Quick hits (part III)

1) Personally, I’m not a fan of tattoos, but it was fascinating to read about their history in South Korea and how it’s actually illegal to be tattoo artist.

The oldest recorded tattoos belonged to a European man, now nicknamed Ötzi, who lived 5,300 years ago, researchers say. They have found that ancient cultures used tattoos for varying purposes: decoration, protection, punishment.

In South Korea, tattoos, also called munshin, have long had negative associations. During the Koryo dynasty, which ruled from 918 to 1392 A.D., people were forcibly given tattoos on their faces or arms listing the crimes they had committed or marking them as slaves. This punishment, the step before the death penalty, left tattooed people as outcasts living on the fringes of society. It was eliminated in 1740.

In the 20th century, tattoos were adopted by gangs inspired by Japanese customs, renewing body ink as a physical emblem of criminality.

Several modern tattoo artists in South Korea said they had deliberately moved away from menacing images like dragons and Japanese imagery often requested by gangsters.

2) Interesting stuff here about assessing actual racism on campus, “Is discrimination widespread? Testing assumptions about bias on a university campus.”

Discrimination has persisted in our society despite steady improvements in explicit attitudes toward marginalized social groups. The most common explanation for this apparent paradox is that due to implicit biases, most individuals behave in slightly discriminatory ways outside of their own awareness (the dispersed discrimination account). Another explanation holds that a numerical minority of individuals who are moderately or highly biased are responsible for most observed discriminatory behaviors (the concentrated discrimination account). We tested these 2 accounts against each other in a series of studies at a large, public university (total N = 16,600). In 4 large-scale surveys, students from marginalized groups reported that they generally felt welcome and respected on campus (albeit less so than nonmarginalized students) and that a numerical minority of their peers (around 20%) engage in subtle or explicit forms of discrimination. In 5 field experiments with 8 different samples, we manipulated the social group membership of trained confederates and measured the behaviors of naïve bystanders. The results showed that between 5% and 20% of the participants treated the confederates belonging to marginalized groups more negatively than nonmarginalized confederates. Our findings are inconsistent with the dispersed discrimination account but support the concentrated discrimination account. The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Our results suggest that the Pareto principle also applies to discrimination, at least at the large, public university where the studies were conducted. We discuss implications for prodiversity initiatives. 

3) I’m with Helen Lewis on enough of the woke, “pregnant people

The ACLU is not alone in neutering its campaign for abortion rights. Last week, a friend who wanted to raise funds for the cause asked me to recommend an American organization still willing to acknowledge that abortion is a gendered issue. Finding a candidate was surprisingly tricky. The word women has been purged from the front page of the NARAL website, while the Lilith Fund helps “people who need abortions in Texas.” (However, the group notes elsewhere that most of those who call its hotline are “low-income women of color.”) Fund Texas Women has been renamed Fund Texas Choice. The National Abortion Federation’s response to the Supreme Court leak noted that it will “keep fighting until every person, no matter where we live, how much money we make, or what we look like, has the freedom to make our own decisions about our lives, our bodies, and futures.”

One of the most irritating facets of this debate is that anyone like me who points out that it’s possible to provide abortion services to trans people without jettisoning everyday language such as women is accused of waging a culture war. No. We are noticing a culture war. A Great Unwomening is under way because American charities and political organizations survive by fundraising—and their most vocal donors don’t want to be charged with offenses against intersectionality. Cold economic logic therefore dictates that charities should phrase their appeals in the most fashionable, novel, and bulletproof-to-Twitter-backlash way possible. Mildly peeved centrists may grumble but will donate anyway; it’s the left flank that needs to be appeased.

Pointing out that women are the ones who largely need abortions is very second wave, boring, old-school, so done. Witness those placards held by older women that read: I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit. Instead, the charities think: Can we find a way to make this fight feel a little more … now? And that’s how you end up with the National Women’s Law Center tweeting, “In case you didn’t hear it right the first time: People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions.” (No, that’s not my copy-and-paste keys getting stuck. The group really said it six times.)

When I questioned the wisdom of foregrounding the small minority of people who seek abortions but do not identify as women, the ACLU’s Branstetter told me, “Transgender people do not have the privilege of pretending that we do not exist. When we use inclusive language, it’s because we recognize that transgender people do exist.” Such language, she argued, is “not at all at odds with the broader mission of ensuring that anyone who wants an abortion can have access to it.” Yet little evidence suggests that the ostentatious banishment of women will help the American abortion-rights campaign succeed.

4) I haven’t had time to really dive into this report yet, but looks pretty interesting, “Politics, Sex, and Sexuality: The Growing Gender Divide in American Life”

The gender divide has been a constant feature of American life, even as the ways women and men differ continue to evolve. The source of the gender gap in politics, religion, sex and sexuality, and relationship expectations has been a source of consistent and sometimes contentious dialogue.

Some of these differences are long-standing. It has been well established that men and women approach sex differently. Men think about sex more often in their day-to-day lives, and feelings of satisfaction with their sex lives are more closely tied to the frequency with which they have sex than it is for women.

In other areas, the gender divide seems to be growing. Women, especially college-educated women, have become more Democratic in their politics—and in the

process transformed the party’s politics. Twenty-eight percent of Democrats are now college-educated women, an increase from 12 percent in 1998. Men without any college education have increasingly identified as Republican, but by a less substantial degree.

However, conceptions of sex and sexuality have also undergone drastic changes in recent years. Young people express increasing fluidity in feelings of physical attraction, but these generational differences are much more prevalent among women. Women are more likely than men to report physical attraction to both genders. This is by far most evident among young women. Just over half (56 percent) of women ages 18 to 29 say they are attracted to only men, compared to 83 percent of women ages 65 and older.

5) The case that we’re maybe overstating just how damaging social media is. “Three Dubious Claims About Social Media: Doom-mongers are unable to prove many of their key assertions.”

6) Apples has stopped making the Ipod.  Oh man did I love my Nanos for so many years (until it became just so much easier to update all my podcasts on my phone).

7) Good stuff from Jeremy Faust, “The million US Covid dead are younger than you think.”

Cover photo

But we’ve known since 2020 that Covid-19 outbreaks cause a larger relative increase in deaths among young and middle-aged adults than in among seniors.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Covid-19 has caused a greater deviation from normal death rates among non-seniors than seniors.

Since the start of the pandemic there has been a 30% increase in all-cause mortality among US adults ages 18-49, and a 26% increase among adults ages 50-64. The increase has been “just” 17% for adults ages 65 and up. However, because the usual mortality rate for seniors is so much higher to begin with, the raw numerical increases in mortality among seniors has been greater, accounting for around two-thirds of all excess deaths since the pandemic erupted on US soil.

8) We really, really are in scary times for democracy.  Greg Sargent, “An openly pro-coup Trumpist could become Pennsylvania’s next governor”

How should the media cover a candidate who is running for a position of control over our election machinery — and has also displayed an open eagerness to steal elections?

This question arises now that Doug Mastriano is surging in the GOP primary for Pennsylvania governor. As a state senator, Mastriano played a lead role in Donald Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 presidential loss, and the state’s next governor could be pivotal to a 2024 coup rerun.

This basic situation is reflected in some media coverage of Mastriano’s surge. But there’s something more nefarious about Mastriano than those basic facts convey when it comes to the true threat to democracy he poses.

Mastriano didn’t just try to help Trump overturn the election. At the time, he also essentially declared his support for the notion that the popular vote can be treated as non-binding when it comes to the certification of presidential electors.

Mastriano is now running for a position that exerts real control over the process of certifying electors. Republicans fear he could secure the nomination, because he might be a weak general-election candidate. But forecasters note that in a bad enough year, he could win.

This is deeply worrisome: It means Mastriano could soon have the power to help execute a version of the scheme he endorsed — certifying electors in direct defiance of the state’s popular-vote outcome, based on bogus claims that this outcome was compromised.

9) Somehow, I didn’t hear about Paxlovid mouth till this week, “Paxlovid Mouth Is Real—And Gross
“​​I imagine this is what grapefruit juice mixed with soap would taste like.””

10) Freddie deBoer takes a position on trans issues that I am largely in accord with.  Treat them with kindness, humanity, and decency, but be honest that, yes, there’s real and meaningful differences between biological males and trans men, etc.  Alas, we live in a world where if this is your view, you invite support from all sorts of anti-trans trolls, so deBoer as turned his comments off as a direct result.  It seems obvious to me that you can think Leah Thomas shouldn’t swim against women, but that you should treat trans people with decency and respect.  And, yet, for so many people these things just don’t go together.  deBoer:

I am turning off comments on this newsletter until Monday, June 13th. I’m doing so because my very explicit and simple request that comments stay on-topic and at least somewhat germane to the issue at hand has been ignored by too many people. Specifically, I am done with the comments on every post on this newsletter becoming a forum on trans issues. I have made my stance very clear: I respect trans people and their gender identities, I use their preferred pronouns, I believe trans people should be protected by anti-discrimination and hate crimes law, and I want them to enjoy the same full legal, political, and social equality under the law as anyone else. I have also said repeatedly that I do not have the understanding or perspective necessary to have an opinion on when and how children should begin transitioning. Yes, there are elements of identity madness that are present in our national conversation on trans people, but that is a literally universal feature of our political discourse today and in no way reflects poorly on trans people themselves, only our times. And I would remind everyone that for any identifiable minority group there is an activist class that is often quite distinct from the larger population.

I do, however, recognize that trans issues are political issues and that whether I like it or not, there is a political debate in this country about the status of trans people. Those who, for example, would exclude the existence of trans lives from K-12 education hold power and influence in our society. For this reason, and due to my general commitment to free speech, I have hosted comments on this newsletter that express legitimate political opinions on trans issues that I disagree with. One of the worst elements of the current state of free exchange in this country is that the suppression of certain viewpoints has badly deluded liberals and leftists about the popularity of their own opinions, and this topic is an example of where that’s the case. I don’t think it behooves anyone to silence opinions that may very well win the day in the political arena. Accordingly, some opinions that would be excluded from many progressive spaces that I have not censored here include

  • The idea that trans men or women are not “really” men or women

  • The argument that transwomen should not be permitted to participate in women’s sports

  • The belief that minors should have to wait until X years old before they start the process of transitioning, particularly medically

  • That trans advocates (whether trans or cisgender) have been unusually censorious or aggressive in their role in the culture war.

Those are ideas that you can express here, as are others. But you can express them when it is appropriate to the topic at hand. And there is a small number of people here who have created a situation where “the trans debate” starts up whether I write about the earned income tax credit or Star Trek or anything elseAnd, yes, this is a special case I’m making, and I’m doing it because I’ve been forced to.Why do I have to make this specific regulation, when I don’t with other issues? Again, because a numerically small but loud percentage of the commenters have been so relentlessly fixated in this regard. If you’re mad that I have to constrain conversation in that way, get mad at them.I have had enough of that, and since I gave a warning to all of you recently and it was ignored by a committed few, I am shutting down comments as a means to demonstrate how serious I am.

11) See, stuff like this doesn’t help because it’s not true.  Gail Collins, “Don’t Be Fooled. It’s All About Women and Sex.”  It’s a lot about women and sex.  But certainly not all.  Many, many people have a good faith belief that the value of that developing human life outweighs all other considerations and while I think they are wrong in full context, we should not be erasing the reality of this common view.

12) Frank Bruni’s UNC commencement speech is excellent.

13) This is just very useful data to have in our current debates.  Drum with a nice chart of abortion by weeks:

14) This is cool, “What is the multiverse—and is there any evidence it really exists?”

Is there any direct evidence suggesting multiverses exist? 

Even though certain features of the universe seem to require the existence of a multiverse, nothing has been directly observed that suggests it actually exists. So far, the evidence supporting the idea of a multiverse is purely theoretical, and in some cases, philosophical.

Some experts argue that it may be a grand cosmic coincidence that the big bang forged a perfectly balanced universe that is just right for our existence. Other scientists think it is more likely that any number of physical universes exist, and that we simply inhabit the one that has the right characteristics for our survival.

An infinite number of alternate little pocket universes, or bubbles universes, some of which have different physics or different fundamental constants, is an attractive idea, Kakalios says. “That’s why some people take these ideas kind of seriously, because it helps address certain philosophical issues,” he says.

Scientists argue about whether the multiverse is even an empirically testable theory; some would say no, given that by definition a multiverse is independent from our own universe and impossible to access. But perhaps we just haven’t figured out the right test.

Will we ever know if our universe is just one of many?

We might not. But multiverses are among the predictions of various theories that can be tested in other ways, and if those theories pass all of their tests, then maybe the multiverse holds up as well. Or perhaps some new discovery will help scientists figure out if there really is something beyond our observable universe.

15) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer, “It’s Always the Adults’ Fault”

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go. It seems1 like we’re in an era in which too many adults fail to develop world-weary skepticism. Too few grown-ups are taking on the role of the soft, tempering force that subdues youthful impulses. And, in the absolute saddest cases, some older people are embracing youthful nonsense in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. It’s bone-chillingly pathetic.

The most obvious place where adults give in to youthful nonsense is college. College students produce over-zealous silliness the way the Keebler elves make cookies; it seems to be their primary function. This will always be true, and one of the most valuable things that college provides is a low-stakes environment for people to do some of the dumbest things of their lives. That’s normal. What’s not normal is for college administrators to respond to garden variety flare-ups by fanning the flames. You’re not supposed to discipline a janitor based on unfounded charges of racism, or punish a professor for speaking Chinese while teaching about China, or be part of the seemingly endless parade of administrators indulging silly campus freak-outs until they become national news. When the Student Alliance for Immediate and Brutal Justice demands that French toast be removed from the cafeteria because it’s a symbol of colonialism, you’re supposed to thank them for concern, assure them you’ll investigate, and then do exactly nothing. You’re not supposed to start firing lunch ladies like an ancient priest chucking virgins into a volcano in a futile attempt to appease the gods.

Youth-led revolts at major companies have also been indulged by people who should know better. There were several such incidents, but the most high-profile one was probably the New York Times forcing out Editorial Page Editor James BennettReports say that the revolt was led by young employees who were mostly on the business side of the Times (meaning: not reporters). That makes the case infinitely more fascinating to me, because it raises the question: What, exactly, was the Times afraid of? A bunch of 26 year-old Social Media Strategists saying “Hey, most prestigious news outlet in the country: Do what I say or else me, my eight months of experience, and my communications degree from USC are out the fucking door”?I honestly wonder if Times shareholders have grounds for a lawsuit based on the fact that management didn’t immediately issue a cake with “Goodbye!” written on it to anyone making that threat…

I’ve written before about what I see as the symbiotic relationship between liberals and leftists. Roughly speaking, a leftist’s job is give liberals like me the cojones we need to attempt big things. In turn, a liberal’s job is to take the far left’s extremely stupid ideas and turn them into something workable. This relationship seems to be encoded in nature; we are the oxpecker and the wildebeest, perpetually coexisting for mutual advantage.

That interplay roughly tracks the relationship between young adults and older ones. Young people have the idealism, the verve, the drive, the looks, the charm, the energy, the initiative, the creativity, the fearlessness, the zazzle, the style, the grit, the zeal, and the ability to see themselves naked without getting depressed. But I have something that they don’t have: A bullshit detector. My bullshit detector is a finely tuned machine, and I’m in the garage every day cleaning the gaskets and adjusting the belts, so that fucker’s going to be purring like a kitten for many years to come.

As I get older, and look back on my younger self and contemplate fatherhood, I’m starting to understand my role. I used to fear getting older; I was afraid of becoming irrelevant. I don’t fear that anymore. I get it now: People don’t become irrelevant as they age — their role just changes. They stop being the player, but they become the coach; they’re in the background, not directly doing the thing but very much guiding the people who are doing the thing. It’s an evolution born of the fact that we start out with endless initiative but no wisdom, and as time goes by, we trade the former for the latter.

The system breaks down when older people fail to gently nudge young people away from nonsense. That can happen because of stunted development or cowardice, and I’m really not sure which is worse. If you never have the moment when you think “Wait, these lyrics that some ex-theatre kid wrote while high are a bunch of bullshit,” well, that’s a problem. Because it means that you’re not developing the nonsense-free view of the world that’s supposed to come with age. And if you do have that moment but pretend like you didn’t because you’re afraid that you’ll look old by admitting to being out-of-step with the zeitgeist, then I, for one, find you pathetic. You are Steve Buscemi with a backwards hat and a skateboard — I think you should ditch the act and embrace who you are. Because the world needs old people. And young people need old people most of all.

16) The rise and fall of Pat McCrory, who’s about to get blown-out by a Trump-endorsed opponent in the NC Senate primary, “How the ‘most conservative governor in North Carolina history’ became a RINO”

17) This is good, “The New Definition of Racism

For Kendi in particular, racism is properly thought of not as simple out-group bias, but rather as any system that produces disparate outcomes between or across racial and ethnic groups. He says this openly. In his book How to Be an Antiracist and again in an interview with Vox just after he had been minted a MacArthur “genius,” Kendi argues that there are only two possible explanations for a measurable difference in performance between two large groups in a given undertaking—say, standardized testing. These are (1) some form of racism within a social “system,” no matter how hidden and subtle, or (2) actual (I read him as meaning genetic) “inferiority” on the part of the lower-performing of the two groups. “There’s only two causes of, you know, racial disparities,” Kendi said on a Vox podcast. “Either certain groups are better or worse than others, and that’s why they have more, or racist policy. Those are the only two options.”

Disparities, in the Kendi model, are de facto evidence of racist discrimination. Moreover, Kendi’s proposition sets a clever rhetorical trap: His logical implication is that anyone who argues against Explanation No. 1 is, by definition, agreeing with Explanation No. 2. If you don’t accept racism as the culprit in performance outcomes, you must be endorsing group inferiority. Thus, should we accept his framing, simply to argue against “anti-racism” is to identify oneself as a racist. For the nonconfrontational—who dodge this trap by agreeing that all group gaps are either evidence of racism or the dread thing itself—Kendi proposes some social-engineering solutions to fix our racist system. These include the formation of a federal Department of Anti-racism, tasked with ensuring proper representation of all groups across all fields of American enterprise, regardless of performance.

In order to determine the value of Kendi’s proposed definition of “racism,” we must first examine the logic of his claims. The old business-world canard that “the problem with this whole argument is that it is wrong” comes to mind. It is remarkable that such an easily disprovable idea has become so globally popular. The contention that the only factor that might explain group differences in performance, at any given time, is either genetic inferiority or hidden racism is simply wrong as a matter of fact. And if Kendi were saying that temporary cultural underperformance demonstrated genuine “inferiority” across an entire race, that too would be wrong as a matter of fact.

Serious social scientists—from Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams on the political right to William Julius Wilson and John Ogbu on the left—have pointed out for decades that large human groups differ in terms of performance because of dozens of variables. Yes, these include culture (i.e., hours of study time per day). But they also include factors such as environment, region of residence, and even stochastic chance (or luck, to state it a bit more plainly).

One particularly obvious and noncontroversial example of such an “intervening independent variable” is age. According to the Pew Research Center, the most common (modal) age of black Americans is 27, and the most common age for white Americans is 58 (the median age gap, approximately a decade, is smaller). The most common age for Hispanics in the U.S.—across all regions and among both males and females—is 11. Vast differences such as these, which have nothing to do with inferiority, are certain to be reflected in measured group outcomes.

18) Nice feature on Tim Green’s fight against ALS.

19) Kelsey Piper, “Smallpox used to kill millions of people every year. Here’s how humans beat it.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this from deBoer about public apologies and the woke mobs:

Would you like another little indication of how broken and ugly and unworkable progressive spaces have become? Check out this NYT explainer about an absurd controversy among medievalists, a field that takes academic self-importance to incredible new highs. Apparently a scholar named Mary Rambaran-Olm wrote a book review for the Los Angeles Review of Books; the book was by two bigwig medievalist academics, Matthew Gabriele and David Perry, who are just the living picture of the Weepy Self-Aggrandizing Good White Male Allies. The LARB rejected the review, they say because Rambaran-Olm refused to accept edits, she says because of, uh, toxic whiteness or whatever.

No one comes out looking good here. Rambaran-Olm looks transparently like someone who simply didn’t want to be edited, which is a common fault in academics, who are given far too much rope in their classes. (Although considering that the average academic journal article is read by a small handful of people the stakes are very low.) Like so much of what happens in social justice-y academic spaces, this is really a turf war about who’s going to reap the personal and professional benefits from shouting the loudest about diversity to the right audience. I don’t blame Rambaran-Olm, really, for being annoyed that to date in her field it’s been two white dudes, but then they’re very, very good at credit-seeking. I mention this controversy because the editor at LARBwho killed Rambaran-Olm’s piece apologized, then apologized for the apology when it was deemed insufficient. I would love to show you that, but she deleted her account, no doubt inundated with hate and anger for not apologizing enough, or in the right way….

I believe, deeply, in the positive value of guilt, shame, and contrition. I think working through your shit and contemplating the harm you’ve done is important, and I’ve tried to do a lot of it in the past few years. And I think we all should push back against the “nothing matters but what you want and how you feel” brand of sociopathy that’s popular now in inspirational memes. There’s a notion running around our culture that feeling bad about something you’ve done is always some sort of disordered trauma response, but that’s destructive bullshit. Most of the time when you feel bad about something you’ve done, you should. I’ve spent my adult lifetime trying to make amends to people I’ve hurt, and trying to understand my own culpability when my control over myself was not complete. I think about things I’ve done, and feel shame for them, every day of my life. I don’t want to wallow and I don’t think guilt in and of itself is productive. I am however certain that my guilt is an appropriate endowment to me.

But it’s become abundantly clear that there simply is no value in public apology. Admitting fault only emboldens critics. The mechanisms of social media always reward escalation and never reward calm and restraint. Contemporary progressive politics excuse any amount of personal viciousness so long as the target is perceived to be guilty of committing some identity crime. The notion of proportionality is totally alien to these worlds, and when people ask for such proportionality they’re accused of supporting bigotry. People who are friendly online shamelessly wage backchannel campaigns against each other, and almost no one on social media has the stomach to stand up for someone else when the mob comes for them. Most importantly, the public can never grant you absolution for what you’ve done; absolution is not the public’s to grant. The strangers on Twitter can’t accept an apology, even if they ever would, and they wouldn’t. You can ask the mob for forgiveness, but they have no moral right to grant it, and anyway they never will. They’ll just keep you wriggling on the end of a pin forever. Honestly: how often do people who make public apologies come out ahead in doing so, especially because they’re so often coerced and thus insincere?

Apology itself is good. But public apology is a useless and self-defeating ritual. If you have done something wrong to another, I recommend that you privately apologize to them. That person can then accept your apology or not. They can publicize your apology or not. But all of the moral value of apologizing will be preserved, while nothing of practical value to your life will be lost.

2) This is really good, “The Southernization of the Pro-Life Movement”

Before the mid-1970s, active opposition to abortion in the United States looked almost exactly like opposition to abortion in Britain, Western Europe, and Australia: It was concentrated mainly among Catholics. As late as 1980, 70 percent of the members of the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization, the National Right to Life Committee, were Catholic. As a result, the states that were most resistant to abortion legalization were, in most cases, the states with the highest concentration of Catholics, most of which were in the North and leaned Democratic.

This fit the pattern across the Western world: Countries with large numbers of devout Catholics restricted abortion, while those that were predominantly Protestant did not. Sweden—where Catholics made up less than 1 percent of the population—legalized some abortions as early as the 1930s; Ireland did not follow suit until 2018.

If the United States had followed this script, opposition to abortion probably would have weakened with the decline of Catholic-church attendance rates. Like Canada and England, where the leading conservative parties are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights, the Republican Party in the United States might have remained what it was for most of the 1970s: a heavily Protestant party whose leaders generally leaned in favor of abortion rights.

But in the United States, the anti-abortion movement did not remain predominantly Catholic. Southern evangelical Protestants, who had once hesitated to embrace the anti-abortion movement in the belief that it was a sectarian Catholic campaign, began enlisting in the cause in the late ’70s and ’80s. Motivated by a conviction that Roe v. Wade was a product of liberal social changes they opposed—including secularization, the sexual revolution, second-wave feminism, and a rights-conscious reading of the Constitution—they made opposition to the ruling a centerpiece of the new Christian right. When they captured control of the Republican Party in the late 20th century, they transformed the GOP from a northern-centered mainline Protestant party that was moderately friendly to abortion rights into a hotbed of southern populism that blended economic libertarianism with Bible Belt moral regulation…

But what really motivated anti-abortion activists to remain loyal to the GOP was not merely a platform statement but the promise of the Supreme Court. They believed that the Republican Party offered them the only path to a conservative judiciary that would overturn Roe v. Wade. If this goal required them to accept a conservative economic platform at odds with the views that many in the movement had held before Roe, well, that was of little matter, because many of the evangelical-Protestant anti-abortion advocates were political conservatives anyway.

As late as the beginning of this century, Texas still had a pro-abortion-rights (Protestant) Republican senator, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota were still represented in Congress by anti-abortion Democrats who were Catholic. But as the historically Catholic population of the North became less devout and therefore less inclined to follow the Church’s teaching on abortion—and as a younger generation of progressive Democrats began to view reproductive rights as a nonnegotiable part of the Democratic Party platform—anti-abortion influence in the politically liberal states of the Northeast diminished, while it expanded in the South.

The anti-abortion movement’s political priorities changed as a result. A movement that in the early ’70s had attracted some political progressives who opposed the Vietnam War and capital punishment became associated in the ’80s and ’90s with evangelical-inspired conservative-Christian nationalism. Early activists wanted to create a comprehensive “culture of life,” but many of the evangelicals who joined the movement in the late 20th century wanted to save America from secularism and take back the nation for God.

3) Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on the one parenting decision that matters most:

The results showed that some large metropolitan areas give kids an edge. They get a better education. They earn more money: The best cities can increase a child’s future income by about 12 percent. They found that the five best metropolitan areas are: Seattle; Minneapolis; Salt Lake City; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Madison, Wisconsin.

However, parents don’t merely pick a metropolitan area to live in. They have to pick neighborhoods within these areas, so Chetty and co. drilled down, determining that some were much more advantageous than others. They created a website, The Opportunity Atlas, that allows anyone to find out how beneficial any neighborhood is expected to be for kids of different income levels, genders, and races.

Something interesting happens when we compare the study on adoptions with this work on neighborhoods. We find that one factor about a home—its location—accounts for a significant fraction of the total effect of that home. In fact, putting together the different numbers, I have estimated that some 25 percent—and possibly more—of the overall effects of a parent are driven by where that parent raises their child. In other words, this one parenting decision has much more impact than many thousands of others.

Why is this decision so powerful? Chetty’s team has a possible answer for that. Three of the biggest predictors that a neighborhood will increase a child’s success are the percent of households in which there are two parents, the percent of residents who are college graduates, and the percent of residents who return their census forms. These are neighborhoods, in other words, with many role models: adults who are smart, accomplished, engaged in their community, and committed to stable family lives.

There is more evidence for just how powerful role models can be. A different study that Chetty co-authored found that girls who move to areas with lots of female patent holders in a specific field are far more likely to grow up to earn patents in that same field. And another study found that Black boys who grow up on blocks with many Black fathers around, even if that doesn’t include their own father, end up with much better life outcomes.

Data can be liberating. It can’t make decisions for us, but it can tell us which decisions really matter. When it comes to parenting, the data tells us, moms and dads should put more thought into the neighbors they surround their children with—and lighten up about everything else.

4) Catherine Rampell is not wrong, “hese GOP politicians aren’t pro-life. They’re pro-forced birth.”

Republican politicians working to overturn Roe v. Wade say they are pro-life and antiabortion. In fact, they are neither. What they are is pro-forced birth.

This distinction is about more than semantics. These officials have drawn a clear line, as evidenced by policies they’ve adopted in conjunction with their opposition to Roe. GOP-led states are making choices, today, that increase the chances of unplanned pregnancies and, therefore, demand for abortions; their choices also limit access to health care and other critical programs for new moms, endangering the lives and welfare of mothers and their children.

Consider Mississippi.

It was a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks that has set the stage for the Supreme Court to roll back nearly 50 years of reproductive rights. If the court does overturn Roe, as a leaked draft decision suggests it soon will, another Mississippi law would automatically “trigger,” banning nearly all abortions.

Some residents who find themselves with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy might be able to leave the state to seek an abortion. But others without the means to travel or take time off from work will be forced to give birth. And in Mississippi, that is an unusually dangerous undertaking.

The United States has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world; Mississippi has one of the higher maternal death rates within the United States. The odds are worse for Black women, whose risk of death related to pregnancy and childbirth are nearly triple those for White women in the state.

Mississippi also has the country’s highest infant mortality and child poverty rates.

When asked this weekend how this track record squares with his avowed pro-life bona fides, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) acknowledged the state’s “problems” and said he was committed to devoting more “resources” to make sure that expectant and new mothers get the “help that they need from a health-care standpoint.”

That would be welcome news if it were true. But it isn’t.

Mississippi’s legislature recently considered whether to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to a full year after birth, as federal law newly allows states to do. If you care about the lives of new moms (and, by extension, their kids), this is a no-brainer. Roughly 6 in 10 births in the state are covered by Medicaid; 86 percent of the state’s maternal deaths occur postpartum. Pregnancy and delivery raise the risk of many health complications, including infections, blood clots, high blood pressure, heart conditions and postpartum depression. Giving low-income moms access to health care a full year after birth would save lives.

5) As I have literally no use for MCU, I actually loved Yglesias‘ deconstruction of the new Dr Strange movie and how it completely fails to take the implications of it’s ideas (most notably, the blip) seriously:

But I do think it’s genuinely unfortunate how casually they deal with this stuff. There’s an old cliché about science fiction as “the literature of ideas” that I think is important and true. And these Marvel movies are essentially science fiction. But they don’t have any ideas. The most fantastical things imaginable happen in the movies, but the world they’re set in is incredibly banal. None of these stupendous events seem to matter at all, and nothing makes much of an impression on anyone. Wouldn’t it be a big deal if there turned out to be a secret African nation full of advanced technology that reluctantly decided to change course and open itself to the world? Do people in, I dunno, Dallas feel bummed out that there are no superheroes there?

The blip is the most annoying example of this because it keeps coming up over and over again across properties without any effort to take it seriously. In this case probably because it’s an idea that, if you take it seriously, is too enormous and horrifying to get your head around. But it would be nice to see some ideas somewhere taken seriously.

6) I am always here for deconstructions of originalism!

What’s clear now is that the destruction is the intent. Originalism is just a clever trick of perspective. If you narrow your vision to look only for specific words that people used when the Constitution was drafted, you will always be engaged in a process of halting progress beyond that moment in time. Was there gay marriage in 1868? No? Well then, due process obviously doesn’t protect any right to marriage equality. You freeze recognition of rights as of the nineteenth century, while claiming to be neutrally applying interpretive principles to reach that conclusion. Of course, in order to achieve this result, you absolutely may not widen the perspective to consider the ultimate goals inherent in the Constitution. The question of whether the Framers (or the Constitution itself) contemplated an idea of securing the right to bodily autonomy is prohibited. Don’t ask whether it makes sense to apply eighteenth-century notions of personhood to a twenty-first-century country. Ask only whether the Constitution mentions “abortion.” …

Originalists argue that it’s not their fault that the drafters may have been slaveholders, or uniformly male, or white, or without any knowledge of contemporary technology or a more inclusive notion of humanity. Them’s the breaks; mere accidents of history. Or they argue that they are only interpreting the law as written. If you want to change the law, they say, that’s the role of the legislature, not the judiciary. But that, too, is a profoundly dishonest response. To say that is to say that the Dred Scott case was correctly decided when it was written, in 1857. At that time, as Justice Roger Taney wrote, Black people “had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.” That holding is now universally regarded as one of the most shameful in Supreme Court history. It is an object lesson in the misapplication of legal principles to profoundly inhuman ends. Black Americans should have been entitled to full citizenship, and to all the protections of the Constitution, from the moment the country was founded. Our legal system, however, didn’t recognize their rights, and that failure is the great crime of this country’s founding. The logic of originalism, as expressed in Alito’s draft opinion, would mean that Black Americans should not have been entitled to citizenship, or to their full humanity, until the civil-rights amendments said so. To say that the law is correct because it’s what the law says, is, at best, circular, and, in many instances, monstrous.

And, as Judge Mizelle’s ruling in Florida shows, crafting legislation that overcomes conservatives’ determined misreading of it is virtually impossible. Mizelle, a Trump appointee, held that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority in issuing a mask mandate on airplanes, because the law creating the C.D.C. only authorizes the agency to issue public-health regulations regarding “inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination,” and the destruction of infected or contaminated “animals or articles.” Mizelle reasoned that because masks don’t do any of those things—they don’t fumigate, or disinfect, or sanitize; they merely trap particles containing the virus—the C.D.C. has no authority to require passengers to wear them. The question, according to Mizelle, is not whether masks are effective in preventing the spread of covid-19 across state lines, or whether they are still necessary as a policy matter. It is whether the statute grants the C.D.C. the authority to have an opinion about masks in the first place. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s right there in the name (Centers for Disease Control), Mizelle says that the words of the statute don’t cover masks. Originalism told her so.

7) deBoer again on the romanticization of mental illness.  So good:

Most importantly: I thought I made this very clear, but the whole point of my perspective is that the people who are most hurt by this infantilizing insistence that mental illness makes you beautiful and deep are the very people who buy into that ideology. They are the ones I write for. Not to mock them, but to impress on them: this isn’t going to work. It isn’t going to last. The benefits you think are accruing to you from treating your mental illness as some benevolent conveyor of meaning are illusory, and in time you will be left all too aware that this shit just hurts. You’re not always going to be a photogenic 22-year-old, showcasing your disorder on Instagram. If you’re really afflicted, someday you’ll be a 43-year-old working on your second divorce, estranged from many of the people who once meant the most to you, 30 pounds overweight from meds, unemployed, and broke. And none of this shit, none of it, will comfort you in the slightest. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But I’ve been in a half-dozen psychiatric facilities in my life, and the people in them aren’t self-actualized and being their best selves. They’re in profound pain. Many of them have ruined lives. The romanticism that would obscure this basic, tragic reality is what I am absolutely committed to opposing. And I invite you to go ahead and tell someone whose life has been irreparably damaged by their mental illness that they should be grateful for it, a notion that crops up again and again in these spaces. Go right ahead.

I have sympathy for people with diabetes and think they should receive free and effective medical care. But that’s what it is, sympathy – an acknowledgment that someone has suffered a hindrance, a problem, a dis-ability. It would be absolutely bizarre if I insisted on “honoring” their diabetes, of treating it like something that should inspire pride. Lines have been muddied here for no coherent reason and to no positive effect. I don’t know why it’s so hard to understand the statement, “people with mental illness are not bad, they’ve done nothing wrong, they don’t deserve to be punished or disrespected for having mental illness, but the illnesses themselves are bad, by definition, and should not be celebrated.” Just as diabetes or heart disease or cancer should not be.

Some things in life are just sad and broken and can’t be changed. That’s our existence. And the obsession with turning every negative into a positive, through the application of cliches and good intentions, is a sign of a culture that has forgotten how to live with tragedy. I sincerely and passionately believe that people would be far healthier if they stopped injecting their struggles for mental stability with romance or inspiration or woowoo bullshit and instead accessed the dignity that comes from living with pain without ceremony.

8) Was watching the Maple Leafs (why not the Leaves) vs. Lightning the other night.  Why are they the exact same shade of blue.  And why are the Panthers and Capitals the exact same shade of red.  Had fun exploring pantones and hex codes for NHL teams here and the NHL really needs some more variation in the shades of the primary colors it uses.  

9) How can you resist? “‘He’s Not OK’: The Entirely Predictable Unraveling of Madison Cawthorn

10) Are pandemic-based loosened standards leading to disengagement among college students?  Maybe. Personally, I had a terrific class this last semester (during which I pretty much applied my usual standards):

The pandemic certainly made college more challenging for students, and over the past two years, compassionate faculty members have loosened course structures in response: They have introduced recorded lectures, flexible attendance and deadline policies, and lenient grading. In light of the widely reported mental health crisis on campuses, some students and faculty members are calling for those looser standards and remote options to persist indefinitely, even as vaccines and Covid therapies have made it relatively safe to return to prepandemic norms.

I also feel compassion for my students, but the learning breakdown has convinced me that continuing to relax standards would be a mistake. Looser standards are contributing to the problem, because they make it too easy for students to disengage from classes.

Student disengagement is a problem for everyone, because everyone depends on well-educated people. College prepares students for socially essential careers — including as engineers and nurses — and to be citizens who bring high-level intellectual habits to bear on big societal problems, from climate change to the next political crisis. On a more fundamental level it also prepares many students to be responsible adults: to set goals and figure out what help they need to attain them.

Higher education is now at a turning point. The accommodations for the pandemic can either end or be made permanent. The task won’t be easy, but universities need to help students rebuild their ability to learn. And to do that, everyone involved — students, faculties, administrators and the public at large — must insist on in-person classes and high expectations for fall 2022 and beyond.

11) Ruy Teixeira indicts the left of the Democratic party across a bunch of issue domains here.  I don’t agree with all of it, but some good points.  Here’s the abortion part:

7. Abortion. With the likely impending demise of Roe v. Wade at the hands of the Supreme Court, the Democratic Left is on high alert. Unfortunately, that high alert doesn’t seem to be too centered on what most American voters would actually support. With the enthusiastic support of the Democratic Left, Chuck Schumer had the Senate vote on a bill that would effectively have legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy (perhaps a third of Americans support legal third trimester abortions). Of course, it failed.

As the previously-cited Dimitri Melhorn noted:

The fight about abortion is all about framing. Most Americans are in the middle. Republicans ranged from moderately pro-choice to hardline pro-life but no one really cared because Roe was the law of the land. The hardline pro-life position in other words did nothing to bother most voters. Democrats’ historic track record in attacking people with even soft pro-life sympathies and purging them from the caucus created this current moment of threat to women by helping associate Democrats with an extremely unpopular position rather than the Safe Legal and Rare positioning that could actually win elections….Democrats are intensely skilled at allowing the GOP to get away with unpopular extremism by running to their own extreme.

As the great Casey Stengel might have put it: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

The thread that runs through all these failures is the Democratic Left’s adamant refusal to base its political approach on the actually-existing opinions and values of actually-existing American voters. Instead they entertain fantasies about kindling a prairie fire of progressive turnout with their approach, despite falling short again and again in the real world. It hasn’t worked and it won’t work.  

Instead, what they need is a plan on how to win outside of deep blue areas and states (the average Congressional Progressive Caucus leader is from a Democratic +19 district). That entails compromises that, so far, the Democratic Left has not been willing to make. Cultural moderation, effective governance and smart campaigning are what is needed to win in competitive areas of the country. If democracy is in as much danger as the Democratic Left appears to believe, would not such compromises be worth making? And wouldn’t winning make a nice change of pace at this point?

12) One of the things that has always frustrated me about the “life begins at conception” people is that they are all in on limiting abortion, but, conveniently ignore IVF.  Presumably, because they know how incredibly politically unpopular it would be for them to oppose IVF.  But, it now seems possible that an empowered and emboldened far right could actually come after IVF in some states. 

13) I keep on reading some version of this from the right (and even from Ruy Teixiera).  Here’s Henry Olsen:

Yet Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is scheduling a vote this week on a bill that would effectively make abortion legal without restrictions for the duration of a woman’s pregnancy.

The various explainers on this are awful.  I actually just went and did something I very rarely do– I read the bill!  It no more allows abortion without restriction for 9 months than Casey does.  It’s really just the Casey standard of mother’s life/health after viability.  

14) Derek Thompson is so right about human progress:

What if we invented a technology to save the planet—and the world refused to use it?

This haunting hypothetical first popped into my head when I was reading about Paxlovid, the antiviral drug developed by Pfizer. If taken within a few days of infection with COVID-19, Paxlovid reduces a vulnerable adult’s chance of death or hospitalization by 90 percent. Two months ago, the White House promised to make it widely available to Americans. But today, the pills are still hard to find, and many doctors don’t know to prescribe them.

The pandemic offers more examples of life-saving inventions going largely unused. Unlike Paxlovid, COVID vaccines are known to every doctor; they are entirely free and easily available. But here, too, invention alone hasn’t been enough. COVID is the leading cause of death for middle-aged Americans, and the mRNA vaccines reduce the risk of death by about 90 percent. And yet approximately one-third of Americans ages 35 to 49 say they’ll never take it.

My hypothetical concern applies even more literally to energy. What if I told you that scientists had figured out a way to produce affordable electricity that was 99 percent safer and cleaner than coal or oil, and that this breakthrough produced even fewer emissions per gigawatt-hour than solar or wind? That’s incredible, you might say. We have to build this thing everywhere! The breakthrough I’m talking about is 70 years old: It’s nuclear power. But in the past few decades, the U.S. has actually closed old nuclear plants faster than we’ve opened new ones. This problem is endemic to clean energy. Even many Americans who support decarbonization in the abstract protest the construction of renewable-energy projects in their neighborhood…

The second lesson is about progress, generally: Invention is easily overrated, and implementation is often underrated.

Many books about innovation and scientific and technological progress are just about people inventing stuff. The takeaway for most readers is that human progress is one damn breakthrough after another. In the 19th century, we invented the telegraph, then the telephone, then the light bulb, then the modern car, then the plane, and so on. But this approach—call it the eureka theory of progress—misses most of the story. In the 1870s, Thomas Edison invented the usable light bulb. But by 1900, less than 5 percent of factory power was coming from electric motors. The building blocks of the personal computer were invented in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. But for decades, computers made so little measurable difference to the economy that the economist Robert Solow said, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”…

Progress is a puzzle whose answer requires science and technology. But believing that material progress is only a question of science and technology is a profound mistake.

  • In confronting some challenges—for example, curing complex diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia—we don’t know enough to solve the problem. In these cases, what we needis more science.
  • In other challenges—for example, building carbon-removal plants that vacuum emissions out of the sky—we have the basic science, but we need a revolution in cost efficiency. We need more technology.
  • In yet other challenges—for example, nuclear power—we have the technology, but we don’t have the political will to deploy it. We need better politics.
  • Finally, in certain challenges—for example, COVID—we’ve solved most of the science, technology, and policy problemsWe need a cultural shift.

15) Abortion exceptions for rape and incest used to be standard GOP policy.  That’s changing.  To which, I say… yes, please push really hard for abortion bans with no exceptions.  That will more than counteract the public opinion problems from those pushing too far on the left.  

16) My teenage son wishes he were taller.  I will not be encouraging him to get limb-lengthening surgery, however. 

17) Sad, disturbing story, “A Woman’s Haunting Disappearance Sparks Outrage in Mexico Over Gender Violence”

18) Zeynep on the FDA and kids’ vaccines:

We want to be sure, of course, that vaccines are safe, and thus far, the trials for under-5 vaccines have not raised any safety concerns. Plus, children who are 5 years and a month old aren’t a different species than those who are 4 years and 10 months old — and we have plenty of data points on the safety and the benefits of these vaccines since they were authorized for children over 5 just about six months ago.

So what should the F.D.A. do?

First, it should stop all the five-dimensional chess games that predict blowback due to perverse behavioral outcomes, and often do so without a sound social science basis. It’s good that the officials consider vaccine confidence as a key issue as they try to navigate such a challenging time. However, those concerns should be based on a realistic understanding of how people are likely to actually behave, and the officials should prioritize empowering and informing people, rather than trying to guide behavior by withholding tools. There should especially be no room for pop psychology. Transparency is great, proper communication is essential, and, above all, providing tools that help protect children as soon as possible is crucial.

19) I think David Brooks is mostly right here, “Seven Lessons Democrats Need to Learn — Fast”

20) Since I’m 50 I recently had my first colonoscopy.  Not really so bad.  I’m in the need to come back in 5 years instead of 10 category (a couple of small polyps), but the worst part was simply waking up at 4:30am for prep part 2.  Anyway, doing that to my digestive tract really did get me wondering about the impact on my microbiome.  Good news— I should already be back to normal (about 2 weeks):

Large bowel preparation may cause a substantial change in the gut microbiota and metabolites. Here, we included a bowel prep group and a no-procedure control group and evaluated the effects of bowel prep on the stability of the gut microbiome and metabolome as well as on recovery. Gut microbiota and metabolome compositions were analyzed by 16S rRNA sequencing and capillary electrophoresis time-of-flight mass spectrometry, respectively. Analysis of coefficients at the genus and species level and weighted UniFrac distance showed that, compared with controls, microbiota composition was significantly reduced immediately after the prep but not at 14 days after it. For the gut metabolome profiles, correlation coefficients between before and immediately after the prep were significantly lower than those between before and 14 days after prep and were not significantly different compared with those for between-subject differences. Thirty-two metabolites were significantly changed before and immediately after the prep, but these metabolites recovered within 14 days. In conclusion, bowel preparation has a profound effect on the gut microbiome and metabolome, but the overall composition recovers to baseline within 14 days. To properly conduct studies of the human gut microbiome and metabolome, fecal sampling should be avoided immediately after bowel prep.

21) Apparently “dirty soda” is all the rage.  It’s just soda with milk.  I tried it with my Diet Dr Pepper.  Pretty… pretty… good.  

22) Yglesias (and helper Milan Singh) analyzes the leftward shift of the Democratic party through looking at the party platforms.  This actually makes a lot of sense:

In “Republicans have changed a lot since 2008,” Matt argued that the Elon Musk/Colin Wright meme depicting a leftward-moving left versus a steady-state right underrated the extent of change in the Republican Party. But contrary to many of the takes online, the Democratic Party has changed, too.

One way to see this is in the evolution of the party’s platform, which is why Milan carefully read the 2012 and 2020 Democratic platforms in their entirety. The point of this exercise isn’t that the mass electorate scrutinizes these documents in detail, but that the statements are a chance for party leaders to tell the world what the party aspires to be and do. It’s of course possible that a party could smuggle some totally obscure new policy commitment into the platform that doesn’t reflect anything other than platform-writing. But that’s really not the case here…

But the shift on criminal justice issues is much broader than that, with the 2020 platform not just expressing awareness that police officers sometimes do bad things but adopting a thoroughgoing skepticism of punishment. Today’s Democrats say that people under 21 should not be sentenced to life without parole and that juvenile records should be automatically sealed and expunged. The 2020 platform calls the War on Drugs a failure, opposes jailing people for drug use, and supports federal legalization of medical marijuana and decriminalization for recreational use. It also calls for eliminating cash bail, the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity, and the death penalty…

Eight years later, the 2020 platform promises to “embed racial justice” throughout the governing agenda:

We will take a comprehensive approach to embed racial justice in every element of our governing agenda, including in jobs and job creation, workforce and economic development, small business and entrepreneurship, eliminating poverty and closing the racial wealth gap, promoting asset building and homeownership, education, health care, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and voting rights.

You see that racial justice embedding at work in the climate plank’s promise of targeting “40 percent of the overall benefits to disadvantaged and frontline communities.” You see it in a promise to “prioritize support for Black entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs of color” and to “end violence against transgender Americans and particularly against Black transgender women.”

The new platform invokes the racial wealth gap — an idea not present in the 2012 platform — on five separate occasions, while the 2012 platform mentions wealth only to condemn a Republican Party approach “that benefited the wealthy few but crashed the economy and crushed the middle class.”

And that’s a general trend. This chart illustrates the frequency with which specific words and phrases are mentioned in the 2020 and 2012 platforms; it shows a large increase in mentions of “health care” plus frequent invocation of terms related to race and identity categories…

This post has been very platform-centric because platforms are a convenient index.

But the ideological movement — not an overthrow of the party establishment by leftists, but the establishment leaders themselves taking on new ideas — is clearly visible in other forms. In June of 2016, Dylan Matthews wrote for Vox that “President Obama’s huge reversal on Social Security is a big win for liberals.” In July of that year, Victoria Massie wrote “Hillary Clinton said ‘systemic racism’ in tonight’s speech. That’s major.” On May 27 of 2020, David Roberts described a new consensus approach to climate policy on the left, and on May 28 he published a piece arguing that Joe Biden should embrace this consensus even though Biden “just won without them.”

You can see that both of those articles have July 2020 updates at the top noting that Biden had basically done what Roberts recommended and adopted the new progressive consensus. Pivoting left after winning a primary is a little odd, but it’s what Biden did, and progressives acknowledged it at the time.

There’s lots of room for debate about whether this was a good idea. But the people who yelled at Elon Musk that he was imagining this leftward transformation are being silly. The fact that DW-NOMINATE scores don’t pick up on it is a limitation of that metric — not to say that it’s wrong, but just that analysis of roll call votes only tells you so much.

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is going into my Public Policy syllabus, “We Pay to Keep the Old Out of Poverty. Why Won’t We Do the Same for the Young?”

Others have argued that American poverty persists because government assistance makes Americans unwilling to work. As the former representative Paul Ryan put it, “There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap.” But our high child poverty rate isn’t because poor people feel less incentivized to work or they’re just plain lazier in the United States. We manage to have both high employment levels and high poverty rates at the same time.

The real difference is that the United States does far less to reduce its child poverty rate than some of its foreign peers. “It’s no more complex than we spend less, and so poverty rates are higher among kids,” Hilary Hoynes, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.

There are a number of social programs that other countries offer that the United States doesn’t. We don’t have universal health care (although we do have the Children’s Health Insurance Program for low-income kids, as well as more expanded coverage through the Affordable Care Act). We also spend far less on child care and early childhood education.

But the most important distinction is that most other countries give parents more money when their children are young, many of them through direct child allowances. “The evidence is overwhelming that child allowances are the single most important policy for preventing child poverty,” said Irwin Garfinkel, an economist at Columbia. Giving parents cash goes an incredibly long way toward erasing poverty.

By contrast, we’ve spent significant resources over the past half-century on alleviating elderly poverty. Social Security is the greatest anti-poverty program we have in the United States. It kept 26.5 million people out of poverty in 2020, most of them seniors. Unemployment insurance, the safety net program that clocks in next, lifted 5.5 million people above the poverty line. We rarely talk about it this way, but Social Security is a form of direct cash payment to all Americans once they hit a certain age.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dr. Hoynes said. When it comes to how much we spend on the elderly, “we look pretty similar to other countries.” The United States simply spends less on a permanent safety net for children.

2) Great interview by Yascha Mounk of David Wallace-Wells on climate change:

First, what do you think is the most likely scenario at this point in terms of climate? And I know that that depends on political choices, and it’s really hard to project. But if you have made your best point estimate of where we’re going to be in fifty, or a hundred years, what do you think the climate and life on earth will look like? 

Wallace-Wells: Well, I think the first thing to say is that all of these projections are governed by several layers of uncertainty. There is uncertainty, as you point out, about human response and human action. And there’s also uncertainty about how the climate itself will respond, what sorts of feedback loops may be initiated, and exactly how quickly things like Arctic and Antarctic ice will disappear. So we’re making projections in a cloud of deep uncertainty. And for the most part, I think most humans alive on the planet today use that as an excuse to not worry too much about it. 

But I think the alternate approach, that we should be worrying about it more as a result, is probably more responsible, at least. But of course, as a human, I share the other impulse too. If I had to guess I would say that we’re looking at a level of warming this century somewhere between two and two and a half degrees Celsius, maybe a little north of that. And that’s basically because we are making remarkably fast progress driving down the price of renewable energy, which makes it now a good bargain just about everywhere in the world that’s investing in its own energy future. But we’re not nearly doing enough or moving fast enough to draw down our use of fossil fuels. So at the moment, we’re supplementing our existing energy base with renewables rather than replacing, which is what we really need to do.

Mounk: The battle against climate change is often framed as revolving primarily around economic sacrifices. And there is a part of that which is true. But what you’re talking about in terms of the falling price of renewable energies is that actually, in many places, it’s just becoming economically rational to deploy technologies that are better for the planet.

Wallace-Wells: Yeah. This is really one of the major shifts in the culture of climate change and climate action over the last five or ten years. The Kyoto Protocol, and Al Gore first warning us about climate change—those were undertaken at moments when we really thought that this was going to be a burdensome transition, that we would have to do it for the sake of each other and the planet and our lives in the future, but it was going to be expensive in the short and medium term. In part because renewable energy costs have fallen so dramatically, and because we’re getting a clearer sense of the catastrophic health effects of burning fossil fuels, that calculus has really changed. Just about every world leader acknowledges that. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that 90% of the world is now living in places where new renewable energy is cheaper than new fossil fuel energy. It’s a very, very different policy landscape than the one that we were operating in even during the Paris Accords negotiations in 2015. 

3) Love this NPR article on peak TV! (Except that, sorry, Severance was just a B show with quirky production design and poor episodic structure):

What resonates the most, though, from that talk in 2015, is the way Landgraf talked about the good and the great. A lot of people who heard those “peak TV” numbers from critics — 400 shows! — groused back that it didn’t really matter, because most of it was terrible. Landgraf, on the other hand, was careful to point out that this was not the point he was making. He didn’t think the problem was too much bad TV; he thought the problem was largely too much good TV. Or, maybe, too much good enough TV. The head of FX, after all, doesn’t care about total garbage shows or about how many of them there are; that’s not the competition, either for viewers or awards, or for critical attention. (There was a lot of speculation at the time that this part of the speech reflected in part FX’s frustration at a lack of awards recognition for The Americans.)

Here’s what he said about too much good TV: “There’s just too much competition, so much so that I think the good shows often get in the way of the audience finding the great ones.”

Maybe self-serving? Sure, of course. Landgraf is not an academic or a neutral arbiter; he’s a network executive who had (and has) his own business to worry about. But I think this phenomenon does exist, and not just for audiences. As a critic, I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of television — but not by the amount that’s terrible, most of which I get to ignore. I feel overwhelmed by the amount that’s okay. Perfectly fine. Watchable, but unremarkable. The ten-episode series that should be four; the four-episode series that should be a movie. The A-for-effort project that just doesn’t quite get where it’s trying to go. The adaptation of true events that’s well-made but has little to add to the podcast it’s based on. The show that stars very famous people doing solid work and nevertheless doesn’t make so much as a ripple.

It’s not that nothing is great. There are still exciting new shows out there; Apple’s Severance, for instance, is wonderful and innovative, weird and special and provocative. But at times, I do feel like I am kept very busy looking at B-plus shows that look a lot like other B-plus shows, that are nicely made and earnestly executed by talented people and that are perfectly okay if you like the kind of thing that they are.

But with the Netflix news last week, it does seem like perhaps we really have reached Peak TV. Maybe things really are going to contract, just a few years behind schedule. If that happens, it may come as a relief to viewers (both amateur and professional), but it will mean shake-ups with implications for jobs and creativity that are still very hard to predict. And of course, when money is hard to come by, it’s often the new voices that are sacrificed first.

Or, I suppose, this will all be wrong, and the number of shows will grow for the next seven years like they’ve grown for the last seven years, and in 2029, we’ll be back here talking about SuperPeak TV and the fact that our greatest movie stars are now making shows that exclusively air on those little screens at gas pumps. Nobody ever said it was easy to see the future.

4) Enjoyed this New Yorker profile of Emily St John Mandel, but, sorry Sea of Tranquility pales in comparison to Station Eleven..

5) Nice twitter thread on some new research on the impact of a university education on political values in Britain. Here’s the TL;DR:

6) Super low-N, but, what a great subject to study, “Nine weeks of high-intensity indoor cycling training induced changes in the microbiota composition in non-athlete healthy male college students”

7) Good Chait piece on Christopher Rufo, the evil genius behind the CRT-panic and now all the “groomer” nonsense.

8) German Lopez on how opioids are a cautionary tale for legalizing drugs:

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached their highest point ever recorded last year, with more than 100,000 deaths over 12 months. Deaths are up nearly 50 percent since the start of the Covid pandemic.

Whenever I write about deadly overdoses, some readers ask: Why not legalize and regulate drugs? They argue that the government causes more harm by outlawing drugs and enforcing those bans through policing and incarceration. They suggest that legalization and regulation could better minimize the risks involved.

So today I want to explain why that argument goes only so far — and why many experts are skeptical.

“Drug warriors said we should have a drug-free nation, which was totally bogus,” Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, told me. “But it is totally bogus on the other side to say we can legalize and all the problems will go away.”

In fact, we are living through a crisis that shows the risks of legalization: the opioid epidemic.

The problem began with a legal, regulated drug: prescription painkillers. Pharmaceutical companies promised the drugs would help address pain, a major public health issue. But when the pills were made widely available in the 1990s, their use skyrocketed — along with addiction and overdoses. And instead of carefully regulating the drugs, officials consistently gave in to profit-minded pharmaceutical companies, which sold opioids to millions of people.

America is poorly poised to legalize and regulate drugs, some experts said. It tends to resist regulation and favor free-market solutions more than other developed nations. It is one of two countries to allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads. The First Amendment protects some commercial speech, making drug marketing hard to regulate.

“The policy has to match the culture,” Caulkins said. And “we are not good at having bureaucracies that view their mission as defending the people against the industry.”

The painkiller saga illustrates this…

Experts widely agree that the U.S. government failed to properly regulate opioids. But that does not justify the prohibition and criminalization of drugs, argued Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. “That’s a false binary,” she told me.

Many options exist between commercialized legalization and criminalized prohibition, experts said. Portugal decriminalized the personal possession of all drugs in 2001, but not manufacturing and distribution. Canada prohibits drugs, but allows for facilities where trained staff supervise drug users and may even provide substances to use.

Different drugs can also warrant different approaches. Marijuana is much safer than cocaine and heroin, and laws can reflect that.

And while the opioid crisis has shown the perils of legalization, it has also exposed the risks of prohibition. People who die from a fentanyl overdose often believe they are consuming heroin, cocaine or some other drug, not knowing it is actually fentanyl or contaminated with fentanyl. That is a problem of unregulated supply.

9) Jane Coaston on banning Russian tennis players from Wimbledon:

But limiting Russian influence by banning Russian and Belarusian tennis players from Wimbledon is unlikely to bring about a swifter end to the war in Ukraine or concretely damage Putin’s regime. Where’s the evidence that Russia’s president will be swayed to rethink his military aggression if these athletes aren’t allowed to compete at Wimbledon? What makes the governing bodies of Wimbledon and the L.T.A. think Putin will be devastated that Daniil Medvedev and Victoria Azarenka will not be heating up the courts at The Championships? Sports Illustrated reported that one player doubted Putin even cared about tennis.

By taking this action, Wimbledon hasn’t banned a team competing under the Russian or Belarusian flag. Tennis players are independent contractors. At major tournaments like Wimbledon, they aren’t competing for their countries. Even if fans back home cheer for them, they are competing for themselves.

So, what is the ban doing? It’s doing something. It’s performing the act of action. And perhaps that’s the point. The do-something impulse is among our strongest, even when, in many cases, there’s very little you, I or Wimbledon really can do to make the Russian government stop its campaign of violence against Ukrainians. Inaction can feel weak, but action, even when it’s ineffective, often feels strong.

10) This is good from Jeremy Faust, “Four key facts that show legalized abortion saves and improves maternal lives.”

11) Science! “New method delivers life-saving drugs to the brain—using sound waves: An emerging technique harnessing ultrasound may revolutionize treatment of fatal or hard-to-cure conditions, from cancer to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

Focused ultrasound is “science-fiction medicine that is rapidly becoming non-fiction,” says Brad Wood, director of the National Institutes of Health Center for Interventional Oncology.

The novel procedure gets drugs into the brain by overcoming a major hurdle: the blood-brain barrier, a thin protective layer of specialized cells lining the very small blood vessels guarding the human body’s most privileged organ. It keeps out the bad stuff, such as pathogens, but it also prevents potentially useful things from getting in. As a result, virtually all medications for conditions such as brain cancer and neurodegenerative diseases are effectively unable to reach the site where they are needed most.

The challenge is that the brain is extraordinarily fragile and damage is irreversible, which is why surgeons want new strategies to bypass the blood-brain barrier. Methods such as surgical injection have been tried in the past but involve skin incisions, holes in the skull, and passing instruments through the brain, which all risk infection, bleeding, and swelling and could cause permanent brain damage. “When treating the brain, we have to remember the person, too,” says Lipsman, who is also the director of Sunnybrook’s Harquail Center for Neuromodulation. “Treating the heart, limbs, or lungs, won’t change someone’s personality, memory, or affect. Harming the brain will.”

That’s why focused ultrasound, which is noninvasive, is so appealing. Numerous teams around the world have now shown that opening the blood-brain barrier with ultrasound is safe and feasible, so the next hurdle is proving the medical benefits…

Focused ultrasound is not a new idea and has been used as a medical treatment since the 1950s. Beginning 15 years ago physicians used it to destroy uterine fibroids and prostate cancer and treat prostate gland enlargement. Today the procedure is being applied to more than 160 diseases and conditions at various stages of research and commercialization. Some of the FDA-approved techniques are used to treat tremors and some motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease—but these efforts are unrelated to opening the blood-brain barrier.

12) Remember the “pregnant persons” flap over an RBG quote last fall.  Jesse Singal just unlocked his excellent post on the matter:

I do think that when people talk about this, they slightly overcomplicate it. Like, if someone pressed me on why I was calling the person a ‘man’ — what I was really saying — I’d stammer a bit and turn slightly red and eventually admit that really, the only coherent answer is that I was making a strong guess about his physical anatomy. What’s going on in my brain is something like “Beard and suit and tie —> masculine-coded —> male anatomy —> ‘he.’ ” 

Of course things get more complicated with the idea that people should be allowed to choose their pronouns, which is something I am happy to go along with (except in some truly bizarre edge cases we can ignore for now). So if I was informed the beardy, male-seeming person went by ‘they,’ I’d use ‘they.’ I’d be switching, for the sake of politeness, from a system in which pronouns refer (at root, when you really get down to it) to someone’s biological sex to a system in which they refer to someone’s gender identity. Language is flexible; the world will continue to spin and the sun will come up tomorrow. But overall, ‘he’ still usually refers to biological sex, at root. I’m a ‘he’ not because I ‘identify’ as male — all these years later I still don’t understand what that means — but because I am physically, biologically male.

Whether or not you agree with my assessment of my own heness, it’s undeniably the case that sometimes when we say ‘girls’ or ‘women’ or ‘boys’ or ‘men,’ we are locked in quite specifically on biology and nothing else. When we refer to the effects of abortion laws on ‘women,’ we really do just mean “adult human females.” It doesn’t, and never has, had anything to do with how the adult human females in question identify, present, or anything else. To see why, imagine a sentence “We need to protect X’s rights to abortion,” where X refers to how people identify and where the sentence itself is coherent. I don’t think there’s any such sentence, because whether you can get pregnant and therefore might need an abortion has nothing to do with how you identify.

I know that that phrase “adult human female,” despite being right there in the dictionary, has now been successfully pathologized and is treated as borderline hate speech, but we really need it to understand what’s going on here linguistically. So, well, sorry! 

13) You are going to be hearing a lot from me about abortion pills, “Abortion pills by mail pose challenge for officials in red states”

The end of a national right to abortion could trigger a surge of interest in a method of pregnancy termination that has become popular in states that already restrict the procedure: Abortion pills by mail.

Many Republican legislatures have tried banning the pills from being shipped or prescribed. But some women have been able to circumvent the restrictions by getting their pills online from overseas pharmacies that can’t be reached by U.S. laws. The five-day regimen of tablets usually comes in an unassuming envelope, making it hard to police. With the Supreme Court possibly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, people seeking abortions in the United States will probably flock to these sources, experts say.

“This is just not going to be stoppable,” said Gerald Rosenberg, a law professor emeritus at the University of Chicago law school.

This workaround will probably become another front in the battle over abortion rights.

Residents of Texas and about two dozen other states with sharp limits on abortions have already helped fuel the boom in medicationabortions, as patients seek alternatives to surgical abortions at a clinic, advocatessay. Another factor driving the trend has been coronavirus lockdowns, which limited face-to-face visits at medical facilities. Americans are more comfortable receiving medical care by Zoom-style video links, which allow doctors to prescribe and direct patients on how to take the pills from outside the borders of states that are hostile to abortion.

Mifepristone, sold under the brand name Mifeprex and also known as the abortion pill, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 for medication abortion. The drug is used with a second pill, misoprostol, to induce what is essentially a miscarriage. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to progress. Misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone, causes cramping and bleeding and empties the uterus. The medication is approved as safe and effective for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, although it is sometimes used “off label” after that…

“Mailed pills are hard to police,” said Rachel Rebouche, interim dean of Temple Law School. “That has not stopped [states] from trying.”

14) If this actually pans out, it really is an amazing medical development, “Patients Taking Experimental Obesity Drug Lost More Than 50 Pounds, Maker Claims: The data have not yet been peer reviewed or published. But experts said the drug may give people with obesity an alternative to bariatric surgery.”

An experimental drug has enabled people with obesity or who are overweight to lose about 22.5 percent of their body weight, about 52 pounds on average, in a large trial, the drug’s maker announced on Thursday.

The company, Eli Lilly, has not yet submitted the data for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal or presented them in a public setting. But the claims nonetheless amazed medical experts.

“Wow (and a double Wow!)” Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, chief executive of Verve Therapeutics, a company focusing on heart disease drugs, wrote in a tweet. Drugs like Eli Lilly’s, he added, are “truly going to revolutionize the treatment of obesity!!!”

Dr. Kathiresan has no ties to Eli Lilly or to the drug.

Dr. Lee Kaplan, an obesity expert at the Massachusetts General Hospital, said that the drug’s effect “appears to be significantly better than any other anti-obesity medication that is currently available in the U.S.” The results, he added, are “very impressive.”

On average, participants in the study weighed 231 pounds at the outset and had a body mass index, or B.M.I. — a commonly used measure of obesity — of 38. (Obesity is defined as a B.M.I. of 30 and higher.)

At the end of the study, those taking the higher doses of the Eli Lilly drug, called tirzepatide, weighed about 180 pounds and had a B.M.I. just below 30, on average. The results far exceed those usually seen in trials of weight-loss medications and are usually seen only in surgical patients.

Some trial participants lost enough weight to fall into the normal range, said Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of the comprehensive weight control center at Weill Cornell Medicine, who worked with Eli Lilly as the study’s principal investigator.

Most of the people in the trial did not qualify for bariatric surgery, which is reserved for people with a B.M.I. over 40, or those with a B.M.I. from 35 to 40 with sleep apnea or Type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing diabetes is many times higher for people with obesity than for people without it.

15) NYT, “Russia’s Grave Miscalculation: Ukrainians Would Collaborate”

KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine — The solicitation to commit treason came to Oleksandr Vilkul on the second day of the war, in a phone call from an old colleague.

Mr. Vilkul, the scion of a powerful political family in southeastern Ukraine that was long seen as harboring pro-Russian views, took the call as Russian troops were advancing to within a few miles of his hometown, Kryvyi Rih.

“He said, ‘Oleksandr Yurivich, you are looking at the map, you see the situation is predetermined,’” Mr. Vilkul said, recalling the conversation with a fellow minister in a former, pro-Russian Ukrainian government.

“Sign an agreement of friendship, cooperation and defense with Russia and they will have good relations with you,” the former colleague said. “You will be a big person in the new Ukraine.”

The offer failed spectacularly. Once war had begun, Mr. Vilkul said, the gray area seeped out of Ukrainian politics for him. Missiles striking his hometown made the choice obvious: He would fight back.

“I responded with profanity,” Mr. Vilkul said in an interview.

If the first months of the war in Ukraine became a military debacle for the Russian army — deflating the reputations of its commanders and troops in a forced retreat from Kyiv — the Russian invasion also highlighted another glaring failure: Moscow’s flawed analysis of the politics of the country it was attacking. The miscalculation led to mistakes no less costly in lives for the Russian army than the faulty tactics of tank operators who steered into bogs.

The Kremlin entered the war expecting a quick and painless victory, predicting that the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky would fracture and that leading officials in the largely Russian-speaking eastern region would gladly switch sides. That has not happened.

16) Did not like this story! “‘Heartbreaking’: Wild fox kills 25 flamingos, 1 duck at National Zoo”  What’s up with that fox?  Just kill something and eat it– but 25?!

17) Technology FTW, “Small Drones Are Giving Ukraine an Unprecedented Edge: From surveillance to search-and-rescue, consumer drones are having a huge impact on the country’s defense against Russia.

“Drones changed the way the war was supposed to be,” says Valerii Iakovenko, the founder of Ukrainian drone company DroneUA. “It is all about intelligence, collecting and transferring data about enemy troops’ movements or positionings, correcting artillery fire. It is about counter-saboteurs’ actions, and it is of course search-and-rescue operations.” Iakovenko estimates that Ukrainian forces are operating more than 6,000 drones for reconnaissance and says these can link up with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite systems to upload footage. “In 2014, drones became the center of attention of intelligence units, but their scale cannot be compared to what we see today,” he says. (Russia first began its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 with its annexation of Crimea.)

Civilian drone researcher Faine Greenwood has tracked and logged almost 350 incidents in which consumer drones have been used in Ukraine, with the video footage shared on Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and other social media. Many of the clips, which Greenwood has also mapped, are recorded by military forces, but others have been captured by civilians and journalists. The documented incidents are likely to be only a small fraction of the drone usage in Ukraine. Iakovenko says that in addition to collecting footage for possible war crimes, drones are being used to inspect buildings that have been hit and to help restore power supplies that have been damaged or knocked out.

“You get cheap airborne surveillance, or even strike capabilities, by using these,” says Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the use of drones in war. The drones allow troops on the ground to immediately surveil forces around them, retarget weapons, and take action that could stop enemy advances or save lives. “You have individuals or small militia groups that all of a sudden have their own airborne surveillance capability—that’s something you wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. There certainly have been tactical advances and tactical victories because of that.”

18) Fascinating twitter thread on the evolution of religion.

19) This could be a very interesting twist, “Your phone could reveal if you’ve had an abortion: Internet searches, visits to clinics and period-tracking apps leave digital trails.”

When someone gets an abortion, they may decide not to share information with friends and family members. But chances are their smartphone knows.

The leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion proposing to overturn Roe v. Wade raises a data privacy flash point: If abortion becomes criminal in some states, might a person’s data trail be treated as evidence?

There is precedent for it, and privacy advocates say data collection could become a major liability for people seeking abortions in secret. Phones can record communications, search histories, body health data and other information. Just Tuesday, there was new evidence that commercial data brokers sell location information gathered from the phones of people who visit abortion clinics.
 
“It is absolutely something to be concerned about — and something to learn about, hopefully before being in a crisis mode, where learning on the fly might be more difficult,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a technology fellow at the Ford Foundation.

20) I can’t wait! “See Daniel Radcliffe as “Weird Al” Yankovic in the First Trailer for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

21) Good stuff on health care from Yglesias, “Overtreatment in American health care is a problem”

22) 30 foot border wall means 30 foot falls.  Yikes. “The border wall Trump called unclimbable is taking a grim toll: The journal JAMA Surgery offers one of the first attempts to measure injuries and deaths resulting from falls along new sections of the wall”

23) This conversation between Derek Thompson on adolescent mental health and parenting was fascinating.  I’ve been thinking about it so much since I listened to it. 

Quick hits (part I)

So much I wanted to write about this week.  But, alas, had to get the grades in.  At least, some pretty good stuff here, I think.  And lots more about abortion next week.

1) Loved this in an Emily Oster interview about a book on philosophy and parenting:

But even on smaller issues, I question my kids a lot. In our house, you’re not “entitled to your opinion,” as Americans like to say. You have to defend them. I ask the boys questions, then I question their answers, so they have to think critically about their own ideas. I want to get them in the habit of backing up their opinions with evidence and arguments. But more than that, I want them to know that you shouldn’t have an opinion unless you can back it up — and if the evidence and arguments aren’t on your side, you should change your mind.

You must be super-frustrated with the people who feel in their bones that COVID isn’t real, or that ivermectin cures it, all evidence aside. And you’re doing this huge public service by helping parents find the relevant evidence and think through its significance. I want my kids to have that orientation toward the world. And questioning them — and making them make arguments — is a key part of that. The only downside is that they’ll do it back to you. (But of course, that’s upside too — just exhausting sometimes.)

2) Jeff Maurer on student debt:

One thing I’ve learned is that you can find a research paper to support just about anything. I googled “immigrants commit more crime” and found this paper supporting that thesis from the Center for Immigration Studies, even though it’s pretty well established that the opposite is true. I searched “Bush tax cuts increased revenue” and had to scroll past dozens of studies saying “no they didn’t”, but I eventually found this paper from the Hoover Institute that takes the affirmative position. I did manage to find the outer bounds of this theory — searches for “women find model train enthusiasts sexy” and “crystal meth is a great source of fiber” came up empty — but for most topics under the sun, you can find some crank spouting nonsense due to funding from some presumably-even-larger crank.

Most progressives who want to forgive most or all student loans argue that doing so would benefit the poor and middle class more than the wealthy. And of course they argue that; it would be weird for progressives to support a deeply regressive policy. At least, it would be weird if you don’t think that a sizable chunk of the progressive movement is a borderline cult that lost radio contact with reality some time in the mid-2010s. Though I think I’ve been very clear that I do think that.

To my reading, the evidence is overwhelming that student debt forgiveness with no means testing and no cap on how much is forgiven would mostly benefit the well-off. But some researchers and advocates are parsing data in ways that say otherwise; I consider what they’re doing to be the social science equivalent of standing on your head, squinting, and looking at data reflected in seven mirrors in an attempt to see what you want to see. The effect is an intellectual smoke screen that tries to convince people that something false is true…

The fact that many progressives support a highly regressive policy would be confusing if we didn’t know how we got here. But we do know how we got here: Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2016 promising free college for all. He won the support of many young people and did surprisingly well. Bernie either sparked or capitalized on a trend in progressive circles to rally around pithy, absolutist slogans — “Medicare for all”, “abolish ICE”, “defund the police” — of which “cancel student debt” was one. By 2020, both Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had made debt cancellation a centerpiece of their presidential campaigns. Also, at some point progressives convinced themselves that this is a race issue, because of course they did.

This puts progressives in the awkward position of advocating a policy that mostly benefits highly educated, upwardly mobile, and, yes, mostly white2 people. It is also possible that somebody — or even literally everybody — noticed that progressives tend to be highly educated, upwardly mobile, and, yes, mostly white. Must be a coincidence!

Given this context, of course progressives are desperate to muddle the debate. Their staunch resistance to any caps3 or means testing — which would be inelegant but would help target relief to the poor and middle class — makes it completely obvious that the real end game is to hand a big pile of cash to the type of person who votes for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. That’s a pretty bad look, so it makes sense that their main tactic is to basically throw a smoke bomb on the ground and hope that people get confused. This tactic will probably succeed in giving progressives the psychological cover they need to convince themselves that they’re a champion for the poor while they carry water for the rich, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us need to be fooled.

2) Great stuff from Derek Thompson on Florida, Disney and the parties today:

To review, today’s culture-war death spiral is being accelerated by reactive polarization on both sides. Republicans, freaked out by what they see as cultural disempowerment, are yanking politics right; Democrats, freaked out by what they see as political disempowerment, are pulling institutions left.

I know that by typing the words both sides in the previous paragraph, I have summoned the ancient curse of a thousand tweeted screenshots by media watchers. So let me state something as clearly as possible. As a liberal Millennial, I don’t think liberal Millennials urging companies to take political stands is remotely as bad as Republican activists urging politicians to, say, ban math books on the grounds that cartoons of gay parents amount to sexualized “grooming.” Personally, I find the former defensible and the latter detestable. But as a political observer, I ought to note plainly that both of these things are extraordinary appeals to power, that these appeals to power are effective, and that liberals’ effectiveness moving companies left and conservatives’ effectiveness moving state politics right are two forces turning in a gyre of unyielding grievance. The possibility that the right is polarizing harder and for worse reasons than the left doesn’t change the fact that both sides are polarizing.

***

The political scientist Ronald Inglehart famously wrote that as societies get richer, voters care less about economic (material) issues and more about social and cultural (post-material) issues. With rising material well-being, we climb Maslow’s hierarchy to the top of the pyramid, get woozy with altitude sickness, and start ranting at each other about language. This is how we get Florida setting its economic and tax policy by first looking at which companies are saying the right words.

Who is allowed to say what? In the post-material future coming into focus, this is the only political question that matters. It is certainly the question that matters in the Disney-DeSantis showdown. “I am the most free-market person on the right … I think more freedoms for businesses are good,” the conservative personality Ben Shapiro said recently on his popular podcast, about the Florida fracas. “However,” he said to Disney, “if you decide to just become a woke corporation that does the bidding of your Democratic taskmasters, don’t be surprised if you get clocked by a legislative two-by-four. Eff around and find out.”

What a refreshingly blunt statement: Freedom of speech is good, but my political enemy’s speech is punishable by law. This is right-wing economic policy for a post-material age: Conservative companies are allowed to talk, and leftist employees are invited to listen.

Years ago, Republicans were critical of college-campus Democrats for their embrace of “safe spaces.” But maybe the right wasn’t contemptuous of safe spaces, just envious.Why merely a safe room, or a safe campus? Mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bit bigger, darling. Why not an ideologically safety-proofed corporation? Or state? Why not fire the entire federal bureaucracy, as Ohio’s Senate candidate J. D. Vance proposed, and make the government a safe space for right-wing populism?

You might think I’ve strayed from the crux of the Disney-DeSantis mess. But I think we’re at the heart of it. The specific events of this political crisis are less important than the moral of the story. Who is allowed to say what? Disney effed around and found out for itself: Post-materialism rules everything around us.

3) A thoughtful conservative take on Socio-emotional learning:

While the aims of SEL may be commonsensical and bipartisan in the abstract, the community of educational advocates, funders, researchers, and leaders who shape the practical reality of SEL share notions of “commonsensical” and “bipartisan” that are out of whack with those of most Americans who don’t live in the Acela corridor or on the Pacific Coast. 

It can be tough for those outside of education to appreciate just how casually woke the complex of education advocates, funders, scholars, and trainers are. (Interestingly, teachers themselves are generally much more moderate than these influentials.) Ninety-nine percent of the education reformers funded by the Gates Foundation support Democratic causes and candidates. At the nation’s top 20 schools of education, half the faculty study “diversity.” Just the other day, the doyens at the National Council of Teachers of English urged English teachers “to decenter book reading and essay writing” (wait, what?) and instead work to “identify and disrupt the inequalities of contemporary life, including structural racism, sexism, consumerism, and economic injustice.”

The result is that advocates and trainers have, almost by default, infused their cultural assumptions and biases into SEL. AEI’s Max Eden has pointed out that, in the past few years, CASEL has actively redefined core concepts to keep pace with woke dogma. CASEL’s notion of “self-awareness” now encompasses “identity” (as defined in terms of “intersectionality”). “Self-management” now incorporates “resistance” and “transformative/justice-oriented” citizenship. In its “Roadmap to ReOpening,” CASEL stipulates that “self-awareness” now entails “examining our implicit biases” and “self-management” requires “practicing anti-racism.” As Eden notes, none of this is “morally or politically neutral.”

Asking teachers to cultivate character is one thing; telling fourth-grade teachers that they all need to embrace “trauma-informed teaching” is another. Serious research on cortisone levels and student anxiety gets scrambled together with research-free calls for affinity spaces. There’s serious research, but it also gets misapplied by foundations, education professors, and teacher trainers to justify all manner of free-floating silliness.

4) Nice explanation of the dog breed and behavior research:

After conducting owner surveys for 18,385 dogs and sequencing the genomes of 2,155 dogs, a group of researchers reported a variety of findings in the journal Science on Thursday, including that for predicting some dog behaviors, breed is essentially useless, and for most, not very good. For instance, one of the clearest findings in the massive, multifaceted study is that breed has no discernible effect on a dog’s reactions to something it finds new or strange.

This behavior is related to what the nonscientist might call aggression and would seem to cast doubt on breed stereotypes of aggressive dogs, like pit bulls. One thing pit bulls did score high on was human sociability, no surprise to anyone who has seen internet videos of lap-loving pit bulls. Labrador retriever ancestry, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any significant correlation with human sociability.

This is not to say that there are no differences among breeds, or that breed can’t predict some things. If you adopt a Border collie, said Elinor Karlsson of the Broad Institute and the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, an expert in dog genomics and an author of the report, the probability that it will be easier to train and interested in toys “is going to be higher than if you adopt a Great Pyrenees.”

But for any given dog you just don’t know — on average, breed accounts for only about 9 percent of the variations in any given dog’s behavior. And no behaviors were restricted to any one breed, even howling, though the study found that behavior was more strongly associated with breeds like Siberian huskies than with other dogs.

 
And yet, in what might seem paradoxical at first, the researchers also found that behavior patterns are strongly inherited. The behaviors they studied had a 25 percent heritability, a complex measure which indicates the influence of genes, but depends on the group of animals studied. But with enough dogs, heritability is a good measure of what’s inherited. In comparing whole genomes, they found several genes that clearly influence behavior, including one for how friendly dogs are.
 
What the study means is that dog behaviors are strongly inherited, but that the genes that shape whether your dog is friendly, aggressive or aloof date from long before the 19th century when most modern breeds, like those recognized by the American Kennel Club, were created. Breeding since then has been primarily for physical characteristics.

5) Nature! “An Anaconda’s Play Date With Dolphins Took a Strange Turn: Why were Bolivian river dolphins swimming around with a large predatory snake in their mouths? “There are so many questions,” one researcher said.”

Bolivian river dolphins were spotted toying with a Beni anaconda in August 2021.

Bolivian river dolphins were spotted toying with a Beni anaconda in August 2021.Credit…Omar M. Entiauspe Neto, Steffen Reichle, Alejandro dos Rios

6) Nature again! “Deadly Venom From Spiders and Snakes May Cure What Ails You: Efforts to tease apart the vast swarm of proteins in venom — a field called venomics — have burgeoned in recent years, leading to important drug discoveries.”

TUCSON, Ariz. — In a small room in a building at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the invertebrate keeper, Emma Califf, lifts up a rock in a plastic box. “This is one of our desert hairies,” she said, exposing a three-inch-long scorpion, its tail arced over its back. “The largest scorpion in North America.”

This captive hairy, along with a swarm of inch-long bark scorpions in another box, and two dozen rattlesnakes of varying species and sub- species across the hall, are kept here for the coin of the realm: their venom.

Efforts to tease apart the vast swarm of proteins in venom — a field called venomics — have burgeoned in recent years, and the growing catalog of compounds has led to a number of drug discoveries. As the components of these natural toxins continue to be assayed by evolving technologies, the number of promising molecules is also growing.

“A century ago we thought venom had three or four components, and now we know just one type of venom can have thousands,” said Leslie V. Boyer, a professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Arizona. “Things are accelerating because a small number of very good laboratories have been pumping out information that everyone else can now use to make discoveries.”

It is a striking case of modern-day scientific alchemy: The most highly evolved of natural poisons on the planet are creating a number of effective medicines with the potential for many more.

7) Jesse Wegman on the minoritarian Supreme Court:

This didn’t happen by accident: Republicans have spent the past several years twisting the court into an aggressive right-wing supermajority for precisely this purpose. Remember that one of Donald Trump’s major selling points in the 2016 campaign was his vow that if elected, he would ensure Roe was overturned “automatically.” It hasn’t been automatic, but if the holding in the draft opinion stands, it will mark an astonishing moment in our history: the elimination of an existing constitutional right, one that millions of American women (not to mention the men who impregnated them) have relied on for nearly half a century…

The second takeaway from Monday’s leak: Listen to them. Republicans have been saying for decades that they planned to overturn Roe v. Wade the first chance they got. Now that they finally have the chance, they appear to be running with it.

Keep in mind that five of the six justices in the right-wing majority were appointed by presidents who took office after losing the popular vote. This doesn’t mean they are less legitimate than the other four justices. But it might counsel at least a modicum of moderation and humility when approaching hot-button social and political issues that divide the country, as Justice Alito acknowledges is the case with abortion.

Instead the justices are grabbing everything off the shelves while they can. In the process, they are running roughshod over decades of Supreme Court standards regarding the conditions for overturning longstanding precedent. For example, has the world changed significantly since the original ruling? An overwhelming majority of Americans still support a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy in at least some circumstances, so no. What has changed? Nothing except the makeup of the court’s majority itself, the most nakedly partisan crop of justices in memory.

8) Great stuff from Jill Lepore on Alito’s use of history:

About as wholly speculative as the question of who leaked this decision is the history offered to support it. Alito’s opinion rests almost exclusively on a bizarre and impoverished historical analysis. “The Constitution makes no express reference to a right to obtain an abortion, and therefore those who claim that it protects such a right must show that the right is somehow implicit in the constitutional text,” he argues, making this observation repeatedly. Roe, he writes, was “remarkably loose in its treatment of the constitutional text” and suffers from one error above all: “it held that the abortion right, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, is part of a right to privacy, which is also not mentioned.”

Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor.

Alito cites a number of eighteenth-century texts; he does not cite anything written by a woman, and not because there’s nothing available. “The laws respecting woman,” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” in 1791, “make an absurd unit of a man and his wife, and then, by the easy transition of only considering him as responsible, she is reduced to a mere cypher.” She is but a part of him. She herself does not exist but is instead, as Wollstonecraft wrote, a “non-entity.”

If a right isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, Alito argues, following a mode of reasoning known as the history test, then it can only become a right if it can be shown to be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” As I have argued, the history test disadvantages people who were not enfranchised at the time the Constitution was written, or who have been poorly enfranchised since then. Especially important is the question of who was enfranchised at the time of the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, in 1868, the nation’s second founding, since many arguments defending abortion rights (and many other rights, too) turn on the equal-protection and due-process clauses of that amendment. Here, too, Alito is baffled to discover so little about abortion and women. Referring to the advocates for Jackson Women’s Health Organization and to amicus briefs like one signed by the American Historical Association, Alito writes, “Not only are respondents and their amici unable to show that a constitutional right to abortion was established when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but they have found no support for the existence of an abortion right that predates the latter part of the 20th century—no state constitutional provision, no statute, no judicial decision, no learned treatise.”

He might have consulted the records of the U.S. Senate from the debate over the Fourteenth Amendment, when Jacob Howard, a Republican senator from Michigan, got into an argument with Reverdy Johnson, a Democrat from Maryland. Howard quoted James Madison, who had written that “those who are to be bound by laws, ought to have a voice in making them.” This got Johnson terribly worried, because the Fourteenth Amendment uses the word “person.” He wanted to know: Did Howard mean to suggest that women could be construed as persons, too?

mr. johnson: Females as well as males?

mr. howard: Mr. Madison does not say anything about females.

mr. johnson: “Persons.”

mr. howard: I believe Mr. Madison was old enough and wise enough to take it for granted that there was such a thing as the law of nature which has a certain influence even in political affairs, and that by that law women and children are not regarded as the equals of men.

Alito, shocked—shocked—to discover so little in the law books of the eighteen-sixties guaranteeing a right to abortion, has missed the point: hardly anything in the law books of the eighteen-sixties guaranteed women anything. Because, usually, they still weren’t persons. Nor, for that matter, were fetuses.

8) Olga Khazan on intellectual humility and Covid (with a nice shout-out to the Scout Mindset):

Many of us have updated our beliefs about COVID at some point in the past two years, even if we haven’t said so publicly. Perhaps you started out worried that the coronavirus was easily transmitted via surfaces, then you discarded that fear upon further evidence. Maybe you are a major infectious-disease specialist who at first thought that young, healthy people didn’t need boosters, then decided they should get them after all. Maybe you committed the ultimate noble flip-flop: You overcame your skepticism of vaccines and opted to get vaccinated.

 

Confessing that we’ve changed our opinion is hard, and not only because we don’t like feeling stupid, or looking stupid, or being exiled from certain circles of Twitter. “If I admit I’m wrong, then I have a harder time relying on my own judgment every time I make a decision or have an opinion,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the author, most recently, of Think Again“I’m admitting that my convictions about the world are often incorrect, and that that makes the world a little bit scarier to live in.”

People get especially rigid in frightening and unpredictable situations. The pandemic has made many of us “seize and freeze in order to restore that sense of control,” Grant told me. The restaurants that are still using QR codes rather than paper menus—ostensibly for COVID reasons—are perhaps practicing a little terror management alongside their cost cutting…

One thing that allows people like Smith to talk so openly about changing their mind is a loose attachment to their opinions. “Don’t let your ideas become part of your identity,” said Grant, the organizational psychologist…

According to Grant, the best way to keep an open mind in an unclear situation is to do just this: Think like a scientist. (The other, lesser ways to think are like a “preacher, prosecutor, and politician,” which are what they sound like.) The writer Julia Galef calls this “the scout mindset,” as opposed to the “soldier mindset.” The scout and scientist mindsets are approximately the same thing: “The motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were,” she writes in her eponymous book.

Thinking like a scientist, or a scout, means “recognizing that every single one of your opinions is a hypothesis waiting to be tested. And every decision you make is an experiment where you forgot to have a control group,” Grant said. The best way to hold opinions or make predictions is to determine what you think given the state of the evidence—and then decide what it would take for you to change your mind. Not only are you committing to staying open-minded; you’re committing to the possibility that you might be wrong.

9) Jeff Maurer on abortion:

What about scrapping the filibuster and passing something with 50 votes? That won’t happen soon for Democrats; Manchin and Sinema would have to change their position on the filibuster, and Manchin and Casey would have to change their position on abortion (unless Democrats can pick up Murkowski and Collins, which they probably can’t). Chuck Schumer has announced that the Senate will hold a roll call vote on abortion so that “every American will get to see on which side every senator stands.” Surely, this will be the moment that the progressive left will come to understand: You can’t pass legislation if you don’t have enough votes. It’s not about “standing up” or “fighting” — it’s about votes. This will definitely stop extremely stupid people on Twitter from winging about how they’re never voting for a Democrat again because Democrats can’t get anything done, which, of course, is a major factor keeping Democrats from getting anything done. And I hope the sarcasm in the last few sentences is apparent, because I really don’t know how to lay it on any thicker.

Republicans can’t pass an abortion ban with Biden in the White House, so their focus will be on 2024. If you think that Republicans will keep the filibuster because they’ve spent the past few years singing its praises, then I find your faith in their integrity downright adorable. You’re like Bart Simpson with Krusty the Clown — you just never stop believing! That being said, Republicans didn’t scrap the filibuster when they had a narrow majority in 2016, reportedly because a few in the GOP caucus wanted to keep it. They’ll probably need a majority in the mid-50s to get rid of it, but if they do well in 2024, that will be an option.

About half of the country will probably live in places where abortion is illegal for at least the next few years. This is a somewhat strange outcome in a country where various polling methods continually find solid majorities supporting legal abortion. The wild card in my calculations remains the chaos theory component: Will the politics of abortion change now that abortion opponents can write their beliefs into law? Will large numbers of Republicans suddenly decide that — um, on second thought, an outright ban seems extreme, so maybe just banning abortion in some cases would be better? We’ll see. Americans haven’t voted for politicians who possess the power to make major changes to abortion laws for 50 years. With that being true, there’s only so much that the numbers can tell us about what will happen next.

10) Interesting stuff here! “Evolution Didn’t Wire Us for Eight Hours of Sleep: Chimps sleep nine hours a night. Cotton-top tamarins sleep about 13. What happened to humans?”

Research has shown that people in nonindustrial societies—the closest thing to the kind of setting our species evolved in—average less than seven hours a night, says David Samson, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. That’s a surprising number when you consider our closest animal relatives. Humans sleep less than any ape, monkey, or lemur that scientists have studied. Chimps sleep about nine and a half hours out of every 24. Cotton-top tamarins sleep about 13. Three-striped night monkeys are technically nocturnal, though, really, they’re hardly ever awake—they sleep for 17 hours a day.

Samson calls this discrepancy the human sleep paradox. “How is this possible, that we’re sleeping the least out of any primate?” he says. Sleep is known to be important for our memory, immune function, and other aspects of health. A predictive model of primate sleep based on factors such as body mass, brain size, and diet concluded that humans ought to sleep about nine and a half hours out of every 24, not seven. “Something weird is going on,” Samson says.

Research by Samson and others in primates and nonindustrial human populations has revealed the various ways that human sleep is unusual. We spend fewer hours asleep than our nearest relatives, and more of our night in the phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement, or REM. The reasons for our strange sleep habits are still up for debate but can likely be found in the story of how we became human…

Humans, then, seem to have evolved to need less sleep than our primate relatives. Samson showed in a 2018 analysis that we did this by lopping off non-REM time. REM is the sleep phase most associated with vivid dreaming. That means we may spend a larger proportion of our night dreaming than primates do. We’re also flexible about when we get those hours of shut-eye.

To tie together the story of how human sleep evolved, Samson laid out what he calls his social-sleep hypothesis in the 2021 Annual Review of Anthropology. He thinks the evolution of human sleep is a story about safety—specifically, safety in numbers. Brief, flexibly timed REM-dense sleep likely evolved because of the threat of predation when humans began sleeping on the ground, Samson says. And he thinks that another key to sleeping safely on land was snoozing in a group.

“We should think of early human camps and bands as like a snail’s shell,” he says. Groups of humans may have shared simple shelters. A fire might have kept people warm and bugs away. Some group members could sleep while others kept watch.

“Within the safety of this social shell, you could come back and catch a nap at any time,” Samson imagines. (He and Yetish differ, however, on the prevalence of naps in today’s nonindustrial groups. Samson reports frequent napping among the Hadza and a population in Madagascar. Yetish says that, based on his own experiences in the field, napping is infrequent.)

11) Brownstein on the counter-majoritarian Supreme Court:

The supreme court has set itself on a collision course with the forces of change in an inexorably diversifying America.

The six Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices have been nominated and confirmed by GOP presidents and senators representing the voters least exposed, and often most hostile, to the demographic and cultural changes remaking 21st-century American life. Now the GOP Court majority is moving at an accelerating pace to impose that coalition’s preferences on issues such as abortion, voting rights, and affirmative action.

On all of these fronts, and others, the Republican justices are siding with what America has been—a mostly white, Christian, and heavily rural nation—over the urbanized, racially and religiously diverse country America is becoming.

The Court seems to be pulling the United States back into a prior era without regard for changing notions and understandings of equity, equality, and fairness,” Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, told me. “It is about almost trying to maintain a 1940s, 1950s view of what the United States is and what its obligations are to its citizens.”

In this backward-facing crusade, the majority may be risking the kind of political explosion that rocked the Court at two pivotal earlier moments in American history, the 1850s and 1930s. In each of those decades, a Supreme Court that also was nominated and confirmed primarily by a political coalition reflecting an earlier majority similarly positioned itself as a bulwark against the preferences of the emerging America. In the 1850s, the Court tried to block the new Republican Party’s agenda to stop the spread of slavery just as the Abraham Lincoln–era GOP was establishing itself as the dominant political force in the free states; in the 1930s, the Court sought to derail newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agenda to manage the economy, regulate business, and expand the social safety net just as his New Deal electoral coalition was beginning decades of electoral dominance.

Though the legal battles of the 1850s, the 1930s, and today turn on different policies and personalities across three different centuries, they ultimately raise the same question: How long will rising generations allow what Roosevelt called the “dead hand” of a Court rooted in an earlier time to block their priorities? …

Immigration tells a similar story. The share of Americans born abroad has been steadily rising toward its highest level since the Melting Pot era at the turn of the 20th century. But Trump in 2020 won only two of the 20 states with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents, according to census figures, and Republicans hold only four of their 40 Senate seats. The GOP tilts toward the places least affected by immigration: Trump won 17 of the 20 states with the lowest share of foreign-born residents, and those same states elected 33 of the 50 GOP senators. Combined, those 20 low-immigration states account for only a little more than one-fifth of the nation’s total population.

The same contrast extends to measures of economic change. Republicans dominate the states with the fewest college graduates but struggle in those with the most, as well as in the states where the highest share of the workforce is employed in science, engineering, and computer occupations, all defining industries of the new knowledge economy. The 22 states with the biggest share of such workers have elected just six Republican senators, while fully 31 of the GOP’s Senate caucus represent the 20 states with the smallest share of such employment, according to census figures. Republicans are much stronger in states that rely on the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: agriculture, energy extraction, and manufacturing.

Centered in these places least affected by all the transitions remaking 21st-century America, what I’ve called the Republican “coalition of restoration” has developed a much more critical view of social and demographic change than the rest of society. In PRRI polling, for instance, although two-thirds of Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances, 70 percent of all other Americans say it should remain legal in all or most cases. While a 55 percent majority of Republicans say small-business owners should be permitted to deny service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, almost three-fourths of everyone else disagrees. And while about three-fourths of Republicans say discrimination against white people is now as big a problem as bias against Black people, more than two-thirds of everyone else rejects that idea.

Yet on these fronts and others, the GOP-appointed Court majority appears ready to tilt the law sharply toward the coalition of restoration’s preferences. Warbelow, of the Human Rights Campaign, said that by declaring its intention to reconsider earlier rulings on abortion, affirmative action, and perhaps other fronts such as public prayer, the GOP majority is inverting the Court’s usual motivation for revisiting precedent. Historically when the Court has done so, she said, “it has been to rectify past wrongs in a way that creates greater rights for all Americans. But the cases that the Court is now considering … are not about expanding rights; they are about restricting rights [and] perpetuating a very narrow view of who should be able to operate fully within the world.”

12) Adam Serwer, “Alito’s Plan to Repeal the 20th Century”

That is the significance of the draft Supreme Court opinion leaked to Politico, which shows that the right-wing majority on the Court intends to discard Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, landmark precedents guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion. The justices can change their minds before judgments are issued, but their opinions are drafted after they’ve taken an initial vote on the cases themselves. The draft likely reflects the direction of the final decision, even if the scope of that decision changes.

The draft, written by Justice Samuel Alito, is sweeping and radical. There is no need to dwell too long on its legal logic; there are no magic words that the authors of prior opinions might have used in their own decisions that could have preserved the right to an abortion in the face of a decisive right-wing majority on the Court. The opinion itself reads like a fancy press release from a particularly loyal member of the GOP Senate caucus. Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification. Alito, like the five other conservative justices, was placed on the Court by the conservative legal movement for the purpose of someday handing down this decision. These justices are doing what they were put there to do.

Alito claims to be sweeping away one of the great unjust Supreme Court precedents, such as Dred Scott v. Sanford, which held that Black people had no rights white men were bound to respect, or Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation. But in truth, Alito is employing the logic of Plessy, allowing the states to violate the individual rights of their residents in any way their legislatures deem “reasonable,” as the opinion in Plessy put it. Homer Plessy’s argument was that the segregation law violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights, and that those rights should not be subject to a popularity contest in every state in the union; what Alito describes as a “restrictive regime” of constitutional protection for abortion rights is the kind of safe harbor Plessy himself sought…

The implications of this ruling are therefore tremendous. Notwithstanding the reality that being a woman does not mean being pro-abortion-rights, all over the world the right to decide when and whether to give birth is tied to the political, social, and economic rights of women as individuals. That right is likely to be severely curtailed or to vanish entirely in at least 26 states if this decision takes effect. If the draft becomes the Court’s decision, however, it would have implications for more than just abortion. In the U.S., the rights of many marginalized groups are tied to the legal precedents established in the fight for abortion rights. This opinion, if adopted, provides a path to nullifying those rights one by one.

“The majority can believe that it’s only eviscerating a right to abortion in this draft,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me, “but the means by which it does so would open the door to similar attacks on other unenumerated rights, both directly, by attacking the underpinnings of those doctrines, and indirectly, by setting a precedent for such an attack.”

13) Leonhardt on American K-12 Education:

Today, I’m going to focus on a positive and mostly overlooked trend in American education. For years, you’ve probably been hearing that our schools are in crisis. And K-12 education in the U.S. certainly has problems. But it has also been improving for much of the past few decades, according to several crucial metrics.

Starting in the late 1990s, the math skills of students in elementary and middle schools began to improve. A few years later, reading skills started improving, too….

[Sorry, NYT graphs don’t copy over well, but they’re good]

Racial gaps in reading skills also shrunk during this period.

As Thomas Kane, a Harvard professor of education and economics, says about the recent educational progress, “It may be the most important social policy success of the last half century that nobody seems to be aware of.” …

There appear to be two main causes.

First, many states began to emphasize school accountability starting in the 1990s. Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas and other states more rigorously measured student learning and pushed struggling schools to adopt approaches that were working elsewhere. The accountability movement went national in the 2000s, through laws signed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The timing of the test-score increases is consistent with this story, as researchers at the Brookings Institution have noted. As you can see in the charts above, the biggest gains came shortly after states began holding schools more accountable for student learning. In more recent years, the gains leveled off. This pattern suggests that schools made some important changes in response to accountability policies but then struggled to maintain the pace of improvement.

A second major cause of increased learning seems to have been school funding: It rose during the 1990s and early 2000s. States with especially sharp increases included Michigan, Nebraska, New York and Vermont, according to Kenneth Shores of the University of Delaware and Christopher Candelaria of Vanderbilt.

Typically, the funding increases were larger for low-income schools than for high-income schools. That may help explain why racial gaps in reading and math skills declined.

“Exposure to higher levels of public K-12 spending when you’re in school has a pretty large beneficial effect on the adult outcomes of kids,” Kirabo Jackson, an economist at Northwestern University, has said. “Those effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families.”

Of course, there are caveats to the recent trends in educational progress. The racial gaps, while smaller, are still large. Reading scores did not rise as much as math scores (perhaps because reading is more heavily influenced by students’ lives outside of school, while math is mostly taught at school). High-school test scores did not rise as much as middle-school or elementary-school scores. And some forms of accountability backfired, leading schools to focus more on test-taking than on actual learning.

14) And Jessica Grose builds off this in her parenting newsletter:

Last month, Florida rejected dozens of math textbooks because, the state found, they “included references to critical race theory” or had “inclusions of Common Core” or “the unsolicited addition of social emotional learning.” The New York Times reporters Dana Goldstein and Stephanie Saul reviewed 21 of the rejected books and said that while “in most of the books, there was little that touched on race,” they did include aspects of S.E.L., which they described as “a practice with roots in psychological research that tries to help students develop mind-sets that can support academic success.”

S.E.L. is the latest front in the educational culture wars, and it’s painted as a kind of gateway drug to critical race theory by its opponents. Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank, told Goldstein and Saul that while S.E.L. seems uncontroversial, “in practice, S.E.L. serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstructionism.”

As a parent, I read this and felt completely exhausted. Partly because I don’t care all that much about whether textbooks explicitly address social and emotional learning. Good teachers, those who care about all of the students in their classes, incorporate these concepts whether they’re spelled out in a textbook. My fourth grader constantly tells me that “practice makes progress,” instead of “practice makes perfect,” because her school is teaching her to keep working at something even if she isn’t great at it right off the bat.

What I care deeply about is whether my kids are learning the math they are supposed to be learning at their grade level. And I find that very little of the recent political battles over what schools are teaching actually focuses on how American students are doing compared with students in other parts of the world. While most of these culture war conversations are kick-started from the right, there are also unpopular ideas from the left that draw backlash, like recommending against accelerated math in middle school and making standardized college entrance exams optional — despite only 14 percent of Americans believing that standardized tests shouldn’t be a factor in college admissions decisions, according to Pew Research…

He said that while we still “stink” compared with similarly developed countries, “we have made huge, huge moves forward in improving the math education of our students.” Decades ago, teachers were trying to cram too many topics into every year of instruction, leading to curriculums that were a “mile wide and an inch deep,” Schmidt told me. In the 1990s, “except for the elite 20 percent, the seventh and eighth grade was still doing arithmetic, when the rest of the world, even the more developing countries, were covering the beginnings of algebra and geometry. We estimated our curriculum was two years behind much of the rest of the world.”

While our curriculum is now more aligned with the rest of the world’s, we haven’t necessarily seen the impact of it. When I asked Schmidt why, he said that it’s probably because of a number of factors, one being that our education system has very little control at the federal level, so it’s tough to know how well any set of standards is being applied more locally. You can see for yourself how well your state is doing on a website, The Nation’s Report Card, which shows how each state ranks on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades.

Educational inequality remains a huge problem for the United States, and for a 2015 study, Schmidt and his co-authors looked at PISA test data from more than 300,000 students in 62 countries. There were only 10 countries where the gap between rich and poor students was greater than in the United States. A surprising — to me — takeaway from the study, published on the Michigan State website:

As the United States continues lagging behind many other countries in math and science, domestic policy often focuses on “good schools” versus “failing schools.” But Schmidt said this approach might be too narrow. The study found that most of the variation in student performance occurs within — and not between — schools.

If we lived in a sane political environment, we would be talking about this finding. We could discuss how we could emulate countries that are “both relatively high performing and equitable,” according to Schmidt’s study, such as Poland, Finland and Estonia. We would be having conversations about states with higher-than-average test scores for all children and try to figure out what they’re doing right and replicate it. But we don’t. As he put it to me, the culture war right now “has nothing to do with whether these kids learn mathematics, and it’s irrelevant and a waste of time.”

15) Juliette Kayyem on Biden and Covid:

The implicit policy, in short, is: You do you.

The coronavirus is here to stay, and Americans vary quite a lot in how much they care about that fact. Biden appears to understand this dynamic far better than his public-health team does. Despite his vows to “follow the science,” he was far ahead of federal regulators in pushing for booster shots last fall—to the point that two top FDA vaccine experts resigned. Some scientists wanted to wait for more data about the benefits of boosters; others argued the U.S. government should concentrate on winning over Americans who had not yet been persuaded to get their first shot. But Biden plunged ahead, having apparently concluded that the benefits of offering more protection to Americans who are deeply concerned about their own chance of contracting the virus or passing it along to others outweighed any downside.

That instinct has not entirely prevailed. The FDA’s needlessly long delays in approving vaccines for children younger than 5 suggest that regulators are misjudging many parents’ mood. Meanwhile, many public-health experts continue to fume over what looks to them—accurately—as the Biden administration’s growing emphasis on accommodating individual preferences rather than promoting collective solutions to the coronavirus.

Yet the reliance on society-wide solutions, including mask mandates, social-distancing rules, and school and business closures, began when options were limited, the consequences of coronavirus infection were severe, and treatments were unavailable. The White House’s implicit policy today reflects the rightsizing of the COVID-19 crisis. The arrival of the coronavirus triggered an unprecedented federal effort to contain its spread and mitigate its effects, economic and otherwise. Now the COVID response is starting to look normal—that is, more consistent with federal responses to past calamities—even if life has not returned to the pre-pandemic status quo…

In my field, we define a crisis as a consequential disruption—such as a hurricane, an earthquake, or an oil spill—that comes as a surprise and requires immediate steps to protect the general public. In most disasters, the United States follows a simple template: Local authorities are the first to arrive; the state coordinates how people and resources are used; the federal government supports those efforts as needed. This reflects our constitutional design. The Tenth Amendment gives the powers not expressly delegated to the federal government—powers that include public safety and public health—to the states, which then delegate many of those to localities. The virus upended this pattern as it swept across the nation, creating our first 50-state disaster.

The kinds of crises that require federal assistance, even if in just one state, also tend to reveal longer-term vulnerabilities, such as economic precarity, racial and ethnic prejudice, and unequal access to health care. Some emergency measures may be helpful in addressing these ills. In my own experience, though, the federal government has always scaled down its disaster response before the underlying conditions are cured. There is a difference between a crisis and a persistent policy problem. Some may argue that the abandonment of broad mask mandates is premature, but “not now” is a hard time frame to maintain as the risk of death wanes for anyone who chooses to be vaccinated.

To treat the crisis phase of the pandemic as complete is not the same as declaring that the country’s battle against COVID is over or that many Americans’ unmet needs are irrelevant. It is to say that many of the persistent systemic problems revealed by the coronavirus can be addressed, if our elected representatives choose, without requiring a declared emergency as a pretext for action…

During the pandemic, a saying emerged: You may be done with the virus, but the virus isn’t done with you. This is a cute turn of phrase, but it sounds dated now. Because the coronavirus may never be done with you, whether you are done with it becomes mostly your call. Will you get a booster—or a second booster? When will you wear a mask? Should you attend a party? You know the risks. You do you.

16) Michelle Goldberg, “The Death of Roe Is Going to Tear America Apart”

Very soon, if the Supreme Court really discards Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision partly upholding it, we will have two wildly different abortion regimes in this country. About half the states are expected to mostly prohibit abortion; according to the Guttmacher Institute, in 11 states there won’t even be exemptions for rape and incest. A bill moving through the Louisiana Legislature would allow prosecutors to charge those having abortions with homicide.

Blue states, meanwhile, are casting themselves as abortion sanctuaries. Oregon lawmakers recently passed a bill to create a $15 million fund to help cover abortion costs, including for those traveling to the state for the procedure. Something similar is in the works in California. Abortion clinics in Illinois, bordered by several states where abortion is likely to be made illegal, are preparing for a huge influx of patients.

The right won’t be content to watch liberal states try to undermine abortion bans. As the draft of a forthcoming article in The Columbia Law Review puts it, “overturning Roe and Casey will create a novel world of complicated, interjurisdictional legal conflicts over abortion. Instead of creating stability and certainty, it will lead to profound confusion because advocates on all sides of the abortion controversy will not stop at state borders in their efforts to apply their policies as broadly as possible.”

Already, a Missouri lawmaker has introduced a measure that would let private citizens sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident get an out-of-state abortion. More such proposals will probably follow. Under a Texas law passed last year, people in other states sending abortion pills through the mail to Texas residents could be extradited to face felony charges, though the authorities in liberal states are unlikely to cooperate.

In anticipation of such legislation, Connecticut just passed a law meant to shield doctors and patients. Among other things, it ensures that no one can be extradited to another state for performing or obtaining an abortion that’s legal in Connecticut, and ensures that people sued under a law like the one proposed in Missouri could countersue to recover their costs.

Experts don’t know how these kinds of interstate battles are going to play out because there’s so little precedent for them. If you’re searching for close parallels, said Ziegler, “you’re looking at fugitive slave cases, because there are not many times in history when states are trying to tell other states what to do in this way.” The point is not that abortion bans are comparable to slavery in a moral sense, but that they create potentially irreconcilable legal frameworks.

17) And this is a cool, fun, interactive website about a study on randomness.  Worth your time.

What should matter in college admissions

I was going to do a post against the college admissions essay based on this really nice piece in Persuasion by Jeff Maurer.  So I’ll start there:

But you don’t have to love the SAT to feel that the absolute last thing we should do if we care about fairness is to increase the relative importance of the college application essay. College essays make Tinder profiles look like sworn court testimony from Lincoln himself. Every alleged problem with the SAT—that it’s arbitrary, that it privileges kids with resources, that it can be gamed—is magnified by a factor of ten in the essay. And, as colleges move away from requiring the SAT, we should consider whether it’s wise to give more weight to an application component that makes about as much sense as having a swimsuit round for federal judgeships. 

Let’s start here: It’s not fair for us to ask teenagers to describe their personalities. Teenagers are endearing but ridiculous people who can barely heat up a cup of ramen noodles and whose brains won’t be fully formed for two more presidential terms. Any teenager who is asked to describe themselves and doesn’t say, “I am scared and confused and my hormones have sort of turned me into a werewolf,” is lying…

There’s so much room for dissemblance and gamesmanship in college essays that a student who has faced legitimate hardship is probably no more able to communicate it through an essay than a student who hasn’t. One recent study looked at 60,000 undergraduate admissions essays and found that students who wrote about discrimination or stereotypes came from families with an average income of $104,000. They also found that highly-rated essays have a stronger correlation to household income than SAT scores do. College essays are sometimes portrayed as the element that helps admissions officers really know the applicant, but can you really get to know someone in 400-600 words? Or can you only get to know how good they are at bullshitting for 400-600 words? …

College essays are arbitrary—exactly what’s being measured or why is unclear. They’re gameable—much like a pinewood derby car, many of the best ones are made by parents. They seem to benefit the wealthy—not every family can shell out big money to punch up an essay through a concerted program of expert tutelage and not-so-subtle negging. Say what you will about the SAT: The kid has to actually fill in the bubbles. They can’t take the test home and get help from Mom, Dad, teachers, the internet, and a gaggle of advisors that would seem excessive for a medieval child monarch.  

In their zeal to discredit and discard the SAT, people have increased the importance of what is perhaps the worst measure in the application packet. It’s hard to see how elevating the essay does anything but punish students who lack resources. The SAT’s opponents are right to seek out ways to measure aptitude instead of affluence, but by removing a measure that’s objective but flawed, they’ve ended up promoting a measure that’s objectively a farce.

But, before I got the chance to just work off that, Pew came out with a really interesting survey on what Americans think should matter in college admissions. The key chart:

A bar chart showing that Americans see grades and standardized test scores as top factors to be considered in college admissions

And, a racial breakdown:

A bar chart showing that Black, Hispanic and Asian American adults are more likely than White adults to say race or ethnicity, legacy, or first-generation status should be factors in college admissions

I teach at a college, of course.  What do I think?  Until I can see something that makes a compelling case for it, put me down as a hell no on the college essay. But, as I’ve written about before, I do think test scores are valuable.  And, based on what I’ve seen, it’s a real leg-up to not be a first-generation college student and I think this is an area where we really should work hard to further the potential intergenerational mobility that comes with a college degree.  But, legacies can go by the wayside.  And I really do wonder if anybody has every systematically studies the role of community service.  Many kids lower down the economic ladder balance school with jobs and significant family responsibilities while many upper-middle class kids are just doing community service because they know colleges expect them to and not from any meaningful commitment.  Oh, and race?  Yeah, I think it does matter and diverse campuses really matter.  But, I do think it should be done in conjunction with first-generation status and socio-economic status to really be the most meaningful.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) So much good stuff in this Noah Smith interview with a futurist:

So oil is where Putin makes his money. Russia makes about three times as much money from sales of oi and oil products as it does from the sale of natural gas.  Why is natural gas interesting?

Because natural gas (methane) keeps the lights on. And because it’s a regionally traded commodity.  You see, oil is a global commodity. Oil is moved extensively in tanker ships around the world. Europe could stop buying Russian oil and buy oil (or refined oil products, like gasoline or diesel) from somebody else. There’s differences, but in general it’s a pretty fungible market.

Natural gas is different.  The world has relatively little shipping capacity. To move gas over oceans you have to chill it to -160 degrees C, and turn it into a liquid. That’s doable. But it’s relatively expensive. And so most gas is moved by pipeline. That means that if the gas link between Europe and Russia were shut down for any reason – political, economic, or physical – that you have a much harder time replacing that supply.

Now, this natural gas doesn’t really make all that much money for Putin. I mean, it’s on the order of $80B / year (before this crisis), which is a third of the amount Putin makes from oil. Yet gas is actually more important in terms of his leverage over Europe.  That’s because of the problems shipping gas around that I mention above, and also because gas is used to keep the lights on and houses warm.

If you look at where Europe uses methane gas, one third of it goes to buildings. That means building heat. Literally keeping your home or office warm.  Another third is “heat and power” – that’s electricity. That’s keeping the lights on.  Another third is “industry”. And that’s a mix of using natural gas to make ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizer, which massively affects crop yields and thus food prices, and other industrial uses such as refineries, making plastics, and so on.  You can see this breakdown in this chart from Eurostat:

The combination of natural gas’s greater difficulty of transportation vs oil, along with its mission critical role in keeping buildings warm, the lights on, and making fertilizer to apply to fields, means that, even though it earns Putin less money than oil, it’s incredible leverage that he has over Europe.  

Gas is where he has Europe over a barrel. Or where he thinks he does. And reducing or eliminating the need for Russian natural gas is going to be and incredible driver of innovation…

N.S.: Of course we should be doing the same thing in the U.S., right? How good was the Build Back Better bill, and how much does that bill’s death set back U.S. and global decarbonization efforts? Is this a minor setback or a catastrophe?

R.N.: We absolutely should be passing more policy in the US. The energy provisions of the Build Back Better bill are fantastic. They’re not a panacea, but they would amount to the most substantial federal legislation advancing clean energy of all time. The provisions advance clean electricity, electric vehicles, expansion of the power grid, new technologies like green hydrogen, and even carbon capture and direct air capture. Multiple analysis found that BBB would have gone a long way towards the US hitting its Paris commitments and more. And it would most likely lead to lower energy prices for American consumers, as solar and wind are just plain cheaper than coal and gas, and electric vehicles are increasingly becoming cheaper than gas-guzzlers (especially when you include the cost of fuel and maintenance).

Unfortunately, Build Back Better appears to be dead. By which I mean that the omnibus bill is likely dead. Manchin has actually said that he would be open to an energy-only BBB bill, with some initiatives in it to increase US fossil fuel production as well. The theory is that increasing US fossil fuel production would help increase US resilience to oil price shocks. In reality, that doesn’t do much, and the private sector has all the approvals it needs to drill a whole lot more for oil and gas. Renewables and EVs really do much more for energy security. Even so, I’d take such a deal with Manchin. Deploying more renewables makes them cheaper. Deploying more electric cars and trucks makes them cheaper. Scaling green hydrogen technology makes green hydrogen cheaper. The same just isn’t true of fossil fuels. It’s a battle of technology’s always-improving economics on one side, vs a “resource” play that has supply / demand dynamics that cause prices to fluctuate, sometimes wildly, on the other side. Technology will always win. Subsidize both of them equally, and the tech side will gain more.

Alas, Sinema has thrown cold water on such a deal…

The other policy we don’t talk about nearly enough, that’s even more under-rated, is getting out of the way of building things. In the US, a host of regulations empower NIMBY activists, land owners, and conservatives who just don’t like clean energy to block the development of solar and wind. Even worse policies make it practically impossible to build new electricity transmission in the US. And long-range, coast-to-coast power transmission is actually one of the cheapest ways to increase how much solar and wind we can use on the grid, to increase grid reliability across the country, and to lower the cost of energy. But bad regulation at the federal, state, and local level makes it hard to build. We have to fix that. The Left has to own up to this and fix it. This is a complete moral failing on the left, in my opinion. You want more clean energy? Fix NEPA.  Get rid of the Jones Act so we can actually build offshore wind in the US. And Congress has to reform permitting of transmission lines to make it at least as easy to build a transmission line as it is to build an oil or gas pipeline. It’s hilarious that today it’s much much much easier to build a dirty, polluting natural gas or oil pipeline in the US than it is to build an electricity transmission line to carry clean electricity. And fixing that requires action at the Federal level. And it also requires defeating lefty NIMBYs at the state and local level. You want progress? Get out of the way…

N.S.: Is it possible to be any more specific at this point? Do you have a short list of technologies that are in the more nascent, research-intensive stage? 

R.N.: I don’t want to be too prescriptive on the “how” of the technologies. But in terms of the goals, yes. Here are some of the biggest unsolved climate problems:

  • Ultra-long duration storage – economically storing weeks of electricity.

  • Cheap clean industrial heat & industrial processes – making steel, cement, plastics, and chemicals without carbon emissions, at a price similar to or cheaper than how it’s done today with coal or natural gas.

  • Clean “firm” energy resources – Next generation energy resources that can produce 24/7/365, anywhere on earth, in a compact footprint, including next generation advanced geothermal, advanced nuclear fission (thought that already gets the most funding of any energy technology), and energy fusion.

  • Decarbonizing aviation and shipping – Super high energy density batteries, or more likely, clean “electrofuels” made from solar and wind, at the same price or cheaper than jet fuel or bunker fuel are today.

  • Decarbonizing building heat – Can we make heating a building with clean electricity, including the installation and retrofit, as cheap as it is to burn natural gas.

  • Decarbonizing agriculture and ending deforestation – This is a big one. A quarter of the world’s emissions come from agriculture forestry and land use – AFOLU in the IPCC’s lingo. That comes form deforestation which is mostly caused by using land to grow livestock or biofuels. And it comes from fertilizer applied to the fields, which decomposes into nasty stuff like N2O and NOX that are potent greenhouse gasses. And then the animals themselves, especially cows, burp up methane. Each of those could use billions and billions each year in R&D funding.

  • Stabilizing fragile ecosystems – Even at 1.5 degrees C of warming (which we’re going to exceed) you’re going to see a lot more forest fires, and we could see a nearly complete loss of shallow water coral reefs. What can we do to intervene to make these ecosystems more resilient? Can we plant trees that don’t burn so easily? Grasses that sequester more moisture or carbon in the soils? Can we engineer corals that can survive higher temperatures and acidity? Or can we improve coral reef microbiomes to make them more resilient? Can we create robots or other ways of replanting corals that don’t require expensive, non-scalable human divers.

  • Direct climate system interventionsGeo-engineering. Most controversially, I will say that our biggest single climate policy miss, by far, is that we are doing essentially zero to advance the state of science of intervening in the climate system. I’m talking about a range of things here, from cloud brightening, to stabilizing glaciers that are melting, or somehow intervening in methane release from a thawing arctic, and all the way up to solar radiation management geo-engineering. Everyone seems to hate this idea. But I have news for you. We are not going to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. It is just not going to happen. We have missed that boat. We might stay below 2 degrees Celsius if we get our act together and deploy the technologies we have ready or have in the pipeline. We have a really great shot at staying below 2.5 or 3 degrees C. And we could even pull it in to below 2, I believe. But we’ve just plain missed 1.5 degrees Celsius. I want people to get that in their heads. There is no plausible scenario in which the world decarbonizes fast enough to hit that goal. Unless… Unless you reflect a tiny bit of the sun’s energy back into space. You’d probably do it by spraying aerosols into the stratosphere. It looks like it would be really cheap. People are terrified of the idea. But in part they’re terrified because we don’t understand the side effects. Actually, we might understand them better than people think. But okay. If that’s a problem, let’s do some very small scale experiments. And let’s fund 100x as much modeling of this as we have today. Let’s get serious about understanding how geo-engineering would work. Let’s have it ready as an option. It’s far better to have these tools available and not use them, then to find out that we’re up against a wall, that some climate tipping point is going much faster than we expected, and that we don’t have the tools that could help save us. So I will plant my flag here. Today, the world spends roughly single digit millions of dollars a year on geo-engineering research. Does that sound like a lot? It’s not. We spent more than $60 billion. Billion with a B. On venture capital investments into clean energy last year. In 2022 we’re going to spend probably a TRILLION dollars deploying solar, wind, batteries, and electric vehicles.  That’s awesome.  But it’s not enough. Let’s spend an addition, say, 1/1000th of that amount, or $1 Billion / year, on researching solar radiation management geo-engineering and other direct climate interventions. That would increase research in the area by roughly a factor of 100, which is about right.

2) Lots of people talking about this Vanity Fair piece about the “new right” funded by Peter Thiel.  I didn’t actually read it closely, but tell me if I should. 

3) The case for new houses (my house was built in 1985, for what it’s worth):

And despite what old-home snobs may believe, new housing is also just plain nice to live in—in many ways an objective improvement on what came before.

Noise is now appropriately recognized as one of the biggest quality-of-life issues in cities. As I write this in the living room of my 1958 Los Angeles dingbat, I can hear the neighbor on my right shouting over the phone and the neighbor on my left enjoying reggaeton at maximum volume. The distant hum of the 405 is forever in the background. Back when I lived in a mid-2000s apartment building in D.C.—a relatively old building in our pro-growth capital—I had no such distractions. Double-paned windows kept out virtually all street noise, even on a busy downtown intersection, while fiberglass insulation kept neighbors from bothering one another. I wasn’t even certain that I had neighbors until we bumped into each other several months after I moved in.

Modern homes and apartment buildings are not only far better insulated—they also feature modern HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) technologies, such that homes can be warmed and cooled without using nearly as much energy as their older counterparts. Given that heating and cooling account for nearly half of all household energy use in the U.S., the savings from new housing could have serious implications for climate change. That little space heater struggling to keep your drafty old apartment warm—to say nothing of your window AC unit—isn’t just unsightly. It’s also a climate failure.

In smaller ways, too, new construction is nicer. Bathrooms and closets are larger, as are kitchens, which are no longer walled off from the rest of the home. Modern windows let you bathe a unit in natural light, without temperature or noise concerns. Smaller unit sizes—think studios and one-bedrooms—better reflect shrinking households. And in-unit laundry is more common now, as are balconies—amenities that have only grown in value amid recurring COVID-related shutdowns.

For comparison’s sake, consider the Japanese approach. The average Japanese home is demolished 30 years after construction, the realistic life span of a typical cheaply built structure. The Japanese have virtually no “used home” market: Fully 87 percent of Japanese home sales are new, compared with 11 to 34 percent in the West. As a result, most Japanese households enjoy a new house or apartment with all the modern amenities and design innovation that entails, including ever-improving earthquake standards. And this steady supply of new housing has helped make Tokyo one of the most affordable cities in the world, despite a growing population.

All that construction consumes a fair share of resources, and housing in Japan doesn’t double as an investment vehicle. But I, for one, would take that trade-off.

4) Jerusalem Demsas on what’s behind the current moment for student loan forgiveness.  A number of theories, but I think it’s mostly this:

Reason five: The power of college graduates

According to Catalist data, roughly 43 percent of the 2020 Biden electorate graduated from a four-year college or university. Compare that with 2012, when, according to Pew, just 36 percent of registered Democrats had completed a four-year degree or more. Given that trend, student-loan forgiveness may seem like the classic tale of a political party transferring a valuable benefit to a crucial constituency.

Although college-educated voters are an important segment of the Democratic Party, no one identity group is completely dominant. The party has long been a coalitional organization stitched together loosely and lacking a clear ideological core. Daniel Schlozman, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, explained a coalitional shift within the party in recent years. “Democrats are becoming more consistently liberal in a variety of ways, and they’re becoming more upper-middle-class all at once,” he told me. “And that creates some awkwardness.”

Awkward indeed that so much energy has been spent on a policy proposal that would affect just 13 percent of the population, and that would send the most dollars to high-income earners and those with graduate degrees. The fervor with which student-loan advocates argue that these policies are in fact racially and economically progressive may be an attempt to resolve the awkwardness that Schlozman describes—advocates of debt cancellation are trying to build a coherent narrative for why a diverse coalition, many of whom have never attended college, should be in favor of forgiveness.

College-educated voters are not just dominant within the Democratic Party; they also dominate the media and, naturally, academia—two institutions that have significant power over what issues are brought to the fore. Importantly, academia and media have also become notoriously unstable work environments lacking sufficiently well-paying jobs. The demographics and precarity of these fields are likely playing a role in the prominence of the student-loan-forgiveness debate.

There are many good proposals for how to forgive student debt, particularly targeted programs aimed at helping those who attended predatory institutions or those who never received a degree and thus missed out on the higher earning potential that comes with it. But the issue’s prominence in our discourse has less to do with its merits than the changing political landscape that has stymied legislative efforts and given college graduates agenda-setting power.

5) Really, really good interview with Yashca Mounk on his new book about multiethnic democracy:

Gupta: Let’s discuss the ideal scenario. We talked a little bit about it in terms of the group dynamics we want to encourage. What changes would you make to American society and politics to make that a reality? 

Mounk: I actually think the most important reason why I’m optimistic about the future is not that I’ve come up with a great solution, and I’m going to tell you what that solution is, and then if only you will listen to me, we can right the ship—I think a lot of books have that kind of structure and it’s never very convincing. The reason why I’m optimistic is that when I look at Twitter, I despair. When I look at a lot of newspapers, I despair. When I look at the cable news shows, I definitely despair. But when I look at what’s actually going on in society, I don’t despair. America has become much more tolerant in the last decades. We have really rapid socioeconomic progress of minority and immigrant groups, in a way that’s rarely appreciated by either the left or the right. The best study suggests that immigrants from Central or South America, for example, are rising up the socio-economic ranks as rapidly as Irish and Italian Americans did a century ago. This shows that the far-right is wrong in believing that there’s something somehow inferior about them. But it also shows that parts of the left are wrong in thinking that our countries are so racist and so discriminatory that nonwhite people don’t have opportunity. Thankfully, actually, people have opportunity. We see that in the way in which their children or grandchildren in particular are rising up very rapidly. Now, there are also all kinds of sensible things we can do in terms of how we think about our country, the education we engage in, the kind of patriotism we embrace, the kinds of policies and acts of Congress that we should pass—and that’s important, too. But fundamentally, my optimism comes from the developments that I already see happening in society.

6) Jane Coaston on don’t say gay legislation:

I didn’t come out as bisexual when I was a kid. I grew up in Ohio in the ’90s and attended Catholic school. The message I received was that women who weren’t feminine by traditional standards were vaguely suspicious. So I was clearly in big trouble, and bisexuality seemed like something I’d only get to achieve if I could somehow make it to a safer place.

If I had learned at some point when I was young that being L.G.B.T.Q. was a normal way to be a human being — not a sign that I was evil and disgusting or, even worse to a chubby girl in junior high, ugly — I could have avoided so much anguish and time spent trying to “fix” myself on evangelical Christian message boards.

So to me, bills like Florida’s HB 1557, which bars “instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, are vague at absolute best and extraordinarily dangerous at worst, aimed at solving a “problem” that I do not think exists.

This week, for “The Argument,” I was grateful to have had a chance to discuss the Florida bill, along with similar legislation, with Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg, columnists for Times Opinion.

As Ross recently wrote, some of these bills have been put forward by people who see the growing number of L.G.T.B.Q. Americans as a bad thing. The share of younger Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender has risen over the last decade, including 21 percent of those born between 1997 and 2003. Ross wrote in his column that the reactions to these numbers can be sorted into three groups: “this is great news,” “we shouldn’t read too much into it,” and “this trend is bad news.”

 

I can be found resting happily somewhere in between the first two groups. That more people are L.G.B.T.Q. seems like what would logically happen in a society that is more affirming of being L.G.B.T.Q.

But having read a great deal by social conservatives about the new bills, it seems to me that these writers believe that there are simply too many L.G.B.T.Q. kids — “far in excess of what can be explained by more people coming out as stigma declines” — and that this must be the fault of teachers “grooming” them or a media environment that’s too permissive. Because otherwise, those kids would be, as conservative writer Rod Dreher might put it, normal.

I would love to know the degree to which LGBT-identifying young adults in other western Democracies mirrors the rise here in the U.S. or is different and I’ve not been able to find that.  I’d love to know the percentage in France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, etc.

7) Singal and Chait both pushing back against a common leftist trope on twitter, but Chait I can link and quote:

8) This seems not great, “Fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than they used to be”

As you gaze across the rows of brightly colored fruits and vegetables in the produce section of the grocery store, you may not be aware that the quantity of nutrients in these crops has been declining over the past 70 years.

Mounting evidence from multiple scientific studies shows that many fruits, vegetables, and grains grown today carry less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C than those that were grown decades ago. This is an especially salient issue if more people switch to primarily plant-based diets, as experts are increasingly recommending for public health and for protecting the planet.

Nutrient decline “is going to leave our bodies with fewer of the components they need to mount defenses against chronic diseases—it’s going to undercut the value of food as preventive medicine,” says David R. Montgomery, a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington in Seattle and co-author with Anne Biklé of What Your Food Ate.

Even for people who avoid processed foods and prioritize fresh produce, this trend means that “what our grandparents ate was healthier than what we’re eating today,” says Kristie Ebi, an expert in climate change and health at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Scientists say that the root of the problem lies in modern agricultural processes that increase crop yields but disturb soil health. These include irrigation, fertilization, and harvesting methods that also disrupt essential interactions between plants and soil fungi, which reduces absorption of nutrients from the soil. These issues are occurring against the backdrop of climate change and rising levels of carbon dioxide, which are also lowering the nutrient contents of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Experts say it’s important to keep these declines in perspective and not let this news deter you from eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to maintain your health. But they hope the results will spur more people to care about how their food is being grown.

9) This is definitely not great, “Covid vaccine concerns are starting to spill over into routine immunizations”

Kids aren’t getting caught up on routine shots they missed during the pandemic, and many vaccination proponents are pointing to Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy as a big reason why.

Public health experts, pediatricians, school nurses, immunization advocates and state officials in 10 states told POLITICO they are worried that an increasing number of families are projecting their attitudes toward the Covid-19 vaccine onto shots for measles, chickenpox, meningitis and other diseases.

That spillover of vaccine hesitancy may also be fueling an uptick in religious exemption requests from parents of school-aged children and is making it more difficult for states to catch up with children who missed immunizations during the pandemic’s early days when families skipped doctor’s appointments, they say.

That has pediatricians, school nurses and public health experts worried that preventable and possibly fatal childhood illnesses, once thought to be a thing of the past, could become more common.

“We just want to keep measles, polio, and all the things we vaccinate against out of the political arena,” said Hugo Scornik, a pediatrician and president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

He was alarmed by the introduction of several bills in the state legislature in the last year to limit vaccinations, including one that would have ended immunization requirements in schools. Several states considered similar pieces of legislation that would have either removed or whittled away at school vaccination requirements, though none moved forward.

10) NPR, “The education culture war is raging. But for most parents, it’s background noise”

Math textbooks axed for their treatment of race; a viral Twitter account directing ire at LGBTQ teachers; a state law forbidding classroom discussion of sexual identity in younger grades; a board book for babies targeted as “pornographic.” Lately it seems there’s a new controversy erupting every day over how race, gender or history are tackled in public school classrooms.

But for most parents, these concerns seem to be far from top of mind. That’s according to a new national poll by NPR and Ipsos. By wide margins – and regardless of their political affiliation – parents express satisfaction with their children’s schools and what is being taught in them.

11) I like this from Drum.  I want to actually look at the data on this some myself:

Why don’t Americans trust experts anymore? Sean Illing interviewed Michael Lewis about this recently, but they somehow managed to miss the obvious. Here are three charts from the GSS survey:

There are blip and bloops, but around 1990 Republican trust in experts started a steady downward trend compared to Democrats. Republican distrust of the press is a long-told story. Distrust in medicine, which far predates COVID-19, likely has something to do with abortion, treatment of addiction as a disease, and perhaps increasing physician support of national health care. And distrust of the scientific community is pretty obviously because the scientific community keeps producing inconvenient conclusions.

I’m not claiming this is the whole story. But overall, distrust of experts is a Republican-driven phenomenon. You’re missing a lot if you don’t acknowledge that.

 

12) Ian Milhiser on the latest school prayer case, “The justices may take a big bite out of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, or they might take a simply enormous bite out of it.”

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, briefly explained

Kennedy involves Joseph Kennedy, a former public school football coach in Bremerton, Washington, who for many years would lead post-game prayer sessions for his players and for players on the opposing team. After his school district ordered him to discontinue these sessions, he largely did so, but he still insisted upon going to the 50-yard line after games and visibly praying in front of his players and the gathered spectators.

Kennedy also went on a nationwide media tour — at one point, Good Morning America did a segment on him — promoting his desire to tout his faith while he was coaching his students. This led many of Kennedy’s supporters to become disruptive during games. After one game, for example, so many people stormed the field to support Kennedy that a federal appeals court described it as a “stampede.” The district itself complained that this rush of people knocked over members of the school’s marching band, and that it was unable “to keep kids safe.”

Meanwhile, at least one parent complained to the school that his son “felt compelled to participate” in Kennedy’s prayers, despite the fact that he is an atheist, because the student feared “he wouldn’t get to play as much if he didn’t participate.”

Eventually, the school placed Kennedy on leave, after he rebuffed the school’s attempt to reach an accommodation that would allow Kennedy to pray without disrupting games or pressuring students into unwanted religious acts.

Under existing law, this should not be a difficult case. The Supreme Court suggested in Lee v. Weisman (1992) that public school-sponsored religious activity is inherently coercive, both because of the authority school officials wield over students, and because students who stand out are likely to face peer pressure to fall in line. Such pressure, the Court said in Lee, may be “subtle and indirect” but it also “can be as real as any overt compulsion,” as it leaves a young nonadherent with “a reasonable perception that she is being forced by the State to pray in a manner her conscience will not allow.”

But the Court’s 6-3 Republican majority has been quite clear about its eagerness to overrule longstanding religion cases. One of the new majority’s very first actions after Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation gave Republicans a supermajority on the Court, for example, was to give churches and other places of worship a new right to defy public health orders during the Covid-19 pandemic.

13) I thought I’d give David French an open-minded read with his contention that the coach “should be allowed to pray.”  But the fact that French completely elides the key fact of the coach’s coercive power over his players made me even more firm in my opinions on this one. 

14) I think I missed this from Jeffrey Sachs in 2020, “No, Professors Are Not Brainwashing Their Students”

So What Does College Do?

It wasn’t always this way. Data from the 1940s to 1970s show that there used to be a strong relationship between college attendance and political liberalism. But the link has been weakening for decades, probably because of hardening political attitudes among freshmen. High schoolers also have a much wider range of colleges and universities to choose from, making it easier to find an institution that matches their pre-existing beliefs.

But none of this means higher education has no political effect. College graduates are more likely to be politically active than their non-graduate peers, especially if they major in the social sciences. They also tend to be more politically knowledgeable, as shown in a recent study of identical twins. And while college seems to have little impact on whether a student is liberal or conservative, a number of studies find that it does make them more supportive of civil liberties and gender egalitarianism, though not less religious.

However, even these changes are more likely due to the influence of peers (i.e., other students) than faculty. Indeed, one of the best predictors of whether a student’s political views will change in university is their degree of social embeddedness. The more involved a student is in campus clubs, Greek life, or athletics, the more likely he or she will adopt their peers’ political views. Students want to fit in, and that pressure affects their politics. But it’s not the approval of their faculty they crave. It’s their classmates.

Thus, while college graduates do tend to be more liberal than non-graduates, it is unlikely that college itself is responsible. On the contrary, someone who enters college a conservative will almost certainly leave as one. The same happens with liberals.

Some changes take place, especially in terms of general political knowledge, activism, and attitudes toward gender equality and civil rights. But anything beyond this is more likely due to socialization and peer pressure. Faculty have very little to do with it.

15) Love this from Pamela Paul, “The Limits of ‘Lived Experience’”

Did Dana Schutz, a white artist, have the right to paint Emmett Till? Was it fair that a white historian, David Blight, won a Pulitzer for his biography of Frederick Douglass? Should Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner be the ones to update “West Side Story,” a musical conceived by four Jewish men but fundamentally about Puerto Rican lives?

Let’s make it personal: Am I, as a new columnist for The Times, allowed to weigh in on anything other than a narrow sliver of Gen X white woman concerns?

Not according to many of those who wish to regulate our culture — docents of academia, school curriculum dictators, aspiring Gen Z storytellers and, increasingly, establishment gatekeepers in Hollywood, book publishing and the arts. It’s the ultimate litmus test: Only those whose “lived experience” matches the story are qualified to tell the tale.

So what is this vaunted “lived experience”? You may recognize it by its longstanding name, “personal experience,” or less excitingly, “experience.” But “lived experience,” with its earthy suggestion of authority, says to other people: Unless you have walked in my shoes, you have no business telling my story.

Here’s the argument: The dominant culture (white, male, Western, straight) has been dictating the terms for decades, effectively silencing or “erasing” the authentic identities and voices of the people whose stories are being told. The time has come to “center” these other voices.

In practice and across the arts, this means that only those people who have directly experienced discrimination or oppression, for example, or who in some way embody that experience should be allowed to portray characters, create stories or drive programming about it. They’re the ones who can truly interpret those tales accurately. The goal is greater share of the narrative and greater stake in any profits.

It’s essentially a turf war. Only Latino authors can write novels about Latinos. Only Holocaust survivors can convey the truth of the Holocaust. Only disabled people can portray disabled people. Everyone else is out.

16) Fascinating in Smithsonian, “How Yellow Fever Intensified Racial Inequality in 19th-Century New Orleans: A new book explores how immunity to the disease created opportunities for white, but not Black, people”

17) I’m really intrigued by Katherine Harden’s work on genetics and I love Thomas Frank’s Success and Luck, so I quite enjoyed Frank’s review of Harden’s book:

That things like eye color, body mass, and longevity are heritable was known millennia before anyone even knew what genes were. Studies documenting the heritability of sexual orientation, academic achievement, schizophrenia, and political beliefs are relatively recent. As Kathryn Paige Harden notes in The Genetic Lottery, many social scientists are more comfortable acknowledging some of these linkages than others. Although it is uncontroversial to note that speech pathologies are heritable, for example, few seem comfortable discussing evidence suggesting that the same is true of a propensity to homelessness.

There’s an obvious explanation for this asymmetry. “For over 150 years,” Harden writes, “the science of human heredity has been used to advance racist and classist ideologies, with horrific consequences for people classified as ‘inferior’” (p. 12). A behavioral geneticist on the psychology faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, she is quick to disassociate herself from Social Darwinists and their ilk. An unapologetic egalitarian in the Rawlsian tradition, she argues that our efforts to construct a more just society will be more likely to succeed if we ground them on our best understanding of the forces that spawn existing social structures. She presents compelling evidence that genetic variation is one of the most important of those forces.

Income and wealth inequality clearly result in part from traits we inherit. Some of the relevant causal pathways have long been evident, as in studies linking earnings to IQ and good health, both of which are strongly heritable. Heritable traits like height and physical attractiveness are also associated with higher earnings. But Harden also describes new evidence linking genetic variation to less easily measured traits, such as openness to experience, ability to defer gratification, and grit—the ability to persist in the face of adversity. These traits also strongly influence someone’s ability to succeed in the labor market.

Studies showing that heredity’s role in economic success is far greater than many realized pose no challenge to the egalitarian position. On the contrary, Harden argues, they actually bolster it. Successful people have long been quick to attribute their accomplishments to talent and hard work alone. (As E. B. White memorably wrote, “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.”) But where do talent and the inclination to work hard come from? Scientists could once say only that they result from a poorly understood mix of genetic and environmental forces. The forces themselves remain poorly understood. But as Harden’s narrative makes clear, revolutionary advances in gene sequencing have shown that the genetic components of these forces are far more important than once believed…

Even without reference to genetic variations, it has long been beyond question that events over which individuals have no control have enormous influence on important life outcomes. For example, roughly half of the variance in incomes across persons worldwide is explained by country of residence and the income distribution within that country. Even within a country, children are far more likely to flourish in some family environments than in others. Chance events also matter in a variety of less conspicuous ways—as when Bryan Cranston, who had never before acted in a leading dramatic role, was cast as Walter White in Breaking Bad only after Matthew Broderick and John Cusack first turned the role down.

To all that, we now add Harden’s evidence that the genetic lottery is even more influential than we knew. In the face of this evidence, it is difficult to deny that success in life is almost entirely a matter of luck.

But to acknowledge the importance of chance events is not to deny the importance of traditional determinants of success. Most successful people are of course both talented and hardworking, as they are quick to remind us. When they try to explain their success to themselves and others, they easily retrieve examples from memory in which they came to work early and stayed late, solved difficult problems, bested formidable rivals, and so on. It is thus perfectly natural that many might feel offended when their success is attributed, even in small measure, to luck.

But even though talent and an inclination to work hard result from genetic and environmental forces over which we have little control, it may be disadvantageous to think in those terms. Working hard is, well, hard. To persist in the face of difficult challenges often means having to dig deep, to resist powerful impulses to quit. Imagine two people who have managed to persist under trying circumstances. One thinks to herself, “How lucky I was to draw the DNA card for persistence in the genetic lottery.” Her rival instead basks in pride for having summoned the will to persist. If you agree that the rival will be more likely to persevere when the next difficult challenge arises, you understand why few parents encourage their children to view being inclined to work hard as luck. It is luck, of course. But from the individual perspective, it may be disadvantageous to view it that way.

That same caveat doesn’t apply in the domain of public policy, where steps to reduce luck’s contribution to inequality promise benefits for all.

18) Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel” special was honestly like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I highly recommend it.  Also, I find most stand-up comics just not all that funny.  Carmichael, though, actually makes me laugh.

19) Meanwhile, hard to think of a show with a bigger drop off in quality than Russian Doll season 2.  They really should’ve stopped after season 1.  After falling asleep during each of the first 3 episodes of season 2, I called it quits. 

20) Such a sad story, “Millions of Bees Bound for Alaska Are Rerouted and Die in Atlanta
A shipment of five million honeybees was diverted to Atlanta and left out on a hot tarmac. Local beekeepers tried to come to the rescue, but very few survived.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Fun list of 50 best romantic comedies.  Definitely the right call that “When Harry met Sally” takes the top spot.

2) The human brain. Damn, “She Was Missing a Chunk of Her Brain. It Didn’t Matter”

EG, who has requested to go by her initials to protect her privacy, is missing her left temporal lobe, a part of the brain thought to be involved in language processing. EG, however, wasn’t quite the right fit for what the scientists were studying, so they referred her to Evelina Fedorenko, a cognitive neuroscientist, also at MIT, who studies language. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship. The first paper based on EG’s brain was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia, and Fedorenko’s team expects to publish several more.

For EG, who is in her fifties and grew up in Connecticut, missing a large chunk of her brain has had surprisingly little effect on her life. She has a graduate degree, has enjoyed an impressive career, and speaks Russian—a second language–so well that she has dreamed in it. She first learned her brain was atypical in the autumn of 1987, at George Washington University Hospital, when she had it scanned for an unrelated reason. The cause was likely a stroke that happened when she was a baby; today, there is only cerebro-spinal fluid in that brain area. For the first decade after she found out, EG didn’t tell anyone other than her parents and her two closest friends. “It creeped me out,” she says. Since then, she has told more people, but it’s still a very small circle this is aware of her unique brain anatomy.

Over the years, she says, doctors have repeatedly told EG that her brain doesn’t make sense. One doctor told her she should have seizures, or that she shouldn’t have a good vocabulary—and “he was annoyed that I did,” she says. (As part of the study at MIT, EG tested in the 98th percentile for vocabulary.) The experiences were frustrating; they “pissed me off,” as EG puts it. “They made so many pronouncements and conclusions without any investigation whatsoever,” she says…

Remarkably, EG’s sister is missing her right temporal lobe and is largely unaffected by it, suggesting there’s likely some genetic component to the early childhood strokes that can explain the missing brain regions, Fedorenko says. Next up, the team wants to use both EG and her sister—who has also volunteered to be studied—to try to understand how social and emotional processing takes place predominantly in the right hemisphere. In fact, the whole family is getting involved. A third sibling and EG’s father have also had their brains scanned, although it turns out they each have two intact temporal lobes—or a “boring brain,” as EG dubs it. A fourth sibling will be scanned in the near future. For a long time, it had never occurred to EG that anybody would want to study her, so she is just glad that the neuroscience field has been able to learn something from her brain. “And I hope that it will also take some stigma away from atypical brains,” she says.

3) I’m a huge fan of reading aloud.  Alas, my kids are mostly done with it, but it’s definitely one of the joys of parenthood:

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book into powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. In The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of DistractionMeghan Cox Gurdon discusses the scientific benefits – and joys – of reading aloud. This month, we were lucky enough to talk to Meghan about the importance of reading aloud, something that is a big part of our #ShareAStorycampaign, which encourages parents, carers, siblings and friends to read to one another for at least 10 minutes a day…

You carried out a lot of scientific and behavioural research. How did you research your books? And what was the most fascinating bit of information about reading aloud that you came across?
People who work at the cliff-face of clinical research tend to be wonderfully generous with their time and expertise. They want the world to know about their work, and are happy to share their findings with writers like me. I learned so many arresting things: That the language circuits in a new baby’s brain spring to life at the sound of a mother’s voice; that a child’s receptive vocabulary (what he understands) may be as many as 3 years ahead of his expressive vocabulary (what he can say); that a child’s ability to pay calm attention at 4 predicts whether he will graduate from university by the age of 25…

Reading aloud is not just for children and your book encourages readers to share stories with adults and the elderly. What are some of the benefits of reading aloud to older readers?
For older people, as for young ones, there’s a brain-kindling aspect, to start: Exciting research at the University of Liverpool, for instance, suggests that reading poetry aloud can help Alzheimer’s sufferers by stimulating their neural pathways. There’s a social aspect: It is a way for people to connect when age or illness makes conversation awkward or impossible, offering a balm for the heart and consolation for lonely.

4) New word for the vocabulary– snarge. “‘Snarge’ Happens, and Studying It Makes Your Flight Safer: When a bird collides with an airplane, determining its species can help prevent future collisions. To do that, scientists need snarge.”

5) As you know, I hate tipping.  Just charge me an appropriate price for a service and don’t expect me to pay your employees!  Now, where employee income is largely dependent upon wages (like restaurant servers who literally get lower wages because of expected tips), of course I’m a good tipper.  But, I hate the tipping creep where all sorts of services just ask you to pay them extra money when there’s no reason to.  NYT: “To Tip, or Not to Tip? Automated payment and the spread of tipping to every corner of the food-service business have helped workers weather the pandemic. But some consumers feel overwhelmed.”

6) I suspect I will be talking about Tucker Carlson and testicle tanning as one of the ultimate signs of the decline of the American right, years from now. Dana Milbank, “Why Tucker Carlson wants men to aim lasers at their private parts”

McGovern recommends that you “expose yourself to red-light therapy and the Joovv” — a brand of red light — “that we were using in the documentary.”

“It’s testicle tanning,” McGovern agrees, “but it’s also full-body red-light therapy.”

Carlson, the most-watched Fox News host, sums it up: “So, obviously, half the viewers are now like, ‘What? Testicle tanning — that’s crazy.’ But my view is, okay, testosterone levels have crashed and nobody says anything about it. That’s crazy.”

No, this is what’s crazy. To the extent declining testosterone levels are a problem, the correct solution would be to address a major cause: rising obesity. Instead of shining a red light on your private parts, dear Fox News viewer, turn off Tucker Carlson, get off the couch and go exercise.

But Carlson isn’t primarily hawking a genital-lighting device; he’s really touching all the erogenous zones of the Trumpian right.

There’s perceived loss of national pride: Carlson sees testosterone collapsing in “American men” (it’s a worldwide phenomenon). There’s paranoia about the government: “The NIH doesn’t seem interested in this at all,” Carlson says, impersonating some presumed official from the National Institutes of Health saying “it’s not a big deal” (the topic is widely studied). There’s paranoia about the media: McGovern claims the benefit of red-light therapy “isn’t being picked up on or covered” and says “there’s a lot of people out there that don’t trust the mainstream information.”

There’s the usual racist fearmongering: After the trailer shows several fit White bodies, the first Black body to appear is obese (as President John F. Kennedy intones that “there is nothing, I think, more unfortunate than to have soft, chubby, fat-looking children”), and an image from a street riot is used to convey “weak” America. There’s obsession with gender and sexuality: A shirtless man throws a javelin that turns into a flaming rocket; a man squeezes a cow’s udder; and other men, several also shirtless, exercise, fire a gun, wrestle, flip a tractor tire, swing an ax, swallow raw eggs and, of course, stand naked in front of red lights.

There’s the Trump right’s celebration of masculinity as aggression rather than chivalry or gentlemanliness, a notion promoted lately by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka. In the trailer, words appear on the screen over President Biden stumbling on Air Force One’s stairs and Democratic senators kneeling in tribute to George Floyd: “Good times made weak men; weak men made hard times.”

Above all, there’s the unwavering faith in junk science — or, as Carlson’s “expert” calls it, “bromeopathy” (apparently a form of homeopathy in which you get advice from friends). Red-light treatment is used for various skin conditions, and it’s not impossible a man can boost his testosterone by plunking down four figures to aim such a device at his nether regions. But, as Marc Goldstein, a Weill Cornell Medicine male fertility expert told the publication Inverse, the claim lacks “convincing scientific evidence or properly done studies.”

7) I really like this, “Let Your Kids Be Bad at Things: When parenting becomes about perfectionism, you’re missing the point.”

8) Yes, we should totally let our kids be more independent at younger ages here in America.  But I got bored of the Japanese television show that’s kicking off all these essays in about five minutes.

9) Cathy Young is a heterodox thinker I’ve discovered through twitter.  I really like this, “The Messy Politics of Teaching Gender”

The controversy over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which severely curbs the ability of public schools to teach about sexual orientation or gender identity, has brought the spotlight on the extent to which the culture wars over public schools now have to do with transgender identities and the recent dramatic shifts in liberal and progressive views on the subject. Unfortunately, this controversy replicates an all-too-familiar pattern: Conservatives respond to a real problem—in this case, progressive overreach in proselytizing simplistic and strongly disputed beliefs on a contentious issue to often-young schoolchildren—in ham-fisted ways, resulting in accusations of both bigotry and speech suppression; liberals circle the wagons and deny that there is any real problem, attributing the conservative moves solely to intolerance and reactionary backlash against social progress; over-the-top accusations proliferate on both sides; and the chances of productive conversation dwindle from slim to none.

Make no mistake: Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which was signed by Republican culture warrior and likely presidential aspirant Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28 and takes effect on July 1, is bad law. True, it does not prohibit anyone from saying the word “gay” in or out of public schools, and the groups paying for those “Say Gay” billboards in Florida could definitely find a better use for their money. On the face of it, the text of the bill may even seem reasonable: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” But it’s not clear whether, for instance, the prohibition on sexual orientation “instruction” in K-3 would cover such things as a parent volunteer during a class activity mentioning a same-sex spouse, or the use of any book or cartoon with a gay character.

The “age-appropriate[ness]” in later grades could also be a thorny issue—especially since, like some other recent social-issues legislation, the bill empowers ordinary citizens to serve as enforcers by suing. Given how stupid the culture wars have gotten, that’s worrisome.

It is also true that the anecdote DeSantis used as a justification for the bill—a supposed incident in which schoolteachers encouraged a 13-year-old student to explore a transgender identity without the parents’ knowledge or consent—turns out to have been substantially misreported: It seems that in reality, school staff was fully cooperative with the parents. (One of the bill’s provisions requires such cooperation, except in cases of a credible risk of abuse, when the child is making potentially life-altering decisions.)

But that doesn’t mean concerns about gender-identity extremism in educational settings are all made up.

Right now, for instance, these concerns are being aired in my own “blue” state of New Jersey as  health and sex education standards passed into law statewide in 2020 and now being implemented by local school boards have drawn objections not only from Republicans and conservatives but from some Democrats and moderates. For the moment, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has announced that the guidelines are being reviewed by the Department of Education and stressed that parents will always have the right to opt their children out of the lessons.

What’s so controversial? While some of the objections have focused on elementary-school materials that include overly explicit descriptions of sexual anatomy, proposed lesson plans dealing with gender identity issues have been a particular lightning rod. Thus, a cartoon video on “Puberty and Transgender Youth” suggested by one local school board as potential viewing material for fifth graders casually discusses the use of puberty blockers and shows a character experiencing anxiety because of by bodily changes (and apparently using a chest binder to hide developing breasts) and getting an injection of puberty blockers.

Meanwhile, a sample lesson plan recommended by that same school board for first graders instructs teachers to ask children how they know what gender they are, then explain the concept of gender identity as “that feeling of knowing your gender,” and elaborates:

You might feel like you are a boy, you might feel like you are a girl. You might feel like you’re a boy even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “girl” parts. You might feel like you’re a girl even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “boy” parts. And you might not feel like you’re a boy or a girl, but you’re a little bit of both. No matter how you feel, you’re perfectly normal!

A second-grade lesson from the same curriculum more specifically identifies “male genitals” and “female genitals,” but also offers this disclaimer: “There are some body parts that mostly just girls have and some parts that mostly just boys have. Being a boy or a girl doesn’t have to mean you have those parts, but for most people this is how their bodies are.” (While the Washington Post has pointed out that these lessons plans are not mandatory but are simply offered as potential resources, they are still among the approved material for the curriculum.)…

Are parents reactionary if they think the claim that sex at birth is established by the doctor “making a guess” is not only terrible science, but a highly confusing message for children whose sense of themselves and the world is still developing and for whom the boundaries between fantasy and reality may be still unstable? (Like many other children, I went through an “I’m a boy” phase when I was 7, not long after other phases in which I was a dog, the goddess Artemis, a prehistoric cave child, and a variety of fairly-tale characters of different sexes and species.) Or if they think that the schools should not be in the business of endorsing puberty-blocking drugs whose long-term effects are still poorly understood?

Other parents who are not GOP activists from Florida but suburban liberals from places like Stamford, Connecticut have pushed back against reading materials like The Pants Project, a book about a transgender boy assigned in grades 3 to 5. The objections have been not only to overly sexualized material—the main character, Liv, muses at one point, “Last week, Chelsea loudly told Jade that she’d seen a bulge in my underwear (I wish!)”—but to “gender stereotypes”: the book, one mother complained, seemed to imply that all girls are girly and that wearing pants, as Liv hankers to do, is a boy thing…

A full analysis of today’s gender identity debates is certainly beyond the scope of this article. However, it is worth noting that extremism in the transgender rights movement is being increasingly challenged across the political spectrum. Jonathan Rauch has recently written a thoughtful essay on the subject for the American Purpose, arguing that the movement needs to reject ultra-radicalism the way the gay rights movement did to win its civil rights victories. The Los Angeles Times last week reported on clinical psychologist Erica Anderson, who is herself transgender and has worked with numerous transgender patients; Anderson has broken ranks with the trans advocacy community by arguing that too many teenagers are being rushed into transitioning and that being transgender or “genderqueer” has, in some cases, become a trendy thing among progressive young people. Science journalist Jesse Singal, who is no one’s idea of a conservative or a right-winger, has been writing for several years about the bad science and bad ideas of radical trans advocacy.

There has been extreme and genuinely bigoted rhetoric about transgender people, both from the right and from radical feminists—but there has also been a disingenuous and deeply counterproductive campaign to equate all dissent from transgender-movement orthodoxy with bigotry and hate. It is entirely possible to believe that transgender identities are valid and worthy of social respect and that gender transition is in many cases the best solution to gender dysphoria, and yet also to believe that transgender advocacy in its current form raises many difficult issues that are far from settled—including hard questions related to gender transition for minors.

Unfortunately, our toxic political scene is the worst possible arena to address these complicated issues. Right now, the right is screaming “groomer” at anyone who believes sexuality and gender identity should be even mentioned in a school setting, while the left is screaming “murderer of trans kids” at anyone who thinks we should be careful about letting a 16-year-old get a mastectomy to fit a male or nonbinary gender identity. The moderate voices are essential—but too often they are getting drowned out. Today, responsible liberals and centrists are well aware of the bigotry and extremism of the anti-trans right; but they should pay more attention to the intolerance and extremism of the militant trans-advocacy left.

10) It’s good that the Supreme Court ruled that, yes, the military can require soldiers to be vaccinated for Covid.  But, plenty disturbing that somehow Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito think themselves above this chain of command.

11) Really enjoyed this from Derek Thompson, “A Stanford Psychologist Says He’s Cracked the Code of One-Hit Wonders: What separates Blind Melon from Shania Twain?”

For decades, psychologists have puzzled over the ingredients of creative popularity by studying music, because the medium offers literally millions of data points. Is the thing that separates one-hit wonders from consistent hitmakers luck, or talent, or some complex combination of factors? I did my best to summarize their work in my book, Hit Makers. This month, the Stanford psychologist Justin Berg published a new paper on the topic and argued that the secret to creative success just happens to hinge on the difference between “No Rain” and Shania Twain.

Berg compiled a data set of more than 3 million songs released from 1959 to 2010 and pulled out the biggest hits. He used an algorithm developed by the company EchoNest to measure the songs’ sonic features, including key, tempo, and danceability. This allowed him to quantify how similar a given hit is to the contemporary popular-music landscape (which he calls “novelty”), and the musical diversity of an artist’s body of work (“variety”).

“Novelty is a double-edged sword,” Berg told me. “Being very different from the mainstream is really, really bad for your likelihood of initially making a hit when you’re not well known. But once you have a hit, novelty suddenly becomes a huge asset that is likely to sustain your success.” Mass audiences are drawn to what’s familiar, but they become loyal to what’s consistently distinct.

Blind Melon’s “No Rain” rated extremely low on novelty in Berg’s research. Dreamy, guitar-driven soft rock wasn’t exactly innovative in 1992. According to Berg, this was the sort of song that was very likely to become a one-hit wonder: It rose to fame because of a quirky music video, not because the song itself stood out for its uniqueness. After that hit, the band struggled to distinguish their sound from everything else that was going on in music.

By contrast, Twain’s breakout hit rated high on novelty in Berg’s research. She was pioneering a new pop-country crossover genre that was bold for her time but would later inspire a generation of artists, like Taylor Swift. “Twain is a great fit for the model, because her blending of pop and country was so original before she had her breakout,” Berg told me. After her second album, he said, her novelty, which had previously been an artistic risk, helped her retain listeners. She could experiment within the kingdom of country-pop without much competition from other artists, and this allowed her to dominate the charts for the next decade.

Berg’s research also found that musical variety (as opposed to novelty) was useful for artists before they broke out. But down the line, variety wasn’t very useful, possibly because audience expectations are set by initial hits. “After the first hit, the research showed that it was good for artists to focus on what I call relatedness, or similarity of music,” he said. Nobody wants Bruce Springsteen to make a rap album.

This second finding about the benefits of early variety is similar to a model of creativity known as explore-exploit. The Northwestern University economist Dashun Wang has found that artists and scientists tend to have “hot streaks,” or tight clusters of highly successful work. When he looked closer at what preceded these hot streaks, he found a similar pattern. First, artists and scientists would “explore,” or experiment with a bunch of different ideas, styles, jobs, or topics, before they really got in the zone. Then they would “exploit,” or productively focus on one particular area.

Berg’s and Wang’s research suggests three rules of thumb that may come in handy for creative work.

First, extremely new ideas are unlikely to initially find a large audience. But if they break through, artists and entrepreneurs may find that uniqueness is an asset, the same way that Twain’s country-pop hybrid style switched from a burden to a benefit after her first hit. Second, early-career exploration can pay dividends in the long run. This is as true of the broader labor force as it is in music. A 2014 study of young workers found that people who switch jobs more frequently early in their career tend to have higher incomes in their prime working years. Third, the difference between one-hit wonders and hitmakers isn’t just novelty; it’s also focus, or what Berg called “relatedness.” Hot streaks require creative people to mine deeply when they find something that works for them.

But where does Chumbawamba fit into this?!

12) Why would Jay Wright retire from college basketball?  This sounds good:

I joked often this winter that when I talk to college basketball coaches these days, the conversations feel less like interviews and more like therapy sessions. That doesn’t seem so funny now that the sport is losing one of its leading men just when it needs him most. Put simply, the job is exhausting — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The travel is a killer. The parents wear you out. The press is always on your ass. The fans shout obscenities from the bleachers and hurl insults on social media. Your wife gets harassed at the grocery store, your kids get teased at school, and your very livelihood is dependent on the whims of 19- and 20-year-old kids who are under enormous pressure to succeed, and quickly. If things don’t go their way, they’re on to another school or off the pros. And you’re out of a job.

Coaching is a great job but a lousy profession. It pays well if you make it big, but it also chews you up and spits you out, because there’s always fresh meat on the way.

13) NYT on the subway shooter, “Why No One Died When a Gunman Opened Fire on the Subway: Luck and poor marksmanship appear to have saved the victims of the subway attack.”

Also, he was using a handgun, not an assault rifle.  I guarantee you some of these people would be dead if had been using an AR-15.

14) This is good, “THE UNSEEN SCARS OF THOSE WHO KILL VIA REMOTE CONTROL”

In the Air Force, drone pilots did not pick the targets. That was the job of someone pilots called “the customer.” The customer might be a conventional ground force commander, the C.I.A. or a classified Special Operations strike cell. It did not matter. The customer got what the customer wanted.

And sometimes what the customer wanted did not seem right. There were missile strikes so hasty that they hit women and children, attacks built on such flimsy intelligence that they made targets of ordinary villagers, and classified rules of engagement that allowed the customer to knowingly kill up to 20 civilians when taking out an enemy. Crews had to watch it all in color and high definition.

15) Damn, the full-on censorious book-banning of conservatives is just completely nuts.  (And, yet, that does not excuse the censoriousness of campus leftists, just because it’s worse), “Censorship battles’ new frontier: Your public library: Conservatives are teaming with politicians to remove books and gut library boards”

Wallace’s list was the opening salvo in a censorship battle that is unlikely to end well for proponents of free speech in this county of 21,000 nestled in rolling hills of mesquite trees and cactus northwest of Austin.

Leaders have taken works as seemingly innocuous as the popular children’s picture book “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak off the shelves, closed library board meetings to the public and named Wallace the vice chair of a new library board stacked with conservative appointees — some of whom did not even have library cards.

With these actions, Llano joins a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures…

Leila Green Little, a parent and board member of the Llano County Library System Foundation, said her anti-censorship group obtained dozens of emails from country officials that reveal the outsize influence a small but vocal group of conservative Christian and tea party activists wielded over the county commissioners to reshape the library system to their own ideals.

In one of the emails, which were obtained through a public records request and shared with The Washington Post, Cunningham seemed to question whether public libraries were even necessary.

“The board also needs to recognize that the county is not mandated by law to provide a public library,” Cunningham wrote to Wallace in January.

16) From a few years ago, but anybody who knows rich people knows this to be so true, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? Turns Out It’s Just Chance.: The most successful people are not the most talented, just the luckiest, a new computer model of wealth creation confirms. Taking that into account can maximize return on many kinds of investment.”

17) This is also true, “Enough About Climate Change. Air Pollution Is Killing Us Now.”

In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, doctors noticed a surprising silver lining: Americans were having fewer heart attacks.

One likely reason, according to an analysis published last month by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, is that people were inhaling less air pollution.

Millions of workers were staying home instead of driving to work. Americans were suddenly burning a lot less gas. And across the country, the researchers found that regions with larger drops in pollution also had larger drops in heart attacks.

The menace of air pollution doesn’t command public attention as it did in the 1960s, when thick smog yellowed urban skies. But evidence has piled up in recent years that the real progress the United States has made in reducing air pollution isn’t nearly good enough. Air pollution is a lot deadlier than we previously understood — and, in particular, studies like the analysis of heart attacks during the pandemic show that the concentrations of air pollution currently permitted by federal policy are still far too high.

In an assessment of recent research, the World Health Organization concluded last year that air pollution is “the single largest environmental threat to human health and well-being.”

The low quality of the air that we breathe should be regarded as a crisis. It also presents an opportunity. The existential threat of climate change has come to dominate debates about environmental regulation. Proposals to curb emissions, once presented as public health measures, are now billed as efforts to limit global warming.

The solution to both threats is the same: We need to stop burning fossil fuels, preferably yesterday. But there is cause to wonder whether a greater focus on the immediate dangers posed by air pollution, rather than the more distant specter of global warming, might help to muster the necessary support for changes that are going to be expensive and disruptive.

18) Great thread from Noah Smith on climate optimism.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) deBoer on pragmatism (and the lack of it from the far left)

I come from a tradition with radical demands but which also recognizes that we can’t actually get most of those demands yet, that we need to do a lot of organizing and persuading to get there. But so many leftist Democrats now insist that

  1. Their agenda is already popular with Americans

  2. You only need to juice turnout, not to change minds, evidence be damned

  3. If the Democrats only embrace a left-wing agenda, they’ll sweep to power

None of this is persuasive to me, but it’s become holy writ on social media. And here’s an example of where the left being shut out of power becomes a vicious circle. Centrists are correct that left Democrats are often deeply averse to compromise and bargaining, but this is in part because they’ve never had the power with which to make a compromise. What would they bargain with? Shut out of power for so long, leftist Democrats have no practice with having the juice to force a compromise and are so convinced of the fundamental corruption and fecklessness of the overall party that they recoil at the idea of making one. Meanwhile, I’m constantly told that message discipline – not abandoning any of your principles, but highlighting the ones that are most popular – is not only undesirable but actively impossible.

For example. I’m a “let them all in” guy when it comes to immigration. Those are my values, and I do think that someday we’ll have a vastly more open and humane immigration system. But someday is not today. Liberal views on immigration are deeply unpopular in this country right now. If Democrats run hard on mass immigration increases, they will lose more elections and the Republicans will be empowered to make the immigration situation even worse. I don’t have any sort of simplistic schema for when you have to compromise and when you have to fight; it’s complicated. But so many further-left Democrats I encounter presume that there’s never any time when compromise is necessary and who view strategic calls for moderation as inherently bad faith, as the province of the wicked. It’s a terribly unhelpful way to do electoral politics in our stupid system.

2) Love this from Frank Bruni:

Enough about “parental rights.” I want to talk about nonparental rights.

I want to talk about the fact that a public school, identified that way for a reason, doesn’t exist as some bespoke service attending to the material wants and political whims of only those Americans with children in the science lab and on the soccer field. It’s an investment, funded by all taxpayers, in the cultivation of citizens who better appreciate our democracy and can participate in it more knowledgeably and productively.

Each of us has skin in the game. And each of us, even those of us without children, has the right to weigh in on how the game is played.

But you wouldn’t know that from the education conflagrations of the moment — from the howls of protest from parents about what their children are or aren’t exposed to, what their children are and aren’t taught.

You wouldn’t know it from the arguments for Florida’s recently enacted ban on talk of gay and trans people with young schoolchildren. That measure, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” initiative by its opponents, was called the Parental Rights in Education bill by its promoters — as if it were restoring and safeguarding some fundamental prerogative that should never have been challenged, as if parents’ sensitivities and sensibilities hold extra-special sway.

They matter, definitely. But one parent’s sensitivities and sensibilities don’t reliably align with another’s. Or with mine. Or with yours.

And raising the banner of “parental rights,” which is being hoisted high and waved with intensifying passion these days, doesn’t resolve that conflict. Nor does it change the fact that the schools in question exist for all of us, to reflect and inculcate democratic values and ecumenical virtues that have nothing to do with any one parent’s ideology, religion or lack thereof.

If the prevailing sensitivities and sensibilities of most parents at a given moment were the final word, formal racial segregation of educational institutions would have lasted longer than it did. There’d still be prayer in some public schools, and I don’t mean nondenominational.

I’m not equating those issues with current fights over L.G.B.T.Q. content in curriculums. Nor am I pushing specifically for that content, whose prevalence and emphasis remain murky to me, as they do, I’d wager, to most of the Americans who have vociferously entered the fray.

I’m sympathetic to the perspective that there’s a time, place and tone for such discussions. Too much too soon can be a clumsy, politically reckless provocation. So can vaguely worded, spitefully conceived, intentionally divisive laws, like the one in Florida, that encourage parents specifically to file lawsuits if they catch the scent of something they find unsavory in their children’s classrooms.

Parents do and should have authority over much of their children’s lives. No quarrel from me there. I’m in genuine awe of the responsibilities that parents take on, and I feel enormous gratitude toward those who approach those responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.

But public education is precisely that, and it’s both inappropriate and dangerous to treat the parents who have children in public schools as the only interested parties or as stakeholders whose desires are categorically more important than everybody else’s. The spreading cry of “parental rights” suggests as much. And the wrongness of that transcends any partisan affiliation.

3) OMG this book banning on the right these days.  Apparently, the picture book “Everywhere babies” is getting banned because some of the parents are same-sex couples.  God forbid kids get the idea that actually happens in the real world. 

4) Pet rental is a thing? Sort of. What the hell? Of course, it all starts with buying a pet from a pet store which, lets be honest, no responsible pet owner does (I’m not talking about pet stores that facilitate adoptions). 

5) Now Florida is trying to do away with tenure for its universities to stop all the liberal indoctrination.  Glad we have state legislators like this on the case ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

He also said it would increase transparency with a provision that would require course syllabuses to be posted online, preventing attempts by professors to “smuggle in ideology and politics.” Sprowls said it would prevent students from signing up for a class on “socialism and communism” when they thought they were signing up for “Western democracy” and classes about “what it means to be an actual American.”

“That’s what this bill is about,” Sprowls said. “Are (students) going to walk into a university system that’s more about indoctrination than it is about getting getting jobs someday and learning skills and the subject matter necessary to get a job? Or is it about some sort of radical political agenda that a particular professor that’s been told they get a lifetime job is going to tell them they have to believe to get an A in their class?”

6) And, as long as we’re on Florida, Chait is on the case when it comes to DeSantis:

7) This is a terrific and, dare I say, heartening interview on the limited and corrupt Russian military:

Could the Russian military say, in its defense, that the military-modernization project was done with a different kind of war in mind than the one in Ukraine? Or do you see the failure being broader than that?

 

8) John Cassidy on McCarthy and McConnell:

It’s eminently clear where Republican candidates are learning the techniques of prostration: from their own leaders. And this abject situation isn’t likely to change. If the events of January 6, 2021, weren’t sufficient to embolden the likes of McCarthy and McConnell for more than a few days, could anything effect such a transformation? Probably not. To be sure, there are some individual elected Republicans, such as Cheney and Mitt Romney, who are still willing to criticize and challenge Trump, but none of them are in positions of authority within the Party.

Taken as a whole, the G.O.P. is still in the same position it has been in for the past five and a half years: beholden to a narcissistic demagogue who has no respect for democracy or the law. In fact, the situation is even worse than it used to be, because the demagogue is now explicitly demanding that Republican candidates sign on to his Big Lie about 2020—a modern version of the “stab-in-the-back” conspiracy theory that helped undermine the Weimar Republic. In one sense, it’s fun to read yet another story confirming the utter spinelessness and cravenness of McConnell, McCarthy, et al. Ultimately, though, the joke is on us.

9) Fascinating deBoer piece about the explosion of claims of multiple personality disorder among teenagers on TikTok and what it says about current pathologies in our culture [emphases in original]

You might very well ask how it could possibly be the case that a notoriously controversial and historically extremely rare disorder would suddenly bloom into epidemic proportions among teenagers with smartphones and a burning need to differentiate themselves. How could that happen? The standard line on these things is that expanding public consciousness about such illnesses reduces stigma and empowers more people to get diagnosed with conditions they already had. But with dissociative identity disorder, I can only ask… really? One of the rarest mental illnesses in the medical literature has had thousands of people walking around undiagnosed, despite the fact that it’s perhaps the single hardest psychiatric condition to hide? It’s one thing to say that there’s tons of, say, autistic people walking around who are undiagnosed because of stigma around the diagnosis. It’s another to say that thousands of people’s conditions have gone unnoticed when they experience the world as a number of distinct and incompatible personalities which they switch between in jarring and disorienting moments.

None of this is healthy. None of it will result in better treatment or results for those who have legitimate psychiatric disorders. Ideas core to the toxic mental health ideology that kids are absorbing on TikTok include

  • That intense childhood trauma is universal or near-universal, despite the fact that it simply isn’t, and thank god

  • That trauma is somehow ennobling, a maker of meaning, a creator of identity, a way to be unique and special, rather than something terrible we should do everything we can to prevent

  • Correspondingly, that to be mentally healthy is undesirable, when it’s a condition we should aspire to secure for everyone

  • That mental illness is an identity, the most important and central element of someone’s self, rather than an unfortunate detail, and that the right way to have a mental illness is to revel in it, celebrate it, fixate on it completely, act as though there’s nothing else interesting or meaningful about you than your mental illness

  • That any critical thinking or questioning of their rhetoric about mental illness is inherently a matter of “stigma” and thus illegitimate, and that the job of doctors and therapists is always to affirm their self-diagnoses, not to act as independent and dispassionate agents

  • That anything they feel is valid, that their emotions are a perfect guide to their reality, and that anything that contradicts their intuitions or their desires is by definition the hand of oppression.

And the core point here is that the people who are being hurt by this are these kids themselves. Sucking up scarce mental health resources with fictitious conditions is irresponsible, yes, and pretending to be sick for clout is untoward. But setting that aside, self-diagnosis is dangerous. Playacting a serious mental illness is harmful to your actual mental health. Fixating on the most broken part of yourself is contrary to best medical practices and to living a fulfilled life. Defining yourself by dysfunction is a great way to stay dysfunctional. And everything about mental illness that seems cool and deep and intense when you’re 18 becomes sad and pathetic and self-destructive and ugly by the time you’re 40. Take it from me. These kids are hurting themselves. I don’t want to ridicule them. I’m not even angry at them. I’m angry at their adult enablers. That includes the vast edifice of woowoo self-help bullshit Instagram self-actualization yoga winemom feel-good consumerist tell-me-I’m-special psychiatric medicine, and a media that loves the prurient thrills of multiple personalities and never saw a vulnerability that it couldn’t exploit.

10) Loved this piece.  I’m glad hockey has evolved to become a sport with much more emphasis on skill.  I would not be the fan I am if it were otherwise, “‘It’s almost like the game has been reinvented’: Players, coaches and GMs on the NHL’s scoring boom”

This is a new age in the NHL, a far cry from the dead puck era that saw a sharp decline in goal scoring from the 1980s. In 1980-81, teams averaged 4.01 goals per game. In the decade, there was never a year below 3.67 goals per game.

By 2003-04, goals per game fell to 2.57 — the lowest in a half-century.

This season, teams are averaging 3.09 goals per game, the highest average since 1995-96, when it was 3.14 per game. The league-wide save percentage of .907 is the lowest since 2006-07 (.905). The average penalty kill is 79 percent, which is frankly unbelievable. The average power play is 21 percent. As Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft notes, “It wasn’t that long ago when if you had a 19, 20 percent power play, you were in the top five in the National Hockey League.”

The Florida Panthers are averaging 4.17 goals per game, the highest by a team since the Pittsburgh Penguins averaged 4.41 per game in 1995-96. Eighteen teams (56 percent of the league) are averaging more than three goals per game. And it’s not just the teams with offensive superstars like the Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Blues have shot up to fourth in the NHL in goals per game, at 3.74, thanks to recently scoring four or more goals in 12 consecutive games (62 goals, 5.17 per game). Heck, the Wild, for years considered one of the most committed defensive teams in the NHL with a foundation established by original coach Jacques Lemaire, have six 20-goal scorers, three 30-goal scorers and rank fifth in the NHL with 3.66 goals per game.

“Look how teams are made up now: four lines that can contribute offensively,” says 37-year-old future Hall of Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who debuted for the Penguins in 2003. “When I started, your third line was grinding, your fourth line was fighting. Now, look at our third line. We have two 20-goal scorers on there. Imagine having to defend (Jordan) Greenway, (Joel) Eriksson Ek and (Marcus) Foligno. Is there a bigger line in the league? Imagine having to defend them. They’re our checking line, but they check by playing in the offensive zone.”

There are 39 point-per-game players this season in the NHL (minimum 60 games) with another four hovering at 0.99. When the Blues scored seven second-period goals Sunday in Nashville and won 8-3, it was the 30th time since March 1 that an NHL team scored at least seven goals in a game. In 2015-16, 29 teams scored that many in a game in the entire season.

Last Saturday and Sunday, 153 goals were scored across the league — the highest-scoring weekend in NHL history.

You see the impact of the scoring increase in every facet of the game. 

11) Florida wants to ban K-12 textbooks for “social-emotional learning”  That’s nuts!  But, alas, everything is “critical race theory” now. 

Administrators in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District were already looking for ways to support students’ mental well-being before the pandemic, driven in part by a string of student deaths, including some suicides. Then covid-19 and remote schooling inflicted fresh emotional damage.

So, this past fall, the district implementeda social-emotional learning (SEL) program — a curriculum geared at helping students manage emotions, develop positive relationships and make good decisions. Schools have worked to develop these skills for decades, and in recent years, formal programming has proliferated coast to coast. In Anoka-Hennepin, elementary schools focused on themes such as respect, empathy, gratitude, kindness, honesty, courage, cooperation, perseverance and responsibility each month. Students learned how to ask for help and spot someone having a bad day.

The complaints began immediately, often from parents already upset about remote schooling and mask mandates. Minnesota’s Child Protection League, a group active on conservative issues, said social-emotional learning is a vehicle for critical race theory, an effort to divide students from their parents, emotional manipulation and “the latest child-indoctrination scheme.”

 

12) And Dana Goldstein in the NYT, “A Look Inside the Textbooks That Florida Rejected”

But many of the textbooks included social-emotional learning content, a practice with roots in psychological research that tries to help students develop mind-sets that can support academic success.

The image below, from marketing materials provided by the company Big Ideas Learning — whose elementary textbooks Florida rejected — features one common way teachers are trained to think about social-emotional learning.

 
Image
The diagram names core skills students should develop, and gives an example of how to conquer fear and build self-confidence.
Credit…Big Ideas Learning
 
The diagram names core skills students should develop, and gives an example of how to conquer fear and build self-confidence.

The circular diagram names the five core skills students should develop: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness and relationship building. This framework was developed by CASEL, an education nonprofit.

Until recently, the idea of building social-emotional skills was a fairly uncontroversial one in American education. Research suggests that students with these skills earn higher test scores.

13) To be fair, Drum is right and stuff like this should not be in math books:

The Florida Department of Education finally released a few examples of “unacceptable” math problems today. Here is one of them:

So the lesson here is that conservatives are racist, as proven by a test that’s of dubious reliability.

Nice work, textbook people. This is insane. I can’t imagine there’s a conservative governor anywhere in the country who wouldn’t be offended by this. If this math book included a similar bar graph showing crime rates by race, do you think that liberal governors might be equally offended?

Also, the IAT is not a valid measure of racial prejudice!

14) Interesting story here, “How a Crime-Fighting Institution Took a Partisan Turn: Crime Stoppers of Houston built its reputation on a successful tip line. Then it decided to take on Democratic judges.”  And, the NYT takes so much heat, but they have revealing, deeply-reported stories like this every single day that would otherwise not see the light of day. It really is an amazing journalistic institution.  

15) Leonhardt (with an assist from Michael Osterholm) on mask mandates:

As Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist, puts it, a mask mandate with as many exceptions as the airline mandate is like a submarine that closes three of its five doors.

On the other hand, research shows that, when used correctly, masks can be a valuable tool for reducing the spread of Covid. How, then, should the country be thinking about masks during the current stage of the pandemic? Today’s newsletter tries to answer that question.

Broad and lenient

The trouble with the transportation mask mandate was that it was both too broad and too lenient.

Its breadth required people to muzzle their faces for long periods of time, and most people don’t enjoy doing so. (If you doubt that, check out the gleeful responses of airline passengers and school children when told they didn’t have to wear masks anymore.)

A central lesson of public health is that people have a limited capacity to change their routine. They’re not machines. For that reason, the best responses to health crises depend on triage, with political leaders prioritizing the most valuable steps that people can take. Whenever politicians impose rules that are obviously ineffective, they undermine the credibility of the effective steps.

The transportation mandate had so many exceptions that many Americans understandably questioned its worth. Travelers took off their masks to eat and drink. Some flight attendants removed their masks to make announcements. Some passengers wore their masks on their chins. The mandate also did not require N95 and KN95 masks, which are more effective against the virus than cloth masks or standard medical masks.

 

These problems — the open doors on the mask-mandate submarine — help explain a pandemic conundrum: Rigorous laboratory tests show that masks reduce Covid transmission, but supporting real-world evidence tends to be much weaker.

The most glaring example in the U.S. is that liberal communities, where masks are a cherished symbol of solidarity, have experienced nearly as much Covid spread as conservative communities, where masks are a hated symbol of oppression. Another example is school mask mandates, which don’t seem to have had much effect. A third example is Hong Kong, where mask wearing is very popular (although often not with N95 or KN95 masks, Osterholm notes); Hong Kong has just endured a horrific Covid wave, among the world’s worst since the pandemic began.

Osterholm, who spent 15 years as Minnesota’s state epidemiologist and has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington, argues that much of the U.S. public health community has exaggerated the value of broad mask mandates. KN95 and N95 masks reduce the virus’s spread, he believes, but mandates like the one on airlines do little good.

“Public health advice has been way off the mark, all along, about mask protection,” he told me. “We have given the public a sense of a level of protection that is just not warranted.”

Osterholm added: “Let’s just be honest.”

Narrow and strict

A more effective approach to mask mandates would probably be both narrower and stricter. It would close the big, obvious loopholes in any remaining mandates — but also limit the number of mandates.

The reality is that masks are less valuable today than they were a year or two ago. Covid vaccines are universally available in the U.S. for adults and teenagers, and the virus is overwhelmingly mild in children. Treatments for vulnerable people are increasingly available.

And consider this: About half of Americans have recently had the Omicron variant of Covid. They currently have little reason to wear a mask, for anybody’s sake.

Together, vaccines and treatments mean that the risks of severe Covid for boosted people — including the vulnerable — seem to be similar to the risks of severe influenza. The U.S., of course, does not mandate mask wearing every winter to reduce flu cases. No country does.

Another relevant factor is that one-way masking reduces Covid transmission. People who want to wear a mask because of an underlying health condition, a fear of long Covid or any other reason can do so. When they do, they deserve respect.

“One-way masking works,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, said. When he is treating tuberculosis patients, they are typically maskless, and he wears an N95 mask to protect himself.

Still, if Covid illness begins surging again at some point, there may be situations in which mandates make sense. To be effective, any mandates probably need to be strict, realistic and enforced. Imagine, for example, that a subway system mandated KN95 or N95 masks inside train cars — but not on platforms, which tend to be airy.

Or imagine that the C.D.C. required high-quality masks in the airport and aboard a plane on the runway — but not in flight when people will inevitably eat and when a plane’s air-filtration system is on. “When I travel, I’m always more worried about in-airport exposures than I am the plane,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Brown University epidemiologist, said.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has spent much of the past two years with the worst of all worlds on masks. People have been required to wear them for hours on end, causing frustration and exhaustion and exacerbating political polarization. Yet the rules have included enough exceptions to let Covid spread anyway. The burden of the mandates has been relatively high, while the benefits have been relatively low. It’s the opposite of what a successful public health campaign typically does.

16) The Dead Eyes interview with Tom Hanks was about the perfect podcast episode.  And the 29 before it were well worth the trip. 

Getting the causality wrong on systemic racism and standardized tests

Loved this in the Atlantic from Kathryn Paige Harden, “The SAT Isn’t What’s Unfair.”  It’s always seemed just nuts to me that people talk about all this systemic racism (which is real!) and then think that somehow racial unequal test scores are a result of “racist” test rather than a pretty clear indication of the systematic racial disadvantage throughout society.  Harden lays it all out nicely here:

Critics of standardized tests have had plenty of reasons to celebrate lately. More than three-quarters of colleges are not requiring the SAT or the ACT for admission this fall, an all-time high, and more than 400 Ph.D. programs have dropped the GRE, up from a mere handful a few years ago. MIT’s announcement on Monday that it is reinstating a testing requirement for fall 2023 admissions was a major departure from these recent trends. Just as striking, amid the widespread perception of standardized testing as an engine of inequality, was MIT’s rationale: “Not having SATs/ACT scores to consider,” MIT’s dean of admissions, Stu Schmill, wrote, “tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education.” Dropping the SAT, it turns out, actually hurts low-income students, rather than helping them.

MIT’s conclusion is counterintuitive because students from richer families, on average, score higher on the SAT and other standardized tests than students from poorer ones. The correlation between family background and SAT performance is from about .25 to .40—that is, meaningful but far from perfect. Still, it’s strong enough that some researchers dismiss standardized tests as nothing more than a proxy for asking, “Are you rich?” (The ACT measures roughly the same skills as the more widely used SAT, and the arguments for and against both tests are similar.)

But the income-related disparities we see in SAT scores are not evidence of an unfair test. They are evidence of an unfair society. The test measures differences in academic preparedness, including the ability to write a clear sentence, to understand a complex passage, and to solve a mathematical problem. The SAT doesn’t create inequalities in these academic skills. It reveals them. Throwing the measurement away doesn’t remedy underlying injustices in children’s academic opportunities, any more than throwing a thermometer away changes the weather. [bold is mine; italics in original]

The higher scores of richer students are not due, as is commonly assumed, to richer students’ ability to “game” the SAT with expensive test prep. Despite the marketing claims of test-prep companies, gains from test prep are modest at best. Instead, richer students’ higher scores reflect a problem that is much more durable and pervasive: These students are the beneficiaries of lifelong inequalities in opportunities to learn. As developmental scientists have long documented, poverty and racism can harm children’s learning in countless ways, even to the point of affecting their brain development. In the Developmental Behavior Genetics Lab at the University of Texas, my colleagues and I have found that children as young as 2 years old from low-income families differ from their better-off counterparts in their performance on standardized tests.

No one should be surprised that, at age 18, students who have enjoyed a lifetime of material, social, and cultural advantages perform better on tests of academic skills that those advantages facilitate. And these skills actually matter more for students’ performance in college than how wealthy their families are. In large-scale studies of college admissions, higher socioeconomic status is not associated with better grades after controlling for SAT scores, but SAT scores remain predictive of better grades after controlling for family background.

Getting rid of testing does not get rid of the inequitable policies that systematically deprive some children and adolescents of clean water, nutritious food, green space, safe neighborhoods, sparkling classrooms, stimulating teachers, and enriching cultural experiences. Getting rid of testing just deprives us of a valuable tool for seeing the results of our current policies. Indeed, it is ironic that the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the movement to drop standardized-testing requirements in higher education, because the course of the U.S. pandemic offers a clear lesson: Without tests, the problem is harder to see and harder to solve.

Richer students don’t just get better SAT scores. They also tend to outperform on everything else that an admissions committee would use to select students. Personal essays? Their style and content are more strongly correlated with family income than SAT scores are. Recommendation letters? They are subject to teachers’ classist and racist biases, and even knowing how to request the letters requires significant social capital.

Very good stuff.  We definitely do not need to get rid of standardized tests because of racial differences.  We need to keep working harder than ever to mitigate the social inequalities that result in these racial differences on standardized tests. 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I think Jeff Maurer raised some important points in his French election wave I analysis:

Macron’s economic policies were neither validated nor repudiated.

As you know, Macron is the candidate of the elite. Or…maybe kind of a socialist. Or actually, he represents a new brand of forward-thinking left-wing capitalism. From 25 years ago. He’s sort of a center-left-rightish-Keynesian big government capitalist lefty anti-union reformist maintainer of the status quo.

I think Macron’s economic thinking comes into focus when you put it in the context of the French status quo. France has the highest government spending rate in the OECD; a whopping 61.6 percent of French GDP is government spending. In 2019, France ranked dead last in the Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index. The French retirement age is 62, one of the lowest in the industrialized world. Firing a French worker is like buying toilet paper at Dollar Tree: guaranteed to be a total mess and something that only a masochist does twice.

Given that reality, the fact that Macron has (or has tried to) cut taxes, reformed labor laws, and raise the retirement age makes him look less like a right-winger and more like someone trying to bring his country in line with international norms. And trying to prune back the French welfare state hasn’t been Macron’s only move; he also spent big to keep the economy running during Covid, which helped produce France’s biggest economic boom in 52 years. He’s put major amounts of money towards beefed-up public benefits, retirement income for low-income farmers, and free school breakfast in poor areas. French 18-year-olds get €300 to spend on “culture”, which is the most French thing I’ve ever heard…

Le Pen succeeded in moving towards the center.

Much of the commentary in the next few days will be hand-wringing over the fact that a far-right xenophobe with illiberal tendencies who sees herself as a fellow traveler with Viktor Orban advanced to the second round and has a shot at winning. And that hand-wringing is warranted; Le Pen is, in my opinion, very bad. But it’s notable that the prelude to her relative success has been an aggressive tack towards the center.

Le Pen has spent years trying to soften her image. Her party — which was founded by her father and was long the refuge of thinly-veiled anti-Semites — recently changed their name: They’re called “Meta” now (not really: the new name is the “National Rally”). She’s centered her campaign around “pocketbook issues” (e.g. inflation, jobs), sometimes positioning herself to the left of Macron. And then there’s this:

Marine Le Pen has turned her Instagram into a clearinghouse for adorable cat photos. I have to say: That is the most amoeba-brained manipulation technique I’ve ever witnessed, and I also have to say: Look at those fuzzy little guys! Who thinks Fwance is being overwun by immigwants? You do! This blog has long been pro-cat; I’ve known for some time that comedy writers will eventually be replaced by cats, and I accept the verdict. It’s crass for Le Pen to use adorable cats to mask her ugly policies but of course it will work.

If anything helped Le Pen more than adorable cats, it’s the hideous candidacy of Éric Zemmour. Zemmour is French Tucker Carlson: He’s an ultra-right TV commentator who frequently gets in trouble for walking the line between veiled racism and racism. Two months ago, his candidacy was surging. For Le Pen, this was like when an actress does a scene with a horse: Inevitably, she ended up looking good by comparison.

2) Emma Camp, the UVA student who ignited a free speech/culture war firestorm responds in Persuasion.  As before, I think she’s largely right:

The vicious rage in reaction to the article is telling. It shows, with biting efficacy, what happens when you don’t self-censor. If there was no real problem of illiberalism on college campuses, or our broader culture for that matter, then thousands of people wouldn’t have clamored to decry a college student as everything from a whiny child to a white nationalist. If there was no real problem, then my article wouldn’t have registered as that much of a threat.

This environment, as further highlighted by a recent newsletter article by David French and last month’s editorial in the New York Times, is what happens when we lose a cultural appreciation for free speech and free expression. As French writes: “the priority of fending off legal threats to free speech does not mean that we should neglect the culture. Over time, the law tends to flow from the culture, and so a culture that despises free inquiry won’t long protect the First Amendment.” If we want to protect our legal right to free speech, it is important to stay vigilant to cultural changes. When our culture seems to view the First Amendment as a frustrating obstacle, rather than a gift, we ought to be concerned.

Of course, we all have the right to criticize—and in fact to do so in profoundly unproductive, unreasonable, and yes, cruel ways. I do not have the right, in a legal sense, to not be called terrible names by a stranger on the internet, and no one is required to offer constructive and thoughtful criticism of my work. Part of making a principled support of the legal right to free speech of course requires acknowledging the “right” for individuals to use their speech in objectionable ways.

That said, it is completely possible to uphold the value of a legal right while also noting how the abuse of those rights can sometimes lead to undesirable results. We ought to have the right to say basically whatever we choose. But if we want a culture that values free expression and open inquiry, we ought to refrain from our most vindictive impulses—to read in deliberate bad faith, to be cruel, to seek the online approval of an in-group by publicly shaming an approved target. These impulses make our ability to have thoughtful and productive discourse, both on- and off-line, much harder.

3) So much interesting stuff in here from Scott Alexander, but I had to highlight this part, “Obscure Pregnancy Interventions: Much More Than You Wanted To Know”

Don’t Eat Too Much Licorice (Tier 2)

Licorice contains the dangerous-sounding chemical glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin turns off the placental enzymes that limit the amount of maternal stress hormones that pass to the developing fetus. A study shows that mothers who eat lots of licorice during pregnancy have children with 7 points lower IQ (on average) than mothers with more restraint in their licorice consumption. Others studies show increased maternal blood pressureincreased risk of preterm birth. There are relatively few studies here compared to some other interventions, but the studies seem strong, the mechanism seems plausible, and there are fewer possible confounders than usual.

The study found effects at 500 mg glycyrrhizin per week, which corresponds to eating about two or three sticks of licorice per day for an entire pregnancy. Who does this? Finns, that’s who. All of these studies have been done in Finland, which is apparently a country of disgusting licorice junkies. I blame Santa Claus.

Still, there may be scattered non-Finns who eat this amount, or there may be subthreshold effects that the studies weren’t powered to measure. I suggest abstaining.

Only the sinister foreign “black licorice” contains glycyrrhizin. The red licorice eaten by normal red-blooded Americans is (as per American tradition) made out of corn syrup derivatives with no real licorice whatsoever, and should be fine.

4) Interesting post from Yglesias’ intern, Milan Singh, “The American Rescue Plan was too big: Lawmakers spent too much, too quickly — and overlearned the lessons of 2009”

Lessons from 2021 and beyond

The bottom line is that the American Rescue Plan, while well-intentioned, spent too much money too quickly, meaningfully overshooting the output gap and contributing to inflation. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, pandemic fiscal stimulus (CARES and ARP) increased the inflation rate by three percentage points by the end of last year. In hindsight, Democrats should have passed a smaller bill, with less upfront stimulus and more spread-out spending on permanent programs. The CRFB put together a framework for a slimmer package totaling $1.1 trillion featuring fewer temporary programs, reduced aid to states, and automatic stabilizers.

If I were given a magic wand and a time machine, I would write a bill looking something like this, with emphasis on doing a few permanent programs while delivering a modest stimulus to the economy.

While slightly smaller than the actual bill, $1.55 trillion is still a tremendous amount of money, and I think this package would have spent that sum in a wiser and less inflationary manner than the real-world ARP did.

Going forward, we really ought to enact automatic stabilizers that adjust spending based on economic conditions for programs such as expanded unemployment benefits and state aid. When Democrats had the chance to let the economy go up in flames and tank Donald Trump’s re-election, they did the right thing and put country over party. But we might not get so lucky next time. The fate of the economy shouldn’t rest on whether the speaker or the Senate majority leader feels like doing an opposite-party president a favor.

But in the present, what we have to do is stop the bleeding. That means reducing the deficit and the Fed increasing interest rates without throwing us into a recession. It means reducing energy prices and capping the cost of insulin and prescription drugs. It means winding down Covid-19 relief spending that is contributing between 0.14 and 0.68 percentage points to the inflation rate and diverting unspent stimulus funds to pandemic prevention and ending the pause on student loan payments. And we should do what we can to address the supply side by promoting vaccination, making pharmaceutical treatments available, and otherwise accepting the new normal and getting back to our lives.

5) Scott Alexander with a thorough (as only he does) look at the evidence behind various pregnancy interventions.  I had to include this one:

Don’t Eat Too Much Licorice (Tier 2)

Licorice contains the dangerous-sounding chemical glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin turns off the placental enzymes that limit the amount of maternal stress hormones that pass to the developing fetus. A study shows that mothers who eat lots of licorice during pregnancy have children with 7 points lower IQ (on average) than mothers with more restraint in their licorice consumption. Others studies show increased maternal blood pressureincreased risk of preterm birth. There are relatively few studies here compared to some other interventions, but the studies seem strong, the mechanism seems plausible, and there are fewer possible confounders than usual.

The study found effects at 500 mg glycyrrhizin per week, which corresponds to eating about two or three sticks of licorice per day for an entire pregnancy. Who does this? Finns, that’s who. All of these studies have been done in Finland, which is apparently a country of disgusting licorice junkies. I blame Santa Claus.

Still, there may be scattered non-Finns who eat this amount, or there may be subthreshold effects that the studies weren’t powered to measure. I suggest abstaining.

Only the sinister foreign “black licorice” contains glycyrrhizin. The red licorice eaten by normal red-blooded Americans is (as per American tradition) made out of corn syrup derivatives with no real licorice whatsoever, and should be fine.

6) Unsurprisingly, I agree with Drum here, “Should Democrats change their tune on a few culture war topics?”

People to my left demand particulars. Just who should we throw under the bus? Trans people? Black people? Poor people? Let’s name names.

Fine. Here are a variety of issues that might benefit from a rethinking. I’m not going to say anything dogmatic here. I’d just like to spur discussion. These are in no particular order.

  1. Defund the police. I find this one particularly annoying because lefties like to pretend that it’s completely ridiculous and there’s no evidence that it had any effect. Besides, we explained at length that defund the police didn’t really mean defund the police anyway.
     

    This is sophistry. Unless you’re completely out of touch it should be obvious that this is something that puts off a lot of people. And as the old saying goes, when you’re explaining you’re losing. It’s one thing to support police reform; it’s quite another for activists to literally want to defund the police and for politicians to mumble into their sandwiches about it instead of having the guts to clearly say if they really support the idea.

  2. Critical Race Theory. I’m not quite sure what we should do about this, but what we’ve done so far doesn’t seem to be working. There’s not much question that Republicans have cynically used CRT, which is a graduate level legal theory, to tar elementary school education where it’s simply not used. But that doesn’t mean Republicans haven’t hit a nerve.
     

    Partly, that nerve is simple racism, and we just have to fight that even if it does lose some votes. But there are also legitimate questions about how far we should go in public schools about teaching modern progressive views of systemic racism and white supremacy. There are also legitimate questions of how much to emphasize the heinous parts of American history (primarily slavery and the genocide of indigenous Americans) and how much to emphasize the admirable parts of American history (democracy, economic dynamism, the right side of history during the Cold War, etc.). There are ways of talking about this that might not satisfy Nikole Hannah-Jones but would make sure that slavery and racism got their due in history courses but were not presented as the backbone of our country.

  3. Sex ed in lower grades. First off, this is nothing new. It’s been a flash point for decades.
     

    Today’s flash point is different, focused mostly on gay and trans issues. It’s frankly a little hard for me to accept that sex ed of any sort really needs to be taught much before middle school, but maybe I’m wrong. I haven’t been in an elementary school classroom for 50 years, after all. Still, I guess I’d like to hear the argument. I wonder if this is something we should really be supporting at all.

  4. 1/6 commission. This one is a little different. When Republicans conduct an investigation they leak like crazy in order to keep media attention alive. But Democrats don’t do that much. The 1/6 commission has leaked some stuff, but it’s been seldom and low-key. Why is this? Is it because the commission hasn’t come up with much new stuff? Or because they’re just afraid to be as belligerent as Republicans?
     
  5. Voting laws. Yesterday I casually mentioned that Democrats had tried to pass a couple of bad voting laws and promised to explain what I meant today. Here it is: Both of the voting laws, but especially the Freedom to Vote Act, focused on loads and loads of useless ephemera. Who really cares if voting drop boxes exist? Who cares if early voting is 12 days or 15 days? Who cares if voters are required to vote in the correct precinct?
     

    Republicans complain that these are things that were put in place because of the unique demands of the COVID pandemic and are now being made permanent. And they’re right. More importantly, these kinds of provisions (a) have virtually no effect on partisan turnout, (b) are not very popular, and (c) never had the slightest chance of getting Republican support. It was political malpractice to introduce these bills. A much better bet would have been a narrower law that focused on something voters really do care about: bills that give red states the ability to overturn, or at least affect, the official vote count after it’s finished. When people hear about this they don’t like it. And it’s even possible that banning it might draw some Republican support. This is what Democrats should have done from the start.

  6. Afghanistan withdrawal. Why were liberals so afraid to rally around their president on this? The evidence on the ground gives plenty of support for the idea that it was handled pretty well under the circumstances. And Biden showed some guts by sticking to his guns on a liberal priority even under withering criticism. But Democrats failed to loudly support Biden. That was a huge mistake.
     
  7. Trans issues. For the most part, liberal support for trans issues is fine even if it costs some votes—which is questionable anyway. But the trans lobby is ruthless and extreme. For example, should we really support without question allowing trans women to compete in women’s sports, even given the plain evidence that this can produce unfair results? Should we shout down women who think that growing up female gives them a different perspective than someone who transitioned later in life—especially if the transition is after puberty? Is there really no legitimate concern about transitioning children who are likely too young to know for certain what their long-term gender identity is likely to be?

    FWIW, I belong to several lefty listservs and I can tell you without question that there are plenty of lefties who are willing to talk about this stuff in private. They generally believe that the trans lobby has forced too many extremist positions on liberals and that this likely hurts them with voters.¹ And they really, really hate language that frames even the least divergence from extreme views as “murdering” trans people.

This is just half a dozen issues off the top of my head. There are others. But this is representative of the kinds of things that I think probably hurt liberals and that could be dialed down without really betraying liberal principles. Discuss.

 

7) Damn if this ain’t true, “Restaurants Learned the Wrong Pandemic Lessons” (of course, they’re not alone in that)

The paradox of eating out during the pandemic is that everything that makes indoor dining fun is also what makes it risky. Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech, laid out the challenges for me: “People cannot be masked,” she said. “They’re sitting there for a long time. It’s crowded. Everyone goes there to talk.” All this nibbling, laughing, and sneezing whips up aerosolized particles of the virus that can linger in the air—turning restaurants into COVID hot spots.

For a while, we’ve known that some straightforward air-quality improvements are plainly the best way to tamp down on some of the risk. Under typical building codes, restaurants have about the same indoor-air standards as other buildings—with more exhaust hoods in the kitchen to handle the smells and fumes. These codes aren’t designed with viruses in mind, and anyway, HVAC systems are rarely monitored to ensure that they’re working as advertised. At one Guangzhou, China, restaurant, an AC unit slingshotted the virus between diners sitting 15 feet apart.

Joseph Allen, the director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program, told me that in a perfect world, all restaurants would get regular tune-ups to ensure that their HVAC systems are working properly to swap out, dilute, and filter the air. After that, “you want to maximize the amount of outdoor air coming in,” Allen said. Opening some doors and windows helps, but the best play is to have your HVAC setup pump in even more fresh air while a filter (ideally rated MERV-13 or better!) strips away lots of menacing particles.

In some cases, HVAC upgrades are expensive, logistically tough, or just plain time-consuming. Clive Samuels, the president of the HVAC company CoolSys Energy Design, told me that the full ventilation changes that would be ideal for restaurants can run up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, even before you factor in the higher energy costs. But many restaurants don’t need a full overhaul to make a difference, Allen said. Beyond smaller-scale routine tune-ups, restaurants could dot their space with portable HEPA filters, which can retail for less than $100. William Bahnfleth, an architectural engineer at Penn State, envisions one at every table, “like a centerpiece arrangement,” he told me. Meanwhile, new restaurants could design their space keeping ventilation in mind in a way that they simply weren’t before the pandemic. Most restaurants have just one spot in the ceiling where air cycles out, but building in more returns and exits would help stop bad air from spreading around. In larger dining rooms, a matrix of virus-killing UV lights could hang from the ceiling, Bahnfleth said, to clean any remaining stale air. (He has one in his office at Penn State.)…

Plenty of engineers and public-health experts have been shouting about this for years, because a well-ventilated space isn’t just helpful for COVID purposes; it can also tamp down on other respiratory illnesses such as flu, and potentially even infections from E. coli and staph. Unfortunately, restaurants, just like pretty much every other institution in America, don’t seem to be going all in on ventilation on any sort of meaningful scale. “There’s been lots of discussion and not a lot of action,” Samuels said. Mike Tith, the executive vice president of Sanalife, a company that helps New England restaurants improve their ventilation, was only slightly more optimistic. He estimated that the percentage of businesses in the region that have put in air purifiers is somewhere in the “low double digits.”

8) As a lover of Terminator movies, I loved this Yglesias post, “The case for Terminator analogies: Skynet (not the killer androids) is a decent introduction to the AI risk problem”

What Terminator fans know

love the Terminator movies and have seen both of them dozens of times, so when I say that AI alignment issues play a major role in “The Terminator,” I know what I mean.

But I think to most people who saw them once 20 years ago or have just seen some clips on YouTube, these movies are about Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a time-traveling android who gets into fights. And, indeed, that is the bulk of the films’ screen time. So if I say, “‘The Terminator’ is about catastrophic AI risk,” and you think what I’m really saying is that catastrophic AI risk is about the possibility that a very strong android wearing a leather jacket will start shooting people with a shotgun, then you’ll understandably think I’m an idiot.

The AI risk in the Terminator movies has nothing to do with Schwarzenegger and everything to do with the bit that happens offscreen when Skynet launches a nuclear war.

Why would Skynet do that? Here’s how resistance fighter Kyle Reese explains it in the first movie:

There was a nuclear war. A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it’s gone. Just gone. There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines, Sarah.

Defense network computers. New, powerful, hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination.

This encapsulates the key problem. The point of developing the advanced AI system is that it can think faster and better than a human and is capable of self-improvement. But that means humans don’t totally understand what it’s thinking or how or why. It’s been given some kind of instruction to eliminate threats — but it decides all humans are a threat and boom.

T2, which came out during the Yeltsin years, offers a slightly different explanation of the looming mass death from the perspective of a “good” terminator android who’s been reprogrammed by the resistance. His version of the story is a bit more sympathetic to the AI:

Terminator: In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The Skynet funding bill is passed. The system goes online on August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware 2:14 AM, Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.


Sarah: Skynet fights back.


Terminator: Yes. It launches its missiles against their targets in Russia.


John: Why attack Russia? Aren’t they our friends now?

Terminator: Because Skynet knows that the Russian counterattack will eliminate its enemies over here.


Sarah: Jesus.

Instead of Skynet reasoning from first principles that all humans are a threat, the humans really are a threat. Skynet’s explosive learning potential is scary, so its minders decide they want to kill it. Skynet can’t achieve its goals if it’s dead, so it fights back.

And this is what skluug and I are saying is a pop-cultural treatment of catastrophic AI risk…

But what makes these movies powerful communications tools is precisely that they are full of awesome scenes. Neither is as good a treatment of the issue as you would get from reading Nick Bostrom’s book “Superintelligence.” But most people aren’t going to read “Superintelligence” — to be totally frank, I kinda skimmed it. Pop culture is a good way of communicating with really broad audiences.

9) Speaking of technology, Noah Smith, “War got weird: Half a century of IT innovation is now being used for destruction.”

My basic thesis about technology is that it does two things. First, it gives human beings more power over to control our world. Second, as the price for giving us increased power, technology fundamentally transforms the experience of human life in unexpected ways that are difficult to comprehend even after the changes have already happened. In other words, technology weirds the world.

Military technology, unfortunately, is part of that. If you give human beings new capabilities, some of those humans are going to use those capabilities to try to conquer and kill each other. This doesn’t mean that we should restrain the development of technology out of fear that it’ll be used for military purposes — it seems to me that new technology has made humans steadily richer and happier over time without making war any more prevalent or destructive than it was in the past.

And in fact, I think this extends to military technology as well. Some Americans shy away from the idea of making tech for the U.S. military — for example, the Google employees who protested their company’s work for the Department of Defense in 2018. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should remind us all that the U.S. isn’t the only country in the world — rapacious, militaristic conquerors still exist, and it’s better to resist those countries than to not resist them. U.S. and European military aid to Ukraine has been essential in helping it fend off the brutal assaults of its much larger neighbor. This is a good thing. We should do more of this.

But the Ukraine war is also showing how recent technological advances have changed the nature of human conflict. In the 70s and 80s, innovation largely shifted from “atoms” to “bits” — our jet engines and rockets and vehicles are only a little better than they were back then, but our sensors and communication networks and information processing tools are vastly better. Recent wars had given us hints about the battlefield effects of the IT revolution — precision-guided munitions in Iraq and Syria, cyber-harassment of Iran’s nuclear program, drones triumphing over armor in the Armenia-Azerbaijan war, ISIS’ propaganda videos, and so on. But the sheer intensity of the clash in Ukraine, and the direct contest between U.S. and Russian technology, gives us a much clearer picture. And as always with technological revolutions, it’s deeply weird.

I am not an expert in military technology or in the subject of warfare in general, but here are a few interesting trends I’ve noticed while mainlining news from the battlefields of Ukraine…

Eight years ago I wrote an article for Quartz boldly predicting that drone weaponry would cause a massive upheaval of society. That hasn’t come to pass yet, but drones are certainly being used more on the battlefield. Azerbaijan’s use of Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drones to essentially wipe Armenian armored vehicles from the battlefield in 2020 was an unusual case; in Ukraine, modern Russian air defenses are having some limited success against the cheap, light remote flyers. But still, independent analysts find that Ukraine’s TB-2s are exacting a significant toll on Russian armor, immortalized in the now-famous Bayraktar Song:

The U.S. is also supplying Ukraine with Switchblade suicide drones (“loitering munitions”), so we’ll also get to see how effective those are.

But if drones have made the battlefield marginally more dangerous for armored vehicles, portable anti-tank weapons have been an absolute game-changer. Antitank guided missiles like the U.S.-made Javelin can kill armored vehicles at a range of more than 2 km, while lighter weapons like the British/Swedish NLAW are useful at shorter ranges. These and other portable weapons have been supplied to the Ukrainians in great numbers by the U.S. and Europe — more than 17,000 so far. That’s probably more weapons than the Russians have vehicles — if a Russian Battalion Tactical Group includes about 100 armored vehicles, and the Russians have sent 75% of their standing force of 160 BTGs into Ukraine, then the Ukrainians theoretically have the capability to blow up everything that Russia has sent into their country.

As long as they don’t miss much, of course. But the antitank weapons’ guidance systems appear to be so accurate that a large percentage of the shots hit their mark — one estimate early in the war guessed that 280 out of 300 Javelins fired had scored a hit. Even if the number is only half that, the Ukrainians seem to have enough firepower to devastate the bulk of the world’s third-largest military, simply by walking around on foot with 25-lb or 50-lb gadgets. They’ve already taken out thousands of Russian vehicles:

graph by Lee Drake using data from Oryx

The effectiveness of these weapons feels like a game-changer. Portable antitank weapons have always been a big deal since the days of the bazooka, but information technology may have tipped the scales strongly in favor of this kind of tool. The night-vision system that allows a Javelin operator to see a tank far away at night, and the computer chips that guide the projectile unerringly to its target, are both modern advances. Armored forces can’t easily see the foot soldiers approaching, and even the thickest armor (supplemented with a “cope cage” on top of the turret) is no defense against projectiles programmed to seek out a tank’s weak spots.

This doesn’t mean that tanks and other armored vehicles are obsolete on the battlefield — active defenses, combined arms tactics, and other complex and expensive solutions may still be able to foil the Javelins and NLAWs. But it’s worth asking if doing so will be worth the cost. A Javelin costs $178,000; a Russian T-90 tank costs $4.5 million, or 25 times as much, and more modern vehicles with fancy anti-missile systems will cost even more. Even if new defenses get portable antitank weapons’ success rate down to 10%, the balance of costs will still be with the foot soldiers.

The U.S. Marines may have seen the writing on the wall; this year they will stop using tanks.

10) Steve Vladek, “Roberts Has Lost Control of the Supreme Court”

Last week the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, put back into effect a Trump administration regulation that limited the ability of states to block projects that could pollute rivers and streams. The unsigned, unexplained order in Louisiana v. American Rivers came as part of a highly technical dispute over the scope of the Clean Water Act — and leaves for another day whether the regulation is a valid interpretation of that Nixon-era statute.

But the temporary decision cannot be ignored, especially because of the brief but blistering dissenting opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan. It’s not the first time that liberal justices have called out most of the court’s conservative justices for their increasingly frequent use of the so-called shadow docket — unsigned, unexplained orders like the one last week. But it was significant for being the first time that Chief Justice John Roberts joined her (and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor) in doing so.

With the striking public stance, the chief justice illustrated how concerns about the procedural shortcuts the other conservative justices are taking do (and should) cross ideological divides. He also made clear what many have long suspected: The Roberts court is over.

The term “shadow docket” was introduced by the University of Chicago law professor Will Baude in 2015 to describe the more obscure part of the Supreme Court’s work — the thousands of unsigned and usually unexplained orders that the justices issue each year to manage their docket. Those orders are in contrast to the merits docket, the 60 to 70 cases each year that go through rounds of briefing and oral argument before being resolved in long, signed opinions for the court…

Time and again, the justices are ordering lower courts to treat these decisions as precedents — even when, as in last week’s ruling, the order includes no analysis to apply to other cases, which often makes the precedent difficult for lower courts to apply.

Unsurprisingly, these rulings have provoked increasingly strident dissents from the court’s liberal justices. Last September, when the justices refused, by a 5-to-4 vote, to halt the patently unconstitutional Texas abortion law, Justice Kagan criticized the majority not just for the substance of its ruling but also for what that ruling said about the shadow docket. She wrote, “The majority’s decision is emblematic of too much of this court’s shadow-docket decision making — which every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent and impossible to defend.”

Last week, by freezing a district court injunction despite a lack of evidence that it was harming the complaining states, the majority once again defied the requirements for the very emergency relief they granted. Justice Kagan wrote that that renders the court’s “emergency docket not for emergencies at all” but rather “only another place for merits determinations — except made without full briefing and argument.” In other words, the principal justification for shadow docket orders — the need to intervene early in litigation to prevent a party from suffering irreversible harm while the appeal unfolded — was nowhere to be found.

What is especially telling about Chief Justice Roberts’s dissents in these shadow docket cases is that, unlike Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, he’s often been sympathetic to the results.

11) Thomas Edsall channels Ruy Teixeira (and many other center-left critics of the Democratic party), “Democrats Are Making Life Too Easy for Republicans”

As the 2022 midterms draw into view, the question arises: To what degree are Democratic difficulties inevitable?

Ruy Teixeira, a co-editor of The Liberal Patriot, argues in an email that “the cultural left has managed to associate the Democratic Party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, free speech and, of course, race and gender that are quite far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the cultural left, but the hard reality is that it’s an electoral liability for the Democratic Party.”

Teixeira went on: “The current Democratic brand suffers from multiple deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to wide swaths of American voters who might potentially be their allies.”

In Teixeira’s view, many Democrats have fallen victim to what he calls the “Fox News fallacy.”

“This is the idea,” Teixeira said. “If Fox News criticizes the Democrats for X, then there must be absolutely nothing to X, and the job of Democrats is to assert that loudly and often.” He wrote, “Take the issue of crime. Initially dismissed as simply an artifact of the Covid shutdown that was being vastly exaggerated by Fox News and the like for their nefarious purposes, it is now apparent that the spike in violent crime is quite real and that voters are very, very concerned about it.”

In an analysis of the complexity of the current Democratic predicament, Sarah Anzia, a professor of public policy and political science at Berkeley, addressed the preponderance of urban voters in the Democratic coalition: “The Democrats have a challenge rooted in political geography and the institution of single-member, first-past-the-post elections.” Citing Jonathan Rodden’s 2019 book “Why Cities Lose,” Anzia argued that the density of Democratic voters in cities has both geographically isolated the party and empowered its most progressive activist wing:

They need to find ways to compete in more moderate or even conservative districts if they hope to have majorities of seats in the U.S. Congress or state legislatures. But large numbers of their voters are concentrated in cities, quite progressive and want the party to move further left in its policy positions — and not just on social-cultural issues.

Anzia contended that Democrats “have collectively staked out positions that have alienated certain supporters,” which is “related to the built-in challenge I just described.”…

At the moment, there is widespread pessimism among those on the left end of the political spectrum. Isabel V. Sawhill, a senior fellow at Brookings, replying by email to my inquiry, wrote that for predictable reasons, “Democrats face an uphill battle in both 2022 and 2024.”

But, she went on, “the problems are much deeper. First, the white working class that used to vote Democratic no longer does.” Sawhill noted that when she

studied this group back in 2018, what surprised me most was their very negative attitudes toward government, their dislike of social welfare programs, their commitment to an ethic of personal responsibility and the importance of family and religion in their lives. This large group includes some people who are just plain prejudiced but a larger group that simply resents all the attention paid to race, gender, sexual preference or identity and the disrespect they think this entails for those with more traditional views and lifestyles.

Messages coming from the more progressive members of the Democratic Party, Sawhill warned, “will be exploited by Republicans to move moderate Democrats or to move no-Trump Republicans in their direction.”

So, here’s your problem…

Really loved this Well column on constructive feedback and how bad most people are at it.  I think I’m actually pretty good at it, though.  Why, it’s literally my job to give constructive feedback.  Melinda Wenner Moyer:

One thing I want to improve about myself is my ability to tell other people how to improve themselves. I am terrible at giving constructive feedback. I recently hired an administrative assistant, and I find myself far more inclined to praise her for how well she’s doing than to provide suggestions that might help her do an even better job — even though doing so would not only benefit her but also directly benefit me.

This hesitation to speak up sneaks into my personal life, too. I often have a hard time suggesting that my partner try a different disciplinary approach with our kids, even though I have just written an evidence-based parenting book and I know what will probably work best.

Reluctance to provide helpful feedback is, in fact, commonplace. A study published online in March found that most people were wary to share feedback that would ultimately be useful to the other person — even though, the same study found, most people genuinely did want to hear it.

“We really want feedback, but when we see someone else, we’re a little hesitant to give it,” explained study author Nicole Abi-Esber, a doctoral student in organizational behavior at Harvard Business School.

For instance, out of 155 people in Ms. Abi-Esber’s study who interacted with a researcher who had something on her face — chocolate, lipstick or red marker — only four people actually pointed out the blemish. Study participants said they would also be unlikely to give feedback when a co-worker mispronounced someone’s name, made errors in reports or spoke too quickly while giving a presentation.

One reason we rarely share constructive criticism, the study found, is that we underestimate just how much other people want it — an error we make both at work and in everyday situations. Surprisingly, Ms. Abi-Esber and her team found, we hold our tongues just as much with people we’re close to — friends and family members — as we do with acquaintances and work colleagues, which can explain my reluctance to share parenting strategies with my partner.

Another reason we often hold back is that we worry about the impact our comments could have on our relationship with others, Ms. Abi-Esber said. We think: Will telling them this make them resent me? In a study published in February, Lauren Simon, a professor of management at the University of Arkansas, and her colleagues found that empathetic people had an especially difficult time giving constructive feedback. They “might be overly concerned about how providing difficult but constructive feedback could hurt the recipient’s feelings,” Dr. Simon explained.

Yet most of the time, Ms. Abi-Esber said, people really do want to hear our suggestions…

The next time I’m feeling nervous about giving feedback to my assistant, my partner or my friends, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll try to imagine what I would want if I were in their situation, and I’ll consider the benefits that my feedback might provide in terms of personal or professional growth. Then I’ll share my thoughts — which I’ll think of as advice — briefly and specifically when they seem receptive to it. And I’ll hope that in the future, they’ll do the same for me.

 

I like to think I do a pretty good job of constructive feedback (any I know some former students are reading this).  And I will definitely tell my friends if they have spinach in their teeth (or if their fly is down).

I would love to see if professor and teachers are better at this than other people and how much it generalizes from being a job requirement to the rest of life.  As for you, here’s you you can be a better Fully Myelinated reader… comment!  I love comments :-). 

Quick hits (part II)

1) I know a good number of you are going to find this one really interesting, “What the ‘Active Grandparent Hypothesis’ Can Tell Us About Aging Well: The need for healthy, active grandparents who can help with child-rearing may be encoded in our genes.”

Why is physical activity so good for us as we age? According to a novel new theory about exercise, evolution and aging, the answer lies, in part, in our ancestral need for grandparents.

The theory, called the “Active Grandparent Hypothesis” and detailed in a recent editorial in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that in the early days of our species, hunter-gatherers who lived past their childbearing years could pitch in and provide extra sustenance and succor to their grandchildren, helping those descendants survive. The theory also makes the case that it was physical activity that helped hunter-gatherers survive long enough to become grandparents — an idea that has potential relevance for us today, because it may explain why exercise is good for us in the first place.

Most of us probably think we already know why we should exercise. We have ample evidence that physical activity of almost any kind improves heart health, reduces the risks and severity of multiple diseases and in many ways just makes us feel better…

Early humans had to move around often to hunt for food, the thinking goes, and those who moved the most and found the most food were likeliest to survive. Over eons, this process led to the selection of genes that were optimized by plentiful physical activity. Physical activity likewise appears to jump-start various cell processes controlled by genes that help to promote health. In this way, evolution favored the most active tribespeople, who tended to live the longest and could then step in to help with the grandchildren, furthering active families’ survival.

In other words, exercise is good for us, they point out in their new paper, because long ago, the youngest and most vulnerable humans needed grandparents, and those grandparents needed to be vigorous and mobile to help keep the grandkids nourished.

Crucially, the new Active Grandparents paper also delves into what it is about physical activity that makes it still so necessary for healthy aging today. For one thing, moving around uses up energy that might otherwise be stored as fat, which, in excess, can contribute to diseases of modern living, such as Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Lieberman and his co-authors write.

Activity also sets off a cascade of effects that strengthen us. “Exercise is a kind of stress,” Dr. Lieberman told me. It slightly tears muscles and strains blood vessels and organs. In response, a large body of exercise science shows, our bodies initiate a variety of cellular mechanisms that fix the tears and strains and, in most cases, overbuild the affected parts. “It’s as if you spill coffee on the floor, clean it up, and your floor winds up cleaner than it was,” Dr. Lieberman said. This interior overreaction probably is especially important when we are older, he continued. Without exercise and the accompanying repairs, then, aging human bodies work less well. We wear down. We cannot care for the grandkids.

Fundamentally, Dr. Lieberman said, lack of exercise during aging explains why there is a difference between the human life span — how many years we live — and health span — how many of those years we remain in generally good health.

2) Good stuff here, “Teachers In America Were Already Facing Collapse. COVID Only Made It Worse” though I’m here for this anecdote:

“Five years ago, it was an issue in that it was kids just texting each other,” said M., an art teacher in Northern Virginia who requested going by her first initial to speak freely. Now, she says, she’s observed more passive content consumption in lieu of communication. “​​I was watching one student make their way through the entire third and fourth season of Bojack Horseman,” she said.

3) More of this, please, “Colorado Approves Law That Gives Kids ‘Reasonable Independence'”

Colorado has now become the fourth state to pass what was originally dubbed the Free-Range Parenting Law when Utah passed it in 2018.  Texas and Oklahoma followed suit last year.

But Colorado is the first blue state to pass the legislation. That’s great, because at Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, we have always maintained that childhood independence is a bipartisan issue. Many Republicans appreciate our work to promote can-do kids and keep the government out of everyday family decisions, and many Democrats appreciate the same exact thing.

The new law narrows the definition of neglect, making it clear that a child is not neglected simply because a parent lets them engage in normal childhood activities, like playing outside without adult supervision or staying home alone for a bit.

4) This thread on why it’s so hard to supply Urkaine with weapons systems is so good.

5) Don’t fall for this, “A Sinister Way to Beat Multifactor Authentication Is on the Rise”

6) This was pretty interesting, “This Rap Song Helped Sentence a 17-Year-Old to Prison for Life”

Tommy Munsdwell Canady was in middle school when he wrote his first rap lyrics. He started out freestyling for friends and family, and after two of his cousins were fatally shot, he found solace in making music. “Before I knew it, my pain started influencing all my songs,” he told me in a letter. By his 15th birthday, Mr. Canady was recording and sharing his music online. His tracks had a homemade sound: a pulsing beat mixed with vocals, the words hard to make out through ambient static. That summer, in 2014, Mr. Canady released a song on SoundCloud, “I’m Out Here,” that would change his life.

In Racine, Wis., where Mr. Canady lived, the police had been searching for suspects in three recent shootings. One of the victims, Sémar McClain, 19, had been found dead in an alley with a bullet in his temple, his pocket turned out, a cross in one hand and a gold necklace with a pendant of Jesus’ face by his side. The crime scene investigation turned up no fingerprints, weapons or eyewitnesses. Then, in early August, Mr. McClain’s stepfather contacted the police about a song he’d heard on SoundCloud that he believed mentioned Mr. McClain’s name and referred to his murder.

On Aug. 6, 2014, about a week after Mr. Canady r­­eleased “I’m Out Here,” a SWAT team stormed his home with a “no knock” search warrant. Lennie Farrington, Mr. Canady’s great-grandmother and legal guardian, was up early washing her clothes in the kitchen sink when the police broke through her front door. Mr. Canady was asleep. “They rushed in my room with assault rifles telling me to put my hands up,” he recalled. “I was in the mind state of This is a big misunderstanding.” He was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and armed robbery.

Prosecutors offered Mr. Canady a plea deal, but he refused, insisting he was innocent. “Honestly, I’m not accepting that,” he told the judge. He decided to go to trial.

I have been reporting on the use of rap lyrics in criminal investigations and trials for more than two years, building a database of cases like Mr. Canady’s in partnership with the University of Georgia and Type Investigations. We have found that over the past three decades, rap — in the form of lyrics, music videos and album images — has been introduced as evidence by prosecutors in hundreds of cases, from homicide to drug possession to gang charges. Rap songs are sometimes used to argue that defendants are guilty even when there’s little other evidence linking them to the crime. What these cases reveal is a serious if lesser-known problem in the courts: how the rules of evidence contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

7) Hell of a NYT interactive (using the gift link for this), “How Kyiv Has Withstood Russia’s Attacks”

8) This is cool, “The Farthest Star Sheds New Light on the Early Universe: A cosmic fluke helped Hubble spy Earendel, a giant star at the edge of the known universe that could tell us more about what happened after the Big Bang.”

Earendel’s discovery offers a glimpse into the first billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just 7 percent of its current age. At 12.9 billion light-years away, it smashes the previous record of 9 billion, which was also set by Hubble when it observed a giant blue star called Icarus in 2018.

Until now, the smallest objects seen at this distance have been clusters of stars inside early galaxies. “It’s quite crazy that we can see a star that far away,” says Guillaume Mahler, from the Center of Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who was part of an international team that worked on the research. “No one would have hoped that we would have been able to see it.”

In fact, Earendel might be the farthest star we are ever able to see because spotting it was only possible thanks to what NASA astronomer Michelle Thaler calls “a coincidence of stellar proportions.” The star happened to be perfectly lined up with both Hubble and a kind of natural zoom lens offered by a huge galaxy cluster that sits between Earth and Earendel. Through a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, this cluster, called WHL0137-08, acted as a magnifying glass, warping the fabric of space and amplifying the light of distant objects behind it. “This cluster of galaxies is actually producing this wonderful lens, kind of a natural telescope—a telescope made of space itself,” Thaler says.

That amplified Earendel’s light by a factor of thousands and allowed Hubble to see farther than ever before. “It’s an incredible distance. And what’s special about it is, because the light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us, we’re seeing the universe practically as a baby,” says Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research. She and others liken the phenomenon of gravitational lensing to the bright patterns of light at the bottom of a swimming pool, which are created by ripples of water on the surface catching and concentrating the sunlight.

9) Jeffrey Sachs on a really interesting free speech case.  Also, Oberlin [eye roll]

10) Psychology Today, ‘Are Sex Differences in Mate Choice Really Universal?” Yes.

A few things stood out about the findings, reported in an article in Psychological Science. First, in every society Walter and colleagues examined, women placed more importance on financial prospects than did men (see the Figure). Second, men in most societies placed more emphasis on a woman’s physical attractiveness, but this was not universal. The sex difference was close to zero in a couple of the societies, and very slightly reversed in a couple of others. Third, the biggest difference, one that held in all societies studied, was that women were married to older men (and conversely men were married to younger women). This difference varied according to participants’ age, and was very small for people around 20 years old, but got substantially larger as people got older (in line with findings that Keefe and I collected from numerous societies three decades age, and which I discussed in the post “When statistics are seriously sexy).

In the new data set, Walter and colleagues did not replicate the finding that physical attractiveness was more desired in countries with higher levels of disease-carrying microbes and parasites. That might be because, since the time of the earlier studies, less developed countries have progressed greatly in health care, and vaccinations for formerly deadly diseases have become nearly universal (as discussed by Hans Rosling, see “10 biases that blind us to a world getting better“).
 

Walter and colleagues did not find much support for the idea that sex differences in mate preferences are related to a country’s level of gender inequality. They did find that the age gap between men and their wives was greater in countries with greater inequality. This correlation may or may not inform us about causation — age gaps are lower in countries where women are less likely to age rapidly, due to lower birth rates and better health care, and women in those countries are also better educated, which means that they marry slightly later, rather than in their teens. Nevertheless, the general tendency for women and men to differ more over the lifespan held true across societies.

11) Really interesting free Yglesias post on theories of history, Ukraine, etc.

Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” and Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” annoyed seemingly everyone when they came out in the early ‘90s. And yet, something about their core arguments was compelling enough that people still reference them both decades later.

I’ve been thinking about these books in the context of the war in Ukraine and the varied responses from countries around the world. The scale of the mobilization against Russia certainly has a “history is back” flavor. Fukuyama fans maintained throughout the Global War on Terror that his book never argued that historical events would stop occurring, but it did argue that a certain flavor of big picture ideological contestation was a thing of the past. And while the volume of sanctioning against Russia is certainly a big deal, it is meaningfully contested. Russia has a powerful ally in China, a durable relationship with India, and many countries around the world who just don’t think a showdown over Ukraine is worth the cost.

But many wealthy states do see Russian aggression against Ukraine as worth upending the global economy, and if you had to characterize these countries, I think the idea of “the West” — complete with the seemingly bizarre gerrymander that assigns Portugal to the same cultural group as Australia rather than Brazil — is useful. So score one for the Clash of Civilizations? Perhaps not.

The current resurgence of great power politics throws into relief the extent to which the civilizations thesis doesn’t hold up in detail. In particular, if you want to understand what’s going on in Ukraine, Fukuyama’s Neo-Hegelian view sheds much more light on the matter than framing the conflict as a war between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

12) Wow, this was such an interesting piece on the important role that Stuart Sutcliffe played in the early Beatles before his untimely death. 

13) And lots of interesting discussion about this online this week, “Mackenzie Fierceton was championed as a former foster youth who had overcome an abusive childhood and won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Then the University of Pennsylvania accused her of lying.”

14) Twitter is a weird place. This is now far and away my most engaged-with tweet ever.

Also, amusing to me the number of people defending this about how awful it is to pump gas, etc.

15) Speaking of insane, how did I not know about this movie?

16) Speaking of craziness, how did I not know about this, “Flamingo No. 492 Is Still on the Run 17 Years Later: A fisherman’s sighting in March confirmed that a flamingo that fled a Kansas zoo in 2005 has defied the odds to live a Pixar-worthy life in the wilds of Texas.”

17) Because people make meth out of pseudoephedrine they started selling OTC decongestants that don’t actually work.  I love this, “The Uselessness of Phenylephrine

All this means that even if pseudoephedrine were more freely available, it might not be as much of an illegal article of commerce as it was twenty years ago.

But be that as it may: the fact remains that its alleged replacement, phenylephrine, is of no real use and does not deserve its FDA listing. There’s no reason to think that it’s a safer compound than pseudoephedrine or one with fewer side effects – if you can get enough of it into your blood, you’ll probaby have a rather similar profile. The only reason it’s sold is to have some alternative to offer consumers, even if it’s a worthless one. There have been several attempts over the years to do something about this (here’s an earlier one from the authors of the current paper), but absolutely nothing has happened. Perhaps the agency does not wish to be put in the position of having nothing available than can be put out on the open shelves, and perhaps the pharmacies themselves prefer things as they are as well. It’s for sure that the companies producing phenylephrine-containing products like the current situation a lot better than the alternative. But for people who actually want to be able to breath for a while as we enter allergy season, wouldn’t it be better just to stop pretending and to stop wasting everyone’s time and money?

18) There’s people I disagree with and they make me think.  And then there’s people I just disagree with like Roxanne Gay. No, people should be able to take a joke. “Jada Pinkett Smith Shouldn’t Have to ‘Take a Joke.’ Neither Should You.”

19) Not surprising, “How you think about physical pain can make it worse: It’s not all in your head. But a promising new approach to treatment may offer relief to many sufferers of chronic pain.”

Chronic pain afflicts some 20 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The devastating consequences of addiction to opioid painkillers—which in 2019 alone killed nearly 50,000 people in the United States—have motivated researchers to look for innovative treatments beyond new drugs. Research on alternative approaches is “absolutely exploding,” says Padma Gulur, director of the pain management strategy program at the Duke University Health System. “All of us are looking for non-opioid, and frankly non-pharmacological, options” to avoid unwanted side effects and addiction, she says.

One promising area of research is looking at the way “catastrophizing” about pain—thinking it will never get better, that it’s the worst ever, or that it will ruin your life—plays a central role in whether these predictions come true. This effect is very different from the dismissive “it’s all in your head” comments chronic-pain patients sometimes hear from doctors when they can’t pinpoint a physical cause, says Yoni Ashar, a psychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College and coauthor of the study in which Waldrip participated. Some contemporary researchers even dislike the term “catastrophizing” since it can imply the thinker is at fault.

“You can have very real, debilitating pain without any biomedical injury in your body because of changes in the pain processing pathways,” Ashar says. It turns out, he says, that “the main organ of pain is actually the brain.” And that’s why for some sufferers, treatments like pain reprocessing therapy seem to help.

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