Quick hits (part I)

1) Chait on the Senate is so good, “The Senate Is America’s Most Structurally Racist Institution”

The Senate was not designed to benefit white voters — almost all voters were white when the Constitution went into effect — but it has had that effect. The reason is simple: Residents of small states have proportionally more representation, and small states tend to have fewer minority voters. Therefore, the Senate gives more voting power to white America, and less to everybody else. The roughly 2.7 million people living in Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota, who are overwhelmingly white, have the same number of Senators representing them as the 110 million or so people living in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, who are quite diverse. The overall disparity is fairly big. As David Leonhardt calculated, whites have 0.35 Senators per million people, while Blacks have 0.26, Asian-Americans 0.25, and Latinos just 0.19.

The Senate is affirmative action for white people. If we had to design political institutions from scratch, nobody — not even Republicans — would be able to defend a system that massively overrepresented whites. And yet, while we are yanking old 30 Rock episodes and holding White Fragility struggle sessions in boardrooms, a massive source of institutionalized racial bias is sitting in plain sight.

2) And, let’s go back to Chait from 2002(!!) taking on the awfulness (seriously!) of Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware.

Until one day several years ago, I, like most people, harbored no ill feelings toward the state of Delaware. I suppose in some vague sense I thought of it as harmless and even endearing, the way you tend to regard other small things, such as Girl Scouts or squirrels. But all that changed the summer day I moved to Washington, when, making my way down I-95 in a rental truck with all of my worldly belongings, I screeched to a halt in front of what turned out to be a two-hour backup in Delaware. Never having driven down the East Coast, I at first assumed the traffic jam must have been caused by some horrific accident. But as my truck crept forward I saw it was no accident at all but a deliberate obstruction—specifically, a tollboth on the Delaware Turnpike. Slowly the full horror of it sunk in: The State of Delaware had turned the East Coast’s main traffic artery into a sweltering parking lot merely so it could exact a tribute from each driver crossing its miserable little stretch of concrete.

The practice of charging road tolls is an archaic holdover blighting much of the Northeast. But Delaware has taken it to a grotesque extreme. Whereas the I-95 tolls amount to less than five cents per mile in New Jersey and four cents per mile in Maryland, in Delaware they cost an exorbitant 18 cents per mile. Which isn’t surprising because, in a deeper sense, Delaware’s tolls epitomize the state’s entire ethos. The organizing principle of the Delaware government is to subsidize its people at the rest of the country’s expense. While tolls represent the most obvious of the state’s nefarious methods, Delaware also utilizes its appallingly lax regulation of banks and corporations to enrich itself while undermining its neighbors. Indeed, Delaware’s image as small and inoffensive is not merely a misconception but a purposeful guise. It presents itself as a plucky underdog peopled by a benevolent, public-spirited, entrepreneurial citizenry. In truth, it is a rapacious parasite state with a long history of disloyalty and avarice.

Not all the instruments of Delaware’s rapacity take the form of meddlesome, high-handed government exacting inflated costs on out-of-state visitors. When need be, the state’s avarice can also be fed by the exact opposite. An example of this latter technique is Delaware’s enticement of much of the banking industry to relocate within its borders. It did so in 1981 not only by offering special tax breaks—the standard formula that states and localities use to woo industry—but by eviscerating its usury laws, which limit the interest a bank can charge for loans or credit cards. Seizing the opportunity to exploit unwary consumers across the country, eight of the ten largest credit-card firms in the country now operate within Delaware. In the meantime, personal bankruptcy nationwide has risen sevenfold over the last two decades, and tens of millions of Americans send checks to Delaware every month.

Undoubtedly this has spurred Delaware’s economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs, which in turn have produced enough tax revenue to allow the state to slash its other taxes. But it has also made it nearly impossible for other states to regulate even the most predatory kinds of loan-sharking. Last year, for instance, Pennsylvania barred one of its banks from engaging in “payday lending.” This practice entails lending to poor, financially unsophisticated consumers for two weeks. When they can’t repay the loan, they typically take out another, repeating the cycle and paying interest rates that can exceed 700 percent. But just after the Pennsylvania bank ceased its payday lending, a bank based out of Delaware opened up shop in its place.

3) Jennifer Rubin on the Republican Party:

A Republican Party that does not depend on White grievance and cultural resentment (leading to incessant whining that its members are victims of everything from Facebook to climate scientists to immigrants) and does not depend on what Brooks aptly describes as “an anti-government zombie Reaganism long after Reagan was dead and even though the nation’s problems were utterly different from what they were when he was alive” would frankly not have much to say. After you strip away those two failed themes, what’s left?

The unpleasant truth for those expected to say “there are fine people” in both parties is that, aside from a few stray governors and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), there really are not fine people running the Republican Party. They have sold their souls to Trump and either passively or actively bought into white supremacy and religious authoritarianism (which weirdly has as its most vocal proponent the attorney general). They waged war on the Constitution and objective reality. There is nothing redeeming in any of that — or in the right-wing media machine encompassing the deluded true believers and money-hungry charlatans willing to throw red meat to an audience they suppose consists of uneducated bigots.

4) Bernstein on Trump and the Post Office:

I suppose I have to talk post office. But I’m going to leave to others the (fully justified) outrage about what certainly appears to be an attempt by President Donald Trump to improperly, and perhaps illegally, prevent absentee ballots from arriving in time. What I find astonishing is just how out of touch a president has to be to think that no one will be upset by an apparently deliberate slowdown in mail service. As the political scientist Ken Schultz put it: “Don’t Republican Senators have constituents who depend on a functioning postal service?”

The thing is that Trump, by opposing money for the U.S. Postal Service and supporting “reforms” that have slowed it down, is just handing former Vice President Joe Biden yet another easy campaign issue. Democrats may or may not be able to overturn new procedures that are causing significant problems, but they certainly can make sure that anyone who’s waiting on a letter or a package thinks that Trump is responsible when it doesn’t show up on time. And that’s not the kind of thing politicians want voters to blame them for.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/13/politics/kamala-harris-vp-pick-analysis/index.html

Arguably, the biggest mistake Biden could have made was the selection of an inexperienced candidate. It could have made voters question his judgment. That’s what political scientists Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko believe happened to Sen. John McCain in 2008, after he picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
That charge against Harris, though, is unlikely to stick given her qualifications.
Indeed, the examples of Palin along with Dan Quayle in 1988 are good ones for understanding the scope of the vice presidential effect. Both were viewed unfavorably by voters, as they stumbled through questions about their readiness for the office. Palin lost in 2008, but Quayle, as the running mate of George H.W. Bush, won in 1988 even after having one of the worst debate performances in modern history. (Not surprisingly, my research indicates vice presidential debates don’t move the needles.)

5) Ummm… so there’s a new Bill and Ted movie coming?!  And music video by Weezer!

6) Love this idea, “The Logic Around Contact Tracing Apps Is All Wrong: Rather than tracking individual exposures, we should be using them for real-time info on what activities and locations may be responsible for the spread.”

7) Trump has launched an attack on the Constitution— hell yeah, he has.  And what we should do about it:

First, states should pass statutes making clear that vote-counting must be done not by December 8, but by January 6—and ideally by December 23, which still provides crucial additional time. This will ensure that a state legislature can’t claim voters “failed to make a choice” simply because vote-counting necessarily continued past Election Day, and that Congress can’t disregard results from states simply because they arrive after December 8, or after December 14, the statutory (but not constitutional) date set for the Electoral College to meet and to send vote counts to the Senate and archivist.

Second, states should adopt a postmark rule, whereby every ballot postmarked on or before November 3 is included in the tally. If the question isn’t whether ballots are received by November 3 but instead whether they’re sent by that date, a deliberately tardy Postal Service no longer poses the same threat. Of course, not all states may be able to accomplish this through legislation, but state courts may provide another promising path. One example is the set of voters in Minnesota who sued their secretary of state to challenge the state law that said absentee ballots would be counted only if received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. A Minnesota court approved a settlement with the voters that requires all absentee ballots to be postmarked on or before November 3 and arrive no more than seven days after Election Day to be counted. This decision indicates that any rule to count only ballots received by Election Day during this pandemic is an unlawful burden on voting rights, in violation of the equal-protection provisions of state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution.

Third, states should start the mail-in and early-voting processes well before November 3, and as soon as the candidates up and down the ballot are known. This will help states count the unprecedented wave of mail-in ballots they’re about to receive.

Fourth, states should invest in vote-by-mail infrastructure, such as what Colorado has in place, including dedicated drop boxes for ballots that bypass the postal system entirely. What’s more, states should urge loudly that federal money to help with this task be included in the next coronavirus-relief package.

And fifth, states should, in every way possible—including by litigation—erase any doubt that they mean to count every legitimate ballot, even if counting needs to continue not just until December 8 but until December 23 and, if necessary, until January 6. The difference could be between losing American democracy and saving it.

Trump thinks he has a trio of tricks up his sleeve for November: Slow the mail, rely on Republican state legislatures to deem Election Day a failure with so many votes still uncounted, and decry as illegitimate all vote-counting that persists past Election Day, and certainly past December 8. State legislatures and courts should act now to show just how futile this strategy would be for Trump. In so doing, they would be shoring up the electorate’s confidence in our voting system’s integrity, and would be reinforcing the foundations of a great democracy by reaffirming a simple principle: If we believe in one person, one vote, then every American’s lawfully cast vote should be counted.

My take?  Nobody who is not voting in person needs to wait till November to actually vote.  Needs to be a huge push to get Democratic  voters to vote well before November so that these issues with how long the count may take are a moot point.

8) Linnette Lopez on Republicans and Kanye:

No doubt Trump and the GOP were surprised when polling showed that running rapper Kanye West as a third party candidate would only attract 2% of the national vote. Running him was supposed to take black people away from the Biden (now Biden-Harris) ticket.

But that won’t work. Black people have been ignoring Kanye since Yeezus came out. It’s hard to tell if the GOP thought this troll would work because it is populated by foolish racists, or it thought this would work because the party leaders assume black people are foolish, because it’s populated by racists. Either way, no.

Over at Vanity Fair, Gabe Sherman reports that Trump was caught off guard when Biden picked California Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate. He thought Biden would pick relatively unknown California Congresswoman, Karen Bass.

Trump thought Biden would pick Bass because it’s what he would do — pick the person with less name recognition so that he could shine at the top of the ticket. But Biden doesn’t think like Trump, so Trump miscalculated.

These missteps are partly due to the fact that Trump and GOP only read, listen, and watch their own media, Sherman says. When they see the news they don’t see what the rest of America sees — they see a doddering old Biden and a Harris who looks and sounds just like progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And they are tribal. So they assume everyone else in America is as tribal as they are. That’s how they figured a black man who has openly disparaged the black community and its experience could siphon off black votes.

The rest of America does not live entirely in this Fox News reality. Down in Arizona, a focus group of voters told NPR that they’re not buying Trump’s attacks on Biden as soft on crime. They know he doesn’t want to “defund the police,” and after what they’ve seen, they support the Black Lives Matter movement. The Trump campaign’s dark messaging on that front is seen as exaggerated, it doesn’t move them. What really matters to these voters is seeing some progress in the fight against the coronavirus — a reality no media bubble can entirely obscure at this point.

In short: Trump and his cohorts are swinging and missing. The mark is the virus, and the campaign is still about Trump’s performance with it, not about Biden or AOC. You hear time and time again that the Trump campaign sees itself doing well against a “defined” Joe Biden, but unless it steps out of its own echo chamber, it will never know that it’s definitions are meaningless to a lot of Americans. This is why they say you should never buy your own BS.

9) Dana Goldstein, “Lost Summer: How Schools Missed a Chance to Fix Remote Learning: Education leaders spent months preparing to reopen classrooms. But with online learning set to continue for millions of students this fall, schools must catch up with reality.”

10) Good stuff from Political Scientist, Paul Musgrave, “Trump’s secret political weapon: Wasting his opponents’ time”

But the battle over TikTok and WeChat is part of a now-familiar story. The president or his loyalists threaten to upend some policy, institution or norm they know others will fight to defend. Issuing the challenge can be easy: a speech, a leak, a tweet or two, about immigration rules or education regulations or cutting taxes on the rich. In response, Trump’s opponents must invest substantial time, money and effort to resist the proposal — otherwise, Trump wins by default.

Essentially, the administration has weaponized wasting everyone else’s time.

It’s a struggle between firefighters and a spree arsonist. The firefighters must stamp out every blaze, while the arsonist enjoys pouring accelerant, igniting a spark and sauntering off to start anew with kindling elsewhere. And the gradual exhaustion of the firefighters makes it likelier that they will someday fail to contain the flames.

Over the past several years, Trump and his loyalists have frequently managed to weaken and wear out those they see as enemies by proposing moves that cost the administration little. In these cases, the president often wins either by getting the policy he wants or by making his adversaries — among activists, nonprofits, lawyers, legislators, even business executives — spend disproportionately more effort in response. This phenomenon, as much as the administration’s overt malevolence and incompetence, has helped make the Trump era feel like a never-ending cycle. If it seems as if we are fighting the same battles over and over instead of making progress, that’s because in many cases, we are.

Consider the recent fracas over visas for international students. Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that foreigners studying at U.S. colleges and universities would lose their visas if their schools suspended in-person instruction because of the pandemic. ICE’s announcement, just weeks before the coronavirus-accelerated start of the fall semester, upset the plans of hundreds of universities and hundreds of thousands of foreign students.

The response was immediate. Dozens of states and universities filed lawsuits to block the rule. Outraged professors pledged to find ways around it. And then, eight days later, the crisis was over; the administration suddenly said that it was dropping the proposal.

By the usual measures of policy effectiveness — whether any laws passed or regulations changed — nothing happened. Yet the costs of “nothing” were immense. For a single university, analyzing the ICE rule’s effects and determining a response could easily tie up tens of administrators for 10- or 12-hour days. Multiplied by the hundreds of universities affected, it’s reasonable to believe that higher education spent tens or hundreds of thousands of staff hours coping with the rule (while schools were already beset by a public health crisis).

11) Is there anything more hypocritical than a “Constitutional Conservative.”  It’s really just a euphemism for “conservative blowhard who cloaks his ideological preferences in grandiloquent language.  David Plotz:

Politicians are very good at praising themselves, and among Republicans these days, the most fashionable self-flattery is: “I’m a constitutional conservative.”

Sen. Ted Cruz can barely order a soy latte without calling himself a “constitutional conservative.” Sen. Tom Cotton, too, styles himself one. Sen. Josh Hawley is so constitutionally conservative that it’s the top of his biography, in all caps.

But what on earth does it mean to be a constitutional conservative if you’re encouraging this to be done to the Constitution in your name?

Let’s start with postal delivery, which is one of the very few government obligations the Constitution insists on: This week the President declared that he would sabotage mail delivery in order to help him win reelection. Is that what the framers intended with Article 1, Section 8, senators?

The Constitution requires a Census this year, an “actual enumeration” of everyone living in the United States (or “these United States,” as constitutional conservatives like to intone). But despite a pandemic, despite begging by all census experts, the Trump administration has refused to extend the Census in order to “actually enumerate” everyone, but rather have cut the data collection short by a month — with the blatant goal of reducing the count of poorer and marginalized people and immigrants to increase GOP political power. Is this what the Framers intended with Article 1, Section 2?

The president has used his office to ask foreign governments for financial benefits. Just a couple weeks ago, it came out that he pushed his UK ambassador to lobby the British government to move the British Open golf tournament to a Trump golf club. Trump has repeatedly asked foreign leaders for help that would personally benefit him, and in fact just this past week said he’d accept election assistance from foreign governments. (Election assistance that Vladimir Putin is already giving, as Trump’s own intelligence officials determined, before he fired them.) When the Framers wrote Article 1, Section 9 and Article 2, Section 1, did they believe a president should seek compensation and electoral help from foreign princes?

The President has stacked his administration with acting officials rather than asking for the advice and consent of the Senate for their approval. Just last week he withdrew the controversial Senate nomination of a DOD official, and simply appointed him to do the same work in a non-confirmation job. Constitutional conservatives went ballistic when Democrats skirted the advice and consent requirement of Article 2, Second 2. Do they believe the Framers intended for President Trump to be held to a different standard?

These are just the ways the Trump administration has insulted the Constitution — and not merely the Constitution, but the core parts of the Constitution — in the past month. (Oh wait, as I am finishing this, I realize I forgot about the executive orders: Trump is also spending billions of dollars Congress didn’t appropriate on an unemployment program Congress didn’t approve! Oh, and the President is also trying to seize Congress’s taxation authority by unilaterally pausing collection of the payroll tax.)

This nation will not survive as the constitutional republic that constitutional conservatives claim they want to preserve if they’re willing to abuse the Constitution when it’s politically convenient.

12) Great piece on immunity in MIT Technology Review:

The large number of people already infected with the coronavirus in the US has begun to act as a brake on the spread of the disease in hard-hit states.

Millions of US residents have been infected by the virus that causes covid-19, and at least 160,000 are dead. One effect is that the pool of susceptible individuals has been depleted in many areas. After infection, it’s believed, people become immune (at least for months), so they don’t transmit the virus to others. This slows the pandemic down.

“I believe the substantial epidemics in Arizona, Florida and Texas will leave enough immunity to assist in keeping COVID-19 controlled,” Trevor Bedford, a pandemic analyst at the University of Washington, said on Friday, in a series of tweets. “However, this level of immunity is not compatible with a full return to societal behavior as existed before the pandemic.”

The exact extent to which acquired immunity is slowing the rate of transmission is unknown, but major questions like school reopening and air travel may eventually hinge on the answer.

What is known is that after rising at an alarming pace starting in May, new cases of covid-19 in Sun Belt states like Florida have started to fall. Some of that may be due to social distancing behavior, but rising rates of immunity are also a factor, according to Youyang Gu, a computer scientist whose Covid-19 Projections is among 34 pandemic models tracked by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Immunity may play a significant part in the regions that are declining,” says Gu. At least until the fall, which is how far his models look forward, he says, “I don’t think there is going to be another spike” of infections in southern states.

13) One thing I’m not clear on is… yes, Europe basically crushed the virus, but was it actually overkill.  Based on what we know, did they have to go to these lengths?

This spring, when Western Europe became an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, countries imposed strict lockdowns: In France, a person needed a permit to go shopping; Spain required children to stay indoors the entire day; in Scotland and Wales, people could go outside for a walk only once a day and had to stay within a five-mile radius. Thanks to this, European countries were able to not only flatten the Covid-19 curve but to also keep levels of infection very low.

14) Cool interactive on why bars are such great Covid-transmitting hotspots.  Don’t go to bars!

15) The Alt-Right is way worse than the Woke Left.  Way, way worse.  But, that doesn’t mean they don’t share some disturbing commonalities in thought patterns.  This research makes sense to me.  Quillete:

new study published in the journal Heliyon offers some evidence to back up these broad cultural observations. Researchers Jordan Moss and Peter J. O’Connor, both of the Queensland University of Technology, studied a group of 511 US residents, stratified according to age, gender, ethnicity, and employment so as to be roughly representative of the US population as a whole, with a view to examining the link between political attitudes and the so-called three “Dark Triad” personality traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. These are traits linked with toxic personality types, including those associated with manipulative, self-centered, and callous behavior. In an e-mail, Moss told me that he had noticed a change in the university climate. “I wanted to know why these ideas propelled the cultural conversation as much as it seemed… and decided to look into the psychological traits that these ideas manifest from,” he told me.

The authors note that “the majority of research on personality traits and political constructs has focused primarily on mainstream political attitudes and behaviours. These studies often use unidimensional measures of left-right political orientation or simple two-dimensional measures of liberalism and conservatism.” In light of the fragmentation of long-standing political coalitions in recent years, however, these simplistic models now seem inadequate. And so Moss and O’Connor chose instead to study three sets of attitudes “falling outside of the traditional continuum,” designated by the researchers as (1) Political Correctness-Authoritarianism (PCA), (2) Political Correctness-Liberalism (PCL), and (3) White Identitarianism (WI). While the latter is a right-wing subculture (often known as alt-right), the first two are variants of leftist ideology. Both PCA and PCL are centered on protecting minorities from discrimination and criticism. But PCA adherents, unlike PCL counterparts, embrace “the belief that aggression and force are appropriate methods to achieve ideological goals.”…

What Moss and O’Connor found is that while right-wing adherents of WI and left-wing adherents of PCA are “thought to reflect opposing ends… of the political spectrum,” they actually shared remarkably similar personality characteristics: “Our study indicates that an emerging set of mainstream political attitudes—most notably PCA, WI, are largely being adopted by individuals high in DT [i.e., Dark Triad traits] and entitlement. Individuals high in authoritarianism—regardless of whether [they] hold politically correct or rightwing views—tend to score highly on DT and entitlement. Such individuals therefore are statistically more likely than average to be higher in psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism and entitlement.” (The authors also supply a footnote to the effect that “we also ran all analyses controlling for the Big Five personality traits—Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism—to check whether effects of [Dark Triad] variables could simply be attributed to normal variation in personality. Our results confirmed that incremental validity of [Dark Triad] traits and Entitlement remained [statistically significant] for both WI and PCA when controlling for Big Five traits in addition to age, sex, education, and ethnicity.”)

16) Ed Yong’s article on the complexity of human immunity is really, really good.  If you only read one article on the human immune system and Covid, this should probably be it.  No pull quotes– just read and dramatically improve your understanding of immunity.

17) And another great article on immunity (mostly looking at herd immunity) from David Wallace-Wells:

It is true, as Gomes suggests, that the possibility of lower effective herd-immunity thresholds has not taken center stage in the public-health discussion surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, the possibility that heterogeneity in pandemic spread would to some extent lower the herd-immunity threshold has recently begun to get more serious mainstream attention. At the end of June, Kevin Hartnett wrote in the science magazine Quanta that the math was a bit “trickier” than the 1-1/R0 implied, particularly because the actual R figure — the number of new infections produced by every case — shifted naturally over time. Then, a few weeks ago, The Atlantic’s James Hamblin gave the hypothesis its most high-profile airing, citing several researchers and modelers, including Gomes, Tom Britton, and Marc Lipsitch, suggesting that heterogeneity could bring herd immunity much faster than 60 percent. Indeed, Gomes suggested, herd immunity could happen with as little as one quarter of the population of a community exposed — or perhaps just 20 percent. “We just keep running the models, and it keeps coming back at less than 20 percent,” she told Hamblin. “It’s very striking.” Such findings, if they held up, would be very instructive, as Hamblin writes: “It would mean, for instance, that at 25 percent antibody prevalence, New York City could continue its careful reopening without fear of another major surge in cases.”

But for those hoping that 25 percent represents a true ceiling for pandemic spread in a given community, well, it almost certainly does not, considering that recent serological surveys have shown that perhaps 93 percent of the population of Iquitos, Peru, has contracted the disease; as have more than half of those living in Indian slums; and as many as 68 percent in particular neighborhoods of New York City. And though there is some risk of herd-immunity “overshoot,” as Carl Bergstrom and Natalie Dean warned back in early May while contemplating the Swedish no-lockdown strategy and the risks of rushing to herd immunity, overshoot of that scale would seem unlikely if the “true” threshold were as low as 20 or 25 percent.

But, of course, that threshold may not be the same in all places, across all populations, and is surely affected, to some degree, by the social behavior taken to protect against the spread of the disease. As with so many aspects of the coronavirus, we probably err when we conceive of group immunity in simplistically binary terms. While herd immunity is a technical term referring to a particular threshold at which point the disease can no longer spread, some amount of community protection against that spread begins almost as soon as the first people are exposed, with each case reducing the number of unexposed and vulnerable potential cases in the community by one. This is why, even without interventions like social distancing, mask-wearing, and shelter-in-place, you would not expect a disease to spread in a purely exponential way until the point of herd immunity, at which time the spread would suddenly stop. Instead, you would expect that growth to slow as more people in the community were exposed to the disease, with most of them emerging relatively quickly with some immune response. Add to that the effects of even modest, commonplace protections — intuitive social distancing, some amount of mask-wearing — and you could expect to get an infection curve that tapers off well shy of 60 percent exposure.

18) Super-cool interactive, “What happens to viral particles on the subway.”  Ventilation!!

19) Jamelle Bouie, “How to Foil Trump’s Election Night Strategy: To keep the president from claiming victory on Nov. 3, Biden supporters who can vote in person may well have to.”

Though, even with mail shenanigans, I think people voting by mail in the first half of October are probably doing good.

20) Good stuff from John McWhorter on overly-woke language policing, “Is Your Master Bedroom Racist? There’s nothing wrong with a little linguistic housekeeping, but reclassifying dozens of common words, expressions, and songs as slurs goes too far.”

21) We ban unsafe products all the time.  Time to start banning masks sold for general use (as opposed to masks sold for construction) from having respirator valves.

22) The let’s get these less sensitive but cheap and effective tests out there theme is finally getting more (but not enough) uptake.  Here’s Atlantic on the case.

Was just thinking today how amazing it would be if my family could just buy a bunch of these, and then visit my 70+ with comorbidities in-laws and be confident they’d be safe.  So frustrating.  You know what it would take to get this to happen?  National political leadership.  Oh well :-(.

23) I think this, as an epidemiologist writes in the Post, may be right, “‘Hybrid’ school plans sound safe, but they’re the riskiest option we have: Combining remote and in-person classes is the worst of all worlds.”

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Nice NYT article on super-spreading and why it seems to be more common with Covid than influenza (well, for starters, when you are highly infectious with the flu you feel like crap and aren’t going to bars):

Figuring out what drives coronavirus superspreading events could be key to stopping them, and expediting an end to the pandemic. “That’s the million dollar question,” said Ayesha Mahmud, who studies infectious disease dynamics at the University of California, Berkeley.

In a paper posted Friday to the website medRxiv that has not yet been through peer review, Dr. Schiffer and his colleagues reported that coronavirus superspreading events were most likely to happen at the intersection where bad timing and poor placement collide: a person who has reached the point in their infection when they are shedding large amounts of virus, and are doing so in a setting where there are plenty of other people around to catch it.

According to a model built by Dr. Schiffer’s team, the riskiest window for such transmission may be extremely brief — a one- to two-day period in the week or so after a person is infected, when coronavirus levels are at their highest.

The virus can stillspread outside this window, and individuals outside it should not let up on measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing, Dr. Schiffer said. But the longer an infection drags on, the less likely a person is to be contagious — an idea that might help experts advise when to end self-isolation, or how to allocate resources to those most in need, said Dr. Mahmud, who was not involved in the study…

“It really is about opportunity,” said Shweta Bansal, an infectious disease ecologist at Georgetown University who was not involved in the study. “These processes really come together when you are not only infected, but you also don’t know you’re infected because you don’t feel crummy.” Some of these unwitting coronavirus chauffeurs, emboldened to go out in public, may end up causing a superspreading event that sends the pathogen blazing through a new population.

This confluence of factors — a person in the wrong place at the wrong point in their infection — sets the stage for “explosive transmission,” Dr. Bansal said.

The team’s model also pointed to another important variable: the remarkable resilience of the coronavirus when it is aloft.

A growing body of evidence now suggests that the coronavirus can be airborne in crowded, poorly ventilated indoor environments, where it may encounter many people at once. The virus also travels in larger, heavier droplets, but these quickly fall to the ground after they are expelled from the airway and do not have the same reach or longevity as their smaller counterparts. Dr. Schiffer said he thought the coronavirus might be more amenable to superspreading than flu viruses because it is better at persisting in contagious clouds, which can ferry pathogens over relatively long distances.

2) Not nice Wired article that suggests to take a safe family vacation you need to avoid all human contact to the point that you bring your gas in cans.  Normally, Wired is great on science– disappointed they ran this.  (But then, the article is mostly to sell stuff– but still)

3) Lithwick and Stern on how Roberts’ abortion decision is already paying off in restricting abortion:

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in June Medical v. Russo was hailed by many liberal court watchers as a win for reproductive rights, as the court declined to overturn Roe v. Wade and formally eliminate the right to an abortion. On Friday, however, a federal appeals court ruled that June Medical significantly narrowed the constitutional right to abortion access. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel swept away an injunction that had blocked Arkansas from enforcing a slew of abortion restrictions, including a requirement that patients pregnant as a result of rape notify their rapists before terminating their pregnancy. The appellate court’s decision confirms that Chief Justice John Roberts’ controlling opinion in June Medical will serve as a tool to eviscerate abortion rights. Those who briefly heralded him as a champion of reproductive freedom were too caught up in the halftime show to see the game.

Friday’s ruling in Hopkins v. Jegley greenlights four Arkansas regulations passed in 2017. The first of these laws requires clinics to report the names of abortion patients under 18 to local law enforcement. These clinics must then preserve the fetal tissue and treat it like criminal evidence. The second law forces abortion providers to spend “reasonable time and effort” acquiring a patient’s medical records for her “entire pregnancy history” before performing the abortion. The third law grants equal rights over fetal remains to both partners, with no exception in cases of rape. A patient must notify her partner before the abortion and ask which method of disposal he prefers. If both partners are minors, the patient’s parents get to decide how fetal remains are disposed of. If the patient is a minor but her partner is an adult, then he—not the patient—makes the choice. These rules effectively prohibit medication abortion, which occurs at home, where the provider cannot control the disposal of fetal remains. The fourth and final law bans the safest and most common procedure for second-trimester abortions…

Nobody should be surprised that the chief justice’s invitation was accepted with alacrity. His words are being used to do precisely what he intended: reinstate the Casey test, hollow out the stricter rule from Whole Woman’s Health, and permit reviewing courts to rubber-stamp any state regulation that held itself out as advancing women’s health. The real surprise here is that it took just over a month for an appeals court to do what they’d been advised to do. Roberts has facilitated severe restrictions on reproductive rights in a stealth move that avoids headlines accusing his court of overturning Roe v. Wade and tiptoes past the trip-wire alarm that might alert voters to the takeover of the federal courts by anti-choice radicals.

Everyone knows that Roberts is a master of the “long game,” but in this case the long game took four weeks instead of three hours. Casey stands now as a husk of its former self and Whole Woman’s Health is merely a relic. The chief justice was not “evolving” this term. He never moves an inch but allows the spectators to careen right past him whooping and cheering, as the real damage plays out on the ground, long after the crowds have gone home.

4) Axios with a nice short summary “Indoor air is the next coronavirus frontline”  Or, as I like to think about it– air quality is the new masks.

5) NYT Editorial, “America Could Control the Pandemic by October. Let’s Get to It.”

Six to eight weeks. That’s how long some of the nation’s leading public health experts say it would take to finally get the United States’ coronavirus epidemic under control. If the country were to take the right steps, many thousands of people could be spared from the ravages of Covid-19. The economy could finally begin to repair itself, and Americans could start to enjoy something more like normal life.

Six to eight weeks. For proof, look at Germany. Or Thailand. Or France. Or nearly any other country in the world…

In places like Melbourne, Australia, and Harris County, Texas, health officials have created numerical and color-coded threat assessments that tell officials and citizens exactly what to do, based on how extensively the coronavirus is spreading in their communities. The highest alert levels call for full-on shelter in place, while the lowest call for careful monitoring of high-risk establishments.

Smarter shutdowns may also mean closing bars and indoor dining in many places so schools there can reopen more safely; closing meat processing plants until better protections are in place; and tightening state borders in a sensible, as-needed fashion.

The most consistent mantra of experts trying to get the coronavirus pandemic under control has been that the nation needs much better testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine protocols. Despite examples across the globe for how to achieve all four, the United States has largely failed on these fronts. Testing delays make contact tracing — not to mention isolation and quarantine — impossible to execute.

To resolve the crisis, federal officials need to commandeer the intellectual property of companies that have developed effective rapid diagnostics and utilize the Defense Production Act to make and distribute as many of those tests as possible. As testing is brought up to speed, officials also need to expand contact tracing and quarantine programs so that once outbreaks are brought under control, states are prepared to keep them in check.

The causes of America’s great pandemic failure run deep, exacerbated by innumerable longstanding problems, from a weak public health infrastructure to institutional racism to systemic inequality in health care, housing and employment. If the pandemic forces the nation to meaningfully grapple with any of those issues, then perhaps all this suffering will not have been in vain. But that work can’t really begin until Americans solve the problem that’s right in front of them, with the tools that are already at their disposal.

6) Really like the emphasis on using the science for “smart” shutdowns.  All the more reason I’m not a big fan of Michael Osterholm’s more blunt “just shut it all down” approach.  Especially as that approach strikes me as sociologically, psychologically, and politically naive for 2020 America.  But then again, anything involving “smart” probably isn’t our thing either.

7) Came across this tweet that was about some other stuff, but, ultimately, it’s insane what some universities think should be the definition of sexual consent.  Acording to this, most people are rapists at one time or another.  Seriously.

And I started reading through the Jeanne Suk Gersen (she’s written great stuff on this in the New Yorker more recently) and was continually flabbergasted.

8) I have reached the point in my life where I am enthusiastically sharing the Colorado University HVAC protocols.  They are really good!

9) Nature, “Two decades of pandemic war games failed to account for Donald Trump: The scenarios foresaw leaky travel bans, a scramble for vaccines and disputes between state and federal leaders, but none could anticipate the current levels of dysfunction in the United States.”

10) I love John McWhorter as a linguist.  I also love John McWhorter as a public intellectual taking on the overly-woke.  “Trader Joe’s Knows That Petitions Aren’t Commandments: The company decided not to rebrand its Trader Giotto and Trader José product lines.”

t the heart of wokeness is a paradox. On one hand, we are not to shoehorn people into preset characterizations; we are to see them as individuals. But on the other hand, we are not to deny that subgroups exist. For example, it is wrong under this catechism to say “I don’t see color” because it can be taken as not only a denial that people of color exist in subordination to white people, but also a denial of cultural differences.

Trader José and Trader Ming would seem to acknowledge the difference, no? Many would say that this misses the point. But just which point?

One might argue that although subgroups do differ from the mainstream, subgroups should define themselves, rather than have the likes of Trader José thrust upon them from the outside. But the problem here is that actual subgroup members often have different preferences than the educated white cohort who see themselves as speaking for the marginalized. For example, in the late 1990s, the Cartoon Network stopped showing Speedy Gonzales cartoons because of claims that the character was an offensive stereotype. However, many Latin Americans continued to adore Speedy, the League of United Latin American Citizens voiced its support for the character as an “icon,” and Latino message boards overflowed with love for him.

A related argument is that Trader Ming’s is, in effect, a joke, and that jokes about a subgroup should come exclusively from the subgroup itself. Because the owners of Trader Joe’s are not Chinese, it’s game over. In the post-Blaxploitation comedy I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, a “Black” GPS setting casually abuses and cusses at the driver in Black slang as if a Black person’s grouchy aunt were in the passenger’s seat. Presumably that’s okay because the movie was written by Black people, but would be “stereotyping” if written by white people.

But if the intent of the joke about a subgroup is not to harm, why is it taboo? Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility is among many these days who argue that intent doesn’t matter, and that how the message is received is sacrosanct. The problem with this seemingly innocent idea is that reception is rarely monolithic; not everyone in a subgroup will find the same joke offensive, and in many cases, well-off outsiders are the most upset.

Indeed, Trader Joe’s ultimately refused to change its branding in part because, a statement read, “we have heard from many customers reaffirming that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended—as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing.”

A great many people seem to think Trader José is just a little joke, rather than a bark of white supremacy. To dismiss this take as mere ignorance requires a punitive kind of creativity in the name of social progress. If the decree is that a company must not acknowledge the existence of differences between human groups, then we need a crystal-clear argument for why this is unacceptable.

11) Emily Oster with a great guest post on schools:

There is a lot of talk about the relationship between reopening and community rates. Do you have a cutoff for how low the virus needs to be in the community to open schools?

Just as we cannot resume high risk indoor activities, we cannot re-open schools safely in communities with uncontrolled spread. We need more research to determine exactly what “high rates of community spread” means, but we think less than 5% test positivity, and probably closer to 3%. (Of note for the last question: The test positivity rate in Georgia is closer to 16%.)

What kind of strategies?

Within infection control, there are several “buckets” of prevention strategies. When we think about building a program, we want to pick multiple strategies from multiple categories in order to make sure we maintain safety if one of them fails. We learn in geometry that three points determine a plane. So why do most chairs have four legs? Partially, it is to ensure we have a back up if one of them fails. Same concept applies in infection control.

Broadly speaking, for COVID prevention, we have options listed below.

Engineering/environmental controls: These are interventions “built in” to the physical plant. Some examples include ventilation systems and using outdoor spaces (which has a long history in infection control).

Administrative controls: These are policies that are designed to limit the spread of infection. Some examples include rules about class sizes/number of interactions, physical distancing, changing the school calendar, pre-screening tools, and cancelling high-risk activities, such as singing.

Epidemiologic controls: These are strategies that are focused on cluster identification and tracing. Examples include periodic surveillance testing, quarantining when sick, and mandatory vaccination programs.

Personal protective equipment and hand hygiene: This category includes things that everyone can do to limit the spread of the disease, and includes wearing a face mask and/or a face shield, and wearing eye protection. Hand hygiene, with either soap and water or sanitizer, reduces the chances of self-inoculation and the spread of COVID and other infections. In some cases, one type of intervention (e.g., utilizing outdoor spaces) may fall into more than one category, for example by improving ventilation (an engineering/environmental control) and also by allowing children and teachers to spread out (an administrative control).

12) What the Trump administration is doing the Post Office is clearly an attempt to rig the election and all-around unconscionable.  But, the good news is that his campaign against “vote by mail” should, hopefully, not actually prove as bad for the election as you might think:

The main fight over “vote by mail” is over. President Trump ended it, even if he doesn’t realize that.

In the past few weeks, the president has repeatedly and strongly endorsed absentee voting (good) as a jumping-off point for launching his attack on “universal” mail-in voting (bad). Vice President Pence, in lengthier, more developed comments, has roundly endorsed the same principles. Trump doubled down on these principles Tuesday, praising Florida’s use of absentee voting as “Safe and Secure, Tried and True.”

What the president perhaps does not realize is that the major issue for the November election has always been absentee voting. The question of universal mail-in voting is a sideshow. The administrative difference is that absentee voting requires the voter to request an absentee ballot, while in universal mail-in voting, the government affirmatively mails out absentee ballots to every person listed on the voter registration rolls.

The system that most states will be using this fall is absentee voting — precisely the system Trump and Pence have repeatedly endorsed. As of now, 33 states will permit people to vote absentee this fall without any special justification (as in Florida) or will permit fear of covid-19 to be a sufficient justification. That includes this election’s six critical swing states as well as most of the additional states even potentially up for grabs. It also includes many “red states.” Four other states, including three in the South — Kentucky, South Carolina and West Virginia — also used no-excuse absentee voting in their spring primaries, which makes them likely to do so as well this fall. That would bring the total number of states using the system the president has endorsed to 37…

Many liberal commentators have reacted to Trump’s comments by reflexively making fun of him. They shout, sometimes in all caps, ABSENTEE AND MAIL-IN VOTING ARE THE SAME THING. Alternatively, they point out high-ranking administration officials who have voted absentee in past elections, to charge the president with hypocrisy.

The better strategy for those who support absentee voting is to recognize when victory is staring them in the face and grasp it. As a practical matter, the form of mail-in voting that really matters for this fall is absentee voting. The die is cast on that. But in our polarized culture, it is also crucial that the election process be accepted as legitimate, among as many citizens as possible.

Now that the president and vice president have roundly endorsed absentee voting, the focus should be on making sure that everyone understands that. Reporters should be confirming with public officials that they support absentee voting; commentators should be emphasizing the breadth of agreement on this. Down the road, we can argue about whether the administrative difference between absentee voting and universal mail-in voting — whether voters must request an absentee ballot or will be sent one by the state — makes one approach better than the other. For now, the more urgent task is to ensure that the predominant form of mail-in voting this fall is widely endorsed.

Quick hits (Part I)

1) I don’t know how I missed this back in 2014 from Ta-Nahesi Coates, but I love it and expect I’ll be sharing it a lot in the future.

It’s easy to say you would have acted better than a slave master if you had lived in the antebellum South; or escaped poverty if you grew up in an inner city in more modern times. But it’s much more interesting to assume that you wouldn’t have, and then ask “Why?”

2) I disagree with this Michael Gerson headline, but still like the general idea, “Trump has made Republicans complicit in his revolt against American principles”  Nobody made Republicans complicit.  They willingly threw basic principles of democracy aside in their lust for power.

3) I can think of many of you who will love this essay on evolution, “The Price of Life Is Death, but Sex Improves the Exchange Rate”

In matters of life and death, we ought to be precise, so consider a simple example, the sort of scenario theoreticians would call a toy model. Imagine a species that consists of 100,000 individuals, living in Edenic and equitable balance with their resources. Every individual gets to produce exactly one offspring, replacing him or herself in the population. Lovely. But what must become of this Eden if the species is to evolve?

Say one individual is born with a beneficial genetic mutation—a change in her material of inheritance, her DNA, that makes her better adapted than all her peers. She can hide better or forage faster; hunt more effectively or battle more powerfully—whatever the mutation is, it gives her a leg up.

How many useful deaths did it take to transform the chimp-human ancestor into Homo sapiens?

For this new mutation to climb in frequency from 1 in 100,000 to 2 in 100,000, the individual who carries it must produce not one but two offspring. But the population, we’ve said, is held steady, by some limited resource, at 100,000 individuals. So for one extra individual bearing the new mutation to enter the population, one extra individual who does not bear the new mutation must die, making room for improvement, so to speak. More generally, one extra death is required for each incremental increase in the beneficial mutation’s prevalence. For the new mutation to increase by 1 percent in our population of 100,000, 1,000 extra deaths must occur. For the new mutation to be shared by the whole population—for it to go to fixation, as evolutionary biologists would put it—100,000 extra deaths must occur. Thus, the dues of evolution are paid in the currency of death.

We ought to add some nuance. For each incremental increase in the frequency of the beneficial mutation, it’s not technically a death that’s called for, but only the failure of one individual to survive and reproduce. Maybe someone just doesn’t get to have her allotted offspring. The point is only that the parent’s genetic lineage must come to an end. But in nature, that usually means mortality for either the prospective parent or the offspring. A reasonable shorthand is, well, just death…

Instead of our imaginary and idealized species of 100,000 individuals, let’s consider a real example. The most recent common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans was an ape that moved on all fours, had a skeleton a lot like a modern chimp’s, and, perhaps most important of all, had a chimp-sized brain, not our inflated sapiens brain. To a very close approximation, all the evolutionary changes that transformed our chimp-human ancestor into modern humans involved genetic mutations increasing in frequency in the population of proto-humans. So how many useful deaths did it take to transform the chimp-human ancestor into Homo sapiens?

We don’t know exactly how many mutations were favored by natural selection as the chimp-human ancestor evolved into modern Homo sapiens. But for purposes of this argument, we don’t really need an exact number, just a reasonable, order-of-magnitude estimate, and that’s perhaps within reach. Based on recent published analyses of human and chimp genomes, I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation to estimate the number of positively selected mutations in the lineage that leads from the chimp-human ancestor to humans. I came up with 100,000. (Said envelope, in case you’re interested, can be read below.)

Back of the Envelope

Genomic analysis can also (rather amazingly) give us an estimate of the population size along the lineage from the chimp-human ancestor to humans. Obviously, this number changed a lot over the course of the millions of years it took for the chimp-human ancestor to give rise to Homo sapiens. There were periods of expansive population as well as severe bottlenecks. A reasonable middle-ground is on the order of 50,000.

4) Margaret Sullivan, “This was the week America lost the war on misinformation”

You may have heard about the viral video featuring a group of fringe doctors spouting dangerous falsehoods about hydroxychloroquine as a covid-19 wonder cure.

In fact, it’s very possible you saw the video since it was shared on social media tens of millions of times — partly thanks to President Trump who retweeted it more than once, and who described the group’s Stella Immanuel, also known for promoting wacky notions about demon sperm and alien DNA, as “very impressive” and even “spectacular.”

Given this and a few other hideous developments, it’s time to acknowledge the painfully obvious: America has waved the white flag and surrendered.

With nearly 150,000 dead from covid-19, we’ve not only lost the public-health war, we’ve lost the war for truth. Misinformation and lies have captured the castle.

And the bad guys’ most powerful weapon? Social media — in particular, Facebook.

Some new research, out just this morning from Pew, tells us in painstaking numerical form exactly what’s going on, and it’s not pretty: Americans who rely on social media as their pathway to news are more ignorant and more misinformed than those who come to news through print, a news app on their phones or network TV.

And that group is growing.

5) Cool statistical analysis of school re-openings:

In reality, there is no relationship—visually or statistically—between school districts’ reopening decisions and their county’s new COVID-19 cases per capita. In contrast, there is a strong relationship—visually and statistically—between districts’ reopening decisions and the county-level support for Trump in the 2016 election. Districts located in counties that supported Trump are much more likely to have announced plans to open in person. On average, districts that have announced plans to reopen in person are located in counties in which 55% voted for Trump in 2016, compared to 35% in districts that have announced plans for remote learning only. Unsurprisingly, the one remaining group in EdWeek’s data—“Hybrid/Partial”—falls right in the middle, at 44%.

6) I was peripherally aware that a bunch of whiny leftists have been whining about the Lincoln Project.  Allow me to whine about them.  Politics– especially in a two-party democracy– is about winning coalitions, damnit.  These disaffected Republicans will help us beat Trump– that’s a good thing.  Smotus:

Many of the complaints I hear from the left about the Lincoln Project seem to come down along the lines of, “Don’t trust them when they say they want to beat Trump. They just want to beat Trump.” And, well, yeah, that’s pretty much it. This is an attempt at a coalition for a specific short term goal. It could last longer than the November election — Lincoln Project members have said they wouldn’t seek to undermine a President Biden’s legislative agenda — but that remains to be seen.

Like the U.S./U.S.S.R. alliance to defeat the Nazis or the Lannister/Baratheon/Stark coalition to unseat the Mad King, this is basically a short term marriage of convenience. Democrats and Lincoln Project members don’t really agree on much. They do agree on the need to deny Trump a second term, but in many cases, for different reasons.

This is not inherently a problem. As political scientist Erica Chenoweth is fond of saying, look around the room at your next coalition meeting; if you agree with everyone in the room, you’re not in a coalition.

Coalitions are inherently unwieldy, ugly, and unstable. For participating members, they’re deeply unsatisfying — you have to hold your tongue and work collaboratively with people who you know are wrong about fundamental issues and who probably hurt people you care about. But these arrangements also tend to be more successful in politics than those in which individual members operate on their own.

7) About twenty years ago, I was fascinated by sex differences in the brain.  I still think they are there, but I’ve found myself less interested, for whatever reasons.  I hate, though, the idea that we are supposed to think that biological differences between men and women only run from the neck through the toes.  Obviously, people have abused all kinds of science like this for centuries– and researchers should proceed with caution– but, sure there’s probably some meaningful differences between men’s and women’s brains.  Just don’t be a jerk about it.  Wired, “A Study Finds Sex Differences in the Brain. Does It Matter? The NIH research connecting anatomy and sex chromosomes could shed light on mental disorders. But the topic is sensitive, and such findings are easy to misuse.”

Raznahan and his team were well aware of these shortcomings, so they worked to ensure that any differences they found would reflect real patterns in brain anatomy, not the random quirks of the people in the data set. Observations that hold across a substantial number of subjects are more likely to apply to the population as a whole, which is why they relied on the Human Connectome Project’s large data set. After analyzing this data and correcting for total brain volume (just like men’s bodies are, on average, larger than women’s bodies, so too are their brains), they discovered a number of apparent differences.

Among them was a relative size advantage for men in parts of the occipital lobe (which is associated with vision) and in the amygdala and hippocampus (regions that play important roles in emotion and memory). Women, on the other hand, had more gray matter in parts of the prefrontal cortex (which is associated with decisionmaking and self-control) and the insula (which has been connected with numerous functions, including emotion and the sense of taste). These results might seem to suggest that women have an edge over men in decisionmaking and that men have better memories, but it’s impossible to extrapolate such broad conclusions from Raznahan’s results. “It could be that there’s absolutely no behavioral relevance for what we’re finding,” he says.

To begin with, it’s not clear what gray matter volume really means for brain function. The brain contains two major types of tissue: gray matter, which holds neuron cell bodies, and white matter, which connects gray matter in “tracts” and allows neurons to send signals to distant areas. They depend on each other to carry out their functions, and it’s not obvious whether having a larger volume of either one is advantageous.

“In no way is more gray matter a good thing, necessarily,” says Margaret McCarthy, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It’s just a measure that there’s a difference in the way the neurons are, how many synapses they’re making, how many there are, possibly, and stuff like that.” …

Geert de Vries, director of biology at Georgia State University’s Neuroscience Institute, isn’t terribly surprised that Raznahan and his team didn’t find a straightforward link between anatomical variations and functional differences. “Many of the differences that people find,” he says, “might be done in the first place to allow a male brain to work optimally in a male body, the female brain optimally in the female body.” In other words, a difference in brain structure might act not to generate different behaviors in men and women but to produce more similar behaviors. “Most functions should not be that different between males and females, if most of what we do is simply surviving,” de Vries says. “Males don’t survive that differently from females.”

8) Have I mentioned how much I love the Harvard guide to healthy school buildings?

9) Great stuff from Greg Sargent, “How Fox News may be destroying Trump’s reelection hopes”

It would be a peculiarly apt form of poetic justice if the entity that has done so much to help President Trump run this country into the ground — Fox News — ends up playing an outsize role in helping destroy his chances at reelection.

Yet that may be exactly what’s happening.

This possibility is thrust upon us by two remarkable new reports: one in The Post illuminating Trump’s unsettled mental universe as he grapples with the new coronavirus surge, and one in the New York Times reporting that his law enforcement crackdowns are only accelerating more protests in response.

For Trump, Fox News has two functions: With some exceptions, it largely functions as his “shameless propaganda outlet,” as Margaret Sullivan put it, aggressively inflating his successes and faithfully pushing his messages. When Fox occasionally departs from this role, Trump rages at it as a form of deep betrayal.

Yet for precisely this reason, Fox also functions as a kind of security blanket: It persuades Trump that he’s succeeding, which provides an effective reality distortion field against outside criticism.

The new Post report reveals how toxic this is on the coronavirus. Trump repeatedly failed to act to tame the spread, even though that would have helped him politically, due to a pathological refusal to admit earlier error and “overly rosy assessments and data” from Fox News:

Another self-imposed hurdle for Trump has been his reliance on a positive feedback loop. Rather than sit for briefings by infectious-disease director Anthony S. Fauci and other medical experts, the president consumes much of his information about the virus from Fox News Channel and other conservative media sources, where his on-air boosters put a positive spin on developments.
10) Why are we being so dumb as a nation (wait.. I know that one) on Covid-testing.  We need to dramatically expand pooled testing in low-incidence areas and super-dramatically expand rapid testing (a fast, less accurate test has far more value against disease spread than a test that is very accurate but takes a week to get results back).d

Instead of running a test for each person, laboratories could pool together tests from small groups of people and analyze them all at once. Because 98.9 percent of people now taking tests in New York State don’t have coronavirus, most of those pooled tests would come back negative. For the ones that come back positive, tests could be rerun one at a time with unused portions of the original samples, achieving the same results using fewer resources.

“This can work, and it does work,” said Chris Bilder, a statistician at the University of Nebraska who has written extensively on pooled testing. “It has been used in many different ways and, as long as disease prevalence is low, you will receive some good benefits.”

Mr. Bilder and his colleagues estimate that three states — Connecticut, Maine and Vermont — could quadruple their testing capacity with pooling. A fourth, New York, could get nearly to that level, adding 294 percent capacity. An additional seven states, mostly in the Northeast but also Hawaii and Michigan, could more than triple their capacity.

11) The side effects of the first Covid vaccines may not be great and we need to be ready for that, “Covid-19 vaccines may cause mild side effects, experts say, stressing need for education, not alarm”

While the world awaits the results of large clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines, experts say the data so far suggest one important possibility: The vaccines may carry a bit of a kick.

In vaccine parlance, they appear to be “reactogenic,” meaning they have induced short-term discomfort in a percentage of the people who have received them in clinical trials. This kind of discomfort includes headache, sore arms, fatigue, chills, and fever.

As long as the side effects of eventual Covid-19 vaccines are transient and not severe, these would not be sources of alarm — in fact, they may be signals of an immune system lurching into gear. It’s a simple fact that some vaccines are more unpleasant to take than others. Think about the pain of a tetanus shot, for instance.

12) Good stuff from Jacob Levy on statues and honoring historical figures:

If both these thoughts are right — and I think they are — we not only overestimate the moral standing of rulers, we overestimate the harm in moral criticism of the dead. This means that the basic underlying tendency in any society is to over-celebrate the holders of power, to praise them and memorialize them as if they were better than they truly were, and thereby to pass along distorted lessons about what kind of life is praiseworthy. This distortion commonly takes the form of minimizing faults and flaws more or less unrelated to the valuable public service we wish to honor. But it’s not at all rare to distort the past, and morally miseducate the present, by celebrating pernicious exercises of power themselves. Smith helps us understand why so many people are so ready to care about, say, Robert E. Lee, always recalled for his conflict of loyalties and for his military valor and brilliance, and so quick to ignore the moral importance of the millions of people who were neither famous nor powerful whom he fought to keep in chains.

Celebrating treason in defense of slavery

Defenders of Confederate statuary, flags, and public place names in recent weeks (and indeed in recent years) have tried to maintain that these public representations are about remembering history. As President Trump, who has committed to a full defense of Confederate statues and place names, put it:

 We have a heritage, we have a history and we should learn from the history, and if you don’t understand your history, you will go back to it again. You will go right back to it. You have to learn. Think of it, you take away that whole era and you’re going to go back to it sometime. People won’t know about it. They’re going to forget about it.

This imagines the memorials and monuments as something like open-air educational installations that help societies avoid repeating their mistakes — as though Germany would remember the Holocaust more clearly if it were dotted with thousands of kitschy statues of Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, and Mengele.

In fact, of course, the Confederate memorials were attempts to rewrite the past. Erected mainly in the twentieth century as an exercise in Lost Cause myth-making by local and state governments organized around the exclusion of African-Americans from the franchise, these monuments, memorials, and shrines claimed public space and civic consciousness for the celebration of those who fought and killed for the right to continue to hold human beings as slaves. They served as straightforward public expressions of white supremacy and white nationalism. The public lessons they taught were that African-Americans are not full citizens and that fighting to keep it that way is a noble and glorious endeavor. Confederate politicians and military men were honored precisely for their offenses.

These relics of Jim Crow have been criticized and opposed since they were first put up, but continue to be protected by raw political power, as when state legislatures intervened to prohibit localities from taking them down. It is long overdue for almost all of them to come down, and for those with particular historical or artistic importance (not many) to be relocated into museums where their meaning and significance can be properly contextualized, discussed and criticized.

13) I think the 1619 Project has done a lot of good in helping us think about the history of race and slavery in this country.  That doesn’t mean they could not have been more careful with their history.  Here, John McWhorter takes it on in an thoughtful way.

14) Jon Chait asks, “Is the Anti-Racism Training Industry Just Peddling White Supremacy?”  Sort of.  I do think the racial essentialism is not the way to actually make people less racist.

The anti-racism consulting industry does deserve both some sympathy and some credit. Its intention, to prod white Americans into more awareness of their own racism, is beneficent. And their premise that white people are often unaware of the degree to which racial privilege has enabled their success, which they can mistakenly attribute entirely to merit and effort, is correct. American society is shot through with multiple overlapping systems of racial bias — from exposure to harmful pollution to biased policing to unequal access to education to employment discrimination — that in combination sustain massive systemic inequality.

But the anti-racism trainers go beyond denying the myth of meritocracy to denying the role of individual merit altogether. Indeed, their teaching presents individuals as a racist myth. In their model, the individual is subsumed completely into racial identity.

One of DiAngelo’s favorite examples is instructive. She uses the famous story of Jackie Robinson. Rather than say “he broke through the color line,” she instructs people instead to describe him as “Jackie Robinson, the first Black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.”

It is true, of course, that Robinson was not the first Black man who was good enough at baseball to make a major-league roster. The Brooklyn Dodgers decided, out of a combination of idealism and self-interest, to violate the norm against signing Black players. And Robinson was chosen due to a combination of his skill and extraordinary personality that allowed him to withstand the backlash in store for the first Black major leaguer. It is not an accident that DiAngelo changes the story to eliminate Robinson’s agency and obscure his heroic qualities. It’s the point. Her program treats individual merit as a myth to be debunked. Even a figure as remarkable as Robinson is reduced to a mere pawn of systemic oppression.

One way to understand this thinking is to place it on a spectrum of thought about race. On the far right is open white supremacy, which instructs white people to fight for their interests as white people. (Hence the 14-word slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”) Moving to the left, standard-issue conservatism tends to discount the existence of racism and treat all problems in pure color-blind terms, as though racism has been banished. To the left of that is standard liberalism, which acknowledges the existence of racism as a problem that complicates simple race-neutral solutions.

The ideology of the racism-training industry is distinctively to the left of that. It collapses all identity into racial categories. “It is crucial for white people to acknowledge and recognize our collective racial experience,” writes DiAngelo, whose teachings often encourage the formation of racial affinity groups. The program does not allow any end point for the process of racial consciousness. Racism is not a problem white people need to overcome in order to see people who look different as fully human — it is totalizing and inescapable.

15) Alright, while I’m at it, Thomas Chatterton Williams on race (via Friedersdorf):

Self-Portrait in Black and White is at its most persuasive in explaining why the categories of black and white are inadequate to the author and his children.

That is no small thing.

As John McWhorter, the Columbia University linguist, put it to me, “One of the most glaring holes in the logic of current ‘authentic’ black thought is that one is to revile the old one-drop rule as racist, and yet to tar as a self-hating elitist the person who is of only partially African genetic ancestry who declines to classify themselves as ‘black.’” To the extent that anyone offers a rationale for that position, McWhorter continued, “it’s that while race is a biological fiction, racism is not, and must determine how one identifies oneself. As to how healthy it is to define oneself on the basis of others’ ignorance and abuse … we are not to ask too many questions. Thomas’s work is invaluable in really digging into this Mobius strip masquerading as higher reasoning. Is any person with a drop of ‘black’ blood definitionally ‘black’ on the pain of being dismissed as a deluded jerk? You can’t engage Thomas’s work and come away thinking so.”

But is Williams’s argument universally applicable? Should everyone give up on racial categories?

Williams and I talked about that question over tapas and wine. I was especially interested in discussing a passage from Self-Portrait in which Williams grapples with how much of his family heritage he ought to pass down––if he feels any indebtedness to past suffering, any responsibility to express solidarity with past victims or guilt for past wrongs, whether he wants Marlow to feel burdened by any of that history, and whether he should.

At times, his nuanced answers reminded me of how first-generation immigrants to America sometimes struggle with what to tell their children, if anything, about painful experiences in their country of origin. What is vital family heritage? What is a needless burden? Williams does not want to pass on any guilt or pain rooted in an artificial, externally imposed identity. At the same time, he explained, he won’t allow his children to be socialized into a presumed, unthinking whiteness, nor will he simply tell them to be “color-blind.” They will be taught the roles that race played in the lives of their grandfather and their father and how racism manifests today. A formulation he offered as we finished our meal was “an achieved perspective”––that is, he believes that rejecting socially dominant categories of race does not come naturally, that one must work hard to think outside social constructs and to fight subtle bias…

And insofar as Williams aims to persuade people who prize openness, diversity, and difference, he cedes too much when calling his project naive, given mainstream alternatives to his approach. Many societies have existed without the categories of white and black as they are now understood in the United States, whereas a prominent strain of anti-racist thought in academia, corporate America, and beyond aims at something that has never happened in history: to convince a rising generation of light-skinned Americans that whiteness is both core to their identity and “problematic.” In such circles, the statement “There is only one race, the human race” is deemed a microaggression and white people are expected to have a self-critical, if not self-loathing, relationship to their racial group.

For two decades, the academic and author Robin DiAngelo has been paid by colleges, private corporations, nonprofits, and government entities to teach audiences a kind of “whiteness studies.” She is treated as an expert by national networks and the public broadcasters NPR and PBS.

“White identity is inherently racist,” she argues––but she is not a race abolitionist. She writes in her book White Fragility:

White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions. Regardless of whether a parent told you that everyone was equal, or the poster in the hall of your white suburban school proclaimed the value of diversity, or you have traveled abroad, or you have people of color in your workplace or family, the ubiquitous socializing power of white supremacy cannot be avoided. The messages circulate 24-7 and have little or nothing to do with intentions, awareness, or agreement. Entering the conversation with this understanding is freeing because it allows us to focus on how—rather than if—our racism is manifest.

As Kelefa Sanneh observed in The New Yorker this past August, in DiAngelo’s view “fellow white people have all the power, and therefore all the responsibility to do the gruelling but transformative spiritual work she calls for.”

I find it highly improbable that fair-skinned Americans will not only put whiteness at the center of how they understand the world, identifying with it so constantly that it governs their every interaction with people of color, but also regard themselves as racist, regardless of their awareness or intentions, and perpetually strive to atone for that unchosen sinful condition, even as they move from majority to minority demographic status in the United States. That all strikes me as much more naive and much less likely to succeed than anything urged in Self-Portrait in Black and White.

16a) Okay, enough on race.  Back to the Covid content you pay me for :-).  Derek Thompson on how you need to stop believing those alarmist articles with some variation of “oh, no, we’re not going to have any Covid immunity!”

Beyond these three caveats to the panic-stricken headlines, several other developments offer reason to be hopeful that the pandemic won’t last forever. Vaccine research is continuing to blast ahead at an inspiring paceSeveral studies on monkeys, whose immune systems are as close to ours as that of any animal, have been promising, showing a strong and lasting immune response. And a recent paper shows that 17 years after SARS first struck East Asia, many patients have “long-lasting T cell immunity” that might even be helping them fight COVID-19, a k a SARS-2.

The race to understand COVID-19 is an unprecedented global effort, and each study is like a little square-inch snapshot of one massive mural. News consumers feeling jerked around by headlines that are alternatively optimistic and devastating should remember this: We are still facing a dangerous disease and learning more every week, but the immune system is a big, complicated place. No single study looking at one part of that big, complicated place should convince you that a vaccine is doomed and the pandemic will be with us forever.

16b) And a couple of immunobiologists in the NYT, “Scared That Covid-19 Immunity Won’t Last? Don’t Be: Dropping antibody counts aren’t a sign that our immune system is failing against the coronavirus, nor an omen that we can’t develop a viable vaccine.”

17) Love this way of framing things, “Our history is a battle against the microbes: we lost terribly before science, public health, and vaccines allowed us to protect ourselves”

Humanity’s history is a continuous battle between us and the microbes. For most of our history we were on the losing side.

It wasn’t even close. We were losing very decisively. Billions of children died from infectious diseases. They were the main reason why child mortality was so high: No matter where or when they were born, around half died as children. We looked at the evidence of child mortality in pre-modern times here.

The recurring epidemics of influenza, measles, cholera, diphtheria, the bubonic plague, and smallpox also killed large parts of the adult population. Within just a few years the Black Death killed half of Europe’s population. The epidemics – especially of smallpox, but also measles, typhus and other diseases – that the colonialists brought from Europe with them to the Americas killed often an even larger share of the population in many places.

The world today is obviously very different. Infectious diseases are the cause of fewer than 1-in-6 deaths, and as the world made progress against the microbes our lives became much longer. Life expectancy doubled in every world region and the global average is now 73 years….

Vaccination programs are one of many strategies by which we made progress against infectious diseases. The first pathogen successively defeated by humans in Europe – as early as the 17th century – was the plague. According to Shaw-Taylor (2020) this was achieved by a combination of quarantine measures, cordons sanitaire and contact tracing (which was first developed in the Renaissance).

Since then we found many additional strategies against the various microbes. Antibiotics, safe drinking water, better housing, better education, falling poverty, declining undernourishment, pasteurization, hygiene, better sanitation and other public health advancements were and are crucial. Jason Crawford provides an excellent overview of the crucial role of better sanitation, hygiene, and other public health measures for the progress since the 19th century.

Today too, vaccines are only one of many strategies that we have found in the battle against the microbes. We see now – in the COVID-19 pandemic – that there are several countries responding successfully to the virus without the help of a vaccine (we studied how they do this here).

18) Love this from Michele Goldberg (who, by the way, has proven to be a terrific addition to the NYT) on Anne Applebaum’s new book:

In “Twilight of Democracy,” Applebaum tries to understand why so many of her old friends — conservatives who once fancied themselves champions of democracy and classical liberalism — have become paranoid right-wing populists. “Were some of our friends always closet authoritarians?” she asks. “Or have the people with whom we clinked glasses in the first minutes of the new millennium somehow changed over the subsequent two decades?”

To Applebaum, today’s right, in both America and Europe, “has little in common with most of the political movements that have been so described since the Second World War.” Until recently, she writes, the right was “dedicated not just to representative democracy, but to religious tolerance, independent judiciaries, free press and speech, economic integration, international institutions, the trans-Atlantic alliance and a political idea of ‘the West.’” What happened?

Like Applebaum, I’m astonished to see erstwhile Cold Warriors abase themselves before Vladimir Putin. But I think she’s working from a mistaken premise about what once constituted conservatism. Liberal democracy per se was never the animating passion of the trans-Atlantic right — anti-Communism was. When the threat of Communist expansion disappeared, so did most of the right’s commitment to a set of values that, it’s now evident, were purely instrumental.

19) I think I’m okay with the idea of actually enforcing Covid quarantines with arrests (okay, fines would be way better).  But on the premise that this guy was simply outside washing his car or walking his dog is basically anti-science at this point.

20) This is so cool– there’s actually a meaningful scientific debate about whether some trees can be immortal (probably not, but we’re not sure):

Trees do not pay taxes. Some seem to avoid death as well. Many of the world’s most ancient organisms are trees, including a 3,600-year-old cypress in Chile and a sacred fig in Sri Lanka that was planted in the third century B.C. One bristlecone pine known as Methuselah has been alive for nearly five millenniums, standing in a forest in what is now called California.

But according to a paper published Monday in the journal Trends in Plant Science, time ravages us all in the end. The paper, “Long-Lived Trees Are Not Immortal,” argues that even the most venerable trees have physiological limits — though we, with our puny life spans, may never be able to tell.

Sergi Munné-Bosch, a plant biologist at the University of Barcelona, wrote the article in response to a January study on ginkgo trees, which can live for over a thousand years. The study found that 600-year-old ginkgos are as reproductively and photosynthetically vigorous as their 20-year-old peers. Genetic analysis of the trees’ vascular cambium — a thin layer of cells that lies just underneath the bark, and creates new living tissue — showed “no evidence of senescence,” or cell death, the authors wrote.

Dr. Munné-Bosch said he found the paper “very interesting,” but disagreed with how some readers of the study in popular media and beyond had interpreted it.

21) Fred Kaplan on removing troops from Germany:

The Pentagon has started to execute President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw one-third of the U.S. troops in Germany—reducing their numbers from 36,000 to 24,000. Three things about this move are already clear.

First, far from being “a major strategic and positive shift,” as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper characterized it at a news conference Wednesday, it is purely an outburst of Trump’s angst and revenge, aimed at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for various slights against him.

Second, the strategic shift it bodes would not be at all positive for the NATO alliance—and, contrary to Trump’s intentions, it would cost the United States more money.

Finally, in part for those reasons, defense officials are slow-rolling the pullout, to the point where only a small fraction of the troops will have left Germany by this fall’s election. Then, if Trump loses, the plan will be discarded, as if it had never been put forth, and the rest of the troops will stay where they are…

Officers know that, whatever Esper says in public, this is not about strategy. Trump himself exposed the lie at a spontaneous press Q&A outside the White House on Wednesday. Asked about the withdrawal plan, he launched into his familiar America First tirade. “Germany’s delinquent,” he complained. “They haven’t paid their fees. They haven’t paid their NATO fees. They’re way off. And they’ve been off for years, and they have no intention of paying it. The United States has been taken advantage of. … I’m here, and I’m straightening this out. … Why should we keep our troops there? Germany says they’re good for their economy. Well, I’m doing what’s good for our economy.” He then added, turning the exchange into a campaign ad, “With Biden, our country wouldn’t have a chance.”…

And that’s the main problem with Trump’s temper-tantrum policy. When it comes to deterring or staving off aggression, it doesn’t much matter whether the U.S. has 36,000 or 24,000 troops in Germany or some other place in Europe. In case of war, they would have to be reinforced with more troops from elsewhere either way. But the permanent stationing of troops is a token—in this case, a heavily armed token—of a commitment to defend. Withdrawing a large fraction of those troops can’t help but be seen, by friends and foes alike, as a slackening of that commitment. This is especially true when combined with Trump’s hostile rhetoric toward allies, his crudely transactional view of alliances in general, and his cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose main strategic goal has been to drive wedges between the U.S and Europe—a goal that, wittingly or not, Trump has helped him achieve beyond his wildest dreams.

In short, if Trump loses the election, this whole exercise will be forgotten. If he wins, it will be another crossroads in the breakdown of the West

22) Margaret Sullivan, “Media coverage of the 2016 campaign was disastrous. Now’s the last chance to get 2020 right.”

Here are some ideas about how the media can use this crucial time to best serve the public good so that election night 2020 doesn’t amount to another epic journalistic failure.

1. Focus on voting rights and election integrity. There’s no more important subject than the strong possibility of intentional voter suppression or other Election Day chaos that’s coming our way. Without a valid, publicly accepted vote, anything can happen. This should be front and center for journalists. There is no bigger story..

Many news organizations are putting reporting resources behind this. And I’ve seen some outstanding pieces, like one in Politico Magazine by historianand journalist Garrett Graff, 8 Big Reasons Election Day 2020 Could Be a Disaster.

The more of this the better. It won’t solve the problem, but it will raise awareness…

3. Stop falling for Trump’s distractions. Despite there being little reason to hope that the White House press corps’ years-long tendency to let Trump function as their assignment editor will change now, it should. As my colleague Jennifer Rubin noted this week after Trump publicly expressed his kind wishes for sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged enabler, Ghislaine Maxwell, initial media reaction to this astonishing statement was muted. As Rubin put it, “There is something very peculiar when a White House press corps does not react upon hearing that, and when a fleet of mainstream media reporters and editors does not think it worthy of immediate emphasis.”…

4. Don’t participate in another “but her emails” situation. The latest iteration are charges that former vice president Joe Biden is approaching senility.

 

A healthy fear

Presumably this will be appearing in the Monkey Cage or somewhere similar soon, but for now, Marc Hetherington has shared some really interesting findings from the first two waves of the UNC Covid survey on his FB page.

Pretty interesting stuff.  A concerned Republican is a Republican who takes the virus appropriately seriously and does not let their partisanship (and the horrible elite Republican cues) get in the way.  And note, this was a panel survey, so these are the same respondents.

Next step for the UNC Covid (plus that one guy at NC State) team is try and work on messaging that gets Republicans appropriately concerned about the virus.

The air in schools

As my epidemiological interests have shifted since the conversation has increasingly moved to schools and public places, indoor air quality experts Richard Corsi and Joseph Allen have been indispensible follows on twitter.  Here they team up to explain what we need to do, air quality-wise, if we’re going to let kids in schools.  Obviously, there’s lots of other concerns– especially amount of spread in the larger community– but insofar as many districts are sending kids back in person, period, we should have the best science guiding us on the air the kids are breathing and how that relates to viral transmission:

We have limited time and funds to get students and teachers back to school safely, but we can — and must — do it. Here’s how.

Start with the fact, as 239 scientists recently wrote to the World Health Organization (WHO), that airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus is happening. This is not to be feared; it just requires adding some new strategies to our arsenal in addition to hand-washing, distancing and other measures to keep community spread to a minimum. (Just because we reopen schools doesn’t mean we should reopen elsewhere.)…

A: Air cleaner in every classroom

Portable air cleaners, also known as air purifiers, may be the fastest way to clean the air quickly indoors. A portable air purifier with a HEPA filter that is correctly sized for the room can deliver three air changes per hour of clean air, meaning all of the air in the room is cleaned every 20 minutes.

R: Refresh indoor air

Every effort should be made to determine how much more outdoor air can be brought into schools, but there are limitations. In summer and winter months, the amount of air that can be brought in from outside will be limited by the cooling and heating capacity of existing HVAC systems. While bringing in twice as much as the minimum ventilation standard would be an excellent strategy, there may not be enough time or money to fix all of these school ventilation problems in the next 30 days before kids come back to school. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Schools should also upgrade recirculated air filters to MERV13 or higher. If schools rely on natural ventilation, get those windows open and use simple box fans to pull in outdoor air.

It’s time get creative and re-imagine classrooms. We don’t need to think about ventilation rates if we hold classrooms outdoors. Yes, there will be inclement weather — kids and teachers will have to wear hats and gloves when it gets cold, and papers will occasionally get blown around. But this is still far superior to learning via Zoom. A massive mobilization of tents for schools, maybe by the National Guard, could get us there. Think this is impossible? We’ve done it before, during the tuberculosis epidemic.

And here’s all the key points in one handy graphic:

Image

On a very personal, practical level, my school system is starting almost all on-line, but not the Special Education classes (for the obvious reasons).  So, thanks to these guys I’m going to make sure my son’s classroom has an air filter that exceeds 300 CADR.

If you want to learn even more about this, Allen has a terrific twitter thread where he links to all their efforts via Op-Eds, etc., on educating the public on how to make schools safer.

And here’s the whole Healthy Buildings report for schools which is terrific.

How to beat this

What’s killing me is we know how.  Most every other modern nation (and plenty of not-as-modern) has already done so.  It’s not rocket science.  It just takes some real political leadership (ughh, that), clear science communication, and a commitment of the citizens.  Damn– we’re screwed.

But, still, total lockdowns are simply off the table.  And we don’t need them.  European countries locked down hard.  In some cases, even severe limits on being outside to walk your dog, etc.  We know, now, that was overkill.  We don’t have to totally shutdown.  What we do have to do is be consistent and near universal with some key steps.  John Harwood summed up a recent study on twitter:

“If people washed hands regularly, wore masks, and kept social distance from each other, these 3 simple behaviors could stop most all of the Covid-19 pandemic, even w/out vaccine or additional treatments, according to new study in journal PLoS Medicine.”

We can do that!

Andy Slavitt (a must-follow for the Covid-concerned) with a great thread arguing we can absolutely beat this and get back to kind-normal if we just go at it hard for 4-6 weeks (again, ummm, political leadership).  Here’s his proposed “kitchen sink” to throw at it:

I just don’t see us locking down that hard, period. But I’m inclined to think that universal mask wearing could do more of the hard work than many give it credit for (especially the universal wearing of surgical masks, which are widely available now).  But, again, almost surely too late for that because of some bad science communication early and some truly awful messaging from Republican elites for far too long.

So, I actually think a few simple things could do this.  Shut down (and bail out!) any place people gather indoors and don’t wear masks (yes, that means you restaurants and bars).  Shut down any place people gather indoors in large numbers for significant time (sorry, theaters, etc.).  And, mandate (with teeth it) mask wearing any time people are indoors anywhere with people who are not in their household.  If we did all that, I don’t think we’d have to ban transit and interstate travel.

But, the likelihood we’ll have the political leadership to pull this off?  Ummm.  Hopefully we’ll be getting some good news on monoclonal antibodies soon :-).

And, because if you read this far, you are a Covid-interested person and I don’t feel like another tweet, here’s a great thread from Richard Corsi on best approaches for keeping universities safe:

America has a risk budget and we’re spending it all wrong

Yglesias has started his own newsletter in support of his book coming out and he’s got a great post up on how we’re failing America’s children.  My school system (Wake County, NC) just decided we’re starting on-line only, so, hell yeah, we’re failing America’s children.  And parents!

Love the way he uses the idea of a risk budget and how we’re horribly mis-allocating it:

A lot of The Discourse on the school reopening question has focused on questions like “is it safe to operate schools?” or “how can schools be operated safely?”

But of course there’s no such thing as a safe/unsafe binary. You and a friend sitting outside in your back-yard seven feet apart while sharing some drinks is pretty safe. But it would be safer if you were 10 feet apart and wearing masks. It exists on a spectrum.

And it also exists in a social context. I’m in Maine right now where there are very few Covid cases and in particular I’m in Hancock County where 19 people have tested positive for Covid ever of whom one is dead and 16 have recovered. Under the circumstances, your odds with the back-yard drink are extremely good because not only is transmission fairly unlikely under those circumstances the baseline probability that there will be any virus to transmit is extremely low.

This means that as a society we should be thinking not so much about safe vs unsafe as about a risk budget. If the virus is under control, then letting a bit of moderately risky stuff happen is still pretty safe. But allowing a dozen different forms of moderately risky stuff happen ends up creating a large amount of risk. And the basic issue with schools is that however you slice it, school is definitely riskier than not-school. Mask compliance is likely to be imperfect. Students and staff need to eat and drink over the course of the day. The school day itself goes on for hours and hours. And while there’s plenty of steps you can and should take to maximize safety (in particular by shifting stuff to outdoors whenever possible), the basic reality is that in-person instruction is inherently risky.

But to me that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. What it means instead is that we should be allocating a very large share of our risk budget to schools. And we’re not...

t’s not a huge secret why cities and states have gone in this direction — bars and restaurants generate tax revenue. States and cities don’t want to go without it.

But of course the fiscal “saving” from prioritizing restaurants over schools is just a way of (a) pushing uncompensated labor onto parents, and (b) compromising children’s long-term future. That seems like a bad choice to me. But it’s one that elected officials from both parties are making all across the country.

Needless to say, the federal government could have made the whole situation a lot better by using its own fiscal powers more responsibly. A big targeted bailout of the food service sector conditional on states barring unmasked indoor activity + provision of financial aid to state and local government would have made everything better. But Republicans don’t like spending money on domestic programs even when doing so would advance the conservative movement’s nominal interests in childbearing and family life. That’s something you see over and over and over again in American public policy — market capitalism is very hostile to human beings who want to raise children, and when push comes to shove the Republican Party never wants to do much of anything about that.

Democrats are much more open to spending money on stuff, including on kids, but they don’t prioritize it.

Great points and a great way to think about these issues.  And so, so frustrating.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I really wish I knew more of the science of weather.  Loved this on the “heat dome” effect impacting much of the U.S. right now.

A heat dome “is really just sort of a colloquial term for a persistent and/or strong high-pressure system that occurs during the warm season, with the end result being a lot of heat,” says climate scientist Daniel Swain of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

That high-pressure air descends from above and gets compressed as it nears the ground. Think about how much more pressure you experience at sea level than at the top of a mountain—what you’re feeling is the weight of the atmosphere on your shoulders. As the air descends and gets compressed, it heats up. “So the same air that’s maybe 80 degrees a few thousand feet up, you bring that same air—without adding any extra energy to it—down to the surface in a high-pressure system and it could be 90, 95, 100 degrees,” says Swain.

At the same time, a high-pressure system keeps clouds from forming by inhibiting upward vertical motion in the atmosphere. Oddly enough, it’s this same phenomenon that produces extremely cold temperatures in the winter. “If you don’t have that upward vertical motion, you don’t get clouds or storms,” Swain says. “So when it’s already cold and dark, that means the temperatures can get really cold because of clear skies, as things radiate out at night. In the warm season, that lack of clouds and lack of upward motion in the atmosphere means it can get really hot because you have a lot of sunlight.”

That heat can accumulate over days or weeks, turning the heat dome into a kind of self-perpetuating atmospheric cap over the landscape. On a normal day, some of the sun’s energy evaporates water from the soil, meaning that solar energy isn’t put toward further warming the air. But as the heat dome persists, it blasts away the soil’s moisture, and that solar energy now goes full-tilt into heating the air.

“So after a certain point, once it’s been hot enough for long enough, it becomes even easier to get even hotter,” says Swain. “And so that’s why these things can often be really persistent, because once they’ve been around for a little while, they start to feed off of themselves.”

2) Great stuff on American opinion and diseases from John Sides and Cindy Kam:

Key Findings

  • Compared to the 2014–2016 Ebola virus outbreak and the 2016 Zika virus outbreak, Americans are more concerned about the coronavirus outbreak, more dissatisfied with the government’s response, and more willing to close the country’s borders — especially to foreign citizens.
  • Americans’ attitudes toward these three outbreaks are tied to basic biological predispositions, particularly their sensitivity to the threat of contamination, also known as disgust sensitivity. Disgust appears to create more concern about the outbreaks and a greater willingness to take protective steps, such as social distancing.
  • Democrats and Republicans have reacted differently to these outbreaks. Republicans were more concerned about Ebola than were Democrats, and as much if not more concerned about Ebola than the coronavirus.
  • Partisan polarization on social distancing restrictions is growing larger, driven by growing skepticism among the Republicans most attuned to political messages from party leaders. Support for restrictions on large gatherings has dropped 35 percentage points among these Republicans.
  • But partisan divisions are smallest among those who are more sensitive to threat of contamination. This interaction of politics and biology is crucial for understanding public attitudes.

3) Interactive map of mask use rates around the US.  Very, very cool.  Happy to live in an area with high use.

4) Government basically using secret federal police to sweep protesters off the streets in the name of “law and order” is three-alarm fire for democracy type stuff.  Democrats cannot let this go.

Something terrible, something dangerous — and, yes, something unconstitutional — is happening in Portland, Ore. It must be stopped.

“Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14,” reports Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.”

The report continues: “The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to ‘quell’ nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks.” …

This is not America because of the First Amendment, quoted above. It is not America because we are a federal system, something you would think Republicans, who supposedly believe in states’ rights, understand and respect. So we are a country in which governors can summon federal help, are authorized to call out the National Guard — not a country in which unbadged federal police are loosed upon innocent citizens of a state over the objections of its governor. In this case, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, joined by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who have beseeched the feds to leave.

5) I’m all for doing some educating safely outdoors instead of the reality that’s about to happen– my children homebound and learning a tiny fraction:

Distressingly, little of this sort of ingenuity has greeted the effort to reopen schools amid the current public-health crisis. The Trump administration has insisted that schools fully open this fall, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposing no plan for how to do that safely.

In New York, the nation’s largest school system, students will attend live classes only a few days a week, a policy that has angered both exhausted parents, who feel that it is not nearly enough, and many teachers, who fear it as way too much.

At the same time, one of the few things we know about the coronavirus with any degree of certainty is that the risk of contracting it diminishes outside — a review of 7,000 cases in China recorded only one instance of fresh-air transmission. While this ought to have activated a war-room focus toward the goal of moving as much teaching as possible outdoors, nothing like that has happened.

“What I’m hearing instead is that people are looking at plastic shields going up around desks,’’ Sarah Milligan-Toffler, the executive director of an organization called the Children & Nature Network, told me. “That’s our creative solution?”

Bureaucracy, it hardly needs to be said, is not inherently creative. And despite its self-image as an engine of innovation, the education-reform movement backed by Wall Street tends to recoil at anything that reeks of bohemianism. No hedge-funder, obsessed with metrics, achievement gaps and free Apple products has ever sat down and asked himself, “Hey, I wonder how they do it in Norway?”

Outdoor learning, though, is not a wood nymph fantasy; the body of evidence suggesting the ways it benefits students, younger ones in particular, is ever growing.

6) John McWhorter finally read White Fragility and eviscerates it:

I am not convinced. Rather, I have learned that one of America’s favorite advice books of the moment is actually a racist tract. Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us. This is unintentional, of course, like the racism DiAngelo sees in all whites. Still, the book is pernicious because of the authority that its author has been granted over the way innocent readers think…

When writers who are this sure of their convictions turn out to make a compelling case, it is genuinely exciting. This is sadly not one of those times, even though white guilt and politesse have apparently distracted many readers from the book’s numerous obvious flaws.

For one, DiAngelo’s book is replete with claims that are either plain wrong or bizarrely disconnected from reality. Exactly who comes away from the saga of Jackie Robinson thinking he was the first Black baseball player good enough to compete with whites? “Imagine if instead the story,” DiAngelo writes, “went something like this: ‘Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.’” But no one need imagine this scenario, as others have pointed out, because it is something every baseball fan already knows. Later in the book, DiAngelo insinuates that, when white women cry upon being called racists, Black people are reminded of white women crying as they lied about being raped by Black men eons ago. But how would she know? Where is the evidence for this presumptuous claim?

An especially weird passage is where DiAngelo breezily decries the American higher-education system, in which, she says, no one ever talks about racism. “I can get through graduate school without ever discussing racism,” she writes. “I can graduate from law school without ever discussing racism. I can get through a teacher-education program without ever discussing racism.” I am mystified that DiAngelo thinks this laughably antique depiction reflects any period after roughly 1985. For example, an education-school curriculum neglecting racism in our times would be about as common as a home unwired for electricity…

The problem is that White Fragility is the prayer book for what can only be described as a cult.

We must consider what is required to pass muster as a non-fragile white person. Refer to a “bad neighborhood,” and you’re using code for Black; call it a “Black neighborhood,” and you’re a racist; by DiAngelo’s logic, you are not to describe such neighborhoods at all, even in your own head. You must not ask Black people about their experiences and feelings, because it isn’t their responsibility to educate you. Instead, you must consult books and websites. Never mind that upon doing this you will be accused of holding actual Black people at a remove, reading the wrong sources, or drawing the wrong lessons from them. You must never cry in Black people’s presence as you explore racism, not even in sympathy, because then all the attention goes to you instead of Black people. If you object to any of the “feedback” that DiAngelo offers you about your racism, you are engaging in a type of bullying “whose function is to obscure racism, protect white dominance, and regain white equilibrium.”…

In 2020—as opposed to 1920—I neither need nor want anyone to muse on how whiteness privileges them over me. Nor do I need wider society to undergo teachings in how to be exquisitely sensitive about my feelings. I see no connection between DiAngelo’s brand of reeducation and vigorous, constructive activism in the real world on issues of import to the Black community. And I cannot imagine that any Black readers could willingly submit themselves to DiAngelo’s ideas while considering themselves adults of ordinary self-regard and strength. Few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome…

White Fragility is, in the end, a book about how to make certain educated white readers feel better about themselves. DiAngelo’s outlook rests upon a depiction of Black people as endlessly delicate poster children within this self-gratifying fantasy about how white America needs to think—or, better, stop thinking. Her answer to white fragility, in other words, entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. The sad truth is that anyone falling under the sway of this blinkered, self-satisfied, punitive stunt of a primer has been taught, by a well-intentioned but tragically misguided pastor, how to be racist in a whole new way.

7) Letter-signer Michele Goldberg takes on the illiberal left:

In her scathing rejoinder to the Letter in The Atlantic, Hannah Giorgis wrote, “Facing widespread criticism on Twitter, undergoing an internal workplace review, or having one’s book panned does not, in fact, erode one’s constitutional rights or endanger a liberal society.”

This sentence brought me up short; one of these things is not like the others. Anyone venturing ideas in public should be prepared to endure negative reviews and pushback on social media. Internal workplace reviews are something else. If people fear for their livelihoods for relatively minor ideological transgressions, it may not violate the Constitution — the workplace is not the state — but it does create a climate of self-censorship and grudging conformity…

This is true; as Zaid Jilani wrote recently, “If it were harder for employers to fire people for frivolous reasons, Americans would have less reason to fear that expressing their views might cost them their livelihoods.” But it seems strange to me to argue that in the absence of better labor law, the left is justified in taking advantage of precarity to punish people for political disagreements.

None of this is an argument for a totally laissez-faire approach to speech; some ideas should be stigmatized…

Writing in the 1990s, at a time when feminists like Catharine MacKinnon sought to curtail free speech in the name of equality, the great left-libertarian Ellen Willis described how progressive movements sow the seeds of their own destruction when they become censorious. It’s impossible, Willis wrote, “to censor the speech of the dominant without stifling debate among all social groups and reinforcing orthodoxy within left movements. Under such conditions a movement can neither integrate new ideas nor build support based on genuine transformations of consciousness rather than guilt or fear of ostracism.”…

Because Trump poisons everything he touches, his movement’s hypocritical embrace of the mantle of free speech threatens to devalue it, turning it into the rhetorical equivalent of “All Lives Matter.”

But to let this occur is to surrender what has historically been a sacred left-wing value. One reason many on the right want to be seen as free speech defenders is that they understand that the power to break taboos can be even more potent than the power to create them. Even sympathetic people will come to resent a left that refuses to make distinctions between deliberate slurs, awkward mistakes and legitimate disagreements. Cowing people is not the same as converting them.

8) Great stuff on “re-fund the police” from a Black police officer:

Police academies must change, too. Police are taught that the enemy is “out there.” When they arrive at work with that mind-set, they don’t know who wants them in the community, and who wants to kill them. It’s no different than troops in Afghanistan or Iraq. We are patrolling the streets of our own cities as an occupying force.

Our training also focuses on worst-case scenarios: how to arrest someone, how to fight, how to use a weapon. Instead, it should emphasize preventing escalation. Once you get to the point where you are having to fight, you’ve already lost. The question after a shooting by the police should not be “Was it legal?” but rather “Was it necessary?”

The length of police academy varies, but here in Virginia, it’s about six months, then around three months with a training officer on the job. Nine months is not sufficient preparation to give you the authority to take someone’s life or deprive them of their liberty.

The probationary period for police officers should also be increased to a minimum of three years. Currently, once an officer has completed his probationary period, it is almost impossible to fire him. Performance evaluations must focus on more than the number of arrests made or traffic tickets written. They should include the officer’s conviction rate, a thorough review of the types of arrests made and the number of complaints received.

We must also address the racism of police departments from the inside. I don’t mean through “cultural diversity training.” When my department did that training, most showed up because they had to and cracked jokes through the whole thing. Instead, we should hire officers who reflect the communities they serve, by race and gender. About 15 percent of the police officers on my force are Black in a city that is about 43 percent Black. This imbalance is reflective of most police departments in America.

I’ve worked with hundreds of people as a trainer and patrol officer, investigator, administrator and assessor. When I hear calls to defund the police, I cringe. Not because I am a cop, but because the adage is true: You get what you pay for.

Police salaries are low, making it hard to consistently attract the kind of folks we need on the force. This is not said to demean my fellow police officers. But when you make the job attractive to people who have a college degree and aspire for something more — to create social change, to understand human psychology, to make a difference in people’s lives for the better — you get the kind of police force any community would welcome.

So yes, defund the police. But then re-fund them, better. Hire people with a college degree. Pay them more. Reform police academies to include education on psychology, cultural sensitivity, communication skills and de-escalation of conflict. Hold people to account.

It’s not up to the officers to bring about change. We have to take drastic action to create that change for them. Those who want things to stay the same will have no choice but to go elsewhere, because the world has changed. Policing needs to catch up.

9) How much should we worry about AC spreading Covid?  Some.

To start, let’s consider one very high-profile COVID-19 study connected to air conditioning.
Researchers in Guangzhou, China, found that a restaurant air conditioning system blew droplets from an infected diner at one table to diners at two neighboring tables. This study has been used as evidence that air conditioning can spread COVID. That is, on its face, true, but it’s not the air conditioning itself that caused the problem—it’s more the otherwise stagnant air in the restaurant, says William Bahnfleth, a professor of architectural engineering at Pennsylvania State University who studies indoor air quality. Analysis of that case found that the restaurant had virtually no fresh airflow from the outside to diffuse any droplets in the space. “If there had just been a fan in that space blowing air around to keep people cool by convection, it would be doing the same thing” in spreading the virus, says Bahnfleth.

That reiterates what we’ve known since the beginning of the pandemic: Good ventilation is important, and being in close contact with someone indoors, where there’s little air circulation, is a major COVID-19 risk factor. (This is why being outside is a lower risk than being inside.) The risk factors for air conditioning spreading COVID-19 seem to be less about air conditioning itself than the conditions it often creates indoors. Air conditioning systems are typically not great for ventilation, as they bring in little outside air and rely primarily on recycling indoor air…

So that might make you think that air conditioning, as the Arkansas news station said, is a terrible idea right now. But it still depends on the specific conditions of a space. In some cases it can be useful, because some airflow with air conditioning could still be better than no airflow without. “If your small enclosed room is very poorly ventilated and air just sits there for hours, air conditioning could help because you’re at least getting in that 20 percent of outdoor air and running things through some kind of filtration system,” says Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who studies airborne transmission of viruses. But if that enclosed room also has lots of people, including one who is infected, that air conditioning could create more air currents to push around COVID droplets. That could carry droplets “very far from the infected person, and increases the radius of close-contact risk,” says Bahnfleth; in that case, your safe “social distance” might increase from, say, 6 feet to 12 feet.

Also, in response to her tweeting out this article, I was excited that Linsey Marr responded to my question about indoor air safety and college teaching.

10) I found this amusing… A friend/colleague who is the rare politically conservative political scientist wrote about reparations as a “thorny” issue, but, shockingly, decided that our current approach (let people who want to give to organizations that help Black people) was the right one.

11) So far, Yashca Mounk’s “Persuasion” newsletter is proving really good.  This piece by Ruy Teixera on how Democrats mis-used the “Emerging Democratic Majority” is an absolute must-read if you have any interest at all in demographics and politics (e.g., all the Brownstein stuff I share).  Seriously, just read it.  “Demography Is Not Destiny: John Judis and I came up with the idea of an emerging Democratic majority. A dangerous misinterpretation of it helped elect Donald Trump.”

12) Michael Tesler in 538 on the supposed enthusiasm gap:

First, while Biden voters may not be all that excited about voting for Biden, they’re very enthusiastic about voting against Trump. And that gives Biden a pretty strong edge, because Trump supporters don’t despise Biden the way they despised Hillary Clinton in 2016. In fact, according to survey data from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project, the share of Trump voters who rate Biden unfavorably is consistently much lower than the share of Biden voters who rate Trump negatively — nearly 30 percentage points lower as of the last survey conducted at the end of June.

Second, because Trump voters don’t dislike Biden as much as Biden voters dislike Trump, Biden actually has an advantage in net enthusiasm (calculated as the difference between a candidate’s “very favorable” and “very unfavorable” rating). The gap on this metric has widened between the two in the past month, too.

13) Please, please, please let this new form of Covid-19 testing actually be sufficiently accurate (and, if we test like hell and quickly, accuracy actually matters less) and come on-line soon!

Simple at-home tests for the coronavirus, some that involve spitting into a small tube of solution, could be the key to expanding testing and impeding the spread of the pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration should encourage their development and then fast track approval.

One variety, paper-strip tests, are inexpensive and easy enough to make that Americans could test themselves every day. You would simply spit into a tube of saline solution and insert a small piece of paper embedded with a strip of protein. If you are infected with enough of the virus, the strip will change color within 15 minutes.

Your next step would be to self-quarantine, notify your doctor and confirm the result with a standard swab test — the polymerase chain reaction nasal swab. Confirmation would give public health officials key information on the virus’s spread and confirm that you should remain in quarantine until your daily test turned negative.

E25BioSherlock BiosciencesMammoth Biosciences, and an increasing number of academic research laboratories are in the late stages of developing paper-strip and other simple, daily Covid-19 tests. Some of the daily tests are in trials and proving highly effective.

The strips could be mass produced in a matter of weeks and freely supplied by the government to everyone in the country. The price per person would be from $1 to $5 a day, a considerable sum for the entire population, but remarkably cost effective.

Screening the population for infection, however, is different from determining whether someone is infected…

Would everyone take a paper-strip test every day? Here market incentives will surely help. Once they are provided to all, employers would likely require their workers to take time-dated pictures of their negative test results before coming to work. Colleges would require students to do the same before coming to class. Restaurants could accept reservations only if accompanied by negative-test pictures. In short, everyone will have an incentive to test themselves daily to participate fully in the economy and return to normal life.

Once paper strips’ efficacy is definitively proved and they are cleared by the F.D.A., Congress can quickly authorize the production and distribution, for free, of a year’s supply to all Americans. Then we’ll have not only a true day-to-day sense of Covid-19’s path. We’ll also have a far better means to quickly contain and end this terrible plague.

14) And here’s the kind of headline I love, too, “Need some good news about covid-19? Here are six reasons for optimism.”

Rapid, low-cost saliva tests are also coming, and, as my colleague Michael Mina and Laurence J. Kotlikoff recently pointed out, they are a game-changer. Why? These are like home pregnancy tests but for covid-19. Imagine a test you could take at home every day, that gives you an answer in a few minutes after spitting into a vial and costs only $1 to $5. Such a test would change our ability to slow outbreaks where early detection is everything. It would also help consumer confidence and slow down this economic crisis. Want to go to school or work or a Broadway show? Show your rapid test was negative. These tests are not perfectly accurate, but the counterintuitive part is that they don’t have to be. More important than accuracy are speed and frequency of testing.

The other 5 are good, too.  And, of course, my old mantra, monoclonal antibodies is included.

15) Solid ideas on re-opening schools safely.  Of course, #1 is not here– limit community spread, damnit!

16) I’m a life-long Redskins fan, but I get it, the name is overdue for a change.  But the Texas Rangers?  Sorry.  Especially when that is still the official name of a Texas law enforcement organization.

17) I usually try and aim for more like 8-10 feet when I can.  On the 6-foot rule:

  • The 2-metre social distancing rule assumes that the dominant routes of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are via respiratory large droplets falling on others or surfaces.
  • A one-size-fits-all 2-metre social distancing rule is not consistent with the underlying science of exhalations and indoor air. Such rules are based on an over-simplistic picture of viral transfer, which assume a clear dichotomy between large droplets and small airborne droplets emitted in isolation without accounting for the exhaled air. The reality involves a continuum of droplet sizes and an important role of the exhaled air that carries them.
  • Smaller airborne droplets laden with SARS-CoV-2 may spread up to 8 metres concentrated in exhaled air from infected individuals, even without background ventilation or airflow. Whilst there is limited direct evidence that live SARS-CoV-2 is significantly spread via this route, there is no direct evidence that it is not spread this way.
  • The risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission falls as physical distance between people increases, so relaxing the distancing rules, particularly for indoor settings, might therefore risk an increase in infection rates. In some settings, even 2 metres may be too close.
  • Safe transmission mitigation measures depend on multiple factors related to both the individual and the environment, including viral load, duration of exposure, number of individuals, indoor versus outdoor settings, level of ventilation and whether face coverings are worn.
  • Social distancing should be adapted and used alongside other strategies to reduce transmission, such as air hygiene, involving in part maximizing and adapting ventilation  to specific indoor spaces, effective hand washing, regular surface cleaning, face coverings where appropriate and prompt isolation of affected individuals.

18) Great stuff on herd immunity from James Hamblin:

Now, based on the U.S. response since February, Lipsitch believes that we’re still likely to see the virus spread to the point of becoming endemic. That would mean it is with us indefinitely, and the current pandemic would end when we reach levels of “herd immunity,” traditionally defined as the threshold at which enough people in a group have immune protection so the virus can no longer cause huge spikes in disease.

The concept of herd immunity comes from vaccination policy, in which it’s used to calculate the number of people who need to be vaccinated in order to ensure the safety of the population. But a coronavirus vaccine is still far off, and last month, Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that, because of a “general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling,” the U.S. is “unlikely” to achieve herd immunity even after a vaccine is available.

Back in February, Lipsitch gave a very rough estimate that, absent intervention, herd immunity might happen after 40 to 70 percent of the population had been infected. The idea of hitting this level of infection implied grim forecasts about disease and death. The case-fatality rate for COVID-19 is now very roughly 1 percent overall. In the absolute simplest, linear model, if 70 percent of the world were to get infected, that would mean more than 54 million deaths.

But the effects of the coronavirus are not linear. The virus affects individuals and populations in very different ways. The case-fatality rate varies drastically between adults under 40 and the elderly. This same characteristic variability of the virus—what makes it so dangerous in early stages of outbreaks—also gives a clue as to why those outbreaks could burn out earlier than initially expected. In countries with uncontained spread of the virus, such as the U.S., exactly what the herd-immunity threshold turns out to be could make a dramatic difference in how many people fall ill and die. Without a better plan, this threshold—the percentage of people who have been infected that would constitute herd immunity—seems to have become central to our fates.

Some mathematicians believe that it’s much lower than initially imagined. At least, it could be, if we choose the right future…

In normal times, herd immunity is calculated based on a standardized intervention with predictable results: vaccination. Everyone is exposed to the same (or very similar) immune-generating viral components. We are able to calculate what percentage of people need that exposure in order to develop meaningful immunity across the population.

This is not the case when a virus is spreading in the real world. Instead, the complexities of real life create what modelers refer to as heterogeneity. People are exposed to different amounts of the virus, in different contexts, via different routes. A virus that is new to the species creates more variety in immune responses. Some of us are more susceptible to being infected, and some are more likely to transmit the virus once infected. Even small differences in individual susceptibility and transmission can, as with any chaos phenomenon, lead to very different outcomes as the effects compound over time, on the scale of a pandemic. As Gomes explains, “There doesn’t need to be a lot of variation in a population for epidemics to slow down quite drastically.”…

Even if the two populations start out with the same average susceptibility to infection, you don’t get the same epidemics. “The outbreaks look similar at the beginning. But in the heterogeneous population, individuals are not infected at random,” she told me. “The highly susceptible people are more likely to get infected first. As a result, the average susceptibility gets lower and lower over time.”

Effects like this—“selective depletion” of people who are more susceptible—can quickly decelerate a virus’s spread. When Gomes uses this sort of pattern to model the coronavirus’s spread, the compounding effects of heterogeneity seem to show that the onslaught of cases and deaths seen in initial spikes around the world are unlikely to happen a second time. Based on data from several countries in Europe, she said, her results show a herd-immunity threshold much lower than that of other models.

19)

 

Reopen the schools– but pay for it damnit!!

Plenty more good stuff on re-opening schools the past couple days.  A common denominator, part of the committment to doing it is that we commit to paying to do it right.  Of course, this being America, that ain’t happening.  Most states are far too revenue strapped and only the federal government can really bring the needed funds.  But, yeah, as for our federal government.  NYT:

The federal relief package passed in March dedicated $13.5 billion to K-12 education — less than 1 percent of the total stimulus. But education groups estimate that schools will need many times that, and with many local and state budgets already depleted by the economic impact of the coronavirus, it is unclear where it will come from.

“If Congress doesn’t do something in the summer, there is going to be a big mess,” said John Lee Evans, president of the San Diego Board of Education.

Dr. Evans, a psychologist, said his district hoped to physically reopen five days a week, starting Aug. 31, for families that want their children to attend in-person classes. But it currently has the money to do so safely for only half of the academic year, he said, and might need to revert to online instruction after the winter holidays.

“It’s incredible to me that the federal government would see the necessity of bailing out airlines and banks,” said Adam Goldstein, a fifth-grade teacher in San Diego, “and not see the need to do something similar for the public schools in this country.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has said he is open to a “final” relief bill that would cover some of the expenses of opening schools safely. “We can’t get back to normal if the kids are not back in school,” he said this week

Regardless of which recommendations are followed, reopening schools will require changes. An average-size district of 3,700 students can expect $1.8 million in pandemic-related costs for 2020-21, representing 3 to 4 percent of a typical annual budget, according to an estimate from AASA, the School Superintendents Association. Districts say they typically operate on tight budgets, and even more so this year as state and local tax revenues run low.

A great piece from Sarah Cohodese in the Atlantic:

By prioritizing reopening businesses, states are wasting an opportunity to ensure a better fall for children and families.

This is the wrong course. Instead of speeding forward with reopening their economies, these states should do everything in their powerto make areturn toschoolpossiblein the fall—especially for younger children. This must be the No. 1 priority, and all other “reopening” plans should flow from that. This means keeping the case counts of the virus as low as possible, via business closures (with unemployment assistance and stimulus to compensate) and required universal mask wearing…

Since the beginning of the pandemic, evidence has emerged showing that younger children are at lower risk of getting COVID-19 and are not a major source of spread. However, no scenario is zero-risk, and although less likely, children could transmit the disease to adults. We can take advantage of children’s relatively lower risk only by keeping community transmission rates down and implementing a contact-tracing system.

In-person education is crucial for so many reasons. Students attending virtual school have lower test scores and are less likely to graduate high school—and the evidence comes from planned virtual schooling. Outcomes from emergency online education may be worse. Schools provide vital social-emotional support and safety-net policies such as food access, health clinics, and washing machines. Schools help detect child abuse and neglect. A virtual alternative risks exacerbating inequalities, such as access to devices, internet connections, quiet places to work, and adults to assist children in staying on task. The difficulties are greatest for younger children: They are at a higher risk of learning loss, are in a key period for learning how to read, are less able to have online social interactions, and need more supervision at home. School is important for the careers and sanity of parents. Many essential workers must work outside the home, and need school to help care for their children.

[lots of cool innovative suggestions– loved this piece]

This transformation will require sufficient funding. Schools are facing deep budget cuts due to lost state tax revenue. If a vaccine appeared tomorrow, schools would still have a fiscal crisis. With balanced budget requirements, states cannot step in: Only the federal government can borrow the necessary funds. The federal government must prioritize a bailout for schools and child-care centers that both covers budget gaps and provides additional funding to manage the special needs of educating children during a pandemic.

And David Plotz:

But the Trump administration can actually help! One reason schools can’t act is they’re cash strapped, because they’re funded by local governments walloped by the pandemic. The Trump administration could seek billions in emergency funds to be directed to schools. 

That money could help in all kinds of ways. Schools could upgrade ventilation systems. They could add extra classroom space — to maintain social distancing — and extra staff. They could put half the kids with their teacher two days a week, then with an aide two days a week in a separate space, doing remote learning but out of the house. The Trump administration could offer federal office space and launch a crash program to find and rent classroomish space nationwide. Similarly, it could create and fund a national teacher’s aide army of college graduates and college students — a souped-up Americorps. 

There are lots of problems with these ideas. Of course there are! Some of the teacher’s aides would be cruddy and abusive. Kids would end up in bad office spaces. People would get sick. But the federal government must do something beyond just bullying schools to open.

So, yeah, to open schools, we don’t know exactly what to do, but there’s lots of good ideas out there.  But, virtually all of them require a substantial commitment and investment from the federal government to make this happen.  But we live in Trump and McConnell’s America, which is why this is all so depressing and I just have to keep repeating my mantra (monoclonal antibodies and super-fast vaccine development).  

State school funding ranks high in Kansas - Kansas Policy Institute

Commit to opening in-person school (and let everything else follow)

Really been meaning to write a post on opening up schools, but have not because there’s just so much I want to say.  But, now that I’ve seen the idea I’ve been advocating is also what Emily Oster is saying, well, damnit, time to write.  

We’re never going (safely) get kids back in regular, in-person, school, unless we actually commit to this as our #1 national priority.  So, we need to commit to that, because it is so damn important to the kids and the overall functioning of society (working parents and all), that we need to say we are going to make it happen to force ourselves to find ways to make it happen.  Otherwise, it’s just too easy to go with half-assed plans (like my school system’s current 1 week on; 2 weeks off plan that seems largely logistically nightmarish) that offer something but are insufficiently innovative and, perhaps, insufficiently risk tolerant. 

But, let’s start with schools as the priority.  And a huge thing we need to do is get the virus under better control in most states.  Like, you know why we need to keep you out of bars, gyms, and restaurants now?  So your kids can go to school safely.  You know why you need to wear a mask every damn time you are indoors around non-family members?  So your kids can go to school safely.  You know why it sucks that your high-schooler is home, but your elementary kid is in the building?  So your kids can go to school safely.  (Lots of research and experience with other nations suggests that we start with elementary school kids) You know why we are doing this weird thing with “pods” in the school and pooled testing and whatever else?  So your kids can go to school safely.  

Why are we spending more money on a bunch of stuff?  So your kids can go to school safely.

I think ventilation may actually be the most important on this list.  I don’t think there’s been actual studies, but from what I’ve read, let’s open some windows!  And where there’s not enough windows, jury-rig some solutions.  

Okay, so some good stuff I read.  Let’s start with Oster.  So much good stuff:

A successful approach will meet two main goals: First, it will protect the safety of kids and staff (teachers, sure, but also cafeteria workers, janitorial staff, coaches, and everyone else) as well as the broader public. Second, it will, if at all possible, have kids in classrooms, in some form, full time.

The question, then, is: What’s it going to take to do that?

In the big picture, there are four crucial elements: commitment, flexibility, realism, and a focus on staff.

This will never happen if policymakers do not commit to doing it now. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has come under a lot of criticism for saying schools will open Aug. 31 without providing a lot of details about how that will happen. I see the critics’ perspective, but the fact is that if you start by saying, “Let’s explore the possibilities,” it will not happen. The logistics of opening schools are daunting to the point of breaking even the best of us. If it feels like there is a choice, it will be too easy to decide not to.

When someone comes out and says, “We are opening,” it puts on the pressure to find a way. It encourages people to think about creative solutions and push past the problems. The only way this is even a passing hope is if we commit to making it so. emphases mine]

We will need to be flexible. We may find that, come August, the pandemic situation is such that it is unsafe to open despite having done our best to be as safe as possible. The same way that we are backtracking on indoor dining, we may need to backtrack on schools. I really, really hope not. But we must be ready to do so.

We also need to be realistic. When we reopen schools, some people at schools—kids, staff—will get COVID-19. Some of these infections would happen anyway, outside of school. Many of them will not be driven by school contacts. But there will be in some in-school transmission, no matter how careful we are. This is the unfortunate reality. Some of these people may get very sick. If we are not willing to accept this, we cannot open schools. We also, in that case, should not open anything else.

[It’s on Slate, it’s free, read all of it]

Juliette Kayem in the Atlantic:

If American society is going to take one major risk in the name of reopening, ideally it should be to send children back to school…

Reopening indoor bars—closed spaces where wearing masks and maintaining social distancing are difficult—was clearly a mistake. Yet approximately zero public officials believe that letting adults drink is more important than educating kids, and any implication that reopening bars and reopening schools are roughly equivalent tasks badly understates the enormous barriers to the latter. From the government’s perspective, the only thing bars need is permission to reopen. Once they get it, owners and employees can go back to work, and the money starts flowing.

Schools do not have a simple on-off switch. To reopen schools will not just take a lot of money. Classroom layouts, buildings, policies, schedules, extracurricular activities, teacher and staff assignments, and even curricula must all be altered to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission. Stakeholders—including teachers’ unions, scared parents, and the colleges and universities that will someday enroll a portion of the 50 million students in the nation’s public K–12 schools—all have interests, some not easily avoided or ignored by a governor. Assigning a young, healthy high-school math teacher to substitute for a second-grade reading teacher with chronic health conditions—or inviting idle recent college graduates to sign on as teaching assistants—might sound easy on paper; in reality, the regulations meant to ensure that adults in classrooms are appropriately trained and vetted to work with children are also impediments to making rapid personnel moves in a crisis. Without clear direction and substantial financial support from the state or federal agencies, the easiest course for school administrators is to say nothing. According to a survey in mid-June, 94 percent of K–12 superintendents weren’t ready to announce when or how their schools would reopen.

Two things need to happen before students can go back to school: First, Americans and their elected representatives must consciously decide that children’s needs are worth accepting some additional risk. Second, states and communities must commit the money and effort necessary to reinvent education under radically changed circumstances. Even in states where case counts have plunged, doing what’s right for children will require a massive civic mobilization.

We need this commitment!  Not Trump’s tweets.  The American public needs to demand this commitment from our “leaders.”  Not that I’m optimistic (my mantra whenever I’m feeling hopeless and frustrated– monoclonal antibodies are coming).  

We also need to learn from other nations (there’s a lot to learn).  And, accept that there is some risk (hard when school systems will close over even the threat of a dusting of snow).  But, there really is less risk of kids spreading Covid.  Great article in Science summarizing what we’ve learned from schools in other countries under Covid:

Do schools spread the virus to the wider community?

Because children so rarely develop severe symptoms, experts have cautioned that open schools might pose a much greater risk to teachers, family members, and the wider community than to students themselves. Many teachers and other school staff are understandably nervous about returning to the classroom. In surveys of U.S. school districts, as many as one-third of staff say they prefer to stay away. Science could find few reports of deaths or serious illnesses from COVID-19 among school staff, but information is sparse. Several teachers have died of COVID-19 complications in Sweden, where schools did not modify class sizes or make other substantive adjustments.

Early data from European countries suggest the risk to the wider community is small. At least when local infection rates are low, opening schools with some precautions does not seem to cause a significant jump in infections elsewhere…

In a broader study of COVID-19 clusters worldwide, epidemiologist Gwen Knight at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and her colleagues collected data before most school closings took effect. If schools were a major driver of viral spread, she says, “We would have expected to find more clusters linked to schools. That’s not what we found.” Still, she adds, without widespread testing of young people, who often don’t have symptoms, it’s hard to know for sure what role schools might play.

Also, kids should wear masks!  Enough with the, “ooohhh, there’s just no way a kid can wear a mask all day.”  Are Korean and Chinese kids really so different?  They do it:

Should kids wear masks?

Masks likely blunt spread at school, but children—even more than adults—find them uncomfortable to wear for hours and may lack the self-discipline to wear them without touching their faces or freeing their noses. Does discomfort override a potential public health benefit?

“For me, masks are part of the equation” for slowing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, especially when distancing is difficult, says Susan Coffin, an infectious disease physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Respiratory droplets are a major mode of [virus] transmission,” she says, and wearing a mask places an obstacle in those droplets’ path.

In China, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam—where masks are already widely accepted and worn by many during flu season—schools require them for almost all students and their teachers. China allows students to remove masks only for lunch, when children are separated by glass or plastic partitions. Israel requires masks for children older than age 7 outside the classroom, and for children in fourth grade and above all day—and they comply, says Aflalo, who has 8- and 11-year-old boys. On the bus ride to school, “all the kids are sitting with masks on,” she says. “They don’t take them off. They listen to the orders.”

I also find it compelling that Linsey Marr– the go-to virologist on aerosols– wants her kids back in school in masks.

And, while we’re at it, and I love the science of this stuff, here’s the details on why younger kids spread less Covid:

  • Asymptomatic non-coughing people release less virus-loaded aerosols.
  • Children have less alveoli and terminal bronchioles where breath droplets are formed.
  • Children have a lower respiratory minute volume and tend to have lower viral load.
  • All this combined can explain why children are poor COVID-19 virus spreaders.

Okay, that was a lot!  But at least now I’ve done it.  

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Emily Oster:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Good stuff from John Cassidy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Is the data perfect? Did you clean it?

 

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

 

Okay, what did you find?

 

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

 

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

 

You didn’t do all the analysis I wanted!

 

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

 

Can I help?

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16) Adam Serwer on Roberts and DACA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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