia in the Senate. He has also cited his work in law enforcement, his graduation from U.G.A. in the top percentile of his class, and his success in running businesses, including one of the largest minority-owned food-service companies in the country. These claims would be impressive, if they were accurate. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that he had never worked in law enforcement, that he did not graduate from college, and that he has exaggerated the size of his various business ventures.) The state G.O.P. had a long list of potential candidates to challenge Warnock. Walker, however, had effusively praised and diligently defended Trump during the 2020 election and after it. Trump looked at the unqualified newcomer, who was prone to rambling disquisitions on subjects he knew little about, and saw in him a winner. Game recognizes game.

Trump’s endorsement helped Walker become the nominee despite a devastating ad from a primary opponent pointing to Walker’s alleged history of domestic violence, including an incident years ago in which he is said to have pointed a firearm at his now ex-wife. (He has said that he does not remember that episode, citing a struggle with dissociative-identity disorder, and has denied accusations from other women.) His personal life has continued to prove complicated. A frequent commentator on the perils of “fatherless” households in Black communities, he has highlighted the role he has played in the life of his twenty-two-year-old son, Christian. In June, though, the Daily Beast reported that Walker was also the father of a ten-year-old son, whom he had not publicly acknowledged, and that the boy’s mother had sued him for child support. Walker then admitted that he had fathered a daughter during his college years, and also that he had another child, a thirteen-year-old son. Hypocrisy has seldom been less of a political liability than it is now, so it’s not particularly shocking that a candidate for high office would rail against men shirking their paternal responsibilities while evidently evading his own. Yet Walker also appears not to have told his campaign staff the truth when he was asked directly how many children he has; an unnamed adviser told the Daily Beast that Walker lies “like he’s breathing.”…

We have learned the hard way that, in American politics, integrity is optional. We’ve seen the wreckage that unqualified leadership yields. Yet Walker’s deficits are not the only cause for concern here. Warnock and Ossoff were elected on January 5, 2021. The next day, a Trumpist mob laid siege to the United States Capitol. We are not yet beyond that moment. Trump will reportedly announce a 2024 run for the Presidency ahead of this year’s election, when a Walker victory could return control of the Senate to the Republicans. A number of state legislatures have made their systems less amenable to fair elections, and next year the Supreme Court may assist those efforts. No one in the G.O.P. leadership can possibly believe that Walker is fit to hold a Senate seat, but the hope—as dangerous as it is cynical—is that he may be able to win one. And that joke would most certainly be on us.

8) This is just so absurdly unconstitutional, but, at this point who can be confident courts will make the obvious right calls on legislation like this, “South Carolina bill outlaws websites that tell how to get an abortion”

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling that overturned the right to abortion in June, South Carolina state senators introduced legislation that would make it illegal to “aid, abet or conspire with someone” to obtain an abortion.

The bill aims to block more than abortion: Provisions would outlaw providing information over the internet or phone about how to obtain an abortion. It would also make it illegal to host a website or “[provide] an internet service” with information that is “reasonably likely to be used for an abortion” and directed at pregnant people in the state.

Legal scholars say the proposal is likely a harbinger of other state measures, which may restrict communication and speech as they seek to curtail abortion. The June proposal, S. 1373, is modeled off a blueprint created by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), an antiabortion group, and designed to be replicated by lawmakers across the country.

As the fall of Roe v. Wade triggers a flood of new legislation, an adjacent battleground is emerging over the future of internet freedoms and privacy in states across the country — one, experts say, that could have a chilling impact on First Amendment-protected speech.

“These are not going to be one-offs,” said Michele Goodwin, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California at Irvine Law School. “These are going to be laws that spread like wildfire through states that have shown hostility to abortion.”

Goodwin called the South Carolina bill “unconstitutional.” But she warned it’s unclear how courts might respond after “turning a blind eye” to antiabortion laws even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

9) Some of you may recall that back when I tore my Achilles, it was my second attempt at playing Pickleball.  Never thought I’d see Pickleball in the New Yorker, “Can Pickleball save the world?”

10) Some really good political science here, “Survey Nonresponse and Mass Polarization: The Consequences of Declining Contact and Cooperation Rates”

Recent studies question whether declining response rates in survey data overstate the level of polarization of Americans. At issue are the sources of declining response rates—declining contact rates, associated mostly with random polling mechanisms, or declining cooperation rates, associated with personal preferences, knowledge, and interest in politics—and their differing effects on measures of polarization. Assessing 158 surveys (2004–2018), we show that declining cooperation is the primary source of declining response rates and that it leads to survey overrepresentation of people who are more engaged in politics. Analyzing individual responses to 1,223 policy questions in those surveys, we further show that, conditional on the policy area, this survey bias overestimates or underestimates the partisan divide among Americans. Our findings question the perceived strength of mass polarization and move forward the discussion about the effect of declining survey response on generalizations from survey data.

11) Jeremy Kamil is someone I’ve really learned a lot from on twitter.  Good stuff from him in NYT, “I’m a Virologist, and I’m Setting the Record Straight on Variants and Reinfections”

The blitz of Omicron variants has felt like one long wave. And many questions have arisen amid the tumult. Are we seeing the emergence of entirely new coronavirus variants that are impervious to immunity from vaccines and previous infections? If we keep getting reinfected, is it inevitable that most of us will end up developing long Covid?

In short, the answer is no.

As a virologist, it’s important to me that people understand Covid-19 remains a great concern. But this does not excuse or license a misdiagnosis of the current situation.

Let’s start with what is true. BA.5, one of the most recent Omicron variants to emerge, is everywhere. It unquestionably has an advantage in terms of transmissibility over previous Omicron lineages, most likely because it’s better at evading our existing repertoire of antibodies…

Thankfully, reinfection a few weeks after recovery is not the norm. Scientists have shownthat people who previously contracted Covid-19 are less likely to get infected withthe variant du jour than people who had never seen the virus, and this trend holds true for Omicron. Early research from Qatar that has not yet been peer-reviewed showed that people who had a BA.1 infection in, say, January were significantly less likely to experience a BA.4 or BA.5 breakthrough infection months later. While more research on this is welcome, these findings are consistent with how immunity, played out at the population level, helps explain the rise, fall and magnitude of epidemic waves.

Antibodies remain a powerful defense against this coronavirus. They do many things to protect us, while also flagging the virus for destruction by other elements of the immune system. Even though some studies have found that Omicron variants may induce weaker antibody responses than earlier variants, this is most likely because Omicron causes less severe disease, thanks to immunity from vaccines and prior infections.

Our immune system works much like a wise yet frugal investor, calibrating responses according to the magnitude and extent of the various danger signals sensed during infection. Generally speaking, the greater the symptoms and disease from infections like Covid or the flu, the stronger the antibody response. When existing antibodies are good enough to keep disease to a minimum (because fewer virus particles succeed in replicating in the body), we tend to see much lower amounts of antibodies than when someone ends up hospitalized from the coronavirus. Vaccines are a great way around that problem: They stimulate our immune systems to make antibodies, and other tailored defenses, even when there is no disease…

Most immunologists I know are cautiously optimistic about our long-term prospects. We don’t know exactly what this virus will do next, and we should never be dismissive of those who have a high risk profile or are dealing with long Covid. Nonetheless, most of us can have faith in our immune systems, especially when we make use of vaccines and boosters. Recorded history may hold little precedent for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But this is not our immune systems’ first rodeo.

12) Whether in this case or not, we absolutely need to hold parents responsible for what their kids do with guns, “A Handgun for Christmas Will a jury find James and Jennifer Crumbley criminally responsible for their son’s mass shooting”

13) This is really good, “Justice Neil Gorsuch’s Radical Reinterpretation of the First Amendment.” 

he decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, holds that a public-high-school football coach has a constitutional right to publicly pray at the fifty-yard line after games. Using the words “quiet” or “quietly” ten times to describe the coach’s prayers, Gorsuch dismisses any concerns that students may feel coerced to join him, as long as they are not expressly compelled to do so. The coach’s conduct, Gorsuch finds, in an opinion joined by Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, is fully protected by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, of course, states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The establishment clause, which was cited by the school district, has traditionally been interpreted to prohibit government action that compels religious conduct, favors one religion over another, or endorses religion over non-religion. But Justice Gorsuch makes the astonishing claim that, because prayer is protected by both the “speech” and the “free exercise” references, it is “doubly protected.” This “double protection” means that the School District’s concern that the coach’s prayers run afoul of the establishment clause is outgunned, two clauses against one. Does this mean that if I (1) petition the government to (2) hold a rally supporting the (3) printing of a pamphlet about my (4) new religion, I’d be quadruply protected and could thereby trump other constitutional provisions, such as the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment? The math quickly becomes absurd.

Burt Neuborne, a professor at New York University’s School of Law, makes the compelling argument that the structure of the First Amendment is no accident. It is not a mere list of protected activities to be added to and subtracted from one another; rather, its language tracks how political ideas move from internal thought and belief to external conduct. First comes personal conviction, then public discussion and dissemination, and, finally, political action. The goal is the free expression of political will, which is essential to a functioning democracy. Neuborne’s analysis confirms what many media and First Amendment lawyers consider a truism: political speech is at the core of the First Amendment’s protections.

Protecting political speech, including speech that criticizes government officials, was the primary justification in the Supreme Court’s unanimous landmark 1964 decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which holds that government officials need to meet a very high burden of proof to succeed in defamation claims. In that decision, Justice William Brennan reasoned that, because political speech is central to democracy, “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open.” According to Justice Gorsuch’s opinion, however, that long-held understanding of the central purpose of the First Amendment is wrong. In his view, it is government suppression of religious speech that is the core concern of the First Amendment, and what it was designed to protect against. Further, Gorsuch’s finding that religious speech is “doubly protected” implies that political speech—say, about voting rights or women’s rights—is only single protected.

14) I know one of the people in this headline!  And, yeah, it’s been a mess, “China’s ‘zero covid’ policy has been a nightmare for U.S. diplomats”

15) Yes, this is anecdotes but from one school teacher.  But, oh my, what anecdotes (and from a self-described “leftist”) “Yes, Things Are Really As Bad As You’ve Heard: A Leftist Schoolteacher Struggles To Say Aloud the Things He Regularly Witnesses That Are So Outlandish They Sound Made Up By Right-Wing Provocateurs”

To most people, this sort of policy is absolutely inexplicable. How could it possibly benefit racial justice or equity to keep classrooms half-empty, excluding students who want to attend in deference to those who don’t? The whole thing sounds like the sort of outrageous Kafkaesque fantasy a conservative would invent to satirize the ultra-woke and their bigotry of low expectations. But that’s precisely the problem. After all, what options do you have when so many of the people in charge of our schools have priorities so disordered that merely describing them, no matter how dispassionately, will earn you accusations of strawmanning?

I’ve had liberal friends of mine dispute (to my face!) straightforward accounts of what my colleagues have said. They’ll tell me school districts could never embrace such obviously unworkable policies; what else can I do except shrug my shoulders and say, “I’m sorry, but yes, they can?” They’ll tell me I sound like one of those right-wing grifter types; what else can I do except sigh and tell them the grifters have a point?

This is where I have to stop and make one thing very clear: I’m a leftist. Like, a big one. I hate capitalism, I support abortion on demand, and I unironically use phrases like “systems of oppression” and “the dominant culture.” The last big paper I put together for my undergraduate degree was on critical race theory, for the love of God! I’m not the sort of person who can be easily dismissed as a conservative crank. But plenty of my fellow leftists are still willing to try, on the grounds that anyone who thinks there might be any problem with DEI policies must necessarily be a slack-jawed MAGA troll.

In my short career as an educator, I’ve had countless experiences like this – encounters with colleagues and administrators so surreal that even close friends chided me for exaggerating or “playing into right-wing tropes” when I repeat them. And there’s a sense in which I don’t blame them, because things really are that crazy out here. Let me rattle off two quick examples for now, in case the summer program wasn’t bizarre enough:

1) I once attended a meeting where we brainstormed strategies to increase AP enrollment. When we moved to discuss the gap in enrollment between Black and white students, a senior teacher said that trying to register more children of color for AP classes is inherently racist and that putting greater value on AP classes at all is an expression of white supremacy. To clarify: I don’t mean that a senior teacher expressed a complex set of ideas regarding racial justice that could be uncharitably reduced to those claims. I mean I sat in a room where a senior teacher literally spoke the words Trying to register more students of color for AP classes is inherently racist and Putting greater value on AP classes at all is an expression of white supremacy, to an audience of other teachers who nodded along or otherwise kept quiet.

(Return of) Quick Hits

1) Great week at the beach.  No blogging, obviously, and I tried to cut my daily consumption of reading down by more than 50% and read some more novels and just relax.  Still, a ton of great stuff to share that I’ll be working through for a while.  Here’s our annual self-timer photo from Topsail Island Sound:

2) Among the novels… I was so happy to have a new Dan Chaon novel to read at the beach.  Sleepwalk did not disappoint. 

3) And, I finished reading the supposedly “transphobic” The Men.  It was really good (not great, but very thought-provoking and entertaining).  And the thought that this novel is, any way, “transphobic” just shows how unhinged the gender radicals and their allies are.

4) This! “How Are We Possibly Still Disinfecting Things? America can’t quit hygiene theater.”

A related reason might be that some people who do understand how the virus spreads see no harm in erring overwhelmingly on the side of caution. Though it’s irrational, they feel more secure knowing—or better yet, seeing—that their surroundings have recently been cleaned or that attempted safety protocols are in place. As customers have come to expect a higher level of visible hygiene, some businesses might feel as though they have no choice but to supply the theatrics. They’re left with an inflated standard that they don’t dare to burst…

A related and more nefarious reason hygiene theater persists is that good ventilation and filtration, great measures at cutting back infection, are invisible. For companies aiming to demonstrate their concern about COVID, these practices can have less payoff because they’re harder to flaunt (or at least, they’ll seem to have less payoff until the staff has a COVID outbreak and business stalls out). Instead of a wrapped and sanitized remote control in his hotel, Allen told me, “what I would have loved to have seen was a note on my bed that said they’ve upgraded the filters and increased the ventilation rate. The other stuff is just silly.” Maybe so, but plastic-wrapping a remote is a lot easier and cheaper than installing a suite of HEPA filters and convincing people that they’re there.

And thus, the theater continues. 

5) As mentioned previously, loved Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel.” Here’s a great interview with him.

6) I got off the waitlist and have access to Dall-e.  Here’s a twitter thread of my AI image creations.

7) Here’s a fascinating idea, “Could Your Old Poop Cure You of Future Diseases? Fecal transplants can fix gut diseases, but finding the right donor stool is tricky. The solution, some scientists believe, is to keep a store of your own.” 

But what if patients just used their own poop—or rather, healthy poop from their past? If harvested at a time when the patient was in good health, the bacteria in the sample would likely be well-balanced, perhaps removing the need to test and assure the quality of the donor’s stool.

In June of this year, after numerous requests from families, Amili announced that it would set up a separate bank for people who want to store their own samples for future treatments. Ong explains that individuals can freeze and preserve the “perfect version of their gut microbiome” when they are young and healthy, similar to storing eggs or stem cells, and then have them transplanted back when their health falters. “It removes a little bit of the yuck factor, as well, because you’re receiving something from yourself rather than from someone else,” he says.

Ong is not the only one who’s enthusiastic about the prospect of rejuvenating the gut microbiome using personal stool samples. Last week, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital argued in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine that the concept is worth exploring. They point to the mild temporary adverse effects observed after transplants with donated samples, and also to the potential for disease transmission between donor and recipient, and the fact that the long-term safety of donating fecal matter remains to be studied.

Emerging research and clinical trial data suggest that all of these concerns could be avoided by patients providing their own samples. “We don’t know a lot about why this works, to be truthful, but it does appear that using your own stool is better and safer than using a random donor,” says Scott Weiss, a professor of medicine at Harvard.

But Sarah McGill, an associate professor of medicine who studies the use of fecal transplants at the University of North Carolina, foresees logistical challenges. “Stool banks, which now exist mainly to treat people with C. diff infection, typically hold stool for weeks or months. Holding samples for years or decades would be more expensive,” she says.

8) My son asked me what Democrats should do to find back for democracy.  My short version was: “everything Brian Beutler says to do!”  His summary points (plus an excerpt) from this week (really– read it!)

① Even if Merrick Garland were a relentless insurrection fighter, existing norms governing our criminal-law system would still be a bad match for protecting Americans from a killshot aimed directly at the constitution

② Creating new processes and institutions for rare cases of coup attempts could take a life time, but within the existing ones, we can and should expect our leaders to be creative

③ Unfortunately, they tend to act is if Donald Trump’s relentless depravity can only be met with an equal and opposite demonstration of rectitude…

The central problem is this: In the course of trying to overthrow the Constitution, one might violate any number of criminal statutes. But criminal law doesn’t generally exist as an impenetrable shield against wrongdoing. Our laws against speeding don’t exist to guarantee that nobody ever drives over 70 miles per hour. Our laws against public corruption likewise exist (or existed before John Roberts defanged them, thanks John Roberts) not to make politics free from sin, but to make abuse of office come at a high potential cost, so that most leaders in most instances will act in the public’s interest rather than their own. 

Contrary to what Republicans say in utter bad faith about the futility of gun control, criminal laws haven’t failed in their purposes just because determined individuals nevertheless violate them. They mustn’t work perfectly in order to be said to have real value. That is, with one critical exception: When the crime is a killshot aimed at the republic itself. 

Our institutions of accountability need to foil traitors to the Constitution every time because by definition the legitimate government can’t survive a single successful attempt to overthrow it. 

And yet our Constitution doesn’t make any special distinction between the due process rights of workaday criminals and those of the rare criminals whose singular goal is the illegal seizure of the presidency. It does create special political processes for severing such people’s access to government power, such that threats to the government can be neutralized. People can be barred by the Constitution and the law from seeking federal office. If they have already obtained high office, they can be expelled in various ways. 

But these separate processes of political accountability also create the potential and even a regular incentive for something analogous to jury nullification on behalf of such offenders. America has never impeached and removed a president; it’s impeached and removed, or otherwise expelled, vanishingly few other federal officials leaving many, many clear offenders untouched. It took a civil war for the government to create a process for systematically banning enemies of the union from federal service, but the bar for banning duly nominated major-party candidates, or their official or unofficial leaders, in modern times remains insurmountably high. 

Criminal law might in theory create a failsafe against this kind of political immunity, but in practice that would require neutral prosecutors to aggressively target people like Trump who pose unacceptable danger to the constitutional order, and for normal judicial processes to work in all such cases. In reality, we will seldom have both of these things. Replace Garland with Batman and we’d still have to contend with the fact that someone so well situated to overthrow the government from within will also likely have a cultish sway over enough of the public to nullify actual criminal juries. 

The Way We Do Things leaves us in this perverse predicament where the only practicable forms of redress to a violent coup are coinflip prosecutions, and the hope that public exposure (through congressional oversight or trial evidence) will cause enough political damage to make the culprit too toxic to win back power, even through our minoritarian institutions. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

9) Headlines like this should not exist.  This should not be remotely legal. “4,000 Beagles Are Being Rescued From a Virginia Facility. Now They Need New Homes.”

10) A very good friend of mine– and yes, a reader of this very blog!– swam the English Channel last week.  I loved following along online.  And, I’m going to take .000000001% of the credit since she knew that her cars and house where well taken care of back in Cary, NC with the Greene family in charge :-). 

11) Important on abortion from Jamelle Bouie, “Republicans Are Already Threatening the Right to Travel”

There is nothing in the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that would explicitly threaten the right to travel between states. In his concurrence with the majority’s ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh even says that in his view a state may not “bar a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion.”

But that’s exactly where some Republican-led states want to take the law.

Missouri lawmakers have introduced a “bounty” bill similar to the one now in operation in Texas, which would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident obtain an abortion out of state. Another bill would apply Missouri’s laws to abortions that occur in other states.

Speaking of Texas, a group of State House lawmakers who call themselves the Texas Freedom Caucus hope to “impose additional civil and criminal sanctions on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion travel,” regardless of where the abortion occurs.

According to The Washington Post, an anti-abortion organization led by Republican state lawmakers has been exploring “model legislation that would restrict people from crossing state lines for abortions.”

“Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction,” Peter Breen, vice president of the Thomas More Society, told The Post. “It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.”

And in Washington, congressional Republicans have rejected an effort to affirm the right to travel. “Does the child in the womb have the right to travel in their future?” asked Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, objecting to a Democratic bill that would bar restrictions on women traveling to another state to get a legal abortion.

There are few, if any, modern precedents for laws that limit the right of Americans to travel between states. To the extent that there is a history here, it lies in the legal conflicts over both fugitive slaves and free Black individuals in the decades before the Civil War.

12) And, OMG, these laws really are insane.  We are absolutely going to start seeing miscarrying women, etc., start dying soon.

My colleagues and I have watched all this in horror. We are worried that this could happen to us, too. A law that recently went into effect in Indiana mandates that doctors, hospitals and abortion clinics report to the state when a patient who has previously had an abortion presents any of dozens of physical or psychological conditions — including anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders and uterine perforation — because they could be complications of the previous abortion. Not doing so within 30 days can result in a misdemeanor for the physician who treated the patient, punishable with up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

The law is written so broadly that a primary care provider who sees a patient with depression, an anesthesiologist whose patient has an allergic reaction to a medication or a radiologist who notes a patient has free fluid in the abdomen could be punished with a fine and jail time if they don’t report these things as possible complications of that person’s prior abortion. Any health care provider so charged could easily become a target of national attention, with attacks against them professionally and personally.

While clinicians are generally required to have malpractice insurance, such coverage does not typically cover expenses related to criminal charges. And while malpractice insurance often covers legal counsel during a malpractice claim, the same is not true for criminal charges. In addition to those tangible repercussions of such charges, physicians are at professional and financial risk that could end their careers and affect their families. Health care systems must not abandon their physicians when they are most at risk, in order to avoid bad press.

Laws like these are too often written by politicians without medical expertise, and too often use medically inaccurate definitions. Lawmakers can claim that the laws aren’t intended to hurt patients, but they instill fear in providers that will have implications for patients nonetheless.

13) On some level, I really just don’t get Joe Manchin.  What’s his game?! He’s better than any Republican (he’s been good on judges, among other things), but he just seems like such a bad actor!

14) Really interesting ideas about therapeutic use of hallucinogens:

That study and several others have found that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin are remarkably good at alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety — even in many people who do not respond to currently prescribed medications. They need to be taken only a few times (most clinical trials consist of two or three psychedelic sessions) instead of daily for months or years. Some experts say the therapy could be thought of as a surgery that solves a problem with a single procedure instead of a continuing treatment to manage a chronic condition.

Whether hallucinations like the ones Mr. Fernandez experienced are key to psychedelics’ effectiveness is now a question of great debate among researchers. The answer could determine whether millions of people receive much-needed treatment, and it could provide new insight into how mental health disorders are treated going forward.

Psilocybin is expected to receive approvalfor depression from the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the decade, possibly in the next few years. But in its current form, psychedelic therapy will only ever be available for a select few. For one thing, it is not an easy, convenient treatment to undergo. It involves several therapy sessions in addition to the full-day intensive trips, which can be physically and emotionally taxing, not to mention expensive. More concerning, recent reports have emerged of clinicians taking advantage of patients during sessions, when they are in an incredibly vulnerable state. People with a personal or family history of schizophrenia are also currently ineligible for the treatment because of concerns that tripping may exacerbate an underlying risk for psychosis.

In response to these obstacles, some scientists are working to develop molecules based on psychedelics that provide the therapeutic benefits of the drugs but without the hallucinations.

“When you consider the fact that one in five people will suffer from a neuropsychiatric disease at some point in their lifetime, we’re talking a billion people worldwide,” said David Olson, an associate professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of California, Davis. “We need scalable treatments, and for that, I think we really need medicines that are easily administered.”

Dr. Olson and others think that psychedelics’ effects on the brain are what give them their therapeutic properties, not the trip they take people on, and that the subjective experience of the drugs can be removed while their impact on depression remains. Research conducted in rodents and petri dishes over the past few years suggests this may be possible. Several studies published by Dr. Olson and others have identified new molecules that act like psychedelics in the brain and maintain their antidepressant properties without causing rodents to hallucinate.

Other researchers are skeptical that these new compounds will work in humans. To them, the powerful emotional and mystical experiences caused by psychedelics are what lead to people’s therapeutic breakthroughs.

14) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf:

When Semantics Dominate Civics

Every so often, C-SPAN captures the shortcomings of American civic discourse particularly clearly. On Tuesday, during a televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on abortion access and the law, Senator Josh Hawley, a social conservative from Missouri, sparred with the UC Berkeley law professor Khiara M. Bridges, who studies race, class, and reproductive rights. If you follow left-of-center media, you may have heard about the exchange via headlines like these:

HuffPost: “Professor Schools Sen. Josh Hawley for His Transphobic Questions in Abortion Hearing”

Above the Law: “You *Have* to Watch This Law Professor SHUT DOWN Senator Josh Hawley”

New York magazine: “Josh Hawley Called Out as Transphobic in Senate Hearing”

Jezebel: “Berkeley Law Professor Eviscerates Sen. Josh Hawley at Post-Roe Hearing”

Inside a “blue” bubble, it would be easy to assume that Senator Hawley had had a bad day. Yet Hawley, for his part, did his utmost to make sure that same exchange reached as many people as possible. He appeared on the Fox News Channel in prime time to discuss the viral moment, amplified the efforts of numerous right-leaning media figures to publicize it, and tweeted out a video clip to his 894,000 Twitter followers. “The Democrats say what they really think: men can get pregnant and if you disagree, you are ‘transphobic’ and responsible for violence,” he wrote. “For today’s left, disagreement with them = violence. So you must not disagree.” Inside a “red” bubble, it would be easy to assume C-SPAN caught “woke insanity,” as The Daily Wire put it…

Both participants conducted that exchange in ways that were likely to earn praise from their ideological allies and contempt from their opponents while generating far more heat than light. Bridges shifted into attack mode and characterized Hawley as a dangerous bigot, generating praise from media leftists while guaranteeing that Hawley would be seen by many as a victim of an unfair attack. After all, neither evidence nor common sense suggests that questions like Hawley’s––questions attempting to bait a progressive into publicly saying that abortion isn’t a women’s issue––contribute to trans suicides. (What’s more, no research that I’m aware of connects suicides among any group to discourse of this sort, which is to say, general legislative debate as opposed to bullying an individual. If the journalists at HuffPost and beyond who endorsed Bridges’s claims truly believed Hawley’s words here would contribute to suicides, would they really have helped turn them into a viral video clip, taking something that aired on C-SPAN and deliberately exposing it to a much larger audience?) And for all of Hawley’s wrongheaded antagonism to LGBTQ rights, the locution that he is “denying that trans people exist” doesn’t capture his actual position.

I expect both know that Americans have long failed to disentangle sex and gender, and that many people use words like man and womanboy and girl inconsistently, sometimes referring to sex and other times to gender and still other times to a mix, often without thinking the matter through. If you asked me, “Do you think a man can be pregnant?” I’d answer, “If you define a man as someone with a penis, testicles, and a Y chromosome, no. If you define man as an identity that corresponds to an internal sense of felt gender, then yes. Before I can answer in a way that allows us to actually understand one another, I need you to know how you define man.”

Instead of modeling a constructive exchange by clarifying their own terminology, Hawley and Bridges talk past each other––mutually aware all the while that they are talking past each other––portraying each other as bigoted and crazy, respectively, for failing to mirror the other’s statements about men and women, when in large part the disconnect boils down to different definitions. To find agreements, all they have to do is use more words. Can a person with a beard, ovaries, and a uterus get pregnant? Maybe! Can a person with no uterus and one Y chromosome get pregnant? Never. Hawley and Bridges likely agree on all that and more. Their important disagreements on LGBTQ issues concern rights and liberties, not semantics. As for the ostensible subject of the hearing, “abortion access and the law”? Nothing about that went viral.

15) Really good free Yglesias post– just read it, “How Hillary Clinton unleashed the Great Awokening”

16) Katherine Wu on Monkeypox vaccines:

And the vaccines available to combat monkeypox have real drawbacks that many other shots do not. Because ACAM2000 contains an active virus, it may be especially risky for infants or people who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or living with HIV. The shot also comes with a small but notable risk of heart inflammation, or myocarditis, and its documentation warns of other serious side effects, including blindness, spreading the vaccine virus to others, and even death. (Still, the jab is a big improvement over its direct predecessorDryvax—an inoculation that many Americans over the age of 50 have—which Slifka describes as pus “ladled out of a cow.”) “You would really have to make a compelling argument,” Titanji told me, “to convince me to use ACAM as the primary tool.”

A newer alternative, known as MVA (or Jynneos in the United States), built around a weaker version of the vaccine virus, is much safer. But the globe’s MVA stock is low, with most refills months away, and the vaccine has yet to be approved in Europe for use against monkeypox. Experts also lack solid intel on just how well both ACAM2000 and MVA actually work against monkeypox, because the virus—and the vaccinations that fight it—remains rare for most of the world.

17) Scott Alexander, “Nobody Knows How Well Homework Works”

Are there any real randomized studies? Cooper finds six for his review article (page 17), none of which are published or peer-reviewed. Only one is randomized by students, and it contradicts itself about how random it actually was; the other five are cluster-randomized by classroom (which means they have very low effective sample size). Several are bungled in confusing ways. Still, these pretty consistently show a positive effect of homework with medium-to-high effect size. The one that might have been randomized by students (and so might possibly be okay) had an effect size of 0.39. Some of the cluster randomized ones that weren’t bungled too badly had effect sizes in the 0.9 range; the cluster randomization makes it hard to call this significant, but unofficially it seems impressive.

Since Cooper wrote his 2006 review, I was able to find one actually good, individually randomized study of homework, Nawaz and Welbourne. They took 368 students taking algebra classes using a digital platform, and randomly assigned them either 0%, 50%, 100%, or 150% of the ordinary homework load (corresponding to 0, 15, 30, or 45 minutes/night). Results:

The students with more homework did better, p < 0.0001. Looks solid. Probably 9th grade algebra homework is useful. But everyone already expected high school homework to be more useful than elementary school, and math homework to be more useful than other subjects. So it’s unclear if eg 4th grade reading homework would follow the same pattern.

Still, this is the one firm fact about homework which we have managed to produce in several million child-years of assigning it. For everything else, just go with your priors, I guess.

(Abbrevieated) Quick hits (part I)

1) A doctor in Ohio, “I’m a High-Risk Obstetrician, and I’m Terrified for My Patients”

On June 24, Roe v. Wade was overturned and a near-total abortion ban became law in Ohio, where my wife and I practice. There are no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomalies, including lethal conditions.

Diagnosing birth defects is what I do. Over the years many of my patients with lethal anomalies have elected to continue their pregnancy knowing that their child will die after delivery. These patients always have my full support. Sometimes this is in concurrence with their religious beliefs, though sometimes it’s simply meaningful for them to deliver and spend time with their child, even if only for minutes or hours. Most patients, however, elect to discontinue the pregnancy.

For these patients, abortion is now illegal in Ohio. Some people will travel out of state. However, many people will not be able to do so, particularly people of color and those living in strategically disenfranchised communities. Sometime soon, I am going to meet a patient who has no ability to leave the state, and I am going to have to tell her that her baby has a lethal condition, and she is going to have to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. It might be tomorrow. It might be weeks from now. But this is going to happen, and I cannot stop it.

This patient will go through her third trimester visibly pregnant. Strangers in the grocery store will congratulate her. She will have to explain her story over and over again to friends, neighbors and co-workers. She will be forced to experience labor and delivery, and then her child will die. The risks of term delivery are far greater than the risk of abortion, so she may also experience hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia, blood clots or other complications.

Ohio’s new law is unimaginably cruel.

2) Interesting stuff from Scott Alexander on ADHD stimulant medication and learning:

This matches my general impression of the rest of the stimulant/ADHD literature, see eg this old review by Swanson and this newer one. Stimulants often raise grades, usually by improving students’ ability to concentrate on tests, or their likelihood of finishing homework on time. But if you take care to separate out how much people are learning, it usually doesn’t change by very much.

I’m not sure this says anything bad about Concerta. Concerta’s only claim was that it helps people pay attention better, and this study bears that out. Kids who take Concerta do better on tests, complete a homework analogue faster, and cause less trouble in class.

But it does say something bad, at least weird, about the role of attention in school. For some reason, paying attention better doesn’t (always) mean you learn more. Why not?

3) This is from 2017, but someone just shared it saying they thought it would change our gun policies if everybody had to read this.  Alas, I think not as many people clearly just take human devastation as an acceptable cost of our gun policies.  A trauma surgeon on what bullets do to human bodies.

Goldberg jumped in. “As a country,” Goldberg said, “we lost our teachable moment.” She started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” Her voice rose. She said people have to confront the physical reality of gun violence without the polite filters. “The country won’t be ready for it, but that’s what needs to happen. That’s the only chance at all for this to ever be reversed.”

She dropped back into a softer register. “Nobody gives two shits about the black people in North Philadelphia if nobody gives two craps about the white kids in Sandy Hook. … I thought white little kids getting shot would make people care. Nope. They didn’t care. Anderson Cooper was up there. They set up shop. And then the public outrage fades.”

Goldberg apologized and said she wasn’t trying to stop me from writing a story. She just didn’t expect it to change anything.

4) After the leak, but before Dobbs.  From Gallup, “‘Pro-Choice’ Identification Rises to Near Record High in U.S.”

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • 55% now identify as pro-choice, the highest percentage since 1995
  • For first time, majority of Americans say abortion is morally acceptable
  • Democrats drive most of the attitudinal shifts supporting abortion rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) If you are interested in constitutional law, just consider this a must-read from Adam Serwer, “Dobbs Is No Brown v. Board of Education
Conservatives think they are righting a historical wrong, but the two decisions represent entirely different approaches to the law.”

7) I’ve loved Monet for as long as I’ve known art was a thing.  Recently, automated Claude Monet is one of my favorite twitter accounts.  This Washington Post feature is terrific.  If you like art and all, it’s a must (free link): “Monet’s towering obsession: Rouen Cathedral in Normandy was the painter’s most radical fixation”

8) Good tweet.

9) David Graham, “Why Illinois’ Red-Flag Laws Didn’t Stop the Highland Park Shooting: Making such statutes less porous requires approaches that are either extremely confusing or constitutionally problematic.”

In retrospect, the points where Illinois law broke and failed to stop Crimo are apparent. The problem is that making red-flag laws less porous requires a statute that either is a confusing kludge or raises troubling civil-liberties questions—or both—all in the service of a relatively simple goal of preventing dangerous people from getting guns. In effect, a strong red-flag law risks trampling on Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights in the name of protecting Second Amendment rights, while weaker red-flag laws may barely work at all.

10) Beutler:

This week the New York Times reported that two of the people Donald Trump singled out most prominently as political enemies—former FBI Director James Comey and his former deputy, Andrew McCabe—were subjected to the most intrusive kinds of IRS audit over a very short time frame. The odds that any one of Trump’s enemies would end up on that list are very long. The odds that at least two of them were on it are so astronomical, it’s almost hard to imagine he didn’t somehow corrupt the IRS and deploy it as a weapon of harassment against his political enemies. 

On its face, it’s a scandal tailor made for hauling principals up to Capitol Hill and demanding answers from them in front of cameras, then combing through every pertinent document in existence for further clues. In practice, the committees of jurisdiction still have not obtained Donald Trump’s tax returns as the law entitles them, as the public interest requires, and as Democrats promised they would.

The Washington Post reports that Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden “requested a ‘thorough investigation’ and pledged his panel would explore the matter, and that his House Ways and Means Committee counterpart Richard Neal, “expressed fear that the situation ‘reeks of political targeting.’”

OK, so now what? I like to remind Democrats that Republicans hauled Comey up to the Hill to answer questions two days after he recommended against prosecuting Hillary Clinton. Republicans convened the first hearing about what turned out to be the totally-made-up IRS targeting controversy four days after an initial inspector-general report concluded the IRS had used improper criteria to identify and scrutinize right-wing political nonprofits. (That report turned out to be one-sided: The IRS used similar criteria to identify and scrutinize left-wing political nonprofits; there was no partisan targeting scandal whatsoever.) 

That was the middle of an investigation, and this is the beginning of one, but the urgency is greater now. There’s little time left in this Congress to investigate the matter thoroughly, and it at least appears to dwarf EMAILS and LOIS LERNER-GHAZI in its seriousness. The commissioner can be instructed to come prepared next week with as many answers as he can gather on his own, and he can be expected to acknowledge that this smells bad and is a statistical near-impossibility. He can be made to pledge full cooperation with Congress and provide rolling updates to the committees. The committee can refer the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, and/or secure a promise from IRS leaders to alert the committee if and when they refer suspected criminal conduct for federal investigation.

This could happen, and I’d be gratified if it does. But we have little reason to expect it will under the current leadership, and the ongoing January 6 committee hearings turn out to be the exception that proves the rule. 

(Sidebar: Give it up for Donald J. Trump, the only person who could overshadow a scandal as large as handpicking targets of IRS harassment by subsequently attempting a coup d’etat.) 

The January 6 hearings have been great, and to me they prove the concept of everything I’ve written above and in dozens of previous newsletters. But when you cover the committee’s ins and outs closely, it becomes clear that the engine behind its forcefulness isn’t even a Democrat. It’s Liz Cheney. She is, by Democrats’ design, the face of the hearings. But she’s also the one crafting the story, connecting the dots, and pushing back against the Democratic leadership and its inclination against enumerating a list of crimes for the Justice Department to probe. 

With all the challenges that confront them, Democrats are nevertheless blessed to be running against the party that wants to force 10 year old rape victims to carry pregnancies to term, while in thrall to a criminal who has covered up crimes (and probably a few abortions as well). It shouldn’t take a cautionary tale like Boris Johnson to remind them of how they might use these facts to their advantage, but we should hope that it will.

11) A former student of mine, Melissa Price Kromm (in Slate!), “State Judge Elections Are About to Become Decisive for Abortion Rights”

12) Yowza! “The Giant African Land Snail Has Been Spotted Again in Florida”

Dreaded giant African land snails, known to invasive-species experts as GALS, were spotted in Pasco County, north of Tampa, Fla.

Credit…Kerry Sheridan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

13) Not a big effect, but a real one, “New Dementia Prevention Method May Be Behavioral, Not Prescribed: As experimental drugs prove ineffective against increasing dementia cases in the U.S., researchers argue that improving eyesight can have an effect.”

Why would hearing and vision loss contribute to cognitive decline? “A neural system maintains its function through stimulation from sensory organs,” explained Dr. Rojas, a co-author of an accompanying editorial in JAMA Neurology. Without that stimulation, “there will be a dying out of neurons, a rearrangement of the brain,” he said.

Hearing and vision loss could also affect cognition by limiting older adults’ participation in physical and social activity. “You can’t see the cards, so you stop playing with friends,” Dr. Ehrlich said, “or you stop reading.”

The link between dementia and hearing loss, the single most important factor the Lancet Commission cited as a modifiable risk, has been well established. There is less clinical data on the connection to impaired vision, but Dr. Ehrlich is a co-investigator of a study in southern India to see whether providing older adults with eyeglasses affects cognitive decline.

14) Sorry, no, but we’re just never going to have widespread adoption of elastomeric respirators.  I even thought about it, but, just no.  NYT: A Clunky Mask May Be the Answer to Airborne Disease and N95 Waste: Experts say the U.S. government has unintentionally encouraged a dependency on imported masks by failing to promote elastomeric respirators, a reusable mask that is domestically produced.”

Three years into the pandemic, elastomeric respirators — industrial-grade face masks familiar to car painters and construction workers — remain a rarity at U.S. health care facilities.

Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Just reuse those N95s!

 

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