Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ll feel much better about a debt ceiling deal after we actually have a successful vote in the House, but, for now, I quite like Yglesias‘ 17 takeaways:

  1. If you ignore everything about the circumstances of how this came together, it’s really not a bad deal.

  2. In particular, the big GOP win here is that they forced Biden to agree to flat nominal discretionary spending for one year and then a one percent nominal increase the year after that, which is a significant cut in inflation-adjusted, per capita, or GDP terms. But that’s something Republicans could (and would) have gotten through the normal appropriations process anyway.

    1. The way appropriations work is that if a new bill isn’t signed by the end of the fiscal year, the government shuts down. But Congress often avoids shutdowns during disputes by passing what’s called a continuing resolution, which just says all appropriations can continue at the previous level for X weeks.

    2. Even if Biden didn’t “agree” to a two-year spending cap, House Republicans would have kept passing CRs which — by definition — are flat in nominal terms. Biden then would have had to either sign them (in which case funding is flat) or else refused to sign them, instigating a government shutdown that would have made him look ridiculous.

    3. None of this is to say that the discretionary spending cuts aren’t a genuine policy and ideological win for the GOP; it’s just to point out that these are wins they could have achieved through other means.

  3. Going back to the 2011 debt ceiling fight or even what Republicans were saying last fall, the point of debt ceiling hostage-taking was supposed to be to win spending concessions that can’t be won through the normal appropriations process — i.e., changes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

  4. If you want to understand how Biden ended up with his back to the wall in this deal, you have to remember that this was the original conservative aspiration. Biden’s plan was to bait Republicans into proposing cuts to these programs and then hammer them over the head with it. But they backed down on substance, which gave them the political high ground. A lot of progressives believe the GOP never does this, but it’s actually pretty common.

2) The book reviews in the Astral Codex Ten book review competition are so damn long.  But, often quite fascinating.  I really loved this one given the obvious public policy dimensions:

If Lying For Money‘s most important idea can be described in a single line, it’s that fraud is an equilibrium phenomenon – or, as Davies likes to put it, “It is highly unlikely that the optimal level of fraud is zero.” …

The more protections you put in place to prevent counterfeit people from falling victim to counterfeit drug scams, the more expensive it becomes to obtain drugs through the approved channels. If it becomes too expensive, people will choose to eschew it entirely, and opt for cheaper markets where they will find lower prices (and fewer fraud protections).  The implied conclusion here seems to be that the optimal level of counterfeit drugs entering the system is not zero: at a certain point, the marginal cost of counterfeit prevention is so high that the resulting higher prices are enough to drive customers out of the official channels, and into the waiting arms of unlicensed internet pharmacies with fewer protections.

High and Low Trust Societies

In discussing different equilibrium points for trust, Davies brings up what he calls the “Canadian Paradox,” which is an observation that a low-trust society will have less commercial fraud than a high-trust society (an example of one such high-trust society being Canada, which in 1985 was home of the Vancouver Stock Exchange, dubbed by Forbes Magazine’s Joe Queenan as the “Scam Capital of the World.”)

Why is commercial fraud so much more common in high-trust societies? Davies puts it succinctly: “Where there is trust, there is opportunity for fraud.”

In a low-trust society where everyone is suspicious of each other, it’s much harder to get away with writing a bad check, because everyone is closely scrutinizing every transaction, and/or unwilling to deal with people who aren’t already part of their ingroup of close associates. (In a society of kin-based trust networks, the threat of social fallout would presumably prevent you from defrauding your cousin or brother-in-law.)

Thus, Davies argues, when people are easily able to commit flagrant acts of fraud, this is actually a sign of a healthy high-trust society: it suggests the existence of default trust (which the fraudster then acted to exploit).  If you live in a society where anyone can walk into a business meeting wearing a suit and be assumed to be reasonably trustworthy, it will be possible for a charismatic conman to pull one over on you, but the environment will also be much more hospitable to honest brokers as well.  (Not only does this make a society more prosperous, it’s also just more generally pleasant when you don’t have to constantly be suspicious of your neighbors or counterparties.)

It can be tempting to hear stories of fraud victims who fell for obvious scams and presume naivety or stupidity on their part, but consider what it means when someone falls for an “obvious scam”: what does it say about their priors that they were approached by a stranger offering them favorable terms and, by default, assumed that they must be dealing with an honest broker?  (Probably, it suggests that they live in a society where they’ve transacted with many actors who weren’t scammers. The scammer was able to catch them off guard because people who promise things, even strangers, usually deliver the goods!)  In fact, scammers often attempt to fool their victims by mimicking the legitimate actors in the ecosystem they inhabit.

Suppose you are a venture capitalist and you’re approached by a Stanford dropout who says they’re starting a company.  They don’t, technically speaking, have something that could be considered a “product” yet, but they do have a really cool idea for something that they claim might one day become a multi-billion dollar company, even though the thing that they’re suggesting has never been done before.  They need $500,000 to get things off the ground (and they will probably come back to you later to ask for more money).   Do you write them a check?

If you rely on a heuristic that says “a person matching this profile is probably a scammer and/or deluded and I won’t invest money in their company,” well done, you just avoided being a seed investor in Theranos.  (It probably also allowed you to avoid investing in lots of other startups that failed for non-criminal reasons.)  But that heuristic would also probably prevent you from investing in a bunch of companies that did go on to become billion-dollar successes.

Even a heuristic like “don’t invest in companies that fake product demos” won’t allow you to avoid the “false negatives,” as Davies points out, as many companies that present fake demos go on to create functional products and be worth billions of dollars, so if you consider that disqualifying criteria, you would have had to say no to Microsoft in 1983, when they faked a “live” product demo for an interface manager that didn’t actually exist yet.  (Given that Microsoft’s split-adjusted share price has risen by approximately 325,000% since its IPO in 1986, investing in Microsoft is one of the more profitable things you could have done in the 80’s.)

In a low-trust society where people were more reluctant to invest in Stanford dropouts with big ideas, someone like Elizabeth Holmes would have a very hard time getting off the ground, but so would many more legitimate success stories.  In Theranos’s case, the devil is in the details that go along with promising to deliver a product that does things that are physically impossible. Fraudsters tend to rely on the fact that “the details” in which the devil resides are not always easy or convenient to check on.

3) This is really interesting.  The AI has almost surely evolved to the point where it only makes this mistake .01% of the time or less, but, the implications of that are so significant that they’ve just disabled it, “Google’s Photo App Still Can’t Find Gorillas. And Neither Can Apple’s.”

When Google released its stand-alone Photos app in May 2015, people were wowed by what it could do: analyze images to label the people, places and things in them, an astounding consumer offering at the time. But a couple of months after the release, a software developer, Jacky Alciné, discovered that Google had labeled photos of him and a friend, who are both Black, as “gorillas,” a term that is particularly offensive because it echoes centuries of racist tropes.

In the ensuing controversy, Google prevented its software from categorizing anything in Photos as gorillas, and it vowed to fix the problem. Eight years later, with significant advances in artificial intelligence, we tested whether Google had resolved the issue, and we looked at comparable tools from its competitors: Apple, Amazon and Microsoft…

Google’s and Apple’s tools were clearly the most sophisticated when it came to image analysis.

Yet Google, whose Android software underpins most of the world’s smartphones, has made the decision to turn off the ability to visually search for primates for fear of making an offensive mistake and labeling a person as an animal. And Apple, with technology that performed similarly to Google’s in our test, appeared to disable the ability to look for monkeys and apes as well.

4) It really is crazy and shameful that hockey does not insist on having more protective helmets.  The technology is certainly out there.  

5) A truly awful case of Supreme Court judicial activism just as egregious as you’ll see, “A new Supreme Court opinion is terrible news if you care about clean water”

The Clean Water Act is not the most precisely drafted law, and its text offers few hints as to what the “waters of the United States” might be. But it does include one pretty clear indication of how the law treats wetlands. One provision of the Clean Water Act applies the law to “wetlands adjacent” to waterways covered by the act.

As Justice Kagan writes in her opinion, “in ordinary language, one thing is adjacent to another not only when it is touching, but also when it is nearby. So, for example, one house is adjacent to another even when a stretch of grass and a picket fence separate the two.”

But Alito’s opinion does not apply the act to all wetlands that are “adjacent” to nearby waterways. Under Alito’s approach, only wetlands that have a “continuous surface connection to bodies that are ‘waters of the United States’ in their own right, so that there is no clear demarcation between ‘waters’ and wetlands” are subject to the law’s restrictions on pollution.

This somewhat fast and loose approach to statutory text is a common feature in Alito’s opinions. In Brnovich v. DNC (2021), for example, Alito’s majority opinion imposed a number of extratextual limits on the Voting Rights Act — such as a strong presumption that voting restrictions that were commonplace in 1982 are lawful — that appear nowhere in the Voting Rights Act’s text.

But, regardless of whether the Sackett opinion can be squared with the actual language of the Clean Water Act, it is a binding opinion by the Supreme Court of the United States, and its narrow reading of that act could drastically limit the nation’s ability to fight water pollution.

6) Fascinating twitter thread I came across:

Also, from the article:

Everyone, no matter their complexion, can get a sunburn, experts said. The pigmentation in someone’s skin can provide some protection from the sun but “it’s not a lot,” McMichael said. A darker skin tone will give someone anatural protection of “somewhere between” SPF 3 and 7.

Seriously, only up to 7 from having a dark skin? What to do I know, but that just seems completely at odds with what I thought was the experience of dark-skinned people. 

7) Notable, “College is remade as tech majors surge and humanities dwindle”

Two trends in higher education nationwide are colliding at the University of Maryland: booming enrollment in computer science and plummeting student demand for the humanities.

Premvanti Patel experienced both firsthand. The 23-year-old senior from Sierra Vista, Ariz., triple-majored in computer science, linguistics and Persian studies. Some classes in her first major bulged with hundreds of students, while those in other fields were much smaller. In computer science, Patel said, she often felt “more like an ID number than a student.”

Across the country, spring graduation season highlights the swiftly tilting academic landscape. Cap-and-gown roll calls for computer science and other technology-centered disciplines are becoming ever lengthier, and for the humanities, ever shorter.
The number of students nationwide seeking four-year degrees in computer and information sciences and related fields shot up 34 percent from 2017 to 2022, to about 573,000, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The English-major head count fell 23 percent in that time, to about 113,000. History fell 12 percent, to about 77,000.

8) How America’s screwed up health care system is connected to the need for OTC birth control pills:

The question of whether the F.D.A. will approve birth control for over-the-counter sale presents a microcosm of the structural perversity of U.S. health care. Moving to over-the-counter oral contraception — which should come without age restriction and without cost to those who want it — is an obviously needed change to improve population-level health and protect the right to bodily self-determination. (Even the A.M.A. endorses the change and has joined patient advocates in calling for full insurance coverage of over-the-counter birth control and no age restrictions on access.) So, too, is ensuring cost-free access to medication abortion without unnecessary mediation by physicians and protecting legal rights to gender-affirming care.

But alongside reconsidering physicians’ current prescribing power and whether it in fact best serves public health‌, we need to stop taking for granted that physicians should be the primary people upon whom we rely for our health. Essential preventive care — such as vaccinations, referrals for screening exams like colonoscopies and mammograms, diabetes education, basic mental health assessments and support, and nutrition and exercise counseling — can all be more effectively provided by community health workers with basic training.

9) Firearms training classes are awful:

The classes I attended trained students to believe that their lives are in constant danger. They prepared us to shoot without hesitation and avoid legal consequences. They instilled the kind of fear that has a corrosive effect on all interactions — and beyond that, on the fabric of our democracy.

I took 42 classes and conducted interviews with 52 instructors and 118 students, in traditionally red states like Texas as well as blue states like Massachusetts, in urban areas like Newark as well as rural Southern Illinois. (The instructors knew I was there to conduct research; in keeping with my university’s academic protocols, I had permission to take notes in class and to record interviews but not to publish anyone’s names.) Most of all, I immersed myself in firearms schools in Texas, where I live, that cater to people who wish to learn how to use guns for self-defense. Some instructors in these schools told me they have been involved in drafting public safety protocols or running active shooter drills for public school teachers. Some of these instructors’ students have gone on to open training programs of their own.

While American gun culture has diversified in recent years, the overwhelming majority of firearms instructors — in Texas it’s 75 percent — are white men. Many have a background in the military or law enforcement. Nationwide, more than 125,000 of them have taken a certification course offered by the National Rifle Association. Many states require instructors to complete additional training…

But teaching people how to avoid shooting someone by accident is a small part of what these classes are about. The primary lessons are about if and when to shoot someone on purpose. And this is where the trouble begins.

Instructors repeatedly told me that a big part of their job was to make people feel vulnerable, to make them aware of dangers they were not conscious of before to understand that bad things can happen at any time. One instructor told me he encourages students to carry their gun at all times. If students say they plan to leave it in the car, he responds, “So what you’re telling me is the only time you are ever going to get attacked is if you are in your car?”


The instructors describe a world teeming with violent and deranged individuals. And not just any individuals. The scenarios cluster around the public spaces of racially diverse cities. “More often than not,” an instructor who had been a high-ranking police officer said, the place you’re likely to be attacked is “in an urban part of society.” Another instructor, also a former police officer, tells students to keep their gas tanks filled at least halfway to avoid situations in which “it’s the middle of the night and you need to get gas in downtown Houston.”

10) AI photoshopping.  Lots of cool visuals– gift link. 

11) This is fantastic from deBoer.  Trust me and read it, “Psychotic Disorders Do Not Respect Autonomy, Independence, Agency, or Freedom” [emphases in original]

I have a friend who’s a front-line social worker, someone who tries very hard to provide the kind of voluntary mental health services that nobody has any issues with. It’s hard, dispiriting, low-paying work, and it’s the kind of role that’s increasingly disrespected by the activist class – you see, to be a government social worker is still “carceral,” whatever the ever-loving fuck that means, and anyway there’s nothing wrong with the mentally ill, they’re fine and have no problems and it’s stigmatizing to suggest that they need help. My friend was telling me about a homeless man who had a ghastly wound on his arm that was clearly gangrenous. Her colleague told her that if they didn’t get him into care immediately he would lose the limb. This information was relayed to him. And he refused care. Sitting there with an arm that was literally rotting off of his body, at incredible risk of spreading infection and death, he shrugged off the possibility of getting help. And do you want to know why? Was it because he was rationally exercising his personal freedom, expressing his individual choice, luxuriating in his adult autonomy? No, it was because he was very very sick, and the illness he was suffering from prevented him from understanding reality.

And this is where fantasies of totally and permanently non-coercive mental healthcare collapse, will always collapse, must collapse: there is no such thing as autonomy or freedom or personal choice under the grips of a mental illness that hijacks the mind. You think involuntary treatment obstructs freedom? Schizophrenia obstructs freedom. You think involuntary treatment tramples on autonomy? Bipolar disorder tramples on autonomy. You think involuntary treatment denies personal choice? Schizoaffective disorder denies personal choice. It’s nonsensical to speak about preserving the freedom of a psychotic person! A psychotic person cannot be free because psychosis obliterates true freedom through the imposition of delusion and hallucination. If you drug me and make me sign a contract, no one sees that as an expression of my personal freedom because my action was not the expression of my authentic and undistorted will. If you deceive someone in an effort to get their money, you can be arrested for fraud even though the person whose money you took explicitly said you could have it. Because that person wasn’t actually expressing autonomous behavior thanks to the deception! To be psychotic is also to be deceived. To be severely mentally ill is to be held hostage by internal forces that are not you. This destroys every argument about personal freedom and choice, permanently and totally. Opponents of involuntary commitment never talk about this point or even attempt to rebut it because they know they can’t. They just get mad about it.

12) Good stuff from excellent political scientist and excellent human, David Karol, “How Does Party Position Change Happen? The Case of LGBT Rights in the U.S.” (ungated here)

A partisan divide over LGBT rights has emerged in the U.S. Yet unlike other issues on which the parties have traded places or polarized, most of the change on gay rights has occurred within one party, the Democrats. How did this unusual change occur? LGBT rights was originally a fringe cause, rejected by most politicians in both parties. As gay rights activists slowly became more prominent in the Democratic Party, many politicians adapted, abandoning earlier positions informed by their personal backgrounds and state or district constituencies. Meanwhile, incorporating the religious right led most Republicans to maintain the anti-LGBT rights stand that was once common to both parties, even as public opinion shifted. The result was a partisan divide in this issue area that had consequences for policy. The role of adaptation by incumbents in producing it—contrary to some prominent models—is evident in both Congressional co-sponsorship and roll-call data. The growing party divide is also evident in platforms. These findings contribute to a broader understanding of how party position change occurs.

13) Yeah, kind of an inside baseball/twitter post, but gets at so much dysfunction out there.  Excellent stuff from Jesse Singal: “On Alex Goldman Calling For Matt Yglesias To Be Bullied Off Twitter”

Why should Matt Yglesias be bullied off Twitter? No one really knows. The point is he’s some sort of weaselly centrist bothsides-ing asshole. I also heard he’s a transphobe! I mean, everyone says he is. There’s no need for fact-checking when It Is Widely Known.

Alex Goldman gets in a lot of online fights. Surely he knows how unpleasant it is to have a lot of people yelling at you. And surely he knows how negatively it can impact your mental health. After all, he has spoken and written movingly about his own mental health struggles. In fact, if you scroll down his timeline you’ll see that the tweet below his call for Matt Yglesias to be bullied is about his own incapacitating depression.


Goldman also wrote about it rather movingly on his Substack recently, referring to depression as “a razorclawed little goblin standing on my chest as [I] lay immobile underneath it. It glowers oppressively over me, and makes movement in any direction impossible.” It’s a horrible, memorable image. Any decent person would feel bad for Alex Goldman.

But how does Goldman know that Matt Yglesias isn’t also going through some stuff? He really can’t know, is the answer. So I guess my argument is that you can’t really call for pain to be inflicted on others while also trying to call attention to, and generate sympathy for, your own pain. And what Goldman is doing here is unfortunately characteristic of a broad swath of the online lefty world, which is just a miserable, deranged, angry place. (It goes without saying that a lot of online harassment is worse than a bunch of people calling you an asshole, and in this instance no one is, like, doxxing Yglesias or making credible threats on his life, but we can acknowledge these gradations without losing sight of the bigger picture here!)

I think Twitter in particular has gotten worse because over time, the better-functioning, less sadistic and damaged people have left (I am not including myself — my departure is temporary). Whether or not my theory is correct, you see this a lot: you see people rapidly vacillate between trying to express their pain, or trying to defend their friends against pain being inflicted on them, and seeking to firehouse as much pain as humanly possible at their own enemies.

One way this often goes down is through weaponized accusations of “online harassment” or feeling “unsafe.” I’ve written about this before, this dynamic in which I can say and do whatever I want, but as soon as you criticize me (or my friends), even if it’s done in a milquetoast manner, I’ll scream bloody murder. Matt Yglesias is a Bad Guy, so no amount of “go fuck yourself” or “eat shit” is enough, and the Good Guys certainly won’t rise to his defense (because if you do, you’re defending a Bad Guy, and then, by the Transitive Properties Of Good Versus Bad Guys, you can become a Bad Guy yourself!). An example I shouldn’t bring back up, but that is irresistible: back in 2020 Matt Yglesias signed the Harper’s letter, which his colleague disagreed with, so that act made her feel “less safe” at work. Does it make Matt Yglesias feel “less safe” when people are sending him abusive garbage on social media? You won’t hear a peep of protest from the “anti-harassment” set.

I think at the end of the day there’s a (lower stakes and more online) version of “the cruelty is the point” at work here, whatever you think of that theory. There are certain people who, as a result of trauma or personality disorders or boredom or resentment or some combination of these and other factors, have a strong will to hurt others. They can’t just go torment some random weak, hapless person, because in bien-pensant lefty circles such bullying is in theory verboten. In theory. But if you can find someone who is a bad person (because everyone says they are), then all bets are off: You can bully them and call them a piece of shit and seek to inflict so much harassment on them they flee a social media platform. That’s just social justice, baby! That’s the kind of fearless activism favored by organizations that are “abolitionist, anti-capitalist & anti-imperialist collective[s] amplifying the voice of the people through direct action, public ed + community space.”

14) YouGov with all the cool charts you could want on dog ownership. 

15) Cool AI advances used to fight cancer?  Awesome. “A one-two punch against pancreatic cancer: A.I for predicting high-risk and a promising vaccine in a clinical trial”

16) Today marks 29(!!!) years of marriage for me. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Michael Tomasky on DeSantis:

He’s declared himself the field marshal of a cultural civil war. A decade or so ago, this too would have scared me. But in today’s United States, my bet is that most people don’t want to live in an intolerant society that basically outlaws abortion and bans books and allows nearly anybody to carry a permit-less firearm and gives the state the right to take children away from their parents in the name of “freedom.” I think that’s a loser—provided Joe Biden and the Democrats directly and aggressively challenge this twisted idea of freedom, should DeSantis emerge the GOP nominee, and advance an alternative definition of their own.

Why has DeSantis chosen this course? I offer to you the following five explanations:

1. He lives deep inside an echo chamber where everyone he ever talks to is terminally online and fully in agreement that “wokery” will spell the end of civilization.

2. He thinks that it polls well (it actually doesn’t, for the most part, but pollsters can cook numbers however they want).

3. His wife, Casey, urges him in this direction. She is said to hold an unusual amount of power in the relationship and has spent the past few years cosplaying as a first lady.

4. He’s of the mind that all of this has worked for him so far. (Although his approval numbers aren’t great—he’s just above the waterline in a recent YouGov/Economist poll, but a hefty 26 percent had a very unfavorable view of him, six points higher than the very favorable number.) 

5. He genuinely believes all this.

Don’t discount that last one. All politicians do certain things to please the base. But the zeal with which DeSantis has taken on these fights suggests a man obsessed. Molly Ball, in her insightful profile of DeSantis in last week’s Time, quotes an adviser: “He has a providential belief that he will talk sincerely about. He believes he is exactly where God planned him to be at all times.” That’s not a guy who spends countless hours watching focus groups.

Whatever his motivation, the question we care about most is whether this brand of moral-panic politics can get a hard right-winger into the White House in 2022. Never say never in a country that elected Donald Trump president, but I don’t think America wants that. It’s not simply that large majorities support more liberal abortion rights than DeSantis’s draconian six-week law or oppose permit-less concealed carry (on transgender issues, the polling is more ambiguous, but I seriously doubt your average person thinks the state ought to be able to steal a transgender child away from their parents, which is now the law in Florida). It’s also that DeSantis is in people’s faces incessantly, making them choose sides.

2) Chait on standardized tests:

3) I actually finally took a look at the whole Catalist take on the 2022 elections.  It’s really good:


The 2022 election defied conventional wisdom and historical trends. In a typical midterm election year with one-party control of the presidency, House and Senate, the incumbent party would expect major losses. Instead, Democrats re-elected every incumbent senator and expanded their Senate majority by a seat, won the overwhelming majority of heavily contested gubernatorial elections, gained control of 4 state legislative chambers, and only narrowly lost the U.S. House.

Democrats won in the majority of heavily contested races, with electorates in these contests looking more like the 2020 and 2018 electorates than a typical midterm. Unlike recent midterms, which were wave elections with across-the-board, national swings, there was less of a national trend in the 2022 midterm. In this analysis we will present national results based on the U.S. House vote, where Republicans outperformed Democrats, as well as analysis from states that had highly contested races, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, where Democrats outperformed Republicans. Unlike other recent midterm years, our analysis shows a stark contrast between the electorate in areas with one or more highly contested House, Senate or gubernatorial races versus those with less contested races. 

Gen Z and Millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout, with young voters in heavily contested states exceeding their 2018 turnout by 6% among those who were eligible in both elections.1 Further, 65% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats, cementing their role as a key part of a winning coalition for the party. While young voters were historically evenly split between the parties, they are increasingly voting for Democrats. Many young voters who showed up in 2018 and 2020 to elect Democrats continued to do the same in 2022. 

Extreme “MAGA” Republicans underperformed. Across heavily contested Senate, Gubernatorial, and Congressional races, voters penalized “MAGA” Republicans. Candidates who were outspoken election deniers did 1 to 4 points worse than other Republicans, contributing to their losses in important close races. Of course, election denial is one of many extreme positions associated with “MAGA” Republicans, so this analysis likely reflects relatively extreme stances on other issues, including abortion rights, as well as Republicans such as Kari Lake (Arizona gubernatorial) and Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania gubernatorial) who ran relatively insular campaigns. 

Women voters pushed Democrats over the top in heavily contested races, where abortion rights were often their top issue. After Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights, a disproportionate number of women voters registered to vote in states with highly contested elections. At the same time, polls showed Democratic women and men indicating they were more engaged in the election. While relative turnout by gender remained largely stable, Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55% to 57% support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4% support).

Democrats largely retained their winning 2020 coalition in heavily contested races, with some exceptions. Turnout and support among voters by race, education, gender, and other demographic factors remained relatively stable in heavily contested races. Such stability does not usually occur between presidential and midterm years, demonstrating how the Democratic coalition blunted a Republican “red wave.” One notable shift includes Black voters. While they continued to play an outsized role in contributing to Democratic victories, Black turnout largely fell in contested races. Meanwhile, Democratic support among Black voters rose in Southern states with heavily contested elections, but fell in less contested states.

4) I hate the NHL offside reviews that find somebody was offsides by 1 inch a good 30 seconds before the goal was scored. It’s just so stupid.  But Jack Han with a really good explanation on how getting rid of offsides completely would probably ruin the sport. 

5) Some interesting social science:

What explains the contents of political belief systems? A widespread view is that they derive from abstract values, like equality, tolerance, and authority. Here, we challenge this view, arguing instead that belief systems derive from political alliance structures that vary across nations and time periods. When partisans mobilize support for their political allies, they generate patchwork narratives that appeal to ad-hoc, and often incompatible, moral principles. In the first part of the paper, we explain how people choose their allies, and how they support their allies using propagandistic tactics. In the second part, we show how these choices and tactics give rise to political alliance structures, with their strange bedfellows, and the idiosyncratic contents of belief systems. If Alliance Theory is correct, then we need a radically different approach to political psychology—one in which belief systems arise not from deep-seated moral values, but from ever-shifting alliances and rivalries.

6) I am quite convinced that climate protesters who pull stunts like this are only setting the cause back, “Trevi Fountain water turns black in Rome climate protest”

7) Great stuff from Ryan Burge, “Given the Rise of the Nones, Why Aren’t Democrats Winning Most Elections? Why Secularization Does Not Lead to Perpetual Liberal Government”

There are still more White Christians than nones in the United States. White Christians used to be fairly mixed politically. In the 1970s, a majority of them were Democrats and about a third were Republicans. In the 1980s, the average White church was evenly mixed, about 45% from both parties.

Today? An entirely different story. Now, just a third of White Christians align with the Democratic Party, while a majority now say that they are Republicans. It’s almost been a complete reversal from the early 1970s.

The Democrats have gained a ton of new voters from the rise of the nones. They have also lost a ton of voters with the defection of millions of White Christians. (Whether this is a function of vote switching or generational replacement is a debate for a different time.)…

But here’s another part of the puzzle, too. In the 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular. That means that two-thirds of nones are not atheist/agnostic. And that’s a problem when it comes to election day.

To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.

While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely…

They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.

This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories because:

  1. They aren’t overwhelmingly Democrats.

  2. Many of them probably don’t vote.

8) I love when people take an appropriately expansive approach to cost/benefit analysis.  And the costs of mass shootings are just so much bigger than we typically discuss. Katelyn Jetelina:

Impact on survivors

As you can imagine, survivors suffer from mental health problems following mass shootings. This is particularly the case among children with direct exposure (heard gunshots, saw bodies, saw the gunman) or risk factors (pre-event traumatic exposure). Scientific literature shows school shootings result in:
  • Increases in prescription antidepressants up to two years

  • High levels of PTSD; after a 1988 elementary school shooting, the prevalence of PTSD among child survivors reached 91% 14 months after the mass shooting

  • Declines in overall health and well-being

  • Engagement in more risky behaviors

These traumatic experiences can bleed into children’s education and employment years later. After school shootings, children experience:

  • Increased absenteeism and grade repetition

  • Lower rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion

  • Lower employment and earnings at ages 24-26

  • Decreased test scores in math and English that persist for up to three years post-shooting…

  • Impact on survivors’ parents


    Then there are the parents of the survivors. Those who get a call or text message that there was a mass shooting without knowing whether their child is okay. They are tasked with helping their child cope with this trauma. Parents of survivors report:

    • Reduced general well-being; in fact, we see the effect on parents regardless of whether their child was in the tragedy

    • Increased levels of PTSD—nightmares, flashbacks, severe anxiety; in one study, one in two parents of elementary school survivors reported PTSD

    • Increase in other psychological diagnoses for years to come, as seen among parents and siblings in Norway after a mass shooting…

Bottom line

There are tremendous costs to mass shootings, even for those not directly involved. These tragic events, like in Uvalde, set off a cascade of collective traumas that result in physical, mental, and emotional impairment for thousands; far more extensive and for far longer than critics portray. If you’re feeling it like me, you’re not alone.

9) What’s using all the water from the Colorado river?  It not nuts.  55% goes to livestock feed.  Eat less meat!

10) Tom Nichols on the Republican primaries:

The United States desperately needs a normal presidential election, the kind of election that is not shadowed by gloom and violence and weirdos in freaky costumes pushing conspiracy theories. Americans surely remember a time when two candidates (sometimes with an independent crashing the gates) had debates, argued about national policy, and made the case for having the vision and talent and experience to serve as the chief executive of a superpower. Sure, those elections were full of nasty smears and dirty tricks, but they were always recognizable as part of a grand tradition stretching all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—rivals and patriots who traded ugly blows—of contenders fighting hard to secure the public’s blessing to hold power for four years…

Such an election, however, requires two functional political parties. The Republicans are in the grip of a cult of personality, so there’s little hope for a normal GOP primary and almost none for a traditional presidential election. Meanwhile, Republican candidates refuse to take a direct run at Donald Trump and speak the truth—loudly—to his voters; instead, they talk about all of the good that Trump has done but then plead with voters to understand that Trump is unelectable. (Hutchinson, who is unequivocal in his view of Trump, has been an honorable exception here and has called for Trump to drop out.)…

These Republicans are likely waiting for a miracle, an act of God that takes Trump out of contention. And by “act of God,” of course, they mean “an act of Fani Willis or Jack Smith.” This is a vain hope: Without a compelling argument from within the Republican Party that Fani Willis and Jack Smith or for that matter, Alvin Bragg, are right to indict Trump—as Bragg has done and Willis and Smith could do soon—and that the former president is a menace to the country, Trump will simply brush away his legal troubles and hope he can sprint to the White House before he’s arrested.

No one is going to displace Trump by running gently. A candidate who takes Trump on, with moral force and directness, might well lose the nomination, but he or she could at least inject some sanity into the Republican-primary process and set the stage for the eventual recovery—a healing that will take years—of the GOP or some reformed successor as a center-right party. DeSantis would rather be elected as Trump’s Mini-Me. (It might work.) Hutchinson has tried to speak up, but too quietly. Haley, like so many other former Trump officials, is too compromised by service to Trump to be credible as his nemesis. Tim Scott is perfectly positioned to make the case, but he won’t.

A Republican who thinks Trump can be beaten in a primary by gargling warm words such as electability is a Republican in denial. Trump is already creating a reality-distortion field around the primary, as he will again in the general election. Is it possible that the GOP base would respond to some fire and brimstone about Trump, instead of from him? We cannot know, because it hasn’t been tried—yet.

11) You know I only pay tangential attention to urban housing issues (mostly because a lot of people I follow are really into it), but this was quite interesting: “How DC densified”

12) I don’t think I’ve ever read anything John Stuart Mill has written, but insofar as I’m familiar with the guy, always considered myself a fan. Definitely more so after reading this nice Richard Reeves essay on Mill and his latest detractors:

Mill’s view on tradition and custom, then, is that they are very likely to contain the wisdom of the ages, of the accumulated weight of human experience and, yes, of experiments in living. That’s why it would be absurd to ignore them, and why they have a presumptive claim to our deference. But Mill also insists that we should not follow tradition and custom blindly. We should “use and interpret experience.” Mill believes that customs and traditions not only can change over time, but that they should. The alternative, which is Deneen’s only defensible position, is that somebody somewhere should decide, at some point in time, that our traditions and customs be cast in stone. 

Deneen is wrong about Mill, and thus wrong about liberalism, and therefore wrong about everything.

Even though the post-liberals are unwilling to engage with the real Mill, as opposed to their ersatz version, it is a testament to his lasting value that he is still the primary target. Mill spent his life thinking about and working for a society that could balance the value of continuity with the necessity for innovation and progress. Again, nobody said it was easy, a lesson we seem to be learning all over again. But if we need inspiration, we’ll always have Mill. 

13) I’ve long been skeptical of High School debate (the more I learn about it, the worse it seems to look). But damn is this ridiculous, “At High School Debates, Debate Is No Longer Allowed: At national tournaments, judges are making their stances clear: students who argue ‘capitalism can reduce poverty’ or ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’ will lose—no questions asked.”  Lest you think this is just anti-woke propaganda, you need only read the debate judge’s own statements on their judging philosophy:

First, some background. Imagine a high school sophomore on the debate team. She’s been given her topic about a month in advance, but she won’t know who her judge is until hours before her debate round. During that time squeeze—perhaps she’ll pace the halls as I did at the 2012 national tournament in Indianapolis—she’ll scroll on her phone to look up her judge’s name on Tabroom, a public database maintained by the NSDA. That’s where judges post “paradigms,” which explain what they look for during a debate. If a judge prefers competitors not “spread”—speak a mile a minute—debaters will moderate their pace. If a judge emphasizes “impacts”—the reasons why an argument matters—debaters adjust accordingly. 

But let’s say when the high school sophomore clicks Tabroom she sees that her judge is Lila Lavender, the 2019 national debate champion, whose paradigm reads, “Before anything else, including being a debate judge, I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. . . . I cannot check the revolutionary proletarian science at the door when I’m judging. . . . I will no longer evaluate and thus never vote for rightest capitalist-imperialist positions/arguments. . . . Examples of arguments of this nature are as follows: fascism good, capitalism good, imperialist war good, neoliberalism good, defenses of US or otherwise bourgeois nationalism, Zionism or normalizing Israel, colonialism good, US white fascist policing good, etc.” 

How does that sophomore feel as she walks into her debate round? How will knowing that information about the judge change the way she makes her case?

Traditionally, high school students would have encountered a judge like former West Point debater Henry Smith, whose paradigm asks students to “focus on clarity over speed” and reminds them that “every argument should explain exactly how [they] win the debate.” 

In the past few years, however, judges with paradigms tainted by politics and ideology are becoming common. Debate judge Shubham Gupta’s paradigm reads, “If you are discussing immigrants in a round and describe the person as ‘illegal,’ I will immediately stop the round, give you the loss with low speaks”—low speaker points—“give you a stern lecture, and then talk to your coach. . . . I will not have you making the debate space unsafe.” 

Debate Judge Kriti Sharma concurs: under her list of “Things That Will Cause You To Automatically Lose,” number three is “Referring to immigrants as ‘illegal.’ ”

Should a high school student automatically lose and be publicly humiliated for using a term that’s not only ubiquitous in media and politics, but accurate?

14) This is great. Gift link. “See why AI like ChatGPT has gotten so good, so fast”

15) This is a truly amazing scientific advance.  I think it portends great things for the future. “Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Man to Walk Using His Thoughts”

16) So good from Jeff Maurer: “When Politics is Just Virtue Signaling”

The politics of performance is never the politics of progress. It can’t be, because progress isn’t the goal — the goal is to enhance one’s status. It’s a politics of ostentatious culture war nonsense that’s content to fight the same battles indefinitely because the purpose isn’t to win; the purpose is just to show which side you’re on.

There’s no denying that virtue signaling has become a big part of progressive politics. Sometimes, it feels like it’s the whole ballgame; La Sombrita was one of those times. I find virtue signaling obnoxious whether it’s left, right, or center, but it strikes me as obnoxious and antithetical when it comes from the left. I think conservatism is compatible with virtue-signaling wankery: After all, when you’re unable to stand athwart history yelling “stop!”, dragging the national dialogue into some stupid fight about woke M&Ms will work almost as well. But I think progressives should be more purposeful. We’re trying to build the future, not conserve the past, so we need to convince people that we have a clear vision and good ideas. Unfortunately, we often devolve into unhinged virtue signaling, like this truly bananas floor speech from a state Senator in Nebraska (the speech flies off the rails and crashes into an orphanage around 1:30).

This type of cultish lunacy squanders trust that’s difficult to win back. To most people, progress means things like better functioning services and a higher standard of living. When they see their public officials engaging in a pattern of activist-babble virtue signaling — while real needs go unmet — they suspect that those officials can’t deliver results. And they’re probably right, because the only “result” the official is seeking is “popularity among their peers”.

(and yes, watch the video, it’s insane!!)

17) So wrong… “Indiana board fines doctor for discussing rape victim’s abortion”

Indiana’s medical licensing board decided late Thursday to discipline a doctor who made headlines last year for performing an abortion for a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim, saying she violated state and federal privacy laws by discussing the case with a reporter. The board gave Caitlin Bernard, an OB/GYN and an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, a letter of reprimand and ordered her to pay a $3,000 fine for violating ethical standards.

The board cleared Bernard on two other counts, determining that she did not improperly report child abuse and that she is fit to practice medicine.

For nearly a year, Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) pursued punishment for Bernard, who carried out the abortion in June 2022, less than a week after Roe v. Wade was struck down, enacting trigger laws…

Bernard broke patient privacy laws by telling an Indianapolis Star reporter about the patient’s care, the board decided Thursday night after a roughly 14-hour hearing that ended shortly after 11:30 p.m. Bernard’s lawyers argued that she properly reported the incident to an Indiana University Health social worker and did not run afoul of privacy laws when she discussed the patient’s case in a general and “deidentified” manner that is typical for doctors…

Mahler, who used to work for the federal Office of Civil Rights, said Bernard violated HIPAA when she told a colleague general details of the case at a rally, and when she did the same to a reporter, disclosing information that Mahler said could have conceivably identified the 10-year-old.


But the HIPAA expert called by Bernard’s attorneys disagreed.

“The information that she shared was age, gender and state,” said Paige Joyner, who has done hundreds of HIPAA risk assessments and also used to work in the Office of Civil Rights. “That’s not protected health information. There was nothing that was individually identifiable.”

18) This is terrific, “What Gen Z teens like me are getting wrong about mental health”

I grew up with a mom who’s a therapist, which meant that feelings moved through the air in our home like oxygen. It’s not that we talked about feelings all the time, or that I’d say something about my day and she’d ask, “How do you feel about that?”

Instead, it was more that no matter what I felt — sad, worried, mad, confused, lonely, whatever — it was never something to fix or make disappear. The world didn’t stop when I was unhappy or uncomfortable. It was never a big deal. I’d just have to feel whatever I felt — good or bad — and that, my mom believed, was the key to emotional health.

But this isn’t what I saw in many of my friends’ families. Ironically, it was homes with no therapists in them where feelings were constantly monitored. If friends were upset that a teacher gave them a bad grade, or they were left out of a social event, their parents would spring into action. First, they’d try to fix it — by talking to the teacher, or calling another parent — and if that didn’t work, they’d try to cheer up their kids by letting them have extra screen time or distracting them with a trip to the mall or allowing them to take off for what schools started calling a mental health day…

Ever since the surgeon general sounded the alarm on youth mental health in 2021, parents and educators have been trying to figure out how to help teens in my generation who are struggling amid rising rates of depression and anxiety. That’s an understandable goal. What worries me, though, is the possibility that many in my generation are confusing mental health issues with normal discomfort, to the point that the term “mental health” is becoming so diluted that it’s starting to lose meaning.

Social media play a large role in this, promoting pseudo-technical and pathologizing language — often leading to cancellation — as the antidote to emotional discomfort. Someone disagrees with you? They’re “gaslighting” you! Someone has the “wrong” point of view or perspective? They’re “toxic”! Someone declines to do what you ask? They have “no boundaries”! Instead of talking through these situations or trying to understand another perspective better, we run away to the supposed comfort of not having to deal with them. Click — they’re blocked…

All of the warnings are well-intentioned and supposedly in service of our mental health. And of course, many people my age face mental health stressors that go far beyond the disappointments and conflicts of daily life. Anxiety and depression are serious concerns that need to be addressed, and treatment should be encouraged and accessible.

But I wonder if, more broadly, we’re normalizing an almost hyper-vigilant avoidance of anything uncomfortable. By insisting that the mere mention of something difficult is bad for our mental health, are we protecting ourselves from emotional damage — or damaging ourselves emotionally? Are we really that emotionally fragile, or are we teaching ourselves to become more fragile than we actually are?

Wrapping up with a little twitter

19) Great thread on conservatism in America vs. the UK:

20) Amazing finding.  Get your Shingles vaccine!

21) Show up and try.



Quick hits (part II)

1) Is semaglutide the ultimate wonder drug?

As semaglutide has skyrocketed in popularity, patients have been sharing curious effects that go beyond just appetite suppression. They have reported losing interest in a whole range of addictive and compulsive behaviors: drinking, smoking, shopping, biting nails, picking at skin. Not everyone on the drug experiences these positive effects, to be clear, but enough that addiction researchers are paying attention. And the spate of anecdotes might really be onto something. For years now, scientists have been testing whether drugs similar to semaglutide can curb the use of alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opioids in lab animals—to promising results.

Semaglutide and its chemical relatives seem to work, at least in animals, against an unusually broad array of addictive drugs, says Christian Hendershot, a psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Treatments available today tend to be specific: methadone for opioids, bupropion for smoking. But semaglutide could one day be more widely useful, as this class of drug may alter the brain’s fundamental reward circuitry. The science is still far from settled, though researchers are keen to find out more. At UNC, in fact, Hendershot is now running clinical trials to see whether semaglutide can help people quit drinking alcohol and smoking. This drug that so powerfully suppresses the desire to eat could end up suppressing the desire for a whole lot more…

GLP-1 analogs appear to actually bind to receptors on neurons in several parts of the brain, says Scott Kanoski, a neurobiologist at the University of Southern California. When Kanoski and his colleagues blocked these receptors in rodents, the first-generation drugs exenatide and liraglutide became less effective at reducing food intake—as if this had eliminated a key mode of action. The impulse to eat is just one kind of impulse, though. That these drugs work on the level of the brain—as well as the gut—suggests that they can suppress the urge for other things too.

In particular, GLP-1 analogs affect dopamine pathways in the brain, a.k.a the reward circuitry. This pathway evolved to help us survive; simplistically, food and sex trigger a dopamine hit in the brain. We feel good, and we do it again. In people with addiction, this process in the brain shifts as a consequence or cause of their addiction, or perhaps even both. They have, for example, fewer dopamine receptors in part of the brain’s reward pathway, so the same reward may bring less pleasure.

2) Jonathan Weiler with a great post on abortion in NC:

The result is that North Carolina’s abortion restrictions did not go as far as the draconian bans other GOP-controlled states have imposed in the wake of the overturning of Roe last year, including Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and elsewhere. North Carolina’s ban begins at 12 weeks, rather than six or zero. It also includes exceptions for rape or incest (which many of the most draconian laws do not), as well as threats to the life of the mother and in the case of significant fetal abnormalities.

But its new restrictions are onerous. It sharply constrains where abortions can be performed, particularly after 12 weeks, in ways that are medically unnecessary, but will make access to care much more difficult.

 It now bars consultations by telehealth to initiate the state’s newly expanded 72-hour waiting period. The result is that women must meet with a health care provider in person before they can initiate that waiting period. Indeed, they must have three such consultations (or four, based on an ambiguity in the law) for medication abortions, another medically irrelevant requirement. Jessica Valenti, who tirelessly tracks the GOP’s war on abortion access at her Abortion Every Day Substack, has described the clear thrust of the new law as intended to ensure that “in the first weeks of a woman’s pregnancy…she will have to fight through as many humiliating and unnecessary steps as possible in order to maybe get the care Republicans say they’ve graciously ‘allowed.’” 

As has always been true, the brunt of these new restrictions will fall disproportionately on those of fewer means, women who can’t take time off from work, let alone travel multiple times from out of state to seek an abortion. Indeed, that’s a key goal of these new provisions, since North Carolina has become a critical haven for those living in more restrictive neighboring states who are trying to access abortion care…

In North Carolina and nationally, advocates of these new restrictions have suddenly become big fans of European social policy, or at least a particular take on it, which I’ll discuss further below. Arguments before the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case included amicus briefs on both sides from European legal and other experts about how US abortion laws stack up against those across the European continent…

In addition, the landscape in most of Europe for what counts as an allowable exception after the period of general permissibility is very different from what has emerged from America’s abortion restrictions. In France, for example, legislation last year increased the period of so-called abortion on demand from 12 to 14 weeks.  And what about after fourteen weeks? Exceptions exist in several cases, including those where the pregnancy was caused by rape, in the case of the endangerment of the life of the mother, or because of mental well being. That last is significant because, of course, it goes well beyond any allowable exception among the draconian American states and certainly will not be a feature of Graham’s proposed legislation. Mental health exceptions and other life circumstances, it’s important to emphasize, are typically potentially allowable in abortion laws throughout Europe, including in Germany, whose abortion laws are among the most restrictive (though, like much of Europe, they’ve been liberalizing and are likely to continue to do so).

3) This is pretty interesting (and, honestly, not all that surprising), “How Therapists Became Social Justice Warriors”

Therapists are supposed to listen without judgment, to help clients understand themselves and heal. But what if your therapist is judging you—and trying to change you—because of your politics?.. This is the reality facing a growing number of Americans who seek therapy only to find themselves in sessions with counselors who have been trained to view the world through the lens of social justice activism… The result is a new breed of therapists who see their role not as helping clients achieve their own goals, but as helping clients achieve the right goals—the ones that align with the therapist’s political views… “They are training people who will not be able to see half the population as human beings who need compassionate treatment,” said one therapist in training who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions… The shift in therapy training is part of a larger trend in American culture, where institutions that once prided themselves on neutrality and objectivity are increasingly embracing a partisan and ideological agenda… The consequences for mental health care are profound. Therapy, at its best, is a space where people can explore their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or censure. Therapy, at its worst, is a space where people are pressured to conform to a predetermined set of beliefs and behaviors—or risk losing their therapist’s approval.

4) This is terrific and depressing.  Gift link. “The short life of Baby Milo”

Deborah Dorbert wanted to terminate her pregnancy when she learned that her baby had Potter syndrome, a rare and lethal condition that prevents the development of kidneys and lungs… But her doctors in Florida refused to honor her request, citing the state’s new abortion law that bans abortion after 15 weeks with an exception for fatal fetal abnormalities… The law is vague and carries severe penalties for doctors who violate it, creating confusion and fear among medical practitioners… Deborah had to wait until 37 weeks to deliver her baby, who lived for only 99 minutes after birth… Her story illustrates the emotional and physical toll of the new abortion law on women who face heartbreaking decisions about their pregnancies… It also raises questions about the role of doctors in interpreting and applying the law, and the impact of politics on health care.

5) I think people can get a little too obsessed with the dress code for the oval office.  I also think people are way too into sneakers. That said, I do find the idea of “dress sneakers” in the Oval Office to be ridiculous.  Dress sneakers?

6) Good point “Where have all the Disney villains gone?”

When Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid is released on May 26, audiences will finally get to see Melissa McCarthy’s take on one of the most iconic villains of all time: Ursula. The sea-witch octopus, originally voiced by Pat Carroll and modeled after drag queen Divine, is the epitome of a classic Disney baddie: unabashedly evil and self-serving, with a campy anthem to boot. But with a new version of this character back on our screens, you might realize that it’s been quite some time since Disney has produced an antagonist as brazenly wicked as Ursula. That kind of unbridled villainy has become a relic of sorts in the animation studio’s latest original storytelling, which might have you wondering: Where are all the bad guys?

Once a staple of Disney’s animated features, particularly musicals, villains have slowly been phased out in favor of stories like Frozen II or Encanto that focus more on our hero’s inner conflict with themselves. Rather than face off against an evil archetype working toward their downfall, our current generation of heroes are fighting their own demons, acting as their own foils, and having to overcome their own mistakes.

The change marks one of the starkest shifts in the history of Disney fairytales, perhaps second only to the switch from 2D animation to CGI. For over half a century, the villain had loomed large in these stories, beginning with the Evil Queen in the first-ever animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Cinderella’s Stepmother, Captain Hook, and Maleficent soon followed during the Golden Age, and eventually, when the “Disney Renaissance” began in 1989, villains like Ursula, Jafar, and Scar continued the tradition.

It’s classic storytelling, with each playing a key role in driving the plot and furthering the character development of our hero. Whether it be locking them away in a tower, stealing their voice, or trying to kill them in a power grab, these characters set the ball in motion and serve as a tangible figure to defeat.

But as of late, those archetypes have gradually faded away. While The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Tangled (2010) gave us Dr. Facilier and Mother Gothel respectively, we haven’t seen a traditional villain since 2013. Even in that case — Hans from Frozen — the villain pales in comparison to the conflict that Elsa has with her own powers. That theme continued in the film’s sequel, where Elsa struggled to find where she and those powers belonged. Similarly, in 2016’s Moana, the title character sets out on an adventurous ocean quest of self-discovery. And most recently, in 2021’s Encanto, Mirabel’s main conflict is her desire for approval and purpose within her magical family as she fights to restore their fading powers.

7) A really nice look at the new mammogram recommendations:

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has updated its guidelines on who should be screened for breast cancer with mammograms… The new guidelines recommend that women with average risk start getting mammograms every two years beginning at 40, instead of starting at 50… The change was motivated by an increase in breast cancer cases among women in their 40s and a higher mortality rate among Black women… But the benefits of more mammograms are not clear-cut. Mammograms can also lead to false positives, overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and anxiety… Some experts argue that mammograms do not significantly reduce breast cancer deaths and that other factors, such as access to care and quality of treatment, are more important… The new guidelines also do not address the role of other screening methods, such as breast MRI or ultrasound, which may be more effective for some women… Ultimately, the decision to get a mammogram should be based on individual preferences and risk factors, and informed by a discussion with a health care provider.

Of course, this being Vox, it does use the term “person with breasts” instead of women for a header

8) While all the attention has been on abortion, North Carolina Republicans also passed a universal education voucher law.  Chait had a pretty recent look at programs like this (they are, unsurprisingly, not great):

For those who have practical concerns about the performance of the public-school system, vouchers might have once been a plausible reform experiment. But now they are simply a tool for transferring resources to families who have already left the system.

If you object on principle to the design of the public-school system, then vouchers offer an attractive solution. If you merely have a practical objection to the performance of the school system and would like to improve educational outcomes, then vouchers are a bad idea.

9) Amazing 3D scans of the Titanic. Definitely check these out. 

10) Heartbreaking essay, “My Daughter’s Future Was Taken From Her, and From Us”

11) Jeff Maurer take the satirical approach to US immigration policy, “GUEST COLUMN: The United States Has the Best Immigration System in the World! An opinion from the Sinaloa cartel”

Let’s take a moment to revel in the system’s genius. The U.S. has a diverse population, vast natural resources, and persistently low unemployment — perfect conditions for a welcoming, orderly legal immigration system. Tragically, such a system would squeeze out small, family-run crime organizations like the Sinaloa cartel. Thank God America’s current immigration system — with its too-low admittance rates and copious loopholes — allows people like me to thrive! They say Congress is bad at creating jobs, but I say hooey — hooey and poppycock! I made seven figures last year.

Much of the credit needs to go to the American right. For decades, they’ve labored under the delusion that tighter border controls will stanch the flow of immigrants. They don’t seem to realize that unless those policies are paired with expanded legal pathways, the flow of immigrants will just go underground. Thank God they can’t figure that out! I’ve got a daughter at Dartmouth and a son doing his gap year; a sudden pragmatic turn by the GOP would really hurt my bottom line.

But the right doesn’t deserve all the credit: An honorable mention must go to people on the left who view any attempt to enforce immigration laws as racist and mean. These people don’t just make the politics of reform more difficult; they also entrench an off-the-books immigration system that leaves immigrants vulnerable to exploitation. Although…”exploitation” and “vulnerable” are loaded terms, aren’t they? Instead, let’s say that undocumented immigrants are “likely customers” for the “extra-legal migration services” of the type provided by Sinaloa’s team of highly-trained (and heavily armed) professionals!

12) Yes, most late-term abortions really are tragedies.  But some really are just women who waited too long to get an abortion and this doctor serves them no questions asked. 

These later abortions are the less common cases, and the hardest ones. They are the cases that even stalwart abortion-rights advocates generally prefer not to discuss. But as the pro-choice movement strives to shore up abortion rights after the fall of Roe, its members face strategic decisions about whether and how to defend this work.

Most Americans support abortion access, but they support it with limits—considerations about time and pain and fingernail development. Hern is reluctant to acknowledge any limit, any red line. He takes the woman’s-choice argument to its logical conclusion, in much the same way that, at this moment, anti-abortion activists are pressing their case to its extreme. Hern considers his religious adversaries to be zealots, and many of them are. But he is, in his own way, no less an absolutist.

13) Amazing NYT interactive on a building collapse in a Turkey earthquake.  Gift link. 

14) There’s a reason I don’t get my PSA levels tested:

Changing medical practice often takes a frustratingly long time. In the study, 40 percent of men with low-risk prostate cancer still had invasive treatment. And approaches vary enormously between urology practices.

The proportion of men under active surveillance “ranges from 0 percent to 100 percent, depending on which urologist you happen to see,” Dr. Cooperberg said. “Which is ridiculous.”


The latest results of a large British study, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, provide additional support for surveillance. Researchers followed more than 1,600 men with localized prostate cancer who, from 1999 to 2009, received what they called active monitoring, a prostatectomy or radiation with hormone therapy.

Over an exceptionally long follow-up averaging 15 years, fewer than 3 percent of the men, whose average age at diagnosis was 62, had died of prostate cancer. The differences between the three treatment groups were not statistically significant.

Although the cancer in the surveillance group was more likely to metastasize, it didn’t lead to higher mortality. “The benefit of treatment in this population is just not apparent,” said Dr. Oliver Sartor, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic who specializes in prostate cancer and who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

15) I literally just do not believe this.  

In the past few weeks, a dramatic revelation in “Succession” reignited the debate over how long spoilers should be suppressed on social media — and whether having advance knowledge of a momentous plot development (in this case: Logan Roy dies) ruins our enjoyment of a story. Recently, my colleagues and I conducted research to address this very question.

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

In a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, my co-authors and I had people watch a suspenseful 30-minute TV episode directed by Alfred Hitchcock titled “Bang! You’re Dead.” Our purpose was to determine the extent to which knowing the outcome of a dramatic scenario would affect a viewer’s ability to be drawn in by it. We showed our participants this short episode, in which a young boy finds a loaded gun and mistakes it for a toy. The boy grabs it and walks around his small town pointing it and shooting at people yelling “Bang! You’re dead!” oblivious to the fact that there is a bullet in the chamber.

We told participants — a sample of undergraduate students — to raise their hand every time any character said the word “gun.” In the control group, participants knew nothing about how the story would end. As the suspense mounted midway through the show, they were so immersed in the events onscreen that they forgot all about their assignment.

In a different group, we told participants how the program would end. We predicted that knowing the ending would lower their engagement — and allow them to better remember to respond to the word “gun.”

We were wrong.

At the exact same point in the show participants neglected their assignment in a similar manner as those in the control group. In other words, they were just as immersed even though they knew the outcome. In follow-up questionnaires, they also reported the same levels of engagement and enjoyment as those who didn’t know the ending.

The truth is, we are just as likely to get caught up in a story even when we know what is coming — perhaps because more significant factors determine our enjoyment of narratives rather than simply waiting to learn or guess their resolution. Humans are hard-wired not just to absorb facts but also to lose themselves in stories and attune themselves to the characters and plots unfolding on the screen.

Sorry, there’s just no way the Sixth Sense or the Red Wedding  or that Succession episode are as good if you know what’s coming.  Sure, good drama can still be great with “spoilers” but there’s just nothing like having your jaw drop in shock and surprise at what you’ve just seen.

16) The relationship between long Covid and being bisexual is fascinating.

Figure 1. Share of COVID-19 Sufferers Who Had Long COVID by Age, Race, Sex


AI Quick Hits

1) I really enjoyed this recent post from AI guru Ethan Mollick, “On-boarding your AI Intern”

In previous posts, I have made the argument that, for a variety of reasons, it is better to think of AI as a person (even though it isn’t) than a piece of software. In fact, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of our current AI moment is that several billion people just got free interns. They are weird, somewhat alien interns that work infinitely fast and sometimes lie to make you happy, but interns nonetheless.

So, how can you figure out how to best use your intern

? Just like any new worker, you are going to have to learn its strengths and weaknesses; you are going to have to learn to train and work with it; and you are going to have to get a sense of where it is useful and where it is just annoying. The stakes for this are quite high. People using AI have 30-80% higher productivity in some writing and coding tasks, and often feel happier having offloaded their most annoying work. That is a big incentive to learn to work with your intern.

What would an AI intern be great for?  Choosing the best excerpts of articles for quick hits. So, let’s see how it goes.  If you don’t like the excerpts, you know who to blame.

2) It’s crazy how Scientific American is far more interested in pushing an ideological agenda than interesting science these days.  The latest was sharing this fascinating article about White-throated sparrows as somehow relevant for human gender debates (it’s really interesting on its own):

The White-throated Sparrow is common and familiar, hopping on the ground under bird feeders all over the eastern states in winter. But this seemingly ordinary backyard bird has a secret identity—or, actually, four secret identities. And it’s these multiple personalites that place the White-throat at the center of mysteries scientists are still working out.

Watch a flock of White-throats in spring and you’ll notice they have two kinds of head patterns. Some wear snappy stripes of black and white across the top of the head. Others have more modest head stripes of dark brown and tan. That superficial difference might not seem like a big deal, but it reflects a remarkable divergence in the lifestyles of these individuals.

As Lowther discovered, mated pairs of White-throats almost always involved one bird of each color morph: Either a tan-striped male with a white-striped female, or a white-striped male with a tan-striped female. Intrigued, Lowther extended his research, joined by biologist J. Bruce Falls and others.

They found that the color differences were more than skin deep. The two morphs had different personalities, different behaviors, different hormones, and even different chromosomes.

3) On the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld:

But they also presented an irreverent version of adulthood that I had never seen on TV or in life: a playful yet sophisticated world where grown-ups joked and laughed together and didn’t take themselves too seriously, even when everyone around them was being very serious indeed.

For the somehow uninitiated, “Seinfeld,” created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, stars Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself and follows his shenanigans with his three closest friends: his childhood buddy, George Costanza (Jason Alexander); his former girlfriend turned pal, Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); and his oddball neighbor, Kramer (Michael Richards). It is regarded as one of the greatest shows of all time.

It has consistently been framed as a comedy about four terrible people, with good reason. Jerry and his fellow misfits lied, cheated and stole. They were petty and shallow. They created a framework for “bad” sitcom characters that shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” would embrace with great relish and success.

But what if they were also onto something? What if their refusal to conform to the expectations of adulthood — marriage, children, career advancement — was not just a sign of immaturity, but also a form of resistance? What if their rejection of the conventional markers of success was not just a flaw, but also a strength?

3) Not going to have GPT summarize an abstract, though, “Individual Empowerment, Institutional Confidence, and Vaccination Rates in Cross-National Perspective, 1995 to 2018”

In the past decade, before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, rates of childhood vaccination against diseases such as measles, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus declined worldwide. An extensive literature examines the correlates and motives of vaccine hesitancy—the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines—among individuals, but little macrosociological theory or research seeks to explain changes in country-level vaccine uptake in global and comparative perspective. Drawing on existing research on vaccine hesitancy and recent developments in world society theory, we link cross-national variation in vaccination rates to two global cultural processes: the dramatic empowerment of individuals and declining confidence in liberal institutions. Both processes, we argue, emerged endogenously in liberal world culture, instigated by the neoliberal turn of the 1980s and 1990s. Fixed- and random-effects panel regression analyses of data for 80 countries between 1995 and 2018 support our claim that individualism and lack of institutional confidence contributed to the global decline in vaccination rates. We also find that individualism is itself partly responsible for declining institutional confidence. Our framework of world-cultural change might be extended to help make sense of recent post-liberal challenges in other domains.

4) Good stuff from NYT, “The Greatest Wealth Transfer in History Is Here, With Familiar (Rich) Winners”

n 1989, total family wealth in the United States was about $38 trillion, adjusted for inflation. By 2022, that wealth had more than tripled, reaching $140 trillion. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down from older Americans to millennial and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred within the next decade.

The pandemic has only accelerated this trend. The stock market has soared to record highs, while home prices have risen at their fastest pace in 15 years. These gains have disproportionately benefited older Americans who own more stocks and real estate than younger generations.

The result is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots that is likely to persist as wealth is handed down from one generation to the next. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the wealthiest 10 percent of American families owned 77 percent of total family wealth in 2019, up from 71 percent in 1989. The bottom half of families owned just 2 percent of total wealth, down from 4 percent in 1989.

The concentration of wealth among a few families also raises concerns about the influence of money on politics and democracy. Some of the richest heirs in America, such as Charles Koch and George Soros, have used their fortunes to fund political causes and candidates that align with their views.

5) The kids and their subtitles these days!

Recent research is showing that the use of subtitles on TV has continued to grow, with people choosing to use them. Why is this? If the speech intelligibility of the content we mix is so bad, surely we cannot be doing our job properly. What is going wrong?

The BBC has been conducting research into this issue and has found that subtitle usage has increased from 7.5% in 2007 to 18% in 2016. However, this figure does not include online viewing, where subtitle usage is much higher. According to Netflix, more than 80% of its UK users watch with subtitles on.

The BBC research also found that the main reasons for using subtitles were not related to hearing impairment, but rather to factors such as background noise, accents, mumbling and fast speech. Some viewers also said they used subtitles to help them understand complex plots or unfamiliar vocabulary.

6) One more “Jury Duty” episode to go for me.  So good!

Jury Duty—a series starring mostly unknown performers, tucked away on a largely unknown streamer—is incredible reality television, a boundary-pushing hidden-camera program. Set inside a fake courtroom, the show follows Ronald, a guy who believes he’s participating in a documentary about jury duty but who is actually surrounded by actors roping him into progressively weirder scenarios.

Jury Duty has become a word-of-mouth hit, and Ronald a bona fide star. According to a JustWatch report, the show was the most popular streaming series the week of its finale in April, nabbing more viewers than Netflix’s Beef and The Diplomat. Ronald, meanwhile, just appeared in an ad with Ryan Reynolds.

Given the show’s triumphs, the producers have teased the possibility of a second season; they told Variety that the best aspects of their concept are “infinitely repeatable.” But as true as that may be—other hoax-driven series in the past, such as Spike’s The Joe Schmo Show, ran for multiple seasons—creating more Jury Duty would be a shame.

The magic of Jury Duty is that it doesn’t yet have a formula. It’s an experiment that worked because of its novelty and unpredictability. To repeat it would be to risk losing what made it so special in the first place.

7) Another abstract from some really interesting PS research, “Who Supports Political Violence?”

The last few years have witnessed an increase in democratic “backsliding” in the United States—a decline in the quality of democracy, typically accompanied by an influx of non-normative behavior, such as political violence. Despite the real consequences of support for violence, fairly little is known about such an extremist attitude outside studies of terrorism or aggression. Using a unique survey containing many psychological, political, and social characteristics, we find that perceived victimhood, authoritarianism, populism, and white identity are the most powerful predictors of support for violence, though military service, conspiratorial thinking, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness are also related. These patterns suggest that subjective feelings about being unjustly victimized—irrespective of the truth of the matter—and the psychological baggage that accompanies such feelings lie at the heart of support for violence. We use these results to build a profile of characteristics that explain support for violence; the predictive validity of this profile is then tested by examining its relationship with support for the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, with which it is strongly associated, even accounting for support for Donald Trump. Our findings have implications for the detection of extremist attitudes and our understanding of the non-partisan/ideological foundations of anti-social political behavior.

8) Noah Smith, “How technology has changed the world since I was young”

he world has changed a lot since I was young. Technology has changed it. And I’m not just talking about the internet and smartphones and social media. I’m talking about the deeper changes that have reshaped our society and our culture, our economy and our politics, our values and our beliefs.

The first big change is that technology has made us more connected than ever before. We can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, with a click of a button or a swipe of a screen. We can access a vast amount of information and entertainment, from news and podcasts to movies and games. We can share our thoughts and feelings, our opinions and experiences, our likes and dislikes, with millions of strangers online.

The second big change is that technology has made us more powerful than ever before. We can create and manipulate things that were once beyond our imagination, from artificial intelligence and biotechnology to nanotechnology and quantum computing. We can solve problems that were once unsolvable, from curing diseases and exploring space to fighting climate change and enhancing human capabilities. We can influence and shape the world around us, for better or for worse.

The third big change is that technology has made us more uncertain than ever before. We face new challenges and risks that we don’t fully understand or control, from cyberattacks and misinformation to ethical dilemmas and social unrest. We face new questions and choices that we don’t have clear answers or guidelines for, from privacy and security to identity and morality. We face new possibilities and scenarios that we don’t have adequate preparation or foresight for, from technological singularity and superintelligence to posthumanism and transhumanism.

9) Don’t know how I missed this from 2021, but it’s excellent, “Reducing gun violence: What do the experts think?”

Gun violence is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires a comprehensive and evidence-based approach. Unfortunately, the public debate on this issue is often polarized and simplistic, pitting gun rights against gun control, or law enforcement against community prevention. This binary framing obscures the diversity of perspectives and experiences among those who are most affected by gun violence, as well as the potential for common ground and collaboration among stakeholders.

To move beyond this impasse, we convened a group of experts from different disciplines and backgrounds to discuss what we know and don’t know about reducing gun violence, and what policies and programs are most promising and feasible. The group included researchers, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers who have worked on various aspects of gun violence prevention, such as public health, criminal justice, mental health, education, and civil rights.

The group agreed on several key points:

  • Gun violence is not a monolithic phenomenon, but rather a collection of different types of violence that vary by context, motive, means, and impact. Therefore, no single policy or program can address all forms of gun violence; instead, we need a portfolio of interventions that are tailored to specific populations and settings.
  • Gun violence is not only a criminal justice problem, but also a public health and social justice problem. Reducing gun violence requires addressing its root causes and risk factors, such as poverty, inequality, trauma, racism, and social isolation.

10) And a great post from Yglesias on policing:

The basic problem with policing in America is that it’s not very effective at preventing crime. The clearance rate for homicides is only about 60%, and for other violent crimes it’s much lower. That means that most criminals get away with their crimes, and most victims don’t get justice.

One reason for this low effectiveness is that police officers are not allocated to the places where they are most needed. In a new paper, Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer show that there is a large spatial mismatch between where police officers are deployed and where crime occurs. They use data from 242 U.S. cities to measure the number of officers per square mile in each census block group, and compare it to the number of crimes per square mile in the same area.

They find that there is a negative correlation between police presence and crime: Areas with more crime have fewer officers per square mile, and vice versa. This correlation is especially strong for violent crimes like homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault. They estimate that reallocating officers to match the spatial distribution of crime could reduce homicides by 11% and violent crimes by 7%, without increasing the overall size of the police force.

Why do police departments allocate their officers so inefficiently? Devi and Fryer suggest several possible explanations, such as political pressure, union rules, historical inertia, or lack of data. They also point out some potential barriers to implementing a more efficient allocation, such as officer preferences, community resistance, or legal constraints.

11) Really great from NYT, “Does Therapy Really Work? Let’s Unpack That.”

The answer is complicated. The research shows that therapy does work for many people — but not for everyone. And it’s hard to say exactly what kind of therapy works best for whom, or under what circumstances. The effectiveness of therapy depends on many factors, such as the type and severity of the problem, the quality of the therapist-client relationship, the client’s motivation and expectations, and the therapist’s training and experience.

One way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use meta-analyses, which combine the results of many studies on the same topic. Meta-analyses can provide an overall estimate of how much therapy helps people improve their mental health, compared with not receiving any treatment or receiving a placebo.

According to a 2018 meta-analysis by Pim Cuijpers and colleagues, which included 421 studies with more than 36,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy was 0.69. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 76 percent of people who did not receive therapy.

Another way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use benchmarks, which compare the outcomes of therapy with those of other treatments or natural recovery. Benchmarks can help answer the question: How much better off are people who receive therapy than people who receive other forms of help or no help at all?

According to a 2013 meta-analysis by Bruce Wampold and Zac Imel, which included 79 studies with more than 7,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy compared with benchmarks was 0.51. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 69 percent of people who received other forms of help or no help at all.

12) Interesting stuff in the Lancet on how to think about obesity:

Oooof– summarized a different Lancet article!!  I’ll have to do it myself. 

In practical terms, this definition requires the health professional to answer the following question: Does this patient present with a health problem that is likely to improve with weight loss? If the answer is “yes”, then the patient has obesity. If not, then the patient may just have adiposity, which may well at some stage progress to overt obesity (hence the suggestion to refer to these individuals as having pre-obesity).
Such an approach to diagnosing obesity would of course require a clinical assessment of each patient by a qualified health practitioner. Only a comprehensive interview together with a physical exam as well as relevant laboratory and imaging tests would establish (or rule out) the diagnosis “obesity” in a given individual. While this clearly makes the diagnosis of obesity more cumbersome, it ensures that otherwise healthy individuals are no longer labeled as having obesity simply based on their size. Perhaps, more importantly, individuals presenting with health issues that are clearly linked to or likely to improve with weight loss, can be diagnosed with having obesity (and thus qualifying for obesity treatments), even when they fall below the conventional BMI cutoffs. While this introduces an element of clinical judgment into the diagnosis, this is not uncommon in medical practice, where clinical judgment is often called upon in determining the presence and severity of a medical issue and the best course of action.
Ultimately, the goal of making a proper diagnosis is to determine the right course of action for a given individual. In the case of someone presenting with a health problem closely linked to excess weight, for which we have strong evidence that weight-loss would improve it (e.g. hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea, etc.), we would see a “primary” indication for obesity treatment, i.e. successful reduction in body weight can essentially solve the problem (Fig. 1). However, we may also be confronted with a patient who presents with a health problem, not causally linked to obesity, but which is aggravated by or more difficult to manage due to the presence of excess weight (e.g. someone with excess weight who sustains an injury or contracts COVID). Such an individual could be considered to have a “secondary” indication for obesity treatment. While weight-loss will not solve the underlying problem, it may make management and recovery easier. Finally, we may consider individuals with excess weight, who present with a health problem that is neither related to nor likely to improve with weight loss. This person may be considered to have a “tertiary” indication for obesity treatment, which although perhaps leading to an overall improvement in health, would have no impact on the presenting complaint.

13) Ross Douthat’s case against legalizing marijuana didn’t strike me as particularly strong:

Of all the ways to win a culture war, the smoothest is to just make the other side seem hopelessly uncool. So it’s been with the march of marijuana legalization: There have been moral arguments about the excesses of the drug war and medical arguments about the potential benefits of pot, but the vibe of the whole debate has pitted the chill against the uptight, the cool against the square, the relaxed future against the Principal Skinners of the past.

All of this means that it will take a long time for conventional wisdom to acknowledge the truth that seems readily apparent to squares like me: Marijuana legalization as we’ve done it so far has been a policy failure, a potential social disaster, a clear and evident mistake.

The best version of the square’s case is an essay by Charles Fain Lehman of the Manhattan Institute explaining his evolution from youthful libertarian to grown-up prohibitionist. It will not convince readers who come in with stringently libertarian presuppositions — who believe on high principle that consenting adults should be able to purchase, sell and enjoy almost any substance short of fentanyl and that no second-order social consequence can justify infringing on this right. But Lehman explains in detail why the second-order effects of marijuana legalization have mostly vindicated the pessimists and skeptics.

First, on the criminal justice front, the expectation that legalizing pot would help reduce America’s prison population by clearing out nonviolent offenders was always overdrawn, since marijuana convictions made up a small share of the incarceration rate even at its height. But Lehman argues that there is also no good evidence so far that legalization reduces racially discriminatory patterns of policing and arrests.

I like this Dilan Esper response:

14) The WHO’s case against artificial sweeteners is even less compelling. Also, the WHO, of course, is the organization that was insisting on droplet transmission of Covid a whole damn year after everyone else knew it was airborne.

If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar, so smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness.

But do artificial sweeteners actually help reduce calories and deliver on their promise to help you lose weight? A new report from the World Health Organization suggests that they don’t.

The report, published on Monday in The BMJ, is based on a systematic review of 56 studies that examined the effects of non-sugar sweeteners on health outcomes in both adults and children. The researchers found that there was no compelling evidence to indicate that artificial sweeteners help people lose weight over time. Nor did they find any clear evidence that they prevent obesity or other conditions such as diabetes, cancer and dental decay.

The researchers did find some evidence that artificial sweeteners may have a modest benefit for reducing body mass index and fasting blood glucose levels. But they said these findings were based on low-quality studies with a high risk of bias, and that more research is needed to confirm them.

The report also noted that there are many uncertainties about the potential harms of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested that they may alter the gut microbiota and affect appetite and glucose regulation. Other studies have raised concerns about possible links between artificial sweeteners and cancer, cardiovascular disease and kidney damage.

15) Scott Alexander on the weirdness of the academic job market:

The academic job market is weird. It’s weird in a way that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s weird in a way that makes it hard for people who are in it to make rational decisions.

The weirdness starts with the fact that academic jobs are scarce and highly competitive. There are far more PhDs than there are tenure-track positions, and getting one of those positions requires not only years of training and research, but also luck, timing, networking, and strategic choices.

The weirdness continues with the fact that academic jobs are highly specialized and geographically dispersed. Unlike most other professions, where you can apply for jobs in your field in different cities or regions, academic jobs are tied to specific departments and disciplines. You can’t just decide to move to a new place and look for a job there; you have to wait for a job opening that matches your expertise and interests, and hope that it’s in a location that you like or can tolerate.

The weirdness culminates with the fact that academic jobs are highly uncertain and contingent. Even if you get a tenure-track position, you still have to go through a probationary period of several years, during which you have to prove yourself by publishing, teaching, and securing grants. If you fail to meet the expectations of your department or university, you can be denied tenure and lose your job. And even if you get tenure, you still have to deal with the pressures and challenges of academia, such as increasing workloads, shrinking budgets, changing student demographics, and shifting intellectual trends.1


How we got teaching reading so wrong

Back in February when I had Covid I binged the most amazing podcast, “Sold a Story” about how got teaching reading so wrong in this country.  I mentioned it in a quick hit, but didn’t give the topic it’s own post, as it deserved.  Well, now I’m getting around to it, especially as I can share (gift link) this excellent NYT article from last month that summarizes a lot of the key points.  If you listen to podcasts at all, “Sold a Story” is simply a must listen.  If not, at least read this NYT article (or the Kristoff column I shared in the quick hits):

The movement, under the banner of “the science of reading,” is targeting the education establishment: school districts, literacy gurus, publishers and colleges of education, which critics say have failed to embrace the cognitive science of how children learn to read.

Research shows that most children need systematic, sound-it-out instruction — known as phonics — as well as other direct support, like building vocabulary and expanding students’ knowledge of the world.

The movement has drawn support across economic, racial and political lines. Its champions include parents of children with dyslexia; civil rights activists with the N.A.A.C.P.; lawmakers from both sides of the aisle; and everyday teachers and principals.

Together, they are getting results.

OhioCalifornia and Georgia are the latest states to push for reform, adding to almost 20 states that have made moves in the last two years. Under pressure, school districts are scrapping their old reading programs. Even holdouts like New York City, where hundreds of elementary schools were loyal to a popular but heavily criticized reading curriculum, are making changes

“The kids can’t read — nobody wants to just say that,” said Kareem Weaver, an activist with the N.A.A.C.P. in Oakland, Calif., who has framed literacy as a civil rights issue and stars in a new documentary, “The Right to Read.”

Science of reading advocates say the reason is simple: Many children are not being correctly taught.

A popular method of teaching, known as “balanced literacy,” has focused less on phonics and more on developing a love of books and ensuring students understand the meaning of stories. At times, it has included dubious strategies, like guiding children to guess words from pictures…

At Panther Valley Elementary, a rural, low-income school in eastern Pennsylvania, the science of reading has been transformative, said the principal, Robert Palazzo.

His school had been using a reading program by the influential educators, Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, whose work has been questioned by science of reading advocates. The district even took out a loan to afford the curriculum, which cost around $100,000, he said.

But teachers complained: It wasn’t working. Just a quarter of third graders were meeting benchmarks.

“I had to swallow my pride and realize that selecting that was a mistake,” Mr. Palazzo said…

Panther Valley, though, used grants, donations and Covid relief money to buy a new phonics curriculum. The school also recently added 40 minutes of targeted, small-group phonics at the end of every day.

Nearly 60 percent of third graders are now proficient in decoding words, up from about 30 percent at the beginning of the school year, progress Mr. Palazzo hopes will translate to state tests this spring.

As the article makes clear, fixing this is not as simple as just flipping a switch and will take some time.  But, finally much of the country is on the right track where it has been on the wrong one.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I haven’t yet read Will Saletan’s “The Corruption of Lindsey Graham” but seems great.  (That said, if anyone knows a link with a good TL;DR, let me know).

2) Great Op-Ed from a UNC History professor on the asinine legislation:

As proposed, the NC REACH Act requires completion of a course in American government to get a bachelor’s degree from the UNC System or an associate’s degree from a community college. By law, that course would include reading and being tested on specific documents from U.S. and North Carolina history.

NC REACH stands for “Reclaiming College Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage,” but the idea that the Constitution needs to be reclaimed in college education is false. At UNC system schools, we count on our students already knowing the basics of American government and our founding documents. Every North Carolina senior is required to pass the high school course “Founding Principles of the United States of America and North Carolina: Civic Literacy,” in addition to civics units in earlier K-12 years also required by the state.

3) Chait, “Indoctrination Nation: Convinced that schools are brainwashing kids to be left-wingers, conservatives are seizing control of the American classroom.”

Education has become an obsession on the political right, which now sees it as the central battlefield upon which this country’s future will be settled. Schoolhouses are being conscripted into a cataclysmic war in which no compromise is possible — in which a child in a red state will be discouraged from asking questions about sexual identity, or a professor will be barred from exploring the ways in which white supremacy has shaped America today, or a trans athlete will be prohibited from playing sports.

In the spring of 2021, Richard Corcoran delivered a fire-breathing speech at Hillsdale, a right-wing Christian college in Michigan, touting the agenda he had helped implement as education commissioner in Florida. When an audience member asked how he had been able to find common ground with people who disagreed with him, Corcoran responded, “I have fought … There’s no negotiation. I don’t think antifa wants to sit down and have a conversation with me about how can we make this society better.” Corcoran went on to compare America’s disputes over education to “the warring in the streets” in Germany before World War II between the Nazis and the communists. “The war will be won in education,” he vowed. “Education is our sword. That’s our weapon. Our weapon is education.”

What sets the current movement apart from these previous efforts is not merely its greater intensity but its focus. Academic-achievement levels are incidental to Republicans’ concern. Their main preoccupation is not the ways in which Chinese and Swedish kids may be outpacing their American counterparts. They are instead accusing schools of carrying out an insidious indoctrination campaign that, they believe, poses an existential threat to their party’s future and their way of life.

Dubya once said, famously, “Rarely is the question asked, Is our children learning?” The complaint of Republicans today is not that the schools aren’t working but that they are working all too well at the objective of brainwashing children in left-wing thought. Education, as Corcoran reportedly put it, is “100 percent ideological.”

Media coverage of the Republicans’ education crusade has largely treated it as a messaging exercise. A New York Times headline from earlier this year, “DeSantis Takes On the Education Establishment, and Builds His Brand,” reflects the cynical assumption that this is mostly a way for him to rile up the Fox News audience. One progressive pollster recently told The Atlanticthat for Republican voters, liberal control of schools “is a psychological, not policy, threat,” even as their elected officials strike back with policy. Some Democrats have mocked Republicans for pursuing arcane obsessions that fail to connect with voters’ concerns. And it’s true the voters are not driving this crusade: A recent poll found only 4 percent of the public lists education as the most important issue. Politico reports that “mounds of research by Democratic pollsters over the last several months” have found Republican book bans to be utterly toxic with swing voters.

You might wonder why Republicans would throw themselves into such a risky venture. The answer is that they aren’t looking to enrage their base or get their face on Fox News. They have come to believe with deadly seriousness that they not only must but can seize control of the ideological tenor in American schools, from the primary to the university level. If accomplishing this social transformation carries a near-term political cost, they are willing to pay it. And to imagine that they will fail, or grow bored and move on, and that the education system will more or less remain the same as it ever was, is to lack an appreciation for their conviction and the powers they have at their disposal to realize their goal.

4) Given that my son had to take two AP tests last week for classes he finished in January (block scheduling) I’m particularly annoyed with it lately and tried to see if there was any good research on it.  I did find this:

The purpose of this white paper is to investigate the effects of block and traditional scheduling on high school student achievement, as measured by grade-point averages and standardized test scores, by analyzing ten research studies. Although teachers and students have generally positive views of block scheduling, no consistent effects of block scheduling, as compared to traditional scheduling, on high school student achievement were found. Recommendations are made for future research.

5) Man do I just love Brian Klaas.  This is great, “”Knowingness” and the Politics of Ignorance
Much ink has been spilled about “polarization.” Most of it ignores a major cause: the widespread, misplaced faith that we already know that which we do not know.”

And yet, paradoxically, deliberate ignorance has become one of the biggest threats to our fragile democracies. In the past, we needed to worry about uninformed voters, those who didn’t know much about politics. These days, we need to worry about the much more dangerous misinformed voters who are often wrong, never uncertain.

But uncertainty is a crucial feature of our world, one to be accepted, even embraced, because the world is a delightfully complex and surprising place, and it’s our human duty, every day, to discover a new slice of it.

A case study in knowingness

Understanding knowingness is crucial, because the antidote to it is different from the antidote to misinformation. If someone is only misinformed, you just need to provide them with correct facts and they can become rightly informed. But misinformation persists precisely because knowingness shields a person from learning.

If you want to be steeped in the most toxic forms of knowingness, log onto Twitter. On social media, few are trying to discover ideas. Instead, it’s more often a form of intellectual jousting (something that alas, I, too, am guilty of engaging in from time to time). Recently, on Elon’s Hellscape, I experienced an instructive lesson in how knowingness directly causes democratic dysfunction, with real-world consequences.

This week, I responded to yet another horrific mass shooting in the United States by re-posting my “It’s the Guns” article, in which I systematically debunk all the major lies that pro-gun advocates parrot, with actual data and empirical evidence, drawing comparisons between where I live now (the UK) and where I’m from (the US).

I wrote that article precisely because I kept getting the same factually wrong arguments thrown at me whenever I wrote about guns. But when I posted a link to article—the article debunking common false claims—my replies were comically predictable. Hordes of pro-gun advocates responded with the exact same false claims! I couldn’t get them to just click on the link, where I had helpfully laid out all the data.

One reply took the cake. Mark Pukita, a pro-gun, former Republican candidate for US Senate in Ohio, responded to my UK/US gun comparisons like this:

This was particularly remarkable, because I did cover stabbings in the article he was responding to—with a fair bit of detail and data. With a sigh, I clicked reply and wrote this:

These are readily available pieces of knowledge, one Google search away. And yet, when I provided the information for him, Pukita doubled-down, pointing out, with the glee of knowingness, that the chart showed old data from 2017. Gotcha!

That was true, but a Google search would have confirmed that the data points were basically unchanged, which is why I used the chart. (In the most recent available data, of the 50 major cities with the highest homicide rates in the world, seven are in the US; zero are in the UK; and London remains safer than every major American city).


Now, the simple way of perceiving this exchange is that Pukita didn’t know what he was talking about. But there’s something deeper going on, a dysfunctional aspect of modern culture. And understanding that phenomenon is crucial to combating misinformed voters who are certain that they know Their Truth™, but never consider that they might not know the truth.

Pukita, like so many afflicted with knowingness, didn’t want to know, which made my attempt futile.

6) This Op-Ed in defense of a “Black” Cleopatra was honestly one of the worst NYT Op-Eds I’ve read. It was so facile I would’ve been embarrassed for one of my undergrads to have written it (and, yikes, it’s by two professors).  It plays a small role in Jeff Maurer’s latest, which is excellent, “The “Rules” About Which Actors Can Play Who Never Made Sense”

On its face, Queen Cleopatra would appear to be an egregious violation of Hollywood’s norms about which actors can play which roles. The subject is a historical figure whose lineage is largely know (detailed discussion of Cleopatra’s ancestry to follow) played by an actor whose lineage is decidedly different. The people who claim that figure as part of their history are loudly objecting to the portrayal. We might expect Netflix to be in full damage-control mode; we might expect a groveling statement in which they vow to “do better”, paired with a sizable donation to…I don’t know. Somebody.

That hasn’t happened. And that’s largely because the rules about which actors can play who are an incoherent bunch of nonsense. They’re not even really “rules”; they’re a disjointed series of notions enforced by internet mobs. If we want to address the real problem of insensitive racial portrayals in media, then we should try to tease out some principles about which actors can play which roles…

In my opinion, the idea that actors must be the same race as the characters they play doesn’t work. The first problem is that it’s race essentialist. I’ve already called racial categories “pseudoscientific 18th-century bullshit”, and I stand by that. After all: What are the groups? Nobody seems to know. The furor around Prince of Persia is instructive: None of the people who complained seemed to be able to articulate who, exactly, would be qualified for the role. Blogger Jehanzeb Dar called the movie “insulting to Persians” and also “white people”, but had to backtrack and clarify that he actually meant the movie was insulting to “people of color”, presumably because many people — such as the U.S. Census Bureau — consider Persians to be white. There were calls for the role to go to a “Middle Eastern” actor, but “Middle Eastern” includes both Persians and Arabs. Wouldn’t casting an Arab as the Prince of Persia — and to do so in the name of casting an “authentic” actor — be the height of ugly American reductionism? Wouldn’t that be a lot like saying “We cast Jackie Chan as Akira Kurosawa because, hey: It’s all the same over there in Soy Sauce Land.” These racial puzzles are unsolvable because the categories are made up.

The second problem with the “actors have to be the same race as their characters” view is that it’s extremely limiting. It took real balls for John Leguizamo to say that James Franco shouldn’t take a Latino role, because Leguizamo has played many non-Latino characters. He played Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet, a genie in Arabian Nights, and even a deeply revered figure in Italian culture: Luigi from the Mario Brothers. Personally, I think that’s fine; I would never argue that Leguizamo should stick to “his own” ethnicity. And his ethnicity, by the way, is Columbian-Iberian-Afro-Basque; I don’t know who he’d be allowed to play according to a strict interpretation of the “has to be your own race” rule. Shakira, perhaps? Maybe that would work — we already know what Leguizamo looks like as a woman thanks to To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

7) The behavioral approach to treating opioid addiction.  Mark Kleiman writes a ton about this in When Brute Force Fails, which I use for PS 313.

There is another way to treat addiction, one that is slowly being rolled out across the country, which might be called the “behavioral approach.” Interventions of this sort, rooted in behavioral economics, have the potential to effectively leverage the existing mechanisms available to the criminal justice system, while minimizing harm to users from both punishment and morbidity. Unlike the spiritual approach, the behavioral approach removes moral imperatives from the recovery process and strives for the minimal effective penalties to prevent relapse. And unlike the medical approach, it doesn’t universally mandate treatment: the aim is to keep users in their communities for as long as possible while respecting their individual agency.

The behavioral approach begins with how you frame the problem. Addiction corrupts the brain’s reward feedback system through a form of operant conditioning that diminishes the ability of the sufferer to rationally choose. It foreshortens the informational lens by overweighting the payoff of an immediate high at the expense of freedom, health, and financial solvency. But as the psychiatrist Sally Satel has argued, this process of atrophy is not indelible. People retain the ability to change their behavior when presented with well-calculated incentives. The sensible way to correct the problem of addiction is to reverse the operant conditioning, helping the person recondition themselves to accurately calculate the costs and benefits of their actions and act accordingly.

What would this look like in practice? Rather than grudging tolerance of her drug use, the mother I visited might face consequences each time she used drugs, consequences small enough to be consistently applied, but big enough to create inconvenience. People struggling with substance abuse are not good at hiding their failures, even small ones. As one agent told me: “When you start seeing red flags pop up you know it’ll be a matter of time before you have to say, ‘put your hands behind your back.’” If each of those flags was addressed in the moment, the eventual loss of liberty (and life) might be avoidable. The idea is to nudge people rather than cudgel them.

This is not a hypothetical exercise. Fueled by an interest in rational choice among scholars of crime and addiction, several programs that aim to appropriately balance the benefits and harms of punishment have emerged across the country. The most prominent example is Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), which began in 2004. Under HOPE, all detected violations of supervision conditions are punished as quickly as possible. This may seem harsh; but by raising the likelihood of detection and punishment, HOPE reduces the need for severity. Had the mother I visited been on HOPE supervision, her failed drug test might have resulted in increased reporting, a spell with an electronic monitoring device, or a night in jail. Such punishments do no permanent harm to the person on supervision, but they are extremely inconvenient. This inconvenience seems to pay off. Initial evaluations of HOPE were ebullient, and while subsequent iterations have sometimes failed to replicate Hawaii’s success across metrics such as criminal recidivism, HOPE seems to diminish drug abuse consistently and lastingly.

Another attribute of the behavioral approach is to narrowly focus on preventing the behavior that is most dangerous—in this case, substance abuse that could lead to death—instead of trying to transform all aspects of a person’s life. People caught up in the criminal justice system face an often overwhelming set of rules and restrictions. Agents I’ve interviewed confirm that the people they supervise rarely remember or understand the importance of the many conditions they are supposed to follow.

8) Nicholas Kristof, “It Is a Delusion to Think Having a Gun in the Home Makes Us Safer”

In most of the world, going to the wrong house is not a deadly risk.

But in the United States it is, because we’re awash in an estimated 450 million guns and suffer from a mass delusion that a gun in the home makes us safer.

We’re caught in a spiral in which perceptions of rising crime lead more people to purchase firearms — about 60 million guns have been sold in the United States just since 2020 — and this in turn leads to more gun violence, which leads to more fear and gun purchases …. You get the idea…

We’re not going to ban guns or eliminate gun deaths in America. But I’ve argued in a longer essay that common-sense gun measures could plausibly reduce the toll of gun deaths by one-third or more.


We can adopt universal background checks, safe storage requirements, a minimum age of 21 for private gun sales and an enforced ban on possession of guns by people with a history of stalking or violent misdemeanors. All states should adopt California’s successful experiment with background checks for buying ammunition; having instituted a number of smart gun measures, California now has a gun death rate 38 percent below the national average.

As I write this, I happen to be in Mississippi, which has a much more rigorous process to adopt a dog than to acquire a gun. Should it really be easier to buy an AR-15-style rifle than to adopt a Chihuahua?

9) Good stuff on re-thinking DEI:

During the summer of 2020, George Floyd’s murder ignited an outcry across America, shaking many awake to the wrongs of racism. In the days and months that followed, colleges and universities, keen to show that they were in tune with the times, began introducing programs addressing DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — in their institutions. They created positions for developing anti-racist policies, established anti-racist courses and training, and encouraged faculty to “decolonize” syllabuses.

Many have applauded this turn of events. Others, predominantly on the political right, warn that the awakening is a Trojan horse for social justice, smuggling progressive ideology into the classroom and infecting vulnerable young minds with false and divisive beliefs. Conservative activists have turned school board meetings into shouting matches about the place of race in the education of children in America and have gotten books deemed to be “offensive” banished from the curriculum. Lawmakers have passed legislation that restricts how educators may address issues of race in nine states (at last count) and have introduced such legislation in at least 20 more. Most recently, Florida’s legislature has approved the “Stop WOKE Act,” stating that “In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory.” This has made teaching uncomfortable facts about the history of race in the United States illegal, with the support of many right-leaning parents…

We want to make it clear that we fully endorse the aims of DEI programs. But we object to how they are carried out, for, as noble as these aims are, there is a fatal contradiction at the heart of much of what goes on in them, a contradiction that threatens to undermine the entire enterprise. Although the purpose of anti-racist training is to vanquish racism, most of these initiatives are simultaneously committed to upholding and celebrating race. One can see this quite clearly in the work of Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, well-known voices in the anti-racist movement. Both of them presume that we can oppose racism while leaving the concept of race intact.

But in the real world, can we have race without racism coming along for the ride? Trying to extinguish racism while shoring up race is like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. It can only make matters worse. To get rid of racism we have to get rid of race…

Writing an essay like this is not easy, because it challenges the status quo of both conservatives and progressives. Many on the left will balk at our claim that the very idea of race is destructive and should be abandoned, while many on the right will object to our emphasis on improving education on our nation’s racial history. But such education is sorely needed.

Most Americans get their ideas about race from the toned-down versions dished out in high school classes and the media. Most have no idea that when African American men were lynched they were often tortured for hours, castrated, mutilated and then burned alive and that these atrocities, often attended by hundreds or thousands of eager spectators, continued well into the 20th century. They were not taught that Adolf Hitler — the man whose name is synonymous with evil — hugely admired American racism and applauded our genocide of Native Americans, or that the Nazis modeled their Nuremberg race laws — the first steps on the road to Auschwitz — on our own Jim Crow legislation. Unaware of the sheer weight of history, it does not occur to them that Black Americans were legally enslaved for 244 years and have been free for only 157, and they are ignorant of the fact that slavery persisted in other forms such as peonage, sharecropping and violent coercion that persisted into living memory.

These are mainstream historical facts that are excluded from public consciousness in a nation that refuses to seriously examine itself. Little wonder, then, that the backlash against anti-racist initiatives is often so vehement, and the efforts to curb what we educators may teach our pupils are so impassioned. The truth about race seems too dangerous to be let off a very short leash, but imagining away its reality cannot address, much less solve, the urgent problems of our deeply divided and unequal nation. In spite of persistent efforts to bury it, our racial history keeps coming back from the dead…

Our position may seem controversial, but it is not unprecedented. Other racial “eliminativists” — people who believe that race should be consigned to the rubbish heap of history — include philosophers Kwame Anthony Appiah, Naomi Zack, Adam Hochman and Joshua Glasgow; cultural critic Thomas Chatterton Williams; literary scholar Sheena Mason and race scholar Paul Gilroy. Gilroy’s view is close to our own. He sees the idea of race as an impediment to human solidarity and freedom from race as part of a larger liberatory project. “The pursuit of the liberation from ‘race,’” he writes in “Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line,” “is an especially urgent matter for those peoples who … were assigned an inferior position in the enduring hierarchies raciology creates.” He continues:

However, this opportunity is not theirs alone. There are very good reasons why it should be enthusiastically embraced by others whose antipathy to race-thinking can be defined not so much by the way it has subordinated them, but because in endowing them with the alchemical magic of racial mastery, it has distorted and delimited their experiences and consciousness in other ways. … Black and white are bonded together by the mechanisms of “race” that estrange them from one another and amputate their common humanity.

As professors, we are frequently in a position to give presentations on race and racism to the general public and often discuss these topics with our academic colleagues. Inevitably, someone objects that getting rid of race makes it impossible to address racial injustice, echoing a popular argument in anti-racist literature. As Ibram X. Kendi writes in “How To Be an Anti-Racist”:

Assimilationists … fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist.

This is an extraordinary claim. It harkens to the period from the 15th to 17th centuries, when tens of thousands of people — mostly but not exclusively women — were accused of being witches and summarily tortured and executed. Witches were supposed to be people who possessed supernatural powers, casting spells, transforming themselves into animals and commanding demons to do their bidding. Many believed that they flew through the air at night to a secret place and consorted with the devil.

Witches did not exist. It would be preposterous to suggest that recognizing the cruelty and injustice of the witch hunts requires believing that the victims really were witches. The victims of witch hunts were not singled out because they were witches but because people believed that they were witches. This would be true even if those who were persecuted as witches also believed themselves to be witches.

Racially oppressed people are not oppressed because of their race. They are oppressed because of false beliefs about their race. We can acknowledge and remedy racist practices without also upholding race.

10) Fascinating story about a Nebraska Republican legislator more interested in representing his constituents than listening to his party:

OMAHA, Neb. — In the days since state Sen. Merv Riepe cast the lone vote that blocked a near-total abortion ban in his conservative state, he’s faced protests at his office, the cold shoulder from irate colleagues and calls for his resignation. A stranger left an angry note inside his home mailbox.

Yet the 80-year-old Republican has also raked in accolades, becoming an unlikely hero for those fighting to protect abortion access in Nebraska and around the country in the year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Abortion advocates wept in the Capitol after Riepe’s April 27 vote. A downtown Omaha novelty store is now selling blue T-shirts and tank tops that say “Hot Merv Summer” in bold white type.

Riepe’s vote reflects a growing realization among some Republicans that staking out extreme positions on abortion might be politically perilous. Since Roe, which guaranteed the right to abortion, was struck down, Republicans have faced pressure from the far right to ban the procedure in states across the country. But voters, including those who identify as or lean Republican, have signaled an uneasiness with taking restrictions too far.

11) San Francisco gay Pride has no place for Dee Snider after he fails to toe the party line on trans issues.

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Two days after he was pulled from a main-stage appearance at this year’s Pride Celebration in San Francisco — and after his song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” was canceled as the festival’s unofficial rallying cry — Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider has issued a response.

“I was not aware the Transgender community expects fealty and total agreement with all their beliefs and any variation or deviation is considered ‘transphobic,’” wrote Snider in a Facebook post.

To which I would reply, I guess Snider hasn’t been paying attention :-).

12) This was pretty fascinating and full of cool diagrams.  It’s all about the stairways! “Why we can’t build family-sized apartments in North America”

13) Good stuff from John McWhorter, “Jordan Neely’s horrible death reveals uncomfortable truths about the subway”

Nothing Neely did remotely justified this fate. The fact that Penny, as of this writing, has not been arrested pending more information seems unconscionable regardless of legal niceties. Based on what is known, it seems obvious that cutting off someone’s oxygen supply for so long would risk killing him — especially following the notorious choking deaths of Eric Garner and, more recently, George Floyd.

At the same time, the conversation among political leaders in the news and on social media has largely ignored the experience of legions of subway-riding New Yorkers. It implies that Neely was merely a desperate human being who should not have been detained in any way short of the intervention of a trained professional — an opportunity vanishingly unavailable in a subway car at any given moment.

This perspective is rooted in an enlightened quest to sympathize with the plight of the mentally ill in a society grievously unprepared to help them. But in addition to minimizing the experiences of the other passengers on the train, it fails to put enough attention on the genuine public policy solutions needed by people like Neely.

We must be able to keep in our minds two things. One is that Neely was unjustifiably killed. The other is that the episode, in all of its horror, highlights what New York City subway riders are being asked to endure daily — and that this, too, is not just.

14) Apparently, AA has gone against a longtime commitment to keep politics out of AA and gone full woke:

Arguably the most important tradition is Tradition 10: “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” The Washingtonians, a group of recovering alcoholics that preceded AA by about a century, disbanded due to infighting over its involvement in social reforms like prohibition, religion and slavery abolition. AA’s founders, William Wilson and Dr Robert Smith (Bill and Dr Bob), didn’t want AA to suffer the same fate. Best their organisation remain neutral, they thought, so as to be welcoming for alcoholics from every walk of life. For nearly 88 years, AA has never weighed in on foreign or domestic policies, nor has it endorsed political candidates or legislative proposals. And so desperate drunks of every race, colour and creed have kept on coming and — together — got sober…

In 2020, violations of Tradition 10 reached a fever pitch. After George Floyd’s murder, institutions across the nation absorbed progressive ideals into their mission statements. I was finishing my last year of study at Columbia University. Having entered the university in 2017 as a self-described radical progressive planning a career in LGBT activism, I was graduating an exile. I had become disillusioned with, and spoken out against, my fellow progressives’ tactics: suppressing free speech, purity policing and reducing every individual to his or her skin colour, gender and sexual orientation. During my last semester, which was moved online due to the pandemic, I’d sign on to virtual AA meetings after class, and immediately be struck by how similar the two spaces had become. Pronouns lit up the screen. Whereas opening readings once consisted of the AA preamble, the 12 Steps and 12 traditions, and details about the meeting, now some groups chose to add a thinly veiled threat: “We will not tolerate racist, homophobic, sexist or transphobic rhetoric in this space.”

From my experience of post-Trump academia, I knew these proclamations wouldn’t so much prevent inappropriate speech as put everyone on high alert, encouraging an atmosphere of self-censorship. Recovering alcoholics carry a lot of guilt about the harm their drinking has caused others; they are often irrationally fearful of causing any more. If they feel like they’re traversing a mine field of potential triggers that could set off listeners in the room, they may be reluctant to admit shameful details about the past, which they want and need to get off their chests. Recovering alcoholics’ lives depend on their ability to share honestly, and to feel like they will be accepted by AA no matter their histories or their personal views. Increasingly, certain opinions — although you could never be totally sure which ones — were no longer worthy of respect in a democratic society. Meetings were not unlike my university classes, where the silence during discussions would extend for what felt like an eternity, as so many students stayed quiet rather than risk transgressing.

15) Good NYT Editorial, “America Can Have Democracy or Political Violence. Not Both.”

Many — far too many — Americans now consider political violence not only acceptable but perhaps necessary. In an online survey of more than 7,200 adults, nearly a third of people answered that political violence is usually or always justified. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and released in October, came to the alarming conclusion that “MAGA Republicans” (as opposed to those who identified themselves as traditional Republicans) “are more likely to hold extreme and racist beliefs, to endorse political violence, to see such violence as likely to occur and to predict that they will be armed under circumstances in which they consider political violence to be justified.”

Any violence suppresses participation in democratic decision making, and it can negate the decisions that are made. “The damage that this violence itself and the conspiracies driving it are causing to our democracy are already substantial and are likely to produce significant democratic decline if not arrested soon,” Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Jan. 6 committee.

There are four interrelated trends that the country needs to address: the impunity of organized paramilitary groups, the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military, the global spread of extremist ideas and the growing number of G.O.P. politicians who are using the threat of political violence not just to intimidate their opponents on the left but also to wrest control of the party from those Republicans who are committed to democratic norms…

But it is unacceptable in a democracy for organized groups of men armed with military-style firearms and dressed in body armor to appear regularly at political rallies or to act as security for public officials and office seekers. Indeed, in nearly every state the subordination of the military to civil authorities is written explicitly into their constitutions.

“When private armies organize into military-style units that are neither responsible to, nor under the command of, the civil power of the state authorities, they may violate this constitutional command to the detriment of civil order,” concluded a report from the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, which compiled a state-by-state compendium of laws banning so-called militias.

16) And, yes, I do love that the NYT devoted a whole article to this stunningly adorable dog, “Striker Will Never Know He Wasn’t Best in Show”

Striker, sitting on a small table and staring at the camera with his tongue out, lefts his front-right paw as he is groomed.

17) Really liked Frank Bruni on Elizabeth Holmes:

Many of my friends were abuzz last weekend about Amy Chozick’s profile in The Times of Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced and convicted founder of the fraudulent biotech start-up Theranos. The incarnation of herself that Holmes presented to Chozick — loving spouse, nurturing mother, known to her husband and friends as Liz — was a far cry from the Silicon Valley sorceress who spoke so affectedly, rose so astronomically and fell so spectacularly, and my friends puzzled over the same question Chozick did: How much of Liz was real?

I’m betting quite a bit, and that’s not because I’m credulously accepting that she has traveled some profound moral arc, from a thicket of want to a clearing of altruism and authenticity. I don’t believe in personality transplants any more than I do in head transplants, and life isn’t tidy that way. But just as I suspect that Elizabeth lives on in Liz, I suspect that Liz was always lurking in Elizabeth. Life is messy that way.

We love to assign people types, fold them into taxonomies, put them in discrete categories. You’re an introvert, but your partner is an extrovert. He’s codependent, but she has commitment issues. Many of us are all of the above. Most of us indeed contain multitudes, even if — for a short period or forever — we manage to wear and show the world just one face, which reflects the circumstances in which we find ourselves as much as it does some unalloyed and immutable truth.

Elizabeth or Liz? It’s not a binary, and the more relevant and answerable question is whether Elizabeth-cum-Liz acted badly, hurt people needlessly and should pay a price. I believe so, as did a jury and a judge: She has been sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for her reckless and ruinous fictions, be they consistent with her priorities now or not.

18) This was depressing from Greg Sargent, “A Tennessee teacher planned a Mother’s Day class. Then came the MAGA rage.”

By now, it’s well understood that the right’s efforts to restrict classroom discussion are all about marginalizing LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting children. But they also harbor a less obvious aim: to convince parents that kids are under threat in the first place. That mild-mannered teacher over there? She just might be scheming to pervert, indoctrinate and snatch away childhood innocence.

Caroline Mickey, the librarian at Alpine Crest Elementary School outside Chattanooga, Tenn., just learned this the hard way, when her idea for a Mother’s Day-themed lesson came under sudden and heavy fire from parents in the area. The vitriol of the attack, and the school district superintendent’s rapid decision to cancel her lesson in response, caught her off guard.

“It was overwhelming,” Mickey told me. “I didn’t realize it was going to be quite this intense.”

The saga started when Mickey sent out a notice to parents of a planned lesson in advance of Mother’s Day. She wrote that the lesson would be “sensitive to the fact that not all students live with a mother,” by celebrating those who aren’t mothers but “fill the motherly roles in our lives.”

The saga started when Mickey sent out a notice to parents of a planned lesson in advance of Mother’s Day. She wrote that the lesson would be “sensitive to the fact that not all students live with a mother,” by celebrating those who aren’t mothers but “fill the motherly roles in our lives.”

Mickey notified parents that two books would be read aloud to kids from kindergarten through second grade. One was “Stella Brings the Family,” about a girl who is unsure how to approach a Mother’s Day celebration at school because she has two dads. The other was “Mother Bruce,” about a bear who adopts a brood of goslings who believe he’s their mother.

“We have students who don’t have mothers for a variety of reasons,” Mickey told me. “But everyone has somebody who loves them the way that a mother does.”

She offered parents the option of opting out of this lesson for their kids. In keeping with school district policy, she offered them an alternate lesson.

Then Moms for Liberty — which is restricting classroom discussion and getting books purged from school libraries across the country — wheeled into action.

Members of its chapter in the red-leaning area around the school in Hamilton County attacked the idea on social media and in local newspapers as Leninist indoctrination, anti-Christian and a threat to Western civilization. One woman called on locals to pray for children to guard them against the demonic threat posed by those children’s books.

19) Nate Cohn reports from the annual conference on polling:

But if Donald J. Trump showed that Republicans didn’t have to support immigration reform to win, he most certainly showed pollsters they would have to innovate. A decade and two historically significant poor cycles later, AAPOR is a very different place. The old guard is still around, but presentation after presentation employs methods that would have been scorned a decade ago. This year’s Innovators Award went to someone who referred to AAPOR as an association of “Buggy-Whip Manufacturers” back in 2014, the year I first attended.

The innovative turn in the polling community is very real, including in public political polling. Today, virtually no pollsters are using the methods they did a decade ago. The ABC/Post poll is perhaps the only major exception, with its live-interview, random-digit-dialing telephone surveys. But to this point, innovation and change hasn’t been enough to solve the problems facing the industry. It has been enough only to keep it afloat, if still struggling to keep its head above water.

Heading into 2024, pollsters still don’t know if they can successfully reach Trump voters. They still struggle with rising costs. And they really did lose something they had a decade ago: the belief that a well-designed survey would yield a representative sample. Today, a well-designed survey isn’t enough: The most theoretically sound surveys tended to produce the worst results of 2020.

To this point, innovation in polling has occurred on two parallel tracks: one to find new ways of sampling voters in an era of low response rates; another intended to improve unrepresentative samples through statistical adjustments. If there’s an underlying theory of the Times/Siena poll, it’s to try to get the best of both worlds: high-quality sampling with sophisticated statistical adjustment. There are surprisingly few public polls that can make a similar case: There’s bad sampling with fancy statistical modeling, and there’s some good sampling with simple demographic adjustment, but not much of both.

20) Good stuff from Perry Bacon, Jr “How the media can cover Trump better this time”

1. Focus on “the stakes” of the 2024 election, not “the odds.”

Back in 2015, lots of journalists, myself included, said Trump had no chance to win the Republican primary. Then, the media concluded he could not win the 2016 general election. After Trump-endorsed candidates did badly in last year’s midterms, there was a spate of stories suggesting that the Republican Party was ready to move on from Trump. Wrong again. Trump has a huge lead in most polls of the Republican primary field…

2. Explain Trump’s probable agenda as president in detail.

In 2016, the media not only played down Trump’s chances of winning but also suggested that Trump would not pursue the outlandish and far-right ideas that he was running on if he won. This attitude was summed up by an Atlantic article titled “Taking Trump Seriously, Not Literally.” This perspective was entirely wrongheaded. Trump implemented modified versions of the Muslim bana wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and many of his other controversial ideas…

3. Don’t make getting access to Republican politicians or projecting “neutrality” and “objectivity” a main goal of coverage.

There are real reasons to be skeptical of CNN in particular hosting this town hall. The network’s new leaders have repeatedly said that they felt CNN was too anti-Trump when he was president. CNN has forced out some of the reporters and anchors (John Harwood, Don Lemon, Brian Stelter) who were most critical of Trump. The network now brags that it has more Republican officials and operatives on air as guests than before.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Noah Smith on American industrial policy:

The really important thing about Biden’s policies, though, is that they don’t even gesture halfheartedly in the direction of “free trade”. The idea of free trade never carried much water with the general public; now, it carries essentially no water with the political class or the intellectual class either. The free-trade consensus is dead as a doornail.

We don’t know exactly what will replace the free-trade consensus yet, but we’re starting to get a pretty good idea of what the Biden administration wants the next paradigm to be. Members of the Biden administration have made a number of important speeches about the new industrial policy, including a speech last October by former NEC Director Brian Deese about America’s “new industrial strategy”, a speech in February by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo about the CHIPS Act and a speech in April by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about China policy. But I think the most comprehensive statement yet was the recent speech by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the Brookings Institution. If you want to understand why U.S. policy has changed, what the current administration thinks the new objectives are, and what methods they believe will achieve those objectives, I recommend starting with this speech.

Here are a few key excerpts:

When President Biden came into office more than two years ago, the country faced, from our perspective, four fundamental challenges…First, America’s industrial base had been hollowed out…The second challenge we faced was adapting to a new environment defined by geopolitical and security competition…The third challenge we faced was an accelerating climate crisis…Finally, we faced the challenge of inequality and its damage to democracy…

When President Biden came to office, he knew the solution to each of these challenges was to restore an economic mentality that champions building.  And that is the core of our economic approach. To build.  To build capacity, to build resilience, to build inclusiveness, at home and with partners abroad.  The capacity to produce and innovate, and to deliver public goods like strong physical and digital infrastructure and clean energy at scale.  The resilience to withstand natural disasters and geopolitical shocks. And the inclusiveness to ensure a strong, vibrant American middle class and greater opportunity for working people around the world.

All of that is part of what we have called a foreign policy for the middle class. (emphasis mine)

I’ve highlighted the phrase “a foreign policy for the middle class” because I think that really captures the essence of what the administration is trying to do. Biden’s people believe that the same set of policies that will build up American strength vis-a-vis China will also work against domestic inequality and help restore the American middle class. That doesn’t mean they see China as the root of America’s economic ills, as Trump did — instead, it means they think they can kill two birds with one stone. Three birds, if you count climate change.

What are the chances that the same policies that would strengthen the U.S. in the international arena would also boost the middle class at home? In fact, I do think there’s a good precedent for this: World War 2. The massive military manufacturing boom unleashed to fight that war, as well as the advent of science and technology policy, ended up boosting the power of labor, accelerating growth, and creating the preconditions for a robust middle class in the postwar years. It was a double win, and it’s one the Biden administration would like to repeat.

So those are the first two main points to understand about the new industrial policy:

  1. It’s intended to strengthen the U.S.’ hand against China, and

  2. It’s an attempt to at least partially reverse the rise in inequality that happened in the 80s, 90s, and 00s.

2) Great stuff from Lee Drutman, “The Paradoxical Reason Republicans Win Elections Despite Unpopular Policies”

Can The Ostrogorski Paradox explain why Republicans often win despite unpopular policies?

Or, why issue bundling blows up Democratic theories about how to win elections.
A political puzzle haunts Democrats. Public opinion aligns with Democrats across almost all major policy issues. Yet, every national election is close. Very close.

A majority of the public agrees with Democrats …. on economic issues. On healthcareOn modestly progressive taxation. On abortion. On (not) criminalizing gender transition-related medical care. On (not) restricting drag show performances. On doing something about the warming climate. On (not) banning books. On guns.

And yet. Republicans might still win unified control of Washington in 2024. If they lose, it will only be narrowly. 

So why are elections still so close?

Two words: Issue bundling

In a two-party voting system, voters must prioritize issues. Even though Republicans may hold unpopular stances, it’s the bundle, not the individual issues, that matters.

Huh? The bundle? What, you say?

Stick with me.

(And yes, there are other plausible explanations. Gerrymandering did it! Issues don’t matter! Voters are misinformed! I’ll get to those. They also explain a few things.)

But, here’s my big argument for today: Even if voters were fully informed, even if they voted on the issues, and even if congressional districts were all drawn fairly, Democrats might still lose a head-to-head election against Republicans — despite having the more popular policies. 

How is this possible?

Enter… The Ostrogorski Paradox

Moise Ostrogorski was a Belorussian political sociologist. In 1902, he published the classic Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties, after studying US and British parties. The book is quite pessimistic on mass political parties and their tendency to devolve into corrupt, top-heavy bureaucracies — a theme developed further by the Italian Robert Michels in his 1915 book Political Parties, which is remembered for its “iron law of oligarchy.” (The “iron law” is that all organizations, including political parties, eventually become oligarchic). 

Ostrogorski (pictured above) did not invent his eponymous paradox. The political scientists Douglas W. Rae and Hans Daudt conjured it in 1976. They named it for old Moise,  “for it was he who devoted his major work to the proposition that all manner of mischief can result when issues are mixed together in a single contest.”

3) On some level, yeah, I am just rooting for laundry with the teams I support, so I love stories like this where it really makes me root for people.  I love how 38-year old Brent Burns has Seth Jarvis, 21, over to dinner and to play video games with his kids. 

4) Glad to see that Ed Sheeran won his copyright trial.  Kind of wild that him playing guitar on the stand was part of the case. Also, this:

A quirk of copyright law governed how the jury could hear the two songs. The case involved only the compositions underlying both tracks — the lyrics, melodies and chords that can be notated on paper — and not their recordings. For older songs like “Let’s Get It On,” copyright is limited to the sheet music, or “deposit copy,” that was originally submitted to the United States Copyright Office. On “Let’s Get It On,” that notation was skeletal.

That meant that the jury never heard Gaye’s original recording, which went to No. 1 in 1973. Instead, the defendants supplied a computer-generated re-creation of what appears on the deposit copy, complete with a robotic voice rendering lyrics like “If you feel like I feel, baby, then come on, let’s get it on.” The studio recording of Mr. Sheeran’s song was heard multiple times.

One of the jurors, Sophia Neis, 23, said after the trial that “the song as we’re allowed to hear it” and the “deposit copy” were key pieces of evidence in the jury’s decision making.

“We ultimately came to what we thought was the right interpretation of the law,” she said.

“It’s obviously cool to have anyone play music in front of you live,” she added, of Mr. Sheeran’s decision to play on the stand. “That was an interesting surprise.”

5) Solid guest post in Yglesias‘ substack, “The criminal justice system doesn’t do enough to make us safe”

In a recent Atlantic article, Reihan Salam and I suggested a different perspective: identifying the “root causes” of our comparatively high rates of violence is less important than adequately applying the tools of policy to the problem of controlling violence. The level of violence should be understood primarily as a function of the extent to which state capacity is exerted to stop it. Violence, that is, is a policy choice.

A corollary of this is that reducing violence — to pre-pandemic levels or to the lower levels of other nations — requires the more vigorous exercise of policy. As I argue, below and in a recent Manhattan Institute report, we have in recent years gone the other direction, deprioritizing the criminal justice system and allowing its problems to fester. What is needed instead is a serious investment, one that offers real promise for making America safe…

More cops, faster courts, better prisons


The Department of Justice already doles out police hiring grants every year, primarily through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office. The office was authorized about $300 million in grants in FY 2023, a dramatic decline in nominal and real terms from the $1.4 billion per year it was first handed in 1995. Supercharging COPS-funded hiring is a proven way to bring crime down.

This isn’t just a guess. Numerous studies have exploited randomness in receipt of COPS grants to investigate how they affect crime. They have consistently found significant crime reduction: a 10% increase in employment reduces violent crime rates by 13% and property crime by 7%, by one estimate.

How much to spend? A very rough estimate is that returning to pre-Great Recession staffing ratios would require about 80,000 new police officers and would run about $10 billion, or $2 billion annually over five years. That’s more than what we currently spend but less than the original outlays adjusted for inflation.

We could maximize benefits by earmarking at least 10 percent of the funding for detectives who, as Matt has noted, are an under-attended way to bring down violence. Congress could also end the requirement

 that half of funds go to small jurisdictions. While spreading the wealth is laudable, the reality is that big cities need more police because they have more crime.

Problems with our detention and court systems merit attention, too. It’s hard to run down why deaths are rising in prisons and jails, but they aren’t rising everywhere. A targeted prison remediation program, combining funding with the threat of federal monitorship or receivership if prisons don’t shape up, could improve prison conditions — which in turn can reduce recidivism.

A faster court system, meanwhile, probably entails some fairly technocratic fixes. In their exhaustive study, the National Center for State Courts found that the fastest courts practiced “active case management,” with the judge taking a deliberate interest in expeditious procedure. A 2019 pilot project in Brooklyn followed similar principles and cut time to disposition by 22 percent. It’s not clear that more money would solve what is ultimately a best practices problem. But the federal government could certainly lead the way by promulgating national standards for efficient case management.

Work smarter, not harsher

Like any policy area, criminal justice involves lots of trade-offs. The harsher your system is, the more false positives you’ll get; the more lenient, the more false negatives. But a smarter criminal justice system reduces the risk of both outcomes, meaning the system can be more effective without also necessarily being more punitive. Investment in criminal justice data and research, in other words, is almost a free lunch — all it costs is money. In the report, I propose bulking up research and statistics funding with an additional $300 million per year.

6) This was interesting about the death of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and similar stores:

But the bigger picture is more interesting than the economic analysis or the culture-war haymaking. Bed Bath & Beyond was a quintessential “category killer”: a marriage of the big-box superstore (discount) and the specialty store (wide selection and knowledge), which emerged in its present form in the 1980s and 1990s. This particular retail segment has been perhaps hardest hit by the “retail apocalypse”: Borders, Toys ‘R’ Us, Sports Authority, and Circuit City come to mind, among others. Best Buy has weathered rough patches; Office Depot has been slowly shrinking but is holding on. You can probably think of others.

The category killer, in theory, is genius, giving the customer something like a mashup of Walmart and a boutique. That can mean anonymity, a huge sales floor, and low prices combined with a broad, deep, curated product selection and employees who are knowledgeable in a specific area. Those characteristics, however, would represent the best of Walmart and the boutique, a truly ideal arrangement. In execution, this hybrid often ended up being the worst of its two lineages: the same generic warehouse environment, poorly trained and overworked employees, and low-quality merchandise you might find at Walmart, but combined with the high prices of a boutique. Very few category killers (Best Buy and the Container Store are successful exceptions) felt like truly successful discount-oriented specialty stores. They more often felt like departments that had been broken off from a discount department store and reopened on their own with everything unaccountably marked up. The marginally lower prices, more or less similar merchandise, and one-stop-shop convenience of Walmart—and, later, Amazon—never lost their allure…

All of this is to say that category killers are hardest hit by these pressures because of the expectation consumers bring to them that their products are a cut above those being sold in the discount department stores or the “Amazon’s Choice” top search results. If all the products and suppliers end up being basically the same across retail segments—if the space heater or the towel or the bathroom mirror available through each outlet are all a bunch of imported brands you’ve never heard of, and all kind of flimsy anyway—that supply-side pressure advantages retailers who compete mostly or solely on cost. And that was never the way category killers were designed to compete.

And so we might sincerely miss this retail segment when it’s gone, as we might miss a vanished species of lake fish. We can mourn the existence value of Bed Bath & Beyond and similar stores. But in many ways, even that is already gone. And besides, as Katy Perry sings, “I miss you more than I loved you.”

7) Really liked this. Just because a hit in hockey is legal, doesn’t mean it’s clean.  And also, what’s legal needs to change:

In some cases, given the speed of the game and the fact it’s played on a super-slippery surface, two players can collide regardless of situational awareness or vulnerable positioning. But those aren’t the plays that are sparking debates like this one quickly has.

So at the end of the day, it has to be asked why the rules exist in the first place. The easy answer for anything regarding contact to the head should be the health and safety of players. But with this much wiggle room within the rules, they can become more like guidelines than restrictions. And that’s why these plays happen and controversial conversations follow. That was the case when Matt Dumba hit Joe Pavelski just weeks ago in Game 1 between the Wild and Stars.

That isn’t to say all hitting needs to come out of the game. There are ways to effectively hit, to make contact that is not to the head in an effort to separate a player from the puck to change possession. But once there’s contact to the head, it’s not clean or legal. The severity of the check, the intent and the context of the situation can influence the level of punishment during the game, with a concerted effort to penalize all hits to the head. Starting with that change in-game, instead of waiting for potential supplemental discipline that doesn’t always come to clean up what’s missed, is a step in the right direction to prioritizing a player’s health and safety.

In today’s game, a legal hit isn’t always clean. But until the rules change, there won’t be a tangible separation that helps progress anything.

8) One thing that annoys me about team sports is how much individual players are often judged by championships.  It’s not like this is tennis– you can be the greatest player ever and not win a championship.  Love this from Giannis:

Antetokounmpo, after being asked if he considered the past season a failure:

Do you get a promotion every year at your job? No, right? So every year, your work is a failure? No. Every year, you work towards something, which is a goal: It’s to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, provide a house for them, or take care of your parents. It’s not a failure, it’s steps to success. There’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played for 15 years and won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure? That’s what you’re telling me.

There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you’re not, some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. That’s what sport’s about. You don’t always win, some other people are gonna win. And this year, someone else is gonna win. Simple as that. 

So 50 years from 1971-2021 that we didn’t win a championship, it was 50 years of failure? No it was not, there were steps to it, and we were able to win one, hopefully we can win another one.

9) Here’s some biotech making great progress for animal welfare by working towards ending the culling of billions of male chicks:

Even the most clueless consumer likely suspects that all is not well on the big factory farms that raise animals for food, but let me share the details of one practice with which you might be unfamiliar: Every hour, across the world, around 742,000 freshly hatched male chicks are born. A few hours later, they’re tossed into a grinder, which kills them instantly, or gassed with carbon dioxide, which knocks them unconscious before killing them. (Rarer methods include burningelectrocutionsuffocation, and drowning).

While the female chicks go on to lay the more than 1.2 trillion eggs humans consume annually, 6.5 billion male chicks each year are hatched, only to be quickly snuffed out. That’s because they don’t lay eggs, so they’re of no use to the egg industry, and because they don’t grow as big and fast as other chicken breeds, they’re of no use to the chicken meat industry. Even though culling costs egg producers an estimated $500 million a year, it makes more economic sense to just kill the males on day one, rather than spend an additional dollar raising them.

Undercover investigations into hatcheries have drawn some public attention to male chick culling, enough that in recent years a number of European countries, including Germany and France, have gone so far as to ban the practice, giving hatcheries and egg producers a few options: raise male chicks for meat (albeit inefficiently), raise “dual-purpose” breeds (ones that lay a relatively moderate number of eggs and grow to a moderate size), import hens from neighboring countries, or shut down operations.

But there’s another option: They can use emerging technology to identify the sex of the chick while still in the egg so they can destroy it before it hatches, before the chick can feel pain.

That last possibility has gained momentum in recent years. Since 2019, five companies have managed to commercialize in-ovo — meaning in egg — sexing technology that enables them to identify the sex of the chick around either day nine or day 12/13 from when the egg incubation starts, depending on the approach. Such advances have already saved tens of millions of male chicks from being born, only to be swiftly culled. It’s estimated that 10 to 20 percent of Europe’s hen flock now comes from cull-free hatcheries.

10) I know many of you will find this interesting, “Does eating close to bedtime make you gain weight? It depends.: Your body’s response to a calorie is different in the morning versus the evening, a recent study reports.”

Eating later at night—or just a few hours before bedtime—contributes to several metabolic changes that increase hunger and may boost the risk of long-term weight gain.

Plenty of past research has found that late-night eating is linked to weight gain or obesity, but most studies are observational, and few explain why eating later might have anything to do with why people put on pounds. A recent study, published in Cell Metabolism, sought to address the questionby controlling the calories participants ate, how much they slept, and how much physical activity they got so researchers could learn how and why eating later might affect weight.

One of the most significant findings from this report is that “a calorie is a calorie, but the response of your body to that calorie is different in the morning versus the evening,” said Frank A.J.L. Scheer, the senior author and a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School.

That finding matches past research showing that the glycemic index of a food—how it affects the body’s blood sugar following a meal—varies depending on the time of day that food is consumed, said Nina Vujovic, a neuroscientist who led this study as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. The challenge people have with eating at the healthiest times, she added, is that many do not have regular schedules, or their schedule is outside their control.

In the study, Vujovic found that eating within four hours of bedtime affects two hormones related to hunger. On days participants ate closer to sleep, they also burned fewer calories and showed molecular changes in fat tissue suggesting their body converted calories into fat storage more easily.

What surprised Scheer most was that eating closer to bedtime affected all the factors they measured rather than just one or two of them. “In the nutrition field, I think the longest resistance against the idea that timing of food matters is based on this simplistic view of ‘a calorie is a calorie,’” meaning that it shouldn’t matter when someone eats it, Scheer said, “yet it does.”

One of the things I love about my 16-8 approach is that because I never eat after 8p, I’m pretty much never hungry after 8p.

11) Ross Douthat, “Can the Meritocracy Survive Without the SAT?”

The rapid abandonment of the SAT and ACT as requirements for college admissions, to the point where more than 80 percent of four-year colleges didn’t require a standardized test for admission in the coming fall, is a milestone in the history of the modern meritocracy. What remains to be seen is whether it’s a marker on the road to the meritocracy’s demise.

From the beginning meritocratic culture and standardized testing have been inextricably intertwined. The transformation of America’s elite colleges in the middle of the 20th century, from upper-class finishing schools into modern “multiversities” supposedly open to all comers, was driven and justified by the SAT, which was supposed to provide an equal-opportunity means of ascent and legitimate the new elite with numerical evidence of its brainpower.

For a long time meritocracy’s skeptics, left and right, have noted that the new system created an upper class that seems as privileged and insular as the old one. And according to some of the SAT’s critics, it’s precisely this criticism that’s motivating the current shift away from standardized tests — the idea that they’re inherently biased toward kids from well-off families and that a more holistic definition of merit will open more opportunities for the meritorious poor and middle class.

There are reasons to be doubtful of this account. First, it seems pretty clear that many schools are really ditching the SAT in response to the following sequence of events: Asian American SAT scores rose to the point where elite colleges were accused of discriminating against Asian American applicants to maintain the racial balance they desired, this led to lawsuits, and those lawsuits seem poised to yield a Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action. So universities are pre-emptively abandoning a metric that might be used against them in future litigation, not for the sake of widening opportunity but just in the hopes of sustaining the admissions status quo.

Second, while SAT scores are linked to family income, the link is not as tight as critics sometimes suggest, and standardized tests are probably a less class-bound metric than many things that go into more “holistic” assessments. Lots of kids use the SAT or ACT to get a boost out of a bad school or prove themselves despite lacking a polished résumé, and there’s little clear evidence that going test-optional increases racial diversity. Whereas the college essay (assuming it survives ChatGPT), the extracurricular-laden résumé, the right demeanor in the college interview — all of these seem more likely to be indicators of privilege than a raw score on a standardized test. So the children of the upper class could be beneficiaries of the SAT’s decline, while children trying to climb could lose a crucial ladder.

The first point suggests a future where the diminishment of the SAT won’t change all that much about the meritocracy. The second suggests a future where the meritocracy becomes even more privileged and insular — but over time, less associated with talent and intelligence, in a way that steadily undermines its legitimacy and influence.

12) And Yglesias on standardized tests:

Most American colleges have gone test-optional for their admissions policies, and a large and growing number have gone test-prohibited. The official reason for this move, according to its advocates, is the decently strong correlation between student standardized test scores and parental income.

“An overwhelming majority of undergraduate admissions offices now make selection decisions without relying on ACT/SAT results,” said FairTest Executive Director Harry Feder in the organization’s news release. “These schools recognize that standardized test scores do not measure academic ‘merit.’ What they do assess quite accurately is family wealth, but that should not be the criteria for getting into college.”

Feder added, “De-emphasizing standardized exam scores is a model that all of U.S. education – from K-12 through graduate schools — should follow.”

Note that what Feder literally said here is “family wealth,” which is wrong.

Wealth, as longtime Slow Boring readers know, is kind of weird. Donald Trump at various times in his career filed for bankruptcy because he has negative wealth, which did not make his children more disadvantaged than homeless kids whose parents have zero wealth. By the same token, we don’t expect national average SAT scores to crash during years when the stock market takes a downturn. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth has plummeted during the past couple of years, but his kids’ academic prospects haven’t.

I’m quibbling here, but since this is, in fact, the centerpiece of Feder’s argument, I think it’s worth calling attention to how sloppy he is with it. Because the whole thing is basically nonsense. As Erik Hoel writes, “I struggle with this reasoning,” since after all, “on the one side there is the litany of activities, academic successes, and school pedigrees that make up the bulk of a good college application, and the massive amounts of wealth and parental involvement that implies from essentially diapers onwards, and, on the other side, there’s a $20 Kaplan SAT prep book and getting your butt in a chair to go through example problems.” …

Don’t worry too much about dropping the tests


As I hope you can tell by now, I think the anti-testing people are wrong. That said, I do think the anti-anti-testing people are more worried than they ought to be. I hear from certain quarters that the end of standardized testing will lead to a catastrophic collapse of meritocratic standards or make it impossible for smart kids from modest backgrounds to distinguish themselves.

The people raising those concerns are, I think, taking the situation too literally. The worriers are looking at the current admissions system and then imagining the consequences of kicking out the standardized test leg of the stool. And it’s completely true that if you did that, you’d get a class that’s skewed more toward privilege and less toward intelligence. But I think that misunderstands the situation. Elite schools don’t design an admission system behind a veil of ignorance and then see what happens. They know what kind of class they want and they reverse-engineer admissions criteria to deliver that result. This reverse-engineering process places a thumb on the scale against Asian applicants from major metropolitan areas. But it’s embarrassing (and potentially illegal) to admit that this is happening, and the standardized tests make it a little too clear what’s going on.

Schools are moving to phase out the tests not because they want to admit a different group of people, but because they are anticipating a Supreme Court ruling that will try to make them change who they admit, and they don’t want to do that.

The idea is that without standardized test requirements, it will be harder for anyone to prove that discrimination is happening and schools can keep admitting the same people they are admitting now. Because the tests are a useful tool, doing without them will make admissions work a little bit more labor-intensive. But Harvard has plenty of money and can easily afford to hire more admissions officers to scrutinize applications that lack a convenient summary test score.

13) Speaking of merit.  This is long and I didn’t read all of it.  But, what I did is really good and I think some of you might really enjoy this. “In Defense of Merit in Science”

14) I quite liked this, “How Much Do Voters Really Care About Biden’s Age?”

Many Americans say they do not want President Biden to run for re-election, and his age is a big reason. In an NBC News poll released last weekend, 70 percent of adults said Mr. Biden, who is 80, should not run again. Asked if age was a factor, 69 percent of them said yes. Other recent surveys detect a similar lack of enthusiasm, with many voters — including around half of Democrats — calling him too old to seek the White House again.

Taken at face value, it’s easy to imagine that his age could undermine the re-election campaign he formally announced on Tuesday. Mr. Biden, already the oldest president in U.S. history, would be 86 at the end of his second term. Republicans have amplified video of his verbal miscues — he also has a stutter — and suggested they reflect cognitive decline. Mr. Biden’s age is a frequent punchline on late-night television.

But a review of the polling and academic research paints a surprisingly mixed picture. With the obvious caveat that a serious age-related gaffe or health crisis could change things, there are good reasons to think that Biden’s age may matter less than some polls suggest.

Americans often express concern about aging leaders, but that hasn’t stopped them from voting for older candidates…

That doesn’t mean Americans who say they’re concerned about age are lying. Their voting choices may reflect the available options. “There’s nothing inconsistent about people saying no one in their 80s should be president and then voting for someone in their 80s if that’s the only choice they’re given,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.

Polls do suggest that voters discern bigger issues for Mr. Biden than past older candidates (although pollsters seem to have asked about past candidates’ ages less often). But in a polarized era, party loyalty is far likelier to determine voters’ choice.

“In the final analysis, we’re going to vote for the ‘D’ or the ‘R,’ ” said Karlyn Bowman, an emeritus fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who studies public opinion polling. “Partisan loyalty is so strong at this point that that will trump the other concerns.”

Perceptions of Mr. Biden’s fitness also track with partisanship. Republicans — who are unlikely to back any Democratic candidate, no matter how spry — are the most apt to say that Mr. Biden is too old to run. His age also hasn’t stopped the vast majority of Democrats from deeming his presidency a success (though younger Democrats have expressed less eagerness to see Mr. Biden run again).

“People are thinking about the election through the lens of other things,” said Margie Omero, a principal at GBAO, a Democratic polling firm. “Biden’s record, Trump’s record, what they see as the future of the country, legislative accomplishments, the fight for abortion rights.”

15) This sounds right, “Harry Potter Was Always Meant to Be Television: A long story with a locked-in ending is ideal for the smaller screen.”

16) I definitely agree that we should not shame and stigmatize people for being fat.  My mom spent most of her adult life significantly overweight and I know how hard it was on her.  That said, I find the whole, “actually, the only bad thing about being fat is the social stigma and it’s otherwise just fine for your health” so tiresome.

Sole-Smith produces the newsletter and podcast Burnt Toast, where she explores fatphobia, diet culture, parenting and healthIn her new book, Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture, she argues that efforts to fight childhood obesity have caused kids to absorb an onslaught of body-shaming messages.

“The chronic experience of weight stigma … is similar to the research we see on chronic experiences of racism or other forms of bias,” Sole-Smith says. “This raises your stress level. This has you in a constant state of fight-or-flight, and stress hormones are elevated. That takes a toll on our bodies for sure.”

I also am really thinking that the concept of “privilege” may at this point be doing more harm than good for the left because we get so much stuff like this that just makes normies like me roll their eyes:

On thin privilege

Thin privilege is a concept that is tricky to get our heads around, because if you have it, you don’t really see how much you have it. I mean, it’s a lot like white privilege in that way because you don’t see how much it’s benefiting you. But what we’re talking about with thin privilege is the fact that if you are someone who can wear “straight” sizes [0 to 14], youcan walk into The Gap or Target or whatever and find your size easily on the rack. …

It means when you go to the doctor, your weight is not the first and often only thing that’s talked about. It means you can sit on an airplane and not worry about buckling the seatbelt. You can go to a restaurant without worrying, Will they have booths that are too tight for you to get into while the chairs have arms that are too tight? Physical spaces are built for your body. And whatever your own personal struggles might be … your body is not a target for the world in the way that someone in a bigger body is.

What’s also sort of nuanced and tricky about thin privilege is the fact that you can be fat and still be benefiting from thin privilege relative to someone fatter than you. … I identify as “small fat.” I wear like a 16, 18, 20, and so I can order clothes — mostly only online, not so much in-person stores — but I can get clothes that fit my body pretty easily. I can take weight out of the conversation with a health care provider. I have certainly experienced medical weight stigma, but if I say “I don’t want to get on the scale,” they respect that decision. That’s not available to someone who’s in a bigger body than me.
17) This was a pretty fascinating discussion in the History world back in March that I kept meaning to post on:

The trouble started with a writer on deadline. James Sweet, who goes by Jim, is a white professor of African history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the former president of the American Historical Association (A.H.A.). Every month, he was tasked with writing a column for Perspectives on History, a magazine put out by the association, which is mostly read by academics. Last summer, while he was on vacation in Ghana, he was struggling to come up with a column idea, and so he started looking around for inspiration.

At his hotel one morning, “a group of African Americans began trickling into the breakfast bar,” he wrote. Sweet noticed that one of them had brought along “a dog-eared copy of The 1619 Project,” a book-length expansion of the Times’ exploration of America’s founding, which looks at the country’s origins through the lens of slavery and racism. Later, Sweet and his family visited Elmina Castle, a slave-trading post on the Gulf of Guinea. “Our guide gave a well-rehearsed tour geared toward African Americans,” despite the fact that “less than one percent of the Africans passing through Elmina arrived in North America.” To Sweet, these examples illustrated the temptation of “presentism”—a concept, often used by scholars in a derogatory manner, referring to studies of the past that are distorted by the ideas of the present. In his essay, he leaned on some other examples, such as “The Woman King,” a popular film from last year, which seemed, to him, to twist violent episodes of African history into a story of Black, feminist triumph. He also brought in Supreme Court decisions written by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who made historical arguments to support decisions on guns and abortion rights. It was a list of strange bedfellows, but his point, or at least the point he wanted to make, was methodological. “We’re being inundated with history at all sorts of turns. No one is immune to that,” Sweet told me recently. “Certain narratives are harnessed in the service of particular political perspectives. For me, that’s a dangerous trend for professional historians to get drawn into.”

The piece was published on the afternoon of August 17th. Sweet, who is also a high-school football coach, was walking off the field after practice when he got the first indication that something was up: an e-mail in his in-box from a famous historian that said “Wow! . . . Just, wow.” By the time that Sweet got home, his piece was blowing up on Twitter. “Oh, hell,” he recalled thinking. “Here we go.”

A number of academics were exasperated that Sweet criticized “The 1619 Project,” which had already come under attack from other white-guy senior historians. Others were confused that he used non-academic examples to illustrate supposed problems in academic history. Some were incredulous that the leader of the country’s premier history organization seemed to dismiss work that was focussed on fundamental issues of power: Jamelle Bouie, a columnist at the Timestweeted, “Bold take from [checks byline] the president of AHA that race, gender, sexuality, nationalism and capitalism are ‘contemporary social justice issues’ which have been imposed on the study of history.” Many observed that Sweet’s targets for criticism were nearly all Black. One junior faculty member at a private Catholic university wrote about the essay on his blog, saying that he “cried re-reading it, seeing starkly the smug condescension and slap in the face to professional historians of Africa, and to Black Americans.”

18) Good stuff from Jean Twenge, “The Myth of the Broke Millennial: After a rough start, the generation is thriving. Why doesn’t it feel that way?”

Pick up a book on Millennials, or wander into a discussion about them online, and this theme pops up again and again: The once-optimistic children of the 1980s and early ’90s are now wheezing under the burden of college debt, too poor to buy houses or start families, sucker punched by a hostile economy that bears no resemblance to the one their parents enjoyed as young adults.

“We’re only now starting to grasp the degree to which we have gotten screwed,” Jill Filipovic wrote in her 2020 book, OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind, “and we’re responding with desperation and sometimes anger.” The famous rebuke that Filipovic takes as the book’s title isn’t mere snark, she writes; it’s “a final, frustrated dismissal from people suffering years of political and economic neglect.” In a Morning Consult poll last year, 45 percent of Millennials, compared with 35 percent of all adults, agreed with the statement “Because of my money situation, I will never have the things I want in life.” Fifty-two percent of Millennials said they were concerned that “the money I have or will save won’t last.”

The surprise was this: Millennials, as a group, are not broke—they are, in fact, thriving economically. That wasn’t true a decade ago, and prosperity within the generation today is not evenly shared. But since the mid-2010s, Millennials on the whole have made a breathtaking financial comeback.

This is terrific news. And yet it’s not all good news, because the belief that Millennials have been excluded from the implicit promises that America makes to its people—a house for most, middle-class security, a better life than your parents had—remains predominant in society and, to go by surveys and the tenor of social media, among Millennials themselves.

That prompts a question with implications for the cultural and political future of the United States, a country premised, to a large extent, on the idea of material progress: What if the American dream is still alive, but no one believes it to be?

19) Of course, in a lot of quarters of the left (and without a doubt on twitter), just sharing this article might get you labeled a transphobe.  But, the reality is “gender-affirming care” for minors is far from the area of settled science it’s advocates would have you believe. “A Teen Gender-Care Debate Is Spreading Across Europe: Doubts have now come to the Netherlands, where the most-contested interventions for children and adolescents were developed.”

As Republicans across the U.S. intensify their efforts to legislate against transgender rights, they are finding aid and comfort in an unlikely place: Western Europe, where governments and medical authorities in at least five countries that once led the way on gender-affirming treatments for children and adolescents are now reversing course, arguing that the science undergirding these treatments is unproven, and their benefits unclear.

The about-face by these countries concerns the so-called Dutch protocol, which has for at least a decade been viewed by many clinicians as the gold-standard approach to care for children and teenagers with gender dysphoria. Kids on the protocol are given medical and mental-health assessments; some go on to take medicines that block their natural puberty and, when they’re older, receive cross-sex hormones and eventually surgery. But in Finland, Sweden, France, Norway, and the U.K., scientists and public-health officials are warning that, for some young people, these interventions may do more harm than good.

European health authorities are not reversing themselves on broader issues of trans rights, particularly for adults. But this turn against the Dutch protocol has inflamed activists and politicians in the United States. Republicans who have worked to ban its recommended treatments claim that the shifts in Europe prove they’re right. Their opponents argue that any doubts at all about the protocol, raised in any country whatsoever, are simply out of step with settled science: They point to broad endorsements by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among other groups; and they assert that when it comes to the lifesaving nature of gender-affirming care, “doctors agree.”

But doctors do not agree, particularly in Europe, where no treatments have been banned but a genuine debate is unfurling in this field. In Finland, for example, new treatment guidelines put out in 2020 advised against the use of puberty-blocking drugs and other medical interventions as a first line of care for teens with adolescent-onset dysphoria. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare followed suit in 2022, announcing that such treatments should be given only under exceptional circumstances or in a research context. Shortly after that, the National Academy of Medicine in France recommended la plus grande réserve in the use of puberty blockers. Just last month, a national investigatory board in Norway expressed concerns about the treatment. And the U.K.’s only national gender clinic for children, the Tavistock, has been ordered to close its doors after a government-commissioned report found, among other problems, that its Dutch-protocol-based approach to treatment lacked sufficient evidence.

Believe me, I don’t for a second think this makes Republicans right on this subject.  Mostly, it makes me jealous that in Europe they seem to have reasonable, nuanced conversations about difficult issues whereas we get tribalism and grandstanding from both the right and the left.

20) I was in Vox a couple weeks ago.  That impressed at least one former student. Why these Democrats are defecting to the GOP: Four Democratic lawmakers in West Virginia, Louisiana, and North Carolina switched parties recently. Should Democrats worry?”

There’s also an incentive for a party that is just short of a supermajority, as was the case in Louisiana and North Carolina, to court members who may be on the political margins. It’s not yet clear whether the GOP made any concessions to any of the lawmakers to persuade them to come over, but it’s certainly possible.

“It’s a lot more fun to be part of the majority and even more fun to be part of the supermajority,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.

The lawmakers will inherently wield more power and have access to favorable committee assignments. But they also don’t have to vote with their new parties all the time: Greene said it would be strange for Cotham to turn her back on her previous positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights, but it’s possible that she might vote with Republicans on the state budget, where the implementation of Medicaid expansion is likely to be contentious.

Mostly, though, as I’ve written before, Tricia Cotham is just awful.  Decent people simply do not behave as she has done here. 


Quick hits (part I)

1) Yes, of course way more people are co-sleeping than like to admit it.  Since it’s long in my past, I’ll admit it. 

2) Ron Brownstein, “Red States Need Blue Cities”

In red and blue states, Democrats are consolidating their hold on the most economically productive places.

Metropolitan areas won by President Joe Biden in 2020 generated more of the total economic output than metros won by Donald Trump in 35 of the 50 states, according to new research by Brookings Metro provided exclusively to The Atlantic. Biden-won metros contributed the most to the GDP not only in all 25 states that he carried but also in 10 states won by Trump, including Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Ohio, and even Florida, Brookings found. Almost all of the states in which Trump-won metros accounted for the most economic output rank in the bottom half of all states for the total amount of national GDP produced within their borders.

Biden’s dominance was pronounced in the highest-output metro areas. Biden won 43 of the 50 metros, regardless of what state they were in, that generated the absolute most economic output; remarkably, he won every metro area that ranked No. 1 through 24 on that list of the most-productive places.

The Democrats’ ascendance in the most-prosperous metropolitan regions underscores how geographic and economic dynamics now reinforce the fundamental fault line in American politics between the people and places most comfortable with how the U.S. is changing and those who feel alienated or marginalized by those changes.

Just as Democrats now perform best among the voters most accepting of the demographic and cultural currents remaking 21st-century America, they have established a decisive advantage in diverse, well-educated metropolitan areas. Those places have become the locus of the emerging information economy in industries such as computing, communications, and advanced biotechnology.

And just as Republicans have relied primarily on the voters who feel most alienated and threatened by cultural and demographic change, their party has grown stronger in preponderantly white, blue-collar, midsize and smaller metro areas, as well as rural communities. Those are all places that generally have shared little in the transition to the information economy and remain much more reliant on the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: agriculture, fossil-fuel extraction, and manufacturing…

The trajectory is toward greater conflict between the diverse, big places that have transitioned the furthest toward the information-age economy and the usually less diverse and smaller places that have not. Across GOP-controlled states, Republicans are using statewide power rooted in their dominance of nonmetropolitan areas to pass an aggressive agenda preempting authority from their largest cities across a wide range of issues and imposing cultural values largely rejected in those big cities; several are also now targeting public universities with laws banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and proposals to eliminate tenure for professors.

This sweeping offensive is especially striking because, as the Brookings data show, even many red states now rely on blue-leaning metro areas as their principal drivers of economic growth. Texas, for instance, is one of the places where Republicans are pursuing the most aggressive preemption agenda, but the metros won by Biden there in 2020 account for nearly three-fourths of the state’s total economic output.

“State antagonism toward cities is not sustainable,” says Amy Liu, the interim president of the Brookings Institution. “By handicapping local problem solving or attacking local institutions and employers, state lawmakers are undermining the very actors they need to build a thriving regional economy.”…

The analysis showed that the metros Biden carried generated 50 percent or more of state economic output in 28 states, and a plurality of state output in seven others. States where Biden-won metros accounted for the highest share of economic output included reliably blue states: His metros generated at least 90 percent of state economic output in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. But the Biden-won metros also generated at least 80 percent of the total economic output in Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, as well as two-thirds in Michigan and almost exactly half in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—all key swing states. And the metros he carried generated at least half of total output in several Republican states, including Texas, Iowa, and Missouri.

3) Aaron Blake, “5 striking findings about what the GOP wants in 2024”

1. The party wants election deniers, full stop

Election deniers cost the GOP dearly in the 2022 election; the evidence for that is unmistakable. Yet this poll reinforces not just that a large majority of Republican-leaning voters continue to believe the election was stolen, but also that they want candidates who say that.

That last one is particularly startling. It’s one thing to falsely believe the election was stolen, as most Republicans do; it’s another to want someone who continues to re-litigate that. (Indeed, there are other issues Republicans are less interested in re-litigating, which we’ll get to.)

Candidates who keyed on that stolen-election message fared extremely poorly in swing areas in 2022, winning just 10 of 47 competitive races and being nearly swept in competitive races for Senate, governor and secretary of state. It’s a big reason some in the party have gently tried to usher Trump away from this message.

2. Electability is a nonissue (for now)

Rather than call the election stolen, DeSantis tried to use the fact of Trump’s loss against him — in the service of an electability argument. DeSantis has even gestured at the idea that Trump’s voter-fraud claims are bogus and that he’s dishonest.

The poll reinforces that this electability argument isn’t as effective as DeSantis might hope, though it does point to some potential.

Not only do 75 percent of Republican-leaners say Trump’s supposed victory in 2020 is a reason to vote for him again, 84 percent say that “He would beat Joe Biden” is a reason to vote for him. By contrast, just 38 percent say “He could lose to Joe Biden” is a reason to vote against him.

4) This is from November, but just came across it.  A lot of colleges are in for a lot of hurt. Kevin Carey, “The incredible shrinking future of college: The population of college-age Americans is about to crash. It will change higher education forever.”

In four years, the number of students graduating from high schools across the country will begin a sudden and precipitous decline, due to a rolling demographic aftershock of the Great Recession. Traumatized by uncertainty and unemployment, people decided to stop having kids during that period. But even as we climbed out of the recession, the birth rate kept dropping,and we are now starting to see the consequences on campuses everywhere. Classes will shrink, year after year, for most of the next two decades. People in the higher education industry call it “the enrollment cliff.”

Among the small number of elite colleges and research universities — think the Princetons and the Penn States — the cliff will be no big deal. These institutions have their pick of applicants and can easily keep classes full.

For everyone else, the consequences could be dire. In some places, the crisis has already begun. College enrollment began slowly receding after the millennial enrollment wave peaked in 2010, particularly in regions that were already experiencing below-average birth rates while simultaneously losing population to out-migration. Starved of students and the tuition revenue they bring, small private colleges in New England have begun to blink off the map. Regional public universities like Ship are enduring painful layoffs and consolidation…

The problem now is that colleges have likely hit a ceiling in terms of how many 18-year-olds they can coax onto campus. The percentage of young adults with a high school diploma has reached 94 percent. And the immediate college enrollment rate of high school graduates was flat, right around 70 percent, from 2010 to 2018, before dipping in 2019 and 2020 as the job market heated up for less-skilled, lower-wage jobs.

Some parts of the country are already experiencing an enrollment bust, mainly because of internal migration. According to the census, 327,000 people moved to the Northeast (which includes Pennsylvania) from elsewhere in the United States in 2018-19, while 565,000 moved out, for a net loss of 238,000 people.

By contrast, the South (which includes Texas and Florida) saw a net increaseof 263,000 internal migrants, and another 447,000 people arrived from abroad, more than twice the number for the Northeast. Fertility rates are also lower, and falling faster, for white people, and the Northeast and Midwest have proportionally more white people. This was true before the Great Recession, too.

5) Derek Thompson, “America Fails the Civilization Test”

The true test of a civilization may be the answer to a basic question: Can it keep its children alive?

For most of recorded history, the answer everywhere was plainly no. Roughly half of all people—tens of billions of us—died before finishing puberty until about the 1700s, when breakthroughs in medicine and hygiene led to tremendous advances in longevity. In Central Europe, for example, the mortality rate for children fell from roughly 50 percent in 1750 to 0.3 percent in 2020. You will not find more unambiguous evidence of human progress.

How’s the U.S. doing on the civilization test? When graded on a curve against its peer nations, it is failing. The U.S. mortality rate is much higher, at almost every age, than that of most of Europe, Japan, and Australia. That is, compared with the citizens of these nations, American infants are less likely to turn 5, American teenagers are less likely to turn 30, and American 30-somethings are less likely to survive to retirement.

Last year, I called the U.S. the rich death trap of the modern world. The “rich” part is important to observe and hard to overstate. The typical American spends almost 50 percent more each year than the typical Brit, and a trucker in Oklahoma earns more than a doctor in Portugal.

This extra cash ought to buy us more years of living. For most countries, higher incomes translate automatically into longer lives. But not for today’s Americans. A new analysis by John Burn-Murdoch, a data journalist at the Financial Times, shows that the typical American is 100 percent more likely to die than the typical Western European at almost every age from birth until retirement.

Imagine I offered you a pill and told you that taking this mystery medication would have two effects. First, it would increase your disposable income by almost half. Second, it would double your odds of dying in the next 365 days. To be an average American is to fill a lifetime prescription of that medication and take the pill nightly.

According to data collected by Burn-Murdoch, a typical American baby is about 1.8 times more likely to die in her first year than the average infant from a group of similarly rich countries: Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, the U.K., Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Let’s think of this 1.8 figure as “the U.S. death ratio”—the annual mortality rate in the U.S., as a multiple of similarly rich countries.

6) I loved this, because it’s so me.  One of the reasons I’m such a happy person is that I pretty much never beat myself up over what I feel, “Lean Into Negative Emotions. It’s the Healthy Thing to Do.”

We’re nervous about an upcoming work presentation, then lament our lack of confidence. We get angry at our partner, then feel guilty about our impatience. Our emotions undoubtedly influence our well-being — but recent research suggests that how we judge and react to those emotions may affect us even more.

In a study published last month in the journal Emotion, researchers found that people who habitually judge negative feelings — such as sadness, fear and anger — as bad or inappropriate have more anxiety and depression symptoms and feel less satisfied with their lives than people who generally perceive their negative emotions in a positive or neutral light.

The findings add to a growing body of research that indicates people fare better when they accept their unpleasant emotions as appropriate and healthy, rather than try to fight or suppress them.

“Many of us have this implicit belief that emotions themselves are bad, they’re going to do something bad to us,” said Iris Mauss, a social psychologist who studies emotions at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the new study. But most of the time, she said, “emotions don’t do harmful things.”

“It’s actually the judgment that causes, ultimately, the suffering.”

7) Just a great Brian Beutler on Democrats and the politics of the debt ceiling:

If Democrats were like Republicans, they would’ve treated turnabout as fair play, and held the debt limit hostage for ideological policy concessions after Trump took office. Of course, the parties aren’t similar, and Democrats never considered this, nor should they have: Extortion is extortion, and every bit as anti-democratic as stealing court seats, or elected offices. 

But I did think, and argued at the time, that when Republicans came to Democrats for help increasing the debt limit, Democrats should have made one demand: that in exchange for their votes, Republicans would have to relinquish the debt limit as a tool of extortion forever. This could have taken many forms: Outright debt-limit abolition, indefinite debt-limit suspension, a debt-limit increase of effectively infinite size, or the permanent delegation of authority to increase the debt limit to the executive branch. Either way, the idea was that Democrats should have had enough dignity to insist the parties be bound by a single set of rules, and make it the price of bailing Republicans out of a jam. 

Democrats instead gave their votes away for free. 

Later, when Trump’s scandalous maladministration of the coronavirus pandemic forced the government to layout trillions of dollars, I argued that Democrats should condition their support for stimulus on measures that would guarantee reciprocity, so that if a Democratic president inherited a damaged nation from Trump, Republicans couldn’t simply turn around and sabotage it further. This would have included tying economic support to material conditions like the unemployment rate (what economists call “automatic stabilizers”), compliance with congressional oversight, and (again) the permanent neutralization of the debt limit. 

Democrats demanded none of these things. 

By the end of the last Congress, with Republicans poised once again to control the House under a Democratic president, the idea that Democrats should use their narrow, lame-duck majorities to moot the debt limit grew into something like a clamor, rather than the musings of one random political columnist. Democrats thus had to respond to it, and their response was: sorry, no. This time, they seemingly just didn’t have the votes. But Democratic leaders expended almost no public effort trying to whip them up. Instead they and their loyalists treated supporters to excuses ranging from ‘we don’t have enough time’ to ‘we are leaving the doomsday device armed and ticking on purpose!’ How better to force Republicans to produce a budget, which will contain unpopular policies, the better to run against?

Well, Republicans did produce a budget, it has made almost no difference in the short term, they remain committed to engineering a recession while lying about the contents of their budget legislation, and the White House is left whining that industry trade groups and corporate-funded advocacy shops have not ridden to the rescue

8) NYT on taxing alcohol more (I’ve long been all-in on this because criminologist extraordinaire Mark Kleiman was a big advocate– also, I don’t drink much)

The synthetic opioid fentanyl is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. It’s a national crisis and deserves our attention.

Also killing tens of thousands of Americans every year is alcohol. By the count of the Centers for Disease Control, about 140,000 deaths per year in the United States are the result of injuries or disease caused by alcohol.

Only one of these two tragedies has the nation’s attention. The other has been normalized to the point where we seemingly don’t consider more than 100,000 lives lost to a preventable cause a crisis.

While winning the war on drugs is now far out of reach, we do actually know how to reduce American fatalities from excessive drinking.

The answer is taxes. More of them. On alcohol. That’s the solution we explore in an Opinion Video today.

About a half-century worth of research has shown that raising taxes on alcohol reduces alcohol-related deaths. According to researchers, a rough rule of thumb holds that a 10 percent increase in the price of alcohol reduces drinking by 5 percent or more.

In some ways, my comparison to fentanyl is unfair and unneeded. The insidious nature of drug syndicates lacing pills to increase America’s habit is incomparable.

But America’s failed war on drugs has led many experts to believe we should be focusing on harm reduction — strategies to reduce deaths and suffering — instead of on ineffective prohibition and enforcement measures.

Why shouldn’t that same philosophy carry over to a legal and widely used drug like alcohol?

Yes, we know taxes aren’t fun. But even an increase of pennies per drink could lead to fewer car crashes, lower rates of liver disease, a dip in crime — even fewer cases of sexually transmitted diseases.

Would you be willing to pay such a tax if you knew it could save lives?

9) David Frum on how Britain is really suffering economically from Brexit but, politically, unwilling to undo it.

10) Really, really like this research from Tim Ryan (my a few times co-author) and others on what it really means to measure “racial resentment”

When individuals’ racial attitudes are associated with their judgments related to race — for example, when people with more negative attitudes toward Blacks are less likely to vote for a Black political candidate — existing studies routinely interpret it as evidence of prejudice against minorities. But theoretically, such associations can represent favoring minorities, disfavoring them, or a combination of both. We provide a conceptual framework to distinguish patterns of favoring and disfavoring against a standard of racial indifference, and test it with a preregistered conjoint experiment. In our results, one widely used measure — the Racial Resentment Scale — captures favoring of Blacks substantially more than disfavoring. This finding calls for greater care in characterizing white Americans’ racial attitudes and illustrates ways to improve future research designs. We also describe several extensions that integrate the distinction between favoring and disfavoring into the broader study of racial attitudes.

11) They are not wrong, which means we need to think about other financial incentives for cures. Prizes? “Goldman Sachs asks in biotech research report: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’”

Richter cited Gilead Sciences’ treatments for hepatitis C, which achieved cure rates of more than 90 percent. The company’s U.S. sales for these hepatitis C treatments peaked at $12.5 billion in 2015, but have been falling ever since. Goldman estimates the U.S. sales for these treatments will be less than $4 billion this year, according to a table in the report.

“GILD is a case in point, where the success of its hepatitis C franchise has gradually exhausted the available pool of treatable patients,” the analyst wrote. “In the case of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, curing existing patients also decreases the number of carriers able to transmit the virus to new patients, thus the incident pool also declines … Where an incident pool remains stable (eg, in cancer) the potential for a cure poses less risk to the sustainability of a franchise.”

12) Really terrific look at nasal vaccines (and why it’s so hard, but worth doing) from Katelyn Jetelina:

The vast majority of research is still in the animal phase, which shows promise, but we do not have any guarantee that the result will be the same in people. 

We have done hard things

Anything that reduces the incidence of infections and curbs the spread of SARS-CoV-2 has the potential for massive public health benefit. If that can be translated to other infectious diseases, that would be superb. 

Furthermore, a vaccine that can be administered without the need for a skilled medical professional is especially valuable in regions where such expertise may be sparse, as has been observed with polio eradication campaigns. 

Bottom line

While a mucosal vaccine may help, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We shouldn’t oversell the potential but recognize the real challenges and cheer on the scientists who are trying to figure them out. Operation Next Gen should help move mountains, but time will tell.

13) I was actually relating this to somebody in-person the other day, so need to share it here, via Drum:

Health care pros prefer AI to human doctors

I’m not sure why this amuses me so much, but it does:

This is from a study comparing human doctors to GPT 3.5. The methodology was sort of fascinating: the authors collected 195 questions and responses from real doctors on Reddit and then fed the exact same questions into the chatbot. Then they jumbled up all the responses and had them evaluated by health care professionals.

As the chart shows, the pros concluded that the chatbot’s answers were more accurate and more empathetic. So what was up with the doctors? Were they telling people to suck it up and just accept the pain? Or what? Here’s an example:

(Sorry this is so small. As always, click to embiggen.)

In this case, I empathize with the human doctor. My response probably would be along the lines of “ffs, it’s just a toothpick,” so I think the doctor was heroically patient here.

Still, the chatbot answer is demonstrably better. One reason is that it’s not time restricted. Most human doctors just don’t have the patience or time to write long answers with lots of little verbal curlicues. The chatbot has no such problem. It used three times as many words as the doctor and could have used ten times more with no trouble. It simply doesn’t require any effort for the chatbot to be empathetic and provide lots of information that might be of only minor importance.

14) Loved this interview with James Marsden and I’ve loved the first two episodes of “Jury Duty.” 

The future of “affirmative action”

Will be class-based, not race-based.  Of course, a lot of class-based ends up being largely race-based.  But, that’s not a bad thing, of course.  Help people who need it.  Good stuff from Leonhardt today:

The court is expected to rule on affirmative action in June, and observers expect tight restrictions on race-based considerations in college admissions. The six Republican-appointed justices, including Kavanaugh, all seem opposed to the status quo, in which many colleges have different admissions criteria for different racial groups. Black, Latino and Native American applicants are now admitted with lower test scores and grades than Asian and white applicants.

But even most opponents of the current system agree that colleges should take into account some parts of an applicant’s background. Consider two teenagers: One grew up with working-class parents, attended a high-poverty high school and scored 1390 on the SAT. The other went to an elite private high school, took SAT prep classes and scored 1400. Surely, the 1390 is more impressive.

When a person has overcome hardship, as Patrick Strawbridge, another lawyer opposing racial preferences, said to the justices, “it tells you something about the character and experience of the applicant other than their skin color.”

Opponents of today’s affirmative action have tried to draw a clean distinction between racial and nonracial considerations, and the opponents are correct that colleges now use race itself as a major factor. But if the court bars that practice, colleges are likely to become more aggressive about using measures of socioeconomic disadvantage. And that’s where the situation could get tricky. Many socioeconomic measures, after all, are strongly correlated with race.

Legacy at U.N.C.

Kavanaugh’s question about slavery was jarring because the overlap was complete: An admissions policy based on a family’s history of enslavement certainly sounds like a race-based policy, without being one on paper.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pointed out another example during oral arguments: For a long time universities, including public schools like the University of North Carolina, refused to enroll Black students. Jackson compared a hypothetical applicant who would be a fifth-generation U.N.C. student — and thus receive the so-called legacy boost — with an applicant whose family had lived in the state just as long but whose ancestors had been barred from attending. As Jackson asked, shouldn’t the second applicant receive a boost, too?

Both Jackson’s and Kavanaugh’s hypotheticals might seem narrow, involving discrimination that occurred long ago. But the practical questions are broader. Because of the deep racial inequities in the U.S. — caused partly by government policies like whites-only housing subsidies — many admission criteria based on economic disadvantage would apply disproportionately to applicants of color, especially Black applicants.

One example would be an admissions policy that gave extra consideration to a student who grew up in a family with a net worth of less than $30,000. Most Black households fall into that category; only a small share of white households do. There are even greater racial disparities in measures based on neighborhood wealth.

Source: The Federal Reserve | By The New York Times

I’m not suggesting that criteria like these are merely dressed-up versions of today’s system. To many people, they’re more justifiable because they can apply to disadvantaged members of all races. (Here’s a Times profile of Richard Kahlenberg, a researcher who makes that case, arguing for a new class-based system.)

Still, the legal fights will not end with a Supreme Court decision. Adam Liptak, who covers the court for The Times, says that he expects a flurry of lawsuits over what constitutes a race-based admissions policy in disguise versus a class-based policy that happens to affect different races differently.

As with abortion, a Supreme Court ruling will reshape the political debate without ending it.

And some good stuff in the Kahlenberg profile:

“If you want working-class white people to vote their race, there’s probably no better way to do it than to give explicitly racial preferences in deciding who gets ahead in life,” he said. “If you want working-class whites to vote their class, you would try to remind them that they have a lot in common with working-class Black and Hispanic people.”

The book caused a stir, in part because of the timing. California voters adopted a ban on affirmative action in public colleges and universities the same year. Such bans have since spread to eight other states, and California voters reaffirmed it in 2020.

Today, as in the mid-1990s, polls show that a majority of people oppose race-conscious college admissions, even as they support racial diversity. Public opinion may not always be right, Mr. Kahlenberg said, but surely it should be considered when developing public policy.

What has changed, he said, is the political environment. Universities and politicians and activists have hardened their positions on affirmative action…

If Mr. Kahlenberg had his way, college admissions would be upended.

His basic recipe: Get rid of preferences for alumni children, as well as children of faculty, staff and big donors. Say goodbye to recruited athletes in boutique sports like fencing. Increase community college transfers. Give a break to students who have excelled in struggling schools, who have grown up in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, in families with low income, or better yet, low net worth. Pump up financial aid. Look for applicants in towns that do not normally send students to highly selective colleges.

It’s an expensive punch list and requires more financial aid for working class and poor students, which is the main reason, he believes, that universities have not rushed to embrace it.

Personally, I am all for that recipe.  And liberals are doing to need to get on board after Supreme Court action this year.  Of course, the vast majority of items in Kahlenberg’s list disproportionately benefit Black students.  But it will benefit from white students from rough backgrounds, too, and that’s not a bad thing.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) deBoer, “Pick a Practical Major, Like French”

We may be on the verge of a recession, or we may already be in one. After decades of slack labor markets and anemic wage growth, for an all-too-brief period the post-COVID-lockdown world saw a tight job market and employers actually competing for workers. But with inflation high and the Fed having raised rates aggressively, many are projecting a serious downturn that will surely hurt workers. Under those conditions, it’s more important than ever that college students take practical majors. Like French.

Yes, French. The major that’s so often derided as the height of impractical folly, the interest of people who want to fritter their time away reciting poetry and watching New Wave cinema, in fact revolves around a skill that has a great chance to be invaluable in the coming half-century: the ability to communicate in one of the fastest-growing languages in the world. Though it’s barely discussed in American news and commentary, central and west Africa — that is to say, Francophone Africa — has seen a population explosion in recent decades that’s arguably the biggest in the world. And while birth-rate growth in the region has started to level off, declining birth rates or outright declining populations across the world mean that the French-speaking part of Africa will play a huge role in determining humanity’s future. The French language rises with it. To put things in relative terms, the Francophone world, where as many as 525 million people live, is larger than the entire European Union. And where population growth happens, economic importance tends to follow…

The broader point here is simple: We have a prevalent concept of the “practical college major” in our society, but that concept is vague, not buttressed with evidence, and shifts according to whim and prejudice. And the ultimate point of stressing the practicality of certain majors while denigrating the frivolity of others is to blame people for economic conditions they can’t control.

The first and most basic problem with the notion of the practical major is that practicality is not a static, timeless quality. Consider the story of the pharmacy major in the mid 2010s. As a very telling New Republic story from 2014 spells out, the popularity of pharmaceutical studies could stand as a cautionary tale when it comes to the very concept of the practical major, of the educational “safe haven.” In the 2000s and 2010s, dozens of new schools of pharmacy were opened thanks to the perception that pharmacy was a safe field for young graduates. Thousands of newly minted pharmacists flooded the market. Somehow, administrators in higher education were surprised to find that these new graduates had a harder time finding a good job than previous generations. But this is an inevitable outcome of telling young people an academic field is a practical choice, since you’re making that field more attractive and thus increasing the competition they have to face in the labor market.

The point isn’t that the pharmaceutical industry became a uniquely bad field to be in — it wasn’t. The point is that a supposedly safe field became less friendly to new entrants over time. And it happened fairly quickly, in a world where economic data is often lagging and where it can take four or more years to get credentialed into a given field. What were the current pharmacy majors supposed to do when it became clear there would be a lot of competition for jobs after all? Quit halfway through their majors, after investing years and tens of thousands of dollars?

For another example of the folly of practicality, look at the major of business, a serious field for serious people — or maybe not. People are often surprised when I tell them that many of the career-outcome metrics for business majors are middling at best. After all, what could be a more intuitively practical major than business? The problem is that business is by far the most popular major in American higher education; each year, we graduate something like 350,000 students with bachelor’s degrees in the field. That means that, if you’re one of those students, you’re graduating into a labor market where you have an immense amount of competition. That inevitably depresses your career prospects. (Supply and demand applies to educated labor.) “Practicality” has nothing to do with it.

Or we might look at petrochemical engineering, where the job market tracks the notoriously volatile price of oil. Sample 2015 headline: “Petroleum engineering degrees seen going from boom to bust.” Working for oil companies seems like the definition of a practical, even mercenary ambition to me. And yet that superficial practicality is no match for macroeconomic conditions individuals can’t control.

2) You better believed I enjoyed reading about completely out of control Institutional Review Boards in Scott Alexander’s substack:

IV. Hard Truths


Doctors are told to weigh the benefits vs. costs of every treatment. So what are the benefits and costs of IRBs?

Whitney can find five people who unexpectedly died from research in the past twenty-five years. These are the sorts of cases IRBs are set up to prevent – people injected with toxic drugs, surgeries gone horribly wrong, the like. No doubt there are more whose stories we don’t know. But as for obvious, newsworthy cases, there are ~2 per decade. Were there more before Ellis’ 1998 freakout and the subsequent tightening of IRB rules? Whitney can’t really find evidence for this.

What are the costs? The direct cost of running the nation’s IRB network is about $100 million per year. The added costs to studies from IRB-related delays and compliance costs is about $1.5 billion/year. So the monetary costs are around the order of $1.6 billion.

What about non-monetary costs? Nobody has fully quantified this. Some Australian oncologists did an analysis and found that 60 people per year died from IRB-related delays in Australian cancer trials. 6,000 people died from delays in ISIS-2, and that was just one study. Tens of thousands were probably killed by IRBs blocking human challenge trials for COVID vaccines. Low confidence estimate, but somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 Americans probably die each year from IRB-related research delays.

So the cost-benefit calculation looks like – save a tiny handful of people per year, while killing 10,000 to 100,000 more, for a price tag of $1.6 billion. If this were a medication, I would not prescribe it.

Whitney doesn’t want a revolution. He just wants to go back to the pre-1998 system, before Gary Ellis crushed Johns Hopkins, doctors were replaced with administrators, and pragmatic research ethics were replaced by liability avoidance. Specifically:

  • Allow zero-risk research (for example, testing urine samples a patient has already provided) with verbal or minimal written consent.

  • Allow consent forms to skip trivial issues no one cares about (“aspirin might taste bad”) and optimize them for patient understanding instead of liability avoidance.

  • Let each institution run their IRB with limited federal interference. Big institutions doing dangerous studies can enforce more regulations; small institutions doing simpler ones can be more permissive. The government only has to step in when some institution seems to be failing really badly.

  • Researchers should be allowed to appeal IRB decisions to higher authorities like deans or chancellors

These make sense. I’m just worried they’re impossible.

3) Bruni on MTG:

I don’t keep up with Marjorie Taylor Greene’s tweets, having decided long ago that there were more pleasant and constructive uses of time, like lighting fire to my eyelashes. But I’m rethinking that judgment now. M.T.G. really does have something to say — or, rather, to tell us.

She tweeted a doozy the other day. Actually, she routinely tweets doozies, which I realized when I caught up with her Twitter account, bingeing on it the way I would an overlooked HBO Max series, if the series were an endless sequence of garish sights and ghastly sounds that robbed me of my will to live. This tweet garnered headlines — that’s how I came to it — and deservedly so. Audaciously, incoherently, M.T.G. used it to try to turn Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard accused of leaking national security secrets, into a victim.

The leaks in question divulged classified information about U.S. surveillance of Russia that’s vital to our assistance to Ukraine, where there are true victims, an entire ravaged country of them. And Teixeira’s alleged actions didn’t seem to have any high-minded prompt. He’s more post-adolescent punk than principled dissident by my read.

But then my lens isn’t M.T.G.’s. I don’t wear her thick, cracked goggles of grievance, which reveal Teixeira as a martyr.

“Teixeira is white, male, christian, and antiwar,” she tweeted, capitalizing on her professed faith without properly capitalizing it. “That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime.” Her tweet, wanting for a good copy edit, went on to beseech its readers: “Ask yourself who is the real enemy? A young low level national guardsmen? Or the administration that is waging war in Ukraine?”

President Biden isn’t waging war in Ukraine. That’s what Vladimir Putin is doing. And Teixeira’s gender, color and religion have nothing to do with his arrest and looming prosecution, nor are they relevant to a legitimate, necessary debate about the degree, nature, costs and long-term usefulness of our aid to Ukrainians.

But they have everything to do with the manner in which an alarming fraction of Americans regard and respond to political developments today. They look for evidence of offense to, and persecution of, whatever group of people they identify with. They invent that proof when it’s not there; when it is, they upsize it. Either way, their predetermined sense of grievance is the prism through which all is passed and all is parsed. It’s their Rosetta stone. It’s their binky.

M.T.G.’s tweet is an extreme example from a self-infatuated extremist, but it’s an example nonetheless. A reckless brat is arrested, President Biden arches an eyebrow, a bluebird falls from the sky: M.T.G. can see the lefty secularism and reverse racism — the wokeness, in a polarizing word — in any turn of events.

So can many others on the right, which has no monopoly on willful misreads, but is currently conducting a scary and profoundly dangerous master class on them. Witness their conspiracy theories, their militias, their actions on — and then revisionism about — the Jan. 6 rioting. Witness the evolution of Donald Trump’s blather, which leans ever more heavily on the insistence that investigations of him are really attacks on his supporters, who confront the same horrible oppression that poor Airman Teixeira does.

Witness less flamboyant versions of this paranoid mind-set. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, has built his brand around identifying the supposed threats to non-woke traditionalists and crafting or calling for measures that foil and punish their liberal oppressors. He trades aspiration for retribution, optimism for resentment.

He, too, wears goggles of grievance. They’re just a little bit lighter than M.T.G.’s. A little bit looser. And they’re not lined in fur.

4) This is good, “Why the Anti-Anti-Trumpers Need Ron DeSantis: His getting the 2024 GOP nomination would, they hope, validate their actions—and their inaction—since 2016”

TO UNDERSTAND WHY THIS SEGMENT of Republicans is so DeSantis-needy, let’s briefly revisit the typology of the GOP following its crackup. Donald Trump’s election and presidency split the conservative intelligentsia—the writers, think tankers, attorneys, professors, influencers, strategists, policy wonks, and other “thought leaders”—into three broad groups.

First, there were those who said “Never Trump” and meant it, opposing both the man and his movement.

Second, at the other end are some you could call “semi-fascist.” Openly anti-democracy, they try to harness Trumpist populism to their own ends. Think tankers at the Claremont Institute call for an American Caesar. The American Conservative praises Vlad the Impaler, arguing that America needs a leader “willing to be the bad guy.” Billionaire Peter Thiel argues that freedom is incompatible with democracy, and funds a variety of causes and candidates (J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, etc.). Fox News host Tucker Carlson belongs here too, with his Russia-friendly coverage of the Ukraine war, and promoting the “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

Third, there’s what is probably the largest category: the rationalizers. Here you’ll find many media figures, donors, political operatives, and politicians. Loyal partisans, committed culture warriors, and anyone chasing the MAGA audience, appealing to small donors, seeking proximity to power, or just trying to stick with the team.

Some of these accepted Trump as the avatar of the American right, and backed him until after his presidency when they could cheer a Republican challenger. Others went anti-anti-Trump, professing to disapprove of the president, and rarely defending him outright, but rarely criticizing him either, focusing instead on attacking his critics.

Rationalizers criticized Trump on background to reporters, but not in public. Or they’d express disagreement in public, but merely on political strategy, not principle. Or maybe, when things got egregious, they’d say something on principle. But not too strenuously—down that road lies excommunication, as with former Rep. Liz Cheney—and usually with caveats that Democrats are worse.

No matter what happened, no matter what they said in public or private, the rationalizers kept coming back. They could not, would not make a public break with the party or a final break with Trump.

Which brings us back to Ron DeSantis. The rationalizers need the Republican presidential nomination to go to DeSantis to validate their choice.

To show that their words, actions, and inaction since 2016 were shrewd and insightful, not obsequious and cowardly.

To demonstrate that they were engaged in a wise, noble effort to hold together the party for the good of the country.

It would let them move on from the Trump period without reckoning with their role in it.

5) Lots of good stuff on how to study better.  Gift link. 

Students don’t know much about how they learn.

In one study, researchers asked college students to select which of two scenarios would lead to better learning. For example, students were asked to compare creating one’s own mnemonic with using one the teacher provides. (Creating your own is better, previous research shows.)

For two of the six scenarios, students picked the worse strategy as often as the better one. For the other four, most students actually thought the worsestrategy was superior.

How could they be so misinformed? You would think that after years of studying and then seeing their test results, students would figure out which methods work and which don’t.

Students get studying wrong because they don’t assess whether a method works in the long run. Instead, they pay attention to whether the method is easy to do and feels like it’s working while they’re doing it.

By analogy, suppose I were trying to get stronger by doing push-ups. You watch me train, and are surprised that I’m practicing push-ups on my knees. When you suggest that push-ups on my toes are a better exercise, I reply: “I tried that, but I can do lots more on my knees. And this way they’re not so hard!”

Students try to learn by doing the mental equivalent of push-ups on their knees.

For example, student surveys show that rereading notes or textbooks is the most common way students prepare for a test. Rereading is easy because the mind can skitter along the surface of the material without closely considering its meaning, but that’s exactly why it’s a poor way to learn. If you want to learn the meaning — as most tests require you to — then you must think about meaning when you study.

Yet, insidiously, rereading feels effective.

Rereading a textbook makes the content feel familiar. But judging that content is familiar and knowing what it means — being able to describe it, being able to use that knowledge when you think — are supported by different processes in the brain. Because they are separate, familiarity can increase even if knowledge of the meaning doesn’t increase. That’s what’s happened when a person looks very familiar but you can’t identify her.

And so, as students reread their textbooks, the increasing familiarity makes them think they are learning. But because they are not thinking about the meaning of what they read, they aren’t improving the knowledge that actually builds understanding.

Psychologists have developed much better ways to study, some of them counterintuitive. For example, if you’ve only partially learned some material, trying to remember it is a better way to solidify that fragile learning than studying more.

6) I’m not a vegetarian, but I definitely try to a lot less meat these days.  It’s good for animals and good for the planet:

In the United States and beyond, giant agribusiness corporations continue raising animals in ways that disregard their welfare, never allowing pigs or chickens to walk outside, crowding hens who lay eggs into cages that prevent them from stretching their wings and breeding chickens to grow so fast that their immature leg bones struggle to bear their weight.

Boycotting this monstrous abuse of billions of animals each year is a powerful reason for not eating meat, but the outsize contribution of meat and dairy products to climate change is for me now an equally urgent part of shifting to a plant-based diet. But we need not be hard-line about avoiding all animal products. If everyone chose plant-based foods for just half their meals, we would have fewer animals suffering, and a tremendously better shot at avoiding the most dire consequences of climate change.

Meat and dairy production are major sources of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that releasing into the atmosphere a ton of methane will, over a century, raise the temperature of our planet by 28 times as much as releasing a ton of carbon dioxide. That would be bad enough, but the impact is even more lopsided in the shorter term: Because methane breaks down much more rapidly than carbon dioxide, over 20 years, that ton will warm the planet as much as 84 tons of carbon dioxide…

This means we can do something for the planet every time we eat. And if Americans were to replace 50 percent of all animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives by 2030, that alone would help them get a quarter of the way toward hitting the U.S. climate target under the Paris agreement.

Admittedly, slowing climate change would be much easier — and fairer — if governments were to tax animal products in proportion to the damage they do to the climate. But in the absence of meat and dairy taxes, the power lies with those who consume animal products, and with the institutions that provide food for many of us.

7) OMG do I hate seemingly every damn electronic interaction asking for a tip now.  Tips are quite appropriate for tipped employees or to reward a person/business for an extra good job.  But, no, you don’t get a tip just because you sold me a donut!

You might be wondering why I, a tech columnist, would write about tipping. The reason is that tipping is no longer just a socioeconomic and ethical issue about the livelihoods of service workers.

It has also become a tech problem that is rapidly spiraling out of control thanks to the proliferation of digital payment products from companies like Square and Toast. Since payment apps and touch screens make it simple for merchants to preset gratuity amounts, many businesses that didn’t ordinarily ask for tips now do.

And many consumers feel pressured to oblige or don’t notice the charges. This phenomenon — known as “guilt tipping” — was compounded in recent years when more privileged professionals shelled out extra to help essential workers weather the pandemic. But even as businesses have somewhat returned to normal, the gratuity requests have remained steadfast.

Tipping practices may become part of a broad government crackdown on so-called junk fees, extra costs that businesses tack on to products and services while adding little to no value. The Federal Trade Commission, which announced an investigation into the practices last year, said people could experience “junk fee shock” when companies used deceptive tech designs to inflate costs at the end of a purchase.

I have felt the pain and awkwardness of seemingly arbitrary tip requests. I was recently taken aback when a grocery store’s iPad screen suggested a tip between 10 percent and 30 percent — a situation that was made more unpleasant when I hit the “no tip” button and the cashier shot me a glare.

When a motorcycle mechanic asked for a gratuity with his smartphone screen, I felt pressured to tip because my safety depended on his services. (It still felt wrong, because I had already paid for his labor.)

I shared these instances, along with stories I had read all over the web about consumers outraged by abnormal tipping requests, with user-interface experts who work on tech and financial products. All agreed that while it was good that payment services had increased gratuities for service workers who rely on them, the technology created a bad experience when consumers felt coerced by businesses that didn’t normally expect tips…

A broader issue remains: When businesses that don’t ordinarily get tips use technology to present a tipping screen, they require the consumer to opt out.

“It’s coercion,” Mr. Selker said.

On the bright side, the gratuity screens are not considered deceptive, said Harry Brignull, a user-experience consultant in Britain, because the “custom tip” and “no tip” buttons are roughly the same size as the tipping buttons. If the opt-out buttons were extremely difficult to find, this would be an abusive practice known as “dark patterns.”

Still, if people feel unfairly pressured into tipping in situations where gratuity is unnecessary, government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission should examine that concern through a regulatory lens, Mr. Brignull said.

The F.T.C. did not immediately return requests for comment.

I recommend approaching tipping the same way that you might approach technology: Be wary of the defaults, and decide when it’s right to opt out.

8) Fine particulate matter in air is really bad for you. And there’s a lot of it in subways. 

THERE ARE PEOPLE in this world who, out of sheer curiosity, carry around scientific instruments so they can measure levels of potentially harmful airborne particulates—tiny clumps of matter that may be breathed in. “We’re sort of air pollution nerds, right?” says Terry Gordon, an environmental health scientist at New York University.

Some years ago, a colleague of his got a shockingly high reading on a particulate monitor when he entered a subway station in New York. “He thought it was broken,” recalls Gordon. But it wasn’t. That reading inspired a much-discussed study, published in 2021, on particulate concentrations in various subway stations in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and other locations in the northeastern US.

It’s just one of numerous recent papers that have documented particulate pollution in subway and metro systems around the world—reflecting a growing concern that city commuting could carry a health risk. Earlier this month, prosecutors in Paris opened a criminal investigation over allegations that air pollution in the capital’s metro was endangering people’s lives. Not only that, the operator of the underground railway system there, RATP, has been accused of deliberately underreporting pollution levels—which it denies.


The fact that particulates are present in metro systems, often at concentrations many times those found at street level, is undeniable. The rubbing of metal wheels on tracks, or brakes on wheels, shears off tiny metal particles that get kicked up into the air as trains move. The question is how the dusty tunnels of the world’s metro systems compare on this point—and whether science reveals any genuine health risks for people who travel or work in these environments. Long-term exposure to particulate matter is known to be linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, as well as premature death.

Gordon, though, was surprised to hear about the legal case in Paris. “Paris is nothing compared to London,” he says. And no metro stations anywhere, he adds, are as particulate-prone as those in and around New York—at least according to his research.

9) This was really interesting on human longevity:

JEAN-MARIE ROBINE IS not impressed by your centenarian grandma. Sure, she’s sprightly for her age, but how unusual is making it to 100, really? Robine is a demographer and longevity researcher, and in his home country of France alone there are 30,000 centenarians; 30 times more than there were half a century ago. Add up all the centenarians worldwide and you get to 570,000—an entire Baltimore’s worth of extremely long-lived humans. Having a birthday cake with 100 candles is nice, but nowadays it’s nothing special.

To really pique Robine’s interest we need to up the longevity stakes a little. He is an expert in supercentenarians: people who live to 110 or even longer. In the 1990s Robine helped validate the age of the oldest person who ever lived. Born in 1875, Jeanne Calment lived through 20 French presidents before dying in 1997 at the age of 122, five months, and 15 days. Since then Robine has become a collector of the super long-lived, helping run one of the largest and most-detailed databases of extremely old people.

For Robine, each supercentenarian is a crucial datapoint in the quest to answer a big question: Is there an upper limit to the human lifespan? “There are still many things we don’t know. And we hate that,” says Robine. But there is an even more fundamental question that undercuts the whole field of longevity research. What if—in our quest to push the limits of human lifespan—we’re looking for answers in all the wrong places?


If you’ve ever read an interview with a supercentenarian, there is one question that will inevitably come up: What’s the secret? Well, take your pick. The secret is kindness. Not having children. Connecting with nature. Avoiding men. Or, being married. Smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Not smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Drinking whisky. Abstaining from alcohol altogether. We mine the lives of the super-old for hints on how we should live our own.

But this is the wrong way to approach the question, says Robine. His style is to step back, take a look at how many supercentenarians there have been, and figure out when they lived and died. The limits of human longevity won’t be found by looking at individuals, he believes, but by examining super-long-lived people collectively. It’s a statistical puzzle: to crack it, you need to know exactly how many people died at age 111, 112, 113, and so on, to work out the likelihood that a supercentenarian won’t make it to their next birthday.

In 1825, the British mathematician Benjamin Gompertz published one of the first attempts to calculate the limits of human longevity following this approach. Armed with birth and death records from Carlisle and Northampton, Gompertz calculated how someone’s risk of dying changed as they got older. Gompertz found that after a person hit their late twenties, their risk of dying in the subsequent year kept going up, year after year. But at age 92 something curious happened. Their annual chance of death leveled off at 25 percent per year. This finding was odd. It suggested to Gompertz that there was no upper limit to human aging. Theoretically, he mused, there was nothing in his data suggesting that humans couldn’t live for many, many, centuries—just like the lives of the patriarchs in the Bible.

But statistics is a cruel science, and Gompertz knew that too. According to his data, the risk of dying at age 92 was so high that you would need an unthinkably large number of humans to reach that age before you found just one person who lived to 192. Three trillion humans, to be precise—30 times more than have ever been born. And yet Gompertz found himself hampered by his dataset. So few humans made it past the age of 90 that it was hard for him to really know what mortality rates were like at very advanced ages. Did his results point toward some insurmountable limit to human lifespan, or just a temporary cap that could be lifted with advancements in medicine?

Modern demographers have picked up where Gompertz left off, sometimes with surprising results. In 2016 Jan Vijg and his colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York concluded that mortality rates past the age of 100 start to rise rapidly, putting a cap on human lifespan of around 125 years. Two years later another group of demographers, this time led by Elisabetta Barbi at Sapienza University in Rome, came to the opposite conclusion. She argued that human death rates increase exponentially up until age 80, at which point they decelerate and then level-off after age 105. Barbi’s research raised the tantalizing prospect that there is no upper limit to human lifespan at all, just like Gompertz wondered.

If mortality rates really do plateau at a certain age, then extreme longevity is just a numbers game, Robine says. Say you had 10 people reach the age of 110, and the risk of any of them dying each subsequent year had plateaued at 50 percent. You’d expect five of them to reach the age of 111, two or three to reach 112, one or two of them to reach 113, just one to reach 114, and no one to make it to 115. To have a good shot of someone reaching 115, you need to double the number of people making it to age 110, and so on. In other words, the upper limit on lifespan is just a factor of how many people survived the previous year. But these numbers all hinge on exactly what and where the mortality plateau is. The problem is, the data available for calculating this isn’t very good.

10) Really enjoyed this about Bud Light and worrying about what products you buy:

You may have caught wind of what followed: widespread outrage from social conservatives, calls for boycotts of the beer by country stars and rappers (including Kid Rock, who released a video in which he destroyed cases of Bud Light with an assault weapon), a significant drop in Bud Light’s sales in one week and the loss of about $5 billion in market capitalization. This week, Bud Light’s owner announced that two of its executives were taking a leave of absence.

Other than some passing discomfort for shareholders, everything about what I hope no one will be tempted to call Bud Light-gate has an air of unreality. In addition to Bud Light, InBev owns Corona, Stella Artois, Michelob, Beck’s, Modelo and many other beer brands. Given the sweeping homogenization of global corporate culture and business practices, InBev’s politics are roughly the same as those of all major companies: a combination of cutthroat economic libertarianism and progressive human resources-style “sensitivity” with which few Americans wholly identify.

Despite the passionate claims about its unique identity and its conservative political profile, the only value driving Bud Light, or any other consumer good available on a global scale, is the remorseless logic of shareholder value. That makes it hard to coherently express your politics with your beer preferences.

11) With the Ed Sheeran court case, a really cool audio interactive feature on some really big music copyright cases.  The truth is, this is just hard. 

12) Was not at all surprised to read smartphone sales are way down.  Why buy a new one?!

Much of the slowdown is likely due to a confluence of pandemic-related economic factors like  chaotic supply lines and skyrocketing inflation. But another aspect that could explain why fewer people are buying phones is that, for the most part, phones are perfectly fine. Modern smartphones have plateaued, both in terms of their design and the capabilities of their software, and the future of phones is likely to involve slow, iterative improvements rather than big leaps that warrant faster upgrades.

13) Somehow, elephant seals manage to get by on 2 hours of sleep a day. 

14) Be very suspicious of polls showing high numbers for third party candidates (unless it’s 1992 and it’s Ross Perot)


Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Brian Beutler: on Clarence Thomas and Democratic weakness:

In fairness to Democrats, they have also asked Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate Thomas internally, so it’s not like they’re casting a narrow net in the vain hope that Republicans might do the right thing. 

But more on that in a minute. Before we wring our hands over the Democrats’ apparent indifference, we should be of one mind about Thomas’s conduct, why it warrants an aggressive response, and what such a response might accomplish.   

For decades, while posing as the Supreme Court’s everyman, Thomas has accepted lavish gifts, vacations, and private-jet flights, worth millions of dollars, from the Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. Then—in violation of federal law—he elected to conceal the financial relationship. We learned all of that thanks to the excellent reporting of Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublicaAnd we know they have Thomas dead to rights, because he hasn’t denied any of it. Rather, he has sought to defend his behavior with what you might generously call lawyerly deception. Here’s the key part of the public statement he issued in response to the revelations:

Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.

I added the emphasis to identify the points of deceit. Reading his statement, you might imagine that when Thomas became a justice, he wondered what to do about his dear and generous friend Harlan who, while very rich, and very conservative, had no particular interest in the composition of the federal bench or what considerations enter the minds of Supreme Court justices when they interpret and make law. 

But that’s not so. Twenty-five years ago, Thomas had already been a justice for several years, which means he only befriended Crow after becoming one of the most powerful officeholders in the world. We don’t know when Thomas sought guidance from his similarly lawless colleagues, or which jurists he sought it from, but we know he voluntarily disclosed these gifts until the Los Angeles Times first began reporting on this improper relationship in 2004, at which point the disclosures stopped. Then note the past-tense voice when he claims Crow “did not have business before the court.” That is conspicuously not the same as saying he “did not and does not have business before the court,” or “has never had business before the court.” We don’t know, because Thomas left too much unsaid, but at best this means Crow had no business before the court in or around 2004 when Thomas and his buddies on the bench all agreed he didn’t have to follow any rules. 

A truer statement and timeline would have left a much different impression: That years after he became a justice, a right-wing influence peddler with a fortune and recurring business before the court befriended and began spending vast sums of money on him; that he disclosed these gifts for several more years before the press got wind of it, at which point he went looking for affirmation that it was OK to keep accepting the gifts without disclosing them.

This would be intolerable even if it were Thomas’s first offense, but his offenses are serial. His entanglement with Crow alone has seen straight up cash flow into his wife Ginni’s pockets and his own. As I was writing this we learned that Crow secretly paid above market value to purchase property from Thomas, parcels that included Thomas’s parents house, where they continued to maintain residence while Crow covered their property taxes. 

Meanwhile, Ginni resides at the center of a sprawling network of right-wing activists who encouraged and participated in efforts to overthrow the government after the 2020 election. Knowing that her communications about the attempted coup might end up in the hands of investigators and the public, Thomas cast the sole dissenting vote against requiring disclosure of Trump administration records to the House January 6 Committee. No recusal. Her involvement, and his desire to cover it up, at least hinted at his awareness of, or even complicity in, an effort to overturn American democracy. It all could easily have formed the basis of a tidy impeachment inquiry. Instead, then as now, Democrats in Congress let it be. They contented themselves with impotent calls for Thomas to recuse himself in future insurrection cases, and for a statutory code of ethics to bind the justices going forward. 

Democrats subsequently lost the House, removing impeachment as an option altogether. But that hasn’t left them powerless. They still have a significant bully pulpit. They could use it to insist (ineffectively, perhaps, but at real cost to Thomas and the GOP) that Thomas resign; that his defenders are complicit in selling the Court to right-wing billionaires; that a court that tolerates this cozy style of bribery and deception can not be trusted with as much power as it has. And they could back that up with a credible threat to investigate Thomas’s conduct more deeply, including through the use of subpoena power. 

A few righteous House Democrats have indeed called on Thomas to resign, but the ones best positioned to make this a painful problem for Thomas and Republicans have all ducked. As alluded to earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin’s first instinct was to pass the buck to John Roberts—”Chief Justice Roberts needs to take the important first step here as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, to restore the integrity of that court with a thorough and credible investigation of what happened with Justice Thomas,” Durbin said—while vaguely promising to “act.”  Initially, eight senators signed a letter to Roberts pressing him to relieve them of this hot potato. Subsequently, under wilting criticism, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wrote to Roberts again, urging him (again) to investigate this issue himself, but advising him that “the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.” One hearing! On ‘Supreme Court Ethics!’ Maybe!

So, for now, a buck passed and a box checked. 

We thus witnessed the perverse spectacle of Republicans feigning more outrage in defense of their poor, beleaguered friend Clarence Thomas, and his right to be corrupt, than Democrats directed at Thomas for the extent of his corruption. Republicans felt freer than they might have to treat Thomas as the victim of a smear campaign, because Democrats did not respond in proportion to the seriousness of the matter. Republicans would have you believe they’d be totally cool with George Soros sending Ketanji Brown Jackson to various beach resorts on his private planes (NB: they would lose every last ounce of their shit) because they didn’t have to worry about their opponents calling them liars, complicit in the corruption of the American government.





2) Freddie deBoer takes up some satire on leftists and crime and it’s brilliant:

A: We need to do something about our rotten criminal justice system.

B: Absolutely. We need major reform – police reform, sentencing reform, reform of our jails and prisons, robust programs for rehabilitation and reintegration.

A: No, we need to tear it all down. Defund the police, abolish prisons, and end the carceral state.

B: You know, if I thought that the Water & Sewer department was terribly corrupt, violent, and racist, I’d be very invested in Water & Sewer reform. I’d find Water & Sewer reform to be a moral necessity. I’d advocate for major Water & Sewer reform. But I wouldn’t say “Water & Sewer can’t be reformed, we need to let shit flow through the streets.” It seems like a major and unjustified leap in logic.

A: Sorry. Reform won’t do. Defund, disarm, decarcerate! No police!

B: Won’t that lead to a lot of crime and much lower living standards?

A: Not if we address need. Poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime.

B: Of all crime?

A: Yes.

B: But the vast majority of poor people aren’t committing crimes.

A: Crime is complex and multivariate.

B: If poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime, how is crime complex or multivariate?

A: … because. 

B: Remember when that MLB pitcher’s old tweets resurfaced recently?

A: Yes. That damn racist.

B: Well, I get why copying and pasting rap lyrics with the n-word in them and tweeting it is offensive. I don’t condone it. But he was a teenager when he sent those tweets, and you were saying that he should lose all of his endorsement deals. And you also thought that an actor who was caught on camera calling someone a “slut” should never work again.

A: That’s right. We’re trying to build an accountability culture here.

B: So you’re a minimalist when it comes to punishing actual crimes, but when it comes to handing down social punishment, you’re a maximalist.

A: …yes?

B: Does that make sense? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to have a conception of forgiveness and accountability that applies to both the public and private domains? Like, “we should be more forgiving towards people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. “We should be less forgiving to people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. But “we should be an absurdly punitive culture when it comes to violating social prohibitions, but effectively anarchists when it comes to violating legal prohibitions” seems bizarre and unworkable to me.

A: Why!

B: Well, I think the basic reality of human life is that we’re fallible. We don’t do the right thing, often. So we need society to create incentives and punishments to urge people towards the right kind of behavior. In the kind of society you’re envisioning, we aren’t creating those incentives and punishments to encourage lawful behavior, and so people will break the law. I don’t believe that people are essentially self-policing; I don’t believe that all people are basically good. I think most people are basically good, but some very much are not, and the ones who aren’t will prey on those who are if we don’t do anything. It’s sad but it’s a fact of life. You ever see the show Deadwood? There’s no police force in Deadwood. The result isn’t a utopia of people being good to each other; it’s a vicious place where the strong do whatever they want and the weak suffer. That’s what life was like before state-imposed order, the most powerful warlord took whatever he wanted and everyone else suffered. That’s reality. In a state of nature, human beings rob and rape and kill. So you have to have some sort of formal system of crime and punishment. That’s why I’m not a libertarian or anarchist. And I find it very weird that a lot of ostensible leftists have essentially adapted right-wing libertarian visions of law and order. But it’s really weird that those same people are also so eager to basically unperson those who say offensive things! Of course there should be social prohibitions against racism and similar types of offense, but it feels like the left is impossibly sensitive to those social mores and totally insensitive to the costs of having someone stick a gun in your face and take your car. If a woman goes on Twitter and says, “my boss just called me sexy,” people there will do everything they can to cost that man his job. If that same exact woman says, “I just got carjacked,” people with hammers and sickles in their bios will laugh at her and tell her that crime is just something you have to accept, and anyway she was rich enough to own a car so she’s privileged. It’s so bizarre. I just don’t get the consistent principles at play here. It all seems so fickle and arbitrary.

A: Look, I’m gonna level with you here. Like the vast majority of leftists who have been minted since Occupy Wall Street, my principles, values, and policy preferences don’t stem from a coherent set of moral values, developed into an ideology, which then suggests preferred policies. At all. That requires a lot of reading and I’m busy organizing black tie fundraisers at work and bringing Kayleigh and Dakota to fencing practice. I just don’t have the time. So my politics have been bolted together in a horribly awkward process of absorbing which opinions are least likely to get me screamed at by an online activist or mocked by a podcaster. My politics are therefore really a kind of self-defensive pastiche, an odd Frankensteining of traditional leftist rhetoric and vocabulary from Ivy League humanities departments I don’t understand. I quote Marx, but I got the quote from Tumblr. I cite Gloria Anzaldua, but only because someone on TikTok did it first. I support defunding the police because in 2020, when the social and professional consequences for appearing not to accept social justice norms were enormous, that was the safest place for me to hide. I maintain a vague attachment to police and prison abolition because that still appears to be the safest place for me to hide. I vote Democrat but/and call myself a socialist because that is the safest place for me to hide. I’m not a bad person; I want freedom and equality. I want good things for everyone. But politics scare and confuse me. I just can’t stand to lose face, so I have to present all of my terribly confused ideals with maximum superficial confidence. If you probe any of my specific beliefs with minimal force, they will collapse, as those “beliefs” are simply instruments of social manipulation. I can’t take my kid to the Prospect Park carousel and tell the other parents that I don’t support police abolition. It would damage my brand and I can’t have that. And that contradiction you detected, where I support maximum forgiveness for crime but no forgiveness at all for being offensive? For me, that’s no contradiction at all. Those beliefs are not part of a functioning and internally-consistent political system but a potpourri of deracinated slogans that protect me from headaches I don’t need. I never wanted to be a leftist. I just wanted to take my justifiable but inchoate feelings of dissatisfaction with the way things are and wrap them up into part of the narrative that I tell other people about myself, the narrative that I’m a kind good worthwhile enlightened person. And hey, in college that even got me popularity/a scholarship/pussy! Now I’m an adult and I have things to protect, and well-meaning but fundamentally unserious activists have created an incentive structure that mandates that I pretend to a) understand what “social justice” means and b) have the slightest interest in working to get it. I just want to chip away at my student loan debt and not get my company’s Slack turned against me. I need my job/I need my reputation/I need to not have potential Bumble dates see anything controversial when they Google me. Can you throw me a bone? Neither I nor 99% of the self-identified socialists in this country believe that there is any chance whatsoever that we’ll ever take power, and honestly, you’re harshing our vibe. So can you please fuck off and let us hide behind the BLM signs that have been yellowing in our windows for three years?

B: Honesty at last.

3) This is really interesting, “Income and emotional well-being: A conflict resolved”

Do larger incomes make people happier? Two authors of the present paper have published contradictory answers. Using dichotomous questions about the preceding day, [Kahneman and Deaton, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 16489–16493 (2010)] reported a flattening pattern: happiness increased steadily with log(income) up to a threshold and then plateaued. Using experience sampling with a continuous scale, [Killingsworth, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 118, e2016976118 (2021)] reported a linear-log pattern in which average happiness rose consistently with log(income). We engaged in an adversarial collaboration to search for a coherent interpretation of both studies. A reanalysis of Killingsworth’s experienced sampling data confirmed the flattening pattern only for the least happy people. Happiness increases steadily with log(income) among happier people, and even accelerates in the happiest group. Complementary nonlinearities contribute to the overall linear-log relationship. We then explain why Kahneman and Deaton overstated the flattening pattern and why Killingsworth failed to find it. We suggest that Kahneman and Deaton might have reached the correct conclusion if they had described their results in terms of unhappiness rather than happiness; their measures could not discriminate among degrees of happiness because of a ceiling effect. The authors of both studies failed to anticipate that increased income is associated with systematic changes in the shape of the happiness distribution. The mislabeling of the dependent variable and the incorrect assumption of homogeneity were consequences of practices that are standard in social science but should be questioned more often. We flag the benefits of adversarial collaboration.

4) Like the above, found this in Scott Alexander’s monthly links and it’s so good, “Some anomalies/questions which are not necessarily important, but do puzzle me or where I find existing explanations to be unsatisfying.”

5) Always here for microbiome research:

For the new global analysis of microbiomes, Segata, Valles-Colomer, and their colleagues honed their tools enough to recognize previously unknown species and different strains of the same species. Using these tools, they examined more than 9,700 samples of stool and saliva from 20 countries on five continents, representing communities with very diverse lifestyles and covering the full range of the human lifespan and many different living arrangements. They traced more than 800,000 strains of microbes between families, roommates, neighbors, and villages and calculated what percentage of shared species were the same strain.

As they expected, they found that the most sharing of strains happened between mothers and infants in the first year of life—about 50 percent of the shared species found in the infants’ guts were strains that spread from the mother. The mother’s influence diminished with time—slipping from 27 percent at age 3 to 14 percent by age 30—but didn’t disappear. Some elderly people in China were shown to still share strains with their surviving centenarian mothers.

For Veena Taneja, an immunologist at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the study, one of the more surprising tidbits in the findings was that although infants born vaginally shared more strains with their mothers than infants born by C-section did, this difference vanished by three years of age. “People make a big deal out of it” that babies born via C-section might be more at risk for certain diseases, she said. But the findings suggest that maybe it “should not be a big thing.”

(That view was corroborated by a new study published this month in Cell Host & Microbe. It found that babies born via C-section received less of their mother’s microbiomes than babies born vaginally, but that they didn’t miss out because they received more microbes from breast milk.)

As we get older, a sizable portion of our microbiomes continues to come from the people we live with or near. Unsurprisingly, the study by Segata and colleagues found that spouses and other physically intimate partners shared a lot of microbes: 13 percent of the gut species they shared were of the same strain, as were 38 percent of their shared oral species.

But people who lived together platonically weren’t far behind, at 12 percent for shared gut species and 32 percent for shared oral species. That’s because, as Segata, Valles-Colomer and their team found, the single most important determinant of transmission was time spent together. People living under one roof shared the most strains, but even people living in the same village tended to have more strains in common than people separated by greater distances. The frequency of strain sharing was consistent across different societies, but the team did confirm previous findings that people in non-westernized countries tend to have more diverse microbiomes.

The researchers also found that strains held in common could be lost over time. Twins growing up together had about a 30 percent strain-sharing level that dropped to about 10 percent after 30 years of living apart.

Segata thinks it’s likely that most of the other strains of shared species also come from other people—primarily from close contacts like friends or coworkers, but maybe also from people we encounter far more briefly and casually. (Pets, however, are probably not big contributors: Segata said that animals mostly harbor microbial species that don’t typically colonize or persist in us.)

The findings are the strongest evidence to date that we share parts of our microbiomes with the people we spend the most time with. The fact that the authors were able to see this pattern of transmission across the globe, and not just in a single population, was “striking,” said Ilana Brito, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. These data sets are extremely noisy, with many mutations happening across these different organisms, she added. But the team successfully uncovered “the signal across the noise.”

It’s not clear how microbiome organisms spread between people. Kissing and sex explain some of it, but microbes could also be transmitted through droplets spewed by coughs and sneezes, or they could be picked up from contaminated surfaces. There’s also still a lot to learn about which microbes are more easily spread than others. Answering that question is critical for understanding the implications of the idea that microbiome organisms can spread.

6) Loved reading about the tiny spit of land in Australia that was one of the few places of dry land on earth where one could see the latest total solar eclipse:

For the tens of thousands of astrophotographers, eclipse chasers and cosmically minded tourists contemplating the best site from which to view Thursday’s total solar eclipse, the town of Exmouth, perched on a finger of land jutting from Australia’s west coast, was the simplest solution to a problem of extreme scarcity.

The narrow ribbon across the planet from which the eclipse could be seen crossed land in just four places: the remotest reaches of East Timor and Western Papua, in Indonesia; freckle-like Australian islands, one of which is controlled by the oil company Chevron; and Exmouth, a tiny tourist destination and former U.S. naval base 770 miles from the nearest city…

Every year, Exmouth sees a regular influx of a few thousand vacationers, drawn by its pristine reef and resident whale sharks. But to accommodate a mass of 20,000 or 30,000 visitors required years of planning and millions of dollars in state support that went toward infrastructure updates, hundreds of portable toilets, dozens of additional emergency workers, the clearing of five acres of forestland and a 1.5-million-gallon water tank.

“It sounds pretty daunting, doesn’t it?” said Darlene Allston, a top local official.

In many instances, hotels and other tourism operators first learned of the eclipse from savvy tourists who booked their accommodations four or more years earlier. When someone emailed the town’s visitor center in 2018 seeking a booking, “We thought it was a joke at first,” said Jessica Smith, who worked there.

7) Charges are being dropped against Alec Baldwin.  It’s almost like he never should’ve been charged. 

8) Lots of cool ideas from Ethan Mollick on how to use Bing GPT to help teachers/professors.  I tried it out with American Government concepts, and, yeah, it worked really well. 

9) Relatedly.

10) After Damar Hamlin was revived on the field with CPR and an AED I decided I was not going to put off a CPR class any longer.  I’ve put it off so long because I knew it would be less than an hour of material in 2-3 hours.  And, yes, exactly that, but I’m really glad I took the class.  Meanwhile, an interesting story on whether home AED’s may be worth it.  On a society level, totally fails a cost/benefit because the events are so rare, but, nonetheless, it can absolutely make the key difference in some cases. 

On the evening of Jan. 15, 2021, in a remote Arizona desert town, Christine Benton saved a life.

She and her husband, Brian Benton, were traveling the country in a recreational vehicle and had parked near other R.V.ers at a winery in Willcox. As the couple were eating dinner, someone started shouting from an R.V. behind them. A woman had collapsed and was in cardiac arrest. She had no pulse. Frantic, her husband called 911 while two other people started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“She looked like she was gone,” said Ms. Benton, a retired paramedic firefighter.

But Ms. Benton had made a consequential decision before she and her husband started out: She had bought a personal automated external defibrillator, or A.E.D., which can shock a person’s heart back to life if it suddenly stops beating. Her plan was to to keep it with her, just in case. It was expensive, it was highly unlikely she would ever use it and her husband was hesitant. But she was adamant.

“If I were ever in a situation where I could save a life and I didn’t have an A.E.D., I could never live with myself,” she told her husband at the time.

As a firefighter, Ms. Benton had been trained to use a defibrillator. She knew that if someone’s heart stopped, a rescuer should start CPR immediately, pushing hard and rhythmically on the chest, while another rescuer went to get an A.E.D. As soon as that second rescuer returned, the A.E.D. should be used…

But emergency medicine specialists are divided on whether it makes sense for anyone to buy one.

They know that A.E.D.s in public places like airports, where thousands of people pass by every day, can make a difference and they urge people to use them if they see someone who needs help. In the U.S., 85 to 90 percent of people who have sudden cardiac arrests do not survive and many cannot be revived, often because resuscitation attempts start too late.

But the situation is different in the home.

For one, there is the expense — the devices often cost more than $1,000, making them far less affordable to the average person than home medical devices like a blood pressure monitor or a pulse oximeter. While there are efforts to develop cheaper A.E.D.s, they are still underway, according to Monica Sales, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

The price is not the only thing that gives some specialists pause. The odds are so stacked against a dramatic save that it has proved impossible to show that personal A.E.D.’s make a difference.

An estimated 1,000 people a day in the U.S. have sudden cardiac arrests, in which the heart stops beating and the person is technically dead. But that represents a minuscule portion of the American population.

Even people at high risk of a sudden cardiac arrest were not helped by home A.E.D.s, a large study showed. It involved 7,001 people who had previously had heart attacks and who were randomly assigned to receive an A.E.D. or to be in a control group.

Despite the huge number of study participants, very few had cardiac arrests and, even when they did, the arrests often did not occur at home or were not witnessed. In the end, just eight people in each group were resuscitated at home. The authors concluded that even if the study’s size were doubled, there would be too few events to detect an effect of home A.E.D.s.

11) Drum on DeSantis:

Ron DeSantis is blowing it. Initially, his pitch was simple: I’m an anti-woke conservative but I’m not crazy like Donald Trump.

But that’s evolved considerably over the past few months. DeSantis was doing fine as long as he attacked the soft underbelly of liberal sex, gender, and race politics: trans kids in sports; queer theory in AP classes; teaching gay acceptance to third graders; puberty blockers for adolescents; and so forth. These are all things that produce a fair bit of angst among not just MAGA conservatives, but also moderates and independents.

But banning discussion of gender identity completely? Taking over a public university because he didn’t like its curriculum? Banning abortion at six weeks? Going to war with Disney as an act of state-sponsored revenge? Claiming that the Federal Reserve is trying to mount an economic coup using digital currency?

Some of these seem like transparent pandering. Some seem like dangerous extremism. Some are flat-out conspiracy theory lunacy. And some, like the Disney war, are scaring the business wing of the Republican Party, which tolerates the GOP’s culture war agenda only as long as they’re left out of it.

DeSantis is acting like the United States is just an extension of the most conservative parts of Florida. It’s not, and DeSantis has put himself into a pickle. He’s obviously too weak and insecure to deny anything to the MAGA cesspool, and this is ruining his chances of appealing to anyone else. He needed to appear strong enough to control the MAGA beast, not become its kept man.

12) And Chait:

A little over four years ago, Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign appeared to be, if not inevitable, then at least like the most strongly positioned candidacy to win her party’s nomination. The former Harvard professor had won over a large segment of the progressive intelligentsia with her impressive array of domestic-policy proposals. But the enthusiasm of activists and intellectuals seemed to augur a groundswell of support from the base that never arrived.

The Warren precedent sprung to mind when Florida governor Ron DeSantis yesterday ventured to South Carolina, where he railed against the “woke mind-virus,” which he defined, perhaps unhelpfully, as “a form of cultural Marxism.” These are terms and concepts that have ricocheted across the conservative elite, especially Republicans trapped in New York, Washington, Silicon Valley, and other citadels of liberal elitism, where teachers and human-resource staffers have grown enamored of Robin DiAngelo–speak. But is this worldview, and the jargon DeSantis uses to express it, actually familiar to the voters? Are Republicans in South Carolina truly in a state of despair over “cultural Marxism”?

DeSantis’s struggles have consumed the national media and inspired sundry explanations. Perhaps his misanthropy is the problem. (“He doesn’t like talking to people, and it’s showing,” one supporter complained to the Washington Post.) Maybe the issue is that Donald Trump was indicted. Maybe it’s his refusal to engage the mainstream media. Or maybe his struggles are a passing phase, willed into existence by a campaign press corps that quadrennially seizes on any wisp of momentum, positive or negative, and blows it up into a self-perpetuating narrative, before getting bored and overcorrecting the other way. (DeSantis’s new image as an inept loser is difficult to square with his 19-point victory in Florida last year.) But the deepest problem may be that he has simply brain-poisoned himself into an abstract worldview that his constituents don’t recognize.

13) I’m a little obsessed with weather apps (I have four on my phone and mostly swear by Accuweather).  I love that Charlie Warzel actually wrote about them! 

Technologically speaking, we live in a time of plenty. Today, I can ask a chatbot to render The Canterbury Tales as if written by Taylor Swift or to help me write a factually inaccurate autobiography. With three swipes, I can summon almost everyone listed in my phone and see their confused faces via an impromptu video chat. My life is a gluttonous smorgasbord of information, and I am on the all-you-can-eat plan. But there is one specific corner where technological advances haven’t kept up: weather apps.

Weather forecasts are always a game of prediction and probabilities, but these apps seem to fail more often than they should. At best, they perform about as well as meteorologists, but some of the most popular ones fare much worse. The cult favorite Dark Sky, for example, which shut down earlier this year and was rolled into the Apple Weather app, accurately predicted the high temperature in my zip code only 39 percent of the time, according to ForecastAdvisor, which evaluates online weather providers. The Weather Channel’s app, by comparison, comes in at 83 percent. The Apple app, although not rated by ForecastAdvisor, has a reputation for off-the-mark forecasts and has been consistently criticized for presenting faulty radar screens, mixing up precipitation totals, or, as it did last week, breaking altogether. Dozens of times, the Apple Weather app has lulled me into a false sense of security, leaving me wet and betrayed after a run, bike ride, or round of golf…

Weather apps are not all the same. There are tens of thousands of them, from the simply designed Apple Weather to the expensive, complex, data-rich Windy.App. But all of these forecasts are working off of similar data, which are pulled from places such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Traditional meteorologists interpret these models based on their training as well as their gut instinct and past regional weather patterns, and different weather apps and services tend to use their own secret sauce of algorithms to divine their predictions. On an average day, you’re probably going to see a similar forecast from app to app and on television. But when it comes to how people feel about weather apps, these edge cases—which usually take place during severe weather events—are what stick in a person’s mind. “Eighty percent of the year, a weather app is going to work fine,” Matt Lanza, a forecaster who runs Houston’s Space City Weather, told me. “But it’s that 20 percent where people get burned that’s a problem.” 

Lanza explained the human touch of a meteorologist using the example of a so-called high-resolution forecasting model that can predict only 18 hours out. It is generally quite good, he told me, at predicting rain and thunderstorms—“but every so often it runs too hot and over-indexes the chances of a bad storm.” This model, if left to its own devices, will project showers and thunderstorms blanketing the region for hours when, in reality, the storm might only cause 30 minutes of rain in an isolated area of the mapped region. “The problem is when you take the model data and push it directly into the app with no human interpretation,” he said. “Because you’re not going to get nuance from these apps at all. And that can mean a difference between a chance of rain all day and it’s going to rain all day.”

But even this explanation has caveats; all weather apps are different, and their forecasts have varying levels of sophistication. Some pipe model data right in, whereas others are curated using artificial intelligence. Peter Neilley, the Weather Channel’s director of weather forecasting sciences and technologies, said in an email that the company’s app incorporates “billions of weather data points,” adding that “our expert team of meteorologists does oversee and correct the process as needed.”

Weather apps might be less reliable for another reason too. When it comes to predicting severe weather such as snow, small changes in atmospheric moisture—the type of change an experienced forecaster might notice—can cause huge variances in precipitation outcomes. An app with no human curation might choose to average the model’s range of outcomes, producing a forecast that doesn’t reflect the dynamic situation on the ground. Or consider cities with microclimates: “Today, in Chicago, the lakefront will sit in the lower 40s, and the suburbs will be 50-plus degrees,” Greg Dutra, a meteorologist at ABC 7 Chicago, told me. “Often, the difference is even more stark—20-degree swings over just miles.” These sometimes subtle temperature disparities can mean very different forecasts for people living in the same region—something that one-size-fits-all weather apps don’t always pick up.

14) And it also pointed me to this site, which I love, that compares the accuracy of various weather apps for your location (and my two favorite Accuweather and Weather Underground are at the top for Cary). 

15) Loved this Thomas Pueyo thread on maps (if you are on twitter you should totally follow him!)

16) Lots of great advice from Jeremy Faust on seasonal allergies.  I had no idea you could really pound the Zyrtec on those bad allergy days (but definitely not the eye drops). 

17) Drum on the Bud Light ridiculousness:

Every year, Bud Light spends more than $100 million on marketing. Of that, maybe a few million goes to social media. Of that, a small fraction goes to deals with social media influencers. And of that, a few thousand dollars recently went to Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman who racked up something like 10 million followers on TikTok by putting up daily videos of her transition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, after a meeting with Joe Biden, Mulvaney became a right-wing target. So she was already on their radar two weeks ago when she posted a cutesy Instagram video for Bud Light during March Madness. This led to a week of outrage from Fox News and calls for a conservative boycott of Bud Light. National Review editor Rich Lowry says there’s a lesson to be learned:

It would be a good outcome here if it becomes obvious to everyone that Bud Light made a mistake, and if big companies resolve not to do the same in the future.

Just so I have this straight: Lowry’s view is that no American corporation should ever hire a transgender person as part of a promotional campaign. Or am I missing something? Are there any other demographic groups that corporate America should also steer clear of?

18) EJ Dionne, “Gun absolutists don’t trust democracy because they know they’re losing”

Gunned-down children don’t seem to change the political equation on guns. Neither do dead teachers. Are parents petrified to send their sons and daughters to school? Tough. I expect the next new slogan on right-wing T-shirts will be: “Arm the Kids!


Speaking to the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis on Friday, former president Donald Trump didn’t go quite that far. But he did suggest that we “arm some of these teachers.” Former vice president Mike Pence similarly pledged to place “armed resource officers in every public and private school in America.” There’s big government for you.


That the Republican Party is now wholly owned by the gun lobby was witnessed not only by the eagerness of Pence, Trump and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to pander in person at the gathering self-described as “14 acres of guns & gear.” Other would-be 2024 GOP nominees — among them, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — felt obligated to bow before the gun worshipers by video.

The nonsense floated in Indianapolis — based on the idea that our national addiction to high-powered weaponry has nothing to do with America’s unique mass shooting problem — speaks to a deep ailment in our democracy. It has both partisan and (perverse) philosophical roots.

The GOP’s conversion to gun absolutism is the heart of the problem. But politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often follows from cultural and moral innovations.

For roughly four decades, American conservatism has identified firearms as a marker of a manly rejection of urban cosmopolitanism and gun ownership as a right more important than any other. As DeSantis said in his video, the right to bear arms is “the foundation on which all our other rights rest” and essential to Americans’ “ability to rule themselves.”

19) Pretty persuaded by this, “Harper: Why the NBA needs to ban the charge (because it’s stupid and needs to go away)”

The charge is stupid and needs to go away. Now put your pitchforks away and let me explain.

The charge isn’t really a basketball play. I know we’ve tricked ourselves through lore and grainy black-and-white clips that this is a true sacrifice when trying to play defense. It’s really not, especially not anymore. Not with today’s athleticism. The charge is a bailout call for the defense. It’s a game of Three-Card Monte where you’re encouraging collisions as if this were some kind of goal-line stand in football. The alternative would make for a better basketball product, but the league seems so set in its ways on whether or not to change the rule (or even consider it) that it’s willing to create bad situations time and time again.

Two of the biggest stars in the NBA got hurt on Sunday because of players attempting to take charges. Ja Morant fell hard when Anthony Davis tried to take a charge in Game 1 of Grizzlies-Lakers. He hurt his wrist and his status in this series is “in jeopardy,” according to the Grizzlies’ point guard…

In both instances, you have players looking to slide into position at the last second, hoping to con the referee into thinking they were in legal guarding position the entire time to gain the call. By the time Morant is taking off, Davis is still sliding into position. It’s insane to me that this would be rewarded, but I can also recognize it’s a bang-bang play that could go either way on the call. In the case of Giannis, he’s off the ground completely when Love slides into position, and his fall to the ground was contorted enough to have him land right on his back.

20) This interactive WP feature on recycling is pretty cool. Gift link. 

21) What a great idea, “California Wants to Cover Its Canals With Solar Panels”

A new state-funded project in the San Joaquin Valley hopes to find a new way to build drought resilience. The idea is simple: Cover the state’s canals and aqueducts with solar panels to both limit evaporation and generate renewable energy.

“If you drive up and down the state, you see a lot of open canals. And after year after year of drought it seemed an obvious question: How much are we losing to evaporation?” said Jordan Harris, co-founder and chief executive of Solar AquaGrid, a company based in the Bay Area that’s designing and overseeing the initiative. “It’s just common sense in our eyes.”

The California Department of Water Resources is providing $20 million to test the concept in Stanislaus County and to help determine where else along the state’s 4,000 miles of canals — one of the largest water conveyance systems in the world — it would make the most sense to install solar panels. The project is a collaboration between the state, Solar AquaGrid, the Turlock Irrigation District and researchers with the University of California, Merced, who will track and analyze the findings.

“This hasn’t been tried in the U.S. before,” said Roger Bales, an engineering professor at U.C. Merced who specializes in water and climate research. “We want these to eventually be scaled across the western U.S., where we have a lot of irrigated agriculture and open canals.”

California’s efforts got a jump start from a 2021 study published by Bales and his colleagues, who determined that covering the state’s canals with solar panels could reduce evaporation by as much as 90 percent and save 63 billion gallons of water per year — enough to meet the residential water needs of more than two million people.

22) Hell of an essay, “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon”

My 35 years living with two different donor hearts (I was 25 at the time of the first transplant) — finishing law school, getting married, becoming a mother and writing two books — has felt like a quest to outlast a limited life expectancy. With compulsive compliance, I adhered to the strictest interpretation of transplant protocols. I honored my gifts of life with self-discipline: not one pat of butter; not one sip of alcohol; running mile after mile hoping to stave off vasculopathy, an insidious artery disease that often besets transplanted hearts within about 10 years…

Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors. And I understand the irony of an incredibly successful and fortunate two-time heart transplant recipient making this case, but my longevity also provides me with a unique vantage point. Standing on the edge of death now, I feel compelled to use my experience in the transplant trenches to illuminate and challenge the status quo.

Over the last almost four decades a toxic triad of immunosuppressive medicines — calcineurin inhibitors, antimetabolites, steroids — has remained essentially the same with limited exceptions. These transplant drugs (which must be taken once or twice daily for life, since rejection is an ongoing risk and the immune system will always regard a donor organ as a foreign invader) cause secondary diseases and dangerous conditions, including diabetes, uncontrollable high blood pressure, kidney damage and failure, serious infections and cancers. The negative impact on recipients is not offset by effectiveness: the current transplant medicine regimen does not work well over time to protect donor organs from immune attack and destruction.

My first donor heart died of transplant medicines’ inadequate protection of the donor heart from rejection; my second will die most likely from their stymied immune effects that give free rein to cancer…

Transplantation is no different from lifelong illnesses that need newer, safer, more effective medicines. Improvements in drug regimens are needed for lupus, Parkinson’s and a host of others. The key difference is that only in transplantation are patients expected to see their disease state as a “miracle.” Only in transplant is there pressure to accept what you’ve been given and not dare express a wish, let alone a demand, for a healthier or longer life.


The side effects of transplant immunosuppression can be sickening day to day, as my small posse of stalwart organ recipient girlfriends knows well; we talk about the vomit bags stashed in our purses, the antacid tablets we tuck into our front pockets for quick-nibble access at a cocktail party or when giving a presentation at work. We’ve encouraged one another to be inventive and keep finding little fixes or at least ameliorations.

Yet over time, each of us tolerate significant challenges and damage, the kind that prompt us to call late at night in tears, reeling from the intractable infections that land us in emergency rooms and hospital beds, the biopsies that pluck pieces of our donor organs leaving us scarred and shaken, the skin cancers that blossom rapidly beside an eyelid or ear. We’ve learned that there can be no clearing every single cancer cell with a suppressed immune system; we will get cut again, and again and again.

But with rattled resolve, we push one another to squeeze laughter out of our common experiences, recounting in mimicking tones all the doctors and all the ways they’ve said to us: “You have taken too much of those medicines for too long. Things are bound to go sideways.”

23) I hope Freddie deBoer isn’t talking to me.  I feel like I’m actually funny.  But, maybe…

I pretty quickly figured out that outside of the weird social architecture of high school, I just wasn’t a particularly funny guy. I’m not exactly known for my great self-knowledge, but this was one of the times in my life when I suddenly and definitively understood myself. On reflection I came to realize that the conditions at high school were never going to be replicated. In particular, being funny in high school classes had these inherent advantages:

  1. There was a captive audience of just the right size, say 12-20.

  2. Within that captive audience were other personalities to bounce off of.

  3. The actual task at hand was usually very dry and boring.

  4. We were teenagers.

  5. Some of us liked school more, some less, but we were all forced to be there.

  6. There was a central authority figure who functioned as a natural and perfect foil, someone to be the butt of jokes.

  7. The fact that we were forced to be there, and that the authority figure’s power over us was to some degree arbitrary, made fighting back with humor feel like a battle for freedom and dignity.

Now, with time I have come to regret just how much of my adolescence I spent fucking with my teachers. For one thing, this was part of my total nosedive in academics that started in middle school, where I went from perfect grades as an elementary school student to constantly failing classes in high school. (Meaning that I performed best when it mattered least and performed worst when it mattered most.) But the bigger issue is that eventually I came to realize that my teachers were, with some exceptions, good people who were doing their best and had an essential task to perform, a task I made a little harder with my constant interruptions and defiance. In fairness, both my bad grades and my snottiness were symptoms of the fact that I was a profoundly wounded person at that point of my life. Still, I only ever gave a handful of teachers an easy time in four years of high school, and those I’m sure were because I perceived some sort of integrity in them that was probably based on entirely unfair and fickle criteria. The trouble was that the sense that the teacher was the locus of unjust authority was somewhat overpowering – it lent a sense of moral struggle to the behavior that was also getting me approval and popularity. I made villains out of people who were just trying to do their jobs, in a way that was convenient for me but felt like noble resistance.

I know this probably all sounds obscure, but I think it connects to broader issues within the world of humor. For example, you’ll find that in comedies the villain is very rarely complex or sympathetic. Comedy is great for exploring nuance but also thrives on having a deserving target. My teachers played that role in my own personal excuse architecture.

All of this windup is for a plainly self-aggrandizing purpose: I find that many people have failed to have the same moment of self-realization I had around college age. I think one of the perpetually aggravating conditions of American culture in 2023 is the feeling that everyone is trying to be a comic all the time. Through cultural and technological evolution we’ve created major social incentives for everyone to act like a comedian as well as digital platforms on which to perform. The trouble, to return to a theme, is that we haven’t and can’t democratize comedic talent. I wrote a piece about a year ago called “Perhaps the Barriers to Entry for Creative Work Have Become Too Low.” Some people got pretty salty about that piece and its title. But I think my main point was sympathetic: the tools to make and share movies or music or writing or video games have become so accessible that people aren’t sufficiently developing their craft before they find an audience. And, yes, the meaner point is that some people just aren’t very good at what they do, but they persist for years anyway because doing so is so low-cost. I think that’s sort of where we are with humor, only at a much bigger scale; many people seem to believe that adult conversation mostly involves people throwing wisecracks at each other, over and over again. As Willy Staley says in this piece on the decline of Twitter, “Who doesn’t want to be the person who can make everyone laugh at a dinner party?”

24) Paul Waldman, “Our new terror: The ‘law-abiding’ gun owner who is ready to kill”

I’m afraid of mass shootings. I’m afraid of getting caught in the crossfire of some stupid beef. I’m afraid of gun-wielding, right-wing extremists. But increasingly, I’m also afraid of the people who believe themselves to be “good guys” with guns, gripped with terror of the world around them and ready to kill.

That so many gun owners are consumed with fear is not an accident. It is a central part of the ideology propagated by conservative media outlets and gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association.


The message is hammered home again and again: The world is full of homicidal maniacs coming to kill you and your family. In the words of NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, “every day of every year, innocent, good, defenseless people are beaten, bloodied, robbed, raped and murdered.” Criminals, gangs, home invaders, terrorists, antifa — they’re all coming for you. So if your doorbell rings, you’d better have a gun in your hand when you answer.

The recent NRA convention in Indianapolis was touted by the group as “14 Acres of Guns & Gear!” But it might as well have been “14 Acres of Guns & Fear!” Former president Donald Trump told the crowd that liberals “want to take away your guns while throwing open the jailhouse doors and releasing bloodthirsty criminals into your communities.” One speaker after another echoed that idea.

This has become the core of the gun industry’s marketing efforts in recent years: to convince potential buyers that sooner or later (probably sooner), they will be the victims of violent crime. The only question is whether they’ll be able to kill their attackers before they’re killed first.

When the marketing isn’t talking about home invasions and street assaults, it focuses on what former gun industry insider Ryan Busse calls “fear-based tactical culture,” in which gun owners are encouraged to imagine themselves as paramilitary operatives facing down urban rioters. Gun owners are now significantly more likely to cite protection from crime as the reason they own guns than they were 20 years ago.

Quick hits (Chicago style)

This will be short because I’m in Chicago for a PS conference, but I got some stuff queued up before I left and had a little extra time here…

1) Great Edsall column on the authoritarian turn of Republicans:

Jacob Grumbach, a political scientist at the University of Washington, argues in his 2022 book, “Laboratories Against Democracy,” that

When it comes to democratic backsliding in the states, the results couldn’t be clearer: over the past two decades, the Republican Party has eroded democracy in states under its control. Republican governments have gerrymandered districts, made it more difficult to vote and restricted civil liberties to a degree unprecedented since the civil rights era. It is not local changes in state-level polarization, competition or demographics driving these major changes in the rules of American democracy. Instead, it is the groups that make up the national coalition of the modern G. O.P. — the very wealthy on the one hand and those motivated by white identity politics and cultural resentment on the other.

When I asked him why the Republican Party had moved in this direction over the past generation, Grumbach elaborated in an email, observing that the two major elements of the Republican Party — “extremely wealthy individuals in an era of high economic inequality” and “a voter base motivated by cultural and demographic threat” — have a “hard time winning electoral majorities on the basis of their policy agendas (a high-end tax cut agenda for the elite base and a culturally reactionary agenda for the electoral base), which increases their incentive to tweak the rules of the game to their advantage.” …

Other observers of American politics are more pessimistic. Theda Skocpol, a professor of political science and sociology at Harvard, contends that many of the developments in states controlled by Republicans are the result of careful, long-term planning by conservative strategists, particularly those in the Federalist Society, who are developing tools to build what she calls “minority authoritarianism” within the context of a nominally democratic system of government.

Skocpol outlined her thinking in an email:

The first-movers who figured out how to configure this new ‘laboratory of democratic constriction’ were legal eagles in the Federalist Society and beyond, because the key structural dynamic in the current G.O.P. gallop toward minority authoritarianism is the mutual interlock between post-2010 Republican control, often supermajority control, of dozens of state legislatures and the Scotus decision in 2019 to allow even the most extreme and bizarre forms of partisan gerrymandering.

These organized, richly resourced actors, she wrote,

have figured out how to rig the current U.S. system of federalism and divided branches, given generational and geographic realities on the ground, and the in many ways fluky 2016 presidential election gave them what they needed to put the interlock in place. They are stoking and using the fears and resentments of about half or so of the G.O.P. popular base to undo American democracy and enhance their own power and privileges. They are doing it because they can, and they believe in what they are doing. They are America’s G.O.P. Leninists.

Skocpol does not pull her punches:

This situation, locked in place by a corruptly installed Supreme Court majority and by many rotten-borough judicial districts like the one in Amarillo, means that minority authoritarians, behind a bare facade of “constitutionalism,” can render majority-elected officials, including the President and many governors, officials in name only. The great thing from the minority authoritarian point of view, is that those visible chief executives (and urban mayors and district attorneys) can still be blamed for government non-function and societal problems, but they cannot address them with even broadly supported measures (such as simple background checks for having military assault weapons).

2) The case for getting addicts treatment whether they want it or not:

There’s a common view that people with addiction can’t be helped unless they choose to go into treatment. But the data on voluntary versus coerced and court-mandated treatment is not so clear-cut. Some studies show people don’t need to choose treatment for it to be effective, even though it may be more effective if they choose it willingly.

“The fashionable rhetoric is that mandating people doesn’t work, but evidence points the other way,” says Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and an expert in addiction medicine.

One study he cites, published in The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment in 2005, followed patients one and five years after voluntary and court-mandated treatment. It concluded that “contrary to popular belief,” when drug users mandated to treatment are compared with people who sought treatment themselves, those who were mandated had similar results related to drug use outcomes and reductions in crime “or sometimes better than those achieved by voluntary patients.” The study also indicated that recognizing they have a problem and being motivated to stop using “may not be necessary for salutary changes to occur, either in the short or longer term.”

Not every expert agrees, and there are also studies questioning the long-term efficacy of compulsory treatment and the risk of potential harms, especially in programs that fall short of standard of care. The data can be difficult to parse because there are many different levels of coercion and ways that people can be pushed into treatment programs — and different treatment protocols when they get there.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the evidence for compulsory treatment is mixed. “Creating a climate that encourages and supports people to seek treatment voluntarily and provides access to evidence-based treatment methods is critical,” the group said in a statement. “When that fails to happen, systems and organizations may begin to look to coerced treatment as an alternative.”

To understand whether compulsory treatment works, the institute says, “one must first ask if that treatment is evidence-based and also consider both short-term outcomes like halting drug use and long-term outcomes like staying in recovery.”

I understand why involuntary and coerced treatment are viewed negatively. The approach is part of what brought us the disastrous and counterproductive war on drugs. But with the current state of the drug supply, those who love people with substance use disorders have a difficult choice: Do something, even if it’s deeply unpleasant and may not ultimately work, or risk their loved one’s death.

There are effective ways to get people into treatment who don’t want it. One of the most effective intervention methods is community reinforcement and family training, or CRAFT. Unlike many interventions depicted on television, this approach to encouraging people to get treatment isn’t characterized by blame, threats and ultimatums but by expressions of love, empathy and support. Data suggests that about two-thirds of interventions using CRAFT succeed in getting people into treatment, but it isn’t an option for many people with acute manifestations of addiction, especially for those who are alienated from their families, unemployed or isolated.

3) Touchscreens are taking over high-end cars.  Give me knobs and buttons (and a nice modest-sized screen for my Apple Carplay). I thought this part was particularly interesting:

When Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Model S in 2009, the command center, with its 17-inch LCD touch screen, seemed nearly as game-changing as the car itself. And in giving drivers digital control of automotive functions, Tesla was able to avoid the expense of engineering, wiring and building a cabin full of pricey analog switches, knobs and gauges — or having to buy them from another automaker or supplier.

I had no idea it was cost-cutting!  This is what I’m working with (2016 Jetta) and I think it’s great.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta: 81 Interior Photos | U.S. News

4) John McWhorter on taking offense at humor:

But in our times, an even subtler kind of counterexpectation infuses much of American humor. This is the idea that people who haven’t gotten the memo on our advances in social relations are the “unexpected” element, and that they are to be ridiculed. An example would be Peter Griffin, the paterfamilias of the animated comedy “Family Guy.” The show’s general ethos is one in which open sexism, homophobia and numbness to violence — all characteristics frequently manifested by Peter — are treated as barbarisms to feel superior to. I think of this kind of humor, requiring a layered approach to what is being proposed, as humor 3.0, compared to the humor 2.0 of the chicken joke and the 1.0 of the one about lemonade.

However, there are more than a few people who are disinclined to adopt the 3.0 model of humor. To them, even laughing at the person who hasn’t gotten the memo means you still have not gotten the memo. “Family Guy” to me is a joy; I’ve seen every episode. Yet I was once surprised to hear someone describe it as off-puttingly homophobic. I hadn’t thought of it that way…

I thought of this when “The Colbert Report” ridiculed resistance to changing the name of the Washington Redskins football team by proposing a hypothetical equivalent issue regarding an old, ironic Colbert caricature of Asians that included a silly mock-Chinese name. Many wanted Colbert’s show canceled, and I was struck by the idea, leveled by Colbert’s detractors, that mocking the caricature was the same as espousing it, a view they appeared to hold in all sincerity. Is it that the difference between leveling an insult and depicting someone leveling the insult in mockery is pushing the spontaneity and inherent emotionalism of human cognition beyond a reasonable point? …

The current idea that referring to the N-word is as offensive as using it seems related. The people promoting this idea seem to consider it progress over the use/reference distinction that until recently prevailed. A part of me tries to imagine that this really is a higher form of reasoning, although I can’t say my effort bears much fruit.

American humor seems to have drifted, like some classical music as well as much jazz from bebop on, into a form that bypasses the intuitive to a degree that will never entirely catch on. Part of the challenge of understanding one another across today’s partisan divides will be to understand that, as funny as 3.0 humor may be to some of us, for others, it still comes across as merely offensive.

5) Good God that grimmest take on guns in America, I’ve seen.  It strikes me as too certain in it’s pessimism, but, probably more true than not:

I wrote this article long before the latest mass shooting that just happened, this time in Louisville, Kentucky, because we all know the pattern, and it never changes. There’s a mass shooting and dead innocents, often children. Angry calls for Republicans to do something, and nothing gets done. The incident fades from the 24-hour news cycle, and we resume the waiting game for the next one. It’s Sisyphus with a boulder that rolls downhill and crushes him over and over for eternity.

That’s something that people who support gun control measures need to understand: The war is lost. There is no conceivable way for things to change for the better within the next 20 to 30 years, short of a national divorce. There is no way to change hearts and minds of Republicans or the courts. There is no way to change who is in office in most states. There is no way to replace who sits on the courts quickly or change conservative disdain for stare decisis.

In reality, mass shootings will only become more and more common over the next few years as Republicans have decided that the only solution to gun violence is adding as many guns as possible to the mix…

Some Republicans still want to pretend that they’re engaging with the subject seriously: blaming mental health issues, video games, lack of prayer in schools, and transgender people for mass shootings. But this is simply a distraction: Other countries have all those things, but they don’t have mass shootings. The United States is the only country where people have such ready access to hundreds of millions of firearms, and we are the only country where mass shootings happen with such grim regularity.

The only solution proposed by Republicans is “more guns,” which is the modern equivalent of “No, no. Dig UP, stupid! Proposals to arm teachers are obviously infeasible: If you don’t give teachers immunity from prosecution and lawsuits, they won’t carry and nothing changes. And if you do give them qualified immunity like cops, then you have the same problem you do with police: namely teachers blowing away mouthy eighth graders (who would be disproportionately Black or Hispanic), which is even worse than the status quo.

Anyone who actually understands the issue knows: It’s the guns, stupid. Which is why in moments of candor Republicans tell the truth: “We’re not gonna fix it. The Biden administration admitted there’s nothing else feasible that can be accomplished given the structure in place that guarantees nothing can, or will, be done. And the truth is, they’re correct.

6) Perry Bacon Jr, “Only the Republican Party can end our mass shootings epidemic”

If the United States severely restricted AR-15’s and other such weapons, there would be fewer mass killings in which one person shoots dozens. But to truly reduce the number of homicides, we have to restrict handguns, too.

So we need Americans to voluntarily give up their guns en masse — or be required to do so. That would require numerous, aggressive pieces of gun-control legislation, judges upholding those laws in court — and potentially a constitutional amendment stating that the Second Amendment does not provide an individual right to gun ownership.

I don’t think that’s impossible. Australia did something similar in the 1990s after a mass shooting there.

But we all know the problem. Such massive policy changes would require Republican politicians, powerful right-wing institutions such as Fox News and many hard-line conservative voters to stop acting as though radical gun freedoms are essential to a free society. In our current political environment, Fox and other conservative entities regularly suggest that conservatives are under mortal threat and that owning a gun is both good and necessary. Republican politicians also whip up pro-gun sentiment. And many rank-and-file Republicans both have fairly extreme views on guns and are pushed even further right by party leaders.

This makes for a self-reinforcing cycle of fervent opposition to gun control. Just last month here in Kentucky, for example, the GOP-dominated legislature adopted a provision declaring the state a “Second Amendment sanctuary” barring local law enforcement officials from enforcing some federal gun laws.

For the United States to make progress on guns, the Republican Party has to change direction. That would require powerful parts of the Republican coalition, such as former president Donald Trump and Fox News, to start telling Republican voters that conservatism doesn’t require opposition to gun regulations. But it would take even more than that: You would also need some agreement among candidates to not outdo one another in demagoguing gun control during Republican primaries, and some major donors and groups to spend money boosting pro-gun-control candidates.

I know how far-fetched that sounds. But ultimately, that’s the only solution. The Democratic Party can’t impose gun control on its own, particularly in GOP-dominated states such as Kentucky. Nor can it push aggressive legislation if Republicans are loudly suggesting Democrats want to put conservative voters in bondage.

7) Totally love this from Berny Belvedere:

Jesse Kelly, the right-wing national divorce accelerationist who once publicly fantasized about literally scalping his political opponents, recently discovered that Coors sometimes promotes its alcoholic products to LGBT people.

This was especially devastating to Kelly, since it came on the heels of Bud Light also revealing itself to be ensared by the same pernicious ideology of wanting to sell more alcoholic beverages, which is apparently why it partnered with trans TikTok personality Dylan Mulvaney for a social media push and a commemorative can.

However, in Kelly’s fevered imagination, this was Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch—the parent companies for Coors and Bud Light, respectively—fomenting a woke gender revolution.

Now, Mulvaney is a complete weirdo, but stopping there and going no further is apparently not possible for Kelly—he has to go beyond that and see in this marketing strategy the very undoing of the American project.

After he noticed that Coors has also been marketed to young adults and LGBT people, it led to an exasperated sigh. This is why Kelly half-jokingly suggested that he now has to do an hour of research before purchasing beer.

Sarcasm aside, why does he feel he has to do this?

MAGA voters and left-leaning LGBT people both like to drink beer, but because the two are at enmity with each other, we ought to conclude that these beer companies are completely captured by progressive zealotry if they try to pitch their drinks to both camps?

Kelly should just feel free to buy whatever products he enjoys rather than subordinate his consumption habits to identitarian considerations that have nothing to do with the quality of the products themselves.

I’m not just saying this to Kelly. This is as true for the anti-Bud Light/anti-Coors sentiment on display here as it is for the anti-Chick-fil-A sentiment of yesteryear.

But it’s a message that is especially salient for Kelly, who belongs to a crowd that tends to loudly decry the politicization of all things. All of a sudden, these people can’t operate a grocery list without first checking LinkedIn to see if companies that make the products they like have DEI officers on the payroll or whatever.

My counterproposal is that they should just live their lives.

They must feel they can’t, though, unless they first cleanse their pantries and refrigerators of lib-infected products. This is why antivax fanatic and antiwoke sportscaster Clay Travis came to Kelly’s defense with Gratis, a beer that is somehow able to come across as highly patriotic despite promising never to be pitched to the subset of Americans who are trans.

It is perhaps fitting that we would see, in a hyperpolarized age, marketing gimmicks dressed in the guise of responsible civic duty yet calibrated to exert maximal ideological pressure—e.g., “take money away from woke capital and give it to corporations that don’t hate you!”

I’m avowedly pro-capitalism, but the commodification of ideological dissent is one of capitalism’s most disquieting flexes. Scores of people convinced that purchasing their razors from Ben Shapiro rather than from Harry’s is some sort of powerful salvo in the grand battle between good and evil.

The overriding psychological importance of our intensely held ideological identities renders them powerfully exploitable by savvy marketing techniques toward suboptimal consumer outcomes: prioritizing political affinity above product quality to own the libs!

8) I made Vox this week:

There’s also an incentive for a party that is just short of a supermajority, as was the case in both states, to court members who may be on the political margins. It’s not yet clear whether the GOP made any concessions to any of the three lawmakers to persuade them to come over, but it’s certainly possible.

“It’s a lot more fun to be part of the majority and even more fun to be part of the supermajority,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.

The lawmakers will inherently wield more power and have access to favorable committee assignments. But they also don’t have to vote with their new parties all the time: Greene said it would be strange for Cotham to turn her back on her previous positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights, but it’s possible that she might vote with Republicans on the state budget, where the implementation of Medicaid expansion is likely to be contentious.

9) This.

10) Gallup:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Though Democrats and Republicans have long come down on different sides when considering the tradeoffs between economic growth and environmental protection, the gap between the parties has never been larger. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, compared with 20% of Republicans, now believe environmental protection should be given the higher priority.

From 1984 to 1991, the parties expressed similar views on this matter, but by 1995 a divide became evident, which has since gradually expanded. At least half of Democrats have favored the environment over economic growth in all years of Gallup’s trend except during the economically challenged years of 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, majorities of Republicans typically prioritized the environment from 1984 through 2000, but Republicans have not returned to that level since falling to 47% in 2001.

There have been years when more Democrats prioritized environmental protection than do so today, including 82% in 2019 and 85% in 2020. But in those years, more Republicans than now thought environmental protection should be the higher priority.

Similarly, the 20% of Republicans who currently think the environment should get greater consideration is not the low point for that subgroup. In both 2011 and 2021, 19% of Republicans held that view, years when fewer Democrats than today prioritized the environment.

The results are based on Gallup’s annual Environment survey, conducted March 1-23.

Political independents’ views are closer to those of Democrats, as 54% give a higher priority to environmental protection.

Meanwhile, 40% of independents, 17% of Democrats, and 74% of Republicans fall on the other side of the debate, saying economic growth should be more important than environmental protection. The pro-economy figure for Republicans is the highest Gallup has measured to date, and the 57-percentage-point Republican-Democratic gap on prioritizing the economy is also the largest.

11) For the legal-minded, “A Scalia Clerk Dismantles the Medication Abortion Decision: The court’s analysis directly contradicts binding precedent, relies on skewed evidence, and would yield absurd consequences”

The court also credits the plaintiffs’ allegation that the doctors may be forced to be made “complicit” in an “elective chemical abortion” by forcing them into a situation in which they “need[] to remove a baby with a beating heart or pregnancy tissue as the only means to save the life of the woman or girl.” It doesn’t appear that any of the doctor-members have ever had to involuntarily “remove a baby with a beating heart” as a result of an unsuccessful mifepristone abortion; it’s unclear whether this has happened to any doctor, ever.

But even if it has, it’s absurd to suggest that this is a “certainly impending” outcome for these doctors. Think of what these doctors are saying: They are claiming standing to ban all women from obtaining mifepristone from all doctors in all 50 states, and force all of these women to obtain surgical abortions if they want to terminate their pregnancies, in order to ward off against the hypothetical possibility that some unspecified woman, somewhere, might someday take mifepristone, have some extremely unusual reaction, enter a hospital, and randomly encounter one of these particular doctors, who personally will have to conduct an extremely rare surgical procedure to save the woman’s life, which will lead to the doctor experiencing emotional harm from being “complicit” with abortion. Really?

12) Yes, this!  Everybody and their damn SUV’s! (I don’t apologize for my minivan given that I have a family of 6), “The US Wants to Close an ‘SUV Loophole’ That Supersized Cars”

TOUGH NEW RULES on pollution from vehicles, proposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency this week, could reshape one of the world’s largest industries and transform how millions of people get around. The goal, government officials say, is to get many more electric vehicles in many more driveways

But another way to look at the proposed rules is as some 1,400 pages of modeling, charts, and dense regulatory language—enough to make any environmental wonk’s heart chirp like an endangered songbird. And buried in there is a fascinating federal flip-flop: an attempt to close a loophole that may be partially responsible for the exploding size of passenger vehicles on US roads.

To understand the change, you need to start in the 1970s, when the “SUV loophole,” as policy nerds call it, was created. US lawmakers were writing the nation’s first auto pollution rules, at a time when the only people driving heavy vehicles like trucks were folks who had things to haul or real reasons to drive off-road. Farmers and construction workers and such. Who else would shell out to buy and fuel such a big set of wheels? It made sense to place trucks under more lenient fuel-efficiency rules than for cars.

Cut to 2010. In the midst of creating new tailpipe emission rules for cars, the Obama administration’s EPA used the same logic to carve out an additional and similar exception for large vehicles based on their “footprints”—the area between their wheels. An automaker selling cars with bigger footprints faced less stringent tailpipe emissions rules than those selling sedans or compacts.

Since then, truck and SUV sales have exploded far beyond ranchers and others who actually need such vehicles for their work. SUVs, which a decade ago made up one-third of new vehicle sales, now account for three-fifths, according to analytics firm J.D. Power. And car sales have plummeted, from about half of new vehicles sold to just one in five.

During that time, automakers got savvy about the emissions regulation system. A new category of vehicle, the crossover-utility, functions as a passenger car. They’re used by families, are driven for commutes, have no role to play on construction sites, and do little day-to-day hauling.

But because they have four-wheel drive, or a bit more cargo space, or a third row of seats, they’re big enough to qualify as trucks, at least for emissions regulations purposes. The result is a “blurring [of] the lines between cars and light trucks,” says Simon Mui, the head of state and federal clean vehicle policy advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. Automakers, meanwhile, can sell larger SUVs and trucks because these smaller “trucks” bring down the overall emissions of the vehicles they sell—helping them comply with federal tailpipe emissions rules. 

The new EPA proposals would change the footprint rules, making emissions requirements for cars and trucks more similar than they’ve been before. (The proposed rules will be debated and tweaked for months during the public comment period until they’re final.)

13) Quite liked this from Rory Smith:

That does not mean the product could not be improved, though what is striking is how many of its greatest shortcomings are of the sport’s own making. The introduction of the video assistant referee has proved almost universally unpopular, and so too the hard-line interpretation of offside it has spawned. It remains an item of absolute conviction in this newsletter that nobody has the slightest clue what counts as handball anymore.

All of these are within the wit of the game’s authorities to solve. V.A.R. should be invoked only for outrageous errors. Offside laws should be liberalized to give greater advantage to the attacker. Handball should be reserved for players swatting the ball away, like Luis Suárez at a World Cup, not a gentle, caressing brush with the fingers. Soccer has found itself in the curious position of trying to thrill young, fickle audiences by entangling itself in Byzantine regulation.

There are other changes, too, that might be considered. There is, certainly, a strong argument for an equivalent of a pitch clock: Rather than playing a game over 90 minutes, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that it should be an hour, with the clock paused every time the ball goes out of play.

14) This is encouraging, “Should College Come With Trigger Warnings? At Cornell, It’s a ‘Hard No.’ When the student assembly voted to require faculty to alert students to upsetting educational materials, administrators pushed back.”

Last month, a Cornell University sophomore, Claire Ting, was studying with friends when one of them became visibly upset and was unable to continue her work.

For a Korean American literature class, the woman was reading “The Surrendered,” a novel by Chang-rae Lee about a Korean girl orphaned by the Korean War that includes a graphic rape scene. Ms. Ting’s friend had recently testified at a campus hearing against a student who she said sexually assaulted her, the woman said in an interview. Reading the passage so soon afterward left her feeling unmoored.

Ms. Ting, a member of Cornell’s undergraduate student assembly, believed her friend deserved a heads-up about the upsetting material. That day, she drafted a resolution urging instructors to provide warnings on the syllabus about “traumatic content” that might be discussed in class, including sexual assault, self-harm and transphobic violence.

The resolution was unanimously approved by the assembly late last month. Less than a week after it was submitted to the administration for approval, Martha E. Pollack, the university president, vetoed it.

“We cannot accept this resolution as the actions it recommends would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education,” Ms. Pollack wrote in a letter with the university provost, Michael I. Kotlikoff

“What was unique about the Cornell situation is they rapidly turned in a response that was a ‘hard no,’” said Alex Morey, the director of campus rights advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a nonpartisan organization focused on issues of free speech. “There was no level of kowtowing. It was a very firm defense of what it means to get an education.”

14) Eric Topol on next generation vaccines:

Those of you who’ve been following my editorials, such as with Akiko Iwasaki calling for Operation Nasal Vaccine, or with Dennis Burton for variant-proof vaccines, or many posts (herehere) and op-eds (herehere) will know I, and many others, have been pleading the case to gear up for better Covid vaccines and therapies. At times my frustration peaked, like with this twitter post last November.

That has now changed. It’s not the ~$18 billion as spent for Operation Warp Speed (OWS), but this is a substantial allocation that should make a difference for accelerating development of nasal and pan-coronavirus vaccines that can be more protective, and durable (both with respect to time and against new variants), along with therapies such as monoclonal antibodies and oral anti-viral pills beyond Paxlovid. Public-industry partnerships (OWS) that have accounted for our early and extraordinary success vs Covid, but until now not replicated. We really need this support.


  1. Shots don’t achieve mucosal immunity. If we’re going to block infections better, we need to induce local immunity through the upper airway by either nasal or oral administration. The rationale to use a nasal spray vaccine as a booster after shots (“prime and spike”) has been well laid out by Iwasaki’s lab, verified in experimental models, reviewed in our editorial, and with approval and rollout of the first nasal vaccine with a randomized trial (by Bharat Biotech, India with intellectual property derived from Washington University, St. Louis). We have also seen last week a comparative study showing nasal vaccine superiority vs shots for induced immunity in the widely accepted and predictive hamster model (twitter post below). Beyond these studies, there are many late stage (Phase 3) nasal vaccine programs that are nearing completion but we haven’t been ready to get behind these in the United States.

  2. The prospects for another Omicron-like event—a new family of variants that will challenge the immunity we have built up via vaccines, boosters, infections and their combinations. As I’ve previously reviewed, the chance of us seeing another highly troublesome variant is estimated to be 10-20% over the next 2 years, and higher as we go beyond that timeline. There are too many paths for this to happen, as shown below, for us not to worry about it. To anticipate this we need a pan-coronavirus vaccine that exploits our knowledge of not just the Spike protein, but also conserved regions of the virus, and a wealth of academic lab studies that have discovered critical antigenic sites (epitopes) of the virus for highly potent, broad, neutralizing antibodies which can serve as templates for such a variant-proof vaccine…

We don’t need to “dream” about such a vaccine anymore. (This excellent review was published in Science, April 2021) . With all the science that’s been done, it ought to be attainable! The NextGen program will help accelerate that by promoting and de-risking the vaccine development programs. There are undesirable side effects, some lack of durability of protection beyond 4-6 months, and vaccine-induced injury for current Covid vaccines that can certainly be improved upon.

15) This was really good. “At Stanford Law School, the Dean Takes a Stand for Free Speech. Will It Work?”

16) One of those Noah Smith pieces where I’m thinking, “do I really want to read this” but then am so glad that I did, “Europe is not ready to be a “third superpower””

As long as Europe doesn’t have the ability to hold a weakened, dysfunctional Russia at bay without massive American help, all Macron’s talk of “European sovereignty” will continue to ring hollow. Instead, like China and the Roman Empire both did during past periods of weakness, an independently acting Europe is more likely to try to buy off the Russian barbarians — by paying economic tribute in the form of gas purchases, and by allowing Putin small bits of territorial conquest in the hope that he will eventually be satisfied. This placating strategy was at the core of both Germany’s and France’s approaches before the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and it would almost certainly be at the core of a European foreign policy strategy that cast the United States aside…

But increasingly, Europe’s weakness isn’t just military; it’s economic and technological. A region that once dominated the global economy is now falling behind in almost every important area of industry, and in economic importance as a whole.

Ming dynasty Europe?


It’s impossible not to notice that Europe is being economically eclipsed. The EU’s GDP was equal to America’s in the early 1980s, but since then it has grown considerably more slowly. As for China, its economy eclipsed Europe’s in size as of 2020.

Much of Europe’s relative decline is demographic, even though Europe now lets in tons of immigrants and has a total fertility rate only slightly lower than the U.S. A more worrying issue is slow growth in per capita output. Though East Europe has grown quickly since its communist days, and Germany has mostly kept pace, France and Italy have seen living standards grow much more slowly than those in the U.S.

But even more disturbing is the way Europe’s core economies have seemingly turned their backs on the technologies of the future. Despite the strength of East Europe and Ireland in the software industry, and despite little competition from China, Europe as a whole has failed to become a software supercluster like the U.S. has. Instead of an economic opportunity to be exploited, Europe has treated the internet as a problem to be regulated.

European countries also produce very little of the infrastructure and equipment that forms the backbone of the global internet. As Jonathan Hillman writes in The Digital Silk Road, Europe has instead opted for a strategy of trying to control standards-setting bodies; instead of producing, it tries to make rules about what others should produce.

On the rapidly emerging technology of AI, Europe has been even worse.


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